Buffy woke early after a broken, restless night’s sleep, her eyelids heavy over tired, sore eyes, and stifled a yawn as she fought off the impending wakefulness. She cuddled back into her mate’s chest for a moment before coming fully awake. A sense of loss washed over her when she realised that the snuggly vampire she had been cuddled up to was really her pillow, her arm wrapped around it, clutching it tightly in lieu of her missing lover.
She climbed out of bed, careful not to disturb the sleeping redhead in the process. Padding down the stairs, her bare feet falling silently on the soft carpet, she made her way towards the basement.
“Spike?” she called quietly. Having closed the door so as not to wake the sleeping members of the household, she found herself engulfed in darkness and hesitated uncertainly at the top of the stairs.
“Right here, love.” Her mate’s voice sounded from next to her before he stepped closer and gathered her against him. “Thought your mum said you weren’t to be down here with me?” Spike asked gently, not wanting to ruffle her oh-so-easily ruffled feathers by sounding like he wasn’t happy to have her there.
Buffy turned in his arms and burrowed against his chest. “She said you couldn’t sleep with me, not that I couldn’t come down here and sleep with you,” the Slayer reasoned. “Besides, it’s nearly morning and I missed you.” She pouted slightly as she looked up at him, worried that he was going to send her back to her own disturbingly vampire-less bed. “I just want to be down here with you. We won’t do anything that mom wouldn’t approve of,” she added with a soft sigh of regret.
She looked so small and vulnerable, the vampire thought to himself, not to mention adorably cute standing there in her pyjamas, her hair all dishevelled from tossing and turning the night away. Her appearance was less like the fearsome warrior he knew she was and more that of a sleepy teenaged girl, and his heart ached with the knowledge of what she’d been through recently, and of what was ahead of them. Once again he found himself vowing silently that he would do all in his power to protect her and make her life as easy as he could.
Spike scooped the Slayer up into his arms, stealing a quick kiss before carrying her down the stairs and setting her gently on his makeshift bed. Climbing in behind her, he pulled her back against his chest. “Better, love?” he asked as she squirmed slightly against him, getting as comfortable as possible in the too-small bed.
Buffy nodded, placing a soft kiss to the smooth skin stretched taut over the strong, lean bicep before pillowing her head there. Her eyes drifted closed as she mumbled contentedly, “Much. We so have to make with the rest of the splainy, and soon. Don’t like sleeping without you.” She yawned and, with one last squirm that did nothing for Spike’s wavering self-control, allowed sleep to claim her once more.
Not for the first time, Spike marvelled at the incredible turn his life had taken in the last couple of days. He nuzzled into the Slayer’s hair, breathing in the warm, living scent of her before closing his eyes and following his mate into sleep.
Willow carefully arranged the candles and the mirror within the pentagram she had drawn meticulously in sacred sand on the Summers’ dining table, checking and rechecking their placement against the instructions in the book. She had done this spell before with Giles to guide her, and she knew that it was a fairly simple spell which, by all reasoning, she should be able to handle on her own; it was just that someone had forgotten to explain that to the butterflies fluttering around in her stomach.
Clearing her mind, she lit a match and set the flame to the first wick, waiting until the flame burned brightly before extinguishing the match. Using the candle in her hand, she lit each of the others in succession before placing the candle she was holding in its allocated spot. She closed her eyes for a moment while she settled her nerves, then opened them once more to focus on the mirror and began chanting, idly caressing the beautiful, elegantly engraved ballpoint that Buffy had collected from the Watcher’s home earlier that morning as she concentrated on finding its owner.
A loud knocking at the front door disrupted her concentration. Joyce left to see to her visitor and, with a sigh, Willow pushed aside her frustration at the interruption; looking up, she caught Buffy’s eye and saw the trust and confidence within. With a tentative smile at her friend, she recommenced her chanting.
Male voices sounded from the hallway, followed by Buffy’s mom assuring someone that, yes, Buffy was safe and in the dining room. Moments later, the door burst open to reveal a tired, dishevelled, and very worried watcher.
“Giles!” Buffy flew across the room and into her Watcher’s arms. “I was so worried about you! Are you all right? Where were you?” she asked, squeezing him tightly as if to assure herself of her pseudo-father’s presence.
Giles flinched, his still-healing ribs protesting the harsh treatment. “I’m fine, Buffy. Though I dare say I would be better with a slightly less enthusiastic greeting.” He smiled gently at her to take the sting out of his words. Buffy quickly released him and apologised sheepishly for hurting him. As the adrenaline and worry that had driven him dissipated, exhaustion once again took hold and Giles sagged visibly, his eyes moistening with relief as he looked down upon his alive and healthy Slayer.
“Well, well. The itinerant Watcher returns. Told you he’d be fine, pet. Must say, you’re looking a little worse for wear there, Rupes. Run into a band of deadly girl scouts armed with cookies?”
Giles looked up, noticing for the first time the room’s other occupants. Irritation followed by anger flicked across his face as he fixed his gaze on the vampire. “What is he doing here?” As his brain registered the fact that the smirking vampire was not only unrestrained in any way but was also standing on unexpectedly sound legs, he snapped, “And how the hell is he suddenly able to walk?”
“Problem, old boy?” Ethan entered the room, carefully setting down the tray he’d carried in before stepping up behind the obviously angry watcher.
“Yes, there’s a problem. He… it,” he corrected himself, gesturing wildly toward the grinning blonde, “is the problem.”
A shocked gasp escaped the two girls as Ethan entered and Spike frowned, wondering what about the slight brunette had caused his girl’s concern. Ignoring the irate watcher, he focused his attention on the newcomer, a soft warning growl sounding in instinctive response to his Slayer’s distress.
As her Watcher’s words registered, Buffy frowned, her chin tilting defiantly as she prepared to defend her mate. “Giles! Spike is my mate, which was your idea if you remember correctly, so enough with the name calling and the whole cranky watcher routine.”
‘Need I remind you that that creature is an evil cold-blooded killer?” Giles shot back.
Buffy’s eyes flicked from the angry librarian to the chaos mage behind him. “What, like him?” she asked, one eyebrow arching in a fair imitation of her vampire mate.
The slayer and watcher faced off, their mutual concern over each other’s welfare forgotten in the face of their current battle of wills.
“I thought everyone could use some tea,” Joyce suggested in an attempt to break the tension in the room, gesturing towards the tray Ethan had kindly carried in for her. “It’s been a long couple of days, and we are all tired.” She looked pointedly at the two blondes, having found Buffy asleep in the vampire’s arms that morning and having had a long and somewhat distressing conversation with them.
She understood why they hadn’t disclosed everything the day before; even after a night’s sleep to digest the original information about vampires and slayers and all things mystical, the additional news that her daughter was ‘mated’—which they had explained as the vampire equivalent of a marriage—to the vampire had come as a terrible shock. The further news that, if her watcher’s interpretation of prophecy was correct, Buffy was pregnant with a miracle child that may or may not be completely human—and that the pregnancy was essential in order to save the world from Buffy’s ex-boyfriend’s plan for its destruction—had left her devastated. The pair had done everything in their power to console her, with little success.
Buffy’s trembling lip and obvious distress at her mother’s seeming rejection had been the eventual catalyst to Joyce drawing on what she was sure were her last vestiges of inner strength, pulling herself together and assuring both Buffy and the equally concerned vampire that everything would be alright. They were a family, she’d assured them, and as a family they could deal with whatever was thrown their way, even if it was mystical pregnancies and apocalypses.
Joyce turned away from the antagonists and smiling gratefully at the dark haired mage, spoke clearly, “Thank you for your help, Ethan.”
Ethan’s eyes shone with admiration as the woman’s pointed politeness quickly diffused some of the tension between Rupert and his charge, the young slayer looking suitably chastened by her mother’s subtle reminder that she was being rude to a guest in their home. “You’re welcome, my dear,” he assured her with a slight nod of his head. “Now, if you have quite finished posturing, Ripper, I think we have more pressing issues than who is or isn’t evil. Like, say, the end of the world.”
Giles sputtered indignantly. “Posturing,” he grumbled. “Well, I never, I’ll have you know…”
“Yes, dear,” Ethan offered only somewhat condescendingly. “I know. Evil vampire, innocent slayer, you told me. Although it seems rather obvious to me that your so-called ‘very dangerous master vampire’ looks more likely to rip someone’s head off in defence of the girl than to harm her in anyway.”
“Oi, ‘m dangerous,” Spike protested.
“Oh, I don’t doubt that,” Ethan assured the pouting vampire. “But I would be correct in assuming that the Slayer is off your menu, wouldn’t I?” Ethan enquired.
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” Spike replied with a smirk, and then quickly ducked his head in apology when Buffy shot him a warning glare. “Certainly have no intention of hurtin’ her or letting her be hurt, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Alright then,” the brunette announced as he moved to the table and the tray he had carried in. “Now that that’s settled, why don’t we do as the lovely lady asked and have a nice cuppa before we get down to the matter at hand?”
Xander lay in bed; he was sulking, he knew that. But he figured that, under the circumstances, he was entitled to a little sulk. Not to mention the fact that he was too sore to want to get out of bed now, or any time soon.
Buffy’s words had hurt, cutting painfully. Now he had to choose between accepting the vampire in her life—in their lives—and losing his friend. He knew he had said some pretty nasty things, and he wondered if Buffy could ever forgive him for some of them; however, he did feel he was justified in his concerns about allowing another of those evil, soulless creatures into their inner circle, let alone trusting the ‘Slayer of Slayers’ not to turn Buffy into a midnight snack while she slept.
In the end, he decided that Buffy’s friendship was more important to him than his dislike of the bleached vampire; if apologising and learning to bite his tongue were what was required in order to keep her friendship, then that was what he would do. Later, when he could actually walk.
“So.” Buffy put down her cup and looked across the table at her watcher and his companion. “Why exactly is he here?”
“Ethan has some information in regard to Angelus and the apocalypse,” Giles replied wearily. The magically-enhanced healing had done much to improve his condition, but he was far from fully recovered, and the stress of recent events was once more taking its toll.
“What information? I thought we had all the information we needed from your prophecy. You know, the one where Spike and I had to…”
“Buffy Anne Summers.” Joyce exclaimed, cutting her daughter off.
“What?” Buffy rolled her eyes. “Mom, I so wasn’t going to say that! And you can stop laughing too, mister.” She glared at the vampire next to her, trying to hide the smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth.
“Whatever you say, my love,” Spike agreed with mock sincerity.
“Buffy. Do you mind?” Giles pinched the bridge of his nose, his patience wearing thin. “This is not a joking matter, and I would appreciate it if you would listen to what Ethan has to say.”
“Not a joking matter?” Buffy retorted, frustration colouring her voice, all trace of amusement gone as she scowled, first at Ethan and then again at her watcher. “Funny, but I get that. So if you say I have to listen to a man who tried to kill me and people I care about, then fine, I’m all ears. But it better be good.”
“Miss Summers, while I appreciate your hostility, things will go much more smoothly should we put our previous encounters behind us. For my part, I apologise for my actions. If it helps any, it wasn’t personal.” With a quick glance at his former lover, Ethan continued, “At least not towards you. You were merely a means to an end.”
“That’s supposed to make me feel better?” Buffy asked dryly.
“Actually, yes.” Ethan replied with a smile.
Spike snorted loudly. He found himself warming to the dry-witted mage. As long as the man posed no threat to Buffy, Spike thought he could even begin to like him.
Buffy slapped Spike’s arm, frowning pointedly at the still-smirking vampire before turning her attention back to Ethan. “All right, fine. So what’s the what?”