All About Spike

Forsake Me Not
By Herself

Sequel to Yours; part of The Bittersweets Series

Summary: "All this time, they thought I loved them, the way they love me. But I can't love."
Rating: NC-17 for angst, sex. If you're under 17, scoot!
Story Notes: This takes place in the Bittersweets-verse, about 7 years after "All Merry & Bright". Spoilers for BtVS only up to "Smashed" in season 6. The Bittersweets-verse goes AU from there. Spoilers also for all previous Bittersweets stories.
Disclaimer: All hail Joss from whom all these characters flow.
Completed: August, 2003.
Acknowledgements: Mustang Sally, who ought to consider a second career as a writing coach. Once again, Sally, you told me to follow my instincts and put the wind back in deflated sails. Also Kalima, Anna S, NWHepcat, Gwynegga, Orthoepy, Lovesbitca, Wisteria and Peasant for reading and commenting along the way.
Thanks: To all my devoted readers everywhere. The best audience a writer could ever hope for.

"—the Summers girl. She's in my Cathy's class, they're friends, she comes here a lot. But I don't let Cathy go there anymore."


"The parents are a little . . . odd. She's all right, I suppose. Kind of stand-offish. I haven't seen her in quite a while, come to think of it. She used to drive Cathy home from school once in a while, with Jemima, but not lately."

"What about him?"

"Father's unemployed, I think— he's always home, always hanging around where the girls are playing."

"In a creepy way?"

"He's British or something, he's kind of rough. Has a funny way of talking. I mean— of expressing himself. You know. Not quite what you expect, for around here. If you get my drift."

"What do you mean?"
"It's hard to explain. You'd have to see him. He looks . . . kind of thuggish."


"But terribly attractive. I mean, you can see what she sees in him. In a way, you can see too much. He's almost indecent."

"Oh my."

Jemima left off what she was doing— she and Cathy were laying out a town in the gravel driveway— and went up to the porch where Mrs Miucci was talking to another lady.

"Can I get a drink of water?"

"Of course, dear. Come inside." Smiling, Cathy's mother held the screen door open. Her guest, sitting cross-legged with her little bag at her high-heeled feet, a drink in her hand, also smiled.

"You're Jemima Summers? And where do you live?"

She gestured. "Around the corner."

"They're on Revello," Mrs Miucci supplied.

"And you go to school with Cathy. Cathy's my niece. I'm Mrs Miucci's sister."

Jemima nodded at this.

"How old are you, dear?"

"Seven and two-thirds. Almost Seven and three-quarters."

The ladies exchanged a look at this, and she knew they were laughing at her.

"Is your daddy going to come get you today?"

"I walk home by myself. I have to be home before dark."

"Plenty of time," Mrs Miucci murmured.

"But he'll be there when you get home?"

She smiled. "He waits for me on the porch." Then she added, "He doesn't go out in the day."

"He goes to work at night, then?"

The two women exchanged another quick glance; Jemima thought they winked at each other.

"He used to. He used to work with my mamma. But then . . . something happened."

"Oh dear . . . what?"

"Just . . . nothing."

"Nothing? I thought you said something."

Jemima frowned. "She doesn't have to work any more."

Again the women looked at each other. Jemima was starting to regret this. She'd wanted to stop them talking about her like she wasn't within earshot, but that's not what was happening. Both of them were looking at her with such bright, intense gazes. She remembered how her mother always said that it wasn't necessary to tell people too much about their family. Family things were private. But how could she not answer when they asked her directly?

"What kind of work did mom and dad do, Jemima? Before they stopped?"

". . . Patrol."

"Patrol? What— were they with the police?"

"No." She hadn't really wanted a glass of water a few minutes ago, but she wanted it now. She held up her hands. "I think I'd better wash."

"In a moment, dear. What kind of patrol?"

"Just . . . I don't know. I go to bed at eight. Papa puts me to bed and they go to work after. When it's dark."

"So who stays with you when mom and dad work?"

"My aunties used to, but then they moved away. Then I had a babysitter. But now mamma and papa mostly stay home."

"Yes, you said. No more work. That must be very nice."

Jemima looked at the floor. It wasn't particularly nice, because the air in their house these last weeks was heavy now in a way it never had been before. But, recalling her mother's words about not being a blabbermouth, she just nodded resolutely. Up, down, up, a good firm nod. "Can I have that drink now?"

She didn't like Mrs Miucci's sister, whose fingernails were too long and who was too nosy; when she offered to walk her home, Jemima tried to demur, but Mrs Miucci said she'd better not go alone, you never knew what might happen and she didn't want to be responsible.

She kept trying to take her hand, but Jemima jammed them into her pockets.

"Your daddy will be waiting for you?"

She nodded.

"I'll deliver you right to him. Safe and sound. Will you introduce me?"

The afternoon was still bright when they made the walk; Papa was right there where she knew he'd be, on the porch glider, with the bamboo shades rolled down against the slanting rays, a book in his lap. She scrambled up the porch steps and threw herself against his legs.

Cathy's aunt followed more slowly in her high heels. She didn't need to come at all, but there she was, with that big phony smile, climbing the stairs, introducing herself.

"I wanted to make sure Jemima got home all right, Mr— Mr— " She stood in the direct sunlight and held out her hand to shake.

Not moving, he said, "Name's William."

"William. I'm Bobbi. I heard that Jemima's mother was— "

"She's all right, bit under the weather is all." Papa's hand was curled around her shoulder. "Thanks ever so for bringin' her back."

"She had a nice time. She's a sweet girl."

"That she is," he agreed.

Cathy's aunt should've gone then, but she continued to stand there. "This is a nice shady spot you've got here. Retired. Very pleasant."

Papa shrugged.

"Nice blinds, keep out the glare."

"Not partial to glare," Papa agreed. Jemima frowned, but Cathy's aunt wasn't looking at her. Her eyes were riveted on Papa, which was of course what always happened— ladies always liked to look at Papa.

"Well, I'd better be getting back. So nice to meet you, William."

Again she extended her hand; again Papa ignored it.

On the steps, she pretended to stumble. Jemima saw it very clearly, how she pretended. Stupid nosy Cathy's aunt. Papa got to his feet, asked her if she was all right, but he didn't go into the sunlight.

That was something else that people did— ladies and men both. They'd try to make Papa go into the sunlight.

"Goodbye," Jemima sang, loud.

They watched her mince off. Papa sat down again and she climbed up to sit on his lap.

"Did she boreyou all afternoon, my Jem?"

"She asked me questions."

"People are a lot of nosy buggers, aren't they, sweetness?" He smiled at her and tugged on one pigtail. "All needin' to know why your papa is so bleedin' good-looking."

"Yes. That's what Mrs Miucci said."

He guffawed. "Did she now?"

"Yes. She said you were indecent. What's indecent mean?"

"That bloody cow. Never mind— go on in now, Jemmie, and see how your Mum's doing."

She pressed her head into his shoulder. "I wanna stay with you."

"I expect Mum's getting lonely, though. So run up and have a chat with her."

"What if she's mean to me?"

Papa smiled, and smoothed her hair. "She won't be mean to you. She was a bit cross this morning, that's all. She's sorry about it." He rubbed a spot on his temple that was bruised.

"Does it hurt?" she said.

"Hardly at all. Give us a kiss, then go on."

Papa and Mamma's room was special: it was always candlelit, smelt of beeswax and somehow also like the beach, and she wasn't allowed to go in uninvited. Papa slept there in the afternoons while she was at school, and again with Mamma in the middle of the night when they got back from patrol, and before she had to get up.

Mamma wasn't there now. Since she came home after her accident, two weeks ago, she'd taken to spending most of her time in what used to be Auntie Tara's room, but which had been her room when she was a girl. When she got to the top of the stairs, Jemima considered just passing by, going to her own room, getting on with her book. Mamma wouldn't want to see her. Papa didn't always know what Mamma was like.

The door was ajar; Jemima started to pass on tiptoe, but then Buffy's voice sounded. "Jemmie?"

She peered cautiously in. "What are you doing, Mamma?"

"Nothing. There's nothing to do anymore." She stared for another second, her hand twisted in her long hair, then as if she'd flipped a switch, suddenly she was sitting forward, smiling and holding her arms out.

Jemima hesitated. But Mamma looked so sad, under her smile, that she couldn't bear to hold back. And when she scooted into her arms, it was all right.

"Where've you been today?"

After touching Papa, Mamma always felt warmer. But now, Jemima thought, she felt almost— fizzy. Her skin was hot, and seemed to jump, and when she was pressed against her, the beat of Mamma's heart seemed very very fast.

"Tell me all the news of the big wide world."

Jemima talked, snuggled into her mother's heated embrace, but she couldn't help looking at it, propped against the nightstand, and after a few minutes Mamma noticed, and then they were both looking.

Jemima knew that this wasn't the way it was supposed to be. Mamma was not supposed to spend so much time up here alone, and she was supposed to wear it and practice and get used to it. That's what they all said— Papa and Uncle Giles and the lady from the hospital who visited to see how they were doing. But Mamma said she hated it and it didn't fit her right and anyway what was the use? She was finished.

It made Jemima mad— and scared. How could she mean that, when she still needed to be taken care of? Slithering out of Mamma's embrace, she picked it up and brought it over. "Put this on and come down to the kitchen."

Mamma made a face, but she took it, and threw aside the hem of her robe. Jemima turned her head. She didn't like to look.

"I'm sorry you saw that this morning, Jemmie, what I did to your father. You know that's not the right way for people to behave. I hope you'll never do anything like that to anyone."

She sounded, Jemima thought, like a recording, saying that. Like when you pulled the string on a talking doll. She shook her head, indicating she never never never would, staring hard at the corner of the bureau, waiting for when it would be safe to glance around.

"I was hurting and that's why I did it. But it's no excuse. I shouldn't have hit him with this," she said, snapping the artificial leg into place. She rose, steadying herself with a hand on Jemima's shoulder. "I shouldn't have hit him at all."

Buffy hated the stairs. Always felt like she was falling. She was the slayer, she was strong and graceful and coordinated, she shouldn't feel like a fragile old lady going down one step at a time, white-knuckling the banister. Jemima had darted ahead of her and was at the bottom now, watching her descent. She wished the child wouldn't do that, it made this harder.

She didn't trust the prosthesis. It was the best one money could buy, but no matter how many times they adjusted it for her, how many sessions with the physical therapist, it never was comfortable. She'd been shown videos, pamphlets, told stories, over and over until she wanted to scream, about people who performed amazing feats of athleticism with a prosthetic leg. She shouldn't have this trouble— she'd been in peak physical condition, and she was the slayer. I'm the slayer, I'm the slayer . . . apparently she'd repeated that like a broken record for a day while she ran that fever in intensive care, until they'd had the psychiatrist in to look at her.

The slayer healing thing still worked. The stump had healed right up in just a couple of days— they were all amazed by that, at the hospital. Miracle healing. No infection, no complications.

What good though was slayer healing when there was no such thing as slayer limb regeneration?

Some other things couldn't be regenerated either. Like what got cut off inside her when she heard Spike say those words.

It wouldn't have been so surprising coming from Giles, or Xander. But to hear it from Spike's mouth, and then to hear them all agreeing with him like a chorus of Pollyannas, to feel the daily pressure of it on her since, just made the whole thing worse.

Why couldn't they see that?

There were a lot of good reasons why she was on her own that night. She liked to patrol once or twice a week alone, because no matter what she was the Slayer, and it would be a bad thing if she got into the habit of always relying on having back-up.

Also, the latest in the long string of au pairs recruited from amongst the potentials at the slayer academy had flaked on them, so they couldn't just leave the house together. That evening Spike barked at her that if she'd just wait a bleedin' half hour, they could call around and find a babysitter and then he'd go with her. But she didn't want to wait, and . . . okay, that night she really didn't want him along, she just needed a little time to be on her own to breathe, right?

All day she was at the slayer academy, trying to teach those— God, was she such a nitwit when she was just starting out? So arrogant, so unwilling to be shown anything, told anything? Instruction really wasn't her métier, she lacked the right kind of patience. Spike, oddly enough, was better at it. He was annoyingly good at a lot of stuff, like teaching hand-to-hand skills to giggly girls, and reasoning with Jemima when she was stubborn. He was always pleased with her, even when she mouthing off.

Spike the soulless vampire had a quite a life going for himself. Somehow he got to be the hero instructor at the slayer academy. Half the Slayerettes had crushes on him and the other half were ambitious to slay him for real, and sometimes the distinctions there got kind of blurry, but he could always handle it with that charm of his while she'd just get mad and have to leave the room when they drove her crazy with stupid questions or mulishness. And Spike was the hero daddy too. It was so obvious, even though neither of them ever talked about it, that Jemima loved him best.

She always had. Spike had fixed it that way from the time she was born.

Easy for him. He wasn't the one who had to . . . who had to be the mother. There was nothing natural or easy about mothering and she knew she sucked at it.

She didn't like having to go on doing things she wasn't good at. It made her squirmy inside, a squirmy that didn't pass off, that just kept getting worse.

It was fucked up, she knew that, to feel jealous of her own daughter, to be nostalgic for the time before she was possible, when she was just the slayer with her wildass worshipful demon lover at her side. No normal woman ever wished her own child would just . . . not disappear, she didn't want anything to happen to Jem. Not really. Just . . . she fantasized sometimes about how things might be if the Trio had never sent her back to 1880. They wouldn't miss Jem if they'd never had her.

She hadn't realized adult life would be like this. The nitty-gritty moment-to- moment-ness of it. It used to be that she'd resented the time she had to devote to slaying, coveted what normality she could grasp, but lately . . . it was so the other way around. She wasn't built for this domesticity. Working all day trying to teach the unteachable, then having to deal with laundry and shopping and cooking, and the house could feel so small, Jemmie and Spike crowding in on her. Right up close and yet shutting her out somehow too. They always seemed to be talking about things she wasn't up on, and Jemmie would be exasperated when she asked questions. Always saying she'd told her already, accusing her of never listening in the first place.

Which was so not true.

Who knew she'd ever live this long anyway? Who knew she'd ever be, for all intents and purposes, a married woman? With a demanding career and a child and a house and a needy man to look after?

So that's why she was out on her own that night, loving the solitude and the moonlight and the chance to inhale, to run with no-one calling after her, to inhabit her power and freedom to her fingers' ends. Until she stumbled across those Hratholins, who attacked before she even knew where she was.

She'd be dead if Spike hadn't turned up. She couldn't remember anything— she'd been shocky— but he told her about it later. She did recall, all too vividly, that before throwing herself out the kitchen door to escape, she'd shouted at him, told him to just give her some damn space for once— she didn't need him babysitting her every damn moment. She recalled hearing Jemima's rising voice saying Mamma?, and breaking into a run to evade that sound and everything it meant. But Spike didn't mention any of that. He just said Good thing I went after you, love, smoothing the damp hair from her feverish forehead. Beast was about to have his one good day.

Of course she was grateful. Of course she didn't really want to be dead, and of course she loved him— he was Spike. He was hers. But the feeling that came over her a little later— was it the same evening or the next day?— time in the hospital didn't move normally— the feeling of being pressed under a very large rock that was squeezing every ounce of air out of her, and the sense that she was somehow floating on the ceiling and watching herself being slowly slowly slowly extinguished . . . she could never describe that to anyone, because it was wrong to experience it. Wrong to be so discontented and ungrateful.

All he'd said to her . . . all he'd said . . . so innocent, really. It was a loving, affectionate, innocent thing.

He'd squeezed her hand in both of his and pressed it to his lips . . . .Hate seein' you in pain, my queen, hate that I wasn't there to protect you. But can't help bein' glad a bit now. You're well out of it. You're safe now, love. Now I get to keep you.

He was glad she was mutilated, ruined, made useless, made into nothing.

She hadn't wanted to leave the hospital. Which was something else she could confide in none of them— not Xander, who was there nearly as much as Spike, always looking at her with that pindot of fear in his eyes, that she might be lost. Not Willow, who made so many small magical improvements to her private room, perceptible only to her— not just the never-fading flowers that scented the air with such forceful delicacy, as if they were still growing in the earth, but the noise baffling, and the glamour on the hospital food that made it so delicious, and whatever it was they'd done to the bed to make it seem as if she was floating on a cushion of air.

She almost told Dawn, but her sister might then have postponed her return to L.A., and lost that great part. It was just good fortune, if there was anything to be so labeled about this incident, that she wasn't in the middle of shooting and could come right away, and stay for two whole weeks, keeping the house from falling to ruin and looking after Jemima while Spike spent all his time at her bedside. That was enough. Buffy didn't want to interfere with Dawn's career— it was just taking off.

So she came home, and after the first night took herself into her old room, and Spike said only "Oh, are you more comfortable there, then?" which was good of him, because she didn't want to explain, there was no way to explain, and her mind was stuck in such a low place. So low that she just let things happen— let Jem work herself, in the space of three nights, into a schedule nearly identical with her father's, so that she was whooping around the house wide awake at three in the morning, and living on cold cereal and the horrible greasy fry ups that were the only thing Spike ever attempted to cook, and getting her sleep in on the sofa with afternoon cartoons chattering in the background.

She wasn't very hungry, and Willow hadn't thought to put any sort of glamour on the food in her own kitchen, so mostly she just stayed in the room and ignored things. There were some books in there, and she read them— they were old books Joyce had given her for long-ago birthdays, and she was much too old for them— she ought to have given them to Jemima. But they kept her interest now anyway— Black Beauty and The Secret Garden and Harriet the Spy . She received her visitors there. The Scoobies came every day, but always one at a time. Spike came too, but she didn't have to say anything to give him the idea that he shouldn't hover. After a few days he no longer even came in to the room; just talked to her from the doorway, in hushed tones, going away again after a few minutes.

Nobody would broach the subject of what was supposed to happen now.

Sleep was indistinguishable from fever. They all came back to her: the master, Angelus, the mayor. Talked to her, holding up the palms of their hands in gestures of peace. You're well out of it, Slayer. You're retired now. Not your responsibility anymore. Adam and Glory and Warren. Can do whatever you like now. You're free. Not the slayer anymore. Have that normal life you always wanted.

She's stir out of these dreams that felt at once both deep and shallow, stare at the streetlight beam from the window, or the red LED of the clock, and slip right back.

Faith. Swinging near on her swivel hips, dark circles under her eyes. Lookit you, B. You got off the train without slipping beneath the wheels. You get to walk away. Okay, limp away. But hey— own two feet, pretty much. Not like me.

When they spoke to her she stood before them, whole, weight distributed evenly on both feet.

The leg wasn't there, but it was there. Was there, and wasn't.

She could still feel it. Lying here in bed, she felt it. Could imagine wriggling her toes, except there was no need to wriggle toes, so she didn't. She was supposed to be sleeping.

Wanna trade, B? I'll be Miss Gimp, Girl Survivor, an' you can have heaven.

She missed Faith. Somehow it seemed like Faith might be the one she could really talk to, now.

Two in the morning and cold. She tugged the quilt higher on her shoulder. The window she kept cracked, for the fresh air. The radiator clanked, the way it clanked in this room when she was sixteen and seventeen and eighteen. The problems that had kept her awake then felt . . . a little measly now, compared to this. Funny how that worked.

A sound on the overhang outside the window made her tense. Faint, like the footfall of a cat, that only the slayer could hear.

She opened her eyes. Saw movement. A fanged face on the other side of the glass, golden eyes gleaming. Fingers hooked under the sill, pushing up the window.


He'd not looked like that in years: wearing the leather duster over the red shirt. Leaning in, he snarled; a deep animal sound that rolled all around the room.

She pulled the quilt up higher, nearly to her eyes. "I'm not in the mood for this. Go away."

"Big Bad's here. Gonna have you, Slayer. Don't need no invitation, nothin' to stop me getting in."

She rolled over, her back to him. "Grow up. And close the window as you leave."

She heard him slip into the room.

"I said get out. Window, door, I don't care, just go."

"Right here in your girly bed's where I've always wanted you, Slayer. You can fight me but you know in the end you'll just give in. You an' me . . . it's destiny."

"This really isn't amusing me. I don't want to play this game."

In the next second he was straddling her, pinning her shoulders; she got a quick close-up glimpse of those terrible fiery eyes burning between demon ridges before he buried his face in her neck. The fangs were cool against her humid skin, a touch that made her shudder. She tried to push him off, but her hands were trapped under the covers, weighted down by his knees.
He gnawed delicately at the scar of his original bite, then gave it a lick. "Ah, the taste of you. Sweeter than wine. My pretty missis." He shifted, pulling the quilt down to her waist. The game face was gone.

At last! Annoying stupid game over.

She sighed and passed an arm around him, suddenly in no mood to push him off. "Goddamnit, Spike. What the hell were you trying to do?"

"Tryin' to get your bleedin' attention. Rouse you from your torpor." He turned his head. "Am I too heavy?"

"No, stay put." She sighed again, and stroked his leather-clad back. "The window thing was a bit much. You're lucky I didn't plug you with an arrow before you got over the sill. Where've you been, dressed like that?"

"Did a round of patrol . . . . But got kitted up this way for you, pet. Thought bad old Spike might make an impression where William Grieves wasn't." He paused. "Usually been the case."

"Yeah, well, if the impression you want is on my last nerve— "

He caressed her face with his thumb, pushing the hair back from her forehead. "I miss you, treasure." He loomed again, and probed her lips gently with his. She didn't open.

"Want my marital rights."

"Christ." She gave him a push, but not hard enough to dislodge him. Her whole body felt weak.

"Want to give you yours, too. Want to look after you."

"No. I can't— you're such a horndog, it's disgusting."

He was so stupid, he really thought that making love to her was going to change things, change the temperature and color of this world she found herself in, where everything was flat and grey and bitter.

He kissed her mouth again, her chin, her neck. Began to unbutton her pajama jacket, the cool pads of his fingers gliding on her skin. "I miss the taste of your delicious wet little cunny, and I bet she misses me too. Been all on her lonesome, since . . . no kisses. That's not what cunny likes."

God, why'd she ever let him get into the habit of talking to her like that? She felt her cheeks flush with annoyance. "Spike— "

He slipped a hand between their bodies; his fingers finding her through the flannel. Pressing, rubbing, and the material was getting moist . . .

"Spike, stop it."

His hand stilled, but didn't lift. "You mean that?"

Nine years of living with him, and she still didn't entirely get it, accept it. His presence in her house, her arms, her child, still startled her. The responsibility of Spike's love was enormous, it oppressed her, even as he patiently accepted from her displays of temper and caprice that most other men would rebel against. His tenderness could be hard to endure; even before this, it sometimes scared her, leading as it did to thoughts of her own unworthiness, of how he poured all of himself into her approval. And thoughts of her mortality, how he'd suffer without her.

How he'd suffer with her too. Because when she got like this, sunken and immovable, no one around her could be happy.

Suddenly she felt pity for him, nearly as much pity as she felt for herself.

She rubbed her cheek against his.

"I'm sorry I clobbered you this morning."

"Built to take it, I am."

"No . . . nobody's built to take it. God, when I think how we used to try to kill each other." Sometimes I miss that.

He smiled, with his old wicked look. "Natural order of things, wasn't it, love? Us bein' like this, all ball an' chain, s'what's against nature. Positively transgressive it is. Good thing I've always been perverse."

"Me with one leg is against nature too."

"Like I said, good thing— "

She gave him a cruel pinch that made him cry out in surprise. "Do not say you like it. Do not announce you have a fetish for girls with one leg, or I swear to God, I'll— "

"'Course I don't like it. But don't you say you'd rather be dead. I know you've been sittin' in here alone thinking morbid thoughts. Should've stirred you out sooner. Littler Bit's unhappy because you're bein' so secret. Not to mention me. Why won't you talk to me?"

It was time to distract him. Buffy tugged at the lapels of the leather coat.

"Take this off, my Spike . . . be naked."

He let go of her, except to brush his fingers through her hair. "Only if you will."

She shook her head. The idea of her own nudity was sickening; she'd avoided looking at herself in mirrors, and taken to holding her head away or closing her eyes while she washed herself, or changed her clothes, or put the prosthesis on and off. "I'm not . . . I'm not ready. We can fool around, but I don't want you to see it."

"Doesn't bother me, pet. A lot less than those stupid pajamas, anyway. Take them off, sweetness. Fooling around's not the thing, anyway, want to fuck you proper. Need to both be starkers for that."

He thinks love can make this all right. He thinks sex can. He's always been like that. Sex is his magic, he thinks it can make broken things whole again. But nothing can. Stupid vampire. Stupid man who doesn't understand anything.

She wanted to get rid of him.

But there were ways far far less troublesome than arguing. Shoving him onto his back, sitting backwards on his chest, she undid his fly buttons. Not having to look into his face made this easier. She'd suck him off hot and hard and fast, then shove him out the door, or back through the window. You got what you came for, now leave me alone.

But the sight of his white cock in its patch of dark hair, engorging as she breathed on it, lifting its reddening head towards her mouth, shot a bolt through her.


Oh, this.


She'd actually forgotten. Holed up here alone, with a lot of nagging language ricocheting in her head, she'd forgotten the tactile truth of things.

Suddenly cravinghis heft, his slickness against her palate, she wrapped both hands around the shaft, and engulfed the pink head in her mouth. Behind her he gasped, his hands clasping her waist. Pre-cum bubbled from the slit; she swirled it off with her tongue and swallowed it, sucking firmly, hollowing her cheeks.

"Buffy— oh do it, love, do it like that— oh you know me, you little genius, my own queen— "

Her eyes flooded with tears; she was glad he couldn't see her face. Lifting her head, she leaned forward to kiss down the shaft, towards the balls that were high and tight now. She had to shift her whole body, resting most of the weight on her good leg— damn missing knee!— but she reached them with her lips, while the wet crown of his cock slid along her jaw, into her dangling hair, and he moaned. One of his hands slipped between her legs, rubbing her hard clit through the flannel of her pajama bottoms.

"You're so wet, Buffy," he murmured. "Sucking me off gets you wet, doesn't it, love?"

It does, she thought. Not that it means anything. Thank God for sensation, which was simple. Thank God for not having to talk.

Licking his taut ballsac, rubbing the head of his cock against the skin of her neck as he panted, she wriggled back against his fingers, shivering into climax.

"That's it, my girl. That's it." He kept his hand where it was while she squirmed against his fingers, the waves of orgasm passing through her in long trembling gusts.

When they'd nearly passed, she moved again, and took the cock back into her mouth as she cradled the balls in her moist palm. It drooled even more wildly against her tongue, and felt harder; beneath her Spike was moving too, raising his hips in rhythm with her downstrokes.

How easy he could be, she thought, to delight. Even after so many years, her attentions left him humble and grateful and satisfied. So many years . . . it occurred to her to wonder how the time seemed to him— perhaps it was short, an eyeblink. An eyeblink, the time he'd had her when she'd been the slayer. Another eyeblink, the time when she was a cripple. A third blink, and she'd be gone. While he remained, eternally young and beautiful and hungry, watching Jemima get older than he looked.

It isn't fair.

She squeezed his shaft tight in her hand, tugged on it, sucked harder. Don't you forget me, Spike!

"Nearly there— nearly there— nearly— nearly— ah— ohGodfuck— !"

She laughed from her throat as she swallowed his spunk, holding him in place until he was empty.

He was quiet for a while, then murmured, "Ah, that was a nice surprise. You're beautiful when you laugh."

Easy. And stupid. And pretty futile, wasn't it? Sex just left you all drippy and limp and had no power to change a thing like this. If you were sad going in, if you only had one leg and your life was ruined, you'd still be sad and legless and ruined coming out. And he was a fool if he thought that laugh meant anything.

He was a fool.

"I thought I was always beautiful, according to you." She yanked herself around and collapsed against his shoulder. He'd put his arms around her now, cuddle her, and imagine she was glad to have him do it.


"It's special when you laugh. When you laugh I know you love me. When your hands are on me, and your darling mouth . . . I missed you so much, Buffy. You hidin' yourself in here, and me in the other room missing you. It's no good, is it?"

"Yeah . . . I guess."

"You're not destroyed, my girl. You'll be all right, you will. We will. We'll make love like always, an' look after our little girl like always, an' you'll come back to the slayer academy. We all need you there." He stroked her hair as he spoke. "Shall we strip off and have our fuck now?"

She smiled. He always was coaxing her to talk dirty. He was such a boy.

"Do you still love me, Spike? Eventhough I'm mutilated?"

She knew what he'd say already, and told herself she didn't care, that it couldn't matter, even as she strained to hear it.

"You know I do. Just the same. More."

"Do you love my cunt?"

He quivered then, pressed against her, and she knew he was very pleased.

"Love it an' want to fuck it every day. Want to have you all day. Stay hard for you as long as you want me."

She brought her hand down to his groin and found his cock stirring again. He pressed it there, then drew away and pulled off his clothes.

"Right," he said, standing at the side of her bed in all his easy nude glory. "Get your kit off, Slayer."

Hearing him call her that now felt like a cut. She shook her head. "No."

He cocked his head and stared at her, then reached forward in a business-like manner, and yanked the pajama jacket off before she could react, then grabbed at the waistband of the bottoms, ripping them with a loud crack that left the elastic band in place with nothing attached to it. "Good riddance. Never want to see this lot again."

A sudden mental image of herself— completely unshielded, her whole leg and her stump equally undefended— filled her with a horror; she grabbed for the sheets, but Spike was too quick; kneeling on the bed, he seized her by the hips and hauled her up into his lap, onto his cock. She grunted in surprise. Nearly doubled backwards, Buffy struggled to get up on her elbows until he caught her arm and pulled her upright. His gaze, right up against her face, was intense, impatient; she could see he was on to her. "See, Slayer? Just as limber as ever you were. Now put your arms around my neck and hold on."

His hands were under her buttocks now, taking the weight off her one doubled leg, and his prick inside her seemed to stir against her thudding heart. He breathed against her lips, barely touching them with his own. Teasing. She felt him smile, that shit-eating grin she used to hate, and liked now because it went with her power over him, and they both knew it.

But she was unbearably aware of her bad leg just there, sticking out along his hip; the stub felt cold and naked and she was terrified he might touch it.
If he touched it, she thought, she would die.

She hit him in the face.

"Oi! What the fuck— !"

They struggled, absurdly, angrily, awkwardly. Realizing he was not going to hit her back, she hit him again. He cried out, but still didn't let go. Then he had her pinned on her back, and he was still inside her, his eyes flashing yellow, a low growl rumbling from his throat.

"Do you want me, or don't you, you maddening woman? Tell me."

"Fuck you, Spike! Fuck you!" She thought she was struggling, but stopped when she realized she was only working herself on him, and forced herself to lie still, panting and throbbing and utterly thrown open to him.

"Tell me to get off you, an' I will. Tell me to leave you, an' I'll go. But don't play me like this, Buffy. Makin' us both miserable when there's no need."

"I told you . . . I told you . . . ." She couldn't put any force into her words, and let them trail off, turning her head, closing her eyes. "Let go of my hands." He did, and she reached for the top sheet; dragged its folds up around her bad leg. Feeling it safely shrouded, she began again to move beneath him. After a moment he said "hunh!" and moved with her. She circled his back with her arms, and they were really doing it now, long deep satisfying strokes, then faster and faster. She kept her eyes squeezed shut, tried to see herself the way she was two months ago, when she could dig both heels into the mattress to meet his thrusts. When she could run and kick and was the master slayer, the one like no other.

She was still like no other. The Council had never let a gimp slayer live on before.

Maybe, if she was still in the succession, they wouldn't even be so enlightened now.

She wanted to wrap both legs around him, squeeze him between her thighs. How was she going to be able to get off if she couldn't do that?

She'd never be able to do that again.

Everything was ruined.

She swore she hadn't spoken aloud, but Spike paused. "Where the hell are you? Open your eyes an' look at me. Be with me."

She peeked at him, half expecting to see game face. His gaze was cool. Hard as he'd been working up to that moment, there wasn't a trace of sweat on his face. Spike didn't sweat.

"What are you doing . . . ? Don't . . . don't stop."

"Kiss me, Buffy."

"Damnit— " She wriggled. "— why'd you stop?"

"Feelin' a bit anonymous here. Like I could be anyone. Kiss me nice, an' look at me. Come on."

"You come on." She tried to restart him with a pitch of her hips; needing the motion, the frenzy. Needing it and wanting to get it over with so she could be alone.

"Tell me you love me, and kiss me like you mean it."

"Jeez. You know — "

He glowered. "Right now, way you're actin', I know nothing, Slayer."

She turned her head then. "I'm not the slayer any more. This is stupid. I've had enough. Get off me."

This time he obeyed at once, swinging himself around to sit on the edge of the bed, his back to her, head in his hands.

Bereft, she stayed where she was. The air felt cold against her wet thighs, but she didn't close them, just tugged the sheet more securely around her stump.

"I know you're angry," Spike murmured. "I know it's hard. Can't imagine how hard, not gonna pretend I can. But all I want's to console you."

"Don't want to be consoled! What a disgusting word that is!"

"Not . . . not the way I mean it, Buffy. My darling missus you are, just want you not to drift away from us. Want to help you. I know you're sad, not askin' you to just snap out of it, but why can't you be sad in my arms? Don't you know I'm sad too?"

"Oh Spike . . . except it doesn't help. It . . . doesn't . . . nothing . . . does . . . ."

"Really? Are you sure?" He'd turned back to her. "Sure it's no good to you, when we do this . . . ?"

He stretched out beside her and pulled her up onto his chest. Kissed her, and she kissed back, even as she thought no use, no use.

"Sweetness, you know I'd give up one of mine— hell, both of mine— if it would bring yours back. But I love you just the same. Want you just the same. Dunno how many times, how many ways I have to say it. Wish you'd believe it. It's only the truth."

"I . . . I know."

"What's the use then of us fighting? You fighting yourself. Let's have our fuck and a good sleep. S'what we both need." He sat up again, still holding her. "Ought to be in our own bed, as well. This's not good for you."

"But this is my room."

"Long time ago," he said, gathering her up, rising. "You've got another now, with me. S'where you belong."

In the hall, he paused to listen. She hung onto his neck and listened too. The door of Jemima's room at the end was shut, all was quiet.

"You can feel her sleeping, can't you, Spike?"

She realized with a pang that it was the first she'd thought of her daughter for hours and hours.

"Hear her breathing, yeah, her little heart pumping. She's all right. But night's getting' short."

He carried her into their room. The flickering candles always made it seem like a sacred place— sacred to their strange strong passion. The sight of them all around, and of their large broad bed, brought on a gust of nostalgia that took her like a sharp cramp.

Spike seemed to read her mind. "Nothing's over, my queen. Just changed a bit. But we adapt. Haven't we been adaptin' to each other since we first began?" He set her down, and himself beside her.

She stared at him, blinking because her eyes were so dry. I'm not the slayer anymore and I'm a bad mother and a bad wife and everything is all wrong and if I say anything about it you'll just try to console me again, goddamnit. But then you touch me . . . .

His hand was on her breast then, stroking the nipple delicately beneath his palm until it was taut and hard. He lifted her damaged leg, touching it in a way that was both reverent and offhanded, and slipped inside her.

"Put your arms round me, pet. Hold me tight, my good girl. We're gonna finish this now, we're gonna get where we're goin' . . . ." He put his tongue out against her lips; she thrust hers out to meet it. Then he murmured, "Hang on, better still . . . " and rolled them over to their other sides. "Now put your leg over my hip . . . that's it, I'm home now . . . ."

This was a good way, she realized at once; she could almost pretend there was nothing wrong, in this position, where she could hug him hard with her top leg and both arms as she writhed against his belly.

"It doesn't hurt you, does it? Me lyin' on it?"

"No lover. Nothing hurts. It's all good."

"Yeah?" He smiled into her eyes. "I always want to be good for you . . . good to you . . . I'm a man for you . . . you've made me a real man, haven't you Buffy . . . you turned my nature, didn't you? Didn't you, pet?"

He was gasping now, moving in her in a quick rhythm. She clasped him tighter, intent now on nothing but getting to her pleasure, to his, relishing her power as he began to lose control.

Poor patient Spike. How hard she made him work! She was seized with a pitying urge to console him.

"Do you want to feed?"

He gave her an incredulous glance.

"Go on . . . I want you to. I want to come with you drinking me . . . do it . . . ."

She watched him fight himself; even when she offered freely, he often struggled to accept; his penchant for her blood shamed him. It was one of the things she loved him for, just as she loved his excitement at feeding on her, the bliss he radiated afterwards, along with her borrowed heat.

God, I'm so kinky, always was and always will be . . .

"Bite me, Spike . . . show me your fang face again . . . c'mon, I need it now . . . ."

That liquid noise of the shift into game face was almost drowned by his growl.

"Beautiful filthy girl— " His voice sounded different through the fangs— years hadn't made any of this less novel or exciting or— yes, agreeably scary. When his fangs broke through into her neck she bucked, cried out, yanking at the hair at the back of his head as she went over her own edge.

He drew a few long pulls that matched the snap of his hips; then seized up for one long long moment, and began to spend.

Panting side by side— he'd once told her he panted to keep her company, so she needn't pant alone— he turned and licked the salt from her glistening shoulder.

"There's a flood between my legs."

"Haven't come in a while. Been savin' myself for you."

"Yeah, but it's me too."

"I know. You get so wet for me, Slayer. You always have. Most flattering thing in the world, it is." He dipped his fingers into her and brought them up all gooey to his mouth. He was still game-faced, and she felt a frisson of pleasurable disgust at his wanton relishing of all their fluids. "This lot's too good to waste. Gonna lick it all up."

He lowered himself down her body. She heard the game-face go off just as he buried his nose and mouth in the sopping folds of her cunt.

"You're so gross, Spike," she murmured dreamily. Surrounding by all those tiny candles, wrung out and throbbing, she could almost have gone to sleep.

"Only thing better would be if you were on the rag as well."

She'd known he'd say that. Known he'd do this.

Knew he'd adore her until there was nothing left of her but a curl of hair in a watch-fob, and an album of photographs, and even then . . . .

Even then . . . .

She bit her tears back, hiding her face in the crook of her elbow. They seemed to freeze inside, making a smooth hard glaze between her and him, even as he brought her again to the threshold of pleasure.

The blare of cartoons, coming up from the living room, woke him. Buffy, head buried in disordered hair, was still out, her mouth inelegantly open, her eyes moving beneath their closed lids. Good. This was good. He'd brought her back. Yet again. Looked at one way, their whole relationship, from the outset, was about her fleeing, or floating, away, and him bringing her back. Don't leave me, she'd begged him at the beginning. But really it was so much more the other way around. Hence the engraving inside the gold ring he'd given her when Jemima was a year old. "W.G. & B.S.: FMN"

Forsake me not.

He rose, put on jeans and a teeshirt. Went back to the other room to fetch her prosthesis and crutches and bring them to where she could reach them, then hastened down to silence the TV.

Jemima was sitting crosslegged right in front of it, staring in that way that made it look like her eyes were about to melt down her cheeks.

"Too much noise, Pudding, while your mum's sleeping." Spike said, leaning over her to turn it off. He was braced for protest, but all she did was continue to stare at the black screen for another five seconds, then crane up at him.

"Papa, what are we?"

"What . . .are we? Not sure I get the question, Treasure."

"I heard Mrs Miucci say you were unemployed. "

"Well, she's wrong. You know that. Thought we'd established yesterday that she an' her nosy sister are silly cows. Not— not that you shouldn't be polite to her, an' all, like your mum taught you."

"But I heard her say you're odd. She said you weren't what you expect around here. Why would she say that?"

"Just means I'm better lookin' than her husband, that's all."

"Papa, that is not what she meant."

She had Buffy's gift for grimness, a humorless intensity. He wasn't going to get out of this— whatever it was— with jokes or misdirection.

He plopped down onto the floor beside her. "What're you worried about? Whatever it is, you just tell me."

Her little face was suddenly so full of trouble that he thought of Dru, when one of her madnesses was upon her and she couldn't express herself or sit still.

"She thought we were funny! She was talking about us and laughing! She thought we were weird! And I don't know why they look at me like that and I don't know what we are! I want to be like Cathy and everybody else!"

"You are like Cathy. She's a little girl an' so are you. You're smarter an' prettier an' better in every possible way than her, but otherwise you're just like her."

She gave him that look that said don't even try it, Mister. "She said she won't let Cathy come here anymore because of you!"

God, she was making him dizzy with all the sudden turns. And this was coming on much sooner than he'd anticipated— he'd assumed the child wouldn't really start wondering or asking questions for another couple of years, at least. He'd had great faith in the idea that she'd just accept things the way they were— wasn't that what kiddies did? Anyway when they weren't asking why the sky was blue or what their belly buttons were for or what would happen if you ate the whole tube of toothpaste at once. Questions he'd become pretty good at answering and would've liked to revert to now. She could make his head spin, even worse than her mother.

"Look, you can't waste time worrying what everybody thinks about you. Passin' judgment on the neighbors is the national pastime, and that's just how it is. Got to just ignore it and go about your business. Cathy's mum's probably bored, an' it amuses her to make things up about other people. That's all it is."

Sometimes he really missed the days when he could just bite the face off anybody, human or demon, who looked at Dru cross-eyed. Hard as it was to countenance any criticism of her, it was a thousand times worse to think of anybody looking down upon his daughter, who was perfect, and a bona fide miracle to boot, and anyway his.

His and Buffy's, forever, ineradicably. Their link, their legacy, the walking talking singing dancing laughing pestering result of their amazing connection.

She looked, at this moment, very like her mother, with her honey brown hair hanging down on either side of her tense white wounded-looking face, her little body huddled in the pink nightgown, all knees and elbows and sharp shoulders. But her protruding lower lip was like his, and even more so when she pouted, as now; he thought too that she took after him in feeling everything more, perhaps, than other people did.

Although Buffy, too, felt things deeply. They were both extraordinarily passionate, and Jemima took after them. He recognized himself in her whirling tantrums, and her mother in her ability to sulk for hours without deviation.

"But— "

"But what, Jemmie? Let's not flog this dead horse— she's not so interesting to me as I am to her."

Her words spilled out in a torrent. "We're not like other people and I don't know what happened to Mamma and she hates us now and what's going to happen to us if she can't do her work? And I don't know what her work is!"

He put a hand to her face, to smooth back the hair, and she flinched. Flinched, and stared at it, and then stared at him, her face a mask of suspicion and fury. "Why are your hands always like that?"

Spike's heart sank. "Like what, Biscuit?"

"Not warm. Mamma's hands are warm, and Uncle Rupert's and Uncle Xander's and everybody but yours. Their hearts thump but when I hug you I don't hear any thumping."

"Your father's a vampire."

Jemima's head snapped around. Buffy had somehow managed to come down the stairs without them hearing her. She came into the room, moving on the prosthesis with a near-smoothness Spike had not yet seen. She was dressed in jeans and a blouse, her newly-washed hair hanging wet around her shoulders. Reaching them she knelt in one motion onto her good leg, and it was almost impossible to tell that anything was different, that the other leg wasn't flesh and bone.

"He's a vampire who put me in thrall a long long time ago," she said, steadying herself on his shoulder, " and now I'm powerless to resist his sinister attraction. Do you know what a vampire is, Jemmie? They're terrible monsters that drink blood. You know how you can tell that someone's a vampire? They have no pulse, they don't go out in the sun, and they leave big stacks of dirty dishes in the sink for other people to wash, even though strictly speaking they shouldn't eat solid food at all."

Jemima frowned, glancing between them. "I thought Papa had that . . . xero-dermo-pig-thingie."

"Nope. He's a real vampire. He's got big sharp terrible fangs. Show her your fangs, Spike."

What the hell was Buffy playing at? This was not in the plan. "She's a real comedian, your mum." He passed an arm around her waist, and pinched her where Jemima couldn't see, but Buffy didn't react.

"He's really very vain about his fangs. He thinks they're terribly handsome. Loves to show them off. Show her, Spikey."

Jemima's eyes were big as saucers now. She quivered with her efforts to follow, and to resist following.

"But you said— "

"Well, when you were a little little girl we had to tell you something. But now you're big and mature and can understand everything, you should know that— "

The girl was on her feet now, bristling. "MAMMA, STOP! YOU'RE HURTING PAPA'S FEELINGS!"

Buffy's eyebrows shot up. "Oh, do you think so?" Her arm tightened around his shoulders, and she glanced at him with eyes that— he couldn't quite believe it— sparkled.


Buffy put her hands over her ears. "Ouch."

Jemima's voice dropped to a near whisper. "It's not nice." She threw herself against him, burrowing her own hot little face into his neck.

Then Buffy's face was close on the other side, her lips against his ear. "There, she won't bring that up again for a long long time. Right?" And she bit his earlobe, giggling.

Rising nearly as easily as she'd knelt, Buffy started for the kitchen. "Who wants breakfast? I'm cooking."

From the refuge of her place in the circle of Spike's arm, Jemima looked up at her. "Are you going to be nice to us?"

"Yup. I'm going to be nicer than nice. I'm going to put a full sixteen ounces of nice into every pancake. How's that?"

"Sixteen ounces?" She glanced at Spike. "Is that a lot?"

"The absolute maximum the law an' physics allow."

"Those who help get to lick the bowl." Buffy headed for the kitchen, and Jemima scrambled after her, leaving him kneeling there, blindsided and astonished and not quite sure whether Buffy's maneuver was brilliant or idiotic or the meanest thing she'd ever done.

And even if Jem didn't bring the subject up again soon, what about all the other questions she'd blurted? The girl's curiosity, her ability to fret, was like one of those vast underground rivers that periodically expressed itself in floods and boiling geysers and cave-ins. Just because she didn't speak up didn't mean she wasn't riddling herself with worries.

She'd said she didn't know what Buffy did, or what had happened to her. She didn't know what he did. She didn't know what was to become of them. How, he wondered, did all this look through her eyes?

And how would she remember today, and the way they'd treated her, when she finally learned the truth?

"I don't think you should've said that. She'll remember it later, Buffy. Kiddies always do remember things like that. God, even now I remember things my poor ignorant nurse used to say. That woman could frighten me half to death with her remarks. You must too."

"I didn't have a nurse," Buffy said dryly. "And I really don't think she will." She gave him another of her blank looks, that seemed to set them back, way back before last night's lovemaking, to those early days after the accident, when she'd been white and drawn and wreathed in an impenetrable silence. Maybe even farther back than that— back to when she'd felt nothing for him but contempt.

"She's worried about you. About what you do, and not being able to do it any more. How're we going to explain all this to her?"

"Why should we?" Buffy slung the dryer door open and began yanking towels out with fast jerky motions. "Let her have her childhood. Even I had one. Even you, with your stupid old nursie. Didn't you?"

"Well . . . yes."

"She isn't even eight, Spike. I don't want her to know until she's old enough to be out after dark, which is when she'll need to be aware of what's out there. I figure that gives us seven or eight years to figure out what to say."

"You think we can wait that long?"

"I do, yeah."

He didn't, but saw it was time to change the subject. "You looked . . . wonderful when you came in before. I mean, you startled me, but . . . you were walking so well. It's stopped hurting, has it?"

She banged the dryer door. "It doesn't hurt. I just hate it. It's not real."

"It's a genuine prosthetic leg."

"Shut up, Spike."

Her obsession with the "real." Sometimes he wondered how she saw the reality of everything between them.

"Let me carry that for you."

"I can do it."

For a second they struggled over the basket, then he let it go. She wasn't looking at him.

"The council used to finish off maimed slayers. So a new one, who could function, could be called. Did you know that, Spike?"

"Never . . . never really thought about it."

"It's true. They have these goons, enforcers— like the ones who tried to take me when I was stuck in Faith's body. They send them out, and the problem . . . goes away."

"That's not going to happen now."

"Only because I'm out of the succession. But why should they go on paying me when I can't do anything?"

"'Course they'll pay you. Didn't Giles tell you there's no question about that? Pay you for your smarts. Your experience. Your work at the academy. Just because you can't fight like you used to . . . ."

"Oh, right, I forgot. I've got the fancy title now, what was it Giles called me— slayer emeritus.. What's an emeritus? Sounds like a hippopotamus. Which is what I'll get to look like, sitting around on my ass."

"Chance for you to rest, pet, isn't it? Pursue other interests. Clear conscience. Would like to take you places. Could take you to Europe. Show you Paris. An' there's other things we might think about. Another kid, maybe . . . ."

She flinched and gaped. "Another kid? How? How could we have another kid?"

"Wouldn't . . . wouldn't be mine, of course, exactly . . . but that's not so important. There's . . . other ways . . . could . . . Xander, for instance . . . he'll never marry, not anymore. Could be a sweet thing, to . . . ."

"You pig. You've really thought about this!"

". . . yeah . . . wasn't aware that wantin' another baby made me so despicable . . just like havin' kiddies around is all. Just considering the things you couldn't do before. That you're free to do now."

"Is that what I am? All I'm good for anymore? Breeding stock for the Scoobies?"

"Buffy. You're taking everything I say and twisting it. Forget it, then. But what about us going off somewhere for a bit? We never did have a honeymoon. You've never been across the sea."

She straightened up, the laundry basket under her arm, and glared at him.
"You're consoling again."

"Might be we should move from here. I can't . . . I can't do that Mei Yi any good. Never gonna win her trust. I'm thinking we could get ourselves off the hellmouth and start again fresh somewhere else."

She squinted at him. "What's this about Mei Yi?"

"I wouldn't bring it up, only . . . she's getting good, Buffy. She's a fucking slayer, with a one-track mind. Can't trust her, is the thing."

"What— she's threatening you? Still? Why don't you— "

"What? Slam her down?"

"No, just— it's not like the chip works any more— you could— let her know— "

"Escalating's just what she'd like— give her a no-fault excuse to lop off my head when my back's turned. Thinkin' maybe we should talk to Giles."

"Guess so. He could send her away. There's always a lot of demonic activity in Cleveland."

"Not her. Thinkin' us. Got to be other places we could be useful— back in England, maybe, at Council headquarters . . . could pick up and move. Change of scene might do us good. You'd love London. Jemmie'd look sweet in one of those little schoolgirl unis they wear there."

"Has she actually done anything— ?"

He didn't want to tell her, but she got into his face, grabbed his shirt collar.


"Got me in the shoulder with an arrow couple nights ago, patrolling. Pretended it was an accident. All she's lacking is the last little bit of confidence to defy Giles, an' she'll do what she likes."

A choking sound came from her. She sagged then, let the basket drop to the floor, and followed it, staring numbly into her lap. "That bitch. I told her to leave you alone . . . ."

"Yeah, well, she doesn't approve of slayers an' vamps shackin' up. Made that pretty clear to everybody who'll listen. Not that many do . . . ."

"Yeah. Well, nobody likes her because she'sannoying."

Mei Yi wasn't like Wu Xia, the Chinese slayer Spike had done in a hundred years ago, but her mere nationality reminded him of that now sickening memory. At twenty, Mei Yi was older than the other potentials, and spoke almost no English— the council had ferreted her out of a remote rural part of the inland Chinese vastness, an operation that had taken some years to effect, even with their web of sub-rosa connections. She'd been a student at the slayer academy for nine months when Faith died, and she was called.

Spike had taken a strong dislike to her on first sight. She was taller than he was, broad and muscular, graceless, and rather butch, with a face and manner devoid of every feminine charm. Even before she came, Buffy had teased him and Giles more seriously warned him, that his tendency to display favoritism for the more attractive trainees was obvious to the girls themselves. So he'd tried to compensate with Mei Yi. Show her a bit of kindness. Help her with her English conversation. Encourage the other girls to include her. The English speakers among the trainees had a tendency to club together and ignore the others, a situation it was difficult to legislate against, hard as Giles tried to foster a sense of universal camaraderie among them. Half the girls were counting the months until their formal training was complete and they could return home, there to resume something like normal life on the assumption that they'd probably never be called at all. The others were so drunk on their sense of specialness that they wanted to act as slayers even without being called— and were very resistant to the notion that they might just end up being regular people after all. Faith, like Buffy, was the longest-surviving slayer in living memory; each victory seemed to make her stronger. It was possible to imagine she would last forever, at least until that mythical point, upon which the watchers were disagreed, when she would age out of her powers and a new slayer be called though the old one yet lived.

In the midst of this soup of anxiety, ambition and hormones, Mei Yi bobbed, awkward, silent, miserable, intense.

He didn't know that her understanding was so imperfect. That she was unaware for a long while that he was a vampire. It certainly was no secret, but she just happened never to see him vamp out— he seldom did when working with the girls. And being impervious to their ordinary chatter, she didn't understand either what he was to Buffy. That knowledge came first, and brought with it a withdrawal, an embarrassment, that showed through her tremendous shyness and reserve how crushed out she'd been on him. This happened to plenty of the girls, but only Mei Yi was so ignorant of the disposition of Spike's affections. And only Mei Yi of all of them seemed to possess a sense of shame at her very being— that anyone so large and graceless and plain could feel desire.

That was the beginning of her antipathy towards him. He'd roused in her feelings she could not accept.

Shortly afterwards she understood more about him: someone, Spike never learned who, put into her hands transcripts of the journal kept by Wu Xia's watcher. This, as he learned later, coincided with a chance meeting away from the Academy— Mei Yi saw him, with Buffy and Jemima, doing an early evening shopping run at the Safeway. Through her newly-enlightened eyes, the sight of them together struck her as obscene: it was at their next training session that she made her first earnest attempt to kill him.

Although she was still only a potential, she was very strong, and had the advantage on him of surprise. Had Buffy not come in and launched herself at her back, Mei Yi's long blade would've taken Spike's head from his shoulders.

Spike clapped a hand to the bloody gash on his neck, and Buffy suffered a shallow slice herself before she wrestled the sword away and held it to the new girl's breast.

"Let me go! He is the enemy! He deserves death!" She'd made great strides with her English.

Trembling, white-lipped, Buffy pressed down on her. "I'm going to let you up in a second. But first you listen. Spike is a vampire, yes. We kill vampires, yes. But he is our ally, and he is my lover, and the father of my child. He doesn't kill people anymore, and we do not kill him. Say it. Say, we do not kill Spike.

"You are sick. You are all sick here! What is this indecency? You allow it, you Watcher, and you ask for my respect?"

Giles had hastened in, and stood over them now.

"There is much you don't yet understand," Giles said.

"I understand what I see. What I see— disgusts me."

Although Giles had held many further conversations with her about Spike, and Buffy, and what he expected of her as a potential, things had devolved when Faith died and Mei Yi was called. Faith's death left them all dizzy and sick and despairing, as if a huge meteor had come down on the town and blasted it. The identity of the new Slayer was at first something that none of the Scoobies could bring him or herself to care about. When it was clear that it was Mei Yi, their mourning only seemed to deepen.

Thinking of all this, Spike said, "An' she knows she's not Faith. An' that we all know it too. 'Spect she's jealous of you."

"Jealous? Of what I have? One and a third legs? Or, no— that's not what she envies. Jealous because I have you? Wanting to kill you's the perfect sublimation for wanting to— "

He shrugged. "Bint's lonely. Far from home." He wondered why he was making excuses for her; supposed it was another sign that he'd evolved. Could you grow a soul? Like kudzu?

"Oh, so it's the home she envies? Well gee— she could spend some time here indulging herself with what I have! The laundry, I'd be happy to let her have that. Picking up those thirty million tiny plastic toys Jemima scatters around day after day after day— that she can have. She can have the cooking and the bills and you slumped in front of the television in the middle of the day and those boring Pee Wee Soccer League games that of course you don't have to go to, and trying to figure out how to build one of those stupid model volcanos for Jem's science fair entry, and the Mamma Mamma Mamma that never stops— "

"Buffy." Spike gripped her arm. "Don't— you're mad at me, fight with me. But leave Jemmie out of this— don't say what you don't mean."

She tore away from him with a snarl. "Oh, now I can't even speak my mind? What's the matter, Spike— reality too hard for you? You think I'm kidding? Not living in Paradise, here! Not quite what I bargained for!"

"For Christ's sake, woman!" He growled, the demon riding his anger to the surface. "What's happened to you! She's our baby— only one we'll ever have together— an' what? She's too tiresome? She bores you?"

The expression on Buffy's face— or rather the lack of expression, was chilling. For a second, there seemed to be no one there at all. Like this epileptic kids who'd check out for a few seconds at a time, seem to leave their bodies vacant. Then Buffy rolled back in, a Fury rolling across the face of the heavens. The blankness coalesced into white rage.

"Shut up, Spike! Stop telling me what I'm supposed to do and feel and be— ! You— don't— know— anything! Just— shut— up!" She rose, not gracefully but fast, stepped back onto the prosthetic leg, and gave him a roundhouse kick to the head that sent him flying.

"You think I'm helpless now? You think I can't fight anymore? Mei Yi's the only slayer you've got to worry about?"

She wasn't as swift as before, or quite as agile, but she was still swift, still agile, and still, with her fists, as strong as ever: the succession of furious blows she rained on him opened his brow and cheekbone right up, knocked him back again and again, until he managed to duck and feint, then come around and grab her. If he could just get her to stop, to calm down— then her elbow jammed into his belly and he fell to one knee at the same moment that a piping cry ripped the air.


He glanced up; Jemima was on the cellar stairs, both hands clapped over her mouth, body rigid with terror. When their eyes met, hers bulged, and she started to scream.

Buffy seemed turned to stone, her back to him. She made no move towards Jemima, who also apparently couldn't move, planted on the spot by shock and terror, sounding like her little vocal cords would rupture.

Spike was halfway to the stairs when she suddenly scrambled backwards, still screaming, slipped and slid down a couple of steps but then surged up them like a salmon fighting its way upriver, practically on her belly.

"Good God— what is happening here— Jemima! What's the matter, child? Where's your mother?"

Giles' voice preceded him; he caught the girl's shoulders, and took in the scene at the bottom of the stairs.

"Spike, you— you are frightening her."

It was that calm solemn declaration that released him enough from the moment to understand that he was in game face, and to shake it off. At the same time Buffy let out a groan, and dashed forward. But instead of snatching Jemima into her arms, as Spike, and clearly Giles as well, expected, she barreled past them up the steps and disappeared.

Giles gave Spike one further glance before carrying the hysterical Jemima up to the kitchen.

When he was alone, Spike went to the utility sink and did his best to rinse the cuts until the blood stopped coming. He drank some of the cold water from his cupped palms, and remained leaning there, shivering against the heavy porcelain, letting it run over his hands. Even with the faucet on and the distance between them, he could hear his daughter's sobbing, punctuated by an occasional wail, quite clearly from the floor above. Everything in him wanted to go to her, but the knowledge that at least some, if not the greater part, of her anguish was a result of seeing his true face made him hesitate. She ought to be calm before he confronted her again, she ought to be prepared. He heard a murmuring, too low for his sensitive ears to catch the words, from Giles. That was good; Giles was a champion at calming people down. But Buffy he could not hear, could not feel. She'd left the house.

He couldn't have told, in his misery, how much time went by when Anya appeared at his back. He was still slumped over the sink, mesmerized by the steady pouring of the cold water over his fingers, enveloping them like a moving glove.

She tapped him on the shoulder.

"Rupert called me to come help. What happened? Jemima is out of her mind."

He turned slowly. "So's Buffy. So . . . so am I."

Apart from the time she'd pulled over and peed behind a stand of bushes, this was the first stop she'd made, and she didn't even know where she was anymore. Keeping an eye on signs wasn't part of this— it was all she could do to keep the car between the lines, what with her eyes periodically flooding with tears of remorse and rage.

So now it was three a.m. and she might've been in California still, or Nevada, maybe Arizona, she had no idea, but she didn't really care. Exhausted, aching all over, head buzzing, she pulled up in front of the diner, its parking lot devoid of cars though it was lit up like a beacon in this middle-of-nowhere. The place was brightly lit with cold fluorescents, and empty save for her and the middle-aged waitress. The plate glass window she sat beside reflected a row of booths and a bunch of empty tables, faded pink walls and floors. The waitress wore pink too, and her bun was starting to come down. She brought coffee with the menu.

"Evenin', honey. What can I get you?"

"I don't . . . grilled cheese. On whole wheat."

She waited inertly in the booth. Her nose was stuffed up, eyes stinging as if she'd driven through clouds of ragweed pollen, and the stump ached. She'd never had the prosthesis on for such a length of time before, and even though it wasn't her driving leg, the hours in the car did it no favors. Even so, she wanted to go on. Wanted to just go on escaping, go on going. Not get anywhere. She hated this so much. This, what? Everything. She couldn't look too close at what she'd done, was doing.

The cup of coffee steamed in front of her, its oily surface shimmering as if it was going to reveal something to her.
The waitress reappeared and set the grilled cheese sandwich in front of her.

"Can I get you anything else, honey?"

The waitress, oddly, was now sitting opposite her. She looked so tired, but she leaned forward sympathetically. "What's the matter, hon? You in some kind of difficulty?"

"Is it that obvious?"

"Hate to see such a pretty little thing as you looking so troubled. You come from a ways away, don't you?"

"Oh yeah."

Buffy glanced at their reflections in the plate glass window. Two tired women slumped in their seats.

"What happened to you? Go on and tell me, there's nobody else here 'cept the cook, and he's listening to the game on the radio."
Her haggard face was so kind, so entirely focused on her. The bubble of angry pain inside Buffy swelled, pushed up, and expelled itself in viscid, silent tears. "I'm bad. I'm a bad woman, I'm a terrible mother, I messed up on the . . . on the job, so now I'm . . . I . . . I've failed. I've failed at everything. I broke it all."

"Broke it all?" the waitress echoed. "Are you sure?"
Buffy nodded. Her eyes burned now, the tears felt like lava tracking down her face, like they'd leave deep red welts.

"Anybody dead?" the waitress asked.


"Then how broken can it be?"

"I've failed. I . . . couldn't do it. I couldn't do what other women do. I shouldn't have tried, I'm not normal. I can't love, like . . . they love me, and it just makes me feel, it makes me feel smothered, it makes me— " She put her hands to her throat. "All this time, they thought I loved them, the way they love me. But I can't love." Saying the words seemed to make the whole idea, which had plagued her for years, more real. She jerked with sobs, no longer caring what the waitress thought of her, of how she looked or sounded.

"Oh baby, haven't we all been there? I been through two husbands, I got five grown kids. I know what you mean." She put a hand out, patted Buffy's arm, then dragged herself to her feet. "Don't run yourself down like that. 'Course you can love, everybody can."

She gave her head a wild shake. "Not everybody! I'm one of the ones who can't!"

"Sssh, sssh. I'm sure that's not true." She pulled some napkins from the dispenser and pressed them into Buffy's hand.

"I can't love . . . I'm too hard. It's too hard . . . everytime I try, I fail . . . ."

"Well hon, maybe you just need to try again."

She was immensely tired, sunk down deep into herself, caught in blackness, stillness. Somewhere far away some kind of dull roar was happening, but it wasn't any of her business. A squishing noise came closer. She felt someone touching her, but again it didn't seem to be any of her business, and she didn't move. Couldn't move? Wouldn't move.


When sleep receded, she was high and dry. Whole body an ache. She tried to move her lips. Mouth cottony, unbearable.


Familiar voice. Small object prodded against her lips. A straw. She caught it, pulled. Water. Perfect water. All she ever needed or wanted.

Eyes're all crusty," the voice said.

Spike. She knew then, where she was. Hospital. Leg bitten off, floating on fever, Spike always by her side. She'd thought that was over a few weeks ago, but probably just dreamt about going home. Time not so meaningful. Dreams took over for reality, if there even was such a thing as reality. Who cared? So much of that, long convoluted narratives, visitations, going far far away.

Something cool and moist against her eyes. Wiping them. Then something a little less cool, a little less moist.

His lips. Reverently kissing one eyelid, then the other.

Didn't want to open, but she did. He'd expect it.

"How're you doing?"

She could feel them both. Weirdest thing. That's how it always was in the movies— the phantom limb. She'd never quite believed it, how could you feel something that was so completely gone? But she did. Both heavy, weighed down by the folded blanket, but she could swear they felt the same, right, left. Wriggled the toes on one, then the other.

"Want to move?" he said then. "Nurse said I could help you up if you want to walk a bit."

That didn't make sense. How could she walk, only one leg? Too weak and rubbery to manage crutches. Was he going to hold her up? Drag her around like a rag mop?

"Think you should, really," he added, and drew the blanket down. "Sit up now, sweetness."

She didn't want to look, but then she wasn't fast enough, jamming her eyes closed.

So she saw them. Her two feet. Pink frosted polish on the toes. Not even chipped. Spike gripped her ankles and drew her gently around so her legs dangled off the bed.
Stood in front of her, ready to help haul her up. That's when she felt it. Her belly, thick, empty, the wad of moist padding between her legs. Understood.

"I had the baby," she blurted.

Spike froze.

She looked up into his face. He was white. White, papery, eyes ringed in dark circles. He looked like . . . he looked like a vampire. Like Nosferatu, all drawn and ancient. A bubble of wondering enquiry expanded in her, pushed upward, threatened to overwhelm her altogether. The bubble pushed mystery before it, left clarity in its wake. "And she's . . . she's gone."

He averted his eyes then. "Did you forget?" he said, his voice low. "While you were sleeping?"

"Our baby's dead."

"Slippers are here," Spike murmured. "Stand up an' I'll put your robe round you."

The bubble burst then, and washed her in . . . what? She felt so light. She felt, under the weakness, and the nausea . . . oh God . . . .

She felt free.

She tested some words on her tongue. "Spike, I'm sorry." They made his face crumple. He turned from her, grabbed up her robe from the chair nearby. His shoulders shook.

He did not feel free.

Oh, this was bad. This was bad. She was bad, because her baby was dead and she only felt relieved . . . because Spike was in such pain, and yet he seemed so far away, and even if she put her arms around him she wouldn't be able to feel what he felt because she didn't have it in her.

She didn't have any love in her. It was true.

But she'd be able to go on hiding that, the way she'd been hiding it all along, now the baby was dead.

The baby would've given her away, for sure.

Tara still lived with them, and she hadn't moved out in anticipation of the new addition to the household. Which was good, because she was the one who took care of things in the days after the hospital. She kept the house running, made sure Dawn had good regular meals. She came in and made Buffy put fresh sheets on her bed. Gently pointed out that she ought to brush her hair, maybe take a bath. Brought her sandwiches and mugs of soup, remarking that she knew this must be so hard, unimaginably hard, but that she hoped soon Buffy would feel more like herself.

She also held Spike's hand when he cried. Buffy knew this because she caught them once, when she woke up earlier than usual and went quietly downstairs. Face hidden in one hand, Spike stood at the kitchen island, weeping convulsively, and Tara stood next to him, squeezing his other hand in both of hers.
Buffy watched for a moment, then retreated back to her bed.

Spike didn't cry with her. He kept away; she wasn't sure where he was sleeping, because she didn't check— didn't open any of the closed doors on the upstairs hall when she climbed up after lunch to lie down for her own nap. All she knew was that he'd reverted to the vampire thing of resting during the day, because at night he left the house altogether. She didn't ask him where he went. She was just glad he was giving her her space. Sometimes she missed him, when she was patrolling, and would've liked him there to trade quips with, to show off to. She didn't need any real help, though. She was the slayer.

Patrolling nightly for those couple of hours— or longer, she liked to make it last— was the only time she really felt fully awake. The air in the house might've been suffused with some soporific drug— even on the sunniest, freshest day, with all the windows open, all she could do at home was nod and yawn. She was jealous of her free time, but didn't do anything with it except watch a little television and nap. Sometimes she baked, large sugary cakes with inches of icing, sheets of gooey cookies. She felt really proud of these productions— they seemed to indicate that she was still a real woman, because wasn't it the height of womanliness, to manipulate sugar into shapes? Was supposed to have something to do with love.

But then she ate most of what she'd baked while watching Home Shopping Network, and when the others came in there wasn't much to show for it, or to offer them.

She knew this, but that's the way it was. Nothing to offer. She wondered occasionally what this change of venue for her life was supposed to mean. Was this not real? It felt real. Did it mean that the other reality, where she'd lost her leg and Jemima was alive, had never happened?

It occurred to her that she ought to mention it. Giles was around, she should tell him.

Maybe he'd just think it was a manifestation of her grief. That she'd make up some alternate reality where her baby survived. He might want her to see someone, a therapist or someone like that.

So she didn't say anything.

Sometimes in the late afternoon when the shadows were getting long, Spike would appear, hair standing up in tufts, shirt open, blinking sleep from his eyes, and join her in front of the box. They'd even cuddle, and that was good, so long as they didn't have to talk. He didn't try to talk. Which was so unusual for him, Mister Talky Mouth. He'd just smooth her hair with his palm, and she could tell he imagined this was soothing to her, that she liked it.

She did, she liked it all right.

Once she woke up so early in the morning that it was still dark. She'd been dreaming about him, he was fucking her with her legs hooked over his shoulders, his mouth was against hers and he breathed between her lips with every undulation. His breath was musty, it smelt of old dry plasterboard. Despite that strange detail, she came awake feeling sexy. First time here. Funny, she thought, that she hadn't even noticed how unsexy she'd felt since she got home from the hospital. Someone— doctor, social worker, might've said something to her about that— there was a counseling session she'd sleep-walked through, info she'd let slide off the surface of her consciousness.

Kicking the sheet off, she stretched her legs wide. Her clit was hard and slick, it seemed to spin under the pad of her finger like a ball bearing. Hunh. She panted, building. Nice. Didn't think about anything in particular— it was hot enough, just picturing herself, her own hand, her own wetness.

The door creaked. He sidled in, hands in his jeans pockets. "Pretty sight."

She turned her gaze away. Closed her eyes for good measure. Kept her hand moving.

He said, "Join you?"

She gave her head a hard shake.

Another couple of moments went by. She clenched around an imaginary cock, going for that rippling spasm inside, breathing hard. It was all about the breath. The breath and the finger moving fastasshecouldgo. Gulping down big air.

He made no move towards her, but she felt his gaze. Felt pinned by his gaze. He said again, "Pretty sight."

"Get out."

"Thought . . . door was ajar, love. Thought you wanted to attract my attention."

"I don't need you. Go away."

When she'd come, when everything subsided and she was the quieting thub of her heart and fingertips curled into moist curls, she opened her eyes.
She was alone.

She knew they talked about her, Tara, Xander, Giles, Anya, Faith. Spike too, probably. They talked about her amongst themselves, reassuring each other that she was grieving, that it was normal, that she'd get better, want to be with them more. They thought, of course, that she was recovering from losing her baby. Had no idea that she was visiting here from somewhere else, that this was some stop-off on the way to . . . fuck, who knew? Perdition. She'd been plucked up out of her life because she'd failed at it, and dropped off into this one, where failing at it seemed a little less obvious, because she had all this slack being cut for her, a great harvest-home of slack. Wouldn't last forever, but for the moment she could go with it.

She wasn't so isolated. When someone suggested a movie, a night at the Bronze, a trip to the mall, she dolled up and went.

One night she even let Spike take her to the drive in, just like they were high-schoolers on a date. She gave him a handjob in the DeSoto while staring at Keanu Reeves twenty feet tall through the windshield. After he came he hugged her close, his lips in her hair. Whispered that he loved her and she'd feel better soon, they'd be all right. Wouldn't be sad forever.

Well sure, she wanted to say, the only one of us who's forever is you.

When she came across Faith treating Spike to a knee-trembler up against a mausoleum at Restfield a few nights later she wasn't really surprised.

The surprise came in when something happened in her chest that felt like the heat death of the universe.

The tears that started from her eyes were scalding, they slid down her face and seemed to solidify like candle wax, burning her as they went.

She didn't mean to make her presence known; the cry came out of her quite unbidden.

Spike glanced around. Cursed, pulling away from Faith, stuffing himself back into his clothes. Faith seemed unconvinced there was any reason why they should stop what they were doing; she gave Buffy time to see more of her than she ever wanted to, before starting to set her own clothes to rights.

"You . . . you always do this to me." This had to be what it felt like for them, the vamps, when she drove in the stake. Slow motion end-it-all explosion. She'd been in this kind of pain before. But not lately, and that was what made it so enormous now. The realization that some stopped clock inside her— stopped so long she'd forgotten its existence— was starting up again with a massive scree of agony.

She was wide awake now.

Faith shrugged. "Hey B, you leave your toys lyin' out, someone's gonna pick 'em up and play with 'em."

"Oi! Not a plaything, here."

"Yeah," Faith laughed. "Sure. I'll leave you two to do whatever it is you old marrieds do in these sitches. Have fun." She sauntered off. For a second Buffy envisaged leaping after her, beating her down, screaming My man— mine! as she killed her.

Spike stood off from her, hang-dog, watching. "Didn't . . . didn't plan on that happenin'."

"Let's go home." She was still crying, but that didn't seem important. Even Spike himself, walking at her side, tense and apprehensive, didn't seem important up against this immense sensation inside. Knew she'd been dead before because only life hurt like this.

"Look— it didn't mean anything. Just . . .just . . . she came on to me. An' I've been kind of pent up here."

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Yeah, well maybe I do! Maybe I want to know why you do treat me like some doll you're outgrowing!"

"Shut up! I just caught you f-f-f-f-fucking Faith! You don't get to be angry!"

"Because you're gone!"

"It's not my fault you cheated on me!" She rounded on him, hit him. It felt very very good, her fist connecting with his face. So good she did it again. Until he knocked her down.

Not such a doormat, this Spike.

Stood over her, regarding her with his head tilted to one side, mouth agape. She started to get up, but he matter of factly put his boot on her shoulder and pushed her down again.

"Gettin' something here . . . seein' it now. You're glad, aren't you?"


"You're glad baby was born dead. Glad to be rid of her. An' now you want rid of me. You're leaving me, aren't you? Except I'm the one's supposed to realize it, an' up and go."


He laughed, a terrible sound. "Not no. Oh, I got you sussed Slayer. You . . . you're finished with me. In here." He tapped his temple. "Maybe a good thing we didn't have a child. Might not've worked out too well for her, having a mum who's all hot'n'cold like you are."

"I can't believe you cheated on me and now you're trying to— "

"Got. You. Sussed."

"Where are you going?" He'd started to walk away. She leapt up. "To Faith? You bastard— are you going to— "

"Don't want her. Want you. Fucking hell, dunno what I want. You're a meat grinder, Summers."

Nearly blinded with tears, heart hammering at her breast bone like it wanted out, she drove.

For most of the way she doubted she'd find the place again. She hadn't been paying attention when she went there in the first place, because she hadn't been going to anything, just running away.

But after a few hours of driving, she sensed it, the right place to turn off. And there it was, the diner, just as lit-up and empty as before.

Buffy slammed in the door.

The waitress— same one, thank God— glanced up from behind the counter she was wiping down with a damp rag.

"You back, hon?"

"I want my life back!"

The waitress glanced around, as if the tables and stools and napkin holders and light fixtures were her witnesses. "This is your life. Why don't you drink a cup of coffee and tell me how it's going?"

"Why don't you tell me who you are?"

"That's not important. You fetched up here because you keep making the same mistake over and over."

"Because . . . I . . . ."

"Well c'mon, honey." The waitress put her head on one side. "Don't you? I don't mean to be harsh here."

Buffy looked at her hands. The knuckles were a little sore, where they'd connected with his face.

"But . . . but this isn't my life! I gave birth to a live daughter. I had— I was— look, I know I messed it up! But I can do better! There's this . . . something blew up in here and now I feel it, I feel how much I need them, and— and— you have to fix this! I didn't ask for this!"

The waitress sighed. "Well, dear, you'll have to see if you can do better. Do you think you can?"

In the room he shared with Buffy, Spike had progressed from the disorderly— the boot through the television— and on to the drunk.

The sudden voice in the doorway madehim jump.

"Whoa— what'cha doing?"

Startled, he whipped around, splashing Jack Daniels onto the flickering votives so that they flared up with a loud hiss. He gestured wildly with the bottle, trying to ward her off. Not her room anymore. Willow couldn't just come marching into their house, into their room, like she owned the— oops. Fire.

His shirt cuff was a ring of flame.

Willow started forward. "Extingue!"

Every candle in the room went out at once, along with his shirt, leaving them in near dark, with the concentrated stink of beeswax and charred undead flesh.

"God Spike, what is this? The last time you were like this you managed to-to-to ruin my whole life, just about! So you'd better not be— "

"Not about your bloody life this time, is it? You're the one's barging in where you're not wanted! None of your bloody business!"

"Giles told me to check on you. He said there was a fight, that Buffy took off."

"I didn't lay a hand on her!"

Willow shouted back. "No one said you did! I'm checking on you, I'm not here to— "

"She— she— why do I let her do that? Anything at all's the matter, she pops me one in the face . . . it's Buffy's way, used to it, I am . . . but since— since . . . she doesn't care if Littler Bit's by, what she sees . . . not right, is it? Not right . . . " His voice cracked.

A lamp came on. In its light Willow's stern face appeared.

"What's happened, Spike?"

"She . . . she doesn't want us. We've lost her."

"What? Who— ?"

"Me an' Jem."

"I don't get it."

"She's not coping, Red. She sits by herself an' broods, and when we come near her, she's just . .. angry. Angry at me, an' at Jem. We try to show her we love her, an' it's just a torment to her, the way she takes it. Last night I thought she was worried about me losin' interest— she talked about that. Doesn't want me to see her pretty body or touch it anymore. I tried to show her it isn't so, because I adore her an' I always will. Made love to her and thought I'd soothed her, but next morning she was bitterer than before. Got Jemmie all frightened and upset, telling her— an' then lighting into me again when— She knows right well how we love her, an' need her, the both of us, but . . . she just doesn't care anymore."

He'd not consciously thought it through before saying the words, but as he pronounced them he felt so strongly that they were so, and that he'd been a fool not to understand it all sooner, that his knees buckled beneath him; he sat down suddenly on the floor, still clutching the bottle of bourbon, and began to sob.

"Oh Spike . . . hey— stop that. Gimme." Willow knelt before him and yanked the liquor away. "It's not helping."

"Nothing's bloody helping. Don't I know she's in trouble? Don't I try to help her? Girl doesn't want to be helped! An' what's the excuse for takin' it out on Jem? Jem! How's it possible Buffy doesn't feel the wrong of that? She's not world's best mother but she loves our girl— ! I . . . I always have thought so. I can't believe she . . . she doesn't . . . ."

"Of course she does. Spike . . . people lose their tempers, they do stupid things, it doesn't mean . . . I mean, ask Dawn. Things between her and Buffy were pretty rocky at times, but they've always loved each other. Always forgive each other."

"Losin' everything here, Red. She abandons us, what does she think— Jemmie won't get taken from me? I won't end up with nothing?" He snatched at the bottle— Willow scooted back to keep it from him.

"Wait a minute— who's taking Jemmie anywhere? She's spending the night with Giles and Anya, that's all. And who said anything about abandoning? Buffy'll probably walk in here any minute. It's not even four o'clock in the afternoon. If you stop drinking now you'll be sober enough to go tuck Jemmie in."

Spike grabbed her and made a feint at the bottle. "Shut. Up. You witch-bitch. You don't know anything— !"

"Hey-y-y-y— hands! Unpleasant flashbacks here!" Willow leapt to her feet. "Look, I was just trying to help— "

"Can't bloody go on like this, can we? Can't be doing with the fist in my face every time I turn around— an' her playin' mind-games with the little girl, that's worse. Should've seen her this morning, Will, Jem all riled up because she knew her mum was mocking me. Buffy thinks kiddies don't suss these things, but they know— know more'n we do, half the time, I think. How's littler bit to trust us when she's jerked from pillar to post on Buffy's moods? But what's my recourse? Ought to take Jem and leave her. But I can't, can I?"

Willow's face dissolved into a sadness that made her look as young as she'd been the last time he moaned to her about his relationship woes. "Oh Spike. You're not really . . . you're not . . . God. I'm sorry it's like that. I guess I haven't been paying attention."

"Not that. Buffy's good at hiding it when it suits her."

"Yeah, I know. She's . . . she's always been a clam."

"Christ . . . look, sorry you had to find me like this. We haven't always been on the same side, but these last years . . . know you've been my friend as well as hers."

"I've tried to be, Spike." She dropped her gaze. "It's okay."

"You in a hurry now? Like to get cleaned up and go see littler bit. Could use a bit of help."

"Sure. Of course. I'll brew up some coffee while you take a shower."

Beneath the shower's hot needles, he began to think of what he'd been unable to face when he dove head-first into the bourbon. What if Jemima was too frightened to see him? What if she thought he'd been hurting her mother? What if she'd never trust him again, never come near him, always shrink with horror at the mere mention of his name?

It was a horror. To have a father who was an undead, unclean thing, whose true face was a feral mask, a weapon for ripping throats. To know you were his natural and easy prey.

How many vampires had he met in his century who spoke nonchalantly— or boasted with proud fervor— of eating their own children?

I'm not that, I'm not that, not now . . . no danger of that. But would she understand?

Willow met him at the bottom of the stairs with a steaming mug. "You look better."

"How's my face? Cuts sting."

"A couple of bandaids might be good. Shall I?"

He followed her into the kitchen, where she got the first-aid kit out. "I always wondered— how do you shave? And— subsidiary question— do you have to shave?"

"Hair grows, yeah, but not so fast as when I was alive. Couple times a week keeps things smooth. Could grow a beard if I wanted to. Don't need a mirror to shave so much, or keep myself neat. Used to fix Drusilla's hair, make her up, when we were travelin' without minions. She could get pretty disheveled without help. Got to be pretty good at the lady's maiding."

"Huh." Willow pressed the final bandaid of three to his brow. "All covered."

He sipped at the coffee. "What . . . what if she won't see me?"

"Spike, she adores you."

"When she saw me all fanged out— Willow, she panicked. She panicked an' scrambled away like . . . God, like every single child I ever— "

The expression on Willow's face shut him up.

She sighed. "Sometimes I forget— "

He frowned and swallowed more coffee. "Sometimes I do too. Sometimes I actually think I'm a man, with a job, an' a woman an' a child— like I'm really alive. Like I'm really good." He let out a laugh. ". . . Thing's been sliding for a while, though. I'm getting that now. Maybe since . . . since we lost Faith."

"Faith? What's she got to do with— I mean, that came out wrong."

This idea was new, and threw him nearly as much as it did Willow. He had to think it through. Faith's death hit most of them hard, no one more so than Xander, who'd become so inextricably meshed with her that the strain had showed even in his friendship with Willow. But Buffy . . . "They were pretty thick, last few years. The two slayers."

"Yeah . . . " Willow said. "I guess they got pretty close."

Spike could see that still bothered her. "Yeah . . . In a way . . . in a way . . . like her an' me, innit? Lots of history between 'em, a lot of it not too pretty. Hurt an' betrayal an' rage. Then the big turn-around. Forgiveness. Understandin' each other in ways no one else could, an' the camaraderie that comes out of that . . . Faith always used to tease her 'bout being a happy little wife an' mum— Buffy said how it was like Faith used to press her nose up against our window, wanting to be inside even while she made fun of us— "

Willow let out an angry grunt. "Do you know how many times Xander asked her to marry him? Do you know? He'd have given her anything she wanted— ! She wouldn't trust him enough!"

"I know. She flirted with that life an' she didn't dare take it on. Buffy an' I have talked about that a time or two. But it was important to her, that Buffy have it. An' while Faith was there, shiverin' on the outside, I think it made Buffy appreciate us more."

"Spike, I think maybe you're attributing a little more importance to Faith than she really deserves here."

"Maybe yes, maybe no. The last few years— them working together, been the best. Buffy learned to love bein' the slayer. But now Faith's dead and Buffy's not a slayer anymore— everything's different. She's not coping. What're we going to do about that?"

"I don't know," Willow said. She put a hand on his arm, then withdrew it. "C'mon, let's get you and Jem together, anyway."

"You want me to come in?" Willow said as she pulled up in front of the house.

Spike peered at her from beneath the blanket tented around his head. "Thanks, but better not."

"Call me later, okay? And if I hear from Buffy I'll let you know right away."

She could be decent, Spike thought, darting out of her car and up to the door. Years had changed her for the better. He'd have said that of all of them, but now he wasn't so sure. He felt as if he'd awakened from some huge bender, confronted by a chunk of lost time. How had he let Buffy sink so far into her own turmoil right there beside him, and not done anything about it?

Anya was at the door before he could knock, and stepped back to let him in. The foyer of the house was dim and quiet; the antique barometer on the wall showed change.

"Heard anything?"

"From Buffy?" She shook her head, leading the way further in.

"Have you two been talking to her?"

"Rupert told her. We're not sure how much she understood. You'll probably have to explain it to her again. Apparently Buffy told her this morning? And then you denied it? That was unclear, and very confusing for us."

"Buffy was taking the piss. How'd she react this time?"

"She cried a lot. She was scared."

"Where is she?"

"In the kitchen. She was quiet the last couple of hours, thinking it over I guess, but then Willow called and she got teary again. Rupert's speaking to her. Spike, don't be surprised if . . . if . . . ."

His throat constricted. "She's afraid to see me."

"She might be."


Jemima came tearing through from the next room, then stopped still a couple of yards away, like a pointer dog, staring at him, quivering. She was so small and slender and lost looking, and also, Spike thought, so very there, so very powerfully herself, the most enormous thing in the universe, the dearest. Hair swinging in her face, her pinched little chin trembling, eyes huge, liquid, pleading with him, with the whole world.

Spike dropped to his knees, stretched out his hands. "Pudding."

With a small wild cry, she threw herself at him, her strong skinny arms wrapping around his neck, sharp knees digging into his flanks. She scrambled close, weeping now but not afraid. Her body was hot, and felt, in his embrace, impossibly busy— he could feel and smell all its furious workings, could smell all the crazy force of her emotions, the flailing thoughts. Her heart raced, pressed so close to his chest that it seemed to beat for both of them— for a long time he couldn't find his voice, just squeezed her, his nose in her hair. Her tears soaked his shirt.

"Sssh, sssh, my good girl. It's all right. It's all right now." He rose, hitching her tighter; she clung to him like a monkey as he carried her to the sofa and sat down.

"Papa. Papapapapapapapa."

"Here, sweetheart. Right here."

"Where's Mamma?"

"She's taking a little break. Sorting herself out."

"She hurt you." Jemima's fingers touched the band-aids on his face. "She promised me she wouldn't do that again."

"It's barely anything."

"When is she coming back?"

"Soon. Any time now."

Her face drew down, and she dropped her gaze. "You don't really know, do you?"

"No, treasure. I don't. But I think she won't stay away long."

"She scared me." A long pause then, while she twisted her hand into the collar of his teeshirt, then let it go, twisted, then let it go. "You are a vampire."

"I am."

She drew back and looked at him then. She was, he thought, so like Buffy as he first remembered seeing her, that round-faced teenage girl whom he'd sensed, even in the midst of his plans to destroy her, would somehow destroy him. She had— she'd ended what he was, made him what he'd never thought he'd be.

Given him what he'd never thought he'd have.

He smoothed the slippery hair from her forehead. It needed combing. Her wan little face was blotched, the corners of the mouth sticky.

"I am a vampire, but I will never never hurt you, or anybody we know. What did Uncle Rupert tell you about vampires?"

"He said . . . he said . . . I don't remember." She began to cry again, more quietly this time. "You lied to me. You and Mamma lied. And then this morning Mamma told the truth but it sounded worse than a lie. She was making fun of you. Why does she do that?"

"Mamma was hurt very badly when she lost her leg, and when grown-ups are in pain, sometimes they say things, do things, that . . . that they don't mean. That they're sorry for instantly after."

"But she says her leg doesn't really hurt."

"That's not the kind of pain I mean, Biscuit. I mean the kind like . . . like you're in right now, because things are happening that you can't control and that make you feel bad. Do you understand?"

She nodded.

"And we didn't mean to lie to you. We didn't want to burden you with too much information until we thought you were old enough. But now . . . now I'll answer anything you want to ask me."

"Am I a vampire?"

"No precious." He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "No no no. An' you never will be."

"So it's bad to be one?"

"Sweetheart . . . this is why we wanted to wait until you were older, so you'd understand better. Vampires . . . are dangerous creatures. They . . . they subsist— live— on human blood. Your mother . . . your mother— did Uncle Rupert tell you this? Your mother is a vampire slayer. She's a great hero, it's her job to protect everybody, to keep the world safe. Years ago, before you were even thought of, I was as wicked a vampire as ever was. Your mother an' me were enemies. We fought some battles, she and I. After a while . . . things were different . . . an' I fell in love with your mother. Because she was so good, so strong, and so beautiful, and I don't know how it is exactly, because all vampires are bad and like to be bad, but your mother made me want to change. It took a long time, but I gave up my wicked ways, an' your mum found she loved me too, and then a bit later you came along, and we were a family. So, like I said, I don't hurt people anymore, and I'd never hurt you. But sometimes when I'm very emotional, my vampire face shows. And that's what you saw." He felt, telling her this, that she couldn't possibly be comprehending it, that the longer he went on the less sense his words made to her. His story seemed to enter her through her eyes, which were so wide and deep and open, blinking slowly as she watched his face.

"Vampires are bad."

"They are. And I know that's hard for you to understand, because I am one, and I will never hurt you— " this bore repeating, he felt, infinitely "— but other vampires are not like me."

"Mamma kills vampires?"


"And you help her? That's what you do when you patrol?"

"That's right."

"But she doesn't patrol anymore. Did vampires eat her leg?"

"Not exactly. There's other monsters— demons— that your mum fights too. One of them, a big nasty thing— overpowered her an' took off her leg. Oh precious, I hate having to burden your sweet little mind with all this. But it's the world we all live in, and . . . sooner or later you have to know about it. We wanted to protect you, is all. Your mum an' I love you so much, we just want you to be happy and not worried about anything."

"What happened to your face?"

"That's— I told you— that's my vampire face. It's not . . . it's not anything to do with you. It's— " He couldn't think how to explain it.

"Where does it come from? I want to see it."

"Oh no. No you don't."

"I want to see it! Where is it! Where does it come from! I want to see it!"

"Ssh, ssh. Don't shriek like that."

"I think it would on the whole be best to satisfy her curiosity."

Spike glanced up; he'd not been aware of Giles coming into the room.

"The more we can demystify this situation . . . ."

His demon visage, in the years with Buffy, had become so compartmentalized, unleashed at home only in the context of the bedroom, that it felt as if the watcher had demanded he strip in front of his child. All his benign instincts agitated against it, even as, deep down, the demon laughed and strained towards the surface.

"I know it seems . . . perhaps counterintuitive . . . ." Giles said.

"Yeah. Yeah, all right." He focused again on Jemima. "I'll show you, but . . . are you sure? You won't be frightened? I don't want you ever to be frightened of me, my Jem."

She shook her head earnestly.

She was sitting on his lap, one arm still flung possessively round his neck, but he shifted her gently off onto the sofa cushion beside him. Gestured to Giles, who came to sit behind her.

"All right then. Are you ready?"

She nodded, staring intently into his eyes. Only such a small child could look unflinchingly into anyone's eyes as she did. Spike wondered how long she'd retain that willingness with him; perhaps this would end it forever. He put his hand through her hair again, with a dim sense that this might perhaps be the last time he'd be permitted to do so.

Then he changed. Tried to do it slowly, but it wasn't so easy to control. Bringing up the demon augmented all his senses, though they were already preternaturally sharp; he could feel the blood moving through Jemima's veins, through Giles'— could smell Anya though she was upstairs, and the olfactory notes of all the other people who'd been in the house in the last week. He blinked slowly, aware of the mesmerizing quality of his golden demon eyes.

Jemima gasped and shrank against Giles at the first alteration. Now she stared, and after a moment in which Spike wished to be invisible, or dead, she put out a hand to touch.

It was all he could do not to jerk himself out of her reach. But a sudden move, even backwards, might scare her. Jemima's hand was cool-moist against his cheek. She traced the ridges, her own mouth falling open. Her fingers touched his lips, which he'd tried to keep closed, but at their prodding he parted them so she could see the cruel fangs. Buffy's voice of that morning echoed in his head, the way she'd said He's really very vain about his fangs. He thinks they're terribly handsome.

"Does it hurt you, Papa? When your face does that?"

"No, sweetheart."

" It looks like the bones are pressing out of your skin! How can it not hurt!" She was in tears again. Spike shook off the bumps and drew her back into his arms.

"All that hurts is seeing you so unhappy, my Jem. That's all, my darling. Sssh."

She sank her head against his neck, her sobbing starting to subside. Spike was on the verge of suggesting a session of face-washing and hair combing when she burst into sobs again.

"Mamma forgot that you aren't really bad! She tried to kill you! We have to tell her she made a mistake! We have to tell her!"

Over the top of her head, Spike met Giles' eyes. He frowned, cleaned his glasses, put them back on.

Attacking vampires was Mamma's job, and this was supposed to be a good thing, because both Papa and Uncle Giles said that she was a hero, and Jemima knew what a hero was, like the Powerpuff Girls on TV. Even though Papa was a vampire he thought it was right that vampires should be killed, he helped Mamma kill them, which must mean that he was ashamed of what he was.

Mamma was, according to Uncle Giles, a very fierce warrior in the battle against good and evil, and she herself was very very good, but sometimes she could forget herself and do things in the heat of the moment, which was why she hit Papa with her fake leg, and why she tried to kill him in the cellar. This must also be why, Jemima decided, Mamma was often so distracted and snippy, because she had so very much to think about that was important to protect the world. And now she'd lost a leg and couldn't work to protect the world anymore, she was angry and that made her bad moods worse.

Except it was hard to understand in what way she couldn't fight vampires anymore, because when she'd seen her that morning hitting Papa she'd seemed fine. Maybe Mamma had been able to fly, like the Powerpuff Girls, but she couldn't fly without her leg. Maybe that was the change. Because she could punch and kick just like the heroes on television. When she'd seen Papa's monster face she'd tried to kill him just like she killed the other vampires, the ones whose pictures Giles had shown her earlier in that big book.

How could she do that? How could she forget that he wasn't bad like the other vampires? Because he wasn't, she was sure of that. Or else . . . or else she was somehow bad too, and that's why he didn't seem bad to her?

But Mamma wouldn't love him if he wasn't good like she was. Uncle Giles had said that, over and over in different ways, and he always told the truth. And Mamma did love Papa, or had, at any event, at least up to the accident. She knew this because even when Mamma was being cranky and hard, she would always melt when Papa looked at her, when he took her in his arms. She couldn't remember a day, before the accident, when she hadn't seen them kiss.

But now that the leg was gone so were a lot of things that Jem had never had to think about before but which she recalled now and missed, like how good it was to wake up in the night and hear Mamma and Papa talking on the porch as they returned from patrol, their voices low and calm, with sometimes a little laugh. Or lying on the sofa sandwiched between them, watching television, and seeing Mamma sigh and let her head droop against Papa's shoulder, her face turning pink when he stroked her hair and called her my queen. Or how Mamma would heat up his medicine for him in a mug and stand by him while he drank it down, running her fingers through his hair.

Thinking of this, Jem started, realizing all of a sudden that the stuff in the mug wasn't medicine, it was blood, because Uncle Giles had explained how vampires needed to live on blood just like she needed to live on Cheerios and yogurt and chicken legs.

Where did the blood come from? She couldn't buy it at the store, because Jemima went with her to the supermarket and she'd never seen her buy anything like that. Was it Mamma's own blood? Papa had said he would answer anything she wanted to ask, but there were too many things and she didn't think he really would want to answer them all, especially because he was ashamed. And then there were the parts she'd just figured out for herself, but preferred not to mention to him because she didn't want to remind him that he ought to be angry at her.

Like that all of this was really her fault. Because she'd made that fuss this morning about how his hands weren't warm and pulsing like everybody else's. Which was what made Mamma say all those things about him being a vampire, which, while it turned out not to be a lie, still had made Papa unhappy. Made something happen when they were in the cellar together so that Mamma lost her temper.

And it was her fault even more than that, because she knew she'd been a pest that day that Mamma's leg was hurt, and that was why she'd been in such a hurry to go out. She'd done it again today— as soon as Mamma saw her there on the cellar steps she'd run away and hadn't come back.

Mamma was so hard to understand, it was difficult to know when she would love her and when she would not, and this news today about her being a hero made it easier and harder to understand. She was a hero and Papa was some kind of monster, yet he loved her all the time, and even when he was busy or angry or watching something on television he'd always break out of whatever it was for a second and smile at her so that she'd know that whatever was going on that had nothing to do with her still didn't take her place. That was the difference between them, and it must have to do with being a hero, so she was glad Papa wasn't one.

Papa held her now the way she liked best, both arms tight around her, and her face tucked into the crook of his neck. She understood now why he felt different than the others, but she didn't care because he was still Papa and he needed her more than ever because, as Uncle Giles had explained, she was the only girl in the world who had a vampire for a father, and he was the only vampire who had a daughter he loved and would always take care of. Papa must be very special if the hero vampire slayer would fall in love with him, and if ladies like Mrs Miucci's sister would always want to stare at him. Did Mrs Miucci and her sister know that Papa was a vampire? Did all the grown-ups know? She'd have to watch closely and find out.

"Shouldn't we go home now?"

Both Papa and Uncle Giles started at that, as if she'd interrupted them talking, although they hadn't been talking.

"Don't you want to stay here and have supper with Rupert and Anya?"

"No. I want to go home. What if Mamma comes and we're not there?"

"Well, I think she'd guess where we are."

"Maybe, but wouldn't she wish we were there waiting for her?" Then the thought came to her that perhaps she wouldn't; this made her chest feel heavy, and her head, so she had to lay it back on Papa's shoulder.

"We'll go then, Sweeting, if it seems right to you." He put her gently off onto the floor. "Run and say thank you to your auntie Anya, and ask her to give you a bit of a wash, and we'll set off."

She paused at the doorway. The men, she knew, were going to talk, almost certainly they were going to talk about her. About her and about Mamma. She wanted to listen, but when she glanced back Papa's eye was on her. He tilted his head in that way he had sometimes of looking at her as if she was very far off, and which usually made her feel funny so she had to yell and jump into his lap to make the funny feeling go away. But now wasn't the time to do that, so she gave him a little finger wave and went to do what he'd told her.

"I swear, when Jemmie touches me, when I look at her . . . feel like I have a soul."

Giles actually blushed when he said this, and smiled briefly. "No one could have been more pessimistic about your . . . your alteration, Spike, but you have proved me wrong again and again. You've caused me to revise many of my dearly held beliefs."

"Wasn't fishin' for any compliments. An' I wouldn't revise any of those beliefs— vamps're rotten. Me, I'm some sort of sport of nature. Exception that proves the rule. Or— fucking hell. I dunno. Expect deep down I'm still evil. It's just love makes me want to do things . . . more than the demon does."

"I don't think I've ever told you how impressed I am with how good you are to Buffy. All these years. To her, and for her."

"Oh yeah. I'm good. We're the happiest couple in Sunnydale."

"Spike, you mustn't reproach— "

"She never talks about her feelings, I know that, I've always known it, an' I've always been able to read her like a book— long before I wanted anything from her but her dripping heart ripped straight out of her chest. But this time I find out I've not been keeping up. She doesn't like our life, and she was waiting for me to notice, and I didn't."

"So you're assuming all the responsibility for this state of affairs?"

"Well, yeah . . . I should've sussed her out sooner, I should've— "

"Let's go home now!"

Jemima bounced back into the room, trailed by Anya.


Giles tried to give her a quelling look, but Spike only rose distractedly and took her hand. "Thanks you two. I expect we'll see Buffy 'fore bedtime. Phone you in the morning, all right?" He let Jemima drag him out of the house and down the walk.

On the sidewalk he knelt beside her. "Shall I carry you?"

"On your shoulders?"

"I thought upside down by your ankles, trail your hair along the pavement an' see what we could pick up . . . ."

She let out a shriek of laughter, and scrambled onto his shoulders. Holding her legs, he rose slowly. "How's the atmosphere up there?"

Giggling, she said, "It's raining . . . it's raining really really hard . . . it's a shitstorm!"

"Oi! Where'd you learn to say that?"

She was laughing harder now. "Is it a bad word?"

"It's a damn good word, but it's not for the likes of you."

"Uncle Xander said it."

"Might've known. Don't repeat it where your mum can hear."

She went quiet. Her two hands, clasped around his hairline, grew moist.

"You all right, Biscuit?"

"I love you just the same, Papa. I'll love you no matter what."
His throat tightened. He wanted to question her, press her, make her say it over and over. "I never doubted it."

"I'll still love you even if Mamma doesn't."

"Your mum an' I are all right. Don't you worry about her— she's loyal an' true, an' she loves us both."

"She loves us both . . . " Jemima murmured, as if she was sounding the words over, searching for the sense of them.

"She does," Spike asserted, and squeezed her leg. He loved carrying her like this, practically wearing her like a comforter, enveloped in her pulsing warmth, her delicious familiar smell, which was a sort of cousin to her mother's aroma, the merest note of which still set his every sense alight. Sometimes when he was with Jem like this, so close, he felt a pang of jealousy that Buffy and not he had made her inside her body, held her so intimately for those nine months. And then he felt jealous of the William Grieves who had lain with her while he was frantic over her disappearance, whose spunk wasn't tepid and empty. He'd had Buffy right up against his beating heart and not loved her; he'd kindled a life inside her and not cared to know it. Knowing this filled him with a deep irrational loathing for that man he'd once been, even as he knew he had him to thank for a daughter who was his own.

"Papa . . . what are we going to do now?"

"Gonna feed you your dinner and put you in the bath."

"Are you going to drink your blood?"

". . . yeah. I expect so."

"What does it taste like?"

This question, and the pressure of her legs around his neck, across his chest, which somehow felt sad and heavy though she was so very light, filled him with fear. This situation was only going to get worse. She'd think of more and more questions, and whether she asked them or not, they'd teem in her mind, that ought to have been allowed to remain easy and innocent for at least some while longer. She was so small, still!

"Like when you bite your lip, you know."

"Do you want to drink my blood? Like when I cut my knee that time?"

He'd never tasted so much as the merest lick of her; not even when she'd had a nosebleed that got all over his hands, or the times she'd fallen and opened up big messy gashes on her knees and elbows. Buffy kissed boo-boos to make them better, but he wouldn't bring his mouth anywhere near even a thick ply of gauze over her small wounds. Bad enough that when she bled even from something tiny as a papercut, his demon roiled and writhed inside, tempting him with obscene mental snapshots of delicious carnage.

"Never, Pudding. It's only animal blood I drink. From the butchers, same place the lambchops come from that you and your mother eat."

"But you used to drink from people. Uncle Giles said that's what vampires do, they bite a person in the neck and they— "

"Yeah, right, glad he explained it to you."

He sat in the low wide armchair in Jemima's room, listening to her breathe. He'd promised to stay with her until she fell asleep, but she'd been under for an hour and he was still there. No word from Buffy— somehow, despite his assurances to Jem and to Giles, he hadn't expected any.

Jemima had been quiet since they got into the house. She ate the frozen mac-and-cheese he heated up for her, drank her milk with only a token protest, and spent a long time in the bath. He listened through the door to her splashing quietly, and sometimes singing under her breath, and wondered if she was trying to be composed for his sake. The book she chose for him to read to her was one she'd outgrown two years ago. He took that as a sign that she wanted more cosseting than she was consciously letting on. Reading it aloud, he had one of his strange occasional flashbacks to unlife with Dru, who had often liked to be read to sleep in the first hour after dawn. Her favorite book had been a collection of French fairy tales put into English, stories full of grotesquerie, violence, and terrible passion.

All the things he'd once relished with the full force of his undead vitality . . . even at Buffy's side. What was his life with her at first but demon fighting and slayer fucking and crazy spiraling love that made him blind to everything but her when she came into the room, and let down when she left it?

Then along came Jemima, and everything was different. As much as Buffy had changed him, little Jem had changed him even more.

Maybe Buffy wasn't along for those changes. He'd never thought of that, but it seemed so painfully obvious now he'd have blushed if he could. She wanted Spike, who could still be dangerous, who thought of no one but her, who never considered the future. Who'd survived even the chip and his surrendering love for her.

He really wasn't that anymore. What she must've thought last night when he'd come crawling through her window in his old guise— hadn't pondered that through to its real conclusion, had he?

A knock sounded on the front door, too soft to be heard by any but him. Spike sprang up and swung down the stairs.

"I thought you might want some company. Willow told me Buff's bolted."

These days Xander only rose from his own bolt-hole when summoned, like a genie, by someone else's melancholy. He didn't want to be around friends who were happy, or if not that at least busy and engaged in all the minutiae of life. He'd set all that aside with Faith's death, and was affronted by the least suggestion, of word or look, that he ought to take it up again. They didn't see much of him.

Still, he was the closest thing Spike had to a pal, which was pretty damn weird, given their history. This visit wasn't unwelcome. Neither was the bottle of bourbon Xander held out.

"Make yourself comfortable. I'll fetch a couple glasses."

Faith had left a stamp on Xander even more marked than what Buffy and Jemima had put on Spike. What had begun, upon her arrival back in Sunnydale, as an offer of renewed friendship from Xander's best self— a self that was rather better, Spike had come to think, than the best selves of the rest of them— had somehow led to a deep-down smoldering that finally, after months, gave way to total collapse and conflagration, as if a town was destroyed by a subterranean fire. Faith, who was sore and frightened at every point, determined to make good and terrified to trust herself or anyone else, who had never loved anyone before, fell in love with Xander as if from a great height. They conducted their affair as if the ground was ever rushing up to meet their careening bodies.

And even after the secrecy was blasted away, and the acrimonious divorce done with, the pace and fury of what went on between the lovers did not die down— they acted always as if they half-hated each other, as if there was no peace or hope anywhere, as if in the next moment they might be torn apart and destroyed. Which, given that Faith was a slayer, and what she'd had to tackle in those years, wasn't all that unrealistic.

Hard as Xander worked to make Faith rely on his love, and as far as she came towards all of them— much farther than any of them had thought possible in the beginning— the affair had done more to make Xander resemble her than the other way around, and that was what all of them regretted.

Faith, as Buffy somehow never had, demanded Xander carry his full freight if he was going to patrol with her. So under her tutelage he'd learned properly to fight, in a low-down angry zestful way that Spike respected. He'd shed the doughiness that was claiming him in those months before and after the disastrous marriage to Anya, and picked up a confidence he needed, but which was composed at least as much of his hatred for the demonworld as of his ability to love those he cared for with perfect love. Even in the midst of that love, which made Faith sometimes feel as if she was breathing pure oxygen, and then other times as if she had nothing to breath at all, each year of their affair seemed to pare Xander down into something sharper, harder. He could still, on occasion, be his old amiable funny self. He was always so with Jemima, and nearly always with the young students at the Slayer Academy, where he gradually became more and more of a full-time presence.

But the fierceness, the deep angry grudge against the very existence of demons that had taken such early hold of him, was always on the surface too. Buffy had never been about that hatred which burned in Faith like a column of green flame; Xander gave himself to it, and to her, in ways he'd never given himself to anything. He spent more than he had, over and over.

Now Faith was gone, parts of himself were dispersed too far to be called back.

Spike set two glasses on the coffee table and dropped onto the sofa. Xander filled them and handed him one.

"Jemmie's sleeping?" Xander began.

"Yeah. Poor tyke's done in. Been quite a day."

"So I was told. Want to talk about it?"

Spike sipped from his glass, then set it down. His hands turned to fists without conscious thought. "Want to dismember something, is what I want." He stared at the bottle of bourbon he wasn't thirsty for. Beside him, Xander let off a sigh.

"So go."


"Go. I'll be here in case Jem wakes up."

Spike got to his feet. He paused, his eye caught by the pictures on the mantelpiece: the deep sepia tones of his sisters, the color portrait of Joyce, Buffy and Dawn in the greenhouse at the university, her first gift to him. And at the end the most recent picture, the one he'd always wanted: himself and Buffy in profile, their foreheads together, eyes lowered, lips parted as if to take deep breaths between kisses. She'd been shy about this with the photographer, but done it for him, and then was so pleased with the result she'd placed it here, where everyone who came into the house could see it. Another sign of her true love for him. He wondered now if that was the last time, if it had begun sapping away right after that. Or maybe right before? Love, he suspected, could be like the ocean tide; it might still lap up quite near, even as it was going out, out, out.

Xander caught him looking, and snorted.

"Pussy whipped."

Spike jerked around. His first impulse was to throw a punch, but Xander was laughing in that sad sad way he had now, and pointed to himself. "Both of us. Right? Always." He shook his head. "There's no other way. Without her . . . the one and only her . . . life's nothing. Even when she doesn't always make you happy. Even when she makes your life a misery."

They were both silent then. This was what Xander had learned, that made it possible for him to come to Spike with a bottle and talk with him at all.

"Go on, kick some butt."

The fury went out of him, almost with a whoosh. "Thanks, but . . . think I'll just go sit with the little wench. Want to be there in case she wakes up. Might have worries in the night. Pretty likely."

Xander nodded.

"Stay here if you like," Spike said. "No reason to go."

Xander hoisted the glass at him as he started up the stairs.

Rain poured down, amidst thunder and lightning that brought up the tombstones all stark white in big shadows. Like something out of a gothic horror movie.

How— ?

No time to get her bearings. There were vampires.

One aborning, and the other . . . awaiting him in the shadows, under a capacious black umbrella.

Weird. She'd never seen a vamp with an umbrella before.

There was nothing in her pockets but a flashlight; the pointy wooden ferrule of the umbrella, once she'd wrested it away, was the only stake she could muster up, and then, once she'd taken them out, the nice big brolly was hers. Although she was soaked already.

In the next bolt of lightning she recognized the structure nearby— Spike's old crypt.

This was home ground.

She stood on her two feet.

So— leg. Not exactly home yet. The waitress— demon— whatever she was, was still fucking with her.

She started walking. Her boots sank into the spongy saturated grass. Then she felt a presence nearby. Another vampire. She gripped the umbrella more tightly, turning slowly, scanning the darkness. The rain came down in perfect straight sheets, nearly impenetrable.

"You're a little early, pet. But then, so am I."


She started forward, her heart suddenly light. He was here, she could talk to him, it would be all right!

A convenient jab of lightning showed him to her; he stood behind a tallish tombstone, leaning on it. She approached, the ground squishing under her feet, and switched on the flashlight. Played it over him. His clothes were soaked, stuck to him. Then she noticed what was chiseled into the stone he leaned on.

Beloved daughter of BUFFY ANN SUMMERS
Born September 3rd, 2002
Died January 17th, 2006
"Delightful child"

Her heart, so buoyed by the sight of him, clenched. Oh no, what was this? Jemima dead? And what were they doing here at her grave, in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain?

"Spike— "

"Happy anniversary, slayer."

Startled by his flat inflection, she shone the flashlight beam at his face. He winced and turned his head, his eyes flashing gold. His hair, unkempt, unbleached, hung around his face in dripping coils. He had what she'd never seen on him before: beard stubble. And he was thin, his skin cadaver-pale, the eyes ringed in dark circles. Like that time he'd come to Giles' place after they'd chipped him, desperate and scared after starving for days and days. He looked like he'd been starving for longer than that.

"What— you don't look well, Spike."

He laughed when she said that, a tight cruel little laugh that instantly made her feel she'd said a foolish thing. What was going on here? What was she supposed to know? Their child was dead, and Spike was . . . ill? If he was sick, they shouldn't be out here like this, in this cold downpour. Why had she let him out of the house on a night like this?

"We should go home." He needed to be put to bed, he needed to be fed. The sight of him twisted her up inside. How had this happened?

"Haven't done our little ritual yet, said our little words. S'what we're here for."

That's when she got it. Today must be January 17th, and they were here to mark the anniversary of their daughter's death. With this understanding came a hollowness in her joints; for a second she was dizzy, and gripped the tombstone that stood between them.

"Nothing else would bring me out in this piss-down," he growled. "Specially not to see you."

"Not to see— ?"

"Let's bloody get on with it."

He wore a shabby leather motorcycle jacket three sizes too large for his haggard frame; reaching inside it now he brought out a small sheaf of flowers wrapped in pink paper that was as soaked as everything else on him. These has obviously been obtained at the supermarket, and couldn't have been fresh that day. He held them out, and she wasn't sure if she was supposed to take them, or what. He wasn't looking at her. The rain pinged hard against her umbrella— it had turned to hail. Balls of it stuck in his ratty hair, melting bits slid down his cheeks.

Icy tears.

He gestured at her. "Give a fellow some room."

She stepped back. He moved then, coming around from behind the stone.

She gasped.

She hadn't seen the crutches yet.

The crutches that stood in for what was gone.

He glanced up then, caught her staring at where his jeans leg was tied off in a dangling knot at the thigh. "What, you manage not to think about it all year? An' the sight of me reminds you? Fuck you, Slayer. Fuck you. I think about her every day. I think about her all the time. But then I always did love her more'n you could."

This was dizzying. "Spike— "

"You know fuck-all about love. Christ." This exclamation as he lowered himself painfully to his remaining knee, white-knuckling the top of the tombstone, letting the crutches fall. He started to tear open the sodden wrapping around the flowers, but it disintegrated beneath his fingers. He snapped off the rubber band, let the blossoms— all skinny stems with draggled heads, like him— scatter on the grave. ". . . what I brought you, Pudding? They're no damn good, really, best I could get, though. Can't swipe things like I used to . . . ." With his head bowed, the rain brought his hair down onto his forehead.

He glanced up at her then, his eyes sharp. "She'd be seven. Start to have a decent conversation when you're seven. Always looked forward to that, what we'd say to each other when she was a bit older. Chat with her in my head, but it's not the same."

She knelt beside him, held the umbrella over his head too. The grass wasn't very thick here, so her knees sunk immediately into mud. He gave her a look of loathing, as if she was some repulsive stranger who'd moved too close into his personal space. The look shocked her. Everything about this shocked her, real shocks, like sticking your finger into the socket.

"I don't know what happened . . . ."

"Oh yeah, where does the bleedin' time go?"

"Spike, that's not what I meant." She wanted to explain, to tell him this wasn't real, but it was real, for him. And now for her. "This is terrible, I . . . I didn't realize . . . ."

"That's bullshit. Faith's been through our place a time or two— don't tell me she's not mentioned it. Good of her not to burn it to the ground— sorta figured that was your influence. Seein' as I've noplace else'll take me in."

He didn't live with her anymore. She must only see him once a year, here, on this terrible night. She wanted to ask what our place was, but he assumed she understood, so she could only play along.

He rested his shoulder against the stone, traced the inscription with his fingertips.

"You were a cunt to me. Told you that before. Thing is . . . guess you were within your rights. Whole thing was my fault. Getting rid of the nanny. Then couldn't save Jemmie when she got took, because I never can save anybody, can I? Incompetent wanker I am, always just that bit too late, or bollixing it all up. Paid my price, didn't I— ?" he gave the denim-clad stump an impatient slap, "but would've been better if I'd died. Don't you think so?"

"No. Spike, no." She brought her hand up to his face, but he shied away.

"Only thing I wish . . . just wish you hadn't been such a cunt as to leave my name off the stone. She was my child same as yours. Her name was Grieves just as much as it was Summers."

"I . . . I don't know why I did that." Why did I? God, am I really capable of that kind of vindictiveness?

He sagged then; she realized he'd started to sob. "Only good was ever in me . . . s'right here. S'right here." He patted the name carved into the stone.

She slipped an arm around his shoulders, pulled his head against her breast. He shook, and she grasped him tighter. He felt so light against her, like he was wasting away. He stank of cigarettes and bourbon, his clothes were dirty.

"You were a cunt," he repeated, his voice barely audible now, as if he was musing to himself, "but you gave me a daughter. Always will be grateful for that, slayer. You gave me that beautiful little wench. My fault we lost her."

"Spike, it's okay." She rested her cheek against his oily hair, and he let her do it, before shoving her away with a snarl. His demon was up. The fang-face looked particularly feral, hungry, enraged.

"Ought to hate for you it! Nothing's ever hurt so much— ! Never be laid so low if not for this!"

"Spike," she said quietly, "you're drunk. When was the last time you had anything to eat? Let me take you home. Let me feed you."

"From your throat?" He grabbed her, lightning fast, by the neck; she shoved him, and he crumpled back against the stone.

Now they were both sobbing and muddy. He tried to regain the crutches, to get up off the ground.

"Wouldn't touch you if you opened a vein, miserable cunt."

She watched him struggle to rise; the site was pathetic, and frightening. His physical grace was gone, he was nearly helpless. She rose, managing to smear more mud on herself, and tried to help him while still holding on to the umbrella. He hit at her hand; they had a sort of tussle, crutches, umbrella, shoving and cursing.

"Stop that! Just let me help you, you stupid vampire." Dropping the umbrella, she yanked him up by the ratty lapels of the motorcycle jacket, propped him against the stone, gave him the crutches.

When she bent to retrieve the umbrella, he started off, moving remarkably fast, despite the slippery sodden grass underfoot. She started to call after him, then thought better of it. Instead, she let him get on ahead, then set off to follow.

She realized where he was leading her a few streets before they arrived. They were in the old warehouse district. He'd brought her there before, long ago now, in the days when she only despised him as a nearly neutered enemy. He'd led her to see Riley's degradation. To see him giving himself to a vampire.

People came here for that— paid money for the peculiar experience. Paid money to vampires too— what? Lazy, timid to hunt? She'd never really understood it.

The hulking warehouse stank of despair. She watched Spike disappear into the shadowy doorway, out of the rain.

She closed the umbrella and stood there for a time, letting the cold droplets pelt her upturned face, until the warm ones from her own eyes mixed with them, and she couldn't see anything.

Please stop this. Please. Let me go back. I know I would never treat him like that. If Jemmie was killed, I wouldn't push him away, I know I wouldn't! This can't be me. It can't! She wasn't sure whom she was addressing. In any event, there was no answer.

When she returned to the place, a couple of hours later, it was with her car. She'd had no trouble getting into the house on Revello, where apparently she lived alone. Everything there was very tidy and weirdly sterile, but she hadn't taken any time to look around. She swung by a place she knew of old, where fresh cow blood could be obtained at all hours of the night. She carried a bottle of that, and the warm afghan from the living room couch slung over her arm, when she walked into the warehouse. The stake she stuck in her waistband, where she could grab it quickly.

Nothing here was different. Little flickering lights. Groups of two or three or four figures tucked into obscure corners. Quiet sounds you didn't want to listen too closely to: slurpings, sighings, groanings. No one challenged her. She descended to the sub-basements; somehow knew he'd be in the farthest, dankest part of them.

She was afraid of what she'd find, afraid he wouldn't be alone. As she penetrated deeper, she passed a couple of "clients" stumbling out. Each averted his eyes from her gaze. One held a gauze square to his neck; his clothes were rumpled, the shirt collar torn.

Maybe she did understand it. After all, she knew what it was like.

In a space that smelt like mildew, he had a mattress on the floor, a Coleman lantern, a couple of boxes shoved into the corner. He was sprawled out, propped up on one elbow, a book in his hand. In the pool of lamplight she saw three crumpled twenty dollar bills and a half-empty fifth of Jack Daniels. So, one of those men she'd passed had just left him. Probably he wouldn't want the blood in the bottle under her arm.

"You're coming back to Revello with me. You need a bath."

"Fuck off out of here, there's a good Slayer." He didn't glance up from his book.

She reached down and yanked it from his hand, tossed it into the shadows. "Today's the anniversary. That means we see each other, right? And talk about her? The only time we do. Well, we still have about twenty-one hours, so let's get going."

"What's gotten into you? Have you really forgotten? Nothing for us to talk about. Nothing for us to do together." He paused. "No 'us' left anymore."

"You've fallen out of love with me?"

He blinked; a look of stark incredulity on his face. "Told you that a year ago. To your all-too-apparent relief. Nothin's changed there, Slayer."

She knelt then. "Look, Spike . . . I've been doing a lot of thinking. I know I blamed you for what happened to Jem, but— "

"Was my fault. No one disputes that. Endangered all of us. Lost her, almost lost you, lost my bleedin' leg . . . then lost it all. Look, just fuck off. You're no good for business."

"Business?" She glanced around again. It was one thing, the desire to be bitten. But to come here, to this filthy place, with its slimy walls and nameless stinks . . . .

"Got a particular fellow usually stops by late of a Thursday night. Probably the only guy in all of California's got the amputee kink an' the vamp kink combined. Don't want to disappoint him— he always brings me a couple cartons of smokes. So get out."

Her eyes were awash in tears now. She couldn't think of what to say that would soften him, but there was no way she could leave him here and go back to her nice clean bed on Revello.

With a sigh, she took up a piece of masonry, and clocked him with it.

Getting him outside was a lot easier than she'd expected— he seemed to weigh nearly nothing. He started to come to in the car, grumbling incoherently but not moving much. Slinging his arm around her shoulders, she got him up onto the porch, but nearly lost him at the door— trying to pull him through, he bounced, and slid from her grip.


Christ, that's cold.

She yanked him upright again. "Spike, come in."

Maneuvering him into the bathtub, she struggled for a while with his clothes, before going for a pair of scissors. They were so dirt-encrusted they hardly seemed worth salvaging anyway. The sight of his pale flesh, grime-streaked, shrunken, brought the tears to her eyes again. His belly was hollow, and the leg had obviously not benefited from any actual medical attention; the scarring on the stump, thick, irregular, ugly, made her avert her eyes. It really did look bitten off. Not like hers at all.

He seemed to come back to himself more as the bath filled around him. She'd heated some of the blood and put it into a thermos; when his eyes opened, she offered him the plastic cup.

"Don't fight me, Spike. Just drink it."

"Fuck you." He sounded exhausted. His eyelids fluttered, and he couldn't seem to lift his head up from its resting place on the tub rim. Punch-drunk.

"Jemmie would cry if she heard us talking to each other like this."

The sensation of her own rage at him, at the boiling obscene pleasure she'd felt in hitting him in the face, screaming at him, rose up in her gut, burned the back of her eyes. Jem had seen her do it. Seen her do it more than once, hit Spike, snap at him. And she'd cried. Buffy knew the look of terror and sorrow on her daughter's face, that never should've been allowed to come there. She remembered listening to her own parents fight, before her father left. How it made a big burning hole in her stomach that nothing could distract her from.

Right now Jemima must be feeling that way. Like it was her fault, like no one cared about her. She'd think her mother had abandoned her.

Buffy had abandoned this Spike. Thrown him out after their terrible loss, so he had nothing else to do, in his crippled state, but subsist as a whore. How could she have imagined he deserved that? Even if it was his fault that Jemima was stolen from them, how could she, after losing her child, bear to lose him too?

"Spike, I miss her so much. Every single day. And I miss you. I don't want you to suffer like this. I'm not angry at you anymore."

He didn't move, but tears seeped out from his closed eyelids. She brought the cup to his lips. "Please drink this. It's nice and warm."

His hand rose slowly out of the water to fasten around the cup. Their fingers touched. She watched him drink.

"I'm going to help you wash your hair. It's all tangled. Don't you own a comb?"

"All I wanted, was to take care of you. An' her, when she came. Wanted to take care of her, an' her children, an' their children. Immortality's hell with no-one to love."

"I'm taking care of you right now." She filled a container with water and poured it over his head, then added the shampoo and began to work it in. "This feel all right?"

They'd always liked doing this. Showered together, bathed together, washed each other's hair. He'd brush hers nearly every night. She'd bleach his when it needed it; opening up the bathroom window against the stink, plastic gloves on her hands, and they'd laugh together over how vain he was.

He had quite a bit of honey-colored hair now, all traces of bleach gone; she soaped and rinsed it twice before it began to feel clean. He didn't open his eyes. "Do you want to shave?"

"No point to this. Bein' clean, just means I'll feel worse when I go back there."

"You're not going back there. Forget about that place. We'll work out something else." She paused. "I'm going to get you a prosthesis. They make really good ones now."

"Been researchin' it, pet?"

She wasn't sure if he was being sarcastic or not. She decided to proceed as if not.

"Yeah, I have. I know just who to call."

"Costs money I haven't got."

"Forget the money. I've got money." Plenty of money and no one to spend it on but herself. "Do you . . . do you want to say anything about Jemmie?"

He shook his head. She offered him another cupful of blood from the thermos.

She meant to put him to bed in Dawn's old room, but when he instinctively swung right exiting the bathroom, she didn't have the heart to correct him. Trailing him down the upstairs hall, she nearly collided with him when he stopped abruptly short of the master bedroom, and turned.

She thought he was going to say something about not going back in there, the room where they'd made love so many times, been confidential together, slept in a cozy tangle of limbs.

But he said, "Want to see Jem's room. You didn't change it round, did you?"

"N-no." She hoped she hadn't. There'd been no chance to look yet.

He started off the other way. She hastened ahead to turn on the light.

The big room Xander had built, that was made bright during the day by windows on three sides, was curtained now. In the draft from opening the door, the familiar mobile in the corner over the bed, sheep bobbing around a little piece of fence, started to turn. The bed was made up with pink Hello Kitty sheets, and piled with plush toys, all of which Buffy recognized. There were more stuffed animals arranged on the rocking chair. Her Jem still had them all, although she seldom played with them anymore. Spike clumped slowly towards the dresser. With a fingertip, he made a trail in the thin coat of dust.

"I— I really should take care of— wait a sec,' I'll get the Pledge— "

"Forget it, Buffy."

He slipped open the top drawer, inhaled. "Still smells of her in here," he said, closing the drawer quickly without touching any of the little garments inside, as if to leave it open too long would disperse the scent forever.

"If there's anything you want to take with you . . ." This sounded in her ears as too dismissive. "I mean, to take with you when you lie down in the other room . . . ."

He turned to her. Her dressing gown fit him, which was another sad testament to how reduced he was.


She drew close to him. "Spike, I don't want you to be so hurt. I don't want you to be hurt at all. It's bad enough, what happened four years ago . . . ."

He vamped, and snarled in her face. "Don't want me to be hurt? Little late for it!"

"I keep saying the wrong thing . . . I wish we could just talk about Jem . . . ."

"Leave me here for a bit."


"Now I'm here, want to sit with her things for a bit. Then I'll go. Soon's you give me back my clothes."

"I . . . I'll find you some others. Those ones you had on, they were too gross, Spike."

She backed out of the room, leaving him at the dresser, where he was already starting to touch the things: the ceramic piggy bank still half full of nickels and dimes. The wooden puzzle ball, carved and painted by Xander for her last Christmas. The little tray where she'd kept Jemima's barrettes and hair elastics, all still there, some with a few pale brown strands still clinging to them.

He had no reflection in the mirror he faced, but the slump of his shoulders told all.

In the master bedroom, she opened the closet. The clothes inside gave off such a familiar smell, of her own perfume, that she was disoriented. To merely say, this isn't real seemed entirely beside the point. It was real, as real as her own life with Spike and Jemima and the Hratholin demon. This was her own house, everything in it was well-known.

Some things were missing. The pictures that ought to be on her dresser and nightstand: all of Jemima's school portraits right up to the present time. Spike. Her and Spike together. The three of them together. Spike's sisters. His parents. All that remained was the photos of her mother and Dawn, and one of Jemima aged about two.

Spike himself was gone, yet she found some of his clothes still folded into the bureau. Black jeans, black teeshirts, he'd never varied his choices.

She'd driven him away from her house, her life, but she'd kept these things.

Holding them, she sat on the bed, pressed the teeshirt to her nose. It smelled of fabric softener. Spike had so little aroma of his own, and she'd always wondered about that— shouldn't something dead have a stink? Or at least a smell? Some vampires did smell pretty atrocious. Spike had tonight, because he was wearing months' worth of grime. But usually? Hardly at all.

Maybe that made it easier for her to shove him aside?

No. It was still unimaginable.

How did this Buffy live, what did she do without Jemima, without Spike? She'd shut the door on that room, didn't go in even to dust. God, the house must be so quiet. The bed so empty.

Please let me go back. I need them, I need Spike, I need Jem. Will you send me back if I make things better here? Is that what you're waiting for me to do? She still didn't know who she was talking to, how this was happening.

When she went back into Jemima's room, she found Spike sprawled on his back on the narrow bed, the stuffed animals arrayed around his head and shoulders, the Tigger doll, Jem's favorite, half-resting on his face. He'd been inhaling its aroma when he fell asleep. With his keen senses, the toys must have smelled so vividly of her. Her clean little girl scent of talcum and milk. She was still at that age when even her sweat smelled sweet. And she'd kept him away from them, all their daughter's things, for four years.

How, she wondered, could her own pain merit causing him so much more?

He was in a deep sleep. Gingerly, she sat down beside him; her presence didn't rouse him. His remaining foot looked so vulnerable, pale and naked, hanging off the end of the small bed. She stared at it, her throat tightened into a painful knot. Hesitantly, she lifted the edge of the robe, looked again at the ragged stump. What an agony he must've been in— and no comfortable hospital bed to follow, no nice pain-killers, nice family and friends around him to make sure he got the best of care. The demon bit off his connections, his life, when it bit off his leg.

It was chilly in here; he seemed cold. Without thinking, she stretched out at his side, resting her head in the crook of his shoulder. She'd share her warmth with him, the way she had so many times before. The robe had fallen open over his chest. She rested a hand there, stroked the skin gently. There were bruises, and scars she didn't remember, because her Spike didn't bear them.

After a few moments, she realized he was awake, though he'd not moved. She couldn't see his face, just the plane of his chest, and some of the stuffed animals on the other side of him, all tumbled, as he'd say, arse over tits. She moved her hand slowly, languorously, down his chest, towards his belly, teasing the edges of the dressing gown aside. He didn't even breathe.

She murmured, "Spike, I never stopped loving you. Never. What happened to Jemmie wasn't your fault. I know you wanted to take care of us. You took good care of us."

Beneath her cheek, his arm tensed. But he didn't throw her off. Tugging open the dressing gown's sash, she caressed his belly. His pubic hair was wiry against her palm. Below it, his cock was already stirring. She gripped it, skinning the foreskin softly back and letting it go, until it stayed back on its own. She felt she was stroking an animal, a big dog who might or might not be patient with her attentions. He still hadn't moved. Her own body was trembling: with desire, with apprehension, with grief.

She sat up slowly, undoing her jeans, starting to wriggle out of them. Glanced around at his face. He eyed her as impassively as the cloth animals, whose flat glass eyes gleamed in the light from the bedside lamp.

"I want to make love to you." she murmured, rising up, drawing her sweater off, pushing her jeans down off her hips. "Is that all right?"

He gave just one nod. She had to content herself with that meager agreement.

When she straddled him, and the moist tip of his cock tangled with her own curls, he sighed. Rising up, she took him in. She flexed, rippling around him, until he opened his mouth and gasped.

"I missed this. Doing this with you. I missed you. So much." She began a gentle rocking. He cupped a hand around each of her kneecaps, ran the palms up her thighs. His touch, cool in the cool room, raised gooseflesh on her skin. She leaned forward on her hands, brought her mouth close to his. Spike jerked his head up to catch her in a kiss, held her there, his fingers tangling in her hair. His lips and tongue too seemed cooler than they should have, after feeding so recently. The contact made her shiver, love threatened to choke her. Her eyes burned.

Now she analyzed every motion and pressure of his lips and tongue and hands, trying to assure herself that he understood her contrition, would forgive her for it. His other hand still skimmed over her thighs and belly, before he found her clit.

His touch was so sure, and she was already so heated, that she came at once with a sharp wriggle, panting into his open mouth, rippling tight around his cock.

"Those famous muscles of yours, Slayer . . . same as they ever were."

"You like that, I know," she said, recovering, smiling, squeezing him rhythmically inside. "So do I." She could bring him off— bring them both off— without making a visible motion. It was a game they played sometimes, after he'd brought up to her something she'd said to him at the Bronze, in what he called the bad old days— before you liked me. It took a little time, and a bit of an argument— Wouldn't bloody make something like that up! Or forget whose lily lips I heard it from!— before she realized it was Faith, wearing her body, who'd teased him so. That bitch. Still, after that, she'd had to show him there was nothing Faith claimed herself capable of that she, Buffy, couldn't do better. Ever since, he'd refer to it by saying Could do with a spot of that warm champagne.

She sat upright then, her feet under her, bouncing slowly on her knees. This was precisely what she hadn't been able to do any more, with one leg gone. She enjoyed doing it now.

Her head collided with the sheep mobile and sent it dancing.

He frowned then. "Come down from there." He reached for her shoulders. "Want you underneath."

"Can you— ?"

"Can always fuck you, Slayer."

She let him roll them over. At first he just lay on her, and she was glad of that, his weight was like a benediction. He kissed her, slow and pensive and thorough, and the kisses felt right. This felt right, letting him lead. His hands found hers, palm to palm, fingers intertwining, clasping.

"Spike, this is so good."

"Yeah? You like it?"

"Yes. So much." She felt deliciously full; he'd become so narrow, so light, but his hands hadn't changed, wrapping hers, enclosing them; nor had his cock; it still gave her that feeling she'd come to depend on, of being slightly too much.

She'd thought the missing leg would hamper him in this position, rob him of leverage, but after a few moments she forgot about it. This slow gentle fuck was what she wanted, anyway; too much movement would be superfluous. She wrapped herself around him. Whole body quivering with the pleasure of holding him like this. They were melting together, it felt sublime, and she knew he felt it too. His face hovering just above hers, his gaze and the slight smile he showed her when they weren't kissing, made her feel safe, and so giddily happy that she began to giggle. This was going to work out. She'd come in on a big heartwrenching mess, but she could make it right. Nothing was irretrievable.

Afterwards, she cradled him in her arms. He was completely limp, as if he'd been poured over her.

"I think Jemmie would be happy, knowing we were together like this," she whispered.

Spike's hand was on her breast, smoothing it with a soft rhythmic motion. This helped distract her from the memory that jostled forward then, Jem's piercing voice saying Mama, Papa, stop! God, she shouldn't have seen that. She shouldn't have had to see that.

And now she might never see her daughter again.

That gave her a pang, but she could bear it, because Spike was here, and she recognized, with a second pang— a greater one— that it was him she treasured most. Terrible, she was terrible. Wasn't it supposed to be the other way around? That the child of her womb should be more precious to her? But she loved him best.

"Don't you think?" she prompted.

"I expect so." He shifted, pressed her breasts softly together, covered them with light kisses.

"Always did have such pretty tits, Pet. Smell so pretty too after you've had a good rogerin'. Pretty face, luscious cunny, an' pretty ways when you cared to. Too bad all that's got fuck-all to do with what you are."


He went on with his languid caresses, even as he said, "You think this changes anything? A few kisses, a shag, some nice nostalgic words? What's dead is dead. What's done is done."

"Spike— "

"Don't know what put this notion in your head to come over all soft an' compassionate all of a sudden. After all this time's gone by. Don't really care, though."

"It doesn't have to be like this between us."

"But it is, pet. 'Cause all's you've got, where your heart belongs, is a bit of flint."

She fought her urge to shove him off, to scream her protest against his words.

"I do not. I made a terrible mistake after we lost Jemmie, I know. I'm trying to put it right. I don't believe you've stopped caring for me. I don't believe you can't forgive me. I know it'll take time— "

"Oh, time," he said. "Time's what I've always got plenty of. A surfeit. Coals to Newcastle, is time to old Spike."

"We can start again. I promise I'll be good to you. I want to take care of you. I was cruel, but that's over now. I've never stopped loving you."

"So you say." He put her hair gently back behind her ear. "Thing I doubt is if you ever really started."

She couldn't help it then, she shoved him. He rolled off, laughing. "Knew I'd get a rise, sooner or later. Truth hurts, doesn't it, Slayer?"

"Spike, don't."

"You think pitching woo now's really gonna restore my trust? Huh. That's like something I'd do. 'Cept I've closed up that shop."

He was right. Climbing in her window, all coat and fangs, to get your attention. Lavishing her with pleasure, so she'd slip out of her foul mood. And she'd let him think he succeeded, for a little while. She hadn't really tried to control herself at all, afterwards. Which is why she was here in the first place. Shit. "Please . . . I know this isn't you. You're not like this— "

"You know me?" he mocked. "You think?"

She fixed her eyes on him. "For years. You're . . . the only thing in my world that's not subject to change. You . . . your constancy, your . . . goodness to me . . . I know I've pushed that away, for too long. But I swear I'll never take it for granted again. I know they're still there. I know it, Spike. It's your nature."

He was looking at her now through narrowed eyes, suspicious. But he was looking, and the ugly smirk was gone.

"What I did to you when Jemmie was gone— I know I can't just come back from that in a night. I know what I'm asking for— for you to trust me again, when I've given you every reason to resent the hell out of me. It's not easy. But please. Please, just try. If for no other reason than that you can't go back to that hellhole."

"Shall I stay here, an' be a millstone round your neck, punish you at every turn for what you did to me? I could make you wait on me an' suck my cock while I snarl at you. That what you want?"

Her heart was racing, cheeks burning, but she didn't hesitate. "If that's how it has to be. If that's the alternative to you going back there, to not seeing you anymore."

He shook his head. "Don't know what's got into you. You look like the same Buffy, smell like her, but . . . ."

"I am the same. I just— I just understand things differently now. I want to make amends to you."

He pulled her against him, her body across his, their mouths together. Kissed her hungrily, hands trailing up and down her back, into her hair, down around the curve of her ass. "Delicious girl . . . you kill me. You . . . God . . . you devious bitch . . . ."

She could feel his incredulity, his lust for her, in his grip. Just touching her wasn't enough for him, she knew that— he'd imagine absorbing her into his skin. She pressed herself against him, the movement of her own hands mirroring his, up and down his body. "Not devious, Spike. I swear. I love you and you're home now."

She reached down, her fingers trailing over the thick ragged scar of his stump. She shifted around, confronted it directly. Dizzying, the horror of it— the whole leg bitten off. She couldn't quite remember how it had happened to her, and hadn't tried very hard. Some amnesias were a mercy.

She pressed her lips to the lumpy scar, kissed it all around.

He sat up on an elbow to watch her. "I can't feel that," he said, sullen as if she was at fault. "Whole thing's just numb."

"I'm sorry about this," she whispered. "Oh Spike, I'm so sorry." She looked up into his face. "You know it doesn't matter to me. You're just as beautiful as you ever were. Or— I mean, you will be, once you start feeding again like you should. But you excite me the same as ever. Satisfy me the same as ever."

He frowned, and she thought he was going to turn on her, push her off the bed, say something terrible. She felt herself trembling, but she waited, her hand still lightly caressing the stump.

He held out a hand. "Come here, my girl. Show me your cunny."

He drew her closer, coaxed her to lie on her back, hips near his shoulders, her thighs parted. She felt him looking at her, spread open for him; her flesh twitched before he even touched her. He breathed her in first like a flower. Spreading the lips with his fingers, delicately, he pressed small kisses there. Saying hello.

"Oh! Spike . . . ."

"I dream about your cunt, just like this . . . can't help it . . . dear soft little box that smells like heaven."

She turned her head. His cock was right there. She brought a hand up, encircled it, squeezed gently. Pressed a kiss to the tip.



"Need to concentrate." He paused. "Well, hold it like that, that's all right. Likes your warm little hand."

The things he said, the way he said them . . . always made her feel as if she was— not someone else, but the apotheosis of herself. And how did she know that word? Giles must've taught her more than she realized. When Spike spoke to her like this, she became the good, girlish, dirty-sweet creature he described.

He was still kissing her there, little by little adding flicks of the tongue that made her jerk her hips. Shifting, he brought his mouth lower, licked up the spunky remains of their fuck, (Buffy pudding, he always called that), driving his tongue as far up inside her as he could.

She thrashed. Chuckling, not lifting his head, he grabbed her knee to hold her down. He was already half-lying on her belly, coming at her upside down, and that made it good too, the sense of being pinned, agreeably helpless. When he began to lick her clit, small feather-light licks she could barely feel except that they made her shake, she cried out.

How he could do this, make his tongue into something warm and liquid and infinitely smooth, she'd never understood. She heard herself grunting, heard him laugh in his throat, but she was far away, on the ceiling somewhere, borne there by wave after wave of exquisite pleasure. She couldn't tell how long it lasted, or exactly when it stopped. When she came back to herself, his head cradled on her thigh, they were both panting. His eager cock was still in her grip. She turned her head and swallowed him into her mouth.

They ought, she thought later, go get into her bed. There really wasn't enough room here, and the stuffed animals were kind of weird. It was kind of weird to fuck in your dead child's kiddy bed with the Hello Kitty sheets. But getting up would mean relinquishing his arms around her, his head on her shoulder; would mean watching him drag himself along the upstairs hall on those hateful crutches. Better not to disturb this until she had to. Spike seemed so much better now. He'd stopped saying angry things. His hand touched her lightly, on her hair, her breasts, as if reassuring himself that she was still there.

They didn't talk. What could they talk about? Four years they'd been strangers, and the subject of their daughter herself seemed to be too much for Spike; whenever Buffy said her name, he'd not taken it up. But this was peaceful, this was affectionate. There was promise here.

"Go to sleep, Spike. You need to sleep. And then I'm going to feed you again."

"Yeah?" he murmured, half asleep already.

"I'll fry you some chops, with onions and Tabasco sauce. And make that soup you like." This soup, which he'd invented, consisted mostly of blood, supplemented with various unsavory and highly-spiced pork products, simmered together for hours, then poured into a big bowl over Weetabix. Her gesture in producing this revolting concoction had always been acknowledged between them as a supreme demonstration of her acceptance, her desire to please him. When she made it, she had to shut the kitchen door and open the back door as well as all the windows, lest the stink pervade the whole house, and then breathe through her mouth while she stirred the pot.

"Dunno what's gotten into you . . . ."

"Got to get some nourishment into you," she said, squirming closer, letting her eyes close. "You're gonna eat, and get strong again, and we're gonna get you a new leg, and we'll have our life back. But now you should go to sleep." Sleeping with him was the sweetest thing there was. How could she forget that? Why, after she came back from the hospital, had she deprived herself of that basic animal comfort? Insane.

"Buffy, love . . . ." His hand skimming her body, breast, belly, sex, thighs, questioning, worshipful.

"I'm right here."

"Yeah," he whispered. "Pretty darling. Go to sleep now."

There, she'd known. Known he couldn't have stopped caring for her. She'd reached him, and it would be all right.

She started awake all at once, all her slayer senses tingling. Where am I? She bolted up, then remembered, and eased. Bright umbras of daylight showed around the edges of the drawn curtains. Her watch showed 9:00. Spike wasn't there. The dressing gown he'd been wearing was puddled on the floor. She slipped it on.

The thick carpeting showed the indentations of his crutches. She followed the trail of impressed circles to the head of the stairs. He must've been hungry, and didn't want to wake her. She should've awoken first; a finger of guilt stabbed her. She shouldn't have allowed herself to sleep so deeply. She'd meant to take good care of him, he shouldn't have to fend for himself.

She was still rubbery from the waist down though, from what they'd done together all night.

His sweetness. His yielding. Pretty darling.

"Spike?" She started down. The radio was on in the kitchen. She trotted through the dining room. "Lover?"

The kitchen was bright with the splendid morning. Butterscotch light poured in through the open back door, with the fresh breeze that rippled the curtains. Birds twittered in the yard.

For a second she wondered if she'd forgotten to shut that door the day before. Then her heart exploded, and she shot forward.

The crutches were tumbled, one by the porch rail, the other fallen against the Weber. The boards at the top of the steps were scorched, the white paint bubbled black.

She screamed.

The birdsong, and the sloughing of the breeze, ceased for a second, and all she heard was the thudding of her own heart, enormous, leaden. She grabbed onto the door lintels as her knees gave way.

The birds went on. At her back, the radioman said "— ther beautiful day in the Sunnydale valley, with an expected high of . . . ."

It was much later— after she'd wept until she vomited the meager contents of her empty stomach, after she'd stared for long minutes at the black mark on the porch boards, after she'd picked up the phone and put it down again ten times, unable to imagine herself talking to any of them, after she'd gathered up the crutches and held them in her arms as if they were anything but disgusting discards someone had filched from a junk heap— that she found the note, fixed to the refrigerator with a magnet. A magnet of a smiley sun.

She didn't realize until she saw it, that she'd still been clinging to a thin little hope that he'd been attempting one of his daring daylight dashes. That he hadn't actually meant . . . .

My queen, I haven't the strength anymore. Trusting you again would take more than I can muster. Prefer this, goin' out with the scent of you on my skin. Can pretend it was all true, what you said to me last night. Need it to be. This way, you'll never prove it false.

Always knew you'd slay me in the end.

"I didn't slay you, you stupid vampire!" When she cried now, there were no tears at all, they were already used up. Her throat and nose were raw; she pressed the crumpled note against her misshapen mouth. Something was stabbing her in the throat, in the chest. She held onto the kitchen counter and howled.

Jemima always let her cereal sit until most of the milk was absorbed, then ate it like paste. That morning, she kept a close eye on Spike, sitting across from her, pretending to read the newspaper. He'd sat by her all night, she knew, just like the night before. Two nights, and Mamma had not come back.


He glanced up. She wasn't used to seeing him look like that, with the sharp line etched between his brows. Uncle Giles had a line like that, but Papa almost never did.

"I think I had better be a vampire too, so they can't take me away from you. So we can always be together."

He snatched her up so quick and sharp she cried out, and crushed her against his chest.

"Don't! Don't even think it! Never never never— !"

"What do you say we take a little trip to see your Auntie Tara?"

Jemima craned her neck to look up at him. Spike knelt by her. "That sound good?"

"I thought . . . I thought we were waiting for Mamma."

"Yeah. Just think it might be more comfortable for us to wait with Tara. Y'know, things're always comfortable where she is."

"You're going to leave me there, aren't you." Her face gave way, and she grabbed him. "Don't leave me there! Don't leave me!"

"Sssh, sssh. Not leaving. We're together, you'n'me. Just take a visit. Make us both feel a bit more cheerful, yeah?"

"I'm not cheerful. What'll happen when Mamma comes back and we're not here?"

"We'll leave her a note."

She squinted at him, eyes glittering with suspicion. "You think she's not going to come home, don't you?"

"Pet, not sure what to think right now. But you'n'me, we're gonna be all right."

"I can do a locator spell," Willow said. They were in the living room at Revello, all of them, except Xander, who had taken Jemima with him on a pizza run designed to get her out of the way so the others could talk without fear of being overheard. Jem was full of suspicions, convinced he was going to foist her off on someone, and sneak away.

He'd told them about his plan of going up to Tara's that night, bracing himself to withstand their objections.

But no one objected. He was always waiting for a challenge to his paternal rights that never came from the Scoobies. They'd accepted him.

It was Buffy who was still on the fence.

Willow leapt up. "I can do it now! I don't know what I was waiting for— "

"Willow." Giles' voice was low, but had the effect of stopping her in mid-animation.

"I'm not sure it's an appropriate step."

"Why not? She's missing. We need to find her!"

"We don't know that she's missing. She's gone away. If she wanted to be found— "

"She'd have called," Spike said, finishing the thought.

"That's right." Giles gave one nod. "I'm not sure that this is a time to violate Buffy's privacy."

"Her privacy?" Willow was ratcheting up. "What does privacy have to do with it? She might've been in a car accident! We don't know! We should— "

Spike nodded. Then shook his head. Everything felt flat. "Yeah . . . no. Doubt that, pet."

"But it's not like her, to do this!"

"Dunno what's like her anymore."

Willow frowned. "Well, that's . . . that's just silly-talk! Of course we know Buffy. Buffy doesn't— She doesn't just do . . . ." She trailed off. Spike realized she was looking at him, in a new way. "You're ambivalent about this, aren't you?" She touched his forehead, where the band-aids had been. He'd healed up already, but perhaps some faint mark of Buffy's violent gesture was still visible.

As soon as she said the words, he recognized it, what he hadn't been admitting to himself since Buffy crashed out of the house. He wasn't at all sure what he wanted. For her to come back? With her smoldering anger and flying kicks intact? Things between them had always been like that, he couldn't deny it. He'd dealt and taken a lot of blows on the road to winning her affections, and even after she'd declared herself, her habit of talking with her fists had abated but not altogether stopped. That was part of loving the Slayer, he supposed. He didn't altogether mind it. There was an honesty, anyway, to that mode of communicating . . . at least for them. A little physicality when called for just made the making up sweeter. And there was nothing sweeter than his Slayer when she was in a tender mood, maybe a bit contrite from overreacting to one of his small trespasses.

But that was when she patrolled nearly every night, still saved Sunnydale and the world from those periodic apocalypses. All that intense dark Slayer energy channeled out where it belonged.

"If she doesn't want to be here with us," Spike murmured, "No good pullin' her back, is it?"

Willow got that expression— half resolve-face, half total devastation— that he hadn't seen in quite a while. "Okay . . . getting that . . . but, still. I'm back to the 'what if she had an accident' scenario. We'd never know. If I do the spell, and we find her, we can . . . we can at least know that much. If she's left you for good, Spike, wouldn't it be better to know that for sure? Wouldn't it be better for Jem, too? So she could start to adjust to that?"

She was in the cemetery again. Dizzy, tummy doing flip-flops. These transitions were too much. What was happening to her life? How long was this going to go on? She was getting existential nausea. Couldn't feel the ground beneath her feet.

Christ, what was it this time? She recognized Spike's old crypt. The door ajar, faint light filtering out. She peered in, taking care to stay hidden.

Xander was there, in a torn shirt, the beginnings of a black eye forming. His throat was bleeding. Buffy took this in quickly, but her main attention was for Spike, hovering over a body laid out on the sarcophagus top.

A pretty teenage girl, apparently unconscious. Spike was smoothing her hair back with his hand. His mouth was curdled.

"So what are we going to do with her?" Xander said. His voice was leaden.

"I don't know. Only thing I could think of was findin' her first, but now . . . got to get her out of here. Need some restraints."

"I'll go for them. Think you can handle her on your own?"

"Just have to knock her out again when she starts to come to."

What was this? Buffy wondered whether to present herself now, or hang back and try to learn more. Except if Spike was evil here— if he'd taken that girl prisoner— if Xander (Xander!?) was somehow in cahoots with him— okay, weird thought, but he could be under a spell or something— she ought to intervene now.

Before she could make up her mind, Spike whipped around to face the door. "Know you're there, Slayer. Can smell you." He took up an axe that was leaning against the sarcophagus. "Still with the bad timing. Stay out."

She was unarmed. Not so much as a stake in her pocket. She slid in through the narrow opening. Spike brandished the weapon. Xander looked . . . what? Worried. Not particularly evil. Anxious. And older.

Spike, on the other hand, very threatening. And easing towards her. "Get out of here."

"What are you doing, Spike?"

"Go! Or I'll kill you."

"You know I'm not leaving and letting you hurt her."

"Buffy— " Xander stepped forward then, a hand half raised in his characteristic wait a minute gesture.

But Spike burst out laughing. "Christ! Do you hear yourself when you talk, Slayer? You know I'm not leaving and letting you hurt her." He glanced back at Xander. "Is that rich, pet, or is that rich? She's not leaving! No, not her! She's not letting me hurt the girl!"

Xander froze. Confused, Buffy's eyes darted back and forth between them— what were they up to? Since when did Spike talk to Xander like that, so familiar?

Behind them, a third voice rang out. High and light— nearly manic. "You came! Oh, I knew you would! Now!"

The girl was on her feet; she jumped lightly down from the sarcophagus, pushed past Xander, who tried to grab her and missed. Came up behind Spike and threaded her arms around him, then peered impishly at her around his shoulder. "See, Papa. I knew she'd be interested in me— finally."

It was only then, seeing her right side up and full-on, that Buffy recognized her. Grown to fifteen or sixteen, long honey-colored hair framing an angular, lovely face. Oh my God, Buffy thought, she's so beautiful! She's just like him. She's the picture of him. A wave— a tsunami— of love and pride and pleasure engulfed her. She forgot to be anxious, forgot to wonder what was happening here. Their amazing little girl was going to grow up into such a—

Spike dropped the axe and seized Jemima, trapping her arms around her waist, and started to swing her up. She squealed, like the little girl she'd been when last Buffy saw her, and kicked her legs playfully. "Put me down. I'm talking to Mamma. Don't ruin it— she's listening to me! I've been waiting such a long time for her to just listen to me!"

"Xander— for fuck's sake— !" Spike cried.

But Xander didn't move.

Buffy felt frozen too. Staring into her pretty daughter's laughing face.

"Mamma! The vampires always came first, right? Nothing was more important than the mission." Jemima grinned then, a grin accompanied by a terrible sound, a sound Buffy had heard thousands of times in her life but which tore through her now with a horror that was brand-new. "Well, look at me, Mamma," the vampire growled through the sharp new fangs. "Now I am the mission."

She wriggled then. Spike went flying, and Jem was at Xander's throat.

Buffy grabbed up the axe and shot towards them, but Jem heeled around, shoving Xander at her. She caught him; the blood splattered from his wound against her face. She tasted it on her lips.

"Nothing's more important than me now, is it? C'mon, Mamma! Catch me!"

She scrambled past them and was gone.

"Xander! Oh no . . . ." She lowered him to the floor. He was bleeding now from two bites, his eyes spacey and filmed.

She might as well have been hit full on with a two-by-four. All she could do was hyperventilate and struggle to stand. No way she could take off after Jemima now— couldn't just leave Xander here with Spike. She still didn't know if Spike was . . . if he was the one who'd turned . . . .

She glanced around.

Spike was gone too.

Shit. This situation was out of control. So, what? She'd have to hunt them both. But first . . . she couldn't just walk away from Xander while he was bleeding.

She tore a strip off his shirt tail and used it to make a bandage. "Tell me if this is too tight," she said, as she tied up his neck. "She missed your artery, which is why you're not dead."

"It's . . . it's okay."

He looked at her now as if he barely knew her. In a very real way, he'd ceased to be on her side, although she wasn't really sure whose side he was on or what the sides were exactly.

"I'd better get you out of here first, but we have to hurry. I have to go find them, Xander."

His face went hard. "So you can stake her? Or both of them?"

"I can't let them kill— "

"Them?" He gave her the oddest look then. "Buffy, you know this had nothing to do with Spike."

She hadn't known, but she was glad to hear it.

If it was true.

Before she could say anything more, there was a kick against the crypt door.

Spike came in, Jemima hanging limp in his arms.

"Runs like a gazelle, my poor pretty." Buffy could see now that he'd had to fight; his cheek was opened up, clothes torn. Jemima was messy too.

He'd had to hit her, she realized, to knock her out. And she'd fought back. Father and daughter, fighting hand to hand for . . . well, not for her life, not anymore really. Buffy wondered if they'd been vamped out while they battled. Wondered if Jemima would've killed Spike if he'd made a mistake. Told herself this wasn't really Jemima, Jemima was dead. But years of loving a vampire had worn down her belief in that old Watcher's saw. Of course this demon was still their girl. Of course she was.

Spike turned and carried her out.

Without discussion, Xander joined him, and Buffy followed. Xander had the keys to an SUV parked outside the cemetery; there was rope inside. Spike used it to tie Jemima before stowing her in the back. Xander helped.

Then when they closed the back hatch, they looked at each other, the men. A look that was exclusive, mysterious.

"You okay, pet?"

"Yeah. I'll live."

"Do," Spike said, and then he put a hand in Xander's hair, and rested his forehead against Xander's.

It was like a flashbulb going off right in her face; she misplaced her knees again.

So not in Kansas anymore.

"Gotta get you home to rest," Spike said. "Look like you were dragged through a hedge backwards."

"What are we going to do?"

"Dunno yet." He shook his head. "Christ. Christ. Jemmie. Our little sweet . . . ."

Xander put a hand into the air between them, but let it drop again without touching Spike. Neither of them so much as glanced at Buffy. Together in their bubble of grief. For a second the imminence of both men's tears was the strongest force in the space made by the halo of light from the open hatch, but they both kept very still, and it passed. They moved then to get into the car.

When Buffy opened one of the rear passenger doors to climb in, both Spike and Xander looked at her.

"Where do you think you're going?" Spike said.

"I . . . with you. What, you think I'm going to— "

"Been turning a blind eye on her so long, can't you do it just one more time?"

The rage in Spike's voice— welling up from some deep, black, bitter, bottomless trough— made her wince as if some hard wind had blown grit into her eyes.

Spike was suddenly in game face. "I'm not gonna let you slay her. I don't care what I have to do."

Buffy gasped, struggling to get control of her breathing, and of this whole topsy turvy situation, "Spike, Xander— okay, you have to listen to me. We're in very bad trouble with all this, yes, only . . . there's something else going on. This isn't my real life. I keep getting moved around by magic. Into different versions of myself. I think there's some demon doing it but I'm not sure."

They were looking at her now, the two men, with expressions closer akin to bored impatience than to disbelief. As if she was talking about something that was so inane and inappropriate to the situation that it was barely worth following. And of course, to them, this was true. She was doing a lousy job of explaining herself, and the timing of her revelation was just as bad. She fell silent, and as one they stopped looking at her and regarded each other. Spike shook his head. Xander gave an interrogative shrug.

Spike squinted at her. "Is this some really twisted play for gettin' out of your responsibility for this? Because goddamnit Buffy, you've already used up your last— "

Too much. This was too much. This was where she'd throw herself into the arms of one or the other of them— long her two best comforters and defenders— but this was a place where they wouldn't gladly catch her.

"No, I'm telling the truth. Okay, forget it, it's not important right now. We have to figure out how to help Jem. Maybe Willow can do that ensouling spell— "

They goggled at her. Xander looked as if he'd been bitten again.

Oh crap. No Willow?

"Just tell me," Buffy cried, panic rising. "Has she just moved away? Or gone evil? Or . . . or is she dead?"

"You killed her," Xander said, his voice barely above a whisper. "I hardly think you'd forget that."

Spike's mouth opened slowly. "Fuck . . . me. You really . . . you really don't know what the hell is going on around here, do you?"

She shook her head. "I don't. I'm sorry. I'm sorry about all of it, I really really am. Please believe me. But something keeps switching me, into and out of these alternate versions of my life— this is the third one so far. I don't know how long this has been happening, time is all wonky. I know this is real, this catastrophe— but it's not really mine. In my reality, Jemmie's only seven. And you and I . . . are together. But I lost my leg in a fight with a demon, and then things haven't been too good at home— all my fault, Spike, not yours!— so, it's kinda bad, but it's not . . . it's not what seems to be happening here . . . Not yet, anyway." Not yet, except that I've been gone who knows how long, and Spike will think . . . and Jem will think . . . that I've left them, that I hate them . . . .

She blinked and forced herself to look at this Spike and this Xander, even though it was tremendously difficult, even though she was blushing hard and full of shame at what she apparently was here, that they despised her so, and in the other places, all things contained within herself.

" . . . so if Willow's gone, who can help us with Jemima's soul?"

"I don't know," Xander said, his voice spacey. He'd seemed all right for the last little while, but now the trauma seemed to be catching up to him. He swayed. Buffy moved in, manhandling him up onto the back seat, climbing in after.

"Spike, we have to go."

They drove. In the back, Jem came to, began to thrash and curse and chew holes in the carpet. Buffy peered over the backseat, looking for something to gag her with, but then she just had to take her in, her beauty, her potential, all turned into something dead and evil, because . . . "I hate you. You're a selfish cunt, you never loved me and you never loved Papa, I was a mistake and that's all you do is make mistakes, and I'm going to tear the skin off your fucking ugly face, I'm going to eat your— "

Oh God. Some part of her thought she ought to listen to this, that she deserved every word. But Spike and Xander could hear it too. They were suffering enough. Reaching over, Buffy snatched at a plaid blanket folded up in one corner, stuffed it into the vampire's maw. She'd chew through it pretty fast, but maybe they'd be where they were going first.
Where were they going?

It wasn't true, it wasn't true that she'd never loved them. She did, but she'd let herself lose the thread of it, let it get submerged and trampled on, disrespected, because too much of her was hard inside, and it felt better often, just being hard all over. At least . . . at least that's what she always told herself. She didn't know anymore. She used to be a girl who loved deeply, and what had happened to that?

The bandage on Xander's throat was wet.

"Are we almost there?" she asked. "Where're we going?"

"Our house," Spike said. "Home."

An hour later Xander was in bed, freshly bandaged and medicated, and Jemima, having been fed some pig's blood which she spit back in Spike's face, was chained and gagged on the pool table in the basement. Buffy was sitting with Spike in the kitchen, drinking tea and talking in low voices. She trembled all over as she looked at him. It was as if she'd been granted an audience with some awesome potentate, who was condescending to her by agreeing to this chat.

And aware, always, of their daughter turned monster, the issue between them, the only reason he had for talking to her at all. How he hated her for what had happened. For a little while they talked around it, amazingly. About Earl Grey versus English Breakfast, about redoing the kitchen. Stainless steel. It was still all the rage, but Spike thought black appliances were making a come-back.

Then he frowned. "Lost your leg."


"How'd it happen?"

"Big demon. Bit it off. "

"Can happen." He dug a spoon into the sugar bowl. Turned it. It made a tiny gritty sound they both listened to. He seemed to feel no commiseration, no regret. Didn't ask where her Spike was while it was happening. Obviously didn't care.

"So if you're some other Buffy, where's . . . where's ours gone?"

"This is her body. Obviously. But I . . . I don't know where the consciousness goes. That's why it's magic, I guess."

"Worst thing in the world happens an' bitch manages to miss it. Just like she misses everything else Jem ever needed her around for."

She couldn't think of any answer. They were quiet for a full minute, teacups steaming.

"Just as well, maybe," Spike added. "Been wantin' to kill her since this happened."

"Don't . . . don't kill me. I promise you, I'm not— "

"Got that, yeah. For all the good it does any of us."

There was some good, if good could taste this bitter, in knowing, as she certainly knew now, that she did love Jemima with all her heart, nearly as intensely— and how very intense was that!— as she loved Spike. The bitter part came in with being stuck here, apart from them apparently forever. With Jemima a monster and Spike in love with someone else.

"So . . . so you and Xander . . . ."

"Yeah. Me an' Xander." A little smile flitted over his lips. "Me an' Xander."

"I . . . excuse me, but I'd never imagine— "

"Me neither. But when things went south with you, when I needed a place to go with Jemmie— well, he had this whole big house. Bought it when he was tryin' to get engaged to Faith. That didn't happen. She died 'fore he even closed on it." Spike gave her an enquiring look.

Buffy nodded. "Yeah. Except Xander— my Xander— he didn't go through with it. He just kept his apartment."

"Right," Spike said. "Anyhow. Rattling around in here on his own, so he offered us room. Jemmie always adored him, seemed the best thing. An' it was all right. Took about a year before we . . . it just happened. It's gone on happening. It's been good. An' he's another dad to Jem." He made a face. "First thing she did when we found her, after . . . was attack him. 'Course, that's what they do. What . . . what we do."

Buffy didn't feel ready to talk about Jemima yet. Too enormous, this tragedy, her guilt. She had to work up to it. "You didn't. You left your mother alone. You protected her from Angelus and the others."

"We were a right little family, three of us," Spike said, ignoring this. "Making a good recovery, mostly, from . . . from you. But she never could be happy long for wanting your attention. Your love."

And was I . . . am I . . . there's two sides to every— "

"Took a lot to make me leave you," he said. Leaned forward, picked up the teapot, swirled it and poured out second cups for them both. She saw he wasn't going to elaborate. Just talking to her like this, going along with the idea that she wasn't quite the same Buffy who'd trampled his heart, scarred their child, was an effort he seemed, every moment, on the verge of refusing to make.

"Girl needed you, but you just couldn't be arsed. Not like there's an apocalypse every day, 'cept to hear you tell it."

"I'm sorry."

She couldn't bear to think of Jemima, so she tormented herself instead thinking about Spike. About him with Xander. Their trust, their friendship. Their sex. Oh yeah, that was the killer.

At least Xander was happy here. She didn't think he ever would be, in her reality.

How could she have been so cruel, so callous, so stupid? Seemed unimaginable, except that by now she was understanding how she was well on her way to any of these places.

In every one of them, Spike left her. In her own, he'd leave her too, if she didn't take care.

Unless she'd left him. Who was to say she'd ever get to go back? This was the third place the demon, or whatever it was, had sent her. Things generally went in threes: might that mean this was the final one? The one she'd have to like or lump?

The teacup was warm in her hands. Spike liked warmth; hot drinks, hot baths, snuggling with . . . with her. With Xander, now. She sipped and burnt her mouth and thought good, you bitch.

Time to face the music. "So . . . what can we do? If Willow's gone . . . can't get her soul back that way."

"Only way Red could've done it was same as when she re-ensouled Angel. Don't feature condemning our sweet little girl to an existence without happiness."

Buffy wanted to say, She's not our sweet little girl anymore, but she knew he was aware of that.

"Angel . . . maybe we should call him. He might know something, or Wesley might."

At first Spike didn't react. He'd fallen into a thousand yard stare. Moments went by. Just when Buffy was about to repeat herself, he came back.

"Guess you don't know 'bout that either."

"About— no. I guess I don't." A bit more of the cliff-face she was clinging to crumbled away.

He sighed. "Things've been rough last few years. Suppose in a way it's not a surprise, you— Buffy— turnin' out the way she did. There always was that part of you that just never could open up. I used to think my attention to you would do it— my love-making— " He let out a snort of self-mocking laughter, "— an' then I hoped time would mend you. But there's some things time only takes in one direction."

"Again— I'm sorry."

"Don't. Just— when you get back into your own place . . . ."

"Oh, I will! I'll take good care of Jem. And you."

He didn't look at her. Swung to his feet with a weary gesture.

"C'mon, you can have the guest room."

"What about— ?"

"Jem'll just have to stay put. She's chained up good and tight."

"Yes, but what are we going to do about her? We can't— "

"Let's just rest on it, right? Figure it out tomorrow."

The guest room turned out to be next to the master bedroom, and it wasn't long after Buffy shut out the light that she heard them. Heard their bed creak, heard Xander groan.

She drank off the glass of water on the bedside table, and put it to the wall; then she could hear everything. Hear it, and feel it in her gut and in the misery that made her bones into lead.

Spike talked all through it. The things he said were a little different, mostly because of the anatomies, but the tone was the same that she knew so well. What was going on in there, between them . . . was the real thing.

Spike was giving himself to Xander, and loving it, loving him. Their voices murmured together, then got faster and louder, turning to groans and cries. Then Xander shouted, and there was a silence.

In that silence, she became gradually aware of Spike's weeping.

That was a sound she knew, too. A sound that was supposed to belong to her, like his ecstatic cries did. But she had no right here to go to him, his grief wasn't hers to ease.

She left the glass on the floor and crawled back into bed. Her eyes felt like two broken shards in their sockets. Stiff, aching, she lay and stared into the dark.

Couldn't tell how much time had passed. Here in this guest bedroom, or, tremble to think, back home. Where her little girl, most precious creature, must befrightened and bewildered. How could she lose track of that, lose track of her, the miracle of her, the entire perfection and fascination of her? How not love her entirely and in every single moment, because she was Spike all over again, and because she was so beautifully herself? All of this seemed very clear to Buffy, mother love beating through her veins and muscles and flesh, strong as her slayer nature, strong as the passion that bound her to him. That anything could obscure that seemed to her absurd. The accident to her leg barely worth considering. Why should it close her off from what she loved?

She loved. She did.

They'd never know it, because she was trapped here.

Willow and Giles were arguing about the locator spell. Spike didn't listen. He was lost in thought.

For her, Buffy Summers, he'd tried to make himself into a man. And when she accepted him at last, into her arms, her heart, her trust, he thought he'd made that transition.

But it wasn't until he'd held their daughter in his arms for the first time, experienced that onrush of mad joy and terror and responsibility, a tsunami that nearly swamped his demon altogether, that he knew for sure. There was nothing he would not sacrifice for this child. Through her, his own past was remade: he felt shame and repentance he'd scorned before. Through her, he tapped into an understanding of love that made his previous deep dives into that pool seem laughably shallow.

Through her, his attachment to her mother, already indelible, grew stronger, subtler.

She came running into the room now, ahead of Xander carrying two pizza boxes, and threw herself onto his lap, burrowing her head into his neck.

Yeah, Spike thought. She'd adjust, all right, to her mother being gone. She'd adjust.

He was, as Buffy had pointed out to him in countless irritated moments, a stupid vampire. Who knew nothing about women, about human nature, about love. Because every time, he just fucked it up.

Would probably fuck it up sooner or later with his treasure too. Jemima adored him now, but . . . he'd shown her his demon face, and how could her affection for him withstand that? She'd go on thinking about it, wondering, she'd want to know more, she'd figure out . . . figure out her father's goodness, such as it was, was a thin crust precariously perched on a mountain of sin. And then . . . .

Meanwhile, she was clingy as a kudzu. When he took a shower, Jemima sat on the floor outside the bathroom door. She followed him from room to room, had to always be touching him. When he couldn't hold her hand, she'd slip a couple of fingers into one of belt loops and hang on that way. Right now, despite trying to navigate a slice of pizza to her mouth, she still kept an arm looped around his neck.

So he didn't try to put her out of the room when Willow started the spell. Jemima watched intently as Willow, bathed in the swirl of scented smoke, swung the magical pendulum over the map— a large map, encompassing the entire United States, such were her powers. Buffy hadn't taken her passport, so she had to be there somewhere. Especially given that there were no new charges on the credit card.

The locator spells— Willow tried it three times, concealing her mystified alarm under a sterner and sterner visage— turned up nothing. Not so much as a shiver.

"I don't understand it."

Jemima's eyes were like saucers. She stared at the map, her glance darting from Baja California to Maine, her two hands curled tight around his wrists. "Papa, what does that mean? What's happened?"

"Noth— nothing. Just something we thought we'd try . . . but it usually doesn't work, does it?"

Willow frowned. "Usually it does! It always— oh. Oh, right. Yeah. It's . . . it's just something I wanted to try. It doesn't mean anything, Jemmie."

After he peeled her off and got her to sleep in Anya's spare room, he went with Giles to the Sunnydale police. They reported Buffy missing.

Afterwards, Giles stopped off at a bar and bought them each a single malt.

They sat in silence through one drink and then another.

"Been thinking all kinds of wild thoughts, last few days," Spike mumbled finally. "Wonderin' if I really wanted her back, way she is."

Giles said nothing, but Spike felt the companionable vibe between them unruffled by this confession, so he went on.

"Thought . . . don't like bein' treated that way. Not good for us, not good for Jemmie. Only thing is . . . ."

"You love her."

"Like anything. I need her, an' she needs me. Don't care what she does, Rupert, I want her back."

The chained monster downstairs, her daughter twice removed. Buffy didn't know what she could say to her, but she was filled with a deep need to look at her, to speak something, or else just to listen, even if only to curses and threats.

She walked quietly down. Nothing creaked beneath her light steps.

The chains were there, but not the vampire.

Not broken, but unlocked. She stared, all her senses tingling, trying to parse out what this could mean.

From outside the house, a noise. Grabbing up a weapon, she threw herself at the door.

Jemima was inside the SUV, the door open and one foot hanging out, her shiny hair illuminated by the interior light. Spike was at the back, throwing luggage inside. On his own, Buffy knew, he'd have gone with nothing but the clothes on his back, but what teenage girl— alive or undead— could be persuaded to undertake a journey without her clothes, her trinkets and toys?

He'd always indulged their girl in everything.

A sudden burst of raucous rock music shattered the air.

"Would you hush!" Spike's whisper was fierce. "You'll have your mother out here an' there'll go our getaway."

"I'm already here." She stepped closer, keeping the open car door between herself and Jemima, who was frozen, a fistful of CDs in one hand, the other braced on the dashboard, staring at her. Her face, Buffy thought, was so sweet. Sweet in its lineaments and natural expression, like Dawn's so often could be, like her mother's was, always. Like Spike's when he regarded her after lovemaking, sated and tender. She was so pretty, even now, absent the pink flush that should've illumined her delicate young skin. Such intelligence shining out of her eyes, and the competent curve of her lips and cheek. A strong girl, determined and resourceful. Like her mother.

"Where are you guys going?" Buffy's voice came out high and wobbly, like a child's.

Spike faced her now. The car keys in one hand, and his eyes flashing yellow. Threat. Warning.

"I'm taking her away. Where she'll be safe from you. You won't see us again."

Buffy blinked. Her mouth worked as she processed his words.

"You're . . . you're leaving Xander?"

"Jem's my flesh an' blood. No choice, really."

Jemima moved then, but just to crane around towards him. "Papa. Let's go."

"But . . . you and Xander. You're so good together. And your work, and all the progress you've made away from the dark, to being a man . . . you're giving that up?"

"Jem's like me now. Got to protect her. I'll try to keep her from . . . from killing anybody. If I can. But can't stay here."

He'd vamped out when he said Jem's like me, but then his face melted back to human form, and he looked at her with an almost pleading expression. Buffy's stomach churned; she imagined that if she could just keep him talking, they'd think of something, something else, so he wouldn't go.

If he went, Xander's heart would be broken, and Spike's heart too, because they had a love like her love for him, and if it was shatteredthat would be her fault too. She couldn't bear all that. Couldn't be the cause of any more suffering, loss, betrayal, not if there was any possible way to prevent it.

Then she got the idea. There'd be some magic somewhere that would restore Jemima's soul, or perhaps, if the offering was great enough, even her humanity.
This situation was hers to make good. However she could.

"Spike, listen. I can't let you make this sacrifice. You've fought to become a good man . . . you've succeeded. I know how important that is to you. Don't throw that away."

He gave his head a stubborn shake, and moved towards her. She backed off, but all he did was lean in the open door, put a hand on Jemima's knee. "Seat belt on, Pudding."

Jemima snorted. "Oh, like I'm gonna die if we get into a crash."

"Pretty face can still get all smashed up. Don't want that. Gonna wear that viz a long long time." His voice was heavy, low, sad. Helpless with love for her, and anger at what she'd done to herself and thus to all of them. She'd stolen his struggled-for life, and Xander's too, as surely as she'd squandered her own. Yet she was his little girl and he could've say a reproachful word to her.

Jemima gave a hard shrug, full of resentful teengirl impatience, pent-up undead energy. Shoved his hand away, but then grabbed it and pulled him close. Her voice a conspiratorial whine. "Paaapaaa . . . why are you talking to her? Let's just get the fuck out of here. Or else let's— "

Over Spike's shoulder she saw Jem's face distort; the fanged mouth grinned, the eyes piercing her. "Let's rip her throat out. Let's do it toge— "

"Shut up. Shut up an' sit still if you wanna last the night." He jerked back, slamming her inside the SUV.

Spike moved around towards the driver's side. "Going now, Slayer. Tell Xander— tell him . . . ."

Buffy caught at him. She knew what to do— the one thing that would redeem this situation, that would deliver her from this intolerable cycle of wrong. Turn it to the good again. "I'll give up my soul so she can have hers back! Or my life so she can be alive again. We just have to find the witch, the demon, the god who'll accept that trade! Stay here and we'll figure it out!"

Spike turned then and stared at her, suspicion and burgeoning hope mixed in his weary eyes. "You— you'd do that?"
Buffy swallowed. She felt steady, steadier than she had since this whole ordeal began. "Yes. For my little girl. For you. Yes, of course."

Spike paused, dropped his gaze. "I dunno— "

She stepped closer to him, reaching for his arm. He'd agree, in a moment, she could see that; he'd agree to anything that would preserve Jemima, and so would she. In that at least they'd be united.

The driver's door flew open, knocking Spike aside, and then she was slammed on her back, the weapon gone. Jemima, a little bigger than she was, was surprisingly strong— a surprise that shouldn't have been, to the slayer. But when had she faced a monster like this? A monster whose body she'd made in her own, nursed and nurtured and then let down so terribly. A monster with Spike's eyes and her too-wide mouth and strong little chin.

Sentiment was the enemy.

The vampire had none. She didn't hesitate. Struck her across the jaw, ground her head hard against the sharp gravel of the drive, pinning her flat, hands and knees making points of agony on her body, her cool growling breath chilling her neck, and then the fangs, piercing without prelude or delicacy. The pinioning body rippled with ravening glee as it battened on her.

Buffy felt a sudden strong desire to give up. Once a vampire was latched on, once the exchange of blood and energy and power had begun in earnest, it was so very hard to fight. She'd learned that long ago, it was why it was so important never to let things get this far. Why people who survived vampire attacks so often expressed ambivalence— or disappointment— at the premature ending of a transcendent experience.

There was a frisson admixed with the horror. Or else it was that the horror— the onrush of depletion and death— that was the frisson. It became all there was, subsuming the desire for life.

She was willing to give herself up so that Jemima could live. Somehow . . . this way was not what she'd intended . . . but it was happening.

The demon was upon her: heavy, hard, pulsating, her whole body covered, pressed tight to the ground.

She let it happen.

Wanted an end to this sickening carousel of realities.

Then the piercing weight was gone.

The dust blew up her nose, into her open mouth; she coughed on it, it stung her eyes, made her blind. Little by little she hauled herself upright. She could barely stand on her own, body pasta-soft, blood bubbling from the wound. When she could see again she couldn't tell who'd been her deliverer. Xander, half-naked in pajama bottoms, bare feet sunk in the wet nighttime grass, was wrapped around Spike, their faces buried in each other's necks, swaying, nearly staggering, like two drunks trying to help each other home.

"I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry," Xander pulled him tighter, crooned into Spike's skin. "Baby I'm sorry."

"Was gonna leave you. Had to take her— "

"I know. I knew it before, when we were . . . Jesus Christ Spike, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm— " He said it over and over. Buffy leaned against the car, glad they were ignoring her, glad they were in each other's arms, and watched them grieve. The terrible thing was gone, and they'd both, she knew, have wanted Jemima back, even though it meant parting and unremitting pain.

Just like she wanted her back, even at the expense of her own soul, her own life.

Spike and Xander didn't have to part now. The way they clung to each other, it looked like they'd never separate, like they were turned into conjoined twins, hearts and blood and idea of self inextricably entwined.

That was sometimes what she had with Spike. In some of their best moments. Minds in harmony, her heart beating for them both.

Remembered suddenly one little half hour out of so many. A hot late afternoon, late in her pregnancy. Lying in the rumpled bed under the swirling ceiling fan, a cold compress against her always feverish brow, languid and tired not from doing anything in particular but just from what was going on inside her, the mad swirl of hormones and organic manufacture. Spike snugged up against her back, spooning her, his skin cool and dry against her moist stickiness, possessive hand laying claim with gentle movements to a heavy swollen breast, then to the tautness of her big belly, her navel like a third erect nipple, trailing down the prominent seam to her mons, petting the damp curls. "Full to bursting you are, my fierce fecund mistress. All radiant an' humming inside, all juicy." His finger slipped between her pussy lips, and her body flushed warmer, her cunt giving down its liquid as if her clit was a little dispenser button. He'd chuckled softly against her shoulder, her body and its ways so delighting him. When she began to pant and stir, he rubbed on, neither harder nor faster, but bit gently gently on her neck. She imagined herself a kitten, who could be carried off by her scruff in a bigger cat's jaws, and that made her begin to giggle, and then to shake, which turned into working herself on his moving finger. She recalled how the pleasure built, slow, liquid, how she'd looked up into the blurred burr of the ceiling fan's blades, the only sound in the room but her breathing and his nearly silent laughter. So often she made him laugh, just by being, just by giving herself to him, to touch and taste and hold.

She'd made him so happy, and they'd been happy together, both strong and pulling in the same direction. Both able to surrender to each other for the cause of love.

Until somehow she let that dribble away.

Buffy glanced up then, and realized she'd begun to walk; Xander's house was a half block gone. The men might not have noticed her going, or else they didn't care to stop her. She walked up the center of the quiet Sunnydale street, back towards Revello. The ashy dust of her only child was still in her nostrils, minute bits stuck to the corners of her mouth and the tracks of the tears she hadn't felt herself shed.

Two days later, Spike got a call, from a local sheriff in a small Nevada town he'd never heard of. Buffy's car had been found nearby.

He called Willow, then Giles. "Jem and I are going to drive out there tonight. It's about five hours away."

"Perhaps it would be better to leave Jem with us," Giles said.

"I promised her I'd keep her by me. Can't go back on that now."

There was a pause on Giles' end of the line. Then, "I see. Yes. Would you like— "

"We'll be fine. Jemmie's a good little traveler."

"What have you told her?"

"The truth." He squeezed his eyes shut, sighed. "Rupert, I don't know what else to tell her. What the fuck can I tell her?"

"I understand. Keep in touch with us. Spike— I do hope this doesn't mean— "

"We don't know what it means. Probably doesn't mean anything." His throat was tight, and he heard the stupid stubbornness in his voice. Trying so hard not to think about what it meant, her car by itself in the desert. "I'll call when we get there."

With the specially tinted windows, he could drive in the day, but the problem with that was being unable to get out of the car along the way. Impossible when he had Jemima along. So he waited until two hours before sunset; by time Jemima needed a bathroom break, it would be dark out.

Spike tried to draw the packing process out as long as he could, to keep from having to think about what he'd find when he got there. Apart from a change of clothes for himself, and all the things Jem needed for a car trip— clothes, books, snacks, batteries for the Gameboy, it occurred to him to bring a bag for Buffy. If they found her, though that didn't seem likely, she'd need some things. And if they didn't, or if . . . bit of genetic material might be useful. He threw her hairbrush into the bag. "Jemmie, pick out couple of your mum's shirts to bring." While the child was tugging things off hangers in the closet, he opened Buffy's underwear drawer. Going through it still gave him some of the illicit thrill he'd had back when he used to sneak into the house and steal bits of her apparel. Bypassing the sort of frippery he used to like to pocket, and more recently would give her whenever he thought he deserved a treat, he chose two plain bras and the panties that matched.

"Are these good?" Jemima held up a thin black long-sleeved sweater, and a white silk tunic.

"Good enough. C'mon, want to get some food in you before we hit the road."

He found it hard to look at her, because of the two tiny dots of fear in her eyes. She exuded apprehension, but said nothing about it. So like her mother that way: strong and resolute and ever unwilling to admit to being overwhelmed. In the kitchen he swung her up onto a stool that she was perfectly capable of climbing into herself, and dropped a kiss on her shiny head.

"You scared, Pudding?"

"N-no. No."

"It's all right if you are."

There was a pause. He had his back to her, rummaging in the refrigerator.

"Are you scared, Papa?"

He turned to her. "A little. I think your mum's gonna turn up all right, but yeah, can't help being a little scared."

She stared at the counter top. "Yeah."

As they were getting into the car in the shade of the carport Xander had built, an SUV pulled up in front of the house.

"Hey," Xander called. He jumped out and walked towards them slowly, a bag slung over his shoulder. "Got room for one more?"

Spike glanced at him without enthusiasm, but felt the tug of obligation. "I should've called you."

"Yeah," Xander said dryly. "You should've."

Jemima ran to him and threw her arms around his waist. "Come with us come with us come with us!"

"Your dad hasn't invited me yet."

"Right then," Spike muttered. "Roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour."

Xander offered to share the driving, but driving was a big part of the tenuous holding-it-together process, so Spike didn't relinquish the wheel. Without comment, the other man took the backseat, leaving Jemima up front where she could see and touch Spike. Once they were on the interstate, he gave Jemima his right hand. She laced her fingers with his, slumped in her seat with her sandaled feet drawn up, unenticed by the Gameboy or her comic books. They kept the radio off.

At a rest stop, Xander and Spike stood together at the door to the women's bathroom, waiting for Jemima. It was their first chance to say anything out of her hearing.

"Thanks for turning up."

"It'll be okay."

"You really think so?"

"Buffy's pretty unsinkable," Xander said.

"Yeah, course she is. But I think she's left me."

"No," Xander said. His face drew down, he shook his head firmly.

"Hell, when she stormed out, I didn't think she'd be gone more'n a few hours. She does that. But she's never stayed away over night, let alone for days like this. I'm thinkin' . . . thinkin' this is it. She wanted to disappear."

Still Xander shook his head. "I can't believe it. I can't believe she'd do that to you, to all of us. Not to Jemmie. Mothers don't— "

"Mothers do. Sometimes," Spike said.

"No daughter of Joyce's would let herself fall that far."

Spike let slip an involuntary smile. "Joyce."

"I miss her. Sometimes, I really . . . she was a mom to all of us, in a way. My own Mom isn't always . . . anyhow, I don't think Buffy's left you."

"Kinda hoping she has, though, else it means . . . ."

The door swung open and Jemima reappeared.

"You wash your hands?" Both men spoke at once. There was a pause, then they all laughed.

"Papa and Xander, stop wasting time!" Jemima grabbed them both and impatiently marched towards the exit.

She woke up with Papa's hand on her face, gently brushing the hair out of her eyes. "We're here," he whispered. "Gonna go inside."

Dreams darted into the corners of her mind like bright little fishes she couldn't catch; sitting up she saw a low-slung building in a brightly-lit parking lot. Two police cars and some regular cars and trucks were pulled up in front; there was a set of glass doors with emblems on them. A brand-new place, seen at a brand-new time. She wasn't used to being awake at this hour of the night unless she was sick, and then she'd be in bed.

Papa held her hand, and Xander was right there behind them as they went inside. The building smelled like a school, but also like something else she couldn't place and didn't like. Everything seemed to be light brown— walls, floor, the high desk they walked up to, and the uniform and face of the man behind it. Papa was very unlike himself, moving slow and tight. His voice sounded funny— too soft and shy— when he spoke. "Got a call about my wife's car. Buffy Summers' car. I'm William Grieves."

Buffy rested her elbows on the table, and her head in her hands. Everything ached. She was bone weary, it was hard to catch her breath. She was already dehydrated from crying. The trip back here left her wrung-out. It was the only place she could go— she knew that now, because she'd tried to drive to LA, to seek help from Angel and his people, and though she'd very carefully watch the signs on the interstate, she'd ended up headed this way. She tried three times, using up hours in repetitive, confusing circling, before she understood that she wasn't going to be allowed to do it.

The waitress seemed neither glad nor disappointed to see her. She approached with the coffee pot, shuffling as if her feet hurt her.

"You've taken everything away from me. You were trying to grind my nose into all my inadequacies and failures— well congratulations, you did. What's the point of all this if I don't get a second chance? Why don't you just kill me?"

"Oh, we don't do that here," the waitress said, as if refusing Buffy's request to substitute grits for a second vegetable.

"Why don't I kill you instead? You're a demon. That's what I do."

"You couldn't do it, hon. Not here. Have some coffee."

The waitress turned the cup upright in its saucer and poured from the thermal pot in her hand. "What else can I get you, hon?"

"My life! I want my daughter and my husband and my friends. " Buffy's crying picked up speed. She couldn't remember when she'd felt so trapped. Reduced to the methods of a child— the storm of plaintive powerless tears. This was nothing to the loss of her leg. "Please. I want to go home. I don't care about my leg or how I felt before, I'll work that out, I just want to be back home with Spike and my baby. I have to make it up to them!"

"Oh, but they're not there," the waitress said. "Those ones you're thinking about— they've gone. Your home is empty."

"Gone? But . . . no. You're lying to me. I want to go— !" She flung herself out of the booth, towards the waitress's neck. But she didn't reach it. Somehow she was back in her seat, the coffee still steaming in front of her.

"No. Nononono— stop doing this to me! I want— "

The waitress sighed. "Oh, hon, I know how it is." She patted Buffy's shoulder.

"It's parked out by itself off route 17," the deputy told them, after he'd shaken their hands in a strange solemn way. Jemima wondered if he noticed the coolness of Papa's skin, but he didn't seem to. "There was a diner there but it closed years ago, and they tore it down. The parking area's still there, all weed-sprouted now. You follow me in your vehicle, I'll bring you out there." He glanced nervously at Jemima. "Maybe you want to leave the little girl at the station? Can have someone here keep an eye on her. Fix her up with a snack, if she's hungry."

Jemima drew herself up, poised to make a loud protest, when Xander spoke.

"Hey," he said. "That might be a good idea. Jemmie and I can hang back here. You go on."

No. Papa had promised. He'd absolutely promised. She opened her mouth to remind him, when Spike shook his head. "We all go." His hand curled around her shoulder and squeezed.

The deputy shrugged. "C'mon then."

They rode in silence. Xander was in the front seat now too, and she sat between them, buckled in with Xander, who kept an arm around her. He was sweating, smelled salty. She could see nothing through the windshield but the red taillights of the police car ahead; to the sides was a black nothingness Xander said was the desert. They'd been riding through desert to get here, but it seemed worse now, leaving the lighted town, going towards where Mamma had disappeared. A place where nothing was.

A half hour out, Jemima saw a glow on the horizon. As they got nearer she saw first the lighted sign, and then the restaurant itself: all glass and lit up bright inside. The inside was pink: booths, floors, ceiling. The cop pulled into the parking lot, and they followed. Why were they stopping here? They were supposed to be going straight to Mamma's car.

That's when she spotted it. Parked to the side, away from the others drawn up right in front.

"Look Papa, there— "

"See it," Spike murmured, in a be quiet now voice. The cop car drew up so its headlights shone into the other car, and the policeman got out. Jemima looked from Spike to Xander; they were both staring at Mamma's car. Neither of them glanced at the diner.

"Stay put," Spike told her as he and Xander climbed out. "We'll be right back."

She watched them cross to the car. The deputy had a flashlight and was shining it in, which seemed so silly, since the light from the restaurant must've been bright enough for them all to see. The three men circled the car slowly.

Why didn't they go inside and ask the people if they'd seen Mamma? The policeman must've made a mistake. He said there was nothing here, but that was completely wrong.

She leapt down and ran up to the restaurant's plate glass doors. A few of the booths were occupied by people she couldn't make out very clearly. That was weird, because it was so bright inside, and there was nothing blocking her view. But the more she tried to stare at the various people inside, the harder it became. Jemima glanced over her shoulder; Papa and Xander and the policeman were talking, and none of them were looking in her direction.

"We just found it here. Car wasn't locked. We've looked through it already, took some prints, but there's nothing really. No telling where Ms Summers went from here." The deputy said. "Maybe your wife hitched a ride with someone. I hope she did. This area . . . not too hospitable to anyone on foot, in the daytime. Gets mighty hot here, an' it's miles from anything, as you can see."

"Shit, yeah." Papa lifted his head and squinted towards the darkness beyond the parking lot. His nostrils flared, and he closed his eyes. Jem had seen him do this before. He could smell things other people couldn't. Now she knew why.
But he didn't seem to smell anything that pleased him. He glanced at Xander, then took a set of keys from his pocket and opened the door to Mamma's car. "Anything else we need to know?" Papa asked, and the policeman shook his head, said they'd contact him if there was anything new. He hesitated, as if he didn't want to let him get into Mamma's car. He shuffled his feet, then nodded to Papa and to Xander and started back to his own car, which he'd left running. In a moment he'd slammed the door and pulled out, as if the whole thing made him sad, made him want to run away.

Xander and Spike were still looking at the inside of the car.

Jemima opened the restaurant door and went in.

Inside, the air smelled sugary, like donuts. There was the smell of coffee too, which she liked less. The expanse of pink tiling seemed very long between her and the booths, her and the counter. The space hadn't seemed so large from outside. She felt very small, very aware of being a child alone in the night time, in a place where no other children were.

The waitress loomed, almost out of nowhere. Her uniform was the same pink as the floor. Her harsh black hair, piled in high coils on her head over a forehead that was slick and pink, looked like it was going to fall down. Like it might fall on her. She held a pot of coffee; full, steaming. Jem was afraid that might fall on her too. The floor, all of a sudden, seemed to be tilting, or else she was dizzy, like she'd been spinning around. Except she wasn't.

"What do you want, little girl?"

"I'm looking for my Mamma," Jemima muttered. She darted her eyes from booth to booth, trying to see the people who were sitting so still over their plates. No one seemed to be eating, or talking, or even moving, but it was still hard to see. Like when you tried to squint into the sun, only not exactly like that, because she didn't have to squint. The light was even and very bright, casting no shadows. The waitress stepped closer to her; reached a hand for her head. Jemima ducked and feinted left, lifting hervoice louder. "I'm looking for my Mamma! Mamma! Mamma, where are you?"

"Oh, you seem to be in the wrong place," the waitress said, with an odd little chuckle. "I think you'd better go back outside."

"MAMMA!" Jemima skidded by her, rushing towards the row of stools at the counter, with the idea that she could scramble up high and see everything in the place. "MAMMA, we're here!"

From far away— so far away that it was hard to tell how the sound could be coming from inside the diner, which was big but not that big, Jemima heard her own name. It was Buffy's voice, calling to her. Flinging herself forward, she ran past booth after booth: somehow there was more and more, it was like when characters ran in cartoons and the scenery kept repeating itself every few seconds. But this wasn't a cartoon, because she was breathing hard and the floor was slippery, and arms reached for her from the booths, trying to grab onto her clothes and her hair, but she zig-zagged and kept on running. Buffy's voice came again, louder; Jemima shouted in response, her heart surging in joy, because she'd seen what Papa and the policeman hadn't seen. Mamma was here, she was calling to her, all she had to do was find her and everything would be all right.

"I'll drive it back to Sunnydale for you," Xander said. "Should find a motel now. Get Jemima to bed for a few hours."

"Yeah," Spike said. The cop was right, the car contained nothing to indicate why Buffy might've stopped here, or where she went.

What the hell was he going to do? Buffy was really gone. All his fantasies about her, that she'd taken off to start a new life away from them, were dashed. He'd hated the idea, that she would just walk out. But better a deliberate abandonment than that something had gotten to her. Hurt or killed her.

One of Jemmie's cardigans was balled up in the back seat. He carried it back to his car. Was chilly out here, she should probably put it on. What the hell was he going to say to her now? How to explain this? How to explain at all, when he just wanted to curl into a ball himself and moan?

Jemima wasn't there.

"Jem!' Spike looked around. "Xander, where's Jem?"

"What do you mean, where's Jem?"

Spike stepped back from the car, turned slowly, scanning. He could see perfectly in the dark, but there was no sign of her in the scrubby expanse of desert on either side of the narrow road. Her scent, strong at the car door, led nowhere.

His daughter was gone too.

Buffy leapt up, shoving the waitress aside. She almost couldn't believe her ears, but then it came again, her daughter's high-pitched cry. "Jemmie! Jem, I'm here!" She scanned the space— booths, empty tables, the row of stools at the counter. The waitress, enormous now and stronger than a slayer, was trying to put her back in her seat. The weight on her shoulders was intense, a boulder pressing down on her. Then something cannonballed between them, knocking her back into the booth. The waitress was suddenly nowhere, and a keening flurry of blue and white and brown flew against her to cling like a monkey.

"Mamma mamma mamma mamma mamma mamma— "

Buffy squeezed the hot little form tightly, her nose and mouth in the disordered hair, the sharp little knees digging into her thighs, her own voice drowned in weeping.

She wasn't sure when she realized that she was lying on her back amidst sharp stinky weeds, staring past the top of her daughter's head at the night sky. Jemima breathed in loud sobbing snuffs, her wet face pressed tight into her neck. Little by little, clinging to her, Buffy sat up.

"Jemmie . . . Jemmie . . . my God, where did you come from?"

The girl couldn't speak for crying. Slowly, Buffy glanced around. It was too dark to get a sense of place, but it felt open, stark. The air was dry and cool. At a distance she saw two cars parked. Two figures were silhouetted in the headlights. She'd just been with them. Spike and Xander. Mourning.

The dizziness came up suddenly from the center of herself, like a boot in the gut. It wasn't finished. She'd missed something, there was a gap. She'd dusted Jemima, seen Spike and Xander weeping in each other's arms, walked away, gone back . . . back to the diner. Again. She remembered that, her devastation, the twister of fear and panic roiling up inside her. But clearly she was missing some time, because someone must've done something, to bring Jemima back. Jemima was alive, her whole body thrumming against hers. Alive, and . . . not a teenager anymore. Which was odd, but then so was everything magical. So . . . they must've brought her out here, Spike and Xander, invoked some spell or power to reverse the whole horrible thing . . . She must've made some sacrifice to bring this about. Maybe she'd allowed herself to be vamped in exchange? Buffy touched her own face, expecting to feel ridges and bumps, although she was sensible of her own heart racing all the time along with her anxious mind.

Maybe they'd taken her soul from her instead. It had to be something big, to bring their baby back to life.

Slowly, wobbling beneath the burden of her keening daughter wrapped around her, Buffy struggled to stand. The men were running towards her now. Buffy grappled her tighter, kissing her sodden face. They would take Jemima from her. She was theirs. She'd been theirs for some time.

She braced herself for the moment when Spike would tear the girl away. He was almost there.

"Buffy— !"

He was upon them, the momentum of his run knocking them both off their feet. Jemima cried out, and Buffy cried too— "Let me have her another minute— just another minute— !" even as she was lifted out of her arms. She couldn't reach for her, because Spike was on top of her, and what was the point of fighting him, fighting him now would be wrong. All the right was on his side, his and Xander's. She went limp, breathing through her sobs. If she didn't fight he'd let her up. "All right, all right. Take her. Take her."

But he didn't let her up. He was holding her, and he was crying too, there was so much crying she couldn't hear anything else, couldn't even hear herself think. He held her, rocked her in his arms, his sobs like laughter bubbling against her ear.

"Buffy— Buffy— where were you— where'd you come from— "

"Please . . . please don't take Jem away yet. Let me be with her just a little bit more."

"What are you talking about? What's happened to you?" His voice was soft, and fond, and bewildered. His hand on her face, pushing her gently back to look at her. He could see in the dark but she couldn't, just the faint outline of his form, and beyond him, Xander kneeling with Jemima. Buffy reached an arm out towards the girl, and moaned in gratitude when Xander didn't stop Jem from throwing herself again into her arms. They were being so compassionate now. But then, they could afford to be. They had Jemima back, they were a family again. They could toss her a last little bone before they took her away.

"Jemmie, you don't hate me any more, do you? Just tell me that. Just tell me you don't hate me, because I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry for what I did to you!"

"I love you, Mamma. I always do. Every day."

"I love you too, baby. Never forget that. I know I haven't been good to you, but— but— " They couldn't stop her saying it, even though they were going to take Jemima away in a minute, shut her out. "I'll try to make it up to you. I'll try, if you'll let me."

She held Jemima for a long time, until the girl's sobs were stilled, and then her own.

Spike rose then. It felt like the end. Buffy drew in a deep breath, and let go. She thought Spike would swing Jemima up in his arms. But it was she whom he picked up, cradling her close. "Buffy. What's happened to you? Where've you been?" He pressed his mouth to her forehead, to her eyelids, and just grazed her lips. "You smell like magic, but it's gone now."

She raised her head. "It's— it's gone?"

"Think so."

"Spike . . . I just want you to be happy."

"I know. Got things to talk about, we do. But we'll work it out."

"You will. You and Xander will be fine now. I . . . I'm really glad you found each other. I'm glad you got Jemmie back. I . . . I'd like to see her sometimes. If you'll let me."

". . . if I'll let— Hang on. What the fuck are you talking about?"

"I— I'm talking about— you know. Um, put me down now. I'm not gonna make any sudden moves."

"No, I'm hanging on to you. What do you mean, me an' Xander will be fine?"

"Yeah," Xander said, coming closer. "What do you mean Spike and I will be fine? Where are you going to be?"

"You will. You're good to each other, and now Jemima's alive again, and . . . and . . . oh my God. I'm not there any more, am I?" Everything slowed then, and she was aware of herself. Of the change. She was one legged again. That meant she was back where she belonged!

"Where?" Spike and Xander said it at once, and there was an awkward little silence, punctuated only by Jemima's low snuffling.

"In the . . . in the alternate universe where . . . oh, I can't talk about it yet. But it's over, isn't it? You're the right one . . . Spike, do you still love me?"

"Like you have to sodding ask, bloody woman. Let's get out of here."

He carried her back to the cars. She was aware of Xander, carrying Jemima and keeping step with Spike, but Spike wasn't looking at Xander. All his attention was trained on her; he held her tight and barely jostled her at all as he moved, or when he set her down inside the car. Jemima reappeared, there were more kisses and hugs and protestations of love, during which she was dimly aware of the men conferring over her head. Then Xander drew Jemima away to the other car and pulled out.

"Where are they going?"

"Xander's keen to drive back to Sunnydale now. Jemmie'll sleep in the back."

"And what are we doing?"

"Decent-ish looking motel in town. Think we should check in there. Promised Jemmie we'd be back for her bedtime tonight."

"Oh. That's good."

Spike started the car; his attention seemed wholly absorbed in making minute adjustments to the mirrors and the air conditioning. Buffy watched him through her still teary eyes.


He was occupied with the left rearview mirror, and didn't look away from it. "Yeah."

"Spike, do you forgive me?"

"There's drinks and some sandwiches in the cooler in back. Brought 'em for littler bit."

"How long was I gone?"

"It's been nearly a week."

"I didn't mean to be. I stopped here for coffee, and then . . . once I was inside, I couldn't leave. A lot of things happened to me. Magic, like you said. I . . . I'll tell it to you later."

"'M eager to hear it." He put the car in gear, pulled onto the road.

Without asking, he got in the shower with her, to help her, since she didn't have her waterproof prosthesis. She leaned on him, let him wash her, in a way she hadn't permitted since the accident.

Neither of them spoke, but there was something almost unbearably sweet to her in the way he soaped her back, then turned so she could do his, hanging on to his hand with her left. She felt too shy to look up into his face, so kept her eyes fixed on their feet on the white porcelain. He had handsome feet, the second toe longer than the first. The sight of her stump, the water swirling off it, gave her a pang, just as it always did. But it was nothing to the pain of those other possibilities she'd endured.

Spike wrapped her in a towel and lifted her out of the tub. "Sorry I didn't think to bring your crutches along. I'll get your leg."

"No, it's okay. Want to comb my hair for me?"

She leaned on the sink while he did, not looking into the foggy mirror; he wouldn't be there, and she didn't want to see herself. Every few moments she opened her mouth, thinking she should say something, begin the talk they had to have. To try to express the love that suffused her, along with the miraculous spaciousness she felt inside, released from the magical loop, back where she wanted to be.

With him.

But she was too tired. He too, was uncharacteristically quiet.

Leaving a trail of wet towels on the floor, they fell into bed together. Buffy fell asleep almost at once.

She awoke with a tremendous thirst. Beside her, Spike slept, his back to her. Probably he hadn't slept at all since she left; that would be like him.

He'd brought the cooler in from the car; she put on her prosthesis and went to investigate. Chugging a bottle of juice in one go, she rummaged under the sandwiches— all PBJ, the only kind Jemima would eat lately— for the container of blood she hoped he hadn't forgotten.

But he had. He'd have nothing to eat.

She could do something about that. She looked forward to it.

Unwrapping a sandwich , Buffy devoured it in four bites.

"Feeling all right?"

She looked up from her third sandwich. "I'm okay. Are you?"

He sat up, blinking, scrubbed his hands through his hair. "What time is it?"

"Ten-ish. We've got a while before we have to move." She came to sit beside him on the bed, put her fingers through his curls. They was still damp. "I like the look of you, Mr Grieves. I always have, but right now I really like it." She sighed. "You're a sight for sore eyes. For sore, scared, grateful, oh my God I can't believe I'm back with you eyes."

He smiled, but it was, she thought, a thin smile.

"I am back with you, aren't I?"

"We need to talk, Buffy."

"I know. I'm sorry I hurt you. Not just for hitting you in the basement, not just that. I'm sorry about everything, the last few months. I got off on the wrong road a while back, I know. I lost sight of what's really important to me. Nothing is more important than you and Jem. I really get that now."

He propped himself up on one arm and looked hard at her. She didn't flinch away. Holding his gaze, she went on speaking. "I've been confused, and angry, and I know it was bad even before the accident. I should've asked for help, but you know how I am about that stuff. I want to be better. I will be better." She gripped his hand. "I'm sure of one thing. Spike, I want to be with you for the rest of my life."

He turned aside his gaze then. "Do you, my queen?"

"Do you, Spike? Can you forgive me?"

He glanced back at her. "Thought I was looking after you proper, keeping you satisfied. Didn't know you were so unhappy until . . . an' then I didn't know what to do about it. Nothin' I tried seemed to make an inroad."

"Spike, none of this is your fault."

"Takes two to make a marriage."

She let that sink in. Marriage. It wasn't a word they applied much to themselves, but when they did, it always made a lump in her throat.

Husband. Wife.

Very different words for the ones that described them so long: Vampire. Slayer.

She felt for the ring he'd given her, turned it on her finger. Brought it to her mouth and rubbed it against her front teeth. A comforting gesture.

Forsake me not. He'd thus entreated her, and she'd failed. She'd forsaken him.

"Yeah," she nodded, "it takes two to make a marriage. But it can take just one to ruin it. We have to talk to each other more, I know. No. I have to talk more. You always talk a lot. You . . . you're no saint, Spike, far from it, but you're much better than I am at this."

He smiled a little then. "At what, my queen?"

"At taking care of what we have." Something in that phrase, taking care, made her tear up. She started to cry. He made no move to quiet her, but their hands were still interlaced.

"Spike, I hope you'll forgive me. I know I take you for granted. I learned just now that I could make you fall out of love with me."

"Never happen."

"But it did. Three times."

She told him then about where she'd been, about how she'd lost him, lost Jemima, three different ways. The telling was difficult; she blushed to admit to her part in these disasters, how she'd tried and failed to turn them around. How, with each one, she'd known more and more that she needed him, needed Jemima, and how, with each one, they'd seemed more and more inaccessible. He listened without interrupting, holding her hand all the while.

" . . . so you see, I was shown. I was shown what happens further down the path I was on. How I could ruin everything. How I could lose our precious baby and make you hate me."

"Told you already. Never happen." He brought her hand to his mouth, kissed the knuckles. "Know you'd never do such things. Haven't I told you over an' over all these years? I know you, Buffy. You're a sweet-hearted girl. Affectionate little wench you are, even when you're a bit crusty up top. Plenty to make you hard, but you've never lost yourself to it."

"But I have! I have lost myself . . . over and over, and each time it gets worse. You know that, Spike. I get so frozen inside. Dried up."

"Never would do any such things as those they showed you. That was some demon gang fucking with you, is all. That's what we all do, us demons— go after the Slayer and fuck with her head. All it was. No truth to it otherwise."

"But I was horrible to you. I've been horrible to you since the accident, and before that too. I was feeling so trapped, and bored, and, I don't know. I can't quite remember now, it all seems so idiotic. I insulted you, I betrayed you in front of Jemmie, I hit you, and— "

"Yeah, you did. An' that's no good." He frowned, but he was still holding her hand gently. "Not gonna sit still for more of that, Buffy. But I have no doubt you'll leave off now. You're always my good girl beneath it all."

The tears spilled over again. "Spike. Please, don't . . . you shouldn't just brush these things off. When I'm being stupid and vile and hurting you, you shouldn't reward that by loving me."

"When you're stupid and sad and in pain is when you need to be loved the most."

"Oh God."

"An' when I'm stupid and vile, which is every day, you love me, an' help me to be a man, an' a father an' a friend. No one in all my long life's understood me before the way you do, Buffy. You're my rock. An' I'm yours."

"How long've you been unhappy? Really?"

"I'm not sure. It was gradual."

"But before you lost your leg."

". . . yes. It's been a while."

"What was it about?"

"Oh Spike, I don't know."

"Yeah you do. Had plenty to say the other day before you started in with your fists."

She sighed. "Why do we have to go over that? I'm different now. Really. This experience . . . made a radical change."

"Maybe so. But we're going to go back home in a bit an' all that will still be there. Me an' Jem an' the house an' your leg. The slayer academy an' Mei Yi. None of that's changed."

She butted her head into his shoulder and groaned. "I don't know what I was thinking, I love you and I love Jem. Mei Yi isn't important, and our work at the slayer school is — "

"You don't have to do it if you don't like it. We don't have to stay in Sunnyhell, even. Can go somewhere else, have a different sort of life. Was trying to bring that up with you when you flew off the handle."

"They need you at the academy. And you need purpose, Spike. Work. You know you do."

"Yeah. Point is— "

"I'm getting the point." She sighed. "Really. Really truly, I don't want to leave. That's my house. My town. My friends are there. There's nothing wrong with any of it, it's just me. And anywhere I go, I'm still there."


"It'll be okay, Spike."

"Long as you quit sufferin' in silence . . . ."

"I know. I promise. No more silence." Silence was her enemy. Always lurking in the shadows of herself, seductive, easy. Ready to separate her from everyone else. She ran to it with open arms, and often nothing could pull her from its embrace. Even in this moment, she wanted to retreat there.

Spike stroked her hair. "How much of it was me?"


"Tell me what I was doin' wrong, Slayer. Tell me how to look after you better."

"You . . . you look after me just fine. Clean up after yourself a little more, you'd be perfect. But I don't expect perfect. God knows I'm not." She kissed him then, and when he moved to take her in his arms, she put him gently back. "Let me drive."

Spike flashed a grin, but he didn't lie back. "Like the last time? You think I didn't know what was going on then?"

"Did you?" She blushed.

"You're not so much the mistress of subtlety. If that wasn't The Blowjob Of Shut The Fuck Up, I dunno what was."

"Okay, but this won't be. This'll be The Blowjob of I Feel So Lucky You're In My Life."


Their eyes met. She quirked a grin. "Yeah."

"All right then."

It was almost time to leave. They'd made love, napped, showered, and were half-way dressed. Buffy, out of a sudden desire to fill in what she'd missed in the last week, was watching CNN out of the corner of her eye as she worked the tangles out of her hair. Spike pawed through the cooler, looking disconsolately at the choice between a bottle of water, a squashed peanut butter sandwich, and a juice box.

"Leave that," Buffy said. "There's nothing there you want."

He glanced around. She put her hair aside, and tapped on the vein in her neck. "I've got the goods right here."

"The hell?"

"You haven't been feeding right since I left, and now you're just about empty. You're really pale, Spike. And we have a five hour drive ahead of us."

"I can wait. Gone longer than this when I had to . . . ."

"I know. But you don't have to now." She rose. "Sit down. I'll do this . . ." she sat, straddling his lap, "you put your arms around me. Now we'll both be comfortable. "

He held her, and kissed the scar on her neck. "Buffy— "

"Spike, it's all right. We do this all the time."

"But never like this. When you offer me your neck, we're making love. I bite, an' I come right away, because it's overwhelming, having you like that, an' I let you go. All's I ever take is a taste."

"I trust you. I'll tell you when to stop."

He put her back to look at her. "If this is about making amends, if you think you have to pay for hurting me . . . pay with your precious blood . . . you don't. Not keeping score. Not exacting retribution."

His soft words, the tenderness of his gaze, made her blush all over. "I know. Show me your game face."

"My true face."

"They're both true. Neither one's false. I love them both."

Even after expending so much force and emotion in lovemaking, she still brimmed with eagerness for him, his touch, his gaze. She was excited, but not in a sexual way. The anticipation she felt was the same as when she had a gift to give that she knew would be perfect, would be just what the recipient least expected and wanted most.

He brought up the bumps and fangs. She kissed them, and his eyes, and then his mouth. The sharp teeth didn't daunt her. Then she laid her head on his shoulder. "Go on, Spike. I'm ready." He nuzzled her neck, and bit. It was the most deliberate bite she'd ever experienced; Spike was trying to be easy and gentle, but it was a little like pulling a band-aid off slowly that would've better come off fast. Once he was attached, she felt the same dizzy, nearly dirty rush of pleasure she always did. Only this time, absent either the passion of the life-or-death power struggle or the giddy urgency of sex, she was free to experience the bite in its pure state. With her arms clasped tight around his back, bodies molded together, she could feel the transfer of heat, of energy. Feel Spike's body replenishing itself, taking on a borrowed glow. He held her snug against him, hands splayed wide on shoulder and hip. She could feel the bulge grow behind his fly, and his muscles seemed to bulge a bit too, as if they were taking on ballast. Her own body felt strong and light, her heart seeming to surge up in pride at what it was imparting to her lover.

He lifted his head too soon.

"You can have more," she murmured, as he licked the wound closed.

"'M full up, sweetness. Really. Half-pint of yours's is like ten of an ordinary woman."

She patted the mound beneath his belt buckle. "Do you always get hard when you feed?"

He turned his face away and didn't answer.

"I shouldn't have asked."

"Off a live person, yeah," he whispered. "'S just . . . how it works."

"How nice for us, then." She unbuckled the belt, undid the fly, and slid off his lap onto the floor, to take his cock once more into her mouth.

As they took the Sunnydale exit off the interstate, Spike said, "Do me one thing, Slayer."


"That part about me an' Xander bein' . . . bein' . . . don't tell him that. Don't tell anyone about that."


"I mean— Jesus. If any of that Grand Guignol crap should've tipped you off for the farce it was, it would've been that bit. Me an' Xander? Never. Never in a gazillion years. Wouldn't fuck him with another man's dick." He paused. "Well, maybe that Riley Finn's."

Buffy decided to ignore that. "C'mon. Xander's really handsome. And I know you're bisexual, Spike. You told me yourself."

"Not bisexual. I'm a vampire. An' I say there's no way I'd have Harris even if he was the last thing on earth with two legs. Or one leg. Or even— even three legs, if he was so damned blessed."

She had to laugh. "But— "

"Buffy. Just shut it."

"Did you an' Papa make up, Mamma?"

"We did, baby."

Jemima was in the bathtub. Buffy had run up straight from the car, pausing only to give Xander a hug in the kitchen. She knelt now, not hating the prosthesis anymore, but marveling at how easily it moved with her. Like they'd all told her, it was the best money could buy. Scrub brush in hand, she kissed the moist top of her daughter's head. The memory of sixteen-year-old Jemima laid itself over the seven-year-old face turned to her now. She was going to be beautiful, and smart, and graceful, and not a vampire, and not brought up by Spike and Xander, although Xander was their very dear friend and always would be.

"Promised we'd be back by bedtime, and we were."

"I knew you would."

The girl's smile just about scooped Buffy's heart out.

"Jemmie, I owe you an apology." Buffy moved the scrub brush caressingly up and down the girl's back. "I haven't been very nice to you for quite a while. It was because I was feeling confused and unhappy about some things that had nothing to do with you. And then I had the accident and that made it worse. I want you to know I love you, I always have, and I always will. I'm going to make sure things are better here at home."

"I thought you didn't want to live with us anymore."

"No, sweetheart. That's not true."

"It happens though. At school, Pierce's papa didn't want to live with his mamma anymore."

"I know. It does happen. But not to us, not this time. Not ever."

Jemima slipped a wet arm around her neck. "Papa was very sad when you weren't here. He tried to pretend he wasn't too sad, but I could tell."

"We were all sad. I wanted to come home and I couldn't. You rescued me. You were the only one the magic didn't work on."

"Papa and Xander and the policeman didn't see the restaurant, but I did. I went in and found you."

"No one could've done that but you."

"I'm unique!"

"You are. Well, everybody is, but you're even more unique."

"Because my papa is a vampire and my mamma is the slayer. Uncle Rupert explained it to me. We have to make sure Papa doesn't feel so bad about being a vampire. Vampires are very bad but he isn't, is he?"

Buffy shook her head. "Papa's not like other vampires. And he took very good care of you while I was gone."

"He always does."

"I'm going to take good care of you too."

As she dried her and supervised the face washing and tooth brushing and pajama-donning, Buffy was breathless, as if she'd run a ten K race that finished at the door of her house. Breathless, and feeling like a fraud, because what was the point of making all these promises if she couldn't keep them? She wanted to keep them. She was overflowing with desire for Jemima, for Spike, just to be with them, to do things that were boring and necessary with them and for them, or just to do nothing with them. Breathe where they were breathing. Or in Spike's case, not breathing. But how long would that last? What would happen if she felt it again, that restlessness, that resentful itch?

Spike was waiting in Jemima's room. The three of them sprawled across her little bed, and while Spike read out loud from some book that Buffy felt she ought to follow more closely if she was going to live up to her high ideals, she could think only of how, just a couple of nights ago, she'd lain in this same bed with Spike when he'd been mutilated and in despair, and afterwards he'd limped out into the sun to explode into flame. The same mobile hung over their heads— Buffy thought maybe she should take it down; wasn't it a little young for Jemima now? The same Hello Kitty sheets and plush animals surrounded them.

She was touching Spike and Jem now, they were all three here and whole and alive, yet somehow this moment seemed less real than that. Which was so strange and wrong, because this was her real life, the one she'd been desperate to return to. She wanted to experience it to the full, yank every last bit of stuffing out of it, complete immersion, full sensory overload. Whatever it was that was still holding her slightly apart, she'd overcome. By sheer force of will!

"Your mum's falling asleep," Spike said, startling her by dropping out of the voice of the story into his own, "so it better be lights out all round."

Buffy kissed Jemima, then kissed her again, then did the Eskimo-kiss nose-rubbing thing, then thought maybe she'd like her to stay and sleep with her that night, but before she could propose that, Spike was lifting her off and carrying her bodily out of the room.

He put her down, and shut the door behind them.

"I kept thinking— "
"I know. I could tell. Must've seemed so real. But it wasn't, Buffy. It was a pack of lies."

"It was real. It was this house, it was me, it was you. It was happening. I experienced you turning away from me, disappointed, angry, hating me, despairing. It was real and there was no way out, and now every single thing here reminds me of that. Reminds me of what I monster I am."

"You're not. I keep telling you. All that was false. An' I'm not walking out into any bleedin' sunlight over you, Missy, no matter what happens, so get your ego off that pedestal an' come to bed."

From behind the specially-tinted glass of his car, parked at the side of the road, Spike watched the others pace the scrubby dimensions of the demolished diner's foundations. Giles, Anya, Xander, and Buffy holding Jemima by the hand, flanked Willow, who was the leader here, with a large book under one arm and the other outstretched. The sun was high, relentless; they all wore hats, which gave them unaccustomed silhouettes. Jemima was tugging all the while, and finally broke from Buffy to rush ahead of Willow and stop. She gesticulated, and Willow stopped too, tipping her head back. Spike couldn't tell what she was doing, or if her eyes were open or shut, but after a minute something shimmered in the air, something large and terrible, yet without size or form, bright and dark at the same time. It tried to coalesce. Willow gestured, there was a boom, and a crack, something zagged through the air like lightning, and then they were all running back towards the cars. Spike popped the doors open, and shrank back from the glare. And the smell. The thing had given off an amazing stink along with the show.

"What was that?"

"Whatever it was, Willow gave it a piece of her mind." Buffy pushed Jemima ahead of her into the back seat, then looked over her shoulder. Willow was strolling calmly towards them.

"It's okay!" she called. "It's gone."

"Really gone, or temporarily gone?" Xander said. "I don't think this smell is ever gonna be gone. Pee-yew."

"Really gone. I closed the portal."

"I saw it again," Jemima announced. "Did you see it? It was very big."

"Saw something . . . ." Spike said. "But it wasn't . . . wasn't anything you could really see."

"Oh, but this was, Papa," Jemima said. "I saw all the way into it." She was smiling from ear to ear. "Willow shut it up, though. It won't bother us anymore."

"Terrific," Spike muttered. "Kid sees magical portals."

"That can only be a plus," Buffy sighed.

Giles bent to peer into the car. "As we're finished here, we'll meet up again at that Denny's thirty miles back, for a debrief."

"For frosty chocolate milkshakes and a debrief," Xander muttered behind him. "Jeezus it's hot out here." He slid into the driver's seat. "Allrighty then."

With Xander at the wheel, Spike traded places with Jemima, pulling her into the front, getting her buckled in, then climbing into the back.

Buffy had curled herself into the corner, watching the scrubby landscape go by. She still tingled from the release of all that magical power in the air around her. It wasn't a good tingling. Too humbling, too scary.

"Hey," He whispered, leaning in close. "It's really over now."

She shrugged. "Nothing's really over until you're over yourself, y'know?" They both spoke low, so Xander and Jem wouldn't hear. "Sometimes I feel really small. And breakable. Like a twig. A self-involved, angry, selfish but very regretful twig."

He opened his mouth, but she put a finger on it. "Don't tell me it isn't so. I know what I know. I know I have a lot of changes to make."

"Okay, love. You're a twig."

She'd said she felt teensy and insignificant, but that came with a sense of heaviness inside, an undifferentiated dread. Nothing was ever over, was it, and when the problem was inside you, you took it everywhere you went. This idea had been dogging her for the three days since her rescue, and no amount of lovemaking from Spike or hugs from Jemima— much as they helped— could quite dispel it.

Maybe it would never go away.

Maybe it was the human condition. She'd read some stuff about that at college.

But still, some things were solid, and real. Reliable. She focused on the ring he'd given her. "Y'know, in those other places . . . I don't think I was wearing this. I don't remember noticing it, or touching it. I'm pretty sure it wasn't there."

"Another reason none of that was real. There's no place where I wouldn't've given you that, or where you'd have taken it off an' chucked it away."

". . . yeah. That's true."


"Spike, I'm sorry I'm not . . . ."

"What? Done our apologies, nothing new yet to be sorry for."

He was right. What point, to say she was sorry for feeling The Human Condition? A condition which applied just as much to him, even if he was undead.

She went back to twisting the ring, then brought it to her lips.

"I love this ring," she murmured. "I love what it means."

"Good to hear it. So do I."

"I know. But you just gave it to me, like a birthday present. It was too private." An idea blossomed then, so bright and powerful that it rolled out into the dark corners of herself and lit them up too. She caught his hand. "Spike, let's get married."

She knew she was beaming, both from the endorphins welling up inside her, and from the look on Spike's face: an incredulous frown gradually giving way to equally incredulous hope.

"In front of God an' the Scoobies an' all?"

"At least."

"You know . . . you know it's not gonna change all that twig stuff."

"I know, Spike." She caressed his hand. "That's me. But I still want this. It'll be a fresh start. It'll be beautiful. I'm going to give you a ring too. And there'll be vows. Which I will promise to stick to. Really solemnly. And then there'll be dancing. And cake."

Head tilted, Spike regarded her with a sort of tender, helpless awe. Buffy nodded coaxingly, waiting for him to nod back.

From the front seat, a voice piped, "Can it be chocolate cake?"

Spike caught her face in his hands and kissed her.

~The End~

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