"You." Buffy made the word very distinct. "*You* have a son." This follow-up fell somewhere between question and accusation, expressing a doubt so profound that in another age she might have been burned at the stake as a heretic.
Giles looked up from the demonology doorstop he held (one visible page illustrating a demon with small screaming peasants in its talons) and peered through his glasses at her. "I *can* procreate. It's not forbidden."
"It should be!" she said, looking distraught. "Can't you just recruit new watchers? Do you have to--to *spawn*?" A frantic hand gesture punctuated her panic.
Looking more confused than offended, Giles folded up his book. "Buffy, I didn't set out to populate the next generation of watchers. Frankly I don't even know that he'll want to follow in my footsteps. Will is headstrong."
"Oh no," Willow broke in. "That's my name. There'll be confusion and wacky sitcom misunderstandings, possibly ending in nonsitcomic tragedy." It was hard to tell if she was kidding.
"Maybe we can call him 'Willy'," Xander suggested.
Giles gave him a look of sufferance. "I think you'll find he objects to that."
"Ah, but he's not in England anymore. This is our turf. In Sunnydale, he must submit to our seniority."
"And taunting," Willow added.
"Will is...not exactly the submissive type." There was caution now in Giles's voice, and maybe bitterness.
"So, what," Willow said, "he's not all librarian-y?"
Xander settled one hip on the reading table. "So what you're saying then is, no chip off the old block. What about the acorn-tree distance? One foot? A yard? Or are we talking mileage?"
Their heads swiveled toward the entrance doors, one of which was swinging to a close behind--whoa. Xander half slid off the table into a standing position, like a soldier whose C.O. has entered the room. He was trying not to gape. He was gaping. The guy was gapable. And "guy" was just one short vowel away from a dream date, but he shouldn't let his thoughts swerve there--with only ten percent of the population to work from, what were the odds? Besides, he wasn't gay himself. Just curious. At most, going through a phase. At the moment, a vividly fantasy-fueled phase with a chicka-boom soundtrack.
Blond, thought Xander. Blond, buff, and badass. And very very pretty. He could have been a movie star slumming it to research a role, and his expression said he knew it. He looked around like a disdainful cat sniffing out a new and dubious alley; picked up a book from the check-out counter and glanced at its cover, then tossed it down with a careless thud.
"So this is the exciting new billet you crossed an ocean for. Swank." The last word was loaded with sarcasm and fired off, a precision shot. Giles flinched, drawing himself up a notch.
"I told you my reasons for coming here."
"You know me. Chock full of filial understanding. Change of scenery, wasn't it. I can tell it's been real life-altering." He skimmed his gaze down Giles's tie and tweed with an air of contemptuous familiarity. Xander could see Buffy getting miffed on her watcher's behalf; she looked to be gearing up for a major rip. Meanwhile Will moved on to scanning the room, taking them all in. "Hanging out with the teenies," he said to Giles. "Becoming quite the guru. You'll have your own cult next."
"Hey," Willow said, taking umbrage before Buffy could. "There's nothing wrong with an older man taking an--an interest in educating the young. It's not like there's some twisted orgy going on, with demon rituals and goats." She looked suddenly nervous. "I mean, not that you were thinking that. Because demons, ha, everyone knows they don't exist."
Will tipped his head down, gaze boring into her until she squirmed. "Well, well. Isn't that interesting." He glanced sidelong at Giles. "You proselytizing among the natives now? Not exactly discreet, is it?"
"You--you know," Willow stammered with surprise.
Will arched his brows. "I was weaned on demons, petal."
"And apparently by them," Xander put in. He had to at least pretend to animosity. He had a reputation to maintain.
Giles took a breath. "Will, this is Xander. Willow," a gesture toward the table, "and--"
"Oh, no need for intros. Surly expression, short skirt. This has to be the slayer of the month. Buffy, right?" He tipped his head and gave her half a smile. The lesser half.
She folded her arms. "And you're Giles Junior," she said with false brightness. Her eyes flicked down him dismissively. "Very junior, apparently."
"Ouch." Will's voice was dry, but he didn't seem interested in sparring. His gaze moved back to Xander. "What are you, then? Knight to her majesty here?"
Xander tried not to flounder. "Um, sort of. Mostly I just hang around and gather dust. I mean, facts. I'm a fact-gatherer. And Guy Friday." Those blue eyes were intense. The British made good lasers.
"So you're going to go to school here? With us?" Willow sounded unthrilled, and her question was largely a rhetorical confirmation of what Giles had already told them. "You seem...kinda old."
"Traveling the world with a rucksack doesn't give you much of a formal education," Giles broke in, tone acidic. He moved behind the library counter, as if taking refuge in a professional prop.
"Don't need maths to fight demons," Will flashed back, a bite to his words. "You ought to know better than anyone."
"What classes are you taking?" Xander asked, edging forward with hands in pockets, working at sounding casual.
Will fished a crumpled paper from the pocket of his jeans. "Bunch of wankery." He handed it over, somehow managing to slouch with indifference as he did.
Xander read, "Algebra with Curry, English with Dolan--we're in that class. French with Murphy."
"Oh, you'll like her," Willow said, scholarly camaraderie raising a sudden eager smile. "She's fun. And she brings cookies. You'd call them biscuits."
Will rolled his eyes, and Xander hardened his heart against its new British throb and handed the schedule back. "You know, if you want someone to show you the ropes...there are some goths who hang out by the back steps. Cigarettes, attitude, cynical ennui. Should be just your thing."
He didn't know what to think when Will smiled at him. Then the bell rang and it was time for class, where thinking, thank god, wasn't required.
"But he never even told us. It's as if, like, poof, I suddenly had a sister," Buffy said as they walked. "I don't get it."
Willow shrugged lightly, books clasped to her chest. "The British aren't like us. They're a private people." She looked over to her other side. "What do you think of him, Xander?"
"No one's that blond and sleek. It's not natural."
"Overuse of product," Buffy said, as if this were an important factor in an equation. "Strike two."
"What's strike one?" Willow asked.
"Maybe he's, you know--" Willow freed one arm to waggle her hand side to side. "Did anyone else think he was making eyes at Xander?" Her own eyes spoke mischief.
"What? Eyes? No!" Xander panicked as the conversation took a turn into the forbidden zone. "That's crazy talk. There were no eyes."
Now Buffy was all smiles, her voice taking on a teasing note. "I don't know, Xander. Usually if a guy's on the straight and narrow, he'll look at my legs at least once. I'm not being conceited," she added hastily, stealing a look at Willow.
"It's okay." Willow quirked her lips. "You're leggy. We understand."
"Can we get back to how I'm very not gay?" Xander asked.
The girls paused just before the front steps and exchanged a glance. "We weren't talking about *you*." Willow playfully punched his shoulder. "We know you're all about the boobies."
"Yes," Xander said in relief. "Breasts. Legs. Female legs. And all the accessories."
He made his goodbyes, heading home while the girls strolled café-ward. For once he was glad to be out of their company; he had a desperate need to jerk off. Plus, who knew where else the conversation would have gone. It was already difficult enough keeping his other thoughts in their mental closet when they wanted to frolic; now with Will around he'd have to work doubletime to keep up appearances.
He knew in this day and age he shouldn't be ashamed. There was even a school club, Out and Proud. Unfortunately being Out and Proud meant getting your head dunked in a toilet by jocks and finding sick graffiti on your locker. He could tell the girls--he knew they'd keep his secret--but what if they started acting funny around him? He'd made that mistake once before. When he was four, he'd decided he was gay and told his dad he was going to marry Jesse when they grew up. He couldn't even remember where he'd picked up that idea, but his dad had freaked. It had been months before the flack eased off, and Xander had never lost his instinctive dread when the subject came up.
Xander spent the rest of the afternoon lying on his bed, stereo blaring to muffle the frantic sounds of skin on skin even though his parents weren't home. In the land of his daydreams, Will had a tattoo and rode a motorcycle, and gave Xander a ride. The fantasy accelerated to a zoom, and he was off.
"He has a hog!" Willow cried the next day as soon as she saw him.
Xander shook loose the first image that sprang to mind. "Come again?"
"Will. He has a motorcycle. It's shiny and loud."
Why was she that excited, Xander wondered, even while his own heart rate was spiking. Fantasy and reality crashed together like matching cymbals. Will. On a big shiny throbbing bike. He was so doomed.
They moved toward the entrance, Willow still sharing the gossip. "He roared right up onto the grass. Cordelia set a new record for sprints in heels." She compressed her lips in a snippy line, the closest she ever got to a sneer.
"Did he give her a ride?"
"I don't think so. Last I saw she was hanging all over the seat like a big skeeve. I think she was stroking it." Willow shuddered, setting the dozens of pink pom-poms on her sweater swinging.
It wasn't until English period that Xander set eyes on Will. The guy sloped in wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, faded jeans, and a leather choker. Every girl in the class went on quivering alert, like cats spotting a tasty bird. Whispers sprang up in little knots around the room. Will paused, surveying the lay of the land. He had an aristocratic cool that Giles didn't have. A jaded arrogance. An aloof savoir faire.
His eyes lit on Xander, who tugged at his collar nervously, feeling all too warm, and warmer as Will headed his way. Willow sat in front of him, Buffy behind, but an open desk was to Xander's left. Will took it, looking sidelong at Xander as he slid into the seat.
Though not quite a greeting, it left Xander flustered. "Right. Me Xander. You Will." He gathered himself, remembering to breathe. "I don't always talk like Tarzan. But English: not my best subject. Which is probably why I'm getting a C."
Will took in Xander's babble with equanimity, then said, "Call me Spike."
"Spike?" Buffy said, mockery sharpening her voice into a needle. "What is that, a gang name?"
"Yeah," Will--Spike--said dryly. "I'm the top cat in town."
At that moment Cordelia swanned in accompanied by her loyal flock and zeroed in on Spike. Abandoning her friends she elbowed her way past a meek yearbook editor and came up to their cluster of desks.
"Move," she said to the girl sitting in front of Spike. The girl scrambled away, and Cordelia's dictatorial glare melted into a toothpaste-ad smile. "Hello!" It was clear that no one but Spike was included in her greeting. "Isn't this a coincidence? You're here and now I'm here."
"Not all here," Willow muttered.
Cordelia managed to sit nearly backwards in the desk, keeping Spike pinned with her scarily direct gaze. "And not that I'm not glad but how crazy is it that they make you take English? I mean, you *are* English. You could probably *teach* the class."
"Yeahhh," Spike drawled, as if humoring a crazy person. Which, come to think, he was.
"Cordelia," Buffy said, cocking her head. "When you move your lips, all these little wrinkles appear around your mouth."
"Oh god," Cordelia said, immediately swiveling away and diving for her mirror.
Spike turned an approving eye on Buffy, and Xander felt a burn of envy, misplaced and backwards. Right now he should be nursing his Buffy crush and not wishing that some guy would look at him again.
It was only at the end of the class that it Xander looked down and realized he was wearing his flowered Hawaiian shirt that day, a shirt that cheerfully proclaimed, "I am not at all suave! Please pull my finger!" Way to make a second impression.
But who was he kidding. He probably hadn't even made a first.