Disclaimer: I don't own or profit from BtVS

Dawn of a New Age

Chapter Twenty

Buffy tensed as the doorbell rang. She knew it couldn't be Spike, as the sunshine was beaming down with deadly intensity, so that left only one other remaining person from her small circle of friends who wasn't accounted for at the baby shower.

She was seated on the couch between Willow and Tara who were cooing over the steadily growing pile of presents on the coffee table which were wrapped in delicate yellow and pink pastel paper. Xander was uncomfortably seated in the plush armchair, Anya firmly ensconced in his lap, acting as a barrier between him and the hormonally volatile slayer. He was haunted by regret as he brooded on the tremendous smile Buffy gifted him with when she first opened the door, only to have it dim at his cool greeting. Anya had clutched his hand, her perfectly manicured nails, sinking deep into his skin as she quickly made up for his lack of warmth by bestowing upon Buffy a gratuitous smile and an armful of presents. Xander had suffered the pain with manly stoicism. It had been made violently clear to him by his beautiful and terrifying girlfriend that he was to be on his best behavior or else. He wasn't sure what constituted an or else but he had absolutely no desire to find out.

Joyce hurried to the front door, knowing that once Buffy was on the couch there was no getting her off unless she was either hauled up or rolled onto the floor. She knew just as well as her daughter who had arrived and although she forced a welcoming smile on her face, her eyes glinted with retribution as the door swung open.

Giles stood on the front porch, dressed in sharply pressed tan slacks and a faded blue pull over that brought out his eyes. He wordlessly handed her a bouquet of yellow daffodils and when their fingertips brushed she was reminded of how handsome he was. That reminder only served to feed her anger. Why was it that all the good-looking ones were married, gay or selfish jerks whom broke promises? He promised to care for Buffy. Instead, he turned his back on her.

"I sincerely apologize. I was wrong."

Joyce nearly dropped the bouquet she was clutching. Her shock must have reflected on her features because he dropped his eyes to the ground, but not before raking almost hungrily down her body. He shoved his hands into his front pockets, his shoulders rounding when she made no move to invite him into the house.

"It's not me you need to apologize too."

He tilted his head, his glasses flashing in the sunlight. "Might I come in to do so?"

She pinked at the edges, embarrassed to have forgotten her manners. She stepped aside, smoothing down her white sundress patterned with large magenta flowers.

"Yes, of course. Come in, Rupert."

He stepped by her, his leg brushing the hem of her full dress. "You look lovely, Joyce," he murmured quietly.

She tipped her chin haughtily as she closed the door behind him, missing the small smile of appreciation that curled his lips at her antics.

"I'll just..." She frowned dangerously at the arrangement, and Giles was certain that thirty dollars worth of flowers was about to be trashed. She swept from the room, abandoning him to his execution.

Buffy, with the help of Willow and Tara, had levered herself off the couch and was now standing apprehensively in the center of the room. The rest of the occupants were silent, even Xander who had to bite the tip of his tongue to reduce the urge to inappropriately break the tension.

For a moment all Giles could do was stare at his charge. His beautiful girl. She hadn't been a child for a long time. Not since before he had met her. Being Chosen didn't allow for childish dreams. She persevered through the challenges-through all the adversity her calling had thrown at her, and somehow she had remained the carefree, laughing girl who used to tease him for being tweedy. Watcher-mine she used to call him. How desperately he missed that. Missed her generous affection. How was it possible that he allowed his prejudices to separate him from what was most precious?

She stood before him a lush woman and he felt as if he missed something essential. A father returning from exile to find his child grown. Except his exile was self-imposed and he had no one to blame but himself for missing her transformation from child to woman. His British stoicism was failing him and he could feel the burn of tears in the backs of his eyes. He swallowed hard, trying to find the air to speak in his suddenly constricted lungs.

"Buffy." His voice tapered, and he cleared his throat to try again. "I'm so sorry. Please forgive me."

He opened his arms, his heart clenching as she wavered. Her hands were nervously twisting over her full belly, her lower lip caught between her teeth. The air was still with expectation and regret ate him alive. If she refused to forgive him, then he would have nothing. Be nothing.

She exploded into motion and suddenly he had an armful of Buffy. Her wet face pressed into the collar of his shirt as he wrapped his arms around her. It was awkward to hold her close with her big belly pushing him away, but he found himself happier than he had been in months.

"I'm sorry I disappoint you. I'm so sorry," she sobbed.

Rage burned him to ash. Not anger at his darling girl, but anger at himself. What a fool he had been. Buffy might forgive him, but he wouldn't be forgiving himself for a long time. His slayer was one of the most talented and powerful to exist, but her emotions were precious and fragile. He had hurt her in ways that couldn't be healed with antiseptic and a few bandages.

He gripped her upper arms, pushing her back so he could meet her eyes. He wanted to make sure that what he had to say resonated within her. He desperately needed to heal her.

"Buffy. You have never, nor will you ever, disappoint me. I love you very much and I was a fool to allow my prejudices to blind me. I should have been here next to you supporting you, instead of wallowing in denial." He swallowed. The next part was hard to say, because it felt so presumptuous after his behavior. "We're family. All of us. And we are here for you. I'm here for you."

She released a shaky breath. "Even for the baby?"

He dropped his eyes to her rounded belly, surprised by the sheer amount of protective love welling inside him.

"Especially for the baby. After all, I'll be her grandfather," he added tentatively, uncertain of her response.

Her smile lit up the room as she flung herself into his arms. "Yes, of course are. She'll call you Papa Giles!"

He embraced her heartily, and some of the heaviness in his chest lifted. He knew a few heartfelt words weren't going to heal all wounds, but it was a start. When they finally broke apart he led her to the couch where she could be seated.

"Giles?" He turned towards Willow who was seated next to a charming young woman. He smiled down at her, his heart clenching. He had missed her almost as much as he had missed Buffy. He had missed all of the children. "This is Tara. My girlfriend," Willow stammered.

Giles blinked absorbing the subtleties of what the witch was trying to convey. He looked at their clasped hands, and was jolted with an undercurrent of shock that thankfully he was able to cover with good manners.

"It's a pleasure, my dear." He griped her soft, warm hand firmly and smiled. "I'm delighted to meet any friend of Willow's."

Willow visibly relaxed, and he surged with the feeling that he had finally done something right. Buffy pulled him down to sit next to her on the couch.

"What about Spike?" Buffy's voice was muted, but everyone could hear the trepidation and agony in her tone. Spike was a part of her life. To accept her was to accept him.

"Spike and I have come to an understanding."

"What kind of understanding?"

"I may not trust him entirely, but I've come to the realization that he's quite remarkable. For a vampire," he finished dryly.

"How's that?" Watching Giles and Buffy's tearful reunion made Xander uncomfortable. Mostly, because he desperately wanted to reconcile with his friend as well. He wanted his share of hugs and apologies, but he couldn't bring himself to take the steps to gain them. While he desperately missed Buffy, he still couldn't convince himself that he had done anything wrong. The thing growing inside her was an abomination and Spike was an evil thing that was one electrical short away from eating everyone he knew.

At his snide tone, Giles shot a knowing glance towards Xander and took off his glasses to clean them.

"It seems that Spike has taken it upon himself to collect the children of the demons the Initiative have removed and place them into an orphanage of sorts."

"Children!" Tara and Willow exclaimed, having never thought about where demons came from.

"What! There are little demon monsters running around Sunnydale?" Xander made a disgusted face.

Anya smacked him hard in the arm. "Do you think all demons just appear? Some are turned from humans into demons like vampires and vengeance demons, but for the most part demons have families. The majority of demon races mate for life and are very protective of their offspring."

"Yeah, but why would you want to put a bunch of rabid ankle-bitters together? They're still dangerous aren't they?" Xander looked at Giles for conformation.

"Spike has only gathered benign demons."

"Benign?"

"Demons who don't hurt humans." Giles turned towards Buffy to answer her question.

"Yeah, right. Demons that don't hurt humans. What a crock."

Anya pried herself out of Xander's lap and whirled around to glare at him. "It is not a crock, Xander Harris. There are plenty of demons that don't hurt humans. They are just trying to live in peace. And if you don't stop being so hateful I'll borrow Mrs. Summers' frying pan again."

Xander leaned back in the chair, his hands raised in submission. "Zipping the lip. Got it."

"What does he do with the not so benign ones?" Buffy asked.

Giles looked away uncomfortably. "He wouldn't say."

"Oh," she said in a small voice.

"Have you been there?" Willow asked. Her pale face clouded with concern.

"Uh. Yes, as a matter of fact. I've decided to take Spike up on his offer to teach the children to read."

The witches fluttered. "They can't read!" Nerdy Willow was appalled.

"Do they need help?" Tara asked.

"Yes, Rupert. Do they need supplies? Food, blankets? Toys!" Joyce stood in the doorway, her large eyes expressive.

Giles shifted uncomfortably. He quite honestly had no idea. It hadn't even occurred to him to ask. The cost of caring for so many children must be astronomical.

"Wouldn't say no to donations." Spike answered from behind Joyce. After a mad dash from the sewers he let himself in the backdoor just in time to hear Giles run his big mouth about his extracurricular activities. "Lots of the demon families give what they can, but because everyone is so scared to go out of their dens they're hording what the got. More rugrats are being brought in everyday too. Getting hard to keep track of 'em all. Only got a couple people who can watch over them full time."

"That's terrible," Willow wailed and everyone started talking at once.

Buffy ignored the chatter flowing around her. "Spike."

Even through the noise he heard her speak. He crossed the room in long strides, kneeling before her. He lifted her hand to his lips, his eyes never leaving hers.

"Missed you, kitten." She smiled, her hand tightening on his. "How's the niblet?"

Buffy rubbed her free hand over her belly. "I think she's sleeping right now, but she wouldn't stop kicking all last night. Little brat wouldn't let me sleep."

He placed his large hand on her belly, spreading his fingers so he could feel as much of her as possible. He leaned forward, brushing his lips against her ear so only she could hear.

"That's 'cause she didn't get rocked to sleep first."

Buffy's blush was delicious and he licked his lips.

Xander couldn't hear what they were saying, but he could certainly guess. He looked away in disgust only to meet the hard gaze of his girlfriend. He swallowed, smiling at her weakly.

"So can we help?" Willow asked eagerly, breaking the two lovers apart.

Spike leaned back, but kept his hand possessively spread over Buffy's belly. "Won't say no, Red. But they're just children. I won't have them being treated badly 'cause their demons."

Willow flamed red. "Of course not!" she sputtered. "I would never be cruel to children."

"Know you wouldn't," Spike reassured her while casting a cold glance at Xander. The boy merely scowled.

Sensing that tension was rising, Joyce clapped her hands. "Enough of that. We can discuss it later. Right now we are here for a party. Would you like to open your presents now, Buffy?"

Buffy brightened. "Boy, would I!" she giggled.

Giles cleared his throat. Visions of squealing women and embarrassingly cute baby wear being flung about prompted him to action.

"Gentlemen, perhaps we should retire to the dining area?"

"I've already set up the poker chips and snacks," Joyce confirmed.

Xander and Giles stood to move into the other room, but Spike remained kneeling before Buffy.

"Spike?" Giles called.

"I have a gift for the mother-to-be." He pulled out a small velvet box from his pocket and held it out to Buffy.

Her hand shook as she took it. It was clearly a ring box and she was terrified to open it. She knew what her answer would be if it was an engagement ring, didn't she? She couldn't marry a vampire. Especially a soulless one. Regardless of his status as the father of her child. How could he do this to her? Now, in front of all her friends. She was struck with the urge to fling it in is face. To embarrass him like he was embarrassing her.

She thinned her lips and opened the box.

"It's a mother's ring," Spike said softly, unaware of the turmoil raging inside Buffy. "It has our birth gems on the outside and the niblet's in the middle. I went by the due date, but if that changes we can always exchange the stone."

Buffy blinked down at the box. The ring was beautifully simple. Two thin silver bands entwined around the gems in a delicate leaf filigree. The center stone was a bright emerald with a ruby on one side and a sapphire on the other. The ruby was her birthstone, so she assumed that the sapphire was Spike's. She wondered if he used his human birth date or his undeath date to pick the stone.

Spike was uncertain of her silent perusal. "Do you like it?" he prompted tentatively. She didn't lift her eyes from the ring still nestled in black velvet. She couldn't understand the sick clench in her chest. She was relieved that it wasn't an engagement ring. Wasn't she?

Spike had gotten her something wonderful, beautiful and thoughtful. So why did she feel so disappointed? Tears streamed down her cheeks and Spike panicked.

"Don't cry, luv. If you don't like we'll take it back." He reached for the ring and she clutched it to her chest possessively.

"Mine."

A shiver ran down Spike's spine and nestled in his cock. He licked his lips, trying to quell the surge of desire in his veins.

"Would you like me to put it on you?"

She nodded and held out the box. He plucked the ring between two fingers and waited for her to present her right hand. As he slid the ring onto her finger, he was struck with a profound sense of disappointment that he wasn't placing a diamond on her left hand instead. Not that she would ever allow him to place his ring on her finger. He wasn't dumb enough to think that would ever happen.

As the womenfolk gathered around to admire the ring, Spike slipped towards the dining room, carefully concealing the naked want pulsating through his body.

"Smooth. Make the rest of us look bad," Xander whined as he took his place at the table where green velvet had been rolled out and poker chips distributed. He immediately picked up a bowl of Doritos.

Spike shrugged. "You can always knock up your bird." He opened a fresh deck of playing cards and shuffled them under the keen gaze of the watcher. The vampire smiled and stacked the deck skillfully.

"There will be no more bird knocking. Leastways not for a while. I don't think my constitution can take the strain." Giles retrieved three beers from the refrigerator and plunked them down on the table.

"Mine either." Xander shuddered. Visions of miniature Anyas running around waving cast iron skillets playing through his mind.

"Were you able to make that call we talked about, Rupert?"

Giles nodded. "Yes. I believe I made it sound dire enough that steps are being taken to defund the Initiative."

"That could take months," Spike snapped.

"It's a military program and as such it subject to congressional oversight."

"And congress moves slower than molasses in January." Spike shook his head. The longer the Initiative stayed in Sunnydale the longer his family was in danger. Not to mention the many demons disappearing daily.

They could hear women squealing in the background as Spike dealt the cards. They were settling back with their first hand, sipping beer when Joyce appeared in the doorway. Her hands were on her hips, lips drawn in a cold, hard line and Spike realized Buffy's ability to make his spine slither out his arsehole had nothing to do with her being a slayer. It was entirely genetic. Xander canted towards Spike, not because he wanted to get chummy with the undead freak, but to put distance between himself and Giles who was the recipient of a glare of apocalyptic proportions.

"Was I not clear, Rupert? Did I not use pedantic enough language when I explained the situation?" Joyce had been given enough time to simmer to a slow boil after throwing the beautiful bouquet of bribery into the trash. She wasn't just mad on Buffy's behalf, but on her own. She thought she had reached an understanding with Rupert all those months ago. Perhaps even a partnership. His desertion almost felt worse than Hank's. It hurt. "I expected more from you. I expected—"

"Joyce." Giles pulled his glasses off and dropped them on the table, before rubbing his eyes tiredly. "I'm sorry."

"Oh, you're sorry. That completely makes up for the months of heartache you've caused Buffy. Oh, how the world would be fixed if Palestine apologized to Israel or China to Tibet. Apartheid would have never happened if someone had muttered those magical meaningless words."

"Joycie."

"Don't you Joycie me, Rupert Giles. I won't be managed. And you." She wheeled on Xander.

"Oh, God." Xander cringed, white-faced in his chair.

"Rupert almost has an excuse. He's been brain washed by those awful Council people who treat Buffy like she's some sort of asset to be spent how they please. He's so set in his ways he can't see what's right in front of his face." She didn't realize that she motioned to herself, standing proud and strong as she dressed them down, but the three men did. Spike snorted in a combination of agreement and amusement, Xander made a ghastly choking sound that emanated from the depths of his all encompassing denial and Giles frowned fiercely.

"But you're supposed to be her friend." Joyce continued. "She's at her most vulnerable and you abandoned her. Why? Because of your own selfish biases? Anger? Shame? What? Well, guess what Alexander. It's her life, not yours. You have no right to judge her. Neither of you do."

Joyce paused to take a breath and suddenly Rupert was before her, his strong hands curling over the curves of her shoulders.

"I'm sorry, Joycie. I truly am. And if you, Buffy and this child will allow me, I'll spend the next fifty years making up for my selfish thoughtlessness. I want to be part of Buffy and the baby's life." He pressed his forehead to hers, gratified when she didn't immediately pull away. "I want to be part of your life, Joycie."

She took a shaky breath and drew back, putting distance between them. She glanced at Xander, then the floor, unable to look at Giles just yet.

"I'll expect better from the both of you in the future."

"You'll have it." Rupert agreed in a deep, rolling rumble. Xander squeaked in what could be construed as agreement.

Joyce swept out of the room and after watching her leave, Giles sedately returned to his seat, ignoring Spike's knowing smirk.

"Gawd. I think I crapped myself." Xander exhaled shakily. In the kitchen the squeak of the trash can lid could be heard and the sound of running water. The men sat quietly around the table staring sightlessly at their cards. Spike could hear feminine peels of laughter on the far side of the house as Buffy opened another present. Joyce floated into the room, wordlessly placing the slightly bruised bouquet of daffodils in a crystal cut vase in the center of the dinning room table, heedless of the half-hazard pile of poker chips. She walked out of the room without a backwards glance. By silent agreement the men played around the obstruction.

"Mr. Connolly from history class once told us that before women got the right to vote they were powerless and that's why men rule the world."

Spike and Giles snorted in perfect unison.

"Bloke's never been married."

"Quite right. The only thing we're in charge of is how much we screw up."