Disclaimer: The characters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel do not belong to me.
A/N: This is a sequel to Those Things, Pride, Love and Pancakes, Something Beyond, and The Right Thing. You don't need to have read those to read this one. (This one probably gives more background information on almost everything except Connor anyway.)
Buffy and the guys tend to go to bed around the time Dawn gets up, although sometimes they clean off their weapons after a long patrol (or try not to let her hear them having sex at the other end of the house) while she eats breakfast, and sometimes she gets up to find them all fast asleep. On weekdays they're up by the time she gets home from school and tutoring, but on weekends, the house is hers to rule the remote, raid the fridge without judgement, and study spread out across the whole couch.
But today her private Dawn-time is taken up by a surprising (and very stress-inducing) phonecall and then several hours tearing pages out of magazines to pile on the table and tape to the fridge. By the time she hears the first signs of life (or unlife, possibly) coming from the master bedroom, she's already found twelve different recipes for pies that she wants to make.
Buffy shuffles in a few minutes later, covering her mouth as she yawns. "Good morning," she says, before she catches sight of the mess Dawn's made on the kitchen table and stops at the edge of the counter. "Is this an art project?" she asks warily.
Both Dawn and Angel have been made very clear about Buffy's no arts-and-or-crafts rules for the kitchen table. Charcoal smudges bring Slayer wrath upon whatever idiot artist soul left them there. (And there was the time Spike spilled nail polish all over the table. She thought Buffy was going to stake him on the spot.)
"Um, no," says Dawn, rolling around in her head all of the words she's about to spill and trying to sort them into the order that will lead to the least amount of anger or panic from her sister. "I want to do Thanksgiving."
Buffy blinks at her confusedly, eyes still a little sleep-bleared. "You do?"
"Yeah," says Dawn. "I mean, you love Thanksgiving. And we haven't done it in years." They haven't had a Thanksgiving dinner since Mom died, specifically, but she doesn't want to bring up thoughts of that nature yet. She holds up one of the pumpkin pie recipes she's found. "We can make dinner and it can be fun. You like when things are fun."
Buffy heads past her into the kitchen and begins to fill the kettle with water. "Well," she says, "I… I guess we could. It's kind of short notice." She turns the water off and sets the kettle down on the burner. "Connor's gonna be with his family—" she pulls her hand away from the knob on the stove and turns to Dawn with her eyes wide and her mouth in a grimace. "Crap. Connor's birthday is today. I didn't get him a present."
"I got him a Jamba Juice gift card," says Dawn. "You can put your name on it too if you want."
"Hm," Buffy wrinkles her nose a little, "I'll try to think of something else, but maybe." She turns and retrieves a mug from the cabinet and idly wipes the rim with the sleeve of her sweater. "Okay. Thanksgiving. Spike and Angel aren't going to be super helpful. And it's probably too late to fly Willow or Xander or Giles in, since they're so far. And I already told Aunt Arlene we weren't visiting them, so it'll probably be just the four of us." She lifts the mug to her lips, blows into it, and then looks back to Dawn. "Unless you wanted to invite some of your friends or something," she offers.
Right. All those new friends Dawn has definitely made since they moved back to LA. Because there are so many of them and she definitely hasn't been spending all her time studying for college or for how to fight the new ooglie-booglies on the block. "Uh, no," says Dawn. "Just family is good."
The way Buffy perks up to the implied inclusion of the guys as family is nice, and may make what Dawn has to share go down a little more smoothly. When Buffy sets her mug on the counter and before she can go for the coffee filters, Dawn sticks a yam recipe into her hand. Buffy likes yams.
"Look, I've been finding recipes all day. I've got potatoes, and pies," Dawn hands over a page of each, "stuffing, Dad's coming to dinner, and, look, green bean casserole."
Okay. So it didn't work in American Graffiti and she shouldn't be surprised that it doesn't work for her now, but she was still hoping to avoid the look of shock and a little horror that Buffy gives her.
Buffy stares at her and it takes a long couple of moments before her mouth shuts all the way. "What?" she says. "I… what?"
"Um," her mind only ponders giving 'green bean casserole' as an answer for a moment and Dawn meekly offers, "Dad called?" instead.
Buffy puts the torn pages down beside her waiting mug and leans back against the counter slowly. "Dad called? After six years?" She looks down at the floor for a minute and the back to Dawn. "How did he even get out number?"
"I don't know. He called the Angel Investigations phone," says Dawn. "Maybe he saw one of those 'Angel is the hero of our city' reports they did after the Wolfram and Hart thing? You were in some of those."
"They haven't been showing those in over a year," says Buffy. It's true. The whole Sunnydale ignorance-to-creatures-of-the-night-is-bliss mentality had been taking over once again for the past eighteen months. But at least before it set in they'd gotten the house as a thank you. Then Buffy sighs. "No, of course he put it off until now. Why didn't you get me when he called?"
Dawn's been trying to think of a good answer to that for almost five hours and she still doesn't have one. "First I wanted to get in some angry telling-off of my own." Buffy frowns at her but she pushes on. "Oh, come on, if I got you I'd never get to talk. And I had lots of good ones. Like 'you can't just walk back in here after you abandoned us,' and 'you made the choice to leave so we get to choose that you stay gone,' and 'it's too late and we've moved on.'"
"But he's still coming to dinner anyway?"
"Well," Dawn clasps her hands and paces a little in the tight space between the edge of the counter and the table, "I was thinking all those great thoughts and then the words that came out of my mouth were kind of different."
The kettle starts to whistle and Buffy snaps it off without looking, her mug still unprepared. "We can call him back. Tell him we don't want to deal with him anymore."
Even though she expected it, even though she was ready for even bigger anger than this, Dawn's still a little disappointed. "Yeah," she says. "I guess we could."
"But, I mean, aren't you all about forgiveness and redemption? Willow? Andrew?" she gestures towards the front of the house and the bedroom with the two sleeping vampires. "Spike and Angel."
"But those are people who…" Buffy sighs. "It's different. They're different. They wanted to change for the better. Dad chose to leave us, to stop answering his phone, to leave the country and never give us a forwarding address."
"But maybe he's trying to change now?" She holds up her hands when Buffy frowns. "I know. It's just… one day can't hurt, right?"
She goes along with it. She even gets Angel to help (and Spike to help by not getting in the way). It's what Dawn wants and it is kind of fun, especially knowing there's going to be a nice meal at the end of it. They browse magazines and cookbooks for recipes and she almost starts a fight at Safeway and on Wednesday night she goes to bed at a normal human time. Thursday morning she gets up the same time as Dawn, and that hasn't happened in about a year.
It's all sort of frantic-y, demonless fun that she hasn't had in a long time and it's nice.
But then the turkey's in the over and the pies (they managed to narrow it down to three) are all made and waiting in the fridge for their turn, and Dawn's setting the table for six, and all that's left is for her to slowly stir the cranberry sauce and realise that she's going to see her dad for the first time since high school.
It's so weird. Her dad and cheerleading and Hemrey were from such a different, distant part of her life, such a long time ago in Slayer years, and her normal phase had passed by the time she was fifteen and she'd really started to give up clinging to it by the time she reached Sunnydale. She'd tried to go back toward normal with Riley, and if he hadn't been a monster hunter himself, they would not have lasted as long as they had (which she is always shocked to realise was under a year when she thinks back on it).
Angel's fifteen minutes of fame were up and they'd been back to being all anonymous 'protector of the night' status for over a year and Los Angeles was ready to move on from that week of knowing that other things (likes dragons and vampire vigilantes) were out there. And it's nice to work quietly again. To not have to deal with people asking if they were about to be attacked just because she and Spike and Angel wanted to rent a movie. But she's not ready to go back in the Slayer closet. Those three years of sneaking out of the house and lying to her mom and pretending Angel's in community college and she and Spike are in a band? She's over that. Way, way over that.
It's not like she's going to forget how long she clung onto that hope, in between her intense hatred at him for leaving, that her dad would come back to them, get back together with Mom, and they'd all be a happy family. But after Mom's death, her own death, countless monster encounters, and all the awful stuff they'd been through, she actually kind of had moved on. He didn't fit with her life. He was a part of her childhood and that wasn't her reality any more. She grew up.
And now, what? She's going to try to cram him back into her world somehow? He let her down so many times and is she supposed to just serve him yams and pretend it's all fine, that his place in her heart didn't close up shop years ago? She has the good memories, and she's not losing those or pretending they don't mean what they mean to her, but all the new memories seem so bad. He wasn't there when she needed him and after everything… How is she supposed to let him back in?
And that's all just assuming that he's even actually going to show up in two hours.
"Buffy." Spike pulls her hand away from the cranberries and when she actually focuses on the contents of the pot she discovers her frantic stirring has reduced her sauce into puree.
She stares into the pot a minute longer and then says, as the realisation hits her, "I can't do this."
Angel turns away from the green beans and watches as Spike, one hand on Buffy's and the other wrapped around the beer he'd just retrieved, says "Just gotta let up a little, I think." And as he says it Angel knows that Spike knows that that isn't what she meant at all.
"I can't," says Buffy. Spike releases her without protest and she drops the spoon back into the pot. "I can't do any of this. This is no good."
Dawn puts down the silverware she hasn't yet assigned to a setting and asks only, "Buffy?"
Buffy turns now and looks to her sister, her face apologetic but still noticeably upset. "Dawnie, I'm sorry. I can't." She raises both hands to her head, first to press against her temples and then to push back her hair. "I'm not ready to deal with him. Not for something big."
"Might be a little late for that," says Spike.
Buffy shakes her head. "No, I'll just go, I guess. I don't think I can handle being disappointed by him right now."
Angel knows a thing or two about failed fathering, from both sides, so he figures it's on him to at least try and be diplomatic. "You're kind of assuming a lot. People change. Maybe you should try to forgive your father."
"Yeah, he let me down a lot, but he spent a way longer time 'having Buffy trust' category than he should have and he can wait a while to get back in there."
"I just think it's hard for people to change if they don't have support. You could be helping him. You haven't seen him in a few years, right? Isn't it time to move past old grudges?"
Buffy's eyes go a little hard and Angel's pretty sure he went a little over the line, but when she speaks her anger isn't directed at him. "He disappeared. Stopped paying child support. He didn't even call when Mom died." Buffy hasn't spoken much about her father at all since they reunited last year. Or really since he left Sunnydale. "I love my dad. But he decided he didn't want us in his life. And so I get to decide that I'm not ready to have him back in mine."
"Oh." And that's all he's got to say. Because he gets it. It should be up to her. And that's why he can't let it bother him when Connor doesn't come over. He can't get upset over it, not really, not on the outside. Because he was the one who made that choice, to give him up and to let him live his life without him. And now it's up to Connor. And Buffy deserves that too.
Buffy folds her arms and holds her elbows and heads to exit the kitchen but pauses at her sister's side. "I'm sorry. I know you wanted this to be better."
Dawn, who'd been staring at the pile of forks on the table in front of her, looks up. "Actually," she says, "I was kinda thinking the same thing." She gives a sheepish smile than almost doubles as a grimace and admits, "I tried to call him earlier. I thought it would help me not want to cancel. But he didn't pick up and I thought you were pretty into it, since you're all big with the redemption stories and stuff, so then I didn't say anything."
"I think it's good that people can move on from their past," Buffy says, and she glances back at Angel and Spike and smiles a little. "But I'm not ready."
"Should I try calling him again?" Dawn asks.
"You don't have to," says Spike. Of course Spike has to add that. "We could all just not be here."
"What?" Buffy frowns at him. "And here I am including you in the redempted category."
"Redeemed," Dawn interrupts with and Angel barely manages to not do the same.
"Thanksgiving isn't about revenge. We can't just let him show up and we aren't here."
"Last one I was at was," Spike says. "Besides, how much warning did he give you we he pulled his Father of the Year Houdini trick on the two of you?"
Buffy squints at him thoughtfully, her fingers tapping against her own elbows, then turns to Dawn. "What should we do with all the food?"
As insane as being in the house has been for the past six days has been, Spike almost can't believe how relieved he is when Angel turns the car back onto their street. He doesn't know how Gunn or his lady friend do it, surrounded by all those teenagers. Say what you will about demons, but they're never that loud or shrill.
"I still can't believe you guys don't remember meeting her in Sunnydale," Buffy says, repeating the same conversation they've been having for the past year and a half. She's got to start believing it at some point. "Her name was Chanterelle."
"'Chanterelle?'" Spike repeats, turning his head to face Buffy where she sits behind Angel. This is new information. Very strange new information.
"Isn't that a mushroom?" Dawn asks.
"Don't tell her I told you that," Buffy says quickly. "Look, my friend Ford was there. You killed him," she points to Spike and he immediately regrets not staring at the garage as they pull up. He's ready to accept the guilt and horror of everything he's done but it is just so bleeding awkward when it comes up in casual conversation like that. "They were in this cult group that worshipped vampires."
"I remember the group and your friend," says Angel. "I've known Anne for years. I don't remember her being there." He kills the engine as the garage door closes behind them and pulls the key from the ignition.
"Spike had his fangs on her throat," says Buffy. She undoes her seatbelt and pushes open her door. "How does this not ring anything?"
"'cause Spike puts his fangs in a lot of places," says Dawn and then slams her door shut behind her.
"Hey!" Spike climbs out and turns so they're face-to-face. "Might wanna start watching your tongue, Bit, before I cut it out and hang it on the fridge." He raises his eyebrows and does his best to look menacing without shifting since he's not nearly annoyed or hungry enough to find his game face.
She just snorts and rolls her eyes and makes him miss when she was little and came around to his crypt and he could make her shiver with just a story and a little blood. Those were good times. Now she identifies their killers with very specific questions about viscera.
"Don't threaten my sister," Buffy scolds, shifting her armful of dirty dishes around to grab her purse and then close the car door. "I can make you do chores."
"We're getting along just fine, Slayer." Spike holds up his hands.
Dawn takes the opportunity of his raised arms to duck in, hug him quick around the middle, and then pull away before he can even start pretending to be miserable over the affection. She darts past him and Angel and lets herself into the kitchen. "OkayI'mgoingtobednowhappyThanksgivinggoodnight!" And then she vanishes off to her room before any of them can grab her and assign her to kitchen duty.
"Hey," Buffy protests, a little too late, as Angel relives her of half her armload. She follows him into the kitchen. "Actually," she says, setting the dishes down by the sink, "I kind of want to just go to bed too."
Most of the time Spike's got more than enough energy for the three of them, but tonight he agrees with the Slayer and he wasn't even involved in the food preparations. Maybe he ought to have a chat with Gunn's doctor, because herding those kids around can't be the low energy, non-strenuous work he was told to leave demon hunting for.
"Sounds like a plan," says Spike. "Nothing here that can't be done tomorrow." The kitchen's honestly a mess, worse than it's been since they got it, but they can't see it from their bedroom and if they go to bed now he might still be asleep when it comes time to clean it all up.
"Mm," goes Buffy, lifting a few of the dishes to sort through them. "Some of these should soak, though. It'll just take a minute. I'll follow you guys back."
"All right." Angel kisses her, because he's standing closer, and Spike proves that he doesn't have to just one-up him all the time like some people have claimed and doesn't. (He'll do more than just kiss her soon enough anyways.)
Angel doesn't immediately head to the bedroom, though, and walks through the living room to the front door. Spike lingers a moment by the hallway before following him. Angel opens the door and holds it open long enough for Spike to take in one breath of the night air, then shuts it again without a word and turns the lock.
They don't say anything until they're in their bedroom with the door mostly closed. Angel takes off his shoes and puts them in the corner and asks, "Nothing?"
"Nothing," Spike agrees. He sheds his coat and tosses it over the back of the chair. He pulls his shirt over his head and drops it on the floor and sits on the edge of the bed to undo his laces. After he gets his first boot off, Buffy comes in and shuts the door all the way behind her.
"That was different," she says. "Good different. Not spirits turning into bears different." She smiles at them. "I'm glad we helped out instead of staying here." She crosses the floor and sits on the edge of the bed, her elbow brush against Spike, and Angel comes closer and sits beside her so they form a little triangle on the mattress. "Maybe tomorrow I'll call him. Or next week. Or after Christmas. And then… I don't know. Figure steps out from there. Like coffee steps." She glances at Angel and he meets her eyes and she nods to herself. "That's a better sized step for me, I think."
Spike glances over Buffy's shoulder to look at Angel and Angel looks right back at him and then back to Buffy. "It's your choice," he says. "Whenever you're ready, we'll support you."
"For however far you want to go," adds Spike.
Buffy links hand with both of them, intertwining their fingers and squeezing tight, and tugs them both back until they're all three lying on the bed with their heads together. She pulls their hands close together against her chest. "I know," she says. "That's why I think I can get as far as coffee." She turns her head to look at Spike, smiles, and then turns to face more towards Angel to treat him with the same. "Thank you."