Startled, Buffy and the gang tore their collective gaze from the library computer just in time to see Giles scowl reproachfully at his book and mutter, "Sheer madness."
"What is it?" Willow asked.
"W--" He shook his head, flabbergasted. "It's ludicrous, is what it is."
"Yeah, we got that so far," said Xander. "It's mad, ludicrous poppycock."
"And that's nothing if not intriguing," noted Oz.
Willow smiled. "Is it the solution?"
"I should bloody well hope not!"
"Giles," Buffy approached him. "I don't care how poppy or... cocky it is, if you know how I can beat this thing--"
"I-it's not quite that simple," he stammered.
"What isn't that simple?"
Cordelia chimed in, "Did you just read some new 'Buffy dies' prophecy? 'Cause technically, there should've been just the one."
"No, it isn't that..."
"Let me see that." Buffy swiped the book from his trembling hands only to find a page scrawled with symbols. "And if I had a degree in polkadots, I might be able to read this." She put the book down and placed a hand on her hip. "Tell me what it says, Giles."
He rigorously polished his glasses. "It's by far the most appalling thing I've ever read. I'm certain there's a way around it."
Rubbing the back of his neck, he hedged, "Perhaps I should 'spill' elsewhere, Buffy."
The Slayer gestured at the group gathered at the library table. "We don't figure out a way to stop him, we all die. They need to know whatever it is we have to do--"
"Actually, it's, it's very specifically a task for the Slayer alone," he hinted.
"Fine. I'll do whatever it takes," she said, not getting the hint. "Doesn't mean they can't hear it." She stepped closer. "Spill."
"Well," a nervous titter, "Right then. It says..." He cleared his throat. "It says in order to defeat Grosh, the Slayer must accept the," he shut his eyes, "seed of the damned."
Buffy shrugged. "What, like, for gardening? I'm growing a giant beanstalk or...?" Her eyes widened. "Oh. You mean seed like--" She glanced at the gang, who were gawping, mortified. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment. "Whose seed? Not Grosh seed!" A wave of nausea. "There is no way in hell I'm gonna--"
Giles interrupted with a negative head-shake. "Not Grosh, Buffy. The uh, the 'cold, dead seed of the damned' is its near-exact translation."
"Cold and dead damned?" she repeated. "What's cold and de--? Oh."
"Yes. You'd have to have," he looked down and finished quickly, "intercourse with a vampire."
"Now there's a snappy title for a book," Xander said.
"Xander, can you not?"
"Sorry, Buff." He ducked his head. "Just bringing the levity where it obviously shouldn't be brought."
"Obviously." Pacing, Buffy pressed a palm to her forehead. Have sex with a vampire. Why was her life just one cruel joke after another?
Suddenly, Willow wondered, "It's cold?"
Buffy looked up. "No. Really not -- and I can't believe I just shared that with the group."
"Yeah." Cordelia stood up. "I hate to be even more crass than Buffy was just now, but didn't she already accept that once?"
"Cordelia, hating to be crass," Willow remarked. "It really is the end of the world."
"Hey, I'm just saying what everyone's thinking. She did that once, and didn't get a rush of super-Grosh-kicking mojo... right?"
"Yes, well, that's because he wasn't wearing this." Giles showed them the book.
"Pretty!" Cordelia brightened. "What color is it?"
"Amber, actually. It's supposedly quite..." Realizing the idiotic turn the conversation was taking, he snatched the book back and got serious. "I admit, we're in dire straits with this beast. But there's no reason to believe that this text has the definitive answer. It was written thousands of years ago, before there was firepower, before the Slayer had access to an endless arsenal of weapons," he pointed at the computer, "to a connected network of witches the world over..."
"But didn't you say it was the only text with the answer?" Cordelia asked.
Willow spoke up. "So far. I mean, sure, we've tried every weapon and spell we can think of on this guy. But we've only known about him for like, less than a week. And that was just the six of us. These people online... if they're, you know, actually powerful, maybe they'll be able to work some power into Buffy and take some out of Grosh."
"Yeah. We'll find another way." Buffy sounded less confident than she'd hoped. "We always do. And as long as we find that last ingredient to the apocalypse pie before he does, we're okay... Right, Giles?"
"Right. So long as we can get our hands on the uh, recipe, to determine exactly what it is."
Buffy put on a perky face. "See? No need for seed."
"Funny," Xander groused under his breath, still stinging from the knowledge that Angel was alive and back in Buffy's arms, "thought you'd be all over it."
"Xander," Willow chastised. "Not the time."
"And not true," Buffy tried to convince the room. "Operative word: Over. It. Sans 'all'." She sliced her hands through the air for emphasis. It wasn't a complete lie: she'd managed to steer clear of Angel for almost two weeks now. She still hadn't told him about Grosh. She was too worried she'd jump into his arms and...
"Plus, you'd turn him evil and have to kill him again," Cordelia contributed.
Buffy blinked. "Thanks, Cordelia, for that reminder."
"Any time," she said. "What about Faith? She's a slutbag."
A few raised brows were aimed at Cordelia.
"Observe the outfits, people."
Giles cleared his throat. "Whatever her 'outfits' may imply," he whipped off his glasses and resignedly took a seat, "Faith is currently incommunicado. We've been unable to locate her since that last... incident."
"You mean when her faux-watcher tried to kill her with a magic glove?"
With a pained smile, Giles said, "Let's move on to our Plan B, shall we?"
* * *
Giles slowed the Citröen to a stop at Buffy's front gate.
"Giles? What if..." she turned toward him, "what if I have no choice?"
"Buffy. I refuse to believe that there's no other choice. The Council is working on our options as we speak--"
"Okay, but hypothetically. Say they have no options. What would I do? Just find a random creature of the night, throw the amulet around his neck and--"
"Please don't go on."
"I'm serious. I've gotta crash Grosh's big Conga-line to Hell before he starts it -- except I'm not strong enough to fight him. No one is. Now it turns out I could be, if I just spend a few disgusting minutes with some vamp who isn't Angel. I don't like this as much as you don't, but... maybe I shouldn't be thinking about what I want."
"I will in no way let you compromise any part of your dignity in order to face this beast."
"Does my dignity matter if I'm dead?"
Giles didn't know how to answer that.
* * *
Buffy trudged up her front walk, comparing the size of her mother's SUV to Grosh. About the same, lengthwise. Only he was bigger.
Upon entering the house, she heard quiet conversation in the kitchen. "Mom?"
"In here, sweetie!"
As she locked the door behind her, she heard more hushed talking... from a deep, accented voice she recognized. Is that...? Oh my god, Mom!
She barreled toward the kitchen, and there he was, casually sipping hot chocolate.
"Slayer!" he greeted jovially.
In three paces, she'd picked him up, thrown him backward against the kitchen island and pressed a stake to his solar plexus.
"Buffy!" her mother exclaimed. "What are you--?"
"Spike," she spat, seething.
His eyes glinted with mischief. "That a stake on my chest or you just happy to see me?"
"Know what? I'm thrilled. Because now I get to kill you." She pressed harder.
"Hey, just havin' a spot of small talk with your mum."
"Honey, what's going on, I thought--"
Her mother providing the background noise that always seemed to fade whenever she faced Spike, she said, "When were you planning on having a spot of blood?"
His gaze slid down to her neck. "When you came home."
"Isn't he your friend? I'm confused."
Buffy didn't break eye contact. "He's not my friend, Mom. We had a deal."
"Yeah, and the deal's off. Dru's gone. Up and left me."
She punched him in the nose, getting a satisfying "Ow!" out of it.
"Oh Buffy," the background noise reasoned, "Is that really necessary?"
"I don't care what she did, you moron! A deal's a deal."
He pouted. "Didn't you miss me just a little bit?"
She punched him again.
He grit his teeth. "Dammit!" Licking the blood that oozed from one nostril, he slung his pelvis against hers. "I'll take that as a yes."
"Oh... god." Disgusted, she pushed him to the floor.
In that second, something flashed in her mind. She immediately shook it out. No -- no way, not him, not ever. Anyone but him, in fact.
"What are you doing here?"
"Came here to kill you, of course. Just got sidetracked by the motherly love."
"This is my house, Spike. My town. And I don't want you in either of them."
"Mm, I'm surprised your little berg's still here. Thought it'd be all hellish and such."
"It is hellish. And not just because you're back."
"Yeah, I heard. You got a Grosh problem." He chuckled, "Sucks to be you."
Buffy whipped her head to her mother. "You told him?"
"Well I-- How was I supposed to know he was evil? The last time he was here he was sitting in my living room and--"
"It doesn't matter," she sighed, and turned back to Spike, still on the floor, propped against the side of the island. Instead of running away, he was cradling his head. "What's wrong with you? Not that I care."
"Nothing. Little hung over is all."
"Drowning your sorrows in booze? There's a manly way to deal."
"Not 'booze', love. Top-of-the-shelf Jack. You know I'm all man." He cringed and touched his head again.
"Right," she said with a smirk, arms folded.
He looked at her. "Well?"
"You gonna stake me or what? Been sitting here forever."
"You want to be staked?"
He shut his eyes, exhaled. "Way my unlife is going and the headache on top? Yeah." He puffed his chest out. "Go on. Do me. Just make it quick."
She considered making his wish come true -- settling on a breezy quip and getting him out of her life for good. Just one little swish and he'd be dust. But something prevented her. Something she didn't want to think about.
"Get out of here, Spike. And if you ever set foot near my house or my mother again, you'll be wishing I made it quick."