"I can't get over it," Willow said, passing Buffy a dish to dry. "Three new kids in the family! And one of them will be mine! Or, you know, not directly mine, more like Tara's and some anonymous sperm donor's, but I'll be her second Mom..."
"Willow," Tara said. "She's totally yours."
"I know. I'll get used to saying that."
Buffy asked, "Have you decided on a name yet?"
"I think we're going with Delilah," Tara said, smiling at her wife. "Willow's choice."
"Oh, that's so pretty! I wish Spike was into pretty names. Whenever I ask him, it's punk rock pioneer this, godfather of no wave that. Before we settled on Ian, I had to rule out, let's see..." She looked heavenward and counted off the names as she dried a dish. "Ramone, Iggy, Sid, Stiv, Dez, Clash, and what was the other one? Oh, Jimmy Jazz."
Willow laughed. "Not so matchy with his personality."
"I don't know," Tara said. "Iggy could work."
"Of course by that time we were already calling him Peanut," Buffy said, "so it was kinda moot... until now."
"He's over the Peanut, huh?"
She nodded. "The time came that he no longer wanted to be synonymous with a tiny fruit. Can you blame him?"
"He's the cutest thing, Buffy. With his glasses and his books and his serious face?"
"I know! Don't you just want to squeeze him and call him Peanut and shelter him from the harsh cruel world?"
"It's hard to let go, huh?"
"So hard," she said with a sigh. "I want to time-machine him back to ten years old and just... keep him there, you know? You saw how close we used to be; now I'm lucky if he glances in my direction. I know that's a normal boy thing, but he's getting all mini-Giles too, and if you haven't noticed, Spike and I aren't so much with the brains as we are with the brawn. He has no one to relate to at home."
"Maybe we can come by more often. I got a little spark out of him when we talked nanotechnology at dinner."
"Would you? Oh, Will, that would be so great! But I know how busy you are with your teaching and lecturing schedule, and your writing, I can't ask you to--"
"I'll make time. You're family, Buffy! We help each other."
Buffy smiled at her, then at Tara. "You got a good one."
"Don't I know it," Tara said.
"So, if Spike pretty much named Ian and Chance," Willow said, sudsing up another dish, "the next one is yours, right?"
"It better be! Otherwise we'll end up with a Sheena, or an Exene or a Siouxsie Sioux. I already told him I draw the line at Palmolive."
"Palmolive?" Tara asked. "The dishwashing liquid?"
"No, the drummer in the Slits. I hate that I know this." Buffy was drowned out by the racket of skateboard wheels rolling on tile, courtesy of her daughter. "Hey! No skating in the house! And will you eat already? Your dinner's cold."
"Nice, Mom." Chance picked up her board. "You're officially ninety."
Willow begged to differ. "What ninety year old can name-check obscure punk rock drummers?"
"One that lives with me and Dad." She took her practice drumsticks out of her jacket and assaulted the countertop, threw one up in the air and deftly caught it. "It's pretty much all we talk about."
Baffled, Willow said to Tara, "It's like some people are just born cool."
"Grampa said we could skate inside 'cause they're tearing the house down."
"Fine," Buffy said. "But I'm heating this up and you're going to eat it."
Chance looked at her congealing supper dish, nose wrinkling. "Do I have to eat the meat parts?"
"Bunny, you love meat. It's the veggies you hate." She set the microwave in motion.
"I like veggies okay. Can I eat the rest of this salad instead?"
Buffy tilted her head. "You didn't happen to notice a big slimy pod under your bed last night, did ya?"
Jesse skated in, flipping his bangs out of his face. "You should have seen the jump she just did out there, Aunt Buffy! It was like, Fshooooo!" He stopped short to stuff a cold turkey slice and a tuft of mashed potatoes into his mouth.
"Ewww," said Chance. He grinned, letting it all ooze through his teeth, and she giggled.
"That's great, but it's dark out, you guys. No more fshooo-ing. Not either of you!" Buffy called after him as he skated out of the room.
"Gotta feel sorry for the new kid," Chance said. "By the time it's my age you'll be even older than ninety and even more uptight than you are now."
"Hey, are you looking to get grounded? Take a step back and reassess."
"Why don't you take a step back, Mom. You were a teenager once, weren't you?"
"That has nothing to do with--"
"You must remember what it's like. Staying out after dark, getting 'jiggy with it' in your roller blades, necking at the drive-thru movies," she put her skateboard onto the island and added casually as she spun the wheels, "burning down the gym?"
"You mean 'drive-in movies', and that was way before my -- What did you just say?"
"Oh, nothing. Just, when we got here today, Gramma said, 'At least she won't be setting her high school gym on fire', wink wink, as in 'you did that'."
Buffy laughed nervously, and covered, "That's just a figure of speech, honey!"
"Yeah," Willow laughed with her. "Hello? I was at that school. Maybe she never told you, but your mom was an awesome cheerleader. Boy, did she know how to fill those bleachers with fiery pep! Okay so I'm gonna go check out that movie they're watching in the other room! Come on, Tara!"
Alone with her daughter, Buffy took the dinner plate out of the microwave. "How did you even hear that?"
"I don't know. I just could." She stared at the meat, dots of blood on its surface. "Lately, it feels like... I don't know, that I can do lots of things better, like--"
Chance followed her mother's distracted gaze out the kitchen window. "Never mind. We'll talk later." She dropped her skateboard on the floor. "You can't hear me, so now might be a good time to tell you I took five dollars from your purse last week and lost it on a shell game at school--"
Buffy tuned in. "What?"
"Nothing," Chance said, and pointed at the back door. "Look, it's Angel."
"Hey, you came!" Buffy greeted him with a hug. "What brings you this... Oh." He wasn't alone. So very not alone. "Faith. Wow. It's been--"
"Yeah," Faith said, arms crossing. "We kinda hooked up again. That copasetic?"
"Of course, why wouldn't it be?" Buffy hoped her tone was convincing. She didn't want to reveal in any way, to anyone, that Faith's presence brought up all kinds of uncomfortable feelings. "Come on in, both of you. There's still plenty of food and drink."
Faith blocked contact. "I don't hug."
"Right," Buffy said as her ex shot her a silent apology. "How presumptuous of me."
"Is that the kid I helped you save?" Faith said, pointing at Chance. "Man, you're like a whole little person now."
"Helped you save?" Chance asked. "Who are you?"
"Sweetie, don't be rude. Faith is an old friend. Last time you saw her you were really little, and she..." she kicked her mind awake and lied, "drove us to the hospital that time you had a hundred and three fever." She turned to the adults. "Funny how time flies, huh?"
"Hilarious," Faith said.
"She's a beauty." Angel unblinkingly regarded her daughter, who immediately fixed her eyes on her skateboard to hide her blush. "Oh! I almost forgot." He patted his pockets and produced a pink envelope. "Happy birthday, Chance."
After carefully opening the card, she lost all sense of decorum. "Two hundred bucks! Sweet!"
Buffy swiped it from her and stuffed it into her own hip pocket. "This goes into your savings account. Minus the five you owe me." At her protest, she held up a finger. "Don't make me 'young lady' you."
Chance scoffed, glanced sidelong at Angel and skated out of the room.
"Oi, no skateboarding in the--" Spike paused in the doorway, Ian reading a book on his shoulders. "Who called the Superfriend meeting?"
"Spike, be nice. You know Angel has a standing invitation."
Angel nodded a hello at Spike. Just as noncommittally, Spike nodded back.
As Faith helped herself to a beer, she snorted, "You weren't complaining at the last Superfriend meeting."
"Whoa, children present," Buffy whispered, "some with ...oddly bionic hearing. Can we at least pretend to be adults?"
"What the hell is that supposed to--?"
Angel cleared his throat.
Faith let it go and laughed. "I'm only playin', B, loosen up!" She leaned in and winked. "Just, not as much as last time, right?"
Buffy breathed in and mentally counted to not stabbing her. What could have possibly possessed Angel to start seeing Faith again? Was he that lonely after Cordelia moved on?
Angel carried a large box in from the back porch. "Hey, Ian. Want to help me put this baby together?"
"Wow!" Ian hopped off of Spike and threw his book aside. "An Andromeda ProScope X-Ten? Is that for me?"
"All yours, champ."
Ian beamed at Angel, deciding that Champ was the best nickname he'd ever heard.
Angel explained to Buffy, "I missed his last two. Hope it's okay with you. And ...Spike."
Spike shelved his prickling emotions for Ian's sake, and told himself, as he always did in his rival's presence, I got the girl, she loves me, I won. Pillock. "Yeah. That's fine. Nice of you."
* * *
"Chance?" Jesse stood behind her, curious and a little spooked. "A-are you okay?"
"I don't know." She opened and closed her fists. Opened, closed. Muscles. Bones. Cartilage. Blood. "My body..." She breathed; tried to breathe as her heartbeat slowed. "This is so weird. I can... feel it."
He touched her shoulder. "Did, um... Was it something I did?"
"No, dummy, it's..." She sat down on her mother's old bed, hearing snippets of every ambient noise and conversation throughout the house. Feeling faint, she put her elbows on her thighs and cradled her head. "Something's happening to me."
* * *
Spike glanced out the back door at Buffy, sitting on the deck railing, chit-chatting with Angel as he and Ian put that sodding telescope together. Could have easily bought that for him too, just... didn't know he wanted one.
Angel. He'd forgotten about the open Thanksgiving invite his wife had extended years back -- without asking him first, of course. Taking for granted that he'd be fine with it, being that they were so solid and secure in their marriage.
He rolled his eyes.
Hell if he didn't deserve the blow job of the century for putting up with this shit.
Noticing the pungent scent of garlic, he felt a tug on his pantleg.
"Cake?" said one of the twins, offering a plate of something brown and mulchy, with red icing and whole garlic cloves wedged inside. "We made it ourself."
"Thanks... Hallie?" She nodded. Spike was never sure which was which.
"That'll be twenty dollars," she said, holding the plate hostage.
He eyeballed the girl's father.
"Hal," Xander said, taking the plate, "What do we say?"
"Extortion isn't nice," Hallie said, dejected.
"That's right. Now go play." He added quickly, "Not with fire!"
When she was gone, Spike said, "You're not gonna make me eat this, are you?"
"No, but I was thinking of forcing some down Angel's throat."
He got a little misty-eyed. "I sort of love you."
"I always suspected." He squeezed Spike's shoulder. "Come on. I gots the herbals for what ails ya."
"I take it back," he said, overcome with grateful. "Not 'sort of'. Head over bloody heels."
"Daddy?" Chance was in the doorway, looking slight and scared.
"We'll talk business later," Xander said, and left them alone.
"You okay, Bunny? Got a tummy ache?"
She shook her head no. "You said, um... You said I could ask you anything, right?"
"Anything at all, gorgeous." He picked her up, put her onto the kitchen island and gave her his full attention.
"Okay." She took a deep breath. "Ever since my birthday, I've been feeling kinda... strange? And tonight, I--"
"You coming down with something?" He touched her forehead. "You're a little clammy..."
"Not sick strange. Will you listen to me? Different strange. Like, my body, it's... I can feel it... changing, and--"
"Buffy!" he yelped, gripped by fatherly panic.
As Buffy rushed in from the back porch, he put Chance down and shoved her forward. "You two need to have some girl talk."
Buffy frowned. "Is this about Grant Lorman?"
"Ew, and no! You guys are so dumb! Just forget it!"
Spike stared at Chance, a horrible realization dawning: his little girl wasn't so little anymore. She had... a figure.
When the hell did that happen? And more importantly, "Who the hell is Grant Lorman?"
"He's nobody! God, just, both of you leave me alone!"
As she ran off in a huff, Buffy held Spike back. "That's girl talk for 'leave me alone'."
"Did you see that?" Spike pointed in her direction. "She's got--!" He gesticulated wildly in front of his body. "And--!"
"Yes, honey. For a few months now. And that's only the beginning."
"Bloody hell. Bloody..." He didn't know what to do with himself.
"That sounded like fun," Joyce said, entering the kitchen. "Parenting is easy, isn't it?"
"Oh, go ahead," Buffy said. "Say 'I told you so'."
"I would, but it's more fun when you admit it. Anyway, I've been sent to recruit heavy lifters. Everything needs to go down to the basement for the reno, and here you all are."
"Right," Spike said, opportunity to get lit knocking. And now, by god, he really needed it. "I'll get Xander."
"What am I, chopped weak female?"
"You're pregnant," he reminded her.
"Who's pregnant?" Faith asked, ambling in with an empty beer. "You? Again?"
"Yes, Faith." Her gaze stayed on Spike. "And I'm apparently infirm, too."
"Jeez, it's like a regular baby factory around here."
"You want to argue, that's fine," he dared Buffy. "Night's just gonna get longer."
She relented with a sigh. "I don't want to carry boxes anyway."
"I didn't really think you did."
"I'm going to go be with my son as he sees his first planet. Or, the moon or ...whatever you can see with that thing."
"Have fun." With your ex-boyfriend.
"I will," she said, and shut the door behind her a little too hard.
"Boxes?" said Faith, popping open another beer. "I'll help."
* * *
"Nice ear muffs."
Chance didn't look up. "Go away."
Jesse stepped into the empty closet, shut the door and sat across from her. "What's wrong?"
Eyes wet, she shook her head. "You're gonna think I'm a freak."
"Why would I think that?" He nudged her sneaker with his. "You're the coolest girl I know."
She wiped her tears on her sleeve. "It's pitch dark in here, right? You can't see me at all."
"Except I can see you. I can see you perfectly."
"Yeah, right. How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Seven. Nine. Four." She nudged him. "Hey, not polite."
"Wow." He put his hands down. "Night vision. You could play outside all night."
She stared at him. That's all he had to say? "Do you want to kiss me again?"
"Uh-huh," he answered, voice cracking.
* * *
Spike dropped a stack of heavy boxes on the basement floor. "Bloody Angel with his bloody telescope. Bloody children and their... bloody growing up. Bloody hell."
"Who's a grumpy boy? You are! Yes you are!" Xander glanced at the stairwell, lit a joint and took a hit before passing it over. "Whistle while you work, buddy."
Spike took a long, deep toke and held it in. "Yeah. That's better."
"Found a guy in Thorndale who grows his own. Oz's nephew." He laughed, white smoke escaping from his nose. "Grammy-winner Oz."
"Yeah," Spike said, and sat on a box. "Good for him."
"Who's baking?" Faith said from the landing, one box on each side of her hips.
"Shhhh!" Xander waved his hands around.
"Sorry," Faith said, amused, and traipsed down the steps. "Well? Let's see what you got, Quickdraw."
"Hey look," Xander said defensively, "that was my first time, okay, it's not really fair to judge based on--"
"Wasn't talking to you."
Spike looked up at the ceiling with a strained smile.
"Oh." Xander understood. "Oh, right. Ha. Haha." Spike sent him a glare. "I mean, no big -- happens to the best of us, man."
Shaking his head in disdain, Spike stared at the floor. She could rake up all the muck she wanted, but he wasn't going to play.
Faith sucked on the joint, thought for a second and said, "Mine's better."
"Hey, this is good stuff," Xander said.
She unrolled a sandwich-sized bag. "Pharmaceutical grade. Made for a man, strong enough for a slayer."