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Part Seven

“ But why does it have to be pink?” Spike asked sulkily.

Xande turned away to pick up a duffle bag full of baby supplies, an action which coincidentally hid the fact that he was trying desperately not to laugh. When he thought he could answer without giggling, he did so.

“ Because Joyce had two baby girls and no boys, which resulted in an overwhelming amount of baby supplies almost exclusively in the colour of pink. This includes such items as blankets, cribs, strollers, and that fuzzy baby-carrier you’re scowling at. And, as you no doubt are aware of, I cannot afford to say no to free baby stuff, so you and Jesse are just going to have to get used to pink.”

Spike continued to glare at the baby carrier, squirming uncomfortably, and whining at Xander. “ But it’s pink! Not white that’s been stained with the blood of the innocent to some pinkish colour, but a pink that’s been specifically chosen to be as obnoxiously cheerful as possible. It’s even got a label emblazoned across it that says ‘Snuggly’ – I can’t do it Xander, it’s too much. I won’t do it, and that’s final.”

“ That’s fine Spike. I already said you didn’t have to. I’ll hold Jesse and you can bring the diaper-bag, which is a reconverted gym bag in the very manly shade of navy blue. Now are we ready to go?”

Xander turned to look at Spike who was struggling to get the baby carrier overtop of his duster. He bit his lip so hard he was sure it would bleed, but it didn’t stop the little snort of amusement. Spike’s eyes flashed yellow.

“ One word Harris, and I’ll…”

“ I wouldn’t threaten the man who has this much blackmail over you,” Xander interjected, a wide grin gracing his features. “ Really didn’t think you’d cave on this one Spike, I have to admit.”

Spike shrugged almost bashfully, as he grumbled: “ Don’t have to go making a whole production over it. I want to carry little Munchie and, well, I see your point about being outside after dark and it being useful if I at least have the use of both my hands. God, what a pathetic vampire I’m turning into. Damn this government chip, damn all that hormone laced junk-food, and damn daytime television for making me the unhinged sod that I am.”

Xander had collected Jesse from his crib during Spike’s diatribe, and was even now handing over the warm sleepy baby into the waiting arms. Spike’s irritable mood lifted immediately, and he smiled as he chucked the infant gently under the chin, prompting deep brown eyes to open and stare back at him. The way Spike could be transformed from volatile and pissed-off, to calm and sweet-tempered, in two seconds flat, never failed to amaze Xander. Barely a month old, and already Jesse had Spike wrapped around his tiny fingers.

Spike manoeuvred Jesse into the baby carrier so that Jesse’s front was pressed up against his chest. Jesse was unfazed by this new arrangement, and lifted his thumb up to his mouth.

“ Seems to like the carrier, don’t he?” Spike said quietly, as he brushed at the soft downy hair on the baby’s head.

“ And what does the formerly big bad vampire think of it?” Xander teased, ushering them out the door of the apartment.

“ Bloody hell,” Spike muttered angrily. “ I like it, alright? He’s all nice smelling, and warm, and I can hear his little heartbeat.”

“ So we can keep the carrier?”

“ Maybe we can dye it or something,” Spike pondered.

“ We could add some fetching racing stripes,” Xander offered helpfully. He easily dodged as Spike went to swat at him. “ I don’t know why you’re so worried about it anyway. Is anyone really going to care?”

The question, though rhetoric, was soon to be answered. It took almost no time at all before they had walked the distance to the Magic Box where the rest of the group had gathered in order to throw Xander and Jesse a belated baby shower. Spike had been against the idea until he heard that the celebration involved presents. However, he’d been disappointed to learn that the presents were for Jesse and not for him. To hear Spike tell it, he was the one who did all the work, and consequently deserved all the rewards, especially when you considered that all the baby did was eat and sleep. Xander asked what Spike did besides eat and sleep, and got a dirty look for his efforts.

They came through the door, and Xander grinned at the attempts made to make the shop look party worthy. The streamers, the balloons, and the ‘It’s a Boy!’ banner that was already falling from where it had been inexpertly tacked-up, made his good mood even better.

There was a ripple of laughter as Spike came into view: heavy black boots, tough-guy leather duster, and a pink snuggly to complete the ensemble.

“ Spike, that colour is simply you. Darling, we must do lunch so you can dish all your fashion secrets,” Dawn taunted. She was sitting on the counter, munching on a sugar cookie.

“ I think I have a hair scrunchie that colour at home. I’ll bring it next time, yeah? After all, it’s so important to coordinate these days,” Willow added, sniggering slightly.

“ I remember my mom carrying Dawn in that carrier. I thought she looked sweet, but you’re down right adorable, aren’t you Spikey?” Buffy baited.

Spike rolled his eyes, and strode further into the room. “ That’s the best you can do? Have to admit, I expected worse. You were right Harris, they really are a bunch of unimaginative dullards.”

“ Xander!” Willow exclaimed.

Xander stopped grinning at Spike’s predicament, and tried to defend himself. “ I never said… But I didn’t do anything. Spike!”

Spike chortled to himself, and headed over to a table where various drinks had been set out. The others continued to grill Xander for a while, before being satisfied that he really hadn’t said anything offensive about anybody. By this time Spike had settled down in the best chair the shop had to offer, with a bottle of JD in his hand, and the pile of baby presents directly in front of him.

“ Spike?”

“ Yeah, little Bit?”

“ Can I hold Jesse please?” Dawn pleaded. Spike couldn’t help thinking that she really needed to work on her puppy-dog eyes; Xander’s were way harder to resist.

“ You want to hold him?”

“ Oh yes,” Dawn nodded.

“ I guess because he’s so cute and small and stuff.”

Dawn nodded again enthusiastically.

“ In fact, everyone here probably wants to hold him for a little while, don’t they?”

“ Aw come on, Spike. I asked first so it’s only fair,” Dawn wheedled. “ Please?”

“ Well, I suppose I could give him up…” Spike said thoughtfully. Dawn’s expression turned hopeful, and she reached out eagerly in anticipation. Spike smirked, and sat back in his seat. “ But then again, you hurt my feelings, so I’m not prepared to be very generous. Better luck next time.”

Dawn was agog with her mouth open and her eyes filling with disbelief. She was quick to protest.

“ But you… You can’t do that!”

“ Should have thought of that before you mocked the snuggly,” Spike returned cheekily.

“ That’s ridiculous! You’ve said way worse stuff, and I mean come on, we had to say something. How many opportunities are there to see a vampire with a baby carrier?”

“ Anyone who claims to want to hold Jesse as much as you do, would have been smart to have thought of that before saying such hurtful things. I’m thinking of what’s best for Jesse. He’s impressionable and I can’t have him associating with bully types like you, can I?”

“ Me a bully? Are you freaking nuts?”

“ And now you start in with the inappropriate language. Tsk, tsk, Dawn. At this rate, little Munchie’s going to be too big to lift before you even get to hold him.”

“ You swear all the time!” Dawn exploded. Spike was about to reply with another (in his mind) witty retort, when Xander intervened.

“ Spike, just let her hold the baby, okay?”

At Spike’s chastisement, Dawn threw a gloating look at Spike and waited expectantly.

“ But Xander…”

Xander stared hard at Spike, completely unmoved, and Spike very reluctantly handed over his charge. He’d only been teasing Dawn of course, since he liked her more than most of the others, and she was good with Jesse, but then he really hadn’t wanted to let go of Jesse just yet either.

“ Make sure you support his whole body. And don’t jostle him too much – he’s tired and needs to sleep. And make sure he’s warm but not too warm.”

“ I know, Spike,” Dawn said, trying not to get exasperated.

It was a source of great amusement amongst the Scoobies just how protective Spike was of Jesse. Anyone who got to hold the baby always had to do so with Spike hovering nearby, criticizing his or her every action. When Spike wasn’t around, they even did impressions of him: ‘hold his head, you lazy sods!’ was a particular favourite. Tara did it best. If Spike could’ve had his way, he would have never let anyone but he and Xander hold the baby, but Xander usually insisted that Spike share, so Spike did, though very begrudgingly.

The only person who didn’t consider Spike’s possessiveness endearing was Buffy. Still operating under the guidelines that anything Spike could do she could do better, it had been rather dismaying to her sensibilities when it became obvious that Jesse preferred Spike to herself. In fact, in the early days, Jesse had cried whenever she’d tried to hold him, and Spike had mocked her relentlessly for it. It was Giles who came up with the theory that on some instinctual level, Jesse knew Buffy was a slayer, and was merely reacting to a perceived threat. To her credit, Buffy had stuck to it, and eventually Jesse had grown accustomed to her presence. Of course, there was no living with her after that victory.

The others had varying degrees of success with Jesse. Giles always held the baby stiffly, as though he wasn’t quite sure what to make of the fidgeting infant, but the fascination was clearly there in his expression. Willow tended to be a little too excitable around the baby, but Tara could always be counted on to soothe and calm both Willow and Jesse down. Dawn was equally adept at looking after Jesse, simply because she tried so hard.

Spike had immediately bonded with the baby, and spent most of his waking hours with him (though he steered clear of any diaper changes, claiming it upset his delicate sense of smell). It was Spike who had finally gotten Jesse to drink from his bottle, after correctly theorizing that Jesse was hungry for more than just milk. After conducting numerous experiments, they had finally hit upon the right combination of formula and pig’s blood that satisfied Jesse’s hunger and kept him from crying. After that was settled, it wasn’t very often that they heard Jesse cry; usually only when something startled him. And when that happened, it was Xander, and Xander alone that Jesse wanted.

Of course, Xander hated it when Jesse was in such distress that he resorted to tears, but he had to admit it was nice being the one Jesse depended on. There was no feeling quite like the one he got when his son needed him. His son. Xander still got a kick out of saying that. The first time he’d introduced Jesse that way had been at the grocery store and he was sure that the cashier was still marvelling at how one man could possibly gush so much. Xander just couldn’t seem to stop himself; fairly brimming with pride, he doubted that there was anyone within city limits who didn’t know about his newborn son (though he fervently prayed that the exceptions included his parents, for obvious reasons, and any baby-eating demons, for even more obvious reasons).

“ So make with the gift giving already. I’ll need a spot of violence after all this rubbish, so let’s get on with it, yeah?”

“ Why are you even here? It’s a baby-shower, which means that the gifts are for the baby, and possibly for Xander. The gifts are not for the annoying un-dead moocher who lives with them,” Buffy explained, using the most patronizing voice she possessed.

Spike sneered at her.

“ Spike’s feeling a little left out. Thinks the new baby is getting all the attention,” Xander said grinning. “ Now remember what I said, Spike, I love you both equally.”

“ Oh, sod off the pair of you,” Spike replied grumpily, prompting the rest of them to break out into giggles.

Before the evening could degenerate into an insult-a-thon between vampire and slayer, they quickly got the rest of the festivities underway. Although none of them had much money to speak of, there were still quite a lot of boxes for Xander to unwrap. Buffy and Dawn had already raided their basement and given Xander all the baby items their mother had put into storage, so their gift was small. Buffy gave a set of silver picture frames, while Dawn gave a coupon good for ten hours of free babysitting. Similarly, Willow had already given a gift to baby Jesse also. With the help of her computer and a little ingenuity, Willow had provided Jesse with a birth certificate and other necessary documents within days of his birth. That evening, Xander unwrapped a pair of footie pyjamas adorned with fire-trucks, and gave her a wide grin in thanks. Tara gave Xander and Jesse several jars and pouches filled with home-remedies she had learned from her mother as a child. They were for things such as diaper rash and toothache, and she promised to make more when Xander ran out. She blushed deeply at Xander’s effusive thanks. Finally, Giles gave the expected (though no less appreciated) gift of a college trust fund, after which he once again ‘needed a moment’. The last present turned out to be a camera that was a present from all of them, and it came with the express instructions that he was to take as many photos of Jesse as was humanly possible.

Willow and Tara stood to begin clearing away the detritus of wrapping paper and ribbons, when Spike rather roughly shoved a small brown paper package into Xander’s hands. Xander looked up questioningly, but Spike was already looking away, trying to appear nonchalant. Xander turned his attention to the package, which was really more tape than paper, and finally managed to reveal a tiny baby bracelet made of black braided leather.

Xander gasped. “ Is this the this that I think it is?”

“ It is what it is. Little scrapper like him needs to start somewhere, yeah? Right, now where’d I put that scotch I nicked from Rupert?”

Xander swallowed the urge he had to thank Spike, knowing it would only make the vampire uncomfortable, though it was a close thing when he saw the torn edge of Spike’s duster. He collected his son from his current handler Buffy, and carefully tied the bracelet around the tiny wrist. For the first time that evening, Jesse showed an interest in his gifts. Chubby fingers tugged at the leather, before he mouthed it curiously.

“ Yeah, you know who gave you that, don’t you?” Xander asked softly. Jesse smiled, and continued to slobber over his bracelet.

“ Hope Spike cleaned that first. Who knows where that duster’s been?” Buffy asked rhetorically. She settled herself within talking distance of Xander with a glass of punch in her hand.

“ Actually, I’m pretty sure Spike thought of that. Lately I’ve taken to wondering if maybe Spike has been possessed by some middle-aged, obsessive-compulsive, soccer mom.”

“ Well, if he buys a mini-van it might be time to worry,” Buffy said with a snicker. “ On the other hand, it could be he’s always been this prissy but only now does he have an outlet.”

They continued to chat amicably, and everyone else eventually gravitated towards Xander and the baby, which suited Xander fine as he got to talk with his friends while he fed Jesse his bottle.

“ Well, this has got to be one of our best celebrations yet,” Willow pronounced. “ No surprise demon encounters, no spells gone awry… And I’m really tempting fate here now, aren’t I?”

“ And I always thought you were the brains of the group,” Xander said, with a sad shake of his head.

“ Perhaps it would be prudent to bring tonight to a close before something untoward happens,” said Giles.

“ Yeah, and some of us have to work in the morning. Actually, some of us have to work right now too,” Buffy said, glancing at her watch.

“ Yeah, we should be going also. Jesse has to look his most adorable tomorrow, so that the babysitter I’m meeting with will say yes to the job even after I tell her what I can afford to pay her.”

At Xander’s comments, Spike’s expression darkened and his shoulders tensed, but everyone was too busy getting things organized to notice. It wasn’t until Xander and Spike had gotten back to the apartment, and Spike was handing a sleeping Jesse over to his father, that Xander even recognized the silence as a sign that something was wrong.

“ Er, Spike? You okay?”

“ Going out to kill something,” Spike said tersely, before striding away. Xander was left holding a baby in one arm and a bag full of presents in the other, a puzzled expression on his face. What had he done now?

“ Sometimes I just don’t get him,” Xander muttered aloud. “ Actually, that’s an exaggeration. I don’t get him period. Whoever said living with a centuries old, undead, hyperactive, blood-drinking demon was easy was… actually, I think it was Spike who said that, so yeah, clearly insane.”

Xander continued to mumble to himself as he entered the apartment. He carefully transferred Jesse from his arms to the crib and succeeded in not waking the baby up. Jesse slept more than the average baby; at first, it had concerned Xander, but the doctor had convinced the nervous parent that it was not adversely affecting Jesse’s health, and that quite likely Jesse would grow out of it. Although relieved with this diagnosis, Xander had continued to worry for a few days, getting very little sleep himself paradoxically, and he wished there was someone he could talk to about parenting. His own parents were obviously out, and there weren’t many other adults he knew who had children. It saddened him to think that had Joyce been alive, she would have been the ideal candidate. In the end, Willow had suggested one of the non-profit help groups that the local community centre sponsored. Xander would be going to his first meeting on Wednesday, and he was both excited and a little nervous about attending.

Xander put away the presents he had received as best as he could in the small apartment. It had been a tight squeeze before Jesse had arrived, but now with a crib and the various other baby accoutrements added to the space, it was a literal obstacle course just getting to the bathroom. There was little doubt in Xander’s mind that he needed to find someplace bigger, which meant he really had to get back to work, which was why he was hiring a babysitter. Xander sighed; he really didn’t want to go back to work and leave his son, but there really wasn’t much else he could do. At least Terry had found a position for him, so he didn’t have to worry about applying for a new job.

“ Money, money, money. How come there’s no spell to make that just appear? And do I see a nickel in child support from your other parent? Damn deadbeat demon,” Xander grumbled.

“ That seems a bit much seeing as how I’m not even here to defend myself,” Spike said sourly, coming into the room, and tossing his duster onto one of the various piles of stuff.

“ Wasn’t talking about you. I’d have thrown in lazy and irritating if I had been. So, can I assume from your pleasant demeanour that there was little violence to be found?”

“ You can bloody well assume whatever you like,” Spike replied testily. He stalked to the refrigerator and grabbed himself a package of blood. “ It’s your house, your rules.”

“ Oookay,” Xander replied slowly. He followed Spike’s jerky movements with his eyes, trying to decipher what Spike’s problem was.

They sat on opposite sides of the couch with the television on and the volume turned down low, while Spike ate. Xander twisted uncomfortably in his seat; fully aware of the tension in the room, but not knowing either its cause or how to dispel it. It was getting late, and Xander was just about to call it a night, when Spike suddenly spoke.

“ You could have just told me. I know I ain’t got no real cause to be here, but you could have said something, not all this playing around.”

If Xander had any clue what Spike was talking about, he might have found the situation amusing. His complete bafflement, however, caused his mind to go blank.

“ I mean it’s not like I’ve got nowhere to go. Got plenty of mates who’ll put me up. And little Munchie’s alright but I’ve got lots of stuff that needs doing, and well, yeah, so that’s it then.”

“ Spike, what the hell are you babbling about?”

“ Hey! I do not babble. Trust me, if I thought I was becoming more like you and yours I’d stake myself. Just saying you could have told me I was making a nuisance of myself straight out, but hey, I’ll take the hint.”

Xander only barely resisted the urge to throttle the vampire. “ Spike,” he gritted out, “ What is it that I’ve supposedly done?”

“ You want to see me beg, don’t you?” Spike asked incredulously. “You sick bastard. Not enough you’re kicking me out and getting someone else to look after little Munchie, but you’ve got to take whatever dignity I’ve got left too. You’re a real piece of work, Harris. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“ Since when am I kicking you out?” Xander shouted, throwing up his hands in exasperation. Spike stared back at him, this time wearing his own look of befuddlement. The stillness was broken when Jesse started to fuss in his crib. Both men jumped to their feet, which considering the size of the room they occupied caused them to bump heads with an audible thump.

“ Bloody hell!”

“ God damn it!”

“ Wahh!”

Jesse’s exclamations took priority, and Spike and Xander put aside their argument to look after him.

“ He’s probably hungry. I’ll get him a bottle if you could…”

“ I’ll pick him up,” Spike finished. They moved in concert; having done this several times before, they had the routine down. Spike hummed a little tune to calm the baby, wordlessly accepting the bottle when it was ready. Jesse wasn’t as hungry as expected, and after just a few sips he was sleeping once more. Spike put him down, and Xander stroked the little cheek briefly. Spike and Xander returned to the couch as well as their conversation, noticeably more subdued.

“ So you’re not getting rid of me?” Spike asked quietly. Xander shook his head no. “ But you are hiring a nanny?”

Xander shrugged. “ Someone has to watch Jesse while I’m at work.”

“ And you don’t trust me to do it. Just answer me this, is it because I’m a vampire or is it something I did?”

“ I didn’t think you wanted to. You didn’t say anything when I first started looking for a sitter, so I guess I just thought that you’d be moving on. Christ, you must know that I would prefer to have someone that Jesse already knows and likes.”

“ Thought you’d already made your mind up. Not like I really had any right to say otherwise, either,” said a melancholy Spike.

Xander actually felt bad for Spike’s predicament. Sure, they still bickered back and forth, but he considered Spike his friend. Closer, almost, than the others simply because of their time spent living together and looking after Jesse. He could imagine that Spike thought his role in their odd little living arrangement to be quite precarious, never too sure if he was wanted or not. It was a rough place to be, Xander knew from personal experience, and he wanted to reassure Spike that in this instance, he was both needed and appreciated. He felt so strongly about it that it was almost disconcerting. Just how much did Spike’s presence mean to him? And when had he started feeling this way? Something to think about later at any rate.

“ Spike, I didn’t mean to exclude you, really I didn’t. I’m responsible for Jesse, and sometimes that makes me forget that others want to help, not because they have to, but because they genuinely want to. It seems strange to me that you’d want to stay home day in day out to look after my son.”

“ Yes, because I’m so very busy otherwise,” Spike deadpanned. “ Between the not-hunting, and the extreme sun allergy, it’s amazing I have any free time at all during the day.”

“ Welcome back sarcasm, I missed you so,” Xander said, with a roll of his eyes. “ You do realize you’ll have to change a diaper at some point?”

Spike grimaced, which made Xander want to laugh as Spike’s face scrunched up adorably. Adorably?

“ Fine. But we’re going to have the world’s earliest potty-trained brat, I hope you know.”

“ Seriously Spike. Are you sure this is what you want?”

“ Bloody hell! I already said so, didn’t I? So tell that nanny of yours to bugger off, and come Monday, you can just toddle into work, and leave me and little Munchie to some peace and quiet.”

“ Okay,” said Xander, than with more conviction he repeated, “ Yes okay. This is of the good. This will work.”

“ Right then, it’s all sorted. You can just pay me whatever you were going to pay that stupid bint,” Spike said quickly, hoping to slip that part into the conversation without Xander noticing.

“ Sure,” Xander said brightly.

“ Really?” Spike asked, clearly surprised. He hadn’t been serious about the money, but if Xander was going to be so agreeable about it, who was he to say no?

“ Of course, I’ll be subtracting room and board,” Xander added, a smile about his lips as he watched Spike start to glower. Sometimes, it was just too easy.

Spike spent some time glaring, but Xander just went right on smiling, which made Spike’s insides twist up and made him want to do (and here he shuddered) nice things, so he eventually had to turn away. He settled into the couch, and set to actually watching the television rather than staring blindly at it and seething, as he had been doing before. Xander tried to focus on the program too, honestly he did, but he found his attention kept drifting back over to Spike.

“ What is it now, Harris?” Spike asked, sighing as though he felt very put upon.

Xander snickered, the happiness he felt fairly oozing out of him. “ You love Jesse, don’t you?”

“ Damn well don’t! Told you, I think he’s all right. Better than you lot at any rate,” Spike vehemently denied.

“ You love him, and you were getting all pouty because you thought you weren’t going to see him everyday,” Xander pressed gleefully.

“ Stop saying that. I do not babble, I do not love anything but violence and carnage, and I most certainly don’t pout.”

“ Aw, you’re so cute! All huffy because I know you’re just a big softie,” Xander taunted.

“ That’s it; you asked for it,” Spike said, trying and failing to suppress his grin. He lunged for Xander, his fingers finding all the right spots to send Xander into paroxysms of laughter. Laughter he had to try and squelch, as he didn’t want to wake Jesse up a second time. The result was a wriggling Xander who was getting very red in the face, and a determined Spike, who wasn’t going to stop any time soon.

“ Okay, I give, I give! Uncle, Aunt, Cookie Monster, whatever you want me to say!” Xander wheezed out. Spike straddled Xander with ease, holding Xander’s arms at his sides.

“ Repeat after me. Spike is a very handsome, very evil vampire, who is superior to Xander Harris in all things.”

After being prompted by another short tickling skirmish, Xander dutifully intoned the words, though of course he couldn’t stop himself from adding, “ And who is one step away from achieving Mary Poppins status.”

The tickling he got in return for his comment was well worth it.

Exhausted and out of breath, Xander didn’t even try to push Spike away when the vampire slumped against him. It would be pointless anyway, as Spike was very much like a cat: once settled comfortably, he would only move when he deigned to do so, with no regard whatsoever for his chosen target. Continuing the cat metaphor, Xander felt strangely privileged to be found worthy of being a resting place, and was comforted by the solid weight of Spike’s body against his. He felt… protected, soothed.

Spike lay with his head almost tucked beneath Xander’s chin, his arms still at Xander’s sides, and his legs pressing into the couch on either side of Xander’s body. It was remarkably commodious, and he snuggled into the heat Xander was so graciously giving away.

When Xander had mentioned getting a nanny, Spike had seen himself being passed over and replaced. Forgotten. It was such a relief to know that he wasn’t about to be pushed out of the cozy home-life he and Xander had created. Of course, alongside the relief, there were some definite fears. He was a vampire and simply put, that meant he was supposed to be causing mayhem, violence, and pain. Pleading to be allowed to care for Jesse, cuddling on the couch with Xander, and, worst of all, being content with the arrangement, should not have been possible, let alone something he craved. And yet somehow it was. It made him wonder just who he was anymore.

There were a few things he did know. He knew he liked Jesse (he still balked at saying ‘loved’ even if it was mostly academic at this point), and that he wanted Xander in all the ways a person could want someone else. He hadn’t forgotten the abortive kiss they’d shared, or the overload of sensation caused by the taste of Xander’s blood. His protective urgings had only grown, until it almost felt like a physical blow whenever Xander was slighted, however mildly. He maintained hope that they could become lovers, but he wasn’t going to rush the issue, as was his habit. Spike had too much to lose, and wasn’t that just the final proof that he had fallen hard? He thought he’d learned long ago to not keep something that he couldn’t afford to lose, but here he was, almost desperate to hold onto something that could very easily crumble into dust. He felt safe with Xander, and though he hadn’t known before that he needed that sense of security, there was no way he was going to give it up now.

Even just the thought of losing what he had, and going back to the way things were before, made him feel sick, and caused his grip on Xander to tighten.

“ Umm, Spike? Kinda damaging the merchandise. Think you could ease up a little?”

“ Huh?” Spike said, startled out of his thoughts. He saw the way his hands were clenched in Xander’s T-shirt, and ruefully let go. “ Sorry.”

“ No problem. We all need to strangle a T-shirt now and then. Damn that cotton, thinks it’s so great, just because it’s all natural.”

“ Shut-up, Harris,” Spike said, hiding his smile at Xander’s quirky sense of humour. Suddenly, things didn’t seem quite so complicated. Still, it was no reason to encourage the kid.

Monday morning dawned warm and clear, and Xander was a complete and utter nutcase.

“ You have my number, right?”

“ It’s practically tattooed to my brain at this point, but yes, it’s on the refrigerator, on the pad by the phone, on the sheet in the drawer, in your address book, and taped to my blood packets with lime green post-its,” Spike replied dutifully. He jiggled Jesse in his arms, and the baby elicited some happy noises, not at all perturbed at his imminent separation from his father.

“ Okay, and the phone numbers for Willow, Buffy, and Giles are…”

“ In all the same places. Really, you’re single-handedly supporting the Post-It Corporation, you know that right?”

“ I stole them from Giles,” Xander said offhandedly. Spike grinned proudly at the petty-thievery. “ Now, right next to those numbers are any emergency numbers you might need like the fire department, the police, poison control, Jesse’s doctor…”

“ The national guard, the Spanish armada, and Sam’s Pizza Parlour.”

This actually caused Xander to pause for a moment. “ Why a pizza parlour?”

“ Hey, you’ve got your emergency numbers, and I’ve got mine. Now, will you get the hell out of here? We’ll be fine. Apocalypse isn’t until Thursday.”

“ But what if…”

“ That’s it, out! I swear I can’t stand it!” Spike grabbed at Xander’s shirt collar and forcefully hauled him towards the door, shoving him into the hallway. Xander actually whimpered.

He couldn’t go to work, what had he been thinking? Supposing Jesse started crying for his daddy and he wasn’t there to comfort him? It wasn’t as though Jesse could understand why he had to leave. What if Jesse thought Xander was abandoning him forever? Or worse, what if Jesse didn’t need him at all, and would forget all about him the minute he left, and would think Xander was some stranger when he came home from work? Okay, that wasn’t too likely, but this was the Hellmouth and… And he really didn’t want to leave his son. He missed him already.

The forlorn expression on the young father’s face was so pitiful, that even Spike found himself wavering. Jesse made his happy noise again, almost as if he was laughing at the two adults. That decided it for Spike.

“ You’re just confusing him more. Now give him a kiss, and get out of here.”

Nodding sadly, Xander kissed Jesse’s head, causing another delighted gurgle, and fled down the hall, not daring to look back. Spike carried the complacent baby back into the apartment, and locked the door.

“ Well, what should we do now?” Jesse gave a small little yawn, and closed his eyes. “ Hmm, a nap does sound nice. I thought getting up two hours earlier than usual would be overkill, but I think Xander might still be late. Pathetic tosser,” Spike mumbled affectionately.

In the weeks that followed, Xander managed to cut his ‘goodbye time’ down to only ten minutes, and gradually a routine developed. Spike and Jesse usually returned to bed after Xander had left, with Jesse surrounded by pillows and Spike sleeping within arm’s reach of him. They usually awoke around noon, and after Spike had cleaned and dressed Jesse, they had lunch: milk for one, blood for two. Jesse typically spent his afternoon braced on Spike’s hip, sharing in everything the vampire did from watching television, to reading, to listening to Spike rant about anything and everything. Spike found Jesse to be an uncommonly good listener, and was quite insistent that Jesse was much smarter than other infants his age. The best part about looking after Jesse was knowing that he had a completely blank slate with the baby; Jesse had nothing but good memories of Spike, and that was so unusual for the vampire, that he found himself always trying to improve upon what he’d done the day before.

Some days, one of the Scoobies would drop by and offer to take Jesse out for some fresh air. Spike only agreed because he knew it was important that Jesse get some sunshine, but he still preferred the days when it was just him and Jesse, one on one. It was a good thing the baby couldn’t talk yet, because little Munchie knew just about every thing regarding Spike, including some highly embarrassing stuff.

Xander attended the ‘Parents Not So Anonymous’ meetings every Wednesday night, which made him feel a little more confident in his parenting skills, and it kept him aware of other events designed for parents and their children. On Saturday mornings, he and Jesse were part of a swimming class held at the local pool. Jesse really liked playing in the water, Xander liked being fawned over by the almost entirely female group (Xander had never had so much mothering or been called adorable so often in his life), and Spike seemed to like looking Xander over when they came back from the pool and Xander’s clothes were still somewhat clinging to his damp skin. Deep in the recesses of his mind, Xander had to admit to liking the attention from Spike especially, so Saturday morning swims were a popular choice with everyone.

Xander was still looking for a new place to live, as the cramped conditions at home were really starting to get on his nerves, but the few places he could afford that were actually capable of supporting life were few and far between. Terry said he was looking into something for him, but he wasn’t really expecting anything to come of it. Not wanting a repeat of his earlier mistake, he had already informed Spike that he was looking for a new place, and that when he did move, Spike was going to be moving with him. Spike had looked relieved, but also a little disappointed which Xander couldn’t comprehend. Before he could ask, however, Spike had changed the subject and Xander eventually forgot the conversation.

Most of Xander’s lunch breaks of late had been taken up with looking for a new home, so he was quite looking forward to today’s lunch where he would be breaking free of tradition and meeting up with Willow instead. The Hellmouth had been almost suspiciously quiet lately, so it meant that Xander didn’t see much of the Scoobies, but the separation wasn’t felt as deeply as it had been in the past. He had another life, just as they did, and still when they all saw each other, the ties were as strong as ever.

Xander walked to the small restaurant where he was meeting Willow, and if he hadn’t already spotted her bright red head sitting at a booth near the back, then her excited waving and gesturing made sure she wasn’t missed. Grinning, Xander plonked down across from his friend.

“ Hey Xander, how are things?” Willow asked.

“ Good,” Xander said with a shrug, reaching for a menu. Something about Willow’s excessive good mood had Xander wondering what she was up to. Nobody was that cheerful without a lot of drugs, or a secret they were dying to tell. “ Something you want to say?”

“ Maybe,” she said coyly, before dropping her gaze to her own menu.

“ If it’s something about Tara and you, feel free to tell me. In explicit and image conjuring detail even. Visual aides are always a good idea,” Xander said with an exaggerated wriggling of his eyebrows.

Willow didn’t so much as roll her eyes, she just kept right on grinning. “ Hmm, I wonder if you’d even be interested in that anymore?”

“ Um, what? Did I miss something? You do realize that I was talking about watching you and Tara do some ‘spells’, don’t you?”

“ Oh, I understand alright. Just thinking you might be fantasizing about something a little closer to home.”

Xander was officially confused. Fearing he was light-headed from a lack of food, he ordered a large, greasy meal, and kept his thoughts to mundane matters until it arrived. Willow waited for Xander to fully finish swallowing his first bite, before asking, faux casually: “ So when are you going to tell me about you and Spike?”

“ Me and Spike?” Xander asked. “ What about me and Spike?”

“ You know what I mean,” Willow said encouragingly.

“ Umm, really don’t Willow. Need I remind you that I’m Xander Harris? You may remember me from such intelligent thinking as ‘Stake? Why would I need a stake to walk home alone at night?’ and ‘The Internet? Well, that’ll never catch on’. So you see, whatever it is you think I know, you’re going to have to spell it out for me. Kind-of like when you taught me Geometry, only this time you’ll be speaking English.”

Willow laughed. “ Okay. I want to hear about you and Spike having a relationship.” Xander still looked perplexed. “ A romantic relationship.” Still nothing. Willow gave an exasperated little huff. “ Tell me about you and Spike and all the kissy-kissy stuff you’ve been doing together.”

Xander thought his brain might liquefy, the wheels were turning so fast. “ Me and Spike?”

“ Yes, you and Spike. Sheesh, I didn’t think this would be so difficult. Just remember that I’m your friend no matter what. It’s not so different than when Tara and me got together, although Tara never tried to kill any of us beforehand. That I know of, anyway.”

“ Me and Spike?” Xander wasn’t getting past this concept any time fast. “ What makes you think we’re doing anything? Besides living together, I mean.”

“ Oh please. I see the way you look at each other, and how you always defer to one another before you make a decision. Even the bantering is positively cute now. I love it when Spike growls at anyone who attempts to tease you,” Willow said. “ Not to mention that the way you both look after Jesse is positively cliché, and last time I checked there was still only the one bed in your apartment. Are you really going to tell me that Spike still sleeps on the couch?”

“ But… But…” Xander spluttered. So yeah, they shared a bed and liked to cuddle. Manly men did that all the time, didn’t they? Xander gulped as his brain supplied the answer. Still, he had to ask again: “ Me and Spike?”

“ Yes, you and Spike. Spike and you. Spike and Xander for forever. I’m not saying I was overly thrilled with the idea of another one of us sleeping with this particular undead individual, but he’s very protective of you, and that’s obviously something you want, so I decided I was going to be supportive gal. So, here’s me, being supportive. Now lets hear some details. Is Spike a good kisser?”

“ Gah!” Xander exclaimed, real words beyond his abilities at the moment. He took several deep breaths, before lifting shocked eyes to his best friend. “ Listen Willow please, and for all that is Holy and good and pure, please believe me when I say that me and Spike are not anything but friends who live together.”

“ So, no kissing?” Xander shook his head. “ Well, why not then?” asked Willow, more than a little annoyed. “ Are you blind, or is it him that’s the problem?”

“ I once again refer you to the ‘Xander is oblivious’ statement, as I say, huh?”

“ Xander, far be it for me to tell you how to run your life, but you’re screwing yours up! Cordelia, Faith, Anya… Putting it nicely, you have rather unusual tastes. Wouldn’t it be fun to, oh I don’t know, be with someone who actually likes you right from the beginning?”

“ Hey, I resent that. They liked me enough to go out with me. Okay, so most of them were kind-of revolted at first, but they grew to like me. Well, except for Faith who later tried to kill me. And Cordelia sort-of hated me at the end. Anya’s not so fond of me now either.”

“ Don’t forget all those demon-girls who tried to eat and/or maim you both before and after,” Willow supplied helpfully.

“ Thanks Willow, really,” Xander returned flatly. Xander let his head fall into his hands. “ Why did I never notice this before? My life is a train wreck.”

“ Oh, poor Xander. But this is what I’m getting at. Compared to what you’re used to, Spike is actually an improvement,” Willow enthused. Xander looked at her incredulously. “ No really, he is. Let’s do the tally, shall we? Spike knows you, he likes you, he protects you, he showers you with attention, and he checks out your ass when you’re on patrol. What more do you want?”

“ For one thing, a pair of breasts wouldn’t go amiss. A pulse might be nice too.”

Willow patted his arm reassuringly, before she addressed him in her softest, most caring voice. “ All glib replies aside Xander, think hard; do you really need those things?”

“ Honestly, I don’t know Wills. I’ve thought about guys from time to time, but that’s about it. It just seems weird to think about Spike and me like that. Seriously, Spike and me?”

“ You think it was any easier when Tara took an interest in yours truly? Trust me, major freaking out occurred. But the more I thought about it, the less it seemed to matter what she was, because I cared about her, and I wanted to be with her. After I accepted the possibility, it all just fell into place, and I’ve had no regrets.”

Xander could see the logic in what Willow was saying, and how many times had he looked at Willow and Tara together and thought ‘they’re so perfect for each other, so in love’. Still, he wasn’t sure if he was ready to throw away all the teachings of his staunchly heterosexual upbringing. Could he like Spike that way? He’d already admitted numerous times that he thought Spike was good-looking. Okay, if he was going to be honest with himself, he thought Spike was downright hot. He had a feeling that if they ever reached that point, he wouldn’t have any problems with the physical side of things. Plus, he was comfortable around Spike; he never felt he was being false when he was with Spike, or holding back. He didn’t have to because he knew Spike would never pull any punches either (at least, metaphorical ones). As for the vampire thing… Well, that was almost commonplace by this point. It didn’t faze him nearly as much as it probably should have - side effect of living on a Hellmouth and hanging out with a slayer, more than likely. Hell, it was practically a requirement these days.

“ And this season, the must-have items include denim jackets, lava lamps, anything orange, and a vampire lover,” Xander groused cynically. Willow waited for an explanation, but Xander shook his head to show it was unimportant. “ Are you sure he likes me? And when I say ‘likes me’, I don’t mean that we’re pals who grab a beer from time to time. He had Dru, and Buffy. I’m finding it difficult to believe he might ever think of me as anything other than the slayer’s droopy go-for boy.”

“ We’ve all changed, Xander. If you’d not been so busy with Jesse, which by the way, totally understandable, you would have noticed how much time Spike spends with you. More importantly, he does it because he wants to. Maybe you weren’t right for each other before, but I think maybe now you are. As for Spike, the feelings are there, even the lusty ones. I wasn’t kidding about the staring at your ass comment – that laundry day when you were forced into last year’s jeans? Thought he’d go cross-eyed.”

Xander blushed, and squirmed, and felt a pleasant little thrill go down his spine. Part of him couldn’t help but be overjoyed that one of the cool kids thought he was worth noticing. Guess he’d never quite exorcised all his high school hang-ups.

“ If I did do this, and I’m not saying anything at this point,” Xander added quickly, forestalling any squeals Willow was sure to have, “ Would I be doing it for the right reasons? What if it’s me using him, because I know he loves Jesse and would be good for him?”

Willow grinned. “ Xander, you’re the most biggest hearted person I know. If I’m sure of anything, it’s that you would never hurt someone’s feelings willingly.”

“ I hurt Anya. Didn’t want to, but I did.”

“ Then don’t shy away from what you’re feeling. Take your time and think about it, okay? Trust me, more than anything I wish someone had pushed me out of my denial tree regarding Tara before she shocked me enough to make me fall out of it on my own.”

“ A denial tree? Shouldn’t it really be a river?” Xander interjected.

“ Why a river?” Willow asked curiously.

“ Not important. Continue please, Yoda of the gay ways.”

“ Actually, I think I’m done. Have to say; I really thought I was going to get a lot of stammering and blushing, and then some juicy tidbits about the two of you. I have to get you back for all the lesbian cracks, after all. Maybe this is better, though. Now I get to see the romance start from the beginning. I feel like a mother bird letting her last chick fly away,” Willow said, wiping away a fake tear.

“ Right out of that denial tree, huh?”

“ That doesn’t make any sense. Birds don’t have any denial.”

Xander stared at her a moment, wondering if she was joking. Nope, she was just being her usual guileless self. They stood up from the table, their meals virtually untouched. Willow had to get back to the University, and Xander had to get back to work. Still, they took the time to hug; with Willow reminding him that she was always there for him if he needed to talk.

“ I am quite the pro now. Got my gay membership card and everything. And I checked into it; you can be a vegetarian and lesbian. Apparently, you can combine whatever you want; the rules of alternative living are very flexible.”

“ That’s a relief. Seeing as I might, possibly, be needing a gay/necrophilia card. Good God, did I really just say that?”

The waitress, who had overheard his comment, was shocked enough that she dropped her stack of dishes, which made a resounding crash, which made all the patrons in the establishment turn and gawk at two very red-faced individuals.

“ Umm, would you believe we’re practicing a play?” The silence continued. Xander and Willow edged out of the restaurant, not making eye-contact, and silently vowing to never, ever return.

“ You okay, Xan?” Willow asked once they were some distance away.

“ Sure. At least, I think I will be. Thanks again, for everything.”

“ What are for friends for?”

“ I do have one question, if you would indulge me, oh wise one?”

“ You may continue, peasant boy.”

“ Me and Spike?!”


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