Xander's Kitten Has Kittens
'Damn love spell. I've tried every anti-love spell-spell I can find,' Giles said, watching over Dawn's shoulder as she typed.
'Even if you found the right one the guy would probably just do an anti-anti-love spell-spell... spell... spell,' Dawn answered, confusing both of them enough to make them pause for a moment to try and wrap their heads around what had just come out of her mouth. Luckily, at that exact moment, the doorbell rang, saving them from having to think about it too hard.
'Oh, Dawn, could you get that for me?'
Leaving Giles to wrestle with the laptop, Dawn opened the front door and was greeted by the sight of a young, athletic, good-looking man. Smiling helpfully, Dawn drew herself up to her full height and tried desperately to look older. Preferably eighteen, seventeen at a pinch.
'Hey there. I'm looking for Buffy Summers? She, ah, told me I could probably find her here if she wasn't in her room on campus.'
Dawn sagged. Of course. He was there for Buffy. They were always there for Buffy.
'Oh yeah, sure, she's--' RJ! This was RJ! The Guy! The evil, love spell guy! 'Uh, no! I mean no. She's... she's not here!' Dawn fought to keep her voice from squeaking. 'She moved away.' She winced at the lameness of her lie, but bravely forged ahead, wagging her finger reproachfully at RJ. 'No Buffy for you!' she scolded.
RJ only smiled. 'Tell Buffy to call me,' he said, turning to go.
'I can't,' Dawn faltered, sensing that she'd somehow lost ground. 'I told you she... she moved... away...' Slowly her head tilted to one side as she watched him walk away, along the garden path. Her words trailed away as her gaze became glassy-eyed and full of a nameless, poetic emotion.
'RJ,' she sighed, smoothing her hand longingly over the doorframe.
'I've had it with you guys.' Dawn stamped her foot. 'Just because you're older than me you think you automatically know better. News flash! I'm the only one here who hasn't had a completely and totally disastrous relationship in the last two years.'
Buffy smiled condescendingly at her sister. 'Not mentioning first kisses with vampires that wanted to turn you, and hopeless crushes on other vampires not a million miles away from here - that might just have something to do with you being a ball of green energy not quite two years ago.'
Dawn shot her a glare sharp enough to cut glass. So sharp, in fact, that Giles actually flinched away from it before bravely stepping in between them.
Late on the uptake, Willow and Tara looked at each other.
'Waitaminute,' said Willow. 'RJ was here? Here here? And nobody told us?'
Tara put her hands on her hips. 'Well, really. That's just so in-inconsiderate.'
'I'm just saying,' said Xander. 'We're tangling with a powerful spell here. We don't know what the deal is, so-so keep an eye out if this guy looks twitchy. And don't let this guy charm you, either. He was a real nasty slob, but I hear that he had everyone around him practically kissing his ring back in the day.'
'Kissing his ring, huh?' Spike deadpanned. 'And did you take part in this ring kissage?'
Xander blushed, glad of the cover of night. 'No! There was no ring kissage. And that was before I knew him, anyway. I was still in high school then, responsible for only one ex-bully-jock-type's sexual awakening.'
Spike narrowed his gaze. 'Yeah? You telling me I wasn't your first, then?'
The blush deepened. 'Oh, no, you were my first in every way that counts. Larry and me just had a couple of lip-locks in a few of the broom closets nearest and dearest to my heart.'
'Hmm.' Spike looked away, apparently disinterested. 'So long as that's all it was.'
Xander couldn't help but grin. 'Awww, what's this? Are you jealous?'
'No,' Spike insisted, not quite meeting his eye.
'You are!' Xander teased. 'You're jealous.' He slipped his arm around Spike's waist and pulled the vampire to him to kiss the corner of his mouth. 'You don't need to be,' he said, his voice falling to a whisper. 'You know I only have eyes for you.'
Spike ducked his head; his hands pushed deep in his pockets as they walked. Awww, said Xander's brain. Bashful vampire. My bashful vampire. He didn't quite stop kissing Spike until hands were removed from pockets and feet were tripped over and Xander felt his back pressed up against a convenient mini van, lost in the sparse cover of shadow it offered. Urgent lips and the delicious feeling of Spike pressed up against him, strong hands fisted in his shirt and Xander was so sure he would never get tired of the feel of this.
'Y'know, we really don't have time for this.'
'So?' said Spike. 'We're making time.'
'Is that some really bad British pun about making out and "making time"?'
Spike shrugged, his eyes glittering in the darkness. 'Might be.'
'You do remember I'm an American, right?'
'How could I forget it? Bloody Americans.'
'So tell me again why you decided to grace our continent with your presence?'
Spike licked Xander's bottom lip, sweeping his tongue across the barely-there stubble almost thoughtfully. 'Destiny,' he said finally.
Xander watched his face for signs of mocking, but there was none. Only true blue eyes staring at him. Into him.
God, I love you.
The words were suddenly so crystal clear in Xander's mind it felt as though he'd spoken them aloud. Shuddering in Spike's embrace, he pulled the vampire towards him for a searching kiss, pouring all the emotion into it that he knew he couldn't put into his words.
Spike eventually pushed him away. 'Enough,' he said, his voice low and husky. 'But as soon as this is over...'
'Oh God, yes,' said Xander breathlessly.
Spike's answer was a rakish grin, and another swift kiss. 'Let's go do this thing.'
'Right.' Xander nodded, disappointed, but knowing it was the right thing to do, willing his erection away and trying to calm his breathing.
'Here, wait a minute,' Spike said.
'I forgot something.'
'Yeah. I forgot I'm evil and I don't give a rat's ass about finding this guy.' Xander gasped as cool, talented hands unzipped his jeans and released him from the denim prison. 'Besides,' Spike said, kissing him again, 'you'll never be able to concentrate on saving the day if we don't take care of you first.'
Xander opened his mouth to complain, but somehow couldn't find fault with Spike's logic. 'Aren't we a little public here?' he said helplessly.
'There's no one around for miles,' Spike assured him. 'Just you and me.'
Spike was too good at this, and knew his body too well. Xander knew he wouldn't last long, but somehow that was okay, just so long as Spike didn't stop what he was doing with his hands.
Xander almost whimpered as at that precise moment, Spike stopped what he was doing with his hands... and dropped to his knees. Groaning, Xander pressed his fingertips against the polished surface of the van, closed his eyes and lost himself in the sensations Spike was creating in his body.
He was right. He didn't last long.
Spike got back to his feet and grinned, wiping at the corner of his mouth almost coquettishly. Xander kissed him and began to return the favour, but Spike stopped him, lacing their fingers together.
'I can wait,' he said.
'But you said you didn't care about saving the day.'
'Yeah, I don't. But you do.'
'Yeah. There'll be plenty of time later, once we're done with the hero bit.'
'All night?' Xander asked hopefully.
'And most of the morning, too.'
Xander's eyes widened. 'How do you manage to make that sound like a threat?
'A really sexy threat, but yeah.'
Spike grinned wolfishly. 'Wasn't threatening you.' He stepped in close, so that his words tickled against the sensitive skin of Xander's throat. 'I could, though,' he said softly, glancing over Xander's face. 'If you really wanted me to. If you asked nicely.'
His knees suddenly weak, Xander grabbed at strong upper arms to keep himself upright, groaning as rapidly cooling lips pressed against his pulse point.
Then he found himself wrapped around the cool night air, Spike already several steps ahead. 'C'mon, luv. Time's a-wasting.'
Clearing his throat, Xander readjusted himself, Little Xander valiantly trying to stand to attention, and hurried to catch up.
RJ's brother's house was only a few hundred yards away, his front porch lit by one dull bulb, an angel decorating the doorjamb. Spike disdainfully avoided its glare. A tall, ungroomed, unathletic guy answered the door, wearing an all too familiar pizza delivery uniform that made Xander's stomach lurch at the memory. Both Xander and Spike stared at him in disbelief.
'Yeah?' said the man, scratching listlessly at his ribs.
'Hey, Lance,' Xander said, holding out his hand to shake. 'You remember me? Xander Harris?'
'Xander?' he squinted. 'Sure. I remember.' He shook Xander's offered hand. 'What brings you here?'
'Ah,' Xander glanced briefly at Spike. 'Well, it's about RJ.'
'RJ? Is he in some kind of trouble?'
'No, no, nothing like that. Can we come in for a minute?'
'Sure, I guess so. Come on in.'
They were led down a flight of stairs into a sitting room, lovingly decorated with pale ivory colours, soft lighting and lace, knick-knacks strewn on every available surface. Cold beers were produced and the three men sat staring at one another, Lance slouched in an overstuffed chair, Xander and Spike opposite him on the couch.
'You guys been in a fight or something? You look a little messed up.'
Xander immediately tried to smooth his hair, and touched the back of his hand to his cheek, willing it to suck some of the heated blush away. Spike, on the other hand, only leaned back in his seat, took a drink of his beer, and smirked.
'No, no fighting. Jogging. We, uh, jogged here. Exercise, y'know? Killing two birds with one stone, y'know.'
Lance nodded vaguely. 'So you're still in the construction game, huh? That's awesome.'
'Yeah,' said Xander.
'So, what's up with RJ?' Lance asked, getting to the point. 'You guys friends or something? How's he doing at college?'
'Good,' said Xander. 'It's just...' Already bored, Spike stood and started walking around the room. 'Well, I know a girl that might be going out with him and I was wondering--'
'God, and you want to know if he's a good guy,' Lance said with a relieved smile. 'Truth is, he's the best. Following in my footsteps. You might not know it now, looking at me with a couple of extra pounds,' he laid a hand on his stomach, cupping the spare tyre sadly, 'but back then, I was quite the guy.'
Spike stood quietly at the back of the room, near a curio cabinet full of statuettes.
'Yeah,' said Xander. 'I gather that RJ is pretty popular, too.'
'I gotta tell ya,' said Lance, sitting forward in his seat, 'there was a time I was worried about RJ. He was into comic books, Model UN, geek stuff - no offence, Harris.'
Behind them, Spike snorted as he inspected the figurines on the curio cabinet. They were all angels. Dozens and dozens of angels. Systematically, he began turning them all around, so they were looking away from him.
'One time,' continued Lance, 'I found all this poetry under his bed. Turns out, he wrote it.' This time it was Xander's turn to snort. Geek stuff and poetry. They should just stick a fork in RJ and call him "Spike and Xander's embarrassing past" and leave it at that. 'Then he, uh, what do you call it? Blossomed. That's what it was like.'
Spike abandoned the figurines, walking around the room, looking at things.
'And do you have any idea why he, you know, burst into flower all of a sudd--?'
'You're wearing your brother's jacket. Here, in this picture.' Spike stood in front of the mantelpiece, pointed at one of the framed pictures adorning it.
'Oh, no, dude. He's wearing mine,' said Lance. 'That jacket was with me all the way through high school. Gave it to him when I graduated, right before I started at the construction site.' He looked down at himself despondently. 'That was, uh, before the Pizza Barn.' Xander nodded in a consolatory fashion. 'I'm in the management program,' said Lance cheerfully.
'So, Lance, when did you get the jacket?' asked Xander, picking up on what Spike had implied and running with it.
'Oh, dad gave it to me. Made a big deal about it, too. How he met mom wearing that jacket. She was a former Miss Arkansas. Very hot in her day.'
Xander caught the meaningful look Spike was sending his way. The jacket. That was the catalyst. Looked like some jocks only got all the girls with a little magical intervention. Xander briefly felt a whole lot better about his place in the world, but it didn't last long when he remembered the state his female friends were in. They were relying on him. They might not know it yet, but they were relying on him. And now he had the information they needed to fix things. He got to his feet, a sudden urge to leave taking over. 'Wow. That's... wonderful. Boy, it's getting late.' The faster they got this messy situation resolved, the faster the girls would be back to normal, and suitably embarrassed about their behaviour, and the faster he and Spike could retire back to his bedroom for that promise of spending all night and all morning in a state of naughty nakedness.
'Hey, you guys don't have to take off if you don't want to.' A noticeable tinge of desperation had snuck into Lance's voice. 'I got sort of a rumpus room set up in the basement. There's air hockey and a mini fridge. We could party.'
From the top of the stairs, a frail, female voice called down to them. 'Lance? Do you have guests down there? There's little boxes of raisins if you want snacks.'
Xander glanced at Spike. 'We really gotta go.'
Outside, back on the street, Spike grimaced. 'What's wrong with those people?' he asked.
'Apart from the obvious?'
Spike nodded. 'I mean are they angel crazy or something? I mean, that's just so... tacky.'
They heard the yelling the second they opened Giles' front door.
'But you don't even know him!' Willow was arguing.
'Yes, I do,' Dawn insisted. 'I looked into him and saw his soul.'
'He was walking away, so unless his soul was in his ass...'
Dawn pouted, putting her hands on her hips. 'RJ is my best friend and my dearest darling--'
'No, he's not! What you were picking up on was his deep caring and devotion to me. He obviously came here to see me, and was so disappointed not to see me that--'
'Actually, he was here to see Buffy,' said Dawn.
'Who was?' asked Buffy, entering the room with Tara following behind. 'Was it RJ? Was he here? To see me?' She held her the back of her hand dramatically to her forehead at the thought of RJ having come here looking for her.
'Wait. Wait a minute,' waved Xander, calling for a time out. 'What's going on?'
'Dawn thinks she's in love with my boyfriend,' Willow pouted.
'What?' spluttered Xander. He glanced at his watch. 'We've only been gone an hour. How did this happen? Where's Giles?'
Willow waved vaguely at the stairs. 'He said he couldn't take the noise any more. He's researching love spells in his bedroom. Said that you should check in with him when you got back. Now,' she turned back to Dawn, 'I don't know what you think you're going to accomplish by this, Dawnie, but it won't work. RJ and I are destined to be together.'
'Willow, you can't do this...' began Tara.
Buffy nodded her agreement. 'She's right. You can't.'
'And why not?' asked Willow.
'Because you're a gay woman,' said Buffy.
'And he isn't!'
'This isn't about his physical presence,' Willow said firmly. 'It's about his heart.'
'His physical presence has a PENIS!' Dawn chimed in, rather forcefully.
'I can work around it!' countered Willow.
Shaking his head, Spike left the room. This was just too much craziness for one night, and he intended to find the remains of Giles' whisky and maybe finish the crossword. In other words, make himself at home and bide his time until Xander was done with all the running back and forth.
'This isn't fair!' burst out Dawn, tears in her eyes. 'How can you all be doing this to me?'
Buffy felt a pang of guilt in her heart at the sight of her sister in such obvious distress and laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. 'Okay, wait. Everyone wait. Just calm down, okay? I-I think I know what this is.' She smiled winningly. 'Clearly, you've been affected by the same love spell that got Willow and Tara.
Dawn rolled her eyes, clearly angry, and shook Buffy's hand from her shoulder. 'This isn't a spell! He owns my heart.'
'Shh, Dawn, be quiet,' said Buffy. 'We're trying to work this out. We don't need you interfering. This is grown up time.'
'Ooh, you...!' Dawn stamped her foot in useless anger. 'I'm so telling mom!'
Ignoring her completely, Willow considered her options. 'There's a simple answer to this. Just think about who loves him the most. Clearly I do, since I'm willing to look past the whole "orientation" thing.'
Tara let out an indignant 'Ha!' and raised her hand, looking to Xander for a little moral support. Xander's eyes widened in shock and he avoided Tara's hopeful gaze. Sometimes Tara was just a little too observant for her own good.
'I need him,' said Dawn, attempting to pour all of her longing into the words.
'Well, you're going to have to do better than that,' said Buffy dismissively.
'I'd die for him,' Dawn said miserably.
'Dawnie...' Xander took a step towards her, just as Buffy blurted out - 'Oooh! I'd kill for him.'
'You'd kill for a chocolate bar,' came a scoffing British voice from the kitchen. 'It's in your job description.'
Buffy appeared not to have heard. 'No. Yes! Kill for him. I'm the Slayer. Slayer means kill. Oh! I'll kill Professor Walsh!'
Willow and Tara looked suitably impressed, while Dawn just folded her arms a little tighter and stepped up her sulk.
'Ooh,' frowned Tara, 'that is hard to top.'
Looking around angrily, not wanting to lose out in this battle of one-upmanship, Willow defiantly raised her chin. 'Yeah, well, I have skills. I can prove my love with magic.'
'Yeah, right,' Buffy jeered. 'What're you gonna do? Use magic to make him into a girl?' Willow's eyes widened. Buffy's face fell. 'Damn.'
Tara seemed to consider this, and quietly decided not to argue with the idea.
Their missions clear, the girls scattered, Willow running upstairs, Tara disappearing out the front door while Buffy went to the couch to pick up her jacket, leaving Dawn slumped on the wall beside an out-of-his-depth Xander. At the sight of Dawn, Buffy paused. 'Sorry, Dawnie. You're never going to get him. You're just a kid.'
'No,' said Dawn, her voice breaking. 'Never.'
Xander paced up and down Giles' hallway, watched by two pairs of eyes from the kitchen, belonging to the two oldest, most Britishest members of their little group.
'So. This deal with RJ. What's it all about?' asked Xander, attempting to take a mental step back to make room for the plan that he hoped was about to leap miraculously into his head.
'What if the Hokey Cokey is what it's all about?'
'Spike.' Xander shot him a warning look. 'Not helping.'
Spike looked full to bursting with absolutely no remorse whatsoever about this, and immediately began to rifle through the cupboards, looking for wherever Giles had stashed the "good" whisky in a futile attempt to keep it from the light-fingered vampire.
'We have to do something,' Xander continued. 'Buffy, Willow and Tara are out there right now, looking for this guy. That's a Slayer and two powerful witches loose in Sunnydale who all think that this guy is their soulmate. And Dawn. She's never been in love before, this has got to be killing her.'
'So?' Without turning around, Spike gave one of his very best lukewarm shrugs of complete and total indifference.
'So?' Xander said, still wearing a hole in Giles' carpet. 'So? So we have to go and stop them. They could hurt each other. They could hurt themselves. They could hurt RJ.'
Spike tilted his head as he reached around behind a teetering stack of crockery, his bored expression not altering one iota.
'Look, Spike, I know how these love spells work. They're tricky things, and they're dangerous.'
'Some of them work out okay,' came a muffled voice from deep inside Giles' cupboard.
Any surprise that Spike felt at Xander bringing up the subject of love spells while they had an audience who actually knew about their own particular love spell was well hidden. As far as Giles was concerned, they had an established policy of "don't ask, don't tell". Spike didn't expect the Watcher to keep out of their relationship forever -- unconventional, homosexual, vampire/Slayer-sidekick romances were tricky like that -- but so far it seemed to be working.
Unnoticed by either of them, Giles sat back in his chair and folded his arms, interested to see where this particular line of conversation would lead.
'Don't you remember when I cast a love spell and all the women in Sunnydale were madly in love with me?' asked Xander.
'Nope. Didn't know you then.'
Xander stopped pacing and gave Spike's back a very evil glare. 'Oh. Right. So you don't remember Drusilla suddenly developing the urge to go out and offer eternal life to a certain raven-haired tasty young thing with an uncanny resemblance to yours truly? How she wanted me so bad she even went up against Angelus?'
Spike was unimpressed, head still stuck in the cupboard, until a flicker of a recollection tickled at the edge of his memory. 'Hold on,' he said, withdrawing from the cupboard and looking up at Xander curiously. 'That was you? Dru and Angelus were fighting over that for a solid week. Dru couldn't understand why you filled her head one minute and were gone the next.'
With a very cavalier gesture, Xander folded his arms and raised one knowing eyebrow. 'She called me "kitten" and offered me eternal life. Also might have kissed me.'
Spike's eyes widened in surprise - surprise at the stab of very confusing jealousy at the thought of Drusilla and Xander ever having kissed, and surprise that Xander had managed to survive the encounter without ending up as either a vampire or as worm food.
'My face,' Xander slowly ran the back of his hand down the length of one cheek with a pseudo-serious expression firmly in place, 'is like a poem.'
Spike narrowed his gaze and slowly looked Xander up and down. 'Yeah, all right, whelp, I get your message,' he said, uncomfortable with the whole scenario. 'Love spells equal badness. I do remember proposing to a certain Slayer not so long ago.' He paused for a quick shudder, completely missing the way that Xander's eyes flitted back to him, displaying a not insubstantial glimmer of jealousy of their own. 'So, we should go do the good guy thing and stop this before it gets ugly. Now,' Spike pasted on a serious expression and rubbed his hands together, 'what we need is a plan. A good plan. And when I'm confronted by a difficult problem, I always find that you can solve it more easily by reducing it down to the simple question: "How would the Lone Ranger handle this?"'
Throwing his hands in the air, Xander let out a loud exclamation of exasperation.
At the sound of Xander growling audibly, Giles stood up just in time to stop a full-scale argument from breaking out. 'Hey there! Those of you who are acting like primary school children! Yes. I'm talking to you,' he nodded as Spike and Xander looked at him. 'How about we just go find them first instead of sitting here yapping about it, and deal with it when we get there? There has to be a trigger, yes? Something tangible that holds the power of this RJ's spell? So we find out what it is and we destroy it. Simple.'
His point succinctly made, Giles walked out past Xander towards the front door, but paused and turned around when he realised that he was walking alone. Clearing his throat loudly, he folded his arms, drumming his fingers in annoyance. 'When you two have quite finished posturing.'
Suitably chastised, Spike and Xander followed Giles, their heads hanging.
'Ooh!' Xander stopped abruptly, letting out an "oof" as Spike walked into his back.
'Ooh?' inquired Giles. 'Is this a timely and important "ooh" or can it wait?'
'Timely and important,' Xander assured him. 'The trigger. It's RJ's jacket.'
Giles looked at him sceptically. 'And you know this how exactly?'
'His brother. He used to be cool, but he gave RJ his jacket right before he started working at the construction site with me. Then--' Xander let out a low whistle, '--talk about an asshole. Thought the whole world should be handed to him on a silver plate. He couldn't figure out quite why it wasn't. He got the jacket from his father, who married a Miss Alabama.'
'Arkansas,' said Spike.
'Whatever. The point is they were all lucky in life and love while they had the jacket. And their dad made a big deal about them keeping it safe because it would bring them good fortune.'
Giles nodded. 'Looks like we have a winner. Well done, Xander.'
'Uh, it was actually Spike who--'
'Well done, Spike,' interrupted Giles, rolling his eyes and wondering if they'd be wanting gold stars next. 'Now, can we please go and stop the girls from doing anything they're going to regret?'
'Right.' Spike nodded purposefully. 'You go get Tara. She ran out the door about ten minutes ago. Me an' Xander'll take the Slayer. And--' He reached out without looking and grabbed Dawn's arm, as she tried to sneak out the door past them, the siren song luring her to RJ too strong to ignore. 'You keep an eye on the Nibblet here, yeah?'
Taking a miserable Dawn from Spike, Giles nodded, lifting his car keys from the hallway table. Xander sighed heavily, readying himself to take on a lovesick Slayer. 'Y'know, somewhere, something incredibly bad is waiting to happen to me. I can just feel it in the air.'
Spike tilted his head, listening. 'Hold on a mo'.'
'Spike, we should really go.'
Spike shook his head. 'Upstairs. Willow. Sounds like she's chanting.'
'Crap,' said Xander succinctly, and bolted towards the stairs.
'I'll go and see if I can catch up with Buffy and Tara,' Giles called after them. 'I'll call when I find them.'
'Okay!' yelled back Xander, already halfway up the stairs.
Willow sat in the centre of Giles' bedroom, four white candles lit on the floor around her, dripping wax onto Giles' expensive hardwood finish. In front of her was a bowl of crystals, slowly beginning to glow and drift out of the bowl into the air around her as she spoke the words of her spell.
"Oh, Hecate, I call on you."
She tipped back her head, enjoying the tingling caress of the magic. Sometimes this was better than sex. Not RJ sex, she was assuming, and usually her time with Tara was so much more special and fulfilling than mere spells, but this... this was pretty darn good nevertheless.
"I humbly ask your will be done. Hear my request, a simple change."
Outside the door, she could vaguely hear the footsteps running towards her up the stairs. No matter, they couldn't reach her in time to stop her spell. And then she'd have RJ all to herself. As a woman. As it was meant to be.
"Create a daughter from a s--"
The door burst open and two figures appeared. Rushing to her, Xander slapped his hand over her mouth, interrupting the spell. Furious, Willow bit down on his hand so that he quickly pulled it back.
Still cross-legged, Willow placed her fisted hands on her hips, the picture of righteous indignation. Around her in the air, the crystals spun faster, weaving intricate patterns, her hair fluttering in the magical breeze. Rather concerned, Spike watched as a flash of bright blue light, originating from the crystals around Willow, hit Xander and knocked him off his feet, while all that Spike felt was a cool breeze, circling the room. Then it was gone. The crystals stopped glowing and dropped out of the air.
'Oh, man! Now I've gotta start all over. Hecate hates that!' complained Willow.
Stepping forward, Spike managed to snatch the bowl of crystals away from Willow with one hand, while reaching for Xander with the other. Xander was still lying, face down, his head cushioned on one of his arms, long, dark hair hiding his face from them.
'What the hell do you think you were doing, you silly bint?'
'Proving I love RJ the most!' Willow insisted, getting to her feet.
'But he's a man! Aren't you all about the ladies now?'
'I did notice that, yeah,' said Willow, trying to pull the bowl of crystals back out of Spike's grasp, and failing. 'That's why I'm doing my spell, 'cause, y'know... he doesn't have to be. Now gimme back my crystals! I don't have much time.'
'Much time before what?'
'Before Buffy and Tara and Dawn have a chance to prove that they love RJ the most.'
'Yeah?' Spike looked venomously at her, and set the bowl of crystals out of reach on a high shelf. 'And what about Xander? What did you do to him?'
As though on cue, Xander groaned, his dark head shifting as he swam back to consciousness.
'Xander?' Willow asked, as though only noticing her semiconscious friend for the first time.
'Yeah. Xander,' growled Spike. 'You know, your oldest and bestest friend in the whole wide world? The one you just knocked unconscious with your little lesbian spell?'
'Oh.' Willow had the good grace to look guilty about this. Then she frowned. 'Wait. It shouldn't have affected him like that. It should just have dispersed when you interrupted me. Oh!' A glimmer of understanding lit her features. 'I said his name! When he grabbed me, I bit him and said his name.' Her face fell. 'That's not good.'
'You don't say,' drawled Spike acidly.
They knelt down on either side of Xander and gently rolled him onto his back -- then promptly fell back on their butts in surprise.
'Xa-Xander?' said Willow.
Xander's reply was a groan, then, slowly, chocolate brown eyes flickered open. 'Yeah. I'm up. I'm good. Who hit me in the head this time?'
'Xa-Xander?' said Spike.
'That's me. You didn't invisible me or something, did you, Willow?'
'Noo,' Willow said, her voice a shade higher than usual. 'No. No invisibleness.'
'Good.' Xander smiled. 'I don't think I could cope with that.' He turned his head to look at Spike. 'Did we get here in time?'
'In time for what, lu... mate?'
'The spell. RJ's not a girl now, right?'
'Yeah.' Spike cast a worried glance in Willow's direction, noting the guilty flush that rose to her cheeks when he caught her staring longingly up at her bowl of crystals. 'No danger of that.'
'Great. Just give me a minute and we can go find Buffy before she goes ballistic on the good Professor Walsh.'
'Um, Xander...' Spike's mouth was open, but the words just wouldn't come.
'What?' Xander sat up. 'Guys? Why are you looking at me like that? Guys?'
Neither of them spoke. Eventually, Willow silently raised her hand and pointed across the room.
'Willow, what are you...'
Xander trailed off as he saw what she was pointing at.
The mirror. The mirror hanging innocently on the wall opposite.
Xander's blood ran cold. His body moving on auto-pilot, he rose to his feet with a helping hand from Spike, and shuffled across the room towards the mirror. Reflected in its surface, he could see a young woman approaching from the other side. A young woman with long, dark brown hair falling in loose waves around her face. A young woman with deep chocolate eyes, a long, straight nose and a slightly wolfish grin. At least it would have been a wolfish grin if she had have been smiling at that particular moment, but she wasn't smiling. She wasn't smiling because Xander wasn't smiling.
Xander was so far from smiling he wasn't even in the same area code.
'Willow,' he said, his voice low and full of warning - and horrifyingly feminine.
Willow was frozen to the spot, sitting at Spike's side, both of them watching Xander like he was a ticking bomb, ready to explode at any second.
'Willow, what the hell did you do to me?'
Xander let out a breath of nervous laughter, muscles held tight throughout his entire body as though he was afraid to move. 'Spike?'
Spike looked him up and down, very slowly. 'You're a bird,' he observed.
Xander nodded, just once. 'So it's not just me then, you both see it too?'
'You're a bird,' echoed Willow, her voice clouded with wonder, as she finally regained control over her body and then blinked when she realised what she had just said. 'A-a girl, I mean you're a girl.'
'Oh. Well. I see. That's all right then,' said Xander, and promptly burst into tears.
Spike and Willow immediately got to their feet, rushing to him and guiding him back to sit on the edge of Giles' bed.
Xander quickly went through several stages. First came disbelief. Then denial. Anger. Acceptance. Misery. Then came swearing with admirable creativity. And all through it, the crying refused to stop.
'Xander, I--' Willow began.
As though the sound of her shaky voice had woken him out of a bad dream, Xander finally looked up, his face blotchy and tearstained. 'Willow?' he hiccupped.
'Xander, I--' she said again, but faltered when Xander's eyes widened alarmingly and he suddenly grabbed himself between the legs. All of the colour drained from his face. It also became apparent that throwing up was a distinct possibility as he realised for the first time that this shiny new girl package came with all the optional extras. Or rather, a distinct lack of them. 'Oh. My. God.'
'Xander, I--' Willow tried again, but Xander only held up a hand for her to stop.
'Oh. My. God,' he reiterated.
'I'm sorry!' she blurted out. 'I didn't mean for you to--'
Xander didn't want to hear it. 'I don't like this. My body feels funny. I'm dizzy, and I think I might be sick, and-and-and I have boobs!' he wailed.
'Xander, luv--' said Spike, with the intention of trying to calm Xander down.
Xander apparently didn't want to be calm. 'Change me back!'
'I-I don't know how,' Willow admitted.
'Why not?' asked Xander in dismay.
'Well... there's a lot more to it than I took the time to... I mean... I read the parts relevant to what I wanted.' She shook her head, looking lost. 'I-I didn't have much time.'
'Didn't you read the spell all the way through before you cast it?' Xander asked in horror.
Willow smiled nervously. 'I read part of it all the way through.'
'Great. Just great.'
Looking justifiably wary in the face of Xander's wrath, Willow reached for her spell-book and hastily skimmed through a few dozen pages until she found the relevant spell. The small room became very quiet as she read. Her eyes darting back and forth over the words, Willow's expression changed from one of worry to one of supreme irritation.
'Damn,' she said, looking up from her spell book with a scowl. 'That spell only works once a month. Now I can't turn RJ into a woman.'
Xander's eyes widened. 'Aw gee Wills, thanks for the support here and I know you're under a love spell an' all, so that's too bad for you, but hey, here's a thought: WHAT ABOUT ME?!!' Xander suddenly froze, his not insubstantial anger draining away in a cold rush as he replayed Willow's last comment in his head. 'Waitasecond. Did you just say... once a month? Once a month?'
Willow nodded nervously.
'That's one time in each month?'
Willow continued to nod.
A stream of hysterical laughter bubbled up from Xander's throat. 'Tell me you're kidding. Tell me there's a counterspell.'
Without moving, Willow managed to make herself look very small indeed. 'There's a counterspell,' she whispered.
'Oh.' Xander's relief was palpable. 'Oh, thank God. Well that's okay then. Let's get right on that, shall we?'
Willow shrank in on herself a little more. 'There's a counterspell, and it's pretty simple to perform. I'll be able to do it for you no problem -- in a month.'
Xander's eyes hardened to cold stones. 'In a month?'
Willow gave him a tiny, helpless shrug. 'Yeah, in a month. I'm sorry, Xander. It's all to do with cycles and the natural order of things. Uh, womanly things.'
Xander was furious. 'Are you trying to tell me that this is the natural order of things?! And don't even try and start talking to me about cycles!' Clinging to his last shred of hope, Xander looked expectantly back and forth between his lover and his oldest friend. 'Tell me there's a counterspell.' There was complete silence in the room. 'Tell me!'
Spike's lower lip stuck out the tiniest amount. 'No need to get snippy.'
Spike's gaze shifted nervously, too late realising the magnitude of his mistake.
'I'm so terribly sorry you don't like my sudden mood swing, Spike, but I can't really help it as I suddenly seem to find myself being a girl!'
'Surely it isn't as bad as all that,' said Willow, feeling oddly that she shouldn't let Spike take the brunt of Xander's anger. Besides, the sooner this argument was over, the sooner she could get to RJ. The poor boy must be going crazy without her. 'We've faced much worse over the years. What with hyenas, soldiers--'
'My penis is gone, Willow!' Xander yelled, effectively cutting her off. 'My penis. Gone! I don't think I need to tell you how attached I am to my penis.'
'Well,' Willow considered, 'you're not attached to it any more.'
Spike looked at her in surprise, a little humoured, a little in agreement, and yet a little worried about the actual, physical loss of Xander's penis. If it was lost, where had it gone and would they be able to find it again? He happened to quite like Xander's penis, although now probably wasn't the time to bring that up in general conversation.
Opening his mouth to let fly with a stream of colourful swearing, Xander paused when he noticed Willow sidling towards the door.
'This is fixable, Xander, really it is. And you know we'll find a way to help you.' She tried to shake some of the remorse from her features, knowing that at this precise moment they had more pressing matters to attend to. Such as finding RJ. Finding RJ before Buffy or Tara did, because that would give them a head's start. And that just wasn't fair, because surely they could tell that her love for RJ was eternal? And that he felt the same way for her? Couldn't they?
Well, couldn't they?
Willow decided that she had to hurry.
'I'll help you, Xander. I promise. This is all completely reversible. We just have to-to sort out this current business first. Shouldn't take too long at all.'
Trying not to look too exhilarated at the prospect of seeing RJ again, Willow slipped out the door, leaving Spike alone with a distraught, female Xander on his hands. Xander leapt to his feet as Willow left the room with the intention of chasing after her and not letting her out of his sight until she had put this right. Silently, Spike reached out and drew Xander towards him, pulling the strange/familiar girl gently down until "she" sat upon Spike's denim clad knee. Xander went willingly, tucking his head under Spike's chin and curling up as best as he could.
'I can't deal with this!' whispered Xander into the soft cotton of Spike's T-shirt. 'I just can't! Right when I thought things were finally going good for me... I just can't... I can't go and do the slay thing now either. My shoes are too big and my pants are too long, and... and... and...' Xander dissolved into a flood of miserable, hiccupy sobs, flapping his hands back and forth, lost under his suddenly too-long sleeves. 'And-and-and they didn't even stay with meeeeeee. They just went off to find that... that...' he struggled to get his words out through a series of gasping sobs, '...guuuuy.'
'Xander. Xander, calm down, luv, please. This isn't the end of the world. This isn't even the day before the end of the world. This is only a minor setback.' With a modicum of surprise, Spike realised that Xander was really, truly upset about what had happened to him, and suddenly the whole thing wasn't quite so much fun anymore. 'You know we'll get through this,' Spike continued. 'Willow was right... partially.'
'Uh huh. We've faced much worse odds. At worst... at the very worst, this will be a major inconvenience for a month.'
'And at best?' asked Xander hopefully.
'At best? At best we'll find a way out for you much sooner than that. And I'll be here for you.'
'Sure. My boyfriend just grew boobs. I'm not going anywhere.' Seeing the hurt in Xander's eyes, Spike shook his head kindly to show that he was only teasing. This probably wasn't the best time for teasing, as easy a target as Xander happened to be right now. Spike decided to try a different tack. He would try being supportive. Hell, there was a first time for everything. 'Xander... pet... be like a duck.'
'A duck?' Xander sniffed unhappily.
'A duck.' Spike nodded seriously. 'Calm on the surface, but paddling like the dickens underneath. We go find this guy, rip him to shreds, then the girls'll be back to themselves in no time and we can get you fixed. No harm, no foul. Whadda ya say?'
Xander blinked rapidly. 'You really think we can fix this?'
''Course we can, now stop acting like a silly bint, dry your eyes and let's go sort this out,' Spike said, not unkindly.
From under long eyelashes, clinging together with wet tears, Xander stared gratefully up at Spike, not missing the way Spike's arms tightened protectively around him. Or the way that Spike started to breathe as they continued to stare at one another. Their eyes closed as the distance between them disappeared. Spike smiled softly into their kiss as the familiar light brush of stubble had been replaced by soft skin, the wicked mouth and tongue seeming somehow smaller and more delicate under his own.
At the same moment they shared almost exactly the same thought.
Soft/Hard. Ohh, this feels different. I think I like...
They drew back to smile at one another just as Buffy burst into the room, her eyes wide and excited. Xander leapt to his feet, pure terror racing along intricate pathways through his new body.
Buffy quickly took stock of the situation. 'Eww, you guys! Gross! Spike, stop macking on Xander. He's not a girl, he's... he's Xander!'
Frozen to the spot, Xander waited for the further stern lectures and possible violence directed towards the more undead occupants of the room, but instead Buffy just opened the top drawer in Giles' bedside cabinet, extracted a key and without another word, disappeared out of the door again.
As soon as they were left alone again, Spike pulled Xander against him, relishing the softer feel of the new body in his arms, fully aware of the added benefits of now being the taller one. Xander almost disappeared within the folds of Spike's duster, and Spike didn't mind at all.
They stood there, holding one another in silence, until a thought occurred to Spike. 'Xander?'
'What was that the key to?'
'Key? Oh, I think that's the key to the box in the basement.'
'The big box?'
'Yeah. The metal one in the corner.'
'Oh. What's in it?'
'You remember the Judge?'
Spike narrowed his eyes and had the good grace to look a little guilty. 'I might just have a vague inkling, yeah.'
'Remember the rocket launcher we used to blow him up?'
They drew back to stare at one other until the thought struck them at precisely the same moment.
'Oh shit!' they cried in unison, and ran out of the room after Buffy.
'Hello?' Xander had picked up the ringing phone without thinking. At the sound of his new and improved girly voice, he immediately cleared his throat and started again in a much deeper tone. 'Hello, uh, Xander Harris' phone.'
'Hi... Giles? Is that you? Oh, thank God! Things are getting pretty hairy around here.' He blew his even longer than usual fringe out of his eyes. 'Have you found Buffy and Tara yet?'
'Well, yes, I, ah, I have Tara in the car with me now. Buffy, I'm afraid, has been a little more elusive.'
'Gotcha. You might want to get on that. We've had a Slayer sighting, but due to another in a long, long line of excellent, excellent spells from our resident Wicca, we got a little side-tracked. You should be on the lookout for a short, blonde woman with a large rocket launcher on her shoulder.'
'Good Lord! A rocket launcher? What in God's name is the girl up to?'
'Something about killing Professor Walsh to make RJ love her the most.'
'Killing Professor Walsh? That's... that's...' A wistful smile lit Giles' face until he suddenly caught himself and quickly pasted on a look of appalled guilt. 'Oh dear, I'll go to her house immediately, see if I can't head Buffy off at the pass, as it were.'
'Good plan, Giles. We're headed there now. If she'll listen to anyone, she'll listen to you. Just don't go all Watchery on her or else she'll never do what you tell her.'
'Right. Yes. Of course,' said Giles, nodding. 'Um, there was just one more thing...'
'To whom exactly am I talking?'
Xander took a deep breath and let it out as a deep, weary sigh, letting his entire body droop. 'I'll explain later. Just go find Buffy before she does something to Professor Walsh that they'll both regret in the morning.'
Confused, but realising that time was, as usual, of the essence, Giles nodded and hung up. In the back seat of his car, Tara was still complaining loudly and bitterly, her usual stutter noticeable only in its absence, as she protested verbosely about not being allowed to go and find RJ when Willow's spell was about to take effect. Couldn't Giles see that RJ would be confused and would obviously need someone there to see him through the transition period?
And more importantly, couldn't he see that person should be her?
'Oh, pipe down!' Giles snapped, finally having reached the end of his tether with this particular spell. Reaching into the glove box, he retrieved a notepad and pencil, which he then tossed into the back seat. 'Why don't you write down how you feel about him,' he suggested through gritted teeth. 'Write him a nice letter. Or a poem perhaps?'
When Tara seemed to take to the idea and rapidly began scribbling on the notepad, silence floated through the car like a cool mist. Sighing his relief, Giles glanced in his rearview mirror at the silent figure of Dawn, staring out the window on the other side of the back seat, silent, unshed tears burning in her eyes. Sighing again, he restarted the car and indicated right, heading towards Maggie Walsh's home.
Visible through the window to her office, Maggie Walsh sat quietly. In the background some light jazz played as she bent over the latest status reports on the top secret "Project 314". The project excited her as much as it terrified her, but she knew she was on the right track. She knew the end was in sight. Soon, oh so very soon, her dream, her vision would be realised. Soon the culmination of all her years of hard work would pay off. A cool smile on her face, she bent a little closer to the reports, her eyes moving quickly over the lines of text and complex formulae.
Behind her, discernible through the open window, the dim figure of Buffy Summers walked into view. The Slayer paused a distance away and then raised the bazooka to her shoulder and took aim directly at Professor Walsh. In a few seconds Maggie Walsh would be nothing more than a distant memory, and RJ would realise his total and undying love for Buffy.
How could he not when she was prepared to do something like this for him?
A cold smile slithered its way across Buffy's face as her finger tightened on the trigger.
A muffled "Erraaaaaarrr!" made her pause a mere split second before she fired. From out of nowhere, Spike dove through the air in a very rough approximation of a rugby tackle. He slammed into her side, effectively knocking them both to the ground. Spike clutched at his head in agony even as Buffy flipped nimbly back to her feet, the very picture of outrage. Before she could begin to exact her revenge, Xander darted in between them and grabbed the bazooka from where it lay on the lawn.
'Xander!' she hissed. 'Give me that!'
'Uh uh.' Xander shook his head, a mane of shiny black hair rippling over his delicate shoulders. 'No way, Buffy. You've lost it.'
'The only thing I've lost is my rocket launcher! Now give!' She lunged for the weapon, Xander only just managing to pull it back out of her grasp.
'Buffy!' He glanced towards the open window, sure at any minute that Maggie Walsh would look up and have some very pertinent questions about why the three of them were standing on her lawn in the middle of the night with an illegal and very loaded rocket launcher. 'I am not letting you blow up one of your professors!'
'Oh, yeah?' A dangerous gleam lit Buffy's eyes. 'An' just how are you gonna stop me?'
Xander took a step back in alarm. 'Buffy?' he squeaked. 'Old buddy, old pal o' mine? How about you stop with the scary talk now?'
'Sure.' Buffy smiled evilly and took a step towards him, holding out her hand. 'Just give me back my bazooka and we can pretend like this never even happened.'
Xander swallowed heavily and glanced at Spike over her shoulder. 'Man, I really hate magic. Have I mentioned that already today?'
Feinting left, then darting right, Xander used all his diminished strength to heave the bazooka through the air towards Spike, who caught it deftly as though it didn't weigh a thing. Not missing a beat, Spike then took off at top speed across the small garden and towards the street, where Giles was just pulling up in his car. Spike quickly put the car between himself and the irate Slayer, putting the age-old practice of cat and mouse to good use.
Giles got out of the car, quickly locking Tara and Dawn inside when they both immediately tried to escape. 'Just what the bloody hell is going on here?' he demanded as he was nearly decapitated by a fast moving bazooka.
'She's your sodding Slayer!' Spike snarled just as Buffy dashed past Giles in hot pursuit. 'You try talking some sense into her!'
Giles watched Buffy chase Spike around the car at inhuman speeds a while longer. After the third or fourth circuit, he bravely stepped out just as Spike ran past him once again. 'Buffy Anne Summers!' he bellowed. 'Stop right where you are this instant!'
Screeching to a halt, Buffy was caught like a deer in the headlights. 'Hi, Giles,' she said meekly. 'What are you doing here?'
'Me? Oh, nothing much. Just trying to stop my Slayer from committing cold-blooded murder because she's under a love spell that any barely literate five year-old should be able to see through!'
Buffy bit on the insides of her cheeks and hung her head, glancing irritably up at Spike and her precious bazooka but unable to meet Giles' disapproving eye.
'Is it safe, then?' Spike called from the other side of the car.
'Yes,' answered Giles without taking his eyes off Buffy. 'Here,' he said, tossing his keys to Spike. 'Put it in the boot, and do try not to scratch the paint-work.'
Rolling his eyes, Spike caught the keys and walked to the rear of the car, wondering how he'd ended up as everyone's monkey boy yet again. Oh yeah, the hot sex and mutual togetherness he was currently enjoying with Xander.
Damn it, there was always something.
Slamming the trunk shut, he rounded the car in time to see Willow (who had grudgingly agreed to accompany them when they had promised, quite untruthfully, to take her straight to RJ once she had done them one, teeny tiny, little magical favour) seat herself cross-legged on the ground, a map of Sunnydale spread out before her.
Spike let his gaze wander, coming to rest on the object of his affections. Xander was standing at a sulking Buffy's shoulder, also watching Willow. Spike frowned as Xander pulled awkwardly at the clothes that no longer fit, looking very much as though he would like to either resume crying or simply fold in on himself... herself... himself. Spike clenched his teeth as the urge to cosset and to reassure tugged at him. So, instead of marching over to Xander and wrapping the strange new body (which Spike had become oddly accustomed to within the short period of time that Xander had inhabited it) up in his arms, he instead fished a cigarette from his pocket and lit it, waiting to see how much worse the Scoobies could make this situation before the night was over.
'Now what?' asked Buffy, her body language screaming her impatience to be done with this.
'Locator Spell, human variety,' replied Willow without looking up.
'Who are we looking for?' Buffy asked as Willow sprinkled powder over the map.
'RJ,' said Willow, an indulgent grin breaking through her expression of intense concentration. She was practically bouncing with excitement and secretly wondering if she could skew the results of her spell so that only she would know where RJ actually was. 'We're looking for RJ.'
'Oh,' said Buffy with a glint in her eye, while waving her hand like she didn't much care one way or another. 'Go ahead then.'
Spike saw the shaky little breath that Xander took as Giles laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. A little of Spike's unease melted away. After all, he wasn't entirely sure about how to go about comforting Xander himself. The only people he'd given a damn about helping in the past were his mother, who required endless cups of milky tea and being sung to on occasion before a roaring fire -- before the whole turning nightmare -- and Drusilla, whose idea of comfort was not within normal human safety zones, Spike very much suspected.
A tiny glimmer of light hovered above the map, but before it could settle, showing them the precise location of RJ, Giles ordered both Buffy and Willow into the car, his tone offering no room for dissension. With glum faces, the two girls got into the car, Buffy taking the front seat, leaving Giles outside with an unusually quiet Spike and an even quieter Xander. Giles crouched down to the map, effectively blocking the view of the four eager faces pressed up against the windows of his car. The little ball of light made its decision and settled on the map, highlighting for them where the cause of all this trouble was currently situated.
'Right,' said Giles, folding up the map and dislodging a shower of magic sprinkles as he got back to his feet. 'Spike. Xander.' They drew up a little straighter, one out of a sense of duty and one out of a sense of solidarity. 'As my hands are more than full--' He gestured to the car where four noses were making smudges on his pristine windows '-- I need you to go to this RJ and take his blasted jacket from him by whatever means necessary. If this goes on much longer the whole town may be overrun by lovesick females.' If Giles noticed Xander's flinch at the use of the "f" word, he didn't show it. 'Now,' Giles continued, in a slightly softer tone, 'current situations being as...' he glanced at Xander, 'current as they are, you may run into some unforeseen obstacles upon meeting RJ.'
Xander frowned, not understanding. Spike nudged him gently with his shoulder. 'He means 'cause you're a wolf in lady-sheep's clothing now. Might make you susceptible like. To that bloke's spell.'
Xander drew up sharply in horror, fresh tears pooling hotly in his eyes as he looked to Giles for confirmation.
'I'm afraid he's right, Xander,' said Giles. 'I have every faith in you to end this fiasco once and for all, but if you don't think that you are able, then--'
'I'm able,' insisted Xander. 'I can do this.' He glanced at Spike. 'We can do this.'
'I hope so,' said Giles, looking with dismay at the myriad of finger-marks and smudges marring his windows as several captive girls made puppy dog eyes at him to be released from their RJ-less prison. 'I sincerely hope so.'
He got into his car and drove away, leaving Xander and Spike standing at the kerb. Xander chewed on his lip, watching Giles' tail-lights wink out as the car rounded a corner and vanished. He remembered the muffled sound of the girls arguing inside the car, and Giles' look of weary acceptance upon departure. He turned to Spike.
'I have an idea.'
'Yeah?' Spike sounded slightly less bored than usual. Xander put this down to stress. 'Is this idea half-assed at all?'
'Absolutely. And it's crazy, but it might just work.'
Spike nodded glumly and followed Xander off the lawn as they headed towards the centre of town.
In her office, Maggie Walsh turned to the window, positive that she had heard voices in her garden. There was nothing. Only another deceptively quiet Sunnydale evening. Smiling at her overactive imagination, she shook her head and turned back to her reports.
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