"What time are you leaving tonight?"
"Probably not until six. I need all the customers I can get after going away and losing a week's worth of money. Damn Xander." Willow looked up from the salad she was eating and watched as Anya cleaned the Magic Box counter top for the third time in half an hour.
"You know- if he hadn't left you-"
"At the alter."
"Yes, at the alter, then-"
"Well, actually it was by the doors. Sorry. Do continue."
"If he hadn't left you then you'd have lost three weeks of money."
"You'd have been on your honeymoon."
"That is true. I hadn't thought of that. So- thank you Xander for leaving me."
It had been two weeks since Willow had moved into Anya's new apartment. Since then she had spoken to both Xander and Dawn, but had not even seen Buffy. She felt a little bad about that- this was her best friend of the past six years, but at the same time she just didn't know who to trust anymore- if The Council could control Buffy then no one was completely trustworthy. So she'd been staying with Anya- although even she seemed a little 'off' as of late- something Willow chalked up to Xander's recent behaviour.
"I cannot believe I didn't think of that." Willow was pulled from her thoughts by the words.
"In all the wedding plans, it never once occurred to me that I was going to lose all that money. I don't know where my head was."
"Love can do that- make you crazy."
"Hmph." Anya returned to her cleaning and Willow started on her second salad- maybe she should start taking Xander's advice and just buy one large meal instead of two small ones- it hardly mattered that the big ones were never as nice- she was having difficulties tasting anything.
"Oh drat." Anya looked up and saw Willow frantically trying to rub away a mark from the front of her red dungarees where she'd dropped a forkful of salad down herself. She looked so- well- so Willow-y that Anya felt one of those flushes of human emotion run through her. It was all so exciting- there was going to be a baby scooby, a toddler of the apocalypse and she and Willow and everyone would get to look after it- except Spike. It would be like entertaining Dawn again- only with fewer crushes on Xander and less of her annoying nasal voice- and there would be no danger of it turning into a little Buffy- or at least she hoped there wouldn't be. Of course, if it was a girl there was a one in three billion chance it could be a slayer- but if you forgot that fact it was all cheery.
"Can I hug you?"
"Can you- huh?"
"I'm having one of those attacks I get- of humanness- it's quite disgusting really- but I want to show you my affection so I'd like to hug you. Please?" Willow smiled and pushed back the chair she was in to stand and approach Anya.
"You know, you're my absolute favourite ex-vengeance demon." Both girls grinned before embracing. After a moment it was Anya that broke away first.
"Okay, I'm better now. I should do some more... stock lists."
"You need some help? I can do that sitting down."
"Why? Are you tired? Are you overworking yourself?"
"No, I'm fine- it's just hard work standing up for a long time. You know," she sat down and put her feet on a chair in front of her, "I'm starting to understand why men are supposed to stick around during this whole deal."
"Why? Is it true?"
"I'd kill for a foot-rub."
"Not that- the horny part."
"The hor- oh, that part, well-" Anya cut her off.
"I was just curious because we could just ditch the men altogether for that part."
"Come on Willow; two women scorned by their men, alone together for long periods of time? It's the basis of many smutty stories I've found."
"I- wouldn't know."
"You haven't used your computer for interesting things?"
"Are you coming on to me?"
"Eight-month-pregnant, crazy-paranoid Willow?" Anya made a dismissive noise.
"No- of course not. I mean, why would I- Hallie!" Willow looked up to the front of the shop, vaguely disappointed that the demon had come in, the malicious part of her having enjoyed seeing Anya just a little uncomfortable and struggling for an answer.
"Good morning Anyanka. Willow."
"Hi." Willow nodded at the demon and then stood. "Y'know, Anya, I'm gonna go take a walk, get some fresh air."
"Are you sure? Didn't you say this morning how exhausted you were? I don't want you putting yourself out."
"Anyanka, I'm sure the woman is capable of judging whether she can take a walk or not." Willow gave Hallie a tight-lipped smile before taking a few steps backward toward the door.
"I'm fine Anya, I'll just go over to the park, catch some sun then go back to the apartment."
"Okay, you promise to call if you need anything."
"You're so anxious Anya. Anyone would think it was you having the baby."
"I do hope not."
"Okay, I'll see you later." Willow turned and walked up the steps, giving a little wave as she left the shop, leaving the remaining two alone.
"Does she know?" Hallie asked.
"She hasn't asked what-"
"You're going to tell her though."
"I expect so."
"Now, for your little Harris problem."
Willow slowly walked up Sunnydale's main street, constantly watching for people behaving strangely. She'd had more than enough of demons paying midnight visits to the Summers' residence, or mojo being put on her friends and her and her baby's life being constant danger. For some reason she felt that if she could just make it to the birth then something would happen to make everything all right. Realistically she knew that it wouldn't be that easy- and that they'd be fighting for a good long time before it was over, but she was thinking in small steps. Small steps. Her long-term goal was her due date in two weeks, but right now she was just going to make it to the park.
Walking past the espresso pump felt like one of the hardest tasks of Willow's short life, the amount of people simply loitering was difficult to cope with- no one seemed out of place and no one watched her more than anyone else. Quickening her steps, she passed the exposed spot and breathed a sigh of relief as the park gates came into sight. Sunnydale Park was notorious for being dead during the day- but was full of vampires at night. It was a good place to just come and think, although Willow hadn't been there for a good long while. With a smile as she sat under her favourite tree, she remembered the first time she'd brought Rupert here.
"Willow, what are you-" The redhead grinned as she motioned for the man in front of her to sit down and reached into her backpack.
"I thought we should celebrate."
"You, me, us, life. Harmony for providing entertainment." Willow pulled out two plastic tumblers and a bottle of champagne and put them on the grass between them. "Also- it's your birthday next week and I don't know when we'll next get some alone time."
"Yes, do remind me I'm getting even older. I like that." Rupert's tone was dry and she pulled a face at the sarcasm.
"You shouldn't frown- you'll get wrinkles." She reached over and traced some of the lines above his eyebrows, trying to relax his features into a smile.
"We're in the middle of Sunnydale- in the park. Someone will see-"
"No one will see us. No one comes in here."
"That's not true- Buffy and I-"
"Buffy and you don't count," she said dismissively, "at night, yes, this place crawls, but not when the sun's shining. Honestly, it's empty."
"Are you sure?"
"Look, the sun's shining, I have no lectures, you've got the afternoon off- although why you've decided Anya of all people can look after the store I don't' know. And I have cherries in my bag. If you want to continue worrying, please do; I'll just enjoy today myself." She leaned back against the tree and reached into her bag for the boxed cherries.
"You know that they're awfully less romantic than strawberries?"
"But I prefer them."
"The thing I miss most about England is the winter mornings."
"Whatever for?" Although puzzled by the subject change, Willow let him run with it.
"Well, not the mornings so much as breakfast- when it's cold and dark and you just want to stay in bed, but you stumble down and have toasted teacakes or crumpets or muffins- English ones. Yes, I miss those."
"While here you have the torment of sun and apocalypses. Apocalypi? Apocalypsees? Huh, whatever."
"Both of which can actually be seen occasionally in the British Isles." They sat in silence for a moment before Willow spoke again.
"Your birthday- getting older, the age gap- does it still bother you?"
"Sometimes. Sometimes if we're all together, I'll look across and think 'that's the woman I'm going to marry, that will have my children and I'll grow old with,' but then I realise I'm not your age- we'll grown old in turn, not together, and I'll look at Dawn and Buffy, the daughters I never had, and at Xander, growing up all of a sudden with Anya, and it scares me that you're the same age as them- if more mature. Do you not think on it?"
"'don't listen when they scoff
that you are old and i am young
for i am old enough to know better
and you are young enough not to care'"
"Armistead- in 'Tales of the City'."
"Yes, I'm with you." He grinned all of a sudden. "It's bloody perfect. Are you sure this place is deserted?"
"Almost- only a few kids playing truant ever come here- and they stick over the other side."
"Then come here." With one hand he reached for the bottle Willow had left beside them, while the other snaked around her waist, pulling her toward him. With a smile she reached over and kissed him.
"Why?" She smiled. "You gonna make it worth my while?"
Spike was jolted from his almost-slumber in front of the TV by the shrill ringing of the telephone. He groaned, he'd only had the damn thing installed last month and only about five people were supposed to know the number. Unfortunately, four of those five were full time Scooby-gang members.
"Yeah?" He grunted into the receiver.
"Spike, it's Willow."
"What d'you want witch?"
"Giles and I kind of... need your help with something."
"We need you to drive to Sunnydale police HQ and... well... bail us out."
"Bail you- what?"
"We're in custody, we need you to bring the money you stole from Giles' apartment last week so we can get out."
"What're you there for?"
"Having sex in a public place."
"Huh, you and Rupert- what are the chances of... I didn't know Olivia- oh BLOODY HELL- you and Rupert!"
Willow smiled; she hadn't remembered that in a long time. It'd taken a lot of work on her part to wipe the memories of Spike, Harmony and all of Harmony's friends, and to hack into the police computers so as neither of them had a criminal record- although, when she did so, she didn't expect to have to remove a charge of cannabis possession from Rupert's.
'You should see my English one.' Had been his embarrassed response before he'd begun asking her about whether all hackers could do what she'd just done.
'Don't worry,' she'd reassured him, 'most hackers are about as boring as me- only with more books and less sex- unless they're caught, the most they're going to have on their records is the theft of a couple of chocolate bars.'
Despite the events that day, however, they'd often come to the park afterwards. It was partway between the university and Rupert's apartment and for the most part was quiet- although it had taken some time before Willow had managed to convince him that they were only going to get caught once.
Frowning, Willow watched as a figure sat below a tree about 200 yards away from her. She struggled to her feet and began closing the distance between them.
"Dawn!" The figure jumped to their feet and looked around, her eyes widening as she saw the redhead approaching.
"Willow, what are you doing here? This is the park, no one comes here. I'm so busted aren't I?"
"Oh yes. Want to explain why you're not in school?"
"Would you believe I was right on my way back at the end of my lunch break?"
"Only if I was a fool, and lunch often ended at-" she checked her watch, "-ten fifteen." Dawn sighed.
"It was just gym. And biology."
"Dawnie, you can't keep cutting class."
"Buffy used to."
"First- she had a reason, second- she never got caught, or if she did she had Giles to give her a note, third- Buffy is twenty years old and works in The Doublemeat Palace- is that where you want to be in four years?"
"Not really- she smells."
"Don't tell her that."
"I could sell door-to-door vitamins."
"And get bored out of your mind making absolutely nothing."
"Dawnie I know it's hard, but flunking classes isn't going to help."
"They're dissecting pigs' hearts today. I can't do that."
"Oh honestly Dawn, there's nothing to it- although Xander used to refuse to do it- he almost fainted once."
"You're not to tell him I said that though."
"What's it worth?"
"Me walking you back to school. Come on."
"Xander and Buffy are arguing."
"Arguing how? What about?" Willow frowned at Dawn.
"Anything and everything- they're like an old married couple, always at one another, picking on each other. It's becoming maddening."
"Are you alright?"
"Just worried about them."
"Don't worry, just let them work things through, get the problems out of their systems and then things can get back to normal." Both were quiet for a moment before a noise like a muffled sob came from the younger girl and Willow stopped walking, placing a hand on her arm to turn her to face her. "Dawnie? Are you crying?"
"That's- that's what Mom used to tell Buffy and I when she and Dad were arguing."
"Everything's falling apart- first Mom and Giles, then Anya, then you and now them. You're going to have a baby, we should all be a family. Like we used to be."
"The last couple of years haven't been nice to you, have they?" Dawn said nothing, and after a moment they both began walking again. A minute later, Willow broke the silence once more. "I can't go back to yours. Not yet."
"I want to, but not until Buffy... not until later."
"I said 'I understand.'" Neither spoke for the rest of the journey to the school, and it wasn't until she was almost through the gates that Dawn turned.
"Buffy's an even worse cook that you."
"So that's why you want me back."
"There's only so much pizza a person can eat."
"Come 'round to Anya's tomorrow night, we'll have a girly meal."
"Okay. See you there."
"Do you agree Oz?"
"If we can do it right then yes, it's the only way."
"Okay, that's decided."
"Willow." Hearing the cry behind her, Dawn span back around to face the school gates and shouted out her friend's name. The redhead had collapsed and was lying prone on the pavement, what looked like a tranquilliser dart sticking out of her side.
"Anya. What are you doing here?" Buffy paused at the bottom of the steps leading up to 1630 Revello Drive. The other woman was sat at the top of them, fiddling with what looked like a broken pencil.
"I can go."
"No. I was just surprised. Is- is everything okay? With Willow?" The pencil fell to the floor as Anya's head shot up.
"Yes, I feel crappy, something must be wrong with Willow."
"I'm sorry- I just thought I'd better check. Is something wrong? You look upset."
"Have you ever had your heart ripped out in front of everyone you knew?"
"I know Xander hurt you Anya, but..."
"I just... I just want him to feel what it is he's done."
"I understand, and he's been... almost unbearable lately. He's hurting."
"Well whose fault is that?"
"Buffy!... Anya?" As Buffy prepared to speak again, Xander ran up the path. Anya's right hand rose to cover her mouth and she pushed herself away from the wall.
"Even when you're fighting like cats and dogs she still loves you." She growled at him.
"What? Look, I'm sorry Anya, but right now- Willow's in trouble."
"In trouble how?"
"Dawn just phoned, they're at the hospital, they don't know what happened, but it's bad."
"Just hysterically worried about Willow and child."
"He will not get away with this."
"Eliza calm yourself."
"What about IVF? That'd show that son-of-a-bitch."
"It's a possibility."
"The bastard is going to pay for this." The brunette wiped the tears from her cheeks and shook her head, trying to gather some sort of composure in front of her boss.
"This is why we did the spell Eliza- to combat any negative backlash."
"Negative backlash?" Taking a deep breath, she turned her back on Quentin to face her front room- or what was left of it- before starting forward to try to rescue some of her belongings from the vindictive rubble caused by Rupert Giles' explosives.
Dawn Summers' head shot upwards as the fifth person passed the door in half as many minutes.
"Where are you Xander?" She muttered to herself as she checked her watch. It had been twenty minutes since she'd managed to get in touch with him, after The Magic Box and Anya's apartment had left her with a permanent ringing in her ears.
"Yes!" She jumped out of her seat and shouted her reply, causing the woman stood in front of her to jerk backwards. "Sorry."
"It's quite alright. You can come through now and see Ms Rosenberg." Before she had even finished her sentence, Dawn was on her way through the corridors.
"Is she okay? Is the baby-"
"The baby is fine, we're monitoring both of them very closely and he seems to be the picture of perfect health."
"What about Willow?"
"She's not... I have to ask about the baby's father." Dawn stopped and turned to look at the other in shock.
"It's bad isn't it?"
"Dawn!" Out of the corner of her eye, the teenager could make out the form of her sister approaching with Xander and Anya, but she kept her gaze forward.
"We really don't know Ms Summers, nor could I disclose any details if we had any. Do you think you could contact the baby's father?"
"No she can't." Anya's voice was sharp and bit through Dawn's reply of;
"I can try."
"You can't stay long; she's in here."
"The number you have dialed is temporarily unavailable, please replace the receiver and try again... The number you have dialed-" With a snarl, Dawn slammed the phone back into its cradle. Futilely, she'd thought that maybe, as it was an emergency, even if Eliza was screening calls, she'd be able to convince her to let her talk to Giles, but the phone wouldn't even darn-well ring.
In the room across the hall, Anya and Buffy were arguing with Willow's doctor; apparently, the best thing for the baby would be to deliver it now by caesarian. It was only just over a week until it was due, but as it didn't seem in immediate danger, the doctor needed Willow, Giles, or another Rosenberg to sign to consent forms, none of whom were available. And no one knew what was wrong with Willow.
"Just let me see that!"
"I wish I could let you," the doctor's voice came through almost as loud as Anya's, "but... just let me check... here." As Dawn approached the door, she saw Buffy look on in astonishment as the doctor handed over a folder to Anya, who flicked through, read a couple of sheets and then handed it back to a rather bemused looking MD.
"Thank you. Now can we see Willow again?"
"You know where she is."
"She put a protection spell on the baby." Anya revealed to the other three in the room. "It's part of the reason Buffy didn't hack her to pieces." She ran her fingers through the unconscious redhead's hair. "And it doesn't cover her; in fact, just the opposite. Anything that should be happening to the baby, happens to her- it balances out the karma or something. She has some kind of rapidly reproducing foreign body in her bloodstream. If we don't hurry, it'll travel to her heart and stop it beating."
"Then we stop it!" Xander said.
"We don't even know what it is or who The Council got to put it there-"
"I've got a pretty good idea. I'm going to see our trio of annoying boys." Buffy strode out, leaving Anya and Xander to glare at each other across Willow's prone form as Dawn looked on, rolling her eyes.
"Not now Hallie."
"I waited until you were out of the witch's room." The brunette pouted. "I like your hair." Anya's hand ran subconsciously through the now blonde locks.
"Thanks. She's really ill."
"Uh-huh. Look, I fixed your problem, just keep going to the slayer and she's sure to wish disgustingly pleasant stuff upon him soon."
"Undo the wish."
"Oh no Anyanka. Harris and the slayer will be arguing until she makes a wish against him to you."
"Halfrek; it's affecting Willow."
"What to I care for the witch?"
"D'Hoffryn wants her; if she dies before he can recruit her, he won't be happy, and if it's because of you..." Anya trailed off.
"I do not 'undo' wishes." With her usual flamboyance, Halfrek disappeared.
"Mwhahahahaha!" The joint cry from the other room brought Jonathan running through.
"What? What? Why are we evil laughing?"
"Oh, it's nothing."
"Yeah- nothing." Andrew flicked his head back and waved his hand dismissively. Jonathan rolled his eyes.
"Whatever, look... argh!" Throwing the glass of juice he was carrying into the air and over himself, the young man jumped back from the form of Buffy Summers, which appeared in front of him, with a yelp.
"You spilt some."
"Thanks." He squeaked.
"Right. Now. I'm here to ask just once, really nicely, and then I start ass kicking. Got it?" Jonathan and Andrew nodded. "Now, if a 'rapidly reproducing foreign body' should somehow appear in someone's bloodstream, I don't suppose any of you would happen to know how it got there, or more to the point, how to neutralise it." Jonathan's head shot around to face Warren, who was grinning smugly to himself. He'd used it- the plant-demon thingy.
"W-w-we're evil. We wouldn't tell you if we did." Andrew stuttered out.
"Your target isn't dying- Willow's taking the flack but you'll fail and then you'll be in trouble. You won't get paid." The brunette frowned, he couldn't work this out; it sounded like Warren had tried to infect Buffy with the plant but managed to get Willow instead. And there was the money part again.
"Sure slayer. Now watch me kick your ass." Without further ado Warren attacked, the magick balls the trio had stolen earlier giving him enough strength to match Buffy blow for blow. The pair had been at it for a couple of minutes when one of the balls fell at the blonde's feet and she stamped on it, causing Warren to gasp.
"Oh dear, did you need tho-o-o-se..." The last word came out strangled as Jonathan jumped on her back, wrapping his arms around her neck.
"Salt." He whispered to her, clinging on as she tried to throw him off. "To cure Willow. Salt. Argh!" The sensation of flying through the air was cut short as his head made contact with the wall behind and his world faded to black.
"Dawnie? The brunette's head spun to face the hospital bed.
"Willow? Anya! Willow? How are you? Do you remember what happened? How do you feel?"
"Willow?" Anya ran into the room, having heard Dawn's cry. "Are you feeling better? Does it hurt?"
"Want to go back to sleep. No questions there."
"Sorry." Anya and Dawn muttered together.
"Can we go home now?"
"Good morning Buffy." The dusty-blonde girl, so often a part of her dreams now, stood before her once more, clothed in a deep red sundress, her feet bare, holding a baby in her arms. "It's nearly time now you know."
"So you keep telling me."
"It'll be sooner than expected."
"You must have worked at least that out by now."
"What is it you're supposed to be telling me?"
"Here." The woman held out the precious bundle and without question Buffy took it. Suddenly, the ground around her began to shake, crumbling and disappearing beneath her feet. She started to run, knowing she had to get the baby to safety. Beside her the blonde kept pace, almost floating rather than sprinting. Up ahead a mountain loomed, and on top, spread-eagled, was Willow, small screams coming from her. Above her stood Xander and Anya.
"Why can't you just tell me."
"You have to see past the faces." The blonde clapped her hands and everything around Willow and the path leading to her faded.
"I said no magic!" The pitch and frequency of screams from the witch increased until the sound was all consuming and the slayer threw up her hands to cover her ears.
Waking up, all Buffy could remember was the baby dropped from her arms and plummeting to who-knew-what below.
"The basis of her power is children." Anyanka looked pleadingly up at her boss, who chuckled.
"Do you remember the last time we sat here? Hallie wasn't here of course, but you were just as angry."
"Of course I remember. You sentenced me to 'live out my mortal life and die'."
"Yes, yes. I did, didn't I? That didn't really work out for either of us."
"It did for a while."
"Ahem." Halfrek cleared her throat, a syrupy smile on her face. "Touching as all this is, can we hurry this up so I can go back to cursing idiot parents?"
"She just admitted it! Children! Not vengeance demons approaching their 1130th birthday!"
"But the line's so fine with you Anyanka."
"Girls, girls. Now, if I'm correct, you want Halfrek to undo a wish for you. To what end?"
"It's affecting Willow."
"Ah, the oh-so-charming Miss Rosenberg. Why should I care?"
"You like her."
"I'd like her more if she was one of mine. Perhaps her friends' arguing will make her wish to become one of us." Halfrek snorted.
"Have you seen that girl? She's as pure as pure. It'll take a lot more than a petty quarrel to turn her."
"Silence. You should know as well as anyone that sometimes the smallest thing can tip-"
"Did you just interrupt me Anyanka?"
"Vengeance demons' code: Law 73, section 47, clause 13."
"Law 73?" Halfrek snorted. "That hasn't been used in centuries- there's been no need... vengeance-pets indeed- why, I barely remember the details."
"I always was a better demon than you."
"Girls. You were saying Anyanka."
"Clause 13; any wish, made with the knowledge that a being in the wishers presence is a vengeance demon, can be revoked by any demon bound to the code without consequence.'"
"Are you sure? I don't remember that. D'Hoffryn?"
"She is correct Halfrek. To prevent any of us becoming slaves to another being. Very well Anyanka; she will revoke the wish."
"Silence. It is done."
"You have to see past the faces. You have to see past the faces." Buffy kept muttering the phrase to herself, trying for the fourth day running to figure out what the hell it could mean, as she walked through the house to answer the front door.
Opening it up, her frown turned to a grin.
"Willow! You're here- with a bag."
"Of clothes- help me get the rest?" Jumping forward the slayer hugged her best friend before helping to move her back into Revello Drive.
Life finally seemed to be returning to normal- or a semblance thereof. Okay, so it wasn't really normal, but it was a comfortable routine.
'Don't do anything standing up if you can do it sitting down.' The doctor had told Willow last week, 'and don't do anything sitting that you can do lying down.' And so, dutiful patient she was, she was sprawled across the sofa, theatre studies book in hand. Last week she'd had her final classes and since she'd moved back to the Summers' residence two days ago, she'd been confined by her friends to the house. She had only books and food to keep her occupied barring occasional visits from Anya, but only in periods when Xander was likely to be gone for hours, and the interesting three minutes of television to be seen a day. As of late, her attention span had been minimal and her brain aching for a challenge, she was awaiting an email from her superior at Saunder's regarding her latest design assignment and so she couldn't even do work. In fact, today's highlights had been peeling potatoes to cook for supper and doing Dawn's math homework when the girl had run home for lunc h in a panic about her quadratic equations.
Groaning in frustration and boredom, Willow threw her book across the room and then immediately wished she hadn't, knowing how much effort it would take to get from her prone position and fetch it. Instead of doing so, she put her head back and did a mental itinerary of the freezer, trying to make a meal for three, or possibly four due to Xander's more frequent visits, from what little there was. She came up with shepherd's pie, an English dish Rupert had introduced her to that had simple ingredients, was easy to make and in no way resembled a pie. That decision made she picked up the other book that was within easy reaching distance, one that Dawn had bought for her that discussed how a child developed after it was born. She hadn't really wanted it, but the younger Summers had been so excited that she'd made a show of starting it and it wasn't long before she'd become absorbed.
Too agitated to really concentrate on the book, Willow eventually decided to make the effort to stand, moved into the dining room, where she'd set up a chopping board on the table, sat down, and began to cut up an onion, followed by carrots, tomatoes and a few herbs. Standing up she moved finally to the kitchen, throwing the vegetables in with some ground meat and spices as she parboiled potatoes to mash and made up some stock that she poured over the mixture. The sun began to shine through the window and she picked up her book once more, reading further into the 'language skills' chapter. A few minutes later Dawn arrived home.
"Hey. How was math?"
"Yeah- Katie Parker fainted halfway through and wouldn't wake up; then Joe Collins let it slip that the reason they'd broken up was because she was pregnant and the teachers- Ms Parshaw, Mr Culling and Mrs Eldar all went into hysterics. Minimal math was done." Willow made a face that Dawn couldn't interpret.
"Glad to hear it."
"You want a game of chess? It's ages since we played."
"Sure. Soon as I've finished tea and put it in the oven."
"Buffy said to say she'll be home, but later than usual by about half an hour. Something about the mall."
"Get that lasagne dish out from under the sink then set up the board while I pour this out." The pair continued to talk as Dawn set out the black and white pieces, and Willow spooned potato over meat and vegetables and it was soon decided to move the game outside.
As it always was between the girls, the battle was epic. Buffy came home, bringing Xander, and the pair watched for a while until Willow got up to serve out their meal and the game was paused to eat. Finally, a little over ninety minutes after it started, Dawn replaced her final pawn with a queen and used it and her knight to trap Willow's king.
"Damn and drat and grrrr."
"I won! Buffy, I won!" From the kitchen Xander stuck up his thumbs and the slayer shouted out;
"Your prize is to go buy some milk."
"Buffy." The brunette whined. Willow grinned.
"Go on. Then when you get back I can kick your ass."
"Keep dreaming Rosenberg." Dawn left the garden and Willow picked up her book once more and settled back into her chair.
Jonathan Levenson poked his head around the door at the top of the stairs that lead down into the lair of the trio. Of which he was supposed to be one third. Somehow though, he didn't think he was that important anymore, and the scene below him confirmed it.
"This demon's so cool, it has these jaws that-"
"No." Warren cut Andrew off but the enthusiasm of the fairer boy remained in place. "I'm done with all the demons and magic. I'm thinking we kill the human the human way."
"Slice and dice?"
"No. Better than that." Warren's hand disappeared into a drawer and long before he drew it out Jonathan knew what would be in it. The glint of light off metal sent a chill through him and for a moment he stopped breathing.
Sweet Jesus- He was going to kill her... He was going to shoot the slayer... sure there'd always been a plan to send a large variety of demons and other frustrations at her: but that's all they were- frustrations, challenges, they were never going to actually kill Buffy- were they?
"You're going to shoot her?"
"Good plan hey?"
"Well... she'll be dead."
"That's the point- what else have we been trying to do all these months?"
"Piss off the slayer?"
"Well, that too- but we're not getting paid for that bit."
"Oh, well... good plan."
Good plan? Jonathan couldn't believe what he was hearing- if Andrew could suck up to Warren any more he'd be halfway up his backside. He shuddered at the mental image.
"Look, I'm just about to give up- if this," he shook the gun in his hand, "doesn't finish off Rosenberg and her kid then The Council can take their money back and shove it where the sun shouldn't shine."
"But Warren- you spent all that money."
"Exactly- this isn't going to fail."
Jonathan's mouth opened and shut in an almost comical fashion... he couldn't believe what he'd just heard. Warren was going to shoot Willow, he was getting paid to murder Willow. Suddenly the youth felt he was slightly more than out of the loop... he was out of... something bigger than the loop. Without another thought he turned and ran, heading for Revello Drive- if no one was there he'd try The Magic Box. It didn't matter that Warren would see him on the cameras- he had to tell them... he remembered Willow the day he'd walked into kindergarten- she'd been the only person reading... there were children painting, running, playing train- but she was sat in the middle of the carpet surrounded by paper- okay so it had hardly been Bronte or Shakespeare, probably 'My First Pet' or 'Colours of the Rainbow,' but he remembered her because she was happy, she didn't care that she'd been pushed out of the sand pit, it didn't matter she was on her own- and to him that was a beautiful thing... something he'd have liked to be himself. Ten minutes later his parents had left he'd been attacked by Jesse and Xander because he 'talked like a duck,' she'd rescued him, and now, the better part of twenty years later, it was his turn to do the same for her.
Running up the front path, Jonathan barely stopped in time as he reached the door, out of breath he hammered furiously until Xander opened it.
"Will... Willow... Warren, he... gun." Xander's eyes widened
"He's going to..." The taller man grabbed his arm and pulled.
"Get in... Buffy!" The slayer appeared at the top of the stairs.
"What? I- Jonathan?" She began her descent. "What are you doing here?" Had Xander not been holding onto him, he would have backed away... Buffy looked extremely pissed.
"Buff, he said something about-"
"Warren has a gun- he's going to shoot Willow." The colour drained from her face and Xander's grip went slack. "I... I didn't know I swear- he's getting paid for-"
"Shut up Jonathan. Willow!" From the hall Buffy looked first into the sitting room, then the dining area. "Willow!" An answer came from outside and the three ran through to the kitchen and out the back door.
Willow was lounging in the Adirondack chair, her legs tucked underneath her and a book in one hand- 'First Steps, How Your Child Develops,' Jonathan read from the front cover. He felt sick- all it would take was Warren and one piece of metal to...
"Willow, you need to come inside."
"Why? What's Jonathan doing here?"
"Now!" She must have seen something in their faces because she put her book down instantly and began to lever herself upwards.
"Does one of you want to give me a hand?" Jonathan stepped onto the grass, followed by Buffy. She pulled Willow up and took her in her arms, just as the mother-to-be's eyes widened in shock.
Later, no one would be able to explain the two small steps Jonathan took to the left, but he just knew, he didn't even decide what to do, he just did it. He had to be right- the shot was deafening, so much so it seemed to drown out the pain until his knees hit the floor, then the burning sensation at his back was all consuming and he looked up desperately. Meeting Willow's eyes brought a small smile to his lips as, beneath the shock and confusion, Jonathan clearly made out the silent gratitude.
"Jonathan!" The second bullet was fired, tearing a shriek of pain from Willow as Buffy pushed her down and then the third and fourth shots rang out.
"You got her! Let's go!" Andrew's cry came from the bushes and Warren turned and ran, the smaller boy close behind.
Xander looked down at the destruction in front of him: Jonathan was dead, he had no doubt of that and when he looked to check, only wide, lifeless eyes stared back. Buffy and Willow though, lay in a pile a few feet away, their forms highlighted with scarlet.
He grabbed the cordless phone from the kitchen before running down to the lawn to see what he could save.
"Good morning, emergency services, Maria speaking, how may I help you?"
"My- my friends. I need an ambulance."
"There was a man... he shot them."
"Are they okay Mr-"
"Harris, Xander Harris. They... I don't know, there's so much blood."
"Where are you Xander?"
"1630 Revello Drive. Please get them to hurry, Will's pregnant."
"The ambulance is on its way. How many people are injured Xander?"
"Three- two. Jonathan's dead."
"And the others?"
"I- I don't know, I haven't..."
"Okay, do you know how to check for a pulse Xander?"
"No... yes, just a minute, I have to put the phone down."
"Okay." Xander knelt next to the bodies of his friends, raising his hand to Willow's throat first. He placed his fingers over her pulse at the same moment she let out a moan.
"Shh, stay still. The ambulance is on its way."
"Can't... move legs." Xander looked down.
"It's okay- Buffy's lying on them, just let me move her." His hope having been renewed by Willow, his heart almost broke when he took in the slayer's form. Face down on Willow's eight month pregnant stomach, blood poured from a hole in her upper back, and when he moved her, her body was impassive, her face pale and her eyes closed. He used his fingers to locate her pulse as Willow began to sit up using only one arm, blood running down the other.
"She's alive." Xander picked up the phone from beside him. "They're alive- but they need-" The sound of sirens could suddenly be heard and Xander said a hurried thanks to the operator before disconnecting. He looked at the piece of plastic in his hands.
"I'll have to buy a new phone." The receiver, along with most of the surroundings had been dyed scarlet. "She'll kick my ass otherwise." He turned to Willow. "Will you be okay if I go direct the paramedics round?" She nodded and he stood, praying to a lord he hadn't really believed in for six years.
"Ms Rosenberg, yes?" The doctor looked up from her clipboard to approach Willow.
"Yeah, that's me... can I go now?"
"Not yet, we just want to run-"
"You've been running tests all morning. Please, I just want to see Buffy and Xander and get home- surely that's the best thing for me right now... the whole rest and relaxation gig?"
"Well..." The doctor drew the word out and Willow thought she might stand a chance.
"Can I at least see Buffy?"
"I don't think it can do any harm. Just let me get you a wheelchair."
"A wheelchair?" But the woman had left before Willow could properly object. "Just because I'm pregnant I'm obviously an invalid... although, free ride... Xander'll be jealous." She muttered to herself.
Ten minutes later saw her at the bottom on Buffy's bed next to Xander.
"Is she okay? Did they tell you anything?"
"They told me it's a miracle she's alive and she should wake up in a couple of hours."
"A miracle how?"
"Apparently the bullet missed her heart by about half an inch and... I don't really know, they used a lot of long words."
"Like is, or and the?" Xander looked down at his best friend, she looked so tired, faded and yet she still tried joking, but her heart wasn't really in it. She hadn't done anything to her hair for at least six months and the ends of it licked her upper arms, her roots showing dark above the red ends. And suddenly he remembered last time she'd been in a wheelchair- after Buffy had gone AWOL, the summer, he'd now learnt, that she and Giles had first started their... he searched for the word... relationship.
"It's been so long- I sometimes forget."
"That you're the same Willow I knew before."
"What do you..."
"Look at you Will- look at us... you're about to become a mother, Buffy's touched death more times than a pathologist, Dawn's this far from a juvenile detention centre and I'm turning into Mr Heckle."
"I haven't watched Friends in forever."
"It's not worth it anymore. I liked the Mr Heckle and 'Chandler and Monica sneaking around' days. Tell me- is that hidden relationship thing as fun as they make out?"
"Parts of it... the horny, trying not to get found out, can't get enough of each other parts, others- less so." They waited in silence for about ten minutes before Xander spoke again.
"I miss her you know."
"It hurts?" He nodded. "It should." He swallowed before continuing.
"Is... is she okay?" She raised an eyebrow at him. "Not okay then... is she coping?"
"Better than I would be."
"I do love her-"
"I've heard this one before Xander- I love you but it's not enough... find a way to make it up to her- soon while you still have a chance- for God's sake Xand don't lose the best thing that ever happened to you."
"I won't- I'll try- I'll do something. There's this big hole in me where she should be." Willow made a face. "I don't even want to know what you just thought."
"It wasn't anything..." This time it was his turn to raise an eyebrow. "Okay, so it was a slightly disturbing image, but nothing I need to dwell on or share."
"Okay, so we're past that thought... anyhow, long story short, I think I might need her back."
"Then you're going to have to work."
Willow awoke in a cold sweat, eyes darting around the stark room, heart pounding so hard she could feel it along with the shrill beeps of... a monitor? With a start everything came back to her, the garden, Jonathan, Warren, the hospital. Sitting up she took in the room again, this time sighing as she took in a most welcome sight.
"Willow. You're awake."
"Dawn, where's Xander?"
"He's with Buffy. Are you okay?"
"I- I really don't think I am." Unbidden, Willow felt a sob shake her shoulders as she covered her mouth with her hands, trying to hold in the feelings overtaking her. She closed her eyes as the tears came and the soft caress of Dawn's arms as they enveloped her was her undoing. "How do I stop it? When does it end?"
"I don't know Willow." It was a couple of minutes before the redhead pulled away from Dawn slightly and gasped out through the sobs that all she really wanted right now was Xander. The brunette nodded and stood.
"I'll find you some tea too- tea helps right?" She smiled weakly.
"Yeah- tea helps."
Xander looked so sombre when he entered the room that Willow prepared herself for bad news, but the grin as he saw her alleviated all the worries.
"You had us scared for a bit Will."
"I did? I don't remember."
"That's what happens when you fall asleep in your wheelchair. We thought something bad had happened- guess you were just exhausted."
"Can I have a hug?"
"Anything for my Wills." He crossed the room and sat on the bed beside her. Leaning in she buried her face in his neck and took a deep breath, surprised that beneath his clothes and cologne there was a smell she'd forgotten years ago, a smell of childhood and innocence.
"Jonathan's dead, isn't he?"
"He saved me- us."
"I don't like it here Xander- it's too open, too exposed. Remember Angelus?"
"You're fine Willow. We're here."
"You gonna be my white knight- like you were Buffy's?"
"I'm always yours- always have been."
"Do you know where they are? Warren and Andrew?"
"The police are looking."
"She's fine. Walking and talking. The doctors don't believe it." Willow's eyes flitted around suddenly, taking in the door and window.
"There's something... we're not safe here. I can feel it."
"No! Listen to me, there's something watching us, wishing evil on us."
"'Us' as in..."
"Me and my baby."
"Are you about to go psycho-protective-mom on us?"
"Would you blame me if I was?"
"I guess not."
"I mean- everything's been used against us- even Buffy. I'm just waiting for someone else I know to attack us."
"You still don't trust her do you?"
"I know I should, but I don't- she still hasn't proven herself. There's still stuff she's hiding from us. I don't like that."
"Look Will-" Xander's speech was broken off as Dawn skipped into the room.
"Look who I brought." Buffy limped through the door, a tight smile on her face that refused to reach her eyes. "Found her wandering the corridors like a stray dog."
"Gee, thanks Dawn."
"A very pretty and strong, if slightly battered dog. Like, I dunno, Tramp."
"From the movie?" Dawn's smile faded as she realised the only way out of this hole was if she dug the last few yards to China. "Or you could be Lady." She ended contritely.
"So Will," the slayer asked, "how you holding up?"
"Well I'm half of the 'Scoobies who got shot' gang. How does that feel?"
"As the other half, I'll say we're darn lucky."
"Does it hurt?"
"Like a bitch."
"Come here." Willow gestured for the slayer to lean over, and once she had, put a hand on her chest and mumbled a few low words. Buffy gasped at the heat that pierced her body at Willow's hand and then let out a sigh as the witch pulled back and the burning pressure over her wound died down. Sometimes she hated being the slayer- especially when her fast metabolism absorbed the painkillers she was given before they'd had a chance to work. "Any better?"
"Much. Thank you. What about you?"
"I don't want to risk doing magic on myself- too much is at risk."
"I think I'm going to discharge myself, I'm pretty much healed and I still hate hospitals. There's better things I can-"
"Will you find Warren for me?"
"Warren- for you?"
"Yeah- he tried to kill us Buffy."
"Willow, I'm going to look, but if I find him I'm taking him to the police, not- Willow?" The girl had almost doubled over with a silent scream of pain.
"Willow?" Xander tried again. "Dawn- find a doctor."
"Son... of... a- bitch." The redhead ground out through gritted teeth as the brunette left the room.
"Willow, what's happening? Is something- whoa." Willow's head rose to look at the pair opposite her, eyes black.
"They're trying to hurt my baby. They- ahh." Even as she clutched at her stomach though, she was struggling to get down from the hospital bed and reach her clothes from the nearby table.
"Willow, I don't think-"
"Just shut up and get me to the school if you're going to help." Buffy looked hesitant, but Xander took his friend's arm and supported her to the door.
"Are you coming Buffy?"
"I don't-" Another cry came from the red head and the slayer ran forward, taking the majority of her weight and almost carrying her to the elevator.
Once on ground level, Xander ran ahead to the parking lot, bringing the car around to the hospital entrance before helping the girls in and heading to the old high school.
He'd never understood why they hadn't pulled it down, made a new one, but as he pulled up on the grass in front of it, he was more pleased than ever that they hadn't- he didn't fancy trips to the hellmouth in the middle of a load of high school students- of course he had done that for three years, but that was so long ago- he didn't think he could do it again.
"Can you walk Will?"
"Xander, she's barely awake."
"Then I guess we're driving." He entered through the side door and navigated the corridors until he reached the doors to what had once been the library.
"There... there's two of them, one's doing the spell, the other's standing guard... stop them." Willow's voice was barely audible, but neither Buffy nor Xander missed a word. There was no way the Council was going to win now... they just would not allow it, they scrambled to get out of the car. The energy was so built up in the school that when the car door opened, even Xander could feel it lying heavily in the air, and the shock of the unfamiliar sensation forced him back into his seat and caused his elbow to accidentally hit the car horn.
For an instant the energy dissipated, the person doing the ritual obviously distracted for a moment, before it returned full force. But it was enough- enough to have Willow up and out of the car, ready to face the new threat to her baby. Ready to face...
Dawn looked up innocently at the rather aggravated doctor.
"Miss Summers, I do not appreciate-"
"I'm sorry okay. I didn't know they'd leave as soon as I came to find you. Willow was really hurt."
"According to this," he gestured at the paper in front of him, "there isn't supposed to be anybody in this bed."
"No- that's right. Will was discharged yesterday evening, but then she fell asleep in her chair and as Xander and I were staying for Buffy, the nurse said she could stay the night in here- and you don't believe a word I'm saying."
"A blonde one. With pretty eyes."
"You do realise that describes half of the staff here."
"I'd know her if I saw her."
"Miss Summers, I'm going to ask you to leave now and if I discover your friends wreaking havoc on the rest of the hospital, then suffice to say I have your sister's address and telephone number." Sighing, Dawn headed toward the elevator, muttering evil things upon her sister for leaving her to deal with the doctor from hell and deciding to visit Spike for the evening as payback.
"Will? Buff? What's-"
"Ahh." Willow fell to the floor again, her adrenaline rush finished, her arms clasping her lower torso as if she could protect its contents that way. Oz bent over her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Will?" Her face lifted slightly until their eyes met and he was struck dumb by the desperation, pain and pure anger in their depths.
"Whatever you're doing, please, just... stop it. Please."
"No!" There was a smash from the other side of the room and Oz, Buffy and Willow turned to see Xander stood over Wesley baring an axe, the contents of a small pot in front of him scattered and the circle surrounding him broken.
"You shouldn't have done that, now-"
"Wesley, believe me, I don't care."
"Who's the one with the axe here?"
"What did you do to her?"
"Will, how you feeling?"
"Better, much. Thank you." She walked over to the edge of the circle. "What... Why... What has my baby done to you?" Sacrificing his manly pose for a moment, Xander reached over to Willow. She, like him, was so confused, struggling to understand... but she, unlike him, wasn't doing it for herself- this was all for child.
"It was the answer. A protection-"
"A protection spell?" She knelt, still holding the hand Xander had offered her, and traced a symbol on the floor with her left middle finger. "You tried to protect me... by invoking D'acktnar?"
"D'acktnar?" She stood again, clasping her best friend's hand like a lifeline.
"She's evil, blacker than black- think Glory times ten only she can't physically manifest herself- people invoke her, give her a ride- they get intense pleasure- she gets a body to create chaos in. Rack's one of her cronies. You were going to put her where- in me, in you... in my baby?"
"Willow, I've never heard of D'acktnar, and if she's that bad, how have you?"
"Who told you it was good? Or are you just lying through your teeth Wesley- you just did what they told you- what he told you- he says do this spell, you say when- is that it?" She brought both hands up to her head, fingers knotting in her hair. "Why can't you let me alone?" She looked up searching for answers, before screaming, "Why can't you just fucking let me be?" Tears streamed down her face and she turned to Xander, burying her face in his chest, trusting him to take her back while she muttered to herself. "I'm not a bad person, Xander, I'm not perfect, but none of us are, and I'm not so bad that my baby should..." She continued for a minute or so while everyone stood around her, until;
"I told you no magic." Xander and Willow both froze at Buffy's words, ceased to breathe, Willow's tears instantaneously stopped their flow. Eventually the carpenter managed to choke out.
"I told him magic would turn out badly for everyone."
"You... knew he was here? Knew what he was doing?" Willows voice was small, but the anger was so clearly there you could almost feel it.
"I called him here, asked him to help us."
"In the same way he helped Angel with Connor in LA?"
"How did you..."
"I spoke to Cordelia. We talked, she cried... it was eventful."
"Then you've got the wrong end of the stick. Willow, from the bottom of my heart, Buffy called in Oz and I to..."
"See, there's the part where Buffy asks you here and you try to kill me again, I'm not... I don't understand that part. I don't want to."
"Will, I told him no magic, I told both of them-"
"Because I can sense that?"
"I- I have to go. I have to..." She backed toward what had once been the stacks, aiming for the exit there. "I have to hide... yes, hiding sounds good." Xander took a step towards her and she yelped. "No!" He stopped. "Don't follow me."
"Will, I want to help, let me come with you."
"Xand, I love you, but right now I don't trust you," she looked around, "any of you. If I should do then you'll understand- if not then, then..." she her gaze shot to all four of them in turn, her eyes shot through in the black that had appeared at the hospital previously, and a chill ran through each of them, "my baby comes first- before any friendship we either do or did have." With a parting glance, she turned and ran, leaving the others to watch as she seemingly disappeared into a blackened wall.
Xander turned, slowly, to face everyone left in the room.
"You three have some explaining to do."
"Xander it's not like that."
"Then what is it like?"
"Wesley was a watcher, he-"
"Buffy, this whole thing is because the watchers are trying to kill Willow- how is asking one for help even vaguely logical?"
"Would you have asked Giles for help if he were here?"
"That's different- and he's not here. That's the problem."
"You think the solution would be to have him here?"
"I think it would help Will- and that's what I'm still here to do."
"It's what we're all here to do."
"Sorry Buff- but I don't believe you."
"Oh good lord." Wesley's voice broke the face-off between the friends.
"What now Wes?"
"Here," he pointed to a part of the symbol on the floor and then looked down at his book, "it's upside-down. As it's central and the whole piece is circular it shouldn't matter, but the essence of this spell is that everything is connected, good and evil, in a cycle, which is why it's so powerful, but an error like that... I can't believe I didn't notice it." Oz crossed the room and took the book from Wesley, snapping it shut before slamming it to the floor.
"We screwed up, we already knew that. Can we just go and try to solve it now?"
"It's got my vote." Xander said. "Now come on, you're all my prisoners."
"Hey! You okay there?" Willow looked up into kindly eyes.
"Clem? How're you?"
"Well, I'd say probably better than you."
"Well I'm normally on my own for one thing, while as you're not- and I don't have tear tracks running down my cheeks."
"These?" She pointed at her face. "Nah, these are the latest in gothic makeup. You don't like?" He smiled at her.
"When're you due?"
"Saturday! That's not long."
"So- is the little man okay- as far as you know?"
"I think so, thanks. It might not be a boy."
"No, I think it's safe to say your son is going to be a boy." Clem had gone a few metres before he realised he was alone- he turned back, seeing Willow stood speechless in the middle of the road he'd just crossed. "You okay?" She shook her head, seeming to come to her senses, before catching up to him.
"My son is a boy?"
"Well- yeah- otherwise he'd be a daughter."
"I'm having a boy?"
"Yeah, you... oh gods! Human! I'm so sorry... you didn't know- I'm really sorry, I forgot you were human, I didn't mean to..."
"I'm having a boy! A son."
"I'm sorry- my species all look the same- so we can smell what sex people are- I'm good at forgetting other people can't. I really didn't..."
"Clem, it's okay... I'm having a son."
"Carrying for nine months- that must be a pain. If I ever decided to be a father I only have to carry if for a fortnight."
"That's not long... must be nice."
"I wouldn't know, but it's not really... Dawn!" Willow looked in the direction Clem had shouted and saw the younger Summers change direction and head towards them. In a flash the events of the past few hours returned to her and she was about to turn and find somewhere safer- away from any Summers, when Clem took the top of her arm and guided her across the road to where Dawn was stood.
"And what are you doing out as night Little Lady?" Dawn raised an eyebrow at the demon
"I thought it sounded affectionate."
"Did you." Dawn didn't look amused, and when she turned to Willow her eyes were pure ice. "I see you're okay then."
"Fine. Sorry about leaving you at the hospital, more people were trying to kill my baby."
"Oh Willow, I'm sorry. You're not hurt?"
"I can take care of myself."
"Then can you clear my name with the doctor later?"
"Why that-" Willow's attention had turned to the end of the street and her face had a look of pure unadulterated anger on it. Spinning around, Dawn saw the unmistakable form of Andrew retreating.
"Willow, don't do anything stupid." Doing a pregnant march is a lot less threatening than a regular one, but the look of pure horror that crossed Andrew's face as Willow approached outdid all others.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't shoot you. I don't have a gun. Warren left. Don't hurt me."
"Give me a reason not to."
"I'm loveable and cuddly?" Willow took another step forward and Andrew shrank back.
"If that's the case maybe I should turn you into a toy for my child."
"A- a toy?"
"Where did Warren go?"
"He skipped town. With you and the slayer not dead; well first, you'd kill him, and second, the Council people would want their money back. He left me- I mean- town, he left town."
"I could find him you know."
"And if you've lied to me..." She let the sentence hang.
"I know." He squeaked. Willow's imposing stance collapsed in on itself, leaving a weak facade of a woman as she turned to Dawn.
"You never explained why you were out here."
"Well- you left me."
"And I didn't want to go home- so I went to Spike's. But he wasn't in."
"Ah," Clem jumped in, "he left town earlier tonight. Left me to look after his crypt."
"So why are you out here? Why didn't you go home?"
"I figured you'd all be otherwise occupied..."
"Please don't tell Buffy."
"Not an issue right now."
"I was patrolling."
"For vampires!" Clem exclaimed.
"No, for chickens."
"You have free-roaming chickens in Sunnydale?" The two girls turned to look witheringly at the demon. "Oh. Sarcasm. I got that."
"Are you mad?"
"I'm not going to preach- I was doing it when I was your age remember."
"Thank you, you don't know-"
"Are you working for The Council Dawnie?" The girl's face changed from relief to bewilderment, beside her, Willow could feel Clem and Andrew looking at her with equal confusion.
"It's a simple question- are you working for The Council?"
"I... No, I would never-"
"Good... you're on my side then?"
"Of course I am."
"'Cause it's a funny thing- I discovered Buffy isn't. Will you help me then."
"Buffy isn't what? On your side? I think she is. H-help you how?"
"She isn't. Clem says I'm going to have a boy." Dawn and Clem were both confused by the way the conversation was flitting from one thing to the next, and neither had fully absorbed what Willow was telling them about Buffy working for The Council. Dawn latched onto the most important part of the conversation so far.
"A boy? Like... a mini Giles? Willow, that's so... you won't put him in tweed will you?"
"Dawn! What kind of person do you think I am? Anyway, I managed to get Rupert out of it didn't I? So you'll help me?"
"It depends on what you want me to do... probably."
"You're so suspicious Dawnie. It wouldn't hurt. You'd make a great protector."
"You're so clean... so clear- I can't believe you can be used for such evil. You'd be doing so much good if you let me help you."
"Willow, I'm just human."
"But you weren't always." She took a step towards the girl, looking at the the same time eager and desperate. She knew she'd found a way to save her son- but Dawn was going to make it difficult- she would be too much like her sister not to.
"Yes. I was." Dawn's teeth were clenched- she didn't like where this was headed. Willow looked so on edge she wasn't sure she wouldn't do something rash.
"Don't you remember? You were a ball of energy for thousands of-" The witch's eyeballs rolled back in their sockets, before the lids shut and her knees began to give out from under her. Just as Dawn thought she was going to fall and hit her head, she stopped, Clem's arms appearing around her and his face above her.
"What are you doing?"
"These flaps," he shook a hand, "aren't just to look pretty- I can run an electric charge through them."
"You electrocuted her!"
"It's not enough to do her any harm, but it'll keep her knocked out for about twenty minutes. Now, d'you want to give me a hand, she's not as light as she look- hey!" Dawn followed Clem's look over to where Andrew was trying to sneak off, she grabbed his arm and he squealed.
"Get off me! I'm delicate."
"You're coming with us."
"But- but I can run a long way in twenty minutes. If she's going to try and kill you then she's not going to pause to think about me."
"Stay! Or I'll be the one not thinking about you." Andrew squeaked again, but stayed where he was as Dawn raced forward to help Clem keep Willow's motionless body off the floor.
"You got any bright ideas about where we can take her?" The demon asked.
"The Magic Box."
"That doesn't sound so good- remember, she thinks your sister's trying to kill her."
"One, Buffy isn't trying to hurt either her or her baby. Two, we're taking her to Anya not Buffy. Three, do you have any better ides?"
"Well, no. It's just," the three began to head up the road, as Clem continued "any mother is a dangerous animal- of any species- remember the saying never get between a bear and her cubs?"
"Actually no, but carry on- it makes sense."
"I'm just saying that even if Buffy isn't a threat, she may have done something- something trivial at that- to make Willow think she is."
"So, no Buffy. I can live with that plan."
"Xander, I don't think this even counts as a plan."
"Well I think it's a damn sight better than your 'let's almost get the baby killed and hope Willow forgives us' one."
"That wasn't my plan."
"But that's how it turned out."
"If I may just say-" Xander turned around and glared at the Englishman behind him.
"No you may not." Rounding the corner the four headed toward The Magic Box.
"Buff?" The slayer ignored her fellow 'prisoners', and Oz tried again. "Xander?"
"Who's the big flabby demon?"
"Which big flabby demon?"
"The one helping Dawn and that boy carry Will."
"Wha- Where?" Oz pointed up the street to where the odd quartet were struggling. He was about to start forward when Buffy stopped him.
"Wait. Let's just see where..." Clem and Dawn approached The Magic Box and tried to enter before hammering on the door. Eventually Anya came to the front, looking tired and worn, there was a hurried exchange of words before she helped the others bring Willow inside.
"Is he good?"
"Who, Clem?" Oz and Wesley both nodded. "Clem is one of the nicest people you could meet."
"So they're safe with him?" Oz tried to verify the situation
"So why are we still stood here watching as if we're suspicious? And why is Will unconscious?" Xander looked from Slayer to werewolf, waiting for a response, when none was forthcoming, he sighed. He didn't understand why Buffy was being like this. Calling in Wesley was, if not logical, at least understandable, and Xander had no doubt she had told the two men 'no magic'- whatever her motives. It was even possible that the whole thing at the old high school was just a big misunderstanding. But now the blonde was being... mysterious, tentative, as Oz had said, suspicious, but it didn't seem it was actually at anything specific.
"Anya smells funny." His train of thought was broken off when she spoke.
"Nothing... come on, let's see what's happening." Before any of the men had a chance to respond, Buffy was halfway across the road, headed for Anya's shop.
"I can't carry her much further." Clem, also struggling, pointed up the road.
"We're almost there. Let the bad guy take your end for a while." Dawn grinned and got Andrew to take Willow's weight from her.
"Good thinking Batman."
"Hey! No insulting the flaps."
"Oh no, I didn't mean it like that, it just, y'know, is one of those things you say- or I say and you take badly which leads to redness of faces and me babbling out of breath."
"I'm sorry- it's okay. Just thought I'd keep you on your toes. Why do humans have toes?"
"You don't have any toes?"
"They're pointless-they were evolved out of the species."
"So natural selection left you with no toes and too much skin?"
"It's not perfect."
"What would I wiggle if I had no toes?" Andrew piped up.
"It's not the same, it-"
"Andrew," Dawn said, "shut up." A moan emerged from Willow, signalling she was close to waking up, "Come on, hurry." Reaching the shop, Dawn tried the door, only to find it locked, and so began banging on it.
"Come on Anya!" The sound of keys turning and locks sliding was accompanied by the constant, aggravated mumblings of a much put-upon woman.
"'Come on Anya,' 'do this Anya,' 'let me leave you during the wedding Anya,' God, can't you Scoobies do anything by yourselves? No. You have to come knocking on my door at unearthly- Oh God! Willow!" Opening the door to be greeted by the odd looking group, Anya immediately changed track. "What happened?"
"There was something to do with Buffy working for The Council, her trying to turn me back into a blob of energy and then Clem knocked her out."
"You electrocuted her! Damn demon with your charge folds." The woman took the witch in her arms as if she weighed nothing and carried her over to the table in the centre of the shop.
"Hey, he saved me, she was going to turn me back."
"Look- you didn't get hurt, she did. She's pregnant, you're not- sorry if that makes me a little more concerned about her than you."
"Well, I guess..." Willow moaned again.
"Will? Willow honey?"
"Ahn... ya?" The girl's eyes slowly opened.
"Yeah honey, it's me, don't try to talk- or move, I'll be right back, Dawn's here."
"No, stay." A single hand of the wicca's attached itself to Anya's arm, obviously unwilling to let her even move, let alone go.
"Okay, I'm here, but if you carry on my arm won't be... Ow, ow, okay, I need you to let go Will... Thank you." She breathed a sigh of relief as Willow's grip went from unbearable to just mildly uncomfortable. "Whoa, I'm not going to be anywhere *near* you during labour." Panic-stricken eyes rolled upwards.
"But... promised." Anya sighed again.
"I know I did- I was joking- I'll be there, promise." She leant down and placed a kiss on Willow's forehead.
"Er- as touching as this is, we said no slayer." Anya turned round to face Clem, a scowl on her face.
"And?" She snapped.
"Well- she's outside and she's not alone."
"Anya, we can't let her near Willow." Dawn pleaded. The oldest member of the scooby gang seemed to go through an internal struggle, but as she turned to the door, it opened.
"No!" Having no other action left, Anya moved to stand between Willow and the door, where she was quickly joined by Dawn, Clem and Andrew, seemingly unsure of what they should do.
Willow herself was struggling to sit up, too weak and hindered by her unborn son to have any success, although she got closer with each attempt, her strength slowly returning. By the time Buffy, Oz, Xander and Wesley had all entered the shop, she was triumphantly raised on her elbows, ready to... well, glare at them really hard.
"Willow," Buffy said, "are you..." The witch made a noise that could only be interpreted as a snarl.
"I think what Willow means by-" Anya repeated the snarl "-is 'get the hell out of here'."
"Willow I was trying to help you."
"Slayer!" The retailer almost screamed.
"Anya, I like you, but I'm warning you..."
"Buffy," Xander's calm voice, cutting through that of the others, spelled reason and the slayer felt compelled to listen. "Just so as you all know, I'm on Willow's side in all this- she's my friend and I love her- and her kid. But I'm going to leave- if she wants Anya and Dawn to look after her, and she doesn't feel she can trust me, then fine, until this is over I'm going to stay out of it so I'm not a threat to her. Buffy, you should do the same. She's safe here."
"But it's my job- and I didn't..."
"I'm with Xander," Oz stepped to the side, "literally, I'll leave with him- see you all next week."
"And me!" Clem almost bounded towards the door, Andrew behind him, eager to be away from both Buffy and Willow. "Not the loving part so much as the not wanting to get involved part. Bye." Watching the room as they did so, the four males left the shop.
"Buffy please, you're my sister- I don't want to believe bad things about you- but you're not helping yourself."
"I just- I want you to know, Will... yes I called Wes in, but he's not bad, he's..."
"He kidnapped Connor," Anya exclaimed, "gave him to Angel's mortal enemy... actually, his immortal enemy, but never mind. He... he's Council."
"He *can* speak for himself." Anya and Buffy both turned sharply to the man.
"Shut up." They shouted simultaneously, then glared at each other.
"You love this, don't you Anya... being the one that's trusted, while I'm the stupid one."
"This isn't about me."
"Right, it's *all* about Willow. Truth spell." Willow, now sat on the table with her hands around her knees, looked up at Buffy and shook her head. "You did it before- the other week. You made me see the truth of things when Warren put that spell on me and you saw what I'd seen- do it again- then you'll see."
Manicly, Willow began to shake her head, backing across the table and muttering,
"Too weak. No, no, no," over and over to herself.
"Or Wesley can do it- then you'll see everything, my side and his. Here." She grabbed the ex-watcher and began dragging him down the steps to the lower part of the store, pushing Dawn aside and attempting to do the same with Anya.
"No, no, no... Don't touch me!" Dawn rounded the table to stand behind Willow while Anya continued to try and head off the slayer- but there was something almost mad in her eyes and it struck the shop keeper like a ton of bricks- Buffy thought she'd failed- failed at protecting Jonathan from a bullet, failed at her attempt to help, and now, she wanted to know, wanted Willow to tell her that she hadn't brought a traitor into their midst, hadn't almost killed the mother-to-be by confiding in Wesley.
But she couldn't let either Buffy or Wesley touch Willow, who was almost desperate with the need to protect her unborn; right now Anya was all she had and if she was to let Buffy touch her, that trust too would be gone, such was the obvious suspicion in the woman's mind.
Suddenly a sort of solution hit her.
"Willow, listen to me. I can protect you from Buffy and Wesley- but you have to trust me. Wait there." Amazingly, the advancing pair did wait as Anya ran over to the till and returned with a box and key.
"What is that?"
"In here is some very white magic- a protection spell. If you'll let me, I'll open it, do it on you. Then they won't be able to hurt you. Understand?" Although she'd been listening at first, Willow's head began to shake again, indicating she either didn't understand or wouldn't accept the plan. She tried to move further backwards but ran into Dawn and gave a little yelp.
Suddenly, Willow realised she was surrounded. She wanted to trust Anya, she even wanted to trust Buffy, Dawn and Wesley, but nothing made sense anymore- nothing had made sense since since Warren had entered the garden- maybe when Buffy pushed her she'd hit her head and it was all just a dream.
But right now, dream or not, the danger seemed real enough and there was no where for her to go. Dawn blocked one entrance, Anya the other, she turned so as they were on either side of her. She could try forward, but Wesley loomed there so backwards was all that was left. She began that way, sliding awkwardly off the table, her legs weak, but holding her barely. It wasn't until she'd gone a further couple of steps that she realised what she'd done; shelves surrounded her on three sides, and the fourth was full of people.
Anya stepped towards her and she shook her head, realising her cheeks were damp.
"Please." Regardless of the plea, she took another step forward and extended a hand as Willow's panicked eyes kept watch.
"Willow, I think that-"
"I think you all need to step away from her." Four of the five residents of the room span to face the newcomer.
Then Willow screamed.
The scream was panicked and painfilled, and when everyone had turned back, Willow was on the floor, propped against the shelves. She moved and Giles ran forward, noticing something on the floor where she'd been, he ran a finger through the substance and brought it up to his face before it registered.
"She's bleeding- call an ambulance." Everyone remained immobile for a moment, before Dawn ran to the counter and began dialling, and Anya moved forward toward the couple on the floor. Giles' head turned and gave her a hard stare.
"I was trying to help Giles, really I was."
"Well you didn't. Now leave."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I said no- I promised I'd be there for her, I'm not going to stop just because you're here being all macho." Willow's hand crept out and took a hold of Anya's on the floor beside her as another scream left her throat. Putting on a brave face, the retailer assumed nothing was broken and ignored the pain.
"I know honey, the ambulance will be here soon, don't worry."
By the time the paramedics did arrive, the bleeding was accompanied by even more painfilled cries from Willow, and Anya had given up on the hope that her hand might survive in one piece.
After they'd loaded Willow into the back of the ambulance and allowed both Anya and Giles in with her- him because he was the father and her because Willow wouldn't let go- although technically it wasn't allowed, the ambulance took off, leaving Dawn, Buffy and Wesley on the pavement behind them.
"I hope the two of you are happy with what you've done." Dawn growled.
"Dawn, I didn't-"
"Maybe you didn't mean to almost get her killed- but just now, in the shop, that was wrong- why couldn't you just leave her alone?"
"I'm going to find Xander, get him to give me a lift to the hospital. Think about it Buff." The teenager took off at a run.
"You know, she might have a point. Ahh!" Buffy's fist connected with the ex-watcher's face before she too, sped off.
"Mr Giles, I'm pleased to announce that you have a healthy baby boy." Flabbergasted, Giles' mouth opened and closed as he was handed the infant in a hospital gown.
"The anaesthetic will wear off in half an hour or so, when she'll have to feed your son. It's very important that a child gets its first feed from its mother."
"Ms Emerson is sat with your partner- she's dedicated that one. I think she deserves to see the little man." Nodding, the Englishman walked towards the room the doctor had pointed at and looked in the window. Willow, unnaturally asleep, was lying in the bed while Anya sat beside her, holding one of Willow's hands to her face and talking softly to the patient. Then he looked down. Silently, his son looked back at him, tongue out, blue eyes wide. He recalled from somewhere that all babies' eyes are blue before they changed colour and he hoped one day he'd have another pair of greenish-hazel ones to look into.
"Well- here's a how-de-do. You must have had quite an eventful nine months, but you're lucky, you have one of the best mothers in the world, who appears to have one of the best friends in the world," he looked up once again at Anya before returning to his son, "I wonder if the two of them have come up with a name for you yet. I came up wit a few- Colin, Stephen, Matthew- all good names. But seeing as you're a mini-scoobie, I figure you'll have to have something much more unique- Nathaniel, Wade, Frances- something like that. What do you think?" He looked up again through the door and this time his gaze was met. Smiling, he nudged the catch and pushed the door open.
"You look tired Anya." She ignored the implied question and nodded to the bundle.
"Is he okay?"
"He's fine- thanks to you." He crossed the room and offered the baby to her. "Thank you." She took the boy, smiling radiantly.
"He's so beautiful."
"Isn't he just."
"We missed you- all of us. Even Xander I think."
"I wish I hadn't gone, but-"
"Yeah. There's always that 'but'." They were quiet for a moment.
"Do you want to tell me why you're not a married woman?"
"Long story. Xander left."
"It's not that long then. He's gone?"
"No, he's around- he left me, left the wedding."
"It's okay- I had Willow. She knew what I was going through."
"But still..." He stepped up to her and put an arm over her shoulders before pulling her to him into a hug, mindful of the precious bundle between them and they stood there for a minute, silent until they were interrupted.
"Aren't I meant to be in that picture?" The pair raised their heads to see Willow, lying on her side, smiling at them.
"You're not supposed to wake up for another," Giles glanced at his watch, "twenty minutes."
"Sorry- I always was impatient when it came to seeing you." He smiled, somehow reminiscent and awkward at once, before looking back at Anya.
"We have a son." Taking her cue, she walked over to the bed and handed the baby to Willow. Immediately he started crying.
"Hey, hey... what's up? You're not supposed to start crying just cos I've got you."
"The doctor said he'll want feeding." Willow looked up, terrified.
"I have to feed him?"
"Yes Willow, all human beings need nourishment- otherwise they die." Giles shot Anya a withering look.
"But... but I don't know how. They didn't give me lessons on that back in high school- or if they did I missed it, which never happened, so no... they mostly focussed on how to not get pregnant, not what to do when you did."
"It's easy, all you have to do is-"
"You had lessons on breast-feeding?"
"Willow, I never went to school, they weren't really invented for women eleven hundred years ago- but what there *were* lots of then was babies. So, if Giles could give us some privacy..."
"Oh, um... yes, I'll just go find Dr Drayman, let him know you're awake."
*** THREE HOURS LATER ***
"I come bearing coffee."
"Oh Anya, you are the new goddess."
"I know." The two women smiled at one another, the elder moving to sit at the head of the bed with the other, facing the room and Giles, who was in a chair in the corner, watching both the bed and the door.
"Do you think that breast-feeding and caffeine mix? The last thing we want is a two day old boy on a high."
"It's not him I'm worried about." There was silence for a moment, the baby asleep, the women drinking and Giles just watching. Eventually Willow looked up and asked the question she'd been avoiding.
"Are you going to tell us at some point why you're back in America?"
"Isn't it enough that I am?"
"I wish it was, but..."
"When I spoke to Buffy, I realised something must have happened for her to know about us, I kept running all these scenarios through my head, none of them very good and... I realised I couldn't lose you, if any one of the things I thought of were true, then I wouldn't have survived, so, I looked into some Council records and discovered the truth... it's taken me since then to get here."
"You're so melodramatic." Willow rolled her eyes.
"'If anything had happened to me you wouldn't have survived'?"
"It's true Willow." She looked down at her hands, awkward, playing with the rings there. The fingers of her left hand settled on the twisted band that had been padded to fit her thumb.
"How long are you here for?"
"Until Travers tracks me down and hauls me back to England I expect."
"I have to ask, you know I do. If he wasn't here," she indicated the crib by her bed, "would you be here?"
"Honestly- think about it, don't just answer." He was silent for a moment, then;
"I still love you, you know."
"That wasn't the question Rupert." He sighed internally- but he also smiled: She'd called him Rupert, as long as she called him that there was hope.
"To be honest, I don't know. If you hadn't been pregnant then when I spoke to Buffy and, later, Dawn, they wouldn't have said anything to make me suspicious and made me look into it. But at the same time... you don't know how much I've missed you Willow..."
"I can guess." His smile was bittersweet.
"I'd have come back... somehow, at some point. Knowing all this was happening gave me extra motivation."
"How did you manage it?"
"You got here though- when it mattered."
"Do you want to tell me what all that was about? In The Magic Box."
"It was probably just my maternal madness pills kicking in. It was nothing."
"Nothing that has to be dealt with now. And you're changing the subject." Sighing the ex-watcher stood and moved to Willow's side, perching on the edge of the bed before taking her hand in his.
"Sorry- can you just move about a foot to your left?" He did so, slightly puzzled. "Sorry, I just couldn't see him." She nodded to the crib again, smiling slightly at her sleeping son.
"Willow, I would do anything to stay here with the two of you, but I don't think I can, I think that Travers and E-" Her hand covered his mouth before he could finish.
"Don't say it, I know. And I know we're not safe, but there's nothing I can do about either except keep trying to fight it as it comes. One day I'm going to lose and either me or my son will be gone, if not both of us. It's no good planning, promising, because it's too unpredictable. I just... I wish that the three of us could be together, that I knew who to trust, that Travers and the Council weren't trying to kill him, that Eliza didn't want you as her husband anymore, for any reason..."
Somewhere over The Atlantic Quentin Travers looked down at his notes: 'Retrieve Rupert Giles' was written across the top of today's page in his diary.
"Retrieve Rupert Giles? Honestly, I'm in charge and I'm going to LA- hang Rupert Giles, I'm going to have some fun." He said to himself.
He stood and took his hand luggage from over his head before going to the plane toilet to change. He returned to his seat five minutes later in shorts, sandals and a bright orange hawaiian shirt.
"And all I have to do is sign here?"
"Yes Mrs Giles." Eliza picked up a pen.
"How blonde am I?"
"Your hair is brown Mrs Giles." She rolled her eyes.
"I've been wanting to divorce this man, like, forever, and all that time I only had to sign and send it to him. Gawd. Maybe I can marry the man I want to now."
"What does 'done' mean?" Giles' eyes were wary.
"I thought you two were the brainy ones. Wish granted, your will be done etc. etc."
"You're a demon again?"
"Yeah, I guess I am."
"Oh." Willow seemed to come out of her state of shock then to ask;
"Are there going to be any horrid side effects from this, any vamp-mes or exploding heads?"
"No- you worded your wish in the present so nothing previous can change, plus I like you- and D'Hoffryn likes you, we're not going to cause chaos for you. From now on everything will be as it was- except Giles' divorce papers ar in the mail, Travers has some other insignificant detail to focus on, the two of you stand a chance and little Jack isn't going to have every mercenary in the world after him." giles and Willow looked at each other before both saying;
"Hey! I didn't mean- I mean... Jack for a boy, Jill for a girl until you give them a name. That's what I was always taught."
"Well, not safe, but he's got the same chance as any other male infant."
"Oh Anya!" Willow flung her arms around the blonde who smiled awkwardly and patted her shoulder. "I love you. If I hadn't just had Giles' baby I'd marry you here and now. Why did you never tell us?"
"It's not easy: 'Hey everyone, I just thought I'd let you all know that I've reverted back to my evil ways. Don't slay me.'"
"You weren't evil- annoying as hell and manipulative, but not evil."
"Sure, if you say so."
"You just hated me for the hell of it?"
"Well no- but I'm not perfect either."
"Course you are. Anyway, I'd better go speak to Buffy, Dawn, Xander and Oz."
"Dawn wouldn't leave and Oz is looking after her- they were both asleep last time I checked though. Not that I blame them- the amount of time it took you to give birth to one little baby..."
"Hey! You try it."
"No. Thank. You. I'd rather give up sex. Maybe."
"Well then." Anya smiled then walked to the door.
"And you two work things out. At least one, well, two of us deserves to be getting orgasms." She exited the room, leaving the remaining couple in awkward silence.
"Are-" They spoke at the same time, then laughed.
"You first." Willow said. giles cleared his throat.
"I was just... I mean should..."
"Just ask me Rupert."
"Is it worth me renewing my green card?" She looked at him, thinking, and he waited a good minute before his heart sank and his head followed. "Well, in that case I should just..." He stood, the five paces to the door feeling like a mile as he tried to make his escape. His hand was on the handle before he heard it.
"Wait." He froze, hoping beyond hope that her next words would be- "I thought we were going to live in England." Giles spun, thinking he'd heard her right, but not daring to believe that...
"We always said that if we had a family we'd raise it in England, in London or Bath. Possibly Norwich."
"You want to move?"
"Not at all, but it's what we always agreed- and away from the hellmouth will be good." His face broke out in a grin and he took a step back into the room.
"Bath, Norwich and London are worlds apart you know. Kind of like saying New York, New Orleans and Sunnydale."
"Huh. What do you think of Richard?" Giles looked over at the sleeping baby.
"You want to name your son after the mayor? My vote's on Colin." Willow grinned.
"As in Colin Firth?" He remembered the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice he'd shown her a year or so ago, and the fixation she'd suddenly had on Mr Darcy. His child was not going to be called the same as some ponse she fancied.
"Okay not Colin. How's Gareth." She made a face.
"Because that won't lead to ridicule."
"So I've been reading Anita Blake- shoot me." Giles sat on the end of the bed. This was going to be a long conversation.
"Wesley I need your help."
"Willow's in trouble."
"Oz, can you help us?"
"No magic on or around Will, I'm serious."
"I told you no magic."
"I love you Will. Please be alright."
"Is she okay?"
"It's a boy?"
"Can I see them?"
"Goddess Buffy, I'm so sorry... I don't know, I think I went crazy."
"It's okay, I shouldn't have pushed you, it's just... I think it's that I've been such a bad friend recently- I was over compensating, I was almost desperate for you to be okay with me."
"So... friends again?"
"You betcha. So long as we make certain promises about keeping secrets."
"Like the fact you slept with Spike?"
"Hey! That was... nothing compared to you being engaged to Giles for three years. And how did you know anyway?"
"Buffy, you just had me perform two truth spells on you. How do you think I knew?"
"So we're good?"
"Good. So where is he?"
"No- your son." Willow grinned at Buffy giddily for a moment. "Hello? Earth to Willow?"
"Sorry, but... I have a son." And Giles chose exactly that moment to walk through the door, followed by Xander, Anya, Dawn and Oz, with said baby. Instantly Willow sat up, holding her arms out and the father crossed the room to place him in them. "Look at him. This is my baby." Buffy smiled at her.
"How could he not be? Look at the raw material." Willow, still beaming, adjusted her hold and extended a hand out to Giles. He took it and she pulled him over to stand by the bed next to her. Together they faced the rest of the gang.
"Guys- I'd like you all to meet Christopher Giles."
Epilogue- A Tribute to Anya.
Begins at the very end of 'Chosen.'
"Yeah Buffy. What are we gonna do now?" The eldest Summers girl turned her head slightly and looked at her sister as Christopher Giles let out a wail.
"Well first I'm going to see what's wrong with my favourite boy."
"I still can't believe I'm losing that battle." Xander shook his head and looked at the infant in Giles' arms. "Just wait G-Boy, I'll beat you one day."
"How many times have I told you not to call him that?"
"I know G-Man, I know." Silence fell once more as Dawn, Buffy and Faith took Chris over to the other slayers and Andrew. The two remaining men turned to Willow.
"You know," she said in a small voice, "he's going to be lost once they all disappear- I've never known a child so spoilt."
"He deserves it Will," Xander replied, "nothing's too good for our baby of the apocalypse."
"And while we're on that subject- please don't forget I still haven't forgiven any of you for dragging him through all this. He should have been gone with you and Dawn- hell, he should have stayed in England."
"Don't blame me for that- she's the one with the taser." Giles stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder, pulling her into him as she let out a sob.
"I'm sorry- I just keep expecting to hear her arguing with the girls or Andrew. I don't know why, but I always thought she'd be the one who made it through all this." Xander felt his own eyes begin to well up as he studiously avoided Giles' gaze and looked out at the chasm that had once been Sunnyhell. Behind him he heard Vi let out a sound of disgust.
"You could have told me all my other clothes were going to be buried, I'd have worn something better- and my hat."
"Rona wake up." Kennedy's voice came clearly over the general hubbub of the others and soon the three left mourning on the edge of the cliff were joined by Faith.
"Yo guys- I hate to break up the party, but we've got to get some of these girls and Robin to a hospital sharpish, and I don't know one closer than LA." Without a word, they made their way to the bus and joined Dawn on the back row, Willow eagerly accepting Chris from Buffy as she settled, now silent and grinning.
"He'll never know the woman who saved his life about six times."
"Not personally, but he'll never be allowed to forget her either." Giles' words were spoken quietly, but to the others in the back seat, they were pillars of support and hope. Willow smiled slightly, bittersweet, as she leant into him and closed her eyes.
Less than a minute later Andrew's face popped over the chair in front and grinned down at the baby in her arms.
"Hey Little Fellow. So how does it feel to have a goddess for a mum?"
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