The morning of his son's first birthday, Angel woke with gray hair.

            It caught him a bit off guard.  He'd only been able to see his reflection at all for a couple of years--now, just as he was starting to get used to it, it had changed.

            It wasn't just the gray, either, which had whitened his temples and spread up to feather along his hairline.  The lines bracketing his mouth had deepened, and small lines had appeared at the corners of his eyes.  New creases had sprung up on his forehead, another, deeper line between his eyebrows.

            He stared at himself for a time, not really sure what to make of it.  Yes, the Powers had said they would take fifteen years; they hadn't mentioned it would be overnight.

            He wondered if anything else had changed.  He didn't feel any different.  He looked down at himself, fresh out of bed and naked.  Nothing missing, everything pretty much looked the same--hey, there was some more gray hair.  Interesting.  He squinted at his reflection again, then shrugged.  Not a hell of a lot he could do about it, whatever was going on.

            In the other room, baby Giles began to cry.  Angel waited to see if Buffy was going to get up.  The baby liked to nurse first thing, and Angel wasn't exactly equipped.  Sure enough, she passed down the hall a second later.  Angel finished his business in the bathroom, then went back to the bedroom to don a pair of sweatpants before going to relieve Buffy.

            He padded down the hallway, then stopped in the doorway to watch.  Giles was usually wide-eyed and ready to go as soon as he got his morning refreshment, but today he had drifted back to sleep in Buffy's arms.  Angel just looked for a time, soaking in the sight of his wife and son.  Soaking in the happiness.

            "How's the birthday boy?" he finally said, quiet.

            "He's--"  Buffy looked up at him and her voice stopped.  "My God, Angel.  Your hair."

            "Do you like it?"

            "I don't know.  I mean, it's a little--sudden."

            "Tell me about it."  He came to her, bent to take the baby from her arms.  "Not much to do about it, though."

            Buffy stood, adjusting her pajama top, rumpled and out of place from nursing.  Approaching him, she touched his hair, ruffling through it, then slid a finger down his cheek.  "Do you feel okay?"

            "I feel fine."  He cuddled baby Giles against his chest--God, but the boy was getting big--then carried him back to his crib and laid him gently down.

            "Are you sure?"

            He shrugged.  "Yeah.  There's more gray, though."  He pulled out the front waistband of his sweats.  "Wanna see?"

            Buffy pushed him into the hallway.  "Maybe you should see the doctor."

            "Yeah, maybe."  It probably wouldn't hurt to get Dr. Martin's take on the situation.  "But not today.  It's Giles' birthday."

            Buffy was staring at him.  "It's not just the hair.  You've got…lines.  You didn't have those before."

            Angel was starting to feel a little offended.  "So I'm a little older.  I'm mortal now.  You didn't think I was gonna look 26 forever, did you?"

            Buffy's eyes widened in mortification.  "I'm sorry, Angel.  I'm just worried."

            "I'm fine.  What does it look like?  Ten years?  The full fifteen?  If it's fifteen that makes me what, forty-one?  And you're, like, thirty-nine or something, so it's all good."

            She smacked him in the shoulder.  Hard.  "I'm thirty-two, you jackass."

            "Sorry."  Grinning, he grabbed her and carried her back into the bedroom.  "No doctor today.  You wanna give me an exam?  Make sure everything's still there?"

            "Angel--"

            But he dropped her on the bed and crawled on top of her.  "Buffy--" he said, imitating her tone.

            She laughed, pushing at him.  "C'mon, this is serious."

            "Damn right it's serious.  We never get to do this in the morning anymore."  He kissed her, which shut her up for a minute, stopping only when he felt her go soft and pliant under him, letting go of the tension she'd let her worry put into her.

            "You know I can't say no to you," she murmured.

            He smiled and kissed her throat, there on the silver scar that still marred her skin.  "That baby leave anything for me?"

            "Maybe a little."  She wriggled pleasantly as he bent to take her breast into his mouth.

            The hot, sweet milk had the taste of Buffy's body and satisfied him on a level he didn't even want to think too hard about.  It was like ex-vampire comfort food.  The thought of blood repulsed him now, but this was different.

            Or so he told himself.  He clutched her against him, his body responding as it would have if he'd still been a vampire, feeding from her throat.  Gasping, he switched breasts.  This one was fuller, more like a big vein.  The memory fell on him hard--of deep-feeding from her throat, her very life passing into him.  He couldn't help wondering what she would think if she knew he still fantasized about that, about the time he'd nearly killed her.  Maybe she would understand, though.  She'd loved him as a vampire; it wouldn't be much of a stretch for her to love him as a human who still remembered what it was like to be a vampire, and was willing to admit it.

            He didn't have long to think about it, though.  Her hand came up under his arm, pushing at him.  This was, he knew, her signal to get the hell up off her breast and get himself inside her as quickly as possible or there would be dire consequences.  So he did, and in the sensation of sinking into her, forgot the rest of it.  There was only this, and this was about as good as it got.

            Except for a few minutes later, when it got even better, and he spilled himself hard into her, and watched her face as she came along with him.

            "Okay," she said, when she had curled herself against him, flushed with satiation, "now let's talk about getting you to the doctor."

            "Ah, hell."  He rolled away from her, looking at the ceiling.  "I was hoping that would distract you."

            "I know you were.  Now, you're going tomorrow, so make the call today."

            "All right, all right.  God, you're such a nag."  He rolled back over onto her and kissed her thoroughly.  "I'm going to go for a jog before Giles wakes back up."

            "Okay."  Buffy sat up.  "If your heart starts beating funny, or if you get winded, stop and come home, okay?  Or call me and I'll come get you."

            He rolled his eyes.  "Please.  I'm fine.  And I'll call Dr. Martin when I get home."

            "Okay."

#

            Buffy was even more worried than she'd let on.  Watching Angel head out for his jog, she wondered if she should bundle baby Giles up and follow unobtrusively with the car, just in case Angel had a heart attack or something.  Trouble was, she had enough problems driving obtrusively, much less unobtrusively.  So instead, she called Phoebe, who lived at the corner where Angel always turned around to come back home.

            "Could you call me when he comes by?" she asked, hoping she didn't sound too pathetic.  "He just seemed a little off this morning.  Flu or something, maybe.  I want to be sure he's okay."

            "Oh, of course," said Phoebe.  She would likely be watching for him, anyway, Buffy knew.  Nearly every woman on the island was familiar with Angel's usual jogging routine.  "It's the least I can do," Phoebe went on, "since you're so kind as to let him out from time to time."

            "Well, I figure it's nice to share a little.  If you don't see him in a half-hour, let me know."

            She hung up the phone and peeked out the window.  Angel had stopped at the side of the road to re-tie his shoes.  From here, she could only barely see the gray.  She wondered what Phoebe would think about it.  It would likely be all over the island by noon if Buffy couldn't come up with some kind of damage control.

            Not for the first time, she wondered if it had been wise to pack up and move from the relative anonymity of Dublin to this tiny island where everybody knew everybody else's business and entertainment was so sparse that the local ladies actually met three or four times a week for tea specifically to watch Angel jog by.  It was all friendly enough, but sometimes Buffy found it a little claustrophobic.

            It was what Angel had wanted, though.  He'd spent enough time in cities, he'd said, and he wanted to live somewhere quiet and simple.  Buffy really didn't mind.  The air was fresh here and smelled of the ocean, Dublin was only a ferry boat ride away, and she hadn't seen a vampire since they'd moved here.  She only got really concerned when Angel started talking about buying cows and chickens.  She didn't mind his reminiscing about the eighteenth century, but she didn't want to live in it.

            She made herself breakfast while she waited for Phoebe's call.  It had been a long time since she'd had an opportunity to eat without the baby demanding her attention.  And there was another thing she could worry about--why was Giles sleeping so much?  Maybe he was just growing.

            "Oh, enough with the crazy," she told herself, and stared at the phone, willing Phoebe to call.

            And she did, just about twenty minutes after Buffy's initial call.

            "He's just come by," she told Buffy.  "He's keeping a nice pace this morning.  Has he done something with his hair?"

            Uh-oh.  Time for that damage control.  "He, um…stopped dying it.  Let the gray grow out."

            "Goodness, I didn't know he was old enough to have gone gray."

            "All the men in his family go gray early."

            "Ah.  Well, it's looking fine on him.  Distinguished."

            "Thanks for calling, Phoebe."

            Buffy hung up the phone and went to check Giles, who was still sound asleep, drooling blissfully on his pillow.  Resisting the urge to poke him, just to be sure he was all right, she went back to the kitchen and looked up Dr. Martin's home number.  It was too early for him to be at the office.

            "I'm sorry to bother you at home," she said after explaining the situation.  "I'm just worried."

            "Well, it does sound unusual, though it's probably nothing to worry about."

            "I told him to call and make an appointment for tomorrow, so if he doesn't call by, say, noon, could you call here, and make like it's just a social thing?  You know, 'Hey, howya doing, I was just thinking about my favorite ex-vampire patient?'"

            The doctor chuckled.  "If it'll make you feel better, Buffy, I can certainly do that."

            "Great.  Thank you."

            So all her subterfuge was finished by the time Angel came back in, sweaty but not particularly short of breath.

            "Did Phoebe call you?" he asked.

            Buffy summoned the most innocent expression she could muster.  "Why would Phoebe call me?"

            "I saw her through the window.  She picked up the phone as soon as I came around the corner."

            "You're annoying."

            "Hey, I used to be a detective, remember?"

            "Go take a shower.  You're sticky."

            He headed for the bathroom.  "Should I start jogging shirtless?  Do you think they'd all like that better?"

            Buffy rolled her eyes.  Grinning, Angel disappeared into the bathroom.  Just as he closed the door, a loud voice came from Giles' room.

            "Mama!"

            Relieved the baby was awake again, Buffy went to fetch him.

#

            Buffy hadn't planned anything elaborate for Giles' birthday--just some cake for later in the day--so she was surprised when the ladies of the island started dropping by with presents.

            Phoebe came first, while Angel was still in the shower.  She had a younger woman in tow. 

            "This is Mary," Phoebe told Buffy.  "She's just come to the island to teach at the school."

            Buffy smiled.  Mary was younger than most of the other women on the island--closer to Buffy's age.  "Nice to meet you."

            "We just wanted to wish the little one a happy birthday," Phoebe went on.  She laid a pair of wrapped packages on the counter.

            Giles obligingly toddled over to them.  He'd just started walking the week before and was still unsteady on his feet.

            "Isn't he adorable," Phoebe cooed, going to her knees.  "He looks just like his daddy."

            He did, too.  He stood, wobbling a little, looking at Mary and Phoebe with the soberest face Buffy had ever seen on a baby.  Even at his tender age, Giles took everything very seriously.  Phoebe held her fingers out to him and he took them, frowning.

            "Is he always this sober?" Mary asked.

            Buffy nodded.  "He's the only baby I know with broody eyebrows.  Can I get you ladies some tea?"

            "Oh, certainly."

            Buffy put on a pot of water.  Mary picked up Giles, who seemed taken with her.  Mary smiled at him, trying to coax him out of his apparent funk.

            "Does he ever--"

            Angel picked that moment to emerge from the bathroom, wrapped precariously in a towel.  "Buffy, have you seen my--"  He stopped, registering the presence of the other two women.  "Never mind.  I'll find it myself."  He beat a hasty retreat into the bedroom, clutching the towel as if his life depended on it and giving them all an entertaining view of his tattooed back.  Buffy was just glad he'd bothered to cover up at all.  Normally he would have traipsed out naked.

            She watched him go, unabashed.  She couldn't help it--she just liked looking at him.  And when she turned her attention back to her guests, she couldn't help feeling a little smug.

            "My husband," she said to Mary, who was looking a little pink around the ears.  "I'll introduce you when he gets some clothes on."

            "Yes, that might be better," said Mary.  "What's the tattoo?  Is that some kind of a family emblem?"

            Buffy frowned.  "You know, I've never asked."

            "It looks like something from the Book of Kells," said Phoebe.  "Pretty.  Very Irish.  He's Irish by birth, then?  Or just ancestry?"

            "He was born in Galway, actually."

            "He sounds American," Phoebe put in, "but he has the Gaelic.  I've heard him speak it."

            Mary took this all in rather soberly, Buffy thought.  Maybe she was just a sober person.

            Then the doorbell rang, and Buffy rose to answer it.  Apparently little Giles was going to have a birthday party, after all.

#

            Angel had been surprised to see two extra women in his kitchen a few minutes ago; now, when he came out of the bedroom--dressed this time--there were five.

            It was a bit overwhelming.  He still hadn't gotten over his aversion to social gatherings.  Fortunately, though, the women seemed much more interested in Giles than in him, so after a few minutes of small talk he slipped off into his studio.

            After their rather hasty marriage and relocation to Ireland, it hadn't taken Buffy and Angel long to realize they were going to have to find some way to pay the bills.  Buffy taught self-defense classes at the local school, which, in spite of the sparse population of the island, had proved popular.  Last month she'd started offering classes on the mainland.  She'd suggested Angel might run tai chi classes, but he couldn't imagine facing a roomful of people every week.  So he'd started painting.

            His priest, Father O'Shea, had seen his initial work and offered him the opportunity to paint some pieces for the church, including a portrait of the priest himself.  The work was a far cry from the casual sketching Angel had done over the years, but he took to it quickly, and enjoyed it.

            He was staring at the priest's nearly-finished portrait, trying to figure out why it didn't look quite right, when someone knocked on the door.

            "Come in," he said, assuming it was Buffy.

            "I'm sorry to disturb you.  Are you busy?"

            Angel looked up at the sound of Father O'Shea's voice.  "Oh, hello, Father."  He stood and pulled out another chair for the priest, whom he suddenly realized was staring at him.

            "What happened?" the priest said, astonished.

            It took Angel a moment to remember.  "Oh, right.  The hair."  He shrugged.  "Don't know.  I just woke up this way this morning."

            "The Powers, you think?"

            "I assume."  He sat back down, gesturing toward the painting.  "What do you think?"

            The priest blinked at Angel a few more times, then looked at the picture.  "Wow."

            "Wow?  Really?  You think it's working?"

            "I think it's extremely well-done."  He bent to look more closely.  "When people see this at the church, they'll be begging you for portraits."

            "You think?"

            "Absolutely."

            "Huh."  Angel found the idea a bit baffling, but if it would pay for shoes and clothes for Giles, he was all for it.

            "That boy of yours is getting big," the priest said after a moment.

            "He is."  The brief words didn't even approach the swell of emotion that overtook him.  He'd spent the last year marveling at his son, reveling in the miracle of this second chance, trying not to think too much about how he'd missed all this with Connor.

            He frowned at the priest's portrait, looked at Father O'Shea.  "Maybe the nose isn't quite right?"

            "It's fine, Angel.  I'll take it home with me if you like.  That way you can pick up your check when you come in for confession on Friday."

            Angel considered.  If the priest was happy, then he might as well get his money and move on.  "All right."

            Father O'Shea considered the portrait a few more seconds, then said slowly, "Angel…"

            "Yeah?"

            "There was something I wanted to discuss with you."

            Angel couldn't help it; he picked up a paintbrush and the palette he'd been using.  It was definitely something about the nose.  "Shoot."

            "You're going to mess with that picture, aren't you?"  The priest seemed amused.

            "I am."

            Shaking his head, Father O'Shea laughed a little, then sobered.  "I've become aware of a situation.  In Dublin."

            Angel made a minute adjustment to the painting's nose.  Amazing sometimes, how little it took to fix a picture.  "What kind of a situation?"

            "A vampire situation."

            This caught Angel's attention.  "Really?"  He put the paintbrush down.

            "Yes.  There's a nest in one of the bad areas of town.  There's a girl--"  He broke off.  "Another priest, a friend of mine in Dublin, told me about an orphan girl he's been ministering to.  He's convinced she's possessed, or unbalanced, but from what he's told me it sounds like her family was killed by vampires.  She knows where they are."

            "Any idea how many?"

            "At least ten.  Maybe more."

            Angel puffed out a breath.  "Five years ago, Buffy and me, no problem.  But five years ago she was a Slayer and I was a vampire.  Now we're both a couple of wimpy-assed mortals."

            "How much help would you need?"

            Frowning, Angel crossed his arms over his chest and considered.  "Let me make some calls, talk to Buffy, and I'll get back to you."

#

            By noon, there were fifteen ladies in the kitchen.  Fortunately, a good number of them had brought food.  Giles was eating up the attention, and had even produced a few smiles for his adoring audience.

            Leaving Giles with his admirers, Buffy went to get Angel.  He and Father O'Shea were still in Angel's studio, chatting.  The priest was outlining ideas for another painting for the church, while Angel made a rough sketch.

            "Yes, something like that," said Father O'Shea.  "Just a landscape of the building."

            "That should be simple enough," said Angel, then looked toward the door.  "Hey, Buffy.  What's up?"

            "I thought you two might like to come eat.  Have some birthday cake."

            Angel looked dubious.  "Are there a lot of people?"

            Buffy smiled.  "Buck up, baby.  They won't bite."

            "You don't want to miss the cake," said Father O'Shea.

            "No, I guess not."  He took Buffy's hand as he came out of the room, as if for moral support.

            She knew how uncomfortable he was among the group of women, but he rose to the occasion, smiling and talking with the guests when she knew he'd rather be back in his studio painting or in the bedroom reading.  Father O'Shea's presence seemed to help; he stayed at Angel's elbow, probably as uncomfortable in the midst of so many women as Angel was.

            Angel knew how to charm, though, when he wanted to.  Buffy watched, amused, as he flirted shamelessly with Phoebe and Mary, made sandwiches and passed them out, then poured punch for everyone.  To Buffy's surprise, when everyone had a glass, he tapped a spoon against his own.  When the others had fallen silent, he lifted the glass.  "To Giles," he said, and someone passed the baby to him.  Buffy smile as Angel drew his son against him and kissed his forehead.  Giles cuddled up against Angel's shoulder.

            "Sláinte," said Angel, then,  "Sláinte chuig na fir, agus go mairfidh na mná go deo."

            Whatever it meant, it was met with laughter, and the women all drank to it happily.  "'Health to the men, and may the women live forever,'" Phoebe translated for Buffy, who grinned.

            "He's quite the charmer, your husband," said Mary.

            "He has to work at it," Buffy said.  But it certainly came easier to him than it ever had in the time she'd known him before.  He was a different person than he'd been back in the Sunnydale days.  But so was she.  They'd both grown and changed, faced darkness within themselves, overcome it.  And come to this place, where Angel was smiling and their son had fallen asleep against his shoulder.

#

            "So what were you and Father O'Shea talking about?" Buffy asked when the kitchen had cleared out.  She was picking up the punch cups while Angel finished off his third slice of cake.  "Besides work, I mean."

            Angel licked his fork, then added his empty plate to the pile and carried them to the sink.  "There's a vampire nest in Dublin.  He wanted to know if we could take care of it."

            Buffy stared at him.  "You're kidding, right?"

            "Nope.  What do you think?"  He was almost sure he knew what Buffy would say, and had already worked out a plan in his head to deal with the situation.  At least the main aspects.  There were some other implications he was still mulling, though.  He had a feeling this was one of those times when the shit was going to hit the fan and there wasn't much he could do about it.

            "Call Faith," she said, which was exactly what he'd expected.  "You still know how to get in touch with her, right?"

            "Yeah, I do."  Although it wasn't so much Faith he was keeping tabs on these days.

            "Then give her a ring, see if she and her studly vampire-whacking boyfriend can come help us deal with it."

            "You don't want to just--turn it over to them?"

            Buffy seemed surprised.  "You don't want to see a little action?  Take out a couple vamps?"

            "We're ordinary people now, Buffy.  You're not a Slayer anymore, you're a mom.  And I woke up forty this morning and I ate too much cake.  Thinking about killing vampires just makes me tired."

            Buffy pouted.  "That's really sad."

            "Plus there's the baby.  I mean, what if something happened to us?  Who'd take care of him?"

            "That's a point.  I'll tell you what.  You set things up with Faith, and we'll decide what to do when she gets here."

            Angel frowned.  "I just thought of something."

            "What?"

            "If Faith's the Slayer and we're the new Slayerettes, does that make me Xander?"

            She laughed.  "Only if you start telling really bad jokes."  She stepped up to him for a kiss.  He could tell she'd meant it to be casual, but he gathered her up, pulled her close, and took his own sweet time, enjoying her taste and the feel of her against him.  Finally he drew back.

            "Mmm," he said.  "You taste like cake."

            Smiling, she slid a finger down his nose.  "How 'bout you wash the dishes?"

#

            By the time Angel had finished the dishes, Buffy was occupied with the baby, so Angel went into the bedroom to make his calls.  He contemplated locking the door, but that would just look suspicious if she tried to come in.  So, taking the risk of leaving it unlocked, he picked up the phone and called Giles.

            Giles had moved back to England--permanently this time, he insisted--and was only a few hours away by train and ferry.  Even so, they didn't see much of him; he was working as a librarian in London and stayed remarkably busy.

            He was home, though, tonight.

            "Oh, hello, Angel," he said.  "How are you?"

            "I'm good.  We just had a heck of a birthday party--completely unplanned."

            "My goodness.  Is the little one a year old already?"

            "He is.  You should see him.  He's growing like crazy."

            "Yes, Buffy sent me some pictures in an email last week.  He's a handsome young man."

            "Like his father."

            "I was going to say like his namesake, but I can see your perspective on that issue."  Giles paused, as if to declare the small talk finished, then said, "So what can I do for you?"

            Angel explained the situation.  "It's at least ten vamps, maybe more."

            "You and Buffy aren't thinking of taking them on yourselves, are you?"

            Angel let himself think briefly of the good old days, when he and Buffy would have done exactly that.  Then he thought back to this morning, his son cradled against his shoulder.  This was better.

            "No, I was thinking I should get in touch with Faith and maybe Buffy and I would function in an advisory and/or snack-acquiring capacity."

            Giles chuckled.  "My God, Angel, you've turned into Xander."

            "I had that thought once already today.  I was hoping not to have it again.  So thanks for that."

            "You still haven't told me what my role is to be in this operation."

            "Well, for starters, I wanted to verify Faith's number.  And I was wondering if you might want to come up for a couple of days."

            Giles' silence held a great deal of tension.  "You're expecting something serious?"

            "Yeah.  Like, Buffy's gonna kick my ass across this island and back serious."

            "Oh.  I see."  Angel found Giles' amusement irksome at best.  "I take it there are some things you haven't told her."

            "Yeah, well, I know for a fact there are some things she hasn't told me, so don't start.  I was just thinking it might be nice to have somebody here to watch the baby during the yelling and screaming phase.  Oh, and the, um, reconciliation phase."

            "As it happens, I'd love to come up and see little Giles.  But I hope to God there's some kind of soundproofing in your house.  Especially during the reconciliation phase."

#

            As usual, Buffy woke the next morning to the sound of baby Giles crying in his crib.

            Buffy, however, was trapped in her bed.  Angel had rolled over on top of her, and well over half his body weight had her pinned to the mattress.  She pushed and shoved, but he was dead to the world.  Even Giles' escalating cries didn't seem to disturb him.

            "Oh, jeez, Angel."  He was dead weight all over her and she was just little bitty Buffy these days.  She had half a mind to kick him in the nuts--that would wake him up in a hurry.  But she'd been hoping Giles could have a sibling, so maybe that wasn't such a good idea.

            Finally, she wrenched herself out from under him, nearly leaving her pajama bottoms behind in the process.  Giles was screaming mightily at this point.  Angel snored.  Irritated, Buffy smacked him on the head.  Angel snored.

            "God.  He still sleeps like a damn vampire."  Jerking her pajamas back into place, she went to tend to her son.

            Fortunately, baby Giles was easily placated.  Give him a boob and he shut right up.  Just like his father.  He nursed for a few minutes, then wriggled his way out of her lap and onto the floor, where he busied himself with a pile of blocks.  She got down on the floor with him, showing him how to stack the blocks into pyramids.  He didn't smile--that would have been too much to ask--but he seemed interested.

            Presently Angel meandered in.  "Everything okay?"

            "Yeah, no thanks to you."

            "Sorry."  He headed toward the bathroom and Buffy followed.  "Do we have plans for today?" she asked him.

            "Giles is coming around lunchtime."

            "Giles?"

            "Yeah.  The tall tweedy one with the glasses.  You remember him."

            "Why?  I mean, not that I won't enjoy seeing him, but why?"

            Angel's smile seemed a little strained.  He took her by the shoulders and kissed her forehead.  "He's gonna help out, is all."

            "And Faith?"

            "Will be here tomorrow."

            "Is she bringing her boyfriend?"

            Angel bent closer to the mirror, examining his hair.  "They're a team."

            "Well, she talks like he's God's gift to the Slaying profession.  I can't wait to meet him."

            Angel turned away from the mirror, giving her an odd look.  "Do I look any grayer to you?"

            "No.  About the same as yesterday."  She considered.  "It's not as weird today.  I think I'm getting used to it."

            "Do you like it?"

            "Sure."  She smiled and went to him, giving him a warm kiss.  "Kinda sexy."

            He pulled her closer, kissed down the side of her neck.  She closed her eyes, just feeling the touch of his lips, trying not to think.  Because if she thought too much, for too long, she started wondering if he might lose another ten years tomorrow morning, and the next--

            He bit her.  Not hard--just enough to catch her attention.

            "You're thinking bad thoughts," he said.  "I can tell.  Stop it."

            "I'm sorry, Angel.  I just--  You lost fifteen years overnight.  What's next?"

            "We knew it was coming."  He cupped her cheek.  "Listen, Buffy.  We can't waste time worrying about stuff like this.  What's important is that we just live, as much as we can, as long as we're allowed."

            "Angel, if I lost you--"

            "If you lost me tomorrow, we would have had two years' worth of miracle."

            "It's not enough."

            "It's a miracle.  You can't be picky about miracles."

            She wished she could be so philosophical about it, so accepting.  But looking into his quiet face, seeing the peace there, she nodded, teetering on the verge of understanding.  He'd never been this happy before, she knew.  He'd never been allowed to.

            "I love you," she said, trying hard to keep the tears out of it.

            "I love you."  He kissed her forehead.  "Now go make me some breakfast, woman."

            She feigned indignation.  "You're lucky I can't pick you up and throw you across the room anymore."

Buffy had never been much of a cook, but she'd learned to make things like scrambled eggs and sausage and toast.  She was stirring eggs in a bowl when Angel joined her in the kitchen, shaving cream on his face and his straight razor in his hand.

            "Don't do that in here while I'm cooking."

            "I can't do it in the bathroom.  I'll look at the mirror, whether I want to or not.  And last time I tried to shave in the mirror I almost cut my ear off."

            "You'll get your whiskery foamy stuff in the eggs."

            "Go stir your eggs over there."  He pointed toward the opposite counter.

            "I don't know why you can't learn to use the mirror like normal people."

            "Everything's backwards in the mirror.  Besides, I did it this way for, like, 250 years.  It's easier."

            He set to work over the kitchen sink, shaving deftly, entirely by touch.  She watched for a few minutes, absorbed in the movement of his hands, then took her bowl of eggs into the hallway to peek in on baby Giles.  He was still utterly absorbed in the stacking of wooden blocks.

            "You should get an electric razor," she said, coming back into the kitchen.  "Then you could learn to use the mirror without risking any of your pretty face-parts."

            "That might work.  I hadn't thought of that."

            "There's a big surprise, from the man who goes to read in front of the fireplace instead of flipping a light switch."

            "Buffy?"

            "Yes?"

            "I'm really, really old.  Give me a break."  He ducked his face into the sink to rinse.  "And give me some eggs.  I'm starving."

#

            Giles pulled up in front of the Summers house at about one p.m., after an admittedly enjoyable drive across the island.  He hadn't been to Ireland in a very long time, and had never had the pleasure of visiting any of the islands.  Following Buffy's directions didn't get him there very quickly--she'd never been much for efficient driving--but it exposed him to a pleasant sampling of the island's scenery.

            The house, when he finally got there, was quite scenic, itself.  It was larger than he expected, a bit rambling, and built primarily of mossy stone.  A stretch of green acreage rolled behind it, occupied by a few equally quaint outbuildings.  It looked like something out of the eighteenth century, and quite likely was.  No wonder Angel had liked it.

            Buffy met him at the door with an enthusiastic hug.  "It's so good to see you."

            Dropping his luggage, he returned her embrace.  He had missed her a great deal--more than anyone would ever get him to admit.

            "This is quite a lovely place you've found for yourselves," he said when Buffy let him go.

            "We like it," she answered.  "Come on in--baby Giles is still eating lunch.  Can I get you anything?"

            Giles followed Buffy into the kitchen, where Angel stood in front of the sink and a stoutly built, frowning toddler sat in a high chair by the table.  "Tea, perhaps," Giles said in answer to Buffy's question.

            "Angel, can you do that?"

            "Got it," Angel said, without turning away from the sink.

            Buffy sat at the kitchen table and waved for Giles to take a seat, as well.  Angel filled a teapot and put it on the stove, then turned around to face them, offering Giles a smile.

            Giles couldn't help it.  He stared.  Gaped, actually, and quite rudely.  "My God, Angel, what happened to you?"

            Angel gave him a dark look--one of those scary ones Angel was so good at.  "I still look younger than you."

            Belatedly, Giles collected himself.  "Well, I certainly didn't mean to offend.  It's just…a bit of a shock, is all."

            "Tell me about it," said Buffy.  "I go to sleep with a twenty-something hottie--wake up, poof--old fart in my bed."

            Angel leveled the glare at Buffy, but Giles noticed the corner of his mouth twitching up.  "Didn't put you off too much, as I recall.  Or was that somebody else who was naked all over me that morning?  Because if it was I should probably get her phone number."

            "Stop it," said Buffy.  "You know Giles doesn't like sex talk."

            "Yes, do please spare me the horror," said Giles.  He couldn't stop a smile, though.  It was inexpressibly gratifying to him to see Buffy so happy.  She'd been through so much pain in her young life--it was about time she got a chance to enjoy herself.  And Angel--his face still tended toward grim, but Giles had the feeling it was more habit now than anything else.  He, too, carried an aura of distinct contentment.

            The teapot began to whistle, and Angel turned back to the stove to finish Giles' tea.  Baby Giles, apparently done with his lunch, threw the rest of it on the floor and screeched.  It was hard to tell from his expression whether he was angry or pleased with himself.

            "Giles!" Buffy said.

            Big Giles got up.  "Let me get that.  Why don't you two go take a minute?"

            Angel looked at him, sucking a finger he'd burned on the teapot.  "Okay.  That sounds like a good idea."

            "Angel, he just got here--"

            "No, no," Giles protested.  "It's perfectly all right.  You go on."

            Buffy looked from one to the other.  "Is there something going on that I don't know about?"

            "Yeah," said Angel.  "C'mon, Buffy.  We need to talk."

#

            Buffy had gone from relaxed and pleased to tense and on edge in the matter of that single sentence.  We need to talk.  The expression on Angel's face didn't make her feel any better.  Whatever it was they had to talk about, it wasn't going to be pretty.

            His hand was a little too tight on hers as he led her into the back garden, his brows drawn down in concern.

            "Angel," she ventured.  "If we were in a sewer, I'd be freaking out right now."

            He smiled a little.  There was a bench in the garden, among the riot of untended wildflowers; he sat and drew her into his lap.

            "You remember right before we got married, we decided there were some things we just wouldn't talk about, unless it was necessary?"

            Buffy remembered.  It had seemed like a good idea at the time.  She really hadn't wanted to hash out the string of failed relationships that had plagued her between Angel's departure and his eventual return.  Especially one in particular.  She'd known the beans would have to be spilled eventually, but she hadn't expected it to be so soon.  Nor had she pictured Angel as the one doing the spilling.

            "Is it…necessary?" she said, then her eyes widened.  "Oh, my God.  You slept with Faith, didn't you?  And now you have to tell me because she's going to be here in our house--"

            He pulled her tighter.  "No, hon, I didn't sleep with Faith.  It's her boyfriend."

            "You slept with her boyfriend?  Oh, my God, Angel--"

            "No, no, no, no, c'mon, Buffy.  Just let me get this out, okay?"

            She pushed his arms away and slid out of his lap, to sit beside him on the bench.  Whatever she was about to be forced to hear, she didn't want to hear it said quietly into her ear, with his strong body supporting her.  She wanted to take it on the chin.

            He wouldn't let her get away with it, not completely.  He took her hand in both of his, and when she tried to pull it back, he wouldn't let her.  A thick lump rose in her throat.

            "You're going to tell me something really awful, aren't you?"

            "It's not that bad, Buffy, really.  I just--when we got married, I honestly thought you knew. And when I found out you didn't--I really wish you'd let me tell you before.  We shouldn't have decided to sweep everything under the rug like that."

            She nodded.  "Okay."  So maybe it wouldn't be as bad as her secret, the big one she'd been holding back from him and hoped she never, ever had to tell.

            "Okay."  Angel's thumbs caressed the back of her hand.  "Has Faith told you anything at all about Connor?"

            Buffy was still flummoxed about what anything in Angel's past could possibly have to do with Faith's boyfriend.

            "Well…  He's really strong.  Slayer strong.  And his kill rate is as high as hers."

            "How does he explain that?  The strength?"

            "Oh, he has this story about how his parents were vampires.  I think maybe he used to say that to impress girls--"

            "It's true."

            Buffy's mouth snapped shut.  "Are you sure?  I mean, that's impossible, right?"

            "As far as anyone knows, he's the only one.  Ever.  Wesley wrote a book about it--"

            "How do you know?" Buffy broke in.  "How do you know it's true?  I mean, how could you?"

            "I'm his father."

            Buffy just stared at him.  Her entire body had gone numb.  She couldn't even feel his hands anymore, holding hers.  "Angel, he's twenty-eight years old."

            "I know.  He was…he was a baby, and they took him away--"  He broke off.  The feeling rushed back into Buffy's body as she registered the emotion in Angel's voice, his eyes.  He pulled away from her, lurching to his feet.

            "Angel--"  She didn't know what to say.  He gathered himself.

            "I'm sorry.  It's been so long, I didn't think it would hit me this hard."  He stopped again, swallowed.  "He came back from a hell dimension four, five days later.  Eighteen years old and all those eighteen years he'd heard nothing but how much he should hate me."

            It was too much.  She couldn't fathom his pain.  So her brain zeroed in on her own pain, the single question that she knew would put a stake right through her heart.

            "Who's his mother?"

            He blinked a few times.  She should be comforting him, she thought vaguely, but she couldn't, not now.  She had to know who had touched him, who had been this for him when she'd thought she had been the only one.  The only one who'd ever carried a living part of him inside her.

            He looked at her, then away.  She knew that look.  Whatever he was about to say, it was going to hurt like hell.

            "Darla."

            She gaped.  "Darla?  As in the bitch who made you?"

            He said nothing.  Buffy stared at him, at his large, dark, backlit presence, and suddenly nothing made sense to her anymore.

            "You killed Darla," she finally said.  "You dusted her.  I was there.  I saw her die."

            "I know.  Wolfram and Hart--they brought her back."

            "Why?"

            "They were trying to make me insane.  It worked.  Long story short--it was a relapse.  An obsession.  It was--it really is not a period of time I'm proud of."

            "Well, God, I don't see why not."  The numbness had mutated straight into fury.  She pushed to her feet.  "I mean, it's not like you, say, fucked a demon or anything.  Do you keep in touch?  Talk about your little accident?"  At this point even Buffy could tell she was being irrational.  Not that she could do anything about it.

            "She's dead."

            "Are you sure?  Because, you know, I was pretty sure she was dead, too."

            "She died for Connor.  It was the only way he could be born."

            The twinge of sympathy, maybe even admiration, for the woman she'd known as pure evil was too much for Buffy.  She felt like she was about to implode.  She stared at Angel, at the familiar, beloved face, and wasn't at all sure who she was looking at.

            "This is too much.  This is just too much."

            She whirled away from him, toward the empty barn that stood behind the house.  Just away.

            "Buffy--"

            "Don't."  She spun back toward him, tears starting.  "Don't even try to make this better.  Of all the people you could have been with--"

            "You knew I'd been with Darla.  I was with Darla over a hundred years."

            The thing he didn't say, the thing that hovered over the entire situation, was the thing that hurt the most.  Longer than I've been with you.  Longer than I could ever be with you.

            "But you were evil then," Buffy protested.  "You weren't you.  This was you.  Angel.  How could you do that?  How could you give her that?  God, how could you risk that?  For her?"

            She didn't understand.  Couldn't.

            Angel just looked bleakly at her.  It was his old face, the face that bore the weight of nearly a century-and-a-half of heinous evil.  She'd forgotten how devastating that face could be.  "She loved me," he said.

            "Did you love her?  Ever?"

            "No.  I don't think I ever did."

            Buffy shook her head.  "I don't know if that makes it better, or worse."  She continued her trek toward the barn.  She just needed to be away from him.  She wasn't sure she could even bear to let him touch her, knowing he'd been with Darla like that--

            But his voice came after her, in a single word that made her stop dead.

            "Spike."

            Slowly, she turned.  "What?"

            "You heard me."  His face had gone from bleak to hard, etched lines.  Anger.  Disgust that mirrored her own.

            "What the hell are you talking about?"

            "You know damn well what I'm talking about."

            She didn't know what to say.  Her brain had just shut completely off.

            "Did you love him?" Angel said.  His voice broke in the middle of the sentence.  Buffy couldn't tell if it was from emotion or just the natural movement of his voice, which had a habit of breaking for no particular reason.

            Some vague sense of understanding flitted through her.  "He loved me."

            "It was all cold and dead when you came back, after they ripped you out of heaven.  You needed to feel something."  His voice had become a monotone, a drone that flayed her but at the same time barely touched her.  "He loved you and you knew it.  You used him because you knew he would let you.  But you never loved him, you knew you never could, and in the end that was what broke him.  You ripped his heart out and you've never stopped hating yourself for that."

            He stopped.  Buffy just stared at him.  Again.  She had no words.  How the hell did he know any of that?  All this time she'd agonized over what might happen when he found out.  And all that time, he'd known.  Everything.

            He spoke again, his voice dead.  "I treated her like a whore, and she gave me a son."

            Buffy swallowed.  She had no idea who this man was.  He was Angel, but he was older, with the streaks of gray in his hair and the lines on his face.  He was Angel, but darkness lurked in his eyes--Angelus-dark.  It scared her.  He was mortal now--Angelus was gone.  But she swore she could see him there, just below the surface.

            "When you…when she…  Were you…him?"  She'd been certain she knew the answer to that but now, seeing the darkness in his eyes, she wondered if she'd been wrong.

            "No.  That's kind of the point."  He hesitated, and his eyes slid sideways.  "But it was close."

            She could muster little more than a whisper.  "It's close now."

            He shook his head.  "Angelus is dead."

            She saw something, though, a shadow of the demon that had driven him for so long.  It couldn't have lived inside him all that time without leaving fingerprints.  And yet he was still Angel, the only man who had ever owned her heart.

            "I'm going to need some time, Angel."

            "We don't have time."

            "What do you mean?"

            "They're going to be here tomorrow.  Tomorrow we deal with these vamps.  We can't afford to have this between us once the fists and the fangs start flying."

            He was right.  A few years ago she would have been able to push the angst into the background, but she was out of practice.  Plus she'd begun to believe that that skill, along with the superhuman strength she'd given up to save baby Giles' life, was a Slayer power.  Or maybe her pregnancy, the hormonal fluctuations it had put her through, had eroded her ability to push her emotions aside.

            "So what do you suggest?"  If he had a big, cure-all idea, she wanted to hear it.

            He smiled.  "You haven't changed that much, Buffy."  He took a step closer.  "Hit me."

            "What?"

            "You know how you work out your angst.  Physical violence all the way.  So take a shot."

            "Angel--"

            "What, you think you're gonna hurt me?"  His mocking tone set her teeth on edge.  "Give me a break.  This is not the good old days when you could snap me like a twig.  You're just a teeny, tiny little woman."

            She could only stare at him, her fists clenched, as he advanced on her.  His smile had changed, its thin tilt making her heart spasm.

            "C'mon, Buff.  You know you want to."

            That was all it took.  That one little word.  That nickname he never, ever used.  But he did.  Buffy cocked a fist and slugged him in the face.

            She'd hit him hard enough to bruise her own hand, but he recovered with a blink and a thin, tilted smile. It made her want to hurt him. A lot.

            She hit him again, a double punch, a fist to each side of his face. And still he smiled at her.  Not an Angel-smile.

            "Stop it!" she screamed. "Stop it now!"

"Stop what?"  He laughed derisively.  "I don't think you're quite in the game there, Buff.  I think you can do a whole lot better."

Her eyes blurred with tears.  Of rage, frustration, or fear, she wasn't sure.  "Stop it, Angel!  Goddammit, just stop!"

"No.  C'mon, you wanna hurt me, then get it done. It's not like I don't deserve it." 

Her fists clenched, her nails digging into her palms. "Angel--"

"C'mon!"  His tone had gone from mocking to flinty hard. "If I don't deserve it for this, then God knows I deserve it for something."

And suddenly Buffy saw it in her head, as clearly as if she'd been there.  Angel with Darla, his big hands pinning her wrists to the bed, his hips thrusting between her thighs.  She arching beneath him, glorying in the pain and the pleasure all at once.  It wasn't her Angel, not the vampire she'd fallen in love with, or the mortal who had fathered her child. But it was Angel.

It was all she needed. That plus the look on his face that had become more Angelus than Angel.  She went after him, and went after him hard.

He'd been wrong to say she couldn't hurt him.  His mouth began to bleed after the fourth or fifth punch, and the next one he intercepted, catching her fist in his palm and closing his hand around hers.

"Is that enough?" he said, and she just looked at him through the haze of rage and tears that had fallen over her vision.

He gave her enough time to answer, but she didn't. Finally, he let go of her fist, closed his hands around her waist, and picked her up.  They were only a few steps away from the barn; he took those few steps, set her back against the barn wall, and kissed her.

Kissed her hard, practically biting her mouth open as his body shoved into hers, pinning her there against the outside wall of the barn.  His tongue thrust into her mouth and his teeth struck hers hard enough to make her wince.  She could taste his blood.

She wanted him to let her go; she wanted him to devour her.  She wanted him to leave her alone, so she could think; she wanted him to carry her into the barn, away from prying eyes, and love her hard, as he'd done Darla.

He did the latter.  She couldn't fault his choice.  They hadn't done much with the barn as of yet, but there were still blankets on the floor from a few months ago when they'd slipped out here in the middle of the night and fucked like bunnies.

Which they were about to do again, but it wasn't bunnies this time. More like lions, harsh and ferocious, he dominating her with the sheer size of his body.  She didn't fight him--she had no desire to--as he pinned her to the blankets and kissed her again, not quite so roughly this time but still hard, with no gentleness in it.

But he stopped himself, just for a moment, to gasp into her ear, "You want this?"

Her hands clutched hard into his back. "Yes.  God, yes."

The pause for permission didn't slow his momentum much. She had barely gotten her answer out when his mouth was on hers again, hard enough to bruise, then his hands jerked at her jeans and suddenly he flipped her over, yanking jeans and panties out of his way.  He was as quickly efficient with his own clothes, and she bucked back into him as he came hard into her from behind.  He was all harsh, sharp thrusting, and it didn't matter because she was so ready for him, so hot and slick and needy that even the abrupt roughness of it drove her right into ecstasy.  She thought she howled--she wasn't sure because she couldn't hear over the ringing in her ears.

The tumult passed almost as quickly as it had come.  His breathing ragged against her back, he kissed her throat, there where he had scarred her, then rolled to lie beside her, drawing her back into the curve of his body, his big hands pulling her clothes back into place.

"Buffy--" he started, his voice unsteady, but she cut him off.

"Don't you dare apologize."

"I wasn't going to."

The persistent shiver in his voice concerned her; she rolled over to look at him.  There were tears on his face.  "Angel, what is it?"

"You need to understand.  All my life no one has ever been to me what you are.  No one.  Ever."  She reached up to brush the dampness away from under his eyes.  "It's like the moment I first saw you, you crawled inside me and you never came out.  No matter how hard I tried to forget, how hard I tried not to love you, to move on, nothing ever touched me that way again.  Until it was you again."

She didn't know what to say--she had no words.  She'd thought never to see that kind of pain in his eyes again, but there it was, and she had caused it.

His lip was bleeding again, or still.  Gently, she daubed away a drop of blood.  "I'm sorry."

He shook his head.  "I should have told you a lot sooner.  But I thought you knew. I thought Faith would have told you."

"If you'd told me before Giles was born I think it might have hurt more than I could possibly bear."  At least now she, too, had given him a son.

"Giles was conceived in love," he said softly.  "Connor didn't get that kind of beginning."

Buffy digested that, suddenly feeling sorry for Connor.  But, speaking of Giles--both of them, actually--  "We should get back."

"Yeah, we should."  But he took a moment to kiss her again, soft and gentle and tender this time.  She absorbed it, the sweetness and the love in it.  He drew back and came to his feet, zipping his pants, then held a hand down to her to help her up.

"This is really a bad way to work these things out," he said as she brushed herself off.

"The sex part was fine."  He held his hand out to her again, and she took it.  "But if you ever want me to hit you again, just tell me I look fat or something.  Because that Angelus crap is just too damn traumatic."

#

            The violence was supposed to have been cathartic, and she was supposed to have been over it now, ready to move on.  But she went through the rest of the day in a daze.  She looked at baby Giles, and could only think, "This is not his only son."  She looked at big Giles and thought, "Wesley wrote a book about it.  Giles probably knew already."  And she looked at Angel and wondered if he really was the man she'd thought she'd married, or someone else entirely.

            She had to let this go.  They'd both made mistakes.  Why did she find it so hard to deal with this when she'd put so many other things behind her--the decades he'd spent raping and pillaging his way through Europe, for instance?  Yes, that hadn't been the Angel she knew.  But somehow, the Angel that had sired Connor hadn't been, either.

            She tried to be good company for Giles--they had a great deal to catch up on--but she had a hard time concentrating.  Finally, in the middle of trivial dinner conversation, she turned to Angel and said, "How did he end up with Faith?"

            Surprised, Angel looked up from the meat he was cutting into pieces for the baby.  "I sort of . . . steered him that way.  It seemed like a good match."

            "Why?"

            Giles watched the conversation with interest, while his namesake reached impatiently for the meat in Angel's plate.  Angel transferred some to the high chair tray.

            "He needed somebody to keep him in line.  Plus someone who could understand . . ."  He trailed off, cleared his throat.  "Someone who could understand the darkness."

            "And they hit it off."

            "Yeah."

            Buffy tried not to dwell on that too much.  Faith had always had a lusting-after sort of thing for Angel, but maybe it wouldn't seem too awfully creepy that she was sleeping with his son if Buffy just didn't think about it too hard.

            "Interesting," she finally said.

            "Have you ever spoken to him," Giles put in, "about his time in the Quor-toth?"

            Angel, focused studiously now on feeding the baby, said, "We don't really have a conversational kind of relationship."

            Buffy snorted. "Why does that not surprise me?" She turned to Giles.  "What's a Quor-toth?"

            "It's the hell dimension where Connor spent the first eighteen years of his life," Giles explained.  "There's very little on record about it.  It would be fascinating to hear about it from someone who had experienced it first-hand."

            "Well, good luck getting anything out of him," said Angel.  "Hell dimensions not really the most uplifting of conversational topics.  Although Pylea was interesting."

            "What about the other hell dimension you visited?" Giles went on.  He seemed to be in full-on fact-gathering mode.  "You've never really spoken about that, either."

            "Giles!" Buffy protested.  That was another story she had yet to pry out of her husband.

            "I didn't really 'visit' it," Angel said.  "That would imply I went there on purpose."  His words gave Buffy a twinge, though she was certain he hadn't meant it quite that way.  "In any case, it was tremendously unpleasant, and I'd rather not talk about it."

            Giles looked crestfallen.  "Well, so much for that book on hell dimensions I was planning to write."

            Angel smiled a little.  "Give me some time to think about it.  I can probably give you something.  Just not now."

            Giles looked pleased.  "Fair enough."

            "And I can definitely tell you some stories about Pylea."

            "Oh, that would be wonderful."

            Buffy just shook her head at the look of glee on Giles' face.  Once a Watcher, always a Watcher, she supposed.  Or perhaps there was just no cure for pervasive tweediness.

            She glanced at Angel, who, without smiling, winked at her.  She smiled back, squeezed his hand, and let it go.

#

            Angel disappeared after dinner, which he often did, leaving Buffy to clean up. She set the baby on a blanket on the floor in the living room where she could see him from the kitchen, and started in on the dishes.

            "Where's Angel gotten off to?" Giles asked. He stepped up next to her at the sink, rolled up his sleeves and picked up a dishtowel.

            "He's either in the studio painting or in the bedroom doing his rosaries." She handed Giles a clean plate to dry, glancing over her shoulder at the baby as she did so.

            "Seems a bit unfair to leave you with the work."

            Buffy shrugged. The baby was staring intently at a block, thoroughly absorbed in that oddly obsessive way he had. "He'll make up for it later. He always does."

            "So there's a bit of a system in place."

            "You could say that. He gets all lost inside his own head and wanders off after dinner, then a couple days later I'll get breakfast in bed, or an afternoon without the baby, or an unasked-for extra orgasm, and all is in balance again."

            Giles tipped an eyebrow up at her and she grinned. "Sorry," she said. "I forgot about the moratorium on the sex-talk."

            Giles smiled a little.  "I'm glad you're happy."

            She passed him another plate.  "I am.  I guess I should remember that when giant bombshells from the past land on my head."

            "You married a man with a long and convoluted history. You have to expect he's going to have some secrets here and there."

            "I know that. I mean, my God, he's older than America." She looked thoughtfully out the window, where dusk was falling softly on the garden. "Kinda freaked me out when I realized that. My husband is older than the United States of America. Scary, huh?"

            "Quite."

            "Anyway, I expect that kind of thing. But this was recent history, you know? Makes it a little harder to take."

            "I can understand that." He carefully set his dry dish in the drainer. "I brought the book with me."

            "What book?"

            "The one Wesley wrote about Connor. He addresses several ancient prophecies that seem to have culminated in Connor's birth. It's actually quite fascinating, how he concatenated the various translations--"

            "Yawn," said Buffy.

            "Yes, of course. Well, in any case, there's also a narrative of exactly what happened through that time period--or as well as Wesley could piece it all together. There are some interviews with Angel himself, but he was rather reticent on the subject for the most part."

            Buffy rolled her eyes.  "Imagine that. He's usually such an open and talkative person.  Wouldn't think he'd clam up about something like that."

            "Well, Wesley and Angel have been quite close at various times over the years. I think Wesley had hoped to get a bit more out of him."

            "I can't even get things out of him, and I can ply him with sexual favors."

            Giles' eyebrow tweaked again. "Perhaps if you actually withheld them when you threatened to instead of just giving it up on a regular basis."

            Buffy grinned, surprised. "Goodness, you're getting frisky in your old age. It's a valid point, though. I am pretty easy. For him, anyway." She sighed. "Can't say no to that man. He glowers at me and I go tingly all over."

            Giles chuckled. Buffy supposed her natural lustiness was easier to take now that she was a thirty-two-year-old wife and mother rather than a high school girl. "So, anyway," she went on, "you think I might find this book interesting?"

            "What book?" Angel had wandered back in, much to Buffy's surprise. Usually if he disappeared after dinner, he didn't surface again until bedtime.

            "A book Wes wrote about Connor," said Buffy.

            "Oh. That."  He frowned. "Do you need help with the dishes?"

            "No, we're good. Are you okay?" He looked unsettled, somehow.

            "Are we okay?" He was perusing her with that intense scrutiny that could easily be mistaken for anger, but she knew it was concern because of the softness in his eyes. It took her aback, and for a moment she couldn't answer, and he said into her silence, "Because I keep thinking maybe we aren't, and I can't paint."

            Giles might as well have not been in the room. Buffy had almost forgotten about him, she had become so absorbed in the intensity of Angel's presence. And suddenly nothing mattered to her but that, and all the talk of Darla, of Connor, of mistakes and missteps made in the past became just that--the past. Something inside her eased, and she was able to let it go.

            She smiled at him, feeling the connection between them, knowing it had never been like this with anyone else, for either of them.

            "We're okay," she said gently. "Go paint."

            His face softened and he smiled a little, his eyes sliding toward Giles as if only then remembering he was there. Then he nodded and headed back to his studio.

#

            Dishes done and put away, Buffy started a fire in the fireplace and curled up in a chair next to it to look through Wesley's book while Giles entertained his namesake. Baby Giles wasn't difficult to entertain--he would fixate on one toy for fifteen minutes at a time, as if building some sort of serious rapport with it.

            "Does he ever smile?" Giles asked, after trying unsuccessfully to coax the baby to act at least a little happy.

            "Oh, sure, occasionally. He smiles when Angel sings."

            "Really? Angel sings?"

            "If you want to call it that. You know how I can't carry a tune? He's worse."

            "Well, then, it's no wonder it makes the baby laugh."

            Buffy smiled and turned back to the book. Wesley had some interesting theories about Connor, based on the Nyazian scrolls, whatever they were, as well as several other sources she'd never heard of. Giles no doubt knew them all by heart and probably owned copies. She thumbed through that, finally finding a more conversationally written section about Angel himself.

            It seemed strange that Wes had been around through such an apparently significant part of Angel's life, especially since Buffy knew next to nothing about it. His writing style was very readable here, too, which also surprised her. Buffy found herself getting involved, almost as if she were reading about someone she didn't sleep next to every night.

            She had just gotten to the part about the fire falling from the sky in Los Angeles, and the gigantic Beast with horns shoving a stake into Angel's neck, when Giles said softly, "Buffy?"

            She looked up. The baby lay stretched out on the floor, a block in one hand, sound asleep.

            "Oh, no," said Buffy. "I wanted him to nurse before he went to sleep."

            "You could wake him up."

            "No, he'll just be cranky if I do." She laid the book down. "I'll just put him to bed."

            "I think I'll be off to bed, as well."

            "Okay. I'll see you in the morning, then."

            She went to pick up the baby, who lolled softly against her shoulder. He was well and truly asleep. She carried him to the nursery, while Giles went the other way, to the extra bedroom.

            She put the baby to bed, then went to her own room. The door was ajar, and she stopped just outside it, hearing Angel's voice.

            Peering around the edge of the door, she found Angel kneeling by the opposite side of the bed, absorbed in his rosary. She stood still in the doorway, not wanting to interrupt him, but not ashamed to listen.

            "Agus ná lig sinn i gcathú, ach saor sinn ó olc." His soft voice shaped the Irish words with confidence. "Óir is leatsa an Ríocht agus an Chumhacht agus an Ghlóir, tré shaol na saol."

            She loved the way his voice sounded, though she didn't understand the words. The Latin prayers had just started to become familiar to her when he'd started saying them in Irish. Apparently this was at Father O'Shea's urging. She understood what he was doing--he was pulling Angel back to his roots, back to his humanity. She hadn't spoken to the priest about it, but it was a good strategy and it impressed her. Before this was done, before Angel's mortality ran its inevitable course, he would be Liam again.

            Though she was certain she hadn't made any noise, he looked up when he finished, smiling at her and holding his place on his rosary.

            "I didn't mean to interrupt," she said. She came into the room and sat down on the bed.

            "It's okay."

            "Then why are you holding your place?"

            "I figured I could finish while you're brushing your teeth."

            "Well, get it done, because I want to know what happened after that thing staked you in the throat."

            "It threw me off the building."

            "And then what?"

            "Read the book. It's all in there." He looked back down at the rosary, the humor fading from his face.

            "You're not gonna tell me, are you?"

            He slid her a quick look from under his brows, but said nothing.

            "Well," she said. "I guess I know what I'll be reading before bed tonight."

            "Don't."

            "Don't read it?"

            "No. Don't."  He laid the rosary down. She couldn't read his expression; he had battened down the hatches, and whatever emotion lay behind his expressionless eyes, she had no access to it. "Come to bed."

            She crossed her arms over her chest. "Why don't you want me to read that book?"

            "I just think we've both had enough for one day. Let's get this thing done tomorrow and then you can read whatever you want."

            In spite of his attempt to hide his emotion, she could hear it in the thin edge that had grown on his voice.

            "What happened?" she said gently.

            He swallowed, looked down at the rosary, then picked it up again, clenching the crucifix in his first as if to prove he really could touch it.  "Angelus."           

            She said nothing for a moment.  He opened his hand. The cross had left deep red marks in his palm, he had squeezed it so hard.

            She thought again about that afternoon, his thin smile, the faux Angelus he'd put on to make her hurt him. She'd only seen the real one once, those awful months in Sunnydale when he'd run riot.  She hadn't realized he'd been set loose again in LA. It explained some things Faith had said to her, though.

            When she brought her thoughts back to the present, Angel was looking at her, and he'd let some of the shutters down from his eyes, letting her glimpse his pain. But it was more than pain--it was despair.

            "Angel, whatever it was, it's over. Just like all the rest of it. Don't let it do this to you."

            He looked at his hand, at the imprint of the crucifix on his palm. His face eased a little. "Why do you love me?"

            "Because I do." She slid across the bed toward him. "If you want any more of an explanation than that, I'm not going to be able to give it to you."

            He nodded. "It's okay. I get it." He slid his hand toward hers and she let his fingers meet it.

            "Do you forgive me?" she said.

            He looked puzzled. "For what?"

            "Spike." It was hard for her even to say it.

            He shook his head, his smile grim. "That had nothing to do with me."

            "And Darla had nothing to do with me. But it still hurts."

            "Yeah. It still hurts." He slipped his long fingers under hers, curled her hand up into his. "Come to bed?"

            He wasn't just asking for sex, she sensed. He'd gotten plenty of that this afternoon. He wanted something else, something more. Comfort, maybe. Reassurance, acceptance. She could give him all those things now. This afternoon it would have been difficult. But he hadn't asked then. He'd taken, and she'd given, but nothing had been healed.

            She crawled across the bed to him and kissed him, and the feeling now was different, his mouth seeking within hers for reconciliation, completion, connection.

            She gave him everything she could--everything she had. There was really no choice; he had become as much a part of her as her own breath. But he needed it tonight, more than she'd ever sensed him needing it before. He was looking for something here between them, some healing or reassurance, a restoration of balance--she wasn't sure. But when she moved over him and drew him inside her, he seemed to find what he needed. Peace moved over his face as he, too, seemed to let everything go. When he came, there were tears on his face, and he reached up to cup her cheek.

            She looked down at him, bent to kiss him. The darkness seemed to have fallen from between them as his big hands slid up her back.

            "Angel," she said, as if to remind herself who he was, or perhaps to remind him.

            "I love you," he whispered, and just like that, everything was all right again. The darkness gone, the love gentle and soft again, her Angel back in her arms.

#

            She woke some time later, still curled against him. He was twitching, and his voice, breathy and broken, fractured the nighttime silence.

            "No. Stop. Please."

            Tears sprang to Buffy's eyes, spurred by the desperation in the three small words. What was he dreaming?

            He twitched again, rolled toward her. In the vague moonlight she could see the emotion from his voice written on his face--despair, helplessness, violation.

            Out of so many memories in his nearly three centuries of life, which one was this? Or was it not a memory at all, but only a dream?

            She reached out to him, pulled him to her. He nestled into her, his face softening, but didn't wake up.

#

            Faith called the next morning, and Buffy arranged to meet her and Connor in Dublin, near the orphanage where the mysterious young girl lived.  Angel called Father O'Shea, who made sure all would go smoothly at the orphanage.  Then they left early, because Angel, unbeknownst to Buffy, had actually done as she'd asked and made an appointment with Dr. Martin.

            So at eleven o'clock they were in the doctor's office.  Giles volunteered to stay in the reception area with the baby, while Buffy went in with Angel.

            Buffy was worried.  Angel had been taciturn--even more so than usual--since they'd boarded the ferry.  Now he leaned against the exam table and thumbed absently through a magazine.

            "Angel…" Buffy ventured.  He made a vague noise that she interpreted as acknowledgement.  "It'll be okay."

            "Yeah," he said, toneless, and turned another page in the magazine.

            Dr. Martin came in shortly, and did the expected double take. "Well," he said.  "I can see why you wanted to see me."

            Angel laid down the magazine.  "I didn't.  She wanted me to."

            "She did the right thing."  He patted the table.  "Have a seat."

            Buffy watched intently, trying to read the doctor's face as he listened to Angel's heart, his lungs, checked his throat and ears and eyes.  Angel's cooperation disquieted her almost as much as the sober expression on the doctor's face.

            "Still jogging?" Dr. Martin asked after a moment.

            "Yep."

            "Any shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat?"

            "No."

            "Loss of stamina?  Erectile dysfunction?"

            That elicited a glower along with a terse, "No."

            Dr. Martin looked at Buffy.  "You concur with that?  Men tend to lie about those things."

            "No, nothing like that going on."

            The doctor nodded.  "Well, I have to say you look like a perfectly healthy forty-year-old man.  I want to do some blood work, though, just to check white cell counts, cholesterol, that kind of thing.  I'll send the nurse in."

            "So he's okay?"  Buffy couldn't keep the remnants of worry out of her voice.

            "Barring any strange results from the blood tests, I'd have to say yes."

            Buffy took a deep breath.  "Thank God."  Then she blurted, "Is he in any condition to be fighting vampires?"

            Angel gave her a sharp look, but said nothing.

            The doctor seemed surprised at first, but took a moment to seriously consider the question. "Frankly, I would recommend that both of you leave that kind of thing to the experts."

            Angel remained silent, his jaw working a little. "That just might be good advice," said Buffy, trying not to make it sound too pointed, or too completely directed at Angel. The doctor was right--neither one of them had any business fighting vamps. So much for yesterday's pre-battle catharsis.

            The doctor smiled, touched her shoulder reassuringly.  "How's the baby?"

            "He's fine," said Buffy.  "He's here--come say hi."

            "I'll do that.  Stick around for a minute after you get your blood draw done."

            He made a few notes on Angel's chart, then headed out.  "I'll see you in a bit."

            "Thank you, Dr. Martin."  Buffy turned to Angel, who was buttoning his shirt.  "You're okay," she said.

            "Yep."

            And that, apparently, was all he had to say on the subject.

#

            They were set to meet Faith and Connor at a tea shoppe at noon, then Sister Reilly at the orphanage at one.  They arrived early at the tea shoppe, so they all settled in for tea and a little something for baby Giles, who was acting hungry.

            "You could nurse him," Angel suggested as Buffy broke slices of bread and cheese into pieces.  Baby Giles was impatient with this, tossing the bread onto the floor and testily spitting out the cheese.

            "I really need to think about weaning him," Buffy said, fighting to keep her voice even.  "Especially if we want to have another baby."

            "Oh," said Angel.  She could see all the implications of that clicking with him.  "Oh," he said again.  "I guess you're right."

            The baby finally settled in with his bread and cheese, after some cajoling from Buffy combined with entertainment from Angel, who offered his fingers as a distraction to lighten the baby's mood while Buffy tried again with the food.  Giles watched with some amusement.

            "So, you're planning to expand the family?" he said when things had settled.  The baby had finished most of his cheese and was now sucking contentedly on Angel's finger.

            "I'd like to," Buffy said.  "Hopefully it'll all work out."

            "He's getting another molar," said Angel.  "That's why he's so crabby."

            Buffy nodded sagely.  "I see.  I thought it was just that whole acting like his daddy thing."

            "Nope.  There's some serious tooth-cutting going on in here."  He winced as baby Giles clamped down hard on his finger.  "Ow.  Okay, I think that's enough."  He worked his finger free, offering the baby a piece of cheese instead.  This time baby Giles took it happily.  Angel looked up, toward the door.  "Speaking of genetically crabby people."

            Buffy followed his gaze.  Sure enough, Faith had just swept into the shoppe, followed by a young man Buffy had to assume was Connor, though the resemblance to Angel wasn't immediately apparent. 

            Faith caught sight of them and her eyes widened a split-second when she saw Angel.  Connor, too, looked a little taken aback.  They both recovered quickly and Faith half-ran across the room toward them.  She looked very much like she was going to hug somebody, and Buffy didn't know whether to be relieved or annoyed when it turned out to be Angel.  He stood to meet her embrace, which remained comfortably casual.  Buffy couldn't help gritting her teeth a little.  There was just too much history there.

            So she wasn't sure what to think when Angel gave Faith a kiss on the cheek before letting her go.  And Faith seemed just a little too comfortable pushing her fingers into the new streaks of gray in Angel's hair.  "Looks good, big guy.  I like it."

            He shrugged.  "Could be worse."

            Then he turned to Connor, and Buffy was surprised when Angel held his arms out.  And even more surprised when Connor hugged his father and actually mustered a smile to go with it.  It was a manly hug, as Angel pounded him soundly on the back before letting him go.

            "You taking care of yourself?" Angel said.

            "You bet, Dad," said Connor.

            Angel nodded and sat back down, and Connor pulled up a chair for Faith, then one for himself.  Apparently the big father/son reunion conversation was over.  Buffy smiled a little.  Now that didn't surprise her a bit.

            "So how you been, B?" said Faith.  It annoyed Buffy greatly that Faith didn't seem to have aged a bit since the old Sunnydale days.

            "Been good," said Buffy.  She slid a glance at Connor, whose stern attention was focused on the baby.  In profile, the resemblance to Angel was stronger, though he lacked the heavy eyebrow ridge, and the tip of his nose was more blunt.  She found it easier to see Darla in him, in the pale eyes and light brown hair.

            "And Giles," Faith went on.  "It's been a dog's age, huh?"

            "At least," said Giles.

            "So this is the kid."  Faith shook her head.  "Look at that forehead.  My God, what was it like pushing that out?"

            "Painful," Buffy admitted.

            "Looks just like his daddy."  She elbowed Connor.  "More than you do."

            Connor just shrugged, unoffended.  "What's his name?"

            "Giles," said Buffy.

            "Hey, that's sweet, B."

            Connor finally looked at Buffy, his face stoic.  "She calls you B.  Should I call you Mom?"

            Buffy stared at him for a heartbeat, then saw a vague twinkle in his eyes.  "Please don't," she said.  "No offense."

            He smiled a little.  "None taken."

            Buffy turned to Angel for moral support, but he had a hand over his mouth and was as close to outright laughter as she had seen him in a long time.  "God, the look on your face.  That was priceless."

            "I'm glad you're so amused.  I'm sorry, but I'm just not ready to have a grown man call me Mom.  It's too weird."

            "I won't then," said Connor, then looked at his father.  "That look on her face, though, it was totally worth it, wasn't it?"

            Angel chuckled. "It really was." Then he sobered, but the twinkle in his eye hadn't gone away.  "Hey, you know what I just realized?  Every single person at this table over the age of one has tried to kill me at least once."

            Faith grinned.  "We should be a club."

            "I never tried to kill you," Giles protested.

            Angel shook his head.  "Sorry to contradict, but I remember very distinctly being clubbed repeatedly in the face with a lit torch."

            "Good one," said Connor approvingly.

            "You were evil then," Giles protested.  "Mine doesn't count."

            "Mine doesn't count, either," said Connor.  "I wasn't trying to kill you."

            "Mine totally counts," Faith chimed in.

            "Yeah," Connor agreed.  "That poison arrow, that was cool."

            "You weren't even born yet," Angel put in.  "And why is it cool that your girlfriend poisoned me back in the day?"

            Connor shrugged. "It's just cool." He rubbed his hands together, looking almost eager. "So, we gonna go dust some vamps, or what?"

#

            Father O'Shea had directed Angel to a Sister Theresa at the orphanage. The nun seemed surprised by the entourage he brought with him.

            "Father O'Shea only mentioned you and your wife," she said, eyeing Faith and Connor warily. Giles didn't seem to faze her particularly, but that was probably because he was holding the baby.

            "That's okay," said Angel. "We're not all going to descend on her, if that's what you're worried about."

            "Yeah," Faith chimed in. She seemed more than a little uncomfortable with the surroundings. "Maybe we could just take the baby for a walk until you guys are done."

            "That'd be nice," said Buffy.

            Faith high-tailed it out of the building, Connor close behind. He looked back as she dragged him out the door, and Angel offered him a wink. Connor smiled a little in return. The irony wasn't lost on Angel--that Faith had been a good influence on Connor. The whole thing was a bit odd, but not as odd as some of Connor's other relationships. Something else buried deeply in the vault full of things Buffy really didn't need to know.

            "Will you be okay?" Buffy asked Giles as he headed out with his namesake.

            "We'll be fine," Giles assured her. He seemed to have bonded with the baby, which was most likely a good thing. Still, Angel felt a odd twinge, watching them go.

            Sister Theresa, however, looked relieved. "That's better. Right this way, then, Mr. and Mrs. Summers."

            Angel wasn't sure what to expect. All he really knew was that there was a girl here who had lost her family to vampires, and something inside him needed desperately to make a difference for her.

            Sister Theresa led them down a narrow hallway, stopping in front of a door near the end. She paused with her hand on the doorknob.

            "Her name is Jocelyn," she said. "She's been rather unwell, so it may be difficult to talk to her."

            Angel nodded. He had a strange sense something important was about to happen here. It was the kind of odd intuitional tweak he hadn't had since the LA days. He glanced at Buffy. She looked back at him with a little, encouraging smile, and he knew she had misinterpreted his hesitation.

            Sister Theresa pushed the door open and Angel went in, Buffy trailing behind.

            "Jocelyn," the nun said gently. "Your visitors are here."

            She sat in an upholstered chair against the opposite wall, her knees drawn up under her chin. Her brown hair fell just below the level of her jawline, and her eyes were wide in her drawn, too-thin face. Her arms, wrapped around her knees, were also far too thin, the wrist bones harshly prominent. Angel judged her to be about thirteen.

            Angel smiled a little. "Hi," he said. "Jocelyn? I'm Angel."

            She mouthed his name and frowned delicately at him. The weariness in her eyes reminded him of another tormented, too-thin girl he'd rescued a long time ago. Absently, his mind drifted just far enough to wonder what Fred was up to these days. He should Google her. He would, as soon as he got home.

            "What are you thinking?" Jocelyn's voice was small and thready, and jerked Angel's attention back to the present.

            "I was just thinking that you remind me of somebody I used to know."

            "You remind me of someone, too," she said. Her gaze flicked to Buffy. "So do you."

            Buffy moved to stand next to Angel, touching his elbow. "I'm Buffy. It's nice to meet you."

            "Buffy," Jocelyn repeated thoughtfully.  "You're…a nice person."

            Buffy glanced at Angel. "I try to be."

            Jocelyn still seemed doubtful. "You're here to talk to me about the monsters, aren't you?"

            Angel moved a little closer to the girl. She watched him warily. She was afraid. He could tell, even without the keen vampiric sense of smell he'd relied on for so long. "Yes," he said gently. "What can you tell us?"

            Her teeth made a crunching sound as she ground them together. The noise made him flinch. "They're vampires. Don't tell me they weren't, don't try to tell me it's all my imagination, because I know it's not."

            "It's okay," said Buffy. "We believe you."

            Jocelyn blinked. "Really?"

            "I used to kill vampires professionally."

            Tears pooled in Jocelyn's eyes. "I didn't think anyone would ever believe me."

            Angel wanted to touch her, just cup her shoulder or touch her cheek, to comfort her and possibly stop the tears, but he didn't dare. She seemed terribly fragile, and he sensed that it had been a very, very long time since she'd been able to trust anyone.

            "Just tell us everything you know." Buffy's voice had gone matter-of-fact. Angel looked at her, wondering if perhaps she should be a little more sympathetic, but her expression was gentler than her voice.

            Jocelyn seemed calmed by this approach rather than put off. She straightened in her chair, looked at Buffy, then at Angel. Angel nodded a little in encouragement.

            "There are ten of them, or there were." Jocelyn tangled her fingers together, gathering courage. There was a core to her that was as strong as anything Angel had ever sensed in another human being. "They killed my whole family about eighteen months ago. Mom, Dad, big brother, baby sister." A tear rolled down her cheek; she seemed unaware of it. "There were ten of them then."

            "Are they a cluster or a family?" Angel asked. Jocelyn's look went blank. Angel clarified-- "Was there a stronger, older vamp? Or were they all sort of working together without leadership?"

            "There was a leader. A woman. She had dark hair. They all followed her but I couldn't really understand why. She acted crazy a lot of the time."

            Cold fingers walked down Angel's spine. "What was her name?"

            Jocelyn's brow crinkled delicately as she thought. Then she nodded decisively and said, "Drusilla."

#

            Jocelyn told them more, providing detailed information on the location of the vampires' nest, in a warehouse in a bad part of Dublin. Upon request, Sister Theresa took them to a meeting room in the building where they all could gather to prepare for the next stage in the operation.

            And where Angel had produced the spring-loaded wrist stakes from Connor's bag of supplies, and had begun to strap them on.

            Buffy stared at him. "Angel, you can't do this."

            Angel recognized the tone in her voice--it edged far too close to desperation for comfort--but he made himself ignore it.

            "I have to. You understand."

            "No, I don't."

            He let himself look at her then, into her eyes. "You have to. You know what I did, how I made her." He turned his attention to the wrist stakes. They didn't fit quite the same as they had five years ago when he'd given them to Connor as a going-away-with-Faith-to-Europe present. "I might as well have killed that girl's family myself."

            "Angel--"

            "I'll be all right."

            "You're mortal now. You heard what Dr. Martin said."

            "Wes. Gunn. Cordy. Fred. They fought shoulder-to-shoulder with me for years killing vamps. Not a non-mortal among them." He paused, pushed back a deep stab of pain. "Except Cordy, there at the last."

            "Let him go, B."

            Buffy turned to look daggers at Faith, who stood at the other side of the room, with Connor. "Stay out of this, Faith."

            Connor smiled a little. "You really that whipped, Dad?"

            "Shut up, Connor," Angel said mildly, "because I know for a fact you are."

            Buffy had softened a little. Angel clasped her arm and bent toward her. "I have to do this, Buffy."

            "We'll take care of him," said Faith.

            "He's a decent fighter," Connor put in. "We could use him." He studied Buffy a moment. "Why don't you come, too?"

            Buffy shook her head, confirming Angel's suspicions by the look in her eyes. She was less afraid of Angel's getting hurt than she was of Angel's getting hurt or dying while she wasn't there. And she wasn't going. No matter how much she wanted to. Because as fiercely as she had attended to her duties as Slayer, she now attended to her duties as mother. She would never, now, deliberately endanger herself, because of their son. He should have realized it yesterday, when he'd forced her to confront her anger. He could have spared himself the bruises he had today inside his mouth.

            "We're taking them in daylight," Angel said. It would have been so easy, he thought, just to bow out, let the others handle it. If it had been anyone else, any other vampire, he would have done exactly that. But it was Drusilla. "I'll be fine."

            She looked at him for what seemed a long time, her eyes swimming, and he thought she might try again to dissuade him. With those tears brimming on her lashes, he'd probably give in this time. But finally she just nodded and said, "I'll stay here with Giles and Giles, then." She smiled a little. "Be careful."

            He kissed her warmly, oblivious of the others in the room. "I will."

#

            It was just like old times, Angel thought, as they gathered outside the warehouse. There were tell-tale signs of vampire habitation--windows painted black, a peculiar absence of rats, and the smell… Even human as he was now, he couldn't miss the smell. Rotting blood, overheated corpses--he couldn't believe Drusilla would let her cadre sink to these depths.

            Then again, Drusilla was fairly insane.

            Reflexively, he covered his face. "Quite an odor, huh?" Faith said.

            "Shouldn't be that strange to you." Connor was watching him far too closely, Angel thought. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, Angel knew Connor still thought of him as a vampire. And in spite of the camaraderie in the tea shoppe, there were still sharp edges to Angel's relationship with his son. There always would be. They had Holtz to thank for that.

            "Angel never lived like this," Faith put in. "You know that."

            "Neither did Angelus," said Angel. Connor's face tightened a little at the sound of that name. For once, Angel didn't care. Angelus was dead and gone, and if Connor couldn't get his head around that fact, that was his problem. "Dru's lost it."

            Faith readied her stakes, one in each hand. "Did Dru ever have it?"

            Angel didn't answer. The memories were rushing in on him--the sweet, innocent girl; his lust for her; the long, carefully orchestrated process by which he had driven her progressively insane. He tried to push the pictures away, but they flooded over him, all the way to the end, when he had driven his teeth into her throat and let her blood fill his mouth, drank her, drained her, Turned her.

            He hadn't shared this story with Father O'Shea yet. Hadn't worked up the courage, though he'd carefully narrated his way through equally heinous acts he'd perpetrated.  He'd noticed, over the past year of twice-weekly confession, that the events he'd confessed actually faded a little. There were whole stretches of his life as Angelus he could barely remember now, because he'd confessed, and been absolved.

            But there was something about Drusilla.  Several times he'd almost begun the story during his sessions with the priest, but had stopped, gone on to something else. He wasn't sure why. In many respects it wasn't the most horrible thing he'd ever done. But in other ways it was, because she had been such an innocent, and he had violated her in so many ways, on so many levels, that it was hard for him to believe he could ever be forgiven.

            "Angel?" Faith's voice broke into his thoughts, and he realized he was standing there outside the warehouse door with his hands shaking and a sheen of sweat on his forehead. "You okay?"

            He clenched his fists, feeling the taut straps of the spring-loaded stakes dig into his arms a little. "Yeah. Let's do it."

            The vamps weren't ready. They were sleeping, with no one on guard. Drusilla had lost her edge. Or maybe not. Angel wondered, as he rammed a stake into the chest of a vampire who was just nodding into consciousness, if this had not been unexpected. Then there was no time for wondering anymore as a vamp grabbed him from behind and fangs clenched his shoulder. He twisted his body reflexively, elbowed the vamp hard in the chest, then it dusted, revealing Faith behind it.

            "I had it," Angel protested.

            "Yeah, I know." Faith winked at him.

            "That was no fun," Connor announced after chasing down the last of the vamps. Angel had to admit there hadn't been much challenge to it.

            "Yeah," said Faith, "but where's Drusilla?"

            Angel reset his wrist stakes, contemplating. "She's here," he said quietly, through he wasn't sure how he knew. A few years ago, when he'd still lived on blood and couldn't go out in the daylight, he would have known instantly, through the bond he shared with those he had Sired. But somehow, even with his humanity restored, he knew Drusilla was here. He moved farther into the building, into the dusty darkness. The residue of dead vampires floated in the air, made him gag a little.

            "Angel?" said Faith, her tone concerned.

            He didn't answer. There was a door against the back wall. An office, Angel assumed. She was there. He knew it. He walked toward the door, hearing Faith and Connor follow.

            Angel went to the door, opened it. Again, an unmistakable smell, but the odor here was pleasant rather than repulsive. Soft, with a hint of flowery perfume. Drusilla had always smelled like flowers. Her blood had tasted like honeysuckle; the skin on her breasts, on the insides of her thighs, had been soft as rose petals. Angel blinked, his brain swarming with memory.

Drusilla had maintained her usual standards here, in the place she obviously had claimed as her own. Blindfolded dolls sat in a row against the wall, three or four of the larger ones arranged on the pillow on the bed. A small table bore a cross-shaped arrangement of Tarot cards. Drusilla herself sat in a chair on the other side of the table.

She looked up as he came in, her dark eyes wide. Her face was drawn, her skin as pale as he'd ever seen it. "Hello, Daddy," she breathed.

He swallowed. Faith and Connor stepped up behind him, close but not close, stopping just outside the door. "Drusilla," he answered. It had been so long since he'd had to face this part of his past, so long since he'd allowed himself to think about it. The memories overwhelmed him, and for a moment he could actually taste her. He had taken her virginity, not gently as he had taken Buffy's, but brutally, with no regard for her other than to break her. He had taken her mind, her body, and finally her soul.

His breath came fast and he hurt deep in his chest. She stood slowly and smiled. One slim hand rested on the cards. "You're here. Do you see? The cards cross." Angel looked at the layout on the table--it meant nothing to him. He doubted any human being, even the most experienced Tarot-reader, would read the cards the same way Dru did. Her dark eyes regarded him and she smiled softly. "I knew you were coming. It's time, isn't it?"

He nodded. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be." She walked toward him slowly, a delicate frown on her forehead. "You smell . . ." Her eyes lit with amazement. "My Angel. You're human."

He stood there, unmoving, as she reached toward him, her fingers touching the small wound on his shoulder where the vampire had bitten him. She dipped her fingertips into the blood, brought it to her lips. "So sweet." She smiled up into his eyes. "I could Turn you. I Turned Grandmother, you know. You remember. You were there."

"I remember."

"What happened to Grandmother? I heard her voice the other night, singing with the starlight. She's gone, isn't she?"

"Yes."

"Did you kill her?"

"No."

Drusilla's gaze shifted, looking past Angel, out the door. "The boy. He smells of her. And of you." She touched his wound again, pressing harder this time, and he winced. Just do it, he told himself. Get it done. But his arms remained straight at his sides. It was the best thing he could do for her, he knew. He couldn't redeem her, couldn't change her back to what she had been. She lifted her bloodied fingers to his mouth. "A taste?"

He turned his head, but she caught his mouth anyway, smearing his own blood across his lips. "You don't even remember anymore, do you?" she said as he roughly smeared the back of his hand over his mouth. "You don't remember how sweet it was."

He licked his lips reflexively. Enough of the blood remained for him to taste it. It tasted coppery, not sweet. She was wrong--he did remember. Remembered all the layers of flavor blood had carried, the different nuances of a woman's blood, the flowery taste of Drusilla's, the citrusy undertones of Darla's. Now it just tasted like metal. "I'm sorry for what I did to you," he said.

"I know. It hurts you, doesn't it? Do you hear them screaming at night? Do you hear me screaming? I asked you to stop, you remember? I asked you not to hurt me, so many times, but you did. You hurt me. Again and again. Would you hurt me now?"

"No," he said. "I'll make it fast." And he jerked his hand back, the stake springing out of his coat sleeve, and shoved it into her chest. Her dark eyes smiled up at him as she dusted.

#

            Angel was silent all the way home. Sitting on the ferry next to him, Buffy studied his face, wondering if she should say something to him, but he seemed lost in whatever thoughts swarmed behind his shuttered eyes.

            He had come back to the orphanage with Faith and Connor, and the first thing he had done was to take baby Giles and hold him. He'd been holding him ever since. The baby had fallen asleep against his shoulder by now, and Angel still held him. Right now his nose was pressed into the baby-fine hair and his eyes were a million miles away.

            Or perhaps only a century or two. It was hard to tell.

            In the face of Angel's withdrawn silence, Buffy had taken it upon herself to invite Faith and Connor to come back to the island with them, but they had declined. It was probably for the best. Buffy knew how Faith got after a good bout of slayage, and there was a definite air of get-a-roominess about her and Connor both. Angel had hugged Connor goodbye--without letting go of baby Giles--and muttered something into his older son's ear. Connor had nodded, looking a little chagrined, then he and Faith had left, hand-in-hand. Giles, too, had departed, catching a train back to London.

            "What did you say to him?" Buffy said suddenly.

            Angel looked at her, blinking. "What did I say to who?" His voice cracked, as if he hadn't used it in years rather than merely an hour or so.

            "Connor."

            "I told him I loved him." He turned back to the baby, taking a long, slow breath against the top of his head. "It never seems to quite sink in with him, though." Turning his head to settle his cheek against his son's hair, he studied Buffy's face. "How would you feel about adopting a daughter?"

            This caught Buffy off-guard. "What are you talking about?"

            "Jocelyn." He kissed baby Giles' head thoughtfully. "I killed her family--seems fair I should at least try to give her a new one."

            "Angel, you didn't kill her family. Drusilla did."

            He smiled a little. "You should know by now not to try to talk me out of a guilt trip. It's a waste of your energy."

            Buffy had to concede his point. "If it's important to you, then go ahead and look into it."

            "You're sure? It's okay with you?"

            "Yes."

            He gave her a warm smile. "Thank you."

            She scooted closer to him and he put his arm around her. The ferry swayed softly beneath them. Buffy closed her eyes and, wrapped in Angel's warm arms, listened to the music of his heartbeat.

END.