***Part Twenty-Three***

July 4, 2000

Angelus knocked on the front door to his mate's home and waited for an answer. He had gotten into town early that morning, too close to sunrise for him to do anything but seek shelter in the mansion until the pesky sun disappeared for yet another evening.

He had not been in Sunnydale for seven months now. Their son, his son, was going to be two in just a matter of days. Buffy and her helpers had defeated the creature the government agency responsible for taking Spike, and others, out of the demon game had created. From what Buffy had told him, Spike was the only one who had managed to actually escape the government's clutches. He had been free to return to Sunnydale for a few weeks now but had taken his time, not wanting to appear too anxious.

He held the wrapped box that was his son's birthday present under his arm, growing impatient. The sales girl had thought he was an adoring father the other night when he spent over an hour looking before picking out the atrociously expensive truck. When he went from shopping for Ryan to shopping for Buffy was when he realized he had stayed away too long and that he missed not just his son but his mate.

Finally, the door opened and Buffy stood there, obviously surprised to see him. "May I come in?"

"What are you doing here?"

"You said the last time we talked that it was safe."

"I'm about to go out," she said.

"Out?" he queried. It was too early for patrolling. She looked nice and smelled even better. "As in a date out?"

"It's not a date."

"But it's with a guy?"

"Well, no," she said, chewing on her lower lip.

"What's going on, Buff?"

"You didn't come back, so I assumed you weren't going to. We're going to the fireworks with Xander, Anya, Willow and Oz," she shrugged. "Giles and Miss Calendar might come, too. So, I asked someone if he wanted to come with."

"Because I took a few weeks to get here?"

"Well, yeah, LA is only a couple hours away from here. And that's by bus."

"So you made a date?"

"It's not a date!"

"Uh huh," he said. "Fine, then I can join you."

"I don't think that would be a good idea."

"Why not if this isn't a date?"

"Because he's sort of one of the government guys?"

"He's what?" he roared.

"He's here by himself, Angelus, stuck here until the Army or the government or whoever closes the file on The Initiative and everything that happened here."

"So you've invited this guy who was a part of the group that made you decide I needed to leave Sunnydale to go to the fireworks with you? But it's not a date?"

"Right," she said.

"And you're bringing my son with?"

"Yes, it's sort of his birthday celebration, like we did last year. Remember?"

"Yes," he growled. "I do remember, I was there for it last year. And the year before that when he was still inside of you. Do you remember?"

"You should have called, told me you were coming back."

"Did I say I wasn't?"

"No, but you didn't say you were either."

Angelus sniffed the air and looked over Buffy's shoulder to the man who approached them carrying his son. This must be the non-date she was talking about, Angelus had to remind himself that this man was in on disabling Spike. Angelus did not want to be left without a choice as to whether he could harm people, he liked knowing he could and just chose not to.

"Hey," the approaching guy said as he reached the doorway. He was tall with dark hair and eyes, and while he was not a perfect likeness to him there were enough similarities that it did not escape Angelus' notice that she had chosen a guy similar to him in appearance.

"I'm Angelus," he said, offering the other man his hand. He did not want to shake his hand, but it was either that or wring his neck here and now for looking at his mate in that way and pawing their son like he had a right to.

"I'm Riley Finn," the guy replied, taking Angelus' offered hand. He had a firm handshake, Angelus had to admit that he thought the way a man shook hands reflected a lot about his personality. This guy was strong and confident. "Are you here for Buffy?"

"You might say that, yes. I came for my son's birthday." Understanding crossed the guy's face just as Ryan started struggling in Finn's arms.

"Your son? You're Ryan's father?"

"Daddy," he squealed answering Finn's question.

"He just got into town, Riley," Buffy added as she took Ryan from Riley while Angelus glared at her. He knew this man was a danger to him personally, so he worked at keeping control but he did not like seeing another man so cozy with his son.

"Is he coming with us?"

"I wouldn't miss it," Angelus said.

"If I'm intruding," Riley interjected.

Angelus sneered as Ryan struggled in Buffy's arms, opening and closing his fist as he gestured toward Angelus behind him. He imagined it helped that Buffy had traveled up to LA at least once a month and sometimes twice a month before she realized just what it was she was up against. Ryan would not stop until he had been held by Angelus for a few minutes.

"Not at all, Riley, you can come, too. It'll be fun, and Ryan loves to have as many people around him as he can get."

"Just give him to me, Buff, you know he won't stop until I hold him," Angelus said dryly. "Here," he said, handing the package to Riley, "make yourself useful."

Buffy handed Ryan to him and he heard a murmured, "rude much," as she did. "It's good to see you too," he said warningly. He was not going to take well to her pushing this, whatever it was. "Don't I even get a kiss?" he asked, placing an arm around her waist and tugging her toward him.

"Angelus," she hissed at him.

"I thought he wasn't a date?"

"He's not."

"Then why are you acting like it is and my being here is an inconvenience?"

"Because you didn't tell me you were coming. You can't just walk in here after weeks of my not hearing from you and expect me to be pining away for you."

"I'll just bring this inside," Riley said and went back inside with the package Angelus had given him.

"You do that," Angelus grumbled.

"You're being rude."

"He's making moves on my mate and you think I'm rude?"

She took Ryan from him and Angelus hated the feeling of loss that washed through him. "He is not making moves on me."

"No man is going to walk around carrying a woman's child that's not his if he's not after something."

"Riley's not like that," Buffy said as she set Ryan down.

Angelus watched Ryan as he ran the length of the porch and then back again. "He's a man, he's breathing, and he knows what you are, right?"

"Yes," Buffy said and Angelus shook his head in amazement.

"When are you going to start understanding the effect you have on men, Buff?"

"What effect is that?"

"They all fall in love with you and want them for themselves."

"Not all."

"Those that know who and what you are."

"Oz doesn't."

"That's because he has Willow. Be reasonable."

"Ryan, stay up here, sweetie," Buffy called out. "I don't think I'm the unreasonable one, Angelus. Why did you come here?"

"I figured you'd be doing the fireworks for Ryan's birthday like you did last year."

"So you thought you'd show up and then what, disappear again?"

"I'm not going anywhere. You're the one who told me to leave, remember?"

"I do remember, but I also recall telling you in May that you could come back."

"And here I am."

"Six weeks later!"

"Have you had sex with GI Joe?"

"No," she exclaimed too quickly for her to have had time to really react and lie.

"Buffy," he said, grabbing her by the upper arms and tugging her toward him. "I came back, I didn't have to, I didn't want to at first. That's what took me so long. I thought that I could just keep seeing you and Ryan once a month and be okay with that. But I can't. Soul or not, damn it, I want you, I love you. There's a piece of him and the soul in here," he said, taking one hand off her arm and placing it over his heart. "I feel him and it. I look at Ryan and my heart, as dead as it might be, bursts with pride that we did that. For the longest time I thought it was my ego, but it's not, I'm proud of something I've done. I've never felt that before."

"So you came back for Ryan because you want to play the part of the proud daddy?" she asked just as Ryan grabbed onto Angelus' leg and smiled up at him.

"I can only play the part so well, Buffy. I will not be perfect, I don't have a soul to act as my moral compass or a chip or whatever device is in Spike's head to keep me in check. I can offer you this, Angelus as he is. Can you accept that?"

"I've never wanted anyone but you."

{Me, too.}

As much as he hated to admit it, Angelus agreed with both of them on this one. "Me, too," Angelus echoed Soul Boy's thoughts. "Now about those fireworks, does he really have to come with?"

"I want to go, Daddy."

"Not you, Ryan, your mommy's friend."

"I invited him along, Angelus, I can't renig."

"But you're going to make it clear it's a friendly invitation, nothing more, right?"

"And how do you suggest I make it clear enough to please you?"

"You could start by kissing me and we'll go from there."

"In front of Ryan?"

"He will need to know how he got to be here some day, might as well get his feet wet with the most innocent part."

"There's nothing innocent about you, Angelus."

"You got that right, Lover." He placed his hands at her hips and drew her to him, claiming her lips with his. Her arms went around his shoulders as he drew her closer against him. It had been a long time since they had kissed like this, like true lovers back when they're relationship was new and pure, back when he had the soul. She responded to him so passionately and Angelus found himself giving in to it, letting it surround him, and wanting more of it.

"It's getting late, Buffy, if we want to see any fireworks," Riley said. Angelus' game face fell into place but neither of them broke the kiss so it went unnoticed by the other man. "Come on, Ryan, let's go see if your Grandma has some ice cream or something."

"But I want to see fireworks," Ryan whined.

"Yeah, me, too," Riley said as Ryan followed him indoors where Riley wisely closed the door, leaving Angelus and Buffy alone on the porch in the dark where Angelus believed they belonged.

~The End~

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