Chapter Thirty: I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You
Angel felt like a teenager again... or, more accurately, he felt as though Buffy were a teenager again. If he were ever to regress to that confusing, tumultuous time in his life again, Angel feared that the world would be doomed. Buffy's high school years were safe enough, though. In fact, it had been when she was a teenager that he had been the happiest in his long and complicated existence.
A little too happy at one point.
That was precisely why they were sneaking into her house, making him recall the earlier aspects of their relationship, although Angel feared that getting caught by Giles and Xander would have much greater consequences. Joyce might have been protective of her daughter like any loving mother, but she had not been aware of the true extent of Angel's relationship with Buffy; Giles and Xander were. Granted, that night had changed everything for them, but he wasn't sure either man would give him enough time to explain before planting a crossbow bolt in his chest. Luckily, such methods would no longer turn him to ash immediately; unfortunately, the suffering he would experience because of a lingering death would probably make him yearn for his old supernatural weaknesses.
However, they had timed their return to the house well. All was quiet. After remaining on the hill for hours, simply sitting and then laying in each other's arms – watching the night sky deepen first and then begin to ripen with the dawn, Buffy had suggested that they leave. He had wanted to stay to watch the sunrise, but she assured him that they would have plenty of other mornings to indulge his desires. For that morning, at least, she preferred making it back home before anyone else woke up – hence, their sneaking.
Despite the early morning hour, the house was still festively illuminated. The candles still burned in the windows, and Willow had left the fully decorated tree plugged in. It cast a delicate, warm glow throughout the entire living room, making the home especially welcoming. The air still smelled of holiday baked goods, too, but, thankfully, the Chipmunk singing... or so Buffy told him... was silent. Before he spent another Christmas as a human, he was determined to find all of Xander's CD's and destroy them.
His thoughts were pulled away from his surroundings, though, when Buffy grasped his hand and quietly led him upstairs, trailing obediently behind her. Neither of them spoke, but their minds were still in sync. Without consulting the other, they both knew that, for just a few hours, they wanted to savor his newly granted humanity alone, to feel as close to one another as a man and woman possibly could. It had been years since they had been so intimate, and Angel found the prospect both thrilling and slightly terrifying.
However, any anticipation he felt was doused upon entering Buffy's room, and the temporary distraction of seeing things through a human perspective once more disappeared as soon as he saw Ashlinn's things boxed and piled up in the corner. The boxes weren't sealed yet, though, and some of their contents overflowed down the sides. As if drawn by instinct, he and Buffy both moved closer. Absently, he lifted his free hand to touch the nearest thing – a blanket, obviously well worn and well loved. His index finger barely grazed the soft material before he quickly drew his digit back as if burned.
"I don't know what to do with it," Buffy confessed on a whisper. "Every time I see her things, it's like she dies all over again, because she's not here to play with her toys or wear her clothes, but, at the same time, every time I go to finish packing it up so I can move it away, it feels like I'm trying to forget her."
"You know that's not true, Buffy."
She laughed humorlessly. "Yeah, I know, but try explaining rationality to a grieving mind."
"I have," he murmured. "It's impossible."
"Plus, even if I did move it, I don't where it should go." She sighed then continued. "A part of me wants to hold onto it for forever, locked away in some closet so that someday I can pull it out again and touch her things. It won't be the same as holding her, but..."
"It's the closest we'll have until... for a long time," Angel finished, barely swallowing past his words.
"Then there's another part of me that thinks I should donate it to charity. Whether I want it or not, there are other kids out there who need it. Ash wouldn't want me to deprive them because of my own selfishness."
"No, she wouldn't," he agreed with her, "but I think she'd also want her mom to be healthy and happy again someday, too. You have time, Buffy," he told her compassionately. "We have time."
Accepting his comments and saying nothing further, Buffy turned and tugged on his hand that was still joined with hers, leading him to her bed. Emotionally drained and physically exhausted, she sat down gracelessly, the bed giving disagreeably under her slight weight with a creak of its springs. She waited for him to sit beside her before kicking off her shoes and scooting backwards, eventually coming to a rest when they were both leaning against her headboard, their legs stretched out before them, their shoulders side by side but not touching. However, they didn't remain apart for long.
Almost immediately, Buffy curled onto her side and molded her body against his, insinuating herself under his arm and into his embrace. In reassurance, he moved his far arm across his chest to wrap it, too, around her. And then they rested there, silently - both of them lost in their own tumultuous thoughts. While he wondered about the future and what his humanity would mean for both their relationship and his agency, while he somehow tried to seek a balance between the exhilaration of real, actual life and the devastation of his daughter's loss, and while he attempted and failed to ignore just how pleasant it felt to hold Buffy in his arms once more, he also remained curious as to where her own thoughts were, but he didn't ask. It wasn't that he didn't want to intrude upon her privacy; rather, he simply wasn't sure he'd be able to express his own mindset, so how could he expect her to be able to do so when he could not?
Finally, though, sensation pushed aside everything else, and he became aware of the fact that Buffy was no longer still in his embrace. At some point, she had slipped free the top several buttons of his shirt and now, almost absently, sat whispering the pads of her silken fingers over his chest, over the skin which covered and sheltered his now fragile, beating heart. However absent the caress felt, though, he knew it also contained a depth of invitation. After all, one didn't exist for over two hundred and fifty years without learning at least a thing or two about women.
Even one as baffling and wonderfully unique as Buffy.
Lifting her hand to his mouth, he tenderly kissed the tips of her fingers, momentarily shocked to find them warm from the touch of him instead of chilled. "It took you long enough," Buffy chided, but he could hear the teasing note to her voice and the smile that tugged upon her full, pink lips.
"Yeah, well, I have a few things on my mind."
"Hm," she remarked casually as she surprised him further by sitting up, swinging a leg across his torso, and settling so that she was straddling him. "We'll see." However, the joy and anticipation he could see clearly marked across her face diffused rapidly when she lowered herself to fit snuggly against him, feeling the full impact of his arousal towards her. Fear replaced the elation, and Buffy scrambled up and off of him before he could even lift his hands to hold her still or offer a word of reassurance.
"Are you... what's wrong," he asked worriedly, sitting up on his elbows and angling his body to the side to face her.
Already turning to flee, she murmured, "I'll be right back."
He struggled with himself for several tense moments, questioning whether he should in fact wait for her to return or run after her. While he wanted to show Buffy that he trusted and supported her, he also knew that, because of their past, she was insecure when it came to their relationship and might take his unwillingness to chase after her as proof that he wasn't going to stay as he had promised. Before he could decide, though, she did come back, just as she said she would.
Wordlessly, she tossed something onto her bedside table and waited for his gaze to take it in before explaining. It was a box of condoms. "I never want to have another child."
Staggered by her words, it felt as though he had been punched in the chest, and it suddenly hurt to breathe. Sitting up further, he moved once more so that he was poised upon the edge of her bed. She sat down beside him, fiddling with her fingers in an anxious manner for one long minute, and then two, and then three while he thought.
While he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Buffy had loved – still loved – their daughter more than anything else in the world and that she could never regret her, her comment made him wonder if she regretted that he was Ash's father. Realistically, he knew that Ash wouldn't have been Ash if anyone else would have been her dad, but, still, how else was he supposed to take such a definitive statement? Their little girl had been the most important person in Buffy's life, and they had finally been given a chance to have a normal, healthy relationship, but she refused to even consider having another child together someday.
He was grateful when she broke the silence, choosing to explain herself before he could say something stupid he'd later regret or walk away from. "I loved Ash so much, Angel, and I always will, and I'll never regret the time I had with her. No matter how short, I'll always cherish her life, but, at the same time, I know that I can't go through that again – loving and losing a child to tay-sachs. If we were to have another child... I'm sorry, but the risk is too great. I just... can't. But if you don't feel the same way, if you're willing to risk having another child born with the disease, then you need to tell me now. I mean, I'll understand, and we'll just end this thing before it can even..."
Interrupting her rudely, Angel grasped Buffy by the shoulders and twisted her around to face him. "I don't want to watch another child of ours die, I'd never ask you to go through such pain again for me, Buffy, and don't you even think for a second that I'm willing to be the father of someone else's child. But, if you'd ever want to be a mother again someday, I'd like to be a dad again."
"How... but I don't...?" Struggling to form her thoughts into words, Buffy finally settled for an inelegant, "huh?"
"There are more ways than just the old-fashioned way to have a baby. We could adopt."
"In a few years," he added. "Or whenever you're ready – we're ready."
Her tone lost much of its skepticism. "Adopt."
"I don't know about you, but, because of the work that we do, I've seen so many abandoned and unwanted kids over the years who need good homes. Someday, we could be one of those good homes." Hesitantly – not because he was afraid of offending her and not because he doubted her answer but because their relationship was so new and everything was happening so fast, Angel asked, "do you think that you could love a child that wasn't ours biologically as much as you...?"
Cutting him off, Buffy was quick to respond, "yes. Without question, yes, but not right away. I couldn't..."
"Me either," he assured her. "Besides," Angel added, "I'd like to have some time for just the two of us first. We have picnics to take, dates to enjoy, crunchy peanut-butter with chocolate and cookie-dough-fudge-mint-chip ice cream to eat."
"And lots and lots of guilt-free, soul-keeping sex to have. Don't forget the sex."
"Trust me," he teased, pushing her back and then rolling over to hang over her on his hands and knees. "I'm not going to forget about the sex. But first..." With that, he stood up and moved across the room, pulling up the blinds and opening the curtains so that the new light of the morning could shine in upon them. Turning back around and walking towards her, he explained his sudden actions. "I want to make love to you in the sunlight."
As their clothes melted away, Angel realized that their languid, rapturous joining wasn't just about seizing the moment, or celebrating his reward of humanity, or consoling each other's grief. It was all of those things and more, but most especially it was a declaration of love and life. Sliding down Buffy's body, Angel paused momentarily to kiss her lower abdomen, allowing his lips to rest over the skin that had once stretched taunt to hold and protect their unborn child, a sensation they'd never experience again. But that was alright. Taking a deep breath and smiling so that she could feel his exhilaration move against and through her, he moved his body forward, realigned his form to match her own, and then entered her smoothly.
He was alive, but their daughter was dead.
Life was bittersweet.