Candles flicker on the nightstand, a charmed circle of light. She curls in the warmth of their bed, cocooned in blood-red sheets and ivory vampire. Sinewy arms hold her safe and tight against a lean, muscled torso. Spike’s chin rests in the crook of her shoulder, and his hand caresses the great swell of her belly as their child moves within her. Her body thrums with his somnolent purring growl. All her own power is bent inward now, and knowing that his strength guards her while she wallows through these last days is its own kind of bliss.
The bedroom door opens, flooding their lair with light. Buffy blinks. Doctor Sparrow stands broken-limbed in the doorway, grinning with his ruined mouth. Blood drips down onto his snowy lab coat. He pulls one rubber glove on with a snap. “It’s time,” he announces.
What? That can’t be right. She looks to Spike, bewildered, but he’s pushing her away. “That’s the way it works with demons, love,” he says. “You knew that.”
“I’m not ready!” she protests, but Sparrow limps over and pushes her down on the bed. Her bones are like water. Spike lights a cigarette and looks on with interest. Sparrow’s blood drip-drip-drips onto her belly, a deadly scarlet tattoo. She grabs the sheet and tries to wipe it away, but it just smears, painting larger and larger swathes of red across her body. It’s all over her hands now, and the baby is kicking, kicking hard.
“It smells blood,” Spike says knowingly, and the doctor laughs.
“Remember,” Sparrow says, “You asked for this.” And he plunges his hand into her belly, and drags out…
Buffy woke to a crumpled moonscape of scratchy grey wool, damp with drool beneath her cheek. Blood. Bone. Smell of ozone. Panic rolled her off the hard cot and she stumbled upright, clutching her butt-baring hospital gown close. The drugged grogginess was gone, and her head was clear. She wasn’t sure it was an improvement.
Where was she, anyway? A twelve by twelve cell with one open wall barred by an Initiative-style force field that crackled at her tentative finger-poke. A minimalist toilet decorated the wall opposite the spartan cot. The walls matched the paint job in the operating theater, so same Evil Underground Complex, probably. And across the hall…
“Beatrix Kiddo awakes,” a sardonic voice – hersardonic voice–said. “And I wonder what her story is. I’d say I was dying of curiosity, but…” The owner of the voice tossed honey-gold curls. “Little late for that.”
Her doppelganger smirked at her from across the corridor, milk-pale and stiletto-slim, lounging on a cot just as hard, in cell just as bare, as her own. It radiated cool sexual menace and something… something indefinable, a fillings-on-tinfoil shiver down the spine. Vampire.
The others hadn’t been vampires. Robots? Clones? Whatever. She wasn’t going for a face-off with a breeze up her backside. Buffy looked around; her clothes were stacked neatly on the foot of the cot. Grubby sneakers, grey knit workout pants, and an oversized hot-pink t-shirt weren’t haute couture, but they were familiar, and hers. Buffy dressed as quickly as possible, conscious of the vampire’s eyes upon her.
“Cat got your tongue?” her evil twin inquired.
“The doctor,” Buffy croaked. “And that…other guy. Is he… did I…?”
The vampire snickered. “You did plenty. Or so I hear.”
Blood and bone and… Her stomach made a break for freedom, and Buffy dove for the toilet.
When she finally raised her head, she felt… better. Surprisingly. Her throat was rough from barf-burn. She supposed she’d better get used to that. She fumbled with the spigots over the toilet bowl till one of them produced a thin stream of tepid water, and drank from cupped hands until she felt marginally human again.
Vampire Buffy scrutinized her through the force field, pink, perfect lips curled in a feline smile. After a moment she said, “What if I told you that the not-so-good doctor was one-quarter Slod demon?”
Buffy sat down on the cot with a thump, clutching her rebellious stomach. She scrunched her eyes shut. “What difference would that make?”
When she opened them, Vamp-Buffy was staring at her with golden-eyed intensity from beneath ridged brows, like her response had been a real surprise. “None, to me,” she said. “And maybe none to you. But it’ll mean a whole heck of a lot to them.
“There’s a them?” Of course there was a them. There was always a them.
“They put you in the cell across from the vampire,” her new best friend whispered. “Think about that. Right now? You’re the crazy rogue who put the human doctor in traction for a year. If he dies? Not pretty. But if I let my little bombshell drop…all of a sudden you’re the noble Slayer in pursuit of her duty.” Her tongue slicked across her fangs. “Again.”
Buffy’s jaw clenched. “And you’ll do me this awesome favor why?”
The bumps and ridges melted away from her alter ego’s face. “They’re planning a breakout. They’re either going to kill me or leave me here to shrivel up into a stick insect and starve. For years. Or centuries. I’ve never looked into the details.” Beneath the cool her voice was brittle, urgent. “Get me out of here. And I’ll get you out of here.”
“I don’t make deals with demons.” If this were a Disney movie, her nose would be three feet long by now.
The vampire’s smile went from kitteny to tigerish. “Oh, please. How much history do we share? You’ve made at least one already. I can smell it on you – the stench of power.” Her eyes sparked an avid gold. “All deep and dark and dangerous. Power I turned down – and how stupid was that, all things considered? Power they turned down.” She nodded down the hall. “If they got to make the choice at all. But you? You said yes. And now you’ve got an extra dose of Slayery goodness…or badness…right inside of you. Living and growing.”
In more ways than one. Could Vampirella smell her delicate condition? Buffy turned away, arms folded tight across her stomach. Probably; she was pretty sure the only reason Spike hadn’t put two and two together before (last night? Last week?) was because he’d simply couldn’t believe the evidence of his nose. “Is the doctor a Slod demon?”
There was no smile in those bright, wicked eyes. “I thought that didn’t matter.”
Of course it matters, she started to say, but the words jammed sideways in her throat. It hadn’t mattered when it would have mattered for it to matter.
“Think fast,” the vampire murmured. “Here come the Power Puff Girls.”
Buffy sidled up to the force field, craning her neck. Down the hallway came… her. And her. And her again. A power-walking trio of Buffys – what the heck. Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup. Three sharp-chinned faces, three pairs of inscrutable grey-green eyes. All three pulled up in front of Buffy’s cell, Buttercup and Bubbles unlimbering the tasers slung over their shoulders, and stared in formation. This week only ! Free visual laser peel with your incarceration!
“I want to see the men I hurt,” Buffy said, before her captors could whip out the soft cushions. “I need to know if they’re…”
“Is there supposed to be a ‘dead’ or an ‘OK’ after that ellipsis?” Blossom asked. She sauntered up to the force wall, matching Buffy’s pose exactly. Not quite her face (harder), not quite her body (thinner), but close enough for weirdness. It was like staring into a funhouse mirror that conveniently changed wash-day grubbies into a hard-core Kevlar vest and vaguely military-looking fatigues. The outfit didn’t quite match the mulberry leather Fossil clutch she had tucked under one elbow. “Let’s cut to the exposition,” she said. “This whole compound is a Wolfram & Hart holding dimension. They’ve been collecting Slayers from a bunch of different dimensions – some of us have been here for weeks. I don’t know what they wanted us for, but they’ve got a list, and I’m checking it twice, because some of them?” She nodded at the vampire. “Very naughty.”
“Takes one to know…” the vampire across the hall murmured.
Blossom whirled around. “Shut. Up,” she said in a voice of liquid nitrogen. The vampire zipped thumb and finger across her lips, smirking. Blossom turned back to Buffy. “So anyway. I had a little chat with Doc Sparrow. Kinda one-sided, considering the broken jaw, but to the point. He says that you’re knocked up with mind-controlling demon spawn and we can’t trust anything you say.” She smiled a big bright fake smile. “His word against yours. So what’s your word?”
Buffy caught her lower lip in her teeth. Across the corridor, her fangy alter ego blew her a kiss – One word from me will make it allll better. She’d made deals with vampires before. But only when she held the high ground, one way or another—even during the Angelus Affair, Spike had come to her. She wasn’t desperate enough yet to indebt herself to that. “Sparrow’s not wrong about the pregnant part,” she said. “He was trying to extract the baby. I freaked. I was out of control. Stopping me? Great idea. But – ” she waved at the three of them. “Looks to me like you’ve all got some walking-around-free-now reason to be glad I was hopped up on cranky pills.”
“She did fritz half the force locks,” Buttercup pointed out, raking blood-red nails through short, spiky blonde locks. She was even thinner than Blossom, shrink-wrapped in black leather, the points of her collarbones razor-sharp beneath a lace cami. “We owe her one.”
“Right. Like that was on purpose,” Bubbles muttered. Except for the bright blue-green hair, she looked…well, not quite as thin as Blossom, and there was something a little weird about the cut of her clothes, but compared to Buttercup, who looked like she’d wandered out of a Heart video by mistake, definitely on the normal side. The two of them exchanged distrustful glares. Trouble in paradise?
“What I think,” Buffy said, “is that you wouldn’t be standing here swapping banter if you weren’t already thinking about letting me out.”
Blossom’s lips quirked. “You know you all too well. We did some CSIing of our own.” She held up her mulberry leather Fossil clutch – wait, no, Buffy’s mulberry leather Fossil clutch, its stylish lines bulging with a familiar litter of receipts, credit cards, and scraps of paper with mysterious phone numbers scrawled on them. Blossom flipped it open. “Unflattering name change on all your ID. Checks with the wedding ring. Pay stub from Ice World. Business cards for Bloody Vengeance Inc. Magical Supplies & Slayage At Reasonable Rates. Buffy Summers-Pratt, mild-mannered skating instructor by day, vampire slayer by night! So far, so freakishly normal – except for one eensy thing.”
She held up a snapshot. It was Spike, a-sprawl on the couch at 1630 Revello Drive. Dawn had taken it just a few weeks ago, testing out her new camera, and Buffy had snagged a copy and stuck it in her wallet on a whim. Quintessential Spike, smirking at the camera, black tee tight over muscled shoulders, one sandy curl working its way free of the tyranny of gel. She could almost smell tobacco smoke. Spike-missage hit, so acute it made her chest ache. She wanted to reach into the photograph and drag him out.
“I could be wrong,” Blossom said, “but I’ve looked Spike in the eye a lot, and I’d bet a mani/pedi at the Grove that this is Spike 1.0, Soul Not Included. Which makes me wonder what he’s doing taking up couch space. Not to mention wallet space.”
Oh. Right. Once upon a not-that-long-ago time, the idea that Spike loved her had been unbearable. The idea that she might ever love him back, unthinkable. This could be tricky. Buffy took a deep breath. Alternate universes, right? Was a good(ish) Spike really that much more unlikely than a world without shrimp? “It’s a really long story. Like, Tolstoy long. Does the Initiative ring a bell?”
Buttercup looked blank, but Blossom and Bubbles nodded. “So he’s chipped,” Blossom said.
“Um…actually…not anymore.” Buffy took aim at breezy and confident. “Willow took the chip out.”
“So… he’s got a soul?”
Oh, great. Blossom’s Spike had a soul? He probably picked up his own towels, too. “Not as such. But it’s OK. He’s reformed. Mostly.” From their expressions, a global crustacean shortage would have been an easier sell. “Remember the me-being-pregnant part? Spike’s the father. And my husband. Hence the living in my house. Did I mention he’s alive now?”
At least, she hoped so. What if Warren had zapped him someplace, too? Or worse…what if Warren hadn’t? Most humans had no idea how fast a vampire could move. Even if the dimensional zapper thingy hadn’t needed time to recharge, Spike could have had Warren by the throat before his finger could tighten on the trigger a second time. And Spike… would be really, really ticked off. Recipe for badness, coming right up. She trusted him, she really did…but everyone had limits. And Spike’s were a little more limiting than most people’s.
Bubbles scowled, oblivious to her angst. “Oh, no. Do not tell me that he shanshued. Not without a soul.”
Shan-what? Wasn’t that Angel’s prophecy thing? “I didn’t say he was human,” Buffy replied with an impatient head-shake. “Just alive. Hence the fatherhood. There was Mohra blood. It was a thing.”
“So let’s sum up,” Blossom said drily. “You’ve gone rogue, and you’re working a pay-for-slay black market demon parts racket while knocked up with the demon spawn of the second-worst vampire in history. And the first thing you do here is beat an unarmed doctor half to death.” She flicked the business card at the force wall; it sparked briefly and fluttered to the floor.
Anya was so right; it was all in the marketing. Buffy gritted her teeth. “The racket,” she said, “is a legitimate business. With W-2s and everything. I’m a consultant, in the copious spare time I have left over from my day job and the pro bono slayage, in which Spike is my consultant, thank you very much. And no, I’m not on speaking terms with the Council, if it’s any of your business, which I’m thinking not. And even if it is, since when is telling the Council of Watchers to go play with their bookmarks a reason to keep me on the Group W bench with Velma Kelly over there?”
She shot a look across the hall; Vampire Buffy was grinning. Spike could be dead. Or making Warren dead, and she wasn’t sure which was worse. Maybe she was that desperate, after all. “And besides,” she forced out, “I think the doctor might have been… part demon.”
Her three inquisitors exchanged looks – started, wary, suspicious. “What makes you think so?” Bubbles asked.
“Just a feeling,” Buffy mumbled. A big neon sign saying “LIAR” was probably popping on over her head. “You know. Like with that roommate we had freshman year.”
Blossom looked at Bubbles, who looked at Buttercup, who shrugged. “Don’t ask me. I went to the college of hard knocks.”
“What, none of the rest of you noticed?” the vampire inquired mockingly. “I smelled it the minute I saw him. For God’s sake, he works for Wolfram & Hart.”
“We already have one rogue in the clubhouse,” Bubbles said with a stiletto glance in Buttercup’s direction.
“And one quitter.” Buttercup twirled a finger. “Go team.”
Bubbles’s cheeks blazed. “It’s not quitting when there’s no world left to save!”
“Stop it, both of you.” Blossom inspected Buffy narrowly through the shimmer of the force wall. Buffy could see it in her eyes: belief. Grudging, unhappy belief, but it was there. Wouldn’t believe her, but when an evil bloodsucking fiend stood up for her, boy howdy… “Any minute now Wolfram & Hart may realize that something’s wrong and send the Brute Squad after us. Or just wait for us to starve. We don’t have time to waste. Or a lot of choice about who we trust.” She tossed her no-nonsense ponytail over her shoulder and stepped aside with an after-you gesture at Buttercup, who shrugged and punched a code into the electronic lock next to the cell. The force wall disappeared with a crackle. “I’d say this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but so far? I really don’t like you.”
She spun on her heel and headed back the way they’d come. A breath of fresh air didn’t actually rush into the cell as the force wall came down, but Buffy shivered anyway. The vampire smirked at her as she walked past. “Remember,” she whispered. “You owe me.”
“How do you know I won’t just leave you in there?” Buffy hissed back.
The vampire smiled. “Because when I was you, I wouldn’t have.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/234315.html