A Bumpy Christmas

Set in the future of my fic "Things That Go Bump in the Night". It's not really necessary that you read that fic. However, this one begins with a fairly detailed summary, so if you haven't read the prequel, and don't want to be spoiled, I suggest you skip the summary.

Summary of Things That Go Bump in the Night:(spoilers!) Suffice it to say that Spike died in battle at the end of NFA, but his ghost was forced to haunt a house he had owned since he became a vampire as a punishment for going against W & H. The PTB had stepped in to insist that the punishment not involve physical torture, and that there be a loophole that could, conceivably, allow Spike to be free to move on to the next plane of his existence someday. The ghost has no memories of anything before his arrival in the house. Long story short, Buffy finds him, realizes who the ghost is, they become a couple, he gets his memories back, they have a few months of being even more of a couple and then he vanishes – having moved on to the next plane of existence. He's not happy there. There's no Buffy and it's boring. After several months, the PTB send him back as a human, but with slayer powers so that he can be useful in the fight against evil. This story is set eight months after his surprise return from the dead and gone.

A Bumpy Christmas

Chapter One

"I look like a whale."

"You look gorgeous. Ripe. Like a plump, ripe peach."

"Wonderful, I look like fat fruit."

Spike pulled Buffy into his lap and nuzzled her neck soothingly. His hand automatically stroked her distended belly, pausing when he felt something thump against it.

"Practicing his kicks and punches again, isn't he?"

"Just be glad it's only your hand she hit. My ribs feel like I've just been in a fight with a hellgod."

"Not too much longer go, pet. What did we figure…another month or so?"

"The doctors said somewhere between Christmas and New Years. It's not like I could give them an exact date of conception, you know."

He gave a self-satisfied grin. "It's not my fault we spent so much of my first weeks back shagging like bunnies. I warned you my little swimmers might be just as alive as the rest of me."

"Oh? Then exactly whose fault would it be, Mr-I-can-still-go-all-night-and be up and at 'em the next morning?"

Burying his nose in her neck again, he mumbled, "Alright. Maybe it was a little bit my fault. But you said it was alright with you. Not havin' second thoughts, are you?"

She leaned her head back and caressed his worried face.

"Of course I'm not. I didn't think I'd ever have kids. And certainly not one with a vampire for a father."

"Ex-vampire, love."

"Whatever. The point is - you, me, and children just didn't seem like something even worth dreaming about. And yet, here we are, house of our own, baby on the way. Just like normal people. Put a picket fence around the house, and…"

"And jinx the bloody hell out of ourselves, most likely!"

Buffy's rueful laugh brought a smile to his horrified face. She snuggled her head under his chin and nodded her agreement. "You're probably right. The further away we stay from 'normal', the better off we'll be."

The rest of autumn flew by quickly, with just the barest mention from Buffy on the anniversary of Spike's disappearance. They spent some time that afternoon sitting on the bench where they had last made love before he vanished, their tightly clasped hands the only sign of how deeply they were affected by the memory.

Although Buffy was getting larger, and finding herself much less agile and balanced than she was used to, she still felt strong and fit, insisting that they walk down the hill to have a makeshift Thanksgiving dinner with Dawn. With only Buffy, Dawn, Willow, and a few of the students being Americans, the enthusiasm for preparing a large meal only a month before the food-filled holidays was limited as far as the cooking staff at the school was concerned. However, they had agreed, as a sop to the other Americans at the school, to serve a turkey with stuffing and cranberries alongside the more normal evening fare.

Dawn had coaxed Teddy into helping her pull some tables together so that she and Willow could make a festive setting for their little group of Americans abroad and their significant others. They decorated with gourds and a few colorful leaves that hadn't completely succumbed to the approaching winter.

"I think that looks good, don't you?"

"It's nice. Not like being at home, but we should be used to that by now. And, anyway, it's not like Sunnydale was your typical American city anyway. Remember the Chumash Indians that showed up one year?"

"No," Dawn didn't miss a beat, even though she knew that she hadn't even existed at the time. "I went out of town with Mom. She thought I was too young to be left with Buffy."

"Oh, that's right. You weren't there. It was Giles, me, Buffy, Xander and Anya …and Spike."

"Spike?" Dawn frowned. "Um…wasn't he like all evil and grrr, argh back then?"

"Yeah. He was. But it was just after he got chipped and he'd come to Buffy for help."

"Oh. So, was this before or after the engagement?" Dawn gave Willow an innocent smile, which fooled the witch not at all.

"It was before," she growled. "And I apologized to everybody for that a long time ago, so just mind your own business, Missy."

Dawn laughed and went back to setting places at the table.

"It's funny, isn't it?" she mused. "There Buffy and Spike were, thinking they were engaged and in love, and now here they are - in love for real and with a baby on the way. I wonder if your spell had anything to do with that?"

Willow shook her head. "I doubt it. I didn't say for them to be in love; I just said Buffy might as well marry Spike if she was going to be spending so much time with him. They did the 'in love' part all by themselves." She stopped to giggle at the memory. "I can just imagine how nuts Giles and Xander must have been, watching Buffy and Spike kissing and carrying on... Xander was too busy avoiding demons to do anything about it, and Giles was blind. Not that Buffy would've have allowed them to hurt Spike, anyway. But it had to be really funny to watch." She frowned. "Of course, by the time I saw them, they were fighting off demons, so not so funny…"

After the meal, from which Buffy took her leftovers, complaining that she had no room left in her very full abdomen for food, they said their 'goodnight's and let themselves out into the cool night air. Buffy cheerfully refused Giles' offer to drive them home, insisting that she needed the exercise, and that the midwife had approved her daily and nightly walks.

They walked quietly for a while, holding hands while the bag containing Buffy's leftovers dangled from her free hand. After a rather lengthy silence, Spike squeezed the small hand in his, asking, "What's going around in that brain there, Slayer? Can smell the smoke from here."

Buffy gave him her best 'not funny, Spike' look but then said quietly, "What if we aren't good parents?"

Smothering his automatic urge to scoff, he responded with equal seriousness.

"I had good parents, luv. Had some issues with my father, but he did his best to make me a good man before he died. My mum finished the job for him. She was a great mum, and so was Joyce. We've had nothing but good role models. You'll be wonderful. We'll be fine."

"Huh, if it's a girl you'll spoil her rotten. She'll have you wrapped around her finger by the time she's two days old."

"Just like her mum, then, yeah?"

"What if it's a boy? I don't know anything about raising boys!"

"We'll figure it out, pet. Not to worry."

As they walked, he kept a surreptitious eye on her to be sure that she wasn't tiring. Her normal fitness, combined with her slayer enhancements, had gone a long way to making the pregnancy relatively easy and trouble-free. Never the less, Mother Nature was not to be denied, and the closer Buffy got to her delivery date, the more she began to have in common with less gifted human women. When it seemed that she might be starting to flag, he slowed down and then stopped to sit on low wall. He pulled her in between his spread legs and kissed her, distracting her for a few seconds.

"What are you doing?" she demanded, having allowed herself to enjoy the kissing only long enough to figure out his motive.

"Just stopping to snog the mother of my child," he replied, reaching for her again.

'Oh no you don't. I know what you're up to. You think I need to rest, don't you?"

"Maybe. Do you?"

She allowed him to cuddle her against his chest and sighed before admitting, "Maybe. A little. I guess we should have taken Giles up on his offer…"

"There's no shame in-" He broke off abruptly, sliding her to one side and standing up. Without discussion, they simultaneously slid stakes out of their sleeves and stood back to back, searching for the source of the sounds Spike's still-keen ears had picked up.

A gasp and a muffled curse were the only signs that Buffy was now standing alone. Behind her, Spike had dropped like a stone, a tranquilizer dart sticking out from his leg. With an angry cry, Buffy stood over his body, whirling around, searching for the origin of the dart. A small group of humans stepped into the road, moving cautiously and holding various weapons, all pointed at the furious slayer.

"We can do this two ways," said a tall, well-built man who was clearly in charge. "You can come willingly, knowing that anything we shoot you with could harm your demon spawn; or, you can be uncooperative about it and we'll carry you out. Either way, you're coming with us."

He spoke briefly into a mobile phone and a dark van was soon approaching the little group. On the ground Spike was beginning to stir, although Buffy silently willed him to stay still. Standing over him, holding her next-to-useless stake, the very pregnant slayer faced the armed men. Men that she knew, under ordinary circumstances probably would not have been able to move fast enough to disarm and capture a slayer. However, this slayer was hampered by both the extra weight she was carrying in such an unwieldy fashion, and the knowledge of how vulnerable that precious weight was. She eyed their guns, trying to discern which ones might be more lethal than those containing tranquilizer darts.

"Who are you?" she growled, stalling for time and hoping that Spike would remain down until he was fully recovered.

The men reminded her of the old Council's "wet ops teams" - like the one that had been sent after Faith. They seemed very aware of the capabilities of the woman they were facing, and remained carefully out of reach, their weapons never wavering from her body. With a sinking heart, she began to realize that she was probably going to have to do what they said. At least until she could disarm one or two of them.

As if reading her mind, the leader nodded to the man holding the tranquilizer gun.

"We don't have time for this. Just give her a shot and let's get out of here."

"What about him?" The man holding the gun on Buffy jerked his head towards Spike who was struggling to get to his feet.

"Huh! That should have held him for another twenty or thirty minutes. Hit him again after she's down. Give him a bigger dose this time."

Buffy had turned to look at Spike and the dart penetrated her shoulder before she even had time to shout a warning to him. As she collapsed, her stake falling out of her numb hand, she saw him shudder and drop back to the ground, another dart protruding from his back.

Her arms automatically stretched protectively around her stomach as she lost consciousness and was placed, somewhat roughly, on the floor of the van.

"Easy there, boys. Our orders are to bring the bitch back as unharmed as possible. We'll have to be more careful than usual, what with her condition and all."

Before he got into the waiting van, he stepped up to Spike's inert body and threw something down on it. Then he hopped into the van and it sped off towards the nearest motorway.

Frantic pounding on the door of Giles' apartment brought the Head Watcher stumbling to open it. Living in a building warded by witches and guarded by girls with superhuman powers, he had no hesitation in opening his door without asking who was there. He wrenched it open just as Spike's fist began to break through the thick wood. Spike fell into the room, gasping for air and swaying on his feet.

Giles quickly guided him to a chair and poured out a quick two fingers of scotch.

"What's wrong, man? Is it Buffy? Where is she? Is the baby coming already? Why didn't you just go to the Health Center?"

Spike shook his head, gulped the drink and handed the glass back without so much as a 'thanks'. He looked up at the older man, his anguished eyes giving away the seriousness of, if not the reason for, his visit; causing Giles to fall down onto the other chair, his face ashen.

"What's wrong?" he repeated. "Where's Buffy?"

"Gone. Taken. Bunch of wankers with tranquilizer guns. Knew what they were doing. Not amateurs like before."

"Demons? Vampires? What do you mean, 'not amateurs'?"

"Most of the wannabes they sent after us – after Buffy – before – were just freelancing demons hoping for a reward. These were human, and experienced with handling…"

"You say 'before', you mean you think they came from Wolfram and Hart?"

Spike silently threw a small card at the older man. Giles picked it up and read it, cursing colorfully.

"Welcome back." it said on one side. On the other was the logo of the law firm that had kept Spike trapped in his house for so many years.

"They took her," Spike said unnecessarily. "The bloody bastards took her."

Giles rested a sympathetic hand on the ex-vampire's shoulder.

"We'll find her," he promised grimly. "This may not be the old Council, but we're hardly toothless – pardon the expression."

He reached for the phone, punching in a number from memory.

Chapter Two

It had probably been too much to hope that Wolfram and Hart would remain ignorant of Spike's return forever. Even though, in the interest of keeping the secret, he no longer used the last name of Pratt, instead, taking on Buffy's last name. He was introduced to the townspeople as Buffy's husband who had been feared lost in the Amazon jungle, but who had stumbled out into civilization after several months of being out of touch.

The fact that he had the speed and strength of a slayer was something that they had decided should be kept as quiet as possible. They hadn't even shared it with the other slayers, although some of them seemed suspicious when the instructors sparred with him and had just as much difficulty as they'd had when he was a ghost. Buffy passed it off as being the result of Spike's hundred plus years of experience and told them to think of it as an incentive to practice hard until they, too, were that fast and inventive.

However, there had been no hiding from those who'd met him, the fact that the man now living with Buffy was the reincarnation of her former vampire/ghost boyfriend, and they finally gave up trying. Everyone was cautioned to be careful where and when they mentioned Spike, but it was inevitable that someone would slip up at some point, or that someone in town would recognize the former ghost.

Suspicion fell first, of course, upon the solicitor who had come looking for the ghost, and Giles and Spike wasted no time in terrifying the man and his family by dragging him out of bed and threatening to rip his arms off. It only took Spike demonstrating a bit of his true strength when pinning the man's arms back, for him to admit that he had contacted Wolfram and Hart after seeing Spike walking through town with Buffy. Tears in his eyes, he insisted that he had only told them that the man now living in the house looked somewhat like the ghost. Except for an envelope containing his reward for the information, he had heard nothing else from them.

When Spike worried aloud whether or not they should kill the man to prevent his calling the police, Giles did his best Ripper imitation and said, "That's not going to happen, is it Mr. Smith? Because the consequences would be so much more…disturbing… for you and your family than any satisfaction you might gain from such a foolish act."

Gibbering incoherently, the man assured them that he had no intention of involving any authorities in whatever little misunderstanding they may have had. Nodding his approval, Giles tugged a still-glaring Spike away from Smith, smiling to himself when the man slid down the wall and began sobbing with relief.

Spike walked in silence for a few minutes, but couldn't prevent the approving smile on his face. Eventually Giles noticed it and said, "What?"

"Nothing. Jus'… you'd have made one hell of a vampire. Bet you could have given old Angelus a run for his money." He spoke almost wistfully, causing Giles to halt.

"You sound almost like you miss it," he said slowly. "You wouldn't go back, would you?"

"Bloody hell, no! Of course not. Wouldn't do that to Buffy even if it was something I wanted. But I don't. I'm more than happy to spend the rest of my life watching my children grow and gettin' old with their mother..."

His face darkened as he remembered the reason for their late-night visit, and he subsided into colorful muttered swearing.

By ten o'clock the following morning, both men were bleary-eyed, but satisfied with the little progress that had been made so far. The Council's low-level spy at Wolfram & Hart seemed fairly certain that Buffy was not being held anywhere in the main office areas. As the mail delivery "girl", she had opportunity to visit every area of the facility and she'd seen nothing suspicious. She did say that she had only ever been allowed into the front office area of the magic department's labs; not uncommon for the more secret areas of the firm, and not someplace she actually wanted to go anyway. It was impossible for her to investigate there any further without arousing suspicion.

"By no means should you compromise your job or your own safety," Giles assured her. "Knowing where Buffy isn't, is almost as helpful as knowing where she is."

He hung up and leaned back in his chair, eyes shut briefly.

"Brave woman," Spike said after a while. "Working in the belly of the beast like that."

Giles shrugged. "An organization of that size takes a lot of manpower to run. They are no smarter than most people when it comes to paying attention to their underlings. If the job is menial enough, the employee is almost invisible."

"Still – if she knows what they're capable of…"

"Lilly is a potential slayer who had aged out of the window before Willow activated all the younger potentials. She was already aware of Wolfram and Hart because of her watcher's teachings, and she took the job several years ago on her own. Her watcher contacted us and suggested we ask if she would be willing to be our eyes and ears inside. She agreed immediately and has been quite helpful upon occasion."

He opened his eyes and spoke quickly to forestall Spike's next question.

"Had Buffy not gone running off to London without telling me, it's possible we could have learned some of your circumstances without her having to risk the visit – although, no doubt the magic department's urge to gloat allowed her to learn much more than Lilly would have been able to."

"So now what?" Spike's quiet question was belied by the impatient pacing he had begun, striding from one side of the room to the other while his hands rhythmically clenched into frustrated fists.

"Willow and Emma will be here shortly. They'll do their best to pinpoint Buffy's location – whether it's inside the Wolfram and Hart facility, or somewhere else." He looked up, his face tired and worried. "I think we have to assume, that wherever they're keeping her will be heavily warded. It is entirely possible that we will not be able to locate her magically."

"Then we take that place apart, brick by brick," Spike said with as close to a real snarl as a human voice was capable.

"And we will, if necessary," the older man soothed. "However, they do have Buffy as a hostage. We cannot simply show up demanding her return. We will need to locate her and form a plan."

"Kill every wanker in the place. That's my plan."

"And a fine one it is, I'm sure," Giles said with a wry smile. "But-"

With a heavy sigh, Spike fell into the chair opposite Giles and dropped his head against the back.

"I know, Rupert. I'm just blowing off steam. Never have been good at waitin', and with Buffy's life at stake…"

"I doubt they will kill her if they don't need to. Imagine how much worse for you it will be knowing that your…Buffy and child are in their hands." He ignored Spike's sardonic eyebrow at the Watcher's unwillingness to refer to Buffy as his wife – something everyone else had easily fallen into. "They have to know that killing her would only bring instant retribution which could result in your death. Keeping her and the child from you would provide more long-term punishment. If they can keep them hidden well enough, they could drag it out for years. Keeping Buffy too drugged and helpless to be dangerous, or holding the child's safety over her head to obtain her cooperation."

Spike raised his head and stared hard at the head of the new Watchers' Council.

"Should I be appalled that you seem to think like them?"

The locater spell that Willow and Emma had tried several times during the course of the day produced the expected lack of results.

"I'm sorry, Spike," Willow said softly, resting her hand on the head he was holding with both hands. "We'll keep trying. The wards only have to be down for a minute or two for us to find her. We just have to hope that we can catch them at the right time."

"'s alright, Red. Know you're giving it your best. Jus' keep trying, yeah?"

Willow nodded and followed Emma out of the room.

The video-tape came almost two weeks later. Two weeks of the witches trying every spell they knew to help them find Buffy, weeks in which Lilly risked her life more than once attempting to get information about parts of the building in which she normally expressed no interest. The tape showed up shortly before Xander and Faith made a surprise appearance at the complex. They walked into the library just in time to watch the first viewing, waiting inconspicuously in the back.

Spike's hands were clenched around the back of a heavy oak chair. The tape opened with a shot of Buffy throwing off a woman in medical scrubs, only to freeze with her hands protectively around her belly when a man stepped up and placed a taser against the stretched out cloth covering it. The chair back made a loud cracking sound as it snapped in half.

The video was short and the area visible was limited to Buffy, a hospital type bed, and a very plain white room. There was no way to tell where it was, or even what time of day it had been taken. There was only Buffy's frustrated and frightened face as she submitted to various tests of her blood, heart, and a sonogram of her large abdomen. When the medical staff was finished, the man grinned maliciously as he pretended to taser Buffy's belly. She cringed away, whimpering and doing her best to cover her unborn baby with her hands.

"Season's Greetings, Mr. Summers" came a disembodied voice from behind the camera. Several cartoon reindeer danced across the screen as Buffy retreated to her bed, her best slayer glare compromised by the way she was visibly trying to protect her stomach.

The chair surprised no one when it flew the length of the room and slammed into the equally heavy oak wall. For minutes, the only sound was Spike's loud breathing as he struggled to control the rage flowing through his body. A quick glance around the room would have shown similar, if less intense expressions on the faces of almost everyone present. Emma's showed only the deepest sympathy, but it took her calming hand on Willow's arm to push back the threatening darkness in the other woman's eyes.

Faith's voice broke into the silence.

"So, who do we have to kill and where do we find them?"

Giles glanced up sharply, his surprise clear.

"I thought you two were busy putting down a demon insurrection?"

"Turns out it was meant as a distraction. The baby slayers are handling it just fine. If the law firm from hell didn't want me here, then I figure this is where I – we – need to be."

She walked up to Spike, whom she hadn't seen since she shouted at Buffy to get out of the crumbling hellmouth.

"You just don't know how to stay dead, do you, blondie?"

"Tried it," he replied shortly. "Didn't fancy it."

She nodded and stepped aside while Xander moved closer and held out his hand.

"Welcome back, Spike," he said. "We're going to find her."

His sincerity seemed real, and Spike took the offered hand with a grateful nod. "Thank you," he said, gripping the other man's powerful, calloused hand. After a moment of petty indulging in the age-old test of male supremacy, Xander flinched first, giving Spike a suspicious glare as he acknowledged defeat.

"Not too many men who can outshake me," Xander said quietly. "I've got a feeling I wouldn't want to be working for Wolfram and Hart right about now."

Spike gave him a tight grin that was uncomfortably reminiscent of his earlier evil days and nodded. "That you wouldn't, Harris."

"I can't bloody stand this any longer! I've got a baby due in less than a week and I still don't know where my wife is, or even if she's still alive. I'm leavin' for London, and I'm leavin' now."

Spike stood up and strode out of the room, ignoring Giles' thundered, "Do you think we're happy about it? You're playing into their hands."

Showing his hearing was still close to vampire-sharp, Spike whirled and came back into the room.

"Sitting here on my bloody hands while they laugh about it is playing into their hands. I'm not waiting around to see what the next video shows. That's what they want, isn't it? For me to suffer? Well, it's working. I've bloody well suffered long enough. I'm going to go get my family. Who's with me?"

Faith was beside him before he finished speaking.

"It's about damn time," she said, bouncing on her toes. "I didn't come all the way here to have meetings."

Xander joined them at the door, followed quickly by Willow, who gave Emma an apologetic smile as she got up. With a resigned sigh, Giles nodded and stood up also.

"All right," he agreed. "We'll take the school's bus, and however many slayers want to volunteer."

He looked at Emma.

"You'll keep trying?" he asked urgently. "And call us if you get anything? Anything at all. Telling us you know where she isn't could be as valuable as telling us where she is."

"I will," Emma responded immediately "I'll get some of the more advanced students to help me and we'll keep it going around the clock until we come up with something."

While Spike, Xander and Faith went to assess the weapons and load up the bus's baggage area, Willow went down to the slayer school and interrupted the demonology class that most of the girls were dozing through.

"Who's looking for a little action?" she asked, looking at the instructors rather than the students. She was taken back when every hand in the room went up.

"Are we going to rescue Buffy?" asked Julie. She had long since passed her exams and graduated, but had remained on as an instructor and cheerleader for the girls who lacked confidence. She still felt warm when she remembered Spike's "you'll do, Slayer" at her graduation ceremony.

"Yes," Willow said simply. "We're going to find Buffy. But you can't all go. Somebody has to stay here in case we need reinforcements or more equipment. I'll let the instructors decide who goes and who stays."

The bus was loaded and almost full when Emma came running out of the building, waving a map and shouting frantically for them to wait. Willow ran up to her, Spike and Giles right behind.

"I'm so glad I caught you," Emma gasped. "I can't tell you exactly – the wards didn't stay down long enough – but I can tell you the general area." She pointed to a red circle drawn around the area of London in which Wolfram and Hart had their main United Kingdom headquarters.

"That's it," Spike said grimly. "They've got her there somewhere."

Giles frowned. "Lilly has been all over that building – she hasn't…just a minute." He went off to a quiet space near the bus and hit a button on his phone. He listened carefully, nodded, asked a short question and then slammed the phone shut and walked back to the curious group watching him.

"I think we've got it. Lilly says there is an outlying building – she thinks it's reached by an underground tunnel for the comfort of their clients - which is supposed to be empty as it undergoes renovations to make it more modern. However, it seems to be more heavily warded against intruders than is the main office complex." He turned to Willow. "I'm assuming you can ascertain Buffy's whereabouts once we get there?"

Willow put on her "resolve face". "If we can get close enough, I should be able to find her with or without knowing more about where she is. The cloaking spell can't be that strong."

They were all reminded that the slender redhead facing them had come very close to ending the world at one time, and had completely changed a very ancient spell tying the Slayer essence to one girl into something entirely different. With a nod of agreement, Giles suggested they get one the bus and begin the journey.

With a renewed sense of purpose, they finished boarding the bus and set off, determination clear on every face. Willow glanced over her shoulder at Spike and Faith, and the slayers behind them; all wearing identical flinty expressions.

"If I wasn't so mad at them, I might almost feel sorry for Wolfram and Hart," she whispered to Xander. "That's a scary bunch of people back there…"

"Yeah, it is," he agreed quietly. "What's even scarier is that I live with one of them!"

"I heard that," Faith said, throwing a paper cup at the back of his head. He grinned and blew her a kiss, then settled in for the ride.

Chapter Three

They stopped the bus on the outskirts of the area in which Wolfram and Hart's London branch was situated, choosing to walk to the building complex in small inconspicuous groups. Thanks to Willow, the rather large vehicle full of heavily armed girls and women appeared to be a small Volkswagon bus containing a laughing group of preschoolers. As the girls emerged, the glamour began to fade and they became small groups of chattering teenaged girls. They paused at various shops and food places as they slowly working their way in the direction of the imposing office building housing Evil's favorite law firm. Willow waved her hand, replacing the small bus glamour with one that made it virtually invisible to anyone who didn't know it was there.

Spike and Faith slipped away to circle the block, quickly identifying the isolated building Lilly had mentioned. To the casual eye, it appeared to be empty; signs warning of construction areas and building debris were scattered around the outside. However, the glimpse they caught of an armed guard at the only entrance not boarded up was a dead give away.

"I think we have to assume that there are wards of some sort, too," she whispered. "We'd better bring Willow with us when we come back."

Spike nodded in agreement, fighting the urge to plunge in, fists and non-existent fangs to the fore. They slipped away and hurried back to the others, now gathered in small groups in front of various shops and restaurants. Separating, they moved from group to group, explaining in whispers what the plan was going to be. Spike took Xander aside and asked quietly, "Did you bring it?"

Xander nodded and patted a bag hanging off his tool belt. "Yep. Just say when and we're good to go."

"Not till we have Buffy out of there and safely away."

"Check. Rescue Buffster, then make it all go boom. Sounds like a plan."

Spike hand-picked a small group of slayers to accompany him and Faith when they broke into the building where they assumed Buffy was being held. Noticing Julie's disappointed face, he took her aside.

"Need you to lead the diversionary squad, pet," he said kindly. "Got to have someone with good sense and some leadership qualities to keep the girls on task."

She nodded, standing up straighter. "Okay, Spike. You just tell me when it's time to go."

"That's my girl," he said with an encouraging smile. "Remember, your job is just to keep the guards occupied and draw them out. Don't do anything foolish."

Without further discussion, Julie took a contingent of slayers and walked towards the front door of the building.

"Remember," she hissed, "we're just a diversion, so nobody take any stupid chances. If you get a chance to slay some customers, all well and good, but mostly we just want to bring the troops running."

One of the girls raised her hand. "What if they're all human?"

"If it's evil, it's evil," Julie said evenly. "And if it's trying to shoot you, you shoot back."

In addition to their usual assortment of stakes, knives and swords, some of the girls with firearms experience were assigned to hang back with Giles and deter anyone trying to shoot the attacking slayers. The girls who were going into the main building had been given Kevlar body armor and there was much teasing about how fat they all looked with the extra layer under their usual tee shirts; however, Giles was much more comfortable about sending his charges into a building guarded by armed humans than he would have been if he hadn't had the armor to give them. He silently thanked Riley Finn and his demon-fighting unit for sharing some of their more basic technology with the Council.

They waited until Willow, Spike, Faith and Xander had taken another small contingent of slayers around to the back of the complex; then, with a "Let's go, girls", Julie led her group up to and through the broad glass doors at the front of the building. As soon as they crossed the threshold - to the dismay of an inattentive guard who was quickly brushed out of the way - alarms began sounding and employees and clients began seeking safety. The receptionist took one look at the armed girls fanning out across the lobby and dove under her desk.

Those few customers who chose to fight the slayers or to count on W & H to keep them safe, were soon dusty memories, while the slightly smarter demons quickly escaped to the lower levels of the building and the tunnels leading to safety. As the expected guards came flooding into the area, weapons cocked and ready, Giles nodded at his girls and they began firing. While the slayers were doing their best to avoid fatal shots, choosing to shoot legs or arms, the old watcher methodically identified the leaders and picked them off with an expertise that would have surprised the younger Scoobies who'd known him only as a mild-mannered librarian with a knack for bladed weapons and magic.

Hearing the alarms, Spike's much smaller group in the rear spread out in order to get as close as they could before engaging anyone. As expected, the building was not only warded against location spells, but against entrance by anyone not wearing a W & H badge. Willow walked up confidently, confusing the guard with her cheerful "Hi, there" as she tested the strength of the wards. Giving him a pleasant smile, she said softly, "Not good enough, sweetie."

Her distracting presence had allowed Spike to get close enough to hit the man before he could draw his gun. While Willow closed her eyes and concentrated on the magical barriers, sending a portion of her power out to dispel them, Spike glanced down at the man and shrugged.

"Sorry about that, mate. I guess those signs about it being a hardhat area were right."

With a loud "pop", the wards evaporated and the slayers broke through the building's other entrances, confronting the few easily-subdued minor demons and staff inside. The few guards who had been left in the building's lobby quickly succumbed to Spike and Faith's single-minded search for Buffy.

In another show of her growing power, Willow put her hands against the head of one frightened employee and quickly learned what they needed to know.

"Buffy's on the third floor."

The shrieking alarms had penetrated to the derelict building, but with no sign of attack and no knowledge of who or what had set them off, there was some confusion about how to react. The small medical staff on Buffy's floor milled around in their office area, casting worried glances at the locked door behind which their charge was hidden.

Secreted in her room, Buffy was immediately on the alert, a broad smile going across her face for the first time since she'd been kidnapped. She had no doubt what the alarms were about, and quickly moved to participate in her own rescue.

Ignoring the unwieldy extra weight she was carrying, she went into slayer mode, reaching for the potential weapons that she'd identified weeks before but had hesitated to use without knowing for sure if she could get out and away without risking her baby. She picked up a metal tray, dumping the contents onto the floor and hefting it experimentally. Sorting through the instruments now on the floor, she slipped a forgotten pair of medical scissors into the sleeve of her sweatshirt.

Quickly grabbing her boots from the small closet and sliding them on, Buffy waited behind the door for the inevitable arrival of her least favorite employee. The wait wasn't long; the door swung open, and she heard him speaking to someone over his shoulder.

"I'll keep the bitch quiet, don't worry. One zap to her demon spawn and she'll do whatever she's tol-"

The heavy thunk as the metal tray embedded itself in his windpipe was almost as satisfying as the way he fell forward, lying immobile on the floor and trying to drag air through his ruined trachea.

"Oops?" Buffy said, taking the taser from his limp hand. "My bad. I forgot to do what I was told." She didn't think he would be getting up again, based on the color his face was turning and the way the air was barely whistling through his windpipe, but she tasered him anyway. "It's nothing personal, it's just in case," she assured him, smothering a guilty twinge and reminding herself that he had, multiple times, applied that same device to the body containing her baby.

Buffy peered around the open door to find the two nurses who regularly poked and prodded her body cowering behind a large desk. Doing her best to appear intimidating as she waddled towards them, Buffy hissed, "You're going to show me the way out of here, or I'm going to…"

The man who had originally kidnapped her burst into the room, leveling a very serious-looking gun at her stomach.

"You're going to stay right here until we take care of whoever has been stupid enough to attempt a rescue," he said, gesturing with the pistol for her to back up into her room.

"I guess that would be me," came a familiar drawl from the doorway. Faith stood, leaning against the jamb, one of his men dangling from one hand, the man's gun held lightly, but firmly in her other. "How's it goin', B? Man, are you getting fat!"

"If I wasn't so glad to see you, I'd resent that remark," Buffy said, smiling brightly. "But I'm going to let it go." Her face fell again. "Where's…?"

"Relax. The proud papa is doing manly things with Xander."

"Manly things?"

"Yeah, I think they're planning to blow something up. You know how they are – boys and their toys…"

"As entertaining as this is, ladies…" The frowning man interrupted their banter. He raised his gun again and aimed at Buffy. "Say 'good-bye', Slayer."

The clang of the bullet as it hit the tray Buffy had yanked in front of her stomach, was still echoing when Spike's outraged roar announced his arrival. The larger man was bringing the gun around, but had no time to fire it before Spike kicked it out of his hand. With a shrug, he stepped towards Spike, confident of his own ability to handle someone so much smaller than himself.

He threw one worried glance at Buffy and Faith, but relaxed when they sat down on the desk with interested looks on their faces. Arms crossed, Faith said conversationally, "So, what do you think? A quick broken neck or a serious beat-down?"

Buffy pretended to consider. "Well, if Xander's really getting ready to blow up the building, I guess he's going to have to go for the broken neck."

The man facing Spike was not a coward, but he'd never considered the idea that Spike might not be just another human working for the opposite side. When his first blow was easily avoided and Spike buried his fist in his stomach, he began to realize his mistake. Gritting out the words between his clenched teeth, Spike began to take out the anger that had been simmering ever since they'd received the video.

"Take my family away, would you? Knock my wife out and throw her around like dirty laundry? Try to shoot her! My Buffy? You were going to kill her?"

Long after the man had stopped moving, Spike was still beating on him, stopping only when Faith and Buffy grabbed his arms.

"We need to go," Buffy said. "I think you made your point."

"And, anyway, I think he's dead," Faith added with no trace of recrimination. "Do you know the way out of here?" she added as they moved towards the hallway.

Buffy shook her head. "No. I've been in that room ever since I woke up. But we know it has to be down, right?"

The hall turned out to have the normal exit signs over the fire stairs, and they ran towards one of the signs as quickly as they could with a nine-months pregnant woman.

"Argh!" Buffy yelled, her face wrinkling up in disgust.

"What? What's wrong?" Spike stopped immediately, his eyes searching her frantically for a wound.

"I just peed in my pants," she said, glaring at him as though it was his fault. "That's what's wrong. Turns out running with a heavy weight resting on your bladder isn't a very good idea."

"I'll buy you new pants," he said, giving a snickering Faith a warning shake of his head. "We've got to keep running. Sooner or later these gits are going to realize that the slayers out front aren't there for anything but excitement."

With a resigned sigh, Buffy resumed her rolling gait, holding her bouncing stomach with both hands as she stumbled down the hallway. They burst into the stairwell and ran smack into a small group of guards just cresting the flight of stairs. Spike and Faith never hesitated, knocking the first two men back into the ones behind, and following the cursing pile down the stairs. Buffy held the railing and stepped lightly behind them, pausing to kick the jaw of a more agile guard who had managed to grab the railing as he fell.

She gave a satisfied huff as she stepped over the unconscious man, intent on following the bodies that Spike and Faith were leaving in their wake. When she heard the door open behind her, Buffy whirled to find a snarling demon and one of the burly nurses. The nurse was holding a syringe, and advanced on Buffy as the demon leapt down the stairs shouting, "I'll hold her, get it ready!"

Buffy struggled to maintain her balance without the banister, needing both hands to grab the attacking demon and toss him over her head. She yelped at the way the action pulled on her belly muscles, but was able to grab the railing again before losing her balance and tumbling after. The nurse stood a few steps above the panting slayer, uncertain now of her ability to get close enough to get the shot in. Buffy solved the dilemma for her, moving surprisingly quickly and closing the distance between them before the woman could react. Buffy wrapped her hand around the much larger woman's wrist and smiled as she slowly turned the needle around. Ignoring the nurse's whimper, she drove the needle into her chest and pushed the plunger home.

"Night, night!" she quipped, turning around and hurrying after Spike and Faith, just finishing up their decimation of a group of Wolfram and Hart's finest. As she caught up with the other two slayers, her foot tangled in the shirt of one of the downed men and she toppled forward with a muffled scream. Before she could fall more than a few inches, Spike had her in his arms, lowering her safely to the landing.

"Hey," he said softly, brushing her hair back. "Didn't come all this way to have you kill yourself fallin' down the stairs."

"Sorry?" she responded, leaning into his hand. What might have become a tender moment was interrupted by Faith's, "Save the 'my hero' crap for later, will you? We need to get out of here before the man in my life sends it sky-high."

They resumed their retreat, Spike now holding tightly to Buffy's hand and watching her every step. Reaching the bottom floor without further obstruction, they headed for the door. Faith whistled for the few slayers still searching for W & H guards or demons to beat up and they all joined Willow outside. Spike stayed with Buffy until he spotted the bus, now illegally parked on the street visible at the end of an alley. He squeezed her hand, then pointed at the bus.

"Off with you now," he said, gesturing to the slayers to surround her.

"Where are you going?"

"I'll be right back. Have to see a carpenter about some C-4…"

"Don't blow yourself up," she shouted as the slayers tugged her away. "I just want to go home."

"And I just want to level this place," he said, his face suddenly much harder. "Go get on the bus. I'll be right there."

Once he was sure that she was complying, Spike jogged back towards the building and Xander.

"Are we ready?"

"Yep." Xander flipped open his phone and hit a number. As soon as Giles answered, he said, "We're good to go. Have you got everybody?"

The Head Watcher assured him that everyone, including Lilly, who had been spirited out of the building by one of the slayers, was on the bus and waiting for Xander and Spike.

"Where'd you put it?" Spike looked around eagerly, but saw nothing.

"It's tucked into doorjambs and in between the buildings. I didn't have time to get much upstairs, but if we do enough damage down here, it should bring the whole building down without touching anything else in the neighborhood."

"Let's do it, then," Spike said. "Can I push the button?"

"I made one for you." Xander handed Spike a detonator and held up his own device. "You get this side of the building, I'll do the tunnel."

"Yours is bigger than mine," Spike pouted.

"And don't you forget it, buddy." As he jogged away, Xander's laughter drifted back. "Count to thirty, push your button and get the hell out. I'll see you at the bus."

Spike waiting until Xander had disappeared down the alley, then began his count. He plunged the detonator button home, disappointed when nothing happened until Xander ran by him shouting, "Get out of there, you idiot!"

Shaking his head at his own stupidity, Spike put on a burst of speed and caught up with Xander just as a deep rumble behind them indicated that the charges set around the building were taking effect. As dust began to billow up from the bottom of the building and it began to settle into the ground, the two men threw themselves onto the already moving bus. Willow quickly threw up a cloaking spell and the bus sped away from the area, invisible to any watching cameras or any bystanders whose attention was not on the growing cloud of dust and debris.

The two men sat up quickly and looked back, hoping to admire their handiwork, but there was nothing to be seen but a cloud of dust from which emitted an increasingly loud roar. They looked at the dust cloud, then high-fived each other with matching satisfied grins.

"I can put 'em up, and I can take 'em down," Xander said proudly.

"That you can, Harris."

"Looks like all those years in the construction biz paid off."

Faith's voice reminded them that there were others present and they quickly tried to appear less like naughty schoolboys and more like seriously dangerous adult men.

"I think it worked fairly well, don't you, Spike?"

"Yes, Xander. It was good work. A job well done."

They held straight faces for a minute, hanging on to the back of Faith's seat as the bus rocketed away from the area towards which emergency vehicles were streaming; but when Faith rolled her eyes at them, they collapsed into very unmanly giggles.

Which were quickly interrupted by Buffy's soft, "Spike?"

His shame in having forgotten her for even a few seconds had him apologizing abjectly as he kissed her face and hands, reassuring himself that she was really there and apparently unhurt.

"Did they hurt you, love? Did they try to hurt the baby? I'm so sorry it took me so long to get here. You know I never stopped -"

"I know you didn't," she soothed him. "And, no, I don't think they hurt the baby. I had to quit trying to get away because I was worried about what the drugs and too many zaps with that taser might do to it, but as soon as I stopped fighting, they stopped doing stuff that might harm the baby. I think they wanted it to be born healthy."

"What do you think their plans were?" Willow's voice broke in and Buffy reached up to hug her briefly.

"I think the idea was to keep Spike as worried as possible for as long as possible. I heard the nurses talking once when they thought I was too drugged out to understand them, and I think they were planning to take me somewhere else after the baby was born." She gave Spike an anxious smile. "I think they were talking about another country, but I'm not sure."

"Did you know they were making that video they sent us?"

She nodded, her face ashamed.

"I did. I tried to make it look like I was okay, but when they threatened the baby…"

"You did the right thing, B. You stayed alive and hung on to Spike or Buffy Jr until the cavalry arrived. I'd a done the same thing."

"You would not," Buffy scoffed. "You'd have made them pay for every drop of blood they took out of you."

"Not if I had something that important to keep safe," Faith said wistfully, her hand caressing her own flat stomach. "I'd do what I needed to do."

Spike hadn't missed the wistful tone in her voice and he shot a glance at Xander to see him staring at Faith with his mouth agape. Spike's snicker took Xander's eyes off his girlfriend long enough to catch the raised eyebrow and smirk on the other man's face. Without responding, he turned his eyes back to Faith to find that she'd changed the subject and was busy explaining to Buffy what had been going on during the weeks she'd been gone.

Chapter Four

As everyone settled down for the long ride back to the Council headquarters, Giles and Willow phoned ahead to let everyone know that the mission had been a success. Giles was concerned with increasing security in the event of a retaliatory attack, although he doubted W & H would have been able to mount one so quickly; Willow, however, was whispering to Dawn and Emma, telling them that they should go ahead with the plans they'd made earlier.

Buffy squirmed uncomfortably on her seat, the wet underwear becoming increasingly embarrassing as the adrenaline rush subsided and she became more aware of her condition. The baby, apparently also stimulated by the flood of hormones, began kicking vigorously, tiny arms and legs going in four different directions.

"Guh!" Buffy's involuntary gasp had Spike placing a soothing hand on her belly.

"We'll be there soon, love," he whispered. "You can get cleaned up, change clothes and sleep in your own bed again."

"I don't think sleep's on the baby's agenda," she said, wincing as another baby foot pushed a rib out of place.

While she cuddled next to him, grateful that he no longer had a vamp's sense of smell, Spike caressed her stomach with long, relaxing strokes that eventually calmed the baby to the point that the kicks and punches were exchanged for more easily ignored squirming.

"This is all your fault, you know," she grumbled.

He raised a skeptical eyebrow, but his eyes were shadowed by the knowledge that she was right – without his return, she would have been left in peace to enjoy the life he'd left her.

"I'm sorry, love. I truly am. Maybe it would be best if I…"

Buffy hadn't noticed his pained reaction and continued as if he hadn't spoken.

"If you weren't so horny all the time, I wouldn't be all fat and ugly and peeing in my pants and having my ribs pushed out of shape…"

Relief flooded his face, and he laughed at her indignation.

"I take full responsibility, pet. I'm a selfish wanker, I am. Just can't keep my hands off you…" He nuzzled her neck, his quiet gusts of laughter stirring her hair while she continued to grumble even as she snuggled closer to him.

"It's a good thing I love you," she muttered. "Otherwise, I'd have to kill you for this."

The seats on the old bus weren't terribly comfortable, forcing Buffy to stand up several times, holding on to the back of the seat and swaying with the motion of the vehicle until she felt like she could sit down again. Spike did his best to keep her comfortable, rubbing her lower back and telling jokes in an attempt to take her mind off her discomfort. Eventually, she decided to lie down, her head on Spike's lap and her legs dangling into the aisle.

"Oh, we should have done this a long time ago," she said with relief as her back stretched out and the aches eased. "Why didn't you think of it before?"

Rolling his eyes, and then glaring at the snickering onlookers, he responded patiently, "I don't know, pet. I'm just a selfish git, I s'pect."

"It's okay. I forgive you. But only because you rescued me…" Her voice trailed off as the day's events caught up to her and she drifted off to sleep, her head resting on Spike's muscular thigh and her hand clasped tightly around the arm holding her firmly onto the seat.

At everyone's insistence, Buffy agreed to visit the school's Health Center for a quick check-up before going home. She flatly refused any suggestion that she stay there overnight, arguing that if there was one thing she'd had plenty of in the past several weeks, it was medical care.

"I just want to go home and sleep in my own bed, with my husband."

There were nods all around and as soon as Buffy, to her great relief, had showered and changed into clean sweat pants, she and Spike climbed into Giles' car for the ride home. Xander and Faith promised they would come up the following day to discuss moving from the school's Spartan guest accommodations to the guest room of the Summers' home.

"Where's Dawn?" Buffy asked, her surprise and disappointment obvious as she got into the back seat.

"Um…I think she's waiting for you at your house," Willow volunteered, not wanting to give away what Dawn, Teddy and Emma had been doing while Buffy was on her way back from London.

"Oh, okay. I guess she had to feed Noelle, with Spike gone and all…"

"Yep. That's probably it. She went to take care of the cat."

Teddy's car was indeed in front of the house when they drove up; and Dawn, Teddy and Emma were waiting on the front porch. Buffy had barely mounted the top step when Dawn smothered her in a hug, crying and laughing as she tried to get her long arms around her sister. After sharing less demonstrative, though equally sincere hugs with Teddy and Emma, Buffy led the way into the house – stopping in astonishment when Dawn hit a light switch.

To her left, the living room sparked with the lights from a fully decorated tree occupying the same spot as last year's brave defiance of grief. Ropes of greenery hung along the mantle, along with candles and pinecones. A colorful basket sat near the fireplace filled with all the Christmas cards that had not yet been opened.

A quick glance into the dining room showed that room also decorated, including the table already set for a holiday meal.

"What…what day is it?" Buffy looked around in bewilderment. She'd tried to keep track of the days she'd been held in her small, interior room, but she'd been drugged so often in the beginning that she really had little idea how much time had passed.

"It's the twentieth of December," Dawn volunteered. "Only five days till Christmas. We thought you'd like to come home to a festive house."

"It looks wonderful. Thank you so much – all of you," she added, including Giles and Spike in her warm gaze.

"We're just all very grateful to have you back safely," Giles said, giving her a brief, but heartfelt hug. "Willow has warded the house against any unwelcome visitors – demon or human – so you should be able to rest comfortably with no worries."

Very quickly, in a flurry of 'thank you's and 'goodnight's, the house was empty. Spike and Buffy were left standing in the doorway, arms around each other, Noelle weaving around Buffy's legs and purring happily.

Shutting the door against the cold, Spike turned Buffy around and led her into the living room. He turned the overhead light off and they stood together for a minute, admiring the tree and the way its lights were reflected back from the window. Suddenly, he drew a deep shuddering breath and buried his face in Buffy's neck.

"I thought I'd lost you," he said, his voice choking. "Thought I'd really failed you this time and you were going to be gone forever – you and the little one."

Buffy ran a hand over his head with long, soothing strokes.

"I knew you'd come for me," she whispered. "I never doubted. I was just trying to keep the baby safe until you got there."

He nodded. "I know you were, pet. And I love you for it…but we can make more babies. I'll never have another Buffy. If it came down to it-"

"Don't finish that thought!"

"I'm sorry, love. I didn't mean that the way it came out. Didn't mean I'm not happy that you're both still here, or that I wouldn't have moved a Ch'klath demon the size of a mountain to save the sprog. I just meant that I could deal with losing one of you – but not both."

"We're both right here," she whispered, holding his face in both hands and brushing lips across his. "And we're not going anywhere. I promise."

Pretending she couldn't see the tears he was blinking back, she moved towards the hallway, tugging on his hand. "But, you know what? I'm really sick of hospital beds, lights in my face all night, and being by myself in bed. I'm ready for a good winter night's nap right here in my own bed with my own personal bed warmer beside me."

Hours later, Spike was awakened by Buffy's voice and her hand shaking his shoulder.

"Spike! Wake up! I think I'm having a baby!"

"Huh? Wha..?" He sat up so fast he almost hit her in the face with his head. "You're what? Now? But…next week…or…"

"Now. Trust me. Here, feel." She took his hand and placed it on her swollen belly. Instead of the normal squirming or kicking that he was accustomed to feeling, he felt her whole stomach slowly seize up until it was rock hard. He looked up at her with wide eyes as the hardness gradually ebbed and she took a deep breath.

"Is that…?"

"Yup. Pretty sure that's a contraction. And, as soon as you wake up enough to notice that the bed's wet, you'll know my water has broken. We've got a baby on the way."

Buffy's voice was a mixture of pride and nervousness as she waited for his reaction.

"Baby. On the way. Now. Right this minute…" In a daze, he turned on the bedside lamp and peered at her stomach.

"Well, probably not right this minute. But soon. Sometime tonight -or today," she amended, looking at the clock.

"We should go!" He leapt from the bed and began throwing on the clothes he'd dropped the night before. "What are you doing just sitting there? Get up! We have to go. I'm not playing doctor for this!"

"Relax. I'll be fine. You need to call Lucille and tell her what's going on, and see if she thinks we should leave now or if it can wait until daylight."

While Spike searched for the midwife's home number, Buffy calmly got up, stripped the bed, stepped into the shower and rinsed off the fluid still running down her legs. A glance at her stomach showed her that the baby had dropped considerably during the night, and it was now pressing uncomfortably against her pelvic floor. Another contraction had her grabbing her belly and stroking it until the cramp passed.

Spike stuck his head in the door, phone clutched in his hand. "She wants to know how far apart the contractions are."

"I don't know – however long it's been since the last one. Five or ten minutes? Did you tell her my water broke?"

The excited voice from the phone made it clear that Spike had not mentioned that important bit of information.

"She says we should get to the Infirmary. She'll meet us there."

"'k"

Buffy quickly dressed and threw some things in an overnight bag. She gave a puzzled Noelle a kiss on her nose and put her back on the bed. "I'm sorry, Noey, baby. I thought I'd be home longer than this. But I'll be back soon. Don't worry."

While Spike danced anxiously from foot to foot, Buffy calmly went about making sure she had a change of clothes, her toothbrush and her makeup with her.

"I'll bring you a bloody toothbrush!" he finally shouted when she went back into the bathroom for the second time. "Let's go!"

Leaving Buffy on the porch, he quickly brought the little car he'd bought for them around the house and opened the door. Taking the steps in one bound, he helped her walk down, pausing to stroke her abdomen when it tightened again. As soon as Buffy could walk again, he hustled her down the final step and into the car.

The trip to the Council complex took only a few minutes at that hour of the night, and Spike drove right past the slayer posted at the entrance, pointing to Buffy as he barreled through the gate and went straight to the building housing the school's small hospital.

The midwife met them at the door, holding it wide for Buffy and smiling to herself at Spike's frantic face.

"It's too early, innit? Is something wrong? Why is she having it now? What's happened? Is this because of what we did yesterday? Is it my fault for making her run?"

"Relax, Dad," she said with a tolerant smile. "If she over-exerted herself a bit she might have got things going a bit sooner than expected, but a week ahead of a due date is hardly grounds for panic. She'll be fine."

After a short conversation with Buffy about her contractions and how long ago they'd begun, Lucille sent her off with the on-duty night nurse to get undressed and into the room the staff had set up as a birthing room. With no reason to think a healthy, fit young woman would not have an uncomplicated and relatively easy birth, the consulting obstetrician for the Council Headquarters had agreed to allow Buffy to have the baby near her home. With the clear understanding that if Lucille saw anything in Buffy's weekly checkups that gave her any reason for concern, she would agree to travel to the public hospital and its better equipped neonatal unit.

The weeks that Buffy had been gone, of course, meant than Lucille had not seen her for those weekly visits just when it was most important that she keep tabs on how the baby was doing. However, Buffy's description of the regular testing carried out by her captors seemed to indicate that no one had detected any problems with the baby or the expectant mother. Lucille's short conversation with the nurse who had checked Buffy over when she came in after her return earlier in the evening reassured the midwife that the slayer was still as healthy and strong as she'd been the last time Lucille had seen her, and she felt comfortable reassuring the visibly nervous expectant father.

As soon as Buffy was ensconced in a bed as comfortably as was possible for someone who periodically gripped the sides of the bed with white knuckles and held her breath until the contraction passed, Spike was allowed to join her. He pulled a chair up beside the bed, studying her anxiously.

"How do you feel, love? Are you all right? Can I get you anything?"

Buffy shook her head, gripping his hand tightly as another contraction rippled across her stomach.

"Just stay here."

"Nothing could drag me away." He stroked her head with his free hand, smiling when she leaned into it.

An hour later, as Buffy began slowly crushing the bones in his hand, he was rethinking his words. One look at the expression on her face told him complaining was not in his best interest, and he did his best to smile innocently when she said through gritted teeth, "This is entirely your fault. If you were still a vampire…"

Lucille smiled encouragingly as Spike appealed to her for help, saying softly, "Transition, remember? This is a good thing." He thought back to the few childbirth classes he and Buffy'd had time to attend before she was abducted and nodded his understanding. Buffy had released his hand to clutch the sides of the bed again, and he flexed his bruised fingers and tried hard to remember how long this stage of labor was supposed to last.

As expected by the midwife, once Buffy had reached the point where the baby was in position to be pushed out, it didn't take terribly long for her enhanced muscles to do what was needed, and there was soon an indignant wail as the first Summers-Pratt child slipped into Lucille's waiting hands. She quickly put the slimy baby on Buffy's stomach and encouraged her to hold it there while she snipped the cord and took care of the placenta.

"Spike! Look! We have a baby! A beautiful baby…boy?"

"Looks like, love. Got all his manly parts." While he would have had trouble describing the bloody, slippery-looking creature squirming and crying on Buffy's belly as "beautiful", he couldn't help beaming with pride. "I have a son," he barely whispered, the miracle he had just witnessed overwhelming his ability to speak.

At no time in his over 150 years of existence had he ever expected to be able to say that. In spite of Angel's magical production of a son and heir, he'd had no expectations of having the same thing happen to him.

"We have a son," Buffy corrected gently. She reluctantly released her hold on the baby so the nurse could take him away and clean him up. By the time Lucille had declared everything fine and had shaken hands with the proud new father and mother, the baby was back, now clean and bundled into a soft cotton blanket. The little knitted cap on his head hid the sparse golden curls that had been just visible before he was whisked away.

As soon as Buffy had been cleaned up and the sheets changed, the remaining signs of medical equipment were wheeled out of the room, the lights were dimmed, and it took on the appearance of spare, but comfortable bedroom. A rocking chair was pulled from its place against the wall and placed next to the comfortable chair that Spike had been using.

With a promise to come back shortly and help Buffy to get the baby started nursing, the nurse left the new little family to get acquainted. Spike sat in the rocking chair, still seeming to be speechless as he took in the sight of Buffy cuddling his son.

"Do you want to hold him?" Buffy's voice startled him out of his awestruck staring, and she giggled when his eyes widened in terror. "It's okay. You won't hurt him." She spoke with all the authority of a woman who had yet to do anything but gaze lovingly at the new person in her life.

Spike reached up timidly, taking the tiny bundle from Buffy's secure grip and bringing it down to his lap. Unfocused bright blue eyes stared back at him solemnly. Spike lifted him up, cradling the bundle in one arm while he ran a calloused finger lightly down the baby's face. When the baby turned his face towards the finger and began making snuffling noises, Buffy smiled and held out her hands.

"I think he wants his mommy," she said.

Spike stood up and leaned over the bed, not releasing his hold on the now squirming bundle until he could see that Buffy had a good grip on the baby. As soon as Buffy was cradling the infant, he began rooting around on her chest, seeking his first meal. She giggled and looked up at Spike's incredulous face.

"Like father, like son," she giggled again, pushing down the collar of her gown and exposing one nipple. They both watched in fascination as the baby immediately latched on to it and began suckle enthusiastically, if not expertly. When Lucille came back in, she smiled at them and said, "Well, looks like you've got this all figured out. Don't need me, do you?"

"I think he figured it out," Spike said, unable to keep the pride out of his voice. "He's brilliant, don't you think?"

The nurse smiled indulgently. "No doubt he is," she said kindly. "And good-looking, too."

"Oh, that goes without saying," Spike smirked, the arrogance of the remark tempered by the way he was gazing at the baby's mother.

"What is his name?" At Lucille's innocent question, Spike and Buffy looked at each other with wide eyes.

"We never got very far with that discussion," she explained. "We'd just started talking about names when I…" She smiled up at Spike. "Should he be William?"

"If you'd like, love. As long as it's not Rupert or Hank."

"William. I want to name him William. And we'll call him…what will we call him? He can't be Will, that would get too confusing."

"Not gonna be a Willy," Spike growled. "He'd have to fight his whole life." The incongruity of someone like Spike worrying about his son having to fight had Buffy and the nurse exchanging eye rolls.

"He can be a Bill or a Billy," Buffy suggested. "We can make Rupert his middle name…" Her hearty laughter as Spike sputtered disturbed Billy enough that he let go and gave a loud wail, only quieting when his mother guided his mouth back to her nipple.

"Not funny, Slayer," Spike muttered. "It's not like it couldn't happen."

"I wouldn't do that to an innocent baby."

Spike sat back down in the rocking chair, one hand resting on the bed against Buffy's hip while he listened to the contented murmurs coming from the small bundle at her breast. The nurse smiled indulgently at the peaceful scene and left the information she'd planned to go over with Buffy on the nightstand before tiptoeing out of the room. She returned shortly, wheeling in a bassinet with "Baby Summers-Pratt" crossed out and "Billy Summers-Pratt" written on the card that had come with the borrowed baby bed. She put the bassinet beside the bed, showing Spike how to lock the wheels, then left them again, pointing to the call button and saying the day nurse would be there in a few hours to answer any questions they might have.

When Billy's eyes shut and his mouth fell off her breast, Buffy allowed Spike to place him in the bedside bassinet while her own eyes drifted shut. In a few minutes the only sounds to be heard were Buffy's faint snores and the distant sound of Christmas carols coming from a radio somewhere in the clinic. Spike settled into the rocking chair, determined to keep watch over his little family until morning.

Chapter Five/Epilogue?

Christmas Day dawned cold but clear, weak sunlight glinting off the few inches of snow that had fallen during the week. In what had already become habit, Spike slid out of the warm bed, shivering when his bare feet hit the cold wood floor. Vowing to buy some new rugs at the first opportunity, he quickly dressed and walked across the room to the crib. He picked up the crying baby and, after checking to see if he was wet, carried him back to where Buffy was now sitting up and holding out her arms.

"Come to mommy, baby. Breakfast is all ready to go."

"Is it wrong to be jealous of my own offspring?" Spike wondered aloud as little Billy fastened his mouth around one breast.

"Yes!" she said indignantly. "Very wrong. And immature, and…"

"I'm just making conversation," he protested. "I didn't really mean it. Watching you and him together is …" His voice trailed off and he gave her an embarrassed smile. "If I were still the bad poet I was so many years ago, I'd be writing all kinds of drivel about how seeing my first child at his mother's breast was amazing and…and effulgent."

Buffy raised an eyebrow at him.

"Do you really think I don't know that you've been scribbling away every night this week?"

He shrugged, dropping eyes evasively. "Hasn't been poetry," he mumbled. "Been working on something else."

She stared at him expectantly; when there was no response she prodded, "And…?"

"I'd rather not say yet, pet," he said with a sigh. "Probably come to nothing, anyway. 's not poetry though, I promise."

"You know," she said thoughtfully as she switched the baby to her other breast, "I've never seen any of your poetry – except for a couple of lines in that notebook you kept beside the bed when you were a ghost."

"And you never will!" She had to laugh at his horrified expression and the panic in his voice.

"I don't mean the stuff you did when you were a…a…" She fumbled for what to call the William Pratt she'd only heard about.

"Callow youth?"

Buffy crinkled her nose. "Not exactly what I would have said; but, yeah, okay. When you were just an ordinary human who hadn't been anywhere or done very much. But now…"

"Now, I suspect, I'd be just as bad a poet as I was then – just more aware of how bloody awful I am."

Buffy left the now-sleeping baby in the middle of the bed, tucking the sheets in on either side just in case, and then getting out and immediately stepping into her warm slippers. She walked around the bed and put her arms around Spike's waist, resting her head on his chest and enjoying the feel of his warm body. When he shifted away so that she wouldn't notice how he was reacting, she smiled and nuzzled his neck.

"Just a couple more weeks," she promised.

"Wasn't complainin', love."

"I know you weren't. But I miss you, too. I'll be glad when the doctor tells me I'm good to go again. I miss you," she repeated, hugging him tightly.

"Miss you, too, Buffy," he said gruffly, putting his arms around her again. "But wouldn't give up this past week for all the shagging in the world. He's worth every lonely wank."

"And on that little note of TMI, I think I'll take my shower and get dressed before everyone gets here." Buffy made a little face at him and began gathering warm clothes from the closet. "Watch him for me, please?"

"Don't believe he's going anywhere, Slayer," he said, even as he sat down in a chair by the window. "Hurry up, will you? I want to get some fires going downstairs before the merry band gets here."

Hours later, the now much warmer downstairs rooms were filling up with friends and family, all of whom insisted on leaving the new mother and baby to enjoy a vacation from chores while they warmed up the food they'd brought and prepared to put a Christmas dinner on the table. This year, rather than hiding in fear, Noelle was in the middle of everything, her nose twitching at the scents coming from the oven and her purr working overtime as everyone stooped to pet her at least once.

With Billy snuggled against her chest in a baby pouch, Buffy hung around the entrance to the center of activity, insisting that she was perfectly capable of helping in her own kitchen. The lack of sincerity in her protestations was obvious and Willow, Emma and Dawn waved her out of the room, telling her to go enjoy her baby and the unusual pampering she was getting.

Dinner was almost a repeat of the previous year's meal – with the exception that this time, Spike was at the head of the table, beaming down its length towards Buffy. Their eyes met and held, sharing the moment; and then, apparently sharing the same thought - There's no way this can't lead to an apocalypse with the next week. Everything's too good. They shared a rueful laugh, which then had to be explained to their puzzled guests, who nodded and offered their own pessimistic thoughts.

"Way to remind us, B," Faith laughed, picking up her table knife and testing its dull edge on her thumb. "But it's okay. Anything bothers us tonight, I'm taking my butter knife to 'em."

A crash from the living room had both Slayers and Spike at the entrance before the more ordinary humans had even registered the sound. They paused and surveyed the cause of the sudden noise. The baby carriage full of gifts that had been near the tree was now on its side with an ornament covered Noelle peering out from under gaily decorated paper. The broken and bare tree branch overhead offered a clear explanation of the cat's embarrassed expression.

Laughing in relief, the three heroes quickly picked up the debris and banished Noelle upstairs. Non-evil explanation accepted, all but Buffy soon returned to their seats to finish off the meal. Her sharp ears had picked up the sounds of an uncomfortable baby, and she picked Billy up from his portable bed, taking him off to be changed and fed.

When she returned some time later, it was to find that the table had been cleared, the dishes stacked, and all her guests were seated in the living room enjoying an after-dinner eggnog. She paused in the doorway, cradling her sleeping baby against her chest and gazing at the warm scene with a contented smile. She barely moved when Spike came up behind her and put his arms around both her and the baby, pulling them back against his chest.

She shuddered briefly, remembering standing in the same place a year ago and being so sure that he was with her. As if reading her thoughts, he whispered, "Our house is ahome, Buffy. You've filled it with love, the way I always knew you could."

She leaned her head against his shoulder and sighed.

"Now it's a home. I love you. Merry Christmas, William."

"Happy Christmas to you, my love."

Dawn glanced up in time to see the small family sharing an intimate, happy moment and grabbed her ever-present phone, snapping a picture before they could move and spoil the scene. She passed the phone around for everyone to see, then sent the photo to Spike's computer for printing later, telling them it was her first Christmas gift to her nephew.

Giles quietly raised his glass to the beaming couple, wishing sadly that things could remain as peaceful and tranquil as they seemed, but knowing that the coming year would bring its own share of drama and danger. His eyes met Spike's in understanding and they exchanged silent toasts to the future. Toasts in which each promised to protect and cherish the people in the room to the best of their ability. That at least two of those people (if one didn't count the witches) were more than capable of taking care of themselves, didn't detract from the genuine emotion behind the silent gesture.

Removing his free arm from around Buffy, Spike stepped into the room and lifted his glass again.

"I'd like to propose a toast – to good friends, to loving family…" his smile included Dawn and her new fiancé, Teddy, "and to all those brave little girls we send out to protect the world from evil. I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year."