Sunnydale in the summer was, on average, remarkably demon-light, which made it the preferred time of year for slayers and slay-minded associates to be anywhere but there. However, to quote Spike, it was a bloody stupid time of year to be holidaying in Louisiana, but the invitation to take Henri and Manon's townhouse for their honeymoon was too good an offer to refuse. When Xander commented he was missing out on the culture of New Orleans, he meant only that they were spending far more time in bed than out. Spike got all quiet, though, and apparently took it to mean Xander felt he was getting the short end of the stick traveling with the daylight averse. Suddenly Spike had a bug up his ass for sightseeing and Xander was treated to lessons in breaking and entering every museum and point of interest in the parish, including some that Xander found utterly baffling.
So, as far as romance went, visiting a cemetery with his undead master/husband guy wasn't exactly knocking it out of the park for Xander. But that didn't stop Spike from giving him the grand tour of New Orleans' monuments to mortality.
"As much time as you've spent in cemeteries, think you of all people'd be able to appreciate the artistry, love," Spike commented kicking in a crypt door.
"Hey!" Came a chorus of irritated voices from within.
Spike backed up out of the doorway. "Sorry," he answered, pushing Xander behind him before dragging him over to the next crypt and kicking in the door.
Spike growled and dragged him off down the gravel path.
"I'm not really arguing the draw. It's pretty. Morbid, goth and stereotypical, but pretty. So maybe we shouldn't be desecrating every single tomb, is all I'm saying."
Spike stopped short. "Thought this was what you wanted. Said you were missing out."
Xander sighed. "I was kidding. You can't really think I wanted to be here instead of in bed with you?"
Spike shrugged. "Thought you liked doing it in museums." Spike kicked in another door. He grinned broadly to find the mausoleum uninhabited and dragged Xander through the door. "What happened to the plan, Xander?" Spike asked, the barest tease of a growl in his voice as he sank to his knees on the damp stone floor and began to run his hands up and down the front of Xander's increasingly constricting jeans.
"P—plan?" he stuttered in response. Spike was nuzzling his crotch and beginning to worry the top button of his levis with his teeth.
"You know, the plan," he said, popping the first button of the fly and darting his tongue out to taste the inch of skin revealed.
Xander tried to remember to breathe. "You mean—ungh—where we systematically—oh fuck—go down the list of—shit yes, there—all our fantasies and—oh, god—and—"
Spike mouthed Xander's cock through the thick denim, working the hard length with blunt teeth and forceful tongue. "—and we do every dirty little thing we've ever thought about in our wildest dreams and secret thoughts?"
Xander moaned as Spike's teeth increased pressure around the base of his cock. "Fuck, yes—that one."
Spike vamped out and made short work of the remaining buttons on his fly, tearing at the fabric with his fangs. "Well I've been featuring your prick between my lips since we walked through the cemetery gate," Spike confessed in husky tones, Xander's weeping length springing free into his cool, waiting palm. Spike placed a reverent kiss on the moist head before turning his luminous blue eyes upward in devilish supplication. "So be a love and fuck my face, yeah?"
Xander's mouth hung open, his breath misting in the cool air, and released a strangled sound as Spike swallowed him. Xander fisted his hand in his hair and managed to pump one, two, three times before he was spraying the back of Spike's throat and his knees buckled. Spike caught him as he went down, guiding him onto his lap. Xander sought out his flavor on Spike's tongue as they kissed, his hand fisting Spike roughly to his own completion as they rocked there, fucking with tongues and hands and him still half hard through all of it until Spike erupted over his fist with a keening moan, hands scrabbling for purchase on Xander's shoulders, fingers bruising in the best way. Spike lunged and bit and Xander came for the second time, his anguished cry echoing through the burial chamber. Spike released his fangs and Xander slumped against him, sore, sated, and sleepy.
"Good plan," he muttered with a pathetic snort.
Spike's ribs shook beneath him as he chuckled silently. "You're a wonder," he told Xander's hair, lips caressing his scalp.
Back at Henri's townhouse Spike and Xander stood out on the gallery, watching the people in the street below.
"Do we have to go back tomorrow?" Xander asked, already knowing the answer.
Spike smiled anyway. "Got ourselves a bit tied down. Be difficult for Mother to hold the Hellmouth all by her lonesome, don't you think?"
Xander pictured Anne with a broadsword going toe to toe with a big nasty. He laughed. "So your mom liked the watch then, huh?" Xander asked, his arms around Spike's waist, leaning his chin on his shoulder as his hand found the fob in question in Spike's pocket. Spike's hand closed over his and squeezed.
"Can't believe Angel came through like that. Can't believe you got him looking for it. What'd you threaten him with, anyway?"
Xander hid his smile behind Spike's back. "I might have told him I'd put in a good word for him with Buffy."
Spike snorted. "You did no such thing."
"Of course I didn't. But he didn't know that, and look, you got your watch."
Spike chuckled and spun in Xander's grasp. "She loved it, as you bloody well know. Got right soft, she did. Thinks the world of you and all, now."
"Smart lady," Xander murmured into Spike's neck, flicking his tongue lightly over his throat.
Spike moaned. "Can you not do that while we're talking about my mother," he asked.
Xander nibbled at his collarbone. "What would you like me to talk about?"
Spike grunted as Xander's hand found the bulge beneath his fly. "Think I'd rather put that tongue to use elsewhere, love," he told him.
Xander grinned broadly and dropped to his knees, efficiently opening Spike's jeans as he backed him against the railing.
"Got a bit of an exhibitionist streak, don't you?" Spike commented, wryly.
"You don't like this?" Xander asked, pulling him out. "Me, here, on my knees, for everyone to see?"
Spike's cock jumped and Xander swiped his tongue across the head. Spike moaned. Xander wanted to draw it out longer, to tease and tempt Spike, but he was making these noises and thrusting his hips toward Xander's face. He grabbed two handfuls of Spike's ass and swallowed his cock.
A while later they sat against the building, Spike smoking lazily and Xander leaning against him listening to the band playing on the corner below.
"I've really had a good time," Xander told him quietly.
Spike squeezed his hand where they lay entwined in his lap. "It wasn't terrible. Specially that time in the confederate museum—"
Xander half-hit Spike's shoulder. "I wasn't talking about the sex," he said, then remembered the time in the confederate museum. "Okay, I'm talking about the sex. But, you know how before you bent me over that cannon you were telling me about the stuff there and what it was like back then—stories your mom told you and stuff?"
"Yeah, I remember, pet."
"I liked that. I like being with you when we can talk about stuff and we're not just running from one crisis to another."
Spike snorted. "Not a lot of time for conversation when you live on the mouth of hell, I reckon."
Xander shook his head. "Not unless we extend the definition to include running and screaming. Because I've done a lot of that."
It was Spike's turn to chuck him on the shoulder. "I won't have you speaking about my Consort that way. My boy's smart enough to run when it's called for and he's plenty handy with a bow. I saw you take down that byrkor, pet."
Xander rolled his eyes. It was an old argument. "That was a really lucky shot. I wouldn't have even been on top of the crypt if you hadn't suggested it."
Spike smirked. "Yeah, an' those targets you pretend aren't tacked to the wall in the basement with the bull's-eyes obliterated, those were lucky too, I suppose?"
Xander smiled. "Nah. I shot the shit out of them."
Spike laughed loud and long and Xander grinned, thinking it was pretty much his favorite sound.
Spike called for food while Xander showered off the crypt dirt and spunk. It was going on three in the morning and he wasn't even tired, which, he thought with a groan, meant he'd finally adjusted to vampire hours on their trip only to have to go back to work on Monday. He'd have to sleep on the drive home. Spike would want to drive while he could, anyway. Of course, that begged the question of whether he'd be able to relax enough to sleep with Spike driving. Xander leaned his head against the shower wall, letting the heat seep into his back. Fuck it, he decided. He could pretend for one night that his husband didn't drive like a maniac if it meant not going into work and getting shit about coming off his honeymoon looking like he hadn't slept at all.
Which was another thing he was going to have to deal with when he got back, he figured. He'd put off telling his co-workers about Spike mostly because they just didn't talk about their life outside of work all that often. It wasn't a good idea to be thinking about anything but what you were sawing and hammering if you didn't want to get written up for cutting an entire apartment's worth of drywall wrong because your mind was elsewhere when you were measuring.
He'd learned that one the hard way.
But when he needed to ask time off for their trip, he didn't particularly want to feed his boss a line of bullshit either, beyond obviously not telling him about getting mated to a demon. So he'd said he was getting married to his boyfriend and he needed to take his two weeks paid vacation for the honeymoon. He made the effort to be casual, because, fuck, it was 2001 and this was California, not Mississippi. His job was protected by law and Bill wasn't an asshole. Bill's eyes got a little wider, but he just said, "Put it on the calendar and make sure Julio's not taking time off that week for his kid's soccer tournament."
Xander let out a breath. "It's the week after. I double checked before we made plans."
Bill did smile at that. "Have a good trip, Harris," he'd said, and Xander knew that while Bill wouldn't let anyone give him too much shit about it, it was going to be all over the site by the time he got back.
He figured if he bought a round after his first shift back he could probably get away with a minimal amount of embarrassment and no pranking.
The bathroom door opened. "Xan, quit wanking off. Food's here," Spike called into the steam.
Xander rolled his eyes and turned off the shower. "Yes, darling," he replied with saccharine insincerity.
For being mostly dead, Xander had to give the chef credit. The gumbo was good.
Eating it in bed and catching the tail end of a Hitchcock marathon on TV was better. Spike didn't say anything about it even though it was their last night in New Orleans and it wasn't all that different from what they did at home most nights, because, Xander thought, it was different. The phone on the nightstand wasn't going to ring and call them to arms in an hour to kill whatever was moving into the burned out high school. He didn't have that constant nagging panic in the back of his head that he was going to forget about promises to research or work or Spike or his Mom or Buffy. He and Spike could sleep soundly beside each other because they were actually beside each other for more than three hours a night.
It was wonderful and it was going to be over too damn soon. Xander worried. Was this all there was for them? The fight wasn't going to end in their considerable lifetime, but every night they went out and fought, risking life and limb just to maintain the status quo. It was important and he didn't kid himself that what he did didn't really matter because he really did know better than that, but what was it for? What was he fighting for? To survive another day? To protect his family from marauding hoards of demons?
The nice thing about construction was the job always had something to show for the work he did. The houses he built didn't dust or turn to ooze the minute the carpet was laid. He could drive by them a week or a month or a year later and say, "I did that." All he had to show for his five years of fray adjacency was the promise of more fighting. He thought about the lives they saved, the people who continued to live, oblivious to what went on under their noses while they slept, and Xander felt a little bitter about it, honestly. He wanted a piece of what he fought for.
He was starting to get where Buffy was coming from in her prom night rampage and it was scaring him a little bit. He wasn't the slayer. He was supposed to be the beneficiary of the slaying. Xander turned that thought over in his head and didn't like how selfish it sounded. For better or worse, he was in the fight. He just wished he could really live for more than two weeks a summer, two thousand miles away.
The light from the TV flickered through the darkened room as Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly flirted.
"Beautiful shot, that. How he framed the window there? Brilliant," Spike commented absently, and Xander smiled at the back of his head fondly. He took a deep breath that turned into a yawn. Spike looked back at him. "Keeping you up, am I?" he asked.
Xander shook his head. "No, sorry."
Spike's expression softened. "You're a right bastard when you're tired and I'm not spendin' the drive home with you tetchy and wired on truck stop coffee. Go on and sleep."
Xander crawled to the foot of the bed until he was even with Spike's face. He put a soft kiss on his lips. "Good night."
Spike made a dismissive sound as Xander pulled down the covers and got settled. He was nearly out when he heard Spike's whispered, "Good night, Xan."
Xander was hot. His legs were twisted in the sheets. He kicked them off irritably and rolled onto his stomach, leg sprawling across the bed. Much better. Sleep pulled at him as did the nagging realization that Spike should have been impeding his sprawl.
Someone was drumming. It was dark and someone was playing a drum low and steady in the street below. Xander turned toward the sound and opened his eyes. The air conditioner was chugging helplessly in the corner. The French doors to the gallery were flung wide and Spike was nude, standing there, the lights from the street casting his shape in relief. He was beautiful.
Xander didn't know how long he lay there in that surreal fugue state, watching Spike listen to the drumming before he felt himself beginning to slip into the background of his consciousness as something older and smelling of earth began to stir and it was listening to the drums too.
Xander felt himself pulled to his mate. His blood pulsed in his veins with the beat of the drum.
The air was sultry on the gallery. The currents swelled and swirled in the doorway. Spike was warm to the touch. A single bead of sweat formed in the nape of his neck and traced a path down his spine. Xander watched it, transfixed.
"What's going on?" he whispered breathlessly.
Spike shook his head. "I don't know."
Xander's mouth traced the salt path down his back. Spike drew a shuddering breath and fell to his knees. Xander went to the floor behind him, grasping Spike by the shoulder and head, forcing submission. He bit at the juncture and held him in his teeth, shaking his head slightly. Spike whimpered as the flesh parted and Xander began to lap at the blood that welled up. He covered his mate's body, sucking and licking a pattern of worried flesh along the arch of Spike's neck as he bucked and writhed beneath the larger frame pinning him to the oriental carpets.
A strange breeze swirled around them, contrary to the motion of the ineffectual ceiling fan. It crept along the flesh of Xander's back, damp with sweat, and ruffled the waves of hair at the nape of his neck. The floor was hard beneath his knees and the ruined connective tissues flared and flickered tendrils of pain up his spine as he ground their pelvises together.
Spike was grunting lowly, a sound akin to a growl and Xander chased it with his teeth and tongue, snapping at his Adam's apple and whining high in his throat before scenting his way down his lover's body to the vee of his mate's legs and sucking the stiffened flesh he found there. Spike's flavor exploded in his mouth, only to be stolen in a kiss as Xander was pushed onto his back, his own cock swallowed to the hilt.
Passage eased by his own spit and cum, Spike rode him, Xander's fingers clawing his chest and back, raising angry red welts his lips found and soothed, painting them red with blood and Xander was so very, very hot. The fires of hell licked at his heels, boiled his blood and directed this strange and animal fever dream. Xander came with a feral yelp, Spike's wide and wary eyes above him clenched in ecstasy as his body stiffened and painted Xander's chest with his release. The sound of the air conditioner was suddenly loud in his ears as Spike drifted downward onto his chest, petting and caressing, peppering lazy kisses along Xander's stubbled jaw. The lovers lay entwined, unaware of the moment the drums stopped. A chill breeze made him shiver. Spike wrapped them in the rug and Xander allowed sleep to take him down as a single thought chased its tail in his brain.
Vampires don't sweat, do they?
It wasn't a quiet summer on the Hellmouth. By mid August they were slaying at levels more in keeping with mid-winter.
"If this trend continues into the fall, we're going to be completely overrun," Giles stated wearily, dropping his axe.
"Where are they all coming from?" Willow asked, grimacing as Spike stood on the shoulder of the brownish-green demon for leverage as he pulled his axe free of the body with a nasty squishcrunch sound.
"South America," he said, offhandedly. "Least that one did. Bit far from home, wouldn't you say, Watcher?"
"Quite. You're certain you'd never seen it before?" Giles asked Spike, voice nearly devoid of accusation.
Spike shook his head. "Verbruns are a tetchy sort. Reckon I could see if Dru's lot were getting restive. Might explain what this one's doin' here."
Giles nodded uneasily. It was something of a contentious point between them.
When word spread that the Master of Sunnydale was in league with the Slayer, a good number of demons fled the Hellmouth for greener pastures in LA—something Angel and the gang there wouldn't be thanking them for any time soon. Meanwhile, a steady number of non-violent demons had begun making their way to Sunnydale looking for asylum. Xander remembered being woken from a sound slumber when Spike traipsed into the bedroom at three in the morning and shook him gently.
"Spike, it's oh my god in the morning," Xander slurred.
Spike gave him a grave look. "Need to talk, pet."
Xander repressed the urge to whine like a twelve-year-old, and, that night, seated at the kitchen table over a cup of industrial strength coffee, Spike told him about the family of Brachen demons looking for a place to call home. Soon Anne joined them, and within three hours they'd laid the foundation for the Sunnydale Demon Charter.
The charter stated, basically, that as demonic residents of the Hellmouth, they agreed to abide by the rules set forth by the Master of Sunnydale, to leave the humans be, except in cases of self-defense or if there was some kind of understanding between two parties, and to go about their business peaceably and leave the actual Hellmouth alone. In exchange, they would be expected to aid the Master in defending the Hellmouth from the less benign interlopers should he ask. As a part of the agreement, he'd make sure the Slayer didn't slay them, which was the point that usually had Giles grinding his teeth since he and Spike tended to differ on their definitions of "harmless".
Buffy had actually made the suggestion for the Polaroids helpfully labeled with name and species for her to refer to on patrol.
However, it wasn't the non-violent immigrants keeping them out nights. In the last three months, despite the steady exodus of nasties, they'd been in a constant state of research and slay. Demons were coming out of the woodwork—demons only found on the Russian steppes, the Brazilian rainforest, or in one memorable case, a certain cornfield in Nebraska. And what they were doing in Sunnydale—
"Bugger if I know," Spike summarized.
Just then Buffy rounded the corner of a crypt, dragging the body of a large grey demon behind her. She dropped it with a grunt and a dark look.
"One of yours?" she asked Spike.
Spike shrugged unconcernedly. "Never seen it before. I'm not even sure what it is."
Buffy nodded, satisfied. "Have fun Giles. It shoots goo out of it's fingers and a stake through the heart makes it plenty dead. I need a shower."
Giles glared as she walked away. "Buffy."
Buffy groaned and turned back. "It'll melt?"
Giles' expression softened. "It doesn't seem to be showing any inclination of doing so, nor does the Verdun. Many hands—"
"Make light work, yeah, yeah. Where are the shovels?"
Demons dead and buried, Spike and Xander traipsed home sore and sticky with ichor, left their weapons on the porch for Alvaro to tend to and heeded the siren call of dual showerheads and 100 psi of hot water poaching their bones.
Muck rinsed off, Spike went to his knees and deep-throated him while Xander washed his blond hair free of gel and blood.
Xander's back arched as he came hard, fists tightening in Spike's hair. He leaned against the shower wall, panting happily. Spike looked up at him, a wary expression on his face.
"What was that?" Spike asked.
Xander was still slightly deaf from orgasm. "Huh?"
Spike got to his feet, water coursing down his torso temptingly. "Did you just…did you come?"
Xander laughed. "No, I just developed epilepsy."
Spike didn't laugh. "I'm serious, pet. Did you…did you fake it?"
Xander's smile faded. "No, I didn't fake it, wasn't it obvious? I mean—"
Spike lunged forward and kissed him. He tasted like smoke and blood and Spike. "Notice anything missing?" he asked, pulling back.
Xander frowned. "Did you swallow or—"
"Nothing to swallow."
"Look, clearly, you've never had your mouth around your dick, because if you had, you'd know that faking would be pointless."
"Xander, I know what come tastes like. I know what your come tastes like. And I know there is a distinct lack of spunk in my mouth."
Huh. That was just, "Weird." Xander couldn't remember having a dry orgasm since he was eleven. Wasn't that usually a bad sign? Like, permanent nut-sack damage bad? He must have been quiet for too long. Spike was looking at him concernedly.
"Xan," Spike said gently. "I wasn't trying to worry you. S'probably nothing, yeah?"
Xander nodded distractedly and let Spike lead him off to bed. Sleep was a long time coming, however, and with some trepidation he resolved to make an appointment with his doctor some time in the nebulous future. It wouldn't be a good idea to worry Spike the night before he was due to enter into major negotiations.
There was a letter they'd received from a group of demons in Quebec. They were relatively harmless and passed for human, even if most of them did have purple eyes and tongues, but the Quebecois vampire syndicate were pushing them out of what passed for neutral demon society, aligning themselves with the bottom feeding mercenaries of the demonic world and forcing everyone else to scavenge on the fringes.
Spike was probably going to be fine. But as much as Xander loved Spike and respected his intuition on a lot of things, for all that Spike postured and posed as the villain of the piece, he couldn't think like a bad guy to save his unlife. If there was any chance of him picking up on shady intentions or ulterior motives, he'd need all his concentration. So Xander kept quiet about his health concerns and planned to talk to Spike in a few days.
The next morning, however, he had completely forgotten about his resolution. His alarm hadn't been set, distracted as he was, and he'd raced out the door to arrive two hours late to work.
He worked through his normal lunch hour to stay ahead of his project and was only reminded of his notion to see a doctor when he arrived at Giles for the research party feeling decidedly queasy. Thankfully, Spike hadn't been present or he'd have been packed off to Sunnydale General before he could say Pepto Bismol. Even though Xander could no more die from food poisoning than he could, Spike was still remarkably squeamish about Xander's health.
"Way to slack off research, guy," Buffy teased as Xander raised his head from Giles' toilet bowl. He glared at her, though it lacked any real intensity what with the reflexive swallowing and overall green pallor.
"Bulimia is so in right now, didn't you hear?" he quipped before launching himself back over the porcelain and retching violently. Buffy rubbed his back and turned on the sink, filling a glass with water.
"Thanks," he said, wiping his mouth on his sleeve before taking the glass and drinking.
Willow appeared in the doorway. "Spike's on his way."
"You called him?" Xander whined weakly. "But his meeting—"
"Xander, you've been throwing up since you got here. I'm more worried about what he'd try to do to us if we didn't call. Don't make me stake your husband."
Xander groaned and let Buffy assist him into the living room.
Giles and Tara looked up from their research, concerned. "How are you feeling Xander?" Giles asked.
"I think I brought up a license plate that last time. What did we find out?"
Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Not much I'm afraid. I still have several sources I'd like to consult with, but I'm afraid we've exhausted my resources here. Perhaps it would be best if we all got some rest and attacked the problem fresh in the morning."
"Very much on board with that plan," said Buffy. "Slayer train's leaving if anyone wants an escort."
Willow and Tara gathered their notes and purses and made for the door.
"I have a really great tea for upset stomachs," Tara mentioned as she passed Xander sprawled on the sofa. "I'll bring some by tomorrow."
"Thanks Tara," he said, pulling the throw around him.
It was probably too much to hope for food poisoning what with having not eaten at all, he reflected. Xander moaned as a wave of nausea hit him, burrowed further into Giles sofa and thought fondly of mystical syphilis.
Spike was predictably concerned about Xander's turn for the infirm. He railed at Giles for overworking him and when that failed to produce any immediate improvement in Xander's state he yelled at Xander for being so careless with his health.
Xander took deep breaths and tried to quell his temper and his stomach by turns as Spike vented his fear and helplessness.
Eventually though, he ran out of steam and with great relief, Xander felt the change like the breaking of a storm.
"Pet, you look wretched," he said, tenderly caressing his face.
Xander looked up from the chair he'd collapsed into while Spike had paced the living room floor and lamented the heaviness of the burden he carried as Master of the Hellmouth, more to remind himself of his own power and control than to really bemoan his fate.
"How was the meeting?" Xander asked.
Spike smiled sheepishly. "Utter shite until Red called. Wasn't making any headway in getting them to agree to the terms of the Charter until I begged off to see to you. Seems they trust a man with family interests."
Xander cocked his head at his choice of phrasing. "Is that what we are?" He asked.
Spike smiled and ran his hand up through Xander's hair. "Yeah. Course we are." Xander sighed into the touch. "C'mon. You're probably dehydrated. Go upstairs love, I'll bring you some tea."
Xander groaned. "You know tea isn't actually the cure for all ills, right?"
Spike leveled a look at him. "If you don't like it you can bloody well lump it. You married the Englishman."
Xander chuckled. "I'll be out back. It's finally starting to cool off."
Xander dutifully drank the tea, which was actually better than Giles', not that he'd ever say so, and had to admit he did feel a tiny bit better. "S'good," he told Spike so he'd stop glancing at him out of the corner of his eye as he drank.
Spike beamed. "Course it is. It's from the Chop Suey Palace. Got Wong to give me the name of the supplier. Earl Grey isn't the thing for a sore stomach, anyway."
Xander was impressed. He'd only mentioned liking the green tea there once. "You did that for me?"
Spike ducked his head and frowned. "Wasn't like it was a hardship. You said you liked it. Mother goes through enough tea to put the East India company back in business. Made sense to order in bulk and she likes it well enough."
Xander watched Spike hide his interest by pretending to examine the foliage of the nearest shrub.
He smiled. "Are you trying to woo me Mr. Pratt?"
Spike glared at him. "Shut up."
"I think you are. I think you're trying to impress me. I think you loveme," he teased.
Spike sneered and waved him off. "Don't be stupid. Vampires can't love. I'm just trying to lull you into complacency so I can have my wicked way with you."
Xander batted his eyes and clasped his hands together. "You do love me! You're a special vampire! So noble and romantic—"
Spike growled and Xander laughed and dodged the swing Spike half-heartedly aimed for his shoulder.
Xander let Spike chase him to bed. They lay there, Spike curled around his back waiting for him to fall asleep so that he could leave and go be a Master vampire. Xander didn't sleep though. And if Spike noticed he didn't say anything as he placed a regretful kiss on Xander's shoulder before slipping out of the bed and into the night.
As soon as he was gone, Xander dialed the number for the clinic and left a message to schedule an appointment.
He threw up the tea shortly thereafter.
Dr. Stevenson was friendly and familiar with Xander and had a very reassuring manner that Xander had never truly appreciated until he saw the visible effect it had on Spike who managed to cease bristling for the twenty minute appointment and the ten minute ultrasound of his bladder. Admittedly, the prostate exam was awkward. It didn't seem out of the ordinary, though, which made the call a week later to follow up on his test results fairly disconcerting.
They found themselves in Dr. Stevenson's office on a Wednesday afternoon feeling as though they were missing their part of the script. He kept looking at them expectantly without disclosing what it was he was he was particularly waiting for them to say.
"Mr. Harris, you say this is an unusual occurrence for you? When was the last time you recall being able to ejaculate normally?"
"Um, well…" Xander hedged, looking at Spike for help. They'd been so busy with the slaying and work and the relocating demons, he hadn't noticed anything outside of the one time Spike said something. He hadn't even jerked off in the last two months. So that would mean, "Um, New Orleans, maybe?" He looked at Spike for confirmation.
Spike nodded his agreement. "Yeah, I reckon it must have started about two months ago, give or take."
"And before then you were able to ejaculate normally?"
Xander blinked. "Um, pretty sure, yeah."
Dr. Stevenson shuffled his papers around. "Mr. Harris you are pseudohermaphroditic."
Whatever he'd been expecting to hear, it wasn't that. "What?"
"Externally, you appear male, but your karyotype and internal reproductive system are female."
The nausea was back. "So you're saying what exactly—I'm a girl?"
The room was becoming very small and very warm and Xander wanted very much to crawl out the window cracked behind Dr. Stevenson's desk. He wasn't breathing right. He knew that. He wasn't paying attention. Spike touched his hand and the Doctor repeated himself.
"Mr. Harris do you happen to know if your mother use drugs or suffered from ovarian tumors when she carried you?"
There was too much saliva in his mouth and he was sweating. He swallowed back his gag reflex and tried to think. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Mr. Harris, what color was your semen when you ejaculated?"
"Normal." Spike answered for him. Xander's shirt was too tight in the neck and he couldn't breathe.
"Not bloody in any way?"
"No." Spike answered again. He shouldn't have to do that, it was Xander's doctor and his appointment and his problem. He just couldn't think. How could he be, wrong. I mean, he'd never doubted, never considered, never thought…
"Any blood in your urine prior to eight weeks ago?"
Wait, he knew this one. "No, doctor."
Xander heard the clock ticking behind him and craned his neck to see the time. If he could see the time he'd know how long he'd been there. Ten minutes? Twenty minutes? Most appointments didn't last that long, did they? He'd have to let them go soon. He just had to not throw up before then.
"Mr. Harris, I've never heard of a case of spontaneous gender reassignment, but I'm looking at your hospital records and your karyotype at birth is listed as XY. Currently, it's XX."
"Maybe it'll clear up on it's own?" He joked stupidly, trying to find the end. A doctors note. A scribble on a piece of paper for pills. Something to fix this. Fix him.
"Mr. Harris I'd like you to take a look at something. This is the ultrasound we did of your bladder. That whitish space there in between is your uterus."
Xander stared silently at the grainy black and white image. It didn't look any different from what he might have expected to see. Did that mean something? He hadn't paid much attention in health class. Should he have been shocked?
"Do you know what that is?" The doctor pointed to a small gray blob in a big white blob.
Spike suddenly squeezed his hand. He hadn't known, actually, what it was when he laughingly asked, "Am I pregnant?"
The doctor nodded. Time seemed to come to a complete stop. He was too damn, hot. He had to get out now.
If Dr. Stevenson noticed his distress, he didn't give any indication. He continued, obliviously, sounding a lot like Giles when he stumbled on an interesting demon species. "What interests me most, is that in most cases like this, the labia have simply fused around the vaginal opening leading to the uterus. Your uterine passage currently shares space with your urethra which runs in a traditionally male fashion through the pseudo-penis, rather like a hyena."
Xander's heart stopped, he was sure of it. It wasn't a how but it was a possible maybe that made it a lot more real and there was a trashcan by the door he might be able to get to when he threw up, and "What did you say?" It was barely more than a whisper. He must have sounded angry.
"I didn't mean to offend. In a lot of cases of human pseudohermaphrodism the genitals don't appear so completely male and still retain complete functionality. I only mean that yours appear very natural."
Spike caught his eye and Xander gave him a look of utter desperation.
"Mr. Harris, I'll try to put this delicately, there are a number of options available at this point for you to consider in termination."
The room was spinning. "Wait, what?"
"If you and your partner are considering terminating the pregnancy…"
Xander stood. He had to make it to the door. "Um, I don't…"
Spike stepped in. "Doctor, this is a lot of info you've given us. S'allright if we have a couple days to think things over?"
"Certainly. There's some literature on the subject that I'll have my assistant give you before you leave. Bear in mind if you are planning on keeping the pregnancy you're going to need to begin prenatal care right away and because of the unique situation you'll want to see someone who specializes in high-risk obstetrics. I would also recommend counseling of some sort."
"Thanks doc, we'll bear that in mind. Come on, luv."
Spike took his elbow and led him to the door. Xander was happy that he managed to wait until the door closed behind him before he fainted.
Xander came to on the floor near the receptionist's desk. Humiliated, he was shuffled into an exam room to check his health and that of his improbable fetus. He mumbled answers to the nurses' questions in monosyllables, not meeting their eyes as they poked and prodded. Spike stood in the corner quietly out of the way, arms crossed, face an implacable blank mask.
The nurses left the room with his blood and he turned to Spike, feeling stupid in his too small hospital gown and legs swinging off the end of the too tall exam table. "What time is it?" he asked, voice too loud in the small, quiet, sterile, beige room.
Spike seemed startled a moment before he answered, "Half six, I reckon."
"Good, that's good," he replied, fiddling with the hem of the gown. "Everyone will be waiting. Giles will be able to fix this."
Spike looked only marginally less shell-shocked than Xander felt. "Yeah, if that's what you want."
Xander's mind reeled. This wasn't a conversation he was ready to be having. "Well, yeah, I mean, we can't—well obviously, right?"
"Right. Yeah, of course." Spike nodded absently.
Xander detected the slight, wistful reluctance in Spike's agreement and had to admit that there was something in him that made any more definite language feel like a bludgeoning troll-hammer to the gut. And he didn't pretend to have any strong feelings on the subject in the abstract, but the reality was that he didn't know what the hell he was doing. That was what his friends were for—to tell him what to do when nothing made any sense at all. That was the natural order of things and he was going to cling to that until he couldn't anymore.
How had everything gotten so fucked up? How many more things like this were going to happen to him before something stuck? He'd been thralled and infected with diseases and split in two and every time it only lasted a few days and then everyone laughed at silly Xander, always too slow to get out of the way, too stupid to keep up. But it wasn't funny if it didn't get better and you can't keep up if you're dead.
The car was silent on the drive to the Magic Box.
Giles barely acknowledged their entrance, eyes flickering to the door for a moment before resuming scanning whatever text he held in his hands. Buffy was sharpening an axe in the corner as Anya and Tara restocked jars of herbs. Willow appeared absorbed in a book alongside Giles but Xander thought she was watching Tara over the top of the binding. "Xander, Spike, good, you're here. We found a lead on the demon Buffy…what's wrong?" Giles stopped mid sentence.
Xander and Spike exchanged a look. Spike still looked shocky. He probably did too.
"Go sit, love," Spike directed. Xander did.
"Xander, are you all right?" Willow asked, fear of his imminent demise written clearly across her face.
He didn't want the pity and the looks that said he was pathetic and doomed, but the sooner he got it out—the sooner he laid it at their feet—the sooner he'd be all better and they'd be laughing at the story about the time Xander got turned into a pregnant girl and nobody would mention wondering when his luck was going to run out. "Um, we just came from the doctor's."
"Oh this can't be good," said Buffy, dropping the axe. "Nothing that begins with those words is ever good."
"Buffy," said Giles, setting his book down.
She took a breath. "Sorry. Continue."
Xander picked up a crystal from the table and began fiddling with it for something to look at besides Willow's teary eyes. "Anyway, so, you guys know I've been feeling pretty crappy lately and, a week or so ago, Spike and I noticed some other weirdness—"
"Additional weirdness?" Giles asked.
Xander's mouth went dry and Spike was watching him, ready to take his lead. He hedged. "Um, pretty far into the realm of TMI."
"I see." Xander felt like a bug on display under Giles' scrutiny.
The shop was utterly silent. He couldn't remember the last time so much attention was focused on him and he had an insane impulse to try out a stand-up schtick. A cloud passed across the sun and darkened the windows momentarily. Spike stepped out of the deepening shadows with a nod of support. "Right," Xander continued. "So we saw a doctor today and—" He felt his throat close against the pressure of tears. Stress and overwhelming fear bore down on him. "I have no idea how to make these words come out of my mouth," he choked out. Spike moved behind him, placing his hands on his shoulders in solidarity.
Willow broke into tears. "Oh, Goddess, Xander what did he say?"
"I guess, I'm pregnant." He studied her reaction. Willow looked confused, her mouth opening and closing without any sound coming out.
Buffy made a hysterical little noise. "Lame joke, guys. But A for effort." She noticed they weren't laughing and her face fell. "Are you serious?" she asked.
Xander swallowed hard and nodded.
"Doc said something interesting while we were there," Spike took over, squeezing his shoulders in reassurance. "Said Xan's got the female bits of a hyena."
A pin dropped. "Good Lord," said Giles.
"The hyena? But how and with Spike and the—but how?" Willow asked.
"Yeah, that's pretty much where we're at with it," Xander replied, dryly.
Giles stepped out from behind the cashwrap, sat heavily beside Xander and placed a hand on his knee. "We'll get to the bottom of this, Xander, you have my word."
Spike's hands were lifted from his shoulders as he ran up the stairs to the loft. Xander heard his heavy footsteps pacing in front of the shelves before, "Aha! Here we are." Spike bounded back down the stairs, book in hand which he dropped on the table. Giles flinched involuntarily.
Spike sat down, flipped open the book and began reading before looking back at them, impatiently. "Well?" he prompted. "He's not turning back into a bloke without a spell or counter-curse or something. Get to work!"
Everyone but Giles leaped into action. A curious expression took over his face and Giles snatched Spike's hand from the book, pressing his fingers to the pulse point on Spike's wrist.
Spike's eyebrows rose. "Cold and dead as you remember?" he asked drolly.
Giles looked up in surprise. "Yes, actually," Giles faced him. "Xander do you recall anything out of the ordinary in your, um, relations with Spike over the past few months?"
Xander sighed, perfectly aware of how unlikely it was that he'd recall anything useful, having been so busy that he hadn't even noticed he'd been shooting blanks since that crazy night on the floor of their honeymoon suite.
Oh, god. "Vampires don't sweat."
"But Spike did," Giles confirmed as Spike nodded encouragingly.
The whole night was like a bizarre waking dream, but he did remember having the thought at the time, "Spike was sweating. Our last night in New Orleans. It's kind of hazy, but I remember someone was drumming in the street and Spike got up to see what was going on. He was sweating. We, um, well," Xander censored.
"Yes, go on," Giles prompted, eyes bright and hanging on his every word.
"Xan, you made me submit to you, d'you remember?" Spike chimed in, some sort of realization showing in his eyes. "And the noises you were making…"
"Feral?" Giles asked.
Spike nodded. "Yips and whinging and such."
Xander took a deep breath and felt some of the weight lift from his shoulders as they began to piece together the evidence. "The hyena," Xander confirmed.
"But see, pet, that's a good thing, I reckon," Spike took his hand, excitedly. "If whatever was mojoing us turned me enough human and you enough she-beast to get the job done, it's probably not forever. I got better, right?"
Xander nodded, but considered the implications. "And I'm not changing back because…because of, um—"
"The pregnancy," Giles supplied.
"Yeah. So, what, I guess we end that and I'll go back to normal?" he asked, more brightly and far more weakly than he'd intended.
Spike's expression was shuttered. Giles cleared his throat. "Yes, I suppose so," he replied soberly, sparing a glance at Spike. "Xander, we don't know who arranged this or why, but it's unlikely you're in any immediate danger. Perhaps it would be best to talk things over between the two of you before we take any steps. Perhaps look into the spell further, try and determine what the intention was behind it."
Xander looked up at Giles. "Are you sure maybe it wouldn't be better to—to get it gone now? I mean, do you remember Alien?"
"Would you feel better knowing you weren't carrying a chest-ripping parasite?"
Xander hadn't noticed Anya until that moment. She was standing by, looking impartially between them with a look of utter confidence and unflappability. It was a very welcome sight.
"How?" he asked her.
She smiled and waved her hand. "Oh, well, it's really easy to tell if the baby's human or not." Without being asked, she went behind the cash register and took a small canister from a shelf on the wall, shaking out a purple flower into her hand and replacing the canister in its place before bringing it over and placing the flower just above Xander's navel. "Vem er han där inne?" she demanded.
The flower glowed green for a moment then red before catching fire and being stomped out under Anya's high heel.
She smiled. "Congratulations!" she said, and when that failed to produce any kind of enthusiasm she added, "It's a boy!"
Xander looked around at the expectant faces of his friends and felt utterly and completely alone. Spike's mask slipped for a moment. He looked happy. It felt like a betrayal.
"I need—I need some air," he managed to say before a wave of heat overtook him and everything went black.
Xander heard their voices first, as he regained consciousness.
"What the bleedin' hell is wrong with him? He keeps doing that!" Spike demanded.
"Back off, Spike," Buffy warned him.
"Don't tell me to back off, Slayer, that's my Consort lying there!"
Giles' voice was very close to his ear. "Spike, we're trying to ascertain the problem if you'd both cease—ah yes, there it is."
Xander's eyes fluttered open. Anya's face filled his field of vision. "Xander, when was the last time you had anything to eat?"
Xander thought back. The day before, maybe? "It's been a while, I think."
Anya tutted and glared Spike. "Xander, your body is metabolizing everything faster now. You have to eat. A lot. Otherwise, you're going to keep getting sick and passing out all over the place. Here," she said, thrusting a box of crackers into his hand. "Start with these. And don't argue with me. I was the village midwife back when I was human before. I know what I'm talking about."
Xander obediently took the crackers, feeling utterly defeated. Suddenly, Anya's demeanor abruptly shifted and she knelt beside him, pitching her voice for his ears alone. "Xander," she said softly. "This is your decision, okay? If you don't want to have a money sucking parasite leaching off your innards for the next seven months, you don't have to. I've got all the supplies right here—we could take care of it tonight if that's what you want. Just know that, no matter what you decide, you're not alone."
Xander pulled her into his arms as his vision blurred with tears.
Pulling himself together, he disengaged and stood shakily, leaning on Spike's arm. With a nod to the others, Xander followed Spike home, dreading the conversation to come.
He was barely in the door before Spike started. But even knowing that he'd been bursting to speak frankly with him hadn't prepared him for the bitterness in Spike's tone.
"Gonna off the sprog, then?"
Xander was taken aback. "Excuse me?"
"Call a spade a spade, Xander."
He was angry and already weary of the fight. "Spike, we can't have a baby."
"Why?" Spike asked with vehemence. "Why can't we?"
Xander wandered into the parlor and flopped onto the sofa, not waiting to see if he was followed. He was. Spike's expectant look irritated him. "Are we really having this discussion? Let's see, I don't know, maybe because you're a goddamn demon and I'm a man? It shouldn't even be fucking possible!"
Spike glared. "Well it bloody happened, didn't it?"
Xander clenched his fists. As if he needed a goddamn reminder. "It's a mistake. A horrible, unnatural mistake!"
And that was when the current changed. Xander felt Spike's silence more than heard it and knew he'd gone too far. That hadn't come out at all the way he'd meant, but he knew how Spike was going to take it.
As if to confirm the fact, Spike said, "It's you and me. Is that what we are to you?"
Xander tried to stop him. "Spike—"
"Do you have any idea how amazing this is?"
It wasn't fair. Spike wasn't the one with the rearranged anatomy—with the rearranged life. He didn't get to look so tortured.
"Please, don't do this to me!"
The naked longing on Spike's face was too much to bear. "How can you be so cold? How can you not see this for the miracle it is?"
"STOP TRYING TO MAKE ME WANT SOMETHING I CAN'T HAVE!" Xander bellowed, hands raised protectively against the barrage.
Spike stopped. "Xan, love, you already have it." Spike's hands closed around his, and he hadn't realized he'd shut his eyes until he opened them to see Spike kneeling in front of him.
"No, you don't—" Xander tried to explain. "Look, I wish we could, all right? I wish we could be like other people and have the things that other people get to have, but we're not like other people. It wouldn't be fair, and I—I can't love one more thing I can't protect. Growing up is hard enough without doing it on a Hellmouth. Kids deserve to feel safe, to be protected, to be able to do stupid kid stuff without worrying about anything more serious than getting grounded."
"Seems to me you turned out just fine."
Xander looked at Spike, feeling like a fist was tightening around his heart. "I'm broken enough. I don't want any kid of mine wondering what happened to the kids in their class year after year. I don't want them to learn about monsters by staking their best friend through the heart. Maybe I'm naïve but I don't think anyone needs that and I don't want to have to watch someone I love break like that if I can prevent it. I told you I wasn't going to be my father, remember?"
Spike's voice was shaking with unshed tears for him when he spoke. "Xander, my love, you would never be like him. I've seen a lot of humanity—a lot of rotters—and you don't have it in you to be that blind or that hard. And you wouldn't be alone—you know that. You think I wouldn't do everything in my power to keep us safe?"
Xander leaned on Spike's unshakable, if foolhardy, confidence. "If I can't be sure of giving a child better than I had, I'm already worse than him. At least he didn't know any better. You're the Master of the Hellmouth. What would any kid of ours be but a big, shiny target?"
"He'd be ours, Xan."
Xander felt his resistance cracking under Spike's insistent arguments. "Spike every night you get out of bed to go protect your claim on this territory, I wonder if it's going to be the night before the morning I wake up alone and have to figure out how to live without you."
"Xan, I know you're scared—"
"Scared? Just loving you is terrifying enough and at least you can take care of yourself."
Spike released his hand and sat back on his heels, head bowed. "Don't you think you could learn to love him?"
Spike was backing down. He could say no and the discussion would be over. But it would have been a damn lie. And while he wasn't sainted enough to say he'd never lie to Spike, he couldn't lie to himself worth shit. "Would I be this afraid of my own inadequacy as a father if I didn't?"
Spike's response was immediate and overwhelming. He practically glowed, reminding him absurdly of that scene in Peter Pan. Clap if you believe in vampires and men having babies together. "Xan, love." Spike crawled up to sit beside him on the sofa.
Xander shook his head at himself in disgust. "How are you so calm about all this?"
Spike held out his hand and Xander saw it was shaking visibly. "M'not. Not by half. But I've been around long enough I've learned to take things as they come, and when the chance for something good comes along, I know enough to take it."
Xander admired Spike's unassailable optimism. "You really want this? You really think we can do this?"
Spike snorted. "Xan, love, what the fuck do I know? But when have we ever let that stop us fools rushing in?"
Xander smiled, then asked, seriously, "You'd be a good father, wouldn't you?"
Spike shrugged and replied in earnest, "Dunno, what kind of da I'd make. Know I'd dust for you and little whoever. Do my best to bring him up as normal as possible, whatever the hell that's supposed to mean anymore."
Xander sighed. It was hard to ask for better than that. "Means a man like you should be someone's dad. Hope you don't mind, I'll probably be copying you most of the time."
Spike's eyes were like saucers. "Xan, you really mean it? Are you really saying—"
Xander shrugged, feigning nonchalance. "You already knocked me up. It'd be a shame not to see how he turns out."
Spike whooped in joy and dove in for a deep kiss. At that first touch of his lips Xander unfurled, Spike's scent and touch a greater comfort than any rationalization and more reassuring than any argument. "Wait till I tell my mates! Clem'll be—what?"
He was caught staring, but Xander had been suddenly overwhelmed by how much he loved Spike. How quickly he'd been brought from utter despair to something approaching hope. Maybe even excitement. "You're amazing, you know that?"
Spike grinned with faux bravado. "Well, yeah, where have you been?" Behind that garish grin, though, there was tenderness in his eyes and knowing.
He shrugged and bent into Spike's embrace. So they were going to be parents. It was unexpected and Xander was terrified. His body wasn't his own any longer and he had to be a grown-up all of-a-sudden.
But he wasn't alone anymore.
So that was all right, then.
Xander glared moodily at the stack of bills on the dining room table. The sounds of sawing and drilling from the crew working on the garage apartment were compounding what was turning out to be a serious migraine. He pinched the bridge of his nose as someone started up the circular saw again. Around him were scattered various files and blueprints from work—busywork mostly.
To be fair to his boss, he could have fired him when Xander announced he was pregnant. And to be fair to him, Xander could have lied. He could have gone his whole life and a couple of Spike's without having seen that look of horrified disgust on his co-workers' faces.
Which brought him back to the bills. He hadn't lied, because he needed his boss to run interference with the insurance company to recognize the pregnancy, because pre-natal care? Not cheap. And he knew from hospital bills. The Sunnydale ER crew joked about devising a punch-card system for him. "Bring in nine concussions, get the tenth treated free!"
Bill agreed, not unsympathetically, but told him there was no way he was having him working on site in his "delicate condition". Xander snorted. Delicate, his ass. Bill just didn't want to have to watch a guy with a baby bump hang drywall. He was still in good health. And he should know. Being in the High-Risk Pregnancy club came with a lot of perks and benefits, such as weekly visits to the doctor only marginally less uncomfortable than watching grizzled, middle aged carpenters try and figure out what he and Spike were getting up to that resulted in…this.
But a small part of him, the part that came out at the end of the day when he and Spike were lying in bed and they didn't have to explain anything to anybody, the part that was kind of happy about getting to be parents, was grateful for the extra attention. Not the pregnancy bit so much. Women could keep it, as far as he was concerned, but it was nice to think about having a family. And knowing every week that the baby was healthy, hearing the heartbeat, seeing the white blob on the monitor and playing name that body part, well, it was light at the end of a very, very long tunnel.
The sound of Spike's vertebrae cracking and a sleepy yawn alerted Xander to his presence before he was able to fully take in the picture of his husband with bed head.
"You look like a dandelion," he told him. It was his customary greeting to Spike on the afternoons he caught him up out of bed.
Spike stretched, and his pajama pants rode down on his hips a little. "So make a wish and blow me," he retorted, his customary response. Xander found the familiar exchange comforting. "Couldn't sleep with all that racket," Spike explained. "Thought the builders should have been done by now."
Xander sighed. "Yeah and they would have been except for the dry rot in the support beams. But," he said, "and I think you'll like this, they were able to repurpose a bunch of old railroad ties. No additional cost, and…" Xander cleared a pile of papers off the table to reveal a pile of old railroad spikes. "Ta da!"
"Best Consort ever?" Xander fished, as Spike leaned over the back of his chair and kissed the top of his head.
"Could be," he mumbled into his hair, fingers tracing up and down Xander's sides. "Did you take your vitamin?"
Spike sighed and stood back. "Doc said you need 'em."
"Look, the kid's getting everything he needs from me and I survived for years on Doritos and Cherry Coke. We're gonna be just fine."
"Take the pill, Xander."
"They make me barf," Xander countered.
"Not if you eat first."
"So eat cereal!"
"The milk makes me queasy."
"You have to eat, Xander!"
"Fine, then you cook."
Spike smirked and turned on his heal toward the kitchen, calling his bluff. Shit. "Spike stay the hell out of my kitchen! Spike, I'm not replacing those curtains again! Spike!"
Xander arranged and rearranged the wedding silver on the table and didn't notice Spike staring at him.
"Think you got that fork where you want it or shall I fetch your t-square?"
Xander glared at him, but the expression died on his face as he took in Spike's attire.
"Wow," he said intelligently. Black dress pants, ironed—and not by him because he would have remembered that fight—a blue dress shirt and a gray silk tie that he didn't steal from his half of the wardrobe. "Does it hurt wearing so little black?"
Spike flipped him the bowfinger. "Go get your kit on. Your folks are going to be here soon."
Xander pecked his cheek and copped a feel of his ass as he slipped past him.
There was no easy way to announce you're the first-ever pregnant guy. Telling the Scoobies and Scooby auxiliary had been almost an afterthought in his mad dash for answers after they'd been released from the clinic. Telling work had been a decision driven by need as well.
Telling their family was going to suck harder than all of the rest put together. So, they'd done the responsible thing and waited until Xander was within a week of his second trimester, (according to the doctors table which looked more like one of Tara's astrology charts than a due date calculator, but what the hell did he know) which, they rationalized, was to protect them from having to make a bunch of announcements in case something went wrong in the first trimester. He didn't really understand the logic behind this because what was he going to be doing if something went wrong in the second or third trimester? But none of that mattered because it meant they had an excuse to put off telling his father for an extra month. An extra month to figure out what he was going to tell them and how, and, also, where the hell they were going to put Spike's mom when the baby came—which led to the decision to convert the space above the garage into her own, private apartment.
It was exhausting enough to deal with without the baby sucking all his remaining energy. He was sleeping upwards of ten hours a night and still crashing on the couch every few hours after he got up. Every time he thought about announcing the pregnancy to his parents he needed a nap. He was starting to think about just telling them he was a narcoleptic in dire need of Weight Watchers and he'd figure out something else to tell them when the baby arrived. Fortunately, Spike had come through in the clinch and suggested having his parents over for dinner and announcing it to Spike's mother at the same time. They could get it all done and over with in one swoop.
What the plan lacked in time expenditure it made up for in high stakes. Xander fiddled with his tie and frowned, wondering if the effort would really make the news easier for his parents to take. It didn't do nearly enough to distract from the fact his buttons were on the verge of mutinying from his shirt which was not staying tucked into his now too-tight pants for love or money.
Goddammit, he used to clean up well. Anya'd always said so and so had Spike. Now he didn't even have that, and he was not going to start crying about this.
The doorbell rang and Xander sniffled once and ran the back of his hand across his eyes.
Stupid fucking hormones.
Alvaro served dinner, something that Spike and his mother always took in stride and Xander never really got used to. But though he always felt vaguely uncomfortable being waited on, it was making his parents visibly ill at ease. He knew it was a source of perverse pride to them that their son had domestic help, but being faced with the reality of it seemed to do little to curb the sudden awareness of the class delineation.
So with his father on edge, waiting for the least excuse to become defensive over his lower middle class lifestyle, they delivered the news about the impending delivery and vaguely sketched them an explanation, skimming over the salient points of his possession and evident repossession. News imparted, Spike held Xander's hand beneath the table and they waited for their family to absorb the information.
Tony's lips pursed and his head cocked to the side, as if taking Spike's measure. "So you mean to tell me you got my boy pregnant and he's still working?"
Xander sighed. "Dad—"
Tony held up his hand. "Seems to me that you have a responsibility to my son, Spike."
"Dad, I'm not some knocked up cheerleader."
Tony fixed Xander in a glare. "No, you're not. You remember what I told you when you started going with Cordy?"
Xander blanched. "Yes, sir."
It hadn't been a long conversation. Tony had taken one look at Cordy and taken Xander aside to tell him if she had to drop out of school to raise his bastard, he sure as hell wasn't finishing. Implied: He'd be married, working and following closely in dear old dad's footsteps. Though what the hell his father thought that had to do with their situation he had no idea. They were already married, for god's sake.
"So," Tony turned back to Spike. "What are you going to do about it?" His dad was getting a head of steam going. Anne looked ready to bolt.
Xander rubbed his eyes wearily. His migraine returned in full force and brought friends. "Look, Dad, Spike's not a dead beat. He's dead. He's not abandoning me to my fate. I need to work because we need the insurance. It's not like he can get a job."
Spike hadn't taken his eyes of Tony yet and neither man seemed to be paying attention to him. "Oh, I think we understand each other," Tony replied cryptically.
Xander rolled his eyes and started praying for a natural disaster when he heard someone shouting outside and suddenly Alvaro ran into the dining room, bloodied and frantic.
"Master," he addressed Spike, "The wards are down."
Just then the dining room windows were shattered and the curtains fluttered inward, veiling the arms that disturbed them. A distinctive groaning sound could be heard.
"Zombies. Always with the great timing," he quipped nervously, scraping his chair back from the table.
Spike stood and put a repressive hand on his shoulder before he could stand. "Not this time, Xan."
Xander wanted to cry, which was going to completely derail his argument that he was just fine, thank you very much and could still fight a few shambling corpses. "Right. Mortals upstairs. Let's go!" He helped Anne out of her seat and saw his parents up the stairs as the parlor windows broke inward. Spike took the sword from the umbrella stand without losing his stride and disappeared into the room with a muffled curse.
Upstairs, he turned to his dad. "I've got crossbows, not a lot of other ranged weapons, but there's a M-16 locked in a chest in my room. Think you can handle one?"
Tony smirked. "Does a bear shit in the woods?"
Xander rolled his eyes. "Anne's had a little training with the crossbows. I want you two in our room. Kick out the screens on the windows and fire away, just make sure she covers her ears. Head shots are all that count and be careful—we have neighbors and stray bolts are dangerous enough. I don't want to fish bullets out of the Thompson's siding."
Tony nodded and took the keys Xander handed him. Xander grabbed the crossbow from the magazine rack in the bathroom and kicked out the screen. His mom sat on the stool with a stunned look of disbelief. "It's fine mom. I can fix the windows. Ooh! There's one!"
A zombie was trying to break into the downstairs bathroom. Xander tried not to lean his stomach on the sill and had to compensate by leaning against the frame to take his shot. It was awkward, but he fired true. The bolt went cleanly through the zombie's head and it dropped to the ground. A volley of shots rang out from across the house followed by his father whooping with murderous glee.
His cell phone rang. "Mom, can you get that for me?"
Jessica bustled forward and slipped the phone from his pants pocket and flipped it open as Xander sent one bolt through two brains with a feeling of accomplishment. It was echoed by Spike's cheering from down stairs as something thudded and snicked through flesh.
"Hi, Willow. Yes, we're fine. Well, the zombies are already here, hon. Mmhmm. Mmhmm. I'll let him know. Thank you sweetheart. Will do." Jessica flipped the phone closed as Xander fired off another bolt with a muffled curse as it flew wide of the target, he quickly loaded another and managed to bring it down.
"That was Willow. She wanted you to know Ethan is putting your wards back up and the sorcerer responsible for the zombies has been killed."
Xander released a deep breath. "Oh. That's good."
Spike's triumphant bellows echoed up through the floorboards.
A group of demons on the morally questionable bubble for their fondness for carrion were called to take away the zombie bodies stacked like cordwood by their front gate. Alvaro drank a couple pints of blood while Xander wrapped his shredded wrist in gauze before leaving the family to recover in the kitchen while he swept up the glass and splintered window frames on the first floor.
Xander sat at the kitchen island with Spike. Jessica and Tony were seated at the table with cups of coffee between them. Anne poured tea for herself and Xander as Spike removed a mug of O from the microwave.
"I gotta say, son, you know how to throw a party. Don't remember the last time I went to dinner and wound up with cordite under my nails."
"I find it's the personal touches that really make an evening," he said, eyeing Spike wrapped around his mug of blood like it held the secrets of the universe. "You okay?" he asked, quietly.
"M'sorry, Xan," he said without looking up.
"You're sorry? For what? I mean, it's okay about the whole sidelines thing. I get that."
Spike scoffed. "Yeah, an all the good it did. I said I'd keep us safe, an' what happens, we get attacked in our own, bloody home!"
"Which just goes to show the importance of household zombie drills. Come on, Spike, this isn't down to you. Junior's going to have two parents, provided you ever declare me medically competent," he added, with a slightly bitter twist to his voice he immediately regretted.
"Maybe you won't be if you don't see the wrong in bringing your kid to a fight!"
"Spike, I'm not fucking useless!"
"Hey, enough," Tony called out. Xander colored in shame and Spike swallowed hard, sparing a glance to his Mother who was looking with frank disapproval at the both of them.
"I'm your Consort. Your partner, your husband, the fucking yin to your yang. I'm not the goddamn little woman, I'm not feeble and I don't like you pushing me away," Xander told Spike.
"Boy, don't be a moron," Tony said.
"Stay out of it, Dad," he replied wearily the same time Spike rounded on Tony, snarling, "Don't call him that!"
Tony held up his hands defensively. "Look, you just found out tonight that it's a big bad world you're bringing this kid into. Tough noogies. Only hope this kid has is the both of you fuck-ups. And you will. A lot. So get used to it, 'cause it ain't about the two of you anymore."
"Exactly! Don't see why you'd want to go running in like that, bloody selfish…" Spike muttered under his breath.
"And you're what, Mother Theresa?" Tony retorted in defense of Xander. "Procreation is selfish. You're continuing the species with the person who's not only tough enough to do the job, but who's got the kind of moxie you want your kid to have. To survive. Survival of the fittest isn't selfless. It's animal."
"Well, 'course," Spike said. "Wouldn't give a toss but that it's Xan's sprat. Wouldn't 'a made him my Consort if I didn't think he could handle it."
Xander teared up with a noise of frustration. Anne smirked and handed him her handkerchief. "Sorry," he said. "It's just, you're the one who believes in me, y'know? I'm proud of that—having your back."
"You're always at my back, Xan, whether you've got an axe in your hand three feet away or a cell phone twenty miles away. S'more to you than cannon fodder, thought you knew that by now."
"Then why are you blaming yourself for this?" he asked.
Spike looked at Tony. "I swore to protect you. Means something, Those vows we made, the claim, it's all rubbish if I don't stand behind it. If I don't do everything in my power to make you better off with me than without me, then my word is nothing. I'm nothing."
"Those vows went both ways, Spike."
"You're up the duff, Xan. I did that. I put you at risk already."
"William, stop," Anne broke in, with a laugh. "If I didn't know you to be my son I'd think your father was standing here lecturing."
"No, my dear, enough. What risk is he in? Yes it's unusual, but the physician has stated that he's in no more danger than any one else who must have their child untimely ripped, isn't that so?"
"Well, yes, but—"
"And Xander is neither infirm nor of advanced age."
"Son, I was at far greater risk carrying you and yet here you stand."
"Through no fault of mine."
"Mr. Harris is correct. We had none of the knowledge you have, and yet life went on for years and years."
"But it's not natural!" Spike protested. "I can't know anything about what may or may not happen, because this has never happened before!"
"Wrapping the boy in cotton wool isn't going to make him any safer. Or your child."
Spike's lip trembled. "How did you bear it? How did father?"
Anne looked solemnly to the floor. "You're thinking of Katherine."
Spike winced at the sound of his sister's name and nodded. Spike told him he'd had a younger sister who'd died in early childhood, but he never said much about it. Xander took it to mean it was painful for him to talk about, but he hadn't ruled out the possibility that he just didn't remember much about her 120 years after the fact. He could see from his husband's devastated expression, however, that his first inclination had been correct.
"I had you to think of. Son, I won't say that it was easy, or that I don't carry that pain with me. But death is part of life. When it comes, it doesn't erase the marks that life has made upon the world, for good or ill. And for the pain, I wouldn't have traded one moment of Katherine's sweet life. And as you recall, we all had more to fear from death then. But were we fearful?"
"No," Spike replied. "We were not."
"Live, my dear. Or unlive, as the case may be. Gather ye rosebuds. That's what we did."
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Jessica added, with a wry look for her husband, which he returned.
Xander dropped his head onto the counter with a pleasing thud. He felt Spike's hands at his shoulders and moaned his pleasure into the granite.
"All right. You've all had your say, you know about the kid, now get out of my house," Spike told them with put-on gruffness. Xander half-heartedly aimed a swat at his legs as Anne gasped in polite horror.
Tony chuckled. "You keep looking out for my boy and you'll do just fine," he told Spike. "You've got more balls than brains the both of you, but most parents get by on half that. You'll be all right, Alexander."
"Gee thanks, Dad," Xander replied, without moving.
Jessica placed a kiss to the back of his head. "Night, son."
Xander mumbled a reply but it may have been lost under the groan as Spike found a knot under his shoulder blade.
"We'll speak tomorrow, William. I have some requests to make for my accommodations, if you don't mind," said Anne.
"How's your drafting?" Xander teased. Spike dug a little harder into the knot and Xander oofed.
"Good night, gentlemen," she replied, a smile in her voice. Spike's hands went away and Xander groaned in protest. Spike ignored him and flicked on the radio before opening the fridge door and beginning to assemble a sandwich.
"For me?" Xander simpered.
Spike snorted. "Gotta keep your strength up."
"Yeah, how many other people have to fight armies of the undead with a bun in the oven?" he said lightly, laughing a little at his own wit before catching Spike's frown. "Hey," he said, coming around the island to put his arms around Spike's waist. "Hey, look at me." Spike looked up at him. "It's not your fault there's monsters and zombies and demons. It's not even your fault I fight them in my spare time, or did before you got me pregnant, which, while technically your fault, still isn't really because there's no way we could have seen this coming. You're the roughest, toughest, rootinest tootinest big bad in the west and thank god you're the baby daddy because really, could you see Anya cutting off a zombie head and using it to bash in another zombie head?"
Spike snickered and Xander grinned. Mission accomplished. "I can't believe you handed your father an automatic weapon and told him to shoot," Spike said.
Xander shrugged. "He's sober now. And he served in Vietnam. I figured it was better than watching your mom get tossed on her ass from the recoil." Suddenly Spike's face went blank. "What? What is it?"
As Xander watched, Spike lowered himself and pressed his ear to the swell of his stomach. "Bugger me. I can hear him! His heartbeat. So fast—like a little mouse. So strong, Xan."
Xander caressed Spike's head pressed to his gut. "He sound all right then?"
Spike beamed up at him. "He's fine, Xan. Just fine."
Xander grinned and pulled Spike to his feet awkwardly, then pressed in for a kiss. Spike met his lips with enthusiasm and Xander reflected that it'd been a while since Spike had kissed him like that. Like he wasn't going to break. Like he wanted to do things to him.
"So, it's pretty late," Xander said, breaking off the kiss breathlessly. "I guess you probably have to get going. Do vampire stuff."
Spike blinked dazedly for a moment before a predatory grin broke over his face. "Don't reckon the world will go to hell if I stay in tonight," he said, backing Xander against the door of the fridge.
Xander shuddered. "Fuck me now?" Spike nodded. "Oh, thank god," he said gasping as Spike pounced.
Spike was a man of his word.
Xander was grateful.
Though the previous summer had been unusually active and the fall was filled with various demons uprooted from their natural environs, the winter hadn't seen the large increase in activity they'd feared and the lengthening days were dwindling the numbers of Hellmouth related difficulties to boredom inspiring levels.
Which irritated Xander, because while he'd been sidelined from slaying for the past six months, he wasn't exempt from Giles' obsessive need to catalogue and reorganize. And while he personally felt that, as a man, lower ligament pain should have earned him a pass on the book dust extravaganza, Spike was quick to point out that his mates were all females of the feminist persuasion and that argument wasn't likely to carry any weight.
Unlike himself, who was finding it increasingly difficult to move in a way that didn't suggest waddling.
"Xander! You're showing!" Anya scolded, arms akimbo. Xander paused in the doorway of the shop as she marched forward and without preamble, lifted up his tenting tee-shirt.
His hands quickly slapped hers away. "Anya! What the hell?"
She relaxed. "Good. No stretch marks. Yet. I told you to come to me before you started showing, I've got things that will help."
Xander thought back to the previous two sleepless nights as his joints rearranged themselves and he discovered he was no longer physically able to lie on his stomach to alleviate the pressure on his hips. "I'm all ears," he told her. Spike's hand was at the small of his back guiding him needlessly into the store, or so Xander thought until he tripped over an uneven floorboard and stumbled, balance thrown by his additional weight. Spike easily caught his arm and prevented him from falling.
Okay, so the protectiveness had benefits, he had to admit. He'd thought he'd been clumsy before, but this was a whole new ballgame. He was very big with the physical comedy these days—it was like his shoes now came with their own banana peels.
"You all right, love?" Spike asked.
"Yes," he replied, embarrassed, awkwardly taking a seat at the table as he batted Spike's attempts to help away.
Anya brought over a tray of jars and began removing the lids, giving each one a whiff, presumably to test for freshness. He'd seen her do it a hundred times, but this time he found himself paying extra close attention to her responses, knowing that the ingredients she was testing were going to be used for spells on him.
"Right," she said, apparently satisfied. "So this," she gestured to a small jar, "is a cream for your skin. Put this on your torso twice a day and you'll have nothing to worry about from stretch marks or sagging, unattractive flesh."
Xander swallowed and restrained himself from glancing over at Spike.
"Are you getting breasts yet?" She asked clinically. Xander blinked in horror. "I am not having this conversation," he muttered.
The truth was, he might have been getting a little puffy around the chestal region, but since he had decided he wasn't going to talk about it, think about it, or allow mirrors anywhere near his unclothed torso until it was once again indistinguishable from it's previous state, he wasn't prepared to let Anya pull him from his comfortable state of denial.
It felt vain and stupid to be so anxious about the way he looked, but honestly, as much as he'd always thought Spike outclassed him physically, it was nothing compared to the shock of washing his own, distorted and foreign shape in the shower now while watching Spike undress three feet away. He and Spike were bonded for life and then some and he was worried enough about holding his interest for the next ten years with a normal body. If he looked like some kind of dried-up, combo package of all the worst features of a middle-aged woman, minus the funbags and plus a manly need to shave? The thought frankly made him shudder. And if Spike hadn't figured out what he might be in for yet, he didn't need Anya encouraging him to freak out any sooner.
"Hey, you want to look like a manatee, that's you're choice. Personally, I always wondered if the extra rolls of flesh couldn't be employed sexually—"
"ANYA!" Xander interrupted in horror. "For the love of money, do not finish that
Anya frowned then sighed. "Whatever. I can tell this is a sensitive topic. Look—when I was human before, people didn't live as long. It wasn't unusual for girls as young as twelve to get married and start popping out babies with their father's business associates. It was actually quite practical from a fiscal standpoint—"
"Is there a point to this?" Xander interrupted, trying to stave off a migraine without letting on he was trying to stave off a migraine because that would involve Concern and touching and Xander felt disgusting enough without his perfect, ageless vampire rubbing it in, literally or figuratively.
"Yes, Xander, my point is, marriage was all girls had for security. If you were twelve and married to a man who was possibly going to die of old age when he hit his forties, you were going to remarry or watch your children starve. Which is why I invented this—"
Anya plopped a very large book down in front of him and he coughed in the resulting cloud of dust.
"It's a fairly complex spell," she proclaimed proudly. "You enchant a container and cast the spell on yourself. When you begin lactating, the milk automatically collects in the container, and even stays in stasis so it's fresh whenever you need to use it."
Xander stared uncomprehendingly at the page.
"It means you won't grow breasts, Xander," she explained slowly.
Xander let that sink in. "You mean I'm going to look normal after all this?"
"Remarriage was a competitive business back then. If you didn't have high breasts, smooth skin and a vagina tight enough to whistle kulning songs, forget it."
Xander couldn't help crushing her in his arms.
Anya patted his back awkwardly. "I'm quite sure Spike still finds you attractive Xander," she reassured him. "But if not," she added airily, "You'll be back to normal soon and I'm sure he's a very skilled liar."
Xander laughed weakly and pulled away as Spike protested, "I never lie to Xander. Except for once or twice," he amended, "an' not about anything of any importance."
Xander ignored Spike's attempt to make light of his insecurity and swept the jar off the table into his hand. "Thanks An," he said, and without waiting to see if Spike was following, he left the shop. Giles would have to manage without him for one afternoon.
Xander stood at the bathroom sink and looked down at his body, then up in the mirror, seeing the reflection but not recognizing it.
The face was familiar, but flushed. The nose, red and irritated. He needed a haircut. It was curlier than normal and he could barely get a comb through it dry anymore. He'd lost some of his tan working inside the last six months. His shoulders were sallow looking and freckled.
For the first three months, as his stomach grew, it was easy to pass it off as bloating from bad Mexican food or too many hours in front of the TV and not enough running through cemeteries at night. In the second trimester, there was so much to be done with the contractors and the doctors' visits it was easy enough to ignore the differences now too large to pass off as a lifestyle change. Spike spent less time at home and their hours being what they were, well, Spike hadn't said anything when Xander started wearing a tee-shirt to bed.
Anya's lotion stared up at him from its place beside the sink.
He remembered coming home with something approaching dread and relief the day she gave it to him. He hadn't let Spike touch him in a month—could barely meet his eyes if he seemed interested in anything other than the latest developments in the conversion of the garage or Xander's projects for the nursery. He didn't want to make the adjustments to their sex life the doctor assured him would carry them well into the third trimester. He wanted to be the lover he'd always been. He didn't want Spike making concessions for a freak he didn't sign on to fuck. His blue balls may have damned his pride, but the thing gazing back in the mirror just couldn't be him anymore.
He'd clung to that jar like a promise he'd once again be the man that he sometimes almost thought was worthy of the faith Spike had in him.
The first day, he took a deep breath, made sure no one was looking, and only lifted up his shirt enough to rub a thick palm-full of the stuff into his stomach, back and hips with business-like efficiency.
A hot tear escaped the corner of his eye as he stared angrily at his reflection. That was two months ago. And there wasn't a mark on his body save for one—near the small of his back—that no matter how he struggled, he just couldn't reach any longer. Small and jagged and red, it sat there above the swell of his ass, near the curve of his spine—a reminder that he'd been used, been touched, been altered into something else that neither man nor woman would want to claim as their own. He could maybe see that prominent stomach being attractive on a woman in a certain light—had a momentary vision of Anya round and lovely—but with his broad shoulders and penis still slightly visible beneath his gut—he had a hard time picturing himself as anything other than a sideshow attraction.
"Freak," he accused his reflection angrily, slamming the glass jar on the counter in frustration.
"Miracle," came Spike's voice at his back, a harsh, insistent whisper.
Xander jumped, and turned, ever mindful of his changed center of gravity as he avoided bumping the sink and looked around frantically for his shirt.
"Jesus! Would you announce yourself or something?" He bitched, snatching the shirt from the back of the toilet and half pulling it over his head before he realized it was inside out and struggled to get it off again with an angry huff.
Spike grabbed his arm before he could manage the task and his despair overflowed into a sob he couldn't have contained if his life depended on it. Spike chucked the shirt forcefully into the hamper by the door and pulled Xander into his arms. The angle Xander was required to bend into to allow Spike to hold him made him cry harder. Wordlessly, Spike reached around him to scoop a dab of the lotion from the jar. Xander's lip trembled violently as Spike firmly and lovingly rubbed it into the small of his back.
Xander screwed his eyes shut and rested his forehead on Spike's shoulder. "God, how can you stand to t—touch me?" he bawled.
Spike's arms came up around his shoulders, holding him tightly. "Oh, Christ, Xander. Beautiful, you are."
"I'm disgusting…" he protested.
"No," Spike insisted with a strong shake of Xander's shoulders as he was pushed away. Spike forced Xander's chin up until their eyes met. "Beautiful."
Xander looked away, hiccupping as he tried to stop crying. "How can you even—"
Spike smiled, and lifted his hand to Xander's face, thumb wiping his tears away. "—Like an angel, Xan. Not a man or woman but something so full of good and light and life Xander. That's you. Xan—" he said, and Xander saw his throat close against the press of tears. "—sometimes when you're in me I can feel your heart beating in me, and your heat and everything an—and it's like for a moment, you're so full of life you make me live too, Xander. Like you're so alive it's just bursting out of you, all the time, bringing everything around you to life."
Xander's eyes widened in wonder as Spike's hand came down and reverently caressed his stomach. "S'right, this," he said, eyes following the patterns he traced on Xander's skin. "Makes perfect sense. All that life in you an' now a little bit running over into the world. No one else it could have been. Just you, love. My angel. Just you." Spike raised his head and blue, blue eyes filled his field of vision. "And you're so beautiful Xander."
Xander couldn't stop himself taking Spike's mouth if he tried, pulling at his cotton clad shoulders before reaching down and pulling up the hem of his tee-shirt, needing to feel skin, reassurance, all the while kissing, kissing, kissing like he wanted to climb inside for a while and just bask in this love he'd somehow missed for months.
"Oh, God, I want you. Please…" he begged.
"Xan," Spike broke off kissing for a moment, eyes wild and clothes in disarray, "are you sure? The doctor said—"
"Fuck the doctor," Xander carefully annunciated. "I need this." He backed them out of the bathroom and across the hall to their bedroom. Spike continued shucking his jeans along the way and Xander was hurriedly negotiating the logistics of his own clothes until Spike took matters into his own hands and pantsed him handily before turning his head slightly to accommodate Xander's stomach and enthusiastically slurped at the drooling head of his cock, teeth gently teasing his frenulum.
Xander moaned as his vision began to grey with the sudden rush of blood to his prick. "Spike," he warned, "M'going down in a minute."
Spike smirked up at him while steadying his lover with strong hands on his muscular thighs. "Don't hear me protesting."
"Bed, Spike. The bed." He motioned, grabbing the lube off the dresser as he passed before slapping it into Spike's palm.
"Love, are you sure you want—" Spike began before taking in Xander's impressive glare. "Right, then!" Spike carefully helped Xander onto his knees, making sure he was steady before placing a healthy smack on his ass. "Hold on to the bed post, then," he purred. "It's going to be a bumpy ride."
Xander was standing in a dry riverbed. A cool wind tossed red dust into his eyes but he didn't dare blink. There was no moon and the landscape before him was red and flat save for one enormous rock rising in spires from the earth. It looked like a sinister church and the sight of it filled him with inexplicable dread and despair.
Thunder echoed in the distance and a sound of rushing water growing louder and louder…
Xander opened his eyes in the dark of his bedroom. Spike slept beside him despite the red display of the alarm clock reading 2:30. He took a deep breath and another, trying to loosen the tight feeling in his chest, the fear and feeling of certain doom.
Xander gave a short bark of laughter and shook his head at himself. Only he would spend years fighting actual demons only to have an anxiety attack in his own bed.
"Xan?" Spike asked groggily. "S'matter?"
"Just a bad dream. Go back to sleep."
Spike snuffled a little and rolled over, once again still as the dead. Xander smiled and pulled the blankets up over his shoulders to trap the borrowed heat before swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and levering himself up to sit.
He felt a strong cramp in his lower back. Guess the enchiladas are coming back to haunt me. He thought. Xander made his way to the bathroom. As he walked, his stomach and back continued to cramp. I told Spike Señor Taco imported Montezuma's revenge for authenticity, but did he listen?
As he stood in the doorway in the midst of another cramp, suddenly, something tightened.
It wasn't the Mexican food. "Oh, shit," Xander said, feelingly. He made his way back to Spike as quickly as he could, trying not to trip on anything in the dark. Then Xander took his life in his hands and tried to shake Spike awake.
"Spike," he hissed. "Wake up!"
"Mmm? Wha—whasamatter?" he mumbled sleepily, rising onto his elbows. Xander gave a sigh of relief that Spike hadn't woken up fighting.
"This is it," he announced. "The main event. Get your pants on."
Spike blinked up at him irritably. "What are you—"
"I'm in labor. Let's go!"
Spike's eyes widened as he forced himself into a state of alertness. "Right. Right! Um, yeah, so, where're my jeans?"
"On the floor by the dresser."
"Right, pet, thanks," Spike replied, absently. "Alvaro!" he shouted, pulling on his pants. Xander pulled a tee-shirt from the chest of drawers and tossed it to Spike who shrugged it on without missing a beat. "ALVARO!" he yelled.
Alvaro's footsteps thundered up the stairs before he skidded to a halt in their bedroom doorway. "Yes, Master?" he asked, obviously alarmed.
"We're going to the hospital. Get Xan and his bag to the car. I'll call the doctor and wake Mother."
"Yes, Master," he replied obediently.
Spike paused in his search for his boot beneath the bed, turned on his heel and snatched a trembling, shallow kiss from Xander before Alvaro could spirit him away to the car. "Be down in a mo, love," he said, with that far-away look where odes were written and bloody mayhem plotted.
Xander smiled, letting Spike's excitement suffuse his nerves with enthusiasm, and allowed Alvaro to drag him off.
In point of fact, Spike was terrified beyond reckoning. And so, it was with some surprise, he found himself increasingly reliant on his soul and prior incarnation to inform his choices.
Most of his acquaintance of the past fifty years would likely have expected him to be belligerent if he thought his consort to be in danger, edgy and short tempered if he were nervous and an all around bother in the situation—ill informed in the practice of modern medicine and a poor thinker for far reaching courses of action. A nuisance of the first water.
And Spike, purely demon and desperately repressing his human memories and inclinations, would have been.
But the soul was a force not to be dismissed lightly. And poet gentleman or no, William was not about to let the demon hold the whip hand over him when Xander was in distress.
Which wasn't to say that the soul wasn't comfortably ensconced within Spike. The soul and the demon rubbed along tolerably well together, the demon already more or less accustomed to the stronger than average human instincts and memories of the host. In fact, the soul was satisfied to remain in repose most of the time, quite in admiration of the demon's passion and devotion to Xander.
But Xander didn't need that kind of passion in their birth preparation courses, and when he felt the demon grow restless amidst the other human couples in their discussions of birth plans and due dates, he gladly stepped forward to ask thoughtful questions and take the notes his dearest love was neglecting, enthusiastic for his role in the proceedings and delighted to contribute.
They finished at the top of their class. Or would have, had there been marks, which he thought there ought to have been, but still, a pat on the shoulder from the nurse was quite good enough when all was said and done.
"You're going all souly on me, right now, aren't you," Xander observed as Spike calmly handed Xander's insurance forms to the nurse on duty.
Spike shrugged. "You'd rather I took a nip off an orderly to speed the process along?"
Xander rolled his eyes. "Point taken. Ponce away."
Xander was still laughing at him as they wheeled him to his room. Spike entered first, checking to see that their accommodations were in order.
They had indeed secured one of the larger suites intended to encompass labor, delivery and recovery, though obviously they would be required elsewhere for the delivery. Spike dimmed the lights to a more soothing level as he entered. The north facing windows were equipped with heavy curtains, he noted approvingly.
"What, no turndown service? Mint on the pillow?" Xander quipped behind him.
Spike glared half-heartedly at him. "Just making sure everything is as it should be. No CD player," he noted.
"Ask the nurse."
"I specifically requested—"
"And they told you at the classes they only had two and if someone else was using one of them we might be out of luck. Just get Buffy to bring the one from the training room when she gets here."
Spike huffed in irritation but removed his phone from his pocket anyway and dialed.
Twenty minutes later, they had a CD player. Xander was gowned and reclining in the bed while Spike attentively massaged his hands.
"I thought the music was supposed to relax me."
"This is relaxing, ain't it?" he said, punctuating his statement with a particularly deep dig into Xander's palm.
Xander moaned. "This is relaxing. The Pixies, not so much."
Before Spike could formulate a defense, the door opened and the nurse entered with a clip board, stethoscope around her neck. She briefly checked the monitors before conferring, "Contractions still coming regularly?" Xander nodded.
"Don't that mean we should be doing this soon?" Spike asked.
The nurse nodded. "The surgeon on call was just finishing a delivery when you checked in. As soon as the room is cleared, we'll prep you. Dr. Stevenson made sure we knew you have top priority," she added with a wry smile for Xander. Spike frowned, ready to snap at the vapid cow treating their situation so lightly but Xander thanked her and she was gone before he'd managed half a retort.
"Don't see why they're so bloody relaxed about this," he muttered angrily. Xander's hand closed over his, effectively ending the massage.
"I'm scared, Spike."
Xander was staring intently at the gnarled cotton blanket on his lap and Spike let out a reflexive breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. "Me too," he admitted, tightening his grip on Xander's hand.
Jessica had been woken from a sound sleep by the call from Anne. She dialed Rupert's number and predictably got Ethan who assured her he'd pass on the message that the boys had gone to the hospital. She elbowed Tony in the ribs and called Joyce who had not, in fact, gotten the message from Ethan but would reliably let the others know. Jessica put the coffee on while Tony swore up and down looking for a clean shirt.
"Suppose you're going to want to feed them all," he grumbled, patting down his hair and taking a mug from the dish drainer. Jessica smiled over the top of her mug. "It's not like Xander's going to be able to."
Tony snorted into his coffee. "Boy'd probably give it a try if that vampire didn't have sense enough to stop him."
They arrived at the waiting room at ten past six in the morning with two boxes of doughnuts, a large bag of bagels, cream cheese and a couple insulated carafes of coffee. Rupert was there already, Ethan flipping through a magazine he wasn't reading and watching him pace the floor. Joyce and Buffy trailed them by seconds, Anya, Willow and her friend a little while later. Anne was the last to arrive, looking slightly bewildered as usual. Jessica passed her a cup of coffee.
"How long?" Anne asked.
"They're just taking him into surgery now," Rupert told her, taking a sip from the cup Jessica handed him and wincing at the strength. "It will likely be an hour or so before we know anything more."
Anne nodded bravely as Ethan gave up his seat to her. "Sod this. Bloody useless, sitting around here," he complained.
Tony agreed enthusiastically. "Got some m-80s in the pickup," he offered.
"Firecrackers?" Ethan scoffed.
Got any better ideas, Tony's answering look asked.
Ethan appeared thoughtful. "Lead the way."
Xander stared at the straps affixed to the arms of the t-shaped bed.
"Are we crucifying someone?" he asked, nervously, as the nurse assisted him off the gurney.
"It's to keep you still during the c-section," she explained.
"Thought that's what the spinal was for," Spike commented as Xander was bent forward and his vertebrae swabbed for said procedure.
"Yes," she explained patiently, "But he'll only be numb from the middle of his back down. If he moves his arms he could still disrupt the surgeon."
"How about if I promise to hold really still?" Xander asked, wincing as the anesthesiologist's needle pierced his spine. Spike shuffled out of the way of an attendant, trying not to slip in the ridiculous booties they made him wear.
"Could hold him down for you, if you like," Spike offered.
The nurse smiled. "And while you're holding him down, who's going to cut the umbilical cord or hold your son while the sutures are closed?"
Spike paled even further under the florescent lights and sent Xander a panicked glance. Xander sighed bravely. "It's okay Spike. It's not a big deal," he told him. And may God forgive me for that lie, he thought.
It was a remarkably mundane experience at first. Lying there, immobilized, unable to see below his waist for the blue surgical curtain. After the first few moments of virtually no sensation or noise while the surgeon made his incision and Spike nearly wringing off his hand, Xander was almost bored. In fact,
"Spike, could you maybe watch and tell me what's going on? I mean, if it doesn't bother you?" he qualified, unsure how his lover would respond to his naked viscera.
Spike blinked in surprise. "Yeah, love, sure. D'you want pictures or—"
"No!" he interrupted. "No pictures, just, play-by-play." Xander half smiled. "Seems like one of us should be there when he makes his big entrance."
Spike bounced up from his stool to stand beside the curtain and swallowed hard. "S'a lot of blood," he commented. Spike's stomach growled.
"Seriously?" Xander hissed.
Spike shrugged desperately. "Sorry! I didn't eat last night, a'right? Oh, bloody hell, that's—that's…what is that?" He asked the nurse.
"That's your baby," she replied as Xander felt an odd pressure and lightening sensation.
"Can you see him?" Xander asked, craning his neck around.
Spike nodded. "He's—the doctor's pulling him out now, Xan, oh!" He broke off, with a sharp intake of breath. There was a flurry of excitement at the end of the bed.
"There he is," the nurse said as attendants rushed around, preparing and providing instruments to the surgeon.
"I can't see," Xander complained. The nurse held the infant higher, and Xander had his first glimpse of his son, pale and gunky.
"He's not crying," Spike said, concerned.
"He's got a strong pulse and we haven't cut the cord yet, let's just get that airway cleared and warm him up, all right?"
Spike nodded helplessly and Xander tried to slow his heart rate.
"Xan, he's beautiful, he is," Spike told him taking the sheers from the nurse and solemnly cutting the cord. Xander nodded, still agitated. There was a suctioning noise and suddenly the quiet room was filled with a piercing wail.
"There you are, daddy," the nurse pronounced happily as another attendant briskly cleaned and swaddled the squalling infant before placing it in Spike's arms. "Your healthy baby boy."
Time crawled to a stop as Spike cradled their son. Tears coursed down his cheeks as he held out the tiny bundle to Xander. "He's perfect, Xander. Looks just like you."
Xander looked with wonder down into his son's face, blinking sleepily up at him. "He has your eyes."
Spike waved him off. "All babies have blue eyes. That mouth though—s'all yours, innit?" he pointed out excitedly.
Xander grinned. "All ours. He's all us," he murmured wonderingly.
A slowly turning ceiling fan ruffled the papers on the mahogany roll-top desk. The heavy scritch of Henri De Sauveterre's fountain pen did not waver in it's task as he shifted a heavy glass paperweight to settle their movements as he completed his correspondence. The door opened.
"The child has been born," said Manon, staring distractedly out past the gallery doors.
Henri's pen paused over an "i" not yet dotted. A drop of ink fell to the page beneath his hand, saturating the velum.
He resumed his letter.
"Send the Behemoth."
Recovery. A very polite term for the hour following surgery wherein the medical staff monitor one's every breath until they are reasonably sure they haven't accidentally stapled one's kidneys to the lower intestine or left a scalpel somewhere embarrassing.
One blissful hour in which Xander and Spike were left alone in their room with the peacefully sleeping infant to adjust to their strange new lives.
A peace that was broken by the arrival of the nurses pronouncing him more or less well and the baby healthy.
As the door swung open, Spike crawled onto the narrow bed beside Xander, their son still sleeping on Xander's chest, prepared to shield them bodily if need be.
Much of that day was a blur for Spike, the memories returning to him in bits and pieces. Jessica's tears as she held her grandson for the first time, Tony's proud smile, his own mother's bright joy as she gently cradled the baby in her lap, more like her old self than ever. Joyce and Rupert politely held to the back until Spike was forced to bring the baby to them himself. He didn't remember seeing the Watcher's mage about, but he recalled overhearing something about police detainment and noise ordinances.
Xander was looking a bit worn around the edges by the time the girls got their turn, artlessly pointing out the baby's lack of a name. Spike rubbed his face wearily. He didn't see the point of naming the baby before they'd met him, and Xander agreed. What was the point of calling him Charlie if out he came and he wasn't a Charlie at all? Maybe he'd be a Stephen, but it'd be too late to do anything about it and the poor kid would have to go by the wrong name his whole life.
Seeing that Tara had the baby he handed Xander his water and took a seat on the bed beside him.
"Gonna hover over me for a while?" Xan asked. Spike ran a hand through Xander's hair, sighing as he leaned into his touch, exhausted.
"Just looking out for my best interest." Xander's eyes closed and Spike noticed the bruised-looking circles underneath. Deciding it was time to shift everyone out he glanced back and for the first time noticed Angel standing in the corner of the room. And wasn't that a testament to his state of mind? His sire smiled not unkindly. Spike nodded his acknowledgement, then turned back to the others, seeing someone he didn't recognize in conversation with Rupert, a tall, thin, scruffy looking fellow with glasses.
"Right, you lot. We're about done in, here," he announced. Joyce sympathetically began herding the girls out as Jessica returned the baby to Xander. Xander sank back onto the pillow with a beatific smile and was out like a candle.
"Spike, may I have a word?" Rupert had remained, his sire and the unfamiliar man beside him.
"State your business," he told them, only recognizing he'd slipped into his court mannerisms after the fact with a shake of his head at his own exhaustion.
"This is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, an associate of Angel's in LA and a former Watcher. He believes he may have uncovered a prophecy regarding your son."
Spike's blood ran colder. "What kind of prophecy?" he demanded icily, unconsciously placing himself protectively between the hospital bed and the others.
The underfed looking Watcher spoke. "Um, yes, well, it seems to have originated with the Essenes in Qumran, though it's in a rather odd dialect of Hebrew and Aramaic, rather like—"
"Don't need a linguistics lesson, Percy."
The weedy little man stiffened. "Perhaps you ought to tell him, Rupert."
Giles rolled his eyes. "Yes, well it seems there's the slight possibility that your child might be the Antichrist."
Spike felt the air go out of the room. His fists clenched. The Wyndam-Pryce fellow took a step back as Spike's fangs instinctually dropped. "You're not going to touch my son," Spike growled.
Giles made a placating gesture. "We have no interest in harming your child. We merely wished to warn you that if others knew of this prophecy, it could prove potentially dangerous for you all. But, Spike, you must understand, prophecies are never certainties. One theory states there could be many potential antichrists at any given moment in history. Even if your son does fulfill the requirements of the prophecy it is unlikely he would be the only one."
From behind him, a strangled, "What?" Xander's voice was shaky and tear-filled.
Spike was barely restraining himself from tearing the men apart for upsetting Xander and Angel was whispering in his ear. "Calm, boy. Calm, yourself." His fangs receded and in that moment he felt every one of his hundred and fifty seven years.
He glared at the Watchers pointedly as he sat beside his consort and child. "Listen to me Xan, and listen good. Our little one ain't the bleedin' Antichrist."
"How do you know? It's not like we have a better idea why this happened and Wesley—"
Spike cut him off. "Because there can't be an antichrist named Ambrose." Spike gave him a moment for that to sink in.
Xander shot him an irritated glare. "We are not naming the kid Ambrose."
Spike arched his eyebrow imperiously. "You'd rather have Rosemary's baby?"
The others let out various noises of disbelief and dismay but Xander took Spike's blunt declaration of intent to carry on, come whatever may and ran with it. His expression was comically cowed as he asked, "Family name?"
"Uncle on my mother's side," Spike confirmed.
Xander looked down into the swaddling and his warm finger caressed the baby's cheek. Xander smiled and looked up at the three men standing there before addressing the bundle.
"Ambrose Jesse," he declared softly, then addressed the room at large.
"We'll call him AJ."
Spike and Xander's house was situated on a tree-lined street in an older neighborhood limping toward gentrification. Large Victorian houses, long since split into apartments were the norm. They lived across the street from several UC Sunnydale students, one of whom drove an old Gremlin with no muffler and burned oil. On one side of them was a small cottage with an older woman and a passel of cats. On the other, lived the Thompsons, an older couple who'd lived in the neighborhood since the fifties and whose obvious pride in their garden was a big selling point to developers.
The younger demographic of the neighborhood kept student hours. They slept on the weekends and stayed out nights after spending days on the campus. It was ideal for Spike and Xander whose lifestyle might have gone remarked in one of the more fashionable areas of town, but found here their comings and goings weren't even a blip on the radar of their neighbors.
Except for one.
Bob Thompson stood watering his lawn watching the steady flow of people in and out of the Harris boy's house with a shake of his head. A floppy-skinned demon rang their bell and was admitted with a large package.
"Excuse me," came a voice beside him. Bob looked up into the blue face of a smiling Brachen demon. "Can you tell me where 423—"
"Next door," he directed. The Brachen thanked him and walked off. Bob turned off the water and began weeding.
Back in his day, the demons kept to themselves and the vampires stayed in the cemeteries where they belonged. He didn't think much of the vampire who'd let himself get caught by the government and was of the opinion that taking up with the Harris boy was one of the smarter things he'd done. Xander had a set of Craftsman ratchets he wasn't shy about lending out and he claimed to love Margie's cooking which showed him to be as shrewd as he was big-hearted. The boy was a good egg.
Even if he was still finding shell casings in his hibiscus, he thought, fingering one of them and slipping it into his pocket.
Xander sat propped up in their bed, bassinet beside him. AJ slept soundly, swaddled in the baby blanket Anne painstakingly crocheted and embroidered for him. Spike sat at the foot of the bed, methodically writing thank-you notes as Xander checked off names and gifts from the sea of cards and paper between them.
They'd come home from the hospital to find a mountain of gifts stacked in the foyer, and at Xander's insistence, they'd had everyone over for an impromptu shower. His father surprised him with the gift of a beautiful, hand-turned high chair. There were clothes from Cordy, of course. Buffy found them a top of the line baby carrier and diaper bag. Wills and Tara enchanted a set of crib sheets and blankets with calming and protection spells. Alvaro shyly presented them with a hand-woven basket chest for toys or blankets for the baby's room.
Though Xander hadn't intended to make a big deal out of it, Spike insisted on showing the others the crib Xander made for AJ, and he had to admit his pride at the oohing and ahhing over his woodwork had inspired him to give Spike his gift in front of the others. Forbidden from heavy lifting, he had Alvaro bring it in from his shop in the garage. As the others looked on, he pulled the large lawn bag off the rocking chair to the sounds of gasps.
It was ebonized walnut. The back and seat were upholstered in red velvet. His jigsaw had cut the intricate, gothic scrollwork on the arms, stained and polished to a mirror shine. Along the top were painstakingly carved gargoyles, referenced from ones Xander found that were less frightening and almost cherubic in appearance. It looked like nothing so much as a throne that happened to rock.
Spike was biting his lip as he caressed the carvings, trying to pull himself together, Xander knew from long experience.
Spike sat down and Willow handed him the baby. He smiled, finding the arms were at precisely the right height to support him as he held AJ. The gargoyles looked down on them both protectively and Xander found himself holding his breath at the picture they presented. He looked regal, dangerous and yet paternal. The Prince of Darkness and his heir apparent.
"Most exquisite, Xander," said Ethan appreciatively. "I wonder if I might commission a piece from you in the future."
"Not a chance."
Ethan appeared momentarily taken aback. "I assure you I can compensate you—"
Xander lowered his voice and nodded to the Watcher staring with open admiration at his craftsmanship. "For Giles, right?" Ethan nodded. "I don't charge family," he told him. "I'll make him anything you want." Xander suddenly remembered who he was talking to as Ethan erupted into a broad smile. "Within reason," he amended.
Xander found Spike's gift to him later that night as he went to put the baby to sleep. On the wall was a photograph of him nine months pregnant, framed in moonlight as he looked out the nursery window.
"Told ya you looked beautiful, git," Spike explained in hushed tones as Xander studied the picture. He was shirtless, in jeans, clearly believing himself to be unobserved. It was the day he'd finished assembling the crib. His back had ached and one hand rested on his lower back as a breeze blew the curtains toward him. He'd been proud of how the crib had turned out and there was a small smile on his face as he stood in the open window letting the night air cool him. His other hand rested gently on the swell of his pregnancy.
He looked content and kind of unearthly. The look on Spike's face though, as he looked at the picture, was almost ecstatic. "I must have been," he decided, fondly, moved by the love that transformed him into an object of worshipful adoration in his husband's eyes.
It still wasn't enough to get him out of writing thank-you notes, however.
Spike paused with the end of the pen between his lips. "What'd Angel give us?"
Xander scanned down the list of names and gifts beside him. "Leather bound baby book."
Spike nodded appreciatively. "Watcher?"
"Teddy bear. Oh, and savings bonds."
Spike went back to writing when Xander's stomach cramped painfully and he let out a grunt.
"Xan?" Spike asked.
Probably just post-op pain. I should take a pill. Xander shook his head. "I'm fine. Who's next?"
Spike looked down at the stack of envelopes yet to be filled. "Looks like…ah. Dru."
Xander snorted. "Dead bird."
"Nice cage though, yeah?" Spike pointed out defensively.
Xander rolled his eyes. Suddenly it felt as if someone had stabbed him and he couldn't help doubling over with the searing agony.
Xander knew he should respond, but he was afraid he might scream if he opened his mouth and wake the baby. He squeezed Spike's hand instead and heard the bones pop.
"That's it, I'm calling—"
"Anya," he managed to squeeze out through clenched teeth. "Get Anya."
"You need a doctor, Xander," Spike protested.
"No! This is, I think I'm…changing." The roiling, burning pain felt like it was consuming him.
Spike placed a hand on his forehead, then reached below to gently touch his scar. The gentle touch was excruciating and Xander bit back a scream, muting it into a harsh moan. Spike's brow furrowed. "You're not feverish. An' the scar's cool to the touch. I'll send for demon girl."
Before Spike could reach for the phone, however, several things happened at once. A long, bellowing roar echoed from the street and a sound like a stampeding elephant. A commotion rang up from the first floor where he'd been holding court during Xander's recovery. Alvaro ran into the bedroom and Xander fainted.
"Master! Una Behemoth!" He shouted frantically.
Spike leaned over Xander and checked that he was still breathing. The noise woke the baby who was now howling his displeasure.
"Xan, XANDER!" He tried, desperately. He was still breathing and his pulse was strong. With a growl he turned to Alvaro. "Are the wards holding?"
As he asked, a shudder racked the house, rattling the windows and toppling the picture frames on the dresser.
"So far," Alvaro answered.
Spike picked up the squalling infant, soothing him unconsciously as he wrapped him tighter in his swaddling before passing him to Alvaro and hoisted Xander over his shoulder. "Let's go."
They ran down the stairs to find Clem and the Brachen clan leader nervously conferring with Angel. "Spike, there's a Behemoth in your front yard," Angel observed casually as they passed.
"So I gathered. Is this all that's here?" he asked over his shoulder. Clan leaders and allies had been in an out all week to pay their respects and bring gifts and Angel had stuck around to help field the lesser dignitaries so Spike could focus on Xander and AJ.
Angel nodded and pitched his voice for Spike's hearing. "Can Clem fight?"
Spike nodded. "Oh yeah, he's got this…tentacle thing," he explained, gesturing to his face.
"Why is Xander unconscious?" Angel asked as if just noticing the man draped over his shoulder.
The Behemoth roared and charged the wards again. The chandelier swung on its chain above them. Spike sent Angel a harried look. "Reckons his parts are changing back. Pikes are on the weapons racks downstairs. I'll meet you out front."
Spike charged through the backdoor without waiting for Angel's response.
Bob was in the garage putting gas in the mower when he heard a sound like a mad elephant and an unholy crash next door. He set the gas can down and hurried into the living room. Margie was on the settee in her curlers watching the ten o'clock news. She looked up, worried.
"Bob? What's going on?"
He shook his head. "Looks like the boys are having some trouble next door."
"Well, you better get over there," said Margie.
Bob let out an annoyed breath. "'Spose so."
"You be careful, Bob."
Bob nodded and went back to the garage for his Stoner 63.
He found the rest of the household standing in the middle of the street armed and arguing as the beast battered at the magical forcefield around the house, sending showers of sparks every which way whenever it lowered it's head and charged.
"What's the situation, gentlemen?" He interrupted.
Spike broke off his argument with the tall fellow. "Got something to kill here. Don't reckon that thing's going to be much use to you," he said, with a dismissive gesture to his rifle. "Got a hide might as well be steel plated."
Bob nodded. "I got a bayonet. Vulnerabilities?"
"Who the hell is he?" The taller man asked.
"My neighbor. Ex Navy Seal. Bob, my grandsire Angelus. Peaches, Mr. Thompson."
"Spike, you can't just throw your neighbors at a Behemoth—and is that a Stoner?" he asked, suddenly interested. "You know, I had one for a little while back in 65—"
Spike interrupted him. "Hate to cut this episode of Guns We Have Enjoyed short, but that thing's trampling the bloody jasmine and if it goes for the roses I'm going to have hell to pay. Eyes, mouth, squishy bits," he answered Bob.
Angelus muttered something that sounded like "Mama's boy."
Spike ignored him. "On the count of AYEAAA!" he shouted, launching himself onto the back of the monster.
A moment later they charged after him and a moment after that it lay dead in the roses, a pike in each eye and his bayonet lodged in its throat. Angelus pulled it free and wiped it off on his bandana. "Thanks for your help," he said. It was a dismissal, but he wasn't rude about it and Bob was too old to be getting on with much else anyway.
Bob left the demons to clean up their own and returned to his home.
The smell of the dead carcass was rank enough to have Spike thanking any and all deities that he didn't have to breathe. His axe bit into the hide with a wet sound and a spray of foul blood. Angel met similar resistance where his sword met the joints as they worked to dismember the Behemoth. Clem and Gary the Brachen demon had buggered off after helping to load it onto Xander's truck.
Anya had arrived at the house shortly after the beast fell and was tending to Xander while his mother looked after the baby. Which left him to puzzle out the question of the damn thing's arrival on his doorstep.
"Behemoths aren't local. They don't even exist on this plane anymore," Angel reminded him needlessly.
"I know," he said with another swing of his ax. Angel was clearly waiting for him to say something but he was at a loss.
"Which means," Angel continued, "That someone sent it. And probably every other bizarre demon you've had for the last year."
Spike threw down his ax. "I know that."
"Well? This is your town Spike. This is what you wanted. Are you even looking into it?"
"Of course I'm bloody looking into it," he muttered.
"Really? So you haven't been completely preoccupied by Xander and his mysterious pregnancy, which, by the way, you haven't figured out either—"
"Oh sod off, Angel! You want this job? Bloody take it! All right? Just take it. I'm sick to the fucking teeth with it all! I'm sick and tired of this bloody town!" Spike raged, hacking at the corpse with a feral yell and splattering himself with gore in the process. He screamed and tore flesh and sinew with hands when the blade became too dull. His hands became slick with blood and he couldn't grip sufficiently to rend bone and suddenly desperation and rage turned to exhaustion as he fell back and into the ready arms of his sire who held him together against the fear and despair that threatened everything he'd become.
Angel held him tightly as Spike panted unnecessary breaths, a keening moan on every exhale. "Shh," he soothed. "It's all right. You're all right."
"I hate this town."
"No, you don't."
"No, I don't." Spike laughed at the absurdity of it all. He pulled back and rested his hands on his knees, looking up at Angel. He looked like a great immovable lump of statue, not a hair out of place, face as stoic as ever. "I've no idea what I'm doing," he confessed with a desperate laugh. "No idea why they're coming here. No idea who's sending the lot of them. A straightforward attack on the Hellmouth would make sense. A power struggle I understand. This…they're a nuisance, Angel. Not a real threat. A distraction maybe, but from what? And Xander—" He trailed off, afraid to voice his fears.
"There's no telling what the game is until we know the players, Spike. You know that," Angel reminded him.
Spike nodded and for a moment, indulged himself in thought for the days when he hadn't a single bloody responsibility. Course, he thought, that pretty much boils down to the three years between Dru and Xan. Not happy times, those.
Spike made a decision. "Sire, I can't do this alone. I've got a little one, an' a consort and my mum and a whole bloody town to be looking after. I don't have the time or the patience for a spy caper right now."
"Not to mention you're as subtle as a whore in church."
Spike let that slide. "I need you here, Sire."
Angel cocked his head. "You've got Buffy and the others."
"An' they've got me. Even if I am only a poor substitute," he added.
Angel groaned. "Don't play that card. You were doing fine without it."
"Thought it'd appeal to your hero complex."
Angel put his head in his hands. "I've already got Wesley looking into the situation, but it's not likely we're going to find anyone behind this unless they tip their hand."
Spike grinned. "Sire?"
"I'm not moving back here," he snapped, repressively. "I've got visions and a mission and—and I just can't, all right?"
Spike nodded. "Didn't expect you to, Sire."
"Yeah, well I thought about it, and would you stop with the submissive childe act? You're irritating the shit out of me."
Spike smirked. "Sorry, Sire."
Angel unclenched his fists. "I'll give you two weekends a month and one weeknight."
"Three weekends and every other Thursday."
"Two weekends and two weeknights—at my discretion."
"Done." Spike held out his hand to shake on it.
Angel cuffed him in the back of the head before draping an arm around his shoulders and leading them off toward the clearing where Xander's truck was parked. "And I'm teaching AJ Gaelic."
"Over my dust, you will."
Xander woke at five to the sound of birds chirping. The morning breeze tossed the white gauze curtains across the wood floor. He tucked the blankets around Spike's shoulders to keep in the heat and watched him curl around his pillow without waking. Xander stretched and scratched and threw on the robe draped over the foot of the bed. He padded on bare feet across the rug. Xander looked back over his shoulder. Spike snuffled and mumbled something in his sleep then turned over. Xander stepped out of the room and gently closed the door behind him.
There was just enough light to see by as he made his way quietly to AJ's room. He slowly turned the doorknob and peeked in. His baby, who wasn't such a baby anymore, was breathing deeply, mouth slack, sound asleep. He'd kicked his covers off in the night again, but the room was warm. Xander resisted the urge to tuck him back in, knowing it would most likely just wake him up. Double-checking that his clothes were laid out for the day, he closed the door.
Sunlight was dappling the windows in the kitchen. Xander opened them to let in the breeze and held his breath for a moment to watch a hummingbird perched on the trumpet vine just outside. It flittered away as he started the coffee pot. He turned on the radio. Leaving the coffee to drip, he walked through the silent foyer to the front door and brought in the newspaper from the front stoop.
He poured himself a mug of coffee and stirred in a liberal amount of sugar. He scanned the obits for the usual barbeque fork fatalities and wild animal maulings. He glanced at the sports page and grimaced. Xander read the funnies and set aside the crossword for Spike. He heard the click of Anne's key in the door.
Xander stood and took the copper teakettle off the stove and began filling it as she hung her coat in the closet.
"Good morning, my dear," she greeted. Xander bent down and kissed her cheek as she took the kettle from him and turned on the stove.
"Morning, Mum. So did the wind keep you up last night?"
"No, no, I had Alvaro take care of that low branch yesterday. I'd say I slept like the dead, but I think we both know I likely slept better. Did he get in before dawn?" Anne asked.
Xander nodded into his mug. "I brought him home after patrol last night." Anne nodded, pleased, and measured tea out into the pot from the canister on the counter. Xander finished his coffee, checked that there was blood in the fridge. There was. "We're low on milk," he noticed. "I'll bring some by on my break," he remarked over his shoulder.
Anne chuckled. "Not at all a convenient excuse to check up upon us," she observed, wryly.
Xander feigned ignorance. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Anne's laughter followed him up the stairs to the shower.
Spike woke at nine, registered the presence of the small, warm body tucked under his chin and pressed a kiss into the light brown mop of hair. He took a deep breath, surrounded by the comforting scents of his child and his mate. He rolled over and found a note on his bedside table.
Good morning my beloved husband, father of my child, and probable basketcase. In case you have any ideas about giving your mother, my mother, Alvaro, Angel, Willow or anyone else planning to drop by a hard time today, let me leave you with this thought:
Four uninterrupted hours.
Spike snorted and felt AJ stir beside him.
Spike sighed deeply, melancholy already beginning to creep in around the edges of his mood. AJ turned toward him, fists rubbing sleep from his eyes.
How many more days like this, he wondered, before my baby is too grown up to crawl into bed with me of a morning?
AJ yawned. "Can we have pancakes?"
AJ screwed up his face in disgust. "Ewww!"
Spike retaliated by blowing a raspberry on his son's stomach, leading him to roll off the bed and run downstairs, taking for granted he would be followed. Spike once again groaned and lamented his inability to sleep like a normal vampire or even a normal human and launched himself off the bed after AJ, snagging Xander's robe as he went.
AJ was animatedly describing something involving dinosaurs and racecars to a captive audience using the salt and peppershakers as visual aides. Angel nodded indulgently in all the right places, having spent more than his fair share of mornings in their kitchen. Buffy seemed taken aback by so much energy in someone so small so early in the morning. She wordlessly accepted the cup off coffee Mother gave her. Tony grunted a greeting from behind the paper as Jessica handed Spike his blood.
"You've been invaded," she announced, sympathetically.
"Who's invading?" Asked Willow entering the kitchen and dodging around Spike and Jessica to set her books down on the island. Tara followed close behind her. Sorry, she mouthed to Spike. "I bring doughnuts!" Tara announced gaily.
The salt and peppershakers clattered to the tabletop. "Doughnuts!" AJ cried gleefully, jumping up and down.
Angel vacated his seat at the table and gestured for Spike to sit. "I have to be going anyway."
Spike glared at him and sat down in his usual spot. "I'll just bet you do." Glancing down he saw the crossword half finished, a blood ring obscuring the clues for 53 across and 29 down. He looked up, wounded. "You did my crossword?"
Angel cut his eyes away guiltily.
"But I always do the crossword! Xan always leaves it for me. Everyone knows that. You've ruined my whole morning!"
Buffy gave up her seat to Tara, patting his shoulder sympathetically as she stood. "I have to run by the Alibi later to get intel. I'll let you bring thumb screws."
Tempted, he couldn't conceal his enthusiasm. "Really? I haven't had a proper spot of torture in ages."
"Hey! Little pitchers!" Willow chastised. AJ climbed into Tara's lap with a fist full of doughnut, giggled and started to sing about little pitchers, short and stout.
Spike glared at Willow. "Don't you have university today? Post-modern survey of bent basket weavers of the 18th century, or something?"
Temporarily reprieved, Angel ruffled AJ's hair and took his leave. "Slán agat, a stóirín."
"Slán leat, Daideo!" said AJ, mouth full, to Angel's retreating back. Spike felt a tick start in his jaw.
Willow grinned widely. "Tara and I are taking a personal day."
Spike theatrically dropped his head onto the table.
"We thought maybe we could help," Tara explained. Spike lifted his head from the table to find AJ three inches from his face, grinning broadly through a mug full of powdered sugar. He gave Spike a messy kiss on the cheek. Spike melted a little before vamping out and snarling at the boy. AJ squealed in delight and ran out of the kitchen. Spike sighed resignedly, wiping used doughnut off his cheek. "It's just as well. Going to be bloody useless today."
Tony chuckled into the paper from his perch at the island as a happy shriek echoed in the foyer. "Daddy! Daddy! Lookit!"
Spike rose from his chair to see what had AJ so excited. Tony grabbed his arm as he passed. "Don't worry, it's easy enough to take down. There's a storage tub for it under the stairs."
Curiosity peaked, Spike leaned his head out of the kitchen before slowly walking out, in awe of what he found.
"Daddy look!" AJ called from the top of the gallery, as he released a toy car onto the peak of a large wooden track, sending it racing and careening around the foyer up and over trestled hills and valleys. "It's a rollercoaster!"
"That it is," he said, standing in the midst of the track and looking up at his son, before grinning and bounding up the stairs after him, settling down beside him and dangling his legs through the rails over the edge of the gallery. "Well, give us a turn!"
AJ reverently placed a sleek, red car in his hand from the Sterilite tub of Matchbox cars beside him.
Spike set it atop his father-in-law's engineering marvel and watched the car swiftly drop a story, bend, curl and dip around the track before coming to a stop near the bottom of the stairs.
AJ grinned up at him expectantly.
Spike regarded the track with open admiration.
"Well, this is just…neat!"
Xander was standing beside the water cooler and staring at the clock through the window of the foreman's trailer. Jeff Lindstrom, a big, blond Viking of a man clapped a hand on his shoulder.
"What time is it?" he asked, taking a cup from the dispenser and filling it.
Xander continued watching the seconds tick off. "Eleven thirty-four."
Jeff took a dainty sip of his water. "And what time are you taking AJ to school?"
Xander flinched. "Seven."
Jeff nodded. "I remember Becka's first day of school. Longest fucking day of my life. Sarah called me twenty times in three hours. Spike called you yet?"
Xander shook his head. "Nope. But everyone was going to be at the house today to keep him and AJ from driving each other crazy."
"Going home on your break?"
Xander finally turned to Jeff and smiled, ruefully.
Jeff smirked into his Dixie cup. "Such a fucking woman, Harris."
Xander laughed and followed Jeff back to the site.
When the whistle blew, Jeff waved him off to go home, taking charge of securing his tools and handling clean up. Nate Billings slapped him on the ass as he climbed down from his ladder.
"Plant one on that sexy vamp for me, Harris."
"Hey how come Harris gets to take off for a nooner?" Manny complained with a shit-eating grin.
"Because if Spike ain't happy—" Jeff began.
"AIN'T NOBODY HAPPY!" the others chorused, laughing.
Xander's ears were burning as he smiled up at Jeff. "I'm going to tell him you said that."
Jeff clutched his chest and fluttered his eyes. "Oh no, save me! The Master's gonna be so mad at me!"
Xander threw a work glove at him. "Hey, next time a Grundhreller is digging up Sarah's flower beds, you can explain to her why you're not calling us to take care of it."
The men 'oohed' dramatically. Jeff smirked. "Tell him Sarah wants the recipe for the wings he brought to the picnic."
Xander narrowly missed the turn into the Seven/Eleven parking lot, remembering suddenly his need to pick up milk. He waved to Rachel, graduate of Sunnydale High, class of '99 behind the counter and made his way to the coolers. The bell above the door rang behind him as a middle-aged woman and her two kids came into the store. Xander picked through the choices, eventually grabbing the gallon of hormone free, 2% despite his continued insistence that he survived just fine on the regular, hormone laden, store brand moo juice as a kid.
As he came to the counter he saw the woman struggling to gather her brood. He smiled sympathetically as she hurried the children along and waved her ahead as he overheard her chide the youngest for making them late to the eldest's violin lesson.
"Three year olds operate on their own clock," he offered, kindly as she gave him a harried smile.
"I'll say," she replied, placing several containers of juice on the counter. "You must have children."
Xander grinned and produced his wallet-sized portrait from last Christmas. Spike held AJ on his hip, Xander standing just behind them. "AJ. He's four. Starting pre-school tonight."
The woman looked up, confusion evident. "And that's—"
"My husband, Spike," Xander offered easily. Rachel beamed at him behind the counter.
The woman's expression closed and she smiled tensely before accepting her change and sweeping her items off the counter.
"I'll be praying for you," she said coolly. Xander's jaw dropped in momentary confusion as she hurried out of the store with her kids. He turned back to Rachel, feeling like a kid whose friends just saw him get spanked. He didn't meet her eyes as she slid a carton of cigarettes over the counter to him.
"She's a bitch. Tell Spike hi for me." Xander nodded stoically, grabbed the milk and smokes and wearily made his way back to the car.
Spike looked up from the Tale of Peter Rabbit when he heard the backdoor slam. AJ shot out of his lap and ran for the foyer at the sound of Xander's boots on the tile before Spike had even registered that Xander had come home for lunch.
He found AJ being slowly crushed in his father's arms, a telling crease between Xander's brows, eyes screwed shut as he held the boy. Spike frowned.
"Why don't you go get your toys put away, lovey, and I'll send your daddy up to finish the story before your nap, eh?" Xander lowered AJ to the floor.
"Grandpa built a rollercoaster and I got to put my cars on it and they went really fast and you wanna see?" he asked Xander, excitedly.
Xander smiled tiredly. "How about when I get home tonight, kiddo. You need to take a nap so you'll have all this energy later when you go to school."
AJ's jaw clenched and his lower lip jut out.
"None of that, pet. Go on now. Da and I will be up in a mo."
With a profound sense of the dramatic, AJ stomped up the stairs. Spike waited to see if he'd slam his door, but evidently his last dressing down on the subject had made an impact and the door closed politely behind him. Spike turned back to his mate and found him missing.
In the kitchen Xander put away the gallon of milk and wiped the sweat from the container on his pant leg. The carton of cigarettes went above the refrigerator, out of sight and mind. Spike watched him from the doorway, the lines of his back tense as he turned on the faucet and stuck his head beneath the running water. Spike came up beside him and handed him a dishtowel. Xander emerged and took it, drying his face and finally allowed Spike to see the pain etched there.
"What's wrong, Xan?"
Xander threw the towel on the island and sat roughly on one of the stools.
"Remind me again why we don't let the ignorant fucks of this town get eaten?"
"Who do I need to bite?"
Xander dropped his head into his hands and scrubbed at his face. "Nobody. Just…why do people have to be such assholes?"
Spike took that to be a rhetorical question and instead applied himself to releasing the tension between Xander's shoulder blades. Thumbs attacking the offending muscle, he ventured a guess. "This is a 'we're' not like other families' thing, isn't it."
Xander made a miserable noise and Spike dug in harder.
"I know it shouldn't matter."
Spike huffed and dropped his hands, moving beside Xander so that he could see his face. "You're too sensitive, love," he told him, stroking his hair, gently.
Xander snorted. "My father doesn't care, my crew doesn't give a shit, nobody that matters has a problem with us. Everyone loves AJ."
Spike bristled, "And why shouldn't they?"
Xander sighed. "It's easy to forget sometimes. Stupid woman caught me off guard today, is all."
Spike nodded. "Could find out who she is. Shag on her front lawn."
Xander laughed and slid the stool back, standing. "Could we? Because I'm frankly amazed there's anyone left in town that hasn't seen us fucking."
"I'll put Vern on it. He's a sneaky bastard."
Xander exploded in laughter. "Vern? The eight-foot tall, transvestite Chaos Demon? He's the stealth option?"
"Oh, yeah. He does his antlers up with moss, camouflage mini-dress—very effective."
Xander was still laughing as Spike took his hand and began leading him up to AJ's room.
It was a wrench letting AJ go into the classroom with a hesitant little wave. Spike and Xander stood shoulder to shoulder with the other parents, human and demon, all watching their little ones more or less immediately forget their apprehension in the face of new toys and new friends to play with.
Xander's throat felt tight as Spike squeezed his hand and tugged him off toward the car.
"He'll be fine. Hell, he's had playdates with half the kids in there. Gary's girl is in there, yeah? He'll be fine," Spike assured him. "Vetted the teacher myself, didn't I? What's there to worry about?"
Xander looked at Spike, catching the glint of unshed tears in his eyes, lip as stiff and upper as Giles had ever managed.
Xander pulled him into his arms. Spike took a deep, shuddering breath and began sobbing into Xander's Polo shirt in the middle of the YMCA parking lot.
Most of a bottle of bourbon later, Spike was less maudlin and more willing to allow Xander to distract him with more carnal pursuits.
Spike was abandoned, desperate, and needy. Xander focused his not inconsiderable know-how on driving Spike to complete distraction, masterfully ridding them of their clothes before plundering his mouth, hot hands spanning the cool skin of Spike's back. Spike pulled Xander down on top of him, hands scrabbling for purchase in his hair, along his back, atop his ass, while Xander slowly and deliberately fucked his mouth with his tongue.
Spike groaned deep in his chest and it was all Xander could do to cursorily prepare Spike's hole with a little spit and a lot of good intentions before he had to bury himself inside that silken vice and fuck him hard.
Spike was keening on every needless exhale of breath, with every brutal thrust that sent the mahogany headboard of their bed thumping against the wall. Xander felt his balls drawing up and knew there was no point in trying to slow down. Spike was bent nearly in half as Xander pounded into him before he felt Spike clench and coat his chest with his release. Xander shouted and came hard, shooting deep into his lover's grasping channel.
They fell together, exhausted, onto the bed.
The phone rang.
"What the fuck," Spike complained as Xander reached over for the handset.
"Yeah?" he answered.
"Hey, Xan, it's Buffy. Bad time?"
"YES!" Spike bellowed.
Buffy laughed. "Sorry!" she yelled back.
Spike grunted something magnanimous into the pillow Xander threw over his face.
"What's up, Buff?"
"Well firstly, I wanted to call and see how you guys were doing with the whole empty nest thing, but it sounds like you're using your time effectively—"
"So we'll just call that the supportive friend portion of the conversation…I mean, unless you need to talk, which I'd totally understand—"
"We're good, Buff. What do you need?"
Buffy sighed. "Uropeks. I saw three, Giles is pretty sure they come in sixpacks. But they're totally easy to kill." She quickly reassured him.
"Metal allergy," Spike explained. "Swords go through them like hot knives through butter. Wonder if balls of tinfoil would drive 'em off, for that matter…" he continued, speculatively.
Xander looked at the clock. 8:30. "Can we get this done in a couple hours? AJ's been looking forward to tonight all summer."
"Absolutely. Meet at the park in five?"
Xander agreed and hung up. Spike lay silently beside him. Xander scrubbed a hand over his face in frustration.
"We're not going to finish this in two hours."
Xander turned a look on Spike. "Every fucking time we've tried to plan anything, it never takes only two hours."
Spike's expression closed. "I cannot believe you're bringing this up now."
"AJ isn't going to be four forever. He's not going to be our resilient, forgiving little boy for much longer if we keep—"
"If I keep, isn't that what you wanted to say?"
"Alvaro sees him more than we do!"
"No, Alvaro sees him more than you do. I'm here, Xander. Every damn day."
"One of us needs a damn job, Spike."
"And I don't fucking work, is that it?"
"That's not what I meant."
"No, of course that's not what you meant. You never do. Never mind that I'm with him every goddamn day when I should be sleeping—"
"—And it's all you can do to get out of the house the minute the sun's down, isn't it?"
"I'm the fucking Master of this town, Xander! What the fuck do you want from me? You worked so bloody hard to put me in this position, not so keen now when it takes away from your little domestic fantasy?"
"Fuck you!" He shouted over his shoulder, that barb hitting much too close for comfort.
"Yeah, that's bout all I'm good for I reckon," Spike shot back, angrily putting on his jeans.
Xander threw on his shirt. "Let's just get this over with."
Spike didn't say anything in response but he followed Xander out.
An hour in and Sunnydale was still remarkably Uropek free. Xander was adamantly refusing to speak to him, choosing to stalk ahead with Buffy while Spike hung back with the witches. Angel and the Watcher were somewhere else, following a different lead. Growing irritated with the pointlessness of it all, he pulled out his phone and dialed Angel.
"You find anything yet?" he asked his Sire, impatiently.
"Not a damn thing. Shall I put Buffy on?"
"Yeah, go ahead."
Spike called "Slayer!" She turned and he threw her the phone. She caught it and began speaking. She was nodding agreeably with whatever Angel was saying when Willow pulled on his coat sleeve.
"You guys all right? What's with the tense?"
Spike caught Xander looking at him before quickly looking away. He frowned. "Fine, pet."
Willow didn't look convinced. "Well when Tara and I are that 'fine' I'm usually sleeping on the futon."
Spike glared and kicked a small rock out of his path, which unfortunately hit the back of Xander's boot. Xander turned and leveled a glare at him. Spike's eyes widened and his hands went up. He hadn't meant to do it, of course, but Xander's jaw clenched and he shrugged further into his jacket, eyes firmly on the treeline ahead. Spike sighed.
He was fighting a losing battle and he knew it.
They packed it in a short while later and he and Xander left to pick up AJ from preschool. It was a very quiet ride to the Y. They pulled in front of the building behind a minivan where a Cerhu, green and flat-faced was currently sweeping it's little one into an enthusiastic hug. He tried not to notice the way Xander clenched the steering wheel at the sight. When the car door slammed behind him, Spike decided not to follow, as much as he wanted to see his baby happy and unharmed with his own eyes. Bad enough AJ was relegated to attending preschool with the demon and mixed kids of Sunnydale. He didn't feel like throwing anything else in Xander's face right now when he suspected he was fantasizing about taking AJ and moving somewhere where he could give him the normal childhood they'd promised and Spike had been unable to deliver.
Was it selfish of him not to send them on their way, knowing how much it was killing Xander not to be able to give AJ the kind of life he wanted for him?
AJ was bouncing up to the car, tethered by Xander's arm as he grinned and waved at Spike. The door opened and he slid into the back seat, leaning through the partition to wave a piece of paper in Spike's face.
"Lookit what I painted! We got fingerpaints like Mrs. Summers has!"
Xander was struggling to get AJ in his booster seat. He took the paper from AJ. "That's brilliant, lovey. Sit back and let your da strap you in, now."
AJ complied and a moment later Xander slid into the seat beside him. He looked at Spike strangely for a moment, then turned the key in the ignition and drove them to the park.
Spike cringed in his seat as they pulled up to the park shelter, lit with tiki torches, picnic spread laid out, their motley crew bustling around.
Spike loosed AJ from his restraints and watched him run for the playground at top speed. Xander was walking toward the shelter, already in conversation with Anya.
He lingered guiltily by the car for a moment, pretending to be looking for something in the backseat when he heard Anya scream.
Everyone was huddled in the shelter as birds began silently falling from the sky, apparently dead. A crow fell to the ground at his feet, eyes open and unblinking.
He looked, but AJ wasn't in the shelter. He caught sight of him cowering under the slide with Buffy when he suddenly caught the overwhelming stench of death.
"Oh god, oh god, oh god," came Anya's terrified whimper. For a moment he felt the sting of betrayal when Xander's arm came up around her shoulder until he heard Angel's softly uttered, "Draugr…"
Spike's blood froze.
He ran, screaming to his son. "CLOSE YOUR EYES! EVERYONE! CLOSE YOUR EYES!"
He heard hoofbeats, small, irregular, behind him. It was only a few seconds before he reached Buffy and his boy, scooping him into his arms and sprinting for the shelter, Buffy at his heels.
He put his terrified son into Xander's arms. "Keep his head down, whatever happens, don't let him look, understand? Don't you make eye contact with it!"
Xander nodded and AJ's soft cries were muffled by Xander's chest.
The watcher, the mage and the witches were already chanting up a forcefield around them.
"It's no good," Angel confirmed, standing beside him. "It's just going to wait."
"Anyone got any iron?" Spike asked the group at large. Buffy nodded behind her arm, shielding her gaze from the demon at large. "Knife. In my boot. Can you get it?"
Angel knelt down beside her and lifted her pant leg to grab the hilt. "This all you've got?"
"Just the usual. Stakes, crosses, a couple of swords in Giles trunk," she confirmed as Angel pressed the hilt into her hand.
"You hold onto that then. We'll have to improvise," he told her.
Spike looked around and caught sight of the utility access door of the shelter. "Angel, those hinges…reckon those might be iron. Give me a hand." A shriek from his mother alerted them that the Draugr was in sight. "Keep your heads down!" He reminded them. "Don't look it in the eyes!"
On the count of three, he and Angel kicked the padlocked door off it's hinges. Buffy scrabbled at one hinge as his fingers pried up the other and managed to wrench them free.
"Don't reckon these are going to do much but buy us a little time," he told her.
"How do we kill it?" she asked.
"You can't," Anya explained, miserably. "You have to wrestle it back to it's grave."
Spike took a good look out of the corner of his eye at the thing pacing in front of the shelter.
Its formerly human flesh was blue-black with death and disease, mouth in a death rictus grin. It sat perched atop a half rotted deer carcass.
"We can't bloody fight that thing back to the damn fjords. How about a little hokus pocus?" He asked the magic users.
Willow wrung her hands. "Maybe. But I don't have anything here. In the car—"
"Absolutely not!" Tara yelled. "You're not going out there!"
"It could very well be our only hope of getting out of here alive. The draugr will wait until we all die of thirst if need be. And we'll all rise like that. A plague of revenants," Ethan argued.
"Tara," Willow began firmly. I can do this. Buffy and Spike can hold it off long enough for me to get our things. We can send it back to Norway—"
"—Hell would be a better choice, I think," added Giles.
"Or hell!" Willow allowed. "Baby, please," she pleaded.
Tara let out an angry breath. "All right. Go."
Willow took Tara's face in her hands and kissed her hard before drawing herself up and joining the others, hand shielding her eyes. Under her voice, she asked them, "Um, what exactly happens if I look at it?"
"Remember the birds?" Angel asked. Willow swallowed hard and nodded. "Instantaneous madness, probable demonic possession. You'll likely bludgeon yourself to death on whatever's handy."
Willow made a small noise of terror. Spike glared at Angel. "Not that that's going to happen," Spike insisted, "Because you're going to keep that hand up where it is, we're going to keep the bugger off you and you're going straight to the car and back as fast as your sticks will carry you."
"Right," Willow agreed bravely.
Everything after was a blur. They emerged from the shelter at speed. Buffy slashed blindly at the beast that appeared unperturbed by her efforts, grin never wavering like one of those thrice damned Gentlemen. Angel and Spike, immune to the possession of the draugr, but wary of it's necromancing abilities, focused on driving it back, away from the shelter and the others. Unfortunately, when cornered, it frequently dissolved into mist only to reappear behind them.
"It's just playing with us!" Spike complained.
Angel grunted as he attempted to fake out the pestilent abomination and only caught the edge of the iron hinge on a wisp of fetid air.
He heard Willow's feet pounding the ground back to the shelter at the same time as the draugr. With never-to-be-repeated prescience, Spike threw himself into the path of the devil, allowing himself to be trampled under its mount's rotted hooves as he thrust the edge of the hinge up into the maggoty belly of the deer.
The beast reared back with a deafening, ultrasonic screech as Willow reached safety. A taloned hand shot out and scored a deep slash across his face. Blinded by his own blood he was momentarily helpless as it drew nearer. Desperately clearing his vision, he found himself staring into the face of the draugr.
For a brief moment the world was lost to him. His mind was a silent abyss and he felt himself moving independently of his will when suddenly a crack like thunder rent the air and he was falling to the ground and everything—
There was something warm and wet bathing his face when he awoke.
Xander's face loomed above him, upside-down. Spike blinked and Xander removed the flannel from his forehead.
"Spike?" he asked, voice wavering.
"AJ? Are you all right? Is the baby—"
"We're fine," Xander interrupted him, gently. "He's right here."
Spike lifted himself onto his elbows and found he was still on the ground in the park. Hadn't been out long, then, he wagered. AJ stood just behind Xander, looking wobbly lipped and terrified. "Come here, baby," he said, opening his arms to the boy.
AJ rushed into his lap, sobbing. "Shh…" he quieted him. "It's okay. Everything's all right now, you see? I'm here, lovey. Shh, It's all right."
When he'd calmed down some, Xander helped them to their feet, and Spike found everyone else watching with expressions of concern. Spike turned back to AJ.
"Sorry about your picnic," he said, quietly. "You want to try it again another night?" he asked. AJ shook his head no.
Spike wanted to die of remorse.
"Whaddaya mean, no?" Xander asked. "Why not?" AJ clutched Xander's leg and hid his face. "Not scared are you?" AJ tightened his grip. As Spike looked on in horror, Xander knelt down beside their son and looked right at Spike.
"Hey, who am I?" he asked their son.
"Daddy," AJ said, reluctantly being drawn into conversation.
"That's right and I'm a human, like you. And who's that?" Xander pointed at Spike.
"Daddy," he answered a bit easier.
"And what's daddy?"
"Vampire," answered AJ obediently.
"And are you scared of vampires?" AJ shook his head. "Why not?"
AJ looked at Xander as if he asked something profoundly stupid. "Cause the bad vampires can't get me an' daddy will get them if they try to."
Xander smiled. "That's right. And not only the bad vampires. Your daddy is the big bad, you know what that means?"
AJ shook his head. Xander grinned. "It means no matter what, your daddy is bigger and badder than any demon or bad guy out there. Nothing out there is scarier than your daddy. So you shouldn't be scared either."
Xander looked at him with such perfect love on his face as AJ looked up at him for confirmation. Spike didn't give a toss that he was crying like an utter git. He just nodded and put a little swagger in his voice. "S'right, lovey."
AJ was clutching him then and Spike almost missed the whispered, "You got hurt," from AJ. Spike held him tighter, but Angel hadn't missed it either.
"You don't think something like that was going to take out your da? A little old draugr? Only one creature ever got the best of your dad," he added with appropriate gravitas.
AJ looked up at Angel in awe. "What?"
Buffy knelt down beside him and whispered, "My mom."
AJ looked up at Mrs. Summers in shock, clearly not buying it. "You?"
She nodded. "Me. And since I kind of like you, I think I'm going to let your dad off the hook."
AJ nodded reverently. "Kay."
"So what do you think, kiddo? Want to try it again another night?" Xander asked, looking right at Spike.
Spike swallowed the lump in his throat and took Xander's hand in his. Xander gave it a little squeeze as AJ answered, "Yeah, but can Jarah come because she has glow in the dark legos and she said I could play with them."
Spike looked at Xander. "If it's okay with Gary, I don't see why not."
Hand in hand, they walked back to the car, the others packing up and following behind them. AJ ran ahead.
"Can we get ice cream?" He asked.
"It's midnight," said Xander.
"Blood," offered Spike.
In the car, Xander eventually agreed to the hot chocolate, but by the time they got home, the boy was fast asleep.
Xander made some for Spike anyway.
The girl begged pitifully for her life. Blond and honey-sweet, her blood pulsed generously into his mouth. Her voice faltered, whimpering. The thunderous beating of her heart drowned out her broken French as he took her lifeblood. He broke her neck, shifting her body across his lap and swallowed the final pulses before shoving the body onto the deck.
The screen door slid open. "Master, your emissary has not returned."
Stazzi drew the back of his hand across his mouth. "The draugr?"
So the lions have lain down with the lambs. "Send word. Our source was correct. We move at sundown. Collect the vessel."
"Yes, Master." The screen door slid shut. Stazzi stretched long, thin legs, standing. The dead girl sprawled obscenely beside the Adirondack chair, eyes staring unseeing at the tall pines surrounding the cedar deck. Dusk approached. Stazzi felt it in his bones, though this far into the woods the light barely penetrated the canopy of trees.
He grew weary of seclusion. A hundred years of corpses upon which his power fed and nourished itself while he lie in wait to seize true dominion. Watching lesser demons gorge themselves and play at civility grated on his nerves like sand within an oyster.
That time was at an end.
His army was assembled. They would take back this world by force from the half-breeds, the week, and the mortal. They would restore it to it's former glory.
And Stazzi would rule over all.
Something wasn't adding up.
Spike sat at the kitchen table, nursing a mug of blood and Weetabix and glaring into the middle distance. It had been a long night.
After they'd tucked AJ in, they'd sat in their room. Xander wearily turning down the bed as Spike undressed.
With his back turned, his voice was quiet, which was almost more chilling than if he'd been red-faced and screaming. "I know you do what you have to do to protect us. Protect the town. I'm proud of you. I'm proud to be with you. You've done everything in your power to keep us safe and let AJ be a normal kid. I see that. I appreciate that."
Spike's eyes narrowed at Xander's tense back. "But?"
Xander turned and the sheer exhaustion in his face gave him pause. The dark circles under his eyes looked bruised. "I won't beg you to be around. AJ and I love you. If that isn't reason enough to be here, I don't know what is. I don't want to be my father, but I don't want to be my mother either."
Spike let out an annoyed breath. "What exactly do you want from me? I thought you understood that I have to manage things—"
Xander's expression closed. "And how much management does a Brachen clan need Spike? I don't think Clem needs a lot of supervision. Or is it the shit-stupid minions you keep around? Because I know they're not turning other vamps—Buffy bitches enough about the lack of slaying—so what is it?"
Spike surged forward and vamped out. "Who do you think you married, Xander? Who claimed you? I'm not a kept man. I wasn't put here to play house!"
Xander recoiled with a snarl. "So being a husband and father is beneath you, is that it? AJ and I aren't worth your time?"
Spike attempted to backpedal. "That's not what I meant."
"Tell me the truth, you fucking coward!"
Spike lashed out and would have struck Xander, but Xander blocked the hit. His hand shook, clammy where it grasped Spike's wrist. His eyes were wide.
Spike stood there in shock. "Xander…I didn't—"
Xander released his wrist as if he were dropping a venomous snake. "I know," he said, eyes dropping to the floor.
Spike's voice shook as he found himself confessing. "I don't know how to be what you need, Xander. And every day, every week that goes by, I'm more at sea. I'm getting everything wrong an' it's AJ paying the price. With demon school and goddamn picnics at night and a fucking security system keeping the doors barred so he…he—" Spike's voice hitched and he hastily swiped at the tears on his face. "He can't go into the sun, Xander. He can't go outside into the sun, because I can't be there with him. And it fucking kills me." Spike's vision blurred with tears when Xander's arms came up and held him tight. "It isn't fair to him," Spike whispered hoarsely, afraid of seeing the censure in Xander's eyes. "I can't be what he deserves. I'm failing you both."
Xander gently touched his face, hands so warm it surprised him a little. It always seemed to, no matter how many times they touched. "I've never asked you to be anything other than who and what you are."
"What I am…"
"A vampire," Xander clarified. "A demon. My lover, the father of my son, and a massive pain in the ass."
Spike snorted. "Thanks for clearing that up."
Xander smiled. "No problem. And you know AJ doesn't give a shit about the sun. Not when he gets to spend time with you. You know that, right?"
"Know it. He just wants you. He loves you. You can do no wrong in his eyes. Believe me, you're going to want to eat that shit up while it lasts."
Spike laughed. "Anticipating a difficult adolescence already?"
"He counts cards when he plays Candyland, Spike. And I'm not sure, but I think he knows how to override the security system."
Spike laughed and helped Xander off the floor. Before he could move away, Spike tightened his arms around his waist and pulled him into a deep and grateful kiss.
Xander hardened against him and Spike moaned into his mouth and deepened the kiss a little desperately.
Xander broke off the kiss, pupils blown wide. "Someone's feeling needy," he murmured as Spike writhed against him, aching and surrounded by the scent of Xander's lust.
"Need you," he answered, pulling Xander's shirt off and reveling in his gasps as Spike's cooler hands traced his ribs.
They made love slowly, taking the time to remind each other exactly how good they were together, playing each other's bodies, laughing, moaning in delight, reaffirming. It wasn't always like that between them. Sometimes it was a quicky when they had time, sometimes it was a little angry, sometimes it was just okay. It was all good. But this? This was good. Spike was still bonelessly sated when Xander kissed him goodbye the next morning.
Which was why it was concerning that the afternoon after the draugr attack, Spike was edgy.
Something wasn't adding up.
Spike tapped a finger on the tabletop, wishing for a cigarette. As far as he was concerned all was right with the world, save for one niggling question that was chasing around his brain like a herd of mice.
Five years of obscure demons. Easily killed. The draugr was obscure. But the draugr was deadly. In fact, that was the most challenging foe he'd seen on the Hellmouth in some time. Why now? What had changed?
Spike ground his teeth.
The back door slammed.
"Something isn't adding up," Angel announced, barreling into the kitchen and throwing aside the tarp that concealed him from the late afternoon sun. Sure of his welcome, he pulled a packet of blood from the refrigerator.
Spike's eyebrows rose over his mug. "Thought you were due for LA today."
"I was. I should be. But something isn't right about the attack last night." Spike snorted. Angel looked guiltily down at his hands on the counter. "I should have been on top of this."
With a roll of his eyes Spike set his mug down. "You're not the Master, here."
"I said I'd help."
"An' you have."
"I shouldn't have let myself get distracted—"
"Can the guilt, Angel, it's not helping."
Angel nodded as the microwave beeped. "Those Uropeks? Buffy ever find them last night?"
He dialed Buffy as Angel quickly ate, but Buffy hadn't seen the Uropeks either beyond the few she'd come across in the cemetery earlier.
"Maybe they offed themselves accidentally?" Spike suggested.
Angel frowned and shook his head. "They're vulnerable but they're not stupid. They usually avoid urban areas. I'm going to sweep the woods, see if maybe they camped there."
"Think they'll have something to say?"
"It's worth a shot."
Spike nodded. "You find anything out, give me a call. Don't go tearing off alone on some half-arsed mission to assuage your guilt."
Angel grinned wickedly. "Wouldn't dream of it."
Spike growled. "Don't make me set a minion on you."
Angel's laughter followed him out the door.
Two hours later, AJ was cheating Spike at Candyland, when the phone rang.
"We have a problem," said Angel.
Spike glanced up at Alvaro. Alvaro took his place as Spike stepped out of the room and into the foyer. "What did you find out?"
There was silence on the other end of the line. Finally, "They said they were hired by the Master of New Orleans."
The words rang in Spike's ears before sinking like lead to the pit of his stomach. "Are you sure?"
"I wish I wasn't."
"I know there's no love lost between you—"
"Spike," Angel interrupted. "I'm sure."
Spike squeezed his eyes tight. "Alright. I'll go there. See what's what."
"Not alone. It's too dangerous."
Spike was already on his way upstairs, pausing before the quilt hanging prominently at the head of the stairs. It was a story quilt. Their story. Every detail of his ascendancy, his life with Xan and the birth of their son stitched in loving detail by Manon, gifted to them the day AJ was born.
"I don't know what they're playing at Angel, but I think there's more to this than…this."
"All the same, I'm going with you."
Spike sighed, looking over the gallery at his son. "Be ready in ten minutes," he told Angel.
Spike scrubbed his face hastily as he descended the stairs again and sat down on the rug, pretending not to notice as AJ stacked the deck. Leaning over he kissed the top of his head, breathing deep before ruffling his hair.
There was time to finish the game.
AJ smiled and dealt.
The dessert was red by night, bright with stars. Those that protected the sacred place felt the coming storm and sheltered.
One by one, the demons came to the rock, into its secret places, and waited as evil trickled black and malignant across the land, through oily black and ancient gullys, as parasites upon the dusty roads.
They came, and the sentinels watched in silence.
Half an hour before Xander was scheduled to leave work, the sun was already well below the horizon. Spike quickly packed a bag and pounded down the stairs. Alvaro was busy making supper for AJ and Xander while AJ watched and tried to sneak bits of chocolate from the cutting board, bound for the mole poblano.
"Enough, Neguinho," Alvaro chastised with a tap of the wooden spoon across AJ's creeping fingers.
"Alvaro, mind keeping an eye on AJ until Xander gets home?"
AJ looked up at Spike in the doorway, disappointment plain on his face. Spike stopped him with a raised hand before he could complain. "Your da will be home in a little less than an hour. I have to go to New Orleans—"
"Is Auntie coming?" AJ interrupted excitedly.
Spike swallowed bitterly. "I don't know, petal."
"Are you going to tell her about the dragon?"
"Draugr, lovey, and yeah, I reckon that'll come up," he said, holding an arm out. AJ tucked himself into Spike's side. "I'll tell 'em how brave you were, shall I?"
AJ hugged him. "Are you gonna come home soon?"
"Soon as I can. I promise. Be good for your Daddy and Alvaro, yeah?"
AJ nodded. With a confirming nod from Alvaro, Spike turned and left.
"Henri, the Uropeks have returned to the mountains."
Manon stood in the doorway of the antechamber, clutching a letter. Henri dismissed the minion at his feet and beckoned her forward, reaching for the missive. He read it.
"He sends a draugr. We shall be hearing from Master William soon. There's nothing more we can do." Manon crossed herself and Henri frowned. "Must you?"
She scowled. "Do not deceive yourself. You fight on the side of the angels now."
Henri laughed bitterly. "So it would seem. And you, Manon?"
Manon folded herself onto the dais at his feet, resting her head on his knee. "I pray for intercession on your behalf, you old fool."
Henri's hand rested upon her black hair. "I love you, too."
Spike had been gone not more than ten minutes when the noise like grinding metal started.
Alvaro looked up from the stove. "Meu Deus," he breathed. "A barreira…"
The front door crashed open and AJ screamed. Alvaro, in demon face, reached for AJ who ran to him, clinging to his side. "Take this, Neguinho," he said, pulling the bracelet from his wrist and pressing it into the boy's hand. "Touch the red bead," he instructed. A trio of vampires stormed the kitchen and bore down on them, brandishing stakes. AJ did as Alvaro said and looked at him with fearful eyes as he whispered "Mudança," over his little hand.
AJ disappeared as Alvaro's ashes drifted onto the kitchen tile.
Xander stood in his foreman's trailer twenty minutes before quitting time, going over the schedule for the following week when he felt a tugging sensation and found himself suddenly in his kitchen beside a pile of ash, surrounded by three snarling vampires.
His stake was in his hand a moment later. Vaulting over the island, he staked the one on the left cleanly. A punch to his ribs from the right, Xander stepped into the attack and grasped the vamp by the arm, swinging it into his stake. The third attempted a frontal assault and ran directly into his attack. All three dusted, Xander looked frantically around for his family.
"SPIKE!" he screamed, his voice echoing in the empty house. "AJ!"
Xander went to the pile of ash, beside the stove, praying mindlessly. "God, not Spike, please no, please…please…"
His phone rang.
"Xander? Are you all right?"
"Xander, AJ's in my office and he's scared out of his mind. What's going on?"
"Bill, put him on!"
"Just a second…here you go."
A moment later AJ's hysterical sobs came through the phone line.
"Baby? It's me, are you all right?"
"Uh…huh…" came the hiccoughed response.
"AJ who was with you when the vamps came? Was—was—?" he asked, unable to choke out the question as the pressure of tears burned the back of his throat.
"Alvaro gave me his bracelet," he said, miserably.
Xander felt the tears spill onto his face with desperate relief and horror. "Baby, it's okay. The bad vamps are gone. I'm going to have Bill bring you home now, okay?"
"Okay," said AJ. A minute later there was a shuffling sound and the phone was back in his foreman's hand. "Xan, you want me to bring him home?"
"Yeah, Bill, if it's not too much trouble."
"Everything okay at home?"
Xander shuddered and looked down at the pile of ash. "No."
Bill didn't seem to have a response to that. "I'll be there in a few."
The phone went silent. Mechanically, Xander started digging through the cupboards for something to put Alvaro's ashes in when he realized he was hyperventilating.
On his hands and knees in front of a pile of cake pans Xander fumbled his phone from his pocket again and dialed Spike.
"Spike there were vampires at the house. They tried to get AJ," he bit out.
"Alvaro dusted. AJ used the bracelet. Bill's bringing him home now."
"Are you all right? Is AJ?"
"We're fine, just kind of shaken. Where are you?" There was silence on the other end. "Spike?"
"Found out who sent the Uropeks, love."
"What aren't you saying?"
"It's probably a mistake."
"Spike, where are you?"
"I'm on my way to New Orleans, pet."
Xander nearly dropped the phone. "God, no. They wouldn't."
"Well if Angel said it it must be true."
"How do you know he was telling the truth?"
"He wouldn't lie about this, pet. Not now."
Xander looked down at the little pile of ash on the floor and shook. "I don't know how to keep it together without you here right now, Spike. They were in our home, they tried to take our son."
"Hush, pet, hush. The wards back up yet?"
"I—I didn't think—"
"Call Willow and Ethan and have them put them back up. Then I want you to get everyone over to the house and you let them sit on you and AJ and don't go anywhere alone, you understand me? You just sit tight until I find out what the hell is going on."
Xander nodded, then added, "Okay," for Spike's benefit. "I fucking hate this, Spike."
"Me too, pet. Me too."
Bill's dusty blue Chrysler was parked outside the trailer. He spent a couple minutes getting AJ a drink of water, cracked a few jokes and calmed the kid down a bit.
Wrapping the Indian blanket from the back of the couch around AJ's shoulders, he gathered up his papers and pulled out his keys.
"Come on, sport. Let's get you home."
AJ nodded silently and ran down the steps of the trailer while Bill locked up. He stood patiently by the passenger door while bill jimmied the door handle, making sure it stuck.
"All right, kiddo, you—"
Bill didn't finish his sentence, as the blade drew across his throat and severed his windpipe. His body fell crumpled down the stairs of the trailer, landing in a heap at the bottom.
He was dead by the time vampires took the boy, blindfolded and screaming into the back of an unmarked van and drove off.
An hour later, there was no sign of AJ. The wards were up and Bill wasn't answering his phone. Xander numbly stared at the tea Anne placed in front of him.
"Let's go," said Buffy. Xander pushed the chair back from the table with a deafening screech and stood. As their family huddled silently in their kitchen with grim faces, Xander took a stake from Buffy and followed her out.
The stalked the streets in silence, following the shortest route between the construction site and home.
The chain link fence was unlocked, the gate wide open. From the street they could see the dark shape of something at the bottom of the trailer steps. Buffy held up her hand. "Let me," she said quickly before running to the trailer. Time stretched into infinity as Xander watched and waited. Her body didn't betray anything as it hunched over the figure. Finally she straightened and waved him over. Xander jogged over and soon he could see the figure on the ground was far too large to be his little boy. With a ragged breath he identified Bill as Buffy turned him over.
"His throat's cut," Xander noted.
Buffy nodded. "Not exactly the usual vamp MO."
Xander flipped open his phone and dialed Spike. Angel answered.
"Driving. Is everything okay?"
Xander let out a laugh that sounded half insane even to his ears. "No, Angel. Things are really not okay. AJ's gone. Someone took him."
Over the phone there was a sound of cursing and tires screeching and "Spike, pull over! JUST PULL OVER GODDAMMIT!" There was a struggle, and then, "XANDER? WHAT HAPPENED TO AJ?" Spike's panicked voice bellowed.
"Someone took him from the site. Bill's dead."
"Oh fuck, no, no, no…"
"Spike, how far are you from New Orleans?"
"This can't be happening…"
"Spike, how long before you know if Henri had anything to do with this?"
A moment, then, "About a day out."
"Call me when you know. We'll get him back, Spike. And whoever did this is going to pay."
"Love, I'm sorry, I'm—I'm so sorry. I never should have gone—"
"This wasn't your fault, Spike. Just get there. And if you find out Henri did this—"
"Make him feel pain." Xander closed the phone as Buffy leaned over and closed Bill's eyes.
Spike buried the needle after hanging up with Xander and didn’t lift his foot off the gas until they hit the New Orleans city limits. They weren’t stopped by police and they didn’t stop for gas, witches be praised.
The gates of the plantation were open, not that he would have stopped if they weren’t. Spike suspected they were expecting a visit. He parked the Desoto in front of the big house and pulled his ax from the boot.
Spike kicked open the door.
Two minions he dusted immediately, the ax separating their heads from their bodies in one swing. Angel staked two more at Spike’s back.
Henri’s cane-backed chair listed at a forty-five degree angle to the faded and grimy walnut floor. Smoke rose in curls up to the ceiling fans from his cigarette, protruding under the brim of the dark-green, felt, Homberg tilted forward, obscuring his face. The cut crystal lowball chimed as the ice cracked in his bourbon. The air was sultry and smelled like wood and old tobacco and flowering crab trees. He held up his hand and the others fell back.
Spike didn’t hesitate. He approached Henri, the picture of insouciance and pulled a rail spike from his coat. Blinded by rage he didn’t see Manon’s approach. Without so much as grazing the vampire, he was suddenly suspended in mid air.
Angel walked beneath him and approached Henri as Spike continued to struggle.
“What do you know? Where is my Godson?” Angel demanded.
Henri frowned into his drink. “I do not know where he is.”
“You LIE!” Spike raged.
Manon approached Spike, releasing him and allowing him to fall to the floor. “No, Cher, we do not.”
“What are you playing at then? You’ve been summoning demons—attacking us—”
Henri raised his hand wearily. “Sit down. Have a drink.”
“Fuck your hospitality, Henri. You set us up!”
Henri sighed. “Yes. I did. But not in the way you are thinking. Sit down. You need to know the truth.”
Angel sent Spike a repressive look and Spike sat. “Someone took my son, Henri. If I find you had anything to do with it—”
“Spike—” Angel cut him off.
“No, Angelus. He is right to be angry. I thought to protect you, and I likely succeeded only in drawing attention to you.”
“Protect us? By sending ruddy great demons to kill us?”
Henri leaned forward in all seriousness. “To disguise your allegiance with the humans. Had I not, you would have been assassinated long ago.”
“I’m Master of the Hellmouth. Think I couldn’t handle a few challengers?”
Henri sighed deeply, painfully. “No better or worse than the Master of Phnom Penh. And Astana. And St. Petersburg. And Istanbul. They’re all dust, now, William.”
A pin dropped.
“All of them?”
“All of them.”
“I think you better tell us everything,” Spike replied, wearily sinking into a chair and accepting a proffered glass of bourbon, downing it in one shot. Henri poured him another and began to speak.
“Five years ago I began receiving challenges to my claim here, once, maybe twice monthly. This in itself was nothing new. We hold a large and valuable territory and there will never be a shortage of foolish, greedy demons in this parish. What was new, was that these challengers did not adhere to the rules of succession—they were not seeking status or personal glory. The attacks were swift and were not limited to myself, but to Manon as well. I did not know, and still do not know who was behind the assassination attempts as each was, obviously, unsuccessful. However, at that time we went to Sunnydale to assess you and determine if you posed a possible threat. You’ve never been one to hold with tradition and your swift rise to prominence after two lifetimes of indifference to power—and on the Hellmouth no less—made you suspect.
“Naturally, you know how that developed. We realized immediately you were not responsible, and furthermore, a large, coordinated attack upon our estate was launched the eve of your battle against the Mistress of Sao Paolo while you and your consort were indisposed. We dispatched the Necromancer responsible, but not before obtaining a sizable amount of information from him. Though we never learned who was behind the attack, we did determine they were being ordered remotely. The attacks tapered off after that, however, other Masters began dusting. The list was an auspicious one. All old masters. All co-existing with the human population to some extent. The masters in Cambodia and Kazakhstan shared the distinction of keeping human consorts. The others a large network of donors and extended families of human servants to maintain order in the territories where killing was impractical. You and Alexander were wed the evening that the Consort of the Cambodian Master awoke covered in her Master’s ashes. By the time we discovered the correlation, it was too late to warn you. So Manon evolved a plan to conceal your pax with the Slayer and humans of the Hellmouth, if not your consortium.”
“You sent demons to cover up the peace. Make it look like business as usual. Keep the slayer busy.”
“Precisely. Every effort was taken to give the appearance of danger without actually posing any.”
“And the Draugr? My son?”
“The Draugr suggests something or someone revealed the truth of your alliances to whomever is responsible. An attempt on your lives, as I had hoped to protect you from.”
Spike pressed his hands into the table, his fingertips whitening under the pressure as he fought the words that sprang from him unbidden.
“Do you know who took my son?”
Henri hung his head, and with glistening eyes Manon shook her head, slowly, despairingly.
“No. We do not.”
Xander woke, cold and stiff, to the sound of Willow calling outside the door. In the brief moment between sleep and waking he could forget everything. Until his hip popped and his legs unfurled and he could smell AJ in his pillow and realized he was curled in AJ’s bed, alone. In that moment, the bottom fell back out of his life and bit back a desolate moan of grief.
“Xander? Spike’s on the phone,” she summoned.
Xander sat up quickly and scrubbed his hand over the two days growth of beard on his face. Willow entered hesitantly and handed him his phone.
“Xan?” came the voice of his husband. It broke as if he’d been crying. Xander clamped down on the urge to panic.
“Spike? What’s going on? What did you find? Is AJ—” Xander broke down. He couldn’t help it.
“Xan, don’t you do that, love,” came Spike’s wobbly chinned response. “Because if you do that then I’m going to fall apart and I need you to be strong for me right now so we can murder this bastard.”
Xander took several deep breaths. “He’ll be fine. AJ will be fine.”
Silence. Then, “Course he will. He’s our boy. An’ we’re the luckiest sods on the fucking planet. If ever someone was watching out for us, they’ll be watching out for him now. Bet on it.”
Xander nodded to himself, not caring Spike couldn’t see it. “They don’t know anything?”
“No.” If this were any other apocalypse, now would be when he’d be running to Buffy to make a plan, running to Giles for answers. But that wasn’t going to happen this time because he was Daddy. AJ wasn’t waiting for Buffy. He was waiting for him. As if he’d been silently realizing the same thing, Spike added. “What’s our next move, Xan?”
Xander thought, dredging up every bit of tactical and practical experience he could remember and apply. It didn’t amount to much. “I’ll call a research party. Send Buffy and Angel to rough up the local wildlife. See if anything surfaces.”
“I’ll come home,” Spike said, and the empty tone of his voice, broke Xander’s heart.
“No. Sorry. No. You stay. I want you to figure out where AJ came from. It happened there. Whatever happened, it happened there. Someone there has to know something.”
“Okay. Love, I—Xander—” Spike dissolved into tears and Xander felt the ache in his own chest, wanting him close, wanting to hold the pieces of his life left to him together.
“I know, baby, I know.”
“Don’t know what I’m going to do if...” Spike choked out.
Xander ran the back of his hand over his eyes. “We’ll get through this. We’ll get him back.”
Xander wanted to scream. “Yeah. Love you.”
He heard Spike pull himself together on the other end of the line, the vulnerability stashed away for another time as the Big Bad slipped back into place. “Good enough for me. Chin up, love.”
“You too.” Xander flipped the phone shut.
Xander stood on aching knees. AJ’s clothes were laid out for school across the back of the rocking chair. On the seat of the chair, bookmarked, was his copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses, a first addition, Spike’s gift to AJ when he was born. They read from it every night. Xander thought of AJ happily reciting bits of “The Swing”—often misquoted and out of order—when they went to the park together.
His little boy, his precious little boy…
He hadn’t allowed himself to think about what his child might be going through. What purpose he might be taken for. It was enough that his baby was alone and scared, that he or Spike couldn’t be there to hold him, that they couldn’t protect him. Xander’s heart hardened. The time for tears was through. Someone had taken his son.
And god help whoever stood in the way of him taking him back.
Over four years, Wesley’s frequent stop-downs in Sunnydale with Angel had left traces in every location the Scoobies inhabited. There were small corners with scavenged desks and mismatched chairs, littered with papers and books propped open in both Giles’ and Ethan’s home as well as the Magic Box. Xander’s house was also a frequent gathering place and the amount of British staples in his pantry had grown in proportion to the number of ex-pats in residence.
He called the Watchers to coordinate the research, had the invitation on the tip of his tongue and backed out. Sent them to the Magic Box, still not ready to spend any length of time in the kitchen where Alvaro dusted and where he’d not hear him banging around in there any longer, swearing in Portuguese when Spike left blood and cereal crusted to the bottom of his mugs, softly smiling at the picture of his human family, worn thin by a lifetime of handling that he kept in his pocket always, telling—
Xander choked on the memory. Telling him, when he put Spike to bed in the wee, small, hours of the morning, what a good father, what an honorable consort he was. Bolstering him when he felt like a fraud at best and an utter failure at worst. Getting him and Spike through the worst of AJ’s infancy, colic, croup, toilet training, and doing it all so effortlessly and unobtrusively they took him for granted, far, far too often.
Xander grabbed Wes’s books from the front hall table, collected Willow and Tara from the kitchen and headed for the shop.
Xander let out a long snore, encyclopedic volume pillowed beneath his head. Wes and Giles shared a sad smile and returned back to their reading.
“Feels strange to be relieved he’s drooling on my books.”
Giles snorted into his tea. “As Professor Seward used to say, ‘Wild, dark times are rumbling toward us, and the prophet who wishes to write a new apocalypse will have to invent entirely new beasts, and beasts so terrible that the ancient animal symbols of St. John will seem like cooing doves and cupids in comparison.’”
Wesley smirked and rubbed his eyes wearily. “That was Heinrich Heine, the old fraud, but he was quite right. Sifting through his book right now, actually.”
“Good heavens, is he still teaching at the academy?”
Wesley looked up distractedly. “Jasper Seward, Religion and Ritual? I believe ours was the last class.”
“He must be nearly ninety years old.”
“Oh, good lord.”
“That’s my line.”
“No, he isn’t.”
“Teaching. He was fired. Drummed out.”
“I’d call that a sterling commendation.”
Wesley shook his head. “No. He left the academy after your time, before mine—”
“Assigned to the slayer, yes, I know. We all marveled that he was chosen for it when he should have been drawing a pension by then.”
“She’d been gone less than a year when returned to teach our class—before he was removed from the Academy all together.”
“A grave dishonor, I’m sure,” Giles quipped.
“No, this was different. In his final terms he espoused the belief that the Watcher’s Council, with all it’s prophetic knowledge, would be better served hastening conflict rather than preventing it.”
“That’s what I said.”
“—the prophet who wishes to write a new apocalypse—”
“His utter hatred of demons was fanatical. We all thought he was simply overcome with grief for his slayer and, quite honestly, a bit senile. He became obsessed with exigent texts—cross cultural, demonic, any reference at all to the end times—until he was placed on a forced sabbatical to Haiti, presumably to encourage his study of Voudoun, but he never returned. Giles, h-he was last presumed to be residing in New Orleans.”
“You think he could be responsible for the circumstances of AJ’s birth? In an attempt to create the Anti-Christ? Is he capable of such a thing?”
“In all probability, yes. On all counts.”
“We need to leave. Immediately.”
“Quite right. This shall require careful planning and restraint I daresay the others will be lacking.”
“Bugger restraint, I’m going to kill the bastard.”
Just then, Ethan entered the shop. “Ah, Rupert, there you are.” He was brought up short, however, as he took in his lover’s bearing and demeanor. “Darling, you’ve got a bit of murder in your eye, just there.”
Xander stirred in his sleep and Giles pitched his voice to allow the exhausted father to rest. “We have a suspect in the kidnapping.”
Ethan’s face was inscrutable. “Riding off to the rescue then?”
Giles nodded distractedly as Wesley began stacking the books they no longer required. “We have no time to waste.”
Ethan frowned, “Rupert, you know I—”
Giles stopped him with a hand on his cheek. “This isn’t your fight.”
Ethan rolled his eyes. “Oh, bollocks to that. I love them too, Ripper, it’s as much my fight as anyone’s.”
Giles smiled fondly. “You’re not a violent man. You’ve nothing to apologize for.”
Ethan made a dubious noise “Quite an impressive body count for a man who’s squeamish about killing.”
Willow climbed down from the loft. “Someone with magics should stay behind anyway in case something happens while we’re gone.”
“We?” Giles asked pointedly.
Willow’s resolve face was in full effect, however. “Yes, we. Xander’s going so I’ll be there and I need Tara and you know Buffy isn’t going to let us go without her and that means we.”
Several phone calls later, Anne and Anya were assisting Ethan in bolstering the wards around their homes and businesses. There was little question of slaying since Henri and Manon were no longer attempting to disguise the peace that reigned on the Hellmouth. All the same, those left behind while the Scoobies descended upon New Orleans gravitated to one another to wait for news of their family. Joyce opened her home and her kitchen to Tony and Jessica, all desperate for word of their grandson. Ethan mellowed in the face of their grief but encouraged Dawn and Anya’s attempts to provide much needed humor at the most inappropriate moments.
Xander looked out the window of the SUV and saw Spike and Angel waiting for them as they drove up the gravel path to Henri and Manon’s plantation home. The moment the car stopped he was out and rushing into Spike’s arms, the familiar smell of his lover as he buried his face in his neck, the creak of soft leather beneath his hands as Xander crushed his mate to his chest. Spike shuddered and Xander felt his silent sobs soaking into his flannel shirt and he held him tighter, shielding him from view, from reality and all comers. A hand on his back and Xander saw Manon’s sympathetic look as she told him, “We know where he lives. We haven’t much time to spare if we wish to catch him by surprise.”
Spike straightened and all traces of anguish were gone from his expression, replaced by the cold, calculating Master Vampire Xander had come to admire. “Right, Xan, Slayer, Sire, you’re with me. I want the rest of you following with the mojo in case we need backup, but I fancy blooding my hands in his entrails.”
Hengameh Kader was a bright, vivacious fourteen-year-old girl. Like most watchers through time immemorial, Jasper Seward was hopelessly wrapped around her finger from the first time she openly defied him. For the three brief years she served as Slayer, Seward found within her the fulfillment of his life’s work, the meaning for his existence and the love of his life. She was the daughter he never knew he couldn’t live without until she was gone—raped, beaten and broken in an alleyway in Tehran.
He blamed himself. He blamed her. Finally, he blamed the demons.
His world ended when she did. And no academic pursuit, no arcane diversion gave solace when he could no longer hear her, see her, smell her, touch her. His home without her was empty. A dusty library of artifacts and prophecy that couldn’t spare her life.
He returned to Port au Prince at the behest of the council and for a few solitary years he wandered the city, half-heartedly collecting information while his dark rooms collected dust and decay. He came to the realization belatedly, that while he yet drew breath, he was as dead as the creatures who took his reason to live.
Jasper Seward was an old man. There was no question of going after the few demons that made sport of her. With unbelievable clarity of purpose, he put aside his former life and set about the work that would carry him to the end of his days and, god willing, the end of the world.
He returned to New Orleans. He wandered the cemeteries, the quarter. Then opportunity struck in the form of a vampire and consort profaning the cemetery he patrolled. It was a simple bit of magic, the Loa were easily manipulated, and it was done.
By the time Spike and Xander arrived at the dank and dismal flat, it was long since empty of it’s occupant. A wreck of crumpled papers, abandoned books and broken furniture were all that remained of Jasper Seward.
“Goddammit!” Xander kicked the remains of a table. “Where the hell did he go?”
“Xan,” Spike prompted, looking up the stairs. “There.”
Xander stood beside Spike, the others filing in behind him gradually. Jasper Seward hung from a beam at the top of the stairs, corpse decayed and desiccated.
“Fuck,” Xander said feelingly.
Suddenly they heard a commotion and the doors flew open again. A veiled woman strode into the room dragging a bloodied vampire behind her. As she approached, both Spike and Angel stiffened. She threw the man to the floor at Henri’s feet and removed her veil. She needn’t have bothered.
“Your daddy sent this one creeping into my chambers on steel claws. Not nice to disturb a lady’s slumber, even if she is dreaming of water like to crush a body.”
“Dru,” Spike whispered.
Henri frowned at the vampire at his feet. Drusilla turned a circle and took Spike by the shoulders, bringing her lips to his ear. “Such things, I’ve seen, Spike. And he thought to keep me from telling. Naughty, naughty…”
Spike stiffened and pulled back. “What have you seen, Dru? Do you know where AJ is? My son?”
Dru cocked her head and looked at Angel. “Remember the cloister, Daddy? The tall red spires and the pretty little maids all in a row, black and white and red all over?”
Angel averted his eyes. “Where I took you? Yes, I remember. Is that where AJ is?”
Drusilla smiled and shook her head. “Through the looking glass, it is. Lush gardens of rock and sand, stone carved from water and the altar, older than we are from before.”
“Do you know what she’s talking about?” Spike asked.
Henri nodded. “I do. And we haven’t much time.”
“Bloody hell would you tell me what’s going on?”
“You know your scripture? The book of Revelations? The prophetic vision of the end times?”
Spike and Angel nodded impatiently. “The other side have their own telling of future events, thought lost to the ages. My sire,” he spat, “Has found it—”
“Seward,” Giles spat through clenched teeth.
“—And he intends to use it to bring about the end of humanity on earth.”
“Bit ambitious,” Angel observed.
“He could do it,” Henri said quietly. “Now that he is in possession of the anti-christ.”
Spike collapsed to his knees, insensate with the fear Henri’s pronouncement inspired. He barely registered Xander speaking to him.
Dru crouched beside him on the marble floor and laid a cold, gloved hand on his knee. Through the horror, visions of his child sacrificed on an altar, Dru’s voice pulled at him.
“All will be well, all will be will and all manner of things shall be well.”
The air in Sunnydale felt charged. The clouds had begun rolling in a few days earlier but the wind had left with the sun. Now silently flickering heat lightning flashed above the valley and made everything move in slow motion in the still air. Every living and unliving thing felt pulled from cover by the breath in their lungs. An unspoken Armistice settled over the Hellmouth as the humans acknowledged the demons among them with shared prescience. Something was here.
Bob Thompson stood on the edge of his manicured lawn and saw the young woman with blue-streaked hair shiver and lean into the tall, fey looking young man she shared an apartment with across the street as they looked up at the green tinged sky. A small something tugged on his pant leg.
“Mister Thompson, can I have a drink of water?” Bob looked down into the blue-spiked face of the little girl as her parents talked a few feet away.
Bob ruffled her hair and nodded as the Cartwrights conferred and began walking over. Angela already racing into the house, Margie held the door open for her.
“Bob, have you seen Spike or Xander?” Pete asked.
Bob looked over at the silent house next door. “Storm’s coming. Boys’ll be back soon.”
Pete and Melissa shared a look. “Can Angela stay with you and Margie for a little while?”
Bob nodded and looked up Monroe street. “Why don’t you both stay for a bit. Margie put on a pot roast. May as well call up the MacArthurs and Lehmanns. See if Peggy’s folks are still in town.” Melissa nodded tightly and followed her daughter into the house.
“Need a beer. C’mon.”
The ancient Frigidare was stocked with Pabst and hummed loudly in the garage that smelled of gasoline and stale Pall Malls. Bob turned on the small set on his work bench and the sound of college basketball filled the silence. He handed Pete a cold one and gestured to the sagging couch. They sat for a while, watching the game. Gradually they heard the screaming begin outside and the slamming of the front porch door as the others arrived.
“It’ll pass, Pete. Storms always do.”
“And if it doesn’t? If this is just like Forestville?”
“This is your home, Pete. You’re not running anymore.”
“Bob, I can’t—”
“You can’t run forever. Someone’s always gonna chase you.” Bob’s knees cracked as he stood and fetched two more beers from the fridge. “Got a good chance of making the playoffs this year,” he commented, noting the score as he lit up a cigarette. There was a sound like gunfire across the street and a peel-out. “Finally wised up and started investing in the players they had. This garbage of sending recruiters out with promises of cars and money—if you can’t play without all that you won’t play with it.”
“No one’s seen the Slayer in days, Bob.”
“Talked to Anne this morning. Said they’re coming home later today.”
“Spike and Xander too?” Bob took a drag off his cigarette. Pete looked darkly at the door to the house. “If I lost Angela—”
“Shut up, Pete. Game’s still on.”
Pete took a swig off his now warm beer. The ref called a foul.
“Our defense is shit, Bob.”
Bob chuckled darkly.
“Yes it is.”
The flight to New Mexico was silent and grim. Henri’s jet touched down in Santa Fe and he, Spike and Xander transferred to a helicopter for the remaining journey. En route they had all shuffled through piles of papers taken from Seward’s house looking for something—anything that would give them some insight into Stazzi’s plans. They hadn’t found anything of use, though, and as they boarded the chopper they took up the discussion once more.
“Got our boy, isn’t that enough?” Spike asked as they lifted off, but there was no heat in his voice and his tone was defeated.
Henri shook his head, absently, looking for something and finding it as he fastened himself into the provided harness. “Stazzi wanted to subjugate and enslave the human race. Seward wouldn’t have been nearly satisfied with that. He wanted to end the world. Whatever information he fed Stazzi would have directed him to that end without his knowing.”
“Seward called the hits, you reckon?”
“I believe so.”
Xander squeezed Spike’s hand. “Besides excellent taste in men, what else did we have that Seward needed us out of the way for?”
“Hellmouth. That’d be obvious.”
“So location. And you?” He addressed Henri.
Henri appeared to think. “Apart from being most likely to expose him, I’m not sure. The attempts on my life ended after your stay with us.”
“AJ. He needed to give us AJ,” concluded Xander.
Henri and Spike nodded, picking up steam. “There were texts relating to the assumption of the Antichrist housed in St. Petersburg,” Henri told them, gravely.
“Astana and Penom Penh?”
A sudden jolt from the helicopter interrupted their train of investigation. The instrument panel began beeping loudly as the propellers fought the sudden upward thrust of a massive updraft.
“What the fuck is going on?” Spike shouted over the roar, ducking and shielding Xander’s head from flying debris.
Another moment and the chopper leveled back out. “Nearly there!” The pilot shouted back to them. Xander fastened his harness and after a minute’s intensive glaring, Spike did the same.
“I have no idea,” said Henri.
The helicopter touched down on the edge of the reservation unimpeded. Xander, lifting his arm from his face as the dust settled around him got his first look at the red desert by night.
“Where is everybody?”
“Quiet, ain’t it?” Spike asked Henri. “Not so much as a cricket.”
Henri nodded grimly in agreement.
As Spike and Henri unloaded their weapons, Xander kicked his feet through the dust and scrub, walking aimlessly for a few feet before stumbling upon a body.
“I think I found the welcoming committee,” Xander said. Spike quickly caught up to him at the edge of a line of scrub brush and saw the mangled remains of a corpse, bloodied and covered in the red dust of the desert but oddly bereft of the customary life that inhabited the dead. Not a maggot or beetle in sight.
“He looks local,” Spike noted, taking in the turquoise jewelry.
Henri nodded. “This is a holy place. It would have been defended.”
The Shiprock itself loomed large in the distance. They quickly outfitted with axes, knives, stakes and crossbows and began their journey.
Stazzi’s laugh was an unpleasant, high-pitched giggle that no one enjoyed hearing, least of all the captive demons chained and manacled to one another in rows of ten. He was giggling as a little girl, no more than five was led, whimpering to the throne of bleached human skulls. Stazzi, lazing casually, a leg draped over a velvet-cushioned arm snatched the little girl and vamped, making her scream. That drew another burst of laughter from him before he sank his teeth into her forearm, drawing out her death as painfully as possible while she cried and soiled herself and begged for her mother.
She was discarded like a broken doll on the charred linoleum of the burned out school, a few feet from the great, gaping hole leading to the mouth of Hell.
The demons, chained and forced to watch, reacted with varying degrees of horror. Some were mostly indifferent, others wept and protested openly until the hulking vampire guards began beating them unconscious.
“I can’t begin to imagine why you would choose to willfully subvert the natural order of things and be ruled by your prey, your own food. But no matter, in the course of a few days this world will be rid of humanity all together and you will be faced with the choice to take back your place in this world, or you, your mates and your spawn will be painfully and utterly destroyed. I am aware that not all of your number are present here and a great many more demons are tucked away in collusion with the humans, but I trust you will act in your best interest and ensure the others do so as well. Take a few minutes to think it over. Meanwhile…”
Two vampires in plain black suits with Mandarin collars came forward. One carried a large box with an ornate clasp and the other a long axe on a black velvet pillow. Stazzi opened the clasp on the box and a flash of light momentarily blinded the room as he removed what looked like a crystal ball from it’s satin enclosure. The ball was illuminated from within and the surface appeared covered with swirling, pewter clouds.
“I do love souvenirs, don’t you? I found these in a quaint monastery in Cambodia.” Stazzi placed the ball in a small, indented stand beside the throne then took up the large, weathered axe. Without warning he brought the axe down upon the ball. A column of light and heat exploded upward. Thunder roared through the ruined school. A great, creaking moan echoed from the Hellmouth. Above them, the column of light and energy fed the swirling storm clouds above, sending off threads of electricity in every direction. Rain began to fall. Stazzi, now slightly damp with rain, looked at the assembled demons with a cold smile.
“I don’t suppose anyone thought to build an ark?”
There was a gulch leading to the rock that provided them some cover. Thunder cracked overhead, and clouds swirled ominously above them. “Are we there yet?” Xander asked, tripping over a large rock.
Spike reached out a hand and steadied him. “Not much longer now. Can hear them inside.”
Xander’s blood ran cold as he began to hear the susurrus of low voices.
There was no advance guard as they reached the rock. “I guess they weren’t planning on company,” observed Spike.
“Yeah, let’s go with that. Much more comforting than the thought of walking into a trap,” said Xander.
“Here,” said Henri. “The entrance is through there.” He pointed to an opening in the rock face. As they scrambled out of the dry riverbed, Xander stood and looked out over the red desert with an odd sense of déjà vu.
The tunnel was low and close and dim and filled with the sound of demons chanting indistinctly. Eventually the tunnel opened into a large cavern and the black-robed demons could be seen and heard clearly. A red rock altar stood in the center of the room surrounded by twenty or so demons, one of whom read from a scroll, the others echoing him in chorus.
And lashed to the altar, still, small and silent, was AJ.
Xander bit back the cry in his throat and clenched his fists, helplessly.
“He’s not dead, pet,” Spike reassured him, flexing his hands around the axe. “Need him alive to finish the ritual. Reckon we make a scene they’ll try an’ get him out of here so plan is, Henri and I cull this lot. There’s another tunnel across the way. You move that way and when they try to sneak AJ out the back, you grab him.” Xander nodded. “We’ll give you a head start. Move quick and quiet as you can.”
Xander kept to the outside of the cavern wall, staying behind the outcroppings of boulders as he made his way to the opposite tunnel. With the sound of metal on flesh, he heard the fight begin somewhere behind him and started to run. The demon with the scroll cut AJ’s bindings and threw him over his shoulder.
He heard Spike cry out and suddenly a sharp pain lanced through his side. Xander didn’t pause, just kept running, running toward the tunnel. Another pain in his calf, and he stumbled at the mouth of the tunnel, but kept his feet and ran until he could nearly touch the hem of the demon’s robe. Something hit him in his head and he felt the trickle of blood flowing down his hairline, but nothing mattered but getting to his son, harder as it was becoming to think of anything else. A burst of speed, lungs burning and he grabbed the back of the demon’s robe and yanked. The demon was strong and pulled him a short ways before stopping to drop his load and backhand Xander into the tunnel wall. Xander collapsed, but he saw AJ, lying in the red dirt, unconscious, and levered himself to stand as the demon advanced, raising a club-like fist to finish him off. Xander ducked beneath his arm and limped to place himself between AJ and the demon. The demon turned and struck him. Xander struggled to his knees only to be hit again, finding himself swimming in and out of consciousness.
A shout from inside the tunnel and for a moment, the demon was distracted. Xander reached out for the creature’s ankle and with every ounce of strength he pulled, wrenching him off his feet.
The demon went down, it’s head cracking on a rock. It lay still. The pain Xander had ignored until that moment now came rushing in to meet him and for the second time he swayed and nearly lost consciousness. Quickly, he struggled to pull AJ up, his dead weight seemingly so much heavier than it ought to be and he nearly lost his grip. He had nearly managed to get to his feet when he heard Spike’s panicked,
“Xander!” And suddenly Henri was pulling AJ up effortlessly into his arms as Spike’s arm went around his waist. “Oh, love, hold on, hold on,” he said.
“It’s okay, I got him,” Xander told Spike, not quite understanding the weakness in his own voice, nor how far away it sounded.
Spike’s voice sounded slightly strained. “Yeah, love, you got him. You got him.”
They began limping through the tunnel, but the pace was faster than Xander could manage. He was suddenly so unbelievably tired even though he knew they had to hurry. Spike wordlessly began to half carry, half drag him. He could have lifted him easily but his size made it awkward and the tunnel was too narrow and too low for that.
“Spike, hurry!” Henri called back to them, and now Xander was being carried more than dragged, pressed uncomfortably up against Spike’s side, his bony arm pressing against something that hurt.
“Almost there, Xan. Come on, love. Just a little further.”
Xander could hear the shouting now, behind them. The voices that numbered in the hundreds, maybe thousands and the clinking of weapons he’d long since learned to recognize in countless patrols and battles.
It was getting louder faster. “Spike, drop me.”
“No! Goddamn you, keep up you thick git!”
Suddenly, miraculously, they were plunged into the frigid desert night as the cave opened up above them into a violent-looking sky and the scrub littering the floor of the gulch resumed stinging Xander’s legs. Spike continued maneuvering them over the rocks. Xander looked up and saw Henri quite a ways ahead with AJ in his arms.
The demons poured from the mouth of the tunnel as a flash of lightning tore the night sky followed by a deafening peal of thunder. Spike wrestled an axe from the nearest demon and began cutting through the hoard, decapitating the front line. Lightning struck the ground not far from them and Xander looked up, out, over the red desert. A cool wind blew dust into his eyes but he didn’t dare close them, and suddenly, Xander remembered.
Xander looked at the Shiprock and recalled his dream the night AJ was born.
He smelled ozone.
“Spike!” His voice was weak. He tried again, breathing hard against the pain in his chest. “SPIKE!”
Spike turned as he finished the last of the first wave of demons. “Run,” Xander said as he felt the first drop of rain. Spike, looking from left to right at the banks of the gully suddenly understood what Xander was saying.
Xander was crushed to him as Spike attempted the same sort of drag and carry as before only the rocks and scrub made the going impossibly slow and the second wave of demons were gaining on them. With an apologetic glance, Spike hoisted him into a fireman’s carry and they ran, over the rocks, through the gulch, leaping over brush and fallen trees. Xander’s ribs screamed in agony. He grit his teeth against the pain and prayed nothing was punctured in the escape as his eyes tracked the demons chasing them, gaining, always gaining.
The rain began to fall steadily and the rocks became slick and Xander began to hear a sound like the rumble of a distant train that grew steadily louder.
The nearest demon threw an axe and narrowly missed them, lodging it into a petrified branch near their feet. Spike put on a burst of speed and slipped on the wet stones, pitching them forward and losing momentum in the struggle to right himself and his burden.
The demons were nearly atop them when the roaring reached an almost deafening crescendo. They looked down, and saw the trickle of water at their feet. Spike leapt, thrusting Xander up over the bank of the gully and clambering up himself just as the swiftly moving water crashed into the hoard of demons, unfooting them and sweeping them back toward the Shiprock.
They sat beside the flash flood in the pouring rain and couldn’t hear the descent of the helicopter until the rope ladder was lowered in front of their faces and they saw Henri shouting down to them to climb aboard.
No one was at the house on Revello drive. Giles’ flat was empty as was the Magic Box. Anya didn’t answer her door.
They drove through the town, looking for signs of their missing loved ones, and found the streets deserted, all the public buildings empty.
“Are we too late?” Willow shakily asked.
“We should check on Mrs. Pratt and see if any of the lieutenants are holed up at Spike and Xander’s,” Angel suggested.
“Would she be in danger?” Giles asked.
Buffy snorted. “She’s fine. She’s like minor royalty to those guys. But Angel’s right,” she added. “If Stazzi’s already in town, the court would be assembling there to either kick his ass or accept tribute.”
“Would they still assemble there without Master William?” Manon asked. “Surely he would see the foolishness in providing Stazzi an obvious target.”
“Of course he wouldn’t call them to assemble,” Angel snapped defensively, though his eyes betrayed his sudden concern as Wesley spoke.
“But he didn’t order them not to, either. There wasn’t time.”
As they all realized the implication Giles gunned the engine and sped toward the house as Tara attempted to reach Anne on her cell.
The SUV Screeched to a halt outside the gate. “She’s not answering,” said Tara as Buffy and Angel leapt out. Buffy ran around the back to the garage while Angel ran to the main house.
Suddenly they heard the sharp rap of knuckles against the driver’s side window. An older man in uniform stood waiting outside the SUV. Giles slowly lowered the window. “Yes?”
“Mr. Giles, Sergeant Juarez. Orders are to direct you to HQ.”
Sergeant Juarez smiled. “Sergeant Major Harris, sir. The rest of your party is waiting for you there.”
Giles shared a look with Manon. “Is Anne Pratt there?”
“I don’t know, sir. I was only instructed to direct you to the Harris residence.”
As Giles looked up, three or four vampires ran from the rear of the house. He didn’t recognize any of them, but he wasn’t as familiar with Spike’s court as the others.
“Those aren’t Master William’s lieutenants,” Manon said.
Fear gripped his heart.
A moment later, the house at 423 Monroe exploded.