DISCLAIMER: Joss owns the canon; I own the rest.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: And the last chapter is finally here. Yippee! Thank you all for baring with me through block, through other fics that have commandeered my attention, and through real life and all its interfering ways. It's taken a year, but I've enjoyed having you with me every step of the way, and I hope you've enjoyed the story. I had originally planned for a sequel, and someday, I may write it, but for now, the journey ends here. Thanks for reading.
Also, I'm ship neutral in general, and the ships in this fic just fell the way they did. Trust me when I say that the pairings you will see this chapter are simply the way things were meant to be in this fic and try to enjoy the story's end regardless of your personal ship preferences.
SMALL PACKAGES: Chapter Fourteen
"AND YOU DO THE GHOST HOKEY POKEY AND YOU TURN YOURSELF ABOUT…" Claire screamed at the top of her lungs. She hopped up and down, relishing the fact that she could stay in the air as long as she wanted.
It had taken her a week, but she was finally getting used to this ghost business and all its ups and downs. Nobody ever told her to be quiet anymore, except for Brandon and Brookie, but that was only when she was screaming real loud, and she didn't have to listen to them anyway, because Brookie was just a little kid and Brandon was a boy, and every ghost girl knew that boys didn't know anything at all.
She had Brookie to play with, and Brandon and Noelle, and, of course, Kaya. Noelle wasn't so much fun anymore now that Claire couldn't play with weapons, but sometimes, when she concentrated really hard, she could lift a glaive or a crossbow or a stake. That really surprised everyone who couldn't see her.
Most of them didn't believe she was there. Daddy didn't, even though she went into his dreams at nighttime and even though once, when she'd been missing him really badly, he'd seen her and held her and called her his Claire-bear, just like he used to when she'd been little, like Brookie.
Brandon's Mommy didn't believe she was there, either, so Brandon didn't talk about Claire to her, or to anyone except for Brookie, Noelle, and Kaya.
"…THAT'S WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT!"
"Be quiet," Brandon hissed. "Besides, that song's for girls."
"Is not," Claire said, her hands on her hips. She loved arguing with Brandon, and even though she wouldn't have admitted it, she loved Brandon, too.
"That song is too for girls," Brandon said. "And anyway, it's not supposed to be the ghost hokey pokey. It's just the regular hokey pokey."
"AND YOU DO THE REGULAR HOKEY POKEY AND YOU…"
Brandon groaned. If Claire had been loud and girly when she'd been a real little girl, she was a million times louder and more girly as a ghost. His stomach clenched a little when he thought about the words, because Brandon knew deep down that it was his fault that Claire was a ghost. It was his fault that the bad man had killed her, because he hadn't gotten there soon enough to save her, and it was his fault she was a ghost, because he hadn't been strong enough to bring her all the way back. Worse, Brandon knew something that he wasn't supposed to know. He'd heard the grown-ups talking, all of them, even the ones who used to be dead but weren't anymore, and Miss Willow had said that Kaya had brought Sunny back to end the spell, and all the rest of those dead people had come along for the ride. Maybe if he hadn't tried to bring Claire back in the first place, Kaya would have done it for him, and then she would have been real Claire instead of ghost Claire.
"Brandon, do the hokey pokey with me," Claire ordered imperiously. "Here, I'll show you how." She spun around in circles, screaming at the top of her ghost lungs. "AND YOU DO THE BRANDON AND CLAIRE HOKEY POKEY AND YOU TURN YOURSELF ABOUT."
Finally, Brandon gave in. "That's what it's all about," he muttered, trying to pretend that he wasn't having a good time when he was. Then again, maybe it was okay to like Claire now, because it wasn't like Claire was actually a girl. She was a ghost girl, and that was something entirely different.
"Come on, Sunny," Kaya said impatiently.
Sunny glanced over her shoulder at the blonde woman standing next to Kaya's mommy and daddy.
"Go ahead, sweetheart," Darla said, her voice low and breathy. "Go play." Sunny hesitated for a moment and then ran back to Darla, throwing herself at the woman's legs. Instinctively, Darla's arms curved around the child, hugging her tightly.
Sunny's blonde hair shined in the sunlight, and Darla marveled at the fact that she was standing in sunlight, next to Spike and a slayer, and none of them were in the least bit of danger of being set on fire, staked, or bitten. All this from a child not even old enough to tie her own shoes, a child who this moment looked on the verge of a tantrum.
Kaya frowned fiercely at Sunny. Before, she'd always understood what her Sunny was feeling and thinking. She'd always understood what all of her others were thinking, but now that they were alive, now that she'd done what the Big Voice had told her to and brought them back, she couldn't understand them nearly so well, except for Spike, who was Daddy now. Kaya understood Daddy perfectly, because deep down, Daddy was like Mommy, and Kaya was like them both.
Spike smiled just looking at the little girl he was just beginning to fully realize was his own. She looked more like Faith than she did like him, but she had his eyes and his mouth and his heart. She had a temper, too, but he wasn't about to take credit for that one, not when the child's mother had one that matched his, fury for fury.
He looked at Faith out of the corner of his eyes, and he saw her, as he had since the memory of Kaya's conception had come back to him, as a woman. She was beautiful and rough and still full of the pain she'd tried so hard for Kaya's sake to forget. She was strong and feminine and primal, and even though he'd retained most of his vampire strength when he'd crossed back over to the realm of the living, she could still occasionally kick his ass.
He hadn't said the words, and maybe he wouldn't ever, but he loved her. Maybe the people in charge, the Big Voice and that lot, had messed with his mind when they'd used his body to father Kaya, but when he looked at Faith or at his daughter, it simply didn't matter. He loved them, and when Faith looked back at him, when her lips covered his and he looked into eyes that had been to as many dark places as he had, he felt worthy of that love.
"Go on, darling," Darla said, tactfully ignoring the way Spike and Faith were devouring each other with their eyes as she spoke to Sunny. "Go play with Kaya." Darla hated to let Sunny out of her grip. The child had suffered so much in the years since that hideous man at Wolfram and Hart had sacrificed her as the first step in preparing to raise the Death Goddess. With every day that had passed, every action that Talot had taken to bring his dream closer to reality, Sunny had suffered, the ancient magic tearing at her ghostly flesh, burning into her skin. Her pain had been meant to fuel an apocalypse, and all that time, she'd suffered. Now that they were alive again, now that Talot's plan had been foiled by Kaya's reversal of Sunny's sacrifice, Darla found herself worrying more and more about the little things that might harm her darling little girl.
What if the other children on the playground were mean to her? What if she fell of the slide? What if she hadn't put enough sunscreen on? What if…
"Mommy?" Sunny said tentatively. "Are you okay?" Sunny watched Darla's reaction carefully. It was the first time she'd referred to the woman as her mother, and she wanted to know if it was okay.
Tears rose in Darla's eyes. Mommy. Had things worked out differently, her son might have called her that, innocence in his voice and his heart in his eyes. Darla pushed the thought out of her head. She'd had a son, and she would never forget him, but now, she had a daughter. "I'm fine, darling baby girl," she said. "You and Kaya go play."
"Be careful, Bitlet," Spike said as the little girls scampered off to play on the swing set.
"Don't swing too high," Darla caught herself saying. What was happening to her? She'd been a ruthless killer who knew no fear, and now she was telling a four year old girl to beware the dangers of swing sets?
"Don't hit anyone," Faith called out sternly to Kaya..
"Only if they deserve it," Kaya called back. Ever since she'd brought the dead back to life, she'd shed her baby talk and begun talking in longer and longer sentences.
Spike couldn't help but grin. His little girl was a fighter. "Listen to your mum," he told her, trying to be stern.
"No fighting," Faith said again in her serious Mommy voice.
"And no raising the dead," Spike added. Some of the other parents at the playground shot him a strange look, and Spike tried his best to look casual and not like a formerly dead, formerly evil former vampire and the father of a child who had the kind of power in her pinky that men had in the past and would in the future kill for. "Ho hum," he said under his breath.
Faith elbowed him in the chest. "Real casual," she said. "Not suspicious at all."
Spike prepared himself for a verbal spar. Aside from the physical sparring and the physical…not sparring, there were few things he liked better than matching his sarcasm against Faith's.
Darla rolled her eyes. "Here we go again," she said under her breath.
Lindsey sat, staring at his phone. He'd put in a few calls and was expecting his answer back any minute.
"Angel had the papers drawn up to null and void the bloodline codicil in all employees' contracts." Kate put her hand over his. Ever since Claire's death, he'd been a man on a mission, and Kate, knowing what it felt like to devote your life to something like that, knew exactly the words he needed to hear.
"They thought they could just take her because of something I'd signed when I was stupid and young," he said lowly.
"It's not your fault."
"All heirs, wards, and the first generation of direct and indirect blood descendents," Lindsey quoted. "I signed away my daughters," he said. "Even if I'd never adopted them, even if they'd stayed in that hellhole of Lauren Ann's, Wolfram and Hart would have found them. I signed away my nieces and my nephews and any children I could ever have." Lindsey looked up at Kate, his face anguished. "What gave me the right to do that? What gave me the goddamned right?"
He looked back at the phone. "And Noelle?" he said, stumbling over the name of Claire's friend, the third little girl who'd been used by Talot in his stupid sacrificial games. "Who gave someone the right to sign away her life? Who signed away her life?" Deep down, he knew. It was written all over the child's face.
"It wasn't your fault," Kate said. "It wasn't."
"Brookie thinks she can see her," Lindsey said, and Kate knew that he wasn't referring to Noelle. "My two year old daughter thinks she can see her dead sister."
"It's not your fault," Kate said. Then she paused. "And maybe Brookie can see her," she said. "Maybe she is here, near us, near Brookie and Brandon and everyone who loved her."
Lindsey stared at her.
"I've been a skeptic, Lindsey, and if this past month has taught me anything, if my son, that amazing little boy that I have never and will never deserve has taught me anything at all, it's that miraculous things happen when you least expect them. There are things out there we don't understand." Kate stopped talking as Lindsey squeezed her hand.
"You understand me," he said. He'd been through too much for pretenses right now, so he spoke his mind. "You understand me."
For a moment, they stared at each other in silence, Kate sharing Lindsey's pain, and then, the phone rang.
"Lindsey McDonald." Lindsey answered the phone and then paused for a moment. "I knew it," he said, and then, without another word, he hung up the phone.
Kate arched an eyebrow at him. If Lindsey wanted to explain, he would.
"Noelle's mother," Lindsey said. "That abominable woman who dresses her daughter in those frilly white dresses and pretends Potential is a school for creative children, is named Lyra. Lyra Covington." Lindsey paused. "Before she was married, her name was Lyra Morgan, and she had one older sister."
Kate rested her head on Lindsey's chest. This meant little to her, but it meant something to Lindsey.
Noelle was Lilah's niece.
"You're sure you want to do this?" Angel asked, for maybe the millionth time since Buffy had told him she was making the move from Cleveland to LA.
"If you keep asking that, I'm going to think you don't want me around," Buffy said.
"You know it's not that." Angel's voice was low and awkward.
Buffy looked up at him. "I want to be near Dawn," she said. "With Tara and Anya back, not to mention Darla and Spike…" Buffy rushed over Spike's name. Seeing him look at Faith the way he did, seeing Spike with Kaya was still a little too much for her. "Potential doesn't need me anymore," Buffy continued, swallowing the lump in her throat. "They could take on twice as many kids and still not need me.
"With the new visiony gig, Dawn needs me," Buffy said.
Angel gave her a look.
"Okay, so maybe it's not exactly new, and maybe she doesn't exactly need me, but…" Buffy trailed off. Once upon a time, she'd had the world on her shoulders, and now, she wasn't sure what she had.
Angel met her eyes. "I need you." His words surprised her. "I've always needed you."
Thoughts ran through Buffy's head at warp speed: thoughts of time lost, of friends dead and back, of the insides of coffins, and of a small girl's body, lying motionless on the floor. She spoke into Angel's chest, words that she hadn't let herself say for so long.
"I need you too."
It wasn't 'I love you,' but it was a start.
"Hokey-pokey-okey-bokey…" Brookie bounced up and down, happily doing her version of the hokey pokey with ghost Claire. Brandon pushed down the desire to cover his ears and smiled at Brookie.
She was just a little kid, and she missed Claire, so Brandon needed to be nice to her. Besides, Claire thought that her daddy and his mommy were going to get married some day, and then Brookie would be his little sister, just like she'd been Claire's little sister when Claire was alive.
The way Brandon figured it, it was his job to look after Brookie now, the way he wished he'd looked after Claire.
"…tokey-lokey-mokey…" Brookie broke into delighted giggles. "Sporkie!" she added. "C'mon, Brandon, do the Sporkie Pokey with me and Claire-y."
"It's Hokey Pokey," Claire informed her sister loftily. "Say Hokey Pokey, Brookie." Once a bossy older sister, always a bossy older sister.
She grabbed at Brandon's hand, and for a moment, she could feel it, and they were holding hands for real, her hand solidified by touching his.
Brandon grinned at Claire, his Claire. Some day, he promised himself, he'd bring her back for real, but for now, he took Brookie's hand in his other, and the three of them did the Sporkie Hokey Pokey and turned themselves about.
Across town, at the playground, Kaya waited until the swing reached its peak and jumped off, soaring to a height that would have had most parents gawking in fear. She landed with a grin, and tilting her head to the side, a sure sign that she was seeing or hearing something that others couldn't see, whispered under her breath.
"That's what it's all about."
It's been a long, crazy ride, and I know some of you probably hoped to see more Tara/Willow, Xander/Anya, or Doyle/Cordelia in the closing, but I hope you enjoyed anyway. Let me know what you thought.