Shadows of Winter 2/? by Robyn the Snowshoe Hare Giles was feeling his age that day, and it seemed far heavier than sixty-three years had any right to be. In his younger, wilder days, he had decided that he would never be a tired old man like his grandfather, forever waiting for his grown children to visit him.

Now, though, he emphasized keenly with his grandfather’s situation. Just looking around his living room, he saw the signs. Though he himself had never married, nor fathered any children, he had assumed a very paternal role for group of teenagers who had joined him in battling the forces of darkness almost twenty years ago.

Of course, like all children, they had grown up and scattered to the four winds. Cordelia, had become a lawyer, specializing in sex discrimination cases. She lived in Florida with her husband Matthew and their daughter Sandy. Cordelia made it a point to call him at least once a week, and manila envelopes were often delivered to his door, filled with family photographs. Giles spent his Christmases with them; amazed at each visit at how much his godchild had grown since the last time he had seen her.

He heard less from Willow, who lived in Boston with her husband Richard. They had met in medical school, and both were so busy that it never failed to amaze Giles that they had found the time to produce four children. He received a family portrait every year during the holiday season, and he often regretted that the last time he had seen her was almost twelve years ago, when he flew out for the occasion of her son Ira’s bris.

The musician of their group, Oz, had briefly achieved fame with Dingoes Ate My Baby, producing a single hit song before they slid back into obscurity. At the death of his wife and infant daughter in a car accident two years ago, he had moved from his home in Arizona to a small apartment in Seattle where he taught music lessons during the day and played at clubs at the night.

Looking at a framed picture of the solemn werewolf, Giles was so lost in his thoughts that it took a few moments for the sound of the ringing doorbell to seep into his conscious mind. Surprised, he nearly dropped the photograph. Placing it carefully back into its spot on his mantle, he walked as quickly as he could over to the door. His left leg had been snapped like kindling sixteen years ago by an annoyed vampire, and the limp remained as a constant reminder.

Opening the door, Giles welcomed into his home another of his ‘children’. The years had touched Xander Harris lightly, with his thick black hair resisting any northerly retreat, and not a trace of a potbelly in sight. He stood at attention in his army uniform, and his dark eyes scanned the room automatically. Xander had surprised everyone by joining the army after high school, and surprised them even more when he excelled, rising quickly through the ranks. But the capping shock had been when he had called one night to inform Giles that he had been made the commander of the Sunnydale Army Base, and still further when he told him just why he had even been considered at his age for such a command.

The government had known about the existence of vampires for years, and had put the army in charge of keeping this information under wraps from the general public to avoid a mass hysteria. After learning of Xander’s past experience with the things that went bump in the night, his superior officers had sent him to a specialized training camp that prepared young officers to both fight vampires and clean up after them. He had graduated from the so-called ‘Van Helsing Course’ with the highest honors, and now worked to keep Sunnydale, if not safe, than at least ignorant.

Following Xander was Angel. Years ago, Giles and anyone else, including Xander himself, would’ve laughed aloud at the very idea of a friendship between those two men, but apparently Fate had a very keen sense of irony. When Angel had been inexplicably returned from Hell eight years ago, it had been Xander, visiting Giles on leave, who had found him. Nine years had done much to dull the animosity between the men, and Xander had helped the vampire slowly regain his health and sanity. It had taken Giles himself almost two years to stand being in the same room with him, but in the end he also found the strength to forgive Angel.

A tradition of meeting every Tuesday had slowly sprung up between the three men, and whether it was to avert the end of the world, or to talk, or just to watch a game of baseball, all three could always be found at Giles’ small house every Tuesday evening at eight o’clock.

The phone rang at 10:30, right in the middle of poker. Giles answered it, only half-paying attention, as it was far more interesting to watch Angel and Xander attempt to bluff each other.

“Hello,” he said.

“Have you looked in your newspaper today?” asked an unfamiliar voice with a strong Brooklyn accent.

“No, why?” Giles answered, watching as Xander raised Angel three dollars, apparently placing real confidence in a pair of kings.

“Because there’s an article there that has more impact than a speeding train on a cow.”

Angel was seeing Xander’s bet, and adding another five dollars onto the bid. He was obviously certain that his two nines would beat anything that Xander had.

“Who are you?” asked Giles, slightly annoyed.

“Wrong question, Union Jack.” Jibed the mysterious voice. “What you should be doing right now is pulling out that obituary page and seeing who just kicked the bucket, because I’m sure that there is something that will be more interesting than last month’s issue of ‘Watcher’s Weekly’.” Giles was about to speak again when the connection was severed, leaving him listening to only a humming buzz.

Muttering to himself in annoyance, he paged through the local paper.

A few minutes passed. Just as Xander finally called Angel, both men jumped at the sound of Giles’ drink crashing to the floor. Twisting their necks around so fast as to run a risk of whiplash, they watched in amazement as the old Watcher crumpled back in his seat, his face almost gray as his eyes widened in shock.

The card game forgotten, the two hurried to his side. Giles couldn’t speak; instead he merely shoved the crumpled newspaper page into Xander’s hands and gestured to a short obituary. Reading quickly through it, Xander’s face reflected his pain and grief as he passed the article wordlessly to Angel. The vampire gasped in horror as he too saw what had so shocked his two friends.

“A former Sunnydale resident, Buffy Summers, 35, is being brought back for burial after her tragic death yesterday. Graveside service will be held Thursday night at 9 o’clock at St. Blaze’s Cemetery.”

***** When Hunter was seven, his teacher told them about family trees. The events of that day were burned into the small boy's memory.

His teacher, Mark Sturk, had noticed Jared's mother when she was picking her son up after school. Looking for a discrete way to find out if she was still married, Mark decided to incorporate his interest with the day's lesson.

"Jared, why don't we make a tree for you?" Mark asked, with a wide smile. At the small boy's nod of assent, Mark carefully drew the outline.

"Now, what is your mother's name?" he asked.

"Anne Winter." came the piping answer.

"And what is *her* mother's name?"

Mark watched as Jared frowned, and thought carefully before answering, "I don't know. I never met her."

"Oh, okay. Do you know your grandpa's name?"

A small shake of the head answered him. Moving his chalk to the empty space on the other side of 'Anne Winter', Mark asked the question whose answer he was itching to know. "What's your father's name?"

There was a long, painful pause, while Jared dropped his head and mumbled something.

"What was that?" Mark asked, completely missing the neon warning signs.

"I don't know."

For a moment, Mark couldn't think of what to say. More experienced teachers would've known to quickly move the class along to other subjects, but this was his first year of teaching. The long moment of hesitation left a wide opening for the class bully, and he took it.

Every class has a bully. Elementary school classes are a great deal like wolf packs. Superiority is quickly established, and brutally enforced. Whoever is the currant alpha has control over all others. In Jared's first grade class, a particularly nasty boy named Alan was the ruling bully. Alan lived in the same apartment building as Jared, and would be the bane of his existence until sixth grade, when Jared finally fought back, and broke Alan's nose.

"My dad says that Jared is a bastard," Alan called proudly. His father had an extremely foul mouth, and thought that it was funny when Alan repeated the nasty things that he said.

And that was that. The class went completely out of control, awed by Alan's use of a forbidden word. Though they were eventually calmed down, and Alan given his first detention ever, the event remained in everyone's memory. No matter what Jared did, the hated taunt would follow him.

The whispers continued through the rest of school. 'Bastard' was whispered behind his back by the bullies, and written on his desk and books.

But it wasn't until he was eleven that Jared finally asked his mother.

"Mom," he asked as they were eating dinner, "can I ask you a question?"

"Of course, sweetie." she said.

"Do you promise not to lie?" he asked. Surprised by the question, she was silent for a moment, studying Jared's small face.

"I would never lie to you, Jared." she said firmly.

"But you hide things from me sometimes."

"To protect you. But I promise, I will never lie to you. And I'll tell you all the secrets once you're ready."

Considering this a moment, Jared bit his lower lip carefully, a habit he had when he was thinking.

"Well, I'm pretty old now-"

"Eleven is a very mature age." Jared saw the slight twinkle in her eye, and the slight smile that she tried hide.

"Is it mature enough to find out where my dad is?" he said quickly, rushing it out. He watched the amusment drain from his mother's face, leaving only an old sadness as she regarded him carefully.

"I think so." she said firmly, "But first you have to finish your dinner."

Jared had never eaten so quickly in his life, and even helped his mother do the dishes without having to be reminded. Then he sat on the couch while his mother went to her room, returning with a small metal box, which was locked.

"What's in there?" he asked.

"Secrets." she answered cryptically. Unlocking it, she reached in carefully, not letting him look in. Then her hand withdrew, holding a carefully folded piece of paper, which she passed to Jared wordlessly.

Opening it, he looked at the face of his father. It was a simple pencil drawing, but Jared wouldn't have traded it for the Mona Lisa.

Drawn with quick, sharp strokes, a dark haired man seemed to glare off of the page. Dressed in dark pants and pants, his arm was wrapped casually around the waist of Jared's mother. Looking at the face of his father, Jared couldn't help but feel slightly cheated. It was a handsome face, but not an open one. Not a cheerful one. The father that Jared had imagined was more like Reggie's dad, who had a beard and a wide smile.

"His name was Angel." his mother said softly. Once again, Jared was dissapointed. Reggie's dad's name was Clint, which Jared thought was a great name for a dad. Angel was kind of.....girlie.

"Were you married?" Jared asked, trying to be casual. Unfortunately, it came out more strained than anything else.

"No."

Jared's world crashed around him. All the schoolyard taunts were right. He was just a bastard. He had always been somehow sure that when he finally asked his mom, she would tell him that she and his dad had been married, and that his dad was perfect. Like Reggie's dad, only a little more like Indiana Jones.

"So I'm just a mistake." he said bitterly, remembering more taunts.

"Never." Jared looked up in surprise at his mother's tone. He never remembered her being so utterly vehement. Taking his chin in her hand, she brought his head up. Green eyes met green eyes.

"I loved your father. What he and I did together might not have been well thought out, but you are the most wonderful thing in my life. I would not trade you for anything."

"Really?" Jared asked.

"I promised I would never lie to you. And I keep my promises."

His mother's words echoed in his head as Jared stepped through the door of a house on Robello Drive. White drop-sheets covered all of the furniture, and boxes of his belongings had been delivered before he and Whistler had gotten there. Back in New York, the air had held the first whisper of winter's sharp bite, but here it was almost oppressively hot.

Wandering through the house, Jared eventually came to the second bedroom, his mother's room.

His grandmother had died five years ago. It was only then that he had learned that his mother was from California. The two of them had caught a flight to LA, where his mom had rented a car and driven them down to Sunnydale that night.

Their first stop had been a small grocery store, where they had bought enough food to last them two days. The second stop had been the lawyer's office, where his mother had made arrangements while he wandered around the office in utter boredom, finally just curling up in a chair and going to sleep.

His grandmother had owned her house, and had also paid off her mortgage. Both the house and all of her money had been left to Buffy, who Joyce had known from her yearly Christmas cards was still alive.

Buffy put all of the money into a trust fund for Jared, and then the two of them went to the house, where she packed everything mobile and sent it to a storage warehouse. Drop sheets were put over everything else, and the last thing she did was to carefully board up the windows. Two days after they arrived, Jared and his mother were once again driving to the airport, and soon returned to New York. Neither of them had ventured out of the house, except once for the funeral. They had stood in the very back row of the church, and Buffy had carefully concealed her identity by judicious use of brown hair dye and dark glasses.

When he had asked her why they had to hide, she merely promised to tell him 'when he was ready'.

And now, all those secrets were taken to her grave.

To be continued....