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The Meaning of Heroes
Book One: Chapter Twenty-One (9,101 words) 
30th-Jul-2006 08:34 pm
wes/fred/giles OT3!, heroes

After Spike had dropped off the body of Wesley’s father in the garage the night before, it had taken a while to get Connor to bed thanks to the excitement of the day, but when Lorne finally agreed to stay with the little boy in his parents’ bedroom, he fell asleep fairly quickly. Then after Xander and Anya had headed for their apartment and Willow and Tara had left for Giles’ place, Buffy and Tony had spent the rest of the evening sparring a bit in the backyard before going on patrol. She was impressed – he had been trained well, which meant that Travers obviously had nothing to do with it.

It had been a quiet night out, almost as if the vampire world was taking a night off to mourn the loss of one of their own. They had returned to the house around two in the morning, and after sending Dawn to bed, Buffy had collapsed into her own, exhausted.

Sometime mid-morning, the smells of something wonderful drifted up from downstairs, causing Buffy to open her eyes. Raising her head, she sniffed the air a bit – someone was cooking. Giles usually did the cooking, though. They hadn’t returned already, had they? She quickly tossed back the covers and hurried downstairs, surprised to find Tony standing at the stove.

“Is cooking a skill they teach all Watchers?” she asked as she walked in.

Tony smiled faintly, shaking his head. “No, actually. I’m afraid what you see is the extent of my cooking ability. A fry-up is the staple of any Englishman’s diet.” He smirked while plating up the rest of the food. “Have a seat, you can have this round.”

Raising her eyebrows, she took a seat at the island. She closed her eyes once Tony set the plate in front of her and breathed in deeply. “Well, it smells really good.” She then looked down at what was on the plate and laughed softly. “Although I have feeling that if I weren’t a Slayer, my arteries would be about ready to throw a fit.”

“Oh, without a doubt.” Chuckling, he knew, though, that her Slayer metabolism would obliterate the potent meal. “Young Connor should tear this apart as well. I wish I had a fraction of that boy’s energy,” he admitted, nearly finished with the second plate. “There’s coffee and tea. I wasn’t certain which you prefer, so I made both.”

“Coffee good. Buffy need caffeine in the morning,” she said before leaning over to retrieve a mug and pour herself a cup. Just as she was sitting down again, the unmistakeable sound of little feet came down the stairs.

“Come on, Lorne! Food!” Connor yelled happily.

“I can smell it, babycakes,” Lorne’s voice floated down after him. “Just let me...Connor, I’m in my pea-jays for Mothras’ sake!”

“So’s Buffy!” Connor told him as they appeared in the short hall leading to the kitchen.

Lorne sighed and shook his head as he was lead in by the little boy. “Morning, you two.” He glanced over at Tony, a smile crossing his face when he saw he was the one cooking. “Oh, honey, don’t let this one go.”

“Wha—Lorne!” Buffy’s eyes widened for a moment before she looked down at her plate and started in on her food.

Tony plated up the second order, ignoring the fact that the green demon was talking about him, and Buffy seemed to be blushing. Setting the plate down at the island, he swung Connor up on the stool next to Buffy. “Here you are, young man.” He then poured a glass of milk for the boy, setting it in front of him.

“Thanks, Tony!” Connor immediately dug into his breakfast, stabbing his food and bringing it to his small lips. His hand paused as he looked to the side. “Buffy? What’s wrong? Your face is all red.”

“It—uh...” Buffy put her hand to face. Oh God, she was blushing. “I’m...it’s...” She looked up at Lorne, who was smiling at her as he poured himself a cup of coffee. She was so going to kill him. Although that probably wasn’t a good idea, all things considered – she’d have to come up with an excuse as to why he had suddenly disappeared. “I’m just a bit warm, that’s all. Has someone called Dawnie and let her know we’re having breakfast?”

“I’ll get her!” Connor offered exciteably before taking off like a shot down the stairs. As he reached the doorway of Dawn’s room, he yanked the door open and, without missing a beat, jumped up onto the bed, landing on the big lump in the center.

“Oof!” Dawn gasped, bolting awake when something landed directly on her. “Hey—Connor!” She clawed the covers off of her to find him giggling like a mad man on top of her.

“Mashed couch potato!” He giggled. “Get it?”

“I get it, I get it!” she told him as she grabbed him to heft him off her onto the bed. “I was sleeping you know.”

“Breakfast’s ready.”

Dawn made a face, wondering what was on since Giles wasn’t here. “Were you and Buffy cooking again?”

“Nope! Tony!”

That got her attention. “Okay, this I have to see,” she said, throwing the covers back completely and getting out of bed.

“Come on, Dawn!” Connor practically dragged her up the stairs, not letting go of her hand until they were in the kitchen. With a slight hop, he hauled himself back onto the stool next to Buffy. “See? I got Dawn, Buffy! Time to eat, sleepyhead!”

Tony shook his head, amazed at the unending energy, before turning his attention to Dawn. “I’m not sure if you’ll like it. English Breakfast is more suited to Slayer metabolisms or feeding the Energizer Bunny there, but you’re more than welcome to some.”

“Energizer Bunny. Is that your new nickname now?” Dawn asked her sister as she sat down.

Buffy reached out and swatted her. “He was talking about Connor, you dip.” She was so going to kill someone before Giles, Wes and Fred got back. She was sure of it. Maybe she could claim justifiable with Dawnie.

“She keeps going and going and going...” Dawn muttered under her breath before turning to Tony. “I’ll try some of what you’re making. You only live once, right?”

“’Less you’re a Komash demon,” Lorne said before taking a sip of his coffee.

Tony chuckled, being the only one there that understood Lorne’s reference. “Speaking of demons, Lorne...” Tony plated up a third breakfast, sliding it in front of Dawn. “For all my studies, I don’t think I’m familiar with your race. Would you mind if I asked where you’re from?” To soften the uncomfortableness of the question, he tilted the pan toward the green demon. “And you’re next. If you’re hungry, I can make a fry-up for you.”

“Just a bit, thanks. Don’t think I could eat as much as the others here,” Lorne told him, taking a seat himself. “As for what I am...well, genetically, I’m Pylean. Emotionally...not so much. I pretty much disowned my entire dimension although I’m sure my family looks at it the other way around.”

“Pylea? I thought I heard Mister Giles mention the place, but that was in reference to Fred. You’re from the same dimension?” he inquired, setting to work on Lorne’s breakfast, fascinated by him.

“Unfortunately, yes I am,” Lorne said with a sigh. He really did hate the fact that it was the place he came from that caused his favorite Texan rose so much pain and heartache. “My family wasn’t rich enough to have slaves, but it was still bad enough seeing what they did to humans. I hate that it was my people that were responsible for her five years of hell.” He didn’t know exactly why he was talking about this in front of everyone when he hadn’t even told Angel until he had been forced to by circumstance, but he supposed it was because they had been living in close quarters for several weeks now.

“You’re too bloody hard on yourself, Lorne. Watcher records are riddled with demons that use humans as slaves. If I remember correctly, there was even a case in Buffy’s file from LA, where a demon – under the guise of running a teen shelter – was taking human youths and using them as slave labor. It’s clear you abhor the practice, so why do you punish yourself with the guilt? The fact that you even care, tells me you’re a good man.” Tony smiled reassuringly, passing the plate to the other man.

“I guess because I ran away instead of fighting.” He took the plate and set it down on the counter in front of him before taking the fork Buffy passed him from the other side.

“Are all your people anagogic?”

“No. At least not as far as I know. Music’s sort of...not allowed on Pylea. Most of my people can’t stand the sound of it.”

Tony nodded in thought. “Warrior race, huh?”

“Hardly. More like a race of bipedal green as—rats.” He stopped himself before saying what he had wanted to about his people, remembering there was little company present. “With horns.”

Just then, the phone rang. Buffy, who had been listening to the discussion with interest while polishing off her plate of food – it was quite good given the amount of grease she was consuming – jumped up and answered. “Hello, Summers...Giles...Wyndam-Pryce...Burkle...and other people’s residence.”

“Well, good – at least I know we got the right place,” a female voice responded. “My name is Trish Burkle. My husband Roger and I are just outside of Sunnydale, and I was wondering if I might be able to talk to our daughter, Fred?”

“Fred’s mom?” Buffy asked in surprise. Giles had said they might call, but she hadn’t really expected them to. Or for them to be nearing Sunnydale. “Umm...unfortunately, Fred’s not here at the moment. She’s...sort of...well, more like, she has gone out of town this weekend with Wesley and Giles. They’re not coming back until Sunday.”

“I’m not drivin’ all the way back to Texas if she’s comin’ back on Sunday,” Roger stated adamantly after his wife explained the situation. “We haven’t seen her in almost a year, so we can wait.”

“Well,” Trish began, hoping the young lady on the other end hadn’t heard her husband’s crankiness, “is there a place you can recommend for us within Sunnydale then? We haven’t exactly been there before.”

“To stay? Well, there are a lot of places out near the highway,” Buffy told her, “but why don’t you come here first? Connor’s here.” She paused for a minute, suddenly realizing what she was offering. “You...uh...do know about what happened to Connor, don’t you?”

His head snapped up when he heard his name. His breakfast already gone, he slid down from the stool, sneaking up on the blonde slayer.

Trish smiled gently. “Yes, Fred called me, worried sick when the boys went to that place to fetch him. She explained everything then, about what had happened. And when they got to Sunnydale, she called and filled in the holes.” She looked over at Roger, nodding when he did. “But to answer your first question – we’d definitely love to see Connor.”

“Great. I’m sure he’d love to see his grandparents.”

“Grandparents?” he asked softly, standing right behind her. “Granny Trish?” He had already talked to his daddy’s mommy....this had to be Granny Trish.

Buffy looked down when she heard Connor behind her. “Yes, it’s your Granny Trish. Would you like to talk to her?” When he nodded and jumped up and down, she smiled. “Trish. Connor wants to talk to you.” She held the phone down to him.

“Granny Trish?! Are you coming in your bus?”

Trish laughed when she heard the excited question, absolutely delighted already by the little boy. She was proud of her daughter and Wesley, stepping up to give this boy the love he needed. “No, Connor, we’re driving in your Grandpa Roger’s truck. We should be there in about two hours.”

“Granny Trish, we went to a wedding yesterday, and this mean man showed up to yell at Daddy. I didn’t like him, and he upset Mommy, but another bad man showed up. Mommy told Dawn to run with me, so I didn’t get to see what happened. Mommy and Daddy are okay though. Papa is taking care of them...” Connor held the phone up to Buffy confused when he didn’t hear anything at the other end for several moments. “Buffy, Granny Trish not there no more?” he pouted, not realizing the older woman had gone quiet in shock.

Buffy’s eyes had widened when Connor launched into his explanation of what had happened the day before, not having expected that. She could only imagine what Fred’s mother was thinking right then. “Let me have the phone back, sweetie. I’ll check for you – there might be something wrong with the line.” She took the receiver. “Trish? Trish, are you there?”

“Please tell me that everyone is all right?” she asked softly. The girl she was talking to had said that Fred was out of town with Wesley and Rupert for the weekend. Connor, in his innocence, had barely scratched the surface, and concern for her daughter and the men her child loved weighed heavy on her.

“Everyone’s all right...well, everyone important is all right.” Buffy suddenly realized she hadn’t even told Trish who she was. “I’m sorry – I should have told you who I was before. I’m Buffy...Giles’ Slayer. And I was hoping that we wouldn’t have to tell you this over the phone, but we were at a friend’s wedding when Wesley’s father showed up. Then Angelus appeared and killed him. But your daughter—she killed Angelus before he could hurt anybody else. She’s fine. Everyone is fine. It was just...a rough time, so Giles took her and Wesley out of town to have some time to deal with everything.”

“Poor Wesley,” Trish said softly before explaining to Roger what Buffy had said. She glared at him when he smirked.

“Like mother like daughter,” Roger stated smugly with a proud grin. “Go on, darling, tell Buffy what you did to the bug demon that messed with our baby.”

“Roger Burkle, behave,” she chastised her husband.

“You took out a demon bug? I can definitely see where Fred gets her fight from then.” Buffy looked down at Connor and reached down to ruffle his hair. “We can talk more about all this when you get here. You said you’ll be here in about two hours?” She just prayed that Fitzpatrick had arrived and left by then. The last thing the Burkles needed was to see the actual body of Wesley’s father being carried from the house.

“About there,” Trish replied, thankful that she was letting it drop. “If this old man can get the lead out of his keester.” She smirked in anticipation of his protest. “And don’t you look at me like that, Roger Burkle. I’d like to meet my only grandson before I reach my 70th birthday, thank you very much.”

Buffy chuckled. “We’ll see you in a couple of hours then. We’re all looking forward to meeting you. And I’m sure Fred will be really glad to see you when she gets back.”

“We’re excited to see her. Like Roger said, it’s almost been a year. Before that...well, we’ll talk more when we get there.”

“Well, stop cluckin’ in the poor girl’s ear already, ya old hen. Faster you stop jabberin’ and get back to navigatin’ for me, faster we can get there,” Roger pointed out with a teasing smile.

“We’ll see ya in a bit, Buffy. Bye now.”

After saying goodbye, Buffy hung up the phone and turned to Connor. “Your grandparents are going to be here soon. So we should finish breakfast and then make sure this place is clean before they get here, okay?”

“Okay!” Connor said as they rejoined the others around the kitchen island.

*****

The Bed and Breakfast was beautiful, tucked away in a wooded area, away from everything. Sitting in the window of their room, Fred looked out at the trees and the lake beyond, unable to go back to sleep. She had woken up earlier, needing to use the bathroom, but while she was in there, she had found her morning sickness hitting again.

She had wanted to tell Wes and Rupert after they had gotten to the B&B, but with everything that had happened, the right time hadn’t been right. She hoped that she’d be able to tell them today – keeping the news to herself was almost as stressful as everything else they had been through recently.

Wesley stirred, sensing a significant part of himself missing. Opening his blue eyes, he frowned upon seeing Fred gone from between them, so he lifted his head and looked around, breathing a sigh of relief when he spotted her sitting near the window. Slowly sliding out of bed, he padded softly toward her, his hands moving around her body from behind, drawing her back against him.

“Penny?” he asked, kissing the top of her head.

Fred closed her eyes for a moment, leaning back against him and resting her head on his chest. “Got up to go to the bathroom, then...” She tilted her head to look up at him. “There’s something I need to tell you and Rupert. I just...I’ve been waiting for the right time.”

Wesley frowned, following her line of sight out the window for a moment. He hated to think there was something she thought she couldn’t tell them or had to wait for a right time. As he turned his head down to look into her eyes, the man on the bed voiced his thoughts before he could.

“There is no such thing as a right time, Fred. Wesley and I love you, and if you have something to tell us, you should feel able to come to us without hesitation,” Giles stated, his words slightly muffled by his pillow. He rolled toward them, his eyes opening to look at his lovers. “Whatever it is, just say it, luv. Nothing is going to change the way we feel about you or each other, I promise.”

“I know. It was just with yesterday and everything that happened...” She glanced down at herself for a minute and then looked back up. “I—I wanted to be sure, and I wasn’t able to find out for certain until I was talking to Lorne before the wedding yesterday, and then everything happened, but...I’m pregnant.” She looked from Wesley to Rupert, giving them a soft smile. “We’re having a baby.”

Wes felt his breath catch in his throat, her words sinking in. A baby, they were having a baby. It was—he had always dreamed of having a child with Fred. “It’s...it’s a dream come true,” he told, drawing her tighter against him, lowering his head onto her shoulder.

Giles, meanwhile, sat up like a shot in bed, green eyes wide in surprise. “Good lord,” he managed. “Wow, I never thought...I’m old...me? A father?” He gasped, having to remind himself to breathe. “It’s amazing.”

Fred nodded as she held Wesley and reached her hand out to Rupert, wanting to pull him over to them. “I...I know we never discussed it, but we weren’t using anything, and...we’re having a baby,” she repeated again. Being able to say it to them made it ever more real. She was having a baby with the two men she loved. “And he or she is going to have the best fathers in the world.”

Giles got up from the bed, needing to touch both of them suddenly. He kneeled down next to them, taking Fred’s hand. Still clad in his boxers, he leaned his head against Wesley’s arm. He was terrified. He loved the idea of having a child with these two phenomenal people, but he was nearly fifty already. When this child was eighteen, he would be at least sixty-seven. Still, he drew Fred’s hand to his lips. “Thank you,” he whispered against her skin before pressing a kiss to it.

“Are you...are you really all right with this? Both of you?” she asked softly, not sure how to interpret the look in Rupert’s eyes. “I know it’s not the best time, and I know we have so much going on with Connor and Buffy and the others, but this child is all of ours.”

“Fred, I love you—both of you. And this child – it’s the most wonderful news. Don’t ever doubt that. It’s just an old man’s insecurities surfacing, is all. You’re right, this child is ours and will have more love than he or she knows what to do with. Not only from us but also from our extended, and rather unusual, family.” He leaned up and kissed her sweetly.

She nodded, closing her eyes for a moment. She had to admit that when she was younger, she had never imagined her life being like this – being with two men and the three of them having a baby together. Society was mostly based on the idea of two people, a man and woman, being together. But this...this was right for them. This was what she wanted – Wesley and Rupert, and being a family with them. “I love both of you too,” she said, opening her eyes. She gave Rupert a lopsided smile. “And I still say you’re not old.”

Wesley chuckled, agreeing with Fred’s sentiment. “Rupert, I understand your concerns, Fred and I both do. But you’re in better shape than either of us....hell, you’re in better shape than most college kids. This child won’t care how old you are; he or she will see the same thing that we see – your capacity to love fiercely and your willingness to move heaven and earth for those lucky enough to earn that love.” He kissed the side of Fred’s neck and reached a hand down to stroke Rupert’s hair. “Our family. And no matter how old you think you are, we wouldn’t be the same without you.”

“We’re together, the three of us, no matter what,” Fred added. “Age doesn’t matter. I have the two most wonderful men in the whole wide world. That’s all I care about, and that’s all our children will care about too.”

Giles stood, drawing his lovers to their feet. “Come on. let’s go back to bed. We’ll order room service when we wake up later,” he said with a smile, wanting to pamper the pair that owned his heart.

Wes looked down at his feet, though, nervous about broaching the subject that suddenly came to mind. They were only a few hours north of LA, and he wanted to stop there on the way back. “Rupert...I think—do you...?” He trailed off and cursed, trying to gather his thoughts. “I think we should retrieve Dennis on the way home.” He looked at Fred, wondering what she thought of the idea.

Dennis had completely slipped her mind with everything that had happened, but Wesley was right. The poor ghost had loved Cordelia, and now he was alone without anyone there. He didn’t deserve that. “I think Wesley’s right. We should find a way to bring him up. We’re the only people left that know about him. He shouldn’t be left alone.”

“We can stop and pick him up,” Giles agreed, knowing that this ghost seemed important to his lovers. “He should probably stay wherever the two of you are since his main connection is with you, but you’ll have to leave it up to Dennis. If he wants to come with us, I know of a spell that can transport him, but Wesley, you’ll most likely have to carry him within you.”

“Should I call him?” Wesley looked at Fred. “Cordy’s machine should still be hooked up.”

She nodded. “I think you should. You’ve known him the longest, so he’ll probably respond better to you, and he’d probably prefer being warned before we go trying to move him from her apartment.”

Wesley picked up the receiver next to the bed, sitting down on the mattress. He dialed the familiar number, his heart sinking when he realized he would never dial it again after this. After four rings, the machine automatically clicked over. “Dennis, it’s Wesley. I wanted you to know that Lorne made it to us in Sunnydale. We buried Cordelia.” He paused for a moment and sighed. “Dennis...Connor is with us. We got him back from Quor’Toth. He believes Fred and I are his parents. We—we’re a few hours north of LA with our friend Rupert. Dennis, we want to take you back to Sunnydale with us.”

*****

The last few weeks had been the longest hell Dennis had known since he had died. Even when his mother – his killer – had been there, it hadn’t been like this. Silent, empty, lonely. He had tried to pass the time by cleaning the apartment up like he always did for Cordy, straightening up things, picking up books, making the bed.

And then he had finished and realized – Cordy wouldn’t be coming back. She’d never be coming back. Angelus had killed her. And he hadn’t been able to stop her from dying.

He’d been about to go crazy, trapped, unable to talk when the phone rang and the familiar voice of Cordy’s friend Wesley had started speaking on the answering machine. They had buried Cordelia; he was glad she was at peace, but he missed her terribly. He wanted her back. He needed her. Didn’t they understand that? He needed her as much as she had needed him to take care of her when she was sick and in pain from the visions.

He was glad, though, to heard that they had Connor back. Cordy had loved the baby so much and had told him all about him whenever she was home. It seemed only fair that Wesley and Fred had him now. Angel—Angelus had killed Cordy. He didn’t deserve to have a son. Just like his own mother hadn’t deserved to have a son.

When Wesley mentioned taking him up to Sunnydale to live with them, though, Dennis felt as though the weight of lonliness he had been feeling for weeks was lifting. They wanted to take him out of here. They wanted him to be with them.

He picked up the phone and, knowing he couldn’t talk to them, starting taping on the phone in morse code, hoping Wesley would understand. Y-E-S. H-O-M-E.

*****

Wesley heard the tapping in his ear, and it took his brain several moments to realize what Dennis was doing. “He wants to come with us,” he told Fred and Giles before turning his attention back to the call. “I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get to you. I’m sure you know that Angelus came to Sunnydale to get Fred and I. You should also know, however, that Angelus is dead. He’s gone, and this family will never be threatened by him again.”

Relief swirled through Dennis. Angelus was gone. It still hurt to know that Cordy was dead, that they hadn’t been able to stop him before he had killed her, but at least he wouldn’t hurt anyone else. Cordy would have been glad for that, he knew. G-O-O-D. G-L-A-D. I-S O-K-A-Y.

“We’ll come by Sunday night, I still have my key,” Wesley explained. “Rupert says he knows a spell that will allow you to travel inside my body to Sunnydale. He says because of the spell, it has to be someone you know and trust.” He then smiled up at Fred. “Oh, and Fred is pregnant. We’re having a baby. I know it doesn’t temper Cordy’s loss. It still hurts, I know, after everything we’ve all been through together. But this baby, it’s hope that no matter what happens, this family will endure. We want you to be a part of that, for you and for Cordy.”

C-O-N-G-R-A-T-S. H-A-P-P-Y. G-O-O-D N-E-W-S. It really was – it was the best news he had heard in a long, long time. He knew that Cordelia would have been thrilled. She had wanted Wesley and Fred together for so long, so knowing that the news would have made her happy made him happy. S-E-E S-O-O-N.

“We’ll see you on Sunday. You’ll be staying with us at Buffy’s. You’ll like her – she’s a Vampire Slayer.” Wesley reached a hand out, running it down Rupert’s back. “I have to go now, but I just wanted you to know that we haven’t forgotten about you.”

T-H-A-N-K Y-O-U. B-Y-E. Dennis then put the receiver down and looked around the apartment. This had been his home for most of his life...and all of his afterlife. But it wasn’t home without Cordy, and it had been his prison because of his mother. In a way, he was glad to be leaving it.

*****

“I think he’s glad to be leaving,” Wesley told his lovers after he hung up the phone. “I would imagine without Cordelia there, the flat has become the prison his mother always intended it to be.” He drew his bottom lip between his teeth, his mind suddenly moving a mile a minute in thought. “Rupert, the flat is rent controlled. I think we should hang on to it. It’ll give us another home base in case we need to go back to LA. What do you think, Fred?”

Sitting on the bed, Fred nodded in agreement. For one, it seemed strange to be giving up Cordy’s apartment, but Wesley was right – it would be a good idea to have a place to stay when they needed to go to Los Angeles, and staying at the Hyperion would never seem right. That had been Angel’s place, and they had said goodbye. “I think we should keep it. I’m sure Cordelia would have wanted us to have the place if we needed it.”

“It’s settled then,” Giles said with a nodd. “When we go on Sunday, we’ll find the necessary paperwork as to where to send the payments.” He reached for the phone with a smile. “But now, it’s time for us. And I think we need to feed this breathtaking woman and the little treasure she’s carrying.”

*****

Buffy stood at the door, watching the car that had just pulled out of the driveway disappearing down the street. Fitzpatrick had just claimed Roger Wyndam-Pryce’s body. She was glad he had arrived before the Burkles had although she knew Xander had been a bit disappointed that they hadn’t been able to truss Spike up for him to take with him as well. Ah, well. Couldn’t win them all. Turning, she looked at Tony as he stood beside her. “Do you know Fitzpatrick? He kinda gave you a funny look when we answered the door.”

“We were competitors at the Academy. Similar marks, similar skills...same type of friends, came from the same type of family. Right out of the Academy, he got assigned his own Potential Slayer to train. He was smug about it, rubbing my nose in it whenever possible.” Tony smirked. “Yet here I am, assigned to the Slayer herself.”

“Ahhhhh...so Mister ‘I’m-All-Better-Than-Thou-Stuffy-Britches’ realized he just got showed up, huh?” she asked with a laugh. “Well, I can tell you that I definitely prefer having you here to him.”

Just as she was checking her watch to see what time it was, a truck turned the corner and came up the road. She smiled when she saw the Texas plates and knew this had to be Fred’s parents. “Connor! Your grandparents are here!”

Tony chuckled when the little blur shot down the stairs and out the front door. “Quick little bugger, isn’t he?”

“Granny Trish! Granny Trish!” Connor yelled excitedly, running toward the older couple getting out of the truck. He made a beeline for the older woman, giggling when she turned and scooped him up, turning him into a spin as she hugged him tight.

“Hello, Connor!” Trish grinned, looking up at her husband over the boy’s shoulder.

“Hi!” he said, bouncing up and down excitably in her arms as Buffy and Tony came out of the house and joined them by the truck in the driveway.

“Mister and Mrs. Burkle? I’m Buffy Summers. We talked on the phone,” she said, sticking her hand out to shake hands with Fred’s father. “I see we don’t need to introduce you to your grandson. He’s been going nuts about you guys arriving since we talked. And this is Tony Delacour – he works with Giles and Wesley on the Watchers Council.”

Roger shook her hand, then the young man’s. “None of this Mister and Missus stuff. Name is Roger, and the beautiful lady juggling the boy is my wife, Trish.” He smiled, enjoying the sight of his wife with her arms full of their grandchild. He knew Connor wasn’t Fred’s by blood, but he was an innocent, needing a lot of love. People should always have room in their hearts for children. “Nice to meet y’all. Trish, pass the boy over here and say hello. Come to Grandpa, Connor.” He held out his arms and laughed when the boy practically sprang from his wife’s into his.

“It’s nice to be able to put a face to the voice.” Trish smiled, shaking Buffy’s hand. “Thank you – for lookin’ after our baby.”

Buffy grinned – she could see now where Fred got her personality. She had just met her parents and already liked them quite a lot. It was obvious that Connor liked them as well as he was playing with the brim of Roger’s hat. Another Roger. At least this one was better than the one that had just been carted away. “Fred’s been taking care of us just as much, really. And it’s great to meet you both. Why don’t you come inside. Lorne’s here – I think he said he’s met you before – and so is my sister Dawn.” She pointed to the house and started leading them up to the door.

“Lorne, the green fella in the bathrobe?” Roger asked, flipping Connor upside down, smiling when the boy giggled.

“Yes, hun, that’s him. And yeah, we met him in LA when we went to visit Fred,” Trish replied. “You know, Connor, if you check in your grandpa’s shirt pocket, you’ll find somethin’ for you.” Her eyes widened in surprise when the boy sat up like a shot and gripped her husband’s shirt. “Wow, he’s...strong.”

“Yeah,” Buffy responded as they entered the house. “He’s the strongest kid I’ve ever met. Smart and quick too. Right, Connor?”

“Right! I can sneak up on Buffy!”

“Hey, Burkles!” Lorne said as he came downstairs. “It’s good to see both of you again. How was your trip?”

“Lorne!” Connor bounced in his grandpa’s arm, holding up the red lollipop, “Look what Grandpa gave me!” He put it in his mouth, humming happily at the taste that hit his tongue.

“That boy is definitely going to have a hell of a sweet tooth when he gets older,” the demon said.

“Hello again, Lorne.” Trish smiled, remembering that Lorne had a fondness for her daughter. “As for the trip, it was long. Roger became a grandpa again and apparently felt like he had ta drive like one. Forty-five the whole way here. We’re lucky we got here before Connor graduated.”

At her teasing tone, Lorne chuckled at the image of the Burkles creeping along the highway like some doddering old couple – not exactly something he could picture given the way both of them had so fiercely protected their daughter the previous year in Los Angeles. “Well, it’s good to have you here,” he told them.

“Would you like something to drink?” Buffy asked. “And feel free to make yourself comfortable.”

“Granny Trish drives a bus, Lorne!” Connor bounced, his brow furrowing in thought at what his granny had said about his grandfather driving. “You should let Granny drive next time, Grandpa.”

Trish laughed when her husband looked at her chagrined. “Connor, honey, I’ve been telling him that since Texas.” She kissed the boy on the forehead before turning to face Buffy. “And I would love some lemonade if you have it, please.”

“I’m pretty sure we have some. It’s Willow’s favorite,” Buffy said as she headed into the kitchen. Sure enough, there was a pitcher of lemonade in the fridge, so she poured a glass for everyone and brought them out on a tray to the living room. “I guess you want to know more about what’s been going on here with what Connor told you on the phone?”

“Well, we know a bit.” Trish took the lemonade from Buffy with a thank you. “When Fred called from LA, she explained about Wesley nearly dying and how Rupert came down to protect them from the dark things happening in the town. When the boys went to that place to fetch Connor, she told us Rupert planned to bring them here to protect them from Angelus. The little bit I heard Connor mention, I assume Angelus made it here?”

Buffy nodded, sitting down in the chair and looking over at Tony. “I take it you met Cordelia Chase the last time you were in L.A.?” At their indications of yes, she sighed softly. “Angelus killed her a few weeks ago. We’re not sure exactly how Angel lost his soul again, but we think it had something to do with Wolfram and Hart, a demon-run law firm in L.A. Anyway, Angelus killed her, and then came up here and tried to attack Wesley and Giles, but Tony stopped him. He was out of action until yesterday when he attacked at Xander and Anya’s wedding and killed Wesley’s father. Fred managed to stake him, though, when he tried to kill Giles.”

Both the Burkles sat their open mouthed, not knowing what to say. It was Roger who broke the silence first. “Well, that’s just like a Burkle woman. They get deadly when their family is threatened,” he said with a laugh, proud of his daughter.

“Poor Wesley, though. Almost dying, then losing his daddy? Is he okay?” Trish asked, knowing a little more than her husband.

“It was hard on him,” Lorne said, remembering how Wesley had been when they had originally brought him home the day before although the call to his mother had seemed to do him a world of good. “His father...was not a nice man by any stretch of the imagination, but still. He was doing better, though, by the time he left with Giles and Fred last night. We think he’ll be okay. He just needed some time away from all this.”

“Poor dear.” Trish frowned, hating the idea that the man her daughter loved was suffering so much. “How’s Rupert, by the way? Fred speaks very highly of him, and I’m grateful for everything he did for her and Wesley in LA,” she added with an awkward smile.

Lorne knew that Fred had told her mother about her relationship with both Wesley and Giles but from the looks of things, Trish hadn’t found a way to broach the subject with her husband. He decided to tread lightly, then, in answering her question. “Giles is fine, thank goodness. Angelus tried to strangle him, but he didn’t get a chance to do him any harm. I think he was more worried about Wesley and Fred than for himself, in all actuality.”

Trish smiled faintly, suspecting that the older man’s caring nature was something that had drawn her daughter in the first place. “Roger, there’s something I haven’t told you. Fred told me when she called from LA.” She could see worry for their daughter cross her husband’s face. “Fred is fine. And she is marrying Wesley, but...” She took a deep breath, steeling herself. “This Giles fella – Rupert Giles – is the one that went to LA, protected Fred and Wesley and helped them get Connor back. Fred loves him too.”

“Fred loves a lot of people, woman; she has a big heart,” Roger pointed out, knowing his daughter had a lot of love to give. He saw his wife shake her head and was even more confused.

“Roger, she doesn’t just love him. She’s in love with him. I’m trying to tell you that she’s in a romantic relationship with Wesley and Rupert.”

Everyone in the room could see Roger trying to process this information, so Lorne jumped in. “Giles is a wonderful man, and he loves both your daughter and Wesley. Wesley loves both Fred and Giles. The three of them together...I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite so strong in a long time.”

“So Fred’s a loving girl. I admit it’s a bit unusual but not unheard of.” Roger was still puzzled about how his wife seemed to be preparing him for something.

“Roger, Fred told me first because she wasn’t sure how you would react. From everything I’ve heard, this Rupert is a good man. The thing Fred thinks you might have issues with is the age difference between them.” She sighed when her husband froze. “He’s a few years younger than us, dear.”

“What?!” he yelped, forcing himself to take a few deep breaths, remembering there was a child in the room.

Lorne glanced from Trish to Roger, unsure how to help with this. “Fred and Wesley don’t care about the age difference. He may be older, but they don’t see it. Giles is a good man who cares about them. They’re lucky to have someone like them who loves them so much.”

“And besides, only I’m allowed to call Giles old,” Buffy added. She then grimaced a little, not sure if that helped at all.

“But...good God, woman. He’s our age!” Roger protested. “Fred has a daddy!” He didn’t like this one bit.

“Yes, she does have a daddy. A stubborn, old fool daddy who can’t look past a few grey hairs on the head to see the love in the man’s heart!” Trish snapped. “You haven’t talked to Fred, but I did. I could hear it in her voice. She loves him. She loves both of them. And I’m warning you, Roger James Burkle – if you try and make her choose, you’ll be sleeping in that truck of yours till you get some sense!”

“Papa’s a good man! Loves Mommy and Daddy! Loves me!” Connor insisted, moving toward his granny.

Tony frowned. He hadn’t thought this was his business until Connor chimed in, starting to get upset. “Mister Burkle, I just arrived in Sunnydale, not long before Angelus. I’m not related to any of these people, or do I have any vested interest, so take it from an outsider...” He smiled faintly. “I’ve watched Rupert Giles working with his Slayer to keep not only the people in this house safe but also the town itself. He’s completely selfless in his devotion to those he loves, and he would walk into hell itself with a song in his heart to keep your daughter safe and happy. He owns his own business, has an estate in England, and is encouraging your daughter to reclaim her dreams that were put on hiatus because of her stay in Pylea. Now, I’m not a father, but given his capacity to love and provide for your daughter, wouldn’t most fathers be leaping for joy?”

“Roger,” Lorne said, using his name and not some nickname to show how serious this was. “Giles knows that Fred has a father. He loves Fred because he loves her. Tony here is absolutely right – he would do anything for her and for Wesley. The three of them deserve their happiness together. The age difference just doesn’t matter.”

“Giles is one of the best men I’ve ever known,” Buffy added. “I couldn’t have gotten through even half of what I’ve been through without him. And I want him to be happy. He’s happy with Wesley and Fred.”

Roger sighed, finally seeing how the odds were stacked against him. “I’m sure you could get half the town to speak up in favor of this man, and I don’t doubt he is a good man. Fred wouldn’t give him the time of day, otherwise.” He paused for a moment. “All right, I’ll give him a chance. But he hurts my baby girl, and I reserve the right to introduce him to my shotgun.”

“Oh no you don’t, Roger.” Trish could see her husband closing himself off as he scowled and sat back in his chair. “Now they’re coming back on Sunday. If I catch you looking at Rupert like he’s some kind of pervert, I’m gonna...” She looked toward Tony. “Slayers, they’re strong, right?” She smirked when he nodded. “If you give him even one evil eye, I’m gonna let Buffy whomp you from here all the way back to Texas.”

Buffy grinned. She was definitely going to like Trish, she could tell. “I’ll be glad to.”

“Stubborn old goat,” she scowled, glaring at her husband. “Now apologize to Connor for insulting his ‘Papa’.”

“I’m sorry, Connor. I’m sure your papa is a good man. I promise I won’t give him a hard time,” he told the boy. Ducking his head, he pouted theatrically. “Do you forgive your old grandpa?”

“Aww! Don’t cry! I forgive you,” Connor said, running over and throwing his arms around his grandfather. Everyone else started chuckling softly.

“Well, now that we’ve figured that out...” Buffy said, shaking her head. “How long are you going to be staying?”

“We have two weeks. It was all I could get off. Small area like ours, there’s only the two bus drivers. But when I told Julie that Fred was getting married, she volunteered to cover all the runs for a bit,” Trish explained. “So when have they scheduled the wedding?”

Lorne shook his head. “They haven’t actually had a chance yet between bringing Connor back and Angelus returning and Xander and Anya’s wedding. I think they were going to start planning once they got back, but...” He looked at everyone, raising his brow ridge in question. “How about we start planning for them? They wanted the legal wedding for Wes and Fred and their commitment ceremony for all three of them.” He cast a quick glance over at Roger as he said this. “We could help them by getting things started.”

“That’s not a bad idea.” Tony smiled, feeling obligated to do something nice for the three. He had noticed how the lovers had given up a lot for their family. They deserved to be put first this once. “We could use the photographer and baker from Xander and Anya’s wedding.”

Dawn came out of the kitchen, chewing the last of her banana quesadilla, catching the last part of the conversation. “Oooo, wedding plans! Why don’t we assign the commitment ceremony to Willow and Tara since it’s going to be Wiccan based anyways. And the rest of us take care of the wedding? We don’t really need invitations since everyone going is already here.”

“That’s a good idea, Dawnie,” Buffy said with a nod to her sister. “I’m sure Willow and Tara would love to take care of the Wiccan side of things. We may have to find a different place for the wedding itself, though – not sure if Father McKay will want to take the chance of a repeat performance of yesterday.”

“Buffy, we could have the reception either here or at The Magic Box,” Tony suggested, smiling when Dawn nodded excitedly.

“If no one minds, I can cook for the reception,” Trish offered, hoping to be able to do something for her daughter’s wedding. Roger was going to get to walk her down the aisle, so she wanted to be a part of this too.

“Please, be our guest,” Buffy said. “About the only person here at the moment that can cook seems to be Tony and his skills extend to a fry-up. Which was really good, but I don’t think Wes and Fred and Giles are going to want that for a reception. That or banana quesadillas.”

“Hey! They’re good!” Dawn insisted. “Usually...”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Anyway, going on what Tony said earlier, maybe we could have the wedding here – there’s plenty of room in here or in the backyard. And the commitment ceremony could take place at the Magic Box.”

“I know all of Fred’s favorite foods, and we’re used to her appetite,” Trish smiled. “I’m sure the boys will be okay with that.” She winked down at Connor, “What do you think, Connor? Want your old granny to cook for your mommy and daddy’s wedding?”

“Yeah! Cook like Papa!” He bounced over to his grandmother, crawling up in her lap.

“Your papa’s a good cook?” It was clear the boy adored Rupert. He obviously knew the difference between his daddy and his papa.

“Papa makes yummy food!” He giggled when she tickled him. “We’ll help Mommy and Daddy get married! And help Papa!” Grinning, he knew his granny would do anything for his mommy and daddy. He looked at his grandpa. “You help, Grandpa? Help Papa too?”

“I would be happy to help...your papa too,” Roger promised the boy.

*****

“Okay, so we need the books on Wiccan ceremonies,” Willow said as she and Tara walked toward the Magic Box after parking their car. “Do you think Anya will mind lending them to us or do you think she’s going to try to charge us for them?”

“Knowing Anya,” Tara responded with a smile, “she’ll probably try and charge us. But we might be able to get out with a couple of books if we explain that this is for Giles.” She shrugged, opening the door for her girlfriend and following her into the store once she entered.

“Well, we can only ask.”

“Ask what?” Anya asked as she stood behind the cash register going through the receipts for the day so far. She looked up. “You’re not here to try to convince me to take the day off, are you? I already told Xander that if he let me work today, we can do whatever he wa—.”

Willow put up her hand before she could get any further, certain that she was about to say something about their sex life. “Actually, no. We came by because Buffy called. We’re organizing both Wesley and Fred’s legal wedding and a commitment ceremony for all three of them. Since Tara and I have been put in charge of the second one, we came by to see if we could borrow some books on Wiccan ceremonies.”

“Please, Anya?” Tara asked, knowing full well the ex-demon despised doing anything that she believed might dip into her profits. “We swear, it’s for Giles. No herbs or spell components. Just a few books about the commitment ceremony.”

“But—,” Anya started to say before she stopped and noticed the expressions on the other two’s faces. “Well, since this is for Giles, and he technically still owns the shop...all right.” She pointed upstairs to where the informational books were located. “But only two.”

“Thank you,” Tara replied softly, relieved that the other woman was relenting for Giles. Leading the way, she immediately headed for the nearest shelf, looking at the titles carefully, searching specifically for the information on commitment ceremonies. She wanted to do this right.

Willow stood next to Tara for a moment, reading the titles as well before realizing that it was silly for her to be checking the same books her girl was. Instead, she moved to the other end of the shelf, her fingers moving along the spines of the books. It had been a few weeks since she had touched any magic books like this, and as soon as she did, she realized how much she had missed it.

Suddenly, she noticed that there was a spell book in amongst the information books. She was going to tell Anya when something stopped her. Her eyes simply focused on the book.

Tara smiled as she flipped the pages of the book she had found. It offered a ceremony based on the commitment of souls to each other, specifically for three individuals wishing to bind themselves to each other. Looking up, she saw Willow standing there. “I think I might have found something. This will be one of the books we take,” she suggested, tucking it under her arm. “Have you found anything yet?”

Blinking, Willow turned and looked at her. “Ummm...no. I thought I did, but it doesn’t look like this is the right one.” She continued moving her hand along the spines of the books. “How about this one?” Pulling out the book on bonding rituals, she handed it over to her girlfriend.

Tara took the book from Willow, glacing at it briefly before tucking it under her arm. “I’ll...I’ll make sure these two are okay with Anya.” She headed for the stairs. “Why don’t you keep looking? If you find something better, bring it down.”

Nodding, Willow watched as Tara went down to the cash register to talk to Anya before looking back at the books. She tried to focus on the ceremonial books, but her eyes kept returning to the spell book. Her fingers rubbed gently over the spine for a moment. She couldn’t. She had promised. The month was almost up, and...she just couldn’t.

But it wouldn’t hurt if she just read it, so long as she didn’t actually cast any of the spells in the book. Of course not. She had promised Tara she wouldn’t cast. Not read. Pulling the book out, she tucked it into her bag and took a quick look through the books again. Not seeing anything better than the two books they had chosen, she went downstairs.

“Couldn’t find anything else, so are those two books all right?” she asked.

Tara looked up, smiling as her favorite redhead approached. She nodded in acknowledgement. “Maybe we should start with these? One of the ceremonies I saw in here looked like what we want.” She patted the book, wanting to get back to Giles’ place to sit down and read it closely. “Are you ready?”

Willow nodded, sliding her hand into her girlfriend’s. “Definitely.” She smiled over at their friend. “Thanks so much for these, Anya. I’m sure Wes and Fred and Giles will be thrilled.” With a wave, she and Tara headed out of the shop.

*****

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