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Today I present to you the next new chapter of What Dreams May Bring - Chapter 16 - Life Goes On. We do, indeed, move on from last year's tragedy. Willa is now fifteen years old, and the twins are ten. Hugs and kisses to just_sue and celesteavonne for their marvelous beta work. Adoration as always for Willa, who keeps me going with her love and encouragement, and gillo, who I hope will be back with me soon.


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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.