Skin Through The Trees




"Xander, I'm pregnant."

Being who he was, doing the things he did, hearing those words had never been completely outside the realm of possibility, even if his particular realm of possibility was bigger than, oh, say everyone's. Ever. Xander realized he'd been silent too long when Buffy's face started to crumple. He didn't know what to say, so he fell back on the one thing that had never failed him - the bear hug. He held Buffy's shaking form in his arms and rubbed his cheek on her silky hair and made those comforting little nonsense words that somehow just came to a boy one day at puberty, like a cracking voice and hair in new places.

He held her and wondered, what the fuck do I do now?

Eventually she quieted, and he was able to move them over to the sofa, so very, very glad that Anya was away for the weekend. And thank God that he lived with a woman, because otherwise there wouldn't have been tissues on the end table and he would have had nothing to offer but Bounty, and what kind of colossal clod makes his crying, pregnant friend wipe her eyes on the quicker picker-upper?

"What happened?" he asked, adding, "I mean, I know what happened," when she gave him a watered-down version of her scathing look. "I mean...Riley, right?"

"Of course Riley, Xan," she said.

He laid a hand on her knee and was struck by how huge it looked, lying against the delicate bones there. The color difference was shocking, too - her so pale and smooth, him sun-bronzed and lightly haired - night and day, strong and fragile.

"I know that he left," he said.

She took in a deep breath, and it came back out disjointed and shaky. "After what you said..."

think about what you're about to lose

Run.

"I ran, Xander. I ran as fast as I could and I was too late. I stood there and called his name and watched him fly away."

Xander patted her knee and did math in his head. "Buffy, that was weeks ago. When did you...can you find him?"

"I tried. There's no way to contact him." She sighed and lifted one of her hands to cover his. "Time's running out."

He did the math again, slowly. And, just as slowly, realization dawned.

"When?"

"Tomorrow at nine. Will you...will you go with me?"

He nodded. Speaking was impossible. Everything was.


make it a clean break

The waiting room was terribly generic. Or just terrible. Basic chairs, basic tables, basic magazines - all news and sports and fishing. No Parenting or American Baby - that would be too cruel, too in your face for a place that markets itself as a "women's clinic." The glass that separated the basic nurse from the basic waiting room was something more than basic - it was bulletproof. Sign of the times.

They'd signed Buffy in and Xander had paid up front with his credit card. I just charged my best friend's abortion on my Amex, he thought. Do I get double miles for that? Ten minutes to fill out forms and then ten more to sit quietly, holding hands, trying not to look at the other people. Failing.

The swinging door opened a crack and a plain-faced nurse in perky patterned scrubs - little monkeys with stethoscopes - called three names. Buffy and an older lady got up quickly and followed without looking back. A tiny Asian girl with hair a silk curtain to her waist hesitated, clutched the hand of the boy with her. One darting glance at the door to the outside world and she was in line, in place, walking behind Buffy with her head tipped forward, face hidden behind her hair.

The boy saw Xander watching. "Third time," he said quietly.

"Huh?"

"Third time we've been here."

"Oh," Xander replied. "Oh." All the while his brain was screaming. The girl looked about eighteen and that was pushing it. Jesus fucking Christ, he wanted to scream. Haven't you figured out what causes it yet? He kept his peace.

"How long?" he finally asked.

"Huh?"

"How long does it take?" He didn't want to know, really. He couldn't have gotten out of the chair anyway, no matter what delusions of a walk to the corner for coffee were parading around in his head. Couldn't leave her. Couldn't have her come out to find no one waiting. Impossible.

"Oh, this is the counseling part - they'll be back in a few minutes."

"Oh." It was all he could say. There had been words, but they all dried up. Please, God - don't ever let me know so much about this that I'm matter-of-fact. Please.

Buffy returned, still pale, her lips pressed in a straight line.

"You okay?" Xander asked, putting an arm around her to draw her close. Why did doctor's offices have to be so cold? She stayed rigid, stiff - holding it together.

"I'm okay, Xan." Her voice a whisper. "They ask you why."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I said 'bad timing.'"

"What did they say?"

"Nothing. They just wrote it down."

"Oh."

"Xan?"

"Yeah?"

"If this is the part where you tell me I don't have to...you don't have to."

"I what?"

"Don't have to. Tell me. I know."

"Still staying?"

"Yeah."

The nurse called her name again and it was time. Xander didn't know what to say. Good luck? I love you? I'll be right here? He settled for a hand squeeze and a tiny, sad smile.


"Slayerness." Her voice was still slurry from the anesthesia.

"What?"

"They don't adjust for slayerness. When they did the sonogram. Sound was all the way down, but I could hear it." Her head rolled a little on the headrest, eyes closed.

Oh, God. What could you say to that? Nothing. There weren't words to say, barely any to think.

"It's fast. My neck hurts. I think they moved me from one bed to another while I was out." More head-rolling, trying to work out the kink. "The heartbeat - it's fast."

"You need anything, Buffy? Is there a prescription?" Please don't say anything else about a heartbeat. Please don't make us both hear it.

"Advil, they said."

"I have that. You want ice cream?"

Her eyes opened, and they were clear. "Wasn't my tonsils, Xan." No heat in the words.

Don't say "that I had taken out." I can't make my brain deal with "taken" and "out" in the same sentence.

"I know, Buff. I'm just trying..."

"I know. I'm loopy. Maybe ice cream later. Sleep now." Her eyes closed and she went back to the head-rolling. "It was the best sleep. Did I tell you? The man, the needle man - he put it in my hand. Said I'd taste it in the back of my throat. Said it tasted like pizza."

"Did it?"

"No. Tasted icky." Her eyes opened again. "Here's my funny story, Xan. I said, 'No, it...' And then I woke up in a different room and said, 'doesn't.' But time had passed and it was gone. But the sleep, it was so good. I tried to pull the sheet over my head and go back there, but they wouldn't let me."

"You can sleep as much as you want when we get home."

"Yeah. It won't be the same, though."

No. It never will. "It'll be fine, Buff. Slayerness will kick in and you'll feel better tomorrow."

She slept deeply. In the early evening she got up and stayed in the bathroom for an hour, and he pretended not to hear her low groans and one horrified gasp and he didn't ask. She came out, ashen-faced, and accepted Advil and orange juice and went back to bed. He stayed on the couch and didn't sleep, listening. Wishing for a little Slayerness of his own, for a lot of reasons.

In the morning, she left. Said thank you and squeezed his hand and left.

In the evening, Anya came home, and he hugged her tightly for a long time, and then watched her try on every single thing she'd bought on her trip.




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