Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, I didn't create the mess they're in. That credit all goes to Joss Whedon g I'm just borrowing (in a strictly non-profit sense) to take a shot at putting things back on track. Lyrics and title are from "Heal Me," by Melissa Etheridge. Spoilers: "Dead Things"/"Waiting in the Wings" Rating: PG13 Author's Note: This story fits in between "The Lonely Season" and "You're the Only One." Summary: Can you "reunion?" g

Heal Me

By Gem

Ain't it crazy For a moment there I just gave up trying But now I see You can let the light in You can begin again

* * * * *

Buffy sighed as she padded across her bedroom carpet. Another long day at work, and still more hours of patrol to go; not exactly the glamorous "adult" life she'd once imagined. But at least she'd been able to squeeze in a quick shower, with still a sliver of free time left before she needed to head out to keep the world safe for humanity. This had become the greatest of all luxuries: a few minutes of pure Buffy-time.

She rubbed the back of her neck absently as she searched the pile of newspapers on her desk; she had a strange prickling sensation that wouldn't seem to go away. It almost felt like...like something it couldn't be, she reminded herself firmly. It was dry skin, nothing more, and she had to ignore it if she was going to get anything accomplished with these help- wanted ads. Provided she ever found the help-wanted ads, of course, midst the chaos that was her desk.

At last she found the correct section and sat down to start her search for the perfect new job, one that didn't involve double-shifts, late nights or, hopefully, grease traps. It was all part of her fresh start: new job, a solid training regimen, night classes, working on her parenting skills and complete absence of the bleached blond undead. All salute the new Buffy, clean and celibate for two months and counting. Maybe in Slayer terms it wasn't much of a victory, but she counted every lonely night she managed to avoid the twin demons of self-pity and Spike a personal triumph.

Now if she could just conquer dry skin, she fretted, her hand once again creeping up to soothe her tingling neck.

* * * * *

Angel stood on the doorstep, nervously shifting Connor's car seat from one hand to the other as he tried to decide how he should ring the bell. One quick ring, just as a 'hi, I'm here' thing? But what if they didn't hear it? So maybe a longer one...that they could become annoyed by; oh yeah, that would do the trick. He made a disgusted sound in the back of his throat as the choices swirled in front of him, all smugly centering on the little glowing piece of plastic next to the front door.

It was Connor who finally prompted his slightly shaking hand to press the bell; the baby sneezed in his sleep, just once, but it was enough to jolt his father out of his own thoughts and into the real world.

Connor seemed to do that to him a lot.

Once the deed was done, and Angel could hear the echo of the bell on the other side of the door, the real war of nerves began. He was committed now; he had to stay and face her, no matter how much he dreaded it. Yeah, 'dreaded' was the word, he decided. He was not looking forward to seeing her smile again, or hearing her voice softly call his name, or feeling the warmth of her skin as she brushed her fingertips against his...

No, he was definitely dreading this.

He heard approaching footsteps, and tried to compose himself. Tried to remind himself of why he was here. The only problem with the latter was that every single thought flew from his mind except for the knowledge that Buffy was on the other side of the door. Coming closer.

To him.

This very moment.

On the other side of that door, now slowly swinging open.

* * * * *

"Dawn," he said with a gulp, as the front door opened wide to reveal Buffy's little sister.

"Angel," she answered in equal surprise. "What are you doing here?" Her unabashedly curious gaze traveled down the length of his arm to the car seat in his hand. "With a baby?" she added, sounding, if possible, even more shocked than he felt.

"I...I came to see...is Buffy...can we come in?"

She smiled as his fumbled words finally came together in a request. "Sure," she said easily, stepping back out of his way. "Come on in."

Angel stepped into the Summers house, craning his neck to peer into the living room and dining room as he entered. No luck; no Buffy to be seen.

"Buffy's upstairs," Dawn said quickly, unable to help seeing Angel's less- than-furtive glances around the house. Before he could answer, she flipped her long brown hair over her shoulder and yelled up the staircase, "Buffy!"

"Dawn, don't..." Angel said anxiously, his hand instinctively moving to shield the baby.

"Get down here!" Dawn continued, over Angel's abortive attempt to quiet her.

"Wake the baby," Angel finished with a sigh as the frightened Connor began to wail.

Dawn turned back to face Angel, her hand clapped over her traitorous mouth. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said immediately, "I didn't mean to scare it. We're kind of used to yelling and screaming around here. Hellmouth, demons..." she shrugged philosophically, "you know how it goes."

"It's okay," Angel muttered as he placed the car seat on the floor and squatted down to release his son from the straps that held him secure. "Connor gives back as good as he gets."

"Dawn, what are you bellowing about?" Buffy called from upstairs. "And why do I hear..."

The Slayer's voice trailed off as she rounded the upstairs landing and saw a hunched up, black leather clad figure in her doorway. She couldn't see the man's head, and for a moment she thought...but she knew it couldn't be him. It had to be Spike, because it couldn't be...but those shoulders, the breadth of them...that was not Spike, however much it couldn't be...

"Angel?" she asked hesitantly, her steps slowing the closer she came to matching reality with fantasy.

He turned around as he stood up, answering her question without a word. He couldn't have answered her if he'd tried; his attention was focused on the infant in his arms...a baby?...Angel?...to whom he was crooning.

"It's all right, little one," he whispered, the words sounding hushed to all but the most curious of Slayer ears. "Daddy's here."


"Daddy?" Dawn chirped, giving substance to the question screaming through Buffy's brain. "He...she...it's really yours?"

"He," Angel said, slightly affronted that there should be a doubt. "His name is Connor." He glanced at Buffy, his voice softening as he gave breath to the unthinkable. "And yes, he's my son."

* * * * *

"Oh boy." Dawn's eyes grew wide. "I mean it's a boy, and oh boy, wait till Xander hears." She stuck out her arms towards the baby. "Can I hold him?"

Buffy almost laughed at Angel's instinctive backpedaling. The Scourge of Europe was scrambling to get away from an unarmed human girl; it would have been funny if Buffy hadn't known the real person he was afraid for: his son.

His son.

"He's, uh, still a little upset," Angel apologized hastily, the truth of his words borne out by Connor's sobs.

Buffy watched him cuddle the baby in his arms and images she hadn't allowed herself to picture in four years...images she'd lost claim to almost before she was old enough to desire them...suddenly filled her mind's eye.

She'd been so young when she found out Angel couldn't have children, yet she still remembered those few fleeting daydreams she'd been allowed before his confession killed them. Angel with their child in his arms, that melting look of tenderness in his brown eyes, that soft lilt to his voice...it was exactly as she had imagined it.

Except that the child in his arms tonight was no part of her.

Buffy dragged herself with difficulty from the seductive depths of the past, but she realized there were limits to which her strained nerves could be stretched. An audience numbered one, two and possibly three on the list.

"Dawn, go upstairs," she said softly. "Please."

Dawn swiftly shifted her attention to her older sister. "But I want to hold the baby. And if you guys need to talk...maybe I can watch him?" She directed the question at Angel, though her eyes never left Buffy's frozen face.

"Upstairs, Dawn." Buffy turned to Angel, still trying to quiet the frightened Connor. "Why don't we go in the living room? The lights are a little softer, and maybe he'll settle down if you can sort of rock him or something."

Dawn pouted, but she sensed no chance of a bid for mercy with her eerily controlled sister. She slumped up the stairs as Angel grabbed the diaper bag and followed Buffy into the living room.

A rocking chair not being an option, Angel sat on the sofa, shifting the baby to his other shoulder as he continued to stroke Connor's back and make soothing noises. Buffy sat on the sofa as well, though she took care to leave a cushion between she and her former lover. And her former lover's child.

"He's beautiful," she said softly.

Angel grinned, fatherly pride struggling with realism. "Thanks. I think so too." He put Connor slightly away from his body to gaze down at the small, red face of his only child. "But how can you tell right now?"

"He's yours."

Angel didn't know how to answer her, and Connor fortunately did not give him the opportunity. Deprived of the comfort of his father's shoulder in his hour of need, the child's cries gained in volume once again. Angel hastily pulled him in again and resumed the rhythmic stroking and crooning that had become second nature to him the past few months.

Buffy watched silently, fighting the urge to take part in this moment. She didn't know where the feeling was coming from; she'd never been a real baby person until this very moment. Finally she surrendered, sliding forward on the cushion, close enough to touch the baby, and the baby's father.

"Angel, he's going to make a mess of that leather coat. Why don't you let me take him so you can..." she glanced at the shirt collar poking out from under the leather, "let him cry on silk instead," she finished in disbelief. She blinked her eyes and stared. "You're wearing silk and leather to travel with a baby? Even I know that's an invitation to fashion disaster. What were you thinking?"

He looked sheepishly at her over the top of Connor's head. "Could it be...no time to shop these days?" he suggested.

"Okay, well, I guess that makes sense," she allowed, sharing his grin even as she felt herself drowning in it.

Buffy had spent a lot of the last three years building up sufficient defenses against the quicksilver half-sad smiles that lived in her memories, but she had no proof against this new Angel and his easy grin. There was an unusual air of confidence about him; he seemed almost relaxed, even in this awkward situation, and in his eyes she saw a sly twinkle that drew her in against her will. She had to distract herself, and fast, before she dissolved into a puddle at his feet.

"Look, that, umm, collar is going to crease his poor little face. Maybe we can find a blanket or something that you can wear to protect your shirt."

She glanced around the room for a makeshift baby blanket, until she saw Angel's hands holding out the baby in front of her.

"I'm not really worried about the shirt," he said softly, "but I would like to get my coat off."

She reached out hesitantly and took the baby, now hiccoughing quietly, into her arms. Connor, still groggy from the long car trip, burrowed into her shoulder and started to relax.

"He likes you," Angel said.

Suddenly that seemed to be the most important thing in the world. Angel couldn't help but smile at the picture they made as he shrugged off his coat and resumed his seat; they just looked so...right...together. He didn't bother to analyze the thought; for once he simply enjoyed.

Buffy wanted to make small talk about the baby, about Connor. She wanted to ask when he was born, and how much he weighed and if he was hooked on the Teletubbies yet. But the only question she could move through her frozen brain was far more complicated.


Angel looked away, looked down at his hands, looked everywhere but Buffy's face. "There was...there is...a prophecy," he answered haltingly.

"That's not what I meant."

He finally looked her in the eye. "I know."


He sighed as his eyes traveled once more to Connor's small head, nestled against Buffy's breast.

"There's a lot of things we need to talk about, Buffy, and Connor is only one of them." He swallowed nervously. "If you don't mind, I'd like to work my way up to him, because I'm pretty sure what I have to say is going to make you mad, and I'd like to get some other things cleared up first before you bring out the handcuffs and stakes."

It was Buffy's turn to look away. He didn't know...he couldn't know. And he wouldn't know.

"I think," she said slowly, forcing a display of calm she did not feel, "we should do this alphabetically." She made herself face Angel again. "Last time I checked, that would put Connor pretty close to the beginning of things, what the 'C' and all."

"Unfortunately a 'D' isn't going to push things back much further," Angel admitted, "and that's where Connor begins. With Darla."


Whatever Buffy had expected, it was not this name from the distant past. Angel's ex had been carpet lint for almost as long as she had known him; how could she have anything to do with the child Buffy now held in her arms?

"But how is that...that's not possible. She's dead. I mean really most sincerely dead."

"They brought her back. Wolfram & Hart, I mean. About 18 months ago...well, actually a little more, I guess...they brought her back and sent her after me."

Eighteen months. Buffy could feel the figure spinning dizzily through her brain, prompting a hysterical urge to giggle. Eighteen months. Incredible. Was there anything Buffy could do that Darla hadn't already tried?

"It's still not possible," she insisted, realizing the instant the words left her mouth how ridiculous they sounded coming from her, of all people.

Angel smiled ruefully, acknowledging the absolute even as he reminded her of its vanquished status. "Let she who hasn't risen from the grave cast the first headstone."

"Not funny," she snapped, unreasonably irritated by the discovery that his sense of humor was now akin to her own.

"No," he agreed, "it wasn't."

He never told her; Buffy couldn't believe he had never told her. He said it so casually, like it no longer mattered except in the way that it brought Connor to him, but it must have been a horrible shock at the time. And yet he had never said a word before tonight.

"Why am I just hearing about this now? Didn't you think I might be the slightest bit interested, since once upon a time she tried to kill me?"

He had known this question was coming, and he thought he was prepared. But nothing could ever shield his heart when he saw pain on Buffy's face.

"When I first found out, I couldn't...I just couldn't. I wasn't sure if you'd want to help," Angel looked down at his folded hands, "or maybe that it wouldn't matter that much to you. And I didn't want to know if it was the second one."

She refused to feel guilty for his uncertainty; he was the one who thought they didn't belong in each other's lives.

"So fine, after it was all over you couldn't have dropped me a card? Left a message on my machine?"

Angel's head snapped up, his dark eyes holding her fast. "After it was all over, your mother had just died. I didn't want to add to your worries. So I told Giles, asked him to keep an eye out for Darla. He never called me, so I guess she never came this way."

"You told Giles...but not me?"

"I told Giles she was back," he swiftly corrected her. "I didn't go into details."

He barely let himself examine the details back then, let alone shared them with others.

"I don't understand any of this." She took refuge in the facts, pushing hurt feelings to the background for later examination. "What was she supposed to do after her grand reentrance? Kill you?"

Angel shook his head; his life was never that simple. "I'm not sure exactly what the master plan was. Have me turn her, drive me crazy, make me lose my soul, make me evil even with my soul...I never really figured it out. But she came back into my life as a human, and I tried to help her, and then they..." he paused, remembering that awful night, "they had Dru turn her. In front of me. There was nothing I could do."

"Oh god, Angel, I'm sorry," Buffy breathed. She looked down at the child resting quietly in her embrace. "When? How old was he?"

He smiled grimly. "Did I mention the word 'prophecy'? Connor wasn't even conceived at that point."

"That doesn't make any sense," Buffy replied flatly. He'd told her once he couldn't have children and she'd accepted it, even understood it. "She's a vampire again, you're a vampire...two vamps does not a baby make. Even one in the mix would take one heck of a prophecy."

"You know me; never do anything in a small way." He shrugged; Darla's part of the prophecy had long ago ceased to concern him. "I can't pretend to explain it, Buffy, but Connor's birth was foretold. I just wish I'd been better prepared for Darla's rebirth; when I first saw her...I thought I was going crazy."

"I can see where you'd get that idea." She tried to casually drop the next question into the conversation, though technique took a back seat to need. "So, umm, where is she now? She's not like, out in the car or something, is she?" Buffy looked queasy at the thought.

"She died," Angel answered brusquely. "The prophecy...it allowed Connor to be conceived, and protected him while she was carrying him, but it couldn't make a dead body give birth. So she staked herself to save him."

"I'm...well, I guess my line for tonight is 'I'm sorry'."

And let's have a big round of applause for Miss Insensitivity 2002, she berated herself. Even Cordelia must seem the essence of tact compared to Buffy the Amazing Foot-Swallower.

"We weren't together, Buffy; Connor was conceived and then I didn't see her again until she was ready to give birth." Angel could tell by the way she was avoiding his eyes that she didn't understand. "One night it all built up...everything she was doing, everything I had seen, everything I'd given up...I was drowning and I just lost the will to hang on anymore."

No, he wasn't supposed to do that. She didn't care that he thought himself weak; he was the strong one and she needed to him stay that way, to have stayed that way while she had been drowning. Shame gave way to anger, good old familiar anger.

"So you slept with her to lose your soul? How could you?"

Angel stood up and began to pace. However deserved the accusation, he was still getting pretty tired of hearing it.

"Why does everyone think I'm so anxious to lose my soul that I deliberately put it at risk?"

"I'd say your little tax deduction is a pretty good answer to that." She bit her lip before she continued, "Not to mention a certain other time...that we're not going to mention."

They were most certainly going to mention it, Angel vowed silently, but not now. Now was about Connor, and by extension, Darla.

"I wasn't trying to lose my soul, Buffy," he said slowly, calling on every morsel of patience he had at his command. "I was just angry, and lonely, and confused. It seemed like everything I had been doing was for nothing; even if I got rid of every bit of paranormal evil in the world, the normal human stuff still ranks pretty high on the darkness scale." He stopped pacing and turned to face her. "I had no hope left, so I turned to Darla thinking...thinking at least if I embraced evil I was making a decision, not just reacting."

Buffy couldn't speak; it was as though he had taken the words from some place deep within her own soul and laid claim to them as his.

"Besides," he added, returning to the sofa, "it's not like I hadn't slept with Darla since my soul was restored; I told you a long time ago that I went back to her for a short time after the first curse. Did you really think she put up with my soul for the sake of my conversational skills?"

"I tried not to think about it, period," she admitted, raising an eyebrow at him.

Angel reached out and gently stroked Connor's back, finding, as always, a touchstone in the simple fact of his son's existence. He was what mattered, not Darla or the past.

"Why would I feel any more for her now, when I know what true happiness is?"

Buffy rested her cheek on Connor's silky fine hair, feeling his tiny heartbeat pound against her chest. He was warm, and soft, and the dark pools beneath those blue veined eyelids were his father's eyes. Child of two vampires, he was the closest thing to a miracle she had ever beheld, and all she could do was wonder why she, supposed savior of the universe, could take no credit or claim.

"Why are you here?" she whispered.

"He's hungry," Angel answered, in typical Cryptic Guy fashion.

"Excuse me?" She raised her head and stared at her former lover. "They don't have formula in LA?"

"He's going to start crying in a minute," Angel warned her. "You won't be able to hear the answer to your question if we don't get a bottle in his mouth pretty quickly."

Buffy moved her head so that she could look down at the baby, still nuzzling her in apparent contentment. "How can you tell? He looks pretty happy to me."

Angel took his hand from Connor's back and leaned forward, almost resting his head on Buffy's shoulder as he pointed to his son's mouth. "See his lips, the way they're making a fish face? He's hungry."

"That's so cute," she breathed, momentarily entranced by the sight of the tiny mouth working against the ruffled edge of her blouse.

Suddenly every cell in her body became aware of Angel's dangerous proximity; one of his arms stretched behind her back, the other hand just inches from her breast, his head almost resting on her bare shoulder. She lifted her troubled eyes to meet his, wondering if he was experiencing the same old breathless feeling from simply being next to each other.

"Maybe we should...go feed him," she suggested, the words dragging from her mouth one syllable at a time. She didn't want to move, didn't want to break the spell, and yet if she didn't move soon, something irrevocable might happen.

He saw the reluctance in her face, and he could sense the tension in her slight frame. She was as torn as he, wanting to hide from the feelings that rose too easily between them, and wanting to bask in them at the same time. It was the same old merry-go-round, but this time there was another passenger to consider.


Angel slowly, carefully, backed away on the cushions, using the hand that had so nearly touched her silken skin to grab for the diaper bag. He cleared his throat and tried to speak calmly, suppressing with force of long habit the desire he could feel clawing at his heart and body.

"I, uh, brought some stuff with us," he said, only the faintest trace of huskiness coloring his voice. "I need to heat it up, though, if you've got a pan and some water."

She wasn't sure if she was grateful or hurt that he ended the moment, but she seized it in good grace. "We even have a stove," Buffy promised, "since I'm guessing you're not big on that newfangled microwave technology."

She stood up quickly, Connor still clutched in her arms. Angel slipped the diaper bag over his shoulder and reached out for his son.

"It's okay," she said, stepping sideways to slip past him without any part of her body contacting his. "I've got him."

Angel sighed and followed her into the kitchen. Though he'd thought to bring along basic supplies, he hadn't really factored in his son's needs, and how they would mesh with his own. Now he faced heart-wrenching confessions over a pan of boiling water. What was next; a profession of eternal devotion over a dirty diaper?

No, that last one wouldn't happen, he reminded himself, because that wasn't why he was here. He was here to...

Connor's first hungry wail pushed aside any thoughts of why he came, leaving only the fact that he was here...and not alone.

* * * * *

Buffy awkwardly tried to balance Connor on her narrow hip as she bent down to pull a pan from the drawer beneath the stove. Angel leaned over to help, but his sudden presence by her side took her by surprise and she stumbled backwards, stepping on his foot.

"I can do this," she said impatiently. "If I can save the world, I can probably boil a pan of water."

He forbore from mentioning his memories of her early cooking attempts, times that made him grateful he didn't need to eat; he simply backed away, hands raised in the air.

"Sorry, I just know it's a little tough at first to keep a good hold of him and still have a free hand. I was only trying to help."

Buffy snorted, in lieu of a more formally worded retort, and bent down once more to retrieve the pan. She couldn't explain why she needed to hold on to the baby when Angel was willing to do this by himself. Maybe it was some deep-seated recognition of the barriers her Slayer state placed between her and eventual motherhood. Maybe it was just what Xander would have called a 'chica-thing', this need to prove that she could care for a child.

Or maybe it was that in holding this child she was holding a piece of Angel; the piece that she could never have, and yet the only piece she could legitimately touch.

She focused her attention on the water in the pan, willing it to boil and speed along a process that was creating a large, silent, hole in the conversation. Angel busied himself getting the formula prepared, sneaking quick glances over his shoulder at Buffy and Connor when he thought she wasn't looking. She knew what he was doing, but since she was using all her strength to keep from doing the same thing to him, she decided not to call him on it.

When at last the bottle was ready, she looked anxiously from baby, to bottle, to father.

"Do I just sit him up?" she asked hesitantly, gnawing on her lower lip in consternation. "Not by himself, I mean; I know he's too young for...he is too young, right?"

Angel smiled gently; her questions sounded so like his own the first few days...weeks...months, really...of Connor's life. He had been too afraid to ask anyone, though; too afraid a sign of ignorance would show he was unworthy of the trust placed in him.

"Just sit down," he said, pulling a chair out for her, "and kind of prop him up in your arms. He knows how to do the rest."

She smiled at him in return and started to sit down, marveling at how bizarre it was to be doing something so...ordinary...with the most extraordinary man she knew. It almost seemed like someone should have a camera to record the moment before it vanished forever.

Then the kitchen door swung open, and the perfect moment in time evaporated as though it had never been.

* * * * *

"All right, where's the big bad bug?" Spike grumbled as he sauntered through the doorway. "Super Spike is here to save the dam...dammit!" He scowled at Angel. "What the hell is going on here?"

"I was just going to say the same thing," Buffy snapped, quickly getting to her feet. "How did you get in?"

She forgot for an instant that Connor was in her arms, but Angel's reflexes were as good as hers, if not better where his child was concerned. The baby was out of her arms before her mind even registered she had been temporarily off-balance.

She tore her eyes from the sight of Angel once again cradling Connor in his arms, turning her confusion onto the source: Spike.

"I revoked your invitation; I revoked it so much it's a wonder you can set foot outside your crypt. So how did you get in here?"

Spike was too busy gaping at the image of his sire with an infant to register Buffy's question. He couldn't decide what bothered him more: the revolting picture his formerly bad-ass mentor made with a googly-eyed brat in his arms, or the fact that said bad-ass mentor was obviously making himself at home in the Summers' residence again.

"Spike!" Buffy's voice was sharp, and flavored with the faintest hint of panic. "You've got about two seconds before you end up on the wrong end of a wooden spoon. Talk."

She almost bit her tongue as the last word left her mouth. Spike definitely knew how to talk, but what he said was invariably designed to cause maximum emotional damage. Giving him a chance to speak, let alone begging him to, was tantamount to opening a vein and giving him a straw.

"It was the niblet; she asked me to come," Spike said, forcing his attention away from Angel with the greatest of effort. "She, uh, knew old Spike would never do her no harm and..."

"Oh that's a laugh. Just because you can't kill people anymore does not make you harmless. If anyone knows that..." she faltered, suddenly wary of revealing too much. "Well, if anyone knows that, everyone knows that," she finished lamely.

"What I want to know is what he's doing here?" Spike jerked his head at Angel, who was now trying to soothe his crying child. "And what's up with the half-pint he's packing?"

"This is my son," Angel answered, with the faintest of growls in the back of his throat.

He sat down at the table, very deliberately picking up the bottle and putting it in Connor's mouth. Although more questions were born screaming in his head with each word out of the younger vampire's mouth, Angel was making a great effort not to let any of them show on his face.

"Fine, Dawn invited you," Buffy said, trying to regain control of the conversation. "Now get out so I can uninvite you. And the next time she invites you...well, you don't actually have to worry about that because you're out of next times."

But Angel's answer had robbed Buffy of her hold on Spike's attention. "Son?" he exclaimed, taking a few steps toward his sire. "What the bloody hell are you talking about, mate? All that smog in LA finally settle in your oversized head?"

"He's my son," Angel repeated, his eyes steadily fixed on Spike's as he shifted the child out of the younger vampire's reach. "And if you ever lay a hand, accidental or otherwise, on him, your immortality will be over before the sensation from your fingertips registers on your underdeveloped brain."

"Spike, just get out. You don't belong here."

Spike barely restrained a shudder when he glimpsed the cold promise in Angel's eyes, but the Slayer's expression offered scarcely any more in the way of warmth. In her though, he at least had a weapon.

"Seems to me I belonged here more recently than Pops." He jerked his head at Angel again, carefully avoiding his sire's gaze for all his jaunty tone. "And a lot more frequently, if certain gypsy curses are to be believed. Course, judging by the tadpole, he's been finding somewhere to store his sword at night." Spike dared a quick, impudent grin at the older vampire. "Don't suppose you'd be willing to share her number with an old pal?"

"I believe the lady asked you to leave, Spike." Angel kept his voice calm and even, knowing even the slightest sign of temper or unease would be an admission of weakness.

Spike pulled out one of the kitchen chairs and threw himself down in it, propping his boots up on the table. "Yeah, well, the lady has her moods, you know," he confided. "One minute it's 'Get out! Get out!' and the next it's 'Get..."

Buffy's fist connected with his jaw before he could complete the sentence, forcing him to swallow the thought, and almost his tongue, as he hurtled backwards against the wall.

"Get gone," Buffy said succinctly. She stood slightly at an angle to the prone vampire, weight evenly balanced and fists raised for a second assault, should it prove necessary.

"Buffy, no!" Dawn shouted as she ran in from the hall.

* * * * *

Buffy didn't even bother to look at her sister; she didn't dare take her eyes off of Spike for an instant.

"Dawnie, go back upstairs."

"No," the teenager insisted, running a few more steps into the room, until she was standing at Spike's side. "It's my fault he's here; I invited him. I said it would be okay just this once," she quickly glanced down at the vampire, "but he was supposed to come before you got home from work."

"Ran a little late, that's all," Spike grumbled from his spot on the floor. He cautiously sat up, though he made no move to get to his feet quite yet. Though he might not win in a show of strength against his sire, there could be pathos points to be awarded.

"Oh, sure, just happened to run late," Buffy scoffed. "Just happened to on the odd chance that I might just be home and we could sort of...bump into each other."

Spike leered up at her, sensing another golden opportunity, and judging himself to be relatively safe with Dawn at his side.

"Thought we might bump a few things, actually."

"Buffy, I'm sorry," Dawn said quickly, jumping in verbally before her sister had a chance to spring physically. "There's a humongous bug in the basement; I saw it there last night. And you know I hate bugs, and I know you hate bugs, and I thought since you have to kill all the really evil creepy-crawlies, maybe I could get Spike over here to kill a not-so-evil but really creepy creepy-crawly."

"The only creepy-crawly in this house is Spike," Buffy answered, restraining her temper with great effort, "and I can handle him myself."

"And what a set of hands she's got, too." Spike nodded pertly in Angel's direction, the younger vampire's eyes glittering with barely suppressed amusement. "Can make a fellow downright weak in the knees sometimes."

"Spike, maybe you'd better go." Dawn reached down and gave him a hand up, nodding her head at the back door. "Buffy can kill the bug, or Angel can kill it and..." But she had said one name too many; Dawn could see it in Spike's grim face.

"Oh, I'm not going anywhere while he's still here."

Angel stood up slowly, the restrained power in his figure in no way diminished by the small child he held in his arms.

"If you don't respect the fact that Buffy can kill you very easily...trust the fact that I won't."

Spike took an inadvertent step backwards, trying to escape the suppressed fury in his sire's eyes. The younger vampire quickly realized his mistake, however, and tried to make it look as though he was broadening his stance, preparing for battle.

"You'd be a mite more scary without the rugrat, chum." Spike sneered, desperately trying to save face. "As it is...well, what a perfect little prairie wife you'd make."

"I don't need you to fight my battles for me, Angel." Buffy spared an exasperated glance at one former lover before she advanced on another. "You have no business here, Spike. Not now, not ever. Leave before I have to hurt you."

"But baby, I like it when you hurt me," the blond vampire cooed, suddenly enjoying the dangerous thrill of laying down his cards in front of Angel. "Almost as much as you like it when I give it back to you." He took a step forward, running his hand down her arm. "And you do like it; I know you do."

She twisted her arm underneath his hand, swinging it upwards to catch his wrist and force it behind his back. With a sweet smile she shoved him towards the door, and into it, before pulling him back to open it.

"Well I know I enjoyed that." She shoved him out the door, standing in the center of the doorway for a parting shot. "But mostly, I like the part where we say 'good-night'."

She started to slam the door, but caught the knob before the door hit the sill and finished closing it gently. No sense in giving Spike the satisfaction of acknowledging he had drawn blood.

Angel was already sitting down again with Connor by the time she turned around. She watched in painful fascination as one of his long fingertips caressed the baby's cheek while the others held the bottle securely in Connor's mouth. It was a gesture inherently Angel-like, a fleeting moment of public, and spontaneous, tenderness.

"I'm, umm..." she cleared her throat, "I'm sorry about that. Spike, I mean. He, umm, got used to making himself at home and he forgets..."

"That he's not invited anymore," Angel asked quietly, not looking up from Connor.

She sighed in relief; maybe he had been too preoccupied with Connor to notice Spike's less than subtle hints.

"Yeah, that." She hurried back to her chair beside Angel and held out her arms. "Want me to finish feeding him?"

Angel regarded her steadily for a moment before shifting Connor's weight over to her arms.

"It's not so easy to get rid of a vampire once you let them in," he said quietly. "You should remember that."

"I will," she promised, flashing him a bright smile. "It's just..."

"It's even harder once you've invited them into your bed," he continued, forcing his voice to remain calm.

* * * * *

To Be Continued