Sequel to Forsake Me Not; part of The Bittersweets Series
Summary: "Don't come all snooty with me. I know you, I do." Spike gripped his wrist tighter. "You're tragic, you are. No—no, not even tragic. Not good enough to be tragic."
Rating: NC-17 for angst, sex. If you're under 17, scoot!
Story Notes: This takes place in the Bittersweets-verse, immediately after the prior story, Forsake Me Not.
About the Bittersweets: The Bittersweets series departs from canon after "Wrecked" in season 6. Instead of rejecting Spike, Buffy gradually (very gradually) falls in love with him. The story of that process is told in the early tales, from All Wrong through Spike, Or The Ambiguities. In Mr Grieves & The Fallen Woman, Buffy is sent back in time by The Trio's Evil Way-Back Machine, and lands in London in 1879, where after subsisting for some months on the street, she encounters William. When she returns to her own reality, she is pregnant. In The Littler Bit, she decides to keep the child, and Jemima is born. Subsequent stories All Merry & Bright and Forsake Me Not further the story of Buffy's partnership with Spike. Forsake Me Not takes place when Jemima is seven. This story follows immediately upon it.
Important Characterization Note: Because The Bittersweets go AU after "Wrecked," the sole basis for William is "Fool For Love" and my own imagination. Therefore, the reader should keep in mind that my William is quite different from the one we see in Season 7 and on Angel.
Disclaimer: All hail Joss from whom all these characters flow.
Completed: November, 2003.
Acknowledgements: Varina8, enthusiastic cheerleader. Also Kalima, NWHepcat, Gwynegga, Orthoepy, Lovesbitca, Wisteria, Rahirah 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.
She lay sprawled on the hot smoking ground, the sword still in her hand. The hilt was hot too, and felt molded to her fingers. But it was quiet now, and that had to be of the good. Her leg ached, but it was the leg that was gone, so she ignored it. The rest of her muscles were singing, the high-pitched song of the battle well-ended.
"You did it." Willow's voice from somewhere above her head; Buffy tried to crane around, and caught an upside-down glimpse of her friend crawling towards her.
"We did it. God Will, that was amazing. I never ever thought I'd get to slay again, especially not like that. The heat that thing gave off was—"
"That was a lot of magic I pulled out of myself. We've never done anything like this before. It was like being inside your mind." She paused, her eyes seeming to give out psychedelic sparks into the soft early-evening darkness. "Your mind's a kinda uncredible place, Buff. But I hope we never have to again. Ouch."
Buffy was up on her feet. Woozy, muscles turned into overstretched rubber-bands. Brain burnt. Willow's spell allowed her to accomplish the one thing that was paramount to her at the moment of its casting—slaying the Zorthrax before it pulled half the world into its maw. A slip in concentration for either of them would've been fatal.
The lights of Sunnydale glimmered below as they helped each other down the hill.
"You okay?" Willow murmured.
"This prosthesis still chafes when I wear this shoe, darn it. Why don't you have any magic for that?"
"Sorry. But hey! You got to save the world again. That's got to feel good."
"It really really does. Should we—" A yawn caught her, stretching her mouth as wide as it would go; Willow caught it, and they leaned on each other, laughing. "Was gonna say 'should we get some mochas?' but I think I'm just ready to crawl into bed."
"Me too. Let's go home."
She lay beside Spike in the flickering glow of the candles, the breeze from the ceiling fan making her aware of the heat of her cheeks and forehead. Magic hangover. Not unpleasant. Nothing but nothing was unpleasant right now.
He took her hand. "You looked so happy when you walked in the door tonight, my queen."
"I was. I am. I'd say I wished you were there to see me do it, but . . . I was able to do it because I knew you were here looking after Jem. And . . . and because Willow did that amazing spell, so I could accomplish the one thing that was most important at the moment she cast it." She rolled over to face him, tracing his profile with her fingertip.
"Still tinglin' a bit," He caught her finger in his teeth, gnawed it gently. "Luscious lil' magic hand."
"You didn't mind it too much—not helping me fight? I know you adore a fight, but you adore Jemmie more, don't you?"
"S'true," he said. "Anyway, I knew you wanted to do it on your own. Prove to yourself that you could still slay. Which you did."
"Yeah, I did."
"Things're better now, since you went off an' we brought you back."
"They are. So much." She glowed with the pleasure of this, being with him, touching lightly, talking in the dark. It was so peaceful, not to feel angry, not to feel all bottled up. "Spike . . . I've been thinking . . . about what you said when we had that big fight. About wanting another child."
"Never mind that, Buffy."
"But I do mind it. I mind everything you say, and think, and feel . . . and I'd like it too. I really would."
He was quiet. Then, "Surprised you'd say that. Now, just when you got your slaying mojo back."
"Well, yeah. But I keep remembering how nice it felt, being pregnant. Well, not at the end when I almost died. But that might not happen again. I'd like to have another baby." She sighed. "I wish it could be yours. You have no idea, how . . . how miraculous that was for me, knowing Jemmie was ours. Everytime I look at her, I see you, and—"
He began to kiss her, gathering her close. "Love you when you're like this, all soft an' tender an' girly. Gets me all hard an' ambitious."
"I like you hard and ambitious . . . ."
His fingers slipped between her thighs. She gasped and parted her legs.
"Don't worry 'bout anything. We're all right, we are, the three of us. We're just enough."
"I know, only . . . ."
"You're a good girl. You're my good loving girl. We'll talk about it more, if you want. But fuck me now, yeah?"
She curved against him in the dark, opening wide to pull him in.
Afterwards he held her, his face buried in her hair, breathing his come-down gasps against her neck. She knew he'd fallen asleep when the breaths stopped, and he was still.
Half asleep herself, she let her hand drift south. He'd come inside her twice without withdrawing; she was awash. So odd, so sad, that he could make such buckets of jizz, and all of it empty.
Willow was so powerful now; some of the magical zing still sang through her sinews. Wouldn't it be great, Buffy thought, dozing off, wouldn't it be great if somehow she could make it so they could have . . . just one more, together.
The brightness behind her closed eyelids told her the night was over. She smelled the harsh enticing aroma of espresso. Oooh, had Spike brought coffee up to her in bed? She opened her eyes, and for one long giddy second, the whole world tilted and twirled in a sickening riot of color.
Then the long grass swayed in the soft breeze, and the aroma of wildflowers was ascendant, so rich it was almost unreal, their colors brilliant in the clear light. The coffee gave off its curl of aromatic steam from the metal cup without a handle she held in one gloved hand. Her glove was a tight, delicate one of yellow leather, turned back at the wrist. The wind played again, and she caught another scent, that of her own body, rising up from between her breasts.
She heard the soughing of the fragrant wind in some nearby trees, and the laughter of moving water nearby, and something else—a scratching. Turning her head, she saw that this came from the quill pen moving across the page of a leather-bound notebook, and that the ink-stained hand which held this pen was a man's . . . a man who also reclined in an easy manner, half-propped against a large carpet bag, in a grey suit and a shirt open at the throat, without a collar. His face was obscured by a wide-brimmed, shaggy straw hat; when he raised his head, the sunlight struck the two little rounds of glass before his eyes.
She was startled. The world dipped and whirled again. She blinked, stared. Was this—was this what she expected—?
He smiled, and reached for the metal cup.
"Thank you, my dear. I was apprehensive lest you'd forgotten to order the flask. I can't think after luncheon without my coffee."
"Be—be careful William, it's hot."
He sipped at it, then set it down beside him and resumed his writing. A square glass inkpot set in the grass glittered mightily as the light struck it. Some small books with soft foxed leather covers were scattered nearby, along with the remains of a picnic on a rough cloth near her spreading skirts: heels of bread, scraps of ham, a few tumbled peaches, a dark bottle mostly empty of wine, and the vacuum bottle near to her hand from which the coffee came. Another straw hat lay on the grass between them, also obviously home-plaited, like the one William Grieves wore, except that the brim was circled by a pink trailing ribbon. She had a strange feeling, sort of like déjà vu—but not. It spread through her, like a dream of falling. To shake it off she sat up fast. Her corset creaked.
He glanced up. "All right, sweetheart?"
The warmth of his voice startled her again. Sweetheart. We were never sweethearts, that wasn't what it was about at all. It was about me needing to survive, and him wanting to get over on someone before he coughed his lungs out. But even as she thought this, she felt a leap of pleasure inside at the sound of his voice, his endearment.
It was all so familiar, so safe and comfortable and good.
Wasn't it? Surely. Only—she felt kind of unreal, or not that—too real. Everything was maybe just a little too real. As if she was high.
Bit by bit, her body came into focus. She looked down its length. Her dress, fitted and rather low in the bodice, gave way to a festive amount of skirt, the whole thing a pretty cornflower blue that couldn't have been more different than anything back at Penelope Terrace—except for that eccentrically painted front door, the one that set the Grieves house apart. Her feet were encased in tight brown kid boots with shapely heels, which seemed altogether too restrictive and urban for this place. This place—she looked wildly around again—this was not England. England couldn't have this kind of extravagant light. This blue to the sky that made her feel at once hungry all over and yet deeply satisfied just to be gazing at it.
She didn't know where this was, and she couldn't remember putting these clothes on, or picture the bed she'd gotten out of that morning. Which was—well, it was so strange. Because she knew she belonged here. Everything around her was familiar, and where else would she be but with her husband? How could she feel both completely at home and entirely strange at the same time?
"Do you wish to rise? Shall I help you?"
"Are you done with your studying for now? I should think so. You've been working very hard."
Her eye alit on a couple of the books near to her elbow—one was an Italian-English dictionary, and the other looked like some sort of grammar. Oh, of course, her Italian lessons. He'd insisted she learn, so as not to be so helpless with the servants.
"Why not have a little sleep, then?" he suggested kindly. "I think that would be best. The doctor said you ought to be just as idle as ever you can, while you wait for your strength to come back."
She wasn't aware of lacking strength—except that her corset was on too tight, and that made it hard to take a really deep breath.
"Here, darling." He'd drawn a large paisley shawl out of the carpet bag, and was rolling it now into a semblance of a pillow. "Lie back. That's right." He tucked it behind her head and neck. For a moment his face filled nearly her whole field of vision. He looked better than she remembered him in London—why was it that she seemed to have no other mental image of him but that London one?—that was some time ago, she knew it was, only somehow she couldn't get a handle on her memory. He was not so thin, and brown from the sun, the curls that fell nearly into his eyes almost flaxen from the same source. He must not wear that hat all the time. His breath smelled of wine and coffee as he loomed closer, and his lips, when they touched hers, were a little chapped but deliciously warm and pliant. Before she quite knew what she was doing, she found herself kissing him. He responded hungrily. His technique had improved.
He started to withdraw, but Buffy threaded an arm around his neck to keep him. He smiled at her, a smile that was all softness, but which had an edge of anxiety. He smoothed her hair. "How good you are," he murmured, "my little wife. But you know what the doctor said . . . ."
What? Buffy wondered. What had the doctor said? That they mustn't touch each other until the baby came? But she didn't feel pregnant—and why should being pregnant make her any less strong? Of course in those days—these days—everything was supposed to make a girl less strong. So . . . but she didn't feel pregnant.
She tugged him closer. He avoided her mouth this time, and kissed her on the cheek, then firmly withdrew. "He promised us we would have a family, you know, even as soon as the winter after next, as long as we are careful to let you recover from . . . from our disappointment. We mustn't spoil things through impatience. You have shown yourself to be sadly delicate in these matters . . . and are too precious to me to risk."
"Yes, but—" Where had this sudden desire come from? It rushed in on her with all the force and mystery of her confusion at finding herself here, in love with her husband, William Grieves, who had brought her to live in the Italian countryside. This confusion confused her. Where else should she be? Hadn't she long ago gotten used to the idea that her life was here now? That Sunnydale and Spike and her friends were so far off in time that she would never regain them?
She had. Of course she had. The hot sun made her skin moist all over; she was liquid especially between her legs. Liquid and twitchy. She squirmed, panting.
" Prenda un pelo, mia moglie cara," he murmured. A moment later she heard the scratching resume, of the pen against the paper.
She folded her hands across her firmly restrained belly, then, becoming unpleasantly aware of the warmth of the gloves, tugged them off. There, on her hand—was the same ring Spike had given her, when . . . when . . . she couldn't remember when. Spike had never given her any ring. She must've had too much wine, too much sun, to be so mixed up. She tugged the ring off to read the inscription.
The etched script was so flowery it was hard at first to read. W.G. and E.S. My own, my life. 1880.. Well, that was right. Yes, she remembered that. Didn't she? Except she'd expected to see FMN engraved in it. For forsake me not.
"My love! What are you doing?"
Startled, she let the ring fall. It slid off her bodice into the grass.
"My dear! Don't you know that's—what very bad luck—!" He was on his knees now, looking for it with a startling anxiousness.
"It's okay, it's okay, it's right here, Spi—William. I've got it."
He insisted on slipping it back onto her finger himself, and held her hand afterwards between both his own, as if some disaster had been narrowly averted.
"Whatever possessed you to take it off?"
" . . . my hands were sweating. That's all. I was going to slip it right on again."
"My treasure." He pressed her palm to his lips. "Do not frighten me like that again . . . not when I so nearly lost you so short a time ago."
Not pregnant. Not pregnant and not allowed to risk pregnancy now because . . . there'd been a miscarriage. Had he married her, she wondered, before that, or afterwards? Had that been what changed his indifference in London to love? And what were they doing here? Where was his mother? These were things she ought to be certain of. This sudden inability to grasp the basic details of her life terrified her. What was happening?
She remembered then, the time Spike had spoken of something like this. Should've run off with you to Italy, his lungs might've healed there. And she'd told him she preferred him the way he was, after all. Loved him better than she ever could've loved William Grieves, who never did love her at all.
When when when had Spike said that? She could hear him, see him, so clearly in her mind's eye—as if she'd been with him just an hour ago, instead of three years. It was that, three years. She knew it, knew she'd dealt with it, accepted it. So why was his voice echoing in her head right now? Talking in a low fond way about . . . about dancing? She could feel his hand curled round hers, his arm around her waist, she had a slight limp, some slight hesitancy in one leg, but they were moving together round and round the living room while music played, skirting the coffee table and the TV, twirling faster and more fluidly as he murmured That's it, slayer, you're gettin' it. Always knew you'd dance with me like a dream.
Dream. It must've been a dream.
"My dear! What's the matter, where are you going?"
She'd darted to her feet, and was starting for—she didn't know where. Now that she was upright, she could see that they were in a magnificent valley; at their backs were tiers of cultivated terraces, dotted with an occasional red-roofed white villa and lines of poplars swinging in the breeze, and far below a succession of slopes, the blue Mediterranean glittered.
He was on his feet now too, catching at her. "Darling, what is this? Are you ill?"
"No . . . no." She let him settle her again on the ground.
"Did something frighten you?" He glanced around for what it might be.
"No, nothing. William, it's all right. Really, I'm all right. Relax."
He was terribly worried about her, poor man, her constitution beset by mysterious female troubles he couldn't understand, and deprived of the best way he—William—Spike—knew to soothe all trouble between them, interior and exterior. Perhaps, she thought, his anxiety for her health was so severe that they weren't even sharing a bed. No wonder he was so tense.
She reached for him again, knocking off the straw hat, and kissed his mouth, which was hot and coffee flavored.
She moved in on him, undoing the buttons of his shirt, running her fingers through the silky curls on his head. Must wash his hair in rainwater, came the surprising thought. With her knee she prodded gently at his crotch and found him already half hard. "There's no danger of anything . . . it's the wrong time of the month," she said, hoping he had no reason to know differently.
"But—but Dr Romney distinctly informed me that I mustn't disturb you—"
"I think creating a little disturbance here would be a good idea." She laid a hand on his tented erection. Undid the fly buttons as he made a feeble gesture to push her away.
"My dear—consider—someone might see us."
"There's no one around."
"Someone—up there—" He pointed to indicate the terraces above. "The men who are working amongst the vines—"
"No one will think the less of us." She had his cock now in her fingers, radiating such amazing heat against her palm. Spike's cock was never that, never hot and glowing. Why was she thinking about that now? She was happy here, with him. It was him she wanted, he was the reason she was so flushed and excited. Wanted him more than she wanted to know why she felt so off. Wanted him as if he was going to save her life.
But he moved her hand firmly away. "My dear, we mustn't. I am surprised you would even wish to."
He sighed. "Sometimes I forget . . . what it is that you were unfortunately made to be used to, in your former existence. The coarsening influence of—"
"Never mind that," she said. "That's got nothing to do with this."
"But you are a lady, and shouldn't—"
"Shut up," she said tenderly, "and fuck me. I need you."
His whole demeanor changed, brightening like the sun emerging from cloud. "My sweet wife—do you? Do you really?"
"This minute." Buffy tugged up her blue skirts. He, without pausing to question her further, wrestled off his suit coat and rolled up his shirt sleeves. Her white cotton drawers, that modestly covered her legs down past her stocking tops, turned out to have no crotch. Huh, she thought, well, that's convenient.
She was startled now at the intense heat of William's skin, the little of it that was exposed—his throat, where his pulse fluttered beneath her lips, his forearms, his mouth, all further warmed in the sun, and its smell, which was tangy but not, as she breathed it, unpleasant.
"I don't wish to crush you," he murmured, drawing her closer by the hips. "However, I think in this way . . . allow me to lift your leg . . . we may effect . . . the necessary . . . there. How wet you are! You do want me, don't you? Oh —sweetness, is this quite comfortable for you too?"
The corset robbed her of some freedom of movement, she felt a bit like a statue that had been tumbled from its plinthe, but she tugged him little by little on top of her, until she had both legs wrapped around him.
How long had he been restraining himself? She kissed him, over and over, and he gasped into her mouth; she had the odd feeling that he was swimming on her. She flexed around him with each of his thrusts, and he moaned. "Oh Buffy—when you do that—"
"Your dear quim . . . I am convinced . . . is singular . . . ."
His movements, unlike Spike's, were nearly uncontrolled—this erratic quality could've been annoying, except that it wasn't—the sense that he was helpless against his own desire, against the power of her body, inflamed her. At the back of her mind lurked the misgiving that she was being unfaithful to Spike—but that made no sense. Spike was gone. She'd done this with William no many times already. This was just her life.
Slipping a hand down, she caressed herself, but a moment later his own hand displaced hers. "Allow me . . . I shouldn't like to think you had to perform any of my duties . . . my privileges . . . for me . . . ."
She bucked, ground herself against him, breathing his pungent scent and the sweeter one given off by some blossom they'd crushed beneath them. The breeze sifted her loose hair across her face, and the sun bearing down brought out the sweat under her arms and between her corseted breasts, which felt heavy and full with a need to be touched. There was no way to free them now, and William sucked instead on her mouth, long breathless kisses that brought her, each one, closer and closer to her pleasure.
"How you wriggle," he whispered. "You really do like this, don't you, naughty girl?"
"I do—I do—don't stop or I'll die—!"
She looked again, to find him smiling in his appreciation, his eyes unfocused. "Oh, yes— oh, your dear cunny . . . . spend for me, treasure. Spend for me now—yes—yes—there—" She began to shake, coming with a helpless convulsion.. Then he gasped, seized up and expelled a long groan.
For a few moments they lay where they were, panting and motionless. Birds twittered, and the water plashing nearby sounded so peaceful. Everything here was peaceful. There was nothing wrong, nothing to be anxious about.
He kissed her again, a kiss that replaced passion with satisfaction.
"Are you quite well, Mrs Grieves?"
"I am." Smiling, she ran her fingers through the long curls that surrounded his face. "And I think you feel better now, don't you?"
"I admit, I . . . yes. Thank you, my dear." He paused, shifted to prop himself up on an elbow and look at her. "There is one thing I should like now, if you'd permit it?"
"I would ask to be allowed a glimpse—in this bright sunlight—of the source of all my delight—"
With a laugh, she pulled the skirt up out of the way, and parted her thighs. Had he really never looked at her in natural light? This seemed difficult to believe, but perhaps . . . well, perhaps it had been a while.
"You are dainty and pretty here as in every other way," he said, shifting closer. "Do you know," he murmured, bending over her, "that often I dream of you like this? I hope that does not discomfit you."
"No. It's coo—I mean, it's all right. Kiss it, Spike. Go on."
He looked up. "What did you call me?"
She started. "What?"
"I—I didn't quite hear what you said just now—what was it? Was it 'Spike'?"
"It's nothing, it's a—I didn't mean to say that out loud—"
A smile, composed half of shock and half of pride, formed on his lips. "A private designation—? Oh my wife, you flatter me . . . ." Still smiling at this explanation, he lowered his head to do as she'd asked.
When, an hour later, they were climbing the steep path back towards their villa arm in arm, all the things once more crammed into the carpetbag dangling from his right hand, they passed three of the young workmen he'd been worried about, sitting by the trellises drinking wine from a bottle they passed around. At the sight of them, the three rose, nodding and smiling, doffed their caps to her, and said something that Buffy couldn't understand, but which made William blush and hasten his steps.
When they reached the door of what proved to be a far more broken down villa than it had appeared from the romantic middle distance, she asked him what they'd said.
"Nothing my dear, nothing, only . . . they congratulated me."
When she found herself alone in her bedroom, which had a magnificent view of the valley and the sea beyond, but no facilities more advanced than a washstand and a chamberpot under the bed, Buffy's uneasiness returned.
Something wasn't right. She couldn't pinpoint it, but . . .
Only . . . God, it was so beautiful here. The view from the window drew her again. There was such a sense of serenity, and order, and the kind of beauty that just made you stop and stare and wonder how it could possibly be. How lucky they were to be here, away from foggy dreary Penelope Terrace! The late afternoon sun threw long purple shadows behind the trees and trellises, tinting everything in shades of gold and pink that seemed to sizzle at the edges. This was Italy. She'd always wanted to come here, and known she'd probably never get a chance to see it, never be able to get away from the hellmouth and travel like a regular person. Until she got thrown back into the past, and . . . there it was again. She must've lost some time. Because she remembered London, the ugly things that happened there, and she didn't remember falling in love with William, or marrying him, or making the journey to this villa. Couldn't remember the events he'd alluded to just now—a miscarriage, was it? Yet he was her husband, she loved him, knew he loved her just as she'd known that Spike loved her. And they could lie out in the sunshine and pleasure each other and no one caught on fire. What she didn't know—vanished from memory as if she'd never known—was how it came to pass. She looked around for clues. The press contained three other dresses of similar cut to the one she had on, one a soft rose pink, the next a pale fawn shade, and the last a delicate yellow. What a far cry from all that crepey, ill-fitting mourning she'd worn in London! There was a traveling suit in dark brown tweed. An evening frock, too, in tea-colored satin—no, it was a wedding dress. She pulled it out. The skirt hung in loops and bunches—there had to have been a bustle underneath to make sense of them, and there was a train with seed pearls sewn to the edges, and the waist was so tiny that she couldn't imagine what sort of corset she'd been squeezed into to get it on. Unlikely that she'd been pregnant when she wore this—unless wearing it was what killed the baby. Buffy dug deeper. Besides the dresses she found undergarments and nightgowns, all handmade and trousseau-ish, with her initials worked in tiny embroidery stitches: ESG. Who'd made them? William's mother? She couldn't imagine she herself had had anything to do with these delicate constructions. When she'd gone through nearly everything in the room, she realized what she wasn't finding. Stakes. Crosses, holy water, swords. Wasn't she the slayer? She felt like the slayer—all the power of her calling coursing through her the same as always. She'd have to figure that out later.
A little box on the bedside table divulged, besides some neglected-looking jet earrings and a mourning brooch, a short string of tiny well-matched pearls and a gold bracelet with her initials engraved on it. Why wasn't she wearing them? She started to slip the bracelet on, then paused. What if these were magical? There was so much she didn't know, that she ought to know. Perhaps they were dangerous. She put them back and went on looking. A small bible lay beside the box, bound in white leather. Inside was an inscription to her from William, on the occasion of their betrothal. When she turned the pages, notes and pressed flowers fell to the floor. More of a place to keep mementos, then, than an object of devotion, which was pretty typical. She'd never been able to take religion seriously. Kneeling, she retrieved what she'd dropped. The notes were all from him.
The first one said:
I hope this finds you quite well again after your sad illness. Your fortuitous appearance and actions on that evening some weeks ago, which led to you being so unwell and of which you've since had the goodness not to speak, have very much astonished me, dear Miss Summers, and filled me with the greatest gratitude, and something more. If it is not disagreeable to you, I hope you will consent to speak with me alone before tea in the drawing room.
And the one following:
My dear Miss Summers—you have made me the happiest of men. I write this to you tonight by the light of my bedside candle, in lieu of coming to—well, all of that is different now, as I am sure you are also sensible, indeed none more than you. I pray God that together we can expiate our prior sins, and that you will forgive me mine towards you. When once we are married, I hope we will never spend so much as a night apart. Until then I ask Our Lord to bless you and content myself with the thought of kissing your sweet little fingers.
P.S. I suppose I may write 'Buffy' now, mayn't I? My darling love—
Reading these, Buffy laughed out loud. Maybe she'd crashed that dreadful party and done something to quash Miss Cecily Addams forever and ever, and he'd been so flipped out and amazed that he transferred all that bottomless devotion to her, installing her right up there on Miss Addams' vacated pedestal. So of course, no more creeping into her bed at night once he'd decided to actually make an honest woman of her.
But . . . the queasy feeling came over again. Party? She didn't know about any party when she lived with him and Mrs Grieves in London . . . she was sure of that. But she knew all about it now, Spike imparting it to her as a great confidence, after she promised never to tease him about it.
Except . . . when could he have told her? It seemed as if . . . no. No. She couldn't remember. Everything was jumbled up. She hadn't seen Spike, her Spike, her home, her sister and friends, in over three years. She'd been removed from it, and placed here, she'd never know why or how, and she'd made the best of it, until . . . until she fell in love with William, and then she was even happy. That much was certain, she was a happy wife. At least, until today when it became so confused. What was this? Spike waltzing her around the living room, she could feel how they'd done that, it was so fresh. They'd danced, and she was afraid because . . . because there was something wrong with her leg, something was missing or broken, but . . . but it was all right. And there was someone else there, someone who crowed with laughter and clapped hands and called them—
"Buffy—! My dear—what's the matter? Oh, I knew we shouldn't have—it was too much for you—"
She was crouched on the cold floor tiles with the bible in one hand and some of the pressed flowers she'd gathered up—crushed and moistened now—in her other, shaking with sobs.
William helped her up to sit on the edge of the bed.
"Darling, do forgive me—my lack of self-control earlier—reprehensible—have I done you an injury?—do calm yourself—"
Shaking her head, she forced her tears back. "It's not that, William, really, it's—it's—"
"Do tell me, sweetness."
What? What could she tell him? "I— I just— I was thinking about our little baby."
He squeezed her hands, unable to look at her. He was blushing; she could feel his sadness.
"William—there's no reason for us to wait any more. Let's try again."
He glanced up. "That's not what Dr Romney said. His instructions to me were quite clear."
"What does he know? I'm well, I'm perfectly strong. And I don't want to be separated from you anymore."
She pressed herself against him, seeking comfort and relief from her mind's turmoil in resting her head on his shoulder.
William's arm went around her; they rocked together. "It isn't natural, is it," he mused then, "for a husband and wife to be apart. Surely that can't be correct."
"It can't. It isn't. Stupid doctor, trying to come between us. Don't leave me alone tonight."
"I must attend to some work before supper, my dear," William said soon after, "but I will send Kate to you."
Kate turned out to be a small pale girl who looked at first glance to be about twelve, but proved, as Buffy got a closer glimpse, to be nearer to eighteen. She glanced nervously at Buffy when she came into the room, carrying a can of hot water.
"Were you feeling unwell again, mum?"
"No, not really."
Buffy stayed where she was on the bed and watched Kate move around; pouring the water into the basin, putting out a clean towel, taking up and folding the shawl that was half crumpled under her.
Kate. She knew Kate. Didn't she?
Sure. She had an air of familiarity, now Buffy watched her move calmly from task to task.
"Shall I fix your hair when you've had your wash, mum?"
Suddenly it occurred to her that this girl, her maid, must know what she and William had done that afternoon. Had she been watching from a window, or the terrace? Blushing, Buffy hastened to the basin. When she was seated again and Kate began to comb her hair, the girl said, with an air of satisfaction, "Mr Grieves seemed so very much more cheerful just now."
"He, um, got a lot done this afternoon," Buffy said.
"What shall you be doing tonight?"
This question froze her. Okay, she didn't know much about how servants talked to their mistresses, but wasn't it a little forward, for her maid to ask a question like that?
Before Buffy could formulate a reply, Kate, still combing, said, "I prepared more stakes as you asked me to, mum. I wondered if you were feeling well enough to patrol this night. They are in the box near the door in the garden wall, just as usual. Your stout boots are there too, and I ventured to put your macintosh out as well, in case there's a shower."
"That's good. Thank you. I . . . I don't know if I'll go tonight."
"Very good mum. Will there be anything else now?"
"How many stakes?"
"How many stakes did you carve for me?"
"Seven, mum, as you asked for. Seven good stout ones."
"I go through them at such a rate," Buffy murmured.
"I wouldn't say so. Of course, when we first came here . . . you said there'd been no slayer in these parts perhaps for centuries. But you cleared them out right quick didn't you, even delicate as you was . . . but then you did say it cheered you up, like, to do that duty well when you couldn't do your other."
"My other duty?"
"Yes, mum. You know . . . of presenting Mr Grieves with an heir." The girl paused in her brushing. "Of course you shall, mum, there'll be ever such a jolly lot of babies soon, and you did promise, mum, that when that happens you'll send for my sister who'll be as good a nursemaid as ever was."
"Yes. Yes, if I promised . . . well, I promised."
"You are so kind to me," Kate said. "To think if I'd never met you when I did—I might've been one myself!"
What? A nursemaid?
Oh. A vampire.
"I feels so fortunate to get to serve you, mum, after you saved my life . . . an' then, in a lit'rary gentleman's household, and in such a lovely place as this!"
"You like it, do you?"
"Oh yes, mum. I miss London, a bit . . . but less and less as time goes on."
"Yes," Buffy said, struggling with the blank in her memory, "Yes, me . . . me too."
She spent the evening losing to him at backgammon. Her ineptitude at a game she had to figure out as they went along surprised him, increasing her sense that she'd undergone some serious change. Maybe she'd had a stroke? Except that she felt perfectly well. So it couldn't be that.
William carried the kerosene lamp to light her upstairs, and paused at the door to her bedroom. He glanced around at the door opposite, which led to his own bedchamber. She'd peeked into it earlier—it was smaller and rather plain, even compared to hers, with a bed too narrow for two.
"I'll wait while you get a light," he said.
"Aren't you coming to bed?"
"There's some work I have yet to do, another hour . . . but I don't think . . . after all, you cannot, after this afternoon, so soon want—"
"William . . . " She pushed up against him, rose on tiptoe to bring her mouth near his jaw, murmured, "When we were first married, didn't we fuck every night? Didn't we do it during the day too?" She was guessing, but knew it was an accurate guess when, in the deep yellow glow of the lamplight he held near his face, she saw him blush. How sweet, how strange, that he was still shy like this, a married man.
"Mrs Grieves . . . when you say that word, I do not know what to think . . . ."
"Yes you do . . . ." She giggled.
"I do not like to imagine where you first learned it—"
"I learned it in school like all the other girls." She drew more tightly against him, bent her leg to press against his. "I know it gets you all hot'n'bothered when I say fuck." She pronounced it so the 'F' was soft as down, the 'K' quiet like the tiny click of the clasp on the backgammon board.
He stiffened, but not in the way she wanted. She'd displeased him. He hated anything that reminded him about her months on the game—and how he'd used her himself, in the beginning. Surprising, how easily she'd forgotten about that time. It seemed so much less important than what had happened before and since.
"Don't scowl at me like that. You still don't understand anything about women, do you? I want you. I don't see why we have to be so shy about it. We're married."
William cleared his throat. " . . . it's just that . . . my dear, a man perhaps likes to coax his wife a little . . . the consummation perhaps is all the sweeter for being not quite so freely given. Even between married people, modesty is a . . . and there is an air of mystery . . . which, preserved, adds an ineffable—"
"William, I don't know what ineffable means. I'm not sure you even know what ineffable means."
"Of course I know what it means! I must say, I do not care to be mocked, in my own home, by my own wife, who is as ignorant and silly a lady as any I ever met with!"
"Oooh, Mister Grieves, them's fightin' words," she grinned and danced back, popping the air with her fists.
For a moment he looked more appalled than before. Then, the lamp still held in one hand, he grabbed her up sharply with the other, pressing her hard against the door, opening her mouth with his insistent kiss. They stumbled together into the room, pausing only long enough to deposit the flickering lamp safely on the table, before throwing themselves across the bed.
When she was sure he was asleep, Buffy slipped out of bed and felt her way downstairs in the dark to William's study. Here she lit the lamp and began to look around. With all the writing he did, there had to be a diary that would fill in the story that was somehow blotted out of her conscious memory.
On the round table near the window she found some magazines—serious journals, many of them, their tables of contents printed on the cover, his name on each one. Had he managed to publish that horrible verse? No . . . these were essays . . . about . . . about . . . issues. And some of them were short stories. She hoped they were better than the poems. They must be, since they were printed. The point was, he seemed to be making a living by his pen, which was a good thing, if it let them stay here. She hoped he wouldn't expect her to be up on everything he'd written, though. She always failed a pop quiz.
On the desk she found the diary, a small leather bound book with covers soft as a dog's ears. He'd written a few lines about their day before coming to her bed.
Marked proofs for Harper's and was as usual oddly dismayed by the sight of my words set up in type— Made notes for new piece for The Nineteenth Century but did not get as far with it as I hoped this afternoon— for quite a joyous reason— my dear B getting stronger and more cheerful— astonished me with her advances upon my person in the open air— advances which I could not bring myself to rebuke. The flesh is weak, and my little wife's charms so evident! This was the first time since our disappointment, and while still unsure if this was not a rash action given doctor's orders, cannot but be grateful for her ardor. Nevertheless, one often wonders if her unfortunate debasement accounts for her forwardness— find I cannot but think obsessively sometimes about all the men who have had her, and where and how— and a rage races all through me like fire— which I must hide from her— for she is in every other way a lady and a darling, entirely reformed I know— and pleases me in all things.
From this last entry she looked at the first. The diary had been begun early in '80. Twenty pages in she found what she was looking for.
Most shocking and painful episode two days ago— have been unable to set pen to paper before now— can still barely contemplate the enormity of it.
She read a description of a party. Humiliation heaped upon humiliation, leading him to flee the house and take refuge in an empty stable, where, as he tried to pull himself together, he was approached by a strange young woman with a mesmerizing gaze, who spoke as if she knew him, although he'd never seen her before.
To my inexpressible confusion and horror, who should appear upon this scene of what I was sure must be my demise but Miss Summers. I still can barely credit what my eyes saw— she attacked and fought with the woman who was making that weird lewd attempt on my life— fought with her most fiercely and— killed her. I say killed her, yet in truth I do not know what really happened because it seemed as if the creature shivered into dust before us and blew away. I should imagine it was all an hallucination were it not for the very real marks upon my neck of her terrible fangs, where she attempted to tear open my throat and I believe, drink my very life's blood. I believe I will wear the scar until the day I die.
Buffy frowned over this, the blankness roiling in her head, giving up little dabs of memory that somehow didn't fit.
She knew this story, although she couldn't, strain as she might, dredge up a real memory of being there, of making that slay. She knew it . . . because Spike had told it to her. That was Drusilla, who'd sired him that night—he'd not been rescued, of course, by her or anyone, and Drusilla was still out in the world somewhere. But that was another place, another time, as distant and unreachable to her now as Spike's reminiscences of his own 19th century were to her in Sunnydale.
The account continued: how they'd made their way back to Penelope Terrace together in a cab; how, when she'd taken sick in the night, and a doctor was called, he learned that she was miscarrying a child.
Mother very much disconcerted by this intelligence but no hint of suspicion fell upon me from either her or Dr C (not our family man but someone once consulted by Lucy, and, I hope, discreet)— M assuming Miss S was in this sorry state when she came to us, and the physician accepting without comment or look my explanation, as I was showing him out, that she was a recently widowed cousin. Absence of a wedding band on her finger must, however, have been noted by him! Am distraught with feeling how I have injured her whom I ought to have protected after her ignominious fall— and how she has repaid all my offense against her by saving my life in that most extraordinary way— and at the near sacrifice of her own . . . and certainly that of the product of our sin, who was yet an innocent in the eyes of Our Lord
A few days later he wrote:
Still dreadfully low in spirits. See now that everything I thought was real and right was only useless muddle— Miss A not at all what I imagined her— my writings utterly worthless— and in what sense am I a gentleman or a Christian when I further ruin a distressed young lady sheltering beneath my roof, who is no different from my dear sisters— were they here now I could not look at them, I should be so ashamed. . . . Cough worse and cannot sleep—fear there will be another crisis— Were it not for leaving Mother all alone I should feel it fitting that this virulence should carry me off, for what have I accomplished in my life? I am useless to myself and others, wasting my youth and strength on foolish fancies. Yet I cannot help wondering if it is truly God's will, after sparing me so fortuitously from the clutches of that she-fiend, that I should perish instead so soon of my lungs. Dr Underhill talks of Italy but of course with things as they are at present this is impossible—
There was no new entry for five days, then,
As I feared, have been laid low by hemorrhage and fever, accompanied by much blackness of mind. Miss S, so recently risen from her own sickbed, has been most attentive, nursing me with a delicacy and kindness quite the opposite of the manner in which I have treated her during her sojourn with us. I see I have been quite mistaken about her. As mistaken in denigrating her as I was in elevating Miss A— as mistaken as, I cannot help but feel, I have been in everything I ever turned my foolish hand to. I only hope that what I have done to her has not ruined her chances of ever finding herself at last in her proper sphere . . . these last days have shown that no lady could be more perfectly formed to be the angel of her husband's house and heart . . . I must, when I am upon my legs again, do whatever is within my power to help her to the protection and comforts of a suitable marriage . . .
. . . as for myself, less and less do I dare aspire to a wife's love . . . even as I am certain I do not deserve the esteem of any worthy lady. Dr U again urges a journey South, says there is yet time for me to make, perhaps, a complete recovery, if I do not delay here. But where is the money to come from? Mother offers to make any sacrifice so long as it is for my health, but I cannot think of . . . what is the use of writing these things? What is the use of anything? All is confusion . . . I fear I am losing my faith as well as my wits and my health. To think that it was mere days ago that I asserted to Miss A in all seriousness that I was a good man. I am nothing of the sort.
Nothing then for a nearly a week, but the next entry was different. Even the handwriting seemed more spritely.
The ladies of the house continue to produce miracles in the face of my utter despair. This time it is mother, who this morning came to me with a cheque for £500! The small pastel sketch of a young girl that has always hung beside her dressing table . . . a memento of her grandmother, as I was always told, and of no value beyond the sentimental— is a Gainsborough! Mother has let it go to the National Gallery, and now I am to be let go to Tuscany. I have entreated her to accompany me, but she insists she cannot live among Popish people at her time of life, and eat such oily food. She says she will be perfectly all right with Miss S and Lucy. I do not know how I am to carry out my resolution about seeing Miss S comfortably and honorably settled in life while I am gone from London . . . I can scarcely commend her to Mortimer, whose friendship, though stolid, is singularly lacking in flexibility on certain points. However, I am to start as soon as my outfit is obtained, so long as I have coughed no blood for five straight days.
[Later] . . . Miss Summers, quite wan and thin— I fear her health is also not all that it should be— has just looked in to express her pleasure in my good fortune. She who has spent hours and hours nursing me in the most intimate way through the crisis, would not now step beyond the door of my room, until I urged her to come closer. . . when I took her hand, it trembled in mine. She said that she was glad for me to have this chance, and wasn't it wonderful that Mother had kept the secret about her little picture until it was most needed to do some good? Her eyes were very large, and very bright . . . I cannot say how that was . . .but when I looked into them I thought . . . I cannot write down what I thought. I tried to speak to her of my gratitude, but she would not listen. I feared she would cry. She seemed almost distraught, though nearly silent. I cannot anticipate my time abroad, my chance to regain my health, without wondering what will become of her when I am not here . . . although I am sure that, separated from my corrupting influence, Miss Summers will find it easier to cleave to the path of righteousness . . . .
Three days after that, he wrote,
Cough considerably abated, but head still muddled in darkest manner these past nights by terrible sense of something neglected, that to leave undone would be the gravest error and misfortune. Sleep full of dreams, powerful, disturbing, indelicate . . . perhaps I will be better when I am away from here—tho' as the time draws near I find myself nearly frantic with a wish to remain . . .
The next entry was written in a bright blue ink, where all the previous were in black:
I hope I never shall forget what it was that cleared all the cobwebs from my fevered conscience . . . unable to sleep last night, I went downstairs to look for a book. Halfway down, my gaze, as if guided by some Providential pointer, alit on the little table in the hall, which, illuminated by the fanlight, seemed to glow. Upon it was nothing but the empty card tray and—her tiny gloves. The sight of which so galvanized me that my heart near leapt from my chest— I thought my knees might give way— God forgive me for being such a fool, but I did not know what it was to love a woman until that moment. The sensation crashed in upon me with a celestial brilliance— what I thought was love before . . . unspeakable idiocy and self-delusion . . . standing there on the stair I knew at once what it was I had to do, what it was I could not do without . . . I returned to my bed and slept well for the first time since before Miss Summers came into the house . . . awakening refreshed with a renewed conviction and courage to seek her out . . . in short, I have offered myself to Miss Summers, and she has accepted me. Even as I was sure there could be no greater happiness than I felt as she stepped into my embrace and presented me with her sweet lips to kiss, I know this is but a prelude to the joy that will be our married life.
Buffy pressed the diary to her face as if it was his cheek. The intense emotion of his words had a physical effect on her; tears started up, her heart raced. His ability to love—at once so wild and so unswerving, man and monster, either or both—still had the power to amaze her. Here was the underpinning of this new life, what made it possible for her not to pine unceasingly away for the other one. This marriage might be a consolation prize, but it was the most precious and genuine consolation prize anyone had ever had.
She riffled the pages of the diary, her eye alighting here and there on a sentence or two. They'd married as soon as the banns could be put up—she still quite pale and thin on her wedding day, in her hastily constructed dress—that accounted for the tinyness of the waist, then—but not so languid as to deprive either of them of the pleasures of their honeymoon.
The frankness and freedom of my dear B's conjugal desires—and her repertory of consummatory poses and attitudes— while leading to the most ecstatic outcomes— (I cannot imagine, as I look at the other gentlemen in the smoking parlour on this train, that they can possibly know the enjoyment that has been vouchsafed to me in this matter)—yet trouble me, leading as they do to inevitable questions about how and where she was initially debauched. Ladies whose blessed innocence is not violated before marriage never do imagine or desire the sorts of acts which B both performs and requires of me with such louche confidence. It is a shame, and yet!— what man could regret a wife so eager to reward his every carnal urge. The idea that, but for her coaxing, I might remain ignorant of the taste of her juicy little cunny and the feel of it convulsing beneath my mouth as she sobs and tosses her pretty head . . . is quite dismaying to contemplate.
That made her laugh; tears dried, she read on.
My darling informs me today over breakfast that we are to expect an addition to our household . . . joy unbounded at this news. B all a-glow, smiling and weeping together when she told me. She shall be the sweetest, prettiest little mother in all the world.
But an entry a couple of months later, set in a black box, told what she'd already gleaned that afternoon:
Our hopes dashed. B quite ill, and speaks, in her feverish delirium, of having failed me. Myself frantic. Have telegraphed to Mother.
Then a week later:
My dear B out of danger by the grace of God, but much depressed in spirits. Looking out for a new villa to rent. Associations here unpleasant, and believe the draftiness to be unhealthful. Removal at earliest possible opportunity to be effected.
The hour—three—chimed from the nearby church. Blowing out the lamp, she returned to their room, where William stirred and opened his eyes as she tiptoed in.
"Where have you been—?"
"Drink of water." She climbed back into the high broad bed. He gathered her into his arms and pressed a kiss on her forehead.
"William . . . ?"
"Are you happy?"
"I'm surprised that you should ask me that. Do I keep a secret of my happiness?"
His pulse beat beneath her cheek; his moist skin smelled musky and warm. Spike's body, when he lay motionless, was so still; sleep did not make him warm and sticky, but tended instead to cool him off, and he had barely any odor at all, except after lovemaking, when he smelled like her. These things which should have been disquieting were instead simply aspects of the man she loved; but clasped now against his living form, aware of the movement of his heart, the in-and-out of his breath, Buffy was confused. It wasn't normal, was it, wasn't right, to compare the company of an undead creature to this—and to miss it so?
She didn't want to think about it. Why was she thinking about it so much—she was sure she hadn't before, before this muddle came over her. Why then could she feel the pulsing in her muscles of that dance she'd never done with Spike? Waltzing round and round the room—she could hear the music, see the glow from each lamp they whirled by, and hear also the laughter of— she didn't know who. It seemed like girlish laughter, but it wasn't Dawn, wasn't Willow or Anya or Tara. The more she tried to grasp it, the more elusive it became.
"Dearest," William whispered, smoothing her hair beneath a patient hand, "something is troubling you. All day you have been disquieted. You think I do not notice, but I do. I wish you would tell me what it is."
She shifted, pressed closer to him, the reassuring thub of his heart. "It's . . . it's nothing. Really, nothing. What should trouble me, when I have you, and our home in this beautiful place?"
"This is a lonely spot, I know. And you're longing for a child . . . that is only natural. We both are. Soon now, darling."
He kissed her then, and subsided almost at once into sleep. Buffy lay awake, listening to his breathing, which was even and quiet.
Was Spike asleep, she wondered, back in Sunnydale? Had he given up looking for her since her disappearance? Years ago now. Perhaps he'd found someone else to love.
But she doubted it.
She glanced up from the Italian books. What she could've sworn was an hour of "study," or at any event, staring, turned out to be just five minutes. William's pen only left off scratching when he consulted one of the books or periodicals spread all around him on the table, held down with various small rocks and teacups against the breeze on the terrace where they sat.
It was so quiet here, you could practically hear the flowers growing. The katydids chirping and the soughing of the wind in the poplars were the loudest sounds. She'd have liked to turn on the radio. And it would've been kind of great to take advantage of all this golden sunlight by getting into a bikini to work on her tan. Neither of those things was possible. She supposed she'd never stop missing those things, no matter how far and permanently removed they were.
Her corset was cutting into her hip, and her shoes pinched.
At her feet, a large lacquer workbox with a Chinese design divulged a panoply of spools of thread, needles, stork-shaped scissors, tapes and buttons and neatly rolled lengths of piping. A wicker basket beside it held garments needing mending. She glanced at them with distaste. Couldn't she get Kate to do these jobs? Where was she now, anyway? Buffy glanced around.
"What do you seek, my dear?"
"Nothing. Just . . . nothing. I think I might go for a walk."
He smiled at her then with a strange fondness, as if she'd proposed something entirely demented. "Have you forgotten Kate is helping Maria and the others with the laundry? She has no time to walk with you today."
"I will take you myself but you must wait until my work is completed."
"When will that be?"
"Well, some hours. Longer if you keep on distracting me."
"I wasn't the one who spoke first! And why can't I—? I'm a married lady now, I thought that was supposed to have some privileges with it."
"If we were in London, of course you would be at liberty to go about, shopping and visiting and so on. But we are not in London."
"No one's going to bother me here. Why would they?"
William frowned. "Perhaps in California you could walk abroad without fear of meeting with disrespect or molestation. But I assure you, my dear, that such is not the case here. Think of—think of those workmen we encountered yesterday. I should not like you to run across them unaccompanied."
"As if Kate would be much good if we did. Stupid rule."
"Those low sort of men will not hesitate to interfere with a lady on her own, which they should never dream of doing if she is accompanied—even by a servant. Besides, it is my rule as well. I should think you would be willing enough to obey me, my dear."
She sighed. He went back to his work. She pretended to look through the basket of mending, and was surprised when her fingers came upon a small paper-bound book tucked under the knickers and socks. She pulled it out.
The Feast Of Blood.
By J. M. Rymer
The picture on the cover was certainly eye-popping enough. A woman in her nightgown, half dragged out of her bed by a hairy, medieval looking vamp with his fangs at her throat.
Nothing, Buffy thought, she couldn't slay in a heartbeat. Still . . . it was something to read. The cover said this was part 7, but maybe there was a synopsis.
As soon as she was immersed, a shadow fell across the page. She glanced up to find William standing over her.
"My dear . . . ."
"What? I'm not distracting you!"
"Surely you cannot want to read this tripe. It's Kate's, I suppose. I would prefer, for that matter, that she not read such stuff herself. Quite unsuitable for the female mind, of whatever station in life." He took the book from her hands, and tore it into three. "These will be fine spills for Maria when she lights the fires."
He walked off into the house. Buffy sat blinking after him. Jeez.
She rose, and wandered up and down the long terrace. The view spread out before her was just as marvelous as yesterday, but she couldn't sit here all day admiring views.
What was she supposed to do? She wondered if she'd been so restless all this time. The struggle to get her mental legs under her felt futile; the more she tried to piece together the last few weeks and months, the vaguer it all became. And yet Spike, who was so far off in time and space, seemed fresher in her mind than any of her current surroundings. A painful freshness, the reopening of an old wound.
When he returned, William carried a stack of books under his arm, which he set down on the low table beside her chair. "You might like to read one of these, my dear."
She recognized, on top, the small volumes of Keats and Shelley that Spike had carried with him for a century, that lived on his bedside table at Revello Drive, next to the framed picture of her. Sometimes in bed he'd read aloud, and though the sense of the poems often eluded her, she loved to hear his voice intoning them.
She set them aside with a pang. Underneath was Sketches by Boz, the first volume of a novel called He Knew He Was Right (Is that a joke, she thought), and—no way! The Daisychain. Not that again. Never never never.
She picked it up, drifted back towards the parapet, and let the heavy brown book fall from her hand. Down down down it dropped, to disappear amongst the vines.
Smiling, Buffy went back to her chair, and set out to find out who knew he was right about what.
Later, bored with sitting still, she wandered into the wash-house, and watched the laundry operations—they involved a huge iron tub set over a fire, wooden paddles to stir the clothes and linens as they were boiled, and much scurrying, groaning, and shouting in Italian. This, being different, absorbed her for a time, until she realized that Maria and the other Italian servants were darting nervous glances at her. Kate drew her aside.
"If you please, mum, they think you don't trust them."
"Oh! I just . . . I was just going to ask about the dinner."
Kate's eyes went wide. "There's no dinner on washing day. I'll be up in plenty of time to dress you to go into town."
Town! The suggestion perked her up. "Right! Silly me, I don't know what I was thinking. Well, uh . . . carry on." She beat a retreat back to the terrace, where William still worked away over his papers.
After a while he said, "You might write to mother, my dear. I won't have time, if I hope to get this in the post today."
She smiled. "I could do that."
"I've put fresh paper and quills in the desk."
"Okay . . . ." She started into the house.
"The desk is right here."
"Oh? Oh." The wooden box with the slanted lid that sat at the far end of the table was, apparently, a desk. Who knew? She sat and opened it.
Although she'd never had a stationary fetish like Dawn did, there was something to be said for the fitted insides of the desk, with elegant malachite compartments for the creamy paper, the square glass bottles of black, blue, red, green ink, pens and quills and pencils, a tiny folding knife for sharpening the pencils, a gum eraser and a velvet blotter. She took everything out and arranged it around her, with the pleasing sense that she was giving a tea party to dolls. Then she dipped a pen into the green ink, and immediately made a large blot on the paper.
Taking another piece, she managed to write Dear Mrs Grieves without making too much of a mess. Then it occurred to her that now she was her mother-in-law, perhaps she didn't call her Mrs Grieves anymore. But what? This really was starting to be ridiculous. Could she have had a stroke without feeling any after effect? What else could make such swathes of consciousness go blank?
She started fresh on a new sheet, wrote Dear Mothe— when the quill spluttered and left another large blot.
William glanced up.
"I meant—drat. Big drat."
"You are uncommonly clumsy today. It's very naughty of you. Paper costs money."
"Sorry. Look, I can just fold this, and tear it off, and now the paper's like good as new. Except it's an inch shorter. But that doesn't matter, does it? I don't have a lot to say, anyway."
What was she going to say? The servants think that I think they're purloining my underwear? Your son and I have just resumed our sex life and it's really great?
I hope you're well. William and I are fine. We've been having very good weather . . . .
They'd eaten at the small trattoria on the piazza, and were starting for home again arm in arm in the soft evening air, when music drew Buffy's attention. On the other side of the large paved space, beyond the fountain with its equestrian statue, a man with an accordion was playing outside the cafe. A few couples moved about in the low yellow flare of gas jets.
Sound! Movement! She'd never have thought an accordion would be anything other than an object of derision . . . yet now she yearned towards it with her whole being.
William gave one glance, and walked a little faster. "Come along."
"But why? It's early. Let's stay and dance."
"My dear, those people . . . they're the locals, i contadini, you know."
"And your point is?"
He gave her an incredulous glance.
Wow, he really was a thorough prig, just like Spike said. "Don't tell me you wouldn't like to dance with your wife. It'll be fun." She tugged on his arm. "Afterwards I'll let you have your wicked way with me."
At that, he allowed her to pull him across the square.
When she was in his arms, waltzing around the seated accordionist with the other couples, who seemed not at all aware of any grand social differences, she whispered, "See? It's all good."
The last time she'd danced like this was in a London gin-joint—or no, it was with Spike. But that was impossible . . . she'd never danced with Spike like this. So why was there this memory again, stronger each time she revisited it? He was waltzing her around the living room, teaching her how, Lemme lead, Slayer, that's the man's job. It was so much sexier than dancing without touching. Dancing had definitely regressed, Buffy thought. As the music got more sexed up, the actual dance got less. Where was this memory coming from? It brought with it a certainty: if not for that, she wouldn't know how to do this dance now, with her husband.
It made no sense. No sense at all.
William was smiling now with unselfconscious pleasure. She smiled back. This was perfect, the same way it was perfect when he made love to her, and the static between them, of forms and etiquette, dissolved to pure feeling and sensation.
She'd always found her consolation, her salvation, in movement and touch.
She was giddy from being whirled about when she got the feeling, creeping up the back of her spine, making the fine hairs on her nape rise. Uh-oh. The crowd, which had swelled since they began, definitely held at least a couple of members who didn't have a pulse. As William led her around again, she scanned the people over his shoulder. In the shadowy yellow glow they all looked the same, the men with their black moustaches and slouch hats, the women with shawls crisscrossed over their chests, shiny dark hair pinned up. The feeling flickered and died. But she was sure of what she'd sensed.
She pretended to yawn. "Let's go home now."
"But—we've barely started!"
"I shouldn't over-exert myself. You said so yourself, yesterday."
"Of course! Forgive me. I hope the uphill climb won't be too much for you—"
"I'm sure I'll make it. But let's go now."
As they strode towards the villa, she was already making plans. Get William off to sleep, and then dress again—not in these clothes, perhaps she'd borrow some of his instead—get back to the piazza before the cafe shut, and . . . go hunting for wabbit.
When William's breathing was deep and even, she stole out of bed, went quietly into his room across the hall, and dressed herself in his shirt and trousers. The freedom of wearing trousers again, and no corset, made her high. That and the anticipation—of running in the night air, of finding her foes and slaying them.
In the box by the garden wall she found the stakes Kate had whittled—quite admirable, solid ones, too—and the boots, as well as a man's rough coat and hat. She stuffed her hair up under the brim. All that remained would be to blacken her upper lip with cork. Not really necessary, but she giggled as she stole out onto the road and retraced her steps towards the village.
The locals were still out, drinking and talking and dancing on the piazza. She made her way quietly, in the shadows of the loggias, keeping to the edges of the knots of people. Just the way the vampires did—like those two there. Two males, both young-looking and handsome, going about their quiet working of the crowd. One, who seemed to be just in his teens, was picking pockets, while his more mature mate kept an eye out for some likely victim, someone on the margins who'd be easy to cull.
Buffy made herself into that person.
When she was sure they'd seen her, she limped slowly towards a dark narrow lane leading off the square.
They gave her a fight.
A good fight.
God, was it good.
Good to work her muscles, good to break a sweat, good to quip at them even if they didn't speak English. Good to show off.
Good to slay.
She was bending to retrieve her hat from the ground—it had landed in some kind of muck she didn't want to inhale too deeply, and she was half tempted to just leave it there and chalk it up—when a shadow fell at the mouth of the lane, and a quiet voice said her name.
The voice had such a cool familiarity that she sprang around in glad surprise. "Spi—! Oh."
"Spying on you? Yes. You have given me sad cause," William said.
She couldn't see his face, it was nearly dark here and the shadow of his hat brim hid it entirely. But his voice contained a dangerous calm.
"I would not have believed it of you, had I not seen it with my own eyes. Mortimer tried to warn me of course, beforehand. But I believed—insisted—that you were a lady, first and foremost, that your misfortune had not tainted you. Yet now I see that I was mistaken. Now I see that you rise from my bed, dressed in this disgusting fashion, sneak out into the night, and . . . and . . . ."
At first his words made no sense to her—what did slaying have to do with —but then she grasped it. "You—oh my God! You think I was—? No! You don't understand—!"
"Do not bother to deny it. I saw you attract those men to your side, saw you lead them in here. Of course they have gone away now out the other end, having had what they wanted of you. That I could not bear to watch. What did you do it for? A few lira you now hide behind your back?" She'd instinctively concealed her stake when he startled her; he grabbed now for her arm.
Dashing the stake from her grip without taking it in, he plunged his hand into her jacket pocket. "Where is it? Where is the filthy money, you whore—?"
He yanked the pocket inside out—some small copper coins inside bounced into the mud. He stared after them for a second, shuddering in disgust, then grabbed her the arm.
He was gasping with rage. Buffy wrenched free, and blocked him when he came at her again. They were positioned now at the mouth of the lane; a nearby gas lamp showed her his face, white, shocked, rigid.
"Stop it! You've made a mistake! Listen to me, William!"
"How could you do it. You filthy, disgusting, lying doxie—I give you my name, my heart, my home—and you repay me with this!"
She noticed now that a few people had gathered under the lamp, attracted by their raised voices. He followed her gaze. Seeing them, he gave a grunt of annoyance and shoved her further into the lane, marching her out into the next street. She decided not to resist for the moment, and let him pull her in a violent silence, back to the villa. The walk took twenty minutes, in which he did not let go of his crushing grip on her biceps, nor glance at her. She tried to figure out how she was going to deflect his anger, even as the strange shame of being falsely accused make her cheeks burn.
When they reached her bedroom, lit by the glowing kerosene lamp on the nightstand, and the remains of a fire on the hearth, he shoved her into a chair.
She rose from it immediately. "William, listen to me—"
"You slut—! There is nothing you could say, nothing—"
"Those weren't men you saw. They were vampires. I lured them into that alley in order to slay them. That's what I do. I'm a vampire slayer."
He was silent for a moment. She opened her mouth to say more, but he cut her off with a wild laugh.
"Vampires? Ah—like that foul book I took from you this morning—! You think to distract me from your disgusting conduct with such an absurd and pathetic fantasy? Has your depravity already affected your mind—?"
"No! You've seen me slay a vampire before. The only reason you're alive right now is because I slew that one that was trying to kill you in London!"
He gaped at her.
How could anyone be so wilfully obtuse? "She was already biting you when I got there. I stabbed her through her dead heart with a wooden stake—like the one I had in that alley just now—and she fell to dust. I know you saw it, William, even if you didn't understand. You wrote about it clearly enough in your diary!"
His face, already pale with anger, went paler still. He took a step back, as if her proximity hurt him.
"You have been into my private papers as well."
Seeing her blunder, Buffy tried just to forge ahead. "I've been a vampire slayer since I was fifteen years old. It's what I was put on this earth to do—my sacred duty . . . but I'm not supposed to talk about it. I haven't tried to deceive you—I mean, I have, but not for the reasons you think. If you'd sit down and be calm, I'll explain it to you so you'll understand."
She went close to him, meaning to maneuver him into a chair, when she saw the tears tracking silently down his cheeks.
"William—sweetheart—don't—I'm not what you think—"
"I am ruined," he murmured. He seemed dazed, and wouldn't look at her. "I have been deceived into marriage with a worthless trull . . . ."
"No no—that's not true! I love you with all my heart, and I haven't been unfaithful to you! You mustn't think—please—" She laid her hands on his lapels, reached up to kiss him.
He knocked her down with one sharp blow. The stone floor seemed to rise up to strike her too. For a moment she lay stunned. As she sprang up, she heard the sound of a key being turned.
She was alone. He'd locked her in.
The door was a thick wooden one, with a stout lock, but nothing she couldn't beat down as long as she didn't mind rousing the servants with the noise. Not feeling quite up to creating that kind of commotion, she went to the window instead.
From this side of the villa there was a long sharp drop to the cultivated terraces below. She could survive it, but it would leave her banged up. Not to mention penniless in a country where she didn't speak the language. She decided it wasn't time yet to flee. He'd have to believe her, if he'd just let her explain. He'd seen her slay Drusilla. He couldn't deny that, at least, not indefinitely.
Keeping the slayer thing from him was a stupid miscalculation, she got that now.
Instead, she took the opportunity to wash, comb her hair, and take off William's clothes. She hesitated then: ought she to put on her nightdress and peignoir? Or should she dress herself, be ready for anything? It was nearly two in the morning. Would he leave her here all night? Or return for another round of recriminations?
Better to be ready. She didn't think she'd be able to sleep anyway. She tried to dress herself, but found that it was difficult, without Lucy's help, to fasten her corset, which hooked up the back, or reach the buttons on the back of her dress, which would not fit without the corset underneath. The small bustle that went with her day dresses was beyond her altogether.
When she'd done her best, she sank again onto the bed. What now?
What was he doing, thinking? Poor man, she could imagine it. Remembered how she'd felt when Angel betrayed her, denied everything she'd thought he felt along with her. Some part of her had never recovered from that first massive displacement of trust.
He'd be asking himself how he could've trusted a girl he'd taken off the streets, who'd gulled him, who was really just a hardened whore.
It certainly looked bad.
She realized then that the room where he worked and read was just below. She went to the spot above where she thought his armchair sat, and tapped on the floor with the heel of the stout boot she'd worn earlier. She didn't want to make too much noise—the Italian servants were at the other end of the place, near the kitchen, but Kate slept in a tiny room nearby.
She stopped and listened. Nothing. Tapped again. Her cheekbone ached where he'd struck her. He never looked like the kind of man who had a blow like that in him.
He wasn't Spike. Then she heard a sound at the door.
"What's the matter?"
His voice, a harsh whisper through the thick wood, didn't seem as angry as before.
Hope rising, Buffy flew to the door, knelt to put her eye to the keyhole. A glimmer showed through from the lamp he was carrying.
"William, please don't leave me here like this."
"I must determine what's to be done about you. You've betrayed me, ruined our life, and now it is my duty to make a plan."
"I haven't betrayed you. I swear I haven't. If you'd just let me out, we could talk about it."
"You ought to pray God to help you repent of your wickedness, and not disturb me."
"But I want something to drink," Buffy said. "There's no water in here but what was in the pitcher, and I used it up washing."
She listened hard, and thought she could hear him breathing.
Then he walked away. The glow was gone from the keyhole.
She sagged against the door.
Some ten minutes later she was roused by the scraping of the key, and sprang up.
He came in, carrying a fresh pitcher, and a glass. He thrust these at her with an obstinate gesture, like a sulking child.
"I would not let you thirst."
She took them, and went to the table. "Thank you."
He stood where he was, just inside the open door, and stared at the floor while she drank down one glass of water, and part of another.
"William . . . vampires are real. You yourself were attacked by one—"
He held up a hand.
"I am half convinced that you are mad. How else to explain a female who would give herself, in the street, to—to such ruffians—and without even the common excuse of needing to earn her bread—!"
"No—listen to me—!"
But he'd backed out of the room, and locked her in once more.
She was awakened by a rattling at the door, and leapt up.
"Oh—Mum—it's only Kate with your hot water. But I can't open the door. Is it stuck?"
"No, it's—" She didn't know what to say. But then she heard the door across the hall open.
"Kate, your mistress is poorly this morning, and prefers you not go in to her."
"Poorly? Oh, but sir, she will want her tea, an' her wash, all the more if she's—"
"Kate, she wants nothing."
Something, perhaps the expression on his face, must've alarmed the maid, because she knocked once at the door, calling out "Mum? Mum, is all well with you?"
Buffy didn't quite know what to answer. As she hesitated, Kate's voice pitched higher. "Mum? Oh sir, I think I had better go in to her. Perhaps she's in a faint!"
William laughed. "In a faint? If she is, it's only to win sympathy that she doesn't deserve! It's only another lie, she lies with every breath."
"If she's in a faint," he said, louder now, "it's to convince me I'm an ogre for refusing to believe the rot she foists upon me—rot about killing vampires, when what she was really doing was—"
"Vampires? Oh sir! Don't you speak mockingly of such monsters! Don't you know it was Missis Grieves what saved me from one her own self? If not for her, I'd've been killed—an' worse! I'd've been made into an unholy thing!"
"Kate—!" Buffy called. "Don't try to intervene for me, just go back to the kitchen now, and—"
"And what? Abandon you in your time of need, mum? I will not! What is this?" The doorknob rattled again. "Have you locked her in, sir? That ain't a fit thing for a ge'mun to do to his lady wife! An' her a great heroine an' all! I happen to know she rescued you, too, from a fierce one! She must be let free, to do her sacred duty!"
"I see she has recruited you to abet her filthy deceptions. Perhaps you believe her lies as well? You're simple enough to buy such stories. Don't you know what she really does when she steals out into the night? Your mistress is nothing but a low-down—"
There was a crash then—the can of hot water falling to the stone floor—and Kate began to weep. "Sir, sir, I helps her, I do, I whittles the stakes! It's my poor contribution to the glorious work! You should be thankful, sir, that you have such a good an' selfless lady for your wife. I knows my place, an' I knows I'll have to go from here now, but I'll say out my piece first, an' it's this! She's the slayer an' she must be let free!"
The little maid's crying became wilder then. Buffy pressed herself against the door, crazy to comfort her—this defense, from an entirely unlooked-for quarter, brought tears to her own eyes.
For a minute there was no sound but that weeping. Then William's voice again. "Do you—look at me, and tell me! Do you really believe you're speaking the truth?"
"Oh sir, I swear it! On my life, that would've been snuffed out like a candle-flame, if not for her! I seen it with my own eyes, just as you did!"
Another moment of silence, then he said, in quite a different tone, "Take this, and go back to the kitchen now, Kate. Go on. Wash your face, and go about your work."
The key scraped in the lock. Buffy stood back just far enough to allow the door to open. In the fresh morning light, William's face was haggard. She knew that, unlike her, he'd not dozed at all.
He stared at her hard. Buffy waited, watching him. Then he lifted a hand to his neck—he wore no collar, and his shirt was unbuttoned at the top. His fingers probed the faint scar of Drusilla's attack. "She . . . that strange woman, who spoke to me so hypnotically about what I wanted . . . she was a vampire?"
"They are real?"
She nodded again.
"And you—how did you know . . . ?"
She couldn't tell him the entire truth about herself—and she still didn't remember slaying Drusilla. But it was simple enough to put two and two together from the account in his diary. "I went after you that day because I had to speak to you, about the child we were going to have. When I learned that you'd left the party I set off to walk back. I hoped I'd overtake you on the way. I was very anxious, because of . . . and you seemed to be avoiding me. But that's neither here nor there. Then I . . . I sensed there was a vampire nearby. I can feel them, it's one of my slayer powers. Last night, while we were dancing, I knew there were vampires in that crowd. That's why I went back there after you'd gone to sleep."
He continued to stare at her, without reacting. At least he wasn't hurling epithets.
She went on. "William, when we met on the Haymarket that night, I was selling myself. I was alone in London, I'd been unfortunate, I had no one to help me, no other way to stay alive. That's all true. I didn't like it, and I was very glad to stop. I didn't tell you about being the slayer because I was afraid you'd try to keep me from doing what I have to do. My watcher . . . a sort of mentor I used to have . . . taught me to keep my slayer powers secret. I didn't want to deceive you. I don't want to hurt you. But I have a duty apart from what I owe to you as your wife."
He stepped forward, and she thought he was going to look into her face, maybe even take her in his arms. But he moved past her and threw himself into a chair, and curling forward, held his head in his hands.
Buffy crept up to him. Touched his shoulder. He flinched and wouldn't look up.
"Sweetheart . . . do you understand? I think you do."
"This is madness."
"No—I swear to you. You must believe what you saw yourself—!"
He started up then, his eyes wild and sad. "Oh, I believe that now! God help us all, I am a rational man and I know what happened that night!" He began to pace, tugging at his hair. "What's madness is that I thought I married a lady—one who would grace my home, make my life sweet, be a fine mother . . . . Now I find I have joined myself to a—a—a sort of Amazon, whose loyalties are divided, who has appetites which are—which I fear are beyond my ability to . . . and who cannot even bear me children!"
Buffy blinked. "Cannot . . . who says—?"
"You fought that creature, yes—! And saved my life! I must always be grateful for that . . . . but at the expense, that same night, of our poor child. And when next you were in—in the family way—the same occurred again! I suppose you were out fighting with vampires all the time then too! And now, when I have tried so hard to help you get strong again, or so I thought, so that we might try anew, I find— I find—"
Her first defensive impulse was to assure him that the two things—the miscarriages and the slaying—were unrelated. But she didn't know that. His argument, she had to admit, was pretty solid.
William seized her by the shoulders. "Tell me—if, as you say, this strange obligation has been yours since you were fifteen—how did you imagine you could give yourself to be any man's wife? How did you imagine it was fair to come to me, who took you in good faith—and not tell me what you are?"
Her heart hammered. "I . . . I didn't . . . I was afraid to find myself lost again. Homeless. I couldn't go back to living that way."
"No, of course not." He dropped his hands into two fists at his sides. "So you did not tell me about this thing you are . . . a grievous omission . . . and you did say, what I see now is not true—that you loved me. You don't. You just wanted the shelter of my name, a home. Well, what woman so circumstanced as you were would not?"
"No—! William how could you say—?"
He turned on her a face whose naked wretchedness made her gasp. "Because I know I am not lovable. I know I am nothing a lady could want. None would choose me who had the power to choose at all."
His words—the look of hopelessness on his face, flooded her with so many memories and images—of Spike, of William, of misunderstandings and griefs half-glimpsed or wholly experienced, both inflicted and borne.
She blushed, picking her way across the rocky surface of the truth. "You weren't so kind to me before that night of the party. I was dependent on you, and you used me. I know you had a change of heart afterwards, when you were sick. It took me some time to trust that your change was sincere. It's true, I didn't dare refuse you when you asked me to be your wife, but I was so hopeful that it would be all right." She put a hand out, touched his face. "And it is. You made me fall in love with you. I'm yours, William. Don't doubt me, and don't be angry anymore."
He snatched her into his arms. She clung to him, relief expanding her lungs, making a catch in her throat. His anger and disappointment in her had been awful, terrifying.
He kissed her hard, backing her towards the bed. She let him topple her over, helped him pull up her skirts, blushing all over with the anticipation of his pleasure, and her own.
"You darling creature, I cannot resist you. You have it in your power to make me the most miserable of men—or the happiest."
"Happiest," she gasped, parting her thighs, reaching for him. "I want you always to be the happiest." Between her clothes and his, there was an awful lot of extraneous fabric bunched around them, but it was sexy, finding his rigid cock in the midst of flies and shirttails, pulling it towards her cunt, laid open amidst all that froth of linen and lace. He sank into her with a sigh, pressing a firm kiss into her neck under the ear.
She wriggled from the ticklish-hot sensation. That was Spike's favorite spot too, but she'd always thought it was because he was a vampire.
He gnawed at her there, and the sensation shot straight down to her groin.
She gasped—her corset made it hard to take a really deep breath, and he'd pushed her knees up, which made it more difficult still. But that just heightened everything—seemed to bring all the blood down where she needed it, made her parts tender and exquisitely sensitive.
"Sweetheart—my God—your quim—when you nip me like that, I am in heaven—"
"What, like this?"
"That's a slayer thing too, y'know. All part of the package. I'm. Very. Strong. Inside and out. Not so bad, huh?"
"You . . . your desire . . . you're not like other ladies."
"You've never been with anybody but me."
"Still, I know that—"
"Sssh, you. You don't know anything about women. Women like to fuck just as much as men do. Are you worried that you're not enough for me? Don't. I can't get enough of you, but that's different. Right? We can't get enough of each other."
He rose up on his elbows, to look at her. His expression was grave, but also rather tipsy. It struck her as funny suddenly that he was wearing his spectacles. She let out a peal of laughter, and gave him another internal nip.
"You—" He frowned at her, not in anger, but rather in awe, "you are a mystery. You are a most delicious mystery."
"Yeah?" She smiled. "You're not a mystery to me, though."
"Am I not?"
"Nuh-uh. I know you love me. So I know all about you."
"I do . . . most deeply. You . . . you must understand, I was so angry because I adore you so. I hated that you seemed not to be what I thought."
"I know," she assured him. "I know, sweetheart."
His face cleared, became, for a moment, radiant. Then darkened again. "But you—wicked girl—you have been reading my diary. You know that is very wrong. I shall have to punish you."
"Punish me with kisses," she giggled.
He did, until they had to breathe.
She was glad she hadn't been able to get the bustle on.
All the while they talked and kissed, he was still fucking her, sometimes in short sawing strokes, and then shifting to long loose ones, a hand hooked behind each of her knees.
He wasn't Spike, it was true—and he lacked, of course, Spike's supernatural prowess and recovery. But his way of moving, of touching her, kissing her, the things he said, his glances and expressions . . . were uncannily alike. These things were, she supposed, instinctual.
Funny to think she'd taught him everything he knew about making love. When, with Spike, he'd been the one to teach her so much.
"Why did you do it?"
"What?" She panted. "Read your diary?" Okay, this had better be good. She couldn't tell him about her confusion, about her strong sense the last couple of days that something was out of sync. "I only ever looked at it once. I know—I—oh—if you do that I won'tbeabletotalk—!"
He slowed to a near stop, poised over her. "You were saying, my dear?"
"I know it's wrong. It was just one time. I wasn't sure . . . I wasn't sure how you really felt about me. I thought . . . maybe you only proposed to me because you felt, y'know . . .bad. About what happened."
"I did feel bad about what happened. I was in torment. I'd used you disgracefully, and caused you to suffer—"
" I wanted to be sure you really wanted me because I'm me, not because you felt obligated. I thought you might not tell me the truth, but you wouldn't write things in your diary that you didn't really feel."
"And then, I read them, your beautiful thoughts, and I knew I didn't have to worry. I knew I could place my trust . . . my heart . . . ."
"Dearest wife. Tell me again," he whispered, pressing his forehead to hers just the way Spike always did, "tell me again that you love me."
"I love you William, so much . . . so much . . . ahhhh—!"
"You are so pretty, and you smell divine, when you spend." His hand found its way between her thighs, palm pressed against her. She remembered how he'd do that, back on Penelope Terrace, that strange possessive gesture. It felt different now, she didn't mind it any more. "They say," he went on, his voice dropping to a whisper, "that when a lady spends with her husband's spunk inside her, it means she'll conceive."
"Yeah? Who is this they who don't know what they're talking about At All?"
"I . . . I don't recall."
"Uh-huh." She laughed, and undid another button on his shirt.
"You are so very good," he murmured, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear. "I do apologize, most sincerely, for being rough with you earlier. I was so angry, I could not control myself, But there is never an excuse to strike a lady. I swear I never shall again."
"You've always had a temper," she mused. "So do I. But we shouldn't hit each other. That's no good."
"No good indeed, sweetheart. But we must make a new beginning now, Mrs Grieves. When I think that you took Kate into your confidence, and not me! Your husband, from whom keeping any secret, no matter how small, ought to be anathema! There must be no more deception, no more secrets."
"I promise, no more deceptions." Except the one about how I'm really in the wrong century altogether, because, okay, we just can't even go there. It makes my head hurt, and it'll do yours in for good. "And I swear—I swear I'll give us a child. As soon as I know I'm pregnant again—I won't take any chances until its born. Scout's honor. I don't want to go through another miscarriage either."
It was a giddy relief to be in his arms again, to feel his heart knocking in his chest as he pressed her to him. She wanted just to cleave to him, to promise anything, to kiss some more and get him hard so they could fuck again. But he put her back and looked at her, his eyes full of incredulity and the beginnings of resurgent anger.
"As soon as you know—! Mrs Grieves, I cannot accept such an answer. From this moment forward, I cannot permit you to endanger yourself. To endanger our child."
"William, it's not a question of your permission. I have to do what I was put here to do."
"But you must remember that you are my wife, and be ruled by me, as you promised at the altar."
She sat up then. I promised that? Shit. "I'm the Slayer. No matter what else I am, I'm the Slayer first and foremost."
"You are Mrs Grieves first and foremost! In the eyes of God, and in the law of the land. Why must you defy me, and threaten all our happiness?"
"I'm not defying you! I mean—I am defying you, but you're not listening to me, and you're not being reasonable!"
"I've heard everything you said. Do you imagine I am going to smile and give you leave to do again what you did this night? I would be a very poor sort of husband if I did! And I would wish you to be more cognizant of your duty to me, if the love you claim to feel is not enough to make you abide by my decision in this matter!"
"But—you don't understand—I have a sacred duty to—"
"Yes, all right, but also to my calling! It's not something I can walk away from—!" She tried to hold them back, but the tears came anyway, springing warm and viscous from her eyes, making his face swim before her. "Please, William—I'm the slayer, and I'm used to having my friends around me, my family, but they're gone now and all I have is you—I can't fight vampires and you too. Be my friend. Please be my friend and don't make it all harder than it has to be!" Images crowded into her head, of the people she loved and who were separated from her by an unbridgeable century of time. Spike, and Dawn, Tara, Giles, and—and—she struggled towards another memory, there was someone else, terribly important.
William was talking, but she barely heard him. "Be your friend? Is it not the duty of a friend—your best friend in the world—to keep you from doing all that is foolish and wrong and bound to make us both miserable?"
Who was it whom she missed so terribly without being able to recall or name or—or—or—
She got it then; the merest glimpse, like a reflection of an impression—a small, pretty, earnest girl-child, big-eyed and intent, always in motion. She watched and clapped and laughed as Spike waltzed her around the room.
It came at her with a sickening whirling rush, all the missing time—she'd spent it not here, but there, at home with Spike, and their daughter—Oh God, Oh God, something was very very wrong. She wasn't supposed to be here at all, this was a mistake, a mistake—!
Her head throbbed as if the veins would burst her skull. Lights popped and squiggled behind her eyes, the room turned. She sat up, and was violently sick.
Buffy wandered slowly up and down the veranda, tracing a finger over the irregular stones of the parapet. The view—that most beautiful and dramatic view—bored her. The books in William's study were all so proper and stuffy and boring too, and the magazines—the ones he wrote for—were just page after page of tiny type, no pictures or conversations. She'd had a few visitors—the doctor's wife, who had very little to say for herself, and one or two other ladies from the small collection of expatriot English who lived nearby. They did nothing to make her feel better—she wanted music and liveliness and good friends around her, and she wanted to be out hunting vampires.
Until the last couple of days she'd been too ill even to get out of bed, and even now she knew she wasn't up for slaying. By nightfall she'd feel too gauzy and unraveled to do anything but crawl between the sheets. Doctor Romney said she'd had a brain fever, whatever that was supposed to mean. She'd had it for ten days, and couldn't remember most of that time—William said she'd been delerious, talked a great deal of nonsense while the sweats and chills wracked her, cried and thrashed about when she wasn't in a deep still sleep. She had to take his word for it. The last thing she could remember with any distinctness was the fight they'd had beforehand, although just what they'd fought about eluded her. Slayer stuff, she knew that much.
His quickness to judge her, to make rules for her, rankled. This wasn't what she'd signed up for, when she married him. Okay, she knew women weren't free in the 1880s, William was a man of his time. But what about partnership and understanding and unconditional love? What about a little simple gratitude? She'd saved his life.
Reaching the end of the parapet for the umpteenth time, she turned listlessly and made her way back. When she came parallel to the table where he sat at his endless work, William glanced up.
"Must you do that? It's a distraction, seeing you pass to and fro from the corner of my eye."
"I would go for a walk with Kate away from your so-sensitive eyes, if only you hadn't forbidden it."
"It was the doctor who said you are yet too delicate to walk out. You may easily fall ill again if you overexert yourself, and Kate could not carry you back."
"I could walk up and down just outside the villa, then."
"The road there is so dusty."
She rounded on him. "That's bullshit and you know it!"
"Mrs Grieves!" He was on his feet now. He opened his mouth to shout, then visibly reigned himself in. In a low even voice, he said, "I am sure it is merely the after-effect of your serious illness which makes you so forget yourself. I will overlook it. But perhaps you ought to rest now. You've been walking too long."
She was tired, but tired too of being spoken to this way. "I'm fine. I'm not a doll you can put on the shelf when you're bored of playing with her."
His face fell; he came towards her. "My dear . . . I did not mean . . . ."
She turned her back. "Oh, I know you did not mean! You never mean . . . ."
"Don't be cross with me, Treasure. I have been so anxious about you these last couple of weeks—indeed, I am always anxious about you, because I do love you so and you are so full of . . . of unaccountable surprises, and—and—indispositions."
"I can't help the indispositions. I never used to be like this . . . ."
He touched her shoulder, and suddenly he'd swung her up in his arms. "Perhaps we would both be better off for a little rest . . . in your room."
He sat her gently down not on the bed but in the deep armchair near the window. "Now, if I do this, you must promise not to exert yourself . . . ." He knelt at her feet. She pulled her skirt up into her lap, threw one leg over the chair arm. "Promise me, my dear, that you will be very quiet and good."
When his tongue touched her, she shuddered and sank lower in the chair. He licked her softly, it was like a kitten lapping milk, but the very lightness of his touch made her shake all over, and it wasn't two minutes before she came with a sobbing groan, heaving her hips up to press against his mouth.
"I believe you will feel calmer now." He got to his feet, bent to kiss her. She threw an arm around his neck, slipped her tongue between his lips.
He broke first. "I always used to think it was only the male of the species—and those without much in the way of Christian fortitude—who required such frequent release in order to maintain an even temper."
"Why do you always say stuff like that? I was going to reciprocate, but suddenly I think I'd rather leave you to your Christian fortitude."
"According to you, everything I do—or say—or am, is wrong!" She sprang up, shaking her skirts down. "Don't you get how fu—how messed up that is? I can't believe you're chiding me because I want to have sex with you! You say you love me, but everything you ought to love me for—my strength, my desire, my energy—you keep trying to stifle!"
He gaped. "I—I do not know what you're talking about. I see this was a mistake—indeed, you are over-exerted, and now—and now—I must return to my work."
He spoke at dinner about the article he was writing, and afterwards read out loud his mother's latest letter, but Buffy said as little as possible, and went to bed alone immediately after.
In the middle of the night she rose to use the chamber pot. Although the window was open, she could barely breathe; the air in the room was stifling, spent. Stealing downstairs, she went to the front doors—a tall immensely heavy set of double wooden ones banded with iron as if to withstand siege. Usually the great key stuck out of the lock, but tonight it was not there, and the doors were firmly shut. She went around to the kitchen door that the servants used, and found that locked from inside as well. The only way out was the glass doors onto the verandah. The verandah that had no means of egress except a sharp drop of many many feet into a thicket of nettles far below.
She tried, with Kate's help, to search for the keys that kept her shut in, setting the maid to distract him while she rifled his study. William walked in and found her with both hands sunk into the pigeonholes of his desk.
"Ah, I see," he said. "Kate does not have the tooth-ache, and so she will not need the money I came in here to get for her, so she could have it seen to."
"Why—why are you treating me this way?"
"Until such time as your unaccountable urges to be abroad in the night-time pass off, I believe it is best. The entire time you were ill, come nightfall, you grew quite lively—like the vampires you are so obsessed with—and kept trying to escape your room, and the house. We had to restrain you."
Jeez. She couldn't remember that, but it sounded plausible enough. "Okay, but . . . I haven't tried to go out since my illness."
He tilted his head, gazed at her through his spectacles in a way that made her feel small and stupid, childish. "Have you not? Why then do I find you searching for the keys?"
"I wonder now whether you're even aware of how you fib. You must be so very unused to telling the truth, that you cannot distinguish—"
"Stop it! Stop talking to me like that! I'm not crazy—! I'm not a liar!"
She didn't realize she'd meant to hit him until he was already sprawled on the floor, his hand clapped to his bleeding mouth. His broken spectacles were on the other side of the room, beneath the credenza.
"Oh—! Oh God—William—Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to—" She reached to help him up, but he shied away from her, his eyes dark with suspicion and shock.
"Please—I didn't mean to hurt you. You've got me so boxed in, I don't know what to do—! I can't live like this. Even if I wasn't the slayer, even if . . . no one can live like this."
He backed away from her. "It's worse than I thought—!"
"Don't be afraid of me. Please, please, I won't ever do that again. William . . . what happened? Things were so lovely for us, and then—I don't know what happened."
"You don't know—!" He shuddered, and left her.
That night, he again locked her bedroom door against her.
What was this? She was sure she wasn't insane, even if everybody was treating her so. But she'd had so many illnesses—the two miscarriages, and then the brain fever. Clearly William thought there was more wrong with her than delicate physical health. Walloping him hadn't helped her case any.
Dr Romney came every other day now, examining her with the hearty cheerfulness he must put on for frightened children. He didn't answer any of her questions, and spoke to William out of earshot. Back in Sunnydale she'd always been strong—barely sick a day in her life. Able to go days and days without rest, fight enormous battles, save the world. And now she couldn't hold her own against one merely mortal husband.
Well, she could. She could overpower him in the night easily enough without rousing the Italian servants, tie him up, turn the house inside out until she found the keys, her passport, and the ready money. Pack a bag and walk down to the town, hire a carriage to take her to the nearest place with a railway station. She could manage on her wits better now than she had back in 1879, and even if he alerted the police, hired a private detective to search for her, odds were good she could elude them. She could return to London on her own, contact the Council. Better to be beneath their thumb, and doing what she was Chosen to do, than to languish here with a husband she was coming to loathe.
She would do that. The next night, before he had a chance to shut her in here, she'd turn the tables.
But in the morning she felt listless, and threw up in the chamber pot.
It was like that every morning for a while—he'd stopped expecting her to accompany him to church, so unless it rained, there was nothing to distinguish one day from the next. They took their usual places on the veranda, he at the table with his papers, she on the wooden chaise, with her workbox and books. She poked languidly with the needle at some monograming on handkerchiefs Kate had begun. It was as if they were guests at the same small hotel, who had been introduced for politeness' sake at the table d'hote. Meals passed off in near-silence. She had little appetite. William worked for long hours. Once he said, "You might make a fair copy of this article if you'd like to be useful," and she replied, "Who says I'd like to be useful?" He didn't ask her again.
At night she cried. How could she go now? The Council wouldn't know what to do with her in this condition.
This condition . . . she couldn't remember her other pregnancies. Since the brain fever, she felt there were many things, events, whole passages of time, she couldn't remember. Somehow she knew that the first trimester was supposed to be the worst. She'd have to wait until she felt better, stronger . . . A long journey alone by train and boat would be too difficult now.
But what if she never felt better? What if she was always going to feel sick, and weak, and give birth over and over to dead babies? What if this baby killed her?
After a while he stopped locking her indoors. Her pregnancy rooted her to the spot without bolts or keys. She was too queasy and tired most of the time to even go with him for his daily late afternoon stroll to the market square, let alone to venture out anywhere alone. But at night she could wander around the downstairs of the villa—there were many rooms they didn't use at all—and out onto the veranda to look at the stars. Could pretend that Spike might be looking at those same stars too—the ones you could see from California. She wasn't sure if the sky there and here would be exactly the same—probably that was covered on one of those days at school when she was out chasing nasties through sewers.
Sometimes she hoped that Spike was being faithful to her, that he was keeping his hopes up for her return. Other times she found herself wishing he'd find comfort elsewhere . . . maybe with her sister. Dawn always did love him, not in a carnal way, true, but, she was getting older. They might take good care of each other. After all, he'd promised always to do that, and she knew that wasn't a promise Spike would forget, or let lapse. Without her there, what was to stop him following Dawn to whatever college town she wound up in?
Looking up, her hands splayed out on her burgeoning belly, she talked some nights to God—she didn't call it praying, because there was nothing she could bring herself to believe in. Still, she asked for things. She asked to survive this pregnancy, asked for a son born alive, so he'd have something left when she went away. She asked for strength to leave them both, because she couldn't remain in this marriage, not for life, not even for that child. She'd never make William Grieves happy; at the rate they were going, he would drive her mad. If nothing changed, they'd end up hating each other, and soon.
Nothing seemed to change, except the phases of the moon, and her own body. Gradually the nausea receded. She grew round, and felt better.
William sensed it, and took it as a signal for general amnesty. Suddenly he grew chatty and chivalrous as of old; he found her a new English-speaking maid, took her out for long walks, bought her presents: a fancy embroidery frame. A cameo brooch. A music box. Read aloud to her in the evenings as they sat by the fire.
One night, instead of merely lighting her up the stairs, he followed her to her bedroom.
"My wife . . . you've grown exceedingly voluptuous."
"Is that the four syllable word for fat? Because—"
"No my dear. It means—"
"I know what it means." The sense of humor, clearly, was an aspect of the demon.
"I did not think it wise to disturb you when you were so unwell, but I think now—"
She rounded on him. "You think now? What do you think now?"
"Why . . . that . . . ."
"That I'm gonna surrender the pink because you've bought me all that pretty embroidery silk?"
"Mrs Grieves, it pains me deeply to have to remind you so often to curb your vulgarity, which betrays the ways in which you have fallen—so precipitously, so irretrievably—from the right to be called a lady."
"Are you trying to crush my spirit? Because it's starting to work." Tears rose to her eyes, and she blushed in embarrassment—these days she had so little control over her responses, the least little thing made her weep like a lost child.
"Crush your . . . No. Oh no—" His voice cracked, his face swimming in close to hers in the golden lamp light. "Mrs Grieves—Buffy—do forgive me—I'm a stupid, angry, frightened man, you bewilder me sometimes so that I do not know what to do— I miss lying with you, I thought you missed it too. We have been at loggerheads but surely we may forgive one another and make peace?"
"I don't know what you think you have to forgive me for."
He shook his head. "Nothing, nothing, you are right. I only want you to be a happy wife, and to have harmony in our home."
She was beginning to dislike his earnest mildness as much as she did the colder manner. Either way he spoke to her like they were in a stupid old play. She'd never get used to this, to how he talked, his prim expressions. And what he meant by harmony was that she do everything he expected of her without kicking up a fuss.
Suddenly she saw Spike's face superimposed on him—how those two faces, the same flesh, could be so different! Even in his most doubtful moments, Spike had never looked so boyishly lost. It came to her—that's what William was. Probably always. Lost, and unsure of himself, awkward and earnest and riddled with error. He was begging her pardon now, but she couldn't bring herself to trust that anything much was going to change. At least, not unless she could tamp herself permanently down into being quiet and good as he wanted her to be. No sudden moves to disquiet and thrill him. He might enjoy thrills in the moment, but he always regretted them afterwards.
"I have tried to be forceful, to guide you and correct you as a good husband should—but . . . God help me, the last thing I want is for you to cry and despise me. Not . . . not when you have done me such a kindness as to love me, and bear my child. You do love me still, don't you, Treasure?"
He looked so abject, wounded, wary, clueless.
She kicked the armchair. "This is stupid! It's pointless! This isn't my real life!"
He gaped. "Not your real life! What else could it possibly be?"
"It's a magical mistake! I was sent here by my enemies to get me out of the way!"
"My dear—calm yourself—what on earth are you saying—?"
"Where I come from, I'm free! No one makes decisions for me, I don't have to wear a stupid corset, and no one would even think of locking me up! I slay and I dance and I shop and I have friends and a sister and a lover who is everything to me! This—you and me here together—it's a cosmic joke! I won't be born for another hundred years, and you should've died two years ago!"
"I'm supposed to be with him! My tailor-made demon lover, my right hand man, my beautiful monster."
His mouth opened and closed like a fish. "Your . . . your . . . ."
"A vampire, who went around the world for a hundred years wreaking havoc, killing two slayers, coming to kill me. And then . . . falling for me instead. And becoming . . . something else. Something good. Good for me. He keeps me going, helps me slay, makes me happy with his body and his loyalty and his gorgeous insane-o total perfect love. I don't want you . . . you're nothing to me."
". . . nothing? . . ."
"I want him. I want my own life back, and I want Spike."
His face darkened. "Spike! But . . . once I heard you call me that . . . ."
"Because for one sweet little second I forgot! How I was torn away from him—how I'll never see him again!" She couldn't look at him, whose very features mocked her longing and made it worse. "Don't you get it yet? Spike is—."
William's hand flew to the bite scar on his throat, the color draining from his face. "Oh dear Jesus—Spike is me." He grabbed for the bedpost to steady himself, and sank down. "I—I would have died there—that she-demon would have killed me—if not for you."
"That she-demon is Drusilla. She made Spike, and he was faithful to her for a century, until he came after me, and nothing was ever the same." Inside her, the baby kicked, a reminder that some things were irretrievable. "I should've let her take you."
"But . . . but I do not wish to be a fiend."
"Neither did he. Oh God! Even if I do get home, he won't be there! He won't be there, because you . . . . Shit." She broke into sobs.
He gazed at her in disgust. "What sort of female are you—that you could wish me dead and love what you describe—an unclean thing without conscience or scruple or soul?"
"The sort you're never gonna understand even if I explain it to you all night."
The next day he didn't emerge from his room at all. Buffy took her usual place on the veranda, pretending to read while glancing up every few minutes from the shelter of her hat brim, to his window. Sometimes she thought she saw the draperies twitch, and once that she caught a glimpse of the white disk of his face. On and off, the child moved inside her, sharp kicks like hiccups. She felt sorry for it. Who would look after it when she'd gone? Her new maid? She didn't like Sarah, felt no urge to confide in her. Probably she was spying on her for William.
The people she missed seemed to be crowded around her as she sat alone, and yet their ghostly presences made her more lonely. How excited Dawn would be about her having a baby, having a baby with Spike. If such a thing were possible! And Tara! She hoped Tara was still there, living in her . She'd help Spike feel less sad, less abandoned, she was good at that.
Spike wasn't lost. He had her friends.
She was the one who was friendless now. She had nobody but William in this world, and she'd said things to him he'd never forgive.
Still, she couldn't bring herself to regret it. Whatever it was that had her convinced she was in love with him was used-up, like an expired glamour.
"Sarah, I have some business today that takes me from home. Tell your mistress when she wakes."
The maid stared at him. It was a moment before she remembered herself and curtsied. She was an insolent little baggage, not like Kate at all, but Kate had had to be dismissed, and finding maids here in the countryside was no easy business. This one clearly was attuned, or thought she was, to the unhappiness of the household, but was far too new to be anything like a comfortable buffer. She wanted gossip, and chances were she would have it. It was obvious she saw, despite how carefully he'd brushed his clothes and his hair, that there were deep grey circles under his bloodshot eyes—the mark of a troubled man.
That was the least of his worries.
He walked, with a strange furtive feeling, into the post-dawn stillness. The heavy atmosphere of his home seemed to dog his steps, even as he rounded the first of the curves in the dusty road that hid the villa from view. He hadn't slept since she told him the horrifying thing. How sleep, how work, how plan, when he could think of nothing but the trouble he'd clasped to his bosom, all by pausing to hear out the addresses of a street whore in Haymarket on a winter's night!
He was too weak, too susceptible. A pretty girl had always aroused him—his chivalry, his affection, his sense of fair play. His . . . sex. Any little charmer might've had him for the asking, at any time—but none would. The mamas whose homes were open to him were not eager for their precious daughters to encourage the attentions of a poor clergyman's son whose pallor was often lit by the antic flush of consumption, and he'd always lacked the charm to overcome that instructed resistance.
Miss Addams was not, he knew, instructed. No one instructed Miss Addams about anything. She was repulsed by him quite off her own bat.
Yet how sure he was that Providence was guiding him to fairer shores when Miss Summers appeared! True, he'd begun by sinning against her . . . with her . . . but those nights were so cold and lonesome, death breathing hard on his neck, obsessive thoughts of sensuality plaguing his fevered brain. To die young and unaccomplished was sad enough, but for a man to die without having once touched a woman—!
What did Providence mean by it—putting that she-vampire in his way, the punishment for his iniquities—then snatching that punishment away and replacing it instead with new comprehension of his own heart and mind, with reprieve from illness, with love?
If he was not meant to rescue that poor Miss Summers and help her to her proper sphere as wife and mother and lady, then why had it all come to pass as it did? All he wanted was to do his work and love his wife and be the father of good, healthy children. Was that so very much? It was just his duty as a Christian gentleman, that was all. Why did he love her so deeply despite all her indelicacies and faults? He did love her. Adored her. There was no other lady like her, no other lady so fascinating, mysterious, arousing. She could not know, the agonies he'd experienced every time she was unwell, every time she sprang one of her uncomfortable surprises on him. She could not know, how her charms tormented him when they were forbidden, and how deeply gratifying they were when he was permitted to possess her! His carnal appetites were too large, he knew it and had always known it, the way one knows deep in one's soul that one is an unmitigated sinner. And yet here he was vouchsafed a beautiful wife who matched him, who satisfied him.
And yet, and yet . . . it was all wrong. She was a loose woman, she'd lied and lied, used him and tricked him, despised him even more than Miss Addams did. At least Miss Addams had the goodness not to deceive him.
Elizabeth Summers had looked him in the eye and said she wished he was dead. She'd said he was nothing, and that she loved a demon wearing his face instead.
As he tramped towards the town, the sun rising higher, he began to sweat. That demon. He tried to picture it—he'd gazed into the mirror for hours trying to envision himself wearing the same ghoul face as that trollop in the alley. The effort made him sick at heart, and sick to his stomach. How could she? It must mean that every time she had lain with him, every time she'd seemed to delight in his caresses, she'd really imagined giving herself to an unclean monster.
Unclean. Unclean, unclean, unclean—what could be worse than that? She was, and now, through her, he was as well. Because he still loved her.
The idea that he would never hold her again, never kiss her breasts and lie with her, hear her call him sweetheart, made him want to die.
On the train, too dull and melancholy to take in the splendor of the passing scene, he watched the red-roofed villages and towns go by . . . growing larger and larger as it neared the city. When he disembarked it was after noon. He consulted the address Dr Romney had supplied him for the Palazzo Mazzoti, and climbed into a cab.
They called it a nursing home. It was that, in a way, this palazzo of yellow stone, set back from the busy street behind a high spiked wall. Some ladies went there for their confinements, and left a week or two later with healthy babes in arms. Other ladies were brought there by their relations and friends, to be looked after, when they could no longer be permitted to abide at home. Another sort of confinement. Considerably more . . . open-ended.
The doctor was a tall man, with pince-nez and strongly-accented but very correct English. He paced up and down in front of his enormous desk as he spoke.
"We make some very good progress here with ladies whose minds are not equal to the difficulties of marriage and motherhood. Some of them, with time, are much improved, able to be received back into the homes of their grateful husbands Others—." He glanced at William, gauging his reaction, "—others, of course, will never be able to resume their family lives, and their relations are well content to let them remain here indefinitely, confident that they will receive only the very best and most compassionate of care."
"I . . . I see."
"The lady in question, has she been—unstable, for some time?"
"For some little time, yes. But, she is with child. Perhaps, once she has given birth—?"
"Ah, yes. Many addle-brained ladies seem to be restored to sanity after a baby, but then . . . there is so often another baby, and the whole sad cycle begins anew. The female brain, you see my dear sir, is so very susceptible and weak . . . once the merest seed of irregularity is planted, it almost always grows, by stages, into something quite severe, impossible to root out. Sadly even the gentlest ladies may in this way become unkempt creatures who must be . . . supervised."
"Yes, I see," William said.
"However, some cases are amenable to strong intervention, if caught early. There is an operation, for example, which once performed, leaves a lady quite unsusceptible to falling into the family way, with the happy effect of curing the periodic descents into—"
"No, no," William said. "No operations!"
"When does the lady in question expect to be brought to bed of this child?"
"Not for some time."
"Of course, you may wish to deposit her here, to await the day. We would see her through the event and be best able to assess her mood and capabilities before and afterwards."
"Yes, perhaps . . . may I let you know?"
"Of course. A telegram one day in advance will suffice us. We are always ready here at Palazzo Mazzotti."
Crossing the calm gravelled courtyard of the nursing home, William paused and turned, scanning the windows. Nothing stirred. The place was silent, as if all the ladies contained therein were holding their breath.
It made his skin crawl. He hastened away.
There were some hours to wait for the train back. He tried to dine, but the food tasted like chalk. He drank two glasses of wine, and set off walking instead. The streets were crowded with exuberant life, smells of cooking and garbage and cut flowers, the calls of children and hawkers, clopping of horse's hooves. No matter where he walked through the old stone passages, he felt himself dogged by that other, the cold ruthless shadow of her beautiful monster, who was meant first to take his life and body, and then to own her heart.
Even though he existed now nowhere but in her memory, that creature had ruined her, and through her, him. He'd stolen not his life, but the very meaning of it.
He didn't understand the magic that had sent her here, or what sort of enemies had the power to bend the very course of time against her. All that was beyond was ken. But he did understand that he was a failure as a husband and a man. That he was cuckolded by a ghoul before he ever married her. That he was only ever good for her when he was dead—bereft of all that connected him to God and the light.
Finding himself in a small dark shabby square, suddenly alone, William laid his forehead against the cold yellow stone and wept.
She spent the day on the veranda, in her peignoir. She didn't like her maternity dress, which was stiff everywhere it ought to have been flowing, or the modified stays she was supposed to wear under it; and what point in getting dressed when she wasn't going anywhere or seeing anyone? The peignoir was long and frothy, with ruffled sleeves and dozens of tiny buttons doing it up the front. It covered her just as well.
As it grew dark, she stayed where she was, watching the moon rise. The breeze picked up, stirring her hair; she pulled out the pins and let it spill over the back of her chaise. Imagined Spike stealing up behind her, gathering it in a mass around his hand and tugging on it gently to tip her head back for a kiss. In the next moment she shut that fantasy out. It wasn't doing her any good. Here was her reality. Here was what she had to endure, and thinking about what was over with—what, in this uncanny way, had never been—wasn't helping.
When the servant called her in for the evening meal at nine o'clock, she was surprised to find William sitting in his customary place at the head of the heavy table—a table long enough to seat a party of twenty. He wore his best dark suit, the collar and cravat done up tight. His face was weary; he wouldn't meet her eyes, but without speaking, he rose and pulled her chair out for her.
Once they were both seated again, she waited for him to censure her slatternly state of undress and dangling hair.
He was silent throughout the soup, and then the fish, but drank steadily, more wine than she'd ever seen him put away. He didn't even look at her. With every bite he took, every swallow of wine, the air in the room grew thinner. Buffy felt like she'd begin to gasp at any moment.
After the servant brought in the joint, and retreated, he said, still without a glance in her direction, "You have barely touched your food. Shall I serve you with this?"
"I'll have a little. Give me a potato."
After a while she ventured, "Any news?"
"None that concerns you."
No one wrote to her but her mother-in-law.
"Did you . . . did you accomplish what you needed to do today? Wherever it was you went?"
He rubbed the rim of his wineglass with the pad of his thumb. The thin high sound made her wince.
"I went to inspect a lying-in hospital I heard about. I thought perhaps it would be suitable for you."
At once her heart began to race. Afraid as she was of her coming labor, the idea of having it away from home, in a strange place, creeped her out. "And . . . did you think it was?"
"I have not decided."
He rose from the table when she did. Usually he sat on after the meal and drank a glass or two of port in the company of the two guttering candles and the glow from the hearth, but now he followed her closely to the dining room door.
"Tarry a moment, Mrs Grieves."
He caught her against the doorframe, a hand on either arm. His face—sere, severe—just inches from her own. His eyes glittered, and she realized he wasn't wearing his spectacles.
"I have decided that we must do things differently, you and I."
His mouth crashed in upon hers, sudden as a blow.
Everything in her rose up to resist this crushing advance—to send him flying across the room—but just as suddenly receded, replaced by a sharp resigned arousal. His tongue stabbed into her mouth. She moaned and went liquid.
Tugging her back into the dining room, pulling the door shut, he jerked her down onto the long low Renaissance chest that served as a sideboard.
"Pull up your skirts."
"What are you doing? The servant will come in—"
"No one shall come in unless I ring. I mean to feast on you and what better place than here?" He snatched one of the candles in its silver stick off the table, and brought it near her. "Show me your quim." He rapped it out like an order, but she'd lost the last of her resistence in the doorway; had he demanded she kneel for him, she'd have knelt.
She pulled up her hem, propping one heel on the edge of the chest, the other foot on the floor. Her body always felt tight, her breasts enlarged and tender, the child stretching her skin, pressing on her bladder and her sex so she lived with a constant sense of urgency, of unrelieved congestion. Now she could almost feel how his gaze, his words, engorged her further; her sex seemed half inside-out. The flesh already pulsing.
He sank down with an angry groan, spreading the lips with the fingers of one hand. The heat of the candle he held to light his view was not equal to the heat of his scrutiny, so intense it made her twitch. Did he mean to burn her? Still, she did nothing to fend him off. She'd never seen him like this, in a radiant fury that was yet contained and controlled, like a red-hot iron.
A drop of wax splattered her thigh; she jerked, but he didn't seem to notice.
"This, this is what rules you. Makes you yearn for the embrace of a monster."
For this, I have ruined myself."
He set the candlestick down beside her.
"God forgive me, there is nothing else in the world but this," he breathed, and pressed his mouth to her. There was nothing delicate or quiet about how he went at her with his lips, teeth, tongue. After such a long time without touch, the brutal contact shattered her. She cried out, flailing, but he only forced her legs open wider, a hand hooked behind each knee. Slumped against the wall, the carved wood rough on her bare bottom while he made his attack, she knew he didn't mean to pleasure her so much as to show her his power. The power to make her shake and sob, beg and give herself up to him, even though he was nothing to her, even though she despised him.
He pinched out the half-consumed candle and shoved the still warm cylinder into her sodden pussy, quick in and out, then drove it into her ass. She cried out in surprise.
He laughed, and it was a laugh she'd never heard from him before, or even from Spike. It made her clench, and want to kick him—instead she grabbed his head and bucked her hips against his mouth.
She moaned when he pulled away.
He carried her to the table where they'd just eaten, laid her on its edge and fucked her there, her legs around his waist. The immense table was so solid that even his most violent movements didn't jar it, but as she searched for purchase on something, yanking the linen into her fists, the wine glasses toppled, and a plate crashed to the floor. The angle of his thrusts, standing upright between her thighs, drove him deep, pressed hard on her swollen clit. She was impossibly full, the candle still in place; his prick scraped it through the thin membrane dividing them. When he yanked her frilled bodice open, one of the tiny buttons flew off and got her in the eye. She screamed as he pinched her nipples and he gave off that laugh again. Someone was crying Please oh please, oh God please—! but she didn't know who. Her eyes were so filled with tears she couldn't see, her writhing body congested and heavy and swollen, a skin about to burst and splatter. The tablecloth was bunched in her fists. He slammed into her over and over and it seemed it would never stop—she didn't want it to stop.
At some point, she wasn't sure how, she'd flipped onto her elbows and knees, sway-backed by the dangling weight of her belly and breasts, and he was up on the table with her, squeezing her clit in his fingers as he drove into her from behind. His pelvis tapped the protruding base of the candle with each thrust, holding it in place each time it would've slipped out. He kept up a steady murmured monologue, more like automatic speech than anything she'd ever heard him say before: . . . you're mine, like it or not you cunt, you're mine and you shall not rule me, I shall have you, shall have you when I please, fuck you when I please, and you like it, God you like to be fucked, you need it, that's the secret to you, you need a good sound rogering like the whore you are, you want a beast on you well you shall have one, you're so wet and tight and hot, you filthy little cunny bitch . . . . She heard her own breath sawing louder and faster, turning to frantic sounds that only seemed to increase his frenzy. Her forehead ground against the wooden tabletop, as his fingers ground hard against her clit. She shook and sobbed and shook and wailed. His hard chest pressed against the curve of her back, covering her, forcing her down.
Suddenly he yanked the collar of her peignoir, sinking his teeth into her shoulder. She screamed—he seized up, and then all was still.
He plucked the candle out of her; she felt him toss it, heard it clatter into the embers of the fire. After that, their breathing was the only sound in the long hollow room.
The remaining candle were nearly burned down; it cast crazy shadows as it guttered in the draft. He'd pulled the linen tablecloth around them, and spooned her, legs entwined, a possessive hand wrapped around one sore breast. She felt the deep thub of his heart against her spine. The place where he bit her stung and throbbed.
"Whatever you were before, you are not that anymore. Whoever you gave herself to then, is not here now. You are my wife. I trust you will not forget it again."
"Oh God." As she blinked at the candle near her head, shock and incredulity twirling up through her exhaustion like the smoke, it flickered out and left them in darkness.
He pressed a kiss to her nape. In a different, more familiar voice, he repeated, "You are my wife. With you I've learned to be a man. I understand now what is required to keep you, and there will be no more trouble between us, I think."
She didn't know how to face him, and grateful for the dark, fled the room without a backward glance. Upstairs, she rang for her maid and demanded a bath. Sarah gave her a bland look she didn't like at all. "Yes, mum."
"Make sure the water's really hot"
Sarah curtseyed. "Yes, mum."
Buffy hoped he would leave her alone for the night, but at midnight, as she was sitting at her dressing table, he walked in without knocking.
He came up behind her, took the comb from her hand, and gently braided her hair. "Come to bed now, my love."
"I'm not ready to go to bed."
"I think you are. You are up too late. It can't be good for baby."
"All right. Good night, William. I promise to go straight to bed."
"We will sleep together from now on. That's the right way with a man and his wife."
She was too tired, too befuddled and astonished by these changes in him, to protest. Once in bed, she let him gather her close, settle her head on his shoulder, and allowed herself to be reassured by the calm deliberate rhythm of his heartbeat. There was nothing tentative about him anymore. He'd bathed too, and smelled good. What he'd done that evening ought to make her hate him, and she certainly was no fonder of him than before, but she also felt a new, grudging respect. Whether this was love for her or not, he'd certainly decided to fight for her.
She would leave him anyway when the baby was born, and find her own way in this world. But she liked this version better, for the time that remained.
The following weeks brought other change. She was no longer sick, and though she seemed to get bigger by the day, possessed again all her usual strength and energy. When he worked, he was no longer content to let her idle nearby; now she sat at the table with him, making fair copies and addressing envelopes, sometimes looking up facts in books as he directed her. This wasn't as tiresome as she'd thought it would be—the articles, once she came to read them, were pretty engrossing, and the books could be too—especially when she found things in them she knew to be false, or expressed in certainties she understood were temporary. Eternal hegemony of the Austro-Hungarian Empire? Not so much.
He spoke to her always with a nearly arch courtesy that would've set her teeth on edge had she not already had plans of her own.
But he worked less too, taking her for long rambles into the countryside. They talked about the baby, thinking up names—he rejected all her suggestions and she rejected all his—and he told her that once she and the infant were fit to travel, they would move back to London, and he would install her in a house of her own. She would enjoy that, he assured her—the decorating, managing the servants, making and receiving calls—all this would keep her busy and contented, and as more children came and he prospered further all would be well. They understood one another now.
Buffy found she could enter into these conversations just as if they meant anything to her—more easily, maybe, because they didn't. He would name the baby what he pleased, and he would take it back to his mother on Penelope Terrace. She wanted to ask him what he thought this was between them now, and how long he really thought it would last. Could he really imagine he was exerting some kind of masterful thrall over her that would turn her from the wild ungovernable slayer into the sort of wife he wanted, the only kind he could imagine? Or did he think he'd hit upon some far more general insight? Found the one missing piece of the whole mysterious Woman puzzle—the piece all the other gentlemen had failed to clue him in on—that however courteous one must be to one's lady wife in public, what was really required in private was to force and subdue her?
Of course she couldn't ask him any of this, not in a tone of neutral inquiry anyway, so she let him talk and thought her thoughts. She might go to America. Chances could be better there; at least they wouldn't look at her funny for the way she spoke English.
She might join a circus somewhere. Trick riding, acrobatics, trapezes, she'd be a natural for that. And she could slay on the side—vamps were always attracted by the lights and music and transient crowds of a circus or carnival.
Yes. That might be a good sort of life. Stakes and spangles.
After a morning's tramping in the sun, they'd knock at a farmhouse door and for a few coins, share in the lunch of a peasant family who treated them like welcome cousins, generosity without fuss. Everyone smiled on her with her round belly and ruddy cheeks.
And every day he had her—in a grassy ditch full of wildflowers by the side of an unpaved deserted road, propped on a stone fence between one field of barley and the next, sprawled in the grain in some untended barn, even on the table on the veranda where he worked, and any servant might have seen them just for peering out a window or door. She realized he liked it best when they were both clothed, when there was no discussion beforehand. He didn't like her to initiate it—the couple of times she'd tried spontaneously going to her knees for him, were not a success. But he might at any moment grasp and tug on her elbow in a certain way she quickly learned meant she was to kneel and undo his fly buttons.
Because of her belly, their faces were never close enough while fucking to kiss; he barely ever touched his mouth to hers anymore. That was like the beginning, when he'd been horrified at the suggestion that he kiss her, a whore. She wondered if he realized it. In bed at night he pressed an avuncular good night kiss on her forehead, even as his hand might be squeezing her breast, but bed was no longer the scene of any lovemaking. He might awake with a hard-on, but he waited until she rose to catch her, pulling up her nightdress as she braced her hands against the windowsill or the edge of her dressing table.
He held her all night as they slept, as if to prevent her escape. When she rose to use the chamber pot, he stirred and opened his eyes, and wouldn't drift off again until she'd crawled back into his embrace.
His imperiousness should've been degrading, but she felt instead a deep serious shrinking pleasure in it. This was raw and insane and temporary and ultimately would mean no more than anything that came before it, because he was not her love and this was not her life. But the fierce fucking quelled her appetites, which were real enough and even heightened by the swamp of hormones churning through her as the baby grew. If she couldn't run and slay, or spend two hours punching the bag and vaulting the pommel horse, it was as good a workout as was available to her here. And God knew there was plenty of pressure to be let off.
The frequency and variety of their couplings reminded her of her first months with Spike, when they'd barely been able to keep their hands off each other for a handful of hours at a stretch and were always wrecking their clothes and the furniture or risking carpet burn, grass stains, or new glass for the back windows of the DeSoto. But that was all that was similar, because Spike, even in the midst of their most violent and athletic games, never sought to make her bend the neck; it was always he who was figurtively prostrated at her feet. My queen. Those two words weren't just an endearment, they were a declaration of his intention.
She tried not to think about that too much. Spike was as dead and gone for her as Joyce, and the less she dwelt on that loss, the better. Let William think he controlled her for a few more weeks, let him think he'd unlocked the key to her character. Maybe that would comfort him when she was gone—or at least give him some good wank fantasies when he was left with nothing but his right hand to console himself with.
She was content to follow his lead, and to wait.
Until the night she awoke to find herself bleeding.
She tried to conceal it, but he gave her so little privacy anymore, that was impossible. William sent for Dr Romney, who confined her to bed.
After that, she was afraid. Her body was rebelling against her once more. Her strength . . . her very Buffyness was slowly draining away.
"All will be well this time," William said. "You must just bear up, and not give way to black thoughts. All will be well."
He seemed so sure now, suavely smiling at her.
But she knew. Either the baby would die, or she would.
Sleep deserted her. Night time brought pain, and painful memories she couldn't repress. Oh for a television to turn up loud, to drown out the voices in her head, the voices of all the people she loved, who must believe she'd deserted them, that she went away because she didn't love them enough.
That's what they would think. That she'd bailed, the way she bailed after sending Angel to hell. This idea fixed itself in her head, front and center, and would not budge. She suffered crying jags over it, and when it was very bad, she told him—told him because there was no one else to tell. "I ran away once. I was so young and thoughtless and so fucked up and I just got on a bus and went. I didn't care what they'd think, how they'd worry. My mother—an entire summer—my friends—"
William shook his head, and made Sarah sit with her, sponging her face with a cool cloth.
"Childbed fever," Dr Romney said. "Never mind anything she says in this state, she's out of her head, poor child."
A nurse was hired. The room was kept dark. Was it night? Or was it days and days and days? And where was everyone? She could hear them talking just outside the door—Spike and Willow and Dawn and Xander and Giles—their voices were so crisp and distinct, they were talking about her, always about her, but none of them came in.
There was a lot of pain. She remembered jumping off of Glory's tower, falling through pain that was thick and electric. That was inside her now, it was as if it wanted to fall out of her and couldn't. So instead it grew worse and worse, immense and red, binding and blinding. She needed air, but every deep breath hurt.
Once she saw him, looming out of the darkness, pale, his mouth agape and bloodless. Hatred opened her lungs. She shrieked. "I should've let her kill you! Now I'm dead because of you!"
"My dear wife—be strong. Hold on a bit, I tell you all will be well."
"I hate you! You're not him, I hate you, and I'm dead now!"
She swam through the darkness. Couldn't find him again. It was funny really, it was terribly terribly funny, because Spike has come to kill her and instead it was this one, the one who should've been dead dead dead and he'd got her and now he'd killed her without even meaning to. Spike wouldn't like that. Spike always wanted death to be deliberate, or else what was the point? The pain crackled through her body, it tore her open. The darkness was red. There was nothing but red. She swam and swam and nothing happened, the pain did not part and let her through, but it didn't drown her either, so she had no choice but to swim on, every muscle screaming.
Suddenly everything was upside down. No . . . not everything, just her. She lay on the ceiling as on a cool slab of marble, so cool after all that feverish funky red. She could see the tops of their heads—William's, Romney's, Sarah's, the nurse's. In Sarah's arms, something wrapped in white squirmed and squalled. The nurse was pulling the sheet up to cover the slack closed face of the woman on the bed.
She'd have nothing to do with that squalling thing. Her job here was done.
Willow pulled and pulled, and the aether pulled back. She forced her defiance at it, straining black-eyed and burning. She would not be bested. She would pull Buffy out of this other dimension she was trapped and dying in. She would win.
She'd come out of her sleep in time—recognized that it wasn't merely some intricate dream, but the spell still live and fizzing, spitting magic through her and the Slayer both like a cut power line. It was nearly done, nearly too late, but not quite. Not quite, and it would not defeat her.
The phone rang. She ignored it, flinging incantations into the magical maw.
Which suddenly snapped shut, blowing her down against the dresser. She hit the sharp corner with a crack.
"Ow." Rubbing at her head, she yanked the phone with a crash off the bedside table, fumbled it half under the bed, reeled it in. "What?"
"Something's happened to Buffy," Spike said. "Think it might have to do with that spell you two put on yesterday 'gainst that beastie. Just put her in an ambulance. Meet me at the hospital."
Her head and chest were crushed as if the monster they'd combined to kill was sitting on her. "Hospital? But—what happened to her? I thought I—"
Oh God. She'd failed.
Then directly above her, something cried.
Willow struggled up.
On her bed, wrapped in a soft white blanket, was a red-faced newborn baby.
The newborn baby.
"Shit!" She snatched it up.
Spike was on the verge of vamping out. If one more person asked him one more time about where the sodding baby was, as if he was under arrest for kidnapping instead of trying to make sure Buffy didn't die in this bleeding useless hospital full of wankers.
He didn't even understand why they kept rabbiting on and on about a baby. Finally Xander said to them, "My friend's really upset. He's just worried about his wife, so he's a little incoherent. Lemme talk to him for a minute."
When they were alone, he explained it. "They said she's just given birth. There's all the . . . the physical signs. She's lost a lot of blood. An insane amount. Y'know, like the other time, with Jemima. So they want to know where the baby is, and why the ambulance guys didn't see any blood when they came to get her. That's what's got them in such a tizzy."
"Xander, you know as well as I do, Buffy didn't have any fucking baby. She never left our bed last night. Was touching her the entire time."
"Yeah, but—that's what they see. When they examine her. And . . . if we don't produce the kid, dead or alive . . . well, there might be, uh, red tape."
"Christ. Fuck that. What are they doing for her?"
"You heard the doctor. She's getting a transfusion. Hey, she'll be all right. It's Buffy."
Xander's cell phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID. "This is Willow."
"Willow—! Why isn't she here?"
"Well, let's find out."
Waiting for Xander to arrive, she paced up and down, the baby in her arms. It was still crying, and she was succumbing to a rising panic. Demons, yes, sure, knew just what to do—but babies! She was completely unequipped to deal with babies! Babies from alternate dimensions, babies that might've killed their mothers.
What did it want?
It wasn't until she'd walked the floor five times that she remembered what she could do. Four latin words spoken aloud just so conjured a warm bottle of human breast milk to plug the mewling mouth.
In the sudden quiet, she heard the other sound.
Someone was whimpering.
In her coat closet.
Her hand was on the doorknob when Xander rang the bell. For a few seconds she hesitated: investigate the monster in the closet, or hand the baby over quick so Spike and Buffy wouldn't be arrested for infanticide?
A sudden liquid warmth against her arm where she cradled him decided her. She practically threw the baby at Xander as soon as she opened the door.
"Is Spike in the car? Good—here, take him. He needs changing. I've got to take care of something here."
"You're not coming?"
"In a little while. You go. Go, fly—get out of jail free! I'll—I've got to—Byeeee!" She slammed the front door and turned back to the closet. The whimpering had stopped, but when she pressed her ear to the wood, she heard raspy breathing.
Maybe just opening the door wasn't such a great idea. She was a little magicked out for anything major in the way of self-defense—the aftereffect of the thing upstairs still made her see colored dots every time she blinked, and the floor was at a slight angle—maybe just ten or fifteen degrees, but not, not what you wanted, exactly.
She went to get the fireplace poker.
Thus armed, she knocked once on the closet door. "Uh . . . who's in there?"
A few seconds dribbled by. Then a small voice said, "I don't know. That is, I don't know who you are."
"Who are you? And what are you doing in my apartment?"
"I do not know. I do not know. I do not know."
Okay, this was a man, whoever he was, who was clearly frightened out of his wits. An English man, with a sort of Gilesy accent, frightened out of his wits.
With a sinking feeling, Willow wrenched the closet door open.
Yup. Crouched small amidst the rainboots, umbrellas and smelly running shoes, white and trembling and slick with sweat, was—
He started, his eyes large as saucers. "Who are you? How do you know my name?"
She gave him her hand, pulled him up out of the closet. "Never mind how I know, I just know. I'm Buffy's friend, Willow Rosenberg."
He frowned, his face awash in confusion verging on terror. "Where is my wife? Is she dead? I must see her, whether or not! Take me to her!"
"I can't do that. She's being looked after, though, don't worry. But you . . . you have to stay here."
He shook his head, then focused on her for the first time, his eyes raking her up and down. "My God . . . are you also a whore?"
"Am I—what?" Willow glanced down at herself. Low-slung jeans, filmy midriff-baring top, mid-heel boots. Just the sort of thing she wore nowadays.
"What is this place? How did I get here?" He looked around at her living room as if the furniture might jump up and attack him. Then he started, as if realizing something, and grabbed her arm. "Tell me—what year is this?"
"How'd this happen, pet?"
She opened her eyes. Everything was blurry and dim, but there was Spike, swimming into focus, smiling his soft amazed adoring smile at her.
"Where'd you go, my queen, to get us a baby overnight?"
"Dream . . . ." she murmured.
"Not this," he said. He put something in her arms then, something warm and wriggly. She shifted her gaze, blinking.
"'Little fellow's yours. So says Willow. So say bleedin' doctors givin' me the evil eye. An' must be, he's the spit of his sister."
Dream . . . . Her mind still lay gentle and motionless, cocooned in layers of cottony twilight. This baby looked hungry though, and she felt she might be able to do something about it. Fumbling with her rubbery fingers, she freed a breast, and guided it into the moist pursed mouth.
The pressure on her nipple was sharp and immediate. After a time of frantic dry sucking, she felt the colostrum begin to flow. This pleased her; she gathered the little person closer. He was so warm, his tiny starfish hand lay on her chest.
Dream bad. Baby pretty.
"How'd you do it?" he murmured again, his voice so low and fond that she couldn't help smiling through her fog.
"I don't know. What does it matter?" Dream. This was a dream, a good dream, because Spike was in it.
"You were with me all night. I woke up a few times, an' you were always there, touchin' me. Then in the morning you didn't wake me like usual, an' it was Jemmie came in to get us both up. That's when I saw you were sick, got you here. You were white as . . . as me. Whiter. They said you were nearly drained. But not a drop of blood on the sheets, not like last time. What happened?"
She strained a bit, to please him, but her brain resisted thought. This baby was finding milk in her breast, and it felt so good to cradle him, floating in this comfy bed, Spike right next to her where she liked him to be. She would enjoy this, it wasn't real but she'd enjoy it all the more.
In a few minutes the baby fell asleep, and she contemplated the top of its head with satisfaction. A nurse came with a cradle on wheels, and put the baby in it right at her bedside.
What a nice dream this was. Let it last. Let it last.
"You look sleepy," Spike said, "but Jemmie's been so patient outside with Xander. Let her see you a minute."
She didn't know what he was talking about, but why not? She nodded. Spike went to the door, came back leading a child by the hand. A serious-faced skinny little girl, her mouth pooched out in a terrific pout.
"S'all right," Spike told her. "Nothing to be scared of, Pudding. Mama's all right now."
She'd seen this girl before, in another dream, not this one, a dream she'd forgotten until now, it was the girl who clapped and laughed and— She winced. That memory had caused her so much pain. Days and days of sickness came after—even now, her stomach roiled at it.
But as she looked at the girl, standing uncertainly on one leg, her face an anxious mask, something lurched inside her, as if two gears that were jammed suddenly connected and made one smooth revolution. Her confusion fell away. "Jem! Oh God, Jemmie, my baby, come here!" She opened her arms, and Jemima leapt forward.
"Send him back!" Xander said.
"I would. I mean, I will. But I can't just go 'abracadabra, back you go!' Nothing's ever happened like this before. It's not going to be easy. We have to research. It sucks that Giles isn't here. I called him."
"When's Travers' funeral?"
"It's today, it's probably over already. But he was going to stay in London for the week to take care of some Council stuff. The board has to elect a new head, and there's other business. He said he'd cut that short and try to get back here by tomorrow night."
Willow and Xander spoke in frantic whispers, hoping not to be overheard by William, who was parked in Willow's kitchen with a bowl of Campbell's tomato soup and a tuna salad sandwich in front of him.
"How the hell did he get here, anyway?"
Willow had already explained it, but she explained it again. How she'd awakened from an elaborate vivid dream in which Buffy was in a low-ceilinged bedroom in a place that felt foreign, and she was in labor, a labor that was going badly, and there were other people there, a doctor, a nurse, a maid, and him. In the dream, she was married to him, and when she wasn't delirious from the fever and agony, she cursed him, told him she hated him and that he was killing her. "And then I woke up and I realized it wasn't a dream, it was the spell—the spell I did yesterday, so Buffy could slay the Zorthrax and close the dimensional rift."
"This was the spell that let her do the one thing she was concentrating on the most when you cast it."
"Yeah. Some of the magic must've been left over. And I don't know what Buffy was thinking about after we parted for the night, but whatever it was, it landed her there. I knew she was dying, and I had to get her out of there before that happened, or she'd be lost. I was just trying to get her. Not the baby. Certainly not him."
"So why didn't you get Buffy? I mean, why didn't she pop into your bedroom?"
"I think because she was never physically gone . She was here and there simultaneously—her soul, her self, were shared between these two different bodies, and if either of them died before the dimensional portal was sealed, they'd both die. That's why she had so many signs and symptoms of giving birth. The others—the baby, him—were only in that dimension, not this one, so they came through differently."
"Yeah but . . . Spike's here. And . . . he's Spike. Or would be. Should be. Will they cancel each other out?" Xander tiptoed to the doorway and peered through at William, two rooms away, bent over the table, not eating or moving. "Man, that's just weird."
Willow joined him. "It is. And fascinating. I mean, to talk to him. He's . . . an actual man of the nineteenth century. There's so much I'd like to ask him." She paused. "Buffy really was angry at him, though. I mean, not just because she was in so much pain, and with the dying. It was a lot more than that."
"Well, there was some history there, right? She didn't tell us a lot about the first time, when she came back with Jemima, but I always gathered it was no walk in the park. How much of it were you in on, last night? Of what was going on between them?"
Willow hesitated. "I . . . I think all of it. Our consciousnesses were linked. But I don't remember a lot, because she went into it in her sleep, and so did I. The part that's the most vivid is just before I woke up. When she was in labor, dying. But she was there for like ten months, and I . . . sort of experienced it with her. She told him about being the slayer, and about Spike. About loving Spike. I don't think he really, y'know, processed that very well."
William rose from his chair, and turned, raised his voice to them. "I know you are speaking about me. Why do you whisper behind my back? Where is my wife?"
Xander glanced at Willow. "He thinks she's his wife? Boy, don't let Spike hear him say that."
"Who is this gentleman? Sir—if you have a question, you may address me!"
Willow bustled forward. "We're sorry. We know this must be so strange for you. This is Xander Harris. He's another friend of Buffy's. Look, we want to help you, but . . . you're going to have to be patient."
He sank back into his chair, face in his hands. "How can I be patient, when—dear Lord, this is a nightmare! What has happened to me! Where is she? I must see to her. She is my wife."
"Hey! Hey—uh, don't cry. Would you—look, if you don't like tuna, I can make you something else to eat. Or-or-maybe you'd like a drink. There's vodka in the freezer—or, no, not vodka. I bet you'd like a glass of wine. Xander, could you open a bottle of red wine? We'll all have some. And we can talk about this."
Spike was dozing on the empty bed beside hers, the baby in its cradle between them, when her eyes flew open. Oh God, oh no. She'd betrayed him, he must not understand yet how, because when he did, he'd be so angry—!
Spike was at her side in a breath. "What's wrong, Buffy?"
"I wasn't faithful to you. I . . . I gave myself to him."
"To William. Yeah, figured that. No omelet without broken eggs, an' so on." He smoothed her hair.
"You don't understand, though. It wasn't like the other time, with Jemima. This was so confusing—I didn't understand how I'd gotten there, what was happening."
"Yeah?" Spike said, noncommittal.
"Spike, it's my fault. Last night—" God, could it really just be last night?—"when we were fucking, I thought about if Willow could do some magic, so your stuff, y'know, would be alive, and we could have another baby, like we'd talked about. That's all. It's what I was thinking of when I fell asleep. I didn't want to go back to William at all. But it's not how it happened."
"What did happen, Pet? You'll feel better if you tell me."
"Don't be angry."
"No. You go on."
"It as if I'd had a stroke or something. I had these big memory gaps. I thought I'd never been away from him, since that other time. I had to read his diaries to piece it together, and that's how I found out I'd saved his life, slain Drusilla. We were married, we lived in Italy, we'd gone there for his health, and he was well again. I thought I loved him. But I shouldn't have—"
"Don't blame you."
She shook her head wildly. "It's my fault this happened, it must be. I must've wished myself there. And he was nice at first but then it was horrible like the first time, he's not like you at all. Spike, I'm sorry I was with him, I'm yours, I'm only yours, I'm so sorry, Spike, forgive me."
He brought her hand to his mouth, pressed the palm to his lips. "Nothing to be sorry for, you hear me? Nothing. Magic's dangerous, yeah, but we all know can be necessary, our line of work. I hate it that you were lost and unhappy, that's all, but it's over now, an' you're back an' we've got the little fellow, quite a prize. Rest now, 'fore he wakes up again."
"I didn't want to leave you, Spike. You know that, right? I'm so sorry I left you."
"You didn't, though. Don't you get that? Never left our bed. You've barely been out of my sight since you got back from slayin', last night. Just while you were in the ambulance, an' I waited for Xander to come get me."
"I . . . wasn't faithful to you."
"Stop talkin' nonsense," he said, kissing her. "My brave girl."
Soft sounds came from the baby's crib. Spike lifted him out and gave him to her. "Here, chuck him a breast before he gets roaring."
Tears still slid down her cheeks. She gathered the baby close, her heart rising up in desperate love. She gasped. "Spike—"
"What? Ah, look how lovely that is. You do make a pretty little bit, Slayer."
"Spike—I—I love you. Just the way you are. With . . . with everything you've been. Your demon, and your past, and . . . I wouldn't change it. I wouldn't. I don't care if that makes me a bad slayer, a bad person . . . I love you so much."
When the wine was gone, Xander left to visit Buffy at the hospital. Even though he was so stunned as to seem nearly catatonic, Willow couldn't leave William alone to go with him. The electric lights transfixed him. The ringing telephone made him jump. The sight of television sent him diving for the closet again. He stared for a long time in a near fugue state at the front page of the LA Times, mouthing the date on the top over and over, his arms wrapped around himself. Even after two glasses of wine he wouldn't relax, wouldn't eat, and kept asking, with increasing hopelessness, for my wife, my child. Where are they? Why won't you take me to them?
Willow had had enough. She showed him the guest bedroom, whispered a few words behind his right ear, and left him to sleep off the sopor spell until morning.
Morning brought Buffy, already checked out of the hospital at nine o'clock after her usual miraculous overnight recovery. At nine-thirty she was on Willow's doorstep, with the baby in her arms, and Spike at her side under his blanket.
"I—we—wanted to thank you for this. Xander said it was you who brought him through."
"I did. Didn't mean to, it was quite a surprise. Aww, he's cuter than an entire button factory. But! Don't thank me yet. And, uh, don't come in." Willow stepped out quickly and pulled the door closed behind her.
"Why can't we come in? Don't jostle me, Red, might get a bit crispy here in a hurry." The overhang on the front door afforded a patch of shade just big enough for the three of them to huddle; one step backwards would light Spike up.
"There, there's a small problem. Well, a big problem. The baby isn't the only one who came through last night."
Buffy's eyes opened wide.
"Yeah, I'm sorry. I mean . . . I didn't mean to. I thought I was just rescuing you. But . . . he's here. In the guest room. He might be awake already, so you'd better—."
"He?" Spike's face darkened. "What, you mean—?"
The apartment door swung open. "I heard voices—my dear wife! Thank God, you are—oh Jesus!"
Willow halfway expected they'd blow up, man and vampire, and disappear with a great roar—like matter/antimatter on Star Trek.
That didn't happen. In a single eyeblink Spike pinned him to the wall, slavering fangs an inch from his face.
"What'd you do to her? You useless git, what'd you do to hurt her?" He shook him, and it was like watching a terrier shake a rat. William cried out, his eyes rolling back in terror, and Willow feared for her carpet. But then Buffy pushed the baby into her arms, and laid Spike flat with one blow.
"STOP. There will be no—no—no grrrr. None."
William's knees gave way; he slid down the wall, until he was crouched in the same abject way Willow had found him the night before. Buffy tugged on his arm. "You—get up. Pull yourself together."
He rose slowly, blinking and rubbing his eyes. "My wife—" He surveyed her, the neat ponytail, hoop earrings, bright lipstick, tight button-down sweater, jeans, Nikes. "You . . . look well after your ordeal. Extraordinary, but . . . well. I am so glad."
"Um . . . thanks."
"I feared you were dead. But here you are, and the child, all safe, praise God."
Her mouth set in a line. "I'm not dead. . . . also, not your wife. I'm sorry, William. Not really. Not here."
"What are you talking about?"
Spike slipped a hand around Buffy's waist. "Why's he here? When're you sendin' him back where he came from?"
"I don't know if I can." Willow's gaze was riveted on William. The last time she'd seen anyone look so shattered, it was in her own mirror, after Tara left her.
"You've got to get rid of him. I don't like how he looks at her. I don't like how he looks." He broke from Buffy and gave William a hard shove. "Best thing ever happened to you was to die in that stinkin' alley, you great twat!"
"I know about you! I will protect her from her error with you! You monster! Murderer!" William barreled at him, tackling him backwards out the open front door. They grappled on the step in a pile of heaving cursing testosterone.
Spike's fangs made a long gash on William's cheek. At the same moment, his arm ignited.
"Whoa—!" Buffy unfroze and leapt at them, yanked them apart, pulled Spike inside.
"See—see!" William shouted, a hand clapped to the bleeding wound on his face. "How foul he is! He's unclean—let him burn! He should burn! He must not befoul you!"
"Stop! Both of you!" Buffy held her arms out, her face a brittle mask. "Everybody stop."
In Willow's arms, the baby stirred, going from a single tuning whimper to a full force scream.
They all turned. William leapt up. "My son. For God's sake, give him to me."
Buffy grabbed the infant from Willow's hands, carried him into the living room, already opening her sweater. She collapsed into a chair, and didn't look up when they gathered around her.
"Mrs Grieves," William pleaded. "Buffy—I am most thankful that you have both been spared, but surely you must realize, you cannot—"
"She's not your missus," Spike growled. He was nursing his blackened arm; the shirt sleeve burnt away. "Bleedin' ponce. Not done with you, I am. So shut up."
"You shut up," Buffy groaned. "And I can't believe you bit him."
"Didn't bite him. It's just a scrape. No call for him to go off boo-hooing like a big girl's blouse as he is."
"I say it's a bite, and I say the hell with it. We are gonna have it out about that later. Right now, all of you, please just shut up. My milk gets stopped up if I'm upset."
Spike threw himself into the armchair opposite her, and after a few moments of standing where he was, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, William seated himself on the couch.
"So," Willow said. "Who wants tea?"
Buffy and Spike tried to leave, but William was so piteous at the prospect of losing sight of her and the baby, that she couldn't bring herself to go—and Spike wouldn't hear of bringing him to Revello Drive. By late afternoon, they were all still there. William and Spike mostly ignoring each other, between the occasional angry volley. Buffy forbade either of them to touch her or the baby, and barricaded herself for a while into Willow's bedroom to nurse in peace.
Tara and Anya had arrived, with carloads of books, which were spread out now on the kitchen and dining tables for an all-night research session. Xander had picked Jemima up from school; no one had had time to think about whether William should be allowed to know about her or not before she came tearing through the door to throw herself at Buffy again.
Before William had time to ask questions about that, Xander tapped him on the shoulder. "Pizza run. You: shotgun. C'mon."
"You want me to go with you?"
"But . . . but I am in my shirtsleeves. I do not have my hat."
"Look around, buddy. Does anybody have a hat? Forget it. C'mon."
The sight of his bewilderment as he followed Xander to the door made Spike subside into giggles. "God, maybe ridin' with Harris will kill him, solve all our problems. Heart'll fly right up into his throat an' poof!
"Why can't you, y'know, be a little kinder to him?" Tara said. "He's you, after all. And he didn't ask for this to happen to him."
Because it was Tara, Spike didn't turn her off with a rude gesture. "Guess . . . guess I just can't stand seein' myself again. Never liked me much when I was William Grieves."
"I know, Spike. But . . . ."
"It's not only that. He wasn't good to her. Think that fills me with manly pride, knowin' that?"
"But . . . you're not responsible for how he treated her."
Spike cocked an eyebrow. "Thought you just said he's me."
"He is, but . . . oh God. It's so complicated, isn't it?"
"Quite." He pointed at the books. "Quicker you an' Red magic him off home, better for all concerned."
"The same goes for Jem," Buffy said, appearing at his shoulder with the baby in her arms and Jemima at her side. "Why don't you take her home, Spike?"
He rose. "Take you both home. Xander's given us our diversion—"
"I'm gonna stay."
He squinted at her. "What for?"
"Because . . . because if I'm not here when he gets back from the pizza run, he's going to panic."
"An' that's bad why?"
Buffy leaned against him, pressed her forehead to his. Sandwiched between them, the baby sighed in his sleep. "He's so far out of his element. I can't just . . . I can't just abandon him. I'm the only one here he knows, and he's so scared."
"Spike, please. Take Jemmie home. Stay there. You scare him more, and what's the point? Leave him alone. Hopefully he'll be gone by morning."
"But Xander went for pizza," Jemima said. "And I want to stay here with Auntie Tara."
"Where are you taking me? I do not wish to—"
"I told you," Xander said. "Pizza."
"Pizza. Food. Dinner. We're picking up dinner for the girls."
"Is it the cook's night off?"
"Uh, yeah. That's just what it is. Okay, here." He'd parked up the street from Willow's apartment, which was in the complex where Giles used to live, before he got together with Anya. All along the way, William eyed the parked cars with awe and mistrust, and gazed up into each overarching streetlight as they passed beneath it, as if it might contain the Delphic Oracle. When Xander hit the lock remote, the beep made him jump.
"What was that?"
"Nothing." Xander opened the passenger side door of his SUV. "Climb up here. Okay, now grab that strap, pull it across, yeah, good."
When he turned the key in the ignition, the engine roared and the stereo started up, blaring the traffic report at top volume. William cried out, scrabbling at the door. Xander shut it off.
"Hey, calm down."
"Oh dear Jesus, there are hidden voices everywhere here!"
"Yeah. It's called the radio. Or the television. Not scary. Well, scary sometimes, especially if you're watching Fox News. But nothing to be scared of. Now settle down, I promise you will survive this."
He started to pull out, maneuvering back and forth to work out of the tight spot, and almost didn't hear William murmur, "I do not know if I will survive this."
Xander braked and glanced at him. In the ambient light, his profile was the same shape as Spike's, but it was the expression, more than the silhouette of hair and collar, that was so completely not. He looked as if he was praying a hundred million prayers, all without hope.
Which was a feeling Xander knew pretty well himself.
"Hey. Don't . . . don't worry so much. Willow and Tara, they're really smart. Very capable witches. There's nothing they attempt together that doesn't come good. You'll get home."
"I cannot go without my wife and son. I must protect her from that fiend. You and your . . . friends . . . know him for what he is, and yet you tolerate him, and it is I, her rightful husband and protector, who is to be shut out."
Xander didn't know how to answer this immediately.
"You cannot imagine . . . how terrible a thing it is . . . to see yourself in the guise of a monster. And then . . . to know that the woman you love . . . loves not you but that monster. It . . . it is a thing conducive to despair."
Aw shit. "Actually, I pretty well can imagine it. Large chunks of it, anyway. I'm sorry, man."
"You are a man," William said, turning in his seat to confront him. "And I can see that you are decent. Not like that vampire, or the women, who seem so deluded by a distorted romanticism. Surely you can see that this must not stand? You would not like to see your own wife in the arms of such a foul creature. Won't you help me, sir? "
Once upon a time—once upon a lot of time—Xander would've been all about not wanting to see Buffy, or any girl, in Spike's arms. And once upon a time he had seen his wife—or close to it as Faith ever let herself get, never actually tying the knot—in the arms of a vampire. The one that killed her. The one he'd been too late to save her from.
He wanted to take this guy's hand and tell him all that. But it wouldn't do him any good, and he, Xander, wasn't going to do him any good either, because loyalty to Buffy was paramount, and to the long line of weird changes in his thirty years of life was added Spike in the Close Friends category. Much as he felt for this William Grieves—and it was a lot, hoo yeah—he was just gonna have to take the long road and walk it.
"We're going to roll now. Don't be startled. We'll go slow at first. Hang on if you want, but you don't really need to."
William was quiet as they rode through the residential streets of Sunnydale. Xander went a roundabout way, so he wouldn't have to edge the speedomoter over 40. His passenger stared out at the lighted houses, the occasional little strips of stores.
"This is America."
"California, yeah. They've built it up a lot since . . . since whatever year it is for you."
"I never thought to see it. I never thought to see any such things as I have seen today."
It occurred to Xander, as he pulled into the parking lot of the strip where Piero's was, that there was so much he could ask Spike about. What was it like, seeing a horseless carriage for the first time? Hearing a gramophone? Seeing an airplane fly high above your head, where before only birds owned the sky? What was it like, seeing hemlines go from instep to kneecap after World War One? Before that, what man ever saw a woman's legs, who didn't live with her? It must've been an amazing thing. What was it like, the first time he sat down in a darkened room and watched moving pictures flicker on a wall?
"What is this place?"
"Pizzaria. A great and holy shrine. S'where they make the pizza." What year did Spike first taste pizza? Another thing to ask. Xander parked. "C'mon."
Xander carried the two hot white boxes, and he was entrusted with the bottles of beer, twelve of them done up cleverly in two cardboard packages. He wondered why they needed so much for two men. Ladies would certainly not touch it, and the vampire . . . well, he knew what the vampire drank. Perhaps this Xander was a drunkard, or thought he was. But when he asked questions, the answers only confused him more.
They'd had to leave the car in the next street, and walk back to the group of buildings containing Miss Rosenberg's apartments.
Rosenberg. A Jewess. Why should it be surprising, given all he was learning of Buffy's nature, that her friends should be Jews and witches and demons? She was no better than they. And yet he loved her—no, that was such a silly word, an entirely inadequate word. She was part of him. She was his life—she'd saved his life, made his life, made his manhood and brought his heart alive. Mysterious and wicked and in need of correction as she was, he could no more imagine being without her than he could imagine being without his lungs or his immortal soul. She must be made to understand that, to understand her duty, and do it. For her own sake, and for that of the child. A son—how fervently he'd wished and hoped and prayed for a son! He would call him Edward Augustus, after his father and mother, and he would ensure that the Grieves family would continue, that death would not have conquered them. He would be only the first. Buffy would give him more sons, and daughters too, he'd have his Sophronia, Arabella, Jemima, to perch on his knees and call him Papa.
He would. Buffy would see reason and it would come to pass.
Glancing into the gap between two of the stuccoed units of the apartment complex, he saw her. There was a tiled fountain in the courtyard, the vampire seated on its edge. And she sat on his lap, encircling his shoulders with her arm, talking to him. She smiled and touched his hair, and his hand was on her waist. The infant was not there, but on the fiend's other side the little girl trustingly nestled, who had run in just as Xander plucked him out. She gazed up into the vampire's face exactly as Buffy gazed down, and he saw it then, in the curve of her nose and lip and cheek. She was theirs.
The bottles slipped from his nerveless grasp and crashed to the ground.
Xander, who was ahead, spun around. "Hey—"
"Why did you not tell me?" The words barely sounded, his lips were so parched. Every drop of blood in him felt frozen. "That she has somehow stolen my daughter from me also, to give over to the fiend?"
Spike could smell him: sweat, adrenaline, fear and loathing and spilled beer. He felt his gaze, too, boring through the opening between Building G and Building H. What a saddo. He didn't look. Gathered Buffy closer, kissed her, inhaling her live breath through his own cool lips. Gathered Jemima closer, pulling her up onto his lap, encircling her small span with an arm. She tucked her face into his neck, sighing happily. There was nothing she liked better than to snuggle with the two of them, to see them looking love at each other. That probably wouldn't last more than another few years, so he'd have to make sure he got all of it he could.
From inside, he heard the baby, without name but already possessed of large lung power, cry out. A moment later, the door opened, and Tara appeared, holding him and looking, Spike thought fondly, like the mother of all the universe.
"He needs his mama again."
"And I need him." Buffy rubbed her forehead against his one more time, and rose. He watched her stride away, graceful on the prosthesis that was nearly natural to her now. He knew he was a deeply sentimental fool, so didn't chafe himself for thinking what he always thought while he watched her receding bum: that he'd known from the first moment he saw it, switching gently to music at the Bronze, that he'd have it one day, and that it would change him.
"Your mum's most beautiful lady in the world."
"She is," Jemima said.
"An' you're most beautiful little girl."
"I'm not little."
"An' your new brother's most beautiful baby. D'you like him?"
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"We would've told you, Biscuit, but we didn't know he was coming to join us. It was a surprise."
"What's his name?"
"We don't know yet. We haven't had time to think one up. What should we call him?"
"Hmm. Dunno if your mum would go for that."
"Who is that man?"
"The one who went out with Uncle Xander."
"He . . . well, y'see, he's . . . ."
"He looked like you, Papa."
"Yes, he did a bit, didn't he? He, uh . . . he came to bring us baby. An' in a bit, when he sees little fellow's all settled in with us, he'll go back where he came from."
"So why does he look like you? Where's he come from? Why did he have our baby?"
"Look, there's the pizza."
She leapt off his knee and ran at Xander. Spike took a deep breath, and followed her.
There was no good order here. Ladies dressed like trollops, without shoes on their feet, their hair trailing down, drank beer from the bottle like common slatterns in the slums; they ate this disgusting pizza, dripping grease on the books, all talking at once, calling each other by their Christian names, the child in their midst hearing everything they said, their manner of speech so loose and slangy and unsuitable for young ears. The child was permitted to call them by their Christian names too, and to run about and play under their feet, though it should have been long past her bed-time—where was her governess? In fact, where were any of the servants? The room was strewn with crumpled papers, empty bottles, abandoned coffee cups, half-empty bowls of strange salty foodstuffs. No one minded them. Discordant thrummings and moanings they called music came from a black box, and kept changing, depending upon who was the last to go up and manipulate it. The vampire was permitted to hold the baby. Buffy nursed it in full view of the others, but really what need to chastise her for bearing a breast in company when she was already showing off all the shape of her legs and hips and belly as she lolled on the sofa in those tight masculine clothes?
All of this supposed "research" was for his sake, yet none of them would really look at him or talk to him. He wanted to cry out that he knew the girl child was of his getting just as much as the boy—when he first heard them call her Jem, Jemmie, Jemima, he'd nearly lost his mind. But what use? That was the horror—no matter how he protested, they would just stare at him, shake their heads, and look at one another with their secret looks. The vampire would still be permitted to put his hands on his wife, his children, and Mrs Grieves would still avoid his eyes.
All this was in aid of sending him back where he'd come from—to her child-bed, her death-bed. But without his son, with nothing.
He paced back and forth. Ran a hand along the spines of the books on the shelves. Paused to look at a framed picture—an obscene picture, that should not have hung in a room where ladies and children might see it—of a smiling red-haired doxy in a negligee. Vargas the signature said. Paused again at the television—its flat glass eye black now, reflecting the room in curved miniature.
Beside that, a tall case with glass doors, its shelves containing all sorts of weird talismans, amulets, statuettes. Things with spooky shifting faces, things that reflected the light in ways that made him queasy.
On the bottom shelf, a curved dagger in a jeweled hilt. William stared at it. His hand stole up, fingered the catch on the doors. They weren't locked. He glanced into the television; none of them was paying him the slightest attention. He could—
"Only one who'd get hurt would be you."
The vampire's hand closed—gentle, but firm—around his wrist.
William saw his reflection in the glass doors, but only his. His teeth gritted. "I hate you."
"Feelin's pretty mutual."
"I am not a killer. I am not a parasitic curse upon this earth, and yet she cleaves to you when she should belong to me!"
"Girl needs some monster in her man. Always has."
"You dare speak thus—to me!"
"Don't come all snooty with me, boy. I know you, I do." He gripped the wrist tighter. "You're tragic, you are. No—no, not even tragic. Not good enough to be tragic."
"And yet I gave her a son. What have you given her, vampire?"
Spike dropped his wrist. William turned to confront him.
"The little girl. She's mine too. How—?"
"Something like this happened to Buffy before. Eight years back. An enemy sent her back in time. She found you. Didn't save your miserable life that time, though. Just after you were killed . . . when you became me . . . she got pulled back here. Had Jemima in her belly."
"But I was never killed."
"Any little thing, changes the flow of time. There's all sort of realities, they butt up against each other, they weave in an' out. Not supposed to overlap, but sometimes powers mess with 'em, and things happen like this."
"I was not killed. Mrs Grieves lost that child. She lost it . . . the night she saved my life. I married her, and then she lost another."
"Like I said. Time's a funny thing."
"But these are my children." He wanted to weep.
"An' I won't say they're not all the more precious to us, for bein' so. I'll thank you for that, at least. More good you done that way than I ever did any living soul 'fore she killed me."
William grabbed his shirt front. "How dare you! How dare you speak to me of this—how dare you claim my children for your own! You are dead! And they are mine, before God and man!"
Spike plucked him calmly off. "They're hers. An' she's not goin' to go back with you. Her life's here with me. If you loved her the way I do, you wouldn't ask it of her."
"The way you do? By God, this is insanity—the sun makes your skin curdle and smoke. You are cold to the touch. The face you conceal is a feral beast's. You are damned."
The vampire dropped his gaze. "I am. I'm dead an' I have no soul, but Buffy turned me just as sure as Drusilla did in that alley, an' I'm hers now. I belong to her, an' I'm what she needs and wants."
Shuddering, William pushed past him. Rushed to the toilet to be sick.
Let the cold water run over his hands for a long time afterwards. The light in this white tiled room was cruel, it showed him up in the mirror as what he was: foolish, impotent, hopeless. Good for nothing but to make an armature for that disgusting thing that had taken his wife.
When he turned from the sink, she was there, the sleeping baby in her arms.
Her mouth pursed, the large eyes glittering with quiet determination. It was an expression he'd never quite seen before, even at her most defiant. Even with the child cradled at her breast, she appeared hard, a warrior, not a woman.
Well, she was on her home ground now.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes. No. I don't know. What do you care?"
"I care. William, of course I care."
"If you care, then remember your duty. Remember the vows you made to me. February 17, 1880, in the Church of Saint Matthew, Bayswater, at ten o'clock in the morning. What God has put together, let no man put asunder."
"William, I know. But . . . you have to understand. That wasn't real. I wasn't really there."
"Wasn't real?" A flush ran up his neck, across his scalp; the hair seemed to crawl. Was he going mad? It must be either him or all of them—because this was madness. "I was there. You were there. Mother was there. Mortimer was there with Miss Mortimer. Even Lucy was allowed to come. You signed your name in the register—you signed on the wrong line and had to do it twice. Mrs William Henry Grieves. You—" He plucked at her hand. "—you accepted my ring upon your finger, and here it is!"
She yanked her hand back, but he was too quick for her; the ring came off, he held it up to her with a triumphant flourish. "What does it say here, Mrs Grieves? You know what it says, but do just read it out to me!"
The vampire was there, sudden and soundless as death. He took the ring. "Says W.G. & B.S.: FMN . That's for Forsake Me Not. Gave it her myself, when the little chit was a year."
"What? No—I saw to the engraving myself—W.G. and E.S. My own, my life. 1880." He grabbed the ring back, held it up to the light.
"This . . . this is not right. You . . . you have switched them."
"William. Look at me." Buffy slid up to sit on the counter beside the sink. "Look at my legs. Pull up the bottoms of my jeans and look."
He glanced at the vampire, who nodded. "Yeah. Go on. Give us that ring first." He slid it with a disquieting reverence back on her finger.
"One of them is false."
"As your promise?" He jeered.
"I told you, it was caused by magic. Magic split me into two bodies. This is my real one. Touch my legs."
He knelt and felt them. By God . . . one of them was made of some hard pink stuff.
"I had an accident a few months ago. You see, I'm not . . . I am, and I'm not . . . the same woman you married in 1880. I am a little bit, but more—much more, I'm not, and I don't belong with you, I belong here."
"But this is insanity. This is no place for the little girl, for my son, for you—"
"Listen," the vampire said. "skip this argument again. Came to tell you the witches're ready with their spell. Time to do the thing."
Buffy jumped down and followed Spike back to the others. She was surprised; had expected it to take days for Willow to find the right method.
Of course, there was no guarantee it would work. She hitched the baby up tighter in her arms. How funny this was—last week she'd had no thoughts of being a mother again, and today she had a newborn who already seemed to be an extension of her arms and breasts and understanding of life, like Spike was, and Jemima, and her friends. She looked over her shoulder at William, trailing her slowly, his face a tight miserable knot.
His understanding of life was completely broken.
Willow stepped away from the table as they came into the room. "Tara and I have come up with a way that should work without producing any unpleasant artifacts. At least—nothing we can't kinda stamp out really quick if they arise. We've mixed the stinky potion, and all we have to do is make the circle and begin. We can do that out in the courtyard. So if you're ready—"
"Ready?" William mumbled. "Oh, I shall never be ready for anything again."
"Will, can you wait a few minutes?" Buffy said. "I'd like to talk to . . . to Mr Grieves one last time." She glanced at Spike. "Alone."
William brightened at this, following her out into the courtyard with a hopeful mien. She sat on the fountain's edge, and he sat too.
"Look . . . I'm not really good at this kind of thing, but . . . ."
"But you will grow better with time. Time heals all things, and it will heal our marriage. We shall be good loving companions for many many years."
"Oh! That's not what I meant . . . God, William, do you have to make this so difficult?"
"Oh, am I making it difficult for you to shirk your duty to me as my wife and the mother of my children? I do beg your pardon! Go on then, sin and be damned—what is one more little life crushed at the very start!" He reached out to the infant's head, brushing his fingertips over the fine hair. "This tiny innocence will fall to ruin, just as the girl's has, if you stay here. If you cannot think of what is owed to me as your husband, think at least of this—!"
"Look, I don't think about these things the same way you do. We love Jemima, all of us, and she's not ruined."
"Mrs Grieves . . . I will not punish you. I swear, I will not hold any of this against you—none of it will be spoken of ever again between us. My dear . . . ." He took her face in his hands. "I do love you. I have done nothing but what I thought I must to guide you towards being a contented and righteous wife. You have brought out sides of my character I did not know were there . . . aroused passions I never before possessed. But surely that means more than ever that you and I are meant to remain together, in holy wedlock as we are. Just come back with me now, and we all four will be all right."
Buffy had to squint, because looking at him full on, even in the dim light of the courtyard, was too hard. His face was so full of misgiving and half-throttled hope. "William, you know I can't."
His gaze fell. "You really mean to . . . to forsake me?"
"My life is here. My friends, my work. My love."
"And what about my life? What about my friend—who is you—and my children—and my work? How may I have or be anything at all if my children are stripped from me, if I do not have the wife of my bosom at my side?"
"I'm sorry. I wouldn't have it be this way. I never intended to hurt you, it was an accident. All of this, an accident of fate. But my answer has to be no."
He rose, smoothing his rumpled shirt front. "Then I suppose there is no need for us to say another thing."
"But there is, just one more." She pressed her lips to the child's forehead, inhaled it's warm powdery scent. Her breasts ached, she wanted to nurse him, she wanted to nurse him and kiss him and be with him forever.
She took one kiss, and held the bundle out. "He's your son. I know how much you want him. What he means to you. Take him."
William's mouth opened.
"Really. Take him. Your boy."
"Mrs Grieves . . . ."
"Get someone nice to be his nurse. Don't . . . don't tell him anything bad about me. When he asks, tell him he was conceived in love, and that I loved him so so much."
He hesitated for one moment, then lifted the baby into his arms. "I am relieved you have at least this much of a mother's heart."
Buffy put her hands over her eyes.
Then Willow was there. Tara came out and began drawing the circle on the slate paving with with the stinky potion, lighting five heavy cylindrical candles around its edge, and the others followed. Spike held Jemima, sleepy-faced but attentive, on his shoulders. Buffy went to him. Pressed her lips to his cheek, then breathed in his ear, "Please don't say anything. I couldn't send him back alone. I really just couldn't. His heart is broken enough."
He bent and set Jemima down. "You cuddle up with your mum, Treasure, she needs you just now."
With Jemima's arms around her waist, she looked again at Spike.
He pulled her against him. "An' you could ever say you don't know how."
"Okay, William, all you have to do is step into the circle, and hold this—" Willow tugged a sprig of some dried flower into his buttonhole. "Um . . . are you finished saying goodbye to the baby? Because—"
"The baby goes with him," Buffy said. Her voice was rasped and half drowned. They all looked at her. She coughed. "The baby is his." Loud and clear.
Willow and Tara exchanged glances. Jemima gasped.
"What do you mean," Xander said, "he's taking the baby?"
"C'mon, don't do that," Willow said in her softest Xander-whisperer voice.
She took his elbow, pulled him aside. They conferred, sotto voce, but Xander's hand gestures were eloquent.
Jemima looked up at her. "I thought that was my brother."
"I'll explain it to you later, Jemmie." She combed her fingers through the girl's hair.
Willow returned. "Tara will start the chanting, and I'll walk around you three times, saying the incantation, and when I've done that, you'll be gone. I mean—you'll be home."
Buffy didn't want to look at him, she wanted just to keep her eyes fixed on Jemima's until it was all over, and then she wanted to hug Jemima for a long long time.
But she could feel that he was looking at her, and it was cowardly not to meet his gaze.
William stood in the circle, the child in his arms. The fountain plashed at his back, and in the orange outdoor lights he looked small, nervous, lost. His face was yellow, scored with brown lines where Spike had attacked him. He hadn't combed his hair, it hung over his forehead in rat-tails.
Tara was chanting, and began to pace the circumference counterclockwise. When she'd gone half way around, Willow joined in, intoning in some language Buffy couldn't place—it wasn't Greek or Latin—and moving clockwise, pausing at each of the candles to sprinkle something from the palm of her hand into the flame.
Buffy held her breath. She leaned against Spike's arm, buttressing her back. Willow had gone around once, and begun the second lap.
The baby started to cry.
Willow and Tara looked up, but they didn't stop.
The cry rose up. William lifted the child higher against his shoulder. Buffy saw him murmur to it. Her breasts were full and leaky and it took all her strength not to dash at it, break the circle, snatch back her child.
Willow completed the second lap.
The crying grew louder, harsher. Xander and Anya were looking at her now, but she shook her head. It was almost done. She'd made her decision, the only decision, and it was nearly done.
Another half turn. The crying broke into gasping frantic sobs. Buffy hid her face against Spike's shoulder.
William stepped out of the circle. "Stop! Stop and let me give this child over to his mother."
He strode toward her.
"Please—he is yours."
Buffy hesitated, but the baby, seeming to sense the nearness of her breast, howled louder. William pressed him into her arms. With a glance at Spike, he mumbled, "Do not say I don't love her better than you. I am a man, which you are not, and I know how to love my wife."
To Buffy he said, "Let me see you feed him once more before we part."
She could not drop her gaze from his. He looked, at that moment, exactly like Spike when he was at a pitch of helpless adoration. Blindly, she felt for her buttons. William reached out and undid them. His hand, familiar, knowing, curved around her breast. It was a caress, his last. The baby began to suck.
"Such a pretty sight."
She looked at him, and could not speak. Relief and gratitude pulsed through her, wave upon warm wave of it.
"I could not—I could not separate him from his mother, not and face him when he would ask me about you."
Buffy nodded, mute. She knew she was crying when she saw a tear splatter the infant's cheek.
"Promise me . . . will you at least baptize him? Let him be a Christian before God."
"Yes. Yes, all right."
"What will you call him? Tell me, so I'll know by what name to remember him by."
Buffy looked into the small face, sucking so intensely with eyes screwed shut. She had no idea.
Spike stepped forward. "We'll name him for our poor Braithy."
William looked stunned.
"You'll like that, yeah? You know he'd have asked you to stand godfather for his son, if ever he'd lived to have one."
"Oh— Oh my, yes. Dear Braithwaite . . . how fitting. One never talks about him—who to?—but a week does not go by—"
"When we don't think about him," Spike finished.
"There never was a sweeter boy. Nor a finer friend," William murmured, his gaze far off in memory.
Spike seemed to be there with him. "That's settled, then."
"Quite right. Quite satisfactory. I do feel better now. Well . . . goodbye."
He turned and walked back to the circle, his steps a little unsteady, as if he'd been drinking. This time he stood with his back to all of them.
Willow and Tara began again.
"At last!" Anya exclaimed. "I thought he'd never go!"
"The spell worked—" Tara said.
"—like a charm." Willow picked up the candles one by one, tucking them in the crook of her arm.
"How do you know you didn't just pppffft him into some hell dimension?" Anya said.
"Because I know," Willow glowered.
"Poor Rupert. He will be so upset to have missed this. He wanted to question him about many things."
Buffy stared at the now empty circle, the sleeping baby held slack in her arms. Gone. He was just . . . gone. It seemed wrong that it should be so easy. Easy for her, and so so so hard for him.
"So glad he didn't take our baby," Xander said.
Spike crooked a brow. Our baby?"
"Yeah, you know. Jemima's a Scoobie Gang Production. And this guy's the sequel. Looking forward to imparting all kinds of manly secrets and bad habits to my nephew."
Buffy wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
"So," Tara said. "Who's this Braithwaite?"
"He's Spike's friend," Buffy said. "William's dearest boyhood friend. They grew up together, went to school together, and then he died of typhus the summer before they were going to start at Cambridge."
"So what's his name?" Anya said. "I need to start getting things monogrammed for this child. There was no time to prepare."
"He was called St. John," Spike said.
"SIN-jin? Like the heavy in Jane Eyre?" Willow said. "Yuck. I always wanted to drop-kick that guy."
Spike looked at Buffy, his lips curling. "Do you like that name?"
She smiled. "If I said I didn't—?"
"Well, then I'll have lied to myself. Not for the first time."
"No reneging, we promised William. But can we name him St. John sort of as an official secret, and then just call him Johnny?"
"Then we will."
"I'm gonna call him Sluggo."
"You are gonna say goodnight to all your aunts and uncle this instant. We are going home, and putting you straight to bed," Buffy said.
When Spike had carried her off to the car, and the others were gone into the apartment, Buffy caught Willow into a one-armed hug. "Thank you."
"For fixing this? I kinda had to, after I messed it up so bad."
"Messed it up? I got in a big slay I could've never attempted without you, after I was supposed to be washed up as a slayer. And then to cap it off I find myself suddenly the mother of two."
"I know. I'm sorry. But—cute—and you seem a little less conflicted about the kid than the first time."
"Willow, didn't you realize? It's what I wanted. After we slew the Zorthrax, I went home and Spike and I, y'know, had a tender moment, and afterward we were talking about babies. I had this fantasy as I was falling asleep, that somehow I could have another baby with him."
"Oh. Oh. But Buffy—I know some of what you just went though. I sort of experienced it, like the way I was with you against the Zorthrax. It was really hard for you there with him, you were trapped and you had no choice and it was my fault because I amped the magic up too high. It should've all been spent on the fight."
"Yeah, it was kind of trappy and not-my-choicy in places, but y'know how women say having a baby is the worst pain they ever experienced, but then . . . afterwards they sort of forget about it? And they're willing to do it again, so they can have another baby?"
"It's pretty much like that, Will. I'm just insanely glad to have Sluggo, here, so . . . it's okay." She started walking towards the car.
"Wait a minute!" Willow caught her arm. "How did you know William wouldn't take the baby?"
Buffy pressed her lips to his downy head. "I didn't."
"I just trusted that whatever he did with him, it would be all good. And it was." She blushed. All good? Sure, for her. But what real choice did he ever have? Where was his good? Having taken him for all he was worth to her, she got to keep everything she loved, and he just got . . . broken.
What would happen to him, back there alone?
Not so good, really. In fact, all the un-good there could possibly be.
But there was no point mentioning that to Willow; she'd only obsess about it in her Willow way, blaming herself, and there was nothing she or any of them could do for William anymore.
Except love his children.