CHAPTER FOUR

Angel woke up, feeling something warm and soft on his face and a comforting weight lower down just above his crotch. He reached up to pet what he assumed was Buffy's hair across his face only to feel a spine and a tail. "Buffy," he mumbled. "There's a cat on my face."

"I know. Hold still a second longer," she replied. "There's one on your...um, uh, too."

He contemplated the indignity of it all then realized if Buffy wasn't helping him there was only one thing she could be doing. "Are you taking pictures?"

She giggled. "Yes."

Angel plucked the Norwegian cat off his face and set it on the bed then shooed the Rex off his lap. "How did they even get on the bed?"

"They're cats, Angel. They get everywhere," Buffy said, cradling the digital camera, seeing his disgruntled expression.

"Why did you let it sleep on my face?" Angel brushed cat hairs off his cheeks.

"It was funnier that way." She grinned.

"Ha, ha." He got up out of bed. "Do I get my morning kiss?"

"Are you kidding? You had a cat on your face. Think I want those lips near me?" Buffy's grin went wicked.

"I see." The devil gleamed out of Angel's eyes. "I think someone owes me that kiss anyhow."

Angel charged her. Buffy squealed and led him on a merry chase through the house. She darted into the kitchen where everyone was already sitting down to a big breakfast of pancakes and fruit. Willow was doing her best to coax Sorcha to eat so she could go open her presents. Sorcha had no interest in food, her eyes fixed on the door to the living room.

"Incriminating pictures," Buffy announced as Angel caught her. She tossed the camera to Connor who had to hand off to Faith before Angel got it. It passed to Giles, Wes, and then Xander before he pulled out the memory stick to keep it out of Angel's hands. The stick eventually ended up in Faith's bra.

"Oh the heck with this." Angel grabbed Buffy. "If I can't get the pictures back, I can at least have this." He gave her a big sloppy kiss.

Buffy squealed, writhing in his hands. "I think there's fur in my mouth now," she whispered.

"Now you know how I feel," Angel replied. "I think I have it in my sinuses."

"Oh, you do not. You don't even breathe so how would it get there?" She pushed him playfully.

"I wanna go now," Sorcha announced, looking at the door to the living room.

"You have to be patient, Sorcha," Connor said. "Not everyone is done eating yet. Aunt Buffy hasn't even started."

"Hurry," Sorcha implored, bouncing hard in her booster seat.

"You heard her, Aunt Buffy." Cordy pushed a plate of pancakes into Buffy's hands.

Buffy wolfed down the pancakes and indicated for them to get started on the gifting opening without her. She heard the excitement of her niece tearing through the paper and boxes. Buffy wished Dawn could be here to see her daughter.

Angel, seeming to sense her emotions, kissed her. "I'm sure Dawn's here with us."

Buffy fought back tears. "Thanks." She tossed her hair, getting a handle of her emotions. "We'd better get in there before Sorcha gets them all open and broken before we even see them."

Grinning, Angel gave her his arm and they headed into the living room with everyone else.

"Tad and Leap!" Sorcha squealed happily, holding up the LeapPad learning books 'Santa' had brought her. She modeled them for Xander and his camcorder.

"That's great, baby," Connor said. "Santa must have thought you were a really good little girl."

Sorcha abandoned the books and pointed to a gift still under the tree where Giles and Wesley were parceling them out. She took the box to her father. "Seanair and Aunt Buffy said Santa need help for you."

"Did you help Santa pick me out a gift?" Connor smiled at his child as he accepted the gift.

"Open!" She insisted.

Connor slowly started peeling one edge open and she tapped her foot impatiently. "Want to help me?"

Sorcha shredded the wrapping in a matter of seconds. Connor opened the box and took out a set of throwing knives. His eyes widened. "Ooo, Santa likes me, too. How could he not which such a good look helper?"

A huge smiled broke out across Sorcha's pale face. "Daddy likes?"

"He likes a lot," Connor said and passed the set to Angel to put up out of the range of little fingers. "Thank you very much."

"I think there's a few more presents here for you, Sorcha," Giles said, shoving a big box her way.

While she gleefully tore the wrapping off a castle playground, Angel snuck out to fetch the cats from his room. Buffy went with him. They came back with Steren and Sunniva, each cat looking less than dignified with the bows tied around their necks.

"Sorcha, look what Santa left with me and Aunt Buffy," Angel said, getting on his knees with Sunniva.

Sorcha's blue eyes widened. "Kitties!"

She went to bound across the room but Connor caught her. "Softly now, Sorcha. Don't scare the kitties."

Sorcha went more slowly and looked with huge eyes at the cats. Buffy took her hand and gently stroked it along Steren's wavy fur.

"Pet them like this," Buffy instructed.

"Pretty kitties." Sorcha pet Steren then Sunniva before thrusting out her hands. "Hold!"

Buffy gave her Steren. Sorcha hugged the cat then set it down, arms wide out advancing on Sunniva. She hugged the furry animal tight.

"Not so tight, sweetie. You don't want to hurt the kitties," Buffy said as Steren climbed up and sat on Angel's head, proudly surveying her new kingdom and claiming her favorite 'cat tree.' Angel's eyes canted up, an aggravated look on his face.

"Nice hat, Angel," Faith laughed, opening the gift f Connor gave her.

"Buffy...." Angel grumbled.

"I think the cat likes you." Buffy kissed him and Steren leapt free. The cat raced through the torn pile of paper and started romping. Sunniva tore after her and Sorcha ran after them both, giggling wildly.

"That scrawny cat's weird," Spike said, opening a gift-wrapped carton of cigarettes from Faith.

"I still think it looks like Connor," Buffy said, watching Steren batting around a ball.

"It does not," Connor said, his eyes mere blue slits.

"I think it looks like Spike," Angel said, a smile spreading across his face. "All skinny, and hollowed cheeked."

"Happy Christmas to you, too, Peaches." Spike gave him the two-fingered salute.

"Be nice." Buffy leveled a finger at him. "What did Santa get you, Faith?"

"A really pretty cross." Faith held up the silver Celtic cross. "Can't wait to burn it into a vampire."

"Let me see." Angel peered closely at it. "Oh, I don't believe this." He went over and handed Buffy her gift.

She opened it and pulled out an identical cross.

"I swear we did not go out together and buy these," Angel said, distressed.

Buffy put hers on, laughing. "No, you two are just so much alike." She kissed him. "Thank you. It's beautiful. Do you boys think you can watch Sorcha? Us girls need to get started on the big holiday feast."

"Oh sure, give us the tough work." Spike grinned.

Buffy just beamed, not all sure cooking was the easy work. She snagged Faith and Willow and headed for the kitchen.

"I'm sure you big bad vampires are no match for one little girl but try anyhow." Cordy patted him on his head. She sauntered off, joining the rest of the ladies in the kitchen.

"I think the vampires don't stand a chance." Xander smirked and Spike flipped him off.

"Giles, I know Buffy's going to talk to you about this but I've asked her to join us here in L.A. and I know she wants to. I was thinking you, Willow, and Xander could come as well and work out of the L.A. branch. Wes and I talked about it already. And Connor, I'm sure we'll be able to find things for you to do and still be sure you get the help you need. That is of course, if you want to come live with me, Connor. If you don't..." Angel swallowed hard, not even wanting to think about it. He had been like ice to his family ever since Dawn died and Connor had been committed. Angel knew he probably needed therapy as much as his child did and they were only now beginning to rebuild their relationship. "I'll understand.

Connor looked at him in surprise. "Are you sure you want us here?"

Angel knew it was a fair question even though it hurt. He had ignored his son for three years. He caught Connor's chin, tipping his face up. "It's all I ever wanted even if I was too broken to say it before."

Connor smiled, looking like he was fighting back tears. "I'd like to stay here. There's a school with really young Slayers here, too, isn't there?"

"Yes," Wes said. "Sorcha will have plenty of company. It would make an excellent environment for her."

"I don't expect anyone to make any decisions now," Angel said, dodging Sunniva only to Steren leap on his shoulder. Angel shooed the cat off. "I'm just putting the idea out there."

"I think it's a good one. After the holidays, we can discuss all the ramifications," Giles said. "But right now one of you might want to..." He pointed to where Sorcha was chasing the cats up the tree.

Connor managed to get his daughter before the tree took a direct hit. She giggled and squirmed free of him to go jump on Uncle Spike. Angel surveyed the scene, a feeling a deep contentment settling over him. They'd all be moving to L.A. with him. It would be like old times, only better. He couldn't have asked for anything more precious for the holidays. This was the family he had always wanted, a little crazy perhaps but he didn't want it any other way.

Author's Note if you want to look at the cats head here:
Sunniva -

Steren (colored like the dark one)