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Summary: Buffy works hard and plays hard and has been building a real life for herself. Now, she and Spike are off to help with a problem in L.A., and she has to figure just what Angel means to her. Or if he even means anything at all.
Joan the vampire slayer clutched her stake tighter and closed her eyes. They weren't doing her any good in the pitch blackness of the basement, and the strain of instinctively trying to pierce the dark was only distracting her from her prey. She could feel him. The vampire lurking in the darkness. Waiting.
He was an older vampire, not some weak little fledge newly risen from the grave. One mistake, and he'd be on her, transforming her from predator to prey. She kept her breathing slow and even as she moved forward, sliding her feet along the floor, both to avoid tripping and muffle the sound. Not that he didn't know where she was. She knew he could smell her and could feel her just as easily as she could feel him. But both of those were vague. Sound would pinpoint her exact location.
"What's this, then? All sneaking about, are we?" His low Cajun accent sent shivers through her entire body. "Never took you for such a capon, cherie."
She didn't know what a capon was, but it didn't exactly sound like a compliment. She wasn't going to rise to the bait, though. He'd given away his position, but she was going to stay quiet. She rushed towards him, still sliding her feet to muffle the sound. Just as she reached the place where his voice had come from, the vampire laughed and whirled away.
Oh, right. Smooth move. Of course he'd known she was going to head for his location after that. Really, though, what else could she have done? Well, it wasn't over yet, and she still knew where he was. She threw a punch, grinning in satisfaction at the crunch as she got him in the nose. He punched back, getting her in the jaw.
Then the fight was on. They traded blows, the vampire actually making her work for it. She still couldn't see him in the darkness of the basement, but she could feel him well enough to know exactly where he was, now that they were closer. She could even tell when a missed punch left him vulnerable to a blow right to the midsection. Instead of taking the opening, she dropped down for a leg sweep. He went down, and a quick movement had her straddling his hips with the tip of the stake pressed firmly against his chest.
"Laissez les bon temps rouler, eh bebelle?" he whispered huskily. "Let the good times roll."
He thrust his hips up against her, and desire suddenly flared through her. Damn sexy vampire. "The only rolling is going to involve your dusty particles rolling into a dustpan."
"Gonna stake me, then, cher? Sure you're not the one wanting a bit of a staking?"
"I… I shoul-"
A loud knock at the door interrupted her thoughts. "Buffy," her mom called. "You have a phone call from someone British. He says it's important."
"Bloody hell," Spike grumbled from underneath her in his normal accent.
Damn it. The baby was asleep and Buffy had finished up all of her classwork (admittedly not a huge feat, since she'd gone for half-time this semester and had managed to get both her courses online) so of course someone from the council called to interrupt sexy fun times. She sighed and stood up to turn on the light.
When she looked back towards Spike, he was already on his feet, readjusting the leather cord around his neck so the small glowing stone was in the front. He had a black eye and a split lip, and Buffy suddenly felt guilty, even though she knew he liked these games just as much she did.
"I didn't…. I wasn't too rough with you, was I?" she asked, nervously biting her lower lip.
"Mmm. Just about rough enough, love," he said, curling his tongue behind his teeth and leering at her.
"Damn it, Spike, I'm serious!" Vague thoughts of bubble wrap and packing peanuts floated through her mind.
"So'm I," he said with an exasperated huff. "First week's over, innit? 'S long as we're careful, playtime's safe." He tilted his head. "Could even go out on patrol with you."
"Oh no, buster, we are so not having that argument again," she said, planting her hands on her hips. "Playtime or patrol, not both on the same night."
"Oh come on, we barely did anything!" Spike protested. "It doesn't bloody count."
"Yeah, you wanna try that again when you don't have a shiner?"
He blinked and started to raise his hand towards his eye before letting it drop. He hadn't even realized she'd given him a black eye. Typical Spike, she thought fondly. He sighed, clearly knowing he had no chance of winning the argument, and walked towards her to wrap his arms around her. She leaned into it, letting herself bask in his strength for a moment.
"You go ahead and answer your call. I'll nip on up to check on the sprog." He pushed her away just enough to give her a kiss, then released her and headed up to the main part of the house.
She followed him up, stopping next to her mom to take the phone while Spike went on to the second floor. She stared blankly at the handset for a moment. Mom had said that the caller was British and male, so her thoughts had automatically gone to the Council. What if it wasn't, though? After Willow had been taken to England five months ago, she'd tried to call a few times. She'd stopped when she'd finally gotten the hint that just maybe Buffy wasn't interested in talking to the person who had tried to unmake her child, but what if she'd found some guy to make the call for her? Well, there was no way to know until she actually took the call.
"Hello?" she said cautiously into the receiver.
"Buffy, I must speak with you. Something very peculiar –"
"Wesley?" Why was Wesley of all people calling her? Had something happened to Angel? There was a cold, uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach at the thought. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"It's Darla…. You… do you know about Darla?"
"Yeah, back as a human, then turned into a vampire. Drusilla told Spike about it when she came to play Psycho Midwife Barbie. Get to the point already. What'd she do to Angel?"
"Yes, well, she's come back to L.A. and she's… well, she's with child. Angel's child."
Buffy pulled the phone away from her ear and stared at it like it was a live cobra. Darla was pregnant with Angel's kid? What the hell? How was that even…? Part of her was relieved at the thought of Angel finally moving on, but most of her was kind of revolted at the thought of him being with Darla of all people. And how had he gotten her pregnant, anyway? Had they hunted up a Cadbury or whatever idol and done the So'voriku fertility ritual?
No, that probably would have ended with a very dusty Darla. As far as that particular ritual was concerned, vampire "gestation" was one to three days. With two vampires involved, it all would have happened too fast. She'd have been sucked dry within hours, most likely. However it had happened, that was Angel's business, not hers. She took a deep breath and put the phone against her ear again.
"… you there?"
"Yeah," her voice sounded rough. She coughed to clear it. "Yeah, I'm here, but, um, I think I missed some of what you said. Okay, so, am I going completely nutso, or did you say Darla's pregnant?"
Spike knew Thursday was awake even before he opened the door to Dawn's old room. He could hear her moving about. No crying out for snuggles and a feed as of yet, so she must have just woken. Maybe she'd smelled or heard him coming up the stairs, and it had woken her? No way of really knowing. He flipped on the light just as she started growling, revealing the eight-month-old on hands and knees in her crib, chewing on a toy lamb.
She gurgled and squealed at him as he scooped her up, extending his arms to hold her up over his head as he grinned up at her. "How's daddy's little predator, then, hmm? Goin' all 'grrr, arrgh' on wee sweet lamby, are we?"
"Beh, beh, baaaah, bububah!" Thursday chattered at him, no doubt carrying on about her fantastic day of sleeping, eating, and crapping herself. And exploring, too, now that she was able to crawl about, grabbing whatever bits and bobs she could get her little hands on and cramming them right into her gob.
He gave her a careful bit of toss and catch before carrying her over to the changing table. It was old hat now, cleaning her all up and trading out the old nappy for a new one, and he could practically do it in his sleep. He could still hear the faint murmur of Buffy's voice on the phone downstairs, so he tickled Thursday a bit and sang her that silly little piggy song while gently pinching her toes. Not that he couldn't have gone down and listened in on the conversation, or anything, mind. He just figured he'd give Buffy a bit of privacy to be the Slayer while he took care of the parenting.
"Come on now, sweets," he murmured once he couldn't hear Buffy's voice anymore. "Let's go down and see your mum."
"Brrruh, baah, baaa-aaah!"
"That so, is it?" he replied solemnly to the intent baby babble. "We'll just have to tell her that, then, won't we?"
He cuddled Thursday against his chest and headed on down the stairs to find Buffy sitting on the couch, looking pensive. Well, that didn't bode well, did it?
"What were those wankers on about? Wanting to cut your salary or somesuch?" Miserable, miserly bunch of sods. Of course, they were getting a pretty good chunk of dosh from them all regular like, so they weren't being as closed fisted as they could have been. Still and all….
"What?" Buffy looked up at him, her nose wrinkling adorably in confusion. "Oh, no. It, uh, wasn't the Council." She stared down at her hands in her lap as if she could see the secrets of the universe there. "It was Wesley."
Spike frowned at the name. Wesley? Did they know a Wesley? A vague memory stirred.
"That the pillock meant to be your watcher at one point? Now on Team Angel?"
If he was right, that'd been the bloke whose ham-fisted research into what wasn't any of his business had called the Council down on them. Of course, that had resulted in college funds for Dawn and Thursday – they'd have to split that second one and start putting in some of Buffy's earnings – a paycheck for the Slayer, and the Council footing the bill for their trip to Africa. Spike wasn't sure if he wanted to punch the ponce or put him on the sodding Christmas list. Maybe both.
"Yeah. Um... Apparently Angel somehow got Darla pregnant."
Angel had been desperate enough to shag Darla and had gotten…? Huh. Well, more in heaven and hell, and all that rot, yeah? And honestly, considering he was male, Spike's own situation was the odder of the two by far. No, actually, now he thought on it, the oddest thing of all was that the old hag hadn't ripped herself open and eaten the bloody thing. Angel had probably put a stop to it somehow, the hypocritical tosser. Came to Sunnydale all on his high horse and said they should kill Thursday, and now he was working to keep his own demon spawn alive.
"Wesley thinks I should go down and help as an 'expert' on vampire pregnancy. Then Giles called," she smiled wryly, "to tell me that Wesley would probably be calling me. He'd been trying to get through, but Wes's dial finger is apparently faster."
Wesley thought she should go down to L.A.? To help Angel? And that's what had Buffy all lost in thought? Thursday suddenly squawked in protest, and he loosed his too-tight hold on her. Just stop for a second and count to ten, Ben's voice said in his mind, remembered advice from some of their sessions. Let yourself think before you jump to conclusions.
Buffy didn't look like someone upset that her ex had moved on or eager to pop down for a visit. She looked like she'd swallowed a live fish, and it was flopping about in her guts. He sighed and sat down beside her, handing Thursday over. Buffy lifted her top, undid the cup of her nursing bra, and had their girl feeding in no time at all. She'd a few teeth now, but a light bop and a finger in her mouth to break the suction had quickly taught Thursday that if she bit, she didn't get to eat for a few minutes. Odd sort of lesson for a half-vampire to learn.
"You don't wanna go, do you?" he said quietly.
Buffy shook her head. "Not really, no. If it was just Angel…." She trailed off and shrugged uncomfortably.
"Angel can go hang for all I care," Spike said bluntly. "But, yeah, it's not just him and Darla, is it? There's a sprog all caught up in the mix." He reached out to gently stroke Thursday's cheek.
"Yeah," Buffy said, gazing down at their daughter with a tender smile. She sighed and looked up at him, eyes dark with confusion. "I don't want to go down there, and I don't want to leave you and Thurs-"
"Then don't," Spike interrupted. "Take us with you. No doubt none of that lot wants me there, but who's more of an expert, really? A vampire that's been through it all, or the one what knocked him up? And as for Thursday, she'd probably be safer wherever we are."
Buffy nodded and snuggled up against him, careful not to dislodge the sprog. They sat together in comfortable silence for a while until Buffy pulled away to switch breasts. She sighed. "Once she's done eating, I'll call Wesley back and let him know we're coming. Then I'll do a light patrol before we go. You want me to pick you up some fries from the Doublemeat?"
"Oh god, yes." Just the thought made him feel like he was about to drool all over himself. At least it wasn't bloody pineapples again. Though pineapples dipped in blood didn't actually sound half bad at the moment.
"There's something fishy about that place. They seem to have a lot more employee turnover than you'd expect. I know that's kind of normal for fast food, but…."
"We'll give it a proper stakeout when we get back," Spike promised. "Or even ask Xander, Anya, and Tara to give it a look over. Alright?"
"Yeah." She leaned in to kiss him. "I really don't want to have to deal with Angel, but this could be a good thing. Maybe?" She flashed a nervous smile. "Maybe show him that I'm not the little girl he used to know. I don't need him anymore."
He tilted his head as he looked at her, his strong, powerful Slayer, still all vulnerable from all Angel had done to her. He did that. Got under a person's skin and wormed his way into their heart, leaving weeping tunnels behind that never quite seemed to heal. Buffy's gonna be different, he vowed. He'd help her be different.
"You never needed him in the first place, love."