Disclaimer ~ Nope, sorry, I still don't own them. Though, if Joss should ever want to pass Angel on to a good home, I'd be more than willing to take him in. For purely altruistic reasons, obviously.

Dedication ~ I hereby pay homage to Trixie Firecracker, whose excellent writing has inspired more than one of my fics.

Timeline ~ Jumps around a bit at first, but basically is set after the end of S4, thus neatly side-stepping the whole Dawn/Glory story arc.

Author's Notes ~ Right. Some of the contents of this fic are a little dark and disturbing (such as the symptoms of Buffy's post-natal depression), but I was just trying to paint an accurate picture of the very upsetting nature of mental illness, so don't say I didn't warn you. I have to apologise too for the excessive amounts of B/R in this fic, the initial pairing was essential for the plot, but don't lose faith, there is actually B/A happy ending! And finally, before I shut up and let you get on with reading, I got bored halfway through checking this for mistakes, so any errors are solely due to my laziness!

~~~

         

The wedding is a small affair. Just a few friends and a small ceremony at the courthouse. No grand church with tall stained-glass windows pouring in beautiful coloured light. No majestic organ music. No six-tiered wedding cake with the little sugar bride and groom on the top. No childhood fantasy.

          I don't even have the huge meringue-shaped dress, with the train that stretches so far behind you that the little flower girls trip over it as they try to follow you up the aisle. Instead there is just a plain white satin gown, tailored especially to fit over my bulging stomach. And in my hands where there is supposed to be a luscious bouquet of creamy lilies and sweetly scented roses, there is only a simple spray of wildflowers.

          Nothing seems real, it's like a dream – no, a nightmare, because this isn't supposed to be happening to me, this isn't supposed to be my life. The atmosphere is sombre, oppressive, nothing like a wedding should be. My eyes should be shining with happiness and love when I say 'I do', not brimming with unshed tears.

          As the courthouse official begins another long and droning speech, I glance around me, longing to ease my hand out of Riley's tight grip. His palm is sweaty and clammy and it's making my skin feel hot and sticky. The whole room is far too warm, I think the air conditioning must be broken or something. My mouth is dry and my flesh prickly and all I want to do is turn around and run out. Run into the cool, fresh air. Keep running until day turns to night and I am bathed in the moonlight once more.

          But I just stay standing still.

          My future mother-in-law catches my eye, her expression disapproving. Her dislike of me is obvious. I think she thinks I'm some kind of Californian hussy, who seduced her darling son and forced him into marrying her. That's okay because I think she's an interfering, prudish bitch. Riley, though, idolises her and can't stop going on about how great it will be to live nearer to both his parents, how I'll love the farm with all the open space for the kids (and he's already talking in plural here) to play in.

          I haven't seen the house yet. I claimed I wanted it to be a surprise, some romantic notion of being carried across the threshold of our brand new home. But in reality I just couldn't face going there, to the tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Riley's shown me pictures of where he grew up and it frightened me. The land was just flat and it stretched out endlessly into the distance. Field, upon field, upon field of corn and cows and nothingness. I guess the idea of that empty silence freaks me out a little and I was worried that if I experienced it before the wedding then I might not be able to go through with any of it. That whatever meagre self-control I have left inside me will just snap, and I'll break completely.

          Maybe I shouldn't have agreed to move to Iowa in the first place, but Riley was so enthusiastic about it. He made such a convincing argument about house prices being lower – we could get a nice little farmhouse with a white picket fence outside and a yard for the dog (that we just had to get) to run around in, for the same price as a one-bedroom apartment in California. And then there was the safety aspect, Sunnydale is a dangerous place, we really shouldn't be bringing children up on the Hellmouth, it was bad for them. I wanted to say that Willow and Xander had both grown up here and they came out fine, but I didn't. I smiled weakly and said sure whatever, we'll move, because I didn't care where we lived. I didn't care about anything anymore.

          Sometimes I wonder what happened. How I ended up here, trapped in this moment, this entire life. This isn't me! Of all the things I imagined for my future this was never one of them. I thought I'd be stuck as the Slayer forever, until I died an unnaturally early death. Now I found a get out clause. I'll never slay another vampire again. I'll never be that headstrong young girl who traded quips with monsters and sat on gravestones waiting for her lover with eyes as dark as night and pale skin shining in the starlight.

Buffy Summers is gone. Dead to the world. She died as soon as the new life was born in her stomach.

~~~

          I hadn't really thought it possible. I didn't believe it at first, or maybe I just didn't want to. It was August, sweltering hot and I'd been off my game for a while. In the slaying department, that is. I'd been feeling tired, lethargic. I wasn't hungry, couldn't eat and when I did eat I usually vomited afterwards. More vampires were getting away from me, and one evening a particularly nasty demon slashed open my ribcage. The blood spread in a red cloud across the front of my pristine white t-shirt, and I remember being annoyed that the top was ruined then the next thing I knew I was in the hospital.

          When I was there in front of the doctor, it all came out, the exhaustion, the nausea, the deep aching in my bones. He said he'd run some tests, see what was wrong. Then he asked could I possibly be pregnant. I laughed at him, so hard that I nearly burst my stitches. Looking back, I was probably more hysterical than amused. Pregnant! With Riley Finn's baby! No, it couldn't be happening. It wasn't happening. I'd always been so careful, took my pills at the prescribed time, insisted that Riley wear a condom. The last thing I'd ever wanted was to be was one of those teenage moms, who strolled the streets with their baby carriages and their little, chocolate-smeared brats in tow.

          I shook my head vehemently. There was no way, no how I was pregnant. They did the test anyway. They sent my blood off to take glucose and thyroxin and God knows what other levels and at the same time they said they might as well just dip it for hormone levels. Just to make absolutely sure.

Well, they were in the end. After I'd had them redo the test about three times I think everyone was sure. Not one person had a single solitary doubt. Apart from me. I still didn't accept it. I couldn't accept it, because it destroyed everything I'd ever hoped for in my life. It destroyed me.

After they discharged me from hospital, I went to see Willow. The first thing I did was burst into tears. No words, no explanations, just bitter, heartfelt sobbing. She'd been so worried about me then, she thought I'd just found out I was dying or something. That made me laugh too. If it was death I had to face then I probably would have been much calmer. Eventually, I told her, I found the strength in me to utter the two little words that finally made it real.

"I'm pregnant."

"Oh, Buffy," Willow's mouth dropped open and her face fell. "I-I don't know what to say."

I forced a tearful smile. "I don't know what to say either." She held me for a long, long time as I cried away all my dreams and fantasies, as I reconciled myself to the future I'd never wanted, the one I was now stuck with. But then that's my life all over, isn't it? I'm always the one landed with the responsibilities I never wanted.

"What are you going to do?" Willow eventually asked.

I grimaced, wiping my eyes roughly with the back of my hand. "I don't see what I can do. I'm gonna have the baby, I guess. Be a mom, have Riley be a dad."

"You could always…you know…"

"Have an abortion?" I shook my head. "I couldn't. I don't think I could ever bring myself to go through with it. Besides, I don't think Riley would very readily agree to murdering his baby."

"It's not murder and it's not his decision," Will told me gently. "It's your body."

"And it's his baby," I snapped back at Willow, just the thought of it making me feel sick again. Riley's baby growing inside me. I wanted to tear open my stomach right there and then and pull it out. Somebody pass me a knitting needle, please, because I can't bear this…this thing, this foreign object, inside me any longer. Somehow the issue never became about my baby, my child. In my mind it was always Riley's baby, my problem.

Truth be told I didn't really ever think I'd live long enough to have kids. Slayer's have short lifespans, it's an accepted fact. And that never bothered me particularly. I'd always lived in the moment. I worried about the next five minutes, not the next five years. My idea of planning ahead was making a date for next weekend. The big picture wasn't something I routinely looked at, probably because to do so would have been a little too scary.

I saw it once. I caught a glimpse of dark-haired, serious children, with huge eyes that gazed up into your very soul. I felt cool kisses and strong arms encircling me. And then it was all lost, a house of cards collapsed, a fragile dream blown away on the breeze. Ironic, how the only man I ever wanted the big things with – the wedding and the children and the forever – was the only one I could never have.

A sudden thought occurred to me, the realisation almost physical in nature, hitting me in the solar plexus and stealing my breath away. "God, what am I going to tell him?" I blurted out to Willow.

She patted my hand comfortingly. "Riley will be fine about it, Buffy. He's one of those responsible, reliable types – he'll make a great father."

I shook my head desperately. "No, not Riley, I'm not worried about his reaction. Angel. What am I going to tell Angel?" I wrung my hands despairingly, imagining what my former lover will think of me now. His reaction to Riley leapt into my mind. The heartbreak and pain in his eyes when I told him.

//"I have someone in my life now…"//

//"You actually sleep with this guy?"//

//"I don't like him."//

Being pregnant with somebody else's child pretty much killed all my secret hopes of Angel and I ever getting back together. In fact it pretty much killed all hope of ever seeing him again. He would be horrified by my behaviour, that I actually managed to get myself into this situation. And Riley hates him, he'd do anything to keep us apart.

God, what a mess. Riley was my rebound guy, my attempt at a calm, friendly relationship to contrast with the blind passion I had with Angel. I was supposed to date him for a while, go through some comfy handholding, a minor sexual awakening and then move on. Grow up, decide what and who (as if I didn't already know) I wanted in life. I wasn't supposed to get stuck with his kid.

Willow glanced up at me, surprised. "I-I guess, Angel's gonna have to find out sooner or later."

I looked down at my stomach and ran my hands over its flat, muscular planes. There was a baby growing inside there, a whole new being. I found the thought more horrifying than amazing. In nine months time my body and my life would be unrecognisable. Willow was right. This wasn't something I could hide from the world. And it wasn't going to go away either, no matter how much I wished it would.

~~~

          The ceremony completed, Riley leans over to kiss me. His lips on mine feel wrong, alien, like they're not meant to be there. The baby kicks and I wince in pain, glad for a momentary excuse to drop the forced smile from my face. Riley frowns in concern and rubs the small of my back, uttering soothing words that mean nothing to my ears.

          "Gonna take after his daddy," he grins. "Gonna be the star of the football team, aren't you son."

          He pats my belly uncomfortably, making me feel sick again. So much for morning sickness – the nausea has been almost constant throughout the whole of the last eight months. Pregnancy is supposed to make you glow radiance and health, but it hasn't been like that with me at all. I just got sicker and sicker, like the thing inside me wasn't a baby at all but a parasite, draining all my energy and spirit. After the first month I couldn't slay anymore, I was just too weak. And then in my third month I collapsed at college. The doctor took my blood pressure and found it to be sky high. I was ordered to stay at home. Total bed rest for the next sixth months. It's been driving me crazy ever since.

          I was always an active person, always rushing around with about five million things to do at once. And to be forced into just stopping all that was nearly more than I could cope with. I had to give up school, patrolling, my social life. And I became utterly dependent upon Mom and Riley. Anything I wanted they had to provide for me. If I wanted to leave the house one of them had to go with me. What I did, what I ate, the people I saw, it was all mediated through them. I found it unbearable at first, but bit by bit my resistance faded. I learnt to live with the situation, to be helpless and housebound. I just came to accept whatever the situation threw at me. I resigned myself to it all.

          This new attitude worried my friends a little at first. They missed their fiery, feisty, insolent Buffy and didn't like the new wilted version. But as the months progressed I began to see less of them. They were busy with their own lives and didn't have time to hang out with their heavily pregnant friend. Giles even praised the personality change I had gone through. He thought I'd grown up, moved into a new phase in my life. I didn't see Giles much after that day, we just sort of drifted apart. His role as my Watcher was defunct, and now that I was nearly a married woman with a child, he didn't think I needed a father figure anymore.

          He is a guest at the wedding today and dressed in a smart grey suit. One should always wear grey for weddings, he explains, rather than black. Black is the colour of death, of funerals. I glance over at Riley's black tuxedo and think how appropriate it probably is. Something inside me died today. I hug Giles and tell him that I will miss him when we move. The truth is I miss him already, I miss the connection we had and have now lost forever.

          Mom gets in the car next to me as we drive off towards the nearby restaurant for the reception. She squeezes my hand tightly, leaning over to whisper in my ear.

          "I always cry at weddings, don't you?"

          I turn around to look at her, my eyes huge and sad, not daring to let the tears fall, because I don't want to disappoint her or Riley or any of the others. I don't want to ruin my picture perfect day. Just imagine the bride in the wedding photographs with mascara track marks running down her cheeks. Instead I just lean my head against her shoulder, seeking the last bit of comfort I possibly can from my Mommy, before I will have to be the strong one for my child, the one who copes through the tears and the stress and the tantrums.

          It strikes me how wonderful Mom has been throughout all of this, how tolerant and supportive. At first she was shocked and she was mad. She yelled at me. How could I possibly have let this happen? Pregnant, at nineteen! Did I know what a mess I'd made of my life, exactly how much I'd screwed up my future? I simply nodded and burst out crying. And from that moment on she never said another cross word. She seemed to accept the idea better than I did. She liked Riley, thought he was a very courteous young man, and she was delighted when we announced we were getting married. In fact she went into SuperMom mode. She made wedding plans, bought baby clothes, recounted innumerable tales of me when I was a little girl. Then I told her Riley and I would be moving to Iowa once the baby was born, and her enthusiasm dwindled a little.

          She told me in no uncertain terms that I was making a mistake. I would only be unhappy living in such a small, isolated community away from all my friends and family. I would be lonely, with no life, no job, no connections beyond my home and husband. That wasn't the type of person I was, not the life I should be leading. I told her coldly that I had already made the mistake, and now all I was doing was following it through. The subject never came up again.

          Riley gets in the car next to me, all smiles and upbeat comments. Well, I'm glad somebody here is happy, that this marriage is good for once of us. Sometimes I think that's the only reason why I'm going through with it, because it would kill Riley if I didn't. For some reason he seems to love me, or at least the person he thinks I am, he wants us to be a family, to have a future and that's all I'm trying to do now, give him what he wants. What I want ceased to matter a long time ago, when I realised that I could never have it.

          When we arrive at the reception, Cordelia greets me with a faint smile and an awkward hug. She apologises for being late. She was caught up in some business. A gang of crazy demons terrorising the citizens of LA.

          "You know how it is," she says. And I think that I used to, once upon a time.

          I don't know why I invited her really, maybe because I thought she might bring him. I had a last ditch hope that Angel would show up and he'd see into my heart like he always does and know to take me away from all this. Or maybe I'd look at his face, through his eyes into his soul and remember what love really is – not legally binding contracts, or creating life, or cosy little houses with shutters on the windows, but dark, deep, consuming passion, a fire in your heart that will never be extinguished. And then I'd know everything I'm giving up to be here with Riley right now. I'd realise everything I'm condemning myself to and I wouldn't be able to go through with it.

          But, of course, Angel hasn't come. Why would he? Why would he put himself through that? Seeing my body heavy with another man's child, my life pledged to someone else. I know if it was the other way around I couldn't be there. I couldn't sit back and watch Angel marry another woman. I couldn't bear the thought of her touching him, kissing him, hearing his voice whispering words of love into her ear. Call me selfish, but sometimes the only thing that gets me through, my one piece of comfort, is that he still loves me. That he still thinks of me and misses me, like I think of and miss him.

          Telling him was awful. It was the worst thing I have ever done. Well, maybe not the worst, because I sent him to Hell, remember? I shoved a sword through his belly and I killed him, and this felt like that moment all over again, only this time I had to look into his eyes afterwards and see the hurt and betrayal there. I wanted to chicken out. To write a letter or make a phone call, to have Xander or Willow accidentally drop the news into conversation one day. Hi, Angel, I was in LA, just thought I'd drop by. I've been shopping. Buying Buffy and Riley a wedding present. Yeah, that's right they're getting married. Well, they kinda had to, what with the baby and all…

          But in the end I knew I owed it to him to see him face to face, to tell him personally exactly what a mess I made of my life. So, one weekend, when Riley was away in Iowa, I just upped and left, headed to LA without thinking about it, because the longer I thought the more excuses I would come up with not to go. When I arrived, I checked and rechecked the new address I had for him. It was a large, shambling building, but still grand and a little intimidating. In retrospect it was perfect for Angel really. Despite the month being October, it was still incredibly hot in LA, some freak heat wave or something, and a blanket of smog hung over the city making it difficult to breathe. Or maybe I would have found breathing a problem wherever I was, because Angel always did have that effect on me.

          I walked straight in through the wide double doors – it was a hotel, after all, so there was no need to knock, and I've always treated Angel's home as open to me anyway. Wherever he lived – his apartment, the mansion, the LA office – I would always just wander in without invitation, because I never felt I needed one. He let me into his heart, so I assumed that meant free entry to the rest of his life as well.

As soon as I walked in I knew the place belonged to Angel. I could just feel his presence there, even though I couldn't immediately see him, or in fact anybody. So, I just set about exploring the huge, maze of a building, not even bothering to call his name, because I knew we would find one another eventually, we always did. And I was right. A few minutes later, I was walking down a dark corridor with peeling wallpaper and broken light fittings, when he appeared right in front of me. He looked surprised, but sort of not, like he was almost expecting to turn the corner and see me standing just there, waiting for him.

"Buffy?" He said my name as a question, a million other sentiments imbued within it.

~~~

"Angel," I reply. "Can…can we talk?"

He nods, his expression indiscernible in the shadows. "Sure, I was just doing some work on the ballroom – you should come see it."

I follow him down what seems like an endless labyrinth of corridors, finally emerging in a huge room, cavernous in its proportions, its ceiling reaching high, high up to the sky. The floor is parquet, now dusty and scratched and at one end there is a large stage, clearly once meant to hold a band. Moonlight floods in through giant windows, sparkling in little diamonds off the crystals of a broken chandelier, which stands dejectedly in the middle of the room.

"Wow," I breathe. "This place must have been incredible."

He smiles slightly, a wistful look on his face. "It was, once."

Automatically, I reach over to touch his hand and as we contact a vision floods my mind. The hall filled with people, dancing, laughing, drinking, smoking. A rock and roll band plays on the stage and the room is filled with life and colour. The bright, swirling skirts of the women, the shine of polished wood and brass and the richness of heavy velvet curtains. The chandeliers are in place, two of them, hanging grandly and twinkling just like they should.

Then the vision is gone and I am left unsure as to whether this was a flight of my own imagination or an actual memory of Angel's. I withdraw my hand and it strikes me how difficult it must be to live through all this time, to see the years slip by and watch everything deteriorate and change around him while he stays forever the same.

I twirl away from him, spinning like I am one of those carefree women from fifty years ago, my footsteps echoing hollowly in the empty air. "I feel like we should be dancing."

"There's no music."

I stop and look at him sadly, remembering the reason I came. "No, there isn't, is there?"

"You wanted to talk," he prompts me.

"Yes," I nod, blinking back the tears that I suddenly find have formed in my eyes. "There's nothing I need to tell you." I glance around at the dilapidated room, a place that has seen so much happiness and song, but that is now a shell of its former self. "Maybe we shouldn't do it here."

He looks at me quizzically. "Then where?"

I shake my head helplessly. "I don't know. Nowhere."

"I'm not going to like this am I?"

"No, no, you're not." I am crying properly now, my cheeks glistening with saltwater, by voice cracked and shaky. "I'm sorry. It wasn't meant to be like this."

"What wasn't?"

"Life, anything." I wipe my eyes ferociously with the back of my hand. "I had so many dreams."

He smiles slightly, but there is no humour behind the expression, only irony. "We all did."

"Riley and I are getting married," I blurt out before my brain can catch up with my mouth. Well, I had to say it sometime, or I never would have said it at all.

He freezes, not moving a single muscle. His face seems to lose all expression, like he's shut himself off from me; even his eyes are veiled. "Oh." He turns away from me. "Was that it then – your news?"

My stomach feels heavy, like I have swallowed a lead weight and my mouth is dry. "There's more. I-I, uh, well, I'm only marrying him because I have to." Once the words are out I feel something change irreversibly between us, because this is something I can never take back. Feelings change. Cruel words are uttered in anger and then retracted. Mistakes are made and rectified. But this, this is irredeemable.

"I'm sorry," I say again and he finally turns back around to look in my direction. His eyes don't focus on me, though, but through me, past me and around me. I want to make him see, make him gaze into my eyes and realise that I haven't changed. It's still me, it's still Buffy, I still love you! But I'm afraid, so I don't.

"What for?" He asks abruptly, some of his pain leaking into his voice.

"For letting you down," I reply tearfully. "You wanted me to move on, to find someone who would make me happy, and I haven't managed either."

He stares at me blankly, his face so devoid of emotion it scares me. "I think maybe you should go, Buffy."

I don't want to, but I agree anyway, because I long ago stopped doing the things I wanted to. Right from the moment I let him walk away from me, I've been doing what I'm supposed to do instead. I've been acting like the mature adult, so no reason to stop now. After all, I'm having a baby – how much more mature can you get?

When we reach the door he leans over and kisses my forehead, so gently, so lightly, that I'm not sure he was ever there at all. Then he whispers in my ear. "Goodbye, Buffy." Only I cannot return it, so I just walk away.

~~~

Goodbye. We never said that before. We never could.

Today, however, it is a word that trips off my tongue easily. There are so many people I'm leaving and they all want a special sentiment from the bride and groom. But all my emotional farewells seem hollow and meaningless, since I can't quite believe I'm going. I'm standing here in my tent-like wedding dress, my hand with its plain gold band interlinked with Riley's, and it still all feels like a dream.

I want to wake up now. Can I wake up? Please? 

Willow cries when she hugs me and says her goodbye. I think I cry too, but I'm not sure, because the tears come so often now, that I can't tell the difference between when they're there and when they're not. She promises to write every day and I laugh at that, because if anyone could keep such a promise then it would be Will.

Tara hugs me too, in her own soft, shy way. I wish I'd gotten to know her a little better, that I'd given her more of a chance. She and Will seem so together somehow. I see them exchange little 'I love you' looks and smiles, and it makes me ache to remember what it was like to communicate your every feeling to a person with a single glance. It's strange, because I never thought it would work out for them. I actually thought Willow was crazy when she first told me. I mean, she's not a lesbian, right? But it's not like that between them. It's not a chance to experiment with something new or a passing phase. They're just two people who happened to fall in love, and that's exactly how it should be.

Then Xander comes over. He ruffles my hair, grins and makes some trademark Xander comment. But his eyes are serious and it strikes me just how much he has changed. He's grown up in the past six months and he's actually making something of his life now. He's got a steady job and a nice apartment, and him and Anya are even still together. And I thought Will and Tara's relationship was strange. But then perhaps weird works. It keeps things fresh. When you're dating a thousand year old former demon, then you're never likely to run out of topics for conversation are you? And here I am in my normal relationship with my normal guy and I have nothing to say. How's that for irony.

Riley tugs on my arm, indicating that we have to leave soon. We're not having a honeymoon. We've told people it's because my pregnancy is too advanced for me to risk flying anywhere, but the truth is we can't afford one ourselves and Riley's parents refused to pay for it. They said they'd already given us a deposit for a house and that was enough of a wedding present. Riley suggested we head up to LA for a couple of days instead, but I couldn't face that idea. I couldn't be in the same city as Angel and pretend to be a happily married. So, eventually we decided we'd just drive straight to Iowa, stopping at a few little motels on the way. Riley has drawn up a whole schedule for us. How far we should manage to drive each day, places to stay and sights to see. His timetable depends upon us getting to the first motel on the state line by its eleven p.m. check-in time, which means we have go now.  It doesn't matter I haven't finished saying goodbye – the schedule has been planned for weeks and it can't wait.

Hurriedly I embrace Giles, tears streaming down my face as I realise this will probably be the last time I see him. He told me before the wedding that he is planning on moving back to England, since he doesn't feel needed in America anymore.

"Maybe, when the baby's a bit older I can come back and help with the slaying," I whisper hopefully to him before we part.

His shakes his head. "Don't worry about the Hellmouth, Buffy. We've got everything under control. You just concentrate on your new life now."

I smile at him sadly. "Thank you, Giles. You were a great Watcher."

He smiles back. "And you were an excellent pupil. Barring a few initial difficulties that is."

I giggle, remembering the girl I was then. Sixteen and filled with youthful determination and innocence. When did I get so old?

Mom is the last to say goodbye, placing a soft kiss on my cheek as she does so. "My little girl," she says with tears in her eyes.

"All grown up." I hug her tightly, finishing the sentence as I do so. Then I walk away with Riley to my new life.

I don't look back, not because I don't care, but because it's too painful to see what I'm leaving behind.

To be continued…