DISCLAIMER: The characters are
Joss', of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare's
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike's son was born prematurely, but is safely ensconced in the hospital's NICU, while Willow and Giles got rid of Esme once and for all…
In spite of Buffy's requests, the hospital refused to let everybody in to see her until the following morning, using her weakened condition as an excuse to monitor her more closely. "Only one person at a time," they insisted, and walked out of her room, blind to her pouts.
Personally, Spike thought it was a grand idea. He knew she wanted to see her friends, but gathering the group of them in one spot would tire her out. There were explanations to be made, praises to be sung, questions to be answered. He slipped out long enough to let Joyce and Giles get their moments with Buffy, but returned as soon as they were gone, holding her hand until the nurses kicked him out. Then he snuck back in after the shifts had changed, falling asleep stretched out alongside her, holding her warmth as close to him as possible.
The following morning, however, Buffy woke up smiling and alert and ready for her first visit to NICU. Spike and the nurses tried to prepare her for what she would see, but the moment she saw their son curled up in his incubator, any doubt Spike had about her reactions fled. An awed light sprang into her eyes, and she watched the nurse carefully to learn exactly how she could touch the baby. Holding him was going to have to wait a few days, they explained. Not to discourage physical contact—on the contrary—but both to give Buffy time to learn how to handle him in ways that weren't overstimulating and for the baby to grow stronger.
It was enough. It was a miracle he was even here. Spike and Buffy were going to take anything they could get.
When they returned to her room, they walked in to an explosion. Balloons and flowers were everywhere, festooning any available flat service with brilliant color. Amidst them stood all her friends, beaming as he wheeled her in. Frankly, he was surprised they hadn't shouted, "Surprise!"
He helped her get into bed, then fell back to the periphery, watching as Willow and Joyce took direct positions at her sides, Xander and Havi not too far behind. Oz and Giles ended up somewhere in between Buffy and Spike.
"Did you see him?" Willow bubbled. "Is he beautiful?"
"Of course, he is," Joyce answered. "He's my grandson." She shook her head. "And I still think I'm far too young to be saying something like that."
"He's perfect," Buffy said. Her eyes shone. "He's tiny, yeah, and he needs time to finish growing, but the nurse said he's responding exactly how he should. We'll probably get to take him home a lot sooner than they thought we would."
Spike held his tongue. He wasn't about to burst Buffy's bubbly mood with a dose of reality. They were going to get a lot of that as the days wore on; there were still possibilities of developmental issues that the nurse had only skimmed over when she'd talked with Buffy. Spike, however, had demanded to know the whole story. Not that it mattered. Whatever was to come, they'd fight it, no matter what.
"You guys still haven't told us," Xander said. "What's his name?"
She turned her gaze to Spike, amused pride twinkling in its depths. "Spenser Joseph Freston," she announced.
Murmurs of approval rippled through the room, but it was Harris' voice that rose above all of them.
"Spenser? Like the TV show?"
"I told you!" Buffy exclaimed defiantly, pointing at Spike. "Nothing from bloody television, huh? I told you that's where they would think we got it from."
He sighed, rolling his eyes. "And you know and I know that they nicked the name when they wrote the books. What does it matter if the rest of the world is so blinkered to think we like a dick from the telly instead of one of the best poets of the last millennia?"
She folded her arms across her chest. "Then you should have let me have Dylan."
"Bugger that. I'm not lettin' a sprog of mine get compared to any of those gits from 90210."
"Why Joseph?" Joyce asked, intervening on their friendly argument. She glanced at Spike. "Is that a family name?"
He shook his head. "That one was Buffy's pick."
"I like it," Buffy shrugged. "I thought it fit the best with Spenser. Plus, it totally helped that it's the name of one of the guys from The Ramones, so there was no way Spike could argue with me about it."
Willow started chattering on about the nursery then, distracting everyone from the topic of baby names. Everyone, that is, except for Giles and Oz, both of whom were looking at Spike with frowns on their faces.
"Does she mean Joey Ramone?" Oz asked, his voice low enough not to be heard.
At Spike's nod, Giles said, "Is she not aware that's not his real name?"
He couldn't take her eyes off her. He'd never seen her look so beautiful. "No," Spike said, matching their tones. The last thing he wanted was to be overheard. "And nobody's goin' to tell her, yeah? She was so chuffed when she made the connection, I didn't have the heart to tell her the truth."
"I'm surprised she even knows who Joey Ramone is," Oz commented.
"Yeah," Spike said softly, a bemused smile curling his mouth. "So was I."
It felt odd being in a suit again after so many months in Sunnydale. Gradually, Wesley had adopted a more casual code, one that melded better with Giles' and the others, leaving his suits hanging in the back of his closet still wrapped in their dry cleaning plastic. Today, however, warranted a return to propriety. As a representative of the Council, even an unofficial one, appearances had to be made.
The discussion about who would go had been brief.
"It needs to be addressed as swiftly as possible," Wesley had said. "And you are far too important to Buffy not to be there for her today."
Though Giles had made noises of protest, Wes had been firm. He was certain there was a gleam of gratitude in the older man's eyes when they parted.
"Are we ready?" Robin asked.
They stood outside Maggie Walsh's apartment, along with a silent Graham. Each looked uncomfortable, but their reasons were all so dissimilar that it was futile to try and gain camaraderie there, Wesley reasoned. Still, there was a job to be done, and in light of all the problems Walsh and her organization had created with Buffy and the others, he was determined to make this meeting a success.
At their curt nods, Robin knocked. It had been silently agreed that he would be their front man; in spite of the events in the Initiative's infirmary, he was the one with the best relationship with the woman.
When she answered the door, her eyes were cold as she assessed their presence. "For some reason, I'm not particularly surprised to see you," Maggie commented.
"May we come in?" Robin asked. "There's some business we need to discuss."
"Actually, I find that a very troublesome suggestion," she replied. "You're very lucky I'm not pressing charges." She turned her attention to Graham. "Although you should've been in custody already."
"The choice is entirely yours, of course." Wesley stepped forward, lifting his chin in his most austere manner. "But considering the rather sensitive nature of our discussions, I would have presumed you'd prefer privacy than a public spectacle."
Her eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly as she shifted her gaze yet again. "And I'm not just closing my door on you because…?"
"Because it's in your best interests to speak with us." Reaching into his briefcase, Wesley extracted a single piece of paper and held it out to her. "If you don't wish to do so here, the Council is fully prepared to do so in a more official setting."
Though her gaze flickered over the paper, Maggie didn't take it. She merely stepped away from the door to allow them room to enter.
Inwardly, Wesley let out a sigh of relief. In actuality, the Council had no idea what they were about to do. He and Lydia had spent half the night forging the documents necessary to make his presence appear authorized.
"This looks remarkably like blackmail," Maggie said once the door was shut behind them.
"We prefer to call it a business agreement," Wesley countered. "As I'm sure you are aware, the Watcher's Council presides over the Slayer's well-being. It is our responsibility to ensure that she receives the best information, the best training, the necessary assistance to make her mission as successful as possible."
"I would think you've been lax in your duties then." Her smile was deprecating. "A pregnant Slayer? Tell me. Does the Council really condone premarital sex?"
He ignored her snide tone. "Over the past few months," Wesley said, setting his case down on the desk, "you have committed several egregious acts against the Slayer and her friends, including kidnapping and medical malpractice. In addition, you have attempted to acquire artifacts that, even if they should exist, fall under the aegis of the Council's domain. That amounts to theft, Ms. Walsh."
"The artifacts do exist."
"Actually, I never found them," Robin said. "Your sources are wrong, Maggie. If they exist, they're not in Sunnydale."
"While the Council is accustomed to other powers attempting to usurp their control," Wesley continued, "what we find so interesting about your particular case is that you acted without official authorization." He began pulling out copies of memos, documents Robin had forwarded to him as well as information Graham had convinced his vampire source to share, and fanned them out on the desk. "Nothing within your operation's parameters supports your personal fascination with the Slayer. You've been utilizing government resources for your own agenda." He smiled. "The Council is very certain that the American military does not support such behavior within their own ranks, Ms. Walsh."
Picking up the papers, Maggie began reading them over, pacing around the room as she did so. Finally, she sighed and sat down in an elegant chair.
"None of this would hold up in court," she said, holding them out for Wesley to take back.
He shook his head. "Those are your copies, Ms. Walsh. As for the courts, well, we're both adults here. We both know your true authorities do not bother with the federal judiciary system."
"What is it you want?"
"Nothing beyond your power to grant, I can assure you. Due to yesterday's unfortunate security breach, measures are already being taken for the Initiative to move their base of operations. We want you to ensure that it's far removed from Sunnydale and the Slayer."
"I don't have that kind of power."
Wesley's smile was condescending. "Please don't presume to lie to me, Ms. Walsh. We're well aware that it was your influence that swayed the government to select Sunnydale in the first place. You can do so again to get them out."
Her jaw was tense as her gaze flickered to Robin and Graham. "We've done great work here," she argued. "The hostile population is down over ten percent, and the knowledge we've gained---."
"It wasn't all us." Wesley was surprised to hear Graham speak up. His presence was only to provide muscle should the need arise and to hear for himself that his own wishes were granted.
Maggie was surprised as well. "Your disloyalty to the Initiative dishonors your fellow soldiers," she said coldly. "Many of them have died for this mission, and you would take their achievements away from them?"
"Buffy and her friends do more for this town than anything we ever accomplished," Graham argued. "The reason the hostile count is down is because of their efforts even more than ours. In fact, our interference has held them back."
"Our request stands firm," Wesley interjected. "If you don't wish to be punished for your extracurricular activities, Ms. Walsh, you will do everything in your power to make the removal as smooth as possible."
Silence hung in the room as she contemplated her options. Finally, she gave him a curt nod.
Wesley pulled out an affidavit and handed it over. "You will also swear that you will never pursue the Slayer or any of the artifacts again," he said. Reaching into his inside coat pocket, he extracted a pen and held it out. In truth, the affidavit had zero legal legs to stand on, but the more official he could make this look, the better the odds that Walsh would actually stick to her end of the bargain. "This holds true for any future Slayers as well as Ms. Summers' current friends and family."
Her lips were a thin, white line as she scrawled her name across the paper.
"What else on this earth could you possibly want?" she demanded.
Slipping the affidavit back into his briefcase, Wesley snapped it shut as loudly as he could manage. "Due to Graham's efforts to support the Slayer, we would like his record expunged of any wrongdoing, as well as an honorable discharge be granted. He's earned the right to his freedom."
That seemed to be the final straw. Maggie leapt to her feet.
"That's preposterous!" she spat. "What Miller's done is tantamount to treason. It will not be tolerated."
"And yet, it will." His voice was deadly quiet, his eyes like ice. He was weary of pretending he tolerated this woman. "We have proof linking you personally to civilian deaths, Ms. Walsh. Incontrovertible evidence that paints you as more of a monster than those you claim to be against. Personally, I find the Council's attitude toward you too lenient. If I had my way, we would be dealing with your superiors while you were called to task for the atrocities you've committed. So, should you choose to disregard any one of the Council's requests, it will be my pleasure to see that you are prosecuted to the fullest extent of both your law and ours." When the corner of his mouth lifted into a cold half-smile, he saw her pale. "Trust me. Our law has a tendency to be rather…harsh with its penalties."
"Take the offer, Maggie," Robin coaxed. "It's best for everybody, all around."
"It would appear I have no choice." Without another word, she marched to the door and held it open, stepping back so that it was clear she wanted them to leave.
"You have forty-eight hours to arrange the paperwork for Mr. Miller's discharge," Wesley said as he headed for the exit. "If we find it hasn't occurred, we will be contacting your superiors."
The door slammed shut behind them.
"Well, that went well," Robin commented.
"Do you think she'll do it?" Graham asked, following Wesley back to the parking lot.
Wes was silent for a moment before replying. "We can only hope."
She hadn't prepared for Schmoo being early. When Spike had given her the first explanations about what to expect, Buffy had tried to listen, but what she really wanted was to see her son, see for herself that it hadn't all been a dream, see that all the trauma from the past few days had been worth it. There had been a split second, when she'd seen all the machines and heard all the electronics humming in the background, where her hopes plummeted. It's not fair! she wanted to scream. She'd done everything right, taken every precaution. She was supposed to have a strong, healthy baby to be able to hold and take home. She didn't think that was too much to ask, considering how many times she'd saved the world.
Then she saw him.
Spenser Joseph Freston. She had a real name to be able to use now.
None of the other stuff mattered any longer.
He was tiny, like Spike had warned. Because his systems weren't completely developed, he was connected to both an IV and a ventilator, but Buffy didn't even notice those as she gazed at him with her heart in her throat. All she saw was the strong line of his jaw, the soft pout of his mouth. A fighter, Spike had said, and even if it was irrational, Buffy took the small hands balled into fists as proof of that. Even more, when Spenser opened his eyes, she would've sworn on every Bible in the world that he recognized her.
She spent every available moment with him. Spike made jokes about latent maternal instincts, but Buffy knew the truth. She didn't feel like a mother, but she most definitely recognized the fierce need to protect what was hers. With Spenser so weak and defenseless, there was simply no other choice but be there to prevent any harm she could. She had no illusions that she would be of use for any of his medical issues, but she would be damned if something supernatural was going to threaten him. Even with Esme gone, there were other dangers. Buffy would fight any and all that dared to attack her son.
Spike was amazing with Spenser, but then again, she had known all along that he would be. After all, it was his nature to be attentive and diligent to those he loved. Not even the demon could kill that. Watching him coo and sing to the baby was almost as good as getting to spend time with Spenser herself.
Buffy's only regret was that she didn't get to be part of taking down Esme. Willow and Giles filled them in on the details her third day in the hospital, and Buffy had to watch as Spike killed three of her floral arrangements while he ranted about his fair share of vengeance. Willow whisked him away—presumably to calm him down—but when he returned after lunch for their afternoon visit with Spenser, he had a satisfied grin that instantly had Buffy suspicious. No amount of coaxing or threatening would get him to spill what had happened, though. Buffy had to settle for wondering just how Willow had accomplished it.
She had just found her routine when the doctors told her it was time for her to be discharged. "What about Spenser?" she demanded, hands on her hips as she glared at the Doogie wannabe. "I can't just leave him. He needs me."
Spike's hand was gentle in the small of her back, and it was only that which kept her from lashing out physically. "We'll still be here for all the open NICU hours, luv," he murmured in her ear. "And as much as I'd love to see you thrash this wanker, I'm just a mite eager to get you home, too. But I promise. We'll still be seein' the little one as much as we have been. Just this way, you get your own bed and some decent food as well."
Buffy instantly relaxed. He was right. She didn't get to see Spenser at night anyway, though the thought of not being within running distance still left her mildly anxious. "I don't have to go until tonight, though, right?" she asked the doctor.
"Of course not."
She only half-listened as he recited her post-op restrictions. Home. After everything, it seemed a little surreal to consider. Briefly, she wondered how long it would be before she could start patrolling again. She knew Spike had it under control for now, but her body was aching for something a little more strenuous than just walking to and from the bathroom.
"…and no driving."
Behind her, Spike snorted. "Like I'd let that bloody happen anyway," he muttered.
"Is that it?" she asked, eager to get on.
She was past him, on her way to NICU, before he could blink.
It was well after dusk by the time the Thunderbird pulled into the Summers' driveway. Buffy had started to doze in the last few minutes, but the gentle coast to a stop followed by the quieting of the engine was enough to bring her out again.
"Home, kitten," Spike said quietly.
Though she smiled, she made no move to get out, gazing upon the lit windows with affection. "You know what I'm looking forward to?" she said. "The night we get to come home with a car seat in the back."
"It'll happen soon enough. Then you'll be wishin' for a good night's sleep again." Her hand shot out and grabbed his arm when he shifted to open his door. When he looked back at her, his brows were drawn together into a slight frown. "What's wrong?"
Her throat was suddenly dry. She'd had a speech all planned, but faced with the opportunity to give it, words fled her control. How did she try and explain to Spike just what the past week had meant to her? How could she hope to get him to understand how invaluable it was having him to anchor her? She couldn't. It wasn't possible.
He must have seen something in her face, because his frown softened into a shy smile. "Yeah," Spike murmured, reaching out to cup her cheek. "I know."
Buffy leaned into him, closing her eyes. "I so suck at the Hallmark moments."
"Was that what that was?" He chuckled when she blindly slapped at his arm. "Knew my Slayer was in there somewhere."
Still, they didn't move. His thumb caressed the line of her cheek.
"You're going to be an amazing father," she whispered. It was easier to say such things with her eyes closed. Buffy was sure that if she saw the look on his face, raging hormones would win and she'd burst into tears. "I've never known anybody who loves like you do."
"I have. A golden-haired goddess who saw through a worthless poet's shell."
Damn it. He could make her cry just with words, too. She really should have known better.
Gently, Spike caught her tears with the pad of his thumb. "Hey, now," he chided. "We've survived the worst part. Think that calls for celebrating instead of the waterworks, don't you?"
This time, she looked. He'd moved closer, and his eyes glowed darkly in the dim light. "You're going to help me, right?" she asked. "Because this whole mothering thing is going to take me a little getting used to."
"I'm goin' to be there every step of the way. Made a promise, didn't I? And since when do you know me to go back on my promises?"
Her lips twitched. "Well, you did come back to Sunnydale and kidnap Willow after---."
"Extenuating circumstances. And I left again, remember?"
She immediately sobered. "But not this time."
"No," Spike said, shaking his head. "Never again."
She met him halfway when he leaned in to kiss her, falling into the familiar caress of his mouth with an ache borne from time slipping by. Before she could fully immerse herself in him, however, a light tapping came at Spike's window, forcing the pair apart.
The smile on Willow's face was nervous as he rolled down the window. "This better be good," he growled.
"Good's not exactly the word I'd use," she replied. "But I wanted to catch you before you came in. I waited on the porch for you, but then I could hear them arguing inside and you two started kissing and I was worried I was going to lose my opportunity to give you the heads up."
Buffy frowned. "Who was arguing inside?"
He flew toward the house as soon as he heard the name, knocking Willow on her ass when he suddenly pushed his door open to get out of the car. Behind him, Buffy tried to temper his speed by calling after him, but Spike was too livid to respond, taking the porch steps in a single leap, then shoving the front door open so viciously that one of the hinges snapped.
He heard the men in the living room and veered his path accordingly, taking several long strides before he stood before the guest who'd arisen upon Spike's entry. With a furious gleam in his eye, Spike swung and slammed his fist into Quentin Travers' jaw, hearing a satisfying crunch as the man was thrown back against the mantle from the force.
"Spike! Stop it!"
Through the cacophony of voices behind him, Joyce's and Buffy's came through the clearest, halting him in his tracks as he glared down at the Watcher crumpled on the floor. Buffy's hand curled around his elbow, yanking him further away, but Spike could've sworn he saw a pleased quirk to Rupert's mouth. He'd probably been itching to flatten the Head Ponce since he walked through the door, Spike realized. Well, no bloody way was he going to apologize for this when the wanker woke up. It was the least he deserved after the nightmares of the past five months.
He let Buffy pull him into the kitchen while Joyce and Giles tended to an unconscious Travers. She didn't say a word as he hopped up onto the counter, remaining quiet until after she'd poured herself a glass of milk and downed it. Even then, her gaze stayed even.
"Do you feel better now?" she asked wryly.
"I'll feel better once those gits are done meddling in your life," he shot back. "And don't tell me you haven't given a thought or six about doin' the same to that blowhard. After everything, he's a sight lucky I didn't snap his bleedin' neck."
Her features remained calm, though there was a hint of amusement softening her mouth. "And so I'll ask again," Buffy said. "Do you feel better?"
He grinned. He couldn't help it. "Yeah. I do."
Willow appeared in the doorway, her hands twisting in front of her. In spite of this newfound Guardian allegiance, she seemed more like her old self than ever before. This was the same girl who'd stood up to him in the tiny hotel room in London, with the addition of a few creative streaks in her hair. More than once during her visits to the hospital, Spike had teased her about being one up on him because at least she didn't need bleach to get the same effect.
"That was kind of why I wanted to warn you," she said, her eyes darting from Buffy to Spike. "We weren't expecting him either, but Buffy's mom let him in before Giles could stop her. He and Mr. Travers have been fighting ever since."
"Has he said what he wants?" Buffy asked.
"Giles hasn't given him a whole of chance to do his own talking," Willow admitted. "The only thing we know for sure is that he deliberately timed this so that he could see you as soon as you came home from the hospital."
"Gee. How generous of him."
"What about Wood?" Spike asked. He avoided Buffy's eyes. The topic of the Slayer's son was a sensitive one, and though she had asked him more than once to tell the story of what had happened with Nikki Wood, Spike had yet to do so. That was a fight for another day. "Is he in on this?"
Willow shook her head. "He left this morning to go back to New York. He said…this was never his home, and he didn't want to make things worse for Buffy by sticking around."
Though he nodded as if he understood, Spike didn't believe it for a second. He was going to be extra-diligent in looking over his shoulder for awhile. That kind of anger didn't just disappear overnight.
"I sent Havi to go keep an eye on Spenser at the hospital while you two talk to Travers," Willow continued. "I knew Spike would be worried, but I have a feeling you both need to be here for this."
"Thanks, Will." Sighing, Buffy leaned back against Spike's knees, and he immediately wrapped his arms around her shoulders to pull her closer against his chest. "And here I was hoping for a nice quiet night in with my breast pump and a tub of Ben and Jerry's."
Willow grinned. "Is that your new pet name for Spike?"
He gave her his best leer. "Wouldn't you like to know, Red."
Giles appeared behind Willow's shoulder. "Mr. Travers is awake," he said. "Spike, if you think you can refrain from hitting him again until after he's had an audience with Buffy, I think it's best to get this over with as quickly as possible.
"He'll behave," Buffy said. Lacing their fingers together, she tugged Spike off the counter. "Because he knows if he doesn't, I can make him regret it."
Spike let himself be towed back into the living room, where the Council Head sat up in the corner of his couch. Travers had an ice pack from the first aid kit pressed to his jaw, but he lowered it as soon as Buffy entered, his nostrils flaring as he took in their clasped hands.
"You're looking well, Ms. Summers," he said, his voice even in spite of the pain Spike could tell he was in. "Let me extend my congratulations on the birth of your son."
"Thank you," she replied automatically. She took a seat in the chair, and Spike poised himself on its arm, presenting a united front. "But really? You can ditch the Grandpa Walton routine. Nobody here is buying it."
"As usual, you erroneously assume the worst. We never wished you any harm."
"Which is why you recruited Lydia and Robin to do…what exactly? We never did get all those details before, oh yeah, they figured out you were a lying bastard."
Though she was smiling, Spike could feel the tension already winding through Buffy and leaned to the side so that his arm slipped around her shoulders. He wasn't the only one itching to misbehave, it would seem.
Travers remained unperturbed. "The last thing the Council wishes is to inflict harm upon innocent creatures," he said. "Your son was never in danger, even considering how…inauspicious his conception was."
"I'm going to assume that's an SAT word for bad," she countered. "In which case, you'd be wrong. Spenser might have been a surprise, but he's here because I love his father. There's absolutely nothing inauspicious about that."
Giles ducked his head in time to hide his bemused smile from Travers, but there was no way Spike could miss it. Better yet, Joyce and Willow didn't even pretend not to be pleased with Buffy's answer.
"In fact…" She rose to her feet, prompting Spike to stand as well. "…I can't think of a single good reason why I should have to talk to you. You're the one responsible for sending Esme back into our lives, which in my mind, makes you responsible for all the people she hurt. I'll bet you were even thinking you could try and manipulate her to help you get your hands on the artifacts she was so hot for, but you know what? It was never going to happen. Because you have no concept of what power really is. You think it's a big stick of knowledge you can wave in front of scared little girls, but it's not. It's a lot bigger than that. And until you figure it out for yourself, we don't have anything to say to each other."
Spike didn't bother hiding his smirk as Buffy grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the staircase. They made it all the way to the bottom step before Travers' voice stopped them.
"The world is a dangerous place, Ms. Summers." When they glanced back to the Watcher, Spike couldn't help but wonder if the man was capable of any emotion whatsoever. It wasn't very often that Spike met a human so cold. "Bringing a child into it, believing you can protect it while continuing your Chosen duty? It seems rather foolhardy to me."
Her eyes flashed in anger. "And if I was alone in taking care of Spenser, I might actually agree with you," she snapped. "But I'm not. I have Spike, and my mom, and my friends. That makes all the difference."
"If you were to be reasonable, you could have the Council's support as well."
Buffy shook her head. "You still don't get it. I've never needed your support. I've needed your trust."
This time, she didn't stop. She didn't say another word until her bedroom door was closed behind them.
"How long do you think we have to hide up here before he goes away?" she asked, slumping against the door.
Spike chuckled. Taking her hand, he pulled her gently to the bed, pressing her to lie down while he stretched out beside her. "I vote for not leaving 'til it's time to go to hospital in the morning."
"Sounds like a plan. A very good plan." Snuggling up into his side, Buffy rested her cheek on his chest while her hand strayed over his flat stomach. "It seems like forever since I could get this close to you," she sighed.
His arms tightened around her. If he let himself, he could drown in the sound of her heartbeat pulsing against him. It was enough to forget even the wanker still sitting downstairs.
"Spike?" Her voice was tiny, unsure. He would've liked to see her face, but she was nestled too closely for him to shift and look. "Have you thought about what happens next? For us, I mean."
He had. Every second when he hadn't been consumed with worry about her and the little one. But she wasn't asking because she wanted to hear his thoughts. That much was obvious.
"What's got you in knots, luv?" he murmured. "Seems to me, all's finally right with the world. No more baddies with delusions of grandeur, nobody tellin' us we can't be together. Soon as we get the little one home--."
"Do you see this as home, then?"
"You're here, aren't you? That's all the home I need."
She sighed, and her breath was warm and honeyed where it seeped through his t-shirt. "I can't seem to get my brain to turn off," she said. "I keep thinking about everything that's got us to this, and half the time, I want to laugh because it seems so ridiculous."
"And the other half?"
"I want to do stuff like this." Abruptly, she peeled away from him, sitting up so that she was sitting cross-legged on the bed facing him. Because they hadn't bothered to turn on the lights when they'd come in, she was outlined against the open curtains, her edges shimmering in silver. "If I asked you to do some sort of ceremony where we were all pledge-y to each other, would you point at me and laugh? Or would it wig you out and make you run away?"
It was so opposite to what he'd been considering was going through her head that Spike had to sit up and stare at her. "Are you askin' what I think you're askin'?" he said carefully.
"It wouldn't be a wedding," she blurted. "Because, you know, you don't exactly exist in the eyes of the law, and they kind of make that a requirement thingy for getting a certificate, I think. So really, it would be more of a get-together, with cake, and vows, and you in a tux and me in a dress once I don't look like Shamu. This is what unconventional couples do, right? Because I really don't have any frame of reference on how to go about this, except for that lesbian wedding on Friends and I don't think---."
He shut her up with a kiss. When she looped her arms around his neck, Spike threaded his fingers through her hair, deepening the caress until he felt her start to quiver. "You really think you can scare me off with words of commitment, you dozy bint?" he murmured when he pulled away. "If memory serves, I was the first one to bring this up a century ago."
"You and me haven't."
"There's Spenser now."
He kissed her again. Something about her daft reasoning made him want to try and kiss some sense into her.
She was panting when they parted this time, and he could smell her arousal. Any other time, he'd be pressing the advantage, but this close to her surgery, with the doctor's warnings still hanging over his head, Spike held back, settling for skimming his palms along her bare arms.
"You…me…the little one…in my mind, we're already a family. The two of you…you're my world, and nothin' would make me happier than shouting that out to any and all. If that's what you really want."
Buffy stared at him for a long moment, her eyes growing darker, wetter. Finally, she smiled, ducking her head as she surreptitiously wiped at her face. "One of these days," she said, "I'm going to be able to get through one of our conversations without turning it into a scene from Steel Magnolias."
Spike reached up and caught her hand, bringing it to his mouth to taste the salt on her fingertips. "And one of these days," he murmured, "you're goin' to suss out I love you raging, I love you crying, and I love you laughing, Buffy Summers."
Slipping back against his body, she whispered her own confessions against his chest, holding him close while the words echoed and hung in the air like a symphony begging to be heard. Spike's eyes drifted shut, letting their warmth soak into his bones, and unseen to Buffy, he smiled.
Edmund Spenser had had it only half right.
They had taught each other's hearts how to finally speak.