[identity profile] brutti-ma-buoni.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] still_grrr
So sorry I'm late! I've been intending to post since July, but... You get all my faves in one massive post, so I hope you enjoy browsing.

Title Once Upon A Rainbow
Author Brutti ma buoni
Rating PG13
Word Count 1800
Prompt 229 Favourite male character: Giles
Characters/Pairing (if any) Giles, the cast of a Midsummer Night's Dream (long story)
A/N: This fine prompt by [livejournal.com profile] emelye_miller at Drunken Gilesathon: Whilst on holiday in England, Giles gets completely blotto and is whisked away by fairies.


Drinking cowslip wine on May Day and going to sleep under the full moon is one of those things no sane man should do. Certainly not a member of the Watchers Council, albeit a slightly sideways associate member these days.

But Rupert Giles was retired now. No more Sunnydale, no more hanging around a bunch of teenagers with their loves, lives and deaths. If he wanted to go to an Authenticke Maye Fayre, get pissed and fail to get off with any of the fair maidens twirling around that phallic maypole – well, that was very much his own affair. Recapturing his youth was a futile dream, but wasn't that what retirement was for?

That made him... An old fool. A retired old buffer. A drunken old fool. Old.

All of these were broadly acceptable in a former Watcher. Inevitable, even. What was absolutely not all right was to see fairies. Fairy. Whatever. Fairies, as is commonly known to the newest Watcher, are a myth. Or, just possibly, a folk memory of a supernatural form no longer found on Earth. Or something seeded through a portal. Or a rumour put about to conceal the existence of leprechauns.

Anything but straightforward truth.

Unfortunately, when he awoke that clear and dewy May morn, with a dry mouth, sore eyes, and a head spinning so thoroughly he was certain he was still over the drink-drive limit, Giles was faced with a… person. A small, slim person, greenish of skin, pointed of ear and winged of…erm, wing.

If that wasn't a fairy, a hell of a lot of Watcherly texts and children's books had got the label wrong.

"Fuck," he croaked. It seemed to cover the situation fully.

"No, sir," said the Not-A-Fairy, helpfully. "Puck is my name."

*

Puck.

No, really.

A trickster fairy, of all things Giles did not wish to be involved with.

But then, there were other things. Such as being trussed in vines, and brought before the Queen of the Fairies by said trickster.

*

Giles, of course, knew how the play went. This version was incorrect.

He did not have the head of an ass. (He had checked, several times.) Puck appeared to be working with the Queen (Titania, presumably, though no one had so addressed her or bothered to introduce him). He was not a comic rustic, dammit. (Though to be honest, his jeans had seen better days even before he slept out overnight).

Whatever this might be, it didn't appear that he had stepped into a performance on the Complete Works of Shakespeare. (Something of a relief, considering Coriolanus.) So perhaps a manuscript enchantment, causing play characters to come alive? Or a chaos demon, enjoying shifting humans into literature: perhaps inside all these 'fairies' were other human beings, unable to muster his strength of mind and express their true nature?

Rupert. You're being a trifle egotistical, are you not?

Indeed. But Giles preferred to think he might find a rational, magical explanation for this, even if that meant inflating his own self-esteem rather.

Trouble was, nobody was acting as though they were enchanted and struggling to escape it. In fact, for spell-cast people, they were being rather disappointingly normal. Puck, after talking to the queen, spent some time picking seeds out of his teeth. Another "fairy" (Giles was deliberately keeping the quote marks, as a form of mental discipline and futile denial. It looked like Mustardseed, but he was refusing to check that either), had a pee round the back of the queen's throne.

The whole setup lacked a certain sense of Mystical Faerie. Giles was both glad and sorry about that. Eerie fairy cobblers would have been unnerving, and if he'd started to believe in it he'd have been finished (think of Conan Doyle!). But, conversely, anyone magicking a fairyland into existence would surely have made it a little less earthly. Would they not?

Which led Giles to suspect that this might indeed be real. All of it.

But what 'it' was, and why, and indeed why it involved trussing him up and kidnapping him… that seemed like a very large problem for a tired man with a fuzzy brain. Giles failed to think of a pressing reason to try to solve it.

He called out to Mustardseed (query), and asked for a drink. The fairy even very kindly left one of his hands free to drink. Sweet mead came, and he quaffed it. Definitely a quaff. Drops of mead spilled down both sides of the glass, as it should when quaffed.

*

Some time later, Giles discovered he was having a fervent argument with a fairy about the other's evident fictional status.

"If you prick us, do we not bleed?" asked Peaseblossom (possibly). "If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?" He paused to wipe some spittle off his quaffing hand. "Wise bloke said that, once. Though, technically, we don't bleed so much as ooze. And I personally am not ticklish at all."

He (she? It?) said nothing on the subject of revenge, however. If Giles had believed the evidence of his eyes, ears, nose, taste buds and skin, and accepted the existence of fairies, he would have been somewhat concerned to find them not disavowing messy revenges. Just in case at some point he sobered up enough to do something Watcherly about these supernatural beings. How lucky that none of this was real, so he didn’t need to worry.

Their conversation-cum-argument faded out, or possibly Giles's brain faded out. He slept, again; it was the sleep of a thorough quaffer.

*

"Awake, fair gentleman. I would favour you now."

Giles's eyelids creaked open, with reluctance. A Caramel-bunny voice, caressing, continued to murmur seductively at him.

It was the Queen of the Fairies. She wanted sex. He could tell by her voice, her words, and the things her hands and tongue were doing to him. It was a pretty clear-cut case.

Despite his considerable fuddlement and incipient hangover, however, Giles could see a number of downsides. She was fictional. Or mythical. Or enchanted. Sex with imaginary beings was for teenagers – he'd grown out of it ages before.

And if, by some ghastly chance, she was a real live fairy, she was a supernatural entity. Fucking supernatural entities had, by and large, ended up badly for Giles throughout his life. (In the long term. Sometimes, the short term had been worth it.)

"I am most tremendously flattered, your highness." (Should that have been Majesty? If he was going to butter her up, it needed to be thorough.) "I confess, I'm not quite certain how it was that you selected me for such an honour as gracing your fair presence…"

Fortunately, the Queen cut him off before his blethering sentence could finally collapse under the weight of pomposity. "I select many men. Every May Day. I have such happy memories of that one night, with that one man. Such a man… So asinine."

"Really?" Giles sounded a little startled. Firstly, because the 'Shakespeare play come to life' theory had suddenly had a significant boost. But also because, "I thought it was Midsummer Night?"

The Queen of the Fairies took a long, hard look at him. "Seriously?"

Nod. "I'm afraid so."

The Queen of the Fairies, great Titania herself (probably), arose from her perfumed lovers' bower and said, "Sod. I wondered why it never worked again."

Giles shrugged. "Well, you were enchanted the first time, which probably helped give a romantic feel to things."

"Seriously?"

For a moment, Giles had qualms about putting his boot into mythology like this. Would it be a Sound of Thunder moment, in which he hopelessly changed the present by altering the… well, not the past as such, now he came to focus a little better. He seemed to be in the present now, so he was probably pretty safe. He took a long, calming breath, and began to explain the plot of the play in question, which appeared to be rather more of a historical text than he'd assumed heretofore. (Still missing out Theseus, Hippolyta and all the bloody lovers. Even a Watcher can only manage so much exposition in one go. Especially post-quaff.)

Titania looked pensive for a while. "That right bastard," she said, eventually. "I'll get him for that."

It was probably at this moment, Giles reflected later, that he finally accepted that he wasn't hallucinating the fairies. His imagination was much more poetic. Which meant he was in the power of a real supernatural race, and he had no particular idea of how to get out of this situation or what he might have to pay to do so.

He said, a touch plaintively, "Might I have a drink?"

Titania beamed. "Of course you may, sweeting. Sup with pleasure."

It was mead, again, and Giles was getting a little sick of it. But since he was fairly sure she planned to make love with him (her hands were getting busy again), he needed something to silence the screaming voices telling him this was an outstandingly bad idea.

*

In fact, Giles got away with some fairly mild petting. Possibly, his visible drunkenness was off-putting. Possibly his middle-aged humanity couldn't live up to her romantic dream of enchanted Bottom. More likely, Titania was distracted by plotting how she could get some four-hundred-year-old revenge on her husband.

In any event, he managed to doze off into more mead-sleep before things got beyond a point a Watcher could justify as 'interesting research into non-human species' responses to physical stimuli'.

Bravo Giles. Sweet dreams.

*

He awoke on a cold, dewy morning. The sky was clear blue. A bank of primroses waved in his eyeline.

It had just been a dream. How appropriate.

Except that he was faced with a small, slim person, greenish of skin, pointed of ear and winged of…erm, wing.

Oh. Fuck. As the saying went.

"Hello Puck. D'you mind if I ask what on earth is going on?"

Puck shrugged. "There is to be a war in Faerie, and her highness wished you away from danger. She thanks you for alerting her to her husband's deviousness." Puck rolled his eyes, clearly not sharing Titania's view that this was a good thing. "And informs you that there is also a dark power rising in the land of humans. In the West, in the valley of the Sun. There is a coven in Devon who will be able to tell you more."

One night of folly and faerie got Giles this: a tip-off of darkness, doom and the loss of friends and lives. He never did quite understand why or how this sequence came together, or whether Puck had picked him because of his Watcherly qualities, or if it was just a hugely unlikely set of coincidences that would have done a Shakespeare comedy proud. He never heard more of the war in Faerie. He never got drunk on May Day again, either. Just in case.

*



Title In An Institution
Author Brutti ma buoni
Rating PG13
Word Count 675
Prompt 230 Favourite Episode: Something Blue
Characters/Pairing (if any) Spike/Buffy (eventually)
A/N: The ficlet which launched my Green Card verse. There's way more to be read if you like it.


"Giles… before we actually get the license… Are we sure this is absolutely necessary? I mean, we're taking our strategic ideas from a backfiring spell, and that can't be good."

Spike took up Buffy's plaint with his own particular spin. "Plus, I saw Green Card, and I know where this arranged marriage shit leads. Me being carted off by one of your charming government officials. Slayer all devastated and forlorn. Could be hilarious."

"Shut up Spike."

"Shut up Spike."

"Shut up both of you. 'Specially you, Rupert. This was your bloody stupid idea in the first place. Not very Watcherly of you."

"I'm well aware that this is not the ideal scenario. But we don't have an endless supply of unmarried women who might conceivably marry a vampire, and one of those we do have is an ex-demon who has herself many of the issues currently affecting you, Spike, and would, frankly, be bugger all use as a beard."

Spike's snorting laughter overlaid Buffy's murmured, "Giles, maybe you should calm-", and Giles's eye-popping stress cut her off in mid-soothe.

"Look. We need Spike for the foreseeable future. He's critical to taking down the Initiative, and this isn't going to be a speedy process. They are looking to recapture a fugitive, ergo, we cannot have an obvious fugitive on our hands. Ergo, Spike needs an identity. We can fake some things, but without the Council's backing we don't have access to the kind of paperwork I'm used to. A fake marriage to an American citizen is the quickest option we have. You are unmarried and able to hold your own in a fight with a vampire should his chip malfunction. Therefore you, Buffy, will marry this godforsaken creature of the night for the sake of saving the world. Is that sufficient, or should I recapitulate some more?"

"Breathe, Giles. Just breathe." She paused, and drew her own breath in before, "Yes. I get it. I guess this is just another Slayer sacrifice."

"Bloody odd one. Bet they've never let one of their girls do this before." Spike looked pleased, if only at the imagined reaction of the Council to a Slayer-Vampire marriage. Even just a fake. Buffy still barely believed he was going along with this. But then, she didn't fully believe she was going along with it either. It had been an insane idle suggestion of Giles's, that had snowballed into a plan, and now was almost becoming a reality.

She too had seen said crappy movie. She imagined herself answering questions about Spike to a couple of suspicious types from Immigration. I've known him since I was sixteen. We met at the Bronze. He calls me cutie and he likes the way I move. He helped out when I had major issues with my ex. He moved away, but when he came back to town, he always came to see me. My mom likes him. I know he won't hurt me – he physically can't do such a thing. He likes people, punk, dog racing, soccer. I wish he didn’t smoke, but the coat is very cool. I can't get used to him now he's shaved off his hair; it used to be platinum blond, can you believe? But it worked, for him. Oh, yeah. And he believes in love, real, passionate die-for-you love. He'd move mountains for the woman he loves. Literal mountains, probably.

It sounded horribly convincing to her internal dialogue. She actually did know Spike pretty well. What was more, he probably knew her likewise. Which was a reason not to do this. Obviously.

Which did not explain why the next thing that came out of her mouth was, "Okay. Let's do this. It's just marriage. Not as if we have to-"

She finally cut herself off. Not before Giles shuddered. Not before Spike grinned, tilted his head at her, and silently promised that, okay, they might not have to, but it wasn't going to stop him trying.

That wasn't exciting. Not at all.

No way.


*


Title You Had To Be There
Author Brutti ma buoni
Rating PG13
Word Count 1400
Prompt 231 Favourite Work: the Buffyverse, whatever series it is, honoured by this story for Not Fade Away
Characters/Pairing (if any) Oz, Anne, Gunn and ensemble mentioned

Oz knows that donating computer skills to a kids' shelter doesn't impress some people he meets. "But, those kids, they need food and medical help and…" Some kind of psychiatric treatment, says their handwave, something difficult that I don't have to think about. Certainly something more serious, more compassionate, more interventive, than your ability to perform minor miracles with virus-laden software, or outdated hardware.

But, number one, Oz is not a doctor or a shrink, and he does donate food, clothes and cash when he can, but he doesn't have enough of each to help the whole shelter. Number two, not all the kids need any of those things as much as they need somewhere safe and apart from the craziness of their lives. And number three, the killer, is that by keeping a couple of ancient PCs halfway alive and online, and scrounging spares when he can, Oz keeps those kids connected to the real world. They can apply for jobs or schools and look for housing, if they're in shape for any of those things. Email distant relatives and ask for help when they've lost their nearest and dearest. Mess with message boards and fansites and have some fun. Because, the way Oz sees it, practical only gets you so far. After a while, you have to feed the soul. If cat macros get through to these kids, what the hell.

"Yup," he says, when people say that kind of thing. They do need clothes, food, doctors, important stuff. Just, computers too.

Besides, he likes Anne. Sunnydale refugees are pretty frequent in LA these days, but few got out before the fall, and few really know what they left behind them. She knows, and she deals. Oz can relate.

*

This is why Oz was there on the day that Charles Gunn dropped by, with a casual attitude that didn't match his rigid spine or his sweaty, odorous fear. Oz knew Charles to nod to, the way Oz knew most people he liked. Charles didn't quite give up the good fight. (Even when he became a sudden, mysteriously high-powered lawyer at a law firm Oz knew by its stench was pure evil. But Angel was in the mix, and Oz had some time for the vampire, so he trusted it was all some world-saving fake thing. Wondered why the lawyers hadn't worked it out, but maybe they didn't have Oz's nose for heroes.)

This smelled like the day the shit (whatever it was) hit the fan (whatever that turned out to be). So Oz made sure to end his minor defrag about the time Gunn looked like heading out, and the two of them left the building pretty much in step. Gunn looked wary, though he knew Oz's bona fides well enough. Didn’t trust anyone much today, it appeared.

Oz wasn't a natural small talker. This talk wouldn't be small anyway. So he went for the big. "Should I be warning Anne?"

"What's that?" Gunn's eyes shifted, awkwardly, failing to look surprised.

"Tonight. Whatever it is, will the kids get hurt?"

Gunn paused. "Keep them away from the Hyperion. You know it?"

"Yeah. I checked it out." Oz liked to know stuff. This kind of stuff. It helped, come Apocalypse time. "That all?"

Shrug. "Could be. Won't know till it hits, you know? It could be big. But…"

"You gotta do?" What you gotta do, and all that. Oz didn't bother to finish.

"Yeahhhhh." Long out-breath there. Gunn half-turned to face Oz, as though to speak again, but instead held out a hand, silently. Oz grasped, shook briefly, and went off to his van.

Deep in thought. But that went without saying.

*

Later, Oz was failing to attend to his modly duties. So badly that one of the other wolfers called him on it. Which: when your yahoo group notices you're distracted, it's a sign you should get off the internet and do something more word-savey instead. As Buffy would say, assuming she had time these days. (Oz kind of hoped Buffy was in truth coming to save the world, because the way Gunn was feeling earlier, it was going to need the cavalry.)

Oz wasn't used to his mind wandering like this. Not except on moon nights, and even then he'd be working hard to control it. But this was a bare crescent-night, and he was antsy. Maybe just the wolf senses?

No. He well knew what the issue was. The issue was that you didn’t leave comrades to stand alone. Maybe for the small stuff. Maybe helping out Annie, running his wolf group, meditating the hell out of his own wolf… maybe that was enough most days. But not tonight. Tonight, the fight was on, and you needed to pick a side and stand by it. He hoped his guesses about Angel's good intentions held up, or he was seriously going to wish he'd asked when he had the chance. Being accidentally pro-evil during the Apocalypse… embarrassment potential: high.

Oz rifled the hidden drawer in his closet. Crossbow and an axe, probably all he could carry, and even if he'd been able to find a rifle at this short notice, he'd never met a demon yet that died when you shot it. Had to be the old weapons for the old enemies.

He was aware, even as he thought this through, that heading for certain apocalyptic death downtown wasn't really the time to be strategising about weaponry. He'd be lucky to get in a couple of blows on it, whatever it was. That sun-swallowing Beast from last year, maybe that Hellmouth demon that had burst through the library at Sunnydale High a couple times. Whatever it was, it would be big, and it would probably have minions. As a fighter Oz wasn't even minion-worthy these days, out of practice and without his wolf.

But he had to be there. That's what solidarity meant. That's what the white hats did.

*

The alleyway was pretty much deserted, which was anti-climactic. But there was something there, not something in the air, something in the earth instead. A rumble, a heat, the faintest stench of brimstone.

And vampire. But that was only Spike. And Angel, pretty soon. They regarded him once they'd greeted each other, heads tilted, eyes narrowed, mirroring suspicion. Scent was low, restrained. They weren't hyped. They knew what was coming.

They were baffled by his arrival, and yet it wasn't important. They knew him, enough to know he didn't matter tonight. Oz signalled his friendly intent with a half-wave anyway. Should have been military, he thought, some kind of salute. But no, who was he kidding? He wasn't army, and neither were they. No medals for today.

No medals for Charles Gunn, whose walking-bloody wreckage joined them in the alley presently. No medals for Wesley, whom Oz hadn’t seen since graduation, and still couldn't picture as a serious fighter. But who was being mourned in this alley, briefly but sincerely, by three heroes and some kind of lethal goddess.

The rumbling and the heat increased. Sulphur in the air, and then dragons, demons, hell itself unleashed. Oz and his tiny weapons absurd at the heart of it.

*

Oz didn't die. It was ridiculous, but it was true. He did not die that day, in the alley, next to Gunn, as all logic said he should. He ended by being as much hindrance as help, with the three immortals surrounding him as he shot off a few arrows and whacked axe-blades at whatever came within whacking distance. But he was there.

They held the stand, somehow, till the cavalry came and evil was beaten back for another time.

Then it was just a case of picking up the pieces. They left LA in Oz's van. Angel and Spike in the windowless back, blue eyed goddess in the front. It wasn't what Evil Law Firm had accustomed them to. That felt right.

Oz drove, steady and calm, to nowhere in particular. They needed to move, he had wheels and a need to help.

Few words were spoken. That suited him fine.

Wherever they were going, they'd pick up and start again, and fight another day in memory of those they had lost.

Oz might stick around to help. Find another shelter, help some more people.

He's a white hat. It's what white hats do.

*

*

Title Black and White and Red All Over
Author Brutti ma buoni
Rating PG13
Word Count 650
Prompt 232 Favourite Female Character: Faith
Characters/Pairing (if any) Faith!
A/N: Warning for bloody imagery here

The TV is a piece of shit. Which shouldn’t surprise Faith. $19.99 for a room is not the money you pay for a quality experience, and the slovenly clerk out front didn’t exactly advertise high class accommodation. But even with all that, and after six previous nights in cheapass motels, a black and white TV is kind of a shock. It might actually be the original from when this place opened. The décor sure hasn't changed. She has a brief moment of imagining this room as it was then, clean and hopeful with a shiny new TV. Then gets a flash of all the crud that happened to make this room the sticky faded shithole it now is. With the stains that speak of sickness, poverty and despair.

Which is a lot to get from a crappy TV. Downer. Faith turns it on anyway.

She watches news programming for maybe a minute, marveling at how old fashioned it looks without colour. All the shadows are screwy, the image is flat, and there’s a cheap, unconvincing horror movie vibe about it which makes the weather report seem unlikely to be good news.

Speaking of… she flips the channel, looking for something a little more fighty and distracting. And there’s Dracula, with a girl in a bedroom and a guy breaking down the door too late, trying to save her. The picture was obviously shot in black and white; it looks way better than the full-colour news did, all sharp shadows and clear highlights. Dracula is suave, with slick hair and a sweet suit. The guy looks heroic and muscular, the girl looks…

The girl looks fucking terrified.

Faith stares. It looks real. It’s the only thing in the movie that does look real, but that fear bites hard. Teeth in her gut, gnawing away her recaptured bravery, just for a minute.

This movie isn't reality. Faith knows that. This isn’t how a vampire attack goes. Definitely not an attack by a master vampire, centuries old, like Drac. Faith knows how that goes. For one thing, it ain’t just black and white. There’s red. All over. Red fabric, because Kakistos likes to stick to the classic vampire stylings and his minions do what daddy says. Red on his mouth and hands from the blood. Red blood all over her Watcher too. Her brave, savvy Watcher, who looks fucking terrified as she watches her arteries betray her and empty her lifeblood, pumping onto the garage floor.

Faith will never forget that look. It’s vivid, always present. It's why she can't look away from the authentic fear in the film: the actress catching that near-death terror exactly.

Faith wonders what the starlet lived through to help her fake that so perfectly. Maybe she was one of the unlucky ones that discovered there really were vamps out there. Wouldn’t that be a shitty job? Acting the part of the doomed victim, when you’ve been one yourself and survived. Faith hopes she was just a damn fine actress, stuck in a Z-grade film career and still giving it her all.

She considers, briefly, whether her own preferred Plan A - to take her strength and indestructibility to Hollywood and score some stunt work - might still work out. Watcher had scoffed, called her naïve, but Watcher was dead and history. Faith didn’t bother to name her anymore, even in her own memory. What good did remembering do? Move onward instead. Hollywood would be wild. Way cooler than hooking up with the other Slayer and playing vampire tag for the rest of her short natural life.

But no. The film moves on with another bloodcurdling shriek from the girl as she gets bit. It reminds Faith that Plan A is junk now. Kakistos would find her in Hollywood, just like anywhere else. She needs cover from other people who can fight, not make-up girls and lighting guys. They’d just stand and scream, like this girl. And Faith would be black hair, white skin and red blood all over the studio floor.


*


Title The Shady Side of the Hill
Author Brutti ma buoni
Rating PG13
Word Count 1900
Prompt 233 Free For All: Favourite Pairing (their love is so angsty)
Characters/Pairing (if any) Wesley/Illyria
A/N: Because I *just* wrote mpreg for the first time for [livejournal.com profile] snickfic. Share my joy.


“It is grotesque. Simply grotesque. I can’t bear to look at myself. It’s a violation.”

“Wes? You do get that girls do this all the time?”

“That’s precisely my point, Charles. Girls do this. Men do not.”

“You can’t do the time, Wes, you don’t do the crime. And we all know you did the nasty with Illyria. Some of us got the full Technicolor show.”

“Well, if you’d only knock before... but that’s beside the point. Of course I had no idea that intercourse with Illyria would have such consequences. Could have such consequences. It’s quite extraordinary that an Old One using another’s hollowed-out body can not only be fertile but also adjust the biology of others through sexual reproduction. It’s... well, it’s unthinkable. And it’s bloody well happening to me!”

*

Wesley sat forlornly in the gynaecologist’s office. It was his third visit, and the first time anyone had deigned to believe in his bizarre, impossible pregnancy. Unfortunately, belief had led to consequences, in the form of a backless gown and some stirrups. It had been more than unpleasant. Unforgettably more.

It was understandable that the doctor preferred to assume that he was dealing with some extreme form of genetic disorder rather than a supernatural pregnancy. Wesley rather wished that it was the truth. Medical freaks can be resolved. Mystical fertility, not so much. But trying to prove that the former was the latter had resulted in what he felt were some unnecessarily invasive procedure.

“Mr Wyndam-Pryce? Could you come through?”

The nurse looked friendly enough. She wasn’t boggling or laughing, just smiling warmly. “I’m Christy. It’s great to meet you. Now, we have an ultrasound free, so... Have you drunk the water?”

“Yes. To the point where my bladder feels-“

“Yeah, sorry about that. It helps us get the clearest possible picture, you know? We’ll let you go to the bathroom as soon as we can. But I bet you want to get a good look at your baby?”

“Babies.” Wes could hear the gloom in his tone. Seldom had two syllables felt so unpalatable. “It’s always two. I’m told.”

(“The sunny and the shady sides of the hill. You call them yin and yang. Masculine and feminine. Introvert and extrovert. You have many names for them. It is written so.” She’d sounded so bloody pleased with herself, saying that. And perhaps he should stop thinking of her as her, given his situation.)

Christy looked a little unnerved, for the first time. “Uhm. Well, maybe. You’re pretty big for five months, if that’s really your date. I guess you can’t really be more...”

“It happened the first time. So I can be quite precise.” (It had taken him months to believe her, but that didn’t need to be shared. Months of puking and aching and swelling in all the wrong places before he realised that Illyria had meant precisely what she said. Now you will bear a new generation of heroes. Whatever that meant for the fate of the world. Doubtless it would become clear in due course.)

“Uh-huh. Okay. Well, let’s just take a look.”

He’d seen this scene in enough films and documentaries that none of the procedure surprised him. The gel was indeed very cold. He wondered vaguely why no one had fixed that yet, since it was such a common complaint.

“And... there. You’re right, Mr Wynd-“

“Wesley. Please make it Wesley. This is no time for standing on formalities.”

“Wesley. You’re going to have twins. Can you see?”

He could. They were perfectly head-to-toe, curving into each other’s negative space. One pressing forward, wriggling and attention-seeking, one curling back, shaded and shy.

Christy said, “If you want to know the sex we can try-“

“I already know.” Why not? Everything else Illyria had said was true.

There they were. Real, obscene, terrifying, innocent and impossible.

He took the printed copies of the scan numbly. Someone would doubtless want to see them.

*

“Where is my vessel?”

Wesley let his head thunk down onto the highly-polished rare (in fact, illegal) tropical fruitwood desk. “When will she stop calling me that?”

“Not anytime soon, cupcake,” said Lorne, irritatingly on cue. “Or maybe shall we say in two months time you’ll have a better shot at getting her to stop? Just at present, you’re as full-bellied a vessel for an Old One’s seed as I’ve ever seen.”

It was a petty point, perhaps, but it was one of a number of things slowly driving Wesley insane. Vessel sounded depressingly non-sentient, on top of everything. It also made him sound fragile; breakable indeed. Which, in view of what was going to happen in two months time, was more than a little perturbing. The miracles of modern obstetrics might be able to help him, but he was quite certain past vessels had cracked open irrevocably, and that the Old Ones hadn’t given a toss.

Illyria, he rather thought, would give a toss. Certainly, she looked at him with close observation, which might pass for concern. Or indeed something more, were one to be absurd and sentimental.

He really was going to have to stop thinking of her as “she”. But “it” seemed so cold. “He” was probably more accurate, but would make his family squirm. On second thoughts, that was hardly a counter-argument, and if they weren’t going to squirm over their pregnant son already, frankly he hardly cared how they responded.

Still, he thought of her as her. Sod biology. It hadn’t got him very far lately.

*

“I can’t do this.”

The midwife (supplied by Wolfram and Hart when he’d finally accepted that evil medicine was better than baffled medicine) smiled reassuringly. “Sure you can. Millions of women do it-“

“I’m going to kill the next person who says that. Really. With an axe. Or a shotgun. I have plans. And weapons. Oh, fuck-“

The midwife rubbed his lower back through the contraction and ignored the death threats. “Shh, Wesley. It’s fine. We’ll have you prepped for theatre very soon. Then all your troubles will be little ones.”

He wanted to die. Or for her to die. Possibly both.

*

Half a hour after the “birth” (procedure, Wesley called it internally; reassuringly clinical), he was alive. but the midwife was still frowning.

“Tell me. What’s wrong?” Apart from the whole situation, obviously. Wesley wanted to be callous about these unwanted, unasked-for progeny. It wasn’t working.

The midwife looked worried, still. “Their breathing is good, heartbeat fine, oxygen saturation normal for humans. They’re just kinda... blue.”

Wesley relaxed.

“Oh. Well. You should see their father.” And the fact that you haven’t seen her yet speaks volumes.

The midwife laughed. “Seriously? Okay then. You have two beautiful healthy smurf babies.”

*

Gunn put his head round the door cautiously. It was possible Wesley hadn’t been the best company of late.

“Hey.”

“Good morning.”

“Uh.”

Tongue-tied, Gunn stopped.

Having others deeply uncomfortable was always comforting to Wesley. “It’s all right, Charles. I’m quite recovered.” (Untrue, but talk of incisions seemed unpropitious in the circumstances.)

“Uh,” Gunn repeated. “The guys are coming later.”

“Meaning Angel?”

“And Lorne. Who I think may be planning to make himself godfather, so be prepared. He’s singing a lot of baby songs.”

“But not Illyria.” Not even a question.

“Uh.” Yes Charles, this is a sensitive area. Thank you for noticing. “She pretty much freaked when you went...” Into labour. You really are uncomfortable with this, aren’t you Charles? Strange how much better that makes me feel.

Gunn coughed, shuffled and sought distraction. Then found it.

“Oh! Oh shit. You really did it.”

“Incontrovertibly.” The evidence was sleeping in a single bassinet at his elbow. Bluish head to bluish toes, they curled in contented opposition. Yin and yang still: one larger, one smaller. One waving fists while asleep, the other still, face determinedly burrowing away from the light.

“Cute.” Gunn reached out a tentative finger, and stroked a waving baby hand. “So which is the boy and which is the girl?”

Wesley closed his eyes. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned lately, Charles, it’s that that matters far less than you would imagine.”

*

He’d guessed she would come while he slept, and so it proved.

She had interposed herself between him and the babies, so he could only see the low light from the corridor around her, not reflecting off the plastic bassinet. Typical of her, between him and the light.

She was looking at them. Hard to tell from the back of her head what thoughts she had. They had made no plans, spoken no deep thoughts about what this meant.

“This is wrong,” she said, in her normal speaking voice.

“Well.... yes, unprecedented, I think.”

“They are not heroes.” Very cold, that voice. Wesley’s abused abdomen protested as his heart sank and he struggled to a sitting position.

Be calm. Things are not as they were in her time. “They will grow. You know that, don’t you?” He hoped so. Otherwise she must be imagining them deformed objects of pity.

“When will they be fighters?” She sounded in need of reassurance.

“One wouldn’t normally call them adult until 18. Though, of course, the Slayers start much younger, and who knows what went into their genetic development. But still, a decade or more, comfortably.”

“I thought... In times past, my progeny rose raging from the womb, devouring their hosts-“

“Ah. And you proposed to mention this when?” Never, of course. He would merely have worried, with bugger all to be done against these mystically-protected infants if they’d wanted to destroy him.

She turned her head for the first time, just enough that he could catch the blue glare of her gaze in the darkness. “I feared I would find you gone. The new generation of heroes rising like the phoenix from the ashes of my Wesley.”

Quite quiet, and echoingly desolate. He was pretty sure she was happy that he had survived. “Right. Well, nothing like that. It wasn’t the most pleasant of afternoons, but I am quite well, thank you. And they are too. Mostly human, Angel says, judging by the smell. The doctors concur. They will grow stronger, given time, but I think we shouldn’t encourage them to devour me any time soon. Certainly, I’d vote against that.”

She gave a small, agreeable hum, and reached into the bassinet. Wesley looked away. This was... well, to be perfectly honest, he hadn’t touched either of them yet. His friends had petted and cuddled, the nurses had fed and changed, but somehow Wesley hadn’t mustered up the courage to treat them as a reality. Seeing Illyria lifting one of their babies was stomach-churning. More so, when she handed the baby to him.

It was the girl; the wriggler, the larger. He looked down at the crumpled face and indignant waving arms, felt her heartbeat so close to the soft skin, her skull pulsing visibly. Illyria had hefted the quiet boy-baby with Freddish expertise, gentling him against her shoulder as he protested the interruption to his night. One loose foot clouted her in the breast, and she flinched very slightly at the blow.

“Oh,” he said, unsure why it had taken so long to understand. “They’re really here.”

Her eyes met his, over two fuzzy bluish heads. “Yes. They cycle of mortality continues.”

Chuckling hurt, so he didn’t let it happen, though his mind fizzed with enjoyment. “You do have the most charming way of putting these things.”

“Life is death.”

“No,” he said, dangerously disagreeing. “Life is life.” A certain aroma fogged the space between them, familiar and filled with reality. “And I believe your son needs a fresh diaper. Life goes on.”

***
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