Takes place after Older and Far Away and Provider (though I'm playing fast and loose with the timeline from then on).
The screams are just getting louder, more agitated and agonized, and she buries her face in her hands and struggles not to cry. It's hard. Harder than it's been since she'd first dug herself out of a coffin and faced the world anew, and she supposes that to some, this would be a good sign.
Mostly, it just feels like helplessness to her. She's a clinically depressed slayer shouldering the burden of a nothing job, a stubborn sister, and an addict best friend. She doesn't need a babyon top of all this. But no matter how many times she closes her eyes and opens them again, a month-old baby is staring back at her, his face crumpled and red with a frustration she can't make out, and all she can do is stare blankly.
A soft hand settles on her shoulder, sympathetic. "Spike went to call Tara." Dawn pitches her voice just above the baby's. Buffy cringes. "Um. Mind explaining why I woke up at two AM to find out that you have a baby? Because I'd think that I might've noticed that before now."
Buffy mumbles something, intentionally garbled. "What?" Dawn calls out, trying to pat the baby's back soothingly. He howls louder, chokes violently on his own cries, and then begins anew.
"His name is Connor," Buffy repeats. "Angel's son."
"You had Angel's baby?" There's a short pause, and then Dawn's yanking her into the kitchen, blessedly far from the baby's cries. "Are you kiddingme?"
"I didn't," Buffy says tiredly. "Angel…apparently, Darla's back. Or was back. I was kind of distracted when Wesley told me everything. I don't really get how it happened. I think she's dust again now."
"And we're taking this baby in…out of the goodness of our heart?" Dawn shakes her head. "You can't raise a baby! You're doing a crap job of just raising me!"
And now comes the bombshell, the reason why she'd insisted that Tara be escorted here, the reason why Wesley had come to her, the reason why she'd agreed. "Angelus is back."
"Angelus?" A sleepy-eyed Willow emerges from the stairs. "Hey, did anyone notice that there's a baby crying?"
Dawn sighs heavily and heads back to the sofa to lift Connor into her arms and rock him halfheartedly. He pauses his bawling for a moment- they all hold their breaths- then continues a decibel higher.
Willow sinks down onto the steps. "I know I'm not supposed to be doing magic, but Angelus! That's got to be more important than-"
"It doesn't matter." Buffy remembers what Wesley had said when he'd arrived a half hour ago with a terrified-looking girl at his side and a baby in her arms. "Some evil law firm- have you heard of Wolfing and Hart?" Willow shrugs. "They yanked out Angel's soul. He conned Wes and company into stealing it for him and then ran off with it before they ever realized he was Angelus."
"What do we do?"
"I don't know. We keep Connor safe from his homicidal dad." She blinks with trepidation at the baby crying in Dawn's arms. "Angelus I can deal with, fight, send to hell, the usual. Connor…"
"Yeah." Willow squeezes her shoulder sympathetically.
The door opens, and Buffy nearly cries with relief when Tara steps into the room, Spike behind her. The vampire shakes his head silently at her.
No sign of Angelus. Not yet.
And then Tara's taking the baby from Dawn, slipping her finger into his mouth, and Connor falls silent and begins suckling desperately at it. "He's starving," she murmurs, and there's a level of disapproval in her voice that she can't suppress. "Buffy, can you make him a bottle?"
"I don't know how. I don't know…" And then she's shaking with the effort of suppressing her sobs as the enormity of this new responsibility hits her, this baby who needs her to survive, who needs her to nurture when she's only a killer and there's no way to give him up, not to Wesley, who has Angelus to deal with; not to Tara, who has motherly instincts but couldn't possibly protect him well enough; and now she has no choice but to care for a baby. "I can't…"
It's Dawn, Dawn who barely talks to her anymore and is already the product of her failed parenting, who takes her by the arm and gently steers her to the pile of baby supplies that Wesley had left by the front door. "We'll figure it out," she reassures. "You've done worse."
No, she wants to say. I haven't.
It doesn't get easier, not really. She's spending more and more time at home, forced to be present to cater to the ever-increasing needs of the baby, and even the quiet hours of slaying are lost to her now. She misses solitude, misses escape, misses…other things… that she can barely indulge in now.
But it isn't all bad, she muses, Connor curled up at her side one night. She's growing accustomed to having him around, a baby so utterly dependent of her without asking her to be happy with her life. He doesn't let her fall back into depression, not when there are diapers to change and bottles to make. And there's a secret part of her that almost likes it, that melts when he coos and smiles and ceases his cries when she picks him up.
Dawn and Tara help, and even Willow is frequently present when Tara's around. Spike officially wants "nothing to do with Angel's sprog," but she awakens on more than one night to find him changing Connor's diaper or feeding him so she doesn't have to get up. Xander and Anya come by from time to time and Buffy amuses herself by watching the terror on Xander's face when Anya talks about procreating.
After a week or two, when Connor starts to get too big for a padded laundry basket and Buffy begins calculating double shifts at the Doublemeat to fund a crib, Willow surprises them all by making a swift phone call to LA, and Wesley and Cordelia arrive later that day with a crib and a surprisingly large check for expenses. "We haven't seen Angelus in over a week," Cordelia tells Buffy with a quiet concern. "And I might've seen…keep an eye out, all right? Cemeteries, mausoleums, crypts…"
Buffy nods, but it's hard to worry about Angelus when she's busy with Connor and work and slaying. For the first time in years, she's thinking about the future, about a world where she could see herself having a family of her own. (And there's a part of her that still sees Angel in the father role, and Connor as her own, even if that's still an impossibility.) Angelus leaves her thoughts almost immediately after Cordelia leaves.
And then the next night, there's a familiar duster folded up neatly on the back porch, a pile of dust gathered and dumped on top.
She doesn't react immediately, though Dawn lets out a strangled cry and slumps against the doorpost, stricken. She doesn't know what to feel about Spike, dust before them, not when she hadn't even figured out how she had felt about him in the first place. There's sorrow, guilt, quiet despair…and there's no time for any of it, not now.
She knows Angelus, maybe better than she knows herself right now. She understands him as only an intimate foe can. And she's certain that Angelus is still nearby, feeding off of the pain that he's brought onto them.
And he knows her, too, well enough to step out into her line of vision even as she tightens her grip on Connor, well enough to call out laughingly, "Really, I think it's so…adorablehow he loved you. But you probably shouldn't have slept with him." She hears Willow's gasp behind her. He widens his eyes, mockingly reproving. "Toying with his emotions like that?"
"Go to hell, Angelus." She brightens. "It's been, what, nearly four years? I bet your seat's still hot from last time, no pun intended."
He doesn't falter. "Oh, Buff, I have missed that vicious tongue of yours." His eyes linger on her neck, then lower to the baby in her arms.
Slowly, precisely, he licks his lips, and Buffy can't contain her shudder. He smirks, satisfied. She stares back coolly.
When he turns to leave, Buffy can feel Willow's hand flutter over her shoulder before settling on her arm. "Buffy?"
They don't hold a funeral for Spike. It seems wrong to mourn a vampire, but they aren't glad, either, not when Spike's done so much good over the past year. Dawn cries, Anya is uncharacteristically silent, and even Xander seems almost regretful. (Willow doesn't mention Angelus's comments, though she's more careful than usual around Buffy for the next few days.) Buffy leaves Connor with Dawn every night and haunts the Bronze, sitting alone and watching the back door.
On the third day, Angelus leaves a small blonde dead in the alley. He never enters the club.
She tracks him down the next night, sends a crossbow bolt through his shoulder as he chats up a girl down at the pier. The girl squeaks and runs, and Buffy leaps from the little boathouse on which she's been waiting and lands in front of Angelus in a crouch.
He scowls and kicks her hard, and she raises an arm to block his blow and send him sliding across the dock. He stops himself from falling and she bears closer, whirling a series of hard-fisted punches at the side of his face, watching with satisfaction as his head twists to the side and he stumbles further back again.
"Get out of my town, Angelus," she orders, pressing forward.
He smirks, taking a step to the side and beckoning her near again. "Well, gosh, Buff, I thought you'd missed me. I mean, you were banging Spiketo get some vampire co-"
Her foot slams into his chin before he can finish his sentence, but he's unfazed. "Did you think of me when he was inside you? Wish that I were there?" He dodges her next blow. "Dream of me when your legs were wrapped around that useless body?"
She grits her teeth. Anger. It isn't something she's had the energy for recently, but now it's making a comeback. "I mean it, Angelus. Get out of here."
"It's all about your lily-white conscience," he whispers, batting her blows away. "Let me go kill people in another town so you never need to think about it. But Buffy..." His lips curl into an unpleasant smile. "If you're not suffering my sins...what's the point?"
She shoves him. Hard. And he goes tumbling backward off the pier and into the water, falling in with enough force to send water splashing up around her grim figure. He doesn't come up for nearly a full minute, and she waits silently.
When he finally emerges she's standing by the edge of the dock right where he'd fallen. "Stay away from Connor," she says.
He sneers up at her. "He's mine." And there's a cold assessment in his eyes that makes it clear that Connor isn't the only one he considers to be his.
She folds her arms over herself protectively. "If you touch him..."
"Is that what you think I want?" He laughs merrily. "Oh, Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. When will you learn?"
She doesn't give him the luxury of a response, but she can still feel his laughter chilling her skin as she stalks off.
She has to cut down her nighttime Doublemeat shifts. Angelus is out every night now, waiting around corners with a ready victim (always a blonde), watching her fight demons with a maddening smirk on his face, standing outside her door at night to greet her on her way home. He's everywhere.
But Connor's still safe, untouched by his father, and that's all that matters. She isn't sleeping anymore, not with the added strain of keeping Sunnydale safe from a manipulative vampire who'd think nothing of killing hundreds just to make her hurt. She's focused, she's angry, she's protective, and she's feelingit all in ways she hasn't since she'd dived off that tower last year.
"It suits you," Dawn comments one night, when they're sitting together on the couch with Connor.
Buffy blinks. "Suits me?"
"Having a demon like Angelus to fight. Kind of feels like the old days, right? Before nerds and gods and freakish Frankenstein monsters?"
Buffy rolls her eyes. "Anything's better than nerds." But she can't disagree. There's an old exhilaration to being able to beat up the bad guy, to having a nemesis that she can knock around (and not feel guilty about it, and she winces at the memory of Spike, the desperation and horror that had come with taking out her frustrations on him). Angelus is always there, taunting her, provoking her, taking great satisfaction out of seeing her lose her temper, and more often than not she's glad to oblige and find that hidden place within her that longs to be let loose to primal rage.
It's strongest when Connor's threatened, when she's rocking him at night as she prepares a bottle for him and sees Angelus's face leering in from the back door. It's powerful when Angelus makes mention of the baby as they fight, as he casually wonders at how helpless infants are or how easily their bones might break.
The rage gives her strength, takes her from the daily rote of simple sparring and hurls her into raw fighting, fists against fangs against stake and sword and axe, and Angelus delights in it, battles her as an equal and summons more and more fury from her. She embraces it, releases it with every kick and punch and blow, and when she returns home afterwards, the tension seems to melt away.
Connor lets out an excited gurgle, and Buffy smiles, pressing a soft kiss to his brow. When she looks up, Dawn's grinning at her.
"What?" She tries to sound offended, but fails miserably, and when Dawn says, "Nothing," she can't help but match her sister's grin.
It's even easier to be happy a few days later, juggling guests and gifts and the bride at Xander and Anya's wedding. Willow and Tara are making eyes at each other from across the room as they halfheartedly deal with the Harris clan. Dawn's pushing an overly frilly Connor around as she chats up a half-demon ("Two vampire parents, did you know? A miracle baby!"). And Buffy's drinking in the wedding glow, Anya's tearful joy reminding her of times when she'd once loved freely and dreamed of a future with-
-Angelus. She takes in a sharp breath as she catches sight of him, easily making his way past Xander's mother and into the reception hall. He settles against a back wall, his eyes moving to rest on an oblivious Dawn and Connor with intent interest. Buffy's hackles are raised immediately.
"What the hell are you doing here?" she hisses, yanking him away from the wall.
He spins around with her until she's backed against the wall, his eyes glittering with malice. "It's a bit early to dance, don't you think? But I'm game if you are." He leans in, lips brushing against her ear. "How could I possibly miss Xander's wedding?"
She stills at his touch. "I have a stake," she mutters, choking back a whimper when his mouth lowers to her neck, the parody of a gentle kiss soft against the bite mark Angel had given her three years prior. "If you go anywhere near Xander…"
He laughs, the vibration of it thrumming against her skin. "You'll what? Fail spectacularly at killing me? You're not even trying. And you know that I can't be restored to your self-loathing teddy bear this time." He traces her side with a single finger, running along the curves of her hideous green bridesmaid dress.
Her hands move to rest against his chest, and she smiles sweetly at him. "Maybe not." Her leg slides upward ever so slightly, pressed to his leg…
…and then she brings her foot slamming down on his foot heel-first.
He howls in surprised pain and she ducks out and away from his grasp, smiling widely at the crowd. "Nothing to see here, keep on celebrating!" she announces, and she can hear Willow loudly agree from the other side of the room. Angelus staggers away, and by the time she turns back to the wall, he's gone.
"Why was he here?" Dawn asks her later, but Buffy has no answer for her, not until a scream splits the air and she remembers Angelus's renewed interest in targeting tiny blonde girls.
"Anya!" Xander comes tearing from one of the side rooms, leaving a grumpy-looking old man slouched behind him, racing for the bride's room with Buffy at his heels. They throw open the door together and there's no time to take in the scene, not when Angelus has a hand over Anya's mouth and his teeth at her throat, when there's red blood dribbling downward to stain her white dress, when all Buffy can see is the satisfaction on his face at her horror. She throws herself at him, tearing him away from Anya with enough force to leave gaping gashes on the bride's neck, letting her fists fly until his smug face is purpled and bruised beneath her.
She can see the moment when he loses his cool, when he stops laughing and his face darkens with irritation instead of injury. And then he's shoving her back, grabbing her by the throat and slamming her to the ground repeatedly until she blacks out for a moment. When she opens her eyes, he's crouched on top of her in game face, yellow eyes zeroed in on her throat.
For a moment, she can only stare up at him, can only struggle to see past the curled lip and cool eyes and find the man she's always loved hidden behind Angelus. He's gone- not slumbering deep within Angelus, not waiting to be brought out- but relegated to a distant memory, locked in an orb she may never be able to retrieve. And while she knows that intellectually, it's impossible for her not see Angel, anyway, not to long for him and remember that once, the body above her had been completely hers for the taking, had concealed a spirit she'd been drawn to from the moment they'd met.
When Xander slams the back of a clothes rack into the back of Angelus's head and Angelus curses loudly and flees the room, Buffy still lies silently on the ground, contemplative.
"Are you okay?" She nods absently before she realizes that the question isn't directed at her.
Anya's shaking- quivering with an unfettered fear that seems alien on the ex-demon. "You-you're not supposed to see me in my dress before the ceremony."
"You look beautiful," Xander responds, stroking the side of her cheek with the backs of his fingers.
"Don't leave me," Anya whispers.
"Never. Never gonna leave you." His words are fervent and his eyes are burning with love, and when the couple exits the room without another word to her, Buffy doesn't mind at all.
"Aww, don't be like that. It was just Xander's girlfriend. I liked her. She was cute. I might've even turned her." Angelus toys with a poker from his fireplace. "It's no reason for you to be this cranky."
She fires a second bolt from her crossbow, scowling at the way he's sprawled out on the couch, unworried. She doesn't speak. He likes it too much when she retorts.
He clasps a hand to his breast and catches the bolt between his fingers. "You wound me, really. I thought we had something here."
She'd gotten back from the wedding, spent the rest of the night wide-awake and holding Connor tight to her, and had an early morning Doublemeat shift. All in all, she's cranky, angry, and out for dust.
Another one of her friends had nearly lost a loved one last night to Angelus. She'dnearly lost a friend last night. All because, yet again, she's been less than willing to strike down the monster in Angel's body.
She barrels forward, yanking a stake from her pocket with a new rush of determination, swift and focused and so far beyond her early reluctance that Angelus only cuffs her in the chin before he's down on the floor beneath her, their positions from the previous night reversed. She presses the tip of the stake against his heart, digging it in ever so slightly as he gapes up at her.
"You don't touch my friends," she says finally. "Or Connor. Or…you went too far."
Somehow, he can still manage to widen his lips in a knowing smirk. "Did I?"
"Y-Yeah." She's suddenly aware that his hands are creeping up the sides of her legs, ghosting under her shirt to flutter across the small of her back. She doesn't move.
"So you're going to kill me now?" And it's as though he pulls a veil over his face, and soft brown eyes are gazing up at her, gentle and loving. "You can't do it," he breathes, a palm pressing against the skin of her back.
"Didn't stop me last time." But her voice is quiet, uncertain, the stake weighing heavily in her sweaty palm.
He shifts beneath her, enough to feel his arousal between her legs. She grinds against it instinctively, her breath quickening and her eyes glazing over.
"Is it…easier if I promise not to hurt any of your friends?" he wheedles. She tries to find the telltale blankness in his eyes, the cruel manipulation that marks Angelus. But it's hard to focus when he's so close, his voice surrounding her, so Angelthat it hurts…
"Connor…" she chokes out.
"…is my son." He says it with such finality that she almost believes his earnestness, and when he tilts his face upward, she leans toward him and tastes his lips.
She wants to taste blood on them, to taste oblivion and death and unadulterated evil. But all she can taste is Angel lips, soft and firm, adoring her with every kiss. She trembles, the stake falling from her grasp, her thighs still imprisoning Angelus but to a very different end, her center bearing down on him, and she's quivering with need when he moves a hand to touch her once with almost painful force.
An inhuman shout erupts from her throat and she sees stars.
"We're going to get your daddy back," she tells Connor, cradling him closer.
He makes an irritable sound, chubby little fists banging against her side.
"I don't think I can handle Angelus this time," she confesses. She needs him, needs a worthy foe, needs someone who makes her angry and needy and confused, needs to not fall apart. For Connor's sake, for Dawn's, for her own. She'd rather spend every night keeping him from killing than finishing him off in the first place, and the idea of it at once fills her with dread and relief.
Connor fusses for a moment and begins to cry in earnest, long and repetitive cries filling the house.
Buffy wraps a second arm around him. "Me too, Connor. Me too."
Connor's important. So is keeping Sunnydale safe, and she keeps both those things in mind when she begins hallucinating images of a different world, one where she'd never known pain like she knows here.
She's crouched on the ground outside her home, not trusting her own legs to keep her standing, fighting the delusions as they pile on. Is this the real world? Is any of this real?
And then someone's tipping a glass into her mouth and strong hands are pulling her against another body and the images of her mother and father and the drab white room are fading away swiftly.
She leans back into his embrace during the first few moments of disorientation. "Angel?"
"Keep guessing." His voice is amused, his eyes alight with malicious laughter when she pulls away hastily to glare at him.
"What the fuckis this?"
He sighs expansively. "You asked me to do this. Don't act as though I've sullied your goodness…again." Cold smile.
She had, she remembers now, after Willow had told her that she'd need the demon who had pricked her in the first place and she'd stumbled off to capture it on her own before Angelus had found her.
"Willow gave you…"
"Sure." He shrugs, careless, and Buffy rolls her eyes knowingly and wonders if Willow's regained consciousness yet.
She stares at him. "Why are you helping me?"
He doesn't respond, but his eyes move to linger on the kitchen door, inside which an unaware Dawn is sitting at the counter, crooning a goodnight song to Connor. There's desire in his eyes, odd and incongruous when she's only seen lust for blood and sex and pain before, and she murmurs, "You want to turn him, don't you."
Angelus laughs at that. "Turn a baby? That's just useless. If you think that I'm still here because of Connor…I could take him from you in an instant."
"Then why are you still here?" she demands, refusing to be baited. "Why aren't you harassing Wes and Cordy and anyonebut me?"
He just smiles, leans in, pecks her lips, stands. "Seeya 'round, lover."
The next time she sees him, it's when Anya calls from her honeymooning to inform Buffy that they aren't coming back until Angelus is gone, and it's therefore Buffy's duty to take inventory of the Magic Box. So she's emerging from the basement of the shop, struggling not to remember the last time she'd been there on Halloween, and Angelus is bent over one of the displays.
She folds her arms together. "What are you doing here?"
He blinks mock-innocently, lifts the box he's been poring over, and hurls it to the floor. There's a loud crashing noise. "Just taking care of some business."
She sighs. "That's Anya's whole stock of Orbs of Thessulah. She's going to be pissed. And we have twice as many backups elsewhere, anyway."
He shrugs. "Too bad. I thought it was worth a try." He pulls out an elaborate, glowing sphere from the pocket of his jacket and admires it. "It's just a precaution, of course. I still have this."
It's Angel's soul, still so elusive but so close, and she can't think beyond darting forward to try and grab the orb from him. He pulls it away the moment her fingers brush it, cautioning, "Ah, ah, ah, not for you."
"Damn you," she hisses, reaching for it again. He holds it over her head, laughing, so she kicks him swiftly in the shin. He slips, but his fingers are tight around the soul, keeping it secure from her.
He tucks it in his pocket, and she nearly screams in frustration before he's swinging her around, lips hard against hers, seeking entry into her mouth, and she's so caught up in her anger that she smashes her own lips back into his, her tongue warring with his and seeking pleasure and to punishall at once, her hands shoving him back against the wall and her legs scissoring around him, tight as a vise, holding him in place. She targets his pocket and nearly gets her hand in before he tears her away from him, eyes glinting with dangerous rage, and tosses her onto the Magic Box table.
She has barely a moment to recover her breath before he's upon her, shoving aside her pants and tearing off her shirt, and then he's pounding her into the table with unrestrained power, every thrust bruising her back against the hard wood of the table, her head smashing back with enough force that she sees stars.
She claws at him desperately, hating him blindly, desiring nothing more or less than to bring him pain like she's felt, pain that his existence threatens to carry back to her. She won't scream his name, even when "ANGELUS!" is careening around the dark recesses of her mind, knocking out any regrets or doubts or self-loathing that might follow.
And when they're finished, after Angelus spills his spendings within her and she lets out a silent scream of painecstasyhorror, Angelus turns around, snatches his jacket, and leaves her lying across a half-cracked table, legs still parted and eyes wide. "What am I doing?" she whispers.
The silent room holds no answers.
There's a foolish, foolish part of her that urges her on, that reminds her that she's never going to get a chance to have these memories with Angel. That this is just another way to reach him.
Of course, sex with Angel is nothing like sex with Angelus. Angelus is raw, cruel, uncaring- it's not just rough, it's furious, angry and passionate and dangerous, and she knows this very well by now because she's already shared it with him three days in a row.
It isn't how it was with Spike, when she hated herself for it and he loved her all the more. It's transcendent, animalistic, and it isn't bringing her to life. It's flirting with death, charming, twisted death, death with a game plan she hasn't figured out but she's certain has everything to do with Connor.
He watches Connor from windows, stalks Buffy at night, and picks fights until they're tumbling into bed at the mansion, snapping curses at each other and coming with thunderous force. Angelus laughs and mocks and nearly breaks Buffy's wrist when she tries to grab Angel's soul, and Buffy loses herself in memories of Angel. It's an exhilarating and precarious situation at the same time, and she can't bring herself to give it up.
She calls him Angel when they're together.
He tells her that she's worthless. But she's not the trusting girl who'd be so easily broken anymore.
And they keep coming back to each other, right up until the day when Tara is shot and Willow loses herself completely.
She awakens to a hospital room with nothing but vague memories of sitting in her yard with Connor in her arms, enjoying the idyll of daylight before her nightly stalker arrived, and-
-Warren! She sits up abruptly, the scene coming back to her. Warren, waving a gun. Splaying herself over Connor protectively, unable to stop Warren without leaving Connor. A gunshot...no, two...
Gentle hands support her, the soft murmur of a nurse. "You sustained a bullet wound to your shoulder. It's a miracle that you're even sitting up."
She frowns, touching her left shoulder. It itches where the familiar sensation that's slayer healing is doing its work, but there's no pain. A miracle? Maybe. Or, more likely...
"Have I had any visitors? A redheaded girl? Willow Rosenberg?"
The nurse shakes her head. "The only visitor you've had wasn't a redhead. Black hair? Some kind of weird tattoos on her face?"
Buffy's already sitting up, stretching sore muscles and climbing off the bed. "I need to go."
"You can't be discharged yet!" The nurse calls after her, but Buffy ignores her, too many fears whirling through her skull to worry about her health. Where was Dawn? Willow? Connor? Who had taken Connor when she'd been shot? What had happened to Warren?
She makes it home, gasping for breath, her shoulder straining with her efforts. Angelus is seated on the front porch steps, rocking Connor absently as he awaits her.
"I don't have time for you right now- Connor!" She stops short, her heart pounding. Not Connor, god, not Connor, too…
Angelus curls his lip in disgust at the panic on her face. "You can see him. He's fine. Haven't I told you, my agenda here isn't what you think it is?"
"It's that you have an agenda that worries me," she retorts, snatching Connor from his arms. Connor immediately begins to cry. "You have gotto be kidding me." She turns to the door, bouncing a little with the baby until he calms. "Dawn. Where's Dawn? Why didn't she take Connor when…?"
"The emergency workers didn't know what to do with him," Angelus informs her. "I found one in your backyard at dusk."
Buffy frowns. "Where was Dawn? She was supposed to be home by now."
He shakes his head, reproving. "I'd expect more of Sunnydale. Handing over a baby to anyone who claims to be his parent?"
"Where. Is. Dawn." She manages the words through gritted teeth, thrumming with adrenaline and dread. "What did you do with her?"
"Who, little old me?" Angelus drawls, leaning back. "I've just been sitting here."
She's halfway through the doorway when he adds offhandedly, "From the sound of it, she's been huddled next to your friend Tara's corpse since she got home."
Buffy's blood runs cold. "You're lying."
"Can I just say how amusing I find it that some loser living in his mom's basement is the killer, not the evil vampire?" He shrugs. "Points for irony, I suppose?"
"Warren. Oh god, the second shot…" She sinks to the ground, just inside the house and out of Angelus's grasp. "Willow?"
Angelus yawns. "No idea."
"The idiot who shot you? I tore out his throat." He says it so casually that the words don't register at first, and the only thing she can say, stupidly, is "What did you do with Connor then?"
Angelus meets her eyes, his own glittering with malice. "You only need one hand to hold down a human. Not much artistry to the kill, but I'm a family man now. Family comes first," he intones solemnly.
Connor lets out a little squeal and Buffy lays him down on her lap, feeling suddenly sick. "You…"
"What did you expect?" Angelus sneers. "That you've tamed me with your magic pussy? What am I, Spike?"
She glares up at him, unmoved. "And yet, your first reaction when the slayer is hurt is to avenge her? You're pathetic."
"Gotta agree with that, Buffy," another familiar-and-yet-not voice drawls. "The Angelus I remember wasn't in the habit of getting the way of artful destruction. And yet…" Willow stalks toward them, and Buffy can only gape at her friend.
"Willow, what happened to you? You're…" She understands now why the nurse hadn't recognized her description, not when Willow's soaked in some kind of evil that has permeated her hair, her skin, the dead look on her face… "You heard about Tara."
"You asshole," Willow hisses, pressing forward. "How dareyou? Warren was mine!"
Angelus leans back, unconcerned. "So now the white hats are turning to murder. I've always thought that you had potential, Willow."
"Shut up!" she snaps, turning away from him. Her eyes alight on Buffy, now rising quickly, clutching Connor protectively in her arms. "You are pathetic, Angelus, caught up in your obsession with the slayer and a baby. A baby! Don't you think it's time someone dealt with yourvendetta here?"
Angelus's smile disappears and Buffy's shouting "No!" and dodging to the side of the magical electricity that shoots from Willow's fingers at Connor. "Are you insane?" she shouts. "Willow, I can't believe that Tara's-"
"You don't say her name!" Another bolt erupts toward Buffy, and this time Angelus lunges at Willow, knocking her off-center and shattering the flow of the electricity. "You're the slayer, huh? Then why is all you do these days pretend to play mommy and bang yet anothervampire?" Her eyes gleam with vindictive fury. "Yeah, I knew. Not like you were even trying to get rid of this scum. Or Warren." She cocks her head thoughtfully. "Were you sleeping with him, too? Is that why Tara's dead now? Nympho Buffy?"
She doggedly ignores the witch. "God, Willow, we need to work this out. I want to help you. But this isn't the way. It's-" She glares at Angelus. "What'd you do that for?"
He directs another blow at the side of Willow's skull. "You weren't going to get through to her. It's not like you're known for your people skills," he scoffs.
She narrows her eyes at him. "I really, really hate you."
He only laughs. "Not nearly as much as you want to. What are you going to do with her, chain her up? A witch? I give her thirty seconds."
Buffy glares. Angelus smirks. She sighs. "I'm calling Xander."
In the end, it's Xander who gets through to Willow, bringing her back down to earth while Buffy tends to Dawn, her sister and her charge both gathered up in her arms as she contemplates them.
Then why is all you do these days pretend to play mommy?
It's been a while since Connor's been a burden, and while Buffy prefers to see herself as the cool aunt, she can't help but drift back to the hypothetical world where she and Angel would play doting parents to Connor, would watch him grow and mature and hey, maybe even roll over someday! But that's ridiculous, when Angel's living in LA- he left so you could have a future and a family- and when he isn't in the picture, anyway, and the demon wearing his skin is vicious and evil and not Angel.
Not Angel is back the next night, a single red rose laid across the back porch. She scowls at it, remembering a Valentine's Day long ago. Which is probably his goal in the first place.
"I want to see Connor," Angelus tells her less than a week later. She's flat against the inside of the door to the mansion, and Angelus is doing things to her that are making it very difficult to consider his request.
"N-no!" she gasps, arching her back and pressing harder against the heel of his hand. "You can't…not without-"
"A soul?" he jeers, delving within her as he speaks. "Do you have any idea of what I'm capable of even withthe soul?"
She falls forward, biting down on his shoulder to muffle a moan. He pulls away abruptly and she slides to the floor. "It's Angel or nothing," she says stubbornly. "Did you really think I'd trust you with Connor as long as that orb is still intact?" She doesn't know why he'd handed Connor over that night, but she has the uneasy suspicion that it's all part of his game plan. Whatever it is. And she isn't going to be an obedient pawn.
He lets out an irritated huff and stalks away.
Sometimes she thinks about running away. About leaving Sunnydale without a slayer again, finding somewhere quiet and building a new life in which her only responsibility is to herself. Sometimes she doesn't know why she hasn't already.
"I can't believe that I was going to hurt him…it just seemed so clear," Willow whispers, her eyes fixed on the baby sucking at a bottle, oblivious. "Like no one mattered, not even Connor. I'm so screwed up."
That's why. Buffy blinks down at the tiny infant in her arms. Connor is reason enough why she can't be selfish, why she can't even retreat into herself. She…she loves him enough to give him her all, and he settles for nothing less than that.
She doesn't deny Willow's words. "The summer will be good for you. And some witchy retreat in England? Sounds like fun." She'd been almost resentful when Giles had first suggested it, the idea of a summer with her watcher far away from Sunnydale too tempting for words, but she doesn't envy the mindset that Willow has had to fight to earn it. England is best for Willow, so long as she doesn't leave before she fulfills Buffy's last request of her.
There's also the fact that she doesn't trust Willow around Connor anymore, but she doesn't tell anyone that. Except Dawn and Angelus, who are in equal agreement with her.
Angelus is still a mystery, his whole mission apparently shifted to ConnorConnorConnorrather than whatever he'd been trying for originally. And she remains firm in her refusal to let him see Connor, and she knows that his patience is waning. He isn't one for compromise or begging, and certainly not one to cave into her demands rather than keep his pride.
So it almost comes as a surprise when an hour before sunset the next day, she opens the door to a broken, beseeching Angel.
"Come in," she says automatically, her eyes seeking the emptiness that she'd associated with Angelus. But this is Angel, soft and confused, and he leans on her arm as she guides him into the kitchen, both of them trembling.
"He actually broke it," Angel murmurs, and she sees the jagged piece of glass clutched in his right hand. "He…I…loved Connor enough to give up his freedom." He shudders against her palm, stroking his cheek. "I don't even understand myself anymore."
Buffy leans over to kiss him, savoring his lips on hers. "Does it matter? You're back now."
Dawn brings Connor downstairs and vanishes after an almost imperceptible look from Buffy, leaving them alone with the baby. And then there's an awkward silence between them, and Buffy can't say what she's thinking, not yet.
Angel scoops Connor up, stroking the side of his cheek. "He's so perfect," he whispers, amazed. "And you…you kept him safe from that filthy, vile, disgusting creature that I became."
He's laying it on a little thick, she thinks absentmindedly, scooting over to tuck her head into the crook of his shoulder, her arms sliding around him. Her eyes lid over with exhaustion, and she smiles to herself when Angel puts Connor down on the floor beside them to pull her closer, kissing the top of her head, lowering his lips to tug at the lobe of her ear, down to her neck as she lies limp beneath him, and his fangs slide into her, smooth as butter.
Really? Is that all?She closes her eyes, sighing out her satisfaction with a barely audible, "How dumb do you think I am?"
She feels, rather than sees, him stop. "Do you really think that I don't know you at all?" she murmurs. "That I'd believe that you'd give up on your twisted agenda because of love? You're not capable of love. And you're far more interested in the process than in the end goal."
But she's been wondering about that since he's arrived in Sunnydale, since he first orchestrated this grand plot and she's silently observed, never allowing herself to completely trust what she sees. Angelus is always playing games with her, finding the best and most complete way to bring on the pain. And she never knows what he's planning until it's about to happen, even now. "Getting me to trust you, to invite you in…that's all this has been about, hasn't it?" She considers. "Well, that and killing-" A second, equally horrific idea occurs to her. "Turningme?"
If there's one thing she recognizes about Angelus, it's that he'll do anything to save face, even stick around when he should really be running off. "And what's Buffy Summers's master plan, I wonder?" he breathes. "Seduce me, then kill me?"
She shrugs, twisting in his embrace to meet his eyes, her lips millimeters from his. "I was busy following your evil plot. My own was much more with the simple." She removes her hand from where it's slid into his pocket and smashes the sphere holding Angel's soul into pieces, watching with satisfaction as it shatters across the floor.
He lets out an enraged howl and she jumps away swiftly, lifting up Connor as she does so. "Willow! Now!" This has been set up precisely, their only uncertainty when Angelus would make his move, and even the way she dodges Angelus's blow to the right is calculated to keep him from finding the witch at the top of the stairs.
She's only ever wanted one thing from Angelus, though he's given her far more (and she doesn't just mean earth-shattering orgasms). And while there's almost a flicker of regret at losing Angelus, at forgoing the opportunity for more battle and banter and the rush that comes alongside them, none of that compares to the longing that he engenders, the ever-present need for him, the better version, the face behind the mask that she loves.
They both hear when Willow completes the spell that gifts Angel's soul back, and Angelus is shouting, and Connor is crying, and Buffy can only stand still and watch as light seems to explode from the vampire's every pore, his eyes turning blinding orange-yellow and his mouth opens in pain, the energy of the soul staggering them all. There's nothing left to worry about or fear or hate, just simple relief, the silent calm of a job well done.
Angel falls to the ground, looking around blindly, and Buffy lays his head on her lap, Connor still in her arms. "We're here, Angel," she whispers. "We're here."