"You think a night of demon hunting will bring him out of it for a while?" Gunn asked, glancing speculatively at the office, where Angel was pretending to do paperwork.
"It doesn't usually," Fred said leaning on her hand as she bent over her book at the front desk.
"This is sooo dumb," Cordelia snapped, pushing herself off of her chair and stomping out into the foyer. "I didn't turn down being a higher power just to watch Angel sulk."
"Why did you turn down being a higher power?" Wesley asked, from his position polishing a scythe on the lobby steps.
"Can you imagine me all white and glowy? Pfft, no thanks," Cordelia flipped her hair over her shoulder. "Besides, who would See for you if I was gone?"
"We're glad you stayed," Fred said warmly.
Cordelia stole a glance at Angel's office door.
"Yeah, me too."
The phone rang sharply, and Fred picked it up.
"Angel Investigations, we help the helpless," she paused. "Oh sure. Wes? It's for you."
Wes gave Fred a small smile as he ambled over and took the receiver from her.
"Wesley? Um, hi. It's me. Willow. Obviously."
"Willow." A finger of dread curled itself around Wesley's heart. If Willow was calling outside of their schedule, something must be wrong. "Having another apocalypse already?" He kept his tone light, for the sake of the others in the room.
"Just wanted to consult on a demon language," Willow said nervously. "Maybe I could talk to you, you know, in private."
"Of course," Wesley said. "Let me call you back." He hung up, and turned on his heel.
"Was that Sunnydale?" Cordelia asked, perking up from her slumped position. "If you quit hogging the phone I could have said hello."
Wesley have her a tight smile.
"Just Willow wanting my expertise on something," he lied smoothly. "She's the defacto scholar of the group now that Giles isn't there."
"Lucky her," Cordelia muttered.
Wesley gave one last, regretful glance at the open office door before making his way up the stairs to his room.
It weighed heavily on him, keeping this secret from the others. Especially when he could feel the burden of Angel's misery. It had been eight months since Connor had gone missing, and Angel's grief seemed to grow with every passing day. Although Angel Investigations had searched every demon hotbed and cult sanctuary, Wes had managed to steer them off the actual trail. The necessity of it lay heavily on his shoulders. He hated to see his best friend in such agony, but Connor was of paramount importance here. Nothing, not Angel's grief or Wes's guilt, was more important than Connor's life.
With a heart burdened with guilt and a small spark of hastily smothered panic, Wesley locked his door and dialed Sunnydale.
"Wes," Buffy didn't even spare time for a greeting.
"Buffy. What's wrong? Is Connor alright?" Wes asked.
"I… don't know."
Buffy seemed on the edge of some sort of panic. Her voice came in sharp gasps.
"What do you mean you don't know?" Wes asked sharply, before forcing himself to calm down. "Tell me what the matter is, and I'll try to help," he said gently.
Buffy breathed heavily down the phone line.
"It's happening too fast, Wes. What if it's happening too fast?"
"Buffy. I can't help if you don't tell me what's wrong."
"Connor said his first words," the words tumbled out of Buffy's mouth like a dreadful confession. "He's barely a year. He just started to stand up on his own. How can he be talking yet?"
"I'm no expert on pediatrics, but that does seem early," Wesley admitted. He frowned, perching on the edge of the dresser. "Do you want me to do some research about it?"
This seemed to calm Buffy down slightly.
"Can you?" She asked, helplessly. "It's just, what if he grows too fast? What if, in five years, he's a teenager? What if in ten years he's grown up? I can't do that, Wes."
"I won't know anything till I do some research," Wesley soothed. "But I can't promise any solutions. We don't know anything about Connor. He's utterly unique."
"I can't do this any more, Wes," Buffy admitted. "I can't… what if I lose him?"
Wesley rubbed the back of his head, somewhat bewildered. Buffy hadn't called him in the middle of the night to tell him Connor's growth was accelerating, not really. Something like that could have waited until their scheduled checkup. If she had risked calling the Hyperion to tell him something, surely it was important.
"What's really bothering you?" he hazarded.
"Nothing…" Buffy's voice wavered, tight with emotion. "I'm just worried about Connor."
"You can tell me anything, Buffy, you know that," said Wes. "We're allies. Friends. What is it?"
"It's just… Spike…" Buffy's voice was lost in something that sounded suspiciously like a sob.
"Spike," Wes's voice was clipped.
"He's never… not until tonight. I told him to stop, but he said this is always how it starts and…"
"Buffy. Did Spike hurt you? Did he… touch … you?" Wesley's body was suddenly taut with rage. He found himself standing in the middle of the room, stiff with anger.
"It wasn't supposed to be this way," Buffy was crying for real now, talking around gulping sobs. "He was just supposed to… but this time I said no, and it didn't matter… what kind of horrible mother am I?"
Wesley was shoving his arms through his coat sleeves before he knew what he was doing.
"I'm coming over there," he said tightly.
"What? No! Why?"
"I'm going to put a stake through that vampires heart and watch while he turns to ashes."
Wesley felt cold all over, and at the same time alive with energy, like electricity was flowing through him. Waves of protective anger washed through him, making his hands shake with the urge to kill Spike, to see the vampire's dust settle to the ground. He was despicable, to take what Buffy wasn't offering.
"Wesley," Buffy's voice was soft, calmer. "You can't come."
"Tough. I am."
He already had a bag in his hand, was throwing a change of clothes into it.
"How would you explain it to the others? Can't compromise Connor's safety, just cus I'm feeling bad," Buffy sniffled, then sighed. "I'm sorry. That all came out at once. I shouldn't have made you deal with this, too."
"I'm here for you, Buffy," Wesley reminded her. "For you and for Connor. And I'm coming to Sunnydale."
"Not tonight," Buffy begged. "Please. I can't… I don't want to talk about it any more. Come next week, like you were planning to. "
"He's not coming near me again. Not now, not ever," Buffy said, steel in her voice.
"Talk to Willow," Wesley said, sitting on the edge of his bed, defeated. "You'll feel better if you do. I won't tell you to be careful, because you're the Slayer and I know you can handle yourself. But do try to be careful."
Buffy's watery chuckle was a balm to Wesley's frayed nerves.
"I will. Thanks for… thanks for listening Wes. I haven't told anyone else, but I know I can trust you."
Wesley smiled at her admission.
"Try to get some sleep. I will see you and Connor next week. Hopefully then I will have some answers for you, as well."
"Thanks, Wes," Buffy said again. "For everything."
Wesley placed the phone back in its cradle with a sigh. His instincts were screaming at him to rush to Sunnydale, to dust the blond vampire where he stood, but Buffy was right. There would be too many questions if he rushed off in the middle of the night. Besides, Buffy didn't exactly need his protection.
He let out another shaky breath, and pulled out a sheet of paper. If he was going to give Buffy her answers by next week, he was going to need to put his thoughts in order first. It was going to be a long night.
It was a Saturday, which would have been good in Dawn's opinion, except that it was her turn on baby duty. Dawn gave an exaggerated sigh, and trudged up the stairs. Willow was at the top of them, nervously hovering around Buffy's door.
"She up yet?" Dawn asked.
Willow shook her head.
"Don't think so. Don't hear any movement. She had kind of a rough night last night. Didn't want to talk about it."
Dawn played with the end of her hair.
"How'd everything get so screwed up?" she asked, not expecting Willow to answer.
"I dunno," Willow said, glancing back at her own room, a little flustered. "Things are just… complicated… right now. Maybe you should go back to bed and…"
"Is she awake yet?" Asked a voice from Willow's room.
Tara stepped out, her hair messy above a red bedsheet she had wrapped around her.
Tara. In nothing but a bedsheet. In Willow's room. Dawn couldn't help the smile that bloomed all over her face. She was smiling so hard it hurt.
Tara and Willow exchanged embarrassed looks.
"… Hey," Tara said, awkwardly.
"Ohhh! You two made up! That's, like, the greatest news I've heard all week!"
"… This is my cue to put some clothes on," Tara muttered, her face as red as Willow's hair.
"No!" Dawn exclaimed hastily. "No! You stay. I'm not here. You guys do whatever you want. I'm taking Connor to the park. Right now," A giggle escaped, and she clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle it. "Don't worry about anything!" She gave another squeal of delight, then darted back downstairs, forgetting that had come up in the first place for her jacket.
"I love you guys!" she said happily, dashing into her room for her forgotten jacket. Tara and Willow were still standing, frozen with embarrassment, in the hallway. Dawn gave them one final delighted grin, then hurried downstairs. The faster she got out of the house with the baby, the faster those two could go back to being blissfully un-fighty.
Connor was crawling around happily on the floor of the living room. Dawn snatched him up with a flourish, whirling him around.
"They're back together! They're back together!" she chanted. Connor caught her elated mood and giggled.
"Daw!" he said.
"That's right, sweetie. Auntie Dawnie is going to take you to the park, so that Auntie Willow and Auntie Tara can live happily ever after," Dawn plunked Connor into his stroller, settling her purse against her shoulder. She made sure to slam the door good and hard, so that the two lovers upstairs knew she was gone.
Dawn set off pushing the stroller towards the park, still grinning to herself. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and Tara and Willow were in love with each other again. It was the perfect day.
She glanced down at the baby bag that hung off the stroller's handles, and giggled.
"This has to be the only diaper bag that has a stake in one pocket and a dagger in the other," she muttered to herself, pushing the stake further into the picket so it wasn't visible.
Connor babbled happily to himself, catching Dawn's light mood.
"Can you say 'park', Connor? 'Paaarrrrk"?"
"Paaak!" said Connor.
Dawn laughed, feeling like she would float away, she was so light.
"Close enough, kiddo."
They were almost to the park when a voice cut through Dawn's happy bubble of unawareness.
"Hey Summers, who knocked you up?"
Dawn's happy day instantly deflated. Great, just when she was feeling on top of the world, she had to run into Brenden and his goon squad from school. She had managed to avoid most of them every since her mom died, but she had almost been one of the cool kids, once, and they wouldn't let her forget her failure. It had seemed important to her, once, before things like her mom and sister dying had pushed stupid things like that out of her head. She ignored their brash voices, and pushed on.
"I knew you ere gone from school for a while, but I didn't know it was this bad," said a new voice. Dawn's head whipped around. It was Kari, queen bee of what was left of Sunnydale High. Everyone laughed.
"Don't be stupid," Dawn said, annoyed more than hurt. "This is my sister's kid. My grown up sister."
"You mean the sister who dropped out of college and works at the Doublemeat?" Kari asked snidely.
Dawn felt her face burn.
"You know, you really shouldn't talk about things that are way beyond your pay grade."
Everyone swiveled around. Standing outside the group, with his hands loosely in his pockets, was a tall, dark haired man. He looked sort of familiar to Dawn.
Kari sneered at him.
"Excuse me, just who do you think you are?"
The man smiled.
"Just who do you think you are? You're even dumber than you look if you don't know who you're talking to there."
"Sure I do. Trailer Trash Summers."
The man snorted.
"I'd run along if I were you, little girl. There's a whole world right here that you have no idea about."
Kari made an annoyed sound in the back of her throat.
"Whatever. Come on, guys. We don't want to mess with Trailer Trash when she's got her trailer trash boyfriend to stand up for her."
Kari turned on her heel, and the rest of her sheep followed obediently behind.
Dawn turned thankfully to the man.
"Warren," he said, smiling at her.
"Thanks, Warren. You really saved me there."
Warren gave her a wide smile. Which, now that she was paying attention, wasn't a very nice smile at all.
"Oh, don't thank me yet."
A sharp blow to the back of Dawn's head caused her to fall to her knees. She lashed her hands out, feeling for the knife in the diaper bag, but hands gripped hers.
"Nuh huh, little girl," said Warren's disembodied voice.
The last sound Dawn heard before her world went black was Connor crying.
When Buffy came downstairs, it was almost noon. She trailed exhaustedly into the kitchen, running a hand through her tumbled hair. She had managed to get dressed, but that was really all she was up for today. Thankfully her shift at the Doublemeat didn't start until the evening, so she was ok for most of the day.
Tara and Willow were sitting at the breakfast bar, heads bent together conspiratorially.
"Hey guys," Buffy greeted them.
Both jumped at her words, looking guilty and a little embarrassed.
Buffy couldn't hide her grin.
"Hey Tara. Nice to see you here again."
"Nice to be here again," Tara admitted, grabbing hold of Willow's hand. Willow's smile could have lit up the sun.
"Good morning sleepyhead," said Xander from the dining room. "So nice of you to join us."
Buffy opened her mouth, then closed it.
"Guess I slept in," she said.
"Did Wes tell you what you wanted to know last night?" Willow asked.
Buffy nodded, pouring herself a bowl of cereal.
"Yeah, he was in full Watcher mode. Said he'd get back to me after he hit the books."
"You called Wes about something?" Tara asked.
"I had a question about Connor, how he's growing so fast. He said his first words last night."
"Oh yeah? What was it?" Tara propped her chin up with her free hand.
"Mommy," said Buffy, smiling in spite of herself.
"I thought maybe it'd be 'demon' or something. Nice to know the kid's got some normal tendencies," Xander joked.
"Yeah, like hating you," Buffy returned.
They were all still laughing when the door burst open. Buffy was in the hallway in a second. Dawn leaned against the wall, gasping for breath. She was dirty, with leaves in her normally meticulous brown hair and tear smudges on her face. There was a nasty cut on her arm.
"Dawnie? What is it?" It took Buffy's brain a moment to catch up with her words. "…. Where's Connor?"
"They took him," she gasped. "Buffy, I'm so sorry. I tried to stop it. They took him."
"This is not a good idea," Jonathan moaned. "This is so not a good idea."
"Warren, are you sure we need to do this?" Andrew asked, staring at the no-longer moving gym bag. "He's just a baby."
"Shut up, both of you," Warren snapped. "You really don't see it, do you? We need blood to complete the ritual. I'm sick of just talking about power, I want to have some. The spell calls for blood. How much better will it be if it's the blood of a child of two vampires? And the Slayer's own kid, to boot. Revenge and power all in one go. It's brilliant!"
Jonathan and Andrew exchanged a glance.
"Look," said Andrew. "It was kind of fun to mess with the Slayer, but killing a baby is too far. I didn't sign up to kill anyone."
"Then what did you sign up for?" Warren demanded. "If not him, then it's you. You want your blood to seal the spell?" He was waving a dagger around, slashing the air with it for emphasis.
Andrew and Jonathan cowered back.
"Get the kid," Warren instructed.
Jonathan's hands trembled as he opened the gym bag. Inside, the baby was still asleep, knocked out cold with whatever Warren had dosed him with to make him shut up. He lifted the baby up into his arms, walking over to Warren.
Warren bent over the spell book, scrutinizing the words.
"Bring him here," he instructed, the knife glinting dully in his hand.
"Ok, wait," Andrew said, intercepting Jonathan. "Hang on a second. I don't want to do this any more."
Warren wasn't even looking at him. His eyes were still fixed on the book.
"Bring the kid, Jonathan," he said, his voice low and hypnotic.
Jonathan trembled as he took another step forward.
"Maybe Warren's right. We've never had real power before," he whispered. "It's not like it's human, anyways."
Andrew tugged at Jonathan's shirt.
"This isn't what Bruce Wayne would do," he whispered.
"Maybe we're not Batman," Jonathan said. "Maybe we're the Joker." He shoved Andrew, hard enough that the other boy stumbled and fell badly. A sickening crunch told him that the ankle he'd fallen on was broken.
Jonathan lay the kid's sleeping body on the table. Andrew could only watch, hypnotized with horror and pain, as Warren raised the knife. He began to chant in Latin.
The blade flashed, and a gash on the boy's arm dripped blood onto the book. The book soaked it up as if it was drinking it.
"Give to me the power. It is mine." Warren threw his head back as swirls flew from the book, covering him in an inky green smoke. When it cleared, Warren was different. He snapped his finger, and power sparked from it.
"Cool," he said.
"Is that it?" Jonathan asked, shakily.
"No. That's just the first step. In order for the power to become permanent, we need more blood. We need it all."
Warren turned back to the boy on the table, his knife raised again. Jonathan began to chant.
An explosion of sound and movement broke the mesmerizing silence. The door burst open, and a very angry Slayer stalked in, a knife of her own gleaming in her hand.
"Get away from my son."
It was a blur of movement. One minute Buffy was standing on the opposite end of the room, the next she was throwing punches. Andrew cowered in the corner as the Slayer's friends poured into the room. The two witches, the construction guy, the baby sister, they were all there. The pain whenever Andrew moved was too intense. He tried to stay as still as possible.
It didn't take much to take Jonathan down. One look at an angry Scooby gang and Jonathan dropped all pretense and fled. The red haired witch snatched the kid's body up from the table, cradling it against her.
"Buffy! He's alive!" her voice rang out amidst the chaos.
"Blood magic," the brunette witch muttered. "This is dark, dark magic."
"Dark magic for dark power," Warrant taunted. He and the Slayer circled each other, looking for weaknesses.
"You're lucky my son's alive, Warren. Otherwise you wouldn't be standing here." Buffy's beautiful face was hard as granite and just as warm.
"You always were good at empty threats. What're you going to do, slay me?"
"I'm considering it."
Buffy threw the first punch, knocking Warren off balance. But he recovered quickly. The spell gave him strength as well as magic. It flew from his fingertips as he swung at the Slayer.
"Tara! Help me!" the redheaded witch shouted. Power seemed to radiate from both of them, streaming forward and bouncing off Warren's newfound shield.
"Dawn, get the baby out of here," Tara instructed. Despite the strain of constant power flowing out of her, her voice was calm. "Xander, go with her."
Warren and Buffy were throwing punches left and right, but neither seemed to be getting the upper hand. For once, the Slayer was fighting someone that equaled her powers.
Sweat glistened on Warren's forehead as he dodged and kicked and punched. He still wielded the knife he had used in the ceremony, but he wasn't nearly as effectual as Buffy in using it. She lunged forward, and a long gash appeared on Warren's arm.
"You'll pay for that, Slayer," he grit out.
"His shield is weakening," Tara said. "Just a little bit more."
The magic was crackling all over Warren's skin now. He hadn't completed the spell, and now he was using up the magic too fast.
"I'm going to make sure you never come near me and mine again," the Slayer ground out.
"You can try, sweetheart," Warren returned. But his skin was turning an alarming shade of gray.
A shot rang out, its sound amplified by the stone walls of the room. Andrew raised his head enough to see Jonathan at the other door, his hands shaking as he struggled to keep the gun steady.
"You missed," Buffy taunted.
"This has been fun, maybe we'll do it again sometime, Slayer," Warren said. He grinned, a shadow of his former cocky smirk, and disappeared, leaving only inky green smoke in his wake.
"Wil, Tara, can you help me track him down?" Buffy asked.
"I think I…" Willow said. She glanced at the brunette "Tara?"
Tara was looking down at her stomach. Red bloomed through her shirt like a sickly flower.
"Oh," she whispered. Then she crumpled to the ground.