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Angel wasn’t entirely certain how he’d wound up in this situation.
He’d been living quietly back in Ireland, enjoying being human, and working on establishing a reputation as a portrait artist. Then Willow had shown up in a flash of white light and said it was time to come home. He hadn’t really understood. He had had no contact with any of former Sunnydale residents since he and Spike had seen Andrew in Rome. The Council had made it clear that he was unwelcome and after their unwillingness to help Fred he hadn’t wanted much to do with them either. But he hadn’t been able to withstand Willow’s resolve face as a vampire and he wasn’t any better at it as a human.
So he’d let her whisk him off to the Council. To the life he’d left behind five years ago when he and Spike had Shanshued after the fall of the Senior Partners. Turned out he couldn’t sign away his chance at humanity after all. He’d been more surprised than anyone. Spike had headed for the Council as soon as he’d regained his strength. Angel had retreated to the island of his birth to grieve for everything he’d lost and had gradually started living again. The only one he kept in touch with was Connor and even that still had its moments of awkwardness.
The last thing he’d expected when Willow had tracked him down was a formal apology from Giles and Buffy for what had happened in L.A. and their lack of help. He hadn’t expected to be tackled by a pregnant Faith and hugged so hard he feared for his ribs or clapped on the shoulder by a smiling Xander. He also hadn’t expected to wind up in a private movie theatre at the New Council’s London headquarters about to watch…what was it they were about to watch? He didn’t think anyone had actually said. But back to his current situation.
Faith was curled up next to him with a big bowl of popcorn in her diminishing lap snarling at anyone who tried to snag any of it. Xander had half-jokingly remarked that being pregnant made his girlfriend cranky and was now gingerly holding an ice pack on his boy bits as he reminded her in a slightly broken voice that if she actually managed to remove them she’d lose her favourite toys. Faith had responded that right now she didn’t really care. That was what dildos were for and dildos were actually better because they vibrated and no matter how skilled Xander was in the sack he’d never be able to replicate that. It was the kind of conversation Angel had never wanted to hear and actually felt a little more scarred by the exchange than by anything Angelus had done on one of his worst days.
Dawn and Buffy were arguing rather loudly in another part of the room about Spike, or rather about Dawn sleeping with Spike. Angel blinked at that, but then realized that Spike and Dawn kind of made sense. She’d always seen the man in the demon, according to things Spike had let slip in a rare late night conversation they’d had just before everything had gone to hell. And after Rome, Angel knew Spike wasn’t carrying a torch for big sis anymore. They’d both cut their losses on that trip. Dawn was of legal age and Spike would treat her like a queen.
Dawn’s eyes finally narrowed and she murmured something in a low voice that only Buffy heard and Angel was glad that look wasn’t aimed at him, because Dawn’s pissed off look was scarier than anything Buffy had ever come up with. Whatever she said, though, made Buffy pale and mutely shake her head, and that was apparently the end of the argument.
Giles stood off to the side pinching the bridge of his nose as Andrew rattled on about something Angel had no hope in hell of translating and from the looks of it, neither did Giles.
Spike came in with a scowl and threw himself down to sprawl on the floor as he muttered about there being no alcohol in the place, not even in the places he knew Rupert hid some very fine Glenmorangie. He got a glare from Giles about that before Andrew regained his attention. Spike’s scowl softened as he looked at Dawn and Angel wasn’t sure who the luckier one in that relationship was. Spike’s scowl slammed back into place when a few of the slayers he’d seen in Sunnydale piled on top of him before settling around him on the floor. The redhead- Vi, he thought her name was- gave him a friendly smile which Angel hesitantly returned.
Angel still didn’t know why he was there. This wasn’t his world anymore. He didn’t belong here. He didn’t think he ever had.
His reverie was broken when Willow plopped down next to him and curled into his side. He automatically lifted his arm to drape over her shoulders and she made a happy little noise as she made herself more comfortable by putting her head on his chest and wrapping her arm around his stomach.
She looked up at him and said softly, “It’s a little much after all this time, huh?”
Angel nodded. “This isn’t my world anymore.”
Willow pursed her lips as she studied him. “I’m sorry,” she said after a long moment.
“For not coming to see you sooner. For not being there when you really needed me. For letting you think for too long that we didn’t care about you. You’re a part of us, Angel, and you always will be.”
Angel blinked at her. He wasn’t sure what to say to that, but he tried. “I can’t be a part of the fight anymore, Willow. I won’t be. I lost too much the last time.”
She nodded in understanding. “I get it, Angel. I really do. No one here is asking you to take up arms again. You’ve earned your peace and we all respect that. But that doesn’t mean we don’t miss you or don’t want to see you.” She tightened the arm she had around his stomach and shook him a little. “You’re family and we want you to know that you will always have a place here.”
Angel swallowed against the suspicious burning sensation in his eyes. Family. He’d never done well with family. He’d had his human family and he’d destroyed them when he became Angelus. He’d had his vampire family and that had splintered when he’d regained his soul. He’d started forming the ties in Sunnydale, but it hadn’t worked. He was too out of practice and felt too undeserving. He’d come close to a real family again in L.A. with Cordelia, Wes, Gunn, Fred, and Lorne, but had lost them all in spectacular fashion. He didn’t deserve to be a part of this family.
“I don’t understand,” he finally said.
Willow gave him a sad smile then leaned up and placed a gentle kiss at the corner of his mouth. “I know,” she said as she settled back down. “But you will.”
Before Angel could say anything Giles clapped his hands for attention and everyone quieted down. Angel pulled his gaze away from the mystery sitting next to him and looked around the room again. It had gotten even fuller. Oz was there along with a loose skinned demon Angel vaguely recalled, but he couldn’t remember the name of. His lip curled when he recognized Riley who was standing with a woman and another man, both of whom carried the same military bearing as Riley and there were a few others that Angel didn’t recognize. He startled when he saw Connor and Lorne taking seats on the floor near Spike and Dawn. Connor grinned and waved at him and he returned the greeting happily. Angel gave Lorne a tentative smile and was relieved when it was returned. Maybe he could mend that bridge.
“Thank you all for coming,” Giles said as he took his place at the head of the room and Andrew came back into the room with a large tray bearing glasses full of rich amber liquid. He quietly started passing the glasses out then found a seat when he was done.
“Oi! Where were you hidin’ it? I looked all over this bloody place,” Spike demanded as he took a deep whiff of the liquor.
Giles glared at him, but Angel could see the affection in the gaze. “I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve,” the head of the Council said drily. The assembled crowd snickered as Spike grumbled, but everyone settled down again soon enough.
“We are gathered here together this evening to celebrate our lives and the lives of those who have gone before us,” Giles continued somberly. “It was brought to my attention that too long a time had passed since we paused to take note of our accomplishments and that this date was fast approaching. On May 20, 2003 we permanently closed the Hellmouth in Sunnydale and defeated the First Evil. One year later, in Los Angeles, the Wolf, the Ram, and the Hart were driven from this dimension for good. Over the ensuing years we have lost touch with some of the core members of this group, this family,” Angel barely controlled his flinch as Giles met his eyes when he said that, “While new members have joined us. Tonight marks the first time I can remember that we are all together.”
Giles lifted his glass and everyone followed suit. “To those we have lost, May they never be forgotten, and to those we have found, May you always know that you are welcome and wanted. To Family,” he said as he tossed back his scotch.
“To family,” the crowd echoed the toast as they too drank to friends past and present.
Angel murmured the toast and took a sip of his scotch. He let it sit on his tongue and enjoyed the burn as it slid smoothly down his throat. He could understand why Spike had been hunting for it. This was some of the good stuff.
He still wasn’t sure he belonged here, but as he looked down at Willow and met her happy green gaze, he decided to stick around for a while and see if she could change his mind.
“Family?” he asked.
“Always,” she replied with a smile.