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A little late on the post tonight. Here is chapter nineteen of What Dreams May Bring. Willa is eighteen, Will, Tara and Tyler are thirteen, and Kiana is seven. New things begin all the time, including relationships. Enjoy! Thanks once again to just_sue and celesteavonne for their wonderful beta help, Willa for her unflagging support, and gillo, just because.


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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.”