"Ow!" she said, then she woke up. Well, possibly she'd been awake when she said ow. It really wasn't that important, cause the main point was she was now awake, and her ribs hurt where Giles had elbowed her, and it was, like, three in the morning.
And Giles was sitting on the edge of the bed with his arms around his stomach and--
She sat up and knee-walked across the bed, steadying herself on his shoulder and then kind of falling against his side. Beside him, now, and even in the half-light from the street outside, she could see lines of pain drawn around his eyes.
"I'd say it's time," he grated, between cletched teeth.
Oh, wow. Oh wow. And oh crap. Again. Just because.
"Yeah," she said, trying to sound calm, but failing so completely the effort wasn't worth it. "Uh, yeah. Yeah. You, uh, you remember the ritual?"
He nodded, once, tightly. His eyes were squeezed shut. Her heart hammered, seeing him like that.
But then he drew in one slow, careful breath, and relaxed, at first just slightly, but then more and more.
He let out the breath in a sigh.
"Giles," she chided gently, rubbing his shoulder, "You are not remembering your breathing."
"God, that hurt," was his response.
She slipped off the bed and reached under it, finding the cardboard box of supplies they'd stashed there and slowly beginning to feel more in control.
"Yes, I know," she said, unable to resist letting a hint of slow teasing into her tone, "And that's why there's the breathing, to help it not hurt so much."
"Thank you, Doctor Rosenburg," he muttered. She was sorting the supplies out onto the floor around her as he stood up. "Turning on the light," he added.
She braced herself, and then the room flooded with lamplight. She squinted as her eyes worked on adjusting, and suddenly realized how tired she was. She hadn't gotten in from the nightly Slaying until after midnight.
She listened to Giles' feet pad across the carpet, over to where they'd already set up most of the stuff they needed.
It was as she was sorting out the candles and inks that her hands began to shake.
Ok, part of that would be the terror. She hadn't been able to quite quiet that sensation, especially not since Xander had said, "Well what if something goes wrong?" And she'd said, "It won't," and he'd said, "But what if it does?"
Because this birthing ritual really should work just fine. Really, it should, but if it didn't? Not a whole lot of safety net. Actually, no safety net at all. At least, probably not one that would save Giles and the baby, because that would involve explaining to the emergancy room that hello, this pregnant man was having complications with a mystical birth, and by the time they got all that sorted out--
That really didn't bear thinking about, and besides. She could do this. She was good at this stuff. Magic.
And so, she thought, a lot of the shaking was probably not so much fear as it was anticipation. This was it. Her chance to do this big spell and bring a life into the world. Bring their son into the world.
And if she could do this, then she could be absolutely sure that... that, well... the fact was there was another life out there somewhere that needed her, and if she could bring forth this one, maybe that other one wouldn't seem so daunting.
She sat back on her heels, with the supplies she needed gathered in her hands, and then she rocked up to her feet.
Giles was already kneeling in the center of the power circle, nude, with the candles lit and widely spaced around him. The sight of him caught her off-guard, because her mind had been so full of thoughts of rituals and chants that she hadn't really prepared herself to be faced with her husband, naked. He had one hand resting on the curve of his stomach, his eyes turned down towards the floor. Candle and lamplight caught on the curls on his chest and his thighs, and the shadow between his legs didn't quite obscure his cock. Strong biceps, slightly tensed... tension all through him, really. Ever since he'd told her this morning that he was feeling contractions, he'd been more afraid than she.
But he was still beautiful, even like this, even so worried, even in pain.
She sank to her knees just outside of the circle in front of him, several feet of space between them, too much for her to reach across to touch.
"It'll be ok," she said, and she really believed it. "Giles, he'll be fine."
His eyes lifted up and met hers, and they stayed there for a while, before he cringed, and groaned.
"Breathing, sweetheart," she said. "And lie back, ok?"
He did so, though with obvious effort, and he was at least attempting to breath to the right rhythm. Still, sweat was breaking out on his brow, and she had to wonder if it was always this bad, or if it was because he was a guy, and things were already not working the way they were supposed to.
She decided that was another subject it was best not to dwell on and then said the proper words and entered the circle, then crawled over and knelt beside him.
He reached for her instantly, then settled his hand on her thigh.
"Hey," she said, softly, as she dipped her fingers in the ink and began to carefully trace patterns on his chest, "I promise, next time, if there is a next time, I'll be doing the hard part."
His only answer was to grip her thigh a little tighter.
It got to a point, somewhere that night, when almost all he could think about was the pain. It was dark outside, and Willow had turned off the lights, so there was nothing but the glow of candles, and he didn't have the heart or the energy to tell her he would have preferred the light. Because, in this dark it seemed hopeless. All he could think was it hurt too much, something had to be wrong, perhaps the spell wasn't working at all.
The contractions hurt too much to speak through, all he could do was silently rant. Curse Ethan's name, for causing all this in the first place, and his own for being fool enough to not stop him, and even Willow's, for being so calm and so matter-of-fact.
Other times, the anger left him entirely, and it wasn't just sweat running down into his hair. Tears, of pain, partly, but mostly from the thought he couldn't seem to quell, the thought he said out loud, now, as another crescendo rose in him, "God, something's wrong, Willow, something has to be wrong."
"Nothing's wrong," she said, so quickly it almost had to be a lie, or just something said to placate him.
His body seemed to clamp down tight as a vice and it forced a small cry out of him and then, "This is going to kill him," he said. The words that had been haunting him since the first time he'd felt those muscles clenching.
"It's not," she said.
"How do you know it's even working?" he snapped.
"It's working," she said.
"Stop bloody saying--"
And then the candles flared. For a split second, it crossed his mind that it could be theatics for his benefit, but a glance at Willow showed her just as surprised as him. And then she began to chant, laying her hands palm up, with the blanket across them, over his stomach.
He dropped his head back and magic, her magic, swept through him, warm as a hot water bottle, soothing away the pain as though it had never been there.
The next time his body drew tight, he felt nothing but that warmth brightening and intensifying.
"Oh," he said, softly.
Willow smiled through her chant, a small I-told-you-so smirk.
He pressed his palms to the carpet and watched the candlelight eddy and flow on the ceiling.
The third time, the light, the warmth, flared up inside him as sharp as explosion heat. It crashed through his whole body, starting in his abdomen, and just slamming down his legs, up his chest, through his arms, through his skull, like glorious fire. It made his back arch and he couldn't see through the bright, couldn't hear through the roar. He gulped in a breath and then--
it was gone.
He exhaled long and shuddering. And felt different.
"Oh," Willow said. The backs of her hands were heavy on his stomach, then they lifted away. "Oh, god, Giles."
He had to shut his eyes. Couldn't believe that those words were good, because then it would kill him if they weren't. Perhaps this was just a lull in the spell.
"Giles," she said, again, and then...
Then he could breathe again, and it seemed it was the same moment he let that first breath back out that he heard the first choking, almost angry cry. His arms were weak, but he pushed himself up, half-sitting, and looked.
Willow held something wrapped in a blanket in her arms. She was looking down at it and saying something. Then she looked up at him and she smiled, and then she said, "Lie back."
He did, against the pillows, just slightly propped up, and then she came up closer, and laid the blanket-wrapped, whimpering bundle on his chest. He caught it in his own arms and cradled it close, and it moved. Kicked. And that feeling was... familiar.
"Eric," he said, and then tugged back a corner of the blanket, to find a small, scrunched red face. Mouth open in mid-squall, eyes squeezed shut, he was the most beautiful thing Giles had ever laid eyes upon.
He was only distantly aware of Willow pressing her hands again to his abdomen, and only half-heard her say "Let the spell be ended," and he barely felt the final change.
He was too busy looking at that little chin, those little eyes, that little nose. Too busy touching tiny delicate, grasping fingers.
He did notice when Willow streched out beside him, and he turned his head to kiss her before she got settled in against his side. She sighed and snuggled and reached up to gently stroke Eric's arm, which he'd thrust up out of the blanket.
It was captivating, seeing Eric's fingers close around Willow's knuckle.
But then, a bit of worry crept back in, and he said, "We should get him to the hospital."
Willow kissed his throat.
"I know. In a minute."
And, he was too content just holding him--Eric, his son--to do anything but agree. It could wait a few minutes.
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