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What Dreams May Bring

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He knew she was there as soon as he entered Wolfram & Hart’s massive lobby. He could single out her scent in a crowd of hundreds. Standing not more than twenty feet from him was Buffy Summers. The woman of his dreams and nightmares. Calm, ethereal, ~and yes, damn it, effulgent ! Still a perfectly serviceable word.~ she raised a perfectly manicured brow as he stood there, gaping like a slack-jawed fool. She had put on some well needed weight, bringing back curves he hadn’t seen since she was an innocent sixteen year old dancing at the Bronze and he couldn’t tear himself away.

She smiled at him, obviously not shocked that he was back from the ashes. He should have known that silly git Andrew wouldn’t have been able to keep his mouth shut. It had been months, though. When did she find out and why did it take so long for her to let him know?

“It’s good to see you again, Spike,” she said softly. “I never thought I’d get that chance.”

A slight nod of his head indicated that he’d heard her. Spike stood there, paralyzed with indecision. He’d dreamt about seeing her again for so long. He wanted nothing more than to run to her and scoop her up into his arms, aching with the need to do so. The problem was the same as always – he had no clue as to her reaction. They were in the midst of a public space – would she push him away? Drag him behind closed doors? There was no way he could deal with that again, so he stood his ground, trembling with the restraint to stay his feet.

Rolling her eyes in a motion so practiced it could have been predicted by anyone who knew her, Buffy was the first to break the stalemate by walking over to the stunned vampire and placing a kiss on his cheek.

“Look at you, pet. You’re stunning.” His eyes never left the vision before him as he circled around, finding the back view just as enticing as the front.

She blushed at the compliment, her cheeks flaring pink. “You don’t look half bad yourself, Mister. Resurrection becomes you.” A slight tremor ran through her body. “Spike, is there somewhere we can go? I really need to sit…”

He caught her before she hit the ground.

“Hey, Spikey,” said Harmony, who had silently appeared at his side. "Angel set her up in room 317 for as long as she’s here. Why don’t you take her there, and see if she needs anything.” Her nostrils twitched delicately. “And I’d check her out. Smells like she’s bleeding.”

Spike had been so shocked at seeing her that he hadn’t paid attention to his own senses. Yes, she smelled the same, but there was an undercurrent of fresh spilled blood, and something else – something indefinable. Taking the elevator, he reasoned he could always call a doctor if necessary.

Shifting the Slayer in his arms he attempted to open the door, finding it locked. Before he could turn to find an employee with a master key, the door was opened by – Dawn. Seeing Spike with a passed out Buffy in his arms, she urged them inside.

“What happened to my sister? Did you do anything or say anything to upset her?” The look on her face rivaled the Slayer’s best ‘tell me what I need to know and I might not stake you’ expression, one Spike was intimately familiar with from their early days.

“Nib – Dawn, I swear I didn’t say anything past ‘you look stunning’ before she said she wanted a seat and collapsed. And she’s hurt, bleeding from somewhere. There’s something else that I just can’t place. Do you know what’s wrong with her?”

Visibly relaxing, she said, “Don’t worry, she’ll be fine. It’s all sorta normal post… hey, did she say anything to you at all? And by the way, how come you never bothered letting us know you were back? We had to find out from Andrew. The little geek called from the plane and… you do know you can put her down on the couch now, yes?”

With a sheepish grin, Spike reluctantly settled Buffy onto the couch and turned to face his onetime friend, unsure of her reception. He didn’t have long to wait.

Dawn flung herself into his arms, hugging him tightly before pushing him away. “You know, you and Buffy have absolutely ruined life’s lessons on death for me. I mean, you die and come back. It’s hardly novel anymore.”

“Sorry, luv. Pretty much expected to remain ashes…” The vampire cut himself off when he realized he was apologizing for coming back to life.

“Moron,” she said, “You know that’s not what I meant. I’m glad to see you, Spike. Really I am. There’s just so much you need to know and I can’t believe she fainted before telling you.”

“Don’t blame the girl, Bit. You’re here and all conscious. Why don’t you fill me in?”

“Well, some of this isn’t mine to tell, but I’m sure Buff’ll fill in all the missing pieces when she comes to. Just promise me you won’t freak, ‘cause hearing this piecemeal isn’t the best way to go.”

“I’ll do my best, pet. Just tell me something before you’re old enough to be a granny.”

“Hmmpph. Fine, kill my sense of drama why don’t you? Anyway – we found out about you from Andrew months ago, and Buffy wanted to get on the Council’s jet right away. The problem was twofold. For one, Andrew said you promised to call – which you never did and for which you’re so not forgiven. For two, Buffy was advised against traveling. She had a condition that the doctors said took precedence over the stress of flying.”

At that precise moment, Buffy groaned as she sat up. Dawn immediately brought her some bottled water, and they whispered quietly for a moment before Buffy shooed her out of the room and beckoned to Spike to join her on the couch.

“Nice impression I made after all these months, huh? All eighteenth century swoony-girl. You must be so impressed. It’s not quite how I envisioned our first meeting, you know.”

“Thought about me, have you?”

“More than I ever thought I would. I mean, we waited for your call, and nada. I tried to give you your space – to respect your wishes. It just got harder and harder to leave things lying in wait.”

When she looked up to meet his eyes, her own brimmed with unshed tears. “I need to tell you something that’s very important. To you and to me. I will, no matter what, but I want to ask you something first. Do you still love me, Spike?”

“Stupid question, luv. I’ll always love you. That was never the question,” he said softly, unable to maintain eye contact.

“Yeah, I know. We made a damned mess of things… before. As opposed to now,” she said, brightly. “Any chance we might…”

Her question was interrupted by the lusty wails of a baby crying from the back room. Dawn popped her head out of the doorway to apologize. Buffy signaled for her to bring the baby into the main room.

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Spike. I wasn’t able to travel for the past two months because it wasn’t good for the baby, but see? As soon as I could, we hopped on the plane to…“

Spike’s posture stiffened, and his expression closed down. “So, didn’t wait too long to find you that normal existence you were harping on about. I s’pose you’re gonna introduce Papa to me now? Maybe we can be best mates and meet for dinner once a week, so’s I can play Uncle Spike to the sprout?”

“Gods, what is it with interruptions today? I just want to be able to finish a sentence without fainting or crying or…” She took a deep cleansing breath, knowing she’d hurt Spike unintentionally. “I’m sorry – I’m explaining this whole thing badly. Please let me finish. I promise it’ll be okay. Can you trust me on this? For now, until you hear all the facts?”

He nodded, reluctantly. He was never able to deny this woman anything, why fight it now?

Dawn brought the baby in, all dressed in soft greys and pinks with a snug little cap covering her hair. At a look from Buffy, she brought the baby over to Spike, encouraging him to hold her.

He gingerly accepted the little one, and looked at her sweetly smiling face. Wide blue eyes, delicate cheekbones – she reminded him of someone he used to know.

“So, Slayer – tell me about her Papa.” He tried to be cavalier about it, but tears prickled at the corners of his eyes.

“Her father is dead, Spike. He never knew I was pregnant. He died before I knew I was pregnant. She’s a miracle baby, for sure. In fact, Dawnie and I had a long discussion about her name, wanting to honor her missing father. We also decided to name her after her two grandmothers. May I present Miss Willa Joyce Anne Summers-Bennett.”

Spike was so wrapped up in sweet baby smiles, he didn’t pick up on the last name – at first.

“So, tell me about this Bennett chap. You’ve said nothing past he’s dead.”

“We didn’t have a long standing relationship, Mr. Bennett and I. We just had a glimmer of promise before he died. I never even knew his last name until...” Seeing his expression she rapidly continued. “Hey – don’t you raise your eyebrow at me, buddy. Making me out to be a big ho ‘cause I didn’t even know the last name of the man I was sleeping with and wasn’t married. It wasn’t quite that type of relationship. It wasn’t like any relationship I’d ever had before and you know I’ve had some doozies.”

“Not judging, pet – entertain us.” He smirked.

That earned him a clip on the back of his head from Dawn.

“Anyway, being in England was a bonus for me, ‘cause there were birth records and all sorts of things to look up. Oh, did I mention that Mr. Bennett – Will – was British? No? Well, I found all his legal paperwork, and when Willa was born, we added his last name as a hyphen to mine.”

“Bloody hell!” he whispered softly, so’s not to disturb the little one in his arms. “My Mum! That’s who she reminds me of. No… there’s no way it’s possible. You said her father was dead…” he started, realizing how long he’d been played.

“You okay there, Sherlock? Technically, you’re undead and were dead and gone – until we heard otherwise from Andrew. She’s your daughter, William Matthew John Bennett and don’t you ever leave us again.”

Reaching over to remove the hat from their daughter’s head, Buffy laughed. “You know what’s really funny? Neither one of her parents is a natural blond, but look at the color of her hair. If it’s possible, her hair is whiter than yours.”

When the baby began to fuss, Buffy reached for her, opened the buttons on her blouse, and settled back to nurse. Spike sidled in close to mother and child, resting his head on Buffy’s shoulder to watch the miracle of his daughter ~his daughter~ suckle.

Neither knew what the future held in store for them, and were content at the moment just being together – a family for the very first time, captured on film thanks to Auntie Dawn.

Chapter Text

The Beginning (March 2004) – Willa at One Month – Hello, Beautiful

He’s missed her whole beginning, if you don’t count conception. Her Mama’s missed monthlies, morning sickness and mood swings. Middle of the night trips for greasy cheeseburgers and fries, fettuccini carbonara, ice cream sundaes or fried doughnuts.

Never saw the gentle swelling of breasts and belly ripening with new life, the swollen ankles, varicose veins, full-term waddle or the red faced sweaty screaming push from the womb.

He is holding her in his arms in Angel’s suite. He marvels at her innocence and the peaceful glow she’s brought to her Mama. He’s found out she’s his by blood, and that’s…

~*~

He’d missed so much already, if you don’t count conception. Finding out she was pregnant with his child, her eleven a.m. sharp pukefest, listening to her cry, shriek and laugh within five minutes’ time. They never got to share her cravings for pizza with marshmallow sauce or spicy chicken wings dipped in melted cheddar.

Never saw her fat and clumsy, though he’d probably have loved her with some meat on her bones. Never held his hand to her belly, felt the baby kick or heard her heartbeat. Missed her entry into the world.

But he’s holding her now, and that’s…

 

Willa at Two Months (April 2004) – Getting to Know You

They’ve been together for a month now, each day more joyful than the next. Everyone’s gotten together and gifted the new family with a small house in Santa Barbara. In deference to Spike’s “sun allergy” there’s a screened-in porch running around the entire structure.

Buffy watches her vampire from the door, not wanting to intrude on Papa/daughter time. He’s lying on a chaise, Willa reclining in the well of his bent legs. He talks, she coos and gurgles. He vamps out, she smiles and reaches up to pat his face. No fear for their girl.

Much needed family bonding time.

 

Willa at Three Months (May 2004) – Tossing and Turning

It’s four in the morning when the bleary eyed couple untangle their entwined limbs to run into Willa’s bedroom. They find her face down, bobbing her little face into the mattress, crying bitterly.

“Spike, didn’t you put her down on her back?

“’Course I did, pet. S’what that Brazelton bloke says is best for the mite.”

After cuddling, diaper changing and nursing, they place Willa on her back in the crib. Within moments, she’s rocked herself onto her tummy and starts to cry. Each time they right her, she flips back.

It is going to be a long, sleepless night.

 

Willa at Four Months (June 2004) – Papa’s Girl

They’re entertaining tonight. Xander and Willow come to see their ‘niece.’ No overt hostilities between Spike and the others doesn’t mean sweetness and light. When the man’s “Come to Uncle Xander” is met with wails of terror, there’s a glint in the vampire’s eyes when he steps over and says “Come to Papa, sweeting,” and she raises her arms and sweetly smiles.

Strapped into her high chair, Willa’s the center of attention. Anything that falls into the tray is fair game for hands and mouth. Baby spoon, human fingers – it’s all the same.

Buffy wants to check for tiny fangs

 

Willa at Five Months (July 2004) – He Said, She Said

“She did.”

“She did not.”

“I assure you, pet - if I say she called me Papa, then she did.”

“She’s too young to even say the ‘pa’ sound. See? The chapter for five months says she should be saying ‘Mama’ first.”

Picking up his daughter, Spike points to himself and asks, “Who am I, poppet?”

With her chubby little fist, she smacks her daddy on the nose, delightedly shrieking “Papa!” loud and clear.

Laughing, Buffy acquiesces. “I give, Spike. She said ‘Papa’.”

Rubbing his nose, he says, “She may be daddy’s girl, but she takes right after her Mama.”

 

Willa at Six Months (August 2004) – Monkey See, Monkey Try

The day is glorious, and their little family is enjoying a picnic lunch on the floor of the screened porch. Willa is showing off her new skill – sitting all alone, no pillows to prop her up.

All is fine until the mailman approaches, and at his cheery “Hello, little one” she topples to the blanket, crying in fear.

Of course, Papa beats Mama to their sobbing youngster – shushing and cooing. She quiets, then makes the funniest little faces – straining and turning beet red.

Mama figures it out – she is trying to go gameface, just like Papa does, when she falls.

 

Willa at Seven Months (September 2004) – The Queen of Cups

Dawn comes for a visit, bearing gifts as always. “Here you go, Willa-Milla. A nice prezzie from your Auntie Dawn for no reason whatsoever. Just love you, sweetie.”

The little girl is fascinated with the set of brightly colored nesting cups, and has them spread out over the floor in no time. She holds several in her hands, before trying to put them back in order again.

Mama, Papa and Auntie gather on the floor, watching and laughing as Willa picks up each cup, offers it, then giggles as she snatches it away and nestles it in its proper place.

 

Willa at Eight Months (October 2004) – Halloween Magic

It’s Halloween, and to Buffy’s utter surprise, Spike insists on dressing up his little sweetheart. They find an adorable white fluffy bunnysuit and take loads of pictures. When Spike not so secretly places one in an envelope, inscribed with “For Uncle Xander, in honor of Auntie Anya” on the back, Buffy has to stifle the sobs that accompany her overwhelming adoration for her...

They don’t go Trick-or-Treating, as Willa’s far too young, but there’s a little party for the local children at a nearby pre-school that evening, and the sight of her attempting to crawl in her costume is enchanting.

 

Willa at Nine Months (November 2004) – Thanksgiving, Minus Bears and Arrows

Whatever joy possessed Buffy at her daughter’s learning to crawl vanishes as she pulls her away from the hot stove again. Preparing Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings for friends and family is not easy with a little one constantly underfoot.

Papa to the rescue, of course – entertaining his darling for the rest of the afternoon. When he greets Xander at the door, she flies into her Uncle’s arms – the two men finally giving in to their budding friendship.

Thoughts of Thanksgiving past in the minds of all, but the only rope this year binds the turkey that Spike carves.

 

Willa at Ten Months (December 2004) – Little Monster

Spoiled. The word sets Spike’s fangs on edge when applied to his daughter. How could anyone imply their precious Willa is spoiled? The stupid bint in Toys-R-Us is lucky he no longer kills humans.

She stands up in the shopping cart, pointing to everything that she wants. She doesn’t fuss when Mama places her in Santa’s lap for her first Christmas portrait. Waiting on line however, taxes the last of her reserves, and she wails, desperately tired.

When the annoying woman stops berating her parents, Willa calms, raising both hands like claws and growls. Spike and Buffy howl with laughter.

 

Willa at Eleven Months (January 2005) – Plans for the Future

New Year’s Eve is family time – just the three of them. When little legs tire from climbing and crawling all day, Willa snuggles into her Mama’s lap to sleep.

“Buffy, what are we to each other? Willa’s parents, and…?”

“You know, past finding you again, I never gave it thought. I love you.”

“Yeah, you do. Enough to marry me?” He holds out a small jeweler’s box, a replica of his skull ring with ruby eyes nestling in the grey velvet.

Sniffling as he places the ring on her finger, she says, “You’ve made me the happiest woman on earth.”

 

Willa at Twelve Months (February 2005) – The Birthday Curse

She’s inherited it from her mother – it’s the only explanation. It’s February 13th, Willa’s first birthday. Are they celebrating in high style as they’ve planned – surrounded by family and friends? No, instead they’re huddling around a pediatric isolette, their baby fighting for breath.

“It’s croup,” is the diagnosis. “Nothing serious.”

Spike is frantic. In his time, babies died from it. He growls at the doctors and snipes at his fiancée. He falls asleep in a chair at her bedside, head bowed.

Awakens to the sound of laughter – Buffy and Willa playing Peek-a-Boo. The crisis is over. Her birthday – their present.

 

Willa at Thirteen Months (March 2005) – Sweet Dreams

“No!”

“C’mon, pet – time for all little demons to take a bath.”

“No!” She stamps her little foot, hands on her hips – an eerie miniature of her Auntie Dawn.

For all his vampiric speed, Papa Spike cannot catch his naked daughter running around the house.

“What’s the matter, Spike? You getting slow in your old age?” Buffy scoops up their wiggling daughter and deposits her in a nice warm tub.

“No!” she shrieks, giggling as Mama tickles her in the soapy water.

Clean and dressed for bed, she waves bye-bye, says “Night,” to her parents, and crawls into her bed.

Chapter Text

February 2006 – The Invitation

A week after Willa’s second birthday, the envelopes arrive; the recipients believe them to be cleverly written thank you’s for their gifts. The heavy cream colored vellum is opened to the accompanying sounds of jaws dropping.

Miss Willa Joyce Anne Summers-Bennett
invites you to
the handfasting of her parents:

Buffy Anne Summers
to
William Matthew John Bennett

April First, Two Thousand and Six
on the beach behind their home
after sunset

A ceremony surely not to be performed by a priest. And the legal issues of marrying a man dead some 126 years? Perfect date, however… two fools for love.

 

March 2006 – The Bridal Shower

Buffy sits in the middle of Ma Dolce Vita, tears of joy sparkling in her hazel eyes, surrounded by women. Which is not exactly novel for her, but it’s the composition of the group that amazes. Dawn and Willow, as usual… and at least twenty mommies from Willa’s playgroup.

Papa’s home, taking care of the sprout, and everyone she knows has conspired to throw her a bridal shower.

Gifts piled high, good food, chatter of babies and wedding nights – and it’s Buffy who raises a glass to toast – “To my family, my friends and my future… it’s a good life!”

 

March 2006 – Rehearsal Dinner

It’s back to Ma Dolce Vita - their private patio serves well the curious amalgam of demons and humans who make up their entourage.

Xander spends time with Molly, a P’linth demon and single mother to Treena. Some things never change. Angel tries to blend into the background – see previous statement. Willow is going over the ceremony details with the happy couple – she’s presiding over the handfasting ceremony.

And Willa? She’s playing ‘see-saw’ with ‘Gampa’ Giles. Seems nobody can withstand the charms of the mite. Spike catches his eye from across the room and a lifelong bond forms between them.

 

April 2006 – The Wedding

Mother Nature is cooperative for once – the sky’s tinged with fading streaks of coral and pink and the winds soft and gentle. The gentle lapping of waves upon the beach provides all the accompaniment necessary to complete the scene.

Dress is casual; comfort being the order of the evening. Angel out of his Armani suits is a sight to see. Xander in crisp white cotton; no trace of the awkward boy left. Dawn in a simple grey silk chemise has also left childhood behind.

Friends and family gather, taking their seats in front of the muslin canopy… and they wait.

~*~

Willow stands under the canopy as the ceremony begins.

Dawn is first to appear, as Maid of Honor, flanked by Xander as Best Man, as they walk barefooted down the aisle marked by seashells.

Spike is next, to everyone’s amazement. Dressed in fitted cream colored jeans with a white silk button-down, he practically glows in the moonlight. Willa follows her Papa, throwing handfuls of blood red rose petals from her basket. Some land on the ground, some on the guests… half end up in her own hair. Midway down the aisle she drops the basket and runs to Spike’s arms.

~*~

Everyone’s in place. Willa’s bouncing in her Papa’s arms, sing-songing ‘Mama time’ over and over to the delight of the guests.

Giles appears, dapper as always; Buffy on his arm, resplendent in a flowing cream colored sundress. No veil for this gal – she’s going into this marriage with her eyes open. A bouquet of red roses completes her look.

Midway down the aisle he kisses Buffy on the forehead, placing her hand into Spike’s before he sits down. He’s given away the daughter of his heart.

Hand in hand, the couple turns to Willow for the official ceremony to begin.

~*~

Willow begins the ceremony with a blessing, and talks of the couple’s commitment to each other. Her part to play is relatively small, since Buffy and Spike have their own vows to recite to each other. She reaches out to take Willa from her Papa, but the little one won’t budge.

Buffy clasps Spike’s free hand in hers, looking deeply into his blue eyes. She declares her love with words and gestures. Acknowledging her faults and asking for patience she pledges her life to him.

In turn, Spike’s vows are short and to the point. “I will always love you.”

~*~

Spike and Buffy each take a sip of wine from the proffered chalice, and have to remove the little one’s grabby fingers before she manages to douse them all.

All that’s left is Willow’s actual blessing: “By the power vested in me by the Goddess, I now pronounce you bound unto each other for as long as you both shall live and unlive. May your love so endure that its flame continues to guide your path.”

To a chorus of ‘kiss now’s’ from their daughter, the newly handfasted couple did just that.

The reception lasted until the sun came up.

~*~

April 2006 – The Honeymoon

It seems that miracles do come to pass. Angel not only dances with Buffy and Spike at their wedding, but gives them an all expenses paid honeymoon to London via the company jet; necro-tempered glass making the flight possible.

With their little one being cared for by Dawn and Willow, the next two weeks are spent in connubial bliss. Sightseeing at night, making love and sleeping all day… the time flies by.

Spike’s birthplace still stands, as does his gravestone. The couple pay their respects to family long gone. Once back at the hotel, they call home; needing baby kisses.

~*~

April 2006 – The Homecoming

When Angel’s Porsche pulls up in front of the Summers-Bennett house, the passengers barely remember to thank the grinning vampire for ferrying them home in their haste to get to their baby.

Willa stands on the porch, steadfastly refusing to look at either parent. Papa gets down on his knees to gather the mite in his arms but she turns away. Stung to his very soul, tears spill from his eyes.

Mama tries to pick up her little girl for a hug and Willa sits down hard on the floor. All three are crying in short order.

Dawn takes pictures.

~*~

The sight of her parents crying catches Willa’s interest. She walks over to Spike, cocks her head and says: “Papa sad? No cry, Papa.” and hugs him tightly. She wriggles out of his arms and walks to Buffy. “Mama, no cry,” she says and lifts up her arms for comforting.

Buffy scoops up the mite and the three Summers-Bennetts reconcile in a flurry of baby kisses and ‘Missed you’s’. It’s cute enough to set one’s teeth on edge, but nobody’s complaining.

Angel’s invited in for family milk and cookies and can’t refuse. The door closes. It’s good to be home.

Chapter Text

January 2007 – The Way It Is

Things are good for the Summers-Bennett family. Spike and Buffy have settled into their newlywed lives, doing absolutely nothing but watching their daughter thrive.

Willa’s third birthday approaches with much trepidation. Will the birthday curse hold true this year, or will peace and good health be the order of the day? Invitations have been sent out and every day the little one comes home from playgroup, another acceptance announced with a joyous giggle.

“Mama!” she yells. “Gotta sekit! Treena likes Unca Xanner.”

Buffy smiles. Guess she and Molly will be spending a little ‘girl-time’ together. Xander doesn’t stand a chance.

 

February 13, 2007 – I’m Free!

“I’m free! I’m free!” Willa bounces up and down on the mattress, her exuberance a bit much to take at four in the morning. “Mama, Papa, wake up. Want my party dress. My special free years old party dress.”

“C’mere, bitlet,” Spike groans, eyes still shut. “S’too early to be up. Papa an’ Mama just went to sleep.” He holds out his arms for the mite to cuddle into, hoping for a couple hours reprieve from the birthday monster.

She goes in for a snuggle, but her giggles and wiggles have Spike wishing she’d just bounce on the bed again.

~*~

They finally tumble out of bed at eight o’clock. Buffy can barely contain her laughter over the way their daughter has wrapped her father around her little finger. First comes breakfast, then bathtime

The tent is already set up in the backyard so Papa can join in all the fun. Buffy is determined he not lose any more time with his family if she can make it so.

Friends and family gather ‘round. Mama aims the camera and two days later a stunning picture of Spike and Willa blowing out her birthday candles sits on the mantle over the fireplace.

 

March 2007 – By Rote

“Mama! Papa! You forgotted the plate.”

They look at each other and groan. Every night for weeks it’s the same thing: bath, teeth, snuggle and story, goodnight kisses, Goodnight, Moon, and a glass of water with a saucer on the nightstand. One element out of order is enough to add a half hour to bedtime.

Spike gives in right away and hurries downstairs to fetch the missing saucer. The sooner it’s in place, the sooner he can get back to his wife.

Tired of waiting for her husband, Buffy checks Willa’s room an hour later, finding them both fast asleep.

 

April 2007 – Anniversary Waltz

The honeymoon’s over; the bloom is off the rose; be careful what you wish for… clichés are clichés for a reason – they have a habit of ringing true.

For two days they haven’t spoken a civil word to each other, ever since the note came home from playgroup. They argue and throw things in frustration.

They hide from each other, and Willa bears the brunt of the fights and the sour dispositions. She whines and cries, seeking comfort in her Papa’s arms, angering her Mama even more.

Willa stays home from school, complaining of tummy trouble, as the tension mounts.

~*~

Friends and family have been called and notified that their first anniversary celebration has been canceled. Buffy tries the diplomatic approach. “Now isn’t a good time,” she demurs. When they don’t stop asking questions, Spike grabs the phone. “We’re not even talking to each other. Just leave us alone,” he bellows.

Eventually the phone stops ringing and the combatants are left to work through this on their own. Neither gives on the issue at hand.

Miss Kara’s letter states Willa is biting the other children and Mama and Papa come down in opposite camps.

Willa wants her happy family back.

~*~

One year married and they’re still dancing… but this time it’s to different drummers. Buffy’s locked away in their bedroom, while Spike glowers and paces alone in the livingroom.

“Ungrateful bint,” he fumes. “Think she’d be happy the Big Bad’s been tamed, but no… still not good enough.” He sits on the couch; head in his hands, muttering like a madman.

He feels a tug on his sleeve and looks up into his daughter’s upset face. “Mama’s crying.” Stamping her little foot Willa points upstairs and says, “Go fix it.”

With a kiss to her head, Spike reluctantly goes upstairs.

~*~

Just as Spike readies to knock on the door, a silent, swollen-eyed Buffy opens it and steps aside, retreating to the bed. Her posture is stiff and unyielding, and he sits, looking at her from the opposite end of the bed.

“Mite’s all upset by the fightin’, pet.”

“So’s your wife.”

“I’d’ve thought you’d be happy I wasn’t rushin’ off to eat the teacher.”

“Willa’s the daughter of a vampire for God’s sake. They should understand the bitey thing, not punish her.”

Spike hangs his head in shame. One more way he’s failed his girl… girls.

Something has to give.

~*~

The front door slams open; spooking a run downstairs to make sure their precious child is safe.

“What the bloody hell is wrong with you, git? Breakin’ into a man’s home an’ scarin’ his family?”

Angel stands in the livingroom, Willa crying in his arms. “Stop yelling, Papa. My ears are all hurted.”

Chastened by his three year old daughter, Spike quiets, reaching back blindly for Buffy’s hand and finding it waiting for him.

“Why are you here, Angel?” asks Buffy.

“Your daughter called, crying. Said you two were in big trouble and couldn’t come to the phone.”

Oh God.

~*~

Buffy drops to her knees, aggrieved over her little one’s pain. She and Spike have been too caught up in their own misery to realize the effect of their fighting on their child.

Wiggling out of Grandpa Angel’s arms, the mite runs over to her mother, grasping her tightly in a hug. She calls, “Papa?” opening her little arms wider to encompass both parents.

“Idiots,” says Angel, fondly, grateful that it’s only a lovers’ spat, and for the picture phone they’ve recently taught the young one to use in an emergency.

Everything can be worked out when you’re in love.

~*~

It’s a beautiful night, but the stars twinkling in the midnight blue of the sky have nothing on the sparks that shine between Spike’s blue eyes and Buffy’s hazel. Love shows true and clear once more, as they finally celebrate their first anniversary at an impromptu party on the beach thrown by Dawn.

Willa flits from one person to another, wearing her new fairy princess costume. She sprinkles glitter on everyone, wanting them all to be as happy as her family.

Xander and Molly aren’t overly surprised when the child dumps the remainder of the container’s contents on their heads.

 

May 2007 – What Ails You

Willa is miserable. Her nose is stuffy, her head aches, and her chest is congested. By nightfall her fever has reached one hundred and four degrees. Mama tries hard to soothe her, but after a few kisses and hugs she’s asking for Papa. “Too hot, Mama. Go away,” she whines.

Papa snuggles into bed with his little one; his cooler body temperature soothing to her overheated skin. And even though Mama knows better, she can’t help but feel she’s being pushed aside in their daughter’s affections.

Buffy remembers what it’s like to be Daddy’s Princess… before Dawn took her place.

 

June 2007 – Graduation Day

Angel’s anniversary present finally arrives… necro-tempered glass for the house, and a similarly equipped car, allowing the couple a daytime freedom that’s intoxicating. Any place with an inside garage is fair game.

Playgroup ends, but Willa’s excited about a summer camp program – a combination of indoor/outdoor activities that parents and children participate in. Mama’s agreed to accompany the class on outings to the zoo and the beach. Papa’s volunteered to hold a storytime hour and help the kidlets with arts and crafts.

They hold a mini-graduation ceremony, complete with mortarboards. This time Papa takes the picture of mite and Mum.

 

July 2007 – Father Goose

It’s Treena who gives Spike his new nickname – Father Goose. He doesn’t mind sitting on the floor surrounded by the munchkins. There are no complaints when a child hangs over his shoulders or even climbs into his lap.

However, even Willa stamping her feet and crying will not get Spike to wear the bloody bonnet!

The parents now gather ‘round for storytime. Spike’s smooth, accented voice casts a spell that enchants all who listen to the fanciful tales of mystical characters.

When Buffy arrives to take her family home, she’s greeted with envious stares. She’s torn between pride and jealousy.

 

August 2007 – Oh, Those Summer Nights

Hot August nights… the last bastion for families before vacations end and school starts; fragmenting a unit into parts.

Most of the tension between Spike and Buffy has eased; not vanquished, but for the moment no longer an issue.

They spend every night on the beach. Willa learns to swim as befits a California girl, even with dual British citizenship. Sandcastles grow high, and are washed out with the tide.

Buffy’s Olympic event, where she outshines any and all competitors? Shopping for Willa’s pre-school wardrobe. Their little one will be the epitome of playground chic.

Spike sits back and basks.

 

September 2007 – Lesson the First

After dinner, Willa kisses both her parents. “Nite. M’sleepy now,” and heads off to her room.

“Spike, it’s only seven-thirty. Her routine… maybe she’s sick?”

“Mite didn’t feel warm, pet. Let’s go upstairs an’ check.”

Dressed in her pajamas, Willa’s lying in bed, hugging her teddy bear and crying softly.

Mama strokes her forehead. “What’s the matter, sweetie? Are you sick?”

“I don’ wanna go to school,” she wails. “I’m dumb!”

“Don’t fret, lamb.” Papa gathers her into his arms. “You’re very smart.”

“But I don’t know everything.”

Her parents sooth her fears, and she finally settles in to sleep.

 

October 2007 – Doctor, Doctor

The little bus delivers Willa to her home at three o’clock. Mama sets her up with a glass of milk, several cookies and a fruit.

“Oh, Mama. I wanna be a docker,” she gushes.

Buffy looks confused. “You want to work on a boat?”

“Silly Mama. No boats.” Willa laughs. “A docker with a white coat an’ he makes you take all your cloths off.”

Papa walks into the kitchen. “Playin’ doctor already, Poppet?” he glowers. “Nobody touches you where your undergarments cover.”

“No worry, Papa.” She grins before heading upstairs to her room. “I do it better, myself.”

**thuds**

 

November 2007 – Thankful

“Mr. Bennett!” The urgency of the voice and the pounding on the door send Spike running in panic. Buffy is unconscious and cradled in the arms of a neighbor. He’s never been so grateful for their daughter being with Xander, Molly and Treena in his unlife.

She comes to with a moan several hours later, in her husband’s caring arms.

“What the bloody hell happened to you, luv?”

“Sugroth demon,” she whispers, tears falling.

Spike holds her closer. “Sugroth venom is toxic. You’re lucky to be alive.”

“Not as lucky as you think,” she sobs, staring blankly with unseeing eyes.

~*~

Spike is devastated as he listens to the tale of Buffy’s patrol. She’d insisted on going alone – needing some peace from the tension that still keeps them from the happiness of their first married months.

The Sugroth caught her unaware, from behind. All she remembers is it spitting in her face, followed by intense burning. She crawled as far as she could before her sight vanished and she passed out.

He prays to the bastard Powers That Be as he drips cold water into her eyes, hoping to ease her pain. He curses his bloody pride for leaving her unprotected.

~*~

It’s a quiet Thanksgiving for the Summers-Bennetts this year. No friends or family at their own request. Buffy’s sight is slowly returning to normal. Nobody complains. The little family is entitled to heal in private.

Each and every day Spike and Buffy renew their commitment to each other; finally recognizing the petty and normal jealousies and oversights for what they are.

They sit back with pride as Willa matures; her biting is a thing of the past. She’s blossoming in pre-school, and the only notes they get from school sing her praises.

Extended family is promised a Christmas to remember.

 

December 2007 – A Family Man

What a year it’s been for them all. Emotionally and physically, everyone has been put through the wringer and come out the stronger for it.

Christmas finds the little house stuffed to the rafters with beloved people and joy. Their family has two new additions – Xander has announced his engagement to Molly with a happiness that’s been missing for far too long. Obviously Treena has the bestest present this year – a Daddy for Christmas.

Giles looks around the dinner table with pride. His children have come through hells that would have destroyed lesser people.

“Happy Holidays to all,” he toasts.

Chapter Text

January 2008 - Resolution

Traditionally, the Summers-Bennetts ring in the New Year without much fuss. They privately celebrate their continued survival and their existence as a family unit. Their only resolution is to make no resolutions.

Except for this year. Spike and Buffy promise their daughter that this year will be a happier one for the entire family. They don’t promise no fighting… that’s always been part of their relationship. They do promise to remember what they’re fighting for.

There is but one goal, one need, and one end result for all parties combined: to love each other above all else.

Family over diversity.

 

February 2008 – The Birthday Girl

Willa’s fourth birthday is nowhere near the circus of her third. Just her pre-school friends in her classroom, with Mama and Papa fussing over everyone. After lunch, they brought out chocolate chip cookies decorated with Cookie Monster… Willa’s new obsession.

It’s sweet and normal and Willa blossoms under her parents’ love and attention.

They sit in a circle to play Duck, Duck, Goose and it never fails. Spike is unerringly tapped on the head and made to chase the children around the circle. He always catches them with a roar and a hint of fang, making them giggle.

Buffy smiles.

 

March 2008 – Don’t Count Your Chickens

Every morning for the past week, Buffy races to the bathroom. At first she attributes the vomiting to the new take-out place they ordered from. When she gets tired and achy she pins the blame on a developing illness. When a fever fails to develop and she becomes weepy and bloated, she begins to suspect the absolutely impossible.

Except it’s not so impossible, is it? Not with their sweet Willa asleep in her bedroom.

Spike continues to be solicitous, but Buffy keeps her dreams and hopes to herself... just in case.

A sibling for Willa. Time will tell the story.

~*~

It’s been several weeks – the mad dash to the bathroom has stopped. Buffy’s still tired and moody but she’s perked up somewhat.

She and Spike snuggle in for the night. She hasn’t been feeling right all day and wants to close her eyes and feel safe in the arms of her loving husband.

The same arms that seem to be poking her in the middle of the night. She awakens from a dream of warm, sticky honey. “What, Spike? Why are you bothering me?”

“Got your period, Luv. Want me to clean you?”

Buffy cries, throwing herself into Spike’s arms.

 

April 2008 – Retail Therapy

Dawn comes for a ‘surprise’ visit. While she’s happy to see her sister, Buffy mutters something about ‘bloody vampires who can’t keep their noses out of everyone’s business’. Spike’s and Dawn’s selective hearing is already in place.

In the end, she’s grateful for his thoughtfulness, of course. Shopping sprees coupled with sister time is just what she needs. They avoid the maternity and baby stores like the plague, and concentrate instead on the shoe and clothing stores.

They sit in the food court, bonding over ice cream and crushed dreams. They can almost feel Joyce’s love surround them with warmth.

 

May 2008 – Pride and Joy

Mama and Papa anxiously sit in the audience awaiting their daughter’s Mother’s Day performance at nursery school.

Clear and unafraid, Willa says her lines:

My mom is very sweet and always caring.
She worries about me when I am in school.
She makes sure that I get where I am going
On time so that I don't feel like a fool.
But best of all, my mom loves me
Both when I’m good and bad.
She makes me happy with a hug and kiss
And holds my hand whenever I am sad.

There’s not a dry eye in the house.

(Poem paraphrased and borrowed from Poems For Free.)

 

June 2008 – Daddy’s Little Girl

What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander, and Mama helps Willa secretly prepare a poem for Father’s Day.

Along with breakfast in bed, Mama sits and cuddles with Papa while Willa recites:

Daddy, I love you
For all that you do.
I'll kiss you and hug you
'Cause you love me, too.
You feed me and need me
To teach you to play,
So smile 'cause I love you
On this Father's Day.

Spike is beyond touched. He still doesn’t believe himself worthy of the treasures he holds dear.

Breakfast is forgotten as he hugs his girls.

(Poem borrowed from Poems For Free.)

July 2008 – Summer Daze

The year has slowed to a crawl. Outside of the summer camp program at pre-school, there is nothing else to do. Neither Spike nor Buffy have jobs outside of Willa, and it’s… boring is too harsh a word, more like routine.

Something is missing from their lives. For Buffy, it’s not hard to figure out that she’s pining for a new child. More than anything Spike wishes he could do that for her... for them all, but he’s more accepting of his limitations.

They don’t let their daughter suffer for their problems; not anymore. They stand together against all odds.

August 2008 – Little Miss Smarty Pants

She may be young, but she’s bright. Willa will be attending kindergarten in a few weeks. Her testing at pre-school has shown her to have above average intelligence, a fact that delights her parents.

They’re encouraged to see how far she can go, so certain toys and games are brought into Willa’s daily routine. Mama works with blocks and puzzles to unlock understanding of the abstract, and Papa works with letters and words.

It’s all a game… another way to spend time with their daughter. They still give her alone time and unstructured play.

A happy Willa makes happy parents.

 

September 2008 – Two Heads Are Better Than One

Willa’s been a good girl, and Mama’s given her permission to get off the school van at Treena’s house for a weekend sleepover. The girls do their worksheets and spend the rest of the day playing in the yard.

Dinnertime comes around and Molly asks why Willa has gotten so quiet. “Mama and Papa are so sad,” she says. “They want to give me a baby brother or sister, but it isn’t happening. Only one miracle to a family, they say.”

Molly thinks for a moment. “Want to give them a surprise for Christmas, Willa?”

Maybe another miracle will happen.

 

October 2008 – That’s What Friends Are For

Parent conference day rolls around at the nursery school, and Buffy and Spike pick up Treena and Molly. Xander is running late and will meet them at the school. The little girl is so happy, she takes every opportunity to show off her new almost-daddy.

Spike tells them to go in while he looks for a parking space. Buffy and Willa lead Molly and Treena into the classroom. All their friends yell ‘Surprise!’.

Molly turns to see a grinning Buffy, who had planned the shower for her dear friend. The real parent conferences will be held in a week’s time.

~*~

Spike and Xander relax in the car, talking about the rollercoaster of marriage. Spike extols the joys wholeheartedly, but doesn’t skip over things both large and small that can derail even the best of relationships.

The subject turns to children; Willa and Treena always a prime topic. Xander wonders aloud about another addition to the Bennett household, when he sees the pain flit briefly across Spike’s face.

“Don’t you dare apologize, Harris. If it’s meant to be it’ll happen. At least we have Willa. Won’t mind playin’ Uncle Spike for a new tot of yours.”

Xander wouldn’t mind at all.

November 2008 – A Simple Grace

Buffy and Molly plan menus and discuss wedding attire, while Spike and Xander keep the mites entertained.

As much as he loves his girls, Spike is grateful for Xander’s friendship. With their history behind them, they’re relaxed and easy with each other. As much as he understands females, the added testosterone is good for them both.

Xander asks Spike to stand up with him at the wedding, and Molly does the same with Buffy. The old, established married couple setting the newlyweds on the right path. Not to mention two little flowergirls in matching dresses.

No fuss, no muss. Simple.

~*~

They pass on an organized Thanksgiving this year. There’s no need to celebrate in a single day what they’ve felt year ‘round. Thankful for what they have. It doesn’t stop them from wanting more, but they understand it’s more than they ever dreamed of.

Buffy resigns herself to the fact that she’s not going to bear another child and refuses the thought of artificial insemination. They speak briefly of adoption, but the time isn’t right. It’ll be brought up again somewhere down the line.

Spike suggests they seek out part-time jobs, just for a little variation on their daily routine.

 

December 2008 – Home Is Where the Heart Is

The Summers-Bennetts insist on hosting the Harris – Parker nuptials in their home. The six friends have become inseparable over the past two years. Willa and Treena are thick as thieves.

After the debacle of Xander’s last marriage attempt, his wedding to Molly is kept deliberately small and low-key; just immediate family. Following their friends’ lead, they’ve promised a large reception at another time.

In keeping with tradition, Willow officiates. I do’s are exchanged with a minimum of fuss, and the family circle widens joyfully with the inclusion of Molly and Treena Harris.

All the while, Xander grins with secrets held.

~*~

A Christmas wedding is special, rife with all sorts of promises and rebirth of spirit. Everyone joins in the group hug as Willow pronounces Xander and Molly mated for life.

Buffy takes out the digital camera. It seems she’s developed quite the keen eye from taking all those pictures of Spike and Willa, and might be willing to pursue photography as a line of work in the future.

She sets everyone up for a group photo, sets the camera on a tripod, and after one minor adjustment takes her place by her daughter and husband.

Everyone gets a framed print.

~*~

They all sit in a group around the tree: The Harrises, Bennetts, Angel, Willow, Dawn, Giles, and Andrew… who’s taken to casting shy smiles in Dawn’s direction.

Gifts are exchanged and memories made as they talk of the future; Willa and Treena drowse in their fathers’ laps.

One of Buffy’s gifts to Spike is a legal document – a change of name for herself and their daughter. They are all Bennetts, as they should have been from the beginning.

It’s a time to think of new children. Maybe a new little Harris to dote on? Wistful longing runs rampant, but silent.

~*~

Spike and Buffy open Willa’s present last. It’s a small box, oddly wrapped in blue and pink instead of holiday red and green.

There’s a picture of Willa with her arms outstretched, as if she’s waiting for something to be placed in them. There’s also a sealed envelope with Do Not Open Until July 2009 marked across the front in Molly’s prettiest calligraphy.

The oddest thing is a post-it that says: Spike, ask Willa what to do.

Spike puts his ear to his wife’s belly as his daughter directs, and smiles.

The Bennetts are adding to their family after all.

Chapter Text

January 2009 – What’s A Word Means Glowing?

Oh, what a year this promises to be. Buffy personifies that bugaboo word of Spike’s… effulgent. She positively glows at three months pregnant. Whatever magic Molly and Willa worked that allowed this second miracle must have had an added little kick, because the Bennetts aren’t the only family expecting. Molly is due a month after Buffy.

Xander and Spike walk around like a pair of preening peacocks, both thrilled at the prospect of becoming new parents. Spike revels in every minute change in his wife’s body while Xander looks forward to the birth of his first child.

More children rock!

 

February 2009 – Cookie Dough

Willa and Mama have a new favorite activity… baking cookies! They enjoy the time together, mother and daughter, and Buffy has a maddening yen for the raw dough. Doesn’t matter what kind: sugar cookies, chocolate chip, or oatmeal raisin – it’s the unbaked dough she craves. She doesn’t touch the finished product. That she leaves for Papa and Willa. Spike never objects.

There’s nothing quite like a house that smells of home-baked cookies. They now have a steady stream of after school play-dates from Willa’s pre-school friends. It’s milk and cookies taken to a whole new level.

Domestic Buffy. Who knew?

 

March 2009 – A Walk In The Park

Molly and Buffy have a designated girls’ day out once a week. When the girls are in school and the husbands are otherwise occupied, they while away their days taking long walks at the zoo and the botanical gardens. Something about being pregnant makes them want to seek out life in nature.

The zoos are fecund with life as Spring gets underway. New babies are being born daily and Buffy brings her camera to capture the moments. She thinks it will make a lovely children’s book.

It’s a lovely way to spend the day. Both women are healthy and active.

 

April 2009 – What’s Up With That?

Buffy has a rare day home alone. Spike is at pre-school with Willa, spending the day reading the children’s favorite books. Father Goose is always a big hit.

When Spike brings their daughter home, Willa runs straight to her room after kissing her Mama hello. Looking to her husband for an explanation, she can see he’s worried.

“I was readin’ to some of the tots when the window broke across the room. One of the little kids was under it an’ I couldn’t get there in time because of the sunlight.”

“Was the child hurt badly?”

“Willa pulled him away.”

~*~

“She did a good thing, Spike. Why are you so upset?”

“Mite was in my lap when the glass shattered. She made it to the other side of the room before the glass fell.”

“It could be a fluke. A one off adrenaline burst kind of thingy,” offered Buffy. “Were the other kids upset? Or the parents?”

“Only one upset was the mite. Said her tummy hurt from runnin’ so fast an’ it made her feel funny. Now she won’t talk.” He shook his head. “Gonna have to keep a close eye on the girl… see if anythin’ else happens.”

 

May 2009 – To Bitch, Or Not To Bitch

It’s back to yelling and screaming but this time Willa isn’t worried. Mama explains about mood swings and Papa assures her that it will pass. Mama still loves them both, even when she’s furious.

Grandpa Angel is over for a visit; something he’s taken to doing once a week. The room goes silent when he makes mention of how cute Buffy looks with her rounded little belly. Spike actually quails and Willa almost pulls him over in her attempts to get him out of the room.

Angel swears he won’t step foot in that house again until Buffy has delivered.

~*~

Papa spoils his wife until she’s ready to scream, but her eyes say she understands. He’s trying to make up for not being there when she was carrying Willa.

Spike joins Buffy on the bed after some whispered words in the mite’s ear. She runs into her room and comes back bearing a badly wrapped gift. “Made it and wrapped it all by myself,” she states proudly.

Carefully removing the hand-colored paper, Buffy holds the oddly shaped piece of clay in her hands. “What’s this, my sweet girl?” she asks.

“It’s my heart, Mama. Happy Mother’s Day. I love you.”

~*~

Seven months pregnant and Buffy’s beginning to resemble a weeble. She’s packed on weight around her hips and belly and swears she’ll bounce back up if she falls on her ass. Spike just looks at her with adoration in his eyes.

Just before Willa’s due home from school, Spike runs to the bathroom at the sound of his wife’s hysterical screaming. “What’s the matter, luv? Is it the baby?”

She can’t speak, just points to the bloody crotch of her panties and sobs brokenheartedly.

A quick call to Molly to make arrangements for Willa and they’re off to the hospital.

~*~

A sonogram shows a normally developing fetus. The reason for the bleeding is placenta abruptio, a slight detachment of part of the placenta from the uterine wall. Buffy’s obstetrician, Dr. Lecher, isn’t worried.

“Even though it’s scary, the actual amount of bleeding is slight. Bed rest until the bleeding stops is my recommendation.”

They go home a few hours later, shaken and quiet; the possible loss of this child making it all the more precious. A call to the Harris household and Willa’s taken care of for the night.

They sleep spooned together, Spike’s arms protectively wrapped around her belly.

 

June 2009 – Life Goes On

A few weeks’ bed rest and Buffy’s a new woman. Fat and happy, she revels in every ounce and inch she gains. They finally relax and enjoy the balance of her pregnancy.

She waddles now, her walk ungainly and awkward. Spike has to help her into and out of chairs and they joke constantly about a crane to haul her out of their tub.

Willa promises next time they have a baby, Papa will carry it. Spike has nightmares for a week.

Molly promises not to throw a baby shower. There will be time once the child is born healthy.

 

July 23, 2009 – A Child Is Born

Three o’clock in the morning and Buffy’s dreaming of floating in a warm bath. Her serenity is shattered when she feels herself being shaken. “What, Spike? Why are you bothering me?” she mumbles, unable to shake the eerie sense of déjà vu.

The answer is much different this time. “Your water broke, pet. Guess our little mite thinks it’s time to make an appearance.” Both are glad Auntie Dawn is staying over for just such an occurrence.

Buffy nervously asks: “Spike, did I ever tell you how long Willa’s birth took?

They make it to the hospital in record time.

~*~

It’s either a by-product of being a Slayer, or just Buffy, but she’s fully effaced and ready to deliver within two hours of arriving at the hospital. From the first mild labor pain in the car to the last handrail bending pain on the delivery table, Spike helps his wife focus on her Lamaze breathing.

Buffy’s focal point is a picture of Willa taped on the wall. The contractions don’t hurt any less this time but having her husband at her side makes all the difference.

She huffs and she puffs and she finally gets to push.

It’s a girl!

~*~

No sooner is Tara Rose Alexis Bennett born than Buffy is told to push again. The entire room is in shock; from the obstetrician to the parents. More huffing and puffing and Tyler Liam James Bennett joins his sister.

The children are placed in Buffy’s arms for a moment, so Mama and Papa can bond with their new babies.

Sooner than they’re ready to give the children up, they’re taken away to be cleaned, measured and tested. Perfect in every way.

While his wife is cleaned and wheeled to her room, Spike calls home. Willa and Dawn whoop with delight.

~*~

When Spike arrives to drive Buffy and the twins home, there’s a brand new mini-van, fully equipped with the latest in car seats for the three children, courtesy of Grandpa Angel. Nothing but the best for his grandchilde’s children.

The house, trees, and hedges are festooned with pink and blue balloons; a large banner proclaiming ‘It’s Twins!’ is taped to the garage.

Family and friends cluster around the car as it pulls into the driveway, anxious for a first glimpse of the little ones. Mama and Papa beam with pride, as Willa scrambles into the van to meet her siblings.

~*~

Xander and Molly watch all the fuss and bother taking place with a happiness that matches Spike’s and Buffy’s own. They will never mention it, but each is happy for the parts they played in enabling the conception. Thanks were never a part of their motivation.

The senior Bennetts sit upon the couch like reigning monarchs as their children are passed around. Dawn takes picture after picture to record the momentous occasion.

But the one that will take centerstage on the wall is of Willa sitting on the stuffed red wingchair, one arm wrapped around Tara and one around Tyler.

 

August 2009 – Another Child Is Born

Two straight weeks of hundred degree plus temperatures have everyone’s tempers stretched to the breaking point. Four o’clock in the afternoon Molly’s water breaks. She calls Xander home from work and they drop Treena off at the Bennetts’ as they head to the hospital.

Ten hours later and there’s no news from the hospital. Buffy places a call to the maternity ward, but since she’s not family they won’t give her any information.

Three hours later, Xander calls with some scary news. The baby is breech and in distress and Molly is headed for an emergency c-section. He’ll call later.

~*~

William Giles Harris makes his way into the world on August 28th, 2009, just as the heatwave breaks. As he’s lifted from his mother’s body, he gives a lusty yell, relaxing both parents. The child is whisked away for testing and cleaning, and then placed in an incubator per hospital policy for all c-section babies.

Molly is stitched up with no further complications, and with a final kiss to her brow, Xander goes to make the all important phone call.

There’s dancing and celebrating galore in the Bennett household that morning. Treena wonders why she only has one new sibling.

 

September 2009 – About Face

It’s been a long, sleepless night. If one baby isn’t squalling, the other is. They’ve been nursed, diapered, and rocked, but nothing seems to appease the little ones. At their wit’s end, Papa places Tara and Tyler in their bassinets, hoping they’ll tire themselves out and fall asleep to the nursery tunes playing nearby.

They awaken several hours later to the sound of utter silence… and no bassinets. Panicking, Spike and Buffy run to Willa’s room. She’s standing in-between the babies, cooing and stroking their arms and legs, and singing to them… in gameface, complete with blue eyes and fangs.

~*~

Spike is stunned, and very worried about his wife’s reaction. Buffy walks over to their daughter and scoops her up into her arms, gently tracing her brow ridges and little fangs until she giggles. “Tickles, Mama.”

“This is new, sweetie. How long have you been able to copy Daddy’s gameface?”

“Since the glass broke in school,” she whispered. “Makes the babies stop crying, too.”

Spike ruffled her hair. “Did a good job, mite. They’re asleep, like you should be.”

The babies are wheeled back into the master bedroom, and Willa goes back to bed.

“We’ll talk in the mornin’, bit.”

~*~

Buffy sets the intercom for the twins, and goes downstairs with Spike. Since neither of them will be sleeping anytime soon, they head for the kitchen and the solace of hot chocolate.

“Did Willa go into gameface at school, Spike? Were you worried about how I would react?”

“Never saw her do that, but can’t say I didn’t think about it,” he admitted.

“She’s our daughter, baby. If she takes after you, I’m not going to love her any less. After all, I love you.”

Spike thought he couldn’t love her any more than he already did. He was wrong.

 

October 2009 – The Fall Classic

It’s finally happened. Buffy’s gotten herself hooked into Spike’s sports obsession, and they settle down to watch the World Series games. Who are they rooting for, you might ask? The Yankees, of course. Is there any other team? This year they battle the Chicago Cubs, who haven’t won a Series in so long it’s painful.

The twins babble noisily in their playpen, adding to the cacophony of sounds from the cheering, ranting and clapping fans as play keeps them engrossed. Willa claps loudest when Derek Jeter comes to the plate.

Yankees take the Series, four games to three, of course.

 

November 2009 – Reach Out And Touch Someone

Will Harris and Willa, Tyler, and Tara Bennett have been keeping their parents on their toes and far too busy for get-togethers. While they mourn the lack of time, the telephone has become their new best friend. Five minute chats take the place of hours long evenings but it’s enough… an oasis in the midst of turmoil.

Angel has resumed his weekly visits. The mites have worked their magic on Grandpa, and the old man has mellowed considerably. His Armani look has given way to faded old jeans and soft t-shirts, however. Even an old vampire can learn new tricks.

~*~

Angel brings a gift with him every time he visits; the gift of time off. He relishes his role in his family’s life and is happy to be left alone with the children. Knowing he is providing a respite for their parents as well as himself refreshes his spirit and determination to make the world safe for Christmas and puppies, as Spike once put it.

He tests Willa’s newfound abilities, working with her to control her gameface, which she does with ease. Her strength and speed still come and go, but he enforces her parents’ words. ‘Be proud of yourself.’

~*~

On a rare night that finds everyone gathered together, they get a surprise visitor. Willa goes running to the door, shouting “Grandpa Giles!” before the door opens. Perhaps it’s not such a surprise after all, as Mama wonders about their phone bill.

He lays his packages down, the burden of his years lifting at the delighted hugs and kisses from his makeshift family. He dutifully inspects each new child, even if he lingers just the tiniest bit longer on his namesake.

Angel and Giles have long since made their peace, and reap the benefits of letting the past fade away.

 

December 2009 – Ho, Ho, Ho!

Spike curses silently while pushing the double stroller through the overcrowded mall. He glances over at Willa, holding tightly to Buffy’s hand. Her little face is glowing with the excitement of seeing Santa.

Spike didn’t want to see her disappointment with a skinny, pimple-faced youngster with a pillow stuffed in his pants.

This year’s Santa is a kindly old man, rotund with a real grey beard. Balancing Willa on his knee, and a baby in each arm, he asks: “What do you want for Christmas, little girl?”

She smiles for the picture, then says: “I have everything I want already.”

~*~

Mama and Papa gather their munchkins from the sweet old man. Willa can’t help herself and gently tweaks the man’s beard before sliding off of his knee. He winks at her as they wave goodbye. With any luck, the picture will be mailed to them sometime before Christmas.

Exiting the hellish mall, each silently reflects on their daughter’s words as all the madness and commercial nonsense of the holiday fades into the background. They buckle their most precious possessions in their seats.

Truer words were never spoken. Out of the mouths of babes, indeed. I have everything I want already.

Chapter Text

January 2010 – Checkpoint

Tara and Tyler are being bathed and dressed in preparation for their six month checkup. Mama notices a small bruise on one of Tara’s little legs, but doesn’t pay it much attention. The babies are active and happy and it’s possible Tyler has kicked his sister at some point.

The doctor pronounces them well, with a slight touch of anemia. She sends them home with a prescription for an iron supplement; two drops, twice a day. “Nothing to worry about,” she says. “See you next month.” She hands Willa a balloon for being patient while the twins were being examined.

 

February 2010 - Monkeyshines

Mama takes Willa and her first grade class to the zoo for her sixth birthday, aided by Molly and several other parents. Papa is home with the bits and Will, allowing their daughter to have a ‘big girl’ birthday. Will he be crazed by the time Buffy comes home? Three six month old children will insure it.

Speaking of the power of three, Spike has three naked tushies squirming on the floor in front of him – a diaper change en masse. He notices how much paler his children are than Xander’s son, but attributes it to his own English complexion.

~*~

Willa comes tearing into the house after her zoo day, happy as a lark. “Papa! The monkeys were throwing poop and the monkey house was all stinky.”

“Sounds like fun, mite. Smells a bit like a monkey house here, too.” Spike smiled at his wife as she sat down beside him.

Buffy laughs. Obviously the day was good for her, as well. “I’m gonna have to make this up to you big time, aren’t I?”

“I can think of a few ways you can earn points towards balancin’ the scales, pet.”

“After Xander picks up Will, we’ll see,” she grinned.

 

March 2010 - What’s Up, Doc?

It’s a lazy, rainy, Saturday afternoon and the Bennetts have slept peacefully through the night. Willa is playing quietly in her bedroom and Mama goes to rouse the twins. She tickles their bellies, fully expecting the gurgles and coos that have become routine. What she gets sends her running for her husband.

“Spike,” she cries. Call the pediatrician! The babies won’t wake up and they’re feverish.” A frantic phone call to the doctor has them buckling their children into their carseats and heading to the hospital.

Dr. Schwartz meets them in Emergency, not happy with the sluggishness of the babies.

~*~

Mama and Papa stay in the waiting room with Willa, trying to keep themselves calm for her sake. When Dr. Schwartz comes out of the examining room, her grim expression makes Buffy reach for her husband.

“We’d like to keep the babies overnight and run some blood work. Tara’s fever is 103 degrees and Tyler’s is 103.5; they’ve lost almost half a pound each since their last checkup. What worries me most is their lethargy. How have they been acting for the past few days?”

“They’ve been a little quieter than usual,” Spike offers. “But they’ve been alert and happy.”

~*~

Papa ends up taking Willa home and Mama stays with the twins. Blood work confirms the need for a transfusion, and Tara and Tyler perk up considerably. Their fevers break overnight and the little ones are fussing and kicking at the steel bars of the hospital crib, anxious for their freedom.

Dr. Schwartz signs their release papers by late afternoon, and Spike is able to drive them home. “Anything we have to watch out for, luv?”

“Just more of the same,” says Buffy. “Also rashes or bruises. They should be fine, now.”

Both parents were silent on the way home.

 

April 2010 – The Green Eyed Monster

Willa develops a jealous streak that has her parents tearing their hair out. It’s not enough that they’re worried about their little ones’ health… now they have to worry about their firstborn flying off the handle.

When Tara pulls herself up on her sister’s table, her fingers are pushed off, causing the little one to fall. Tyler follows his older sister around the house, pulling himself up on her legs whenever she stands still. Willa runs so that he can’t catch her.

Mama tries to soothe her eldest. “They love you, sweetie. They just want a little attention.”

Willa growls.

~*~

The little ones have been crying all day. Buffy is lying down with a headache; Willa is locked away in her room, trying to drown out the crying with her CD player. And Spike, the Slayer of Slayers? He’s trying his best to remember he loves them all.

A quick call to Xander and the sounds of little Will screaming in the background and Treena having a temper tantrum strengthen the bond between them. They vow a boys’ night out as soon as possible.

Spike closes his eyes for a few moments, knowing the twins are safe in their playpen.

~*~

His respite doesn’t last long. “Papa! Papa! The twins!” Willa shouts out.

“Wonderful,” he grumbles. “Wonder what she can possibly be complaining about now.” With a groan Spike makes his way to the playpen. What he sees would have stopped his heart had it been beating. “Mite, go wake up Mama, fast!

Buffy was at his side in moments, gasping at the bruising on the babies’ limbs. Spike made another hurried call to Dr. Schwartz as his wife secured the children in their car seats once again.

Willa started to cry. “I didn’t do anything, Mama. I didn’t hurt them.”

~*~

In the midst of the horror of finding their babies looking like they’d gone three rounds with a prize fighter, they have to remember Willa. She’s been so jealous of her siblings that her denial scares them even more.

Once again meeting them in Emergency, Dr. Schwartz has the babies thoroughly examined, coming back with a possible diagnosis that has the parents reeling. Leukemia. Buffy clings to Spike while the doctor explains her findings.

How can things go so wrong, so quickly? Why would the fates be so cruel as to take them away in the most painful way possible?

~*~

Holding Tyler and Tara in their laps, they try and make sense of what the doctor is saying. Leukemia is not a death sentence. It might not be the diagnosis at all, just a possibility. Either way it has them reeling. Those bruises indicate a blood disorder of some kind.

What was it Spike once said? “’Cause it’s always got to be blood.” Just never thought it would refer to their children.

They want to transfuse the twins once more… buy themselves some time while digging further for an actual diagnosis.

Everyone’s heartbreak is palpable. Willa is almost beyond comforting.

 

May 2010 – Life Goes On

The bruises fade, the children thrive, but the Bennett family dynamic has been changed. Mama and Papa watch over the little ones like hawks. The carefree rough and tumble play has stopped, replaced with soft touches and pained smiles. Even Willa is affected. Her jealousy gone for the moment, she spends every spare moment with her siblings.

They’re afraid. The family pulls into themselves, avoiding all contact with the outside world. Outside of Willa going to school, they speak to nobody. Buffy doesn’t dare unplug the phone, but she screens all incoming calls.

Friends are determined to make things better.

~*~

The Harrises force the issue. They pick up Willa and drop her off at their home, leaving the three children in care of their trusted babysitter. Molly stays with Buffy and Xander pulls Spike out of the house for that boys’ night out. It’s not for the fun and games they deserve. Tonight is a rescue mission.

“What’s wrong, Spike?” he pushes, knowing that for once the vampire wouldn’t offer. “Why won’t you let us help?”

“Would that you could, mate,” Spike tearfully admits, and tells the sad tale of his children’s misfortunes.

Xander won’t allow him to hide again.

~*~

Molly sits in shock as Buffy tells her about Dr. Schwartz’s fears. “How can you keep all this to yourself?” she cries, holding her best friend close. “We’re best friends and mothers. When your children are in pain, I feel it.”

Buffy watches her little ones crawl around the livingroom through tear-filled eyes and realizes she and Spike have been on a deathwatch. The diagnosis hasn’t even been properly made yet and they’ve all stopped living. Thanking whatever powers brought Molly into their lives, Buffy vows to take back their happiness.

When their husbands return, it’s to two determined women.

~*~

Willa walks over to her Papa, hugging him tightly. Spike swings her into his arms and looks deeply into her serious blue eyes. “What’s up, mite?”

She cocks her head in an imitation of her father. “Are you sick too, Papa?”

“I’m fine, sweeting. What makes you think I’m sick?” he asks, curious as to where her mind is heading.

“The babies need blood and the doctor says they’re sick. You drink blood all the time,” she reasons. “Does that mean you’re sick?”

No! That’s so simple it has to be wrong. Or does it? Spike beckons to his wife.

~*~

It’s an experiment; that’s how they view it. Spike places a few ounces of warmed blood in a juice bottle, and enlarges the hole in the nipple to allow for the thickness. One taste will tell the tale. Blood is not a pleasant taste for the human palate.

Tara drains the bottle with relish and holds it out for more.

Buffy emerges from the kitchen with two full bottles and watches the twins imbibe the viscous fluid. She’s said it before: her children were fathered by a vampire. Their need for blood shouldn’t be so surprising.

Please, let this help.

 

June 2010 – A Bloody Miracle

Uncle Xander presents the eldest Bennett child with a plaque for her room that boldly states: “Children should be seen and heard!” It becomes one of her most prized possessions.

Joy rules again in the Bennett household. It takes trial and error before the right amount of blood is determined for the twins; two eight ounce bottles a week of human blood, type A, is sufficient to keep the babies healthy.

Xander and Molly ask their friends to be Godparents to Treena and Will, and the honor is reciprocated. Legal documents are drawn up and filed away in family safes.

 

July 2010 – The Gang’s All Here

There hasn’t been much time for celebration this year and now that the babies are healthy, the Bennetts have gone all out for their first birthday. The tent is back up in the backyard, and everyone they know has been invited to share in the festivities.

Giles, Willow, Dawn and Andrew have flown in for the occasion and are mobbed by the trio of youngsters as soon as they enter the house. Tara’s recently found her legs and toddles from person to person, while Tyler crawls and cruises.

The house is quickly overrun and Buffy herds them towards the tent.

~*~

Angel and Lorne arrive; hoping to get a reading from the children after the party is over. After the scare with the twins, any kind of heads up about their condition is welcome.

“How’s my girl?” asks Angel, as he picks up Willa and airplanes her above his head. “Keeping your fangs clean?”

Willa vamps, showing off her pearly whites. “Brush both sets twice a day, Grandpa. Papa makes sure.”

The little girl’s pretty blue eyes in her demon face turn Angel into a puddle of goo.

The wide circle of friends she has gives him hope for the future.

~*~

In a rare moment together, watching Dawn take pictures of friends and family, Spike asks: “Did I ever tell you about the time me an’ Dru were in Florida in the sixties?”

“Can’t say that you did, sweetie. I am curious as to why you’d bring her up, now.”

“Used to visit a place called Parrot Jungle. They’d line up birds on your arms an’ take piccies. Real touristy. Dru used to like the way their claws would scratch her arms.”

“And this is relevant, how?” Buffy asked.

Spike pointed to Giles, one baby on each hip… Dawn taking pictures.

~*~

Willow corners Buffy and asks if she’d consider submitting pictures of the children to modeling agencies. “Goddess but they’ve been whacked with the pretty stick,” she murmurs.

Mama assesses her brood, critically:

Willa’s a lively little sprite; golden blonde hair done up in a French braid, sparkling blue eyes, and a ready smile.

Tyler’s hair is as straight as his Mama’s, hazel eyes sparkling with mischief. Tara’s got her Papa’s curly locks and shy disposition; her eyes a soft sea green.

“They’re just our children, Will.” Buffy smiles warmly. “Spike and I aren’t ready to share them with the world.”

~*~

Andrew trails after Dawn like a puppy. He carries her camera bag, reloads her film and fetches food and drink at her command. “Did you ever think about having some rug-rats of your own?” he asks, a wistful smile graces his face as he ruffles the hair of some passing tot.

“I think I’d have to find a man first,” is Dawn’s ready answer, not seeing the pain flicker in the man’s eyes.

“Maybe you should look a little harder at who’s right under your nose,” he mutters, voicing the words that have been sticking in his throat for months.

~*~

Xander holds Will in his arms, soothing away his son’s tears. Looking up he finds himself standing next to Angel. “Something I can do for you, Dea… Angel?” he asks, the old words not easily forgotten.

“Just admiring your son.” Reaching out his hand to touch the boy’s chubby cheek, Angel pauses, asking permission.

Handing little Will over to the vampire, Xander says, “Let’s see how Uncle Angel handles you, my little hellbeast,” chucking him under the chin.

“Any child named after William the Bloody is bound to be a handful.” Angel grins as Will grabs fistfuls of his hair.

~*~

He’s been in this position before, Giles thinks. On the outside; an observer to life instead of participating in it. Buffy’s nineteenth birthday comes to mind. It left him feeling old and out of place. She’s thirty now – three children and a vampire husband - inconceivable. He has to admit that she’s never been happier or looked better.

Startled out of his reverie by little hands pulling at him, Giles smiles into the beautiful faces of Tara and Tyler. “Up! Up!” they chorus.

When he bends to pick up the twins, Willa zooms over and kisses him on the cheek.

~*~

“I love you, Grandpa Giles,” she says, pulling him towards her circle of friends. “Play Hokey Pokey with us?”

Another flash of memory brings up Buffy’s vision quest, and this time Giles smiles. Kissing each child on the cheek, he hands them off to one admiring fan or another and allows the Grandfather mantle to settle in place. “Lead on, MacDuff,” he says as Willa giggles.

One nudge leads to another and still another and before long everyone is participating in the group game, except for Andrew, who’s recording for posterity.

It becomes an annual favorite shown at family gatherings.

~*~

Soon after the final strains of ‘Happy Birthday’ fade away, Lorne pulls Spike and Buffy aside. “There’s no need to read the petite fours individually. I’ve been reading the group all day and there ain’t a bad vibe to be found.”

Looking out over the thinning crowd, he turns to Spike. “That doesn’t mean you don’t have some very special munchkins, mon ami. I’d keep those blue eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary where they’re concerned.”

“Learned that lesson the hard way, mate. Sometimes forget the kidlets are part vampire.”

“You sometimes forget you’re a vampire,” Lorne grinned.

 

August 2010 – Growing Pains

Mama and Papa are feeling the squeeze in their little house these days. What’s cozy for three is downright cramped for five. They’re in need of another bedroom and a playroom.

“Maybe we can ask Xander to design an addition to the house.” Buffy mused, trying to be practical. “We can always ask for the godparent discount.”

Spike was intrigued by the idea of more space for his family. “Could always make over the garage. Would save yard space.”

“Sounds good. We’ll talk it over with the construction expert and see what he says will work best. Get the phone.”

~*~

Xander comes over after dinner and walks around the house and the yard, getting a feel for the new addition. Vamp safety precludes remodeling the garage, and while he agrees that putting a second story over the garage would be the most efficient, worry about carbon dioxide fumes from the car make it a bad idea.

In the end, they decide to extend the living room and add a second story, which will place the third bedroom right next to Willa’s and the playroom right off the livingroom. As an added bonus, Xander’ll rework the attic into two home offices.

~*~

By the time the plans are drawn up and the costs estimated, the Bennetts decide to put off construction until the Spring. They needed time to gather the finances and figure out just what they wanted. Decorating materials – paint colors, wallpapers, wooden trim… all to be decided on before the project is begun.

As usual, Angel promises necro-tempered glass for the windows. Not that he’s overly concerned for Spike, he says, but you never know if the bitlets might develop a sun allergy, and he’s not taking a chance with their welfare.

They have plenty of time for the details.

 

September 2010 – The Tooth Fairy

Willa came home from school with trails of blood dripping down her chin. “Mama! Ook ah me!” Buffy tried to quell her panic at the sight of her bloodied daughter. Spike came racing down the stairs having smelt the coppery fluid.

She holds her hand out; a teensy little white tooth with bloody flecks and a piece of tissue nestles in her palm. “If few owt by issewf!”

Spike snorted, mumbling something about ‘falling out with the help of a pair of pliers’. For a lark, he said, “Change, mite.”

Gamefaced and gap-toothed; Buffy couldn’t think of a cuter sight.

 

October 2010 – Halloween Treat

The Bennetts and Harrises decide to co-host a community-wide costume party for children of all ages. Buffy dresses up as Old Mother Hubbard, complete with grey wig and stuffed dog. Spike finally wears the Mother Goose bonnet from pre-school, delighting all the children he’s read to.

Willa is all decked out as Little Bo Peep, and the twins are dressed as sheep. Each ‘baaah’ from Tara and Tyler sends their older sister into fits of giggles; so of course, they do it as often as they can. Tyler is walking now, and Willa holds the leash to their baby harnesses.

~*~

Keeping with the fairytale theme, Treena is dressed as Snow White, and little Will is dressed as one of the Dwarves. Molly and Xander come as the Wicked Queen and the Huntsman.

There are standard Halloween games, including a wet and dry version of bobbing for apples, pin the nose on the jack-o-lantern, and of course, the hit of the night is Spike’s reading of a very condensed version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, still wearing the bonnet.

Some of the other parents bring goody bags as door prizes for all the children. Everyone goes home tired and happy.

 

November 2010 – The Festival of Lights

Willow flies into town, bringing Rebecca, the stewardess – her current paramour. They’ve been seeing each other since July. This year they’re not celebrating Thanksgiving. In honor of their guests, Molly and Buffy have planned and prepared a Hanukkah meal, complete with latkes and applesauce.

A beautiful brass Tree of Life menorah is the centerpiece of the dinner table, and Willow recites the traditional prayers in Hebrew as she lights the candles.

After dinner, Rebecca tells the story of Hanukkah and Willa listens with rapt attention. Her eyes light up when she hears one present for each of the eight nights.

~*~

After dinner, they sit around the fireplace, exchanging gifts. Willa does get eight small presents; the prettiest one is a Star of David pendant on a chain that she insists Willow fasten around her neck. Mama warns her to be careful when hugging Papa.

Tyler and Tara receive lots of prettily wrapped gifts. Mostly blocks individually wrapped, just for the fun of opening them. Treena and Will receive their fair share, as well.

Eventually the children tire. Baths are taken, diapers changed and little ones settled down for the night.

Everyone cuddles around their partner and talks the night away.

 

December 2010 – A Pox On Your House

When Buffy sees the first marks on Tyler’s body she panics like a madwoman. She thought they were free and clear with the addition of blood to the little ones’ diets. “Spike!” she yells. “Bring Tara upstairs right now!

Fearing the worst, the vampire scoops up his youngest daughter and flies up the stairs, making the little one laugh out loud with glee. “What’s the matter, pet?” he gasps, not enough air in his system to speak calmly.

She points to Tyler’s chest, watching blisters rise one after the other. Quickly stripping off Tara’s shirt they find the same blisters.

~*~

Before either can reach for the phone, Willa announces that she’s home from school. “No school for me,” she sing-songs. “Got the chicken poxes.”

“Come upstairs, mite,” Papa calls. “Let me look at you.” Sure enough, Willa is covered from head to toe with the same blisters as her siblings.

Mama lets out a laugh that borders on the hysterical. “Oh God, Spike!” she cries. “It’s normal. Our kids are sick with a normal childhood disease. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy about an illness in my life.”

Spike takes the breath he didn’t realize he was holding.

~*~

Dr. Schwartz is called, just to keep the children’s medical records up to date. “Don’t give them aspirin for the fever, give them Tylenol,” was the only medical advice she could offer.

The next two weeks are hell. When the poxes begin to itch, it was easy to explain to Willa why she shouldn’t scratch the blisters. However, explaining the same concept to two miserable seventeen month olds was impossible.

Oatmeal baths become de rigueur, and Mama and Papa buy calamine lotion by the case. By the time the children are through the worst of it, their parents are exhausted.

Chapter Text

January 2011 – Book Her, Dan-O

Several large boxes arrive by UPS with the return address of Elgin-Hill Publishers printed on the label. It’s only a vanity-press publication, but Buffy is as proud of it as she is of anything she’s done before. Several hundred copies of Everyone Has A Mother have been printed.

It’s a beautiful publication; definitely a child’s picture book with glossy heavy-board pages. No words other than an identifying label of each species. Newborn babies on the left-hand side; full-grown mothers on the right.

All of Buffy’s maternal feelings come rushing to the fore as she remembers walking pregnant through the zoo.

~*~

“Oh, Mama,” gushes Willa. “The pictures are so beautiful! The animals look just as pretty as I remember. And no bars to hide them.”

Buffy soaks up the praise from her eldest daughter, blushing slightly. Outside of her family, she’s never been acknowledged for doing anything of note. She was Chosen to Slay, she was blessed to have children and a loving husband, but she chose to pick up the camera.

“Thank you, my sweetness. I’m very proud of how the book turned out.”

“And we’re all proud of you, luv,” Spike whispers in her ear. “Just for being you.”

 

February 2011 – Things Look Grimm

Mrs. Howser stands in front of the class and calls on the students to read from their book of the week, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. She calls Willa’s name once, twice, before bringing her hand down on the desk, startling the child.

“Are you so enchanted with our book that you can’t hear me calling for you to read the next page, Miss Bennett?” the teacher asks, her voice laced with annoyance.

Willa blushes. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Howser. I was bored and brought my own book to read.” She hands her the copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

~*~

The teacher isn’t pleased at having her lessons called boring. Considering the reading material to be several grades above the ability of her student, Mrs. Howser tries another tack.

“Since you find our material so boring, perhaps you’d like to share your book?” The teacher’s stern countenance brooks no arguments.

Standing up in front of the room, Willa began: “There was once a poor widow who lived in a lonely cottage. In front of the cottage was a garden wherein stood two rose-trees, one of which bore white and the other red roses.”

A note goes home to her parents.

~*~

Willa stares at her shoes as Mama and Papa read the letter from Mrs. Howser. “You know not payin’ attention to your teacher is the wrong thing to do, Mite,” chides Papa, trying to be stern and parental and failing miserably.

“Sweetie, if you felt the books were too easy, you should have told your teacher before or after class,” says Mama.

A letter is sent back to Mrs. Howser.

A week later, the teacher presents a familiar bonnet to her happy student, and the Willa Goose reading hour is a complete success for the rest of the school year.

 

March 2011 – Overexposure

In the middle of the moans and gasps that signify one of their quieter lovemaking sessions, Spike freezes, and not in that ‘hold on tight, baby – here I come’ way. Sure enough, standing in the doorway with a full view of her parents’ interlocking bits and pieces, is Willa.

They disentangle themselves, pulling the covers up for modesty’s sake. “What’s the matter, sweetie?” asks Mama, trying to even out her breathing and hoping that they haven’t traumatized their girl too badly.

“You guys make an awful lot of noise, Mama,” Willa says, eyes wide with what she’s been witness to.

~*~

Papa calls his not so little one over to his side of the bed now that he’s all hidden under the quilt. “Any questions you want to ask about what you saw, Mite?”

She thinks for a moment, and then cants her head. “Are we gonna have a new baby?”

They never expected to have this discussion so early in their daughter’s life, and naked and sweaty from their interrupted session is not the best time.

Mama is relieved at Willa’s calm acceptance of what she’s seen. “No new babies, sweet girl, but we’ll talk to you in the morning”

~*~

After a smooch from her parents and promises to keep the noise down, Willa trundles off to bed, leaving Spike and Buffy quietly stunned in her wake.

“I’m impressed that she’s got the parental boinking equals baby connection down,” sighed Buffy, not looking forward to tomorrow’s discussion.

“Truth is, luv, we don’t know what she knows for sure. We’ll make sure she’s got it right.” He cuddles closer to his wife, the time for passion over for the moment. “Sleep now, Scarlett. Tomorrow is another day.”

Glad for the support, Buffy slips into sleep, wrapped tightly in her husband’s embrace.

 

April 2011 – The New Addition

Spike and Buffy have been married for five years – the traditional wood anniversary – and each and every guest brings the same oh, so clever gift for the half vampire couple: a beribboned stake. Some are mahogany, some are teak, some are ebony, oak, and pine to round out the selection; all sharpened.

The first stake makes Spike laugh. Of course he knows the significance, and what does one get for the vampire who has everything after all, right? The fifth stake is still chuckle worthy. By the time the twentieth stake makes its appearance, Spike’s gameface is threatening to surface.

~*~

Buffy tries to soothe her barely restrained husband, praying that this is all a gag. Their friends couldn’t all be so cruel, could they? Before she could defend Spike’s hurt feelings, William and Treena Harris drag in a large, bulky present.

“Happy ‘versary, Annie Buffy an’ Unca Spike,” chirps Xander’s and Molly’s youngest, as his sister lifts the gift into her arms and hands it to Spike.

“What’s this all about, Poppet?” he asks, relieved that the stakes are a joke.

“We all got one big anniversary present for you and Aunt Buffy.” Treena smiles, proud to make the presentation.

~*~

Spike hands the gift to his wife for the unveiling, and Buffy rips into the paper with relish. She holds up… a dollhouse with a box glued to one side? “Okay,” she says, rather perplexed. “As unsettling as the stakes were, at least they made sense. What’s the what with this?”

A blushing Xander hands Spike a large manila envelope. “Sorry, pal. I meant to tape this to the house last night, but got… distracted. You know how it is,” he said, winking.

Opening the envelope reveals blueprints for the planned changes to the Bennett household, marked ‘Paid in Full’.

 

May 2011 – Baker’s Man

How hard can it be? Buffy and Willa do it all the time, and if he runs into trouble, his daughter will show him where he went wrong. Right? Right?

So why, pray tell, is Willa sitting on the floor, doubled over with laughter as the batter drips from kitchen cabinets and the twins are running around, shaking sprinkles all over the floor?

Spike gives up all pretence of parenthood and slips into gameface, stalking over to his gigglepuss daughter. She, too, slips into gameface and eludes her Papa easily, bolting from the kitchen.

He catches her in the livingroom.

~*~

Buffy walks in on the mess just as Spike drags Willa to the ground for a little tickle torture, and the twins double team him; Tyler jumped on his back like a drunken cowboy, and Tara trying to pull both his legs out from under him.

Peals of laughter ring through the house, and Buffy is hard-pressed to be angry. She has a funny feeling what all this is about and is not willing to belittle any efforts made on her behalf.

“Might as well have your fun now, Spike,” she laughs. “You know I’m not cleaning up this mess.”

~*~

Four o’clock in the morning, Buffy awakens to the most delicious smells coming from downstairs. She pulls on her robe and tiptoes down the stairs to see what’s going on.

Her kitchen is neat as a pin. Looks like Spike has been practicing his technique behind her back. The hard work over, her husband sits at the table, decorating dozens of heart and lip shaped sugar cookies, and arranging them in a basket decked out with red bows.

After all these years he still manages to surprise her. Coming back from the dead holds nothing over the scene before her.

~*~

Spike knows Buffy is watching, and ignores her totally. As much as he’s doing this for her, he’s doing it for himself. What he starts, he finishes – it’s his way. He’s going after his Slayer’s heart with both hands this Mother’s Day, and he’s not above using their children to help.

He breathes a sigh of relief when Buffy goes back to bed, grateful that she respects his efforts to do things on his own. Spike could feel her desire to fetch their camera and applauds her self control in not doing so. Tomorrow he’ll pose pretty with the bits.

~*~

The weight pressing on her bladder is intolerable. Buffy can’t believe Spike’s arm is so heavy. She opens her eyes and sees Tyler’s pretty hazel eyes. He’s actually kneeling on her abdomen. “Happy Mama’s Day,” he shrieks, obviously wound tight waiting for her to wake up.

Willa and Tara come in bearing the basket of goodies. Tara surreptitiously swipes at her mouth, trying to hide the crumbs that show she’s already snitched one of the cookies.

The children all huddle against Mama, and Papa takes the pictures. He’s never seen her look more radiant.

Motherhood does Buffy Summers Bennett proud.

 

June 2011 – A Tale of Three Kitties

Buffy is exhausted. The little darlings have been home from school this past week, suffering through the common cold. She’s grateful it’s not a repeat of Willa’s flu. This time there’s no fever, just stuffy noses, weepy eyes, and congested chests. Eau de Vicks permeates the house as vaporizers work non-stop.

Papa goes out food shopping when the little ones fall sleep and hopes that his wife will get several hours of downtime, as well.

Hours later, he walks into the house carrying with a large box making the oddest sounds.

Buffy looks at him with murder in her eyes.

~*~

She builds up a head of steam quickly and hisses: “Tell me you didn’t bring a stray puppy home. Spike, please! It’s not like we don’t have enough to keep ourselves busy.”

The mewing that followed her outburst proves he isn’t holding a puppy. “Let me explain…” he tries.

“Don’t you dare open that box. I don’t want to see it, and I certainly don’t want the children seeing it. How could you bring an animal home without talking to me first?”

“I couldn’t leave them, luv. They’re so young.”

“They?” she shrieks. “As in more than one?”

“Buffy, please…”

~*~

Before he can plead his case, one of the kittens escapes through a hole in the top of the box. A tiny ginger tabby with green eyes stares Buffy down, and switches its tail back and forth. Spike holds his metaphorical breath, waiting for someone to declare themselves the winner.

“Awwwww!”

The Queen is dead! Long live the King! The winner and new champion of the house is… the little kitten!

“This does not get you off the hook, you big mush,” she coos, cuddling the ginger cat as she speaks. “How many more have you smuggled into the house?”

~*~

Spike finally places the box on the floor and pops open the top. Two more kittens nestle together; a grey tabby and a champagne and cream puffball.

“And the world thinks William the Bloody is no longer evil,” she sighs. “You bastard.” The softness in her eyes belies her harsh words. “The kids are gonna flip when they see Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail.”

Her husband is indignant. “Oi! You’ll not be naming any pets of mine after bunnies. At least give them names as befits their heritage. Bastet, for one. Or even Simba, if we have to tap soddin’ Disney.”

~*~

Stomping kiddie feet forestall the discussion as the Bennett hoard descends.

“Mama, let me see,” squeals Willa, practically yanking the kitten from her mother’s arms. “Look, it’s Tigger!” she insists, stroking the animal’s fur as it cuddles into her arms and promptly falls asleep.

Tara gently approaches the puffball, sitting down and letting the kitten walk into her lap. “Such a treasure you have, Princess,” says Papa. “Cheshire cat,” agrees the little girl, mispronouncing the word, and the second name sticks.

The grey tabby stalks after Tyler, pouncing on his sneaker laces. Spike knows the lion king has been named.

 

July 2011 – Room to Grow

Today’s the day. The twins’ bedroom is complete and ready for them. It’s a large room, fully capable of being split in half when Tyler and Tara need their own rooms. A grass green rug, sky blue walls and glow in the dark stars on the ceiling complete the picture.

Each side of the room sports a half bay window with a padded bench for weather watching, through baby-safe window gates.

Brand new beds with carved headboards grace each side of the room. Tara’s has moons and stars and Tyler’s has the solar system, all lovingly hand painted by Molly.

 

August 2011 – It’s My Party

Molly calls from the Emergency Room, exhaustion and tears coloring her voice. “Can Xander drop Treena off for the night? Will fell and broke his left arm and it’s going to take forever until he’s seen.”

Of course it’s no problem, and the Bennetts simply add another setting to the dinner table.

Before Xander can leave, Tara brings him Harry, her stuffed hedgehog. “For my Will,” she says. “To feel better.”

Looking from the toy to Willa’s parents, he leaves before breaking into tears. Xander is touched by the little girl’s soft heart, and hurries back to his son’s bedside.

~*~

The Harris’ backyard is abuzz with laughter and frolicking children for Will’s second birthday. When Spike elects to stay home to play nursemaid to one of their kittens, the party is held under the bright blue sky without benefit of the tent.

Buffy, Willa, Tara and Tyler walk in and Will circles around, looking high and low for something. Finally, he pulls on Buffy’s skirt with his good hand. “Where’s Unca Spike?” he asks, absentmindedly trying to scratch under his cast.

“Simba is sick, Will. Uncle Spike is taking care of him until I get home. He’ll be here later.”

~*~

Spike shows up in time for a hug and kiss from the birthday boy before he goes down for a nap, along with Tara and Tyler. The party’s over and the guests have gone home. Buffy takes over his kitty-sitting duties.

“Gods, Spike.” Xander claps him on the shoulder and hands him a beer. “Talk about being pussy-whipped.”

The vampire smiles, still predator enough to bring chills into Xander’s heart. “Be quiet, Harris, before I drop a boxful of kittens on your house.”

The two men sit quietly on the porch, drinking their beers and silently sharing their good fortune.

 

September 2011 – Back to School

Treena saves a seat for Willa and waves her over when she gets on the bus. They huddle together and whine about the unfairness of being in separate classes this year. The excitement of meeting new friends is tempered when you’re worried about missing the old.

When the lunch bell rings, the girls are feeling somewhat better. They compare notes on teachers and the other girls… and of course they giggle about the icky boys.

Soon it’s time to go back to their separate classrooms, but they promise to save a seat for each other on the ride back home.

~*~

First day of playgroup for the twins and both Mama and Papa accompany their youngsters. Molly shows up with Will shortly thereafter.

Tyler runs over to a group of children stacking large cardboard blocks and fits in with no problem. Tara stands off to the side, shyly watching everyone else at play.

Papa wants to take her by the hand and lead her over to the others, but Mama stays his actions, telling him to watch and wait.

Little Will comes to the rescue, enticing her with several plastic dump-trucks. Before long they’re joined by other children.

Mama knows best.

 

October 2011 - Siblings

These days, Dawn calls at least three times weekly. She loves talking to her nieces and nephew and hearing of their exploits from her sister and brother-in-law. Dawn hints that there is someone special in her life, but won’t tell them who it is so’s not to jinx the relationship.

She’s so proud of Buffy for publishing her children’s book. Copies have been passed around to friends all over Europe, and one of the little publishing houses might be interested if she does another one.

Buffy doesn’t say ‘no’.

Distance may keep them apart, but they’re always close in heart.

 

November 2011 – Full to Bursting

The entire third grade presents a play before school breaks for Thanksgiving. Willa and Treena lead off with a song:

Be kind to your parents,
Though they don't deserve it,
Remember that "grownup"
Is a difficult stage of life.
They're apt to be nervous,
And over-excited
Confused by the daily storm and strife.
Just keep in mind
Though it sounds odd I know. . .
Most parents once were children
Long ago....(incredible!!)
So treat them with patience
And sweet understanding,
In spite of the foolish things they do.
Some day you may wake up
And find you're a parent, too.

Be Kind To Your Parents was written by Harold Rome for the 1954 musical Fanny, and turned into a song by J.(Jackie) O'Neill

~*~

Mama sits with Tyler in her lap, crying softly as she listens to Willa’s beautiful soprano. She knows her voice has to be inherited from her Papa. Nobody in the Summers’ line can carry a tune to save their lives. It hits her with a flash, then, that their daughter will have a life independent of her parents – Willa Bennett – and not just Spike and Buffy’s oldest daughter.

Gazing into the future, she fantasizes: Willa – latest pop star sensation; Willa – hot new actress; Dr. Bennett – discoverer of the cure for cancer.

Looking over at her husband and Tyler, she smiles.

~*~

Papa refuses to look at Mama. A glimpse of his teary eyed wife and Spike knows he’ll break into sobs of his own. There’s real talent in his daughter’s voice – not just passably carrying a tune as he can. And no, he’s not just being prejudiced, thank you very much.

For the first time he acutely feels life passing him by. His children are growing up. His wife is aging, albeit slower than the children. She looks barely older than the first time he met her.

It frightens him, and he holds Tara tightly, determined not to lose a moment.

 

December 2011 – Painting the Town Red

The Harrises plan on celebrating their first year anniversary in style. Keeping with the traditional symbol of paper, Xander gifts his bride with plane tickets to New York and reservations at The Plaza Hotel several weeks before Christmas. First class all the way for once in their lives. They leave their children at the Bennett household for the week. A quick kiss goodbye, and they’re off.

Hours later, mother’s intuition begins to nag at Buffy. “Spike,” she asks, “when did you last see the kids? Five kids are never this quiet.”

They quietly walk up the stairs, prepared for anything.

~*~

Spike has to clap his hand over his wife’s mouth to keep her from shrieking in fury. Treena and Willa have found their way into Buffy’s makeup stash and have been working diligently to turn Tara, Tyler and Will into what can only be described as vampire drag queen clowns on acid.

Black eyeliner and glitter shadows grace the little ones’ faces, along with garish, splotchy circles of blusher.

Buffy tenses in her husband’s embrace, but the look that passes between them means it’s safe to let her go.

She comes back with a fully loaded camera and starts clicking.

~*~

Willa tenses when she hears the click-click of the shutter, and braces herself for a well earned lecture from Mama.

“You know that you and Miss Treena are in big trouble, don’t you, young lady?” Buffy says sternly, in-between pictures.

The older girls hang their heads, knowing that Buffy’s makeup was not on their approved toys list, especially without permission.

Papa’s eyes gleamed with mischief. “Why don’t you give Mama a make-over before we put all this stuff away?”

“I’ll agree on one condition,” laughs Mama. “That you also do Papa, and we take pictures.”

Conditions accepted by all parties.

~*~

The children are all asleep upstairs, and Spike and Buffy collapse into a heap of tangled limbs in front of the fireplace. Making sure five children are completely make-up free and clean enough for bed is exhausting business, even for supernatural being such as them.

“What’s. It. Gonna. Take. M’love,” he whispers, pressing butterfly kisses against her neck in-between words, “for you to burn that film before those pictures reach the light of day?”

Buffy giggles. “You don’t have it in you, handsome.”

“If you’re real lucky, maybe you will,” he intimates, “and then we’ll talk about those bloody pictures.”

~*~

Molly and Xander return to their children and friends in time to celebrate a quiet, family Christmas together.

It’s just the nine of them this year. Dawn is traveling for the Council with the boyfriend she still refuses to divulge anything about, Willow and Rebecca are moving to Hawaii for a change of pace as their relationship deepens, Giles takes up with Olivia again. It seems that opening his heart to his extended family brings benefits to his personal life. An upsurge in demonic activity keeps Angel busy in Los Angeles.

There’s always next year to gather them all together.

Chapter Text

January 2012 – Cold Comfort

Buffy receives a package from a lawyer whose name she doesn’t recognize. Wrapped in bubble wrap is a framed picture of Buffy and her father, taken on her fifth birthday. She was wearing a pink party dress and a gold paper crown that said “Daddy’s Princess” in silver glitter.

Wiping away the tears that slide down her cheeks, she searches through the box for more, and comes up with an envelope, sealed with red wax. Gingerly breaking the seal, she finds a death certificate for Hank Summers. Cause of death was listed as pancreatic cancer.

She finds one more envelope.

~*~

Inside the envelope is a personal letter to her from her father, written several days before he died.

“My Dearest Buffy,

I know I’ve lost the right to call you mine, but indulge the dreams of a dying man for a moment. I’m sorry for abandoning you and your sister, and for making your mother’s life miserable. Doesn’t change anything, but I am sorry.

I regret that my actions have kept me from knowing my grandchildren. I’m sure you and your husband will do a far better job of things than I ever did.

I never stopped loving you,

Dad”

~*~

Buffy’s sobbing in earnest now, the letter crumpled in her hand as her emotions overwhelm her. She’s glad to be alone in the house. It gives her time to assimilate the loss of her father, and to mourn the relationship they lost while he was still alive.

She shakes the envelope, and out falls a worn school picture of Buffy, the last one he’d been home for. Written in faded ink on the back: “My sweet girl.”

Within an hour she gets a phone call from her sister, and they begin to heal, together. Another chapter of their lives closed.

 

February 2012 – Heart to Heart

Cupid must be shopping for his arrows at COSTCO lately, because happy couples are announcing engagements all over the place. A small box arrives from Hawaii that explodes with white orchid and pink rose petals, heralding the engagement of Willow and Rebecca. Love has truly blossomed on their island paradise.

The shocker is Dawn. She and her mystery beau are also engaged, yet she still refuses to divulge his identity. “All in due time,” she says. “We’ll see you in the Fall.”

Buffy thinks that at twenty-five, Dawn isn’t too old to turn over her knee to receive a spanking.

~*~

Giles and Olivia have not only renewed their romance, but have moved in together. It seems they’ve chosen a new flat to go with their new start. More amazing is her position as Giles’ right hand woman at the Council. No more denial for Olivia. Time to face reality head on with the man she loves.

Sixteen years after meeting Buffy, eleven years after falling for Cordelia, and eight years of being alone, Angel and Nina have decided to try and make a go of things. The family circle widens again with the addition of a werewolf to their midst.

~*~

There’s a Valentine’s Day party in playgroup as well as Willa’s class, and Mama and Papa work together to bake enough heart shaped cookies for both classes. Their eldest likes the red glaze the dyed sugar leaves on her lips.

Tara and Tyler hand out their treats to their classmates, leaving several extra in the basket on Miss Kara’s desk. Before taking her seat, Tara grabs an extra cookie, and takes it over to her best friend. “Happy Val’tine Day, Will.”

Mama nudged Papa. “Cute, aren’t they?”

“Glad they’re all too young to be worryin’ about dating an’ such, luv.”

 

March 2012 – A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Words

Elgin-Hill Publishers has broken with tradition. For the first time, they solicit a publication. The owner is a young mother who fell in love with Buffy’s first picture book and wants another associated with her company. She feels there is a small market in pre-schools for her work, and will publish it for a percentage of sales.

Spike and Buffy pore through their pictures, selecting the right ones from their ‘makeover’ session. The children add their favorites, too.

The dedication for Make Me reads:

Make me up
Take me over
Make me yours

From our family to yours
The Bennetts

~*~

It’s a gamble for the little publishing house, but it pays off nicely. A handful of school districts are interested in Make Me as well as Everyone Has a Mother, which is reprinted. The money they earn from the sales is invested in finally setting up the attic office with two new computers and desks.

Wonderland Productions is formed as Spike agrees to become an active partner. He might not write brilliant prose, but he can please the kiddies, having plenty of practice with his own brood and his Father Goose stint at preschool.

Molly offers to design their logo.

~*~

Willa develops a fascination for the wedding symbols list. She wants to do something special for her parents’ sixth anniversary, and enlists her brother, sister, and Treena in her quest. Carefully saving her allowance gives her just enough money to pull off her idea.

She makes a list of things she needs and asks her best friend to buy and store certain things in her house. Several bull sessions after school set up a family game date with the Harrises for the afternoon of April first.

The Bennett siblings are very excited. Mama and Papa won’t know what hit them.

 

April 2012 - Candyland

There’s an odd feeling as the families settle down in the Harrises’ livingroom to play Candyland. Buffy and Spike look at each other as if everyone is possessed. They go along with it, since the children are having fun and Xander and Molly are playing along.

Willa excuses herself for a potty break, and comes back five minutes later with her hands behind her back. Standing in front of her parents, she reveals a purple envelope with sugar hearts pasted on the outside, and hands it to them.

“Happy Anniversary!” they all shout, shocking the elder Bennetts into stunned silence.

~*~

The significance of the game and the card and the date finally hits Spike. “Did you plan all this, Poppet?” he asks his daughter, love shining bright in his eyes.

“Yes, Papa. I did.”

“And we helped!” yelled the twins, in stereo..

Mama smiles at their children. “So this is what you wanted that anniversary list for. What a lovely present for Papa and me.”

Molly hands the little ones bowls of M&M’s and Jelly Bellies to hand out for their candy anniversary..

“Only for you guys,” Xander laughed. “Do you think we play Candyland with just anyone these days?”

 

May 2012 – A Young Man’s Fancy

With Mama’s approval, Willa brings home a friend from school. She introduces Nicholas Tanner to her parents and heads into the playroom, where they’ll work on their homework together.

Papa is unnerved. “Since when is the mite bringin’ home fellas?””

“For crying out loud, Spike. They’re only eight years old.” Mama smirks, knowing he’s in for a tough ride through his children’s lives. “What are you gonna do when she needs her first bra, or gets her first period?”

He looks decidedly green around the gills. Period? Bras? Not his little girl. She’s always going to be his little niblet.

~*~

Spike groans, dropping his head into his hands. “She’s really goin’ to grow up an’ leave us, isn’t she, Buffy? And then the twins are goin’ to follow in big Sis’ footsteps an’ they’ll leave, too.”

The panic on his face makes him vulnerable, and Buffy can’t help but climb into his lap and cuddle her husband. “She’ll always be Papa’s little girl, Spike. Even when she’s a sixty-five year old grandmother. They’ll grow up and make families of their own, but they’ll always be ours.”

“Do you promise, luv?” he asks, hopeful.

“Until the end of the world, Spike.”

 

June 2012 – Here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty

Tigger, Cheshire, and Simba are the three biggest mooches ever to have wormed their way into a ‘people house’. And who is the worst offender when it comes to sneaking scraps from the table to the fuzzy children? Buffy, of course.

The three cats have her wrapped around their sturdy tails. Tigger likes to walk on the couch or chair that Buffy sits on and rub heads, totally redoing whatever hairstyle she had in mind. Cheshire sticks her dainty pink nose into every bowl or cup and ‘shares’ with her Mama. Simba begs, complete with raised paw and plaintive ‘miaow’.

~*~

During dinnertime, the cats have staked out territory under the diningroom table. Tara and Tyler still aren’t the neatest of eaters, and if a kitty goes away hungry, it’s not for lack of food.

“Finish all your sprouts, Sprout?” asks Papa, knowing it’s Willa’s least favorite vegetable. “Uh huh,” she says brightly and shows off her plate. “All gone.”

Meows and hisses come from under the table. Simba and Tigger are fighting over something green and the ginger cat wins, batting it away from Simba. Cheshire zooms out of hiding and chases the green whatever it is around the house.

~*~

Mama worries that Cheshire has caught a bug or maybe a bug demon and goes to check. She walks back into the room and stands in front of her eldest; Joyce’s patented ‘You know you’ve done something wrong and you should be feeling really guilty right about now’ look on her face.

Papa is concerned over the look on Mama’s face. “What’d you find, sweetling?”

“It looks like one of our little brood isn’t a big fan of Brussels sprouts,” she says, holding up the fuzzy green sprout she rescued from Cheshire. Checking under the table, she sees three more.

~*~

Papa looks at his eldest daughter, listening to her heart rate increase as she realizes she’s been caught green handed. “Have somethin’ you want to tell us, Poppet?”

Shaking her head vehemently back and forth, eyes tearing up, she says, “No, Papa. Don’t want to tell you anything.”

One raised eyebrow is all it takes for the tears to come streaming down her cheeks.

“Mite, if you don’t like Brussels sprouts, tell Mama, and we won’t give them to you again.”

“Yes, Papa,” she sniffles. So much to learn about growing up. And another sprout will never cross her lips.

 

July 2012 – The Happiest Place On Earth

It’s a grand adventure for the Bennetts and Harrises. Grandpa Angel has invited the clan to Disneyland for the twins’ third birthday, and they figure to celebrate Will’s, at the same time. They rent a suite of rooms in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, with instructions to the staff to keep the curtains drawn during daylight hours.

Their favorite rides are things that spin, and the adults will look a bit worse for wear by the time they leave the park for their hotel. The King Arthur Carousel is a favorite, and Buffy’s digital camera gets the workout of a lifetime.

~*~

The men decide to be macho idiots and head for the Teacups. With a promise extracted from the vampires not to destroy the ride, Angel and Spike try to make Xander lose his lunch. They almost succeed, but the screeching of tortured metal make them pull back their speed, and Xander recovers.

Buffy and Molly choose the next ride, and they all pile into the It’s A Small World boat. Wicked women that they are, the theme song resonates in everyone’s head for the next week. And just when it seems to have been forgotten, someone sings it out loud.

~*~

Tara, Tyler, and Will feel very special. So much attention is lavished on them this trip. Grandpa Angel takes them all on rides by himself, having just as much fun as the little ones.

Willa and Treena shop for souvenirs and just enjoy the park and the crowds. When they go out with Molly and Xander in the sunlight, they marvel at the differences in the park from night to day.

One night, they leave the children with the hotel babysitter and the adults tour the park themselves. A wonderful time is had by all.

Angel finally earns his wings.

 

August 2012 – Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

There is nothing left to do to prepare for upcoming classes. All the shopping is done for both clothing and school supplies. Stuff that’s been outgrown is been boxed up and placed in the basement, just in case another miracle comes to pass.

The kids play outdoors most days weather permitting, either at home or at the Harrises’ place. Buffy and Spike are hard at work trying to develop a series of early reading books. It will be their first joint effort and their eldest daughter has been very encouraging.

She keeps a close eye on her brother and sister.

 

September 2012 – I See You

It’s the second week of school and Willa brings home a letter. Seems she’s having trouble seeing the blackboard, at least in human face, so it’s off to the ophthalmologist. Both sets of eyes are examined carefully, and it’s determined that her human eyes are nearsighted, and her demon eyes are perfect.

The little blonde takes a long look at all the frames on display, before choosing. When she puts them on for the first time, Papa stands with his mouth agape. Perched prettily on her nose is a pair of round gold-wire frames – the spitting image of William Bennett.

~*~

Mama also buys a pair of reading glasses for Papa. Can’t claim vanity anymore if they expect their daughter to follow their lead.

Willa preens. Father and daughter in matching frames. Mama’s shutter finger itches, and both know a portrait session is in the works.

“We want glasses, too,” the twins clamor, not wanting to be left out of anything. Papa buys them each a pair of plastic sunglasses and everyone is satisfied.

Treena claps when she sees the new glasses. “You look great, Willa. Mr. Barker will be happy you can see the board now.”

They walk into class.

~*~

Willa slams open the door to her home and makes her way to her room, sobbing as if her heart was breaking. Mama’s close behind, already hurting for her baby. “What’s wrong, sweetie? Why are you so upset?” she asks, holding her daughter close to her heart.

“B-bobby called me a f-four eyed freak. He said I wasn’t human, wasn’t a vampire and didn’t belong anywhere. Mama,” she cried, unable to stop shaking, “He told me I was a… a… ‘bomination.”

Buffy chokes back her own sobs at the overly familiar words, knowing how deeply they hurt. Her heart breaks.

~*~

“My sweet, precious child,” Mama soothes, settling Willa in her lap. You are a true miracle. Papa and I were blessed with you. You are the best of both of us – human and vampire. You are beautiful and strong and smart. You belong anywhere you want to be.”

Willa sniffles, and hearing Papa come home with the twins, runs downstairs. “Oi, Mite,” he exclaims as she barrels into him, “what’s got your tail feathers all ruffled?”

“Someone said very hurtful things to her at school. I was telling her how special she is.” Mama greeted her husband with a kiss.

~*~

Wrapping her arms around Spike’s waist, she envelopes both husband and child. “I’m so sorry, Spike,” she sighs, those bitter words burning in her memory. “I never realized how badly words can wound, and some of the things I said to you… well, let’s just say they’ve come back and bitten our baby.”

“How so, luv?”

“Bobby’s words were racist… told her that she wasn’t human or vampire and had no place.” Buffy hung her head in shame, wishing she’d never said those same words.

He cupped her chin and looked into her teary eyes. “Never too late to learn.”

 

October 2012 – The Birds and Bees

Tara and Tyler run around their room, naked as jaybirds as the bathtub fills. It’s a good thing Uncle Xander crafted the beds for heavy duty usage, because in no time at all, they’re using them as trampolines.

The noise attracts big Sis’ attention, and in no time, Willa joins her rambunctious siblings in their bedroom gymnastics. Eventually the differences between her brother and sister catch her attention and she sits back and watches.

Pretty soon she’s naming body parts and the little ones get their first lesson in what’s what about boys and girls. They are apt pupils, indeed.

~*~

Mama and Papa receive another letter home from school on Willa’s behalf. Apparently during quiet time, their young lady took it upon herself to conduct an impromptu discussion of the birds and the bees.

Complete with her parents’ live action demonstration.

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. While we’re pleased that you have a wonderfully healthy sex life, Mr. Barker’s third grade class is no place for it to be discussed. Please advise Willa that a little tact goes a long way.

Sincerely,
Ms. Frances Beene,
Principal

Willa receives a lecture on the proper time and place for everything that night.

 

November 2012 – All You Need is Love

The taxi drops Dawn off after four. The entire family crowds around, looking to check out her secret fiancé.

“You’ve been toyin’ with us for a year, Niblet,” Spike laughed. “Anything to keep Sis from playin’ matchmaker.”

Dawn rolls her eyes in mock-irritation. “Spike, I’m going to be twenty six years old. Haven’t I turned into a full-fledged ear of corn yet?”

A knock on the door diverts Spike’s attention. He opens the door to a pile of luggage with feet. No, make that Andrew, buried under the pile of luggage. “I’m not a pack mule. Somebody help me, please?”

~*~

“What are you doing here, Andrew?” asks Buffy, though not unkindly. “We’ve got our hands full this week. Dawnie is here with her fiancé and we plan on celebrating, so it’s not a real good time for an unannounced visit.”

Dawn rests her arms on Andrew shoulders, smiling over his head at her family. “Are you trying to throw my guy out before we’ve had a chance to party?”

Whooping, Tara, Tyler, and Willa pile on top of their favorite Auntie and now Uncle-to-be while their parents look on in shock.

People can change,” Andrew says, looking pointedly at Spike.

~*~

Dawn faces down her sister. “C’mon, Buffy. Please. Give me the “He was evil” speech so’s I can laugh myself silly.

“She’s got you there, pet.” Spike nuzzles his wife’s neck, draining most of the fight out of her.

“But… but… he’s Andrew,” she whines, as if it’s self-explanatory.

“And you wonder why we kept things quiet for a year? He may be a twerp, but he’s my twerp.”

“Dawn and I are very happy, you guys. We travel together, live together and…”

Spike holds up his hands. “Not another bloody word or I’ll have to pull out your tongue.”

~*~

Andrew squares his shoulders and stands up to the vampire he admires. “I know she’ll always have a special place in your heart, Spike. Now she has one in mine. A-and isn’t there strength in numbers?” He nervously brushes invisible lint from his clothing. “Besides, I already got the shovel talk from Willow.”

Buffy caves. They look so happy. “I guess it’s official then. If you’ve passed Will’s shovel speech without being turned into a frog, I’m forced by Wiccan law to include you in my family.

With dual sighs of relief, Dawn and Andrew embrace, relieved to be accepted.

~*~

The two sisters share some private time, after the kiddies go to bed. Spike’s taken Andrew out for some manly bonding and Buffy and Dawn settle down with hot chocolate for a good old fashioned hen session.

“Andrew, huh? How did this happen?”

Dawn reflects for a moment. “Andrew saved me from a whole lot of trouble in an Italian silk suit. Actually decked a guy six foot four.”

Buffy smiles. “Your own little white knight?”

“And he’s smart. Take his focus away from television and movies and you’ll find out.”

“Never ever tell me his new focal point, Dawnie.”

 

December 2012 – Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

It’s all set; a family portrait for the holidays. Papa wants it to hang over the fireplace.

Tyler’s hair is a beautiful sable color, setting off his hazel eyes. It’s almost shoulder length now. Mama refuses to cut it, preferring to pull it into a ponytail. Tara’s hair is longer, hanging down mid-back in soft ringlets. The color is somewhat lighter than her brother’s and her eye color has turned towards teal.

Willa is a stunner. Her hair is still golden blonde, with a soft wave when she wears it loose. Her pretty blue eyes rival her father’s in intensity.

~*~

The weather is dismal, with no relief in sight. It’s been raining for days and everyone is beginning to think that grey is the sky’s natural color.

Schools are closed for the Winter break and the children are bored. At any given time someone is napping. Tyler finds himself the only person awake on a dreary Tuesday afternoon.

Papa finds himself following trails of sable and blonde hair throughout the house and alerts his wife before checking on the siblings.

And that’s why Mama finds herself waiting at Star Cuts with three children at seven o’clock, a week before Christmas.

~*~

The portrait sitting is a breeze, though the children look markedly different. Tyler’s ponytail is gone – vanished with one snip of the scissors. Tara’s hair is now shoulder length, and she’s finally stopped crying over how different she looks. And while Willa’s length could have been rescued, she’s opted to change her look entirely, and is now sporting a pixie cap of feathered waves.

Spike and Buffy sit, Tyler on Mama’s lap and Tara on Papa’s. Willa stands in-between her parents.

The framed portrait hangs above the fireplace, and copies sent out to family and friends with their Christmas cards.

Chapter Text

January 2013 – The Gathering

Ominous news from England starts off the year. Olivia’s collapse at a Council function finds her admitted to the hospital for observation. A frantic call from Giles in the wee hours of the morning finds Buffy trying to calm the man down – telling him things will work out – Olivia will be fine.

Unfortunately, a nurse interrupts her words, explaining that Giles has passed out from severe chest pains and must be attended to. When a later call advises that the family might want to gather, a call to Angel procures the Wolfram & Hart jet to ferry the worried clan.

~*~

Even the children are subdued as they walk into the hospital. The thought of losing Grandpa Giles and Grandma Olivia, as they’ve come to call her, frightens them.

It’s when they’re greeted by a jubilant Willow that everyone becomes confused. “Olivia’s fine!” she crows, hugging everyone tightly. “Turns out she’s knocked up, not sick.”

“What about Giles?” Buffy’s quiet question cuts through everyone’s giddiness.

The redhead sobers slightly. “He’s had a heart attack… a mild one, and he needs to cut down on his Council work. And you’ll never guess who’s stepping up to the plate. Little Dawnie and Andrew!”

~*~

Willow leads the way to Giles. The hospital has stretched its official policy, allowing Olivia to share her beloved’s room while she rests and he recovers.

They all stand huddled at the foot of their beds, unsure as to what to say or how to say it. As usual, it’s Spike who breaks the ice. “Congratulations, pet,” he purrs, kissing Olivia on the forehead. “I guess you finally got the old codger away from his books for an evening.”

His eyes twinkling with good humor, Giles asks: “Need I mention that you have nearly a century on me, old man?”

~*~

Spike smiles, backing away to make room for the rest of the family. The vampire’s true age notwithstanding, there were three generations jammed into the little room today, each and every person thrilled with the knowledge that Rupert Giles, grandfather extraordinaire and father-to-be was expected to be around for a long, long time.

Olivia watches from her bed as the children gather ‘round their Grandpa. The changes in the man from their last attempt at a relationship are amazing. Giles has become the consummate family man, and now they’ll be adding their own little chick to the flock, fates willing.

 

February 2013 – Blast from the Past

In his spare time, Xander manages to finish the Bennetts’ basement, and Willa and Treena decide to inaugurate it by holding a joint ninth birthday party. They have so many of the same friends and their birthdates are so close together, it just makes sense.

Theme parties are still a big thing amongst their group, so they turn to their parents for ideas. The most appealing is a Fifties bash. And yes, that’s the nineteen fifties.

Between the internet and the vintage stores, they pile up poodle skirts and pom-pom blouses, saddle shoes and leather jackets.

The invitations go out.

~*~

Both girls are popular at school, and the majority of responses have been acceptances. Buffy’s mind boggles at the thought of nearly fifty children in her basement. She’s grateful for the distance it gives them and the assistance in chaperoning by Xander and Molly. The ratio of four adults and fifty kids should be interesting, to say the least.

The decorations are colorful: all jewel-toned balloons and cut-outs of records and soda shops. There’ll be simple games and old cartoons. They’ve rented a jukebox filled with oldies to provide music.

Willa and Treena discuss the shopping list for the menu.

~*~

The big day arrives and the adults swing into action. The men are assigned to the kitchen; setting out trays of cheeseburgers, hot dogs and French fries to order. They’ve even bought an old fashioned milk shake machine for authentic frosty treats.

The women are downstairs, helping everyone into at least one piece of old fashioned clothing. It’s a regular beauty parlor as hair is slicked back, ponytails tied, and makeup lightly applied.

At nine years old, the kids are aware enough that posing for pictures in the Bennett household might just mean they’ll all end up in a book.

~*~

Tara, Tyler, and Will are welcome to mingle with the gang until after lunch, and then it’s time for the birthday girls and their friends to do their own thing. One of their favorite babysitters will keep the little ones occupied for the rest of the afternoon, so all four parents can lend a hand with crowd control.

The jukebox kicks things into high gear. Of course, none of the kids are familiar with the dances of the era, and Willa reluctantly allows her Papa to demonstrate with Mama, hoping they won’t get all mushy in front of her friends.

~*~

No worries for the little hostess – the dances are all non-contact with silly names and easy enough to learn quickly. Before long, Mama and Papa return to their roles as chaperones and the kids hit the floor.

Xander taps Spike on the shoulder. “You do know I have enough blackmail material in this little camera to ensure your cooperation in my nefarious schemes for the next twenty years?”

“I hear Treena’s already planning her tenth birthday,” Spike shoots back. “She’s thinking of dressing everyone up as fairy princesses. I can’t wait to see you in harem pants and a veil.”

~*~

After a rousing game of Simon Says, the adults go upstairs, figuring a half hour break should give them all some peace and quiet time. A video or two should fill the bill nicely and keep their interest until it’s time for the next group game.

When Molly makes her way back downstairs to check up on things, she spies a cluster of giggling kids in a dark corner, playing Spin the Bottle. The ringleader seems to be… Treena? She’s egging on the other kids, and when it’s Willa’s turn, she pushes her to kiss the boy the bottle chose.

~*~

When both seem reluctant, a chant arises: “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby,” until the boy in question leans over and plants a teensy kiss on Willa’s cheek.

Willa blushes crimson, but boldly kisses the boy back, and the bottle is about to pass on to the next spinner, when Molly breaks it up. Relief floods her at the baby levels the game is played at, but upset that they’ve grown up so fast at the same time.

Twister is brought out, and the other parents are called down, and the party resumes its carefree course; not another un-chaperoned moment allowed to pass.

~*~

The last of the guests have been picked up, the Harrises go home, and Willa opens the last of her presents. She hands her parents an envelope from Bobby.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Bennett,

I’m very sorry for all the hurtful things I said to Willa last year. She’s a very nice girl and we get along much better now.

She’s taught me that different isn’t always bad, and she’s very pretty.

Thank you for letting me apologize,

Bobby Murcer

“This is the same Bobby that Aunt Molly saw you with?” asks Mama.

Willa blushes again, and nods her head.

 

March 2013 – All’s Well That Ends Wells

They all knew it was coming, yet couldn’t stop their laughter.

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful catch
That started in this tiny town
And ended with a match.

One mate was a lovely caring lass,
The other brave and sure.
What started in the house that day
Ended with a lifelong tour.

Their lives were often very rough,
The relationship was tossed,
If not for the courage of the fearless two
The couple would be lost.

The family just grows and grows, to never be complete
With Dawn
And Andrew too,
With Buffy and her Spike,
The Harrises
Giles and Angel too,
Willow and their mates.

So this is the tale of the new Wells clan,
They're here for a long, long time,
They'll have to make the best of things,
It's an uphill climb.

The first mate and the second too,
Will do their very best,
To make the others comfortable,
In their newly married nest.

So join us here at the beach dear friends,
You're sure to get a smile,
Rehearsal dinner for the family
Here on "Wedding's Isle."

Having Andrew in the family will never, ever be dull.

(Yes, I most certainly did bastardize the Gilligan’s Island theme. Couldn’t be helped (see next drabble). Dawn Wells will irrevocably be linked in my mind to the show.)

~*~

It couldn’t be helped. The moment she knew she was to become Dawn Wells, the Gilligan’s Island theme was a done deal. She manages to get Andrew to agree to apply it just to the rehearsal dinner, and not the wedding, itself. She still has her little girl’s dream of a white wedding dress and veil.

What she never expected is to be four months pregnant at her wedding. And she’s absolutely huge! With her slender figure every baby ounce shows clearly. But she glows… she’s learned to accept her new figure with aplomb from the best source – Auntie Buffy.

~*~

The beach behind the Bennett household is now the de facto place to hold family affairs, but never has it been more appropriate than for Dawn and Andrew’s rehearsal dinner. Rough-hewn wooden tables are scattered on the sand and a thatched hut serves as a makeshift kitchen.

Guests are dressed in shorts and t-shirts, except for Spike, of course, though he does forgo the black he favors for cream and white.

A thatched bar will become the altar for tomorrow’s ceremony, officiated by Willow and a local Justice of the Peace.

Spike searches the area for the couple of honor.

~*~

He spots Andrew first; the white sailor’s hat making him an easy target. A perfectly cast Gilligan in torn at the knee blue jeans, red shirt with white collar and a wide, goofy grin that never leaves his face.

Spike wants to rip his lungs out for touching his Niblet. But she’s not, anymore – his, that is. She’s Andrew’s bride-to-be. He spots her by the water’s edge, in a pair of stretch shorts and a red gingham peasant blouse; her hair in braids. If it wasn’t for the large swell of her belly, she’d still look sixteen, not twenty six.

~*~

When Dawn looks up and sees Spike approach, she shoos her fiancé away. Andrew is reluctant to leave her side, but she insists; this confrontation has been coming for a long time.

She holds her arms out to Spike, though their hug is awkward. The vampire so at ease with his wife’s pregnancies is almost petrified to touch her.

“Are you happy for me, Spike?” she asks, looking down at the man she’s called brother for so many years.

With tears in his eyes, he whispers: “I don’t want to give you away, pet.”

“I’ll always be your Niblet, Spike.”

~*~

Taking Spike’s hand, Dawn places it on her belly… holding tightly when he flinches. “It’s okay, Spike. You know I’m not gonna break.”

“So beautiful, Bit,” the vampire said in awe. “You positively glow.”

“As long as it’s not bright green, I’m a happy little camper.”

Cocking his head to the side, Spike gently holds Dawn around the belly and listens. “You do know you’ve got more’n one sprout in there?”

Dawn smiles. “Yeah, we know. Not sure how many – maybe we’ll have triplets, and beat you and Buffy on the multiples thing.

“Be careful what you wish for, sweet.”

~*~

The wedding takes place the following night under a blanket of stars. There’s a crisp breeze blowing, making jackets and shawls a necessity for the guests.

Will and Tara throw violets down the wedding path. Almost four years old, they take their flower children responsibilities very seriously. Willa is the senior flower girl, and carries her basket of flowers proudly before her, wearing a garland of violets in her hair. Buffy is next; a beautiful matron of honor.

As one they rise from their seats when Spike and Dawn emerge from the hut to begin the walk to the altar.

~*~

While Andrew awaits his bride, Spike takes the time to give his Niblet the final once-over. Dawn takes his arm and slowly they make their way down the aisle. Placing a kiss on her belly and smoothing back her veil, Spike hands the young woman over to the man she loves.

They stand in front of the altar – Mutt and Jeff in stature – staring into each other’s eyes as if they’ve invented the institution of marriage; first listening to Willow, then the Justice.

Rings are exchanged, words are spoken and Mr. and Mrs. Wells face the crowd. Married at last.

 

April 2013 – What’s New, Pussycat?

Cheshire Cat’s behavior is decidedly odd, enough so to alert Buffy. She hides in dark spaces and has taken to dragging bits of clean laundry around the house. Can’t find a sock? Look for Cheshire; she’s usually sleeping on it. Underwear gone missing? Again, find Cheshire, find the panties.

After not seeing her for two days, Buffy enlists Spike’s aid in finding the errant kitty. She worries that the animal might be sick or worse… and panics that one of the children will find her, first.

As usual, it’s the smell of blood that leads Spike to Cheshire’s hiding place.

~*~

In an empty bookcase shelf, in a dark corner of their basement, lays Cheshire, on a pile of missing laundry. Nursing from her swollen nipples are the proverbial three little kittens.

“Looks like we should have listened to Bob Barker after all an’ had our kitties spayed and neutered.” Spike shakes his head, already hearing the begging from his children to keep the kittens.

Buffy is relieved. When Spike began to track Cheshire by her blood scent, she was sure it was time to have that “all living things die” speech with the children, and she wasn’t ready for it.

 

May 20, 2013 - Birth of a Nation

The phone rings mid-stroke at some god-forsaken hour and if they hadn’t been awaiting news about Dawn, the phone would have joined countless others on the junk heap. Sure enough, it’s Andrew. Dawn’s gone into active labor nearly two months premature.

A hurried phone call has Molly on her way to watch the children as Spike and Buffy ready to leave for the hospital. Buffy thanks her lucky stars she was able to talk her sister into temporary US residence until the baby’s birth.

Following in her sister’s speedy footsteps, Dawn has delivered twin sons by the time they arrive.

~*~

Spike smiles knowingly at the news of the multiple birth, having heard the heartbeats at the wedding. However, even he is surprised when Andrew stumbles out of the delivery room with an idiot’s grin of delight and four fingers held high.

“Tell me you’re doing a Nixon impression, mate.”

With no small amount of pride, he gives them the good news: “Jonathan, Jeremy, Jason, and Jesse can’t wait to meet their Aunt and Uncle. Dawnie’s fine, and says to tell Buffy ‘nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!’ for some reason.”

Buffy laughed. Better her than me. “Let’s go meet our new nephews.”

~*~

The quads are soon whisked away to incubators for safety’s sake, each weighing in near an amazing four pounds considering their early arrival date. Dawn sits, propped up against the head of the bed like a princess, even dressed in hospital blue.

“Finally beat you at something, you little howler monkey,” she says as Buffy enters the room. “Gonna make breast feeding interesting, though.”

“And you’re goin’ to have to learn to tell the little buggers apart,” Spike snickered, placing a kiss on her forehead. “Our lads are the hit of the nursery.”

“Moving back to England’s gonna be tough.”

~*~

Buffy decides she hates the airport. It’s here that she’s losing her little nephews and their parents for who knows how long, and her heart aches. Plucking each child from his carseat, she and Spike nuzzle into the crooks of their necks, breathing in the soft sweet smell of baby powder and innocence.

When the announcement comes to start boarding the flight, everyone is in tears. Dawn and Andrew promise to flood their email with pictures, and to call. It’s not enough, but will have to do.

They hold their own children that much tighter as the plane takes off.

 

June 2013 – Mr. Mom

Life is more hectic for some than for others. The Wells family finds out that Andrew is more suited to being a stay-at-home parent than leader of the Council, while Dawn thrives under the challenge. Her knowledge and facility with languages is invaluable, and her husband is more than happy researching demons from their home computer.

The children are thriving under Daddy’s attention, and they, in turn, bring out the best in him. With the added help of a neighbor, Andrew is able to meet all the demands of his children until Dawn comes home and returns to active motherhood.

~*~

Giles’ recovery is coming along nicely. Being at home gives him plenty of time alone with his wife since she’s confined to bed rest for the duration of her pregnancy. At forty one years old, being a primapara and her earlier collapse put her into the high risk category.

When he realizes Andrew is incapable of taking over for him at the Council, he’s ready to cut his recovery short, but word comes in from other members that Mrs. Wells is doing a phenomenal job, and there will still be a Council for him to return to when he’s ready.

 

July 2013 – Goodbye, Kitties / Hawaiian Splendor

It’s time, and the teary eyes and sniffles are not going to sway Spike from his appointed task. The kittens must be farmed out… no matter how Buffy tries to get him to change his mind and she’s gotten very inventive in her later years.

The children pet the ginger puffballs one more time after Cheshire gives them her final sniff and cleaning, and Papa’s off to play stork. Two kittens go to Treena and Will, along with a good natured “who’s pussywhipped now, Harris?” slipping from Spike’s lips.

Kitten number three ends up with Bobby, making Willa very happy.

~*~

After the earlier expense of gathering the entire family at Giles’ bedside, Willow and Rebecca decide to keep their handfasting private. The ceremony is Jewish and Wicca, fulfilling their spiritual needs. Willow finally gets to indulge her fantasy and wears a tux.

It’s been agreed that should all things work out, everyone will gather at Angel’s for a Christmas party to celebrate the group’s good fortune and status.

They have a portrait taken – both women against an Hawaiian sunset. Leaning against each other, staring off towards the horizon and their future, their faces catch the glow of the setting sun.

 

August 2013 – Send in the Clowns

Xander promises Will he can pick out where he wants to go for his birthday this year. The four year old is ecstatic, and insists on going to the Circus. He doesn’t want a whole crowd of children, just Tara, but of course Tyler and Willa are invited along, too.

“Oh, Xander. When will you ever learn?” Molly hugs her husband in sympathy, knowing full well how crazy clowns still make him. “Maybe you can talk Will into going someplace else for his birthday?”

“A promise is a promise, Mol. It’s time I grew up and faced those Bozos down.”

~*~

Molly doesn’t know who had the best time; Will, for being the center of attention when the clowns found out it was his fourth birthday, or his father, who found out that not all clowns hid knives in their costumes and scared the hell out of people.

Nobody bothers with dinner or birthday cake. No circus trip is complete without gorging on popcorn, cotton candy, and soda. Everything else can keep until tomorrow.

Willa and Treena hang out watching television, and the twins follow Will upstairs to bed. Xander calls Buffy to let her know the kids are sleeping over.

 

September 2013 – Lessons Learned

A large white envelope arrives in the mail bearing two smaller envelopes, each sealed with an elegant “G” stamped in maroon sealing wax. The first announces the marriage of Giles and Olivia on September seventh.

The second heralds the birth of Braden Harper Giles on Friday the thirteenth.

Congratulatory phone calls are made; along with the obligatory “How could you get married without us much less have the baby?” noises. Disappointed feelings are assuaged with promises of a visit as soon as possible.

Two new pictures grace the Bennett mantle. The newlywed couple – and a dark haired, green eyed charmer.

~*~

It’s also the start of a new school year for the children. Willa and Treena begin fourth grade, and the twins and Will start their last year of Pre-school. The girls are thrilled; they both are in Ms. Walker’s class. So is Bobby Murcer.

Ever since her birthday, Willa’s little crush has grown, and she finds herself doodling “Willa and Bobby” and “Willa Murcer” all over the inside of her notebook.

It falls open on the ground in front of Bobby, and Willa freezes, petrified that he’ll make fun of her again and tears well up in her blue eyes.

~*~

Bobby says nothing, just closes the notebook and hands it back to Willa. He avoids her for the rest of the day. No talking, no laughing… and she’s grateful for the silent treatment over the other possibilities.

As she walks past him to get off the school bus, he hands her a piece of notebook paper, folded into a little square. He doesn’t meet her questioning gaze, just shoos her out the doors.

Upstairs in her room, door closed and sitting on her bed, she unfolds the paper and reads: “I like you, too. A lot.”

She whoops with glee!

~*~

After dinner, Willa takes the phone into her room and closes the door, sitting with her against it to keep nosy little siblings and parents at bay. She tends to forget the sensitive nature of Papa’s hearing, and he gets the full gist of her conversation with Treena.

Mama takes a disdainful view of his eavesdropping, however, and lets him know in no uncertain terms. There is nothing more sacred than girl-talk or a diary, and if they want their daughter to trust them with the more important matters in her later life, they have to respect her privacy now.

~*~

Papa hands the wrapped parcel to his daughter, who climbs into his lap for a kiss and a hug. He explains that he overheard her conversation with Treena on the phone, and while vampire hearing explains it, he was wrong for staying and listening, and he was sorry.

Willa quietly unwraps the gift, holding the diary tightly to her chest.

“I’m sorry, Mite. You’re old enough to be entitled to your privacy, an’ the diary’s yours, complete with a lock an’ a promise. Mama and I will not snoop. But we’ll always be here for you if you need us.”

 

December 2013 – Death Makes a Holiday

Family by family they arrive at the Hyperion, and find themselves mesmerized at the changes Nina has wrought. There’s a stories high Christmas tree, decorated to the hilt in the lobby. Dozens of brightly wrapped gifts are already scattered under the tree, properly identified with gift tags.

There is mistletoe in every doorway, and garlands winding up the banisters. All the cards and pictures are displayed on the mantle place. It looks like somebody went through an awful lot of trouble to make his family happy for the holidays.

Angel comes out of his office to cries of “Grandpa! Grandpa!”

~*~

He greets each child with an all-encompassing bear hug and a vampire growl to go with it much to their delight. So many children – ten, in all. One sitter, four crawlers, three runners and two young ladies, and he still thinks of Spike as a willful childe.

Standing to the side with his arms around Nina’s waist, Angel views his domain. He is one lucky vampire. Perfectly happy? No! But he has a personal reason to continue the good fight; to keep the world safe for those he loves. It’s the connection to the world he needs to keep going.

~*~

Just as they’re ready to head upstairs to a decorated ballroom for a multi-course meal, the front door opens, revealing a surprise guest: Oz!

“Heard there was a little party going down,” he says, taking off his coat. “Thought I’d crash.”

He’s absolutely mobbed by the old gang, Willow and Xander especially. Spike holds back, remembering the last time he saw the little werewolf, he’d been holding several crossbows on him.

Oz takes the initiative and extends his hand. “Beautiful family, man.”

“Every last one of ‘em, mate,” Spike agrees, deeply grateful for his own good fortune, and everyone else’s.

~*~

After dinner everyone changes into sweats and pajamas. It’s all just one big slumber party, and they need comfort. The children’s rooms are fitted with baby monitors if they ever decide to go to sleep.

Oz and Nina pair off for a discussion of werewolf species and experiences. Willow, Xander, Molly and Rebecca catch up with going’s on over the past year. Dawn and Andrew excuse themselves for a little ‘private time’ which gives everyone a severe case of the wiggins.

And Angel? He sits in the middle of the floor, arms around Spike and Buffy, watching the children play.

Chapter Text

January 2014 – Walk Through the Fire

Angel doesn’t ask for help often, not wanting to put a family man in harm’s way. However, this appears to be an easy case – methane breathers have created a weapon that breaches realities, allowing them to strike from the safety of their own dimension.

It should be an easy outing for the vampires. No need to breathe makes them formidable foes against the Rishok’s forces.

Making it all the more frightening when Buffy opens the door, seeing her husband nearly unconscious and gasping with the pain in his grandsire’s arms.

“It’s probably an allergic reaction to the methane,” Angel explains.

~*~

“Don’t worry about me,” he says, brushing off her concern. “Let’s get our boy cleaned up and comfortable, first. I can wait.”

Spike’s skin is pinkened, as is Angel’s. Apparently methane burns affect even tough as nails vampire skin. Her husband’s eyes and nostrils are inflamed; raw and bleeding slightly. Buffy remembers the night he held her tightly, dripping water into sightless eyes to counteract the Sugroth venom and prays.

A quick sponge bath, several mugs of blood later, and Spike finally relaxes.

“Did anyone ever tell you how lovely you are, all soft and fuzzy?” he asks his wife.

~*~

Two days later Spike’s eyes are fine, but he develops a stubborn fever, hovering around 85 degrees. Buffy’s alarmed when he can’t even rise from the bed.

“Weak as the proverbial kitten, sweeting. Couldn’t get it up with your two pretty hands helpin’,” he sighed, the heat radiating from his body in waves.

Aspirin doesn’t help. The only thing that brings Spike any comfort is a cool bath, and Buffy’s getting used to soaking in a lukewarm tub several times a day.

“Just call me pruney butt,” she said, settling into yet another bath, nestled against her husband’s heated chest.

~*~

The fever and the weakness leave as swiftly as they appear. Spike is back to his horny, boisterous self, pleasing both his wife and his children.

Nobody in Angel’s employ has been able to find out anything meaningful pertaining to Spike’s illness, or the correlation to exposure of the Rishok’s atmosphere. What they know is minimalist. Warm-blooded and breathing beings die; cold blooded and non-breathing beings are usually not affected.

Spike laughs it off. After burning up in the Hellmouth, a little fever’s not going to do him in, and once he’s up and about... promptly forgets all about it.

 

February 2014 – Thoroughly Modern Willa

Her age is now in double digits! Ten years old and twice the age of her siblings. Officially no longer a little girl, but a budding young lady.

Papa and Mama promise her a very special present when she gets home from school. As Willa heads out for the school bus, she hears Mama grumble: “… and it’ll take all that time to set it up, too.”

It turns out to be a computer of her very own, complete with printer and a cable modem.

She chooses her screen name: ShiningStar04. A little help from Papa and she’s all set.

~*~

The first name Willa adds to her Buddy List is… Bobby’s. She pulls his last letter from her desk drawer and fills in his screen name – NYbyStorm – in the appropriate spot. She can hardly wait for him to turn on his computer.

Willa listens to the ‘care and feeding of a computer’ lecture, knows that parental restrictions are set against naughty sites, and understands she’s being given a useful tool for schoolwork. She learns how to open Word, and work with Google.

Mama promises to give out her email address to family and friends, and warns her about spam emails.

~*~

When musical notes sound indicating her first email, Willa practically jumps off the chair. Clicking on the Yahoo icon, she finds an email from QueenTreena. Seems that Mama has snuck in a phone call to give her best friend the heads up. Papa shows her how to add Treena’s email to her address book

After a few minutes, ShiningStar04’s Buddy List reads as follows:

Mama – SlayBelle
Papa – WhiteFang
Tara – Tarabelle
Tyler – MightyMite
Bobby – NYbyStorm

Dawn – 1000Eyes
Andrew – Daddyof4

Becky – BeckaBoo
Willow – WhompingWillow

Xander – PapaXan
Molly – MallMolly
Treena – QueenTreena
Will – Willful09

Angel – BroodMaster
Nina – WolfGirl

Oz – UncleWolf

Giles – GrandpaG
Olivia – GrannyO

~*~

The sound of an opening door heralds Bobby’s arrival online. Willa hurriedly opens the AIM window, and types: “Guess who?”

NYbyStorm answers: “Willa!”

ShiningStar04: “How did you know it was me?”

NYbyStorm: “I know everything. And your mother emailed me your screen name and email. 

ShiningStar04: “I love my new computer! Mama and Papa set it up while I was at school. It’s the bestest present ever.”

NYbyStorm: “Java misses you, Willa… ”

ShiningStar04: “I miss him, too. Wish you guys didn’t move.”

NYbyStorm: “Me, too. Gotta go, it’s time for dinner. Happy Birthday! **eleven birthday smacks**”

ShiningStar04: “Bye!”

 

March 2014 – The Old Gray Mare

Several weeks after Buffy’s thirty fourth birthday, she notices teensy crow’s feet around her eyes and her first gray hair. To say she’s unhappy is an understatement of epic proportions. The children steer clear of their Mama when they can, and when they can’t… Willa, Tyler, and Tara are on their best behavior.

Spike, of course, dispenses no such subtleties. “Come closer, sweeting. Let me see all those pretty little laugh lines that have you all atwitter.” He also brushes her hair – running his fingers through golden sable strands – as close to her natural color as either of them remember.

~*~

“Gods, Spike,” she mutters. “What are we going to do when I’m a wrinkled old lady and you’re still as pretty as you ever were?”

He smiled, tilting her face until their eyes met. “I seem to remember when you didn’t think you were going to reach twenty-one, pet. In fact, you’d died twice before you made twenty-two. Getting older isn’t a curse, but a privilege.”

“Says the man who doesn’t age,” she retorted, mulishly. “I’m gonna look like a dirty old lady robbing the cradle!”

“You’ll grow mellower… like an aged wine. Something to be treasured and sipped from.”

~*~

“You’ll be the envy of the geriatric set, my dove. We’ll take long walks after dinner; me holdin’ on to your walker to keep pace…”

“All right, all right!” Buffy slaps at the man who shares her life and her bed. “You never know when to shut up, do you?”

Spike sighs, knowing that this conversation had been inevitable. “If I could grow old with you, pet… I’d be the happiest old codger in Santa Barbara. In the mean time, you hardly look past twenty-five.”

“Flatterer,” she murmurs, secretly pleased at her husband’s compliment. Pretty lies from a prettier spouse.

 

April 2014 - Backdraft

The Bennetts have a rare night out alone to celebrate their eighth anniversary. During the main course, Spike feels dizzy, but puts it down to forgetting to feed earlier that day.

By the time the dessert cart arrives, Spike can hardly keep his head up. He leans heavily against his wife as she maneuvers him towards the exit and the parking lot. The restaurant worriedly asks after them as they leave, hoping it wasn’t something he ate.

Buffy promises to call them back if it turns out to be food poisoning, and they remove the possible offender from the menu.

~*~

Spike opens his eyes to the worried faces of his wife, children and Angel, and knows something must be drastically wrong. “Can’t a bloke get some sleep around here without becoming a side show attraction?” he jokes.

When nobody laughs, Spike moves to sit up, and feels as if there’s a ten ton weight pressing down on his chest. “W-what’s wrong with me? Buffy…?”

She moves to her husband’s side, concern etched in her pretty hazel eyes. “You’ve been out cold for the past two days, love. Even the smell of fresh, warm Slayer blood wasn’t enough to rouse you.”

~*~

He wants to vomit. The thought that Buffy had bled for him warms him and makes him ill at the same time. Buffy sees the struggle in his eyes. “It’s okay, Spike. Just pricked a finger and waved it under your nose like those smelly salts things. I wasn’t gonna open the tap if the customer wasn’t drinking.”

Willa and the twins climb into bed just to be near their father. His illness is unsettling in a way they can’t begin to vocalize. He’s never been sick. Papa’s always been the rock of the family, nursing everyone through their ailments.

~*~

Even Angel is fretting. “If I’d have known you were such a lightweight, boy, I’d have taken Fred with me and told her to hold her breath.”

The worry in his eyes unnerves Buffy. Yes, Angel has become patriarchal since accepting their relationship eight years ago, but this raw fear for Spike’s unlife makes her worry. What if it doesn’t go away this time? What if it happens again? What if it gets worse?

Pressing her lips to Spike’s forehead like a good Mama, she can tell his fever’s lessened. You haven’t eaten in two days. I’ll be right back.”

~*~

For three more days, Spike lays abed, waited on hand and foot. The weakness in his limbs abates slower this time, as does the blurriness of his vision. “Must be old age catchin’ up with me,” he quips, unhappy with the long looks on his family’s faces. “Don’t take on so, poppets,” he tells the children. “Papa’ll be back to his old self soon.”

Willa looks at Papa, for the first time realizing that her father might be lying to her… placating her with wishes instead of facts. She’s growing up, fast – and her pedestals are crumbling. She’s not happy.

 

May 2014 – Goodbye to You

Willa slams open the front door, crying: “Mama! Mama! I’ve got horrible news! When school is finished for the year, Bobby’s family is moving to New York!!!” She throws her bookbag down on the kitchen table. “That’s all the way across the whooole country.”

Mama says nothing, just holds out her arms to comfort her not-so-little one

“And I won’t get to see Java anymore!” she wails. “I miss him already and he’s not even gone yet.”

‘Oh yeah,’ Buffy thinks, absentmindedly scratching Tigger behind the ears as he walks by. ‘It’s the cat she’s talking about.’

Love hurts, baby.

~*~

Conversations with Bobby’s parents show they’re not unsympathetic to their son’s misery over moving, either. They help set up several ‘play dates’ to allow them time to say their goodbyes. They go to movies on weekends and do their homework together several times a week.

At Willa’s urging, Mama plans a dinner party with the Murcers and the Harrises. She knows Bobby’s moving isn’t the end of the world. At least he’s still alive, unlike the kids she went to school with. When they left, it was usually due to death.

But it hurts Willa, and that’s all that matters.

~*~

It feels like a wake instead of a dinner. Willa does an amazing impression of Wednesday Addams – all glower and snap, for a change acting just like the unhappy child she is instead of appearing more mature than her years. Even the younger children stay out of her way.

She and Bobby hide in the playroom after dinner, playing hand after hand of cards. The activity was repetitive and distracting; just what they needed.

Will came in and sat next to Bobby, staring at him closely for a few moments.

“What’s up, kiddo?”

“Don’t worry, Bobby. It won’t be forever.”

 

June 2014 – A Bloodless Coup

School’s out for summer, the Murcers have moved away, and Willa’s moping, so it doesn’t seem out of character when the twins start acting wonky. It comes to a head over lunch, when they refuse to drink their blood.

Very conscious about her family’s health after Papa’s latest bout of whatever, Mama’s had it up to here with their attitude. “C’mon, guys. You know you need blood to stay strong.”

“But Mama, it tastes funny,” Tara insists, arms folded over her chest. “Tastes like icky pennies an’ Tyler an’ me don’t want it anymore.”

Tyler nods his head in agreement.

~*~

Papa hears the commotion and joins his family at the table. “What’s up, mites? Mutiny over Mama’s cookin’ again?”

Tyler crinkles his nose, shoving his glass over to Spike. “It’s stinky, Papa. Tara an’ me won’t drink it.” he pouts, folding his arms over his chest, matching his sister’s pose.

A sniff and several swallows tell Spike that there is nothing wrong with the blood, so perhaps… “Mama, why don’t we try holdin’ off on the blood for a week or two,” he mused. “They took to it like fishies to water when they needed it. Maybe they don’t anymore.”

 

July 2014 – New York, New York

In a spur of the moment decision, Willow and Becky stop off in California before heading east for their vacation. If Molly and Buffy don’t mind, they want to take the older girls to New York for ten days. They have a sightseeing touristy trip planned, and they think the girls will enjoy being pampered and made to feel grown up without their parents.

With last minute hugs and kisses from their parents and siblings, they head off to the airport. Willa and Treena tour of the cockpit and receive a pair of pilot’s wings to pin on their shirts.

~*~

The ladies have a fabulous time in Manhattan. They visit the Empire State Building and are amazed at the view from the Observation Deck. They’re so high up… so unlike anything in either Santa Barbara or Hawaii. It’s breathtaking.

They spend an entire day shopping at all the department stores and boutiques, ending with a makeover. Haircuts for all, makeup tips for Willow and Becky.

Willa doesn’t say anything, but she grows quiet when she thinks that she’s so close to Bobby, and can’t see him. She doesn’t want to ask for more than she’s been given from her Aunties.

~*~

It’s one of the biggest highlights of their vacation. Grandpa Angel’s Wolfram & Hart connections come through and score them season ticket holder’s seats for a Yankees/Boston game. Even though he’s an “old man” of forty, Willa and Treena still ogle and drool over Derek Jeter.

In fact, they’re so busy checking out his fielding prowess during the warmup session, they don’t notice a surprise visitor who’s joined them in the box.

“Bobby!” Willa squeals when he tickles her from behind. She and Treena both hug their friend, happy to see him. The adults smile.

Bonus: Yankees beat Boston, 18-3!

~*~

The girls spend the night with Bobby and his parents, allowing Willow and Becky some alone time. A wonderful evening is had – pizza for dinner, DVD’s, popcorn and a happy little Java soaking up the attention from everyone.

Willa, Bobby, and Treena dress for the theater; another surprise. The doorbell rings, and a chauffeur ushers them into a stretch black limousine, Willow and Becky already inside.

The show is a revival of Guys and Dolls, and the colors, songs, and dances entrance the youngsters, while the love story thrills the adults.

Papa would say: “Damon Runyeon was a bloody genius.”

~*~

It’s a quiet trip home. The girls are exhausted and sleep the entire flight. Willa’s face is still tearstained from the airport farewell with Bobby. They’ve promised to continue with emails and IMs, but it’s not the same as seeing each other. It will have to do.

Willow and Becky watch over their sleeping charges. It’s been a wonderful vacation, leaving the two women with plenty to think about. Perhaps even adopt a little one of their own. Neither feels the need to biologically reproduce, and there are so many little ones in need of a family to be considered.

 

August 2014 – Mind Over Matter

When Will pesters his mother to call Tara for the fourth time in fifteen minutes, she becomes annoyed, sending him to his room for a time out. Instead of going quietly as he usually does, he begins to wail, screaming: “Call, call, call!” over and over again. Molly insists he calm down and stay in his room until he can be civil and polite.

An hour later, Treena lets her parents know that Will is still crying, throwing things around in his room.

Xander stands outside the door, hearing Will cry: “Call Tara, call Tara, need Tara.” He steps inside.

~*~

“Enough already, William Giles. You can’t always play with Tara. She has her own family and other friends as well as you.”

Will looked at his father, fiercely rubbing the tears from his eyes. “Don’t wanna play. Tara’s in trouble. Need to find Tara.”

Hellmouth born and bred, Xander finally took his son seriously and called the Bennetts. “Hey, Spike. Can I speak to Tara for a minute?”

“What’s up, mate? Tired of the wife already?”

“Not even the slightest bit funny, old man. Will seems to think there’s something wrong. He’s been crying about it for the past hour.”

~*~

An uneasy feeling settles in the pit of Spike’s stomach, as he reaches out with his senses in search of his youngest daughter… and finds nothing. “Call you back in a bit, Xander,” he says, trying to keep calm.

“Buffy, where’s the little bitlet? Will’s buggin’ his folks somethin’ fierce – says something wrong with Tara.”

She shakes her head slowly, trying to think of when she last saw her daughter. “Tara was playing outside with Willa earlier, but Willa’s been in the house for the past couple of hours. Are you sure Tara’s not in the house?”

Panic sets in.

~*~

They find Willa in the basement, listening to music. She’s upset… says she left Tara outside about an hour or so ago, playing on the swingset. Mama shushes her daughter when she begins to cry. “You did nothing wrong, sweetie. Tara’s allowed to play on the swings alone. We’ll find her, I promise.”

The sun is setting, and Spike is paces – unable to go out and look for his little one. Buffy comes back inside with Tara’s sweater. “It was stuck between two slats on the back fence. She must have gone into the woods in back of the house.”

~*~

The sun sets and Spike dashes outside to join his wife. Not too far into the woods, they hear: “Mama! Papa! Help!” It’s faint, but she doesn’t sound like she’s in pain, so they relax fractionally. Buffy aims the flashlight slowly in an arc, searching for something… anything… that would indicate where their daughter is.

They hone in on her voice, and find Tara at the bottom of a deep pit – unhurt, but unable to climb out. Apparently, it was filled with leaves which cushioned her fall.

Spike jumps into the pit, and hands his baby up to her Mama.

~*~

With Tara bathed and sleeping, Spike calls Xander. “Your boy’s earned himself something special from his Uncle Spike. Little one was stuck in a pit behind the house. How did he know?”

“He says he could hear her calling for help. Oh Gods, Spike. We should have listened to him the first time he told us to call you. We wasted so much time.” Xander was besides himself, knowing the little girl suffered unnecessarily because they wouldn’t listen.

“It’s all right, mate. We found her, safe and sound. I’d look into this. Ask his Mama what abilities P’linth’s might have.”

~*~

The next day, Molly brings Will over to visit with Tara. He gives Harry the Hedgehog back to her, saying she needs him more now. When they’re safely in the playroom, the Spike and Buffy corner their friend for information.

“Some P’linth demons have the ability to sense other people,” she says. “We’re fairly empathic, and can read people we care about from great distances. I never figured that Will would inherit the trait, being half human.”

“We’re bloody glad he did, pet. Saved our girl some real grief.”

Molly promises to test out how far her son’s abilities reach.

 

September 2014 - Inferno

It’s been so long since the last attack that the Bennetts are unprepared when Spike’s mysterious malady strikes again. They’re sitting in the middle of a parent’s meeting for the twins’ kindergarten year, along with the Harrises, when Spike appears to speak to thin air.

“Honey, who are you speaking to?” Buffy asks, concern coloring her voice.

Spike rolls his eyes, touching her cheek tenderly. “I know it’s been awhile, pet, but you could say hello to your Mum. Came for a special visit, she did. Wants to see me.”

Buffy’s cheek burns where her husband’s fingers brushed her skin.

~*~

Xander helps get Spike into the minivan, leaving Molly to get all the school information and bring the youngsters back. By the time they reach home, the vampire is babbling nonsense; talking to his mother and Joyce about the children and his wife and their extended family.

It freaks Buffy out more than she’s willing to admit. “I need to get him into a cool tub. It worked the last time to knock his fever down.”

“This has happened before?”

“This is the third time, and it’s worse than ever. I’m scared, Xander. I can’t lose him. I just… can’t.”

~*~

Buffy manages to force-feed a mug of blood down Spike’s throat before he passes out. She and Xander spend the night at his side, staring at the vampire as if he’s going to go up in ash at any moment. His temperature has climbed to one hundred and five degrees, and his body is covered with a sheen of sweat.

He spends the next week unconscious; not rising to feed or move. The children are frightened, and Angel comes to stay, bringing a shaman well versed in vampire curses, poisons and ailments, but to no avail. Nothing seems to help.

~*~

When he finally regains consciousness, Spike is a changed vampire. His hair is breaking off in patches and it looks like he’s lost twenty pounds. His eyes are dull and unfocused and he has trouble recognizing anyone.

Buffy’s grateful to Molly for picking up the children earlier in the week. If their Papa couldn’t recognize his own babies, it would scar them for life.

It takes three more days for Spike’s to come back to himself, and another week for him to regain some strength and weight. There’s a haunted look to his eyes that wasn’t there before.

Spike’s afraid.

~*~

One by one the children file into their parents’ bedroom, staring at the man in bed. Eyes wide, Willa whispers: “Papa?” and doesn’t advance another inch closer. Tara and Tyler grab onto their Mama and start to whimper.

“It’s okay, mites,” Papa says softly. “I know I look like a poodle’s back end, but it’s still me.”

The twins reach Papa first, running their hands over his newly shorn head. His hair would grow back, and the buzz cut was preferable to missing patches.

Willa looks into her father’s eyes and knows just how close they came to losing him.

 

October - December 2014 – In Someone’s Bad Books

Spike is depressed. At first it’s nothing Buffy can point a finger at. The vampire is still a loving father and husband, but he’s quiet. She misses his more boisterous side, both in bed and with the kids. He’s still sweet, and tender… attentive to everyone’s needs but his own.

The next few months blend together, and the isolation becomes obvious, Spike won’t speak with anyone outside of his immediate family. Refuses calls from Giles, Angel, and even Dawn. He stops going out with the children at night.

And then their sex life wanes. This time Spike has the headaches.

~*~

Lovemaking – when it happens at all – has turned soft and sweet. It’s as if Spike tries to memorize her body. Each stroke is slow and measured, the touch and glide of his fingers gentle… as if Buffy were a fragile piece of glass.

But it’s not Buffy who’s fragile. After making love he places a kiss on her nose, and rolls over, curling into himself… and away from her. She wonders if his illness is making a comeback.

Eventually Spike refuses to leave the bed. He won’t feed more than once every couple of days. He cries when he’s alone.

~*~

The children refuse to go into the bedroom anymore. Willa says Papa’s eyes are emptying, and it scares her. Tara and Tyler peek in from time to time, but they are no longer acknowledged.

Buffy brings in the big guns. She’s got Angel and Giles researching almost full time, trying to find out about the illness and depression in vampires. Something has to work, and soon. By the end of the month, Spike stops feeding, and sleeps more and more. She feels her spouse drifting away.

Angel visits again, determined to snap Spike out of his lethargy, but fails spectacularly.

~*~

He sits on the bed and gathers his grandchilde into his arms, hoping sense memory from his fledgling days will rouse his demon. With Buffy’s permission, he sinks his fangs into Spike’s old claim mark and partially drains him. The demon doesn’t even rise in self-defense.

School vacation makes things easier for the children. Angel takes them back to Los Angeles with him. Xander and Molly take turns keeping Buffy company, and talking to Spike who’s become comatose.

Several weeks pass, and Spike’s condition is unchanged. No fever… but Buffy can tell he’s losing ground fast. She falls asleep, sobbing.

~*~

Buffy awakens to the sound of cheering and music. She must have left the television on when she fell asleep. Wiping the sleep from her eyes, she notices the celebrating on the screen. They’ve slept away the beginning of the New Year.

January 1, 2015, and Spike is as unaware as he’s been for the past two weeks. Something feels very wrong, and she puts her hand to his forehead. Sure enough, he’s warm again. The fever has returned. Not as high as last time, but in his weakened condition, it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Chapter Text

January 2015 – They Say It’s Your Birthday

Buffy sits on the corner of their bed, ghosting her hand over Spike’s emaciated face. Never in a million years will she get used to body heat emanating from her husband. It’s just not natural. She’s so focused on her spouse that the sound of the door opening doesn’t register.

Hurrying up the stairs, Dawn rushes to her sister’s side, while Willow slips around to sit by Spike, wondering what could affect the vampire to such a degree.

His color is off. She’s never seen him quite so pink before, and his breathing is rapid and shallow. Wait a minute…

~*~

“How long has Spike been like this?” Take it slow, Will – Buffy looks like she’s at the end of her rope.

Buffy raises her head from her sister’s shoulder, trying to figure out what her friend is talking about. She’s still finding it hard to believe she’s not alone at the moment. It’s been so long since she’s actually spoken to anyone.

“Oh, you mean Spike’s color? Or the sweat? He’s been feverish on and off all year. It’s nowhere near as high as his last fever…”

Willow shook her head. “No, silly goose. How long has he been breathing?”

~*~

What kind of question is that? “Spike usually breathes in his sleep. Something you’d never have the chance to notice, but I’m used to it.”

“Oookay…” Nervous but trusting a feeling, Willow places her hand on the center of Spike’s chest.

Buffy turns, unable to wrap her mind around what she’s seeing. “What’s with the touchy-feely?”

Grabbing Buffy’s hand, Willow places it palm down on Spike’s chest, where her hand has just been. Before she can remove it from shock, a warm wrist clasps around her own, and Buffy looks into her husband’s eyes for the first time in weeks.

~*~

“Bloody hell. Why is it that every time I try an’ sleep, someone’s pokin’ or grabbin’ at me? Can’t a sick man rest in peace?”

Dawn squeals. She may be twenty-eight years old, but the shock has her reverting to her old, childish habits. “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!”

Spike attempts to sit up and fails; still too weak to move even his diminished body weight. There’s also the issue of Buffy’s hand not moving from his chest. Suddenly, things click into place… Dawn, Willow… “How long have I been out of it this time, luv?”

~*~

The news that he’s been out cold for at least two weeks leaves Spike speechless. The fact that he’s surrounded by women who can’t keep their hands off him has him flummoxed. Not that he minds, much… but Dawn groping him gives him a slight case of the wiggins.

“I know I’m a beauty, pet,” he says to his wife, “but what’s with the group groping?”

The women giggle. The look on Spike’s face is priceless.

“You really can’t tell, can you?” Dawn smiles, torn between amazement and the need to write this all down for the record.

“Tell what?”

~*~

Buffy places his hand over his heart, and waits for the light of recognition to set in. One… two… beautiful!

His eyes widen and a soft “Ohhhh” escapes his lips. Alive. He is alive! A real boy at last. In the space of two heartbeats, he realizes he’s wanted it all along. To grow old with his wife in the natural order of things. With any luck, he won’t be stuck watching everyone wither and die along with Angel. Immortality isn’t the boon people think, when everyone you care about is mortal.

“The mites? Where are the kidlets?” he asks.

~*~

Spike manages to sit up, feeling an uncomfortable pressure in his lower abdomen. For the first time in one hundred and thirty five years, he has to pee. Blessedly, he makes it to the bathroom without embarrassing himself.

While the happy couple is in the bathroom getting Spike all clean and smell-free in the shower, phone calls go out to everyone who cares. Willow calls Xander, and speaks to Willa, who spreads the happy news with glee.

Dawn opens her laptop, and sends messages to Andrew and Giles. Just that Spike’s doing better. The rest will be told in person.

~*~

Waiting for Angel to arrive with a doctor versed in the unusual, Willow does some testing of her own. Spike still has his soul, still has his demon, but can’t go into gameface. From reading his aura, it appears the demon is fully integrated into Spike’s system. He’s more like Buffy now – a true hybrid.

Spike’s head reels with the information. To not become a burden to his wife and family… to be able to protect them as he always has… this is a blessing. With the added bonus of being able to do it in the sunshine, as well.

~*~

The doctor’s exam reveals Spike is indeed human. A few drops of blood show no trace of vampirism left in his system. Apparently, the fevers he’s suffered from all year purified his system. Painful, but effective.

Angel’s sub-vocal growl is heard throughout the examination.

“I didn’t ask for this, mate. If it’ll make you feel any better, you can dance on my grave when the time comes.”

The growling stops. The sobering thought of Spike dying for a final time is enough to stop any petty jealousy over losing the Shanshu. Angel can’t suffer the loss of another family member.

~*~

“Listen up, Broodypants.” Two strides and Spike’s directly in front of his erstwhile grandsire. “Vampire or not, we won’t stop bein’ family. Come too far over the past years to be anything but, yeah?”

The elder vampire doesn’t know how to handle this. Vampire or human, Spike is meant to drive him insane. Confusion is evident on his face.

“All I ever wanted is to be loved, Angelus. To have family. Do you think I’m goin’ to let you go now? After all the crap is behind us?”

A firm hug and a kiss to Angel’s cheek caps the discussion.

 

February 2015 – Hello, It’s Me

FamilyGuy: Allo, Poppet.

ShiningStar04: Papa? You changed your screen name! It’s true then? What Will said?

FamilyGuy: How would… nevermind, sweeting. I forget that our little Will’s all-knowing about people. Saved little Sis, after all. It’s true – all human and sun loving now.

**ShiningStar04 signed off at 07:11:05 PM**
**ShiningStar04 returned at 7:38:31 PM**

FamilyGuy: You okay, mite? Want to talk over the phone instead?

ShiningStar04: Do you still love me, Papa?

FamilyGuy: How can you ask me that, Willa?

ShiningStar04: I still have demon in me, and you don’t. Who is my real Papa… you or the demon?

~*~

Spike stares at the AIM box… and wonders how to answer his baby. No, obviously she’s not a baby anymore – she’s really thinking about her existence. He’s not even sure, himself. He was a vampire when she is conceived… man and demon.

FamilyGuy: Dunno about the actual biology, sweet girl. Also, don’t care. I’ll always be your Papa. Feelings don’t change.

ShiningStar04: You won’t hate me for having demon in me? And Mama? Now that you’re both human and I’m not?

FamilyGuy: Phhht. You’re human, pet. Just with… extras.

**ShiningStar04 signed off at 08:09:45 PM**
**ShiningStar04 returned at 8:12:04 PM**

~*~

ShiningStar04: Papa, I can’t talk now. My chest hurts. **sniffles**

FamilyGuy: Mite… go talk to Molly right now. I’ll be right over.

ShiningStar04: NO!!!! Stay home, Papa. Please. Don’t come. I’ll talk to Auntie Molly. I promise.

**ShiningStar04 signed off at 08:15:33 PM**

Buffy finds her husband crying at the computer desk, head in his hands. “What’s wrong, my love? Something with the children?”

He points to the screen – the AIM conversation still staring at him, accusingly.

“Oh, Spike.” Buffy sighs, wrapping her arms around his trembling shoulders. “She just needs some time to understand. And she’s growing up, herself.”

~*~

Spike’s stomach clenches. His daughter’s eleventh birthday is in three days, and he hasn’t seen her in almost two months. She’s afraid of him. Even through the bloody computer he could feel her terror and the haste of her retreat.

Working through this isn’t going to be easy, Buffy realizes. For all his years of experience as a vampire, Spike’s a newly minted human being now, no matter how human he’s been.

“We’ll find some way to make this right, baby. You know how much Willa loves you.”

“Yeah, which me? The demon or the man?” echoing his daughter’s question.

~*~

Willa tentatively walks into her house, while Uncle Xander sits outside in the car. “Mama? Papa? Is anyone home?”

Mama flies down the stairs, wrapping her arms around her daughter in a joyful embrace. “What a
surprise, sweetie. How did you get here? Uncle Xander?”

She nods slowly, “I n-need to see Papa. We were talking on the IM yesterday and I shut it down on him. I know I hurt his feelings.”

“He’s upstairs in the office. Papa isn’t sure you’d want to see him so he’s waiting for you to decide.”

Swallowing hard, Willa makes her way upstairs.

~*~

Papa stays seated and Willa doesn’t go to him. Both are too nervous for the hugs and kisses each crave. When he can’t stand the silence any longer, Papa speaks first. “It’s good to see you, sweeting. Mama and I’ve missed you so…”

Willa’s eyes tear up and her breath hitches in her chest. She’s sure the bruised look around her Papa’s eyes is her fault.

His baby is fighting herself, trying to act all grown up when all she wants is to be Papa’s beloved little girl again. So Spike takes a chance – slowly walking over to his daughter.

~*~

“Why did you come here, Willa?” asks Papa.

The young girl sniffles; the wall holding back her emotions crumbling fast. “I-I don’t w-want things to be different, Papa. I want to still love you… you are still you, right?”

“I feel warmer, an’ sometimes my heart beats so loud I swear it blocks out the telly. And I do have to go to the bloody loo like everyone else now.” Papa hugs his not so little girl tightly, relief flooding through him when she hugs back. “As for how I feel about my family? Nothing different. I’ll always love you.”

~*~

“Will says you’re scared, too. That you think it’s going to be hard to be around everyone when you’re so changed.”

She reaches out, running her hand through newly bleached hair that’s grown back enough to curl around her fingers. “You look like Papa, again,” she whispers, relief evident. “You’ve been gone for so long.”

“My sweet girl,” he murmurs tenderly, “I didn’t mean to frighten you or the little mites so. An’ I’m feelin’ better every day. You’ll all come home, soon. When you’re ready.”

“Can we have dinner at home for my birthday? Together?” Willa asks. “With cake?”

~*~

February 13th finds the Bennetts gathered together for the first time in months. Willa’s requested meal of baked ziti is sitting center-stage on the dining table, with a huge platter of garlic bread on the side.

The dinner is pleasant enough… everyone’s forks going from plate to mouth with relish, but something isn’t right. Until… the first piece of ziti lands on Willa’s cheek with a **plop.**

A small cry of outrage escapes her lips as she looks around for the perpetrator of the crime. Nobody acknowledges the drippy red sauce running down her neck and into her new sweater.

~*~

A slight shaking of the shoulders gives away Tyler and several pieces of ziti leave Willa’s fork, heading in his direction. Unfortunately, Tara gets caught in the crossfire. Tara lets loose her own dinner barrage, catching Papa in the chest, and the children freeze – unsure of his reactions to the horseplay.

Quick as a wink, Papa grabs his wife and hugs her tightly, squashing the ziti between their bodies, making a complete and total mess.

Oh yeah! Same old Papa. Just like that the tension breaks and more food flies around the room. Even the cats get into the act.

~*~

Mama fetches the birthday cake once the dining room is clean and everyone has washed and changed. It’s a beautiful creation… the top looks like a garden with sugar flowers, butterflies, and grass.

Willa cuts the first slice, and hands it over to Papa, herself. “I want to come home, Papa. That’s what I want for my present this year.”

A look passes between Mama and Papa, and they silently come to the same conclusion. It’s time for their family to be reunited. As soon as it’s school break, the Bennett children will come home.

“Birthday wish granted,” says Papa.

 

March 2015 – The Waltons

It’s a big day for everyone; Tara, Tyler and Willa move back home. The sun shines brightly and Buffy sets out a blanket in the backyard for a picnic lunch. Spike lounges shirtless on their brand new hammock, relishing the warmth of the sun that’s been so long denied.

“Mama! Papa! We’re home!!” The kids barrel into the yard, followed by the Harrises. Molly carries a basket full of fried chicken to add to Buffy’s festive spread.

Spike joins the little group on the blanket, grinning broadly from ear to ear. Sun, friends, family… he couldn’t ask for anything more.

~*~

“You do know how much you’re freaking me out, Spike?” Xander exclaimed, clapping his friend on the back. “Seeing your pasty bod in the sun is doing things to me.”

The eloquence of raised eyebrows all around has him replaying his words.

“Oh for… I mean it’s giving me the wiggins, and you know it. I’ve known you for eighteen years, and this is the first time I’ve seen you in sunlight.”

Spike preens. “Wanna tell me if I freckle, Harris?”

The sniggering increases the blush blooming on Xander’s cheeks as he hands a gift wrapped package to the ex-vampire.

~*~

Spike shreds the paper – as eager to get to the contents as any child to get to the prezzie inside. Pulling the tissue paper open, he sees a black t-shirt. All well and good – black is still his favorite color most of the time.

“Open it, you moron. It’s not like a plain black shirt is anything special,” Xander coaxes.

Emblazoned across the front of the shirt in red and yellow lettering are the words: “The Phoenix,” right across the chest.

Spike looks at his friend’s expectant face and chuckles, eventually turning into a deep belly laugh.

“What’s so funny?”

~*~

Buffy’s eyes sparkle as she watches the interaction between the men. There are some days she delves far back into her memories and remembers their seething hatred. This is so much better.

She’s died twice, but Spike has her beat. His original death, a re-souling in Africa, his dusting in the Hellmouth, back as a ghost and then undead again, and now a re-birth back to humanity. Even she got the shirt humor.

Spike’s laughter draws the children; each looking at the happy man before them. Tyler starts the dogpile. When Spike emerges, kidlets flying everywhere…his happiness matches his wife’s.

~*~

Happy hugs end the day as Xander, Molly, Treena, and Will go home, leaving the Bennett family intact. As if no time has passed, their nighttime rituals go smoothly… bathing, teeth, stories and kisses before the lights go out.

Mama and Papa aren’t sure what to expect from the troops, but hope for a peaceful night. A half hour later, Tara’s voice rings out: “Night, Papa.” “Night, pet.” “Night, Mama.” “Night, sweetie.”

Five minutes later, the words are seconded by Tyler, and in another fifteen… by Willa.

Life is good on Walton Mountain for Willa, Tyler, Tara and their parents.

 

April 2015 – You’ve Just Turned Human… What Are You Going to Do Now?

The kids are in school, Buffy and Molly have a planning session for a possible new book, and Spike and Xander decide to take advantage of a glorious Spring day and have themselves some boy time.

And yes, that’s boy time. A few hours in the Xandermobile lands them at the gates of the happiest place on earth: Disneyland. Spike is entranced by the sights and sounds of the park during the day. It’s like a first visit for him, and he and Xander are determined to see as much of the park as they possibly can in one day.

~*~

They head for their first ride: Teacups! Spike’s not sure what he’s capable of in the strength department anymore – he’s still recovering from his resurrection – but he’s fast. Faster than Xander, anyway.

Fairly strong, too – if their opposing grips on the turning mechanism are any indication. Not as strong as two vampires against one human… but if Xander’s eyes rolling back in his head are any indication… stronger than Xander, too.

When the ride is over, Spike endures several choruses of “Wuss” from his companion He needs to regain his equilibrium by sitting on one of the nearby park benches.

~*~

Both men conclude that Disney is a sadistic demon for having developed the ride as they wobble away from the ride. Preferably towards something slow. And not spinning.

Spike’s newly human constitution has a lot to learn about the physics of an amusement park, and to borrow a phrase from his wife: ‘Spike and spinning rides are not mixy.’ When his complexion is closer to peach than pea, the men head over to a costume photo booth.

They turn to each other, each raising an eyebrow in a silent dare. A half hour later, they have presents for their families.

~*~

It’s an utterly glorious day. No wives, no children… just another guy to be rude and crude with. They go on anything that doesn’t spin – even that blasted “It’s a Small World” ride. They make it bearable by keeping up a running commentary on places Spike has visited, and Xander keeps waiting for the little dolls to pick up their skirts. It’s good to be manly men.

The rest of the day is spent just enjoying the sunshine. Spike buys sunglasses to protect his still sensitive eyes, and the woman in the shop tells them they make a lovely couple.

~*~

By the time they leave, the sun has long since set. Xander drives home while Spike drifts in and out of a light sleep. All that fun and sun has left him as sleepy as the twins after a day in the park.

A gentle nudge does absolutely nothing to awaken Sleeping Beauty, so Xander resorts to a more manly measure: the time honored wet willie. Sure enough, Spike awakens with a splutter, frantically digging in his ear to remove the moisture.

He gathers his packages together and stumbles out of the car, no words necessary as the friends part.

~*~

“What did you bring me?” “Ooooh! Anything for me?” “Gimme, gimme, gimme!” Never let it be said that the Bennett’s angels wouldn’t have made Anya proud with their enthusiastic greeting.

“Let Papa inside, and maybe he’ll show you,” laughed Mama.

Assorted t-shirts are pulled out and admired; a Tinkerbelle necklace for Tara; a set of Mickey Mouse pens for Tyler; a Belle figurine for Willa, who looks at her Papa with adoration for understanding her so deeply.

Spike tells his wife she’ll get her prezzie later. She laughs when she sees the foil packets with Mickey printed on the front.

 

May 2015 – A Young Man’s Fancy

Graduation day for the kindergarten class and all the youngsters are dressed in their best. No gowns, but mortarboards are handed out to everyone. Traditional blue with a white tassel. Miss Soutar has them line up for a class picture.

While waiting to be called for their ‘diplomas’, Will turns to the girl on his left; Gracie Peterson. She’s a cute little thing with curly brown ringlets, and Will falls hard for her little smiles.

He doesn’t notice Tara beginning to stew over all the attention no longer turned in her direction. He doesn’t seem to notice Tara at all.

~*~

When the ceremony is finished and the kids rejoin their families for an outdoor buffet, Tara clings to her Mama. Will invites her to join him and a few others in a game of ball, but she takes one look at Gracie waiting with the others, and refuses to talk to him.

Shrugging off Tara’s attitude, Will heads back to his friends for a spirited game of catch.

Mama notices the exchange between the children, but says nothing – hoping things will straighten out all on their own.

Tyler tries to snap his sister out of her funk but is unsuccessful.

~*~

The car ride home is too quiet, and Tara runs to her room without speaking another word when they get home. She slams the connecting wall shut for privacy and cries her little heart out to Harry. Once the tears have stopped, she rips into the little stuffed hedgehog, remembering all the years Will had it, because she’d given it to him when his arm is broken.

Mama knocks on the door before entering, and gets hit in the head with one of Harry’s little paws. She sits down on the bed and listens to her daughter’s tale of woe.

~*~

Oh, my sweet little girl! It starts so early these days. Things were much simpler when boys had the cooties. “What’s the matter, sweetie?” she asks, picking up the little felt paw from the ground.

Tara sniffles. “Will’s a poopy-head! He doesn’t like me anymore,” she cries. “I saw him playing with Gracie Peterson all day, and he forgot all about me.”

“I’m sure that’s no true, Tara. Will can have other friends… other girls as friends. You’re only six years old.”

“Then why does it hurt so much, Mama? Will is my friend.”

Mama sighs, and hugs her tightly.

 

June 2015 - Woman

“Mama, I don’t feel well,” Willa announces when she walks into the kitchen. “My stomach aches, and I’m so very tired.”

Pressing her lips to her daughter’s head, Mama doesn’t note a fever. She pulls back, looking at Willa’s general appearance.

She’s grown at least four inches in the past month or so, and developed a bit of pudginess around… Aha! Buffy’s so thrilled they’ve already had the birds and bees discussion. It makes this so much easier.

“You know your body’s been changing,” Mama says, “Maybe you’re getting your period. Let’s go look at that kit you sent for.”

~*~

My First Period. Pink letters painted on a white plastic case. Buffy is grateful that Children’s Digest recognizes the varying age of the onset of menstruation and carries the ad in a magazine for pre-teens.

There are several different sanitary pads of varying thicknesses, a couple of slim sized tampons, a box of Midol, and several pamphlets: The Onset Of Puberty, Becoming A Woman, and Your Period And You.

Mama explains the cramps will ease once her period begins to flow, and about the discomfort of the pads, but stops short when she sees Willa’s face pale regarding the tampons.

~*~

Several weeks later, Willa and Mama find themselves in the backyard, silently weeding the flowerbeds that border the house. Something is definitely up, since gardening in any form is the most hated chore in Willa’s repertoire.

“Mama, I got my period two days ago,” Willa says softly, unable to look her mother in the eyes.

Buffy simply smiles. Her baby is growing up so quickly. “Do you feel all right, sweetie?” is all she can ask.

Willa nods. “We need to go shopping for…”

Gardening gloves and tools are forgotten, as mother and daughter take a trip to the drugstore.

Chapter Text

July 2015 – It’s A Family Affair

Slaybelle: Squee! I can’t believe the boys are coming for a visit. How’d you manage to talk Andrew into making the trip by himself with four two year olds?

1000Eyes: **snickers** Buffy, we’ve been married for two years. I have ways of making my husband do anything I want. Besides, you do remember Andrew’s co-Watcher-in-training is flying with him.

Slaybelle: Oh yeah… Martin… Melvin…

1000Eyes: Marcus, you senile bint!

Slaybelle: That’s it! You have to move back… you sound too much like Spike.

1000Eyes: You do say the sweetest things, Sis. Miss you. 

Slaybelle: Wish you were coming home…

~*~

1000Eyes: **pouts** Me, too. That’s why Andy’s bringing the boys… I don’t even have time to see them right now. Stupid prophesies are taking up all our time.

Slaybelle: Did I ever mention how much…

1000Eyes: Yeah, yeah… how much you HATE prophesies? Heard it all before.

Slaybelle: **rolls eyes** Anyway… Spike’s at the airport now, waiting for the flight to land.

1000Eyes: Bet you still can’t get over him going out in the sunlight without a blanket.

Slaybelle: Heh… it’s wonderful, Dawnie. Best of all are the times he’s out with the kids. Zoo trips are a real blast.

~*~

1000Eyes: Oh! Got the piccie of Spike and Xan at Disneyland. Gods, they make a pretty pair of cowboys.

Slaybelle: **snickers** The girl who sold Spike the sunglasses told ‘em they made a lovely couple. They’re still laughing about it. Sometimes I wonder about those two…

1000Eyes: La la la… not listening. Nope! Not my virgin ears.

“We’re home, pet! Come greet the nephews,” Spike calls from downstairs.

Slaybelle: They’re here! Gotta go now. Love you!!! And btw, your ears are about as virgin as your…

1000Eyes: Bye, Buff! I’ll talk to the guys later. Kiss my boys for me.

~*~

Andrew is kneeling, surrounded by four identical little tots all wearing London Fog rain slickers. They turn en masse at his signal and chorus: “Allo, Aun’ Buffy.”

Enchanted, Buffy helps to unbutton the boys’ coats, running her fingers through each head of light brown wavy hair. They’re a lovely mixture of their parents – Andrew’s textures and Dawn’s coloring. Their slate grey eyes are unusual, but gorgeous, all the same.

“Hello, munchkins.” Sitting on the ground, she opens her arms to a frenzy of little boy hugs. Thank goodness for video cams and high speed internet connections for keeping in touch.

~*~

Spike leads the children off to the playroom, so Buffy can talk with Andrew and what’s-his-name? Marcus! There’s something about the man that sets Spike’s nerves on edge. He can’t read people like he used to – can’t smell the pheromones, or hear the racing of a heartbeat, but he still has his intuition, and this Marcus fellow is setting off all his alarms.

“Unca Spike! Unca Spike!” The tots clamor for his attention, and Spike pushes the unease to the back of his mind. He takes out some long put away age appropriate toys, which leave the boys totally disinterested.

~*~

“Baby toys,” says Jonathan of the blocks on the floor. “Boring,” says Jessie, facing the baby puzzles. Jeremy and Jason pore through the toy box, looking for something more to their liking. All four boys chorus: “’Puters!” and start pulling on Spike to pull him out of the playroom.

Andrew hands over the American versions of computer programs the boys enjoy at home. “Sorry, mi amigo, but the lads tend to be a little picky in their choice of amusements. Can we hijack a computer for awhile?”

Spike volunteers his. Anything vital is duplicated on Buffy’s computer and backup discs.

~*~

He heads downstairs, using Willa’s computer while Andrew is occupied.

FamilyGuy: ‘Lo, Niblet. The mites are smart little buggers, aren’t they? Obviously take after their Mum.

1000Eyes: I’m so proud, Spike. Jason has my love of languages. He reads better than the rest if you’ve had a chance to hear him, and he speaks some French and Spanish.

FamilyGuy: I’m wonderin’ what you think of that Marcus bloke? He a good sort?

1000Eyes: Andrew trusts him. I find him a bit opportunistic… but he’s a hard worker. Does the Council proud.

FamilyGuy: Not sure why, but I don’t trust him.

~*~

1000Eyes: I’ll check into his background here, but I’m sure my Andy won’t let anyone near the boys if he can’t be trusted.

FamilyGuy: You do that, Dawn. I’m keepin’ my eye on him, just in case. Talk to you later, luv.

The children are all asleep and Buffy waits for him upstairs, but the light and conversation in the kitchen draw a curious Spike.

“C’mon, mate. I’m sure they’ll be more than willing to watch the sprogs. Let’s go out and have some fun. No ball and chain to hold you back… we can have a grand old time.”

~*~

Andrew looks about four shades of uncomfortable. “No can do, Marcus, old pal. Being a parent’s a full time responsibility. We’re in a strange house, in a strange country. I’m sticking close by to the little ones.”

“What are you? Afraid your in-laws are goin’ to rat you out to the wife? Gods, mate! That woman has you on a leash, even across the Pond.” Marcus snorts, shaking his head. “You need to hang out with more humans. Slayers and vampires and God knows what else are warping you, Drew.”

“Slayers and Vampyres have treated me better than most humans.”

~*~

Spike’s heard enough. “Andrew, one of my nephews is havin’ a hard time settlin’ down. Be a good man an’ tend to the lad.” He claps Marcus on the shoulder hard enough to make the man wince. “I’ll keep your mate entertained until you get back.”

Once Andrew is out of range, Spike snarls: “What the bloody hell are you tryin’ to do? Drive a wedge between a man and his family?” He cocks his head, hitting on a possible angle. “You bastard! You want the boy for yourself.”

“And if I do? What’re you goin’ to do about it?”

~*~

In just three steps Marcus finds himself up close and personal with one pissed off ex-vampire. “So, Watcher-boy… got a problem hangin’ with a mixed lot? Aimin’ to spread your poison an’ bust up my family?”

Marcus laughs, blustering his way through. “Yeah, I’ve got a problem. And you… do you know that William the Bloody is a bloody joke all throughout the Council? Man, vampire, and humanish… fuckin’ Slayers instead of killin’ ‘em. Half-breed Hellspawn…”

Before Spike can reach back and deck the man, he hears: “Papa? What’s going on in the kitchen? I can hear you from upstairs.”

~*~

“One word,” Spike warns. “One word that hurts my little girl and there won’t be enough left of you to mail back to England.”

Marcus shoves back at Spike’s shoulders and whispers: “One word in the right ear and you and your little family will find themselves on dissection tables. Freaks.”

“Sorry you can’t stay longer, mate,” Spike replies airily as Willa enters the room. “Good thing you haven’t unpacked yet. We’ll make sure Andrew and the tots get home safely.” He turns to his daughter. “What’s up, Poppet? Not feeling well?”

“Just thirsty, Papa. Oh, and Mama wants you.”

~*~

Spike calls a cab for the airport – leaving nothing to chance before he heads upstairs. “Go right to bed, sweet girl. I’ll be in to see you after I see what Mama wants.”

As soon as her papa leaves the kitchen, Willa rounds on Marcus, gameface to the fore. “Just because Papa didn’t hurt you, doesn’t mean I won’t,” she spits. “Nobody threatens my family. They’ll know all about you. Grandpa Giles and Auntie Dawn will have your guts for garters.”

“You need to mind your manners, child.”

Willa roars, taking pleasure in watching Marcus race out of the house.

~*~

Andrew apologizes profusely; sick at heart for misjudging Marcus. Dawn and Giles are warned, and the man is summarily dismissed. There is no place for hatred and bigotry – not with the Council changing to accommodate the friendlier demon species desiring to work with them.

They manage to book a new flight home with Becky onboard. Her familiarity with the quads is a big help to Andrew.

The Bennetts sit down and agree that bringing anyone new into the family must be done with the utmost caution. It hurts to pop the bubble for the youngsters, but not everyone means well.

 

August 2015 – To Catch A Bookworm

Back to school shopping is completed, and as a reward, the Bennetts and the Harrises split up for a girls’ and boys’ weekend. Not that the girls weren’t asked, mind you, but they prefer a little pampering to roughing it.

Xander and Spike take their sons on a fishing/camping trip; complete with tent and sleeping bags. Will bounces around, helping his father set up the tent, while Tyler is less than enthusiastic about the whole thing.

They all enjoy wading in the river; the air is hot and water refreshing, but Spike watches his son close himself off during dinner.

~*~

Instead of hanging around the campfire and toasting marshmallows, Tyler crawls into the tent, and burrows into his sleeping bag.

Spike stands to go after him and Xander grabs at the back of his shirt. “If I were you, I’d give the boy some time alone. You probably haven’t seen him do this at home because he’s been happy to have you back… but when Tyler stayed with us, he’d withdraw when he was upset.”

“Why would he be upset? He seemed fine, earlier.”

“Trust me on this. He obviously needs to talk… just give him about an hour’s grace.”

~*~

Some time later, Spike crawls into the tent and finds Tyler reading. Bookmarking his place, the boy hands the book to his father, hoping he won’t be upset.

Ancient Sumerian for Beginners?” Spike was incredulous. “Ty… what’s going on?”

“Don’t be mad, Papa. Auntie Dawn sent it to me. I can read a lot of it,” he says, brightly. “We send IMs in Sumerian. It’s fun.”

“I’m not mad, luv. But this is supposed to be a break before books an’ learning. All kinds of guy stuff with Will and Uncle Xander. We have fishing planned for tomorrow mornin’, early.”

~*~

Looking at his son’s face, Spike realizes he’s about to cry. “If you don’t tell me what’s wrong, Ty, I can’t help you.”

Tyler scrunches closer to Papa and lets the tears fly. “I want to go home, Papa. I love you and Uncle Xander and Will, but I wanna be home with the computer and my books. It’s more fun. To me.”

How can he fault the child? As a youngster, he, himself was an avid book reader. True there were no computers or tellies, but William would choose a good book over football any day of the year.

~*~

The best Spike can offer is a compromise. “Look, Ty… we’re far away from home, and the women have taken over our house. What say you stay tomorrow; come out fishing… but bring your book or anything else you’d like to do while we fish?” Softly, wistfully, he says: “It’s good to be outdoors.”

Tyler knows how precious the sun is to his Papa after being a vampire all those years, so he agrees to stay.

Looking into his boy’s relieved face, Spike makes up his mind to call Angel. They can work something out something for Tyler’s special interests.

~*~

The girls decide to spend the entire weekend in jammies or sweats. Comfort is the word; in clothing or food. Buffy makes her famous five cheese macaroni casserole, and they order pizza and Chinese food as the mood strikes.

Willa and Treena drift off into their own little corner from time to time, occasionally taking Tara with them. Both mothers have explained the need to include the younger girl in some of their activities, and neither young lady has a problem with doing so.

Point of fact, only Tara has a problem with talk of boys, clothes, and now periods.

~*~

“Mama, I’m bored,” she whines, looking backwards as Buffy brushes her shoulder length curls.

Buffy throws Molly a beleaguered look. Out of all her children, she just knows Tara is going to be the ball buster. “Tara, we had this discussion. You could have gone camping with Papa and Tyler but you wanted to stay with the girls.”

The girl pouts. “I wanted to go camping, but that poopy-head Will was gonna be there. I-I’m so mad at him.”

“Tara Rose Alexis Bennett!!”

“It’s okay, Buffy. Will can be a poopy-head at times,” Molly says. “He’ll learn, eventually… or suffer.”

~*~

Tara stomps off in a fit of pique. Treena and Willa are preening in front of a mirror yet again, and she’s tired of playing games with Mama and Molly.

She slams her door shut and heads for her closet, tearing her clothes off the hanger and throwing them into piles on the floor. Little girl clothes for a little girl body. No wonder Will… no wonder nobody ever notices her.

Staring at her reflection in the mirror, Tara runs her fingers through her little girl hair, all long and curly, and reaches for the scissors in her desk drawer.

~*~

Mama decides her little miss has sulked enough, and goes upstairs to try and soothe her feelings. Such an awkward age – how did any of them survive childhood?

She knocks on the door before walking in, and is shocked at the sight that greets her. Tara’s beautiful hair lies in clumps on the floor. Buffy can’t move; can’t speak; can’t even punish her daughter. She fully understands the distress that must have driven her daughter to this act of desperation. Been there, done that, wore the t-shirt.

“Oh Tara,” she finally manages. “What am I going to do with you?”

~*~

Mama picks up the scissors and evens out the length as best she can. Not much can be saved… hair that once reached to the middle of Tara’s back will barely reach the bottom of her earlobes once the hairdresser gets a hold of her tomorrow.

“I’m sorry Mama,” Tara cries. “I can’t fix it!”

“We’ll get your hair fixed tomorrow, sweetie. It’ll grow back.”

“Not my hair. Me! I can’t fix me! I hate boys ‘cause they’re mean and I don’t wanna play with toys and dolls. I just want Will to like me again. “What’s wrong with me?”

 

September 2015 – For the Love of a Child

Willow’s excited babbling is enough the make the receiver vibrate in Buffy’s hand. It seems that the Rosenbergs are about to hear the pitter patter of little feet. They’ve been working with a private adoption agency for the past year, and it seems that a single mother has agreed to give up her newborn upon delivery.

The nursery is being decorated on weekends, and they’re stocking up on baby essentials. The baby’s expected to arrive in the middle of October, and Willow promises they’ll bring the child for ‘inspection’ as soon as it’s feasible to fly.

They can hardly wait.

~*~

Two weeks later, Becky calls, and the mood of this call is diametrically opposed to that of her spouse’s. It’s bad news on the baby front; for them, anyway. The mother went into premature labor. After staying in the hospital for a week watching over the baby, she decided to keep her son.

The couple is devastated, but Social Services promises they’ll remain at the top of the list if and when another opportunity arises.

Buffy looks sadly at the small layette she and Spike had purchased, and places it into the cedar chest at the foot of their bed.

 

October 2015 – The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree

The day is bright with just a hint of autumn in the air. Buffy sits quietly on the porch swing, watching her husband gather the fallen leaves and mown grass with an old fashioned hand rake. Without an unchanging vampire constitution, Spike has to consciously work at maintaining his ‘girlish figure’ and tight muscle tone.

Buffy just appreciates the view of his ass as he bends and reaches. Who needs multi-colored leaves when you’ve got a view like that?

Yard-work done, Spike stands with rake in hand, looking satisfied. Something clicks, and Buffy is off the swing like a shot.

~*~

She barrels past Spike and jumps directly into the large neat pile of leaves at his feet, spreading them far and wide.

“Oi, bitch!” he yells, pissed off that all his hard work has been for naught. “I’ve better things to do than re-rake the bloody yard…”

Looking down at the scattered leaves, his breath catches at the sight of his wife, face flushed with desire and hair fanned out like a halo around her head. She raises her arms to him and his anger dissipates. Spike drops to his knees, and then covers his wife’s body with his own.

~*~

His hands reach under her bulky sweater to fondle his wiggling woman. At thirty five, her figure is lush and round with a delightful little droop to her breasts as they fill his hands. The epitome of womanhood, all ripe… William, you git! Get on with it… remember, you both age now.

Buffy’s hands aren’t idle, either. She manages to undo the buttons of Spike’s fly, releasing his hard length into her fingers. Gasping at the coolness of her hand, he quickly grasps the waistband of her sweats, yanking them down and out of his way.

Slight maneuvering, then… bliss.

~*~

Sheathed within the soft, slick heat of his wife’s body, Spike holds still for a moment – reveling in the feeling of coming home. He moves with long, slow strokes that slowly draw Buffy’s body up to meet his own.

Her eyes glisten with warmth and passion and her breath comes in small pants, soon to be swallowed by her lover’s kisses.

Uh oh!

Bloody hell!

They both realize at the same time that spontaneous sex with human participants can result in an expanded family. In for a penny… in for a pound – they continue their lovemaking to its obvious conclusion.

~*~

They lie on their backs in the leaves… replete; the heat of the mid-afternoon sun making them drowsy. Buffy has enough presence of mind to make sure they redress, just in case the youngsters make their way to the backyard.

“I think we have to be more careful, luv,” Spike says softly. “Bein’ human again means payin’ attention to family planning. Not that I’d mind, but I think we should talk about it before we get another ‘surprise’.”

Buffy smiles. “Yeah… cause even as a vamp, you managed to do the deed. I think we’re done, though. Our family’s complete.”

~*~

The Bennetts throw open their doors for a haunted house party. They’ve gone all out for the decorations, from spider webbing on the shrubbery and doors to headstones in the yard.

The house is full of costumed guests both old and young. Even Tyler seems to have gotten into the spirit of the night, dressing up as the Tin Man. Mama is Dorothy Gale, Papa is the Scarecrow, Willa is the Cowardly Lion, and Tara is Glinda, the Good Witch.

Buffy senses something’s wrong and scans the room for her husband and children. Willa’s at the door, talking to… Dracula.

~*~

It only takes a moment for Buffy to realize it’s the real Dracula… the one she thought she dusted in Sunnydale. And Willa’s gone outside with him. “Spike! Stake! Door!” she cries, pushing her way through the crowd.

Spike is less than a second behind her, and with a glance from the vampire, restrains his wife from leaping to her defense. The sight of Willa swaying under Drac’s thrall makes him nauseous – caution slows his steps.

They’re all surprised when Willa pulls out a stake and thrusts it into Dracula’s heart, dusting him instantly, to the applause of several guests.

~*~

The dust begins to reform and Willa growls, watching it dissipate once more. She’s so glad Mama told her about that little trick and her own encounter with the well-known vampire, and that she’s taken to carrying stakes with her wherever she goes.

She can’t shake off the odd feelings anymore; the tummy tingles every once in a while and the urgent sense of danger… Willa supposes this is as good a time as any to talk to her parents. It’s not normal, that’s for sure.

Mama and Papa linger outside and talk as the party goes on without them.

~*~

With the party in full swing, Lorne arrives, decked out in one of his normally flamboyant outfits. The children gather ‘round, hopeful for a scary story. Willa hangs over his right shoulder, while Tara and Will each claim a knee. They look at each other warily, but don’t say a word.

Lorne is happy to oblige the kiddies and reads The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to all those willing to listen.

He offers a few words to Tara before she wriggles off his lap. Tells her it’s time to mend her fences, and that not all attention is good attention.

~*~

Willa stays for a little, talking about the twins… she’s worried about their behavior as of late. Lorne commiserates – telling her he had a hard time with siblings when he was growing up, but they turned out all right, for Pyleans, anyway.

A hug and a kiss and she’s off, looking for her friends. Lorne decides it’s time to talk to Mama and Papa. He finds them in the kitchen, taking a momentary breather.

“Hello, Bon Bons. Have a seat ‘cause I think you’re gonna want to know this.”

Parents know when it’s about their children, and sit down, quickly.

~*~

In short order, Lorne advises the nervous twosome that Willa should be checked out as a potential Slayer. “There’s strength in that girl,” he says, “and it’ll need to be watched.”

Lorne frowns before continuing, trying to find the best way to phrase what he has to say. “The twins are going to keep you hopping. Tara’s walking down a rocky path… and she’ll be asking for help. Only it won’t be in her words so you have to listen carefully.”

Buffy snorts in frustration. “Can you be any more cryptic?”

“Sure can, sweetikins. Tyler needs to find his center.”

 

November 2015 – Childish Behavior

The dividing wall in the twins’ room is never open. At six years old, they’ve become very private people.

Tara finds herself torn. Sometimes she wants to be more grown up. She wants to care about clothes and music and boys. Other times she just wants to be Papa’s little girl… but both spots seem to be occupied by Willa.

It’s always Willa at the center of everything. Willa has a boyfriend, Willa has her period, Willa has boobs. Willa is a potential Slayer. She sucks up so much attention, that there’s none left for her.

Or so it seems.

~*~

Her most prized possession is one of her newest gifts from Auntie Willow – a fica… no, focusing crystal. It’s made of pretty purple quartz with a small fissure deep inside. Tara has been practicing her media… meditation as she’s been taught – every day – and manages to find her ‘quiet place’ in less than ten minutes.

The crystal warms to her touch. If she listens very carefully, Tara hears a soft bell tone. She concentrates with everything she has, and if she’s lucky, can block out thoughts of Have-It-All Willa, Hibernating Tyler, and parents who think she’s just a little girl.

~*~

Tyler isn’t having an easy time of things in school. Whereas he was an easygoing and well liked child in kindergarten, first grade is another story altogether. There’s a large emphasis on the physical… team sports and gymnastics – not Tyler’s forte.

Ms. Franck sends letters home, complaining of Tyler’s combative attitude. He refuses to take an active part in his phys-ed class, and when forced to participate, he stands around, stiff and uncooperative.

Mama and Papa try to talk about the need to participate in school activities, But Tyler is resistant. He says he would much rather read than play.

~*~

Papa meets with Ms. Franck when his son refuses to go to school for the third day in a row. He expects to hate the teacher on sight for refusing to work closer with Tyler, and help him through whatever it is that’s bothering him in class.

Ms. Franck and the Principal, Ms. Beene, sit calmly and discuss what they see as problematic. Tyler’s withdrawn, has very few friends, and likes to bury himself in his books. He may be too bright for the class, and will be tested for advanced placement. They’re concerned about his lack of social skills.

~*~

They agree to remove Tyler from phys-ed, if his parents are willing to have him checked out by his pediatrician, which, of course, Spike agrees to.

Tyler tests well enough to sit in with the sixth grade English class, and participate for actual school credit. At first he’s isolated because of his age, but after a few weeks, Tyler becomes the darling of the class, and is well protected in the schoolyard by his new friends.

Everyone from Ms. Franck to Tyler is relieved, and the boy’s attitude improves tremendously. He’s happy to go and participate in class once more.

~*~

With the spark of learning so strong in the boy, both Mama and Papa agree that he needs more stimulating material than what’s being offered in school. Between Auntie Dawn, the demon linguist, and Uncle Wesley and his demon lore, newly pressed into service, Tyler has more than enough new material to keep him happy.

The boy reads voraciously, and apparently has a photographic memory. The amount of information he retains is staggering, and both Dawn and Wes show an interest in fostering his demon education when school is out.

It seems to be a win-win situation for them all.

 

December 2015 – Silent Night

The house is decorated for the holiday; a beautiful tree in the livingroom, completely decorated with popcorn garlands and handmade ornaments. Everything simple and old fashioned. Including presents.

A new pair of shoes or earrings is lovely, but Buffy’s got the whole package: a house with a picket fence, a husband, three children, three cats and her health. There isn’t another thing she would ask for. Her life is so Norman Rockwell, she giggles.

“What’s so funny, luv?”

“All I had to do to get this normal life was give up on the idea of ever having a normal life.”

~*~

No company for the Bennetts this year. No gala dress up affair, and no visiting family. Everyone is involved with their own little families this year, and that’s just fine.

Willa’s hopping up and down. Bobby and his parents will be visiting their relatives in Santa Barbara, and have invited Willa out for Christmas Eve dinner, with her parents’ permission.

“Mama! Dinner in a fancy restaurant. Please… can I get a new dress? Something special?”

What mother can resist a clothes shopping junket with her daughter? To the mall they go, fighting the holiday crowds tooth and nail, emerging victorious.

~*~

Willa appears at the top of the stairs wearing a simple green velvet dress; princess seams and puffy sleeves, showing off her budding figure. Bobby’s breath catches in his throat. It’s only been a little over a year and a half since he moved away, less since they’ve seen each other… but in his eyes she’s grown up.

Mama and Papa watch the boy drool as he stares at their eldest daughter. Buffy wraps her arm around her husband’s waist, silently reminding him that he’d looked at her like that once upon a time.

Spike tells her she’s not helping.

~*~

“It’s just dinner, Spike. And it’s with Bobby’s parents.” Buffy hugs him tightly. “You’re gonna give yourself a heart attack if you keep this up.”

Spike misses his demon’s growl at times like this. The human equivalent doesn’t cut it, and he has to settle for glowering crossly.

Willa rolls her eyes at Papa’s antics, and Bobby smiles into his hand. All this fuss over a silly dinner with a friend and his parents. Sheesh, you would think they were dating or something lame like that.

Just before she leaves, Willa runs back in and kisses Papa on the cheek.

~*~

Spike and Buffy relax in front of their fireplace. The children are all tucked into their beds for the night. The Murcers will be over later tomorrow morning to share Christmas brunch and open presents long stashed under the tree.

They haven’t spoken a single word to each other for the past few hours. Both are thinking of the same thing, however – this time, last year – when they’d almost lost each other. Then Spike’s newfound humanity. Another unbelievable event in the long line of impossible events that make up their lives together.

Eyes close and sleep claims the happy couple.

Chapter Text

January 2016 – Aloha Oy Vey

To celebrate the one year anniversary of Spike’s second turning and their tenth wedding anniversary, the Bennetts head off to Hawaii for two weeks of fun in the sun with the Rosenbergs.

Xander and Molly are perfectly willing to care for the children, but Tara kicks up such a ruckus about spending time with Will that Grandpa Angel and Auntie Nina agree to come in from Los Angeles.

“You know we shouldn’t give in to emotional blackmail,” Buffy murmurs to her husband on the way to the airport.

“We’ll sit the mite down when we get home, luv,” he replies.

~*~

Blue skies, blue water and white sand…Spike stretches out on his towel and basks, shamelessly stretching his body like a pale panther sunbathing. Becoming human hasn’t dulled his enjoyment of warmth on his skin.

Though Buffy diligently slathers his body with an SPF 50 sunblock, by day 2 Spike’s skin is the shade of a boiled lobster. Front or back, lying on the bed makes him miserable, but his wife’s hands and aloe vera gel make him believe there’s a God in heaven, after all.

Two days later he’s back on the beach… wearing a sun hat and white t-shirt.

~*~

The following week, Willow gets the phone call she and Becky have been waiting for; Social Services has a child available for adoption. A six month old of mixed Hawaiian heritage, the little girl has straight black hair, light brown skin and bright green almond shaped eyes.

Her mother was young, the father unknown and her family ready to disown her for bearing a child of impure blood. She left the baby with Social Services, wanting a better life for her.

The extensive home study done last year allows the baby to go home with her new parents right away.

~*~

Kiana Ivy Rosenberg is welcomed into the fold, and the decision is made for the new family to move back to California once the six month probationary period is up.

Spike and Buffy have the pleasure of enjoying a week with their new niece before leaving for Santa Barbara. Buffy frames the sight of Spike cuddling Kiana to his chest on the chaise in her viewfinder and for just a moment, fantasizes about having another baby… then remembers the three already needing her full attention.

Besides, an Auntie can always visit when Buffy needs a dose of baby snuggles, right?

~*~

Angel welcomes the travelers home with tales of their children. Willa was a breeze, spending much of her time with Treena. Tyler’s hooked up with Wesley, who’s offered to instruct the boy via the internet about demons and ancient artifacts via the internet.

The only real trouble came from Tara, who somehow managed to conjure up several small explosions in her room during a time out in a fit of pique. Nothing but smoke and stink, according to both Angel and Nina.

Still, Buffy will make a thorough sweep of all crystals, candles and magic books in her daughter’s possession.

 

February 2016 – Little Women

For two weeks all Willa talks about is her party: the color scheme, the guest list, menus, ad nauseum until the day finally arrives. The playroom is festooned with purple and silver balloons – silver glitter star sprinkles on every surface.

The morning of the party finds Tara standing in the doorway, all the balloons popped and laying about her like puddles. Mama tries to be understanding of her daughter’s jealousy, but won’t allow her to get away with malicious behavior and banishes Tara to her room over her protests that she didn’t do anything.

Papa shakes his head in disappointment.

~*~

A last minute dash to The Party Bazaar and the balloons are replaced, but there’s been a mini disaster with the cake. It looks like someone’s little fingers have gone skating through the frosting, and this time Tyler is confined to his room, again against protests of innocence.

Buffy is ready to tear her hair out. “I swear I’m gonna lock the cats up in the basement as a preventative measure,” she grits in frustration. “I thought we were through with this sibling rivalry nonsense.”

“I just don’t understand why the mites would lie, pet,” Spike frowns. “They’re good kids.”

~*~

“Truth or Dare, Willa?” asks Barrie, a mischievous little redhead with a devil’s grin.

“Truth.”

“Have you ever kissed a boy?”

Willa giggles. This is an easy question, and not really embarrassing. “Yes, I have.”

Barrie isn’t finished. “With tongues?” she adds slyly.

Okay, now it’s a little more personal. Willa blushes pink and nods her head, eyes sparkling at the memory. “My turn now,” she laughs. “Meredith, Truth or Dare?”

“Dare!”

The room rocks with the laughter of eight giggling girls as they continue to play, exposing each other’s innermost secrets in the time honored tradition of growing up.

~*~

Mama and Papa are invited to watch the great gift unveiling. With her siblings still being punished, Willa gets permission to bring them each a slice of cake and a glass of milk. Tara refuses to open her door so she leaves the tray in the hall. Both children still insist they haven’t done anything wrong.

Willa listens outside their doors for a few moments. She hears the clinking of fork against plate as Tyler eats his cake, resigned to his punishment. Tara, on the other hand, is throwing things against the wall, muttering words that would make Papa blush.

~*~

After passing along her siblings’ messages, Willa accepts her present from Treena. Hastily ripping the pretty paper off the box, she holds up three cotton print bra and panty sets. All the females ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ while Papa turns a delicate shade of pink.

It’s the second gift that does him in, however. Morrigan’s present consists of a can of Skintimate shaving cream, a pack of disposable razors and an electric shaver. Papa’s off in a flash with a quick kiss to his daughter and wife, muttering something about leaving before she gets to the condoms and birth control pills.

~*~

Mama shares a giggle with the girls before following her husband out of the room and closing the door behind her. “Poor Spike,” she coos, taking her husband’s hands in hers. “Our girl’s turning into quite the young woman, isn’t she?”

“Feel like singing a bloody chorus of ‘Sunrise, Sunset,’” Spike shakes his head, a look of stunned awe on his face. “Been watchin’ her every day. When did she go all curvy?”

Buffy just smiles, remembering her mother’s appraisals every couple of years. “It goes with the territory of being parents, I suppose. Selective blindness until it’s too late.”

~*~

Tarabelle: Hi Auntie Willow!

WhompingWillow: Hey there, sweetie pie.

Tarabelle: Mama punished me for something I didn’t do. All the balloons got busted for Willa’s party and she thought I did it.

WhompingWillow: So you’re sneaking in a secret whine to your old Auntie, are you? Want me to call Mom?

Tarabelle: I think I did a bad thing.

WhompingWillow: You, Tara, or you, magicks?

Tarabelle: Magicks. Remember when Grandpa Angel was here? Well, he punished me, too and I got sooo mad at him and it just went *poof* and there was smoke and I think they’re still here.

~*~

It takes three days and several rituals involving waving of smudge sticks and incense to rid the Bennett household of the Puck demons Tara has inadvertently summoned. Eighteen inches high, they look like bald Cabbage Patch dolls whose main purpose is to cause mischief.

Spike catches one locking Cheshire in the upstairs linen closet. Buffy finds one snipping the blooms off their stalks in the garden, and Willa grabs one pushing foodstuffs off the pantry shelves. Everyone is relieved when the Pucks vanish with Tara’s last chanted word.

Willow lectures her niece for over an hour on responsibility and magicks.

 

March 2016 – Teach Me

WWPryce: Good evening, Tyler. Have you looked over the books I sent you?

BooksRMe09: Yeah. I really liked The Aurelian Order. Are we gonna be in it? Because of Papa and Grandpa?

WWPryce: I’ll ask your Grandpa if the book is ever revised. It might not be the wisest thing to do.

BooksRMe09: Because of people like Uncle Andrew’s friend?

WWPryce: Indeed. Some people are not to be trusted with family secrets. Anyway, I’ve emailed you your next two lessons. Having a photographic memory certainly comes in handy, doesn’t it?

BooksRMe09: Especially when I like what I’m learning, Uncle Wes.

~*~

Tyler speaks with Papa about their place in the Aurelian order, and he agrees with Wesley. It wouldn’t be prudent to list mortal children in a demon history book. It would be all too tempting for some over-zealous or unscrupulous person to track them down.

“Besides all that, Ty, they’re probably goin’ to write about the end of old Spike. Not bein’ a bloody vampire anymore takes me right out of the Order.”

“Do you miss being a vampire?”

Papa answers truthfully, without hesitation. “I like bein’ with my family in the sunlight more than I miss bein’ a vampire.”

 

April 2016 - Faith

Willa holds the little package tightly to her chest, the delightful anticipation slowing her eager hands. Bobby’s birthday present. He told her it would be delayed, that it was being made special for her… and it was finally here.

She sits on her bed, slowly unwrapping the pretty paper and gently pries off the box’s cover. Two items nestle in the cotton batting – a gold necklace with Hebrew lettering, and a silver rectangle with ornate scrollwork and what looks to be some paper rolled up inside.

There’s also a letter from Bobby. She settles against the headboard to read it.

~*~

Dear Willa,

I hope you like the necklace. It’s ‘Willa’ in Hebrew, in case you’re wondering.

The other thing is a ‘mezuzah’. It’s for the front door of the house. In simple words, it means ‘G-d will guard your going and coming from now and for all time.’ I’m sure your aunts can explain it better if you want to know more.

I know that we aren’t really into religion, but we both believe in all things good and well meaning… and it never hurts to have a blessing for your house.

I miss you more each day.

Love,
Bobby

 

May 2016 – Bragging Rights

“Dawnie! How’s my favorite sister?” Buffy squeals into the receiver, always thrilled when the younger woman finds spare time to call.

“No wonder Giles always looked so exhausted. This Council stuff is running me ragged.”

“Not to mention my nephews. How are the little beastlings?”

“All four boys are reading, and Jason’s not only fluent in French and Spanish,” she brags with a mother’s pride, “but he’s picked up smatterings of Sumerian and Hebrew! And Jeremy’s a prodigy at the piano. He even reads music.”

Buffy’s pride knows no bounds. “Is it bad of me to wish you lived closer?”

~*~

“Of course not, and I know the boys would enjoy seeing you guys more, too. Oh! Get this… Jesse opens portals! He was sitting in his bedroom and said he wanted a cookie. The next thing I knew, there was a flash of green light, and he showed up in the kitchen. Almost scared Andy to death.”

Laughing out loud, Buffy manages to gasp: “I guess there goes our hope for perfectly normal kids. And what about Jonathan? Does he blend into the walls or something?”

“Nope, but he can take apart a computer and put it all back together.”

~*~

“Gods, girl… Lorne said to keep an eye on the kids. Xander’s Will is empathic to some degree, and believe it or not, Willa needs to be tested for Slayer tendencies.”

“You mean in addition to the vampy thing she does? And you never said a word about it?”

“Um, yeah? Sorry…”

“Okay, forgetting for the moment that you didn’t tell your own sister about the Slayer thing… what about the twins? Anything unusual there?”

“Ty’s studying demonology with Wesley by computer, and Tara’s into witchcraft. Willow’s gonna work with her on proper usage. It’ll be good for them both.”

~*~

“We just got new pictures of Kiana. She’s adorable!” Dawn gushes. “You’re so lucky they’re moving back to California.”

“Is this where I try and guilt you into moving back again? Twice in one phone call? I mean, after all… what are older sisters for?”

There’s silence for a moment before Dawn continues. “Tell you what, Buff. Andrew and I will talk about it and see what it would mean for the Council. For all of us to be close together again would be wonderful. It would be so good for the kids.”

Buffy sighs, hoping against hope for someday.

 

June 2016 – Live and Learn

‘Goddess bless the era of the Internet,’ thinks Willow. With hope borne of optimism, she and Becky have researched and rented a house in Ventura, California with an option to buy. It’s no more than an hour away from their friends. Close, but not too close.

By the time Social Services schedules their final interview, everything is packed for shipping. They sit in the office anxiously awaiting the word from on high, and the smile Ms. Leilani Kai wears entering her office tells them everything they need to know.

Final adoption papers are signed, and Kiana is legally a Rosenberg.

~*~

As soon as their belongings leave the house, the Rosenberg family head to the airport. Angel wants to meet Kiana, and he’s putting them all up in one of Wolfram & Hart’s luxury suites for two weeks.

Lorne helps to organize a welcome home/first birthday party, and Willow breaks into tears when the Bennetts and Harrises show up unexpected. It’s so good to be home again, back in the bosom of her friends.

Buffy promises to house sit the day the movers are expected, and will call after everything has been delivered. It can’t be soon enough for everyone involved.

~*~

Wesley pulls Willow aside a few days before she’s scheduled to leave for her new home to talk about Tyler’s demonology lessons. He’s heard about Tara’s little bout with the Puck demons and wonders what direction the girl’s lessons are taking.

“I think the twins are remarkably bright children. We should run them through a gamut of tests to see what talents they share, and what is unique to each of them.”

“Let’s not forget responsibility,” Willow insists. “It’s an issue I still deal with every day.”

Wesley agrees wholeheartedly. “You’ve grown wise, Ms. Rose… erm, Willow. Lessons well learnt.”

~*~

Willow smiles gently at Wesley, still amazed at the changes in the man. “When there’s so much to live for, Wes, it becomes important to recognize your place in the world – not destroy it. Right now, I find my greatest power is making Kiana smile and my woman happy.”

At Wesley’s sad expression, she hastens to add: “Which is why I think teaching and encouraging the children is the best thing for both of us. The ability to pass down all the knowledge and experiences we have – it means the best part of us will live on in the future.”

~*~

“That’s a beautiful thought, indeed.” Wesley face brightens. He might not have children of his own, but the chance to get close to Tyler and by extension the rest of the Bennett family, makes him happy. The appellation ‘Uncle Wes” warms him like nothing else.

He makes a snap decision, eager to get on with this new phase of life. “I think I’d like to spend some time getting to know the children better, with the approval of their parents. Perhaps spend some time with them this coming summer.”

Willow nods, looking forward to spending some time with them all.

~*~

True to her word, Buffy calls to let Willow know that the movers have finally arrived and it’s time to make the trek to Ventura. She promises to order in their favorite pizzas to celebrate the old-fashioned Scooby way.

Both Willow and Becky were looking forward to their new home. What they didn’t expect was to be greeted with a fully stocked kitchen, uncrated furniture, and empty boxes.

“I say when you have super strong friends, you take full advantage,” grinned Spike.

“Plus… nosy,” Buffy chimes in. “Nice lingerie. Remind me to shop with you sometimes.”

Spike nods in agreement.

 

August 2016 – Give and Take

Wesley takes up residence in the Bennett playroom for a month. He finds himself fascinated with the woman his erstwhile Slayer has become and the vampire – ex-vampire – she has tamed. From his first ill-placed steps into her life to the fondness and trust she places in him now, Wesley is grateful for the opportunities dropped into his lap.

To be a part of a loving family is beyond priceless to him. It fills a need he’s had all his life, one never satisfied by his own coldly reserved parents.

Each open display of affection heals another piece of his heart.

~*~

Willow brings a few magickal herbs with her as she and Wes prepare to test the Bennett children. Calling in Willa, she chants an incantation over a handful, and blows the herb over her niece’s head.

Willa sneezes as the herbs form a sparkling orange cloud around her. “Does this mean what I think it means, Auntie Willow?”

She smiles softly, knowing her parents won’t be jumping for joy at what they’ve already suspected for the past few years. “Yes, sweetie, you’re growing into your Slayer powers, with a side-helping of vampire demon.”

Her training will be very interesting, indeed.

~*~

The twins are tested as well, showing no indication of slayer or demon powers. Tara and Tyler are equally bright – Tyler having a photographic memory and a minor capacity for witchcraft, while Tara has high retention skills and is bursting with magickal abilities.

They agree to teach the twins the basics that Wes was raised on and Willow bypassed in her eagerness to show off in her younger days. The reasons behind the seemingly boring lessons are explained simply – magicks are a blessing and a responsibility and must be treated with reverence. The consequences for foolhardy use can be severe.

~*~

One rule is drummed into their heads above all others. They are never to practice magicks unsupervised. Tara’s already learned how things can get out of hand and isn’t eager to repeat the experience. She and Tyler agree to follow the rules explained and set before them.

Mama and Papa watch from the doorway, relishing the simple pleasure on all four faces. The twins soak up the knowledge offered like greedy sponges… both book and life lessons alike. Wes and Willow glow as they share part of themselves.

Everybody wins in a situation like this as their family grows stronger.

 

September 2016 – Friend or Foe

Tara finds herself sitting alone on the bench, not so eagerly awaiting the bell to announce the first day of school. Old friends have been treating her like a… piranha. Gracie Peterson sees to that with whispers and pointed fingers.

Mean and rotten, that’s what she is, and Tara is determined not to cry because of her. All she needs is the chant of “Cry baby” to add to her misery.

Groups of little girls snicker behind their hands, making the wait intolerable. Just as the bell rings, her escape is blocked. She looks up into Will’s sparkling brown eyes.

~*~

“A-are you gonna laugh at me too, Will?” Tara sniffled, bravely jutting her little chin out in an unconscious imitation of her Mama.

“I told Gracie to knock it off, and I don’t laugh at my friends,” he assures her.

Tara wants to believe him so badly. It’s been more than a year since Gracie first stuck her stupid nose in Will’s direction and she misses him desperately.

The bell rings its final warning call, and after wiping away the few tears coursing down Tara’s cheeks, Will grabs her hand as the friends make a mad dash for their classroom.

~*~

Tara gets off the school bus with Will and calls home. Since it’s the first day of school and there’s no homework, she’s allowed to stay for dinner and to catch up with her once best friend.

Molly and Xander watch over the two little ones as they sit on the porch swing waiting for Spike to come and ferry his daughter home. There’s a sense of peace around the little girl that’s been missing for far too long.

“You realize what the future has in store?” Molly asks, nodding in the children’s direction.

Xander adjusts his eyepatch, and smiles.

~*~

“Life’s funny, Mol,” he sighs, trying to rub away the headache forming behind his good eye. “If you would have told me when I was a kid that I’d be married to a demon and looking forward to being related to an ex-vampire by marriage of our children… I’d have laughed myself into the funny-farm.”

“And now?”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way.” He turns to go inside. “Say hello to Spike for me. I’m gonna take some Advil and lie down. This headache is getting worse.”

Molly nods, making a mental note to call the ophthalmologist in the morning.

~*~

The visit to Dr. Steinmetz proves pointless. Remembering Joyce’s condition, he’s a nervous wreck until the doctor renders his diagnosis. Xander’s eye appears to be perfectly healthy, and reading glasses are all the doctor can recommend to take the strain off for close work. With any luck, the headaches will fade away.

After several weeks of wearing the glasses on the job, the headaches are more manageable – down to maybe one a week and Xander finds himself relaxing. Until he starts making careless errors. Reading numbers backwards, missing a digit, putting things in the wrong column…he opts for stronger glasses.

 

October 2016 – In Defense of Family

Buffy hopes second grade will be easier on her boy thank last year. Unfortunately, things don’t work out that way. The boy is quiet and shy, and a group of louts have made it their special mission to terrorize him when the teachers are out of sight.

Spike’s heart goes out to his son when once again, the lad comes home bloodied and bruised in both body and soul.

“Why, Papa?” he asks, distress juddering through his small frame. “I try to stay away from them.”

How can he tell his son it’ll probably get worse before it gets better?

~*~

Tyler is astute enough to know one thing for sure – if he brings anyone into his battles it will only escalate things, so he’s resigned to fighting his way through school. However, the day he finds his sister cornered by two of the larger boys – David and Larry – something snaps inside him.

In a cold fury Tyler grabs David’s arm and spins him around. When the bigger boy laughs, Ty hauls off and decks him with a single punch to his chin. With a fluidity he’s never shown before, he heads for the other boy, who tucks tail and runs.

~*~

The twins sit in Mrs. Beene’s office, waiting for their Mama to answer the Principal’s summons. David sits on the opposite side of the room, waiting for his mother.

Everyone listens to the her lengthy lecture on fighting in school and turning the other cheek. Detention is issued for all three children. When Tara complains and relays what actually happened, David is suspended for a week’s time and Tyler is given an essay to write on the merits of non-violence and a warning.

Catching Mrs. Beene’s wink as he leaves the office gives Tyler an unexpected spring to his step.

 

November 2016 – We Gather Together

In spite of the reading glasses, Xander finds himself unable to read blueprints or fine print for any length of time without developing a migraine. His company has no choice but to let him go. Six weeks before Christmas finds the head of the Harris household unemployed for the first time in ten years.

His severance package is more than generous, but the issue is not money, it’s pride. It isn’t chauvinism, Xander insists. He doesn’t object to Molly becoming the breadwinner. The man just can’t stand to think of himself as a burden… a Zeppo after all these years.

~*~

Losing a job is not a tragedy along the lines of, say… a death in the family, but it’s mourned the same way and Spike decides to help out in a decidedly male show of support. He takes Xander out and they get rip roaring drunk.

The men start with beer, then move on to scotch and whiskey. By this time, the tears are free-flowing complete with sobs and wails. Frustration and grief draw other patrons into their circle and before long the bar is one boat-load of commiserated misery.

Several hours later, Buffy arrives to ferry the guys home.

~*~

The Bennetts host Thanksgiving dinner this year. Willow and Becky bring their rambunctious toddler, who takes an immediate liking to her Uncle Xander. Kiana finds his eye patch fascinating. She squeals with delight each time Xander ducks away from her grasping fingers.

Things could be worse, he thinks, as laughter and gaiety surround him. He is truly grateful to be amidst family and friends who constantly remind him of his worth in their eyes.

He’ll just sit back and enjoy his family for awhile before worrying about getting some kind of job. Maybe after the New Year. He has time.

Chapter Text

January 2017 – Enfant Terrible

It starts with a half hour fight to get three peas into Kiana’s mouth for dinner. Another half hour to get the remainder of the stew out of the carpet. Fifteen minutes chasing the girl down to strip her for a bath and a half hour to dry the flooded floor. Fifteen more for pajamas and a story.

They watch their daughter sleep; her nut brown face relaxed and peaceful against her pillow belies the two hour struggle that took place to get her into bed.

Willow looks into Becky’s eyes, and knows they’d do this again in a heartbeat.

~*~

Willow’s grip on the receiver threatens to crack the plastic. “Buffy, I can’t take this much longer. Maybe we should have an old-fashioned Scooby research meeting to find out where my sweet little Kiana is and who left this screeching demon in her place.”

Buffy’s hysterical laughter does nothing to assuage her tension. “Thanks a lot, kiddo. I’m looking for sympathy or solutions and you mock me.”

“Oh, poor Willow,” **giggles** “you know I understand.” **cackle** “It’s just I’m so glad it’s not me! I’ve been through this three times already.”

“Remind me again why I bother to call you?”

~*~

His headaches are back with a vengeance. Xander keeps the pain to himelf, but every now and then he catches Will looking at him as if he knows something. It’s unsettling, but the boy never asks, and the father never tells.

He calls Spike for a boys’ night out but there’s no pool playing or movie going on the agenda. They sit in the car as Xander finally tells someone of his suffering, begging him to look after his family if something should happen.

Spike knows he’s not looking for false hope, so he promises and hopes for the best.

 

February 2017 – Eye of the Storm

Tara is never far from Will’s side these days. His father’s suffering is a heavy weight on the boy’s shoulders and he only seems to find relief with the youngest Bennett girl. Many days, the two children spend hours with their heads pressed together, whispering secrets, clamming up when people enter the room.

Buffy does her best to get Will to open up about his feelings, but comes away with nothing. “M’fine,” he tells her. “Just a little worried about Dad.”

It’s the slight twitch of his eye that gives him away, and Buffy hugs him a little bit closer.

~*~

Xander’s headaches have gotten so bad he hardly gets out of bed for more than an hour at a time. Dr. Steinmetz admits him to the hospital for an MRI. The mystery of his decreasing eyesight and pain is finally solved when the scan’s results come back: a brain tumor.

Surgery is suggested immediately. The tumor is small and localized and pressing on the optic nerve. Removal is complete and the tumor is sent for biopsy.

Molly, Treena, and Will are surrounded by family when the good news comes in. The tumor is benign and a full recovery is expected.

~*~

Two weeks later and the news isn’t all good. The tumor caused damage to Xander’s optic nerve and he has less than 50% vision. He tries to remain upbeat by cracking jokes. “I’ve set my sites on a new job, Buff. I heard there’s a spot open for a man with a cup, sunglasses, a puppy and a white-tipped cane.”

With a sharp cry, Buffy runs out of the room, unable to deal with his cavalier attitude.

“Sorry, mate. You know how sensitive the girl is to situations out of her control.” Spike forces himself to stay his own feet.

~*~

Xander hasn’t had a down moment or shed a tear since his loss of vision was deemed permanent. The doctors had warned the family about mood swings, depression, and mourning but Xander seems to defy the odds. His family, however, is another story.

The strain in the Harris household is painfully hard to bear. Each new joke is like a physical blow to the children and they begin to find excuses to stay away from the house. After a particularly stressful day, Molly makes arrangements with Buffy for the children to stay for several weeks’ time. They need a break.

~*~

Several days later, Will gets off the school bus at his own stop. He wants to pick up some books for home work and figures his mom will drive him over later. Hearing loud bangs and muffled screaming coming from his Dad’s workroom, he goes to investigate.

Seems like Xander’s situation has finally come home to roost. He’s cursing a blue streak and throwing things as hard as he can at the walls. The door opens unexpectedly and Will’s hit by a flying block of wood in the face. Blood flies everywhere, and the boy collapses with a small whimper.

~*~

The little sound cuts through Xander’s rage like a shotgun blast. He’s at his son’s side in seconds, wadding up his own shirt to staunch the bleeding. Will is lucky – the wood split his eyebrow but missed his eye entirely.

With one hand on his son, Xander fishes his cell phone out of his pocket and auto-dials Spike. Within moments they bundle the unconscious boy into the car for another ride to the hospital.

The emergency room doctor manages to stitch the wound shut before Will awakens. He’ll soon be sporting an ‘x’ shaped scar much like his Uncle Spike.

~*~

Hospital policy insists Will stay overnight for observation. Xander spends the night as well, feeling very guilty for hurting his boy, even accidentally. They pass most of the time talking about their eye problems; Xander finally being honest with his son as well as himself.

A tattered Harry the Hedgehog makes his reappearance with a clumsily stitched scar over his right eyebrow to match Will’s. Tara insists on sending the treasured animal along with Papa to ferry the Harris men home. Just because Will’s nearly eight years old doesn’t mean he can’t use a little comfort from an old friend.

 

March 2017 - Mensch

Spike is flipping out. His baby, his Willa… is flying across country with Treena for Bobby’s Bar Mitzvah. With that dress – a form fitting number in cerulean blue organza. Off the shoulder and shirred at the bustline, it gives Spike hives. Thirteen years old and his daughter is bustier than his wife. Wishes he could bleach his brain for thinking of his girl that way.

A right of passage. The little tosser is now considered a man in the Jewish faith. And he’s still hot and heavy after his girl.

“Papa, don’t you trust me?” she asks, wide eyed.

Bugger.

~*~

Willa and Treena are picked up at the airport by Bobby’s mother. She smiles and waves to them as they deplane and they chatter about preparations for the big event. Getting their hair and nails done, attending the Conservative Jewish service and Bobby’s reading from the Torah.

Willa shows off the Star of David from her Auntie Willow and the Hebrew nameplate Bobby sent her for her last birthday. She only takes them off to sleep or bathe. Next to her California tan, the pendants glow warmly, and the neckline of her party dress will show them off to perfection.

~*~

Bobby stands tall and proud on the dais, singing his Haftorah with clarity in Hebrew, and the Rabbi takes the time to explain it to the Congregation in English, after he’s finished. Mrs. Murcer splits her attention between her son’s performance and making sure the girls follow along in the siddurs – prayer books – which have English translations, as well.

It’s a strange but interesting experience without a religious background to draw upon, but the girls manage nicely. By the end of the ceremony they’re fidgeting in their seats, a little bored and very, very hungry. They’re reassured a feast awaits.

~*~

A short limo ride later, and everyone is led into the reception hall. Off come the sweaters that kept their dresses chaste enough for the Temple. It’s time to party.

The music is loud and raucous. The DJ, Jimmy Dee, is wound up and bouncing around the room, already enticing the kids into silly group games. Bobby introduces his friends, grabs Willa and is propelled into the center of attention as the man of the day.

In-between courses, they slide shoeless about the dance floor, watch Bobby and his parents raised towards the ceiling in chairs, and dance the Horah.

~*~

The traditional table pictures have all been snapped and the guests are sated from the abundance of delicious food served. The last remaining organized activity is the lighting of the candles on the cake. Thirteen people or groups of people are given the honor – they are introduced by a song fitting their relationship to the Bar Mitzvah mensch, and treated to a poem, written expressly for them.

Bobby’s parents are called, then grandparents and an assortment of aunts and cousins. Alte cocker – old fart – music is played, and everyone has a laugh over the choices. Friends next, and Willa… last.

~*~

Five years ago, we met in school,
I wasn’t very nice.
Said nasty things and made her cry,
It really wasn’t right.

But I’ve grown up and been forgiven,
Her laughter makes me smile.
She’s flown in from California,
And I wish she’d stay awhile.

Willa, come up and light candle number thirteen with me.

The DJ plays Candy Girl, by The Archies, as Willa makes her way from the table to take hold of the candle with her friend. Before she can turn to leave, Bobby presses a kiss to her lips.

The photographer captures the moment on film.

~*~

Sarah and Nathan Murcer beam with happiness as they watch their only child begin his journey into manhood. His Haftorah reading was flawless, and now he’s able to relax and enjoy the party.

The candlelighting ceremony makes the adults cry and kids laugh. Each generation brings their own special touch. Even though they’ve suspected the growing closeness between Bobby and Willa, the PDA is unexpected.

His eyes sparkle with mischief, hers widen with surprise, and they both blush pink with the flush of newly-realized romance.

There will be a flurry of phone calls between the coasts before Willa heads home.

 

April 2017 - Affirmation

Over lunch, Molly enthusiastically natters on about a decision she and Xander have reached – they’re going to try to have another baby.

“I know it’s so soon after Xander’s surgery, and that nothing is guaranteed, but what better way to get on with our lives than to create a new one?”

“But what if…?”

“Buffy, if anything, Xander’s tumor proves that each day should be lived as if it were our last. He’s a great dad, and I don’t mind being the breadwinner. This way we’re both useful… fulfilled. Can’t you just be happy for us?”

Buffy hugs her, tightly.

~*~

Buffy proposes a new project for Wonderland Productions: a series of books dealing with family illness. What’s Wrong With Daddy? will be first, based on Xander’s struggle. No photographs though; Xander’s privacy will be preserved. Molly agrees to illustrate it. Both physical and mental illness affect a family’s dynamic, and the children’s input is valued greatly.

They pitch the idea to the school system and the publishing company Dawn had mentioned. Their series is greenlighted. Buffy makes plans for the second book – a re-telling of the twins’ and Willa’s bout with chicken pox.

It feels good to be creative again.

 

May 2017 – Trouble In River City

It starts with hang up phone calls. Easy to think they’re wrong numbers without the courtesy to apologize. When the frequency of the calls increases and they happen at later hours, Willow has the phone number changed and unlisted, solving that problem.

However, within a week the mailbox is ripped from the ground, the garbage cans are overturned and smashed, and flower beds are uprooted.

The heartbreaker is a spray-painted message on the garage: “Go away, lezbo freaks!” Painting over the door doesn’t lessen the grief of intolerance, and Becky begins to worry about leaving her family when she flies.

~*~

Molly drops Treena and Willa at the Rosenbergs for a visit when her chores take her to Ventura for the day. Kiana is delighted to see them, and Willow just sits back and relaxes for a change, watching them romp in the backyard.

They pack a picnic lunch and head out to the park for a change of scenery; lots of mamas and children enjoying the bright sunshine and moderate temperatures. Under the watchful eyes of her ‘babysitters,’ Kiana strikes up merry babblefests with other toddlers.

Willow shrieks as a water balloon hits her back, drenching the leftovers and blanket.

~*~

A handful of boys are playing nearby with the wobbly missiles, and Willow dismisses the hit as an accident, although none of the children apologizes for their errant aim. When Kiana becomes the next victim, it takes every last vestige of control Willow has to keep from razing the trees in search of the culprit.

Treena picks up the wailing little girl, and they hastily gather up their belongings and head back home, only to find: “We don’t want deviants around our children” splashed in red paint on the driveway.

A shaken Willow tries to explain what’s been going on.

~*~

“I don’t get it, Aunt Willow. Why would someone call you and Aunt Becky deviants? Aren’t you both as human as they are? Don’t you both love each other? What could be so wrong?”

“You know people aren’t always understanding about differences. You do remember when your precious Bobby wasn’t the kindest boy,” Willow gentles.

“But he was just a kid!”

Upset for her friends, Treena tosses in her own two cents. “And look at how much things have changed between the two of you since then.”

“I know all that,” Willow sighs. “Sometimes people prefer their ignorance to reality.”

~*~

The Rosenbergs won’t spend their one year anniversary in Ventura. Upon Becky’s return, they discuss the merits of moving to Santa Barbara. The community is exceptionally tolerant of difference and they need a safe place to raise Kiana.

“Looks like it’s time for the last Scooby to find her way home,” Buffy says softly into the phone. “You know Xan’ll be thrilled to have you close by since he can’t drive anymore.”

Willow thinks that maybe something good will come out of this mess after all. “Now all we need to do is convince Giles to move back,” she laughs.

 

June 2017 – Over There

Dawn is besides herself with worry. What had promised to be a dull day of translations had been interrupted by a call from her frantic husband. Jesse has vanished. Not as in can’t be found, though he can’t be, but as in opening a portal and popping through it.

They check the house from attic to basement and come up empty-handed. Jesse’s never portaled away from home before. Wherever he is, Dawn and Andrew pray their child is safe.

“I’ll get it!” Dawn cries when the phone breaks the silence.

Spike’s laughter precedes the words: “Anyone turn up missing, Niblet?”

~*~

“Oh, thank God! Is he okay? Did he do it on purpose?” Dawn’s wobbly voice make her difficult to understand but Spike patiently waits until she calms.

“Little bloke is fine, love. He wanted to play Demons and Slayer with his Auntie Buffy, an’ since you were talkin’ about payin’ a visit anyway, thought he’d pop in first.”

“What are we gonna do, Spike?” she wailed. “If the Council catches wind of Jesse’s performance, I’m afraid of what they’ll do. Kinder, gentler, yes… but controllable portals? He’s my baby, and… I’m worried enough about the other kids catching their interest.”

~*~

“Maybe it’s time to come home, pet. Safety in numbers and all that,” Spike says softly. “Buffy would be over the moon to have her sis close by, not to mention the little peanuts.”

Dawn is torn. She adores the life she’s carved out in England, but has to admit that the Council’s proximity to her children is unsettling. “I’ll talk to Andrew. There are too many people here I can’t be sure of, and I won’t put my babies at risk.”

“Talk to Giles, love. Then someone has to pick up the tyke. Don’t wanna risk a wonky portal.”

~*~

In the end, Dawn decides to fly in, leaving Andrew to watch over the rest of their brood. The entire family gathers to discuss the potential threat to their children and decide, indeed, that the Council needs to be kept at arm’s length.

A realtor is enlisted and a suitable house found no more than ten minutes away from the Bennetts or the Harrises, and by the time the final papers are signed, the Wells family become the cream in a Scooby sandwich.

Move-in is scheduled for August. The trick will be keeping Jesse from being the advance wave again.

Chapter Text

July 2017 – The Good Old, Bad Old Days

It’s a pleasant evening, and Buffy cajoles Spike into taking a walk. Willa’s old enough to babysit her siblings. They end up in the park, swinging gently side-by-side; enjoying the rare cool breeze.

Her feet stop the swing’s motion abruptly as her spidey sense kicks in for the first time in years. Vampire! More than one, in fact and her hand reaches automatically for a stake… that isn’t there.

“William!” she hisses, not wanting to give away his identity if she doesn’t have to.

Recognizing the Slayer’s stance, Spike moves to her left side and readies himself for a fight.

~*~

Low, rumbling growls become more pronounced as the vampires emerge from the woods and circle the two humans.

Nearly fourteen years have passed since Buffy was the active Slayer with nothing to lose but her own life on nightly patrols. Now she has a husband willing and capable of fighting by her side, and children at home who will be devastated if anything happens to their parents. It tempers her urge to land the first blow.

As the five vampires close their circle, herding Spike and Buffy closer together, a war whoop is heard, and suddenly two vampires go *poof*.

~*~

Through the clearing dust emerge three young girls Buffy estimates to be anywhere from fifteen to eighteen years old.

“Slayers!” a vampire confirms with a snarl before he takes off, followed quickly by his remaining companions. Two slayers break into an easy gait that implies they won’t be back until their prey is dust in the wind.

“At your service, Ms. Summers.” The remaining slayer bows in her direction. “And an honor to meet you, Spike.” She extends her hand in greeting. “I’m Amber, and my pack girls…” she says, waving her hand towards the trees, “…are Jelisa and Amy.”

~*~

Back home, Buffy hugs her kids, takes a shower, and snuggles into bed.

“Little run-in with the mini-mites botherin’ you, m’love?” Spike asks, rubbing the tension out of her neck and shoulders.

“We could have been killed tonight, and the kids would find out they’re orphans from the police. I can’t believe I’ve gotten so lax as to go out without a stake. You know, I think I almost miss slaying,” she says, wistfully.

“Just lookin’ back on a rose strewn path, Buffy. You were the best, but it’s time to fully let the next generation take on the mantle.”

~*~

With mock indignance, she turns to her husband. “Is this your way of saying I’m too bloody old to wield a stake, mister? I’ll have you know…”

“Not old, pet. Just have different priorities. Not that I have to tell you,” he murmurs, brushing her lips tenderly with his. “First thing you worried about was the youngsters. Not you… not me. You’ve always put them first.”

“D’ya ever miss it? The patrolling and your old spot of violence?”

“Told the eldest mite once, an’ m’tellin; you. Don’t miss being a vampire near as much as I love bein’ with m’family.”

~*~

Buffy sighs, turning onto her side, scootching back to spoon against her husband. “Don’t know why I feel so blue, Spike. It feels like things are starting to pass me by. Amber looks like she hasn’t a care in the world… and the little ones hardly looked older than Willa. Was I ever so young?”

“Younger than Amber first time I saw you behind the Bronze.” He smiles into her hair with the memory. “Had a glow about you even then that drew me in.”

“And now?”

“A patina that grows with each passing year. Sleep, love. Spike’s got you.”

 

August 2017 – An Eye For An Eye

Will wants to celebrate his birthday quietly, turning down his parents’ offers of movies or amusement parks. He prefers home and family. Of course, just family includes the Bennetts and Rosenbergs and dinner consists of no fuss, no muss food: pizza and cake.

He shuts his eyes, makes a wish, then blows out the candles on his cake. Grabbing Tara’s hand, Will pulls her into the livingroom. Fitted into the wall, is an electronic meditation waterfall with the P’linth Goddess of Prayer situated under the cascading water.

The children clasp hands, sink to their knees and begin to chant, quietly.

~*~

While continuing the chant, Will looks at Tara’s face; eyes closed in concentration, her brow wrinkled with effort. He can feel her – in his heart and head. She’s an open book to his developing empathic capabilities.

Words softly falling from his lips, he leans over for a kiss, just as her eyes open wide. She returns the press of his lips; warm and soft.

They’re interrupted by Buffy, who’s come to collect her daughter for the ride home. She says nothing to her daughter of the kiss. There’s time for talking later.

Nobody sees the little idol begin to glow.

~*~

Tara knows she’s not supposed to mess around with magicks anymore. She’s promised Auntie Willow and Uncle Wes not to conjure unsupervised, but Will needs her help. And Uncle Xander, too. Mama explained all about the tumor; that it damaged his eyesight and there is nothing to prevent it from coming back.

Praying to P’yohm of the Waters has given her the determination to try and help out. Just a small, harmless healing spell to fix her uncle’s eye. Give him back his sight and the job the tumor stole away. She just wants to see her family smile again.

~*~

Molly awakens to her husband’s pained whimpers. The gentle brush of her hand across his cheek comes away wet and sticky, and she panics, turning on the light to reveal a small trickle of blood from the corner of Xander’s eye.

A few hurried words to Treena and they’re once more on their way to the emergency room, where Xander’s eye is swabbed and checked for injury. The examination reveals nothing. No tears, no swelling… in fact, Xander swears he sees more clearly than earlier in the day.

Dr. Steinmetz removes the bloodied patch from his empty socket, and gasps.

~*~

Molly is ushered into the cubicle along with another half-dozen interns and doctors. Xander is sitting on an examining table, getting annoyed at all the gawping and pointing that’s going on. “What’s going on, Mol?” he asks. “Everyone’s looking at me like I’ve grown a third eye.”

Silently, Dr. Steinmetz hands Xander a mirror. The image is a bit blurry, but staring back at him are two whiskey brown eyes.

“Holy shit!”

It’s the understatement of the century. An examination shows 30% vision in the regenerated eye and no idea if it will improve over time. The doctors are stumped.

~*~

The medical staff insists he check himself in for a couple of days’ worth of testing. Xander goes home two days later with the doctors none the wiser and his vision improved another 20%.

Everyone gathers at the house for the ceremonial ‘patch burning’. It’s a little disconcerting to have his head grabbed and his face stared at, but Xander weathers it well. His headaches are gone and he sees properly for the first time in forever.

Tara clambers into his lap, moving his head from side to side. She nods happily to Will, who doesn’t leave his father’s side.

~*~

Their daughter’s little inspection hasn’t gone unnoticed by Mama and Papa, who corner the youngster on her way to get another piece of cake.

“Pretty nifty of your Uncle Xander to grow a new eye, isn’t it, mite?” Papa asks. “Think the eye fairy had a hand in it?”

Tara giggles, but says nothing.

“I know. He stepped in a lucky pile of Luke or Leia’s poop and his wish was granted.”

“No way, Papa. It was me an’ Will when we… oops.” One look at Papa’s disapproving face and she knows a lecture is the least of her worries.

~*~

Willow, Wesley and Grandpa Angel question the children for the fourth time. They demand a verbatim accounting of the prayer offered to P’yohm, and the spell Tara cast to determine what powers have been invoked and the possible consequences.

“It’s not that we’re angry your Uncle Xander has his eye back,” Wesley chides.

Willow adds: “Not at all. It’s just that you promised not to practice magicks without supervision. Not only did you break your word, something went wrong with your spell. You got more than you bargained for.”

A decision is made to bind Tara’s and Will’s powers temporarily.

 

September 2017 – The Big Three-Oh

Dawn and family are firmly ensconced in their new home and making the most of being surrounded by loved ones. If they’re not visiting Buffy, they’re with Xander… or the whole troop is at Willow’s. The quads are ecstatic at being so close to the other kids. They find a freedom to just be amongst their kith and kin. With them, they’re not freaks or prodigies or exploitable resources… just Jesse, Jonathan, Jason, and Jeremy.

For her sister’s thirtieth birthday, Buffy schemes with Molly and Willow to throw a memorable party, and comes up with the perfect place and time.

~*~

It’s Ladies’ Night at the upscale Idyll’s Emporium. Dressed to the nines, the women are ushered to a table in front of the middle runway. Drinks are ordered and they’re primed and ready for a night’s entertainment. They’re far from disappointed.

Pretty men in all sizes bump, grind, strip, and gyrate either singly or en masse, to a loud, pumping techno beat. They roam all three runways, performing for the entire room, but center-stage rates the brightest lights and the most vigorous jiggles, and before long, everyone’s fighting for position to stuff dollar bills in the men’s tiny leather thongs.

~*~

As the evening draws to a close, Idyll’s empties. “Hang on, ladies. Got a surprise for the birthday girl,” Buffy giggles.

A pounding rhythm precedes the lyrics:

Hi Hi! We're your Weather Girls Ah huh
And have we got news for you. You better listen!
Get ready, all you lonely girls
and leave those umbrellas at home. Alright!...

It's Raining Men! Hallelujah! It's Raining Men! Amen!
I'm gonna go out to run and let myself get
Absolutely soaking wet!
It's Raining Men! Hallelujah!
It's Raining Men! Every Specimen!
Tall, blonde, dark and lean
Rough and tough and strong and mean

~*~

Backstage the men are just this side of frantic. Even though Xander instigated this whole idea by reminding everyone of his ‘experience’ in Oxnard as a stripper/dancer, he’s the one trying to back out of it now.

And although Xander outweighs his compatriots, Spike and Andrew manhandle him into his costume, while Spike offers his rarely used flask for extra courage. A few gulps, a final adjustment or two, and they’re ready to go.

The spotlight hits the stage when the music begins and three leather clad cowboys make their way past the curtains to the gasps of their wives.

~*~

“Howdy ma’ams,” Spike drawls. “We hear there’s a birthday gal amongst you.” He punctuates the end of the sentence with a hip roll, and a dip of his Stetson.

Xander shimmies to the front, removing his hat and takes a deep bow, placing it in front of his crotch. “Can’t let something as important as a thirtieth birthday go unnoticed, now can we men?”

The music cranks up a notch as Andrew faces his wife. “This is for you, my Princess.” He tosses his hat into her waiting arms as the beat becomes infectious and his body begins to sway.

~*~

“Oh my God!” Dawn drools. “Check out the packages they’re not hiding in those yummy leather pants.”

Buffy slaps her sister lightly, laughing. “Just remember kiddo, only one of those packages gets unwrapped by you. The rest are on a strictly look but don’t touch policy.”

Leaning back and enjoying the camaraderie, Becky watches as the women in Xander’s life flank him, doing a bump and grind that brings a huge smile to his face. His best friend in front, and wife behind him, they double team to pants the man in an unguarded moment, ripping off his cutaway leathers.

~*~

Spike takes it upon himself to rip off his own cutaways, revealing the same teensy pair of black leather shorts that his buddy is sporting. They shimmy and pose to the music, and when Spike bends over to grab his ankles and look through his legs, Buffy hops up onstage and spanks him smartly on his rump.

“That’s my little sister you’re waving that thing at,” she admonishes, slithering up close and personal for a standing lap dance, then leads him offstage with a yank to the black leather studded collar he’s sporting. “I can’t wait to get you home.”

~*~

The years have been good to Andrew, lending a bounce to his step as he struts to take his place in front of his wife.

“Come to Mama, big boy,” Dawn calls out to her husband. “It’s my party and I’ll ogle if I want to.”

“As you wish, my sweet.”

With a calming breath, Andrew reaches down and tears off his own leathers. He swings them above his head, tossing them offstage and pumping his small hips as the music urges him on. He’s all alone onstage, and he’s not wearing little black shorts like his companions.

Dawn gasps.

~*~

Hands behind his head, Andrew’s showing off for all he’s worth, sporting a black leather pouch with the image of Darth Vader appliquéd to it. It’s a picture perfect moment when he starts serenading Dawn with an off-key rendition of the Beatles They Say It’s Your Birthday.

The rest of the table raucously joins in, accompanied by claps and catcalls from Idyll’s staff and resident dancers.

Spike chuckles, causing Dawn to smile fondly at him. “What’s it to you, older than dirt guy?

“Officially? I’m younger than you are, Niblet,” he snickers, setting the table off in paroxysm of laughter.

 

October 2017 – Children Should Listen

Tara doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. Yes, she knows she and Will disobeyed their parents, and disappointed Auntie Willow and Uncle Wes by doing magick on their own. But why are they still so bloody angry?

Uncle Xander has two good eyes, even though they only meant to fix the one. He’s got a new job and he’s happy, so why do her powers have to remain bound? She didn’t do anything bad. It’s just not fair and she’s angry.

She crawls under her bed and retrieves the spellbook hidden in a pocket slit into the mattress.

~*~

Most of the ingredients are easy enough to find in her own kitchen. Since all her meditation candles have been confiscated, Tara grabs a box of birthday candles and hopes they’ll last long enough to cast the general reversal spell.

Mama’s taking a nap, and Tyler and Papa are over at Will’s house. Just a little undisturbed time and it’ll all be over. No more restrictions. And she’ll prove to Mama and Papa that she can be trusted to not cause trouble with her spells.

The set up is quick, the candles hold, barely, and Tara chants the words carefully.

~*~

Tara quickly cleans up her room. She doesn’t want to leave traces of her spellcasting for Mama to find and get all mad about. For a quick moment, the little girl thinks she can feel the tickle at the base of her neck that means Will’s trying to make contact but she makes a distinct effort to ignore it and it goes away. When the phone rings, Tara hurries to answer it, not wanting to awaken Mama.

It’s Will, of course. “What did you do, Tara?” he asks. “I can feel something all creepy crawly around you, and it’s scary.”

~*~

She promises to tell him tomorrow in school. Right now there’s too much worry about being discovered. Tara finishes her homework and her chores without any scolding and is very quiet throughout dinner.

“What’s the matter, Poppet?” Papa asks, concerned about his daughter’s lackadaisical demeanor.

“M’fine. Just tired. Can I go to bed now?”

Mama feels Tara’s forehead, worried about fever. She never goes to bed without a fuss. “Are you sure there’s nothing wrong, sweetie? You don’t feel warm, but you could be coming down with something.”

Tara shakes her head, really wanting to do nothing more than sleep.

~*~

Buffy gets a phone call from the school nurse at 11:30. “Please pick up your child, Mrs. Bennett. You shouldn’t have sent her in to school with a fever and nausea. It isn’t fair to the other students.” Instead of arguing with the obnoxious woman, Buffy tersely tells her she’ll be right there, and heads out, sticking a note for Spike on the refrigerator door with a magnet.

By the time Tara is home, her fever has spiked to 104.5 and after a quick lukewarm bath and a dose of Tylenol, she’s bundled into bed where she promptly falls asleep.

~*~

Leaving Kiana at home with Becky, Willow pays an unannounced visit. “How’s Tara feeling?” are the first words out of her mouth when Buffy opens the door.

“I just brought her home from school. How did you…?”

“I got a call from Xander’s Will. He got the school nurse to place the call; told me about a talk he had with her – about something she did involving a spell.”

Buffy is flabbergasted. “A spell? Are you telling me she’s still messing around with magic even after the binding?”

“The spell reacted with the binding. It’s meant to teach a lesson.”

~*~

Furious, Buffy turns on the red head. “Why didn’t you tell me she’d get sick? She’s a baby, Will. She’s only eight years old!”

“Buffy, don’t you see that she’s not normal? She has power and all the arrogance of a child. It’s worse than when I first learned about witchcraft and magicks.” Willow sighs, sorry that the little one is suffering for her gifts, but she knows intimately that Tara must learn control early or suffer possibly deadly consequences.

“She’s so sick, Will. Her fever is so high, and she’s vomiting. Maybe I should take her to the hospital?”

~*~

“Mama! Mama!”

Tara’s screams brought the adults running. She’s sitting in a puddle of vomit and sobbing uncontrollably. Mama can tell just by holding the girl that her fever has risen. With an efficiency born of practice, she shucks Tara’s nightclothes, gathers her child in her arms and sets her down in another lukewarm bath. Tara is so out of it, she doesn’t take her hands away.

“Willow…”

“Making with the bed detail. Kiana’s trained me well. And I know it looks bad. Magick kickback is a bitch to recover from. You do remember me, right?”

All too well, Willow.

~*~

Taking Willow’s suggestions, Mama gives Tara a double dose of Advil and makes sure she knows her garbage pail is right by the side of the bed for her to be sick in. It takes three days before the symptoms abate, and by the time she’s feeling better, Mama lets her know in no uncertain terms they need to talk.

Papa explains her illness is a direct consequence of trying to remove the binding spell. Any spell would have left her feeling poorly, but she hit the jackpot with the reversal spell.

This time, she swears she’s learnt her lesson.

 

November 2017 – My Body, My Self

On her way to bed, Mama is drawn to Tyler’s room by a faint whimper. When calling to him from the doorway produces no response, Mama enters the room to find him shaking under the covers. Worried that he’s in pain, she slowly draws back the covers and finds the reason for his distress. With a firm, constant motion, Tyler Liam James Bennett is masturbating in his sleep.

She gently replaces the covers and tiptoes out of the room, marveling at how quickly Tyler’s childhood seems to be slipping by. Eight years old and it’s time for the sex talk.

~*~

Ty’s newfound sensuality doesn’t confine itself in the bedroom. Subconsciously, his hands are always in his pockets, or down the front of his pants. He’s reprimanded in school and teased by the other children, but he can’t seem to control his actions.

Papa sits the boy down for a quiet discussion. “I know it feels good, Ty, an’ there’s nothing wrong with it. Just that there’s a time and place for everything. Like in your room with the door closed.”

“Do you massurtate?”

Masturbate, love. And yes. Been known to from time to time.”

“And Mama? And Willa and Tara?”

~*~

Taking a deep breath, Papa tries to block out the knowledge of his daughters as sexual beings, and fails. “It’s natural, pet. It feels good an’ doesn’t hurt anyone else. Pretty much everyone masturbates at one time or another.”

“I don’t mean to do it at school, Papa. It just happens,” Tyler complains.

“All you can do is make an effort to know where your hands are. Maybe tellin’ yourself to wait until you get home will help. Now that you’re aware that it’s not acceptable around other people you’ll try harder, yeah?”

Tyler nods and hugs his Papa tightly.

~*~

Will grabs Tyler in the schoolyard and herds him towards the back fence. “You gotta see what I found under Treena’s bed,” he giggles as he pulls a glossy magazine from his backpack and hands it to his friend.

“Playgirl’s College Hunks for 2017,” he reads, confused. “Hunks of what?”

“Open it, stupid. Treena thinks it’s a big secret, but she looks at all the naked men when she thinks nobody’s looking.

Tyler turns page after page, silently appraising the smooth and hairy bodies presented; feeling a strange tingle in his belly at the sight of all those dangly bits.

~*~

“Just hide it until you get home, kiddo,” Will chides. “You don’t want to get caught by anyone here with that.” They wouldn’t understand, Ty.

Tyler hastily stuffs the magazine into his own backpack. “Won’t your sister miss her magazine?”

“Who do you think she’s gonna complain to? Mom or Dad? If she asks me I can always tell her I have no idea what she’s talking about.”

“Y-you won’t tell her you gave it to me?”

Will shakes his head. “Cross my heart and hope to die. Our secret.” He watches his friend head off to class, and smiles.

 

December 2017 – Home and Hearth

It’s Christmas Eve and all’s quiet at the Giles household. Braden is tucked away in his bed. The exuberant four year old had to be jollied into bed with one of ‘Santa’s cookies’ and a glass of milk. Even so, Giles knows the boy sits up in bed for another half an hour, waiting for Santa to make his appearance before sleep finally claims him.

All the family phone calls have been made and best wishes exchanged; now it’s time for snuggling by the roaring fire and contemplating the upcoming year with his wife of four years by his side.

~*~

He’s happy – healthier than he was years ago, and totally besotted with his life. Dawn’s absence at the Council has forced him to take a more active role, but he’s already looking for a permanent successor. The title of Watcher Emeritus is appealing.

At fifty-seven years of age, Giles believes he’s earned his retirement. Nothing compares to watching Braden grow up, his whole life unplanned and uncharted. Right now, he wants to play around the horses. He loves the way they snuffle food out of his hands.

Olivia presses a kiss to her husband’s cheek and heads off to bed.

~*~

Giles picks up his pen and begins to write:

My Dearest Girl,

The family is all abed and peace reigns, yet I find myself missing you. I know we’ve spoken earlier, and it was a joy to hear all the little ones. Only they’re not so little anymore, are they? Willa’s a fine young lady with her heart in the throes of her first love. The twins are extraordinary, and I’m afraid they’re going to put you through your paces as they grow up. May I just say ‘your turn’ in advance? Allow an old man to laugh in retribution.”

~*~

I’m glad Dawn is out from under the Council’s mantle. Her little ones will need to be home schooled to meet their needs and protect them. I’ll see if there’s anyone I can recommend for that position – someone trustworthy and with no ties to the organization.

The news about Xander’s eye has us totally gobsmacked. To think Will and Tara are responsible for its restoration. It’s a good thing their powers are restricted and Willow is there to impress the dangers inherent in overstepping their bounds.

Speaking of Willow…and Becky, of course – their Kiana is a real charmer, isn’t she?

~*~

I’m proud of you, Buffy. You’ve weathered so much over the years. I suppose I must give credit where credit is due. Spike… William. You’re good for each other. He’s come a long way… even before… well, you know. He’s a decent man and a wonderful father.

That’s all for now, dear. I believe it’s time to get back to my wife. Olivia may have the patience of a saint, but her toes get downright chilly if she’s left alone too long.

Ever yours,
Giles

With a flick of his wrist, Giles closes the lights and heads off to bed.

Chapter Text

January 2018 - Sisters

Another New Year comes and goes, and there’s tension in the Bennett household. Tara is still frustrated at being a little girl with large feelings. She wants to be around Will all the time, but Mama and Papa try to divert her attention to other pastimes, as well. Nothing, however, catches her interest.

Mama silently pleads with her eldest daughter, and Willa dutifully agrees to try and connect with her younger sibling.

One day she comes home with a present for her sister. It’s a thousand piece puzzle of kittens. Tara rolls her eyes and pronounces it another baby gift.

~*~

Two weeks later, both girls are painstakingly pawing through the box, looking for edge pieces. Every now and then they stop to talk. Willa talks about Bobby, and asks her sister about Will… about how he’s doing in school, and if they’re still as close as they used to be.

Tara tells her that she and Will still like spending all their spare time together. This leads to talking about how her tummy feels funny when she’s around Will… and how she feels better when they’re together than apart.

It’s not quite “the talk”, but definitely a precursor. Mama, beware.

~*~

February 2018 – Great Expectations

“Oh. My. God!” Treena complains to her best friend. “They’re so lovey dovey it’s sickening, what with all the smoochies, and the not-so-secret gropies when they think we’re not watching. How on earth do you guys put up with it?”

Willa simply smiles. Nobody’s parents are more affectionate than hers, but the Harrises have been giving them a run for the title of most obviously obnoxious.

“I mean, I don’t mind having a new brother or sister, but knowing they’re FLW is embarrassing.”

“Good thing we were too young to notice the last time our moms were pregnant,” Willa laughs.

~*~

Molly slips from their bed first thing in the morning, hiding the little wand in her pocket. She’s two weeks late and hopeful that this time she’s pregnant. One quick moment in her urine stream, and it’s wait and see on the bathroom sink time.

Last week’s test was negative and this will tell the tale. It’s the most sensitive one on the market and the most expensive, but so worthwhile if…

Three minutes. That’s all it takes to crush her hopes for another month. Xander’ll find out soon enough she’s failed him again. There’s no need to be obvious.

~*~

Xander lies alone in bed, listening to his wife’s quiet sobs. They’ve been trying to conceive for months, but to no avail. Maybe they just got lucky with Will. Such a delightful treasure and one he never thought he’d live to see. And Treena? A second blessing. He couldn’t love her more if she were his own flesh and blood.

But Molly wants to give him a second child. It’s not like it’s killing either one of them. The mind blowing sex is a welcome benefit. It’s just that each period leeches a little more sparkle from his wife’s eyes.

~*~

Xander welcomes his wife back into bed with a hug and a kiss. “Sorry, sweetheart. I know we were both hopeful that this time we were successful. It’s not the end of the world, however,” he says, looking deeply into her green eyes. “We could always try to adopt. I’m sure there are plenty of children in need of loving families.”

“But I want to give you another child, Xander,” Molly insists. “I want to give Will a full-blood sibling.”

“Gods, I love you so much, Mol,” Xander says. “With or without another child in our lives, we’ll be fine.”

~*~

Molly rolls onto her side and spooned back into her husband’s body. She closes her eyes, but sleep won’t come. She just has this feeling – not something she can even put into words for herself, much less explain to anyone else – that time is running out.

Secretly she’s been organizing the family’s important paperwork. Every day she cleans until the house is spotless.

And most of all, Molly tries to show her love in every way to her husband and her children. She comes off as a little clingy, but laughs it off with a hug and a quick kiss.

~*~

March 2018 – Bloody Hell

Tara comes home from school one day complaining of stomach cramps. Mama questions her, asking if it’s something she ate cramps, or a dull pain, like a bruise. When her daughter picks the second kind, Buffy calls the pediatrician for an appointment.

Lo and behold, it seems her baby is about to enter puberty at an early age. Terrific! Just what they need… a third case of hormones. Spike is gonna flip… or run screaming into the night.

The doctor explains what’s to come, and Tara knows she can talk to her Mama or sister to fill in more details.

~*~

April 2018 – Howling at the Moon

A frantic knock at the office door and Harmony ushers in a flustered guard. It seems that their favorite moontime guest is more agitated than usual, and rattling the bars of her cage with enough force that alarm is warranted.

Angel stands by with a pained expression as an enraged Nina is tranquilized, and the damage to her cell assessed. The grit around the base of the bars shows the werewolf’s strength has increased over the years, and something needs to be done to ensure her safety and well being.

The decision is made to contact Oz for a consultation.

~*~

Wesley manages to locate Oz in Nepal, where he serendipitously is studying meditation techniques to gentle the wolf. Not to suppress him, but make him easier to live with on a daily basis. He agrees to come to LA before the next full moon. Hopefully what he’s learned will be of help to Nina.

He presents the news to Angel and Nina, together, and both agree to work with the ex-Scooby. Anything to make life more bearable for her.

Wesley, himself, is looking forward to hearing about the meditation rituals. His own life could do with some centering these days.

~*~

May 2018 – Despair

She stares at the little stick, once again damning their hopes and dreams. Negative. Molly was so sure this time. In fact, she still is. She can feel the changes in her body, her womb swelling as it prepares itself for the newest Harris. Rather than rely on a stupid piece of plastic, she makes an appointment with Dr. Lecher for tomorrow morning.

The blood test at the hospital shows positive, but the doctor isn’t happy – Molly can tell. He spends far too much time on the internal exam and orders additional blood work.

“Better safe than sorry, Mrs. Harris.”

~*~

Xander takes the phone call from Dr. Lecher, requesting additional testing for Molly. The urgency in the doctor’s voice prevents him from chastising his wife for keeping her pregnancy a secret. After another thorough exam, the pregnancy is determined to be ectopic in nature and must be terminated, immediately.

Molly is taken for surgery, leaving Xander to call and make arrangements for their children.

“Do you want one of us to come keep you company?” Buffy asks, concern coloring her words.

“Nothing you can do, sweetie. Tell the kids we’ll be home as soon as possible. Talk to you later.”

~*~

Dr. Lecher emerges from the operating theater and makes his way towards the worried husband. He absolutely hates this part of the job, and his features soften in sympathy as he relays the news: the fallopian tube and fetus have been removed – but the threat to Molly’s life remains; lumps and lesions are found on her ovaries. They’ve been removed and sent for biopsy, but in his learned opinion, she was in deep trouble.

With promises to rush the biopsy results, the doctor leaves.

Xander sits, stunned. He’s gone from thinking baby to widower in the course of several hours.

~*~

The results are devastating: ovarian cancer – Stage IV. Drastic surgery is performed, leaving Molly unable to ever bear another child should she survive the upcoming rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment commonly prescribed.

“Please, love. I want to see my babies,” Molly whispers as she fights off the anesthesia. “And Buffy.”

Though hesitant to leave her side for a single moment, Xander makes the call.

Treena kisses her mother, barely holding back her sobs. Will holds her pinky, mindful of the wires and tubes. Buffy lets her oldest friend cry out his grief in her embrace outside of the room.

~*~

During the next two weeks, Molly signs off on Dr. Lecher’s course of treatment against his advice and bids a tearful farewell to all her friends. It seems there’s a small P’linth colony in Three Rivers, Texas, and their healer has an unorthodox treatment.

Xander takes a medical leave of absence from his job, and the children once more move in with the Bennetts. It’s a good thing that the school year has ended; nobody can concentrate worth a damn.

The first phone calls are tentative but hopeful. Molly asks everyone to have faith. Whatever happens is meant to be.

~*~

June 2018 – Bye, Bye, Love

Treena takes her comfort in Willa’s presence. They mall-crawl, go to the movies, and block out everything else like any teenage girl out of school for the summer. Will has gone silent for the most part – clinging to Tara and accepting Tyler’s calming presence.

Spike heads out for the airport. All he’s been told is the airline and flight number, and his stomach is tied up in knots. Molly and Xander have been in Texas for the past three weeks, and outside of the once weekly calls to their children, they’ve been extremely secretive.

Xander walks off the plane, alone.

~*~

The day of Molly’s funeral service is overcast and damp. Xander stands stiff-backed; his children red-eyed and sniffling as the service drones on. One by one, Molly’s friends step up to send shovelfuls of dirt onto her casket, each clod echoing through Xander’s frame.

Willow enfolds her best friend in her embrace, Rebecca looking on while holding a wriggling Kiana. He numbly accepts everyone’s platitudes, but she can tell he’s not taking any of it in. They’ll all have to make sure Xander and the children are taken care of until they can cope with the reality of Molly’s demise.

~*~

The procession of cars wends its way through the town to the Wells house, where friends and family gather after the funeral. A small statue of the P’linth Goddess of Mourning is surrounded by Molly’s favorite flowers… white daisies. Spike and Buffy organize the buffet with the help of the children as Dawn sits by Xander’s side, talking softly.

“Xan, why don’t you and the kids spend a couple of nights with us?” she asks, holding his hands and looking into his eyes. “The boys would love to spend time with Treena and Will, and you won’t have to worry.”

~*~

Xander sighed. “When did this happen, Dawnie? When did my friend’s baby sister turn the tables and start taking care of me?”

“You might have noticed, doofus, I’m no longer a baby,” Dawn said, poking him gently. “Neither are the quads. Can you believe they’re five years old?”

“Time flies,” Xander agrees. “Cherish your family while…. you can,” he sniffles, tears falling from his eyes.

Dawn hugs him tightly. “We’ll get through this, Xan. I promise. We’ve all got your back.”

Xander nods, but he knows his back will always be chilly at night, when he goes to bed, alone.

~*~

July 2018 – Grieving Hearts

Tara’s young heart breaks for Will. She doesn’t have to be an empath to know how much he’s hurting over his mother’s death. She shudders… even the words make her blood run cold. She can’t imagine how she’d go on if her mother died.

“I wish I could do something to help, Will,” she says to her grieving friend. “Maybe if I still had my powers…”

Will shakes his head. “It won’t help, Tara. Only having Mom back will make it better, and that’s not gonna happen, is it?”

Sadly, no. Even Tara knows resurrection isn’t to be messed with.

~*~

Treena turns sullen. She’s angry at everyone and everything. She’s surly to her father, ignoring the pain in his eyes as he tries to keep his little family functional. They fight over what she wears to school, who she hangs out with after school, her homework, her attitude… and it makes everyone around her uncomfortable.

Willa tries to understand her behavior. Thanks to talking it over with her Mama and Papa, she knows Treena’s reacting to losing her mother. As hard as it is, she still tries to keep her best friend company, offering her comfort when she’ll allow it.

~*~

Xander’s ready to tear his hair out. For the third time in as many weeks, he’s called down to a store at the mall to come pick up his daughter. Shoplifting!! It’s not as if she doesn’t have an allowance. She’s not wanting for material things. He gets that she’s trying to fill the hole in her heart with the danger and the wrongness of it all, but that doesn’t make it right.

He can’t make her understand that if she keeps this up, she’ll be banned from the mall, and possibly sent to juvenile detention. Maybe Dawn can help.

~*~

Dawn is more than happy to talk with Treena. She tells her about her own stint of five-fingered larceny, and of Buffy’s efforts to reform her. She doesn’t yell or chastise harshly, but she does get across that shoplifting doesn’t help ease the loss. Only time will do that.

She does offer Treena a joint babysitting job with Willa with the quads once a week. It’s been awhile since she and Andrew have had some alone, adult time, and it would do them all good. Treena agrees, and Dawn insists she ask her father for permission, first.

Treena reluctantly nods.

~*~

Giving Dawn a big, squishy hug in gratitude, Xander is relieved that his daughter has something positive to turn her attention to. She spends less time at the mall, away from temptation, and more time with Willa, discussing babysitting strategy. The boys are sharp as tacks, and will definitely keep the girls on their toes.

Will spends a lot of his spare time with Tara and Tyler. Between the two Bennett children, Will seems to be handling things well. He still cries softly into his pillow at night, but that’s only to be expected.

Xander’s pillow is also often wet.

~*~

August 2018 – Coming to Terms

Oz has been at the Hyperion for several months now, nicely settled in to a routine. They talk about how much of the wolf bleeds into her life during non-wolfy times of the month, and what she remembers during the transformed time. There’s navel gazing involved, and some chanting, some burning of herbs to heighten the senses and awareness. While she’s still trying to bring the house down, Nina is not quite as agitated as she had been.

Angel participates in the touchy-feely parts, deeply massaging Nina’s muscles to get her to relax fully. Wesley, of course, watches and records.

~*~

One day, Tyler calls and asks his Uncle Wesley if he has time for some in-person lessons before school restarts. A discussion with Spike and Buffy results in permission, and Tyler is driven over with suitcase in hand for several weeks stay.

Grandpa Angel is happy to have Tyler spend some time with them. He feels drawn to his sensitive grandson, and finds they have a lot in common. Reading, music, demonology… things to share.

There’s an odd problem, however. He seems to be fighting Uncle Oz for time with Uncle Wesley. Angel notices and tries to suss it out.

~*~

Could it be a case of the green-eyed monster? When questioned about it, Tyler insists he’s not jealous, and he loves Uncle Oz, but he practically growls when the two men share a laugh.

That night, Oz knocks on the door to Tyler’s room. “Did I do something to upset you, Ty?” he questions. “I thought we were buds.”

Tears well up in the boy’s eyes and his bottom lip quivers. “I don’t know, Uncle Oz,” he cries. “I just feel mad and all twisted up inside.”

“Does it happen with anyone else?”

“Some of my friends, at school.”

“Ah.”

~*~

Oz makes a call to Spike and Buffy. He has a plan, but he won’t implement it without their permission. Tyler is, after all, a little young at nine years old. The discussion went on for over an hour, Oz being questioned again and again, but in the end, all are in agreement.

A quick talk with Angel, and Oz makes another phone call. Arrangements are made, and two days later, his cousin Jordy shows up on the doorstep, along with his eleven years old son, Jensen. He and Tyler strike up a quick friendship, relieving some of the tension.

~*~

Tyler takes the older boy on a tour of the Hyperion. They explore some of the dusty, unused floors, and then hit the basement. There’s a huge kitchen, with lots of metal cabinets, and the boys decide to play hide and seek.

Tyler hides, scrunching himself up small inside a cabinet, and slows his breathing down. He hears Jensen banging on the metal doors, waiting for a startled reaction, and he’s not willing to give it up.

He hears Jensen close in, and after several false “aha’s” blinks as the boy opens his cabinet and pulls him out.

“Gotcha, dude!”

~*~

Jensen put his hands on Tyler’s small shoulders and pulls him closer, placing a loud, smacking kiss right on the younger boy’s lips.

“Why’d you do that?” Ty asks, softly, touching his fingers to his mouth.

“You’re cute, and I wanted to.” Jensen winked at him and ran for the stairs.

Tyler is stunned. His lips still tingle, and he doesn’t know what to do. Should he tell someone? Should he call home? He isn’t upset, as much as surprised. He does have a sneaking thought. Did Uncle Oz know this would happen when he invited Jensen to stay over?

~*~

In the end, Tyler just walks upstairs, and joins everyone else. He’s quiet, but friendly, and eventually he loses his reserve. He catches Uncle Oz’s eye, and the wink he gives him in passing. So he was right! He knew something would happen with Jensen. Sneaky Uncle Oz.

Somehow, he can’t bring himself to mind in the slightest, as something clicks inside his head. Maybe he’ll call Papa after all. He has more questions now than he had before Jensen kissed him, and he needs help sorting out his feelings.

He hopes that Papa understands and isn’t disappointed in him.

~*~

September 2018 – I Am What I Am

When Tyler gets home, his nerves get the better of him. He worries about what his parents know, how he’s feeling, how will he react around his friends… and can they see if he’s different just by looking at him. He’s off to his room with no more than a quick hello to the family.

Papa knocks on the door and asks if they can talk. Tyler moves over and Papa sits on the bed next to him.

“So, Ty,” Papa begins, somewhat hesitantly. “Did you have fun while you were away?”

Tyler wonders how best to answer his father.

~*~

“I learned a lot,” he says, averting his eyes. “Uncle Oz showed me how to meditate, and Uncle Wes and I studied Fyarl.”

Spike’s eyes light up. “I speak Fyarl, too,” he says in Fyarl, and Tyler finally raises his eyes to meet his father’s. “Your old Papa knows lots of things, Ty. Been around for a long, long time.”

With that opening, Tyler has the courage to ask: “Did Uncle Oz call you?”

“He did”

“Did he tell you what Jensen did?”

“No, pet. He just asked if we would mind him spending time with you.”

“Jensen kissed me.”

~*~

Spike swallows hard, knowing his reaction is key to his son’s future. “And how did that make you feel, love?”

“I liked it,” Tyler answered after hesitating. “It was a surprise, but I definitely liked it.”

“You’re a bit young to be kissing anyone, pet,” Spike says, resting his on his son’s shoulder. “You might want to wait a bit before doing it again.”

“I didn’t plan on it, Papa. But it felt really good.” Tyler fidgets. “Will Mama be mad?”

Spike cupped Tyler’s chin, raising his face to his gaze. “No, sweetling. Mama and I love you very much.”

~*~

October 2018 - Homecoming

It has been long enough. As welcoming and accommodating as Dawn and Andrew are, Xander knows it’s time to go home. He’s nervous, but tries not to show it so his kids won’t pick up on it. Unfortunately, it’s a losing battle with empaths in the family.

“It’ll be all right, Dad,” Treena says. “It’s our home, and our stuff. We’ll manage”

Xander gathers his children in a bearhug and hopes for the best. Kisses all around to the four boys and the Harris family walks out the door, heading back to the last place they were a complete family.

~*~

His hand shakes as he pushes the key into the lock, but Xander manages to get the door open. The house smells stale, but a good airing will fix it. Luke and Leia bound down the stairs, meowing frantically. Dawn’s been feeding them and cleaning their box regularly, but they miss the company of their humans.

Will heads towards the kitchen door before stopping – as he remembers who’s not there to greet him. Treena looks around and sighs, gives her dad a kiss on the cheek, and heads upstairs to her room.

“It’ll take time,” Xander mutters through clenched teeth.

~*~

The kids seem to settle into their old routine fairly quickly, though Will wakes up with the occasional nightmare and Treena is no longer the ebullient young lady she was before . Xander, on the other hand, is having difficulty.

Everywhere he turns, he sees Molly, especially in their bedroom. Her clothing still takes up half the closet, still smelling of her perfume. He can’t bring himself to box it up, and isn’t sure he could stand seeing any of it on Treena. He touches the delicate chain around his neck, hung with Molly’s wedding and engagement rings and cries.

~*~

Xander does not do well back at home. He tries to go back to work, but can’t concentrate. He stops getting up early enough to make breakfast for his children and see them off to school. He lets his beard grow in.

Treena decides it’s time to call in the cavalry.

Spike.

“Time to get your arse out of bed, Harris,” Spike yells, bursting into the bedroom. “Got a couple of mites worried to pieces about you.”

Xander groaned, pulling the covers over his head.

“Not gonna work, Xander. If I can get Buffy out of bed, you’re no challenge.”

~*~

Reluctantly, with threats to “strip him naked and shove him into the shower”, Xander cleans up his act. When the kids get home from school, they find their father and Uncle Spike talking in the living room. Buffy agrees to ferry Molly’s clothing to a local women’s shelter; the love she holds for the woman makes the task sit easier on Xander.

Treena is hesitant to go through her mother’s jewelry and asks her dad to hold onto it for the time being. Will solemnly nods his head with each decision to move forward. Family takes care of its own.

~*~

November 2018 - Thanksgiving

There’s an awkwardness in the air as Thanksgiving nears, and everyone is at a loss as to how to deal with it. It’s the first holiday gathering since Molly died, and her absence leaves a veritable crater to tiptoe around. The Rosenbergs, Wells, and Bennetts fret about Xander and the children’s reactions to a holiday when the heart of their family is gone.

Xander does his best to alleviate the sticky situation. He tells Spike and Buffy that he and the kids want to spend a quiet evening alone and not to worry about them.

Like that’s ever gonna happen.

~*~

Surprisingly, it’s Angel who provides the answer. He sends a limo to the Harris household with orders to ferry the family back to Los Angeles, and won’t brook no for an answer. When they arrive, it’s a mad hugfest – the Wells quads, Kiana, Tara, Tyler and Willa do their best to make their uncle and cousins welcome.

Wine is poured for the adults, juice for the children. Angel raises a glass to make a toast. “No disrespect intended, but we need to address the elephant in the room. We sit here today, one less in number. Molly Harris is gone.”

~*~

A collective gasp arises from the guests.

“Let me finish, please,” Angel continues. “Our family is lesser for her absence, but I’m thankful for what she has brought to us all. Beloved wife, and mother, best friend and kind heart… there is not one here amongst us who is not enriched for having known her.”

“Here, here!” Xander exclaims, thumping the table and raising his own glass, followed in kind by the rest of the table. The mood lightens considerably and the rest of the meal is quite pleasant.

Goodbyes are short and sweet… they’ll see each other again, soon.

~*~

December 2018 - Remembrances

Spike’s the one to come up with a perfect way to honor Molly’s memory… a garden, in the old Victorian sense. Asters for love, tea roses for always remember, and so on. He and Xander work on what Xander wants to convey, and they pick out the flowers at the nursery. There’ll be time for seeding next year, but this year it’s full grown blooms. Everyone helps with the planting; a labor of love.

It takes about a week of sweat and sore backs, but finally the garden is ready for Christmas – what would have been the Harris’ tenth anniversary.

~*~

Xander greets Giles warmly when he arrives. Braden develops an inopportune ear infection, so Olivia stayed home to care for their son. Angel is there, sitting in his car safely behind the necro-tinted glass. The Rosenbergs, the Wells, and quite a few families from Treena’s school are there to honor Xander with memories of his beloved wife.

It had been Molly’s wish to be cremated, and Xander chose to sprinkle her ashes over the garden; to nurture even in death. Once the task was done, everyone takes their turn with anecdotes and favorite memories, and in the end, everyone smiles.

Chapter Text

January 2019 – Happy New Year!

The clock strikes twelve, and the New Year begins. Buffy and Spike kiss as they sit close together on the floor in front of the television, watching the partying with the twins. Willa is at a sleepover with a handful of her closest gal pals. Xander and Will are being coddled by Willow and Becky.

Buffy rouses from her lip-lock, kissing Tyler and Tara on their heads. “So, kiddos… what say you two bundle off to bed?”

“You just wanna be alone with Papa,” Tara accuses, swiping at her eyes.

“Not tired, Mama,” Tyler mumbles.

“Tell me another,” says Spike.

~*~

Back downstairs after tucking in their children, Buffy smiles. “I’m feeling the warm-fuzzies right now,” she says, staring dreamily into their fireplace.

Spike laughs, hugging his wife tightly. “Must be from all the champagne you had earlier. Still a lightweight, love, after all these years.”

“Maybe a little,” she admitted, “but I’m thinking that even though we’re alone this year, I feel everyone around us. They’re all close enough to reach out and touch. Except for Giles,” she adds as an afterthought.

As if summoned, the phone rang. “Happy New Year, dear girl,” Giles’ voice exudes warmth through the phone.

~*~

February 2019 – Candy Hearts

“Mama! You can’t make me wear that dress in public.” Tara is this close to having a full-fledged hissy fit in the department store.

Buffy looks at the red dress with flared skirt and ruffles at the neck and sleeves, and sighs. They’ve been shopping for hours and were no closer to getting an outfit that was acceptable to both mother and daughter for the Wells’ Valentine’s Day party.

“This! I want this sweater,” Tara cries, grabbing a red sweater off one of the tables. “And I can wear it with a pair of black leggings.

Mama gives in.

~*~

The sweater looks harmless enough, and leggings do away with hem length problems. All Buffy wants to do is go home, put her feet up, and wheedle Spike into giving her one of his infamous bone-deep massages. Maybe even a tub massage. If she closes her eyes, she can already feel his fingers…

She’s glad she can let Willa shop for her own dress; she’s shown incredible taste in the past, and Mama is more than happy to allow her free rein with her credit card, knowing she won’t abuse it.

Just a little longer, and they can go home.

~*~

Willa opens the box to show off her purchase; a fitted bodice with flare skirt in deep pink taffeta, with a sweetheart neckline and off-the-shoulder puff sleeves. Tara gives it the stink-eye, but says nothing and takes her new sweater into her room.

Buffy rolls her eyes. Two beautiful daughters, two totally different styles. She loves them both madly, deeply and thinks boys are so much easier. Both Spike and Tyler will wear suits. Not much drama there, thankfully.

Spike waits for her with open arms in their bed, and she practically flies, shucking her shoes off along the way.

~*~

Spike and Tyler wait at the bottom of the stairs for their womenfolk. Buffy first – a bright red asymmetrical sheath clings to her body like sin. Willa next, looking like a princess with her golden ringlets framing her face. And then comes Tara.

“Oh, bloody hell, no!” Spike sputters at the sight of the red sweater revealing a swath of belly, and the neckline hanging way too low for comfort. “Get your arse back upstairs, missy, and change into something that actually fits you.”

Buffy realizes she made a mistake not having Tara try the sweater on in the store.

~*~

“Papa, it’s fine!” Tara tries to reason while gently tugging the hem of the sweater down. Unfortunately, the effect is to pull the neckline down even further.

Spike fumes. “You look like a trollop!”

“And you sound like an old man!” comes the angry rejoinder.

Buffy tries playing peacemaker. “Why don’t you wear your pink sweater instead, honey? You know, the one with the sparkly threads.”

“No! I want the red one. I like it.” The firm set of Tara’s jaw reminds Buffy of Spike.

“You’ll be a spectacle,” Spike tries, one more time.

Willa wisely says nothing at all.

~*~

The party is in full swing when they arrive. Willa hares off immediately, spotting Bobby who’s in for Winter break. Will comes up and leads the twins away. Tara hears snickers as she passes by, but holds her head up high and tries to ignore them. She’s too proud to admit that maybe Mama was right, and she should have worn her pink sweater.

“You look very pretty,” Will says to her, touching her shoulder.

Tara wonders if he’s just being nice and smiles when he shakes his head.

After awhile, Tyler sighs, and wanders off, checking out the buffet.

~*~

The Bennetts watch their children without interfering. Willa practically glows as she dances with Bobby. Time apart has not lessened their attraction. Poor Tara, however… she’s still tugging and pulling at her sweater.

“She’s one stubborn little bint, our girl.” Spike murmurs, still mightily unhappy that she got her way.

Buffy laughs. “I wonder where she gets that from?”

“Oi! Like I’m the only stubborn one in the family?”

“That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”

“Must be nice to live where you live, pet.” Spike says, bending down to place a kiss on the crown of her head.

~*~

The party’s over and the weary revelers arrive home. Willa runs upstairs to call Bobby, Tyler makes a beeline for his books, removing his tie and jacket along the way. Tara is silent, but she slams her door behind her.

“I wish we could have saved her from that,” Buffy sighs, hugging her husband around the waist.

“Just somethin’ she has to learn for herself, love. No way was she listening to either of us.”

Buffy nods, and heads upstairs to say goodnight. Leaving Tara’s room, she notices the red sweater in the garbage pail and refrains from commenting.

~*~

March 2019 – Time Out and About

“Hey, Tree.” Willa holds her cell awkwardly between ear and neck as she scrambles out of her school clothes. “What’s the what?”

“Lucas Bryant asked me out to the movies this Friday.”

“That’s terrific, but why don’t you sound happy?”

Treena hesitates, then explains. “I don’t think my Dad’ll let me go out, after the whole shoplifting business. Maybe if you would come with us?”

“As a third wheel?” Willa is aghast.

“I’m sure Lucas has a friend…”

“You know Bobby and I are together,” Willa interrupted.

“I’m not asking you to sleep with him, Wills… it’s just a movie.”

~*~

Xander does indeed allow Treena to go out, but insists on driving the couples there, and picking them up. Treena pinkens, and looks as if she could sink through the sidewalk, but the boys are amiable.

The movie is a silly comedy – nothing embarrassing, not even potty humor. The jokes are groaners, and the teens wince and laugh. During a lull, Lucas leans over and kisses Treena, who doesn’t back away. Emboldened, Willa’s “date,” Avery, attempts the same maneuver.

“No, please,” she demurs, moving her head away.

Tease,” he retorts and tries again.

A slap rings out in the theater.

~*~

“How could you do that to me?” Treena hisses, after the boys are dropped off. “Avery is Lucas’ best friend!”

Tears slip quietly down Willa’s face. “You know I’m involved with Bobby… you promised this was just a movie date. Why should I have to kiss someone I didn’t like?”

“Oh, Wills… you know I don’t mean anything bad. It’s just…” Tears of her own join those of her friend’s.

Willa sighs. “I know, I know. You loooove him,” she whispers, so Xander won’t hear her.

At the Bennett house, Xander says, “Make sure you talk with your mother, Willa.”

~*~

“Thanks, Uncle Xander,” she says as she exits the car. “I will.”

Mama is in the kitchen with a glass of iced tea and offers one to her daughter. When she notices the tearstains on Willa’s cheeks, she gets upset.

“Ah, baby. What’s the matter,” she coos as she cuddles her almost grown child.

“Avery kept trying to kiss me, so I slapped him in the face.” Looking directly into Mama’s eyes, she asks, “Why are most boys such jerks?”

“Believe it or not, Willa-milla,” she says, resurrecting an old nickname, “most boys are just as confused as we are.”

~*~

April 2019 – The Play’s the Thing

With Will’s encouragement, Tara does something bold – she goes up for a role in her class play. “If there’s anyone who puts emotion into words, Tara, it’s you,” he says, patting her on the shoulder as she walks up to the teacher for a permission slip.

Papa signs with a flourish. “Looks like we have a regular little Sarah Bernhardt on our hands.”

“Sarah Who-heart?” Tara wrinkles her nose in distaste,

Rolling his eyes, Papa says: “Don’t worry, petal. She was a famous actress known for pushing the envelope with the roles she took. Was meant to be a compliment.”

~*~

The play is Annie, and Tara wins the role of Molly, the littlest orphan. She rehearses diligently. It might not be the lead, but supporting roles are important as well. She has a sweet little voice, ranging towards alto, and Mama and Papa both enjoy listening to her through her closed door. She refuses to perform in public until the main event.

One thing Tara learns is the importance of being a team player. If she messes up her part, those playing opposite her can get lost, and vice-versa. For the first time, she invites classmates over to run lines.

~*~

Spike watches a handful of children laughing and joking over after-school snacks. “Tara’s moods seem to be settling down a mite since she’s joined the play.”

“It’s nice to see her interacting with other children.” Buffy agrees. “Not that I don’t love Will, but she needs more in her life than one little boy.” At Spike’s pout, she smacks him gently on the arm. “You know what I mean, silly. At her age, I had loads of friends. And when you met me, you met the Scoobs. Now, outside of our babies… all I need is you.”

Spike sighs, happily.

~*~

Buffy’s eyes are bright and wet as she watches her daughter sing and dance her way across the stage in her costume of rags. She’s blossomed in an incredibly short amount of time. Xander is there, proud as an uncle can be, recording the play for posterity. If he happens to sniffle a little when her character name is spoken, nobody mentions it.

When the play is over, the cast take their bows. Sherina Marks, the girl playing Annie, receives a bouquet of roses from her teacher; the other girls each receive a single rose.

Tara waves from the stage.

~*~

May 2019 – Stand Up

The schoolyard is annoyingly loud, as usual, when Will hears something going down. Of course it’s out of sight of the teachers, and of course, once more it involves Tyler and a bunch of large, loudmouthed bullies.

“Who do you think you are, Bennett?” Bradley, the ringleader yells, pushing the smaller boy by the shoulders. “Teacher’s pet? Better’n the rest of us?”

A chorus of “teacher’s pet” rings out from the other kids.

Will feels Tyler’s heartbeat rabbiting from across the yard and steadies himself to interfere.

Instead, Tyler looks up at his tormenter, ignoring the jeers from Bradley’s hangers-ons.

~*~

“I never said I was better than anyone else. I work hard, and it gets noticed. Maybe if you did the same, you wouldn’t have to pick on me to feel better about yourself.”

Inwardly, Will cheers. This time last year Tyler would have been on the ground, bloodied and crying. Seems his friend is growing stronger.

The pack turns at Tyler’s comeback, booing at Bradley, who turns beet red and flees without saying another word.

Several kids thump Tyler on the back, and congratulate him for standing up for himself. At the schoolbell, he walks off to class, smiling.

~*~

June 2019 – Aging Gracefully

Spike awakens to the feeling of emptiness in the bed beside him. A quick glance around the room reveals Buffy staring into her vanity mirror.

“Not again,” Spike groans into his pillow. This introspection happens every couple of years, and it’s always stressful.

“Sorry if I woke you, Spike,” Buffy turns to him, her eyes misty and sad. “I was just thinking I never expected to reach thirty-nine years old. Never to see lines the depth of the Mariana Trench on the side of my mouth and enough crow’s feet for a murder.”

“Spill, love. What’s got you so upset?”

~*~

Lip quivering, Buffy explains. “When we were shopping yesterday, a woman called me a cradle robber. Said I was lucky to snag a young thing like you.”

Spike resists the urge to preen, sure it wouldn’t go over well with his upset spouse. “I might be a little well preserved, what with having been twenty six years old for so long, but I’m aging, too. I’ve got some grey hair at my temples, and a few more lines that weren’t there until recently.”

“So you don’t mind squiring around an old crone?”

Spike smiles and leads her back to bed.

~*~

July 2019 – We Gather Together

Summer’s come around again, in spite of the one year anniversary of Molly’s death. Xander’s running around trying to organize a barbeque for all his friends. He still doesn’t understand how Spike manages to talk him into it. The kids, however, are excited that their home is coming to life again. They even clean without complaint.

The charcoal is banked, hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken, corn-on-the-cob are piled on platters awaiting their turn on the grill.

The kids are all playing volleyball; the adults are lounging lazily in the sun. Xander smiles at the sight, though it doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

~*~

“Oi, mate,” Spike calls as he approaches his friend. “Need a hand?”

“Nah, I’m all good with the foodiness,” Xander replies as he puts another burger on the grill.

Spike tries again. “Not all I meant, Xan.”

“It’s hard, ya know?” He sighs. “Mol should be here, watching how much her kids have grown… how much everyone’s kids have grown.”

“I agree.” Spike nods, patting his friend on the back. “Unfortunately, we have to deal with what is. Learned what happens otherwise the hard way, didn’t we?”

“No more with the resurrections,” Xander confirms. “Getting older does bring wisdom… sometimes.”

~*~

“Uncle Xander! Uncle Xander!” A tug on his pants leg makes him look down. “Come play baseball with us.” Jesse hops up and down with excitement. “Mum says we need to play sports to be well-rounded!”

Looking into his nephew’s excited face, Xander can’t help himself and a real heartfelt smile breaks across his face. “’Course I will, little man.” Shrugging over his left shoulder he calls, “Spike?”

“Will be glad to do the honors, mate,” he says, taking the fork and spatula from Xander’s hands and turning towards the crowd at the grill.

Happy little squeals fill the air.

~*~

Dawn and Buffy stand off to the side, watching Andrew, Xander and most of the children attempt to bat and field the baseball. Xander’s full-bellied cries of “Yer out” send the sisters into paroxysm of laughter. Even Tyler joins in, abandoning his books for a quieter time.

Once they recover their breath, Dawn turns to her sister. “He’s not really doing too well, is he?”

Buffy doesn’t pretend to misunderstand. “Not really. I mean, he has a routine… he gets his kids off to school, goes to work, comes home. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.”

“So, what do we do about it?”

~*~

Buffy sighs. “Well, we can’t bring back Molly, and I don’t think he’s ready to date again.”

“Nope,” Dawn agrees. “But we can make him less alone. We’ve been thinking about asking him and the kids to move in with us. The boys would love to have Uncle Xander around, and we think it will be better for Will and Treena, as well. Less isolated.”

“He’s a very proud man, Dawn. I’m not sure how he’ll take to being babied.”

“We’ll have him over to dinner one night – without the kids,” Dawn says, “so he won’t be under any pressure.”

~*~

Xander feels it before he enters the house – it has all the hallmarks of a Scooby intervention. He knocks, anyway, knowing it’s been coming for a long time.

“Hey Xan-man,” cries Andrew as he enthusiastically embraces him around the waist.

“Chill, Andrew.” Xander squirms out of the smaller man’s hold – surprisingly strong for someone his size. “So, what’s the sitch?”

Dawn comes to her husband’s rescue. “We just want a little alone time with our friend. Is that so bad?”

“I’m not so lost that I can’t tell a nose-butting-in from a dinner invitation, you guys,” Xander replies, without heat.

~*~

“What gave us away?” Dawn laughs. “We thought we were being subtle.”

“Shuttling the quads to Spike and Buffy’s for dinner was the first hint.” Xander smiled. “Plus, founding member of the Scoobs. Interventions R Us.”

“We’re worried about you, Xander. You’ve lost so much; it’s affecting the kids. Not that you’re doing a bad job of parenting,” Dawn demurs, “but we think a little extra family lovin’ is in order.”

“We’d like you guys to move in with us,” Andrew interjects. “You know how the boys adore their Uncle Xander, and your guys can use a little extra support.”

~*~

Xander’s jaw firms, and he stands, definitely uncomfortable. “I can take care of my own family. We’re nobody’s charity case. Not even for you, Dawn.”

“No,” she agrees. “You’ve always been the strong one. Now it’s our turn. It’s not weakness to accept a little help when you need it, Xander…”

A loud crackle hisses from the center of the room, and Dawn rolls her eyes as Jesse appears, running full tilt towards Xander.

“Please stay with us, Uncle Xander,” he entreats, his earnest grey eyes sparkle with delight.

It’s hard to refuse when they pull out the big guns.

~*~

With Jesse sitting on his knee, Xander puts forth terms. “You know I have to talk with the kids first,” he says. “I won’t disrupt their lives again without their approval.”

“Agreed,” Dawn and Andrew chorus.

“What about rooms? Treena needs her own, and I’m not sure how Will would feel about sharing a room. And there’s me… I don’t think sleeping in the living room would be a good idea for anyone.”

Dawn puts her hand on his shoulder. “We have a guest room, and an office we can convert… and we can always add an extension if necessary.”

~*~

“All we ask is that you think about it, old man,” Andrew implores. “Dawn and I have talked this out time and again and think it’s for the best. The kids vote yea.”

Jesse chants: “Stay! Stay! Stay!”

“I feel like I’m giving up,” Xander murmurs.

“Think Molly would believe that? If any of us were in the same situation, she’d be the first to offer her home.”

“You don’t play fair, do you?”

“Since when have I ever, doofus?” Dawn grins, getting up to hug her oldest friend. “Just be glad we left Buffy and her pout at home.”

~*~

August 2019 – The LA Experience

The dog days of August arrive, and once more Tyler heads out to spend a couple of weeks with Grandpa Angel and Uncle Wesley. Summer has lost its allure and he’s more than ready to study his demonology and languages.

The first thing he notices is there’s something different about Uncle Wesley. There’s a bounce to his step and a sparkle in his eyes. Then Uncle Oz walks into the room and both men smile.

Tyler gets a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach. He didn’t expect to see Uncle Oz, now he wonders if Jensen is there.

~*~

Once again, it’s Uncle Oz who corners him. “What’s up, Ty?”

“You’re still here,” Tyler replies, baldly.

“Seems so.”

“Why?”

“Still helping Nina with her wolfiness. She’s doing better.”

“Is that the only reason?” Tyler pushes, staring his uncle down.

“No.”

Tyler tries to hold his temper back, but fails. “Why won’t you tell me!” he cries.

“I don’t have to explain every detail of my life to you, Tyler,” Oz explains as gently as he can. “I would, if it involved you, but it doesn’t.”

Frustration gets the better of him, and Tyler stomps away, tears stinging his eyes.

~*~

Tyler’s beginning to think that coming to Grandpa Angel’s place was a big mistake. Things are very strained between him and his uncles. Every move feels exaggerated; forced. They’re always touching. And whispering. It makes Tyler want to scream.

He needs to get away, and Grandpa Angel helps. They go out for ice cream, and Tyler tries to glean some information.

“What’s going on between Uncle Wesley and Uncle Oz?”

Angel turns an additional shade of pale, and swallows. “What’s going on is a personal matter, Ty. If you need to know, ask them.”

It’s what he expects, another non-answer.

~*~

For once, Tyler manages to hold back his childish responses and gathers both uncles into the same room. They give each other that look – the one that says he’ll finally get the information he needs.

“Is there some reason you two are always together?” Tyler asks, eyes flitting from one man to the other.

“Yes, “says Oz.

“There is, indeed,” says Wesley.

“Why wouldn’t you tell me before,” Tyler asks, looking directly at Oz.

“Because you didn’t ask, kiddo. You demanded. You have no right to interrogate people that way.”

Tyler looks at the floor, shamefaced. “Sorry, Uncle Oz,” he murmurs.

~*~

“So, you’re telling me you and Uncle Oz are a couple.” Tyler takes a moment to digest this. “Like Aunt Willow and Aunt Becky?”

“That’s correct, my dear boy,” Wesley replies, relieved everything is in the open.

“Does that bother you?” asks Oz.

“Yes. No… I’m not sure,” Tyler stammers. “I mean… I don’t know what I mean, only it makes me feel all mixed up.”

Suddenly, a light bulb goes off, and Oz asks: “Do you have feelings for Uncle Wes?”

Tyler blushes bright red to the roots of his hair.

“Well, that certainly explains a lot,” says Oz.

~*~

By the time Tyler goes home, he’s more comfortable with his uncles’ situation. He’s been reassured that they still both love him as always. Nothing will ever change that. He also promises to talk with his parents about what happened. Hopefully they’ll be able to explain what he’s feeling, which is all a part of growing up.

Gay. Homosexual. Words he’s heard in the news. Now he has to think about how they relate to him. Will Tara get it? Does Will already know? Is it written across his forehead for everyone to see?

He hopes Mom and Dad understand.

~*~

September 2019 – Back to School

Another September, another new school year. Tyler wonders what it will bring for him, both educationally and emotionally. He’s had several talks with his parents, and Uncle Oz, but the reality of it all is so different from the words.

He still has that old Playgirl magazine Will gave him last year, and sneaks it out from under his mattress from time to time. He’s stared at himself naked, in the mirror, and there’s hardly anything to compare. “Getting ahead of himself,” Papa would say.

Tyler takes a deep breath. “One day at a time, Ty,” he says to himself.

~*~

For a change, Tara is excited about the upcoming school year. Willa was allowed to take her clothes shopping, and her wardrobe pleases both Mama and herself. Not to mention a full out assault on the school play. This time she’s intent on landing the lead. Standing onstage, listening to the applause and whistles of the audience was a life-changing experience for her.

Getting attention didn’t have to be a bad thing. Will’s advice did her a world of good, and she was going to keep up with it.

Maybe this year, she could talk him into auditioning, as well.

~*~

Willa is glad that she shares a few classes with Treena this year. She has the odd feeling that change is in the air, and needs to hold on to what she knows. She misses Bobby. This long-distance relationship business sucks. It’s hard watching her friends pair off and go to parties while she gets labeled stuck-up and ice princess.

IM’s are fine, phone calls are better, but nothing beats being together. Maybe her parents (and his) will allow Bobby to visit over the Christmas holidays.

Treena understands, but even best friend bias strains in the face of peer pressure.

~*~

Will worries about everything except school. He’s not the best student - he gets by with minimal effort. He’s okay in the friends department; it’s family that stresses him out. His dad is better, though not good. Treena tends to want to please others more than she should. Tyler’s trying to work through personal issues; there’ll be a rough road ahead as he discovers more about himself.

Which brings him to Tara. She’d been on a bad path earlier, but now, with her new interest in acting, her future is looking happier. And anything that makes Tara happy makes Will happy.

~*~

Spike and Buffy also look forward to the new school year. They decide on the topic of their newest book – moving on from tragedy. Children need to learn how to cope, not to mention their parents. Buffy dusts off her camera and plots her next photo shoot. Spike sets up the new files for the text and layout in their computer. It’s been awhile since their last collaboration, and they need to shake the rust off.

They’re hoping this year all their children do well in school, both grade-wise, and friends-wise. It would be a nice change not to worry.

~*~

Xander is glad his children are back at school. Being their sole focus is a bit trying. Will’s attention can be downright eerie. He stares at you with eyes that are older than they should be. Xander can’t guard his feelings all the time, so he’s sure Will gets a full load of his pain and grief, and that’s a burden he shouldn’t have to carry at ten.

This encourages him to take the Wells up on their offer. The kids have their reservations, but are willing.

He calls a real estate agent and puts the house up for sale.

~*~

October 2019 – Double Dare

Halloween finds the best friends at odds. They’re heading towards sixteen years old, and the holiday isn’t what it once was. They’re too old for trick-or-treating and children’s Halloween parties. The school is hosting a costume ball, however, and Treena is eager to go. She has a more-or-less steady in Lucas, and is anxious to show their status off to everyone. Willa, however, is more reluctant. She misses Bobby, and it’s just not much fun on her own.

“I dare you,” Treena says. “I dare you to go to the dance, and have some fun. I’m sure Bobby will understand.”

~*~

“I’ll talk to Bobby,” Willa reluctantly agrees, “but you’ll have to do something, too.” With a gleam in her eyes, she says, “I dare you to wear the belly dancer costume we saw in Partytime! The one I’m sure your father won’t let you out of the house in.”

Treena smiles. “I’m sure Lucas will be more than happy with my costume. I’ll just have to find a way to disguise it for Dad. I wouldn’t want you to be all alone at the dance, now… would I?”

“That would be most awkward, Tree. Now I need a costume. Help?”

~*~

They pore through rack after rack of costumes, until they come upon one Willa is willing to wear. It’s cliché, a black cat, but it’s a jumpsuit, and it covers everything, except for the cleavage. Well, she’s a big girl, and being daring is something she’s never tried. She buys a few accessories and takes her purchases home.

She calls Bobby, and he says she doesn’t need permission to go to a party and have fun. He’ll miss being with her, of course, but it can’t be helped. Another few years and they can be together.

Kisses end the call.

~*~

Xander’s bellow can be heard all down the block. The sight of his teenage daughter parading around with her midriff totally exposed and a fake gem glued to her navel has him seeing red. “My god, Treena! What the hell were you thinking?” he yells at her, right up in her personal space. “The boys will… will…”

“What, Dad? Notice me?” Treena retorts. “That’s the point of the costume. It’s come-as-you-aren’t, and it’s not like I’m going to do something I’ll regret.”

“But the boys…” he sputters, unable to get past his point.

“Don’t worry,” Treena says. “I’ll be careful.”

~*~

Willa comes down her stairs in her costume, after chickening out and wearing a black lace camisole underneath. A good thing, considering the way Papa’s eyes are bulging out.

Spike groans. “Why can’t she choose a costume like your noblewoman, love,” he says to his wife. “She’s putting everything out there. Where on earth did that figure come from?”

With a laugh and a pat to her husband’s shoulder, Buffy says, “It could be worse – at least everything’s covered up. And look – she’s wearing a black collar with a little bell on it. I wonder where she got that from?”

~*~

The girls meet up with each other at the dance. Lucas has gone off to fetch some punch, and Willa shuffles from foot to foot, trying not to run. How on earth did you manage to get out of the house,” she asks Treena. “I was sure your dad would nail the door shut.”

“See this scarf?” Treena said, twirling it around her head. “I promised Dad I wouldn’t take it off my shoulders. It’s practically blanket-sized.” She then proceeds to fold it into a small square and tuck it into her purse. “What Dad doesn’t know, won’t hurt him.”

~*~

Willa glances around the gym and is glad to see she’s not the only singleton there. She sways to the music, grabs a bite to eat, and chats with some of the other girls. Every now and then Treena leaves Lucas and they gab for a moment, before she’s off again.

“Hey, Bennett!” One of her classmates, Trevor Peterson, approaches. “Wanna dance?” he asks.

Willa looks around, waiting for the taunts to break out, but none come, so she lets him lead her to the dance floor.

“Aren’t you here with a date?” she asks.

He shakes his head no.

~*~

They dance several numbers together, the color rising in Willa’s cheeks; she truly is enjoying herself. Trevor is a gentleman… his hands stay in the appropriate places. The last song of the set is a slow number, and Willa is comfortable enough to rest her head on his shoulder.

“Having fun?” Trevor asks, slowly moving along with the music.

Willa nods, murmuring a low “Mmm hmm,” and looks up to see Trevor smiling.

“You should smile more,” he says. “It suits you.”

So she does, resting her head once more on his shoulder. She’s glad Treena dared her to come.

~*~

The party is winding down, and the professional photographer makes sure he captures as many couples as he can. Treena happily pockets her receipt, and Willa takes hers as well. The night wasn’t perfect, because Trevor is no Bobby, but she can’t blame the boy for that. It was, however, a lovely night – so much better than spending it home, alone, and moping.

Trevor walks her outside and waits until her father pulls up. He bows, slightly, and presses a quick kiss to her cheek. Papa glowers a bit from behind the wheel. Willa is relieved he can’t growl anymore.

~*~

Treena and Lucas wait for Xander to pull up. She makes sure she has the scarf firmly around her shoulders. Why wave the red flag? Lucas is impeccably polite, opening the car door for her and making sure her costume is safely inside before shutting it.

Xander is polite, trying not to let his ire over Treena’s costume burst forth and ruin the evening for everyone. Lucas gives Treena a quick kiss on the lips when they drop him off at home.

“Thanks for everything, Dad,” Treena says before heading to bed. A heartfelt hug, and Daddy has his little girl back.

~*~

November 2019 – Give Thanks

The Harris clan is fully settled in the Wells’ household by the second week in November. The beautiful house that Molly decorated sold quickly for near the asking price, along with most of the furniture. Xander and Treena have their own rooms, and Will is content sharing a bedroom with Jonathan and Jason. The sheer chaos of living in a house with 9 people keeps the blues away more often than not.

The quads practically buzz over Xander’s presence; each one trying to outshine his brother. Will’s nightmares have lessened. All those busy brains crowd out most pain and sorrow.

~*~

Buffy helps Dawn with the Thanksgiving feast shopping. A week and a half before the holiday, the stores are jam-packed. Everyone is coming this year. Becky finally has time off, and Willow is thrilled her whole family will be here. Kiana is getting to be such a big girl – already four years old and quite the little charmer. Giles, Olivia and Braden will also be here. Even Angel and Nina will be paying a visit.

Two twenty pound turkeys hit the cart, along with enough potatoes and yams to sink a ship. Twenty two mouths are a lot to feed.

~*~

We have to make this a perfect Thanksgiving meal,” Buffy says, that old frenetic look back in her eyes from holidays past. “We need to show Xander and the kids…”

Dawn interrupted. “We will, Buffy. I promise. I’m so glad he took us up on our offer and moved in. I’m telling ya,” she says, her hands waving crazily in the air, “we keep him so busy, he couldn’t possibly feel alone. At least during the day,” she adds.

“No matter who we lose, life goes on.” Buffy nods. “And who knows better than us?”

“Mom,” they sigh, in unison.

~*~

The night before, everyone in the Wells household has chores. The kids are all assigned dusting and straightening. Willa and Treena shell peas and peel potatoes. Dawn is busy making homemade stuffing and pie crusts. Buffy is relegated pretty much to lifting the heavy pots, not that she minds. Dawn has become a regular little Martha Stewart in the kitchen. At least one of the Summers sisters has the cooking gene.

Spike and Andrew monitor the children, move the furniture and vacuum. By the time they leave for the evening, the house is pristine and the table set with love.

~*~

The first arrivals show up at one o’clock. “Sorry to be so early,” Willow says, holding out a huge fruit bouquet, which Xander plucks from her arms. “Kiana couldn’t wait to see her cousins.” Said little girl is clutching a chocolate covered strawberry on a stick and smiling widely. “Go ahead, sweetie,” her mama says. “They’re all waiting for you in the living room.”

“She’s gotten so big,” says Xander, hugging and kissing both Willow and Becky. “It always amazes me how quickly they grow up.”

“Natural fact of life, Xan,” Willow agrees. “They blossom like flowers before our eyes.”

~*~

Spike and Buffy arrive next, around two thirty. The kids each carry baskets of handmade cookies – turkeys with tail feathers covered in shades of M&Ms. “Mama helped,” Willa says to her Aunt Dawn. “She stuck the candies in place herself.”

Dawn takes the baskets and sets them on the buffet . Quick kisses and the family disperses. She opens the oven to check on the turkeys, and all is well. Hopefully everyone will be here by the time the food is ready.

The doorbell rings again at four o’clock.

“Happy Thanksgiving, dear girl.” Giles greets her with a warm embrace.

~*~

Spike and Andrew bring the turkeys out of the kitchen, and settle them on the long table. With all the other fixings, it’s a bountiful feast, indeed. It’s loud… twenty two people – eleven children! – do not a silent room make. Spike sits down next to his wife, and Andrew prepares to carve the turkey, as head of the household.

Before the knife hits the bird, however, Xander stands up. “Can I have your attention, please,” he begins, clearing his throat nervously. “I know the tradition is to go around the table telling what we’re thankful for. I’d like to start.”

~*~

“I suppose I’ll start at the beginning,” he began, nervously clasping his fingers. Giles, I’m thankful to you for being a father figure at a time when my father didn’t figure. My sense of right and wrong, I got from you. Of course, I had to alter that a bit in later years, but it’s almost never failed me in making a decision.

“Buffster, you brought excitement into the life of a sixteen year old guy doomed to being a nebbish. While my fantasies remained all mine, I wouldn’t trade a moment of the time I had with you.”

~*~

Looking at his oldest friend, he says, “Wills, you were my lifeline when things got tough, and my best friend when they were going well. I’m so glad we’re still close. All of us,” he adds.

“Added to the gang now are spouses, children. I’m floored that we all managed to survive long enough to propagate.”

“I’m amazed that you know the word, ‘propagate’,” Giles interrupts. “I thought you’d never get your nose out of the comics.”

“Not nice, G-man. After all the good things I said about you.” Xander laughed. He turned to Dawn and his face grew serious.

~*~

“Dawnie, you and your family are key to my surviving these past few months.” With a twinkle in his eye, he says, “See how I worked that in there?” After a groan and giggles from the crowd, he continues. “You took us in when I was drowning, though I wouldn’t readily admit it, using guilt and a strong arm-twisting.”

“That’s our bit.” Spike interrupts. “Always knew how to get her way. She’s made lesser men quail.”

“And last, but by all means not least, we come to my kids – Treena and Will. The two most precious people in my world.”

~*~

“Growing up, I never thought I’d amount to anything… deserved anything. I couldn’t offer Anya the marriage she deserved. When Molly walked into my life, she came with a bonus… Treena. We could have grown old together.” Xander stops for a drink of water, his throat raw with emotion. “Then we had Will. Honestly, I was happier than I ever expected to be.

“So here’s to you, my dear children,” he says, raising a glass of water. “My two reasons to get up in the morning and be home in the evening.”

There isn’t a dry eye in the house.

~*~

December 2019 –Bonding Time

“Dad! I need your help!” Will greets his father bright and early on a Saturday morning.

“What’s up, bucko?” Xander asks.

“I need to go to the mall for Christmas shopping,” Will says. “I wanna get a present for Tara. And other presents, too,” he adds, at his father’s look.

Xander smiles, knowing he caught Will out. “Do you have any idea of what you want to buy?” he asks.

“Something special,” Will replies. “Something she’ll really, really like.”

Inwardly, Xander panicks. What did he know about picking presents out for pre-teen girls? Outwardly, he says: “Let’s hit the mall!”

~*~

The mall is a zoo, of course, this close to Christmas. The intrepid father/son duo brave the crowds to window shop. Toy stores are out of favor. So are clothing stores. Barnes & Noble isn’t special enough. Neither are movies or music.

Xander’s freaking. If this is so hard now, what’s he gonna do when the kids get older? He really sucked at it the first time around, and Molly was the one who shopped for Treena and her friends.

Will’s eyes light up at the gaudily decorated jewelry store. “In here, Dad. I’m sure we’ll find something for Tara.”

~*~

Jewelry. Xander shudders, remembering a certain ID bracelet and Cordelia’s green wrist. “How much money do you have to spend, slugger?” he asks his son.

Will looks at the shiny diamond encrusted hearts, and Xander steers him away, gently. “Sorry, pal,” he says. “No way can you afford these… not to mention they’re rather inappropriate for kids your age.”

“But Dad…” Will insists. “You know how I feel. I love Tara.”

“I’m sure you do, son. But ten years old is just too young for hearts of any kind, much less diamonds. Let’s ask one of the salespeople for help.”

~*~

“We have a lovely assortment of gifts for girls,” the saleswoman cooed, looking more at Xander than his son. “What price range are you considering?”

“A special girl,” Will says. “I have forty dollars.”

“My, aren’t you cute?” she says, reaching over to ruffle his hair.

Will rolls his eyes, used to people running their fingers through his wavy hair.

“How about something in a bracelet?” the saleswoman suggests, pointing to a tray of silver charms.

“I think a necklace would be better,” he says. If he can’t buy a heart, she can at least wear it next to hers.

~*~

They settle on a lovely 18 inch thin box chain, with a drama mask charm. The saleswoman places them in a small box, and wraps it in shiny silver paper, topping it with a red bow.

Will walks to the car with a bounce in his step. The crowds don’t faze him as people jostle him this way and that. “Do you think she’ll like it, Dad?” he asks.

“I think she’ll love it, Will,” his father says. “It’s a great choice, and I’m sure it’ll always remind her of you.”

Will beams all the way home in the car.

~*~

The big day comes and Xander and family house-hop. Some time at home with the Wells’ family, of course, a couple of hours with the Rosenbergs, whose Hanukkah-themed holiday is quite different, and off to the Bennett’s to complete their day.

Gifts are exchanged. Spike hands Xander a multi-piece wood carving set, Willa and Treena exchange sweaters; cashmere, in this year’s newest shades. Tara gives Will his own P’yohm statuette – the background changes colors as a meditation aid.

Will hands Tara his little box. She rips the paper off and squeals in delight. “Mama, Papa… look at my beautiful present.”

~*~

She holds up the sparkling necklace for all to see, twirling around with it extended in front of her. “Oh, Will… it’s absolutely wonderful. I love it!” she cries, hugging her friend with the necklace clasped tightly in one hand. “I’ll wear it always and forever.”

“Do you want me to help put it around your neck, Poppet?” asks Papa.

“I can do it myself, Uncle Spike,” says Will, and proceeds to open the clasp and drape the necklace around Tara’s neck. “See?”

Sure enough, the charm rests directly over Tara’s heart.

“Bestest present ever,” she declares, smiling from ear-to-ear.

Chapter Text

January 2020 – Party Planning

Xander has a headache. Nothing to do with his eyes, no worry about the tumor recurring… just the planning of a Sweet Sixteen party. A joint party with Willa. He’s getting those déjà vu tremors harking back to wedding planning with Anya. The catalogues are out in full force, and it looks like an old fashioned Scooby research party minus the monster of the week.

He can’t back out of it. He’s the only parent Treena has, and this is of the utmost importance to her. Ultimately, he’s rather pleased that she wants him to be a part of it.

~*~

Tonight finds Xander at Spike and Buffy’s home. Spike sits with a pad and pen, Buffy and the girls sit on the floor amidst the spread out party catalogues, discussing the merits of one theme or another.

“How about princesses?” Xander suggests.

“Da-ad,” Treena responds. “We’re gonna be sixteen years old. We’re not little girls anymore.”

“Oooh, look,” says Buffy. “How about an Under the Sea theme? There can be sequins, and bubbles, shells and mermaids.”

Willa shakes her head. “I don’t think so, Mama.”

“How about a candy theme,” Xander tries again. “Take the sweet in Sweet Sixteen literally?”

~*~

This goes on for hours, until everyone is literally red-eyed and cranky.

“Oh my god, are we ever stupid!” Buffy exclaims.

“Oi! Speak for yourself, pet,” Spike chimes in, having put down the pad an hour ago.

“It’s so simple. How about a Valentine’s Day theme, girls?” she asks, practically bouncing on her knees.

Willa gets excited. “Ooooh! It’s so close to my birthday, too!” Looking at her friend, she asks: “What do you think, Treena? We could do a whole Queen of Hearts thing.”

“We could either wear matching gowns, or opposite colors,” Treena says, warming to the idea.

~*~

“Hail, hallelujah,” both men say in stereo. Buffy throws a catalogue at them, laughing at their antics.

“All right, you guys,” she says, dismissing them with a wave of her hand. “Most of the rest of this can be done by the girls, alone.”

As the men leave the living room, Spike turns to Xander. “I need your help, mate. It’s nearing Buffy’s fortieth. I want to do something special for her. She’s been avoiding the subject, but I know it’s been weighing on her mind.”

“You’re gonna have to sneak up on her,” Xander says. “Or risk her wrath.”

~*~

“Don’t I know it,” Spike groans, running his fingers through his hair. “I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t… but I’d rather err on the side of do.”

Xander laughs, nodding his head in agreement. “Damned you are, my friend. Give me a couple of days to think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”

“Don’t take too long, in case we have to order things,” Spike warns. “Don’t want to be caught short.”

They may be friends, but Xander still has to bite his tongue to keep the retort inside. After all, he’s still Xander.

~*~

February 2020 – Sweet Sixteen

They rent out the gym at the local rec center and spend a week decorating it. There are pink, white, and red balloon bunches everywhere. Tables have been set with red tablecloths and white linens. At the entrance, there’s a balloon arch, where pictures will be taken of the birthday girls and their friends.

The DJ is busy, pumping out dance music. The kids are bumping and turning in couples and alone on the dance floor.

The younger children dart about, sporting glow-in-the-dark necklaces and heart shaped glasses. The parents stand to the side, watching the action with misty eyes.

~*~

Willa and Treena enter the room, resplendent in their fancy dresses. Willa’s dress is a strapless white taffeta number with a sheer tulle overlaying the skirt. The empire bodice is liberally sprinkled with large red sequins. Treena’s dress is a strapless red taffeta affair, also with a tulle overlay. The empire bodice is fully sequined and the skirt is sprinkled with sequins, as well.

The only way their fathers allowed them to wear these dresses was the promise they’d use double-sided tape for security.

“Not niblets anymore,” Spike whispers to his wife, awe cracking his voice. “All grown up.”

~*~

Buffy kisses her husband, wrapping her arms around his waist. She has a sudden pang, realizing this is what her mother went through every time she went through a new phase; big hair, the short skirts, her stylish yet affordable boots… all meant Mom’s little girl was growing up. And now the feeling has come home to roost. Her daughter is already older than she was at her Calling. Buffy has a feeling if she mentions that to Spike, he’ll burst into manly tears.

Treena’s turning into a lovely young woman, too.” Buffy wishes Molly were alive to see her.

~*~

Spike is lounging against the ice-cream bar when Xander approaches. “So, Spike, are you as ready for the old folks’ home as I am?” he asks his friend, staring wistfully at the young crowd on the dance floor. “I remember lusting after girls this age not so long ago. Now? Now I’d end up in jail.”

“Buffy thinks I don’t remember,” Spike says, watching his daughter dancing and laughing with her friends. “I met her in back of the Bronze at Willa’s age. Time flies by.” He sighs, wondering how he lived through so many changes during his vampire years.

~*~

“Is everything set for…?” Spike asks, chewing nervously on a fingernail.

“No worries, pal-o-mine,” Xander replies. “Bags are packed, hiding in the coat check room. After the party, a car will pick up you and the Mrs. and head off to the municipal airport. After that, it’s about a two hour flight to Arcata airport, where a rental will be available to get you to Eureka.”

“A wine-tasting tour… and a tipsy Buffy. Should be interesting,” Spike muses. “At least it should change her focus.”

“And Uncle Xander to the rescue. I’ll be moving in until you guys get back.”

~*~

“What’s with you and Xander and all the sneakiness,” Buffy asks, finally cornering Spike alone. “And don’t use that innocent look on me, buster. You weren’t good with it as a vampire and you still suck at it now.”

“Just talkin’ to my mate, love,” Spike answers, mischief twinkling in his eyes. “What? Are you jealous?”

Buffy scoffs. “Yeah, right. Pull the other one, Spike.”

“I’d like to pull something right now, petal. If you can hold off for a couple of hours, I can promise you’ll be much happier.”

A moment later, Buffy is surrounded by her children.

“Surprise!”

~*~

Willa, Tyler and Tara shower their Mama with red heart glitter, then encompass her in a hug.

“What’s up, my doves?” Mama asks, slightly flummoxed by the display.

“Happy Birthday, Mama,” they chorus.

“Happy Birthday, my love,” adds Spike, crooking his elbow for Buffy to place her arm in his. “Time to spirit the woman I adore away from the madding crowds for a bit.”

“But… but…” she sputters. “It’s not my birthday yet.”

“Wouldn’t be half the surprise if it were, now would it?” Spike purrs.

“Where are we going?”

“Let me worry about it, pet. Spike’s got you.”

~*~

March 2020 - Lovebugs

Willow sits in her yard, enjoying the late morning sunshine and watching her daughter play. Kiana has a love for all kinds of bugs and is continually digging in the dirt and overturning rocks to see what scurries away.

It must be because Becky is away on an extended layover, but Willow’s thoughts drift to Tara, her Tara, and what life might have been like if they’d adopted a child of their own.

“Mommy Willow, look!” Kiana’s happy yell breaks Willow from her reverie. The excited five year old holds up a cup with several silver/brown balls at the bottom.

~*~

“What do you have there, sweetheart,” she asks, peering into the cup.

“Ball bugs!” she enthuses. Sure enough, after a moment the balls unfurl and begin to crawl.

Willow smiles. There’s nothing like a child to see the wonder in the smallest things. That’s a magic that passes as kids grow up, but for the moment, her little one is full of it.

Kiana pulls on her mother’s sleeve. “Can we keep some in a jar?” she asks.

“No, baby,” Willow replies. “They’re living creatures and belong in the earth. You have to let them go back to their lives.”

~*~

“I promise, Mommy Willow,” the little girl somberly replies. “They can go back to their family, Maybe they have a little girl like me waiting for them.”

“Maybe they do, lovebug. Anything is possible.” Willow beams at her sweet girl.

Looking up from her seat on the grass, Kiana says: “I miss Mommy Becky. She’d like my ball bugs, too.”

“I miss her, too, Kiki. Mommy Becky will be home in a couple of days. What can we do to make a special surprise for her?”

“Ooooh!” Kiana scrambles up, spilling the bugs as she runs. “Can we make cookies?”

~*~

When Becky opens the door several days later, she’s greeted by the two most important women in the world – her wife and her daughter.

“Missed you, Mommy Becky,” Kiana burbles, hugging her around the knees. “Don’t go away anymore.”

Becky tousles her hair, smiling indulgently. “You know I have to go away for work, sweet girl. But not for awhile. You have me home.”

She turns her face upwards, for a welcome home kiss from Willow, who doesn’t disappoint.

“Welcome back, lover,” Willow coos.

“Later for you, missy,” Becky laughs.

“Promises, promises,” Willow responds.

“I always keep my promises, Willow.”

~*~

April 2020 – April Showers

Wesley watches the rain cascade down from the skies into the little garden off the Hyperion’s lobby, and wonders how his life has come to this. Outside of the experimentation of youth, and a public school system, he’s always been drawn to the fairer sex.

Oz is… something else, entirely. For a smaller man, he’s definitely all male. Something about the wolf helps to keep his body in fighting trim. And it’s not just the physical. There’s an air of peace about the younger man. It draws Wesley like a moth to a flame.

Falling in love is a bonus.

~*~

Back in their room, he continues to watch the rain fall. It’s a continuous patter that soothes him and reminds him of home. Occasionally, California can be entirely too sunny for his taste.

Wesley smiles at the little rhyme that pops into his head: “April showers bring May flowers.” He doesn’t have to wait for May… his life has already blossomed. After more than fifty years, he has a warm, loving relationship that he wouldn’t change for blood or money.

And if his love needs a cage for three days a month, he’ll manage. Oz has already set him free.

~*~

May 2020 – The Artist

Waiting for art class to start, Will has a reflective moment. In his family, he’s not the flashy kid. He can’t create portals, his skill with languages is minimal, he’s not a music prodigy, and he can take or leave computers. He also has no affinity for magic. He knows he can read people, which is nice… but he feels like he’s sinking into the woodwork.

He sighs as he loads paint onto his brush, and lets the strokes fall where they may. He likes the slap-dash method. Still life or portraits are not his thing.

Ms. Fenchurch walks over.

~*~

“That’s lovely, Will,” she says, staring deeply into his painting. “Is it representative of anything in particular?”

“Just how I feel, Ms. Fenchurch,” he replies.

“It makes me feel sad, confused. If this is what you’re feeling, is it something I can help you with?”

“I’m okay, really,” he insists. “I have some stuff to work out.”

She pats his shoulder in support. “It’s very well done, Will. Very emotional. I say you’ve captured the feelings perfectly. Keep up the good work.”

“Thank you,” Will replies to his teacher. “I’ll do my best. Maybe I should paint at home, too.”

~*~

Xander is more than happy to fill his son’s request for an easel and art supplies. They hit a local art store, instead of the mall, and the salesman is more than pleased to spend time with Will, explaining about brush hairs and canvas stretching and types of paint. They go home content with a sampler pack, for Will to choose what he likes and feels more comfortable with.

He sets up the easel in his room, and puts his supplies on a small card table. Dipping his two inch brush into red pigment, he begins to lay down strokes.

~*~

Will does have a few privacy issues, what with sharing the room with Jonathan and Jason, but he knows the boys will respect his property. If he asks for a couple of hours of alone time, they’re usually more than willing to grant it.

He steps back to check out his painting. There are swaths of red, yellow, pink, green and blue that cover the entire canvas. A dot here, a swab just there, and he’s satisfied.

The family is anxious to see his masterpiece, and he promises to show it off when it dries. It’s hidden under a drape.

~*~

The families gather after dinner for Will’s unveiling. He removes the drape with a flourish. “Tah Dah!” he exclaims, pointing to the canvas like a game show model. When he turns around, everyone has a smile on their face.

“Will! It’s beautiful. Such wonderful colors,” says Aunt Dawn.

“I like the brush strokes,” says Jonathan. “They make sense, like there’s a pattern to them.”

Jason declares it to be “Evocative,” causing everyone to check him out. Languages may be his strong suit, but he’s still only seven year old.

“Impressive, bro,” says Treena, patting Will on the back.

A rousing success!

~*~

June 2020 – Back in the Saddle

He’s fought against this tooth and nail for months, but inevitably gives in to Andrew’s matchmaking efforts. “She’s a lovely woman,” Andrew exclaims. “You need to make some time for yourself. Adult time. Not that it has to be X-rated. Just a dinner and a movie.”

“And where did you dig this one up from?” Xander sighs, really not wanting to deal with this at all.

“Petra is a bank teller. I’ve known her for a couple of years,” Andrew replies. “I promise, she’s just looking for an evening out.”

“Okay, okay. Anything to stop this discussion.” Xander gives in.

~*~

Petra Russo is waiting at the diner when Xander arrives. They’ve agreed to separate cars ‘just in case.’
There’s the awkward handshake, and Xander pulls out a chair to seat his date. “I’m… not really good at this,” he stammers. “It’s the first…”

“It’s okay,” says Petra, reaching out to pat his hand. “Andrew told me all about your situation.”

“And you still agreed to this?” Xander says, incredulously.

“Sometimes a gal just wants a little company, not necessarily a lifelong companion,” she says.

Xander winces, but braves onwards. “Well, we both have to eat.”

“That we do,” Petra replies.

~*~

Dinner is a pleasant affair, if strained. Their talk is shallow; the weather, current events… no deep, soul-searching topics. Xander does, of course, bring out pictures of his children. He can’t go anywhere without those making an appearance.

“I’ve never thought much of having children,” Petra says. “I suppose I’m too selfish with my time to be much of a mother.”

Xander shakes his head. “Sorry, I can’t relate to that. My kids are my entire life.”

Dead silence ensues.

“I guess Andrew isn’t as thorough as he thinks,” she sighs.

There really isn’t much more to say after that.

~*~

Back at home, Xander stops in the kitchen for a glass of milk. He wants nothing more than to forget about this evening, but Dawn is there, questioning look on her face.

“Don’t, Dawn,” he says. “Just don’t ask and we’ll both be happier for it.”

Dawn smiles, giving her friend a hug. “But Xan, it’s a milestone. You went out. You did something for yourself. It’s a good thing.”

“She was nice enough,” he agrees. “But when she said she didn’t want to have children, I closed off.”

“It was just dinner, Xander,” Dawn insists. “Not a fertility dance.”

~*~

“I can’t do this,” Xander says, the stubborn set of his jaw rivaling Willow’s resolve face. “I’m better off here, in the bosom of my family.”

“We love you, Xander,” she replies. “We’re always here as a safety net. But you’re going to need to spread your wings and fly again. You have too much love in you to remain alone for the rest of your life. Your children will grow up – have lives of their own, with any luck. You have to show them how to move on.”

Xander sighs. “You’re gonna make me do this again, aren’t you?”

~*~

July 2020 – Summer Loving

Although she makes all the appropriate noises to her parents, Willa Joyce Anne Bennett is nervous. This is her first plane trip on her own. Yes, she’s flown before, but that was with Treena and Aunt Willow and Aunt Becky. By herself turns out to be a whole different affair.

There’s nobody to talk to as a distraction from take-off. Nobody to share her excitement over staying with her boyfriend and his parents for the next month. No best friend to share her hopes and dreams for their relationship.

She hopes she doesn’t vibrate through the wall of the plane.

~*~

Bobby greets her at the airport. They pick up her luggage and head out to his parents, waiting in the car. Sarah and Nathan greet her warmly; hugs and kisses on the cheek. They plan on some serious sightseeing. It’s been years since her last visit, and besides, she’s now grown up, and likely to see things differently.

July is hot in the city, so they head towards attractions with air conditioning as a rule. The Museum of Modern Art, Natural History Museum… FAO Schwartz for fun. Everything looks hot and steamy from the top of the Empire State Building.

~*~

Days on the cooler side find the young couple picnicking in Central Park. One fine day, Bobby treats Willa to a horse-drawn carriage ride. Her curls blow in the gentle breeze as the horse clip-clops along the street. When the ride is over, the carriage driver takes a picture of the couple next to the horse for Willa.

They stop at a Sabrett stand for a snack. Hot dogs with ketchup, and a cold cherry coke fill the bill as they sit on a park bench and people watch. They cuddle into each other, the warm breeze making them drowsy.

~*~

Back home, they sit together in the living room and talk. Bedrooms are off limits, according to the house rules set by Bobby’s parents, and the teens try to live up to it. However, this evening, Sarah and Nathan Murcer are out, and even in the living room, things heat up.

Kisses take on a new intensity, and Bobby’s hands sneak under Willa’s blouse. His hand closes over her bra covered breast, and she sighs, wriggling closer. But, when his hand starts to move the bra aside, Willa pulls away.

“I – I think we need to stop, Bobby,” she pants.

~*~

“Do you really want to?” he asks, before kissing her again.

Willa struggles to answer. “I don’t really know,” she murmurs, adjusting her clothing. “It feels so good, but… but…”

“I just want to be close to you,” Bobby says. “But I won’t push if you’re not ready.”

This time it’s Willa who pulls him close, and kisses him soundly. A light crunching sound makes Bobby pull back with an unmanly squeak.

“What’s wrong?” Willa cries, trying to close the distance between the two of them, and failing, as Bobby moves further away.

“Y-your face!” he stammers, pointing her way.

~*~

Willa’s hands fly to her face, finding her bumpies and fangs have emerged. “Oh god!” she wails, and runs off. She locks herself in the bathroom, batting away the tears. Her breath catches and she has trouble breathing as she looks at her game face in the mirror.

It’s not that she’s ashamed of it, what she is, but she hadn’t planned on Bobby finding out without her consent. She’s never lost control like that before and it scares her. And apparently, it scares Bobby, as well. What if he calls her names again? What if he hates her now?

~*~

A knock on the door breaks her freak out. “Willa,” Bobby calls. “Are you okay?”

“I-I’m fine,” she stammers, hurriedly splashing cold water on her face and drying her eyes, back to her human visage.

“We need to talk,” he says. “C’mon, and open the door. Please, Willa.”

She opens the door, avoiding his eyes. Bobby takes her hand and leads her to the guest room. Willa sits on the bed, and Bobby sits on a nearby chair.

“I’m sorry!”

“I’m sorry!”

“Ladies, first,” says Bobby, sitting back in his chair. He crosses his arms, waiting for Willa to begin.

~*~

“I-I didn’t mean for that to happen,” she murmurs into her chest. “I lost control.”

Bobby got up and knelt at her feet. “The kissing?” he asks, knowing it was more.

Willa shook her head. “No. Yes. Well, that too,” she admits. “I meant my face changing.”

“I didn’t mean to shriek like a girl,” he replies. “I mean, I remember your face changing, but it was many years ago, and we weren’t quite so close. “

They sit in silence, trying to absorb what has just happened, neither knowing exactly what to say.

“Would you change again?” asks Bobby.

~*~

“W-what?”

“I want to see your other face, now that I’m expecting it,” he repeats. “It’ll be okay, Willa,” he promises.

Bones shift and once more Willa wears her game face.

Bobby lifts her chin, wanting to see her eyes. “May I touch,” he asks, motioning towards her face.

Willa nods.

Gently he traces her bumpies, the flattened ridges of her nose, her lips around the fangs. When she squirms, he asks, “Did I hurt you?”

“It tickles,” Willa says, smiling.

“Is there anything else I don’t know about?”

Willa nods. “I’m pretty strong, and very fast,” she says quietly.

~*~

She’s left with a worried expression and clouded blue eyes. “Are you okay with this? With me?” she asks.

“I always knew there was something different about you,” Bobby says. “I didn’t handle it very well when I was a kid. Or this evening, but it took me by surprise.” He gazes at her with earnest violet eyes. “But I love you. I’ve been in love with you for years, and this doesn’t really change anything.”

Willa sobs, releasing the fear she’s held close.

“Honest, Willa,” he insists. “It’s different, and it makes you unique. We can explore it together.”

~*~

Slowly, hesitantly, he inches closer until their lips meet. This kiss is different from their earlier making out. It’s gentle – mapping out the lines of her lips, gently touching her fangs. They both pull back, awestruck.

“That’s… that’s amazing,” says Bobby. “And maybe a little dangerous with the fangs.”

“It feels different for me, too,” Willa agrees. “It’s even more intense than normal. It would be so easy to get carried away with my game face.”

“Game face?”

“It’s what my Papa used to call his vampire face.”

“Wanna play a game?” Bobby asks, a wicked gleam in his eyes.

~*~

When it’s time to go home, Willa feels a tug in her heart. She doesn’t want to leave Bobby, and he doesn’t want her to leave. There are tears at the airport as she says her goodbyes to Bobby and his parents. He promises to call every day. That, and the pictures she’s taken, will have to suffice until they’re together again.

She’s greeted at the home airport by Papa, who hugs her very tightly and kisses her forehead gently.

“Don’t know how much we missed you, petal,” Papa says, “and how very glad we are to have you back.”

~*~

August 2020 – Hot Stuff

The weather is stifling, as the heat wave stretches on for a second week. Not a day under ninety-five degrees, and it’s now the air conditioner chooses to break down.

Spike sits on the porch, sweat beading at his hairline and dripping down his neck. Buffy brings out a pitcher of ice cold lemonade to soothe their parched throats. A repairman has been called, but because of the heat wave, there’s not a single person available for the next week or so. The kids are absolutely miserable.

An emergency call is placed to Angel and they’re off to the Hyperion.

~*~

The trip to Los Angeles takes forever. Everybody else decides to head out at the same time. The only saving grace is the coolness of the car’s air conditioner. Compared to their home, it’s relatively blissful.

They step into the Hyperion’s lobby, fully expecting to get hit with a blast of cool air and find… nothing.

“Oi! Gramps!” calls Spike, swiping the sweat from his forehead. “What’s with the warm reception?”

“Sorry folks.” Nina greets them with an apologetic smile. “After you called, you can guess what broke down.”

“And you never heard of calling to warn us?” Spike groaned.

~*~

Buffy pouts, the kids visibly wilt, and Spike continues to argue, but there’s nothing to be done. There are no more readily available repairmen here in Los Angeles than there are in Santa Barbara. There are, however, some glorious, old-fashioned clawfoot tubs.

Nina gives each one the room numbers they’ve been assigned, and they all head upstairs for a cool dunking.

“Might as well make the trip worthwhile, pet,” Spike says, eying his wife with a knee-buckling leer.

Buffy lets loose an un-ladylike snort. “I thought the idea was to cool off.”

“Eventually,” he purrs, removing his tee shirt. “Eventually.”

~*~

September 2020 – Live and Learn

“Andy, we have to do something,” Dawn insists. “The quads are too insular. We’ve been away from the Council long enough that I think it’s safe to send the kids to public school. They need to be around other children their age.”

“Other children their age are still eating paste, comparatively,” Andrew states. “I don’t mean to be snobby, but our kids are special.”

Dawn nods. “Of course they’re special. They’re ours, aren’t they? But don’t you want them to have a normal life? Or as normal as possible, given who they are.”

“Time to research target schools,” Andrew agrees.

~*~

They finally find a school that they agree on: Elizabeth Barrett Browning School for Gifted Children. The classes are small, and the curriculum designed to give as much personal attention to each child as possible.

The quads are brought in for an interview and testing. They won’t know the results for a few weeks, so if they’re accepted, they’ll start the school year in October.

“I only have one request,” Dawn says. “My boys have been together since birth. If possible, I’d appreciate keeping them all in one class. At least in the beginning.”

“Not a problem,” the principal replies.

~*~

October 2020 – School Daze

The boys are led into Ms. Floyd’s room. “Class – this morning I’d like to introduce four new students: Jonathan, Jason, Jeremy and Jesse Wells. Boys, just take any empty seat right now, and we’ll rearrange them tomorrow.”

Jonathan and Jason find two seats on the left side of the classroom, and Jeremy and Jason are split between the right and center. Everyone settles down and the teacher returns to her lesson – a discussion of the different food groups.

Jesse can’t sit still. He fidgets and squirms. A loud pop, a flash and the class turns to find his seat empty.

~*~

Andrew, Jesse and Ms. Floyd sit in the principal’s office. Jesse’s disappearance from class is not appreciated, and won’t be tolerated in the future. Andrew explains that Jesse is a promising magician, and has been chastised for not being appropriate.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Floyd,” Jesse says, his eyes downcast. “I didn’t mean to do it.”

“You’ll need to develop a little self-control in my classroom, young man,” the teacher replies. “An education is serious business, not fun and games.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he says, contrite.

The rest of the day is uneventful, and Andrew picks up all four sons after school.

~*~

After dinner, the boys gather in the playroom for a private discussion. “How did Dad explain your *poofing* from the classroom?” Jason asked.

“He said it was a magic trick,” Jesse replies. “I can’t believe the principal and Ms. Floyd bought that.”

“Why’d ya do it?” asked Jonathan. “I mean, it was our first day and everything.”

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Jesse insisted. “I just didn’t really want to be there, and the portal happened.”

“At least you ended up at home,” says Jeremy. “Imagine if you landed in the middle of a highway with cars zooming by.”

~*~

With a knock on the door, Dawn enters the playroom with a tray of cookies and four glasses of milk. “How’s everything going, boys?” she asks, setting her tray down on the table.

“Fine, Mum,” they chorus.

Leaning against the door frame, Dawn looks at her little cherubs. They’re growing up so fast. Still… she has to at least try and make sure they adhere to proper codes of conduct in public, at least.

“How did the rest of the school day go after we returned Jesse to the scene of the crime?”

“Pretty dull,” says Jonathan.

“Boring,” says Jeremy.

~*~

“You really have to give the school a chance, you guys,” Dawn insists. “After all, this was only your first day. The teacher has to get a chance to know you.” Looking at her disappearing son, she continues, “And that means staying in your seat, in the school, young man,” she says, firmly.

“I’ll try, Mum,” Jesse says. “I said I didn’t do it on purpose.”

Dawn nods. “You just have to make a special effort not to wish yourself elsewhere. I know you’re not used to regular school, but you have to try.”

“That goes for everyone,” she adds.

~*~

Jonathan and Jason head for their bedroom, and find Will already there, doing his homework. “We weren’t hiding from you,” says Jonathan, settling down on his bed. “We just wanted to talk without Mum and Dad. You could have joined us.”

Will looks up from his work, marking his place with a scrap of paper. “I knew you guys needed to talk. No problem.”

“You know a lot of things, don’t you, Will?” Jason asks.

He nods, looking at his cousin. “I do, it’s more feelings than thoughts, but I don’t tell secrets – ever.”

“Good to know, man,” says Jonathan.

~*~

November 2020 – Counting Our Blessings

“Please, Aunt Dawn?” begs Treena. “I really want to make Thanksgiving dinner myself this year. I’m sure I can. I always help in the kitchen.”

Dawn smiles. How can she refuse this beautiful girl anything, especially when she wants to do something for the whole family? “On two conditions, Treena,” she agrees. “One, that we go shopping together, and two, that you’re not alone in the house.”

“Absolutely,” Treena cries. “Let’s go shopping!”

The shopping cart quickly fills up as they stroll down the aisles; fresh turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, yams, veggies, cornbread mix… fixings for an absolutely wonderful feast.

~*~

Treena’s preparations start the day before. She makes the cornbread, which comes out perfectly and perfumes the house with a delicious smell. Pumpkin and cherry pies are next, made relatively easy with premade crusts and canned fillings. A careful eye on the oven produces two luscious desserts. The potatoes and yams are washed for tomorrow’s peeling, boiling and baking.

Dawn is very proud of the young woman her niece is growing into. She and Xander stand in the kitchen doorway, watching the way Treena scurries around, getting things done.

“Her mom would be so proud of her,” Xander murmurs.

~*~

The big day arrives and Treena takes the turkey out of the fridge. She has the pan ready and reads the directions before peeling the wrapper from the bird. She knows what comes next, but try as she might, she can’t bring herself to do it.

“Aunt Dawn!” she cries out in distress. “Help, please!”

“What’s the matter?” Dawn asks, trying not to laugh. She’s fairly sure what the problem is.

“I can’t.” Treena insists. “I can’t put my hand into the turkey to pull out the… stuff!”

Dawn quickly washes her hands, then pulls the gizzard and giblets out.

~*~

The rest of the cooking goes smoothly, with Aunt Dawn helping only when another pair of hands is needed. Treena’s first turkey comes out golden brown and moist. Xander carves this year, Andrews’s concession since his daughter is the one who roasted it.

It’s a lovely, intimate dinner for nine. For awhile, the only sounds that can be heard are lips smacking and chewing. Everyone leaves the table well satisfied.

Xander and the children clear the table, and Aunt Dawn and Uncle Andrew insist on loading the dishwasher and tossing the trash.

Treena is pleased with a job well done.

~*~

December 2020 – Why?

“Mommy Willow, why doesn’t Santa Claus ever come to our house?” Kiana’s green eyes open impossibly wide as she asks.

“Because we’re Jewish, sweetpea,” Willow responds. “That’s why we celebrate Hanukkah, and have a menorah and potato latkes at this time of year.

“But we also have a tree,” the little girl says, pointing to the pretty pine in the living room.

“Because we also believe in Wicca, honey,” Becky says, smoothing Kiana’s hair from her face. “So we celebrate Yule.”

“So why does everybody bring over Christmas presents?” Kiana’s brow furrows as she tries to work it all out.

~*~

“They also bring over Hanukkah presents,” says Willow. “I know it’s confusing, but different people believe in different things, Kiki. It’s part of what makes the world a more interesting place.”

Kiana nods her head slowly, this information working its way into her mindset. She sits under the tree, idly picking up the prettily wrapped packages. “I can still say Merry Christmas to Aunt Buffy and Uncle Spike, and Aunt Dawn and Uncle Andrew, and Willa, and Jason, and everybody else?”

“Of course you can, sweetheart,” murmurs Willow. “We always respect other people’s beliefs.”

Momentarily satisfied, Kiana hugs her parents.

Chapter Text

January 2021 – By Chance

Xander sits behind the wheel of his car, grumbling like a madman. Here he is, out looking for milk on New Year’s Day. All the damned stores are closed, but the kids need milk for cereal, so he volunteered. Turning a corner, he spied a little hole-in-the-wall store with the lights on and cars in the parking lot.

He aims for a spot and heads inside, taking in the dreary ambiance of the place. Looking for the refrigerated section, he bumps into another man heading in the same direction.

“Hey, bucko, watch where you’re going,” he says, rubbing his shoulder.

~*~

“Sorry, pal” the guy replies, reaching for one of the last containers of milk in the case. “Coffee ain’t coffee without a little milk in it, and I’m out.”

“Cereal for the kids’ breakfast,” is Xander’s explanation. “Why else would I be out on this day at this early hour?”

The guy smiles. “Gotta do for family, I suppose,” he says, extending his hand. “My name’s Neal… Neal Saunders.”

“Xander Harris,” he says, shaking Neal’s hand.

They pay for their milk and head out to their cars.

“I’m new to the neighborhood,” says Neal. “Know anywhere to have some fun?”

~*~

“A few bars. I don’t drink anymore, so I don’t know how they rate,” Xander says. “And a pool hall I’ve been known to frequent with a friend of mine. Good snack bar.”

“Maybe we can meet up one night,” Neal muses, “You can give me the lay of the land?”

Xander shrugs. “Why not? You’re not a mass murderer, by any chance?”

“Nah,” says Neal, a quick chortle making the man’s eyes crinkle. “Gave that up in my errant youth.”

“Good to know, dude. Hit me with your number, and I’ll call you when I’ve got a free evening.”

~*~

February 2021 – Fathers and Daughters

Spike has had a secret for months. He’s been lovingly restoring another DeSoto for Willa. She’s passed her Driver’s Ed class with flying colors and has her Learner’s Permit. The car is perfect for her – big and strong enough to keep her safe on the road. The exterior is classic black, and the interior has been re-upholstered in red leather.

He spends so many hours in the garage that Tara gets suspicious. She tiptoes into the garage and spots Papa’s feet sticking out from under the new car.

“Can I help, Papa?” she calls, bending her head to the floor.

~*~

Spike slides out from under the car, wiping his forehead with his arm, and smearing grease into his hair. “Can you keep a secret, poppet?” he asks his younger daughter. “This is a surprise for Willa’s seventeenth birthday. It’s just like a car Papa used to drive.”

Tara zips her lips and gives her father a hug. For the next few weeks they’re inseparable. They talk as they work; Tara about her latest drama project and Papa about days gone by. Slowly but surely the car is finished, and Papa shows Tara how to give it a protective wax shine.

~*~

She’s practically bouncing on her heels, and so is Spike as they wait for Willa to enter the garage. A hard yank to the sheet, and father and daughter unveil the beautiful black car they poured their hearts into fixing up.

“Oh, Papa!” Willa cries. “What did you do?”

Buffy watches Spike’s face fall. This isn’t the reaction he’s been hoping for.

“S’meant to be your prezzie, petal,” he says quietly. “Tara and I worked hard to restore it to proper running order.”

Willa looks abashed, but the truth must out. “It’s just not me, Papa. I can’t drive this.”

~*~

Slipping her arm around Spike’s waist, Buffy tries to soothe the way between father and daughter. “It’s wonderful, Spike. You have to admit, though, a DeSoto? It’s not the car for everyone. I didn’t like it when you drove one.”

Quick to defend her Papa, Tara chimes in. “Well, I love it!” she declares. “It’s big and shiny an’ Papa says it purrs like a kitten. If I were old enough, I’d drive it.” Hands crossed over her chest, she looks as stubborn as her mama ever did.

“Thanks, Pidge,” Spike sighs. “Sorry, Princess,” he says to Willa. “I tried.”

~*~

“Oh, Papa,” Willa murmurs, and hugs Spike tightly. “Thank you for putting so much of yourself into that car. I wish it were more me, that’s all. It’s not that I’m ungrateful.”

“I know, sweetheart,” Spike croons into his daughter’s hair. “I should have asked what you liked before going all out. As long as you know I meant well.”

“Oh, I do. I so do, Papa!”

“Then I promise Mama and I will take you car shopping, so you can pick out something more your style.”

“Thank you, Papa. Thank you so much!”

Buffy smiles. All is well again.

~*~

March 2021 – Strands of Time

As she does every night, Buffy brushes her hair at her vanity mirror. The texture is still soft and luxurious, but tonight she sees it. Not just one, but a whole lock of silver-grey hair. She can’t stifle the little sob that rises in her throat.

“What’s the matter, love,” asks Spike as he comes up behind her. “Got a knot you need help with?”

Buffy says nothing, but points at the offending hair.

“Beautiful,” Spike purrs, curling the hair around his finger. “A bountiful treasure well earned over time.”

“And tomorrow, it’s gone with the Lady Clairol,” Buffy insists.

~*~

“Don’t you dare, petal.” This time it’s Spike’s turn to insist. “You promised, remember?”

“What? When did I promise to not dye my hair?”

“You promised to grow old with me,” he replies, stroking her face, gently. “You wouldn’t toss this gorgeous specimen of manhood out for the few grey hairs at my temples, would you?”

“On you it’s distinguished.”

The pout had scarcely formed when Spike says, “And don’t think that pout’ll work this time. Treasure your days past, love. For us, they’re all gravy, and the hair is a badge of honor.”

Buffy nods her head in agreement.

~*~

April 2021 – Love Is…

The rain is pouring down outside, and it’s given Becky the extra kick she needs to throw herself into Spring cleaning. She pulls out the rags, and the broom, ties her hair back and sets to work. First thing she tackles is the joint closet in their bedroom. There’s no rhyme or reason to the way things have been thrown on the bottom.

She comes across a quilted box that she doesn’t recognize. Removing the lid she finds a gauzy scarf, a kitty pin with a heart and a picture of a woman with lush lips and hooded, sultry eyes.

~*~

Tara. The name comes to her in a flash. This must be Willow’s murdered lover. The one who’s death she went evil over. She was a beautiful woman – plenty to be attracted to. Ripe breasts, wide hips… what was there not to love?

Becky walks to the mirror and compares her body; slender hips, small breasts, and her face is different, too. A cupid’s bow mouth and wide, doe eyes. She couldn’t be more different from Tara if she tries. Was Willow settling? Did she hold a special place in her heart?

Willow’s arms wind around her waist from behind.

~*~

“Mmmm,” croons Willow. “You’re looking at the woman I love, you know.” She kisses Becky’s temple and hugs her close.

Becky turns around in the circle of her arms and asks, “Are you sure, Willow? That you love me for me, and not because I don’t look like your ex at all?”

Puzzled, Willow asks, “What brought this on, sweetie? Of course I love you for you.”

Becky holds up the quilted box.

~*~

“Oh!” Willow reaches for the box, tentatively opening the cover. “I haven’t seen this in ages.”

Becky sits on the floor, watching the glow in her wife’s face; her stomach twists.

Willow joins her on the floor. “I’ve told you about Tara, haven’t I?” she asks, holding out the picture. Seeing the look on Becky’s face sparks a connection. “Did this upset you earlier?” she asks.

“Well, most women have a ‘type’, yet she and I look nothing alike. I was wondering what you ever saw in me,” Becky says, eyes downcast.

“Silly woman,” says Willow. “I saw your heart.”

~*~

May 2021 – Senior Prom

Willa is ecstatic. Bobby is in from New York to escort her to the Prom. Treena, however, is beside herself. The expected invitation from Lucas doesn’t come, and she’s left scrambling. She’s got everything – the dress, the shoes, the purse and accessories – everything, except a date.

“Don’t let that stop you, sweetheart,” Xander coaxes. “You only get one Senior Prom, and I’m sure there will be others kids there unescorted. Go… have fun.”

Willa wheedles, as well. “Please, Tree! I promise we’ll spend time together, too. We’ll pick you up in the limo, as planned.” (Willa’s dress.)

Treena gives in, albeit reluctantly.

~*~

The gym is decorated to the rafters. The theme this year is Under the Stars, and there are twinkling lights and prism balloons and a star archway for the obligatory prom photos. Treena watches as Bobby and Willa head off, albeit with promises to check in with her from time to time. Her Dad was right… there are other singletons there, so she gravitates towards them and sways to the music.

Her eyes snap open at the sound of a deep voice. “Here alone, beautiful girl?”

She looks up to see the handsome face of Brett MacIntyre and nods, shyly.

~*~

Entranced with his wavy black hair and blue eyes, Treena scarcely hears him ask, “Would you like to dance?”

“W-won’t your date get upset?” she stammers, cheeks blushing prettily.

“I’m not here with a date,” he replies. “I’m free to dance with whomever I choose, and I’d love to dance with you.”

Treena allows Brett to lead her to the dance floor and wrap his arms around her. She rests her cheek against his shoulder and breathes in the scent of his cologne. This is nice… better than being alone. She spies Willa and Bobby across the floor and smiles.

~*~

A break in the music allows the girls time to natter. Willa smiles as Treena bubbles over with talk about Brett, and how cute he is, and sweet, and how she’s really glad she came after all.

“So it’s not the end of the world that Lucas didn’t invite you?” Willa asks, eyes twinkling with mirth.

“Lucas, who?” replies Treena, staring off into space, looking for Brett, finally spotting him approaching with a cup of punch in each hand.

“To stave off your thirst, fair maiden,” he says, bowing low without spilling a drop.

Both girls giggle at his antics.

~*~

As do most towns, Santa Barbara has its own Lover’s Lane, and the early morning hours find the teenagers parked on an overlook, watching the lights of the town wink on and off. Willa and Bobby are comfortably seated on a blanket, cuddling and kissing with no other cares in the world.

Treena eyes Brett, wondering how she got so lucky. Gorgeous and polite, attentive but not pushy… a more perfect date she couldn’t have asked for. When he leans over for a kiss, she happily responds. Eyes closed, she melts into his embrace.

Eventually, they watch the sun rise.

~*~

June 2021 – Graduation Day

The sun is shining and a soft breeze is blowing – a perfect day for the graduating class of 2021 from Neil Armstrong High School. The Harrises and the Bennetts are sitting amongst the throngs on the bleachers, watching their children parade down the aisles towards the lectern to be awarded their diplomas.

“Ah, what memories,” sighs Buffy. “Just like our graduation, right Xander?”

“If you don’t count the missing hoards of vampires and the mayor turned snake demon, sure,” says Xander.

“Guess I missed all the fun,” says Spike

Buffy smiles. “Lots of good boom-age when the school blew up.”

~*~

“Look, Mama,” squeals Tara in delight. “There she is! Willa!!,” she calls out, causing her sister’s head to turn. A little wiggle of the fingers acknowledges her sibling.

With stately grace, Willa Bennett marches down the aisle in her royal blue gown and mortarboard with tassel, to her seat, awaiting her name to be called. One by one her friends walk up to the lectern, flashes going off as proud parents snap pictures.

Spike captures the moment as Willa waves her diploma in the air and moves her tassel from the right side to the left with a triumphant smile.

~*~

Xander takes the video camera from Spike and waits for Treena’s name to come up. He glances at Will, who’s sitting quietly, holding Tara’s hand. It’s so sweet it makes him teary. He quickly wipes the tears from his eyes so he won’t miss Treena.

Suddenly, Will stands up. “I see her, Dad,” he shouts. “There she is, standing behind that tall boy.”

Sure enough, Xander spots his daughter’s glowing auburn hair, shining in the sun. She looks beautiful. More and more like her mother every day, he thinks, wistfully.

Treena receives her diploma, and smiles broadly at her family.

~*~

July 2021 – Trail Blazing

Jesse awakes from a sound sleep and sits up sharply in bed. He can’t explain why, but he feels something calling to him. Everyone else is asleep. He’s feeling bold, so he dresses quickly and centers himself. A green glow and a small ‘pop’ later, and Jesse finds himself in someone else’s home.

A quick glance around shows the sole occupant – an older man sitting in a wheelchair.

“Well, well, my fine, young, lad. To what do I owe the honor of your presence in my humble abode?”

“The air was buzzing,” says Jesse. “All I did was follow it.”

~*~

“Do I know your family, child? There’s no real resemblance to anyone I’m familiar with,” asks the man. “I don’t get around much these days, as you can see. What shall I call you?”

“My name is Jesse,” he says. “Jesse Wells. And you sound like my Grandpa Giles.”

“That wouldn’t be Rupert Giles, would it?” he asks, eyes lighting up. At Jesse’s nod, he says, “Rupert is an old mate of mine from our younger days. Why don’t you give him a call and let him know you’re here?”

The hairs on the back of Jesse’s neck stand up.

~*~

“What’s your name?” he asks, taking a step away from the man, even though he hasn’t moved.

“My friends call me Ethan. Ethan Rayne,” the old man says, eyes crinkling as he smiles.

“I don’t think Grandpa Giles ever mentioned your name,” Jesse says, feeling more uncomfortable by the minute. The man – Ethan - his smile reminds him of a crocodile. All teeth.

“I’ve been a terrible host,” says Ethan, wheeling towards the kitchen. “Would you like something to drink? You’ve probably traveled a long way to get here.”

Jesse shook his head. “I think I’d better be going home.”

~*~

Ethan just smiles that crocodile smile of his, making Jesse’s skin itch. “I’d really like it if you stay. I get so few visitors these days.

“Sorry, gotta go,” says Jesse, concentrating on home as hard as he can. With a familiar flash and a ‘pop’, he’s back home, in his bedroom. Luckily for him, Jeremy sleeps through his re-appearance, and he undresses and tucks himself back into bed.

He lets go, finally, of that uneasy feeling. He’s sure it’ll return in the morning when he tells his mum what he did. If Ethan does know Grandpa Giles, it’s important.

~*~

August 2021 – Speed Racer

School’s over, and Tara’s motor is revving hot, figuratively. This summer the drama club is closed for renovations, and she has no outlet for her emotions and hormones. Willa is out with friends, Mama and Papa are behind closed doors, having a little ‘adult time’, and Tyler is busy with his books.

She’s all ready to hotwire the DeSoto and grab Will for a little adventure, but doesn’t need to. The key is behind the sun visor, and drops nicely into her hand when she folds it down. A quick call to Will, and he meets her at the garage.

~*~

“This isn’t the smartest idea you’ve ever had, Tara,” Will states, although he willingly climbs into the car and fastens the seatbelt. “Are you sure you can drive this thing?”

“Pretty sure,” she says, buckling herself in. “We’ll find out in a moment.”

The car starts up, the sweet rumble of the engine hopefully not loud enough to alert her parents. After a short jerk backwards, the car heads out of the garage and onto the street.

“Where are we going?” asks Will, not a little fear in his voice.

Tara smiles, knowing exactly where she wants them to go.

~*~

Thanks to Willa and Google Maps, they arrive safely at the overlook on Lover’s Lane. “I-I wanted to be with you,” she stammers, color rising slightly in her cheeks. “I wanted to be someplace we wouldn’t be interrupted.”

“I’m glad you called,” Will says. “You know how I feel. I always want to be with you.”

Companionable silence reigns before Tara makes the first move. She kisses Will, wrapping her arms around his neck. Will scoots closer to Tara, and kisses her back. They break for breath every now and again, and the kissing goes on for a long time.

~*~

They are so lost in each other that the sharp rap on the window makes them both jump. Through the window, Tara sees her papa, seething, and her mama pacing.

“Damn it,” she murmurs to Will. “We are so screwed.”

“It was worth it, though,” he replies, kissing her on the cheek.

“Out of the damned car right now, Bit,” Papa yells, eyes flashing with anger.

Mama stops her pacing and rounds on her daughter. “How could you do this to us, Tara? You could have gotten yourself and Will killed.”

She hangs her head, sheepishly, but stands her ground.

~*~

“Well, what do you have to say for yourself, little girl?” Papa demands.

Tara looks up, her own eyes flashing with indignation, and her temper overrules her brains. “I’m not a little girl,” she retorts, arms akimbo.

Papa laughs, though it is not a happy sound. “I wouldn’t pick now to show me your stones, Tara. Stealing a car and driving without proper instruction is against the law.”

“And I repeat,” says Mama, “you could have hurt yourself, or someone else.”

It takes all she has to bite her tongue. Throwing up Papa’s less-than-legal vampire past wouldn’t lessen her punishment.

~*~

“Your ass is so grounded, young lady,” growls Mama, pushing Tara into the family car. “Better take your last look at the blue sky for a long, long time.” Rounding on Will, she says, “And don’t think your father is going to be pleased with you either, William. We all thought you had at least half a working brain in that head of yours.”

Will says nothing. Words won’t accomplish a thing when parents are in a snit… especially when they’re right.

Papa drives the DeSoto home and pockets the keys and the sparkplugs. Mama drops Will off at Dawn’s.

~*~

Tara watches solemnly as her parents remove her television, phone and computer from her room. In addition, she’s grounded and restricted from seeing Will for a month. Of course she has to endure yet another round of lectures.

She gets it. She really does. What she did was wrong. It was impulsive and selfish and dangerous, to boot. It’s always her toughest lesson to learn… just because she wants something doesn’t mean she can take it, or should necessarily get it.

In a way she’s glad her powers are still bound. Things can get ugly when she gets pissed off.

~*~

Will fares no better at home. While he didn’t steal or drive the car himself, he certainly knows better and should have called someone to stop Tara’s recklessness. He’s also grounded for a month and not allowed to see or speak with Tara.

Taking away the television and computer and phone is more difficult, due to sharing a room with his two cousins, but he knows they’re more than willing to snitch at their parents’ request.

It’s not going to be an easy month. It’s not supposed to be. Will swears to watch over Tara more carefully in the future.

~*~

September 2021 – A Friendly Meeting

Xander has gone out with Neal quite a few times over the months since they met and decides it’s time to introduce him to Spike. As of late, he’s been neglecting his old friend, and it’s time to rectify the situation. One phone call and it’s a date.

They meet up at Fieldston Billiards, Xander stopping Spike from entering the building. “We’re gonna be meeting someone inside,” he says, “Someone I met earlier this year.”

Spike’s eyes light up. “You’ve a date and want me along to chaperone, do ya?”

“It’s a guy,” Xander says, “and it’s not like that.”

~*~

They find Neal already by a table. “Spike, this is my friend, Neal. Neal, this is my old friend, Spike.”

The two shake hands and eye each other, warily. Still, Xander muses, it’s better than out-and-out hostility. “Let’s start with eight ball,” he says to his two friends.

“New guy breaks,” says Spike, holding his pole like a weapon.

Unflustered, Neal racks up the balls and takes his shot. Spike follows, sinking several balls, and then Xander pulls up the rear.

“Tough break, newbie,” Spike all but crows. “Loser buys a round.”

“My pleasure,” says Neal. “What are you having?”

~*~

Several hours later, Neal makes his excuses and heads home.

Xander rounds on Spike, furious. “Are you happy, Spike? You basically pissed on me and marked me as yours.”

“Dunno what you’re talking about, Harris,” Spike sulks, staring intently at the ground.

Shades of ancient past discussions temper Xander’s ire. “I can have more than one friend, you know. Neal’s a nice guy. We usually have a great time together, and I thought you’d both get along great.”

“Sorry, mate,” Spike says, shamefacedly. “Had the feelin’ you were trying to dump me. We haven’t hit the pool hall in months.”

~*~

“I know… I’m sorry, too. That’s what tonight was… an attempt to fix things.” Xander reaches out and grabs Spike’s shoulder. “We’ve been friends for a long time, ‘mate’, and nothing is going to change that. No matter who I meet, or where I go, we’ll always have Sunnydale.”

Spike couldn’t help himself, and a sharp bark of laughter rang out. “Thanks, you git. I was beginnin’ to turn into a girl, what with the hurt feelin’s and such.”

“No worries, Spike,” Xander laughs. “Couldn’t get rid of me as a vamp, can’t get rid of me as a human.”

~*~

October 2021 – Wild at Heart

The heavy duty 4x4 vehicle makes its quarterly journey up to the timberlands in Washington, its passengers fraught with tension. The full moon will be upon them soon, and Oz and Nina are twitching at the thought of running free and hunting deer. They’ve found satisfying the wolf through natural means makes the transformations easier to bear in the long run.

As the two werewolves undress and head into the woods, Angel’s sub-vocal growl annoys Wesley.

“Cut it out, will you?” he says, pushing Angel not so gently on the arm. “It’s not like they’re having an affair, you git.”

~*~

“So you have no problem seeing your… your… significant other naked with someone else?” says Angel, petulantly. “Who knows what they do in the woods, together?”

Shortly thereafter, the air is punctuated by several howls, indicating their mates have reverted to their animal form.

“We might as well make ourselves comfortable,” says Wesley, starting to make up their campsite. We need to get the tent set up to shelter you come the dawn.”

“You never answered my question, Wes,” Angel persists.

“I didn’t deem it worthy of my time,” replies Wesley. “I care about the health of our loved ones.”

~*~

“But… naked!” Angel sputters, unable to let go of the idea.

“Angel, really,” chastises Wesley. “Enough is enough. I know when Oz comes back to me he’s rather ‘frisky’. Letting his wolf run free with Nina’s wolf is a blessing. Who else understands a werewolf better than another werewolf?”

“Then you’re a better man than I am,” Angel murmurs, staring into the forest as if he could see Nina if he tries hard enough.

“Maybe so,” Wesley chortles, continuing to set up camp. “But I think you’d better learn to trust your mate or run the risk of losing her.”

~*~

November 2021 – I Am Who I Am

Tyler can’t sit still. He’s expecting Jensen for the entire holiday week. They’ve been corresponding through email and IMs since Los Angeles, and he can’t wait until he arrives. The timing is great, since the full moon has come and gone.

The doorbell rings, and Tyler is the one to greet him. Jensen’s grown since last he saw the redhead… at least four inches. Not that Tyler has been a slouch in that department either, but he still has to look up to Jensen.

“Hey man, good to see ya again,” Jensen says, leaving Oz to bring in his bags.

~*~

“Hi, Uncle Oz,” Tyler belatedly remembers to greet his uncle and holds the door open.

“Hey, buddy,” Oz replies, dropping the duffle bags inside the house. “Jensen,” he says, “Buffy’s house rules. Remember.”

“Yes, cuz,” he says, rolling his eyes. “I’ll be a good puppy.”

Buffy walks into the hallway and greets Oz with a bearhug. “So,” she says. “Wesley, huh? How’s that working out for ya?”

“Good,” Oz says, nodding his head and smiling. “Jensen, this is Ty’s mom, Buffy. Buffy… my cousin Jensen.”

“Glad to meet you, Jensen. Tyler talks about you all the time.”

“Mama!” Tyler hisses.

~*~

“Record timing,” Buffy says. “Less than two minutes and I’ve already embarrassed my son.”

“Pre-teens,” says Oz, as if that’s enough to explain.

A slight pause, as Buffy searches for the right words. Then, “Is there anything I need to know about Jensen?” she asks. “Like food allergies, preferences, etc.?”

“Nope, he’s cool with everything,” says Oz, “but that’s not all you want to ask, is it?”

Buffy blushes to her roots, but this is important. “No,” she replies. “I need to know if I should worry about the boys sleeping together… um... I mean, in the same room, because...”

~*~

Oz laughs. “Still so innocent after all these years. It’s refreshing,” he says, unable to wipe the smile from his lips. “It’s a good thing the kids skedaddled upstairs. If they heard that…”

“Yeah, there’d be no living with me. I get that,” murmurs Buffy, the color still high on her cheeks.

“Just because Jensen is gay, doesn’t mean he’s going to jump Tyler’s bones, Buff,” Oz says. “And if Tyler is gay, it doesn’t mean he’ll roll over for anyone. The kids need to talk, and hopefully some things will get straightened out along the way. No pun intended.”

~*~

Buffy heads upstairs after Oz leaves, and knocks on her son’s door before entering. “Hey guys,” she says, trying for casual. “How does steak, potatoes and green beans sound for dinner?”

“Fine, Mama.”

“Cool, Mrs. Bennett.”

“If you need anything, just call,” she says, closing the door quietly behind her. She sits on her bed and her head drops into her hands. “Gods, was that awkward.,” she thinks. “Couldn’t be any more awkward if Tara brought a strange boy to the house.”

She grabs a book from her night table and waits for Spike and the girls to come home.

~*~

The boys lie on their bellies on the floor, heads propped up on their hands, as they semi-watch the television and talk.

“Hey, Ty,” Jensen says, rolling over onto his side. “Do you remember when I sneak attack kissed you?”

Tyler turns over to face his friend, color rising in his cheeks. “Yeah,” he murmurs.

“I want to do it again, but this time,” Jensen says, pausing momentarily, “I want you to know. And I want your permission. Do you want me to? Kiss you again?”

Tyler nods.

“Say it, Ty. I want to hear the words from your mouth.”

~*~

“Y-yes, I w-want you to kiss me,” Tyler stammers. “And I want to kiss you, too.”

Permission more than granted, Jensen crawls next to Tyler and leans in, slowly, carefully. Gently he touches his lips to Tyler’s, who softly returns the pressure. Unlike their first kiss, this one lasts for quite some time. Eventually, the tip of Jensen’s tongue breaks the seal of Tyler’s lips and brushes over his teeth.

Tyler matches him, stroke for stroke, before pulling abruptly away, panting harshly.

“Nifty, huh?” asks Jensen, smiling at the younger boy.

“Wow!” says Tyler, hand hovering over his racing heart.

~*~

When Jensen leaves, Tyler definitely has a better understanding of who he is, and who he is growing into. Not that they did more than kiss, but Tyler is surer than ever that his soul mate will be another male. Jensen is so at ease with himself… he makes Tyler feel less of a freak and more like a normal, human being.

Best of all, Jensen got along well with his sisters and parents who aren’t adverse to another visit sometime soon.

Tyler goes to bed, smiling, feeling much better in his skin than he has in a long time.

~*~

December 2021 – What We Weave

A rare Friday afternoon finds Willow and Becky at home , making homemade challah for the upcoming Sabbath. They make an extra batch for Kiana, and show her how to set it aside in a warm place, punch it down, and knead it until it’s ready to form the braided loaves.

Kiana rolls up her sleeves. She stands on a stool to get the leverage to punch down into the bowl of dough, covers it for a second rise and dumps the dough out again for its final knead. She rolls pieces of dough as she’s seen her mothers do.

~*~

“This one is Mommy Willow, and this one is Mommy Becky, and this one is Kiana, and the last one makes a family,” she sing-songs. The loaf is a little knobby, but Kiana is proud of her efforts. Since it’s small, she has enough dough to make several more.

“First is Aunt Buffy, second is Uncle Spike, third is…” she hesitates. “Third is all my cousins, and the last one makes a family,” she says, satisfied.

“This one is Uncle Xander, and this one is my cousins… Mommy Willow,” she calls out, confused. “Who makes a family with Uncle Xander?”

~*~

Tears prickle at Willow’s eyes. Her little one is so perceptive. “Not all families have two parents, Kiki,” she says. “Uncle Xander, Treena and Will are a family all by themselves.”

Kiana thinks on this for a moment before continuing her braiding. “First for Uncle Xander, next for my cousins, three and four for extra love, and that makes a family.”

With that, the tears fall down Willow’s face unchecked. She hugs her daughter, kissing her on the crown of her head. “I love you, sweet baby,” she says, thinking of how much this child has brought into their lives.

Chapter Text

January 2022 - First Contact

Xander stretches and gets out of bed with a smile. He’s expecting Neal for a little kick the ball around the yard with Will. Hard to believe it’s been a year to the day since he first met the man. He pulls on a pair of sweats and a tee shirt and heads downstairs for – checking his watch – lunch.

“Hey Dad,” Will greets his father. “Aunt Dawn made pancakes and bacon for lunch, and saved you a stack.”

“Great!” Xander picks up the syrup and soaks his pancakes in maple-y goodness.

After lunch, Xander washes the dishes and Will dries.

~*~

Bounding up from his seat, Will scurries to answer the doorbell. “Hey, Neal. Happy New Year,” he says, welcoming the man to his home. “Dad’s pulling on his shoes.”

“Cool, buddy,” Neal says, patting the boy on the back. “Looking forward to tiring out a couple of old men?”

Will sneers, a patronizing look only a teenager can give to an adult. “I’ll wipe the grass with both of you,” he boasts.

“Hey, Neal,” says Xander as he bounds down the stairs two at a time. “Ready for some ball action?”

Neal raises an eloquent eyebrow, and Will just laughs.

~*~

There’s a bit of a nip in the air, a crisp breeze blowing through the trees, but the players are unruffled. They kick the ball all around the yard to get a feel for it before coming in close for steals.

Will manages to slip between the two adults and kicks the ball across the yard, sending them huffing after it. “Not fair, young Will,” Neal pants, running determinedly towards the ball.

“That’s an extra day of dishes for you, William,” huffs Xander, lumbering headlong after Neal.

“Now how is that fair?” mutters Will, under his breath. “I beat you!”

~*~

Maybe there was a divot in the ground, or the men weren’t paying attention to their surroundings, but Xander and Neal collide. Neal lands on top of Xander, holding himself up by his arms planted on either side of Xander’s head.

“Got you where I want you,” Neal says dramatically. “I’ll have my wicked way with you at last.”

“Very funny,” Xander laughs, dislodging Neal as he sits up. He stands, not seeing the slight look of disappointment on his friend’s face.

Will, picking up on the tension, runs to the ball. “Ready to go again, you guys?” he asks.

~*~

They spend several more exhausting hours horsing around, until even Will is flagging.

“I’ve had it, fellas,” Xander says, throwing up his hands in total defeat. “Let’s head inside for something to eat and something to watch.”

“Uncle,” Neal nods in agreement.

Will trudges indoors with the adults, dropping the filthy ball in the mudroom.

“Be right back,” says Xander. “Have to hit the bathroom.”

Will walks over to Neal and sits beside him on the couch. “Why do you hang around so much with my dad?” he asks, giving the man the once over.

“We’re friends, Will,” says Neal.

~*~

“And?” asks Will.

“And what?” Neal questions.

Looking at Neal with clear brown eyes, Will asks again. “And… what else do you want?”

“I don’t want anything,” Neal says, brows furrowing in confusion.

Will shakes his head. “That’s not true. You want something more from Dad. Something he has no idea about.”

Neal colors, his cheeks flaming red. Honesty wins out and he spills. “I have feelings for your Dad, Will. More than friend feelings,” he says, looking the boy in the eyes. “Does that bother you?”

“Not at all,” says Will, shaking his head. “But Dad doesn’t see it.”

~*~

“And how do you know this?” Neal asks, incredulous. “Do you two talk about his sex life?”

“I just know,” Will insists. “Dad’s had a bad time of things since Mom died. Don’t hurt him,” he warns.

This time it’s Neal’s turn to shake his head. “Don’t worry, son,” he says. “I would never hurt your Dad. He’s a good man.”

Just then, Xander comes down the stairs. “So, whatcha doing?” he asks. “Talking about me?”

“Just guy talk,” says Neal, looking at Will. “Getting to know each other.”

“Good, good.” Xander smiles. “I’m so glad you two get along.

~*~

February 2022 – Hearts and Flowers

Valentine’s Day – a day made especially for lovers. Kiana is spending the night with her Auntie Buffy and Uncle Spike. After dropping her off, Willow comes home and strews rose petals on the floor, leading to their bedroom. They’re also sprinkled liberally over their new white silk sheets. The smell is heady and thick, and one of Becky’s favorite perfumes.

Dinner is prepared – a hearts of palm salad, the main course is duck a l’orange, served over a bed of white rice and green beans almandine. For dessert, there are strawberries and a chocolate dipping sauce, perfect for finger feeding.

~*~

Lights are dimmed, and music is set low and jazzy. Willow changes into a long, flowy skirt and an off the shoulder peasant blouse.

“Welcome home, baby,” she says when Becky arrives. “Happy Valentine’s Day.” Her green eyes sparkle, her voice is deep and husky.

“What’s all this fuss about, Wills?” Becky asks. “I thought we were going to keep things simple this year.”

Willow smiles. “It is simple, doofus,” she says, kissing her wife soundly. “I simply wanted to show you just how much you are loved. And with Kiki out of the house, I can show you loudly.”

~*~

They lie in bed, uncaring that dinner is getting cold. Both were in too much need to express their love and devotion to each other to bother with the triviality of a meal.

“Now this is a welcome home I can get used to,” Becky sighs, happily.

Willow practically purrs her contentment. “No more doubts?” she asks, huskily.

“I feel thoroughly loved,” murmurs Becky. “Totally, and divinely,” she says, kissing her wife between words. “Sorry that you went through so much trouble cooking and we didn’t even bother to…”

“Hush love,” Willow coos. “I think we’ve worked up an appetite.

~*~

March 2022 – Passport to Adventure

I want to go to Paris, Wills,” says Treena, a faraway look in her eyes. “I want to stay for months and explore, free of Dad’s prying eyes. I know he loves me,” she says, “but between him and Aunt Dawn and Uncle Andrew, it’s too much to take.”

“It sounds nice,” says Willa, “but how will you afford it? I’m sure your dad won’t just hand you tons of cash and say ‘have fun, Treena’.”

“I’ve been checking out au pair positions, and I think I found one that’s just right.

“But that means you’ll be working, full time.”

~*~

“Not really,” says Treena. “The family has two kids, ages eighteen months and three years. They want someone to watch the kids four days a week, and occasionally weekends. I’ll have plenty of time to myself.”

“If that’s how you want to spend your free time, it’s cool,” says Willa.

“Won’t you come with me? I’m sure we can find another position close by, and it won’t cost us a thing!” Treena exclaims. “We’ll have a marvelous time together.”

“Sorry, Tree, but that’s not how I envision spending my free time. I think I’m gonna go to Grandpa Giles’ place.”

~*~

“Why on earth would you want to go to more family?” Treena asks, incredulous.

“He has horses and lots of space for them to run. And I miss him,” Willa says, smiling fondly. “And it’s been forever since I’ve seen Grandma Olivia and Braden. I haven’t spent significant time in England since I was a baby.”

Treena shakes her head. She’s looking forward to the freedom of being away from family, and Willa’s heading towards it. Ah well… different strokes for different folks.

“We can at least go and get our passports together, right?” she asks.

Willa nods. “Of course!”

~*~

Their first adult passports… both girls are overjoyed. It’s a very grown up feeling, and they revel in it. Their joy is mitigated by the fact that they’re going their separate ways for the first time since they met. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

Dawn and Andrew have vetted Bernard and Amelie Chatelaine and given Xander the green light for his daughter’s adventure.

Treena hugs everyone tightly when it’s time to leave, and they pick up Willa on the way to the airport. There are tearful goodbyes, promises to keep in touch and she’ll call upon arrival.

~*~

Willa’s call to her Grandpa Giles is greeted with enthusiasm. “Of course you’re welcome, dear girl,” Giles says. “Your grandmother and I would love to have your company. Stay as long as you like.”

Buffy and Spike agree to her trip. Since she took the year off instead of going to college, they’re glad that she’s interested in traveling. Best of all, she’s staying with family, so there’s one thing less to worry about.

She packs her clothes and says her goodbyes. The twins are jealous, but Willa promises to bring them home something special and to call them often.

~*~

Papa, alone, takes her to the airport. Willa knows she’d be bawling if she had to say goodbye to everyone again. As it is, both father and daughter tear up with their final hug before Willa must board her plane. She promises to call as soon as she touches down at the airport.

“Safe flight, kitten,” Papa manages to say. “Mind your grandparents, and have fun.”

One last look back, and Willa is out of sight. Spike takes a deep breath and heads home. This trip is a good thing for his daughter, but a harbinger of things to come.

~*~

April 2022 – Touching Base

Xander may not be the sharpest tack in the box, but eventually he gets things. Like remembering the feel of Neal’s body against his when they fell on New Year’s Day. The hardness he hadn’t noticed at the time. It made him so uncomfortable he made up excuses not to see Neal for several months.

He isn’t happy about it, and Will encourages him to pick up the phone and call Neal; put the cards on the table.

They meet at a small diner, someplace to have a cup of coffee and talk.

The air is charged. Nobody speaks until…

~*~

“Neal…”

“Xander…”

“You first.” Xander gives Neal the lead.

“Before I lose my courage, I need to tell you something,” Neal starts out. “I – I care for you, Xander.”

“I care for you, too,” says Xander. “We’re friends. Good friends.”

“It’s more than that,” Neal insists, covering Xander’s hand with his own. “I think… I think I could love you.”

“Is this a joke?” Xander demands. “It is April Fool’s Day. I bet Spike put you up to this.”

Neal shakes his head, again covering Xander’s hand. “No joke, Xan. You’re a wonderful guy. Being with you makes me happy.”

~*~

“You never said you were gay!” Xander’s voice raises nearly an octave in his discomfort. “And I’m not. Gay that is. Not that there’s anything wrong with being gay, but it’s not me.”

“I don’t label myself, Xander. And if I did,” Neal says, looking him straight in the eyes. “I would be bi. I’ve had several girlfriends before. And boyfriends. It depends on the soul, not the packaging.”

Xander pulls his hand out from Neal’s. “Where is this coming from? I didn’t see it coming.”

“Maybe you didn’t, but your son…”

“You spoke about this with Will?” Xander squeaks.

~*~

“I would never speak to your child behind your back,” Neal insists. “However, Will had other ideas. He’s the one who asked me what my intentions were towards you.”

Xander drops his head into his hands and moans. “My thirteen year old son is trying to micro-manage my sex life.”

“All I said to the boy was that I cared for you, Xander. And he warned me not to hurt you. That’s as far as the discussion went,” Neal assures him.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Neal,” Xander says, unable to meet his eyes. He needs to think.

~*~

“We’re friends, and I don’t want to lose that… but I don’t think it will ever be more,” he finally says.

“I don’t want to lose your friendship, either,” says Neal “I’ll take what I can get, but I might try again at some point.”

“I can live with that,” says Xander. “Spike’s always telling me how irresistible I am,” he jokes, trying to lighten the mood.

“Spike’s not a bad lookin’ fella, either,” Neal laughs.

“And he’s so married to Buffy, you couldn’t separate them with a crowbar.”

“No worries, Xan,” Neal says. “I only have eyes for you.”

~*~

May 2022 – We’ve Got Trouble

Will came home from school, head down, shoulders slumped.

“What’s the matter, Will?” asks Dawn, setting down a glass of milk and some cookies. “You look like you lost your best friend.”

“Girls,” Will mumbles.

“Could you be any more specific?” Dawn asks.

“Tara’s mad at me, and I can’t figure out why.” He groans, sounding defeated. “It doesn’t matter that I can sense she’s upset – she tells me that straight out. All she keeps saying is “You know why!” and turns away.”

“You have no idea what you might have done to make her angry? Or hurt her feelings?”

~*~

“Aunt Dawn, one minute we were fine, and the next minute she’s freezing me out!” Will insists. “I swear I’ll never understand girls.”

Dawn tries her best not to smile at her nephew’s pain. Boy-girl relationships never run smooth… that much hasn’t changed since she was a kid. There are no words that will help, so Dawn settles for hugging Will around the shoulders and leaves him to his snack.

He doesn’t acknowledge Dawn’s exit, just chews his cookie in silence and tries to figure out where he went wrong, if he went wrong. Maybe Tara’s just crazy. Who knows?

~*~

The next day, Will walks into his classroom and spots Tara right away, talking to Big John Malamo. He’s the tallest kid in their class, has a long, black ponytail hanging halfway down his back and he smokes. The kids he hangs out with are known troublemakers. Tara’s never spoken to him before, and Will is at a loss to understand why she’s bothering now.

He doesn’t have long to ponder when the teacher walks in and everyone settles in their seats. Tara’s still refusing to look at him, and Will’s heart clenches. It’s not fair! He didn’t do anything.

~*~

Heading towards the bus after school, Will sees Tara sitting on Big John’s lap on the school stairs. He walks over, heart in his mouth, and asks, “Can I walk you to the bus, Tara?”

“Go away, Will,” she sneers. “I’m busy.”

John’s hangers-on laugh at her dismissal of Will, and he leaves without another word. Not only does he worry about fixing things with her, but also that she’s heading for trouble, hanging out with the wrong kids.

His worst fears are confirmed when Aunt Dawn receives a call from Aunt Buffy that Tara is at the police station.

~*~

Buffy storms into Precinct Seventeen’s Police department, barely holding her temper in check. She walks up to the desk, heels clacking on the wooden floor. “My name is Mrs. Buffy Bennett, and I received a call that you’re holding my daughter, Tara Bennett.”

The Sergeant behind the desk says, “Thirteen year old juvenile, caught with other juveniles, smoking pot and drinking beer in the park.”

“I’m gonna kill her!” Buffy thinks, but what she says is, “Will you release her to me?”

“Give us a few moments, and I’ll have one of the officers bring her out,” the Sergeant says.

~*~

“I am so disappointed in you, Tara,” Buffy says on the drive home. “Since when do you hang out with those kids?”

“I didn’t do anything, Mama,” Tara says, sullenly. “We were just sitting around, talking; having a good time until somebody I don’t know came by with the beer and the joints.”

Buffy fumes. How does her daughter know about drugs? How much does she know about drugs? “I thought we were through with these shenanigans, young lady,” she grinds out through clenched teeth.

“I said I didn’t do anything. Don’t you believe me?” asks Tara.

“No, I don’t”

~*~

June 2022 – Time Goes By

Buffy sits on her bed, deeply engrossed in the latest romance novel, when she hears a plaintive meow from the hallway. She clicks her tongue and pats the bed, a signal that usually brings any kitty within hearing running. When the cry sounds again, Buffy heads to the hallway, and discovers Cheshire lying on her side.

“What’s the matter, baby,” Buffy coos, gently petting the distressed cat. When Cheshire flinches from her caress, she knows something is wrong and fetches the cat carrier. It’s time for a trip to the vet.

A cursory examination reveals a lump in Cheshire’s belly.

~*~

Dr. Reimer is not optimistic. “She’s eleven years old, Mrs. Bennett. These things happen, even in animals that have been spayed.”

“What should we do?” Buffy asks, tears brimming in her eyes.

“We’ll x-ray her belly and take a biopsy of the lump,” says the vet. “We’ll give you some pain meds to keep her comfortable until the results come back, and make a decision about her treatment from there.”

“What do I tell my children?” Buffy’s voice wavers.

“To hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. It’s all we can do, Mrs. Bennett,” Dr. Reimer says.

~*~

Buffy comes home with a prescription for Cheshire and a headache. Spike meets her at the door and takes the carrier from her. He knows at a glance that it’s not good news, and he hesitates about calling the children down. Cheshire doesn’t want to walk, so they carry her to her pet bed, and lay her gently on the cushion.

Tigger and Simba circle the basket, sniffing around, but not getting close. They always find the smell at the vet’s office offensive.

Several hours later, three cats lie in a huddle, purring loudly.

Buffy gets her camera for posterity.

~*~

Three days later, Dr. Reimer calls with the devastating news. The tumor is malignant, and the blood work shows that it has metastasized. They hold a family meeting to break the news to the kids. Buffy weeps unabashedly, Tyler sobs and burrows into his mother. Tara lets out a cry and runs upstairs to her room.

Spike follows, unwilling to let his little girl deal with this on her own.

“It’s not fair, Papa,” she wails into her father’s shirt as her small hands beat a tattoo on his back. “Cheshire can’t be sick. She just can’t!”

“I’m sorry, poppet.”

~*~

It’s up to Buffy to make the hard decision, and within several days, manages to get the understanding of all her children. Cheshire can’t be left to suffer. There is no chance of her recovery, and the kindest thing to do is have her put to sleep.

The teary-eyed family goes en masse to the vet’s office, and they hold their girl until she slips into final slumber.

“Can we bury Chershire in the back yard, Papa?” Tara asks. “So we can always be close to her?”

“Of course we can, petal,” says Spike, giving his youngest daughter a hug.

~*~

They bear Cheshire’s body home in a box, and Spike takes the shovel from the garage. “How about under the roses?” he asks his family. “Somewhere pretty for our girl?”

With everyone in agreement, Spike begins to dig. He hears the sniffles and strangled sobs of the children, and surreptitiously swipes the moisture away from his own eyes with the back of his hand. “Anyone want to say a few words?” he asks, once the hole is deep enough.

Tyler steps up and says, “Goodbye, precious Cheshire. You were loving and loved in return. We’ll all miss you.”

Buffy cries.

~*~

The mood in the Bennett household is morose. Tigger and Simba wander about, meowing for their littermate.
This lasts for several weeks, until the cats accept Cheshire’s absence.

Willa spends extra time with them, petting and grooming daily. Tara takes Tigger to bed with her, where he insists on sharing her pillow. Tyler borrows Mama’s camera and captures both animals and humans in every way possible.

“It’s a harsh fact of life, petal,” Spike says to Buffy as he watches the mourning process. “Best the mites learn to deal with it firsthand, before they lose…”

“Yeah,” Buffy murmurs. “I know.”

~*~

July 2022 – Happiness Is…

Angel trudges wearily into the lobby of the Hyperion, covered in slime from destroying a Kreplar nest. Nasty little buggers with hundreds of sharp teeth that explode with a good, solid punch. He’s more content than he’s been in months, he realizes, now that he’s moved out of Wolfram and Hart’s penthouse and taken up patrolling again.

There’s something primal about getting back to his early Los Angeles days, albeit a little bittersweet since that brings up memories of Doyle and Cordelia. The demon killing helps… satisfies a deep rooted need in him he’s been denying for far too long.

~*~

Nina greets him with a careful peck on the lips and squeals when he attempts to rope her into a hug. “Don’t you dare get that purple sludge on me, you beast,” she cries, squirming away. “Up to the shower with you. Stat!”

“Care to join me?” he asks, with a leer he must have learned from Spike. “Help me reach those difficult places.”

She laughs, still dodging Angel’s grabby hands. “Be a good boy and leave my clothes intact, and I’ll do that thing you like so much.”

The thing?” Angel’s eyes sparkle as he runs up the stairs.

~*~

Several hours and showers later, the couple lie sated on their king-sized bed. “A fella can get used to a welcome home like that,” he says, stroking gently up and down Nina’s arm.

“Not half-bad for me, either,” she says, taking a full-bodied stretch that ends in a yawn.

Angel looks pleased. His contentment from earlier is banked further. He’s not worried about perfect happiness. Not that Nina isn’t wonderful, but being CEO of Wolfram and Hart practically guarantees moral dilemmas on a daily basis.

Still, what he has to look forward to afterhours helps him get through the workday.

~*~

August 2022 – Puppy Love

It’s a warm, muggy night, and Oz can’t wait to get back to the Hyperion and Wesley. The only reason he’s not snuggling in the cool air with his lover right now is that in order to satisfy the snack monster, someone has to shop, and he’d volunteered.

Just before he turns the final corner before home, he hears whimpers coming from the alley. On high alert, he silently heads into the alley, to find a mama dog and pups. She and the pups look like golden retrievers, except for one. The last little one looks more like a husky.

~*~

He sniffs the air, and once he’s able to discern aromas aside from the detritus all around, he hones in on the odd puppy. Werewolf, he’s fairly sure. The mother must have given birth and dropped the pup off with a nursing bitch.

His heart twitches, and he can’t leave the animal alone to fend for itself. What happens when it transforms? It would be a helpless infant. Oz slowly approaches the dog lying quietly, panting as she nurses. When he reaches out to take the wolfling, she emits a soft whimper.

Oz holds the pup close to his chest.

~*~

Wesley gawps when Oz reveals the little beast. “Where did you find it?” he asks. “And isn’t it much too young to be away from it’s mother?”

“I think it’s a she,”Oz says after examining the little one. “And she’s already been abandoned by her mother. I believe she’s a werewolf.”

“How can you be certain?” Wesley asks, incredulous. “It looks like a newborn husky.”

Oz taps his nose.

“She’ll need something to eat, and someplace to sleep,” says Wesley, ever the practical one. “And most importantly, she needs to be kept warm.”

Oz searches for a hot water bottle.

~*~

Wesley takes a spare pillow and makes a well in the center, placing the hot water bottle and the pup in the middle. With the slightest of whimpers, the pup settles down and falls asleep.

“She’ll be up soon enough, looking for something to eat,” he says, looking to Oz. “What do newborn werewolves eat, I wonder?”

“I can make a paste of chopped meat and milk,” says Oz. “This is pretty unusual, as most werewolves I’ve heard of are made, not born. We’re in unknown territory.”

“Guess we learn as we go,” Wesley says. “And hope for the best.”

~*~

September 2022 – Gateways

It’s been many months since Rupert’s grandson literally popped in for a visit, and in all that time Ethan has thought of nothing else. It surprises him and dismays him that he’s not heard from Rupert in regards to this. Surely the boy told someone. Someone who had heard of Ethan Rayne. It irks him to be ignored.

Perhaps he’ll invoke Janus – the god of doors and gateways – and give the little nipper a taste of his own medicine. He wonders what the lad’s parents would think of his unannounced appearance, wheelchair and all.

He just needs the right spell.

~*~

He spreads the obligatory circle of sacred sand, lights the candles, and waves the herbs. Clutching the armrests tightly, Ethan begins the chant it’s taken him weeks to prepare. The familiar warmth spreads through his body as it prepares to travel through space to gods knows where.

Reaching out and searching for the tell-tale itch that speaks of magicks and portals, Ethan hones in on the signature of the child he’s met. Time stretches on and on… one must take care to get the right signature, or end up lost.

Just when Ethan feels spread too thin, he finds it.

~*~

There is nothing like the itch under your skin when you have acquired your target. The only way to satisfy that itch is to let go… let your molecules follow it one by one. When he coalesces at his destination, he finds himself in a large, fenced-in yard.

“Hello, boy,” he says to the child throwing a basketball through a hoop. “Do you remember me?”

“Never saw you before,” the kid replies calmly, as if he’s used to people popping in and out.

“Come now, Jesse. Surely you remember Ethan Rayne,” he says, hand over his heart in mock distress.

~*~

“I’m not Jesse,” the boy replies. “I’m Jonathan.”

“Imagine that,” Ethan muses. “Twins.”

“Nope,” Jonathan corrects. “Quadruplets.”

Ethan is gobsmacked. “And all four of you can open portals?” he asks, wondering how in the world this could have happened.

Shaking his head, Jonathan says, “No… only Jesse can do that.”

“Where is the lad in question?”

“I’ll get him,” Jonathan says and heads toward the house.

Five minutes later, the two boys return, remarkable in their similarity.

“What are you doing here,” Jesse asks brusquely.

“Asks the lad who dropped in on me, unannounced,” smiles Ethan, showing his crocodile teeth.

~*~

“Jon, go inside and get Mum,” demands Jesse. “Right now!”

“No need to rally the troops, lad,” says Ethan. “I’m not here to hurt you.”

“I made a mistake opening that portal last year,” Jesse insists. “I didn’t know who I would find. You did this on purpose. What do you want?”

“That’s an excellent question.” Dawn’s voice rang out from behind her son. “What are you doing here, Ethan?”

“I know you,” Ethan chortles. “You’re older, of course, as are we all, but you’re the Slayer’s little sis.”

“And she’ll be totally pissed off at you threatening her nephew.”

~*~

“No need to get your knickers in a twist, young lady,” says Ethan, loving the turmoil broiling in the woman’s face. It’s been awhile since he got such a rise out of anyone. “Just paying a return visit to the lad. He did tell you of our very first meeting, did he not?”

Dawn looks at Jesse with bloody murder in her eyes – his blood! Jesse stood his ground, but knew he was in for a major lecture. Again!

“I think you’d better leave, Ethan,” Dawn spat. “You’re not welcome here. Buffy told me about all the trouble you’ve caused.

~*~

Ethan looks down at his ravaged body, then back at Dawn. “Do I look like I could be remotely threatening to anyone?” he says, sighing dramatically.

“You managed to travel here sans airplane,” Dawn snorted. “I’m sure there’s lots of trouble left in you, wheelchair or not.”

“That’s the kindest thing anyone’s said to me in ages.” Ethan smirks, settling himself into his chair for teleporting home. “Just make sure to tell dear Rupert I send my regards, and that he has lovely grandchildren.”

With a loud pop, he was gone.

Dawn heads back in the house to call Buffy.

~*~

September 2022 – Home Again, Home Again

It’s been six months since Buffy said goodbye to her daughter and let her fly off to visit Giles and Olivia. A half a year – the thought is unfathomable. They’ve never been apart so long, but it’s only the taste of things to come.

“Better get used to it, Buffy,” she says to herself. “My little chick has grown her feathers and is preparing to fly the nest for good.”

This is not lost on Spike. It’s what he’s dreaded, but he knows he has to let go. To hold on too tightly would be to crush her beautiful spirit.

~*~

The family piles in the car and heads for the airport. Tara and Tyler hold huge mylar balloons inscribed with Welcome Home. Spike holds a small bouquet of flowers and Buffy’s heart is in her mouth as they wait at the gate for Willa to disembark.

Spike’s breath catches as he spots Willa’s blonde hair in the crowd. Gone were the last vestiges of young girl. In their place was a beautiful, poised young woman, bursting with happiness.

“Mama! Papa!” she cries rushing towards her parents. “Come here, brats,” she calls to her siblings, hugging them tightly. “I missed you!”

~*~

They collect Willa’s luggage and head for home; the mood in the car is bubbly as their daughter talks about her grandparents and Braden, the horses, the property, new friends she met in a local pub. Her eyes sparkle with delight as she recounts tale after tale of her adventure.

When they arrive home, Willa goes through her suitcase for the gifts she brought for her family. Earl Grey tea for Papa, loose leaves, if you please. A sculpture of a mare and her foal for Tara. A book on European demons for Tyler. Gold earrings for Mama and Treena.

~*~

“I have something to show you,” says Willa, waving a DVD in the air. “Grandpa Giles took the video.” She places the DVD in the player and sits down. The scene begins with Willa astride a beautiful black and white horse. She’s clothed in jodhpurs, breeches, boots, gloves and a helmet.

“Looks like Grandpa was mighty generous, Princess,” says Spike, admiring his daughter’s wardrobe.

“He was the best,” Willa enthuses, watching as she learned all the basics of horse riding before giving Licorice the signal to walk. “I had a wonderful time with the horses. Grandpa says I’m a natural.”

~*~

“Braden’s a good rider, too,” she continues, pointing out when he joins her in the video. “And he’s only nine years old!”

“Wow,” says Buffy, watching the youngster ride with ease. “It seems like he was just born.”

Spike nods. “It would be nice if they lived closer, pet. Time has a way of showing up on our loved ones when we don’t see them often.”

The scene changes, and suddenly Giles appears on his own horse – a tall, golden palomino. He sits tall in the saddle, his hair completely silver, and his face more weathered than they remembered.

“Oh!” gasps Buffy. “He looks so rugged.”

“Grandpa’s tough,” Willa agrees. “You should see him muck out a stable.”

~*~

Willa stretches, and yawns. “I’m exhausted, you guys,” she states, standing up and turning off the video. “My bed sounds like a wonderful place to be right now.”

“Of course, sweetheart,” says Mama, kissing her daughter. “We’re so happy to have you back home.”

“It’s good to be home,” agrees Willa, “but it might not be for too long. Tomorrow I want to talk to you and Papa about college plans. With any luck, I’ll be able to start in January.”

“We’ll talk tomorrow, love,” says Papa. “You get a good night’s rest.”

“Night, kiddos,” she says to her siblings.

~*~

October 2022 – The Pumpkin Patch

It’s a lovely, clear October day; the intense heat and humidity are gone. Buffy decides it’s a perfect day to go pumpkin picking. She wants a spectacular showpiece for their front yard this year on Halloween, and the best place to find a pumpkin that large is a farm.

Willa doesn’t want to go, and neither do Tara or Tyler, so Spike and Buffy head off to Lane Farms on their own.

“Sometimes I think the kids are too grown up for their own good,” Buffy says, wistfully. “A few years ago they would have loved an outing like this.”

~*~

Spike smiles, the one that still wets her panties after all these years. “Nothin’ wrong with having an outing to ourselves now, is there?”

“Nope,” Buffy replies, popping the’ p’.

They pull up to the farm’s parking lot and notice the multitude of little ones flocking around with their parents. Before Buffy can turn maudlin again, Spike makes a suggestion.

“How’s about we take a hayride, love?” he asks, still leering at her with unfiltered lust. “A little bouncing, a little snogging… just the thing to light a spark.”

Buffy’s agreeable. They can always pumpkin hunt when the crowd thins.

~*~

Spike leaps into the back of the wagon and extends a hand to his wife. Not that she needs it, of course, but his inner-William is never far away. They get lucky and have the wagon all to themselves. At the moment, all the kiddies are more interested in their pumpkin prizes.

They settle into a mound of hay, wriggling about until it molds around them. The clippity-clop of the horses’ hooves is soothing, and the October sun warm.

With a gentle pull of his arms, Spike hauls Buffy on top of him, murmuring sweet, nasty nothings into her ear.

~*~

Forgetting about their driver, the couple indulge themselves with abandon. The wagon bounces energetically enough that the horses whinny a time or two in complaint, but not enough that the driver has to stop.

Eventually, all good things must end, and the wagon pulls up to the farmhouse where they started from. Spike and Buffy remain oblivious, until the sound of clapping and cat calls reach their ears. The adults are applauding enthusiastically, and they sit up, hay sticking out of their hair and clothing.

Buffy blushes – which Spike still finds charming – and he helps her down from the wagon.

~*~

A quick trip to the restrooms, and they put themselves to rights. Hair combed, and makeup reapplied, Buffy saunters over to her husband, linking elbows.

As they walk to the pumpkin patch, he asks, “Still missing the kiddies, love?”

“Kids? What kids?” is Buffy’s smiling reply.

They pay their fee and enter the field, walking the rows until they spot the gourd that satisfies Buffy’s requirements. It’s large, about fifty pounds, and spectacularly orange.

This’ll look great on the front porch,” Buffy enthuses, already seeing the finished, carved pumpkin in her head.

“If it makes you happy, pet,” says Spike.

~*~

November 2022 – Wild at Heart

“I think you might have to re-evaluate your belief,” says Wesley. “It’s been several months, and full moons, and there’s been no transformation.”

“We’re winging it here, Wes,” says Oz. “I still say Luna’s a werewolf. We just don’t know when her first change will be.”

Wesley shakes his head at the pup’s antics. Her eyes are now open, and she bounds around the room, clumsily knocking into chairs and people alike. Paper training works, but soon they’ll have to walk her outside.

“She’s lovely as she is, my dear,” says Wesley. “I’m glad you brought her into our lives.”

~*~

The night of the full moon, Luna is disconsolate. She cries, whimpers, and twitches in her sleep. With Oz locked up in Wolfram and Hart along with Nina, the pup is Wesley’s responsibility. He tries cuddling, petting, the hot water bottle they’d recently retired, nothing works.

Wesley is resigned to staying awake thanks to Luna’s serenade, but manages to fall asleep some time in the wee hours of the morning.

He’s dreaming, he thinks. There’s a baby crying somewhere nearby. The crying however doesn’t stop, and Wesley awakens.

Lying in the middle of the pillow is a naked baby girl.

~*~

A frantic call to Fred results in the delivery of diapers, onesies, bottles, infant formula and pacifiers. Luna’s immediate needs met, she settles down into the crook of Fred’s arm and falls asleep.

“So where’d you find this sweet, little bundle of joy, Wes?” she coos softly, so as not to wake the baby. “She’s just darlin’”

Wesley smiles at the picture Luna and Fred make together, and thinks, ‘in another place and another time…’ “Oz found her, abandoned in an alley, several months ago. As a puppy,” he adds as an afterthought.

Fred jumps just enough to jostle Luna.

~*~

“You mean she’s a werewolf?” she squeaks.

“Easy, Fred,” Wesley soothes. “She’s safe as… well, as a baby.”

“I’ve never heard of a baby werewolf,” Fred marvels. “I pretty much thought they were all adults bitten or scratched.”

“Luna seems to be quite something else. I believe she’ll retain her canine form, instead of the more humanoid forms of Oz and Nina.”

Fred hands the baby to Wesley and stands, smoothing down her dress. “Aren’t you worried she won’t be safe to be around as she grows bigger?” she asks.

“We’ll have to take things as they come,” he replies.

~*~

December 2022 – Slow Dance

Xander’s had lots of time to think. He’s spoken to Spike, and even Giles, given the man’s past. He’s even had a heart-to-heart with Will, barring any graphic details. In conclusion he decides he’s been somewhat sexist… in the same way he’d once been totally racist against demons.

He’s not sure about anything, but he does call Neal. They need to talk, and to work things out as the best they can at this point in time.

Neal arrives at the house, looking oddly tentative. Not a look Xander’s ever seen on the man. He decides he doesn’t like it.

~*~

“Look, Neal,” he begins, sitting next to his friend on the couch. “I’m having a hard time with this. It’s not that I don’t care about you, because I do,” he says, looking anywhere but at Neal. “And that’s what confuses me. The only relationship I’ve had that started with friendship was with my wife.”

“Friendship’s the basis for everything, Xander,” Neal soothes, placing his hand on Xander’s shoulder. “It’s also why I don’t limit myself to gender when falling in love.”

“Can we leave the “L” word out of it?” Xander begs. “Please? For now?”

Neal nods in agreement.

~*~

“Since Molly died, I’ve sorta cut myself off from deeper emotions, except for my children,” Xander continues. “I know I’ll never find another woman to compare with her, so I don’t try. They’d all be disappointments.”

“But I’m not a woman, Xan,” Neal says. “You can’t compare the two of us if you try.”

“At least not physically,” Xander admits. “Though you are an attractive guy.” A blush stains his cheeks, even through the five o’clock shadow. “And I feel like a girl admitting this, but you are nice, and attentive and certainly well groomed.”

Neal laughs, warm and deep.

~*~

“Girls aren’t half-bad to feel,” he says, poking Xander in the shoulder. “There are worse things, kiddo. There’s feeling alone.”

Xander sobers up at this and manages to look his friend in the eyes. “You’re right, Neal. I have been lonely. And I do feel better when we pal around.”

“It really isn’t much of a stretch to push this that little bit further,” Neal pleads. “Most folks aren’t made for solitary life. What’s the difference if my packaging comes with a penis instead of breasts?”

“Wow! I’ve so never heard it put that way before.” Xander sits back, stunned.

~*~

“Well, it’s the truth, isn’t it?” Neal pushes. “C’mon, Xander. Give yourself a chance to be happy. Your family likes me, and I like them… what’s the harm?”

Xander gathers all his courage and leans forward, until he’s nose-to-nose with Neal. Just another quarter of an inch and… their lips meet. Xander’s first impression is that Neal’s lips are a little firmer than he’s used to, and the jaw underneath is certainly scratchier, but it’s nice.

Neal’s hands come up to gently cup Xander’s face as he attempts to deepen the kiss. His tongue breaks the seal of Xander’s lips.

~*~

Xander’s back stiffens and he pulls away, breathing harshly. “Uh…um…” he stammers, most definitely avoiding eye contact.

Neal won’t let him escape. He lifts Xander’s face to his, pinning him with an intense stare. “You didn’t melt,” he says. “Now what do we do?”

“W-who says I didn’t melt?” Xander replies. “I-I had no idea…couldn’t fathom… uh…”

“Can’t believe you liked it, then?” asks Neal, hopefully, his eyes crinkling merrily.

“Surprises the hell out of me,” agrees Xander. “But that doesn’t mean I can take this further.”

“Rome wasn’t built in a day, Xan,” Neal says. “We take it slow.”

Chapter Text

January 2023 - Goin’ Courtin’

Neal’s pulling out all the stops on their second anniversary. Fancy dress, top-flight reservations… he even sends a bouquet of roses. Not the flowers, but cookie roses!

Xander is nervous. Neal holds the car door open for him. Conversation is minimal during the ride to the restaurant and Xander has no idea what to expect. They pull up into Downey’s parking lot.

“I don’t know why, but I half-expected you to take me to a dark, hidden gay bar.”

Neal’s laughter rings out loud and he nearly bends over double in laughter. “Oh, man,” he says. “You have got to be kidding!”

~*~

Blushing with embarrassment, Xander can hardly look at Neal.

“Do you really think I’d hide us away” Neal asks. “I told you, I’m not into labels. I don’t frequent gay bars. I’m proud to be out with you, Xander. I’m not about to go sneaking around.”

Chastened, Xander looks up and apologizes. “Sorry, Neal,” he murmurs. “Sometimes my mouth runs away from my brain.”

“It’s all right, really. I promise to disabuse you of all your notions of a male/male romance. Are you ready?” he asks, crooking his arm.

Xander shakes his head. “Not yet, Neal. Sorry, I just can’t.”

~*~

The hostess shows them to their table and hands them each a menu. Xander balks when he sees the price of the complete dinner. “This is too much,” he says. “Neal, you don’t need to go overboard like this.”

“Fine,” says Neal. “When you take me out, we can go to a Doublemeat Palace. My courting, my place, my pick.”

Xander sighs and makes his choice. For an appetizer: Prosciutto with Bosc Pears & Roasted Walnuts. Second course: Butternut Soup with Caramelized Apples. Entrée: Prime Boneless Beef Shortribs with Winter Root Vegetables. Dessert? Something chocolate and creamy off the cart.

~*~

“Lovely choices, Xan,” says Neal, turning his attention to his order. Appetizer: Home-smoked Duck Breast with Fresh Mango Chutney. Second course: Watercress & Belgian Endive Salad with Shepherd's Strawberries & Roasted Hazelnuts. Entrée: Colorado Lamb Loin with Local Chanterelles & Young Green Beans. For dessert, he chooses a peach topped cheesecake.

“Between both of us,” Neal says, placing his hand over Xander’s, “we can pick and taste some of everything. A total gourmet feast for the distinguished palate.”

“You can’t possibly eat like this all the time?” Xander asks.

“Nope,” replies Neal, “but it’s a refreshing change from hot dogs.”

~*~

The meal tastes divine, both men leaving only garnish and bones on their plates. Neal is leaning back against the cushioned seat, and Xander looks fit to burst. Full stomachs, happy hearts.

“So,” says Neal, making no effort to rise. “How do you like the beginning stages of courting, Mr. Harris?”

Xander laughs. “If you must know, I feel like a high school virgin. A very well fed virgin, I must add,” he says as a little burp escapes. “Excuse me. I don’t think I have room left for air.”

“Time to go, Xan,” says Neal. “Up and at ‘em.”

~*~

February 2023 – College Girls

Willa marvels at the turn her life has taken. Here she is, nineteen years old and sitting in a dorm room in New York City. She’s beyond thrilled that Columbia University accepted her for January admission. She loves her classes, and her teachers, and most of all, she loves being close to Bobby. Outside of studying and working on school projects, her weekends are filled with her boyfriend.

She worried about being homesick, but finds the thrice weekly phone calls and constant emails from family ease the way. She and Treena manage to connect several times a week, as well.

~*~

She never imagined she and her best friend would be at different colleges, on opposite sides of the country, but that’s the way it’s turned out. Treena now attends the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has no clue what course of study she wants to follow, so she’s taking general courses at the moment. Willa, on the other hand, has decided she wants to become a teacher… of elementary aged children.

Bobby’s schooling has a unique distinction – he’s going to the Manhattan School of Music – and studying piano. He’s gotten really good, and listening to him is a treat.

~*~

Settling into bed, Willa places a call. “Hey Tree,” she says when her friend picks up the phone.

“Willa! What a nice surprise. Hey, isn’t it a bit late for you to be up?” Treena asks.

“Enough, Mama,” Willa replies, giggling. Just wanted to hear your cheery voice before calling Bobby, and then heading for sleep. How college life treating you?”

“It’s all right,” Treena says. “Dad calls me all the time. I know he misses me, and Will does, too, but honestly, I’m not that far away and I go back home on the weekends. So far,” she amends.

~*~

“You’re a big part of his life, Treena,” Willa chides, gently. “Of course he misses you.”

“I know,” Treena agrees, then turns the tables. “And look who’s talking, Wills. Do you think your parents are doing better? Or the wonder twins? Dad says they’re practically hanging crepe!”

“Wonder twins?” Willa squawks. “That’s rich, coming from someone with a mind reading brother. And my parents are fine,” she insists. “They swear they’re happy for me, and their phone calls are always upbeat.”

It’s Treena’s turn to giggle. “Of course they miss us, stupid! Who wouldn’t? We’re irreplaceable!”

“Ego, much?”

“Ego, much!”

~*~

Eventually, the call ends. Willa begins her routine; brushing both sets of teeth, washing her face, applying moisturizer and going to the bathroom. When she’s done, she gets back into bed and pulls the covers up before calling Bobby. She punches in preset #1 and waits.

“Hey there, sweetheart,” comes Bobby’s dulcet tones through the speaker. “I miss you.”

“Miss you, too, my love,” she replies, feeling warm and toasty inside. “How’s college treating you?”

“Practice, practice, practice,” he laughs. “Can’t wait to see you this weekend and kiss you.”

“Practice, practice, practice,” she says, throatily.

“Promises, promises.”

“You betcha!”

~*~

March 2023 – Old Friends

A knock on the door has Ethan wheeling over, intrigued, since his visitors are few and far between. “Took you long enough,” he says to his old friend. “Thought the Slayer would have sicced you on your poor, crippled friend a lot sooner.”

“You’ll find no sympathy here,” growls Rupert Giles, every inch the Ripper of his youth. “How dare you threaten my grandchildren, you bastard?”

“Nary a threat was spoken,” declares Ethan, seemingly affronted at the thought. “I just thought I’d pay a return visit to the child who appeared right in the very spot you’re standing in.”

~*~

“I don’t believe your innocence for a second, you tosser,” Giles spits. “You have your apartment and yourself warded from detection. That’s what took so long to find you. There was no way I was going to use that little boy and leave him open to your influence.”

“Taking the role of protective grandfather a bit far, aren’t you, Rupert?” Ethan sneers. “After all, not one of them is yours by blood.”

Giles glares, eyes sparking in anger. “And yet still under my protection,” he states. “I warn you, Ethan. Stay away from my family or retribution will be certain.”

~*~

Ethan glares back, though a shadow of his old, conniving self. “I need to maintain the wards, mate,” he states. “After all, I must protect myself. A man in my condition is too open to being preyed upon by those younger and stronger.”

Grabbing the front of Ethan’s shirt, Giles pulls them face-to-face. “There’s more to you than meets the eye, you wanker. There always has been, and I was there to witness the troubles you’ve caused. You are still a danger in my book.”

“Why, Rupert, I’m flattered.” Ethan preens where he sits. “Nice to know I’m still feared.”

~*~

April 2023 – Bite Me

Wesley researches the latest demon at Angel’s request, while Oz sits on the floor, watching Luna as she crawls about, pulling herself up on every available object.

She’s got her first word down: “Dada!” The men are pleased, until she also calls the toilet “dada” amongst other things. It’s quite comical watching her talk to inanimate objects.

Luna is an amazingly happy baby, so Wesley and Oz become concerned when their little one cries for no obvious reason. She’s also putting everything in sight into her mouth. Toys, books, blankets, you name it.

“Teething,” is the diagnosis from the pediatrician.

~*~

From that point on, their little darling becomes a crying banshee. Most of the day, and throughout the night, there is nothing that brings her relief from the pain of new teeth coming in. They try gels, teething biscuits, and various frozen rings to ease her discomfort but nothing works.

They take turns walking with her during the night, so at least one of them can try and get some shuteye. It’s not always successful.

One night, Angel comes storming into their room, muttering about going deaf and crying hellbeasts. A dab of whiskey on the gums, and blessed silence.

~*~

“You don’t want to use it often,” Angel warns. “After all, it is whiskey. But for emergency relief, it’s a godsend.”

Wesley looks gobsmacked. “H-how did you know?” he stammers.

“Something from long ago,” Angel says. “Then again, that could be why I developed such an early taste for the stuff when I was human.”

“We’ll be careful,” says Oz, “and be sure to hide the key to the liquor cabinet when she grows up.”

“Goodnight,” Angel tosses over his shoulder as he goes back to his room.

“Silent night,” Oz begins to sing as they put Luna to bed.

~*~

May 2023 – Goody Two Shoes

Tara is doing her best these days. She’s polite to all her teachers, is attentive in class, doesn’t cause trouble with fellow classmates and does her homework without being coerced. At home she doesn’t mouth off to her parents, is attentive to her twin and dutifully speaks with her older sister when she calls home from college.

What has Mama and Papa gawking is her industriousness at home. Tara clears the table after meals and does the dishes without being asked.

Buffy turns to Spike and asks, “Who is this pod person and what has she done with our Tara?”

~*~

She’s learned her lesson, she insists. She bites down hard on her impulses, thinking through to the consequences of her actions before going off half-cocked. It’s the hardest thing she has to contend with. When she wants, she wants deeply, immediately. Learning to delay her gratification is not in her nature, but she’s putting up a brave fight.

Tara has to toe the line. The worst thing her parents can do to her is deny her Will. No phone calls, no IMs, no emails… she can’t handle it. Will doesn’t want to lose her for any length of time, either.

~*~

“So, how’s the goody two shoes campaign going, Tara,” asks Will.

“My god,” replies Tara. “Nothing has ever been harder for me, and that’s including Ancient History.”

She could hear Will’s sigh over the phone. “Then your parents are pleased with your behavior? No fear of grounding in the near future?”

“Not if I keep going like this. I think doing the dishes has put it over the top for Mama,” she says with a giggle.

“A real domestic goddess, that’s what my girl is,” says Will.

“I just hope I don’t crack and rob a bank!”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

~*~

“Hey, Ty,” Tara calls from the hallway. “Can I come in?”

The door opens and Tyler walks back into his room, eyes never leaving the book he has in his hands.

“What do you want, Tara?” he asks, quietly, finally raising his head to meet her eyes.

“Just to talk, Ty.” Putting her hand on his shoulder, she says, “It’s been awhile.”

“I was just wondering,” Tara muses, “Since you came out to Mama and Papa… is there anyone at school you want to go out with?”

Tyler looks into her eyes, trying to ascertain the sincerity of her question.

~*~

“I don’t mean anything bad,” she insists. “I want to help. If it’s anyone I know I would be more than happy to get you two together.”

“It’s hard enough for me to figure this out, Tara,” Tyler says, avoiding her avid gaze. “What happens if the kid I’m interested in isn’t gay? Things could get really ugly.”

Tara sighs. She means well, really, but perhaps she’s not best suited to help her brother. “Sorry, Ty… I just wanted to do something for you.”

He acknowledges his sister with a nod, and she moves closer to sit next to him.

~*~

June 2023 – Up, Up and Away

Buffy wakes up one morning, feeling adventurous. She goes upstairs to her office and does some Googling, makes a couple of phone calls, and decides to surprise her husband.

“C’mon, Spike,” she cajoles. “Get your ass out of bed. We have someplace to go.”

Knowing Buffy won’t let sleeping dogs lie, he stretches, groans, getting up. After hitting the bathroom and getting dressed, he grabs a bite to eat and they leave a note for the twins. Heading off for places unknown, Spike questions his wife, who only smiles enigmatically and continues to drive.

Half an hour later, they arrive.

~*~

The field is dotted with dozens of hot air balloons in various states of readiness. Spike quails at the sight, knowing he’s going to have to let Buffy in on the last of his secrets.

“What’s the matter, honey?” she asks, noticing his pallor as he gets out of the car.

“Did I ever mention that these things scare the crap out of me?” he asks, breathing heavily.

“They’re safe, Spike,” Buffy insists. “Look at the families getting into the gondolas. If kiddies can, so can the Big Bad.”

“Haven’t been the Big Bad in a long time,” Spike mutters.

~*~

With a virtual girding of his loins, Spike steps up to the gondola they’re led to. “You all right there, fella?” the pilot asks, taking in his erratic breathing and nervousness.

“I’ll be fine, mate. No worries,” Spike insists. “Just first time jitters.”

“You folks have the balloon all to yourselves today,” the pilot says. “And it’s a lovely day for a flight. Clear as crystal, that sky.”

They step into the wicker basket, noticing the gas tanks along the basket’s side. “Just propane to heat the air,” the pilot clarifies.

Spike’s fingers itch for the cigarettes he’s given up.

~*~

They hold on to the edge of the basket as the pilot pulls a cord and ignites the propane, reading the balloon to take off.

“I wish you would have warned me, love,” Spike grinds out through clenched teeth. “I’m standing in a bloody picnic basket and the bloke’s shooting fire into a balloon.”

Buffy rubs his neck, stroking the sensitive nape and says, “Honey, you’re thirty-five years old. Live a little.”

He hugs her tightly, closing his eyes and breathing in the smell of her shampoo.

“Folks,” the pilots says, breaking the mood. “You might want to look around.”

~*~

“Bloody hell,” whispers Spike, mouth agape. “We’re flyin’.”

“Smooth as silk,” the pilot says. “No turbulence expected whatsoever. Settle in folks, for a fantasy flight.”

Buffy loops her arms around her husband’s waist. “Look at us, Spike. We’re floating through clouds.”

Spike manages to look around without panic overwhelming him. “It’s a lovely sight,” he admits, looking at the balloons floating around them.

“This is something I have to take pictures of,” enthuses Buffy. “Wish I had my good camera with me. The cell’s gonna have to do.” She captures several images and emails them immediately to family and friends.

~*~

The flight is wonderful, both Buffy and Spike enjoying the view and the feeling of floating through the open air. Eventually, however, it’s time for the balloon to land, and the pilot takes the steps necessary for descent and landing.

“Hold on, folks,” the pilot says. “The landing tends to be a little on the bumpy side.”

The gondola skips on the ground like a stone on water, but finally comes to a stop. Slightly shaky, the couple exits the basket, and Spike, for all his bravado, kisses the ground.

“S’good to be on terra firma once more,” he admits.

~*~

They watch as the grounds crew arrives and secures the balloon. Shortly thereafter, there’s a shuttle bus to take them back to the parking lot and their car.

“You okay now, sweetie?” Buffy asks before they get into their car to head home.

“Could do with another snog,” he replies, giving her the bedroom eyes that melt her knees.

“Wish granted.” She sidles up to him, and they kiss, deeply and passionately.

“Thanks, love,” Spike murmurs.

“For what?”

“For still being able to surprise me after all these years.”

Buffy smiles. Still pretty cool at the age of forty three.

~*~

July 2023 – A Gathering of Friends

Sitting at an outdoor table at Esau’s Café, Xander says, “Why is it that when we go out, it’s always to eat? Next time, why don’t we go bowling, instead?”

“For greasy burgers and fries?” Buffy’s nose wrinkles in distaste.

Neal chimes in with, “You can’t tell me you don’t enjoy that first bite of a greaseburger, ketchup running down your chin.”

“Nope, she can’t tell you that,” says Spike, winking at his wife. “She can scarf down with the best of ‘em when she’s of a mind.”

Buffy blushes, the pink rising in her cheeks like a young child.

~*~

“So, Xander,” Willow says, mischief in her green eyes. “Looks like I didn’t have to ‘gay you up’ after all. You got there on your own.”

This time it’s Xander’s turn to blush.

“Look, I know I’m gonna sound like a broken record, Xander, but I have to say this once more. I don’t believe in labels. I won’t say I’m gay. I’ve had quite a few relationships with women in my past and enjoyed them. This time, it just so happens that the person I fell for has a penis.”

“What a wonderful dinner topic,” says Dawn, giggling softly.

~*~

“Let this be the last time we hear penis at the table, okay?” begs Becky, also blushing.

“Here, here!” says Andrew, pounding a breadstick on the table.

“Anyway, getting back to Neal’s last statement, I understand what he means,” says Willow. “I think humans are more flexible than we’ve been led to believe. I mean, I dated Oz, and Oz is now with Wesley. It’s a matter of what the heart wants, it seems.”

“World’s a more interesting place if you allow yourself to sample from more than one dish,” says Spike, grinning.

“Just try touching another ‘dish’,” Buffy threatens.

~*~

The food comes and the wine flows, and several hours later, everyone is sated and pleasantly buzzed. They tell stories about their past, couched in terms so as to not to scare the hell out of Neal. They talk about their kids, and changes in their families as their children grow up.

Dawn turns to Neal, asking, “I hope we’re not boring you with the family talk. With so many kids between us, it’s always first and foremost on our minds.

“No, no, it’s cool,” says Neal. “I love kids. It was never the right time for me, that’s all.”

~*~

The bill is paid and they head towards the parking lot, en masse. Neal stops, asking, “So, do I pass everyone’s muster?”

“Gold star, mate,” says Spike.

“Perfect!” says Buffy.

“Oh, hell,” says Willow. “I forgot my shovel speech. Short version – hurt Xander, shovel applied to head.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Neal agrees.

“Looks like a match made in heaven,” says Dawn.

“Must be Molly still looking out for her man,” agrees Andrew.

“You’re a good man,” says Becky.

“Good.” With that, Neal grabs Xander by the shoulders and kisses him thoroughly. Xander responds before remembering they’re not alone and pulls away.

~*~

Once again, Xander blushes red, and says, “See? His School virgin!”

“I could help you with that, Xan,” laughs Neal. “I haven’t offered before, but we’ve never been out with everyone before, either. They have to know I’m nothing if not helpful.”

“I am so never gonna live this down, am I?” he asks, raising his head to the sky.

The answers come from much closer to the ground.

“Nope!”

“Never.”

”No way, buddy.”

“Sorry, mate.”

“Can I watch?”

“Oh hell, that last one came from Dawn, didn’t it?” Xander groans, hiding his face in his hands.

“It most certainly did!”

~*~

August 2023 – Back to School

As August nears its end, Buffy finds her daughter busy with the last of her laundry. Sitting on her bed, she’s packing each piece in her suitcase as she folds it, listening to her music with her earphones. Buffy’s heart clenches, though not as badly as it did when Willa first headed off to New York.

She taps her daughter gently on the shoulder, and Willa removes her headphones. “Yeah, Mama? What’s up?”

“I just wanted to talk a little,” Buffy replies. “Your summer vacation went by so quickly, I can hardly believe you’re going back to New York already.”

~*~

“I’m looking forward to it so much,” Willa says, before seeing her mother’s crestfallen face. “Not that I won’t miss you and the family, of course,” she corrects. “It’s just that I love my classes, and of course I miss Bobby, too.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying college, sweetheart,” says Buffy. “I can’t help but miss my baby girl, even if she happens to be so grown up already.”

Willa gives her Mama a hug, and kisses her sweetly on the cheek. “Got my wings, Mama,” she says. “And I can fly thanks to you and Papa.”

Buffy stifles a cry.

~*~

“Don’t be sad, Mama,” Willa soothes. “You made me the strong and independent woman I am today, and I’m grateful. I’m on my way to becoming a teacher. Young kids in my charge, and I’m sure I’ll be good at it, thanks to the way I’ve been brought up. A girl couldn’t ask for anything more from her parents.”

“Couldn’t you be just a little more clingy?” Buffy sighs. “Just another couple of years would be fine.”

“Mama, don’t be silly. Just because I’m not at home doesn’t mean I don’t love you. That will never, ever change,” she insists.

~*~

“I know, baby,” Buffy replies. “As much as I knew this was coming, it still comes as a shock. Papa and I will get more comfortable with it in time.”

Willa smiles. “I’m glad, Mama. I’d hate for my happiness to cause you or Papa pain.”

“Such a good girl you are, my darling.” Buffy rubs her shoulders. “I’m gonna leave you alone to do your thing. Love you lots,” she says, with a final hug before walking out the door.

Willa sits and ponders for a moment. Guess growing up is hard on both child and parents, she thinks.

~*~

She finds Papa outside, raking the fallen leaves in the yard. He stops at her approaching footsteps. “What’s up, Princess?” he asks, shading his eyes from the sun.

“Taking a break from packing,” she says, toeing the ground. “Had a talk with Mama. She’s still a bit upset that I’m leaving for school.”

Spike gives her a small, lopsided smile. “Can hardly blame her, petal,” he says, quietly. “We miss you something fierce when you’re gone.”

“I miss you, too, Papa,” Willa says, giving her father a bear hug around the middle. “But I am so very happy in college.”

~*~

When he looks at Willa, his eyes are suspiciously moist. “I’m happy for you, love. We both are. S’just you’re our first. Our little miracle. Sometimes it’s hard to let go.”

This time it’s Willa’s turn to sniffle. “I’ll always be your little princess, Papa,” she swears. “But I’ll let you in on a little secret. I hope to be Bobby’s wife someday.”

Spike lets out a deep, rumbling belly laugh. “That’s about as secret as the fact that I still love those little marshmallows in my hot chocolate.”

“You’re not mad?” Willa asks, shrinking in a little on herself.

~*~

“Oh my dear girl,” Spike murmurs, hugging his daughter gently. “What good would being mad do? And Bobby seems like a decent sort after all this time. Is he being a gentleman?” he asks, delicately.

Willa pinkens at the implied question. “Papa, you should know better than to ask your daughter about her sex life. Not that I have a sex life to speak of.”

“Sorry, poppet. Don’t know when to keep my mouth shut. Not the first time it’s happened, and it won’t be the last, I’m sure.”

“S’okay, Papa. Bobby doesn’t do anything untoward, and I adore him.”

~*~

The night before Willa’s flight she searches out her brother and sister. “Stand together, you two. I want to take a picture for my phone.”

Tara and Tyler pose with their heads together, and Willa snaps away until she’s satisfied. A few clicks and the best photo becomes her wallpaper. “This way I get to carry you with me, wherever I am,” she says, smiling at her siblings.

“I miss having you around, Wills,” Tara says. “I wish we could talk more often, and have pajama chats like we used to.”

Willa takes a good look at her younger sister.

~*~

“I can’t believe how grown up you’ve gotten since I’ve been in college,” she murmurs, taking in her sister’s figure and stature. “The little girl I used to have those pajama parties with is almost all gone.”

Tara is very flattered. She’s always felt like a baby next to her big sister. “Can I come and visit you in New York?” she asks.

“If Mama and Papa say it’s all right, sure. Though it’ll be a little cramped in my dorm room, I’m sure my roommate won’t mind.”

“I’ll ask them next summer, if you don’t come home,” Tara says.

~*~

“And you,” Willa says, turning to Tyler. “You have grown into a very handsome young man. Checking out all the cute girls in school?”

Tyler blushes, but forges ahead. “Cute boys, more like it,” he says quietly.

“Are you sure?” Willa asks. At his nod, with no hesitation, she adds, “That’s wonderful, Ty. I’m sure you’ll find someone as wonderful as you.”

He hugs his big sister, grateful for her understanding and love. “Maybe I could come with Tara next year?” he asks.

“Let’s see what the year brings, you guys,” Willa says. “I’d love to have you both there.”

~*~

September 2023 – Boy Oh Boy!

howlingwolf07: Hey, Ty! Howzit hanging?

tylerbennett09: Things are cool, Jense. What’s up?

howlingwolf07: Have to tell you the greatest thing. Got me a steady, son!

tylerbennett09: A what?

howlingwolf07: Boyfriend. Met him in school. Name’s Raine.

tylerbennett09: Uh… that’s wonderful.

howlingwolf07: Don’t worry, Ty. I don’t forget my friends.

tylerbennett09: I am happy for you, Jense. Honest I am.

howlingwolf07: I’d like you to meet him. Maybe we can get together soon?

tylerbennett09: That would be great. Let me know when, okay?

howlingwolf07: You got it, dude. Gotta go now, the ‘rents need me.

tylerbennett09: Understood. See you soon, hopefully.

~*~

Tyler doesn’t know what to make of this. Yes, he knows that Jensen is two years older , but the knowledge that he’s got a boyfriend leaves him unsettled. How did he know? Who made the first approach? He’s read about gay-bashers and worries every time he sees an attractive boy.

There is no way he can work this out on his own. He could talk to his mama, and she’d understand, but he thinks Papa would be better suited for this particular discussion.

He gets up, walks out of his room, hoping Papa has the time now to talk.

~*~

“Hey, Papa,” Tyler says, finding his father in the kitchen, reading at the table. “Can we talk?”

“Sure, Ty,” Spike responds, catching his son’s worried expression. “What’s up?”

“I just got an IM from Jensen. He’s got a boyfriend.”

“Does this bother you?” Spike asks, wondering where this is headed.

“No. I’m happy for him. Really,” Tyler insists. “It’s just…”

“What, son? You can tell me anything, you know that,” Spike encourages.

“I know, Papa,” Tyler says. “It’s just that I don’t understand how he knew. Why he didn’t end up with a punch in the face for guessing wrong?”

~*~

How does one explain the inexplicable? Spike takes a breath and tries. “First of all, love, you’re really too young to be worrying about all this boyfriend stuff. It’s not that you don’t feel attraction, but it’s just beginning, and shouldn’t consume your life.”

“And given that I’m ‘too’ young, it doesn’t explain what I need to know!” Tyler exclaims, frustrated.

“There are little things that give a person away. A look. An expression. A touch. Mostly these are things that you pick up on when you’re about Jensen’s age. It’s human nature, Ty,” Spike explains. “It’s a mating ritual.”

~*~

“We’ve discussed procreation and mating in school, but what happens when the attraction doesn’t lead to babies?”

Spike smiles. At least this is something he understands. Been there, done that… not that he’ll be telling his son any details, of course. “Believe it or not, Ty, it’s the same thing for gay couples as for straight couples. You can’t help who you fall in love with. Some folks are a hundred percent into the same sex in relationships; some find the person more important than the gender.”

“So you’re saying I’ll begin to get these clues as I get older?”

~*~

“I guarantee it, son,” Spike says. “That doesn’t mean you won’t be scared, or guess wrong, but you will definitely begin to get clues.”

“And… and there are some kids who are openly gay, like Jensen.” Tyler looks thoughtful. “So it doesn’t even have to be guessing. Just normal, like any boy and girl.”

“Now you’re gettin’ it,” Spike chortles, pleased his son looks a little less upset than before. “And just fifteen minutes older than when we started this conversation.”

Tyler rolls his eyes and smacks his father on the shoulder. “Thanks, Papa. Love you.”

“Love you, too, Tyler.”

~*~

October 2023 – The Great Wall

“Aunt Dawn!” Will calls out. “You gotta read this!”

Dear Mr. Harris,

We’d like to have your permission allowing William to paint a mural on the wall in the school’s main entrance. He’s a very talented child, and we like what we see in art class.

This will involve extra hours at school, and require that you make arrangements to pick him up at an agreed upon time.

He will not be alone. Mr. Katz, our art teacher, will be supervising.

We appreciate your cooperation, and hope to see William with brush in hand, shortly.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Elissa Sinclaire,
Principal

~*~

“Oh Will, that’s just wonderful!” Dawn squeals, age not lessening her ear-piercing high notes. “Your dad will be so proud of you.”

“Do you think he’ll give me permission to work there after school?”

“Of course he will. That is, if you keep your grades up,” Dawn amends.

“Oh, I will. I promise,” says Will. “Maybe they’ll even let me sign my name on the wall.”

“I don’t see why not. All works are signed by the artist,” says Dawn. “I’m sure this won’t be any different.”

“I’ll be in my room, working on my homework and waiting for Dad.”

~*~

“I’m home, Will,” Xander says, peeking into his room. “Aunt Dawn says you have something exciting to share with me?”

Will grabs the letter from his desk. “You gotta see this, Dad. It’s big!” Will exclaims, practically bouncing in place.

Xander reads the letter and smiles, widely. “Look at you, kiddo! This is wonderful news. I’m more than happy to give you permission, as long as you…”

“I know, I know.” Will rolls his eyes. “Aunt Dawn already read me the riot act. As long as I keep my grades up.”

“That’s right. You know how important your education is.”

~*~

“All we have to do is work out when I’ll have to pick you up. This might be time for a cell phone, bucko. What do you say?” Xander asks smiling as Will’s eyes light up.

“Really? Oh my god! Thanks, Dad,” he says, drawing his father into a hug. “You’re the best father, ever!”

“I have some news for you, too,” says Xander. “Looks like I’ll be doing a little construction at home, too.”

“Something for work?” Will asks, curious.

“Nope! Making a bedroom for my son.”

Will looks stunned. “Oh, Dad! This is really the best day ever!”

~*~

November 2023 – Xander the Builder

Dawn and Andrew have taken the boys and gone on an extended vacation, giving Xander the leeway to make as much noise as he wants. He has the blueprints he’s painstakingly drawn up and the lumber has been delivered.

Xander has also enlisted the help of Neal and Spike, needing several more pairs of hands when it comes to raising the frame and putting in the drywall. Spike brings several six-packs of beer, and Neal brings sodas and crunchy snacks.

“M’not well versed in following blueprints,” says Spike, “but I can hold and haul what you need.”

“Sounds good, bucko.”

~*~

The frame takes shape rather quickly. The tricky part is hauling it to the roof and attaching it sturdily.

“Anyone bring their fiddle?” Neal jokes, straddling the rooftop.

The friends laugh good-naturedly and get on with their business. Two days later, the frame is perfect, the wiring is done, and the floor is installed. One more day gets the drywall and windows in place and the outside walls finished.

Xander has to borrow a cherry picker to attach the roofing and shingles.

Shortly, the shell of Will’s room is complete. Still to be added are a walk-in closet and shelves.

~*~

Sitting on Will’s bed, Xander has a long talk with his son. He shows him a swatch book to help pick out the best color for his walls, and one for the curtains. They discuss everything from carpeting to bedding. In the end, Xander feels more like an interior decorator than a builder, but there isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for his son, and getting his own room just right is a big thing.

“Thanks so much for this, Dad,” says Will, love shining in his eyes as he hugs his father.

“Only the best for my boy,” he replies.

~*~

Will punches in the number and settles back against the wall. “Hey, Tara,” he says.

“Hi, Will. What’s up?” she asks.

“Aunt Dawn promised to take me shopping for stuff for my new room, and I wanted to know if you’d come with us.”

“I’d love to! I can’t believe you’re finally getting your own room,” she says. “I mean, I love Jonathan and Jason, but…”

“Yeah,” he agrees. “That ‘but’ is a biggie. I could do with some mental alone time. And to have some privacy for painting.”

“And for visitors?” she asks, coyly.

“Dad would have a fit.”

~*~

“Will! You beast!” Tara exclaims, laughing merrily. “You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I do, T. Studying, listening to music, talking… all fun things – with the doors open, of course,” he admits.

“It’ll be nice not to have all those other little ears in on our conversations, for sure,” she says.

“I’ll give you a call when Aunt Dawn is ready to go shopping, and we’ll pick you up. I can’t believe I’m looking forward to spending time shopping at the mall.”

“It’s not like going clothes shopping with your mo… dad,” says Tara, hoping Will didn’t notice her slip.

~*~

December 2023 – Happy Hanukkah

Everyone gathers at the Rosenberg household on the first night of Hanukkah. Kiana is thrilled that her holiday is getting attention this year. She looks to Mommy Willow who smiles and nods, then she turns to the table that holds the family menorah. “I’m gonna say the prayers this year,” she says, bursting with pride. “In Hebrew and then in English. This one is said on the first night, only.”

Borukh Ato Adoynoy Eloyheynu Melekh Ho-oylom She-hekheyonu Ve-kiymonu Ve-higgi'onu La-zzman Ha-zze

Kiana learned this painstakingly and phonetically, and pronounced each word with care. “Now for the English version,” she says.

~*~

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time,” she translates. “The next two prayers are said every night.”

Borukh Ato Adoynoy Eloyheynu Melekh Ho-oylom Asher Kiddeshonu Be-mitsvoysov Ve-tsivonu Lehadlik Neyr Shel khanuko

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.”

Borukh Ato Adoynoy Eloyheynu Melekh Ho-oylom She-oso Nissim La-avoseynu Ba-yyomim Ho-heym Ba-zzman Ha-zze

Kiana breathes deeply, finished with the last of the Hebrew.

~*~

“Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.”

Willow and Becky start the applause, proud as can be. Kiana’s recitation is perfect. The rest of the family picks up on the applause, and claps loudly, as well.

“That was hard,” she admits, wiping her forehead in an exaggerated manner.

“You did a wonderful job, sweetie,” Willow says, giving her girl a hug.

“Just beautiful!” Becky agrees, bending down to kiss Kiana on the cheek.

“Time for dinner!” Kiana crows happily, promptly pulling out a chair.

~*~

Willow and Becky serve a wonderful meal; brisket with gravy, potato latkes, green beans and tsimis.

“What is this ‘zimiz’,” Buffy asks after tucking into her portion. “It’s absolutely delicious!”

“It’s my bubbe’s recipe,” says Becky. “We usually make it for holiday meals. It’s a mish-mosh of carrots, sweet potatoes, brown sugar, a little honey and some raisins.”

“We love it,” choruses Jesse, Jonathan, Jason and Jeremy. “Can we have some more?” asks Jeremy.

“Of course, sweetie,” says Willow, adding a spoonful to his plate. “Anyone else want more?”

Hands go up around the table. Dinner is a roaring success.

~*~

After dinner, when everyone is settled nicely in the living room, Kiana brings out a shiny blue and white bag. From the bag, she gives a little mesh pouch filled with chocolate coins to one and all. “Gelt is a Hanukkah tradition,” she says coyly. “My mommies play dreidel with me, and when I win, I get all the chocolate gelt.”

“Got any of those dreidels around, poppet?” Spike asks. He’s got quite a sweet tooth, and isn’t averse to getting more whenever possible.

“At least it’s better than playing for kittens,” Buffy laughs. “His taste for chocolate is way preferable.”

~*~

December 2023 – Ho! Ho! Ho!

Three weeks later, everyone makes the trek to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with Angel and Nina. Once again, the lobby and the dining room are decked out beautifully for the holiday.

The kids all gather together around the huge Christmas tree in the lobby, and Spike, Buffy, Xander, Neal, Willow, Becky, Dawn and Andrew gather around Wesley and Oz to meet the newest little one.

“We are very lucky,” Wesley says, smiling at Luna. “The full moon isn’t for another couple of days, so we can all spend the holiday with you.”

“Oz, you’re a lucky dog,” says Xander.

~*~

Willow smacks her old friend on the back of his head. “Nice to see how much you’ve grown up, Xan,” she says, smiling.

“Enough,” says Oz, taking the baby from Wesley. “We’d like to introduce you to Miss Luna Osborne.” The little girl smiles, toothy and wide, giggling happily.

“Would have been a mouthful to hyphenate Wyndam-Pryce to her moniker, mates,” Spike says, tickling Luna’s belly.

“We thought about it,” says Wesley, “and figured this was for the best. We did manage to get legal adoption papers drawn up, however.”

“At least Wolfram and Hart is good for something,” says Angel.

~*~

“Still sneaking up on folks, Deadboy,” says Xander, using the old, timeworn nickname.

“How else do you think I learn everyone’s secrets,” replies Angel, smugly paying attention to Luna, who reaches out for him to pick her up. “I see someone has good taste,” he coos at the little girl, who reaches out and grabs a handful of Angel’s hair.

“Only you, little Luna,” he says with a laugh. “And you, Nina,” he says catching her eye.

“She’s the only female I won’t begrudge the pleasure of messing up your coif,” Nina laughs, running her own fingers through his hair.

~*~

Dinner is a marvelous affair as always, and there isn’t a soul who leaves the table unsatisfied. After freshening up, everyone converges in the lobby, forming a large circle around the tree. Oz scoops up his toddling daughter and joins the circle, settling her in his lap

Angel kneels under the tree and with Nina’s help, hands out all the prettily wrapped gifts. He finds he misses this. He understands that his family has lives of their own, but sharing time with him… it can’t be beat.

“Looks like we’re done for this year, you guys,” he says, standing up.

~*~

“Time for little ones to go to bed,” says Nina, taking Luna from Oz and Kiana by the hand. “I’ll be back after the children are headed to dreamland.

“Don’t forget to turn on the monitors,” calls Angel as she heads upstairs.

“No worries,” Nina calls back.

Angel cracks his knuckles and pushes a button in the wall, which promptly opens to reveal a humongous television.

“’Bout time you went modern,” Spike says, settling in for a good watch. He groans loudly when It’s a Wonderful Life fills the screen.

“Shut up, Spike,” Angel says. “You know you love it.”

Chapter Text

January 2024 – Room to Grow

After the New Year, Spike, Buffy, Dawn, Andrew and Xander gather for a painting party. With all those hands, it doesn’t take long. One coat of primer on the new walls, and one coat of deep sky-blue paint. The ceiling, of course, is painted white, as is the molding.

The furniture will arrive later in the week; a full-size captain’s bed, a six drawer standing dresser, and several bookcases. Once the furniture is arranged to Will’s liking, Xander will mount shelves on the wall.

The rug comes in tomorrow.

Will checks out the freshly painted room and announces, “It’s perfect”.

~*~

He fully moves in a week later, tweaking the layout of his furniture, putting things up on shelves, finding the best spot for his easel… the smile never leaving his face.

The quads are happy for him, though Jonathan and Jason look a little dejected at Will’s newfound liberation. “Don’t worry, you guys,” Will says. “You’re always welcome to come into my room. If I need my privacy, I’ll keep the door closed.

The boys perk up at that and let Will get on with the business of fixing up his room.

He settles on his bed and calls Tara.

~*~

“Hey, you,” he says when she answers. “Here I am, all alone in my room. Nobody listening in on my calls.”

“It must be such a relief,” Tara says. “I can’t imagine having to share with anyone. It would drive me nuts.”

“Nah, it wasn’t so bad.” Will fiddles with the buttons on his shirt, toeing off his shoes.

“Riiiiight,” Tara replies. “Then it wasn’t you but your twin brother bitching about not having space for your stuff, or having a place to escape from everyone a couple of weeks ago.”

Will blushes in the privacy of his own room.

~*~

February 2024 - Frustration

Neal paces back and forth, fearing that this isn’t going to end well. But something has to be said, and it’s past time to do so, in his opinion. There’s a knock at his door, and he lets Xander in.

“Hey, buddy,” Xander greets him with an affectionate hug. Neal shies away from his embrace and distances himself before speaking.

“Xan, we have to talk,” he begins.

Xander’s face falls. Something about Neal’s nervous demeanor unsettles him. “Is something wrong?” he asks, watching the man’s expression.

“You’re damned right there is, “buddy”,” Neal retorts, his whole posture stiff with tension.

~*~

“Is that what we are, Xander” Buddies?” he asks, resuming his pacing.

“I-I thought we were friends,” Xander stammers, feeling the ground shift beneath him.

“We’ve known each other for over three years now,” Neal continues, “and I’ve made my intentions clear from the beginning. You know I’m in love with you.”

“I know, I know,” Xander assures him, “and you know that I care deeply for you, as well.”

“I’m a normal man, Xander. I have urges and needs, and I’ve kept things slow between us, hoping you would eventually catch up. Or leave,” he admits, dropping his gaze.

~*~

“What do you want from me?” Xander is this close to panicking.

“I want you to make up your mind! Is a relationship with me something you want or can’t handle? I feel you’ve been leading me on… teasing me with kisses.” Neal pauses, catching his breath. “In public you still refuse to hold my arm, and blush beet red if I attempt to hug you.”

Xander’s body goes rigid. “I don’t take well to ultimatums,” he says, quietly.

“And I’m not giving you one,” cries Neal. “I need to know where we stand. We’re not in high school anymore.”

~*~

“I’m not sure I can give you what you want, Neal,” Xander insists. “I enjoy your company and the smooching is rather hot, but… but… I just don’t know if I can deal with sex. Does it have to be a deal breaker?”

“Oh, Xander,” sighs Neal. “Sex is about so much more than body parts. It’s sharing on such an intimate level… and so necessary in a relationship where there’s nothing to withhold from one another.”

Xander sighs, nodding his head slightly.

“We have an old saying, Xan,” says Neal. “Shit or get off the pot. Do you understand?”

~*~

March 2024 - Conventioneers

“I can’t believe you got me to do this,” grumbles Dawn, staring down at her doubleknit red skort outfit and thigh high black leather boots..

“Ve haff vays,” sneers Andrew, raising a sculpted eyebrow and brushing down his captain’s uniform over his rotund belly. “And you promised if I did that…”

“Shhh!” hissed Dawn. “I remember exactly what you did. And what you’ll do again, if you know what’s good for you.” She finishes, grinning.

“As you wish,” promises Andrew. “Don’t worry, wife of mine. The line will start moving soon.”

“I hope so,” she complains. “These boots are killer!”

~*~

Finally allowed entrance, they walk up and down the aisles, looking at each booth’s merchandise. There are lithographs of space scenes, actors in their famous roles, black velvet displays of both costume and gemstone jewelry, ornaments, magazines, cards, props… anything fandom related that you one think of.

“It’s a good thing you’re mostly content with looking and not buying, Andy,” says Dawn. “We have four sons to think about. And speaking of the boys,” she continues, “how come they’re not here with us, today?”

“I want to be alone with you, fair maiden,” says Andrew, dramatically, sketching a deep bow.

~*~

Andrew drags his wife to panel discussions, memorials to fallen actors and finally, a marathon showing of Star Trek, the Original Series. The seventy nine episodes are spread out over several days, but they stay through their fair share of them.

“I love Mirror, Mirror,” gushes Andrew. “When she turns to Sulu and says, ‘Neither!’ she’s so hot.”

“I rather fancy a bearded Spock, myself,” claims Dawn, laughing. “I’m so glad I came, Andy. It’s been a lot of fun.”

“The night is young, my dear,” he says, looking upwards.

Dawn squeals, “You booked a room!”

“I did.”

~*~

April 2024 – Future Plans

Willa sits on the uncomfortable plastic chair, filling out forms attached to a clipboard. Her whole medical history, as well as her parents’. “There’s no ticky-box for vampirism,” she mutters to herself, checking off this, writing that. Just as she finishes she hears, “Ms. Bennett. Ms. Willa Bennett? The doctor will see you now.”

She hands her forms to the receptionist and follows the nurse into an examination room. She takes the proffered paper gown and changes into it behind the screen.

“Relax, Willa,” says the nurse as she adjust the stirrups. “It won’t be so bad.”

The doctor arrives.

~*~

“Hello, Willa. I’m Dr. Gusuynov,” she says with a slight Slavic accent. “I see this is your first gynecological visit.”

Willa nods.

“Are you sexually active?” the doctor asks, snapping on a pair of gloves.

“Not to the point of actual sex,” Willa replies. “I’d like to get birth control pills just in case. My boyfriend and I have been together for a long time, and…”

“Got the picture,” says Dr. Gusuynov. “Smart girl, taking care of yourself. You do know it’s imperative your boyfriend uses a condom against sexually transmitted diseases, yes?”

“I know. We’ve discussed this,” says Willa.

~*~

The exam proceeds without a hitch, and the doctor pronounces Willa is a healthy young woman and prescribes the latest in birth control pills, as requested. “Make sure you take these at the same time each day. The pills must be taken correctly and without fail to guarantee their efficacy.”

“Got it, doc,” says Willa, hopping off the table. “Thanks so much.”

The doctor and nurse both leave Willa to get dressed in private.

She makes a quick call to Bobby. “I’m gonna stop off at the pharmacy before I go back to the dorm, sweetie. I’ll see you Saturday.”

~*~

May 2024 – Help Needed

It’s been several months since Xander walked out of Neal’s home, and he’s been absolutely miserable. Neal had become an integral part of his life in the few years since they’d met. And deep down, he had to admit to himself, he always knew and enjoyed the fact that Neal pursued him. It was flattering.

Being confronted like he had been made him feel like a kid on the Hellmouth again. He freaked and froze, unable to be honest with himself or Neal, and his inaction seems to have cost him everything.

He calls Spike, needing to hash things out.

~*~

“What’s the matter, Harris?” Spike says as he walks through the door. “Look like you just lost your best friend.”

“Appropriate,” Xander sighs. “Though it’s been a long time since that happened. Neal and I are kaput, and it’s all my fault.”

“You two were well on your way to becoming more than best mates, git. What’d you do to bollocks it all up?” Spike asks.

“Spike, I’m not gay. I’m not!” Xander insists. “How can I have sex with another man?”

“Harris, it’s high time you got your head out of your arse and let Neal in,” Spike says,

~*~

At Xander’s raised brow, Spike adds, “And you know what I mean, git. The man loves you. And I daresay you love him.”

“Gods, I do miss him,” Xander admits, quietly.

“Neal’s right, you know… about not labeling sexuality,” Spike insists. “D’you think in all my years that I only slept with women? Or humans, for that matter? Given, that I was three sheets to the wind with some of ‘em, but you fall in love with a person – a soul, if you wish – and not their genitals.”

“How do I let go?”

“You just do, Xan. You just do.”

~*~

Spike knocks on Neal’s door, figuring if he’s gonna offer advice, he might as well do so to both parties.

“Spike!” exclaims Neal. “This is a surprise.”

“Yeah, well today I’m just everybody’s favorite Agony Aunt. Mind if I come in?” he asks.

“Please,” says Neal. “Can I get you anything? Soda, beer, something harder?”

“Nah. I’m fine, mate, but you look like shite.”

“I’m… managing,” Neal says, softly. “Not that well at times, but I’m trying.”

“Do you love Xander?” Spike asks straight out. “If you do, why’d ya give up on him?”

“What business is it of yours?”

~*~

“He’s my friend. You’re my friend,” Spike adds, sitting down in an overstuffed chair. “You’re both miserable apart. All you have to overcome is a little sexual ambiguity.”

“That’s all?” Neal mocks, staring miserably at Spike. “Do tell.”

“There’s nothing worse than the differences between Buffy an’ me when I first pursued her. Wasn’t fit to walk the same ground as her, but it didn’t stop me. Call me a wanker, but I ended up with the prize, an’ never been sorry for the pain I went through.”

“But your coupling is ‘normal’,” Neal says, bitterly.

“Wasn’t then,” Spike replies.

~*~

Neal flounders for words. “What… who… can you explain that?” he asks.

“Not important, and not my story to tell,” replies Spike. “Just understand you can overcome anything for love. If you want it badly enough.”

“I do want him, Spike,” Neal says, softly. “I need him in my life.”

“Then, as I’ve said already today… get your head out of your arse, and go to him. Work this out. This kind of suffering is useless.” Spike looks at the man from his slouched position in the chair. “It ain’t gonna happen on its own.”

“Thanks for caring,” Neal says.

~*~

June 2024 – Young Love

It starts out innocently enough. Will and Tara are doing their homework. The quads are listening to music, so Will closes his door.

“Will, can you help me with this?” Tara asks. “I hate diagramming sentences, and I always get it wrong.”

They lean in close, and Will can’t help but inhale the floral scent of her hair. He moves closer, just as she turns around and their lips touch. Very quickly the books are forgotten and they’re lost in the throes of teenage passion.

A touch to a breast, the grope of a groin, and kaboom! Clothes go flying.

~*~

Neither Will nor Tara take the time to explore each other’s bodies. The sex is fumbling and quick. Outside of Tara’s cry when her virginity is breached, relatively quiet. It isn’t until after the deed is done that both teens gasp and sit up.

“Oh god, what did we do?” cries Tara, covering herself with Will’s blanket.

“I-I’m sorry I hurt you,” Will stammers, looking down, spying the stain of blood on his penis. “We better get cleaned up before someone comes in.”

He wipes himself down and hurriedly dresses, then manages to sneak Tara into the bathroom .

~*~

Tara emerges fully dressed, dragging Will’s comforter. They make his bed then sit down… this time with most of the bed’s length between them.

“You realize what we didn’t use,” she whispers, looking at the rug at the foot of the bed.

Will can’t look the girl in the face. “I know,” he says. “What if…?”

“I can’t even think of that right now,” Tara replies. “We’ll just have to hope and pray we got lucky.”

“Not that he doesn’t scare me as he is, but if your dad was still a vampire, I’d be dead if he finds out.”

~*~

“I’d do it again.”

“What?”

“I’d make love with you again, Will,” she says, finally looking directly at him. “Just not in your room with our cousins outside the door.”

Will smiles, moving closer, and Tara meets him halfway. They kiss, gently this time, hands around each other’s necks to hold them close.

They fail to hear the door open, or the footsteps as Xander walks into the room.

For a few seconds, Xander’s stunned, unable to move or think. When the words come, they’re in a great rush.

“William Giles Harris – what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

~*~

The teens jump apart, looking guilty as can be. However, what they know about what happened, and what Xander knows are two different things.

“How many times have we told you not to have Tara up in your room with the door closed?” Xander yells, scared and furious at the evidence of his maturing son. “We have rules in this house for a reason, mister.”

“I-I’m sorry, Dad,” Will stammers, standing up to his father to try and keep his attention off of Tara. “It won’t happen again.”

“You can bet it won’t,” Xander agrees. “Tara, get your books together.”

~*~

Tara meekly complies, sneaking looks back at Will.

“I’m driving you home, young lady. And don’t think I won’t be having a little discussion with your mother.” Xander looked at the girl… young woman before him, and wonders where the child had gone.

“Bye Will,” she calls as she’s herded down the stairs.

“See you at school,” he replies, before the front door closes behind her.

Tara climbs into the car, head down. The ride back home is made in utter silence. Parking in the driveway, Tara disembarks and opens the door with her key, Xander following close behind her.

~*~

“Hey, Tara,” greets Buffy, only to have her daughter walk right past her without a word. She watches as Tara walks up the stairs to her room and slams her door shut.

“Xan, what’s going on?” she asks, noticing her friend standing in the hallway.

“Seems our kids were macking on each other in Will’s room,” he says. “Behind closed doors,” he adds with a flourish.

“Hoo boy. I knew it was coming,” Buffy says, nodding her head. “They’ve been close for so long, it’s inevitable.”

“Time for another talk about responsibility and safe sex, I guess?” is Xander’s question.

~*~

“Shyeah,” Buffy snorts. “You do remember what life at fifteen was like, don’t you, Xan? All emotion, no brain.”

“True,” he says. “I recall mentioning that at that age, linoleum turned me on. Walking hormone bombs, Buff… that’s what we have. Why couldn’t they just stay kids a little longer?”

Buffy sighs, hugging Xander, indicating it was time for him to leave. “Off to talk,” she says, looking up the stairs. “Hopefully, she’ll listen. Good luck with Will.”

Xander nods and walks out the door, back home to his own son and talk.

“Gonna be a long night,” he murmurs.

~*~

July 2024 - Fireworks

Angel and Nina stand side-by-side in front of a large picture window in one of the Hyperion’s rooms. They’re watching a beautiful Fourth of July fireworks display. Colored starbursts and flares cut through the night sky, lighting it up almost as bright as day.

Looking at the woman by his side, Angel can’t help but compare her to Darla, and long ago fireworks extravaganzas. Both blonde, but Darla is petite where Nina is tall. Both are nicely shaped, though Darla’s bosoms were usually pushed up by tight corsets.

And of course, the feelings he has for each woman are different.

~*~

Whereas he would happily smash Darla against the wall and take her standing then and there, Nina he would finesse into bed and the lovemaking would be slow and sweet… at least most of the time. Soulless, he and Darla would have taken great pleasure in running Nina to ground. Vampires were not great fans of werewolves.

He wonders what his unlife would have been like if Darla had not procured that Gypsy girl for him… if he’d stayed with her throughout the centuries. Would they manage to avoid being dusted? Would he have been satisfied continuing his demonic ways?

~*~

Wondering doesn’t accomplish anything, and he’s brought back to the present when Nina opens the glass doors, and they step out onto the railed-in terrace. “The fireworks are lovely this year, aren’t they?” she asks, flinching at a particularly loud burst.

“They are something,” Angel replies, gathering Nina closer to him. Their age difference has become quite noticeable, now that she is forty six and he still twenty six. They only have a finite amount of time left together, and Angel intends for it to be as good as possible.

“I love you, you know,” he says, kissing her passionately.

~*~

August 2024 – A Walk in the Park

The morning of the full moon finds Wesley and Oz discussing their daughter.

“I don’t know how to put this delicately,” says Wesley, watching Luna play happily with a set of jumbo Lego blocks. “I think we need to consider getting a crate for Luna’s moon nights.”

“You want to put our daughter in a box?” Oz asks, incredulous.

“I already put my lover in a cell,” is Wesley’s comeback. “You’re not here when she undergoes her change, love. She’s not dangerous, but she’s getting more and more destructive.”

“There has to be an alternative,” Oz insists. “She’s so young.”

~*~

“Putting a baby behind bars doesn’t seem right,” he continues. “Maybe you can take her out… a dog run would be deserted at night.”

Wesley ponders the idea. “That doesn’t sound half-bad,” he says. “She would have to be leashed… at least until the dog run, which will be enclosed. I shall ask Angel along, to help me keep an eye on her until we know how she’ll behave.”

Oz nods. “Much better, Wes,” he says. “And with luck, she’ll be too tired to cause any damage once she’s home.”

“Dada, look!” yells Luna, showing off her tower of blocks.

~*~

Angel is more than happy to go along and supervise Luna’s first moonlight run. Wesley holds the leash firmly, as the wolflet is not pleased to have the collar around her neck.

The dog run is deserted, and walled in. After a walk around to familiarize Luna with the place, Wesley lets her off the leash. The wolflet bounds around, taking turns at climbing rocklike structures, and running madly through tunnels. The joy is evident on Luna’s face, her eyes are sparkling and her muzzle bears a toothy grin.

“Definitely better than a cell in Wolfram and Hart,” Angel muses.

~*~

September 2024 – Scare Tactics

Tara struggles to button up her favorite jeans one morning and has a genuine ‘oh shit’ moment. When was the last time she had her period? She scrabbles frantically for her personal calendar, and realizes it was the middle of June. She’s skipped two months! That’s never happened before, and now she’s frantic. What if she’s pregnant? How will Will react? What happens when her parent’s find out?

Tara grabs her phone and punches in Will’s preset button. She hangs up before he answers. She does this twice more before she has the courage to speak with him.

“Help me!!”

~*~

“What’s wrong, Tara,” he asks, sensing her turmoil.

“I’m late,” she cries.

“Late for what?” he innocently asks.

“My period, you idiot. It’s two months overdue,” she wails. “What are we gonna do?”

“Meet me outside in about fifteen minutes,” says Will. “I’m on my way.”

When he arrives, he hands her a small bag.

Tara can’t believe he had the guts to buy a pregnancy test. “I don’t want to be a mother now,” she cries, hugging her boyfriend tightly.

Will wipes her tear away with his thumbs. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. In a few hours, we’ll know for sure.”

~*~

“The box says use it first thing in the morning. Until then, there’s nothing we can do.” He returns her hugs, rubbing soothing circles on her back.. “Maybe you’re not pregnant,” he says, hopefully.

Crossing her fingers, Tara says, “I hope not. I can’t imagine facing my parents with the news.”

“I can’t believe we were stupid enough not to use condoms. Not that I had any,” Will admits. “It’s probably a wise idea to get some in case we decide to do this again.”

“In case?” Tara says, shyly.

“You’re right,” Will says. “I should have said when.”

~*~

Morning comes and Tara hightails it into the bathroom with her test. “Hold in urine stream,” it says, “then wait for three minutes.”

“Clear, clear, clear,” she chants, pacing around the bathroom.

Three minutes later, the stick reads clear, and Tara takes the breath she’s been holding since last night. She waits an additional five minutes to be sure and nothing changes. She gathers the box and its contents and puts it back in the brown paper bag and buries it in her garbage pail.

“It’s negative, Will,” she whispers into the phone, wary of prying ears. “We got lucky.”

~*~

Two days later, cramps wake Tara. Sure enough, she finally gets her period. The physical evidence is more a relief than the pregnancy test. For the moment, she chalks up the lateness to stress, although the stress didn’t really hit until she was late. If it happens again, she’ll ask Mama to take her to her first gynecologist visit.

She showers, shaves her legs, dries off and gets dressed for the day, suddenly feeling like singing. A kiss for Mama before she leaves the house strikes Buffy speechless.

All in all, it’s a good day to be alive, Tara reasons.

~*~

October 2024 – Play Ball!

It’s a brilliant October evening – the temperature is delightfully cool with low humidity. An excellent night to take in a ballgame, and wouldn’t you know it, but Angel’s managed to procure an entire box at Dodger Stadium for a World Series game between the Yankees and the Dodgers.

The Bennetts and Harrises haul out to LA for the event, arriving early enough to watch batting practice. Angel has to stay in the car until the sun goes down, but he and Nina find ways to occupy themselves until then.

Eventually, they all settle into their seats to enjoy the game.

~*~

Tyler finds it surprising to note that he’s enjoying himself more than he expected. “It’s different being here at the game instead of watching it on the television,” he says to Spike, noisily munching on the buttered popcorn he cajoled him into buying.

“That it is, love,” Spike agrees. “The sights, the smells and the emotions of the folks around you make all the difference in the world.”

Buffy nods, and says, “Even if you’re not a fan of the game, you can enjoy being out in the air and baseball food. For me, it’s nice not having to cook!”

~*~

Will and Tara are sitting side by side, flanked by Spike and Xander. They’re not allowed much privacy these days, but it’s better than being isolated from one another. Will’s enjoying the game, and Tara leans against him, holding his hand.

“I want a Dodger Dog,” she says to nobody in particular, “with cheese, ketchup, mayo, and onions. And garlic fries.”

Just as Will reaches into his pocket, Spike puts out a hand to stop him. “No worries, mate. I’ve got it. How about the same for you?” he asks.

Will nods. “Thanks, Uncle Spike. Don’t forget two root beers.”

~*~

The game see-saws back and forth - the Yankees scoring first, answered by the Dodgers. The ninth inning finds the score eleven runs for the Yankees and twelve runs for the Dodgers. The Yankees are up, bases loaded, two out and their hopes are hung on a rookie. There’s nobody left on the bench to pinch hit for him, and the crowd goes wild.

All the fans are standing and the noise reaches a crescendo when the pitch is released. The sound of the crack of the bat silences half the crowd when the ball sails over the centerfield fence.

~*~

Buffy turns to her husband and says, “The girls would have loved this game.”

“That they would,” says Spike. “I’m sure they’re watchin’ with their boyfriends.” He furrows his brow, looking odd for a moment. “I can’t believe I can say that without wantin’ to kill someone.”

“I’m so proud of you, honey,” Buffy coos, kissing Spike on the cheek. “It doesn’t seem like we can stop our kids from growing up.”

“We can try to stop them from doing it so quickly,” chimes in Xander, looking at the teenagers in their midst.

“We can try,” echo Spike and Buffy.

~*~

The Dodgers fail to score in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Yankees win the game fifteen runs to eleven, and take the Series four games to three. Everyone stays for some post-game celebrating, and then fight the crowds to the parking lot.

Angel and Nina have invited everyone to stay over at the Hyperion, considering the hour, and all are happy to comply. The drivers will all be better off with a full night’s rest.

Nina swats Angel on the ass as they head towards their bedroom. “Ya done good, kiddo,” she says linking their arms together.

~*~

November 2024 – Giving Thanks

“Let’s do something really different for Thanksgiving this year,” Buffy says. “We have lots to be thankful for, so let’s share our good fortune with others.”

She signs them up for a stint at the local food kitchen, helping to set up the room and serve the food to the less fortunate.

“Mama, do I have to?” whines Tara, not thrilled with spending the better part of a day feeding strangers.

Tyler is a little more sanguine about the whole deal. “It’s only for a handful of hours,” he says. “We’ll still have the rest of the day to ourselves.

~*~

Spike, Buffy and a dozen other adults from their neighborhood set up tables and chairs. Lots of children, including their own, lay out tablecloths, silverware and centerpieces. Everything has been donated by local businesses except for the labor.

Delicious smells emanate from the kitchen, fueling the workers to set up quickly. A quick glance at the clock shows their guests will be arriving within thirty minutes.

When the doors are opened, the first of the families arrive. Tara is surprised at how many young children there are, hunger gleaming in their eyes. She seats them at the first available table.

~*~

The room fills up quickly, an amalgam of young families, senior citizens, and single people. Soon it’s filled to bursting – not an available seat in sight. Volunteers run back and forth from the kitchen, pushing trolleys laden with dinner trays. As Tara places one before an elderly woman, the old lady reaches out and touches Tara on the wrist.

“Thank you, my dear girl,” she says, tears in her eyes. “I haven’t had a turkey dinner in many a year.”

“Y-you’re welcome,” Tara stammers, surprised by the naked emotion in the woman’s face. An inner warmth kindles in her belly.

~*~

Tyler is busy placing meals before a family of five children. They’re boisterous, and their mother looks frazzled, trying to keep them in their seats. As he places a tray in front of the woman, she says, “Thank you, young man. There was no way I could afford a Thanksgiving meal this year. I’m a single mother, and I just lost my job.”

“I’m sorry,” Tyler murmurs, and he feels for her situation, uncomfortably reminded that he and his family have no such problems.

“That’s all right, son,” she says, patting his arm. “What you folks do is a godsend.”

~*~

Spike and Buffy pause in their tasks, watching their children take care of others for a change. “Look at our babies, Spike,” says Buffy, eyes alight with awe. “They’re actually taking time to talk with people. Not a sullen expression to be found.”

“Was a good idea, helping others this year,” Spike agrees. “They need to understand where they are in the world, and that many folks aren’t nearly as lucky.”

Buffy smiles, taking in the ambiance of the room. The chatter is happy, and the volunteers are warm and friendly, despite all the hustle and bustle of serving everyone.

~*~

The last meal has been consumed, and dessert has been served. People are slowly filing out of the food kitchen, and back to their lives. The volunteers are exhausted, but not ready to go home yet. Everyone pitches in with the cleanup, and it goes quickly. Pots and pans have been washed and dried in the kitchen, garbage bagged and taken outside, chairs placed on top of tables, and the floor swept.

“I had fun, Mama,” Tara admits on the ride home. “Thanksgiving dinner made so many people happy.”

Tyler adds, “It felt good, Papa. Can we do this again?”

~*~

December 2024 – Goodwill Towards Men

Once again, the family gathers for Christmas. Once again, they start at the Rosenberg’s and end up at the Wells’ home. With Willa and Treena home for the holidays, the families are complete. Xander, however, is quite nervous. He’s invited Neal after nearly seven month of separation, and he’s accepted.

Dinner is delicious, as usual, but neither Xander nor Neal have much of an appetite. “Shoo, you two,” Dawn says to the two men. “Go inside and talk to each other. “We’ll join you in a bit.”

Both readily comply.

“I-I’m glad you came,” Xander says. “I’ve really missed you.”

~*~

Neal smiles softly. “It’s been so long,” he says. “I was afraid I’d never hear from you again.”

“I guess I don’t have to tell you, but I can be a stubborn fool at times.” Xander steadfastly looks at the floor, waiting for Neal’s reaction.

“And I can be a pig-headed ass,” is Neal’s rejoinder. “What a pair we make, old man.”

“I’ve had a lot of time to think while we’ve been apart, and I used it to think of the perfect Christmas present. It’s probably best that you open it now, instead of in front of the family.”

~*~

Xander hands him a box, and Neal enthusiastically shreds the paper. His jaw drops as a large case of condoms stares him in the face.

“Optimistic much?” he asks, grinning from ear-to-ear.

“Gonna give it the old college try,” says Xander, blushing to the roots of his hair.

Neal puts the box down, gathering Xander close, kissing him hard and deep. They only break their embrace at the applause and whistles from the rest of the family.

“About bloody time,” remarks Spike.

“Woo hoo!” exclaims Willow.

Everyone else just smiles.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Chapter Text

January 2025 – Easing the Way

A full bladder awakens Neal from a deep sleep. He rolls over, looks at the man soundly sleeping next to him and smiles. As much as he’d like to hunker back down under the blankets and spoon, he has more pressing matters at hand and slips carefully from the bed.

Neal’s eyes smart from the daylight as he pees, a result of last night’s enthusiastic toasting of the New Year. He washes up when he’s done, and crawls carefully back into bed.

“Mornin’, Neal,” Xander drawls sleepily. “Why’d ya leave me?”

“Next time I’ll pee the bed, instead,” Neal chuckles.

~*~

Xander yawns, stretches, and realizes he’s totally naked under the covers. In spite of his desire for more intimacy with Neal, he still blushes.

“Now that’s just sweet,” Neal says, stroking lightly up and down Xander’s arm. “I wonder what color you’ll turn once we’ve actually made love.”

As if on cue, Xander’s blush deepens, spreading down his neck to his chest.

“Come here, love,” Neal whispers along Xander’s neck, pulling him close. “You feel so good in my arms. Warm and hairy, like a bear.”

“Grrrr,” Xander growls, wrapping his arms softly around Neal’s neck and kissing him soundly.

~*~

Slowly but surely, Neal melts Xander’s resistance. Seduction is a heady thing, and Neal knows what he’s doing. Breakfast in bed. The occasional afternoon lunch and grope session. Candlelight dinners, catered and delicious.

“I like this wooing thing you’re doing,” Xander laughs at his rhyme. “You certainly know how to turn a fella’s head.”

“There’s nothing wrong with taking it slow when there’s gold at the end of the rainbow,” Neal replies, turning on an instrumental station. “I was the kid who ate the cereal first, before taking the toy surprise.” He waggles his eyebrows and holds out his arms.

~*~

February 2025 – Learning Social Skills

Wesley takes a slip of paper off the bulletin board at the grocery store for a play group. Luna’s two and a half years old, and it’s high time she learns to get along with other children. He and Oz speak with the head of the group. After determining it age appropriate, agree to bring their daughter around.

Unfortunately, Oz is called away on a mission, and Wesley has to attend the group alone. He watches as everyone files in and notes there are eight mothers and only one other father.

“Welcome to Mommy and Me!” the teacher says, cheerily.

~*~

Sharing a look of sympathy with the group’s only other man, Wesley prepares to run. This was not what he expected.

“We also welcome our two fathers. Wesley and his daughter Luna, and David with his son Misha. Welcome gentlemen,” she says. “Will everyone sit, please, and place your child in your lap, facing you.” A push of a button, music begins, and the whole group starts singing and moving their hands.

“The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. The wheels on the buss go round and round, all through the town.”

~*~

Wesley looks around, totally lost. Luna, however, seems to have picked up the hand motions and copies the other children.

“Don’t worry, old man,” Dave says, jiggling his son to “The people on the bus go up and down.” “When Misha first started coming to this group, I didn’t know one song from another. You’ll catch on, quickly.”

Despite David’s support, Wesley isn’t so sure about his ability to let loose with his girl. He’s definitely not comfortable with it, but looking at the delight on Luna’s face makes him determined to try.

Soon, he’s singing along with the rest.

~*~

There’s plenty of time for free play, and Luna enjoys all the riding toys. Only once did she break into tears – when another child pushed her out of the way to get to a car first. Wesley jumped to her side, and the other girl’s mother was already reprimanding her. She is made to apologize to Luna, and the two little girls go off to play.

“I-is it always like this?” he asks, uncertain what the etiquette is between parents of feuding tots.

The woman laughs and pats Wesley on the back. “You’ll get used to it, kiddo,” she says.

~*~

When Wesley gets home, he’s almost as tired as Luna. The class was a rousing success. The girl goes down for a nap willingly, and Wesley makes himself something to eat.

Oz makes it home just as Wesley takes his first bite of a turkey sandwich. “So, success?” the younger man asks.

“Indeed, though I never expected to be part of a Mommy and Me group,” Wesley chortles, an unfamiliar sound from him.

“And Luna?”

“Happy as the proverbial clam,” Wesley says, smiling at their daughter. “She plays very well with others.”

“Then our job is well done,” says Oz.

~*~

March 2025 – To Give of One’s Self

Things have been better with Neal, but Xander still needs a push to make that final move. He heads out early one morning to Los Angeles, to meet with Oz.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“Good,” says Xander. “Now that we’ve gotten the small talk out of the way, I’m hoping you can play Dear Abby for me.”

“Shoot,” says Oz.

“How’d you do it?” Xander asks.

“Do what?”

“How’d you go from being in love with Willow, to being in love with Wesley?”

“Lots of life in-between those two, Xan,” Oz says.

“I know. But you know what I mean,” Xander says.

~*~

“I really need to know… how’d you go from having sex with Willow to sex with Wesley? It’s so… so… not the same.”

“No, it isn’t.” Oz smiles, patting his old friend on the back. “It’s not a matter of body parts, in the end, no pun intended. Sex is just a natural extension of the love you feel for someone, whatever the anatomy.”

Xander groans. “I’ve heard that so many times before, but I’m having a difficult time going from word to deed. I love Neal. I do, really. And I’ve almost lost him due to this once before...”

~*~

“I’d suggest getting pleasantly drunk, or a little stoned,” says Oz, “and don’t wait for the haze to clear. Just go for it. If it’s meant to be, it will be. Ya just gotta dive in – make the commitment.”

Xander nods, knowing this is all down to him. Neal won’t force him – he’s proven that in so many ways. What did he say? “Shit or get off the pot.”? The time has come, he thinks. Finally. They both deserve this final step.

“Thanks for not laughing at me,” he says sincerely. “I don’t know why I make things so complicated.”

~*~

There’s traffic on the way home, giving Xander extra time to think. He’s finally made up his mind to give himself fully to Neal; he just has to figure out a way to set the scene properly, so he doesn’t freak himself out.

When he arrives at Neal’s place some hours later, Xander lets himself in with his key and sets to work. He cleans, dusts, and makes the bed. He sets out candles and finds their favorite CD for ambiance. He orders dinner, and has the delivery time set for several hours later.

He greets Neal with a kiss.

~*~

“What’s all this?” Neal asks, pleasantly surprised. “I wasn’t expecting to see you until the weekend.”

“Nothing much,” says Xander. “Had a major epiphany, thanks to a little extra shove from a friend.”

“Oh? And what might this epiphany be?”

Xander smiles, his eyes shining warmly. “I love you, Neal. And that I don’t think I can live without you in my life.”

“Love you, too,” says Neal, “but this isn’t news.”

“Maybe not,” Xander replies, “but this is.” He draws Neal close, kissing him deeply, and slowly removing his jacket.

Neal’s eyebrows lift, but he gives Xander the lead.

~*~

Neal’s tie and shirt follow the jacket, landing on the floor. As he leads him towards the bedroom, Neal says, “You know you don’t have to rush this. I can’t believe I’m the one putting on the brakes, but I don’t want you to do something you’re not ready for.”

“Not rushing,” Xander insists. “Been a long time coming, in fact.”

“Let me help, then?” Neal asks, reaching for Xander’s shirt.

The clothing flies until both men stand in all their glory, their need for each other evident.

“Let’s get this dance started,” Neal says, tumbling his partner into bed.

~*~

“Got everything ready in the night table drawer,” Xander says, blush beginning to form on the tips of his ears and rapidly spreading.

Neal kisses those little red tips, then gently presses more kisses down the column of Xander’s neck. “You are just so damned cute.”

Xander looks down, making sure his masculinity is intact. “I’d take offense to the cute, but I think you’re rather adorable yourself.”

“Shut up and kiss me,” says Neal, and then he hesitates. “Um… how’s this going to happen?” he asks, curious.

“First time? I offer myself to you, love,” Xander says, blush intensifying.

~*~

“You’ve been the patient one and I have no clue as to what I’m doing here,” he continues. “Be gentle with me?”

“I’d never be anything but, sweetheart.” Neal turns off the light and eases his man down into the sheets. He starts with a soothing massage of Xander’s feet, working his way up from the toes, to the ankles. The calves to the knees. The thighs to the chest, drinking in Xander’s breathy, little moans like fine wine.

“Just relax, Xander,” he says. “I’ve got you, and I won’t let go.”

Xander sighs and melts into Neal’s possessive touch.

~*~

April 2025 – What a Difference a Day Makes

Angel takes Nina out for a night on the town. Dinner at a fancy restaurant, a little slow dancing, a movie to top off the evening – those are the plans. They get as far as the restaurant.

They’re seated quickly, and the waitress hands them menus. She comes back ten minutes later to take their orders.

“I’d like a sirloin steak so rare I can still hear it mooing,” says Angel, handing back the menu.

“And your mother?” the waitress asks.

Before Angel can say a word, Nina kicks him under the table. “Waldorf salad, please,” is all she says.

~*~

Nina picks at her salad, her ebullience from earlier, gone. “I-I’m sorry, Angel,” she says. “I seem to have lost my appetite. I’d like to go home.”

“Please, Nina. Don’t let that insensitive woman ruin our night out,” Angel pleads. “I know how much you like to dance.”

“That’s just it, Angel,” she sighs. “That waitress isn’t insensitive. It’s just compared to you, I look like your mother.”

“I don’t see age when I look at you,” Angel insists. “I see the woman I love.”

“Then you need glasses, sweetie. I’m forty seven years old, and you’re still twenty six.”

~*~

Nina’s not in the mood for anything once they get home. She undresses, bathes… alone for a change, and snuggles under the blankets.

He just doesn’t know what to do for her. Her aging is something they discussed years ago, and they knew what happened tonight was inevitable, but it still hurt her, and Angel needs to make the hurt go away.

A flash of inspiration strikes. He gathers up supplies and heads into the bathroom. When he comes back, Nina just stares. Angel falters for a moment, until she lets out merry peals of laughter that just doesn’t stop.

~*~

Angel is wearing a ratty, old cardigan he dug up from somewhere, and a pair of pants pulled up to his chest. His hair is powdered gray, his skin is puckered from smearing glue and letting it dry, and has bags under his eyes, thanks to a judicious application of Nina’s makeup.

“Do you think you can get used to this old geezer?” he asks, waggling his eyebrows.

“Oh, Angel,” Nina gasps, once she can catch her breath. “Your hair! You did all this for me?”

“I wouldn’t do it for anyone else,” he says, love shining in his eyes.

~*~

May 2025 – And Baby Makes Three

Tara wakes up sick to her stomach. No way will she be able to sit through school. She tells her Mama she needs to stay home.

“You don’t feel warm, baby,” Buffy says, feeling her forehead. “Maybe it’s a stomach bug.”

Tara nods, hoping it passes, and soon. By the afternoon, she does, indeed, feel better and putters around her room, going from her computer, to her books, and then to the television. She feels antsy, but not ill.

However, when she wakes up the next day with the same need to vomit, it comes to her in a flash.

~*~

This time she might really be in trouble. Again the thought sends her scrambling for her calendar, and sure enough, she’s a month and a half late. She slumps down to the floor, holding her head in her hands. There should be no way she could be pregnant. Will faithfully uses condoms after their first scare.

“Oh god,” Tara groans aloud. “What are we gonna do now?” She can’t call Will – he’s at school. Slipping past her mother to buy another pregnancy test will be impossible after her pukefest this morning. She’ll have to reach Will when school lets out.

~*~

Will shows up like last time with a pregnancy test in a paper bag. He greets Buffy cheerily before heading upstairs to Tara’s room, where she hides the bag in her dresser drawer.

“If you are pregnant,” he says, holding Tara’s hand, “this is one little Harris who’s very determined to be born.”

Tara nods, sniffling, her emotions getting the better of her. “I know condoms aren’t one hundred percent effective,” she says, “but they’re close enough this shouldn’t be happening.”

“So what do you want to do,” Will asks, knowing it’s really up to Tara to make this decision.

~*~

“W-would you hate me if I say I want to keep the baby?” she stammers, practically folding in on herself with worry.

Will draws her close, stroking her cheek as he looks deeply into her eyes. “How could I ever hate you, Tara?” he asks. “I don’t know how we’ll manage, but if you’re okay with becoming a mother, I’d love to be a dad.”

“Our parents are gonna freak,” she admits. “They’re gonna think we were being careless and irresponsible again.”

“Well, we’ll have to tell them different, then,” Will insists. “We did everything we could to be careful.”

~*~

“We can’t tell them yet, if I am pregnant,” begs Tara. “Please, Will… don’t tell Uncle Xander. I need time to come to terms with this.”

“The longer we wait, the more obvious it will become, sweetheart,” Will tries. “Trying to hide this will be killer stressful.”

Tara nods, hanging her head, but doesn’t change her mind. “We’ll tell them together, when it’s time,” she insists.

Will agrees; he can’t deny his girl anything, especially in this. “So what do we do now?” he asks.

“I have to eat better, for one thing,” Tara says. “And get plenty of sleep.”

~*~

“What about seeing a doctor?” asks Will, concern evident on his face. “I wouldn’t want anything to go wrong with either of you.”

“Tomorrow, Will,” Tara says. “We’ll talk about this more tomorrow, when I know for sure. It could be just another false alarm, like last time.”

“You don’t believe that, do you?” he asks, cupping her chin and looking into her eyes again.

“With the puking? Nah,” she says. “Not this time. I’m pretty sure we didn’t dodge this bullet.”

“Okay, Scarlett,” Will says with a little chuckle. “Tomorrow is another day. I love you, Tara. Never forget.”

~*~

“Love you, too, Will,” Tara responds. She kisses him goodbye, listening as he walks down the stairs and out the door. Lying on her bed, her hands curl around her still flat belly, and she imagines the life that might be growing there.

“A baby,” she sighs, “A little piece of Will and me.” Mama and Papa becoming grandparents. Willa – an Auntie. Tyler – an Uncle. Her decision will affect so many people. If this baby is a reality, she’ll have it. Growing up in such a large, extended family with so many kids makes her realize what children are worth.

~*~

June 2025 – Art – You Make it with Your Hands

Ten years old. Willow marvels at how quickly the time has gone. It seems like yesterday she and Becky received their little brown bundle of joy. Now, she’s practically a young lady, with long, black hair, flashing green eyes, and a winning smile.

To celebrate their daughter’s birthday, Willow and Becky have organized a pottery party for her classmates. Ten chatty girls in jeans and tee shirts take smocks from the attendants and slip them on, hopefully to keep their clothes somewhat clean.

Each one sits at a table with a pottery wheel and is shown how to use it.

~*~

Each girl attempts to throw a pot, with varying degrees of success. Those who are pleased hand their finished product off to be fired in the kiln. They are each given a second lump of clay and told to make anything they want, free-form.

Kiana picks up her clay and centers it on her table, squeezing it between her hands. When she takes her hands away, she says “Oh!”

“What’s the matter, sweetie,” asks Willow.

“Nothing, Mom,” she says. “It looks like a bunny already!”

Sure enough, Willow could see the raw form of a baby bunny’s haunches and shoulders.

~*~

Kiana’s brow furrows in concentration as she works hard, trying to more fully bring out the bunny’s form from her clay. A squeeze here, a push there, and a head forms. Another tweak and ears are lying against the head. Kiana is fascinated as she works.

Picking up a sculpting tool from a cup on her desk, she carves in the facial features; eyes, mouth and twitchy little nose. A finishing touch adds definition to the paws, tail and fur. Becky takes a picture of the unfired bunny “just in case”.

Everyone hands in their finished sculpture to be fired.

~*~

The sculptures are picked up the following day, with the promise of a re-firing if anyone wants to paint their piece. Kiana cuddles her bunny on the way home, saying it’s perfect as it is. It takes place of pride on the mantle, over their fireplace.

“I had so much fun, Mom,” Kiana says to Becky. “Do I have to wait for another birthday before I can do this again?”

“Of course not, sweetheart,” says Becky. “I’m sure Mom Willow and I can find a pottery class for you if you’d like.”

Kiana smiles broadly. “Oh yes, I so would!”

~*~

July 2025 – Future Shock

Buffy has the strangest feeling. She’s not sure what it is, exactly… can’t put her finger on it… but something is definitely “not quite right”.

“Spike,” she says, “Don’t you feel that something is off kilter?”

“What’s off, love?” he asks, sitting down at the kitchen table after a good morning kiss.

Before she has a chance to say anything, Tara comes bounding into the kitchen, snagging a small carton of juice from the fridge. “Going out, Mama,” she says, draining the last of the juice and tossing the empty into the trash. “Bye, Papa.”

Buffy gasps as she leaves.

~*~

“Did you notice anything different about your daughter?” Buffy asks, eyes unfocused as if she’s staring at something only she can see.

“Bit more specific?”

“She’s… bigger,” Buffy insists. “Tara’s gained some weight, and it shows in her breasts and middle.” Buffy shakes her head. She’s really trying not to jump to the conclusion that seems to be clawing at her brain.

“So you’ll have a talk with her about cuttin’ down on the snacks. Don’t see what the problem is,” says Spike.

“Will you be seeing it any clearer when she brings home a baby?” Buffy demands, eyes ablaze.

~*~

“My baby girl is up the duff?” Spike is gobsmacked. “Are you sure?”

“Well, no,” Buffy admits. “But mother’s intuition is a strong thing, and Tara did not look like that a few weeks ago.”

Spike goes from shocked to furious. “I’ll kill that little Harris wanker,” he says, voice low.

“Wait, honey,” Buffy soothes. “We’re not sure, yet. We need to talk with Tara first. Maybe it’s something else.”

“For her sake, it had better be,” Spike growls. “She’s too young.”

Buffy takes a deep breath and holds Spike’s hand. “We had better calm down before she gets home.”

~*~

Tara arrives home before dinner time. “Hi Mama, Papa.”

Buffy gently restrains her husband from speaking and asks, “Is there something you need to tell us, missy?”

Tara’s cheerful façade crumples, her breath hitching. “I-I don’t know what you mean, Mama.”

“Well, let’s start with the fact that you’ve put on a bit of weight recently,” Buffy begins, “and your clothing no longer fits well.”

Unable to keep her secret any longer, Tara sobs, “I’m so sorry, Mama. We used protection, I swear we did.”

“Have you told the father yet?” Spike asks, trying to hold his temper at bay.

~*~

“Will knows,” Tara admits. “We haven’t told anyone else yet.”

Spike shakes his head, unable to believe what’s happened. “Harris is gonna flip.”

“Papa, do you hate me?” Tara asks, her eyes watery and her voice small and meek.

“Oh petal,” Spike sighs, opening his arms to embrace her. “Could never hate you, lovely girl. Just disappointed that your life has gotten so complicated.”

Tara’s shoulders shake with her sobs and she clings to her father like a limpet.

“It’s okay, baby,” Mama soothes. “We’ll work this out. I promise.”

“We need to speak with the Harris men,” Spike says.

~*~

Tara calls Will to warn him that her parents know the score and to ask him to bring his father over as soon as possible. Within fifteen minutes, they arrive.

“What’s the problem, you guys?” he asks, looking at all the furrowed brows.

“Better sit down, Harris,” says Spike, settling into the couch with a sprawl.

“Uh… Tara and I have something to tell you, Dad,” Will begins. “I-it seems like there’s gonna be a new little Harris in the family.”

“This is a joke, right?” Xander asks, looking at his friends beseechingly. “I-I’m being punked, right?”

“Sorry, Uncle Xander.”

~*~

“I-I’m four months pregnant, Uncle Xander,” Tara continues. “We used protection, honest we did,” she says, eyes moist and chin quivering. “It just didn’t work.”

“Why am I… we… just finding out about this now?” Xander demands. “You must have known about this for awhile. When there was time for… for…”

“No!” Will shouts. “We didn’t want to get rid of the baby, and we don’t want to give it up for adoption, either,” he insists.

“How do you plan on taking care of a baby and my baby?” Buffy asks. It’s not going to be easy.”

“I don’t know.”

~*~

Xander sends Will home, and Buffy sends Tara upstairs to her room. The adults need time to talk.

“I take it that you’re none too happy with this situation,” Xander states, looking from Spike to Buffy and back again.

“Of course not, Xan!” Buffy replies, indignantly. “My daughter is almost sixteen years old and had her whole life ahead of her. Now she’s facing early motherhood and dropping out of school.”

“And what about my son?” retorts Xander, just as indignantly. “Same age, same future, and now he’s saddled with supporting a baby for at least the next eighteen years.”

~*~

“Mama?” Tara calls from the stairs. “Can I say something?”

“Of course, petal,” says Spike, patting the couch next to him for her to sit down.

“Doesn’t anyone care how Will or I feel?” she asks, tears tracking silver down her cheeks. “We love each other, and we’re going to love this baby.”

“We’re worried, sweetie,” says Buffy. “You can’t live on love. You need money and a roof over your heads. And don’t forget,” she warns. “A baby doesn’t care if you have money or not… they need diapers and food every single day. And so many other things.”

~*~

Tara sobs, looking absolutely miserable. “We know, Mama. Isn’t there something we can do?”

“Are you sure about this, Tara?” Xander asks. “It’s going to change your life and Will’s so much, and probably not for the better.”

“I’m sure,” she says, defiantly. “Will’s sure, too. We also want to get married, but we’ll wait until after the baby is born.”

Buffy’s hand flits to her heart. “Marriage! Oh!” she says, her lips purse in surprise. “I’d almost forgotten.”

“Can’t say we didn’t see it comin’,” says Spike, “though not necessarily in this order.”

“Will you help us?” Tara begs.

~*~

“Of course we will, darling,” says Buffy, “but we’ll need you and Will to agree to a few things, as well. Like finishing High School, and taking an active part in raising your child. Papa and I will help, of course.”

“And so will I,” says Xander. “After all, this baby is my blood, too. But Will is going to have to be responsible in his own right.”

“Oh, we will, Uncle Xander, I promise,” insists Tara. “I swear our baby has the best grandparents ever!” Tara gives everyone a hug, and heads back to her room.

“Grandparents!”

Oy vey!

~*~

August 2025 - Homecoming

Spike and Buffy have mixed feelings about Willa coming home from college. They’re thrilled to see her, of course, but this time, she’s bringing Bobby, who she’s requested to be allowed to sleep in her room. “I’m an adult, Mama,” she says. “I won’t revert to being a child again just because I’m visiting.”

“Least he’s not likely to lose his soul and go demonic on us, love,” Spike says to his wife. “Got bonus points for that, at least.”

“It’s almost too much, Spike,” she replies. “Having the kids shove their growing up in our faces.”

“I know, petal.”

~*~

“Mama! Papa!” she cries upon entering the door, bringing her parents running. “It’s so good to see you.”

“Mr. Bennett, Mrs. Bennett.” Bobby nods in their direction.

“Welcome home, you two,” Buffy says with enthusiastic hugs and kisses for both.

“Allo, princess,” says Spike, gently hugging her around the waist. “Bobby.” He nods in his direction, still holding his girl.

“Welcome home, Willa,” calls Tyler from the stairs. “I missed you.”

Willa breaks from her father’s embrace and hugs her brother. “Look at you,” she says, checking Tyler out from head to toe. “You’ve grown again since I’ve been gone.”

~*~

“A right handsome family we make,” says Spike with pride.

“Where’s Tara?” asks Willa, looking about.

“She’s out walking with Will,” Buffy says. “The doctor says it’s good for her and the baby to be active as long as she can.”

Willa shakes her head. “I still can’t believe she’s pregnant, Mama. My little sister!”

“We know, honey,” Buffy says, holding her daughter’s hand. “It’s not easy for any of us, including Tara and Will.”

“Uncle Xander must have had a cow.”

“No more’n your Mama and me,” says Spike.

“At least they both have their family’s support,” says Bobby.

~*~

Tara knocks on Willa’s door when she gets home. “Hey sis,” Willa greets her with a hug around her shoulders. “Look at you… you’re beautiful.”

Quietly, Tara begins to cry. “I’m so not,” she sobs. “I’m fat and ugly and can’t even tie my sneakers anymore.”

“Come sit on my bed, baby,” Willa croons, patting the comforter besides her. “You are a beautiful, pregnant woman. As beautiful as any pregnant woman ever was or will be. You glow with life, sweetie.”

Not quite convinced, Tara curls up next to her sister. “I love you,” she mumbles softly, and promptly falls asleep.

~*~

Bobby knocks gently on the door some time later. “I wanted to see if things were all right with Tara,” he says, noticing her fast asleep on Willa’s lap.

“Shhh,” she says. “She needs her sleep. Can we get her into her room without waking her up?”

With a nod, Bobby cradles Tara in his arms, carrying her into her room, placing her gently on her bed. Willa removes her shoes and her bra for comfort. Tara never wakes up, and Willa leaves her to her slumber, closing the door behind her quietly.

“Thanks, Bobby,” she says, kissing her man.

~*~

Willa and Bobby wake up early, shower, dress and snatch a bagel from the kitchen before heading out the door. Her car is in the garage, fully gassed, and they set out to pick up Treena for a little reunion. The three friends stop by a little deli to pick up fixings for a picnic lunch, and head out for a day of gossip and fun.

Bobby pulls out a large quilt and spreads it on the ground to sit on. Willa and Treena set up the food and sodas, then sit back and sun themselves.

It’s a glorious day.

~*~

“So, my bestest friend and future sister-in-law, how’s life treating you?” Willa asks.

“Good, and weird,” Treena replies. “On the good front, Brett is still in my life. He’d have been here today, but he has a project he needs to finish. On the weird side, my little brother is making me an Auntie.”

“I so know what you mean,” agrees Willa. “They’re just so young. It’s not gonna be easy for anyone.”

“Will you have trouble loving the baby?” asks Bobby.

“Gods, no!” exclaims Willa. “The baby is an innocent in all of this. Loving it is already easy.”

~*~

“I agree,” says Treena. “And you and I get to be the spoiling Aunties! Think of all the fun we’ll have shopping for clothes and toys and...”

“C’mon, ladies,” Bobby interrupts. “Surely you know a new baby is about more than shopping.”

“Knock it off, Bobby,” Willa says, pushing his shoulder. “We both know that. But neither one of us is living at home anymore. I’m all the way across the country. It’ll be hard helping in any other way.”

“Agreed,” he replies. “But you can be there for them. Keeping in touch by phone for support will be beneficial.”

~*~

Willa sits up straighter, indignant. “What kind of woman do you think I am, Bobby Murcer? This is my baby sister we’re talking about. And a boy I’ve adored since he was born. Where do you get off telling me to keep in touch with family?”

“Sorry, baby,” he says, soothingly. “I’m just trying to keep a level head here. You know how much I care for your family.

“Yeah, I do,” Willa admits. “But remember… bringing a baby into this world is a joyous event, and they love each other. I have to be hopeful they work things out.”

~*~

September 2025 – New Relationships

It’s weirdly unsettling, Tyler thinks, staring out the windows of the bus. This is the first time in his life that he’s started a school year without his sister. It’s not that they’re freakishly close, but they are twins, and he feels as if he’s missing a part of himself.

He worries about her, home, with a belly the size of a beach ball. He can hardly believe his niece or nephew is in there. Uncle Tyler… something he never thought of as himself, but soon enough that will be his reality.

A baby that will look up to him.

~*~

Tyler has no choice but to take the much reviled gym class this year. He needs the credits to graduate next year, and wants the freedom in his schedule to take an elective course in his Senior year. Begrudgingly, he takes a locker and stuffs his belongings into it, changes into shorts and a tee and heads out to the gym.

It’s a relief to see that he’s caught up somewhat in height to his peers. Not the tallest by any means, but no longer the runt. Looking around, he catches the eye of a guy he’s not familiar with.

~*~

The kid smiles, then winks at him and turns to face the teacher. Tyler does a double take, but the kid isn’t looking his way.

As they mill about the gym, picking teams for a basketball game, he walks over and asks, “Do I know you?”

“Not yet,” the kid answers. “My name is Matt. Matt Cohen. Now you know me,” he says with another wink.

“How come I haven’t seen you before,” Tyler asks, curious.

“I’m a Senior,” he says, shrugging his shoulders. “I cut gym last year, and have to make up the credits in order to graduate.”

~*~

“Pretty much the same reason I’m here,” says Tyler. “I hate gym, but I don’t want to take it next year.”

“When’s your lunch period,” Matt asks. “Maybe we could meet up and talk?”

“Sixth period, Tyler replies. “And you?”

Matt smiles. “Same as you. Meet you in the lunchroom,” he says before haring off to the team that’s chosen him.

“Huh!” Tyler huffs, amused by the discussion. “Never had a Senior want to be friends before.”

The rest of the period goes by in a haze. Tyler is picked for a team and barely has to handle the ball.

~*~

Tyler enters the cafeteria, and looks around for Matt, not seeing him anywhere. He’s about to sit at an empty table when he hears, “Hey, Tyler… over here!” At the sight of a waving hand, he heads over, surprised at what he sees.

It is Matt, but this Matt is wearing black eyeliner and his blond hair is moussed into spikes. “Different, huh?” he asks, pointing to his eyes.

“Not what I expected at all,” says Tyler, finding it amazingly attractive.

“Can’t wear the liner in gym,” Matt says. “It tends to melt when I sweat.”

Tyler nods and stares.

~*~

“See something you like,” Matt asks, grinning widely.

“Yeah,” Tyler breathes out, afraid when he realizes he’s said it aloud.

“No worries, dude. I like what I see, too. I don’t go around winking at everyone, ya know.”

Tyler breathes a sigh of relief that he’s not going to get beaten down for his attraction. “A-are you…?”

“Gay?” Matt asks, finishing Tyler’s question. “Yeah, I am, matter of fact. And you?”

“Pretty sure,” Tyler replies, a blush staining his cheeks.

“Terrific!” exclaims Matt, looking pleased. “Glad I didn’t scare you off. It happens sometimes.”

“D-do I look gay?” Tyler asks.

~*~

“There is no gay look,” answers Matt, complete with air quotes. “You’re cute… okay, handsome,” he says at Tyler’s affronted look. “Not calling you a girl, Tyler… but let’s face it – you don’t exactly look like a Neanderthal jock, either.”

Tyler relaxes, having to admit that Matt is right. For sixteen years old, his face still has the soft features of an adolescent, not the angles of a man.

“Can I drive you home?” Matt asks, reaching out for one of Tyler’s hands. At his nod of consent, Matt says, “Cool. Then meet me in the parking lot after school.”

~*~

Just three more periods ‘til the end of the day, and Tyler can’t wait. He hopes he’s reading the situation right, and that Matt is throwing out the ‘signals’ his Papa spoke about. He can’t help but have a moment of fear that this was a setup, and he was going to get jumped in the parking lot.

There is no reason to worry. Matt pulls up to the curb and honks, and Tyler gets into his car. “Feel like going out for a burger before I take you home?” he asks.

“Sure,” Tyler responds, feeling the butterflies take flight.

~*~

October 2025 - Accommodations

After much brainstorming, plans have been made. Willa is happy to cede her room to Tyler, and the twins’ room’s partition is opened once again. Tyler’s portion of the room will be made into a nursery, and Tara’s room will be made over to house both her and Will.

“Not too keen ‘bout them shackin’ up under my roof,” grumbles Spike, “but they managed to get together living separately.”

“True,” Buffy agrees. “And he’ll be much more help to Tara if he’s here, with the baby.”

Xander, however, is a little freaked with both his children out of his sight.

~*~

“If ever I was tempted to heft a bottle, it’s now, Spike,” Xander says to his friend. “I haven’t needed this in years.”

“Growin’ up’s not easy on us left behind,” Spike agrees. “Knowin’ Willa’s not going to be callin’ this home again is a pain that’ll linger.”

“It does give me a push to make a decision I’ve been thinking on,” Xander muses. “If Neal’ll have me, I can move into his place without feeling guilty about leaving my kids behind.”

Spike smiles. “Looks like you’ve found the silver linin’ in all of this.”

It’s Xander’s turn to smile.

~*~

Neal is ecstatic over Xander’s proposal – even more thrilled that he’s not requesting a second bedroom. It may have taken years, but the man is finally getting comfortable with what he wants. He might not be the world’s most adventuresome lover… not yet, anyway, but he is definitely ardent, and baby steps are absolutely fine with him. Neal is so glad he didn’t lose him to fear.

Everyone helps Xander move his things out of the Wells’ house. Dawn sheds a few tears, hugging her friend tightly and wishes him happiness. She’s glad he’s finally gotten on with his life.

~*~

By the end of the month, the baby’s room has taken shape. Xander paints the walls a rich oatmeal color. Once the baby is born, they can decorate gender wise. Furniture has arrived: a crib, a changing table, a small chest and a comfy rocking chair.

Tara’s eyes well up when the room comes together. “I don’t know how to thank you all,” she says, dashing the tears away. “You’re being so good to us.”

“We’re making the best of a difficult situation,” says Buffy. “And we love you both… and the baby.”

“Will and I love you all, too.”

~*~

At seven months along, Tara’s back aches. Her belly is large enough to have shifted her center of gravity and make walking uncomfortable. Her last obstetrician’s visit brought quite a scare when the sonogram technician thought she detected a second baby. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief when only one child can be clearly identified.

School has become an impossibility. Tara can no longer fit behind the student desk/chair arrangement. Two months into eleventh grade, she’s become a dropout. Buffy offers to home school her daughter, and she agrees to try. Dawn is more than happy to lend her expertise.

~*~

November 2025 – No Fear, No Doubt

Xander and Neal relax on the couch in front of the fireplace, staring into the leaping flames while cuddled into each other.

“I miss my kids,” he murmurs into Neal’s neck. “I miss the days when we used to spend almost every waking moment together.”

“Kids grow up, love,” Neal replies, stroking Xander’s salt and pepper locks. “Before you have one, you know they’re going to leave home someday. Doesn’t mean you won’t still be a part of their lives… just in a different way.”

“I’m gonna be a Grandpa, Neal. And with our relationship, you’ll be a defacto Grandpa.”

~*~

Neal smiles, kissing Xander. “Looking forward to it, Xan. I might not have kids of my own, but I bet I can spoil a little one with the best of ‘em.”

“Are you sure, Neal?” he asks. “Getting involved with babies is much more complicated than with adults.”

“You planning on leaving me any time soon?” Neal asks, a smile gracing his lips.

“Fine, fine. I get it,” Xander says. “You love me, and you’re learning to love my family, and you’re not going anywhere.”

Neal draws Xander closer, nipping little love bites along his lips. “Now you’re getting it.”

~*~

December 2025 – Baby Mine

Christmas Eve finds the Bennett household a flurry of activity. As usual, a bountiful meal has been prepared; a swirled honey ham, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn on the cob… enough to feed a small army.

After trimming the tree, everyone sits down to eat. The first sign that something is off with Tara, whose appetite has been prodigious as of late, is pushing food around her plate and not eating more than a small nibble.

“What’s the matter?” asks Will, concern etched on his face.

“My back hurts,” Tara replies. “And I’m just feeling sorta cranky. Can I be excused?”

~*~

“Do you want to lie down?” Buffy asks, ready to follow her daughter upstairs.

“That’s all right, Aunt Buffy,” Will says. “I’ll go with her.”

Buffy retreats, letting Tara’s beloved take care of her. It isn’t easy, but it’s something she’s learning to do.

“Call us if she needs anything,” Spike calls to Will as he heads to their room.

Xander rubs his eyes, tiredly. “It’s not gonna get easier, is it? Even after this baby is born.”

“Not a lick, mate,” says Spike.

“Probably be worse,” offers Neal. “Then you’ll have another person to worry about.”

Xander rolls his eyes.

~*~

Tyler goes to his room, and the adults sit around the tree, watching the twinkling lights and letting them soothe their worries away.

A loud groan emerges from the bedroom, and Tyler’s footsteps race downstairs. “Tara’s water broke!” he yells. Will’s called Dr. Li, and she says to meet her at the hospital!”

Buffy goes upstairs to offer help if needed and grab Tara’s suitcase, Spike pulls the car into the driveway, and Neal and Xander get ready to follow behind in their own car.

Will and Buffy gently ease Tara into the minivan and head off to the hospital.

~*~

“Any contractions?” Buffy asks.

“Not really, Mama,” is Tara’s reply. “My back is killing me, though.”

“Back labor,” Spike and Buffy chorus.

The trip to the hospital is uneventful. There’s almost no traffic on the roads, for which everyone is grateful. Spike pulls up to the emergency entrance, and they’re greeted by an orderly with a wheelchair. Will heads into the hospital with Tara, while the cars are parked.

“Insurance?” the admitting nurse asks.

“All her paperwork is on file,” Will states. “Her name is Tara Bennett.”

A quick check with the computer affirms things, and Tara awaits her room.

~*~

By the time she’s situated in a room, Tara is moaning in earnest. Will sets up his painting she will use as a focal point, and he directs her to begin her Lamaze breathing.

“Hoo, hoo, hee,” he encourages, and Tara tries hard to concentrate on the rhythm, instead of the pain. “Come on, sweetheart, hoo, hoo, hee,” he tries again, needing her to participate.

“One more ‘hoo, hoo, hee’ and I swear I’ll scratch your eyes out, Will Harris,” Tara grunts through another contraction.

“Let me see what I can do to help with the back pain,” he says.

~*~

Taking out the large rubber ball from her suitcase, Will centers it in the small of her back, and pushes gently, rolling it around to counteract the stress there. When another contraction hits, she arches back against the ball, moaning loud and long.

“Uuunh, that feels good,” she groans as the contraction ends. “I wish I could rip out my damned spine.”

“Better than my eyes,” Will jokes, but it falls flat. “Sorry, baby. The doctor should be in soon, to check on the baby’s progress.”

“Soon, soon, soon,” Tara chants, willing this to be over already.

Will heartily agrees.

~*~

Dr. Li’s examination shows Tara to be eighty percent effaced. “Soon it will be showtime, kids,” she says, pulling off her latex gloves. “You’re moving along quickly, it seems.”

“Can’t be quick enough for me,” Tara mutters.

“I’ll be back in an hour, sweetie,” Dr. Li comforts. “You’re almost there.”

“I’m thirsty,” Tara complains, knowing she’s not allowed to drink right now.

“Want some ice chips?” Will asks. “I know it’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.” When Tara agrees, Will holds up a small cup of chips to her mouth.

“Mmmm, good,” she murmurs, when another contraction hits.

~*~

This is the hardest one yet, and Will does his best to ease Tara’s way through it. She’s fighting him, though… closing her eyes and bearing the full pain of it. When he attempts to gain her attention, she screams at him to get out.

It’s hard to remember that it’s the pain talking, not his sweet girl, but he manages, sticking with her until she opens her eyes and begins breathing again.

The hour passes quickly, contractions coming hot and heavy now at five minutes apart. Tara is sweating profusely, and Will keeps her comfortable with a cool washcloth.

~*~

“Bingo!” exclaims Dr. Li at the next examination. “Time to head for the delivery room. Are we ready to greet baby?” she asks.

“Out,” sighs Tara, already exhausted. “I just want to hold it in my arms.”

“Then let’s get the show on the road,” the doctor says, sending Will to get into a set of scrubs.

Tara is wheeled into the delivery room, and the bed is cranked to a nearly sitting position. Dr. Li places her legs in the stirrups, and the waiting begins. The next contraction doesn’t disappoint and comes in hard and heavy.

“Here we go!”

~*~

Will gets behind Tara and pushes her gentlyforward; supporting her back while she takes a deep breath and pushes. She collapses backwards when the pain passes, only to be hit almost immediately with another contraction.

“Come on, sweetheart,” Will encourages. “Push!”

Tara pushes so hard, she worries her brain will slip out along with the baby. She feels an odd pressure between her legs, and Dr. Li tells her the baby is crowning.

“Next contraction, give it all you’ve got, honey. This little one wants to be born now.”

Tara complies, and three minutes later, the baby’s head emerges.

~*~

Another push and the shoulders follow, then the body. “It’s a boy!” Dr. Li announces, followed by the sweetest cry they’ve ever heard.

“I-is he all right?” Tara asks, petrified that something is wrong.

“He’s perfect!” Will crows, looking at his newborn son. “Ten fingers, ten toes, and one little weenie. Oh, Tara,” he sighs happily. “Look what we did.”

The baby is cleaned up and Apgar stats taken before he’s brought over to his mom. Tara unwraps the blanket and checks things out for herself.

“He is so very perfect, isn’t he?” she murmurs, tears glistening in her eyes.

~*~

Will heads for the waiting room, while Tara is cleaned up, and the baby sent to a warming isolette. Everyone stands up when the doors open.

“Well?” Xander asks. “Are we grandfathers or grandmothers?”

“How’s my daughter?” Buffy asks, worry in her face.

“Tara’s fine,” says Wills, smiling widely. “And it’s a beautiful, healthy boy!”

A loud ‘whoop’ escapes from the family, but they quickly quiet down out of consideration.

“I’m going back to my girl,” says Will, “but I’ll come and get you when you can see them both.”

“Congratulations, son,” says Xander, wiping happy tears from his eyes.

~*~

About an hour later, Will comes to escort everyone to Tara’s room. She’s sitting up in bed, her hair brushed and tied behind her head in a ponytail. She’s wearing a beautiful, new nursing gown and is absolutely glowing.

Spike is first to kiss his girl, stroking her cheek and gazing into her eyes. “I’m a grandpa,” he says, dazedly.

“I know, Papa,” Tara laughs. “I was there.”

“How are you feeling, sweetheart?” asks Buffy, sitting at her daughter’s bedside.

“So much better now,” she admits. “Tired, too. No wonder they call it labor.”

Buffy smiles, remembering her own deliveries.

~*~

At the sound of wheels coming down the hallway, everyone perks up. A nurse rolls in the isolette, and Will picks up his son. He looks at Tara, who nods, and announces, “Ladies and Gentlemen, may we present our son, Noel Christopher Harris.”

He kisses the baby on the forehead before he hands him over to Xander, who fusses over him. “He’s beautiful, you guys.” He gives him to Neal for a moment, before Buffy can’t stand it any longer and holds her arms out. “Here you go, Grandma,” Neal says, before relinquishing his hold.

“Oh, my goodness,” Buffy coos.

~*~

Tyler is the last to hold the baby. “Hey, Noel,” he says, gently stroking his dark blond hair. “I’m your Uncle Tyler. I’m glad you’re finally here.”

“Okay, you guys. Noel needs to nurse, so it’s time for you to head out,” says the new father. “Come back tomorrow during visiting hours?”

Tyler hands the baby over to his sister. “Love you, Tara,” he says before heading out the door. “Ya did good.”

The new family is alone at last. The baby is lustily nursing, and Will looks on with pride. This child is ours, he thinks. We are family.

Chapter Text

January 2026 – More than Friends

New Year’s has come and gone, and Winter Break is over. School once more runs Tyler’s daytime hours. The end of his sophomore year is looming large, and he can’t wait for it to be over. Otherwise, school is tolerable because of Matt. It’s good to see him again. Gym and lunch… just two periods a day, but they mean everything.

Absence did, indeed, make the heart grow fonder, and the two teens take advantage of any empty space they can find to make out.

Eventually Tyler decides to introduce Matt to his parents and invites him over for dinner.

~*~

Matt pulls his car into the driveway at the Bennett home. “This feels a bit weird, Ty,” he says, brushing the hair out of his eyes. “I sorta feel like a prospective bride being shown off to your parents.”

“It’s just dinner,” Tyler insists. “I want my parents to meet you… to know who I’m hanging out with after school. It’s not that serious, dude.”

Matt nods, and gets out of the car, followed by Tyler. “Hey Mama, Papa,” he yells in greeting as he enters his home. “This is Matt Cohen, the guy I’ve been telling you all about.”

~*~

“Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett.” Matt extends his hand to Spike, and nods in deference to Buffy. “Thanks for having me over for dinner.”

“You’re very welcome, Matt,” says Buffy. “Are you sure your parents don’t mind?”

“It’s all cool, Mrs. B.,” Matt replies. “Since I turned eighteen, all I have to do is let my parents know where I’m gonna be, and they’re happy.”

“Right,” says Spike. “You’re a year ahead of Ty in school.”

“Papa,” groans Tyler, rolling his eyes. “You know we take gym together and that we have the same lunch period.”

Spike just nods, silently.

~*~

“We’ll be down for dinner,” Tyler says. “Just gonna listen to some music and hang out.”

Buffy smiles, nodding as her son and friend head up the stairs. “It’s so nice to see Tyler reaching out to someone,” she says. “He spends far too much time alone, and I worry about him.”

“The lad seems to be doin’ all right,” says Spike. “This Matt bloke comes off as a decent sort.”

“Do you think…?” Buffy asks, trailing off.

“Do I think what, love?” asks Spike.

“Do you think Matt’s gay?” she asks, finally able to get her whole sentence out.

~*~

“Don’t rightly know if it’s any of our business,” Spike replies. “Does it matter?”

“No, of course not. I can’t help thinking about it, with all the newly same sex couples in our lives.”

“Newly?” Spike scoffs. “Xander’s had a thing for my hot, tight little body since Sunnyhell. It’s no surprise he and Neal have hooked up.”

“Then what about Oz and Wesley?”

“Wolf wants who it wants.” Spike nods, sagely. “Can be mighty persuasive under the right circumstances. What's in a name?” he quotes. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

~*~

“Mmmm,” purrs Buffy, closing her eyes. “You know what poetry does to me.”

“Why do you think I spout it from time to time?” laughs Spike, pulling his wife into a hug. “Nothing like a little unexpected touch in the afternoon.”

“Stop, Spike!” she squeals as his fingers catch her mercilessly under the ribcage and wriggle.

“’fraid the kiddies will catch an eyeful?” he asks, scarred eyebrow aimed at his hairline.

“J-just a little self-control is a good thing,” she stammers as she tries to catch her breath.

“Priss.”

“Perv.”

“Race you to the bedroom?”

“First one there’s on top!”

~*~

Sometime later, Spike walks past Tyler’s room and knocks. Unfortunately the music is blaring loudly enough to drown out the sound, so he opens the door slowly and peeks in. A quick glimpse of the room’s occupants and Spike swiftly closes the door again.

“No need to wonder anymore about whether the lad’s gay,” Spike says to his wife. “The pair of’em are busy snogging on Ty’s bed.”

Buffy’s hand flutters to her throat. “And just what did you do about it?” she asks.

“Nothin’, love,” he says, quietly. “Our Ty’s almost a man, and a man’s got needs.”

~*~

Dinner is a peaceful affair. The teens chatter about teachers and coursework, and Matt talks about his plans after graduation. Tyler is an avid listener.

Buffy doesn’t grill him on his life, though Spike sees she’s holding back.

Once Tyler has said his goodbyes to Matt, and he hears the car drive off, he turns to his parents.

“Mama, Papa, I know one of you opened my door earlier this evening. I just want to thank you,” he says.

“For what?” they chorus.

“For not embarrassing me with Matt. I like him,” he says. “A lot. And he likes me.”

~*~

February 2026 – The Proposal

Bobby likes surprises. It’s something Willa’s come to learn and love about him. So, when he asks her if she can take her birthday off from student teaching because he has plans, she does it without an argument.

She’s definitely suspicious when she spots her luggage sitting near the door, alongside his. When he hands her a long envelope and wishes her a Happy Birthday, her hands begin to shake.

Two first class tickets to Rome, Italy, elicit a very mature squeal and major huggage. “How can I not do something special for your twenty-first birthday, my sweet?” he murmurs.

~*~

The seats on the plane are luxurious, and Willa can’t stop smiling. “I still can’t believe that this is actually happening,” she gushes, eyes sparkling with excitement. “What a way to spend my birthday.”

“Nothing but the best for my girl,” says Bobby, holding her hand. If only she knew what he had planned, she would fly to Rome without the plane.

“Oh, god,” Willa says, her free hand flying to her mouth. “What did you pack for me? Enough underwear? The right bras? Suitable clothing?”

“Don’t panic, Willa,” Bobby laughs. “Mom did the packing for you.”

~*~

“Whew!” Willa swipes the imaginary sweat from her brow.

“She said she didn’t want folks staring at you,” Bobby continues, patting her on the shoulder. “…for reasons other than being radiantly beautiful.”

“I knew there was a reason I adored your mom,” Willa laughs. “She’s a wise woman, and she raised a wise son.”

“True, true,” Bobby nods.

Willa settles back into her seat, and shortly falls asleep. Within moments, Bobby follows suit. Both are awakened hours later to the announcement that they will be landing in Leonardo da Vinci Airport within the half hour.

Bobby smiles. “Almost there, sweetheart.”

~*~

They deplane, pick up their luggage and go through customs with no problems. Bobby’s arranged for a private car to take them to their hotel. After the long flight, he wasn’t looking forward to taking the train. The car pulls up in front of their hotel – The St. Regis Rome – and the staff takes their baggage as they check in.

Once inside their hotel room, Willa plops down on the bed. “What do we do now?” she asks, stretching. “Sitting on our butts for nine hours isn’t as invigorating as it sounds, you know? And it’s almost midnight, Rome time.”

~*~

“I’d suggest we try and get some sleep to catch up with the time difference,” says Bobby. “I’ve heard from friends that jet lag can ruin the first days of a vacation, and we don’t have any to spare.”

“No snack before heading for bed?” Willa pouts. “Is there room service available at this time of night?”

Bobby shrugged. “I’ll call down to the desk and see… I’m not averse to a little nibble. Maybe some fresh fruit?”

“Sounds yummy and refreshing,” Willa agrees. “And not too heavy to keep us from sleeping.”

“That’s the idea,” says Bobby, kissing her.

~*~

They wake up bright and early, refreshed and ready to go. “So, my love,” says Willa. “What do you have planned for us today?”

“Nothing special, really. Just some gallivanting around the streets of Roma, seeing the sights and people watching.”

“And how do we ‘gallivant’ exactly?”

Bobby smiles. “What do you say to hopping onto the back of a Vespa and holding tight?”

“Sounds divine,” Willa purrs.

“Great,” he says, patting his pocket. “We’ll pick up something for breakfast along the way.”

“You have a destination in mind?”

“Oh, just sightseeing, sweetheart. Nothing special.”

They leave the room arm-in-arm.

~*~

As they motor through the streets, enjoying the day, the breeze rustles through Willa’s golden curls where they emerge from her helmet, sending a little chill down her spine. The nape of her neck has always been a sensitive spot.

She looks past Bobby’s shoulder and spots their final destination. Right up ahead is the glorious Trevi Fountain. Indeed, they turn into the parking area and try to worm their way as close as possible

“Wow!” Willa exclaims. “The sound of the cascading water is quite loud.”

“It is,” Bobby agrees. “But look at the statuary… it’s stunning.”

“So beautiful!”

~*~

“This fountain has been around since 1762,” Bobby murmurs. “In fact, it’s still being fed by the same aqueduct - the Acqua Vergine.”

“Aren’t you just the ‘fount’ of knowledge,” Willa laughs, hugging him around the waist.

“So we’re heading into punnage, are we?” Bobby reaches into his pocket and then kneels in front of Willa. “Maybe this won’t seem so funny.”

She gasps, finally figuring out what he’s been up to.

“Willa, my sweet girl,” he says, flipping open the box to reveal a ring – a round diamond with smaller set-in diamonds in the band. “Will you marry me?”

~*~

“Oh, Bobby,” she breathlessly murmurs. “I will. Of course I will!” She rewards her fiancé with a soul-searing kiss, which is greeted with loud applause by the tourists surrounding them. Color rises high in her cheeks, staining them a bright pink.

“So beautiful,” says Bobby, staring deep into Willa’s eyes. “I couldn’t think of a better setting to propose than this. I hope you don’t mind the publicness of it.”

Willa shakes her head, shocked speechless.

“You know the legend of the Fountain, right? Toss a coin into the fountain while facing away, and you’ll ensure a return to Rome.”

~*~

Finally gathering her wits, Willa nods. “I’ve definitely heard of it. They say to throw it with your right hand over your left shoulder.”

“I was thinking,” Bobby muses, “that we just might want to come back here for our honeymoon. What do you think?”

“Yes!” Willa exclaims. “Yes, I would love to come back when we can take our time and relax.”

“Good! That’s one less thing that we have to worry about. The most important thing is the date for our wedding. Any ideas?” he asks.

“Not yet,” she replies, “but soon. Next year sounds good to me.”

~*~

The rest of their vacation flies by. Romantic walks, meals… everything they do or see is colored by the rosy glow of their love.

“You’re spoiling me, you know,” Willa whispers into Bobby’s ear as they cuddle on a park bench. “How on earth will you ever top this?”

“I’m sure I’ll think of something,” Bobby says, and waggles his eyebrows.

“Oh, you!”

“Not like you’ve ever complained, sweetie pie,” he insists. “Of course, we could always try new things, if you’re getting bored.”

“Nope!” she says, popping her ‘p’. “Then again, new has a lot going for it, too.”

~*~

They arrive home, exhausted, but ecstatic. Sarah and Nathan Murcer greet them with hugs and slaps on the back once Willa’s ring is spotted.

“It’s about time,” says Sarah, hugging her soon-to-be daughter-in-law. “Bobby’s been mooning about for months.”

Nathan nods, hugging Willa in turn. “It was all we could do to keep him from springing it on you before the trip.”

“I can’t believe you were all able to keep this from me.” Willa laughs, punching Bobby lightly in his shoulder. “I mean, you’re all such a bunch of gossips! Does anyone else know?”

Nathan demurs to his wife.

~*~

“We told your folks you’d gone to Italy when they called to wish you a Happy Birthday, but that’s it,” Sarah insists.

“Oh gods! I’ve got to call Mama and Papa!”

“I’m sure they were tracking your return flight online,” says Nathan. “They know you’re home safe.”

Willa gives them a look they’ll become familiar with over the coming years, and she heads upstairs to make her peace with her parents.

Buffy picks up on the fourth ring. “Hello?” she says sleepily into the phone.

“Hi, Mama, it’s me,” says Willa, brightly. “Sorry to call so early in the morning.”

~*~

“Papa and I were sleeping in this morning, sweetheart, but it’s okay. When did you get home?” Buffy asks.

“About a half hour ago. I’m sorry I didn’t let you know, but Bobby sprung it on me as a surprise, and there was no time…”

“Don’t worry, honey. So we’ll wish you a belated Happy Birthday. You know we love you.”

“I have news, Mama.”

“Good or bad?” Buffy asks, warily.

“Great!” Willa exclaims. “Bobby proposed to me at the Trevi Fountain!”

“Spike! Wake up! Our daughter’s engaged.” Willa heard Papa being roused to the phone.

“Mornin’ poppet,” he slurs.

~*~

“I’m so sorry I woke you, Papa,” Willa entreats. “Forgive me?”

“Of course, lamb,” he says, sounding more awake. “So what’s this Mama tells me? The git finally popped the question?”

“Papa! Bobby got down on one knee in front of the Trevi Fountain and asked me to marry him. And oh, what a ring he gave me,” she adds. “I’ll email you a picture later this afternoon. I promise.”

“You do that, my precious girl. Mama and I are both very happy for you. Should we let Tara and Ty know, or do you want to do the honors?”

~*~

“I’ll call later, Papa. I just wanted to let you and Mama we’re home and tell you the news. Love you so much.”

“We love you, too, lamb. I hope we get to see you soon,” Spike says, the longing evident in his voice.

“We’ll visit as soon as we can. Say goodbye to Mama for me?”

Spike nods, then shakes his head and says, “I will, sweetheart. You and Bobby take care of yourselves until then.”

“We will, Papa,” she agrees, reluctant to hang up the phone. After all this time, she’s still Papa’s girl. “I miss you, too.”

~*~

March 2026 – Mama Knows Best

Noel is the most adorable baby ever born. This everyone agrees on. Where they do not agree, is how to get Mr. Adorable to sleep when he awakens for the tenth time in an evening. Will walks him up and down the hallway, and around their room, to no avail. Tara tries nursing him, changing his diaper, offering a pacifier, and nothing works.

Spike sings lullabyes, and when that doesn’t work, heads into The Clash, and other old favorites.

“Maybe he’s colicky,” Buffy tries. Tara’s eyes roll in response.

“Mama, he’s nursing. Breast milk fed babies do not have colic.”

~*~

“Well,something must be wrong,” Buffy insists. “There’s no reason for a baby to cry like this every, single, evening.”

Tara bites her tongue. She knows her parents are supporting her, going above and beyond to make sure her little family is secure, but there are times when Mama forgets that Noel is hers and Will’s, and not her own.

“Let me take him,” Buffy says, holding her arms out. “Maybe if I hold him over my…”

“Mama, enough!” Tara explodes. “I know you mean well, but don’t you think Will and I have tried every position possible to hold Noel?”

~*~

Spike and Will take that moment to duck out of the room. Will feels guilty for not standing up for his girl against her mother, but honestly, Aunt Buffy is really trying, and Noel is disrupting everyone’s sleep.

“So,” says Spike, sprawling onto his favorite chair, “livin’ with a strong woman is a lot harder than lovin’ one, eh, lad?”

“Tara can be feisty,” Will says carefully. Tara is Uncle Spike’s daughter, after all. “She’s stressed out about the baby. Going without sleep is making us all crazy.”

Spike nods. “Got a decent set of lungs on ‘im, for sure.”

~*~

Eyes look skyward as voices rise and someone stomps on the floor. Will visibly shudders and Spike claps him on the shoulder in a show of support. “Don’t fret, son,” he says. “Sometimes you’ve just got to give the women their space. Motherin’s rough business. Best to let them figure things out on their own.

“But he’s my son, too,” Will says, ear still aimed towards the ceiling, trying to listen in on what’s going on. “I just don’t want to fight with either Tara or Aunt Buffy.”

“Don’t be afraid to stand up to my daughter,” says Spike.

~*~

Buffy walks down the stairs, eyes slightly red, but smiling. “Will, Tara wants to see you,” she says, looking at her husband.

Will excuses himself and runs upstairs.

“Battle fought?” asks Spike, brushing back a lock of hair from Buffy’s forehead and tucking it behind her ear.

“At least this round,” she replies, leaning into his touch. “Tara’s got good mothering instincts. I have to remember and let her follow them without interfering.”

“She’ll ask for help if she needs it, love,” Spike murmurs. “And she will. Nobody raises a child on their own. Takes a village and all that.”

~*~

Tara looks up and smiles when Will enters the room. “Sssh,” she says. “Noel’s finally asleep.”

“What did you do?” he asks.

“Nothing,” she replies. “I think he just cried himself out.”

Will settles gently into the bed at Tara’s side. “We need to move forward with our lives, sweetheart. I’ve got to get a job after I graduate.”

“Can you make money selling your paintings?” Tara asks.

“I’d love to, but that’s not gonna pay the bills on a place of our own right away. Maybe Dad can help,” he muses.

“Good! I mean, I love my parents, but…”

~*~

April 2026 – Like Father, Like Son

Taking a deep breath, Will approaches his father on a lazy, Saturday afternoon. “Hey, Dad,” he calls out, entering the yard. “I need to talk to you about something important.”

“Sure thing, kiddo.” Xander sits up, placing his sunglasses on the table near the chaise. “What’s up?”

“You know my college plans are a bit derailed at the moment,” he says, sitting on the chaise next to Xander’s. “I need to find a job… to make money to support my family.”

“True,” Xander says, nodding. “What do you want me to do about it?”

“Can I apprentice at your job?”

~*~

“You want to be an architect?” Xander is stunned. “You’ve never expressed interest...”

Will shakes his head. “It’s not that I want to,” he says. “I’d prefer to make a living off my art, but I need to be practical. My mechanical drawing skills aren’t shabby.”

“I don’t know,” his father replies. “I’ll have to ask my boss and see what he has to say. You know there won’t be any real money in it for quite a few years.”

Will nods. “I know, but I have to start somewhere. Tara and the baby deserve a place of their own.”

~*~

“Are you having trouble with Aunt Buffy and Uncle Spike?” Xander asks, concern lacing his voice.

“No, no… not really,” Will insists. “It’s just Aunt Buffy can be a little… forceful,” he says, tactfully. “And Tara and I have our own ideas on child rearing. It will just be less stressful for everyone involved when we can be self-sufficient.”

Xander laughs aloud. “Buffy, forceful? Kid, you don’t know the half of it,” he says fondly, remembering high school days.

“Do you think your boss will agree to help me?” asks Will.

“All we can do is hope, son,” Xander replies.

~*~

May 2026 – Growing Pains

The four teens stand in front of the long mirror in their bathroom. “There’s no doubt about it,” says Jesse. “Mine is bigger.”

Jason snorts. “Yeah, right. Mine comes down to here, and yours isn’t close.”

“Boys, boys,” says Jonathan. “Listen to your older brother. Mine is longer, of course.”

“You’re all imagining things,” insists Jeremy. “Mine tops all of yours.”

“That’s enough, you guys,” Dawn says, standing at the bathroom door. “You all have manly mustaches.”

“Aw, Mum,” they chorus.

Dawn shakes her head; grateful that mustaches were the only thing the boys were measuring when she walked by.

~*~

It’s been going on for weeks, and Dawn is about ready to tear her hair out. Her sons have gone through a growth spurt – having shot up some four inches each in the past few months. The upstairs resonates with the sounds of grunts and bodies hitting the floor as they wrestle each other in a show of strength.

Jeremy’s voice cracked the other day, followed in rapid succession by his brothers. The puberty fairy has hit the Wells’ household hard, and Dawn’s thinking of grabbing Andrew and running for the hills.

“Boys will be boys,” her husband reminds her.

~*~

“And their competition is friendly,” he continues. “At least there isn’t a bully in the bunch we’ve raised.”

“Still thinking about Tucker?” Dawn asks, as Andrew visibly shakes.

“It was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” he says, bravado coming to the fore. “I live in the now. It’s better that way.”

“I agree,” says Dawn with a comforting hug. “We can’t let the past cripple us. As long as we learn from it, it’s all of the good.”

“You’re right, my dear woman.” Andrew nods. They both jump at an exceptionally loud thump from upstairs.

~*~

“That’s not fair,” yells Jason at the top of his lungs.

“Is too,” yells Jesse, suddenly appearing next to his parents.

“What did you do, Jesse?” Dawn asks, sternly.

We were playing chicken, and Jason was being a butthead,” Jesse snarks. “I portaled downstairs and he hit the ground.”

“Then he’s right, and you were wrong,” Andrew insists. “You know you’re not supposed to take advantage of anyone with your powers, especially family.”

Dawn nods her head in agreement. “I think you need to haul it upstairs and apologize to your brother, young man. Two buttheads don’t make a right.”

~*~

Jesse rolls his eyes and tromps up the stairs. It’s not that he doesn’t love his brothers… it’s just there’s almost never enough alone time for any of them. He wants to ask his parents if he can move into Will’s room, now that he no longer needs it, but he know the ruckus it’ll cause with his siblings.

Reasonably, however, it would give one of his brothers their own room, too. Maybe, just maybe, with a little tact and good luck, this could work out. Of course, he’s really going to have to apologize to Jason. And mean it.

~*~

Jesse makes his mea culpa, which is grudgingly accepted by Jason, and holds a meeting. “Look, guys. I know we’ve been getting on each others’ nerves lately, and I think it’s time for us to branch out. I want to ask Mum and Dad if I can move into Will’s bedroom.” At the expected uproar, he pushes on. “That means Jeremy would have his own room, too – or you could work it out between you.”

“What makes you think Mum and Dad will let you have the room?” asks Jonathan. “I could ask, too, you know.”

“You could,” Jesse admits.

~*~

“So can we,” chime in Jeremy and Jason.

“You all could,” says Jesse, “and our parents will veto the idea totally. If we don’t fight about it, it’s much better.”

“Maybe they can turn the playroom into a bedroom,” says Jeremy. “That wouldn’t be too hard, and we’d each have a room of our own.”

“Then why don’t all four of us ask together? They have to take us seriously if we act cool.” Jesse is excited. This might actually work out for everyone.

“We can do it tonight, after dinner,” says Jeremy. “When they’re both in a good mood.”

~*~

June 2026 – The Big Day

With the big day only weeks away, Tara’s become frantic. She’s been searching for the perfect wedding gown forever, and nothing makes her happy. The dresses she finds are either too frilly or too plain, too virginal or too desperate. She’s driven all her female relatives insane with hour after hour of gown rejections.

Finally, two weeks before her wedding, she finds it. The gown is simple, elegant, and most important, looks wonderful on her post-partum body. Strapless, gathered bodice attached to a dropped waistline satin skirt with train, the dress barely requires alteration.

Everyone cheers, the loudest being Tara.

~*~

“Oh, Mama,” she murmurs, turning this way and that in the triple mirrors. “Look at me… the dress is perfect!”

Buffy is too choked up to say a single word, but manages to hug her beautiful daughter tightly.

Willa and Treena are an ensemble act, turning Tara around, pulling here, tugging there, until they’re satisfied.

“Gorgeous, sis,” Willa says. “You couldn’t have done better if you’d had the dress custom made.”

“You’re gonna knock my brother out of his shoes, girl,” laughs Treena. “The poor guy doesn’t know what he’s in for.”

“If he survives Noel all day,” Tara giggles.

~*~

From there on, everything falls into place. They purchase an adorable flower girl dress for Luna, in white, with a lavender sash and polka dots on the full skirt. Tara finds a comfortable pair of strappy high heeled sandals and a pearl-edged demi-veil.

Since Grandpa Angel has offered to foot the bill for this shindig, Nina helps Tara pick out her flowers and decorations. Between catalogues and the internet, everything is done online.

The cake is the last detail. Tara doesn’t want the traditional tiered wedding cake, so she pores through hundreds of images until she finds the right one.

~*~

Tara decides on several layers of individually wrapped slices, decorated in edible flowers. She finds the perfect topper and the order is placed. The flavors she and Will pick are also non-traditional. They’ve opted for devil’s food cake, filled with cannoli cream and chocolate chips. The cake will be delivered to the Hyperion the morning of her wedding.

“I can hardly wait, Grandpa Angel,” she says over the phone. “Everything has been ordered, Will and I have our clothes… we even have a little suity thing for Noel. I can’t thank you enough for all this.”

“Me, either,” adds Will.

~*~

The family heads to Los Angeles two days before the wedding so everyone will be well rested for the ceremony and celebration. Willow and Becky make a fuss and hand Tara a present.

“It’s your ‘something new’,” Willow explains. “Gotta keep some of the traditions for new brides.”

Tara smiles and rips off the wrapping paper to find a long jewelry box. Inside is an eighteen inch strand of pearls. “Aunt Willow, they’re lovely,” she squeals, hugging the redhead tightly.

“It was Aunt Becky’s idea, and Kiana helped pick them out. She was hoping you’d wear them at your wedding.”

~*~

Tyler hands his sister a polished piece of turquoise. “I’ve been holding onto this for awhile, waiting to see if you got anything else for ‘something blue’,” he says. “I hope it brings you luck.”

“Thanks, Ty,” she says, kissing her brother on the cheek. “You are the best brother ever.”

“Don’t forget ‘something borrowed’,” Treena calls out from across the room. “You’ve always liked my mother’s pearl earrings. They look really nice with your new necklace.”

Tara smiles. It’ll be nice having a reminder of Aunt Molly with her. “I’ll give them back to you after the wedding, Treena.”

~*~

The night before the wedding, the women have a pact to keep Will away from his intended. “Bad luck,” they crow, before shutting the door in his face. Tara smiles, because tomorrow will make all this worthwhile.

“Only one little guy’s allowed in here tonight,” says Buffy, “and that’s my grandson.” She tickles his belly for emphasis, and he gurgles happily.

“And I can help watch him,” says Kiana, who’s happy to be included in the hen party.

“I’m so glad you came home from school,” Tara says to her sister. “I miss you.”

“Miss you, too, Tara,” says Willa.

~*~

The morning of June twenty-first finds everyone as chipper as can be. Last night was spent talking and dry (of spirits), except for Noel, who wet his diapers like a pro. Tara is absolutely giddy. She’s been anticipating this day since she first learned about marriage. As much as she’s a non-traditional girl, in this one instance she’s all for it. Having Noel first is nothing more than a little detour on their path.

Mama is doing her hair, and Aunt Nina is in charge of her makeup. She inspects herself in the mirror when they’re done, pronouncing herself pleased.

~*~

Tara’s hair is pulled back from her face by two pearl-encrusted barrettes, but otherwise loose down her back, the natural curls bouncy and shining. Her makeup is minimal; smoky lilac shadows and mascara making her eyes the beautiful focal point of her face. A little blush, and a natural shade of lipstick are the perfect finishing touches.

“Time for your dress, sweetie,” says Mama, who, with Nina’s help settles the gown over Tara’s head and onto her body. A quick zip up and the application of double sided tape and all she has to do is slip on her shoes.

~*~

“Don’t you dare cry, Mama,” Tara warns. “If you start, then I’ll start, and everyone will follow like dominoes.”

“No tears,” Buffy agrees. “Not until after the pictures, anyway.”

Nina checks her watch. “Okay, ladies. I think I hear the beginning strains from the piano. I’ll make sure Noel is ready and we’ll head into position. Spike’s probably waiting for Tara, already.”

“Are you sure you want to carry Noel with you?” asks Willa. “I’ll be happy to hold him.”

Tara shakes her head. “Not a chance, sis. My little man and I will head into this together,” she says.

~*~

Spike is, indeed, waiting on the stairs for his daughter. “You’re a sight, kitten,” he greets her. “Young Will doesn’t know how lucky he is.”

“Papa, behave,” she says, giving him a peck on the cheek. “I think they’re ready for us.” She adjusts Noel in her arms, and shifts the bouquet to link her arm in her father’s.

“One moment, love.” Spike reaches out to settle the veil over Tara’s face, then takes her arm and they head down the stairs to the sound of Wagner’s Bridal Chorus.

All heads turn as Spike, Tara and Noel make their entrance.

~*~

Spike walks Tara halfway down the rose petal strewn path that Luna has so nicely laid for them and lifts her veil, giving her one last kiss as a single woman on her forehead.

Will joins them and Spike pauses, hesitatingly passing Tara’s hand to him, then he sits down next to Buffy. Together, they walk to the altar and the Justice of the Peace.

“Dearly beloved,” she begins, addressing the guests. “We are gathered here today to join together these two young people in the bonds of matrimony. Will and Tara would like to offer up their own vows.”

~*~

Will turns to Tara. “I’ve always know we would end up here. We’ve been drawn to each other since our earliest days, sharing cribs, baths, cookies… I’ve always been able to sense your heart and soul.”

“I’m so at ease with you, and totally excited by you in ways unique to only you. You’ve given me a perfect son, and I join a wonderful family in an additional way. You unmake me, and rebuild me on a daily basis. I would be totally lost without you.”

“I, Will, take you, Tara, to be my lawfully wedded wife before these witnesses.

~*~

“I vow to love and care for you as long as we both shall live. I take you, with all of your faults and strengths, as I offer myself with my faults and strengths. I will help you when you need help, and will turn to you when I need help. I choose you as the person with whom I will spend my life.”

As Will finishes his vows, Noel picks that moment to speak up, burbling happily. Will takes the baby from his soon-to-be wife, so she can concentrate on her own vows.

Tara takes a breath and begins.

~*~

“What I feel for you surpasses words, though I’ll try my best to explain. My heart feels half empty without you. My days are bleaker, the nights are darker… the warmth of your presence sets my soul at ease.”

“You’ve given me a sweet, wonderful son, a little earlier than either of us had planned, but he makes us our own family. You light my way in the dark, and find me when I am lost. I can’t conceive of a future without you in it.”

“I, Tara, take you, Will, to be my lawfully wedded husband, before these witnesses.”

~*~

“I vow to love you and care for you as long as we both shall live. I take you, with all of your faults and strengths, as I offer myself to you with my faults and strengths. I will help you when you need help, and will turn to you when I need help. I choose you as the person with whom I will spend my life."

“Will, I give you this ring – wear it with love and joy. I choose you to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward for better or for worse.”

~*~

“For richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish as long as we both shall live.

“I take you, my beloved and my best friend, my chosen one, through all of our lives together. I give you this ring, which is bound to my heart. Please wear it always, as a symbol of my love.”

“I promise to love you without reservation, honor and respect you, comfort you in times of distress, encourage you to achieve all of your goals, laugh with you and cry with you, grow with you in mind and spirit.”

~*~

“I’ll always be open and honest with you, and stay with you for as long as we both shall live.”

Will repeats the last part of the vows, and they turn back to the Justice of the Peace. “That pretty much says it all,” she says, smiling at the happy family. “According to the power vested in me by the State of California, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Will, you may finally kiss your bride.”

Nobody has to tell him twice. Careful of the child in his arms, Will embraces his wife and kisses her soundly.

~*~

Tara takes the baby from Will, and linking her arm with his, they walk down the aisle to the applause of their family and friends. After a cocktail hour, they all adjourn to the ballroom, which has been lavishly decorated for the reception.

Will and Tara are introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Harris, and Noel is passed off to Grandma and Grandpa Bennett. They dance their first dance as a married couple and glow with the light of love in their hearts.

Dinner is followed by more dancing, then the wedding cake, and last, the tossing of the bridal bouquet.

~*~

Nobody is surprised when it’s caught by Willa, who blushes prettily, waving the bouquet in triumph. Spike and Buffy, through their smiling facades, look a little shaky at the prospect of yet another child getting married.

The happy couple is showered in confetti as they leave for a few honeymoon days in a five-star hotel. Noel is being left in the good hands of his grandparents.

“We are now officially, lawfully related, you guys,” Xander says to Spike.

Spike smiles. “And yet the world still spins. Who’d have thought, eh, Harris?”

“Who’d have thought, indeed,” replies Xander, gazing at Noel.

~*~

Neal approaches Xander as he’s deep in discussion with the baby, who’s waving his chubby little fists in the air and staring intently at his grandpa. “It was a beautiful celebration, Xan. The kids looked so happy. Nothing like young love, is there?”

Xander looks at Neal, and something quick and impulsive stirs his heart. “Maybe a second love,” he muses. “There’s lots to be said for it. We’re old enough that we’ve passed first love, had true love… a second love can be deeply life-altering.”

“Oh?”

“I… would... oh hell,” Xander stammers and blushes. “Neal, will you marry me?”

~*~

July 2026 - Certified

Sitting in an overly warm classroom that’s more suited to sleeping than concentrating, Willa busily fills in circles with her number two pencil. It takes her back to her school days and standardized test taking, only this time, her whole future is at stake.

She has a wonderful job lined up for this September, teaching kindergarten, pending passing this test for her teaching certificate. As do most of the other people taking the same test with her.

New teachers have a notoriously hard time finding jobs, and Willa is lucky she got a personal recommendation.

She just has to pass!

~*~

It’s not an impossible test. The subjects covered are English, Social Studies, Science, Cultures, Math –
general in tone, but the longer she sits there, the more she begins to second guess herself. Multiple choice is the work of the devil, she thinks, biting the end of her pencil.

Trying to gather her wits, the words of a song come to her. I have confidence in confidence alone,
besides which you see I have confidence in me!
Gotta love that Julie Andrews. Willa smiles and sets to the rest of her test with gusto.

Bobby meets her outside the testing center.

~*~

“How’d it go, love?” he asks, greeting her with a hug and kiss.

“It wasn’t too bad,” replies Willa. “The problem is what always happens with multiple choice questions… you start second guessing yourself, and then nothing seems right.”

“But…?”

“I managed to power through it. I think I did alright,” she says. “We’ll know in a couple of weeks, for sure.”

“I have faith you’ll come through with flying colors, Willa. You’re smart, determined, and won’t let anything get in the way of what you want.”

“Thanks, Bobby. I can’t wait for September. Imagine both of us being teachers!”

~*~

Bobby smiles wistfully. “It’s not going to be easy, you know. The life of a teacher these days isn’t the most secure.”

“Well, you should be safe,” Willa replies, “as long as the music college stands, anyway. New kindergarten teachers depend on the population shifts.”

“Consider yourself lucky they abolished the “last hired, first fired” rule, and depend on the merit system. You’re a wonderful teacher. The children will be lucky to have you.”

“Mmmmm, thanks, man of mine,” Willa purrs. “You always know the right thing to say to me.”

“You bring out the best in me, sweet girl.”

~*~

August 2026 – Not the Mama!

Once the excitement and the romantic glow from Will and Tara’s wedding recedes, Xander and Neal take the time to talk about their own marriage. While Xander’s proposal had been spur of the moment, Neal readily accepted. There are no regrets on either side.

Unlike the children, their marriage will not be a glamorous affair. Just the immediate family with the usual culprits attending – no outside friends necessary.

Will is thrilled for them, but Treena is another matter. Surprisingly, she’s come down firmly against the marriage.

“No way,” she says, sounding like a petulant child. “I refuse to accept this.”

~*~

Treena comes home from college to have it out with her father in person. “How can you do this to me?” she asks, gesticulating wildly. “How can you do this to my mother’s memory?”

“Sweetheart,” Xander says soothingly, “I’m not marrying Neal out of any disrespect to your mother. I’m sure Molly wouldn’t want me to be alone for the rest of my life. I-I need him.”

“I will not accept this marriage,” Treena repeats. “And I absolutely refuse to call him Mother!”

Xander is at a loss. She’s never voiced a single complaint against Neal in all these years.

~*~

“Neal, I just don’t know what to do. Treena is resolute. I’m afraid if we go through with the wedding against her wishes, I’ll never see her again.”

With a hug, Neal shushes him. “It won’t come to that, love. I promise. Let me talk with her, and see if I can bring her around.”

“It’s just that she’s never had a problem with Willow and Becky, and Tyler being gay doesn’t faze her. I don’t understand what her problem is now!”

“Like I said, Xan. Let me see if I can work the old MacIntyre magic on the girl.”

~*~

Neal finds Treena huddled on the bed in their guest room. She looks as abjectly miserable as her father. She doesn’t respond when he knocks on the door, but he walks in, anyway, and sits on a chair opposite the bed.

“Treena,” he begins, hoping she’ll look at him. “Please, tell me what’s bothering you. I know you’re unhappy, but you’re hurting your father. Doesn’t he deserve to be happy after all this time?”

She sniffles, and mumbles something.

“Sorry, hon,” Neal says. “I didn’t quite catch that.”

“I said I don’t have a problem with you and Dad together.”

~*~

“If it’s not us as a couple, then what is it setting you off?” he asks, curiously.

“When you and Dad marry, it’s all legal-like,” Treena sniffles. “You’ll take Mom’s place in the eyes of the law. Dad was married to my mother, and you’re not her,” she cries, voice rising.

“No, sweetheart, I’m not your mother. And I would never think of replacing her in your heart. I love your father and he loves me. It won’t really change things between us. We’ve gotten along well before this, haven’t we?”

Treena nods, miserably. “I don’t want to hurt Daddy.”

~*~

“And I like you, too,” she continues. “It’s just…”

“You still miss your mom,” Neal says, nodding. “I get it, sweets. I do. And I promise that Xander will never forget Molly. How can he, when he has you? You look so much like her, and you’re the best part of her.”

Treena smiles for the first time since she arrived. “You do make Dad happy,” she concedes.

“And he makes my life worthwhile,” says Neal. “To wake up and share another day with your father is the best I can hope for.” He takes Treena’s hand gently in his.

~*~

“I’m sorry this has been so difficult for you,” Neal says, looking into Treena’s eyes. “I want you to know that I’ll be here for you. Anytime you need to talk, ask questions. Your father and I will be legal family for you and Will, and by extension, Tara and Noel. Of course, that pulls in all his friends and their children. I want to be involved. Xander won’t be less because of me… we’ll be more, together.”

Treena nods. “Sounds good… but what do I call you once you’re married? I will not call you Mom,” she says, laughing.

~*~

“You can still call me Neal,” he says, laughing with her. “Or Uncle Neal, or Papa Neal… even Hey You. Whatever floats your boat.”

“Can we leave it as Neal for now?” she asks tentatively.

“That’s my name, sweetheart,” he replies, pulling her unresisting into a hug. “What do you say we put your father out of his misery and let him see you’ve not committed murder?”

Treena responds with a thumbs up gesture.

As if called, Xander peers in the doorway. “Do I need a shovel for any bodies?” he asks.

“It’s all good, Dad,” says Treena. “All settled.”

~*~

The wedding takes place at the Justice of the Peace’s office with family in attendance. It’s the same Justice who presided over Will and Tara’s wedding, and she smiles pleasantly at the couple standing before her. “Don’t think you’re getting a family group rate on weddings, you guys,” she says, laughing merrily. “Do you gentlemen have your own vows?”

“We do have our own vows, your Majesty… your Honor,” says Xander, blushing at his error. He turns to Neal, and begins. “I thank you, Neal, for giving me my life back. While I functioned after Molly died, I didn’t live.”

~*~

“Except for my children, I had no reason to wake up each morning. Because of you, I laugh, I smile, I dare to dream again. I look forward with great joy to spending the rest of my life with you, caring for you, nurturing you, being there for you in all life has for us. I vow to be true and faithful for as long
as we both shall live.”

Xander swipes his hand across his brow, relieved that he remembered all the words, to the laughter of his family and friends. “You know me and public speaking,” he chuckles.

~*~

“Xander, all that I am and all that I have, I offer to you in love and joy. From this day forward I will love and comfort you, hold you close, prize you above all others, and remain faithful to you all the days of our lives. We’ve both had our first loves, true loves… and hopefully this will be our last, best love.”

“Beautiful, heartfelt feelings,” says the Justice. “Once again, my words are as follows – by the power vested in me by the State of California, I now pronounce you husband and husband. You may kiss your spouse.”

~*~

September 2026 – The Pack

Luna is growing by leaps and bounds. She’s a beautiful four year old girl with a mane of thick, light brown hair and stunning blue eyes. In her wolf form, she’s becoming formidable – more adolescent than puppy, and is quickly outgrowing the dog runs in the park. Her blue eyes are equally stunning and intelligent in the wolf.

Oz and Wesley wonder what’s best for their little girl. Wesley wants to bring her by the cells once Oz and Nina change… to see their reactions to each other. Oz is afraid they’ll lose control and try to attack each other.

~*~

In the end, Wesley wins. Once the change takes place, he walks his daughter on leash down into the bowels of Wolfram and Hart. Luna is a bit skittish, stopping every now and then to smell the air. As he pulls up in front of the cages, it goes deathly silent.

Luna manages to pull Wesley off his feet and trots up to Oz’s cage. He roars and reaches through the bars, but instead of grabbing Luna, he simply allows her to sniff and lick.

Wesley is amazed, but it seems as if his lover recognizes their daughter by scent.

~*~

He’s never seen him so still during his transformation. In fact, both Oz and Nina seem fascinated with the wolf, whimpering gently and pawing at the ground. Luna pads to Nina’s cell and sticks her muzzle between the bars. Nina sniffs and licks her back.

When Wesley tries to walk Luna out of the enclosure, all three werewolves set to howling, loud enough that he has to cover his ears. “All right, I get the picture,” he mutters, and sits in the middle of the room, out of the reach of the adult weres.

He sleeps, hoping Angel keeps watch.

~*~

Angel must have visited sometime during the wee hours, because Wesley awakens to find he’s sleeping on a pillow, and he and Luna are covered by a blanket. A pair of Luna’s pajamas, underwear and slippers are next to the sleeping girl.

“Morning, Sleeping Beauty,” says Oz, slipping into his own clothes.

“Should we rent a cot?” asks Nina, already fully dressed. “Maybe we should order catering.”

“Yes, well,” murmurs Wesley. “At least we… I have some answers. I believe Luna will be able to accompany you both on your next wolf run.”

“Interesting,” says Oz. “Wish I could remember.”

~*~

October 2026 – Young Man on Campus

Tyler closes his laptop, and leans back against the wall of his dorm room. It’s different, living on campus, but he thinks he’s getting the hang of it. The University of California Santa Barbara seems to suit him just fine. The advanced courses are enough to keep him interested and in his spare time, he works with Uncles Oz and Wesley online.

Best of all are the gay support groups. Here and Queer is the most populated group, and the atmosphere is uber-friendly and informative. Tyler finds himself popping in several times a week.

And Matt Cohen is a sophomore.

~*~

He admits that Matt attending UCSB was a factor in choosing to apply to the school, but not at the expense of a better school. Unlike Willa, he’s not ready to be quite so far away from hearth and home just yet.

Tyler has his own car, a present from his parents for graduation, and he and Matt take turns making day trips on the weekends they’re not busy with writing or researching papers. The freedom to do as he pleases is heady, but he’s responsible enough to keep up with his studies.

Matt’s also taught him a few things.

~*~

Sex, for one thing. Not that they’ve progressed to actual intercourse, but they’ve petted and frotted and snogged themselves silly. He’s taken to keeping a small box of condoms and some lube in his bedside drawer… just in case the time is right. And like the proverbial Boy Scout – always be prepared.

And it’s not only about sex. Matt’s shown him he can actually enjoy participating in sports. At least those he’s physically compatible with. Football, American style: out. European football: in. Tennis: in. Even baseball: in. Only for fun, though – phys ed is still an uncomfortable class for him.

~*~

And then there’s swimming. The peace that can be found in a pool is only second to the beautiful Davidson Library. Tyler dons a pair of swim trunks any time the pool’s free and dives into the deep end. He does laps until his muscles ache and his mind is empty. He’s approached by the swimming coach and asked to join the team, but he refuses… for now.

Matt sticks his two cents in. “I think you’d be a star,” he says, eying the figure Ty cuts in a bathing suit. “You really should give some thought to the team.”

~*~

Ty shakes his head. “Not now,” he says, toweling off his head. “This is just me time. It’s soothing and releases any stress I find myself under. I’m not sure how I’d feel if it became mandatory and scheduled.”

“I can understand that,” Matt agrees. “But it’s a good opportunity, and not one you should totally brush off. A well rounded Tyler is a happy Tyler.”

Ty laughs. “A wet Matt would make a very happy Tyler. Join me for a dip?”

“Why not?” Matt replies. “How about a race, if you’re feeling up to it? Winner buys lunch?”

“Deal.”

~*~

November 2026 – In Their Image

Kiana’s been a busy girl. Her mothers enroll her in a year-long after school ceramics class after her interest was piqued at her tenth birthday party. She’s had this idea for the holidays and it’s taken months and months to get it right. If it was just her immediate family, she’d have been finished in two weeks, but Kiana’s chosen to represent her extended family, as well.

She’s been molding tiny figurines to represent each family member. The style is pretty simple – not sculpture perfect, but she’s happy with the way they come out. Her teachers have been most helpful.

~*~

On the day of the last class before Hanukkah, Kiana carries a large box out to the car. “Have you finished your project, Kiki?” Willow asks, waiting for her daughter to snap her seatbelt closed.

“Uh huh,” she replies. “All finished, Mom. I hope you and Mom Becky like it.”

“I’m sure we will, sweetheart.” Willow wonders what it can be. Clay, of course, but she’s been washing a riot of colors out of Kiana’s play clothes lately, and can’t imagine them all on one project.

“Until Hanukkah it’s gonna be in my closet,” Kiana says, “and you can’t look.”

~*~

Kiana spends the afternoon arranging her gift. First, the tablecloth, then the wooden base, and finally, the clay figurines. She keeps it covered with the box she brought them home in, and awaits the grand unveiling.

They gather around the table before it’s set for dinner, and with a small drum roll from Becky’s fingers, Kiana lifts the box.

“Oh, baby!” exclaims Willow. “It’s absolutely gorgeous! This is everyone, isn’t it?”

Kiana nods. “So even when we’re not together, we are,” she says, smiling.

“I’m gonna get the camera. I want to make sure this is preserved forever,” says Becky.

~*~

December 2026 – Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

Tara stares at her son and shakes her head. Noel is standing on the floor, the fingers of one hand barely skimming the couch, almost ready to walk alone. He’s wearing a pair of dark blue denim overalls, embroidered with Happy First Birthday across the bib in bright primary colors and a red tee shirt. Her heart is bursting with love.

She finds it hard to believe he’s already a year old. It seems like only yesterday she and Will brought him home from the hospital. Looking out the window, Tara sees the tent so Grandpa Angel can attend safely.

~*~

“All right, sweetiepie,” she says, brushing Noel’s light brown curls. “Time to get this party on the road. Your public awaits.”

Will greets her at the door, holding out his arms for Noel to fly into. “Are we ready?” he asks, rumpling his son’s neatly brushed curls.

Tara sighs, but smiles in lieu of saying anything. “Ready and willing. Is everyone here?”

Will nods. “The family is here, including Great Grandpa Angel and Great Grandpa Giles.”

“What about the kids from Noel’s playgroup?” Tara asks.

“They’re all waiting for the birthday boy to arrive.”

“Let’s not make them wait anymore.”

~*~

The moment they enter the tent, Noel is whisked away and into the waiting arms of Giles and Olivia. “Oh, my dear children,” he says to Tara and Will. “Just look at the miracle you’ve created.” Noel answers with his favorite word – “dada” - and sticks his fingers into the wrinkles on Giles’ neck. “No buried treasure there, sweet boy,” Giles murmurs, passing the child to Olivia.

“He is a lovely boy,” she says, shifting him back and forth in her arms. “I see his curls favor Tara and Spike. But his eyes are all Will.”

Noel claps his hands.

~*~

Spike and Buffy stand off to the side, watching the party unfold all around them. Their grandson is being worshipped and their youngest daughter is absolutely beaming with pride. “Hard to believe this was us sixteen years ago,” she murmurs to her husband, surreptitiously wiping the tears from her eyes. “I know the time has passed… I can see it in the mirror, but…”

“S’what life is all about, love,” says Spike, hugging her close. “Change with the passage of time.”

“Are you ever sorry you won’t be young and pretty forever?”

“I’m glad you won’t be leaving me behind.”

~*~

Angel watches as Nina dandles Noel on her knee, singing snatches of infantile songs she never got to sing to children of her own. She’s pretty much past childbearing age now, at forty eight. Her hair is more grey than brown, or blonde when she bothers to dye it. Her laugh lines have deepened, and she calls them wrinkles.

In this moment, Nina seems fragile, ephemeral – he’ll be around long after she’s gone. After all the people he loves are gone. For an instant, Angel envies Spike passionately. Then again, even as a vampire, Spike lived more in the world.

~*~

He looks across the room at Spike, who’s twirling Buffy to the music. The changes in the man nearly floor him. It’s been almost one hundred and fifty years since Spike’s turning, and in most of that time, he’s looked the same – whippet thin, well muscled, spectacular cheekbones… and now? Now he’s almost stocky, his muscles are less obvious, as are his cheekbones. He no longer has that hungry look about him that most vampires have. He’s… satisfied.

As for Buffy, she’s still a beautiful woman, but definitely no longer girlish. She’s middle aged, something nobody thought she’d ever be.

~*~

But there she is, a mother of three, and now a grandmother! Angel shakes his head and smiles. In the end, she really does have a normal life – exactly what he wished for her as a teenager. He never would have expected it to be Spike who gave it to her, but that’s the way her cookies crumbled.

Angel takes Noel from Nina’s hands. “Look at you, boyo,” he murmurs. “Gonna grow up and make your family proud.” He kisses the baby on his forehead, then hands him off to the next pair of grabby hands to walk by… Xander.

~*~

“Quit hogging my grandson,” Xander says without heat, raising the baby over his head and ducking away from a strand of drool. “Why don’t you join the others and stop being such a wallflower?”

“You have a beautiful grandbaby,” says Nina, gently rubbing Angel’s shoulder as Xander and baby disappear into the throng. “Are you alright sweetheart?”

“I’m fine, Nina,” Angel says dismissively. “Go join the throng… I’ll be along in a bit.” He watches his love welcomed into the crowd, and finds that he’s throwing a pity party of his own. To compound the issue, Spike is rapidly approaching.

~*~

“Buffy wants to know why you’re hiding out in the corner, git,” he says before even reaching Angel’s side.

“Just people watching, Spike. You can tell Buffy there’s nothing wrong.”

“Ha!” Spike exclaims. “Easiest twenty dollars I ever made. I told her you were brooding, and I was right. What set you off on such a joyous occasion?”

“It’s just,,, everyone, including you, is aging so quickly,” he relents, knowing Spike will always see right through him. “I don’t want to lose my family.”

“Can’t help the dyin’ part, mate. Part and parcel of this humanity business,” Spike says. “But…”

~*~

“But what?” Angel asks, when nothing else seems to be forthcoming.

“As long as the kids keep propagating, you’ll always have family. Cast of characters changes, but not the sense of family,” Spike insists. “As long as you stay in the middle of it, not on the edges like this.”

“It’s easy for you, Spike,” Angel grinds out through clenched teeth. “You’ll just die and… and…”

“And leave you,” Spike finishes. “Peaches,” he says, bringing back the old nickname, “I can guarantee that you’ll never forget me for as long as you exist. I’ll always be a part of you.”

~*~

Spike grabs Angel’s arm and half-drags him into the swing of things. Luna, at four, is busy trying to mother Noel. It’s cute to see her picking up after him and watching as he coasts from leg to leg. She takes one hand and leads him to a clearing where he pulls away from her grasp.

“Daddy. Daddy!” she shrieks, waving her hands frantically in the air. “Look at Noel!”

Sure enough, Noel Christopher Harris is taking his first unaided steps.

“Uncle Andrew, over here,” yells Tara, hoping he’ll capture the moment.

Andrew manages to video his last four steps.

~*~

The games have been played, the cake served, and most of the guests have left for their own homes. Will and Tara have handed Noel off to his Great Grandpa Angel, who’s having a ball playing peek-a-boo in game face with the boy.

After all the tumult of the party, it’s nice to just sit and relax and take stock of what’s truly important – family togetherness.

“We’ll just have to make a conscious effort to keep the old git connected,” Spike murmurs to his wife. “World’s got enough broodin’ as it is.”

Buffy nods and cuddles into Spike, perfectly happy.

Chapter Text

January 2027 – Alone at Last

“This place holds so much promise,” says Willa, looking around the living room of their brand new apartment. “The walls are pristine, the parquet floors are shiny and unscratched, and it’s ours to do with as we please.” Only two days before they had signed the lease and decided to christen the year together in their very own place.

“Do you have any ideas?” he asks, amusement and affection shining in his eyes.

“I know what I don’t want,” Willa replies, a slight shudder shaking through her frame. “Clean lines, I think; nothing ‘poufy’ as Papa likes to say. No cushions you can sink into and no frills and lace.. And artwork… lithographs. We can trawl through the stores and see what catches our fancy together.”

“Sounds wonderful,” Bobby says, anticipating long walks and sidewalk dining whilst perusing images.

“We can look for furniture online… at least until we have an idea of what we’re looking for.” Willa’s caught up in the excitement of setting up their new apartment. “That will save a lot of unnecessary legwork. What do you think about carpeting? Wall-to-wall?”

“Do you really want to cover up these beautiful floors?”

“Do you really want to have hot monkey sex on the cold, wooden floor?” she counters.

“You vixen,” Bobby says, drawing her close for a kiss.

“I am my mother’s daughter,” she says, laughing and pulling away. Her expression growing serious, Willa puts her hand on Bobby’s thigh. “I had that talk with Rabbi Berman today.”

“Oh?”

“Well, we’ve spoken about it, and with the wedding not so far away, time is growing short. The conversion process takes months, you know.”

“You don’t have to change for me, sweetheart,” Bobby insists. “I fell in love with you, not a religion.”

Willa smiles. Every time Bobby says he loves her, she still gets belly tingles. “I know, love,” she says, kissing him on the cheek. “Your being raised Jewish hasn’t harmed you any, and my being raised to do the Easter Bunny hop hasn’t left me feeling empty. But I worry about our children.”

Bobby eyes widen comically. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”

“Our future children,” she corrects. “I guess I believe they should be raised as something and given the choice to follow it as they grow up.”

“So what did you and Rabbi Berman decide?”

“Look, I don’t feel pressured into being married as a Jew – you do know that, right? He advised me to do some reading and continue to think about my decision… he said it will probably be more important when we get pregnant.” She looks at her beloved, taking his hands in hers. “Unless your parents… or you… have an objection?”

“You know how my parents feel about you, baby,” Bobby croons, returning the pressure on her hands. “If there was a problem marrying out of the religion, they would have brought it up well before now. We Murcers aren’t a shy lot.”

“No, no you’re not,” Willa agrees. “Rabbi Berman is more than willing to perform the ceremony, and I doubt my parents have any objections, either. I’ll talk with Mama and Papa later, just to make sure.”

“Always a good idea,” says Bobby.

“Next up is the venue.”

~*~

February 2027 – There’s a Place for Us

“Mama!” Willa all but shouts into the phone. “Guess what?”

“What is it, sweetie?” Buffy asks. “Is everything all right?”

“Only the best, Mama. Bobby and I got a confirmation on the venue for the wedding… and now we have a date to go along with it!”

Buffy couldn’t help but smile. Her daughter was so over-the-moon in love. “So… where does this fairytale celebration take place? And when?”

“We have Saturday, October 23rd – a late afternoon ceremony, and an evening affair.”

“Fine. Good. You have the date. October is a lovely month, sweetie, but you still haven’t told me where!

Willa can almost hear her mama bouncing on her toes with excitement. She finally gives in with all the details. “It’s going to be at Tavern on the Green – you know, on Central Park? They reconstructed it and it has a non-denominational chapel now, so we can have everything in the same place.”

“That sounds wonderful, honey!” Buffy’s voice cracks the slightest bit. It’s hard to have her daughter across the country where she can’t be there to help her plan her wedding. Just writing checks for this and that doesn’t seem to be enough, somehow.

As if sensing her mama’s mood, Willa says, “I wish you were here, Mama. I’d love to show you every little thing, but I promise the next, best thing. I’ll email you pictures of everything. I know it’s not the same, but…”

“Don’t worry, my darling daughter,” says Buffy. “As long as you’re happy, I’m happy. Papa, too. But I love that you’re willing to share everything. It’ll help to not be totally out of the loop.”

“Great! That makes me feel a little better. I mean, I love Sarah, but she’s not you.”

“It’s good to know you’re getting along with your future mother-in-law. She’s a good woman.”

“And she’s raised a wonderful son,” Willa says. “I can’t tell you how happy I am. Our new apartment, the wedding, our jobs…everything to look forward to.”

“Listen, Willa-Milla,” Buffy says, sternly. “It might be a little on the superstitious side, but I wouldn’t go touting all that good fortune to the world. It’s bad luck!”

“Mama,” Willa soothes, “New York isn’t Sunnydale. No Hellmouths to worry about, and the only demons I’ve seen are speed demons and only then when the streets are empty enough. That’s rare around here! Just be happy for me, okay?”

“I am, sweet girl,” Buffy says. “You know I am. We all are. I guess when you have children of your own, you’ll understand that worrying is second nature.”

Willa smiles, nodding indulgently, until she realizes that her mama can’t see her through the phone. “Okay, Mama. I’ve gotta fly. Bobby looks like he’s in need of a good dinner, so I have to figure out what we’re going to cook together.”

“You’re turning into a regular little domestic goddess, aren’t you?” Buffy asks.

“Doing my best, Mama. I promise… I’ll email pictures soon. Love you and the rest of the family. Kisses!”

“Bye, sweetheart, and say hello to Bobby for us.”

~*~

March 2027 – As Befitting a Princess

Willa is ecstatic. Her best friend Treena is in from California. They plan on hitting the bridal salons for the perfect wedding gown. During the week, of course, it has to be after Willa’s done teaching for the day, but the weekend is all theirs.

After hitting several small shops as well as the larger department store bridal sections, Willa is disappointed. Not that she’s competitive with her sister, Tara, but the gown she’s looking for has to be special… and totally unique.

“C’mon, Willa,” whines Treena, after watching her friend try on dress after dress, “You have to give the saleswomen something to work with. We’ve been to small shops and big stores. You’ve tried on dozens of dresses and poo-pooed each one faster than the last. So far, you haven’t given a clue as to what style dress you’re looking for.”

“I can’t explain it, Tree,” says Willa, shrugging out of the latest frou-frou gown with the help of an assistant. “I’ll know the right gown when I see it, and not before. This is why I’m not waiting until the week before the wedding to start searching.”

“Wise move, friend of mine.”

“There’s one more place I’d like to hit. I made an appointment for a showing tomorrow morning.” Willa wiggles back into her sweater and straightens out her leggings. “It’s called Fantasie Bridals.”

“Could be promising,” Treena muses. “Or it could be a disaster. Watch them show you one of those overblown, puffy sleeved, layered skirt nightmares. You’d look like a meringue!”

“Way to be supportive, sport,” Willa snorts, picking up her pocketbook and heading towards the door. “The right dress is out there, somewhere, waiting for me to find it.”

“And you’re determined to cover every inch of the city until you unearth this marvel, right?”

“You got it, kiddo,” says Willa, tapping her friend on the shoulder. “And now it’s time to go home and have dinner. Tomorrow is another day.”

“Maybe they’ll have Scarlett O’Hara’s old dress.” Treena smiles, her eyes twinkling with laughter. “Think you can fit into an eighteen inch waist?”

“If it means going home and throwing out that death by chocolate cake Bobby picked up for us, it’s not worth it,” Willa laughs.

~*~

They arrive at Fantasie Bridals ten minutes early for their appointment and Willa browses the racks dismissing each gown in turn. “Looks like the same old, same old.”

“I’m sure they don’t have all their dresses out on display,” Treena soothes. “C’mon, Wills… dig deep and come up with a detail… any detail… that will give the salespeople something to work with. White and pretty and special are just a little too generic to be of much help.”

Willa sticks out her tongue at her best friend.

“Very mature, loser,” Treena retorts.

“Why, thank you, Miss Treena,” Willa drawls, fanning herself with her outstretched hand. “I always strive to be my best self for my public.”

“Allo, ladies. My name is Madame Yvonne. Welcome to Fantasie Bridals.” The saleswoman speaks with a slight French accent and startles the friends with her silent approach. “I assume one of you is Mademoiselle Willa Bennett?”

“I am,” says Willa, caught off guard and blushing slightly. “I have an appointment to look at wedding gowns.”

“Then you have come to the right place,” chirps Madame Yvonne. “We are here to make your fantasies come true. Do you have anything specific in mind?”

Treena rolls her eyes as Willa fumbles for words. “I want it to be extraordinary. Feminine. Unique. I understand it’s not much to go on, but I’ll know the dress when I see it.”

“Please follow me into our viewing area, and I’ll have our models show you some of our more interesting designs,” says Madame Yvonne. “Have a seat, and feel free to help yourself to our refreshments.”

Willa and Treena sit down on a purple, overstuffed couch, eyeing the pastel glazed petits fours set on the table before them. Treena plucks one from its fluted paper wrapper, while Willa begrudgingly resists.

“Here we have Mademoiselle Suzanne, wearing one of the more popular silhouettes of the season – the sheath.”

As the model parades the gown up and down the little runway, and pirouettes in the triple mirror, Willa wrinkles her nose and shakes her head. “With my figure, the sheath isn’t appropriate,” Willa says, eying her curves.

Madame Yvonne claps her hands and the next model appears. “Next we have Mademoiselle Arnette, wearing one of our princess gowns.”

Willa and Treena exchange glances and barely manage to restrain their laughter. The dress in question has off the shoulder puff sleeves, empire waist, and billowing skirt. “Too Scarlett O’Hara!” she exclaims, finally taking a petit four to stifle her amusement.

Several more gowns make their entrance and are summarily dismissed as too young, too old, too froufy, too straight laced. Willa begins to despair that this place will fail her, as well, when Madame Yvonne announces a final gown.

“We have a gown by a young new designer – it’s one of a kind… her first sample, in fact. Mademoiselle Felice models for you.”

As the model enters, Willa’s eyes light up. The gown is white satin with a strapless Basque bodice and sweetheart neckline, long full skirt with a self-train, embroidered in silver flowers on both bodice and skirt.

Willa shakes Treena by the shoulders. “This is it!” she exclaims. “The dress… it’s just perfect. It’s elegant, and not overly froufy or old fashioned. It’s modest without being boring. Oh my god, Tree – we’ve finally found the right gown!”

“About time,” Treena sighs. “It is stunning. You’ll look a right princess in it.”

Willa beams. Papa’s princess, Bobby’s Queen. The dress couldn’t be more perfect if it’d been made specifically for her.

“Would you like to try it on?” asks Madame Yvonne.

“Will it fit? The model looks so small,” Willa worries, biting her lower lip.

“You are not so large, Mademoiselle Bennett. You are curvy, that is all. Come to the dressing room and we shall help you put it on.”

Willa emerges from behind the curtain and stands in front of the triple mirror. The gown actually fits, enhancing her curves, yet containing them at the same time. Treena wolf whistles and applauds her approval.

“So what do we do now?” Willa asks, still checking her image out in the mirrors.

“You make a down payment in this amount,” says Madame Yvonne, handing her a bill, “and you can either make monthly payments, or pay in full when you come for your final fitting a month before the wedding.”

Willa nods, and heads back into the dressing room with Mademoiselle Felice. She asks Felice to take a picture with her phone before changing back into her street clothes. She would never forgive herself if she forgot to email the image to Mama. She promised, after all.

After writing a check for the down payment, Willa and Treena head for the apartment, and a final splurge of death by chocolate cake.

~*~

April 2027 – Girl Talk

“Hey, Tara!” Willa calls into the phone, only to be greeted by the wailing of her nephew. “And hey there to you, too, Noel,” she laughs as he’s handed off to someone else.

“Hi, Wills,” replies a harried Tara. “Sorry about that. Your nephew doesn’t take well to change these days. He’s so overtired and just can’t seem to settle into sleep.”

“Ah, poor baby,” Willa commiserates. “I’ll give him an Auntie Special talking to when you’re here for the wedding.”

“I can’t wait. Oh, Mama absolutely flipped over that picture of you in your wedding gown. Papa had to restrain her from blowing it up and framing it.”

“Thank god for Papa’s good sense. Did Mama really think I’d want to be seen by anyone else with my hair all over the place and no makeup?”

“Honestly, Wills, I don’t think Mama sees anything but gorgeous where you’re concerned. I mean really,” Tara says, with fond exasperation, “she practically weeps every time she looks at the thing.”

“She was just as choked up with your wedding preparations, you know.”

“I know,” Tara replies. “Trust me, I’m not jealous anymore.”

“Ahhh, my baby sister has grown up on me.” Willa pauses, listening to Will try and sing Noel to sleep in the background. “So, how are things with you all these days? Will treating you right, or do I have to threaten him with my impressive strength?”

Tara laughs. “He’s fine, sis. I mean, we do have our arguments but nothing deep. He’s working hard with Uncle Xander and learning how to work with blueprints. Of course, he paints on the weekends when he has time. He says he needs to keep the creativity alive to nurture his soul.”

“He’s a deep one, your husband,” Willa agrees. “I’m so glad things are working out for the three of you. I take it Mama has calmed down, somewhat?”

“Yeah. She’s settling into the Grandma role with grace these days. In fact,” Tara admits, “there are times I wish she’d help a little more, but I don’t dare ask. Not after coming down so hard on her in the beginning.”

“It’s karma, sweetie,” Willa says. “It’ll come back to bite you on the ass every time. Aside from that… Noel is doing well?”

“He really is,” Tara replies with a mother’s pride. “He’s really walking now and saying his first words. He says dada and mama and cookie.”

“Do you think he’ll be able to be a ring bearer by October?” Willa asks hopefully.

“Oh, I’m sure he will. He’ll be so handsome in a little suit!” Tara squeals.

“He’ll be absolutely adorable, I’m sure.” Willa’s voice turns solemn. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this for awhile now, but I’ve been afraid of hurting your feelings. Will it bother you very much if I have Treena as my maid of honor? She’s been my bestest friend since we were little.”

“I would have loved being your matron of honor,” Tara says with quiet resignation, “but I understand how you feel about Treena.”

“Thanks so much, sis.” Willa breathes a sigh of relief. I do want you to be my lead bridesmaid. How can I get married without you in the wedding party?”

“As long as you don’t put me in something poufy, we’ll be okay,” Tara laughs.

“I promise – cross my heart,” agrees Willa. “Give Will and Noel a hug from me and Bobby?”

“Of course! Though Noel’s will have to wait until he wakes up,” Tara says. “Sounds like Will was successful in lulling him to sleep, finally.”

“Bye, sweetie. I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

~*~

May 2027 – Let Them Eat Cake!

“Now this is going to be the fun part,” says Bobby as they head for the bakery. “Imagine, all the different cake flavors we can eat!”

“There is a purpose behind the pig-out, you know,” laughs Willa, swatting her fiancé on the shoulder. “We need to agree on a cake flavor, and a filling, not to mention fondant or buttercream for the outside.”

“I know, sweetheart, but you have to allow a man to be a little boorish at times. Otherwise he’ll explode from an overabundance of manners. It’s written in the guy code.”

“Behave!” she hisses as they enter the shop.

“Welcome to Truly Scrumptious,” says a woman from behind the display counter. “How can I help you?”

“We’re here for a 2:30 cake-tasting,” says Willa. “We’re getting married in October and don’t want to be rushed in finding the perfect cake.”

“Ah, you must be Miss Bennett and Mr. Murcer,” the woman says after checking the appointment book. “My name is Harper, and I’ll guide you through the tasting. Please, have a seat at the back table, and I’ll have the first sample cakes sent right out.”

A few moments later, a staff member comes out of the kitchen bearing a tray with a half dozen small, round cakes. “We have here a variety of common cake flavors, along with different icing/frosting methods,” says Harper. “The first is chocolate cake with vanilla mousse filling. It is covered in a chocolate ganache.”

Bobby digs his fork into the chocolatey goodness and moans. “This is absolutely divine!” he declares.

“It is delicious,” Willa agrees. “What’s next?”

Harper pushes a second plate forward. “This is yellow sponge with a chocolate Bavarian cream filling. It’s topped by a vanilla bean buttercream frosting.”

“This is lovely,” says Willa. “It’s light and moist, and the filling is wonderful.”

“It’s a little bland for me,” says Bobby. “Anything more interesting?”

“This is a carrot cake, with a cream cheese filling, topped with rolled fondant.”

“Now this is good,” Bobby agrees, “but I don’t think it will be quite to everyone’s taste.”

“How about a marble sponge cake filled with hazelnut mousse, covered with chocolate buttercream and chocolate shavings?” Harper smiles as the couple digs into her latest offering, sure she has a winner.

“So good,” says Willa. “I can feel my hips widening with each bite.”

“More to love, baby,” says Bobby, laughing gently.

“This one is a little unusual, but we’ve gotten quite a call for it lately,” says Harper. “We call it our Candy Cane special - marbled peppermint cake with peppermint schnapps and crushed candy cane cream filling.”

“This is just heavenly,” says Willa, “but it brings more of a wintery feel, and we’re getting married in October.”

“Would it be possible to take one or two of those home with us?” asks Bobby. “That’s a personal favorite so far.”

“That could be arranged,” says Harper. “You’re not the first couple to fall in love with a tasting sample cake.”

“What’s this last one?” asks Willa as the plate is put before her.

“That’s our Sugar and Spice special - just the right combination of ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon and filled with French pastry cream,” says Harper. “It’s topped with marzipan, which adds a lovely almond flavor to the mix.”

“Oh, this is it!” declares Willa, swallowing the delicious morsel and going back for seconds. “Bobby, you just have to agree!”

“It’s very good,” Bobby says. “Though I was hoping for some chocolate.”

“I swear I’ll buy chocolate and bring it home with us,” Willa insists. “This cake is different than the usual wedding cakes we’ve eaten, but not so off the track that half the guests will hate it.”

“This is just the tip of the iceberg, folks,” Harper interrupts. “We have many more flavors to offer you. We have banana walnut, apple spice, white almond, peanut butter cup, tiramisu, and citrus curds… such a wide variety.”

“Oh god,” groans Willa. “You’ll have to roll us out of here if we taste everything.”

“What a way to go,” says Bobby. “I’m open to trying a few more. I’m pretty sure I can get my fiancée to agree to a couple of forkfuls.”

Willa nods. “You probably can, sweetheart, but I think we’ve found our cake already.”

“No harm in trying,” Bobby says, as Harper calls for the next tray of samples.

~*~

June 2027 – Come One, Come All

“I can’t believe we waited so long to get the invitations,” Willa cries, gathering all the lists and paperwork she has involving the wedding. “We’d better hope the printing can be done quickly.”

“It’ll all work out in the end, sweetheart,” says Bobby. “Let’s hit the party store now and go through their books. The sooner we get started, the sooner they can be printed.”

Willa nods and grabs her bag.

“We need to order wedding invitations as quickly as possible,” says Bobby to the woman behind the counter. “How fast is your turnaround?”

“Depending on the style of invitation you desire, the turnaround can be as quick as a couple of weeks.”

“See baby?” Bobby soothes. “I told you it’s doable. Minimal stress here.”

“Let’s pick out the invitations we like, first, and then we’ll talk about turnaround.”

“We have seven large sample books for your perusal,” says the saleswoman. “Have a seat and take your time. Just call me if you have any questions.”

Bobby practically quails at the sight of all the large portfolios.

“Buck up, sweetie,” Willa encourages. “Look at it this way – with all the invitations here, we’re bound to find what we’re looking for.”

They open the first book and begin their search for the perfect invitation. They find puzzles, and multi-layered creations, mylar sheets and sparkle decorations. Everything is fussy and overblown.

Three books later and Willa is ready to tear her hair out. “All I want is something simple… something that indicates Autumn, and a legible typeface for our information,” she complains.

“Is there something I can help you with?” the saleswoman asks when Willa slams shut the fourth book.

“We’re getting very frustrated here,” complains Willa. “I mean, the invitations we’ve seen are nice, but they’re either too complicated, or too fancy, or just not us.”

“Something plain would be preferable,” adds Bobby. “A hint of autumn about it is all we really need.”

“Okay, okay, I understand,” says the saleswoman. “Try this last album. They have a penchant for the understated.”

Several minutes later, Willa lets out a squeal of delight. “Bobby! This one is just perfect! Plain background, and embossed design and typeface. Autumn leaves!!!”

“Are you sure?” he asks, running his fingers over the raised lettering. “There are still more to look at,” he says with a shudder.

“No! This is exactly what I want,” Willa declares. “It also has matching envelopes, response cards… even directions cards!

“Do you have the text you want to appear on the invitation ready?”

Bobby hands the woman a slip of paper with the proper wording. “We’d like to have the print in russet red, to match the leaves, if it’s possible.”

“Not a problem, Mr. Murcer,” says the saleswoman. “It’s not a custom color, so there’ll be no extra charge or delay in printing. With luck, the invitations will be delivered to your home inside of two weeks.”

Willa smiles, and hands over a check for the deposit. “You’ll send us the bill for the balance?” she asks.

“You call us upon receipt, ask for me, Mimi, and tell me that everything is satisfactory, and I’ll mail out the bill.”

~*~

Two weeks later, Willa retrieves a box from the doorman. She bounds through the door of their apartment, shouting “They’re here! They’re here! The invitations are here!”

“So, open them already,” Bobby laughs. “They’re not going to announce themselves.”

Willa opens the box and takes out the first invitation. She scans each line with her finger, checking for spelling and wordage, and pronounces, “Just perfect, Bobby! It’s everything we asked for.”

They quickly check out the accompanying pieces, and are well pleased.

“I bet I know what we’re doing this weekend,” says Bobby, hugging his fiancée close.

“Writer’s cramp, here we come,” agrees Willa. “After this, we’ll set up a rudimentary seating chart. I’m so glad Grandpa Angel is able to fly everyone in from California. At least that’s one expense they don’t have to worry about.”

“My folks said to invite all of our friends, and not to worry about expenses,” says Bobby. “It’s certainly nice to have money.”

Willa nods. “You realize we could probably live for two years off of what this wedding is going to cost, don’t you?”

“I do,” he agrees, “but since this is the only wedding I plan on having, and our parents have offered, worrying is silly. We’re not being overly extravagant, just… mildly.”

“Have I ever mentioned how much I love you?”

“Not in the past fifteen minutes or so.”

“I love you,” Willa whispers, leading him towards the bedroom.

~*~

July 2027 – I Remember Mama

Dawn picks her sister up for a nice, leisurely lunch at L & L Hawaiian Barbeque, one of their favorite restaurants.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve had sisterly bonding time,” says Dawn. “I figure this calls for some carnivore action – not just salads and yogurt.”

“So there’s an agenda to this feast?” says Buffy, cocking an eyebrow at her younger sister. “Not just foody goodness?”

“Just a little one,” Dawn admits, covering her sister’s hand with her own. “But not to worry, there’s nothing wrong. It’s just… I’ve been having some thinky thoughts lately and I want to share.”

“What can I get for you ladies today?” the waitress asks, pad and pencil at the fore.

“Oooh, how about barbeque short ribs with brown rice, and a side spring salad? I’m feeling wicked,” grins Buffy, putting down her menu.

“I’ll have the same,” says Dawn. “Damn, sis, it’s really been way too long since we’ve come here.”

Buffy nods. “Sure has. So tell me, sister-of-mine… what’s on your mind?”

“I’ve been thinking about Willa and the wedding, and wondering how you’re holding up. I mean, Tara’s wedding was just last year, but they still live with you, so it’s not as jarring as Willa being across the country.”

“I miss her, Dawn,” Buffy sighs. “I can’t help it. I mean, I’m happy that she’s graduated college, and proud of her for choosing a career that fulfils her, but…”

“Thought so.” Dawn gathers Buffy’s hand in both of hers. “It’s times like these I wish Mom was still here. She’d know what to say; how to make things better.”

“She’d be so happy, Dawnie. Knowing her granddaughter is independent and finished college when I… when I…”

“When you had other obligations,” says Dawn, kindly.

“And she’d be thrilled Willa found the love of her life,” Buffy continues. “She’s happy and healthy and free of the constraints my Calling forced on us all. She may be part Slayer, part Vampire, but she leads the normal life Mom would have wished for her.”

“She’d be thrilled for you, too, Buffy. Don’t you forget that,” Dawn insists. “She understood Spike, and in the end she did trust you with him. She only got misty about not becoming a grandmother, and I think both you and I have managed to accomplish that goal.”

“Who’d a thunk it?”

“Not me, for sure. There was a time I didn’t even think of myself as human.”

“And here we both are,” murmurs Buffy, “all these years later. These beautiful, heartbreaking, wonderful years later… husbands who love us, thriving children, homes of our own… we do have it good, don’t we?”

“We do, indeed,” agrees Dawn. “Doesn’t stop us from missing Mommy. It’s… it’s not a bad thing, though. All it means is that Mom left such a good impression on us. She loved us with all that she had. And in turn, we do the same with our babies. Even the grown-up babies.”

“When did you get so wise, brat?” Buffy laughs.

“I’m older than dirt, remember?”

The waitress arrives with their lunch, and conversation stops as the sisters enjoy their meals. When they leave the restaurant, Dawn’s goal is accomplished – Buffy’s mood is noticeably lighter than when she sat down.

~*~

August 2027 – Blessed Be

“Mom, I want to get something special for Willa and Bobby for their wedding,” says Kiana. “A gift from me, alone… not adding my name onto your and Mom Becky’s gift.”

“That’s so sweet, Kiki,” says Willow, smiling at her nearly teenage daughter. “Do you have anything in mind?”

“Is Willa going to be Jewish now?” Kiana asks.

“I don’t think she’s planning on actively adopting the Jewish faith, sweetie. At least not in time for the wedding,” Willow replies. “I do think she’ll observe along with Bobby, out of respect.”

“So they’re not exactly going to be a Jewish family like us?”

“Not religiously,” Willow deadpans, and Kiana rolls her eyes. “More a traditional kind of Jewishness, than based on actual faith.”

“Can I get them something Jewish for the house? Because it’s from me, and I’m Jewish?”

“Of course you can,” says Willow. “I’m sure they’ll love anything you pick out for them.”

Kiana searched through a pile of mail and came up with a Judaica catalogue. “Would you order it for me if I find something I’d like to give them?”

Willow nods her agreement.

After a few moments, Kiana folds over a page and shows it to her mother. “Here,” she says, pointing to an item. “How about a mezuzah for their front door?”

“That is a lovely thought, sweetie. Oh, and look – this one is perfect.” The item in question is an enameled metal mezuzah, emblazoned with the saying, ani ledodi vedodi li. “In English, the inscription means, I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”

“It’s not too expensive. I have way more than enough saved up in my bank.”

“You realize you have to buy the Torah scroll in addition to the casing,” cautions Willow. “That’s gonna add quite a tidy little sum to the total.”

Kiana looks crestfallen. She hadn’t counted on the additional expense.

Mom Willow to the rescue. “No worries honey,” she says. “I’ll be happy to pay for the scroll.”

“Thanks, Mom. You’re the greatest!” Kiana squishes Willow as hard as she can.

“Do you want it delivered here so you can bring it to the wedding?” Willow asks, hesitating while inputting the delivery address.

“No, I think I want them to get it now, so they can have their place blessed as soon as possible.”

Willow fills out the couple’s address, ticking off the boxes to have it gift-wrapped and a card enclosed. “What would you like to say on the card, sweetie?””

“A Jewish protection spell for you, from your Jewish-Wiccan niece, Kiana Rosenberg.”

Willow can’t help but smile at her daughter and sends off the order.

~*~

September 2027 – The Last Hurrahs

One day, in the teachers’ room during lunch, Willa is confronted by her three closest friends: Alyse Mitchell, Sorrell Brooks, and Megan Walters. “Only a few more weeks until the big event, eh, Willa?” asks Sorrell, obviously the spokeswoman for the group. “The girls and I want to do something special for you before Bobby ties up all of your free time.”

“W-what are you talking about?” Willa stammers, slightly taken aback.

“A girls’ night out,” Alyse explains. “For your final single fling before the wedding.”

“Oh gods,” Willa moans. “Not a strip joint! You know that’s not my thing.”

“Bah! You don’t know what you’re missing, Wills,” says Megan. “All those lovely muscled men whooping it up just for us.”

“Trust me when I say I have enough at home, thanks,” Willa replies. “I can’t help it; I’ve found the perfect man.”

“It so happens, missy,” says Sorrell, laughing at her friend’s distress, “That we just want to take you out to dinner. Some place where we can sit and talk the night away… girls only.”

“We made reservations at Goodtime Charlie’s for tonight, at six,” says Alyse. “All you have to do is call your man and tell him he has to fend for himself this evening.”

“And you’re not gonna spring a stripper on me at any time this evening?” Willa entreats. “Promise me, ladies.”

“We swear on our vibrators,” says Sorrell. “Just dinner, a couple of drinks and chit-chat, honest.”

~*~

Willa steps out of the cab in front of Goodtime Charlie’s, and spots her friends standing in front of the big picture window to the left of the entrance.

“Right on time, Wills,” says Megan, clapping her friend on the back. “Let’s go get our table – I’m starving!”

“Nothing new there, Megs,” laughs Willa at her rail-thin friend. “You can eat any three of us under the table at any given time. God only knows where you put it.”

Sorrell snorts, “She’s gonna wake up one day when she’s forty and weigh four hundred pounds!”

“Aren’t you the sweet thing?” retorts Megan, poking Sorrell in her ample behind. “Just for that, I’m gonna order two pieces of cheesecake for dessert and not share any with you.”

They enter the bar and Sorrell checks with the hostess. “Brooks party, six o’clock reservation.”

“Right this way, ladies.” The hostess leads them towards the back of the bar, into a small room.

Willa looks around and sees the tables have pretty flower centerpieces, and the room is filled with balloons. Before she can say anything, the women seated at the tables stand up and shout, “Surprise!”

Alyse plonks a rhinestone tiara on Willa’s head, and it only takes a second for her to realize everyone in the room is a friend of hers. Several of the women are neighbors from her building.

“So much for ‘just dinner, a couple of drinks and chit-chat’,” Willa says, mimicking Sorrell’s voice.

“Plans haven’t changed, sweetie. Only addition is you get to open some lovely gifties from all us thoughtful gals.”

Another glance around, and Willa sits amongst her friends, with a wide smile that doesn’t leave her face the entire evening.

~*~

Chapter Text

Early October 2027 - Boys Will Be Boys

After his fiancée’s bridal shower, Bobby wonders if his friends are cooking up anything. Several weeks pass, and he’s pretty much forgotten about it, when two of his friends shanghai him on the way home from school.

“And where do you think you’re going, bucko?” asks Trevor Leyton, a music theory teacher.

“Did you really think we’d let you get hitched without giving your single side a final fling?” Adam Miller, vocal teacher extraordinaire adds.

Bobby just shrugs. Inwardly he’s thrilled, though a little nervous. His fellow teachers have a reputation for wild parties, and the last thing he needs is to get in trouble a week before his marriage. “Nothing that’ll get me arrested, right guys?” he asks, not entirely jesting with his friends.

“We’ll keep the ruckus down to a low roar, we promise,” says Adam with a twinkle in his green eyes. “From what you’ve told us, none of us wants to meet up with a pissed-off Willa.”

“That you can bet your asses on, my friends,” nods Bobby. “So, where are you taking me? I just want to call…”

Trevor takes Bobby’s phone, and presses speed dial #1, which of course is the right number. “Hello, is this Willa Bennett?” he asks. “This is Trevor Leyton, a friend of Bobby’s. Just calling to let you know your little honeybear won’t be home until late this evening. A few of his friends are treating him to a night of fun and frolic. Good? Terrific. We’ll see you in a week at the main event.” He hands the phone back to Bobby with a flourish. “There, all done. Made nice with the fiancée for you.”

Not one for intricate, secretive plotting, Adam spills all. “We rented out a room at Pico’s to hang loose for the evening. There’s good food and music… plenty to drink.”

“Aren’t they also an exclusive men’s club?” Bobby asks.

“Yup – the only women allowed are the entertainment,” laughs Trevor. “And believe me, boyo, you’ll be plenty entertained tonight.”

They head to Pico’s, and are quickly ushered into the party room, where several more friends are waiting. Bobby sees several guys he’s been in touch with but not seen since his high school days: Pete Schwimmer, Terry Auerback, and Carlos Rivera. He’s greeted with manly slaps on the back and quick hugs.

“Let’s get this show on the road,” says Adam, pushing Bobby towards a chair in the center of the room. “Park it, buddy. You don’t want to be standing for this.”

A bassist, guitarist and a keyboardist set up on the little stage area in the front of the room and begin to play an old standard – the bump and grind, of course.

Through the doorway walks a tall, busty blonde wearing a trench coat. “I hear someone’s getting married soon,” she coos at Bobby, swishing her hips from left to right in an exaggerated swing. “So how about a little fun before your wife takes sole possession?”

She sashays over to the banquet table and snares a small plate with several pieces of fruit. She settles her plump bottom in Bobby’s lap and feeds him strawberries and cubes of pineapple. “My name is Tina Marie,” she whispers in his ear. “And it’s my job to make you happy this evening. Are you happy, Bobby?” she asks with a twist of her hips.

“I’m happy! I’m happy!” Bobby laughs, staring out at his friends instead of at Tina Marie. “Thanks a lot, you guys.”

“Our pleasure,” they hoot en masse.

Tina Marie slips out of her coat, and stands, wearing a skimpy bikini top, and a skirt made of gauzy colored scarves, leaving a slightly flustered Bobby to surreptitiously adjust himself under the cover of the coat. She’s young and beautiful, and he’s all male, so it was bound to happen, but he finds he can easily will it into the background with thoughts of his intended. He’s definitely a one woman man.

“A toast!” shouts Trevor, grabbing a beer from the cooler, followed by the rest of the men. “A toast to the waning hours of freedom for our favorite piano teacher! No longer will he be free to tickle the ivories on the piano of his choice – he’ll be making all his music at home.”

“Hear, hear!” agrees Bobby. “It’s a wonderful feeling, knowing you have someone to come home to every day. Someone who looks forward to you coming home. You should try it sometime.”

“Not me!” cries Adam. “I need to be free to inflict… erm, share this bounty with New York’s female population.”

“Sure you don’t mean infect, weasel?” laughs Bobby. “Not that anyone will be foolish enough to have you.”

“I get my fair share,” says Adam, indignantly. “I’ll have you know…”

“Enough!” Trevor’s baritone rings through the room. “This night is not about who gets how much, this night is supposed to be about Bobby. Another toast,” he declares, grabbing a beer. “May his future days be as carefree and happy as his bachelor days!”

“Well put,” says Carlos, one of the few married men of their group. “A wife, kiddies… all enrich your life, Bobster. My Celina is my heart, and little Carlos, Jr. is the spitting image of me. I’ve got plenty of pictures…”

A collective groan rises as Carlos rolls out the latest in a long line of his son’s pictures, but he’s oblivious, as only a proud father can be. Bobby looks and smiles in the appropriate places, knowing he’ll probably be just as annoying to his childless friends when he becomes a father somewhere down the line.

Tina Marie decides it’s time to get back into action, and wriggles up against Bobby. “Dance with me, sugar,” she purrs, revving up her hips to the music playing in the next room. “Anybody need a scarf? I think there’s a little chill in the air,” she throws out to the men.

One by one her scarves are plucked from her skirt, except for the last one, which she’s waving at Bobby. “C’mon, big boy… I think this one has your name on it.”

Since it’s expected, Bobby gives the last scarf a little tug, leaving Tina Marie in nothing but the teensiest of g-strings and her bikini top. His friends stomp their feet and applaud, and he hands her back her trench coat.

“Not necessary, hon,” she says, picking up the duffel bag she came in with. “I always bring a change of clothing with me when I’m working. Just imagine flagging down a cab in nothing but my g-string at this hour of the night.”

She comes back in to say goodbye once she’s in her street clothes. Bobby offers an awkward thanks, and Trevor pays the girl for services rendered. “Good luck with your wedding, cutie,” she calls over her shoulder as she leaves.

“My gods,” Adam laughs. “You should have seen your face, Bobby. You’d think you’ve never held a girl in your lap before.”

Bobby rolls his eyes at his friend’s ribbing and just takes in the camaraderie in the room. His friends organized this for him, like Willa’s did for her. He definitely feels a case of the warm fuzzies, though he’d never admit it to any of the guys. The girl was a little corny, but he’s glad they know him well enough that she kept her top on. Not that he didn’t like breasts, but at this point in his life, only a particular pair did it for him. Old fashioned? Perhaps, but happy. Most definitely happy.

~*~

October 22, 2027 - The Home Stretch

The flight from Los Angeles to New York is uneventful, and Wolfram & Hart’s New York branch sends several stretch limousines to ferry everyone to the Milburn Hotel, Manhattan, where rooms have been booked for the family. There are way too many people for the Murcers to accommodate in their home.

Spike and Buffy share a room with Tyler, Tara, Will and Noel; Andrew shares a room with his sons, Dawn rooms with the quads’ girl friends; Willow, Becky, and Kiana, have their own room, as do Angel and Nina, and Oz, Wesley and Luna. Xander and Neal are the only childless couple, as Treena will be spending the night with Willa, and Bobby will be with his parents.

“I can’t believe how small these rooms are,” Jeremy grumbles, tossing his suitcase on the bed. “I’ll have to go into the hall to change my mind.”

“It’s not so bad, son,” says Andrew. “At least nobody has to share a bed. The hotel has supplied rollaway beds for all of us.”

“And besides,” Jonathan chimes in, ever the practical one, “it’s only for two days. We’re going back home the day after the wedding.”

“Listen, you guys,” says Dawn, peeking in through the open door. “It’s not like we’re stuck in the room… we’ll be going out to eat, and we could take advantage of what the city has to offer for the rest of the day – why not visit a museum? Natural History or Modern Art?”

“Tara and I are gonna stroll around the Museum of Modern Art with Noel,” says Will in passing by the door. “We’ll wait for anyone who wants to come with us. According to their website, they have a new exhibit of twenty-first century impressionist art. That’s right up my alley.”

“Let me go ask Carson if she wants to come with us,” says Jason. “She loves to paint… usually still lifes, but I’ll bet she’s game for something new and different.”

Jeremy nods. “I think Lenora will be interested, too. We’ll be right back,” he says, hurrying off with his brother to the girls’ room. They’re soon back with their friends in tow.

“Andy will go with you guys, and I’ll take the girls, Jonathan and Jesse to the Natural History Museum,” says Dawn. “We’ll meet up at a set time for dinner and come back for a good night’s sleep. Have fun, everyone… and don’t give Dad a hard time.”

“We promise,” the teen chorus.

~*~

“Just look at the beautiful woman you’ve become,” Buffy says softly to the reflection of herself and Willa in the mirror. “You’ve blossomed so since you’ve left the house… you really don’t need me anymore, do you?”

“Don’t be silly, Mama,” Willa says, kissing her mother on the top of her head. “I’ll always need you. I wouldn’t be who I am today without you.”

Spike coughs several times, not wanting to be forgotten.

“You, too, Papa,” Willa soothes, sitting on the bed besides her father. “I couldn’t have done this without you both.”

“You’ll make a right gorgeous bride tomorrow, petal,” says Spike, eyes misting slightly as he gazed at his beloved firstborn. “M’hoping Bobby’s worthy of the precious gift you are.”

“You don’t have to worry, Papa. He’s a good man. And he loves me,” Willa says dreamily. “We’re good together.”

“Just remember, sweetheart,” Buffy sniffs, unable to keep the tears away completely. “We’re always here for you if you need us… for anything.”

“Mama, really,” Willa says with just a little heat behind her words. “We’re finally all together for a wedding, not a bloody wake! Lighten up. Please?” she adds, wiping away her mother’s tears.

“I wish your Grandma Joyce had lived to see you. She’d have been so proud of you.”

“Your Grandma Anne would have been flittin’ and fussin’ around you,” says Spike, once again a little ragged when he speaks. “To have a grandchild was her fondest wish. Not that the timing was right, but…”

“I know what you mean, Papa,” Willa says. “I’m just lucky things worked out as they did, and you and Mama got together.”

A sharp rap on the door heralds Xander, who greets his niece with a bear hug. “You are too gorgeous to ever have come from those two. A real couple of plain janes your parents are.”

“Plain enough for you to go drooling over her shoes for years, berk,” Spike laughs. “You should have seen him in high school, poppet. Followed your mum around like a puppy.”

“Unlike you, Fangless,” Xander retorts. “Stalkers were more subtle than you.”

“Now, now, boys,” Buffy says, wagging her finger at them both. “You’d better behave, or do I have to tell Willa about some of the more ‘interesting’ adventures of Spike and Xander on the Hellmouth?”

“We’ll behave, love,” Spike says, cocking an eyebrow at Xander, who simply nods in agreement.

“Whipped?” asks Willa.

“Whipped,” Buffy agrees.

~*~

The four friends walk through the streets of Manhattan, enjoying the peace of watching life flow by around them. Hand in hand, Spike and Buffy and Xander and Neal take slow, measured steps on the concrete sidewalks, eventually eating up time.

Spike stops in front of a Sabrett hot dog stand. “It’s not often we’re in New York… time for a treat.”

“Hot dogs, Spike?” asks Buffy, somewhat surprised. “With all the ethnic foods available in this city and you want a hot dog?”

“Love, until you’ve had one from a cart, you’ve not tasted a real hot dog,” Spike insists. “Lots of toppings to add to the flavor.”

Neal nods in agreement. “It’s like the difference between ice cream from the store and from the truck. No matter that it’s the same thing, the taste is different.”

Spike orders four dogs with mustard, ketchup, relish and sauerkraut and it takes some delicate maneuvering to eat their treats without making a mess.

“Told you there was nothing like it,” says Spike, smacking his lips in satisfaction. “This should tamp our hunger for the moment, and still leave us free to enjoy those ethnic delights you spoke of earlier, petal.”

Xander checks his watch and notes the late hour. “I think we’d better head back. Anyone want to check with the others and see where they’re going for dinner?”

“Nah,” says Buffy, drawing a look of surprise from her husband. “We’re all going to be together tomorrow, so going our separate ways is fine by me. Besides,” she adds. “If anyone wanted to be with us, they’d have called.”

The foursome changes their direction and heads back towards the hotel, and whatever gastronomic feast catches their fancy.

~*~

October 23, 2027 – The Main Event

The morning of the twenty-third breaks over Central Park loaded with promise. The air is crisp, the sky is blue and mostly cloudless. Willa moves first, nudging Treena awake.

“What’s the hurry?” Treena slurs. “It’s not like we don’t have hours ahead of us before the ceremony.”

“How can you sleep?” Willa’s practically bouncing on the bed like a little girl. “There’s so much to get ready, so much to do… you have to make sure I don’t forget a single thing!”

Treena rolls over, admitting to herself that sleep time is over for good. “At least you’re getting dressed at home. Nothing to be lost between here and Tavern on the Green.”

Willa smiles and preens just the smallest bit. “Bobby’s arranged transportation and insists on keeping it a secret. He loves surprising me.”

“Oooh, I bet it’s a gorgeous white classic car. Something you’ll be seen in as you head to your wedding,” Treena trills, clapping her hands with excitement. “Elegance all the way!”

“Anything’s possible with that man,” Willa agrees.

“Brett’s also promised me a surprise,” Treena says, shyly. “I can’t believe we’re still together… and so happy! I was beginning to think I’d never find the right man for me.”

“Silly girl. Just because your high school dating history wasn’t wonderful didn’t mean the world of men wouldn’t learn what a marvelous catch you are. Brett knows what I know – that you’re special.”

Treena’s cheeks blush roses. “So… how are we gonna spend our time?” she asks.

“Hmmmm… my dress is laid out, makeup ready, stuff for my hair in place… how about we have a light breakfast and then watch some sappy movies? We can get all our crying out before the makeup goes on,” Willa laughs.

“Good plan.”

~*~

Tara stretches and gets out of bed to change Noel’s diaper and keep him from waking his grandparents. “How’s Mama’s good boy this morning?” she coos into the baby’s ear.

“Good Mama,” Noel says, helpfully raising his legs for her.

“If we’re lucky, we can get dressed and out of here before Grandma and Grandpa get out of bed,” she murmurs, doing a quick, efficient job with her son.

“Gamma Gampa!” Noel squeals happily.

“So much for quiet,” Will says, coming up behind his wife. “I’ll finish dressing Noel while you get dressed. Then we can have a nice leisurely breakfast downstairs.”

“Heads up, Mama,” Tara whispers in Buffy’s ear. “We’re all going downstairs for breakfast, and we should be gone for a couple of hours, at least. We’ll probably take Noel out for a walk. Tyler’s already gone.”

At Buffy’s mumbled acknowledgment, the Harris family leaves the room.

~*~

Buffy wriggles out of her husband’s arms and smoothes a wayward curl from his forehead. He cracks an eye open and groans, attempting to turn over and pull the cover over his head.

“Oh no you don’t, mister! I want you awake – wide eyed and bushy tailed.”

“We developing a new kink, love?” purrs Spike, his voice silky and dirty and full of promises.

“Don’t you even try, you evil beast,” Buffy cries, deftly evading his grasping hands. “For a change, we’re going to arrive at this wedding unsweaty and nicely put together. And on time!” she adds.

“But we have so many hours to kill,” Spike insists. “Plenty of time for a shower and all the primpin’ you feel a need for.”

Buffy feels her will crumble as Spike pulls out the pout that turns her knees to jelly. “If I show up at my daughter’s wedding with bed hair and lipstick on my ears, you’re going to be the one to explain it to her” she mumbles, eyes beginning to spark with love and desire.

“It’ll be right as rain,” Spike promises. “Except for our girl, you’ll be the belle of the ball.”

“Then shut up and stop wasting time,” says Buffy, grabbing Spike and pulling him to her for a heartfelt kiss. “The kids can come back at any time.”

~*~

Neal and Xander meet up with Will and his little family and have a lovely breakfast in the hotel’s dining room.

“You guys plan on doing anything special until it’s time to dress for the wedding?” Xander asks, handing Noel a heel of rye bread.

“We figured we’d give Mama and Papa some alone time,” says Tara, smiling as color rises in Xander’s cheeks. “There are some things a toddler shouldn’t have to bear witness to.”

Neal laughs. “Your folks can be kind of demonstrative, I take it?”

“Sonic boom demonstrative,” snickers Tara. “We want to be as far away from here as possible for awhile. They’ve been good for our sakes, but a girl can tell…”

“And I think we’ll take a walk with you, if you don’t mind,” Xander says, knowing exactly what Tara means.

“Absolutely, Dad,” says Will. “New York is so much… taller than Santa Barbara. I love looking at it, but I’ll be happy to go back home with my family.”

~*~

The wedding ceremony is scheduled for six o’clock, but everyone is requested to be there by five thirty.

All are dressed and ready to go by the time the limousines pull up in front of the hotel. Angel has no problem accompanying everyone; the sun has already set.

They arrive at Tavern on the Green, whose main entrance is gorgeously lit. There are little lights woven into the trees, and warm, yellow lights in glass sconces on the walls.

Buffy pulls the little jacket of her gown closer.

“Chilly, love?” Spike asks, holding her a little closer to share body warmth.

“Only a little,” she says, the slightest of shivers run through her small frame.

Spike begins to unbutton his tux jacket, but Buffy stops him. “I’m alright, Spike… let’s just hope the reason we’re all standing outside comes quickly.”

No sooner do the words leave her mouth, when they all hear a clippity sound on the cobblestone road leading up to the restaurant. Coming into view is a Hansom cab, drawn by a snow-white horse bedecked with a wreath of autumn-colored roses and chrysanthemums. In the black and red cab sits Willa in her wedding gown, a silver and white shawl covering her shoulders. She waves as the cab nears.

“Daddy, look!” cries Luna, pulling at Wesley’s jacket. “Just like a real princess.”

“Indeed,” says Wesley, finding it hard to split his attention between the bride and his lover. In honor of the season, and keeping with the theme of the wedding, Oz has dyed his hair russet red, and cuts a dashing figure in his suit.

The cab pulls up in front of the restaurant, and the driver helps Willa dismount from the cab. Treena and Buffy flank her and together they head for the bridal room to await the beginning of the ceremony, while at last everyone goes inside to the chapel. Spike waits in the sitting area outside the bridal room to escort his daughter down the aisle.

Buffy soon emerges from the room, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears. “Oh, Spike,” she sighs, “She’s just stunning.”

“Just like her Mama,” is Spike’s ready reply.

“Please!” Buffy jiggles her upper arms and sniffles. “Look at me! I had to get a dress with a jacket to cover these jello arms. I’m forty-seven years old… I think the bloom is off this rose.”

“And I’m the world’s luckiest thirty-nine year-old. I have you to wake up to every single day,” Spike counters.

“She’s almost ready. I’m going to the chapel to sit and wait for my handsome husband to bring our daughter down the aisle.”

Spike kisses her, and sits back down. He doesn’t have long to wait. Treena emerges ten minutes later with a thumbs up gesture, and takes her place in line with the other bridesmaids and groomsmen, giddy because Brett is waiting there for her.

Jeremy is seated at the organ at the front of the chapel, a trio of violinists behind him, and they begin to play Johann Pachelbel ‘s Canon in D.

First to walk down the white silk path is Luna, accompanied by two other little girls wearing identical dresses; berry colored velvet bodices with short sleeves, and full skirts of sheer ivory organza with a flower print and a silk flower at the empire waistline. They all carry baskets full of orange and dark red rose petals, which they diligently sprinkle over the entire runner, before sitting in the first pew next to Buffy.

The door opens again, and this time it’s the bridesmaids, headed by twelve year old Kiana, in an adorable berry colored silk dress. It had spaghetti straps and both skirt and bodice were pleated. Very grown up, but age-appropriate.

Tara and Will enter next, followed by Tyler and Matt, Treena and Brett, Sorrel and Adam, Megan and Trevor and Alyse and Carlos in matching bridesmaid’s dresses and tuxedos. They traverse the petal-strewn path to the soft strains of the Canon, and stand on either sides of a modern chuppah, whose pillars have autumn colored maples leaves entwined around their legs.

When the door opens next, the seated guests begin to ooh and ahh and crane their necks for a better view. Spike, handsome in his tux, and Willa, resplendent in her wedding gown, carrying a teardrop bouquet of roses, carnations and tiger lilies, are ready for their entrance. Her arm in his, they make their way slowly down the aisle. Halfway down, they halt. Spike lifts her veil and gently places a kiss on her cheek. Bobby walks up to greet them, and Spike places his daughter’s hand in his, returning to his seat next to his wife.

The couple completes their walk until they stand under the chuppah, where Rabbi Berman is waiting for them.

The door opens one more time, and little Noel Harris toddles in, dressed in a miniature tuxedo and carrying a white silk pillow with the wedding rings gently stitched into its center. Tara kneels down at the end of the aisle, and Noel runs to her. She hands the rings to Trevor, Bobby’s best man, and passes Noel to his proud grandparents.

The music slowly fades out, and the Rabbi begins.

“Welcome, everyone. We are gathered here today for a joyous occasion – the marriage of these two fine young people. Surely the first in a long line of magnificent highpoints. However, marriage is not to be taken lightly, especially in these days where the divorce rate is an ominous indicator of failure.”

Turning to the couple in front of him, Rabbi Berman says, “Robert and Willa, in presenting yourselves here today to be joined in marriage, you perform an act of faith. This faith can grow and develop and last, but only if you both decide to make it so. A lasting and growing love is not guaranteed by any ritual.”

“If you would have the foundation of your marriage be the devotion you have for one another, not just at this moment, but for all the days to come, then treasure the hopes and dreams that you bring here today. Establish that your love will never be blotted out by the common, nor obscured by the ordinary in life. Faults will surface where now you find comfort, and admiration can be shattered by the routine of daily life.”

“Dedication, love, and joy can grow only when you nourish them together. Stand fast in that hope and confidence, having faith in your shared destiny just as strongly as you have faith in yourselves and in one another today. Only with this spirit can you forge a union that will strengthen and endure all the days of your lives.”

“The rings, please,” Rabbi Berman says to Trevor, who quickly pulls them off the pillow, popping the stitches holding them in place and hands them to the rabbi.

“Robert and Willa have written their own vows for this portion of the ceremony, so kindly turn your attention to them.”

Bobby turns to his bride and begins, “Willa, I consider it an honor and a privilege to be the one you have chosen as your life’s mate. Especially considering our rocky beginning. I promise to be a true and faithful husband, to love you, respect you, and be honest with you always. I promise to be supportive of your goals and as you grow intellectually, emotionally and spiritually, I will be by your side rooting for you all the way.”

“Never be afraid to confide in me… I promise to be a good listener and a safe confidant. You’re always welcome in my innermost world, and I promise to share my goals and ideas with you. As we grow together throughout our marriage, there are no limitations on the possibilities of our relationship and I hope we never realize just how high our high can be.”

“I believe in you, Willa, and I will be there for you, always.”

The rabbi hands Bobby a ring, which he places on Willa’s ring finger.

She turns to Bobby and says, “”From this day on, I choose you, my beloved Robert, to be my husband. To live with you and laugh with you; to stand by your side, and sleep in your arms; to be joy to your heart, and food for your soul; to bring out the best in you always, and, for you, to be the most that I can. I promise to laugh with you in good times, struggle with you in bad; to succor you when you are downhearted; to wipe your tears with my hands; to comfort you with my body; to mirror you with my soul; to share with you all my riches and honors’ to play with you as much as I can until we grow old; and, still loving each other sweetly and gladly, our lives shall come to an end.”

She accepts the ring from the rabbi, and places it on Bobby’s ring finger.

Rabbi Berman then offers Bobby a wine glass, from which he takes a sip, then he raises Willa’s veil and offers her a sip before handing it back to the rabbi who says, “With these statements made of love and trust, which we have just heard, I now wish you to greet Robert and Willa as husband and wife.

He places a wrapped glass on the floor in front of Bobby, who raises his foot and stomps on it, the broken glass tinkling loud enough to be heard.

Shouts of Mazel Tov ring out, and Jeremy and company begin to play Mendelsshon’s Wedding March. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Murcer walk quickly down the aisle, hand-in-hand, and exit the chapel.

~*~

The reception is loud and boisterous. Buoyed by a beautiful and heartfelt ceremony, people are milling about, sharing tales remembered of the past, and hopes for the future.

“My dear Buffy,” says Giles, enfolding her in a gentle hug. “I look at the beautiful woman you’ve become, and it’s no small wonder that your daughter is equally enchanting.”

“Girl does favor her mother,” Spike agrees.

Buffy snorts. “Yeah, right. That’s why the day she was born, all I saw in that beautiful little face was you, Spike.”

“Didn’t want to brag,” Spike laughs. “Ah, bloody hell, love. You know me better than that. I love to brag. My girl does her papa’s genes proud.”

“Git,” says Giles.

“Plonker,” retorts Spike.

The two men hug as Buffy grins. They’ve all come such a long way.

The room quiets down as the doors open, and the host announces, “Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce to you Mr. and Mrs. Robert Murcer!” and promptly breaks into raucous applause as the beaming couple makes their way towards their table.

The band sets up in the corner of the room, near a small wooden dance floor. “May I have your attention, please?” the host calls out and once more the room quiets. “At this time, I’d like to call the bride and her father out for the traditional father/daughter dance.”

Spike looks at Buffy with a deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression, but she shoos him out onto the dance floor and into the arms of his daughter. They sway to a beautiful, emotional retro tune, Daddy, Let’s Dance, by Jamie Tate. By the time the dance is over, there isn’t a dry eye in the room.

Bobby has his own moment to shine in the traditional mother/son dance, and they take the floor to the strains of B.J. Thomas’ song, Mama.

 

Finally, it’s time for the happy couple to dance their first dance together. The lights go down, a spotlight opens and the music begins; The Glory of Love.

As the last notes of the song fade away, the lights come back up and the host encourages everyone to come and share in the new couple’s happiness by joining them on the dance floor.

The rest of the reception goes by in a whirl… food is served, more dancing, a few small games and The Chicken Dance for the children, though they are outnumbered by the adults dancing with them. Thankfully, or ominously, all of this is recorded for posterity, to be shown over and over again at family gatherings.

Before the celebration winds down, everyone is requested to find their seats as the cake is wheeled out. It’s a gorgeous display piece – three layers iced white, with multi-colored leaves, grapes and roses. There’s also a sheet cake in reserve, should the display piece not be sufficient.

Together, Willa and Bobby make the first slice, and one of the servers takes over, cutting a small piece for each. They’re gentle with each other, and barely dot noses with frosting before the forkful find a way to their mouths.

After the cake is served, Spike and Buffy head towards the doors, trying to take in as much of the festivities as possible.

“So, Mama,” Spike says. “Our second dove has found her mate and officially started a nest of her own. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Spike,” she says, a small sigh escaping nevertheless. “It’s just… look at everyone.” She spreads her arms wide in emphasis. “When we lived in Sunnydale, things were much more insular. There was me, Giles, the Scoobs, Mom, and Dawn. Then came Angel and you. Really not a large cast of characters.”

“Larger than any Slayer I’d ever known,” Spike murmurs.

“Look, over there,” she says, pointing her finger. “Dawn and Andrew… four kids, and each boy has a girl with him. And over there… Willow and Becky and Kiana. And Xander with Neal, Treena and Will. And Giles! Bachelor forever Giles has Olivia and Braden. Angel has Nina. And even doofus, inept Wesley ended up with Oz and Luna. I feel responsible for all of them.”

“And how do you figure this, pet?”

“You and me, and then came our Willa. Then Tyler and Tara. And now Tara has Xander’s Will, and Noel. And Willa and Bobby will have children of their own soon. It feels as if we…”

“We’re a bloody inspiration, love. That’s all. I think the whole lot is happier than I ever thought they would be back in the bad old days.”

“You mean you thought about our futures even then?”

Spike nods. “Of course, I usually figured their future would be five minutes after I got that bloody chip out of my noggin, but you know how well my plans seem to go.”

“And I thank the moon and the stars for that every single day,” Buffy says firmly. “If things went your way, I’d have been dead – possibly for good – and none of this… oh you sneaky, sneaky man.”

“What can I say, love? I’ve always been bad.” Spike smiles, and kisses his wife soundly. “All in all, I think our lives turned out rather well. The people we care about are happy. We’re happy… can’t ask for anything more.”

“No, we can’t, can we?” Buffy murmurs. “Sometimes dreams do come true and bring you all that you wished for.”

They stay where they are, observing, until the band packs up. They kiss their daughter and new son-in-law goodbye and wave them off, gather their belongings, and wait for the limousine to take them back to their hotel, and the rest of their lives.

~ fin ~