Buffy's headache was finally beginning to fade. The day before yesterday she could barely remember; she'd stayed in bed. Her brain had been lost in a kind of gray soup. Yesterday Giles had called and she'd made some excuse, then she'd called to cancel a client meeting and a couple of classes. She just couldn't seem to wake up. It was her third day in bed and her stomach was complaining, but dreamless sleep had kept washing over her, a luxurious break from the unbearable headache. It was beginning to subside now; she tossed in the bed, kicked off the covers and rolled over.
Then, a dream.
She was standing on a small bridge, a high, curving little bridge over a slow-moving river. A heavy safety of overhanging trees surrounded her. She was looking through the leaves at a crust of moon and a few rippling stars. Crickets droned from deep within the trees on the banks of the river. A small breeze moved her chiffon mini skirt deliciously across the backs of her thighs and her behind; her panties were in her purse. She gripped the wooden railing and shifted on her feet; spike heels had made a comeback, but in the dream she liked feeling so tall.
She only felt one footfall behind her before two hands gripped the railing on either side of hers, big hands.
Buffy's heart sprang up and began thudding rapidly.
"What do you want?" she said.
"You'll find out,"
"Shhhh," The hands began a slow journey down her thighs, caressing firmly. They meant business. Buffy tried to twist, but he thrust his body against hers, pinning her against the railing. Cool lips brushed her ear. "Just do what I tell you,"
Buffy's mouth was dry. Every nerve in her body was poised painfully, like the tiny hairs on her arms and on the back of her neck. "What do you want me to do?"
A hand slid along the curve of her behind, under the skirt. He hissed in appreciation. Buffy gave a little shuddering breath. He slipped on hand around her hip and began teasing her belly. She shifted impatiently.
"That's not it," he murmured. He wrapped a hand around the inside of her right thigh and pulled her legs apart. She teetered on the heels, falling back against him. He moaned. He cupped her sex in his hand, levering his fingers deeper, and spread them, opening her and tensing the flesh surrounding her clitoris. She could feel the warm night air in incredibly vulnerable places; she felt herself beginning to blush. Another hand slipped under her thin top and cupped her breast, reaching with fingertips to stroke it with infuriating gentleness. She groaned through her teeth. He stopped. He took her hand and brought it to her breast.
"Show me how you like it,"
Buffy whined and bucked against him. He leaned on her and she felt how hard he was. She was suddenly frustrated. She wanted him, but she was pinned, and to take control now she would have to break the railing on this nice little antique bridge. She cursed.
He shushed her, but she could hear a laugh in it. He recovered quickly, becoming very serious. "Do it," he ordered. Her fingers found her nipples and began rolling and pinching them. She felt his hand in back of her, then heard his zipper, faintly. She sighed. His fingers widened between her legs and then she could feel the thick tip of his sex pressing there. She licked her fingers, slathered moisture on them and reached down to spread it between them; then she felt her own wetness beginning. He entered her with an abrupt, shallow thrust and her sex clung to him, pulled on him, craving him deeper. She shrieked. His hand clamped over her mouth; he brought her head back against his shoulder. She felt a rush of gratitude for him. He was so strong, he knew how to make this work. He knew how to make her feel a little helpless, and she needed that tonight, she needed to be at the mercy of him. She felt suddenly weightless and peaceful beneath the heat of wanting him.
"Now," he muttered, and he guided her hand lower, pushing her fingers into the moist curls. She automatically began to flick and tease herself as he wrapped an arm around her hips and hoisted her higher. His other hand stayed over her mouth. He began to give her shallow strokes, only shallow ones, and Buffy knew what he was waiting for.
"You're not getting more until I feel it," he whispered. Buffy worked herself at her own pace, thrilling at his response inside her. His sex throbbed and expanded and he trembled, gripping her even harder. He was poised there, waiting to strike, waiting to drive himself into her, and the anticipation made her pant wetly into his palm, made her slip closer to climax. Her fingers moved frantically now; his lips shifted closer to her ear.
"Almost, almost...." he growled, "I'm going to give it to you, I'm going to give it all to you, you're almost ready..."
Buffy writhed, her shouts muffled in his hand as pleasure ripped through her. He lifted her hips higher and plunged into her, giving her the full length of himself, knocking air out of her with the power of the thrust. As he hammered into her Buffy's mind seemed to tip sideways. All rational thought spilled out. She arched helplessly and gave herself over to joy. She screamed into his hand. He pushed his face into her hair to muffle his own cry.
They shuddered against each other. Buffy craned her head back.
"Kiss," she gasped, and he kissed her deeply. She had to break it, because she was winded. They both paused to look through the surrounding darkness. Buffy pulled her panties out of her purse and stepped into them.
"I love you," he said, steadying her.
"Did you get diapers?" she blurted. She'd forgotten to mention it to him.
She looked at her watch. "Ooops," she said, "We're late,"
Joyce was asleep on the couch, with Erinne curled in the crook of her arm. The floor was littered with toys. Buffy lifted the child and Joyce woke with a smile.
"How was the movie?"
"Movie?...Oh, great," said Buffy, shooting a glance at Angel.
"Great movie," said Angel, "Thanks again, Joyce,"
"How was she?" asked Buffy.
"She's got that sunny personality you had when you were little," said Joyce, "She's so easy to get along with. You two are safe for a while. Puberty's a ways off,"
"Thanks a lot, Mom," Buffy smirked.
They said goodnights and stepped onto the street. Buffy handed the sleeping baby to Angel. She woke suddenly and brightly; she pointed past Angel's shoulder and gurgled something. Buffy turned and looked directly into the ugly eyes of a rogue vampire.
Buffy cursed and slammed a spike heel into it's chest. It burst into dust.
There was a small silence.
"Wow," mused Buffy, "I thought they were supposed to make these heels out of steel or something," she whirled, scoping the area, but it was clean. A coincidence, not a trap.
"Buffy, take her," Angel's voice was strained, and she saw that his game face had come up; he'd instinctively gone into protective mode. He was straining his neck to look away from Erinne, who wriggled in his arms.
"Take her now,"
"No," said Buffy, "Don't do that. Don't you ever do that," She went quickly to him and put a hand on his cheek. His eyes darted with desperation. She gently forced his face around and Erinne looked up at fangs for the first time.
"Da," she said, patting his face with her tiny hands. Angel gulped.
"See," said Buffy softly, "You have to let us love you for who you are,"
He was shaking, and gazing at the baby in wonder. His features softened as the bunched forehead and fangs withdrew, his eyes darkened. Erinne giggled.
"Daddy," she said, and both parents stared. It was her first complete word. Then Buffy looked at Erinne.
"Big Daddy kiss, ready? Mwaa mwaa mwaa," she made exaggerated kisses on one cheek while Erinne did so on the other. "Surrounded by women," said Buffy to him, softly, "A century of guilt could never be that scary,"
Then she woke.
Buffy sighed; she stared up into the darkness of her bedroom.
"Nice little fantasy," she said. The reality, it was occurring to her, was different. First of all, he couldn't ever give her children. Kids were a bad idea, anyway. The dream proved it. Way too dangerous. Happy ending there, but how many times? And how about being forty and explaining to people that your Dad is twenty-seven, much less explaining a drastically younger husband? Ridiculous. It was all becoming clearer to her. This was all wrong.
She peeled herself out of the scrambled sheets and went to the water cooler. She looked at the counter where his last letter lay open, mostly unread. She'd forgotten about it. It suddenly seemed worthless to read. She should just tear it up. What was the point? She was lying to herself, and she was lying to him. They were from different worlds, it was all impossible. What had she been thinking all this time?
Her heart hitched, and suddenly Buffy shook these thoughts away.
"I don't care," she said firmly, out loud. She stalked to the counter and seized the letter. She went back into the bedroom and turned on the light. "I WANT to read it," she said to herself.
Wings, in the darkness. Wide, soft feathers enfolding, and a whispered purr,
"Your right shoulder has healed,"
It had. Ailil had pulled his dagger out of my shoulder to slice my liver open earlier, and the wound had almost closed. I could now reach my broadsword when I needed to. I felt a hand, then a paw, pressing below my rib cage over the gaping wound that was trying to knit. The paw vibrated, kneading the flesh, and the heat reverberated through me, waking me completely from the haze of pain.
"Victory," she whispered, "Take it now,"
"It's day," I realized; I could smell it. I was thinking about my exit.
"You must trust me," she murmured, "I have sent snow, before. Your victory must be now,"
It doesn't often snow in Galway. Then I remembered walking through the snow on Christmas morning with you.
She hissed faintly. Druids don't generally like to explain things. Then she was gone.
I could feel my flesh around the arrows beginning to itch; I was slipping downward. I was running out of time. I looked down. Ailil and his army were sprawled on the stones, deep in a sleep of gluttony. They had gorged on me, but I hadn't realized my blood was that potent. I should have known...but I've thought of that time, of feeding on you, as little as possible. It wasn't my finest hour.
"About the cauldron," I announced, loudly; they came around dazedly, staring up at me as though they didn't remember why I was there. Ailil was on his feet first, blinking and shuffling. He grinned at me with his oversized array of cracked and moldering teeth.
"Have you had a change of mind?" he grunted, "Can you remember where you put the it?"
"So, none one of your forces has been able to locate it," I mused, "Did you consider making a minion out of an archeologist?"
He sneered. "It was mine, and you stole it,"
"The night you arrived, Aingeal. Don't play stupid with me,"
"You give me a lot of credit for efficiency," I said, "I'm flattered. But I can't help you,"
"You expect me to believe it wasn't you?"
"Didn't you have me followed? You know where I was,"
He hesitated, briefly. "You have resources,"
"Where are they?" I asked, "Because I would be disappointed if anybody I'd hired hadn't pulled me out of this by now, or at least made an attempt,"
A scuffling was heard in the passage. Ailil's soldiers poised for a kill, but they recognized the minion who stumbled into the chamber; he'd been trembling with fear before he'd even laid eyes on Ailil, and now he froze.
"What is it?" demanded Ailil. The minion shook himself and spoke, his voice quavering,
"The Meyve requests your order on the Dal Riada,"
"She interrupts me here?"
"The Meyve advises that the Dal Riada be given the order to attack," I felt myself slipping still lower on the arrows, but I knew who the Dal Raida had been sent for.
"Taking advice from women now, Ailil?" I said.
"She does not advise me. She obeys me," he said, absently.
"I'm sure she does,"
"She will do as I say,"
"You are powerful, Ailil," I said, "The most powerful Ancient on Eire. No woman would force her way with you,"
He slipped his dagger out of his belt and held the point of it over my heart. "Be careful, Aingeal," he muttered.
"About women, though," I said, "I know one thing. Never take advice from a woman who would kill you,"
"What do you know of it? The Slayer is your born enemy,"
"But she gains nothing," I said, "She won't grow in power from my blood. She'd gain a kill, and she has plenty of those. Her power grows entirely on it's own,"
"The Meyve obeys me,"
"Nice title," I said, "Even you refer to her in the proper. It makes you sound like a handmaiden, Ailil. Buffy and I are on a first-name basis. But I guess we're just a little less formal in the New World,"
Ailil snarled and pushed the dagger a bit deeper into my chest.
"Sir," the messenger's voice cracked, "I am required to bring your answer to the Meyve,"
Ailil turned and grasped the minion by the throat; he held him aloft for a moment before clamping his gigantic jaws around his neck and draining him. I could hear the crunch of bones as his neck broke under the assault. I gave a long, low whistle.
"She's going to be peeved about that one, Ailil," I said.
"And you will feed me! I will eat your liver a thousand times!"
"Try Hell sometime," I said, "And your torture techniques will be a little more imaginative. By the way, you haven't checked the Meyve's lingerie drawer, have you?"
"Don't talk to me of her. You are the Slayer's servant,"
"Best thing that ever happened to me," I said, "And you think the Meyve serves you. I just wonder if she wanted you out of the nest for a while, so maybe she hid it somewhere. Sent you off on a chase. Maybe she just needed a little girl time,"
He planted his feet, snarling deep in his throat, trying to control himself.
"All power comes first from a woman's heart, Ailil," I said, "It's the first law. It's one thing you'll never learn. And I know the perfect thing to use the cauldron for," I grinned, "I'd wash Buffy's feet in it,"
This was more anti-demonic blasphemy than he could take, and he seized a broadsword from a guard and charged me. He slashed at me; I managed to free my own broadsword in time to deflect the blow, then I was on the floor. I was surrounded by his soldiers but he waved them off.
"Why do you think I let you keep the Monaghan blade in the first place?" he hissed, "I'll beat you man to man,"
"There's got to be a better way to put that," I said. He thrust his sword at me and I blocked, then stepped in and threw a side kick into his knee; I was hobbling, stiff with pain, and it wasn't my best, but it brought him down. I shuffled back and threw my sword in a wide arc, slicing the heads off four soldiers behind me, and turned a complete circle in time to block another lunge from Ailil. His blade cut the air again, the tip of it drawing through the skin of my chest; I folded and he advanced. I drove a snap-kick under his chin and he stumbled back. I swept my sword in the direction of his head. He ducked; I pivoted and swept again in the opposite direction. I had time to see the astonished look on his face as his head came off, just before it dissolved into dust. There was a small silence in the chamber, and then I bolted into the passage, with several dozen of Ailil's avenging army on my heels.