TITLE: Flesh and Blood
SPOILERS: AtS: "I Will Remember You"
DISCLAIMER: All BtVS and AtS characters, concepts, etc. are copyright FOX, The WB, Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy Productions, Greenwolf Productions, and Kuzui Entertainment. This work is not-for-profit fanfiction, and no infringement is intended.
SYNOPSIS: There is an unforseen consequence of The Day That Wasn't, told from Buffy's POV.
DEDICATION/BLAME: This is for Chelle, because she did it first; for Tink, because it's been *31* whole days; for sen, because every writer, fan or otherwise, should have a sen of their own (even when she's MIA); and for Tamara, because at least she can read this language.
NOTE: This theme has been done before, by far better writers than I (Check out COMES THE SON by Chelle), but this fic has been sitting around, taunting me with its incompleteness. And I had to shut it up. :->
SPECIAL NOTE TO REBE: This veers off into waters I know you don't like, but stick with it, 'kay? If you don't like it, you can shoot me later.
I've always kept my promises.
So when I told him I'd never forget, I wasn't lying.
I waited until I couldn't bear being in his office, being near him, for one more second, then I fled into the sunshine. I wasn't crying; all the energy I had left in my body was concentrated on drawing breath into my lungs. If I began to cry, I would die, because breathing would simply be too much for me.
Walking down the steps of his building, I looked up at the sky. The sun shining brightly overhead seemed to mock me with everything I almost had, the happiness, the laughter, the love. Now, once more, I had nothing. How many times was I expected to have to walk away from him?
"This was the last time," a voice next to me said.
I whirled around. An average looking woman with dark hair was standing next to me, looking at me intently. "Can I help you?" I asked, confused.
"You wanted to know how many times you would have to walk away from him. This is the last time."
My blood ran cold. "How do you know that?"
The woman smiled. "I'm one of the Oracles."
Eyes widening, I gasped. "But you...you don't look like how Angel described you."
"I thought coming to see you in my true form would be an unwise idea. I don't care to draw attention to myself."
Without thinking, I asked the question foremost on my mind. "Why do I remember?"
"Your memories were not his to take. Besides, there was an unforeseen...complication."
"Complication?" My whole life was one huge complication.
The woman's smile reached her odd eyes as she reached out and laid a slender hand on my stomach. It took a few seconds for the implications of her gesture to register, but when it did, I drew in a sharp breath.
"Angel and I...?"
"He was very, very mortal."
My eyes filled with the tears I thought I was beyond shedding. "He...we...I...?" A baby? Angel and I had made a new life?
My first desire was to run back into his office and fling myself in his arms, to share this unhoped-for miracle with him. But after a moment, I thought better of it. He had made his feelings clear.
"So, because of that, I remember?"
"If we had taken your memory, we would have ended a life. And we were not meant to do that."
"Everything that has transpired here was meant to happen."
I should have known. One more mindfuck thrown at me courtesy of The Powers That Be.
So I went back to Sunnydale and kept my mouth shut. I didn't discuss my trip to LA, or the unexpected consequences, with anyone. And when the evidence became too much to hide, I told them in short, efficient sentences that I was pregnant, and that I planned on keeping my child.
They all wanted to know who the father was, I could see it in their eyes, but that was none of their business. They took my silence as shame, and naturally assumed that Parker was the culprit. I allowed them to think that, because the truth would be far harder to handle.
Everyone was stunned with my revelation, but I wasn't alone, far from it. I had my family around me, and they supported me entirely. My mother was actually relieved that I was doing something as normal as having a baby. I think she was just glad that it had nothing to do with Angel. If she had only known...
Willow devoted herself entirely to learning the ins and outs of natural childbirth. She learned ritual after ritual to ensure the baby's safety and good health. Xander put himself in charge of my mental well-being, and made sure that I always had whatever I desired. He was probably the only man on Earth who was happy to go to the AM-PM at 4 in the morning so that I could have blueberry Pop-Tarts and nacho cheese.
Anya kept me real, kept me grounded. When everyone oohed and aaahed over me, she was the voice of reality telling me that I wasn't glowing, I was just plain fat. And Spike...he surprised me. He took over the Slaying, claiming that he had to kill SOMETHING to be happy, and if it just happened to be vampires, he certainly didn't care. I think Spike suspected who the father of my child was from the beginning...maybe it was blood calling to blood, I'll never know. But for whatever reason, he kept his thoughts to himself.
Giles was, as he has always been, my rock. He calmed all my fears, assuring me that no matter if I *had* killed my Giga-Pet, I would be a good mother.
Towards the last months of my pregnancy, the Hellmouth was very quiet. Spike did the majority of the Slaying, because I was so awkward I could barely bend over. Giles wondered often at the absence of major evil, but I knew that the Oracles had a hand in it. They gave me a break, and I can't say I didn't enjoy it. I took the time to revel in my condition, to immerse myself in the knowledge that I was carrying a tiny life within me, a new life that would make up for all the death I had meted out with my own hands.
If my child was a girl, I would name her Kendra Faith, for two women who were taken from this life far too soon. If it was a boy, he would be called Jesse Alan, for two men who I did not get to know nearly as well as I would have liked.
But whatever it was, boy or girl, I was secure in the knowledge that it would be well-loved.
My labor was long and more painful than anything else I had ever experienced, and given my job, that said a lot.
After all the commotion had died down, everyone left me alone with my son.
I had a child of my own. I was completely terrified by him, but at the same time, hopelessly in love with him. He was a big baby, nearly ten pounds, with a cap of silky dark hair. I touched his tiny face, marveling at his resemblance to his father. At that moment, I missed Angel with a pain I had rarely allowed myself to feel. I imagined him there with me, with us, his huge hands cradling our son. Tears gathered at the corners of my eyes.
But it wasn't to be.
Not ever again.
As Jesse slept, I watched him. He was innocent, oblivious of the things that went bump in the night. He would not stay that way; it was impossible, given the particulars of my life, but right then I swore to him, before God and whoever else might have been listening, that I would keep him safe.
A while later, Giles quietly re-entered my room. His face was impassive, impossible for me to read. He crossed over to my bedside, and reached for the baby. I handed him over without hesitation.
Holding him in his arms, Giles studied my son intensely. After a few moments had passed, he looked at me, an expression that I had never seen before written across his face.
"What is it, Giles?"
"I had assumed, since you declined to discuss it with anyone, that Jesse's father was that Parker chap."
My insides froze. "And what makes you think that he's not?"
"What are you saying to me?"
"I don't know how, and I don't know why, but I do know *who*, Buffy."
"Don't lie to me."
"How dare you accuse me--"
Giles loomed over me, practically shoving my son at me. "You look at this child, look at his face, and then you tell me that Angel is not his father."
As he said the words, my eyes welled again with the hated tears, and I dashed them away impatiently. "So what if he is, Giles? What difference does that make?"
"Don't ask me that. I won't discuss that with anyone, not even you."
"Angel has no idea, does he? Because I find it incredibly hard to believe that if Angel were aware of this, that he would not be here with you right now."
For the first time since the beginning of the argument, I felt my resolve waver. "No, he doesn't know. And he won't know."
"Do you think that's fair?"
"It has nothing to do with fair. He will not be a part of Jesse's life."
"You're making that decision for him, then."
"He's made enough decisions for me. I'd say we're even now."
"By God, when you hold a grudge, it's certainly with fervor."
"This isn't a grudge. This is my son's life. I'm not going to invite Angel into it, only for him to decide a few years later that he can't handle it. I will not allow my son's heart to be broken."
"Like your own was?"
I flinched. "You want the truth? Yes. *Yes*. Angel broke me. He broke me in a way that will never, ever heal. It was done for the 'greater good', I know that, but it didn't hurt any less when my heart was lying bleeding on the floor. That will never happen to my son."
Giles stared at me for long moments, and when he finally spoke, his voice was harsh. "Whatever my personal feelings towards Angel, I cannot condone you keeping his son from him."
"I didn't ask for your opinion, and if you decide to tell him, I'll disappear, and you'll never see us again."
"You're good at that, aren't you?"
The reference to the period of time I spent away from him after sending Angel to Hell was clear. "This time, I won't come back. And you know as well as I do that you will never find me if I don't want to be found."
Our eyes locked, and he laughed bitterly. "Buffy, when this comes back to bite you in your bloody arse, I reserve the right to say I told you so."
FIVE YEARS LATER
I was in the midst of making the birthday cake for Jesse's fifth birthday party, complete with the requisite superheroes, when the doorbell rang.
It was a point of pride for me that my son had asked if I had my own doll, as I was the best superhero of them all. I nearly burst into tears, but managed to promise that I would make a Slayer doll especially for him. It had taken some searching, but I found a Barbie doll that had my coloring. Carefully, I had cut its hair and styled it like mine, dressing it in a pair of leather pants and a tank top. I used a toothpick as a stake, and made a little cross for its neck. It looked kind of silly, but my son thought I was a superhero. And to me, that was all that mattered.
The door pinged again, dragging me from my memories. I turned the stove off, wiped my hands on a dishrag, and went for the front door. When I opened it, I gasped.
It was Angel. And he did not look happy.
Every nerve in my body went on red alert. "Angel. This is a surprise."
I hadn't seen him for five years, for five very long years. I knew what he had been doing; Giles kept in touch with him, mainly, I thought, just to make me squirm. He'd been saving souls all over Los Angeles county with the help of his sidekicks, Cordelia and Wesley. My son not only had a superhero for a mother, but for a father as well. My Angel. Except he wasn't mine anymore.
"You could say that."
My breath stopped up in my chest, but I moved aside. "Come in."
Without a word, he stepped over the threshold and into my living room.
"What brings you to Sunnydale after all this time?"
He was facing the wall, his broad back to me. Even after all these years, the connection was still there. I could still feel what he felt, his rage washing over me in a wave.
"I had some information I needed to discuss with Giles."
"And the phone wasn't good enough?" Did I really sound that harsh, that confrontational?
"It was very important."
"Oh." He needed Giles. He went to see Giles. Giles was watching Jesse so that I could make the cake for party tomorrow. Angel saw Jesse. Angel knew. Dear God, Angel knew. "Was Giles helpful?"
"Actually, Giles was already busy when I got there."
"Yeah, he was playing with a child. A little boy."
What was I supposed to say? What could I say? "Giles often does that."
"So I gathered. The boy was very familiar."
"He was?" Smooth, Buffy, very smooth. You don't sound panicked. Really.
"I knew someone who looked like that little boy. Of course, this was over two hundred years ago..." He trailed off, and my heart rose further into my throat.
"Who was it? I mean, who did the little boy look like?" I tried desperately for casual disinterest.
Angel turned to face me, and the anger in his eyes made me cringe. "My sister."
All the blood drained from my head, and I staggered.
Like the predator that he was, Angel sensed my weakness and sprang forward, gripping my arms with hurtful hands. "How?"
From somewhere deep inside, I found the strength to respond. "I told you I would never forget."
That was the last thing Angel had expected me to say, and he released me, backing away from me in horror. I advanced on him, a small, mean part of my soul gratified as he continued to back up.
"You thought you could take it from me, take away the memory of what had happened." My accusation hung in the air.
His voice was hoarse when he spoke. "It was for the best."
"No, Angel, it was best for you. You got to be the martyr once more, suffering in silence, carrying the weight of what could have been on your broad, manly shoulders."
"I wanted to spare you--"
"Spare me the memory of something beautiful? Spare me the memory of making our son?"
"No, you did. You most certainly did. You were human, remember? Very human. And we made love all those times." My heart ached in my chest as the memories I fought so hard to ignore flooded me.
//...the kiss on the pier, his mouth desperate on mine, claiming me, consuming me...//
//...the welcome pain as my back impacted with his kitchen table, the delicious drag of his aroused body against mine as I reached behind us and pulled us more fully onto the table...//
//...the sweet taste of the fudge mint cookie dough on my tongue as I cleaned his chest...//
//...the rhythmic thudding of his heart underneath my ear as I rested my head on his chest...//
//...the mind numbing fear for him as I saw the Mohra raise the sword high...//
//...the wrenching agony of that final minute with him, knowing that nothing would ever be the way I wanted it, knowing that for whatever reason, the entire world, the entire universe, was against us, and that I could never hold him like this, love him like this, again...//
Our eyes met and I knew he was remembering the same time.
"How could you want to take that from me?" I whispered softly, anguished.
The pain was naked on his face. "I was wrong."
I covered my face with my hands as hot tears slid down my cheeks. He stepped into my personal space just as he had always done. With him, that had never been an invasion. It had merely felt right, like it was no longer my space, but our space. Even now, with all the years and the pain between us, it still felt right.
Angel pulled my hands away and leaned his forehead down against mine. "I was wrong. I was so wrong."
"I know," I half sobbed.
Before he could reply, my front door opened again, and a tiny whirlwind flung himself inside. "Mommy, I'm home!" Jesse called out cheerfully. "Grampa said to tell you 'I told you so' and I--" He stopped abruptly as he caught sight of Angel gripping my hands. I guess he misunderstood my tears, because he instantly flung himself at Angel's legs, beating at him.
"Let go of my mommy! Let her go right now before I KILL you!" His tiny face was red with rage, and I yanked my hands from Angel's grasp and knelt down, corralling his flailing arms.
"Shhh, shhh, baby, it's okay, it's okay." I rocked him in my arms, pressing my mouth to the top of his head. "Angel wasn't trying to hurt me, baby. It's okay, sweetheart."
"You're cryin', Mommy. The bad man hurt you." Five year old logic was painful in its simplicity.
I stood with him in my arms, and faced Angel. I wasn't ready for what was going to happen. I would never be ready for it. "Angel, this is Jesse. Jesse, this is Angel."
My son regarded his father with suspicious eyes. "You hurt my mommy," he accused.
Angel nodded slowly. "I did. But I didn't mean to."
Jesse mulled that over for a moment. "Why did you hurt her?"
Looking into my eyes, Angel said, "I'm a very stupid man sometimes. And I did something, I made a decision for her."
My son made an 'O' with his lips. "Mommy hates that," he said seriously.
Angel let out an involuntary laugh. "She always has. Ever since she was a girl."
"She's a girl now, silly!"
"No, your mother is a woman. I knew her when she was just a girl."
"When she was my age?"
"She wasn't *quite* that young."
I was growing tired of being spoken about as though I wasn't even in the room. "You," I said, holding Jesse up, "You need to go wash your hands and get ready for supper."
"What about the man?"
"He's staying for supper too." I glanced at Angel, practically daring him to argue with me.
Jesse took that in stride, and reached up and grabbed Angel's hand. "C'mon, mister, I'll show you where to wash your hands. 'Cuz if you don't, Mommy will smack you on your butt."
I hid my suddenly beet red face as Angel chuckled low in his throat. "I'll keep that in mind."
Dinner was an anxious affair. I hovered over Jesse, so much so that he actually told me to go away. Angel sat silently, watching Jesse wolf down chicken fingers at an alarming rate of speed. I wanted to tell him to stop staring at my son, but I suppose he had a right to do just that. He hadn't abandoned Jesse; I had taken Jesse from him.
But I had done the right thing.
Thankfully, Jesse was oblivious to the undercurrent of tension that existed in my small kitchen, and he chattered happily, informing me of the days' events.
"...And then, Aunt Tara called to say she was at the airport, so Aunt Willow went to go pick her up. I wanted to go, but Grampa said I had to come home."
I'll bet he had. Giles was undoubtedly relishing my suffering. I was surprised he hadn't arrived to view the chaos firsthand. But he had warned me, all those years ago.
My eyes drifted back to Angel. He was staring directly at me, his dark eyes brewing with a potent mix of emotions.
Not for the first time, Giles was right.
It had come back to bite me in the ass, big time.
After dinner, I corralled an overexcited Jesse upstairs to ready him for bed. He knew that Angel was still downstairs, and he was afraid to leave me alone with him.
My son was a smart little boy.
I was in the middle of bathing him when he announced, "Mommy, why don't you tell the man to go home, and he can come back tomorrow?"
"No sweetheart, Angel and I have to talk."
"Is he your friend, Mommy?"
I stalled for time, lifting his wet, squirmy, sweet-smelling body from the tub. For a moment, I buried my face in his shoulder, trying desperately to find the words to explain. Spike's long ago words came back to haunt me. //Friends? You'll never be friends. You'll be in love until it kills you both.//
Brushing his dark hair from his eyes, I finally spoke. "A long time ago, before you were born, Angel was a very good friend of mine."
"When did you stop being his friend?" Jesse knew how I valued friendship, how my friends were my family, the only family he had.
My heart nearly burst in my chest. Nowhere in any of the parenting manuals did they talk about having a kid so perceptive it hurt. When had I stopped being Angel's friend? Was it the day he walked away from me, leaving me alone to face all the horror that Sunnydale had to offer me? Was it when he went back to the Oracles to ask to have his humanity taken back?
No, I had stopped being Angel's friend the second I decided to keep his son from him. The surety that I had done the right thing was nearly overwhelmed with a wave a guilt.
"How come, Mommy? How come you stopped?"
Because I loved him so much that when he left me, he took all my goodness with him. I got it back only when you were born, my love.
"I don't know, Jesse. I just did."
"Does he want to be your friend again?"
There were many things Angel probably wanted to do to me then, first on the list being dismemberment, but regaining my friendship was not a priority.
"I don't know, sweetheart. Come on. Let's get you in to bed."
After tucking Jesse into bed with Mr. Gordo, I cleaned the bathroom, desperately trying to avoid the man that was waiting for me downstairs. Part of me was stunned by my own cowardice, but the coward within cheered me on. Angel was a very calm man; centuries of life had taught him that, but I had finally done something that would burst through that stoic exterior.
I was a little afraid of him.
But I was the Slayer, and I had brought this upon my own head, so I shut the bathroom light off and marched downstairs to face my executioner.
Angel was looking at the various pictures I had scattered of Jesse and the rest of my family throughout my living room.
"How is everyone?" he asked calmly. His hands were clasped behind his back.
My teeth started to chatter.
He heard the small noise, and turned to face me.
I would have fought a death squad sent by the First Evil rather than talk to Angel at that moment. He was calm, painfully calm, and it terrified me. I wanted him to rage and scream and hit me. I did not want him to placidly stand there, questioning me about the life I had led behind his back.
"Uhhh," I stuttered, "Uhh, everyone's okay. Giles is fine, Willow and Tara's internet startup is going well, uh, Xander and Anya got married last year and are living on base in Georgia. My mother is living in Manhattan, Oz is on tour in Europe, and uh, that's everyone."
He nodded. "Cordelia and Wesley are expecting their first child in a few months," he offered, smiling briefly. "Faith is heading a troubled-teen outreach center along with a friend of ours, Gunn."
The idea of Cordelia and Wesley having a child together was eclipsed only by the knowledge that Faith was back on the straight and narrow. I had no illusions; Angel had probably found her and single-handedly set her back on the path to righteousness.
Angel read the surprise on my face, but took no steps to clarify it.
"So," he asked, "Now that we've gotten that out of the way, why don't you tell me about my son." The words were sharp, and I cringed.
"He's a wonderful boy," I said, not knowing where to begin.
"You mean, is he different due to the freaky DNA cocktail that is running through his veins?"
Angel did not like my flip tone, and his mouth tightened to a thin line. "Does he manifest any signs of sensitivity to sunlight? Blood lust? Desire to attack the other children at his playgroup?"
I shook my head. "I was worried about that too, but as far as I can tell, he's escaped most of the possible oddness. He's stronger than any other child his age; he's faster, smarter than they are, but other than that, he seems normal. He heals quickly, but that may be just because he's young."
Angel's whole body relaxed with relief. "I was afraid..."
"You were human when you fathered him, Angel. Not a vampire. The demon has no claim to my son," I said fiercely.
"Does he know?"
"That you're his father? No. I never told him." I closed my eyes briefly, bracing for the outburst I knew was coming.
He did not disappoint. "Why?" he hissed. "Why would you do such a thing? Why would you purposefully keep him from me?"
I squared my shoulders. "I didn't want him to get hurt."
"He's my SON. I would never hurt him."
"Until you decided it was in his best interests to leave him alone, you wouldn't hurt him. After that, all bets are off." My words conveyed a bitterness I hadn't known I still possessed.
Angel was beyond pissed off; I could see it in his face, see it written on his body.
"I would never leave him!"
"You promised me you'd never leave me, either."
"That has nothing to do with him."
"It has everything to do with you not keeping your promises, Angel. I will die before I see him get hurt the way I was. No one EVER hurt me like you did. No one else could."
"I did what I thought was best."
"So did I."
We stared at each other; we were at an impasse. We had both done the wrong thing, for the right reasons. The question was, could we go on from here? Could he forgive me? Could I forgive him?
And then I knew. I had forgiven him, the second Jesse emerged red-faced and squalling from my womb. Angel had given me my greatest heartaches, true, but he had also been the source of my greatest happiness. Whatever else happened, he had given me my son.
It was time for me to return the favor.
"I want you to spend time with him. I want you to have joint custody. You need to get to know him, get to know what a really great kid he is." Tears began to roll down my face as I said the words.
Angel clearly hadn't been expecting that, and it showed. "Buffy, I don't know what to say."
It was the first time he had said my name the whole night, and my insides clenched with joy at the sound of his mouth caressing the syllables.
"Go upstairs, watch him sleep. You'll know what to say then."
"Jesse doesn't like me."
"He doesn't like you because he's just like you. He's your son, Angel. He's a part of your flesh and blood.
Our eyes met, clung, held, and then he turned away from me and walked up the stairs.
When he returned, I was asleep on the couch, in front of the fake fireplace. I loved it; flick a switch and the flames lulled you to sleep. His footfalls, no matter how silent, woke me up, but I stayed still, waiting to see what he would do.
Old habits die hard, apparently, because he stared into the fake fire in full brood mode. He assumed I was asleep, and I wanted to watch him, so I didn't disabuse him of the notion.
He was thinking so hard it was a wonder I couldn't see steam rising from his head. What would he do? Would he stay, would he try to be a part of Jesse's life, or would he run away?
After about a half hour, I could hear the solid thuds of Jesse's feet striking the stairs as he crept downstairs. Angel heard them as well and he looked up. "Shouldn't you be asleep?"
"Not sleepy. You gonna tell Mommy?"
Angel shook his head. "Nope."
Jesse stared at Angel for a few seconds, gauging if he could be relied upon not to tattle, before plopping down on the rug next to him. "At school," my son began, "My friend Tommy has two daddies."
I could see every muscle in Angel's body tense simultaneously. "T-two?"
"Yeah, two daddies. And I used to be sad, 'cause I didn't even have one daddy." More tears welled up in my eyes. What had I done to my baby with my spite and my bitterness?
"You have your Granpa and your Uncle Xander and your Uncle Oz," Angel pointed out, his dark eyes wary.
"But I never had a daddy. Some kids don't have daddies."
"Some kids don't," Angel agreed.
"You're my daddy, aren't you." It wasn't a question, and Jesse didn't phrase it as such.
Angel nodded mutely.
"Why weren't you here? Don't you love me? Don't you love mommy?"
I had to bite down viciously on my lower lip to stop the sobs that suddenly tried to break free.
Angel looked as though he'd been slammed in the head with a very large brick. He was incapable of speech for several moments, but Jesse wanted an answer, so he sat quietly and waited.
Eventually, Angel spoke. "A long time ago, some bad things happened to your mommy and me. And I went away, because I thought it was better for your mommy, not to be near me. I hurt her a lot, and I was very sad."
Jesse's face was serious. "Mommy loves you. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I crawl into her bed, and her face is wet, and she says your name when she's sleeping. I don't tell her she does it, 'cuz it would make her sad."
Angel smiled wistfully. "I missed your mommy too. So much that it made my chest hurt."
A little ray of hope penetrated the cloaking of doom that surrounded me.
"Mommy says a hug makes everything all better." Jesse held his arms out wide.
Tentatively, Angel enfolded Jesse in a hug, freezing as my son nestled his tiny head into Angel's neck.
"Are you gonna stay, Daddy?"
I could tell that Angel was surprised at Jesse's instant and wholehearted acceptance.
Angel looked down at my -- no, our -- son. He ruffled his hair. "You couldn't get rid of me if you tried."
"Did you want me?"
How would Angel react to that?
"I always wanted you. For a long time, I thought your mommy and I wouldn't be able to have you, and that made me sad, but now you're here, and I'm not sad anymore."
Jesse absorbed this knowledge as father and son sat by the fire in comfortable silence. Then Angel stood with Jesse in his arms. "I don't know that much about children, but even I know that you should be in bed, young man."
As though he had been saying it his whole life, Jesse whined, "Dad-dy, I don't want to go to bed! I wanna stay up and --"
"C'mon, I'll tuck you in. Again. And I'll even tell you a story about Aunt Cordelia and her friend, Phantom Dennis."
"Is Aunt Cordelia pretty? Is she prettier than mommy?"
I could hear Angel's chuckle float down the stairs. "Don't ever tell either one of them I said this, but no one is prettier than your mommy."
Much later, Angel descended back downstairs. I stayed motionless, still pretending to sleep. He stood over me.
"You can stop faking now."
My eyes shot open. He was grinning wickedly.
"I wasn't -- I mean, I wouldn't --"
"You were faking, don't lie."
"I was not!"
"You were. You snore when you sleep, and I didn't hear one peep from you the whole time."
"Angel!!!" I was outraged at this; I didn't snore! How dare he say that I snored!
But then I realized what had happened. Angel was teasing me. He no longer looked like he was about to rend me limb from limb. I sat up and looked him in the eyes.
"What's it going to be, Angel?"
"What do you mean?" His eyes slid from mine.
"Are you going to keep on running, or are you going to fight for what's yours?"
He looked at me finally, and his gaze took my breath away. "Are you still mine?"
Yet another tear ran down my cheek, and he caught it on his fingertip.
"I was always yours. Even when I didn't really want to be."
"I'm not a good father, Buffy. Look at Spike. Look at *Drusilla*."
"You'll do better this time. I know it."
"How can you be sure?"
"Because I know you."
He grinned then, his sly grin. "I guess you do."
I smiled back, feeling the old sorrow dissipate. "So you're going to stay."
"I want to get to know my son." His face beamed with pride as he said the words. "My *son*."
"Amazing, isn't it, that two fuckups like us could have made something that great?"
He shifted the blankets next to me, and sat down, the couch depressing under his weight. "The only fuckup here is me."
"I've done my fair share," I said, willing to shoulder my part of the blame.
"Not you; you're perfect."
I turned my head to argue the point, but his face was very close to mine and I suddenly found myself obsessed with his lips. "I'm not perfect," I muttered.
"To me you are," he said simply, his head moving closer to mine.
"Am not." My heart rate sped up, knocking against my rib cage.
"Are too," he said just before his lips descended.
Then his mouth was on mine, for the first time in what felt like centuries. I was starving for him, for the taste of his mouth, the touch of his skin, the feel of his arms around me, clutching me to his chest. The tears flowed unchecked down my cheeks as he kissed me deeply, possessing me once more. My arms came up to wrap around his neck, clinging to him as his hands slid down to grip my hips, dragging me across his lap.
Displaying a heretofore unknown strength, I dragged my head back. "Should I make up the guest room?"
He smiled at me then, the wicked smile that had nearly knocked *me* on my ass all those years ago in that alley next to The Bronze. "I forget to tell you, there's been a new development with the curse..." He trailed off, arching an eyebrow at me.
Pure, undiluted joy suffused me. It was going to be all right. After all this time, it was finally going to be all right.
"A new development, huh?"
"Yeah. You see, there was this demon, and I killed him, and then the Oracles said ..."
He picked NOW to be talkative? I was having none of that, so I tackled him back to the couch.
"Don't you want to know?"
I wiggled against him.
"How about you show me instead?"
And they all lived happily ever after.
REALLY THE END