"When I make love to you, you glow."
Together, they gaze at her abdomen, glowing and expanding against his palm.
Buffy chuckles, grabbing a handful of ivy as he thrusts into her, her back flat on the stuccoed wall. "Will you marry me?"
"Well, you know Sunnydale," Spike says with a smirk. "Great odds for the chance in hell."
"Just ask the lions in the forest, right?"
"Like berries." He frowns, standing up from the boulder in Breaker's Woods. "Déjà vu."
"Silly rabbit." She takes his hand and they stroll toward his crypt. "Slayer dreams are for slayers."
"Take a listen, pet. Heart don't lie."
"Stronger than ever," she confirms, ear pressed to his belly, on her knees in the back yard. "Did she kiss you?"
"Of course not." He pulls her close, onto her toes. "No mortal man could survive the full potency of my spirit."
"The key is in the song," she says, skipping away from him. "The answer is within."
"The answer to what?" He follows her down an alleyway. "Hey, how far are we going, anyway?"
"All the way, baby." Her voice echoes through the cave, around a chanting circle of Winiquas. "We're gonna make history tonight. We're gonna change everything."
"Buffy? Where are you? I can't see you anymore."
Blood drips into a bronze goblet on an altar and Buffy cries, "Our heart doesn't belong to you!"
Spike shouts over a raging fire, "Buffy!"
The amulet skids across a stone floor and he reaches out for it.
"Spike, no!" Buffy screams, and disintegrates to dust.
"Open your eyes." Knife in one hand and a crying infant in the other, Sanvi presses the blade to the baby's flesh. "Open your eyes, or you'll miss it."
Chained to a pillar in Lamashtu's cave, Spike awoke with a gasp.
Six thousand miles away, in an airtight container aboard a cargo jet, his ex-lover woke up, heaving with sobs.
In the understaffed coma ward of Sunnydale General, a wanted criminal sat up for the first time in twenty-four weeks.
And two floors above her, in room 314, Buffy came to life and grabbed Sanvi by the throat.
"I don't die easy," Buffy said, shaking. "Neither will my daughter."
Sanvi squeaked through a constricted windpipe, "What--?"
"I think we've played 'doctor' long enough, don't you?" She heard the intern creeping up behind her, and knocked him out with a left-hand backfist. "Let's play this my way."
"Miss Summers, it-it's me, Sanvi Patel..."
"Really?" She yanked the needle out of her arm and held it to the doctor's chest. "What happens if I inject this into your heart? Will she come to save you?"
"Stop," Xander said, breaking in with the rest of the gang. "She's not her, it was the nurse!"
"Yeah, but this is the body she really needs."
"Buffy, what are you doing?" Joyce pleaded, "Don't, you'll kill her!"
"Just a little... pinprick..."
The second the needle pierced her skin, Sanvi's arms shot out, causing everyone in the room to hit the walls.
"You are a clever one." Lamashtu stood up, pulled off Sanvi's ponytail barrette and tossed her glasses aside. "But not clever enough to stop me." She ran toward the window and crash-dived through the pane.
Xander hobbled over and looked out. "Heading for the woods like an evil gazelle."
Buffy put her suitcase on the bed, unzipped it, and pulled out a crossbow. "Then we go hunting."
"Are you sure you can fight, Buffy? How do you feel?"
She tossed her mother a switchblade. "Like saving my family."
* * *
"Lamashtu," Giles whispered as they crept through the forest brush, and the mist bent in another direction. "Strange. She's turned 'round."
"Turned?" Tara spun on her heel, and gasped when she came face to face with Sanvi Patel. "O...or switched."
Lamashtu folded her arms. "Hello, Rupert."
She breathed in, out. "I suppose I'm hard to forget."
"I remember everything," he lied. "Where is the child?"
"The child is where she belongs: in Hell, with me. And if you remembered anything beyond my name you'd know that amulet is useless in your possession."
Giles returned it to his pocket.
"As is that silly old book." She narrowed her eyes and it burst into flame.
He fumbled and let it fall, lighting a pile of leaves on the ground.
"Humans and your futile trinkets, your puzzle pieces that make no picture." She shook her head in disdain. "Give up, Watcher. I've already won. My star is two fingers from the crescent moon and at three, the Great Change will be underway."
The brush ignited in front of Giles and Tara and sealed them in a ring of fire.
"So it is written," Lamashtu said. "So it is set in stone."
* * *
Spike's head was pounding. He wasn't sure from what: the death, the resurrection, Lamashtu's wicked puff of halitosis, or the bloody Winiqua chants that were really starting to grate.
"Knock it off, you daft sods," he grumbled. "She heard you the first three hundred times."
A baby's cry pealed through the din, and his heart jumped with hope.
"What are they doing here?" he heard Sanvi say, and WinQuar reply, "They managed to break in."
"How?" She sighed. "Never mind. Have your monkeys reinforce the portal and kill the trespassers."
"They shall prove valuable when the Slayer comes. I strongly suggest we keep them alive."
Who were 'they'? He tried to turn his head, but his neck was chained tight.
"Isn't her boyfriend enough of a bargaining tool?"
"I would not bet on it."
"Women," she said. "We are a fickle lot, yes?"
After a pause, he said dispassionately, "Yes."
"You're the one that can see the future. Let's hope for your sake you're right."
"This will unfold perfectly according to plan, that I can assure you."
"I don't doubt it. The amulet is taken care of, the Slayer hasn't a clue how to stop me, and I have all I need right here." The baby cried.
With a helpless grunt, Spike rattled his chains.
Sanvi came into view, a blanketed bundle in her arms. "You were supposed to wake up when I told you to."
"You want me? You can have me. Just don't hurt the baby."
Sanvi laughed. "Tempting. But I'll pass." She approached the altar and picked up the knife.
"Please," he begged her, a tear sliding down his cheek. "Don't do this."
"Oh, how thoughtless of me." She put the knife down. "Would you like to see your daughter before I cut out her heart?"
"My... I thought she wasn't mine."
"WinQuar," Lamashtu tsk-tsked, "what did you tell this poor boy?"
"Whatever I had to, your darkness."
"To separate them; of course. Well done."
He humbly bowed his head.
"WinQuar has a gift for circumvention. But as you can plainly see," Lamashtu pulled the blanket down, revealing the baby's face to Spike, "this little stunner's all yours, inside and out. And I wouldn't have it any other way."
The baby cooed at him, and Spike burst into sobs.
She took the child back to the altar.
"No! Please, don't--"
"The tablet is very specific," she said, and gently placed the baby in the cradle. "The heart that shall free me is born of an impossible union: the seed of a vampire, the womb of a slayer; my blood and my spirit, intermingled." She picked up the knife and the goblet and walked toward him. "But I couldn't use any old vampire. It had to be one whose heart bled like a woman's."
"What are you on about?"
"Tell me, WinQuar, what were the chances that a lovely maiden would spurn young William, that he'd run out into the night, crushed and desolate, and that he'd cross paths with a vampire called Drusilla?"
"They were infinitely slim, as I recall."
Spike frowned, bewildered. "You--?"
"Made it all happen, from the very start." She lowered herself onto his lap and caressed his face. "You're my personal creation, Spike. A demon that can love like no other."
* * *
Tara and Giles sat back to back in the center of the flaming ring. They'd tried everything; magic spells, charging through... it was impenetrable. They were stuck.
"Two fingers from the crescent moon," Giles said, squinting at the sky, hand extended. "Well, it's not Vega. Is it... can it be Venus? Her 'star' is Venus?"
"It would make sense, being the symbol of divine womanhood and all."
"Yes, and how were they to know the difference between stars and planets..."
"Is it three fingers yet?"
"Two and a half. Have you reached her?"
"I'm trying, but the fire is... it's obstructing my powers somehow. Maybe if we join hands and focus."
* * *
Buffy took the leaf of paper out of Willow's hands as they hastened down the hallway. "Anyone read notes?"
"If I had a piano," Willow said.
"Wait a second, let me try," Joyce said, and solfeged it out.
"Good work, Mom. Where'd you learn to do that?"
"I was in a choral group in college. Here's what's odd: we sang this song. It's 'Take A Chance on Me'."
"So... either Abba was an instrument of the devil, or -- There really isn't an 'or' to that, is there?"
Everyone sounded their agreement.
Buffy flipped the page over to the shiny illustration. "What's this?"
"Metaphor for possession, maybe? The evil refle--" Suddenly Willow stumbled, clutching her head.
"It's Tara. And... and Giles? They saw Doctor Patel; she... She shot fire out of her eyes."
"'Maiden with eyes of fire'." Buffy glanced at the drawing of eyes on a reflective surface. "Everything else has been literal so far, why not this?"
"Lamashtu's perfect host would logically have a drawback," Anya said. "There's always a cost."
Buffy concluded, "She can't look herself in the eye."
"Can you look me in the eye, B?"
The group stopped dead in their tracks to gape at the source of this unwelcome interjection.
"Oh my god," Joyce gasped, "it's--"
"Faith." Buffy stared at the gaunt slayer, wearing an ill-fitting nurse's outfit and brandishing a bone saw. "You're awake."
* * *
"What's the matter?" Lamashtu teased, tip of her blade poised at Spike's throat. "Hellcat got your tongue?"
Their eyes met, and he shook with laughter.
She shifted uncomfortably. "What are you laughing at?"
"The world's first control freak."
"No one laughs at me. Need I remind you who I am?"
"Look at you," Spike said. "All prickly and flustered. You can't control anyone, you can't even control me--"
She backhanded him.
Lip bloody, he concluded, "And that scares the living hell out of you."
"Let's get one thing straight. You?" She slashed at his pantleg, cutting into his thigh. "I can control."
"Oi!" he said as she stuck her hand under the denim, grabbed his cock and squeezed it tight. "Got a zipper for that!"
She gave him a wanton smile. "How quickly it grows, yes?"
He tried not to physically react, but he was only human. "Must be right lonely at the top, if you're this desperate for a good shag."
"I could make you come in an instant."
"Yeah well, so can most birds with a firm grip. Doesn't make you Jesus."
"And when you do, you'll forget everything you know."
"Right, the famous earth-shaking loboto-gasm." He gulped as she ran her fingers up and down his length. "Gotta warn you, you get a leg up on me and the Slayer kills us both. Whether I remember who she is or not."
"She'd never find out."
"You don't know Buffy," he insisted. "She's got like this extra-sensory Other Woman radar--"
The baby squealed, little pink fists in the air.
"See?" He nodded in the baby's direction. "She's got it too."
"That reminds me," Lamashtu said with a swift inhale. "I have better things to do."
He struggled against his chains. "Wait--"
"It's sweet that you're trying to buy time. But this is happening. With," she stabbed the dagger into his heart, "or without you."
* * *
"That's right, B, I'm awake -- just in time for your weekly visit." Faith tilted her head, looked up. "Oh wait; what am I saying? You'd never visit me."
Xander whispered to Anya, "I told you not to poke her."
"Okay, Faith, I get it," Buffy said measuredly, reaching for the handle of the crossbow on her back. "But I really, really don't have time for this."
"You're gonna make time." She grabbed Willow and held the bone saw against her bandaged neck. "Right the hell now."
"I promise you we will do this later," Buffy reasoned, planning exit strategies. "But you have to let her go. The world is going to end, tonight--"
"'Unless I stop it!'" Faith mocked her melodramatically. "Lucky for me, I don't give a shit. I would love to see you all burn."
"There she is!" someone shouted from afar, and as Faith turned to look, Willow bit her arm, making her drop her weapon.
Buffy kicked her to the floor, pointed the crossbow at her head and told her friends to run.
"Are you gonna be o--"
"Just find them! Go!"
She watched them take the stairs, and stood over Faith as the group of security guards neared.
"That's her!" the intern from her hospital room said, pointing at Buffy. "She strangled the doctor and punched me out!"
Buffy's eyes widened. Willow was supposed to take care of that guy...
"No kidding," Faith said, mildly impressed. "You did that?"
Three guns cocked at her, Buffy dropped the crossbow and held her hands up. "Look, there's been a mistake. This woman is--"
"Save it for the cops."
One guard helped Faith to her feet, asking, "Are you all right, Nurse?"
"She's not a nurse!"
"Yeah, I-I think so," Faith said, milking it. "What's gonna happen to her?"
"The police will sort it out when they get here."
"She's a patient, you idiots," Buffy said. "Look at how big her shoes are!"
"She's obviously out of her mind," Faith poured it on thick. "It could be drugs. Angel dust, maybe. Watch her, she's capable of anything."
Buffy rolled her eyes. Then she noticed Faith picking up the bone saw.
In an instant, she had it at the guard's throat. "Drop the guns and back off!"
"Faith, what are you--?"
"I've been wasting away in a hospital bed, dreaming about this for months! I'll be damned if I have to wait another second to bring you down." She pushed the elevator button. "Everybody, back off or I saw this motherfucker in half!"
The guards put their guns on the ground and backed up, hands in the air.
The elevator door opened. "Get in, B. Do it!"
Well, it was the more straightforward alternative...
Buffy picked up a gun and pointed it at the guards as she backed into the elevator. Faith disarmed the guard and pushed him to the floor, then jumped inside.
The doors closed, and they immediately pointed their guns at each other.
Faith fired first.
* * *
Blood trickled into the bronze goblet.
Lamashtu watched Spike valiantly bear the pain. Just as he was on the brink of losing consciousness, she licked his wound and it sutured shut. "You see, William, I'm a creator, not a destroyer."
"Could've fooled me," he said, breath heavy.
"I only want what's best for the world. The human race was a blunder. Don't you see? Once we return the earth to its pure, original state, our sustenance will no longer depend on their blood." She sipped from the goblet, then brought it to his lips. "Delicious as it may be."
"Thanks," he said, sardonic. "But I'm suddenly not hungry."
She put the goblet down beside them. "I wasn't always this way. In my day--"
"We reminiscing now?" He scoffed. "Think I'd rather be stabbed again."
"In my day, I didn't rule with fear."
"No, you ruled with puppies and sunshine and a bagful of baby hearts."
"In other words, 'taking my rightful place at the top of the food chain'," she said, quoting him verbatim. "Survival of the fittest, yes?"
"If that's true, then I put my money on the Slayer."
One end of her mouth upturned. "Which one?"
"What do you mean, 'which one'?"
* * *
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
"Fucking security guards," Faith said, and they both dropped their bulletless guns. "Guess it's just you and me and what our mommas gave us."
"Or," Buffy said, and dove for the bone saw.
"Look who's playin' dirty full-time now," Faith praised as she fought for the saw. "Did gutting me and leaving me for dead send Pollyanna down the dark path?"
"I swear to God I didn't mean for that to happen to you--" The elbow in her eye interrupted that thought.
"Save it." Faith grabbed the saw and pulled the emergency stop lever. An alarm sounded and the car crunched to a halt. "I ain't lookin' for anything here but good, hard payback."
"Fine." As she stood up, Buffy glanced at the ceiling's escape hatch, and back at her opponent. "Take your best shot."
She fielded a swing, balanced her palms on the railing and scissor-kicked the saw to the floor. When Faith reached for it, Buffy piggybacked onto her shoulders and used her momentum and height to punch at the escape hatch and spring through it.
"Oh, no you don't!"
Buffy cried out as the bone saw blade severed her Achilles tendon. She hoisted herself out of harm's way and as she held her bleeding ankle and looked around the dark elevator chute for an exit sign, she heard Faith cackle.
"I've always wanted to wipe the ceiling with you, B. Looks like now, I can."
Suddenly the elevator car lurched and sped toward the ceiling.
Falling onto her stomach, Buffy struggled to grab the ladder rungs, just out of her reach...
* * *
"Right now she's thinking, 'If only my arms were longer. Mom always told me to drink more milk but did I listen? No.'"
"How the hell do you know that?"
"She and I, and you and them, we're all connected," Lamashtu said. "You by the blood, she by the spirit. I can experience her feelings whenever I wish. Her fear, her anger, her pain... her lust..."
"Fancy words for a common peeping tom." Spike recoiled from her touch. "You wake the other one up that way?"
"Believe it or not, there are some things I don't have to orchestrate." She toasted with the goblet. "To happy accidents."
* * *
Xander popped a Jeep's side mirror out of place and handed it to Joyce, who was staring at the hospital. "Mrs. Summers?"
"Do you think she's all right in there?"
"I'm sure security took care of Faith. Buffy's probably on her way right..." Willow trailed off as she heard a strangely familiar tune coming from the center of the parking lot. "Is that...?"
"Okay, this Abba demon is really starting to ook me out."
"It must be Dr. Patel's phone," Joyce said, picking up the crushed device that bleated a warped midi rendition of 'Take A Chance on Me'. "Let's go."
* * *
The rungs were flying by too quickly. All she could hope for was that there was a foot of space between the roof of the elevator and the ceiling.
Buffy braced herself for impact, and then--
The elevator stopped. One floor from the top.
She heard a ding, followed by Faith swearing under her breath.
The nurse pushing a stretcher into the elevator didn't notice the deranged occupant until it aimed a gun at her and said, strings of greasy hair over her sunken eyes, "I'm not going down."
The nurse screamed and ran.
"Oh, that's real nice," Faith shouted. "Leave your dying patient behind!"
Buffy grabbed hold of the ladder and began the painful climb down, boot heels clacking on each rung.
"Don't think I can't hear you!" Quickly, Faith apologized to the poor bastard on the stretcher and hopped onto it to get through the chute. She ran across the top of the elevator car, jumped to the ladder and gave chase.
As Faith kicked at her head, Buffy punched at her white loafers. One came off and plummeted ten floors, the sound of impact demonstrating just how far they'd fall.
Flashing back to her pre-coma plunge, Faith swung out and slipped, sailing past Buffy, who shouted her name. She grabbed the first thing she could: an elevator cable.
After a moment, Buffy called out, "Faith? Are you..."
"Dead?" she shouted, hanging in the dark, not sure what to do next. "No such luck, B. More like the cat in that stupid poster."
"You're... covered in spaghetti?"
She rolled her eyes, and spoke slowly, "No, the other cat."
The cable began to rise, signaling that the car was coming down.
Buffy watched her zoom past, legs dangling. Faith was about to get squished.
* * *
"Now that is a quandary," Lamashtu said. "I know what I would do. But would she do the same? Probably not."
"Who? What quandary? Tell me what's happening!"
"Relax," she patted his head and stood up, taking her dagger and goblet to the altar. "You'll see her eventually."
Spike scowled at her. "I'll see her in a few minutes, when she tears you limb from limb."
"She'd never kill a human."
"I think she'd make an exception for you."
"Still," she shrugged, tending to the baby. "It would be a feat of epic proportions."
"That body you're in is only flesh and bone."
"Not while I'm in it, darling. Why do you think I chose it?"
"Because she's the Chosen One's OB-GYN," he said matter-of-factly.
"This body and I go back a touch further than her career in medicine. Aeons further."
"Is that right?"
She held up a finger and cocked her head, as if listening to a transmission. "Exactly what I thought she'd do. Tsk, tsk, tsk... What a fool."
* * *
"You really wanna test the nine lives theory?" Buffy shouted, reaching into the elevator shaft toward Faith. "Take my hand, dammit!"
As the elevator loomed closer, their fingers twined, and Buffy used all of her strength to yank her over to the ladder. They leered at one another, and the elevator passed them, heading down.
And then, with a single unexpected jab, Faith pushed Buffy off the ladder.
Buffy fell backwards down the shaft, arms and legs akimbo, and crashed hard on the roof of the elevator car.
In seconds, Faith was on top of her, in her face. "Do you have any idea how much I hate you?"
Barely able to move, she spat, "Do you have any idea how much I don't care?"
"You'll care when I rip your guts out."
"With what? Your coma-breath?"
With a primal shout, Faith rose up, arms high and hands clasped, and came down with a two-fisted blow to the stomach.
Reflexively, Buffy crunched into fetal position and coughed up blood.
Faith sat back, curious. "You don't look so good, B."
Clutching her stomach, Buffy said through grit teeth, "I just had a baby."
Faith looked horrified. "How long was I asleep?"
Then she remembered pieces of a dream she'd had; the one that woke her up.
The elevator stopped, and heavy footsteps filled it. "You, up there! This is the police! Come down quietly or we'll start shooting!"
Begrudgingly, Faith outstretched a hand. Buffy peered at it, suspicious.
Faith sighed and said, "You want to save the kid or what?"