"Buffy," Giles said, mostly as a courtesy, as she'd already made a beeline to WinQuar's face. "Wait."
"If you do not listen," her target warned solemnly, "the infant you cherish will die."
Fist in mid-trajectory, Buffy eased off with a suspicious glare. "Aren't you the one who wants to kill it?"
"I have no use for it." Letting his hood fall, he scanned the motley group. "Greetings, Anyanka. It's been a long time."
"Winky! Wow! What are the odds?" Anya's nervous attempt at congeniality was a flop. "Oh, but please don't answer that."
"Winky," Xander appraised with a nod. "Suddenly not so threatening."
"He's not the threat." Truth dawning, Spike toed a broken piece of tablet, caught it in the air. "She is."
WinQuar uttered a sarcastic, "How extraordinarily perceptive of you."
"But Lilith is a biblical bogiemyth. She's not even real." Buffy paused. "Right?"
The demigod chuckled at her ignorance. "Your so-called 'Lilith' has become legend, but she is no myth. Though the breadth of her being eludes mortal comprehension, she is very much alive, and you may call her Lamashtu."
Giles frowned, a sense-memory jogged: A whisper in his ear. A chill down his back. The meat fork clattering to the floor. "Lamashtu..."
"The bloody Easter Bunny herself." Spike tossed the tablet bit to Giles, who turned it in his fingertips. "Hippity-hoppiting on the Hellmouth."
"So we're fighting a god and a legend?" Xander processed. "This is gonna be the best apocalypse ever."
Shaking off a bolt of fear, Buffy got to the point. "What does she want with my baby?"
"She wishes to consume its still-beating heart in order to recover her powers, darken the skies and rule this world once more."
"And if wishes were ponies," Buffy glibbed, "we'd all have little ponies."
"She ruled the world once before?" Willow asked.
"But of course. She is the First."
"Na-ah. I've met the First Evil," Buffy said.
"The First Evil that you speak of forged Lamashtu, the first earth walker; the first of flesh and bone. The first to fashion those who brought us all to this juncture." Everyone still looked confused, so he clarified, "She created vampires."
Buffy looked at Spike, then Angel. They both shrugged at her. And Giles looked completely perplexed.
"Vampires, succubi, incubi, scores of nocturnal demon species... and myself, in a manner of speaking. These creations were her instruments of survival."
"Good lord," said Giles.
"I need to sit down," Willow said, already sitting down. "Everything I thought I knew is wrong."
"When the black skies turned perilously bright and humanity took its fateful purchase, Lamashtu prevailed by creating the night lurkers, herself requiring only the purest blood to stay alive: the heartblood of infants." He breathed in and smiled into space, nostalgic. "It was an exciting time."
"I'll bet," snarked Buffy. "Infanticide is a blast."
"I was a secondary god to this realm, fleshless, beingless, but she chose me as her companion and gave me corporeal form. Out of clay, she carved this demon skin, thus introducing me to the myriad carnal delights that the sensory realms had to offer."
"Did you know about this too?" Xander asked Anya.
"No! It's not like we lay around all day talking about our exes." She whispered, "I mostly slapped him a lot and called him a worthless peon. He liked that."
He cleared his throat and continued, "Lamashtu and I lived in perpetual bliss. Until she was taken. Brutalized and demeaned in the name of your 'science'. Slain," he choked up, "like a milkless goat."
"You'll forgive us if we don't care."
"In her last moments she made me promise to resurrect her, to restore her former throne. It required considerable patience and study, but I persevered. Eventually, Lamashtu selected a suitable vampire, and I pinpointed his precise match."
"Spike's 'precise match' being a slayer who what," Buffy said, "happened to be on active duty that week?"
"Why, no. It took me decades to find you."
"Me?" She stared at him. "Why me?"
"You were the slayer most likely to accept his seed in a variety of parallel circumstances."
Horrified, Buffy gasped. Intrigued, Spike cocked a brow.
"Good lord," Giles said once more, this time with resignation.
"A variety?" Angel asked.
"Yes, it was a thrilling discovery. Each milestone I tested yielded the same results: they were destined to copulate. Some in several weeks, some in several years. However, time was of the essence. Certain factors had to be... manipulated."
"The bonding and the bunnies," Willow said.
"Yes," said WinQuar. "Your powers served me well."
"I was your piggyback?" She was once again besieged by guilt. "Oh, great! It's still all my fault."
"No, I think it's still his," Buffy said, the bad aftertaste of prophecy in her mouth. "Is lecture hour over yet, Winky? 'Cause I'm suddenly feeling 'destined' to slay you."
"There is one question you have yet to ask."
"Why he's feeding us information," Angel posed warily, "after a plan several thousand years in the making goes off without a hitch."
"Okay, I'll bite," Buffy said, hands on hips. "Why turn on Queen Akasha when her meal ticket's about to drop?"
A bitter chuckle. "Because I love her."
"Uh-huh." Buffy nodded. "You know, I've heard that flowers say it just as well, if not better, than murder and betrayal."
"I am but a demon at heart. A demon who was fool enough to assume she'd want me as her consort after the Great Change. As it turns out," he glared pointedly at his rival, "she has someone else in mind."
Spike looked around him, pointed at his chest. "Me?"
WinQuar didn't have to answer.
"But I'm no god."
"She wishes to make you one."
There was a pause. "She can do that?"
"What, I'm just asking!"
"At her full potency," WinQuar said, "Lamashtu will be capable of anything. When you resisted her wiles--"
"Thank you very much!" Spike made a gesture at Buffy. "You hear that? I resisted!"
"I feel much better now," she said.
"The mother of all succubi is not accustomed to rejection. Least of all by her chosen son. Thus, she has become obsessed. Her last act before the Change will be to make you her eternal concubine. Not me."
"Concubine?" Xander couldn't help but interject. "How much of a 'change' are we lookin' at here?"
"However, if her plan should fail, resulting in her untimely vanquishing," WinQuar hinted, "I would leave this forsaken place, take her spirit to another realm--"
"And you two will live evilly ever after, never to bother the innocent townsfolk of Sunnydale again." Buffy squinted at Spike. "I wonder where I've heard this song before."
Spike gave her a smirk. "Demons In Love: The Musical?"
"Which leads us to the thrilling finale, 'Ding Dong The Baby-Eating Bitch Is Dead'." Buffy turned to WinQuar. "How do we ring in the finale?"
"You will know when the time is nigh."
"Now you get vague? Just tell me what I have to do."
"I did not come here to tell you how. Only to lead you by chance to victory. The rest is up to y--" He choked as Buffy throttled him and smashed his head against the wall.
"I don't know if a god can even be killed in the traditional sense," Buffy said, "but I'm pretty sure I can make your corporeal ass feel a world of pain. The kind that doesn't turn you on."
"Perhaps... Perhaps I can show you an auspicious course of action. One in which Lamashtu is defeated."
"Good idea." She let him breathe again.
"I should warn you that you may not like what you see."
"Whatever. Just get on with the show."
"As you wish." Stretching his arms, WinQuar closed his eyes and opened them. Silver symbols spiraled through his pupils, spinning fast and faster, until everyone in the room was treated to the same vision:
Buffy kisses Angel passionately in a sunlit park, wedding veil on her head.
The image chopped up like a broken film reel and disappeared.
"What the bloody hell was...?"
"Sorry," WinQuar said with a shrug. "Too far ahead." He cleared his throat, glanced sidelong at Spike, stretched his arms out again and loosened his shoulders. "This might take a moment. Enjoy the ride."
Once again, Spike was relegated to third wheel as Buffy and Angel tried and failed to avoid awkward eye contact.
Just when he thought the knife in his back couldn't stab any deeper, the visions kicked in.
"Get out," Buffy says with a sneer. Angel shoves Spike out of Giles' apartment.
Distraught, she finds comfort in Angel's arms.
- chop -
Buffy in labor on a hospital bed, clutching Angel's hand. He tenderly touches her sweat-beaded forehead.
- chop -
A torch-lit cave, dead Winiquas strewn everywhere. Spike is chained to a pillar in the center. A mystical cyclone keeps Buffy and all of her friends pressed helplessly against the walls.
Sanvi is at the altar holding a crying baby in one hand, a long knife in the other.
The amulet skids toward Spike. He reaches for it, picks it up, roars in agony... and his body crumbles to dust.
- chop -
Sanvi drops the knife and runs after Spike's ashes, spinning in the wind.
The cyclone slows. Angel captures Sanvi. Buffy swipes the baby out of her hands and grabs the amulet.
- chop -
A sobbing Buffy, baby safe in her arms, collapses into Angel's embrace, whimpering his name. Sanvi is dead at their feet. "Shhh," he says, and kisses Buffy's head. "It's over now. It's over."
The vision ceased. No one could speak.
Spike broke the silence. "Can you show me one where he dies?"
WinQuar regarded Angel. "I could. But it would not end in the Slayer's favor."
"So no matter how you slice it, I'm the expendable one."
"I am happy to say that you are correct."
"Sanvi," Giles said. "Oh my poor Sanvi."
Spike scoffed at him. "Thanks."
"I don't accept this," Buffy finally said. "He... he knows now not to touch that amulet, so there's no way he'll die, there must be another course of action, one where everybody lives--"
"I chose the outcome with the least casualties. Do with it what you will."
Her eyes widened. Save her boyfriend or save the world? How could fate be so cruel to foist this dilemma onto her not once, but twice?
"Well." Spike took a deep, grounding breath. "Guess I need to go see a doctor."
"No," Buffy said, "I won't let you."
"Why not?" he countered bitterly, "You'll have what you want in the end."
She blinked at him, not sure she heard right. "What?"
WinQuar said, "Seeing the doctor now would not be wise."
"What I 'want in the end'? How can you say that?"
"Then take me to the rabbit hole," he said, ignoring her. "Let's set this bloody unbirthday in motion."
"Oh no," Buffy protested. "If you go to that cave, we all go."
"Not when she wants to eat my baby's heart, you don't."
"Your baby," WinQuar spurted a laugh. "Potent seed from a vampire?" He laughed again.
"What d'you mean, why are you laughing? That's my baby in there. Isn't it?"
"No it isn't." He smirked. "It's Hers."
Spike's mouth went dry. "What?"
"Huh?" Buffy blinked.
"Lamashtu is our creator, after all."
"But I'm the chosen son."
"Yes, you were the vehicle through which it funneled. Your body served its singular purpose. But this divine offspring that the Slayer carries is no more your kin than it is mine, or his," he pointed at Angel, "or any other bloodsucker that ever stalked the shadows."
"Now I have to sit down," Buffy said.
"That's my baby," Spike insisted. "I know it! I can..." He turned to her for backup. "Buffy?"
She was unable to offer any sympathy. Her world had just upturned too. Was she carrying an ancient deity's evil spawn... or her boyfriend's? If it didn't truly belong to him, or either of them, would he die to protect it? Would she?
She looked up at him, and he seemed to be scanning the same process. "No, it's not true," he finally said. "It's not true. None of this is true. That whole vision was a lie. Can't you see, Buffy? He's playing us!"
"I shall leave you to your destiny," WinQuar said with a courteous nod, and disappeared.
Anya groaned in frustration. "I always hated when he did that."
"Get him back! Get him back here and make him tell the truth! That wasn't real!"
Angel said, "Look, real or not--"
"Oh don't you say another word!" Spike began to pace like an animal in a cage. "Not you, not any of you! You've all been against me since day bloody one." He pointed at Angel. "Especially you."
"Spike," Buffy said. "Don't get stupid."
"I know what you're all thinking. 'Now that it's not his baby and she was never really his girl, his bumpies are gonna show and off he'll go, into the arms of evil'. Because what've I got to be good for now?" He seethed at Buffy. "Don't tell me you're not thinking it. It's all over your face."
She shook her head slightly to the contrary, eyes moistening.
"Nobody here believes I've got what it takes. Not really. So why not give in, let old Soulhaver take the spoils?"
"Hey," Angel began to interject.
"Shut! Your gob!" Spike was on the verge of tears. "You all want a show, that it? You want to see Spike break down, give you what you've been waiting for?"
In a flash, he changed his face, grabbed the nearest human by the shoulders, and sunk his teeth into her throat.
Willow sputtered and flailed while he took great, big, audible gulps and the rest of the room sprang from shock to frenzied action.
Everyone in the room except Buffy, whose nightmare was coming true and all she could do to stop it was whisper, "Stop. Please stop."
The next few seconds were a blur, ending with Angel holding Spike in a full nelson as Willow reeled woozily into her friends.
"What are you doing?" Buffy searched her boyfriend's face for a hint of humanity. "What the hell are you doing?"
Eyes still cat-like, Willow's blood staining his lips, he said, "Making up your mind."
She slapped him across the face, and he laughed.
"Go on, say it. You know you want to."
Shutting her eyes, she spat, "Get out."
"Brava. Good show." As Angel wrangled him toward the door, he dug into his pocket and tossed her a small key. "Do what you want with it. I don't care."
"What is this?"
"The key to my heart," he said with mock flourish, and Angel cast him out and locked the door.
Buffy stared at the door, at the key, and at Willow. She was conscious, they'd stopped the blood, and Xander was already on the phone with 911.
Damn you, Spike.
Angel reflexively touched her shoulder, and she realized she wanted to find comfort in his embrace.
After a second, she drew away.
Fate would have to find some other bitch.
* * *
Outside in the courtyard, Spike's head was spinning and his guts were churning. "Mind over matter," he told himself. "Mind over--"
He clasped his stomach and puked into an azalea bush. Thick, black liquid.
"Just have to get back on the horse," he said, wiping his mouth.
"Don't do this, Spike. It isn't you." At first he thought her voice was in his head, but Buffy had appeared behind him.
"Shouldn't you be in someone's big strong arms right now?"
"I don't want his arms." She threw the key at his back. "And I don't want the fucking key to your money."
He sighed, letting his human face return. "Not with the self-righteous bit. Just take it and leave me alone."
"You were supposed to be my long-haul guy, remember?" She meant to convey anger, but it came out as desperation. "You crossed your heart."
Spike looked her in the eye and said, "Things change, Slayer. People move on. You saw it yourself just now in the giant karmic ViewMaster of Destiny."
"I don't care what I saw. I need you, Spike." She touched her stomach. "We need you."
"What for? I was just a 'funnel'."
"So, what?" A tear slid down her cheek. "You're telling me the baby's all you really cared about? That you pretended to love me so I'd have your kid? Am I supposed to believe that?"
He steeled himself, knowing how to bluff. "That's right."
As he walked off she looked at the fallen key and whispered caustically, "Heart don't lie."
He stopped in his tracks, but didn't turn.
"Isn't that what you said?"
He didn't answer.
"Just because yours doesn't beat," she said, trembling, "doesn't mean I can't hear it."
"I'm not human, Buffy. I never will be. I'll never have a soul."
"That's not what I mean. And you know I don't care if you never have those things--"
"No? I heard you and Angel in the library last night!" Spike spun to see her reaction. "And I know how your mind works. You didn't want to believe it, did you, because you fell hard for me, and I've done some pretty nice things for you, and you hate being taken for a fool -- but I saw the way you looked at me when you came out of that room. After he told you what I did."
Caught off guard, she didn't know how to respond.
"I could tell you why I did that," he began, voice only slightly wavering. "To prove myself worthy of hunting alongside him and Dru. I could tell you that whatever vile, heinous thing I dreamed up, Angelus always found a way to top me. And, I could tell you that I'd never once in a million years do anything like that ever again, because you changed me from the inside out, Buffy, you made me feel like a man again, but none of that matters, because it won't make any sodding difference to you."
She wanted to tell him that it would. But how could she, when he'd just tried to kill her closest friend?
"That vision..." he said. "It might be a lie, a great big setup. Hell, it more than likely is. But I can hear what's in your heart, and it's something that will never go away as long as I can do this." He morphed into a demon. "Doubt."
Buffy couldn't argue, because he was right.
"So why keep fighting my nature, when this is all I'll ever be?"
Lips trembling, she tried to form words to stop him.
"Goodbye, Buffy. I hope he, uh..." Emotions getting the best of him, he tried again. "I hope he saves you."
An ambulance that was wailing in the distance pulled up. His exit cue.
Spike, wait! Don't do this. I love you. I love you.
If only it were that easy.
* * *
"I'm okay, I don't need to go to the hospital," Willow said as she was strapped into the gurney, "it's just a little... Ooh, blackout."
Buffy apologized again, and took her friend's hand.
"It's not your fault, Buffy. And, he probably would have stopped." For the sake of the emergency medical personnel, she added, "Darn puppy."
"Maybe, but he was my... puppy, and probably isn't good enough. I shouldn't have let him get away."
"Well," Anya said with a sigh, "next time you see him he'll probably be chained to a pillar in some dark cave."
Buffy got suspicious. "How do you know that?"
"Once Winky's visions are set in motion they follow a pretty staid course."
"Is that right?" Buffy confronted the former vengeance demon. "You know, Anyanka, I'm beginning to wonder if it's not just coincidence that you happen to resurface when your so-called ex shows up with a new world order." She got in her face. "Did he promise to give you your powers back, is that it?"
"What? No!" Anya was aghast. "I haven't seen him in centuries! It was a passing fling! Xander, tell her!" To her shock, he was visibly torn. "Xander?"
"What's it like being one of the 'favored daughters'?" Buffy accused.
"I don't even know what that means! I came back here for Xander, because I thought we could have something meaningful. Why would I want the world to end when I'm just beginning to figure out how to live in it?" She scoffed. "I can see why Spike lost it, you people have serious trust issues!"
Buffy faltered. Anya really did seem freakishly devoted to Xander, and she wasn't wrong about the trust issues. "You better hope you're telling me the truth, or you're gonna find out wh--" She felt an odd sensation and noticed water all over her feet and the floor. "Wh..."
"Grab a wheelchair, will you?" said one EMT to the other. "We've got a water breaker."
"Bloody hell," said Giles.
"Ew!" Anya hopped out of the way.
"No, wait! I'm not ready!"
"Maybe not, but the baby sure is."
* * *
"We'll meet you there," Giles said. "I uh... I called Sanvi. She's on her way."
Buffy nodded and checked that the amulet was still around her neck. If Sanvi wasn't quite herself, any reaction to it would tip her off. And if she had to use it on her to save the world... she didn't want to think about that right now.
Angel helped her wheelchair onto the ambulance and the EMT asked, "You the father?"
Buffy and Angel exchanged a disquieted glance, and he said, "Yeah."
"Okay then, come aboard."
This was too weird. Not too long ago it had been her secret fantasy to marry Angel and bear his miraculous children. Now, it felt like a dream from another life.
In this life, he was a poor substitute for the man she really wanted.
Even though the man she really wanted had just attacked her best friend.
She turned to Willow, who was being prepped for transfusion.
She knew she couldn't forgive Spike for this. But she also knew that he did it solely for that purpose. He wanted to be hated, wanted to be ostracized. For some stupid reason, he assumed that leaving her would make her life better.
At that thought, Buffy had her first contraction.
* * *
Polishing off the quart of Jack he'd downed with a roll of X-tra Strength Tums, Spike noticed a young, red-blooded buck accosting him all by his lonesome in the still of night.
"Well, if it isn't Private Buffychaser," he said with a widening grin. What a perfect way to reacquire his old eating habits. "Somebody down there must like me."
"Excuse me?" said Riley.
His face changed. "I'm gonna enjoy killing you."
Shocked as he was, Riley managed to hold his own in their ensuing tussle. Spike was sort of impressed, until he inevitably got the upper hand.
But just as he was about to pierce the boy's skin, Buffy's angst-ridden face flashed before his eyes... and he couldn't do it.
"I'm sorry," Riley said earnestly, "But I have to do this."
A searing pain ripped through Spike's chest, making him stagger backward. "Bloody..."
Did he just get staked?
He looked down.
Not staked. Shot.
As Riley lifted his CB to his mouth, Spike scrambled to get away. If it was a tranq it would take a while to affect his sluggish system, and bugger if he was letting the New Mengele Army have its wicked way with him.
"Base One, this is Finn," Riley reported. "NSP-20 capsule dispensed into first non-captive."
Watching Spike sprint down the alley, he had a little trouble getting the next part out. "Subject should be dead within the hour."