“I need the Scoobies,” Spike said when he came into the hospital room.
Buffy had been near asleep, and Matthew had fallen asleep, bored, on the guest couch. Sandra looked up from her phone, where she was playing some kind of game.
“I said I need the Scoobies,” Spike said, his voice raw. “I can’t sort this out alone, I need help. We need another Scooby meeting.”
“Dawn’s already on her way,” Buffy said. “Vi will be here in two days. I can call Giles and Will, see if they can spare at least a Zoom meeting.”
“I think I need them on deck,” Spike said. “Red at least. Can we put a rush on it?” When Buffy didn’t answer, Spike closed his eyes. “It’s tearing me apart.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Buffy said. “We’re talking about what to do with Vivian, aren’t we?”
“Yeah,” Spike said. “I’m going mad, I need solutions, from people who know what’s at stake, and aren’t completely evil.”
“What is at stake?” Sandra asked.
Spike only cringed, and his jaw twitched. Buffy could have answered for him. His heart. But she didn’t say it.
“It’s life or death again,” Buffy said. “Last time we were dealing with getting a wanted child. This time we need to find a solution for….” She stopped.
“For an unwanted one,” Spike said quietly. “It’s bigger than I can handle.” He was almost whispering.
“I’ll call Willow,” Sandra said. “You call Giles. We’ll get this sorted.” She pulled out her phone and went out into the hallway.
“Thanks, pixie,” Spike said.
Buffy took a deep breath. Calling Giles was going to be complicated. While Xander had told Willow about Vivian, Giles still didn’t know. Buffy looked up his number on her phone and pressed send. She was going to have to break it to him carefully.
Grace woke up and made a cooing sound.
“Can you get her?” Buffy said to Spike who had already jumped to the baby’s side. “She needs fed again. There’s another syringe of colostrum by the sink, and then I’ll nurse her.”
Giles’ phone picked up. “Hello?”
“Buffy, congratulations. Dawn told me the baby was born. I was just thinking of calling you.”
“I need more than a phone call, Giles, we need another Scooby meeting.”
“Really? The whole team? What is it this time?”
“No. Spike’s daughter. Spike created a vampire daughter back in World War I. And she’s here.”
A sound over the line, as if Giles had just dropped a cup or knocked over a paperweight or something. “Are you in any danger?”
“Some, but she’s locked up for now. We need to figure out what to do with her.”
Giles was quiet for a moment. “I take it there is a question as to what you think should be done?”
“We need options, Giles. Can you come in with Dawn, or not?”
“I will contact the Slayers for a private flight. I can be there by morning.” He paused. “Well, afternoon, there.”
“Thank you, Giles. Bring every book you can think of, every idea that great mind of yours can summon.” She looked up, and Spike nodded at her, saying she might as well say it. “Spike’s desperate.”
“I will see you soon, then,” Giles said. “Don’t let her hurt anyone.”
“We won’t. Love you. See you soon.”
A minute later, just as Spike had dribbled the last of the colostrum into Grace’s mouth, Sandra came back into the room. “Willow says she can be on her way here as soon as she gets the spell ingredients together.”
“Spell?” Buffy asked.
“This is an emergency, and it takes forever to fly out of Dharamsala. She’s going to use magic, at least to get here. And she’s bringing Oz, too.”
“It’ll be good to see Oz again. I haven’t seen him since your wedding.”
“Well, he wants to stay with Willow, and he was hoping to meet little Grace anyway. They should be here by tomorrow night.”
“And Dawn’s coming in on the afternoon flight, and Giles will be in around the same time. So everyone should be here by tomorrow night. Is that soon enough?” Buffy said.
“Thanks,” Spike said. “Don’t know how long I can take this kind of limbo.”
“It’ll be fine,” Sandra said. “And on that note, I need to get Matthew home.” She picked up the sleeping three year old and tossed him over her shoulder. He woke up a little, but left his head leaning heavily on his mother. “I hope they’ll let you out tomorrow, Buffy. I think even you would rather have the Scooby meeting at my house rather than all crammed in here with the nurses poking their heads in.”
“Thanks, Sandra. Tell Xander, too. Tomorrow is going to be quite the meeting.”
“Buffy, she’s gorgeous!” Willow exclaimed.
“Isn’t she?” Buffy said. She was holding the baby in Sandra’s living room as Willow came bustling in. Turned out it had taken her longer than she’d anticipated, as it was nearly sunset, but she came in with a suitcase and her embroidered backpack as if she’d just stepped home from college. Buffy felt oddly nostalgic.
As Willow went to her knees by Buffy’s feet, Oz came in carrying someone Buffy did not expect. “Is that Sonam?” she asked.
Willow nodded. “Sonam, this is Buffy, and little… Grace?”
“Grace,” Buffy said. “I’m glad to meet you, Sonam.”
“Hello, Buffy,” Sonam said quietly in a slightly accented little-girl voice. “I’m pleased to meet you.”
Sonam was about five, and small for her age, but despite her Tibetan heritage she had a strong look of Oz, as well.
“Willow, we’re running late. We’re gonna have to set up now,” Oz said.
“Sorry, sorry. We got tangled in the transductive energies and it took me like an hour to untie them to get here. Is everyone here?”
Xander shook his head. “Giles and Dawn haven’t come in yet, and Sandra’s late from work, but she did set up Sonam’s… uh…”
“Playpen,” Willow supplied. “That’s great, we’re going to need it soon.”
“Yeah, it’s in the kitchen. She’ll be tucked up against the stove, but there’s enough room.”
“Playpen? What are you talking about?” Buffy asked.
“It’s a full moon tonight, Buffy,” Willow said.
Buffy felt like an idiot. Of course it was. “Oh, god, I’m sorry! We called at the absolute worst time.”
“No, it’s okay. It’s just Sonam doesn’t like to turn without me there, and Oz doesn’t like her to turn without him there, so we made it a family trip.”
“You worked this out with Sandra?”
“Of course. I honestly thought you knew.”
“I just… I didn’t think,” Buffy said. “I’ve had kind of a lot on my mind.” She ruefully touched her head. “Is there any danger?”
“Not with me here,” Willow said. “That’s the whole point. Sandra and Xander are okay with it.”
“Speaking of which,” Xander said. Sandra’s car pulled into the driveway. “What kept you?” he asked as she came in.
“We had a little impromptu celebration at the Refugee Center,” Sandra asked. “Have you heard?”
“Heard what?” Xander asked.
“I should have called you!” Sandra said. She was beaming beneath her feathers. “Oh, I should pull up the announcement, the whole Center just burst into applause when the news came down.”
“What news?” Buffy asked.
“Everyone, it’s the greatest thing. The bill has already passed, and all we need to do now is wait for the timeline to run. The U.S. has vowed within six months to put an end to demon trafficking, with a firm stop to all of it within a year.”
“What?” Buffy asked. “That’s….”
“I know! Amazing, isn’t it?”
“Is it… I mean… am I out of a job?” Buffy was stunned. She couldn’t believe she’d be out of a job. There were too many dark demons killing people, for one.
“No, they made no provision for killing us, so that’s still legal. Something about how many zones in the U.S. are still at war. But within a few months it will no longer be legal to sell living demons, demon parts, or demon eggs. And Buffy, it was your testimony that helped make this happen.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Buffy said.
“No, but you did. You put a human face on the half-demon issue, and your stance as an American hero who both fought the demons and believed in demon rights…. Do you know what this means?”
“The traffickers are out of work,” Buffy said.
“No! It means the work can begin now! Our work! They’ve outlawed slavery, trafficking, meat selling. This means we’re almost people!”
“It means you have as many rights as an exotic animal, no more,” Xander said.
“Oh, you party pooper, let us be happy,” Sandra said, kissing Xander on the cheek.
“Sorry, Muppet, life has turned me into a cynic,” Xander said, running his fingers through her feathery hair.
She turned to Oz and Sonam. “It’s good to see you again, Oz. Nice to meet you, Sonam.”
“It’s almost moonrise,” Oz said quietly to Willow.
“Oh,” Willow said. “Sonam? You ready to play?”
“Yeah, okay. Is it all right? I don’t want to hurt anyone.” The gentle sentiment from such a tiny mouth touched Buffy’s heart.
“Matthew and I should be immune to any effects from accidents,” Sandra said, showing the little family into the kitchen. “And we’ll keep you away from anyone else. How is this? Does it look fun?”
Sonam’s face broke into a little grin when she saw what had been set up in Sandra’s big kitchen. A dog run about the size of a twin bed had been erected, six feet high with a wire mesh ceiling, with cushions and soft toys lining the bottom. There was even a big hambone with meat still on it in a non-breakable dish, next to a bowl of water.
Sandra touched the run. “That should be big enough to play in, shouldn’t it?”
“Play?” Buffy asked.
“That’s what we call turning,” Willow said. “Because it can be fun. Okay, Sonam, Oz, why don’t you go change?”
“On it,” Oz said. “Is there a room we can…?”
“My bedroom, up the stairs to the right,” Sandra said. “We’ll be waiting for you.”
“Change?” Buffy asked.
“Clothes,” Willow said. “We keep loose clothes on, and talk to her, and treat her like she’s still a person even when she’s wolfy. It’s important as she learns to control her transformations. Let me just reinforce this run here. This is really excellent, Sandra, I can reimburse you.”
“I’m glad to help Xander’s friends,” Sandra said. “And a little werewolf infection isn’t enough to faze me.”
Willow touched every joint and corner of the dog run. The little cage made creaking noises as she reinforced it. As she was working Spike came downstairs, curious.
“Oh, guys, perfect, can you light some candles in here? They help a bit,” Willow said.
“Yeah, I can manage that,” Spike said. “Where?”
“I bought a slew of them when I heard Willow was bringing Sonam,” Xander said. “They’re in here.” He pulled a paper bag off the counter. Spike and Xander set the sweet-smelling candles around the room, lighting them all until it reminded Buffy of Spike’s old crypt with its minimum electricity. Sandra turned off the main light.
A few minutes later Sonam and Oz came downstairs dressed in loose fitting clothes that looked like martial arts uniforms, only they left the arms bare. “We almost ready?”
“Almost,” Willow said. “Can you test the playpen?”
Oz set Sonam down beside Willow, then came in and rattled the pen from the inside, trying to lift it, jump up to get out of the roof, shake open the door. “Seems solid,” he said.
“Okay, you can go in now, Sonam,” Willow said. She opened the door, and Sonam sat with Oz on the cushions inside.
“Shh,” Willow said. “Actually, can you guys clear out? It’ll be okay later, but we really need to concentrate just now.”
“Of course,” Xander said. “Come on, guys, let’s go.”
“Can Buffy stay?” Sonam asked.
Buffy was startled. “Why me?”
“You’re the Slayer,” Sonam said.
“Sonam’s got Slayer trading cards,” Willow said. “She has three of you.”
“Um, okay,” Buffy said. “Let me just hand off Grace.”
“You know I’m all ready for that,” Sandra said at her elbow.
Gently Buffy handed off her newborn and moved into the corner of the kitchen. Oz and Sonam sat opposite each other, holding hands, and Willow sat outside the cage where they both could see her.
Then Willow started talking through a guided meditation. “Usually Tenzing does this bit, but we’ll see how I do,” she said. She started chanting in what Buffy assumed to be Tibetic, or Bodic, or whatever it was they called the language of Tibet, which reminded Buffy again how woefully underprepared she was for the global war which was now raging around the planet. All that time she could have spent learning global cultures or languages or history, she’d been too busy saving the world. Now the problems had gotten too big for one girl to save. Thank god there were enough people like Willow and Giles and all the other Slayers to take over where Buffy’s skillsets lagged.
Willow’s soothing, chanting voice faded, and she asked, “Are you feeling relaxed?”
“Yes,” said Sonam.
“How soon is it, Oz?”
“Any minute now,” Oz said. “Buffy, do you mind if I turn with her?” he asked without taking his eyes off Sonam. “I don’t have to, but it makes her more comfortable.”
“You do whatever you need to do,” Buffy said.
Oz nodded, and slowly, as if he were slowly filling with a liquid, fur started to spread from his feet up his body, washing over his shoulders, spreading gently down his arms, then up his neck until his face was full with fur, and his nose turned to a muzzle. Sonam’s breath came faster.
“Easy, baby, it’s okay, Sonam. You ready?” Willow said.
“You sure I won’t hurt anyone?”
“I’m positive,” Willow said. “I’m here. Your dad’s here, it’ll all be okay. You can let go.”
Sonam’s tiny little body shuddered and shifted, and she howled. It was faster for her, clearly less controlled, and seemed to come out in a kind of explosion. Her muzzle expanded with a sneeze, and a few seconds later a little werewolf puppy wearing a tank top and trousers was standing on all fours before her father, who was still sitting on the ground, looking quite serene for a werewolf.
“There we go. All done,” Willow said, and Oz whimpered softly at his daughter, and licked the top of her head.
“Are… they going to be like that all night?”
“Oz will come out in a little bit,” Willow said. “The chanting is both meditation and I work a spell with it, to lay any aggressive tendencies. You can come in now,” she said more loudly.
“Can I see? Can I see the werewolfs?” Matthew asked, poking his head in.
“This isn’t the zoo,” Sandra said. She’d been divested of the baby, Grace no doubt having been reclaimed by Spike. Spike had a hard time putting the baby down. For that matter, Buffy found it a bit of a trick herself.
“It’s okay,” Willow said. “Now that the turning has come though, the biggest danger is actually Sonam getting bored. Thanks so much for the hambone and everything,” she added to Sandra.
“No, it’s a really big deal,” Oz said, surprising Buffy. He shook his head and seemed to shake the fur off. A second later he stood up in the dog run and opened the door. Sonam sighed like a dog who’d been left home alone, and pounced on one of the stuffed toys. A second later she was shaking it, growling a little, and Oz said, “Uh-uh,” and the little werewolf sighed again and went over to the hambone, which she propped between her feet and started to gnaw.
“So what exactly do you do?” Buffy asked, getting up from off the floor. “That was much less violent than I remember your transformations being, Oz.”
“The meditation takes the fear and the pain out of the transformation,” Oz said, “and Willow’s spells are slowly lessening the aggressive response. Trouble is, she can’t do it permanently, and Sonam is just too young to manage it herself.”
“I’m really sorry to have called you away during your transformation period.”
“No, we’d been planning this for a while, actually,” Oz said. “Not here, necessarily, but having a time where Sonam transformed away from home. The world is complicated, and there’s no telling when something might happen to make us have to leave. She needs to know that she can cope even if everything else is different.”
“That’s really cool, guys. Just… really cool.”
“Are we the last to arrive?”
“Dawn and Giles’ planes were held up due to foggy weather, but they said they’d drive in together,” Buffy said. “They should be here soon.”
“Well, I can’t reach the stove, but I have cookies,” Sandra said. “Let’s settle in the living room and wait for them.”
“Can’t I stay with Sonam?” Matthew asked, fascinated by the little werewolf.
Oz and Willow looked at each other and shrugged. “I’m game,” Oz said.
Willow looked doubtful. “Alone?”
“I can watch them, if you want to catch up,” Sandra said. “Like I said, we’re immune, if you’re worried about a nip.”
“Okay,” Oz said. “Call us in if anything seems to be happening. But nothing will happen.”
Willow chuckled. “You have more faith in my spells than I do.”
“Yes, I do,” Oz said with a fond grin.
Buffy was glad to see them happy with each other again. She still didn’t feel it her place to ask if they were sleeping together, since they hadn’t volunteered that information.
They were catching up, hearing about Oz’s work in IT, and the spellwork Willow was doing for the Slayers and various governments. They refrained from talking about Vivian, the whole reason they were there in the first place. Spike went upstairs to change Grace’s diaper. A knock on the door, and Xander opened up to admit Giles and Dawn, who had come from the airport in the same rental car. The fog was thick outside, but finally their planes had managed to land.
“It took forever, I was sure we’d have to put down somewhere else,” Dawn said. “No point telling the commercial flight that it was an emergency.”
“My flight was a little more accommodating,” Giles said. It would be; private jets were like that. “But then I waited for Dawn. I may have called some friends of mine to blow the wind a little and clear the fog.”
“You could have called me,” Willow said. “I was right here.”
“I figured you were busy with Sonam. How did she manage her transformation?”
“Perfectly,” Oz said. “You’d be so proud of her.”
“Can I meet her?” Dawn asked.
“She’s not very talkative right now, and don’t stick your fingers in the playpen, but sure,” Oz said.
Buffy went in with Dawn and raised her eyebrows in surprise. Matthew was in the playpen with Sonam, and was throwing Cheerios into the air. Sonam caught them out of the air with little snaps. Dawn melted. “That is so cute,” she said. “I want one.”
“A baby or a puppy?” Buffy asked.
“A puppy, probably,” Dawn said. “I don’t think I’m up for babies.” She sighed. “Not up for puppies, either, probably, with the way I travel.”
“I could keep it in Devon for you,” Giles suggested.
“Nah, I’ll just live vicariously. Speaking of vicariously,” Dawn said. “Where is that little niece of mine?”
“Right here,” Spike said. He’d come down the stairs. “Thanks for coming.”
“Oh my god, oh my god!” Dawn squealed and all but dove for the baby. Spike’s first reaction was to hold the child a little closer, but finally he relinquished his hold to pass her over to her aunt.
“Spike,” Giles said.
“Rupert,” Spike said.
“It would seem you’ve been keeping some secrets from us.”
Spike’s eyes closed. “Shall we talk about this now, or when we’re all settled?” he said, his voice going all formal.
“When we’re settled,” Buffy said, catching hold of Spike’s sleeve.
“Then we’ll wait,” Giles said.
Dawn broke out her archive camera and took pictures of Matthew and Sonam playing. Then she said, “Buffy? I don’t have a good baby present, but I’ve been studying newborn pictures, and all the poses you can do. I’m only an amateur photographer, but would you like newborn shots?”
“Oh, I so would. Can we do that tonight?”
“The sooner the better. After a few days the babies apparently don’t cooperate. Do you and Spike have any black clothes that can work against the baby’s skin?”
“You’re asking if Spike has black clothes?” Buffy asked.
Giles was tense. He didn’t partake of any of the banter, or any of the cookies. Finally he seemed to lose his temper. “How can all of you just sit here playing like children when we have a crisis on our hands? Haven’t you grown up at all?”
“We have,” Buffy said. “We had to.” She collected Grace from Dawn. “Let’s talk this out.”
Sandra put Matthew to bed, and Oz put his chair by the door to the kitchen so he could keep an eye on Sonam. He was still in his turning clothes — he explained he wanted to be able to turn back if Sonam got agitated. She’d listen to him as a wolf better than she did with him as a human.
They ranged about the living room, and as soon as Sandra got back downstairs, Giles started things off. “What were you thinking, Spike?” he demanded.
“Great,” Spike said. He’d known this was coming, and felt uncomfortable with it all the same. “You know I didn’t call you all in to get a good tongue lashing, Rupert. Only Buffy gets to do that to me.”
“And I have.”
“Ew,” said Dawn.
“Not like that!” Buffy said irritably. “Look, Spike’s heard just about everything he could hear about this from me.”
“Yes, but I didn’t hear about this from you,” Giles said. “Not until you called, and apparently this creature has been in your life for months?”
“Well… sort of,” Buffy said sheepishly.
“And you kept this secret, Spike? You had created a vampire child, and you kept this a secret?”
“The Watchers knew,” Dawn said.
Dawn shook her head. “Did you do, like, any research on Spike?” she asked. “I finally just went and looked. They had records on Spike, they had records on Angel, they had records on Drusilla. There wasn’t a lot on Vivian, because she kind of stayed in the shadows, but there’s reference to a girl. The only problem is she gets mixed up with Dru and Darla a lot, because the Watchers in their infinite misogyny are always using the word ‘girl’ to refer to female vampires, like they use the word ‘girl’ for slayers.”
“I read up enough on Spike to know what kind of a threat he was,” Giles said. “I didn’t think his past was worth delving into.”
“Well, now you get your comeuppance, Giles, because this was totally worth getting into. You didn’t get into the records on Angel, either, did you? Not before Buffy got involved with him.”
“We’re not here to explore the mistakes of my past,” Giles said. “We’re here to discuss Spike’s.”
“No, actually, we’re here to discuss our present,” Buffy snapped. Grace fussed, and Buffy shifted.
“Let me take her,” Spike said.
“Please,” Spike said. Grace calmed him down. Buffy was clearly agitated herself, and her broken arm made holding Grace awkward anyway.
Buffy handed the baby over gently, and then turned back to Giles. “Giles, we didn’t call you here to ream either Spike or me out. We trust your judgement, and at least want to weigh your opinion.”
“When it comes to Spike, my opinion seems to weigh very little,” Giles said.
“I’m the one who said not to tell you, okay?” Buffy said. “For exactly this reason. I knew you’d freak. Spike’s the one who said he wanted you on board.”
Giles looked surprised at that. “You did?”
“I wanted the team,” Spike said. “And yes, you have the background, Rupert. Satisfied?”
Giles actually looked a little flattered, but he covered that quickly with a tiny cough. “So what exactly is the situation?” he asked. “Dawn has filled me in some, but I would like a first point perspective.”
“I thought Viv was dust,” Spike said. “Ages ago. Turns out she’s been a minion slave for most of that time, and she only just got back to me in January. Which means she’s not safe on her own. But she’s not safe to be around either, because she just attacked Buffy, and there’s going to be no way of explaining to her what’s wrong with that. I need options. I can’t just keep her imprisoned -- it’s wrong, as wrong as what was done to her before. Locked in a cellar eating rats,” Spike said softly, turning his attention to Grace. Her tiny weight, her helpless little hands, her perfect tiny face. He sniffed. “I can’t do that to her forever.” He looked up. “But it’s not right to turn away a child just because of another one, either. I have a responsibility, I….” He swallowed and made himself look at Grace again. “I love her. Almost like I love this little one.”
“Almost?” Dawn asked.
Spike looked up. “Almost. Viv is Dru’s more than mine, always has been, but she’s still family. She meant something different before the soul. She means something different again now she’s attacked Buffy. I’m lost at sea, as lost as I was when I lost her the first time, at the end of my tether. Just don’t know what to do.”
“Well, we have Willow,” Xander said. “I suggested we try to come up with a behavioral modification, like the chip worked for you, Spike.”
“And like I told you when you first mentioned it,” Buffy said, “there are ways and ways around that. Poison, traps, fires, bombs, dog attacks, cut brake lines, carbon monoxide, not to mention a plain old paid assassin. Just about every way it is possible to die that isn’t blunt force trauma, stabbing, or gunshots can be done as a murder without violence. The problem is that it wouldn’t work.”
“It worked for Spike.”
“It only worked for Spike because we all pretended it did,” Buffy said. “Even Spike pretended it worked.” She looked over at him. “Right?”
“I was polite about it, yeah,” Spike said.
“You didn’t seem very polite,” Xander said. “You seemed neutered.”
“You know, you may not have appreciated that I didn’t tie you up in your bed at night and drown you with a water bottle, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have done it,” Spike said, “or that I didn’t think of it. I may not have admitted it, but I sort of featured being on your side.”
“Well, Buffy’s.” He gently touched Grace’s tiny lips and watched as she twitched them. “Even before our first truce. ‘S why I thought of it in the first place. Wanted to be on the same side as Buffy almost from the first time I saw her.”
“See, Vivian doesn’t have that motivation,” Buffy said. “She didn’t take one look at a slayer and think, yeah, I like that.”
“But you decided to keep her as your daughter anyway?” Giles asked.
“Well, I…” Buffy’s eyes closed. “I was trying. It… it didn’t work.”
“And this surprised you?” The scorn was strong in Giles’s voice.
“Look, there are other vampires I keep besides just Spike! There’s a whole nest of suckers and at least half a dozen loners in my territory that I let live. Hell, Giles, the first time I heard of suckers you suggested we keep them around.”
“I’m not sure I went that far.”
“You said you wouldn’t have sent me after them. Well, Spike said Vivian was compliant. And she was, until this. We thought she could stick with the program, lots of other vampires do.”
“But she can’t,” Dawn said. “I think she’s proved that now.”
“And you say you can’t just keep her imprisoned?” Oz said.
“Could you keep little Sonam in that cage all the time?” Spike asked him.
“Maybe a bigger one,” Oz said. “But I get your point. It’s not kind.”
“No, it’s not kind,” Giles said. “But maybe kind isn’t exactly what we need now.”
“Well, if the problem is motivation, a soul might do that,” Willow said. “I can still come up with that soul curse.”
“And doom her never to be happy? How is that kind?” Spike asked.
“Again, kind to a mass murderer is a little….” Giles murmured, but Spike kept talking.
“Look, she’s a child. She’s a demon, she’s an old demon, but she’s also a child. If you scanned her brain and whatall, it’s the shape of a child’s. So she likes playing games and she’s always trying to learn and she wants to be taken care of and she loves. Not like a human would, but she needs to be loved. And she can’t quite understand why I’m not the way I was anymore, and sort of thought maybe it was Buffy… partly because I said it was because of Buffy, but she couldn’t understand it. She wants me to be different, or the same as I was. I can’t be, and she can’t change. A soul would just rip her apart. It nearly drove me mad. You want to make a list of things that are not kind, cursing her with a soul would be the top of the list. Besides, it might not even work.”
“Because a soul isn’t a magic bullet!” Spike snapped.
“Spike,” Buffy said, putting her hand on his arm.
“I know, it feels like it should work,” Buffy said. “I make a big deal about that soul, but it’s short hand. It’s that Spike wanted it was the important thing.”
“The need to be good comes first, or it’s just torture. Not like it magically made Angel the good guy.”
“Didn’t it?” Willow asked.
“Not from what I saw,” Spike said. “He still killed people and let the buggers die all around him for ages. It wasn’t until Buffy worked on him that he cared sod all about being good.”
“And Angel… did other things even with the soul,” Buffy said. “I don’t want to get into it. Souls are complicated. Even if she got a soul, she might still be a killer. In fact her anger might grow even deeper and more personal with a soul than without one.”
“But she’d be more human with a human soul, wouldn’t she?” Xander asked. “I mean, isn’t that what you say, Sandra?”
“I… can’t explain soul auras to you, honey, you know I’ve tried. What I said was that souls that I can read are the subtle kind, the more human kind, and from what I’ve seen that can make a person stronger or more vulnerable depending on the circumstance. I don’t know what it would do to Vivian. I can’t even explain what it does for Spike, just that he has one and it works well with Buffy’s.”
“Vivian wasn’t afraid or disgusted by murder when she was still human,” Buffy said. “She was conditioned to accept abuse from a very young age. If she accepted it for herself, she’ll accept it for others, and she won’t think abusing or hurting other people would be a bad thing even with the soul.”
“And if it did work, it would be the cruelest bloody thing imaginable, because she’s not ready,” Spike said. “I was hoping if I could teach her well enough that maybe one day she’d be ready. But all that guilt… a lifetime of slaughter to a child’s soul? It might just break her, and if it didn’t it wouldn’t even necessarily keep her from….” His face screwed up and Buffy put her good hand on his arm.
“Guilt is a good thing though, yeah?” Xander said. “Vivian should pay for hurting you, Buffy. Even if what we do is not kind… what she did was evil.”
“We forgive evil here,” Willow said quietly. “We have to, or none of us would be unscathed.”
“We’re all scathed,” Buffy said. “But I know what you mean. The problem is, she really is a child. It’s like… abuse is what she was built for, and now she can’t do anything else. But she was a victim.”
“Just because someone is first a victim doesn’t mean they cannot also be a perpetrator,” Giles said.
“I bloody know that!” Spike snarled, holding tight to Grace. “Quintessential journey of the vampire, there.”
“If she was human and had attacked her stepmother, she’d be sent to juvie,” Willow said. “I… came prepared to do anything. Soul or behavioral mods or… well, I had an idea for a pocket dimension, kind of a prison thing where she’d be kept safe and wouldn’t need to eat. But that’s like… eternity of punishment, and it wouldn’t actually make her good. One day she might be let out, because we all know how imprisoning demons works, and then she’d be just as dangerous and probably even more angry.” She shrugged. “It’d just be passing the buck to some other set of innocent people.”
“Is that all we’ve got?” Spike asked. “Prison, or spelling her in some way that wouldn’t actually work?”
“I can’t change the way she thinks and feels,” Willow said. “If you say a soul might not do it, then all I can do is take her mind out, and just turn her into a vegetable, and I don’t think you want that, either.”
“Um….” Sandra looked around the room. “You know, if we are putting pocket dimensions and prisons on the table, I do know of a place….”
“What place?” Buffy asked.
“It was a world I traveled through on the way to this Earth,” Sandra said. “Vampires were the dominant sentient species. They ruled the planet, and the humans served them, providing blood and other services in exchange for protection.”
“Protection?” Spike asked.
“It’s a dangerous world,” Sandra said. “There are huge creatures, demons, who frequently attack. Only vampires are strong enough to fight them. Humans don’t even consider themselves fully grown unless they are turned into vampires. They consider vampirisation a sort of coming-of-age ritual, like puberty. You are born, you go through childhood, make a few babies in your teen years, and then are made a vampire.”
“This is a real place?”
“It is,” Willow said. “I’ve heard rumors of it when astral-projection dimension hopping, though I didn’t know about the coming-of-age thing. Just that there was a vampire world with huge dinosaur-like demons that the vampires would fight. I never thought about how humans would interact with them.”
“You knew there was a vampire world?”
“There’s a troll world, an ogre world, there’s thousands of worlds,” Willow said. “Yes, there’s a vampire world.”
“It wasn’t a pretty place, so we didn’t stay long,” Sandra said. “But bonus, vampires can walk in the sun there. If you truly think of Vivian as an innocent who deserves a place of her own where she belongs… that would be the place.”
“A child vampire?” Spike asked. “Would they even accept her?”
“I suspect they’d find her a curiosity, but she’s already old. Age is respected, since the dinosaur demons often kill. I believe there were a few vampire children who existed in that world, turned when they couldn’t spare the time to let them grow completely. Desperation lead to desperate measures. Any vampire a hundred years old, in the shape of a child or not, would be revered.”
“This sounds suspiciously ideal,” Giles said.
“Sometimes fate takes a hand, Giles,” Willow said. “You’re the one who taught me that.”
“Problem is, it doesn’t, though,” Spike said. “Because she’d be under the power of other vampires, and she knows what it’s like to be a minion slave.”
“But Spike,” Buffy began.
“No!” Spike felt panic at the thought, though he couldn’t think of a better one. “She needs someone to love her, not just a world where she can kill with impunity.”
“It’s not with impunity, it’s full of rituals and systems and rights of succession,” Sandra said. “It’s as rigid as this world is in its laws. But they are vampire laws, and work with vampire morality and mores.”
Spike sighed. “But the only way she’d be safe there is if she had someone to go with her.”
“Are you volunteering?” Giles asked.
Spike looked down at Grace. “I can’t.” He shook his head. “It’s not just that I don’t want to. My life isn’t mine to give to Vivian’s, either here on this Earth or any other. It belongs to Grace and Buffy.”
“And we don’t want him to go,” Buffy said.
“Spike shouldn’t be punished for Vivian’s crimes,” Oz said.
“Maybe I should,” Spike said to him. “She wouldn’t exist but for me. But regardless, that’s up to Buffy.”
“Well, I shouldn’t be punished for Vivian’s crimes, and neither should Grace, who is a complete innocent in this. Losing my husband, her losing her father, would be just that,” Buffy said. “I need Spike. We need him. I’m not giving him up to Vivian without a fight, I made that decision months ago. So everyone, take punishing Spike for this out of the equation.”
There was an awkward silence. “Dawn?” Spike asked, afraid to ask Giles his opinion.
“I got nothing,” Dawn said. “We could try the Mohra thing, see if trying to make her human makes her better, but it might just kill her without a soul, and if she’s human without a soul… she could still be a serial killer human, so it’s kind of a waste of a thought exercise.”
Spike sighed. Dawn was right. This was a waste of time.
“Is anyone going to say it?” Giles finally asked.
No one was.
“If there is no solution about what to do with her, if she cannot be made safe and cannot be punished without it being evil on our part, there is only one thing to do with such a creature. Which is what you should have done from the beginning, Buffy.”
Buffy looked grave. “I don’t want to.”
Giles looked to Spike.
“I can’t,” he said quietly.
“What are we talking about?” Xander asked.
“Oh, for god’s sake, they’re talking about dusting her!” Dawn snapped at him.
Spike closed his eyes. Dammit, he was crying. And everyone was going to see it. He buried his face in his daughter’s swaddling cloth. The silence stretched while everyone watched the big bad vampire cry.
“We’ve gotten nowhere,” Buffy said sadly.
“On the contrary, we’ve gotten exactly where I knew we’d get to before I ever stepped on the plane,” Giles said. “Buffy, I trained you to be a vampire slayer. You are, retired or not, still a vampire slayer. You know what needs to be done.”
“I can’t make this decision.”
“You have to. Now more than ever, you have to make this decision.”
“I….” Buffy swallowed. She was saved by her new phone ringing.
“Who’s calling you?” Dawn asked. “Who knows that number? We’re all here.”
“Only the top brass Slayers and….” Buffy pulled out the phone. “Shit,” she said looking at the number. She answered it. “Yes, thank you for the heads-up. Yes, we’ll take it from here.” She hung up and quickly dialed another number. “Peter? Yeah, don’t send your guys out. No, there’s a dangerous element at our house, you can’t risk your men. Spike and I will handle it. Well, call them back in! You have the little radio thingy! Okay, great.”
“What is it?” Xander asked.
Spike was already handing off Grace to Dawn. “Keep her safe,” he said quietly.
“What? What’s happening,” Dawn asked.
“That was my security company,” Buffy said. “The silent alarm was tripped ten minutes ago, and hasn’t been turned off. I was just telling Sheriff Hans not to send in his men. Someone’s in our house.”