AWAY THE VEIL
By D M Evans
Disclaimer - Hmmm, unless Joss moved to Wisconsin and had a sex change I am not he. All characters belong to Mr. Whedon with the exception of Thalia Angelopoulous-Reilly and she doesn't earn me a bent dime. None of the poetry or song lyrics are mine either and belong to whomever I've credited them to.
Rating - R (for graphic violence and detailed forensic descriptions)
Feedback - It is my heroin, tap a vein, Line - Six years post NFA
Pairings - Connor/OC, Spike/Illyria, implied B/A (at the moment, might be more)
Summary - The father-son bond is reforged in the fires of unthinkable tragedy as an old enemy resurfaces
Author's Note - written for Kristi's Post Not Fade Away ficathon (requirements at the end) Thanks to Kristi and SJ for the beta
one tears away the veils and shows them naked, people's souls give
off such a pungent smell of decay.
Octave Mirbeau - The Diary of a Chambermaid. /I
"Thanks for offering to help with this, Angel," Giles said as he and Buffy were ushered into Angel's Wisconsin home. Buffy smiled at the vampire. She knew Angel had moved to Madison once Connor had done the same. If anyone asked, the vampire would say he moved because of all the weirdness in that city. Giles had admitted Angel had a point when the vampire said there was a natural attraction for demons, what with Wisconsin having records of windingos, lake monsters, carnivorous kangaroos, a host of fearsome critters and two U.F.O. capitols to top it off.
"Believe me, Giles, I want you all here for this event. I'm just sorry we have to come up with an elaborate lie to get Connor here," Angel said, his eyes floating over to Buffy even as he spoke to Giles. "Spike's down in the gym with Illyria and Lorne can't be here tonight. He's got a show."
Slayer and Watcher nodded in tandem. They both knew that in the years after Black Thorn's attack and the Slayers' nick of time intervention, Angel's team had slowly pulled back together with occasional assistance from Lorne who lived a couple hours away in Chicago, and even more occasional help from Angel's son. They knew that Connor and Angel's relationship was operatic in its turbulent drama, which Giles secretly recorded as much as he dared. He was a Watcher. He couldn't help it. Buffy, on the other hand, didn't have much restraint when it came to trying to repair that rift, even though she and Angel weren't lovers and hardly ever saw each other any more thanks to her nomadic life style. Giles knew better than to get involved with Angel's relationship with Connor or with Buffy, as did most of their friends.
"Is Connor actually coming?" Buffy asked.
"Actually, I think I hear his car in the drive
now," Angel said, nodding at the palladium windows on the front of
his house, all redone in necro-tempered glass with money he had
appropriated from Wolfram and Hart. The sun was trying to battle its
way out from behind lowering autumnal clouds. "If I know Thalia,
she has a ton of food for everyone. Buffy, could you help them carry
Buffy met Connor and his wife at the door to Angel's huge home. The nearly two-hundred year old sandstone structure fit him perfectly. She let the dark-haired caterer waddle past her with a bowl of something that smelled delicious. Connor rolled his eyes towards the station wagon as he carted in trays of food. Buffy took him up on his non-verbal message and went out and brought in the remaining two trays. She got back inside in time to see Angel and Connor fussing over Thalia, who couldn't wedge her nine-month-pregnant belly alongside the table. Giles stood in the doorway of the kitchen, trying to keep out of the way. Buffy set the trays of food down.
"How are you feeling, Thalia?" Buffy saw the tired look in the young woman's dark eyes.
"Annoyed that it looks like it's back to court for me." Thalia shoved her walnut curls back off her forehead.
"What's wrong?" Worry filled Angel's voice.
Thalia waved a hand at all the trays of food. "These are the spoils of the Fikia-Stavropoulous wedding, kicking off today. The bride-to-be called the wedding off right there in the church and I've been informed not only do they no longer want the food, they don't want to pay for it either."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Buffy said, looking at the huge expanse of food. She was no 'iron chef' herself and couldn't imagine how hard it had to be to cater a wedding.
"Tell me about it. Do you know how much work that is? Okay, mostly my helpers did it since I can barely get near the counter tops with this." She patted her belly. "So eat and enjoy. I know you'll be very hungry with all the researching and brainstorming."
"Sweet heart, why don't you go in the living room? You'll be more comfortable on the couch." Connor stroked his wife's curly hair. "I'll make up a plate of food for you."
Thalia hauled herself up, using his arm as a crutch. "I'll go but please, Buffy, you make my plate up. Connor doesn't get eating for two doesn't equate to feeding an army." She beamed at her embarrassed husband.
Buffy laughed. "Of course."
Angel got out plates and bowls. Buffy started filling a plate, her own stomach growling. Connor helped his wife into the other room. Buffy glanced over at Angel. "Do they know if it's a boy or a girl?"
He nodded. "Given Connor's first experience with fatherhood, poor Thalia's been through a battery of ultrasounds and tests. No abnormally fast gestation, no horns, tails, or other demonic aspects. He appears to be a normal baby boy."
"I'm very glad to hear it," Giles said,
plopping a piece of grilled chicken on his plate. "Have they given
any thought to a name?"
"This is where Giles tells you what a great name Rupert is." Buffy rolled her eyes.
"It is," Giles replied, primly.
"If you're English," Angel retorted, appalled at the very notion of his grandchild having a decidedly English name.
"And I'm sure Angel is running around telling everyone how great Liam is for a name," Buffy smiled at him.
He made a face. "It is, but I know there's no prayer of that."
"You got that right," Connor said, coming back in. "Thalia is holding forth on Greek names."
"So long as it's not Alexander. One in our group is plenty," Giles retorted.
Buffy handed Connor the plate and slapped his hand as he went to put more stuffed grape leaves on it. "There's more than enough food there, Connor. Why don't we all join Thalia so she doesn't feel left out?"
Connor smiled gratefully and took the plate in for his wife. Buffy loaded up a plate with Greek delicacies without the first clue as to what was what. She took the time to spoon up some creamy soup that smelled of lemon and, balancing everything, joined the rest of them in the living room. Buffy sat down next to Angel on the second couch. After taking a taste of soup, she popped a garlicky white piece of something into her mouth, along with the bread cubes that were wedged around it on the skewer. "This is yum, Thalia, what is it?" she asked, waving her skewer for easy identification.
" i Htapodi toursi /I ," Thalia said. "Pickled octopus."
Buffy stopped chewing, a horrified expression on her face. She looked around frantically for a place to spit it. She gave Angel a pleading look.
"Just swallow," he whispered and she gave him an evil look, gagging the seafood down.
"I'm guessing Buffy's not into exotic seafood." Thalia grinned. "Everything else is a little more normal."
Buffy held out her plate. "Explanations please."
" i Avgolemono /I , that's a chicken broth, egg and lemon soup." Thalia gestured to the steaming bowl of creamy soup. " i Dolmadakia Yialanzi /I , grape leaves around rice, my personal favorite appetizer. i Kota Ouzo /I , chicken marinated in ouzo with melted feta and mozzarella cheese. And for the best part desserts, i baklava /i and i kourambiethes, /I a brandy nut cookie usually for Christmas but people just love them."
nothing else has octopus, right?" Buffy shot her a suspicious
Thalia grinned more broadly, showing lots of white teeth. "No more octopi."
"Good." Buffy got up and dumped the octopus onto Connor's plate and sat back down. "The soup's really good though. It has to suck to get stiffed like that after you've worked so hard on all this food."
"She works too hard," Connor said, putting a protective arm around Thalia's shoulder.
"Look who's talking." Thalia batted at him playfully.
"How is life as a fireman treating you, Connor?" Buffy took a bit of the grilled chicken with its unusual almost licorice taste. "And aren't you the least bit embarrassed to be wearing that shirt in front of your wife?"
Connor ran a hand over his shirt which read, i Firemen find them hot and leave them wet. /i "She bought it for me."
"I think it's cute and it's so true." Thalia kissed him.
"That's the kind of thing that leads to that." Grinning, Buffy pointed at Thalia's huge belly.
"True, but it was fun in the making," Thalia said, apparently oblivious to the blush on her husband's cheeks. It was one of the things the Slayer liked about the caterer. Thalia was vivacious and open about just about everything, a lot like Anya without the bluntness and greed. "So what kind of demony thing brings you to Madison?"
"A strange wolf like creature," Giles said, skipping right to the desserts on his plate.
"It seems to be menacing people as they drive around on the country roads," Buffy said, leaning back on the soft leather couch.
"Multiple reports, too many to be ignored," Giles added.
"And since Angel asked me to help, this thing must be particularly nasty," Connor said, eating all his octopus without complaint.
"Well, so far the Bray Road Beast doesn't seem to be truly dangerous but if does inspire a great deal of fear in those who've seen it," Giles said and realized in a second he shouldn't have added that.
Connor stopped chewing, his jaw tightening. His eyes went stormy grey, flickering between Giles and Angel. "The Bray Road Beast?"
"I thought we could use your help," Angel said, and Buffy saw how uneasy he was. She knew he had overstepped the boundaries of the father-son relationship, if it could even be called that.
Connor tossed his plate on the coffee table. "We've been over this, Angel, you can't just call me whenever the hell you feel like it. The deal is, if it's a big problem, I come and help. Otherwise, leave me out of it. You can't keep faking serious problems and yanking me around. Come on, the Bray Road Beast? That piece of myth has been selling newspapers for years. Even if it's real, it sure as hell doesn't need my input on the matter!" He stalked out of the room.
Thalia turned on the sofa, watching her husband go. "Connor, don't be like this. I'm sure Giles and Buffy could really use your help, even if it is trying to do a little research into cryptozoology."
Connor didn't even slow down. Angel followed him out. The sounds of them arguing easily reached the living room. Buffy saw tears glistening in Thalia's chocolately eyes. She moved so she could sit on the couch with her.
Giles, seeing she wanted time alone with the pregnant woman, got up. "I should check my emails, see if Willow and the others still plan on joining us here in the next week or so."
Buffy waited until he was gone before putting a hand on Thalia's shoulder. "You okay?"
Thalia curled her fingers through her thick hair, nodding her head toward the kitchen. "Not really."
Buffy's face softened. "I know you have to be in a bad spot. I'm sure Angel doesn't mean to provoke these fights," she said, wishing she believed it. She knew how much he wanted his son back in his life full time. Buffy understood how hard Angel could press. Just look at how they were still dancing around each other. She knew he still wanted her but she was still trying to find herself and wasn't sure yet that the road led back to him. All she knew it didn't lead back to Spike, not any more. He had moved on without her.
Thalia let her hand drop. "I don't blame Angel. I don't know why Connor has to be such an ass to his father all the time...no, I guess I do know but I just wish he wouldn't get like this."
"I can imagine the stress you have to be under." Buffy sucked in her bottom lip, wondering just how involved she should get. Who was she kidding? It was Angel so that meant she was involved. "But if you know why Connor's so miserable when it comes to Angel, maybe you should just tell Angel. I know he has no clue why. He and I have talked about it and he's tried everything he can think of to figure it out and he can't."
Thalia tried to lever herself to her feet and gave up. "Connor doesn't want me talking about it, Buffy. It was all he could do to tell me." Tears rolled down her cheeks. "I'd never seen him like that. My husband is a strong, brave man and when he told me he was weeping like an infant. I'm not sure I can betray that trust."
Buffy got up, hearing the voices in the kitchen getting louder, more violent. "If I guess right, will you tell me? All Angel knows was Connor told him that his memories had come back, like a bad dream and that he was grateful, that he didn't want to make a big thing about it and after the battle of Blackthorn, Connor suddenly turned. That peaceful moment they had was gone. Was it because the Reillys were killed in the evacuation of Los Angeles during that battle?"
shook her head. "No. He doesn't blame Angel for that. He blames
himself. Buffy, please, don't press me."
Both women cringed as several metallic somethings clanked off a wall in the other room. "Can it be worse than this?"
Thalia put her hands on her stomach. "Connor is just so unreasonable some times. I don't want to have to lie to my husband and sneak over here so Angel can see his grandson."
"I don't think you'll have a choice."
"Are those two at it again?" Spike asked, entering the room with Illyria. He was freshly washed, his hair curling from a lack of gel. He had a large bruise on his face. Buffy presumed it was from sparring with Illyria. The demon-king looked unruffled.
"Of course they are," the Slayer said.
Thalia held out a hand to Buffy. "Help me off this damn couch." Once on her feet, Thalia waddled over to the kitchen and screamed, "Enough! Connor Reilly, just go out to the car this minute."
Buffy went over to her just in case it wouldn't be so easy to break them up. She was surprised to see Connor just drop the heavy tray onto the table at the sound of his wife's furious voice. Bowls of octopus had been strewn all over the kitchen. She assumed he had been about to beat Angel over the head with the tray.
"Thalia, this doesn't..." Connor's voice didn't even hold an ounce of conviction and his wife didn't even have to try hard to interrupt him.
"Look at this mess. Look at what you've done!" She gestured at all the food, trembling with rage. "Angel, do you need help cleaning this?"
He shook his head. "It's okay, Thalia, please don't get upset."
"It's a little late for that," she snapped and Buffy felt oddly proud of this young woman standing up to the vampire. "Now you, the two year old who's pretending to be my husband, you go to the car. Buffy, will you please tell Giles that we're sorry. Tomorrow evening we'll be back to help."
"Thanks, Thalia," Buffy said.
"And my husband will act like an adult if I have to kill him." Thalia turned slotted eyes on Connor who had made no move to leave. "Please put the rest of the food in the fridge. You'll have chicken for days. I'm sorry about this."
"Don't worry about it, Thalia. It's not your fault," Angel said, utterly abashed.
Thalia saw Connor still standing there. "Shouldn't you be out in the car?"
He reached for her to help her outside and she slapped his hand away, moving off without him. Connor looked back at Angel and Buffy was shocked that she didn't see anger there or hatred. There was simply an emptiness, a void behind his blue eyes that seemed depthless. It felt like drowning, as if she were to look too long, she would never be happy again. And then the look was gone, replaced by shame as he turned and left.
Buffy turned to Angel. "You knew bringing him here without a definite enemy would provoke him."
"I was hoping it would be different now that the baby is almost here." Angel's voice sounded like broken glass, sharp yet fragile.
"You can think about not fighting with him in front of Thalia while you get busy cleaning tentacles off the floor," she said, turning on her heel. Buffy spun back around, feeling sorry for him and for her own temper. "I'm trying to get Thalia to tell me what the real problem is. She knows, Angel, but she doesn't want to say."
didn't say anything. He didn't have to. His eyes said it all,
'please, thank you, exhume the truth, stop at nothing.' Buffy
went back into the living room, resolving to invite Thalia out
tomorrow and see if she could learn something more.
Thalia could feel the heat coming off her husband as he drove. She could bake i kreatopita /i in the van from the fires of his temper. She had no fear of that temper, knowing he would never turn it against her but she hated it all the same. She hated humiliating him in front of everyone, wishing she had found a less embarrassing way to bring him back under control. Unfortunately, her own abilities with rational thought and logic had gone off the rails right around the eighth week of pregnancy along with her ability to concentrate. Thank God for Marissa, Alexis and Zoe, her assistants at Angel's Catering or she would have been doomed.
Connor wasn't speaking to her and she wasn't sure if she should even try to break the silence. He somehow had the reins pulled tight on his temper. If it had been her as angry as he obviously was, she'd be rocketing through the streets, to hell with black ice and other dangers of a Wisconsin autumn. If she weren't within a week or so of giving birth, he might be as well but Connor had treated her like a china doll ever since he had found out about it; well, after the freak out but once she learned it wasn't the usual impending fatherhood jitters and he had shown her a side of the world she would have thought pure fantasy, - or a drug-induced hallucination - she understood why he went a little crazy. Still, sometimes his babying of her wore on her nerves. Like now when he parked at their painted lady home and immediately got out to come help her out of the van. She felt like swatting him away but given the way she tended to roll around like a Weeble maybe it was for the best.
"I need to get the rest of the trays out of the van. You can take some of the food to the fire station tomorrow."
He put a hand on her arm. "I'll get them. Go on inside and rest. It's been a bad day all around for you."
Thalia didn't argue. She went inside, having to trundle fairly quickly to the bathroom. Her son was apparently asleep head-down on her bladder. By the time she was done, she heard Connor in the basement of their nineteenth-century home putting the food in the large freezers there. Thalia loved the big old home, even if it had required a lot of work. Connor had used some of the money he had received from his 'parents' life insurance to restore the home. It was conveniently close to the University of Wisconsin and State street yet private enough to have a nice fenced in yard and a side street that wasn't too busy with traffic. She would feel safe once little Stephen was old enough to play outside.
Thalia caressed her belly, realizing she had already started thinking of her child by name, a name she wasn't sure Connor would agree to. There was something in his eyes when she had suggested naming the boy after her grandfather but he wouldn't tell her what was wrong. Connor was like that, always keeping things inside even when he shouldn't. She went into the kitchen to sneak a sweet even though she knew she shouldn't but with today's various ugly turns of events she needed a treat. She plopped a slice of i siphnopita /i on a plate just as arms went around her. Connor's cheek pressed against her neck.
"I'm so sorry, Thally."
She turned in his arms. "I know you are, Connor, but that can't be good enough any more. You can't keep on provoking fights like that. I won't have it. Now, I'm sorry I treated you like a child in front of everyone but you were acting like one."
Connor took a step back, looking at her with big, anguished eyes. "Thalia, I ..."
"No, Connor, no excuses. Why are you so blind to the fact that man loves you? I know you think he doesn't or can't or whatever it is you've twisted it up into in your head but it's not true," she said and he opened his mouth to speak. Her eyes hardened and his jaw snapped shut. "Connor, only someone who loves you would put up with you when you get like this."
"I guess I'm lucky you love me then," he said weakly.
She leaned in as close as her belly would let her and kissed him. "Yes, you are but I just don't want our child seeing stuff like tonight. Angel is the only grandparent our son will have. I don't want him to lose out on that and I don't want him seeing you and Angel fighting. Can't you just tell Angel how you feel about it all and try to work things out instead of letting it fester? It's been years now. It's not going to get any better unless you try to fix it."
He bit his bottom lip to keep it from trembling. "I don't think it can be fixed."
"Just tell Angel how you feel about being given to complete strangers, Connor. Find out why he did that instead of making Vail cast the spell so that you would simply be happy living with your real family. I can't believe Angel did it arbitrarily," Thalia argued, stroking his cheek.
"He's a vampire, Thally. They can't really love, no matter how hard he tries."
She turned away from him, reaching for the dessert. "Do you even believe your own bullshit?"
"Please, I don't want to fight with you." Connor put a hand on her back. "I'll try to not lose my temper so easily."
"That's a start." She took his hand, giving it a squeeze before putting the pie plate of dessert back in the refrigerator. She picked up her slice of i siphnopita /i and headed for the bed room. She never really liked eating in bed but sitting on the couch had gotten a little uncomfortable. She liked stretching out.
She flipped on the tv. Connor unlaced her cross-trainers and slipped them off her swollen feet while she balanced the plate on her belly. Usually that made little Stephen wake up and kick irritatedly as if insulted that his home was being used as furniture but tonight he slumbered on which was just as good. She preferred not to attempt to go to sleep while he was trying to get ready for the neonatal Olympics acrobatic team. Connor kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the bed beside her. "Anything good on?"
"Not really," she said, spooning some lemony cheescakey goodness into her mouth. Damn, she was a good cook even if she did say so herself. " i Stargate /i re-runs on the Sci-Fi channel."
"You and i Stargate, /i " he snorted. The way he rolled his eyes was so cute and she just couldn't stay furious with him. She didn't even want to try. She knew her lover was bleeding so much inside that she could at least try to forgive his occasional outbursts.
"What can I say, Teal'c's so sexy." She grinned at him and he laughed.
"If he's your type then how you settled for me is a total mystery." Connor sat up and rubbed her feet.
She offered him a spoonful of i siphnopita /i and he ate it greedily as she knew he would. Connor had such a sweet tooth. Anything with honey, chocolate or caramel didn't last long in the same room with him but he didn't have the good grace to pick up weight, bastard. She felt like a large blue whale at this point, half afraid she'd roll over and crush him in their sleep. Even if he didn't gain an ounce, Connor did develop a variety of sympathy pains, even if he wouldn't admit that's what they were. She loved him for it.
He swallowed the custardy dessert then leaned in for a kiss. "Do you know how much I love you?"
She smiled. "Sometimes with a ferocity that's almost frightening."
His smile was of that ferocious, feral nature and she loved it, too. "Just what I wanted to hear."
She popped more dessert into his mouth then polished it off herself, setting it on the night stand. She turned off the tv. "You can be sweet when you want to be." With her, she thought, with women in general. It was men he tended to butt heads with. At least he apparently behaved himself at the fire station. "And beautiful in your own way."
His face dimmed. "When I'm not being ugly like tonight."
She smoothed a hand over his brow. "Let's forget about tonight."
"I'd like that," he murmured, pulling her close for a warm, lingering kiss. "Sweet."
"Ummm, yes and a little ferocious would be nice
too right now." She reached down and massaged him through the
crotch of his pants.
Connor's eyes flew open wide. "Thally?"
She grinned, handling him harder. "Yes?"
"I would have thought today would have you tearing those off of me."
"When you let them do your thinking, I'm very tempted." She nipped his chin. "But they have their uses." She stripped off her shirt as he smiled at her. The hormones that had been flooding her system for the last nine months had made for emotional swings but they had almost made for some of the best sex she had ever enjoyed. At least the elastic waistband of her maternity pants made it easy to get them off. Thalia got on top of him. "And I can think of a few uses for them now."
"It's still okay?" His ever-present concern for her shone in his eyes.
"Okay? The doctor said it was a great way to get the whole delivery process rolling."
A worried look flitted across his face. "I'm not sure I'm entirely ready for that."
"You?" She lifted his hands to her face, kissing his fingers. "Your part in this is over and it was fun. I have all the hard parts."
His hands slipped hers, caressing her face. "It is good to be a man." His hands traveled over her sensitive skin and across her belly.
She laughed. "No kidding."
"Did I tell you today how beautiful you are?"
"It's always welcome news," she promised him then found ways to show him how much she loved him without needing words.
She brushed her long hair out of her eyes. She was so tired. It had taken years for her to worm her way back into an organization rivaling Wolfram and Hart's power. The i Dawl Irrifletta /i was sort of like the Anti-Watcher's, an image that made her laugh. She wondered if the Watchers even knew the i Dawl Irrifletta /i existed. The group didn't have quite the ambition of Wolfram and Hart. For them, it was less about money and more about knowledge, most of it dark and deadly.
She didn't care much about it being less of a glamour outfit than Wolfram and Hart. She wasn't about that any more. She had lost too much, had barely escaped with her life. Now it was time to get revenge for what had been taken from her. She had always wondered why Angel had never had the spell to become human performed on him. Oh, it would take him being dusted and brought back like his own sire had been. She always assumed it was the fact that he didn't trust anyone to care enough to bring him back, until she started researching the spell a few months past. She hadn't anticipated some of the truly evil sacrifices required beforehand to make the spell work, not that she or anyone in the i Dawl Irrifletta /i cared.
They allowed her to do the spell so long as she took careful notes. All they wanted was to glean what they could from her experiment. That suited her just fine. Everyone would get what they wanted. She checked her watch. It was time to go make a few more observations of the test subject, and soon, everything would be set for the experiment to begin in earnest. She could hardly wait.