Disclaimer: the author does not claim ownership to the characters or plot development mentioned from "Angel", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Fray". These properties expressly belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Greenwolf Corporation, 20th Century Fox Television, WB Network, Dark Horse Comics, etc. Any other characters contained in the original story are the author's.

Historical note: BtVS Season 7. Set in the future, after the events of "Chosen".

Author's Notes: I wrote this one the weekend after Buffy's last episode aired. It took months to polish it to match how new the world seemed again. e.c. 2/6/04

[evan_como@yahoo.com]

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The Come-Around

By Evan Como

Faith expelled a scream from her deepest lungs. She blinked a thousand times, eyelashes intermittently spraying away the sweat streaming down from her hairline. Searching left, through her pain-hazed view she found Robin there to meet her eyes.

"It hurts," she cried, surrendering to the overwhelming pain.

Robin's fingers slipped between hers. Relaxing, she wasn't numb but... Suddenly, she didn't hurt anymore.

"You did good, Faith," he said, returning to her needy gaze after briefly glancing away. His voice, always near mirth-making, was way soothing.

Alternating between breathing hard and hardly breathing, Faith's bottom lip disappeared under its top one as she concentrated. She searched his face for some evidence that he was fibbing, trying to protect her from a cruel truth or anything that would freeze her connection to him. She'd never lost her inclination to flee from his binding tie and he'd always made sure to never give her a reason. His sincerity was as strong as ever.

And now it was loaded with pride.

So internalized, she'd been deaf to her surroundings. Little things began to capture her attention. Robin's dimples creaked as he cracked the radical smile he'd been holding back. A whiff of something sweet, yet antiseptic. The clock on the wall ticked another minute, the same clock that was definitely lying because it felt like she'd been in her position for days, not a piddly twenty-two minutes.

Applause. Laughter.

Her daughter's newborn voice.

"Even though she's all wrinkly I still think she's cute. And kinda brown around the edges, huh?" Dawn sloughed off her comment with an awkward giggle.

Ten years later and she was always going to be fifteen.

"She's a baby, not a cookie," Faith retorted, miffed. Only a couple minutes into the motherhood gig and it was obvious she was defense-ready. She sniffed once, sniffled twice. With life weighing against her chest, her tears spilled involuntarily and she reveled in their stream.

Robin enveloped them both (good God that man smells great!) and kissed them both on the tips of their noses (what lips!). Comfy, secure, Faith gave into the most overwhelming instinct she had left.

She drifted off to sleep.

-0-

Daydreaming, Buffy fingered a tendril of hair behind her ear; more than a few of the strands were much whiter than their blonde counterparts. Her green eyes drifted a little further towards the armrest of her chair; her chest rose and fell with a near-sigh. Her crossed ankles parted; the soles of her boots sanded the floor. In the span of a minute, whatever the distraction had been, she'd toyed with it long enough and put it back into the box from whence it'd come.

She smiled at the baby. Her far-away gaze rose to Faith, quickly focusing. "So, ya got a name?"

Faith tch'd. "Yeah, Buff. Faith, remember me? Or you still not back from one of those expeditions you been doin' with Giles?" She fingered the silky fluff atop the sleeping child's head. "Where is Giles, by the way? I thought this'd be a big deal, me having my Slayer baby with my Slayer husband. This is the real deal here. Lineage. Oh, and I'm not going to forget you didn't make my shower. Where's my kid's loot?"

Buffy exhaled her exasperation and barred her arms across her chest. She cocked her head. "You done?"

"I'm just sayin'…" Faith dropped her chin deliberately.

But Buffy didn't bite. She blinked. "He wanted to be here. He wanted to be on the scene when they unearthed the unearthable. Y'know. Priorities. And, Xander will attest to this: the fact that it's never a good thing to split yourself in two. Besides, you can always have another baby, but when is he going to dig up another... *Thingy*?"

She smiled for real.

Faith wanted to offer her child for Buffy to hold; she wanted to hug Buffy. She wanted to sock that approving smile off of Buffy's face and then kiss the bruise. She wanted to make it right for Buffy to have a baby of her own one day – maybe to go through the most wicked pain in the universe or maybe because it just wasn't right that Buffy'd been gored one too many times in the wrong place and if anyone deserved a baby it probably wasn't Buffy, but what if she did?

After all, she'd done a great job of raising Dawn.

"Names are important, they're meaningful," Dawn said, right on cue. She'd filled out nicely, grown way taller than Buffy. Maybe it was the endless freckles, though, that would never let Faith see mini-B as a grown-up.

Faith's lips contorted with an effort to sound more serious than she joked, "Like Cookie?"

"You're never going to forget that, are you?" Dawn assumed the full Buffy-stance: arms folded disapprovingly, head up, eyes stern. Or had that been the Joyce-stance once-upon-another-timeline? Faith couldn't remember and, more importantly, couldn't care less as Dawn, defeated, sat down and the bundle she held wriggled.

She ignored her guests, transfixed on burrowing her index finger into the baby's curled fist. She'd spied Buffy counting the ten perfect fingers and toes, guessing that Buffy had been looking for deformities -- two-heads or claws or a tail. After all, that's partly why Faith'd made the tally after waking up.

There wasn't a damn thing wrong with this chicklet. Faith gasped and marveled; Buffy knew. Buffy had been admiring the gift that had arrived a decade ago -- the gift she'd never stopped giving. The beautiful daughter squeezed her Mom's finger mightily -- with a Slayer's strength, with the same clinging intensity that her father had expended the afternoon of her conception.

That evening, the simple gold band around Faith's finger had felt like a circulatory disaster in waiting. Sometimes it still felt that way.

Brows furrowed, Faith eased a breath through pursed lips. While she shuddered, a tender finger eased a curl from under her chin.

"So, what's with the horizontal, huh Faithy? I thought you Slayer-types were the drop-the-foal-back-in-the-saddle types?"

Xander's regard was sympathetic.

"Cyclops," she muttered so only he could hear, making eye-contact with the patch over his left eye. She loved him too much to be rude for longer than a second. Owning up to his insight, as his hand pulled away she brushed the top of it with her cheek.

Embarrassing him more than he'd embarrassed her. "Gotcha!" She grinned toothily.

Xander's concession came as the equivalent of an imperceptible nod. He hitched a seat at the end of her bed, gently bumping her feet aside.

She grimaced. (Ohmigod! Where'd they put stitches?)

Clueless, Robin had been putting some serious thought into Xander's comment only to come away shaking his head. "I don't know, X-man. Riding your own breed... Isn't that the equivalent of pony-cannibalism or something?"

Dawn giggled. She moved to punch Xander in the bicep, but he'd anticipated her, dropping into his own bobble-and-weave. Buffy cruised back into dreamland.

As Robin turned mid-pace, Faith lazed a finger down the small of her husband's back. She tugged on his shirttail and he obeyed willingly. "Forget it, Babe. You know better than to try decoding Xander-speak."

"Got enough room?" Robin inquired, surveying the surroundings. Everyone except Buffy had managed to perch on the mattress somehow. He at the head of the bed, Xander and Dawn on either side at the foot.

Willow, who'd been silent since labor had started, seemed to hover near the middle. She peered into Faith's face and broke her peace. "How's it *feel*, Faith?"

As if a spell had been cast, the question crept into Faith's consciousness. It unlocked memories, deepened feelings. The out of control replay of childhood, adolescence, adulthood crushed her mind. She was an abandoned girl in a corral, surrounded on all sides by the crimes she'd committed and the exhilaration she'd felt –

Giving life.

She was a woman at rest. Robin placed his palm on her shoulder blade, made his inquiry without a word. He stroked her hand. His reassurance was cool, like the slight ring of metal he wore.

Buffy walked towards the head of the bed. She ignored Robin's offer of his place and made her own, instead. She touched the baby's bare arm, then unexpectedly leaned over and kissed Faith's forehead. "Are you here?" she asked hoarsely.

"I could ask you the same thing," Faith responded.

Buffy shrugged. Her eyes watered but crying wasn't what she wanted to do, so she didn't. "Robin was right. You did good, Faith."

Faith gulped. "I'm not going to name her Buffy, if that's what you're angling for."

Buffy scowled. "Anne, then." She bobbed her head once, genie-like. "Anne is a good name."

"Fergedaboutit, B. She's going to get a great name. Something strong –"

Xander snapped his fingers and jumped up. "Like Xena! There's no denying the power behind an X name."

"Or the obscurity. No X, Y's or Z's," Dawn stated. She tipped her head, mustering all the cuteness she could express.

Faith rolled her eyes and shook her head. Dawn pouted.

"Definitely nothing too ethnic," Robin interjected.

"And this, coming from a man with the least ethnic name in the world." Faith elbowed up in the bed. (OK. So *seriously* gonna clock the guy with the needle and thread!) She puckered up to Robin's smooth, brown cheek. "Your mama did you wrong, Babe. Does the Black Man's Society still shun you?"

"A good name isn't – wouldn't be – won't be hard to research," Willow stammered. Having garnered everyone's attention, she slunk back to her seat on the bed. "We can research. Back in the day when we had a lot more of it to do, we used to be good at researching."

Buffy took a stand. "Well I say we let the proud parents do all the researching they want to do. I, for one, am zoinked and need some sleep. Or dancing. It depends on what time zone my body wants to be in." She strode to the door, opened it and paused.

Like reluctant children being called in from play, Dawn and Xander smiled wan goodbyes and turned away.

Willow gazed at the child.

"You can touch her, Wil." Faith dropped one elbow for easier access. She smiled.

"She really is beautiful, Faith." The redhead pushed the hair off the right side of her cheek. "And Robin. I know you both... Oooh! OK, I'll stop now before I mosey down a trail of innuendo – that's to keep to the whole equine theme -- and we certainly know that's not a good place to go – " she lowered her voice and leaned over the baby's head " — even though I'm not sure she can really understand yet, but it's never too early."

Willow straightened, as if reprimanded by the door's shutting click. "I should go. Haven't seen Buffy in over a year, you know."

"I'll see you all to the elevator," Robin said, crossing the room. "Faith probably needs some more rest."

"Yeah, rest would be in order." Willow nodded.

Before she could escape, Faith reached out and grasped Willow's hand. Even though she'd been expecting it, she'd forgotten the curious feeling of touching the sorceress – like how it had felt when holding the Slayer's Axe. Willow was walking, talking magick, even more so ever since the day she'd channeled the Slayer's strength through the weapon, liberating The Chosen. Dawn had dubbed her The Slayer's Vessel or Vassal or some other V word.

Meaning there'd be no V names, either.

"There's nothing worse than being scared of yourself, Red. You know that more than I do, and you have to move beyond it," Faith said, suddenly aware that she had enough experience to back up some good advice.

That whole Mom-thing wasn't going to wait to kick in and extend to everyone, obviously.

Willow reluctantly removed her hand, absently wrung it with her other. "I'm happy for you, Faith. You and Robin – I'm happy for you both."

The baby stirred and rooted against Faith's breast. The mortified women gaped at each other.

"What do I – " Faith choked.

Willow blushed. "It's nature, right? It just – "

Faith's hand flew to her mouth and she cackled. "Ohmigod! I'm lame! Willow, I'm so lame! Isn't that the coolest?" She cradled her daughter and smooched her head a dozen times, nearly too engrossed to realize that Willow had stolen towards the exit.

"Wil – " she called out, still laughing.

Hand on the door, body halfway into the corridor, Willow turned around. "Yeah, Faith?"

From the amused look on Willow's face, Faith figured that she'd already conjured up a story to tell the others. With certainty, she knew that Robin would never broach the subject because, if he did, there'd be a big time Time Out.

Faith fumbled at her gown for what to do next. "It feels like forgiveness," she finally replied, too busy directing her daughter to notice Willow's astonishment.

-0-