The statement in the last chapter about identical fingerprints and footprints should read nearly identical. There are differences even in identical twins.
Thanks so much to everybody that kept reading, especially General Mac, for your faithful reviews. There's a lot of me in Kara, so it means a lot that you've all followed her story in this 'verse.
Buffy fretted constantly until the next letter from Sebastian came. It was early September, and Dawn had already gone back to school, for her senior year. Buffy ripped open the letter, which arrived on a Thursday, and hurriedly scanned the contents.
I am so sorry for frightening you. Were you really that worried about me, or was there something else? I'm guessing I should read over my letters before sending them late at night, hmm? (She could imagine him chuckling at himself here.)
I'm requesting another leave soon. Seems I can't stay away…but do I have a reason to come back? Never mind, it is unfair of me to ask.
Tell me about you. Are you still on schedule to graduate at the end of the semester? I am ever so proud of you for completing your degree on your own. See, I told you that you only needed to believe in yourself. And what of your classes? Do you enjoy teaching? Maybe one day, you can open your own studio.
Well, time is short, as usual, darling…so I must bid adieu.
Your faithful servant,
P.S. I've enclosed something that made me think of you.
Buffy smiled to herself, and tipped the envelope over her hand. A little ring fell out. It was rosy gold, and in four pieces, with a daisy set on the knot holding them together. She slid it on her finger, and marveled that he'd gotten the size right.
"Hey, what are you looking at?" Dawn asked curiously.
"Sebastian sent me a present this time."
"Oh, cool. It's a puzzle ring. They're originally from the Middle East, designed so that a husband would know his wife took off her ring. They can be really confusing to twist back together."
"How do you know all that?"
"Uh, duh. I read, silly. What does the letter say?" Dawn asked.
"Not much, just that he's trying to get time off again. How was school?"
"Boring, as usual. The teachers haven't really given much work, yet, since they're trying to ease us in, and everybody's obsessed with who dated who over the summer."
"And the gossip doesn't interest you?" Buffy wondered.
Dawn shrugged. "I'm over it. The only guy I want to hear about lives in Seattle." She got a yogurt out of the fridge and sat down at the kitchen island.
"Speaking of which, you never told me what you guys did for the week he was here."
The teen rolled her eyes. "Nothing sordid, if that's what you're implying. We're not you and Angel."
"Sorry…I only mean that we're not the 'star-crossed lovers' type, so the big, dramatic sex scene isn't going to happen, you know? There's no death and mayhem hanging over our heads, making us count the minutes. We might not even make it work once we're in college together. We could be different people by then," she mused. "Anyway, we did the usual stuff – movies, beach, the carnival – it was fun, and we talked a lot."
"You and Michael talk almost every day. Haven't you run out of words by now?"
"No!" Buffy answered, a little too quickly. "Well…maybe, a little. Sebastian doesn't have e-mail," she pouted.
Dawn observed her sister, casually eating her spoonfuls of yogurt. Finally, she said, "So, have you told him you love him, yet?"
"I – what makes you think I'm in love with Sebastian?" Buffy replied defensively.
"Ha! I said 'love', not 'in love'. So, you are totally in to him! I knew it!"
"Shut up," she weakly replied. Buffy trudged up the stairs to escape her sister's laughter.
Tara was working as a paid intern at a counseling center between Sunnydale and Los Angeles while she worked on her Masters' degree. The doctor in charge had been very impressed at the interview, both with her college performance, and the answers to sample problems he quizzed her on. It was Tara's job now to lead group therapy for the Children of Divorce support class. She had a natural gift for reaching even the most introverted child, and the parents had been quick to praise her progress.
Willow was still wading through offers, while helping out at The Magic Box. She even had offers to leave Sunnydale, and a part of her was very curious about stepping out of her comfort zone. Sure, they had spent a summer with the coven in England…but this was every day life. It was a big decision, tempered by the guilt she knew she'd feel if she left Buffy to defend the Hellmouth alone. Oh, Willow knew that life would carry her and Tara from Sunnydale eventually…but maybe not today…
"Who saw 'Miss Congeniality'?" Most of Buffy's students raised their hands. "Well, Sandra Bullock's character had the right idea for disabling an attacker, and that's what you're going to learn today. S.I.N.G. – solar plexus, in-step, nose, groin. Very effective on a man, yes?" The girls chuckled as the two guys in the class cringed.
"We're going to go through these moves slow, so you can practice your aim. Mark and Chris, could you come up here, please? I'd like you to be the test dummies today." They groaned loudly. "Oh, come on, you big babies. I'll buy you a drink after class." Whenever they were going over a new technique that would benefit the women the most, Buffy took secret pleasure in using the two men in the class as mock attackers. They had originally enrolled in her class just to 'meet chicks', and show up the tiny blonde teacher. That goal had been eradicated by the end of the first day, after Buffy threw them to the mat over and over again.
The class clapped as Buffy announced the end of the session and wished them a good night. She dried the sweat off her face with a towel, and noticed the black-clad figure standing in the doorway. He moved forward into the room as the students started to leave.
"What are you doing here, Spike?"
"Came up for patrol. Thought you might want to come along," he replied.
"Right…and we've hung out…oh, yeah, never. Try answering that again."
"Alright…the twins are teething and haven't stopped screaming for over a day. I wanted to patrol to blow off steam, but I wasn't sure if this was your night off, or not."
"So, you ducked out when Kara wasn't looking." She sighed exaggeratedly. "Fine…you can come along, as long as you don't get in my way. There's a new nest of vamps in Holy Oak."
"Sounds perfect, Slayer. Lead the way."
"Mel, I don't know what else to do! I've tried the cold teething rings, pacifiers, baby Tylenol, soothing music…they won't stop crying for more than a few minutes. Mom used to give me Dr. Hand's Teething Lotion when I had a toothache, but none of the stores carry it anymore."
"Well…have you got some kind of strong alcohol in the house?"
"I'm not drugging them to sleep…"
"No, silly! You just put a dab on your finger and rub it over their gums. It will numb them for a while, and then they might fall asleep."
"That really works?"
"It did with Trevor. He cut three teeth in a weekend, and made all of us miserable. It was my mother's suggestion, and I ended up gaining a few hours of sleep. I was about to lose my temper from sheer exhaustion, too, so it came at the perfect time."
"Alright, I guess I have nothing to lose at this point. Thanks for the help."
"Anytime. Love ya. Goodnight."
Kara hung up the phone and went down to the mini-bar in the basement to pick out a bottle.
"Uhhhh, let's try a drop of Grand Marnier. At least that has the orange flavor, on top of the burn," she mused. She poured a dribble in a shot glass and carried it up to the twins' room. "Okay, sweethearts, this is Mommy's last shot before she thinks about clubbing you over the head. No, I'm kidding…but, seriously, give Mom a break, okay?"
She started with Anastasia, gently rubbing over the white spots just peeking out of her gums. She started sucking on Kara's finger, her cries fading to whimpers. Lillian quieted down once her sister did.
"Lillian, were you just upset because your sister was?"
The younger twin blinked, and yawned, reaching for her little stuffed bunny. Her other thumb went into her mouth as she watched her mother tend to her sister.
Anastasia was soon asleep. Kara tucked her in, then hung a chilled teething ring on a Velcro strap attached to the crib, just in case. She sat down in the rocking chair for a while to watch, not trusting yet that Ana would stay asleep. Finally, when she couldn't keep her eyes open any longer, Kara stood up to go to bed. She was just about to close the bedroom door, when she heard a sound.
Kara turned around, unsure of what she had heard.
"Ma!" Lillian was using the crib wall to support herself standing and waving her free hand at Kara.
Kara rushed over and picked up her daughter, carrying her out of the room so they wouldn't wake Ana.
"Me?" Kara asked her youngest, pointing to herself.
Lillian patted Kara's chest. "Ma!"
"That's right! I'm Mommy. Mama." Kara lifted her into the air and back down again, making her giggle with delight. "Who am I?" Kara asked again, saying the words clearly.
"Ma!" Lillian chirped, and giggled again.
"Oh, baby girl, you are a delight, you know that? Let's go call Daddy, hmm?"
"Spike, will you answer your cell already? It's announcing us to the entire graveyard," Buffy griped.
"I don't know, sweetness. I'm guessing you finally got the girls asleep?"
"Well, one of them. No, this is even better. Guess!"
"We're not out of ice cream after all?" he teased.
"No! Lillian called me 'Ma' just now!"
"Are you sure, luv? They've been making sounds for a while, now, and you're awful tired…"
"No, I'm sure! I checked. I didn't know if I'd heard her right, so I asked her to repeat it, pointing to myself, and she did. She's said it three times!"
"Ah, kitten, that's wonderful. Is she still up?"
"Yeah, I'm holding her while I talk to you. Turns out, she was only crying as long as Ana did. More of the empathic bond, I guess. You want to talk to her?"
"Yeah, luv, just for a minute." He heard Kara move the phone over. "Hey, Lilli. Daddy's very proud of you. Be good the rest of the night for your mum. Love you, princess."
"Spike? I'm going to try to catch a few hours while Ana's asleep. Are you going to be out long?"
"No longer than the usual patrol. Sweet dreams, kitten."
"Play safe. Love you."
"Always, baby." Spike hung up, to see the Slayer smirking at him. "What."
"The 'Big Bad' has gone majorly soft"
"Pfft! Could take you on any day, Slayer, if it wasn't for the blasted chip," he postured.
"Not that you ever beat me before the chip," she smugly replied.
"I would've drained you on Back to School Night, if your mum hadn't hit me in the head with an ax."
"Oh, like that's something to brag about! My completely human mother bested the Slayer of Slayers. I'm sure it looks wonderful on your resume," she sneered.
"You've never beaten me, luv. You've only gotten lucky enough to save your own hide. And dropping a church organ on me? Not even close to a fair fight. Do you actually think you'd win in fair combat?" he challenged dangerously.
"Um, excuse me, we're trying to eat, here?" Two vampires were dragging a girl off to a nearby crypt and had stumbled upon the arguing blondes.
"We're sorry. Did we ruin the mood?" Buffy quipped. She dove into action, quickly freeing the helpless girl from their grip and spinning her backwards towards Spike.
When it came to a fight against demons, she didn't have to worry about him having her back. Wow – when had that happened?
Autumn rain – very early in the season, but not unheard of. Buffy was caught out unexpectedly in one of Sunnydale's cemeteries. Patrol had been oddly jam-packed this evening, what with the lousy weather. She was on her tenth vampire of the evening, this one not a mere fledgling like the others.
She ducked a punch to her face and threw one of her own into his gut. The vampire doubled over, and received a knee shot to the face next. This sent him scrambling backwards, blood pouring from his nose. He wiped off his upper lip and licked his hand, before charging at her again. Buffy expected a straight staking at this moment, only he feinted at the last minute and struck her in the kidney as he spun around behind her, and wrapped an arm around her throat. She tried a high kick, only to have her other foot slide out from under her in the mud, dropping her further into the grip he had on her neck and choking her. She felt the ridges against her neck, repulsed as he licked her skin.
Buffy couldn't gain the upper hand with everything becoming so slippery. The rain was pouring down, now, cutting visibility to only a few feet. She struggled in the vampire's grip, to no avail.
"Looks like it's my lucky day, Slayer," he lisped against her throat. His fangs were just grazing her skin, when suddenly, he was gone, and she was collapsing to the mud, choking and coughing for breath. She had only been a couple seconds from losing consciousness.
She knelt there, soaked to the bone, with her eyes closed, just thankful to still breathe, to live. When she finally opened her eyes, Buffy got the first glimpse of her savior. With a sob, she launched into his arms, sending both of them to the ground, but she didn't care.
Her Knight was home.
"Shhh, it's alright, darling. I'm here. I'm here," he soothed, rubbing her back as she cried tears of relief.
Buffy sniffled and raised her head. "I thought you might be gone for good," she choked out. "How are you here?"
"You quit? But, what about your memories? All the rules?"
"Well, the last to want to leave was 90 years ago. I guess the policy has changed," he said with a shrug.
"You're just done? It's your purpose! They just let you go!"
"Well…not exactly…see, I did quit, but my commanding officer had a different idea…"
"And?" she asked hopefully.
"And…I'm on loan to you, or to the Hellmouth…however you want to see it."
Buffy sat back, stunned. "I don't know what to say…" She chewed her lip nervously. "What if your, um, expectations…aren't met here?"
"Buffy, I'm here indefinitely, if you want me to stay." They stood with the rain coming down on their heads, Buffy's answer weighing in the air.
She finally stepped forward, lifting her hands to finger his coat, getting a good look at him. Her eyes finally raised to meet his so he could see the truth.
"I really want you to stay," she murmured.
"Oh, thank God." Sebastian wrapped his arms around her and lowered his head for a kiss, pouring every bit of feeling into it – the worry, confusion, love, hope, relief, desire, and passion. Buffy had never been kissed so passionately.
She mewled, arms wrapped tight around his neck, her legs around his waist. She'd known she cared for him, a lot, the day after he left on bad terms. She'd felt like she stomped all over her best friend. Then, his letters had been few and far between for months, with barely any sentiment, and it hurt. Buffy longed for his presence, his subtle humor, his strength – and the way he saw her like no one else did. The second she'd readthat letter, she knew she loved him. It had been building within her for a long time, and the thought of 'someday' being replaced by 'never', had torn down the last walls of hesitation. Buffy wanted him to be hers, and she wanted him to know it.
"Sebastian," she gasped, pulling away from the kiss. Her hands drifted to his face, gently holding him in place so he wouldn't look away. "I love you."
"What?" He was drunk on her kisses and must have misheard.
"I love you," she repeated.
"Buffy," a whispered prayer of awe. "Say it again!"
"I love you, Sebastian Pierce," she repeated, smiling.
He must have finally believed her, for his face lit up in the brightest smile she had ever seen, before he pulled her in for another toe-curling kiss. Oh god – if these were what she had to look forward to the rest of her days, she'd die a very happy Slayer.
"Make love to me, Sebastian," she whispered in his ear, before bestowing hot kisses to his neck.
"Here?" he asked, in shock.
"Anywhere," she chuckled. "I just want to feel you. I've been afraid for weeks you might be dead…but you're real, right? The vamp didn't kill me, and now I'm dreaming in heaven?"
His hand cupped her cheek. "I should be the one asking if this is a dream. All I've done for months is dream about you. Do you realize we're still standing in the rain, drenched to our very marrow?" he asked, a happy light dancing in his blue eyes.
"I was too preoccupied. Take me home?" Buffy requested, promise in her voice, her eyes.
Life was just beginning.
"Nasty storm," Wesley commented, gazing out the glass doors of the Hyperion.
"You can say that again. It's impossible to reach the car without all of us being soaked," Kara replied.
"Well, you're more than welcome to stay until it eases up. We have plenty of rooms, in case you and the girls have to spend the night," Cordelia offered.
"I better go call Spike and tell him we won't be home for a while." Kara walked off to go use her cell in private.
"It hasn't poured like this since the night Connor was born," Fred said, coming down the stairs. "Do we have any food left in the kitchen?"
"Should be a couple frozen lasagnas in the freezer, still, Fred."
"Okay. I'll go preheat the oven."
"About time you called, luv. I thought you might have gotten stuck on the highway. They're showing mudslides all over the news."
"No, I'm still at the Hyperion. The street's flooded outside, and the rain is still coming down pretty hard. We'd be drenched by the time I got to the car. I'm going to hang about for a while, see if it eases up."
His sigh was palpable. "I don't like the idea of you staying all night in bloody L.A., luv."
"At the moment, it's only a back-up plan. Besides, the agreement still stands. They come after me, I wage war. Simple as that, and purely within my rights. There hasn't even been a hint of anything for almost a year, Spike. I'm sure they've moved on to easier targets. You worry too much. Listen, the girls are safe, I'm safe, and Fred's warming up lasagna. If I even smell trouble, I'll teleport right home, okay?"
"Yeah, I know. You want me to come get you? The truck's still in the garage."
"If it'll give you peace of mind, baby. I love you. I gotta go, the cell battery's running low."
"Love you, too, sweets. See you soon."
"Everything alright?" Wesley asked behind her.
"Yeah…he's just being his usual worrywort self. Spike will feel better if I let him come to the rescue," she explained.
He chuckled. "I can understand that. He has much to cherish. I was wondering if you could help me translate a text while we wait for dinner?"
"Sure. The girls are asleep, so I've nothing better to do."
"Are you sure you understand what we want you to do?" Lilah asked.
"Of course. They've been such good little dollies."
"Right…just remember, get in, get out, and let no one see you."
"Don't worry. I know how to play the game," she replied.
The ethereal figure left the car and drifted to the back entrance, her cape shielding her from the rain.
Connor was approaching his second birthday, and now had a room of his own, between Angel's and Cordelia's. He played quietly on the floor with his set of blocks. Cordy and Kara had told him to be very quiet while the twins were asleep. As incredibly young as he was, he still understood the need to protect the tiny girls he loved. Cordy had told him they were fam-i-ly, and he could smell it. Aunt Kar-uh knew.
So, he played, and he listened.
The pale brunette wound through the back ways of the hotel, intent on her goal. The closer she got, the stronger she sensed it. The whispers confirmed whom she wanted to find.
She finally reached the hall, and stretched her senses to detect if anyone was near. It was as she thought. The silly humans thought their castle was a fortress, safe. She silently twisted the doorknob and entered the room.
"Shhh," she whispered, mesmerizing the boy with her gaze. "We're playing a little game. Do you like games, pet?" His eyes met her smoky blue ones.
He nodded obediently.
"Good. Go hide, and then I'll come to find you. Can you do that, dearie?"
She smiled enigmatically as the boy hid behind a chest and counted to ten. Hide and Seek was always one of her favorite games, but there wasn't time now. She floated over to the crib holding the two infants and gazed down upon them.
"Little blossom, Grand-mummy is here to visit you. Such games we will play, you and I. The pixies have told me so."
The little girl just looked back and blinked at the raven-tressed woman. Her sister slept on, none the wiser. She made no sound as the woman gently lifted her out of the crib and cradled her in her cloak, sensing no danger.
They disappeared through the dark hallways to the alley below, and into the waiting limo. The infant was strapped into a car seat between the vampire and lawyer.
"Well done, Drusilla. Would you like a drink?" Lilah asked, handing her a glass of expensive blood.
"Nine…ten!" Where did the mysterious lady go? He shrugged, and skipped over to the crib, hoping the girls would want to play. "Li-ly? Li-ly!" Connor looked around and sniffed the air. She wasn't here. She was always here until Kar-uh took them home. This didn't feel right.
Connor ran to the door and pulled it open, then ran down the hallway.
"Cor-dy! Kar-uh!" he called over and over. By the time he reached the top of the stairs, Connor was in a panic, tears blurring his way.
"Connor? What's wrong, sweetie?" Cordelia asked, scooping him up.
Kara took one look at the boy's face and felt a sickening drop in her stomach. She teleported to the bedroom, right next to the crib. Anastasia rubbed her sleepy eyes and started to cry.
To Be Continued in Of Sunshine and Stars…