The only answer he got was ‘Good lord… is everything alright?”
As Xander began the rather epic tale of the last few months, the relatively new Battle Brand lifted a leather and mail covered arm and rubbed the bridge of his nose between forefinger and thumb. It was the only time since his changed from human that Giles truly wished he still needed glasses. The comforting habit of a lifetime, polishing his glasses, was now lost to him as his sight was as acute as any night or day creature, as was his hearing and sense of smell, in his new immortal form.
The isolation of his abode had been rather comforting after the catastrophic events surrounding the First and consequent fallout - the Council, Hellmouth, turmoil at the Coven after Willow returned then disappeared again, and of course training the new Watchers. The cave was warm, with candle lit tones, soft, and silent. Buffy had commented that it was no wonder he applied for the gig – once a librarian, always a librarian.
If only anyone knew… Giles had not volunteered, but rather… found himself at the door to Well one evening. A sense of urgency saw him compelled to take a London taxi ride to a remote spot, walk to the tree, then enter the fissure that seemed to open. And as he had proceeded down a long tunnel lit by torches, he registered a rather baseline humming he was sure was a recording of Tibetan monks…
The compulsion to keep going was irrational but unmistakable. He made it to the bridge and stared down in wonder for a moment and the stacks of sarcophagi. He new this place from legend, but had never imagined… the opening of another ‘tree cave’ on the other side of the bridge had called him to ender. And once inside he felt overcome with fatigue all of a sudden and sat heavily on the single simple wooden chair by the rounded wall, before registering a shadowy figure in his presence. “I am Drogan, the Battle Brand incumbent, now no longer of this earth. The memories of many have named you hero and worthy my mantel. I now see the truth for myself, you are indeed the one. So take this your sword and the seal of the Brand. Bear them proudly and suffer no fools. Yours is a noble task.”
With that, Giles had been magically immobilized, rather embarrassingly stripped of his modern day clothing and dressed by a group of what could only be described as rather pretentious knights from a variety of eras, none of whom seemed to speak English. He was then eased back onto a set of sleeping skins, and felt incredibly drowsy. Within minutes he assailed by dream after disturbing dream.
By the end of the night he possessed all the memories of Brands past, each one living for over a millennia, and knew now that the longevity would be his fate also. He felt changed in other ways. Still kindly and wise, from that moment on, he chose to remain in the Well, actively avoided contact with others and when someone did successfully approach, the dialogue was abrupt, brief and not without frustration. Giles, like all Battle Brands before him, was condemned to always speaking the truth.
His immortal body needed no sustenance but that which brought a little pleasure, like a good cup of tea. And there was no need for ablutions, though an occasional deep bath heated over an open fire occasionally brought enjoyment. The only modern convenience in his ancient abode was a phone linked to the coven network by a very determined Watcher, Andrew upon learning of his “Guru’s awesome, *awesome* change”, though following it there was little reason to use said device as coven and Council got on with its business, and others had little reason to contact him. Giles never felt inclined to ring out, and had received exactly three calls in three years. Xander’s was the third.
Giles was silent all the time the ex Scoobie spoke. He knew Xander was upset, but also felt… humbled that the young man he knew, not so many years ago, was now a father, in tragic circumstances at the end… and was somehow making the best of it.
“So what do you need want of me Xander?”
“I um… nothing… I guess… well yes… I just… I don’t know… I’m a father Giles! A father to Willow and a lover… of Spike… I’m Gay and a Dad… and both the people I care about are magical and damaged *so* badly and there was Wolfram and Hart and the Old One Illyria and that’s… Oh Ghodd… Nothing… just needed to tell someone I guess. Can you just tell me what you think I should do?”
“My dear boy, I can now only speak the truth. Spike’s progress? I have no access to other realms though it does appear that Illyria is no longer of this dimension. I have no idea the power he might have absorbed in her last moments nor why he did not dust… As for dear Willow, she cannot return to her previous self, but she is still your friend. Be loving to both and allow them to feed of each other and you.”
Uncharacteristically there were no niceties to finish, the call simply shut off and Xander was left feeling just a little too alone. He smiled at the nurse who was tucking Willow’s right breast away, yet another expressing complete, ready for Spike’s mid evening meal. The girls were all (obviously) asleep and Willow smiled weakly at her observer then assisted as she rolled to face the crib, the kind carer all the while congratulating her for expressing ‘all by yourself this time’.
Xander flopped onto the bed. He had hoped Giles would have the answers… particularly about Illyria and Spike, but it was not to be. As the days rolled on and his girls grew and Spike’s condition improved slowly, he would continue to worry but had other issues afoot.
They really did need to move out of Clem’s home, but when it was discussed, Clem dismissed it out of hand, claiming he enjoyed the company. A compromise was eventually reached when the apartment above his basement one came up for lease. It was ideal – having a small enclosed yard and at ground level. Plus (with the landlord’s permission) a set of internal steps were installed by Xander, with the consequent effect of virtually doubling their living space and giving Clem back his privacy… particularly as he had ‘met someone’ recently.
They needed money, and frankly Xander needed something to distract him from the endless caring task so applied to do some casual work at a trade school teaching basic woodwork to adults – his credentials were impeccable in terms of industry experience, people skills wonderful and he did find being away from the hubbub that was home… helpful… the latest sight of Willow and Spike still struggling to stand and walk a few steps during their therapy sessions finding him shedding private tears and thankful to focus on something more inane like lessons in mitring.
Spike’s recovery was painfully slow for a vampire, but it was happening. His speech had improved, as had horizontal ‘abilities’ and Xander began to wonder how he could possibly have put up with a live human male for occasional carnal pleasure in the past as nightly he rode with his cool lover to sexual mind blowing climaxes, afterward resting together in quiet bliss with an innate sense that this was forever.
Willow was the greater worry as the weeks progressed and she increasingly acted like a petulant child, refusing to do her exercises and pushing away her food. The only thing she did was feed her children and express for Spike, but otherwise showed little or no interest in anything, opting for lying on her bed facing away from any who might enter again. Her physical condition began to wane again.
When asked she kept mumbling tearfully “Too hard!! An’ me… me this!” She would then roll with effort and kept lifting one of the many loose comfortable T-shirts of Xander’s she insisted on wearing and poke at her still stretch marked belly, pointed to the girls then insisting “It’s all… I’m… Why no!??”
As often as he could, he took his treasured, damaged friend, the mother of his children, into his arms, hugging her close to give comfort and let his own tears drip into her hair. He had a healing vampire (his unexpected new lover), three children, and a life, and Willow was loved and looked after and that wouldn’t change but still seemed… Lost.
Xander engaged a sympathetic psychiatrist (again through Clem’s connections). He came with a team, and Willow was slightly sedated, restrained, then examined physically, psychiatrically, and magically.
The verdict was damning. So much damage had been done to her, and Xander’s determination to shut down the ‘research’ unit of Wolfram and Hart – and anything else he could – absolute.
The white haired doctor removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Xander knew that sign. It was bad, when Giles did that it had always been bad.
“Mr Harris, I ahhh… Please understand that I um… I appreciate the background history of the last few years with your ::cough:: wife… A most distressing tale. And I am also somewhat aware of the research establishment where she was housed… only on an academic basis of course – fascinating findings regards space travel…”
The doctor’s rather too cheerful tone had Xander’s demeanour shifting to dark. He instantly wanted to kill the man. Spike was behind him seated in his wheelchair, and despite his own limitations, let his demon loose and growled audibly.
The doctor shifted a little uncomfortably, waved away his staff (who made a *very fast* exit with all their equipment) then continued a little more tentatively, “Yes well… Mr Harris, the draining of her magical essence, as it were, for such a long time – along with the obvious sensory deprivation, drug therapy and physical ::ahemm:: strains and alterations… have left her rather, and I *am* trying to put this gently… compromised… but I think it goes a little deeper than that.”
“I suspect she no longer views herself as anything more than a vessel for reproduction, after all when you [ahem] purchased her, she was already in the very final month of her fourth (?) pregnancy.”
“Her magic will obviously need retraining – and I would recommend that she join your daughters at the most basic level of tuition when they begin – and they are wonderfully healthy magically inclined humans by the way. But magic aside, much like her walking, which by the way I congratulate your remedial team for their progress with her…”
Clem preened a little and grinned his genuine pride across to the two women at the back of the examination room, his cousin Marg and niece Cathy, who were currently holding three rather upset little girls beginning to fuss for a feed.
“Willow… Mr Harris… Willow has suffered three years of the most extreme levels of sensory and other deprivations, and deliberate removal of well… everything. While she continues to feed the girls, which I do recommend, I really can only recommend one or two antidepressant drugs that will fail to be passed through her milk to the children, but in cases like this… given… Mr Harris, let me be frank. I wonder if you would consider an alternative… along with her magical and physical therapy.
“Willow is a fertile female, and has been altered so much by experience and treatments that her body *needs* the boost that comes with a normal human pregnancy. And as the girls become more independent and now her menses have recommenced may I suggest that… and I have never said this to a client before… but it really does appear that it is in her best interests to be pregnant. She has the mothering instincts that would make a brown bear proud despite her extreme limitations; it will boost her hormones enormously which may well benefit her physical recovery; and she will have the experience of a normal pregnancy in a loving environment. I really do believe it is the most likely strategy to improve her physical and mental state.”
Spike was listening from the darkened space in the hallway and growled audibly. The doctor knew of William the Bloody so finished swiftly as he made for the door – the vampire might be in a wheel chair, but he had seen it before when vampires were suitably annoyed – anything was possible.
As he departed he added, “Mr Harris *please* reassure your vampire…friend. This is not about *breeding* per se, but rather, being with child in a loving, normal physical environment for the entire term of a pregnancy. It might just be the trigger for her to return to a better state of mind! Consider it… oh and if you need a donor I am happy to…”
He didn’t get to finish, Xander stopped Spike’s chair as his vampire began to fly forward, and ‘Mr Harris’ simply growled, “No need. Thanks but you’d better… Cheque ‘ll be in the mail.”
A day later, Willow was still teary, but still her carer did the usual exercises, fed her, then gently assisted as she tried, yet again to walk *pushing* her chair, for the last “Just ten Willow thaaats it just *ten* steps.”
Three happy children were already rolling on the picnic rug as their mother was gently lowered beside them. Her legs were getting stronger but the assistance was appreciated… and yet she couldn’t help but cry… Even after the doctor’s kind words as she was examined, she knew she was all wrong. She felt… like she was still missing something. As her milk dropped again and Maisie was first to the feast, there was a moment of clarity and a tiny moment of hope.
She was in the sun, warm, fed and… now in the presence of others who… loved her. A slight breeze reminded her she was outside again. It was a pleasant sensation as her bare, very pale legs soaked up a little of the springtime sunshine. She stroked little Maisie, pulled her off the teat and rolled the other way to feed Sadie. Belatedly she noted that her third – the adventurous Lucy, was at the edge of the rug, had pulled up a handful of grass and was currently pushing a fist of it into her mouth. She managed to stretch her arm, grab an ankle and tug the little one onto the mat again. Her kind carer did the rest, dancing red eyes and Mell’s soprano voice ‘blessing’ Willow and congratulating her for being such an attentive mother.
Her children defined her now, she knew that. She tried to formulate other thoughts but all that led to was memories of the fluid and… she was crying again… Maisie was removed, as were the other girls, she was rolled onto her side and had her back rubbed! She hadn’t meant to cry… it was just… she couldn’t seem to stop lately.
Xander had only just arrived home from his workplace. His satchel was full of rather averagely drawn ‘visual diaries’ and plans for the ‘Side tables assignment’ he had to mark.
He could see Willow and the girls on the rug outside, and wondered. Another child would not be so hard. In vitro fertilization and surrogacy was quite the rage for the ‘gay’ community these days… and this would be for her, not him.
Spike was now almost well enough for them to approach the Schweizer Bank in Geneva and start to manage some of the Aurelian funds to help their situation. And the vampire obviously loved the children, lately delighting in them crawling all over him if he lay still enough on the lounge room floor, and even choosing to ‘work out’ his arm muscles and improving dexterity by feeding apple sauce to hungry mouths (though still favouring his chair and needing to roll back and forth in front of three identical high chairs).
The words of the doctor had been weighing heavily on Xander all day, but as he threw his bag next to the hatstand at their front door, he spied a scene that made his heart leap. Spike was standing, apparently casually leaning against the doorframe of the hall, dressed in a pair of pre aged jeans, (and Xander *would* reward Clem monetarily later for that!), and with an unlit cigarette between his lips.
The “Don’t figure you’ve got a light?” would have been *so* much more effective if said vampire hadn’t suddenly shifted needed to steady himself, consequently threw to game face and growled “Oh Bugger!” as he tried to grab for something to prevent a fall.
Xander caught him on the way down, ending in a heap of relieved but loving male... flesh in the middle of the hall.
Spike looked up with those clear blue eyes Xander remembered from his wet dreams long past before rolling and lifting Spike over him into a warm hug. They lay together for a few minutes before a set of dark blonde curls began to move and was pulled from the reverie by an indignant, rather muffled “Should o’ known you twonk! Needed a fag and all you give is a warm lap t’ lie in!”
It was the salve Xander needed.
His lover was not yet able to walk unassisted, but the mouth, the humour, the… He leant down, kissed the healing vamp soundly then gently eased him to the floor and stood up.
“Oi!!!! Leave a bloke horizontal and needy in the hallway. Bloody…”
“Just home from work… Gotta… get a beer and check on the kids… If you’re still interested I’ll be in the bedroom in ten.”
He winked back at the prone Spike then walked out into the sunshine to get the ‘report’ from the carer, rub Willow’s back and kiss her chastely, then lie on the mat, and play for a time with ‘his girls’. These days they gurgled, giggled, and responded so wonderfully. In a way he wished Willow would do the same.
As he blew raspberries on Sadie’s tiny belly and tickled Lucy until she squirmed, he could not help but notice. It was Nurse Susie that was milking Willow, and she was crying again. He *had* to do something.
He kissed her forehead as he rose to go inside, whispered “Remember, we *all* love you.” then returned to his own bedroom where Spike, annoyed and aroused by the effort to pull himself to their shared space then strip… was to prove his solace.
He found the vampire semi nude, lying on their now shared bed, jeans open and erection proud. The vampire’s legs might not yet work fully, but there was certainly feeling coming and the ‘up and centre’ equipment apparently needed only memories of the night before being fully functional!
Xander had had a long day, had spoken to two different ‘artificial insemination’ experts, agreed to working as a teacher for another semester and tried ineffectually to reassure and cheer the broken mother of his children.
Yet now… now his wonderful newly discovered friend, partner, vampire, kissed him with a passion that would melt stone and accepted him into his body for the third time in the week. And afterwards Xander let himself be ‘broken’ for a while, while Spike caressed and purred and reassured. The boy from Sunnydale yearned for the day when it was he who might be entered, truly looked after by another. In truth Xander had been the bottom when he first experimented with Hugh, riding his first partner under instruction and finding joy until his ‘friend’ went off and… there was no point dwelling.
The one eyed brunette resolved suggest a ride tomorrow but for the moment enjoyed holding his partner’s inanimate legs over his shoulders and watched his vampire fall into gameface as he give in to bliss. The bite and pull on his offered wrist was the icing every cake deserved.
In the afterglow they hugged and quietly, slowly discussed the doctor’s verdict for Willow and Giles, The Battle Brand Rupert’s message in the context of the whole ‘family’.
A day later, Xander sat gingerly on Willow’s outside rug, the girls were asleep. It was her rest time. Her drink bottle had been ‘Spiked’ *literally*… so she felt strangely more like… well more ‘here’ than on some other days...
Xander pulled his long time friend’s hand up to his mouth and kissed it lovingly before shifting a little closer to her on the blanket and sharing the afternoon sun. He looked over to the darkened doorway where his wonderful, still recovering partner was trapped in the shadows, and in that horrid chair (for much of the time). But Spike’s rue smile gave him the strength to go on with the conversation.
“I um… I’ve made some enquiries… regards… Wills it might be the way to go but…”
Willow struggled out, “Xan! All… I… Pleasssss,” then patted her empty abdomen again and when no more words would come, began to cry again then nodded profusely, with teary gratitude, as he told her of the suggestion by the specialist - that it was wise for her to carry a child once more.
“ Wills… it *will* be yours and mine again… I promise… and I’m sorry but I don’t… I don’t know how to help any other way! And he said you needed it. Oh G@# Wills you are my oldest, my best friend… So *please* if you think this is wrong in *any* way… we won’t… *Promise*…. But… ”
She looked at him with relief and simply nodded, then for the first time since he found her, the mother of his children, formerly the most powerful witch on the planet, reached up, pulled him down, whispered “Thank you” then kissed him on the lips.
A day later, she was injected with hormones. Four days after that, under light sedation, several eggs were gathered, and a tearful Xander was stimulated by his reclining lover who caught his spilt seed in a receptacle, claiming this new one “…is mine as well!”
Spike comforted his lover as the procedure went ahead. The egg(s!) were fertilized and two ‘viable’ ones implanted. Both would take.
It only took twelve days to confirm the pregnancy, and to discover that the new regime of real food and normal human pregnancy pressures would find the mother for the very first time, suffering morning sickness…
Despite the nausea, for Willow there were bonuses beyond the obvious.
Like many MS sufferers, she also seemed to have her reflexes and speech improve marginally each day of her new pregnancy. Her doctor put it down to the specialized anti depressants she was now on, and the bizarre way some women’s bodies responded to pregnancy hormones. The small amounts of vampire blood meant that other things had also marginally improved and she was *sure* she could occasionally *hear* the two tiny fluttering heart beats.
This time around she had asked, she *knew* who was the father, and was free to move as a normal woman might… Her girls grew and fed and played and were played with. And when Spike was asleep and Xander at work, she spent time between her ongoing therapy with her girls. She was now able to crawl with them, not as fast as them of course, but well enough. She was also able to walk pushing something along, walking without a support still an issue and steps or any uneven surface definitely off limits.
This time, her body responded to each new phase as though it was the first time. Her greatest thrill and largest source of stress being an almost incapacitating back ache whenever she stood. By the fifth month carrying twins, her standing and even assisted walking was beginning to falter. Knees and particularly spine were just not conditioned. The wheelchair was back for much of the time.
Her daily routine now included a bath and massaged after, before she snoozed in the afternoon sun while her own girls rested inside. Her back and knees should improve after delivery but the doctor now suggested that she was unlikely ever to be rid of her new walker. It was dark red, had wheels, a basket, flip down seat, and hand brakes. *She* had chosen it in a night time shopping trip that saw all the family (including Clem and new fellow demon girlfriend Noreen) visiting a local shopping mall for the first time. With two wheelchairs, a triple stroller, two demons, Nurse Susan and Xander they were quite a group. Clem and Noreen dressed to cover some of their more obvious features but even so.
Willow knew, as panic set in when they first arrived at the mall. She still had *so* far to go, she knew that, but now as she watched Xander surreptitiously wipe a little dribble of milk froth from the corner of Spike’s mouth and suck the finger as though it were the most divine of prizes, she relaxed a little.
The fact that she was likely to need the walker for all time was such a small thing compared to the momentous event of going to the mall and even a food hall… The girls had their own food courtesy of Nurse Susan (and the supermarket baby food isle) and as Willow sipped on her Mocca carefully on a shared table with her dear friends and family, she felt the babies inside her move again… and for the first time in four years, a little of the happy innocent, Willow Rosenberg of Sunnydale, ‘came back’.