The night had not been an easy one, despite Robbie’s jovial company.
Daniel collapsed after the Email, the effort of ‘entertaining’, on top of his energy drain and now the grief of failing so many. He was just too tired, but the last thing he wanted was to disturb the distressed Jon and Eddie family slumbering again in his bed. He nodded to Spike and Xander, curled into a fetal position on the couch and drew in on himself to begin to restore his life source. Xander threw the rather tattered comforters over their exhausted carer then took off his own sweater and threw that over him as well. Spike located a couple of clean bath towels and added them on top for good measure. They waited until sure the lovely witch was asleep before they too sought rest and retreated to the shelter.
Without the rest of their ‘family’, the silence in the shelter was strange. After months of the snuffling, squeaking or suckling noises from the children… and occasionally the quiet joy of the two other adults coupling, it was quiet. Too quiet.
“Yeah…” Xander rolled over to feel for his vampire then dragged him into a hug. Without the children present they had forgone the low night lamp and the shelter was utterly black. Xander knew even Spike would have little ability to see.
“Can we just…? “
“Oh Gahh! Spike c’mon in the morning… can we? … You know just so tired.”
“Was gonna say kiss, you horny bugger…” Spike’s tone was affectionate though the final plea was the real sentiment, “Please? Can I have…? I just need to know you’re here Xan… things are… ahh bugger come here!” He took his friend’s lips with his own, and began to stroke the beloved form with a soft hand.
They broke contact for a minute.
“It’s gonna be bad isn’t it.”
“Yeah Luv, reckon it just might be. But for now can we…”
“Hmmm… love you”
“Love you too Pet… always… no one can take that.”
The two intertwined legs and arms, touching as much flesh as they could, and fell asleep.
It was almost eleven the next morning before Xander pulled himself from slumber and rose to discover Daniel chatting jovially to Kathleen as he loaded her pickup with the cabbages, eggs and buttermilk ready for market.
“Now I know you met Robbie last night. Ain’t he just the nicest boy… my Davina has taken quite a shine to him… though… you know paramedics… they don’t make a lot… Oh no offence meant now ‘cause you nurses… Anyways that’s your business right…?”
Daniel simply smiled and let the neighbor believe what she would of his role in life.
“Bet you and Rob have a lot in common…”
The tall blonde hefted the last box of cabbages onto the truck then turned to her. “Indeed madam we do…” but gave her no further clues.
Xander rescued their carer from Kathleen’s interrogation. Dressed in overalls covered in sawdust, he walked around the pickup and invited Kathleen to view his latest works. The low cedar table had been finished, and there was a bookshelf well on the way. Kathleen was delighted.
“Oh, I almost forgot… I put together all last month’s takings and here…” She handed Xander a large envelope stuffed full of money. “Now it’s all cash mind… but there’s close on twenty five hundred dollars there… It’s mostly from those chairs and the gorgeous table you did for Edna and the three pieces that city fella from Atlanta took, but the farm has picked up some since you boys were here…” Xander took the envelope and in a rather overawed tone, thanked their neighbor. He hadn’t really a clue how much his work was selling for. Samuel usually dealt with the money.
“Figure with hospital expenses it still won’t go far mind… Now, I just must ask again… You sure you won’t come on a bit of an outing to meet some of the ladies sometime… Edna has been dying to meet you and I know that her table…” Kathleen stopped. The look of unequivocal terror on the lovely carpenter’s face was unmistakable, she switched to mothering mode immediately, “Well anyways, Edna can wait… I adore the bookshelf… You are such a talented young man! Just have to hope more of them city folks come through!” She patted his arm, gave a rather indulging smile, and took her leave.
As the pickup bumped down the driveway (said unmade road desperately in need of some pothole attention), Xander pushed the packet of cash into Daniel’s hand. “Money from the last few weeks of market, ‘s why we need her.”
Daniel simply nodded and wandered inside feeling rather inadequate. In all the fuss and confusion of ‘handover’, he simply had not asked about banking or the like, though Samuel had pointed out a large ceramic jar in on the shelf above the stove that was apparently for ‘petty cash’. Daniel tore open the envelope and was rather surprised by the amount inside, but was even more shocked when he attempted to put the notes into the designated jar. He had expected coins and a few dollars but there was very little space. Xander’s eyes went wide as a frustrated Daniel took the jar from its resting place and tipped the contents onto the kitchen table. After Daniel counted they both sat back in amazement. There was just over ten thousand dollars in cash.
“But Sam sent money to the bank… every week…”
“Apparently not all the money earned...”
“But this is…??” Xander suddenly realized how little he knew of the farm’s finances… and how much he had truly come to rely on others for his wellbeing. Formerly utterly independent, the institutionalization, the helplessness learned… had persisted despite his improved circumstances. He had worked to contribute, but in truth had still been utterly reliant. “I didn’t know… Oh god I didn’t even…?!”
“The note in the bottom says this is your contribution… “For Family Extras - Funds From Furniture”… Xander… this is brilliant! If we have to… oh … hey… Xander?”
Xander was overwhelmed and immensely embarrassed all at once. How could they survive if he was unable to keep track of such a simple thing as money?! It was just too much and even more frustrating his emotions seem again to be spinning out of control. He would have put it down to the last few days but was too upset to figure it out so slumped into a kitchen chair and stared at his earnings. The money was now in neat piles on the table as a reminder of how far he had slipped, how far he still had to go for recovery. His arms were folded in front of the cash and despite Daniel’s presence, he placed his forehead down on hairless slim arms and allowed some silent tears of shame and frustration to fall.
Daniel watched and frowned, suddenly even more alarmed as a slightly smoking Spike (courtesy of the midday sun and a rather thin blanket) flew through the back door and direct to his lover’s side, “I um…. Xan? Luv?? Oh … what’s wrong??”
Daniel simply moved out of the way, yet again confused by the nature of the link and what exactly had upset the lovely brunette. Spike took his friend onto his lap, opened his wrist and bit carefully into Xander’s. They exchanged blood and thoughts and love. Daniel watched feeling rather like a third wheel as the two calmed. He also realized he had just a twinge of jealousy for the extraordinary partnership as he missed his lovely Mikaela’s warm hugs and soft curves.
Spike eventually looked up and focused on the stacks of cash, “Bloody hell!! You two rob a bank after nap-time last night?”
Xander roused a little and mumbled… “It’s the money from the woodwork… Sam kept it…”
Daniel was keen to avoid exacerbating Xander’s upset, so changed the subject to other urgent matters. “I realize that we chatted about an examination you know … for your um…. changes… but I really think it’s important… Xander? Now that we’ve done what we can with the coven, there’s bound to be some repercussions – even if they are good ones. We’d best know that everyone is fit for the long haul and ….well do whatever we need to.”
The brunette looked up and nodded resignedly, “Yeah maybe it needs… *so over* the girly crying… ummm but can you… you know if it’s something bad… can you… you know just maybe tell Spike and me… Jon and his own don’t need..”
Daniel patted the human on the arm. “Yours to tell unless you want me to… Hippocratic Oath and all that.”
“Should we ummm check in with Willow first?”
“I checked in just before your neighbor turned up. Sam survived the jolt but has yet to regain consciousness. Reports are still trickling in. Anyway, I can’t imagine much will change for an hour or two… we have time. So if we clear the table then perhaps you can…”
Condiments were removed and a bath towel quickly employed as a makeshift ‘examination table’ cover.
Daniel asked simple questions to begin. Frequency of shaving before and after ‘the change’; initial responses; appearance of ‘other features’ and their subsequent subsidence; the emotional changes; the number of treatments; effects of the sudden cessation of treatment when they escaped; and the months since the Initiative including some very frank questions regarding some teenage type acne and strange rashes when the treatment first began, and finally touched on Spike and Xander’s physical relationship.
The male witch then examined the human. Spike stood at the head of the table holding his lover’s hand and stroking the dark hair as the witch employed both medical and magical means to determine what had been done.
Daniel was still tired from the previous evening and sat heavily in the chair before discussing his findings.
“Now… I’m not one hundred percent sure but… umm… I think you already know… the change is permanent. There’s a number of… well…” He paused, waiting to see if Xander wished to proceed with the diagnosis. Xander indicated his desire to go on, so Daniel continued, “They’ve somehow altered your glandular system… and a number the centers producing hormones… Your testes seem to be …. Well they were tapped obviously, but now… Xander… there’s no logic! This isn’t about a simple implant… this is about DNA… Oh my dear chap… They’ve all but created um… you don’t have the complete set of… but it appears… oh lord!”
Daniel leant over and held his new friend’s free hand and that of Spike’s. “Xander, there is a false uterus positioned just above your small intestine, and blood vessels are ready to redirect nutrients, simply awaiting their role. With the other alterations you are a close approximation… The Initiative… well… they have engineered you to have the capacity to… reproduce…” Daniel saw the terror and confusion in the human’s face so continued quickly. “It’s fine … really… it will be fine. Just that, you might um, need… oh this is *so* … Xander it just seems that it’s well…likely you *could* carry a child…” Spike fell into game face and growled. Daniel quickly added, “…if you want to I mean... It would take some intervention genetically altered donor egg and perhaps even the same with the sperm, but it is possible ... to conceive and implant… They’ve changed you internally to accommodate that already but...
Anyway, you were worried about the emotional stuff too… Geez! I’m sorry… it is all so… It’s really hard to separate that from the torture issue generally. The hormones might be at fault… but the levels are fairly stable unless triggered by the body’s response should you ever carry… I just… thought you should know.”
Xander was already on the verge of tears when his dubious status was confirmed, but the mention of pregnancy was bordering on surreal, “So I’m… um… am I still male? ‘Cause I’ve still got… and I can… Why?!!! Why would they *do* that?!” Spike pulled his upset lover into his lap and hugged him tight.
Daniel dropped all pretence of being ‘pleased’ and simply answered, “No idea. Cruelty, experimentation, stupidity… who knows. But from the tests it seems that, sadly the changes are done and there to stay, unless, well there’s always the possibility of medical reversal… or maybe the coven can help reverse… if you want…?”
“So unless… [hic] then I’m like this forever?”
“It seems so.”
Spike was looking almost as distressed as his friend, “Is it dangerous? I mean he’s OK otherwise? C’mon witch… the whole story.”
“Apparently the DNA work they did shifted things permanently toward reassignment, the hormones injections I would guess were simply experiments to boost the effects and establish parameters. The scientists have left your ‘system’ pretty much in tact, but it’s all very experimental…” Both Spike and Xander nodded sadly and Spike began to slowly stroke the soft skin of the brunette’s forearm in an effort to calm them both.
“But I might be able to have kids?”
“Perhaps one day… with the right donor”
“Possibly. I guess. I can’t be sure without the coven’s advice. Certainly isn’t impossible if egg and sperm were genetically altered to contain the both of your DNA. But that really is a conversation for another day.”
The vampire’s breath hitched as he realized the hopeful look on his partner’s face. He had never considered… then heard the whispered words, “Oh God… Spike, if it was safe, then we could actually… Just imagine if you and I could…” The fear and confusion that had been flowing through the link swiftly shifted to love, laced with a tiny message of hope that something wonderful may yet come from their months of torture. In a world of death and despair hope was the key.
A few little squeaks from the lounge room alerted them that the children were up and about. The sounds caused Xander to squeeze his lover’s hand then stand and move to where a very pale Daniel sat slumped exhausted, elbows on the table, staring at his hands.
Xander cupped his cheek and lifted the handsome face, kissing the worried frown. “Thank you Daniel… for everything… just… for everything. I know it might only be a pipe dream but I’m OK with the rest and so’s Spike… thank you.” Hazel-green eyes met a chocolate brown one and the still raw, though healing wound from the implant extraction. Xander had removed the patch for his examination. Daniel was again reminded of just how far they still had to go before all could return to balance and safety. He frowned harder as he worried for the coven, and again thought of his extraordinary partner. The fact that Mikaela had not ‘checked in’ since he arrived bothered him, even though he *knew* the healers would have their hands utterly full right now.
“Morning, family.” Jonothon stood at the door, a toothless knowing smile firmly in place. Eddie’s slim blue arms were wrapped around his waist, though Eddie’s form was hidden behind his larger partner. Jon had a small person (ID unknown until she or he turned) attached to his right leg in an attempt to stand, and two more approaching at a speed crawl to join the fun. Spike knew the other vampire must have been awake and heard Xander’s prognosis. Paternity really did suit Jon, Spike returned the smile.
Daniel rallied as Xander scooped up the two little blue stragglers and sat them in the hand made wooden booster chairs (complete with old seatbelt safety harnesses). “Perhaps we should eat and sort out the farm before contacting Willow again.” Eddie brought the last little 'stander' in to join siblings for brunch.
Spike stood to assist with the food, Jon and Eddie took care of their brood and Xander reached over to turn on an ancient bakelite radio perched precariously on one of the shelves next to the jars of preserved fruit. As it crackled to life they all stilled.
“It’s time to batten down the hatches as a severe cold snap ravages the nation. From coast to coast temperatures have hit record lows. Uncharacteristic snow and sleet have been reported in regions that haven’t seen this kind of blast since sometime around January four years ago. Similar reports of aberrant patterns are beginning to come in from across the Atlantic where Europe is being lashed by storms. Global trend analysts from all related meteorological disciplines are unsure of the exact cause at this time, though many are currently cooperating to investigate this unforeseen ‘weather spike’ in global weather. We will be broadcasting a special live report from across America tomorrow at eight.
“Meanwhile a severe storm warning has been issued for all coastlines, and passengers traveling by air are advised that long delays are expected.
“Now to local weather. Well folks, it was a chilly night and may be a good time to stoke up those winter fires again as sub zero temperatures are predicted overnight. Heavy rain is expected throughout the state and a wind warning has been issued. We will bring you updates throughout the evening will keep residents informed. Over to you Ray.”
“Thank you Barry… and it’s been a chilling day too for your local sporting stars. Players and supporters were shocked, as the chief coach of the Tuscaloosa University Football Team announced the forced retirement of…..”
Xander switched it off. Daniel shook his head a little in disbelief and mumbled, “It must have been…”
Spike needed answers, “Oh Bloody hell. Food can wait, it’s no coincidence! Just get onto the blower and ask your mates at the coven, then we can all stop worryin’ or start doing more as needs may be.”
Eddie who had a spoonful of cold pureed apple half way to Jessie’s mouth whispered, “At least the humans might not be focused on us for a little while.”
After The Fall: 18