Sighing deeply, Lisa picked up the ringing phone. "No House, you can't come with us."
There was a pause and the corners of Lisa's mouth started to move upwards.
"I was just offering a ride to the airport."
"Su-ure," Lisa drawled out while rolling her eyes at her grinning daughter. Then, to share the fun, she put the phone on speaker.
"Do you have any idea how much they charge for long-time parking?" House asked in mock-indignation. "That's extortion at its best!"
"It's my money."
"Exactly! You could spend it on so many other things."
"Like what? Presents?" Lisa asked drolly.
"Well, now that you're offering..." They could hear him take a swig from a bottle.
Buffy winked at her mom. "I've heard they can do magic with tweed over there."
On the other end of the phone, House almost spit his beer out. "Funny. Very funny."
"Yup. Anyway, Baby and I are off to bed. Bye House, see you next year."
Buffy heaved herself off the couch and, after kissing her mom's cheek, went to bed - only to be woken by her alarm moments later. Groaning, she barely withstood the urge to throw it against the wall. Grumbling, she got up and got ready for the day. Still complaining quietly, she made her way to the kitchen and frowned as she saw two coffee mugs sitting on the counter. Unlike her mom who experienced outright cravings for coffee, Buffy preferred juice in the morning. Raising a questioning eyebrow, she nodded towards the second mug while accepting a glass of orange juice.
"Morning!" House said cheerfully from the door. "Ready to go?"
Groaning, Buffy turned to Lisa. "Mo-om."
"Sorry. He wouldn't stop begging and then I realised I could do with another good deed, you know, with it almost being Christmas and all." Lisa said apologetically.
Ignoring House's protests against the good deed, Buffy patted her mom's shoulder. "I suppose you're right. Another act of kindness can't hurt."
By the time they reached the airport House had stopped grumbling about the stupid good deed and was scarily charming again.
"Uh ... you just missed the drop-off zone," Lisa said in a resigned voice.
"Yeah. The police doesn't care that I'm a cripple, they frown upon me parking in the drop-off zone," House replied while entering a parking garage.
"That's because you're supposed to drop us off, not come in with us," Buffy pointed out.
House gasped in mock-shock, pressing a hand to his heart. "I wouldn't be able to look myself in the eyes anymore if I would allow two pregnant women to carry their entire luggage all by themselves!"
Ignoring the simultaneous snorts, House parked the car and got out, taking in the parking lot. House spotted a gangly teenager two rows down and shouted, "Hey, you! Kid pretending to be a grown-up!" He waited till the boy looked in his direction. Waving a few banknotes, he continued, "Yes, you! Could you grab a trolley for me? Seeing how I'm a poor cripple and my two ladies are pregnant?"
The teenage boy did his best to look uninterested, so House did some more money waving. Eventually, the boy shrugged his shoulders and trotted over to where the trolleys were parked. House grinned at Lisa and Buffy while stuffing his money back into his pocket.
Shaking her head, Lisa got her purse out and removed money to give to the teenager. Smiling openly at him, she said, "Don't mind our driver over there, the poor guy was born grumpy."
The boy grinned back and offered to load their bags from the trunk onto the trolley. Lisa gave him another wide smile and, blushing only a little, the boy transferred their bags. Curious, and maybe a bit worried, his parents had made their way over and Lisa kept her smile in place and praised their son for being a great help.
Meanwhile, House was standing back and pulling faces at them behind their backs. Buffy, being in the perfect spot of observing all of them, quietly chuckled to herself, wondering how House would react to their check-in. There was no doubt in her mind he was only coming along so he could find out where exactly they were going. Apparently 'Europe' wasn't a satisfying answer to him. Especially as she had connections to Italy and England.
And, as soon as they entered the terminal building, her assumption proved to be right.
"So, what plane are we looking for?" House asked in a bored voice.
Buffy shrugged, fighting hard to keep a straight face. "None of them."
Lisa stepped up next to him and patted his shoulder. "We're taking a private plane."
"Yeah, Faith is flying in from Cleveland, picking us up," Buffy added helpfully.
"Damn." Grinning, he shook his head in disbelief. They truly had outmanoeuvred him. For now.
Sighing, Lisa became serious again. "I'm sorry."
House held her eyes for a long time before he nodded. Though, he figured it wouldn't hurt to make a few calls. There were so many unanswered questions surrounding Buffy and her friends. And then there was Dawn, who he couldn't help but like. And he just knew there was a whole new story behind her calling Lisa 'mom' as well. Oh, he knew Lisa hadn't given birth to her. He had made sure of that by taking a very thorough look at her past. He'd even come up with a picture of a very young, very pregnant Lisa Cuddy. Still, every instinct screamed at him that, when it came to Dawn and Cuddy, there was more to the story then they had told him. They even looked more alike than Buffy and Cuddy!
But, watching Buffy and Cuddy vanish through a door that remained closed for him, he promised himself he would find out.
And, until then, he'd have to find another way to keep their Christmas interesting. And, incidentally, his as well.
The IWC headquarter in Rome was filled with lots of laughter. It was Christmas Eve, after all. Buffy, Dawn and Lisa were enjoying their first Christmas together with the supernatural side of their extended family.
First of all, there was Giles who, more than anyone else enjoyed seeing mother and daughter reunited. And who, according to Buffy and Lisa, was expected to act as their babies' grandfather - and no amount of glasses cleaning and throat clearing or similar would get him out of it. But, no matter his reaction, this was the best present the two women could have made him.
Then there were Willow and Xander who had finally accepted Buffy's need of stepping back from the supernatural world, even though they themselves were now more involved than ever. Thanksgiving had been the final eye-opener and they've never looked back since then.
They had kept Buffy company the previous night when she was wide awake during her first night back in Italy courtesy of a bout of jetlag - amongst other things. After a movie marathon and lots of junk food, they had agreed on a completely new start. Shyer than Buffy had seen Willow in a long time, she had offered to teach the baby all aspects of modern computing and whatever else was needed - no witchcraft involved. Xander had jumped onto the train immediately, announcing he'd be responsible for teaching Baby everything about the evilness of clowns and the art of Scooby-ness. Touched by their seriousness, Buffy had shed a tear or two and assured them Baby would love to spend time with Auntie Willow and Uncle Xander.
Later, when Xander had succumbed to sleep, Buffy had brought up Wilson. Predictably, Willow hadn't been impressed at all. Not only with his treatment of Buffy but also with his abandonment of Tara and her mom. It had taken Buffy quite a while - and another tub of ice-cream - to convince Willow that rushing to Princeton-Plainsboro and confronting him in anger wasn't the right thing to do. And, by doing so, she had finally accepted that Wilson really wouldhave done something if he had known. In the end Buffy had suggested Willow should think about getting in contact with him and see from there - not unlike she was doing with Heather. Willow had grumbled some more but promised to sleep on it and, even if she wasn't going to contact him, she wasn't going to do anything to him either.
Then there were Robin and Faith. They had realised their relationship had changed and their fighting had come from trying to hang onto it for the wrong reasons. And, against all odds, they had become friends and were working together better than before. When Buffy had questioned her sister-slayer in a quiet moment about it, Faith had just shrugged her shoulders and commented rather pitifully that she appeared to have grown up. Then she had spoiled the image by telling Buffy about the extended 'adult exercise session' she had with Robin to mark the end of their intimate relationship. Buffy had snorted and told Faith that she didn't need to worry, she was never going to grow up completely - and that House was off limits. Faith had pouted at first but then she had started laughing and said that it was him Buffy should tell this, not her - which had Buffy in giggles as well.
Well, and then there was House. Though he wasn't there in person, he was very much ... by telephone, calling Lisa several times a day. Though, by now everyone was looking forward to his calls as they always proved quite entertaining. He was always complaining about one thing or another.
His leg was hurting and he needed a new prescription for Vicodin.
His leg was hurting and he needed to see his physiotherapist.
His leg was hurting and he needed some distractions.
There were in the middle of their meal when the phone rang again. Looking at the caller-ID, Lisa just rolled her eyes and held it up for everyone to see. "Anyone feel like talking to an annoying, often misanthropic bastard?"
Willow put her wine down and winked at Lisa. "How's he coping with babbling?"
Laughing out loud, Lisa held out the phone for Willow. "Let's see."
"Hi Greggie. This is Willow. I'm sorry, but Lisa is busy snogging a gorgeous guy in the corner. And when I say gorgeous I mean gorgeous in a I could forget I'm gay kinda way and go and grab him for myself. You know that European type. Tall, tanned, amazing green eyes and smart. Wow, I can already feel the gayness leave my body. Oh, I hope your leg isn't hurting 'cause I can't do anything about it. And Lisa can't do anything about it either, seeing how she's busy. But I'm sure Buffy could call the hospital for your and have them send a physiotherapist over? Anyway, what are you doing for Christmas? Have you got some mistletoe around? 'Cause we have and ... well, I guess I mentioned Lisa being busy. But did I mention there's mistletoe involved? 'Cause I think I didn't. So yeah, she's kissing under the mistletoe." Willow sighed deeply, winking at Lisa who was trying hard to contain her laughter. "Uhm, Greggie? You're still there? Oh goddess, I've been babbling again, have I? I'm so sorry, it always happens when I get excited. And the temperature in this room suddenly spiked so ... wow. Yeah. Sorry. How's your leg?"
Willow had barely finished with her last, innocent question before everyone in the room broke out laughing.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the phone, House was staring at it in half-disbelief. "Don't you ever breathe?"
"I think it's mostly overrated," Willow answered nonchalantly. "Have a nice Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," everyone else shouted before Willow hung up.
House couldn't help it, he smiled. Oh yeah, Buffy's friends were more than interesting. Which meant next year was going to be a good one.
Buffy was watching the sun rise in the distance, a single tear running down her cheek.
"Merry Christmas," she whispered as her eyes focused on the grave in front of her. Mark's grave. It was in the cemetery of a small village just an hour outside of Rome, a village she and Mark had come to love. And not only because vampires and demons seemed to mostly avoid it.
Wrapping her coat tighter around her, she carefully kneeled down and gently stroked the headstone. "You are going to be a daddy soon. I promise we'll never forget you."
Buffy closed her eyes and let her head sink to her chest, trying to think of all the good times she had with Mark.
Later, a bird was making its presence known in the distance, putting a small smile on Buffy's lips as she remembered the very night this baby had most likely been conceived. In their secret spot, only minutes away from here. Mark had promised her a special night and - amidst a picnic and a night under the stars it had become more special than either of them could ever have imagined.
The smile remained on her face as she opened her eyes again and started to tell him all about her mom. Their first meeting - even though Lisa didn't know about Buffy then. His baby deciding to interfere and leading her directly to her mom's house before assaulting her bladder in such a way that she really needed to pee. His baby surprising her by bypassing her brain and going directly through her mouth - asking her mom what she thought about grandchildren!
"And then there's House." Buffy chuckled as she told Mark all about House's antics. "But don't worry, mom and I have him under control. Mostly." Buffy frowned and tilted her head as she looked at the headstone. "Though I need to keep an eye on Dawn. Her spending too much time with House would so not be of the good!"
Buffy continued to tell him about the house she bought and moved in less than a month ago. She told him about decorating the baby's room with her mom and the redecoration party she had with her new friends from the hospital. This, of course, led to more talk about her job. And, inevitably, Marmine. "Can you believe the nerve of him? I could have been utterly crap and he'd still have found a way to employ me!" Buffy took a few calming breath before continuing more quietly. "But he was right in one thing. Heather did miss you.
"I know, I know. She never replied to your letters, simply sent them back unopened. But Linda met her at a family thing, one thing led to another and they realised their stories didn't add up. It seems like Heather never got your letters. Once she'd moved out, she'd only see the odd Christmas card. Can you believe it? Guess your parents figured once you were dead to them, you were dead to the rest of the family too."
Buffy shook her head in anger. "How could they do that to their own flesh and blood?"
The question hung in the air, unanswered.
With a sigh, Buffy opened her bag and removed a plastic box. Opening it, she showed the contents - half pasta, half olives - to the headstone before tucking in. "I so blame you for this. Olives! I hate olives. But Baby loves them. Just like daddy."
Once the food was eaten, she patted her stomach with a smile. "Right, Heather. Well, I've been in contact with her recently. Emails only. After everything that happened - Marmine, your parents, and your brother - I'd rather take it too slow than too fast. You know, she reminds me of the Heather of your childhood stories. In fact, she told me some stories that sounded vaguely familiar - only you didn't look quite as smart as in your own recollections."
Buffy giggled. She gently stroked her belly in an attempt to quieten her baby. "Judging by the ruckus our baby is making right now, I'm not the only one finding this rather interesting! Anyway, I think Heather and I could become friends. I know it means a lot to you, knowing you weren't so wrong about her after all. Knowing she always cared. Knowing losing contact with you hurt her as much as it did you." Buffy took a deep breath, realising that telling Mark about it had paved the way to finally make the decision. A decision that had already been slumbering in the back of her mind for a while. "I'm ready now. I'll meet with her when I get back."
Sensing rather than seeing the presence of another person, Buffy turned and smiled when she noticed her mom standing close by indecisively.
"Mark, I want you to meet mom." Buffy stood up and held out her hand, waiting for Lisa to take it. Hesitantly at first, Lisa eventually stepped closer. "Hi."
"Can you believe it? I'm going to be a big sister again!" Grinning mischievously, Buffy pointed at her mom's small belly. "Guess I should have kept an eye on her and House too, huh?"
It didn't matter they were standing in the middle of a small cemetery, talking to a headstone - Lisa blushed brightly at Buffy's comment. Buffy chuckled. "She's a bit shy, you know."
"I'll show you shy!" Lisa said as she started to tickle Buffy's sides.
Buffy laughed and Lisa couldn't help but smile at the happiness in her daughter's voice. She'd been worried at first, Buffy alone on the cemetery - not because of the night-life, this was taken care off - but because of the effect it might have on her. She hadn't been at Mark's grave since she moved to the States and Lisa had simply worried it would overwhelm her. But it obviously hadn't. If anything, Buffy seemed more relaxed, more at peace.
Sobering up a bit, Lisa put a single white lily on the grave. "Thanks for taking care of my baby when she needed it the most."
Smiling lopsidedly, Lisa hugged her daughter to her side. "But it's the truth, isn't it?"
Buffy closed her eyes and nodded. "My lifeline. My rock in a crazy and cruel world."
"And he'll always be. Right here. And here." Lisa put her hand on Buffy's heart, then moved to her belly. "Just like you always had and always will have a place right here." Taking Buffy's hand, Lisa pressed it onto her own heart.
Buffy turned her head away when tears started to shimmer in them. Having quite a few tears of her own running down her cheeks, Lisa chuckled and gently turned her daughter's face towards her again. "Now look at us, feeling all emotional and crying all over the place. Do you think we could get away with blaming it on hormones?"
Buffy shrugged her shoulders, trying to look away again. Moments later, a robin settled on top of Mark's headstone, chattering away.
Lisa tilted her head and raised an amused eyebrow. "Is it just me or is that robin scolding us?"
Snorting, Buffy wiped the tears from her cheeks. "It's something Mark would do."
Looking rather smug, Lisa nodded pleased. "Told you he'll never go away completely."
"I know," Buffy said quietly. "It's just ... he'd become the most important person in my life, and I've lost him again."
Lisa hugged her daughter, kissing the top of her head. "I know. But I also like to think you found some important things ... people ... too."
The robin changed its tune to a cheerful melody the moment Buffy started to smile.
A/N: Phew. That's it. Finished. I finally got to tick that box! And it took me (and Muse) only a bit over a year to write it. Wow. It certainly has been interesting. With Muse running off. Or Author running off. Naturally at different times. Muse bringing back another Muse. Of the opposite sex. I think. LOL. Anyway, a big Thank You! to all my readers, especially those who left a review. And especially 'specially those who did so repeatedly. As in over and over again! I can't say how important they were in helping me getting to this point! I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did.
Anyway, sequel. I already mentioned it would have House being introduced to the supernatural. Though I have to warn you, neither She-Muse nor He-Muse have told me just how exactly this is going to happen (in a hopefully halfway believable way) - so it might be a while. Even though I usually don't have a detailed outline for writing a story, I do have a very, very, very vague idea of where it's going. Or rather a bunch of important scenes floating around my head. But, seeing how it is summer and all this, these important scenes are still on vacation (with at least half of my brain, honestly). Uhm, would it be comforting to know that I've already got sequel-scenes for my other story floating around? No? Well, I won't mention it then.
Okay. I've been lying. Sorry. I just checked. There are some scenes around already (I just forgot ... brain on vacation and all that - thankfully it's all written down). There just isn't enough for a proper storyline yet. But - there's hope! Ha! Besides, how am I supposed to live without all those reviews? They're almost as good as chocolate. Which happens to be the stuff my muses run on. LOL. So, see you soon(ish)!