Xander’s job at the Magic Box was suspiciously easy. He tried not to take offence when every time he tried to do something even remotely useful, one of his friends would jump up and do it for him. Even when Willow claimed she preferred fishing out her own salamander eyes from the jar, and when Dawn insisted that dusting was her all-time favourite hobby, Xander remained silent. He knew they were trying, in their own strange way, to be supportive, so even though it was grating on his nerves something fierce, he restrained himself from slapping them all upside the head. Xander liked it best when Giles was in his office doing paperwork, and there was nobody else around to pester him and ask him questions. Then he puttered around the store setting things to right and knocking more things over. He still hadn’t gotten used to moving around in tight spaces with his well-rounded stomach.
Quitting his other job hadn’t been too difficult. They weren’t going to hold his position, but Xander was encouraged to reapply when he was able to come back to work, and Terry would see what was available. It was one less thing to worry about at any rate, and currently Xander had enough troubles. Xander was eight months pregnant, and he had no reason to suspect that the baby wouldn’t be born within the usual nine-month period. Soon he’d find out if the baby was human enough to slip under Buffy’s radar, or if he was going to have to make a rapid exodus from Sunnydale, babe in arms. He still didn’t know how he was even going to give birth, and there was nobody he could ask.
Xander was gaining a whole new understanding of the word fear. The emotion he was feeling wasn’t the sharp, heart-pounding terror he had felt on numerous occasions when faced with the demon of the hour. No, this was different; this was fear strung out. It was the first thing he felt when he woke up in the morning, and the last thing to go through his mind at night when he fell asleep. An ongoing dread that drifted over him like a dark cloud, and polluted his thoughts whenever he dropped his guard for a moment.
Giles’ concerned voice interrupted Xander’s depressing musings. “ Xander, are you entirely well?”
Xander’s face was taut and tense, almost as if he were in pain. Xander rubbed ruefully at his stomach, and gave a tight smile.
“ Fine. Just like when you asked me this morning, and when you asked an hour ago, and when you asked five minutes ago. Believe me, I’ll keep you posted. I know what Spike threatened to do if you overworked me.”
“ My questions as to your health have nothing to do with that language-mangling delinquent. However, you do seem a little off today, are you certain nothing’s amiss?”
Xander sighed. “ My stomach hurts, but I’m sure it’s just indigestion or something. Really, it’s nothing.”
Giles didn’t think it was nothing. For Xander to admit to some discomfort meant that the pain was probably quite substantial.
“ Why don’t you sit down for a bit? It must be time you took a break regardless,” Giles said, steering Xander in the direction of the couch. Xander had taken a break not more than an hour ago, and he knew Giles was aware of it. It didn’t stop him from sitting down however. His hands instantly found his stomach and began rubbing soothing circles over the tight, overheated flesh, hoping to ease some of the pain radiating out from his body.
Xander’s situation kept his thoughts so occupied that he visibly jumped when Giles spoke to him again.
“ I brought you some steeped peppermint leaves. The box has the audacity to call it tea, but as it’s clearly not…” Seeing Xander’s eyes begin to glaze over, Giles got back to the point. “ It’s supposed to be good for upset stomachs and headaches. Try a little, why don’t you.”
Xander felt he was beyond the help of not-tea, but took a sip to pacify Giles. When he had finished the mug, he placed it on the floor and swung his feet up onto the couch cushions. He had reached the point where he no longer cared what the few customers in the store might think of him, he just wanted to get comfortable and alleviate some of his suffering. Xander tried to force himself into sleep, as the pain got steadily worse.
“ Giles? Where are you? Why is the shop all dark?” Buffy asked, calling out loudly and moving cautiously as she came through the front door. Dawn followed quickly on her heels, and Willow and Tara arrived just shortly afterwards.
“ Shh!” Giles whispered agitatedly, coming out of the back room and gesturing for them to be silent. He glanced back at Xander, fervently hoping that the new arrivals hadn’t caused him to awaken. Xander had barely moved from his prone position all afternoon, and Giles figured that it was probably best that he remain that way, at least until the rest of them could decide upon a course of action.
The sound of Buffy and company’s arrival caused Xander’s eyelids to flicker, but little else. He supposed he could have reassured Giles that he hadn’t been disturbed, and that in fact he hadn’t been able to sleep at all that afternoon, but that would have required moving, and moving, Xander had discovered, was to be avoided at all costs. So while the others carried on a frantic yet ridiculously quiet conversation, Xander pretended not to be aware that he was being discussed.
Xander must have finally dozed off, because the next thing he was aware of, warm hands were patting and stroking the top of his head.
“ Poor Xander,” Willow said softly. Xander winced, and redoubled his efforts to appear asleep. He knew what Willow wanted. She wanted him to turn over, flash her a goofy grin, and tell her that everything was okay. Unfortunately, he wasn’t feeling up to brave. He was feeling sick, and tired, and frightened, and he didn’t think even his impressive ‘I’m good, don’t worry, forget I’m here’ act would work.
“ What’s all this then? Someone want to fill me in?” Spike said loudly, the door banging shut behind him.
“ Spike! Quiet, Xander’s not feeling well,” Buffy shouted back, before clapping her hand over her mouth.
Knowing it was useless to keep up the pretence any longer, Xander made an elaborate show of waking up and looking confused.
“ Hey, when did everyone get here?” Xander said, feigning ignorance, and patting Willow’s hand.
“ Sorry I woke you Xander,” Buffy apologized.
“ Time I got up anyway. If Spike’s here, it must mean it’s time for the Xand-man to go home,” Xander said. This time he didn’t have to feign anything; the relief he felt at the thought of going home was almost palpable. He swung his feet to the floor, ignored the twinge the movement caused, stood up, and passed out cold.
The next time Xander awoke, there were cool fingers running through his hair instead of Willow’s familiar warm ones.
“ About time you woke-up, you lazy sod. Had the little Bit right worried,” Spike said.
“ What happened?” Xander asked anxiously. He nervously checked himself out with his hands, relieved when he felt the baby move beneath his fingertips. “ I didn’t fall, did I?”
“ I caught you, no worries.”
“ You caught me?”
“ Knew you were bad off when you sounded glad to see me. I was just waiting for you to keel over,” Spike said, sounding smug. Xander knew it was a testament to the amount of time they had been spending together that he could detect the undercurrent of worry in Spike’s tone.
“ Just wanted to go home, Spike. Still do. Any chance of that happening?” Xander asked in a small voice. Xander knew he probably sounded weak and pathetic, asking to go home, but he didn’t need to put on a brave face for Spike. Maybe that explained his recent inclinations to seek out Spike when troubled, rather than his friends. There was a certain acceptance to be had when you had seen someone hit rock bottom and they in turn had seen you.
At Xander’s question, Spike’s hands resumed their hypnotic stroking.
“ Think it might be best if we stayed on a bit. The others want to do a spell on you; find out what’s tying you up in knots,” Spike said, aiming for a nonchalant shrug. He begrudgingly added: “ If anyone knows how to deal with the unknown, it would be this lot.”
“ So… They do their spell, then you take us home, right?” Xander asked.
Spike studied Xander’s face for a moment, a little thrown by the ‘us’ comment. He nodded however, and Xander relaxed slightly. Spike wouldn’t let anything happen to him, he felt certain.
“ Willow? Are you sure you’re up to this?” Tara asked. It was well past midnight, and the late hour, combined with the stress of worrying over Xander, had all of them feeling a little frayed around the edges.
“ Power-wise it’ll be no problem. I’m just scared it will, you know, push me over that edge. I haven’t done anything magical for so long, what if I lose control? I hate scary Willow, she sucks,” Willow said. Tara reached across the table and patted Willow’s arm. Willow smiled tremulously, “ Still, I can’t just do nothing. You understand that I have to try, don’t you? I mean, it’s Xander. He’s worth the risk.”
“ I know, Willow. And if you want my opinion, I think this is something you have to do, if only to prove to yourself that you can. I believe in you,” Tara said gently.
“ Are we even sure this is going to work?” Dawn asked practically. “ No offence, but this spell? Sounds sort of dodgy to me. Can you say vague much?”
“ It is somewhat more enigmatic than most, I agree. However, there’s nothing to lose with the attempt. We’ll be no worse off than we are now should the spell fail,” Giles replied, going over the incantation they had chosen for the umpteenth time. It was a simple spell meant to reveal to them the source of Xander’s pain. Hopefully, armed with that knowledge, they could then find out how to help their stricken friend.
“ Xander? Ultimately, this must be your decision. If you are not comfortable with this, we will find another option,” Giles asked, after they had roused Xander and briefly outlined the plan.
“ It won’t hurt the baby, right? I have your word on that?” Xander asked.
“ No harm shall come to you,” Giles answered quickly. Xander was not feeling terribly reassured, especially since everyone seemed to be preoccupied with the spell, which ironically meant ignoring him. Only Spike continued to look unfazed, and even bored, by the proceedings. It was an act though; Spike was not, and never would be, comfortable around magic. He had every reason to think something was going to go wrong tonight; with this bunch, it was an all but certainty.
Eventually, Xander came to be lying on his back on a cleared section of the floor in Buffy’s training room, a pillow under his head, and a nervous expression on his face. Giles, Tara, and Willow stood around him in a rough triangle, with Willow at the apex. Buffy, Spike, and Dawn hovered nearby, on the alert for any sign of danger. The fact that Buffy had a bucket of water, a stake, an axe, a fire extinguisher, and an obscenely large first aide kit spread out within easy reach (and not to mention a rather large and sharp sword in her hand) did not help to lower any of the tensions in the room.
Willow lit her candle, and waited for Giles and Tara to light theirs. Once everything was ready to her satisfaction, she began her incantation, feeling the power begin its slow build through her body. At first it felt foreign and unwieldy, and Willow worried that she had left it alone too long, and that the magics wouldn’t respond to her anymore. Gradually, however, that feeling faded, and it became instead like the welcoming back of an old friend. The tingles shot through to her fingers and toes, her vision began to swim, and she revelled in the feeling of connectedness, letting it flood through her and rid her of all the petty doubts and inhibitions she held.
Carefully, Willow began to siphon that power into its specific target, dimly hearing Tara and Giles chanting in the background, and able to feel her surroundings once more. The magic had not overwhelmed her, and Willow let herself take a few moments to savour the relief, before immersing herself back into the spell. Xander’s pain; she could feel it, she could taste it, but its cause still alluded her.
“ Reveal!” Willow commanded, raising her hand. The three not involved in the spell watched worriedly as Willow lifted a few feet off the ground; the power pulsing through the room was strong enough that even they could see it.
“ Should we do something?” Dawn asked. Giles and Tara were still softly chanting with their eyes closed. Xander was still and silent, his eyes wide open but sightless. Buffy didn’t respond, but took a few steps closer. She felt the circle of power tickle her skin like electricity, and would have warned Dawn and Spike to keep their distance if they hadn’t already followed her and been caught in the web as well.
Suddenly there was a crack, loud as a gunshot, and then the whole room spun away in a whirl of light and shadow, to be replaced by a different scene altogether. They were standing in a gloomy and deserted parking lot, with only a distant streetlight providing any illumination. Not far away was a wrought iron gate, set into a rough stone fence, which went around the perimeter of one of Sunnydale’s many cemeteries.
Buffy easily recognized the place from her patrols. “ Willow, how did we get here? Is everyone okay?”
Willow blinked, and took in her surroundings for the first time. She fought to suppress the shiver she felt when a cold breeze blew across the dismal landscape. “ Umm, I’d love to have an answer for you, but… I don’t think we’ve really left the shop. I can still feel the room; this must be part of the spell.”
“ This is the spell? This is going to tell us what’s wrong with Xander?” Buffy asked bemusedly.
“ Oh no,” Xander whispered. He knew this place also, but Buffy was wrong in supposing this was the same cemetery she passed on a regular basis. No, this was the cemetery as it had appeared eight or so months ago, and it existed now only in Xander’s memories and nightmares. Xander himself kept his thoughts away from this situation; it was just about the last place he wanted to give his friends access to.
“ Xander, what’s going on?” Willow asked.
“ I think we’re all in my head,” Xander replied uneasily.
“ This should be a treat,” Spike added, with a roll of his eyes.
Just then, a second Xander came walking down the darkened road. He didn’t seem aware of the people standing in his path, he just trudged onwards, his head hung low, and his feet scuffling in the dust. He paused as he passed the cemetery gates, his attention caught by something.
“ Willow, I don’t care how you do it, but get us out of here,” Xander said tightly.
“ But I’m not sure…”
“ Now!” Xander demanded desperately.
It was too late. It was too late for the memory-Xander also, as a large greyish demon stepped out from a shadow in the wall, and impeded the boy’s progress. The skirmish was all too brief; the outcome easily predicted. Xander was no match for the massive Broshunk demon, and by the time Xander had the good sense to turn around and make a run for it, two more demons had materialized, and were blocking off his escape.
The first Broshunk swatted at Xander with one massive arm, as though he were no more substantial than a fly; the force of the blow sent Xander crashing against the stone wall. Dazed now, and with his nose and lip bleeding, Xander slumped to the ground, curling in on himself. The Broshunk hauled him out and laid him flat on the gravel, face first. The weight of the Broshunk across Xander’s back seemed to drive him down into the earth, and then there was the unmistakeable sound of torn cloth.
“ Please, please don’t watch this,” Xander begged his friends. He could no longer distinguish between his whimpers and those of his past self. The scream that rent the air, however, was definitely the product of the assault. Xander shut his eyes and hummed to himself, not wanting to relive this period of his life. Even worse was the knowledge that his friends were witnessing it all. If only they would turn away, and let this memory remain his alone.
But though the group all heard Xander pleading, and though they wanted nothing more than to heed his request, they couldn’t turn their eyes away. It was as if watching was their punishment for not having been there in the first place.
Dawn sobbed, unable to handle it anymore, and threw herself into the real Xander’s arms, needing to reassure herself that he was still with them, and that monstrous though the crimes against him had been, that it was all in the past now. Xander gratefully hugged Dawn back. He concentrated on what this night had brought to him besides the pain: the baby. He thought about his child and he was able to block out everything else.
Willow gazed upon the scene with apparent detachment; her expression was cold and impassive. She’d already created a scenario for how Xander got pregnant, and this sudden confrontation with the harsh truth was almost more than she could bear. She didn’t want to believe it, but she was still aware of the spell enough to know that this was no dream and that denial simply wasn’t an option. Xander had been attacked, assaulted, and abandoned while she’d been at home probably already safely asleep in her bed. How dare those vile creatures touch her friend! They had no right.
The power of the spell flooded her veins and enflamed her already heated emotions so that while outwardly she seemed calm, inwardly she was a raging storm of emotion, feverish with the need to avenge her friend.
‘ You could kill them,’ whispered an insidious voice in her head. It sounded like her own voice, only lower and somewhat threatening despite its honeyed tones.
‘ They’re gone,’ Willow argued bitterly. ‘ I wouldn’t know where to begin to look.’
‘ Then kill a part of them. Kill the babe.’
The blackness in Willow’s thoughts lifted slightly, uncertainty bleeding briefly into her thoughts.
‘ But Xander wants the baby…’
‘ How can that be? You see now what they did to him, what they forced him to do. How can he love something that came from such torment?’
Willow’s expression turned ruthless. The voice was right; the child was evil and Xander was under a spell that made him want to keep it. She would stop this now. The power clouded her eyes, and turned them dark. Tara noticed first, turning towards Willow in time to see the expression of pure hate cross her lover’s face.
Willow didn’t respond but the scene in front of them suddenly dissolved and they were all transported to a different space. It was eerily quiet, and pitch black until a column of red light appeared in the centre of the floor. The beam began to emit a dull but steady drumming sound and the noise seemed to echo in their ears. Willow was the only one who didn’t appear disoriented.
“ Where are we now? You better be getting us the hell out of here Witch or I’ll…”
“ Shut-up Spike,” Willow said, power reverberating through her words. With scarcely a twitch of her hand she lifted Spike off his feet and tossed him back across the room.
Tara once again tried to speak to her, but Willow wasn’t to be reasoned with.
“ This is the child’s life force. I brought us here so Buffy can destroy it,” Willow explained coolly.
“ That’s not what I want,” Xander said angrily, crossing over to his best friend. With a sharp glance, she froze him to the spot.
“ Poor Xander. Don’t you know when you’re being controlled? Don’t worry though; I won’t let them use you anymore. This will all be over soon,” Willow said sweetly. She turned her attention back to Buffy: “ Hurry now, there’s not much time. You know this is the right thing to do.”
Buffy hesitated, indecision gripping her. “ Why do I have to do this again?”
“ Because you’re the hero and it’s your duty to protect us, like you failed to do that night. The spell is meant to show us what is causing Xander pain, and what we saw was the night the baby was conceived. Therefore the baby is the source of the pain, and it must be eradicated. It’s the only way to save him.”
Buffy looked uncertainly between Xander and Willow. On the one hand, she had promised herself that she would uphold Xander’s decisions, which would mean letting him keep the baby. On the other hand, it had been her first instinct to kill the baby, and trusting her instincts was part of the reason she was still alive. Besides, she could alleviate some of her guilt if she took care of things now, once and for all. Willow was on her side, and she trusted Willow, didn’t she? It was all so very tempting; one little swipe of her sword and everything would go back to the way it was before any of this started.
Willow was pushing her power to the limits; laying the compulsion on Buffy to overcome the slayer’s common sense was almost too much for her, but she could tell by the determined way in which Buffy clenched her sword that she wouldn’t have to maintain the magic much longer. Willow’s focus was such that she almost didn’t notice Giles’s counter-spell in time. Fortunately, there was a flare of power not her own that drew her attention.
“ Naughty, naughty. Don’t you know that here I make all the rules?” Willow asked rhetorically. With her last dregs of power she attempted to knock Giles out, but Tara saw what was happening and moved to intercept, taking the brunt of the attack. Tara’s eyes rolled back in her head as the surge of power hit her, and she fell to the ground senseless.
The shock of that image broke through the black miasma that had settled over Willow’s mind. In an instant, she saw with perfect clarity how the black magic had tried to manipulate her.
“ Oh Goddess, no,” Willow muttered, but she had no powers left to call on and she fell to her knees entirely helpless. She could only watch with horror as Buffy approached the vulnerable swathe of light, and lifted her sword. The blade glistened beneath the beam’s rays and glowed the colour of freshly spilled blood.
“ No don’t do it!” Xander cried out, still mostly paralysed.
Before Buffy could inflict the killing blow, Spike lunged at her, knocking them both to the floor.
“ Get off! I have to do this. I have to save Xander,” Buffy said, as she struggled to get to her feet.
“ Killing the kid won’t change the fact that this happened. If it’s violence you’re needing, then take it out on someone who can fight back, get me?”
Giles had resolutely kept to his spell, knowing that to stop halfway would only make matters worse. With a relieved sigh he came to the end of it, and without Willow’s magic to out compete his own, he was able to push enough power into the spell to break them free and send them back to the Magic Box. In seconds they were returned to their original positions, their eyes fluttering open as awareness came back to them.
“ Tara? Are you alright baby?” Willow asked tearfully. “ I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it, I swear.”
Tara blinked rapidly, bringing a hand up to her aching head. “ You lost control. W-w-we shouldn’t have pushed you. It’s not your fault,” Tara said haltingly. Still, she drew back when Willow tried to check her for injuries. Hurt, Willow turned to her other friends.
“ It wasn’t me, it was the magic,” Willow said brokenly. Dawn sniffed, and turned away. Buffy looked understanding, but was more concerned with making sure her sister was okay than with reassuring her friend. Willow finally turned pleading eyes on Xander.
“ Xander? Tell me you understand. I would never…”
Someone had threatened his child. He had almost lost his baby without ever getting a chance to hold it. Xander lay trembling on the floor trying to come to grips with these thoughts and failing.
“ Xander, please, say something,” Willow pressed, tears streaming down her face.
“ I want to go home,” Xander said hollowly. Spike heard his cue. Without even asking, he crossed to the middle of the floor where Xander was still lying, and picked him up. Xander let his head come to rest against Spike’s shoulder, more than content to let Spike handle things for the time being.
“ Perhaps it would be best if Xander stayed. We still need to sort some things out,” Giles ventured.
Spike’s jaw clenched and his eyes glittered dangerously. “ What you did to him tonight was almost worse than what those Broshunk did – they at least never claimed to be his friends. You played with his mind, you threatened the one thing that makes his ordeal bearable, and through it all you acted as if Xander were some half-wit, while you remained high-and-mighty, as though you had all the answers. Well, you don’t, do you? You’ve made it worse. So now, I’m taking him home, which was the right thing to do in the first place, and the rest of you can just bugger off.”
Spike slammed out of the room, Xander held gently and carefully in his arms. Spike was so angry that his entire body felt tight, and he yearned to hunt down the Broshunk that had hurt his Xander, and make it pay, just as he wanted to stay and yell at the rest of the group for awhile longer. But while either action would help his own peace of mind, they wouldn’t do much for Xander’s, so he put aside those feelings and concentrated on getting them home.
“ Thank you,” Xander whispered. Spike looked down at the dark head placed trustingly on his shoulder and readjusted his grip.
“ Made a promise to protect you and the little Munchie,” Spike replied gruffly.
“ Oh. Well, you did a good job.”
Xander was too exhausted to talk any more, so they remained quiet all the way back to the apartment. Spike carried Xander up the stairs and only released his hold when Xander was comfortably settled on their couch. Spike heated some blood in the microwave, and carried his meal back to the couch. He got behind Xander, and rearranged their positions until he could get one arm around Xander’s waist. Xander leaned back against Spike’s chest, glad to be held and too confused by all that had happened to question it.
Spike lifted the blood to his lips, when Xander made an unexpected grab for it. Xander had gulped down the entire mug before Spike could even think to complain.
“ More,” Xander said simply, handing Spike the empty mug. Spike hurriedly got to his feet, and went to the kitchen. He filled two more mugs, and brought them back to Xander, who drank them both down swiftly. Spike wordlessly prepared two more mugs, but this time Xander only took a few sips before putting the cup down.
“ The pain is gone,” Xander said. “ The pain in my stomach, it’s all gone now. It must be the blood – I haven’t been drinking enough of it, and that’s why I got sick. God, I’m so stupid! Why couldn’t I have figured out all of this sooner? Now everyone knows what’s happened to me, and everything is all messed up. How can I face any of them after this?”
“ One, while you are stupid, considering you think country music is an actual musical styling, you could hardly have known that blood was the answer to your problem or that the spell would have that effect,” Spike said, regaining his position as Xander’s backrest.
“ And two?”
“ And two what?”
Xander smiled slightly. “ Well, usually when someone begins a sentence with ‘one’, that means there’s a second point coming up.”
“ Fine. Two: your friends are morons, and you’re better off without them.” Seeing Xander’s glum reaction to that statement, Spike sighed and amended softly: “ Things will get better. You’ll remember that they were only trying to help, and they’ll remember why it was so important that they try to do something, and then you can all go back to being the sickening group of nitwits you usually are.”
“ And in the meantime, I get you?” Xander asked, yawning deeply. Without the constant ache in his stomach, Xander was finding it hard to deny sleep any longer. He snuggled up to Spike, who didn’t seem at all perturbed with having a lapful of dozy Xander, and quickly nodded off.
“ Yeah luv, you get me,” Spike said warmly, rubbing his hand along Xander’s arm while he finished his blood. He then picked Xander up for the second time that night, and carried him to the bed.
In the morning, Xander awoke and stumbled to the bathroom. He stared blearily at himself in the mirror, taking in the stubble on his chin, and the redness of his eyes. He was going to start his typical morning routine when he realized he had nowhere at all to go that day. No work, certainly, as he really didn’t see himself going to the Magic Box anytime soon, and there was no other place he had to be, and nobody he needed to meet. Xander decided he might as well make the most of his unexpected day of leisure, and go back to bed.
Spike yawned and stretched, preparing to take full advantage of the warm spot Xander had vacated, when Xander plopped himself down on the bed, causing everything to bounce and jiggle.
“ Shouldn’t do that when you probably weigh as much as a beached whale. Liable to send us both crashing through the floor,” Spike teased.
“ Shut-up and shove over,” Xander said, not at all offended. Spike shifted so there was some space between their bodies, but Xander was having none of that. Once Xander got under the blankets and had them arranged over Spike and himself to his satisfaction, he resumed his position from earlier with his head on Spike’s shoulder, and one bent knee draped over Spike’s legs.
True, they almost always shared a bed at night, and it was also common for them to cuddle together during their sleep, but this was the first time either of them had made a conscious choice to be near to each other. It baffled Spike that Xander would voluntarily touch him, but it was a good bafflement and it caused a rather loopy grin to appear on his face. Spike was very glad that Xander couldn’t see his expression; the mocking would last all morning.
How strange was it, Xander mused, that of all his friends and family, it was Spike, a vampire, and someone he had almost always disliked, that he trusted with all his insecurities and vulnerabilities. It wasn’t just because Spike had proved himself as a protector, because Xander had felt a connection long before he’d put any trust in Spike’s motives. No, it was something else that drew Xander to Spike; maybe it was their similar experiences with people who let you down right when you needed them most. Who abandoned you for someone better.
Then again, did it really matter how it had happened? A reason wouldn’t make it any less true.
“ Little Munchie seems none the worse for wear,” Spike said into the stillness. With Xander lying as he was, his stomach was pressed against Spike’s side, which explained why Spike could feel the baby moving about.
“ Should I be concerned that you keep calling my baby a ‘munchie’?” Xander asked rhetorically. He knew Spike gave nicknames to everyone, and he was actually getting to appreciate the title given to his child, not that he was ever going to admit that to Spike.
“ Easier to talk with the kid when he’s got a handle, yeah? You got any names picked out?”
Nobody had asked Xander that, and it struck him yet again how much more comfortable Spike was with the pregnancy than his friends were. He supposed he should cut his friends some slack; a male pregnancy was certainly disturbing. It was like someone with a noticeable disfigurement – no matter how accepting or liberal minded you are, the first reaction is always to stare. There were moments where Xander himself felt overwhelmed with the weirdness factor, staring at his protruding belly as though it were something entirely alien.
“ I have first names picked out. I haven’t decided on a middle name, though anything I pick has got to be better than Lavelle.”
“ Lavelle?” Spike snorted. “ Your parents were afraid you weren’t going to be picked on enough?”
“ I prefer to think it was a mistake the doctor made. I mean, it’s not even a family name,” Xander said, giving a shudder. Spike’s hand had by this time slipped unnoticed under Xander’s t-shirt, and was laying flat against Xander’s belly, enjoying the sensation of the baby shifting. With his thumb he started rubbing small circles, a fact that Xander couldn’t help but be aware of. Xander didn’t say anything, however, as he didn’t want it to end.
“ My middle name’s nothing to boast about, either,” Spike offered.
“ Really? What is it?”
Spike mumbled something that Xander couldn’t catch.
“ Care to repeat that?”
“ Archibald,” Spike muttered deprecatingly. Xander chuckled, and Spike scowled, and it was all so easy, so familiar. Intimate.
Intimacy without sex: what a concept. Actually, no, in Xander’s experience, sex with intimacy was the unlikely occurrence. Sex first, confusion later; that was the usual pattern of Xander’s relationships. It explained why Xander’s most profound and most revealing disclosures had been to friends, not lovers. In fact, at one point there had really only been one person he had wanted to confide in, and that person was Willow. The thought of his best friend made Xander’s stomach lurch nauseously. What had happened to their complete and utter faith in each other? How could they get back there? He wasn’t mad at her anymore, not even for what she had tried to do to the baby. He understood about the magic, and really, all he wanted was his best friend back. Would they be able to get past this?
“ Hey, what’s with the brooding all of a sudden? Did you forget my admission already?”
Xander put the thought of Willow resolutely to the back of his mind. “ No danger of that, Archibald.”
“ I should think not, Lavelle,” Spike returned. “ I’m getting hungry. You?”
“ Yeah. Guess that means we have to get up?”
“ Small as this place is, I don’t think we can reach the refrigerator from here, no.”
“ Damn faulty floor design,” Xander said. He sighed, “ So we’ll get up.”
Neither made any movement to do so.
“ Five minutes?” Spike suggested. Xander nodded in agreement.
Three hours later, give or take, they set about making something to eat.
The day passed quietly, and if that seemed a little odd considering recent events, then they wilfully ignored it. They were bickering over what to watch on television that evening, when the apartment buzzer sounded. After a quick look at the suddenly silent Xander, Spike rose to answer it.
“ I hate these contraptions… Spike, might I have a word with Xander?”
“ He’s resting. What do you want?”
“ I’d really rather not discuss this in the foyer. May I come up?”
Spike redirected the question to Xander with a look, and Xander nodded. Spike released the security door and they waited. When Giles arrived, he looked just as unsure of what to say as Xander did.
“ Hey Giles, thanks for getting us out of that nightmare spell. I forgot to say something yesterday.”
“ You needn’t have concerned yourself with that; you undoubtedly had more important matters to consider after…” Giles trailed off, not wanting to stall the conversation before it had begun. “ You should know, we all feel responsible for both what happened and our reactions to it.”
Xander shifted uncomfortably, and said awkwardly: “ I really don’t need apologies, okay?”
“ Right. Certainly,” Giles said, resisting the urge to fiddle with his glasses. “ What I really came here to say is that after we got over ourselves, we did try to do something positive. We’ve been researching virtually since day break, all about Broshunk demons, and we may have found some information that can help you.”
“ Really?” Xander asked, finally looking up from the floor.
“ Yes, well. There have been one or two documented cases of men giving birth to a Broshunk-Human hybrid child, and that at least gives us a place to start. Are you aware that you’ll need to drink animal blood during your pregnancy?”
“ Uh, I sort-of figured that out on my own. I’ve been drinking from Spike’s stash for a while. Of course, I thought it was just a craving. I didn’t realize that I actually needed to drink, not until yesterday anyway.”
Giles made the connection. “ The pain you experienced. Yes, that would correlate with what we know. You are feeling better now then?”
“ As good as to be expected, considering I have blood-breath now,” Xander admitted. He struggled to get off the couch, tired of craning his neck to look up at Giles. Spike grabbed one of his flailing arms and hauled him upwards.
“ Do you want something to drink?” Xander asked, heading towards the kitchen area.
“ No, thank you,” Giles said. He did sit down in one of the kitchen chairs, however, and spread out a few books he had brought with him over the table. Xander poured himself some orange juice, before sitting down and reluctantly reaching for one of the books.
“ What else did you guys learn?”
“ Bits and pieces of trivia, nothing too terribly important. Although, now that Buffy knows the baby is mostly human, she has promised not to harm it,” Giles said, almost fearing a reaction.
Spike snorted disdainfully and shook his head: “ Such restraint. She’s a real saint that one.”
Giles jaw instinctively clenched at the slight to his charge, but he forced a retort down. He had to admit that Spike had a point, but still, better late than never for Buffy to get on board.
“ Also, we discovered something about the birth that I know you’re not going to like.” Giles took a deep breath, and Xander schooled his features into a picture of apparent calm, preparing himself for anything. “ Your body has not been altered to allow for a ‘natural’ birth. The only way to remove the child without causing it or you serious harm is to do a spell.”
Xander’s breath hitched; Spike slammed the flat of his hand against the countertop causing it to crack.
“ A spell? You expect him to come anywhere near any of you ever again after you were so successful the last time?” Spike demanded.
“ I expect nothing, I am only explaining the situation. On the plus side, it is a very simple spell, requiring very little by way of power. It does require that it be performed on the night of a full moon, however. The next one is in two weeks, which is the closest we’ll get to having the child born to term.”
Spike was about to say something nasty regarding magic in general, and Giles in specific, but Xander spoke before he had a chance.
“ Is Willow doing the spell?” Xander asked neutrally.
“ She made it very clear that she would have no part in any spell. She feels she is not yet ready, plus she didn’t want you to have any reservations about going through with this necessary step.”
Xander took a moment to think about it, but if what Giles said was true, and this was the only way to safely deliver his baby, then he wasn’t going to let fear stop him.
“ Willow did have one request,” Giles said.
Xander tensed: “ Yes?”
“ While Tara and I do the spell, she wants to hold your hand.”
Xander’s heart threatened to beat through his chest. What happened next was a blur, but somehow he managed to get his hands on a phone, and to dial Willow’s number, and then the next thing he knew, Willow was coming through his door, and they were hugging and crying and speaking all at once.
“ Xander, I am so sorry,” Willow said, her voice muffled considering she had buried her head in Xander’s shoulder.
“ It’s okay, it’s okay, I’m just so glad you’re here. I thought you’d hate me, think I was disgusting or something…”
“ Oh! I would never!”
They continued to mutter things, but they never once let up on their fierce hug. When at last they drew apart, Willow used Giles’ handkerchief to blow her nose. Xander swiped at his eyes with the back of his sleeve and hoped nobody noticed their puffiness. Everyone did.
“ See? Didn’t I tell you that soon you’d all go back to the revolting lovey-dovey displays? I mean really, couldn’t you at least take this outside? Demon here; this is all very disturbing to me.”
“ Aw, poor Spike,” Willow said with exaggerated sympathy. She then hugged the shocked vampire, silently thanking him for saving Xander and the baby last night. Spike couldn’t even think of something to say afterwards, so he busied himself with getting some blood. He really had to stop hanging around with this bunch of do-gooders before he lost his appetite.
Giles and Willow only stayed for a little while before leaving together. Giles had left all the books, indicating which ones Xander would find most useful. They were all going to meet at the Magic Box tomorrow, and Giles said he would try to answer any of Xander’s questions at that time.
The following weeks passed very quickly. Dent D’Or stepped up his attempts at taking over the city. The mercenaries he hired weren’t particularly difficult to dispatch, but they were numerous, and it kept the active members of the Scooby gang busy. Spike was an eager participant in patrols, because being at home only made him nervous. Xander seemed confident that this time nothing would go wrong with the spell, but Spike wasn’t so certain. On the other hand, he was also looking forward to finally meeting the baby he had been talking to (often during the night once Xander had fallen asleep – this was one baby who was going to be fluent in British swear words from a very early age). Anyway, suffice to say that Spike was in need of burning off some excess energy, and for once the demon community was being accommodating.
Spike and Xander were lying side-by-side in bed on the eve of the baby’s birth, being quiet but not sleeping.
“ Have you ever been afraid?”
It was an honest question, and Spike chose to answer it without his usual bravado.
“ ‘Course I have. As a human, I was scared all the time.”
“ No, I mean like really, really afraid? What if something goes wrong tomorrow? And even if everything goes great, what am I going to do with a baby? My parents don’t exactly set a very good example of parenthood. What if I mess up this kid’s life? What if it hates me?”
“ Good parents worry about those things; bad ones don’t,” Spike said.
Xander digested this bit of news, but it didn’t calm all of his worries.
“ And I do know about being afraid. I know you all think it’s nothing major, and you’ve gotten used to it, but this chip? Sometimes it terrifies me beyond all reason. You can have no idea what it’s like to have to go out everyday and to see people who, if they took the inclination, could beat you to death. No matter what they did to me, I wouldn’t be able to stop them. That night, when Dent D’Or sent those human mercenaries? I was left there on the sidewalk, and all I could think was ‘this is it, this is how it ends’. Guess that means we fear the same thing, huh? We’re scared that when the time comes to act, we won’t be able to.”
“ Helpless,” Xander agreed.
They continued to stare at the ceiling, thinking their own thoughts. Xander took the time to consider the implications of the chip from Spike’s point of view. It must have been a hard thing to come to terms with, that sudden dependence on mercy when before there had merely been ‘want, take, have’. Suddenly becoming a victim was something Xander could sympathize with. Still, there was a positive in that the chip had enabled their rather strange friendship to develop. That had to count for something, right?
“ Yeah?” Spike replied, his voice a little sleepier than before.
“ Tomorrow, if something happens to me…”
“ Don’t need to worry about that…” Spike interjected. He didn’t want to hear about Xander leaving. Period.
“ If something happens to me,” Xander insisted, “ Promise me you’ll keep protecting my baby?”
Shock did not begin to describe Spike’s reaction. He could scarcely squeak out a response over the lump in his throat. “ I… I promise, Xander. Anything that goes after little Munchie has to go through me first.”
Xander smiled and patted Spike’s shoulder, before rolling onto his side, determined to get at least a few hours of sleep.
“ Though, seeing as how you’re trusting me with your first born and all, don’t you think you should tell me what you’re going to call it?”
“ It’s really killing you not knowing, isn’t it?” Xander asked, a smile to go with his words.
“ You have no idea,” Spike replied.
“ Get used to disappointment,” Xander said. Spike huffed, and Xander laughed. It wasn’t so very hard to fall asleep after that.
The gang was supposed to arrive at Xander’s apartment shortly after dusk, but life on the Hellmouth intervened, and they found themselves fighting a nasty, smelly, puppy-eating demon that simply would not leave them alone. Spike had gone out to lend a hand, hoping that with his help they could dispatch the demon quicker, and get back to Xander. Xander had been feeling some pain upon waking, and it had been getting worse throughout the day. When Spike had left that evening, Xander had been lying on the bed, his forehead bathed in sweat, and his mouth pinched tightly shut. The baby certainly knew it was time to be born, and it was not about to wait, not even for puppy-eating demons.
Finally, with half an hour until midnight, the worn-out warriors trooped into Xander’s apartment. All signs of weariness soon fled, however, when it came time to do the birthing spell. For it to begin, Xander first had to be put to sleep, and so with a smile that was meant to be brave, a squeeze of Willow’s hand, and a brief but meaningful look to Spike, who acknowledged with a nod, Xander closed his eyes and let the spell put him under.
The next thing Xander knew, someone was rubbing his hand, and washing the sweat off his brow. It had only been a few minutes, he was certain, and therefore his first impulse was that something had gone wrong. He opened panicked eyes, and they quickly focused on Willow’s beaming face. The rest of the room had been blocked off from view by a sheet that Giles or someone must have hung up for privacy.
“ Hey, you’re finally awake. How are you feeling?”
“ That depends. Is everything… Am I… Did I?”
“ The spell worked perfectly, and you’ve been asleep for about an hour. You shouldn’t be in any pain right now – we pumped you full of drugs, but once they wear off, you might feel a little sore.”
Xander nodded. He could have guessed at the drugs as his vision was a little hazy in the dim light, and he felt weak. All of that was merely a peripheral observation however, as he had one burning question that he was almost afraid to ask.
“ And the baby?”
Willow’s face positively glowed, and joyful tears formed in the corners of her eyes. “ Oh my Goddess, Xander, he’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
“ It’s a boy?”
Willow nodded, overcome by her emotions for a moment. She hugged Xander, and tried to pull herself together. “ A boy, and as far as we can tell, he’s perfectly healthy. He’s got a good pair of lungs, that’s for certain.”
“ I want to see him. Can I see him?” Xander begged. He tried to get out of bed, but he felt too woozy.
Willow turned her head and called out. “ He’s awake, and he wants to see the baby.”
The sheet was drawn back, and suddenly the tired but blissfully happy faces of his friends surrounded Xander. Dawn jumped to the bed, hugging Xander and giggling out her congratulations.
“ Xander, I can’t believe I ever threatened him. He’s utterly perfect. So small, so tiny,” Buffy gushed, eyes shining. Xander was getting more than a little perturbed that everyone had gotten to see his child, and he was still waiting.
“ And you should see him cry when Buffy gets within ten feet of him. Got so I had to hold him outside in the hallway,” Spike said, looking fiercely protective and supremely smug at the same time. He carried a small bundle of white cotton in his arms.
“ Yes, it appears your child favours Spike above the rest of us. He’s the only one who could get him to stop crying,” Giles said, almost petulantly. Xander smiled, but his attention never wavered from the baby Spike held.
Spike brought him over, and Xander at last got to look into the face of the baby he had protected, fought for, cared for, and loved for nine long months. The tiny eyelashes, the warmth that spread through the soft white baby blanket, the dark hair that already lay in silky wisps on the small head, the slight flare of the barely there nostrils… It was all fascinating, all Earth shattering. Xander just couldn’t stop staring. This living being was a part of him, and still somehow, he was perfect.
“ Guess all that stuff about talking to kids in the womb is true,” Spike ruminated. “ As I’m the only non-stranger in the room, I’m the only one he trusts to be near him.”
“ Guess that means you know me too then,” Xander whispered to the baby. The baby gurgled and his eyes opened a tiny bit.
“ Hey! He’s got blue eyes,” Dawn exclaimed. They all crowded around to observe for themselves, and there was a loud chorus of ‘awws’. The baby managed to free one of its tiny limbs and gripped onto Xander’s finger tightly. Xander thought his heart might burst. He didn’t even notice that the baby’s fingernails were black.
Giles still took it upon himself to explain. “ The baby’s fingernails and toenails are black and more like claws then real human nails. It’s nothing to be concerned over, and it appears to be the only visible reminder that he’s not entirely human.” Giles gaze softened as he looked over the new father. “ Simply makes him extra special.”
“ Hmm, black nails, blue eyes, and a penchant for blood? Spike, is there something we should know?” Buffy asked teasingly. Dawn laughed at Spike’s comical expression, and he pretended to growl at her for it.
“ Much as I’d love to take credit for it, I’m afraid it’s just a coincidence. Besides, it’s just as likely he’ll have brown eyes.”
“ What do you mean?” Tara asked.
“ He means that eye colour can take a few days to develop. A lot of babies start off with blue eyes that eventually darken. Though as to why Spike knows this… You did read my pregnancy books, didn’t you?” Xander accused gleefully.
“ Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Spike blustered, looking anywhere but at Xander. The other’s burst out laughing.
“ So what’s his name?” Spike asked, wanting to get the others off the topic of his new reading selections.
“ Oh yes! Have you thought of a name yet, Xander? Because I have lots of ideas!” Willow said, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
Xander traced a finger down his baby’s face reverently. “ His name’s Jesse.”
“ That’s perfect, Xander. He would really have liked that,” Willow said gently. Buffy nodded her agreement.
“ Jesse Harris,” Dawn said, testing the name out.
“ Jesse Rupert Harris,” Xander elaborated. He looked up at Giles, “ If that’s alright?”
“ More than alright,” Giles said, clearly stunned. He spent a few moments, dithering over the appropriate response and trying to think of something to do with his hands. “ I think I need a moment.”
Giles stepped out of the apartment and into the hallway.
“ I think you killed him Xan,” Buffy joked warmly. “ There’s only so much that stiff British upper lip can take.”
Xander smiled, pleased that his decision had gone over as well as it had. They continued to ooh and ahh over the baby, but Xander wouldn’t let anyone hold him again. He knew it was selfish, but it was the best feeling in the world holding Jesse, and he wasn’t prepared to share just yet. The others looked understanding. Eventually, the noise of the room, and all the people, began to make the baby fuss.
“ Right, that means it’s time you lot got a move on. They’ll both be here in the morning, you can come back then.”
“ You’re really going to rub it in that you get to live here and see the baby everyday, aren’t you?” Dawn hypothesized.
“ You bet,” Spike replied. He managed to get everyone out of the room, though there were an awful lot of ‘one last looks’ and ‘just one last hug’ to get through. When the apartment was at last cleared, Spike came back over, and sat on the edge of the bed next to Xander.
“ Just you, me and the little Munchie now,” Spike said softly.
“ I never thought it would be this good,” Xander said in awe.
“ Can I see it then?”
“ You haven’t seen the baby yet? But you were holding him when I woke-up,” Xander asked confused.
“ Don’t mean the baby. Seen him already, haven’t I? Love the baby. Nah, what I want is to see the scar where they pulled him out.”
Between the drugs and seeing Jesse, Xander hadn’t given any thought to that aspect of things. Somewhat timorously, Xander pulled back the sheet that covered his torso. The skin looked slightly stretched, but otherwise unmarked. A few sit-ups and he would be back to normal.
“ What? No scar! How dare they? Oh, I am so going to have words with that bloody Watcher…” Spike jumped up and started to pace and gesticulate. He kept muttering about how nobody had any respect for battle scars anymore. Xander just shook his head at the insanity that was Spike, and turned back to stare at Jesse, who had taken to sucking on a corner of blanket. Sure, it was a strange life that Xander was leading, but at this moment, it suited him just fine.
Feed the Author