Summary: Dawn goes to Angel with a problem. Fourth story in the "Slayer Central" series.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters--they belong to their creators and/or owners.

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: About three weeks after "Chosen," and after the events in my prior story "Slayer Central." (spoilers for seventh season BtVS and fourth season Angel).

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@hotmail.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.

LOOSE ENDS

Angel sat at his desk, reading a document stamped "Confidential." His "In" basket was filled to the top with documents with similar stamps, and his "Out" basket was already half full. He shook his head in irritation and turned to the next page.

A soft knock came from the door, and Angel looked up in annoyance: "Come in!" His expression quickly changed from a frown to a smile when he recognized Buffy. "To what do I owe the pleasure, Senior Slayer?"

Buffy winced and glared at him. It had been only three days before when Buffy had been ambushed in the training room by Faith, Willow, and the new Slayers--they had cut off her routes of escape and forced her to accept a plaque that read:

BUFFY SUMMERS SENIOR SLAYER

PRESENTED IN APPRECIATION FOR HER COURAGE, LEADERSHIP, AND GENERALLY BEING A ROYAL PAIN IN THE ASS

JULY 2003

Buffy had taken the plaque with an expression that would have curdled milk and had turned beet red as the other occupants of the room applauded her. Xander had returned that night to find that three of the high-quality training dummies had been reduced to splinters--he grinned and ordered supplies for new ones without complaint.

Buffy fixed an evil stare on Angel and intoned, "Angel, if you call me that again I'm going to lock you in a room with Giles for an hour while he waxes poetic about the glories of English culture."

Angel shuddered. "OK--no need to go all evil on me." Buffy chuckled, and Angel relaxed and asked, "What's up?"

Buffy shrugged. "The training is going well--I was afraid that this whole mass empowerment thing might cause some of the girls to get shortchanged on power, but there's no sign of that. They're not cardboard cutouts or anything--some are stronger, some are faster, and they seem to prefer a lot of different weapons from each other--but I'd say that any of them could face vamps and demons without being overmatched any more than I was." She frowned and commented, "Of course, we won't know until they go out on regular patrols."

Angel nodded and replied, "Let me know when you're ready--we'll take them out in groups, with one of us accompanying each group to give them field training."

Buffy nodded, and raised an eyebrow as she saw Angel scowling at the document in his hand: "This is a new look for you--usually something has to kick you in the face a few times to get you looking this pissed off."

Angel shook his head in annoyance and gestured at the piles of paper: "The reports from Wolfram & Hart for yesterday--Lilah has reviewed and approved all of the activities described in them, and I need to review them to make sure she isn't pulling a fast one on me."

Buffy stared at him for a moment before bursting into laughter. Angel glared at her and snapped, "What's so damned funny?"

Buffy shook her head in disbelief. "Angel. . .I was always amazed at how Angelus' sadism made him screw himself over, but I always thought your soul knocked some sense into you about that kind of thing." Angel looked baffled, and Buffy sighed and smiled affectionately at him as she continued, "Angel, Lilah's position is supposed to be punishment duty for all of the crap she's put you through over the years, right?"

Angel shrugged: "Partially--it's also an issue of 'the devil you know.' Someone has to sign off on this stuff, and I'd rather not have someone I've never met being my liaison at Wolfram & Hart."

Buffy nodded. "OK, so you've got her there because she's the best person available for the job, and to make her work her little undead ass off." Angel nodded, and Buffy continued: "So you've set up an arrangement where the entire paper output of a two hundred lawyer firm is passed through a topnotch lawyer who is basically a goddess as far as pushing paper goes, and everything she reviews ends up in your lap for you to read and approve." Angel nodded again--realization dawning on his face--and Buffy shook her head sadly and concluded: "Masochist much?"

Angel looked upward and uttered a curse in his mother tongue that hadn't crossed his lips since he was twenty. Buffy grinned and commented, "That's a new one--can you recommend appropriate occasions for it?"

"Very funny," groused Angel as he dropped the document into the "Out" basket. He looked at Buffy and asked, "Any ideas how I deal with this without losing face with Lilah?"

Buffy nodded. "You've got the services of two world-class computer geniuses, Angel--one of whom is also a witch with some rather disconcerting first-hand knowledge of evil. Tell them what you're looking for and give them the documents. I'll bet you dinner at the restaurant of my choice that they'll have some computer program or spell whipped up within the week that will make any funny business in those papers jump up and slap you in the face."

"No bet--I've seen both of them at work." Angel sighed in relief and smiled ruefully at Buffy. "Thanks."

"Hey, it's the least I can do. . .particularly since I'm about to ask you for your Wolfram & Hart credit card for a shopping expedition." Buffy's eyes radiated pure innocence, which only increased the intensity of the chill that went down Angel's spine as Buffy leaned on the front of Angel's desk and cooed, "Please?"

Angel directed a stern look at Buffy. "You're asking me to allow you to divert the resources of an evil law firm for the purpose of allowing thirty plus teenage girls to go on a shopping spree in L.A.?" Buffy nodded solemnly, and Angel was silent for a moment before reaching into his wallet and replying, "I'm not sure they've been evil enough to deserve this, but all right. Try to keep it below five digits, OK?"

Buffy mock-pouted. "Spoilsport." Angel smirked and felt a moment of warmth from the radiant smile Buffy directed at him before she left the office, closing the door behind her. Angel shuddered once more at the financial carnage that would undoubtedly follow, and reached in his desk for Post-It notes and rubber bands--he was going to enjoy passing this particular job on to Willow and Fred.

* * * * *

"Thanks, Wesley--keep me posted." Angel broke the connection and wrote on the pad in front of him for a few moments. Wesley had been working with Willow and Giles to replace the library of the Council of Watchers--first with scanned computer copies (with Giles reminding Willow and Wesley about being fully aware of what was being scanned--no one had any desire for a repeat of the Moloch incident), and eventually with duplicates of the physical texts (thanks to a spell originally intended to reproduce more mundane works, which Willow had adapted and empowered substantially). Giles was in England, taking possession of the remaining assets of the Council and conferring with the coven of witches that had assisted him the year before--in the hopes that they could help with the crucial process of tracking down hundreds of Slayers who had no idea what they had become. From Wesley's report, all parts of the cooperative effort were going well.

Willow and Fred had taken possession of the paperwork from Wolfram & Hart, and Fred had politely refrained from joining Willow as she laughed at Angel having fallen for Lilah's document dumping trick. They had left, promising to have the situation resolved within the week.

Xander and Gunn were at Wolfram & Hart. Gunn had spotted items in the Security Department that he realized would be rather helpful in training the Slayers--particularly if more started showing up in L.A.--and Xander had come along at Gunn's invitation to decide how best to integrate the equipment into the training room. Angel smiled--Xander had come out of his depression over Anya's death and Cordelia's coma, and he had been busy inspecting the hotel for ways to upgrade it without violating the restrictions that the Hyperion's landmark status placed on any construction. Angel had put him on salary and proposed a new project for the young construction foreman--examining the Wolfram & Hart building for hidden features that might either benefit or be used against them. Xander had readily agreed and had taken possession of a set of the original blueprints from a visibly irritated Lilah.

With Lorne off looking for new furnishings for the Hyperion's lounge--which had proven to be a big hit with all when Angel and Xander had invited the others to join them there in a tribute to Cordelia, Anya, and the others who had fallen in the cause--Angel was alone, and he expected to have a quiet afternoon going over recent developments and looking for more worthy charities to spread Wolfram & Hart's ill-gotten gains to. He was startled to hear a knock at the door, but recovered quickly: "Come in."

The door opened, and Dawn slipped in. Angel was still unaccustomed to her current appearance--his last memories of her were of a hyperactive sprite in pigtails, watching him warily as he spent time with Buffy after his return from Hell. Knowing that those memories were false didn't make the transformation seem any less discomfiting. She was wearing a plain white top and jeans, along with a determined expression that Angel knew well from seeing it on the faces of her sister and mother. * A Summers girl, through and through * He stood up and smiled. "Dawn, I didn't know you were here--I thought you would have gone with Buffy and the girls for that shopping trip."

Dawn shrugged. "I told Buffy that I had a headache. She's going to buy me some stuff--I've got Kennedy watching my back to make sure she doesn't inflict any fashion felonies on me in my absence."

Angel frowned in concern. "I'm sorry you're not feeling well, Dawn--maybe I should call and have someone drop off some--" He trailed off, noting the smirk on Dawn's face, and he realized that her wording had been odd. "You lied to Buffy about having a headache."

Dawn nodded. "Pretty easy, actually--she'd have to be pretty paranoid to think that I'd lie to get out of a shopping spree."

Angel nodded, and asked, "So, I take it you wanted to talk to me alone? You could have asked, Dawn--I'll always make time for any of you if you need to talk, and I'll keep whatever is said to myself unless you want me to pass it on to someone else."

Dawn smiled involuntarily, then sobered again: "I know, Angel--but I had to talk to you without anyone knowing I was doing it, and this seemed like the best way. I think you'll agree with me when you know why I'm here."

Angel's eyes narrowed in concern. * What could possibly be bothering her that she'd need to talk to me about? * He smiled at the young woman and replied, "You've certainly gotten my attention, Dawn--what's the problem?"

Dawn leaned forward, putting her hands on the desk. Angel was noticing how her mannerisms echoed Buffy's when Dawn's next words shocked him to the core:

"Angel, where's Connor?"

Angel blinked, and forced away the stunned expression he knew had appeared on his face for an instant before he locked eyes with Dawn and shrugged: "Connor? Who's that, Dawn?"

Dawn's eyes went cold, and Angel recognized her retort as an old Oz comment: "Angel, poker--not your game." She shook her head in anger and snapped, "Connor--your son. The one you had with Darla as a result of some serious hate sex that had Buffy putting her fist through a wall when she heard about it." Angel winced involuntarily--that was news to him. Dawn noted the reaction and continued: "The one who gave you a free three month vacation at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The one who came within a split-second of dusting you before you got your soul back until Faith showed up and handed his ass to him. You know, Angel, that son!"

Angel closed his eyes for a moment. Dawn's slam aside, he was a rather accomplished poker player, and he knew better to bluff when his opponent had the nuts--in more ways than one. He opened his eyes, sighed, and asked quietly, "Dawn, how do you know about Connor?"

"You mean how do I know about Connor when no one else--including people I know lived with him for months--has a damned clue that he ever existed? I don't have the slightest idea, Angel." Dawn was still visibly angry, but she sounded more perplexed than upset as she sank into the client chair and buried her face in her hands. "Angel, there's been a lot going on, and I don't want to make waves. Problem is, I seem to be the only person on this planet who knows Connor ever existed, and it's freaking me out. When I noticed that none of you guys were talking about him, I started hanging out with Gunn and Fred, asking about stuff that had gone on this last year. I noticed that they paused a lot, as if some of the details had gotten hazy in places. I also noticed that they didn't even hint that they'd been dealing with a moody teenager with superhuman strength and some serious parental issues. I went to Willow and asked her to tell me how she had restored your soul again--told her that I needed it for my diary. It was the same story I heard the last time she told it to me--except no Connor."

Angel shook his head in bewilderment. "I don't understand why you remember- -the spell was supposed to remove the memory of Connor from everyone except me, Lilah, and the senior partners of Wolfram & Hart--"

"Wolfram & Hart cast a spell to make everyone forget Connor?" Dawn's tone was disbelieving, and Angel hesitated before nodding. Dawn locked eyes with Angel and said simply, "Angel--if I'm going to keep this secret, I have to know why you did this, because it sounds like you sold your soul to the devil, and I have to know that you had a good reason."

Angel saw the determination on the young woman's face, and smiled inwardly. * Most definitely a Summers * He stood up, went to the refrigerator, and retrieved a Coke for Dawn, handing it to her. Dawn frowned, puzzled, and Angel explained gently, "This story will take a while."

Dawn nodded, and listened as Angel began to speak. He quickly went over the details that Dawn was aware of, then began to fill in the blanks, including Wesley's role in Connor's abduction (which Willow had not been informed of), and the true parentage of Jasmine (which caused Dawn to pale and look at Angel in genuine horror as he described seeing Cordelia and Connor together). He told of how Connor had turned on Angel and his friends, staying loyal to Jasmine, and how at the end it had been Connor who had slain Jasmine before she could kill Angel. At that point he stopped, poured himself a stiff drink, and described how he had found Connor holding the department store hostage, and how he had killed his son as the catalyst for the spell that gave him a new life with people who would believe that they were his parents. He finished the story, downed the shot of whiskey with a single gesture, and buried his face in his hands for a moment before looking up at Dawn and whispering, "Now you know."

Dawn's eyes were shining, and she took a moment to regain her composure before saying softly, "I'm sorry I had to ask, Angel--I understand what made you do it." She blinked, and tears fell as she frowned and asked, "Angel--you know they're going to be able to use this as a weapon against you, right? Wolfram & Hart knows exactly where Connor is, and he's helpless to protect himself. Not only that, you've made sure that the people who could help him the most except for you don't know he exists. . .how could you agree to this?"

Angel looked at her, and he somehow managed to convey the sense of having aged decades in the last few moments as he replied, "No, Dawn. I did this to give Connor a life, because I knew that his life with me was over. I told Lilah that if Connor was ever threatened by someone who obviously knew his past, I would assume that Wolfram & Hart were double-crossing me, and I would dedicate the rest of my existence to destroying them, using the assets they had so thoughtfully put under my control, and that I would not lift a finger to save Connor." He shook his head sadly and added, "I've done all I can for him--I won't let them use it to make me betray the world."

Angel saw doubt in Dawn's eyes, but it quickly changed to concern as she asked, "And Cordelia?"

"If Cordelia thought that I would betray the world to save her she'd stake me herself, Dawn--as long as we have the facilities, I'll use them to try to bring her back, but I won't let them use Cordelia to manipulate me any more than they already have." Angel shook his head sadly. "If it comes to that, I'll let her die, knowing that it's what she would have demanded of me."

Dawn nodded, and saw that Angel's dark eyes were flickering angrily. She stood up and turned, saying "I'm sorry, Angel--I can see you're angry. I should go--"

She heard a whisper of sound, and Angel was standing next to her, gently pulling her around to face him. She waited, and Angel shook his head. "You don't understand, Dawn--I'm not angry at you for making me tell--or even for questioning my judgment and motives in agreeing to this: that just means that you've got sense, and the guts to call me on it. Buffy would be proud of you if she saw how you've handled yourself today." Dawn flushed slightly, but remained silent, and Angel continued: "It's just that--even though it's what I wanted, it is infuriating that with all of the people who knew and loved Connor during the time he was here, the only person who knows he existed is someone who--"

"Someone who isn't real?" Dawn had turned pale again, and her tone was bitter.

Angel looked appalled and shook his head emphatically. "No, Dawn-- absolutely not. Maybe your unique origins are why the spell didn't affect you--I don't know, and I'll be damned if I'm going to put you at risk by asking the people who cast the spell. I just mean that you never really knew him, Dawn." Dawn's eyes widened in comprehension, and Angel nodded and elaborated, "Dawn, suppose that you had died instead of Buffy, and that when you did, the only people who remembered that you had existed were Buffy and Wesley--how do you think that would have been for Buffy? The only person who knew you had ever been on this Earth other than her-- someone she barely knew, and someone who never really met you?"

Dawn blinked, then stepped forward and embraced Angel tightly, crying softly. Angel just held her and waited. After a few minutes, Dawn pulled back and looked up at Angel, whispering, "Your secret is safe with me." She stepped back and turned to go, calling out, "Angel, if you ever want to talk about him--?"

"I know what friend to turn to." Angel replied, smiling at the young woman who--in a very real sense--knew him better than anyone in existence. Dawn turned back, nodded once, and left the office, closing the door quietly behind her.

Angel walked slowly back to his desk and sat down, looking at the pad that he had been taking notes on; somehow, it didn't seem terribly important any more. Unfortunately, life had to go on. He sighed and went back to work.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired.