In truth a family is what you make it.
It is made strong, not by number of heads counted at the dinner table,
but by the rituals you help family members create,
by the memories you share,
by the commitment of time, caring, and love you show to one another,
and by the hopes for the future you have as individuals and as a unit.
Marge Kennedy and Janet Spencer King, The Single Parent Family
The family is the test of freedom;
because the family is the only thing that the free man
makes for himself and by himself.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Dramatic Unities, Fancies Versus Fads
An ounce of blood is worth more than a pound of friendship.
Families are like fudge - mostly sweet with a few nuts.
If you don't believe in ghosts, you've never been to a family reunion.
"What is real?"
Giles raised his head, peering at the young teenager whose question still echoed in the shop’s interior. "Connor?"
He came closer, dumping his backpack at the bottom of the short stairs next to the counter. "All that stuff Spike and Wesley told me. Is it real? The truth?"
The truth. Giles had wondered when Spike would tell Connor about his parents; about their past. He’d also wondered how much of that past Spike would divulge; whether Spike would eliminate his own part in the murder and destruction.
Brought out of his musings by Connor’s repeated question, Giles took off his glasses to look at the boy. "What exactly did Spike tell you?"
Connor laughed, the sound not a happy one. "What didn’t he tell me? Did they really do all those things?"
There were times when Giles seriously doubted Spike’s intelligence. Telling a preternaturally strong hormonal teenaged boy the unvarnished truth about his parents was a prime example. "Why don’t you tell me exactly what Spike told you."
Unconsciously mimicking his father figure, Connor turned the chair backwards and slid onto it easily. With a deep sigh, he fiddled with the books on the table. Stalling for time while he tried to figure out what to say, Connor avoided the old man’s gaze.
Finally giving in to the inevitable, he started speaking.
It took him well over an hour, and some of it was far more detailed and gruesome than Giles had been prepared for. Spike had spared little detail, nor had he spared himself in the telling.
By the end, Connor was sweating profusely and Giles could detect the sheen of tears in his eyes. The boy tried hard to hide them, averting his gaze from the former Watcher.
When his voice trailed off into nothing, Giles maintained the silence. He slowly got to his feet, heading over to his secret stash of whiskey under the counter. For a few minutes, the only noise was the thick clunk of the full glass hitting the table.
Connor stared at it in disbelief. "No tea?"
"I believe this requires something a bit stronger."
"That’s pretty cool for a guy who’s like my grandfather."
Giles faltered, the comment catching him off guard. Though if he thought about it . . . "What makes you say that?"
"Buffy’s always saying that you’re a better father than her real one and Spike calls you his father-in-law. Am I wrong?"
Releasing a deep sigh, Giles sat down next to the boy. "No. No, you’re not wrong." He took his own glass, staring at the amber liquid. "There are moments when I actually forget Buffy’s not my flesh and blood."
Connor eyed the whiskey. "So it sort of makes you my grandfather."
Giles shifted his gaze. It struck him, in that moment, what the teen was looking for – connection. His only living relative was Spike, and even that was a stretch. He had no true family, so Connor had to make his own.
He’d always known Buffy had a compassionate streak and she’d taken the infant without any hesitation. Spike’s reaction had been something of a surprise, since there was no love lost between the two male vampires.
Then again, Spike was something of an anomaly. He valued family and love, not typically qualities generally associated with vampires. Although the more Giles learned about older vampires, the less applicable was the Council’s rhetoric, because Jenner also defied Council teachings. Not to the same extent that Spike did, but both vampires were extremely loyal, among other things.
Realizing abruptly that his musings had taken him far afield from the conversation, Giles sipped the whiskey, smiling when Connor gasped after swallowing a dram. "I’d be honored if you considered me your grandfather."
Connor’s eyes glimmered with mirth. "So you won’t mind if I call you Pop?"
Though it’s much better than Grandpa.
"Why do you tell everyone I’m your brother?" Connor swung around to look at Dawn, narrowly avoiding a tombstone.
"Because." She shrugged. "What the hell else am I supposed to tell them? ‘Hey, this is Connor. He’s not really related to me, except in that crazy weird way vampires are related.’ I’m not sure that’s gonna fly."
"But your brother? Why not cousin?" He stepped on top of a headstone, balanced for a moment, then jumped to another. "Brother is weird. I don’t feel like your brother."
Dawn sighed, rolling her eyes as he continued jumping from one tombstone to the next. "It’s just easier. People in Sunnydale don’t question weirdness."
"Yeah. I noticed." Bored with jumping, Connor flipped off a marble slab into a handstand, walking upside down. "Nobody notices anything strange."
"I’m pretty sure they’d notice you now, dumbass." Dawn stopped walking, waiting for him to stop fooling around. "Are you done? We’re supposed to be patrolling."
"There’s nothing going on. I’m bored." Springing off his hands and back over onto his feet, Connor landed just beside Dawn. "This blows."
"Yeah." She glanced around. "This place is dead."
"Ha. Funny." Connor grabbed a tree branch, swinging from it. "How come we’re only allowed to patrol alone in Restfield?"
"Because this is where Spike’s crypt is and only really stupid vamps and demons hang out here. Buffy figures it’s the safest place around."
Connor stopped swinging and stared at her. "Are you serious? I can handle anything that pops up. I’m a better fighter than Wesley and he goes by himself."
"And that’s it?" Connor swung the short-sword Dawn always carried on patrol, feinting at thin air. "Pretty lame."
"Wesley is not lame!" Too late Dawn realized her mistake and tried to cover it up by blustering, but Connor caught the slip.
"He’s old, Dawnie."
"Shut up." She flounced away, trying to hide the blush staining her cheeks. "He’s not."
"Yeah, he is. Besides, Spike would kill him." Connor grabbed her shoulder, pulling her around to face him. "Hey! Why ’re you crying?"
"Leave me alone." Dawn shrugged him off, heading deeper into the cemetery. She whirled around, shaking a finger at him. "Don’t you dare say anything! No one knows. So don’t –"
He started teasing her, watching her get more and more agitated the longer he kept at it. When she’d finally had enough, Dawn smacked his chest hard, shrieking at him. Connor was laughing, easily fending her off until he grabbed her hands and asked, "Is this what brothers and sisters do?"
Dawn stared at him for a minute, hair sticking to her sweaty skin, anger warring with amusement. "You’re such a jerk."
"I guess it’s not so weird then." When she looked at him, clearly confused, he continued, "Being your brother."
"You called me that already." Dawn sneered and smacked him.
"It’s the only insult I know." Connor play slapped her back. "Except for the ones Spike uses. But those are really mean."
"Nope. Just – hey! I’m the older brother!"
"Ah. No. I’m older." Dawn shook her head, wondering at his logic.
"I aged more."
"Dweeb. I totally remember changing your diapers. I’m older."
Dawn collapsed in a fit of giggles. “That’s what you did. Frequently.”
I am not a happy camper.
Buffy stretched out her legs, wiggling her toes and staring at the chipped polish. She tried to think of the last time Dawn had taken pity on her and painted them, but couldn’t remember.
"Augh. This is a major pain in the butt."
Just about seven months pregnant, Buffy was feeling huge and ungainly. Her center of gravity was completely off, the weight of her distended belly keeping her off balance. Whenever she stood up, her feet disappeared and she couldn’t even tie her own shoes anymore. Reduced to wearing slip-ons and loafers, Buffy constantly grumbled. Not even the chocolate Spike kept bringing home was helping.
And to top it off, it’s Mother’s Day weekend.
Everyone was out doing something. Dawn and Tara were out food shopping, while Spike and Connor were – she didn’t actually know what they were doing. Buffy was grateful they’d all left her alone, except now she was all grumpy. She was hungry, her back was achy and she needed someone to rub it. Buffy shifted, feeling sorry for herself.
Even the self-pity was half-hearted. Buffy wasn’t feeling up to much of anything.
To give the girls credit, they had extended the invitation for her to go with them, but for the first time ever, Buffy said no to shopping.
So here she was, stuck on the couch, her mood heading further and further south. Her mood, coupled with the lack of interest in doing anything, spiraled downward. Watching television was out, painting her toes was very out. The only thing she wanted right now was sympathy.
Giving in to her general mopey state, Buffy sighed heavily and resigned herself to utter boredom.
Fifteen minutes later, she was not much better off, though she’d finally found a movie to watch. And minutes after that, the sulkiness overflowed. Watching Lumiere sing invitingly to Belle had her eyes flooding for no good reason.
Buffy didn’t know what was worse, the bulkiness and inability to move easily or the grumpy wild mood swings. Because at this moment, the pendulum had swung the other way and now she was just plain angry. Angry with herself for the pity party she’d been so hellbent on throwing and angry at everyone else for leaving her to it.
Making a supreme effort, Buffy called upon her inner strengths – of will and muscle – getting her mind and body under control. All right, Buffy Anne, get up.
Just as she gained her feet, the front door flew open and Connor hop-stepped in the door. It slammed shut behind him, hard enough to rattle the windows and shake the walls. Though from the expression on his face, Buffy didn’t think he cared if the house came down around their ears.
Taking a closer look at him, Buffy bit her lip, holding back her laughter. Connor’s entire left side from just beneath his arm down to his foot was encased in what appeared to be fyarl snot, hardening his clothes and making it almost impossible for him to move.
"Sometimes I hate doing this."
"What happened?" She reached for his sweatshirt, trying to pry it off. "Um. You might wanna jump in the shower like this."
"If I can make it upstairs." Connor’s shoulders slumped visibly. "Guess I should’ve listened when Spike said to move."
"Yeah huh." She didn’t bother teasing him, he looked far too dejected. "Go shower downstairs. I’ll get you clean clothes."
Neither one of them was able to move very fast, though Buffy still made it down from his room before Connor hit the cellar door. "This sucks."
"Wasn’t my favorite part of slaying either. You know, there are still some stains I have no idea how my mother got rid of." Buffy giggled at the look on his face. "Seriously. Have you ever seen Sumuk blood? Gross."
She made a face. "Although this is snot, so yeah. Just as gross."
Connor’s face held a look Buffy hadn’t ever seen before. At least not from him. "Wow. That’s the first time you’ve ever looked like Angel."
That stopped him right in his tracks. "I don’t look like him?"
"Nope. Not really. You look more like your mother."
"Spike never told me." There was a another expression of Angel’s on his face and this time Buffy didn’t bother to hide her reaction.
"Go shower. We’ll talk more when you’re clean." He tried to open the door and failed. "And movable."
After helping him down the cellar stairs, Buffy trudged all the way up to the attic. Somewhere in all the junk from high school she was sure there was a picture of Angel. There were none of Darla, that much she knew, although maybe she could talk Spike into drawing one for Connor.
While none of them wanted reminders of Connor’s parents, Buffy had a feeling he might. He had a right to know some good things about them; about how Angel had tried to do the right thing, tried to help people. And though she was hard pressed to think of anything good coming from Darla, she had sacrificed herself so that Connor would live. Buffy ran a hand over her own protruding belly.
I get that. Even if you were a bitch and a vampire, you loved him more than yourself. And he should know that.
Maybe Spike can remember something good.
Connor stepped into the kitchen, carrying his boots in one hand. Buffy was sitting at the counter, flipping through an oversized book. “Feeling better?”
"Yeah." He held up the boots. "Need new ones."
"Are they cracked?" She didn’t bother looking up.
He gave them a once over, trying to see through all the hardened slime. "Dunno. Can’t really tell."
"Let Spike look at them before you trash ’em. They’re Docs, so they should be okay."
He paused as he walked past her, the pictures on the page catching his attention. "What’s that?"
"Pictures from high school." She sighed. "Feels like it was a lifetime ago. Like I was a different person."
He laughed, pointing at her picture. "You look really young."
“I was." She uncovered the other half of the picture. "That’s Angel."
"Huh." Connor stared at it, noting the dark broad features, square jaw and deep set eyes. He looked nothing like his father, nothing at all. He half expected some sort of – jolt of recognition, some connection to the man in the picture . . .
The only thing he was feeling was curiosity.
"What – " The word caught in his throat and Connor stopped, then tried again. "What was he like?"
Somehow they ended up back in the living room with Connor sprawled out on the floor, flipping through the photo album while Buffy talked.
At first halting and awkward, Buffy’s words had finally started flowing, painting a picture for Connor of not only what Angel was like, but Buffy and the others as well. She’d tried skirting around the issue of Angelus’ first reappearance though once Connor told her Spike had already shared his own memories of that dark time, she gave in and told him everything.
He distractedly hummed an answer, his attention on the boots he was trying to salvage.
Obviously, Buffy wanted his full attention. He looked up and over his shoulder, to see her framed in the doorway. "What’s up, kitten?"
"Can you do me a favor?" She had a funny look on her face, like she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to be asking him for that favor, but she felt she had to.
Not that he didn’t want to indulge her every whim, however something told him he should ask very carefully what she wanted. "What?"
"It’s not really for me. Well, it’s more for Connor, but I’m asking and he doesn’t know anything about it." She twirled the ends of her hair around a finger, an action he always found distracting.
He swung around to look at her fully, shaking his head a bit. "Well, can’t rightly say no, then, can I?"
The smile she gifted him with was nearly blinding. "See, I knew you’d do it."
"Exactly what is it ‘m doing?" He folded his arms across his chest, staring down at her upturned face.
"I need you to draw a picture of Darla for Connor." She held a finger up to his lips, stopping his words before they started. "Just hear me out. He’s got no pictures of her, nothing. He doesn’t know who he looks like, and he. . . he just has us for family. I think maybe if he had something of them, he – " She shrugged, letting the words hang in the air between them.
"Right." Spike nodded, then kissed her fingertip. "Any particular occasion you want this for?"
"Nope. Just because." Buffy leaned into his chest, snuggling against him.
Spike figured it wouldn’t take that long. The minute Buffy had confessed why she wanted the drawing, he had an image stuck in his mind. One evening, not long before Angel was cursed, Darla had been in a contemplative mood – a rarity for her – and she’d curled up in front of a fire and stared at it for hours. He’d never been able to ask her what had been on her mind, though he imagined, in his head, that she had been thinking deeply about her life and all the changes she’d seen. She’d looked exquisitely beautiful in that moment. Spike decided if he could recapture that look it would be the pose he’d use.
He’d give the boy something good, something to treasure.
A moment out of time.
The drawings were done. Pen and ink – shadowed with nuances. Spike had thought longest about just how to present the images and he’d decided, almost without realizing it, that it didn’t matter what color Darla’s hair or eyes were – or what fancy dress she wore. What mattered was her expression. Her face. The tale her eyes told.
It also took him less time to sketch it than he thought, so he’d added another figure to the page. This one was of Angel, staring off into the distance, his gaze averted from the viewer. That image was culled from another of Spike’s memories – this one after he’d killed the Chinese Slayer, and the look on Angel’s face as they boarded a schooner bound for San Francisco. It was just before Darla exiled him, but from the pensive look on Angel’s face, he’d known it was coming.
On a whim, Spike had drawn another set of figures. The second set was of the family Connor knew. Dawn and Buffy, and Giles and Anya.
The girls were side by side, Dawn’s head resting on Buffy’s shoulder. It was from just after Christmas, when Dawn had been so devastated by Casey’s death, nearly inconsolable. He hadn’t drawn the bruises and damage from Angel’s attack, though the faint hint of the scar over her eyebrow was present. While her eyes were closed, Buffy’s had been open, tears brimming in her full lashes.
In the last drawing, Spike had decided something whimsical was needed, otherwise everyone would be in tears every time they looked at the pictures. He’d drawn Anya whispering something naughty in Giles’ ear, capturing the instant of his reaction. The former Watcher had a rakish grin teasing about his features and Anya had a wicked twinkle in her whiskey-colored eyes.
He hadn’t told anyone the drawings were complete. For once, Spike wanted everyone to be surprised.
About two weeks after Buffy had asked him, Spike asked Tara to fix something special for dinner, and to keep it between the two of them. She’d come through, just as he’d expected her to and prepared a spectacular meal. Everyone was there all of them that mattered, in his mind.
When the dinner was finished, he got up quietly from his seat and retrieved the drawings from behind the couch. "Got something for you, sprog."
Connor looked up, confusion etched on his features. "What?"
Spike handed him an oblong package, wrapped plainly in brown paper and tied with twine. "Open it. Won’t bite."
"You sure?" Connor looked around the table, finding no answers there, only more confusion. "Okay."
Using his steak knife, Connor snapped the twine and unfolded the paper. He stared down at the drawing, his mind blank. Connor couldn’t think, wasn’t entirely sure what he was seeing. "Is this –"
Spike understood what he was asking. Without making the boy ask any further, he launched into an explanation. "We were in Salzburg. Was a bitter winter, so bloody cold. She was feelin’ a bit. . . " He shrugged, struggling to find the right words to explain her mood. "Don’t rightly know what she was feelin’, but she looked so calm, so peaceful. She was a beautiful woman. Bright blue eyes an’ blond curls. Jus’ like a doll. A perfect English miss."
His voice faded away, realizing their exchange had captured everyone’s attention. Spike cleared his throat, watching as Connor’s finger hovered over the drawing, tracing the lines of Darla’s features. "Wasn’t long after that we were in, well now it’s Romania, but then it was still part of the Empire."
"What happened then?" The question was out of Connor’s mouth before he could take it back, though no one had the heart to stop him.
"That’s when Angelus – well, he," Spike looked up and caught Buffy’s eye. When she nodded once at his unspoken question, Spike continued. "Wrong place, wrong time, at least for him. He caught the wrong victim, an’ the gypsies cursed him."
Spike pointed to the other drawing. "This was just before she tossed him out on his ear. S’pose he knew it was comin’."
Connor barely glanced at Angel’s features. His gaze was riveted on Darla’s, his fingers unable to stop going over her features. His voice was a bare whisper. "She was beautiful."
Silence settled around the table; the kind no one is certain how to break, full of import and meaning. Connor’s eyes filmed over and he sniffled hard, swallowing heavily, then wiped at his eyes. Everyone waited until he was ready, until he was willing to share the gift Spike had given him.
His voice, when he finally spoke again, was laced with suppressed tears. "So what’s that?"
"Here." Spike thrust the other package at him, taking the first drawings back.
Going through the same motions, Connor opened the second package. "Oh."
He was too tongue-tied to speak, uncertain of his ability to keep his emotions in check, but Connor tried. "Why?"
Spike looked over at Buffy, sharing a look with her. "Buffy thought you might want a picture of your mum." He glanced down at the teen and shrugged a bit. "An’ I thought maybe you might want a picture of all your family."
Connor looked down at the drawings then back up at Spike. He choked up, shaking his head in an effort to control the tears. "Well," He looked around at everyone at the table. "If this is all of my family, then it’s missing some people."
It was Dawn who voiced the question. "Who’s that?"
"Everyone who’s here." When no one reacted, once more Connor looked around at all of them. "Aren’t we all family?"