[A/N: I figure, if I can stay a couple of chapters ahead, I’ll be in pretty okay shape, if something comes up unexpectedly, right? Well, that’s the plan anyway. We’ll just see how that works out. . . . Anyway, on this one, title and quotes are as attributed. Disclaimers prove that the evil little genius owns it all and only lets us play in the playground.]
Previously: Tara has admitted to herself that she’s pregnant and everyone else is meeting with Riley and Graham in the Magic Box. This picks up immediately following the last installment.
Chapter Six Never Explain
Never hate your enemies.
It affects your judgment.
Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather III, 1990
– your friends do not need it
and your enemies will not believe you anyhow.
Family faces are magic mirrors.
Looking at people who belong to us,
we see the past, present, and future.
Gail Lumet Buckley
And I wonder
day to day
I don’t like you
I don't need your shit today
your pathetic in your own way
I feel for you
Better fuckin' go away
I will behave
Better fuckin' go away
I'm doin' the best I ever did
I'm doin' the best that I can
I'm doin' the best I ever did
now, go away
Godsmack, Godsmack II, Whatever
Spike knew. . .
He knew. Damn vampire. Spike knew the secret she’d been hiding, even from herself. What he didn’t know was how or who. Tara figured she had another day or two at most before he spilled it all. And she certainly didn’t want Oz to find out that way, which meant she had to track him down tonight and tell him.
It was Tuesday and that meant rehearsal night. They had no plans to meet, though that rarely was something they did. He had a right to know, to find out from her. She already knew what her position about it was. Tara might not be ready, might not have her future all settled, but this was quite possibly her only chance to have a child of her own blood, and she wasn’t going to let that slip from her hands.
The fact this baby also had werewolf DNA didn’t faze her in the least. She was already half in love with it.
Groaning at the thought of having to move, Tara slowly got to her feet, fighting the nausea. New respect bloomed in her for Buffy, who had not only suffered this, but then fought. Tara wondered if there had been times when Buffy had thought about puking on the vampires instead of staking them.
She was more than halfway up the basement stairs when the back door opened and Oz’ voice called out, sounding unusually cheerful. “Hello? Anybody around?”
“Hi.” Tara couldn’t look at him, instead ducking her head and searching the cabinets for something carbonated and sweet. Spying a Dr. Pepper hidden behind Spike’s stash of beer, she breathed a sigh of relief. Something of home. . . . yeah, just what I need.
Oz sniffed the air, his sense altering him to something not being right with her. “What’s shaking?”
My nerves. . . Tara smiled despite those nerves and figured there was no way to just chitchat about this. “Are you . . . . are you staying tonight?”
“Thought I would. Unless you’ve got other plans.” He was looking at her steadily, an odd expression on his usually impassive features.
“No. No, plans. But I . . . I need to talk to you about some. . . something.” Damn. Damned stutter. Tara swallowed down half the bottle, feeling the liquid settle the roiling in her belly.
He waited quietly, not pushing her at all, just taking a seat at the center island.
Tara closed her eyes, searching for the right way to broach this subject. Finding no inspiration behind her closed eyes, she plunged right in. “Re . . remember that night? When we. . .? Ah. I’m . . . I’m pregnant.”
Oz blinked. Slowly. He stared at her, his expression blank save for the lights twinkling in his eyes. He stayed like that for long minutes. Tara could almost sense the thoughts whirling behind that unflappable facade, feel the weight of his ruminations.
His words, when they came, didn’t shock her. “Guess they lie about it not happening the first time.”
They lapsed into silence. Tara was afraid of saying anything more, while Oz obviously composed himself. To occupy her hands while she was waiting for him to speak, she started opening cabinets, pulling out a box of brownie mix. When in doubt, chocolate always makes things better. . .
She looked up, fork in hand while she stirred the batter. “Yeah?”
“My parents are leaving Sunnydale.”
Not fazed at all by his seeming non-sequitur, Tara continued stirring. “When are they leaving?”
“Oh. Where are they going?” She greased the pan, debating internally about putting walnuts or pecans in the brownies before changing her mind and deciding on leaving them plain.
“To Arizona. They offered me the house.” He swiped some of the raw batter, licking his fingers noisily.
A slow, crooked smile crossed her lips and she finally looked over at him. “And?”
“There’s a lot of room. For people. Even little ones.”
She decided then, to play along with him. His sense of humor was infectious, even though it never showed on his face. “How much room?”
“Enough for a couple of people. People who might be a family.” They were staring at each other and Oz swiped his finger in the batter again.
“Families are good things.” Tara slapped his hand, then dumped the batter into the baking pan.
“They are. Even when the family isn’t conventional.” He smiled, finally, the expression on his face matching the one in his eyes. “I think I might take the house. I just need a roomie.”
There was real laughter in her eyes, though it was tinged with a bit of apprehension. “Do you?”
“I do. And I would rather live with someone who was a part of my family.” He took the now empty bowl, running his finger along the side. His eyes softened, and she could nearly see the moment when he was done playing word games with her. “Someone who is my family.”
She sighed, turning to place the brownie pan in the oven. “I don’t have a lot of money.”
Oz was shaking his head. “Maybe it’s time I got something resembling more steady income. Could teach guitar and piano.” He shrugged. “Are you okay with this?”
“Better than I was before.” Tara looked at him from behind lowered lashes. “I was worried, about. . . about a lot of things.”
He nodded. “I get that.” Oz got up from the counter, and without giving her a chance to move away from him, he grabbed her hands with both of his. “You aren’t alone. And aside from a couple of nights a month, I can do the dad thing while you’re still in school. I’m empowered enough to be the stay-at-home guy.”
“Yeah, you and Spike can do the dad thing.”
Oz grinned, a real, wide smile covering his face. “Werewolf and vampire babies? Is the Hellmouth gonna explode?”
Tara was shaking her head, laughing at him. “Only if the werewolf and vampires are having babies together.”
“Daycare on the Hellmouth.” Oz snickered. “Could be interesting.”
“I don’t think that’s a smart thing to do. The chip controls his behavior. Without it he’d go back to killing.” Riley spoke to Buffy, but his eyes were focused on Giles, obviously believing him the more reasonable of the two.
“See, that’s where you’d be really wrong.” Buffy shifted, obviously trying to get comfortable. When that didn’t work she hauled her very pregnant body off the chair and started pacing around. “We want it removed.”
Her movement and the size of her belly caught his eye and Riley couldn’t look away. “What happened? I got a letter from Xander last August. He wrote that you died.” He watched her pace slowly from the table to the bookshelves and back, his voice filled with confusion. “How did you get from being dead to this?”
Dawn couldn’t help the giggle that welled up in her throat at the stupid question. It didn’t help that Buffy looked up at Riley with an expression that was clearly one of Spike’s – the ‘are you completely daft?’ look that always accompanied really stupid questions. Seeing the smile curling on Wesley’s lips, Dawn dropped into a chair, muttering, “Sex education sucks in the military.”
Anya started to add her own comment, changing her mind at the last second when she caught the look on Rupert’s face. Spike and Buffy shared a look, then after a moment of pointed and silent communication, she huffed out a loud breath, turning her back to Riley’s gaze. “The how and why are the usual ways, Riley.”
Buffy waddled toward the training room door, stopped for a moment and then turned around. “You know what? We’re so not doing this. I want the chip out. Like yesterday.“
“I think I deserve an explanation, Buffy.”
Everyone stared at him, with varying degrees of shock and outrage. Buffy shared a look with Spike, rolling her eyes. “No, not so much. You left me, remember? After getting caught cheating.” She stepped forward, her cheeks flaring with spots of color. “So I’m thinking you don’t deserve anything.”
Riley stiffened at the mention of his past transgression and slowly got to his feet. He was at a distinct disadvantage sitting down and he didn’t like it. “I won’t give the order for anything unless I have some more information.”
For the first time since the Initiative agents entered the building, Spike opened his mouth. “You have all the information she’s willin’ to give you. Slayer trusts me, an’ that’s all you need to know.”
“Well I don’t trust you and I give the orders to my men, not Buffy.” Riley’s stance tightened. “So no orders get issued until I have some information.”
Buffy blew out a breath, shifting her hair away from her eyes. Her hands landed on her hips and she very nearly snarled her next words at Riley. “Fine. You want information. Here’s all you’re getting. I died closing the dimensional walls Dawn’s blood opened up. Willow brought me back without telling anyone what she was doing.” She walked closer, her finger pointing at his chest. “I fell in love after she brought me back. I got pregnant. There’s your information.” She poked him once, falling silent.
A muscle was ticking in Riley’s cheek, but Buffy completely ignored it. Her outburst had drained her a bit, and though Spike could feel it through the bond, neither of them allowed it to show. Gritting her teeth, she backed away from Riley, throwing her hands up. “There it is. It should be more than enough for you to issue that order.”
“What’s your reason for having the chip removed?” He was pushing it and Riley knew that. Part of him was beginning to suspect the impossible, though his brain was insisting his suspicions couldn’t possibly be true. However, it was that perverse part of him – the part that constantly pushed – that was driving him now. He wanted Buffy to admit who it was she was in love with, who the father of her child was.
Unexpectedly, it was Giles who spoke. “Our reasons are numerous. And for your purposes, that should be sufficient.”
“So you’re just going to unleash a vicious killer because . . . “ Riley’s voice trailed off and he looked between Giles and Buffy to fill in the blank.
It was clear to all of them what Riley was fishing for and why, though they all followed the earlier decision to keep him in the dark for as long as possible. Until the chip was removed, Spike was in a precarious position. There was no telling what Riley’s reaction would be if he discovered the truth.
“Because he’s the strongest ally I have and I need him to help protect me and my babies.” Buffy wasn’t going to budge, wasn’t going to give him any more information than that.
It took him a moment, but the information she dropped finally registered. “Babies?”
“I’m having twins.” All the emotion she’d expended finally caught up with her. “I’m tired. I need to sleep.”
“Let’s go, then.” Spike headed for the door, Buffy and Wesley following. “Bit?”
“Why is he going?” Riley reached out a hand to snag Buffy’s arm and she pulled away too quickly, losing her balance. She stumbled, nearly knocking Wesley over, who overcompensated and nearly upended them both. Spike was back at her side, his arm curling around her waist, holding her upright, long before she could hit the floor.
“All right?” His thumb rubbed over her side, the movement hidden by her loose shirt. She clutched his forearm tightly, her fingers digging into his skin the only outward sign of her agitation.
“Wanna go home.” She rested against his chest for a brief second, not long enough for Riley to notice. Straightening away from him, she huffed out a breath. “My feet hurt.”
Spike whispered softly into her ear as he let her go. “Give you a foot massage after we get home.”
Riley caught the smile she sent Spike’s way and his suspicions suddenly didn’t seem so farfetched. There still remained a kernel of doubt though, because the other Englishman, the one he didn’t know and no one had introduced, moved quickly to her side. He started to speak, but Buffy held up a hand, forestalling his comments.
“Look, Riley. I’m really tired and my feet hurt. I’ve got a yoga class at nine tomorrow morning, so I need to get some rest. You’ve got twenty-four hours to make a decision.”
She headed for the door, followed by both of the younger Brits and Dawn. “Bye.”
They were gone, none of them sparing a backward glance and Riley realized he’d been summarily dismissed.
“I need to close up the shop for the night.”
Brought back to earth by Giles’ comment, Riley stared at him for a second, then without further comment, he and Graham left the building.
Connor flipped down off the upper level, waited five minutes then headed for the back door. “You coming back to the house?”
Giles and Anya shared a quick look and the twinkle in her eyes made his decision for him. “No, I believe I’ll call.” Quickly glancing at Connor, who was shaking his head, Giles continued, “Be careful out there.”
“You too, Pop.”
When Giles grumbled about being anyone’s grandfather, Anya took pity on him and pulled him into a deep kiss after quipping, “Most virile grandfather I’ve ever met.”
It was obvious they were being followed. They had in fact, planned on it. Which explained why Wesley was sleeping at Revello Drive, why Connor had lagged behind, and why they’d had Tara and Giles reinforce the wards. They couldn’t do much about video surveillance, but they could mask heat signatures and shield warp some of the audio. It wasn’t much, but given their power issues, it was the best they could do. Tara’s abilities combined with Wesley’s and Giles’ were almost a match for what Willow had once been able to tap into, but they were hampered by their refusal to work dark magic. Even with the addition of Anya, they still fell short.
Spike walked two paces behind Buffy, letting Wesley take position beside her. They wanted to keep Finn and his goons guessing for as long as possible, dropping enough unspoken clues about Wesley to keep them from suspecting the truth. It irked him that he couldn’t flaunt his relationship, to rub Finn’s nose in the reality that was life at Revello Drive. He couldn’t though, and what irritated him even more was that it had been his own suggestion to keep them guessing. His aggravation kept growing, though, fueling his possessive anger simmering just below the surface.
The four commandos trailing them stayed just at the edge of his awareness, prickling the hairs on the back of his neck. His nerves were jittering, electrical impulses twitching and jumping along his back and shoulders. Finn’s obnoxious odor was in his nostrils again, bringing back all sorts of unwanted memories of cold sterile walls and un-anaesthetized surgical procedures, stuff that had fed his nightmares far longer than he’d ever willingly admit. An involuntary low growl caught in his throat and Buffy’s shoulders twitched, her head angling to look at him over her shoulder.
“You okay?” At his look, she flinched. “Stupid question, right?”
He growled something again, then flashed her a small, tight smile. “Jus’ keep walkin’.”
“How many?” The question was more for Wesley’s benefit, since she already had an answer.
“Four.” Spike swung away from Dawn, who stumbled at his answer. “Finn an’ the other git are part of the group.”
“What are we gonna do about it?” She hissed, barely loud enough for the two in front of them to hear her. “Are we just gonna let them follow us?”
“Kind of hard to prevent them, seein’ as how we’re even numbers. ‘Sides, don’t really wanna make enemies with them just yet.” Spike kept walking, belatedly realizing Dawn had stopped to look at him incredulously.
“Are you crazy? What the hell?”
“Bit, they know where the house is anyway, ‘s not like the location’s changed.” He looked at her like she was the crazy one, shaking his head when she started spluttering her objections. “We want the soldier boys to think we’re . . . more vulnerable than we are, yeah? Don’t want them . . . “ When it looked like she still wasn’t buying his explanation, Spike grabbed her arm, then whispered low into her ear. “Same reason we’re not tellin’ ‘em who, got it?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I get it. But I still think it’s a stupid plan.” She pulled her arm away roughly, then wrapped it more comfortably around Spike’s forearm. “Who was the genius that came up with that idea anyway?” When he refused to meet her gaze, she rolled her eyes and huffed out a sigh. “Don’t tell me. You and Buffy decided this on the way to the Magic Box, and just expect the rest of us to just come up with the details.”
He lowly growled her name, then broke into a reluctant smile when her mutters of “I can’t believe you guys save the world” reached his ears.
Connor couldn’t believe how stupid and unobservant the Commandos were. Not a one of them realized he was behind them, tracking their every move. Not even the ones Lawson and the others were tracking had a clue. Granted, he had abilities and skills none of them had, since they were nothing more than souped-up, steroid-ridden humans, but it was almost laughable how none of them even thought to just. . . look behind them.
He shook his head, passing one of the Brachens, his lips curling in a slight smile. Dylan nodded, then shifted his attention back to the parking ticket he was writing. Connor thought it incredibly funny that the soldiers hadn’t even noticed him standing over them in the restricted book section of the Magic Box. He’d been ready to swoop down and intervene if things got too hot and it looked like Spike and Wesley were going to have to get physical. Instead it had been an almost total bust, with Buffy verbally putting the soldier in his place.
Dawn had filled him in on the history between Buffy and Riley without going into a whole lot of detail just before the hurried meeting. Connor couldn’t picture them together, wondering how someone like Buffy could even waste her time on a guy like Riley.
Once he was certain everyone else was home and safely inside, Connor waited a few more minutes, then headed off after two of the commandos. Neither one of them was the great git, but he didn’t exactly care.
With an all over body stretch, Connor let them get a block away, then lightly ran after them. At the very least, he’d get to work on his tracking skills.
His grin was very reminiscent of another’s, deceptively gentle, yet extremely feral. Had Buffy or Spike seen it, they would have both known who that smile had been inherited from.
to be continued. . . .
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