As if in a trance, Buffy dropped her coat and keys and ascended to Giles' bedroom. Opened and closed the door. Felt her way to the nearest lamp and switched it on.
Sitting on the bed, she pulled off her shirt and gazed at the bump on her stomach. It was still small, only slightly noticeable. She ran her hand over her smooth skin, up and down.
So little. He must be so little.
With a sniffle, she lay down on her side and tucked her knees up, cradling her belly.
"Buffy, I know you're feeling hurt," Giles had said softly. "But that's not a good enough reason to reverse this spell. Unleashing Spike, setting his monster free while you're this vulnerable -- it's something I simply cannot let you do."
Vulnerable. Buffy hated that word. Especially when it was used to describe her.
She looked at the clock. 9:33. Spotted her bag, open on the floor, and slid down to rummage through it.
Giles would be at the library for a while. While he stayed there researching possible culprits, he expected her to get some rest. But resting wasn't an option for her. Not tonight.
She picked out a pair of loose drawstring sweats, a tank top, and a stake. She needed to see him.
With a shrug, she thought, Not like I can help it.
* * *
Tara sat down on Willow's bed. "If Mr. Giles is right, we shouldn't be doing this."
"I know," Willow said. "But I can't not try."
* * *
It was dark in the graveyard; only a sliver of the moon shone to guide her way, but Buffy didn't need light.
As it had for weeks, her body buzzed at his proximity -- but now that she knew this buzz was more or less manufactured, it was accompanied by a not-so-pleasant chill.
She spotted him perched yards away on a gravestone, back turned to her. Taking a breath, she marched in his direction.
Without turning, he said, "Leave me alone."
She stared at his back, voice shaking as she said, "I can't."
"Well, try!" He pitched a half-empty bottle of whiskey through the air, brown liquid ribboning out of it.
He pushed off the gravestone and spun to face her, praying the truth spell would allow him to say this: "Go home!"
She stared at him, wide-eyed.
* * *
Willow and Tara raised their joined hands into the air, chanting together as one.
"Inluminare!" Willow commanded, and between them, a floating sphere appeared, showing them an encapsulated vision of Spike and Buffy, surrounded by a magical light, standing in a dark graveyard.
"Disiungo." The light split in half.
Struggling to keep their focus absolutely clear, they recited a chant that ended with, "Extermino actutum!" and watched as the light disappeared.
Tara began to cast a protective charm, and a new light engulfed Buffy.
When the spell was complete, the sphere collapsed in on itself.
"Wow," Willow said, catching her breath and locking eyes with Tara, "That was... Wow."
* * *
Spike felt a wave of... something pass through him. Quickly shaking it off, he refocused on the girl standing before him, and on a careful choice of words that wouldn't have him blabbering the truth. "What? You want to talk this out?" He outstretched his arms. "You're a pawn, Buffy! Slave to a fucking spell! And if you know what's best for you, you'll turn around and bloody go home!"
Holding his gaze, she scowled... then slugged him in the jaw.
Licking the blood oozing from the corner of his mouth, Spike narrowed his eyes and growled measuredly, "Go. Home."
Furious, Buffy lashed out, nailing him with a series of painful combinations.
When he blocked the last swing, she made his chest her punching bag. "How dare you!" She pushed him to the ground and straddled him to continue her assault, but her punches were slowing down, losing steam as she shouted through her tears, "Making me believe you loved me, that you wanted me!"
He grabbed her wrists and corrected, "I do love you. I always want you."
Sobbing, she shook her head. "No you don't. It's just a... a side effect!"
He sighed. Time had come to tell her what he'd learned tonight. Buggery truth juice. Made him unable to lie to himself, as it turned out.
"Buffy, it wasn't the bond that did it," he said quietly. "Not for me, anyway."
She blinked several times. "What?"
"The spell didn't make me love you. Ever since I bloody met you, I've..." He sighed again. "Well, you can ask Dru. She's known from the start."
She slid back on his thighs. "I don't... I don't understand."
He sat up, propped on his elbows. "Don't you see, Buffy? I've loved you all along." His eyes were moist, his smile bittersweet. "But you... It's not the same for you."
"You've always loved me?"
"It doesn't matter. This thing we have? It's not healthy for you. Or the baby... Much as I want you to, you can't stick around me... not anymore. It isn't right."
She was silent for a moment, brow furrowed as she took this in. "No."
"What do you mean, no?"
"I mean you're wrong. Who says I didn't love you too? Before?"
He chuckled. "You were in love with Angel. But points for effort."
"I was. In love with him. But... I also had something for you."
Skeptical, he searched her eyes.
"I thought about you. Dreamt about you, long after you were gone... And all those times I could've killed you. Even though I couldn't stand you, something told me I didn't want you out of my life."
Wow. Maybe she wasn't just placating him.
"Spike?" Her voice was quiet, hopeful. "What if it's not a side effect? What if it just brought it out... or, I don't know, gave it a chance to grow?" Slowly, she bent down until her face was inches from his and whispered, "What if this is real?"
Dead heart expanding, Spike suddenly recognized that it didn't matter who or what was pulling their strings. Love was no different from magick -- no choices in it; no easy fixes; plenty of terrifying consequences; equal odds of exquisite pleasure or exquisite pain...
"It feels real." She brought his hand to her belly. "Doesn't it?"
Tears sprang to Spike's eyes. "More than anything I've ever felt in my entire life."
Realizing that was enough for her, Buffy gave in... and let herself be vulnerable.
Eyes speaking volumes, a silent agreement made, their mouths fused in submission and defiance.
* * *
Anya slowly lifted her exhausted head from the library table. "Is this in any way more productive than your last three 'a-ha's?"
"'The Bond of Dissonant Hearts'", Xander read proudly to prove her wrong, "Practiced in Ancient Babylonia to unite warrior to demon for blood rituals.'"
Giles stepped up. "Oh?" Peering over Xander's shoulder, he spun the book his way. "Dissonant hearts... that's promising."
"Promise! Terrific!" Anya smacked an open palm on the table and pleaded with her new boyfriend, "Can we leave now?"
Engrossed in the passage, Giles mumbled, "Yes, go on. I'll see you tomorrow."
* * *
"Come in, Spike," Buffy said again, and once more, he hesitated.
"What about the man of the flat?"
She glanced at the clock. "It's only ten-thirty. He'll be at the library all night. Nice place, all to ourselves..." She arched a brow and teased, "You can be the man of the flat."
He smirked, tempted. "I shouldn't."
"But you want to..."
"Of course I want to," he said, and chuckled. "Minx."
She pulled him through the door by his coat lapels. "How can I pass up True Confessions Guy? I get to hear what you really think, all night long."
"I can think of better things to do with my mouth..."
"Mmm... point taken."
As they kissed, he kicked the door closed.
"But first," Buffy said, resting a finger on his chin, "Do you love me more than you ever loved Dru?"
"Yes. Oh you're -- God!" he said in frustration as she laughed. "Knew I shouldn't have come in."
"You were inseparable for like a hundred years and I win? There must be something really special about me."
"Well yeah. You're one of a kind. I've never met anyone like you, strong and soft, all at once and -- will you quit doing this?"
"This is far too fun to quit. Even if it is the heart-bond talking, it's still nice to hear."
"Alright, wisegirl. What about you?"
"What about me what?" She stepped backward as he advanced.
"Love me more than anyone else you've ever loved?"
"I'm not under a truth spell, dummy."
"So?" He stepped forward. "Answer the question, pet. And try to be honest. It's only fair."
"What-- what was the question again?"
He brushed a hand over her cheek. "Do you love me more, right now, than you ever loved Angel?"
She paused for a moment, thinking it through. This was so different -- bonding spell notwithstanding. She was older now, a little wiser. It wasn't about adolescent drama anymore, it wasn't about wanting the unattainable; it was about who she loved being with; and even without a soul, Spike was so devoted, so good at making her feel like the only woman in the world... She smiled, fairly convinced. "Yeah."
After a beat, he shrugged, "Right then." Before she could protest, he threw her over his shoulder, made for the stairs and, as she shrieked and giggled, sprinted to the bedroom.
* * *
"Getting close to sunrise, love," he whispered, kissing her forehead. "I'd better be off."
"Nuh-uh," she said, finger-drawing a small infinity pattern on his chest. "Stay."
"I can't, baby, you know that." He kissed her shoulder. "What happens in the morning?"
"He won't come in." She touched his mussed hair. "Please don't go?"
"Spike," she whispered, gazing into his eyes. "Please. Please don't leave us again."
He melted. "Put it that way..."
"I win," she declared gaily, kissing him once before nudging him toward the bed. Giles had come home a few hours earlier, and they'd rolled to the floor to prevent any bed-squeaking.
He lifted the covers for her. She climbed in and adhered to his side, slinging one bent leg over his hip. Tracing the angles of his face, she whispered, "Our baby's gonna be so pretty."
"Handsome, don't you mean."
"Do you really only want a boy?"
"No, of course not... Gah!"
As she giggled triumphantly, he said, feigning annoyance, "Remind me never to agree to this spell business again."
* * *
"It's quite fascinating, actually." Giles offered Willow a cup of tea, but she shook her head, eyes on the ceiling.
"Is there something wrong?" he asked, noticing that she was also fidgeting in her seat.
"No, no. I'm just... anxious to talk to Buffy. You know. See how she's doing."
"Of course. But I think it's best we let her rest while she can. Although I can't imagine she'll be asleep much longer. It is... my goodness, rather late."
"Are we sure she's up there?"
"I heard her moving about last night."
"As I was saying, the bond--"
"Right, the bond!" she replied nervously, knee bouncing up and down.
He regarded her skeptically. "Yes. Well, It's quite ancient, and very powerful, used only for--"
"I undid it!" Willow blurted, unable to lie any longer.
"The bonding spell. I -- Oh god, you're gonna kill me -- I undid it. But only because Spike was right, it can't be good for her, and Buffy was so sad--"
"You did what?!" he whisper-shouted.
"Yeah, okay, but we, we put a temporary protection spell on-on Buffy, so he couldn't hurt her..."
"And the rest of us? Did it not occur to you that he could attack every one of her friends? Her mother? The free world? Good god!"
He ran up the stairs, Willow trailing behind, opened the door, and--
There they were, naked, entwined, and dead asleep.
Giles hurried over to the window and yanked open the blinds in one pull, announcing testily, "'Morning' dove's here!"
"AAH!" Hit by sunlight, a sizzling Spike rolled off the bed.
"Giles?" Buffy squeaked, scrambling to cover herself. "Will--?"
Spike scooched backward to a dark corner, pulling the blanket around his waist and glancing at his mortified lover. "Uh, look here Watcher, it's not what you think--"
"You've no bloody clue what I'm thinking." Giles stared him down.
He ceded, "Starting to get a picture..."
Finally able to speak, Willow shrieked, "I didn't mean to do this!"
Turning to leave the room, Giles said, "Buffy, a word."
* * *
Fully dressed, Buffy reluctantly stepped down the staircase to see Giles gathering weapons as Willow explained to him that she'd done everything right and she couldn't understand how anything could have gone wrong.
When Giles turned to face Buffy, she noticed a cross in his hand.
"What's that for?" Buffy asked warily.
"Your boyfriend, I'm afraid."
"Willow, as it turns out, reversed your spell last night. Despite my warnings and her better judgment."
Buffy frowned at them. "What?"
"You and Spike are now officially unbonded," he clarified.
"No, Buffy, we must've done something wrong," Willow said, "Made the bond stronger. Or else, why would you--"
Buffy looked up at her friend, all the evidence clear on her face.
"Oh." Willow gasped. "Oh!"
Spike tumbled down the stairs, limboed under the window and slipped down the last step, all while fastening his jeans. "What time?"
Giles held up the cross. "Don't you come any closer."
Ignoring him, he strode toward the group. "What bloody time?"
"Huh?" Willow asked, still wrapping her mind around Buffy's unspoken confession.
"What time did you undo the sodding spell? Put that down, Rupert. I'm not gonna bite you."
He lowered it slowly, but didn't put it down.
"Uh, well, Tara came over at around nine and we, we had to set up the ingredients--"
"Get on with it!" Spike growled.
"I -- I think it was before ten! Oh! Yes, it was definitely right before ten, 'cause after we cleaned up, Tara and I sat down to watch Spongebob Squarepants, but we had to wait a while 'cause it starts at ten thirty..."
"We were still in the graveyard," Buffy said, turning to him. "I knew I felt something strange."
"Me too." Remembering all they'd said during the course of the night, after the bond had been broken, he smiled at her. "Well. What do you know?"
She smiled back at him.
"Buffy," Giles said, "he's not the man you think he is."
Positively smitten, she said, "Oh yes... He is."
Giles snapped them out of it. "Be that as it may, I want him out."
"Buffy, I can't let you invite a monster into my house. We don't know what he's capable of, and frankly, I don't want to find out."
"Standing right here," he reminded them.
"Fine," Buffy resolved, "then I'm leaving too."
"Buffy, I'm not asking you to l--"
"Giles, what you don't get is that I believe in him. He's not gonna go Angelus on us -- don't you see? He was with me all night. It wasn't any different than before. It's not about the bond anymore--"
Willow spoke up. "So this has been going on for..." She looked around. "Sorry. Just absorbing."
Suddenly the front door opened and Xander traipsed in with Anya. "Hey guys! I brought jelly donuts." He nodded at Buffy, saying, "Buffy, rockin' the bedhead. And Spike... also rocking the -- not to mention shirtless, okay what's going on here?"
"Well, it's pretty obvious to me," Anya said.
"This isn't a very good time," Giles told Xander.
"Hold up. I'm not the kid who gets sent to his room here." He and Spike exchanged a mutual look of suspicion. "Please tell me these two were just battling to the death, and she somehow ripped his shirt in the skirmish."
After a moment of tense silence, Willow said, "They're a thing."
Buffy glanced at Willow, picking up on her feeling of betrayal. "Will--"
"They're a whatnow?" He looked from Buffy, who had her head down, to Spike, who lifted his chin proudly. "Uh-huh. I see. So the bond made you do it?"
"Bond's broken," Spike said.
"Willow undid it last night," Buffy supplied quietly.
"Uh-huh. So it's all over, but now you're evil again. Well that's great. Buffy can freely kill you. And if she doesn't, I will."
"Big talk for a little boy."
"Little... hey, I'm taller than you--"
Buffy rubbed her temples. "No one is killing anyone!"
"This is a bit more complicated than you think," Giles explained to Xander.
Buffy sighed. "Willow reversed the spell, Spike and I are still in love, we're keeping the baby, and we're moving out. Is that clear enough to everyone? Are you all up to date on my personal life now?"
"You're keeping it?" Willow asked. "You didn't even tell me that."
"Willow, I'm sorry. Okay? There's been a lot going on. And I just didn't want a big intervention about it."
"I wouldn't do that..."
"I'm glad. Just, please, everyone, enough with the third degree." She took Spike's hand. "Spike and I are going upstairs to get my stuff. We're leaving at sunset."
* * *
After they heard Xander yelp, "Is she insane?" Spike closed out the commotion downstairs. "Sorry about all that, love."
Hand still on his, she stepped toward him, shaking her head. "It doesn't matter." Pure love gleaming in her eyes, she caressed his face. "I know what's real now."
* * *
"Real... not real, what's the difference, WinQuar?" Lamashtu pondered.
"In this reality?" After pacing before her altar, he came to a stop. "Very little."
The amorphous entity managed a smile.
"And when you regain control of it, your darkness..."
Wisps of mist swayed outward, simulating open arms. "I will decide what's real. For everyone."