CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE

NOMINATED for Best Work in Progress in the BITE ME AWARDS!

Author – D. M. Evans

Rating – R

Spoilers – All of BtVS 7 and AtS 4.

Distribution – His Girl, Slayer Fan Fic, FFN, Shipper's United, if you want it, ask.

Summary – Angel Investigations and Buffy and the Scoobies all join forces to stop the new evil Wolfram and Hart unleashes

Author's Note 1 – This is in response for a challenge over at Kick Dress. If you want to see all the challenge's components let me know. I had hoped to get it all done at once but that's not going to happen with this monster. Thanks Jenn for the challenge!

Author's Note 2 – For the purposes of this story I'm assuming Dawn was a junior during season 7 of Buffy since she would be 16 after all. This story takes place in what would be season 8 BtVS and 5 AtS. For the most part assume that the Sunnydale/LA story lines are taking place at roughly at the same time until they dovetail.

Special Thanks to – SJ, Flippy, Matt and Jenn for all their help along the way.

CHAPTER ONE

SUNNYDALE

Buffy wiped the tear off her face. It was silly. She shouldn't be sitting in an airport alone, crying. This was supposed to be a happy time. Graduation day. God, it seemed such a short time since she had been the one graduating. So much had happened since, so much pain it was hard to remember yet impossible to forget; Angel leaving her, Riley leaving her, Mom dying, dying herself again, losing heaven, Giles abandoning her, Tara dying, Willow's brief insanity, Spike's soul and the horror that came before it. And after it, the thing from below, another end of the world averted. So much leaving and dying. 'I'm a book of pain. Open me and I'm red.' Buffy blinked rapidly. Where had that bit of eerie poetry come from? Or was it a Xander-bad pun?

"Buffy."

Hearing that soft, cultured voice rising over the din in the luggage pick up area, Buffy bounded up and vainly tried to look cheery. She threw her arms around Giles, nearly knocking him back against the luggage carousel.

"I'm so glad you came."

Giles took a step away and ran a thumb over her wet cheek. He didn't address the tears but his blue eyes showed worry.  "How could I miss Dawn's graduation?"

"Well, our father RSVP'ed his regrets from Paris." Buffy looked at the ground, crossing her arms.

"Is that what the tears are for?"

"No I'm… I don't even know what the problem is. I'm happy Dawn's going. Finally, she'll be away from the Hellmouth. I don't have to worry about her any more but…."

"You're going to miss her," Giles finished for her. "There's nothing to be ashamed of, Buffy. That's common. Every family goes through this." He smiled gently. "Don't think I didn't feel the same when I moved back to England."

"You could come back," Buffy said as the bell dinged, announcing the luggage's arrival.

"I arrived a month early for graduation," he said in way of dodging the subject. "I've never sublet a flat before. This should be interesting."

"That's not the same as moving back."

"I know but for now it'll have to do."

Buffy hugged him again. "I'm just glad you're here. I guess it could be worse. I could be paying to send Dawn to school instead of her having a full ride scholarship to the Chicago Art Institute."

"Yes, your sister's becoming quite the artist. I should get her to do a little something for my flat."

"Speculating on future gain, oooo risky." Buffy smirked.

"I guess you've rubbed off on me," Giles said and Buffy laughed.

*                                              *                                              *

LOS ANGELES

Wesley walked into the Hyperion almost stunned that the doors weren't locked given all that had happened. Still, he was expected. Angel was supposed to pick him up from the airport but he had arrived to a message that he'd need to cab it to the hotel. Wesley was about to call out to see who might be home when Angel came from one of the offices. The vampire looked so awful that Wesley dropped his duffle bag in shock. He hadn't ever seen Angel look this thin, drawn and fragile, not even when he had fished him out of the ocean. Wesley was sure that Angel hadn't been sleeping or eating much in the three months, given the circumstances.

"Sorry I couldn't make it to the airport. I thought I had a lead but…" Angel sighed heavily, collapsing on the couch. "It wasn't."

"I'm sorry, Angel. I came as fast as I could. I didn't get your message until yesterday."

"You said you were going to be incommunicado. You didn't lie," Angel said.

Wesley sat on the chair next to him. "How did it happen? All your message said was Connor had disappeared. You asked for my help so I'm assuming he didn't just go off on his own."

"Something got him, right here in my home, Wes. Tore up most of the third floor. There was blood all over his bed and bullet holes in the wall. We think Wolfram and Hart are behind it but we have no proof." Angel's voice caught. "I don't even know if Connor's alive." His fingers tore through his unkempt hair.

"Wolfram and Hart have always wanted Connor. With last year's apocalypse scuppered with their surprising help, there's no reason to think Wolfram and Hart hasn't gone back to their original agenda. But I have no ties to them, Angel. I don't…"

Angel held up a hand. "That's not even a question, Wesley. You're with us. I know that. I wanted you back from Wales because I wanted your help to find my son, not because I think you might still have ties to Lilah."

Wesley scratched at his beard, which had come in full and thick now, shot through with silver threads. "Even if Lilah was still my shagbag she'd never tell me anything if Wolfram and Hart are involved.

Angel's eyebrows lifted as the less than refined verbiage. He wasn't used to Wesley talking like Spike. He started to say something but it dissolved into a strangled moan. He clamped a hand over his mouth, holding in his emotions. He had cried a few times over the long years of his life but tried never to do it in front of men. He needed to be strong now, no matter how much he hurt.  "I'm sorry."

Wesley shrugged it off. "Someone has your son, Angel. I think a little emotion is your due."

Angel turned dark, pleading eyes on his friend. "I've done everything I can think of, Wes. I lost him once and what I got back was a child who hates me. Now I've lost him again and what if I get him back dead?"

"You can't think that," Wesley said softly for want of something more comforting. "Where are Gunn and Fred?"

"Vegas to see Lorne. He went back to start up his act again."

"I know. He did that before I went on extended holiday," Wesley said gently.

"Oh. Right. Sorry." Angel rubbed his face. "I forgot. They should be back tonight. Are you okay with seeing them?"

"I'm fine, Angel. I was at their wedding. I wish them well," Wesley said, thinking back to those crazed days after the apocalypse fizzled out thanks to their actions and those of Buffy and her friends in Sunnydale.  Fred and Gunn had married soon after and oddly he hadn't been sad. Fred had made her choice and he was man enough to be happy for her. "Is her family speaking to her yet?"

Angel wagged his head. "No. You'd think in this day and age love would be more important that the color of someone's skin. It's worse now. With what's happened to Connor and you being gone, Fred didn't have a chance to email you. She's two months pregnant." Angel summoned up a brave smile.

Wesley reflected it back. "That's wonderful. I wish it was a happier time for her. After everything he did to help in those dark days, I think Fred forgave Connor for what he did to you…and me for everything I did. I didn't leave here because of the wedding. I hoped everyone understood that. I just needed to go home and get a fresh perspective on my life. I've made a right cock-up of things. I only planned on being gone a few months, rattle around London and all that. That's when I met up with an old friend of mine. Saeth can be amazingly good at helping you find perspective…or at least make you forget everything has gone balls up. She was called in to head up that study I told you about. They found even more bones in the Ogof-yr-Esgyrn chamber of Dan-yr-Ogof cave and I thought 'what could be more fun than slogging around in a wet damp cave for a few weeks'?"

"So what made you disappear?" Angel asked.

Before Wesley could answer, the front door open and Gunn and Fred dragged in. No one had to ask. The looks on their faces said they hadn't found Connor. Fred brightened some seeing Wesley.

"You made it," she said.

He rose and went to her. "Yes. Angel told me your news, congratulations to both of you. You look well."

"Thanks, English." Gunn chucked his shoulder.

Fred touched his furred cheek gently. "You look good yourself, Wesley, all rugged."

He snorted. "Didn't seem much point in shaving on an archeological dig then I've spent the last three months in the fairy lands."

"Say what?" Gunn gave him a fish-eyed look as he returned his weapon to the locker.

"The fey worlds." Wesley indicated for Fred to sit. "As I was just about to tell Angel, that's why I wasn't here to help from the very beginning. I told you I was going to be unreachable because several members of the archeological team were taken by a group of Bloody-Bones."

"I don't even want to know, do I?" Gunn asked, grimacing

"Hobgoblins, a particularly vicious subgroup. Saeth, the head of the team, is also a Watcher, Special Ops. She and her partner followed the Bloody Bones into their realm. I went with them and time moves differently there. A day there is a month here. That's why I said you couldn't reach me. It took three days to rescue the team. We almost gave up lest too much time pass here," Wesley said, a pained expression on his face.

"Connor went missing just a few days after we got your email about being out of touch," Fred said, her voice filled with anguish.

"I'm assuming Lorne had nothing," Angel said.

"We would have called if he did," Fred said, a little ungently, her nerves shot. "I'm starving." She looked over her shoulder at Gunn who just nodded and headed for the kitchen.

"You'll have to catch me up on everything you can about how you've tried to track Connor so far," Wesley said. "Saeth would have helped us too but she and Stiabhan got called to Florida. Some little town has suddenly been overrun with ghosts and it's spreading. Not really surprising since Cassadaga's been a psychic commune for over a century. That's bound to stir up the ethereal energy but it's only thirty miles north of Orlando and twenty miles south of Daytona Beach so the governor's highly concerned what all these ghosts might do to tourism. Saeth's suggestion of 'sell tickets' was not well received." Wesley smirked.

"You have to be tired and hungry, Wes. We should probably just order in something and talk," Fred said. "Gunn, forget the sandwich."

"Good idea. Maybe I'll know of something new to try," Wesley said.

"Okay and I'll email Cordy, too. She's not going to want to hear we didn't learn anything from Lorne, again. She's still miffed over what the Powers of Be did," Fred said.

"Where is she now?" Wesley asked.

"On location in New York," Angel said. After the end of the world didn't happen, The Powers That Be decided Angel only needed one seer to help him and came to the conclusion exalting Cordelia had been a grave mistake. They stripped her of her demon qualities and took the visions while they were at it, leaving him with Lorne.  While they were trying to piece their life together, Cordy took one more shot at the brass ring in Hollywood and caught it. She got cast as the lead in 'Ghostbusters: The Next Generation' and went to New York City to star in it. Angel almost hated her for going, seeing how it shattered Connor's heart. The boy knew Cordelia was seeing their time together as wrong and it took something from him Angel wasn't sure his son would ever get back. He considered it one of the main reasons Connor was missing. The boy had been almost a recluse in the hotel for months after Cordy moved on and when she signed on to make another movie in New York, the producers speculating that Ghostbusters would be a hit when it came out next year, Connor understood she was not coming back to him. He didn't leave his room for days, not even to eat. He made easy prey for whatever took him.

"She wanted to come back but we told her she was better off there," Fred said. "It was easier than saying we weren't sure what she could do to help." Her eyes flicked over to Angel. He suspected she knew he blamed Cordelia more than her due. It was a good thing she wasn't around just now.

"Yes, probably," Wesley said, reading the looks flying back and forth between Fred and Angel. "Order whatever you'd like to eat, Fred and I'll just pop upstairs and unpack, then we can get down to business."

*                                              *                                                          *

LOS ANGELES

"Turn it off," Lilah said to the guard outside the containment room. Even through the thick door she could hear the show tunes bubbling out.

He flipped some buttons then unlocked the door for her. On the walls, one giant IMAX-like theatre, images tumbled across the screens, all computer generated and designed to break down a person's mind. Connor's mind. And to that end they had spliced together a devilish montage for him including pictures of Lorne, many of them with him digitally stripped naked or dressed in something Liberace would die for. During the unplanned end of days Wolfram and Hart had learned of Connor's intense dislike of demons including Lorne. They intermixed the bits with Lorne with screen captures of Holtz from surveillance videos showing the man being bitten by a digitally supplied Angel. This was accompanied by doctored footage making it seem like Holtz and Justine had gone at it like bunnies. There was similar footage of Angel and Cordelia and plenty of images of Angel in vamp face slaughtering people who never existed in the first place. This played twenty-four-seven for the most part accompanied by a never-ending loop of show tunes.

Gavin had bet her the boy would go mad in days. Three months later he was still holding on and damnably stubborn about not working with them. All he had to do to end the torment was agree to work for them.  If Angel wouldn't be at their side for the planned apocalypse then maybe his son would. The boy had the violence in him and the extra perks that bordered on superhuman.

Connor was huddled on the floor, knees tucked nearly to his forehead, face to the ground, arms tight over his ears. He rocked slightly, a piteous keening issuing out of him non-stop. He was just as stubborn as his father much to Lilah's chagrin but maybe they finally had broken him. But hearing the clicking of her heels across the floor he leapt up and charged the glowing cage he was kept in. The sizzling magic threw him back. He skidded naked across the floor until he hit the far wall, which shocked him back into the center of his cell. Lilah saw how emaciated he was. She had thought removing everything human from him would help break him down. Teenaged bodies were supposed to be ashamed of their nude bodies, certainly they had been where she grew up but he didn't seem to care. It was decided to keep him naked just in case he figured out a way to kill himself with his clothing. He had no bedding, no privacy at all for the stained toilet that looked like it belonged in a Mexican jail.

He paced back over to the edge of his cage, staring at her. He panted fiercely and she wasn't sure if it was in fear or anger or just plain insanity at this point. She wrinkled her nose as she stepped up to the magical cell. Connor stank. Not surprising. He wasn't given anything to wash with except maybe the glass of water on his food tray. Occasionally he got hosed down but it didn't take the place of soap and hot water.

 He hadn't eaten a thing, which surprised her.  For someone so scrawny, the boy could pack it away. He spat at her but it caught on the magical ether around him and simply sizzled like water on hot oil.  His forehead was bruised, swollen and cracked open. Blood caked his face. He must have been smashing his head against the ground again. He did that sometimes when the music and movie became too much for him. Some days he'd just lie on the floor lethargic and others he'd tear around his cell, throwing himself against it, beating his head against the floor until he was nothing but bruises and burns.

"You didn't eat."

"Bitch."

So much for him being insane. Nothing had changed as far as Lilah could tell. "Nice. How long has that food been there, guard?"

"Since you sent it. I think he's realized he gets fed better when you guys take him out of the cell and put him in the arena. Maybe he thinks you won't do it if he's weak." The guard smirked.

Lilah snorted. "Nice try, kid but it won't work. It'll take more than missing a meal to weaken you. And how will we ever know how strong you are, how helpful you'll be to use in the end, if we don't test you against every demon and pug-ugly we can find?"

"Won't fight," Connor snarled, slinging his long lank hair back.

"Fine. Die. It really doesn't matter to us. I'd think you'd want to help us. Do you think your father cares about you? Think he's bothering to look for you? How do you know he's not off in New York with Miss Thang? He's a demon, Connor. You kill demons. Help us and you go from this to a life with more rewards than you can imagine." Lilah's voice softened a bit on that last as she gave him an encouraging look

Connor charged the cell again, shoving his hands through the best he could. He ended up on his backside, his hands red and blistering.

"Have it your way." Lilah went to the guard and held out her hand. "May I?"

He turned over his weapon, a tranquilizer gun.

"Insidious bit of magic, isn't it? We can reach in from out here with no problem but you can't get near us." Lilah poked the end of the rifle into the cell and shot Connor where he lay dazed from his rush on the cage. She handed the gun back. "Have him suited up and taken to the arena. We've got some nice vrykolakas for him to play with."

Lilah headed back for her office. She scowled, seeing Gavin waiting on her.

"Playing with our boy again?" he asked.

"I almost hope the vrykolakas suck him dry." She sat behind her desk. "Is there something you wanted, Gavin?"

"Well, I thought you might want to know what our psychics are saying about Connor."

Lilah waited but Gavin just gave her a superior grin, forcing her to say, "Well, tell me."

"Being the son of two vampires, they think any child he'd throw would be…how did they put it, highly special, gifted even."

"They saw him having kids? Any thoughts on the mother?" Lilah prompted. This would be a twist on their plans. Wolfram and Hart couldn't wait two decades for any child of Connor's to grow up, at least not what they needed Connor for now, but they'd never turn down a chance at a super powered ally in the future.

"Nothing concrete." Gavin shrugged. "They haven't seen any children or come across any prophecies. It's more of an observation."

Lilah nodded. "If he survives the ring today, we'll give him a gift, a bare mattress. I'm going to have to be more convinced before he gets a woman."

Gavin smirked again. "And on that other matter, the land deal in Sunnydale? You can expect your special project man to be here later this afternoon."

Lilah rocked back in her chair and smiled. "Who would have thought it? Me and Lindsey together again."

Author's Note – The cave Wesley mentioned is real. Check it out at http://www.showcaves.co.uk/. It's VERY cool.