Title: The Coldest Winter We Ever Spent... (Part VIII: Family Reunion)
Pairing: Buffy/Giles, Giles/Angel, Giles/Jenny, Buffy/Angel, Buffy/Xander, Joyce/Original Vampire Character, Willow/Oz, Lily/Ricky, slight hints at others
Rating: Explicit/ NC-17
Word Count Part VIII: 3933
Trigger Warnings: RAPE, torture, underage sex, intergenerational sex, miscarriages, hostile sexual activity, extremely graphic violence
A/N: Ratings, Pairings, and Warnings apply to the work as a whole, and are added as soon as I know they're coming.
Beta: Unfortunately, there wasn't time. I just finished this at about 10:30 tonight.
Legal Notice: This non-commercial artistic activity meets Fair Use requirements
A/N: "I'd say the words 'let that be a lesson to you' are a tad redundant at this juncture." BtVS 2.5 "Reptile Boy"
“Oh! I think I got it this time!” Willow declared, “I think it's working!” The tiny pink dot on her screen glowed brightly over the city of Los Angeles, just as all available information suggested that it should. Without meaning too, several of the people holding hands in a circle around her hushed in anticipation, holding their breath. The dot flickered. “Keep chanting!” she instructed fiercely, as she clicked to enlarge the map and waited impatiently for the enlarged image to load.
Finally, after the longest ten seconds in all of human history, she could see a general neighborhood. “I knew it!” Giles half gasped half shouted. If looks really could kill it would have been a red letter day for people who secretly cherish antiquated stereotypes about Gypsies, though if this were the Olympics of Disproving Looks, Gale would certainly have taken the silver for merry old England and not for lack of competition. Willow had to shout at everyone, yet again to keep chanting. It was hard enough plowing through all their negative energy without all these stupid interruptions, and all from the 'older and wiser crowd', the people who'd done a least a little magic before and ought to know better.
Thank God at least something was happening this time. The more balanced (boy, girl, boy, girl) arrangement of the chanters was clearly making a positive difference, though it made (almost) everyone uncomfortable, mainly because of who one of the 'boys' and all three of the 'girls' were. Once again, it was the elders, not the teenagers, who were the problem. Faith, the only enthusiastic volunteer for holding hands with Giles this go round, had ended up being the only woman who didn't get to do so. Marylbone had decided she'd rather do it herself, and Jenny had still felt too guilty about the whole Buffy-having-to-kill-Angel-because-she-hadn't-told-anyone-about-the-new-and-im
“Good Lord!” gasped Mrs. Marylbone, who had live in Los Angeles half her adult life. “That's the worst hospital in the city. Why on Earth would she go there?” Her tone and diction were discomfitingly Gilsey, though Giles was the only one who didn't seem to notice.
“Let's make an enormous intuitive leap, shall we, and suppose that she might be having a medical emergency,” Giles retorted, acid over anxiety.
“Less chat, more chant!” Willow barked. “I'm still trying to lock in the tracker.”
“Look, we've been waiting here over an hour,” Doyle complained to the triage nurse in an I-don't-mean-to-bother-you-but kind of tone, which was starting to wear just a little thin in the face of her hostile indifference. “I mean, clearly,” he tried to reason with her, “this young woman is having a baby or a miscarriage or a life threatening hemorrhage or something of that nature. If it's not too radical a suggestion, I think perhaps she might ought to see a doctor.”
Finally, the nurse sort of looked in Buffy's direction, where she was sitting balled up in one of the bolted down plastic chairs, hugging her knees and trying to ignore Lily's whining, panicky efforts to comfort her. After commenting that she didn't even look pregnant, which was true, the nurse demanded, “How many weeks are you supposed to be anyway?”
“I don't know,” Buffy grunted miserably through clenched teeth, as the next contraction hit her. “I can't... I haven't... This can't be happening!”
“When was your last period?” the nurse huffed, exasperated.
“The whole last half of June and the first week of July,” Buffy answered, “But I haven't had sex since the last week of March.” Lily's boyfriend, 'Ricky' Something, tried unsuccessfully to swallow a laugh. He looked suitably ashamed, but Buffy was in no mood to be forgiving of the faults of others. “Don't you have an elsewhere to be!?!” she snapped, channeling her inner Cordelia.
The nurse, who was already not being shy about expressing her disbelief of Buffy's history or her impatience with being 'jerked around', took the opportunity to willfully misunderstand. “I have patients waiting who want my help,” she snarled, and stomped off to bark questions at an elderly psychotic woman huddled in the corner muttering that she was 'no one'. “Well I can't put 'No One' on your paperwork!” she could be heard to scream at the poor woman.
Buffy had barely caught her breath after that last contraction when another one hit her with much less of a break than she had gotten used to over the course of the past hour and something or even the 'new normal' of the last twenty minutes or so. She felt an enormous feeling on pressure in the area of her pelvis and points south, as well as once again terrible pains in her back. “Damn it!” she shouted, nearly falling on the floor as a chunk of plastic broke off in her hand where she had gripped the side of her chair for support. The metal bar connecting the whole row of seating groaned and bent just a little as she leaned hard into the back of the chair. “I need help here! Goddamnit, Giles!” she shouted, not caring whether she sounded crazy or not, “Giles, where are you?”
“I have to go at once,” Giles declared, getting to his feet the moment the spell was finally completed, already pulling on his coat. “Willow, come on. Bring the... enchanted laptop. I—we can't lose track of her again.”
“Rupert wait a minute—” Jenny started to argue, saying something about calling Joyce, as Marylbone cut in, shouting over her, drowning her out.
“The Council have put ME in charge of this entire situation—!” she reminded everyone, but especially Giles. Before she herself was drowned out by more confused shouting.
Not waiting for them to come to any sort of conclusion, Giles nodded in the direction of the doorway and grabbed Willow by the hand. Willow grabbed her purse and her laptop and let him pull her out the door, running to keep from being dragged. “I'll drive,” Oz volunteered, following them out into the hallway. By the time they reached the parking lot, Faith and Xander had caught up. They piled into the van with not so much as a by your leave. Oz and Giles nodded their agreement not to waste time in argument. The van was is motion with all five of them on board by the time the two shouting women realized that they were alone in the library.
Silence reigned for a few moments, underlain by the hum of tires on asphalt. “You know, we probably should have called her mom,” Xander suggested about the time they hit the open freeway. Everyone else's silence continued unabated. Of course, Willow and Giles were up front with Oz, playing Navigator and Captain to his Pilot, and so, might or might not have heard him, but Faith was giving him a look like he'd said something stupid, which in his experience, people who did that were usually right, so he figured he had.
“Maybe we should stop somewhere and call her now,” Xander persisted in suggesting after another minute or two. Faith glared at him, wondering if he met the actual definition of a moron.
“G-man wants to actually get to see his honey, before her mom calls the cops,” Faith hissed exasperatedly, not wanting to let one of those every-body's-tense-but-can't-even-hit-an
Xander looked at her like a monkey trying to figure out how a cell phone works. “Who wants—wait, what?” he stammered. He hadn't even made it as far as denial, Faith realized. He was honestly confused. It was too pathetic even to be funny.
“Buffy, you moron,” Faith explained in an even quieter undertone, as patiently as possible... for her. “He's all worried she's having his baby or losing it like the last one or something.”
“WAIT, WHAT!?!” Xander repeated, this time getting enough volume that it was impossible for those in the front seat to pretend that hey hadn't heard him or even that they didn't realize he was losing it. “No! No! That's not—you're crazy! Giles, tell her she's—why aren't you telling her she's crazy?” … and then he got it. “Oh, God,” he moan, “oh God, no! I'm such an idiot!”
“Oh for God's sake,” Giles groused, “Do you actually recognize the concept of something not being about you?” Xander's storm of temper raged over, around and through, Faith's snarking contempt for his naivety and Willow's muddled, simultaneous defense of her two favorite guys from each other. “Could we just consider all the indignant, self-righteous shouted as read for once!” Giles out shouted all of them. “I'm trying to think!”
“And I'm trying to drive,” Oz agreed coolly in the instant of silence that followed. But, naturally, shouting was renewed from all corners, almost instantly.
“We should be watching to fucking Rose Bowl,” Faith declared, to no one in particular, never one to be the only person not to say what she thought. “It's like a Goddamned family reunion in here!”
Oz sounded oddly calm and amused when he answered her, under rather than over the sound of everyone else shouting, “Welcome to the Goddamned family.”
“Oh my God!” the doctor shouted in disbelief. “Why didn't somebody tell me about this sooner?” he demanded, apparently of Doyle. “They said they didn't need any help,” the nurse interjected defensively. Doyle helped Buffy up to follow the doctor into a little curtained cubical, leaving Lily and Ricky to get into a loud, pointless shouting match with the nurse about who had really said what when.
“I shouldn't be walking,” Buffy complained, “There's something like, sicking out.”
“Oh, shit,” the doctor curse, and ordered Doyle to lift her up and carry her to the waiting gurney, where he wasted no time getting her panties off and having a look. “Oh, shit,” he repeated.
“What?” Buffy demanded, truly panicked now, “What is it?”
“It's a placenta,” he mumbled, almost to himself, “or part of one.”
“Oh, shit,” Buffy agreed. She did not know a whole wonderful lot about childbirth, but she was pretty sure having the afterbirth before the birth-birth was not at all or in any way a good thing. The doter buzzed someone and hollered for them to get the OR ready and grabbed someone by the shoulder and demanded a fetal heart monitor be hooked up at once. As soon as it was attached, the doctor didn't like the sound of it, which worried Buffy even more.
“Call Giles,” she shouted at Doyle, as he was left behind in the ER, otherwise without purpose, not even having the standing, as the nurses had already explained to him, it get word if she lived or died. Before he could have a thought to the contrary, he had promised, and she was gone. Of course, it was a promise that might have been easier to keep if he'd had a phone number. Or a single buggering clue who 'Giles' was. It was really a damned shame you couldn't have a vision when you actually wanted one.
“Is she leaving?” Willow worried aloud, threatening to set off another wave of panic for Giles. “No, no not leaving, just moving around the hospital.” She reached out and touched the screen with one finger, making direct contact with the glowing pink dot that meant Buffy. Willow pulled her finger back with a short, sharp scream, as if she had been burned, only more so. Now Giles and Xander were both panicking, and both shouting again. Faith had to admit, she was getting a little worried herself, and she didn't even know the girl. Which made it kind of stupid to care, really, but it was hard not to in this atmosphere.
“What is it?” Oz asked calmly.
“Pain,” Willow explained, “and fear. Lots of it. I'm going to try again,” she announced miserably after a little while, but then she hesitated. If she was waiting for someone to tell her that wouldn't be necessary, Faith had a feeling she'd be in for a long wait. Finally, the redhead bit her lip and poked gingery at the dot on the screen again, obviously relieved not to be quite as overwhelmed with sensation this time. “I guess it was just another contraction,” she offered. They're getting closer together I think. Maybe they're putting her in a room or something.”
“Let me ask it this way,” the surgeon tried again, while the anesthesiologist was doing his thing, desperate for some information about what to expect. This girls uterus was tipped so far back that there was no way to get a good look at anything on the ultrasound, except maybe transvaginally, which was so not happening right now. There was also no way to palpate anything through those six-pack abs. She had put on a little bit of fat, sure, but she had put it on over her rock-hard musculature, like a tiny blond sumo wrestler. “Did you have normal, regular monthly cycles at some point in the past?” he asked.
Buffy was quiet for a long moment, looking down at her hands. He had to ask that. Of course he had to ask that. “Yeah,” Buffy mumbled, “Like clockwork, since I was twelve and a half, until I got raped last year and had to have an abortion. It was... it wasn't his fault. I mean I knew he was pos—psychotic, I should have been—even my mom doesn't know and my dad only knows...” The doctor took a deep breath. Noticing his pained expression, Buffy had to fight the urge to apologize for making him feel uncomfortable, for going into irrelevant details. Instead, she plowed forward with her history, hoping it was helping him somehow. “That was... I had the... operation in June, fifteen months ago. My periods have been all weird ever since, but I had two in January, starting on the 1st and the 21st, and then I found out I was pregnant when I broke my arm in February, you know, I had to get X-rays... then after the miscarriage in March, noting until June, which I told you about that already.”
The doctor's eyes narrowed in thought, this 'second period' in January...” he asked, “was it on the light side.”
Buffy's brow furrowed, “Yeah, seriously. Why?” she asked.
He answered her with a question. “Were you sexually active between the time of these two episodes of bleeding?”
The touch of cold skin on hot; hunger that was like panic and at the same time like the pull of the black hole at the center of the universe. Death filled her in cold spurts, making her alive like a Waking Beauty, Snow White no more, whatever came after innocence. And the he was gone, but her needs weren't. And she was not the only suddenly lonely soul in that empty library at night. Buffy nodded. “Yeah,” she managed, without making eye contact. “There was... this one guy.”
“Dear God!” Giles cried. By the time he had wrenched the computer out of Willow's hands and slammed it shut, she was delirious and writhing in agony. Oz stopped the van on a flat stretch of highway that had the whole desert for a shoulder. By the time they had carried her to the back and laid her down, she was calmer and more responsive but still drained and basically out of it.
“Keep going,” she whispered gripping Giles's hand, eyes fluttering open for a moment, “Buffy needs you. I'll be... I just need to rest.”
Giles looked to Oz as if waiting for him to approve her instructions. Oz nodded. “It's just the magic,” he said, “I've... seen her like this before. He handed Giles the keys. “You drive,” he said, “I'll stay with her. Giles nodded. Without a word of discussion, Faith climbed into the front seat to make more room in the back. In theory, Xander probably should have done the same, but no one felt like complaining when he didn't, except for maybe Oz, and he was a world champion at holding his tongue.
The final hour of the trip passed mostly in silence. Halfway through, Willow sat up and made polite noises, assuring everyone that she was 'fine, just tired.' Even Faith managed to basically behave herself, keeping her jokes about finally being 'alone' with Giles again oblique and minimal. Even she seemed somewhat subdued by the circumstances. When they got downtown, it wasn't hard to find the hospital. It was the nearest one to Helen's Kitchen, of course, and there were signs to it the way there always are with hospitals. The visitors parking was a bit of a hike, but them, only slightly more so than the patient parking, and somehow Giles couldn't stomach even the theoretical possibility of getting Oz's van towed on top of everything else.
Giles was tempted to insist that the young people stay in the van, but in this heat, it was impossible. They all trouped through the parking lot together. At least Willow did seem some better, perfectly steady on her feet. When they passed a certain black SUV illegally parked in the staff lot, right next to the building, they all exchanged worried looks and walked a little faster. But Joyce hadn't gotten far ahead of them. She was still at the front desk, arguing with the charge nurse and a hefty security guard that seemed eager to get a chance to back the nurse up.
“Well, all I know,” the woman said, is that her father is listed on the paperwork and she called him, when she couldn't get a hold of that 'Giles' person, the baby's father. It doesn't say anything here about any 'mother.'”
“Well if you don't believe me you shouldn't tell me that much!” Joyce declared exasperated.
Giles sighed, it was in for a good deal more than a pound now, he might as well make the best of it by at least being useful in the situation. “Look,” he suggested, walking up to the desk, “Why not just call upstairs and ask Buffy or Hank...”
“Excuse me,” Joyce said, whirling to face him. “Who asked you to come here?”
“Buffy, evidently, did,” he replied coolly, “though I admit I had no way of knowing that. And you knew damned well I was coming and why, so what is the pointing of pretending surprise? I expect your car will be towed, incidentally, if you don't move it, so why don't you take a breath and calm—”
“Hey, you can't talk to her like that!” Xander objected.
“Mr. Giles? Willow? Xander? Is that you?” called a vaguely familiar young blond woman from an adjacent waiting area. She walked their way without waiting for an answer, two anxious looking young men following.
“Who are any of you people!?!” the security guard demanded loudly. “Settle down before I throw all of you out!”
“I'm her mother!” Joyce insisted, yet again, almost literally fighting mad now.
“And I'm 'that Giles person',” Giles explained dryly. “Look, he added to the rest of the entourage, you all go and find a seat. We'll handle this.”
“There's no we!” Joyce nearly spat, fists clinched at her sides as though she might be ready to take a swing at him pretty soon. But she took a deep breath and didn't. She apologized to the security guard and basically promised to be a good girl if only he would call up and ask Hank to vouch for her, rather than throwing everyone out.
Five minutes later, the word came down. “Just these two can come up,” the nurse instructed the security guard. Joyce looked like she wanted very much to object, but she swallowed her pride and bit her tongue. Hank was standing at Buffy's bedside, but he stood when they entered the room, looking tired and vigilant. But Buffy look tired and proud and happy and relieved, holding her tiny swaddled infant in the crook of her arm. Then Hank looked sort of relieved to. “I told you she didn't mean it,” he whispered to Buffy, just loud enough for everyone to hear, squeezing her free hand.
Joyce froze. Her heart just about broke. Tears rolled down her face, and Buffy's too. Because actually, 'don't even think about coming back,' did sound a dreadful lot like 'never call me, no matter how bad things get'. Hanks gave Joyce his chair and there were 'no I'm sorrys' and leaning, physically awkward half hugs all round. For everyone except Giles, who, for the moment remained standing in the doorway, looking puppy-dog-eyed miserable.
“She looks like you,” Hanks said, and if his voice was not exactly overflowing with warmth and friendliness, it was not exactly boiling with venom either.
“I missed you,” Buffy said, her eyes suddenly at least as big and sad as his were.
“I missed you too,” he said. “I tried to find you, but...”
“I didn't want to be found,” Buffy finished, as ever, letting him off the hook.
“And now?” he asked, walking over to stand next to her bed at last, opposite both her parents.
“Now... I'm glad you found me anyway,” she said. And now Giles was choking back tears, holding them in by dent of sheer British stubbornness. He reached out one tentative hand and gently caressed the the baby's cheek. His daughter's cheek, the half formed though nagging at him that he wanted to have had the chance to touch her at least this once before he said what he'd made up him mind to say next, half believing it would be his only chance. One or two tears got past him after all. For a moment this, the way thing were just now seemed too much to risk. But faint hearts never had won fair maidens (or mothers either) and they were not likely to start now.
“There's something I need to ask you,” he explained. “In the circumstances, something I need to ask all of you, and I suppose I could wait but... I don't necessarily expect an answer today... from any of you but...” Giles sank to one knee beside Buffy's bed. Buffy's eyes went wide. Joyce sucked in a breath and looked as though she might choke on it. But Hanks seemed to have expected what was happening, and seemed, if by no means overjoyed, a least accepting. Buffy was frankly sobbing, by the time he finally got the question out, “Buffy, If you'll have me,” he said, “and if your parents will consent. I want you to be my wife, and as soon as reasonably possible. I don't want to wait another four or five months. I want us to be a family.”
Suddenly, Buffy squared her shoulders, sniffed back a few last tears, looked at him and laughed. “Well, what do you call this, you big dope?” she asked, reaching and taking his hand in such a way that their arms met in an embrace of the child in her arms. “Congratulations,” she said. “Welcome to the family reunion.”