Thanks: To Petronius, for his wonderful beta-reading, and also his contribution of a wonderful Petronius-moment. To MMT, Andra, and Jai for their cheerleading. *g*
Jeanie, Adrian, Ezzy, Sara, and Andra. I told you guys I'd give you a SO in the story!
Note: The lyrics that Xander quotes are taken from Natalie Merchant's song, "Beloved Wife", which is on her CD 'Tigerlily'.
Additional Notes: I've seen the surname 'Roarke' used in several different fanfics, and I like it. It certainly beats my other two options, which are either a pitiful attempt at clever by using my own last name - Murphy -, or an equally pitiful idea of making Angel a Scottish immigrant, and calling him MacLeud. *g*
And as far as Tobin goes: Think the actress from "The Matrix". Well, hair-wise.
Xander's words seemed to echo around the room, and the two men watched as the dark haired vampire turned and fled the house. There was no satisfaction on Xander's face, however, just the same broken pain that appeared there whenever he remembered Buffy.
Xander turned and walked slowly into the kitchen under the pretense of getting more ice for Hunter, but Giles saw the suspicious moisture in his old student's eyes, and heard the choked tone in his voice.
As he gently stroked his godchild's dark brown hair, Giles felt his mind drift back to the day that any parent - for indeed, he had considered Buffy the daughter of his heart, if not of his flesh - dreads, that of burying a child.....
Nine years earlier.....
Giles stood beside the coffin which contained his Slayer, wondering if he looked down, he would find that his heart had truly been torn from his chest. Cordelia leaned against him, sobbing brokenly, with her son Trevor clinging to his mother's leg, not truly understanding what had occurred. Wrapping one arm around the grieving woman, Giles gently pressed a handkerchief into her hand. Cordelia had been the strong one through this crisis, the one to organize the funeral, to make certain everything was in order, and now - with that responsibility completed - she finally just broke down and cried as she had not been able to over the past three days.
Willow had simply collapsed, the death of both her best friend and her child being too much for her, and Oz didn't want to leave her. Jesse had been sent to stay with relatives until his mother was 'better'.
Giles' left hand was held in the death-grip of Hunter, who wore an expression of greater sorrow than any eight-year-old should have to bear. The dark suit that Cordelia had found for him was too large, and it seemed to make the child seem only more fragile and lost.
But it wasn't Hunter that Giles was worried about. The boy was young, and would recover, though the grief of this would undoubtedly follow him all his life. And it wasn't Willow or Oz, for Giles knew that they would eventually tuck the pain of their lost Jenny deep into their hearts, a wound that would always be there, but one that they would be able to live with. And it wasn't Cordelia, because she would miss her friend dearly, but she would go on.
It was Xander who Giles feared for.
Since his outburst at Angel - apparently restored - he had become empty, unreachable. Even Willow had been able to get only the occasional monosyllable from him.
The eulogies had all been spoken, and the priest - the same man who had married Buffy and Xander, and the same man who had christened their son - stepped up to utter the final prayer.
The words were hoarse, spoken by a throat that was still rough with grief, but they were clear to all. Looking at no one, Xander walked to the head of the casket, and gently placed his hand on it, smoothing the wood with the same love and reverence that Giles had always seen him stroke the golden hair of his wife.
Slowly, Xander began to speak a eulogy.
"I remember the first time I ever saw her...it was sophomore year, and I was coming to school on my skateboard. The moment I saw her it was just....I couldn't think of anything but her....I just stared at her as she walked up the stairs....
"She wanted me as a friend, and I would be that, if only to be able to stay by her side. We were best friends for many years....we still were, even after the day she told me that she truly loved me...
"That was the most wonderful day of my life....she has always..and *will* always...be the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me..." Xander choked slightly, and tears began to slowly stream down his face.
"She changed everyone she met, and for the better. She brought light to darkness. She was the bravest, most loving person I've ever known....and I'll miss her until the day that I die."
Then Xander knelt down, and he was no longer addressing the mourners, but the woman who lay inside the casket, which had remained closed to hide her ravaged body, torn and mauled.
"You were the love
for certain of my life
you were simply my beloved wife
I don't know for certain
how I'll live my life
now alone without my beloved wife
my beloved wife
"I can't believe
I've lost the very best of me
"You were the love
for certain of my life
for 8 years simply my beloved wife
with another love I'll never lie again
it's you I can't deny
it's you I can't defy
a depth so deep
into my grief
without my beloved soul
I renounce my life
as my right
now alone without my beloved wife
my beloved wife.
"My beloved wife
my love is gone she suffered long
in hours of pain
my love is gone
now my suffering begins
my love is gone
would it be wrong if I should
surrender all the joy in my life
go with her tonight?
"My love is gone she suffered long
in hours of pain
my love is gone
would it be wrong if I should
just turn my face away from the light
go with her tonight?"
The fear that Giles had felt for two days suddenly crystalized. Deep down, he felt cold terror at what Xander might do now, in his grief. Gently removing Cordelia from his arm, Giles tightened his grip on Hunter's hand, and walked over to where Xander knelt beside the coffin, unmoving.
Placing a fatherly hand on the broken man's dark hair, Giles spoke in gentle, compassionate tones.
"Yes, Xander, it would be wrong."
"But it hurts so much. I don't want to go on without her." he whispered.
"You have to," Giles said, firmer this time, "sometimes living is the harder burden, but you must do it."
"I don't want to."
Looking down, Giles closed his eyes for a moment and played his hole card.
"Would you leave your son alone? Hunter has just lost his mother. Don't take his father away also."
For a long moment, Xander remained silent. Then, he slowly stood up, and lifted Hunter into his arms, where the small boy buried his face into his father's neck and finally cried.
As they walked back to the group of mourners, the priest spoke once more, and Xander looked around suddenly. He didn't fully understand the words or their meaning, but Giles could see that something about them, their essence, the very sound of each syllable, wrapped about his shattered heart and calmed the ragings of his tormented mind. No, he didn't understand but he held them close nonetheless, and Giles watched as Xander repeated them silently, forcing himself to remember each word.
"Let us hear," the priest intoned, "what St. Paul told the early church in Corinth during the depths of their despair. 'And this I say, friends, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Neither does that which passes away inherit what is eternal. Now behold, I show you the great mystery. We shall not all sleep. Rather we shall all be changed....in a moment...in the twinkling of an eye. At the last trump, when the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised up incorruptible....and we shall all be changed....."
Getting up, Giles followed his student into the kitchen, readying himself for The Talk. One look at Xander's face, though, was enough to clamp Giles' jaws shut. It was the expression of cold, killing rage that he had seen on Xander's face only a few times before.
Giles sat wordlessly, watching as Xander stalked around the small kitchen. On any other occasion, he would've waited several days before talking with the man whom he regarded as a son. But now, he didn't have the luxury of time.
"We need to tell him, Xander." Giles said shortly. Hunter's heritage had always been a touchy subject, and even more so the question of when - if ever - to inform the boy of his past. Small white lies - told with such good intentions - had kept Hunter blissfully ignorant of the fact that he was so different.
Hunter was - to Giles' knowledge - the first vampire-human hybrid to live beyond his infancy. The reason behind this fact had suddenly been made horribly clear one evening, when Hunter had still been three months old.
Buffy and Xander, exhausted from work, slaying, and caring for their son, had fallen asleep in the living room, with the television still on. The cat had stepped on the remote, raising the volume to the point that when Hunter had woken up and started crying, they hadn't heard him.
Finally woken by the baby's screams, the young couple had hurried up the stairs. When they reached the cradle and looked inside, they truly grasped the reality of Hunter's heritage for the first time.
The baby's green eyes were now a buttery gold, small, needle-sharp fangs had sprung from his gums, and the infant's screaming was interspersed with vampiric snarling.
Once Hunter was calmed - his trembling parents had changed his diaper - his innocent green eyes returned, the fangs slid back into his gums, and all that emerged from his mouth were coos of contentment. The necessity, however, of keeping Hunter calm had impressed itself upon both Xander and Buffy.
For a time, this seemed to work. Over the next few months, the terrifying visage of a vampire on their son's face appeared less and less.
Until one day when Hunter was five, and he and Trevor got into a fight. It was a typical enough fight between children, with a great deal of hairpulling and poking, and they were quickly separated by their mothers, but when Buffy looked over her son for any cuts, she saw something truly horrifying.
A drop of blood was trickling down Hunter's chin, and he was eagerly trying to lick it up.
That began a nightmarish time for Buffy and Xander. The one drop of blood unwillingly donated by his playmate seemed to spark a dark need in their son. When playing with others, he had to be closely monitored by an adult. All cuts had to be immediately covered, and Buffy began storing all of her Slaying supplies at Giles' house.
Six months after it began, it ended. Xander came home from work one day to see Hunter crouched over their cat, Rascal, who was lying limply on the the floor. Thinking nothing out of the ordinary, he walked over. Nearing, he placed a hand on his son's shoulder, and immediately pulled it back at the low snarl that came in response.
When Hunter turned to look at him, Xander had to choke down a cry of horror. His son's small face was smeared with blood, and his yellow eyes were almost feverish. Rascal's dark fur was caked in her own blood, and as Xander watched, Hunter again lowered his face to the cat's neck.
In a flash, Xander realized that he had to stop this now. He and Buffy had tried a gentle approach, little reproofs and no dessert when Hunter looked too long at blood or when he bit someone. But this had to stop. It had already gone too far.
For the first and only time, Xander struck his son. Slapping Hunter across the face, he watched as the vampiric features melted away to reveal only Hunter's expression of hurt and confusion.
Grabbing the back of his son's shirt, he shook the boy, and then forced him to look at the dead cat.
"Do you see what you did to Rascal?" he screamed, "Bad, bad boy! You don't do that! It's a bad thing to do that!" Ignoring his son's sobs, he continued to yell.
At the commotion, Buffy ran into the room. At the macabre picture before her - that of her husband screaming at her son, whose face was dripping with blood - she screamed in terror.
From that day on, Hunter couldn't stand blood. The memory of the exact event faded, but he developed a very deep phobia of blood. It still beckoned him, but the smell or sight would trigger the memory of his father's rage and his mother's horror, and the combination would make Hunter break out in a cold sweat and often vomit.
Giles' trip down memory lane was quickly brought to a halt by Xander's sharp answer.
"No." Unequivocal. Unyielding. "No."
"We *have* to tell him." Giles said, firmer. "He needs to know what he'll be facing-"
"He'll be facing nothing!" Xander snarled. "He's too much like his mother. If he knew what was out there, stalking and killing people, he'd go out and try to stop it."
"We both know that he quite possibly could. He's been taught to fight since he took his first steps. What Buffy and I taught him in games and stories were truths that will save his life." It was true. From the time that Hunter could walk, Buffy would take him down into the basement and patiently lead him in an 'exercise routine' that was really a preparatory step towards any fighting style. She had given her son the basic tools, and Giles had trained the boy after her death. Both Buffy and Giles had taught him demon lore in the same manner that other children learned their abc's. Rhymes of basic knowledge had filled the boy's head from his infancy.
"'Wood to the heart; Then dust in the wind'." Xander said mockingly, quoting one of the rhymes. "Buffy did that to protect him if he was ever attacked, not to prepare him to go chasing trouble."
"You'll get my son killed." Xander's eyes were dark with remembered pain. "I lost my wife to the darkness, and I'm not about to let that happen to Hunter. Who's the Slayer these days? We can get her down here. It's *her* job to kill what goes bump in the night."
"I've tried." Giles said. And indeed, he had tried. "Janine Sebastian's Watcher has informed me that she is in New York at present."
"What could be more exciting than a Hellmouth? All the Slayers used to come here." Xander had a point, and he knew it. The last three Slayers had all been immediately assigned the Sunnydale. Andra, Madeline, and Sara had all been traditional Slayers, much like their predecessor, Kendra. And like Kendra, they had all died within a year. This new Slayer, though, traveled extensively, dragging her Watcher, Adrian Castel, along for the ride. Giles had actually become accustomed to being woken up in the middle of the night by some long-distance call from Adrian, where the young Watcher would give him a long list of woes about his independent Slayer.
"Mr. Castel heard rumors of the demon Vaedus in that area, and by all accounts Janine is quite busy decimating his followers." Giles watched as the dark-haired man continued to pace. "We're going to have to deal with this on our own." he said softly.
Xander closed his eyes, and for a moment Giles thought that for once the man was actually heeding his advice. But then he opened his eyes, and Giles knew the truth.
"We'll keep all the boys off the streets for a while. The vampires can't get at them if they are safely indoors. While the kids are holed up, we'll do research. No prophesy is set in stone, Buffy proved that."
Giles opened his mouth to protest, knowing that it would be useless, when a soft groan emerged from the living room. Hurrying out, the two men watched with relief as the lanky youth on the couch stirred.
"What happened?" Hunter asked. Xander shot Giles a warning look as he said soothingly, "You were mugged, Hunter. Some guy found you and brought you home."
"Mugged?" Hunter asked blearily. Wincing, he pressed the ice pack to his head. "Geez, this feels like the worst hangover ever. Not that I would even know what a hangover feels like." he hastily amended, looking like a deer in the headlights, "After all, alcohol is something I'll never even look at until I'm 21." Looking down, Giles felt mild amusement as Hunter just dug himself deeper. "In fact, I've decided to swear off beer. Though swearing off would imply that I've actually had one, which of course would be horribly, horribly wrong."
The babbling - which was quickly turning into an outright confession of guilt - was cut off when Xander gently patted his son on the shoulder.
"You have to learn to be more careful, son. Sunnydale is a dangerous place." seeing his son's almost audible 'puh-leeze', Xander said words that held a knell of doom to a popular teenager.
"I don't want you going out at night for a while." Hunter's jaw dropped in utter horror as his father continued. "I'll talk with Oz, Willow, and Cordelia, and I'm sure that considering what happened tonight, they'll keep Jesse and Trevor inside as well."
"How long?" Hunter moaned.
"I don't know. Maybe a few weeks-"
"A few *weeks*??" Hunter yelped, as though the words themselves had scalded him. "But I've learned my lesson! I'll stay in groups, and not walk home alone any more! And there's the dance on Saturday-"
"There will be other dances, Hunter." Xander said. "And I mean this one, too. You are not allowed outside at night until I say otherwise."
"Because I said so. When you're a parent, you'll understand the true beauty of those words. Now go to bed."
With a mutter, Hunter - whose cuts and bruises were already starting to fade - trudged up the stairs in dejection.
Walking down the dimly-lit street, Angel found a small amount of amusement in the fact that the last time he had been kicked out twice in one night had been back in his days as a human. Of course, it had not been homes, it had been brothels. And he had been kicked out for not having any coin, not for killing loved ones.
Things certainly changed. And not for the better.
His own father had been disgusted at Angel's disolate ways. His solution to his son's habits of coming home dead drunk every morning after a night of whoring had been to see if any of his friends had marriageable daughters. Andrew Roarke had been convinced that fatherhood was the only thing that would settle his errant offspring down. And in his defense, Andrew did have somewhat of a point. That was exactly how he had curbed the behavior of Angel's two older brothers and his younger sister.
The Roarke clan had a bit of a reputation. Proudly re-earned by every generation. Father Stanley had made it a point in several sermons that God had chosen the perfect punishment for the youthful sins of the Roarke young: children in their parents' own image.
Well, until Angel, that is. He had slaughtered every sibling, every cousin, every niece, anyone who carried a drop of Roarke blood. For almost seven years, he had hunted down every member of his family until he was alone - the last Roarke.
Until Hunter. A child from two worlds, Vampire and Slayer. A child whose father had tried to kill him.
After learning of Hunter's existence, Angelus had become almost as fixated on the son as he was on the mother. He knew that nothing would cause Buffy as much pain as watching him kill their child. For four years, Angelus had tried every plot he could think of to snatch the boy. Every devilish scheme, every clever and dastardly plan.
Then, he had tried the direct approach.
He stayed low for almost five weeks, doing nothing more than raise a few fledglings every week for Buffy to dust. Despite their best efforts, he knew that the Scooby Gang would be starting to relax. He used that to his advantage one night, when he snuck up to the Summers-Harris residence. Pressing his ear to the kitchen door, he listened to the murmurs as the small family finished dinner. Peeking through the window, he watched as Buffy wiped spaghetti sauce off of her squirming son before releasing him. The small boy ran into the living room as Buffy started cleaning up the area around his seat - apparently spaghetti was a high-maintenance meal with a four-year-old - and Xander washed the dishes.
Slipping around the perimeter of the small house, he looked through the living room window. Buffy and Xander had both invested in thick curtains, but tonight the relative silence in the paranormal had left its mark, and the curtains had not been tied as usual, merely pulled. A small area was left uncovered, more than enough for Angelus to spy on the small family.
The vampire's eyes narrowed as he watched the small boy push a plastic truck around the floor of the room. Leaning closer to the glass, Angelus could even hear the loud noises the child was making. Softly, Angelus tapped at the window, careful to make the sound only loud enough for the boy to hear. When the startled boy looked up, Angelus gave him a wide smile and a cheerful wave. Confused, and slightly wary, the boy gave a slight wave in return. Seeing the boy open his mouth, about to call to his parents, Angelus raised a quick finger to his mouth, gesturing for silence. If his son called for his parents, things would end far too quickly. Angelus was well aware that this was probably his only chance to use this trick.
For several minutes, Angelus made the silly faces that he recalled children being fond of. His memory was obviously still in working order, because the boy relaxed, and even began to smile. Finally, confident that he had gained the child's trust, Angelus got up and walked over to the door. Softly, he knocked.
A long moment of silence passed, during which Angelus waited anxiously. Then, the doorknob jiggled a little, as if someone very small was trying to get a good hold on it. Slowly, the door opened, and the small boy stood silhouetted in the light.
Crouching down to put himself at his son's level, Angelus gave another bright smile and asked softly, "Can I come in?"
The boy looked at him with wide green eyes, considering.
"I'm not supposed to invite strangers in." he answered, his young voice solemn as he carefully pronounced each word.
"It's okay," Angelus assured him with another smile, "I'm a friend of your mommy's. She won't mind."
The boy frowned as he thought about this. "Are you sure?"
"Of course. I know your mommy *very* well." Angelus gave a dark grin at that. From the kitchen, the conversation between Buffy and Xander suddenly stopped. Angelus heard Buffy say softly, "He's been quiet too long." he knew his time was running out when Xander called out, "Hey, Sport, are you okay?"
Angelus tried to quiet him, but the child called out, "I'm fine, Daddy. I'm just talking to Mommy's friend."
The sound of a shattering plate ripped through the sudden silence. Pounding feet echoed through the house as Buffy and Xander raced into the room. The expression of horror on Buffy's face warmed Angelus' cold heart, even as she pulled the small boy into her arms. Xander was shuffling frantically through a desk drawer, and Angelus knew from past observations that that was where the couple hid various slaying tools from the boy.
"Go away, Angel," Buffy said, holding her son so tightly that he squalled in protest. "You aren't welcome here."
"Come on, Buff," Angelus said, smirking at her, "I just wanted to spend some time with my little family." his smirk widened, "Let's see if we can give the kid a brother." The disgust and anger that twisted Buffy's lovely features was delightful to him.
"He has her eyes, Xander," the vampire said gleefully, "but I think that in a few years you might be looking at a miniature replica of yours truly. Of course," he smirked, "I don't plan to let him live that long."
He would've said more, but Xander found the vial of holy water. The moment it was in his hand, he hurled it at the demon lounging in his doorway. Angelus ducked just in time to avoid a facefull, but Buffy took that opportunity to slam the door.
The loud sound of teenage voices jerked Angel from his reverie. Looking up, he saw two young girls tinkering under the hood of a rather dilapidated Jeep.
"Face it, we should just start walking." said one, adjusting the flashlight she was holding slightly according to her companion's directions.
"Give me a few minutes. I think I found the problem." came a second voice, slightly muffled due to the speaker's position of being halfway inside the engine.
"Do you girls need any help?" Angel called. Auto mechanics were not his forte, but he could at least try and make sure that they weren't killed while their car stalled.
"Sure," called the first, the same time that the muffled, "No," came from the hood.
Deciding to ignore the second answer, Angel walked over. The first girl came over and introduced herself as Kari, and her friend as Tobin. As Angel stepped closer to take a look at the engine - as if he could do anything - Kari shifted the flashlight she was holding to illuminate his face, ignoring the shrieks of protest that echoed from the hood.
"Hunter??" she gasped, dropping the flashlight in surprise. Angel nearly fell over from surprise himself, but then quickly chastised himself. His son looked a great deal like him, and this girl looked around his age. She was probably a classmate of Hunter's.
"No, I'm sorry." he said, "My name is Angel." stooping down, he retrieved the flashlight, shining it on her face. He was surprised to see her blushing deeper than such a mistake would usually result in.
"Oh, of course, I should've known." Kari babbled, "I mean, Hunter is my age, and you're, well, not. Plus Hunter is pretty tanned, and I've never really seen him in a leather jacket. And now that I think about it, you too really don't look all that much alike. I mean, for a second there it was like 'whoa!', but really-"
"We get the idea, Kari!" came the voice of an annoyed Tobin, "Sheesh. I know you like the guy, but now you're starting to see him in random guys on the street. I think this is getting serious." Angel watched in interest as the girl's blush intensified. Avoiding his eyes, she quickly took the flashlight and repositioned it for Tobin.
Angel looked at Kari with more interest, this time not just as a girl out at night, but as a girl out at night who had a crush on his son.
Rich dark hair fell midway down her back in soft waves, contrasting with her light brown eyes. Her face wasn't anything knock-me-over-beautiful, but it was pretty, and she had a sweet smile. Jeans, sneakers, and a dark coat didn't make a very stylish outfit, but something in her manner made it look good.
Angel's silent contemplation was cut short when the engine of the car suddenly sputtered, then roared to life. The miracle worker shimmied out from under the hood, and stretched to her full height.
Which was, at most, 5'1. The image of tininess was only enhanced by the oversized shirt that fell all the way down to the knees of her faded blue jeans (both of which were now liberally splattered with oil). As she wiped her oil-smeared hands on some paper towels, Angel took a moment to observe her.
Tobin's large dark eyes seemed almost oversized on her sharp-featured face. Her black hair was cut as short as a boy's, but the style actually suited her. Her skin was either deeply tanned or naturally dark, and something in the way she stood suggested that everyone around her was just abnormally tall.
Just as he was sizing her up, Tobin was doing the same to him. Clearly he passed some sort of test, because suddenly her small frame completely relaxed - though he hadn't even realized that she had been tensed - and she smiled up at him blindingly. The laconic tone that had colored all of her previous statements was gone, and all that was left was a perky, interested, and also slightly flirtatious voice as she thanked him for stopping.
With a jolt, Angel realized that she was hitting on him. From the way that Kari rolled her eyes and walked to the Jeep, this was not an uncommon occurrence. Angel received another shock when Tobin sauntered over, pulled a pen out of her pocket, and proceeded to write her phone number on his hand. Deciding that he needed no more surprises tonight, Angel fled to his apartment.
"Tobin, that guy was probably in college!"
"Thus the fun."
"Do you even realize what you did?"
"Hmm. Wonderfully cute college guy. Flirted. Gave him my number. I think I'm pretty clear on what I did."
"You wrote your number on his *HAND*."
"I suppose I could've written it on his shirt-"
"Let me once again state my problem. You spent all of five minutes in his company, and you wrote your phone number on his *HAND*. Do you realize the impression that you gave him?"
"That I'm a complete slut?"
"Yes, that's the one."
"Geez, calm down. If it makes you feel any better, I highly doubt that he'll be calling me."
"And what makes you so sure?"
"For one thing, I gave him the number to a pizza parlor."
"Whoa, nice gesture, Kari!"
"Quit it. So you did all of that just to pull a prank?"
"Of course not. I flirted with him because he had a cute butt."
"Oh, come on, admit it, he had a cute butt."
"Not as cute as Hunter's."
"Since when have you been checking out Hunter's butt?"
"What's so wrong with that?"
"For one thing, I don't approve of that sort of thing. Don't make that face. Really, I just don't think that Hunter is really the kind of guy you should be thinking of in a boyfriendly way."
"Because he probably doesn't even know I exist. And even if he does, there are lots of girls who are way prettier than me who would love to go out with him."
"Hey! You are just as pretty as any of those mindless twerps who fawn over him and drool into his lunch. A guy would have to be a complete idiot not to want to go out with you. Unfortunately, guys are idiots."
"Bit of a Catch 22, huh?"
"Here's my house. Oh, good, the lights are out. My parents must've gone to sleep."
"There's always an upside to everything. I'll see you tomorrow morning, okay?"
"Sure. Goodnight, Tobin."
*********** And in the immortal words of my beloved beta-reader, Jai: "Eeeeew, scary baby!"
Part 14 Coming Not-Very-Soon!