Angel paused to take in the 'what's wrong with this picture' before him: the massive belly-swell. The affectionate hand-holding.
The only logical explanation was that Buffy had been brainwashed into demon incubation -- and the peroxided dickweed standing beside her was to blame.
"Hey!" Buffy objected as Spike was knocked on his back, a snarling Angel on top of him.
"What did you do to her?"
Spike chuckled, smugger than smug. "Well, if you don't know by now, mate..." The punch connected before he could deflect.
"Angel!" Buffy tried to stop him, but they suddenly became a growly blur on the ground, rolling around and trading blows. "Spike!" Oh, for the love of testosterone... "Both of you!"
"What is that inside her?" Angel demanded, slamming Spike's head on the pavement with each question mark, "Hacksaw spawn? Drig demon? What?"
"A wee Spike," he replied, jaunty. "Turns out my virility defies the laws of nature."
"Bullshit!" Now a slam on every exclamation, "Tell! Me! The truth!"
"That is the truth, you plonker!" Spike grabbed Angel by the lapels and somersaulted him over his head. They both stood, and he staggered, a little woozy. "Face it, she ain't your girl anymore."
They trapped each other in a double block. "Using magick to make her yours doesn't count."
"Why use magick when you can use good old-fashioned mind-blowing se--" Angel practically broke his nose to stop that 'x'. Spike laughed off the pain as they separated and circled each other like wolves. "Lots of it."
"Let me guess. Dru got tired of you again, and since following in my footsteps is all you know, you went after Buffy."
"What you get for leaving the door wide open." They fell into another scrabble on the sidewalk.
Okay, as sexy as this was, it was attracting too much attention, and Buffy couldn't risk them panicking the clueless citizens of Sunnydale by letting their vamp faces show.
Pushing aside her wanton thoughts of a naked boyfriend sandwich, she yanked Spike up by the scruff of his neck and tossed him at a car. This made Angel think she'd been momentarily snapped out of her spell, until she tossed him just as roughly towards a brick storefront wall.
"Now that we've established that you both pee really far, can we please discuss this like grown-ups?"
"He started it," Spike groused, licking his wounds.
"Buffy," Angel said measuredly, "Listen to me. You don't know what you're saying. You're under some kind of--" he glanced at the small surrounding crowd, "influence."
"I'm not under any kind of 'influence', Angel. It's hard to take in all at once, I know, and there were ...influences involved, but this, right now, is real."
He wasn't listening. "Gotta hand it to you, Spike, I never thought you could pull off a stunt like this. You've always been too much of a moron."
She shot a hand behind her to keep Spike back, and said irately, "Be that as it may--"
"Hey!" said Spike.
"--he's my moron." Buffy made sincere but curt eye contact with Angel. "Look, I know all the reasons I probably shouldn't love him, but I do. And no matter what you think of it, I'm having his baby."
Spike was so touched, he didn't even smirk. He took her hand, and they exchanged a sweet look.
I never should have left for L.A., Angel thought, it obviously drove her insane. "Vampires don't make babies."
"This one does."
"Spike, please." She opened with, "It's a long story."
"We were rabbits for a night," Spike said, hoping it would make him leave faster.
"Or, not so long." Luckily their audience had moved on.
"I guess that explains it," Angel said, completely confused.
"Well, it was a spell, I mean it wasn't intentional or anything."
"Willow flubs again," Spike threw in.
"And Xander, putting us in the same box..."
"Right, just as much his fault."
"And then there was the sachet growth spell, right?" She looked to Spike for feedback as though they were a long-married couple.
"No, the bonding came first. Before the bunnies, I think."
"Oh yeah, the bondage-- I mean uh, the bonding spell." She told Angel, "So we'd actually want to be around each other all the time."
"But then that was lifted."
"Right, that was lifted, and--"
"But we still wanted to be around each other all the time."
"Yeah." Buffy smiled at him, and turned to Angel, who didn't look pleased. "And then there was the last one..."
Spike got super-cocky, thumbs in belt-loops. "The last one."
She prayed he wouldn't share how it... took. "Which made the baby go all Speedy Gonzales, and now I can drop any minute. Even though I'm actually only -- what am I?"
"Almost eight weeks, love."
"...Almost eight weeks along. God, I can't believe it's been less than two months since Bunny Night."
Their fingers entwined. "Feels a lot longer."
"Not too long, I hope."
He touched her hair. "Just right, Goldilocks."
Angel folded his arms, trying to make sense of all this nonsense. "The baby is human."
"Take a listen," Spike said, pointing a thumb at her midsection. "Heart don't lie."
Angel had already heard the heartbeat. They all knew the sound of a healthy human baby in the womb. Which is why this didn't sit well with him. "Neither does the soul. Where's yours, William?"
"Still flittin' about in the ether, I expect. Funny how I can be soul free and manage to stay off the sauce, when you turn into a massacre-ing, hell-raising lunatic each time you misplace yours."
"That is funny," he said pointedly, and looked at Buffy.
"He's not lying," she said. "He's pigsblood-only now. Certified by a truth spell and my own two eyes."
The pieces still didn't fit -- most jagged of all Spike.
"And the very best part?" Spike stood behind Buffy to possessively and with much suggestion wrap his arms around her. "No bothersome curse. Right, kitten?"
Buffy wrestled herself free with a scoff. "Cut it out."
Spike was only a little hurt. He knew he shouldn't expect her to feel comfortable throwing their perfect happiness in her doomed-if-you-do's face, but she didn't have to pander to him, either. "Why are you here, anyway? Other than to criticize the Slayer's life choices, I mean."
Angel looked from one to the other. Spike had a point, as much as he hated to admit it. Straightening, he pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket. "Cordelia had a vision."
"Cordelia has visions?" Buffy said.
He left it at, "It's a long story."
"Right." She unfolded the paper to reveal a crude drawing: three clusters of symbols inside a vaguely triangular shape. "Wait, I know this. I saw it in a dream."
Spike turned the drawing toward him. "What is it?"
"It's like a... gold disc-y thing..."
"It's an amulet," Angel said. "In Cordy's vision, there's a woman holding a baby, preparing it for a... ritual of some kind." He looked at Buffy, apprehensive. "You're trying to save it, and..."
"In the vision? You don't. But it's not set in stone, her visions are designed to be prevented. As long as we act on them."
"So you're here to save the day," Spike realized. Bloody figured.
"I'm here to help."
"Right. Thanks for the tip, Mighty Mouse, but as you can see we're doing just swell without you. Buffy saw this trinket in her dream, so your mad dash to save your damsel is a big load of pointless. Don't let the Sunnydale sign hit you on your way out."
"I'll leave when I know she's safe." He noticed Buffy still staring at the paper. "Don't worry, Buffy. We can stop this."
"Oi! You don't get to say that, that's my line! Or haven't you seen the marquee, I'm the leading man around here, not you!"
"Then start acting like it," Buffy said, and Angel shot him a haughty victory smirk. "The symbols were never clear in my dream. This amulet is the key, Spike. I can feel it."
Spike exhaled noisily, relenting. "Fine. Let's ring Oxford."
"We can't, he's got his date tonight. I say we hit book central," she hooked one arm through each boy's elbow, "and see if we can make some threew-- uhm, headway." She bit her lip.
Noticing the slip and her little set-up as they walked, Spike did a double take. "Why you little hormonal... Get your hands off him." He moved her to the side, taking the center spot. "We don't do that, alright?"
Angel and Spike exchanged a furtive glance. ...Anymore.
* * *
"I can't imagine what happened to it," Giles said, inspecting the rump roast. "It's as if it's been bled dry." He shrugged at Sanvi, who was leaning against the dining table, wine glass in hand. "Well, nothing a little Worcestershire can't fix."
Lamashtu filed through Sanvi's memory banks and came up with, "If only I wasn't so dreadfully allergic."
"Yes, of course. I'd forgotten." He smiled, convinced that Spike was wrong -- this was the Sanvi he'd known and loved. "I feel awful about this. I don't know how I lost track of the time."
"Oh, Rupert, really. I know how absorbed you can get. I'm the same way, remember? What was it, a breakthrough in the Slayer's case?"
Giles lit the pilot light. "We agreed not to talk about this tonight."
"What can I say? You've piqued my interest."
"Well... A breakthrough, yes, though not necessarily in Buffy's case."
"Oh?" She could feel it, hidden somewhere in the apartment. But where?
"If I'm right, it would shatter the core of the demon mythos as we know it. Sounds mad, I know, and off a suggestion of Spike's, no less. Turns out he may have been onto something after all."
"Spike has the intuition of a woman." She took a sip of her Merlot and noticed his puzzlement. "Or so Buffy tells me."
"I... Well I've never thought about it, but perhaps he does."
"Please, go on. Unless you'd rather not share."
"No, I'd be happy to, it's just... It's about Lilith." He watched her face for clues, but she didn't flicker. "I believe she was the first female entity after all. And I think I've discovered that the Song of the Lilin is actually an embellished interpretation of the truth."
"Interesting," she said. "Something like that could get you reinstated to the Council."
"Yes, well." Was his desire that transparent? "If my theory is correct."
"I wouldn't doubt it." She put down her wineglass. "Try me."
He had to admit, it excited him to talk shop with a colleague again. "She wasn't simply the first woman, but the first demon to exist on this earthly plane. A god among demons, if you will." He put the rump roast in the oven and poked at it. "It was her blood passed on through millennia, diluted from heir to heir. Eventually, she was banished as all the old ones were, cursed to touch earth as a half-breed or... through bodily possession."
When he closed the oven and stood, he felt her directly behind him. "Good guess."
Oh dear lord.
Giles stayed very still, recalling an old Council joke: How do you speak Demonic? Very carefully. "And you would know, because you're..."
"She." She stepped forward, her front nearly touching his back. "The 'queen of the night', the 'dark mother of all creation'. 'Lilith'. But I don't answer to my oppressor's names, I answer only to the name I gave myself."
"Lamashtu," he whispered, and again it snaked out into the air as mist. "You've used Sanvi's body before."
"How do I do it without ripping her to confetti when I'm done? She's an exception, like her mother and her mother before. Or haven't you read that far on your tablet?"
Sanvi? On the tablet?
He quickly whirled to face her, making a great clatter against the oven, meat fork in hand. "This isn't your world anymore." He sidestepped, backing away from her looming presence. "It will never be yours again."
"That's where you're wrong, Rupert. I don't want this world." Without breaking eye contact, she grabbed a small mirror on the wall, smashed it against the countertop, and used a sharp sliver to cut his shirt buttons. "I want to start a new one."
"That's..." he dropped the meat fork as his hand lost sensation, "r-rather ambitious..."
"Tell me..." she touched his cheek, still trailing the sliver down his body, making him shudder in both fear and arousal. "Have you gotten to the part where it says I alone am the source of the Slayer's power? That I was brutally contained by your kind, sucked dry, until I, the last full-blood left on earth, was vanquished with my very own essence?"
No, he couldn't say he had gotten that far...
"Silly Watcher. Why do you think Slayers can only be female? No mortal man could survive the full potency of the first woman's spirit. Men are so weak. So frail. So easily corrupted..."
Eyes wide, he said, "Why are you telling me all this?"
"Knowledge is your aphrodisiac, is it not?" She moved to his ear and whispered seductively, "Would you like to know the first secret of the tablet?"
To his astonishment, her soundless mouthing in his ear emerged as a whisper from his lips: "It isn't solely an account of things past. It's a prophecy."
"I simply adore you Watcher boys." She slid his glasses off. "So bloody intelligent." The lethal shard made its way toward his belt buckle.
"J-just go on and get it over with, I'm not afraid to die."
She laughed. "What makes you think I'd want to kill you?"
"I know your plot," he said, everything clicking into place. "I know how to stop you."
"Oh, Rupert. I'm not going to kill you. I'm going to fuck you." She cut through his belt loops, threw the mirror shard over her shoulder and whipped out his belt. "And when it's all over, you won't remember a thing."
"Right-o," he said as they slid to the floor, "Fair enough."
* * *
"Cordelia has visions?" Xander and Willow said at once, with Xander adding, "My Cordelia?"
"Yeah," said Angel.
"She doesn't ever, I dunno, mention me, ...does she?"
"Good. Then we're even."
"Except for the two times you just mentioned her," Spike felt compelled to point out.
"You know, Buff, I never thought I'd say this," Xander said, "but I think Angel's the better man for you. Doesn't talk much, keeps to himself, is very seldom naked..."
"Xander," Willow shushed him.
"Whoo," said Buffy, pulling her chair in at the library table, "this room is just gushin' with the boy-love." Everyone looked at her. "Not in a gay way." She remembered Willow. "But, not that there's anything wrong with the gay... way... anyway, look, here's the deal." She showed them the picture. "Amulet, triangly, gold, these symbols are etched onto it."
"Hmm. That might be Akkadian," Willow said. "Or Babylonian? I don't know, maybe we--"
"Hey, warrior bondy thing from Babylon! I found that. Me." Xander realized he had no more to say. "Babble on, Will."
"...need Giles, I was gonna say."
"Oh, let the poor sod have a shag once in his life."
The young people at the table made ew faces. "It's just that he's the language expert. But maybe there's a spell I can do..."
"No witching at this table," Spike ordered. "Or anywhere near my baby."
"Fine, Mr. ...No-Faithy Guy," Willow huffed, and opened her computer. "I'll bet my handy-dandy transcoder script can crack it anyway."
Just like old times, Buffy thought with a surge of sentimentality. "Did I mention I'm really glad you guys are here?"
"Ah, I had nothin' better to do," Xander said with a wave of his hand. "Anya's mad at me for losing my second job in a week. She thinks it's time we settled down for the sake of the kids."
"Didn't you guys start dating like, last Tuesday?"
"Try telling her that."
"Well I personally prefer research to the sticky business of love," Willow said, connecting her scanner. "It feels nice to be Scooby again, doesn't it Xand? Just the three of us?"
"Uh, hello?" Spike said, raising a finger.
"...And Spike and Angel?"
"Don't have to mention him on my account."
"Angel?" He was lurking restlessly near the office when Buffy got his attention. "Are you okay?"
He said, "Can I talk to you a second?"
"Sure," Buffy said, and before Spike could argue, she pointed at him. "Stay. And be good... or no cookies." She whispered in his ear, "And no milk."
Eyes rolling up involuntarily, he let her go.
When Buffy was out of earshot, Xander coughed into his fist, "Whipped."
* * *
Buffy closed the office door behind her.
"So..." she said, letting a few seconds pass, "what'dja want to talk about?"
Eyes meeting, they let out a tension laugh.
Rubbing his hands together, he sat down on the couch and sighed.
"I'm sorry," she said, taking a seat on the swivel chair. "I wish you'd... I don't know, called first? There could have been some warning."
"You think that would've helped?"
"No. I just really didn't want you to find out this way."
"Yeah," he said.
"I know," she said, letting the chair spin. "I sure can pick 'em."
"It's just--" He took a seat closer to her. "He's no fluffy bunny rabbit, Buffy. I've hunted with him. I've seen what he's capable of."
"I'm not an idiot, Angel, I've seen it too. But he's changed."
"Without a soul? It doesn't make any sense!"
"I don't know what to tell you! Somehow he can control himself without a soul. Just because you can't--" She stopped herself, and looked down. "I'm sorry. That was out of line."
He shook his head and leaned forward. "We can all control ourselves for a little while. A couple of months lying in wait for the big bragging-rights kill? That's nothing. We've all done that."
She stared at him. "But... the truth spell. There was a truth spell."
"Are you sure it worked? I mean, you said she turned you into rabbits."
Buffy's carefully constructed belief system began to crumble at its foundation. He had a point. What if Willow's truth spell hadn't worked at all, or he'd used some method to evade it? What if Spike had been playing her since day one?
No. She shook herself out of the doubt spiral so obviously brought on by hormonal flux, residual feelings for her ex, and his overly protective good intentions. There's no way.
"Once," Angel lowered his voice, "I watched Spike tear a newborn from its mother's arms, impale it on its father's cane and bite into its skull like it was a candy apple. He handed it back saying it needed more salt."
Horrified, Buffy felt her stomach lurch.
"Look, I'm not trying to tell you how to live your life. But you're in danger, and you don't know who's really behind this." Their eyes met. "Ask yourself, can you truly trust him?"
Buffy looked at him, wondering all over again, Can I?
"Eureka!" came Willow's voice from the main room, and Buffy welcomed the distraction.
* * *
"We've been looking at the drawing upside down," Willow said, rotating the scanned image and highlighting a symbol. "See, now you can clearly see it's early Sumerian. I-if you were me."
"Who's the language expert now?" Xander high-fived her. "Eat your heart out, Giles."
At that turn of phrase, Buffy frowned at the drawing.
"So?" Spike asked. "What's it say?"
"Well, I haven't gotten that far yet, you have to give me a few hours." She added under her breath, "Or ten minutes of a magick spell..."
"Right, a few hours then."
Buffy picked up the paper, a queasy feeling sinking in. "Do the spell."
"Why?" Spike shot up, hand going to her belly. "It's happening? Someone call an ambulance."
She shook her head no. "This isn't a triangle, Spike." She slapped the paper against his chest. "It's a heart."
* * *
"What did I say? Lilin, it's bloody lilin after the sprog. 'No', he says, 'there's no such bloody thing. Lilith's the bloody Easter Bunny, my doctor girl's a bloody saint!' What's a few dreams about eating seven baby hearts?"
"Spike, if you don't stop doing that I'm throwing you out of the car," Buffy said.
He threw over his shoulder, "Be hard from the back seat."
Angel, who was driving, volunteered with a shrug, "I'll do it."
"Yeah, you just love this, don't you? Coming between me and Buffy with your big broody 'I'm just here to help' bollocks."
"I am just here to help."
"Spike, his 'bollocks' aren't coming anywhere be..tween... Oh god. Are we there yet?"
* * *
"Okay, so I think this one might mean, 'The short, gamey one with hair of boulder'."
"Boulder hair?" Xander considered it. "Sounds difficult to manage."
"Oh," she grumbled. "I wish Tara would get here already so we could do the spell."
"Hey," Xander said, looking from his book to the drawing, faster and faster and faster, "Hey, hey! Is this... It is! Oh I think I boulder!"
"You found it?" He turned it toward her and she gave it a look. "Good job, Xander! And lookie, Latin explanation, I can do this! See, 'bulla aurea', that means gold amulet--"
That's when she noticed two dozen Winiquas emerging from the library stacks.
* * *
"Spike, get down from there!" Buffy hissed, embarrassed. "They might be... you know!"
"No such luck," Spike said as he peered into Giles' second story window. "He's alone. Looks dead."
"Oh no, sorry. He's breathing."
Buffy scoffed, rolling her eyes at Angel for effect.
"Sleeping with a big, daft grin on his face. No wonder he can't hear the door. Succu-doc did him right."
"We don't know she's a ...Succudoc. Or that he got 'did'." Buffy rushed up to the wall to stage-whisper, "Would you please come down so we can break and enter like normal people?" She turned just in time to see three Winiquas tackle Angel to the ground. "Angel!"
"'Angel!'", Spike mocked, falsetto, as he jumped down to join the fracas. "'Heaven forbid anyone sully your precious nancy hairdo!'"
"Buffy!" The voice came from inside her head, clear as a phantom bell.
"What?" Buffy asked, mystified into inaction. "Who said...?"
Fighting off a slew of demons all by himself, Angel said, "Feel free to jump in any time now!"
"Yeah, when one comes after me I'll take a swing, all right?" Spike laughed. Dozens of Winiqua attacking Angel, none of them wanting any part of either Buffy or Spike. Man, they were stupid.
"It's Tara," the voice in Buffy's head said. "Willow's in trouble."