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Always and Forever

by Alicia

Rating: PG - angst
Spoilers: I don't think so, but then, I don't think come to think of it...hehehe
Summary: Buffy's dying and guess who she asks to see one last time...?
Disclaimer: Do I look like Joss Whedon to you???


Buffy closed her eyes as the pain echoed throughout the deteriorating body that held her Slayer soul. She hadn't done badly. For all of her thirty-seven years, she'd been the Slayer for over half of that time. Her duty, her calling had taken its toll on her body, though. The strength of a Slayer wasn't meant to be housed in a middle-aged vessel. Her Slayer self was taking over, but the injuries that she'd sustained throughout the years was more than enough to kill her several hundred times over.

Her life was complete, save for one thing. She still had her friends, Giles, Xander, Anya, Willow and Tara. She still had her family, her sister, Dawn and her daughter, Melissa. She had her duty, her life's work, slaying. She'd saved the world and her friends and family more often than she could count. But for the last eighteen years, love had eluded her.

Angel.

As she lay in her hospital bed, she remembered the smooth timbre of his voice, the gentle caress of his lips as they would brush hers in the mornings when he had to awaken her for school, the tender touch of his fingers as they brushed the hair out of her eyes...and the love in his eyes whenever he thought that she wasn't looking and even when he knew that she was looking.

Since Angel, she's dated some, she'd even contemplated marriage for a brief period a decade or so ago, just so that Melissa would have a father figure. But after a while, Buffy had realized that that had been all that she'd been after. She hadn't loved Danny, she hadn't even needed Danny, just what he'd stood for. He'd been a capable man and would have been a great father to Melissa, but that was not a good enough reason to marry him, Buffy'd soon realized.

"Mom?"

Buffy opened her eyes and found her daughter standing by her bedside. Melissa didn't know of Buffy's nightlife, nor of anything else that made up the darkness, she and the others had made sure of that. Melissa knew not to go out at night, though, and had readily accepted it, but had never understood the evils that lay outside after dark.

She smiled at her daughter as she picked up her hand and held it to her heart. "I love you, baby. I hope that you never forget that."

Melissa was crying. She didn't really understand what was happening. Her mother was dying, but there was no medical precedent for what was happening to Buffy Anne Summers, her body just seemed to have had enough. Of what, the doctors couldn't determine. Melissa kissed her mother's cheek. "Josh and I have decided to get married, Mom. I wish you could be there..." she whispered, choking on the tears that threatened to spill over at any given moment.

Buffy chuckled softly. "You're so much like me, baby. You love quickly, but deeply and forever. Josh is the one for you, I know it in my heart. I'm sorry that I won't be there to see my baby get married or have children of her own, but I'll be watching over you. Your aunts and uncles will be there as well. I do have my two cent advice, though."

Melissa waited for her mother to catch her breath and listened intently. Her mother had been a person of few words lately, but those words or wisdom would last Mel's lifetime.

"Whatever happens between you and Josh, don't make the same mistakes I did. Don't let him go, don't despair when it all seems hopeless. There's always hope when love is involved. There was someone a long time ago, someone I loved deeply, truly, and like you, forever. My one regret is that I let him go, then I let my own blinding pride come between us. If I knew then what I know now, I never would have left him that day..." Buffy gasped for breath. "I need you to find Uncle Xander and Aunt Anya. Tell them to get everyone together. I can feel myself going, baby, but I want to say goodbye first..."

Melissa nodded tearily and after one last look at her mother, she left the room in search of Xander and Anya Harris...

*~*~*

Buffy sighed in relief as Melissa shut the door behind her. She loved her daughter to pieces, but sometimes Mel's emotions were a burden on the Slayer. Buffy knew that her time was near, but it didn't help that Mel was such a wreck.

In eighteen years, things hadn't changed much. Xander and Anya were still together, as were Willow and Tara. Giles was in England researching a way to do something about Buffy's condition, but to no avail. The Watcher's Council had asked Giles back into their fold on Buffy's twenty-fifth birthday, realizing that there had to be a reason that Buffy was still alive, and Giles was the only thing, apart from her friends, that were still around with her.

Her family was another story. Dawn was still with her. Forever and always. They had found that Dawn, with all of her 'power' stayed with Buffy of her own accord. Buffy would protect Dawn until the day she died, then Dawn would revert to her previous form, energy, and her care would be turned over to the next generation of monks whom the Powers That Be saw fit to protect her.

Buffy shut out the pain that went pierced her heart at the thought. She'd only then realized what events her death would put in motion. Mel wouldn't just lose her mother, she would lose her aunt, also. She was only nineteen years old, a freshman at UC Sunnydale, just like her mother. Buffy remembered what it was like when her own mother had died, but Mel didn't have a sister, friends or a sacred duty to keep her going, only Josh, and Buffy knew from experience just how disastrous a situation that could turn out to be.

All of the former 'Scoobies' had lives and responsibilities of their own, work and children. She wouldn't add to their burden. There was only two choices: leave Mel to survive on her own, or call on the one being that she was more than reluctant to call on.

Angel.

He was the forever love that Buffy had told Mel about, the one freaky thing in her freaky world that had always made sense. Always and forever... She'd always dreamed of them having a child of their own, one that would be delivered from her womb and into Angel's arms, were he or she would be protected. Well, Buffy had a child and she needed protecting, at least for a while...

While she had the strength, Buffy pulled out a pen and a small notepad from the drawer next to the hospital bed and write down a phone number, adding an A with a small halo above it next to the number. The others would know what it meant. As Buffy's eyes drifted closed with exhaustion, she hoped with all of her heart and soul that Angel would help the woman that he hadn't spoken to in over fifteen years...

*~*~*

Melissa rapped on Xander and Anya's front door. She was greeted by a huge grin when her Uncle Xander opened the door. "Melissa! Hi, how's Buffy?"

Mel hadn't seen her mother's friends in almost six months. Buffy hadn't wanted anyone but Grandpa Giles to know what was going on, she hadn't wanted her friends to see her slowly waste away to nothing. No one had been suspicious. Buffy hadn't entertained in years and everyone had lives and families of their own, even Aunt Willow and Aunt Tara. They had their coven with Aunt Willow as the High Priestess. They'd invited Melissa, but even though she would have liked to join them, Mel had always been a little scared of the things that her aunts could do. Aunt Anya was a part of their coven, too, but she'd always been a little more vindictive than the others, at least, that was the way it seemed to Mel. She loved Anya to bits, but the woman had always been a little strange, as if she had her own little world with a different set of rules.

Melissa's answering smile was weak at best. "I need your help, Uncle Xander. Mom's sick."

Xander gave her a reassuring smile. "I don't know how much help I can be, but I'm sure that your mom will be fine in no time."

Mel was already shaking her head. "No, you don't understand. Mom's dying..."

*~*~*

Xander and Anya had immediately called Willow and Tara. All four of them now stood around Buffy's bed, realizing for the first time that the Buffster couldn't protect them all forever. It was Tara who first noticed the notepad by the hospital bed.

"Does this mean anything to you?" she asked as she handed the note to Willow.

A gentle smile graced the red-head's face as she traced the drawn halo with her index finger. "I shouldn't be surprised." Willow closed her eyes. She could feel the bond that still held them, even after all this time. She was only slightly surprised at the intensity of the bond. Buffy had been keeping secrets again. "All of this time and he's still waiting for her. I can feel her uncertainty back when she wrote this. She should have done this years ago..."

A scowl that hadn't appeared on Xander's face in almost fifteen years quickly formed, but he kept quiet. "If that's what she wants."

Willow's gaze fell to her slumbering friend. "It's what she's always wanted."

Both Anya and Tara were out of the loop for the first time in nearly nineteen years, but then, so was Mel.

"What are you talking about?" the teenager asked of her mother's friends.

Willow sighed. "There was someone, a long time ago, that your mother loved dearly - "

Mel cut in. "The way I love Josh?"

Willow nodded, then continued. "He had to leave, for reasons that we don't have the right to disclose, but suffice it to say that he's always been there, lurking in the very depths of her heart."

Buffy's daughter recalled her earlier conversation about love and put two and two together. "That's why she couldn't love Uncle Danny. Is that why she never had any children? Did she adopt me because she didn't want to have another man's child, but still wanted a child?"

Melissa had always been secure in her place with Buffy, but she knew that she'd been given to Buffy when she was a few years old. A few times Mel had asked Buffy about her real parents, but the blond had always become quiet and would withdraw or escape to her bedroom. Finally, Melissa had just shrugged it off and got on with her life. If Buffy didn't want her to know, then it probably wasn't worth knowing, or there was some other reason her mother had for not telling her. She knew that when the time was right, she'd find out what she needed to know...

Willow didn't really know what to say. "Sweetheart, all we know is what Buffy told us and that wasn't much. One day, shortly after Joyce had died, Buffy called us together. When she joined us, she was holding you. You were only three years old, but Buffy told us never to question that you were hers. We never did."

"Buffy didn't tell us what had happened, or why she had you. Obviously, there was a reason, but Buffy has her secrets and always will," Xander murmured.

"She'll take them to the grave..." Tara whispered to herself, almost inaudibly.

Anya just glared at them all. "God, you're all so depressing! I say we just go and ring Angel and tell him to get his butt back here." Something suddenly occurred to her. "It is Angel, isn't it?"

Xander rolled his eyes. "Yes, honey, it's Angel."

Mel giggled a little, despite the situation. "His name's Angel? It's cute, really..."

Anya chuckled. "As I recall, so was he...probably still is." Xander shushed his wife.

"What?" Anya glared at him.

Melissa ignored them and gently took the number from her Aunt Willow. "I have to do this..." the girl whispered to herself. She picked up the phone by the bed and slowly dialed the number, absently wondering exactly what she was going to say.

The other end was picked up after the third ring. "Angel Investigations. We help the hopeless. How may we help you?" came the tired, yet distinctly feminine voice.

"Uhh...umm, can I please speak to Angel?" she asked unsteadily.

"He's busy at the moment, can I be of any help?"

"Busy? Umm..." Melissa froze. She didn't know what to say or do. It was almost a relief when Willow gently pried the receiver from her fingers and took over.

"Hello? I need to speak to Angel. It's important," Willow directed.

"Do I - Willow? Is that you?"

"Cordelia??? You're still working for Angel? I thought that movie stardom paid better," the witch chuckled.

Cordelia sighed. "I still get those annoying visions, so I stick around the office when I don't have much to do. Who was I just speaking to?"

"That was Melissa, Buffy's daughter," she replied shortly. "Listen, I need you and the others to get back to Sunnydale. That goes double for Angel."

"What's the problem? Can't Buffy handle it?" Cordelia asked, her voice betraying her confusion. As much as she'd hated the whole Buffy/Angel saga, she still knew that Buffy could do her job, better than most."

Willow's voice was soft and oddly vulnerable when she replied. "Buffy is the problem, Cordelia, she's dying."

Willow heard Cordelia's soft, "Oh, God," just before the phone slammed down in her ear. She replaced the receiver and turned to her expectant friends. "They'll be here."

*~*~*

Angel drove furiously through the streets of Los Angeles. For once, Cordy didn't nag him about slowing down. She sat quietly in the back seat with her husband, Gunn, who just stared out of the tinted windows. It was the middle of the afternoon, so Angel had to top up on his convertible, the very same car he'd had since he'd moved to the city eighteen years ago.

Wesley was also with them. He'd left his wife, Virginia, at home to look after their thirteen year old twins. The vampire was aware of Wesley beside him, watching for emotions that were conspicuously absent from his features. Only the speedometer betrayed Angel's urgency to reach Sunnydale before it was too late...

*~*~*

The nurse didn't even try to stop the four people from entering Miss Summer's hospital room. There was an air of despair surrounding them and she knew that the young lady wouldn't last too much longer. Everyone involved was baffled by Miss Summer's condition, or more to the point, exactly what was wrong...

Angel didn't break down when he saw the tiny body of his beloved in the bed. All the way to Sunnydale he'd promised himself that he wouldn't embarrass himself like that, nor any of the others, but it was a near thing. He barely noticed the sympathetic looks, nor the exchanged greetings as he crossed to Buffy's side and absently stroked her smooth cheek. Buffy's head moved slightly. Even in sleep, she recognized his touch.

She'd aged some, but it did nothing to detract from her natural beauty. Her thin frame told of her illness, but she was still as stunning as ever to him. Angel leaned down and pressed his cool lips to her pale ones and whispered, "I'm here, Buffy."

Everyone left the room, save for Melissa. Strangely, though, she didn't question his youth. She touched Angel's shoulder, startling him out of his reverie. "Hi," she said, shyly. "I'm Melissa, Buffy's daughter."

To anyone watching, Angel would have appeared unimpressed, yet reassuring. Inside, though, he was reveling in her presence. He knew exactly who she was, he knew all about her. "I'm Angel."

She nodded. "I know, Aunt Willow told me about you. Well, a little bit."

"She should have called me before this," Angel murmured. "I would have come, she had to have known that..."

"I think she was afraid," Melissa confided. "She told me that staying away from you had been a mistake. Your love was precious to her, but she didn't know how to fix thing between you. I think that the years took some of her confidence."

Angel agreed. "She was so unsure of how others felt about her, especially me. That wasn't the only reason, but I know why she wants me here, especially now."

Mel gazed up at him. "None of us will get to say goodbye, you know. The doctor was in here just before you came in. She's in a coma. This is it according to them."

A lone tear escaped his eye. "I know. But I have my memories. My one regret is that I'll ever get to tell her how proud I am of her."

"Not how much you love her?"

Angel shook his head. "She knows how much I love her, I saw to that years ago. No, I'm proud of what she's done in my absence. She'd know what I mean. It was the biggest thing between us and despite our love, we found no way to compromise, but she did well." He paused, listening to something she couldn't hear. "Call the others in here."

Melissa was scared by the urgency in his voice, but immediately did as she was told. Within seconds, the others had filed into the small room.

Xander was the first to notice Angel's face. "What's wrong?"

"Her heart's slowing down..." he choked out. He reached over and held Buffy's hand to his heart. "I love you, baby..."

The heart monitor flatlined as Angel got out the last word. Everyone began to cry, including Xander, Wesley and Gunn. They'd all known, loved and respected Buffy Anne Summers and now she was gone.

"This world is going to be a worse place without you in it, Buffy," Wesley murmured, as if in prayer.

Angel gently placed Buffy's hand back on the bed and went to a sobbing Melissa. She went into his arms without hesitation and continued to cry.

*~*~*

Days later, Buffy was buried in one of Sunnydale's larger cemeteries. All were in attendance, including Giles who had been informed of Buffy's death. His presence in England was no longer needed. The funeral had been held at night in deference to Angel. Once again, Melissa didn't question this oddity, Buffy had once told her that when it came to their family unit, not to question strange things that happened.

Mel's pain was compounded by her Aunt Dawn's disappearance. Angel had told her that Dawn had somewhere else to be and that Buffy wouldn't have minded. Strangely enough, Mel believed him.

Afterward, only Angel returned with her to the home she'd shared with her mother, the very same home that Buffy had shared with Joyce all those years ago. Melissa went upstairs to her room and quickly changed. When she returned to the lounge, Angel was seated in the two seater and was reading her mother's diary.

"What are you doing?" she asked calmly.

Angel's face reflected his pain as he looked up from the diary. "Buffy and I made a pact years ago. We had our Last Will & Testaments written up a decade ago, but our private thoughts were recorded in diaries that we both kept. We agreed that only the other would read the words written on these pages. Our last entries were to be our own private wishes for the other."

He indicated for her to sit next to him. She did so. "Buffy wanted me to do something." Melissa looked at him questioningly. "She wanted me to be here for you when she couldn't be. Buffy knew that Dawn wouldn't be here, for reasons Giles will explain to you about when he gets himself back together."

Angel put down Buffy's diary and stared into the fire that was warming the house. "You always asked her about your real parents. This is going to be hard to understand, but Buffy was your real mother. Not just in spirit, but physically."

Melissa opened her mouth to argue. "That's not possible! Everyone said she just appeared with me one day. I'm sure they would have noticed had she ever been pregnant..."

Angel sighed. "There are things in this world that don't make sense, Melissa, and this is one of them. You weren't born of Buffy's body, but you carry her genetic make-up. Think of it as a surrogate mother, where Buffy was the egg donor, but not exactly." He waited for the inevitable question.

"Then who was my father?" she whispered.

"I am..."

Melissa closed her eyes. She finally had her answer.

*~*~*

My Dearest Angel,

I know that I've made our lives impossible, but I ask that you tell Melissa everything; how the Oracles called on us and gave us our miracle child, the precious result of our union on my seventeenth birthday.

I hope you can forgive me for making our relationship a disaster. I never meant to get myself in so deep that I could never go back to you without feeling a failure. I know how much you love our daughter, your letters over the years have told me that. The written words and photographs that I have continued to send you can never be enough to make up for what I've done.

I know that you expected me to call you a long time ago and say that I needed you, wanted you, to be a part of our family, but I'd never been able to work up the courage to do so. I know that I'm dying and once I'm gone, so will Dawn. Melissa has Josh, but their relationship is too new to withstand this, so I'm leaving Mel's care to you. I hope both she and you understand why I've done what I've done. Tell her that it was my decision to keep her apart from the darkness and that included you.

You would have and still can be a fantastic father, Angel, so I'm trusting you with our child's life. Don't for one second think that anything has changed between us over the years, we are yours and yours alone...

There was never an opportunity for us to be together in this life, but maybe in the next. I'll still be a Slayer, but we'll be better prepared. Well, I hope to see you again someday...you and Mel.

All my love, forever and always,
Buffy Anne Summers

The End

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