Word count: 3450
Genre: Domestic holiday doings
Summary: It's Thanksgiving, so Buffy and Spike pack up the kids and head to Grandpa's.
A/N: Although it's not necessary to read the previous stories, this is the next installment in the Ring On It 'Verse series. It began with a small wardrobe change on the morning of the final battle of the Hellmouth, and led to an un-sought-for transformation, namely that Spike has a heartbeat. AU from Chosen. The whole series can be found here on AO3. Previous seasonal_spuffy posts are With This Ring, Under My Skin Prologue, Under My Skin, and Anniversaries Aren't For Quitters.
More A/N: This is more unbeta'd than usual, so let me know if you notice anything weird. Might meander a bit. Also: based on this year's California Fire Trauma.
To Grandfather's House We Go
Buffy adjusted her mask, and then checked to make sure the kids still had theirs on snuggly. Abigail and Clara resembled doleful birds, big eyed and white beaked, perched on either side of their baby brother. All her adjustments were probably fruitless, as William Jr. was at that stage where he kept whacking himself in the face with his plump little fists to his perpetual astonishment. After one last tug she plopped down into the front passenger seat. Spike grinned at her while adjusting his weird driving goggles.
“Buckle up, kiddies. Daddy's putting the...”
“DON'T say it,” she growled.
He shrugged, then whistled the tune to “Can't Touch This” while backing out of the driveway. She huffed, but he just waggled his eyebrows and headed south. The goggles interfered with his waggling, but she got the gist. If she wasn't so frazzled from the chaos of departure, she might've smiled. Instead, she was caught up in the endless feedback loop of “I wonder what we forgot?”
“Sunscreen!” she yelped.
They both looked out at the thick haze on the other side of the windshield. “Never mind,” she said. She tried to relax into the seat and let it all go. Spike rested his hand on her knee in understanding.
They couldn't take the coastal route because the road had to be left open for emergency vehicles due to the continuing flare ups in the area around Zuma. The inland freeway was periodically shut down for similar reasons, but Spike had spent the early morning hours mapping out the route she presumed he deemed safest. He hadn't shared his criteria, but she was sure it would be fine. Almost definitely.
They only had to go 70 miles.
Spike put on a Doctor Who audio drama, which immediately captured the girls' attention. He glanced at her and then adjusted the speakers so that they were only playing in the back seat. She squeezed his hand. He'd like to listen to the story play out with the kids, she knew, but was grateful for the relative peace. She felt a brief pang of guilt. Oh well. If the kids liked it at all it would be on constant rotation, and if they didn't like it, well, Spike wasn't missing much.
It wasn't long before they were driving by ruined hillsides. Some were blackened scrub, but some were recognizable as blasted fields, the rows visible. Vineyards, maybe, or sometimes, heartbreakingly, orchards. The vineyards might be replanted, she supposed, but the orchards would take years to come back, if ever. The farmers might take their insurance payoffs and move elsewhere, selling the land to developers. These fields might be condos the next time they came this way.
“Not an apocalypse,” she murmured.
“Is for some,” Spike answered. “Who's to say it wasn't some devious little ember sprites that got the whole thing going?”
“Do they have those?” she asked. “Oh, god. I should have stopped this.”
“No,” said Spike. “You couldn't have stopped it. And I've only ever seen ember sprites in cartoons. Cartoons implying that only YOU can prevent forest fires — which YOU definitely couldn't have.”
“You don't know that.” She slumped, her bottom lip sticking out a bit. He glanced at her and then dragged his eyes back to the road.
“Do know it. The bloody things started in multiple places. Even you can't be in more than one place at once, last I checked. This mess is not in your wheelhouse, Slayer.”
“Maybe it should be.” She thought of her old cryptic dreams of being a firefighter. She'd always thought they meant a metaphorical sort of firefighting, but maybe...
Spike opened his mouth to argue, but the phone rang. He hit the “talk” button on the steering wheel.
“Hello,” they answered together.
“Oh, hey! I caught you both. Good. Um, this is Fred.” She said this last as if she wasn't quite sure.
“Hello, Fred,” purred Spike. “To what do we owe the pleasure?” Buffy gave him her best side eye.
“Things are getting sorta hectic here. We were wondering if y'all could pick up some last-minute stuff. If it isn't, you know, out of your way or anything. Wouldn't want to put you out.”
“We'd be delighted,” Spike assured her. Buffy did a quick check of the backseat. The girls looked alert and interested. The baby was asleep. Okay. They could split up. It would be fine.
“Sure, Fred,” she agreed. “What do you need?”
A lengthy and varied list followed. For the first half of the Fred's long recital Buffy dug through the glovebox for a pen that worked, but eventually they got it all down.
“Wow. This seems like a lot of stuff,” said Buffy, looking over the list.
“We had some late additions to the party,” said Fred. “I'm sorry to ask, but most of our crew got called to a vision-type emergency. Lorne is off getting the beverages, and I've got my hands full here.”
“It's no problem,” Buffy assured her, mentally calculating the costs of the list and thinking that it might actually be a problem.
Fred let out a whooshing sigh of relief. “Thank you. Save the receipts. We'll pay you back out of petty cash. See you soon!” The volume on the other end of the phone rose. “Keep your pants on!” she called to someone on her end just before she hung up.
Buffy googled the closest off-the-freeway big box store, and found one just down the road. Spike pulled off and into the parking lot, which wasn't nearly as deserted as it ought to be, it being a holiday and all. As soon as he parked the car, William came awake with an unhappy cry. Buffy sighed.
“Okay, you take the girls and start with the dry goods. After I feed William the Drooler here, we'll take the produce section. We'll meet up at the checkout.” Her daughters grinned at each other over their wailing brother. She tore the list in two — wasn't Fred the most organized person in the world to have already broken it down by item type before she called? — and handed one half over to Spike. Under her breath she muttered, “And don't let them talk you into getting any toys out of those crappy machines.”
Spike took the paper and gave her a prim look. Then he kissed her cheek and said to the girls. “Let's show your mum how it's done, shall we?” He swung out of the van, pushing a button to open a sliding rear door. “Look sharp, now.”
Abigail dodged around to the back and kicked her sneakered foot under the bumper until the tailgate rose, darting in to grab a large bag full of reusable bags. Clara unbuckled William and, grunting a little, handed him up to Buffy. Then she hopped out the side door and grabbed her father's hand. He keyed the fob and locked all the doors remotely before taking up Abigail's free hand. They strode off across the parking lot. Buffy could hear Spike's muffled voice as they moved off.
“We've got an expedition ahead of us, and no mistake. Keep your wits about you, my darlings, and we might find treasure.”
Buffy removed William's filtration mask, attached the baby to her breast, and sighed. Spike was definitely going to spend all his change at the crappy toy machines.
William sped through his meal and then looked around with interest. He probably hadn't even been hungry, just requesting his favorite activity out of habit. She popped the mask back on the baby, to his dismay, but then hustled him out of the car and toward the store before he could figure out if it was worth pitching a fit over. The change of scenery seemed to provide enough distraction. Buffy noted that the Christmas decorations were already up. She looked down at her son. Huh. Baby's first Christmas was coming up. Her last baby's first Christmas. She wished her mom could have met him. Them. All of her babies. It would have been a lovefest.
Sighing, she grabbed a cart and plunked William into the baby seat. She easily found the towering piles of potato sacks. Thirty pounds, Fred had said. Another ten pounds of yams. Ten pounds of carrots. That was a LOT of carrots. How many people were dropping in to this little family dinner? She worked her way through Fred's list, handing William an organic orange to marvel over. He grasped it tightly and stared with intense concentration. She headed for the bakery section next, and then dairy. She ran into Spike and the girls in the chip aisle, debating the merits of Funyuns over potato chips. She placed several enormous bags of the Fred-requested tortilla chips into their cart and after verifying that they'd got everything on their half of the list, hustled them over to check out.
The girls virtuously ignored the crummy toy dispensers, as if Buffy couldn't see them surreptitiously pushing the tell-tale plastic capsules — no doubt filled with all kinds of dross — deeper into their pockets.
William gave a lusty “Ah!” at the sound of the Salvation Army bell ringing. He reached for Spike, who scooped him up. They stopped in front of the mask-wearing, Santa-hatted bell-ringer. Spike pulled a crumpled bill out of his pocket and put it in the bucket, then made a series of clicking sounds to the man. The man's eyebrows rose, then he responded with some clicks of his own, with a little whistle at the end. Spike nodded in agreement and then gave a whistle himself. The man's eyes glowed green for a moment and then he gave William a shy wave. William gurgled and pumped his legs. The man gave a whistling laugh, then turned to his next customers.
As they moved away, Spike gave William a fond jostle.
“Good eye, lad,” said Spike. “That bloke was indeed a Mxtyl demon, like your friend Tylex.” To Buffy, he added, "From playgroup."
Abigail asked, "Are they dangerous?" Clara looked over her shoulder, just in case.
“Nah. Peaceful, but big bird eaters. As long as we don't have a family parrot, shouldn't be a problem, yeah?”
The girls nodded solemnly.
They loaded up the van and finally, finally got back on the road to the Hyperion. William was asleep in minutes.
Traffic was terrible, going slower the closer they got to LA. The air quality wasn't improving, either. The girls finished the audio play. Spike suggested a few car-spotting games, but that petered out when they'd been sitting unmoving for 10 minutes. Buffy granted a special dispensation, and allowed the kids to watch “Frozen” for the 107th time. With headphones. Partly, that was so that Spike could mutter his imprecations at the other drivers more freely. William slept on, his sisters quietly singing “Let It Go” into their smoke masks.
Spike took the first exit past the canyons, and they trundled along on surface streets for the rest of the journey. He pulled up at the back of the hotel, got out and cracked open the door to the enormous kitchen. He whistled sharply — nothing like the melodious Mxtyl whistle — and suddenly, the van was surrounded by people in long white aprons, unloading the supplies they'd picked up with smiling efficiency.
Buffy shouldered the diaper bag, gathered up William, and, while Spike went to find a legal parking place, led the girls into the busy kitchen. Once inside where it was warm and bustling, Buffy relaxed.
“I guess we can take these off, now,” she told the girls, lifting her mask over her head in one smooth motion. Clara ripped hers off, dropped it on the floor, and mashed it under her heel. Abigail carefully removed hers, shooting her sister a bland look of superiority. Buffy tried to get William's off, but found it tricky to do one-handed with a wriggling child. Abigail came to her aid, saving her brother from getting an elastic band snapped into his eye. They all had a red triangle of marks pressed into their cheeks, around their noses, and under their chins. Even the baby. He looked so delighted at all the people rushing around that Buffy could almost forget how guilty she felt for marring her beautiful children.
She didn't recognize any of the people who peeled, chopped, and stirred, although some of them were obscured by clouds of steam. She led the girls through the swirl of activity and met Fred coming in the swinging double doors just as they approached them.
“Buffy! Hi!” Fred gave Buffy a welcoming hug, managing to kiss William's chubby cheeks while she was at it. He looked surprised at all the jostling, but then gave Fred a sweet, shy smile, looking up at her from under lowered lashes.
“Oh look! He flirts just like his daddy,” exclaimed Fred. William's smile went wider and he shrieked with mirth. “Hey girls! I'll bet you're parched after that long drive. C'mon!” She barreled out of the kitchen, and led the small party over to where the Lorne had set up a bar in the crowded lobby.
He took them in at a glance. “Two Shirley Temples and a nice crisp rosé for mama bear. Sound good?”
The girls chorused, “Yes, please, Uncle Lorne.” Buffy nodded gratefully.
He made big production out of dropping cherries in the girls' mocktails and handed them over. They giggled and tried to strike poses of extreme pre-teen sophistication. A gaggle of girls nearby motioned them over to join in on some activity or other. Off they went. Buffy knew she'd seen the last of them for awhile.
“Where's your dashing swain this afternoon?” asked Lorne, once he'd furnished Buffy with the promised adult beverage.
She shifted William out of grabbing range and took a sip. “He's still looking for parking, I guess.” She lowered her voice. “Who are all these people?”
Lorne blinked. “Oh. Yes. Well, our previously planned intimate soirée has gone up in flames, you could say.”
Buffy looked around more carefully. There were a lot of people there, but it was quieter than it should be. There didn't seem to be any unifying characteristic: there were kids and middled-aged people, singles and families. There were ethnic backgrounds of all sorts represented, and some people that Buffy was pretty sure were not, strictly speaking, human at all. Most were dressed rather shabbily for a dinner. Buffy saw more than one set of pajamas in the mix. Then she saw a woman talking intently into a cat carrier. People didn't usually bring their cats along to dinner parties.
“These are all refugees from the fires?” she asked.
“You betcha. You know the drill: we help the hopeless.” He shrugged. “ It's a big hotel with lots of empty rooms. I suspect even your little man there could do the math.”
“Ah!” agreed William. “Ah! Ah!”
Spike and Charles Gunn swept in through the front doors. Spike spotted her and towed Charles over with him.
“Ran into Charlie on my way in. He's just getting back from taking out a herd of dimension-shifting, fire-breathing, hydra-headed giant worms. Sorry I missed it.”
“If you're staying over, I'll bet we can scare up something fun for you to kill, man” said Charles. He shifted his attention to Buffy and her son. “Hey, Buffy. Glad you could make it through all that mess. Damn, but that boy is big! Do you mind if I hold him?”
William lurched for Charles, nearly tumbling out of Buffy's arms, exclaiming, “Ah!”
Charles clasped William to his chest and sniffed his head. “Oh, yeah. That's the stuff. Baby smell, straight from the tap. I'll tell you what: beats charred hydra worm all to heck.”
He sighed and handed William off to Spike. “I've got to clean up, and then Cordy's got me carving turkeys until I just can't carve no more.”
“Can help you with that,” Spike called to his retreating back. “Dab hand with a knife, here.” Charles waved acceptance of this idea then took the stairs two at a time.”
Cordelia appeared at Buffy's elbow. “Hey, Buffy. Hi, Spike. What a cutie!” She smiled widely at the baby in Spike's arms. “When are you guys going to stop having kids?” she asked.
“It's just three,” muttered Buffy. “We're not starting a baseball team or anything.”
“You'll be the first to know,” added Spike. Cordelia rolled her eyes.
“So, Buffy. We're going through clothing donations, trying to make sure people get clothes they can use. You wanna help with that?”
“Uh, sure, I guess. I'll need to feed the baby pretty soon, though.”
“We'll be at it for awhile. And tomorrow. And probably the next day. Whenever you can fit us into your schedule would be great!”
Cordy spun around, taking in the people gathered around the lobby, sizing them up for possible fruitful labor, Buffy guessed. She didn't blame her. Chatelaine of this big place, with a disaster looming, she'd be falling down on the job NOT to recruit all she could.
Even so, Buffy took the baby off to nurse before she did anything else.
* - *
By the time dinner approached, everyone had been pressed into service of some sort. And it was FUN. The turkey carvers were having a competition of some kind. Ditto the potato peeling team, though they already had their winner. The gaggle of girls were busily resupplying the buffet tables with cutlery and making sure all the visiting animals got enough petting. Not at the same time, Buffy hoped. A corresponding group of boys ran back and forth, delivering messages. Buffy suspected that the message stream had died out some with the beginning of the festivities, but who was she to trample on their imaginations?
While William had his post-feed nap, Buffy had helped another group of mostly moms go through the vast mountain of donated clothing and force it into some semblance of organization. Before the meal, people were invited to come find things to suit in their sizes. No sign of any pajama sets in the buffet line, so far.
When the buffet table in the ballroom was piled high with turkey and all the trimmings, and anticipation was at its highest, a grave-faced Angel walked in.
He cleared his throat. The room fell silent.
“Uh, I know most of you are not where you expected to be today. But you are here, and that makes today a great day. Expectations can't fill your bellies, but right now you can fill up next to your friends and your families, and give thanks to each other for being here today. For work, and for life, and another day to shape the way you like. That's all we get, and it's enough.”
“Uh, that's all I've got. Food's over there.”
There was a smattering of applause, quickly dying out, and a few murmured amens. People stirred and soon the tables around the room began to fill just the way the clink of glasses, plates, forks, and knives. and the gentle roar of quiet voices filled the air.
The family was all gathered when Angel came over to greet them.
“Grandad! Was a lovely speech and all. I was quite overcome,” said Spike.
“It was nice, Angel,” said Buffy. “And short, which is always popular.”
“Well, this whole thing isn't what I expected either,” said Angel. “But I'm glad to be of some help.”
“We helped, Grandpa!” piped up Clara. “Everybody helped. 'Cept William. He's too little to help.”
“Ah!” said William. “G-ah!” He waved his fists and pumped his legs.
“Did he just try to say 'grandpa'?” asked Buffy.
Spike's eyes narrowed at the boy. “Traitor,” he muttered.
Angel smiled. “I think William helps in his own way, even if he is small.” Spike looked sharply at Angel, trying to figure if this was a dig or not. Clara looked doubtful.
“You want to hold him?” asked Buffy.
“I'd like nothing better,” said Angel. Buffy put William into Angel's arms. The line between Angel's eyes smoothed out as he smiled down at the boy.
Buffy wound her arm through Spike's and rested her head on his shoulder.
“And that's what it's all about,” said Buffy.