Cassidy O'Rourke, or rather the demon inhabiting Cassidy's body, raced through Boston's dark back alleys. She had done it, finally. The Slayer's greatest weakness had been found, and she was minutes away from delivering the vital information to her sire and Master. Triumph filled her undead heart as she contemplated the rewards she would receive for her work. They would never believe this. The slayer had a daughter, one that could prove to be the ultimate weapon for the forces of darkness.
Pride consumed her and Cassidy pushed her vampiric body to the limits as she lengthened her stride, eager to share the news.
A soft sound from behind her caused her to run even faster, if that was even possible. For Cassidy was also consumed with fear. Fear that the long searched for answer to the Slayer problem would soon die with her without being passed on. Because that same Slayer was behind her, having apparently finished destroying the last of Cassidy's hunting party. It was a rare, and often delusional vampire that felt no fear when the Slayer was hunting them, and Cassidy was no fool. Vampires across the continent, indeed factions around the world were searching for a way to defeat the Slayer. Like all Slayers, she worked in secret, though stories of her exploits still leaked out. Many of the tales were dismissed as hearsay, but the little that was known was cause for concern. She had stopped the Master from rising, run Spike and Druscilla out of town, survived Angelus, and somehow managed to survive and stop an Ascension. But most disturbing of all was the fact that she had survived, as an active slayer, for eight years, growing in strength and experience. Their only hope was the rumors that said the Slayer actually had friends, and that she fought to protect them. That meant that, if her friends could be identified, they could be used against her.
What Cassidy and her cadre had discovered was even better than the identities of the Slayer's friends. The amazing, undefeated Slayer had a daughter. Cassidy was well aware that the Slayer was going to do her best to keep this little fact out of circulation in the vampire community. After hearing the rumors of the damage she could do protecting her friends, Cassidy could only imagine how much more fiercely the Slayer would protect her own child.
Cassidy ducked through a back alley and slid between the narrow opening between two buildings, heading back to her Master's lair. She stopped briefly at the entrance to a darkened street, blending in with the shadows as she reached out, trying to feel if the Slayer was near before moving into the light cast by the street lamps. Sensing nothing, Cassidy once more started moving, her fear lessening as she was now only a few blocks from her goal. She was practically strutting with the knowledge that *she* had discovered the Slayer's best-kept secret. As Cassidy passed the post of the first sentry around her master's lair, she let the fear slide away completely. Triumph and pride surged through her as ...
Dust rained down as Buffy Summers plunged the stake through the heart of the demon she'd been tracking for nearly ten minutes. The small Slayer moved swiftly to dust the vamp coming up behind her, and then turned back the way she'd come, slipping into the shadows nearly as well as the vampires she hunted. Buffy took a deep breath in relief, certain the vampire hadn't had a chance to pass the information she'd carried. Sure that her daughter was safe for the moment, Buffy sent her senses outward, hunting. She'd felt a fairly large concentration of vampires in the area, and figured that the little redhead she'd been chasing was headed for her lair. The sound of running feet told her that the other sentries had discovered the scattered dust that had resulted from her work, and Buffy started running back the way she'd come as she became the pursued.
Buffy knew she could take out the various sentries, but she was more concerned with the possibility of a larger force. She'd encountered the hunting party of fifteen vampires at the end of her second patrol, and would be pushing even her limits if she had to face more than one vampire at a time again tonight. Buffy was really missing backup that night; things would have been resolved in half the time. As it was, there was no way she could hide her presence in Boston any longer; too many vampires had been destroyed. She had accomplished her mission and taken out a very old, very vicious Master the night before, and had been cleaning up the worst of the leftovers before moving on, when the group had overheard her on her cell phone. Buffy hadn't had a choice at that point. Every vampire that had learned her secret was now dust, but suspicions would be raised. She simply couldn't risk that the local vampires would have enough time to find her and follow her to her next location, and that meant packing up and moving tonight. Buffy had spent the last four years hiding, trying to keep news of her daughter's existence out of the hands of the demons and monsters that would exploit the information. Now that the vampires knew she was here, it was time to move on, before they found out about her baby.
Five minutes later Buffy ducked into the space between two buildings and closed her eyes. She used every meditative, relaxing method that Angel and Giles had ever taught her as she struggled to calm herself. Buffy tried desperately to stop dragging huge amounts of oxygen into her tortured lungs, moving from heaving gasps to quiet, deep breaths. She closed her eyes and calmed the racing of her heart, reaching out with her Slayer senses, searching for pursuers. She grabbed and staked the vampire that had followed her into the alley, then moved on quietly. Most of the rest of the cadre had moved in other directions or returned to the lair, but she still sensed a strong presence ahead. Moving forward carefully, ready to attack, she moved onto the street only to hear, "Relax pet. I'm not here to play."
Spike paced restlessly near his car as he waited for the Slayer to return. He finally found the girl, after weeks of tracking, only to overhear a fascinating conversation she'd had with her watcher. Unfortunately, a hunting party had also heard her on the cell phone, and instead of delivering his message and disappearing, Spike had to wait while she hunted the entire party down and staked them. While he certainly understood her need to eradicate the last of the party, Spike wasn't known for his patience, and had nearly decided to go back to his lair when the hair on the back of his neck stood on end.
The Slayer was near, and hunting. Spike fought the urge to shift into his vampiric ridges in response to the threat. If what he'd overheard earlier was true, and the way Buffy had totally destroyed the hunting party suggested that it was, the Vampire Slayer was in full overprotective mode. If she saw him as a threat, uneasy truce or not, she'd attack him instantly. And while Spike had no problems killing the Slayer in the normal course of business, he respected her abilities to much to take advantage of her when he had come not to fight, but to help. Sometimes Spike wondered what he'd gotten himself into when he'd let himself be blackmailed into helping Buffy out, but the argument he'd given her the first time he'd helped still held true. He didn't want the world to end, and Buffy was the best way to keep the Earth turning.
Spike was pulled from his thoughts when she emerged from an alley and faced him, her body practically singing with tension. "Relax pet. I'm not here to play," he smirked, lighting a cigarette and leaning against his car, trying to hide his own tension. 'It would not be a good idea to piss her off tonight,' Spike reminded himself, watching her study him warily. When Buffy took a few steps forward, the vampire tensed, but when the Slayer tucked the stake she was holding into the waist of her pants and crossed her arms, he relaxed.
"What are you talking about, and more importantly, how did you find me," she demanded impatiently.
"I mean I'm not here to hunt, at least not tonight," the bleached blond vampire smirked, his eyes running over the small woman in front of him. She'd changed in the last few years, but it was more in her attitude then her body. Sure, she'd filled out a bit, but Spike supposed that was only natural after having a baby. Still, Buffy was just as fit and pretty as she'd ever been, just enough to distract in a fight. The biggest difference was in the air of tragedy that hung around her; it was stronger than it had been in years. Spike chose to ignore that for the moment, raising his eyebrows when he took in the biggest outward change, her dark curls. "Haven't changed much, but you really do look better as a blond Slayer. I'd change the hair back before heading home."
"I'm not going to discuss my hair color with you Peroxide Boy," Buffy snapped, tucking the dark brown hair behind her ears self-consciously, choosing to ignore his last statement for the moment, and concentrating on what she felt was the most important issue. "What are you doing here, and how did you find me? I thought I was doing pretty well in covering my tracks."
"I *am* a hunter you know. And not one of those inexperienced newbies you're constantly taking out. I can track when I put my mind to it." When Buffy bristled, Spike held his hands up in a conciliatory manner. "I came to tell you it's time to go home. Things are heating up in Sunnyhell again, and they need you there."
Buffy started pacing on the street in front of him, arms wrapping around her waist. "I can't go back; they know who I am there. I can't take the risk that they'll find out about..." Buffy cut of her words sharply, glancing at Spike in sudden apprehension. Despite the animosity between them, and the way they often resorted to knock down, drag out fights, she'd never been very good at keeping secrets from Spike. For some reason the vampire could read her all too well. Maybe they were too much alike.
"They'll find out about your kid," Spike said, still surprised about that information himself. He'd been sure she and that idiot sire of his would never be able to get over each other, but you never could tell. Unless... Spike stopped musing as he found himself pinned to his car with a stake above his heart. He looked up to see the Slayer, her hazel eyes nearly glowing with a protective fury. He froze and said calmly, "I'm not going to tell pet. I know what happens when someone goes after your kith and kin. Unless they're trying actively to kill me and mine, or ruin my fun, I don't hunt your family and friends. *I* learned from Angelus's mistakes."
Buffy stared at him for a minute or two before backing down. She was well aware that Spike was uncomfortable with being blackmailed into helping, and that if she got in his way he would kill her without blinking an eye. But for some reason she believed him. Spike hid things, and he was a murderous demon, but he also hadn't attacked her mother in all the years he'd had access to her house. And what he said made sense. If nothing else, Spike had a well-developed sense of self preservation. She would let things lie for now.
Spike closed his eyes in relief as she backed off. He'd been telling the truth - going after her family and friends only got him a brassed of Slayer, capable of doing a lot of damage. And Buffy had gotten so much stronger and more experienced as time went on that on occasion Spike would admit to himself that he thought he'd probably lose if she ever really went after him for dust. His eyes snapped open again as he heard her move away, remembering the message he still hadn't passed along. He quickly reached out to grab her arm, only to find himself on the ground in the blink of an eye.
Buffy stared at Spike, who was sprawled on the pavement in front of her. She was shocked at herself; she hadn't over-reacted that badly to being grabbed from behind for nearly two years, and she'd known Spike was there. He looked up at her with speculative blue eyes, and Buffy turned away, afraid of what he might find if he looked too deeply. "Sorry 'bout that," she murmured. "But you should know better than to sneak up on a Slayer."
Spike slowly got to his feet. "Don't think so pet," he mused, brushing a few clinging leaves from his jeans. "You knew I was there. But, I think it does answer the question about where you got a kid when you're supposed to be head over heels for my sire." He watched the way she wrapped her arms around herself and avoided his gaze, and unwillingly his respect for her grew. Spike would kill her someday, or she would kill him, but it would be as warriors going to battle, as it was meant to be. All vampires knew that Slayers got the short end of the stick when it came to life, but Spike often wondered if any Slayer had been kicked in the teeth as often as Buffy had been. The strength of will that kept her going is what made her the best Slayer there'd been in centuries. "Is there someone out there that needs killing Slayer?" he asked quietly. "Dru has some wonderfully wicked things she likes to do to rapists."
"No," Buffy answered shortly, tension and memories making her stiff. "He had the gall to get caught by vamps a couple of nights later. For some reason I was in the hospital and couldn't save him." Fire flared in her eyes at the remembered sense of justice, warring with the guilt that she felt no remorse for loss of a human life. "If you tell anyone Spike, and I mean anyone," she threatened, waving her stake in his general direction.
"I won't tell, but it'll kind of hard to hide when you go back. You'll have to have some explanation." Spike rushed on when she started to interrupt. "The other slayer was killed a week ago. Something's going on out there. They still haven't found the new girl yet, and she'll be inexperienced. This is the third one in two years. You need to go back to Sunnyhell before things get even more out of hand."
Buffy's heart froze up at the news. Her heart ached that another slayer had died. And oh, how she wanted to go home. No one but Giles knew how much she longed to feel the love and comfort she got from her friends, but she was scared. Not of the Hellmouth, but of how her friends would react to the secret she'd kept from them. Of how Angel would react. But, Buffy also knew Spike had a point; she couldn't let everyone at home get overwhelmed by the evil the Hellmouth attracted because she was scared. "I'll think about it," she whispered, trying desperately to come up with a way to keep her friends safe without putting her daughter at risk. Without putting her heart at risk, from both her friends and her enemies.
Spike seemed to be reading her mind tonight; he knew what her concerns were, so he offered one parting shot as he climbed into his car. "Maybe it's time you spilled the beans and let them help you protect the little one. Because we both know the odds. You're the Slayer, and good as you are, your days are numbered. What's going to happen when you fall? Are you going to leave your baby with strangers, unprotected? Are you going to go to your death with a lie between you and your friends?"
Shaken, Buffy watched Spike drive away, before heading back to the small apartment she shared with Giles, wondering if she had the strength to face the past.
No one noticed the flash of teeth, or the gleam of yellow eyes as a figure stepped out of a nearby doorway to watch her walk away.