She thumbed through the photo album, moments of her past, their past, frozen in snap shots and images. This was her album, one that no one else in the family touched. She chose the pictures that went in it, and each picture had an accompanying story tucked away in an envelope for her children to read…later. Her eyes crinkled as she smiled, remembering.
The first picture of the whole album was her, laughing on the bed, Spike pulling her shirt up to reveal her stomach. She'd just told them she was pregnant, and they insisted on taking the first of several pictures that marked the progress of her pregnancy. They'd peppered her with questions, started making plans and lists, and she'd had to remind them that it was 11 P.M. on Christmas Day and no store or doctor's office was going to be open—not even in Los Angeles. So they'd settled on making 'we're having a baby' love, which was slow and gentle and filled with significant looks. Their lives were about to change, but they were ready for it.
The next series of pictures were of her varying states of pregnancy as her belly became heavy and swollen. She giggled at the one where he mischievous lovers had pulled her shirt up while she was sleeping and drawn a huge smiley face on her swollen stomach. That had been only days before she'd given birth to Jennifer Giles-Summers, a healthy seven ounce bundle of joy. Buffy ran her fingers over her family gathered around the new born. She was in the middle with Spike and Will on either side looking down. Andrew was trying to get a look over Will's shoulder while Dawn held Cainna up to see her new little auntie. The candid picture had been taken by one of the hospital staff.
Smiling, Buffy turned the page. There was Dawn, ready for her first day of college as a UCLA Bruin. She had been legally emancipated from her parents—who had made it very clear they weren't unduly upset to get rid of their daughter and her 'mistake'—and received her GED in the same year. On Cainna's third birthday, she'd officially enrolled at UCLA for the next semester. Cainna was off to preschool.
Buffy couldn't control her giggle at the picture of Andrew looking up adoringly at Chriss, his first boyfriend. It wasn't so much Chriss that Buffy wanted to remember, as the first time Andrew had felt so comfortable with them and himself as to reach out to someone else…and bring him home. Andrew had 'loved' Chriss in an amusingly innocent way, seeing everything the other boy did with rose-colored glasses. The end of that relationship had been filled with tears, something none of them could have prevented but still resented Chriss for it, but Andrew had learned a lot about himself.
A bright-colored still from Jenny's first birthday party stole her attention next. It seemed like only yesterday her baby girl was a baby, barely able to crawl. Spike and Will had been inconsolable the whole day. In the picture, Buffy and Jenny were center stage, Buffy trying to convince her daughter that cake was better IN her mouth than around it. Everyone else was smiling for the camera, except Spike and Will, who were looking despondently at their first born child, "mourning the passing of her childhood" as they'd told Buffy tearfully that night. Yes, her Twinlets were so dramatic sometimes; lord knew how they'd handle tonight's festivities.
Buffy turned the page, her eyes lighting up at their wedding pictures. Faith, Willow, Alex, and Dawn had made up her bridal party. Spike and Will had asked Gunn, Connor, Lorne, and Giles to stand for them; Cordelia had presided over the affair as Matron of Honor, holding Jenny so she could watch her parents pledge their love to one another. They'd found a beautiful little park, filled with colors and life and joy. Under the trees, before their best friends and loved ones—including an about-to-burst Anya—they had exchanged their promises to one another. For one day, they changed the world, allowing their friends to wrap them up and create a world where their relationship was completely and utterly acceptable. It had been a small, intimate affair, but perfect.
Unlike Dawn's first marriage, which had been a giant affair. Connor had become very successful, and he and Dawn had gotten married as soon as she graduated from college. It seem liked they invited everyone they'd ever met. Dawn had even sent her estranged parents an invitation, though she neither expected nor received any response. They'd gotten married in a classically grand style, thrown one hell of a part afterwards, and disappeared to Jamaica for two weeks. They'd had two children in quick succession.
Dawn's second marriage had been a bit tamer; she and Conner had learned from their mistakes (a miracle at that) and, deciding that they'd been divorced for long enough, remarried. Buffy had decided against the formal photographer's wedding photo for that second marriage; instead, she had one she'd snapped of the couple during their first dance, love and contentment evident as they gazed at each other. Their time together and apart had taught them things they'd needed to know, and hopefully would keep them together this time around.
The next entry raised a flurry of emotions, even after so many years. Through the plastic page, Buffy felt the creases and worry lines of the letter. It had come in a plain white envelope, no return address, postmarked from Texas. It was the only correspondence she'd ever had from Xander, a letter that was not about him asking for her forgiveness, but about seeking the strength to forgive himself. He'd made it though prison, a sobering experience, and completely changed his life. He'd wandered around the US before meeting a man who had shown him how to start mending his life. He had a fiancée now, a quietly strong woman who didn't let him wallow and wouldn't put up with his stubborn blindness. He'd sincerely wished her and her loved ones well.
Nicholas Osbourne and Caroline Viola Giles-Summers grinner up from her next page. Having twins wasn't nearly as fun as Will and Spike thought it should be. Her tiny frame had been almost overcome by her huge belly, trying to accommodate the two lives within her. It had been a hard pregnancy and birth, marred by complications and difficulties. But she'd delivered her two bundles of joy, and accepted the doctor's proclamation that another pregnancy was unadvisable with the gentle acceptance of a woman who was blessed enough as it was…and though adoption was a brilliant thing. Jenny had been suspicious of the two additions to her family, but after a small misunderstanding in which she asked when they were going home, accepted her siblings with the fierce protectiveness she had to have learned from her fathers.
Hearing the sounds of her family getting ready to leave, Buffy quickly flipped to the first blank page. She slipped the slender, embossed card into the sleeve. She took a moment to admire the invitation, elegantly printed and formal, the splash of a single tear drop puckering some of the heavy card stock.
"Buffy! We're going to be late! Spike! Don't break the soddin' camera, it's the only one we have!"
"I know that, you git, but it'll be useless without batteries."
"It's GOT batteries, I charged it last night."
"Really? You do know that requires plugging the whole mess in, right?"
"Coming!" she bellowed, reaching into the drawer and taking out the spare battery she always kept there. Taking one more look at the invitation, she closed the book with a shake of her head. If this was how there were handling Jenny graduating from high school, lord only knew how they'd react when it sank in that she was leaving for college in three months…
"Bloody. Hell. You soddin' wanker of a poof!"
"Nick and Caro had better not be within earshot of you!" Buffy warned. Twin giggles gave them away. Buffy sighed; what was she going to do with them?
Not THE end, but an end.