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As Time Goes By

April 25, 2001

Willow Rosenberg was sprawled on her living room couch, soft classical music playing in the background as she read a book for her sophomore Lit class. Buffy Summers, her roommate, was training with Rupert Giles at his place, and she had the whole apartment to herself. The warm April sunshine filtered through the window, softly lighting the small, but comfortable, room. Her red hair, grown long again, was pulled back in a braid, and she twirled a loose lock as she concentrated on what she was reading. The phone rang, and she absently reached for it.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Will."

At these words, she dropped the book and sat up straight, grasping the phone tightly. "Xander?" she breathed. "Oh, my. Where are you? Why haven't you called me? Or written? I've been worried about you! Ten months. . .you better have a very good excuse, Alexander Harris," she told him, only half joking.

"I know, I know. I'm sorry, Wills," he apologized. "Oh, man, you don't know how good it is to hear your voice again," he sighed.

"It's good to hear from you, too," she admitted with a smile. "So, where are you now?"

He hesitated. "I'm in Chicago. I have been since just after we last talked. So, um, how are you? And Buffy and Giles?" he asked, trying to change the subject. This conversation was even harder than he had imagined, and he hadn't even told her anything yet.

"I'm doing good. Evan and I started dating, and then we broke up a few weeks back, but we're still kind of friends," she told him. Willow and Oz had broken up during freshman year when he went on tour with the Dingoes. She hadn't dated anyone for a long time after that, until she met Evan Simmons during a summer course. By Christmas, they were going out, and by St. Patrick's Day, they were over. "Just didn't work out for us. Giles is good. His bookstore is doing fairly well, and he's happy. Buffy and. . .oooh! This is new for you," she grinned.

"What's new?" he asked, playfully suspicious.

"Well, you know how Spike came back to Sunnydale last year after Drusilla was killed?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said slowly. "Oh, no," he groaned, realization dawning.

"Oh, yes," Willow said with a giggle. "Buffy and Spike are now involved. Giles really wasn't thrilled at first, but Spike has been really helpful with Slaying and stuff. He's head over heels for her, and behaves a lot better now, so it's all good. They take care of each other. How have you been?"

And here it was. He took a deep breath. "Well, you know, I'm good. Really. . .I'm going to be a father."

"Oh!" Willow squeaked, stunned. There was a momentary pause as it sank in. "Oh. Well, congratulations. Who's the mother? I didn't know you had a girlfriend. Or a wife. You'd tell me if you had a wife, wouldn't you?" she asked quickly, her tone turning urgent.


"Oh, no, of course I would have told you that, Will," he hastened to reassure her. "Her name's Megan. I met her in Chicago, obviously, and we started dating. We've broken up now. We had before she found out she was pregnant," he explained.

"Oh," Willow said again. "When's the baby due?"

"Um, May 17," he said nervously.

Willow was silent, and he closed his eyes, praying that she didn't hate him. "Of this year? Sorry, of course of this year. But it's April. April 25. Today is. And you're telling me this now?" She sounded so hurt, and Xander felt even worse.

"I'm sorry, Will. I am. I just. . .," he sighed. "I didn't know how to tell you. I knew you would be all disappointed in me, and I just couldn't handle that. So I put it off. Many times. And now Megan is about nine months along, and I don't have much time left. So, here I am. Telling you."

Willow sighed. "Xand, you've known me for almost twenty years. You didn't know that I'd be thrilled for you? That I would be there to help you any way you needed it?"

"I know. I should have known that, but I was so scared, Wills. You. . .your opinion means everything to me, and I couldn't bear to know you'd think less of me," he tried to explain.

"Well, you told me now, so I guess that's what counts, right?" she said, trying to relieve the tension a little. "So, um, you guys broke up, huh? What are you going to do now? About the baby, I mean."

"I have no idea," he said bluntly. "It started out with Megan wanting the baby, and I wasn't sure, and now Megan definitely wants nothing to do with it, and I think I want to raise it. I mean, the baby is mine, Will. I created this living thing, and it's going to come and depend completely on me. Which sounds horrifically scary and wonderful all at the same time. I just don't know if I can do it. I mean, what do I know about kids? And I can't raise a child in the dump I live in. And who am I to raise a kid? I am a kid!" Xander's mind was racing with the negatives of him keeping the baby.

"Xand?" Willow broke into his tirade. "Xander, stop it. You have a knack with kids, probably because, yes, you still act like one. If you want the baby, keep it. You can do it. And I'll help you when you need it. We all will. Okay?" Her voice almost shook with her unshed tears. Every word she spoke was like a little knife into her heart.

"You'd help me?" he asked, needing the reassurance.

"Yes, I would," she told him softly. "I'll always be here for you, Xander. Call me, okay? Soon. None of this ten months stuff again."

"I will," he said, voice trembling. "Thank you, Willow."

"Anytime, Xand. Bye now." She gently hung up the phone and dissolved into tears.

Buffy found her there, still crying, twenty minutes later. "Will? Willow, what's wrong? Are you okay?" She rushed over to her friend and knelt down next to her.

Willow's red rimmed eyes met her friend's. "Xander called. He's going to be a father." She dashed her hands over her eyes as Buffy's mouth dropped open. "Yeah. Girl named Megan, in Chicago. Baby's due in three weeks, and he just told me today."

"Oh, Willow, I'm sorry," Buffy said softly, inwardly cursing at Xander for his stupidity.

Willow tried to smile. "I'm okay. Really. It's just a shock. 'Cause, you know, I always thought that I would be the one having Xander's babies." She started crying again, and Buffy quickly moved to hug her.

"Iím sorry, Willow," Buffy soothed. "It'll be okay. Really. I promise." She rocked her friend slowly. "You'll be fine."

 

~*~

May 29, 2001

Willow poked her head inside Buffy's room. As usual, the blonde had music blaring as she worked out, punching and kicking an invisible opponent. "Buffy?" Willow called out. Buffy didn't stop. "Buffy!" she shouted.

Buffy started. "Will! Sorry, didn't hear you." She turned the music down and dropped down on her bed, taking a long drink from her water bottle. "What's up?"

Willow walked inside the room, sitting down on the chest at the foot of Buffy's bed. She played with the corner of the soft blue bedspread, not looking up. "Xander called. Just now. The baby was born this morning."

"Oh, Will," Buffy said sympathetically.

Willow resolutely ignored the interruption, her calm exterior betrayed only by her fingers moving faster as she worried the bedspread. "It was a girl. Melanie Kathleen Harris. Born at 7:56 this morning, Chicago time, weighing in at six pounds and eight ounces. She's doing really well. Xander sounded proud."

"It's a pretty name," Buffy offered, watching her friend closely.

Willow finally looked up, tears glistening in her eyes. She offered her friend a small smile. "Kathleen is my middle name, too. He said he wanted to name her after me," she said softly. She roughly wiped at her eyes, mad at herself for crying again. "Anyway," she said, her voice stronger, "they're both doing well. Megan is fine, but has signed away her rights as a parent. It won't be final for a few months, but it's pretty evident that she means it. So, Xander's alone to raise Melanie. And that's all he had time to say. He wanted to go feed his daughter." She stood up. "I just thought you'd want to know. So, I'll see you later."

"Will, how about a girl's night out tonight?" Buffy asked suddenly. "Movies, stuffing our faces with things not found in nature, staying up all night. Could be fun."

Willow smiled sadly at her friend. "Thanks, Buffy, but I think I just want quiet tonight. Maybe tomorrow?" she asked, knowing that she was just trying to be nice.

Buffy nodded, and tried to smile brightly. "Tomorrow it is. And, Will?" Willow turned back around at the door. "It's okay. He's not out of your life. He'll be back."

Willow shrugged. "We'll see, I guess." She left the room, wondering how things could ever be the same.

~*~


June 11, 2001

It was mid afternoon. Willow and Buffy were in the kitchen, having decided to bake chocolate chip cookies. Spike was coming over after sunset, and they had a movie night planned. Three batches later, they were beginning to think their decision had been a mistake.

"Buffy!" Willow screeched as the flour that the blonde was trying to pour into a bowl landed on the counter and floor instead. She jumped back, unsuccessfully trying to avoid the floating powder, and slipped on the wet rag Buffy had used to clean up the dropped eggs from the last batch, landing with a loud crash on the floor. She lay there, stunned.

Buffy dropped down to the floor next to her flour-covered friend, trying to hold back her giggles. "Will? Are you okay?" Willow's head was down, her long hair hiding her face. Buffy saw her shoulders begin to shudder, and immediately became concerned. "Willow! Look at me!"

Willow responded to the command, and to her relief, Buffy saw that her friend was laughing hysterically. "I'm fine, Buffy," she said between giggles. "I think we better admit defeat, though. Help me up?" she asked, offering her hand.

Buffy stood and lifted Willow after her, still laughing. "You'd think after six years of fighting demons, I could make one tiny little batch of cookies," she grinned. "How about you go get cleaned up, and I'll go out and buy some cookies. Spike will never know the difference."

Willow grinned. "Deal. I'm going to see if I can clean up a little, though, while I'm still so icky."

"Okay. Be back in a little while," Buffy told her, leaving through the back door.

Willow surveyed the mess, shaking her head. Flour littered the counter and wet floor, and the excess ingredients and batter from their earlier attempts covered the table. She set to work cleaning up the worst of it, figuring that Buffy could get the rest when she got home. Twenty minutes later, she wrung the rag into the sink and dropped it down on the counter. Done. Well, as done as she was going to make it, anyway. She headed up to her bedroom to change, and realized with a groan that she had a flour-water mixture clumping her hair. She dragged herself into the bathroom to wash it out, grumbling the whole time about best friends who couldn't cook to save their souls. As she got out, she heard the doorbell ringing.

"Augh!" she complained. "Shoot. I'll be right there!" she shouted down. The person rang the doorbell three times in succession and Willow furrowed her brows in annoyance. It was probably Buffy, locked out of the apartment again. She had a habit of forgetting her keys, since she walked everywhere. "I'm coming!" she nearly screamed as she jumped into her denim shorts and tried to clasp her bra at the same time. Looking around, she realized that she had brought two pairs of shorts into the room, instead of a top. When the doorbell rang again, she gave up, rationalizing that she didn't have anything Buffy hadn't already seen on herself. Still drying her hair with the towel, she ran down the stairs and threw open the door. She froze mid swipe on her hair, suddenly conscious of the fact that she was shirtless. And that it wasn't Buffy standing there, open mouthed, in front of her.

"Willow?" Xander asked in amazement, eyes unconsciously drawn to his best friend's white lace covered breasts.

Willow let out a tiny squeak, too much in shock to even cover herself. The sudden cry of the pink bundle in Xander's arm shook her out of her dazed state, and she yanked the towel off her head and clutched it to her chest. "Xander! What are you doing here?" she asked, astonished. "Not that I'm not happy to see you. Because I am. Very happy. And you have the baby!" she exclaimed, as he slipped a pacifier into the infant's mouth and it quieted instantly. "Um, I need to get dressed," she said, recalling her shirtless state.

She turned and fled up the stairs, leaving Xander and the baby on the front steps.

"Welcome to Sunnydale, Melanie," he said, shaking his head as he walked into the apartment and closed the door behind him. Willow appeared moments later, still tugging the shirt down to her hips.

"So, hi," she said, embarrassed, and still a little red.

Xander grinned at her. "Hi, Will. Have to say, liked the welcome."

There was an awkward silence, neither knowing what to say until Willow tilted her head to one side and looked up at him. She smiled. "Welcome home, Xander." She reached up and gave him a hug, mindful of the baby's need for oxygen.

Xander reached his free arm around her, holding her tightly as he inhaled the sweet scent of her hair. "Thanks, Willow," he said softly.

She broke away, and looked at the baby. "So this is your daughter, huh?" she asked, gently trailing her fingers down the baby's face.

Xander broke out into a huge smile of fatherly pride. "Yep. Willow, I'd like to introduce you to Miss Melanie Kathleen Harris. Mel, this is your Auntie Willow," he said, lifting the baby so she could see Willow. He grinned at his friend. "I've been telling her all about you, so she should recognize your name. Well, maybe. Do babies have good memories?" he asked.

Willow ignored him and smiled at the infant, instantly in love. "Hi, Melanie," she cooed, shaking the tiny hand the baby was waving around.

"Want to hold her?" Xander asked.

Willow looked up at him. "Can I?"

"Of course. Here. Watch her head," he cautioned as he passed the infant.

Willow cradled Melanie to herself, smiling when the baby grabbed her finger. She looked up at Xander, still smiling. "You're a lucky man, Xander Harris," she told him, eyes shining. Xander stood behind her, skimming his hand over Melanie's small head.

"I know," he whispered. All he could think was that he'd be even luckier if the three of the them were a family, the way it was meant to be.

Just then, the door opened and Buffy bounced in, carrying two bags. "Hey, Will, I got. . ." her voice trailed off as she noticed the other person in the hallway. "Xander? Wow, Xander, hi." She stepped over and gave him a hug. "It has been way too long since I saw you," she said, pulling back. "How are you?"

"Exhausted," he grinned back, playfully but dead serious. "Melanie keeps me up all night. There are times I have to drop some Holy Water on her, just to make sure she didn't turn into a vamp while my back was turned."

For the first time, Buffy noticed the bundle cradled in Willow's arms. "This must be the infamous Melanie, then," she said. Willow nodded, and Buffy leaned over. "Hi, sweetie. I'm Buffy." The baby gurgled in response. "Oh, so you've heard of me? Don't believe a word your Daddy says about me, okay?" She looked up. "Let's sit down, and you can tell us how you ended up back in Sunnydale."

Melanie started fussing, and Xander took her back from Willow. "Okay, sounds good. It's time for someone's snack, though. Can I just heat up this bottle?" he asked, taking one from the diaper bag on his shoulder.

"Sure, I'll show you where the kitchen is." Willow jumped up and led them into the kitchen. Buffy followed, grabbing a bottled water out of the fridge as Xander heated the bottle on the stove.

"Well, remember when you told me that you guys would help me if I needed it, Will?" Xander started out, testing the milk on his wrist.

"Of course I do," she responded, watching with amazement at the ease in which he fed the newborn.

"Good. Because I need help," he said straight out. "I tried. I really did. But I can't do this alone, and I don't have anyplace else to go." He looked up at them, desperate. "I haven't gotten a full night's sleep since she was born. I can't nap during the day. I can't find a baby-sitter for her, so I can't work. I'm on paternity leave because I'm a single father, but it can't last forever. I don't know what to do. I just used the last of my money I got from selling my car to get us a train ride back from Chicago."

Making her decision, Willow stood up. "It's okay. You did the right thing, Xander," she told him resolutely. "You came home. You're not alone anymore. We'll all help with Melanie, and we'll all help with you." She took the now content baby from his arms, and put the bottle in the sink. "First things first. Go upstairs and go to sleep." Seeing him about to protest, she interrupted him. "No. Get some sleep. By the time you get up, we'll have a place for you and Melanie to stay. We're not going to let you guys go back to Chicago when you've got a perfectly wonderful family right here to take care of you both. Buffy and I will take care of your daughter while you sleep. Up the stairs, second room on the left. Go."

Xander surrendered as Buffy pushed him out of the room. "Okay. Fine. Thank you. I don't know what I'd do without you guys," he said, turning to look at Willow. "I'll see you in a few hours."

Buffy returned to the living room, where Willow and Melanie had moved, after settling Xander in Willow's bed. She sat down next to her friend, who had put the girl on a blanket and was playing with her. "Willow, do you know what you're doing?" she asked in a low voice.

"Yes. I'm helping my best friend when he needs it," she said, not looking up from the baby.

"But, Willow," Buffy tried.

Willow turned to look at her friend. "I know. I'm setting myself up to be hurt later. But for now, Xander needs me, and so does this baby. And I can't refuse either of them. For now, I can pretend. I can pretend that Melanie is my baby, and Xander is my husband, and we'll be happy forever." She shrugged, trying to fight the tears. "I love him, Buffy. I know that. And if this is as close as I can get to my dreams, then I'll take it. It's enough." She smiled brightly down at Melanie. "Besides, who could resist this face?" she asked rhetorically. "'Cause you're so pretty. Yes, you are," she cooed, tickling the infant's tummy.

Buffy sighed, but decided not to push it for now. Things were definitely going to get interesting, though.

~*~

June 12, 2001

Xander woke up suddenly, body tensed as he realized he was in an unfamiliar bed. The day before rushed back to him, and he relaxed. He was at Willow and Buffy's apartment. He slid his eyes open and took a look around the room, stretching. From the looks of it, he was in Willow's bedroom, too. Which meant that he was in Willow's bed. Where she slept. He allowed himself a small smile. He could get used to that. Then the implications of the sun shining through the blinds registered in his mind. "Oh, shit," he swore, looking for a clock. "10:30!" he gasped, shocked. "I've been asleep for eighteen hours. Where are my clothes?" he asked, jumping out of the bed, clad only in his boxers. "Why I am I talking to myself?" He found his shirt and shorts folded over the small blue rocking chair next to the window and hurriedly got dressed, rushing down the stairs. He stopped short when he saw the scene in the living room.

Willow and Melanie were on the couch, watching Teletubbies on the television. "Yeah, I have to agree, Po is kinda sweet," she was telling the infant. "I think Dipsy is more your style, though."

Xander had to smile. "Hi, guys."

Willow turned to look at him. "Morning, sleepyhead," she said cheerfully. "Mellie and I were just getting in some quality bonding time in. Well, more bonding time, actually. We became very well aquatinted at several times during the night," she grinned.

He winced. "I'm so sorry, Willow. I had no idea I would sleep that long," he apologized, moving to sit next to them.

"Oh, please," Willow scoffed. "Anytime. We had fun. Buffy went to Spike's, so Mel and I had a sleepover in her room. I think we're getting along great."

"As it should be, with my two favorite girls," he smiled. "C'mon over to Daddy, sweetheart." Willow passed the infant over, and he cuddled her. "Miss me? Or was Auntie Willow too much fun?" The baby gurgled and reached for his hair. "Sorry, babe, Auntie Willow has more than I do." He looked over and took a lock of Willow's hair in his hand. "More than I remember. You're growing it out again."

"Yeah, you know me. Never bothered to get it cut again." He dropped her hair, and she missed the feeling of his fingers playing with it. "Anyway, I talked to Giles last night."

"Yeah? What did G-man have to say?" he asked.

"Well, he agreed with me that you should stay here," she informed him. "He also offered use of his second bedroom for you and Melanie, indefinitely, as well as a job in his bookstore."

Xander was speechless. "Wow," he said finally.

Willow mistook his silence as a way of trying to get out of the situation. "Of course if you don't want to, we can't stop you," she said quickly. "If you want to leave, or find someplace else, he'll understand completely."

"Oh, no, no," he corrected. "No. I'm just so amazed that he's doing that for me. Of course, if he really means it, I'll be more than happy to take him up on that offer."

Willow's smile reached from ear to ear. "Great! I'll tell him, then. Or, actually, why don't you? The three of us can take a field trip to his store. You can meet his assistant, and learn your way around."

"Great!" Another thought struck him and he frowned. "Wait. What about Melanie? I still need a baby-sitter for her."

"Well, I'll be there this summer, anyway. I do a lot of work there. Some is for the shop, some for Slayer stuff, and some for this company I work for, DynaVox Systems," she explained. "I create and edit programs for augmentative communication software and devices. It's not a huge time-grabbing thing, though, so I can watch her most of the time. And when I can't, you'll be there, Giles will be there, and so will Katherine. Melanie will have too many care givers," she laughed. "After this summer, I'll come in between and after classes, just like normal, and we'll help with Mel."

"Katherine is the assistant? 'Cause this is sounding almost too good to be true here," he admitted.

"Yep, and she knows pretty much everything about all of us. She's a historian, and helps a lot with Slayer stuff." She lightly touched his hand. "Xander, I meant it. We'll do everything we can to help you. Everything."

"I don't think I can ever tell you how much that means to me," he told her softly. "Thank you."

"Anytime," she responded. She felt herself leaning towards him, and immediately pulled back, jumping up. "Okay, so let's go then!" she said, falsely bright. "I'll get Mellie dressed, and you can get her bag all packed."

Xander sighed as Willow took the baby from his arms, chattering away to her. Obviously, Willow didn't want to be too close to him anymore, and he only had himself to blame.

~*~

"Hi!" Willow called out, as the threesome entered the glass door of Giles' bookstore. "We're here!"

Giles came out of the back room, wiping his glasses with his handkerchief. "Welcome back, Xander," he said warmly as he slipped them back on. "We've certainly missed you around here."

Xander smiled and hugged the older man. "Thanks, G-man," he said. "I'm glad to be home, too."

Giles peered at the infant in Willow's Snuggli. "And this is Melanie, I presume?"

"Yep," Xander said proudly. "Your new roommate."

Giles looked up from shaking the infant's small hand. "Ah, you've decided to take me up on my offer? I'm delighted. It can get rather quiet and lonely sometimes."

Xander laughed. "I can guarantee that it won't be quiet with us around."

A petite woman with dark, curly brown hair walked out of the same back room Giles had only minutes earlier, and joined the group.

"Hi, Katherine," Willow greeted her. "This is my best friend Xander, and his daughter Melanie."

Katherine turned to Xander with a smile and shook his hand. "Hello, Xander. I'm Katherine Lahn. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Same here," Xander rejoined, looking her over. At 5'1", she barely came up to Giles' shoulder, and he guessed she was about 32 or 33 years old. She was pretty, her brown eyes shining from behind her gold wire-rimmed glasses, and she seemed to be friendly enough. "Hi."

She gave him a brief smile before turning to Giles. "Rupert, I need some assistance in the back room. I have no idea how you mean to categorize some of these new purchases."

"Yes, yes, we must see to that, Kate," Giles said. "Willow, you will show Xander around now, yes? Then I can give you a key to the apartment and let he and Melanie settle in."

"No problem," Willow said. "C'mon, I'll give you the tour." She walked him through the small bookstore, pointing out the different shelves, and the demonology section hidden in the back. They wound up next to a bank of computers. "And this is where I do most of my work. We rent the computers for an hour at a time, and offer the internet. Mostly my contribution to the place," she grinned. "Giles is still computer-phobic, although Katherine has been helping me a bit. I got her hooked onto the net, and she's never gone back."

"So you guys are friends?" he asked, as Melanie started to wail.

"Oh, yeah, she's really great. You just have to get to know her a bit first," she said, trying unsuccessfully to placate the baby with a pacifier. "Um, is this a nap cry? I can tell that she has quite a few cries, I just can't tell which is which yet."

"Yeah, that's a nap cry," Xander grinned. "She's quite vocal when she's not getting what she wants. I'll go get the key and we can get her down."

Willow bounced the infant in an effort to pacify her, to no avail. "You sure know how to keep your daddy hopping, don't you, sweetheart?" she grinned as Xander jogged out of the back room.

"C'mon, let's go before Giles starts to regret his offer," Xander laughed, a little uneasily. "I wonder if he knows what life with a baby is really like."

"Well, he's about to get a crash course," Willow grinned as Melanie upped the decibels. "Poor guy."

~*~

July 25, 2001

Willow let herself into Giles and Xander's apartment. The new roommates had settled into a routine that worked out fairly well for them, although Giles had been known to sneak out on particularly loud nights. Willow, Xander and Buffy assumed that he spent those nights at the bookstore, but he never said.

She closed the door softly behind her, in case Melanie was asleep, and walked into the living room. No one was there, so she tried upstairs. She found Xander and Melanie asleep on his bed, and smiled. He looked so young and peaceful in his sleep, and she noticed that they both buttoned up their eyes in the same manner. She had only been standing there, watching them sleep, for a few minutes before Xander opened his eyes.

"Hi, Will," he whispered.

She started, and her hand flew up to her chest. "Oh, you scared me," she said. "I thought you were asleep."

"I was. Then, I woke up," he grinned. *And saw an angel* he thought to himself. *Oh, yeah, that wasn't completely hokey* He shook his head at his thoughts, and saw Willow look confused. "Um, what?"

"I asked where Giles was," she repeated.

"Oh. Sorry. He and Katherine are looking at new stuff for the store," he told her, sitting up.

"Oh, okay. I just wanted to drop this book off for Mellie," she explained, holding up a copy of Dr. Seuss' 'Oh, The Places You'll Go.' "I thought she would like it."

Xander smiled. "Thanks, Will. I'm sure she'll love it." He stood and bent to pick the baby up off the bed, laying her back down in her crib. They stood there, just quietly watching her sleep, each lost in their own thoughts.

"Wow, Willow," he said finally. "Can you believe this is us now? A baby." He shook his head in wonder. "Who would have guessed it."

Willow blinked back sudden tears. *If only it was us* she sighed inwardly. "Hard to believe," she agreed out loud. "We grew up, Xander."

"That we did," he said softly, tracing Melanie's cheek with his index finger.

"I have to go now," Willow said unhappily. She loved watching Xander with his daughter. "I have a meeting to go to for DynaVox."

Xander bit back his disappointment. "Okay. I'll walk you out."

He followed her down the stairs, and they stopped in front of the door. "I'll come over later and read with Mellie, okay?" she asked, looking up into his warm brown eyes.

"We'd love that," he told her, not breaking their eye contact. "Thanks for the book."

"Anytime," she responded, unable to pull her eyes away from his. Impulsively, she reached up and gave him a hug. He held her close, rubbing small circles on her back. She pulled back, and tried to smile at him. "I'll see you later." She walked out, and he closed the door behind her, sagging against the door frame. It was so hard to be so close physically, but so far apart emotionally. He had no idea how much longer he could stand it.

~*~

July 31, 2001

Willow was comfortably reclined on the sofa in her living room, happily browsing through baby catalogs, as she had been all morning. She didn't notice Buffy standing in the doorway, trying to muster enough courage to walk in and have a conversation with her. After a few minutes of deliberating, she finally propelled herself forward into the room.

"Willow, I want to move out," she blurted.

Willow gaped at her. "What?"

"I know, and I'm so sorry, Will," she rushed ahead. "It's not that you're not great, because you are, and I've had so much fun with you, but it's just not the ideal situation anymore. Please don't hate me," she finished.

"Um, Buff? That 'what' was a real what. I have no clue what you just said," Willow said, slightly dazed from Buffy's barrage.

"Oh," Buffy said. "Um, I said that I wanted to move out. And move in with Spike. Because I really do spend more time at his place than here."

Willow took this in as Buffy peered hopefully at her. "Um, okay. Sure," she finally said, not sure what she was supposed to say. She knew that she could afford it by herself, with the money she made from DynaVox, it was just the alone factor in Sunnydale that bothered her.

Buffy sighed in relief. "Oh, thank goodness. I'm so glad you're not upset," she said, reaching over to hug her friend. "That really is the last thing I wanted."

"No, I understand. You want to spend time with your honey, and it would be really hard here in the sunlight," Willow nodded. "Maybe I'll find someone for a roommate. I just don't really want to be alone at night here."

As if on cue, Xander burst through the door, carrying Melanie in her car seat.

"Whoa, Xander," Buffy said, surprised. "Moving a little fast there. If it wasn't daylight, I'd think a vamp was chasing you. Are you guys okay?"

"Us? Yeah, we're fine," Xander reassured them. "Just fine. We just needed some, um, some fresh air. And good company. Not that Giles isn't good company. Because he is." He noticed his friends exchanging a look, and tried to calm down, stop babbling. "So, here we are. How are you beautiful ladies doing?"

"We're fine," Willow said, moving over to allow him to sit with Melanie. She immediately picked up her and began cooing to her.

"I'm moving out," Buffy told him.

He looked at her in shock. "You're what?"

"Moving in with Spike," she explained, ignoring his look of annoyance. "Willow's thinking about looking for a roommate."

Xander's jaw dropped. This was almost perfect. He really wanted a new place to stay now, and Willow had one. "What about me?"

Both women turned to look at him in surprise. "What?" Buffy asked as Willow wondered, "Why?"

"Giles is great, really," he hastened to explain. "I just feel that he probably needs his. . .privacy a little more than we can help him with. So this might be a good idea."

"I think it would be great," Buffy agreed quickly. She knew a good thing when she saw oneóthis could be exactly what the two needed. "This way, you're not all alone at night, Will, and we don't have to worry about what possible evil a new roommate could be behind. And you know you'd love to have Melanie around more. What else could be more perfect?"

They turned to look at Willow, who had a deer in the headlight expression on her face. "Um, sure," she finally agreed. "That would be great." Inwardly she was panicking. She knew that she was in love with Xander, and that he didn't feel the same way. She had no clue how she was going to survive this. Why was Buffy doing this to her?

Xander smiled down at Melanie. "Did ya hear that, babe? We get to live with Auntie Willow. How cool is that, huh?" He made a face at her, and she batted at him, a huge smile on her face. "See, look. Even Melanie likes this arrangement. So, when do we get to move in?"

Willow and Xander looked at Buffy. "Next week sound good? Give us both time to get packed, and for me to convince Spike that mirrors really are a good thing."

Xander beamed at her. "Sounds great. Doesn't it sound great, Will?"

"Uh, yeah," she said, slightly disconcerted. "It's great. I can't wait."

~*~

August 5, 2001

Giles and Xander hoisted the box carrying Melanie's crib onto the top of Katherine's black Lexus GS 400. Finally getting it secured down, they took a moment to rest.

"Is that, uh, everything, then?" Giles asked, his accent more clipped from the exertion.

"Yep, think so," Xander nodded, wiping his forehead off. This was the second and final trip with his and Melanie's belongings from Giles' to Willow's. Melanie had been delivered on the first trip.

"Well, um, it was nice having you stay with me, even for a short time," Giles offered, not sure of what to say. He and Xander still had a hard time looking each other in the eye after last week's debacle, although they were able to work together again. "I'm sorry about,"

Xander quickly shook his head. "Oh, no. It's okay. Really. Let's not bring that up again. Ever. Okay?"

"Yes, yes, that would probably be best," Giles agreed, relieved.

Katherine walked out of Giles' apartment and approached the men by her car. "Are you ready to leave, Xander?" she asked.

Xander was once again amazed at how this little woman managed to wear a heavy denim skirt with a long sleeved blouse during August in California, and not combust. "Um, yeah. Ready. Thanks again for letting me use your car to move things. It's just amazing how Melanie's things seemed to have multiplied since she met Willow," he grinned.

Katherine snorted. "As if what Rupert terms his car would get your belongings half way down the block."

Xander grinned, despite his slight discomfort. "She's got you there, G-man."

Giles winced at the use of the hated nickname. "Yes, well, it has gotten me through many years, and I see no reason to get rid of it now," he responded, shooting a look towards his assistant. "I'll see you at work on Monday, Xander."

"Yep. Bye, Giles. Thanks for everything," Xander said, reaching out to shake his friend's hand. "It really meant a lot to me that you offered your place."

"You're more than welcome here anytime, Xander," Giles said warmly as the young man went to sit in the passenger side of the car. "Bye, Kate."

She smiled at him. "Bye, Rupert. I'll see you later."

She got into the driver's seat and they drove off.

~*~

An hour later, Xander and Melanie were completely moved in. Buffy and Xander had unloaded all of the boxes and brought them upstairs to his new room while Willow took care of Melanie. Now, a few hours later, Willow and Xander stood in the doorway of the bedroom, surveying the mess.

"This room is really small, isn't it?" Xander said, more as a statement than a question. Boxes were piled everywhere. Buffy had left her bed, so that and Melanie's crib and changing table were the only things ready to go. The problem was trying to get to the bed, crib, and changing table.

"It would seem so," Willow agreed. "It never seemed this small when Buffy lived here. She did aerobics and everything. Maybe it'll be better when you're all unpacked," she offered.


"I hope so. Or maybe it's because two people are trying to fit all of their stuff into one room," he sighed.

"Don't worry. We'll get it all sorted out eventually," Willow promised. "For now, though, let's just forget about it and relax. We can watch some movies and stuff. Buffy and I have a great collection, and she let me keep it. I don't think Spike has a VCR."

Xander smiled. "Sounds like a plan. I guess Melanie can sleep in her stroller for tonight."

"If we had thought about it, we could have set her crib up in my room or something, but I'm sure she'll be fine there for tonight," she reassured him. "We can lock the wheels and put it next to your bed. Now I'll make the popcorn; you pick some movies, okay?"

"Okay," he agreed, smiling at her. "Let's go."

He followed her down the stairs. She turned to enter the kitchen as he went to check on Melanie. He had the monitor and could hear her, he just needed to see her sometimes. He smiled at the sight of her on her tummy, with her thumb hanging loosely by her mouth. With one last look, he headed towards the living room. A banging on the front door forced him to make another detour. "I'll get it," he called to Willow. He opened the door, careful to stay inside the threshold. He opened the door wider when he saw it was Spike. "What do you want?" he asked brusquely.

Spike rushed in, pushing past him. Willow poked her head out of the kitchen. "Spike? What's wrong?"

"Sorry, love, we need Buffy's bed." He raced up the stairs. Willow and Xander exchanged a look and followed him.

"What happened to yours?" Willow asked, amazed, as Spike kicked boxes to the side to get to the bed.

"Long story, no time to tell." He grabbed one end of the bed and effortlessly turned it on the side, half dragging and half carrying it down the stairs and out the door. "The slayer will be over tomorrow. Bye, now."

Xander and Willow stood at the foot of the staircase, watching the blond vampire carry the bed down the street. "Uh, Will? Where did he take my bed? Why did he take my bed?"

Willow just stared out the door. "I don't think I want to know."

"You don't think. . ." his voice trailed off. "Oh, I don't want to go there. Quick. Movie. Now."

Willow grinned and went to go get the popcorn.

~*~

It was two o'clock in the morning. Melanie had woken briefly around ten pm, but had quickly gone back to sleep, so that Willow and Xander had had most of the night quiet and to themselves. They had watched Key Largo first, followed by His Girl Friday, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and finally Psycho. Through the first two movies, they had sat side by side with the popcorn bowl between them. This had led to their hands brushing in the bowl, and both had felt the electricity charge with each touch. After four hours of movies, though, they were getting tired, so they stretched out on opposite ends of the couch, giving up completely on the popcorn. During Psycho, however, Willow started getting very scared. She knew what was going to happen. She had seen this movie before. That didn't stop her from sitting straight up and scrambling to sit closer to Xander, clutching his arm. By then, he wasn't even paying attention to the movie. All of his energy was focused on Willow and her hands wrapped around his arm. He was about to open his mouth and make a smart-aleck comment when she made an "eep!" noise and dove towards him, burying her face in his shoulder. He couldn't stop the slow grin that spread across his face, but was definitely unable to say anything. Blushing, Willow had sat back up and apologized. An hour later, that brief moment was still on his mind, but now he had a more pressing concern.

Willow had just stood up to rewind the video. "Um, Willow?"

She turned to face him. "Yeah?"

"Uh, Spike took my bed."

She stared at him for a moment before realization dawned. "Oh."

He laughed. "Yes. Oh. Where should I sleep? Is this a pull-out bed?"

Willow mentally ran through her options. There weren't many. He could sleep on the couch. He should sleep on the couch. Yes, that's it. Couch. "You can sleep with me," she blurted, immediately turning crimson. Where had that come from? Xander's mouth opened and closed a few times, but no sound came out. Her words kept floating through his mind.

"Not like that," she hastened to add. "I mean, no, this couch doesn't fold out. And I know you. You'll roll off in the middle of the night and hit your head. And I have a big bed. We can share."

Xander finally found his voice. "Are you sure?"

Willow nodded. "Yes. Fine. It's okay by me. Really."

Just then, Melanie let out a piercing wail. Xander closed his eyes briefly. "Mel's hungry," he said.

"Okay. Feed her and then bring her up," Willow instructed. "Since Spike cleared that path, I can push the crib into a better place. Then she'll be closer to us."

"Okay," he said, heading towards the kitchen. "Coming, sweetheart," he called.

Willow stood there, frozen, for a minute. What was she thinking? Xander in her bed? With her? Could she handle it? Mentally promising to strangle Buffy in the morning, she went upstairs to move the crib.

When Xander came up twenty minutes later, he found Willow already changed into a t-shirt and boxers and dragging the crib out to the hallway. "This way we can hear her," she explained. "And we can access her diaper stuff. With the boxes, it wouldn't fit any other way. The path wasn't so big, after all."

"It's fine, Will." He laid the dozing baby in the crib and backed away, hoping she wouldn't awaken. When she didn't stir, he let out the breath he had been holding. "Okay, good." He looked at Willow, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. "Um, I guess I should get changed," he said, pointing towards the bathroom.

She smiled sweetly and nodded. "Probably a helpful thing." He gave her a weak smile and went to grab something to sleep in from his suitcase. She hurried back into her bedroom, and quickly glanced around. Okay. Nothing horribly embarrassing was sticking out. Bras were nicely tucked away. Everything was good. Her eyes strayed to the bed. Suddenly, it looked so much smaller than the queen size she had known it to be. What had she gotten herself into, she moaned silently. With a sigh, she turned the covers down and slid between the sheets.

Just a minute later, he walked in, humming a song under his breath. He found Willow already curled up under the sheets. When she heard him put the monitor down on her bedside table, she turned to face him, head propped up on her elbow. "Um, Will. Thanks for," he indicated her bed.

"Oh, it's, um, fine. Really." It is fine, she told herself, but her heart was still pounding.

"Um, I'm going to, you know," he pointed towards the empty side of the bed.

"Get in bed?" she asked, a ghost of a smile on her face.

"Yes. That." He quickly laid down, and she turned back so that they laid side by side, both facing forward. "This isn't bad," he said, as if to himself.

"No. It's not," she agreed, almost surprised. "Well. I'll see you in the morning."

"Yep. Night, Willow," he yawned.

"Good night." She turned over, facing away from him, and closed her eyes, hoping he couldn't hear her heart still pounding away in her chest.

He did the same, and soon they were both asleep.

~*~

August 6, 2001

"I am going to kill you," Willow said, her voice saccharinely sweet, to her best friend as she opened the door to let her in.

Buffy's mouth dropped open. "Why, Willow, how could say such a thing to me?" she asked, innocently.

"Oh, yeah, play clueless. How could you do that?" she wailed.

"Is Xander here?" Buffy asked, heading into the living room to sit on the couch.

"No, he and Melanie went to the park," she sighed, collapsing next to Buffy.

"Good. So tell me what happened," Buffy said excitedly, leaning forward.

"What do you mean, tell you what happened? You tell me. Why did Spike come here and steal your bed?" Willow demanded. "Did you make him?"

"Well, I had planned on getting it back sometime, to help you guys out, but no, we really did need a new bed last night," she said with an evil grin.

Willow buried her face in a pillow. "Oh, I didn't need to hear that," she moaned, her voice muffled.

Buffy laughed and pulled the pillow away. Willow's face matched her hair. "So, what happened after Spike ran down the street with Xander's bed?" she giggled.

Willow glared at her. "Not funny. We watched some movies, that's all."

"And then?" Buffy prodded. "Where did he sleep?"

Willow mumbled something unintelligible.

Buffy grinned. "What was that, Will?" she asked, cupping her ear. "I didn't quite catch that last thing."

Willow sighed. Buffy was having too much fun with this. "I said, he slept in my room."

"Way to go!" Buffy said happily. "Well, wait. Do you mean in your bed?"

"Yes. Where I was."

"I'm so proud of you," Buffy crowed. "Yea for Willow. So, what happened?"

"What do you mean, what happened? I just told you," she said, puzzled.

Buffy sighed. "Willow. I got things so that you and Xander shared a bed. I know you know what to do with the man you love in a bed, so spill."

"Buffy, nothing happened," Willow protested. "Well, except that when we woke up, he had his arms around me and we were snuggled together."

"Well, that's a start, I guess," Buffy allowed.

"It felt so wonderful, Buffy," she said wistfully. "This is just so hard. After all these years, it still hurts that he doesn't love me."

Buffy had no idea how to respond. "I'm sorry, Will. But don't feel too bad. You're not in high school anymore. Things are different. Maybe Xander is too."

"Maybe he is. But I doubt it," Willow said sadly.

~*~

August 8, 2001

Buffy rang the doorbell at Willow and Xander's. She knew that Willow had taken Melanie to the store, to give Xander peace and quiet on his day off, so he was home. She rang it again when no one answered, and finally just let herself in. The house was quiet. "Xander?" she called. There was no response, so she headed upstairs. "Xand?" she asked, stopping outside Willow's bedroom.

Xander was sprawled out on the bed, and he started when he heard his friend's voice. "Buffy! My God, don't sneak up on people like that!"

She grinned. "I didn't, Xander. I rang the doorbell twice and called out for you a few times." She sat down on the bed next to him.

"Oh. Sorry. Will's not here right now," he said in an off-hand manner, leaning back against the pillows again.

"Yeah, I know," she told him. "I came to visit you. How are you doing?"

"Just peachy," he groused.

She raised her eyebrow. "Care to elaborate?"

He sighed and sat up. "Can you keep a secret?"

"Yeah, of course."

"I love Willow." The words tumbled out, and he realized that it was the first time he had admitted it aloud. "I love her, Buffy."

Buffy inwardly cheered. This was just too good. "Well, good for you. Have you told her yet?"

He looked at her like she had grown another head. "No, of course not."

"Right. Because that would make too much sense," she said dryly. "Why haven't you told her?"

"Because there's no way she could love me, Buffy. That boat left dock a long time ago. I had all those years to see what was in front of me, and I didn't, until it was too late. Then, I set our relationship on the fast track to nothing after I ruined her relationship with Oz senior year, and then I left her for two years, returning to beg for help with my daughter in tow. How could she feel anything for me?" he asked desperately.

"How are you going to know if you don't try, Xander?" Buffy asked, trying to be reasonable.

"Because!" he exclaimed. "I just know. See, it's like this song. Listen." He pointed the remote towards Willow's Stereo/CD player and turned the volume up.

"But somehow I can't believe that anything should happen

I know where I belong and nothing's gonna happen

'Cause, She's so high, high above me. She's so lovely

She's so high, like Cleopatra, Joan of Ark or Aphrodite

She's so high, high above me," the CD blared.

Buffy turned back to Xander. "You're joking."

"No, I'm not. See, this part, too," he said, motioning her to be quiet. "What could a guy like me ever really offer? She's perfect as she can be, why should I even bother," he sang along.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "You're insane, Xander. Really. Fatherhood has apparently turned you around the bend, and Melanie's not even a teenager yet."

He looked at her, hurt, and she sighed. "Xander, open your eyes. Don't assume anything. All right?" She paused, listening. "Um, Xand? Is this song on repeat?"

"Yep," he said despondently, not believing a word Buffy was telling him.

"All right, I'll bite. Why?" she asked.

"Because I'm depressed, Buffy. Now I really know how Willow felt all of those years."

"Okay, but Tal Bachman?" she wondered.

"Yeah, Melanie hates country music for some reason. She cried and screams until it's turned off. Unless it's Shania Twain. So I've gotten used to going to pop music instead of country when I get depressed." He grinned at her. "After about 20 minutes of this, the Backstreet Boys come on."

Buffy groaned. "You're hopeless," she said affectionately. "Anyway, think about what I said. Don't give up on Willow just yet, okay? Promise me."

"I promise," he agreed.

"Okay. Then I'll leave you to your pop music. Have a fun day off," she grinned. "I'll let myself out."

"Bye, Buff," he said, absent-mindedly. His mind was finally allowing him the what-if scenario that Willow might actually still like him. "Can't hurt to think about it," he said aloud to Tal. "Can't hurt at all."

~*~

August 10, 2001

Willow woke up suddenly. A quick glance at the clock told her it was three in the morning, too early to be awake, but she knew something was off. A slight movement from her normal sprawled position in bed, and it was instantly apparent that she was alone in the bed. She had gotten so used to feeling close to Xander's body during the night, that now, even after just a few days, she felt a sense of loss when he wasn't there. She realized that his absence was the reason she had woken up and decided to find him. He was probably with Melanie, but she hadn't heard any cries. She pulled a robe around her pajamas and tried to wipe the sleep from her eyes as she walked down the hallway.

She stopped in front of Melanie's door and couldn't help but smile at the scene in front of her. The lamp was turned on low, casting a golden glow over the room, and music was playing softly. Xander was with his daughter in the middle of the room, slow dancing and singing along with the music. Willow leaned against the doorframe and just watched them, not wanting to interrupt their moment.

"Sleep, baby, sleep

While the world passes by.

I'll be the keeper

Of your dreams, tonight.

I'll be your eyes

Until you can see.

I'll be your voice

Until you can speak.

In this land of strangers

I'll be the one

To love and protect you,

Guide and respect you.

In my arms, you will be

In my arms, you will be

Forever Home.

Sleep, baby, sleep

In an ocean of love.

No way of knowing

What you're thinking of.

Close to the heart

That's where you belong.

You're part of my spirit,

Oooh, you're part of my song.

First, last, and always

I'll be the one

To love and protect you,

Guide and respect you

In my arms you will be

In my arms you will be

In my arms you will be

In my arms you will be

Forever Home.

Have you come to show me

What loves all about?

To lift up my faith

Higher than doubt?

In my arms you will be

In my arms you will be

In my arms you will be

In my arms you will be

Forever Home.

Forever Home.

Forever Home."

She clapped softly when the song ended and his head jerked up. "That was nice, Xand," she smiled at him. "I like that song."

He relaxed and smiled back. "Yeah, it's our song," he said softly, tenderly smoothing down Melanie's hair. "I sing it to her a lot."

Her hushed voice matched his. "Did she wake up? I didn't hear her."

"I was just checking on her and she was laying there, staring off into space. So I decided to spend some quiet time with her. Did I wake you?"

She shook her head. "No, I just woke up and you weren't there." She shrugged and raised her chin almost defiantly. "I missed you."

Their eyes locked over Melanie's head, and whatever Xander had been about to say flew from his mind as they saw the love in each other's eyes. Everything changed in that one instant. It could have been that their defenses were lowered because of the lateness of the hour, or maybe they were just tired of pretending that they didn't care. Whatever the reason, Xander and Willow realized with this one look how much love they felt for the other, and knew they both felt the same.

Willow was the first to break their gaze. With happiness in her eyes, she walked over to where Xander stood with his daughter. She dropped a kiss on the sleeping baby's head and then gently kissed Xander's cheek. "Goodnight, Xander."

Xander's mind was racing, but her kiss calmed him. "Night, Will. I'll be in soon." She gave him one last smile as she left the room.

"Wow," Xander whispered, awestruck. He laid the baby in her crib and lightly touched his cheek where Willow had kissed him. "I think she could love me after all."

~*~

 

Willow dialed the phone, tapping her fingers impatiently until someone answered.

"Hello?" the voice croaked through the receiver.

"Buffy! It's me. It's Willow. Wake up," she said urgently.

"Will? What's wrong? Is Mel okay?" Buffy asked, instantly awake.

"No, no," she reassured her. "Mellie is fine. Great, even."

"Then why did you get me up at the crack of dawn?" Buffy asked with a sigh.

"It's nine in the morning, Buffy," Willow informed her. "Anyway, listen. Something big happened last night. I think Xander loves me."

"Did he tell you?" Buffy asked, excited.

"Not in words," she said. Buffy sighed. "No, listen. I think it's good. Middle of the night, our eyes meet and I can see that he loves me. It's, like, blindingly obvious."


"Yep, could have told you that," Buffy grinned.

"Well, anyway, then I kiss him goodnight and go back to bed."

"Back to bed? With him, right?" Buffy said hopefully, but already knowing the answer and shaking her head.

"Well, no. I fell asleep," Willow admitted sheepishly. "It was three am, okay? I'm not used to being awake then. But when I woke up, I had my arm and leg thrown over him, and he was playing with my hair. Does that count?"

"I'll give you some points for that," Buffy acknowledged. "Thatís pretty good."

"Okay, yea. But now what do I do?" Willow asked, suddenly desperate. "I don't want to screw things up here. Help!"

"Okay," Buffy said slowly. "I can help. Do you guys have plans for today?"

"Not really, no. Why?" she asked.

"Stay around your house," Buffy instructed. "I'll call you later. It's going to be good, just go with your gut. Don't be shy. Can you do that?"

"Yeah, I can do that. That's not too hard," she said with increasing confidence.

"Okay, good. Stay with that mind set, and I'll talk with you later. Good luck."

"Okay, thanks, Buffy. Bye." She hung up the phone and got a giddy smile on her face. Maybe, her dreams were finally going to come true.

~*~

Buffy finally called back at three in the afternoon. Willow had used pretty much every excuse to keep them in the house by that time, and was relieved.

"What took so long, Buffy?" Willow asked impatiently. "I think Xander thinks I've gone insane here."

"Sorry, Wills, but I've been calling people," her friend explained. "Anyway, Spike, Katherine, Giles and I have this sudden desire to baby-sit Melanie today. Right now, in fact. Leaving the two of you alone. Do I need to give you directions for that, too?" Buffy teased.

"Ha ha, very funny," Willow said dryly. Xander walked into the room and she sat up straighter. "That's so sweet of you, Buffy," she gushed, trying unsuccessfully to keep her voice normal. Xander raised his eyebrows.

Buffy laughed. "Okay, Xander's in the room now. Gotcha."

"Yeah, you're right, we are tired today," Willow continued. "I bet Mel would love to spend some time with you guys so we can rest. When can you pick her up?"

"Doing good, Will," Buffy encouraged. "Spike and I will be there in ten minutes. You will be great. Don't worry. Okay?"

"Okay, Buff, we'll see you then. Bye." She hung up the phone and smiled at Xander. "That was Buffy. She had this sudden desire to baby-sit, give us a break, and so she'll be over in ten minutes."

"Wait. Deadboy, Jr is going to be taking care of my daughter? I donít think so," Xander shook his head.

"Xander, it'll be fine. Giles and Katherine will be there, and Buffy. No bad things will happen," she reassured him.

"I guess," Xander sighed. He really didn't trust Spike, but he knew that Giles and Katherine would take care of things. Besides, he also really wanted time with Willow, to talk about what had happened earlier that morning.

Willow smiled, inwardly cheering. "I'm glad. We haven't had any us-time since you got here. There's still a lot to talk about, isn't there?"

"Yes, I think there is," he said seriously, meeting her eyes.

She flushed, and tried not to follow her first reaction and flee the room. She finally dragged her eyes up to his and touched his hand lightly. "Good. Let's get Mel's stuff together then, shall we?"

He squeezed her hand in return and responded, "We shall."

Half an hour later, Melanie had been driven off by Giles and Buffy, leaving Willow and Xander alone in the house.

They were collapsed next to each other on the living room couch, both silent. "I can't believe how quiet it is with Mel gone," Xander said suddenly.

"I know. Even when she's sleeping, you're always aware that she's there. This is almost unnerving," Willow said reflectively.

"I don't think I even know what to do with myself," he commented lazily. "I mean, yeah, you take her out places sometimes, but you're the only one. And here you are. With me. And no Melanie. For an extended period of time. What do you want to do?"

They traded looks. They nodded in unison and dived for the phone. Willow grabbed the receiver while Xander dialed. "Katherine? Hi, did Giles and Buffy get back yet?" She listened. "They did? Good. How's Mel doing? Wonderful. No, no, we trust you," she said, with almost complete conviction. "Of course. Yes, we'll refrain from contacting you for more than twenty minutes," Willow grinned, parroting Katherine's words. "Promise. Thanks a lot for helping." She laughed. "I plan to. Okay, bye now." She hung up the phone and looked at Xander. "She's good."

"Good to know," he nodded. "What did Katherine say to you, that you plan to do?" he asked with curiosity.

"Nothing," she responded innocently. Well, nothing that she would ever tell Xander, anyway.

"So, now what?" Xander asked. "We've been barred from calling for twenty minutes. What do non-parent, barely out of their teens people do these days?"

"Two months, and I can barely remember," Willow laughed. Neither commented on the fact that Willow was calling herself a parent. "We could. . .go for a walk?" she suggested.

"A walk," he repeated. "Sounds nice and unstressful. Let's go."

They headed out the front door, wandering aimlessly through the streets of Sunnydale as they talked and just walked in comfortable silence. About twenty minutes into their outing, it started to rain lightly.

"Oh, damn," Willow groaned. "We're not even near the house anymore. We're doomed to get wet."

"It's not raining that hard, Will," Xander pointed out. "Look, it's barely drizzling." He reached for her hand and swung it. "It's nice. Haven't you ever taken a walk in the rain?"

"No, because rain is wet. And I don't usually like wet, remember?" she reminded him.

"Don't be so closed-minded," he chided her. "It's fun. See?" He dropped her hand and spun around on the sidewalk. She watched him with a smile on her face. "Come on!" He grabbed her hand and pulled her close. They froze when her chest came in contact with his, and their eyes locked. She reached up with her hand and tangled her fingers in his hair. As if being pulled by a magnetic force, their faces leaned closer and closer and their lips had almost touched when Willow suddenly squealed. The skies had opened, and a cold, hard rain poured down on them. They broke apart hurriedly as lighting crashed and thunder boomed not far away.

"Not so much fun anymore," Willow shouted over the thunder.

Xander looked around and saw a gazebo in a park across the street. He grabbed her hand. "Over there! Let's go!"

They raced towards the shelter, still holding hands. The small white structure was reached quickly, and they sat down on the bench as they tried to catch their breath. "Bonus points if you can tell me what I'm thinking right now," Xander grinned after a few moments.

Willow laughed. "I am sixteen, going on seventeen, innocent as a rose. Bachelor dandies, drinkers of brandies, what do I know of those?" she sang. The musical had come immediately to her mind, as well.

"Oooh, so close," he teased her. Actually, that had been what he was thinking, but then he had thought of something even better, a later scene. "Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could. So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good. For here you are, standing there, loving me, whether or not you should," he sang to her softly.

Tears welled up in her eyes. "I guess I don't need to tell you that I love you, after all," she whispered. "You already know."

"I'd still like to hear it," he said, sounding hesitant. "It's a nice thing to hear."

"I love you, Xander Harris. I always have. I'm completely head over heels for you and your daughter," she said quietly. He could barely hear her over the pouring rain, but he knew what she was saying.

Involuntary tears came to his eyes now. He had waited so long to hear those words from her lips, and here they were. "I love you, too, Willow. I love you so much." Her long wet hair was tangled in front of her face and he brushed it back behind her ear before tracing a path from her ear to her chin and lifting her face towards his.

Oblivious to the pounding rain blown into their shelter by the wind, they leaned closer until their lips met in a gentle kiss. Almost immediately, Xander began deepening it, nudging Willow's lips apart with his tongue. Her mouth opened willingly, allowing their tongues to meet and dance. She gave a low moan as he pulled his mouth from hers and found other kissable places while moving down her throat towards her chest. Her fingers tangled in his hair as he started to unbutton her green blouse to allow himself easier access to her breasts. On the second button, she realized exactly where they were and what they were doing.

"Xand?" she breathed. He didn't stop. "Xander," she said a little more forcefully. She gave a little tug on his hair and he reluctantly broke contact, panting even heavier than she was. "The rain is stopping. Let's go home. This isn't the place."

"Right. Stopping," Xander said, his mind still numb.

She smiled sweetly at him. "Only temporarily. I fully intend to pick this up later, when we're not in a public place."

"You're right," he agreed. "We'll move up to exhibitionism."

She laughed and offered him her hand. "Let's go. Sooner we leave, sooner we get home."

He stood and swung her into his arms, ignoring her squeak of surprise. "As you wish, my lady." She wrapped her arms around his neck and cuddled close as he walked down the gazebo stairs.

When they arrived at their apartment fifteen minutes later, Willow was walking. They had their arms around each other, and Willow's hand had slipped into Xander's back jeans pocket. Willow liked being carried up to a point, and that point had been reached the second time that Xander nearly dropped her onto the sidewalk. Giggling, she had finally begged him to put her down, and he had consented with some relief. They reached the doorway of their house and let themselves in.

They looked at each other hesitantly, neither exactly sure where they should start. "Um, I'll call Buffy and check on Melanie. Meet you upstairs?" she asked uncertainly.

He gave a quick nod. "Okay. Upstairs. Good idea," he prattled on.

She shot him an amused smile and went for the phone as he headed up the stairs. *Way to impress her, Xand,* he thought to himself wryly. *Bring on the babble. Babble boy, that's what they should call me.* He went into the bedroom they shared and looked around. "Okay, we want it spur-of-the moment romantic-ish, but not too cheesy. And here I am talking to myself again," he groaned, moving to turn down the lavender coverlet in what he hoped was an inviting way.

When Willow entered the bedroom a few minutes later, Xander was sitting on the edge of the bed nervously. He had taken his shirt off and was twisting it in his hands, uncertain of what to do next. He wanted this to be as perfect as possible.

"Buffy called while we were out," Willow told him, still standing just inside the threshold of the bedroom. "She said that Mel was sleeping and not to bother her. She'll stay with Giles and Katherine tonight and we can pick her up tomorrow morning sometime."

"Sounds good to me," he nodded. There was an awkward silence as neither moved. Finally their eyes met and they started laughing at the absurdity of their situation. Xander stood and took the few steps to reach Willow, pressing her smaller body against his in a tender hug. She smiled into his shoulder and began running her fingers up against the warm flesh of his back. She giggled as his hands made trails up her sides. She pulled out of the hug to squirm as his fingers tickled her gently under the edge of her t-shirt.

"I'm feeling a little overdressed," Willow said, a little shyly.

"I can fix that." Xander carefully took the bottom of the t-shirt and slid it off over her head. He smiled with amazement at how beautiful she was, red hair swirling around her shoulders and her creamy skin that looked beautifully pale next to her forest green lace bra.

"I love you," she said softly, as he closed his eyes to savor the words.

"I love you, too" he whispered into her ear as he bent his head down to kiss the exact spot on her neck where it met her shoulder. She sighed with pleasure as he rained kisses down from her neck down her shoulder. When he lifted his head, her eyes were closed and she had this cute sexy smile on her face that he couldn't resist kissing. She moved her hands up to his neck and wrapped her arms around them, pressing herself closer to him.

Together, they moved from the doorway where they had been standing over to the bed. Xander untangled her from his neck enough to reach around in front of her and begin undoing her jeans. She moved her hands to do the same thing to him, fumbling slightly with the zipper. They both helped guide each other's jeans down, and he supported her as she stepped out of them.

"God, Will, you are so beautiful!" He nudged her gently back onto the bed and followed, laying his weight tentatively onto hers to give her a kiss. "Am I squishing you?" he asked, trying to move around.

"Nope. Come back here," she smiled, pulling him closer. She kissed him without any hesitation and bent one knee up as he sank himself over her body. He decided to even out the clothing situation by removing the velvety covering from her breasts, but had trouble with the clasp until she moved her hands up to help. She released the front attachment and he pushed it aside and replaced it with his hands.

He gently touched her breasts as she closed her eyes and let the sensations overwhelm her. She didn't realize she was making little breathy noises until he stopped and she was able to breathe for a moment before his fingertips hit her raised nipple. Then the heavy breathing wasn't enough; little noises of excitement escaped her lips. He moved his month down to cover one of them and she let out a moan of pleasure. He swirled his tongue around her nipple before gently sucking her into his month. As he removed his mouth, he carefully touched the tip of his tongue down to trace the darkened skin around her nipple and kissed the underside of her breast with a satisfied smile for making her moan. He repeated the action on her other, causing her to almost lose control.

After he gave such exquisite attention to her breasts, he looked down on her, and couldn't help but let his body drop and cover her breasts with his broad chest. He cradled her as they both tried to breathe. He rolled them both onto their sides as he played with the lace on her underwear, and proceeded to slide them down her long smooth legs. As he dropped her panties on the floor, he removed his boxers and placed them beside the silky pieces on the floor, exposing his fully erect manhood. He slid back on the bed and covered her with his body. She tentatively moved her hands down his sides and moved her fingers to touch him. He moaned and she curved her hand around it gently. Before she made him unable to think, he reached behind him, opened a drawer and pulled out a foil covered package. He tore his mouth off of hers long enough to use his teeth to open it. She took it from him and placed it on, rolling it down as he gritted his teeth at the pleasure of her hands on him so intimately. He grabbed her hands and in one move, pinned her with his body to the bed, with her hands entwined in his. He stopped for a quick second to look deep into her eyes, and she smiled in assent to his unasked question.

Xander's mind was a blur as he moved between her legs. He carefully took his finger and touched the skin between her legs, parting her lips and moved him finger into her. This was enough to make her squirm and she was dripping wet. Using his hand to guide himself into her entry, he pushed into her carefully but firmly. She closed her eyes and held onto his other hand that was still entwined in hers, moaning at the new feeling that was starting. He breathed deeply as he pulled out and then sank back in a little further, thrusting several times until he saw her face twist up with pleasure. He let himself go in and out, using one hand to gently squeeze her breast. The feeling that Willow couldn't stop suddenly overwhelmed her body and she came, hard, with a tightening inside that made him fall on top of her, his face contorted with passion, coming hard right after her.

Xander and Willow lay there, still holding each other tight without any thoughts of regret until they fell asleep together.

December 25, 2001

Willow awoke to Xander's mouth on her own. "Merry Christmas, Will," he said cheerfully.

She smiled and stretched languidly underneath him. "Merry Christmas, Xander," she said drowsily, arching to reach his kiss.

He pulled back and dragged her with him. "Ready to open presents?" he asked, bouncing on the bed next to her.

She shook her head, dazed. "Xander, what time is it?" she asked in disbelief.

"Six," he told her, grinning boyishly. "Mel and I have been up for about an hour, but decided to let you sleep in."

"You're insane," she informed him, and laid back down.

He laughed. "No, I'm not. Come on, let's go." He dragged her out of the bed and pulled her into Melanie's room, where she was sitting up in her crib waiting for them. "I told you she wouldn't disappoint us," Xander told his daughter as he picked her up. The trio headed downstairs, where the tree was set up in the living room.

"Xander, you do realize that she's only eight months old, and we're probably completely overwhelming her," Willow pointed out, yawning. "In the last 2 weeks, we've had eight days of Chanukah and gifts, and now Christmas."

"Will, it's every kid's dream. Nine days of presents, two religions of holidays. Trust me, she'll thank us when she's older." Xander set Melanie down on a blanket where he and Willow had piled her new toys the night before. None of them were wrapped or in boxes, and the infant rolled over to play under her new jungle gym, happily ignoring the people she had come to know as her parents.

"Okay, she's set. Now it's time for your presents," Xander said cheerfully. They exchanged the few gifts they had bought for each other, and opened them with great relish, with even Willow waking up and getting into the holiday spirit.

When they had finished, Willow offered to get breakfast if Xander cleaned up the wrapping paper.

"Um, not quite yet," he stopped her. "You're not done opening your presents yet."

She looked at him in confusion. "But there's nothing left under the tree."

"You didn't check your stocking yet." He led her over to the staircase where he had hung a red vinyl stocking that had her name written on it with a silver fabric pen.

"Oh, Xander, I forgot! I didn't get you anything for yours. I'm sorry," she apologized, feeling awful.

"Don't worry about it. These presents are really for both of us," he told her. He handed her the stocking and they went to sit on the couch.

She reached in and first pulled out a long, narrow box. She glanced at him quizzically, and he motioned for her to open it, which she did. "A pen?" She was clearly confused. "It's a nice pen, Xander."

He tried to laugh, but was visibly nervous. He licked his lips. "It has to do with the big envelope."

"Okay, then." She pulled the manilla envelope out next and opened it. Her eyes widened and she pulled a sheaf of papers out. "Xander?" she asked, her voice trembling.

"A few weeks ago, I got a letter from my lawyer. After six months, Megan's petition to give up custody of Melanie was finalized. There's no way anymore that she can ever come back and say that she's the mother. And we already talked about how Mel will call you Mama, so I thought you might want to make it official," he finished in a rush.

"You want me to adopt Melanie?" Willow asked, still staring at the papers.

"If you want to?" he said nervously.

"If I want to?" Her eyes filled with tears. "Xander, I don't think you could have possibly given me a better present. Give me the pen."

He gave her the pen, which he had been clutching in his hand, and she signed her name with a flourish. "There we go. What do we have to do now?"

"Give it to my lawyer, go to court and tell them how wonderful you are and how much you love Melanie, and wait to get you approved, which I'm sure you will. And that's it."

"And then I'll be Melanie's mommy." She leaned over to look at the child still playing with her toy. "Did you hear that, Mel? I'm going to be your mommy."

"Willow, you've always been her mommy. You know that," he said gently.

She turned to face him and he saw that she was crying. "I love you, Xander," she said, throwing her arms around him.

He pulled her close. "I love you, too," he smiled, trying to hold back his own tears. He had made mistakes before, and now things were finally right. Just the way it should be.

Willow pulled back and wiped her eyes. "I'll get us breakfast, and then we'll head to the shop to do the present thing with the others, okay? You clean up and get the presents together."

An hour later, they were ready to go. Willow was carrying Melanie and the diaper bag, and Xander had all the presents. They stuffed everything into Willow's new car and drove to Giles' shop, where everyone was gathered.

They walked in, bells on the door jingling. "We're here, let the party begin," Xander called out. Giles, Katherine and Buffy were setting out various snacks while Spike was trying to eat them all.

"It's about time you got here," Buffy chided them. "I want my presents!"

Willow laughed. "Sorry. But you'll never believe what I got for Christmas," she said excitedly.

"Jewelry?" Buffy asked, just as excited.

"Better. Adoption papers! I'm going to be Mel's legal mother," Willow announced.

"Congratulations!" Giles and Katherine chorused. Katherine gave her a hug while Giles took the baby from her.

"That's wonderful, Willow. And it's wonderful for you, too, Melanie," he told the girl, who cooed back at him.

"Yes, it's great," Buffy agreed. "Exactly the way things should be. Now let's open presents!"

"What makes you think you got any, love?" Spike drawled.

"Because if I didn't, you're not getting anything. And I do mean anything," she said sweetly.

"Right, then. Presents for the Slayer, piled right here!" Spike announced, grinning at Buffy.

There was a flurry of activity, with oohs and ahhs as they passed out the gifts and opened them. An hour later, the last visible present was opened. "Is that it?" Buffy asked, from her perch on Spike's lap.

"Not quite," Xander spoke up. "One more, for Willow."

"Another one?" she asked in amazement. "Xander, I can't think of anything else you could have possibly gotten me. There's so much already."

"I can think of something," Katherine whispered to Buffy, who nodded in agreement. Willow ignored them, keeping her eyes focused on Xander's.

"Remember when I told you that some presents were for both of us?" She nodded. "This is another one of those." He pulled a small velvet box out of his jacket pocket and swiftly bent down on one knee as Willow gasped, her hands flying to her face. "Willow Rosenberg, will you marry me?"

She burst into tears for the second time that morning and nodded violently. "Yes. Yes, yes, yes!" She flung her arms around his neck briefly before pulling back to look at the diamond ring that he slid onto her finger. "Wow," she whispered. "I love you," she breathed softly, leaning her forehead on his.

"I love you, too," he said just as softly, his breath tickling her face. They shared a quick kiss before turning back to the group.

"We're getting married!" Willow squealed. Amid more congratulations, Giles called for their attention.

"Ahem. Yes, I also have some news that I would like to share, although it is not quite as. . .big as Xander and Willow's." He cleared his throat again and reached for Katherine's hand, pulling her to stand in front of him. "Starting next week, I'll be closing down the shop for a month. Kate and I are going on a vacation to England together, to visit my parents. We will then be staying at my family's house in the countryside," he said with a smile as he wrapped his arms around Katherine and kissed the top of her head.

Buffy, Willow, and Spike exchanged bewildered looks. "You guys are. . .dating?" Buffy asked, unable to keep the surprise out of her voice.

"Oh, thank God," Xander said in relief. "Finally, I can stop worrying about keeping this secret."

"You knew and you didn't tell me?" Willow hit his arm.

"Well, it wasn't my place," Xander protested. "Besides, no one ever told me, either. It was just really hard to not know after awhile." His eyes met Giles' and they looked away very quickly.

"Giles, I had no idea," Buffy said, still stupefied. "How long have you guys been together?"

Katherine and Giles exchanged nervous looks. "It's been a long time," Katherine informed her. "Nearly a year, in fact. My birthday, last February. We didn't mean to keep it a secret, we just never knew what to say."

"Wow. Well, congratulations to you guys too, I guess," Buffy said. She smiled. "This is going to take getting used to, but I'm happy for you both."

"Thank you, Buffy," Giles said softly, their eyes meeting. They had always had a special connection, and Buffy didn't have a very good record of sharing, but she let him know that she was going to try this time.

"Well, Spike and I have to get going," Buffy said regretfully. "We're spending the rest of the day with my mom."

"And Rupert and I must also take our leave," Katherine admitted. "We've been invited to have dinner with my friend Shelley and her husband David. Congratulations again, Willow."

Willow gave her a beaming smile. "Thanks, Katherine," she said as she packed up Melanie's things. "Ready to go?" she asked Xander.

"Ready and willing. Bye, guys," he waved with Melanie.

"Buh!" Melanie called, to the delight of everyone assembled.

"Call me tomorrow, Will," Buffy instructed. "We have a wedding to plan!"

Willow grinned happily at Xander, the room disappearing for them as their eyes met. "Yes, we certainly do."

THE END

Song credits: She's So High is performed by Tal Bachman.

Forever Home (A Father's Lullaby) is performed by Wally Kurth.

Sixteen Going On Seventeen and Something Good are from the musical "The Sound of Music."