"Willow?" Returning to a library in shambles, Buffy feared the worst. "Xander?"
"In here," Xander peeped from the floor of the open bookcage, an unconscious Willow in his lap. "She put up a nifty force field to hold 'em back. Guess it wiped her out."
Breathless, Tara fell to her knees to squeeze her girlfriend's hand. "You did it, Willow."
"I'm so glad you're both okay." Buffy helped lift Willow, and brought Xander to his feet. "What happened?"
"They smashed Will's computer, made off with the drawing, the books... Not sure how they plan to see any of it, what with the extreme vision impairment."
"Huh?" Tara blinked.
"Winiquas," Buffy said, and Xander nodded a confirmation.
"So the Blind Brigade's into Lilith worship." Spike scratched his head. "Never pegged them for the bloodmoon gypsy types. Guess it takes all kinds."
"I knew it," Buffy said. "I knew they were in my dreams for a reason. That's why they won't lay a finger on us, they're working for her."
"No worries, love, they just made our lives easier. We follow their trail..."
She completed his thought: "They lead us to Possesso Witch."
"Trouble is," he sniffed the air, walking toward the door that ultimately led to the tunnels, "they don't have much of a scent. Let's hope they leave a breadcrumb or two."
"Something doesn't add up," Angel said.
"Yeah," said Spike. "You bein' here."
Willow murmured, "Short and gamey."
"O...kay," Buffy said. "I think that's enough excitement for today. Let's get everyone home."
"Have Angel drop them off," Spike said. "You and I can start the witch hunt."
Angel murmured Buffy's name, and their eyes met to speak without words.
Finally she said, "I think we need to stick together, Spike."
Jaw steeled, fists twitching, Spike glared at his nemesis.
* * *
"Will you please stop before I stake you both!"
They were at it again, this time in the visitor's parking lot of the UCS campus. After they'd dropped off the last of her friends, Spike managed to do what he did best: stir up another shitstorm.
"Guys, this is getting really old," she sighed.
As they spun on the asphalt Fight Club style, Spike astraddle Angel, Buffy observed with a touch of intrigue, "And slightly homoerotic."
Choke-holds easing, they turned to look at her.
The boys uncoupled and stood up warily. Giving her a glower, Spike searched his pockets for a cigarette, and was startled by a sudden electronic noise emanating from his chest.
He fished Riley's CB radio out of his coat.
'There's too many of them. They're everywhere. Retreat!'
"What the," Angel said, and Buffy shushed him.
'Describe the HSTs, Agent Forrest.'
'Approximately six-foot, skin blueish-gray, hairless, their eyes are... fucking creepy...'
"Hello, bread crumb," Spike said. Buffy shushed him too.
'Agent down. I repeat, agent down!' Riley's voice. 'We need a medic.'
'Already on its way.'
Spike shook the radio. "On its way to where?"
Suddenly, a short siren sounded, and an unmarked ambulance sped by.
Buffy said, "I'll take a wild guess and say... follow that car?"
* * *
Angel nodded. "That's a lot of demons."
A fifty-yard-wide clearing in the forest was overrun with Winiqua, seemingly impervious to the retreating army's assault.
With a shrug, Buffy charged ahead. "I only need one."
"Buffy, wait." Angel reached out for her.
"Shut up and stay back," she said, and Spike silently cheered her on. "They're not allowed to hurt me."
Stepping into the clearing, she poked one on the shoulder, intending to punch it in the face, drag it away, threaten it and make it show her where their boss lived.
She encountered a slight problem: when she poked it, not just one, but all of them turned to face her.
Physically incapable of punching three hundred demons at once, she took the next logical course of action.
She waved and said, "Hiya."
All three hundred heads cocked in tandem, like dogs trying to decipher an owner's command.
"Take me to your leader?"
"Or, I'll kill each and every one of you, one by one."
"For example," she said and broke the closest Winiqua's neck. "Now, who wants to co... oper...ate...?"
By the time she'd finished talking, each and every Winiqua in the clearing had simultaneously broken its own neck.
While she took in this bizarre turn of events, Spike and Angel came out of the shadows.
"Quicker than poison Kool-Aid." Spike nudged one with his boot to double-check: Head on backwards. Definitely dead. "Here lies the Cult of No Personality."
"This isn't gonna be an easy find-and-slay, is it?" Buffy said, turning to Angel. "This is so much more."
That's when it dawned on her: "This is the big one."
Angel gazed at her meaningfully, features dark with concern. He touched her arm, cuffed her elbow.
Helpless, Spike watched the ex-star-crossed lovers share a moment. If it weren't for his immediate presence, they'd probably be clenched in a melancholy embrace.
He felt sick to his stomach. One night and Angel was already taking his place.
The fact that they couldn't consummate was little comfort to him. It wasn't about that. It was that he could sense that Buffy was wondering where her fate truly belonged.
And maybe... maybe she was right.
"Buffy!" came a voice from the trees.
Under any other circumstance, Spike wouldn't be quite so relieved to see a strapping young fellow run towards his girlfriend. He laughed, "Speaking of no personality."
"Crap, it's Riley." And here she was with two 'hostile subterrestrials'.
"Who's Riley?" Angel asked.
"Vampire groupie," Spike said. "Show him your fangs."
"Spike." Buffy elbowed him.
"Buffy!" Out of breath, Riley looked around him to make sure the coast was clear. "I really shouldn't be talking to you right now, but I have to know. How did you do it?"
"I didn't. They did it themselves."
"Demon go boom," Buffy said. "Mass seppuku."
"First tell us where they came from," Spike said.
He nodded at Spike. "Spud."
Over Angel's snicker, he corrected, "That's Spike."
"Right. Spike. Sorry. And you are...?"
Spike patted Angel hard on the back, gave his shoulder a tight pinch. "This is my brother. Brutus."
"Brothers. Huh. You don't look anything alike."
"Different mothers," said Angel.
Riley whispered at Buffy, "Are they slayers too?"
"No, there's only one slayer." Ironic that they were a stone's throw from the hospital that was keeping Faith alive -- she could see the Sunnydale General sign from where she stood. "Most of the time."
"I don't know where they came from," Riley said. "The sewers, maybe, or a cave? All I know is we were getting a signal from these coordinates."
"What kind of signal?"
"Electro-magnetic pulses, interferences in the usual radio waves. The kind that relate to a certain... type of hostile activity."
"In other words," Spike translated, "you crashed their Magic: The Gathering."
"Already underway," Riley confirmed. "And then more just kept popping up, looked like out of thin air."
The three shared a worried frown.
"Do you guys know what they're after?" He added, "Strictly off the record."
"I have a tiny clue," Buffy said, and teetered as she clutched her stomach. "Or a big one with really strong legs."
"Did he kick again?"
"Big time." She nodded at Spike. "He wants out."
"Not here, he doesn't. Anywhere but here." He led her to a nearby rock formation with something of a natural chair, sat her down on it and kneeled before her. "You tell him to stay in."
"They want your--?" Riley's radio bleeped and someone spoke. "Pardon." He turned and walked away and they heard bits and pieces between their conversation: "...looks like we interrupted some kind of self-sacrifice ritual..."
"Can't we just carry her to the hospital?" Angel suggested.
"Negative, no civilians in the area," Riley said into his radio.
"I can't deliver this baby with just any doctor," Buffy said, breath uneven. "Not if it's..." she glanced at Riley, "got special needs. We'd have to call Dr. Patel."
"And sit back and watch while she eats mymamysmrt?" The last bit was muffled due to Buffy's palm over his mouth.
"We'll need a clean-up crew before morning," Riley was saying as he surveyed the area, "at least three trucks and a bulldozer."
"We'll discuss this later, Spike." She took in a steadying breath and dropped her hands to his biceps. "Anyway, false alarm. I'm okay."
She nodded. "Can we go home now?"
He touched her cheek, grateful for her choice of pronoun. "Of course we can, love."
As he helped her off of the rock, Spike paused and looked around, puzzled.
"What is it?" she asked him.
"Nothing," he said, and shook it off. "Déjà vu."
* * *
"The Slayer grows weak. The heart grows ripe." Lamashtu scanned the ceiling with a satisfied grin. "As it is written. As it is set in stone."
"What of the tablet? Shall I send more men to search?"
"He's hidden it well. So well I can't imagine he'll find it by the morrow's night. But I'll leave that decision to you."
"There is one thing I feel I must discuss with you, your darkness."
She arched Sanvi's brow.
Fear colored his voice as he spoke. "And that is your weakness for the vampire."
"You dare call me weak? What do you know of the end of days beyond what I have told you?"
"I know that every calculation of any possibility I test proves that his mere existence is a threat to you, and to everything we have worked toward--"
"You and your calculations. You callous fool. Can't you see why I chose him over any other?"
"You suggest that I am unfeeling?"
"I suggest that you feel for the wrong reasons."
"And he?" WinQuar challenged. "You expect him to love you purely and truly? He never will."
"Of course he will. Once the Great Change comes, and I inhabit the Slayer's body."
He looked up at her, astonished.
"He won't suspect a thing. I'll be everything she was... only better."
* * *
"So," Angel said, shifting into drive. "Where to?"
"Um," Buffy shot a guilty glance at Spike. "My place."
Recalling the quickest route to Revello Drive, Angel asked as casually as he could, "Him too?"
"We live together, you see, me and the Slayer. Me, Buffy, her mum, we're a real cozy family. 'Fact, just the other day, we--"
"Shut up, Spike." Buffy leaned forward in the back seat, and asked her ex, "Do you want to crash in the basement?"
Spike scoffed. "He bloody does not!"
"Look, the sun's coming up in a couple hours," she explained, "and I think we should be together when we wake up--"
"Oh do you now!"
"Not like that. God, Spike."
"I didn't mean it like that either." He turned to look at her, and her cheeks burned red. Worse yet, he caught Angel chortling to himself in his periphery. "Why can't he stay at the mansion? Or better yet, go home?"
"I'm not leaving until I know Buffy's safe," Angel said, making a full, law-abiding stop at a stop sign before moving on. "Deal with it."
Arms folded tight, Spike stared out the window at the passing eucalyptus trees. "God I wish you were evil again."
"Keep pissing Buffy off," he muttered, "you might get your wish."
Spike was aghast -- too aghast to hear the incredulous 'Excuse me?' that came from the back seat. "You think she'll jump into your bed if I make her mad? You obviously don't know the first thing about what gets her--"
"Hey, you know what?" Buffy interjected perkily, before her boyfriend could say the word 'wet'. "Now you're both pissing me off."
"Did you see that, Buffy? The nasty little fangs of Angelus prongin' out when he doesn't get his way?"
"Angelus didn't make me say that." Angel glared at Spike. "William the Bloody did."
"Yeah, I really wanted you to insult my girl."
"Your--?" Angel took a deep breath, then said through grit teeth, "Look. All that matters right now is that Buffy needs help. You and I are gonna have to put aside our petty differences and focus on--"
"Oh look at you, so good and pure and bloody perfect, you're her knight in shining ethics! Until you lose your precious soul that is and start pluckin' off her friends--'"
"And when are you gonna get 'bored', Spike? Next week? Next year? Tomorrow?"
"Never," he enunciated slowly. "I'm here to stay."
"Isn't that what you told Dru?"
"Right, stop the car, let's take this outside--"
The car swerved, narrowly missing a tree. "Get your hands off the wheel, you stupid--"
A mile and three hours past Over It, Buffy grabbed them both by the hair, conked their heads together and growled a single, all-encompassing reason to let it go:
Contrite, they mumbled a pair of apologies, and Buffy was granted silence for the rest of the ride.
* * *
"I'll stay up a while," Angel said, standing in her living room. "Make sure everything's okay."
"Thank you," Joyce said, a little shaken after being filled in on the day's events. "Would you like some coffee? Hot chocolate?"
"No, thanks, I don't..."
Buffy clued her in. "He's not weird like Spike."
"Oh! Some blood, then?"
"Uh, sure. That'd be great."
"Okay, well, I'm beat," Buffy said awkwardly. "So... I'm gonna go to sleep."
"Right," Spike said, following her up the stairs and flashing his rival a taunting wink. "'Sleep'. 'Night night, Angel."
* * *
"Do you have to be such a jerk all the time?"
"You know," Spike got under the covers beside her, "it wouldn't kill you to show me some support."
"Support? You're lucky I didn't stake you!" She turned away from him. "You're so insensitive."
As opposed to the ever-sensitive Angel, he wanted to say, but bit his tongue. He didn't want to start a row, not while he was dying to touch her, dying to feel her love him again. "I'm sorry, love." He cozied up to her, hand on her belly. "Daddy's sorry. Let's not fight, yeah?"
She sighed, and nodded.
"That's my girl." Breathing in her scent, he softly kissed her ear, her cheek, her neck, her shoulder and back up again. He began a slow grind, moving his hand up to her breast and squeezing, working himself into a mild frenzy. His kisses got hotter, his caress more brazen...
And then she flicked his hand away with a terse, "Not tonight."
He froze in place, mouth still open against her skin. She was turning him down?
Right. Of course she was.
Of course she was.
He rolled off of her and got out of bed.
"I didn't say you had to leave."
"Didn't you?" He found his jeans.
"Oh, please. Just 'cause I'm not in the mood for freaky sex--"
"That all I am to you? 'Freaky sex'."
"Spike, of course not--"
"I'm sorry I'm not like Sir Prancealot downstairs, all rose petals and white horses and tender longing glances. I'm crude and impulsive, I like it rough, and yeah, sometimes I'm a jerk. But at least I don't treat you like a bloody china doll set to break. I treat you like a real woman, Buffy. The real woman you are." And with that, he walked out.
* * *
"Not lookin' for company," Spike said as he lit his cigarette.
Angel stood beside him anyway, hands in his pockets.
"Right then," Spike began, "let me speed things up. You never liked me, you don't trust me, you don't believe I love her, you're not fully clean unless you're Zestfully clean. Can I have my smoke in peace now?"
Staring at the porch floor, Angel said, "There's something I didn't tell her about the vision."
Their eyes met, and Spike got the message. A chill clawed into his flesh. "Buffy..."
He couldn't finish. Buffy dies.
Angel nodded, turning to the moon.
Feeling his throat constrict, Spike looked at his fingers. "You said it wasn't set in stone."
"Good." He chucked the cig across the lawn. "Then we got nothing to worry about."
He went back inside, leaving Angel there to brood.
* * *
Spike brushed a thumb over his sleeping beauty's soft cheek, reminding himself that Buffy was too strong, in body and spirit, to let anyone do her in. She had too much fire, she was too bloody exceptional, and he'd known it from the start. It was why he fell in love with her.
Angel could stay and play out his stoic guardian fantasy all he wanted. Meantime, Spike would be out proving that he had what it took to be the Slayer's leading man.
"You and baby gonna be just fine," he whispered. "Dad's gonna see to it."
* * *
"Spike?" Buffy wandered into the kitchen, surprised to find her mother and Angel quietly communing at the island. Self-conscious, she raked a hand through her sleep-mussed hair. "Oh, hi."
Angel stood up straight, expression hard to read as ever. "How are you?"
"I'm okay..." She looked at her mother. "Where's Spike?"
"I don't know, I haven't seen him all morning." She gasped. "Oh god, you grew again."
Buffy hadn't noticed. "Oh... yeah. I guess so." Then she muttered quietly, too quietly for a normal person to hear, "Is it so hard to leave a note?"
"He bolted about an hour and a half before sunrise," Angel said. "In my car."
"You let him take your car?"
Angel raised a weary 'what do you think?' brow.
Duh. Of course he didn't let him. Buffy could just see the wires sparking, the punk-rock scowl on Spike's face, the two-finger salute as he sped off, radio cranked to 11...
She felt a tinge of resentment toward Angel for returning to Sunnydale. He clearly brought out the juvenile delinquent in Spike, not to mention the doubt in her mind. Buffy wanted -- no, needed -- to believe in her boyfriend right now, but Angel had planted a seed that was uncontrollably sprouting: Where had he gone? What was he up to? Why did he have to leave her there and make her wonder?
It was all well and good and sexy to be treated like a 'real woman', but she couldn't see how it entailed running away when the going got tough. Especially when she could be giving birth to their damned love child any second now.
Buffy made up her mind. "If he survives the daylight, I'm going to kill him."
* * *
Angelus once said, If you want to survive in the underworld, you have to know how to bluff.
Back when he still looked up to his grandsire, Spike took that advice to heart, and honed his skills to the best of his ability.
Since then it had gotten him out of a lot of scrapes -- it helped when he was the only one at the poker table with enough facial muscles to articulate an expression, and it helped in times like this, when, say, a dozen varieties of demon had him cornered in the back of a pub near the sun-lined exit door.
"He's bluffing," sneered a particularly large reptilian species.
"She's... got an army now?" another less burly one ventured to ask.
"Not just an army. The US of bloody A. Federally funded, she is." He held up Riley's CB radio and turned on a frequency, a woman's voice:
--hundred hours, hostile subterrestrial clean sweep op--
He flipped it off. "The Slayer and her men are on the way," Spike said. "Helicopters, tanks, supersonic flux capacitors of mass destruction, you name it. You don't stand a chance, boys. They'll paralyze you in an instant, then take you apart, organ by organ. Just like they did to Arnie."
"I knew it," said Merv. "I knew it was her!"
"That's right. They're coming for all of you. Unless..."
He shrugged. "Well, unless I say the word."
"I will make you say this word, puny traitor!"
Merv shot out an elastic arm and clotheslined the angry giant before he could attack. "What do you want?"
Spike made himself look formidable. "A demon clan called Winiqua are out in force, doing whatever Mumsy tells 'em."
He held up the wedding photo he'd stolen from Sanvi Patel's apartment after ransacking the place for clues. "I'd like to know where Mumsy is."
"How should we know?"
Dammit, this was the third hangout he'd hit and still no one had a clue what he was on about. Who was he kidding, anyway? He wasn't cut out to be a white hat. Maybe Buffy deserved better after all.
But then a small voice laced with sarcasm rose up from behind the melee: "Shyeah, good luck finding WinQuar." There was a snicker. "'Good luck'. Get it?"
"Who said that?" Spike said.
His antagonists turned to reveal a dwarfish demon on a barstool, nursing a Long Island iced tea.
He noticed everyone staring. "What?"
Spike pushed the demons out of his way. "Good luck finding who?"
"What do you mean, who? I don't know who that chick is," he nodded at the photo, "but the master of the Winiqua is WinQuar, everyone knows that."
Not really -- it was in none of Giles' texts. "WinQuar?"
"He's one of the old ones. You know, fire, brimstone, begin the beguine? I don't know why he'd be wasting his time here, though. He's big time. Works on the higher planes."
"The higher planes?"
The dwarf demon blinked at him. "Don't you have an army to call off?"
"Oh. Right." He pushed a button and brought it to his mouth. "Roger, uh, come in, base... headquarters... Charlie... Hold back the infantry 'til further notice, thanks. Over and out." Then he took the bar stool beside the demon. "Talk."
* * *
"Tea? Coffee? I could make breakfast. Or brunch, as it happens." Giles giggled at the clock. "Scrambled eggs?"
Buffy, Xander and Willow exchanged a bewildered look, and the Slayer spoke up. "N-no, we don't need to--"
"Speak for yourself," Xander said, forging ahead. "I'll have sunny side-ups, just a little runny, with buttered white toast, 'k thanks."
"Right-o," he said, slapping his hands together. "Coming right up."
"So..." Buffy broke the ice by stating the obvious. "Date go well?"
"Oh no," Giles opened his refrigerator, "she cancelled right after you called, emergency delivery."
Well, she couldn't say she wasn't relieved to find out her doctor wasn't a baby-eating monster. But still... "You mean you're just... naturally pod-like this morning?"
"Yes, I..." He stopped what he was doing to think. "I don't know why, but I woke up magnificently rested. Oh, you thought -- Oh for heaven's sake. You people need to get lives."
"We 'need to get lives'?" Buffy said.
"Well, we had a pretty full life last night," Willow pointed out.
"Yes, so you've said. Tell me all about it then, I'm all ears."
* * *
"No sign of Spike yet?" Buffy whispered into the phone.
"No," whispered Joyce. "Why are we whispering?"
She peered out into the living room, where Giles dangled a crystal in Willow's face. "He's hypnotizing them so we can recreate everything the Winiqua stole last night. Can you do me a little favor?"
"Of course, anything."
"Can you give Dr. Patel a call for me, find out if she's, you know, alive, and maybe what happened to her last night? I've got her info right here."
* * *
"What's this one?" Willow asked, pointing at one of the symbol clusters.
Giles lowered his glasses. "Well, the direct translation is 'The short, gamey one with the hair of boulder'."
Willow was amazed. "I was right?"
"No way!" Xander said.
"It could mean a variety of things, I suppose. And this one, 'The large, black insect... tooth'? Ah, and finally, 'The maiden with eyes of fire'. Wait... this all seems so familiar, yet I can't put my finger on it..." He took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Are you okay?"
"Yes, yes. I just feel like I've... misplaced something dreadfully important."
"Eyes of fire, that sounds -- oof!" Buffy doubled over.
"No," Willow panicked, "Don't have the baby yet, we need to figure this out first!"
"Just another kick," Buffy said, catching her breath. "Thumper's getting antsy."
"Don't you mean 'rabbity'?" Xander watched that one land with a thud, and turned to Giles. "So! Three people. Or, two people and one big bug. What does it mean?"
Outside, there was a woman's shriek, followed by what sounded an awful lot like a car crashing through Giles' courtyard.
They ran outside to see Angel's '67 Plymouth gnarled on the fountain, with an iron gate attached to its steaming grill and not surprisingly, a Spike inside.
He threw his coat over his head as he sprinted to Giles' door, exposed parts catching fire along the way.
"Spike!" Buffy ran in after him and frantically extinguished the fire.
Giles stood outside, still in shock.
"I'm calling the police!" the shrieking neighbor shrieked. "You're out of here! You and all your weirdo freaks!"
Giles slowly nodded, and followed two of his weirdo freaks inside.
"You stupid jackass!" Buffy smacked Spike. "Why do you have to be so goddamn melodramatic? You could've killed yourself!"
"Buffy, listen to me," Spike said, clasping her hands. "I know who it is."
"I was worried about you! Where did you--"
"He's a god, Buffy. A real, bona-fide fucking god."
"What?" She blinked away her tears. "Who's a god?"
"The thing behind all of this." He put a palm on her belly. "The thing that made everything happen from the get."
"WinQuar," he said. "The God of Chance."
* * *
"I don't understand--"
"Of course you don't. All you understand is fate; using your piddling array of spells to manipulate the odds; and not always wisely. You're a one-trick pony, WinQuar. It's time I had something new... to ride on."
"Have I not served you? Have I not provided all you require?"
"You've been indispensable. So far." She laughed and said patronizingly, "Shouldn't you have seen this coming?"
He gnashed his teeth. "You did not fashion me that way."
"Of course not. However could I use you if you could foresee your own betrayal?"
A decision made, WinQuar turned away from her.
"Where are you going?"
"To manipulate fate."
* * *
"WinQuar," Giles said, scratching his head.
"Big in Babylon," Spike said with a nod to Xander, who smiled humbly.
"I find it rather odd that I've never heard of him."
"Books don't know his true name--" He hissed and recoiled as Buffy dabbed his deepest burn with alcohol. "Ow!"
"Stop being a baby," she said.
"I'm a vampire, I don't get infected!"
"Suck it up," she drew out slowly, with unwitting allure.
Pacified by the thought of tasting those lips sometime soon, Spike shifted in his chair and continued, "I reckon he hasn't made enough waves to earn a mention. 'Til now."
"Could have started with a ripple, but no," Buffy wrapped Spike's forearm in gauze, "he goes straight to the tsunami."
"The God of Chance." Dazed, Giles took a seat on the couch. "Well, that should explain quite a lot, shouldn't it?"
"How do we find him?"
There was a brisk knock at the door, and they all got quiet, wondering who it could possibly be.
"POLICE! OPEN THIS DOOR NOW!"
Oh. It was only the--
"BRING OUT THE DRIVER! NOW!"