"Real estate," Spike declared, chewing on a stick of mint. "Buy the old vamp lairs, spruce 'em up, flip 'em out. Five years time, this berg's gonna be -- Hey," he snapped his fingers, "eyes over here."
"Pay attention to Spike," Anya said purposefully. "He's talking about money."
Tearing his gaze from the vicinity of Buffy, Xander said, "And if I had more than six dollars and thirty-nine cents in my bank account, I'd be all ears."
"But you can fix things," Anya realized with a gasp. "You should work for Spike!"
"Okay, that's never gonna happen," Xander made absolutely clear.
"He's all talk anyway," Buffy said. "We have enough for that condemned beach house, that's it."
"Not if we do it right, pet."
With a snort, she said, "Two episodes of On The Market and you're a mogul."
"You'll thank me when you're filthy rich," he threw over his shoulder as he went to answer the door. It was Rupert. "Give us a hug, Dad."
"That's 'Mister President' to you." Ignoring Spike's outspread arms, Giles thwacked him with a manila envelope. "Congratulations, you're a real boy."
"That quick? You do have clout." He waved the envelope at Buffy. "Good news, love. You'll be an honest woman soon."
"Ooh. What's your new name?"
"Let's see. The official appellation is..." He ripped it open. "William Thurston Hart. They couldn't have used a better picture? I look like death."
Xander peered over his shoulder and patted him on the back. "You can make a leopard human, but you can't change his ghoulish, pasty stripes."
"Spots," Giles corrected, hanging his own coat. Couldn't change the leopard's hosting etiquette either, apparently. "I did ask you for a photo. Without one, they had to improvise."
"Right. That Polaroid session didn't quite go as planned." He winked suggestively as he handed the passport over to his own personal Playmate. "Did it, Miss November?"
She snatched it out of his hands. "Never speak in public."
"Rupert!" Joyce greeted him. "I hear congratulations are in order."
"Chance Summers-Hart," Buffy tried out.
"Hart-Summers, you mean."
She scoffed. "It's not even your real name, what do you care?"
"What is your real name?" Xander asked.
"None of your bleeding business." He pointed at Buffy. "And don't you even think of telling him."
"It's that embarrassing?" He put his hands together in prayer. "Please tell me it's 'Honeypiffle' or 'Featherbush'."
"It's worse," Buffy said.
"Oi!" He snapped his fingers at Xander again. "Eyes!"
"I didn't mean to-- I thought she was done!"
"All eyes free to roam," Buffy said, buttoning her blouse. "Mama's milk shop is shuttin' down."
"About time," Anya huffed.
"No kidding," Joyce was saying to Giles. "Did you hear that, Buffy? 'Take A Chance on Me' is the Song of the Lilin backwards."
"Its mirror image," Giles elaborated. "The exact reverse of Lamashtu's power chant."
Xander shook his head. "Someone oughta tell Tipper Gore she's been bleeping up the wrong tree."
"Let's not talk Lamashtu anymore," Buffy said, lips in a pout as she nuzzled with Chance. "Let's talk Lamasht'potatoes."
"Ah yes!" Giles held up a bag of potatoes for Joyce. "I'd almost forgotten."
"Oh! You're my hero," said Joyce. "Is Dr. Patel on her way?"
"She, uh, won't be joining us tonight." He glanced at Buffy. "She decided to stay in England for a while. It's a lot to take in."
"Poor sod. Can't even convince the slutty ones to stick around."
"Spike? What did I just say about talking out loud?"
"Can't remember, you were half naked." He tipped a bottle of Glenfiddich in Giles' direction. "Drown your sorrows?"
"Homemade pumpkin pie comin' through," Willow announced cheerfully, Tara in tow. "Just like the pilgrims ate before committing mass genocide!"
"How apropos," Giles noted.
Spike peeked into Willow's bag. "Has it got marshmallows?"
* * *
"Her hand is a net, her embrace is death," he said in soft, soothing tones. "She is cruel, raging, angry, predatory. A runner, a thief is the daughter of Heaven. She touches the bellies of women in labor--"
"When I asked you to read something to the baby," Buffy took the binder out of Giles' hands and replaced it with The Bunny Book, "I meant something not terrifying?"
"Ha!" Anya said after casting a glance at the replacement book and sitting down to channel surf. "Speak for yourself."
"Sorry," Giles said to Buffy. "Joyce wanted to hear it."
"That was an ancient incantation against Lamashtu," Joyce informed her, seated on the arm of the chair beside Giles. "Can you believe how much intel the Council had on her? This file could have saved us a lot of trouble. I mean, those people died protecting this information, and for what?"
"Well, the Council has always-- Did you just say 'intel'?"
"What was I thinking?" Joyce said, slapping herself on the forehead as she stood up. "I'll be in the kitchen, churning my own butter like a slayer's mother should."
"All I'm sayin'," breezed Buffy, flipping through the report.
"Now, then: The Bunny Book," Giles said, and opened the picture book to read it aloud to Chance. "The daddy bunny tossed his baby in the air. 'What will our baby be when he grows up?' asked -- oof!"
"She," said Spike, picking up his tiny kicker, "will be first striker for Manchester United." He kissed her cheek. "Won't you, Bitesize?"
Giles chuckled as he nursed his aching jaw. "Those little legs do pack quite a wallop, don't they?"
"Runs in the family," Buffy said with a shrug. "Or, you know. Rabbit trait."
"Speaking of..." Giles removed his glasses to buff them clean. "Are you two planning to tell her about her, uh, unique history?"
"I don't know." Buffy sat down on the couch. "I mean, how exactly do we break it to her? 'Guess what, honey, you shouldn't exist! Dad was a vampire, Mom was a vampire slayer, and oh, did I mention?" She turned a page on the subject of her rabbit conception toward Giles. "She was also the 'Mary Toft of her time'.'"
"God, will I ever hear the end of that?" Anya threw her hands up. "It was an accident!"
Giles squinted at the former demon. "What?"
"Mary Toft," she explained, muting the television. "Sweet girl. All she wants is her bastard father to leave her alone. I suggest evisceration or a good old-fashioned quartering, but no, 'I just wish he was a big, fluffy bunny rabbit,' she says. How was I supposed to know he could still attack her that way?"
"Long story short, she starts popping out these gooey little rabbit children, one after the other after the other, with razor-sharp claws and long floppy ears and twitchy pink noses and ugh," she shuddered. "I still have nightmares."
"Wait, so that's why you fear bunnies?"
Unable to argue, Buffy looked to Giles, who said, "Believe it or not."
* * *
"There are approximately six hundred remaining species," Giles informed the two slayers, snuggling on the couch beside him. "Portaled through dimensional rifts or brought about by evocation, reanimation, interspecies unions..." He couldn't help but glance at their lovechild, snoozing in her baby seat. "That sort of thing. Many of them are, not surprisingly, here in Sunnydale."
"Why would they stick around? I mean, they've got to know we're here."
Spike fondled her hair, caressed her neck. "You're the honey all the big bad bees want to eat."
She peeled his hand off of her breast. "Says the bee who only thinks with his stinger."
"I believe they've settled on the Hellmouth," Giles offered. "Become domesticated, as it were."
"I am a trend-setter," Spike acknowledged with a burdened sigh, idly squeezing Buffy's hip. "I wonder if any of my poker buddies made the cut."
"You are not playing poker with demons."
"And you are so cute when you boss me." He pursed his lips to send her a kiss. "You play, Rupert?"
"Why yes, I'm actually rather good at--" Giles met Buffy's gaze and closed the binder. "Anyway, until one makes an offensive strike..."
"I'm 'Buffy, the Just-in-case-they're-stupid-enough-to-try-anything Slayer'."
"Yes. You, Faith and Spike are essentially inactive. The irony isn't lost on anyone, I assure you."
"No more vampires at all," Spike said. "The mystical whatz-o-graph confirmed it?"
"None. Excepting Angel, of course."
"But there's no way he can lose his soul now," Buffy said. "Right?"
"We can't be sure of that either. That's why I'm to give you this." He opened his briefcase and presented a glass container. Inside of it, an opaque crystal shard. "As long as this crystal stays dormant, Angel isn't a threat."
Buffy inspected it closely. "What does it look like when it's un-dormant?"
"I'm told that you'll most certainly know."
"Here's a fun idea," Spike jeered, "let's showcase it on the mantelpiece so we can think about Angel every day! It'll be like he never left!"
"I don't want that thing in our house," he said, resolute.
"You're right. It's not fair to you." She returned the shard to Giles. "Think you can hold on to it for us?"
"Of course." He tucked it into his briefcase, then handed them four British Airways tickets. "All expenses paid, whenever you're ready."
"Free honeymoon?" Buffy shrugged. "I'm ready."
"One question. Will they be conducting the voodoo rites before or after they harvest our organs for cloning?"
"No one is harvesting your organs, Spike. This is merely a mission to get everyone acquainted and on the same page."
"Giles is in charge of the Council now, we're totally safe." Buffy wafted the tickets at him. "And again I say: free honeymoon, with baby and bonus babysitter. It'll be fun! You can show me your old haunts, where you were born, where you died, where you drove a railroad spike through your first bosom-heaving lass..."
Cocking a brow, he said, "You really want this."
"Well, come on." Her lips grazed his. "What's not to love?"
He touched her face, inhaled. "Can't think of a bloody thing."
* * *
The roving hand under the table got another swift slap. "Stop it."
Undeterred, he went for it again, making her giggle and squirm in her seat.
Noticing that they'd attracted attention, Buffy and Spike willed their faces straight.
"Xander, why don't you love me like that?"
"Huh? What? I... What?"
Joyce put her wine glass down. "I'm sorry, Rupert, you were saying?"
"A line was rubbed off the etchings," he said, carving the turkey. "It was 'hair of wolf', not 'boulder'."
"That coulda narrowed the scope a little," Willow said.
"She had a baby and he still wants to have sex with her," Anya continued her rant. "And marry her! That's devotion."
"Well I haven't popped the question yet," Spike leaned in with a wink. "Still time to set the old girl out to graze."
Buffy smacked his arm.
"Be nice," he teased, and placed something on her empty plate. "I might worry you'll say no."
The table hushed, and she blinked at the small velvet box. "When did you...?"
"When I first laid eyes on you, baby." He got down to kneel beside her chair.
She smirked at him. "And here I thought you just wanted to mutilate me."
"Well I did," he said, recalling their initial meeting. "But I also wanted to shag you senseless. You know, before the death and dismemberment part."
"Okay, honey? You're no good at this."
"I am! Open it and you'll see. Don't turn me down yet."
"I asked you first, I can't turn you--" Jewelry was never Buffy's thing. She'd never understood the whole diamonds-as-friend phenomena, but this heart-shaped stone thoroughly took her breath away.
"Buffy Summers," he began, taking her hand and pressing it to his chest, "you make me feel alive."
She broke into a grin. "Good one."
Impressed, she let him speak.
"My heart," he said, eyes locked with hers, tone low and earnest, "is in your hands. I beg you: take a chance, take this ring, and marry me."
After a second, he added, "Please?"
She laughed through her tears. "You had me at 'dismemberment'."
"Anya's right," Xander said, having noticed all the female swoonage in the room as they kissed passionately. "Couples like you make the rest of us look bad."
* * *
"Xander? Spike has something he'd like to ask you."
"No I don't." He spun on his heel.
"Yes, he does." She grabbed him by the sleeve.
"I'm gonna kill you," Spike muttered.
"You can do it, sweetie." Buffy pushed him toward Xander.
Spike rolled his eyes, exhaled noisily. "Will you be the... you know."
Xander squinted. "The 'you know'?"
"My... The guy."
"Your 'the guy'?"
"For bloody's sake, Harris, will you be my best man or what?"
Once he got over the shock, Xander was tickled. "I get it," he laughed, "You have no male friends."
"Mine are all recently deceased," Spike said, eyes narrowed. "What's your excuse?"
"Look, buster, I don't have to say yes."
Spike turned to Buffy. "I'm not gonna beg."
Xander shrugged. "I'll settle for a 'please' or a 'you're my only hope'..."
"I'll ask Soldierboy." Spike grabbed a beer from the fridge. "Least he's quiet."
"All right, all right, I'll do it," Xander said. "As long as I'm not expected to fund the bachelor party."
"Shyeah," Buffy said.
"Right. I'm not allowed one of those." Then he mouthed, 'We'll talk later.'
* * *
As Giles serenaded the guests on the porch with Pete Townshend classics, Buffy went searching for Spike.
She didn't have to go far -- he'd dozed off on the living room couch, Chance on his chest, The Bunny Book in his grasp and grazing the floor.
Heartwarmed, she watched Chance rise and fall from Spike's intake and exhalation of breath, thinking, My two miracles.
Careful not to wake them, she gently wrested the book free, kissed them both, and returned to the porch.
Behind closed eyelids, Spike dreamed.
"You've always had wings, haven't you?"
* * *
Desolate, bereft, the last vampiress on earth stared through bleary eyes at the miniature city sprawled below her, teeming with life. How could a vision that once held such boundless, delicious promise so easily decay into a suffocating bog of ashes and loss?
There was no one left. No place for her. She was the end. The Only.
Streaks of red hued the horizon, and she stretched to her full height.
It was time, the voices told her.
As the sun rose over eastern China, Drusilla dove off the Jin Mao summit head first, her long sleeves billowing behind her like gleaming black wings.