I originally posted this story in April-May under a different pseudonym during a time when my regular account was inaccessible. I always meant to go back and revise it a bit plus move it to my main account (after it finally began working again) but I kept putting that off. Until now. Here's part one of three.

TITLE: Damage Control 1/3
AUTHOR: Kelso
FEEDBACK: send to kelso28@excite.com
RATING: PG
SPOILERS: For "Angel": "I Will Remember You" and most of season three as late as "Sleep Tight"
for "Buffy": some of season six as late as "Normal Again"
SUMMARY: B/A. Set in S6. TPTB interfere after Holtz kidnaps Connor. Buffy ends up with the baby, and Angel gets over his crush on Cordelia.
DISTRIBUTION: anywhere
SITE: http://www.geocities.com/kelso28a/
DISCLAIMER: "Buffy" and "Angel" characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc.
NOTES: Response to the Dork Angel Challenge. The premise was, "TPTB get fed up with Angel's recent actions, his sniffing after Cordelia, straying off the path of redemption, no longer helping people out of the goodness of his heart, wanting to be paid. So they send a representative of TPTB to take Connor from him as a punishment until he proves himself." (Challenge elements are listed at the end of the story.)

Forget that "Hell's Bells" happened, so Anya and Xander are still together. The action picks up around a week after the events of "Normal Again" (for Buffy) and "Sleep Tight" (for Angel). At this point, Holtz has just taken Connor into the demon dimension, Cordelia is on vacation with Groo, and Buffy recently broke up with Spike.


*****


Damage Control

Ever since the unfortunate incident with a demon that had led to Buffy thinking she was in an insane asylum and had imagined her Sunnydale life, her friends hadn't let her patrol on her own. Buffy was about to scream. She just wanted to be alone for one night but it hadn't happened yet. Tonight, Xander was with her and he was driving her crazy. He kept glancing at her, opening his mouth, shutting it, and repeating the process until Buffy felt like shaking the words out of him. "Xander, what do you want to say? Out with it."

He looked relieved and launched into his speech. "This is kinda awkward but anyway, the other day Spike said something weird that hinted at a romantic involvement between you two. Which is really disturbing even if it's only in his head. Buffy, tell me it's not true. Please."

Buffy sighed. She'd known the truth would come out sooner or later, but she'd been hoping for later. "Well, Xander, what Spike said was essentially true. Our relationship was off--way off--for a long, long time. Then it was on for a while, and now it's off again but maybe heading back toward on."

Xander winced. "You say it so matter-of-factly, and it's so...so *ick*. What is wrong with you?"

"Look, ever since I came back, from *heaven*, might I remind you, it's been a really tough adjustment. I don't feel like I belong here and my life seems empty, like something major is missing. Being around Spike makes me feel less like that. It isn't right, but it's better than when he's not around."

"So what do you think is missing from your life? Tell me and I'll get it for you. Anything to save you from the horrors of a relationship with nobody's favorite platinum-haired bloodsucker."

"I don't know, Xander. I wish I did but I just don't."

*****

Meanwhile, over in Los Angeles...

Angel paced the streets, cursing Wolfram & Hart, Holtz, and the fates for taking away his child. He'd finally been happy, or as happy as he was ever going to get, and then it had ended just like that. Worst of all, Connor could be dead or injured, crying out for him, not understanding why his father wasn't there. Angel viciously kicked the nearest tree and was startled when he heard a cry of pain. It sounded like it had come from the tree, but that was highly unlikely. Angel looked around. There weren't any people within sight. So then he looked at the tree again. It was a small elm with a narrow trunk and delicate branches. Angel felt a little like an idiot but he went ahead and addressed the tree anyway. "Was that you just now?"

A gaping mouth appeared in the tree's bark. "You mean, did I yell in agony when you attacked me? Yes. You obviously think trees don't have feelings and can be abused whenever you please. How wrong you are. But I will forgive you considering the circumstances. I know what has been going on in your life. You see, I am a representative of The Powers That Be. We have recovered your son Connor from the demon dimension, and he is unharmed."

Angel looked around wildly. "Where is he? I need to see him!"

The tree held up a branch. "Not so fast. We have some serious matters to discuss. Angel, your behavior of late has developed into a subject of much concern. You have become mercenary, more concerned with procuring money than with fulfilling your mission. We are disappointed to see that redemption has apparently lost some of its value in your eyes. We are also troubled by your changing feelings toward your seer, Cordelia Chase. Whatever has gotten into you, we don't like it. Even seemingly throwaway comments on your part have carried a disturbing undertone. For instance, can you explain why you joked about having obtained box seats at the ballet by eating the ticket holders?"

"It seemed funny at the time?" Angel ventured in a very small voice.

"As I was saying, we feel you have lost sight of your purpose. Therefore, we have reached an important decision about your future. We are going to keep Connor away from you, for your own good as well as his."

"What?" Angel cried. "How is tearing a baby away from his father good for either of us?"

"You're still missing the point. How do you think you can fulfill your purpose if you constantly have to worry about the baby? The only way to ensure your child's life is to remove him from your keeping. We know more than you are allowed to see, Angel, and believe me when I say it is for the best."

"I'm his father. I'm all Connor has," Angel protested.

"Not quite. We plan to take him to his mother."

"His mother is dead. She staked herself when Connor was born."

"Darla the vampire gave birth to Connor, but she was not his biological mother," the elm intoned.

Angel shook his head. "I'm completely lost. I had sex with Darla, I saw her when she was pregnant, I was right next to her when she staked herself and left Connor in her dust. If she isn't his mother, who is, and how?"

The tree sighed. "If you don't know, we can't tell you. Yet. Rest assured the baby will be well cared for. Also, your separation will not be permanent. But *you* are the key to shortening its length. Consider my words carefully." With a great rustling of its branches, the tree settled back into being merely an elm tree.

Angel sank to the ground at the base of the tree. Who could possibly be Connor's real mother? He racked his brain, but he couldn't come up with one single possibility. Well, he finally concluded, pretty much anyone had to be an improvement over Darla. Besides, it wasn't like he had much of a choice. Slowly, he pushed himself to his feet and headed home. He had a lot to think about.

*****

On this particular afternoon in Sunnydale, all the gang except for Buffy and Spike had gathered at the Magic Box. Willow, Xander, and Tara sat around the table going over inventory lists, while Anya had taken Dawn under her wing. The teenager had asked for an after-school job at the Magic Box, and Anya was imparting her most valuable advice. "... and if you break anything, the retail cost comes out of your minimum-wage salary. Also, the customer is always right, except of course when he or she leaves without spending any money."

"Speaking of customers...." Tara nodded toward the counter, where a gnome-like man who was holding a baby fidgeted.

Anya moved quickly to collar him before he could decide to leave. "Yes, how can I help you best spend your money?"

"I'm looking for a Buffy Summers," the man said in a surprisingly deep voice. "I have a delivery for her. She wasn't at her house and I was told she spends a lot of time here."

"We don't know where she is right now, but if you leave whatever it is with us, we'll give it to her when we see her," Willow volunteered. "It shouldn't be too long."

"Unless Buffy is off having sex with Spike," Anya piped up brightly. "Then it could be a while."

Xander scowled at her. Most of the time he thought he loved her, but moments like this one made him wonder. "Anya, that was supposed to be a secret. Just between us, remember?"

Anya shrugged. "Everyone knows all about *our* sex life and it doesn't bother them. Why shouldn't they know about Buffy's, as well?"

"Because it's Buffy and *Spike*, and you just grossed everyone out?" Xander suggested.

The stranger cleared his throat. "It doesn't matter where she is, just that she isn't here. I *must* see her in person."

At that moment, with either really good or really bad timing depending on how one looked at it, Buffy came walking in and took a seat at the table next to Xander. "Hi, guys. Miss me?" Her inquisitive smile faded when she saw the strange looks on everyone's faces. "What's wrong?"

Before anyone could answer, the man at the counter walked over. "Buffy Summers?"

"Yeah, that's me. Who are you?"

"My name is unimportant. I have something for you." The man placed the baby in the center of the table, atop a pile of receipts. "This child is your son, and you are to take care of him."

Everyone at the table jumped to their feet and stared at the baby, who lay like a lump. Whatever they'd expected the newcomer to say, they'd all been way, way off. While their attention was otherwise engaged, the stranger began to edge toward the door.

Buffy was still in shock, but not so much that she didn't notice the evasive action. "Hold on just a minute there. You don't drop a bombshell like that and expect to run away like nothing happened. First of all, I don't have any children."

"Look, I am a representative of The Powers That Be. They assigned me to deliver the baby. Don't ask me for any details. I only work for them. I did my job, and now I'm leaving."

"How do we know you're not an evil demon trying to trick us?" Xander demanded.

"You'll have to take my word for it." With that, the man disappeared into thin air.

Buffy shook her head in amazement. "And the weirdness of my life keeps on building."

Dawn edged nearer to the table and pointed out, "No matter who his mother is, if he's really a harmless baby we ought to take care of him. I mean, he *looks* harmless. And he *looks* human. You think that man could have been telling the truth?"

The gang stood around the table in a semicircle, staring down at the baby. The baby stared back with wide eyes. Then his mouth dropped open and he emitted a series of piercing howls, scarcely pausing for breath between each one.

Xander clapped his hands over his ears. "This is no time to be politically correct. Can anyone shut that kid up?"

Buffy warily eyed the baby. "I don't know if I should touch it. Is anyone else game?"

"Don't look at me," Dawn replied. "*You're* his mother, supposedly."

Buffy glanced at Willow and Tara, who avoided her gaze. "Cowards. All right. I'll do it." She gingerly reached down and gathered up the screaming baby, handling him in much the same manner as one would a delicate explosive. Gradually, the baby's cries tapered off, until he lay in complete silence in Buffy's arms.

Willow looked on in awe. "Either you're a miracle worker, or he recognizes you."

"Let me try something," Tara requested. She gently touched the baby's hand and concentrated for nearly a minute. Finally, she let go and looked at Buffy. "Well, I'm pretty sure he's yours. His energy flow is really similar to Dawn's."

Buffy cautiously shifted the baby a little closer. "Do you mean he was created out of part of me in the same way she was?"

"Probably not the same way, and not out of just you," Tara clarified. "I sensed another influence in him that must be his father's."

"Can you tell who he is?"

Tara shook her head. "No. If a potential father was here with us I think I could either confirm his identity or rule him out. But otherwise I can't tell."

"Thanks anyway," Buffy said. "But again I ask, how could I have had a baby and forgotten about it? Of course, considering that memories of Dawn were implanted in all of us, the concept isn't as far-fetched as it might sound."

Everyone seemed to silently agree that Buffy raised a valid point. They all regarded the baby again.

"So, how old do you think he is?" Dawn asked.

Tara considered. "I'd say about four or five months."

At that moment, the baby, who had been lying quietly, let out a distressed whimper. "Something's wrong," Buffy fretted. "What's wrong with him?"

"Well, he might need to be changed, or he's hungry or tired or scared or bored or he just wants to make noise," Tara speculated.

"Pick one of the above," Buffy ordered.

"Hungry?" Willow guessed.

Xander scanned the area. "Unless I'm very much mistaken, your new friend didn't leave baby food."

Buffy sighed. "Isn't it just like them, to dump a baby on the doorstep and not provide any supplies at all? Now I have to go shopping. For lots of stuff. With money I don't have because of my crappy fast-food job that barely covers the bills we've already piled up."

Anya nodded. "Babies are extremely expensive. Even with the new tax laws in place, the average annual cost of caring for a child of under two years of age is --"

"Anya, you are not helping matters," Xander pointed out.

"We'll pool our money," Willow interjected. "And my mom probably has some old baby clothes we could use."

"Sounds good to me," Buffy said with relief. "Can you go and see about picking up the clothes now? Tara, Xander, you two get the money and go shopping? Dawn and Anya can help me take care of... whatever his name is. You'd think that man could have at least told us the baby's name."

"You could call him Bill, after the dollar," Anya suggested. "It's a fine, noble name." She wrinkled her brow, then amended, "Either Bill or Cash."

"Thanks, but no thanks," Buffy said quickly. "I have a few names in mind already." She desperately tried to think of some to avoid having to use one of Anya's suggestions. "Like maybe... Ryan or Evan or Michael?"

"I like my ideas better," Anya complained, but quietly. Maybe Xander's lectures about being polite were finally sinking in.

At any rate, Willow, Tara and Xander departed to run their errands, leaving Anya, Dawn, Buffy and the still unnamed baby in the store.

Now that some of the excitement had died down, Dawn's mind promptly returned to the other hot topic of the day. "So, Buffy, Anya was saying something earlier about you and Spike that got lost in the commotion. Is it true that you two are, ya know, together? 'Cause if it is, that's terrific. He'd make a great boyfriend for you."

"I'm going to kill Xander," Buffy said through gritted teeth.

*****

While Buffy was more confused than she'd been for a while, Angel was just plain depressed. He lay in his room, sprawled across his bed, thinking. After his surreal conversation with the animated elm tree, he'd decided to take stock of his life. What did he have? An unrequited crush. A missing son. A life-consuming mission. A vague promise that he would become human again one day.

All in all, not much. His life sucked.

The more he thought about his disastrous existence, the deeper Angel fell into a brood. He lay, wallowing in misery and guilt, luxuriating in the thick feeling of depression that coated him like a wet blanket of snow.

Eventually, after about an hour, Angel emerged from his brood. He couldn't believe how cathartic it had been. He still didn't feel good, but his state of mind had definitely improved. He thought back to the last time he had brooded and was shocked that he couldn't remember when that had been. He'd been too busy lately acting cheerful and light-hearted, and look where that behavior had gotten him--betrayed by one of his few friends, ignored by his love interest, hounded by demons, separated from his son.

No, some things just weren't meant to be, and a jolly Angel was one of them. Right then and there, Angel vowed to set aside an hour every day to be dedicated solely to brooding.

He smiled; he felt better already.

TPTB, however, did not.

Watching Angel from afar, one observer complained, "No. Don't you dare go back to brooding. We're tired of watching you make a fool of yourself, but the brooding got on our nerves too. Don't you understand the concept of a happy medium?"

His companion shrugged philosophically. "Look on the bright side: at least he's practically forgotten that Cordelia Chase exists."

The other Power replied darkly, "That's because she's still away with her boyfriend. The true test of Angel's feelings will come when she returns. And that will be very soon indeed."

*****

Following a night shift at Doublemeat Palace, Buffy returned home to find Anya watching the baby (whom Buffy had named Evan, much to Anya's disappointment). Since Dawn had to go to school the next day, Buffy had insisted she not stay up late to babysit. Hence, Anya's presence. Evan lay in his playpen next to the couch, wide awake and seemingly content to listen to the sounds issuing from the television his babysitter was intently watching.

Buffy removed her name tag and tossed it on the table. "Hi, Anya. Everything go okay tonight? Is Dawn in bed?"

"Yes and yes," the former demon replied without removing her gaze from the television screen. "Just let me finish watching this program and then I'll leave."

"No rush." Buffy glanced at the screen, where psychic John Edward was trying to convince an audience member that a woman whose first or last name began with the letter S or L was a relative communicating from beyond the grave.

"Do you realize he gets paid to do this?" Anya demanded. "I could do this! I would definitely be better at it, too."

While Anya continued to criticize the psychic's technique, Buffy went to close the front curtains. Outside in the yard, she spotted the telltale light of a cigarette glowing. Spike was lurking again after a short absence. He hadn't been around in the last several days and didn't know about Evan's existence. Well, Buffy decided, it was as good a time as any to fill him in. "Anya, I'll be right back," she called as she opened the front door and stepped outside.

Spike didn't move forward to meet her. He was probably still sulking over their breakup, which Buffy had been reconsidering. She hadn't said it was definitely permanent, after all, and she did kind of miss Spike. A lot depended on how he reacted to the baby. Since the vampire wasn't coming to her, Buffy crossed the yard to speak to him. "Spike, I'm glad you're here. Come with me. I have something to show you."

"I'll look at it right here," Spike offered, grabbing for Buffy's shirt.

She slapped his hands away. "Not *that* kind of something." Ignoring Spike's disappointed expression, Buffy led him inside the house to the living room and pointed to the playpen. "Look!"

Spike stared. Rubbed his eyes. Stared again, then shook his head. "A *baby*!" he exclaimed. "Is this some kind of joke? You're babysitting, right?"

"Sorry, Spike. I'm not sure exactly how, but the baby's mine."

"I don't suppose you'd consider giving it away?" Spike asked hopefully.

Buffy squelched her slight feeling of disappointment. Realistically, she hadn't expected Spike to take to the idea. And it wasn't like she had much time for him anymore, what with her job and Dawn and the baby now. "Sorry, Evan's here to stay. I never thought I'd live long enough to have children, you know."

"If this isn't just the bleeding end," Spike muttered. "Sorry, Slayer, you're making things way too complicated. If you don't mind, I'm thinking it's time we should make our split final once and for all. No hard feelings?"

"No hard feelings," Buffy agreed. "But we can still be friends. Enemies. Whatever. Evan will want to spend lots of time with his Uncle Spike, you know."

Spike shook his head. "Forget it. No way am I babysitting for you, ever."

"Shoot," said Buffy. "Oh, all right. But forget the Uncle Spike part then."

"Gladly," said Spike. "Gladly."

They stood looking uncomfortably at one another until finally Buffy broke down. "I'm going to prove I'm a big person and offer you a cup of blood anyway. Do you want it?"

"A free meal? Of course. But put it in a plain mug this time, not one with those poofy flowers on it."

Buffy rolled her eyes and retreated to the kitchen. Spike looked at the TV set, where one of his least favorite programs was playing. Bored, he glanced at the playpen. An evil thought wormed its way into his mind and refused to go away. Spike resisted it for a fraction of a second before he gave in, formed his vamp face, and flashed it at the baby. To his utter shock, the child giggled and reached toward him.

"Spike, he *likes* you," Buffy declared in an awestruck tone as she returned from the kitchen.

It was hard to tell which of them was more surprised, but Spike was clearly more dismayed. Defeated, he sank onto the sofa beside Anya and clutched his head in his hands. "It's official. I am now the most pathetic vampire on the face of the earth. I can't even scare babies anymore."

Anya patted his back. "Angel is more pathetic than you."

Spike mournfully shook his head. "Not after this."

Of course, since Angel had apparently forgotten Buffy's existence and never called, none of them knew what was happening to him over in Los Angeles right then.

*****

One afternoon about two weeks after Connor's disappearance, Cordelia strolled into the hotel. "Hey, guys, I'm home!" No one came rushing to greet her. Cordelia frowned and raised her voice. "It's me--Cordelia--your portal to The Powers That Be--your source of weird visions. I'm back!"

Slowly, Fred shuffled down the stairs with a hangdog expression on her face. "Oh, Cordelia, hi." She made a vain attempt to smile.

Cordelia glanced around. "So where is everyone?"

"Well, a lot happened while you were gone. Wesley ran away with Connor to try to keep him safe, only his plan backfired. Connor was kidnapped and Wesley ended up in the hospital with a slit throat and Holtz took Connor into a demon dimension right in front of Angel's eyes."

"Wow. How is Angel holding up?"

"Pretty badly. He almost fell completely apart the night Connor was taken away. Then he said an elm tree talked to him, and after that he started to brood a lot."

Cordelia stomped her foot. "No! It took me two years to break him of that habit. I thought he was fixed. I got him to be all cheerful and smiley. He was even doing baby talk and making funny faces."

"Um, yeah." Fred looked around. "Hey, where's Groo?"

"He went running off to play champion to some oppressed Mexicans. But that's okay. It wasn't exactly working out between us anyway. The less said about that, the better. So, you say Angel's having a hard time?"

"Maybe you could help him," Fred suggested. "He does have that huge crush on you, but he was noble and let you leave with Groo so you'd be happy. Since Groo isn't around anymore...."

"Angel? Crush? On me?" A smile slowly spread across Cordelia's face. She'd been attracted to Angel since her high-school days. Of course, back then he'd only had eyes for Buffy. Cordelia hadn't seen any reason why she shouldn't try to save him from a relationship with the other girl, and she had shamelessly flirted with Angel until it hit her that he really was not interested.

She'd been over her crush on Angel for years, but they *had* formed a strong friendship since moving to Los Angeles. The strange thing was, she wasn't sure when it had turned to love on Angel's part. No, Cordelia, who prided herself on spotting the telltale signs of infatuation and shooting them down in flames, had totally missed them in the vampire. Now that she knew how he felt, though, her interest in him revived with a fury. He was the one who had gotten away. She was sure he could use a lot of comforting now that poor Connor was gone, and she was exactly the woman to provide it.