(the "We Put the 'Funk' in 'Dysfunctional' " Remix)
Copyright July 2009
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel: the Series are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.
This story is a remix (done for Round 9 of Remix Redux)
of "Loose Ends", by M. Scott Eiland.
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
The thing crowding through the break in the rock wall was over seven feet tall, stupendously muscled, with a leathery dark torso daubed with tribal markings in blue-white clay. Those details, and the stringy long hair and snarling, gape-toothed mouth, gave him a powerful resemblance to the Uruk-hai from the Lord of the Rings movies. With a growl of savage determination, he raised a long-spiked mace, but the diminutive blonde girl struck first with a captured bludgeon, cracking the creature's skull open like a not-quite-ripe pumpkin. She aimed the backswing at another, pushing in behind the one she had just killed, but he stumbled over the legs of his fallen comrade, so that she only smashed his shoulder. He tumbled back with an unholy screech, and the defenders inside the cramped space were granted a few moments of comparative respite.
The blonde girl used them to glare at man beside her. "This happens every time I come to visit you," she snapped. "Every single time."
He loomed literally head and shoulders above her, broad chest and powerful arms showing through the gaps in the torn black silk shirt, so his physical deference to her was all the more noticeable. "Not every time," he protested. He stood ready with a crude axe, also taken from the things attacking him; it was clearly designed for use by someone much larger than himself, but he held it with easy, assured strength. "And, be fair, plenty of things happen to you when I'm not around —"
She had a biting retort poised on her lips, but it was forestalled. "Uh, guys, can we save this?" The new speaker, unlike the first two, was gasping with effort, and sweat ran down his face and darkened his collar and under his arms. One eye blinked rapidly to clear away the stinging perspiration, while a black leather patch covered the other. "He's a trouble-magnet, you're a trouble-magnet, I've got plenty of cred there myself, there's more than enough blame to go around but aren't we kind of busy right now?" His weapon was a khukri, the great curved knife of the Gurkha tribesmen who were still numbered among the world's toughest and most fearsome soldiers. It was stained to the hilt with thick, dark-olive fluid, and he gripped it with a force that whitened his knuckles. "Besides, look at the bright side: far as we can tell, there's no world-ending involved in this little shindig. … Well, probably not. They just seem to want to kill us."
"They can keep on wanting," the girl said, and swung the bludgeon again. It was massive, almost fifty pounds of iron-hard wood with slivers of bronze worked into the head to give it greater impact, and despite her strength, her own mass was so small that she almost pulled herself off her feet with every blow. Nonetheless, she struck true, crushing the facial bones of another attacker, and the man in the silk shirt leaped into the breach to hack with the axe at the next two creatures in line. "Or not," she corrected herself, breathing evenly. "If they all of a sudden stopped wanting to kill us, that would be good, too." She looked back to the man with the eye-patch. "Xander, is she —?"
"We can't be sure." This was yet a fourth voice, and its owner glanced up from his position at the back of their defensive space. "She's still unconscious, but her breathing and heart rate are normal, and her pupils aren't uneven. I think we can hope there's no concussion … or, at least, not too great of one." He was older than his companions, with silvering hair and wire-framed spectacles; lines of experience (and humor) were carved into his face, though at the moment tension was predominant. His eyes went back to the slender, red-haired woman sprawled back with her head in his lap; her skin was pale, her mouth slack, and her hands lay limp beside her, a large bruise seeping blood at her left temple. "I've come to think of her as all but invincible," he observed, the crisp, precise British tone carrying even through the softness of his words. "Been concerned about her choices, about her control, but hardly ever about her safety anymore, and certainly not from … from …"
"From somebody heaving a rock at her," Xander finished. "I know what you mean, she could take out a cruise missile and laugh about it, but I guess even the Wiccan Wil of the West can't have her shields up every second." He shook his head. "We've been through worse than this. I keep telling myself that. Lots worse than this, lots of times, and we made it out okay. Of course …" His voice rose. "… we weren't IN HELL at the time —!"
"Nor are we now," the British man returned. "The immediate inhabitants are … unpleasant, certainly, and our current surroundings seem rather bleak, but all in all, our environment is surprisingly earthlike. I'd say we were snatched to a parallel reality, rather than one of the hell dimensions." He sighed. "Fortunate. It offers a greater hope for our survival while the others try to locate us, and the energy gradient for extracting us won't be so forbidding."
The blonde girl looked at the man with the axe, eyebrows raised. (At closer inspection, she was a young woman rather than a girl, the illusion of adolescence reinforced by her petite frame and delicate features. It was the determination, in her expression and her voice, that gave the lie.) "Is that right, Angel? I mean, you've actually been to Hell, so if anybody would know …"
"Giles is right, Buffy." His gaze was steady, controlled, that of a man for whom self-restraint was a fundamental part of his nature. "We're in mountainous territory right now, but I can catch the scent of a forest some miles away, when the wind is right. This place isn't bad at all. Reminds me some of Pylea."
There was another rush of howling creatures trying to crowd through the break in the rock, and Buffy and Angel were busy for the next several minutes. When the opening was again clogged with bodies, allowing for another few minutes' rest, the older man — Giles — observed, "I believe I've heard of this place Pylea from Wesley, and even a bit from your friend Fred. That was, erm, the dimension where sunlight wasn't deadly to you —?"
Xander's laugh was quick, sharp, and harsh. "Better hope that's true here, too. Because unless your compadres at Evil, Evil & Evil haul us back PDQ …" He gestured at their surroundings. "I don't think we're gonna have much shade here, once the sun comes up."
Buffy blew out a vexed breath. "And all because of Dawn. Why do we have to keep cleaning up after her problems?"
"Comes with the whole 'Summers blood' thing, I guess," Xander answered. "Besides, do you really wish she was here with us, in the middle of all this?"
"No," Buffy admitted grudgingly. "But I am SO going to make sure she hears of how much trouble we're going through for her, while she's off somewhere enjoying herself!"
~ – ~ – ~
She ran all-out, every muscle straining, not bothering to look back because yes he would be there. His speed was beyond human but she'd snatched a head start at the very beginning, and she did what she could to maintain it, knocking obstacles into his path as she hurtled down the corridor of the derelict hotel. Her heart hammered, she wasn't tired yet — too soon — but at this pace she would exhaust herself in seconds. Exhaustion meant he would catch her. So did slowing down. She reached inside herself for one more fleeting sliver of determination, and ran just that tiniest bit harder.
End of the corridor. She'd lose momentum with the turn, and a half-second ago she'd felt what might have been his fingertips brushing her shoulder at the end of an abrupt lunge that fell (barely) short. She couldn't afford any delay, none, she shoved off the wall at her right to carry her into the branching corridor at an angle and bounced off that wall as well, still running at full speed, she was sure she had gained a step, step and a half, and instinct or a whisper of sound prompted her to drop instantly, curling into a ball. He tripped over her and went flying down the hallway, caught off-guard by the unexpected move, and as he landed in a sprawling tumble she was already exploding to her feet, reversing course to race back around the corner she had just cleared.
The only advantage she had, the only one, was his confidence. He knew as well as she did that he didn't need to expend his full resources to overtake her, so he took a leisurely extra second to roll back upright and start after her again. He swung around the corner in an easy lope that looked ungainly but covered ground at a shocking rate of speed —
— and caught the flagpole full in the face, delivered with every last ounce of her strength. Braced, he could have shaken it off easily (though it still would have hurt), but he'd still been changing direction when the blow landed, and his feet kept going even as his head was slammed back. He did a perfect pratfall, she'd hit him hard enough to snap the narrow shaft of the flagpole at an angle, he came down flat of his back on the hotel carpet and she jumped astraddle of him, striking downward with the sheered point at the broken end.
He caught it with one hand just as the tip of the wooden lance touched his chest. He could feel the splinters poking through the fabric of his shirt, feel the tension of her grip through the pole, but he held steady with only a small effort. "Close," he said to her. "Really close. That was pretty good."
" 'Close?' " she repeated scornfully. "Give it up, Connor. I had you. You were total dead meat."
"I stopped it," he pointed out. "Okay, you'd have got most vampires with that move, they can move fast enough but they don't always think fast enough, but I did catch it just at the last second."
"You caught it when I stopped." She stepped back, allowing him to rise. "I took you down, I was right there with the follow-up, and I stopped because I didn't really want to turn you into jumbo shish-kebab." She gave him a tilted glance full of appraisal and challenge. "Of course, I could always change my mind on that last part."
"Please." He shook his head; a long, bleeding welt slanted across his eyebrow, but he showed no sign of noticing it. "I already said it was a good move, and okay, I'll admit that when I grabbed the pole I could feel that you'd hit the end of the strike. You won that one fair and square … but that was IT. I wanted you to show me what you've got, you showed me, but there's just no way you could take me a second time. You're cool, Dawn, but you're not superhuman, and I am."
His recovery had, indeed, been dismayingly quick. Connor wasn't even as tall as she was, but she knew that the gangling adolescent frame hid a power and quickness that almost equaled Angel's. Not that she was about to say so. "Oh, come on. I grew up on a Hellmouth, where everything was superhuman. And I was taught to fight by the best there is."
He sighed. "Yeah. I know. Buffy, scourge of the netherworld, Slayer without peer. I swear, if I have to spend another minute listening to how magnificent Buffy is —"
"Not even!" Dawn broke in. "I mean, yeah, she really is as good as they say — just not as good as she thinks she is — but she wasn't who I learned from."
Connor studied her, a quizzical quirk at the side of his mouth. She had recovered her breath, but her body was just beginning to produce the sweat her mad dash had engendered. She was slender, graceful, dark-haired and huge-eyed, and the flush of recent effort seemed only to enhance her innate vitality. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, more even than Cordelia, and that was saying a lot. "No?" he asked. "That wasn't the way I heard it."
"She tried," Dawn admitted. "She started giving me lessons, the summer after she … came back. And she really had a lot to teach me about attitude, about assessing a situation, about finding the power inside myself. But teaching me to fight …" She shook her head. "She couldn't do it. She couldn't scale back enough. She's a supernatural creature, taking on other supernatural creatures, and that's fine for her but I'm not in that class. No, the world's greatest authority on slugging it out with the heavyweights when you're not one? That would be Xander."
"Xander, huh?" Connor gave her a quick grin. "I've heard a story or two. Only, every time his name comes up, my dad gets a funny look on his face. And then he changes the subject, quick."
"I believe it," Dawn said. "And that, right there, probably tells you all you need to know about Xander."
~ – ~ – ~
"They're up to something out there," Xander said. "If we weren't surrounded by rocks, I'd worry about them setting the place on fire, but they're definitely up to something."
"No fire," Angel said. "I'd smell it. You're right, they're arguing about something, but I can't tell what, I'm not familiar with the language." He studied Xander thoughtfully. "I can hear them, but you shouldn't even be able to make out words. How can you tell?"
Xander had wiped the khukri on the end of his shirt-tail, and he held a hefty stone in his other hand: ready, clearly, to fight with all he had if the quasi-demons outside should somehow break in here. He gave a clipped laugh and said, "When you've lived through as many family get-togethers as I have, you learn to recognize the tone. And the tone out there is, 'Okay, if you're so smart, what do you think we should do?'. They're still trying to work out a way to get at us."
"They can wait us out, if need be," Giles observed. "They'll have access to food, water, or whatever they use in its place. We have none of those things." He glanced again at the young woman whose head was cradled in his lap. "Our most precious resource should trump all of theirs, if she wakes up, but until she does, we're at a decided disadvantage."
"Not while our heavy hitters keep channeling Horatio at the bridge." Xander looked up at the sky. "We don't have forever, though. Mister Sun should be peeking in here in four, five hours."
"Three and a half before it clears that ridge," Angel corrected him. "Another ten minutes till there's no more cover for me." He met the boy's gaze, expressionless. "You have your area of expertise. I have mine."
"We'll have to fight our way out, then," Buffy said. She adjusted her grip on the bludgeon. "They won't be expecting that."
"No, they won't," Angel said. "Because it would be suicidal. There were dozens of them coming after us when we squeezed back into this spot, and I could hear more on the way. From the sounds, there are over a hundred out there now. If they could come at us more than one or two at a time, it would already be over. No, we're stuck here until Willow regains consciousness, or until Fred and her team locate us and pull us back."
"Funny, isn't it?" Xander said. They looked to him, and he explained, "Here we are, just the five of us, exactly like that first year back in Sunnydale. Who'd have thought?"
"It's not over," Buffy told him, her eyes going back to the opening in the rock wall that sheltered them. "You said it yourself, we've been through worse than this."
"Oh, I'm not about to start playing Taps," Xander assured her. "I'm just marveling. All this time, and it's the same old gang gathered together. Us and nobody else. Fate surely has a sense of humor."
Angel made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat. "You have no idea."
"Tell us," Buffy said to him. "I mean, you had barely started on the explanation, while Willow was warming up the seeking-glyph, when we got shot into here. The first part sounded crazy, and then we got really busy all of a sudden. What was it you were saying about Dawn? Because whenever I hear 'It's about Dawn', I know this one is going to be a headache."
"It doesn't just concern Dawn," Angel said. "I was hoping Willow could check the proof of it before I got into specifics, but somebody must have worked a trap into the seeking-glyph. Old enemy, some corporate backstabber inside Wolfram & Hart, maybe even a play by the Senior Partners themselves. I don't know. But even though Dawn is right in the middle, it goes a lot farther than that …"
~ – ~ – ~
"No way!" Dawn protested. "Three years ago? I was only born four years ago. Sort of." She blinked, considering. "So how did that work, exactly? Because there are parts of mine I'm still trying to figure out."
"Grew up in another dimension," Connor explained. "Time passes faster there than it does here. I was taken there as a baby, spent fifteen, sixteen years learning how to kill things, came back here — actually, dropped into the lobby of the hotel we just left — and learned I'd only been gone two months. You?"
"Created on the spot by some monks in Croatia or someplace, complete with a full set of memories, not just for me but for all my family and friends." Dawn sighed. "No superpowers, though, which is a total gyp."
He whistled. "Weird."
"Look who's talking!"
"Hey, I never said my backstory was normal."
"Well, I'm glad I decided to ignore your protective-compulsive paternal unit and get with you so we could compare notes. This stuff is just too good to miss."
"Yeah, same here." Connor looked around. "That chase scene back at the Hyperion gave me an appetite. Want to grab a hot dog?"
Dawn shrugged. "Sure."
~ – ~ – ~
"A son?" Buffy blurted. "You have a son? How did that happen? You told me it was impossible, you said you couldn't —"
"I can't," Angel agreed. "And yes, it's impossible. There was so much crazy stuff going on back then, I spent more time trying to survive it than to figure it out. When Dawn came to see me, though, asking about Connor, why no one seemed to remember him … well, it hit me hard. In the whole world, the only person besides me who still knew he had ever existed, and it was someone who'd never met him, who had no reason to care for him. I had to understand, so I started looking deeper, trying to find the connection, to make some sense of it. The things I found … well, that's when I called the four of you."
"Okay," Buffy said. "Umm …" There was movement on the other side of the breach in the rock wall, and she readied herself. Beside her, Angel did the same. Nothing came, and after a few minutes she relaxed. "Why all four of us, though? Is it because we're the ones who care most about Dawn?"
"That was the main reason," Angel admitted. "There was more to it than that, though. I hoped Willow could tell me if what I was finding was true. Giles, you're plugged into resources in the new Council, you might be able to find avenues of investigation that hadn't occurred to me. Buffy, you were right about the connection between you and Dawn, but it goes farther than anybody realized."
"And how about me?" Xander challenged. He waved his hands to take in their surroundings. "Not that I'm complaining, if the gang's going to be trapped in a rock fort the size of your average gas station bathroom, with a bunch of 'roid-overdosed orcs waiting in line to play the bongos on our skulls, I'd hate to be left out. But I'm gonna do you the favor of figuring you didn't see that one coming, so why'd you call me, too?"
Angel's eyes suddenly shifted elsewhere. "It's, uh … well, it was mostly just in case, but …"
"Just in case of what?" Xander insisted.
"I still want to know how you managed to have a son," Buffy said. "Especially one who's getting ready to start college. That means you had to have been getting heavy with somebody back in, what, 1987?" She looked stricken. "Oh, my God. I was in first grade …"
"No," Angel said. "That's … I mean … no. It wasn't that way at all."
"So how was it?" she demanded. A face appeared in the opening in the rock, and she struck at it with such instant, awful force that the creature's head actually exploded. A fresh outcry of rage (and fear) went up from those on the other side, and to Angel she said, "Well? I'm still waiting."
Angel hesitated. "Uh-h-h …"
~ – ~ – ~
"Hold on," Dawn said. "I want to make sure I got that right. Your father and your mother were vampires? Both of them? Before you were born? No way."
Connor nodded. "Way."
Dawn took another bite of the hot dog, chewed thoughtfully. After a minute she said, "You know, all of a sudden I'm feeling a lot better about the whole big-ball-of-energy thing."
~ – ~ – ~
"Darla?!" Buffy shrieked. "You did it with Darla?!" Fortunately, half a dozen of the pseudo-trolls had taken it upon themselves to go the long way around and find a high approach to the humans' refuge, dropping into the protective enclosure from above, so she had a different set of targets upon which to vent her wrath. "I never, never, never want to see you even so much as LOOK at me funny over Spike, ever again!"
The last words came at the end of a complex maneuver during which she had caught one troll's arm, swung herself up over it and wrapped her own arms around the creature's throat, levered her lower body out to scissor her legs around the head of a second troll, and broken both necks with a furious opposing twist of her torso. The massive bodies fell with a crash, one catching an axe-stroke on its way down that had been intended for Xander, who had driven a bronze-tipped spear (like their other weapons, caught up from a fallen attacker) into the chest of his foe but hadn't been able to prevent the dying counterstroke. Buffy spun in the air to land on her feet and grab the bludgeon she had briefly relinquished, but Angel dispatched the last of their most recent assailants before she could move to join him. She had to be satisfied with glaring at him. "DARLA," she repeated, with scathing contempt. "And you still haven't explained what any of this has to do with Dawn."
"I was getting to that," Angel protested. "If you look at it, it's really all part of the same big balance."
"Right," Xander said, wrenching the spear free from the body sprawled in front of him. "Because when we think about our lives, 'balance' is always the first word that comes to mind."
~ – ~ – ~
"Okay, let me be sure I've got this," Connor said. "You were created to house this world-shattering energy, and sent to the Slayer so she could protect you from this, this god who was trying to get you back —"
"Hellgod," Dawn corrected. "Never want to leave out that part. And she was just, 'Ooh, I'm so all that,' but basically she looked like a slut who'd been born into enough money that she could afford expensive trashy clothes."
"O-o-kay," Connor said. "And your sister killed her."
"Pretty much," Dawn agreed. "From what I was able to find out afterward, it was a major group effort, they hit her with everything they could think of. — Which gives us yet another story about Xander the Normal Guy Who Is Nevertheless the Bane of Demons Everywhere. But, yeah, it was Buffy doing the serious pounding. Glory lost all her mojo and turned back into the human guy who'd been her host, and he died of the beating she'd taken." Momentarily she looked … not precisely sad, but as if part of her wished she could feel sad. "Anyway, it's not everybody who can say they killed a god, not even the low-economy version."
Connor bit his lip. "Well …"
"No," Dawn said. "Nuh-uh. No way. You're gonna try to tell me Angel did the same thing?"
"Oh, no, no," Connor said. "I mean, he tried, but she still had too much power for him to beat her. No, it was …" He looked away, and mumbled, "It was me."
Dawn regarded him steadily, waiting. After ten seconds had gone by, she observed, "I have to think there was more to it than that."
"It was a crazy situation," Connor said. "By the end of it, I was mostly crazy myself. Which, I guess, is how I wound up where I am now."
"Crazy is something I know well," Dawn noted. "Okay, go ahead, I'm listening."
~ – ~ – ~
"No," Buffy said. "No, no, no. That never happened."
"Exactly," Angel agreed. "That was the whole point of it, that it never happened."
Buffy and Xander said, "Huh?" at the same time; Giles, still kneeling beside the recumbent Willow but now holding Xander's khukri, asked, "Turned back time, you say? But then, how did they prevent the same events from simply transpiring as they had done originally?"
"They left me the memory of it," Angel explained. "So I could make the change. So I could make sure things didn't happen the same way."
"That … that is just …" Buffy's expression wavered between horror and dismay, finally settling on anger. "We were together," she said. "You were human for a day, and we were together. And you took that away from me, took even the memory of it. You never asked, you never told me about it, you … you … How could you?"
"To keep you alive," Angel said simply. "I'd do anything to keep you alive. Even that."
"And once again," Xander interjected, "this is about Dawn why?"
Angel sighed. "It's like I tried to say before. What happened with her is just a different version of what happened with Connor. When Darla was human, but dying, I went through a set of trials to win her a new life. And I did, I won, but when the time came to collect, it didn't work out. She'd already been given a second life, by Wolfram & Hart's ritual, so according to their insane rules she wasn't eligible."
"Too bad, so sad," Buffy snarled.
For the first time, the look Angel gave her wasn't defensive or apologetic, and after a moment her eyes fell. In the same tone as before, he went on. "I had still met the conditions of the trial, though. Her champion had won a life for her, she was owed. So when she and I … that is, after Drusilla vamped her all over again …"
"Oh, God," Xander said. "Darla made you, and you made Drusilla, and Drusilla turned around and remade Darla … even for vampires, that had to carry 'incestuous' to entirely new levels!"
"I'm still stuck on 'he did it with Darla'," Buffy muttered dangerously.
"I had won a life for her," Angel said again. "But she couldn't collect, not in the normal way. So the Powers found a different way to pay the debt. They gave her another life: Connor."
Buffy shook her head as if something was stuck there that she needed to get out. "Their rules wouldn't allow them to give her an extra life when she was human and dying, but they were okay with making a vampire pregnant with a human child?! By another vampire? And these are supposed to be the good guys?"
"Well, yes," Angel said. "I already told you, things were really messed-up that year."
"I don't think 'messed-up' will do the job," Buffy said. "I think we're going to have to invent brand-new adjectives. Turbo-charged adjectives. Adjectives full of nitroglycerine and stuff that smells like puke."
"Excuse me," Giles broke in politely. "At the beginning of all this, we were discussing how it applies to Dawn?"
"Right," Angel said. "This was the part I hoped to have Willow settle through the seeking-glyph, either to confirm it or to disprove it. Disprove it, hopefully. There were indications, and they seemed pretty clear … The thing is, Buffy, during that day that you and I had together, when we were both human …"
He let the silence hang. "Oh," she said after a moment. Then, a few seconds later, "Oh." And, after another moment of considering it, she burst out, "And you remember it? And I don't get to? That is so unfair!"
"Ah," Giles said. "I believe I understand. You are maintaining that, during that lost day — which was then rewound — Buffy became …?"
"Pregnant," Angel finished for him. "Yes, I'm pretty sure of it. At least, the few other possible explanations are even more unlikely. And erasing a life that had just been started, that made another kind of imbalance, not quite the same as the one that resulted in Connor but operating off the same basic principle. You were owed, Buffy. So, when the Order of Dagon needed to create a vessel to hold the Key … needed to create a new life …"
Again he let it hang. Again, Buffy caught the meaning behind the words he wasn't saying, and she lost a good bit of her color. "I told her … I told her, 'they made you out of me,' " she whispered. "I said that. But … but I didn't know …"
"Aaaugh!" Xander cried out. "Aaaugh, aaaugh, aaaugh!" The others looked at him, startled, and he went on in a torrent of anguished babble. "That night in the Bronze … oh, my God … that night in the Bronze, when she was all tarted up for RJ, before I saw who she was … I wasn't just perving on your little sister, I was perving on your daughter! Aaaugh!"
~ – ~ – ~
"Okay, I didn't really throw up at that," Dawn said. "But it was a near thing. You didn't just have sex with Cordelia, you had sex with Cordelia-who-used-to-change-your- diapers?"
"Step Two in the story of how I got so crazy my father had to kill me," Connor agreed. He frowned, thinking. "Actually, by that time, it would have been more like Step Five."
"And Cordelia gave birth to this demon-goddess Jasmine," Dawn said. "Except, somehow, the Whatever that was Jasmine —"
"That wasn't actually her name," Connor corrected. "It was just what we called her."
"Yeah, well, since I can't whisper and cough and swallow and croak all at the same time, I'll stick with Jasmine." Dawn drummed her fingers on the table of the small sidewalk café where they had stopped. "Now, where was I? Oh, right. The thing that was Jasmine before it was born out of Cordelia, also managed to implant itself in Cordelia before you and she did the bedsheet lambada. And the same thing was more or less possessing Cordelia all the time she was pregnant. So, in a way, it fathered and mothered and gave birth to itself."
"And in a way," Connor went on, "it was my mother. And in a way, it was my daughter."
"Before you put your fist all the way through its skull," Dawn concluded.
"Right," Connor said. "Which goes clear at the top of my list of Things I Would Have Been Happy Not to Get Back When I Got Back My Memories."
Dawn sat for several more minutes, running it all through her mind. Then, looking to Connor, she said, "Buffy used to tell stories, before she got all parental and responsible. Do high school guys in Los Angeles still know where to get good-quality fake ID?"
Connor regarded her, one corner of his mouth going up. "Why, that would be completely against the law. But, just assuming I was able to manage something of that nature, why would you want to know?"
"Because after hearing that story," Dawn said, "I am seriously in need of beer."
~ – ~ – ~
"Wait," Buffy said. "I know I didn't hear that right. You killed him?"
"I had to," Angel insisted. "It was the only way to save him."
"You had to kill him to save him?" Buffy shook her head. "I never actually believed it about you being in Vietnam, but now I do."
"Oh, my God," Xander moaned. "Oh, my God." Again they looked at him, and, face twisted in misery, he said, "I wasn't just perving on Buffy's daughter, I was perving on your daughter! I need to scrub my brain with bleach!"
"I feel a little queasy at the thought, myself," Angel said, his lips stiff.
Xander moaned again, and then looked up to say, "By the way, Mister Broody Jacket, if you ever get the urge to save me, I want a second opinion."
~ – ~ – ~
"Time passed different in Quor'toth?" Dawn asked.
"Yep. Fifteen years there, eight weeks here."
"So if we were in Quor'toth, we could drink all night, and be back before anybody even knew we were gone."
"We could," Connor agreed. "But the beer in Quor'toth is terrible. Lots more body than American brands, but sometimes the body was still trying to fight you when you swallowed."
"Hold on," Dawn said. "This guy Holtz, who raised you as his son — you were still a teenager, and he was okay with you drinking beer?"
Connor shrugged. "Most of the time, the beer was less likely to make you sick than the water. The brewing killed off the worst of the germs. At least, that's what he told me."
"Wow." Dawn peered at him, one eye half-closed. "And I thought Sunnydale was intense. Your growing-up years were just out there."
"No argument from me." Connor looked at the level remaining in their glasses, and suggested, "Another pitcher?"
She drained her glass, slapped it down on the counter. "Damn skippy."
~ – ~ – ~
The trolls were rushing the rock-gate again, and Angel had traded his axe for Xander's spear so he could thrust through the opening while Buffy dealt with those near enough for her to use the bludgeon. He was doing most of the work, leaving her with enough leisure to say, "Wait, wait, wait. It wasn't just me who got shortchanged when your Powers That Be rewound the Day We Lost. You were involved in it, too."
"I haven't forgotten," Angel grunted. He lunged to the full extension of his arms to transfix a troll nearly eight feet away, then pulled the weapon back before it could be wrested from him.
"Well, I did, and whose fault was that?" The bludgeon whizzed past his ear, and another attacker found its head suddenly jammed down into its chest cavity. "What I'm saying is, you were center-stage in both of these big dramas that ended with a mystical kid dropped into the middle of everything because A Life Was Owed. So you're Dawn's father and Connor's father."
"A vampire that could never have children has two of them now."
"Well … yes."
"Oh, God," Xander said. "Oh, God. So, if Dawn ever met Connor, and they started dating …?"
"The thought already occurred to me," Angel snapped. "Which is why I'll make sure they never meet. Trust me on that."
~ – ~ – ~
"So …" Dawn squinted to focus her eyes. "So, you drop the shot glass into the beer glass —"
"— and then you drink it down really quick," Connor finished for her. "Because the beer will start foaming right away. It's called a Depth Charge."
"Oh." Dawn thought about that. "What's it taste like?"
"I'm not sure," Connor admitted.
She peered at him through owlish eyes. "You've never had one of these before?"
"Well, sure," Connor blustered. "It's just —"
"Well … by the time we start on Depth Charges, I'm generally not tasting much of anything."
Dawn ruminated on that, then stuck out her tongue, testing it against her lips. "You know, I think you're right."
"So, from here on out, it would just be about getting as drunk as we possibly could, as fast as we possibly could."
She dropped the shot glass into her beer and threw back the mug, gulping hastily in the effort to stay ahead of the foam. She was only partially successful, froth running down her neck and past the line of her blouse, but she got down the majority of the concoction without pausing for breath. Then, gasping, she let out an enormous belch, and wheezed, "Works for me."
~ – ~ – ~
There had been no attacks for almost a quarter of an hour. That time had been filled mostly with silence, which was now broken. "You're not telling us everything," Buffy said, accusation heavy in her voice.
"I haven't told you everything yet," Angel corrected her. "In case you haven't noticed, we've got a lot on our plate right now."
"No, no, don't even try it. You're acting the way you did right before Prom, I knew there was something you weren't saying, and the more I kept trying to find out what it was, the more you kept telling me there wasn't anything. Until all of a sudden you drop it on me at the last moment, 'I think we need to spend some time away from each other'."
"That wasn't what I said."
"It's how it felt," she shot back. "And it's how you're acting now. There's something you don't want to have to say. Am I going to have to tear it out of you? Because believe me, the mood I'm in right now —"
"It's one of the things I hoped to get from Willow. In some ways, it's the craziest part of this whole crazy business. I don't just want to not have to say it, I want to not have to think about it."
"Yeah, 'cause that always works out so well. Come on, Angel, lay it on me. It's not like things can get any worse."
"No!" Xander blurted. "Don't say that, Buffy, you NEVER say that, that's almost as bad as using the 'W' word!"
Angel's eyebrows went up. "The 'W' word?" he asked her.
"W, I, S, H," she explained. "But I still think we have to have hit bottom here, so whatever you've got, just go ahead and say it."
"Okay," Angel said. "But you may wish you'd let me wait. You were owed a life, the one that had been taken from you. But they couldn't just give you exactly what had been there, because part of it didn't exist anymore. The part that came from a living Me. But it had to be done, and it had to be then because that's when the monks' ritual took place, and the other part had to come from somewhere. And it needed to be someone close to you, and since the Key was sent to you in the first place because they wanted someone who'd be dedicated to protecting it, the same thing had to hold true for the other part of her."
"Oh," Giles said. "Oh, my word."
"Huh?" Xander said.
"But …" Giles frowned. "But everyone around her was just as committed as Buffy to protecting her. And, and she was still involved with Riley at the time …"
"Riley was blond," Angel said. "And Buffy's hair is light enough that she can get away with pretending to still be blonde —"
"Hey!" Buffy expostulated.
"— but Dawn is dark-haired," Angel went on inexorably. "Look at the shade of it. Look at her build, now that she's grown. Look at the bone structure of her face. It's not as obvious in a girl, and you may not want to see it — God knows I don't — but it's there if you really look."
"No," Buffy said.
"Yes," Angel told her.
"Oh my God!" Xander moaned in the new silence, and buried his face in his hands. "I was perving on MY daughter?!"
~ – ~ – ~
"I had to stake the first guy who ever kissed me," Dawn said.
"Lo-o-se-er!" Connor jeered. "Already told you, I killed my sorta-daughter."
"Oh," Dawn said. "Right." She took another swallow of beer; by now, Depth Charges were beyond her hand-eye coordination. "Okay, my mother died right after I found out I wasn't really her daughter."
"Feeble. My mother staked herself to give birth to me. Loser again."
"Damn. Uh, I used to sleep with a robot that looked like my sister, because I missed her so much."
"Your sister came back from the dead. My father didn't."
"Your father started out dead."
"Not Angel. Holtz."
"Uh … okay."
"And Justine told me he was going to claim she was my mother, while I was growing up, only when I got back from Quor'toth, she was only like eight years older than me. And for a while there, I kinda wondered if she was hitting on me."
"Couldn't'a been much of a hit, if you had to wonder," Dawn grumbled.
"Don't try to change the subject. Loser again, twice. Still your turn."
~ – ~ – ~
As predicted, the sun was making its appearance. Angel had no choice but to move away from the rock entrance, in order to stay in shadow, and Xander took his place next to Buffy. The trolls quickly found that they had won nothing by the exchange. Xander had been fulfilling this function for years: backup, support, distraction, second banana par excellence. Buffy bore the brunt of the fighting at the gate, but he was there with spear and taunts and frantic, dancing footwork to occupy any who might have tried to exploit any seeming advantage. After the fourth such struggling charge was repulsed, the trolls withdrew for further councils and recriminations, and the defenders were given another short time to rest.
"I think Willow might be near coming out of it," Giles offered, voice carefully even to avoid the appearance of offering false hope. "Her breathing has deepened, and she's made a few slight movements. If she hasn't awakened by the time the sun … That is to say, if our situation should worsen, it might be worth taking the risk to try and hasten her return to consciousness."
Buffy looked at the sun, at Angel in his refuge against the shaded wall of rock, at Xander and the breach where they stood ready to meet the next assault. "We should be good here for a little while. I think. Angel?"
"I'll be safe for another hour," he said. "What really concerns me is, now I can't help you fight. You'll have to make your best choice when the time comes. I don't want to risk hurting her, but I don't want to risk anyone else, either."
Xander laughed, with the familiar mocking edge. "You sure about that? Not even me?"
Angel sighed. "You're acting out a role that hasn't been true for years. You really did hate me once, I don't doubt that, but now it's just habit for you to talk that way. And it was never there for me. I was annoyed with you, I was even jealous of you, but I never hated you." He shook his head. "Play the game if you still enjoy it, but don't expect me to join in."
"Spoilsport," Xander groused. Then he stopped, face going slack with a stricken expression, and said, "Oh, God —!"
Angel cut him off. "Forget it. Don't even try. You're about to spring one more awful little thought, and you may as well give it up. There's no way you can come up with anything worse than what you've already said."
Xander looked to Angel, and in arch, mincing tones he said, " 'Dawnie has two daddies?' "
Angel winced. "Oh, God!" he groaned. "I was wrong."
~ – ~ – ~
"So we're, like, basically twins of destiny," Dawn said. She lurched heavily on the sidewalk, but Connor caught her. " 'Cept, naturally, it's really all just to highlight the grand destiny of your soulful-tortured dad and my drama-queen sister."
"Uh, I'm not sure I follow."
"Well, no wonder, the way you were drinking!" Dawn tried to turn and face him, hands on her hips, only she had neglected to stop walking first, and he had to move quickly to catch her again, inches before her head would have made forceful acquaintance with the pavement. "See?" she went on. "You can't even stan' up straight. You may've got all kinds'a fancy super-stuff from being the kid of two demonspawn, but it doesn't help you one little bitty bit for holdin' your liquor."
"Yeah, I know, sorry about that." Connor helped her back upright. Actually, his rampant metabolism had kicked in, as it always did when the toxic overload reached a certain point. He'd never pass a sobriety test, but he was in considerably better shape than the girl staggering next to him. "So you said, what, we're destiny twins?"
"Whoa," she breathed, blinking at him. "That is deep. But you're, you're right. I had a bunch of memories created in the people around me, just to make a place for me in a world where I never existed before. You had every memory of you erased from everybody who'd known you, so you could live in a different world. It's like we're just this huge, cosmic echo of each other!"
"Well, no, not really," Connor said. "It's not —"
"What are you, eight? Listen, you've had to cope with a lot, I'm not gonna argue, but just look at my situation! I was born here, then I was carried to Quor'toth as a baby, then I came back here when I was a teenager, then I got that life erased and I started over as Connor Reilly … you're dealing with learning you came into this world because of a spell instead of the good ol' man-woman boom-chicka-wow-wow. But I've lived in four worlds, and I still remember three of 'em. Plus my mother died giving birth to me, my adoptive father had one of my surrogate mothers kill him so I'd kill my real father, I had sex with my other surrogate mother and I killed my mystical daughter and then my real father killed me … I have been through WAY more angst than you have!"
Dawn stood, weaving in place, visibly trying to take in all he had said. At length she got her eyes to focus, stuck out her lower lip, and slurred, "You are so competitive!"
He jumped back. "Ah, jeez! Gross!"
~ – ~ – ~
The red-haired woman was having trouble keeping her balance, but Giles and Angel (the latter still staying safely in shadow) supported her while she steadied herself. Xander and Buffy continued to watch the rock gate, weapons ready: it would be inexcusably stupid to be overrun at the moment of deliverance, just from letting their guard relax. Even so, Xander called over his shoulder, "Doin' okay there, Wil? All witchy cylinders pumping normal?"
"My head feels oogly," she whimpered. "And way too big. You know how I hate it when my head gets too big." She looked around. "Uh, we're still here? Here in wherever is this place that's here?"
"Think about it for a second, Wil," Buffy said to her, though — like Xander — she kept her gaze on the opening they had so resolutely defended. "We all got pulled here by big, honkin' magic. That implies we'd need big, honkin' magic to get us back. Now, where do we usually go when we need to get us a heaping helping of big, honkin' magic?"
"Oh," Willow said. "Oh, yeah. That makes all kinds of sense." Again she surveyed their surroundings. "So, so I guess you'd like me to feel around and try to get a handle on where we are and what's a good way back to … Where were we, exactly?"
"I'm not sure she's up to this," Giles cautioned.
"No, no, I'm good." Willow pushed their hands away from her, and determinedly stood on her own, though an observer would have noted she had set her feet like anchors, knees locked. "I remember now, we were in one of the vaults at Wolfram & Hart. Angel, I, I think there might have been some kind of spell-trap built into the seeking-glyph …"
"You could be right on that," Angel said evenly. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, just give me a sec." She put her hands out, knees still locked, and began to flex her fingers as if she were probing in loose earth. "Oh. Oh. Okay, I get it, so where's the line? resonance in all of us, matches our world of origin, doesn't match here, so tune in and follow it back, find the resonance that lines up … huh … no, no, no you don't … oooh, aren't you the slippery little weasel … okay, there we … no, not quite, but close … yes, okay, hold onto it, there we go, that's it, that's it, that's it, all right!"
And just like that, they were back.
~ – ~ – ~
Willow was given immediate medical care — concussion was confirmed, but she was already past the crisis point, and remedies were available that would have left the AMA more than perplexed — and Angel left quickly to launch an instant inquisition into who might have laid the snare that had caught them. For reasons of his own, Giles had chosen to accompany and watch over Willow in her regimen of unorthodox treatment, and Buffy and Xander found themselves abandoned, for the moment, in the lavish office Angel rated as Wolfram & Hart's current CEO.
Xander seemed fascinated by the view from the window … or, at least, unable to pull his gaze away from it. At length Buffy said, "So."
His reply, if such it was, was an unintelligible mumble.
"Xander," Buffy said. "This isn't going away."
This time the words were audible. "Maybe not, but I figure if I spend some time banging my head against this very expensive necro-tempered glass, I can put off thinking about it for awhile."
"Xander," she said again, and some quality in her voice, some catch or quaver, made him turn. "Xander, we … we have a daughter."
He faced her squarely. "You and Angel," he pointed out. "That's where the destiny was. I was the afterthought brought in to plug the gaps. As usual."
"That's right," she shot back. "That's exactly right. When destiny took me down into the catacombs to die, you brought Angel in to rescue me … only he couldn't, it took your breath to bring me back to life. When Spike came after me with the Ring of Amarra, you went straight at him. You couldn't beat him, you couldn't even stop him, but you gave me the moment I needed to come back and take him down. You risked your life to save mine. You risked your soul when you thought you were bringing me back from Hell. When we needed the unifying spell to beat Adam, you gave us your heart. And …" Her voice faltered, dropped to a whisper. "And when the Powers That Be decided to give me back the baby they'd stolen from me, you gave what was needed to make that work, too."
"I didn't know it," he said bitterly. "I was just the nearest handy pawn. Fate's butt-monkey, one more time."
"Maybe," she acknowledged. "But if you had known, would you have hesitated for any part of a second?"
"No," he said instantly. "God, no."
"So-o-o …" She stretched it out, looked to him expectantly.
"So …" He stopped, swallowed. "So … we have a daughter."
With no warning, she was in his arms, but it wasn't passion, it was a hug so fierce that she seemed to be trying to hold onto a reality that threatened to slip away from her. "This … this changes so much," she said at last. "I can't even begin to see the beginning of it."
In contrast to her desperate determination, Xander held her as if the moment would vanish under any but the most delicate embrace. Her hair smelled like hard sweat, like metal and grime and the aftermath of battle … like the Slayer. "I know what you mean," he said quietly.
"How are we going to tell her?" she demanded of him, pulling away in sudden panic. "My God, Xander, she had a crush on you for years! I'm not sure she doesn't still! How are we going to tell her this?"
"We'll come up with something," he said. "The good news? the urge to gouge out my eyes, I'm pretty much immune to that now. So we'll cope. We've been hit with one lightning bolt of insanity after another for nearly eight years now, this is just one more go-round on the roller coaster."
She shook her head. "That mixed so many metaphors, they should flunk you in English retroactively."
"Always a possibility," he agreed. "I'm just saying, we can deal with this. We've faced worse. And we have time to figure out the right way to break it to her." She relaxed, and nestled back into his arms, and he held her and repeated softly, "We have time."
"Yeah," Buffy said. " 'Cause it's not like Dawn's going to get herself into some bloodcurdling peril in the next few …"
She trailed off, feeling the sudden tension in his arms. The two of them stepped apart, eyes locked. Then, "I'll call her, find out where she is," Buffy said urgently, even as Xander blurted, "Cars, there must be something really fast in Wolfram & Hart's garages that'll get us to her right away —!"
She leaped for the phone that sat atop the office desk. He bolted toward the door through which Angel had exited with the others.
~ – ~ – ~
"There's somethin' I've bin wannin' to say to you."
"We bin talking all this time, an' sharing all kinds'a secrets …"
"Stuff I've never told anybody. Inti-muh … -muh … -mate. Intimate stuff."
"Oh, yeah. Big time."
"An', an' since we're so close … since we're so close now …"
I jus' … I jus' wanna tell you …"
"Connor, I … I really need to pee."