Disclaimer: The title came from Disney's 'The Hunchback of Notre-Dame', so I don't own it, 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and 'Angel' came from Joss Whedon, so I don't own them, and 'Charmed' came from Constance M. Burge, so that's not mine either.
Feedback: It's here to be read; let me know that it has been
AN: Just to clarify, this takes place about five years after the events of the last chapter, and looks at how the lives of the Buffy/Angel/Charmed team were affected by their mutual presence in each other's lives, thus enabling them to call each other for aid if they ever needed some extra help. If some of the stuff doesn't seem to quite run together, I apologise, but I wanted to clearly show how the most pivotal moments in their lives- Cole becoming the Source, Darla's resurrection, Glory, Connor's birth, the arrival of Chris, that kind of thing- were affected by the three groups working together on a regular basis
What Makes a Monster?Five Years Later…
"Hey, Angel?" Buffy called as she walked into the Hyperion Hotel, Piper and Willow close behind her and all three of them practically loaded down with shopping bags. "Everything OK?"
Glancing out of the door of the room that had long served as his office, Angel smiled affectionately at his wife, putting the files he was holding and walking over to give her a brief hug and a quick kiss on the forehead.
"Oh, pretty quiet; at least I don't have to worry quite so much about the paperwork now that we're back running a detective agency rather than a law firm," he said, before his eyes fell on the bags in the womens' arms and an anxious expression flashed across his face. "Uh… did I miss a birthday or something? I thought you guys were just going to get something for tonight's celebration…"
"Nah; Paige just figured that, since you guys didn't really have time to get out any of your stuff after we kicked the Circle's asses straight back to Hell, we should probably see about helping you guys get started on replacing all your leisure belongings, as well as get food for the 'We Beat the Black Thorn' party," Willow explained, as she dumped the bags she was carrying onto the Hyperion's reception desk before turning back to look at Angel. "Y'know, buy some new copies of some of the books and DVDs and whatever that you guys used to have before the Circle's minions trashed everything, new TVs or computers, stuff like that."
"Oh, right," Angel said, smiling gratefully at the young wicca before he glanced over at Piper. "By the way, where's Leo; I thought he was with you guys?"
"Oh, he'll be over in a bit; he just wanted to take Chris and Wyatt on a little trip to check on how things are going with Cordelia and Doyle on their honeymoon," Piper replied, unable to stop a slight smile crossing her face as she thought of how her family- specifically, her eldest son- would react to this latest little meeting with their unofficially adopted 'uncle' and 'aunt'.
Ever since Wyatt had been born, he'd quickly become attached to all of their extended family, but, for some reason, Doyle and Cordelia remained his favourites. Anya had once commented that it was probably because he enjoyed tugging at the spikes on Doyle's demon face, but in reality none of them were sure of the specific reason for his fondness for the Brachen demon, and had never felt the need to question it. Chris, by contrast, generally preferred spending time with Willow and Tara when they were all together, most likely because they were able to put on little shows for him with their magic, but he still enjoyed himself when he and his brother spent time with the Doyles.
Still, regardless of the reasons for Wyatt's fondness of Doyle, the Irish Brachen demon remained his favourite uncle, and, ever since him and Cordelia had finally settled down a few months before the final fight with the Black Thorn, Cordelia had become just as attached to Wyatt as Doyle was.
Personally, Angel attributed Cordelia's fondness of Wyatt to the fact that his father was the only reason she still had Doyle in her life. If Leo hadn't been present to heal Doyle's injuries after orbing him away from the Beacon in that split-second between Doyle unplugging it and it emitting the last of its power…
Even after almost five years, none of the group liked to think too much about what might have happened if Leo hadn't managed to get his 'remit' extended to include Buffy and Angel's teams as his charges; the Whitelighter had saved their lives too many times to remember, most prominently in the few seconds available to him after Buffy jumped from Glory's tower to save Dawn. Thanks to Leo's aid in the aftermath of the Scourge's defeat, the damage the Beacon had done to Doyle's human half had been repaired, and he and Cordelia had been dating each other ever since. The whole thing with the Groosalug in Pylea had made things a little awkward for a time- Cordelia finding the Pylean champion, in her own words, 'extremely hot', while Doyle tried to get out of the priests' attempts to make him and the Groosalug 'cum-shuk'-, but that was as bad as things had ever become between them.
"Talking of your family, where're your sisters?" Willow asked, looking curiously over at Piper. "You mentioned that they were around earlier, but you didn't actually say where they were…"
"Oh, Paige is just tying up some loose ends at the San Francisco branch- honestly, it's so much easier to get a look at crime scenes now that one of us is an official private detective- and Phoebe and Cole had to pick up the kids from nursery; they said they'd join us here as soon as that was over," Piper shrugged, smiling over at the Charmed Ones' young protégé before she looked over at Buffy and Angel inquiringly. Ever since the Charmed Ones had opened up the San Francisco branch of Angel Investigations- with Leo and Paige, naturally, acting as the detectives as the only real 'Angels' in the group-, Piper had rapidly begun to see Angel as a combination of a brother and a business partner, particularly given his own still-close friendship with her formerly-demonic brother-in-law. "How about you guys? Where's everyone else at the moment?"
"Well, Xander and Dawn are coming back from the sonogram- honestly, that kid's going to have hundreds of baby photos before it even gets out of her womb-, and Giles called ahead to say he might have some trouble clearing it with the Council, but he'll do what he can to be here," Buffy clarified, a slight smile on her face as she thought of her new sister and brother-in-law. Dawn may have been created out of nothing only a few years ago, and Buffy's memories of her may sometimes intermingle with the memories of life without her- the knowledge that she wasn't real, coupled with the constant visits of the Halliwells and their ability to sense when powerful magic like that was being used against them, had 'dislodged' some of the spells used by the monks- but, as far as everyone else was concerned, she was a real person, with real desires… and what she had desired most was Xander Harris.
It had never been destined to be an easy relationship, of course- the fact that it began in the aftermath of Xander's break-up with Anya at their own wedding being, of course, one of the most prominent issues, to say nothing of the age gap- but the rest of their mismatched group of supernatural warriors had eventually come to accept it. Buffy, ironically, had been the hardest to convince; Angel, Cole and Leo had constantly pointed out that all three of them were all involved with younger women and nobody cared, but Buffy had simply countered that at least they didn't look their ages and refused to back down. It was only after Xander had risked his life to save Dawn from a couple of vampires that had taken her by surprise- the group had been visiting San Francisco to prepare for Chris's birth and hadn't expected vampires to appear in the city; they'd typically stayed away from the Charmed Ones, but the bounty Gideon had put on Wyatt was too big to pass up- that Buffy had finally admitted that, out of all her friends, she couldn't think of anyone else she'd rather be with Dawn.
As harsh as it might have sounded to an outsider, Anya's death had almost been a relief to the group at that point, not least because she'd no longer be obsessing over Dawn having 'stolen' Xander from her. She'd been an… interesting… person to say the least, but even before the wedding had fallen apart none of the group had been entirely comfortable around her; her general lack of social graces had, if nothing else, virtually guaranteed that the various parents in the group would never allow her to babysit their kids for fear of corrupting young minds. When she'd finally been killed by a Turok-Han in the final fight with the First, the rest of their assorted group had almost been grateful for it, as it left Xander and Dawn free to continue their relationship without Anya making a fuss over it and accusing them of having had an affair behind her back ever since Dawn started to exist.
"Well, so long as he'll get here in the end, the fine details don't matter that much," Piper said, shrugging nonchalantly as she placed her bags on the reception desk and stepped back, stretching slightly as she looked over at Willow, her eyebrow raised inquiringly. "How about Oz and Tara?"
"Oh, they decided to go along with Dawn and Xander to see if they got anywhere with that last attempt," Willow explained, shrugging slightly. "Tara still gets a bit uncomfortable around him, but she's getting there; after I gave birth to Nick, she's become a bit more interested in being a mommy herself."
"Y'know, I still can't quite believe those guys actually made that relationship work; two witches and a werewolf?" Buffy said, shaking her head slightly at the thought. "Come to that, Nick's always a confusing addition to me; I still keep expecting him to go all wolf when Daddy has to go down to the cellar."
"Diluted werewolf gene," Willow said dismissively. "He's just got enough of it to affect him during the full moon, but not so much that he actually goes all the way when the time comes; just a bit furry and hungrier for raw meat."
"Little awkward, but at least it's not the full way; it's difficult enough for you guys as it is," Piper sighed, shaking her head slightly as she looked over at Buffy with a slight smile. "Y'know, I still can't believe that Oz actually stuck around when he got back; he knew from the beginning that it was gonna be kinda… odd, for lack of a better term."
"Hey; he had two hot girls who were both interested in him and access to the most powerful witches on the face of the planet to help him control his inner wolf?" Angel chuckled, a slight grin on his face as he looked over at Willow. "He'd have been stupid not to do it."
Buffy, Willow and Piper couldn't help but chuckle slightly at Angel's comment; even after all the years his various human friends and allies had spent encouraging him to loosen up, it still sometimes struck them as strange to hear Angel talking like he was just a normal human being rather than a tortured vampire with a conscience.
Despite that, however, they had to agree with his assessment of the situation; Oz had some very good reasons for sticking around after he'd returned from his quest to 'control the wolf within'. Initially Willow's conflicted feelings for both him and Tara had seemed to be a serious problem, particularly when Oz nearly lost control of his wolf and attacked Tara in a jealous rage, but with no major threat to deal with at the time, the rest of the Scooby Gang had been able to devote more time to helping their friends solve their current dilemma. The fact that the final suggestion actually came from Anya- that, since Willow would be miserable to a greater or lesser extent if either Oz or Tara left, she should just date both of them- never failed to surprise the groups, but it had worked out well for the most part. Piper still insisted that Willow and Tara refrain from kissing in front of the kids until they were old enough to understand the concept of homosexuality, and Leo's old-fashioned family values sometimes meant that he was still sometimes unnerved by the whole concept- as demons, Angel, Spike and Cole had done so much that any standards that had existed when they were born barely seemed relevant to them any more-, but apart from that everyone had generally accepted the three-way relationship and left Willow, Tara and Oz to do what they wanted.
A couple of years ago, in the aftermath of her brief magical addiction- it had taken all three of the Charmed Ones demonstrating some of the consequences of their 'no personal gain' rule to snap her out of that one- Willow had given birth to a young girl, who they'd named Joyce in memory of Buffy's mother- coincidentally, her birth occurred almost exactly a year after Joyce died of a brain tumour, one of the reasons why her 'three' parents had named the little girl after Joyce in the first place-, and Oz and Tara were now trying for a child of their own. It had taken them longer to get comfortable with each other than it had taken Willow to accept the idea that she could be attracted to both of them at once, but after the two of them had exchanged a brief kiss one patrol, things had just snowballed along from there; Tara still saw herself as gay, but generally considered that Oz was like an exception to the rule or something like that.
"Well, if we wanted normal lives to bring up our children in, we wouldn't all be hanging out together," Piper said, shrugging nonchalantly before she glanced over at Angel with a small smile. "Which reminds me, on the topic of kids, where's our favourite first nephew?"
"And my godson, come to that?" Willow added, placing her hands on her hips as she looked critically at him.
"Oh, they're watching a couple of movies up in Connor's room," Angel said, smiling slightly at the witch. "You know those two; if their cousins aren't here, they loves watching anything with a bit of a fight scene in it."
"And how is that any different to what they like doing when their cousins are all here?" Buffy asked teasingly, raising a jokingly critical eyebrow as she glanced over at Willow and Piper, both of whom chuckled slightly. There was no denying the Slayer's point; whenever Connor got the opportunity to pick a movie, he always picked something with decent 'combat scenes', despite the fact that his movie options were typically limited to Disney productions, regardless of whether he was alone or had his extended family round; regardless of the lives they lived, the parents were all agreed that their children wouldn't see any movies they weren't old enough to see yet.
It was moments like that, however- seeing Buffy joking around with Piper about Connor as though he were her own- that made Angel love her even more. It had been hard at first, he wasn't denying that, but that only served to make him all the more grateful for her genuine affection towards Connor, regardless of how he'd come into the world in the first place.
Connor's presence in their lives had been one of the most difficult changes they'd needed to get used to in their lives, not least because he was the first child any of them ever had (Wyatt was born a couple of months after him). Angel's rejection of them all after Darla's resurrection had never gone down well with most of the team, coming as it did so shortly after they'd managed to work out a way to save Cole from going completely insane from the extra powers he'd possessed.
If it hadn't been for Angel, Spike and Doyle constantly arguing that Cole deserved a chance to be the man he once was, Phoebe had sometimes felt like just giving up on the former Belthazor. As it was, thanks to the two vampires and the other half-demon, the Halliwells and Willow had finally been convinced to try and transfer some of Cole's powers to other members of the group, subsequently stripping them of their new powers with a potion. With only one power being taken from them at a time, the powers wouldn't automatically transfer to another demon, and Cole was eventually back to a less extreme level of power, possessing only the ability to shimmer, generate energy balls and a slight degree of superhuman strength; the groups estimated that he was about as strong as Doyle, maybe a little more or less, but since he generally used his energy balls they'd never really had much opportunity to test his limits.
The combined members of the Scooby Gang, the Charmed Ones, and Angel Investigations had genuinely felt that, after they'd all worked together to save Cole, Angel was finally seeing all of them as family- the Charmed Ones and some of the Scoobies in particular had always felt a little surplus when Angel was spending time with his team, Buffy or Cole- and then he'd started treating them all like they were just something that had ended up stuck on his shoe and he wanted rid of as soon as possible. Even after his epiphany, followed by the Charmed Ones finally perfecting the spell that would make his soul permanent, it had taken him and Buffy a while to get their relationship back to what it had been, and Connor's arrival had almost ruined all that work anyway; the fact that Angel had actually tried to lose his soul wasn't something that could just be put to one side and forgotten about like that. Buffy had stopped visiting Angel and the rest of the Los Angeles team after that for some while, and had come worryingly close to having an affair with Spike to try and get back at Angel, but Spike's refusal- he hated the idea of being second choice; at least Dru had actually chosen him because she liked him, rather than just wanting to get back at Angel- had forced her to realise what she was doing, although she had still refused to speak to her former lover even after breaking out of near-self-destructive rampage.
It hadn't been easy for the assorted groups to adjust to the rift Connor had created at first, with them all forced to 'choose' between working with Buffy or with Angel; although most of the group tried to divide their time equally, Angel and Cole's close friendship meant that the Charmed Ones generally sided with Angel on these matters, particularly after all the effort they'd put into finding a way to anchor his soul. After Buffy had finally been convinced to come and visit Angel's team after Paige only just managed to save Connor being taken into an alternate dimension by an old enemy of Angel's from his Angelus days- a vampire hunter called Daniel Holtz-, she'd practically fallen in love with Connor the first time she really saw him, rapidly falling into the role of his 'step-mother' (Although none of them ever referred to her as such) as she and Angel practically picked up where they'd left off. There'd been a brief bit of tension between Buffy and Paige for a short time after the Slayer's return to Angel's life- Paige and Angel had become closer during his and Buffy's estrangement- but Paige freely admitted that she doubted that anything could have ever come of it; Angel had loved Buffy long before she arrived on the scene, and she found it unlikely she'd manage to get in between a relationship like that after only a couple of years.
From then on, Connor had rapidly become a permanent fixture in the team's monthly meetings, rapidly appointing himself the 'protector' of the other children whenever they were born. He'd grown particularly attached to Penny, the second-oldest of the group's children, almost as soon as he'd been able to crawl over to her; these days he spent so much time with her that Phoebe and Buffy sometimes joked that they should probably hold the wedding now and get it over with. Even after Paige's attempts to heal Angel from a near-fatal wound sustained when he'd tried to attack Zankou had resulted in him becoming human enough to have kids- along with other bonuses like an increased tolerance to sunlight- and he and Buffy had conceived their now one-year-old son Liam Rupert Summers, Connor still remained a close part of their lives, and it was almost impossible to tell that Buffy was anything but his biological mother.
"Well, never mind the minor details like that," Angel said, raising a nonchalant eyebrow as he indicated his desks. "I'm still checking over the files from Wolfram & Hart to make sure we haven't missed something that could come back to bite us in the asses at some point; you guys care to help me check over them right now?"
"Sure thing," Piper said, nodding with a brief smile at the vampire as she and Buffy walked behind the desk to study the files. "Just so long as you get that we stop as soon as the rest of the gang gets here; I don't mind attending to a little business right now, but when the kids get here, it's family time, OK?"
"Talking of business," Buffy said, raising an eyebrow as she glanced over at Piper, "have you guys heard from Spike yet? I think Liam's kinda been missing his 'Uncle Ike' these last few days."
"Oh yeah; he's got a couple of loose ends he wants to track down regarding a vampire nest we took out a while back- long-term independent project of his, really; he made it clear he'll only ask for our help if he thinks he needs it-, but he'll be around for the dinner by the time the rest of the gang gets here," Piper replied, chuckling slightly at the familiar nickname that Buffy and Angel's first son had unintentionally given Spike when he'd first tried to pronounce the vampire's name.
To this day, Spike's presence on the team remained the only positive, albeit surprising, legacy left by the Initiative all those years ago. After discovering that the electric shocks he'd sustained in the battle had 'fused' the chip into his brain so deeply that Paige couldn't guarantee she could orb it out without taking a chunk of his brain with it, Spike had resigned himself to remaining with them so that he could at least channel his frustrations against demons, although he'd moved to San Francisco so that he didn't have to work with people who'd had direct confrontations with him where he'd been trying to kill them.
It had been difficult for him to get used to the idea of working with the 'good guys', of course- he often tried to 'remind' the Charmed Ones that he was evil by doing little things like smoking inside and occasionally coming close to betraying them to their enemies- but, over time, he'd actually come to enjoy his time with the witches, risking his life to protect Dawn in particular on more than one occasion, and even developing a certain friendship with Chris, Cole and Doyle as time went on (Although his 'friendship' with Doyle primarily consisted of them competing against each other in drinking contests). Although matters had been complicated after he began to develop feelings for Buffy, nothing had even come of it; although his frustration about dealing with her unrequited feelings had nearly driven him to rape on one occasion, when he'd realised what he'd done, he'd actually left on a quest to become a man who wouldn't do something like that, culminating in him acquiring his own soul so that he wouldn't do something like that again.
From then on, things had become increasingly more relaxed between Spike and the group, all of them finally more accepting of him now that he was restrained by something more than a mere lump of metal in his head (They still hadn't actually extracted the chip, but it was at least no longer the only reason he stayed with them). Ironically, Angel had actually become his main advocate after Spike had acquired his soul, saying that the person Spike was now wasn't the same person who'd attacked Buffy. The two vampires would never be entirely relaxed around each other, but, that aside, they generally managed to work well whenever they were facing the crisis of the day.
Any leisure time the two vampires spent together commonly resulted in both of them hurling insults at each other like they were a couple of six-year-olds, of course, but by this point everyone else just found that part of their behaviour funny.
"Geeze…" Buffy winced as she looked at the file now in her hand, detailing a certain dark warlock client's attempts to summon a demon using the blood of some. "How do you do something like that to a guy and leave him alive?"
"With difficulty," Angel replied simply, as he tossed another file to the side; Spike and Piper had already killed the Fell Brethren during the assault on the Black Thorn, so there was no point in him keeping the file on him. "Trust me; you'd be surprised what you can live through if the other guy really wants you to stay alive."
"Yeah; can we not get into that right now?" Piper asked, shuddering slightly as she took a brief, curious look at the file Buffy was studying and then looked away, clearly wishing that she hadn't looked. "I got enough torture threats when dealing with… y'know… the other you…"
Angel and Buffy didn't need to ask what she meant by that; Piper's encounter with Angel's would-be future self had come far too close for any of them. If they'd just been a few seconds later, Piper would have either been killed or turned- while still pregnant with Chris on top of everything else-, leaving them in a position that none of them had been that eager to be in. It had taken everything Doyle, Gunn and Paige- the three to discover Piper and Angelus at the last minute- had possessed just to hold the powerful vampire back until Piper could escape to the sunlight, and by that point Angel had arrived and Angelus had decided to cut his losses and escape.
That particular experience, of course, was only part of a dark moment in the lives of everyone in the group that they definitely wouldn't want to relive; quite frankly, the whole 'Wyatt-would-have-grown-up-to-be-evil-and-rule-the-world-if-Leo-hadn't-killed-Gideon' thing was still a touchy subject among the various heroes, although they'd all agreed that their actions were the only way they could have averted that future. Of course, given that Wyatt's future had included a restored Angelus, a chipless, soulless Spike, a permanently wolfed-out Oz and a resurrected Belthazor as Wyatt's key enforcers, with Buffy, Faith, Willow, Tara and Doyle held captive to provide Wyatt with the opportunities he needed to figure out how to use their powers for himself, it was hardly surprising none of them wanted to discuss it.
The months between when Wyatt had managed to send the four demons back to the past to ensure that his time came to pass regardless of Chris's actions and their deaths while Piper was giving birth to baby-Chris remained one of the worst periods of their lives. Willow still had nightmares about seeing Future-Oz die in agony from the silver blade she'd stuck in his heart, and even now Xander still got slightly uncomfortable whenever he was forced to spend too much time alone with Angel after Angelus had torn one eye out and nearly cut his left hand off. Buffy and Phoebe tried to be angry at him for his illogical fears- they constantly pointed out to him that Angel would never do anything like that- but given that Belthazor had come worringly close to raping Phoebe during his time in the past, leaving her instinctively terrified of Cole for the next few months or so, neither of them could entirely put that much effort into an argument where they could so easily see at least part of the other guy's point of view.
Fortunately, further morbid thoughts on dreary topics were averted when the doors to the hotel opened again, revealing a former demonic assassin, his wife, their daughter, and one or two of their nieces and nephews hurrying along beside them while the two youngest were pushed in front of them in prams.
"Cole!" Angel grinned, stepping out from behind the desk to shake his old friend's hand as Cole released the hand of the little girl beside him; Penny Halliwell-Turner was sometimes a bit of a clingy child, but she could easily be released and trusted not to do anything stupid. "How's things with you?"
"Oh, the usual," Cole shrugged nonchalantly as he reached over to ruffle Penny's hair, ignoring the glare his first-born shot up at her father as he looked back at his friend. "The legal games as tricky as ever- I never really realised how many demons were available to limit the workload I myself had to do when I was a lawyer the first time around- but, that aside, it's all good."
"Glad to hear it," Buffy said, giving Cole a brief thumbs-up. After he'd finally managed to find a decent compromise in his life- no longer a demon, but still possessing the power to make a difference in the fight against evil-, Cole had gone back into the corporate game, and finally managed to get a job at another law firm. His law degrees may have been altered slightly to incorporate his age- it would have been hard to explain how a man seemingly in his late twenties could have taken a course in law in the 1920s- but they were all still fully legal and valid in the present, so him getting caught out for practicing law with an out-of-date degree was never going to be an issue. Typically he served as the agency's legal adviser whenever they were carrying out their investigations- always making sure that, if they were hired to take on a purely human client, they didn't do anything that would prevent the evidence obtained from being valid in a court of law- although he'd temporarily transferred to Wolfram & Hart when they took control of it in the aftermath of the Beast's massacre of the people within it.
And, of course, after they'd 'averted' the Avatars' attempts to bring about world peace; none of them were still entirely comfortable with Lilah's explanation that world peace has to come at a price and the Avatars had understood that better than they did, but generally they accepted that evil didn't see things the same way they did and left it at that.
"Anyway," Phoebe said, smiling slightly as she looked at her sister and their friends, "enough about work; how's things going on the party front?"
"As good as you'd expect, seeing as how Buffy, Piper and I only got back a few minutes ago," Willow explained, shrugging slightly apologetically at the seer and her husband. "We've still got to put everything together, but we've got everything ready to start getting the meal set up; just give us a couple of hours and it'll all be good."
"Well then," Cole said, a slight grin on his face as he picked up Chris in one arm and took Penny's small hand in the other, "while you guys attend to that, Angel and I'll just take these little rascals up to the TV room until dinner's ready, OK?"
"What, you're just automatically leaving the women to do the cooking?" Phoebe retorted, folding her arms as she stared slightly teasingly at her husband.
"Do you really want to leave the meals in the hands of a guy whose diet was limited to varying kinds of blood for the last two and a half centuries and a demon who generally didn't cook in the human way for almost a hundred years?" he asked, a teasing grin on his face. "It's not a sexist attitude, it's just practicality; you're all a lot better at this kind of thing than we are."
"Fair enough," Piper said, a slight grin on her face- she knew as well as anyone that they hadn't meant anything by that comment- as she looked at the children gathered around Cole and Phoebe. "You guys just head on upstairs with your uncles/ fathers/ whichever one you're related to in whatever way, OK, guys? We'll call you down when the food's ready."
"OK, Aunt Piper," the children replied simultaneously- those of them who could speak, anyway; a couple of the younger ones still hadn't quite mastered the ability to talk yet, but their enthusiastic smiles were all their relatives needed to confirm that they were happy with the proposed arrangement.
"Right then," Angel smiled, as he reached over to take Nick's hand, the small half-werewolf standing just behind Phoebe, as be took hold of one of the prams in his other hand, "just send Leo up with Chris and Wyatt when he arrives, OK?"
"We'll bear it in mind," Buffy said, leaning over to give him a brief kiss (Ignoring the exaggerated 'gagging' sounds the children made as she did so). "You guys have fun."
"Always do," Cole smiled. Reaching down, he took the childrens' hands, looked upwards as though he was studying the ceiling, closed his eyes, and shimmered away.
Rolling his eyes at his friend's actions- Cole always liked to shimmer the kids to another location when he wouldn't risk giving away their secret, even if he only needed to travel a short distance to reach his destination-, Angel took the hands of the remaining children and walked up the stairs towards Connor's room, arriving at his son's room no more than a minute after leaving the others; the kids could walk surprisingly fast when they tried.
"Oh, you're here at last?" Cole asked as he opened the door, smiling almost pityingly at Angel as he shook his head. "I tell you, it must be so frustrating to be limited to walking everywhere you want to go…"
"Cole; shut it," Angel retorted, the grin on his face making it clear that he really didn't mind about his friend's joking attitude. "How's things going in there?"
"Oh, the usual," Cole shrugged as he opened the door, revealing the children all clustered around the chairs as they looked at the television before them, currently playing The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The film was close to the conclusion, Angel noted- Phoebus was just giving his speech to the people about Frollo having declared war on Notre-Dame herself- but he doubted any of the children cared; they'd all seen it at least once before, and Connor and Liam would be perfectly happy to see it again once it was over for their cousins' 'sake'. "They're all acting like they've been granted a taste of nirvana the moment they saw what the movie was-"
As soon as the words were out of Cole's mouth, the children gathered around Angel had dashed forward to cluster around the screen, Nick only just avoiding Angel's half-hearted attempt to catch him as he ran.
"Typical," Angel sighed as he looked back at his friend. "Give the kids a TV and they completely forget that you're even in the same room."
"No we don't!" Connor called over to his father, a broad grin on his face. "It's just funner than you!"
"Ouch," Cole whispered, mockingly clutching at his heart as he looked at his friend. "Think I could fake a cardiac arrest to make a point?"
"Cole, that stopped being effective the twentieth time you did it; I think we're past the point where the kids believe you can even have a heart attack," Angel retorted, a slight smirk on his face as he spoke. "Let's just sit down, OK; the kids'll start paying attention to us once more while the movie's rewinding."
As Angel and Cole turned their attention back to the television before them, the two former half-demons smiled slightly as they heard the lyrics of the song currently being sung as the film neared its end.
"Soooooo, here is a riddle
To guess if you can
Sing the bells of Notre-Dame!
What makes a monster
And what makes a man?"
Even as their children clapped enthusiastically at the singing currently taking place on the screen before them- they always clapped when watching singing together; Piper and Angel attributed it to them spending so much time with Lorne when he gave them 'private performances' that they felt obligated to clap when anyone was singing in their presence-, Cole and Angel exchanged a small smile at the lyrics.
As they'd learned a long time ago, when facing a group of people who claimed to be doing 'the right thing' when they tortured potentially innocent people solely for not being human, it was never an easy thing to draw a distinction between what made somebody human and what made them a monster, but, when push came to shove, what really counted would always be made obvious.
For Angel and Cole, the true test of humanity came when a person was in a position where they had to choose between hurting a potential enemy or helping a potential friend; you could talk about doing 'the right thing', but if you didn't make the decision to help others because you preferred to hurt people, you were almost less than human. Humanity wasn't a matter of what a person was biologically; it was a matter of what a person was in the spiritual sense.
As the two former killers looked down at the children now gathered around them, both directly related biologically and assorted nephews and nieces, they both allowed themselves a small smile as they studied the family they'd built around themselves over the last few years. Some of them may not be entirely human in the biological sense, and some of them may have been far older than their significant others, but all of them were linked to each other by ties almost stronger than mere blood; for all their problems, in the final moment, they'd die for each other, and that was all that mattered.
"Daddy?" Connor's small voice suddenly said, the oldest child of the group around them tugging slightly on his father's finger. "What's funny?"
"Nothing, Connor," Angel said, smiling affectionately down at his son. "I'm just… just happy, is all."
Connor smiled warmly up at his father at that, before he moved in closer to the former vampire and hugged him.
"I love you, Daddy," he said simply.
"I love you too, son," Angel replied, wrapping one arm around his child and squeezing him gently.
"We all do, kiddo," Cole added, reaching over to ruffle Connor's hair even as he affectionately hugged Penny where she lay against him, her eyes only half-open as she looked up at her father. "We're one weird family, I admit, but you can count on that, got me?"
"Gotcha, Unca Cole," Connor replied, smiling back warmly at the demon formerly known as Belthazor. As he snuggled back up against his father, Angel and Cole exchanged brief glances with each other, and smiled reassuringly at their friends.
Their lives may have been complicated over the last few years, as their teams shared the hardships and challenges that their roles as Earth's champions against evil had forced them to confront, but, if asked, both former killers knew that they wouldn't have traded them away for anything.