"It's a boy." The obstetrician smiled at Buffy as she slid the ultrasound reader over Buffy's abdomen. The gel was cold on her stomach and she tried not to flinch. Her abdomen was rounded already; she had started to show much earlier than she had with her first child.
Buffy looked at Angel, standing next to her. "Don't you make any girl sperm?"
He folded his arms over his chest, a little smug. "Guess not." He nodded toward the ultrasound. "Everything looks okay?"
The doctor smiled. She was by now used to Angel's hovery concern. "Everything's perfectly fine, Mr. Summers."
Angel nodded. He took Buffy's hand and squeezed it. "Good."
Jocelyn and baby Giles were in the waiting room, Giles occupied with a selection of Matchbox cars while Jocelyn watched him closely to be sure he didn't put anything small in his mouth. She looked up as Buffy and Angel came in.
"Mama!" said Giles, and ran to his mother. He was two-and-a-half years old--not so much a baby anymore. He wrapped his arms around Buffy's knees and she bent to pick him up.
"You're going to have a little brother," Buffy told him.
"It's a boy?" Jocelyn asked.
"Yep," said Angel. He smiled at her, and she smiled back. They'd bonded, Buffy knew--she'd watched it happen over the past eighteen months, since the day they'd met Jocelyn home in Dublin. Angel had told her the girl reminded him of Fred--thin and fragile on the outside, sharp and sensitive on the inside. And desperately in need of rescuing.
"Did the doctor say anything about the trip?" Jocelyn asked, a little hesitant.
"She said it'll be fine," Buffy reassured her. She touched her daughter's back as they walked out of the office. Her daughter. It was still hard for her to think of Jocelyn that way, even though she'd signed papers to make it so. Not that she didn't love the girl--it had just been odd to have a thirteen-year-old be suddenly part of the family.
Angel hadn't had any trouble at all with the addition. He had taken the girl in as he did everyone--whole-heartedly and unconditionally. And she had responded. She'd been borderline anorexic when they'd taken her in, but was well on her way to recovery. These days she ate almost like a normal girl her age. Buffy attributed much of this to Angel. After all, no one could identify with an eating disorder quite the way he could.
They stopped in the parking lot, next to the car. Jocelyn took Giles from Buffy's arms and buckled the little boy into his carseat. "So we can still go to Las Vegas for Christmas?"
"We certainly can," said Buffy.
"Yay!" said Jocelyn.
The Vegas trip had been planned several months ago, just before Buffy had discovered she was pregnant. Angel had immediately suggesting canceling or postponing it, but it hadn't seemed necessary. The doctor's answers today had reinforced that. They were leaving in four days, to visit Xander and Cordy, and hopefully also Willow, Giles and Dawn.
"I've never been on a plane before." Jocelyn was mutedly enthusiastic; she seemed always to hold back just a little of what she was feeling, as if afraid of feeling too much, or at least of showing it.
"It's kinda cool," said Angel. Buffy smiled. Airplane travel was still fairly new to Angel, as well. She hadn't been with him on his first-ever flight, but even now, he approached the experience with enthusiasm similar to Jocelyn's. "You can look down and see the tops of the clouds, and it looks like you should be able to just fall out of the window and right into them, like it's a big pile of cotton or something."
Jocelyn look at him in pure adoration. "That sounds so cool."
"It is." He headed for the study, waving for her to follow. "I think I have some pictures from when I flew from Ireland to California for the first time."
And showed up in my favorite cemetery just in time to save my life, Buffy thought, watching them go. She smiled, feeling tears well in her eyes. Stupid hormones.
She turned her attention back to baby Giles, who was lining up letter blocks, making words like "GRT," and "TBLFT." Buffy had been pronouncing them for him, but Angel had nixed that--something about possibly opening a portal. Angel could be really weird sometimes.
"What did you spell?" she asked her son.
Giles studied his block pattern, which said, "B glkth mrfw," and said, quite seriously, "I love Mommy."
"That's so sweet. Thank you, baby."
He looked up at her, his dark eyes glinting under low, straight brows, just like his father at his most annoyed. "I not a baby."
It was all Buffy could do not to burst into laughter. Fortunately, just then the doorbell rang, saving her son's fragile dignity.
Father O'Shea stood outside on the porch, his usual friendly self. Buffy let him in. He handed her an envelope.
"For the last batch of paintings," he told her.
"He's in the study if you want to talk to him."
"No, no, that's all right. No sense disturbing him."
"He's showing Jocelyn airplane pictures. I don't know which one of them's more excited about this trip."
Father O'Shea nodded. He suddenly looked a little discomfited.
"Can I get you some tea?" Buffy asked.
"Actually, I'm in a bit of a rush--" He stopped suddenly, took a breath. "But I have time for tea. Yes, thank you. Very much."
Buffy plugged in her electric kettle and took a seat at the kitchen table. Father O'Shea sat, as well.
"Is there something wrong?" Buffy ventured. Normally the priest was eager to see Angel, to talk about Angel's painting or whatever else they found to discuss. Buffy rarely participated in their conversations. But today he seemed almost wary.
"I just... To be honest, Buffy, I'm rather glad the two of you are going away for a bit."
Buffy studied his face. He looked a little guilty, she thought, and suddenly it hit her.
"Confession getting to be a little too much?"
Father O'Shea looked miserably conflicted for a moment, then nodded. "I shouldn't say anything--confidentiality of the confessional and all that-but these are such unusual circumstances."
Buffy got up to check the kettle. The water was hot, so she retrieved a pair of mugs from the display tree and put tea bags in them.
"You didn't know what you were getting into when you took this gig, did you?" she said.
"No, I really didn't. I mean, I thought I did, but I had no idea."
Buffy set a mug down in front of him. "What's he been talking about this week?"
"Ah." She stirred her tea absently; it was still far too hot to drink.
"You know that story?"
"Most of it."
Father O'Shea shook his head, blowing into his tea. "I see him, I spend time with him, we chat--and then he comes in to confession and tells me these horrible stories of things he did... Sometimes I wonder if I'm capable of absolving him of that."
"You're not."
"Excuse me?"
Buffy laughed a little. "No offense, but, sacrilegious much? You're a priest. You're not God."
The priest looked chagrined. "Oh. Of course."
"When we last communicated with the Powers, when they took away my Slayer strength and told Angel he was going to lose fifteen years of his life, they told him he'd already been forgiven. The confession is just for him, because he was raised Catholic, and something in him needs it. I don't know if that makes you feel any better or not."
The priest shook his head slowly. "Already forgiven. You know, we preach that God can forgive all things, but sometimes, listening to him tell me everything he did, I wonder how that can possibly be true."
Buffy's stomach clenched. This was not the kind of conversation she liked to have about her husband. She didn't like having to defend him, especially to people who claimed to be his friends.
Maintaining her outward composure, she said, "First of all, you have to understand that, technically, Angelus is not Angel. Angel remembers everything Angelus did, but it was the demon doing the perpetrating."
"But I've done some research on vampires, and that darkness-" He broke off, looked into his steaming tea. "The kind of person you are before you're Turned plays a great deal into the kind of vampire you become. That darkness, that brutality--it had to have been in him already for it to have manifested so intensely in the demon form."
Buffy could have spent hours arguing that theory, but decided to let it go for now. "It also has nothing at all to do with who or what he is now. He spent a century alone and in pain. He spent a century in hell-literally. And he spent nearly fifteen years actively fighting against the darkness in this world. He averted or helped avert something like seven apocalypses. And you want to sit there and tell me you think he may not be forgivable because a demon used his body to rape and pillage and brutalize and murder for a hundred and fifty years?"
He stared at her, looking a little taken aback. Maybe her tone had been a little too vehement, she thought. Maybe she'd spat a little--she wasn't sure.
"Maybe I'm having a little crisis of faith," he said quietly.
"Well, we all do, sooner or later. Angel saved me from mine--I was about to commit suicide by vampire when he popped back into my life."
"I didn't know that."
"There's a lot you don't know," she said mildly. "In fact, since you're here, let me tell you a couple of stories."
The priest nodded. "Okay."
"Once upon a time, I was sixteen years old, and I fell in love with a 240-year-old vampire. I loved him so much I went to bed with him on my seventeenth birthday. He woke up without a soul. He killed some of my friends, stalked and terrorized me, murdered one of my teachers, and eventually tried to have the whole world sucked into hell. I had to kill him to stop it. But right before I did, his soul came back, and in the end I had to kill, basically in cold blood, the man I loved more than anything else in my life."
Father O'Shea just stared at her. "That's a terrible story."
"It was even terrible-er living it. But he came back, and I forgave him, because what he did when he didn't have a soul had nothing to do with who he really was. Now, here's another story. This one's pretty new to me, too. Flash forward a few years. Some weird stuff happens, ancient prophecies, mystical convergences, some unexpected shagging--yadda yadda--the vampire ends up with a kid. His own biological son, impossible child of two vampires. This kid gets taken away, raised by his father's mortal enemy. He comes back and he hates his father so much that he welds him into a box and dumps him into the ocean knowing damn well he'll stay alive. Potentially forever. In a box at the bottom of the ocean. Oh, and you'll never get the vamp to admit it, not even now he's not a vamp anymore, but he's more than a little claustrophobic."
The look on Father O'Shea's face defied description. Buffy had a feeling he probably made that face quite often during Angel's confession sessions. It was shocked and appalled, disgusted and fascinated all at the same time.
"What happened?"
"His friends found him, eventually. He was nuts with hunger by then, but he recovered. And what do you think he did? He forgave that boy. Can you imagine forgiving someone for something that heinous?"
The priest shook his head slowly. "Unbelievable."
"Angel forgives easily. I think he held a grudge one time, and that got pretty nasty, but it was over in less than a year. That's pretty good, don't you think? He values his own forgiveness, so he doles it out in heaps to other people." She paused, wondering if she was making any sense at all. "He's a good man."
But Father O'Shea was obviously still conflicted. "He drove that girl insane. He stalked her, slaughtered her whole family, raped her and made her a vampire."
"Yeah. He also ate babies and nailed puppies to walls. He ripped out his baby sister's throat, and he used to like to slaughter nuns. I think he might even have had some nun-skin gloves at one point."
Father O'Shea winced. "You...actually know all this?"
"You're surprised by that?"
"A little."
"I've been closer to Angelus than you'll ever be, because Angelus is dead. All you have are the stories. Angelus kissed me with his gross, fangy mouth and told me I was no good in bed. He was evil, sadistic, brutal, cruel, and just plain mean. He was a soulless demon who wore Angel's face, and he's dead now. And good riddance. Except Angel still carries the guilt for all the things Angelus did."
"I suppose...it doesn't really seem fair."
"Not really. But I don't blame you for needing a break."
Father O'Shea sipped his tea. "That's all it is, I think. I just need a break." He set the mug down, staring into it.
"Don't feel bad," Buffy said gently. "It's easier for me. I see him every day. I see the way he is with the children. The way he is with me." She paused, eyeing the priest with a grin. "I have this theory that you can never really understand Angel until you've slept with him."
"I guess I'm completely out of luck, then."
Buffy laughed a little, then sobered. "It's all right there, then. Everything he is, was. Everything he wants to be. You can just see it in his eyes when he--" She broke off, remembering she was talking to a priest. "I'm sorry. Not exactly an appropriate topic."
"It's okay. God gave us the urge to love physically for a reason. And I believe those reasons go beyond the obvious reproductive purpose."
"You're a little radical, aren't you?"
"What do you expect? I take confession from an ex-vampire."
"Point taken."
Laughter rose suddenly from the study--tinkling, girlish laughter Buffy had only begun to get used to, and loose, unburdened male laughter that was almost as new to her. She smiled and glanced back toward the sounds.
"That's my Angel, Father O'Shea. None of the rest of it matters."
Angel spent most of the preparatory and take-off portions of the flight getting the children situated. Jocelyn was so excited she could barely sit still, yet he had the unshakeable feeling she was afraid, as well. Vampire senses or no, he still had an ability to read people, and he'd learned to trust it. So he kept an arm around her through the takeoff, while she sat glued to the window. At least she appreciated the window seat he'd given up. He loved to watch takeoff out the window.
Baby Giles, on the other hand, was quiet, and started to cry when the air pressure began to change. Buffy cuddled him and gave him a pacifier to suck on, which seemed to help, and by the time they'd hit cruising altitude, he had fallen asleep.
"That went fairly well," Angel noted. They'd gotten some cold looks, coming onto the plane with a toddler, and he couldn't help feeling a little smug at having been vindicated. One thing--one of many things--that still baffled him about the modern human world was an apparent disdain for children.
Jocelyn was still glued to the window, and the tension he'd interpreted as fear seemed to have eased, so Angel took his arm from around her and turned to face Buffy more fully. "Can I take him?" Giles was limp and silent in her arms, drooling around his pacifier. Carefully, Buffy eased him onto his father's shoulder, then stretched her arm as Angel adjusted the baby. He heard her elbow pop. Giles stirred a little and made a noise, but didn't wake up.
"Thanks," Buffy said. She slid her hands down the slight bulge of her belly and closed her eyes a moment, then opened them.
"Something wrong?" Angel asked. He couldn't help the constant concern, though he knew it drove Buffy crazy. It was just in his nature to worry about everything. So many things in his life had gone wrong, after all.
She gave him a tolerant smile. "No, everything's fine." She stretched her legs. Angel envied her this, as he barely had enough room to just sit up straight--the only thing he disliked about airline travel.
"I was thinking about the baby," she went on, folding her hands over her stomach.
"What about him?"
"Well, now that we know he's a him, we can start thinking about names."
He smiled. She was jazzed about this, he could tell. "And I suppose you have some ideas."
"I do. I want to name him Liam."
The smile froze on his mouth. "Liam," he repeated woodenly.
"Yeah. I think it'd be nice to name him after his father."
He glanced at Jocelyn. She still had her nose pressed against the window. "Last I checked, my name wasn't Liam."
"I know. But Angel's kind of girly. You know that, don't you?"
He just looked at her. She'd known him long enough, though, to know what that blank expression meant. He hated that. There'd been a time when he could close off and not worry about being interpreted. But her face crumpled a little.
"I thought--since you're human now--it would be a neat thing--kind of symbolic--to reclaim that name."
"We could just call him Angelus. Reclaim that name, while we're at it." He knew as soon as he said it that he shouldn't have. He should have kept his mouth shut until he'd had a chance to think his feelings through. Too late now.
Buffy blinked, her eyes glistening. "That was harsh."
Angel spared another look at Jocelyn. She had turned toward them, and there was an obvious glint of concern in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," said Angel to Buffy. "We'll talk about it later."
It had been snowing when they left Ireland, but Vegas was hot and sunny. Rapid changes in temperature bothered Angel more than he would ever admit; his internal thermostat had somehow never really adjusted to warm-bloodedness, and he found excessive heat in particular very uncomfortable. And the condition seemed to be getting worse.
So his skin felt tight and hot as it met Nevada's desert air, and drawing breath made the inside of his nose hurt. He set down the suitcase he was carrying and took off his jacket and his shirt. Even the light cotton undershirt felt too hot, but decorum didn't allow for further disrobing. Buffy gave him a look, but said nothing. She hadn't said much to him at all since their argument on the plane.
"That was so cool," Jocelyn said. She'd gushed about the flight the whole trip, and now she couldn't stop talking about the landing. "When the plane did that little bump, and then we were on the ground. Do you think it's cool to fly a plane, Angel?"
He smiled. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and he'd been nearly as exhilarated by the flight as she was. "Yeah, I'm sure it is."
He led the way out to the terminal, keeping the pace moderate so baby Giles could keep up. The little boy had done well on the flight, but hadn't said much. Then again, Giles Sillivan Summers was a man of few words. Right now he trailed after Buffy, holding her hand, sucking on his fingers and staring around him at the bright colors of the Las Vegas airport.
Xander and Cordy were waiting for them just inside the main gate. Buffy ran to Xander and hugged him warmly, then Angel shook his hand and gave Cordelia a quick peck on the cheek.
"How was the flight?" Xander asked.
"It was cool," said Jocelyn.
"I concur," Angel put in. Cordelia was watching him, her brown eyes warm. Suddenly uncomfortable, he looked away. He could feel Buffy's eyes on him, and the sensation was unpleasant.
"Xander, this is Jocelyn," Buffy said. "Our daughter as of about a year ago. And this is baby Giles."
Xander greeted both the children with intent seriousness. Xander was good with kids, it seemed. A shame Cordelia couldn't have any.
And whose fault is that? Angel fought back the thought. It wasn't fair to any of them, not really, but he couldn't help having it. She'd been in his care, in his employ, the Powers working through her for his benefit, and none of it had ended well.
"So," he said, pushing back the memories, "who else is going to be here?"
"Dawn's coming in this evening, and Giles and Willow will be here tomorrow."
"Everybody's staying in the hotel Xander built," Cordy put in. She took Xander's hand. "It's the best place in Vegas."
Xander shrugged modestly. "Well, at least the least likely to fall down." He picked up a couple of the Summers family's suitcases, and led the way out of the airport.
They'd been given two adjoining rooms--a suite for Angel, Buffy and the baby, and a small room for Jocelyn.
"I get my own hotel room?" She stared at it, wide-eyed. Angel wasn't sure if she was excited or frightened by the prospect.
"We'll be right next door," he told her. "In fact, we can keep this door open between the two rooms, so it'll be like one big room."
"That'd be good," she said. "I would like that."
So Angel opened the door. He and Buffy went to unpack, leaving Giles with Jocelyn for the time being.
"How do you always know?" Buffy asked as she opened her suitcase.
Angel frowned at her. She seemed a little tense, still. "Always know what?"
"When she's afraid, and what she's afraid of. I never would have thought she'd want the door open."
Angel shrugged. "I don't know. I just guess."
"And she acted so excited about the plane, but you knew she was afraid of that, too."
"I just knew." He pulled out a carefully folded sweater and hung it in the closet. Buffy was tossing underwear by the handful into a drawer.
"So what's this bug you have up your ass?" she said, not looking at him.
A bit taken aback, he paused in the midst of unfolding a pair of pants. "I don't have a bug up my ass."
"You must, or you wouldn't have bitten my head off on the plane."
"I didn't bite your head off."
She turned to face him, outwardly still fairly calm. But he could see in her eyes that she was holding back. "Then what was that Angelus crack about?"
"That was out of line. I'm sorry."
She eased up a little, some of the anger fading. "So maybe my choice of baby names is okay, after all?"
"I didn't say that."
"I don't understand what you have against Liam. It was your name for, what, twenty-seven years? It was your human name. So why did you jump all over me for wanting to name our son after his father?"
"Liam is not our son's father. Liam was nobody's father. Well, actually, it wouldn't surprise me if he was a lot of people's father, but he didn't care enough to ever find out." Buffy crossed her arms over her chest, eyeing him as he went on. "Liam was a prick. Plain and simple. I don't want my son named after a prick."
"That's not the way I see it." Her voice had sharp edges on it now; Angel knew if he wasn't careful, he might end up not getting laid tonight.
And, for the first time since he and Buffy had reunited, he didn't care. He turned to face her, feeling his shoulders tighten, feeling the anger stiffen his spine. "And exactly how do you see it, Buffy?"
She blinked quickly, lashes glistening. "Does it matter? It sounds to me like you've already made up your mind."
"Why shouldn't I? You made up yours before you even brought this up. And did you bother to consider what I might think about it?"
"Yes, I did. Obviously I was way off the mark." She folded her arms hard over her chest, glaring up at him, her eyes green fire but swimming. "God! Why are you doing this?"
A movement in the corner of his eye caught Angel's attention. He turned--
And deflated. Not because of Buffy's frustrated anger, but because Jocelyn stood in the open door between the two rooms, staring wide-eyed, her lower lip shaking a little.
Angel turned back to Buffy. "I'm sorry. I just--I need to think about it, okay?" He should have done that in the first place, instead of shooting off his mouth. "To be completely honest, I don't know how I feel about it. Can you give me that? Just some time to think?"
She clenched her teeth. "Why didn't you just say that in the first place." Then she, too, saw Jocelyn, and closed her eyes, gathering herself. "That's fine. Think about it. We'll talk later."
"Buffy--" He reached for her, but she jerked away.
"No," she said, her voice still hard. "Later."
They had dinner at the Harris house with Xander, Cordy and Dawn, who had come in on a late afternoon flight. Buffy fought back tears as she embraced her sister; she had to keep up the stoic front. No point dragging everybody down into whatever half-assed piss-party Angel had built up inside his head.
Dawn laid her hand on Buffy's rounded stomach, smiling with delight. "Wow," she said. "You know, it was so not fair of you running off to Ireland like that without telling anybody."
Buffy laid a hand over her sister's. "I know. Maybe I shouldn't have done it that way, but at the time it seemed like the thing to do."
"I knew where you were." Dawn's smile softened. "I think I was the oly one who did."
Buffy shook her head, dumbfounded. "How-- You knew? Really?"
"I knew you weren't dead. I also knew you were--" She considered her words a moment. "You were sick, Buffy. Sort of. I could tell. Depressed, or broken--it's hard to explain. But when you disappeared, somehow I just knew you were happy. Really happy. And for you to be that happy, I knew it had to have something to do with Angel." She hesitated. "You're still happy, right?"
Buffy slanted a look at her husband, who was helping Jocelyn and baby Giles take their places at the dinner table. He looked sober, thoughtful, not that much different than usual, but when she looked at him, he didn't look back. She swallowed hard.
"Yeah," she said. "Mostly happy."
Angel was taciturn during dinner, but no one seemed to notice. Angel wasn't the most talkative person, anyway, and his grim expression wasn't exactly unusual, either. So Buffy ate her food--which turned out to be surprisingly good even though Cordelia had cooked it--and listened to Xander tell stories about the wild and crazy world of construction.
Cordy must have heard these stories a million times, Buffy thought, but she still cackled and snorted through them. She seemed ridiculously happy, at ease with Xander, occasionally bumping Angel, who sat next to her. Angel acknowledged her more than once with a slight smile, and seemed to be enjoying Xander's stories more than Buffy would have thought possible.
She tried to relax and enjoy them, too, but she couldn't get past the tension roiling in her stomach. Of course she could blame at least some of that on hormones, but she didn't think it was inappropriate for her to be upset after what had happened between her and Angel.
Maybe she could take some time to think about it, too. Obviously she'd gone off on completely the wrong tack with Angel. She'd had no idea she was so off the mark. Watching him now, as he slowly relaxed again, she didn't know whether to be relieved that things might be returning to normal, or angry that the change seemed to be at least partially due to Cordy's presence.
After dinner, she helped Cordelia with the dishes. Cordy seemed to be watching her far too closely, but it wasn't until they were alone in the kitchen, carefully loading the dishwasher, that Cordy said what was on her mind.
"What's the what?"
"What? What what?" Buffy couldn't bring herself to look at Cordy directly.
"You and Angel. There was some serious nasty bouncing around out there."
Buffy didn't answer. Cordy gave her a minute, then sighted. "Buffy, don't try to tell me it's not true."
"It's no big deal. Just an argument. We'll work it out."
Cordelia nodded. "Okay." She took a plate out of Buffy's hands. "In the meantime, why don't you go take a walk? The neighborhood's lit pretty well, and it might do you some good to get away from it for a bit."
Buffy started to protest, then let it go. Wonder of wonders, Cordy was right. "Okay. Let Angel know."
"I'll do that."
She started toward the back door, but was surprised when Cordelia stopped her with a hand on her arm.
"Take your time," Cordy said gently. "The kids'll be fine."
Grateful, Buffy smiled, and headed out into the warm winter darkness.
Angel picked pieces of bread and half-eaten vegetables up from the floor under baby Giles' high chair while Jocelyn wiped the little boy's face with a washcloth.
"Messy little creature, isn't he?" Dawn wrinkled her nose, but her eyes were twinkling.
"He has to learn his table manners," said Jocelyn. Angel looked at her, afraid she might have taken Dawn's comment seriously, but she was smiling. She met his gaze, returned his smile.
He should have talked to her, he thought, reassured her that things would be okay, and that she wasn't in danger of losing another family. But somehow he hadn't quite been able to bring himself to. Afraid, perhaps, that he wouldn't be able to make it sound convincing enough.
He straightened, stood, and carried his collection of crumbs into the kitchen to put them in the wastebasket. Cordelia smiled warmly as he came in.
"Hey," she said.
"Where's Buffy?" he answered.
"She went for a walk. Said she could use a little air."
"Oh." He just stood there for a moment, feeling lost, then Cordy pointed to the waste basket. He brushed his hands off over it, depositing the collection of crumbs.
"Are you okay?" Cordelia asked.
He nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. I just--kind of opened my mouth when I shouldn't have."
Cordy nodded wisely. "Figures, doesn't it? You go, say, two hundred and fifty years without saying much of anything, then one day you open your mouth and bam! In goes your foot."
He laughed a little. "Something like that."
She smiled at him, but it slowly faded from her face, replaced by a more evaluating look. "I think Xander and Dawn are busy getting caught up, and your kids look pretty settled. Could you maybe spare me a few minutes? We need to talk."
Angel blinked at her, a little taken aback. She was dead serious, her brown eyes sober.
"Do we?" he said.
"Yes, we do."
He shrugged. "Okay, then."
Buffy walked a few blocks along the brightly-lit sidewalk, enjoying the warmth and the silence more than she'd realized she would. It had been a long time, she realized, since she'd felt this kind of warmth. Pervasive heat that hung in the air, so thick it felt like you had to move through it. At least, it seemed that way after three years in Ireland. Had she come here directly from Sunnydale, it wouldn't have made such an impression.
It had been a long time since she'd been in this kind of silence, too. So much of the last few years had been full of the demands of an infant, then a toddler, and of course Angel. She loved her family; it hadn't really crossed her mind that she might need a break.
There was a bus stop bench a few blocks from the Harris house, so she took a seat. Just to rest, and hoping a bus wouldn't happen by and try to pick her up. She didn't want to inconvenience anyone, but the night was so soft and quiet, so soothing, that she wanted to take a few minutes to enjoy it.
But of course she couldn't, not really, because she kept thinking about Angel.
She'd never imagined Angel might not react well to her suggesting Liam as a name for their baby. It seemed perfectly sensible to her. So what was his problem? He was human again--why the freak over his human name?
She'd always assumed Liam had been a man much like Angel was now--decent, caring, honorable. She'd always used Angel as an example--if only in her own head--of how a vampire could be completely different from the human he'd been before being Turned. She'd read the same books Father O'Shea had, about how the human host affected the personality of the human/demon hybrid that was the vampire. And she'd believed them. She'd believed them about Spike, and about Darla and Drusilla. But never about Angel.
It had never even occurred to her to ask Angel what he'd been like as a human. There'd been very little written about Liam--even his last name had remained unknown to the Watchers who had written about him. Still, she assumed that knowing the ensouled version of Angel had told her everything she'd needed to know about Liam.
What if she'd been wrong? Did it matter? Certainly it didn't change the kind of man Angel was now, and that was the man she'd married, the man who'd fathered her children. But obviously it mattered to Angel.
Because he knew. Knew what he had been as Liam as intimately as he knew what he had been as Angelus. It occurred to her then that there were undoubtedly vast stretches of his life about which she knew nothing. Out of nearly three hundred years, she knew how many? A hundred? She didn't even know. At this point, Father O'Shea probably knew Angel better than she did.
Her mind cast back to the conversation they'd had before they'd left, and she couldn't help a half-hearted smile. Of course he didn't. Father O'Shea, after all, had never slept with Angel. And she hadn't been lying about that. When Angel really let himself go, let everything he was pour into her, she saw in his eyes the very depths of him, all the way to his soul. This was why the curse had plagued them, because he was so completely bared when he was with her. She understood this on a level deeper than knowledge, because she had looked into his eyes and watched him come.
She knew him. No one would ever know him the way she did. But she didn't always understand him.
She could live with that.
Feeling a little more at ease again, she closed her eyes, settled into the bench, and let the night lull her.
Cordelia led Angel into the back yard. Near the back door, a small bench sat next to a meticulously tended flowerbed. She sat on the bench and patted the seat next to her. After a moment's hesitation, he sat.
"What do we need to talk about?" he said.
She looked at him, her brown eyes shrewd. "What's going on with you and Buffy?"
"Nothing," he said, too quickly.
She gave him a look. "Angel, please. Don't even bother lying to me."
He studied her face. Then, very carefully, he said, "It's really none of your business."
She smiled. "No, I guess it really isn't. Not that that ever stopped me before."
Cordelia laughed, and for a moment it felt like old times, when they had been friends and no more. But that friendship had been so precious to him, so deeply rooted in his heart. He hadn't really understood how much that had meant to him until it had been taken away. Until the day she'd looked at him and couldn't remember the years they'd spent working together.
She still didn't, of course, but he could pretend. Remember. Let himself feel, just for a moment, the feelings he'd had for her.
Her eyes had gone dark and warm. As he watched her, she shifted a little, smiling, and laid her hand against his cheek.
"Yes," she said.
Her fingers traced his cheekbone, gentle. "Yes, we were in love."
He blinked, flummoxed. "Cordy...my God...you..." He couldn't finish. It all seemed too impossible, too much to ask.
"You asked me that question, and I felt like I owed you an answer. One you could trust. One you knew came from me."
Angel swallowed hard. "You remember."
"I do."
She lowered her hand from his face and reached for his hands, twined her fingers into his. "When?" he asked.
"It was a few years ago. I was in the hospital after..." She paused, swallowed, and he squeezed her hands tight. "After I lost the baby. The one time. I was... I was actually dead for a few minutes. They lost my pulse once and had to resuscitate. When I woke up--I remembered. Everything."
She nodded soberly. "The good, the bad, the ugly... God, Angel, the things I said to you, the things I did--"
"Cordy. It wasn't you."
"It felt like me. I didn't understand everything that was happening, but in the beginning, it felt so much like it was me. It wasn't until I woke up...that morning..." She trailed off, gathering herself. "With Connor. I started to understand then, and I tried to fight, Angel, I tried so hard, but it was no use. Whatever it was inside me, it just kept getting stronger and stronger--"
Her voice cracked. A tear traced its way down her cheek and it was Angel's turn to cup her face in his hand, gentle.
"I loved you," she whispered. "I really did. And that thing, it destroyed everything we could have had."
Angel caught a tear against his thumb. "Does Xander know?"
It surprised him a little when she nodded. "I told him everything. I thought he deserved to know." She caught Angel's hand, lifted it away from her face, and folded her own hands around it. "I love him so much, Angel. He's done so much for me. I thought I knew what I was walking away from, back then, in high school, but I had no idea."
Angel smiled. A soft weight lifted from his heart--the guilt he had carried concerning her. He'd done the best he could. He knew that now.
"He's been good to you."
"More than good. It's perfect, Angel. He loves me. We fight and we squabble and we make up and we laugh so much. It's just the way it's supposed to be."
"I'm happy for you. I really am." He paused, looking down at her hands, cradling his. "Everything we could have had--it wouldn't have been much."
"I know. But back then, I would have taken it. I would have taken whatever you would have given me."
"And now?"
"Now I'm thinking we were both more than a little pathetic."
He laughed. "I think you're right."
"And now we're all big with the happy."
She shifted then, and to his surprise, she put her arms around him, held him close. He hesitated, then returned her embrace. After a minute or two, she drew back.
"Whatever's happening with Buffy, you'll work it out."
He nodded. "I know."
"I'm happy for you, too." She leaned into him and up, kissed his forehead, brushed a hand over his hair. "It suits you."
"The gray?"
Buffy saw them. She came back to the house just in time to look out the back window and see Cordelia lean into Angel's embrace, and to see his soft, watery smile. She stood there, looking out the window, and felt her fists clench.
A hand settled on her shoulder, big and comforting, and Xander said quietly, "Don't."
"Don't what?"
"Don't get all jealous and go out there with a big stick and start beating on my wife. Cause then I'd have to hurt you, and we all know you'd kick my ass."
Buffy relaxed, suddenly and completely, and laughed. "I'm not a Slayer anymore. Plus I'm a little pregnant at the moment." She turned toward him, forcing herself to look away from Angel and Cordy.
Xander shrugged, grinning. "Yeah, and you'd still kick my ass." He paused, looking at her. "It isn't worth it, Buffy. There was a lot between them. This is the first chance they've had to talk about it."
"I thought..." She resisted the urge to look back over her shoulder, out the window. "I didn't think she remembered."
"She remembered a few years ago."
"What... What did she tell you?" Buffy wasn't even sure she wanted to know.
"That she loved him. That she hurt him, and that she wished she hadn't."
Buffy swallowed hard. Her hand strayed to her stomach, her fingers curling against the soft bulge. That was solid and real, her son, Angel's son, curled up tiny and growing inside her. Baby Giles, laughing with Dawn and Jocelyn. Jocelyn, not her child by blood, but still hers by way of Angel's love.
"It doesn't bother you?" she managed. Xander seemed so calm. It was odd. He had always disliked Angel, and now, when it seemed he had the most reason to continue in that tradition, he was calm, accepting.
Smiling, even. Again. "A lot of stuff has changed, Buff. I love Cordy. She loves me. She's happy here. You're happy with Angel. It was always meant to be that way, eventually. I had Anya, she had Angel. It's no big, not in the greater scheme of things."
Buffy shook her head, a little numb. "When the hell did you grow up?"
He sobered. He was looking out the window, now, but there was no anger on his face. "The night Cordy died, and came back."
Buffy could find nothing to say to that. Behind her, the door opened, and Angel came back in, holding the door for Cordelia.
"Hey, Buffy," he said, his smile a little hesitant.
"Hey," she said.
They drove back to the hotel in relative silence, Angel behind the wheel of the slightly-too-small rental car. The tension seemed to have eased a little, Buffy thought, until Jocelyn said suddenly, from the back seat, "Are you guys still fighting?"
Angel slanted a look at Buffy. She just looked back at him, willing him to field the question. He seemed to communicate infinitely better with the girl than Buffy did.
"I'm not sure," he finally said. "Maybe."
"Will it..." She trailed off, started again. "Will it end badly?"
Angel looked at Buffy and smiled a little. "I don't think so."
At the hotel, Buffy tucked in the baby and made sure Jocelyn was set for the night. She was just finishing up when Angel joined her in Jocelyn's adjoining room, clad in cotton pajama pants and nothing else. Her heart sped up, her body clenching with arousal. Not fair that he could do that to her, even when she was still pissed at him. But he smiled at her as he walked by, and she had a feeling he was fighting a similar struggle. His loose cotton pants disguised any evidence, at least for the moment. Good thing. She wasn't looking forward to having those particular conversations with Jocelyn, though she was well beyond old enough.
Angel went to sit on the bed next to Jocelyn and bent to kiss her forehead. "Sleep tight," he said, while Buffy stood watching, admiring his back. He adjusted Jocelyn's covers, brushed hair back from her face. "Everything's gonna be fine. I'm going to close the door for a while, though, okay? Buffy and I need to talk."
She smiled up at him, adoring. "Okay."
Angel went to baby Giles, who was already asleep, and laid a gentle hand on his stomach. Then, quiet, he slipped back out of the room. Buffy followed him.
Angel closed the door behind them, then grabbed her, pulled her to him, and kissed her, deep and sweet. She tensed, then relaxed into it, savoring him. When he was done, he kissed her forehead, then said softly, "I love you."
"Does this mean I get my way?"
"Nope." He stepped away from her, took a seat on the bed. "It means you get to listen to me talk."
"Oh, boy." Resigned, she took a seat next to him. "That's always fun."
"I thought about what you said," he told her, ignoring her flippancy, "and I think I've come up with a compromise."
"Okay, let's hear it."
"You can pick the first name--and I can live with Liam if you really feel strongly about it--and I get to pick the middle names."
"Yeah. You didn't really ask me about that 'Sullivan' thing with Giles, and frankly I wasn't that crazy about it."
"Really. But the sentiment was good, so I didn't say anything."
"I had no idea."
He shrugged. "Sorry."
"Names?" she repeated.
"Allen Francis," he said.
Buffy frowned, mulling that. "Liam Allen Francis Summers. It's okay. But why Allen Francis?"
"Allen Francis Doyle," he said, and she said, quietly, "Oh."
They were both silent a moment. Buffy only vaguely remembered Doyle, from the time she'd visited in LA, the day that was, then wasn't, then was again. Angel rarely talked about him.
"Why did you change your mind?" she ventured finally.
He looked at her, slowly, as if pulling himself back from a distant memory. "I didn't. I hadn't made up my mind to begin with."
She shook her head. "Pick a few more nits, while you're at it. What made you come to this decision, then?"
"What you said about reclaiming the name."
She gave him a smug grin. "See? I told you."
"Not so fast. You're not right about everything, regardless of what you tell yourself." He took her hand, reducing the sting of his words a little. "My relationship with my father was practically nonexistent. He despised everything about me, because nothing about me was what he wanted me to be. I don't want to be that kind of father to my sons."
"You won't be." Buffy wasn't sure if he needed reassurance or not. "Are you afraid you might be that way because he was?"
"No. I could never be that way, not now. But maybe it wouldn't hurt to have that reminder."
"A reminder of how horrible your childhood was?" That struck her as a bad idea. Angel was obsessive enough the way it was.
"No. To help me remember I can make something new. Something I never had with my father." He squeezed her hand. "I love my sons. All of them. I want to give them everything I can. Connor...I never go the chance with Connor. Now--every day with Giles has been a miracle to me. A new start, a second chance. Just like every day with you has been. I don't want to forget the miracle. I don't ever want to take anything of what I have for granted."
She smiled, ran her thumbs over the backs of his hands. "I don't think you ever could."
"I did once. Complacency doesn't work for me."
Her smile faded. There it was. The shadow of the curse, that even now he had a hard time letting go, relaxing into his life. It hurt her to watch him hurt, because she couldn't help him, couldn't change him.
She could comfort him, though. This she knew how to do, and do well. It was as natural to her as breathing. She reached up and touched him, cupping his face. That contact had become so familiar--the jut of his cheekbone, the soft, stubbled cheek against her palm. She knew every inch of him, every hair, freckle, scar, mole and pockmark on his body.
"I should have known," she said. "Or at the very least I should have asked. But I should have known, really."
"Why?" He took her hand as she lowered it from his face. "Why would you know if I hadn't told you? But, yeah, asking would have been nice."
"It's just...I feel like I know everything about you. And then I don't."
He shrugged. He was silent for a moment, then lay back, stretching out on the bed. She followed suit, turning a little toward him. She could tell he was working up to something, that he was going to talk, probably for a while.
"The things I did as Angelus--they were horrible. Stuff you can't even imagine. Doesn't matter how many Watcher diaries you read, you're never going to understand how absolutely, completely horrific that was. But it wasn't me. It was the demon. But Liam..." He trailed off. She gave him his silence, lying there in his warmth. Finally, he started again. "I had raped and killed long before I was Turned. I was no stranger to brutality."
Buffy swallowed. The moment of silence between them ached to be filled, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. He was looking at her--she could feel his gaze on her face--but she couldn't lift her eyes. Instead she held still there against him, looking at the hollow of his throat.
After a moment, he lifted his arm and put it around her. She moved automatically into his embrace, and as his long fingers brushed soft over her hair, she forced herself not to flinch away.
"Killed a man once in a tavern brawl." His voice was soft and his accent had shifted a little, Irish threading through it. "Didn't mean to, and I ran afterward. But I beat another man, later, beat him to death with my fists. He looked like my father."
She stared at his throat. His Adam's apple bobbed as he spoke. Slowly, carefully, she lifted her eyes to his mouth. So familiar, the wide, angular lines. She held very still. His fingers traced the back of her ear, gentle and warm.
"It was easy, then, to brutalize women. Expected, even, in some circles. The whores were always bruised about the face, on their thighs. It seemed the thing to do, to use them hard, and not too difficult to convince yourself it was what they wanted. And drunk--two of us on a girl once, and I know we hurt her. She didn't scream, but she bled..."
Buffy closed her eyes. "That's not you."
"Not now, but it was. And there was no demon to blame for it, not then." He leaned forward, and his lips brushed her hair. "I've no doubt, now, that God can forgive me, but I wonder, sometimes, if you could, If you knew the truth."
She opened her eyes, slowly, to find herself looking at his jaw. So familiar, that hard, angular line, the smatter of stubble, the uneven, pitted landscape from the corner of his mouth to just below his ear. She made herself look up, into his face, into his eyes. His soft, deep, brown eyes, where she'd seen everything she knew him to be. She saw sadness there now, regret, pain.
She clasped his shoulder, fingers digging into the round bulge of deltoid. "Make love to me," she whispered. "Make me remember who you are."
He rolled slowly toward her, and for a split second she trembled, forgetting, seeing only the pictures he had conjured in his soft, Irish voice. Then he cupped her rounded belly, gentle, God, so gentle. His head dipped toward hers and he kissed her, his mouth soft and easy.
"Okay?" he whispered against her mouth.
She pressed her hands inside his loose cotton pants, closed her fingers around his turgid heat. The thick, hard shaft had been a weapon more than once--but not now. Not now, because he had cleansed himself in her body, cleansed his soul with love.
He kissed her for a long time--her mouth, her face, shoulders, breasts, belly. Lingered on the soft bulge where his child swam, down to the soft heat between her legs, where she was ready, waiting, wanting. His mouth was gentle, teasing, and her climax took her by surprise. He held her through it, pressed his face against her belly when she was done, then lifted himself over her.
"I love you," he whispered.
"I love you," she said, and brought him in.
He bent his head, thrusting, but she caught his chin, made him look into her face as he rode the crest and fell over it; and she saw in the depths of his eyes exactly what she needed to see.
Later, she lay naked in his warm arms, thinking about when his embrace had been cooler.
"Something else you never told me," she said, finishing her own thoughts aloud.
He shifted a little, pulling her closer. "What's that?"
"Why did you do it? Why did you change?"
He lowered his face into the curve of her neck, his breath warm against her skin. "I'll tell you. Someday."
"Someday? Not today?"
"Not today."
She sighed, frustrated. "I should know these things. I should know everything there is to know about you."
"Why? I don't know everything about you."
She mulled that. It was true, she supposed. "Still, that was a big thing."
"Yes. And I'm not ready to talk about it."
He hadn't told her about hell, hadn't told her about the months he'd spent under the ocean. Didn't like to talk about the events that had led to Cordelia's coma. But he'd always said he would tell her, someday.
Not for the first time, she wondered how many somedays they had left.
"Sometimes..." she ventured, "sometimes I feel like I don't know you. Not as well as I should."
"You know me. Nobody else knows the things you do. You know all the important things."
"Like what?"
"How do I like my eggs?"
"Poached. But I don't really know what that means, so luckily that microwave thing works okay for you."
He chuckled. "And you always buy the right pencils and paints when I send you out for them."
"You always buy the right tampons."
"And I don't even blush." He laced his fingers together over her stomach. "You know why I'm looking forward to you breastfeeding again. That's a big one."
"It's like the feed, isn't it? It reminds you of that."
"Hot and sweet." He hesitated, then said quietly, "It reminds me of when I bit you. I can't ever have that again."
She had suspected this. Hearing him say it disturbed her a little, but also gave her one more thing, one more secret.
"I know," she said, "that if I ask you a question, you'll answer it. You don't lie. Not to me."
"That's important."
His hands moved a little lower, but caressing, not seducing. "How about this? Where do I want your fingers when I'm in your mouth?"
She laughed. "I know that one."
"See? Important stuff."
"Yeah, that's really important." She rolled her eyes, though he couldn't see it.
"It is to me."
"Surely other women have known that."
"Maybe a few. But you do it best."
"I'm privileged, then." She smiled, then made a face. "Weird privilege, though, if you think about it."
"Take what you can get."
"I love you."
He squeezed her tight. "I know."
"Otherwise you couldn't pay me enough to put my fingers there."
He laughed, and she settled a little farther back into his embrace, and all was right with the world.
Giles was there the next day, and Willow, and the whole gang stayed to celebrate Christmas together. Wes called on Christmas Eve and Angel talked to him for nearly two hours before relinquishing the phone to a hovering, impatient Giles.
It was a good Christmas, Buffy thought, with friends and food and gifts, and she even managed to be sociable with Cordelia. Jocelyn was overwhelmed by the generosity; Buffy was certain it had been quite a while since she'd had a decent Christmas.
After an orgy of present-opening, the group broke into factions. Dawn and Giles bonded for a time over recent exercises in prophecy translation, while Willow, Buffy and Xander reminisced. Angel and Cordy chatted with Jocelyn for a time, but it wasn't long before they headed into the kitchen. Buffy listened with half an ear to the sounds of earnest conversation and occasional laughter.
It was hard, listening to them. In spite of everything, in spite of the security she felt in her relationship with Angel, it even scared her a little. She'd never imagined he might love somebody who wasn't her. Especially not Cordelia.
But Cordelia had changed as much as the rest of them had, if not more, and Buffy, too, had had emotional entanglements on her way back to Angel. Still, she should have been less angry. Or angrier--she wasn't sure which. The revelation about Darla, and about Connor, had been almost unbearable to her, but this--this was just weird.
He looked up, as if sensing her regard, and smiled. That soft, careful smile, the one meant only for her. She smiled back automatically, and the curl of his mouth deepened. When he looked back at Cordy, his expression had changed, just a little, just enough.
Xander followed her gaze and smiled a little, himself. "She's been dying to reminisce about the LA days," he said. "I'm glad you guys could come."
Buffy frowned. It was odd, to say the least, to have Xander talk about Angel as if he actually liked him.
"I can't believe it doesn't bother you."
Xander shrugged. "What, that she had the big Angel-love there for a while? Who's she with? Tall, dark and broody, or not-so-tall, dark and buildy?" He grinned, about as smug as Buffy had ever seen him. "For once, I got the girl."
"And that is of the good," Buffy said. Then a thought occurred to her. "That must have been tough for you, when she remembered."
Xander sobered, nodding. "You have no idea."
Buffy started to say something else, to ask another question, but suddenly anything she might have to say seemed inappropriate. So she laid her hand on Xander's, then turned to Willow.
"So. More news about the new girlfriend. All the juicy gossip. Inquiring minds want to know."
"This bothers Buffy," Cordelia said suddenly, interrupting Angel's description of the birth of baby Giles. He realized--and he could have kicked himself for not thinking about it earlier--that childbirth stories might not be the easiest of topics for Cordelia.
"What? Us talking?"
"Yeah. She's got that, 'I am Buffy, don't mess with my man,' look."
"Grab my ass. See what she does."
Cordelia laughed outright. He hadn't heard that sound in so long. It brought back good memories. It was nice to be able to remember the good things, without so much of the pain attached to them.
"Boy, you like to live dangerously, don't you?"
Angel chuckled. "I missed you, Cordy."
She smiled softly. "It's good to see you again." She touched him, her hand curling around her arm where he was leaning against the kitchen cabinet. "It wasn't meant to be. You and me, I mean. And now I know why." She smiled. "No regrets."
He shrugged. "A few. But not about that." He touched her hair, light. "I'm glad you're happy. Honestly. I can't tell you how glad."
"Merry Christmas," she said.
"Merry Christmas."
They stayed through New Year's Day, basking in the warmth of old friendships. Buffy didn't want to go; it seemed almost like old times again. But Ireland called--their home, their everyday lives--so on the second day of the new year, they headed home.
Outside the airport terminal, Buffy stepped out of Giles' familiar embrace to see Angel holding Cordy, brushing his lips against her cheek. Her heart twinged, but he stepped back, took baby Giles from Jocelyn's arms, and turned to Buffy, while Cordelia took Xander's hand, and walked away.
Later, on the plane, when they had reached cruising altitude, and Giles was coloring and Jocelyn was watching the clouds out the window, Buffy said, "If things had been different, would you have gone to her, instead of to me?"
He turned his head slowly and looked at her, studying her face, his expression suddenly blank. After a few seconds, he said, "If things had been different, would you have stayed with Spike?"
She nodded slowly, not answering him, just conceding his point. Watched him until his mouth softened, and he smiled a little.
"Do you know what I'd really like to have when we get home?" he asked. "First thing?"
Buffy smiled. "Some of those chocolate chip and almond cookies Dierdre taught me to make?"
"You know me so well," he said, and leaned toward her. She nestled her head into his shoulder, and closed her eyes as he kissed her hair.