Okay, thought I'd preface this with an author's note to clear up any confusion that may have (understandably) arisen from jumping a few months earlier in the storyline. As should be apparent from the dates and episode numberings, this is set between "Realization" and "Reanimation". This means that Willow and Oz have been back together for a couple of weeks, Willow has given Renée the pep-talk of sorts regarding Xander (though the two of them have yet to have the Jayne hats and Buffy intrusion situation), and none of the zombie Slayer stuff has happened yet (except for when Buffy briefly saw zombie Morgan during the Glurgg fight), nor has any of the interesting stuff with Dawn. This episode is roughly concurrent with "Smile Time", but set slightly afterward. Enjoy!

Episode 14: That Far Ahead

Guest Starring (sort of): Angel Coulby as Renée Blackwood

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Cleveland, Ohio

"You want to be sure to aim your fist from between the first two knuckles. If you connect with the third, a much weaker bone, it could break," Giles told Kris (the shy, nervous, barely fifteen-year-old newest arrival), "which would, needless to say, prove rather disadvantageous if you didn't win the fight on that blow." She nodded and drew in a deep breath. He nodded back and held up one pad-covered hand for her to punch. Kris was used to hitting baseballs, not demons, swinging bats, not fists, and scoring runs, not protecting the innocent. But then, rather miraculously, it all blended together in her mind as she stared at Giles's padded hand: the game she loved and this new sacred calling. The latter was just as much a part of her as the former. Possibly more. Her fist shot out with all her strength behind it and connected squarely with its target. The impact forced Giles to take a step back. His hand throbbed painfully beneath the pad and he suppressed a wince. "Very good," he said. "How did that feel?"

"No bones snapping," she said happily. "My knuckles kinda hurt though. Just a little."

"That's to be expected. The main goal, again, is to inflict more damage upon your enemy than on yourself, and," he shook his still smarting hand slightly, "I imagine you would have managed it quite effectively with that one."

Much of the rest of the space in the training room was occupied, as usual, by sparring matches between the girls who were off-duty. Tonight, Buffy was among them, currently several minutes into a fierce match against Renée. Xander stood a safe distance away and watched with his head tilted slightly to the side, a vague grin on his face.

Buffy hastily ducked as her Scottish opponent sent a high spinning kick exactly through the place her head had been a split second before. She dropped low and struck out in retaliation, knocking Renée's left leg out from under her before the right had finished its kick. Renée toppled over and hit the padded ground with a thump. Buffy stood back up and offered her a hand as she wiped sweat from her forehead with the other, and Renée took it and got back to her feet.

"Haven't had...that much trouble...taking a newbie down...in a while," Buffy panted, grinning at Renée.

"Happy to...shake things up," she replied, also gasping for breath. "Good fight."

"Been...enjoying the show, Xand?" Buffy asked, looking over at where Xander stood and raising her eyebrows. Renée smiled at him, the color of her cheeks shifting slightly as she blushed beneath her dark skin.

"Come on, I've gotta make the best out of the eye I've got left," he said, holding up his hands. "Besides, it beats sitting by the lovey-doveyness of Willow and Oz. Cole and Alex can handle that on their own. You know, make a double date and use the tracking map for ambiance lighting."

Buffy chuckled, then turned back to Renée. "Rematch?" she asked.

"Give us a bit...of a breather first," she replied, waving her off and bending down and placing her hands on her knees.

Los Angeles, California

Angel cast a baleful glance around his office of the last seven months. If it was possible, he hated this place even more than he had when he first became CEO. Still, he had done it for his son and would do it again in an instant if he had to. Connor deserved a normal life and a happy family. Everything Angel had failed to give him. Even if Angel couldn't be a part of it, the fact that he had it now made everything worth it. He would not let Wolfram and Hart conquer him. He was not their puppet and never would be. Nor, as of a few hours ago, was he a literal puppet. It was a good thing it had worn off when it had; if Spike had made one more crack about him replacing the Count from Sesame Street….

At that moment, he was distracted from his brooding when the colors of his ridiculously large office suddenly inverted, accompanied by a series of bangs. He leapt up from his desk chair into a fighting stance, thinking of grabbing one of the weapons off the wall behind him, but unwilling to take his eyes off the disturbance long enough to do so. The air in the center of his office, from which point the bangs and color reversal seemed to originate, had begun to warp and bend. Well, he thought, if nothing else, at least this day was about to become interesting. With a final bang, the colors returned to normal and what appeared to be a petite, dark-haired teenage girl fell out of thin air and promptly crumpled into a heap on the floor. She was dressed in a blue spaghetti strap shirt, black cargo pants, and chunky black combat boots.

"Ow! Get off, Liam!" she said angrily as she got to her feet, her back to Angel, attempting to wave off someone who wasn't there. A second later, she seemed to realize she was alone. "Liam?" she asked, sounding confused. Her head turned as she began to take in her surroundings. "Okay...this...is not eighteenth century Ireland."

"Try twenty-first century California," said Angel, no longer in his fighting stance. He was, of course, very taken aback by the inexplicable appearance of some strange kid in his office, but judging from her obvious disorientation, he was reasonably sure that she wasn't dangerous.

At the sound of his voice, she jumped and whirled to face him, her long dark ponytail whipping around.

When Buffy finally dragged herself back up to her room, every muscle in her body was aching from the sparring tournament. Even though she had won, this victory had been a much more difficult achievement than most. Far from irking her, she found the fact that her fellow Slayers were approaching her level to be an enormous source of pride. Every day they convinced her further that the Cleveland Hellmouth stood no chance against them.

As Willow was normally the first one back to the room, Buffy was slightly surprised to find it empty when she reached it, but she was too exhausted to give the matter much thought. She headed straight for her bed, fully intending to fall on it completely dressed for a good ten hours of rest. These plans were thwarted, however, when all the color in the room inexplicably inverted and the air was filled with loud banging sounds. Her body automatically shifted in preparation for a fight, but her mind hadn't managed to consciously react to what she was seeing and hearing until a dark-haired boy came tumbling out of nowhere and the noises and inverted colors stopped.

Even more astonished than she had been at first, Buffy couldn't do much more than stare. The boy came up to about her shoulders and was wearing a maroon and black kid's league hockey jersey and frayed jeans. Whatever the odd color flash had been, it had clearly taken something out of him, for he promptly collapsed on the carpeted floor. Buffy felt an inexplicable stab of concern for the boy, but after letting out a grunt of discomfort, he was back on his feet. "Kathy, I get to help too!" he said insistently as he got up. From his height and the way his voice sounded, Buffy guessed he couldn't be more than ten or eleven. He looked around, finally turning to face her, an indignant pout across his features.

"I've been wanting to ask since we got here, it was just, you know, awkward," said Willow. Oz's eyes twinkled and the corners of his mouth pulled up in that slight smile she adored. They had gone back to his apartment after all of the Slayers got in from patrolling. She sat cross-legged on his bed and he sat in his desk chair facing her.

"I kinda got that vibe," he said. Those months had felt like the longest of his life.

"How did you do it?" she asked, leaning forward intently.

"Well, for the first couple of years after I left, I was stuck in the same rut I got myself in back in Sunnydale."

"Something upsetting happens, Oz-wolf smash?" Willow asked with a sympathetic grimace.

"Pretty much. I was going at it all wrong. I was trying to trap the wolf in me. It didn't like that." He shuddered slightly, remembering the times it had gotten out.

"What changed?"

"It's kinda weird. I stopped fighting it and found the whole 'inner balance' thing. I stopped being afraid all the time that the wolf would overpower me and just let it...be a part of me. And then it all came together. I guess the wolf could have been on my side from the beginning, but I just had to let it. So I've got the wolf senses and reflexes full time, plus total control when I transform."

"Wow," said Willow.

"And, actually," he said, also leaning forward, his voice growing softer, "I'm pretty sure that the thing that finally triggered the whole coming together...was playing your song for the first time since I left."

"Really?" she asked, feeling her heart expand almost painfully.

"Really." He left the chair, stretched out a hand to brush against the side of her face, and kissed her. He felt her smile as she kissed him back, and he was happier than he'd been in years. She was his Willow again. The kiss deepened, quickly rivaling intensity of the one Xander had walked in on the other night. However, before this one could get much farther, it too was interrupted. Willow and Oz broke apart in alarm at the sudden series of bangs coming from the space in front of Oz's closet. They drew closer together and stared as the color there flashed the reverse of what it was naturally with every burst of sound. A second later, two people materialized there. They stumbled, but managed not to fall over by quickly seizing each other's arms, then stood up straight and looked around until they caught sight of Willow and Oz, whose shock increased exponentially at the sight of them.

Angel's eyes widened. Before him stood a girl who, with the exception of hair and eyes that exactly matched his own in color, was a carbon copy of Buffy at sixteen. Nose, eye shape, lips, height—everything. Even the cross necklace she wore was the one he had given Buffy on their very first meeting. Okay, maybe this kid wasn't so random. Her eyes went as wide as Angel's as she stared back at him.

"Ohhhh crap," she said, shifting her weight from one foot to the other like a nervous child who was being confronted by her parents with the evidence of her mischief. "I told Liam not to interfere with the spell."

"Who are you?" said Angel, but he had an inkling of the answer already. His right hand shot out to grip his desk for support.

The appeared to recover from some of her initial apprehension, and those dark brown eyes locked with his again. "Kathy," she said. "I'm, uh, I'm your daughter."

"My daughter?" Angel suddenly felt rather grateful that he didn't need to breathe in order to remain conscious. If he did, he would surely have been out cold by now.

"Wait," she said after a moment of silence during which Angel attempted to digest what she'd just told him. She was frowning and staring around at the office, until finally she spotted the company logo on the wall and her gaze shot back to him. "This is the year before you—" But she broke off abruptly, looking very alarmed.

"What?" he asked.

"No, no, no," said Kathy, shaking her head, "I've seen those old Back to the Future movies, so I know how this works. If you know what happens, then it might not." She stamped a boot against the floor. "Crap!" In her frustration, the resemblance to Buffy was even more astounding.

Angel ran back over what she had said before in search of something else to say. "Who's Liam?" he asked, fairly certain she hadn't been referring to his past self.

"My kid brother," said Kathy. "I was with Daniel and Tara, and we were trying to do a spell to go back and see what you were like back when you were the strapping Irish lad," she put on a mock brogue for the last phrase and further enunciated it with finger quotes, "and then I could see the aunt you named me after and my grandparents...but Liam butted in and messed it up. I don't know where he and the others went."

"You have a brother?" Angel asked. Everything she had said past that point hadn't made it farther in than his ears.

"Yeah," said Kathy, and the emotions ranging from protective to exasperated on her face told Angel that sibling rivalry was very much a factor in the relationship. "He's almost eleven. I have to find him and get back..."

"And who are Daniel and Tara?" At the mention of these names, Kathy brightened considerably.

"My best friends," she said. "They were doing the spell for my birthday, which was kind of inspired by those Back to the Future movies, actually. But then, with Liam..." She trailed off, looking annoyed again.

"Who are their parents?" Angel asked.

Kathy shot him a shrewd look, clearly debating how much to tell him. Finally, she seemed to decide this wouldn't fall under the umbrella of harmful information. "Mr. and Mrs. Osbourne—I mean," she shook her head, "Oz and Willow." She obviously wasn't used to referring to them that way.

"Oz and Willow? But...oh," said Angel. He remembered Wesley mentioning briefly that Oz was in Cleveland, and that he would likely be rejoining the Scoobies as they all endeavored to destroy the Hellmouth. So they'll work things out in the end, he thought fondly, just like Buffy and I will... He looked back up at Kathy. His daughter. Named after his long dead sister. And her younger brother, named after his equally long dead self. Fitting. Kathy wore an odd expression.

"Screw it," she said, "I know there are ways of altering memory." She then looked at him with such intensity as to rival his own stare. "You...you're still here, working at Wolfram and Hart, so that means you're still a...a vampire, aren't you?"

Angel experienced an uncomfortable mixture of emotions at this. Joy, for her words—not to mention her very existence—meant that his days as one of the undead were limited, and that he would be able to be with Buffy, raise children, and grow old with her like he wanted more than anything. But there was also pain at the slight edge of fear in Kathy's voice. He didn't want her to be afraid of him. "Yes," he answered simply.

She swallowed, and her features set determinedly, before she moved forward until she was an arm's length from him. His daughter. He still marveled at the concept. Keeping her eyes on his face, watching him closely for any negative reaction, she reached up a hand and pressed it over the left side of his chest. Her brow furrowed slightly, as if she were willing the heart within to beat the way it was supposed to. After a few seconds, the hand dropped back to her side, and she fidgeted a little. Angel stretched his own hand slowly up and ran his fingertips across her face in awe. She flinched at the coldness of his touch, but did not stop him. "If you already know what I am, and about this place, what else have...your mother and I told you?" he asked, surprised at the sudden hoarseness of his voice.

"Lots," she said, "you never thought it would be a good idea to try to keep me in the dark. You thought lots of bad stuff would come after me when I was little because of who my parents are, just like when Uncle Connor was a baby, and that I'd be better prepared if I at least knew what to expect. You were right, too. So I've always known. So has Liam. You and Mom used to make it like bedtime stories. And then there are the comics Mr. and Mrs. Harris made. You even did the cover art for a few of the issues, and Mom helped write them." She chuckled reminiscently, until her expression abruptly darkened and her jaw clenched.

"What?" he asked.

"No, it's nothing," she said a little too quickly, backing away and smiling again, but he could tell this one was fake by the way it didn't quite get to her eyes. She was just as easy to read as Buffy.

"What?" he repeated.

Her fists clenched convulsively, and she folded her arms and cast her gaze to the floor. She suddenly looked much younger and more vulnerable, and Angel felt an instinctive need to comfort her. Remembering that she had backed away from him, however, he remained where he was. Slowly, she brought her eyes up to meet his again. There was an awful, tortured look in them, as if she had experienced far too much in her short span of years. It made his heart ache. She opened her mouth, then shut it, not knowing where to begin.

"It's all right," he said gently.

"No," she said, "It's really not. I mean, okay, even if you and Mom had never told me anything, I'd know anyway." The vulnerability intensified on her face and her eyes became unfocused as she stared at Angel.

"What do you mean?" he asked, feeling a growing sense of foreboding creep through him even as he was gripped by morbid curiosity.

"I think it must be because I'm a Slayer, like Mom," she said with a humorless laugh, "because I know it never happens to Liam or even Uncle Connor, but—" She gritted her teeth, then breathed in sharply before forcing out what Angel thought she had probably kept locked tight within herself her whole life. "My dreams—they're not like what Slayers normally have. I mean, they're nightmares all right, but they're never about future evil or past Slayers like Mom's or any of the other Slayers'. As far back as I can remember, they've all been a high definition, surround sound tour of...your past. A-angelus's past." Her voice had become very small, while her eyes widened with horror as the most recent of the dreams flashed before them.

The weight of what she had just said hit Angel like a ton of bricks. Everything from that first glimmer of fear to her current state clicked together in his brain, and he realized that the tortured expression she had worn was the same one that had earned him his reputation for brooding. The guilt that was his constant companion seemed to double. This innocent girl, still clearly so much a child, through no fault of her own was haunted by the memories that crushed his very soul whenever he allowed his focus on the present to falter.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered. He closed the distance between himself and Kathy and enfolded her in the most comforting embrace he could manage. At first, she shuddered, but that was only a sob escaping despite her bravest efforts. After a few seconds, she wrapped her arms around him tightly as well, and Angel wondered at her ability to separate him from the monster in her nightmares.

Buffy had been about to ask the boy what he was doing there and how he had arrived, but her voice died in her throat the instant she saw his face. He was Angel in miniature. Almost. His green eyes found her at last, and the pout instantly vanished, to be replaced by surprised delight. "Mom!" he cried, and he bounded to her and latched his arms around her middle. Buffy staggered—not from the impact, which hadn't been anywhere near forceful enough to unbalance a Slayer, no matter how tired she was; but from the force of that word.

The boy let her go and looked up at her expectantly, the pout back in place. Even in her shock, Buffy could tell this was a technique that generally got him whatever he wanted. "Kathy wasn't gonna let me help do the spell! Tell her she has to let me, Mom!" he said, tugging at her hands.

"K-Kathy?" Buffy managed at last, for it seemed as good a place to start as any. "Who's Kathy?"

The boy looked at her as if she'd gone completely insane and didn't answer.

Buffy tried to gather the pieces of her mind, which seemed to have separated and fled the instant she saw his face. "I'm sorry," she said, swallowing and holding a hand to her head. Perhaps this was a dream. Yes, that was it. She had really made it to her bed, and was now having one hell of a bizarre dream. No sense upsetting her dream son, then, especially as he was a lot more pleasant than what her dreams usually contained. She crouched down slightly so she was at eye level with him. "Look, Mom's really tired and confused right now, sweetie," she said. She was amazed by how natural it felt to talk to him like this.

"Wait," he said, staring harder at her, causing his brow to crinkle adorably, "you look different."

"Different?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said, pointing an accusatory finger at her. "Your hair wasn't that long this morning. Did Mrs. Osbourne magic it longer? 'Cause she did that for me when I cut my own hair that one time when I was five."

"Mrs. Osbourne?"

"You must be really, like, really, tired, Mom," he snorted. "She's your best friend!"

"Willow?" she said automatically. Then her eyes widened. "Willow Osbourne? As in Mrs. Daniel 'Oz' Osbourne?" She thought back and realized it wasn't really all that mind-boggling. Ever since the week before, the two of them had gone from restrained and awkward around each other to practically inseparable. She'd had the story of what happened at headquarters the night her squad fought the Glurggs from both Willow and Xander, though Xander's version had been funnier by far.

"Yeah," said the boy slowly, raising his eyebrows at her. "Are you okay?"

"I don't know," said Buffy honestly. "What was the spell Kathy wouldn't let you help with?"

"A spell to go back in time!" he said excitedly. "Daniel and Tara were gonna send us back to when Dad was growing up in Ireland! I wanted to go too because I want to see if I really look as much like he did at my age as he says I do."

"Well," said Buffy, before walking around him to her bed and sinking onto the edge so she would no longer have to worry about the very likely possibility of falling over from shock. "That explains a lot."

"Explains what?" he asked, turning to look at her in puzzlement.

"You did go back in time, just not very far," said Buffy. "'Cause this is two thousand three."

"Cool!" he exclaimed in delight, bouncing up and down. Then he stopped and frowned. "Oh. I guess I did mess it up, then." He scratched his head sheepishly. "Oops."

"Okay," said Buffy, "but since you came back in time, I don't know who you are."

His mouth formed a small "o" of realization, before he smiled broadly. It suddenly struck her how odd it was to see younger versions of the features she knew so well in such an easy, carefree smile. "I'm Liam!" he said, still beaming.

"And who's Kathy? Is she...," Buffy began, blinking back tears as she felt her heart swell. This wasn't a dream. This was her son. The future she'd hoped to have with Angel someday since she was sixteen but thought was impossible was really going to happen—and had, moreover, come back to visit her in person.

"My sister?" he finished for her, nodding.

"And Tara and Daniel?" she prompted, though she had a guess.

"The Osbourne twins," said Liam.

So, thought Buffy, she and Angel would end up having kids, as would Willow and Oz… "What about Xander? Does he have a family?" she asked hopefully.

"Yeah!" said Liam brightly. "There's Jesse, who plays hockey with Kathy. He's fifteen. And Anya is ten like me and she's my best friend! But Mr. and Mrs. Harris took them on vacation to Scotland, because that's where Mrs. Harris grew up, and they haven't seen their grandparents since they came to visit a couple of years ago, and I don't think they've even met most of their cousins."

Buffy smiled. If that meant what she thought it meant, then Renée would end up being Mrs. Harris. She and Xander were currently only in the uncertain pre-dating friendship stage, despite Willow's simultaneously encouraging and daunting talk with Renée. Buffy noticed how most of this future generation had been named after lost loved ones. She couldn't think of any better way to honor them. "And…do you have any cousins?" she asked hesitantly, thinking of Dawn.

He nodded vigorously. "Steven and Caroline. They were gonna come over later for Kathy's birthday. Steven is thirteen, and Caroline is nine. Anya and I hang out with them a lot."

"Wow," said Buffy, feeling moisture gathering more insistently in the corners of her eyes. She shook her head slightly and attempted to focus. "Come here, Liam," she told him, her voice cracking a little. He immediately bounded across the room to sit next to her. She ruffled his dark hair, which stuck up just like his father's. He looked up at her brightly. "How old is your sister?" she asked. "What's she like?"

"Today's her sixteenth birthday," said Liam, before frowning. "Well, it was, before I went back in time. Uh..."

Buffy laughed at his deeply confused expression.

"She's got the same eyes and hair as Dad, but she looks more like you," he went on. "Sometimes she's really cool and fun, and I like hanging out with her a lot, but other times, like today, she can be bossy and a little bit mean to me."

"I'm sure she just does that because she's being silly and doesn't want to show how much she cares about you," said Buffy, thinking of how she'd acted with Dawn at that age.

"You say that a lot," said Liam, rolling his eyes. "And I know the spell was supposed to be her birthday present, but I'm her brother and I want to see Dad's family just as much as she does, and anyway, I never get to go out demon hunting with her, so—"

"Demon hunting? Kathy's a Slayer?" Buffy interrupted, bewildered.

"Yeah, she has been for a few months," said Liam. He sounded both envious and awed.

"Really?" asked Buffy. For a moment, she felt heartsick at the idea that she would pass her weighty destiny on to her daughter, but then pride even stronger than what she felt for her present-day fellow Slayers swelled to eclipse it. She shook herself again, realizing that she had gotten sidetracked. "I think you should probably go back to your original time," she said. "I'm sure future me is worried about you."

"Yeah. Will you remember not to ground me? I know it'll be a long time to remember, but..." He trailed off, looking hopeful.

Buffy laughed. "Do I ground you a lot?" she asked, inwardly doubting it. The pout alone was so adorable that she thought she might shrivel up. She wanted to hug him forever.

"Only sometimes," he said. Then he smiled again. "Can I just stay here for a while? Mrs. Osbourne'll probably find the stuff we used for the spell and figure everything out and come to get me anyway."

"Of course," said Buffy, whose limbs felt like lead. She would much rather sit and talk to him than try to find a way to get him home just yet. She ran her fingers through his hair again, trying to fight the exhaustion off and prolong the moment.

Willow and Oz were staring at a pair of teenagers who could have been them. The only obvious things to distinguish the newly arrived pair from the former two, apart from their age, was that the girl's eyes were blue and the boy's were hazel. The girl wore a purple-sleeved baseball tee, tan cargo pants, and brown sandals. Layered copper-colored hair came down to her chin. The boy's hair was a wild mass of wine-red spikes, and he wore a light blue shirt with a large black Chinese character splashed across the front, brown corduroy pants, and converse sneakers.

"Well. That didn't work," the boy observed lightly.

"No, 'cause this definitely isn't eighteenth century Galway," the girl agreed.

"Uh," said Willow, "you see them too, right?"

"Yeah," said Oz.

"What year is this?" the boy asked.

"Two thousand and three," said Willow automatically.

"Right," said the girl, looking at the boy. "Then we haven't been born yet."

"Fun," he said.

"Who are you?" Willow finally asked. The teenagers exchanged grins, then looked back at Willow and Oz.

"Your kids," they said together.

"Tara Jennifer Osbourne," said the girl with a mock bow.

"And Daniel Rupert Osbourne," the boy finished seamlessly, also bowing.

"Huh," said Oz, glancing at Willow, "I guess that explains the looking like us thing."

"Yeah. Mind if I pass out?" she asked faintly.

Oz put an arm around her to keep her steady. "Okay, I don't really know where to begin, but...tell us about yourselves," he said. Whatever his collected outward appearance said to the contrary, he was entirely as shocked as Willow.

"We're sixteen," they said—again, in effortless unison. This habit alone was already somewhat unsettling.

"Twins?" guessed Willow.

They nodded.

"Both werewolves," said Daniel.

Noticing the startled reactions this triggered, Tara stepped up. "Not dangerous monster ones," she assured them hastily.

"Good to know," said Oz, relieved. He didn't want to be responsible for anyone else having to deal with what he'd gone through during the early years of his lycanthropy—especially not his own kids. Not that he had often imagined in the last few years that he would ever have kids, of course. That sort of domestic fantasy had been rather pointless and depressing when he didn't have Willow by his side.

"Yeah, since we were thirteen. For a while we thought we didn't have it, but turns out Giles was right about it being a puberty thing when it's inherited," said Tara conversationally. Daniel grimaced.

"What about music?" asked Oz.

"You're teaching me to play guitar," said Daniel, holding up his right hand to show off the impressive calluses on his fingertips.

"I like piano better," said Tara. "But we figure he can be the guitarist and I can play keyboard if we ever form a band."

Oz nodded in satisfaction.

"Can you do magic?" asked Willow.

"Yeah," said Daniel. "Only we're not very good at it yet. That's probably why we ended up here—I mean now..." He trailed off, his brows knitting together the same way Oz's often did. "Huh."

"We didn't count on Liam's interference making the whole spell a wild card," Tara added.

"Liam?" asked Oz.

"Oh, right, they don't know," said Daniel as an aside.

"He and Kathy are Buffy and Angel's kids," Tara supplied.

Willow's jaw dropped.

"Nice," said Oz appreciatively.

"Buffy and Angel are gonna end up having kids too?" asked Willow once she recovered from the new shock enough to be properly amazed and delighted.

"Yeah," said Tara. "Kathy's just a couple of months younger than us, and Liam's ten."

"You guys all grow up together?" asked Oz.

Daniel nodded.

"Kathy's been our best friend since before any of us could walk," said Tara brightly.

Willow noticed a curious expression on Daniel's face, but he saw her looking and hastily replaced it with a grin, though he had gone a little red behind the ears. "Hang on," she said, frowning, "do we—I mean, future we—know you're here? Uh. I mean, now?"

"Heh, um, no," said Daniel. He and Tara both shifted guiltily while exchanging uncomfortable glances.

"Know how to get back?" asked Oz.

"Not really," said Tara. "We knew how to get back from the actual destination, but not from here...or, now."

"Want help?" asked Willow, though she immediately wished she hadn't offered. She didn't want them to go yet.

"I don't think it'll be necessary. Mom—I mean," Daniel began, then looked at Willow in confusion, "the two thousand twenty-three you will figure out where—when—we've gone and come back to get us."

"That hurt my brain," Tara muttered.

"Right there with you," Oz agreed.

"This is fun. You and Mom have been teaching me martial arts since I was five, but ever since I became a Slayer, usually I only get to do the hardcore sparring with her or Uncle Connor," said Kathy, bending backwards to dodge Angel's fist. "This is different, though, 'cause you're bigger than them."

"How well do you do against Buffy?" he asked, in turn jumping to avoid Kathy's low sweeping kick. This reminded him of that brief happy time almost two years ago when he and Connor had sparred before Holtz poisoned the boy against him.

"I think she lets me win most of the time," she admitted. "Don't you dare do that, by the way." Angel smirked, until she seized his arm unexpectedly and twisted to send him crashing to the floor.

"Ha!" she said triumphantly.

"You sure she just lets you win?" he asked in mild incredulity, pushing himself back to his feet.

"Well, not easily, but she just seems like she's holding back most of the time."

"Understandable," said Angel fairly, "I mean, she is your mother."

"Yeah, only I'm not just a kid now, Dad; I'm a Slayer," said Kathy, rolling her eyes.

"Wait, why did you call Connor 'Uncle'?" he asked, remembering.

"Because he's married to Aunt Dawn, and it's less weird to think of him as just my uncle than as also my half-brother," said Kathy, "especially since he's kinda too old to be my brother anyway, and legally he's only my uncle."

Angel stared at her, taken aback yet again.

Noticing this, she smirked and obligingly filled in a few more blanks. "Okay, let's get this over with. Yes, he and Aunt Dawn end up having kids too. Steven Daniel Reilly and Caroline Joyce Reilly. Currently—according to a two thousand twenty-three standpoint, they're thirteen and nine. Fortunately, they weren't going to show up at our house for another couple of hours, so they missed out on the misfire flashback spell. Now, can we please continue with the sparring? I don't know how long it'll be before Mrs. Osbourne comes to take me back and present-day you and Mom ground me for all of eternity."

"Okay, then, you ready for this?" asked Angel, grinning.

"Bring it on," she said, returning the grin. At this point, Angel was fairly certain he wouldn't be able to get his head in the fight as much as she wanted no matter how hard he tried, because not only did he now have the prospect of a family with Buffy to think about, but Connor's kids; his grandkids. Who would also apparently be his niece and nephew. Strange. But, then again, what in his life wasn't?

Buffy's chest rose and fell slowly and evenly in time with Liam's. His bouncy energy had proven short-lived, and he had fallen asleep in her arms in less than an hour. She had only just been hanging on to consciousness as it was, and was soon carried off with him. They were so deeply asleep that not even the cacophony and insane colors heralding the arrival of two nearly frantic women could wake them.

"One down," said one of them in relief.

"Three to go," said the second. She paused. "This is weird," she observed, looking down at her twenty years younger self with a grimace. "Nothing like looking at twenty-two-year-old me to make me feel ancient."

"Forty-two isn't ancient," said Willow. Unable to resist a reference to her favorite inappropriately named five-part trilogy, she smirked and added, "It's the meaning of life!" When Buffy gave her a strange look, she hastily changed tact. "Besides, you've managed to stay alive twice as long most of the Slayers before you, so I say it gets you bragging points."

"Thanks, Wil," said Buffy, half appreciative, half exasperated. The younger Buffy stirred, opening her eyes groggily.

"Huh?" she asked thickly, "I wasn't sleeping..."

"I believe you've got someone who belongs to me," said the older Buffy, amused.

"Oh. Oh!" the present-day Buffy found herself suddenly wide awake. "Hi...older me...and Willow...," she said. They looked expectantly at her, her older counterpart raising her eyebrows when she continued to gawk, but it was hard to stop. It certainly wasn't every day that Buffy got to see what she'd look like at that age—or, more significantly for her, to see living proof that she would actually survive that long; something that, like having kids, had never really seemed to be in the cards for her since she first became the Slayer. "Right," she laughed awkwardly, finally tearing her eyes away and gently shaking the boy beside her awake. "Liam?"

"Mom?" he asked blearily.

"Yeah, actually," she said.

"Hey, sweetie," said the older Buffy. Liam got up and started towards her.

"Wait," said the younger Buffy in a broken voice. Liam turned and looked at her. She walked to him and hugged him tightly, trying not to cry. Willow and the other Buffy smiled fondly. "Bye Liam."

"Bye," he said, and hugged her back.

"Take care...uh, well," she broke off, laughing, "I guess I'll be taking care of you either way."

He smiled. "Yeah."

She reluctantly let him go, and he walked back to the older Buffy, who took his hand.

"This is real, right?" asked the younger Buffy.

"It will be," her future self replied, before turning to Willow. "Your turn, Wil."

Willow nodded. "Sorry about this," she said, before approaching the younger Buffy and tapping her forehead. She promptly slumped unconscious on the floor. "Hmm…maybe I should have warned her first."

"Warned her about what? That you'd be taking away her memory that she'd have a son? Pfft. She so wouldn't have let you," scoffed Buffy, before stepping forward and lifting her younger self easily back onto the bed. Task completed, she turned back to Liam. "Okay, munchkin, any idea where your sister went?" He shook his head. "Oh boy."

"No, I think I know how this works," said Willow slowly. "If I'm right, I know where we need to go next. Ready?"

"Hang on tight, Liam," said Buffy, gripping Willow's hand with her left and clasping Liam's again with her right.

"Um. Nobody's here," Buffy pointed out. Liam, who was both half-asleep and relatively new to the experience of teleporting, wobbled dangerously and almost fell over again, but his mother held him steady.

"That's because it's the living room," Willow explained. "I remember how tiny Oz's bedroom was when he lived here. There'd have been seven people in there. Squishy." Buffy raised her eyebrows and smirked. "Follow me," said Willow loftily, ignoring this. She led the way down a narrow hall, which branched off at the end. She pointed right, from which direction they could hear voices and laughter. She made a face, then knocked on the door. Within seconds, it opened, revealing Oz.

"Uh," he said, looking dazed.

"Pretty much," Willow agreed. "You wouldn't happen to have been entertaining the twins?"

"Gotcha," he said, opening the door wide enough to reveal Tara, Daniel, and the present-day Willow all sitting cross-legged on the bed.

"Who is it, Oz—whoa. It's…me. Older. And…older Buffy...and ridiculously cute small child who looks unnervingly like Angel…hi?" The Willow in the doorway exchanged an amused smile with Buffy.

"Heh," said Tara anxiously. "Hi, Mom."

"Hi Tara, hi Daniel," said Liam sleepily from behind Buffy. Tara waved.

"Hey," said Daniel, but he was looking apprehensively at the Willow in the hall, who gave each of the twins significant glances.

"Are we very grounded?" asked Tara.

"Oh, don't ground them!" said the Willow in the room before her older counterpart could reply. "I mean, they're so adorable and fun..."

"Mom," said Daniel, stretching it into two syllables as only teenagers whose parents have just embarrassed them could do. Then he looked back to the Willow in the hall, slightly confused. "I mean, she—you—she has a point."

"Okay, I think they should come with me before everyone has a headache," she said, too amused to maintain a stern expression. The Willow in the room quickly hugged them both before they could go anywhere, and Oz did the same.

"I guess...see you...eventually," he said uncertainly.

"Yeah. Bye, Dad," they said together.

He smiled.

"One more thing, and I'm sorry in advance," said the older Willow. She then proceeded to do the same to Oz and her younger self that she had done to the Buffy back at headquarters. Like her, they immediately collapsed.

"Huh," said Daniel, staring at them.

"Time to get Kathy," said Buffy, her tone ominous.

"Little help, Daniel, honey," said Willow, pointing at Oz, who had fallen in an uncomfortable-looking heap on the floor. The two of them lifted him onto the bed.

"So...I'm sensing a pattern," said Buffy.

"If that pattern is that they're all getting babysat by the two thousand three versions of us, you'd be right," said Willow. "Kathy's in L.A."

"Don't worry about teleporting us to the lobby or anything, then," said Buffy, "Angel's office was—is—enormous." She frowned. "You know, I think it's a little late to avoid headaches."

"Why's Dad in L.A.?" asked Liam in tired disorientation.

Kathy slammed across the desk and fell off the other side. "Wow. You're really not holding back," she managed after a moment, getting unsteadily back to her feet.

"You okay?" asked Angel anxiously.

"Hey, no dropping your guard!" she protested. Angel actually laughed. Before she could get him back, however, they were both nearly blinded by a brilliant flash of white light. Angel and Kathy immediately moved together to face whatever was coming, but the light faded to reveal Buffy, Willow, Daniel, Tara, and Liam.

"Hi, Mom," said Kathy, hastily dropping out of her fighting stance and deliberately not making eye contact. Angel's eyes roved across the group before locking on Buffy. He did not fail to observe the gold Claddagh ring glinting from her left ring finger.

"It won't be long," she told him softly, noticing where his gaze had lingered.

He smiled at her.

"Hi, Dad!" said Liam, waving.

Angel's smile broadened as he looked at the boy.

"Kathy," said Buffy imperiously.

"Right," she said. She turned to Angel. "Awesome fight, Dad. Thanks."

"The demons don't stand a chance against you," he said. They hugged tightly, and Kathy went to stand with the others.

"Now it's your turn to forget," said Buffy, shooting him an ironic look. His eyes widened slightly as he took in her meaning, but then, heart sinking, he nodded in resignation.

"Uh, you might want to sit down first," Willow advised, so he walked over and sat heavily on the sofa.

"Bye," said Kathy.

Then Willow had pressed her fingers to his forehead, and he slumped over. "A time travel spell? Really?" she asked the twins sternly as she rounded on them.

Daniel and Tara shrank back slightly.

"How did you figure it out?"

They blinked at the unexpected question. "Well, it's a simple enough concept," Daniel began hesitantly.

"Yeah," said Tara. "If you look at time and space as axes of a single plane, then we move on it in a series of diagonal lines."

"And if space is x and time is y, then teleportation constitutes a direct horizontal jump, because it takes no time to move to a different place," said Daniel.

Buffy and Kathy exchanged baffled glances, while Liam yawned hugely.

"And time travel would be a vertical jump," said Tara. "Therefore, since we know teleportation is magically possible, why not time travel?"

"You just have to be able to work the magic to do it, and exactly calculate your destination relative to both time and space," said Daniel.

"And it helps if you get to complete the spell one hundred percent before letting it take effect, otherwise apparently you could end up anywhere—and anywhen—between when you meant to go and when you started off," finished Tara.

Willow nodded thoughtfully, but then she remembered that she was supposed to be scolding them. "Well, just because your first complex application of magic to temporal physics went more or less smoothly doesn't mean you get to try it ever again," she said.

They nodded hastily, though they were secretly pleased at the pride their mother was obviously struggling to conceal.

"Xander'll be glad he took his crew abroad this summer," said Buffy.

"When are they getting back?" asked Liam hopefully.

"Two weeks," said Willow.

"Will we be allowed out of our rooms by then?" asked Kathy.

Buffy laughed. "We'll see," she said, her tone revealing nothing. Moments later, Willow and the twins had succeeded together in reversing the spell, and with a final blast of sound and inverted colors, the whole group vanished, leaving the sleeping Angel alone in his office.

Author commentary! So, understand why I saved this for last now? I couldn't just give away that eight of the characters we know and love would survive the final battle before it was even written, could I? Not to mention that they'd end up in the kind of lasting, functional marriages which are unheard of in the Buffyverse. *snort* But anyway, now you've met the kids. I wish I'd had the opportunity to use Jesse here, but since Xander and Renée have only known each other a month, I thought that meeting their future kid would have been a lot weirder of a situation than it would have been for Buffy, Angel, Willow, and Oz. Right, so, the opening with Giles training newbie Kris. I meant her to be the one we saw in "Chosen", who was up to bat as she got called. By the way, Miko was the Asian girl who was eating dinner with her family from that same montage of random girls getting called all over. Forgot to mention that before. Anyway, had fun with Xander ogling the sparring Slayers. Regrettably, though I managed to put him and Giles into the opener, I failed to include an actual scene with Dawn this episode. At least you still learned about her kids. Steven Daniel Reilly—named after what Holtz renamed Connor when he was growing up in Quor-Toth (I thought Connor would probably still have a sentimental connection to the name) and Holtz himself (whose first name was Daniel). The guy may have been an embittered, vengeance-crazed vigilante, but you've got to give him points for protecting and raising his mortal enemy's son in "the darkest of the dark worlds", right? And Caroline Joyce Reilly. Obvious where her middle name came from, and her first name was the name of Holtz's wife. Also, it's a pretty name. Oh, and Jesse's full name is Jesse Lavelle Harris. He got Xander's silly middle name, and the first name Jesse from Willow and Xander's BEST FRIEND who died in the second episode and was never mentioned again. Does that make sense to you? Because it seems absurd to me. So I named Xander's firstborn after him. And then Anya. Her full name, of course, is Anya Christina Emanuella Harris. I really shouldn't have to explain why. While I'm still on the names subject, I intentionally left out Kathy's and Liam's middle names, because this episode, like I mentioned before, was concurrent with "Smile Time". Their middle names are Winifred and Wesley. The original bearers of which names were still alive during "Smile Time". Continuing with the actual commentary, though, enter Kathy. I figured that any daughter of Buffy's (now that anyone who can be a Slayer will be one) would have to be a Slayer too, but how could I shake things up a bit? Why, by tormenting her with nightmares of her father's past, of course. Yes, I'm a horrible person. Talk about emotional baggage. I love her interaction with Angel. Liam! I based his personality (right down to the failed self-given haircut) off my youngest brother, who is a complete dork, but I love him to death. Daniel and Tara. Those two are endlessly fun to write. Especially the last scene when they seamlessly tag-team explain their spacetime defying spell to future Willow. Synchronized geniusing! Haha. When they've got two quirky geniuses for parents, what else would you expect?

Thanks for sticking this thing through all twenty-two episodes. Endless thanks to the reviewers, and to anyone who's added this to their alerts and favorites. There's no way I could have finished it without your support and encouragement. And now, on to "Season 9" with you!