(February, 2004 - Valentine's Day)
"Quiet night." Willow murmured as she scanned the street ahead of them. Boo's leash was looped around her right hand and even the dog didn't seem to want to disturb the peaceful moment.
"That it is." Angel agreed. "It's a nice change."
"True, but I can't help but feel that we're in the calm before the storm."
"So we should enjoy the calm while it last. Want to take another swing through the park?"
"I suppose." Willow shrugged. "I can't go home until midnight, anyway."
"It's Valentine's Day." she grinned. "Faith and Cordy want to be alone."
"I see." he chuckled. "What are their plans.... or should I not ask?"
"From what I understand, Cordelia is going to cook a meal for Faith and Faith.... well, I'm too much of a lady to repeat what she told me."
"Cordelia in the kitchen..... " Angel shuddered. "Now *that's* scary." Willow giggled.
"Actually," she said, in defense of her friend "she's a really good cook, she just doesn't like to do it." Willow thought for a moment. "You know, I never thought I'd see the day when Cordelia Chase would love someone more than herself....."
"Stranger things have happened." They entered the park and, after a sweep, decided to sit down for a while. They chose a bench that was on the edge of a moonlit clearing and Boo curled up on the ground, falling asleep almost immediately. Angel draped his arm across the back of the bench and, almost instinctually, Willow settled himself against him and they sat in contented silence for a few moments.
Willow looked up at Angel and noticed the slightly dreamy expression on his face. "Penny for your thoughts."
"I was just remembering my first love. Sweet Meggie Maguire....."
"I don't think I've heard about her." In fact, Willow had heard very little about Angel's past and was thrilled that he seemed willing to share at least some of it now.
"Ah, Meggie...." Angel chuckled. "I was convinced that she and I were going to marry and live in a castle.... with lots of soldiers and horses.... and a big oak tree in the yard, that I could climb whenever I wanted to....."
"I see. And how old were you?"
"Thirteen. She was six months younger than me and we got along famously..... until I broke her heart."
"What did you do?"
"I made a.... less than gentlemanly comment, shall we say.... about Deirdre Coughlan's expanding bust-line."
"You heartless fiend." Willow teased.
"I was rather fickle, back in those days." Angel admitted. "So, who was your first love?"
"Xander." Willow said, simply. ".... and you know how that ended up."
Angel nodded. "I know." After a moment, he chuckled. "Listen to us. It's Valentine's Day and we're sitting in the park talking about our childhood sweethearts."
"What else are we supposed to do?" Willow asked. "I mean, between work and fighting the forces of evil, I haven't exactly had time for an active social life. And you....."
"I don't exactly have a wide range of options." he pointed out. "Vampires tend to want someone who will hunt and feed with them.... and most mortal women have this strange obsession with dating guys who can breathe."
"True, true." Willow nodded. "And there's always the Buffy factor."
"The Buffy factor?" Angel arched an eyebrow.
"Yeah, you know...." she gestured vaguely. "The Buffy factor."
"What does Buffy have to do with my love life.... or lack thereof?" Angel shifted so that he could look at her. He almost laughed at the expression on her face–her nose was wrinkled in confusion.
"But... I thought..... aren't you.....?" she stammered.
"Aren't I what?"
"Aren't you..... well, don't you still love her?"
Angel sighed. "I still care about Buffy.... but I'm not in love with her anymore, if that's what you're asking."
"Why not?" The words were out of Willow's mouth before she realized what she was saying. "Oh, sorry. Uh.... you don't have to answer that if you don't want....." she babbled as a flush crept up her cheeks.
"It's okay, Willow." Angel reassured her. "I want to tell you.... actually, I need to talk to you about this." She opened her mouth to say something, but he hushed her. "See, you have to understand that before I met Buffy, I didn't have much experience with relationships..... I was too self-involved to fall in love when I was human and.... well, I don't think you could call what I had with Darla, Drusilla, or any of the other vampires of my acquaintance, a relationship. When I met Buffy there I was–240 years old with a vampire's needs, a human soul, an infinite amount of guilt, the body of a 21 year old man, and the emotional maturity of a 16 year old boy." He smirked. "Then there was Buffy–a Slayer with the body, mind, and heart of a 16 year old girl and a Destiny that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I don't think either of us had any idea of what it was like to be in love. We wanted each other, we wanted to be together and nothing and nobody was going to get in our way."
"I remember." Willow murmured. "No matter what Giles and Xander said, Buffy wouldn't listen. No matter how short Cordelia's skirts were, you wouldn't look."
Angel laughed outright. "Exactly. Don't get me wrong, Willow, I loved Buffy and I know she loved me..... but not in that lasting, forever kind of way. Then we made a mistake that ended up nearly costing both of us everything we ever held dear." Willow patted his hand in sympathy. "Even if Buffy had stayed in town, we probably wouldn't have gotten back together. There was just too much between us..... and I don't just mean the memory of Angelus."
"Oh." Willow's voice was quiet and Angel could hear the note of sadness in it. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be." He paused, thinking that there was no better time to bring up the subject he had wanted to discuss all evening. "So," he began, in a much more cheerful tone. "You had it half right."
"Well, you implied that one of the reasons for my continued bachelorhood was my lingering feelings for Buffy. In fact, you called it ‘The Buffy factor.' That's half right."
"Okaaaaaay......" Willow thought for a minute, trying to sort out the riddle he'd just handed her. "You're saying that there's a factor, but that it's not Buffy?"
"I always said you were the smart one."
"So what is it?"
"Not what, who."
Willow's eyebrows shot up. "Who? You don't have a Buffy factor, but you have a someone-else factor?"
"Yes." Angel nodded with pride. "I've got a Willow factor."
"A what?" Willow shook her head, trying to understand. "What Willow factor? Why me? You're not in love with me....." her voice trailed off as Angel's gaze met hers. She had never seen such an.... intense expression in his eyes before..... at least not directed at her anyway...... As the clamor in her brain attempted to make some sort of sense out of what was happening, her jaw worked, soundlessly.
"Oh." was all she was able to whisper.
"Yeah." he replied, then brought his mouth down to hers for a kiss.
Buffy took a deep breath and pushed open the doors to the library. Faith and Cordelia were behind her, but neither said a word as they entered the room where Buffy had spent the majority of her life at Sunnydale. She was momentarily stunned at how..... normal everything looked. She could almost convince herself that she had only been gone for a day, a week, or a summer–not six years. As usual, the library was empty and Buffy looked around for Giles.
"Hello, hello." Faith called out, stepping further into the room. "You here, G?"
"I'm right here." Giles stepped out of his office. "And I have asked you repeatedly not to call me that."
"Chill, man." Faith leaned against the table. "I'm just trying to cut through some of the tension."
"I know." he smiled at her. "Hello Cordelia..... Buffy."
"Hey Giles." Buffy waved weakly. "I'm back."
"So I can see." Giles turned back to Faith. "Did you finish your errands?"
"No, we ran into Miss Thing here before....." Giles held up his hand.
"Perhaps it would be a good idea if you took Cordelia's car and finished them, then."
"You trying to get rid of me?"
"Yes." Giles smirked. "I thought I'd try being polite first."
"Say no more." Faith chuckled and headed back towards the door. "I'm gone."
"Would you mind stopping at the magic shop and picking up a few things.... that is, after you've finished your other business?" Giles handed her a piece of paper and she studied it quickly.
"No prob. Cordy, I need keys." Cordelia handed them to her and Buffy noted the look that passed between the two girls and filed it away for future study. Once the brunette Slayer was gone, both Giles and Cordelia took chairs at the table. Buffy went to stand before them, feeling like a little kid who has been sent to the principal's office for the first time.
"Where's Xander?" Cordelia asked, suddenly. "I thought you called him."
"I did. He's on his way." Buffy turned to Giles who sat there, stirring a cup of tea and avoiding her eyes. "Aren't you going to say anything, Giles?"
"Like what?" He raised his gaze to meet hers and Buffy flinched at what she saw there. "What are you doing here, Buffy?"
"I..... I was worried about you guys...... I've been having these dreams......" Buffy stammered.
"Dreams? What sort of dreams?" Giles was immediately in what Faith called his ‘Watcher zone.'
"I'm not really sure." Buffy finally pulled out a chair and sat down, perching on the edge of the chair. "They're kind of like those prophecy dreams I used to have.... only different, somehow. Xander and I figured that if trouble was coming your way, we ought to be here to help."
"Can you describe these dreams? What happened in them?"
"Well, they didn't exactly have a plot summary, but I do remember certain images..... I saw Spike fighting someone..... Dru was digging her nails into your face and Willow was sitting inside a big circle with candles all around..... and there was this big statue-thing that kind of looked like a gargoyle off of one of those French churches..... and then there was someone standing in front of the statue..... it was the same guy who was fighting Spike, but I couldn't see who it was....." she stopped when she saw Giles turn to look at Cordelia. The two of them wore matching expressions of shock. "What? What did I say?"
"Exactly how long have you been having these visions?"
"About two months."
"And you hurried back as fast as you could, didn't you?" Cordelia said, sarcasm dripping from every word.
"I think I can explain what's happening." Giles interjected. "Buffy, you weren't seeing the future.... you were seeing the past. Spike and Drusilla managed to unearth the demon Akathla–he would be the gargoyle you saw–and were attempting to wake him. If they had succeeded, the entire world would have been swallowed into Hell and every non-demonic creature on this earth would have suffered an eternity of torment. Fortunately, they didn't know quite how to wake him up, so they captured me and tried to make me talk. I was rescued and Willow cast a spell which permanently bound Akathla to the demonic realm."
"Oh." Buffy breathed, not knowing quite how to take this. :"So who was the guy fighting Spike and standing in front of the demon-statue."
"Giles!" The Watcher lifted his head out of his hands when Angel entered the room. A small part of his brain marveled at the speed at which the vampire must have traveled–after all, sunset had only occurred a few minutes ago. "I got here as soon as I could. How is she?"
"It's not good." Giles sighed. "The doctors took her straight to surgery and they've been at it for several hours. Nobody's been out to speak to me yet, so....." he shrugged helplessly. Angel growled softly and kicked a chair in frustration.
"All I know is that she was severely beaten and that she probably would have died if it wasn't for Faith's timely arrival."
"Who did it?"
"I have absolutely no idea. Hopefully Willow can tell us more if..... when she recovers." Angel sat in a chair and began to rhythmically pound his fist on the metal arm of the chair.
"Was Faith hurt?"
"Some bruises and a sprained wrist. She'll be fine by tomorrow night, but the doctors gave her some medication. I told Cordelia to take her home. I didn't see any reason for all of us to just sit here. It's not like we can do anything....." Giles' voice trailed off into silence.
"Why would anyone..... I mean, who would want to hurt Willow?" Angel asked, not really expecting an answer. Giles didn't give him one. Instead, the two men waited in silence for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, the doctor emerged and walked over to them.
"Mr. Giles?" Giles and Angel immediately jumped to their feet.
"Yes." Giles nodded. "Is Willow..... will she be all right?"
"Let's sit down." After the men reluctantly did as they were told, the doctor continued. "Miss Rosenberg sustained some very serious injuries. Several of her ribs were broken and one punctured her right lung. There was also some internal bleeding. We've done all we can for now and we will be monitoring her very closely, but we may have to go in again." Angel opened his mouth to interrupt, but the doctor raised her hand. "Please, sir, let me finish. Miss Rosenberg also has a rather serious concussion and is currently in a coma." She grimaced. "Which, given the wide range of her injuries, is probably a blessing in disguise. Her collarbone is broken, as are all her fingers, her nose, and her left knee. Whoever did this was a real psycho." She shot a pointed look in Angel's direction when she said this. He chose to ignore her implication.
"Was she......" Giles tried to swallow around the lump in his throat. "Did whoever did this.... did he rape her?"
"No." The doctor shook her head. Both Giles and Angel breathed sighs of relief at that.
"Can we see her?" Angel asked.
"She's in recovery now, but we will be moving her to a private room later this evening" the doctor replied. "You can see her there. In the meantime, the police are here. They're going to want to talk to you." Angel was about to protest, but Giles laid his hand on the vampire's arm.
"It's probably best that we get this over with now." he said. "It will probably be a while before they let us in to see her, anyway."
"All right." Angel grumbled. The doctor motioned to an officer who was standing out in the hall. She then took her leave, promising to come back when Willow was moved. The police officer moved a chair so that he was facing Angel and Giles.
"Okay, first I'm gonna need your names." He pulled a notebook and pen out of his pocket.
"Angel Boyle." The police officer's eyebrows rose in surprise at the unusual name, but chose not to comment. "And how do you know the victim.... ah.... Miss Rosenberg?"
"I'm her uncle." The lie came easily to Giles. After Willow had defied her parents by going to college in Sunnydale, she had changed her records to list him as her uncle and next-of-kin–Giles made a mental note to praise her on her forethought just as soon as possible.
"I'm her boyfriend." Angel said, meeting the officer's less than pleased gaze.
"I see. And where were you this afternoon."
"At home." Angel's voice was flat. "And before you ask, no I don't have anyone who can verify my whereabouts. I have never hit Willow and I would never even consider doing so."
"Uh huh." The officer was obviously not impressed. "Can I see your hands, please?" Perplexed, Angel held them out, palm up, for inspection. The police-man examined them, then turned them over to investigate his knuckles.
"What, exactly, are you looking for?" Giles finally asked.
"Bruising." the officer said.
"For God's sake...." Angel made no attempt to hide his exasperation. "I didn't do *anything* to Willow."
"Uh huh. So who did?"
"We don't know." Giles answered.
"Well, what about this Faith Reynolds person? Who is she?"
"She is one of Willow's roommates."
"She found the girl?"
"I'm going to need to talk to her. You got a phone number?" Giles gave it to him.
"The doctors gave her a sedative." he warned. "So, she may not be up to questioning tonight."
"‘s okay." the officer muttered. "I'll talk to her tomorrow. Besides, I think I have a pretty good idea of what happened here." Before either of the others could react to this, he stood up and put the chair back in its place. "Don't go out of town." he warned Angel, before abruptly leaving the room.
"The nerve of that.... that...... " Giles sputtered.
"He's just doing his job." Angel sighed. "What sounds more likely–that this was done by an abusive boyfriend or that some random crazy broke in off the street and did it?"
"I suppose you're right." Giles scowled. "Do you really think it was some person off the street?"
"Absolutely not. But we can't exactly tell the nice man the truth, now can we?"
"No, we can't.
All we can do is wait."
It's Angel..... can you hear me? What am I saying.... of course you
can hear me. I'm right here and I'll stay right here until you wake
up. There are no windows in this room and I can hide in the bathroom
whenever the doctors and nurses come to check on you. I won't leave
you alone for a minute, I promise. I'm so sorry that I wasn't there
for you today. I'm so sorry that this happened and I swear that I
am going to find whoever did this and make them pay. I want you to
wake up, but only when you're ready to, okay? For now, rest and know
that I love you very, very much."
(A week later)
Angel slipped into the hospital room, by now quite skilled at avoiding the hospital staff who would have frowned on his presence there after-hours. Willow slowly turned her head as he entered, doing her best to smile. Her efforts were hampered by her broken nose and her swollen cheek. After the first crisis was over, the doctors had done a complete inventory of her injuries and had discovered that several teeth had been knocked out.
"Hi." Her voice was still unnaturally quiet, but Angel noted that she no longer seemed to be constantly out of breath.
"Hello." He smiled and presented her with her daily bouquet of flowers. He brought a fresh bunch each night and took away the day old posies. "How do you feel?"
"Better." she lied. He let the small deception pass and sat down in the chair's only room. "So, did you find the book?"
"We did." he nodded, then went on. "It was right where you said it was and Giles spent all afternoon reading."
"Did he find anything useful?"
"Yes, actually. Kehdar is one of the oldest demons living on this plane or any other. He has a lot of power, but his age has sapped his strength and made movement difficult."
"Hence, the hired thugs." Willow interjected. "Okay, so why did he come after me?"
"From what we've been able to piece together, he's attempting to regain his youth and vitality. With the magic he has at his command, this would make him practically invincible. We think that either he might have thought you were one of the Slayers, or....."
"Or what?" she prompted after a moment of awkward silence.
Angel hesitated, then decided to tell her the truth. "Giles found a prophecy....."
"Not another one." Willow groaned, but her displeasure was belied by the smile on her face.
"Yes, another one. This one refers to a girl with the power to destroy Kehdar's plans. Giles thinks that the prophecy refers to you."
"I'm not really sure on all the details, but from what I've heard, all the signs do point in your direction. So, what we figure is this–either Kehdar was going after you to try to prevent the prophecy from coming to pass, or he was trying to take out the Slayer before she could interfere in his plans....."
".... and for some reason, he thought I was Buffy or Faith." Willow's eyes were wide with shock, but Angel could practically see the wheels in her head spinning. "I would hazard a guess that Option B is more likely."
"If Kehdar knew that I could possibly bring him down, he would have ordered his thugs to kill me–no fuss, no muss, no chance that I might escape. If he thought I was a Slayer, he might not be so cautious, right?"
"It's something worth considering." Angel agreed. "Still, we don't want to take any chances with your life, right?"
"Right. Why do I think you have a plan?"
"We do. First of all, we're moving our base of operations out of the library. Too many people know about it. Giles, Faith, and Cordelia are packing up the books now."
"Good idea. Where are we going?"
"There's a mansion out on Cropper street that's perfect for our purposes. It looks run-down, but the inside is in reasonably good condition. There are shelves for our library and a great open space for training."
"It sounds perfect. How did you find it?"
"After Giles burned down the warehouse, Spike, Dru, and I needed a new home..... this place fit the bill." Angel took a deep, if unnecessary breath. "Anyway, I'm going to move to the mansion. There's lots of bedrooms and Giles and I both think it would be a good idea to have someone there full-time. I.... Willow, will you come with me?"
Willow was speechless for a moment. "You want me to *live* with you?"
"Yes." Angel gently placed her hand, which was encased in a mitten-like cast. "We want to get you out of here as soon as possible.... it's just not safe enough. I've got plenty of guest rooms. After you recover.... well, I'd love it if you'd stay with me."
"In my bedroom or yours?" Willow arched an eyebrow. Angel chuckled.
"You can keep your room as long as you like..... although I do hope that, someday, you'll come to mine. I won't pressure you, though. We'll wait until you're ready."
"Thank you. You don't know how much that means to me, Angel."
"I'd wait forever for you." The statement was simple, but it was the essence of everything Angel ever wanted to say to her.
"It won't be that long, I promise." Willow laughed, then winced as pain flared through her chest. "And yes, I would love to live with you."
"Oh, thank you." Angel sighed, then bent his head down and tenderly kissed a spot on one of the few spots on the inside of Willow's arm that wasn't covered with cast, bandage, bruise, or hospital gown.
"I was just about to say the same thing." Willow murmured. "But you said something about getting me out of here. How, exactly, do you plan to do that?" Angel was all-business again instantly and quickly explained the details of the great escape to her. Willow made a few suggestions and the details were ironed out. "So when is this going to happen?" she asked.
"The end of the week." Angel replied. "Assuming that your doctor doesn't find any problems."
"Willow, if this is going to be too hard for you, tell me. We can always come up with something else...."
"I'll be fine, Angel." she reassured him. "I'll probably need to sleep for a week once I get there, but..... oh! What about my stuff?"
"Don't worry about that." Angel chuckled. "Faith and Cordelia said that they would be *more* than happy to pack up your things and bring them over. I think that they're quite taken with having the apartment to themselves."
Buffy felt as if her world had suddenly gone into slow-motion. She turned her head and there he was. Angel hadn't changed at all in six years, but this, at least, was understandable. He was even wearing the same outfit of black pants, white dress shirt, and black leather jacket that Buffy remembered. They simply stared at one another for a moment, until the silence was shattered by two noises. One was the deep growl coming from the Irish setter at Angel's side and the other was Xander's characteristically boisterous entrance.
"All right, all right. I'm here, so the party can..... oh shit!" Xander's forced gaiety disappeared the minute he caught sight of Angel. He quickly made his way to Buffy's side. "Well, if it isn't everybody's favorite psycho? What are *you* doing here?"
"I invited him." Giles snapped.
"Are you insane?" Xander shot back.
"It's a trick." Buffy said, shaking her head to clear her thoughts. "It has to be."
"Yeah, Giles. How could you let him dupe you like this? How could you let Angelus back in here, let alone invite him?" Xander's accusatory glare swept between the Watcher and the vampire.
"It's no trick, I assure you. Angel's soul has been restored."
"Are you sure?" Buffy asked, a note of desperation creeping into her voice. "I mean, he could just be a really good actor....."
"Buffy, Xander.... I want you to listen to me carefully because I am only going to say this once." Giles let a bit of his anger and frustration come forth. "Jenny was trying to recreate the original Rom curse when Angelus killed her. He destroyed her equipment, but there was a disk which fell behind a desk. Willow found it soon after you two left town. She restored Angel's soul and cast a spell to permanently anchor it to his body about six months later. I was there that time and I can say, without a doubt, that Angelus is gone for good. I would stake my life on it..... in fact, I have on many occasions."
"Oh." The wind had obviously left Xander's sails.
"I never thought I'd see you again." Buffy whispered, staring intently at her former love. At that moment, the dog growled again and took a few menacing steps in her direction.
"Hush, Boo." Angel ordered, softly.
"Nice dog." Buffy smiled. "He's really beautiful."
"Boo?" Xander scoffed. "You named your dog Boo? Is that as in ‘Boo! I'm Scare-guy' or is it ‘Boo hoo, I'm Angst-man'?"
"He's not my dog." Angel replied, his voice calm. "He belongs to Willow. She named him after a dog in a song she likes."
"Since when did Willow get a dog?" Xander looked around, confused. "Where is she, anyway?"
"Willow went to Los Angeles for a few days." Giles answered him. "She will be back later this afternoon. Hopefully, we will have settled things by then."
"What is there to settle?" Buffy asked, finally tearing her eyes away from Angel. "We're back to stay."
"We are?" Xander stared at his wife.
"Yeah, right." Cordelia laughed at the same time.
"There is no reason for you to stay." Giles said, using his firmest tones. "Xander, I've already told Buffy that her dreams were of past events, not the future. Therefore, there is nothing for you to do here."
"Oh." Xander said, even more flustered than before. "Wow."
"You can't expect me to leave." Buffy protested. "Not now."
"Why not?" Xander asked, staring at her. Her gaze had returned to Angel who was now seated at the foot of the table. Only then did he notice that the windows had been covered by heavy draperies. Those were certainly new.
"That's exactly what I expect you to do." Giles said, before she could answer. "Things have changed, Buffy. You can't just waltz in here and pretend that nothing's happened."
"I know that." Buffy said, finally turning to face her Watcher. "I am very well aware that a lot has happened in the past six years. Believe me, I am aware-girl."
"Really?" Cordelia used her most sarcastic tone of voice. "Then why are you back?"
"I told you already." Buffy nearly shouted. "We thought you were in trouble and we wanted to help...."
"Why now?" Angel asked, surprising Buffy. "We've been in trouble before..... why did you wait until now?"
"I.... uh..... I couldn't sleep. Because of the dreams." Buffy stammered.
"That is so typical." Cordelia rolled her eyes. "You haven't changed a bit, you know?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Buffy was getting defensive.
"You still think you're the center of the universe." Cordelia spat out. "You haven't given a damn about us for the past six years, but the minute you start to have problems, you expect all of us to drop everything to help you."
"That's not what I said." Buffy protested.
"Isn't it?" Giles asked. "Xander, when you originally decided to come back here, what was your plan?"
Xander squirmed, uncomfortably. "We were going to come back and offer our help with.... well, the things that were in Buffy's dreams that we thought were prophecy."
"And were you planning on staying on after this hypothetical threat was neutralized?"
"Uh.... well, ...... that would be a no." Xander's face grew beet-red.
"Well, now you know that there is no hypothetical threat." Giles went on, inexorably. "Why has this plan changed?"
"I don't know." the young man looked helplessly at his wife. "You want to field this one, Buff?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Buffy barked, glancing pointedly at Angel.
"No. I'm aware that Angel's return is a shock, but I don't see why it makes any significant difference in your plans."
"You.... I..... he...... that's none of your business." Buffy finally answered.
"Well, it is mine." Xander said, staring at the girl for whom he had given up his life. "You're over him, remember? And in case it's slipped your mind, Angel is marrying Willow. By the way," he said, abruptly turning towards Angel. "Congratulations, man."
"Thank you." Angel nodded, graciously. "Congratulations to you too–even though I know it's a little late for that sort of thing."
"You mean that wasn't a figment of my imagination?" Buffy asked, incredulous. "You really are marrying Willow?"
"Yes, I am."
"I can see it." Xander said, nodding judiciously. Now that he knew that Angel couldn't hurt anyone anymore and was apparently no longer interested in Buffy, he realized that he no longer harbored any ill will towards the vampire.
"That's impossible." Buffy's statement stunned everyone at the table. "You can't do it. You just *can't*." Before anyone could respond, Boo started to bark. Unlike his previous hostility, he now sounded quite excited. He jumped up and ran to the door, where he stood and bounced excitedly.
"Anybody here?" The voice was familiar to everyone in the room.
"Oh no." Giles and Cordelia moaned at the same time. Angel said nothing, but bolted out of his chair and joined the dog. The door opened and Buffy and Xander's views were blocked for a moment, but they could clearly hear what was happening.
"Willow, we thought..... What happened?" Angel was clearly snarling. Giles' face had gone pale and Cordelia gasped.
"I'm okay, I'm okay." Willow's voice was soothing. "It's just a bruise, really. I ran into some.... trouble.... in L.A. Kehdar sent one of his thugs after me. Amy and Daniel chased him off, then they helped me get out of the city without being followed."
Giles swore softly. "Cordelia, is your cell phone in the car?"
"Call Faith and tell her to get back here as soon as possible."
"Aye aye." Cordelia headed for the phone behind the circulation desk. Buffy paid no attention to her. She watched in amazement as Angel folded the as-yet-unseen Willow into his arms and held her close.
said, finally extricating herself from Angel's embrace. "Anything
interesting happen while I was gone?"
The sun was rising. Even though there were no windows in his bedroom, Angel could sense the arrival of day and, for the first time in over 220 years, he looked forward to the coming of the morning. He knew that this new sense of anticipation was directly connected to the woman lying in his arms and the miracles that she had worked in his life during the past few hours. To be fair, Angel knew that Willow had been performing miracles for him since the first time they met, but none could quite compare to the wonders of last night.
Angel closed his eyes and tried to re-live every moment–starting with his discovery of a "For Rent" sign on Willow's bedroom door. In her charming, confused way, she had made it clear to him that she wanted to move into his room and bed... and he still felt a hint of the almost overwhelming euphoria that had threatened to overcome him at that moment. He had only barely managed to stop himself from taking her then and there. Fortunately, he'd been able to restrain himself long enough to get her upstairs and undressed.
After that point, Angel's memories were pretty much a whirlwind of sensation, but specific things did stand out in his mind–the gasping noise Willow made every time his hands, lips, or tongue found a patch of flesh that had previously gone unexplored, the electric shock that had gone through his body when Willow's lips touched his bare chest for the first time, the feeling of her vaginal muscles clamping down on first his finger, then his shaft while she was in the throes of orgasm, the sublime taste of the juices that flowed from her body, and the intoxicating sweetness of the tiny bit of blood she had shed when he tore her maidenhead. That last had been made all the sweeter, since she had given him her permission to taste it, understanding how strong the temptation was and how hard he had to fight not to give into it automatically. That she had given of herself so freely and completely was, indeed, a miracle to Angel. She hadn't so much as flinched when he nuzzled her neck and when, at a particularly intense moment, his face had morphed into that of the demon, she had shown no fear or disgust.
Afterwards, with Willow's head resting on her shoulder and his fingers gently stroking her hair, Angel looked at the woman he loved and thought about the life they had made for themselves, and for the first time since his soul had been re-restored, he was happy. His joy had turned to horror the next minute, when he felt the demon press against the walls of the prison that the Rom curse had created–and felt those walls begin to crumble.
"Willow...." he managed to gasp out. She was awake instantly.
"What is it? What's wrong?" She turned to look at him and something in his face must have given her some sort of indication what was happening, for she cursed softly. Taking his head between her hands, she turned him so that he was staring into her eyes. "Angel, look at me. Do not take your eyes off of me, okay?" He was unable to respond. By this time, the walls were down and Angel uttered a last prayer as he felt the demon stretch out its talons to snatch away his soul.....
"Angel?" The demon howled as it suddenly encountered a new barrier–one which it had never encountered before. Unlike the prison that the Rom had created to house it–the foundation of which had been anger and hatred–this new obstruction was created with unconditional love. No matter how hard the demon struggled against it, there was no way to break this wall and no possible means of escape. As Angel stared into Willow's eyes, he realized that, while the demon would always be a part of him, he would never have to worry about it escaping again. With a whoop of joy, he grabbed her around the waist and hugged her tightly. She squealed in surprise, then laughing, pulled back. "What is it? What's....." she was cut off as he kissed her passionately.
Some time later, he told her what had happened. "It's the second ritual." she declared. "The one I performed six months after you came back, remember?"
"How could I forget?" Angel still had nightmares about Willow lying on the floor, pale as death.
"How do you feel?" Willow asked, a note of concern creeping into her voice. "I mean, did the demon do any damage....?"
"No." he gently placed a finger on her lips. "It can't hurt me.... us..... any more." The rest of the night had been spent in sleep and quiet conversation. As Angel waited for the sun to rise, he contemplated the new horizons that were now open to him–true, he was still a vampire and he still carried a tremendous amount of guilt in his heart, but he was free from the struggle to control the demon and the fear that one day, it might escape and destroy everyone and everything he loved. That fear had been constantly present in his life for the past six years, even though both Willow and Giles had assured him that the second ritual–the one which permanently anchored his soul to his body–had worked. Now that he was no longer bound by it, there were things he wanted to do. As Willow sighed and snuggled closer to him in her sleep, he decided that the first order of business was to make her his wife. Angel briefly regretted the loss of the claddagh ring, but he realized that she probably wouldn't have wanted it anyway as it was a symbol of the love he and Buffy had shared. So, he turned his mind to other potential gifts and as the sun rose, Angel looked towards the future.
Giles bit his lip in frustration as he gazed at the tableau before him. Willow was standing before the table, her hand resting on Boo's head, staring at two people she had never thought to see again. Her expression was... unreadable. Xander's gaze was focused solely on Willow–Giles guessed that he was probably trying to reconcile the image of the shy, awkward teenager he'd left behind with the confident, attractive woman standing before him. Buffy's attention was divided between Willow and Angel, who was now standing behind Willow, with his hand on her shoulder. Cordelia, meanwhile, had come out of the office and was standing next to Giles. Finally, Giles said the first thing that came to his mind, just to dispel the horrible silence.
"Are you sure it was one of Kehdar's men?" Willow visibly started and turned to look at him. After a moment's confusion, she nodded in understanding.
"I'm sure. He had the tattoo."
"Are Amy and Daniel all right?" Angel asked.
"Oh yeah." Willow snickered. "Amy did a nice light show. One look at her and the guy flipped out and ran. They're going to Daniel's dad's ranch until this is all over, just to be safe. Amy wanted to come back with me and help....."
".... but she had the baby to consider." Giles finished the sentence for her. "We understand."
"Okay, for those of us just tuning into this program, what are you talking about?" Willow almost laughed when she saw the confused expression on Xander's face. It was exactly the same as the one he had worn so many times as a kid.
"It's a rather long story." Giles replied, abruptly. "Cordelia, did you get a hold of Faith?"
"Roger that. She's on her way."
"What's the plan?" Angel turned his attention to the Watcher.
"I have absolutely no idea." Giles admitted. "Any suggestions?"
"Here's one." Buffy said, brightly. "Why don't you fill us in on what's going on?" Giles almost snapped at her again, but realized that it would be a wasted effort.
"Kehdar is a demon." He sighed deeply. "He's very powerful, but very old and weak–well, physically weak, anyway. He's been trying to collect the.... components.... for a ritual that, once performed, will give him back his youth and vitality. If he succeeds......"
"Much badness." Buffy finished.
"Uh.... exactly." Giles sank back down into his seat. "We've been searching for a way to get rid of him for good, but so far....."
"No problem." Buffy shrugged. "Just point me in the right direction."
"That's not really an option, Buffy." Willow's voice was quiet, but firm. There was no trace of her former self-doubt.
"Why not?" Buffy struggled to control her growing irritation.
"For starters, we don't know where he is." Giles replied.
"Then there's the fact that Kehdar's got some major bad magic at his disposal." Willow added. "He'd fry you to a crisp the second you got within range."
"Plus, there *is* the fact that you haven't fought anything stronger than a cold for the past six years." Cordelia stared critically at her nails.
"Well, what about commando-girl?" Buffy was getting exasperated.
"Who?" Giles looked confused.
"I think she means Faith." Willow told him, then answered Buffy's question. "We run into the magic problem again. We haven't been able to get around it..... until now." Willow withdrew a small volume from the inner pocket of her jacket and held it out to Giles, smiling. "Looky what I got."
Giles took hold of the volume gingerly, as if he was afraid it would bite him, but once he got a look at it, his face lit up. "Why...... where...... Willow, how did you get your hands on this?"
"Amy has an in with the woman who runs the L. A. coven." Willow slowly began to shrug off her jacket and it was obvious to the others that she was favoring her left shoulder. Angel helped her remove it and draped it over the back of a chair. Willow gratefully collapsed into the seat and Boo settled himself on her feet. Angel stayed near her, obviously concerned for her well being. "Her name's Gwen and she has contacts all over the world. She's got this huge library of occult volumes and she just happened to have this on one of her top shelves."
"I take it you've had a chance to look this over?" Giles was having a hard time suppressing his excitement.
"Page sixty-three." Giles immediately opened the volume and after a moment of searching, began to read. While he did this, Angel squatted until his mouth was at the level of Willow's ear and began to whisper intently. No matter how hard Buffy strained to hear, she could not catch what he was saying. All she could do was watch Willow's face as her expression went from surprise to confusion, to..... something that Buffy couldn't quite recognize. As Angel finished whatever he was saying, Willow smiled gently and rested her hand on his cheek. He placed his hand over hers and they gazed into one another's eyes for a moment. Buffy tensed, terrified that they were going to kiss.
"Hey, hey! What's the sitch?" Everyone in the library started as Faith burst through the doors.
"Ah, you're back." Giles placed the book, face-down on the table. Angel stood up again, but remained beside Willow. Faith pulled a chair up and sat beside Cordelia. "Faith, I don't believe you've met Xander Harris, Buffy's husband."
"Hey." Faith waved nonchalantly.
"Uh..... hi." Xander waved back. "You're a Slayer?"
"Yep. You got a problem with that?"
"Who me?" Xander started to babble. "Problem? Me? Oh no, no problem here. It's just.... well.... uh...."
"What happened to Kendra?" Buffy asked.
"Shortly after we thwarted their attempt to resurrect Akathla, Spike and Drusilla launched an all-out attack on the citizens of Sunnydale. Kendra came here to help us and....." Giles' voice trailed off and Buffy could see the pain in his eyes.
"Died." she said for him.
"Yes." he nodded. "Faith came to us several months later." He abruptly cleared his thought and picked up the book again. "Faith, Willow managed to find a spell that we believe will work against Kehdar."
"Way to go, Will." Faith beamed. "Two very enthusiastic thumbs up!" She made the gesture and Willow laughed.
"Thanks." her face and voice grew serious go. "We're gonna need to know where Kehdar is in order for this to work, though."
"Willy?" Faith arched an eyebrow.
"If he knew anything, don't you think he would have told us by now?" Cordelia pointed out. "I think we're gonna have to risk some sort of locater spell."
"I hate to say this," Giles' brow was furrowed "but I think you're right. Faith, did you get to the magic shop?" Faith shook her head. "All right then, give the list to Cordelia."
"But I can...." Faith started to protest.
"It's not smart." Angel interrupted. "Kehdar wants a Slayer for his ritual. We know where both of them are right now and I, for one, would like to keep it that way." After a moment, Faith nodded and handed the piece of paper and the keys to Cordelia. As she started to walk away, Faith grabbed her arm.
"Be careful." she commanded.
Cordelia nodded, leaned over, and kissed the Slayer tenderly on the lips.
Then, without another word, she left. "So what's the plan?" Faith
turned her attention back to her friends, all the
while ignoring the shocked expressions on Xander and Buffy's faces.
"The spell itself is pretty simple." Willow replied. "But it's going to take a lot of power. So, I'm going to be out of commission for a while."
"Gotcha." Faith nodded.
"Wait just a minute." Buffy declared as she finally took a moment to look at Willow. "Since when did you become magic-girl?"
"I learned the basics from Miss Calendar." Willow replied. "I started doing some experiments and when she died, I got a hold of her notes."
"Which helped you bring back Dead-Boy over there." Xander supplied. Faith snickered at the nickname, while Angel merely rolled his eyes.
"Right." Willow nodded.
"What will this spell do, exactly?" Angel was anxious to get back to the subject of Kehdar.
Willow thought about this for a minute before answering. "Basically, it will bind Kehdar to the earthly plane. This will cut him off from his power supply and leave him mortal."
"So, if this works, he'll be nothing more than a really, really old guy..... no magic powers or anything, right?" Faith grinned. "I like it."
"But he'll still be alive." Angel was getting worried. "And he'll still have all the knowledge of a demon..... he could try to come after you to kill you or make you reverse the spell..... I don't like it Will."
"I don't think we'll have to worry about Kehdar once he's mortal." Willow grinned evilly. "If he manages to survive the shock of the transformation and the sheer strain that it will put on his body, he'll still have to deal with his minions.... excuse me, former minions. He used his magic to keep them in line, remember? Once they're free of his hold, most will probably try to get away as quickly as possible, but there are going to be some who want revenge......"
"No fair." Faith whined. "I wanted to be the one to kick his ass."
"Either way," Willow continued. "I don't think that we'll need to worry about Kehdar ever again."
"That's a relief." Angel sighed. "So, what do we need to do to make this happen? And when and where are we going to do the spell?"
"I suggest we get started as soon as Cordy gets back." Willow's attitude was completely serious again. "Kehdar has to know that I left L.A. by now and he's probably got people heading this way even as we speak. I think he's getting impatient, guys. He may try to do the ritual soon, even though he doesn't have a Slayer."
"You're right." Giles looked up from the book. "I would like to recommend that we do this here, rather than at the mansion."
"Sounds good to me." Willow agreed. "Faith, Angel, you guys and Boo are going to have to stand guard."
"We expecting trouble?" Faith had also lost her flippant manner.
"Possibly." Giles replied. " The locater spell will allow us to find Kehdar, but it will also allow him to find us." Turning to Willow he asked "May I assume that Cordelia and I will be your lovely assistants?"
"The loveliest." Willow laughed.
"What do you want us to do?" Buffy asked. Willow turned to her, a surprised expression on her face. Buffy wondered if Willow had actually forgotten her presence.
"Um...." Willow thought for a moment. "I don't think there's anything you *can* do, really. We've got everything under control, thanks." She turned back towards Giles to say something else, but Buffy spoke before she got a chance.
"You can't just pretend we're not here, Will." Her voice was harsh and Xander could tell she was working herself up into one of her legendary rages.
"I'm not." Willow sighed, exasperated. "You guys can..... uh..... you can help with defensive measures, how about that?"
"I'd better go home and get some weapons." Angel announced, suddenly. Standing up quickly, he leaned over and kissed Willow. "Do you need anything from the house?" he asked her.
"Yeah." Willow nodded. "Will you bring the bag of stones that's on my desk? You know what I'm talking about, right?"
"I know." Angel smiled. "I'll be back as soon as I can." He started to walk towards the door.
"I'll come with you." Buffy said, standing up.
"No!" Giles, Angel, Faith and Xander spoke at once.
"But...." Buffy's jaw hung open as she stared at the people she used to know.
"It's best if you stay here." Giles declared. Buffy turned to Angel to say something, but he had taken the opportunity to sneak out.
"What is the matter with you people?" Buffy shouted. "I just wanted to talk to him in private...."
Faith snorted. "Yeah, that's it. You just wanted to *talk*."
"Faith." Giles chided her.
"What do you have to talk to Angel about?" Xander asked. Buffy looked at him blankly for a moment before the question sank in.
"I..... we...... Angel and I need to discuss what happened before I left town." she stammered.
"What's there to discuss?" Xander really didn't like the expression in Buffy's eyes when she looked at her former boyfriend.
"Xander," he could tell that she was losing her patience. "For the past six years, I've assumed that Angel was dead. His body might still have been wandering around, but everything I knew and loved–everything that made him *Angel* was gone. Now that I know he's back, I need to talk to him and......" she struggled to find the words.
"See if the old magic is still there?" Faith supplied, her voice dripping with feigned innocence.
"No!" Buffy shot back, after hesitating just a second too long. "We just need closure, that's all."
"He doesn't love you anymore." Faith insisted. "He loves Willow. He's going to marry her."
"Congratulations, Willow." Xander grinned at his friend in an effort to dispel some of the tension in the room. Willow smiled at him.
"Thanks." Her face shone with happiness. Her smile faded as she saw the expression on Buffy's face. "Buffy, I know this isn't what you were expecting and I'm sorry if it hurts you..... but, Angel's changed in the past six years. We all have." she paused for a moment. "We had to."
"I realize that....." Buffy started, but Willow interrupted her.
"I don't think you do, Buffy. Things can't go back to the way they were when we were in high school. Too much stuff has happened."
"I *know* that, Willow." Buffy snapped. "Lots of stuff has happened to us, too, you know."
"How can you *possibly* compare our situations?" Willow was incredulous. "We've been here fighting demons and vampires and other supernatural creatures, while you've been doing..... what?" When neither Buffy or Xander answered her, Giles spoke.
"The point Buffy, is that, to a large extent, the Angel, the Willow, and the Cordelia you used to know don't exist anymore. If you're serious about staying, you have to accept that and forge new relationships with them, rather than attempting to resurrect old ones." he paused, then added. "If you can't do that, I would suggest that you move on as soon as this situation with Kehdar is over."
"What if we stay?" Xander asked, before Buffy could speak. "Is there a place for us here?"
"Of course." Giles replied. "You will always be welcome here."
"Yeah, that's real obvious." Buffy muttered.
"What do you want from us, Buffy?" Willow exploded. "You *left*. No goodbyes, no explanations, you just left. We've had to do all the fighting and research and patrolling..... all of us have had to do your job and, except for Faith, none of us is particularly qualified. It's been hard and lonely and really scary and it never, *never* ends. We may get rid of Kehdar tonight, but there will be something new tomorrow. We know and trust each other and yes, in some cases, we've come to love one another. What we have works and if you stay with us, it will still work, but not if you're not willing to accept a few facts. Faith is a Slayer and damn good at her job, Angel and I are getting married....." She stopped speaking abruptly when Boo began to growl. She looked at Faith with an arched eyebrow and the Slayer stood and quickly moved to the door. Cautiously opening it, she slipped out and slipped back in again a minute later, cursing softly.
"We've got company."
(A few minutes later)
Buffy was furious. While the others put the library to rights, she stood in the corner and fumed. She could hear Xander and Willow quietly discussing the creatures that had just attacked them, but she didn't really pay attention to what was being said. She simply stared at Willow, getting angrier every moment, while she unsuccessfully attempted to hide the fact that the fight had left her winded and sweaty. None of the others looked as if the recent struggle had taken much out of them at all.
"Good job, everyone." Giles finally said, as he placed a pile of loose papers on the table.
"Thanks." Faith suddenly got a concerned look on her face. "I'm gonna go outside. I don't want one of those things jumping Cordy in the parking lot."
"I'll go with you." Willow volunteered. "Will you be okay?" she asked Giles.
"Of course." he nodded. The two girls left and Xander walked over to where Buffy was standing.
"You look exactly how I feel." he joked.
"Ha ha." Buffy scowled at him. "You're so funny."
"I try." Xander shrugged. "All I know is that you and I are both *really* lucky that Willow stayed in shape over the years." Buffy prepared to launch into a tirade, but Giles beat her to the punch.
"Xander, why don't you go outside with the others." he suggested. "I need to speak with Buffy." Looking at his wife, Xander nodded in agreement. Taking one last look at his wife, he walked out.
Giles sat and stared silently at his former pupil for a few minutes. "Are you all right?" he asked, finally.
"Yeah, I'm fine." Buffy grumbled. "Willow made sure that none of the..... whatever they were, laid a claw on me."
"What's wrong with that? I thought she did quite well....."
Buffy laughed bitterly. "Of course you would, you're on her side."
"What do you mean?"
"It's pretty obvious, Giles. Willow wants us to leave and you agree with her....."
"Willow doesn't want you to leave" Giles objected "and neither do I." He took a moment to try to find the right words. "She may wish that you hadn't come back, but that's not the same thing."
"Oh, please...." Buffy rolled her eyes.
"Dammit, Buffy!" Giles exploded. "Listen to me for once, will you? When you ran away, you left a giant hole in our lives that couldn't be filled. We tried, God knows we tried..... and I think we nearly drove Faith insane with our efforts to turn her into you..... but we finally accepted the fact that you weren't coming back and we created something new...... something that works for us. Now, you've shown up, out of the blue, and demanded your old place in our lives and hearts and you refuse to accept that we cannot give it to you."
"Why not?" Buffy challenged him. "Everyone keeps saying that things can't go back to the way they were, but nobody will tell me why...."
"Do you remember what things were like when you left?"
"Of course I do." Buffy shuddered. "Angel was Angelus...."
"Exactly. Angelus was roaming the streets and he had Spike, Drusilla, and every other vampire in Sunnydale at his beck and call. We were outnumbered, outgunned..... so to speak.... and, in my opinion, not long for this Earth. Willow restored Angel's soul and we were able to avoid that disaster, but it was just the first of many. For the past six years, we've been dealing with the worst the Hellmouth has to offer and we've survived, but that survival has come at a price."
"What price?" Some of the anger had gone from Buffy's voice.
"Willow and Cordelia both gave up education and career opportunities outside of Sunnydale, we've all suffered serious injuries at one time or another, and Willow has almost died at least twice......"
"Whoa, she's nearly died? *Twice*?"
"Yes. Once when she performed the spell that anchored Angel's soul to his body, and once when Kehdar's minions beat her."
"But what was she doing taking on Kehdar's people by herself?" Buffy was baffled. "She's not a Slayer....."
"No, she's not." Giles was no longer shouting, but he spoke with an intensity that Buffy could never remember hearing from him before. "That's sort of my point, Buffy. Willow isn't a Slayer and neither is Cordelia and neither am I. Faith is, but she can't be creative in a crisis the way you can. That's not to say she doesn't have her own unique abilities" he added, hastily "just that she isn't you. Angel, despite his exceptional strength and heightened senses, is a vampire which limits him significantly. We've had to come up with ways to work around these obstacles and we've learned to work as a team. We depend on each other, much in the way that you used to depend on Willow and Xander when you were here. Do you see where I'm going with this....?"
"I think so." Buffy said, thoughtfully. "It's like a circle now, rather than a triangle."
"I'm not sure I follow you." Giles knit his brows in confusion.
"When I was here, I always envisioned us as a triangle..... or a pyramid, actually. You, Willow, and Xander were the base of the pyramid and..... and I was the pointy part, you know? You guys supported me, but when push came to shove, I was the one who had to fight the good fight. Now, though..... you each support each other and you each take on an equal share of the danger."
"Exactly." Giles sighed in relief. "I'm glad you understand that."
"Well, you know I can be kind of dense sometimes....." Buffy smiled, sadly. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry for leaving all of you in the lurch like that."
"I know." They sat in silence for a few minutes. "So, what are you going to do now?"
Buffy wiped a few stray tears from her eyes and cleared her throat. "Well, first I'm going to apologize to Willow and Faith when they come back in here. Then, I'm going to go apologize to Xander. He's probably pretty upset with me right now and, frankly, I don't blame him. I..... I wasn't expecting to see Angel and I didn't exactly handle it well, did I? Don't answer that. After that, well..... I don't think I should stay."
"I meant what I said, Buffy." Giles said, gently. "There will always be a place for you here."
"I know. It's just that I'd be a pyramid girl in a circle world and I don't think I can handle that. But..... I would like to help somehow..... if it's possible."
Giles thought about this for a moment. "I'm sure the Council would be willing to come up with some sort of arrangement where you, Xander, and a Watcher can set up shop somewhere....."
"That sounds good." Both Buffy and Giles smiled slowly. So did Angel, as he watched them from his hiding place in the stacks. "Well, I guess I better get started." Buffy spoke resolutely as she stood. "Are you going to be okay here by yourself?"
"I'll be fine." Giles
Xander saw Buffy first and immediately noticed that her entire demeanor had changed. It was if some huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She waved to him, then walked over to Willow. Touching the other girl's elbow, she whispered into Willow's ear and the two moved off to the side to talk privately. Xander occasionally stole glances at them and was amused to notice that Faith was openly staring at them. Both breathed sighs of relief when they saw Buffy and Willow exchange warm hugs.
"Glad that's over with." Faith murmured.
"I hear you." Xander responded. Buffy and Willow rejoined them and the foursome spent the next few minutes in casual conversation. Cordelia finally returned and Buffy drew her aside for a moment. Finally, they all retreated to the library and discovered that Angel had returned. Willow immediately went to him and he folded her into his arms for a fierce hug. Looking around, Willow noticed that Xander and Buffy and Cordelia and Faith were in similar positions. Boo was happily bouncing around between the couples attempting to partake of some of the free-flowing affection. Willow's gaze happened to fall on Giles at the same time as Buffy and she caught the Slayer's eye. Buffy grinned and whispered something to Xander. He almost laughed and leaned over to whisper something to Cordelia. Willow stood on tiptoe and murmured into Angel's ear and he grinned broadly. Before he knew what hit him, the Watcher found himself encircled by six pairs of arms.
"Yes, well...." he
stammered, once he was finally released from the impromptu group hug "we
still have work to do." The mood in the room instantly became serious
as everyone set about getting ready to battle the demon Kehdar.
"Willow? Willow, love, can you hear me?" Angel knelt over her unconscious form, holding her hand between his.
"Come on, Will...." Buffy chanted softly from Willow's other side. "You can do this, I know you can." They had been sitting there for what seemed like an eternity.
"Shouldn't we call an ambulance?" Xander asked.
"There's nothing doctors can do for her." Giles responded, dully. "She used a great deal of her own energy at the end...." he stopped abruptly when Willow moaned, weakly.
"Willow?" Angel placed one of his hands under her head. Her eyelashes fluttered and finally opened. "Hi there." he smiled, gently. "How do you feel?"
"Gah...." Willow grimaced. "My head feels like somebody just hit me in the face with a bowling ball....."
"Hey, at least it wasn't my fault, this time." Xander joked.
"This time?" Cordelia arched an eyebrow. Xander quietly related the story to Cordelia and Faith while Giles, Buffy, and Angel helped an extremely weak Willow into a chair.
"Did we win?" she finally managed to ask.
"Don't we always?" Buffy quipped, relief making her somewhat giddy.
"You did great, Will." Angel assured her. "Everything went as planned."
"What time is it?" Angel asked, suddenly. Giles checked his watch.
"Good, we've got time." Angel murmured. "Willow, I'm going to take you home so you can lie down, okay?"
"Time for what?" Willow looked at him, confused.
"You'll see." he grinned.
"Buffy.....?" Willow looked at her long-time friend, questioningly.
Buffy looked at Angel and Giles. "Can we have a minute, guys?" Both men nodded and moved off to a corner to speak together quietly. Buffy knelt down beside the question. She quickly unclasped a bracelet from her wrist and handed it to Willow.
"Well, all brides are expected to have something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue, right? This belonged to my grandmother, so it counts for both the old and the borrowed parts. You can give it back to me next time I'm in town, okay?"
"Okay." Willow nodded, then winced. "Ow. Be well, Buffy."
"You too, Willow." Buffy gently hugged her friend, then beckoned to Angel. He swiftly scooped Willow into his arms and carried her out through the back door. Boo followed behind, occasionally barking happily. Once they were gone, Buffy and Xander said their goodbyes quickly. By the time the sun set, they were several hours outside of Sunnydale. Giles had agreed to take care of the apartment they had just leased and had volunteered to have their possessions shipped to them.
"Do you think they'll be okay?" Xander asked.
"I think they'll be fine." Buffy smiled. "And so will we."
(12 years later)
"Daddy, when will they be here?" The little girl looked up at her father and he marveled, and not for the first time, at how much she resembled her mother.
"Soon, baby. Soon." Angel scooped his daughter up into his arms and kissed her soundly. "You look very pretty."
"Thank you. Aunt Buffy sent me the dress."
"Well, Aunt Buffy always did have good taste." Angel raised his voice. "Jessie, Kieran, Douglas, Ira..... front and center, now!" The four boys came tumbling down the staircase and hastened to form a line in front of their father. "Have you all finished your chores?"
"Yes, sir! Father, sir!" Jessie, the oldest, offered his father a mock salute.
"Smart ass." Angel muttered. "Where is your mother?"
"She went to lie down for a few minutes before the hordes descend." Kieran replied. Even though he knew it was impossible, Angel swore that Kieran resembled his namesake, Angel's father.
"Is she all right?"
"She'll be fine, father." Of all the boys, Douglas was the most like Giles in spirit. Surprisingly, none of them resembled him physically, even though the Watcher was their biological father.
"All right, then." Angel put Anne on the floor and she quickly scooted to her place in line. "Prepare for inspection, troops." They all stood a bit straighter and Angel noted that little Ira was holding his hands behind his back. He made a production of inspecting each child and when he came to Ira, he knelt before his three year old son.
"Let's see the hands, son." Slowly, Ira brought them out from behind his back and Angel had to stifle a laugh.
"Son, why are you holding a frog?"
"It's a pwesent." the little boy declared.
"Really? Who is it for?"
"Mommy." Angel did laugh at this, long and loud. Jessie and Kieran had rueful expressions on their faces.
"Squirt, I hate to tell you this" Jessie gently took the frog "but Mom doesn't like frogs."
"But she'll like mine." Ira protested.
"I'm sure she will." Angel comforted him "but what say we put him in the pond until after the guests leave. Okay?"
"Okay." Ira pouted. Jessie took his hand and led his little brother towards the back garden. The doorbell rang and Angel instinctively moved to a position in the room that would be safe from the inevitable sunlight that would pour inside once the door was opened. Kieran opened the door and Faith entered, followed by Cordelia who was holding their infant daughter. Once the door was safely closed, Angel stepped out from the shadows. "Annie, go upstairs and tell your mama that Faith and Cordy are here."
"Okay, daddy." The little girl ran up the stairs on her pudgy legs and the adults watched her fondly. They exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes and were soon joined by a heavily pregnant Willow. Everyone moved into the sitting room and settled down for a nice chat. Giles arrived about half an hour later and Buffy, Xander, and their two children arrived soon after. The party was in full swing when Giles gently tapped on his glass for attention.
"I have wonderful news." he grinned. "I have spoken to the Council and they have agreed to let little Eve stay with her mothers." Faith and Cordelia both breathed audible sighs of relief. "It took some convincing, but I finally managed to persuade them that a future Slayer....."
"Not if I can help it!" Faith interjected.
"Faith, you're going have to die someday." Buffy pointed out.
"Not if it means that my daughter might be called." Faith insisted. "I intend to live until I know she's out of danger. That goes for you too, blondie."
"......that a future Slayer...." Giles interrupted "is, indeed, safest being raised and trained by a group that includes two Slayers and a Watcher."
"And a witch." Willow called out.
"And a..... what am I, honey?" Xander looked at his wife.
"You..... you're a Xander." she declared, after giving the matter some thought.
"Not to mention an en-souled vampire." Angel finished the litany. Looking around the small group, he smiled. "That little girl has it all, I think."
"All our kids do." Buffy declared.
"Not like in your day, huh?" Jessie said, just loud enough for the others to hear him.
"Xander, what have you been teaching my son?" Angel glared at the other man in mock fury.
"Hey, he had to get a sense of humor from *somewhere*."
"Uh.... guys....?" Willow's eyes grew wide.
"Well, stop corrupting him." Angel ordered.
"Corrupt, shmorrupt! Every child needs to learn how to question his elders. And face it dude, you're as elder as they get."
"Guys....?" Willow gasped sharply.
"What does Uncle Xander mean, Daddy? Why are you ‘elder'?" Anne looked at her father closely, trying to figure out what her uncle was talking about. This time, the glare Angel gave Xander was completely serious.
"Hey man, I'm sorry." All levity was gone from Xander's voice. "I didn't mean....."
"*Guys!*" Willow nearly shouted.
"What? What's wrong?" Angel was immediately at his wife's side.
"I think..... no I know it's time for us to go take a trip to the hospital." All of the kids immediately began to whoop with excitement, except for little Ira.
"What? Why we go on a trip?" he asked.
"Well, your mother is about to have her baby." Buffy explained, drawing the child on her lap.
"I'll get the bag." Faith bolted for the staircase.
"I'll get your car." Giles volunteered. "Xander, bring Willow outside and, Angel, we'll pick you up at the basement door."
"How close are we to sunset?" Cordelia asked, worriedly.
"Buffy, can you stay here with the kids?" Willow asked right before another contraction hit.
"Of course. Now go and shoot out another addition to our family." The next few minutes were spent getting Willow and Angel into the car. After eliciting promises from the others to call from the hospital as soon as there was any news, Buffy and Cordelia turned their attention to entertaining the small crowd of children.
"So what do you guys want to do?" Buffy asked, somewhat bewildered.
"Tell us the Buffy story." Jessie demanded. "That's what Mom and Dad do whenever a new baby is coming."
"Uh.... what exactly is the Buffy story?" the Slayer asked, looking askance at Cordelia.
"It's the story of
how we all got to be together." the other woman explained. "I'll
start it. Jump in whenever you want to add something okay?"
She took a few minutes to adjust the position of the baby in her arms,
then began the oft-rehearsed tale. "Once upon a time in the little
town of Sunnydale, there lived three kids named Willow, Xander, and Cordelia.
They led pretty average lives until one day a new girl came to school......."