“That’s why he left? Why, if I had my powers I’d-”
“Do nothing.” Anya watched in wonder as Willow took another swig of her beer. Tears ran down her face and her voice shook with the power of the still recent memory- and yet she sat there and said she wouldn’t wish any vengeance upon him. She thought about what the witch had just told her. He hadn’t just ended it; he’d as good as told her that she meant nothing to him. He could have kept the ring. He didn’t even have to wear it, just some indication of- anything.
“Do you still have the ring?” Willow held up her hand, to show the gold on her finger
“I had to stick blu-tak in it, but I had to have it on me. To remember.”
“Have… have you tried to contact him?” A fresh sob resounded and Anya took Willow into her arms, as a new wave of tears attacked the small body.
“I- I tried everything.” The words were broken as Willow spoke through her tears, but clear. “I emailed him and then when I didn’t get a reply, hacked into his account… he hasn’t logged in since he left. If I phone I get her or no answer… and my letters got returned. Either someone’s blocking me or… he doesn’t want to know.” She ended with a sob, before wrapping her arms around her companion’s waist and burying her face in her chest: treating Anya much as one would a teddy bear. The ex-demon muttered words of nonsense, rocking the two of them back and forth and offering what comfort she could. She thought of the agony this girl had suffered, justified her recent magic craziness, and realised her sudden decision to go cold turkey as being equal parts guilt over hurting Dawn and maternal protection. Through all of this, she reminded herself of her own good luck and wedding plans.
Two hours later, Xander Harris returned home: sober as always, to find his two girls wrapped together on his sofa, deep in an obviously fretful sleep, surrounded by open beer bottles and melted ice cream
Somewhere in England, Eliza Giles watched as her husband sat engrossed in The Italian Job for the third time in a fortnight and gazed at a model mini cooper he’d placed on top of the television. She had no doubt the Rosenberg girl had given him the boxed car, and knew she had to find a subtle way to remove its presence.
The project was behind schedule. Since he’d arrived in England, Rupert had shown no signs of forgetting his little fling back in Sunnydale. Eliza had tried her best, she really had, but short of wiping his memory, she was fresh out of ideas.
Looked like things were going to have to start moving from the other end.
Tearing her eyes away from Michael Caine, Eliza entered the room entirely.
“There’s a letter. From the Summers girl.” Giles held out a hand, barely turning his head to place her in his peripheral vision.
“No. The girl. Dawn.” He took the letter and waited until his wife’s footsteps had receded to the other end of the hall outside his room, before opening the first correspondence he’d had with anyone from Sunnydale in the past three months.
“At least someone hasn’t forgotten me.” With the unhappy thought still fresh, he began to read.
Willow was woken by the smell of fresh coffee brewing and a splitting headache. Groaning she pressed herself tighter into the body beside her, and tried to catch that elusive strand of sleep. Suddenly, a spark of realisation alerted her to the fact that Rupert’s chest was an awful lot softer than usual, and his waist was definitely thinner. Opening her eyes she took in redness before looking up and jumping.
“Morning Willow.” She turned her head to look behind her.
“Xander. What are you doing here?”
“This is my apartment. Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”
“Er… I was talking to Anya, we were drinking and eating ice cream and then… oh! This isn’t what it looks like!” A confused look crossed Xander’s face and he looked over to his waking fiancée.
“What does it look like?”
“I didn’t sleep with Anya! Well I slept with her… or on her… but not y’know, -with- her.”
“Have some coffee Will. Then think about what you just said. Morning honey.” Anya sat up and leaned over Willow for a kiss.
“Yek. I slept in yesterday’s clothes… on the couch. Xander! Why did you let me do that?”
“There wasn’t much ‘letting’ hon. You were like that when I came home.”
“Blerg. I need to shower.” She stood and walked to the bathroom, pausing only to grab her own coffee and mutter obscenities at her sore neck. Sat next to each other on the couch, Willow and Xander stayed silent for a few moments before she looked up from her empty coffee mug.
“That was pretty stupid, what I just said, wasn’t it?”
“Just a bit. If you weren’t Willow, I’d say you had a guilty conscience. So what were you two ladies up to last night?”
“Nothing much. Just talking.”
“As soon as I walked in that door last night I knew you’d been crying. Must’ve been some talk.”
“I don’t like things that make you cry.”
“I just needed Anya’s help with something.”
“I could ask her. She’d tell me eventually.”
“But you won’t.”
“How’d you know?”
“Because you’re my friend and you love me and you know it’ll hurt me if you do that and that I’ll tell you when I’m ready.” He thought about this, weighing her words.
“Your right. As long you promise you will…because otherwise I’m tickling you until you tell-and you know I can go on for hours.” A huge grin broke over her face. He hadn’t threatened her with the tickle monster for years-since before Buffy came to Sunnydale and the fact it came up now made her trust him more than she had since then.
“I love you too.” Their warm hug was broken by a rapping at the door, which Xander jumped up to answer. The well-dressed man on the other side of the door smiled charmingly.
“I’m looking for Ms Rosenburg. I was told I might find her here.”
“Sure, she’s right-“ too late Xander realised no one who wasn’t in the apartment right now should know where Willow was. But both this and the exposed claws as the man lunged past him registered only in time for him to jump on the back of the thing that was attacking his best friend.
In the bathroom, Anya was drawn from her lotioning by a roar, a shout from Xander, and a scream from Willow and she raced to the main room in only her robe.
Willow lay on her back propped up against the far wall, while Xander clung to the back of a tindane-v’arsh that seemed to have frozen in place, one gnarled claw about two inches from the witch’s oh-so-delicate stomach. Willow’s eyes were wide in a combination of shock and fear, and Anya ran to her instantly, taking her in her arms and pulling her from the threat as Xander slid from the creature’s back.
“What is that?”
“An assassin- tindane-v’arsh. Check to see if he’s wearing any jewellery.”
“Yes Xander, to see who he’s’ working for. Willow, you okay?”
“I used magic.”
“You had to.”
“But- what if-”
“You’re safe now. You wouldn’t be had you not.” She placed a hand on Willow’s abdomen to indicate she meant both mother and child, and the girl managed a weak smile in return. Xander walked over to the couch.
“Good news- he’s not from Taraka. Bad news- he’s a cow.”
“This bracelet- it says CoW.” Panicked, Willow looked up at her confidante. Both knew the worst was yet to come.
If there was one thing that he was ever sure of, it was this: Dawn Summers would never send a letter with an ink stain. Like Willow, Dawn was a perfectionist and even if it was the last thing she did, the Summers girl would rewrite the page rather than have someone think her a slob or untidy.
And so, Giles knew, with sinking sense of certainty, that he hadn’t been forgotten by his young friends in Sunnydale, he was merely being cut off from them in a very privacy imposing way. For all he knew they could be dead, and for all they knew, he could be.
Tomorrow he’d find a phone, away from this damned place and find out if they were all alright, if Willow was okay. Tomorrow.
He put the enveloped letter onto his bedside table and pulled the covers over himself. As he had every night for the past eight hundred and fifty days, he moved to kiss the ring on his left hand, and as he had every night for the past ninety days, found the finger cold, empty, and unwelcoming.
“Engaged and pregnant.”
“To Mr Giles!”
“Wesley!” Turning, Buffy offered their coffee shop audience a weak smile and glared at the man opposite her to lower his voice.
“But… but- Mr Giles is an important part of the scheme. He and Eliza were supposed to have produced the watcher superior to all others by 2010.”
“Giles has a wife!?”
“Has had for about fifteen years now.”
“Fifteen years! But he never mentioned-”
“He wouldn’t. He’s never been the most- obedient of us. When they finally got him to the alter, he refused to… to, er… consummate the marriage until he was finally brought into line about four years later. Then he became the model watcher, and because of that reform and a lineage far superior to anyone else’s, he got the job of training you. Fiasco that was.”
“But… if he was so model, how come he didn’t bring Mrs Giles over here?”
“The Watcher- i.e. the one training The Slayer- is supposed to have no contact outside of his charge. Family and friends are to be forgotten unless needed for research purposes. Until Mr Harris saved your life, he and Willow were under intense scrutiny- the kind that leads to murder- and you saw what happened to Ms Calendar.”
“Jenny? That was The Council?” Wesley began to play with his drink, avoiding the question for a moment, before;
“Angelus was paid handsomely.”
“God. Oh God.”
“No just men who think they are.” Buffy had no answer to that. “I fear Ms Rosenburg and her child are both in very serious danger. Excepting guarding her night and day, I am unsure what to advise.”
“We can’t- I mean- she doesn’t… is there any way to do this without her knowing? I mean, can we check on Council in any way?”
“I doubt it- at least, we’d need a damn good hacker. And without Ms Willow-”
“Oz. He’s as good with computers as Will.”
“How are you going to-”
“Cell phone. Honestly, we’re 21, we do have them along with every other youth in the country.” Wesley gave her a strange look
“You all have them?”
“Well no- Will hasn’t found a company ethical enough for her yet and Anya says they cost too much. But Xander and Oz and I have them.”
“How do you-”
“Will and he kept in touch. I found out in the same way as I’ve discovered everything- good old nosiness.”
“So we can find out what The Council has planned from their computer records?”
“A limited amount. We’ll be able to work out their overall scheme of things, but the details will be trickier to figure out. The Council are, in general, willing to accept technology-” Buffy let out a snort, then tried to look contrite off Wesley’s glare “-but they are still wary of it. Basic plans are kept in the system. Details are more… guarded.”
“As in Alsatian guarded?”
“As in shotgun guarded.”
“So unless you happen to have a very nice friend in England, we’re not going to get hold of them?”
“So we what? Find out the basics, then plan from there?”
“Contact me here,” he wrote down a phone number and gave it to her, “when you’ve spoken to Oz.” Without another word, Wesley stood, placed some money on the table and left the coffee shop.
“I’ll just… do that then.” She smiled at the space opposite her and then muttered to herself “Is it working with Angel that make people do the stealth act?”
Buffy took out her key and opened the back door of The Magic Box. It was Sunday and the shop was in darkness. Normally Anya was around, but Buffy didn’t think it was particularly unusual that she was missing. After contacting Oz that morning, she’d decided to come and work some stuff out on her favourite training dummy. She’d barely put her bags down and picked up the strapping for her hands, when the phone in the front of the shop began ringing.
On automatic pilot, she ran through and picked up;
“Giles! How are you? How’s… wait, why are you calling?” Although she was excited to hear from her watcher, her initial enthusiasm died as she remembered what she’d found out about him recently.
“What do you mean ‘why am I phoning’?”
“Shouldn’t you be out with Eliza?” The silence was almost audible as Giles struggled for a reply once the shock of Buffy’s attack wore off.
“Buffy, it’s not…”
“It’s exactly what I think.”
“Buffy, The Council-”
“Are trying to kill Willow. I got that.”
“What? They said-”
“And you trusted them?”
“Look, there are good-”
“There is no good reason for what you did to Willow. You’d do well to remember that. Just… find a way to solve what you did or stay away from her, from us.”
“Bye Giles.” She hung up the phone before what she’d just done sank in. She was just so… angry with him. She hadn’t felt this mad since… well, in a long time, she hadn’t felt this anything in a long time. She was broken out of her musings by a sob behind her. Startled, she spun ‘round.
“Willow.” She hadn’t heard her come in, but Buffy was guessing she’d been stood there a while. Her hand was over her mouth and her eyes were wide and wet. Slowly she took her hand away.
“That was Giles.” It wasn’t a question, but Buffy was unsure what she meant and so answered anyway.
“Yeah it was.”
“Buffy he’s your watcher.” Still unsure what she meant, Buffy remained silent. “You’d… reject him like that? For me?” Suddenly, the slayer understood and took a step towards the witch.
“Of course I would… I- you’re my best friend Will.”
“Am I?” Buffy nodded and Willow sobbed again.
“I thought you hated me.” Closing the distance between them, Buffy wrapped her arms around her best friend.
“I could never hate you Will, I love you, I need you with me.” With a start she realised she was telling the truth, it was like, as soon as she acknowledged the feelings, they were there. She didn’t need Spike to feel, she had Willow and Dawn and herself.
“But… Dawn and lost memories and heaven and…”
“And Willow. Willow’s the important part here.” She lifted her head from Buffy’s shoulder.
“How did you know? Did Anya…”
“No, there was an… accident and Dawn and I found a letter you’d written to him. Then nosy Buffy took over.”
“An accident in my private drawers?”
“Hey, shouldn’t I be reprimanding you for giving my little sister condoms?” A slight blush covered Willow’s tear stained face.
“I didn’t know how to be a mother, I was just trying to look out for her.”
“You did good. She was your trial run.” Buffy placed a kiss on her forehead before taking a step back and glancing down. “If I didn’t know, I wouldn’t notice- but you’re starting to bulge. Just a little.”
“I am!” Willow looked down. “Oh Goddess I’m going to need more clothes. I can’t afford more clothes, I’m a student! And just how much snooping did you do?”
“Enough to know you’ve been hiding things for way too long.” She grinned and Willow smiled back weakly.
“Because you’d’ve so loved to know your best friend was doing your watcher.”
“Oh, visual. Ugh. I can cope with my best friend being in love with my watcher, but less of the ‘doing’ comments. Please.” That gained her a proper smile. “So, are you up to a best friends shopping trip- the mall’s open all Sunday now… except for that cute shop owned by those Catholics- but that’s okay ‘cause I always spend money on things I don’t’ really want there. Anyway. Shopping.”
“Buffy, I don’t know. To go shopping isn’t money generally needed? I haven’t really got any at the moment.”
“I’ve got some.”
“No you haven’t- remember… working in ‘smell hell’ to make ends meet?”
“Look, I’ve got some spare because with only buying the things I really needed, the extra Giles gave me never got spent… so actually it’s him that’s paying- which he should be- but he won’t know- which is good because then you don’t feel indebted and he still feels guilty for doing nothing for you and the baby.”
“He doesn’t feel guilty about doing nothing for the baby now.”
“Why not? It is his isn’t it?”
“Yes it’s his!” Willow was almost insulted at the insinuation.
“Then why… he doesn’t know?” Buffy watched her friend shake her head. “Why not?”
“I can’t get a message to him. The council…”
“I’m going to fecking shoot the goddamned Council!” Willow raised an eyebrow and took half a step back in a combination of surprise and apprehension. “Sorry. It’s just… can’t they make anything- just one thing- easier for me?”
“Hey, it’s not like he’s been rushing to see us, is it?”
“I guess not. Oh God! Did I just hang up on your one chance to tell him?”
“Probably. Don’t worry though, if he doesn’t want to be a part of this, then he doesn’t get the baby either.” The words were harsh, but both girls knew they were spoke from anger and bitterness and that Willow would never follow through on such a threat. “Come on, let’s get mall-bound.”
Arm in arm, the girls left the store.
“Ahh- Will this’ll be great.” Buffy held up a dark green patterned maternity top.
“Buffy you could get three of me in there.”
“You are aware that give that little fellow a couple of months and it’s gonna grow. Outwards is the preferred direction, so I’ve been told.”
“But look at how big it is. I’m not gonna get that fat. Am I?”
“This is the smallest size they have.” Willow’s eyes bulged in surprise at the realisation that- yes; maybe she was going to grow that much. A sudden hunger pang hit her with such force that she didn’t notice how still Buffy had gone.
“Can we get food first, before we discuss my fatness anymore? Buffy?”
“Keep looking at the clothes. Nothing’s changed.”
“There’s someone watching us, I’m just… get down!” Used to her friend’s orders, Willow ducked as Buffy attacked something that had been directly behind her. There was the sound of a solid hit landing, an ‘oof’ from the victim, and then a crash as a body collided with a precariously balanced clothes rack. Then silence.
Willow looked up. Buffy was in exactly the same position as a moment before the ‘attack,’ looking over at the slowly rising body of-
“So anyhow, Riley and Sam are on the trail of this mercenary demon, who’s come to Sunnydale on a job.” Willow finished explaining to Xander and Anya.
“Cool. So. What’s the target?” Sam answered Xander’s question.
“Who’s the target you mean. And we’re not entirely sure. It’s a double job and the slayer is secondary to the other.”
“I’m not top banana?”
“No, but we need to find out who is.”
“Who’s paying?” Anya asked.
“One of those giant private businesses, that are always there, have loads of money, but no one really knows anything about.”
“Someone’s been reading Iain Banks books.” Xander laughed. “Either that or Ben got the evil hospital staff thing down pat. Or The Council’s finally had enough of you Buff. Or The Mayor’s found a way to order his groupies to cleanliness from beyond the grave. Or… why are there so many ors? Is there no way to get rid of these guys once and for all… What’d I say?” He looked around: Anya and Buffy were both looking worriedly at Willow, who was looking well… mainly shocked, but also a little scared. Sam was looking between the three of them, as if, if she looked at them for long enough, she’d be able to tell what they were thinking. Eventually she gave up and just asked.
“You know something?” Willow and Anya both shook their heads- but not before Buffy had jumped in.
“Willow’s the main target.”
“Because of her baby.” Xander and Riley both looked, slack-jawed, between the two girls.
“Wha- there’s a baby? Willow has a baby? When- Who- huh?” Buffy realised what she’d done with a start.
“He doesn’t know?” She pointed at Xander.
“No! Well he didn’t.”
“But- you said Anya knew!” Said ex-demon stood up, hands on hips.
“So because I know, I, of course, go and tell everyone else. That’s it, Anya the tactless blabber mouth.”
“Just a minute… Willow has a baby?” Riley and Xander tried to get a grasp on the situation as Anya and Buffy continued to argue. Only Sam noticed Willow leave the room. She followed.
“Do I need to know?”
“If the demon’s working for The Council, then I guess so.”
“Is that The Watcher’s Council?”
“What happened?” Willow cast her eyes down on the table in front of her.
“I got pregnant to someone who doesn’t want me, and whose former employers are trying to kill me for it.”
“Giles does want you.” The two women turned to face the doorway where Dawn stood. “He- he phoned this afternoon looking for you- he was almost in tears. Giles is scary like that- he shouted.”
“Why did he shout?”
“Because I didn’t know where anyone was.”
“How dare he! I hope you told him what for. He has no right to-”
“Willow, it’s okay.” No one said anything for a minute and they realised that the shouting in the other room had died down too.
“I should go check Ri hasn’t said anything stupid.” Sam slipped out, leaving the two former maths geeks alone.
“You look tired.”
“You wanna talk to Xander now or in the morning?” Willow groaned and laid her head on her arms. Dawn smiled. “I take it that means in the morning?” Come on. Let’s get you to bed.”
“Just how old do I look to you? I don’t need to be put to bed, thank you.” They grinned at each other and then headed up the stairs, leaving the voices of the others behind them.
“Why did you tell Buffy? Wasn’t I good enough at helping?” It was the first time in a week that Anya and Willow had been alone together. Since Riley and Sam had left, either Xander was there asking questions, Dawn was jumping up and down talking baby clothes, or Buffy was guarding her, and although she was nervous as hell right now, sitting in a room waiting for an ultrasound, it was the first time since then she’d felt at all relaxed.
“Oh Anya, you’re better than good enough. Look at you- tomorrow’s your wedding, there are a million and one things to do, and you’re sat here because I asked you to be.”
“Well your timing could have been better, but why did you tell her then- I thought you didn’t want her to know.”
“She’s a small cartoon dog with a cross between a banana and a rooster for a friend?”
“No,” Willow let out a small laugh, “she nosed through my stuff and found out.”
“But-” Anya looked a bit insulted, “but that’s not cricket.” Willow gave her a confused look of disbelief.
“That’s not cricket? What?”
“Oh!” Anya was suddenly very proud of herself. “Well, I thought that as you seem to like English things, I’d find out something about it- because I never went there when I was in Europe. I was going to ask Spike, but as we’re not talking to him because he helped that demon Riley was after, I went to the library and looked on the internet- I found a vast cacophony of phrases to use for every situation.”
“So ‘that’s not cricket’ means what?”
“That’s not playing fair.”
“Right.” Before Anya could impart anymore of her newfound wisdom, a woman came into the waiting room and called Willow’s name, before asking them to follow her. It wasn’t long before the grey and black picture came up on the screen.
Anya was amazed and Willow was in awe. Both were speechless.
“Did you want to know the sex?”” It took Willow a minute to take her focus away from the screen to the technician.
“Did you want to know the sex?”
“Oh, Willow already knows the sex.” Both Willow and the technician turned puzzled faces to Anya.
“That’s how she got pregnant in the first place.” Neither of the other two knew what to say. “What?”
“Ahn, I think she meant did I want to know if the baby’s a boy or a girl.”
“Oh right. You can tell that! Wow! So?” She looked eagerly at the woman.
“It’s up to Ms Rosenburg.”
“I don’t know if I want to know. I mean… No.”
“Okay. Do you want a video of this?”
“Yes please.” The technician went into the other room and suddenly it hit her. “Anya?”
“I’m going to have a baby.”
“Yes Willow, that’s why you’re here.”
“No, I mean…” She didn’t know how to put it, “in a few months, I’m going to be a mother, I’m going to be changing diapers, breast feeding, then I’m going to be looking for nurseries, day care, picking it up from its friend’s house. This is a little person inside me.” She looked up to her friend who had a vaguely shocked expression on, but was silent nonetheless, so she continued. “What- what if I’m not a good mother- I’ve got to find some time and somewhere to work, and I can’t finish college, I… I…” she finished on a whisper, “I don’t know if I can do this. I wish Rupert was here.” She bowed her head as a single tear slid down one cheek. When Anya put her arms around her and pulled her in for a hug, she let her, but she didn’t’ respond. She didn’t know if she could, she just… she wanted Rupert to be the one holding her, comforting her, telling her it would be alright, but he wasn’t going to be any of that, he wasn’t here and he didn’t want to be. Relaxing, she lean! t into Anya. She didn’t have him, but she could make the best of what she did have, because, she looked up and smiled at the woman beside her, she had a lot.
"I'm going in to speak to Quentin. Wait here and behave yourself." Giles rolled his eyes at his wife. Not only was she a stuck up cow, but she also didn't seem to realise he was more than eight years old. He sat and looked around the reception area. The woman on the desk eyed him suspiciously before going back to her computer.
Eliza and Travers were in a meeting to discuss ways to get Rupert 'gainfully employed' before he was 'convinced to rejoin The Council in a reasonable capacity.' Which basically meant they didn't want him moping around his own... well, his father's house any longer. Keep him occupied and stop him from finding out that they were trying to murder his fiancée- ex-fiancée. He remembered Travers' words;
"Return to England with Eliza and produce a child by 2010, and you present no threat to the betterment of The Council, who in turn, will present none to Ms Rosenberg." True he had no intention of going through with the 'offspring' part of the deal- not with Eliza, but there were about five years until Quentin would start getting antsy about that and they weren't using Willow as any kind of ransom to get him to do anything: they were just going to kill her: there was no logic to it, and if The Council was one thing- apart from made of hypocritical, self-centred bastards- it was logical- or at least practical, he just didn't understand.
He noticed the woman behind the desk glare at him once again before she stood and moved toward the door behind her seat. Struck by a brainwave- or possibly temporary idiocy, after about twenty seconds, Giles stood and briskly walked over to face the computer. Bringing up the 'search' box, he typed in 'Willow Rosenberg' and watched as five documents and a single folder came up.
Five minutes later he sat back down, not really thinking clearly- not really thinking at all. It was... he couldn't believe it, it wasn't- well actually it was entirely possible. But, as a man, he'd never thought that...
His thoughts were just as incoherent over an hour later when Eliza snapped at him to follow her. The words 'father,' 'pregnant,' 'baby' and 'how' were in great abundance, but there was no inkling of a complete sentence.
It was approaching forty minutes later when Giles suddenly began thinking of the ramifications this must be having on Willow's life. A full time student with no real means of income... he calculated in his head, the baby would most likely be due early in the summer, but even so she'd never be able to return to her studies immediately in the autumn. Even the brilliance of Willow would struggle under the stresses of her education, a job, and a baby. He was sure she'd muddle through but...
Now that his thoughts were more in order, things began to make sense; the constant invasion of privacy by The Council in tapping his 'phone calls and reading his mail, the fact that Buffy knew about Willow and him, Travers' eagerness to have him realise his future was wholly with his wife...
Everything was so frustrating. The place he was needed was half the globe away and there was no way to warn his friends of any impending danger. The files had not been specific but past and present assassins were referred to: there were two failed demon attacks, allusions to a 'rogue witch' who had planned to get Willow and consequently her child addicted to magic so as the baby could be overdosed and Willow would land the entirety of the blame, and there were other things Giles had not read the details of: some way of turning Buffy against Willow, and constant mentions of a minor force in Sunnydale that would simply try to attack in any way it could.
Willow had taught Rupert to see the light and good in things, Buffy had shown Giles the true darkness of being, and between them he'd learnt to see the truth in whatever he encountered, and the necessity of a quick and simple solution. Now he had the truth, be had to identify the problem and uncover the answer. He was sure there was a simple way; he just had to see it...
"Buff. You're late."
"Sorry Oz, Wesley." She stopped in front of the two men before her face broke into a huge grin. "Oz, it's so good to see you again. More so seeing as I now know that whole Veruca thing didn't hurt Will as much as she acted." He nodded at her.
"Here." Oz put down a disc and a set of print outs which Wesley instantly picked up and began to read.
"Cliff notes version?" Buffy really didn't feel like going through the whole lot.
"Will's in danger."
"Got that much."
"They consider her some kind of siren and her child an 'abomination.'"
"Hmm?" He responded without looking up from the papers.
"Is there any way to make them think well of the baby? Presumably Will on her own is safe, it's just the baby they really hate?"
"Indeed. From what I can gather from this," he waved the papers he was holding, "and what I know of The Council, before they learnt of the conception, the plan was simply to isolate Mr Giles and Ms Rosenberg from each other, unknowingly assisted by his concealment of his marriage to Eliza. However, they cannot have an illegitimate Giles in existence- especially not an American- sorry- and it looks as if they're not afraid to murder Willow to reach her child."
"How very... Machiavellian of them."
"Is there any way to ensure their safety?"
"Destroy The Council." Buffy looked sceptical.
"Oz may be right... this isn't going to be easy- at the least we need Travers and Eliza out of the picture."
"No- I don't do people- even people like them."
"Well something has to be done, and soon... of course it doesn't help that we're a rather large ocean away. You can't provide 'round the clock protection." Wesley knew he was talking sense, but the slayer didn't seem to be hearing it. In many ways The Council was similar to Wolfram and Hart- and if you knew who you had to target, the rest would stay in a sort of line. But the fact that they were human was an issue for Buffy in a way it would never be for Angel- and rightly so.
He'd failed his friends in LA and Angel and Connor especially- he had no intention of doing the same to Willow and her child- this was his chance of setting things, if not right, then better... it was a step in the right direction.
"I'm the slayer- it's my job to protect her and if that means I have to follow her around 24-7, then so be it."
"And how many others will be lost in the process? While you're looking after Willow, how many will be attacked while walking alone after dark. Your duty-"
"Don't talk to me about duty."
"Fine. Your conscience won't let you live with it."
"Buff, you're next." The arguing pair turned to Oz. "The Council has some sort of plan to turn you against Willow, for you to kill her."
"But I would never-" Wesley began rifling through the papers in front of him.
"Some kind of mind control, or maybe... planting illusions in your head. Or simply getting something to take over her body..." He read frantically through the passage he'd found. "Blast it. No details are given, just a reference to a demon."
"Is there a spell or something we can do to keep Will safe?"
"No!" The men looked startled at Buffy's outcry. "No magic- not unless we absolutely have to. Willow and magic... don't mix."
"Don't mix?" Both looked rather surprised at the news. "But..?"
"Abridged version- Willow got good- really good at magic- she was like this demi-goddess or something, I dunno. When I died over the summer..." She looked at Oz, "don't ask, long story, anyway, she got even more powerful and after she brought me back she got a bit, well, cocky- she managed to change Amy from being a rat to human again- but Amy used her, abused her- turned her heavy use of magic into an addiction of the black arts with the help of this warlock, Rack-"
"The Rack? As in dealer?"
"That's the one. When Will found out she was pregnant she went cold turkey- but seriously, no magic around her or on her- please." Neither Oz nor Wesley looked as if they could really deal with this news, but both agreed- although the former watcher was thinking of... well it wasn't really a spell, more a simple charm- a calling of benevolent spirits to aid in the protection of one of their children. It wasn't even magic really...
"Does Giles know?" Buffy looked the werewolf over a minute before answering.
"She doesn't want him to?"
"She hasn't got a choice- they're blocking all contact between the two of them."
"It must be killing her inside."
"She hasn't said so, but I'm guessing." Oz nodded before standing to leave. As he walked past her, he paused, placing a hand on Buffy's shoulder.
"Look after her- she'd the closest to a relative I've got- don't let her go unloved."
"That's never going to happen. I'll do everything I can." She reached up to place her hand on his, but only managed to brush his fingertips. She looked at the table a moment before turning and discovering him gone.
"He's a tough kid."
"Nah," Buffy shook her head, "he's not a kid anymore. Not sure he ever really was- not like the rest of us."
Willow looked down at the piece of paper in front of her.
On June 1st 2002 she was going to become a mother, four months before her own twenty-second birthday. It made her sound so old. She remembered turning twenty, just after Rupert had bought The Magic Box, thinking that 20 sounded so much more like an adult than nineteen did, and that scared her in a way. She didn't want to grow up. Her only consolation had been that she wasn't old enough to drink legally- which all 'old' people did. Rupert, hearing this, had unsympathetically pointed out that had she lived in Great Britain, she'd have been 'old' two years ago.
She remembered the moments that had shaped her life; meeting Buffy, learning about vampires, Jesse's death, meeting Oz, realising she was no longer in love with Xander, Angel's turn to Angelus, Jenny's death, falling in love with Rupert, Rupert asking to marry her, going to college, Rupert setting up a fund for when they were married, Dawn being The Key, Joyce's death, Buffy dying, Buffy coming back, Rupert leaving to live with Eliza, finding out she was pregnant. It wasn't a short list, but when it summed up twenty-one and a half years of a life, well... it could have been longer.
A year ago- six months ago even- Willow had had it planned: she and Rupert were going to settle down; either here or in England, get married, and, after a couple of years, try for a baby. They'd have a rabbit- if Anya wasn't too frequent a visitor- and a dog- something like a collie, that didn't drool too much and had brains. And they'd be happy- occasionally staking a vampire or two, but on the most part just helping to provide information to the forces of good, not doing so much of the battling. Rupert would have a shop, she'd so something with computers... Willow sighed. It didn't matter now; it hadn't mattered since he'd left.
Right now though, was her chance to make someone else's dream come true. Picking up her 'best man' dress, she moved to the mirror to put it on. It had been adjusted but she still looked fat. No, she decided, she looked pregnant. And maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. For the first time she admitted to herself that maybe she hadn't always thought this latest development in her life was a good thing. But right now, it wasn't sounding- or looking- so bad. Willow smiled at her reflection as the door behind her opened and Buffy ran in.
"Willow, they're horrible! And green!" Willow's smile never wavered.
"They're not so bad."
Signalling to Buffy to get everyone the hell out of here before a small war broke out, Willow sat on the floor, trying to gather the weeping girl before her into her arms.
Of all the ways this day could have turned out, this was about the last she expected. If she could get her hands on Alexander Harris right now she'd do something VERY nasty.
"You want to go home?" She asked Anya.
"Home where?" The ex-demon began to sob again.
"Anyanka? Willow?" The girls looked up to see D'Hoffryn. Willow smiled weakly.
"Give me a hand?" Between them, they got Anya up, into the car and then into Willow's bedroom, where, once changed, she fell almost instantly asleep. The pair stood by the bed for a moment before D'Hoffryn spoke.
"She is lucky to have you child." Willow smiled, bittersweet.
"And I her."
"No, I mean, the odds stacked against you are phenomenal. The Council have gone all out to stop you. She is very lucky you have survived long enough to take care of her like this. I can feel it boiling in you though."
"Feel what boiling in me?"
"Vengeance. You still have my talisman?" She looked at her feet, shuffling uncomfortably before answering.
"You have considered me then. Good. For that I will tell you this: you have a friend Amy?" She nodded. "And you have recently come across a most annoying trio of overgrown boys?" She smiled slightly at the description. "Watch them. The Council has lost some standards, and will stoop even to the level taken to employ them." Something on her face must have shown shock, because his next words were; "Do not be surprised. The Council are everywhere, it gives them a feeling of power- however they have very little actual control."
"Thank you." He nodded at her.
"I'll be back when she wakes." Before she could respond, he was gone. Reluctantly she descended the stairs to meet Buffy and Dawn.
"How's she doing?"
"As well as can be expected in the circumstances."
"I don't understand," Dawn said, "he loves her, why did he..."
"Because he's a man."
"But he's Xander."
"Xander the little boy. There are things you have to learn about the XYs of our race." Willow took up Buffy's opening;
"They never know what they want and it they decide they're too scared to take it, even if it's willing to be taken. And then they run off to England and leave you holding the baby- literally." Buffy and Dawn looked uncomfortably at each other. "Sorry," Willow said, "my stuff."
"Are you alright Will? You've been grumpy recently."
"No, I'm not. I throw up whenever I think of fish- formerly my favourite food, I'm always hungry and my jeans didn't fit when I tried to put them on yesterday. And my parents are coming home next week. I have to talk to them."
"Ah." Buffy nodded in understanding.
"And I can't believe Xander did that. It's so... grrrr."
"I know. I wonder where he is now."
"He's alive. Anything else, I don't care."
Okay, so I'm pregnant and everybody knows now... except you. Which isn't the way it's supposed to be- what with you being the father and everything, but with The Council being total poop-heads and all, there's not an awful lot to be done about that.
Riley came back last week- with his new wife, Sam, and then Xander left Anya- not at the alter, but by the doors of the church, which is just as bad. And all this pain- from Buffy and the newlyweds-that-aren't is... well, painful. It brings back memories. It makes me think of you- not that I don't think of you all the time anyway, but it makes me remember the less pleasant times, the arguments, the 'lovers' tiffs' as you used to call them. And it reminds me that you're not here.
But you know what? I'm coping. If you'd told me six months ago I'd be here, now, like this, I'd have panicked and I don't think I'd have made it. But now... I'm tougher than I was, and my baby is coming into this world if I have to kill every last member of The Council of Botched-Jobs to keep it safe- except for you of course... and Wesley. And maybe Eliza Giles and Quentin Travers too- they deserve twenty years in a torture chamber before they die bloodily. D'you know how much that name creeps me out? Eliza Giles... Mrs Giles. No, it doesn't sound right. Maybe just because I always assumed I'd be Mrs Giles- don't count your chickens before they've hatched, hey?
I remember that song you used to sing me. It was so quaint, so English. So you. And it was special- it meant we were going to be the king and queen of our own castle one day...
Lavenders blue, dilly, dilly,
When I am king, dilly, dilly,
You shall be queen.
Now I've gone and got all sappy and made myself cry. I'll be fine in a minute. I should go though- Anya's so upset, no one deserves that.
If you ever come back, I'll give you all these letters. But for now this is going with the others in my drawer.
"Okay, so we, as evil geniuses, and getting paid for it, have officially come up with the coolest plan ever." Jonathan looked dubiously down at the fish like demon on the floor before him.
"Ooooh yeah. And when we're done, we'll be the ones paying The Council."
"The Council nimrod." Andrew said, coming in from the back room. "The one funding all this."
"There's funding? Mom takes me to Florida for a month and when I get back we have money? How did this happen?"
"Well duh Furry-feet. What did-"
"Shut up Andrew. Don't worry Levenson- I went online, did a little fiddling and bam! We're in the money."
"And the giant fish features where?"
"Actually it's a plant. A self-replicating plant. A plant that reproduces asexually in any environment by first destroying the current inhabitant of the- whatever. It's very versatile and can feed off almost anything- in fact, if they didn't nearly all die before they can reproduce, I'm pretty sure they'd have taken over the world by now."
"That would be a barrel of laughs."
"Oh cheer up Shorty. Look, we're just gonna run some tests on it- see what it does in different situations. Everything will be just fine."
"Anya... what are you... where are you... you're leaving?" Avoiding the witch's gaze, the ex-demon continued to gather essentials from around her shop and pack them into a large bag.
"I just have to get away for a bit. I can't stay in his house."
"Then where are you going to..."
"I don't know, I thought I'd see... D'Hoffryn and Hallie both offered me a place."
"So... you won't be nearby?"
"I'll be back in a couple of weeks... you won't need me before then will you?"
"I... maybe." Finally, Anya turned to face Willow before smiling and moving to hug her.
"You'll be fine. If not- just think real hard... I can hear you."
"What?" She handed Willow a necklace.
"Here, put it on... if you need me, I'll know." Trusting the girl completely, she clasped it around her throat without another word.
"This is pretty, where's it from?"
"I found it behind the sofa... In hell." She winked, causing Willow to smile.
"You're rather... chipper today."
"Not really- if Xander or Buffy were to walk in I'd probably either scream or cry... but right now I'm good, while it's just you and me."
"I'm glad I can be of service, but I should head off... leave you in peace... find a shovel for which to beat Xander."
"How's that for friendship? Not many people would offer that so willingly."
"You'll tell me, won't you... if there's anything you need, anything I can do." Anya would have joked, said something inappropriate... but Willow's face was so serious, she couldn't do it.
"Just don't let The Magic Box get attacked okay? We both need this place up and running."
"I'll do what I can. Try and have a good time will you?"
"That isn't going to happen Willow."
"I'll do what I can."
"Hmm." Willow opened her mouth to speak, before deciding against it and closing it again. In the end she said simply,
"Say hello to D'Hoffryn for me."
"Run and catch, run and catch." Buffy walked through the cemetery, trying to find the source of the voice.
"The lamb is caught," Stepping around the crypt she almost fell into an open grave.
"Behind Du Lac." Looking down into the hole, the slayer saw a dark haired girl with a shovel; she was about seven or eight, but digging like crazy. She looked up and smiled.
"Mummy said you'd be around tonight, said there were forces rising. But I already knew."
"Sally, what are you doing?" Startled, Buffy span round to face the owner of the new voice.
"I'm burying the evidence Daddy- just like you always taught me."
"That's a good girl- but it's time for bed. The sun's going to come up soon."
"Okay, help me up, I want to see Mummy before I go to sleep." Giles kneeled beside the pit and reached down to pull Sally up. Then, father and daughter took off across the cemetery singing together.
"Lavenders blue, dilly dilly,
If we should reach you,
You'll never be seen." Buffy watched them for a minute before turning back to the grave. With a startled cry, she jumped back from the face an inch from her own.
"You know what she is." Faith said. "You know what to do."
Yawning, Buffy walked into the kitchen. Dawn was 'cooking' while Willow sat on one of the high stools.
"Ooo, juice!" Her day looking better already, the slayer took the glass from the counter and downed it in one.
"Morning Buffy. Sleep well?"
"Willow slept well," Dawn revealed, "she had a dream about Giles."
"Dawnie, I told you I don't remember what I dreamt."
"Me too." Buffy frowned, trying to remember something.
"You too what?"
"I dreamt about Giles. I think. And your daughter."
"Yeah, it was weird- y'know what dreams are like."
"So it was a normal dream, not a slayer-y dream." She smiled at Willow's worried face.
"Yeah. Everything completely normal."
That evening Buffy sat watching television. Dawn had 'borrowed' Willow's laptop while she slept and was playing cards on it in the dining room. Tired of cartoons, she changed the channel. News. And again. More news. She flicked again and this time sat up straight.
"Mummy said you'd come round today. She and Daddy are in the kitchen." The camera moved through the sitting room until it reached Giles, unabashedly kissing Willow, who was sat on the kitchen counter. Dawn walked in from the garden, rolling her eyes.
"You two are like rabbits on viagra, honestly. I don't know how you only have three kids."
"It's called family planning Dawnie." Willow hopped down from the counter and walked over to stir the contents of the pan on the stove. Giles followed her, wrapping his arms around her from the back and nuzzling her neck.
"Who're you cooking today?"
"Graham. That okay?" The man broke away from his wife and turned to his daughter.
"Sounds perfect, doesn't it honey? It's like that song we were practicing." In harmony, Sally began to chant along with her father.
"Ten soldiers, all in a line.
A shot rings out, bang, down to nine." The pair laughed and Dawn and Willow clapped. Buffy was startled out of her bewilderment by a voice beside her.
"Ri and I would never put off the job if civilians were at risk."
"You don't still think she's human do you?"
"I don't- what are you trying to-"
"Tut tut, naughty slayer." Dawn took the remote control from her sister's fingers and sat down beside her.
"This obsession you have with British sitcoms really has to stop." Buffy looked at Dawn a moment, then over to the TV where two grown men were sat in a three-wheeled van that looked three sizes too small for them.
"I wasn't watching-"
"Of course not." The younger Summers took a handful of popcorn from the bowl on the elder's lap. "Your secret's safe with me." There was a noise by the door and Buffy looked up. Sam grinned back at her as Willow entered the room.
"Are you two filling yourselves with sugar again? I'll go make supper. Do you want lamb or beef?" The redhead walked through to the kitchen, seemingly oblivious to Sam's form behind her. Buffy followed the pair and watched as Willow got out a pan and knelt down to open the freezer, taking out the meat and looking at her, questioningly. "Well?" The slayer looked from the red packages to the pan- the same on as she'd been using on the television a minute ago and for the first time in about six years, felt very, very ill.
"That is so cool- so the slayer's seeing people that aren't there?"
"Uh-huh. And no one else can, so she thinks she's going crazy, all her friends think she's going crazy, and-"
"Will you two dorks shut up?" Jonathan looked over to Warren and made a face at the back of his head. Andrew swatted him on the arm.
"Shh, he's thinking." The giant plant demon that Warren had acquired two weeks ago was called, for some reason, a Soporific and it had soon been discovered that it was in the juvenile stage of its life- meaning it wouldn't normally produce successful offspring, but if, Jonathan had found out rather painfully, it was put in vinegar, it reproduced faster than a colony of rabbits and was only stopped by salt. The boy's potato waffles had been unfortunate victims in the accidental discovery.
Now Warren was, rather sadistically, experimenting with the mixture. At first he'd just tried things out- how did the plant react to salty-vinegar, to other acids, heat and light, but for the past three days he'd been inserting mixtures into other plants, insects. Today it was eggs.
"Look at this guys." Jonathan and Andrew walked over to the excited boy. "If you take one part plant, one part vinegar and four parts salt, inject them individually into the egg, then… voila." They peered at the egg, waiting for… something.
"Er- Nothing's happening."
"Exactly! But-" he broke the shell. Inside was a perfectly egg-shaped plant.
"It- it just grew inside?"
"Exactly- think what we could do with this. Andrew, I need you to get me an animal."
"Yeah- a pregnant one."
"What!" Jonathan shouted. "Oh no, there is no way that you can…"
"Because you just can't. It's wrong, it's mean- and it's just sick." Warren sighed.
"I guess. Okay Andrew, cancel the animal." Jonathan shuddered. He sometimes wondered about Warren's sanity. To even think about randomly testing to see whether he could kill a baby without harming the mother carrying it was… What the hell was he thinking?
"Food's on the table!" Willow called up the stairs before walking back into the kitchen to collect serving spoons.
"It's been a while, but my timing's still perfect." She looked up at the back door then ran over.
"Xander! Where've you been! It's been a week!" She jumped back from the hug she'd caught him in. "And I'm not supposed to be talking to you." He smiled, weakly.
"I've missed you too Will. I'm an idiot."
"Yeah you are- stood there like you shouldn't be allowed in and letting all the cold air in. Get in, sit at the table and shut that door."
"Yes Ma'am." He went through to the dining room, where he was eagerly met by Dawn and Willow followed him, collecting an extra plate and set of cutlery on the way.
"She's on her way, I thought she was just behind me." The younger Summers went to the bottom of the stairs. "Buff? You coming?"
"On my way." A few minutes later the slayer appeared and took her place at the table.
"This looks good Wills." Xander said.
"It's chilli-con-carne. Hope you enjoy."
"Where've you been staying Xander?" Dawn asked.
"That dive Faith used to live in."
"Faith-" A strange look covered the slayer's face.
"Something wrong Buffy?"
"No, nothing. Why are you there?"
"It's cheap and... away. I didn't think Anya would want to see-"
"She doesn't." Willow said. "She's staying with Hallie and D'Hoffryn for a while. She thinks of the apartment as being 'yours' too much, and... are you guys okay?" She looked around at the horrified looks on her friends' faces- they almost looked in pain.
"Have you-" Dawn choked out, then started again, "Have you tried this yet?" She pointed at her plate.
"Yeah, it's better than I thought it'd be. You all look-" Xander had tears running down his cheeks, Buffy was red, and Dawn jumped out of her seat gasping.
"No Dawn, drink milk, it takes the burn away. In fact, bring the whole carton through." Buffy ran and got glasses out of the cupboard and the three drank a litre of milk in a matter of seconds.
"What's going on guys?"
"How many chillies did you put in this Will?"
"Only a couple, but they were mild, so I added some powder and other spices too. It's not that spicy."
"Believe me, it is, it's taking the top of your mouth off, flames coming out of your ears spicy."
"Oh god! I'm sorry- I didn't... seriously, I can't taste it. Are you... okay, I can see from your faces you're sure."
"From now on," Buffy said, "Dawn's cooking."
"It was that bad?"
"I swear computers used to be so much easier to deal with."
"You having problems Will?" Buffy asked.
"Not so much problems as... delays. It knows I'm waiting for it- so it gets slower."
"Ah, the almighty Willow finally succumbs to the fate of all other computer users." The red head stuck out her tongue.
"If- if I can do this, there's a chance I could get a job- working from home."
"Will that's great. What is it?"
"Computer design- websites, animation, advertisements. I wrote to this company, Saunder's, and they said they'd consider me if I sent them some of my work. It's not going to make me JP Morgan, but I'll have something to support myself with."
"What about college?"
"I can take some time off because I'm pregnant, but... I don't know about next year. Depending on this job I'll carry on as long as I can for now."
"Have you thought any more about contacting Giles?"
"I figured if I murdered Quentin and Eliza and ate their hearts, I could absorb their energy, get enough info from them to take over The Council and then I'd be able to talk to him whenever I wanted."
"I said; I've almost given up trying, what with Quentin and Eliza. If there was some way to get info on him bypassing The Council I'd talk to him in a heartbeat."
"Right." Buffy shook her head confused.
"Are you okay Buff? That's the third time I've had to repeat something like that over the past couple of days."
"I'm... fine. I just- there's something I've got to do. I'll be back." With barely a second glance the slayer grabbed her coat and left the house, the door slamming shut behind her. Shrugging her shoulders at her friend's strange behaviour, Willow turned back to the screen.
Often called a succubus, this demon can take human form at will, often that of a small girl. The larvae are parasitic in nature and regularly take a pregnant woman as their host, killing the foetus and taking its nourishment from the mother's body. At the age of about three years, the demon becomes fully-grown and begins to feed on the life force of people, often manipulating one or both of its parents into aiding it.
Saugnapf can also inhabit other animals, and an interesting case of this...'
Buffy slammed the book closed and turned to another, a useful volume entitled simply; 'Daemons and Howe To Kill Them.' It was almost an index of all known demons and a list of their weaknesses. As she was about to open it though, a voice stopped her.
"Do you really want to do that?" Buffy's head shot up and her eyes narrowed at the man sat opposite her.
"I'm just saying- even if it's a demon it's her child, and Ripper isn't going to be too pleased."
"Are you saying I should just leave it- let it destroy my friends and kill innocent people?"
"I said nothing of the sort: I was just stating a truth universally accepted."
"Why should I listen to you anyway? Get out of here."
"Maybe you should listen to him Buffy." The image of Ethan faded, to be replaced by that of Jenny Calendar. "I mean- look at her." The teacher held out her hand and beside her two boys appeared, the elder, aged about six or seven taking the proffered hand and tugging on it to draw her attention.
"She won't come out. She's scared."
"Do you see what you're doing Buffy? You're tearing their family apart. She thinks you're going to hurt her and you're supposed to be her friend."
"She can come out. I won't do anything to her, I promise." As she made the vow, the second boy held out his hand and Sally walked out from behind The Magic Box counter.
"You can't break your promise Buffy."
"I won't Sally."
"Good. Jack?" The younger boy broke away from the others and walked up to Buffy. He signalled for her to bend down and whispered in her ear.
"Can't say a word." She jerked back and looked at his face, frowning.
"Can I have a hug?" She paused a moment and his face fell, tears appearing in the corners of his eyes before she opened up her arms and he stepped into them. Relaxing, Buffy put her arms around him. They stayed like that for a minute before Buffy felt the boy's arms begin to tighten around her neck.
"Okay Jack, you can let go now." He paid her no heed though and his shoulder began to dig into her throat, causing her to gasp, she brought up her arms to try and break the boy's hold to no avail.
Buffy looked over at the other three. Jenny shrugged, Sally began humming to herself, and the other boy just watched for a moment before running forward and knocking Jack so as she fell onto her back with the two boys on top of her. The elder put both hands over her mouth and looked into her eyes.
"I'm sorry Buffy- but Sally's number one." She lay there, flailing with the boys on top of her as Sally stepped up and rested the knife that had appeared in her hand on her chest. Slowly the children began chanting.
"Can't even shout,
"Can't even cry,
"The Rosenbergs are coming by."
"Slayer?" Buffy opened her eyes, not realising they'd been closed, and looked up to see Anya's vengeance demon friend. The children and Jenny had disappeared and The Magic Box appeared to be as normal. "Are you having some kind of fit?"
Eyes darting about her, Buffy stood, grabbing the two books from the table, she darted to the top of the shop before looking around once more and then running through the door to outside, the voices of the children even she could no longer see seemingly following her.
"Manipulating free will
"Meddling with your minds
"Leaving you helpless
"And leaving them blind
"Can't call to Mom
"Can't say a word,
"You're gonna die screaming but you won't be heard."
Well, here's a new pregnancy perk, I seem to be unable to taste almost anything- I didn't even really notice it until I made this killer chilli for Buffy, Dawn and Xander. I couldn't taste it, so I kept adding spices and then, when I served it, the three of them went mad- you should have seen them, poor Dawnie was red, and then I did it to her again the next morning- this time with coffee, I made it so strong she spat it straight back out- it actually serves her right for insisting on drinking the stuff so much at age fifteen anyway. On the plus side though- it's got her offering to cook meals.
I'm growing really fast now and I'm still not quite used to it- it's really hard work just sitting and standing, and I'm always home long before dusk 'cause if anything finds me I have no chance of running.
I spoke to my parents the other day- they've offered to help support us and I couldn't really say no, I can't stay with Buffy forever, although she'd never actually turf me out. Maybe I'll get a place with Anya when she comes back.
I got the web design job, working from home, and I can do it right up to term- in bed if necessary.
Maybe I should have stopped completely, but I'm glad I carried on with the tiny amount of magic I did, Anya doesn't think it will hurt the baby, and active pain relief is always welcome.
I think something's wrong with Buffy, I don't know what though. She keeps looking at me strangely and asking me to repeat things- maybe it's just premature old age and she's going deaf.
I have to go. Dawn's back from school and I need to check she's doing the work she's supposed to.
Write to you soon,
Buffy looked around Dawn's bedroom, trying to work out what was wrong. Frowning she walked over to the window. A field stretched out below her and in the middle two dark haired shadows seemed to be dancing. Turning her back on the view she realised why the room seemed off. The bed, such a prominent feature, had been replaced by a small white crib. When she stepped closer to it, she noticed small plump legs kicking at the sheets, right before the baby began to cry.
"You should pick him up." The girl beside her said, drawing her attention.
"I know you."
"Everyone knows me. He needs you." Buffy looked down and then reached to pick up the boy. As soon as she did so the scene shifted.
The three stood in the corridor outside the computer classroom at the old Sunnydale High School, pre-mayor. The figures Buffy had seen from Dawn's window were in front of her: Kendra and Faith, shadow boxing, but almost dancing.
"He's nearly here." The blonde woman beside Buffy smiled at the baby in the slayer's arms and then stroked his head.
"Who are you?"
"I'm the mediator. The voice of those who can't speak for themselves"
"I'm dreaming aren't I? Like last time. When you told me... I don't remember."
"Be back before Dawn."
"I don't remember."
"You were back- you didn't need to."
"Do you have a name?"
"Sometimes." The girls watched the slayers fighting for a moment more, but Buffy frowned, she couldn't tell why, but it just didn't seem right.
"They don't belong here, do they?" Instantly, Kendra and Faith stopped and the scenery changed to that of the old library, perfect and intact. The only difference was the absence of the study table. In its place on the floor was a large symbol in a blood-red circle.
"You have to see past the faces." When she looked back up Faith had been replaced by Sally, she looked at Buffy before saying.
"Acting is not about behaving, it's about hiding. The audience wants to find you, strip you naked and eat you alive. So hide." She began the shadow boxing Faith had been participating in as the baby in Buffy's arms began to grow until he was a boy of about the same age as Sally and she put him on the floor before her.
"You've gotta focus. You must have some kind of explanation. If we don't know what we're fighting, I don't think we stand a chance." He stepped back into the circle and took up Kendra's place opposite Sally, gliding seamlessly into the fighting dance.
"I don't understand."
"No one ever does until after. But sometimes- there isn't an after." The blonde nodded toward the circle and Buffy saw Sally and the boy had somehow combined into one person, both faces visible almost translucent over the other, and they were spread-eagled in the middle of the symbol painted on the floor, small screams coming from them both. Buffy began forward to be stopped at the circle's edge by an invisible barrier.
"I said no magic!" She shouted.
"Sometimes magic is the only way." The screams of the boy and girl grew in both volume and pain until they seemed to combine. Buffy glanced down to see Willow in the circle now where the children had been. She reached out a hand, surprised to find the force field gone. The blonde smiled at her, almost secretive, as she stepped forward and the world went black.
With a start, Buffy Summers awoke.
"Willow! Willow!" Groaning, Dawn Summers woke up to the sound of her sister's voice across the hall. Stumbling out of bed she walked over to the door.
"Buffy? Is something wrong?"
"She won't wake up."
"It's not seven yet."
"She never wakes up before seven- nothing short of an earthquake disturbs her- she's been like that for the past six weeks- you know that."
"You've got five minutes to go yet. Maybe you wouldn't know that, seeing as you're never up before half seven." Buffy stuck her tongue out and then sank down onto the chair beside Willow's bed with a sigh. She looked over, focussed on the form of the girl in front of her.
"What did she do to deserve this Dawnie?"
"Are you alright?"
"S- Something's happening. Something... bigger. I-I don't know what." Kneeling down in front of her sister, Dawn tried to catch the slayer's attention.
"I remember now- she told me... told me that I though I knew... she was the voice of the first slayer."
"Buffy, I don't understand."
"I told her that. I can't remember properly. I need Willow." As if on cue, the lump in the centre of the bed began to move and the redhead opened misty eyes to look at the sisters.
"Dawnie? Buffy? What are you..?"
"I think she's flipped." Ignoring her younger sister, Buffy handed an open book to Willow.
"There's something in my head. I think this has something to do with it." Dawn watched as the older girl frowned, then looked at the slayer, distressed.
"I don't know."
"What's going on guys?" Willow pushed the book across the bed and Dawn read the opening paragraph. "You think Willow's baby's a demon?"
"I-I don't know."
"I said I don't know- I think something's happened to me- I've been having these... visions."
"Kind of like my dreams- warning me, giving me advice. I've been having them for the past few days. But last night was different. There was this girl that... anyway, I think maybe I've been lied to."
"My baby is not a demon Buffy- and I'm aware I'd probably say that even if he was, but he's not."
"Do a truth spell."
"Find out what's happening in my head. Please." Buffy looked up, pleadingly at her best friend.
"Okay. Come here." Willow reached over the bed and placed a hand on either side of Buffy's head. "Veritae." The images were snippets of the past, flashes and single phrases.
"I love you Buffy."
"Ow! You're not supposed to poke me!"
"I'm burying the evidence Daddy."
"It's called family planning Dawnie."
"Drink milk, it takes the burn away."
"She can come out."
"You should pick him up."
Abruptly the flashes ended and the witch fell back across the bed.
"Whoa, that's one big block you've got in your head."
"I knew she was a blockhead!" Dawn's smug smile of satisfaction failed to impress her sister, who gave her a withering look, although Willow sent the briefest smile her way.
"What type of block?"
"I don't know- what I do know though is that we have to find that demon you fought- the one that poked you."
"That poked me?"
"A couple of days ago."
"I remember- looked like a corpse."
"Yeah, that one."
"Because that's going to be easy." Buffy's head shot up and she met Riley's eyes.
"I'm just saying," the man continued, "you'd never seen him before, are you sure you could i.d. him again. No one knows the location or habits of the HST and as for the reliability of the source..." he motioned over to Willow, "well, I have to say that we'd-"
"Let's get her to bed and do some research on this demon."
Name: Elizabeth Emma Giles, formerly Winslow.
Notes: Daughter of Earl Robert Sebastian Winslow and Countess Mary Taylor, Mrs Giles' bloodline is unique. Within the past three generations she has had all the required components and Mary Taylor was the daughter of watcher turned slayer Anhai Choudri and at one time selected for ultimate breeding herself. Eliza however, in her union with Rupert Giles has proven to be the suitable candidate.
Recent invocation of has ensured her safety at least temporarily and-
"I've got it." Oz was pulled out of his reading by an exclamation from behind him.
"The solution to... what's that?" Wesley squinted at the computer screen over Oz's shoulder and began to read as the younger man explained.
"I found the file on Eliza."
"For 100 days from the invocation- it's similar to the dedication the Mayor used."
"Huh." The werewolf expressed his surprise in the only way he knew how. "So what you got?"
"Here, this shows the ritual of..."
"Willow, it's for you." Dawn made a face and held the phone out to the older girl.
"Here, keep stirring this." Carefully Willow pushed the small Pyrex bowl toward Dawn and handed her the wooden spoon as she took the phone. "Hello?"
"You sound busy."
"Anya! How are you? No more than usual."
"I'm alive and..."
"Nothing. I'm coming back in a couple of days so- What is it you're doing?"
"We're keeping Buffy from insanity."
"Isn't is a bit late for that?"
"Sorry. Do continue."
"She was attacked by a Ze-Beremit demon."
"Ze-Beremit? Do you mean Zz-Brmt?"
"I am incapable of pronouncing words with that few vowels, but yes."
"So she's going crazy, seeing people who aren't there?"
"What's it trying to make her do?"
"Make her do?"
"Zz-Brmts are tools- ways to achieve an objective. Its poison is used to manipulate its victim into doing the will of its master- or just the person who's paid it."
"She thinks I have a demon inside me."
"Holy-! Willow, she'll kill it- you too probably."
"It's okay, we managed to find the antidote, we're making it now in fact, and Xander's watching over her, he'll let us know if anything-"
"You think he'll stand a chance if those idiot people in her head bring her 'round? She's the slayer, he's- an idiot."
"Anya, we'll be fine."
"And now you've uttered the fateful words! I thought you were brought up on the hellmouth."
"Calm down- the first sign of anything, I'll call you, okay?"
"Well, I suppose so. Look, I have to go. I'll see you soon right?"
"Okay. Bye." Only after she'd hung up, did Willow realise she had no idea where Anya was or how to reach her.
"Buffy, what' s happening?"
"Close your eyes." Unquestioningly, Angel did as Buffy asked, eagerly accepting the kiss she placed on his lips. As the sword slid into his stomach though, his eyes shot open, shock racing through them, the mouth of Acathla widening behind him.
Buffy's thoughts came to an abrupt halt as Willow walked into the room.
"Dawn and I made antidote goodness. Drink that all down and there'll be no more people running around your head- no more than usual anyway." Buffy just looked at her and the cup. "Insert laugh here?"
"Sorry Will- just in a funny mood- or not... not funny 'ha ha,' but-" she trailed off.
"Hey, that's cool. I'll just... be downstairs." Willow placed the cup next to the bed and smiled at her friend before leaving the room.
Buffy looked over at Angel, stood by the window, picked up the antidote and poured it into the bin, nodding at the vampire in silent thanks for making her see.
She knew now what she had to do. She'd done it before and now she was going to have to put duty before her heart once again.
Sally could never see the light of day.
Dawn tried desperately to scream as she was dragged into the basement by her sister, seeing Xander and Willow already tied up at the slayer's mercy. Buffy's hand over her mouth though was so tight it made air difficult to obtain, let alone allowing her to cry out.
The hand moved momentarily as Buffy forced her arms behind her back and tied them behind one of the beams leading from the ceiling and Dawn took the opportunity to try and plead with her sister.
"Buffy please, think about this. What are you doing? There are crazy people talking tmmm." The rest was lost beneath the cloth that the slayer put around her head however, and Dawn took a good look around the room for the first time.
Xander was strapped to a post opposite her, eyes as frantic as she felt her own must be. A vampire was chained to a chair by the window, and to Dawn's left was an unconscious Willow; Buffy had removed her shirt, leaving her bra-clad, pregnant front exposed to the world and- more to the point- the small dagger the blonde had retrieved from the bottom stair.
"The greater good." She mumbled to herself as she walked slowly over to the vampire and Xander and Dawn looked at each other, panicked.
"Mm-my." Dawn tried to scream her sister's name, hoping to break her from whatever trance she was under, draw her attention from the phantoms in her head. The slayer looked up.
"I'm sorry- but it's my duty, I have to do it. I have to kill Sally. I don't want to kill Willow, but if I do- it's for the greater good." Suddenly determined in her actions, Buffy strode over to the vampire, cutting him loose. "Remember- stay away from her; she's mine."
"Willow?" The enquiring cry came from upstairs and, as one, Xander and Dawn began to shout through their gags. As the vampire reached her, the youngest Summers saw Xander break free from his ties with a jerk and Anya began down the basement stairs.
The vampire fell backwards as Xander jumped on its back and Dawn began struggling with her own ropes.
Running up to Buffy, Anya tapped the slayer on the shoulder and then punched her, turning her head to a seemingly impossible angle and knocking her backwards. Her grip on the knife never easing though, Buffy vaulted back to her feet before sending Anya flying into the stairs, below which she fell, seemingly motionless.
Dawn screamed as the first blood appeared on Willow's stomach; Buffy choosing not to stab, but instead to slice with the blade.
Grabbing a paintbrush from beside the shelves, Xander levered the handle upwards into the vampire's chest, causing him to disintegrate into a shower of dust and giving Xander an almost irrepressible urge to sneeze. He sat up, first seeing Anya's slumped form on the floor, a patch of red marring her newly blonde hair. Dawn had yet to let up her wordless screaming at Buffy, who was knelt motionless in front of Willow. He stood and walked slowly over to her, dimly aware of Dawn quieting, and saw her eyes fixed on the line of red across Willow's stomach.
"Buffy?" The knife clattered to the floor and she turned her eyes up to him.
"Get me that antidote Xander."
"I don't know Wes."
"Oz! You cannot begin to understand the forces you are dealing with, or guess at their motives. That file you pulled of Ms Winslow's only proves it."
"I knew her long ago- and are you going to call her by what should be Willow's name?"
"They've made her invulnerable for the next 100 days- why? It may be nothing to do with any of this, but do you want to risk it? This is our only real chance."
"Count me in."
"Willow, I want to-"
"Not now Buffy."
"I know, you were coerced, you-"
"No, I shouldn't have succumb."
"No you shouldn't- I thought you were stronger than that."
"Just- stay away from me for a few days."
"Please." Eventually Buffy nodded and stepped away from the front door, taking the cold glare for Anya as she helped Willow pick up her bag and move down the garden to her car. The slayer watched as the pair left Revello Drive and turned to face the hard looks from Xander and her sister. Without saying a word, she pushed past them and ran up the stairs to her bedroom, wanting to be alone to face the stone that had settled in her stomach telling her that just maybe, she had wanted the baby to be a demon.
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