Title: Fin Amour
Summary: The monks’ spell to create the Key goes wonky.
Timeline: Season 5 AU
Rating: R for (highlight to view) language, graphic violence and character death.
Word Count: ~14,000
Author’s Note: The beginning dialogue in the prologue is lifted from the BtVS episode No Place Like Homeand one line borrowed from Spiral—all the rest is my own. The title is French for “courtly love” or, to be more accurate, a “fine love”. This story is my feminist spin on a chivalric epic. The concept for this story was inspired by discussion with flake_sake where the question was raised: how can a story express a great and abiding romantic love without the sexual expression of love? Fin Amour is my answer.
Thanks: To penny_lane_42 and ladyofthelog for the amazing beta work (banner also by ladyofthelog ). You ladies keep me sane and forever motivated—love, love, love. Thanks also to enigmaticblues for keeping this community alive. ♥
The simple lack of her is more to me than others’ presence.
– Edward Thomas
She’s climbing her front porch steps when she hears a branch snap in the bushes to her right. Halfway tempted to ignore him, Buffy decides ignoring Spike comes off as tacit approval of his stalking and maybe it’s time to try punching him in the face again. She’s pretty sure he finds the physical punishment a turn-on and it’s not like it’s worked in the past, but looking on the bright side: the venting will make her feel better.
Her hand shoots into the bushes, grabs him by the collar and yanks him out. Now if the rattle of chainmail isn’t enough to clue her in to the not-Spikeness of the man in the bushes, the Ren Faire outfit drives the point home. Sir Knight of the Dark and Wavy Hair grunts in surprise and reaches for the sword sheathed at his belt.
With her free hand, Buffy clamps down onto his wrist as his hand tightens on the sword’s helm. She lifts him by the collar and shakes him, sending his chainmail jingling. “You really about to attack a poor helpless pregnant woman? Doesn’t that go against your code? I guess chivalry really is dead.”
“My honor is devoted to one purpose and one purpose alone,” Sir Knight vows, struggling to release his wrist from her iron grip. “The Key must be destroyed and any who protect it will fall by my sword.”
Releasing her hold on his collar, she swipes the sword from his grasp as he falls to his knees. She points the blade’s tip at his neck. “I think you’re the only one who’s gonna be falling tonight.”
“Do your worst,” he dares, staring at her with eyes free of fear. “More will come. I am not the first and I will not be the last.”
“No, you’re not the first,” she agrees, her voice grim. She presses the blade against his throat. “More will come? When?”
“Soon. Soon you will know.”
She grits her teeth. “How many more?”
His smile is defiant, his eyes alight with a zealot’s faith. “An army of the righteous, great in number, pure of heart. You stand fast now, Chosen One, but you cannot hope to stand long. The Key will fall and your”—he glances at her rounded abdomen—“condition will not save you.”
Buffy grabs him by the front of his chainmail and jerks him forward. The tip of the blade nicks his neck. First blood drawn. She pulls him closer, till mere inches separate them, snarls, “Get out of my town,” then shoves him to the ground.
She climbs the front porch steps, turns to glare at him. “If I ever see you here again…”
“When you see me again, I will not be alone,” he says, rising to his feet. “Your guardianship of the Key will end in bloodshed if you refuse to surrender. This I swear.”
Her heart trips at his promise of an enemy she can’t overcome. She steels her spine and refuses to allow fear to show in her eyes. Raising the sword, she adjusts her grip, aims, and throws it like a spear, the blade piercing the grass in between the knight’s feet. “Take your sword and your honor and get out. You’re not welcome here.”
She opens the front door, walks inside and closes it, turning the deadbolt and peering through the adjacent window. The knight picks up his sword and retreats into the shadows.
“Buffy? Is that you? Are you all right?”
Starting at the sound of her mother’s voice, she checks to make sure the knight is gone, then calls back, “Yeah, I’m home, I’m good,” and walks to the kitchen.
She finds her mother and Giles sitting at the kitchen island, a tea pot on the stove and ingredients for hot chocolate stacked neatly on the counter. Giles raises an eyebrow in her direction, sighs and takes a sip of tea. She reads disappointment in his lifted brow, frustrated acceptance in the sigh, and knows the sip of tea is meant to soothe and bolster his patience. She imagines him thinking, Dear Lord, give me strength.
“Buffy, we’ve been talking and…” Joyce trails off, looking to Giles for support.
“And you reconsidered the decaf cocoa?” Buffy offers, bright and hopeful. “’Cause I heard caffeine’s okay in small doses.”
“Buffy,” Joyce says, sending out waves of gentle reproach.
“Okay, I officially feel like I’m caught in a time warp. You guys are acting like I’m still a teenager breaking the rules.” Buffy walks to the counter and fiddles with the bag of marshmallows. “I get it. You’re mad about my patrolling alone and you want me to stop. Except I can’t. If I stopped… Giles, you know what would happen if I stopped. Demons would have a field day and not the kind where you hand out ribbons for participation ‘cause everyone’s a winner.”
“No one’s suggesting you stop.” Giles sets aside his cup and leans forward. “Just that you take precautions.”
“And I do. I’m a precautionary tale. I took a crossbow with me tonight—long distance slaying.” Buffy bites her lip then adds, “It just got broken when I used it to smash in a Gravlok demon’s face.”
“And this happened moments ago? Naturally the loss of the crossbow ended your patrol.”
“Yeah, not exactly.” Buffy picks out a few marshmallows and starts rolling them into a ball between her thumb and index finger. “I might’ve staked a few more vampires first.”
“Buffy, I don’t understand.” Joyce stands and pulls the bag of marshmallows away. “You’ve always complained about having to slay. And now you’re responsible for your baby and yet you…”
“You continue to leap headfirst into danger,” Giles finishes.
“It’s not my baby,” Buffy mutters.
Joyce frowns. “Buffy…”
“It’s not.” Buffy closes her fist around the marshmallows in her hand, squeezing the ball flat. “I understand what I have to do. I have to protect the Key. But just ‘cause the monks decided to mess up their spell and mystically knock me up doesn’t mean I’m gonna change how I… I’m still the Slayer. And I can’t keep the Key safe if I’m not out there, showing everyone I’m still getting it done. If I stay home, the demons run wild. If I let anyone do my job for me, they’ll think I’m weak. Or worse, one of you guys will get hurt.” She sighs and drops the ball of marshmallow mush on the counter. “I know my limits, okay? I’m being careful.”
“Not careful enough,” Joyce counters. “You have to be responsible now.”
“I am responsible,” Buffy says, avoiding her mother’s gaze. “I’m always responsible. Kinda getting tired of that.”
“Buffy, you don’t have a choice.”
“I know that,” Buffy snaps, hurt. “You think I don’t know that?”
“And yet you’ve starting patrolling alone in the past few weeks,” Giles notes, his voice calm. “You’ve ignored all the precautions we’ve taken thus far. The first being that you don’t patrol alone.”
“You and Spike should start a club,” Buffy grumbles.
“As horrifying the thought may be that I agree with Spike about anything, it’s worse knowing he’s showing more sense than you.”
“You’re close to term, sweetheart,” Joyce added. “I think cutting back now would be a good idea.”
“Has it occurred to you that maybe I wanna keep my life as normal as possible? And I’m fully aware of the irony that normal for me means slaying demons. I… I can’t control what happens to my body anymore. I didn’t get a choice”—Buffy slashes her hand through the air—“but I’m in charge of what I do and how I do it. And I’m not gonna sit back and play happy homemaker. Not doing my job isn’t gonna keep the Key safe.”
“We’re not asking you to stop,” Joyce says, “just that you should slow down. Let us help you.”
Buffy sighs and looks away. “I know.”
“You’ve been pushing yourself harder these past few weeks,” Giles says again, a question buried in his tone.
“It’s been quiet on the Glory front,” Buffy offers. “Quiet in a twitchy, bad way.”
“You suspect she’s planning something?” Giles asks.
“I think time is running out,” Buffy says, remembering the knight’s warning. “In more ways than one.” She looks down and reaches to touch her belly, then stops and grips the edge of the countertop. “What if something else goes wrong? The monks’ spell already shorted a wire right out the gate. What if…? It would’ve been so much easier if… It would’ve been better.”
“There’s no way to know, to anticipate how things might have gone differently. As for what’s to come, I expect your mother has more insight.”
“Dr. Freeman says everything looks normal—”
“Looking normal isn’t gonna cut it, Mom. Whatever this is, it’s not normal.”
“It’s a normal, healthy baby girl,” Joyce adds softly.
“Right. Normal.” Avoiding her mother’s gaze, Buffy pushes away from the counter. “Rain check on the late night hot chocolate? I just wanna get some sleep.”
“We’ll talk strategy in the morning.” Giles nods at her, his expression softening. “Get some rest.”
Buffy nods, smiles on reflex when her mother squeezes her hand, then retreats to her bedroom. She lies awake for hours, hands resting at her sides, wishing she could forget the bump every time the baby kicks. She pretends she’s not mystically pregnant, that she’s just like every other college sophomore who lives at home to save money. That her boyfriend left town for a job and not because he was freaked out by the baby that came out of nowhere and is most definitely not his. She lets her mind drift back and imagine how things might have been, imagining a different life until the pressure on her bladder becomes unbearable.
She forces herself out of bed, feeling the weight of her distended belly change the way she moves. How she walks, how she stands, how she’s different. She walks across the hall to the bathroom, turns on the light and looks in the mirror. She lays a hand on her stomach, her palm tingling, and blanches at the feeling of wrongness.
It doesn’t feel natural, it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel like her body anymore. Not hers. She turns off the light, not wanting to see herself in the mirror anymore, then sits on the toilet, wishing the bulk at her middle weren’t so… in the way. It makes it harder to ignore when it’s always there.
She walks back to her bedroom, climbs carefully into bed and lies on her back. When sleep finally takes hold, she dreams of an army of knights, of Glory discovering she’s pregnant with the Key, of her wandering through a hospital corridor with blood draining from her body. She dreams of wounds bleeding, warm and slick, of pain leeching away life, each thread yanked loose by a cold, numbing grip. Death. She feels the world end, torn open, ripped at the seams.
She awakens to the echo of a scream.
Blinking, she shakes off the sluggish haze of sleep and glances at the bedside clock. 9 a.m. Her mom must’ve let her sleep in.
A crash sounds below, she hears a whimper, and the scream echoes in her mind again, not as a dream but a memory. She pushes herself out of bed and rushes down the hallway, racing towards the stairs. Her mom is crawling into the front hallway, clutching at her right arm, and Buffy flies down the steps, stumbling and nearly falling in her urgency. Then she sees Glory standing off to the side, in the living room, smiling and twirling a fireplace poker in her hand.
“Wakey wakey, Slayer runt,” Glory drawls and lifts an eyebrow at Buffy’s flannel pajamas, noticing her pregnant stomach. “Or not such a runt, huh? See, this is what happens when you sleep the day away—you start to lose that girlish figure. I told your mommy dearest you’d wanna join the party, but she kept insisting you needed your beauty sleep. Personally, I don’t see how sleep is gonna improve that bird’s nest hair you’ve got going on—”
“Save the fashion advice for the sycophants,” Buffy snaps, resisting the urge to comb her fingers through her knotted hair. She steps in front of her mom, standing between her and Glory. “If I wanna downgrade my look to streetcorner ho, I’ll give you a call.”
“Rude! Here I am a guest in your dingy little suburban hellhole and you’re insulting me? I should’ve figured. First you steal my Key and you refuse to give it back. Selfish, unreasonable, not what I’d call a gracious host. And now you’re mouthing off. No no no. The insults keep adding up.” Glory glances down at Joyce kneeling at Buffy’s feet, then smiles and lowers the fireplace poker, aiming it at Buffy’s belly. “You know how I balance out all those insults? Injury. I’ve never met a problem I couldn’t solve with a whole mess of pain.”
Joyce moans softly and the sound makes Buffy shudder and clench her fists. “Get out of my house.”
“Humans are so fragile. Bones snapping like twigs. Just a little poke and you’re gushing blood all over these hardwood floors.” Glory presses the poker against Buffy’s belly, flicks her eyes down at Joyce and smirks. “You’re lucky I didn’t break her neck.” Glory’s grin reminds Buffy of a shark, a hungry heartless predator. “Now, I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve got places to be and you’ve got a Key to rustle up and hand deliver. So consider this your first and only warning. Next time, the gloves come off.” Glory taps Buffy’s belly with the poker’s edge. “Got it?”
Buffy stands still, her hand on her mother’s shoulder, unflinching, watching the front door close shut behind Glory. The panic freezing her muscles melts away and she slumps to her knees, holding her mom close, careful to avoid putting pressure on the arm Joyce’s clutching to her chest. She notices a trail of blood at her mom’s temple and chokes back a sob.
Staying safe at home isn’t an option anymore.
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Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/410869.html