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Part One

Laughter, joyous and ebullient, filled the confines of the Magic Box.  It was infectious, and shared by all who were in the main room, save Xander who was completely stunned by this reaction to his declaration.  Then again, it was just his luck to get the most laughs on the one occasion he was being perfectly serious. 
“Dare I ask what everyone finds so amusing?” Giles asked, returning from the back room of the Magic Box. 

“Go on, Xander,” Buffy said, winded from her laughing fit, and still giggling slightly.  “Say it again.” 

Xander didn’t really want to have to repeat himself, not if everyone was just going to laugh again, but as usual the instinct to obey over-rode any attempts he might have made to preserve his dignity. 

“I’m pregnant,” Xander said obediently.  Giles rolled his eyes skyward, though the corners of his mouth threatened to twist up into a smile; Buffy, Dawn, and Willow went back into hysterics.  Even Tara was laughing softly, though she at least had restrained herself from rolling on the floor with glee, unlike a certain slayer who would remain nameless.  Xander was beginning to feel a little like the ‘boy who cried wolf’; maybe if he hadn’t claimed so many farfetched things in his lifetime, they would have known that this time he wasn’t joking.  He almost wished Anya were here; she always took things literally. 

“What’s all this then?” said Spike, striding through the front door of the magic shop.  Xander groaned. 

Never one to miss an opportunity for making Xander’s life more miserable, Spike plonked himself down next to Xander, intentionally jostling him with an elbow.  Spike smirked when Xander didn’t even retaliate. 

“Well, we were asking Xander about all the weird habits he’s had lately.  You know?  The puking, the mood swings, the obsession with food…  though that last one isn’t exactly new,” Willow said teasingly.  

“Yeah, so?” 

“He’s having a baby, apparently,” Willow said, snickering.  

“Can you imagine?  Xander all big and fat - getting ready for the ‘big day’.  How would a guy give birth anyway?  Do you think it comes out of their…”  Dawn’s hypothesizing was abruptly cut short by Buffy’s exclamation of protest. 

“Eww!  Dawn, don’t say it, please.  Bad mental image.  Do you see how you’re corrupting my baby sister Alexander Harris?” 

Willow was laughing hard again.  “ I’m sorry, I just got a picture in my head of Xander with a huge belly, dressed in a muumuu and fuzzy pink slippers,” she explained.  This of course started Buffy and Dawn off again. 

“Ahem,” Giles said loudly.  “ If we could put the hilarity aside for a moment, I believe there was a real reason we all met here tonight?  Remember?  The demon we are trying to identify?  Spike, you said you had no information for us; why are you here?” 

“I’m out of blood.  Thought if I proved helpful you might see your way to giving me some,” Spike said. 

“I don’t have any blood to give you,” Giles said stonily. 

Spike, who was not about to be so easily gotten rid of, returned with: “ Money then.” 

Giles gave a sigh of defeat, and wandered off again into the back room for a cup of tea.  The rest of the group members grabbed a couple of books from the table, and began sifting through them with poorly concealed boredom.  Spike lifted a dusty tome, and placed it in front of him, pretending to be studying the pages but really just looking for gory pictures. Spike was annoyed that he had missed the period of Q and A regarding Xander’s pregnancy, for he had more than a few questions of his own.  Well, it wasn’t so much questions he had, as rude comments, but at any rate, he was sorry to have missed his opportunity.  To further Spike’s disappointment, it didn’t seem as though the subject would be brought up again as everyone was settling into their regular research routines.  Spike considered this and thought it was rather odd that everyone, save Xander himself, was taking the news so calmly.  At the very least, he would have predicted some sympathy for Xander’s plight.  Spike then dismissed his thought as unimportant and started writing naughty words in the margins of his book with a pencil. 

Xander didn’t even bother with the pretence of picking up a book.  These were his friends, and yet in his moment of crisis, they had laughed.  Granted they thought he was pulling a prank, but their ignorance, while not deliberate, still hurt.  Didn’t they know him at all?  Perhaps he should have been more vocal, should have tried harder to convince them, but it had taken all his courage just to blurt out ‘I’m pregnant’.  He hadn’t realized that he would have to convince them as well as confess.  Suddenly the need to be alone was overwhelming.  The truth would sort itself out eventually, but what he wanted most right now was to go home to his apartment, and his warm bed, and pretend he felt safe. 

“Right, I’m off,” Xander said.  His voice held a trace of the bitterness he was feeling, but nobody seemed to notice.  They were more upset that he was shirking his slayerette duties. 

"But you haven’t done anything yet,” Buffy protested. 

"Wouldn’t make any difference if I stayed, and at least I admit that I’m not working.  Spike’s drawing moustaches and fangs on all the pictures,” Xander accused. 

"What?  I’m doing you lot a favour.  They look much more interesting this way.” 
Slayer and company glared at Spike.  Spike sneered at Xander; "Should have figured you for a tattletale.” 

"Whatever.  I’m leaving,” Xander said, yawning. 

"You should get home.  After all, good little mommies need their rest,” Dawn teased, a wide grin on her face.  Xander tensed at the gibe, but didn’t respond, preferring just to leave as quietly as he could.  

Trudging home, Xander brooded.  The worst thing was, that had he gone with his instincts, and told his friends nothing, then he would have been better off.  His problems going unnoticed was preferable to having those same problems laughed at.  Besides, he was rather adept at denial and hiding away, and he had plenty of practice at being invisible.  He should have played to his strengths, he thought ruefully.  

Back at the magic shop, the girls were giggling about Xander’s pregnancy again. 

"You know, I really thought he was going to give it up before he left,” Buffy said. 

"This is Xander we’re talking about.  Just watch, tomorrow he’ll go one step further.  I’m thinking triplets,” Willow said. 

"Aren’t you lot the least bit worried?” Spike interjected.  He just had to find out why everyone was so damn accepting. 

"Huh?  What do you mean?” Buffy asked.  The others looked at him with equally puzzled expressions. 

"I realize we’re used to some strange dealings around here, but Harris having a baby?  Not exactly common, is it?” 

Dawn snickered, “ Oh come on.  You didn’t fall for that, did you?  You should be careful, I think some peroxide leeched into your brain.” 

It was Spike’s turn to look utterly baffled.  "You… you all think it’s a joke?” 

Buffy rolled her eyes, "Well of course it is.  You might have noticed that Xander’s a guy?  As in a male?” 

"One word: Hellmouth.” 

Willow looked a little less certain, as she said, "But he was just teasing, right?” 

"Yes!” Buffy said, starting to get exasperated. 

"He bloody well wasn’t teasing!  Thought there was something off with his smell for a while now; put it together tonight.  And that’s not mentioning how twitchy he was when you all kept laughing.” 

 The expressions gracing the girls’ faces were hard to describe.  Shock, incredulity, worry, and embarrassment, were all vying for dominance.  

"Oh God, Buffy.  What if he really is pregnant and we just laughed at him?” 

"I still don’t see… Giles!” 

Giles came into the main room, thinking they must have uncovered the demon they were after.  Which was good news because he had been running out of ways to appear occupied. 

"Giles, is it possible for men to get pregnant?” Buffy asked. 


"Ha!” Buffy crowed. 

"At least, not naturally.  There are a few spells that can achieve it, potions, and mystical items.  Some documented cases describe a wish being granted.  Some demons…  Wait, why are you asking?” 

"Spike says Xander really is pregnant.  He says he can smell it,” Willow replied.  She was biting her lip now nervously, and Tara was running soothing hands across her back.  

"Oh dear,” Giles said, with his uncanny ability to understate things. 

Spike was amused at the mayhem that he had inadvertently caused, but the guilt emanating from the small group was getting boring, and he wanted to collect his money and leave.  Giles and the girls were all talking at once, and Willow was trying to get Xander on the phone, apparently without much success.  It didn’t seem polite to interrupt, so Spike removed a twenty from Giles’ wallet in the confusion and slinked off. 

Xander let his phone ring and ring, until the shrill noise annoyed him so much that he had to unplug it.  He wasn’t up to talking anymore, and all joking aside, the pregnancy really did leave him feeling more tired than usual.  He was currently staring at a glass of milk, trying to convince himself he would enjoy it more then the beer in his fridge or the whiskey in the cupboard.  With a deep breath, Xander chugged the milk, wrinkling his nose slightly at the taste.  Foul stuff.  He would really have to pick up some chocolate syrup tomorrow to make it palatable.  

With a heavy sigh, he rinsed the glass out in the kitchen sink and got ready for bed.  As always happened when Xander climbed under the covers for the night, he was reminded of Anya.  At first, it had felt odd sleeping alone, and he’d contemplated getting a new bed, one that was free of any memories.  Gradually, those thoughts had faded, and now he was glad he’d held on to this piece of furniture.  It really was a nice bed.  Anya had taken a lot of the other furniture and appliances and, at the time, his guilt had been so strong that he hadn’t even complained.  She had left the TV, the couch, and the bed.  There wasn’t much else he needed anyway.  It was almost a blessing in disguise; it would be easier to move homes with his apartment as denuded as it was. 

The following morning, Xander got up early, vomited for a good thirty minutes, ate some plain, dry toast and headed for work.  He worked long into the evening, eagerly accepting the offered overtime.  Finally, just after sunset, things were called to a halt, and everyone on the site hurried home.  The citizens of Sunnydale were slow to learn, but at least they had picked up on a few things.  Exhausted, Xander entered his apartment and plugged his phone back in.  Instantly, it rang. 


"Xander?  Where have you been?  I’ve been trying to reach you all day!  I came to your apartment, and I went by your work.” 

"I was moved to a different site, I told you that last week,” Xander said.  He could practically see the guilt on Willow’s face. 

"Oh right, I forgot,” Willow said quietly. 

"It’s okay, what did you want?” 

"You’re… you really are pregnant, aren’t you?” 

"Yes,” Xander said. 

"Why didn’t you… We would have listened but we thought you were joking, and I feel like such an idiot for not seeing that you were telling the truth but I mean it was pretty hard to imagine, and I guess…” 

Xander decided to interrupt her nervous babbling: "Will, it’s okay.  I did just sort-of blurt it out.” 

"Well, how did this happen?  When?  How long have you known?” 

There was a pause, and he could tell Willow was taking a deep breath, preparing for another long string of questions.  "Willow?  I really don’t want to do this over the phone.  That’s why I tried to do it yesterday, when we were all in one place.” 

"Of course, but…” 

"I’m really tired, Will,” Xander said forcefully. 

There was another awkward pause and then Willow’s small voice, tinged with sadness: "Okay, I guess we can talk on Friday at the next meeting.  Unless you need to talk to me earlier.” 

"Friday’s good.  See you then,” Xander said, hanging up.  He felt bad for being so abrupt, but he was still mad at her, and he didn’t want to risk saying something really hurtful. 

He didn’t feel particularly hungry, but he still turned on the oven, and popped in a frozen pizza.  While it was cooking, he took a long, hot shower.  Dressed in boxers and a t-shirt, his standard sleepwear, he retrieved his dinner, and a glass of orange juice.  He ate methodically in front of the television, without really seeing what he was watching.  As soon as he had finished cleaning his dishes, he went to bed and fell asleep almost immediately.  Tomorrow promised to be another hard day. 

Xander worked virtually from sun up to sun down every single day, putting in an impressive amount of overtime.  Friday arrived with Xander barely noticing the passing of time, but now that his shift was coming to a close, he started getting anxious.  His friends had been strangely silent this past week – even with Willow warning them about his pissy mood, he had expected a few more calls.  They must be dying of curiosity by now. 

After a lot of thinking, Xander had finally decided on exactly what he would and wouldn’t tell them.  There were some things he wanted to keep secret, simply because he could not see why anyone else would need to know.  However, knowing his friends as he did, he was fairly certain they would only be satisfied with the complete story, and he would just have to hope that he was strong enough to withstand any demands. 

"Hey,” Xander said, nervously addressing the group that had gathered in Buffy’s living room.  He was early for the meeting, but everyone was already there.  Tara was present so obviously the reconciliation between her and Willow was going well.  He knew he could count on Tara to remain neutral on the subject of his pregnancy, so he wasn’t upset she was there.  Willow looked as though she had been crying, which made him feel awful.  Dawn and Giles were trying to hide their curiosity.  Dawn was having little success, her eyes wide and staring, whereas Giles was acting decidedly more subtle.  Buffy was the first to meet Xander’s gaze, and had the same determined glint in her eye she usually got when she was about to face down a particularly nasty demon.  It did not bode well for the evening.  

"We’ll fix this, Xander, I swear,” Buffy said. 

"Are you feeling okay?  Do you need to sit down?  I can get you something to drink.  There’s coke, there’s juice, and I made cookies, lots of cookies,” Willow said, rushing over to him.  She hugged him gingerly, and tried to lead him to the couch. 

"Juice would be great, Willow,” Xander said, sitting down.  Willow hurried to the kitchen and poured him a glass of fruit punch.  Nobody said anything until she was back, and even then they watched Xander drink as though completely fascinated. 

"It’s not about to burst out of my stomach like in Aliens, you know,” Xander told them. 

Some of the tension broke, and everyone leaned back in their chairs. 

"So how did this happen?” Giles asked. 

"Wait, I want to know what made you all change your minds.  What made you believe I was really pregnant?” 

"It was Spike, actually,” Buffy admitted.  "He was wondering why we were all laughing.  He can smell your blood or something, and so he knew you weren’t kidding around.” 

Typical, Xander thought.  They believe the lying, homicidal vampire, rather than the faithful, human sidekick.  He tried not to let it upset him. 

"Hmm, yeah, that would make sense, I guess,” Xander said. 

"So how did you know you were pregnant?” Dawn asked. 

"Anya told me.  After she got her powers back, and after we could be in the same room without her plotting my grisly demise, we had a long talk.  She could sense the baby, somehow.  So of course she then slapped me for cheating on her when we were together, and went back to planning my grisly demise.  I’d been feeling a bit off for a while though.  The symptoms all match, but of course I didn’t link them with pregnancy on my own.” 

"How far are you along?” 

"I’m nearing the end of my first trimester.  The morning nausea will hopefully ease off now.  That’s what the books say, anyway.” 

"And… well, I was up most of the night researching, and Immaculate Conception is extraordinarily rare so I’m assuming you had a partner?” Giles asked.  His tone was professional and devoid of any judgement. 

Buffy’s was not, "Oh my God, you did cheat on Anya!  With who?” 

Xander kept his mouth shut, but his jaw noticeably clenched.  

"It’s okay Xander.  I mean, you probably had a really good reason for… needing company,” Willow said, trying to be understanding. 

"I didn’t cheat on Anya, and that’s all you need to know.” 

"Xander, if we’re going to stop this pregnancy, we have to know all the details, including who the father, err, the other donor, is.  It would be very foolhardy to go into this without all the facts,” Giles explained. 

Xander took a shaky breath, before saying, "I don’t want an abortion.  I’m going to keep the baby.” 

There was a moment of complete silence following his words, and then that silence was shattered as three voices started speaking at once. 

"You can’t possibly; you can have no idea what you’ll be giving birth to,” Giles exclaimed. 

"It’s a demon, Xander.  A parasite!  What else could grow in a male body?  How can you stand to have it inside you?” Buffy shouted, her fingers clenching around an imaginary stake as though tempted to plunge it straight into Xander’s abdomen, and finish things once and for all. 

"Xander, it’s so dangerous!  You could be hurt,” said Willow tearfully. 

"It’s not up for discussion,” Xander said, his arms crossed over his stomach protectively.  "I would like your support, but I’m prepared to do this with or without your help.” 

Giles had stood up and was pacing a small section of carpeted floor.  "Have you thought this through at all?  Never mind the implications of having a potentially demonic offspring, are you really ready to go though all the ordeals of pregnancy?” 

"I’m not an idiot, and it’s not like I just decided this.  But it is my decision, and I’m keeping this baby, no matter what.” 

"You’re a selfish boy, and you have no idea of the consequences of your actions,” Giles said harshly. 

Xander stood up, his hands curling into fists.  He looked briefly at Buffy, who was thinking the same things as her watcher, and then he glanced at Willow.  Willow was studying the carpet, unwilling to take a position.  

"It’s just a baby.  I think Xander should keep it if he wants,” Dawn said loudly, squaring her shoulders.  

"Well of course you would, you’re just as immature as he is,” Buffy snapped at her.  "Besides you’re only agreeing because you like Xander.” 

"At least one of us does,” Dawn hissed at her sister. 

"Enough!” Giles said, and instantly the two siblings stopped bickering.  "We are losing the focus of the argument, which is that Xander is likely to give birth to a dangerous creature, one that could very likely hurt or kill him when it emerges.” 

"How do you know that?” Xander countered.  "Maybe I have a male lover, a human male lover, and maybe we wanted to get pregnant, and so he bought a potion.  In which case, this baby is entirely human.  Do you still want to get rid of it?” 

"Is that the truth?” Buffy demanded.  "I won’t kill it if it’s human, you know that.” 

"Well, you’ll just have to wait and see, because I’ve shared all I’m going to tonight.  I have a problem, I’ve given you guys the heads up about it, and now I’m going back to my life and you can all stay the hell out of it if you want.” 

Xander stomped angrily to the front door, flinging it open with alacrity.  He heard Willow call after him, but he didn’t turn back.  Buffy ran after him, and forced him to stop by gripping his shoulder. 

"Look,” she said calmly, "I won’t stop you from continuing the pregnancy, if that’s what you really want.  I’ll even go so far as to wish you good luck.” 

"Thanks,” he mumbled.  "That means a lot to me.” 

Buffy’s expression hardened, "But if there’s so much as a single scale or the hint of a horn on that thing when it’s born, then I will kill it, do you understand?  You may hate me for it, but if that’s what it takes to protect you, then that’s what I’ll do.” 

Xander paled, for he knew that she spoke the absolute truth.  He instinctively stepped away from Buffy, and shielded his stomach with his hands. 

"You don’t have to worry about me,” Xander said. 

"You really want this baby don’t you?” Buffy asked.  An answer wasn’t required, but as Buffy walked him to his apartment, Xander turned the question over and over in his mind.  Did he want the baby?  Well he must, considering he had stood up to all of his friends tonight saying just that.  When he had first realized he was pregnant, his reaction had been much the same as those he had witnessed tonight from his friends.  It was an unwanted aberration that had to be removed immediately.  When the moment came to act, however, he found himself reluctant.  The idea of having a child had grown on him, he supposed, no pun intended.  But it hadn’t been until that very evening that he had realized just how much this baby meant to him, and how just how far he was willing to go to protect it.  

At his door, Buffy gave him a quick one-armed hug, before turning back the way she had come.  Xander slipped into his quiet apartment building, and headed straight for his bedroom.  He lay on his back, staring at the ceiling, still thinking and making plans.  His fingers traced circles on his cotton covered abdomen. 

"I guess it’s just you and me for now baby.  Those were my friends that you met tonight; they’re really nice.  They don’t usually yell that much.  It’s going to take them some time to get used to you, but I just know that once you’re born, they’re going to spoil you rotten.  And no matter what, you’ll always have me.  I’ll take care of you, and look out for you, I promise.”  He stroked his still flat stomach, imagining that his baby was listening intently to his soothing words.  "I’ll love you, no matter what.  I think I already do.” 

The following few weeks were hectic ones for Xander, and he saw little of his friends during that time.  The morning nausea was thankfully tapering off, and he found his sleep routines were starting to stabilize themselves again.  According to the library books he had borrowed, his pregnancy was continuing to progress similar to that of a normal pregnancy.  This was good, as it meant Xander could somewhat predict what was happening inside his body, but he occasionally wished his body would forget a few of the more ‘icky’ details.  He had already decided that if he started to develop breasts, that he was going to take a late night stroll with an ‘eat me’ sign taped to his back.  Not that there was anything wrong with breasts…  He thoroughly enjoyed them so long as they remained on women. 

During this time, Xander was also looking for a new place to live.  Not only was his current apartment an adult-only establishment, but also it was well outside his newly constructed budget.  So far, the baby wasn’t costing him too much, but he was well aware how much that would change once the due date was near.  Already he was wondering how much longer he could continue working.  Construction was dangerous enough without adding male pregnancy to the mix, and there was also the problem of his altering physique.  A beer belly could only explain things so far, after all. 

"Xander, you got a minute?”  

Xander hustled over to the beat-up trailer, and his boss, Terry, gestured for him to step inside the makeshift office.  Taking off his hard-hat, Xander ran his fingers roughly through his sweaty brown locks, before taking a seat in one of the metal collapsible chairs. 

"Something the matter?” 

"I was going to ask you that.  I’ve been noticing that you’re not as keen as usual to get off the ground.  If there’s something wrong with one of my workers, I’d like to know about it.” 

Xander hesitated, and then went ahead with the story he had concocted beforehand. 

"I’m sick,” Xander said, lifting his head and meeting his boss’s stern gaze.  "Nothing too serious, the doctors think, but I get dizzy every now and then, so I’ve been staying off the scaffolding.  I really didn’t think it was affecting my work any, so I didn’t say anything.  I don’t have health insurance, so I need to keep this job.” 

"Relax, I’m not about to fire you.  But this thing you’ve got, is it likely to get worse, do you think?” 

"Uh, they don’t think so.  But if things don’t change within the next six months or so, I’ll be going into hospital for a while.  So, yeah, I could really use some extra funds.” 

"Rough deal, Harris, but I can’t afford to keep someone around if they’re only going to do half the work.  You understand?” 

Xander felt his heart sink.  He needed the money desperately, but he couldn’t even blame his boss for firing him.  He would do the same thing were their positions reversed. 

"Here’s what we’ll do.  You’ll keep doing what you’ve been doing, and so long as your output levels remain high, you can keep working.  If I, or your supervisors, start to feel you’re slacking in any way, though, that’ll be it.  Consider yourself on a sort-of probation.” 

Xander perked up at the unexpected good news, "Thanks, Terry.  I promise I can do the work.” 

"Well, you’ve worked hard so far, and I’ve got no complaints.  It’s hardly your fault that you’re sick.  Though if anything health-wise changes, you better tell me quick.  I could already get in trouble for not reporting this, and you getting hurt on the job could really mess things up.” 

"I get it.  Thanks,” Xander said.  They shook hands, and Xander hurried back onto the site.  From now on, he couldn’t afford to make the slightest of mistakes, and he would have to prove that he could still do his job as efficiently as ever.  It was a good thing he had been getting so much sleep lately, as his days at work had just gotten harder. 

It was a few days after his conversation with Terry, that he found a new apartment.  It was in a not-so-nice neighbourhood, but the building itself was in good repair.  The apartment was tiny; besides a closet, and a small, grimy looking bathroom, there was just the one room, which was a combination kitchen, living room, and bedroom.  It somewhat reminded him of his old basement room, though at least there was a window to let in some sunlight. 

By himself, he packed up his few belongings, and transferred them to his new place.  The landlord at his previous apartment had kept his damage deposit, but he hadn’t imposed a penalty on Xander for breaking his lease early.  It had helped that Xander had explained he was soon going to be looking after a shrieking infant; the landlord had been eager to see him go after that.  The new tenant had purchased most of Xander’s furniture, which was a plus, for it meant that Xander didn’t have to worry about transporting it.  The second-hand store delivered the bed Xander had bought, and set it up for him in the corner of the room.  Xander set his TV on a wooden crate opposite the bed.  The dishes and other kitchen utensils that Xander had brought with him were put away, as were his clothes.  When he was finished settling in, Xander did a slow turn in the centre of the room, taking it all in.  The cheap carpet, the ceiling stains, the chipped counter-tops…  It was depressing comparing his new place with his old one, so he tried not to dwell on it.  He focussed on the money he was saving, and tried to be happy with that. 

That evening, he made himself a healthy meal full of all the nutrients and vitamins the baby books claimed he needed.  He shovelled the food into his mouth mindlessly, and swallowed without tasting.  There was a Scooby meeting that night, but he didn’t feel up to attending.  Then he remembered he had yet to connect his phone, so he wouldn’t be able to call and tell them he would be absent.  It would be easier just to show up. 

When he arrived at the Magic Box, the lively conversation halted.  Since their talk, Buffy had been as good as her word, and had not said one thing against the pregnancy.  She remained, however, tense around him.  Part of it was her intrinsic nature as a slayer: she needed to protect those she loved from danger.  Another part of the problem was she just didn’t trust Xander to not get himself into trouble.  Giles was always demanding details from Xander, and it got so tiresome that Xander avoided being alone with him if at all possible.  Willow was forced to act as peacemaker between Xander and the others, and the stress of the role was wearing on her.  She wanted to be supportive of her best friend, but she also didn’t want to see him hurt.  Xander didn’t know how to alleviate this problem, so when they were together, they tended to avoid the issue of his pregnancy altogether.  It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it at least kept things calm between them.  Sometimes, when Xander was cracking jokes, and Willow was laughing back, it felt like old times, when things were normal and made sense. 

"What’s on the agenda for tonight, ladies, gentleman, and vampires?” Xander asked, noticing that Spike was among the group gathered. 

"Demons.  Of the smelly, sharp-clawed, razor-teethed type.  It’s your typical cut off their head, poke them in the eye kind of slay.  You want a sword or a cross-bow?” Buffy asked conversationally. 

"Um, I think I’ll give it a pass, thanks.  Have fun storming the castle though,” Xander joked. 

"You’re not coming?  Then why’d you come over?” 

Xander shrugged, "I can help with the research stuff.  I just don’t think it’s a good idea if…  Forget it.” 

"Is this because of the pregnancy?  Don’t you think you’re taking this whole thing a little too seriously?” Buffy said. 

Xander was surprised that her off-hand comment hurt so much.  Of course the baby was important.  Hadn’t she noticed all the sacrifices he had been making lately, just to be able to provide better for his child?  He was working so very hard at doing the right thing, and it was exceedingly painful to realize that those he cared about were hoping he wouldn’t succeed. 

"It’s not like you need me anyway, remember?  I’m just Mr. Mediocre.  I’m doing you a favour by not getting in the way,” Xander snapped. 

"Are we going or what?  The demons will have died of old age by now,” Spike said.  

"I thought Mr. Giles said the demons were immortal…  Oh, right, a joke.  I knew that,” Tara said, ducking her head into the collar of her shirt.  

"Time you were going regardless,” Giles said.  "Best be on your way; Xander and I will be here should you need us.” 

Buffy rolled her eyes and marched out into the night, followed by an overly enthusiastic vampire.  Willow smiled apologetically at Xander, before she and Tara hurried after the rest of the group. 

The shop seemed strangely quiet after the others had left.  Xander slumped onto the couch, and closed his eyes against an on-coming headache.  He really should be at home now resting.  He opened his eyes to find Giles staring at him. 

"I know I’m gorgeous, G-Man, but don’t you have stuff to do?” 

"There’s a type of demon about the size of a house cat, that creep into people’s homes in the night, and implant their offspring in human hosts.  Granted, it seems to be only females affected, but possibly since this is the Hellmouth…  Is it possible this is what impregnated you?  If so, then the child you are carrying is undoubtedly a demon, and should be disposed of.” 

"It wasn’t one of them,” Xander said tiredly. 

"Can you be absolutely certain?” 

Xander clearly enunciated it a second time: "It wasn’t one of them.” 

"Why do you insist on being so pig-headed about this?  Your very life could be in danger.” 

"Because it is MY life.  I’m going home,” Xander said, getting to his feet.  The sudden rush of blood to his head made him momentarily dizzy, and he stumbled a bit.  

"What’s the matter?” 

"Nothing,” Xander said, standing perfectly still while waiting for the floor to stop moving.  The wobbly feeling soon passed, and Xander answered Giles’ unasked question.  "It happens every now and then, don’t worry.” 

"Of course I worry.  You may think we’re being unduly hard on you, but it truly is because we worry about your welfare,” Giles said gently.  Xander looked towards the door, and then back at Giles’ earnest expression.  "Look, why don’t you stay until the others return.  It obviously isn’t safe out on the streets for you, and I promise not to pry anymore.” 

"No prying?  But how will I recognize you?” Xander teased lightly. 

"I think I can manage without - for one evening at least,” Giles rejoined. 

While they waited for the others to return, Xander took care of a few loose bookshelves, and Giles updated his watcher journals.  The work helped to pass the time, and made the silence less oppressive.  A few hours passed, and a triumphant slayer bounced through the front door, victorious once again. 

"It seems you were right, Xander.  We did just fine without you,” Buffy said, her cheerful voice only slightly masking her reproachful tone. 

"Tired.  Need sleep.  Can I sleep here?” Willow asked, addressing nobody in particular.  Tara smiled at her.  

" You’ll get bed-head.  Or maybe couch-head since there’s no bed here.  Can you get couch-head?” Tara asked, her voice gentle. 

"Oh absolutely, but crypt-hair is the worst.  Kind-of makes it stick up, right in the back,” Spike said helpfully.  He ignored the looks everyone gave him, and started poking around at the various items on display in the shop. 

"Spike, for a moment there I thought you had been left behind,” Giles said, taking an expensive voodoo doll out of Spike’s hands roughly and replacing it on the shelf. 

"Worried, were you?” 

"Something more akin to hopeful,” Giles said.  Spike gave him the finger. 

Willow yawned again, and leaned her head on Tara’s shoulder. 

"Giles, do you think you could give us a ride home?” Buffy said, noting everyone’s exhaustion.  

"What, everyone?  I don’t think we’d all fit.  And where’s Dawn, by the way?” 

"Spending the night at a friend’s.  I guess I could walk Xander home, if you want to take the girls,” Buffy said.  Xander could tell that she was asleep on her feet; she even had dark circles under her eyes, and that pinched look to her face that was becoming far too common for Xander’s liking. 

"Spike can take me.  You go with Giles, Buff,” Xander said. 

"Who says?  Maybe I don’t want to walk your lazy self home,” Spike complained. 

"I’ll give you beer,” Xander cajoled, rolling his eyes. 

"Well, that’s different then, ain’t it?  Come on, let’s move,” Spike said, turning on his heel and striding for the exit.  Xander waved at his friends as he hustled after the vampire. 

"So what sort-of beer we talking?  I bet you get the good stuff, now that there’s nobody to keep you warm at night.” 

"We’ll have to stop somewhere and pick something up,” Xander said.  "And don’t go nuts, I only have a twenty on me.” 

"You’re joking?  You, alcoholic-in-training, have no beer?  Knocked it back before the meeting, is that it?” 

Xander didn’t reply, just shoved the twenty in Spike’s hands, and jerked his thumb in the direction of the brightly lit liquor store they were passing by.  Spike’s eyes lit up, and he proceeded into the store, where he spent an enormous amount of time figuring out how to maximize the twenty.  Nineteen dollars and ninety-seven cents later, they had resumed the walk to Xander’s apartment. 

"Much as I’m enjoying this late night promenade, aren’t we going the long way to get to your place?” 

"I moved,” Xander replied curtly.  Spike stared at him a moment, then shrugged and unscrewed the top of one of his drinks.  They walked in silence after that until they reached the foot of Xander’s apartment. 

"This is it,” Xander said.  Slightly mocking, he said: "Thanks ever so much for walking me home.  You were as useful as always.” 

"Damn right I was useful,” Spike said.  "Smelling the way you do?  It’s only ‘cause you got me next to you, that you weren’t jumped six times on the way over.  Think I’m under appreciated, I do.  A lousy twenty bucks for risking life and limb protecting you; that’s a crime, that is.” 

Xander paused, automatically ignoring Spike’s grumbling.  "That’s the second time I’ve heard that you can smell me.” 

"Yeah?  What’s your point?” Spike asked warily. 

Xander shrugged, trying to appear uninterested.  If Spike knew how badly he wanted an answer, then there was no way he would get one.  "Just wondered if you could tell me anything about the baby.” 

Spike narrowed his eyes shrewdly, "Information like that will cost you.” 

Xander sighed, "You already took my last twenty.  What more do you want?” 

"Invite me up for a start,” Spike said.  He clapped Xander on the shoulder a little too forcefully for it to be considered a friendly action.  "We’ll figure things out from there.” 

Xander considered his options, and wondered if Spike really did have anything to tell him.  Then again, there wasn’t much Spike could steal or wreck even if he was invited inside.  What did he have to lose? 

"Fine.  But inviting strange men into my place on my first night is going to send the wrong impression to my new neighbours.  I hope you can live with damaging my reputation.” 

Spike snorted, and followed Xander into the apartment building.  Xander officially invited Spike inside with a self-mocking bow and simper.  Spike strode into the room as though it was his due. 

"Jesus, Xander.  Didn’t think the basement was slumming it enough?” 

"I was thinking more along the lines of destitute chic.” 

Spike rolled his eyes and headed for the kitchen.  He pulled open the fridge and was stunned to find vegetables in the vegetable containers.  Spike looked hard, but couldn’t find any beer.  He proceeded to look through all the cupboards, but failed to turn up anything of the alcoholic variety.  There was also a shocking lack of Twinkies and other chemically enhanced junk food.  The only possible answer to this was that Xander had led them to the wrong apartment. 

"No alcohol, Harris?  What would your parents say?” 

"I tried to warn you,” Xander said with a shrug of his shoulders. 

Spike gripped his remaining bottles of booze tightly to his chest, and sat down in the one semi-comfy chair in the room. 

"Well, I ain’t sharing.  Not my fault you lost all your priorities,” Spike said.  He lifted his booted feet and rested them on the edge of a wooden crate, and fumbled in his duster pocket for his smokes.  He had just lifted one to his lips, when Xander reached out and took it away from him.  "Hey!  I just said: no sharing!” 

"You can’t smoke in here,” Xander said, tossing the cigarette back to him. 

"You have got to be kidding,” Spike said.  "Hate to break it to you, but those smoke stains on the ceiling aren’t about to disappear just because nobody smokes in here.” 

"It’s not that,” Xander said, going to the kitchen area of the room, and pouring himself a glass of milk.  He added in an obscene amount of chocolate syrup, and started to stir. 

"Then what?  You don’t drink, you won’t let me smoke, and there are vegetables in your fridge.  Actual vegetables.  Should I have the witch test for possession?” 

"It’s for the baby,” Xander mumbled.  Only Spike’s acute hearing enabled him to hear the words.  The statement surprised him, and he took a better look around the small apartment.  There was a pile of library books in a stack by the bed, the top one showing a mother and her sickeningly sweet looking baby.  There were magazines on the floor next to the chair Spike was sitting in, also on the theme of pregnancy and parenting.  Considering all that Xander had changed, seemingly completely on his own, Spike was duly impressed.  Not that he was about to share that fact with Xander Harris, the perpetual screw-up. 

"Clearly whatever made you pregnant, also made you a woman,” Spike scoffed.  

"Look, do you have anything useful to offer, or not?  I sure as hell didn’t bring you up here for your sparkling conversation.” 

Spike was fiddling with the reception on the TV.  Finally satisfied, he slumped back into his chair, and stared coolly at the increasingly agitated boy. 

"The thing is, you got nothing I want.  I don’t do favours,” Spike said. 

Xander made an exasperated noise, and stomped into the bathroom.  His fingers tightened around the yellowed edge of the bathroom sink, as he fought to keep his temper in check.  He knew Spike was deliberately trying to get under his skin; this would go on, back and forth, and eventually Spike would give him what he asked.  Spike just had to have his fun first.  On a different day, Xander might even have laughed at Spike’s pitiful attempt to prolong any sort of human contact. 

Xander turned on the shower, and undressed.  He would let the alcohol soften Spike up somewhat, before he interrogated him again.  If that didn’t work, then he’d toss the vampire out.  He wasn’t much for beating up on the helpless, but in Spike’s case he would make an exception. 

The hot shower worked wonders on Xander’s mood, and he almost forgot about the potentially dangerous predator sitting in his apartment.  Dressed in clean boxers and a t-shirt, Xander entered the main room, and promptly turned off the TV. 

"Hey, I was watching that!” Spike complained, trying to reach around Xander to turn the TV on again.  Xander crossed his arms over his chest and waited for Spike to stop fidgeting. 

"Answer my questions, and I’ll let you watch TV,” Xander bargained. 

"I can watch telly anywhere.  Better reception elsewhere too,” Spike muttered.  

"Well, I don’t have anything else to offer, so you might as well leave,” Xander snapped.  He reached to haul Spike out of the chair, but Spike resisted. 

"Wait.  Let me stay over,” Spike said.  

"Are you insane?  Oh wait, you don’t have to answer that.” 

"It’s nice and warm here.  I like to be warm.  You let me crash here tonight, and I’ll tell you what I know.  Deal?” 

Xander sputtered for a moment, but he was really desperate for any kind of information about his baby.  Spike looked suitably humbled for having had to ask to stay, instead of merely demanding, so maybe it wasn’t totally stupid to let him have his way. 

"Okay, but just for the night…” 

"And tomorrow, when the sun’s up,” Spike added in hastily.  

"Alright, fine.  Now, ‘fess up.” 

"Uh, best move to the bed,” Spike said, sliding gracefully out of his chair.  Xander walked the few steps necessary and sat down on the edge of his bed warily.  

Spike was stalling for time; truth was his sense of smell wasn’t all that great.  About the only thing he could detect by smell was that Xander was nervous, and that was because the boy was sweating. The fact that Xander was twisting his fingers into the mattress, while looking slightly panicked, were further clues as to his state of mind.  Spike had been planning on coming up with a few pacifying yet vague assurances, but Xander’s trusting gaze was wreaking havoc on his resolve.  Well, it couldn’t hurt to at least try to do an examination. 

"Calm down, Harris, or the only thing I’ll be able to smell is your putrid sweaty-stink,” Spike snarled.  He brought his head down to the boy’s neck, and breathed deeply.  Xander smelled fresh and clean from his recent shower, and there was a whiff of masculine musk underneath that.  There was a slight tang of salty sweat, which mingled with the more subtle smells of Xander’s body that Spike couldn’t identify - woodchips and spice, perhaps. 

The demon in Spike was happily cataloguing all of the plusses indicated by the smell: young, healthy human, with blood that would surely taste clean and rich on the tongue.  Spike felt the need to bring his teeth to the fore, and was rewarded with a warning jolt from his government-installed chip.  He fought the impulse to sample the tempting neck, and pushed himself roughly away from Xander. 

"Lift your shirt,” Spike said curtly.  

Xander dropped his hands to his shirt hem, but hesitated slightly.  He hadn’t been this close to anyone physically since the night he’d been… since the night the baby had been conceived.  

"Christ, Harris.  I’ve seen stomachs before.  Hell, I’ve seen yours before,” Spike said.  Xander glared and angrily lifted his shirt.  Xander was studiously not looking at Spike, embarrassed that he was blushing fiercely, when Spike’s unneeded breath against his stomach made him twitch.  He looked down, and saw the unlikely sight of Spike’s bleached-blond head pressed close to the slight bulge of his abdomen. 

"Anything?” Xander asked hopefully. 

"Well, I can’t smell anything out of the ordinary.  No infection, or weird chemicals,” Spike replied honestly. 

"Can you tell… can you tell if it’s human?” Xander eventually asked. 

So, Xander had cause to worry about the baby’s genetics.  That was interesting, and Spike stored the information away for future reference.  An idea suddenly came to Spike, and he bit down on the inside of his lip to keep from grinning and spoiling it all. 

"Blood could tell me an awful lot about you.” 

"How lovely!  Be sure to put that skill on your resume.  Now, get away from me,” Xander said. 

"No really, I’m not just saying that to get a quick meal.  Blood’s what we’re all about.  I wouldn’t need much either, just a mouthful or three.” 

"No way, no how,” Xander said, wriggling himself away from Spike. 

"I’m surprised at you, Harris.  Figured you’d do anything for that kid of yours, but I guess with parents like yours it’s hard not to pick up bad habits.” 

Spike knew he had played his cards right, when he saw Xander flinch at the mention of his parents.  Xander ran a hand meaningfully over the lump in his belly, and Spike knew he was going to agree even before Xander spoke. 

Xander was cursing himself as he lay back on his bed, watching as Spike happily bounced alongside of him.  Spike’s game-face was as nasty as Xander remembered, and he had to force himself not to pull away. 

Spike went for the neck, but Xander pushed him away and offered up his wrist instead.  There was something just a little too intimate about letting Spike suck from his neck.  Xander barely felt the prick of Spike’s teeth in his wrist, and he supposed Spike was being careful so that his chip didn’t fire.  So long as Spike didn’t intend to cause Xander harm, then they should both come out of this okay.  The difficult part for Xander was convincing himself that a little, unobservable piece of technology would stand against a hundred-year-old killer.  

The first taste Spike had of Xander’s blood hit him hard and fast.  It was as sweet as imagined, and headier then the very best of wines.  Spike forgot who he was, where he was, and every other significant detail save that of the warm body that was supplying the most satisfying concoction he ever remembered drinking.  It was like a drug, but instead of clouding his mind, Xander’s blood sharpened it, and made every sensation a thousand times more intense.  His mouth tightened around the wrist, his tongue swirling madly to keep even the minutest drops from escaping.  To think, he had been around this boy everyday and never guessed at the wonders flowing beneath his skin.  He was starting to think there might be some legitimate reasons for Xander’s ‘demon-magnet’ status.  

Xander’s blood had the indulgence of innocence, tempered with maturity, and edged by sadness.  It was an almost painful experience, drinking blood of that calibre.  Actually, the feeding was causing some pain already, in one very specific area; Spike, like most vampires, found good blood to be an aphrodisiac.  

"Hey, happy hour’s over, do I have to cut you off?” Xander asked, tapping the involved vampire on the shoulder.  Spike felt the warm pressure of Xander’s hand like a brand.  It sent heat tearing through his body, and Spike unlatched his mouth from Xander’s wrist with a groan of disappointment.  He lapped at the wound a few times, watched the blood seal itself off, and then pounced. 

There was a muffled ‘glompf’ sound from Xander, as Spike settled his weight against Xander’s body, and then there was nothing to hear but the soft, wet sounds as mouth met mouth.  Xander’s lips were soft, and Spike almost regretted the bruising he was causing Xander's mouth, as he pressed hard into the kiss, his teeth nipping and his tongue probing.  Lost in the kiss, that was easily as dizzying as the blood tasting had been, Spike failed to notice Xander wasn’t exactly responding. 

Xander had been pleasantly sleepy while Spike had fed, and the sudden move from wrist-sucking to face-sucking, had been far too fast for Xander’s drowsy brain to comprehend all at once.  However, the thought eventually did manage to penetrate, and the very instant it did, Spike found himself flat on his back on the floor with an enraged Xander about to smash a lamp over his head.  It was a cheap lamp, and probably wouldn’t hurt much, but that was beside the point. 

"What the fuck was that?” Xander practically screamed.  He dropped the lamp, and it hit Spike on the temple.  Spike corrected his earlier hypothesis; the lamp did hurt. 

"You hit me!” Spike accused. 

"So?  I repeat, what the fuck was that?” 

Spike sat up slowly, and opened and closed his eyes a few times, before giving Xander a sour look. 

"It’s not like I planned it.  Got a little carried away, didn’t I?  Didn’t need to hit me on the head like that.  Could've seriously damaged me,” Spike complained, rubbing at the sore spot. 

"I’m more concerned for the lamp.  Jesus Christ, Spike.  You kissed me!” 

"Oh get over it already.  It’s not like it meant anything.” Spike got to his feet and wondered if there was any more alcohol left.  He had to get the taste of Xander out of his mouth before he jumped the man again.  There was a vein throbbing on Xander’s forehead that told Spike such an action would be a bad idea.  Of course, something else was still slightly throbbing and it was telling Spike that getting close to Xander was a very, very good idea.  

"I figured as much,” Xander murmured.  "God, could my life get any weirder?  You know it’s a bad sign when a male vampire kisses you and it’s not the strangest thing happening to you.  Finding out I’m gay would really only be a lateral move now on the scale of oddness.” 

"I know I’m good, but one kiss does not make you gay.  You people are far too hung up on labelling anyway.  What’s the big deal?” 

"Oh no, you are not talking your way out of this.  You kissing me?  That’s crazy – the crazy from Crazytown kind of crazy.  In fact, it’s so totally out there that it never even happened.  This is all some hormone-induced hallucination.  Willow told me not to eat glue in kindergarten, but did I listen?  No, and now look at me…  And, hey, what about our deal?  You’re supposed to tell me about my blood.  Unless this was all a ploy so that you could kiss me.” 

Spike looked affronted, "If it was a ploy, then it was a ploy to get a mouthful of fresh blood, you ponce.”  

"Then you really don’t know anything?” Xander asked quietly. 

"Why is this so important anyway?” 

"If the baby isn’t human, Buffy’s going to kill it,” Xander said.  "I won’t let that happen.” 

"And the one who did this to you, he’d be a demon, would he?” 

Xander rolled his eyes.  "Like I’m going to tell you when I won’t even tell my friends, whom I actually trust.” 

"Maybe you’re just a slut, and can’t remember who it was,” Spike smirked. 

Xander’s eyes turned stone cold, and he gestured at the door.  "You can leave now.” 

"We had a bargain,” Spike said. 

"You didn’t tell me anything!” 

"You’re blood is clean, remarkably so in fact.  I didn’t taste any demon blood, so I would guess your baby is human like you.  Which scares me, in and of itself, because who wants more Xander prats in the world?  You’re healthy, the baby is healthy, and why won’t you tell anyone how you got pregnant?” 

"No, no, no!  First a kiss, and now you want to know about my condition?  Stop freaking me out!  It’s not funny anymore, Spike.  Making Xander go loony, and getting him to talk in the third person is not the kind-of thing evil vampires should do…  Well, maybe it is, because what would I know about it…”  

"Oh would you shut-up already, Harris?  I don’t want to be reminded of this little scene any more than you do, so if you’ll just go to bed, and let me get back to watching some telly, then we’ll both be better off.” 

Xander abruptly stopped babbling, and thought that just maybe Spike had the right idea.  And didn’t that just put the finishing touches on a day gone horribly wrong?  Xander grumbled something about never trusting the remote control to somebody who honestly enjoyed Passions, before climbing under the blankets of the bed.  "I don’t have any rope, so feel lucky I don’t use the toaster’s electrical cord to tie you to your chair.” 

"Aw, you’d do that after all we’ve shared?” Spike asked coyly. 

Xander put his head under his pillow and prayed for sleep to come quickly.  Or for lightning to strike in the vicinity of Spike’s head.  Either would work, really. 

Spike waited until Xander’s breathing had evened out and deepened.  Then he turned off the television, and the overhead light.  He removed his boots and socks, and then his shirt and pants.  Moving soundlessly, he slipped over to Xander’s bed, and climbed under the covers, being very careful not to jostle Xander awake. 

After witnessing Xander’s reaction to the kiss, Spike couldn’t wait to see the expression on Xander’s face when he woke-up in bed next to a naked vampire.  Blackmail could be a beautiful thing.

Part Two

Sometime during the night, Xander turned over in his sleep and wrapped an arm around Spike.  Sometime after that, they both found themselves curling deeper into the embrace.  Spike could later claim that it was instinct to press closer into a source of warmth for the night.  Xander didn’t know what his excuse was; maybe he just missed the presence of another body in his bed.  Whatever the reason, it was undoubtedly the most peaceful and comfortable sleep either of them had experienced in a long time. 

At least, until Xander’s dreams started looking for content in the deep recesses of his mind.  A scaly hand on his neck was making it difficult to breathe as it pressed him flat to the ground.  Rocks, and a stray piece of green, broken, glass, were digging into his face, and there was an almost crushing weight across his back.  He was pinned so tightly that he could scarcely move, but still he struggled.  Then there was the sound of tearing cloth, followed by so much pain it was perceived only as a burning flash of harsh white light. 

Xander woke-up fighting against his assailant, not yet cognizant of the fact that the events of his dream were long past, and that Spike, despite his faults, probably didn’t deserve to suffer the brunt of Xander’s rage. 

“ Stop!  Please, get off,” Xander yelled, staring unseeingly at Spike’s face as he smashed his fist into it.  Spike’s head bounced against the mattress, and he twisted his body to try and escape the pummelling.  Xander grabbed his bicep, and pulled him forcibly back into range.  Spike raised his arms to protect himself from the attack, and at his first opportunity, tried to shove Xander back, hoping the action would break the boy out of his haze.  Instead, Spike’s chip decided to fire, and Spike howled as pain shot through his brain, feeling just as sharp as the punches raining down on his ribs and kidneys. 

Just as suddenly as it had happened, the beating stopped.  Xander drew back, staring horrified at his bruised knuckles.  Spike was drawn up tightly, arms holding his head, and eyes screwed tightly shut.  The alarm clock chose that moment to start ringing, and Xander, tense as he was, ripped it from the wall.  Gradually, Xander’s racing heartbeat slowed, and his trembling became less pronounced.  He stood up shakily, and headed for the bathroom.  The sound of the door shutting and the shower coming on was Spike’s signal to uncoil, and roll onto his back. 

What the hell was that?  Spike rubbed at his split lip, and moved the rest of his body gently, checking for any permanent damage.  He wasn’t hurt beyond a few bruises, and those would likely be healed by midday.  Spike supposed he should feel grateful that most of Xander’s blows had been shallow ones.  Of course, the reason he wasn’t suffering more had nothing to do with any mercy on Xander’s part, it simply meant the boy hadn’t been able to get the leverage he needed.  That was a rather disconcerting thought. 

Spike swung his feet to the floor, and tugged on his jeans.  He refused to notice that his hands were shaking as he checked the pockets of his duster for his cigarettes.  Lighting one and pulling in the acrid smoke, Spike began to pace.  He felt the need to attack something, and tear it limb from limb.  The sun was rising however, and besides, it was never a good idea to hunt for prey while in the grips of fear.  Whether or not Spike admitted it to himself, he was afraid.  Thanks to the chip, when it came to humans, Spike was just another helpless victim.  Xander could have beaten him to death, and Spike wouldn’t have been able to stop him.  Relying on the compassion of humanity was not a reassuring thought; Spike knew humans could be just as evil as any demon. 

Not that Xander had intentionally tried to hurt Spike, at least, not exactly.  Spike had expected some mild anxiety from Xander when he woke up in the morning, but the terror that Xander had exuded was greatly disproportionate to merely waking up next to a naked vampire.  Something was bothering Xander, and Spike didn’t believe in coincidences.  It had to do with the baby.   

Xander came out of the bathroom, dressed and ready for another day of work. 

“ You can’t smoke in here,” Xander said, busying himself with breakfast preparations. 

“ I’d say you owe me this, at least,” Spike said. 

“ Yeah, well,” said Xander stiltedly.  He really didn’t know what to say to Spike; he had considered apologizing, but then he had wondered what Spike was doing in his bed in the first place.  He certainly didn’t want to have to explain his actions. 

“ So.  You were raped,” Spike said bluntly. 

It wasn’t a question, and Xander felt all his protestations die on his tongue. 

“ Yeah,” Xander said.  He calmly broke a couple of eggs into a frying pain, and sliced some bread for the toaster. 

Spike continued to watch Xander, noticing how much control Xander was exercising just to keep from falling apart. 

“ You know, a lot of demons, they consider their victims permanent property.  This demon could come back for you,” Spike said.  He had finished his first cigarette and was lighting his second.  Xander glared, but this time he didn’t say anything. 

“ How did you know it was a demon?” 

Spike shrugged, “ For one, you’re pregnant.  Not many humans got the mojo to do that.  Second, you could have fought off a human.” 

“ Should’ve been able to fight off anything,” Xander mumbled.  Spike not only heard, but he could also sense the bitter self-recriminations circling in Xander’s head.  No wonder Xander hadn’t told anyone his secret.  Xander already felt like a useless part of the group; there was no need to have ‘victim’ stamped across his forehead.  “ And the demon won’t be returning.  I know what type of demon it was.” 

“ Oh really?” Spike asked sceptically. 

Xander placed his plate of eggs and toast on the table, and retrieved a knife and fork.  Strangely enough, it was a relief to tell someone, even if it was Spike, and he supposed there was little point in keeping quiet now that Spike knew almost everything. 

“ Broshunk.” 

 Spike’s mind immediately began accessing the information he had on Broshunk demons.  They were big, frequently reaching heights of eight or nine feet tall, with strong muscles.  Broshunk’s were grey coloured, and composed of living stone, which made them slow moving, but virtually impervious to all harm.  They were also heavily into magic, which was fortunate since they could not create offspring without it.  Rumour had it that they had ticked off the wrong people when gathering their magical forces, and had been cursed with the inability to procreate naturally.  Broshunk’s had found a way around this; they mated with members of other species, and used magic to cause a pregnancy.   

It was a difficult process: if the targeted mate was too strong, the pregnancy wouldn’t occur; too weak, and either intercourse or conception would prove fatal.  Since distinctions of male and female mattered little to the pregnancy spell, Borshunk’s typically chose the male of a species, because the males were generally hardier.  Broshunk’s were not especially malevolent, save during mating season, and preferred to keep to their own realm.  They were sentient, but lacked the intelligence to be truly evil; their ill treatment of other species during mating was instinctual rather than deliberate.  Spike doubted very much that the distinction was much comfort to Xander. 

“ Jesus…  Trust you to come across one of them.  I bet there aren’t fifty of those buggers left anywhere.” 

“ Yeah, it’s too bad you missed it.  Lots of violence, blood, and humiliation… it was a real party,” Xander said sourly. 

“ But how do you know they won’t be back?” 

Xander shrugged, “ I looked it up over at Giles’.  Apparently they can’t control the conception, only cause it.  Demon essence mingles crazily with host essence, and the outcome isn’t ever fifty-fifty.  They determine on the spot whether or not the child is sufficiently demon, and if it is…  Well, I would be with the Broshunk and his buddies right now.  Since I was left behind, I know the baby is too human for them to be interested.  I just don’t know how human ‘too human’ is.” 

He sighed, “ Look, Spike, don’t tell the others, okay?  I don’t want… I don’t need them fussing.” 

Spike was still deep in his ponderings, wondering just how badly hurt Xander must have been, and how he had kept the situation secret from the rest of the group.  Xander’s comment reminded him that he wasn’t supposed to care.  Right, mercenary attitude, that’s what was expected of him. 

“ And my silence gets me…” 

Xander closed his eyes briefly; of course, why would something simple like Spike’s silence come easily?  Naturally, the first person Xander confided in would use the information to cause more suffering; nobody knew better than Xander that the cosmos like to kick you when you’re down.   

Spike swore he could actually see Xander fold in on himself, and shut down.  For some reason, the dead brown eyes that peered up at him scared him more than the attack that morning. 

“ Take or do whatever you want.  Not that you wouldn’t have done that anyway.  I can’t be bothered anymore,” Xander said, his words tired.  He dropped his empty plate into the sink, and left the apartment, not once looking in Spike’s direction.   

Once Xander had gone, Spike returned to bed, crawling onto Xander’s side with the unlikely hope that some heat remained trapped in the sheets.  Spike was accustomed to having his sleeping routines disrupted, so he had gotten into the habit of trying for sleep whenever the opportunity presented itself.  He should have been dozing peacefully, but he must have slept too soundly the night before, because he couldn’t get comfortable.  It had nothing to do with empty, brown eyes staring back at him imploringly whenever he tried to clear his mind.  No, nothing at all to do with that.  

Spike got up with a snarl, and gathered his belongings.  It was this place that was getting to him; how could anyone not go mad in this depressing atmosphere?  And obviously he was going insane if he was starting to consider someone else’s feelings.  Not just anybody’s feelings, either, but Xander’s.  It made Spike shudder to think of it.  So what if the boy had sweet tasting blood and softly yielding lips?  There was that whole wretched personality to consider.  Okay, so he could sometimes be brave (more like recklessly stupid), loyal (so are dogs), and big-hearted (never to Spike, though), but that was hardly reason to go all soft.   

Maybe he was just having an off day.  Bound to happen, actually, waking up the way he had.  Spike was clearly not thinking straight, and the sooner he ripped something to shreds, the better off everyone would be.  Then, when he was back to feeling normal, Spike would come and collect the favour he was owed.  And he most certainly would not be asking for another kiss, which was all he seemed to want at the moment.  With that decided, Spike stormed out of the apartment, and broke into the basement.  A few loud curses, and a lot of loud smashing noises later, and Xander’s apartment block could now boast of having sewer access. 

When Xander came home that evening, tired and dusty, he had the surreal experience of feeling disappointed that Spike had left already.  Shaking it off as another strange pregnancy-hormone reaction, Xander washed up and started dinner preparations.  He was almost glad when his neighbours from below started blaring their music, as the noise drowned out the oppressive silence of his apartment. 

Xander didn’t see Spike again for two weeks.  He didn’t see much of anyone else either, although Willow came over for dinner one night, ostensibly to check out his new apartment. 

“ It’s… umm, well it’s… and you have a TV, that’s nice.  Did you see that documentary on the pork industry?  Made me want to go vegetarian, except then I’d be a lesbian and a vegetarian, and I think that’s one too many ‘alternative lifestyle’ choices, don’t you think?  Or maybe it’s one of those bundle deals, where once you’ve made the decision to be alternative, you get as many…” 

“ Using babble to get through tense situations?  Willow, that’s so unlike us,” Xander said, smiling.  “ I already know it’s crappy, but it’s cheap.  On the plus side, being pregnant has made me a better cook.  Did you know that you can make carrots taste good?”   

Xander had been trying to eat healthier, and the books said that during the second trimester it was especially important.  Still, finding healthy meals that he could actually eat had been something of a challenge.  For Willow and himself he was making a chicken stir-fry; easy, quick, plus it looked impressive. 

“ This is pretty good.  Well done, Mr. Homemaker.  You should get a ‘kiss the cook’ apron or something.” 

“ Tempting, but I have enough gender-identity problems at the moment.” 

“ But it would be a manly apron,” Willow said. 

“ Is there such a thing?” Xander asked. 

“ With manly oven-mitts, and a jaunty chef’s hat,” Willow continued. 

They were still laughing and trading witticisms when they left Xander’s apartment, and headed for the Magic Box.  It was an easy pattern for them to fall into, but Xander appreciated the moment more than usual because it had been awhile since things had been this tension-free between them. 

“ What’s got you two so cheery?” Buffy asked, as Willow and Xander entered the shop. 

“ Just hanging with my girl,” Xander said, throwing an arm around Willow’s shoulders.  He then saw Tara had already arrived.  “ And by ‘my girl’, I mean the girl who I am attached to in a strictly platonic friend type of way.” 

“ What, I’m not good enough for you?” Willow asked, pouting.  She went over to Tara and greeted her girlfriend with a loose hug. 

“ I personally think you’re quite a catch,” Tara said.  The two witches were grinning at Xander who was struggling to come up with a response that wouldn’t get him into trouble. 

“ Hey, no fair teasing me, I’m in a delicate condition,” Xander whined.  The mirth fled from Buffy’s eyes, and Willow went on the alert, wondering if she would have to intervene again.  Apparently the pregnancy subject was still too sensitive to be joking about; Xander could have kicked himself for dragging the good mood down. 

It was Dawn who got things back to normal, as she quipped: “ Yeah, he’s soft in the head.”  

Xander stuck his tongue out at Dawn, while the others snickered; crisis averted for the time being.  Eventually, the small group settled themselves around the table, and listened as Giles described the latest evil to befall Sunnydale.   

Giles was interrupted by Spike’s arrival.  “ And speaking of evil…” 

“ Here comes his slightly irritating younger brother,” Xander finished. 

“ Hey!  I’m evil.  Very evil.” 

“ Well, you are inflicting yourself on us,” Buffy said, scowling at Spike. 

“ I came to give you lot some information, but I’m more than happy to leave if that’s how you show your appreciation.” 

Xander tensed, feeling his face drain of colour and his heart start to pound.  Every day for the past two weeks Xander had been awaiting some kind of action from Spike, but not a word had been breathed to his friends about the Broshunk demon.  Rather than comforting Xander, however, the fact that Spike was obviously biding his time made him nervous.  Was this it?  Or was this yet another attempt to drive Xander around the bend with worry? 

“ Just spill it, Spike.  We’ll judge for ourselves whether it’s worth anything afterwards,” Buffy said, crossing her arms and glaring.  Xander was envious of the way Buffy refused to be drawn into Spike’s manipulations, and wished he could be as uncompromising. 

“ There’s a new big-shot vampire in town; got the locals stirring up all kinds of trouble.  Has a fair bit of money to throw around, and he’s hired himself a real mixed bag of an entourage.  Goes by the name of Dent D’Or, and I think he fancies himself the new master of Sunnydale.” 

Xander breathed a sigh of relief that his secret had been kept, before wondering, out loud unfortunately, “ Don Door?  As far as scary monikers go, that’s pretty lame.  Any relation to Wanda Window?” 

“ Not Don Door, Dent D’Or.  It’s French, you git,” Spike said disparagingly.  “  It means gold teeth, or gold tooth, or tooth of gold…  Something like that anyway.” 

“ So this vamp has a mouthful of metal?” Buffy asked. 

“ Other than the fangs, yeah, it’s solid gold.” 

“ I think I may have heard of him,” Giles said, rifling through a series of books he kept behind the counter.  “ He’s a rather old vampire, is he not?” 

“ Not even a hundred, the upstart,” Spike said moodily.  “ And does he have two slayers to his credit?  I thing not.” 

“ Ah, here he is.  Oh dear,” Giles said, his eyes quickly scanning the page. 

“ Does anybody else really hate when he says that?” Dawn asked rhetorically. 

“ He has come in contact with one slayer, in the 1960’s, and he killed her.  He may indeed prove a threat to you, Buffy.” 

Giles handed the book to Buffy, and pointed out the relevant information.  Spike snatched the book away from Buffy, and read the passage swiftly. 

“ Is this the best you pain-in-the-ass watchers have got?  A slayer sure, but when he killed her she was calling herself Sister Moon-Flower, and was so full of drugs she probably thought a vampire was one of her better hallucinations.  Bet she tasted right nasty, too.” 

Unlike someone else’s blood.  Immediately, Spike turned his attention to Xander, almost as though he had no control over his actions.  Two weeks had gone by, and still Spike could recall the taste of Xander’s blood against his tongue.  Unconsciously, Spike licked his lips, following Xander’s pulse point with his eyes.  Fortunately, nobody was paying much attention to Spike anymore, and he was able to wipe away the drool without anyone being the wiser.  Damn.  This silly little obsession was supposed to have gone away by now, but only minutes in the whelp’s company again, and he was salivating.  Hopefully, he was just hungry.  Speaking of which… 

“ So?  What do I get?  Think I proved helpful, much as it pains me to play nice with you bunch of tossers.” 

A heated debate was occupying most of the members of the group.  Buffy, not surprisingly, was pushing for a fast resolution of the problem.  She reasoned that it was better to go in now while they had the element of surprise.  Plus, power struggles always seemed to play out in unpredictable ways, with innocents being hurt in the process.  Giles wanted to get more information on Dent D’Or before they formulated an attack.  It was possible that the vampire had more insidious ideas than the ones currently known to them, and it was never a good idea to go into fight without knowing the enemy.  Not surprisingly, Spike’s comment about compensation went unheeded. 

Rolling his eyes at the injustice of it all, Spike was startled to find Xander looking equally bored with the argument.  Their eyes met for a moment, and Xander gave a small smile of commiseration, before focusing again on the discussion.  This small act of civility sent shivers down Spike’s spine, and kept him distracted until the next convenient lull, at which time, Spike repeated more forcefully that he wanted his payment for services rendered.  Giles, in his distraction, mentioned that there was blood in the freezer, all of it expired human blood from the blood bank, and that Spike could help himself.  Spike cheered up immediately, and went to inspect his haul. 

Obviously, Giles had intended for Spike to take one or two packets only, but Spike was certainly not about to leave any blood behind.  Besides, Giles should know better than to say ‘help yourself’ to a vampire.  Spike found a discarded box, and filled it with every single packet.  Two packets went immediately into his pocket; he would have those as soon as he found a microwave and a place to drink in peace. 

The meeting was breaking up as Spike came out of the back room.  Giles did a double take at the box, and Spike smirked, holding his precious cargo a little tighter. 

“ Spike?  You’ll be taking Xander home,” Giles said. 

“ Hey, Harris, you got a microwave?” 

“ Yeah, why?” Xander asked warily.  Spike didn’t answer, but he looked so pleased with himself, that it was enough to make everyone worry. 

On the way to Xander’s apartment, Spike’s good mood continued to show itself.  He leapt up onto benches, kicked at mailboxes, and hummed little snatches of songs, all the while never letting go of his box.  Xander compared him to a kid on Halloween, greedily guarding a hoard of candy.  The analogy made him smile. 

Spike was distracted both by the bounty he was carrying and the smile on Xander’s face.  In fact the latter almost made him tumble off the wall he had hopped up on; what was is about Xander lately that was making him act so out of character?  Before he could think of a response, a heavy body collided with his, and this time he did fall, landing flat on his back on the sidewalk.  In seconds, he was on his feet, lashing out at his assailants, and cursing himself for getting so distracted as to not notice they had company.  He spared a glance at Xander, who was struggling in the grasp of two tough looking demons.   

Spike dusted a vampire, and tossed a charging demon over his shoulder.  He made his way over to Xander, and grabbed the demon on Xander’s left side.  After a brief struggle, Spike was able to break the demons neck.  Meanwhile, Xander was able to twist free from the remaining demon, and he backed away, looking around for a weapon.  He didn’t see the demon that was about to come up behind him, but Spike did, and as Xander was pushed out of the way into safety, Spike tackled the demon to the ground. 

“ Get out of here, Xander, I got this covered,” Spike said, gleefully ripping the head off the demon, and reaching for another.  He delivered a bone-crunching hit to his attacker, and suddenly his head exploded with pain, dropping him to the ground.  Dimly, he heard Xander calling out to him, “ Spike?” 

A vampire began laying into Spike with feet clad in heavy army-issue combat boots; he was making sure that every kick inflicted the maximum amount of pain possible.  When the chip in Spike’s head began to let up, he snarled and launched himself at the vampire.  At the last moment, the vampire dodged, and Spike collided with a human.  The chip fired again, making Spike howl. 

It hadn’t taken long for Xander to figure out what was happening.  Obviously, someone knew about Spike’s inability to hit humans, and had come to this ambush fully prepared.  Xander hesitated for a few moments, his instincts telling him to jump into the fight, but he soon realized there was little he could do to help.  Not that that would have stopped him before, but he simply couldn’t be so reckless anymore.  So Xander turned and ran back the way he had come, hoping that Buffy hadn’t left the magic shop yet. 

Buffy was standing on the steps, waiting for Dawn, when Xander came running up to her. 

Alarmed, she asked: “ Xander?  Are you okay?” 

“ Got attacked, around the block.  Spike needs help,” Xander said, out of breath. 

“ Giles stay with Dawn,” Buffy ordered.  She went inside and grabbed a sword, before taking off down the street, a weary Xander following after her. 

The assailants had formed a circle around Spike, and were enjoying the fact that their prey was no longer even trying to fight back.  Buffy took in the situation and quickly broke the group apart, dusting one vampire and slicing into the neck of a green and scaly demon with her sword.  Brandishing the sword high, she eyed the remaining four attackers, two of which were human.  This group took one look at the pissed off slayer, and decided to cut their losses.  Buffy gave chase for a few minutes, but soon gave up.  She returned to the street where Xander was crouched worriedly over a battered looking Spike. 

“ He okay?” 

“ No, I am not fucking okay,” Spike said hoarsely.  He was drifting in and out of consciousness, and he was fairly sure he was going to be sick.  He tried cataloguing all the injuries, but that just made his head hurt more, so he gave up. 

“ Some of his bones look broken.  Is that possible with a vampire?” Xander asked. 

“ It takes a lot of force, but it can happen,” Buffy said, matter-of-factly.  “ Well, that was fun.  You need help getting home from here?  I really should get back and assure Dawn and Giles that I’m fine.” 

“ What about Spike?” Xander asked. 

“ What about him?  He saved you; I saved him.  I’d say we’re square.  Besides, I was wondering why he was so helpful this evening and now we know.  It was his own skin he was trying to protect, and sorry Spike, but I’m not getting in the middle of a pissing contest between you and this other master.  When you’re done being a wimp, then you can get home on your own.” 

“ I’ll be fine Buffy,” Xander said quietly.  “ Dawn’s probably going ape, you’d better go.” 

Buffy nodded and walked away.  Xander waited until she was out of sight before swearing gently.  He admired her for a lot of things, but right now he couldn’t help but feel she was being a little bit of a spoiled brat.  Whether or not she had adequate reason to be angry at Spike was irrelevant; calling him names, while leaving him to bleed on the sidewalk, was childish and verging on cruel. 

“ Can you stand if I help you?” Xander asked. 

“ You heard her; we’re square.  You can leave and be completely guilt free,” Spike muttered bitterly. 

“ She doesn’t know I owe you a favour from before.  So get up.  Might as well take advantage of the one time I’m on your side instead of Buffy’s.” 

Spike didn’t have a response for that, but fortunately he was spared from giving one.  The pain as he was helped to his feet was excruciating, and made thinking about anything else impossible.  Spike’s arm was across Xander’s shoulders, pressing down heavily.  Xander gripped Spike’s waist, hauling the almost dead weight forward with every step.  They had to stop twice so that Spike could purge the contents of his stomach, and Xander tried very hard not to cringe when his shoes were soaked in regurgitated blood. 

It seemed to take hours, and Xander couldn’t be sure it hadn’t, but they finally arrived at Xander’s home.  The stairs nearly did them both in, but somehow Xander managed to get the vampire into his apartment.  He dropped him onto the bed, fully aware that afterwards he would need to buy new sheets.   

“ She just left me there,” Spike said quietly.  “ I knew… I know she doesn’t love me, but she just left me lying there, like she doesn’t care at all.  Like she hates me.” 

Xander had the unfamiliar sensation of feeling sorry for Spike.  Stranger still, he could empathize; it hadn’t been so long ago that Xander had had feelings for Buffy.  He had never loved her, not really, and he didn’t think that, deep down, Spike truly did either, but it didn’t make rejection hurt less. 

“ Don’t go all ‘Days of our Lives’ on me now, Spike.  You’ll only hate yourself in the morning,” Xander said brusquely.  “ Now, talk me through this.  I’m used to staking vampires, not making them better.” 

“ Need blood.  ‘M hungry,” Spike said.  He was lying uncomfortably across the bed, having not moved from where Xander had dropped him.  He heard Xander move around the small bed, and then he felt strong hands rolling him onto his back.   

“ Gee, and I thought your face looked bad before,” Xander said.  The joke fell flat when Spike didn’t respond.  Xander decided he would try to keep his babbling to a minimum, at least until Spike was feeling better.  “ Sit up, and I’ll take your coat off.” 

Together they managed to get Spike’s duster removed, and his shirt.  The shirt was in tatters anyway, so it wasn’t too difficult.  The cuts were numerous, the bruises more so.  Spike’s right arm hung at an odd angle, and it was all Xander could do not to faint as he watched Spike force the bones to align.  They fashioned a splint out of a wooden spoon, a coat hanger, and strips of a bed-sheet that Xander had torn up.  By the time this was accomplished, Spike’s eyes were hazy, and his whole body was shaking. 

“ Spike, what now?  What do I do?”  Spike didn’t answer immediately, and Xander started to freak out.     

“ Need blood,” Spike reminded him, eventually. 

“ How can you be hungry now?” Xander asked incredulously. 

“ It’ll help me heal,” Spike explained, not bothering to add on ‘idiot’, though he was thinking it.  How often had Xander watched him feed after they’d gotten back from a particularly arduous patrol? 

“ Right, I knew that.  Blood, blood.  I could go back and get the box, it might still be there,” Xander said doubtfully.  Spike gave him a look that Xander clearly understood.  In Sunnydale, a box of human blood would not go unclaimed for long. 

“ Wait, check in my duster,” Spike said.  Xander found two packets of blood, undamaged because they were still partially frozen, and heated one in the microwave.  While Spike drank, Xander heated up the second pack, and worried that it was in no way sufficient.  Spike seemed to be able to read thoughts, for after he downed the second packet, he said: “ It’ll be enough.  Least ‘til tomorrow, and I should be able to get my own then.” 

“ Okay, good,” Xander said.  He untied Spike’s boots, cringing along with Spike when he pulled a little too roughly. 

“ Think I broke my leg too.  Bugger,” Spike said, nearly biting through his lip when Xander unintentionally bumped against his leg. 

“ Oh.  Sorry.  Do we need to do anything?” 

“ Nah, it’s straight.  It should be fine.  We’re done.” 

Xander still hovered, needing to do something to keep himself occupied.  He went and got a washcloth and bowl of warm water.  Very carefully, Xander removed the layer of dirt and blood that covered Spike’s face and neck.  He decided he would leave the rest for Spike to do when he was feeling up to it – it wasn’t as if they had to worry about infection.  Xander wriggled the blankets out from under Spike, and came just short of tucking the vampire in.  Spike looked at him, one eyebrow quirked on the newly cleaned face. 

“ Umm, can we just blame this on crazy maternal hormones?” 

“ Whatever you say,” Spike replied.  “ I’m probably going to fall asleep soon, and it’s likely you won’t be able to wake me up.  So if you have any questions, you had better ask me now.” 

Xander considered asking how many licks it took to get to the centre of a Tootsie-roll pop, but decided that even if Spike recognized the pop-culture reference, it was not really the time or place. 

“ I’m good.  Get your beauty sleep, because if anyone ever needed it more…” 

Spike huffed, and pulled the blankets up over his head.  He could feel his body begin to close itself down, in preparation for the major healing that would take place while he slept.  Just before he slipped into oblivion, he spoke. 

“ And Xander?” 

“ Yeah?” 

“ I wasn’t going all ‘Days of our Lives’.  I prefer Passions.” 

“ Right.  How silly of me.” 

“ Thanks, though.” 

“ No problem,” Xander replied. 

“ Tell anyone and I kill you.” 

“ Right back at you.” 

Later that night, Xander climbed into bed, and got poked by the coat hanger strapped to Spike’s arm.  He was on the verge of saying that his life could get no weirder, but then he remembered that this was the Hellmouth, and saying something like that was really tempting fate.  Apparently, just thinking it was enough however, because at that moment Spike started to twitch and thrash.  Healed over wounds began to spill fresh blood, and Spike’s already pale features whitened. 

Xander reached for the phone and called Giles. 

“ So you say he drank two pints of blood, and then went to sleep?” 

“ Uh huh.  He seemed to think that was normal, even told me I wouldn’t be able to wake him up for awhile.” 

“ Vampires go into a brief…  I suppose coma is the best word to describe it, when they have to repair extensive damage,” Giles explained.  “ The injuries were that serious?” 

“ He’s a mess, and I really don’t think he had enough to drink.” 

“ Sounds like a plausible hypothesis.  From the symptoms you’re describing, it would seem he’s going into some kind of shock.  If vampires go into shock.  I’m not sure what else I can tell you.  You can try feeding him some more blood, it might help, and I don’t think it could do any harm.” 

“ But I don’t have any blood.  And I know you don’t either since Spike cleaned you out tonight.  Where did you get that anyway?  Can we get more?” 

“ It was pretty much a one time deal, I’m afraid.  I can get animal blood, but I doubt there are any butchers open for business now, even in Sunnydale.” 

“ So what do I do?” Xander asked. 

“  Try to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself more, if possible.  I’ll pick up some blood as soon as I’m able, and come by your place.  Until then, you’ll just have to be patient.” 

Xander made sure Giles knew the address of his apartment, before thanking him, and hanging up.  He watched Spike continue to convulse, and he waited.  Spike’s eyes opened, and his pupils were rolled so far back into his head, that all Xander could see was white.  Spike was getting worse. 

From the closet, Xander retrieved his toolbox and the sharp cutting knife held within it. 

“ What do you think, baby?” Xander asked, placing his hand over the small lump in his middle.  “ We’ve got a little to spare, right?  And he did save the pair of us tonight.” 

He took one final look at Spike, and made his decision.  He tied a tourniquet around his arm, selected a good vein, and nicked it with the tip of the knife.  He made the cut a little deeper and watched the blood begin to trickle down his arm.  All the blood was collected into a clean kitchen sponge, and he waited while the sponge got heavier and the colour deepened. 

Deeming he had bled enough, he applied pressure to the small incision and it closed itself off.  The sponge he carried over to Spike.  The closer Xander got, the calmer Spike became, and Xander could see that Spike’s nostrils were flaring, filling with the scent of freshly spilled blood. 

“ No way I’m letting you bite direct when you’re this spaced.  Hope you like the taste of sponge,” Xander said.  He held the dripping sponge over Spike’s mouth and the teeth that snapped into it just barely missed his fingers.  Spike sucked hard, his face beneath the ridges temporarily taking on a rosy hue.  The sponge was bone-dry when Spike released it, and Xander sat staring at it in complete amazement for a few seconds.  Then one strong arm wrapped around his waist, and tugged him flat to the bed.   

Xander was rigid with shock as Spike cuddled up against his side.  Spike once again slipped back into his near catatonic state, and Xander found it difficult, if not impossible, to remove himself from Spike’s grip.  Sighing, Xander gave in.  He fought for a corner of blanket, squirmed into a comfortable position, and fell into a dreamless sleep. 

Spike went from sleeping to awake in a matter of seconds the following morning.  He would have been sitting straight up, if Xander’s sleep-heavy body weren’t weighing him down.  He gingerly moved his broken arm, and was pleased with the amount of progress it had made during the night.  Spike tested out the rest of his limbs, and found them in similar states of repair.  That must have been one hell of a sleep. 

Licking his lips, he felt a little tingle.  Blood, in the corner of his mouth; sweet blood, young blood, blood he hadn’t expected to get another taste of ever.  Xander’s blood.  Spike tensed for a moment; the boy hadn’t been so stupid as to let him drink last night?  He glanced around the room; he saw the open toolbox and the knife on the table, and the sponge on the floor.  Well, that explained why there was nylon caught in his teeth.  That was actually quite the stroke of genius; smart boy. 

Being over a hundred years old meant Spike had gone through many adaptations and alterations in order to survive.  In the past few years, however, he had felt himself changing more than ever before.  With Xander’s warmth pressed against him, the rhythmic gust of air against his sensitive neck as Xander breathed, and the pleasurable press of a half-hard cock against his cool hip, Spike knew he was about to experience an epiphany. 

A foppish master vampire was encroaching on his territory and all he had managed to do was to get beat up by the human hired muscle.  Angel, Druscilla, Buffy… All people he had loved; all people that would have been relieved had he been turned to dust.  It was Xander Harris that had picked him up from the ground and dusted him off.  Xander Harris that had cleaned and dressed his wounds.  Xander Harris’s blood that even now was humming through his system. 

Spike shifted closer to Xander, pulling the larger man’s body closer to his own.  He would make it up to the boy somehow.  Him, and the baby he was carrying, were now under Spike’s protection, dubious though that might be considering how effective he was at fighting last night.  Spike made a vow to look after Xander from this point on, in whatever capacity he could, and to keep him safe.  Running fingers through Xander’s soft hair, Spike knew it was a promise that he intended to keep.

Part Three

Xander had a lot of routines.  Considering that his life was rather hectic, living on the Hellmouth, and being a friend of the slayer and all, it was often surprising, even to Xander himself, that he still insisted on adhering to certain habits, especially when they were so often disrupted.  Even as a child though, he had known that creating a few moments of normalcy and predictability were the only likely things to keep him calm and in control.  It was soothing to repeat patterns he had done a thousand times before.  Like when his father would fly off the handle and smack him around a little – which was almost a routine in and of itself – it was exceedingly important that Xander still prepare for sleep at the regular time, brush his teeth, put on his pyjamas (first the pants, then the nightshirt, buttoning from top to bottom), put the chair against the door and brace it underneath the doorknob, and finally get into bed.  He would move slowly and methodically through each task, mind completely absorbed in the actions, and somehow, by the end of it, things would start to make sense to him again. 

As Xander matured, he became more self-aware of his habits and his reasons for them.  He also came to realize that many of his routines were private ones, and enabled him to cope with so often being alone.  Never had this been more clear to him then when Willow and Buffy had went off to college, and Xander had been, for all intents and purposes, left to his own devices.  Without the constant contact with his surrogate family, Xander had needed to fill in his days, and make them mean something.  This meant a strict commitment to a set schedule of work, meals, and sleep; eventually, it lulled Xander into a safe state of complacency, where even the sting of loneliness was rarely felt.   

Anya had slipped into Xander’s patterns with surprisingly little difficulty.  Pragmatic and goal-oriented as she was, she also seemed to organize her days into distinct allotments of time.  She had her own set of rules, many of them developed to make her seem more ‘human’, and while many of these rules seemed arbitrary and irregular, following them made Anya feel more confident about her place in the greater scheme of things.  What Anya called her ‘guidelines for living’, Xander dubbed ‘a need for acceptance’, but whatever the title, both modes of thought were essentially designed for the same purpose.  Thus the relationship between them had worked, at least, in the beginning.  Later it had come to their attention that while on the surface they knew everything about each other, on the inside, they remained untouchable, still unfathomable mysteries to one another. 

Saturday mornings had a routine, and on this particular Saturday, because of the chaos of the last few days, Xander felt he needed it more than ever.  Someone ringing the buzzer unfortunately kept him from sleeping in as was customary.  It took a few moments, but Xander eventually reasoned that this six a.m. wake-up call was probably Giles arriving with the promised blood.  Xander wriggled out from Spike’s hold, resolutely not thinking about the fact that a vampire had cuddled with him during the night, and went to let Giles in. 

After releasing the security door downstairs, Xander glanced around his apartment, and hastily removed all the clues regarding Spike’s late-night snack.  He was pulling on a long-sleeved shirt to hide the bandages on his arm, when there was a polite knocking on the door. 

“ Morning Giles,” Xander said, yawning sleepily.  “ Sorry to get you up on a weekend.” 

“ Not to worry.  How is our patient?” 

“ Spike?”  Xander turned, and contemplated the still body on his bed.  As far as Xander could tell, Spike was resting peacefully.  “  He’s better, I think.  No more frenzied moving around anyway.” 

“ Good.  That’s good,” Giles said.  The response was entirely proper and expected, but Giles still seemed nervous, as though he wasn’t quite sure if he should be glad that Spike was on the mend or not.  “ I’ll leave this with you then for when he wakes up.” 

“ I was going to make some coffee, you want a cup?  Coming all this way, especially when it seems the danger has passed… It’s the least I can do.” 

Giles seemed pleased to be invited, and settled himself at the shaky kitchen table.  Xander puttered around the small kitchen, pulling out the makings for coffee, and contemplating what he wanted for breakfast.  As they waited for the coffee, Giles had a sudden inspiration, and went out to retrieve something from his car.  

“ It’s actually not such a bad time to be awake.  Not that I plan on making it a habit of course, but it was surprisingly peaceful walking around Sunnydale at this hour.  Must be one of the few times where both demons and people alike are ensconced in their homes.  Anyway, the bakery was taking out their first batches of the day, and I couldn’t resist the smell of fresh bread.  Croissant?” 

Giles proffered the box of baked goods, and Xander happily filled his mouth with the flaky and buttery curve of a crescent roll.   

“ You know, if you keep doing this, you’re going to put this donut delivery boy out of work,” Xander said, refilling their mugs of coffee. 

“ I think donuts are a bit out of my league,” Giles said amiably.  “ You know there’s a historical anecdote about coffee and croissants?  In the 1600’s, the Turks were advancing into Europe, and they brought with them elements common to their country, such as coffee.  The story goes that they would lay siege to a city, and drink coffee in order to keep alert.  The Turks frequently used a crescent moon as their identifying symbol, and so the French, as a kind of motivational aide, created a crescent shaped pastry that, when eaten, symbolized victory over their enemies.  So, the Turks would boil up their coffee, and frequently leave it behind when they pressed onwards, and the native people would bake and eat their crescent shaped pastries in celebration, and voila: the tradition of croissants and coffee is born.” 

“ I heard it was the Hungarians, not the French,” Spike muttered from the bed. 

“ Well, the story has no doubt been hyperbolized, so I don’t think it’s possible to state its origins with complete certainty,” Giles said stiffly. 

“ Defensive are we?” 

“ Pipe down, Blondie.  You know, Giles here brought you breakfast too, and I was going to be nice and bring it to you in bed but now I just don’t feel like it.” 

“ What?  Why not?  Come on, broken leg here,” Spike whined piteously. 

“ Should have thought of that before, mister,” Xander said with a shrug.  He and Giles shared a conspiratorial smirk, and continued their conversation, ignoring the pleas and demands coming from Spike.  It was only when the mattress springs started to creak, signalling that Spike was tired of waiting for his meal and was attempting to stand, that Xander got up to prepare the blood.  With a sigh, he said: “ Stay down, Spike.  I’ll get it for you, annoying being that you are.” 

“ Aw, I didn’t know you cared,” Spike said, returning to his prone position gratefully. 

“ The longer it takes you to heal, the longer you’ll expect to stay here,” Xander explained.  “ So drink up and maybe one day you’ll grow big and strong like a real vampire.” 

Spike scowled and swiped the warm mug of pig’s blood from Xander’s hands.  Spike was hungry and his still healing body desperately needed blood if it was to continue mending itself, but Spike hesitated before drinking.  There remained a faint taste of Xander-blood in his mouth, and he was loath to replace that flavour with essence of pig.  Spike’s stomach growled impatiently, and he sighed deeply, before gulping down the bland tasting liquid.  No sooner was he finished then he was pegged in the head by a croissant. 

“ What was that for?” Spike asked petulantly.  Xander approached, grinning at him unrepentantly. 

“ Even my paltry human ears could hear your stomach rumbling.” 

Xander fetched Spike a second round of blood, and Spike amused himself with dipping his pastry into his mug, lifting up the dripping red-and-white stained bread, and sinking his teeth into it roughly.  He mimicked tearing into it as though it were flesh, but neither Giles nor Xander were paying him any attention, so his theatrics were wasted.  It only went to further Spike’s sulky mood. 

 “ I suppose I should be going.  I have to set up a few things before I open the shop later,” Giles said, when the conversation began to lull. 

“ Sure thing.  You need any help this afternoon?  I’m free,” Xander said, feeling compelled to offer.  He yawned suddenly, the early hour finally catching up to him.  Spike’s ears perked up, and he tried to send subliminal messages to Giles, telling him to decline Xander’s offer.  The boy worked hard all week and needed to rest – Giles could bloody well go it alone for a change. 

“ I shouldn’t think so, though I’ll call if something turns up about last night.  Thanks for the coffee.”  

Xander followed Giles to the door – all two steps – and shut and locked the door once Giles had departed. 

“ How much blood did the watcher bring?” Spike asked, as Xander started cleaning up the small mess in the kitchen. 

“ Uh, looks like quite a bit,” Xander said, eyeing the two plastic tubs and trying to estimate how much they held.  “ Maybe ten… fifteen mugs?” 

“ Such largesse.  Almost makes me feel like getting beat-up more often,” Spike said. 

“ I told him you were really bad off, and I practically screamed in his ear last night.  I think he was just trying to placate the crazy person.” 

Spike nodded, and suddenly neither could think of anything else to say.  Xander didn’t want to delve any deeper into why he had been so worried about Spike, and Spike didn’t want to remember why he had needed Xander’s help in the first place. 

Xander shifted his weight from foot to foot, before deciding he might as well get a head start on his Saturday morning ritual of cartoons, cereal, and comfy clothes – the three C’s of ‘I don’t have to work’ goodness.  Admittedly he had already eaten three croissants, but he was still kind-of hungry and the bright red box of Lucky Charms was calling to him.  Xander turned on the television, and plonked himself down on the foot of the bed with his cereal. 

“ What are you eating?” Spike asked curiously, leaning over Xander’s shoulder to watch the psychedelically coloured marshmallows float to the top of the bowl of milk and cereal.  “ Are those marshmallows?” 

“ Sure are.  They’re magically delicious,” Xander said, never taking his eyes off the screen.  While the animated adventures of SpongeBob SquarePants kept Xander riveted, Spike snagged a marshmallow from Xander’s bowl.  Xander leaned forward a bit, making the cereal a little harder to reach but otherwise kept still.  Spike grinned and poked Xander in the side with one hand, and as Xander pushed closer to Spike, trying to avoid the jab, Spike pilfered another tiny marshmallow. 

“ Hey!  Get your own,” Xander said, lower lip pouting.  Spike felt like kissing him in apology.  Fortunately Xander had turned away before Spike could act on the impulse.   

Wanting Xander’s blood was one thing – that was a perfectly respectable desire for a vampire to have.  Wanting to protect Xander and keep him safe was a little more of a stretch, but still, being a vampire didn’t mean you couldn’t return a favour for a favour.  Wanting to kiss Xander however… well, that wasn’t so easily rationalized.  In the heat of the moment, perhaps, but now, when all Xander was doing was watching cartoons and messily eating children’s cereal? 

Spike’s ponderings were brought up short when Xander wafted a fresh cup of blood under his nose.  Xander had also brought with him the cereal box, and after taking a loose handful for himself, he thrust the box at Spike. 

“ Do me a favour and don’t let me see what you do with the marshmallows?  I’d like to be able to continue to enjoy this cereal in future,” Xander said. 

Spike drank until his cup was half emptied, then poured in the cereal to top it up.  It was as he was munching contentedly on a blood-soaked purple horseshoe that Spike understood why he wanted to kiss Xander so much. 

In two hours, Xander had managed to move from the foot of the bed to the chair next to it.  His cartoons were drawing to a close, and were about to be replaced with sports – golf, no less.  This was his signal to get up and maybe shower.  Xander stood and stretched, his t-shirt lifting to reveal the bare skin of his torso, and he heard Spike make a sort-of gasping sound. 

“ Yeah I know,” Xander said, rubbing a circle around the bulge in his otherwise flat stomach.  “ I’m really starting to show now.” 

Xander thought he would feel more self-conscious baring his stomach to Spike, especially considering the lengths he went to keep his belly hidden from his friends, but strangely enough he was feeling quite comfortable in the vampire’s presence.  Maybe it was because he wasn’t trying to pacify or reassure Spike; he wasn’t worried about creating a good impression, which meant he was free to be himself. 

Xander took a long, hot shower, and dressed in sweats and another long-sleeved cotton shirt, this one a bright orange.  He wasn’t planning on going anywhere and his plans for the day included food, sleep, and as little actual energy expenditure as was possible.   

When Xander came out of the bathroom, he found Spike struggling to get out of bed and onto his feet.  Spike gingerly put some weight on his injured leg and was rewarded with a sharp jolt of pain, followed by a momentary bit of dizziness.  Xander hurried over but Spike waved him off. 

“ Want to get cleaned-up; can’t stand the smell of me anymore.  Any hot water left?” 

“ Probably,” Xander replied, watching as Spike limped towards the bathroom.  Somewhere along the line, Xander had stopped paying attention to the injuries Spike’s body sported, but now that Xander’s attention had been re-focused, he could understand Spike’s desire to wash.  Spike’s jeans were almost unrecognizable beneath the layer of dirt and dried blood, and Spike’s skin was similarly begrimed, save where Xander had scrubbed at it yesterday.  Xander hunted through his meagre supply of clothes and found another pair of sweats and a black t-shirt.  Both would be too large for Spike, but it was the best Xander had to offer. 

Xander knocked on the bathroom door, but when he got no answer, he opened the door anyway, prepared to leave the bundle of clothes where Spike would be sure to find them.  Xander was tempted to sneak a look at the other occupant of the bathroom - who was still blithely showering behind the occluding plastic of the shower curtain - and was surprised by the strength of that compulsion.  Xander resisted, and exited the bathroom, giving Spike his privacy. 

It wasn’t the first time Xander had noticed Spike’s aesthetic appeal.  In fact, for awhile he had been obsessed with cataloguing all the ways in which he and the vampire were different, with the illogical thought that if he figured out what made Spike so alluring, Xander could copy it and benefit as well.  It was envy, pure and simple, that usually motivated Xander’s appraisals.  Maybe it wasn’t that surprising to want a look at Spike’s… assets.  It was always possible that in this one area, Xander measured up to the competition, and wouldn’t that be good for the ego?  Happy with this justification for his brief foray into voyeurism, Xander started lunch preparations. 

“ Whoa, whoa, whoa.  I admit there’s nothing much on the telly, but does that really mean we have to watch something called ‘The Princess Bride’?” 

“ One: this movie is a classic.  Two: you don’t have to watch anything because you can always leave,” Xander pointed out.  Spike rolled his eyes, but made no attempt to get up.  He was lying on his stomach on the bed, his head propped up on his crossed arms, and facing in the direction of the TV.  Xander was settling back into his chair, a blanket tucked around him, as the movie came on.  Halfway through, Spike was appalled to find himself snickering.  By the end of the movie, he was wondering if he could convince Xander to watch it again. 

 “ I don’t know why, but whenever I watch Vizzini, I think of Giles.  It would kill me if Giles ever said ‘inconceivable’, I just know it,” Xander said. 

“ Well, that’s reason enough for me to get him to say it,” Spike returned. 

“ Funny,” Xander said sarcastically, before a huge yawn split his face.  “ I’m going to take a nap; try to amuse yourself in non-destructive ways, okay?” 

Spike made a grunting noise that Xander took as agreement.  Xander moved onto the bed, shoved Spike’s socked feet off his pillow, and pulled the blankets over himself.  Sharing a bed with Spike was rapidly becoming so familiar that Xander barely registered it anymore.  He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but what he did know was that he slept better when Spike was there, so he decided to just go with it. 

Spike flipped himself around so that he and the dozing Xander were face to face.  Sharing a bed with Xander was rapidly becoming so familiar that Spike didn’t even stop to consider it anymore.  He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but what he did know was that he never felt more peaceful than when he was listening to Xander’s soft snores and beating heart, so he decided to just go with it. 

Not feeling tired enough to sleep, Spike studied Xander’s features, noting certain attributes he hadn’t appreciated before.  Like the long, dark, and slightly curling lashes that framed his eyes and the slight dimple in his right cheek.  He was a picture of youth, and Spike was amazed that so much had happened to the man in the paltry space of a couple of decades.  The boy was made of pretty tough stuff, even if Spike gave him a hard time about being the most inept member of the group.  Not that he looked very tough at the moment – Xander looked soft, and warm, and vulnerable.  The kind-of person vampires typically couldn’t resist trying to corrupt and ruin; the kind-of person this particular vampire wanted to cuddle up to and shield from the dangers of the world. 

“ What the Hell am I getting into with you?” Spike asked out loud.  He traced a finger down the side of Xander’s face, before hefting himself out of bed, and limping to the chair.  He placed a cigarette between his lips but didn’t light it, and turned on the television with the toes of his left foot.  When the screen flared to life, Spike let his mind drift. 

Pizza.  Xander smelled pizza, which was unusual only in that he was still lying in bed and hadn’t gotten around to preparing dinner.  He rubbed at his eyes, then his stomach, and came to the unlikely conclusion that Spike had put a frozen pizza in the oven. 

“ Hey, what do you drink?” Spike asked, standing in front of the refrigerator. 

“ Huh?” 

“ With pizza.  You have some coffee left, you want that?” 

Xander shook his head, but he remained stuck in Bizarro world.  He managed to stutter: “ Not coffee.  Water’s fine, or juice.” 

Spike nodded once, poured some orange juice, and brought it over to Xander.  Xander continued to stare in complete confusion at Spike, who began to feel slightly nervous beneath the gaze. 

“ What?” Spike snapped. 

“ What what?” Xander replied nonsensically. 

“ Why are you bleeding staring at me?” 

“ Sorry.  Just a little surprised,” Xander said quietly. 

“ You looked right knackered.  Thought I’d do it for you,” said Spike just as quietly.  Xander sipped carefully at his drink, and studiously avoided comment.  Spike levered the pizza out of the oven at the correct time, and rummaged in the kitchen drawers looking for a knife.  Xander got up to help him, and soon they were both settled at the table with their respective meals. 

“ So…”  

“ Yeah, so…” 

“ You going out tonight?” Spike asked eventually. 

“ Nah.  This is my day to do absolutely nothing.  Cartoons and cereal: check.  Watch a movie I’ve seen a hundred times: check.  Eat nothing that takes longer than five minutes to prepare: check.  Now it’s time for sprawling in my chair with a book.  And I just realized how incredibly boring that all sounds.” 

“ It’s alright.  Everyone needs a day like that,” Spike said automatically.  Did he actually just say that?  Could he possibly sound like more of a ponce?  Where was the infamous sardonic sense of humour?  In desperation, Spike blurted out: “ Since when can you read?” 

“ Ooh, stop; pull back the claws, baby, because I can’t take such verbal abuse,” Xander teased. 

“Shut-up wanker,” Spike said. 

Xander was still chuckling as he found his discarded novel from earlier, and flipped through the pages trying to find where he had last left off.  Spike didn’t know what to do with himself, and he started pacing the small apartment, picking up random objects and examining them for a moment, before moving on to the next distraction.  He couldn’t really get a fix on Xander’s personality.  There were a few clues in the apartment, but even these were problematic.  The pregnancy magazines mixed in with comic books; the neat and orderly paraphernalia from Xander’s work sitting next to a battered chair and a cracked cereal bowl.  Was the quiet and conservative Xander he had spent the day with the real Xander, or just another side that Spike had never been privy to before? 

Gradually Spike’s gaze drifted to the man in question, and he took in the whole picture before focusing on the book, which judging from the intent expression on Xander’s face was quite absorbing. 

“ What are you reading?” Spike asked.  Xander had the paperback cupped in his hands, and it was impossible to see the title. 

“ Brave new world,” Xander mumbled, not lifting his head. 

“ Aldous Huxley?” Spike asked, surprise written all over his face. 

“ Yep.” 

“ I’ve read that,” Spike said. 

“ Really?” Xander asked as his attention was finally gained.  “ What did you think?” 

“ It was… disquieting,” Spike said eventually.  Spike grabbed a seat from the kitchen and set it across from Xander, sitting on it backwards with his forearms resting on the chair back. 

“ It’s creepy alright.  Mostly because it seems possible,” Xander said.   

Spike nodded, but there didn’t seem to be much else to say, and Xander eventually turned back to his book.  It wasn’t long before Spike started to fidget again. 

“ So when are you leaving?” Xander asked, too distracted with Spike’s constant little movements to concentrate. 

“ I’m going somewhere?” 

“ Well, the sun’s gone down, and you don’t need to be stuck in bed anymore.  I figured you’d be itching to get out of here and kill something.” 

“ Look who thinks he has me all figured out,” Spike said.  “ Maybe I want to stay here.  Read a book of my own.” 

Xander blinked.  “ You want to stay here, with me, in a tiny apartment, when I’ve already admitted that I’m about as exciting as a granola bar at Halloween?  Wait; is this about that Dent D’Or guy?  Think he’ll try to get you again?” 

Unwittingly, Xander had just given Spike the perfect excuse to extend his stay in the apartment, and it even had the merit of being partially true.  “ Yeah, don’t feel up to wandering the streets, at least, not until I’m completely back to being my big, bad self.  Think I’ll lay low here for a bit.” 

“ Whatever,” Xander said. 

Not quite the reaction Spike was hoping for, but at least Xander hadn’t decided to kick him out.  Time enough later to make himself indispensable. 

“ Got anything I can read?” Spike asked. 

“ Umm, there’s a box under the bed with a few books.”  Spike rooted around and returned triumphantly with a half dozen dog-eared paperbacks.  “ Try the Stanislaw Lem stuff; ‘The Futurological Congress’ is good.” 

Spike shrugged indifferently, and did as suggested.  The apartment was quiet, though outside the sounds of civilisation – the rumble of a car engine, the far off wail of a police siren, the rattle of metal garbage cans on the sidewalk – could still be heard.    Every now and then, either Xander or Spike would shift positions, and the noise seemed loud because of the stillness.  Xander had one hand resting against his abdomen, while the other held his book open.  He was remarkably comfortable and content - one of those rare moments where it felt like everything was going according to plan.  When the words in his book began to blur and run together, Xander decided to call it quits for the night.  He watched Spike from beneath his partially lidded eyes.  Spike had opted to lie on the floor on his back, his feet crossed at the ankle and his head resting on a pillow.  It looked spectacularly uncomfortable, but considering that Spike frequently slept in places made entirely of damp stone, a threadbare carpet was probably not so awful.   

“ You should go to bed,” Spike said, looking over the edge of his book.  Xander was surprised to have been caught looking, and it made him blush.   

“ Er, right.  Uh… are you staying all night?” Xander asked. 

“ Was planning on it.  Haven’t finished my book or my blood yet.” 

Xander tried to keep some of his enthusiasm from showing as he agreed to Spike’s idea.  Really, it could have been anyone offering to stay, and Xander would have felt just as happy, or so he tried to tell himself.  He just didn’t like being alone, that was all.  And any company was better than no company at all, right? 

Thoughts were still circling in Xander’s head as he climbed into bed, and he didn’t notice when he left space for another person to climb in beside him.  Gradually, he began to drift into a fitful sleep.  When Spike slid under the blankets and pressed up against his back, Xander’s eyes opened briefly, but soon shut again.  He shifted until he was comfortably resting against Spike’s body and felt a strong arm wrap around his middle.  That was all it took for Xander to fall into a deep and true slumber. 

The following day started peacefully enough, with Spike and Xander being almost considerate of each other.  Spike completed his book, and they talked about it while they ate a quick breakfast: a cheese omelette for Xander, and an omelette ‘surprise’ for Spike.  Spike took one look at the pinkish omelette and wasn’t all that surprised by the added ingredient, but he appreciated the gesture. 

Xander got showered and changed, and was strapping on his utility belt when Spike realized that Xander was planning on going out.  

“ Where are you off to?  It’s not even noon.” 

“ I’m supposed to help out at a bazaar today.  My boss’s kid’s school is having some kind-of fundraiser and I offered to set up some tables and stuff.” 

“ You’re not even getting paid for working on your day off?  Have I taught you nothing?”  Spike was aghast at the very thought of volunteering. 

“ It’s for a good cause,” Xander said with a shrug.  “ Anyway, I have to go.  Don’t want to be late.  If anyone calls, can you tell them where I am?  Or else let the machine pick it up, yeah?” 

Xander straightened out a crumpled flyer that had the school’s address and phone number on it, and placed it on the counter, before hustling out the door.  Spike pouted at being stranded in the boring apartment, and considered breaking something of Xander’s.  After looking around, however, he decided that everything was either worthless or trashed already, so that plan was out. 

“ Wait a minute, who says I have to stay here?  I can go anywhere I want, do anything I want.  I’m still a vampire, the killer of two slayers, and Master to nobody,” Spike said loudly.  He pulled his boots on roughly, and jerked his duster into place.  There were hundreds of spots where a vampire could find mischief, even during the day.  Plenty of ways to cause disorder and mayhem should he so want to, and it wouldn’t be too hard to avoid Dent D’Or, not if he was careful.  And if he somehow ended up at the school where Xander was working, well then, that was fine too.  Because he was Spike.  And Spike did exactly what he wanted. 

Twenty minutes later, Spike was forced to return to the apartment and retrieve the flyer when he couldn’t remember the school’s address. 

“ Xander, would you mind helping unload a few boxes for the garage sale?” 

Xander finished screwing together the final metal collapsible table for the bake-sale and headed over to the other side of the gymnasium where the rummage sale was taking place.  Box after box of useless stuff was brought in, and the wares were haphazardly arranged on the tables, each with a bright yellow sticker indicating the price.  Xander wearily lugged the last of the boxes inside, and was roped into helping bring in the few bits of furniture that people had donated to the sale.  By the time he was finished his chore, his back was hurting, and his ankles and feet were swollen.  He bought some overpriced, under-sugared, lemonade from a freckle faced ten-year-old, and leaned up against the wall for a break. 

“ Xander, got a minute?”  Xander visibly winced at the sound of his name, before pasting on a fake smile, and turning to face his boss.  “ Really appreciate you taking the time to help out today.  Now I realize it’s Sunday, and you’d probably like to get back to whatever it is you do on your days off, but I wonder if you could run the popcorn booth for a bit?  The kids do all the selling; you just have to make the popcorn.  What do you say?  All the popcorn you can eat, and I promise I’ll remember that I owe you in future.  You know if you need the afternoon off or something.” 

“ Sure,” Xander said with a shrug.  “ I didn’t have any plans for today.”  ‘Other than getting some sleep and getting off my feet so I can withstand another work week,’ Xander said to himself grumpily. 

The popcorn machine was remarkably easy to work, despite its decrepit appearance.  Two children were assigned to work the booth, each pair for one hour, and then a new pair was expected to take over.  The kids were always brimming with enthusiasm when they started, but they would quickly become bored.  Xander would start pulling faces at them, and making up silly voices to keep them entertained.  He’d tell them he wasn’t going to let them sell any popcorn because he wanted it all to himself, and they would squeal and tell him that wasn’t allowed.  Xander was actually having a pretty good time and was surprised to discover he had whiled away four hours and that the Bazaar was over. 

Xander waved goodbye to his boss, and gathered up his things for the walk home.  As he was coming down one of the hallways, a hand shot out and grabbed at his elbow.  He let out a very undignified yelp, and began fighting off whatever had grabbed him. 

“ Calm down, Harris, you’ll give yourself a nosebleed,” Spike said coolly. 

“ You!” Xander hissed, shoving at the vampire.  “ You scared five years off my life.” Xander felt his heartbeat slowly return to normal, but continued to glare. 

“ Need your help,” Spike said, bouncing on his heels.  “ It’s an emergency.” 

“ An emergency?” Xander asked, instantly becoming serious.  “ Is somebody hurt?” 

“ Just hurry up, will you?  Don’t want to leave her alone too long,” Spike said, as he began striding away quickly.  Xander hurried to catch him. 

“ Who is she?  Is it something Hellmouthy?” 

“ You ask too many questions.” 

Xander started to get even more anxious as Spike continued to avoid answering any queries.  Spike looked to be in high spirits, but that could mean that he was anticipating a whole lot of violence.  When Xander pushed open the front doors of the elementary school, and stepped out into the early night, he was prepared for anything.  He wasn’t ready for nothing, however. 

“ What’s going on Spike?” Xander asked, seeing nothing at all that was worthy of his attention. 

“ She’s beautiful, yeah?” Spike said, jumping down the few stone steps and flopping onto a dark blue couch that was sitting at the curb. 

“ You’re emergency is a couch?” Xander asked incredulously.  “ Jesus, you had me thinking we were on the verge of another apocalypse.” 

“ They didn’t know what to do with it when it didn’t sell so I took it off their hands for five bucks.  I need your help to carry it.” 

Xander felt very much like banging his head against the brickwork of the school.  How did Spike always manage to come up with these harebrained schemes?  And why did he always seem to think that Xander was the perfect person to help him execute them? 

“ You expect us to carry a couch through the dark, vampire/demon-infested streets, with you still damn near cripple and me…  Not to mention there’s a vampire just waiting for another chance to take you down.” 

“ Nah.  I mean, Dent D’Or definitely would like me gone, but I doubt I’m his top priority.  I was probably just unlucky that night they came across us.  But you could be right about the whole carrying thing.”  Spike remained sprawled out proprietarily over his impulse buy, and pondered how to move the thing. 

A slightly beat up truck pulled up to the curb at that moment, and Xander lifted his hand to shield his eyes from the glare of the powerful headlights. 

“ Xander?  What are you still doing here?” His boss, Terry, stuck his head out of the window and raised an eyebrow at the blond on the couch in the middle of the sidewalk. 

“ My friend here bought a couch, and he wants me to help move it,” Xander eventually admitted. 

“ Well, put it in the back here, and I’ll give you both a lift.  The wife is still cleaning up inside.” 

“ Thanks Terry,” Xander said.  Spike was feeling pretty pleased with himself when the piece of furniture was easily loaded into the truck bed, and he and Xander were squished into the front seat.  In no time, they were pulling up in front of Xander’s apartment block, and before the truck was fully stopped, Spike was out the door, eager to get at his prize.  Xander sighed. 

“ This is your place, ain’t it?” Terry asked. 

“ Yeah,” Xander replied softly. 

“ Then how come your friend is bringing a couch here?  He have an apartment in the building too?” 

“ Not exactly.  He’s crashing at my place for a few days.” 

Terry started laughing, “ You are so screwed.” 

Xander had been resting his eyes, but he opened them to stare at his boss.  “ What do you mean?” 

“ Tell me, does this friend have food at your house?” 

Xander thought of the animal blood carefully stored in his refrigerator. 

“ Yeah, he does.” 

“ And clothes?  What about a toothbrush?”  Spike’s clothes were still in Xander’s laundry hamper, and though Spike hadn’t brought a toothbrush, he had used Xander’s, which meant Xander had had to buy himself a new one.  Xander nodded a morose yes to his boss, starting to understand where this line of questioning was going. 

“ And now he’s bought himself a couch.  I hate to be the one to break it to you, but I think your friend is making this arrangement permanent.” 

Terry was grinning at Xander’s predicament, and Xander was kicking himself for not recognizing the signs sooner.  (He was, after all, no stranger to mooching either).  After a dull thank you to his boss for the ride home, Xander climbed out of the vehicle.  Spike had levered the couch down onto the sidewalk all by himself, and was gleefully bouncing on the cushions, testing the springs.  An overzealous jump sent Spike tumbling onto the cement; Spike glared at the couch as though the inanimate object was to blame and began beating up on a pillow. 

Xander shook his head in disbelief, grateful that his boss had driven away by this point.  Together they lifted the couch inside the apartment complex, and into the elevator.  They wrestled the couch through the front door, and wedged it between the bed and the TV set.  There was almost no room to move anymore, but Spike didn’t seem to see this as a problem.  After they fixed themselves something for dinner, they both relaxed on the couch to watch some TV, and Xander had to admit it was pretty comfortable. 

“ Ahh,” Spike said, taking a long sip of pig’s blood.  “ Home sweet home, eh?” 

It was official then, Xander thought.  Somehow, without really meaning to, Xander had gotten himself an incredibly strange and erratic, chipped vampire as a roommate.

Part Four

“ Explain to me again why you’re coming with me to the Scooby meeting?”  Xander asked Spike.  It was Friday night, and they were walking towards the Magic Shop to catch up on news.  During the past few weeks, Spike had indeed made himself at home in Xander’s apartment, even managed to get himself his own key, but unlike past times when they had been forced to share a space, Spike’s presence was neither unwelcome nor annoying.  Spike was actually cleaning up after himself, he occasionally let Xander pick the channel when they were watching TV together, and Xander swore (though he had no concrete proof) that Spike was reading his pregnancy books.  He had asked Spike about it, but all he had gotten in return was a raised eyebrow, so he hadn’t bothered asking again.  Of course, the very idea that Spike would be reading such material was absurd, wasn’t it?  So why was Xander so convinced that it had happened? 

“ What, I need a reason now?  Maybe I just can’t stand to be parted from those big brown eyes of yours,” Spike replied glibly, batting his own eyelashes dramatically.  Xander shoved at Spike good naturedly, and they continued to walk. 

“ Or maybe you just want to tease Tara and Willow, dote on Dawn, annoy Giles, and brood over Buffy.” 

“ Who told you about my plans?” Spike asked, mock angrily.  “ And I don’t brood.” 

“ Of course not,” Xander said patronizingly. 

“ Oh, look who’s talking?  ‘Oh woe is me, I’m all alone.  Nobody loves me’,” Spike said with a truly atrocious, feigned American accent. 

“ I’d be more insulted by that if you didn’t sound so ridiculous trying to mimic me,” said Xander, snickering. 

“ I was spot on then; you always sound ridiculous,” Spike retorted.  Xander just barely restrained himself from sticking his tongue out at the vampire. 

Continuing to trade barbs and insults, they slowly progressed towards their destination.  It was easy and relaxing, and Spike was trying hard to keep it that way.  Even so, he couldn’t help occasionally glancing at Xander with concern.  He had made a promise to look after Xander, and as an extension of that, the unborn baby, but he was less prepared to do so than he had anticipated.  The demons that lurked in the shadows were the least of the dangers Xander was facing; unfortunately, those were the kind of problems Spike could handle best.  How was he supposed to convince Xander to take it easy at work?  To slow down and listen to what his own body was telling him?  How could Spike protect Xander from himself? 

The books had helped a little.  At least he had a better fix on the things Xander was experiencing, both physically and mentally.  When he had read about the dangers of second-hand smoke to an unborn child, he had reluctantly decided he would have to give up the habit.  He still felt a little lost without a smoke, however, and he was on the lookout for another way to satisfy his oral fixation.  Spike glanced at Xander again, a leer stealing across his features as he thought of a particularly interesting solution. 

Xander deliberately misinterpreted the hungry gaze, and smacked Spike on the shoulder, “ I thought you ate already?  Quit looking at me the way I look at a Twinkie.” 

Spike’s smile broadened; of course, making an innuendo about the phallic shaped confection was just too easy.  Xander hurried his steps, trying to put a little distance between the grinning vampire and himself. 

“ Eh, what’s the rush, Harris?  Worried all the jelly-filled ones will be gone?” 

“ No hurry,” Xander replied, but he did slow down and let Spike catch up again.  Normally they would have arrived by now, but Spike was deliberately keeping the pace to a slow amble.  Xander had been working late every night that week, and Spike knew he had to be hurting.  If Spike could manage it, Xander was going to be sitting on the couch with his feet up before anyone asked him to run any errands. 

The bells jingled as they entered the shop, and several heads bobbed up to observe the latecomers. 

“ So, the dead still walks?  Pity,” Buffy said. 

Spike muttered a bitter ‘no thanks to you’ that only Xander could hear, before he smiled falsely at Buffy, and said loudly: “ Well, what can I say, except that I aim to disappoint you?” 

“ Hmm, that actually explains a lot,” Buffy said, blinking innocently as she gave Spike a once over before lifting her nose dismissively. 

“ Children, if you please,” Giles said, slightly exasperated.  He nodded a greeting at Xander, before turning back to the book he held in his hand.  Willow smiled at them both by way of greeting; she had her laptop open on the table, and was busy clicking away with Tara looking over her shoulder.  Dawn was on the couch, ostensibly doing homework, but really just doodling on her notepad.  Xander found himself sitting next to her with no real understanding of how he had got there.  Not that it mattered; he gratefully lifted his feet onto the low table in front of him and sighed tiredly. 

“ So what’s new with the Dawnster?  Setting records, breaking hearts, raising an intelligent army of sea monkeys, what?” 

“ None of the above.  Though I am concocting a devious plot to get Tara to move back in with Willow and the rest of us.” 

“ Really?  Do tell,” Xander said.  Dawn and Xander continued to chat, and were distracted only momentarily when Giles handed them some books and told them to look up any references to Dent D’Or.  To be polite, they opened the books, but it was obvious by the whispers and Dawn’s giggles that little work was being done.  Giles didn’t mind; there really hadn’t been any reason for the meeting tonight, except to get them all together so Giles could make sure they were all being looked after properly.  He himself was reading a mystery novel, but as usual, nobody thought to ask what he was doing.   

Buffy soon got up, and with a final glare at Spike, who was applying himself diligently to the repainting of his nails, went into the back room to take out some of her frustration on the punching bag.  With Spike and Buffy out of each other’s faces, the tension in the room faded, and everyone let go of the breaths they had unconsciously been holding.  Willow and Tara began speaking louder, and Dawn and Xander came over to the table to see what they had found out.  

“ There’s a website on this guy?” Xander asked incredulously. 

“ Yeah, he’s pretty popular apparently.  Well, in on-line vampire circles anyway,” Willow said, moving the laptop slightly so that they could all see the screen.  “ Of course, with all the money he’s lavishing on the website, it’s not so surprising that it has got a lot of hits.” 

“ Where did he get all the money?” Dawn asked. 

“ As far as I can tell, a lot of it was legitimately earned.  I mean, he’s nearly a hundred years old, and even with only safe investments, the interest will have grown nicely.  Plus, he’s quite the savvy businessman, holds a lot of valuable real estate.” 

“ But Spike is older than this guy.  Does that mean you have a lot of money too?” Dawn asked, eyes widening at the thought. 

Spike snorted, “ Yeah, I’d really be hanging out with you lot and sleeping at Xander’s ‘house of odours’ if I had a lot of dosh.” 

“ Hey!” Xander exclaimed.  Then he thought of his apartment, and decided the nickname wasn’t exactly an exaggeration.   

 “ So why don’t you?” Dawn asked bluntly. 

Spike was on the verge of answering, but ended up being puzzled.  Why didn’t he have any money? He sat down in a chair, and started thinking about all the money that had come and gone during his un-life; the amount spent on boots alone was depressingly high. 

“ Hold on a moment,” Giles said, finally becoming interested in the conversation.  “ Are you saying that this vampire has a website, and the function of said website is basically to inform other demons that he is willing and able to hire them for nefarious purposes?  And that it’s well visited by the evil demon populace?” 

“ Pretty much, yeah,” Willow said. 

“ Why that’s unheard of!  It’s absurd, it’s…” Giles trailed off, searching for the appropriate word. 

Spike suggested, with only a slight twitch of his lips, “ Inconceivable?” 

“ Yes!  It’s inconceivable.  Absolutely inconceivable,” Giles said clearly.  Xander started cracking up, and Spike was trying hard to keep from sniggering. 

Willow was the first to catch on, and she grinningly supplied: “ Uh, Giles?  You keep using that word.” 

“ I do not think it means what you think it means,” Tara finished softly, with impeccable timing. 

“ Oh my God!  ‘The Princess Bride’?  I love that movie,” Dawn said, bursting into giggles.  Giles was looking decidedly nonplussed at the latest turn of events, and his expression was mirrored on Buffy’s face when she came out of the back room to investigate all the sudden noise. 

“ What’s going on?” 

“ I would explain if I could.  I merely said that it was inconceivable that…” Giles’s words were drowned out by the fresh peal of laughter that arose when he said the fated words again. 

“ Well isn’t this cozy?  My sister, my friends, and an evil vampire, all sitting around and swapping pop culture references.  Since when are we all buddy-buddy with one another?  Did I miss the memo?” Buffy asked testily, arms crossed defensively.  She didn’t really understand it, but seeing Spike laughing and being part of her group, made her feel very uncomfortable.  It was easier when everyone hated him; then she could hate him as well without all the guilt. 

“ What are you talking about?  Spike and I go way back, remember?” Xander said, clapping Spike on the shoulder. 

“ Yeah, we’re old pals.  Bosom buddies,” Spike insisted.  Buffy’s expression was vacillating between disbelief and horror.  It was priceless, in Spike’s opinion. 

“ Sure.  We watch TV together, trade recipes, do each other’s hair… Speaking of which, what do think I’d look like as a blonde?” 

“ Well we could always give it a try, but I think a few highlights might be better.” 

At this point, Buffy seemed to clue into the fact that they were putting her on, and exaggerating to get a reaction out of her.  If it had just been Xander teasing her, she probably would have rolled her eyes and laughed, but somehow with the teasing coming from both Spike and Xander, she felt hurt.  Xander was *her* friend, not Spike’s.  They weren’t allowed to be getting along; they certainly weren’t supposed to be making fun of her. 

“ You have no right to joke around like that,” Buffy insisted. 

“ Sorry Buff,” Xander said contritely.  “ But you have to admit, you were going a little nutsoid there for a minute.  I couldn’t let the opportunity to mock go by; they’d take away my class-clown privileges.” Xander’s light tone failed to smooth things over.  Buffy still looked pissed. 

“ What’s your problem anyway?  We were getting along fine, and then you had to come in and ruin it.  They were just trying to make you realize you had a stick up your butt; it was a joke, get over it,” Dawn snapped out angrily. 

Buffy ignored her sister, focusing instead on the real source of her distress. 

“ So what is this Spike?  You don’t feel you’re annoying enough on your own, so you’ve started to recruit my friends?” Spike stood up from the table, and faced her.  The tension in the room redoubled, and everyone else became deathly silent, worried about the outcome.  Inspiration seemed to strike Buffy, and she jabbed her finger at Spike, as she said: “ Wait!  Is that what’s really going on?  You think getting all chummy with my friends is going to make me think you’re one of the good guys?  Do you think that will make me want you again?”   

Xander, as well as everyone else who knew what had happened between Spike and Buffy, had been anticipating some big altercation between the two, where all of those harsh and passionate feelings would come to a head.  Xander doubted he was the only one wishing that he didn’t have to be there to witness it. 

“ Amazing though it may seem, Slayer, not everything is about you,” Spike sneered, remembering how often he had put himself out there for her, and how often she had left him to bleed, both figuratively and literally. 

“ I can’t believe I let you touch me.  I can’t believe I haven’t turned you to dust,” Buffy said coldly. 

“ Can’t believe I touched you either – must have had that temporary insanity that’s been going around.  Otherwise, I would have stayed well clear of such an uppity bitch as you.” 

“ You’re disgusting.  Just a cold, cruel, putrid vampire.” 

“ Careful, luv,” Spike said sarcastically, “ You’ll hurt Angel’s feelings.  Or maybe that’s why you get off on us vampires?  Makes you feel all superior.” 

“ Angel is nothing like you.  Angel has a soul,” Buffy spat out, her eyes bright with unshed tears. 

“ Oh, here it comes.  The soul.  Makes everything all right, does it?  It’s why you can love Angel, and just use me to get your kicks.  Tell me, do you need to believe that soul rubbish to be able to sleep at night?” 

“ Shut-up!” Buffy said, composure breaking.  “ You’re a monster, Spike.  That’s all you’ll ever be.  You can pretend to be one of us, but the truth is, we pity you too much to just put an end to your miserable existence.  I hate that I’ve been close to you, because you ruin everything you touch.  You’re a soulless demon, and you sicken me.” 

Spike was momentarily too stunned to speak, feeling every comment slicing into him.  It didn’t matter that it was all stuff he had heard before; Buffy wielded it like a pro.   

“ Know what I think?” Spike said, wishing desperately for a cigarette, if only to have time to regroup.  “ I think what’s really driving you around the bend, is that I’m getting on with my life, and it’s going a hell of a lot better than yours.  You don’t want me, fair enough, but you still can’t stand the fact that I’m not trailing at your heels anymore, begging for scraps.” 

Buffy responded, her voice icy, her tone scathing: “ Getting on with things?  Ha!  All you’ve done is gone and got a puppy of your own, someone even more pathetic than you are.”  

“ Buffy!” Giles shouted lividly.  The argument came to a complete halt.  Buffy was instantly remorseful, realising her comments were hurting those other than her intended target.  All eyes had fixed on Xander, who had no doubts about who the ‘puppy’ alluded to. 

“ I think I’m going to leave,” Xander said tightly.  He couldn’t look at anyone he was so humiliated.  He couldn’t even guess what his expression looked like.  Maybe like he’d been hit by a truck and flattened by a steamroller.  Xander knew it was bad when even a cartoon reference failed to perk him up. 

As he shuffled towards the door, he was vaguely aware of Buffy calling out apologies, and of everyone else trying to reassure him and get him to stay, but none of the words made sense.  It was like his head was in this great, thick, fog, through which nothing could penetrate.  Xander kept walking, and the concerned voices fell away. 

“ I didn’t mean it,” Buffy said tearfully.  Willow nodded sagely, putting an arm around Buffy’s shoulders.  “ I was just so mad at Spike…” 

“ I know, and deep down, Xander does to.  He just needs some space and some time,” Willow said, praying that she spoke the truth. 

“ I’m following him,” Spike said suddenly, and strode towards the door. 

“ Do you think that wise?” Giles asked calmly. 

“ Letting him walk the streets, at night, in the state he’s in…  Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Spike replied. 

“ Tell him I’m sorry,” Buffy said quietly. 

Spike nodded once tersely to show that he had heard her, and then he was gone.  He hit the streets running, only stopping when Xander’s slumped shoulders came into sight.  Figuring that Xander was not up for talking, Spike kept a few steps back, watchful for any sign of unwanted demon activity.  It was a sincere disappointment when there was nothing for Spike to tear apart on the walk home.  Xander arrived safely and let himself into the apartment, holding the door open for Spike wordlessly. 

“ You going to be all right?” Spike eventually ventured. 

In a monotone, Xander replied: “ I’m tired.  Want to sleep now.” 

Xander stripped down to his sleeping clothes, and brushed his teeth without turning on the lights.  He climbed into bed, and hoped fervently that he wouldn’t start sobbing like a baby.  So what if he was a pathetic, useless, waste of space - hadn’t he already known that?  It shouldn’t hurt that someone had said it out loud. 

What was really freaking him out, however, was that Buffy had spoken the truth.  Xander *was* becoming stupidly attached to Spike; even now he wanted Spike to come to bed so he could pretend he wasn’t so alone.  Depending on someone who only slept near him because of the warmth and needing someone who shared his living space because it was cheap and convenient to do so; leave it to Xander to find a whole new way of destroying himself.  And yet when Spike did come to bed, Xander didn’t protest the hands that rubbed his back comfortingly, or the arms that wrapped around him tightly.  He had just enough pride left, however, to wait until Spike was completely asleep before he let himself cry. 

The smell of dried, salty tears greeted Spike when he awoke the following morning, and it caused his face to shift and a loud growl to be heard.  How much more abuse was he supposed to watch Xander take without being able to stop it?  Last night, he could have at least taken his argument with Buffy out of earshot, but had he even given it a thought?  Of course not.  He’d been too wrapped up in his own little melodrama to think, and as usual, Xander had been hurt in the crossfire. 

“ Um, not to be all paranoid or anything, but that chip, it’s still working right?” Xander asked. 

Spike’s recriminating thoughts came to a halt, and he muttered a garbled, “ What?” through his fangs.  Oh right, he had on his demon face.  He let it fade away, and grinned at Xander.  “ Bloody thing is in perfect working order.  Was just thinking.  Why, did I scare you?” 

“ Terrified,” Xander replied blandly. 

Spike sighed, “ Thanks for trying, anyway.” 

It was an odd sort of moment; Spike still had one arm across Xander’s chest, their faces were only a few inches apart, and they were both cosily wrapped up in the blankets.  Xander was beginning to notice that while Spike always felt cool when he got into bed at night, he was usually quite pleasantly warm in the morning.  Xander was also not nearly as perturbed by the feeling of another man’s morning erection against his thigh, as maybe he should have been. 

Spike licked his lips, his gaze dropping automatically to Xander’s full mouth.  Now was probably the worst time to kiss Xander, considering the boy was still upset about being ridiculed last night.  Still, it was awfully tempting, and Xander seemed very relaxed, he would probably be at his most receptive…  With Xander feeling rejected by his friends, this could be Spike’s chance to show Xander that there was at least one person who understood him.  Spike had, at some point, given up denying that he was developing warm and fuzzy feelings for Xander.  Sure, it wasn’t the mad rush of passion and want that he had felt (and to some degree could still feel) for Buffy, but something was there nonetheless.  He felt safe with Xander, and needed.  Spike liked feeling needed. 

Spike raised himself up slightly, sliding the hand on Xander’s chest upwards until he could tilt Xander’s head towards him.  Xander’s eyes were deep and liquid, and Spike felt like they could peer right down inside of him; Spike wondered what Xander could see there.  Xander’s breathing slowed so much as to be nonexistent and as Spike closed the gap between them, Spike swore he could hear the flutter of Xander’s eyelashes when his eyes drifted closed.  Skin, heat, and the pounding of a heartbeat beneath Spike’s hand – it was enough to make Spike want to moan.  Closer, and he could feel the ghost of Xander’s breath against his own lips.  Closer still and then… the phone rang. 

The shrill noise scared the pair of them so much they very nearly ended up on the floor.  Xander could hear his pulse thundering in his ears, even as he reached for the offending instrument. 

“ What?” Xander said tersely into the receiver.  It was not a very polite way to answer, but Xander felt justified.  “ No, sorry Terry, I was up.  I was just, um, uh never mind, what’s up?” 

Xander swung his legs to the side of the bed, and stood up, the phone cradled between his shoulder and his neck.  After giving the telephone cradle a glare, Spike flopped onto his back and stared at the ceiling.  So close, so bloody close. 

“ I can be there in… Um, a ride would be great, yeah.  Okay, see you soon,” Xander said and hung up.  He stretched his arms above his head and yawned loudly, before whining plaintively, “ I don’t want to go to work.” 

“ What?  You’re going in?  But it’s Saturday!” Spike said. 

“ I know, but there’s a minor emergency at one of the sites, and I do need the money,” Xander said, trying to convince himself as well as Spike that getting up early on a Saturday to go to work was a good idea.  He looked longingly at the bed, before stumbling off to the shower. 

Spike felt an overwhelming urge to smash the phone into pieces.  First it had interrupted, and now it was making Xander go away for the whole day.  Mean, nasty, phone - clearly a device from Hell.  With a final groan at the injustice of it all, Spike got out of bed, and switched the coffee pot on.  He filled a mug with blood, beef this time, and put it in the microwave.  Next he got out bowls and spoons, and rifled in the cupboards for the cereal.  A still half-asleep Xander wandered into the kitchen, and poured himself a cup of coffee, nodding at Spike to show his gratitude. 

They settled at the table, with Spike proceeding to pour his warm blood over his Cheerios.  Xander’s hand reached for the milk, but he paused to stare when he caught sight of Spike happily crunching away at his breakfast.  

Spike felt the weight of Xander’s gaze and looked up; Xander was watching Spike’s every move, yearning written out over his features.  ‘ I’ve still got it,’ Spike thought gleefully.  So Xander hadn’t been so unaffected by the near-kiss as Spike had thought.  That was very encouraging.  He deliberately slowed down his actions, sliding the spoon out of mouth with an audible pop.  Xander groaned.  Spike took another bite of cereal, and Xander’s gaze turned hungry, ravenous even.   

“ See something you like?” Spike asked.  He tried to sound cool and unaffected but the question came out huskier than intended. 

“ I can’t believe I’m saying this but, yeah, I do,” Xander said, licking his lips. 

Spike leaned forward, a slight tilt to his head, “ And just what might that be?” 

“ The blood on your cereal.  And can I throw in a freaked out eww to that statement?” 

“ My… cereal?  You want my cereal?” Spike asked incredulously.   

“ I know, it’s disgusting, but I suddenly have this really bad craving.  So, can I have some?” Xander asked.  Spike started laughing as he slid the bowl over to Xander.  Thank God he hadn’t said anything more incriminating, but still, Xander Harris was lusting after his cereal instead of him – what an ego deflator. 

“ This is just gross,” Xander said grimacing.  Still, he gamely lifted the spoon and swallowed a small amount of the blood and cereal.  “ I hope you’re happy baby, this is all you’re fault.” 

“ So, what’s it taste like to you?” Spike said.  He got up and made himself another vampire breakfast special while Xander slurped down the original. 

“ Like… It’s like… blagh,” Xander said, giving a shudder of revulsion.  “ But unfortunately, oddly satisfying.” 

“ I’d agree to that.  Animal blood?  Got no flavour to it, but at least it fills you up.  Though if you’re going to be drinking my stash, you’re going to have to pick up some more.” 

“ You’re loving this, aren’t you?  Now that I’m eating for two, so to speak,” Xander grumbled. 

“ How can you say that when here we are, bonding over beef blood?” 

“ Why is it beef blood, not cow blood?  We don’t call pig’s blood pork blood, or bacon blood.” 

Spike started chuckling again, and he got up to refill Xander’s coffee cup.  “ Drink some of this; you’re starting to sound right loony.” 

The buzzer sounded before Xander had finished drinking, and he gulped down the rest of his drink before gathering up his tools and leaving the apartment.  Spike gathered the remains from their breakfast and began cleaning up.  The image of Xander drinking blood and cringing at the same time was still keeping him amused.  It was also a little bit arousing to remember when Xander had removed blood from the corner of his lips with his tongue.  Despite the aborted kiss (and why hadn’t Xander reacted to that, one way or another?), it had been a pretty good morning. 

Spike flopped on the couch, dozing as he watched some abysmal morning television, before looking for the big, heavy book he had been reading the day before.  He was finding all this pregnancy stuff quite fascinating, especially the biology bits.  There was so much stuff he just hadn’t known before, and occasionally he found himself wanting to discuss things with someone.  Maybe Dawn needed help with her science homework?  He was quite engrossed in what he was doing when there was a knock on the door. 

Opening the door, he came face-to-face with the last person he wanted to see. 

“ Um, is Xander around?” Buffy asked, trying to look around Spike.  She wanted to apologize to Xander, not get into another argument with Spike. 

“ Had to work,” Spike said brusquely.  “ How’d you get up here?” 

“ Some tenant let me in on their way out.  I, uh, didn’t think he worked Saturdays,” she said, nervously plucking at her sleeves. 

“ Doesn’t usually.  He got called in this morning.  Should be home in an hour or so,” Spike said, stepping back in order to close the door.  Buffy took it to mean she was being invited inside, and she stepped over the threshold. 

“ Guess I’ll wait then,” Buffy said.  This was her first time inside Xander’s new apartment, and she was a little shocked by its small size, and dismal appearance.  His old place had been so much nicer, was he having financial problems?  She hadn’t been spending much time with her friends, she supposed.  She hadn’t even known Xander’s new address and had had to get it from Giles. 

“ You want something?  Harris has coffee and there’s some other stuff,” Spike asked, feeling the manners instilled in him from childhood kicking in.   

“ No I’m fine,” Buffy said, gingerly taking a seat on the couch.  The silence continued until Buffy wished she had accepted the offer of a beverage, just so she would have something to do.  Striving for civility, she asked: “ I don’t remember this couch, is it new?” 

Spike actually smiled.  “ New to us.  Got it cheap a few weeks back at some event Harris was helping out with.  It’s nice, yeah?  Tell Xander you think so; he’s still grumbling about it taking up too much space.” 

“ So you’re what, living here now?  How did that happen?” 

“ Don’t know really.  Just sort-of grew out of convenience.  I look after him in the evenings if he has to go somewhere, and in exchange I get to kick around here.  And with him working so much, and me going out for awhile most nights, it’s not like we’re in each other’s hair that often,” Spike explained.  He omitted saying they shared a bed at night, thinking that would probably be the kind of thing that would get him staked. 

“ He’s working a lot?  Why, does he need the cash?” Buffy asked. 

“ He isn’t paying off any debts if that’s what you’re getting at,” Spike said defensively. 

Buffy felt her face warm.  How strange to have to ask Spike about Xander.  This was stuff she should have known.  “ I wasn’t thinking that.” 

“ Oh, well.  He needs it for the kid, yeah?  Pinching his pennies, he is.  He’s worried he won’t be able to work too much longer.  Should have already stopped if you ask me.” 

Buffy detected the tremor of worry and concern in Spike’s voice, and it was startling enough to quiet the rest of her questions.  Right, the baby.  Xander is pregnant.  Somehow, she had managed to put that knowledge to the back of her mind, and Xander made it easy: he never complained, or came to talk to them about it.  Then again, after their less-than-supportive initial reactions, it wasn’t that surprising he wasn’t more forthcoming.  She tried to picture herself in his situation and couldn’t do it.  It must be so frightening for him, and yet he was still putting other people’s problems before his own.  Buffy could practically feel the guilt eating away at her.  She decided right then and there that she would get Xander some help, whether he wanted it or not. 

A little over an hour passed, with Buffy sitting on the couch, staring into nothing, and Spike trying to keep himself busy with stuff around the apartment.  Xander finally arrived, and both Spike and Buffy breathed a sigh of relief – they had been in the same room together without one of them becoming bloody and bruised.  It was an improvement. 

Xander was so worn out when he walked in that he didn’t notice Buffy.  He went directly to the refrigerator, drank half a carton of orange juice without wasting time with a glass, before opening the freezer and retrieving two full ice-cube trays. 

“ Tough day?” Spike asked, anxiously watching as Xander dumped more and more ice into a plastic bag. 

Xander shrugged then winced.  “ Got to remember not to do that anymore,” he muttered before addressing Spike’s question.  “ It was okay.  Not too many of us showed up, so it was really busy.  Lost control of a load of lumber and it swung into my shoulder, so that’s a little tender, hence the glacier I’m building.” 

“ Go sit down,” Spike said quickly.  “ I’ll get this for you.  You want some painkillers or something?” 

“ Nah, I’m good,” Xander said.  It was at that moment he saw Buffy. 

“ Hey Xander,” Buffy said quietly, giving a little wave. 

“ Hi.  Uh, sorry, didn’t see you there.  What brings you to my humble little abode?” Xander said with forced cheerfulness. 

Spike came over with the ice bag wrapped in a tea towel.  Xander gratefully took it and applied it to his aching shoulder.  Buffy was looking at her hands, obviously trying to think of the right words to say. 

“ Right, I’m off,” Spike announced.  He grabbed his duster and left Buffy and Xander to talk it out. 

“ Xander, about yesterday, I am really, really, sorry.  It had nothing to do with you, I swear,” Buffy said. 

“ You don’t have to apologize, I kind-of get why it happened.” 

“ Yeah, it happened because Spike is an irritating jerk and I have a big mouth,” Buffy said.  Xander smiled slightly, but the humour didn’t reach his eyes.  Buffy sighed, “ Okay, so that’s not totally fair.  It’s me I’m the angriest at.  I used Spike, and now I feel guilty whenever I see him, only somehow that guilt comes out as anger.  Like he’s to blame for what I’m feeling.  And does that sound selfish or what?  I come over to say I’m sorry, and I here I am whining about my problems.  Well, enough I say, let’s talk about you.  What’s to be my punishment for being a horrible friend?  And you should know my remorse is at an all time high, so I’d ask for something big.” 

“ Right now I’d settle for a shoulder that wasn’t hurting, and ankles that weren’t so swollen that I could actually tie my shoes.” 

“ Oh, poor Xander,” Buffy said.  “ I can give you a back massage?” 

“ Really?” Xander asked.  Buffy nodded, and began using her slayer muscles to turn Xander’s sore back into mush. 

“ You know, I keep waiting for you to make some kind of x-rated comment about what I’m doing.  Don’t tell me I’ve lost my touch?” Buffy teased. 

“ Sorry, too tired.  Can I call you something dirty later?” 

Buffy laughed lightly; “ Sure you can.”  She finished her massage and Xander smiled gratefully at her.  “ So am I forgiven?” 

“ I guess.  But I have to apologize to you too,” Xander said.  “ I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I realized I was always the first one to give you a hard time when it came to ‘befriending the enemy’.  And that night, after Spike and Anya had… and I found out about you and Spike, I really treated you badly.  Like, Godzilla-badly.  So what do I do?  I make my peace with Spike, and get all shirty at you for not accepting it right away.  I acted like a real hypocrite and you had every right to be mad at me.” 

“  I admit it, I was a little thrown.  I do forgive you though,” Buffy said.  “ So what happened to Xander Harris, demon-hater extraordinaire?” 

“ After a long time spent in a black and white world, I received a crash course in Grey Areas, 101,” Xander replied.  “ I just can’t accept the idea anymore that someone is good or evil just because of what they are.” 

“ Do you mean to tell me that years after it’s too late, you actually understand my feelings for Angel?” 

“ Angel’s still a dick,” Xander said glibly.  Buffy frowned, but there was mirth in her eyes.  “ But now he’s a dick because of his personality, not because he’s a vampire.  You get it?” 

“ I think I do, though I’m still wondering where this new outlook has come from.  I figured if anyone was going to be on board with the whole ‘hate Spike’ plan, it would be you.” 

“ Sorry, though if he does anything new to piss me off, I promise to hate him again.  Spike has many traits not associated with vampirism that are incredibly irritating, so there’s always hope.  And you go ahead and hate him, you’re doing it for all the right reasons.” 

Buffy smiled, “ It’s nice to have your blessing.  Though I am sorry for leaving him after that fight with Dent D’Or.  Xander?  When did everything get so messed up?” 

“ It’s not so very messed up.  We’re still friends right?  And we’re still friends with Willow and Giles.  I figure things can’t be so bad if we have that much going for us.” 

“ Alright, then when did you get so wise?” Buffy said, snuggling up against Xander, who threw his arm around her companionably. 

“ I had fish for dinner yesterday,” Xander said. 

“ Ah.  Brain food,” said Buffy. 

“ No, it was just a very smart fish,” Xander said solemnly.  Buffy smacked him lightly upside the head.  

They continued to talk, sharing everything they had both been through in the last few months.  Some of the topics were serious, and some less so.  Buffy talked a lot about her past relationships and Xander described what it had felt like losing Anya.  They also discussed the merits of flannel pyjamas while watching Saturday morning cartoons.  Strangely enough it was the latter discussion that took the most time.   

At two in the morning, Spike entered the apartment quietly, expecting Xander to be asleep.  Instead, he found both Buffy and Xander sitting on the couch watching late-night television, an empty pizza box on the floor next to them. 

Xander muttered a welcome, and Buffy managed part of a greeting before being interrupted by a huge yawn. 

“ I go away for one night, and look what happens!  Care to explain why you’re up so late with a girl, Alexander Harris?” Spike asked sternly. 

“ Sorry mom,” Xander returned. 

“ Yeah, sorry Mrs. Bloody,” Buffy said. 

“ Sorry just isn’t going to cut it.  You are grounded young man.  And I want to see you in bed this minute, or they’ll be no telly for a week.” 

“ Gee, Xander your mom’s a real hard-ass,” Buffy whispered loudly.  “ Better do what he says.” 

“ You want to stay, Buffy?  It’s pretty late – you can have the bed, and I’ll take the couch.” 

Buffy was quite tired, and she really didn’t feel like walking back to her home.  “ Yeah, that sounds good.  But I’ll take the couch.  You look like you need your rest more than I do, and considering I’m someone who works nights, that’s saying something.” 

They got ready for bed, Buffy borrowing some clothes from Xander.  The t-shirt she ended up wearing easily reached to her knees. 

“ Wait, what about Spike?” Buffy asked, as she was settling herself onto the surprisingly comfortable couch with a borrowed blanket and pillow. 

Xander was climbing into his bed when he heard her question.  He couldn’t very well tell her that Spike usually slept next to him.  Come to think of it, where would Spike sleep?  Maybe he’d want to be close to Buffy? 

“ I usually don’t sleep until the morning, when Xander’s gone,” Spike said, lying easily.  He had sat himself down at the kitchen table with a book and a mug of blood.  Apparently there was enough light for him to still be able to read. 

“ Oh, that makes sense,” Buffy said, yawning again.  “ ‘Night, Xander and acquaintance of Xander.” 

“ Whatever,” Spike mumbled.  Xander snored lightly, already asleep. 

Spike did read for about an hour, before he put his mug in the sink to soak, and decided he would get some sleep as well.  He stood over Buffy for a few moments, drinking in her appearance.  She looked so peaceful asleep, and there was a soft smile on her face that he hadn’t seen for months.  Spike tucked a tendril of blonde hair back behind her ear, before moving soundlessly to the bed.  

He got under the covers, making sure Xander was properly tucked in, before pressing up against the warm back, his nose at the nape of Xander’s neck, and his arm safely guarding the round bump in Xander’s middle.  It honestly hadn’t occurred to Spike to sleep anywhere else; this was where he belonged and where he wanted to be. 

In his sleep, Xander sighed contently and curled a little closer to his protector.  Somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind, it registered that something important had just occurred.  Xander wasn’t sure what, he just knew that whatever it was, he liked it.

Part Five

Warm skin beneath his fingertips, firm but yielding.  It was addicting; with every inch exposed, the desire for more simply increased.  The soft cotton t-shirt was easily removed, giving full access to a nicely defined chest.  Cool fingers traced over faint blue veins, light and teasing, provoking a murmur of complaint. 

“ Spike, please hurry,” Xander demanded lustfully. 

“ Patience, luv, patience,” Spike said with a grin, before lowering his head and laving Xander’s skin with a wet tongue. 

“ So good,” Xander said, surrendering completely to the assault. 

“ You’re so warm, Pet; all hot just for me.” 

“ And you’re so wonderfully cold.  Cool me down?” 

“ My pleasure,” Spike said, beginning to trail sucking kisses down Xander’s body.  Gentle moans, both his and his partner’s, filled the air, and hands carded through his pale hair, brushing at his sensitive scalp, and urging him to go lower.  The waistband of Xander’s boxers briefly interrupted his quest but with a thought, the final item of clothing disappeared, and Spike finally got to feast his eyes on all that bared flesh. 

Thus it was rather disappointing when the newly revealed bit of skin remained vague and unfocused to him.  Damn it; Spike was dreaming. 

“ Spike?  Honey?  Is something wrong?” asked dream Xander.  Xander’s voice was decidedly too sweet, and he was far too accommodating and sycophantic to be realistic.  Had Spike not been so willing to believe the deception, it would have been obvious he was dreaming sooner.  Still, there was no reason not to continue the little fantasy now that it had begun.  Hell, maybe he could even make a few improvements. 

“ Nothing’s wrong, luv, just appreciating the view,” Spike said.  Xander smiled beatifically, eyes filled with devotion and adoration. 

“ I want you to take me, make me yours,” Xander cooed, long-eyelashes fluttering. 

“ Right, need lube or something,” Spike muttered to him. 

“ I’m prepared already,” Xander said cheerfully, pulling Spike up and over him, and lifting his hips. 

Spike smiled widely, “ Of course you are.”  Spike lowered his head, dragging Xander’s lush bottom lip into his mouth and sucking gently.  Xander licked his way into Spike’s mouth, and in the way of dreams, Spike was suddenly and inexplicably in game face.  Dream Xander didn’t even register the change, he just continued to kiss and press forward into Spike, finally slicing his tongue intentionally on one of Spike’s throbbing fangs.  Warm blood filled Spike’s mouth, and he groaned as the heady mixture was shared between their hungry mouths. 

“ An excellent accompaniment for that flavour would be a morsel of cheese,” said a funny little man, holding out a silver tray of carefully arranged cheese slices. 

“ What?” Spike asked. 

“ I said, stop playing around with my friend.  Can’t you see you’re hurting him?” Buffy said.  She was dressed all in black with a beret perched on her head, and a stake topped with a pink pom-pom aimed at his chest. 

“ No I’m not,” Spike denied.  Except this time when he looked at Xander, the boy was dressed in jeans and a stained, white shirt, and he was curled into a ball, defensively clutching a blue baby blanket to his chest.  “ Oh, I’m sorry Xander.” 

“ Why did you leave us?” Xander asked, raising tearstained eyes. 

Before Spike could say that he wasn’t going anywhere, there was a flurry of movement visible from the corner of his eye and a stake seemed to materialize in his chest.   

Spike woke up, still gagging on imaginary dust.  With considerable relief, Spike wriggled a little closer into Xander’s warmth, having first checked that Xander was still asleep.  The disturbing moments of the dream soon faded from Spike’s memory, though he knew he would not be falling back asleep.  Instead he watched Xander doze, and deliberately replayed some of the more interesting dream scenes.  He was still annoyed that his imagination hadn’t done a better job of picturing what was under Xander’s boxers.  Maybe he should sneak a peek now; then he’d have an accurate image for future reference. 

It was only Spike’s acute hearing that saved everyone from a potentially mortifying moment.  For some reason, he didn’t think Buffy would be exactly thrilled to discover his hand down Xander’s pants (and Xander would probably have something to say about it as well, though his reaction was a little harder to predict).  As it was, Spike was snaking his hand down toward the elastic waistband of Xander’s plaid boxers, peeling back covers as he went, when Spike heard Buffy on the couch start to turn over and wake up.  With obvious regret, Spike stopped what he was doing, and swiftly and silently untangled himself from Xander, and headed for the kitchen.  By the time Buffy was alert enough to sit up and take in her surroundings, Spike was already brewing coffee.  The strong, unmistakeable smell soon permeated the small apartment, and it was sufficient to alert Xander, who stumbled out of bed entirely on automatic. 

“ What time is it?” Xander asked, yawning and stretching. 

“ Almost eleven,” Spike replied, handing Xander a mug of milky coffee. 

“ Eleven?  Wow, I haven’t slept that well in ages,” Buffy said, looking pointedly at the coffee pot.  Spike rolled his eyes, but got her a cup of coffee as well.  She smiled brightly, if a little obnoxiously, when she accepted the cup.  Xander and Buffy settled themselves at the table, and Spike hopped up onto the counter to sip his mug of warmed blood. 

“ Does this scene strike anyone else as being… oh, I don’t know, very far on the side of much oddness?” Buffy asked. 

Xander tilted his head questioningly, drumming his fingers lightly on his rotund stomach, while Spike drained the last of his blood, tapping the bottom of his ‘don’t worry, be happy’ mug to get the very last drops, a noticeable blood-moustache gracing his upper lip, before considering Buffy’s question. 

Buffy took all this in, including the loud, yellow t-shirt she was wearing, with the statement ‘Runs with Scissors’ emblazoned across the chest, and sighed deeply.  “ Never mind; I forgot for a split second that we’re in Sunnydale, where a pregnant man, a vampire and a slayer having breakfast isn’t worthy of notice.” 

“ Don’t know about that, we’re not trying to rip each other’s throats out,” Spike interposed with a shrug.  “ Abnormal for this group.” 

“ Ah yes, the good old days,” Xander said, falsely nostalgic. 

Buffy declined an offer of breakfast, deciding it was well past time she got back to her sister.  After changing back into her clothes from the day before, she gave Xander a final hug, happy to be back on good terms with one of her closest friends, said a stilted goodbye to Spike, and left the apartment. 

“ It’s a good thing she’s gone, I didn’t think I could hold out any longer,” Xander said plaintively, moving into Spike’s personal space.  Xander’s eyes were full of want and pleading, and Spike once again felt that strange state of breathlessness (strange because he didn’t really need to breathe, so why the sudden ache in his chest when Xander was near?) before rationality set in again. 

“ You want more blood, I presume?” Spike said, keeping a tight control on his facial expressions.  Not that he didn’t appreciate how Xander looked when in the midst of one of his cravings, but whenever Xander looked at him with naked hunger in his eyes, it was all Spike could do to remember that it wasn’t directed at him.  And why had he thought of the word ‘naked’?  Spike shifted on the counter top, suddenly conscious of the fact that he was seated with his legs splayed, and Xander was just steps away from standing snugly between his thighs.   

“ Yeah, baby wants more blood,” Xander said tonelessly.  A little voice in Xander’s head was saying that it wasn’t just the baby who wanted blood, but Xander as well.  Specifically, Xander wanted the slightly sticky blood that was gathered around Spike’s lips.  Xander got a full Technicolor picture of himself leaning in and removing all crimson traces from Spike’s sensual mouth with the tip of his tongue. 

“ Well, I think I’ll go take a shower,” Spike said, trying to unobtrusively shift away from Xander. 

“ Huh?” Xander said, thoughts still happily vacationing in Fantasyland.  They came scurrying back when he saw that Spike was edging towards the bathroom.  “ Wait, you can’t!” 

“ What do you mean I can’t?” Spike returned, partly confused and partly irritated that Xander was giving him commands. 

“ I need a shower,” Xander said.  And he did.  A nice, long, cold shower, and maybe some soap for his brain – far too many dirty thoughts up there for Xander’s comfort. 

“ Well, so do I,” Spike said, once again trying to adjust himself so that it wouldn’t be obvious to Xander why he needed a shower so desperately. 

“ It’s my place, I pay the rent.  I should get the first shower if I want one,” Xander said testily. 

Spike had reached the bathroom door while Xander was ranting.  “ You snooze, you lose, isn’t that what you wankers say?”  Spike got behind the bathroom door and locked it before Xander could retaliate.  The pounding on the door just made Spike chuckle as he stripped off his sleep-wrinkled clothes.  “ Give it up, Harris, unless you want to join me?” 

The pounding ceased immediately, and Spike grinned again, before turning on the shower and waiting for the water to heat.  Outside in the kitchen, Xander gave an exasperated sigh, and headed for the kitchen.  After all that, he still had a craving for blood. 

“ Okay baby, here it is, one whole mug of bovine special.  And if this doesn’t prove to you that I love you, nothing will,” Xander said, grimacing as the red liquid filled his mouth and coated his throat.  Once finished, the baby did seem appeased, and Xander was able to eat a regular bowl of cereal without complaint.  “ So what are your plans for today?  Oh, you’re going to sleep for a while and then kick my bladder all afternoon?  Going to give me any more strange thoughts regarding Spike?  Because, let me tell you, that little thing in the kitchen was a real doozy.  Yep, you scared daddy good.  Not funny, little person, don’t think just because you’re unborn that I won’t start laying down the rules.” 

“ Do you often have conversations with your stomach?  Then again, considering what you usually eat, I guess it’s not so surprising that your stomach can talk back,” Spike said snidely, coming out of the bathroom bare-chested and running a towel through curly blond hair.  Xander forgot to breathe.  “ Harris?  Xander?  Mate, you alright there?” 

Xander blushed, “ Oh yeah I’m fine.”  He then glared down at his stomach, “ What did I just finish telling you?  No more scaring daddy!” 

“ You look bloody ridiculous doing that you know,” Spike said, before grabbing a shirt and flopping onto the couch. 

“ The books say that babies can detect sounds from inside the womb.  Talking to them gets them used to a person’s voice, and makes it less upsetting when they’re born,” Xander replied, reiterating what he’d read. 

“ Really?  Hey there, little Munchie, your old man’s completely barmy.  Look for me, the good-looking bloke, when you come out and I’ll look after you proper like.  Oh, and you kick and scream all you want – don’t think you have to take it easy on Harris here just because you’re related.” 

“ Thank you, Spike.  I’m so glad you’ve decided to get involved,” Xander said sarcastically. 

“ You’re welcome,” Spike returned pleasantly.  “ So what are we doing today?” 

Xander fell onto the couch next to Spike, and lifted his feet to rest on the makeshift coffee table.  “ Well, I need to get groceries at some point, but I’m feeling too lazy right now.  Plus, my shoulder still hurts.  Not to mention my back, my head, and my ankles.  Being pregnant really sucks some times, no offence baby.” 

“ Wait until dark, and I’ll go with you to the store.  Need a few things myself,” Spike suggested.  Xander knew better than to thank Spike; they had come to an understanding early on wherein Spike would help out around the house where he could in exchange for getting to stay, and Xander would contribute by not making mention of it whenever Spike did something nice.  It was a system that worked well for both of them. 

With the chore of groceries momentarily solved, Xander let himself sink deeper into the couch cushions, content to do nothing all day.  It was so rare that he had a day to spend exactly as he wanted to and the thought of so much rest and relaxation was making him positively giddy.  Two minutes later, he was bored. 

“ Spike, I’m bored,” Xander complained. 

“ How can you be bored when there’s so much to watch on telly?  Look, we have the grey fuzzy channel, the white fuzzy channel, the messed up colours and wavy lines channel, the emergency broadcast channel, and a special report on pesticide use in Kansas.  It’s all so riveting,” Spike said, before shutting off the television. 

Xander actually chuckled.  “ I don’t suppose you’d be up for a little bit of global domination?”  

“ Don’t tease me whelp,” Spike said. 

“ Nah, I meant do you want to play ‘Risk’?  I have that, or ‘Clue’, or ‘Life’.  I think I might even have ‘Candyland’ somewhere.” 

“ What are you blathering on about?  You don’t have a clue, and you certainly don’t have a life.”  

Xander blithely ignored Spike’s comments, and explained: “ I’m talking about board games.  You do know about board games, don’t you?” 

“ Yeah sure I do,” Spike replied quickly.  He honestly did, but he had never been invited to play one before.  Vampires weren’t really big on chutes and ladders. 

“ So, you want to?” 

Spike nodded, hoping his eagerness didn’t show on his face.  Xander rooted around in the closet before returning triumphantly with a stack of battered and collapsing boxes.  They set up the game, both of them opting to sit on the floor to better reach the pieces.  ‘Risk’ lasted for hours, with the end being somewhat anticlimactic when they decided to just give up.  ‘Monopoly’, which Xander was delighted to find in his pile of board games (it was Willow’s actually, and therefore in considerably better condition then the rest of the games), proved to be a much rowdier game.  Spike had absolutely no tolerance for the element of chance, and continually cursed and swore at the pieces, the board, the dice, Xander, and all the deities he could think of; fortunately, when the luck was in his favour, his excessive gloating and cocky mood quickly made him forget that he had ever been upset. 

Spike considered his next move carefully, taking his turn slowly and with a frown of concentration over his features.  He couldn’t understand why he wasn’t winning.  He was cheating quite regularly, even more than he had in ‘Risk’, and yet he was barely a few dollars ahead of Xander.  There was clearly too much luck involved in this game, and just as clearly, Xander was hogging all of that good fortune.  The bastard. 

‘Monopoly’ went the way of ‘Risk’; neither one of them was able to get an appreciable advantage so they had to agree to a draw.  Xander slyly set up ‘Candyland’ and Spike was playing it before he even realized what was happening.  Even worse, he was finally winning. 

“ Ha!  I am the king of Candyland.  Suck on that, Donut Boy,” Spike crowed.  After all, when it came right down to it, winning was winning. 

“ Yes, I can see why the demon community fears you so much,” Xander said dryly.   

Spike gave Xander the two-fingered salute; “ Now, now.  No need to be a sore loser.  Just a loser is fine.” 

While Spike was distracted with the elation of his victory, Xander got out the remaining board games he owned, trying to decide which one he wanted to play next.  Xander firmly believed that the world would be a better place if people played more board games.  He remembered as a kid how he had used to set up the boards in his bedroom, and face-off against his stuffed animals and Transformers.  Spike was substantially better competition, even if his personality wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as Elmer VonPudgy’s had been.  What had ever happened to that Teddy Bear anyway?  Xander shook his head, turning his attention back to the game at hand.  He was fully enjoying this opportunity to indulge in his board game addiction, and he was going to take advantage of Spike’s willingness to participate for as long as he could. 

While Spike was reading over the rules to ‘Sorry!’, trying to figure out the optimum way to cheat, Xander unfolded the board and began to shuffle the cards.  He was leaning over to straighten the deck when the baby decided to take-up the sport of kickboxing.  Xander winced, placing a hand over his belly, and felt a familiar tingle of wry amusement when he felt the baby’s movements beneath his flattened palm. 

“ What’s wrong with you?” Spike asked, observing Xander’s scrunched up face. 

“ Baby has caught onto the Tae-Bo craze,” Xander replied.  Seeing the blank look on Spike’s face, he went on to explain.  “ The baby is moving around and it feels kind-of weird.” 

“ Really?  Can I see?” Spike asked.  He was already pushing up Xander’s shirt, not really waiting for permission. 

Although shocked for a moment, Xander adjusted quickly, and he caught one of Spike’s hands in his own.  “ It’s easier to feel then to see.”    

Xander guided Spike’s hand until it rested on a particularly active area, and it wasn’t long before Spike felt a little push against his hand.  His smile was almost as wide and awestruck as Xander’s.   

“ That’s bloody brilliant!  The little Munchie’s a right proper hellion – we can train it up so it won’t be as useless as you are in a fight.” 

“ Hey!” Xander exclaimed out of habit.  Truthfully, he wasn’t as hurt as he would have Spike believe; he was glad to hear that Spike planned on being around after the birth, long enough to train his kid at least.  Why exactly that was true, Xander couldn’t be sure. 

“ Whoa, there it goes again!  This kid’s moving all over the place,” Spike said gleefully, drawing closer to Xander’s abdomen, and using both hands so that he could detect as many movements as was possible.  How strange it was to feel life growing inside another person’s body, and how fascinating.   

Xander let his own hands fall away, using them instead to prop himself up while Spike leaned over him.  He fought the urge to run his fingers through Spike’s un-gelled hair, before freaking out that he’d had the impulse in the first place.  This was all because of the hormones, right?  And then Spike was pressing his head right up against Xander’s bare skin, and Xander lost whatever resolve he’d managed to build.  He brought up a hand to cradle the back of Spike’s skull, his fingers gently tugging at the soft blond hairs, and held him close in what could only be described as a caress. 

“ I can hear the baby’s heart beating,” Spike whispered.  “ It sounds fragile somehow, like a bird’s.” 

They both held their breath, Xander less successfully then Spike for obvious reasons, and Spike began tapping out the rhythm of the baby’s heartbeat against Xander’s body with a finger.  For several minutes they remained frozen in the tableau, with Spike listening to the tiny beating heart and feeling the continued movements of the baby against his cheek.  Spike couldn’t have moved, even had he desired to.  A feeling of acceptance, and not just from Xander, overwhelmed him.  Though he had definitely been suffused with a profound sense of contentment when Xander had pulled him closer, as though at Xander’s side was where Spike belonged, he had also felt some pull from the new being as well.  For most of his life and un-life, Spike had felt unwanted, shut out even by the people he cared most for.  Here there were bonds forming, and it was a heady experience being connected to something other than himself for a change. 

“ I’m sorry,” Xander said suddenly and completely out of the blue.  Spike reluctantly pulled back, and waited for Xander to pull down his shirt and explain what he meant.  Xander started fiddling with the various game pieces that had been left out, carefully avoiding Spike’s gaze as he gathered his thoughts. 

Spike sincerely hoped Xander wasn’t about to say that he regretted what had just happened.  Spike could handle a lot of rejection, but even he had his limits, and right now he was feeling particularly vulnerable. 

“ Damn rights you should be,” Spike said emphatically, masking his anxiety with bluster.  He then racked his brains trying to guess at possible reasons for Xander’s unexpected apology.  “ Umm, why?” 

Xander shrugged.  “ I never liked you, that’s no secret, and although at first you completely deserved it, you don’t anymore.  So I’m sorry for continuing to be such an ass, especially since lately you’ve been…  You’re the only one who’s asked to feel the baby kick, did you know that?  I wanted to share this with my friends, with Willow, because I was so excited, but I knew if there was even a flicker of disgust on her face that it would ruin things between us, so I didn’t say anything.  You didn’t even hesitate.” 

Spike looked hard at Xander’s down-turned face, and saw the sincerity written in both Xander’s limpid eyes and tense posture.  Every signal coming off of Xander made it clear he was anticipating some painful retaliation for his admission.  Spike’s need to protect rose clear off the charts. 

“ No worries mate,” Spike said gruffly.  “ It wasn’t like I expected you to act any differently.” 

“Yeah, but here you are, playing games with me on a Sunday afternoon, when all my other friends can hardly look me in the eye.  It means something.  I think if I hadn’t been so prejudiced towards vampires, you and me, we might have been friends sooner.” 

“ So we’re friends now?” Spike asked carefully. 

“ Aren’t we?” 

“ Yeah, suppose we are.” 

“ Well, good,” Xander said slowly.  Glad to have a few things out in the open, Xander quickly finished setting up the board game, and encouraged Spike to go first.  They were about halfway through, with Spike in the lead, before they spoke again. 

“ What made you change your mind?” Spike asked curiously. 

“ About you?  The baby.  I love it unconditionally.  No matter what it turns out to be, demon or human or something else entirely, I know I won’t be able to hate it just because of what it is.  I think that must be what real love is.  There is nothing this baby can choose, or do, or have that will make me stop loving it.  Nothing.  So, I realized that I had to change a few of my misconceptions, and that meant no more hating you simply because you’re a vampire.”  

“ Sounds fair,” Spike agreed.  “ But does this mean you appreciate Peaches too?” 

“ Nah.  There’s plenty of reasons to dislike Dead-boy without delving into vampirism.” 

“ Bloody right.  Plus, it’s good fun making the Brooding-Wonder squirm.” 

Xander grinned and nodded, wondering if Spike was aware that during their brief discussion of Angel they hadn’t once mentioned his actual name.  They finished the game, with Spike winning due to extensive scheming, plotting, and cheating, and decided they had time for one more game before they needed to go to the grocery store. 

Xander was looking for the pieces to the game of ‘Life’ when a few extra houses from the ‘Monopoly’ board rolled out of his sleeve along with an extra ‘Risk’ card. 

“ You lousy cheat!” Spike exclaimed, trying to look affronted.  It was obvious, however, that he was a little bit impressed with Xander’s audacity. 

“ Yeah, well, you cheated too,” Xander said, not terribly concerned with either cheating or being caught out. 

“ I’m the Big Bad.  I have to cheat, it’s in my contract,” Spike said. 

“ Of course it is and that’s why I have to cheat too.  It balances things out,” Xander said. 

“ What about ‘Candyland’?  I beat you at that.” 

“ That’s because I really couldn’t be bothered to try too hard.  Not many gloating privileges come with winning a game designed for pre-schoolers.” 

Spike looked rather upset at this bit of information, and sulked for a good, solid minute, before he got wrapped up in their current game.  The irony certainly wasn’t lost on him either when he started to win at the game of ‘Life’. 

Having admitted to being, at the very least, friends, Spike and Xander didn’t feel like they needed to be constantly on guard around each other anymore, and they no longer felt compelled to make excuses for seeking out the other’s companionship.  The shift in their relationship was felt immediately, and was demonstrated quite strongly while they wandered around the grocery store.  The insults were still there, but the edge to them was missing, and there were certain sore subjects that both of them avoided entirely.  Spike made fun of Xander’s completely overhauled eating habits, and Xander asked for advice concerning which cereal went best with blood.  They got an extremely affronted look from an elderly, grey-haired woman, when she overheard the query.  Spike glared at her, daring her to say something, so Xander hurried them out of the cereal aisle.   

Spike carried all the grocery bags, whining that Xander didn’t need half the amount of liquids he had purchased.  Xander grinned because it was true he had chosen weightier objects than he usually did, purely because he knew Spike would be doing all the lifting.  Spike’s complaints lasted all the way back to the apartment, and were only halted when Xander let him have control over the television for the evening. 

“ So, back to the grind tomorrow, eh?” Spike asked. 

“ Yep,” Xander said with a nod.  “ Shoulder should be good by then.  And we’re meeting with the gang in the evening, so I’ll just head straight there after work.  You are going, right?” 

“ I’ll be there,” Spike replied.  For once, Spike had a legitimate reason for attending the meeting, and he was going to be at the shop immediately following sundown.  Spike was developing a plan, and he needed to speak to Giles as soon as possible, hopefully without Xander hearing, and that meant arriving before any others. 

It was Buffy, however, who appeared at the store first.  Giles was just turning the sign on the door from ‘open’ to ‘closed’, when Buffy strode inside. 

“ Hi Giles!  Am I the first here?  Good, I need to talk to you.  It’s urgent,” Buffy said. 

Giles moved swiftly around the counter, wondering what was so important that it had Buffy pacing up and down the floor. 

“ Is it serious?  Are you hurt?  Is Dawn hurt?” 

“ No, no.  We’re good.  Actually, it’s about Xander.” 

“ I thought you went to speak to him?  Are you two still having problems?” 

“ What?  Oh no, that’s all fine and dandy.  Had some quality bonding time over pizza and Molly Ringwald movies,” Buffy said quickly.  “ It’s about his pregnancy, I’m really worried about him.” 

“ We all are.  If we could just get him to talk, and make him realize the dangers of pursuing this endeavour…” 
“ That’s just it, Giles.  We’ve all been so dead set against him having this thing, that he’s stopped confiding in us.  We’ve made it so he can’t even ask for our help, because he thinks we’ll just say ‘I told you so’.  I’ve since come to realize that if I’m really to be his friend, that I have to support him in all his decisions, even when I don’t personally agree with them.” 

Giles thought Buffy had never sounded so mature, and he felt ashamed that for once, his was not the voice of reason.  He had stated his opinion concerning the pregnancy loud and clear from the onset, and by doing so he had washed his hands of the whole situation.  However, it was no way to treat a friend, and Giles shouldn’t have let things go on the way they had for so long. 

“ We have been remiss,” Giles admitted.  “ But you seem to have come to a solution.” 

“ Well, it’s just a little thing, but Xander’s been working himself to the bone, trying to save enough money to support him and his…  whatever it turns out to be.  And I thought if maybe he had a different job, maybe one that wasn’t so hard on his body, and where he could be around people who know his condition?” Buffy hinted, none to subtly. 

“ You mean, could he work here,” Giles said plainly. 

“ Well, Anya’s gone, so it wouldn’t be completely unreasonable, and he’s had experience in retail.” 

“ It’s a good idea.  I must admit that I don’t like the idea of him at that construction site, and I will feel much better with him around where we can keep an eye on him, especially with his unique ability to attract trouble.” 

“ Just be sure not to tell him that part of it when you ask him to work here.  It has to seem like it’s you who needs the favour.  The last thing he needs is to feel like we’re pitying him.” 

Giles looked insulted, and he protested: “ I would never be so callous!” 

“ I didn’t mean you’d do it on purpose, just that we, you know, sometimes don’t treat him so great.  My little episode the last time we were all together springs to mind,” Buffy explained.  

Giles sighed deeply, once again acknowledging that Buffy was only speaking the truth.  He would have to be very careful when he offered Xander a job; it would have to be persuasive enough that he accepted, without being damaging to Xander’s pride.  

“ Watcher!  I need to speak with you,” Spike demanded, his voice ringing out in the quiet shop and interrupting Giles’ thoughts. 

“ What do you want now?” Giles asked peevishly. 

Spike cast a disparaging look at Buffy, before hauling Giles roughly into the training room, out of earshot. 

“ It’s about your boy there.  Not that you lot would notice, but he’s running on empty energy wise, and I you need to do something about it,” Spike said forcefully. 

“ Xander?  You want to speak to me about Xander?” Giles asked incredulously. 

“ Yeah.  Me and him, we’re sort of like mates now, you get it?  And I’m thinking that his job is a little too tough for him right now, especially with all that’s going on.  It’s dangerous.” 

“ Dangerous?  Let me get this straight: you, Spike, previously the bane of all our lives, think that Xander is working too hard?” Giles asked.  It was one thing to be reminded of his responsibilities by Buffy, but it was quite another to have Spike notice something about Xander before Giles himself did. 

“ Right.  So you’re going to give him a job here, see?  And it’s going to pay pretty good, and it’s not going to start early or end late, and you’re not going to let him walk home at night, unless I’m here to walk with him.  Oh, and you’re not going to let him handle any nasty potion stuff or practice any spells when he’s on the premises.  You got all that, or shall I write it down for you?” 

“ I think I can remember, thank you,” Giles said tightly.  He was tempted to tell Spike exactly where he could stuff his orders, but Giles had no intention of giving up on his plan for Xander simply for spite.  Plus, he had no intention of discouraging Spike’s new (albeit strange) fixation on Xander’s safety.  Probably it was because Spike wanted to ensure he had a place to call home that wasn’t a crypt or a tomb, but regardless of his motivations, Spike was looking out for Xander’s welfare and the more people protecting Xander the better. 

Spike had said all he wanted to, so he turned on his heel, heading back to the main room.  Just before he got there he halted, calling back: “ Oh, and if for one second you make him feel like he’s some sodding charity case, I will personally drag your intestines up through your body and out your nose, chip or no chip, get me?” 

Giles gave another weary sigh when Spike left the room in a swirl of leather duster.  He took off his glasses to give them a therapeutic polishing, and pinched the bridge of his nose to forestall the oncoming headache. 

“ Giles?  Are you back here?” 

“ Willow,” Giles acknowledged.  “ Has everyone arrived?” 

“ Dawn is being dropped off by a friend’s mom in a little bit, and Xander hasn’t gotten here yet.  Actually, he’s the reason I wanted to speak to you.  Have you got a moment?” 

Giles felt like banging his head against the wall, but he tried to keep his exasperation from showing as he listened to Willow’s polite and well-intentioned request. 

“ See, I was talking to Buffy and she was saying how hard Xander’s been working lately, and so I got all worried, because he’s my friend, and I was saying to myself that I was a complete Dunder-head for not thinking about this earlier, so then I was trying to think of some way that I could help him, but without seeming like I was helping him, because I don’t want him to feel like he needs my help or anything, because I know he knows that I know that he can take care of himself, but I couldn’t think of anything, because it’s a really tough problem, and after I couldn’t get to sleep for the second night in a row, Tara asked me what was going on, so I told her that I wanted to help Xander, and she said that it was a really sweet thing to want to do, but that I shouldn’t make it seem like I was thinking of doing Xander any favours, and I told her that I had already thought of that, but that I still wanted to get Xander a less difficult job, and then she was all ‘why don’t we see if Mr. Giles needs help in the store?’ and I thought that was a really good idea, so I thought I’d come and ask you, though I wouldn’t call you Mr. Giles because that’s really a Tara thing.  So can he?” 

Giles blinked and put his glasses back on.  He blinked again, and finally managed to say: “ Pardon me?” 

Willow took a deep breath, obviously preparing to deliver the entire spiel over again, and Giles hastily motioned to her that it wasn’t necessary. 

“ I’ll give Xander a job…” 

Willow obtruded: “ But you have to make it seem like it’s Xander who’s doing you the favour.” 

Giles was getting rather irritated that everyone assumed that he had absolutely zero tact.  Out of all of them, Giles considered himself to be the most thoughtful and the most considerate, though to be fair, he supposed that in this particular instance, he had made some errors. 

Giles was just about ready to head back into the main room and join the rest of the group, when he ran into an eager and exuberant Dawn. 

“ Giles!  Perfect, I need to ask you something,” Dawn began. 

“ Let me guess, you want a favour?” Giles asked flatly.  “ Well let me make it easy for you.  Yes, I’m aware that Xander is working too hard at a position that is hardly salubrious considering his precarious condition, and yes, I am fully prepared to offer him a position here should he so desire, and no, I will not proposition him in such a manner that it injures his sense of worth.  Now, have I left anything out?” 

Dawn stared at him blankly.  “ Uh, I just wanted to know if you could help me with my report for English, but um, it’s cool that Xander’s going to work here.” 

“ Oh.  Sorry,” Giles said.  Feeling a little silly for his false assumption, Giles plunged quickly into the subject of Dawn’s homework, pleased when she accepted the change of subject without complaint.  Xander eventually arrived, and with all the regulars accounted for it was time to start the meeting.  Two minutes later, all official Slayer news had been shared, and it was time for the hours of gossip, idle chatter, and half-hearted research that made up the bulk of their typical meetings. 

“ So there was this really cute sweater, but it was just a little outside my price range…” 

“ The basic plot revolves around the archetype of…” 

“ Yes, mother, I drank all my tomato juice at lunch…” 

Giles was trying to figure out the optimum method for getting Xander to work at the Magic Box.  He tried to run a number of scenarios in his head, but they all ended with Xander either laughing at the very idea of working retail, or with Xander yelling at him to mind his own business.  It didn’t help Giles state of mind that everywhere he happened to look, someone was staring back at him or tapping their watch, reminding him that time was running out to complete his task.  Buffy and Willow were at least nice about it; Spike had raised an eyebrow and then given a rather disturbingly accurate pantomime of a disembowelling. 

The meeting was rapidly drawing to a close, and Giles knew it was now or never. 

“ Xander, might I have a word with you?”  

Buffy, Spike, and Willow all looked supremely smug, silently congratulating themselves for what they knew was about to happen.  Tara and Dawn looked at each other and shrugged their confusion. 

“ Sure, G-Man,” Xander said.  Giles rolled his eyes and indicated that they would talk in the back room.  After many false starts, Giles eventually managed to get a word out. 

“ Xander, as you know, it is a busy time of year for the store, and with only me here, and occasionally one of the girls, well I’ve been wondering, if you might possibly consider, if it is not too inconvenient, and I would certainly be willing to make it worth your while…”  Giles was rambling, and he hated it when he rambled because he never rambled.  He wondered if inane babbling was contagious. 

“ You want me to work here, is that it?” Xander asked calmly.  Giles let out a sigh of relief. 

“ Yes, that was precisely what I wanted to request.” 

“ Sure, I mean, I was going to ask you about it anyway.  The guys at work are already teasing me about the beer belly I’ve developed, any longer and I think they’ll really start to wonder.  I’ll start next week, yeah?” 

That was it?  All his stressing and Xander had been about to ask anyway?  Giles was definitely going to need a drink or seven when he got home.  He was too old for this; he could feel it. 

“ Next week would be fine,” Giles said eventually.  Xander nodded. 

“ So, is that it?  For a second there, I thought this was something serious.” 

“ No, that’s everything.  Everyone is probably anxious to be on their way.  We had best get out there.” 

“ Right,” Xander agreed.  “ Besides, Buffy, Spike and Willow are probably dying to know if their plans worked.  Not exactly subtle, are they?” 

Giles actually laughed, and started laughing harder when three pairs of curious eyes immediately latched onto Xander when they arrived back in the main room.  No, they weren’t nearly as clever and underhanded as they liked to imagine they were, but Xander wouldn’t have them any other way.

Part Six

Xander’s job at the Magic Box was suspiciously easy.  He tried not to take offence when every time he tried to do something even remotely useful, one of his friends would jump up and do it for him.  Even when Willow claimed she preferred fishing out her own salamander eyes from the jar, and when Dawn insisted that dusting was her all-time favourite hobby, Xander remained silent.  He knew they were trying, in their own strange way, to be supportive, so even though it was grating on his nerves something fierce, he restrained himself from slapping them all upside the head.  Xander liked it best when Giles was in his office doing paperwork, and there was nobody else around to pester him and ask him questions.  Then he puttered around the store setting things to right and knocking more things over.  He still hadn’t gotten used to moving around in tight spaces with his well-rounded stomach. 

Quitting his other job hadn’t been too difficult.  They weren’t going to hold his position, but Xander was encouraged to reapply when he was able to come back to work, and Terry would see what was available.  It was one less thing to worry about at any rate, and currently Xander had enough troubles.  Xander was eight months pregnant, and he had no reason to suspect that the baby wouldn’t be born within the usual nine-month period.  Soon he’d find out if the baby was human enough to slip under Buffy’s radar, or if he was going to have to make a rapid exodus from Sunnydale, babe in arms.  He still didn’t know how he was even going to give birth, and there was nobody he could ask. 

Xander was gaining a whole new understanding of the word fear.  The emotion he was feeling wasn’t the sharp, heart-pounding terror he had felt on numerous occasions when faced with the demon of the hour.  No, this was different; this was fear strung out.  It was the first thing he felt when he woke up in the morning, and the last thing to go through his mind at night when he fell asleep.  An ongoing dread that drifted over him like a dark cloud, and polluted his thoughts whenever he dropped his guard for a moment. 

Giles’ concerned voice interrupted Xander’s depressing musings.  “ Xander, are you entirely well?”  

Xander’s face was taut and tense, almost as if he were in pain.  Xander rubbed ruefully at his stomach, and gave a tight smile. 

“ Fine.  Just like when you asked me this morning, and when you asked an hour ago, and when you asked five minutes ago.  Believe me, I’ll keep you posted.  I know what Spike threatened to do if you overworked me.” 

“ My questions as to your health have nothing to do with that language-mangling delinquent.  However, you do seem a little off today, are you certain nothing’s amiss?” 

Xander sighed.  “ My stomach hurts, but I’m sure it’s just indigestion or something.  Really, it’s nothing.” 

Giles didn’t think it was nothing.  For Xander to admit to some discomfort meant that the pain was probably quite substantial. 

“ Why don’t you sit down for a bit?  It must be time you took a break regardless,” Giles said, steering Xander in the direction of the couch.  Xander had taken a break not more than an hour ago, and he knew Giles was aware of it.  It didn’t stop him from sitting down however.  His hands instantly found his stomach and began rubbing soothing circles over the tight, overheated flesh, hoping to ease some of the pain radiating out from his body. 

Xander’s situation kept his thoughts so occupied that he visibly jumped when Giles spoke to him again. 

“ I brought you some steeped peppermint leaves.  The box has the audacity to call it tea, but as it’s clearly not…” Seeing Xander’s eyes begin to glaze over, Giles got back to the point.  “ It’s supposed to be good for upset stomachs and headaches.  Try a little, why don’t you.” 

Xander felt he was beyond the help of not-tea, but took a sip to pacify Giles.  When he had finished the mug, he placed it on the floor and swung his feet up onto the couch cushions.  He had reached the point where he no longer cared what the few customers in the store might think of him, he just wanted to get comfortable and alleviate some of his suffering.  Xander tried to force himself into sleep, as the pain got steadily worse. 

“ Giles?  Where are you?  Why is the shop all dark?” Buffy asked, calling out loudly and moving cautiously as she came through the front door.  Dawn followed quickly on her heels, and Willow and Tara arrived just shortly afterwards. 

“ Shh!” Giles whispered agitatedly, coming out of the back room and gesturing for them to be silent.  He glanced back at Xander, fervently hoping that the new arrivals hadn’t caused him to awaken.  Xander had barely moved from his prone position all afternoon, and Giles figured that it was probably best that he remain that way, at least until the rest of them could decide upon a course of action.   

The sound of Buffy and company’s arrival caused Xander’s eyelids to flicker, but little else.  He supposed he could have reassured Giles that he hadn’t been disturbed, and that in fact he hadn’t been able to sleep at all that afternoon, but that would have required moving, and moving, Xander had discovered, was to be avoided at all costs.  So while the others carried on a frantic yet ridiculously quiet conversation, Xander pretended not to be aware that he was being discussed. 

Xander must have finally dozed off, because the next thing he was aware of, warm hands were patting and stroking the top of his head. 

“ Poor Xander,” Willow said softly.  Xander winced, and redoubled his efforts to appear asleep.  He knew what Willow wanted.  She wanted him to turn over, flash her a goofy grin, and tell her that everything was okay.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t feeling up to brave.  He was feeling sick, and tired, and frightened, and he didn’t think even his impressive ‘I’m good, don’t worry, forget I’m here’ act would work. 

“ What’s all this then?  Someone want to fill me in?” Spike said loudly, the door banging shut behind him. 

“ Spike!  Quiet, Xander’s not feeling well,” Buffy shouted back, before clapping her hand over her mouth. 

Knowing it was useless to keep up the pretence any longer, Xander made an elaborate show of waking up and looking confused. 

“ Hey, when did everyone get here?” Xander said, feigning ignorance, and patting Willow’s hand. 

“ Sorry I woke you Xander,” Buffy apologized. 

“ Time I got up anyway.  If Spike’s here, it must mean it’s time for the Xand-man to go home,” Xander said.  This time he didn’t have to feign anything; the relief he felt at the thought of going home was almost palpable.  He swung his feet to the floor, ignored the twinge the movement caused, stood up, and passed out cold. 

The next time Xander awoke, there were cool fingers running through his hair instead of Willow’s familiar warm ones. 

“ About time you woke-up, you lazy sod.  Had the little Bit right worried,” Spike said. 

“ What happened?” Xander asked anxiously.  He nervously checked himself out with his hands, relieved when he felt the baby move beneath his fingertips.  “ I didn’t fall, did I?” 

“ I caught you, no worries.” 

“ You caught me?” 

“ Knew you were bad off when you sounded glad to see me.  I was just waiting for you to keel over,” Spike said, sounding smug.  Xander knew it was a testament to the amount of time they had been spending together that he could detect the undercurrent of worry in Spike’s tone. 

“ Just wanted to go home, Spike.  Still do.  Any chance of that happening?” Xander asked in a small voice.  Xander knew he probably sounded weak and pathetic, asking to go home, but he didn’t need to put on a brave face for Spike.  Maybe that explained his recent inclinations to seek out Spike when troubled, rather than his friends.  There was a certain acceptance to be had when you had seen someone hit rock bottom and they in turn had seen you.   

At Xander’s question, Spike’s hands resumed their hypnotic stroking. 

“ Think it might be best if we stayed on a bit.  The others want to do a spell on you; find out what’s tying you up in knots,” Spike said, aiming for a nonchalant shrug.  He begrudgingly added: “ If anyone knows how to deal with the unknown, it would be this lot.” 

“ So… They do their spell, then you take us home, right?” Xander asked. 

Spike studied Xander’s face for a moment, a little thrown by the ‘us’ comment.  He nodded however, and Xander relaxed slightly.  Spike wouldn’t let anything happen to him, he felt certain. 

“ Willow?  Are you sure you’re up to this?” Tara asked.  It was well past midnight, and the late hour, combined with the stress of worrying over Xander, had all of them feeling a little frayed around the edges. 

“ Power-wise it’ll be no problem.  I’m just scared it will, you know, push me over that edge.  I haven’t done anything magical for so long, what if I lose control?  I hate scary Willow, she sucks,” Willow said.  Tara reached across the table and patted Willow’s arm.  Willow smiled tremulously, “ Still, I can’t just do nothing.  You understand that I have to try, don’t you?  I mean, it’s Xander.  He’s worth the risk.” 

“ I know, Willow.  And if you want my opinion, I think this is something you have to do, if only to prove to yourself that you can.  I believe in you,” Tara said gently. 

“ Are we even sure this is going to work?” Dawn asked practically.  “ No offence, but this spell?  Sounds sort of dodgy to me.  Can you say vague much?” 

“ It is somewhat more enigmatic than most, I agree.  However, there’s nothing to lose with the attempt.  We’ll be no worse off than we are now should the spell fail,” Giles replied, going over the incantation they had chosen for the umpteenth time.  It was a simple spell meant to reveal to them the source of Xander’s pain.  Hopefully, armed with that knowledge, they could then find out how to help their stricken friend. 

“ Xander?  Ultimately, this must be your decision.  If you are not comfortable with this, we will find another option,” Giles asked, after they had roused Xander and briefly outlined the plan. 

“ It won’t hurt the baby, right?  I have your word on that?” Xander asked. 

“ No harm shall come to you,” Giles answered quickly.  Xander was not feeling terribly reassured, especially since everyone seemed to be preoccupied with the spell, which ironically meant ignoring him.  Only Spike continued to look unfazed, and even bored, by the proceedings.  It was an act though; Spike was not, and never would be, comfortable around magic.  He had every reason to think something was going to go wrong tonight; with this bunch, it was an all but certainty. 

Eventually, Xander came to be lying on his back on a cleared section of the floor in Buffy’s training room, a pillow under his head, and a nervous expression on his face.  Giles, Tara, and Willow stood around him in a rough triangle, with Willow at the apex.  Buffy, Spike, and Dawn hovered nearby, on the alert for any sign of danger.  The fact that Buffy had a bucket of water, a stake, an axe, a fire extinguisher, and an obscenely large first aide kit spread out within easy reach (and not to mention a rather large and sharp sword in her hand) did not help to lower any of the tensions in the room. 

Willow lit her candle, and waited for Giles and Tara to light theirs.  Once everything was ready to her satisfaction, she began her incantation, feeling the power begin its slow build through her body.  At first it felt foreign and unwieldy, and Willow worried that she had left it alone too long, and that the magics wouldn’t respond to her anymore.  Gradually, however, that feeling faded, and it became instead like the welcoming back of an old friend.  The tingles shot through to her fingers and toes, her vision began to swim, and she revelled in the feeling of connectedness, letting it flood through her and rid her of all the petty doubts and inhibitions she held. 

Carefully, Willow began to siphon that power into its specific target, dimly hearing Tara and Giles chanting in the background, and able to feel her surroundings once more.  The magic had not overwhelmed her, and Willow let herself take a few moments to savour the relief, before immersing herself back into the spell.  Xander’s pain; she could feel it, she could taste it, but its cause still alluded her. 

“ Reveal!” Willow commanded, raising her hand.  The three not involved in the spell watched worriedly as Willow lifted a few feet off the ground; the power pulsing through the room was strong enough that even they could see it. 

“ Should we do something?” Dawn asked.  Giles and Tara were still softly chanting with their eyes closed.  Xander was still and silent, his eyes wide open but sightless.  Buffy didn’t respond, but took a few steps closer.  She felt the circle of power tickle her skin like electricity, and would have warned Dawn and Spike to keep their distance if they hadn’t already followed her and been caught in the web as well. 

Suddenly there was a crack, loud as a gunshot, and then the whole room spun away in a whirl of light and shadow, to be replaced by a different scene altogether.  They were standing in a gloomy and deserted parking lot, with only a distant streetlight providing any illumination.  Not far away was a wrought iron gate, set into a rough stone fence, which went around the perimeter of one of Sunnydale’s many cemeteries. 

Buffy easily recognized the place from her patrols.  “ Willow, how did we get here?  Is everyone okay?” 

Willow blinked, and took in her surroundings for the first time.  She fought to suppress the shiver she felt when a cold breeze blew across the dismal landscape.  “ Umm, I’d love to have an answer for you, but…  I don’t think we’ve really left the shop.  I can still feel the room; this must be part of the spell.” 

“ This is the spell?  This is going to tell us what’s wrong with Xander?” Buffy asked bemusedly. 

“ Oh no,” Xander whispered.  He knew this place also, but Buffy was wrong in supposing this was the same cemetery she passed on a regular basis.  No, this was the cemetery as it had appeared eight or so months ago, and it existed now only in Xander’s memories and nightmares.  Xander himself kept his thoughts away from this situation; it was just about the last place he wanted to give his friends access to. 

“ Xander, what’s going on?” Willow asked. 

“ I think we’re all in my head,” Xander replied uneasily. 

“ This should be a treat,” Spike added, with a roll of his eyes. 

Just then, a second Xander came walking down the darkened road.  He didn’t seem aware of the people standing in his path, he just trudged onwards, his head hung low, and his feet scuffling in the dust.  He paused as he passed the cemetery gates, his attention caught by something. 

“ Willow, I don’t care how you do it, but get us out of here,” Xander said tightly. 

“ But I’m not sure…” 

“ Now!” Xander demanded desperately. 

It was too late.  It was too late for the memory-Xander also, as a large greyish demon stepped out from a shadow in the wall, and impeded the boy’s progress.  The skirmish was all too brief; the outcome easily predicted.  Xander was no match for the massive Broshunk demon, and by the time Xander had the good sense to turn around and make a run for it, two more demons had materialized, and were blocking off his escape. 

The first Broshunk swatted at Xander with one massive arm, as though he were no more substantial than a fly; the force of the blow sent Xander crashing against the stone wall.  Dazed now, and with his nose and lip bleeding, Xander slumped to the ground, curling in on himself.  The Broshunk hauled him out and laid him flat on the gravel, face first.  The weight of the Broshunk across Xander’s back seemed to drive him down into the earth, and then there was the unmistakeable sound of torn cloth. 

“ Please, please don’t watch this,” Xander begged his friends.  He could no longer distinguish between his whimpers and those of his past self.  The scream that rent the air, however, was definitely the product of the assault.  Xander shut his eyes and hummed to himself, not wanting to relive this period of his life.  Even worse was the knowledge that his friends were witnessing it all.  If only they would turn away, and let this memory remain his alone.   

  But though the group all heard Xander pleading, and though they wanted nothing more than to heed his request, they couldn’t turn their eyes away.  It was as if watching was their punishment for not having been there in the first place.   

Dawn sobbed, unable to handle it anymore, and threw herself into the real Xander’s arms, needing to reassure herself that he was still with them, and that monstrous though the crimes against him had been, that it was all in the past now.  Xander gratefully hugged Dawn back.  He concentrated on what this night had brought to him besides the pain: the baby.  He thought about his child and he was able to block out everything else. 

Willow gazed upon the scene with apparent detachment; her expression was cold and impassive.  She’d already created a scenario for how Xander got pregnant, and this sudden confrontation with the harsh truth was almost more than she could bear.  She didn’t want to believe it, but she was still aware of the spell enough to know that this was no dream and that denial simply wasn’t an option.  Xander had been attacked, assaulted, and abandoned while she’d been at home probably already safely asleep in her bed.  How dare those vile creatures touch her friend!  They had no right.   

The power of the spell flooded her veins and enflamed her already heated emotions so that while outwardly she seemed calm, inwardly she was a raging storm of emotion, feverish with the need to avenge her friend. 

‘ You could kill them,’ whispered an insidious voice in her head.  It sounded like her own voice, only lower and somewhat threatening despite its honeyed tones. 

‘ They’re gone,’ Willow argued bitterly.  ‘ I wouldn’t know where to begin to look.’ 

‘ Then kill a part of them.  Kill the babe.’ 

The blackness in Willow’s thoughts lifted slightly, uncertainty bleeding briefly into her thoughts. 

‘ But Xander wants the baby…’ 

‘ How can that be?  You see now what they did to him, what they forced him to do.  How can he love something that came from such torment?’ 

Willow’s expression turned ruthless.  The voice was right; the child was evil and Xander was under a spell that made him want to keep it.  She would stop this now.  The power clouded her eyes, and turned them dark.  Tara noticed first, turning towards Willow in time to see the expression of pure hate cross her lover’s face. 

“ Willow?” 

Willow didn’t respond but the scene in front of them suddenly dissolved and they were all transported to a different space.  It was eerily quiet, and pitch black until a column of red light appeared in the centre of the floor.  The beam began to emit a dull but steady drumming sound and the noise seemed to echo in their ears.  Willow was the only one who didn’t appear disoriented. 

“ Where are we now?  You better be getting us the hell out of here Witch or I’ll…” 

“ Shut-up Spike,” Willow said, power reverberating through her words.  With scarcely a twitch of her hand she lifted Spike off his feet and tossed him back a few feet. 

Tara once again tried to speak to her, but Willow wasn’t to be reasoned with. 

“ This is the child’s life force.  I brought us here so Buffy can destroy it,” Willow explained coolly. 

“ That’s not what I want,” Xander said angrily, crossing over to his best friend.  With a sharp glance, she froze him to the spot. 

“  Poor Xander.  Don’t you know when you’re being controlled?  Don’t worry though; I won’t let them use you anymore.  This will all be over soon,” Willow said sweetly.  She turned her attention back to Buffy: “ Hurry now, there’s not much time.  You know this is the right thing to do.” 

Buffy hesitated, indecision gripping her.  “ Why do I have to do this again?” 

“ Because you’re the hero and it’s your duty to protect us, like you failed to do that night.  The spell is meant to show us what is causing Xander pain, and what we saw was the night the baby was conceived.  Therefore the baby is the source of the pain, and it must be eradicated.  It’s the only way to save him.” 

Buffy looked uncertainly between Xander and Willow.  On the one hand, she had promised herself that she would uphold Xander’s decisions, which would mean letting him keep the baby.  On the other hand, it had been her first instinct to kill the baby, and trusting her instincts was part of the reason she was still alive. Besides, she could alleviate some of her guilt if she took care of things now, once and for all.  Willow was on her side, and she trusted Willow, didn’t she?  It was all so very tempting; one little swipe of her sword and everything would go back to the way it was before any of this started. 

Willow was pushing her power to the limits; laying the compulsion on Buffy to overcome the slayer’s common sense was almost too much for her, but she could tell by the determined way in which Buffy clenched her sword that she wouldn’t have to maintain the magic much longer.  Willow’s focus was such that she almost didn’t notice Giles’s counter-spell in time.  Fortunately, there was a flare of power not her own that drew her attention. 

“ Naughty, naughty.  Don’t you know that here I make all the rules?” Willow asked rhetorically.  With her last dregs of power she attempted to knock Giles out, but Tara saw what was happening and moved to intercept, taking the brunt of the attack.  Tara’s eyes rolled back in her head as the surge of power hit her, and she fell to the ground senseless. 

The shock of that image broke through the black miasma that had settled over Willow’s mind.  In an instant, she saw with perfect clarity how the black magic had tried to manipulate her. 

“ Oh Goddess, no,” Willow muttered, but she had no powers left to call on and she fell to her knees entirely helpless.  She could only watch with horror as Buffy approached the vulnerable swathe of light, and lifted her sword.  The blade glistened beneath the beam’s rays and glowed the colour of freshly spilled blood. 

“ No don’t do it!” Xander cried out, still mostly paralysed. 

Before Buffy could inflict the killing blow, Spike lunged at her, knocking them both to the floor. 

“ Get off!  I have to do this.  I have to save Xander,” Buffy said, as she struggled to get to her feet. 

“ Killing the kid won’t change the fact that this happened.  If it’s violence you’re needing, then take it out on someone who can fight back, get me?” 

Giles had resolutely kept to his spell, knowing that to stop halfway would only make matters worse.  With a relieved sigh he came to the end of it, and without Willow’s magic to out compete his own, he was able to push enough power into the spell to break them free and send them back to the Magic Box.  In seconds they were returned to their original positions, their eyes fluttering open as awareness came back to them. 

“ Tara?  Are you alright baby?” Willow asked tearfully.  “ I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean it, I swear.” 

Tara blinked rapidly, bringing a hand up to her aching head.  “ You lost control.  W-w-we shouldn’t have pushed you.  It’s not your fault,” Tara said haltingly.  Still, she drew back when Willow tried to check her for injuries.  Hurt, Willow turned to her other friends.   

“ It wasn’t me, it was the magic,” Willow said brokenly.  Dawn sniffed, and turned away.  Buffy looked understanding, but was more concerned with making sure her sister was okay than with reassuring her friend.  Willow finally turned pleading eyes on Xander. 

“ Xander?  Tell me you understand.  I would never…” 

Someone had threatened his child.  He had almost lost his baby without ever getting a chance to hold it.  Xander lay trembling on the floor trying to come to grips with these thoughts and failing. 

“ Xander, please, say something,” Willow pressed, tears streaming down her face. 

“ I want to go home,” Xander said hollowly.  Spike heard his cue.  Without even asking, he crossed to the middle of the floor where Xander was still lying, and picked him up.  Xander let his head come to rest against Spike’s shoulder, more than content to let Spike handle things for the time being. 

“ Perhaps it would be best if Xander stayed.  We still need to sort some things out,” Giles ventured. 

Spike’s jaw clenched and his eyes glittered dangerously.  “ What you did to him tonight was almost worse then what those Broshunk did – they at least never claimed to be his friends.  You played with his mind, you threatened the one thing that makes his ordeal bearable, and through it all you acted as if Xander were some half-wit, while you remained high-and-mighty, as though you had all the answers.  Well, you don’t, do you?  You’ve made it worse.  So now, I’m taking him home, which was the right thing to do in the first place, and the rest of you can just bugger off.” 

Spike slammed out of the room, Xander held gently and carefully in his arms.  Spike was so angry that his entire body felt tight, and he yearned to hunt down the Broshunk that had hurt his Xander, and make it pay, just as he wanted to stay and yell at the rest of the group for awhile longer.  But while either action would help his own peace of mind, they wouldn’t do much for Xander’s, so he put aside those feelings and concentrated on getting them home. 

“ Thank you,” Xander whispered.  Spike looked down at the dark head placed trustingly on his shoulder and readjusted his grip. 

“ Made a promise to protect you and the little Munchie,” Spike replied gruffly. 

“ Oh.  Well, you did a good job.” 

Xander was too exhausted to talk any more, so they remained quiet all the way back to the apartment.  Spike carried Xander up the stairs and only released his hold when Xander was comfortably settled on their couch.  Spike heated some blood in the microwave, and carried his meal back to the couch.  He got behind Xander, and rearranged their positions until he could get one arm around Xander’s waist.  Xander leaned back against Spike’s chest, glad to be held and too confused by all that had happened to question it. 

Spike lifted the blood to his lips, when Xander made an unexpected grab for it.  Xander had gulped down the entire mug before Spike could even think to complain. 

“ More,” Xander said simply, handing Spike the empty mug.  Spike hurriedly got to his feet, and went to the kitchen.  He filled two more mugs, and brought them back to Xander, who drank them both down swiftly.  Spike wordlessly prepared two more mugs, but this time Xander only took a few sips before putting the cup down. 

“ The pain is gone,” Xander said.  “ The pain in my stomach, it’s all gone now.  It must be the blood – I haven’t been drinking enough of it, and that’s why I got sick.  God, I’m so stupid!  Why couldn’t I have figured out all of this sooner?  Now everyone knows what’s happened to me, and everything is all messed up.  How can I face any of them after this?” 

“ One, while you are stupid, considering you think country music is an actual musical styling, you could hardly have known that blood was the answer to your problem or that the spell would have that effect,” Spike said, regaining his position as Xander’s backrest. 

“ And two?” 

“ And two what?” 

Xander smiled slightly.  “ Well, usually when someone begins a sentence with  ‘one’, that means there’s a second point coming up.” 

“ Fine.  Two: your friends are morons, and you’re better off without them.”  Seeing Xander’s glum reaction to that statement, Spike sighed and amended softly: “ Things will get better.  You’ll remember that they were only trying to help, and they’ll remember why it was so important that they try to do something, and then you can all go back to being the sickening group of nitwits you usually are.” 

“ And in the meantime, I get you?” Xander asked, yawning deeply.  Without the constant ache in his stomach, Xander was finding it hard to deny sleep any longer.  He snuggled up to Spike, who didn’t seem at all perturbed with having a lapful of dozy Xander, and quickly nodded off. 

“ Yeah luv, you get me,” Spike said warmly, rubbing his hand along Xander’s arm while he finished his blood.  He then picked Xander up for the second time that night, and carried him to the bed. 

In the morning, Xander awoke and stumbled to the bathroom.  He stared blearily at himself in the mirror, taking in the stubble on his chin, and the redness of his eyes.  He was going to start his typical morning routine when he realized he had nowhere at all to go that day.  No work, certainly, as he really didn’t see himself going to the Magic Box anytime soon, and there was no other place he had to be, and nobody he needed to meet.  Xander decided he might as well make the most of his unexpected day of leisure, and go back to bed. 

Spike yawned and stretched, preparing to take full advantage of the warm spot Xander had vacated, when Xander plopped himself down on the bed, causing everything to bounce and jiggle. 

“ Shouldn’t do that when you probably weigh as much as a beached whale.  Liable to send us both crashing through the floor,” Spike teased. 

“ Shut-up and shove over,” Xander said, not at all offended.  Spike shifted so there was some space between their bodies, but Xander was having none of that.  Once Xander got under the blankets and had them arranged over Spike and himself to his satisfaction, he resumed his position from earlier with his head on Spike’s shoulder, and one bent knee draped over Spike’s legs. 

True, they almost always shared a bed at night, and it was also common for them to cuddle together during their sleep, but this was the first time either of them had made a conscious choice to be near to each other.  It baffled Spike that Xander would voluntarily touch him, but it was a good bafflement and it caused a rather loopy grin to appear on his face.  Spike was very glad that Xander couldn’t see his expression; the mocking would last all morning. 

How strange was it, Xander mused, that of all his friends and family, it was Spike, a vampire, and someone he had almost always disliked, that he trusted with all his insecurities and vulnerabilities.  It wasn’t just because Spike had proved himself as a protector, because Xander had felt a connection long before he’d put any trust in Spike’s motives.  No, it was something else that drew Xander to Spike; maybe it was their similar experiences with people who let you down right when you needed them most.  Who abandoned you for someone better. 

Then again, did it really matter how it had happened?  A reason wouldn’t make it any less true. 

“ Little Munchie seems none the worse for wear,” Spike said into the stillness.  With Xander lying as he was, his stomach was pressed against Spike’s side, which explained why Spike could feel the baby moving about. 

“ Should I be concerned that you keep calling my baby a ‘munchie’?” Xander asked rhetorically.  He knew Spike gave nicknames to everyone, and he was actually getting to appreciate the title given to his child, not that he was ever going to admit that to Spike. 

“ Easier to talk with the kid when he’s got a handle, yeah?  You got any names picked out?” 

Nobody had asked Xander that, and it struck him yet again how much more comfortable Spike was with the pregnancy than his friends were.  He supposed he should cut his friends some slack; a male pregnancy was certainly disturbing.  It was like someone with a noticeable disfigurement – no matter how accepting or liberal minded you are, the first reaction is always to stare.  There were moments where Xander himself felt overwhelmed with the weirdness factor, staring at his protruding belly as though it were something entirely alien.   

“ I have first names picked out.  I haven’t decided on a middle name, though anything I pick has got to be better than Lavelle.” 

“ Lavelle?” Spike snorted.  “ Your parents were afraid you weren’t going to be picked on enough?” 

“ I prefer to think it was a mistake the doctor made.  I mean, it’s not even a family name,” Xander said, giving a shudder.  Spike’s hand had by this time slipped unnoticed under Xander’s t-shirt, and was laying flat against Xander’s belly, enjoying the sensation of the baby shifting.  With his thumb he started rubbing small circles, a fact that Xander couldn’t help but be aware of.  Xander didn’t say anything, however, as he didn’t want it to end. 

“ My middle name’s nothing to boast about, either,” Spike offered. 

“ Really?  What is it?” 

Spike mumbled something that Xander couldn’t catch. 

“ Care to repeat that?” 

“ Archibald,” Spike muttered deprecatingly.  Xander chuckled, and Spike scowled, and it was all so easy, so familiar.  Intimate. 

Intimacy without sex: what a concept.  Actually, no, in Xander’s experience, sex with intimacy was the unlikely occurrence.  Sex first, confusion later; that was the usual pattern of Xander’s relationships.  It explained why Xander’s most profound and most revealing disclosures had been to friends, not lovers.  In fact, at one point there had really only been one person he had wanted to confide in, and that person was Willow.    The thought of his best friend made Xander’s stomach lurch nauseously.  What had happened to their complete and utter faith in each other?  How could they get back there?  He wasn’t mad at her anymore, not even for what she had tried to do to the baby.  He understood about the magic, and really, all he wanted was his best friend back.  Would they be able to get past this? 

“ Hey, what’s with the brooding all of a sudden?  Did you forget my admission already?” 

Xander put the thought of Willow resolutely to the back of his mind.  “ No danger of that, Archibald.” 

“ I should think not, Lavelle,” Spike returned.  “ I’m getting hungry.  You?” 

“ Yeah.  Guess that means we have to get up?” 

“ Small as this place is, I don’t think we can reach the refrigerator from here, no.” 

“ Damn faulty floor design,” Xander said.  He sighed, “ So we’ll get up.” 

Neither made any movement to do so. 

“ Five minutes?” Spike suggested.  Xander nodded in agreement. 

Three hours later, give or take, they set about making something to eat.   

The day passed quietly, and if that seemed a little odd considering recent events, then they wilfully ignored it.  They were bickering over what to watch on television that evening, when the apartment buzzer sounded.  After a quick look at the suddenly silent Xander, Spike rose to answer it. 

“ What?” 

“ I hate these contraptions…  Spike, might I have a word with Xander?” 

“ He’s resting.  What do you want?” 

“ I’d really rather not discuss this in the foyer.  May I come up?” 

Spike redirected the question to Xander with a look, and Xander nodded.  Spike released the security door and they waited.  When Giles arrived, he looked just as unsure of what to say as Xander did. 

“ Hey Giles, thanks for getting us out of that nightmare spell.  I forgot to say something yesterday.” 

“ You needn’t have concerned yourself with that; you undoubtedly had more important matters to consider after…” Giles trailed off, not wanting to stall the conversation before it had begun.  “ You should know, we all feel responsible for both what happened and our reactions to it.” 

Xander shifted uncomfortably, and said awkwardly: “ I really don’t need apologies, okay?” 

“ Right.  Certainly,” Giles said, resisting the urge to fiddle with his glasses.  “ What I really came here to say is that after we got over ourselves, we did try to do something positive.  We’ve been researching virtually since day break, all about Broshunk demons, and we may have found some information that can help you.” 

“ Really?” Xander asked, finally looking up from the floor. 

“ Yes, well.  There have been one or two documented cases of men giving birth to a Broshunk-Human hybrid child, and that at least gives us a place to start.  Are you aware that you’ll need to drink animal blood during your pregnancy?” 

“ Uh, I sort-of figured out that on my own.  I’ve been drinking from Spike’s stash for a while.  Of course, I thought it was just a craving.  I didn’t realize that I actually *needed* to drink, not until yesterday anyway.” 

Giles made the connection.  “ The pain you experienced.  Yes, that would correlate with what we know.  You are feeling better now then?” 

“ As good as to be expected, considering I have blood-breath now,” Xander admitted.  He struggled to get off the couch, tired of craning his neck to look up at Giles.  Spike grabbed one of his flailing arms and hauled him upwards. 

“ Do you want something to drink?” Xander asked, heading towards the kitchen area. 

“ No, thank you,” Giles said.  He did sit down in one of the kitchen chairs, however, and spread out a few books he had brought with him over the table.  Xander poured himself some orange juice, before sitting down and reluctantly reaching for one of the books. 

“ What else did you guys learn?” 

“ Bits and pieces of trivia, nothing too terribly important.  Although, now that Buffy knows the baby is mostly human, she has promised not to harm it,” Giles said, almost fearing a reaction. 

Spike snorted disdainfully and shook his head: “ Such restraint.  She’s a real saint that one.” 

Giles jaw instinctively clenched at the slight to his charge, but he forced a retort down.  He had to admit that Spike had a point, but still, better late than never for Buffy to get on board. 

“ Also, we discovered something about the birth that I know you’re not going to like.”  Giles took a deep breath, and Xander schooled his features into a picture of apparent calm, preparing himself for anything.  “ Your body has not been altered to allow for a ‘natural’ birth.  The only way to remove the child without causing it or you serious harm is to do a spell.” 

Xander’s breath hitched; Spike slammed the flat of his hand against the countertop causing it to crack. 

“ A spell?  You expect him to come anywhere near any of you ever again after you were so successful the last time?” Spike demanded. 

“ I expect nothing, I am only explaining the situation.  On the plus side, it is a very simple spell, requiring very little by way of power.  It does require that it be performed on the night of a full moon, however.  The next one is in two weeks, which is the closest we’ll get to having the child born to term.” 

Spike was about to say something nasty regarding magic in general, and Giles in specific, but Xander spoke before he had a chance. 

“ Is Willow doing the spell?” Xander asked neutrally. 

“ She made it very clear that she would have no part in any spell.  She feels she is not yet ready, plus she didn’t want you to have any reservations about going through with this necessary step.” 

Xander took a moment to think about it, but if what Giles said was true, and this was the only way to safely deliver his baby, then he wasn’t going to let fear stop him. 

“ Willow did have one request,” Giles said. 

Xander tensed: “ Yes?” 

“ While Tara and I do the spell, she wants to hold your hand.” 

Xander’s heart threatened to beat through his chest.  What happened next was a blur, but somehow he managed to get his hands on a phone, and to dial Willow’s number, and then the next thing he knew, Willow was coming through his door, and they were hugging and crying and speaking all at once. 

“ Xander, I am so sorry,” Willow said, her voice muffled considering she had buried her head in Xander’s shoulder. 

“ It’s okay, it’s okay, I’m just so glad you’re here.  I thought you’d hate me, think I was disgusting or something…” 

“ Oh!  I would never!” 

They continued to mutter things, but they never once let up on their fierce hug.  When at last they drew apart, Willow used Giles’ handkerchief to blow her nose.  Xander swiped at his eyes with the back of his sleeve and hoped nobody noticed their puffiness.  Everyone did. 

“ See?  Didn’t I tell you that soon you’d all go back to the revolting lovey-dovey displays?  I mean really, couldn’t you at least take this outside?  Demon here; this is all very disturbing to me.” 

“ Aw, poor Spike,” Willow said with exaggerated sympathy.  She then hugged the shocked vampire, silently thanking him for saving Xander and the baby last night.  Spike couldn’t even think of something to say afterwards, so he busied himself with getting some blood.  He really had to stop hanging around with this bunch of do-gooders before he lost his appetite. 

Giles and Willow only stayed for a little while before leaving together.  Giles had left all the books, indicating which ones Xander would find most useful.  They were all going to meet at the Magic Box tomorrow, and Giles said he would try to answer any of Xander’s questions at that time. 

The following weeks passed very quickly.  Dent D’Or stepped up his attempts at taking over the city.  The mercenaries he hired weren’t particularly difficult to dispatch, but they were numerous, and it kept the active members of the Scooby gang busy.  Spike was an eager participant in patrols, because being at home only made him nervous.  Xander seemed confident that this time nothing would go wrong with the spell, but Spike wasn’t so certain.  On the other hand, he was also looking forward to finally meeting the baby he had been talking to (often during the night once Xander had fallen asleep – this was one baby who was going to be fluent in British swear words from a very early age).  Anyway, suffice to say that Spike was in need of burning off some excess energy, and for once the demon community was being accommodating. 

Spike and Xander were lying side-by-side in bed on the eve of the baby’s birth, being quiet but not sleeping. 

“ Spike?” 

“ Yeah?” 

“ Have you ever been afraid?” 

It was an honest question, and Spike chose to answer it without his usual bravado. 

“ ‘Course I have.  As a human, I was scared all the time.” 

“ No, I mean like really, really afraid?  What if something goes wrong tomorrow?  And even if everything goes great, what am I going to do with a baby?  My parents don’t exactly set a very good example of parenthood.  What if I mess up this kid’s life?  What if it hates me?” 

“ Good parents worry about those things; bad ones don’t,” Spike said.  Xander digested this bit of news, but it didn’t calm all of his worries.  “ And I do know about being afraid.  I know you all think it’s nothing major, and you’ve gotten used to it, but this chip?  Sometime it terrifies me beyond all reason.  You can have no idea what’s it’s like to have to go out everyday and to see people who, if they took the inclination, could beat you to death.  No matter what they did to me, I wouldn’t be able to stop them.  That night, when Dent D’Or sent those human mercenaries?  I was left there on the sidewalk, and all I could think was ‘this is it, this is how it ends’.  Guess that means we fear the same thing, huh?  We’re scared that when the time comes to act, we won’t be able to.” 

“ Helpless,” Xander agreed. 

They continued to stare at the ceiling, thinking their own thoughts.  Xander took the time to consider the implications of the chip from Spike’s point of view.  It must have been a hard thing to come to terms with, that sudden dependence on mercy when before there had merely been ‘want, take, have’.  Suddenly becoming a victim was something Xander could sympathize with.  Still, there was a positive in that the chip had enabled their rather strange friendship to develop.  That had to count for something, right? 

“ Spike?” 

“ Yeah?” Spike replied, his voice a little sleepier than before. 

“ Tomorrow, if something happens to me…” 

“ Don’t need to worry about that…” Spike interjected.  He didn’t want to hear about Xander leaving.  Period. 

“ If something happens to me,” Xander insisted, “ Promise me you’ll keep protecting my baby?” 

Shock did not begin to describe Spike’s reaction.  He could scarcely squeak out a response over the lump in his throat.  “ I… I promise, Xander.  Anything that goes after little Munchie has to go through me first.” 

Xander smiled and patted Spike’s shoulder, before rolling onto his side, determined to get at least a few hours of sleep. 

“ Though, seeing as how you’re trusting me with your first born and all, don’t you think you should tell me what you’re going to call it?” 

“ It’s really killing you not knowing, isn’t it?” Xander asked, a smile to go with his words. 

“ You have no idea,” Spike replied. 

“ Sucks to be you then, don’t it?” Xander said.  Spike huffed, and Xander laughed.  It wasn’t so very hard to fall asleep after that. 

The gang was supposed to arrive at Xander’s apartment shortly after dusk, but life on the Hellmouth intervened, and they found themselves fighting a nasty, smelly, puppy-eating demon that simply would not leave them alone.  Spike had gone out to lend a hand, hoping that with his help they could dispatch the demon quicker, and get back to Xander.  Xander had been feeling some pain upon waking, and it had been getting worse throughout the day.  When Spike had left that evening, Xander had been lying on the bed, his forehead bathed in sweat, and his mouth pinched tightly shut.  The baby certainly knew it was time to be born, and it was not about to wait, not even for puppy-eating demons. 

Finally, with half an hour until midnight, the worn-out warriors trooped into Xander’s apartment.  All signs of weariness soon fled, however, when it came time to do the birthing spell.  For it to begin, Xander first had to be put to sleep, and so with a smile that was meant to be brave, a squeeze of Willow’s hand, and a brief but meaningful look to Spike, who acknowledged with a nod, Xander closed his eyes and let the spell put him under. 

The next thing Xander knew, someone was rubbing his hand, and washing the sweat off his brow.  It had only been a few minutes, he was certain, and therefore his first impulse was that something had gone wrong.  He opened panicked eyes, and they quickly focused on Willow’s beaming face.  The rest of the room had been blocked off from view by a sheet that Giles or someone must have hung up for privacy. 

“ Hey, you’re finally awake.  How are you feeling?” 

“ That depends.  Is everything…  Am I… Did I?” 

“ The spell worked perfectly, and you’ve been asleep for about an hour.  You shouldn’t be in any pain right now – we pumped you full of drugs, but once they wear off, you might feel a little sore.” 

Xander nodded.  He could have guessed at the drugs as his vision was a little hazy in the dim light, and he felt weak.  All of that was merely a peripheral observation however, as he had one burning question that he was almost afraid to ask. 

“ And the baby?” 

Willow’s face positively glowed, and joyful tears formed in the corners of her eyes.  “ Oh my Goddess, Xander, he’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” 

“ It’s a boy?” 

Willow nodded, overcome by her emotions for a moment.  She hugged Xander, and tried to pull herself together.  “ A boy, and as far as we can tell, he’s perfectly healthy.  He’s got a good pair of lungs, that’s for certain.” 

“ I want to see him.  Can I see him?” Xander begged.  He tried to get out of bed, but he felt too woozy. 

Willow turned her head and called out.  “ He’s awake, and he wants to see the baby.” 

The sheet was drawn back, and suddenly the tired but blissfully happy faces of his friends surrounded Xander.  Dawn jumped to the bed, hugging Xander and giggling out her congratulations. 

“ Xander, I can’t believe I ever threatened him.  He’s utterly perfect.  So small, so tiny,” Buffy gushed, eyes shining.  Xander was getting more than a little perturbed that everyone had gotten to see his child, and he was still waiting. 

“ And you should see him cry when Buffy gets within ten feet of him.  Got so I had to hold him outside in the hallway,” Spike said, looking fiercely protective and supremely smug at the same time.  He carried a small bundle of white cotton in his arms. 

“ Yes, it appears your child favours Spike above the rest of us.  He’s the only one who could get him to stop crying,” Giles said, almost petulantly.  Xander smiled, but his attention never wavered from the baby Spike held. 

Spike brought him over, and Xander at last got to look into the face of the baby he had protected, fought for, cared for, and loved for nine long months. The tiny eyelashes, the warmth that spread through the soft white baby blanket, the dark hair that already lay in silky wisps on the small head, the slight flare of the barely there nostrils…  It was all fascinating, all Earth shattering.  Xander just couldn’t stop staring.  This living being was a part of him, and still somehow, he was perfect. 

“ Guess all that stuff about talking to kids in the womb is true,” Spike ruminated.  “ As I’m the only non-stranger in the room, I’m the only one he trusts to be near him.” 

“ Guess that means you know me too then,” Xander whispered to the baby.  The baby gurgled and his eyes opened a tiny bit. 

“ Hey!  He’s got blue eyes,” Dawn exclaimed.  They all crowded around to observe for themselves, and there was a loud chorus of ‘awws’.  The baby managed to free one of its tiny limbs and gripped onto Xander’s finger tightly.  Xander thought his heart might burst.  He didn’t even notice that the baby’s fingernails were black. 

Giles still took it upon himself to explain.  “ The baby’s fingernails and toenails are black and more like claws then real human nails.  It’s nothing to be concerned over, and it appears to be the only visible reminder that he’s not entirely human.”  Giles gaze softened as he looked over the new father.  “ Simply makes him extra special.” 

“ Hmm, black nails and blue eyes?  Spike, is there something we should know?” Buffy asked teasingly.  Dawn laughed at Spike’s comical expression, and he pretended to growl at her for it. 

“ Much as I’d love to take credit for it, I’m afraid it’s just a coincidence.  Besides, it’s just as likely he’ll have brown eyes.” 

“ What do you mean?” Tara asked. 

“ He means that eye colour can take a few days to develop.  A lot of babies start off with blue eyes that eventually darken.  Though as to why Spike knows this… You did read my pregnancy books, didn’t you?” Xander accused gleefully. 

“ Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Spike blustered, looking anywhere but at Xander.  The other’s burst out laughing. 

“ So what’s his name?” Spike asked, wanting to get the others off the topic of his new reading selections. 

“ Oh yes!  Have you thought of a name yet, Xander?  Because I have lots of ideas!” Willow said, bouncing on the balls of his feet. 

Xander traced a finger down his baby’s face reverently.  “ His name’s Jesse.” 

“ That’s perfect, Xander.  He would really have liked that,” Willow said gently.  Buffy nodded her agreement. 

“ Jesse Harris,” Dawn said, testing the name out. 

“ Jesse Rupert Harris,” Xander elaborated.  He looked up at Giles, “ If that’s alright?” 

“ More than alright,” Giles said, clearly stunned.  He spent a few moments, dithering over the appropriate response and trying to think of something to do with his hands.  “ I think I need a moment.” 

Giles stepped out of the apartment and into the hallway. 

“ I think you killed him Xan,” Buffy joked warmly.  “ There’s only so much that stiff British upper lip can take.” 

Xander smiled, pleased that his decision had gone over as well as it had.  They continued to ooh and ahh over the baby, but Xander wouldn’t let anyone hold him again.  He knew it was selfish, but it was the best feeling in the world holding Jesse, and he wasn’t prepared to share just yet.  The others looked understanding.  Eventually, the noise of the room, and all the people, began to make the baby fuss. 

“ Right, that means it’s time you lot got a move on.  They’ll both be here in the morning, you can come back then.” 

“ You’re really going to rub it in that you get to live here and see the baby everyday, aren’t you?” Dawn hypothesized. 

“ You bet,” Spike replied.  He managed to get everyone out of the room, though there were an awful lot of ‘one last looks’ and ‘just one last hug’ to get through.  When the apartment was at last cleared, Spike came back over, and sat on the edge of the bed next to Xander. 

“ Just you, me and the little Munchie now,” Spike said softly. 

“ I never thought it would be this good,” Xander said in awe. 

“ Can I see it then?” 

“ You haven’t seen the baby yet?  But you were holding him when I woke-up,” Xander asked confused. 

“ Don’t mean the baby.  Seen him already, haven’t I?  Love the baby.  Nah, what I want is to see the scar where they pulled him out.” 

Between the drugs and seeing Jesse, Xander hadn’t given any thought to that aspect of things.  Somewhat timorously, Xander pulled back the sheet that covered his torso.  The skin looked slightly stretched, but otherwise unmarked.  A few sit-ups and he would be back to normal. 

“ What?  No scar!  How dare they?  Oh, I am so going to have words with that bloody Watcher…” Spike jumped up and started to pace and gesticulate.  He kept muttering about how nobody had any respect for battle scars anymore.  Xander just shook his head at the insanity that was Spike, and turned back to stare at Jesse, who had taken to sucking on a corner of blanket.  Sure, it was a strange life that Xander was leading, but at this moment, it suited him just fine.

Part Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ One word Harris, and I’ll…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ So we can keep the carrier?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ Xander!” Willow exclaimed.

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

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

“ Spike?”

“ Yeah, little Bit?” 

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

“ You want to hold him?”

“ Oh yes,” Dawn nodded.

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

Dawn nodded again enthusiastically.

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

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

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

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

“ But you…  You can’t do that!”

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

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

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

“ Me a bully?  Are you freaking nuts?”

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

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

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

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

“ But Xander…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spike sneered at her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ Yeah, we should be going also.  Jesse has to look his most adorable tomorrow, so that the babysitter I’m meeting with will say yes to the job even after I tell her what I can afford to pay her.”
At Xander’s comments, Spike’s expression darkened and his shoulders tensed, but everyone was too busy getting things organized to notice.  It wasn’t until Xander and Spike had gotten back to the apartment, and Spike was handing a sleeping Jesse over to his father, that Xander even recognized the silence as a sign that something was wrong.
“ Er, Spike?  You okay?”
“ Going out to kill something,” Spike said tersely, before striding away.  Xander was left holding a baby in one arm and a bag full of presents in the other, a puzzled expression on his face.  What had he done now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ Bloody hell!”

“ God damn it!”

“ Wahh!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ Sure,” Xander said brightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ You have my number, right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ But what if…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ Why a river?” Willow asked curiously.

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

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

“ Right out of that denial tree, huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ What are for friends for?”

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

“ You may continue, peasant boy.”

“ Me and Spike?!”

The end of part seven  - stay tuned for Part Eight which will be as mushy as a really mushy thing.

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