This is it folks! The end of the story. I want to thank all of those who have stayed the course. I hope you enjoyed it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Wesley snapped the tiles down. "Q-A-T. Triple word, so that's 36 and track is another 12."
"That is not a word. There's no U."
Reaching for the large book that rested across the table, Wes gave Cordelia a smug look as Angel tried hard to suppress a grin.
"Oh sure, as if being in the dictionary makes it a real word," she huffed. The phone rang, cutting off her death glare. "Angel Investigations, we---oh, ok, yeah, of course I'll tell him." She hung up the phone and blithely said, "It's time."
The two men stared blankly at her until Wes bravely asked, "Tine for what."
Cordelia simply shook her head at the sad specimens before her. "The baby. Buffy's in labor."
Angel became a statue, nothing moving at all. Finally, he managed to speak. "She's only thirty-eight weeks. The baby's not due yet."
"Guess the kid had other ideas. Thanks Dennis." Dennis had floated Cordelia's suitcase over to the couch and was already filling it with neatly folded clothes."
"Do you think we should go? I don't want to intrude." He couldn't imagine that anyone really wanted him there, including Buffy.
"Jeez," Cordelia huffed. "Get over yourself already. If we weren't expected, Willow wouldn't have called. Don't forget both my moisturizers. And the facial scrub. And see if Angel owns anything other than black."
"What?" Angel asked, suddenly confused.
"You don't want to traumatize the baby, do you? And Wes, do you own anything remotely non-tweedy?" Her voice softened. "And Dennis, make sure Angel packs enough clothes. I think he's going to be there a while."
When Angel got to the waiting room, it was exactly the same as four weeks earlier and completely different. Willow was once again the only person he noticed. But the tension that was present in her last time was gone. Instead, she smiled warmly upon seeing Angel and kissed him on the cheek.
"Come on," she said tugging him by the hand. She stopped in front of a room and motioned to him to wait. She came back out with Joyce and even as Angel bowed his head, he could feel Joyce's cold glare. He didn't move until he heard Willow's loud whispered, "Go" and felt her hand on his back pushing him.
The room was painted a cheerful yellow pastel color and the curtains that were pushed back from around the bed had teddy bears printed on them, but it was still a hospital room. And at first glance, everything was much the same as when he was last in this hospital with Buffy – same IV line, same fetal monitor. But her belly and breasts looked huge and monstrous now, alien on her small body. Her hair was damply plastered to her forehead and her breathing sounded harsh. She opened her eyes and a tiny smile graced her face. She started to say something and then her face twisted with terrible pain; she was pushing out puffs of air even as she was gritting her teeth. After a moment she sank back into the bed, exhaustion lining her features.
"Are you are all right? Do you need a nurse?" He'd never seen her like this, her strength seeming to be gone.
"Fine," she said a bit weakly. "Just a contraction."
"I knew they were supposed to hurt but…" his voice trailed off, a combination of awe and horror.
"Now I know what a tube of toothpaste feels like," she joked.
"Do you want me to get your mom? Or Riley?"
"Riley's not here."
It was then that he noticed she was no longer wearing her engagement ring. "What happened?"
"We're no longer together." She closed her eyes briefly. "My fault."
"I don't believe that."
"I've been more and more afraid of what's going to happen with this baby."
"I'm not exactly an expert on the subject but I think that's pretty normal."
"But I just don't worry if I'm going to drop her on her head or not hold her enough and emotionally scar her forever. I also worry about what happens when the demon underground gets wind. Or if she starts growing a tail. Or what's going to happen when some vampire gets the drop on me."
He didn't say anything. Other than the tail, her fears weren't exactly unfounded.
"I didn't tell Riley any of that. I just couldn't. And he knew it. He asked me when I was going to trust him. And that's when we both knew it was over. I was never going to let him in."
His fault. He had destroyed her ability to trust, just like so much else.
"Angel." She had been scrutinizing his face. "My issues with Riley are my issues. Nothing to do with you."
He didn't bother hiding his surprise. She gave him a small, tired smile. "I know you better than you think." She had barely finished speaking when another contraction claimed her body. Angel stepped closer and held her hand, letting her grip it so tightly that he actually felt his bones being squeezed.
"Thanks, that helped." She motioned to the chair and he folded himself into it, thinking that even as worn out as she was, she was still beautiful. "I've still been trying to figure out how I got pregnant."
"Does it matter?"
"I'd like to make sure I don't have to worry about green scales. It's a thing. And then I remembered there was another demon that I came into contact with that week. I somehow forgot about it." Her eyes briefly got a far away look. "Well, not forgot exactly. Never forgotten. More like when I think demon I think of things that need slaying." She waited until her eyes had captured his.
"Tell me she's not yours."
His eyes darted around the room, seeking an answer that wasn't contained here. Finally, he looked at Buffy once more and didn't turn away.
"How? It was when I saw in LA after Thanksgiving, right?"
"It would only hurt you, Buffy."
Her expression crumbled as she tore her gaze away. "I thought that somehow, maybe, that something good had happened. I should have known. Was it some kind of spell? Just tell me."
He was an idiot. Once again, he had managed to do the one thing he had been trying to prevent. "I still don't really know how you're pregnant. But it was love. I loved you for almost a day. And then I gave it back so you could live." His voice cracked once but then it was steady once more.
His child. It was impossible, but then so was his very existence.
Fear suddenly gripped him. What did he possibly know about being a father? What child would want a monster for a parent? He saw it growing up while he remained unchanging, left behind. And even apart from those considerations, there was the more basic issue of logistics. He no longer belonged in Sunnydale.
"Don't," she commanded, tugging him firmly toward her.
He dipped his head. He could hear both sets of heartbeats. He visualized a blonde girl, a tiny version of Buffy with rounder cheeks and face. Her eyes were dark though. He picked his head up and looked into her eyes, falling into her. He bent over Buffy and kissed the curve of her belly through the hospital gown, feeling the life within.
"A daughter," he whispered.
She nodded. "Shannon."
"God's gracious gift." He looked at Buffy and soaked in her strength and determination and love and smiled, all his worries receding. "I guess I'll need diapering lessons."