"Oh, Great! It's Dead boy!" Xander's sarcastic greeting was just as annoying as it had been years ago, Angel reflected, silently, barely resisting the urge to smack the young man. Xander looked much the same as he always had, perhaps more fit due to his stint in the army, but the annoyance and displeasure in Xander's eyes had changed little since high school. Angel sighed; it seemed that Xander would never accept or forgive him. The vampire would just have to live with the animosity. "Does he have to be here? Are you sure he was invited?"
Angel decided to ignore the young man; something else concerned him. He'd overheard Xander muttering to Giles while he'd been speaking to Willow in the foyer, and apparently Giles had also been surprised by his presence. The vampire was beginning to wonder if only Willow had been expecting him. Angel was confused, as Willow had made it clear that Angel should be present at this meeting, but the vampire had gotten the impression that Giles was the mastermind be hind this reunion. Not quite daring to hope, Angel tried to focus when a sudden dimming of the lights distracted him.
Turning, Angel blinked as his eyes adjusted to the change, and saw Oz moving a heavy armchair a little closer to the furniture clustered around the fireplace, but still near the French doors leading to the patio, and the shadows resulting from the lights the werewolf had dimmed. He was pleasantly surprised by the action, and nodded at the young man in appreciation when Oz offered him the seat. As he moved silently across the room, Angel revised his first impression. Oz had known he was coming and was making an effort to make him welcome. Intrigued by the possibilities and changes, and still trying to focus his senses, Angel decided to forgo lurking in the corner, as was his habit. Instead, he stripped off his duster as he sat down in the proffered chair to join the group.
Giles watched the silent exchange between Oz and Angel, relieved that the werewolf had taken steps to welcome the ensouled vampire, and make him more comfortable in what was likely going to be a very tense situation. The Watcher had been annoyed by the familiar wisecracks and derogatory comments that came out of Xander's mouth; he'd gotten the impression that Xander had matured more than that during their brief, if awkward, discussion, but perhaps not when the subject was Angel. Giles had not been able to force a welcoming comment out of his mouth and, when Angel had appeared to hover like a dark cloud in the doorway, he'd frozen, unable to even nod in greeting.
Giles deliberately tore his gaze from where Angel was settling into his seat to pour himself a scotch at the buffet. Reminding himself over and over of how much Buffy wanted, no *needed*, Angel in her life, Giles poured a glass of Irish Whisky as well, and silently crossed the room to offer it to Angel. Giles looked down into startled chocolate eyes as the vampire slowly accepted the alcohol, the questions in his eyes not ones Giles was ready to answer. Still, the Watcher was reassured by the familiar pained eyes, and was able to relax and nod in greeting, offering a silent toast towards a truce.
Angel slowly sipped the silent offering and nodded his head in acknowledgement. The vampire was gratified to see less tension in Giles' frame, and more of the cautious acceptance that had existed before he'd lost his soul. Still, after one sip Angel set his glass aside, not wanting to add alcohol to an already potentially volatile situation. Though it would take a great deal of whiskey to truly inebriate him, the vampire needed to keep his mind clear. So, while he appreciated the gesture, and the small peace offering on the part of the Watcher, Angel wouldn't touch any more alcohol until the evening's events were over, if even then.
Willow once again entered the room, hands fluttering nervously as she talked with Oz, and cast worried glances down the hallway. Angel managed a fond smile as he watched her; she had grown more self-confident and beautiful over the years, but the witch was still the same soft hearted person she'd always been. He was glad to see the obvious connection between her and Oz was stronger than ever; for a long time it had appeared that Oz's fears regarding his alter ego and Willow's sexual experimentation her first year in college after the werewolf's departure, had permanently separated the pair. Instead, they'd learned to accept themselves, and that their differences drew them closer and complemented each other's strengths and weaknesses. Angel just hoped that he and Buffy would have the opportunity to discover the same thing. A tingle of awareness and the sudden realization of a few additional heartbeats in the house gave that hope new life, and Angel struggled for patience as Willow moved to stand before the group.
Willow squeezed Oz's hand gratefully and pressed a soft kiss to his cheek before waving him towards the others. She took a deep breath to calm herself, and started speaking, hoping things didn't get out of hand. "It's so good to see all of you again. It's been too long. That's one of the reasons you're here tonight. I'm tired of missing you all, and I want to make sure we stay in touch better than we have. A visit when things heat up around here and random phone calls simply are not enough." Willow paused, took a deep breath and cast an apologetic glance at Giles as she continued. "It's time to stop avoiding each other and our problems." This time she cast a warning glance at Xander, continuing before he could open his mouth. "We have a lot of old issues to work through, especially with Giles and Buffy's departure and we all realize this. But, we've also got to remember that, bottom line, we're family to each other. That is what we're hoping to accomplish this weekend."
"Unfortunately, a reunion is not the only reason we're here. Another new Slayer has been called to the Hellmouth. Aria is already here, and you'll either meet her tonight or tomorrow. Her family is moving here as well. She's got three brothers and sisters that are much younger, and she was one of the girls that fell through the cracks, so she didn't find out until about a month ago that she was a Slayer. So, she'll need some help adjusting. Plus, the council's a little concerned about her attitude."
"Oh, like we did such a great job with Faith," Xander scowled. "How long until we start worrying about being killed in our beds? * And * we have innocent kids to worry about?"
"It's not that bad," Giles murmured. "She's just fighting her destiny. From what I've seen, she cares for her family a great deal, She's scared and doesn't want to admit it, and resents all the changes, and what she'll be giving up."
Willow nodded in agreement. "We only met her yesterday, but I agree. Plus, Wesley is her Watcher, and from what I understand, he's changed since he was last in Sunnydale. He thinks she has potential, and has asked for all of our help to make Aria more comfortable with her destiny." Willow raised an eyebrow in Angel's direction, and he nodded in agreement, both at her assessment of the changes in Wesley's attitude, and silent agreement to offer his aide. "Now, back to the problems at hand. The biggest single problem is that things are getting kind of crowded here in Sunnydale "
Angel leaned back in his armchair; only half-listening as Willow explained the news about encroaching and increasing demonic sects arriving; after all, he had provided much of that information. Instead, he spared some sympathy for Aria, the young Slayer, hoping that they'd be able to prolong her life with more success than the previous Slayers. Angel shook his head as his thoughts wanted to rush down the well tread path to contemplating Buffy's mortality; he couldn't let himself get bogged down in the brooding tonight, He could sense one of those heartbeats in the house even stronger, every nerve screaming that it was Buffy. Angel desperately reached for his patience to keep from searching for the Slayer and concentrate on Willow's speech, but before he could refocus his attention on Willow, a slight movement caught Angel's eye.
A small girl, about three or four, was peering around the doorway leading to the hall. As Angel watched, she scuttled silently behind the chair Giles was sitting in, and then peered carefully around the edge at Xander. Oz glanced in her direction and she caught his gaze, shaking her dark curls and putting a small finger to her lips, her eyes pleading with the werewolf not to say anything. Angel was charmed as the adorable imp grinned at Oz, who immediately refocused his attention on Willow. Angel could tell the werewolf was fighting an amused smile, as she continued to sneak around behind the couch. The vampire could feel the barest of tingles in the living room, and wondered if she might be one of the new Slayer's young siblings.
The little girl peeped over the top of the couch at the back of Xander's head, apparently listening to him with rapt attention. Angel suddenly heard a soft footstep in the hallway, and a familiar scent drifted to him. Angel stiffened as he recognized Buffy's favorite perfume mixed with her own unique scent. 'It's time!' his mind screamed to him as Angel snapped to attention in his chair, muscles suddenly tense with anticipation. His movement drew the attention of everyone in the room, including the little girl hiding behind the couch, but Angel didn't notice. Everything in him was concentrating on his beloved's presence just beyond the door.
Erin was listening closely as Willow spoke, not to the redhead's words, but to the responses of the man on the couch. He was dark and had brown eyes, and she thought she might like him, but she wasn't sure who he was. She heard him chuckle in response to something Aunt Willow said, and frowned as she sank back down behind the couch. If he laughed, it probably wasn't Angel; her Mommy had told her that Angel rarely laughed because of the hurtful things in his past. Erin was on the verge of a serious pout when a sudden movement from the shadows near the courtyard caught her attention.
She peeked around the edge of the couch to see a tall, dark haired man sitting very straight in an armchair. He wasn't paying attention to Aunt Willow; he seemed to be focused on the door to the hallway, where Erin could sense her mother about to join the group. Erin smiled and crept closer to the mysterious stranger, ignoring the other people in the room that gradually became aware of her presence. Erin peered up at the man, almost convinced this was her goal by the way standing next to him made her skin prickle, but Erin needed to be sure. Her anticipation rose as Erin slowly and carefully laid her tiny hand atop one of his on the arm of the chair. Her heart started racing with the contact as his hand was cool to the touch, and her actions succeeded in drawing his gaze from the door to her. Erin eagerly looked into the dark eyes regarding her, and finally found what she was looking for.
A soft, light touch on his hand brought Angel back to the room, startled. He'd been concentrating too hard on the sense of Buffy's presence to register that the girl he'd previously been watching had approached him. Angel's gaze swiveled to her in confusion when a tiny shock of supernatural awareness traveled through him. He met curious brown eyes, wondering who and what this child was. Realization hit him as Angel saw something familiar in her features, and his shocked gasp confirmed his suspicions when his enhances senses could smell Buffy wrapped intrinsically through this tiny child. His mind and heart started reeling as he beheld someone that could only be Buffy's child.
'It's like watching a train wreck,' Willow thought to herself the instant she saw Erin creep from behind the couch towards Angel. She knew she should put a stop to this; Buffy had made it clear that she wanted to explain what had happened to her in the past before Angel met Erin, but the redhead's higher functions had shut down to watch the little tableau before her. Willow was dimly aware that her unfinished sentence had drawn everyone else's attention to her and, when they followed her gaze, to Angel and Erin. Willow just hoped Oz or Giles had the presence of mind to step in and stop what was happening.
And then, it was too late. Willow watched as Angel's head swung around to focus on the little girl before him. It was obvious the moment the vampire realized who Erin was; his eyes widened and filled with shock and hurt. Willow's heart went out to him, guessing what he must be thinking, but before she could move to start any damage control, Erin squealed, "It's You!" Delight was obvious in Erin's voice, and Willow stared in amazement, only to be startled out of her daze by a movement in her peripheral vision. "And here comes the other train," was Willow's fatalistic thought as she turned to see Buffy step into the room.
Angel was trying desperately to calm down in the face of his realization. He reminded himself over and over that Buffy had recently written to him of a secret she'd been keeping, and her continued love for him. So, his scrambled brain tried to rationalize, this little girl must be the secret she was worried about. Besides, the only other scent that clung to Erin was Giles', and Angel knew that the Watcher looked on Buffy as a daughter, not a lover. If he'd known that Buffy was pregnant, of course, he would have departed with her, so the Watcher had probably been helping her out with the little girl in addition to the Slaying. Angel had barely managed to reign in his racing mind, fears and the beginning of a raging jealousy when the next shock of the evening floored him.
"It's You!" The little girl before him was squealing in excitement, practically dancing before him as she tightly gripped his hand with her tiny ones. She turned her gaze across the room to Giles, and practically crowed, "Look Poppa! It's Momma's Angel!" Angel's shocked and dazed eyes met the Watcher's as her words registered in his brain. He was still trying to absorb the fact that Buffy's daughter knew him when she quickly climbed into his lap and threw her arms around his neck in a warm hug.
Angel's gaze went back to the little face smiling so close to his own, and his dead heart melted at her adoring smile, and turned over in his chest. When she planted an enthusiastic kiss on his cool cheek, and nestled her head into the little curve between his neck and his shoulder, and relaxed against him trustingly, just as Buffy always had. Without conscious thought his arms curled protectively around her in return, cradling her against him.
Conscious of eyes on him, Angel lifted his head, but his eyes focused not on Willow or Giles, but on the figure hovering behind them in the doorway. Everyone else in the room slowly turned to follow his gaze, to see Buffy standing just inside the room, her fingers twining together nervously before her. She managed a halfhearted smile and a weak little wave before shrugging helplessly and croaking out, "Surprise?"