From Beneath You, It Slouches---Toward Bethlehem

This fic contains MAJOR spoilers for the entire current season, up to "Selfless" on Buffy and "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" on Angel. You have been warned :-)

Timeline note: We're strictly in canon, just after "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" on Angel here, meaning Cordy's just come back all amnesia'd and is living with Connor with no clue about anything. The Buffy gang remains in their holding pattern following "Selfless"---no big bads yet, and nothing much happening to them except a lot of talk. A nice time for an interlude, I think :-)

**

From Beneath You, it Slouches---Toward Bethlehem

"I'm telling you, Buffy, it's a BAD idea!" Rupert Giles exclaimed, pounding his fist on the table for emphasis.

"Why? I thought Halloween was, like, night of the dead for the undead. They all stay home. You told me yourself, Giles---several times, and over several years, as I recall."

"As do I. And I also recall that on every one of those occasions, a demon, vampire or minor deity of the hellgod pantheon appeared uninvited to wreak havoc with our lives. Halloween is a dangerous time to be on the hellmouth, Buffy."

"So it's good that we won't be staying here for it?" she suggested.

Giles sighed. "Buffy, I timed my visit to Sunnydale precisely to coincide with Halloween for a reason. As your watcher, I need to be around you right now, and YOU need to be on the hellmouth. You can't simply go with the more logical explanation that all will be well, grounded in centuries of precedent, history, mythology and the tacit cooperation of the forces of darkness, just because it suits your travel plans."

"Well, it's not like this is a trip for fun or anything," said Buffy. "Angel needs us."

"Really? What for?"

Buffy frowned. "Come to think of it, he was a little on the vague side--- just said he had a small problem he needed my help with, and that the high school gang---Willow, Xander and you---had to come with me."

"And?"

"And we have to do it, Giles. I may have made my peace with him, but he's hardly warm and fuzzy about the whole Sunnydale experience. He wouldn't have asked unless it was important."

That was that. They made plans to leave in the morning, Giles complaining the whole time about the bad feeling he had about this.

**

They were in Los Angeles by mid-afternoon.

"A road trip!" Xander had crowed. "Yay!"

"I'm glad at least one of us is excited about it," muttered Giles.

"Don't mind him," said Buffy firmly to her friend. "He's just a little grumpy on account of the h-word."

"Hot dog?" guessed Xander, remembering their hurried pit stop.

"Worse."

"Hellmouth?" suggested Willow.

"Keep trying."

"Halloween," grumbled Giles. "Something bad ALWAYS happens to us on bloody Halloween."

They pulled up in front of the Hyperion, Angel's base of business. A lumbering, rifle-armed silhouette could vaguely be seen skulking in the bushes.

"Looks secure enough," offered Willow hopefully.

Buffy shuddered. "Guns are never helpful."

They climbed out of the car, and the gun-toter was instantly upon them. "Name, rank and serial number!"

"Buffy Summers. The vampire slayer," she added, hands fisting threateningly at her sides.

The gun lowered. "Sorry about that. And not so loud about the s-word, okay? The walls have ears.well, not literally. But you know."

Buffy frowned. "No, I don't, actually. This IS still Angel's hotel, isn't it? Not like my slayer status is exactly a big secret with him."

"Ain't him I'm worried about. Look, we'll explain inside. I'm Gunn, by the way."

"Uh huh. This is Giles, and Xander, and."

He nodded to Willow. "Her I met."

"Last summer," Willow affirmed. "When I.you know."

"Ah."

"Inside," said Gunn again. They followed him in.

**

The lobby was festooned with pumpkins, streamers and a gaudy array of Halloween decorations and random baskets of candy, which a tiny brunette was enthusiastically munching away on as she put the finishing touches on things with a can of silly string and a glitter gun. She went straight for Willow.

"Hi! Welcome! Great to see you again," she said. "I'm Fred---remember? Fred?"

"Oh," said Willow. "Right! Great to see you out and about this time." In a quieter voice, she explained to Buffy, "Last time I saw her, she was hiding under a table---and possibly a little insane."

Fred next turned to Buffy. "And you must be Buffy. I've read ALL about you in the files. It's great to finally meet you in person---and not dead this time!"

"Right," said Buffy. "Always a bonus." She frowned. "I have a file?"

Fred squinted at the men. "I don't know you, though."

Introductions were hastily made. Fred chomped excitedly on a bag of candy corn, and offered some to her guests. "This is so great---a good old- fashioned Halloween party is just what we need to get ourselves back in the swing of things, isn't it?"

"A party?" said Giles. "THAT'S the big emergency?"

"Well," offered Xander. "Maybe they don't mean party, per se. Maybe the party's, like, a cover story or something for some big supernatural plot."

"Darn," said Fred. "What gave it away?"

"You mean I'm RIGHT?"

Fred hesitated. "I should probably let Angel---ah, there he is. Angel!"

Angel strolled in from the office, rubbing his eyes as if he had been reading. "Hey, Fred. No luck yet on the.oh." He stopped when he saw Buffy and the gang. "Good. You're here."

"Uh huh. Here and confused. Angel, what's going on here? What do you need us for?"

"Well, it's not me that needs you per se," he admitted. "It's Cordelia. She.well, she needs your help. There's been a little situation, we have some evil lawyers after us, you know how it goes, but basically, she's had a tiny incident of amnesia that's wiped out, just as for example, the last three years of her life."

"WHAT?" squeaked Buffy.

"It happens," shrugged Fred, munching casually on a gummi treat shaped like a gargoyle. "Especially when you shift back to this reality after existing for several months on a higher plane of existence.""

Giles looked at Buffy, then back at Fred, and took off his glasses, brow furrowing tiredly. "I am very much afraid I'm missing something."

"It's a whole Powers-That-Be thing," said Angel. "They gave her visions, they made her part-demon, then they took her away. Now, she's back---and we don't know how or why or what's going on, and we can't protect her."

"Why not?" said Buffy

"She doesn't remember anything."

"So? That's somehow affecting your ability to fight and kick?"

"Plus she isn't here."

"Ah. The plot thickens. Why isn't she here?"

"She's afraid of us," Angel said. "She's afraid of us, and the only way we could even get her to agree to come here tonight was under the ruse of this Halloween party. We're hoping, maybe if she sees you all again---you know, familiar faces from the past---she'll remember, and this whole unfortunate mess will go away."

"But she agreed to come," said Xander. "Doesn't sound like she's afraid, it sounds like she's angry. What did you do?"

"Xander!" Buffy frowned.

"There's a bit of a situation," Angel said. "Being that she doesn't remember anything about."

"You said that. But Xander's right, she does sound more angry than scared. So what happened?"

Angel squirmed uncomfortably and looked to Fred for support. "You aren't understanding," he said again. "She doesn't just not remember who SHE is. She also doesn't remember who---or what---WE are."

"Ah. Hence the mum's the word on the whole I'm a vampire slayer thing?"

"Shhhh!" hissed Fred. "Look, we've told her some---we had to after the whole demon baby slime thing, but we're really trying to ease her back into the rest of it. If Connor hears you."

"Connor," repeated Buffy blankly.

"He lurks," Fred explained. "We know he does because Angel spies on him, and if he hears you."

Willow leaned over and whispered in Buffy's ear again. "I don't remember a Connor."

Angel looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Funny thing, about that."

**

Giles paced a deserted hotel room, running through the particulars to Buffy in a strident whine.

"I told you," he complained to her. "I told you something would happen, didn't I?"

"I don't know," said Buffy. "I'm not sure stuff that happened BEFORE Halloween really counts. Sounds less like it arose just for us and more like we just kind of wandered into the middle of it."

" I should never have let you leave the hellmouth," he said.

"Right. Cause the hellmouth totally doesn't have a tendency to make things go ick on us. Giles, this is small potatoes, really, it is. Just relax and enjoy the party."

"Right," he grouched. "A party that Angel is hosting for his homicidal illegitimate quasi-vampire son and a Cordelia who has evil lawyers after her who could turn up at any moment. Have fun, Giles."

"Now, come on."

"When I was a child, I LOVED Halloween," he told her. "There was that year my sister and I both went as mummies---her the mother kind, in Mum's old Sunday dress and pearls, and me as the Egyptian sort---wrapped up in rolls of toilet paper and pratting about like an idiot. Never would have thought back then that my sort of mummy is just as real as hers---and that it's just as likely as not to crash this cursed party!"

She gave him her fiercest slayer glare. "Stop pacing! Number one, I still love Halloween, and so do Xander and Willow and everyone. So don't go ruining what could be a fun night with your incessant grouching. Number two, I don't get out that much these days---so I am actually looking forward to this little shindig, pathetic and weird as it might be, so don't go ruining what could be a fun night with your incessant grouching. Number three, Cordelia is our friend---well, she was---sort of---and she needs us. So do us all a favour, think positive, and don't ruin it with your incessant grouching. We clear?"

He sighed. "Very well. Shall we?"

**

They went back downstairs to find they had company---a sullen and dirty- faced teenager who was slouching on a sofa while Angel lectured him.

"I really appreciate you bringing her here," Angel was saying. "It means a lot to me that you."

"I'm not doing it for you," the boy said. Cordelia was sitting nervously next to him, and he gave her a brief smile and squeezed her hand.

"Right," said Angel. "Of course you're not. But anyway, I."

"It might help her," the boy said. "That's good."

"I.yes, Connor, it is, but anyway, what I was trying to say is."

Giles tugged on Buffy's sleeve. "That's Connor? But I thought he was."

"I know," Buffy whispered. "But he grew up in a hell dimension, Giles. Time moves differently there."

"Time moves differently in any dimension," he told her. "Which is why we have no way of telling just how long Cordelia was."

Fred poked him sharply and shook her head. "Ixnay on the imension-day," she hissed. Cordelia had let go of Connor's hand and was glancing at them with frank suspicion.

"Oh, for goodness' sake," snapped Giles. "If we can't talk about that, what CAN we talk about?"

In the blink of an eye, the tiny Fred had grabbed him by the arm and hauled him bodily into the privacy of the office. "How dare you!" she fumed.

"Excuse me?"

"How dare you challenge us like that! We can't talk about stuff around her, do you understand that? She isn't ready."

"Pardon me," he said stiffly. "But if Angel explained this to us correctly, this is exactly how you got yourselves into trouble with her in the first place. Isn't it better to just be ourselves and let Cordelia draw her own conclusions?"

Fred shook her head. "I told Angel this would be a bad idea, having you here. You don't understand things! There are things happening, and there are situations and contexts to the things, and you can't just come in here and judge us with the not understanding!"

He took a deep breath. "I understand better than you might think. Cordelia wasn't always as you knew her, you realize. There was a time she didn't know about demons or vampires or---well, or anything, really. But she learned the truth, and eventually she did come to make the right decisions. You really don't trust her to do so again?"

Fred shook her head. "She's fabulous---you think I don't know that? I do! But it's hard to come back, Mr. Giles. It's hard to come back when you've been away for such a long time, and all you want to do it stay in your cave where it's safe and warm, but there are demons and monsters and you have to be in charge because people went to the higher planes and the bottom of the ocean and left you all alone to figure things out for them."

Giles nodded. "She tried to make it easier," he realized. "When YOU came back here---she helped you. And you only want to do the same for her."

Fred nodded, eyes downcast.

"Then listen to her. She's already told you what it is she needs---the truth. And the truth is that she was held by god-like Powers on a higher plane of existence for an indeterminate time, and for purposes that she can't recall and we have no way of ascertaining. That IS the truth, isn't it?"

Again, Fred nodded. "Then that's the truth," he said simply. "And there is nothing to be done about it. All right, then?"

Fred curled up on the chair and turned away from him, lost in thought.

**

He nearly bumped straight into Cordelia when he tried to leave the office.

"Oh!"

Cordelia stepped away shyly. "Sorry. Guess I was so caught up in the eavesdrop that I wasn't paying attention."

"So, you heard that, then."

She nodded. "I have really good hearing. Must be part of that superpower- spy thing. Thanks, by the way---Giles, right?"

He had not talked to her yet, and somehow, he had held out hope that this wasn't really happening. But it hit him now. "You really don't remember me?"

She shrugged. "You look vaguely familiar---like that guy in those coffee commercials or something. But specifically? No."

She sighed and casually propped herself against the wall to look at him. "So are you magic too?"

He matched her posture. "Not entirely. I'm what they call a watcher," he explained. "I know about magic. But I'm not magic myself. I."

"Watch it?" she guessed.

He laughed. "It's not quite that simple. I have knowledge of numerous demon species, and experience with a large variety of portents and prophecies."

"So when the badness comes, you tell 'em what it is, and THEY fight it," Said Cordelia. "Clever system."

"I always thought so. Shall we go back, then? Join the others?"

She frowned. "I guess we have to, don't we? All right, let's get it over with. I should check on Connor, anyway. He's still a little touchy about stuff."

Giles raised an eyebrow at that, but did not question the matter further. He suspected there was quite a lot going on here that he didn't really want to know about.

**

The gang was assembling around a large fold-out table that was arrayed with Halloween treats. In addition to Connor and Cordelia, a green-skinned demon with horns had joined them. Cordelia shrank back a little as the demon waved a friendly hello.

"That's Lorne," said Angel. "He's on our side, remember? You met him before, and there was singing, and."

"And then he ran away in the middle of it and suspiciously locked himself in his room," said Cordelia. "Oh yeah. I'm so won over."

"Now, there was a circumstance there that's really interesting, as it turns out."

"I don't care. Look, maybe this isn't such a good idea," she said. "I mean, Mr. Giles here has been VERY nice, but the rest of you are kind of weird, if you don't mind my saying so, and I think some of you might have magical powers, and frankly, none of this is helping me remember ANYTHING, and."

Lorne raised a scaly green hand with a timid smile. "Can we just back up for a second here?"

Connor squeezed Cordelia's hand reassuringly. "You don't have to talk to him if you don't want to."

"Thank you! See, this is what I prefer. No suspicious skulking around with the secret conversations. No nervousy hovery stalking---Angel this means you! And no green monsters, scary demons or things that go ick!"

Connor nodded smugly. "We don't have any of that where I live."

Angel's eyes went suddenly dark. "Don't touch her."

Connor flinched. "What?"

"I thought better of you," said Angel sadly. "I had started to believe.even after what you did.I thought better of you. You know, I was actually starting to come around on this whole thing? Treat you like you had proven yourself?"

Connor reddened. "I don't need your validation!"

"And here you are," Angel sneered. "Taking advantage of her! I see the way you're looking at her, holding her hand."

Connor shook with fury. "You're crazy!"

"She has no idea who she is, Connor. She has no idea WHAT she is! You can't just walk in and."

Cordelia let go of Connor's hand and spun on Angel, her own fury mounting. "Oh, is that right? Just cause I'm not up on the whole green people and bumpy faces deal, I'm stupid? I can take care of myself, you know. I'm super-strong, and I know how to fight and stuff. I can take care of myself, and I can make my own decisions, amnesia or not!"

Angel fidgeted awkwardly. "Cordelia."

"No," she snapped. "Stop it, Angel. Just stop it, okay?" She cleared her throat. "The following people," she announced loudly. "Do not need to shut up: Connor, and Giles. As for the rest of you.shut up. No, really: shut up."

Willow tugged on Xander's sleeve. "What'd I do?"

Cordelia took Connor's hand again. "I want to go. Can we go?"

The boy glanced pointedly at Angel. "We can do whatever we want to."

The stalked away, leaving Angel fuming.

"So," said Giles. "That went well."

**

They sat down to pizza and trick-or-treats before the drive back to Sunnydale.

"I warned you about Halloween," said Giles. "Something ALWAYS goes wrong."

The demon, Lorne, eavesdropped curiously. "Really?"

"Oh, absolutely. There was that year where everyone turned into monsters, and that year where the fear demon possessed the fraternity house."

"That one was sort of fun," protested Buffy. "We got all dressed up---My mom did this great little red riding hood thingie for me, and the fear demon was so adorable."

"He was," affirmed Xander. "All cute and tiny."

"Even so," said Giles. "He WAS a fear demon, and we all know what THAT means."

"But you're supposed to be scared on Halloween," said Willow. "At least, a little scared.which, true, for us, isn't much different than any other day, but."

"Good point," said Buffy. She turned to Angel. "I guess we should probably ask you about this while we're here. The phrase 'from beneath you, it devours' ring any bells?"

Angel shrugged. "Not really. How about 'slouching toward Bethlehem?' You got anything on that?"

"Nah. Candy bar?" she held out a basket.

"Sure, why not? You got any of those little toffee things in yours?"

Unnoticed by all of them, Giles pulled out a tiny notebook from his pocket and opened it to a fresh page.

'Slouching toward Bethlehem,' he scribbled. Looked like he would get an apocalypse out of Halloween after all.

The end