It was the day following the funeral that Social Services came to the Summers’ house looking for Willow, although they already knew that she was temporarily staying there. Jack had been there visiting Xander when they’d arrived, two people in suits carrying a file and with scowls on their faces. He’d seen the fear on Willow’s face and the way that Xander had gone straight to her side, giving her a supportive hug. It had made Jack’s heart clench painfully when he’d seen the sadness in his son’s eyes as Willow was escorted into the living room by the two workers, glancing back over her shoulder fearfully at Xander as though she was frightened she would never see him again.
It had been an anxious wait for Xander while Willow was in the living room with the Social Services people and Jack could only watch on as Xander nervously rung his hands together, his gaze fixed on the door.
“She’ll be okay, Xander. They’ve got her best interests at heart.”
“The path to hell is paved with good intentions, isn’t that the saying?” Xander replied. Jack nodded sadly.
“I know what you mean, Xander. I wish for you and her it wasn’t like this.”
“But it is and we just have to deal?” Xander said sadly. Jack sighed.
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“This sucks.” Xander sighed and Jack couldn’t help agree with his son.
Half an hour later, the doors to the living room were opened and the couple from Social Services emerged, meeting Giles and Joyce in the hallway of the house. Xander immediately got up, glancing over his shoulder at Jack, who nodded encouragingly. Xander grinned before hurrying into the living room. Jack got up and moved to the doorway, smiling when he watched Xander take a shell-shocked Willow into his arms, rubbing her back reassuringly as he whispered softly in her ear.
Willow clung to Xander and Jack felt his resolve grow. Those two needed each other and he was going to fight to make sure it happened. He left the teenagers alone as he approached the group of adults. The Social Services people stopped talking as he joined them.
“This is Colonel Jack O’Neill, Alexander’s father.”
“How are you? I’m sorry for the loss of your former wife,” one of the people said, offering Jack her hand. Jack shook it.
“Thank you. What are your plans with Willow?”
“We don’t have many places available for her, unfortunately, so it looks like she’ll be going into a group home in L.A. Because she’s only a little over a year off turning 18, it’s unlikely that she’ll get adopted though, unfortunately. Alexander is lucky to have you, sir.”
Jack nodded, exhaling through his nose before he voiced his request. “What would happen if I offered to take her in?”
Giles and Joyce both looked up at him in surprise and Jack saw the appreciation they both had in their eyes. The two Social Services people looked at one another.
“We’d have to go through the normal means for a foster carer, but I can’t envisage there being a problem, what with you being military. Are you away from home much, on duty?”
“Not for long periods of time and if I am, I have a work friend who can look after them. She has a daughter about the same age as Xander and Willow.”
“And you would be prepared to support Willow as she tries to get over her grief. One grieving teenager can be difficult but two could be a handful.”
“I’m prepared to do anything that would keep those two happy. Xander and Willow have been best friends for almost their entire lives. I’ve seen the way they help each other, protect each other. Hell, even now, you can tell that they are the center of each other’s world, despite their own grief.”
“Mr. Giles, you know them the best. Would you be inclined to believe what Colonel O’Neill is saying?”
Giles nodded, “It would be hard on them to separate now, having lost so much. Especially with having to leave the town they have grown up in. Willow likes having some things that are familiar around her and Xander could offer that for her. It would work the same going the other way.”
“Where exactly do you live, Colonel?”
“Call me Jack. I’m based out of Colorado Springs.”
“Do you have space for them at your current residence?”
“Yep, two spare bedrooms that I can clear out pretty well,” Jack said, making a mental note that he needed to get Daniel to clear out the last few boxes of things he had stored in one of the bedrooms from the last time he had moved.
“And your current income would allow you to support two teenagers for the next two years, at least?”
“I think you are doing the right thing,” Joyce commented as the Social Services people withdrew a little to talk between themselves.
“Yes, I am very much thankful for what you are offering Willow and Xander,” Giles added.
“Those two kids need each other and it would hurt to see Xander lose a friend like that.”
Giles and Joyce nodded in agreement and fell silent as the couple from Social Services came back.
“We’re going to have to confer with our superiors and talk to some character witnesses on your behalf, Jack, as to your suitability for a role as a foster parent, but otherwise we don’t see any reason why you can’t have Willow as a foster child.”
“How long will that take?” Jack asked
“Not long. A few days to get things sorted out, you should be able to take them both with you when you go back home. We recommend you don’t tell either of the children about this until it’s confirmed though, to avoid disappointments.”
Jack nodded. “All right. Here’s the numbers for some of my friends through work.” Jack handed over a card with the phone numbers of General Hammond, Sam, Daniel, and Janet written down on it. The two Social Services people nodded before they left the house.
Oblivious to the conversation that was happening outside the living room, Xander and Willow clung to each other wordlessly on the couch in the living room. Willow’s eyes were leaking tears onto Xander’s shirt and Xander’s eyes were hazy as he rested his head on top of Willow’s.
“I don’t want to leave you,” she whimpered.
“I know, Wills. I don’t want to leave you either.
“What’s Giles going to do without us? What if Buffy doesn’t come back?”
“Cordy and Oz will make sure Giles stays out of trouble, you know, make sure he goes to hospital when he gets a concussion, make sure he has lots of tea. Those sorts of things. They’ll manage. As for Buffy, well, there’s a new Slayer coming anyway, because of Kendra, so at least the Hellmouth is still going to be protected. We can keep in touch. We can call and Oz knows how to email, so he can become Net Boy. We can still research. I wonder if there’s much of a demon population where we’re going? We could be the Scooby Gang sub branches.”
Willow giggled. “I’m probably going to a group home in L.A. Who knows what kind of demons and vampires are there?”
Xander cringed. “And all the other nasties that come with living in a big city. Maybe you should leave the slayage to the experts.”
“Colorado Springs isn’t exactly small either, Xander,” Willow said and Xander sighed.
“Okay, so no slayage for either one of us. If we ever see Buffy again, she’s going to be miffed that we let the skills slip.”
“I’m sure she’ll understand,” Willow said sadly.
“Yeah, I know. It’s just going to be weird. For the last year we’ve lived, breathed and studied all things demonic, vampiric and forces of darkness-ish, and now we aren’t going to be involved anymore.”
Willow nodded in agreement. “We could always come back after we finish school and are 18.”
“Yeah, that’s only a year away,” Xander said, a small smile crossing his face.
Willow snuggled into Xander’s chest, breathing in his smell, storing the scent into her memories so she would be able to remember it during their separation.
“I’m going to miss you so much, Xander. You’ve been my rock for as long as I can remember. You’ve been there for me more than anyone else has, including my parents. Whenever I was sad, you knew how to cheer me up. When I cried, you dried my tears. When we lost Jesse, you were there to hold me, even though you were the one who had to stake him. Whenever I was happy, you were the one who’d made me laugh. When I was scared, you were the one that made everything okay. Nothing’s going to be okay again, is it? Buffy’s gone and I don’t think she’s coming back. I mean, I know she’s died before but it sounded like she went with Angel through the hell portal. Buffy wouldn’t run away, not after everything that’s happened. She knows that we need her. She knows that, doesn’t she, Xander?”
Xander sighed and rubbed Willow’s back comfortingly. Willow’s fear about going into the system made her lose the maturity she usually possessed.
“Yeah, Willow, you’re right. Buffy knows that we need her. She probably isn’t coming back, but I’m not going to give up on her. Buffy’s going to fight to come back to us with everything she has, and when we’ve both turned 18, we’ll come back to Sunnydale, and if she’s managed to come back, she’ll tell us about everything senior year at Sunnydale High has to offer.”
”Demons at the prom.” Willow giggled
“Werewolves at the homecoming.” Xander grinned.
“Vampires at graduation,” Willow continued and they both laughed.
“I must admit, it’s going to be weird to not have weird things happening around us,” Xander said, his voice becoming nostalgic. Willow smiled against Xander’s shirt.
“You’re right. That is going to be really weird.”
“What’s going to be weird?” Jack asked as he entered the living room. Xander and Willow pulled apart, although Xander still held onto Willow.
“Just not living in Sunnydale,” Xander lied. “Not being able to see each other, you know, that kind of thing.”
“You’ll be okay, both of you.”
Xander and Willow looked at one another. Something was up and Jack knew what it was and he wasn’t telling.
Jack was in his motel room a couple of days later when his phone rang. He answered it quickly, hoping that it would be Social Services to confirm whether or not he could take Willow with him. He was leaving Sunnydale with Xander in two days and he wanted Willow to have the chance to say goodbye to everyone and everything that she wanted to.
He’d been helping Xander and his uncle clean up the Harris’s house for the last couple of days. Willow had been helping but she had been trying to pack up her own belongings as well, so she hadn’t been able to help much. She and Xander had also gone back to school, doing their exams as a formality before spending the rest of the day with Cordelia and Oz on one last double date before their relationships were ended. Xander had been upset when Jack had picked him up afterwards but he hadn’t known what to do or say. He settled on patting Xander on the shoulder reassuringly before letting the teenager get over the loss on his own. It seemed to have been effective as Xander had been in an improved mood the next morning.
“Hello?” Jack spoke into his phone.
“Hi, is this Jack O’Neill?”
“My name is Phil and I’m from Social Services. I understand you approached two of my case workers regarding Miss Rosenberg and you taking her in as a foster child.”
“Yes, that’s right.” Jack rolled his eyes at the formality and stuffiness in Phil’s voice.
“Well, I have made some inquiries with the people that you gave the details for and they were all highly supportive of your application. Because of your military clearance, the necessary background and security checks aren’t really needed, so as long as we pass one last hurdle, then you are free to take Miss Rosenberg in.”
“Great. What’s this last hurdle?” Jack grinned confidently.
“Miss Rosenberg has to agree. I understand you are familiar with Miss Rosenberg?”
“Yes, I’m her best friend’s biological father,”
“Ah, yes. Good. She should be happy with the arrangement then but we need to ask, especially because Miss Rosenberg is an older child. It makes things easier in the long run and we are there to support the child, after all.”
Jack nodded. “When are you going to speak to her?”
“Now, actually. Meet me at the Summers’ house in half an hour.”
“I’ll be there.”
Jack hung up once Phil had hung up, and grinned. He was pretty sure Willow would be happy to come with him and Xander. The team had pulled together for him. He had been, admittedly, a little worried about what Hammond would say but Janet, being a foster mother, would have held a lot of sway over things. Jack knew he was going to owe them for it. Maybe a little less when they saw how much like Sam and Daniel Willow was.
Honestly, the more time he spent more time with her, the more she made him think of Sam, Daniel and Janet, as if she was a genetic mash-up of the three. It would certainly prove to be interesting once he was a parental figure for her.
Jack grabbed his jacket and the car keys before he headed out of the motel room, locking the door behind him before he drove over to the Summers’ residence.
Although he still got there early, Phil and Willow were already in the living room, door closed for privacy. Xander was pacing nervously.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Jack said casually, playing dumb.
“A guy from Social Services wanted to talk to Willow. They’re going to take her away,” Xander said.
“I’m sure it will be a good place and that she’ll be happy there,” Giles said soothingly, clutching a cup of tea in his hand. Joyce nodded in agreement from where she sat at the kitchen table, which was covered by a tablecloth, which was covering the research they had all been doing about Acathla and the hell dimension when Phil had arrived.
Xander sighed and sat down beside Jack, unconsciously seeking out his father for comfort. Giles couldn’t help but smile at the gesture. It was good to see that Xander, at least, would be going into a home with someone he could trust and felt safe around. Giles hoped that the meeting today would be regarding Jack’s application to take Willow with him. It was becoming apparent, with each passing day, that Willow and Xander were dreading being separated and if they went together, then Giles would be reassured that, if they did commence some sort of demon fighting in their new area, they would at least have each other looking out for them, rather than going solo.
“How long have they been in there?” Jack asked Giles, who checked his watch.
“About twenty minutes.”
“How long is this going to take?” Xander said.
Obviously some form of higher power was listening, because only a few moments after Xander’s statement, the door opened and Willow emerged, catching sight of Jack before a broad smile broke out upon her face.
The next moment, Jack had Willow’s arms around him as she babbled excitedly, thanking him over and over again. Xander looked from his best friend and his father to a smiling Giles and then to a weeping Joyce, to a pleased looking Phil, and then back at Jack and Willow.
“Did I miss something?”A.N. I hope you’ve enjoyed this latest installment. It was very fun to write. Thanks to all of the people who have been reviewing, I’m so thrilled with the amount of feedback I’ve been getting.
The next chapter might not be up for awhile (end of semester assignment rush, grrr,) but I’ll try and make it soon.