***Part Seventeen***

Mid-August 1998

"Buffy," Joyce called up the stairs. "She might be in the shower. Why don't you come on back to the kitchen with me? I was making us some lunch, so she should be down in a few minutes. You can join us if you'd like to."

"That sounds great, Mrs. Summers, thanks," Willow said and followed Joyce to the kitchen.

"How are you doing, Willow? Are you ready for school to start?"

Willow knew it was pathetic that she brightened at the idea of going back to school, but she was excited. "I am," she said. "We're going to be seniors this year; I get to start applying to colleges and everything."

Willow could not miss the look of disappointment on Joyce Summers' face, and realized that chances were good that Buffy would not only not go to college but that she would be pretty well stuck in Sunnydale until the day she died. Eyes older from age but not necessarily life experience met eyes younger and the realization was shared between both women, though neither spoke it aloud. Joyce had been told about Buffy's being the Slayer while her daughter was gone. Giles decided it was best she knew the truth, the full truth, and why her remaining at home might endanger all of them.

"That's great. Do you have any idea where you'd like to go?"

"Well, my mom would like me to go to one of the Ivy League schools out east, but I don't know," Willow said with a shrug as Joyce set a tall glass of milk in front of her. Willow loved coming to Buffy's house, her mom actually paid attention to her. She could not remember the last time that her mom had poured a glass of milk for her or the last time that they had shared a meal together.

"I think that's great that you even have a chance at getting in those schools, Willow, but I know it's not my place to say anything."

"No, Mrs. Summers, you're fine, thanks. I'll apply to them and make my choices from acceptance letters. You never know, I might not get in."

"I doubt that will happen." Buffy said from the doorway. Willow turned to face her best friend and offered her a smile.

"You don't think so?" she asked.

"I know so," Buffy said as she settled Ryan into his bouncy seat. "Is his bottle ready, Mom?"

"Yes, it should be cooled by now."

"Thanks," Buffy said and walked to the stove where she took an already prepared bottle out of a saucepan. Willow watched as Buffy tested the formula's temperature by shaking some droplets onto the underside of her wrist, never growing tired of watching Buffy being so responsible. "We didn't have plans today, did we?" she asked Willow.

"No, I just came to see my godson."

"Well, as you can see," Buffy said as he removed Ryan from the bouncy chair, "he is doing just fine." Willow watched the subtle transformation in Buffy from friend and daughter to mother. It still astounded Willow though she had been witness to it now for over two months. It was hard to believe this was the same girl who went out nightly to slay vampires and kill demons. "I'm going to take him into the living room to feed him, want to come keep me company?"

"Sure. Thanks for the milk, Mrs. Summers," Willow said as she set the now empty glass on the island countertop.

"You're welcome, Willow. Lunch for us grownups should be ready in just a few minutes."

"Thanks, Mom," Buffy said. Willow took hold of the bottle so that Buffy did not have to and followed her into the living room. Looking at her as she walked most people would be hard pressed to believe she had just had a baby. Maybe it was one of the benefits of being the Slayer, but Willow thought Buffy looked better now than she had before she got pregnant.

"I picked up your schedule and everything while I was at school."

"Thanks, Will," Buffy said. Willow waited while Buffy sat on the couch and got Ryan positioned to take his bottle before giving it to her. "Thanks again," Buffy said offering her a smile.

"My pleasure. So, tell me, how are things with you?" She lowered her voice, though she doubted Joyce would really eavesdrop on their conversation. "Any word from You Know Who?"

"Things are fine, and no not a word though I don't know that I expect to hear from him anyway."

"What does your mom say?"

"What can she say?" Buffy shrugged, pushing back some of the baby fine hairs on Ryans' head while he chugged down his bottle. "She says what any mom in her position would say, that I need to get him to take responsibility."

"Does she know he's a," Willow paused. "Well, you know, grrr arrgh."

"No," Buffy said simply.

"And he hasn't come to see you? He hasn't called you? Nothing?"

"There were a dozen white roses in the hospital room when I woke up the morning after the day I had him. No card, no note, no nothing, but that's it."

"Do you think he's gone?"

Willow regretted asking the question when she saw the pained look on her best friend's face. But they were about to start school, Willow thought it was time Buffy dealt with the Angelus issue head on. She did not claim to understand the relationship Buffy and Angelus had developed, but Oz agreed with Willow that if Buffy was going to actually pull off graduating while being the Slayer and a single parent that she had to move on. It was clear Buffy still loved Angelus, but Willow, Giles, Xander and Oz were all afraid that her love for him would lead to her getting distracted and careless.

"I don't know, Will. I want to believe he's not gone, that he's just avoiding me to punish me or something. I don't know."

"Do you think he's" she paused. "Dead?"

"No!" Buffy said just as she took Ryan's bottle from him. She placed him over her shoulder and burped him; Willow hoped she was not so upset by the question as to hurt the baby. "He's not dead, Willow. I'd know, I'd feel it. I think his soul would let me know he was gone for good and not just avoiding me."

"You really believe that, don't you?"

"Yes," Buffy said matter of factly and Willow believed her. Willow believed it, too. She had been working with Jenny Calendar lately and had learned a lot during that time, not just about witchcraft and spell casting. She did not understand the bond that Buffy and Angel had or the bond that Buffy and Angelus currently shared, but the bond was there nonetheless. Soul or not, a part of Angelus recognized and needed Buffy just as Angel did. Willow would lay odds on that need for her was part of the reason Angelus had stayed away from Buffy since their son had been born.

Xander still had yet to see the baby. He had visited Buffy in the hospital, but he had not gone by the nursery to see Ryan. Willow did not press him, but she knew that it hurt Buffy to think that Xander would so totally hold something against not just her but her son.

Willow had been nervous about seeing Ryan the first time. Buffy had maintained that he was perfect, normal and healthy, but Willow was a little afraid that it was motherly pride and bias talking rather than fact. Giles and Willow had talked at length about the possible outcomes of Buffy's pregnancy. Ironically, the child turning out normal had not been something they planned for. Both were expecting something to go terribly wrong.

The only things different Willow noticed about Ryan were his eyes. His eyes were a bright green, reminding her of fresh grass and springtime. The irises were surrounded by a ring of yellow that appeared only when he got real upset. Whether this had something to do with his father being a vampire or it was just a fluke birth thing, Willow would never know and she would never ask Buffy about it.

"Do you want to hold him?" Buffy asked when he was fed and burped.

"Sure, you know I love to hold him." She took Ryan from Buffy, holding the baby carefully in her arms. She no longer needed to support his head as fanatically as when he was first born, but Willow was still nervous she would do something horribly wrong. "Have you gone back to the mansion you stayed at? Maybe he's still there."

"No, I haven't. I haven't even patrolled Restfield since I've been back on active Slayer duty."

"Maybe you should, Buffy. It's not good for you to not know."

"And what if I go there and find out he's gone?"

"Then at least you'll know, Buffy. I know you don't want it, I know you love him and I know you had hoped Ryan would change him somehow, but it didn't work. You're starting your senior year, Buffy. You're going to be taking college prep exams and everything else, you need a clear head."

"I know," Buffy said, chewing on her lower lip. "Like I'm going to college anyway," she muttered under her breath.

"Lunch is ready, girls," Joyce said from the kitchen.

"We'll be right in, Mom."

Ryan gave Willow an irresistible smile when she drew him away from her to give him back to his mom. "You're a little cutie, aren't you?" she cooed at him and stood to go have lunch with Buffy and her mom.

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