“A heavy heart, Beloved, have I borne/From year to year until I saw thy face,/And sorrow after sorrow took the place/Of all those natural joys as lightly worn/As the stringed pearls, each lifted in its turn/By a beating heart at dance-time. Hopes apace/Were changed to long despairs, till God’s own grace/Could scarcely lift above the world forlorn/My heavy heart. Then thou didst bid me bring/And let it drop adown thy calmly great/Deep being! Fast it sinketh, as a thing/Which its own nature does precipitate,/While thine doth close above it, mediating/Betwixt the stars and the unaccomplished fate.” ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Sonnet XXV: A heavy heart, Beloved, have I borne”
Buffy woke to find the bed next to her empty. “Spike?”
When there was no answer, she rose, pulling on the pair of pajama shorts she had tossed aside last night. She wandered through Spike’s silent home with a growing sense of trepidation.
“Spike?” There was still no answer, and Buffy wrapped her arms around herself tightly. “Spike!” she called again.
Wesley stood there in the hallway, gun in hand, and she frowned. “Wes? What are you doing here? Where’s Spike?”
“You can’t let them have their way.”
“Let who have whose way? Wes, where’s Spike?”
He shook his head mournfully. “I couldn’t stop them.”
“Oh, there you are, honey.” Joyce walked out of the kitchen with an infant in her arms. “You’d better hurry; you don’t have much time.”
Buffy rushed back to their bedroom, looking around again for any sign of Spike. Her fear was mounting now. He was in danger and she couldn’t get to him.
“What?” she cried, turning to see Willow in the doorway to the room. A medieval knight rose up behind her friend, and the point of a sword emerged from the center of her chest. “Willow!”
“It’s okay, Buffy. You can’t save everyone.”
A hand gripped her shoulder, and Buffy recognized Spike’s touch. She half-turned, expecting to see his handsome face, but what she did see was a gross caricature, a grinning skull with tattered skin and Spike’s eyes.
“Buffy! Wake up!”
She sat straight up in bed, gasping, her heart pounding. Spike sat up next to her, keeping a gentle hand on her shoulder so as not to spook her anymore than she already was. His skin was unmarred, his hair mussed, the sleepiness chased out of his eyes by her nightmare and his concern.
“Yeah, luv, it’s me.” His gaze was sympathetic. “Slayer dream?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“It can wait, then. Let’s go back to sleep. We can talk to your Watcher later.” Spike tugged her down to lay beside him and wrapped her in his arms. Buffy tried to relax; it wasn’t quite 4 a.m., and she knew that Giles would be asleep next to her mother. Joyce hadn’t been sleeping well recently, and Buffy didn’t want to cause any worry.
The images from her dream haunted her, however, and it took a long time for her to finally get back to sleep.
The sheets next to him were cool by the time Spike finally woke up for the second time. He was a little surprised to find Buffy already up; he was usually the first to rise, and he could hear a second heartbeat in the house. After a moment of concentration, Spike recognized Giles’ voice, and he got up swiftly, pulling on the pair of jeans he found on the floor and grabbing a mostly-clean t-shirt, which he donned on his way to the kitchen.
Buffy immediately fell silent when he walked in, and Spike frowned. He didn’t think they were in the business of keeping secrets anymore.
“Good morning, Spike,” Giles greeted him, then he looked at Buffy. “Perhaps you’d best start at the beginning.”
She nodded jerkily and described her dream in detail. Spike winced when she described Willow’s fate, as well as his appearance. “I don’t know what it means,” she finally said unhappily. “It doesn’t make any sense to me, Giles.”
“Slayer dreams rarely make sense before the circumstances they apply to arise.” Her Watcher shook his head. “The best we can do is to keep a sharp lookout, I’m afraid.”
“We’ve dealt with this sort of thing before, luv,” Spike pointed out. “We’ll deal with this, too.”
She didn’t appear convinced, but Spike had been around for her prophetic dreams in the past, and Buffy was always shaken afterwards. “I know. It was just—disturbing.”
“I did want to talk to Spike,” Giles began. “Although I’d prefer to do so with Wesley present.”
Buffy sat up straighter. “Why? What does Wesley have to do with this?”
“The Council has contacted me; they want Spike and Wesley to go to England, to Council Headquarters.”
“Why?” she demanded. “What do they want?”
“The Council wants them to complete an errand, from what I understand,” Giles responded. “They did help us out with the Initiative, and now they are requesting our aid in return.”
“Well, they can go to hell.” Buffy sounded irritable, and Spike didn’t blame her. He didn’t trust the Council either, but a debt was a debt, and it needed to be repaid. Spike hadn’t survived for this long without recognizing that fact, however distasteful it might be at times.
Spike put a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll give Wes a call; you can explain when he gets here.”
He just hoped that this didn’t end up being at all related to Buffy’s dream.
Wesley turned another page in his paperback. He’d picked up the latest John Grisham novel in the airport while on their last job, and he was enjoying his chance to read for pleasure. It wasn’t often that he was able to read something other than books on magic, demonology, or other supernatural matters.
Courts of law were an entirely different animal, and it gave him a nice mental break.
When the phone rang, Wesley let out an annoyed sigh and considered ignoring it. Then again, the only people who called were Spike, Willow, Tara, and telemarketers, which meant there was a 75% chance that he actually wanted to take the call.
“Wes. I need you at my place.”
“Now, preferably. Giles is here. Council has a job for us.”
Wesley’s heart sank. “The Council? Can’t we tell them to go to hell?”
“That’s what Buffy said, an’ I’ll give you the same answer: we owe them. We pay our dates, Wes. It’s the only way to keep our reputation.”
“Understood. I’ll be right over.”
Wesley already had a bad feeling about this. He didn’t like the idea of the Council needing something from them. He certainly didn’t appreciate the idea that he might have to confront old demons that he’d thought he’d put to rest.
The ride over to Spike’s took minutes, and Wesley entered reluctantly. “Spike?”
He entered the room slowly, stopping when he saw the others seated around the kitchen table, with identically uncomfortable expressions. “What’s going on?”
“You might want to sit down for this, Wesley,” Giles warned him.
Wesley took the fourth chair, glancing over at Spike. The vampire was staring at his hands, and he looked worried. “Giles?”
The older man cleared his throat. “It seems that the Council has discovered a prophecy that they believe may involve Spike.”
“Why Spike and Wesley, then?” Buffy demanded. “They could have asked for me.”
Giles took his glasses off and began polishing the lenses, a sure sign of trouble. “That I do not know, but I suspect that it has something to do with Wesley’s father.”
Wesley grimaced. “If he wants me back on the Council, he’s much too late. I’d really rather not go.”
“Fine. Then I’m going with Spike.”
Buffy sounded determined, but Wesley saw the look that Giles and Spike exchanged. “ I’m afraid that it would be unwise to leave the Hellmouth unguarded, Buffy.” Her Watcher’s voice was gentle but firm.
“Then don’t go.” Her voice was wavering now as she looked at Spike, but Wesley knew that it was only a matter of time before she capitulated to the inevitable.
“We’ve already talked about this, pet,” Spike said patiently. “The Council wankers helped us out of a tight jam, an’ we owe them. I don’t leave debts unpaid.”
“Fine. Then Wesley is definitely going, too.” She met Wesley’s eyes. “Just in case this is related to my Slayer dream.”
With that, she began to describe it while Wesley remained silent, not at all sure what to think about it, although the idea that something might happen Willow shook him up.
“From what you saw in your dream, I’m not sure that I will be of much help.”
“I don’t care. I know you’ll watch his back.” Her expression was pleading. “You have to promise me, Wes.”
“I’ll do my best.” He didn’t think he could promise more than that.
“That will have to do.” Buffy sighed. “When does Spike have to leave?”
“The tickets that the Council purchased require him to leave tomorrow.” Giles smiled. “They do not know that he has the Gem of Amara.”
“And I’d prefer to keep it that way.” Spike leaned back in his chair. “It’s our ace in the hole.”
“Understood.” Wesley sighed. “I suppose I’d better pack.”
Willow held the shirt up in front of her. “What do you think?”
Tara smiled indulgently. “I’m pretty sure that Wesley isn’t going to care what you wear, Will.”
“I know, but I want to look nice.”
“You’re going to look fine. What has you so worried?”
“I don’t know.” Willow pulled the shirt over her head and slumped down on her bed. “I just have a weird feeling about this trip that they’re taking. Wesley said he’d probably end up seeing his parents, and he has more issues with his than I have with mine.”
Tara winced. “And that’s saying something, huh?”
“They don’t even know I’m dating anybody,” Willow explained. “I don’t think they even know where I’m living now, and I doubt they care.”
Tara opened her mouth as though to say something, then stopped.
“What is it?”
“Nothing.” Tara forced a smile. “It’s no big deal.”
Willow didn’t buy that. From the few things that her friend had said, she knew that Tara didn’t like talking about her family. About the only thing she had said was that her mom had been the one to teach her about magic, and she was dead.
“Okay,” Willow said dubiously. “Anyway, I just don’t want Wesley to get hurt.”
“I understand that.” Tara smiled. “It’s going to be fine.”
“I hope so.” Willow gave her friend an encouraging look. “What about you? Any interesting women in your life lately?”
Tara shook her head. “No. It’s hard to be with someone when there’s no way they can share my entire life.”
Willow winced. “Yeah. You never know, though. You might find someone who knows about magic and demons.”
“I think you got lucky.”
Since Willow had been thinking about Wesley, she flushed. “There was Oz, too.”
Tara smiled. “He was nice. Have you heard from him?”
“No. I doubt I will. Oz was never one for writing, and with how things ended…” Willow trailed off. “I’m not surprised.”
She looked at the clock, alarmed. “I’d better get going. I’m going to be late otherwise.”
Willow dashed out and found Wesley waiting for her on his bike. “Ready to go?”
“Yep.” She tugged her helmet on and tightened the strap. “Where are we headed?”
“It’s a surprise.”
Willow climbed on the back of the bike without hesitation. She generally liked Wesley’s surprises.
He roared through the Sunnydale streets then towards the Pacific Highway, and Willow kept her arms wrapped tightly around his waist, her cheek on his shoulder. She wanted to stay as close to him as possible, knowing that a separation was coming.
The restaurant that Wesley pulled up in front of was a nice one; that much was obvious from the outside. She was glad that she’d taken care with her appearance, and she fluffed her hair when she pulled off her helmet.
“What’s up?” Willow asked when she settled into her seat at the table.
Wesley shook his head, his smile strained and hardly reassuring. “I just wanted to treat you to a nice dinner before I had to leave.”
“You’re not telling me everything.”
“No, I’m not, but it’s not mine to tell, I’m afraid.”
Willow frowned. “Wes—”
“It’s not important.” He reached across the table to take her hand. “Let’s just enjoy ourselves tonight.”
She wanted to press him; Willow wanted to know everything, even if knowing everything would only cause her to worry more. But Wesley could be stubborn, and she knew that if she pressed, he was less likely to tell her anything.
“Okay.” She squeezed his hand. “So, how was the rest of your day?”
When Tara opened the door to reveal Spike on the other side, she was more than a little surprised. “Spike. What are you doing here?”
“I needed to ask you for a favor. Can I come in?”
“Of course.” Tara stepped aside to allow him entrance into the dorm room. “If you need Willow—”
“I don’t, although you’re welcome to include her in this if you like.” Spike turned one of the chairs around to sit backwards. “Wes and I were supposed to head down to L.A. in a few days to take a delivery from one of our regulars. I’d like you and Buffy to go.”
Tara was a little surprised. “Why me?”
“Two reasons. The first is that I know you can drive.” Spike smiled, his expression fond. “Buffy isn’t quite ready for Los Angeles traffic yet.”
“And the second?”
“I’d like you to meet Robert.” Spike cocked his head. “I think you two would enjoy one another.”
Tara frowned. “Spike, you know I’m gay.”
He chuckled, a warm sound that called an answering smile from Tara. “I know that, pet. Think you might find an ally there is all. He’s been a real friend to me.”
“Fair enough. I’d be happy to help,” Tara replied. “What are we picking up?”
“Something Robert thought would help us out. He wasn’t clear on the phone. He just said that he thought it would help us out, and that Wes would have to translate most likely.”
“Couldn’t he have sent it through the mail?”
Spike shook his head. “No. There was something else, too, but he said I’d have to wait and see. Robert does like his surprises.”
“I don’t mind helping.”
“I appreciate it, Tara.” He rose. “I’d better go. We’re supposed to be at the airport soon. Buffy has the details, and she’ll ring you up in the next couple of days.”
“Be careful, Spike,” Tara said impulsively.
He cocked his head. “Something I should know?”
“No, I just think you should be careful.” Tara wasn’t sure how to put it, but she knew that he and Wesley would be on the Council’s turf, and that was always dangerous.
It was one of the reasons that she had no intention of ever going home.
Spike nodded. “We’ll be careful.”
Tara watched him leave, then sat down on her bed, picking up the book she had been reading before he arrived. Although she stared at the words on the page, she couldn’t concentrate on her mother’s old book.
She wondered how much Spike knew, if he could somehow sense her demon blood. Her twentieth birthday was coming up, and that’s when her father warned her the demon blood would show.
A year before, she would have been dreading that day. Now, however, she knew so much more and had seen so much more, that she no longer had quite the fear that she did. Why should she be frightened of her demonic side when Spike was a vampire, Anya had been a vengeance demon, and demons had aided Spike and Buffy in their fight against the Initiative?
But there was still a fear that she was as dangerous and evil as her father had assumed, even though her mother had been one of the kindest people she’d ever known.
Then again, her father had been wrong about so much, there was no reason he would be right about this.
Joyce put a hand on her rounded belly, feeling the flutter of life. At five months, her pregnancy was becoming obvious, a fact that Giles seemed to find endlessly fascinating.
She heard the front door open and close, and called out a greeting.
“Hello, honey.” She accepted Buffy’s kiss on the cheek. “Did Spike and Wesley get off okay?”
Buffy nodded. Joyce could see the worry stamped on her daughter’s face, and it pained her. A summer of rest had done wonders for Buffy, but now it seemed as though trouble was making its way to their doorstep once again. “They did.”
“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Joyce assured her. “Spike is very capable of taking care of himself.”
“And Wesley will watch his back,” Buffy added with a sigh. “It’s just the Council. Giles is okay, but most of them…” She trailed off.
Joyce’s eyes narrowed. “Particularly that man. What was his name?”
“The one who set up that test.”
“Him.” Joyce put plenty of venom into that one word. Pregnancy had had some interesting affects on her moods, and the very thought of the man who had nearly gotten her daughter killed was enough to enrage her.
A real smile lit Buffy’s face. “Remind me to sic you on Travers next time he comes into town. My money is on you.”
“Thank you, sweetheart.” Joyce took a deep, calming breath. “Would you like dinner? Rupert should be home shortly.”
“Yeah, sure. I didn’t have any other plans.”
Joyce paused as she reached for the handle on the fridge. “I know that you said you were okay with this, Buffy, but I also know that with your father…” She trailed off, unsure of how much Buffy knew about Hank’s current whereabouts. Joyce hadn’t heard from her ex-husband since her daughter had turned eighteen.
The flowers and Ice Capade tickets had been his last attempt to reach out to her on Buffy’s eighteenth birthday. Without a court order forcing him to pay child support, it was as though he’d forgotten that he’d ever had a child.
Joyce had attempted to get in touch with him last year, wanting to know if he would uphold their verbal bargain to split the costs of Buffy’s college tuition. She had been informed that he was doing a great deal of traveling—with his secretary.
“It’s okay, Mom.” Buffy propped her elbows on the counter. “Do you remember how it was before I was the Slayer? Before you guys were fighting all the time?”
Joyce nodded, unsure of where Buffy was going.
“That’s what it feels like, with you and Giles.” She tucked her hair behind her ears. “I know this sounds cheesy, but it’s kind of like I have a family again, and since both you and Giles know about me being the Slayer, it makes it easier.”
“And the baby?”
“It might be kind of cool.” Her daughter managed a real smile. “Weird, but cool.”
Joyce cupped Buffy’s cheek in her hand, looking into the eyes of her grown-up daughter, wondering if she was really equipped to start parenting all over again, and knowing that she didn’t have a choice.
She knew that she wouldn’t have had it any other way. “I’m glad you think so, Buffy. Would you mind setting the table?”
As she got the dinner things together, Joyce pushed aside the thought that things had been all too quiet for all too long.