DISCLAIMER: I don't own it; just borrowing.
A/N: This chapter is unbeta'ed(?). I did the best I could. Hopefully it isn't an epic fail. Please do not take without my permission. Onward, ho!
Catch My Fall… If I Should Stumble:
While Connor and Murphy processed all that they had heard, neither noticed when the living room cleared of everyone but Buffy and Faith. Nor did they catch the way Rowan's inquisitive gaze settled onto Buffy, the cogs in her little head spinning fast as she tried to understand what was going on around her. Before too long though, recognition brightened Rowan's face and she started leaning towards Buffy, all the while crying out, "Ma! Ma, ma, ma, ma!"
Buffy was completely startled when Rowan cried out for her. She hadn't thought Rowan would know who she was, considering how young she'd been when Buffy had died.
So for her baby girl to recognize her, it meant that Murphy had kept her memory alive… and that made her feel something other than the numbness she'd lived with since digging herself out of her own grave.
And despite what her friends might have thought, Buffy did want to feel like herself again, it was just harder than they realized to forget the pure perfection that was Heaven, and being dragged from it unwillingly.
However, if there was anything that could make her want to truly live again, Rowan and Murphy would probably be it. She just didn't know if or how to make things right with Murphy, so that they might be able to get reacquainted again.
When he felt Rowan leaning forward in his grasp, Murphy was immediately pulled from his thoughts as he instinctively tightened his hold on his daughter so she wouldn't fall; but when she started calling out for Buffy, he felt a twist in his heart.
Intellectually, he knew that he shouldn't be angry at Buffy for not contacting him after all these months. She'd suffered a major trauma, and she clearly hadn't been thinking rationally.
Emotionally though, Murphy was hurt. Did he and Rowan mean nothing to her? He'd thought that they had had a deeper connection than that. Perhaps he was wrong?
He chanced a look at Buffy as he tried to keep a grip on Rowan. She looked shocked…and hopeful? He wondered at that. Was she shocked that Rowan recognized who she was? Or was she shocked that Rowan might already be babbling actual words? He had so many questions, but he wasn't sure he could handle the actual answers at the moment. Especially the answer of exactly where Buffy had been when she'd died- because he was pretty sure he knew- and if his hunch was correct, then he wouldn't be able to hold back the things he wanted to say to her friends.
As he watched the play of emotions on her face, he decided to at least try and understand the reasoning behind Buffy's decision not contact him after her resurrection.
Biting the proverbial bullet, he offered her a white flag. "Do ye want ta hold her?"
Buffy's gaze moved from Rowan to Murphy when he spoke to her; uncertainty warred with sudden longing at the thought of holding her daughter again, and that uncertainty made her seem meek and timid. Which was so far from who she truly was. "Uh, yeah, I would, if that's alright with you?"
"O' course it is! And it appears as if she wants ta be near her ma anyway, so if I were ta try and deny her, she would be voicing her displeasure, loudly," Murphy said wryly. "She takes after my side of the family when it comes ta her temper."
"Does she?" Buffy asked.
"Aye. Most of the time she's even-tempered, but when she really wants something and it's denied ta her, she becomes very vocal at expressin' her unhappiness," Murphy said as he handed Rowan over to Buffy.
Carefully cradling Rowan in her arms, she said, "Dawn was the exact same way when she was little. My dad used to say that she was as destructive as a tsunami, and after a particularly intense tantrum, I took to calling her 'Tsunami Dawn'. It's kinda ironic how similar their temperaments are."
"If you say so."
Both Murphy and Buffy were surprised at how quickly Rowan latched onto Buffy, her little hands fisting into her blouse as she started to coo happily. Buffy could feel the telltale sting of tears threatening to spill at this precious moment and yet she couldn't bring herself to care. It had been too long since she'd held her daughter and it just felt so good. The ache in Buffy's heart- her constant companion since her resurrection- eased up considerably.
She had been so depressed and numb to her own emotions after clawing her way out of her own grave and realizing that she had been torn from Heaven by her best friends, that in order to function, she'd had to turn off all other emotions or else she would have tried finding the quickest and easiest way to off herself, just so she could return to the peace, love and warmth that she'd known in Heaven.
Those days and weeks following her resurrection had been so hard, with everyone hoping/expecting things to go back to the way they were before her sacrifice. So isolating herself had seemed like the best solution to the problem.
Unfortunately, Faith had known that something wasn't right, and she had refused to allow Buffy too much time alone to brood. So Faith and Wesley had kept her busy with patrolling and training to help keep her dark thoughts at bay. And for that, Buffy was grateful. It had given her something to focus on through those dark days.
Buffy knew she should have contacted Murphy much sooner; but she didn't. Not wanting to open that can of worms before she was ready. Looking back on it, yes, it was unfair to Murphy and Rowan. She wasn't denying the selfishness of it, but hey, she wasn't a saint after all. The only thing she'd wanted was to return to Heaven.
However, she was here now; she was determined to try and make it up to Rowan and Murphy, now that he knew of her return to the land of the living. No more dwelling on the 'should haves' any longer, because it was futile and self-defeating in the process. They were reunited (even if it had been an ambush) and she intended to be an active participant in her own life once more.
For Murphy, seeing Buffy interact with their daughter was heartening. It seemed as though she wouldn't have to miss anymore of Rowan's life, God willing. He wanted Buffy to have an active role in Rowan's upbringing, even if he and Connor had to relocate to Sunnydale in order for that to happen. And just maybe, he and Buffy could resume their 'relationship' in the near future. God knew that he was still in love with her; and he was pretty certain that she was his 'be-all and end-all'. He only hoped she might come to feel the same way for him someday. Only time would tell. After all, he had some explanations of his own to discuss with Buffy.
He wondered how Buffy would respond to his former life as one of the 'Saints of South Boston.'" But the most important piece of information was his newfound status as an Immortal. This time around, he was not looking forward to confession. For now though, he wanted to bask in being reunited with Buffy.
Faith watched Buffy interact with Murphy and Rowan with a fair amount of smugness. She had been right in reuniting them and not telling them. Sure, it had started out kinda iffy, but now it looked as though things might turn out for the good. And Faith hoped for the best for her blonde-haired counterpart. After everything Buffy had been through, she deserved a little bit of happiness.
Faith then directed her stare at Connor, trying to get his attention. She wanted to give the little family a bit of privacy so that they could get reacquainted with each other. And for that to happen, she and Connor had to leave the room. When a minute or more passed and Connor had yet to catch on, Faith tried thinking of what she had on her that she could chuck at him, so that he would get a clue.
Connor was thinking about everything that had gone on recently and how that would affect the life he and Murphy had built for themselves in Paris when he was pulled out of his musings by a heavy stare burning a hole in the side of his head.
Looking up, he saw Faith staring at him in annoyance. When their eyes met, she jerked her thumb in the direction in which they had initially come in. But Connor got the message. It was time to give Murphy and Buffy some privacy.
Quietly standing, Connor followed Faith out of the living room. He continued to follow her lead, as he had no idea where everyone else was, and he didn't want to be rude and wander around Buffy's home without permission. When he and Faith entered the kitchen, he noticed that there were two more additions to the group. He remembered meeting them before in New York. If he recalled correctly, the tall brunette male was Xander and the blonde woman was Xander's girlfriend Anya.
Xander and Anya looked up when Faith entered the kitchen with Connor MacManus in tow. Willow had been bringing them up to speed on what had gone on so far in 'Casa de Summers'. He was kinda hurt that Willow had excluded him from the plans that she, Wesley and Faith had concocted to bring Buffy and Murphy together again; but when Willow explained that she'd been sworn to secrecy by Wesley and Faith, he decided to get over it.
The way he figured it, Faith would happily have put the hurt on Willow for spilling the beans to anyone. She was not a big fan of theirs since she'd found out about Buffy's secret. In fact, it was safe to say that the dark-haired Slayer could barely stand to be in the same room as them anymore.
Though if you asked him, she hardly had any room to talk, when one considered all the crap she'd also put Buffy through once upon a time. But no one ever mentioned that. Since Buffy had forgiven her, it was all water under the bridge. So why should she be made to remember her own past misdeeds?
That Willow had been convinced that Buffy was suffering in some hell dimension had been all the convincing Xander had needed to agree to be a part of Willow's spell. Even though he had had some misgivings the closer the ritual deadline approached. But Willow had shot down his worries, downplaying his concerns. He believed he had behaved like a good and loyal friend would. So why was being condemned for an honest mistake? It just wasn't fair.
It wasn't as if he had the magical know-how to find out all the facts that the ritual entailed, was it? Or that Buffy had been at peace. He didn't think anyone could have known that.
Wesley and Adam were discussing the rooming situation while Willow explained what had gone on so far to Xander and Anya. "So, I think that given the circumstances, maybe Murphy, Rowan and Connor can stay here at Buffy's house; I'm sure Xander wouldn't object to putting Willow up for a few days at his apartment; and there is a spare bedroom at mine and Faith's place where you could crash. What do you think of this idea?"
"Well, I'd have to talk to the brothers, but that sounds good to me," Adam said, "I think that Murphy will be quite amenable to that suggestion, and Connor will go along with it just to keep Murphy happy."
"Alright, then. Why don't you go speak with Connor about it, while I discuss it with Faith and the others?"
Neither Buffy nor Murphy realized when Faith and Connor left the room, because they were too wrapped up in each other. It was strange how comforting and comfortable it felt being together again. It was like they hadn't been apart for close to two years now.
Maybe it was because of how comfortable he was feeling with Buffy, that he couldn't seem to stop what tumbled out of his mouth, "Why, Buffy? Why did ye not call me when ye came back? Ye must have known that I would have dropped everything ta come ta ye the minute ye called. Are Rowan and I not important enough ta ye?"
Feeling even guiltier than before, Buffy tried to think of how she wanted to say what she needed to say. In her mind, there was no adequate way to express to Murphy the ordeal she'd experienced or excuse her lack of communication. She wasn't sure she had the words.
Murphy waited patiently for Buffy to respond to his questions. He knew she would when she was ready to, and he was rewarded for that patience soon after.
"I wanted to, Murphy, but I wasn't in a very good place after my return. I just couldn't understand why I was back again. I was finished. I had done my duty to the world; I was tired. And as cruel and as selfish as it may sound to you and to Rowan, I knew you both would be okay without me. It would be hard at first, but I honestly believed that. What we had was so beautiful, but it was so brief; so I didn't think my sacrifice would have any long-term effect on your futures," Buffy explained.
"I would've come for ye if only ye'd called and asked me ta. Surely ye must know that? Even more, I would've come ta take care of ye while ye were pregnant, if only I had known. But ye never called and I never knew… and truth be told, Buffy, that just hurts," Murphy said, "I thought ye'd know that I'd never abandon my child, nor ye. That wasn't how me Ma raised Connor or I."
"I know, and I am so sorry! Deep down, I always knew that, but there was so much going on, that the time never seemed right to get in contact with you. Again, I am so sorry, Murphy," Buffy cried, "And just like I know that saying 'I'm sorry' isn't good enough, nor does it fix things, but it's all I have to give you. If I could take it back, I would, in a heartbeat... I would have contacted you the day after I was resurrected instead of waiting. But hindsight is only 20/20 and I totally dropped the ball on this whole situation."
She really did seem sorry, so Murphy let that subject lie for now. He was about to ask her the one question he'd been wanting answered since being told of her ordeal.
"I need ta ask ye a question, Buffy, but I want an honest answer from ye. Do ye think ye can do that for me?"
Buffy felt her guard go up instantly, "That depends on what you ask me."
"I need ta hear this. It's very important, so again I ask: will ye answer me truthfully, Buffy?"
Staring into Murphy's beautiful blue eyes, Buffy saw a myriad of emotions and promises hidden there, waiting to be fulfilled. She knew that if she had any hopes of building a future with him, she would have to be truthful with him, "I will."
"Were ye in Heaven when yer friends brought ye back to earth?"
As Murphy waited for her answer, he saw the pain and bewilderment at the mention of Heaven on Buffy's face and he knew that it was true, even before she said so in words. "Yes, I was. And my friends tore me out of there, and I have been dealing with the consequences and turmoil of it ever since."
He was torn. A part of Murphy ached in sympathy for Buffy and what she'd gone through. And he felt a righteous anger towards her friends on her behalf. But there was another part of him that was happy. As horrible as it sounded, a part of him was happy that it had happened, because he had her back now. And he had hopes of building a life with her and their daughter, whether it was in Sunnydale, or somewhere else, he just wanted a chance to try.
It was selfish, he knew, but what the hell? He was just a man, after all, "Oh Buffy, I'm so sorry for everything ye've had ta endure." And that was all the prompting he needed to gather her into his arms and hold her.
In the kitchen, a different scene was unfolding. Wesley was beginning to truly understand Giles so much better. He wondered at how Giles had managed to put up with Willow and Xander for as long as he had. Granted, that Wesley was probably a little bit more biased when it came to Buffy's best friends, especially after the 'Rite of Osiris', but still.
When he and Adam had brought up the suggestion of having Willow temporarily stay with Xander; while Murphy, Connor and Rowan stayed at the Summers' home for the duration of their stay in Sunnydale, both had protested vociferously.
In fact, they were still being argumentative and frustrating about it. As if they honestly had a say in what would happen. Wesley was at his wit's end! "Alright! I know that you don't like this idea, but as this house belongs to neither of you, I don't think you get a say in how the accommodations are going to work."
Turning to the younger Summers, Wesley chose to get her opinion of the arrangements. "Now, Dawn, as this house belongs to both you and your sister, the final decision lies with you and Buffy. So, I'm asking you: Does this arrangement sound fair to you?"
With a look at Xander and Willow's faces, Dawn made up her mind. With an apologetic look, she made her decision, "Look guys, I understand why you feel the way you do, but I think that this arrangement is for the best. Buffy needs to reconnect with her daughter and Murphy. And wherever Murphy is, Connor goes. And the only place we have room for them is Mom's old bedroom. I know you don't think it's fair, but this is how it's gotta be. Please understand that this is for Buffy's benefit, as well as Rowan's. Buffy needs her daughter and Rowan needs her mother."
When it looked like Xander was going to protest, Dawn interrupted, "No, Xander, this is it. This is the plan. Murphy, Rowan and Connor are staying here with us, and Willow can stay with you for a few days. Besides, it isn't as if you don't have a spare bedroom at your apartment. And it's not like this is a permanent arrangement, anyway."
"Fine, whatever you say," they grumbled. With that, Xander followed Willow up to her room to help her pack a bag of stuff for a few days.
Dawn understood the frustration and fear that Willow was likely feeling, but the decision she had come to boiled down to one thing: Buffy and Rowan were her blood family. Murphy would, in all likelihood become her brother-in-law sooner or later. Connor was also likely to become a part of her family as well, and right now it was crucial that they have some time to bond as a family; which meant that they needed to be staying under the same roof for that to happen. It was simple logic, really.
More importantly, Dawn had figured out what Willow had been talking about when she and Wesley explained everything concerning Dawn's origins: Murphy and Connor were her biological fathers, and Buffy was her biological mother; along with Faith, she suspected.
And man! She was definitely the winner for 'Freak of the Millennia' award, wasn't she? But she was slowly learning to deal with the freakishness of her existence… not that she had much choice in the matter. She could throw a tantrum over the unfairness of it all, but that wouldn't do her much good. Or she could suck it up and deal. And in her more recent bid to try and be seen as a mature young woman, she had chosen the latter option.
Hank Summers was looking around his empty office, making sure he had the last of his stuff packed away. It felt strange to be leaving his job, but he reminded himself that he was heading for something much better: the opportunity to be a part of his daughters' everyday lives again. He had missed so much in the last three or so years, and he just wanted to make up for it.
He was going to be spending tonight in a hotel here in LA- since he'd already sold his condo- before heading to Sunnydale early the next morning. He also needed to find the perfect present for his princess, since it was her birthday tomorrow.
Even though he knew she already was, to the rest of the world his princess was going to legally be twenty-one years old. Twenty-one! It made Hank feel old just thinking about it. His firstborn- his little Russian princess- was of legal drinking age.
There was one other thought that made him feel really, really old: knowing he was a grandfather at forty-one really shook him up. He had no idea how to bring up the subject of his grandchild with Buffy. In the time they had spent together so far, she had yet to mention the subject and he didn't know how to broach it in such a way that it wouldn't make her defensive or alienate her.
Maybe he should try and pry the information out of Dawn? But that wasn't right either. He couldn't do that to his youngest. It wasn't fair to her.
Well damn. He just wouldn't think about it for now. When he was fully immersed in their lives, and Buffy trusted him more, he could bring it up. Until then, he would leave it alone. He had time on his side.
For now, however, he was going to leave and get Buffy's birthday gift; then he was going to head back to his hotel to have a shower and get dinner in the hotel's restaurant.
Several hours later…
Hank had finished having a solitary dinner, when he decided to have a drink in the hotel bar before heading back up to his room for the night.
He was sitting at the bar, nursing a whiskey on the rocks, when he noticed a gorgeous brunette walk up to him. Smiling at him with blindingly white teeth, she asked, "Hi, is anyone sitting here?"
Clearing his throat, he replied, "Uh no, it's available." And then he turned back to the bar, not wanting to seem like a dirty old man by staring at her. When the bartender asked her what she wanted, she grinned and said, "I'll have what he's having."
"Wow, this place seems kind of… dead," the young woman commented.
Hank was a bit confused at the young lady's attempt at conversation with him. Why would a beautiful young thing such as her want to chat with an old man such as himself? It seemed odd. But, not wanting to appear rude, he turned towards her, so that he could respond properly, "Well, it was a bit busier earlier, but I imagine it's so quiet now because most of the other patrons have either gone for dinner, or have retired to their hotel rooms for the evening."
"Oh, well that makes sense. I'm Alessandra, by the way. And you are?"
"I'm Hank. Nice to meet you, Alessandra," he said, holding out his hand to shake.
"Nice to meet you, Hank," she said as she shook his hand. "So, is the restaurant any good here? I haven't had dinner yet, and this is my first stay in this hotel. But I don't feel like eating dinner in my room, because that feels too depressing."
"That's true, but eating alone can be just as depressing as ordering room service, if not more. As I just experienced firsthand, so it's a toss-up really."
"I suppose you're right. Though, the thought of going to one of those crowded, "supposed to be hip" places that my friends and I often frequent all by myself would seem even more pathetic somehow, especially when if the paparazzi caught wind of it. Such is the life I lead. I grow weary of constantly being ogled and objectified by the majority of the men I come across."
"I can't say that I understand where you are coming from with that one, but I suppose it can be a bit tiring if it happens constantly."
"But, I shouldn't complain. My job takes me to places most others can only dream of, and I get paid quite well in the process. It seems kind of petty to complain about my career and the success and recognition it affords me, when there are so many others who are doing something they hate or are unhappy doing just to pay the bills and put food on the table."
"Well, that is a very mature outlook to have. Not many young people today have that kind of outlook on life or their careers. They are still in the selfish, party stage of their lives, where the world revolves solely around them."
"So, Hank, I know that this is going to sound pushy and maybe even brazen, but I really don't want to eat alone… so would you care to join me for dinner, Hank?"
"Well, I have already eaten… but I suppose I could escort you to dinner, just to keep you company. Besides, I'm not quite ready to call it a night. So yes, Miss Alessandra, I will happily accompany you to dinner."
Over dinner, Hank found out that Alessandra was twenty-two and a model. She was from Spain, and had been modeling since she was seventeen years old. She normally lived in Manhattan, but she was here on a photo shoot for a popular lingerie company. She had just gotten finished with the photo shoot for the day and had come to the bar to unwind before having dinner.
Hank had talked about Buffy and Dawn to her, and she gave him a few other suggestions for birthday gifts for Buffy- from a woman's perspective- which he appreciated. Hank was surprised to find that in spite of the age difference, they had more than a few interests in common.
He was also aware of the envious stares that he was receiving from quite a few of the men in the restaurant, but he ignored them. Though, he was surprised at how candid he was in telling this young woman some of the difficulties and obstacles he had faced in reconnecting with his daughters.
"I never wanted to get to the point where I lost all contact with my children or ex-wife, but circumstances made it impossible to keep in touch. Because of that, I missed out on so much of their lives, and I will never be able to get it back. And my ex-wife will never know how sorry I was that circumstances got so wildly out of hand. She died never knowing how much I loved, and still love her," Hank confessed sadly, "I just wish… I wish that I could share in every part of my daughters' lives- the good and the bad. I want them to know that I mean it when I say that I am in it for the long haul."
Looking down at her watch, Alessandra exclaimed, "Oh no, look at the time! I am so sorry, Hank! But I am going to have to call it a night. I still have another day on the photo shoot, and I need to be up by five in the morning."
"That's alright, I didn't realize it was so late either; I have a few errands I need to do accomplish before I permanently relocate to Sunnydale tomorrow. So, it's good that one of us realized the time before too late."
"I truly enjoyed myself tonight, Hank. It isn't often I meet a man who treats me as a woman, rather than as a prize or a trophy of some kind. I have one more small favor to ask, before we part company: would you mind walking me to my room?"
"Not at all," Hank replied as he stood up from the table, "Shall we?" After paying for her meal, Alessandra stood up as well. When Hank offered his arm in a gesture of gallantry that wasn't often seen in this day and age, Alessandra accepted, charmed. As they made their way to the elevator, they continued to chat in an affable manner.
At the door of her hotel room, Alessandra bid Hank a goodnight, giving him a friendly kiss on the cheek before entering her room.
As Hank returned to his own room, he remained blissfully unaware of the events that would soon occur.