TITLE: Surcease

AUTHOR: Soleil


DISCLAIMER:Really and truly, not mine. For a while I was delusional and thought that they were. Fortunately the nice doctors set me straight.

TIMELINE: Future fic. And really, really au.

SPOILERS:I believe in being overly cautious. The whole thing. Angel too. Everything. I think that covers it.

SYNOPSIS:Ok, certain things that happened on the show did not happen in thi s fic. I started writing a few years ago. So, Joyce is dead. Buffy died and came back. But the last meeting between Angel and Buffy was in Sanctuary. They never saw each other after that. (As much as this pains me, because I loved Forever) Couples are B/A, C/W. Wi/O , B/other

DISTRIBUTION: If you want, it's yours. Just let me know where it's going? AUTHOR'S NOTES:Angsty. I'm a happy person. Really. You just wouldn't know it from my stories. FEEDBACK: Please?

"Shouldn't they be at home? They're too young to be here," a nurse whispered to her friend from behind a clipboard.

Her friend looked at the motley crew slumped in the uncomfortable hospital chairs. "You try getting them to go home. I'm off in fifteen minutes… And I've had no luck. They won't budge." Her eyes wandered over the three little girls. "But for the record, I agree with you." She glanced at the room behind her. The steady beat of the life support system was the only sound that could be heard. The artificial respirator clapped and reverberated through the hall.

The first nurse looked up from the chart she working on and checked her watch. "His time is almost up. I don't suppose that I'd have any luck if I told them that visiting hours were over and that they should all go home?" Her voice was hopeful but her expression was resigned. "Why don't you start to make your way out? It's my turn to be the bad guy anyways."

The second nurse looked at her watch. Her face registered her relief at her friend's offer. She hated being the bad guy. "Thank you," she breathed. "I owe you."

"Next time I need a puppy kicked, I'll call."

The nurse laughed quietly and walked to the elevator doors. The first nurse took a deep breath and made her way to the patient's room. The setting sun shone through the windows and lit up the older man sitting by the bed. His fingers rhythmically squeezed the young woman's, mimicking the beat of the respirator. He didn't speak, but his mouth was slightly open, as if he were about to launch into a speech. The nurse waited for a minute, then two, but when she saw that he wasn't going to speak to the young woman, she cleared her throat. "Sir," she paused when he looked up. "I'm sorry, but I need to check her vital signs." The man continued to stare, not moving. "You're going to have to leave the room, sir. Visiting hours are almost over."

He nodded slowly, then blinked. His eyes focused slowly on the nurse's figure. "Yes," he mumbled. "Yes, of course." He stood slowly, feeling closer to eighty than sixty. Reluctantly, he let go of the woman's hand and bent to kiss her forehead. "Come back to us soon. Nobody wants to do this without you."

"Sir?" The nurse's voice stopped him at the doorway. "I don't suppose that you can convince the girls to go home?" The tenor of her voice expressed her doubt, but she had to ask.

"They're stubborn. They got it from their mother."

"I had to try. It's my job and all."

"Yes, of course," he repeated. The door closed softly behind him. He paused momentarily, leaning against the wired glass window. Slowly he counted to ten and then back to one and up to ten again as he tried to regain his composure. His mind skittered over the image of the young woman in the bed and his steady breathing hitched before he could gain control. He tried to square his shoulders and project the image of the stiff British upper lip, but the best he could manage was barely held together and he left the support of the door to go face his friends, his family, waiting for him in the hallway.

Willow's red head was bent over Gilly's little blonde one. She lifted her eyes as she heard his footsteps approach the chairs. Patting the seat next to her, she asked Giles the question that was present in all of their minds, "No change?"

Giles shook his head and eased himself into the chair. "My these seats are uncomfortable." He shook his head again. "No, no change. I kept waiting for her to wake up and … But she didn't," he trailed off. "How are the girls doing?"

Willow kissed the top of Gilly's head. The little girl was snoring softly against Willow's chest. "As well as the rest of us. Cinda and Gilly are too young to know what's going on, I think. But," she paused and then stopped. Her gaze wandered over the young girl huddled between Xander and her aunt. Chloe's eyes were swollen from crying and her lip trembled occasionally as she suppressed another sob.

Giles' eyes followed Willow's. "Chloe's not." Willow nodded against Gilly's head. Giles sighed and shifted in the chair as he studied the little girl in front of him. Her brown hair straggled out of its ponytail and fell in soft wisps against her face. "She's old enough to remember Jack," he continued the rest of Willow's thought.

Chloe looked over at Giles. She sniffled and leaned closer into the circle of Xander's arms. "Are you going to call him?"

Her voice startled the people in the hallway. They looked over the girl. Giles straightened at the sound and braced himself for the fight that would follow the girl's question. He had always been a source of discord for the group. Whenever they needed a good fight, they always mentioned his name and got the result that they were seeking. Giles watched Xander's arms tighten around Chloe's shoulders. She turned to look at him. "Are you going to call my dad?"


"Giles?" she turned back to the older man.

He tried to think of a way to answer the question. Willow shifted and moved Gilly into her husband's arms. He raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything as he accepted the still sleeping two year old. "I think we should." Her voice was barely louder than a whisper but it carried. She raised her eyes to see Xander slowly nod his head. Dawn closed her eyes, pressed her lips together, but managed to nod. Even Riley nodded.

"I'll call." Xander volunteered. Everyone's eyes flew to his face. "Look, he doesn't like me, right?" He waited for the collective nods. "Well, then he'd be most likely to believe me. I wouldn't call him for anything. Except this," he said. "Except this."

"Do you want to use my cell?" Willow offered, reaching for her purse.

"No cell phones in ICU, remember?" Xander passed Chloe to Dawn, who pulled her niece into a tight hug and kissed her forehead. He stood walked past the line of eyes as he made his way to the phone bank at the end of the hallway. Slipping the change into the phone, he quickly dialed the number that Buffy had made him memorize if there were ever an emergency. He couldn't think of a better time to use it.

"Angel Investigations, we hope the helpless, I mean help the hopeless," a voice sang in his ear. Xander struggled to place the voice with a face but couldn't.

"May I speak to Angel please? Or Cordelia," he quickly amended his request. "Can I speak to Cordelia?"

"Can I ask whose calling please?" The voice seemed warier and a great deal less friendly.

"An old friend." Xander was reluctant to give his name. The old insecurities still surfaced when confronted with his ex-girlfriend. "It's important. Kind of an emergency."

"I need a name, please." The voice was quietly insistent.

"Trace, who's on the phone?" Xander could hear Cordelia's voice in the background.

"Some guy, says he's an old friend and that it's an emergency, but he won't give his name." The voice answered.

"An old friend?" Curious, Cordelia picked up the extension and waited until she saw Tracey hang up the phone. "Hello?"


"This is she." She frowned into the phone. The voice sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn't place it. Absently, she tapped her pencil against her desk blotter and waited for the voice to identify itself. "Who's this?" she asked after a moment.

"It's - it's Xander."

The pencil fell from her fingers. Cordelia glanced wildly around the office, as if to make sure that no one else heard him. But the other occupants were involved with research and weren't paying attention to her conversation. "What do you want?" Her voice was coldly curious. She hadn't spoken to anyone from Sunnydale in over eleven years. Which, she noted with mild amusement, was odd, considering that they were in the same line of work.

"I…" Xander paused and took a deep breath for courage to say the next words out loud. He hadn't said anything since he got the call from a hysterical Willow over seven hours ago. "It's Buffy." He managed at last.

"What about her?" Cordelia picked up a nail file that she had found in her drawer and began to file her nails. She didn't want to have anything to do with that part of her life again. She didn't want Angel to have to face that part of his life again. He was happy. -Er. He was happier with Kate. His next sentence, however, caused her to drop the file.

"She's dying." Xander leaned against the wall as dizziness set in. His eyes focused on a chip in the bright orange paint of the hallway. It was the first time he had actually said the words out loud.

"Dying?" Cordelia squeaked. Wesley's and Angel's heads snapped up at the sound. Both men stood and started to approach the desk but Cordelia shooed them back to their respective seats with a gesture of her hand. "What do you mean?"

"She was attacked, earlier today. Willow found…" His voice broke and he raised his eyes to the ceiling, begging for control. "Willow found her bleeding in her kitchen. Buffy's kitchen. Angel should be here," he continued. He rushed on before Cordelia could interrupt with a list of reasons why Angel should not be in Sunnydale. "I know all the reasons that you're going to give and I also know that they don't apply anymore."

"How did-"

"Demon grapevine. We've known for years. Cordy, he needs to be here. I don't know if she's going to make it through the night."

"Deposit twenty cents, please." A mechanical voice broke into the conversation.

Xander glanced down the hallway. "I've got to go. What should I tell them?"

Cordelia sighed and looked at her boss and her husband. "Tell them I'll tell him."

"Thank you." Xander hung up the phone, resting his head against the receiver.

In Los Angeles, Cordelia stared at the phone before placing it back in its cradle. She rubbed her hands over her eyes before looking at Angel and Wesley. God, she wished that Xander had never called. That he hadn't thought that Angel deserved one last good bye. She wouldn't have called, she told herself. She wouldn't have given Buffy any type of recognition. They hadn't called when Angel turned human, why should Sunnydale call when Buffy - when Buffy died. She took a deep breath. "Angel." She waited until he looked up from his book. "I have something to tell you."

"He's not going to come, is he?" Chloe whispered into her aunt's neck.

Dawn looked down at the eleven year old. She reminded her so much of her mother at that moment. Her eyes looked too old for her baby face. "I don't know," she whispered back. "I have no idea."

"I thought that he loved Mommy," her voice was higher-pitched than usual and slightly whiney, reminding Dawn that she was still a little girl despite everything. She hugged her tighter, wishing that a hug would make things better this time.

The minutes ticked by. Tara, Willow, Oz, Riley, and Giles passed Cinda and Gilly from one lap to the next as they stood to stretch or use the bathroom, each one reluctant to give up the children that reminded them so much of their mother. Chloe remained lodged between Xander and Dawn, switching from one pair of arms to the other as time wore on. The nurse who had asked Giles to leave the room watched the group curiously. Her eyes drifted to the clock above their heads and noted with surprise that two hours had passed already. She quickly jotted down the last of her notes, waved good-bye to her colleagues, and with a last look at the crowd in the hallway, exited the building as fast as she could.

Willow murmured into her husband's ear and passed Gilly to Giles. When she returned, Oz looked at his wife over the top of Cinda's head. "Did you get a hold of your mom?"

She nodded. "Robbie's okay," she said, referring to their son. "My mom is really enjoying being a grandmother. She's lecturing him about the use of mythology as a vehicle for teaching morality in today's pop culture."

"And he's enjoying that."

"According to my mom. Personally I can't wait until he gets old enough to tell her that she's full of shit. But he's two."

"We have to wait a bit."

Listening to their conversation, Giles chuckled into Gilly's hair. He had always admired the courage that these people had. Looking around the room, he had never been prouder of his children. The laugh caught in his throat as he thought about how Buffy would have been proud of them, too.

Chloe drifted off to sleep, leaning against Xander. As she sank below the surface of consciousness, she was dimly aware of her aunt and Giles' whispering. She heard their murmured doubts and squeezed her eyes tighter. He had to come, she repeated over and over in her head until the mantra blocked out the other voices and she slept.

Willow noticed them first. She stood slowly, moving Cinda into the seat that she had just vacated. "My god," she breathed. Still good-looking after all these year, she noted. All four of them looked good, more like actors than people who spent their lives fighting evil. Their black clothes blended into each other, giving the impression of a wall. A wall that seemed to be rather unyielding and certainly not forgiving. She had hoped, oh she had hoped, that the news of Buffy would be enough to mend the tears, but it seemed to have had the opposite effect.

Hearing her gasp, Oz looked down the hallway and saw the four people standing quietly at the end of it. Slowly, the rest of them began to stand. The two groups watched each other from the opposite ends of the corridor, neither making a move. "You came." Willow said at last.

"You called." Angel took a quick inventory of their faces. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting but they looked the same. Buffy's allies, still banding together to protect her. He shouldn't have come. Sunnydale hadn't been his home in years; he didn't even recognize some of the people studying him. Willow pushed her hair out her eyes and moved into Oz's arms. He gave her a quick squeeze on the shoulder and a reassuring smile. Xander straightened his spine and shoved his hands into his pockets. Giles and Dawn leaned against each other, as if their balance depended upon the support. Out of the corner of his eye, he noted the three little girls asleep on the plastic chairs. A voice in his head screamed, 'They're hers. Not only did she move on, she really moved on.' He opened his mouth to ask about her.

"Code Blue! Call the Doctor!" a nurse shouted. Angel closed his mouth as they turned to watch the nurses' station erupt into a flurry of activity. Over the commotion, they could hear the high-pitched squeal of a heart monitor as it flat-lined. The floor flooded with nurses and doctors as they wheeled the crash cart through the hallway.

"Oh god, oh god, oh god." Willow gripped her husband's arm as they waited to see what room the doctors were entering. Giles moved his arm around Dawn's shoulders as she began to shake, his heart cracking in two when he watched the nurses hurry into Buffy's room. "Please no," Willow whispered.

"That's not - That's not…" Cordelia tried to finish the sentence but found that the words wouldn't come. The expressions of horror on the faces turned towards the door confirmed what she had been trying to ask. That was Buffy's room. She glanced up at Angel, expecting to find the same type of expression on his face but it was blank. Her fingers tightened reflexively around Wesley's; she was comforted when they gripped back.

"We'll take the girls out of here." Tara volunteered when she noticed that the girls had woken up from the noise. Chloe's knees were tucked under her chin and her arms had snaked around her shins. Gathering up a sleepy Gilly, Tara crouched in front of Chloe. "Chlo, why don't you come with us?" She held her hand out and sighed when the girl shook her head. "Please," Tara pleaded.

"I'm not leaving. Please let me stay," she begged. Xander looked at Tara and shrugged. Giles nodded as Tara looked towards him for confirmation. She turned to catch up with Riley as he carried a sniffling and confused Cinda out of the ward.

Chloe rested her cheek against her knees and faced Angel for the first time that night. He barely contained his gasp as he saw her face. She looked exactly like her mother. She looked like his sister. Cordelia felt his arm jerk next to hers and looked up to see what had surprised him. Her own eyes widened as they fell on the child who was a perfect blend of Angel and Buffy. The girl's eyes were red and puffy but they were Angel's dark brown and shaped like Buffy's. Her brown hair was more or less pulled back from a miniature version of Buffy's face. But her voice, her voice was so young when she asked, "Can you do something?"

Too late, the thought echoed in his mind like thunder. We're too late. I'm too late, he added as he studied the girl's face. It had been years since Angel had seen Buffy. When their relationship ended abruptly after he helped Faith, he had refused to speak about her. Cordelia and Wesley soon stopped trying to give him updates about her life and then, slowly, they too lost track of her life. He had heard vague rumors about her having children but he always assumed that they were just that - rumors. Although at one point in his life, he had wanted nothing more for her, he stopped caring eventually, and secretly thought that the rumors couldn't have been true because she was too young to have three children. Certainly too young to be dying. But now he was confronted with the truth. Buffy had children. Three little girls and one looked like him.

He was brought out of his reverie as Chloe questioned him again. "Can you do something?"

"I - no. I can't." His voice was quiet and the others had to strain to catch his answer. Chloe opened her mouth again but she was interrupted by the approach of the doctor. The click of the doctor's heels on the linoleum was the only sound in the hallway.

"Excuse me." The doctor cleared her throat. She turned to Dawn and Giles. "Are you Buffy Whittaker's family?"

Cordelia, Angel, and Wesley started again at the last name. "I thought Riley's last name was Finn?" Wesley muttered under his breath.

"So did I," Angel answered.

"I'm Buffy's sister; our mother's dead," Dawn answered the doctor. "Dawn Summers," she introduced herself. Dawn cupped her elbows in her hands and shifted against Giles' side. Her fingers slowly tightened as she waited for the doctor to give her the news that her sister had died.

"Ms. Summers, can I talk to you in private?" The doctor moved to take her arm so that she could guide her into another room but Dawn jerked back.

"Everyone here is family."

The doctor looked at the cluster of people and shrugged. She had been at the hospital since six that morning. She was tired and wanted to leave more than she ever thought possible. Given that, she didn't feel like quibbling with a distraught sister over the medical definition of a family. "Ms. Summers, your sister suffered a severe shock due to the blood loss. Her system couldn't support the extent of her injuries. She flat-lined but," she quickly inserted, "we were able to resuscitate her."

"Thank God," Dawn sobbed.

"Ms. Summers, I'm not going to lie to you. She's still very weak and her condition is still unstable. But on the good side, I think that if she can make it through the night, she might be able to pull through."

"What are the chances that she'll make it through the night?" Giles asked.

"I'm sorry." The doctor sighed internally. "They're not very good." She paused, waiting to see if there were any other questions, but the hallway was silent. She turned to leave but Giles stopped him.

"Can we see her?"

The doctor looked at him. "Visiting hours are over," this time she sighed out loud, "but I think under the circumstances, of course. Just not for long."

Giles lowered Dawn into a chair and looked at Angel. "Why don't you go?" he asked him gently. "Room 216," he added.

When Angel didn't move, Chloe spoke up. "Would it be - Could I go see her?" She looked at Giles. "Please." She pointed to Angel. "He doesn't want to see her. Please let me. Please." Chloe clasped her hands and begged. She adopted the same attitude she had used when she had to have the pink bike, that sweater, and those shoes. Giles could never resist that face. Neither could Xander. The only person capable of resistance was her mother. Reluctantly, he nodded.

"Thankyouthankyouthankyou," she breathed and ran towards her mother's room.

"Someone should go with her," Dawn sniffled. "She shouldn't be alone." She stood up and started after her niece. "I don't want to be here for the next part anyway," she mumbled under her breath. Her shoulders hunched against another sob and she pressed a hand to her lips. Sighing and pushing back her hair with her other hand, she turned towards Angel. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you for coming." Her hand rested on his arm for a moment, then withdrew, and she left the group to explain.

Watching Dawn's retreating back, Cordelia quirked an eyebrow. "Does someone care to explain now?"

"Congratulations, Cordelia," Willow offered, nodding at Cordelia's stomach. Her eyes slid to the woman standing next to Angel. "Are you going to introduce us?"

"Thanks. Kate, this is Willow, Xander, that's Giles, and that's Oz. Everyone this is Kate." Cordelia recognized the stall tactic but decided to indulge Willow and gestured to the blonde woman.

The woman gave them a half smile and waved. She wished desperately that she had stayed in Los Angeles. She wasn't necessary here. If she hadn't been so self-conscious and unsure of her relationship with Angel, she could have been snuggled up on her couch watching old movies and waiting for her lover's return.

"Now, how about the explanation," Cordelia prompted.

Giles sat down heavily and put his head in his hands. Relinquishing her grip on her husband's arm, Willow sat next to him. Absently she moved her hand over his back in large, slow circles like she did with her son when he had nightmares. "There's really not much of a story to tell," she said. "Buffy had off today and I guess she was going to swim or…. Anyway, I found her in the kitchen. We were supposed to meet for lunch and she never showed," Willow shrugged and shook her head, willing the images to go away. "Someone had attacked her. Tara, she was the one who took Gilly out of the…where'd they go anyway?" Willow asked Oz.

"Willow," Cordelia ground the word between her teeth.

"Oh, sorry. Where was I? Oh right, Tara. Tara's a witch. She's really powerful and I guess that my emotions were interfering with my abilities. Tara said that Buffy had a spell put on her. It made her normal for a minute or two. Kind of like the when she turned eighteen. I guess they only needed a minute though. He, she, it stabbed her…. And I found her two hours after we were supposed to meet for lunch." Willow's eyes filled. She stared at the space above Cordelia's head. Her throat convulsed as she swallowed.

"It wasn't your fault, Will." Xander and Oz interrupted her monologue at the same time. Oz moved next to his wife. "It's okay, Will," he soothed. "It wasn't your fault." Willow nodded, but wouldn't look at him. Placing a finger under her chin, he moved her face so that he could look into her eyes. "Not your fault."

Her gaze slid to Angel's. "There was so much blood, I couldn't stop it. It was everywhere. The people in the ambulance said it was a miracle that she was still alive." Now that Willow had started talking, she couldn't seem to stop. "It was all over me. And her floor. I don't know how we're going to clean it up before she gets out of the hospital," she addressed this last comment to Oz and Xander.

Oz met Xander's eyes and nodded. "C'mon, baby. We'll go take a look for the girls." Willow stared at him but let him lead her to the elevators. "We'll be right back," he said over his shoulder.

Xander watched them walk away and then turned back to the others. "It's hard for her," he explained. "Not only did she find her, but Willow was really mad at Buffy before she found her. Buffy had a history of missing lunch dates from time to time and she had promised Willow that she would be there this time. She was talking to me… she was talking to me when she found her," he paused and took a deep breath. "I don't think that I'll ever get the sound of her scream out of my head."

Giles put a comforting hand on Xander's shoulder and gave it a quick squeeze. "She had called me right before she called you," he chuckled slightly as he remembered the conversation. "I haven't heard her that angry in a very long time."

Kate spoke for the first time that evening, "Why did Buffy have a history of missing lunches?" The moment the words left her lips, she closed her mouth quickly, unsure of whether she should have said something. Uncomfortable as the attention turned to her, she squirmed closer in her chair towards Angel.

"Work," Xander replied after a minute. "She would get caught up in work and not even notice that time had gone by. Her co-workers used to have to kick her out at the end of the day."

"Excuse me? Work? Buffy? Why have I never associated those two words? When did Buffy suddenly get a work ethic?" Cordelia's voice questioned derisively.

Xander looked up from his hands. His voice was soft and quiet as he answered, "That is the first and last shot that you get at Buffy's expense. You don't get to say another word about her - not that way at least. She's in there, dying, because of-"

"Xander!" Giles' voice broke in sharply. "Do be quiet before you say something that you'll regret."

Xander mumbled something under his breath that caused the older man to blush, but didn't continue his sentence.

Kate's curiosity was aroused as she watched the by-play between the two men. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask because of what, but something held her back. As she observed Xander and Giles, both tense and ill at ease because of something more than Buffy's injuries, she realized that it was safer not knowing the answer to her question. She had a feeling that the answer could have very serious repercussions for everyone in the hallway, herself included. Her fingers tightened on Angel's arm, as if their pressure could keep him by her side forever.

"I'm sorry," Cordelia offered tentatively. "I didn't mean anything. I just remembered Buffy as being very work bad, fun good."

"A lot has changed." Giles smiled at Cordelia to let her know that her apology was accepted.

"What changed her?" Angel's voice sounded hesitant, almost as if he was frightened of the answer. He desperately wanted to know about the little girl with his eyes, the one that Tara called Chlo, but he couldn't bring himself to ask about her. He leaned back against the wall, loosening Kate's grip with his movement. He understood her fears, and wanted to reassure her, but he didn't have the strength or the certain knowledge that everything was going to be okay.

"Danni." Willow's voice startled them. She turned to Giles and Xander for their confirmation. "It would have to be Danni, wouldn't it?" When she saw their nods, she sat down next to Xander and leaned against his back.

Cordelia held her breath and slowly counted to ten. Her fingers clenched and unclenched before she could regain control of her emotions. "Who is Danni?" she squeaked, trying not to scream out her frustration.

"It's kind of hard to explain," Willow offered as an excuse for their lack of explanations. "She's Chloe's best friend now. She lives next door to Buffy. Um, Buffy met her when she was…. God, how old was Danni?" She twisted her head to look at Giles.

"Um, about Gilly's age, yes, I believe she was about two years old."

"Right. Anyway," she continued, "Buffy was in the hospital with Chloe. Or at the hospital? Which is more correct?" She shook her head and blushed when she saw everyone watching her debate. "Chloe was sick, she was only a couple of months old and she had a really high fever. Buffy was a really good first time mom. She hardly ever panicked and she didn't worry nearly as much I did when Robbie was a newborn, but she couldn't bring Chloe's fever down so the doctor said to bring her to the hospital and he'd take care of her. While Buffy was waiting for the doctor, there was this little girl in waiting room. The nurses couldn't get her to speak and she wouldn't move. Her parents had been killed by vampires. At least that's what Buffy thought had happened.

"So Buffy sat next to her and started to talking to her. The nurses had told Buffy that they were waiting for someone from family services to come pick her up but there was some kind of problem. Danni fell in love with Buffy. She wouldn't do anything without Buffy. Buffy started taking Chloe to see her at the home and the counselors were always so relieved to see her. Danni wouldn't talk without Buffy, she was miserable. So Buffy started to play a role in her case file. It was unconventional to say the least, but the counselors were overworked and were willing to take any help that they could get with Danni."

"I think that Buffy would have adopted Danni, if she could," Oz added.

Willow nodded her head vigorously. "I always thought so too. But there was Chloe and Dawn. The house was already crowded. She just couldn't do it."

"Boy, you go away for ten years, never look back, and things really change," Cordelia said. She stifled a yawn with the back of her hand. It had been a very long day and the night was proving to be incredibly confusing. Her back ached and her feet were swelling, but she couldn't leave Angel. She didn't want him to be alone in Sunnydale. More importantly, she wanted to be able to stem the brooding, stopping it before it became all-consuming like it was when she first met him in Los Angeles.

"Go figure," Willow said, but without any animosity. "Danni really changed Buffy. After helping with her adoption, Buffy decided that she wanted to be a social worker so that she could help other kids like Danni. She actually became a psychologist and got her masters in social work. She's really done a lot." Willow's voice shimmered with pride. It was written on the faces of Giles, Xander, and Oz, too.

Not for the first time that night, Angel had the distinct feeling that he didn't belong in Sunnydale. Not anymore and certainly not in Buffy's life. She had not only moved on, she had carved out an entirely different life for herself. He didn't have a place in that life. He shifted in the chair, then stood abruptly. He needed air; he needed to be someplace else besides this hospital.

Willow watched Angel rise and slowly stood herself. With a quick glance at Giles, she placed a hand on Angel's arm. "Angel, do you mind taking a walk with me?" Out of the corner of her eye, she witnessed Giles' nod and took a deep breath. "There are things…there are things that I need to tell you."

A muscle in Angel's jaw clenched and his Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed, but he nodded his assent and let Willow lead him through the corridors.

The night air washed over them as they emerged at the front of the hospital. There was no moon and the stars were half obscured by clouds. Although the red lights of a recently arrived ambulance bounced off the cars in the parking lot, they didn't create enough light to fight off the gloominess of the night. An eerie combination of summer and despair hovered around in the air around the hospital. In the distance, Willow could hear the soft sound of crickets. Around the hospital, it was silent. A few people lingered around the door, their faces tense as they dragged smoke out of cigarettes and sipped coffee. The glow of their cigarettes punctuated the sidewalk with little reds lights.

Still holding Angel's arm, Willow lead him away from the entrance and anyone that might overhear their conversation. She waited to speak until she was sure that they could have a private conversation. The further she moved from the hospital's doors, the more she wished she could keep walking. If she could only get to her house, to her son, she could go to sleep and pretend that this had never had happened. She could pretend that Buffy was asleep in her own house, that they would wake up and have Saturday morning breakfast at Buffy's house like they always did. But she couldn't do it; instead, she thought with a sigh, she had to tell her best friend's ex-boyfriend about his daughter.

Angel didn't speak, she noticed. He wasn't going to make this any easier for Willow. "You saw her," she decided that the direct approach was best. "You saw Chloe."

Angel nodded, but remained silent. Willow's next words, however, would change him, his world forever. "Buffy remembered. Everything," Willow added so that there would be no confusion. "Chloe's yours," she said gently.

Angel half staggered, half stumbled to the edge of the curb and sat down. He put elbows on his knees and rested his head in his hands. Concerned, Willow crouched besides him and rubbed her hand down his back. He looked up at the sky before talking. "Why didn't she tell me?" his voice was barely above a whisper.

Willow flinched on Buffy's behalf, then shrugged. "I wish I could tell you. I can only say that she was going to tell you. I don't know what stopped her." Willow's eyes searched the sky for a star to wish upon. Her voice sounded unnaturally loud in her ears as she attempted to explain her best friend's actions. "She never told me what happened, but she was going to tell you that night that she went to L.A. to help you with Faith." Willow felt Angel jump under hand. "I suspect," she said, "that you might have more answers than me."

He shook his head in denial. "No," he choked. "No. I don't." His head slumped into his hands again and his shoulders shook once, then twice, before he gained control over his body. He remembered his last meeting with Buffy with perfect clarity. And he knew why she didn't tell him about the baby then. He toed loose gravel with his foot and tried to compose himself. Absently, he noted Willow's hand moving slowly over his back, the headlights of passing cars, and the soft air of summer, but he couldn't connect to the physical world. His mind refused to focus.

"Angel…" Willow stopped, unsure of how to proceed. "Angel, do you want to…do you want to meet your daughter?" she finished her question in a rush. She watched him closely for a reaction. When none was forthcoming, she jostled his shoulder slightly. "Angel?"

He never thought that he would ever hear those words. Even when he earned his humanity, he hadn't believed it possible to have a child again. Hadn't wanted to believe it. The fear that overtook him left him nauseous in its wake. He didn't want to live through that again. After two hundred odd years on the planet, except for that one brief period, he'd grown used to life without them. He had told himself that he was too used to a selfish lifestyle to open his house up to children, satisfying lies that masked the pain, but now he was faced with the dilemma of doing just that or ignoring the one person on the planet with real blood ties to him. Slowly, and with more fear than he ever thought possible, Angel nodded. "Yes," he said. "Yes, I'd like to meet my daughter."

Willow smiled for the first time that night and stood up. After she brushed the dirt from the back of her skirt, she offered her hand to Angel. "Well, then, come on."

By the time they rejoined the group in the hallway, Dawn and Chloe had returned and Xander and Giles were visiting Buffy. Willow felt Angel's hand tense in his. "Relax," she whispered, knowing that it was easier to say than do. "She knows about you. She was the one who wanted to call you."

Angel nodded, not looking at Willow. Willow smiled to herself. She was standing next to man who had fought unspeakable evil, who had wreaked unspeakable evil, and had won. He had defeated his demon and the legions that came to stop him and an almost eleven-year-old girl terrified him. "Chloe," she called out. Chloe's raised her head from her aunt's shoulder at the sound of her name. "Chloe, sweetie, could you come here for a moment?"

Chloe glanced at Dawn for permission. When she received it, she walked slowly over to Angel and Willow. "What?" she asked sullenly. She crossed her arms and stared at the scuffed tile beneath her sneakered feet.

"Chloe, look at me." Willow waited until the girl complied before continuing. "Chloe, I'd like you to meet your father. Angel, this is Chloe. Chloe, Angel." She sighed as the two figures stared miserably at each other. "Well, I think I'll just leave you two to get to know…" she trailed off at Angel's glare, but smiled sweetly in return. "Bye." She waved.

"Hi," Angel said after some length.

"Hi," Chloe mumbled in return.

"Um, do you, do you want to take a walk?"

She shook her head.

"Go sit down?"

Another shake of the head.

"Have you eaten yet tonight?" Angel instinctively knew the answer was going to be no. "Come on, I'll buy you dinner." He rested his hand lightly against her back, relieved when she let him lead her to the cafeteria.

From their position in the waiting area, Willow and Dawn watched the man and the young girl disappear down the hall. They smiled ruefully at each other and then sighed. If Buffy recovered, she was going to kill them.

When Angel and Chloe returned to the ICU, they found the gang assembled and waiting for them. Willow smiled when she saw Angel carrying Chloe. Something must have happened. Although she understood her reasoning, Willow had never approved of Buffy keeping Chloe a secret from Angel. The fights that had arisen after Buffy had died were immense in their scope. The people who supported telling Angel about Chloe had lost, but Willow had always held out hope that Angel would learn about his daughter one day. The smile grew when Xander tried to take Chloe, who left Angel's arms with great reluctance. "It's your turn," Xander said by way of explanation and stepped back to let the man pass him.

The woman on the bed bore little resemblance to the Buffy Summers that had come to L.A. ten years ago. Wires and tubes wove their way under her bedclothes and surgical tape covered eyes. The only indication that she was still alive was the beep of the heart monitor. Her skin was shades paler than its usual tan. Angel had been prepared to find a fragile and breakable woman, but not this. She looked more like a freakish science project than the woman he remembered. He understood why Chloe sounded skeptical when Dawn had told her that Buffy was just sleeping. The person in the bed was a shell, just a body - not Chloe's mother.

He lowered himself into the chair next to the bed and clasped her hand, ignoring the flash of pain from the diamond on her wedding ring; half hoping that she would curl her fingers around his. Her hand, however, remained limp. He brushed hair off her face and sighed. He didn't know what to say, where to begin, and how to edit himself. So much of what he had to say, well, he was pretty sure that she had to be healthy to hear it. The biggest question was why. Why hadn't she told him about Chloe? He knew that she had been angry when she left L. A. all those years ago, but a lot of time had passed. There were so many times when she could have spoken up, could have called him. And, of course, he would have believed her. He sighed and rubbed his forehead. There were a few flaws in his reasoning.

"God, Buffy. What a mess we made." He lapsed back into silence, staring at the wall across him. The emotions of night crept up on him and he felt his eyelids drifting shut. His fingers tightened around Buffy's hand and he slept.