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Slings and Arrows

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Sunnydale, CA. September 7, 1998

Surreal. That was the word Buffy had been searching for. Surreal. Beyond reality, off into outer space where blackholes or quasars or whatever else stretched and bent reality beyond recognition. Surreal. It was a good word. Almost good enough. But even Surreal didn't quite cover this. Surreal fell short.

There Buffy sat. On Giles' same old green couch. Talking to same old Giles. Or someone who looked and sounded exactly like him, anyway. Well, not so much talking as listening and searching for words. Holding little Edmund (seriously, Edmund?) in her arms.

Despite the acute weirdness of everything, Edmund made her a lot less uncomfortable than Dawn had. Buffy wasn't sure if that was because he was really hers or just because she'd been warned in advance to expect him. The fact that he was cooing contentedly instead of eyeing her with suspicion and wailing for a replacement mom might also have been a factor.

Still, there was one thing about this new, competing version of surreality that Buffy just Couldn't quite wrap her head around. “So...” she labored to put it into words, to pin it down and try to make sense of it, “Your baby is also my baby? As in our baby?”

“Yes,” Giles assured her earnestly. He used his serious, really-listening, understanding-yet-businesslike voice. All Watchery and calm. Or hiding his agitation more like. He'd just about jumped out of his skin when Buffy had burst in on his little island of domestic tranquility. Regardless, his answer didn't match, well... anything. It implied things that made no sense. “And we made this baby, this person?” she pressed. “Both of us? Together. In the way that babies are usually made?”

“Well...” Giles at least had to decency to look a bit embarrassed here. “Yes.” His brow furrowed. He gave Buffy an appraising look. As if she were a particularly odd little puzzle he needed to solve. When he asked his next question, his poker face slipped just enough to show Buffy why. Sort of.

“So you don't remember anything at all about... what happened between us?” he asked, just a hint of hopefulness marring his concerned tone. Exactly as if he were relieved to find her memory a blank canvas, on which he could paint whatever he liked. Exactly as if he intended to tell her a very serious lie.

“No, I don't!” Buffy insisted angrily. She couldn't begin to guess the specifics of their... whatever it was they'd had or done or been. And besides, she was in no mood to play guessing games. “Why? What are you planning to tell me about it? Some kind of excuse how, how... I don't know, how somehow this is not your fault at all, like I actually wanted—” Buffy broke off, just short of a sob, hopefully soon enough that he hadn't heard that it was coming.

Evidently he hadn't, or at least he didn't care, because he pulled out his world-weary, extra-snide, very-Brittish voice on her next. “No, of course not,” he all but sneered. “It was all my doing. I overpowered you with my superior physical strength.”

Thick, angry silence reigned for a moment. “That's not funny,” Buffy finally manged to get out, just above a whisper. Two or three huge, hot tears escaped her eyes and ran down her cheeks. But she didn't actually shout obscenities or beat Giles to death with his own arm, so she gave herself pretty high marks for emotional control, considering.

Giles hung his head. Suitably ashamed? Or hiding his face to make it harder to read? There was a time that she would have automatically assumed the first. She didn't now. It was like she'd gained some insight about him that she didn't remember getting. Something that made her trust him less. Something that made her look closely enough to see signs of deceptiveness that she otherwise might have missed or ignored.

Either that or she was just being paranoid. Because she was completely freaked out. Because she'd been banged on the head hard enough to forget just enough of her life that what was left made absolutely no sense.

Had Giles really done anything or was she just lashing out at him because of his proximity to the part of her forgotten life that freaked her out the most? Getting mad at him the way it wasn't okay to be mad at a baby. Because they couldn't help ruining your life or turning it upside down or whatever.

Yep. That clinches it, she thought. Buffy Summers, worst mother in the history of the world. Voted most likely to suck and to continue sucking.

“I'm sorry,” she mumbled, not sure if she meant it or if she just wanted the conversation to move forward. To progress to literally any place other than where it was at right now. “Just... help me understand. Giles, what am I to you? I mean are we... Were we... I don't know... a couple?”

It sounded ridiculous. But Giles didn't look like it sounded ridiculous. He looked like it hurt. The answer must have been more complicated than yes or no. Off came the glasses. Rub a dub dub. “No,” he said finally. “I wouldn't say that. It was—we were... together just the once. It had to do with...” here a small, self-deprecating laugh broke through. “With the end of the world, or rather stopping it.”

“Oh,” Buffy said, not sure if she was relieved or disappointed. Still feeling confused. Still feeling skeptical. Was there really such a thing as arcane rituals involving sex that could save or destroy the world? That sounded like such an Eighties B-Movie thing, something between cheap laughs and soft porn.

Maybe, maybe not. But that was Giles' story and he stuck too it. Not that Buffy could bring herself to question him too pointedly about it. The whole idea of it (losing her virginity in the line of duty, Giles fastidiously completing the unpleasant deed, poor Edmund being created as the inconvenient byproduct of achieving a higher purpose) seemed so unbelievably sad.

And yet, if there had been more to it than that, if due to some unimaginable chain of events she and Giles had really been attracted to one another, had feelings for each other even; she really, really wasn't sure she wanted to know. She didn't think she could handle even one more tiny piece of reality falling out of place.

And the thought of Giles secretly nursing a broken heart, remembering a love that she'd forgotten? That would not have been a tiny piece of her reality. It would have been a huge, crucial, load-bearing chunk of reality coming loose, threatening to send the whole thing crashing down around her. Remarried parents, alternate babies, and all.

And suddenly, laughing with relief, laughing so hard that her sides felt like they were splitting, so hard that she cried even more, Buffy realized how crazy she was being. And she was being crazy. I mean, just look at Dawn! Dawn was the key to the whole thing.

Even if the idea of Giles and Buffy doing... this thing they had done, for anything short of saving the world, had not been as completely ridiculous as it clearly was; the idea that anything short of the apocalypse could have driven Kendra to reproduce, was beyond belief. Kendra toed the party line when it came to the things her Watcher said she should not have. School. Friends. Even family. She could never have had a child in spite of her Sacred Duty, only because of it.

Suddenly, Buffy stopped laughing. Giles was looking at her very worriedly, but that wasn't why. This whole situation. The lives of these tiny children and the means by which they had been created. The whole thing was very, very strange. But it was not funny.

Buffy's laughter stopped, but her tears did not. It was like a damn burst, and before she could stop her self, she was shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. So much so that Edmund was beginning to wriggle and fuss in response.

Giles' expression softened unbearably. He opened and closed his mouth at least twice, and when words failed him, reached vaguely in Buffy's direction as if he might take her in his arms. That could not happen. Buffy was about to have a complete meltdown. The last thing she needed was Giles looking at her, let alone touching her right now.

“Here,” she said abruptly, thrusting the now very uneasy baby into his arm as she got quickly to her her feet.

“Buffy, I...” Giles started, but she didn't let him finish. She turned and bolted for the door. She had her hand on the knob by the time he realized that she actually meant to leave and started to object, to ask her to stay and talk about it all some more.

“No, Giles,” she cut him off more firmly. “I can't. I just can't right now. Can't talk. Can't any of it. I just can't.” Buffy threw herself out into the night, barely stopping to pull the door shut behind her.

She half expected Giles to come running out after her. But of course he didn't. He couldn't. He was too busy trying to sooth his crying baby. Nobody else mattered when there was a baby involved. You couldn't be mad about that. It wasn't their fault. They didn't mean to ruin your life or take it over or replace you. They were just so helpless and breakable and irreplaceable. Babies were like Hellmouths; whatever else you had going on, they would always be more important.

*****

Willow's heart hammered. Blood rushed in her ears. They were alone in the house at last. Upstairs. In her bedroom. Her private sanctuary. A room that contained shelves full of books and enough computer equipment to run a very small army (which was arguable what she did with it); but which was dominated by a brand new King sized bed, all decked out in red satin, from the sheets to the throw pillows.

The night's patrol was done. Now it seemed that God had heard her prayers that she and the boys might never have to face another like it on their own. Now that Buffy was awake, now that they had a real Slayer again, the real Slayer; it probably wouldn't be long until they had the vampires and demons dwindling in numbers and struggling to hold out from night to night instead of the other way round. Willow's heart was a geyser of triumph, joy, and passion. Her body was alive with the electric trill of it. The euphoria of hope ran like lightning in her veins.

Once again, Buffy had risen, literally from the dead, to save them. Even though this resurrection had been a far longer road back already, even though there was still a tangled mass of consequences to be dealt with; the end result had been the same. Buffy 2, Death 0. No one could deny it was a victory worth celebrating.

And Willow was ready to celebrate. God, she was ready! Truth be told, she had been ready a dozen or more times this summer, even with a lot less to celebrate, to bring Oz back to her well feathered nest of satin and silicone. To enjoy life while it was theirs. To celebrate the lightning in their veins for it's own sake. And for the sake of Love.

But it always ended up the same. And Willow knew that there was no real reason to think that this time would be any different. Oz pulled Willow into his arms (again) and they began to kiss passionately (as usual). Soon they were slightly-more-than-kissing (like always). He nuzzled her neck and she nipped playfully at his ear.

(Once again) Willow fought the urge to tense or cross her fingers or hold her breath. In short, she fought to suppress her apprehension that Oz would (yet again) become suddenly chivalrous and rush off into the night, leaving them both unsatisfied and alone. It felt like it could end differently this time, but it always felt that way. Still, she had to try.

Every inch of her skin tingled, longing for his touch. She inched her hands down lower and lower on his back before trailing them down along his sides to his hips; trying to work up the nerve to venture on into as yet unexplored territory. Praying for just the right amount of confidence or finesse or whatever it was she needed to move this perpetually chaste romance forward, in an adultward direction.

Then (like a million times before) Oz stopped and abruptly pulled away. Willow let out a tiny whine of disappointment and protest, but Oz was as resolved as ever. “No,” he insisted emphatically. “We can't. I can't. It's too risky.”

“You keep saying that,” Willow observed, just a bit plaintively. And maybe just a bit crossly. “But you never explain.” It wasn't about condoms or anything like that. She'd asked that already, before.

Oz's brow furrowed. Displeased. Brooding. Stoic. Quietly making decisions about what was best for both of them while only listening to his own counsel. “It's late,” he all but lied, using the truth as nothing but a convenient way to change the subject, “I'll call you tomorrow.”

With that he turned and made swiftly for the door in his own Oz-like, seemingly unhurried way.

“Hey!” Willow shouted, jumping between him and the door. “Hold it just a minute, Buster! I asked you a question! A-and not for the first time! And... well... I think I deserve an answer.” But her confidence faltered a bit as she involuntarily imagined the entire conversation with gender roles reversed as her mother had so thoroughly taught her to do. “Don't I?” she concluded hesitantly, miserably. Even she hated the little whine that crept into her voice at moments like this.

Oz's Stoic face softened into a cryptic but arguably affectionate little smile. He pulled her into his arms and the warmth of that contact calmed and soothed away her panic and frustration. Holding her close, swaying gently, he turned with her in a half circle as if they were dancing a very slow dance. Then, softly, he kissed her on the forehead and whispered gently, “I'll call you tomorrow,” as he opened the bedroom door (which was now, almost magically, just at his right hand) and left.