Title: TRUE COLORS.
Summary: The Gemel look forward to the imminent arrival of the Little Nipper, but they're not the only ones ... and what the hell have fairies got to do with anything?
Timeline: If the summary made the kind of sense that's not, you might wanna know that this is actually the third installment in the Link-verse Series. The other parts are 'Shades of Grey' and 'In A Different Light'. Set in a completely AU Season Five with occasional Angel crossovers.
Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org (Don't make me beg, it's not pretty).
Disclaimer: With the possible exception of some demons, I don't own any of these characters. I'd be a helluva lot richer if I did.
Dedication: To everyone who read the other stories and kept me inspired.
"Just because everything is different
doesn't mean that anything has changed."
- Irene Peter.
Late afternoon in Sunnydale, California ordinarily proved to be the most uneventful part of the day - if you were one of those deluded souls who believed that a town built on a Hellmouth could be deemed ordinary or uneventful. Even so, it was that deceptively peaceful lull before the sun truly set and the town's unlimited reserve of evildoers came out to play that Rupert Giles allowed himself a moment to relax.
It was just past closing time at the Magic Box and he busied himself unloading a new shipment of porcelain fairies onto the store's main display table, muttering halfhearted complaints to Anya about the absurdity of such items as he worked. He was holding one of the dainty figurines in his palm, poised to remark on it's striking resemblance to Willow, when the rear door burst open and Spike strode through. The vampire was all predatory grace and swooshing leather, his cap of white-blonde hair gleaming in the artificial light. He seemed upset, lapsing into a holding pattern of pacing near the circular study table.
He and Buffy must have had a disagreement. Again.
For a couple with such a comprehensive bond, they had more than their share. Giles had to admit that the incessant and frankly irritating bickering that had always been a part of their relationship most likely always would be. It wasn't as if a vampire and a Slayer were supposed to be mated for life. They were enemies by their very nature, though why the pair insisted on bringing all and sundry into their spats was beyond the Watcher's ken. Such things weren't for public consumption as far as he was concerned.
Buffy wandered in, as tiny and ethereal as one of the fairy statuettes with a disorderly chin-length crop of platinum-streaked curls and intense sea-green eyes. She moved at a more sedate pace than her partner and came to a standstill by the glorified ladder that led to the upper level. She leant against its metal framework, fingers wrapping tightly around the banister as though it were a lifeline. She watched Spike's hyperactive display for a moment, a worried crease marring her brow, then asked, "But can you be absolutely, positively positive?"
"What do you want, a written bloody guarantee? He's fine!" Spike was adamant, a muscle ticking in his lean cheek as he ground his teeth together. "Now leave off, would you?"
"I don't mean to be in your face with the Harpy Gal routine, it's just ... I can't tell. You know, if he's..." Her voice tailed off into an insecure silence. That alone was enough to bring the vampire to an abrupt halt.
"Here." Spike stalked over to her and cupped one hand at the nape of her neck, leaning in to rest his forehead against hers. His other hand boldly stroked the curve of her stomach.
"What are you -?"
"Shh. Relax, love. Feel through me."
Buffy closed her eyes, calmed by his touch and velvety tone in spite of herself. She sighed and edged fractionally closer, her hands enfolding his larger one to still its movement.
"Use my ears. Listen careful."
Spike's voice seemed to resonate inside her and she followed its softly fading echoes, frowning when they took on a frantic back beat.
Okay, that was so not a back beat. It was going way too fast for a start. An amphetamine-crazed raver couldn't even dance to that. In fact, it almost sounded like...
"Oh." Her eyes flew open, her astounded green gaze colliding with Spike's indulgent blue one. "Oh my God!"
He smiled. "There you go."
"Wow. That's really ... Wow." Buffy couldn't begin to identify each of the emotions she was feeling, although absolute joy was right at the top of the list. Closely followed by relief. Their baby was alive. Alive and kicking and existent in an entirely normal pulse-having human way - not the evil mutated demony one she'd secretly been terrified of. "You can hear that all the time?"
Why hadn't he told her? Why, for that matter, hadn't she known all along? The link was just downright unreliable these days - maybe it needed a tune up or something.
"Yeah. S'pose I could shut it out if I wanted, but why would I? That's our Nipper in there."
"And he's got a real snappy heartbeat goin' on." Buffy's eyes closed one more time as she reveled in the rhythmic sound. She nodded her head in thoughtful counterpoint. "I'd give it an eight out of ten. High marks awarded for the enjoyment factor, but you can't really dance to it." She took a deep steadying breath and shot him a rueful glance. "I was kind of afraid he'd be Jo-Jo the Freaky Vamp-baby or something."
Spike nuzzled her hairline. "Think I didn't know that?"
"You're such a pig." The mild insult was accompanied by one of her rare, sun-bright smiles and an affectionate smack on the cheek. "But, I love you anyway."
"Know that, too." The hand at her nape meandered its way down her spine, leaving over-stimulated nerve endings in its wake. She shivered.
The not-so-subtle throat clearing made both vampire and Slayer jump. They exchanged a chagrined look and reluctantly separated.
Giles suppressed his amusement at their response. He'd hated to interrupt, but they couldn't afford to be so entirely absorbed in each other, it could prove dangerous.
"If I had been a Marrow-Sucking Lersch demon, you would have been in extreme jeopardy," he admonished. Once a Watcher, always a Watcher.
"If you'd been a Lersch demon, you'd be dead."
The flat certainty in Spike's voice made Giles' skin crawl. Apparently the vampire hadn't been so distracted after all.
"Hey Giles!" Buffy chirped, attempting to diffuse the sudden tension in the air. She had pretty much given up on the idea of them ever getting along. They were too alike for that.
Spike's lip curled in disgust. He'd heard that last bit.
"Alike?" he asked via the link, scornful gaze raking the other man up and down. "Like bleedin' hell."
Buffy just smiled, ostensibly keeping her attention on the Watcher.
Giles, for his part, had the distinct impression that he was missing something.
That impression was confirmed when Spike muttered the words "stupid bloody tweed" under his breath and sauntered away to pester Anya at the counter. The ex-vengeance demon was in the midst of processing the day's takings and he immediately made her lose count.
"Guess what?" Buffy bubbled, cutting off the inevitable 'what's going on?' inquisition. "Nipper's alive."
"There was some doubt about this?" The glance Giles shot toward her midsection was cursory at best. He tried to avoid the subject most of the time.
"Never thought I'd say this to you of all people but, DUH!" Buffy rolled her eyes. "Can you say 'undead gene pool'? He has got a vampire for a daddy."
"Yes, of course." Giles' hands twitched, wanting to strangle said vampire for having the temerity to touch his Slayer. He resorted to cleaning his glasses instead, using only a touch more pressure than was necessary. "By what means have these suspicions been quelled? Sonogram?"
Buffy's snort made him cringe inwardly. She adopted more and more of Spike's mannerisms every day. It bordered on intolerable.
"Who needs a sonogram when you've got incredibly sharp ears?" she asked. "Not Spock sharp, Superman sharp." She all but bounced on the spot in her excitement. "I got the full cinematic surround-sound version of his wicked little heartbeat. Wicked cool, I mean, not wicked evil." She grinned impishly. "Hey, listen to me, making with the clarifications! Honestly, there was some weirdness, but it was that special link-a-licious weird we all enjoy so much."
"That's marvelous news, really." Giles could hear the detached politeness in his own voice and hated himself for it. He might not be pleased about the situation, but Buffy deserved more from him.
She nodded happily, oblivious to his turmoil, and smoothed the pink cotton of her shirt over her generously rounded belly, straightening a wayward pleat.
Giles followed the action, somewhat shocked, now that he was paying closer attention, by how very maternal she looked. How far along was she now? Six months? Seven?
Up until now he'd been able to overlook the true significance of her condition. It hadn't interfered with the slaying routine at all. She continued to train on a regular basis, and she and Spike patrolled as normal. Obviously that couldn't go on for too much longer. Judging by her girth alone, there would have to be changes made, and soon.
Moreover, he would have to stop burying is head in the sand. Time to get past your prejudices, Rupert. Your Slayer is pregnant. What are you going to do about it?
First things first. "Have you and Spike discussed marriage at all?"
Buffy blinked up at him. "What? I mean, I ... uh ... what?"
"You have to consider the moral upbringing of your child, Buffy. He needs a stable environment."
"Stable?" She looked bewildered. "You are talking about Spike, right?"
Her gaze flickered to a point beyond his shoulder and Giles pivoted on his heels to see the vampire regarding them curiously, one eyebrow cocked skyward. He made no move to join them, however. He was completely capable of eavesdropping on their conversation from where he was.
"I - I must concede that he's adapted to domesticity surprisingly well," Giles continued, turning back to his protege. The compliment left a bitter taste in his mouth but he was bound and determined to be supportive. He had a lot of lost time to make up for. "He's become quite the homemaker. I understand that he even managed to establish a legal identity for himself?"
"Yeah, he did. All set up, Green Card and everything. Please don't ask the how." Buffy's pretty face crinkled up in confusion. "Giles, where is this coming from? The taking-a-sudden-interest is appreciated, don't get me wrong. It's just... You haven't exactly been Supporto Guy lately. Pre-lately even."
He frowned, peering at a non-existent speck on his glasses and then pretending to scour it with his handkerchief. He didn't look directly at her.
"I'm trying dreadfully hard, Buffy, the least you could do is ignore my previous ... hardheadedness."
"Is that what you call it?" She tipped her head to one side in a decidedly Spike-like pose, lips pressing together as she tried to contain a smile.
"'Nother bloody-minded Brit," Spike noted, popping up unannounced at Giles' shoulder and grinning like a loon when the man flinched. "P'rhaps we've something in common after all?"
"Indeed." Giles almost squirmed, the most recent instance of sharing something with the vampire springing to mind. That hadn't ended well. He still had nightmares about it.
"So, Poddy," Spike addressed the Slayer casually. "You 'bout ready for patrol or what?" He jerked a thumb back over his shoulder at the door. "It's gettin' dark out."
Buffy raised herself on tiptoe to kiss Giles' cheek.
"Thank you," she murmured quietly, giving his forearm a grateful squeeze before rebuking her partner. "Don't call me 'Poddy'." She paused in the process of adjusting her over-sized denim coat and frowned at him. "What the hell does that mean anyway? Or don't I want to know?"
Giles hesitated. Should he really get involved in what would inevitably become an another argument? Oh well, in for a penny...
"It's one of our quaint English colloquialisms," he supplied. "It means 'pot-bellied' or 'fat'."
The blonde vampire threw him an irritated look right before Buffy began pummeling his side. "OW! Mind the leather, pet."
"You asshole!" she cried. Thump. "It's not like I need reminding of how huge I am." Thump. Thump. "I hate you."
Spike's angular face was an odd combination of laughter and pain. "Quit it, would you?" He tried to duck away and was rewarded with a kick in the shin. "Hey, that hurt! You're not fat, all right? You're just ... nicely rounded."
"Aargh!" Thump. Kick.
"Oi! Watch it, Slayer, that's delicate terrain!"
There was a brief skirmish until Spike seized her wrists and held her away from his body. He waited until she stopped struggling before gazing intently into her eyes.
"Buffy, you know how I feel about you," his voice was utterly sincere. "You're more beautiful now than when I first saw you. Trust me." He released her wrists and cautiously looped his arms around her middle. "You're always beautiful."
Buffy melted in a gooey lovesick puddle. "Aw, that's so sweet," she crooned, snuggling up against his chest. Her violent outburst was already forgotten.
Giles stared them, incredulous.
The vampire met the Watcher's eyes. "Hormones," he mouthed, flashing a conspiratorial wink.
"I heard that," Buffy mumbled.
Spike let out a strangled snort and then they both started giggling.
Giles sighed and shook his head.
Looking at them now, so deceptively young and carefree, it was difficult to find any indication that they were the Gemel - the purported Guardians of the Bridge, ordained by the Powers That Be and destined for greatness in this lifetime and the next. For a couple with such heavy obligations, they were being remarkably irresponsible.
His internal criticism abated as the importance of the title suddenly registered. Good Lord, had he been paying no attention at all? Wesley had uncovered multiple references to the Guardians of the Bridge in the Trionic Ledgers of Pylea. Could this 'Bridge' be the child that he had been so studiously ignoring? This pregnancy could very well be an omen - a foreshadowing of the End of Days and the ensuing Aftertime that Herald had mistakenly referred to all those months ago.
But then again, perhaps he was over-reacting. Wasn't 'bridge' merely another word for 'link'?
The Guardians in question remained oblivious to his musings and headed off to patrol. Spike lagged behind as they neared the front door, something catching his attention. He angled his head and stared at the display table, then veered across to pick up the Willow-esque fairy that Giles had noticed earlier.
"Take a peep, love," he said, waving it under Buffy's nose. "'S Red, innit?"
Buffy tried to focus on the continually moving object. "Yeah, if she was flying around like a blurry flying thing." She rescued the fairy from his clutches, eyes widening as she studied it. The Willow fairy grinned mischievously up at her, all tousled red hair and keen eyes, one of her teeny porcelain hands raised in the process of casting a spell. "Okay, that's scary."
Spike began searching the display. "She's got a birthday coming up, yeah? Wonder if there's a Glinda to match."
Buffy beamed. "You have all the best ideas."
"And I'm cute too."
"Thank you Super Grover. Any luck there?"
He scowled, unable to find what he wanted, and then hunkered down to pry open one of the boxes that Giles had yet to unpack, scrounging around inside and generating an avalanche of Styrofoam beans.
Buffy rolled her eyes at the mess he was making. "Guess patrol will have to wait," she muttered. "Just when I really wanted to kill something, too."
Spike paused in his search long enough to throw her a suspicious glance, then sighed in frustration and upended the container.
"Here!" Giles protested. "I hope you're going to clean that up!" He seemed to realize that the condition of the floor shouldn't be his main concern and straightened indignantly. "And don't bloody break anything!"
Spike ignored the warning, his scowl deepening as he pulled model after model from the chaos, carefully perusing and then discarding each one. A little troop of rejected pixies began to assemble at his side.
Buffy carefully lowered herself to sit amid the Styrofoam snowballs on the floor and watched the vampire go about his hunt. He could be so totally single-minded. Over the years that trait had proven to be both good and bad. This time it was definitely of the good.
With a satisfied grunt, Spike sat back on his heels. He extended a delicate golden-hued fairy toward the Slayer. This one had been posed with both hands cupping a flower, offering the bloom with a shy, lop-sided grin. "Glinda," he said with a smirk.
"So now we have a Willow and a Tara," she observed. "Yay you."
The corners of his eyes crinkled as his smirk deepened into a more genuine kind of smile. He held up his other hand. "And behind door number two ... Anyanka!"
"Ooh!" Anya squealed and skittered out from behind the counter, her high heels tapping on the tiled floor. "There's a me?" She fell to her knees at Spike's side and all but snatched the figurine from his hand. The imitation Anya peered coyly over her shoulder at them, a sparkling crystal clutched possessively to her breast.
"Reckon if we looked hard enough, all the Scooby-ettes'd be in there." Spike stopped and considered that. "Doesn't that seem on the odd side?"
"It does rather." Giles approached them with a furrowed brow. "Anya do we have a bill of lading for this shipment?"
The ex-demon was too entranced by her miniature likeness to answer for a minute. "What? Yeah." She gestured toward the counter she'd just abandoned. "Over there." She made no move to get up.
Buffy continued to explore the box. "I found me," she said. "Ugh! Check out the clothing, or the lack of. I look like a punk Tinkerbell ... a real skinny punk Tinkerbell." She stared at the gamine figure and let out a wistful sigh. "I used to be able to wear stuff like that ... I mean, not that I would."
Spike plucked it out of her hands, captivated by the scantily clad reproduction. She had been depicted in full Slayer mode - sharp little chin pitched at a defiant angle, arms akimbo and feet firmly planted. "I'm keepin' this one."
"After you pay for it of course," Giles glared down at him with what he hoped was authority, before heading back to the counter.
Spike narrowed his eyes at the Watcher's retreating back and defiantly tucked the figurine into his duster pocket. He reached for yet another unopened box. "So, what's in here then?" He didn't wait for Giles to come back with the listing, but tore it open with enthusiasm.
"Destructive, isn't he?" Anya commented.
"Yep." Buffy gazed at him with open adoration. "It's part of what makes him so hot."
Anya gave the vampire a skeptical once over. "If you say so."
Spike's impromptu cardboard massacre came to a sudden halt. He froze mid-rip, an awed expression flitting across his face, before he turned to Buffy and placed a hand on her swollen stomach.
"Hey you," he murmured, rubbing in soothing circles. "Settle."
The Slayer grinned at him, leaning back a bit to give him better access. A distinct bulge rose and fell like tide water beneath the pink cotton. "Felt that one, did ya?"
"Nip gets stronger every day, don't he?"
Buffy pursed her lips at the nickname. "We still haven't settled on a proper name, you know."
"What'cha mean 'we'?" Spike demanded. "All my suggestions get bloody shot down."
Anya gave them a cheery grin. "You could name him after a respected friend, or a father figure," she suggested. "That's usually popular."
Spike eyed Giles sourly as the man rejoined them. "Over my dead body."
"That third lot should have the male figurines," Giles reported, perusing a yellow invoice. He glanced up and realized that Spike had already begun to demolish the package. "Well?"
Spike delved back into the Styrofoam. Disgusting stuff. He probably had it stuck in his hair.
He pulled out three items before he found one he recognized. "Angel," he said, lifting it up to show the others.
"I now declare this officially wiggy," Buffy announced.
Spike snorted, still gazing at the replica of his Sire. It was impeccably detailed, right down to the spiky hair and caveman brow, and captured him mid-swing with a broadsword. The only differences to the real deal were the medieval-style clothing, the delicate wings and pointed ears. "Sodding thing's even got the brood on its face," he grumbled. Annoyed, he flicked it sharply in the head with his finger.
"Angel doesn't brood anymore, honey," Buffy reminded him. "He's all curse-less gettin'-a-happy boy now."
"Bully for him." Spike dropped the statuette onto the floor and dug back into the foam to pull out the rest.
"Bully for Cordelia," Buffy corrected.
The door swung open behind them, setting the overhead bell jangling, and they all jumped. Xander stopped inside the doorway and gave them a superior look, hands planted on his hips.
"Thou shalt not fear!" he proclaimed in a booming voice. "For the Xan-man cometh!"
"Oh, Xander look!" Anya bounced up to her beau's side and thrust her fairy at him.
"Very pretty," he said, not really looking at it at all.
Anya scowled. "Not as pretty as Buffy's obviously," she griped. "You didn't shove me in your pocket like Spike did."
Giles took interest at that. "I assume payment will be forthcoming?" he asked the vampire pointedly.
Spike just gave him a smarmy grin.
Xander finally recognized that something was amiss.
"What'd I miss?" He waded through the sea of Styrofoam beans and bent down to peer at the pint-sized Scooby Gang that Spike was segregating from the other statues. "Sweet Mother! Those are us! That's one's me!"
The Xander fairy had a teasing grin on its fabricated face. His bared arms rested across his chest and one finger pointed playfully at them, as though he was poking fun. He also had a set of wings and pointy ears.
"And the whelp gets a clue," Spike drawled. He tipped his chin at the invoice in Giles' hand. "That say who made 'em?"
"'Aftertime Creations'," Giles read. He sighed. "Oh dear."
"I hate when he says that," Xander noted. "Are we going to have another Apocalypse?"
"Quite possibly." Giles did not sound pleased. That was probably a good thing, though, 'cause an Apocalypse wasn't something that you actually got pleased about - unless you were totally evil.
Buffy fidgeted, a pained groan escaping of its own accord.
Spike's head snapped around. "What?" His gaze flickered rapidly from her face to her stomach and back again, then he winced and pressed a fist into his side. "Bloody hell!"
"What?" Xander echoed. He had his confused face on. It was a familiar look for him.
"Let's just say the whole 'foot jammed under your ribcage' experience? Not pleasant." Buffy twisted her torso, trying to relieve the pressure. "Down boy!"
"Kid's got your bleedin' kick on him," Spike accused breathlessly.
"And your persistence," she returned.
"Xander?" Anya asked in a plaintive voice, observing their discomfort with something akin to panic.
"Let's never have children."
He gave her a broad smile. "Let's never say never, okay?"
"Nipper's just a bit antsy," Buffy told them reassuringly. She shot a fleeting glance at Spike, who dutifully lifted her to her feet without any further prompting. "I should patrol. A hearty dose of vamp-dust usually settles him down."
Xander stared at her. "And that's a good thing?"
"Hell yeah." Her eyes lit with yellow sparks at the prospect of some slayage. "Fun for the whole family."
Xander shuddered. He still couldn't get used to that. The yellow part or the family part.
Spike's lips twisted wryly at the reaction, but he refrained from commenting on it. "So you lot can hold down Fort Fairy while we go slay some nasties then?"
"Yes, by all means," Giles replied absently, his focus centered on the invoice in his hand. "I'll see what I can ascertain about these 'Aftertime Creations' people from the store's records." He gazed off into space, his thoughts wandering off on a tangent. "It is after operating hours, however. If they are a legitimate business there's no point in investigating until tomorrow. Willow could undoubtedly find something on that horrid computer of hers..."
Buffy took the Giles-babble as her cue to leave. She grabbed Spike by the sleeve and pulled him outside like a disobedient pet.
The vampire, for his part, disregarded any negative undertones stemming from her performance. He wasn't the least bit threatened by her bossiness. When it came right down to it, he rather enjoyed her little displays of dominance. It was part of what made her such a great Slayer.
"John," he volunteered, casually slinging an arm around her waist as they headed off toward the first cemetery of the night. Their games of 'Name the Nipper' had become a patrolling tradition over the last few months.
"Paul." Buffy's response came automatically.
"George? Ringo?" He chuckled. "Sorry, sunshine. Even I'm not that cruel."
"Okay then... Um, Michael."
"He was one of the archangels yeah? The fighty one." He mulled it over for a second. "'S not that horrible, but I have to say that anything Angel-related is off limits. Bad enough I ended up bein' his sodding namesake."
Buffy loved that both vampires bore the name Liam now. It was so incredibly cute. Ironic as hell, but cute. She also understood her partner's very mixed feelings on the subject. She pretended to consider an alternative, then chirped, "Enrique."
Spike sent her a withering glance, his brows stitching together in a show of pique. "That's not funny anymore."
She giggled. "It is! You get that same look on your face every time."
She just nodded up at him. "Uh huh. That's the one."
The vampire rolled his eyes skyward and changed the subject. "So," he said. "Rupert seems to be coming around."
"It's been a slow process but it finally looks that way. Better late then never, I guess." Buffy leant her head into his shoulder and snickered against the leathered surface. "Did you see his face?"
"When you all but stuck your gut in it?" Spike snorted. "Bang up job you did on that score. Told you rubbin' his nose in it would do the trick."
"Hmm ... Sneaky tactics from such an impatient vamp. Who knew you could be so devious?"
"Ex-creature of the darkness here, pet. Dab hand at deviant behavior." He puffed up his chest, feigning indignance. "And you needn't've gotten so carried away with the defendin'-your-honor part by the way." He held one side of his duster open. "Black and blue under here."
"Oh, suck it up you big wimp." She stabbed a finger into his ribs, unrepentantly leaving another bruise. "You'll be totally healed by morning."
"Fabulous. Just in time to embark on the next spine tingling caper with the intrepid Scoobies."
"What'd you expect? It's been all quiet on the Hellmouth front. No major bad has gone down for months. We needed some weirdness to liven up the place." As they reached the cemetery gates, Buffy rearranged the stakes in her pockets for easier access, tucking one into the back of her pants. "Or deaden up the place. I like the deadening part."
Spike squinted off into the distance where two newly risen vampires were lumbering through the headstones. One was tall and lean, the other short and stocky. "First on the bill this evening," he announced. "Laurel and Hardy."
"Dibs on Hardy." Buffy flashed him an impudent grin and charged off into the darkness. "Hey you! Poddy!"
Spike lingered in the shadows for a second and watched her go, bemused by her high spirits. It was only after she tried a flying tackle on her opponent that he rushed in after her - backing her up like he always did and protecting what was his.
"Are you bloody daft, woman? You can't pull any o' that acrobatic nonsense now. Your center of gravity's all screwed up..."
A/N:I'm not really sure if the meaning of the word 'Poddy' is correct. I found it in a really old dictionary and it sounded so much like something Spike would say. In Outback OZ they use it to describe a calf that's been hand reared - a fatted calf, so to speak. Either way, it's a winner! :)