The room seemed to have a general air of desperation about it that he hadn't noticed on prior visits. Likely because in the past, he had been to the squad room on his own terms and this time he was about to be escorted to a holding cell.
Kate stood next to him, her anger barely held at bay due to his refusal to divulge Faith's whereabouts. "I think you're gonna like the cell we have for you, Angel. It faces east. It'll give you a great view of the sunrise in about four hours."
It was at that point that Buffy pushed in between the two of them. She had obviously overheard Kate and was seething. Her reaction was causing a swirl of emotions in Angel. The fact that she was here, like some avenging Amazon meant that prior appearances to the contrary, she still had feelings for him and he couldn't help but be gratified by that. At the same time he was angry at her display. Didn't she think he knew what he was doing? Lastly though, and most importantly, Buffy could be a hothead. That wasn't necessarily the wrong approach when you were attacking a bunch of demons. But it was the worst idea possible when you were in the midst of a roomful of highly trained police officers, all of whom carried guns.
"Who are you?" Kate was already annoyed with the various hanger-ons that Angel had collected, but the blonde was a new one.
"She is nobody." The words were spit out between gritted teeth. Darkness overtook Buffy's eyes for a second but then it extinguished, leaving her expression empty. She turned on her heel and calmly walked out of the station house, the door clicking behind her. At least this way she couldn't get into any trouble.
Neither Kate not Angel spoke for a moment. Than Kate gave a half shrug. "I'd say that she's a somebody to one person out there."
Angel stared at her, his expression somewhere between a scowl and befuddlement.
The tiniest of smirks crept onto Kate's face. "She's pregnant."
He was about to smugly tell her that if she was trying to rattle him, she'd have to try with something a bit more plausible when his mind provided a full color picture of Buffy from when she had walked in on him comforting Faith. She wasn't dressed any differently than usual. But there was no denying her fuller bust line, the slightly widened hips, the way her gait had subtly changed. How could he have not even noticed? For a second, he thought his knees might buckle and then he heard Faith behind him as she entered the room.
"I'd like to make a confession."
"What are you doing, Angel?"
"Clothes. Suitcase." He pointed to each item in turn. "Figure it out, Cordelia."
"That's not what I meant and you know it."
"What exactly do you mean?" His back was toward her, but his annoyance came through anyway.
"You've just been so pathetic lately and I didn't want you to get even more pitiful." For a moment Cordelia's lip trembled before she clamped down on her outward display of weakness.
Angel's anger instantly dissipated, steam rising on a hot summer day. All that was left was guilt and shame that he had wounded her so when all she was trying to do was protect him. He ran his hand though his hair and sighed, desperately searching for words. "It will be fine, Cordy. How much more useless can I get?"
The corner of her lip turned up a tiny bit. "Good point, loser boy."
He felt relief engulf him. He wasn't sure when this annoying, pushy woman had become so overwhelmingly important to him.
Angel sighed, long and audibly. "It will be all right. I promise." He reached out and gave her hand a fast squeeze. "You're a good friend."
She mock glared at him. "Damn right, buddy."
He'd come full circle. In the beginning, there were good reasons for him staying out of sight. He assumed the slayer would stake him long before he had a chance to explain that he wanted to help. Things were simple back in Los Angeles. Here he was, watching her from afar again, but now everything was complicated.
She was with her boyfriend, the same guy he had spotted on Thanksgiving. They were holding hands and laughing. This was what he had wanted for her, he told himself. That could have been me. He shut that thought down. There wasn't any point in going there. When they started to kiss, he looked away. Even he wasn't that much of a masochist.
They finally parted. The guy seemed reluctant to leave until Buffy playfully pushed him away. She continued to amble through the cemetery. It was obvious now that Kate had been right. How he could have been that oblivious was beyond him. Except he did know. He saw what he wanted to see when he was around her.
Three vampires appeared and Angel almost jumped into the fight. But after a moment, he realized that for now, she didn't need any help. She was fighting differently – not as many leg kicks – but just as effectively. Two minutes later, all three vampires were dust. She whirled around then. "I know someone is there. You've been following me all night. If you come out now, we can get this over with before I miss Conan."
Angel stepped out of the shadows, hands raised in a surrender position.
She narrowed her eyes. "Here to remind me that I'm nothing?"
"Here to apologize. I said a lot of things I didn't mean."
She bit her lip for a second and then looked up at him. "Well, I wasn't exactly gunning for the ex-girlfriend award."
"Also, ah, I want to congratulate you and your boyfriend." He could barely get the words out, but he needed to let her know that he was happy for her. Happy for them.
She looked confused for a second and then her face twisted. "He's not the father. Just call me slutty."
He took a fast step toward her but stopped himself from touching her at the last second. "You're not a slut, Buffy. And if anyone implies that, just let me know who. Just because I don't kill people anymore doesn't mean I can't bend the rules."
She grinned at that and sat down, her back against a mausoleum. Angel sat down next to her, close but not touching. He could feel the heat of her body seeping into his.
"If anybody's a slut, it would be me."
"I don't think the things you did without a soul really qualify."
He suddenly looked sheepish. "I was thinking about before I was turned. I was a bit of a rake."
"A rake?" She giggled. "You mean like that scene where that English guy is seducing a girl by eating sexy fruit?"
Angel furrowed his brow, trying to follow Buffy's train of thought. "You mean Tom Jones", somewhat impressed that she had seen a movie that old.
"Tom Jones?" Buffy wrinkled her nose in distaste. "What does some guy that old ladies throw their underwear at have to do with anything?"
"Ah, nothing?" As far as Angel was concerned, Buffy's train of thought had officially derailed. "All I meant was I'm better qualified than most to judge moral failings and you don't come close."
"Thanks, I mean it." She got an impish smile. "So town slut. Too bad we never got to test that out." Her cheeks pinked a bit and she looked away as she realized what she had said.
An image of Buffy, eyes closed, hair fanned out against his pillow, her legs wrapped tightly against his back, while he kept angling in deeper, deeper…he cleared his throat and shook his head.
"The truth is I don't know who the father is. Willow and Xander and Riley and my mom all think it was a one-night stand. I don't want them to be scared but I wasn't with anybody then. Giles and I have been researching every demon I came in contact with during that period." She wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her head on her knees. "I should have just aborted it but all the sonograms show a normal human baby." Her voice got tiny. "Giles can't find any record of any slayer who got pregnant after she was called. There was a slayer in the seventies who got pregnant right before she was called and she carried to term ok, but once you're the slayer…" Her voice trailed off.
"I don't know why I'm boring you with all this."
He kept his face turned away from her so she wouldn't suspect that he longed to take her in his arms and comfort her. Instead he spoke quietly, trying for a tone that said friend, giving her the only support he was allowed. "You know that I'm always going to help you any way I can. If you want, why don't you send me a list of everything you came into contact with and I'll see what I can figure out. I might be able to find something out."
"Thanks." She gave him a soft smile. "That means a lot. I'm currently sixteen weeks along."
Not even four months yet. He felt a little better at not having realized her changed condition. Angel did some quick mental arithmetic. "So, I need a list of things you went up against in the second week of November."
"No, Thanksgiving week," she corrected. Doctors count from your last period, but you don't actually get pregnant until two weeks from that point." She smiled at Angel's look of confusion. "Yes, I know. According to that, every woman currently having her period is also in her first week of pregnancy. Some kind of male ego thing."
He had stopped listening as soon as she had said Thanksgiving week. But what he was thinking was impossible for any number of reasons.
"I beseech access to the knowing ones." He was as disoriented as the last two times he had been here. He blinked against the brightness of the light until the beings in front of him came into focus.
He tossed the ornate silver picture frame to the female. "Interesting," she said while examining the gift. "But the past can never be captured." The frame vanished.
"Why are you wasting our time, warrior?" The male made it clear that he had no patience for Angel.
"The slayer is pregnant."
"The petty problems of mortals are not our concern." Angel could see the slight tension in the male oracle, the way his sister had widened her eyes a tiny bit. They hadn't known that Buffy was pregnant. Did that mean the pregnancy had nothing to do with the erased day?
"Is the child mine?"
"The child is no one's possession."
"That's not what I meant," he glared at the male oracle. "Am I the father?"
"Would you have given that appellation to your own parent?" The woman seemed to be truly curious about that.
"Fine. I get that you're not going to give me a straight answer. At least tell me if the baby is going to be all right."
"Do you mean will this child only know happiness? That is not possible for anyone, lower being."
What did he mean? Angel rubbed his hand through his hair, trying not to become agitated. "I mean, does the child have a destiny?" Even as he asked, he wondered what answer he was hoping for.
"Every one has a destiny. We are not fortune tellers." Angel took a step toward the male, anger beginning to win out over patience.
"Its existence is of no consequence to us." Angel stopped, more confused than ever. It seemed more and more likely this baby had nothing to with him. Which was a hell of a coincidence. Plus he didn't completely trust these beings to give him a truthful answer.
"The child needs to be raised with love. Everything else will come from that." She was looking at him with sympathy in her eyes.
"But does that mean---" He found himself on his ass, outside of the abandoned post office before he had time to complete his sentence. "Well, that was a whole lot of help."
"Wes?" Angel frowned as Wes took no notice, engrossed in some antiquated text. "Wes?" A little louder this time, but it made no difference. He bent down, hissed "Wes" in the man's ear and watched, satisfied as Wesley jumped out of his seat.
"Angel!" The man's hands danced around, trying desperately to look self-assured. "I've been researching that list of demons you gave me. None of them can affect the human body in any way."
Angel nodded. He hadn't thought so, but had wanted to double-check the possibility. "I have a question for you. Theoretical. It's just something happened and got me wondering and." Angel looked up, a bit embarrassed that he was so obviously stalling. "Do you think it's possible that if time somehow folded in on itself, that one thing wouldn't have changed?"
Wes leaned forward, eyes bright. "You mean erasing time? As if an hour or a day or a week hadn't occurred?"
"That would be an extraordinary power, " he murmured. He frowned, taping the table while he thought out loud. "If time is turned back for everyone, how could anyone tell? And wouldn't the future play out exactly the same?"
"Maybe someone would know? And that way things wouldn't be the same?"
Wesley nodded in agreement, "Of course. The demon would keep his memories thereby preventing his demise by avoiding the initial fight. Clever."
"Yeah, very clever." Angel tried to keep his impatience at bay. "Do you think it would be possible that one thing from the future wouldn't change?"
"You mean if you were wearing that shirt in the original future and when the future was erased, you would still somehow be wearing it."
"Aside from all my shirts being pretty much the same, yeah, that."
"The power required to change time like this is almost unimaginable. I don't know of any demon capable of something like that. And to also be able to manipulate who and what was affected is, I think, beyond the power of any demon present on earth." Wes looked at Angel, curiosity evident in his eyes. "What brought this on, exactly?"
"I got wind of something. Just talk, I guess."
"You were just in Sunnydale," Cordelia hissed. "On a scale of 1 to 10, this is having a giant zit on the day of an audition bad."
Angel calmly reached around her and put a few extra stakes into his overnight bag. "I don't have a choice. I have to go for a couple of days."
She stilled and looked closely at him. "There's something wrong with Buffy?" a small bit of concern leaking into her voice.
"Yes. No. She's pregnant," he blurted.
"You're running down to Sunnydale because little miss perfect got herself knocked up?" Cordelia was completely flabbergasted. "Let the dad to be deal with it."
"She doesn't know who the father is." Off of Cordelia's look, he glared and said, "That's not what I meant. She wasn't with anyone, so she thinks it was some kind of hellmouth thing at work."
"So now Buffy is secretly the virgin Mary slayer in disguise?" She gave an undignified snort.
"Cut her a break, Cordy. She's 18 weeks and she's not positive the baby is normal and she's scared. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Cordelia had suddenly walked over to the other side of Angel's room and was rummaging through the items on his dresser.
"What are you doing? You're touching my stuff."
She simply waved an arm at him. "Found it." She looked down at the desk calendar for a moment and than gave Angel an odd look. "She got pregnant Thanksgiving week."
"I already know this."
Cordelia rolled her eyes and looked heavenward. "Just when I think the Buffy/Angel show can't get more 'As The World Turns'." She sighed, a martyr's pain evident when she looked at Angel's uncomprehending face. "Soap opera? General Hospitals' Luke and Laura? Anything ring a bell here, oh challenged one?"
"I don't have a clue what you're getting at."
"Big surprise," she grumbled. "Standard soap opera plot – the hero rolls in the hay once with the heroine and she gets preggers."
Angel's eyes widened. "I don't see how that's possible. She didn't even know I was in Sunnydale. And there was no hay rolling"
"Not then. The next day during the Buffy and Angel sexathon."
"There was no sexa…she was here for five minutes, I have a curse and the whole thing's impossible."
Cordelia had crossed her arms in front of her chest and was standing directly in front of Angel. "Doyle told me everything."
"Thank you, Doyle," he muttered. "Then you know the day was erased, ergo not mine."
.He hoped that a simple appeal to logic would cause Cordy to drop the subject. Even as he thought that, he silently acknowledged that a rampaging rhino cutting a swath through his apartment was a more likely scenario. Cordelia was the most stubborn person the earth had ever seen.
"That's a lot more likely than it being some sort of hellmouth miracle."
His body slumped forward. "Maybe. I just don't see how. And if it is, what does that mean? Nothing's changed, we can't be together."
"At least the baby won't have tentacles. Fangs maybe."
"Thanks for the pep talk."
"What are friends for?'
Angel squared his shoulders and sucked in a deep, unnecessary breath. Just a few weeks ago he had been kidnapped and forced to participate in an illegal demon fight club. Ha hadn't wanted to kill anyone, but at the same time wasn't particularly worried about the matches themselves. Slow and careful torture might hold more appeal (and that fact disgusted him even as he acknowledged it), but violence was a part of him and he was good at it.
Which made it all the more ironic that he was close to terrified at knocking on the door in front of him. Finally, he decided he was being melodramatic and rapped sharply. A minute went by and then the door swung open.
The revulsion was only present for an instant, but Angel still caught it on Giles' face. The two men stared at each other across the threshold. Angel was aware that he could easily out stubborn Giles, he could wait close to forever, but that wasn't the point here.
"Can I come in? I'm here about Buffy."
Giles pressed his lips together, but finally nodded and invited Angel inside.
He wasn't sure if Giles was making tea because English politeness trumped everything else or because Giles wanted to put as much space between them as possible. It didn't really matter.
"I've been researching the demons Buffy came in contact with Thanksgiving week. I didn't come across anything that could explain her --- he hesitated for a moment --- condition." He almost told Giles about the missing day, but decided against it. It didn't seem like the oracles had orchestrated anything. Wes had assured him that it was pretty much impossible and if he somehow was the father, he didn't see how that would be to anybody's benefit. Better to keep searching in hopes of finding out what had actually happened.
"I haven't discovered any demon characteristics that could explain this either.
"Despite it all, she's happy. She's found a kind of normalcy that's she's never had before." Unspoken were the words when she was with you.
"I'm glad." And he was, strangely enough. He didn't deserve happiness. He had thought that long before he had ever met Buffy, and now he knew that his happiness was a threat to the entire world. But Buffy was an entirely different matter.
"No, no more. Please." even as the words left his lips, he knew begging was the wrong tactic to take. He tried to scramble away, but a hand shot out and grabbed him by the ankle, claws digging deep and breaking the skin. He watched, fascinated as a single drop of liquid splashed onto his shin, leaving behind a tiny perfect circle of burned skin. He flinched but didn't cry out. Another drop followed the same path, widening the edges of the burn and making the hole a tiny bit deeper. By the tenth drop, the skin was gone and the holy water had started to melt away his muscle. He was trembling violently, but he still hadn't made any further sounds, biting his lip so hard that a drop of blood was now present.
He closed his eyes, trying to center himself and will away the pain. Air was moving across his exposed bone and when the next drop hit he couldn't help his stifled cry. Through the haze of pain, a ringing began to sound, effectively drowning out all his thoughts. The sound kept getting louder, pain and noise too much for him to take, finally his body seized and kicked out---
Waking him up from his nightmare. It took a moment to shake off the leftover fear as he realized he wasn't still in a hell dimension, but instead tangled up in his covers. And another second to realize the phone was ringing. He had barely brought it up to his ear when he heard Willow's breathless voice.
"It's Buffy. She's hurt badly." He gripped the phone so tightly that he had to consciously not crack the receiver in half. "There was so much blood."
"She went into labor while she was patrolling." Giles' voice was clipped and cool. There was something else also, but he couldn't be bothered to determine the other emotion lying right under the surface. His only real concern was getting to her.
"She was only twenty-three weeks. What happened?'
"The baby clawed its way out. Very Aliens." Xander didn't bother to control his anger.
"She managed to call Giles on her cell."
"Don't worry, fang face. We managed to stake it before it got too far. Had your eyes. Yellow."
This time when Angel really woke up, he couldn't stop his violent trembling for close to an hour.
This had to be one of the stupidest things he’d ever done.
Probably not even in the top five, buddy. Maybe we should list every boneheaded move you’ve ever made in alphabetical order so we can be sure.
He inwardly groaned. He wasn’t sure when he had begun hearing Cordy in his head on a semi-regular basis. He crossed his arms and argued that he had very good reasons for coming to Sunnydale at 12 AM in the middle of the week. No visions in LA, Sunnydale was on a hellmouth so extra help was always appreciated, it was a really nice night for a drive…
Buffy the Cordy voice snarked.
Not Buffy, he sternly answered. She was dating that Riley guy, she was happy, Buffy and he couldn’t be together and if he happened to catch a glimpse of her, well that wasn’t his fault.
He broke out of his musing when he realized he wasn’t alone. A scant second later, he was surrounded by four men, all dressed the way Riley had been in the past. He began to rapidly put two and two together when one of them pulled out some sort of Flash Gordon ray gun and aimed it at him. He kicked it out of the man’s hand and the fight was on.
He could hear the crackle of electricity that exuded from one of the devices. He decided that posed the most danger and faking a punch to the left, he followed it with an actual uppercut straight to the guy’s nose. Blood poured freely as the guy fell heavily to the ground, dropping the small electronic device. The other three closed ranks around him, attempting to work in concert to take him down, but Angel was stronger, faster, and had a couple hundred years of experience on them. The whole affair lasted a minute, tops, and in the end the remaining three also littered the ground.
He carefully surveyed the scene, first making sure that all of them had steady heartbeats. So Riley was part of a government-sponsored demon-hunting outfit. He’d known that the government had been aware of the demon underground for decades. And he wasn’t all that surprised that it had taken them this long to mount some sort of response to it. Bureaucracy took forever to get anything accomplished. He supposed it was a good thing that Riley did this professionally, as it were. Gave him more in common with Buffy. He suddenly realized he was once again not alone and that the object of his musing was literally five feet away from him
“Riley Finn” Name not spoken as challenge but as simple statement of fact.
“How do you know my name?” Riley’s eyes narrowed in hostility.
Angel shrugged. “Mutual friend.”
He watched as understanding blossomed in Riley’s eyes, merged with fury and revulsion. No fear though. He wondered if that was because Riley was too stupid to appreciate what he once had been, who he still was.
With a deep grunt, Riley launched himself at Angel, baton extended in his hand. And that’s when Angel smelled it - Buffy’s scent covering Riley like a shroud. He hadn’t been intending to get into it with Riley, but suddenly all he wanted to do was teach this boy a lesson.
He punched Riley in the jaw, harder than he had planned. Riley crumpled to the ground for a moment and then, shaking his head, got back up. Angel was briefly surprised by how quickly Riley was back on his feet but then he smelled why. Riley's blood was off; he was being drugged. He wondered briefly if Riley was aware of that.
His brief speculation cost him. He hadn't noticed that Riley was carrying the same electrical device the other soldier had possessed. Riley slammed it up against Angel's chest, lightening coursing through his body, causing his limbs to jerk helplessly.
"You're not going anywhere near Buffy."
He could feel himself losing control, starting to topple over. Through sheer force of will he jerked himself backward and slammed his booted foot into Riley's abdomen. He followed it up with his hands on Riley's shoulder, forcing the taller man to his knees, and then tossed him across the alley. Riley lay crumpled in a heap.
"Don't you ever tell me what to do, boy." His eyes glitteried yellow in the moonlight as he stalked away.
Angel quickly strode down the campus walkways. He wasn’t in any mood to meet any more of Riley’s pals. He supposed that during the day the tree lined paths must have been pleasant to stroll on. At night though, in between pools of light from the lamp posts there were patches of shadowy gloom, perfect for those that preferred to lurk unseen.
He could hear plenty of voices in the background. Obviously the very real dangers of walking through the campus at night hadn’t made an impression on the student population. He wasn’t surprised, Vampires counted on the sense of invincibility that attached itself to the young.
Out of the shadows, a young man suddenly appeared on the path in front of him. Stretched out Guns ‘n’ Roses t-shirt, ripped jeans, hair in desperate need of a trim. Looked pretty much like your average student. “Dude, looks like you went five rounds.”
“You should see the other guy,” Angel said without any humor.
“Dead?” His mouth suddenly became a lot fangier, his forehead a lot bumpier. Damn drama queen, Angel thought. Probably had been an acting major.
"Where's the slayer live?"
"What do you want to mess with her for? She's just going to harsh your mellow. Tasty pickin's right here, man. And I'm ok with sharing."
Angel came close to rolling his eyes. The younger generation did not have any respect for their betters. "By the time I'm through with her, she'll wish she'd never laid eyes on me." The words came out in a low, menacing hiss.
"Woah. Awesome speech. Total chills. After you give her what for, you want to grab a snack? Sorority's right down that way."
"Her address?" Angel snapped.
"Yeah, right. Three streets over, she's second dorm on the left. Can I come and watch?"
"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to talk to strangers?" The stake slid home. "Guess not," Angel said as he walked away.
As soon as he was in front of the dorm, he knew she was in there. He felt that peculiar rush he always felt when she was nearby. It was an easy matter to walk in behind someone else, security be damned.
He hadn't even intended on seeing her and here he was, knocking on her door. Her eyebrows were raised and her voice held an obvious note of concern. "What happened to you?"
Angel shrugged. "Can I come in?"
"A little more specific?"
"Oh. Come in, Angel." Had she somehow forgotten what he was? He didn't know what to make of her. One thing he did know. She looked fantastic. Pregnancy seemed to agree with her.
"What's going on? Is there something I need to know about?"
Before he could answer, Riley pushed his way into the room. "I told you to stay away from her."
Angel gave him a smug look. "You can't even stand up straight."
"Straight enough to dust you."
"What the hell is going on here?" Buffy glared at both of them. "Cut the macho tango both of you or I'll polka your asses."
"He attacked me." Riley took a single menacing step toward Angel.
"He started it."
"Polka. I mean it." The two men pouted, both trying not to look at the other one. "Angel, out in the hall. Now." Riley grinned at his obvious win. And then his face fell as he realized that Buffy was going into the hall also.
"Buffy," he started to say.
"I'll be back in a moment." She kissed his cheek and closed the door behind her. Facing Angel, she glared at him, hands on her hips. "What are you doing here? And what's with beating up my boyfriend?"
"I wasn't intending to beat up anyone. I was walking along when a bunch of Riley's pals jumped me. And when Riley showed up, he didn't ask any questions before he started with the fancy weapons."
"Well, from their point of view…"
"I get it," he said tersely.
Buffy sighed. "So, if there's no big evil afoot, why are you here?"
"Would you believe big shoe sale at Stewart's?"
She couldn't help the chuckle that escaped at his thoroughly serious expression and then she was laughing loudly, joined by Angel.
"You look great," he offered once the two of them had calmed down.
"Thanks, I feel great."
"Everything fine on my favorite hellmouth?"
"There's an escaped sixth grade science project running around, but I'll deal."
"If you need any help."
She stared at the wall, past his shoulder. "You can't come back here any more."
He nodded and began to walk away.
He was at the end of the hallway when he turned back around, knew he should say goodbye. Knowing but unable to; a finality that he still pretended hadn’t already occurred.
He left her but she was the one who had moved forward, as he knew she would.
He wanted to fall to his knees and beg her forgiveness for every time he’d hurt her, every time he’d made her cry, even (especially) the times she no longer remembered. He wanted to tell her that all he had ever wanted was to love her and he was sorry that his very existence made that impossible. That’s what he wanted to do, but he didn’t of course. He didn’t have any claim any more.
Instead he gave her a crooked grin and said, “I really don’t like your boyfriend.”
She rolled her eyes at him, opened the door to her room and stepped inside. And then Angel was alone once more.
Angel picked the receiver up from Cordelia's desk, never breaking stride as he walked a few more steps to the elevator. One AM and he hoped whatever crisis someone was calling about, it could wait until tomorrow. He had just finished taking care of a small group of vampires that was attacking kids that hung out at the beach at night and he now had sand in locations that needed immediate removal.
"Angel Investigations, we help the---"
"Buffy?" She had said his name in that way she had, as if it was the single most important word in the English language and he was briefly transported back to happier times. He echoed her name back using the same cadence; it was a call and response that was forever ingrained within him. Almost in the same instant, he was aware that phoning each other was no longer done and he could only imagine one reason she would have done so.
"Is everything all right? Is something wrong with the baby?" He wondered how people with working hearts survived. He was already running through a hundred scenarios, each more horrific than the last, all of them ending up with Buffy's child dead before it had had a chance to live.
And then, just like that, Buffy's laugh and teasing voice caused his doom and gloom to vanish. He plopped down in Cordelia's chair, setting his feet none too carefully on her desk.
"No, no. Of course you can call just to say hello. I'm glad you did."
She was talking a blue streak now, regaling him with stories of what everyone was up to in Sunnydale. Xander was currently working construction (apparently after first failing at a variety of other jobs, including phone sex operator. Angel couldn't imagine anyone desperate enough that Harris could have turned them on.), Willow was sadly single after Oz had left but was getting As in all her classes (something in the way Buffy talked about that particular breakup made him decide not to ask about it) and Giles was happily retired. She didn't mention Riley and he certainly wasn't going to ask after him. The whole thing reminded him very much of the rather stream of consciousness conversations that he used to have with Buffy early in their relationship, when he foolishly believed that things could work out. He knew better now, but still, he couldn't help grinning. Belatedly, it seemed she had just asked him a question and now, he was hard pressed to answer her.
"Jonathan Levinson? Doesn't ring a bell."
"Oh, right, that kid. Yeah, I remember you saving him."
He did remember, he now had a clear picture of the nasally voiced kid in his mind but what overtook his memory was Buffy slowly being driven mad by everyone's thoughts. He had been so terrified that he would lose her. He was brought out of his musings when he realized that Buffy was still talking.
"He what? I have to admit, as spells go…" He chuckled at Buffy's description. "So, James Bond, movie star, demon killer and suave lover? And none of you thought that was a bit much?"
He listened, amused, as Buffy explained how everything had seemed so rational and then, began to sputter.
"The father of your baby! You're kidding, right?" When he heard Buffy say, "Duh," he decided he had been a bit irrational.
"It's a good thing he isn't. The kid would be 4 feet tall, at best." He smiled at Buffy's mock indignation and wondered why they didn't chat like this all the time. He felt lighter than he had in months.
Would you always know me? The second she had asked the question, suddenly hesitant, he had known that was the real reason for the phone call. He didn't answer her immediately. He knew her better than he knew himself, truthfully. He knew her smell, he knew her heartbeat. He had drawn her a thousand times and because of the day that never was, he knew every inch of her skin. He knew the taste of her sweat and her blood. He could pick her voice out of a crowd. If he were blindfolded, he'd recognize her fingers drifting across his skin.
He couldn't say any of that.
"Of course, I'd always know you. Why wouldn't I?"
Her voice became quiet and still, so different than her normal animated self. He had rarely seen her like that. When she had had to reface the Master. When he had thrown their lovemaking in her face and treated her like a cheap whore. She hardly said anything, but he figured it out. Faith had stolen her body. He felt physically ill. How could he not have known? How could he not have realized that more was at play than Faith attempting to kill her?
"Buffy, god…" He wished he could take that pain away. He knew her well enough to know that her friends wouldn't suspect that this was a scar that wouldn't heal for a long time because she would keep it from them. He hoped Riley was helping her and then he remembered Faith's words about sleeping with Buffy's boyfriend. At the time, he hadn't thrown Riley's betrayal back at Buffy. Now he understood it was a betrayal of a different kind entirely and maybe, in some sense, worse. He gave her the only small comfort he could.
"I'd always recognize you. No matter what. Always."
She whispered, "Thanks," and then hung up the phone. He held the receiver for a while, wishing that he was something different. Finally, he stood up and realized he was in desperate need of a shower. The sand had moved into crevices he didn't know he possessed.
“You owe me a new pair of shoes, brit-boy.”
“No one told you to dress like you were having a date with Brad Pitt. We were attacking a Roxnor demon.”
“It’s known as a sense of style as opposed to your permanent sense of stodgy.”
Angel trailed behind as they entered the Hyperion, one hand clutching his sword, the other pressed to his forehead. He wondered if vampires could have a tension headache.
“And another thing---" In a burst of superhuman speed, she raced across the lobby and grabbed the phone before anyone else had even realized it was ringing.
“How does she do that?” Angel whispered.
“Some sort of genetic mutation that allows her to hear sub-sonic phone vibrations.”
Cordelia stuck her tongue out as she smoothly settled the receiver next to her ear. “Angel Investi – oh, hi.” Angel noted that Cordelia’s greeting was decidedly guarded. The rest of the conversation consisted of her saying um, ok and sure until she ended it by saying, “Yeah, I’ll tell him”. She then proceeded to fish a nail file out of her desk.
“Who was that?”
Angel put down the sword he had started to clean and looked full on at Cordelia. “It didn’t sound like no one to me.”
“Just Willow calling to catch up.”
“Willow? Willow Rosenberg?”
She rolled her eyes up briefly. “Know anyone else named for a tree? Yes, Willow Rosenberg.”
“And she called to chat?” Angel’s voice was getting the tiniest bit of an edge. Wesley had abandoned the book he was perusing and began to look back and forth between the two.
“Yes, chat. It’s something that you wouldn’t know about because you prefer to sit downstairs in that dark apartment of yours and hide.”
“I don’t hide, I think. And you don’t chat with Willow because you’re not friends.”
“Of course we’re friends. I’ve known her since kindergarten.”
“Last time you mentioned her, you called her a two-faced boyfriend stealing witch.”
“As if any of that was a lie.”
Angel became completely still, his voice as dangerous as the edge on his sword. "What was she calling about? Telling me "nothing" – not the right answer."
"Are you threatening me?" She asked incredulously as Angel suddenly loomed over her.
"That's enough, both of you." Wes' shout of anger was so unexpected that both Cordelia and Angel turned toward him in surprise. "You, stop trying to intimidate her," he said pointing toward Angel while Cordelia gloated. "And you, stop being so childish and tell Angel what he wants to know."
Cordelia pouted for a moment before talking. "Giles thinks there's some big vampire hotel in Sunnydale. Willow thinks you should run there and help. I think Buffy's the slayer."
Angel had sat back down and was now hunched forward, hands steepled under his chin. Finally, he picked his head up and looked over toward Cordelia. "You’re right, she doesn't need me running over there. Riley's highly trained and between the two of them it shouldn't be a problem."
Cordelia got an uneasy look. “Riley isn’t exactly there. He had to go back to one of those vowel states because Bessie is giving birth. Do you think that’s a cow or a person? Important thing is the slayer. She’s still there.”
“Buffy would have been hard pressed to take down a gang of vampires by herself when she was in top condition. And at 27 weeks, it hardly counts as her physical peak.”
“You’ve been keeping track of her pregnancy?” Wesley didn’t bother to hide his surprise.
“Of course not,” Angel stammered. “I’m just good at math.”
"Fine, run off." Cordelia waved her hand at him. "Stay there, I don't care. But when I have a vision…"
"I'll be there to catch you. " Angel said softly. "Buffy is always going to be important to me but Sunnydale isn't my home any longer. I'll be back seven, eight hours tops. Acceptable?"
She shrugged and looked away.
He had been shadowing Buffy for the last hour, but so far, not only hadn't any large groups of vampires materialized, nothing had happened at all. He was about to pack in it and go back to LA when a single vampire appeared. He waited, not because Buffy was going to need any help in this situation, but because he enjoyed watching her.
"So, you're the slayer."
"That'd be me. So any last words before staking time?"
"Didn't think the slayer would be so fat."
"Fat!" She was so incensed the vamp almost got the drop on her. "I am glowing with happiness." She punched him in the jaw. "A hallmark mom-to-be." A backspin ending with a kick to the stomach. "I am woman, hear me roar." A karate chop and the vampire staggered back. "Meanwhile you look like a metal hair band reject, more from the motley side rather than the crew." And with that, she plunged her stake straight into the vampire's heart.
Before she had time to dust herself off, she was surrounded by fifteen more vampires.
Giles had been right. The rumored nest was a reality.
Buffy took down the first four easily, but the remainder were acting as a unit, putting pressure on her. Even if she hadn't been pregnant, it would have been a difficult fight. With her added bulk and different center of gravity, two different vampires got in blows. Angel didn't wait another second and leapt into the fray.
They hadn't fought together in close to a year, but it might as well have been yesterday. They anticipated each other's moves, working together as a deadly unit. In less than five minutes the remaining vampires were dust.
"How did you know?"
She nodded. "Thanks."
He breathed a sigh of relief that she wasn't angry with him for interfering.
There was no mistaking her pregnancy now, especially since she was wearing a loose pair of black pants and a white tank top. Her face was rounder, her hips had widened and, she appeared to have a basketball attached to her abdomen. Plus she was sporting beautifully large knockers which Angel was finding impossible to drag his eyes from.
"Angel!" She sounded both indignant and dismayed. "Are you staring at my chest?"
"No! Of course not….well, maybe a little."
"Why should you be different than every other guy I meet," she harrumphed.
"Giles has been staring at your…" he couldn't even bring himself to say it.
"No. Giles doesn't count. He's old."
Angel decided not to remind Buffy that he was five times older than Giles. "I’m sorry. I've got no excuse."
She shrugged. "I guess I should be grateful that for once in my life I actually have boobs."
"You always had boobs. Very nice ones."
"You don't have to try to cheer me up here, Angel. I'm aware that I've always been pretty flat chested."
"Size isn't that big a deal. It's –ah- more of a - a sensitivity thing." he stammered.
"Do you want to change the subject?" she smirked.
"Please, yes," he said gratefully. He was no longer staring at her chest (he was never going to stare at her chest again, he decided), instead his gaze dipped lower. He watched fascinated as her whole belly moved of its own accord.
She smiled as she realized what he was looking at. "Here, give me your hand." His hand almost spanned the entirety of her swollen abdomen.
"I can feel it." He was in awe. "I can feel the baby kicking."
"I still don't know how I got pregnant." They had both started walking back toward her dorm. "And I have no idea how I'm going to slay and go to school and take care of an infant. I don't even know how long I'm going to live." She put her finger to Angel's lips when she saw his protest forming. "But then I feel the baby, my baby moving and I know this has to be a good thing."
He nodded. In that moment he knew it was.
Angel smelled Buffy long before he saw her. That mix of girl sweat, the light floral perfume she favored and the magic that lived under her skin that made his hackles rise left no doubt that she was here.
"Were you going to tell me?" Her voice was flat and her arms were crossed awkwardly under her chest. Thirty-one weeks pregnant and she still wasn't accustomed to her new body.
"No," he said as he surveyed the bombed out rubble that used to be his office and home. "Didn't want you to worry."
She glared at him. "I tried to call you and I was told the number was disconnected. Then I dialed Cordy's cell and it just went to voicemail. That's when I knew something was wrong." She hesitated briefly. "They're OK? What happened?"
"Cordy and Wes are fine." He suspected that he wasn't able to completely hide the fact that they hadn't been so fine just a day ago. It appears I've made myself an enemy." He knew Buffy wasn't happy with that non-answer but he didn't want her getting mixed up in this. There wasn't much she could do in any case.
His brow furrowed as realization hit. "Why did you call me, Buffy? Is there a problem?" He began to be worried because her movements in the past five minutes had gotten more and more peculiar. She was performing an awkward dance now, hopping, rocking and shuffling her feet. He was wondering if she was possessed and how he could tackle her without hurting her and somehow get her to Wes' apartment
"Is there a coffee shop around here?" Her voice held a note of urgency. "Bladder baby bingo," she apologized. When Angel still didn't answer, she said a bit more forcefully, "Angel, if you don't find me a bathroom or a shrub, we're both going to be real sorry."
"Oh," he said, eyes opened wide. Not possessed, then. "There's a diner around the corner."
Ten minutes later the two of them were in a booth in the back of a small twenty-four hour restaurant. At that time of night, only a few cops and a worker going to a late shift were present. Buffy had her hands wrapped around a cup of espresso. Off of Angel's look, she gave him a return scowl. "Don't give me a Willow look of anything other than granola and organic figs are bad for the baby. I was just at the doctor and Junior's fine."
He nodded. "You're right. I'm sure you know what you're doing." He could see Buffy relax at that. He hated that things were so awkward between them. "So?"
"So, " she repeated, tension almost immediately overtaking her again. "Riley asked me to marry him."
Two hundred fifty years of learning how to keep his own emotions at bay served him well. Except for a muscle that jumped under his jaw, he gave no outward sign of being affected. "He's a good man. He loves you."
"I'm nineteen. I don't how to take care of a baby. I'm not a grown-up. I might have to drop out of college."
He could hear the underlying apology in her words. "It's going to work out. Your mom, your friends, Giles, they're all going to help."
She didn't look at him as she nodded.
"Thanks for coming to tell me, Buffy. I appreciate it." He waited a beat. "Are you ok getting back?"
"Slayer here. Not exactly worried about the boogey monster."
In the end, he insisted on paying for a cab back to the bus station. She didn't protest. He suspected that pregnancy made her more tired than she let on. He also knew that they both wanted to prolong the moment. Somehow, he didn't think that he would be invited to the wedding. He kissed her on the forehead right before she left and she gripped his arms a little too tightly. He didn't complain.
He flicked his thumb against the ring he still wore, a mirror to the one he had given her long ago. He looked at it and then pulled it off, slipping it into his coat pocket. It seemed foolish to proclaim that you belonged to someone when that someone was permanently out of reach.
Cordelia carefully fanned her toes, wiggled them, flexed her foot upwards and finally gave a decisive nod. "Another coat." She plopped her foot back into Angel's lap and he began carefully applying a third coat of burgundy polish.
He didn't mind. Cordy hadn't had a vision in close to three weeks and being relegated to her personal pedicurist at least gave him something to do. And took his mind off of other things.
He had decided to move forward. It's not like he had a real choice in the matter. And besides, life was pretty good, on balance. He was making a difference in the world, each time he stopped some demon. He had a family now that cared about each other. And some day, he would be human again…
Sure, there were things (people. well, a particular person) that he would never have, but she was happy and that was what he had wanted for her.
He motioned for Cordelia to switch feet just as the phone rang. She stretched behind her, careful not to smudge her polish. "Hey, Willow?"
Before she could get out another pleasantry, Angel leaned forward and literally snatched the phone out of her hand. "Rude, much?" she said glaring.
"Is everything all right?" he barked into the phone. And then his skin went even paler than normal as the nail polish fell from his grip, dark red droplets spraying everywhere. He opened his mouth, but his vocal cords didn't work.
Cordelia stared at him, concern etched into her features. "What happened?"
"It's Buffy," he croaked. "She's hurt badly. The baby." He couldn't say anything else.
Cordelia stood up, completely unmindful of the still wet polish and grabbed the phone out of Angel's hand. She asked Willow a few questions, hung up and then dialed Wes. Finally putting the phone down, she turned toward Angel who hadn't moved since he had first spoken to Willow. "Wes is coming right over and we're all driving down to Sunnydale. I'm getting my quilt out of the closet so we don't have to wait until nightfall." Her voice got gentler. "Buffy's going to be fine. You'll see."
When they got to the hospital, Angel raced up the steps without waiting for his companions. It only took him a minute to find the waiting room as he made a beeline for Willow.
"Is she ok? Where is Buffy?" He didn't even notice the others.
"Riley and her mom are with her right now. Wait here and I'll see what I can do." He nodded, feeling a rising panic wanting to overtake him. He looked around, realizing all her friends were here. Xander looked at him with undisguised distaste, while Harris' girlfriend gave him a wink. Willow's girlfriend had nothing but sympathy for him and he gave her a small nod. Giles' face was a stone mask, which was actually better than Angel expected.
It seemed to Angel that hours must have passed until Willow finally came back, trailed by Joyce and Riley. He kept his eyes averted from them as he doubted they were happy he had shown up. He followed Willow down the hallway and then went into the room she pointed out.
Buffy looked so pale, as pale as he was. There was a heart monitor attached to her and the steady beeping comforted him. It was a good sign. There was another wire that snaked underneath the sheet and that was beeping at almost twice the speed. It took him a moment to realize that was the baby's heart. He had no idea if that was normal, but he supposed the fact that doctors and nurses weren't swarming her was a good sign. There was also an IV going into her arm, with several bags hung on the pole.
He sat next to the bed, stared at the rise and fall of her chest. She was thirty-four weeks along now, the home stretch. Assuming that nothing killed her, of course, and that thought made him involuntarily clench the bed frame.
"Angel?" She sounded so tired.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you," he replied guiltily.
"Ess 'k," she slurred. "Been sleeping all day. Gonna yell at me?"
"Riley and mom yelled at me. Said I shouldn't have taken Adam down by myself. Too risky."
Angel frowned. He hadn't heard what had happened; he’d been too anxious to see Buffy to wait for details but things were now falling into place. "You could have called me. I would have helped." He held his hand up to stop the protest he saw forming. "But you're the chosen one. Not me. Not Riley. Not your mom. And if you felt this was the best way to take this thing down, then I respect that."
She nodded, he could see her silent thank you in her eyes.
He pressed his lips into a thin line, hesitant about speaking but knowing it was necessary. "About patrol."
She held up a hand, forestalling him. "I know. I can't any more until the baby is born."
"I could help out. Try to get here two, maybe three times a week depending on what else is going on. I'll keep away from the campus. I don't want to cause trouble."
"This means a lot."
He shrugged. "You won't even know I'm in the area." He glanced at the ring on her finger. The diamond caught the light and sparkled.
Wesley snapped the tiles down. “Q-A-T. Triple word, so that’s 36 and track is another 12.”
“That is not a word. There’s no U.”
Reaching for the large book that rested across the table, Wes gave Cordelia a smug look as Angel tried hard to suppress a grin.
“Oh sure, as if being in the dictionary makes it a real word,” she huffed. The phone rang, cutting off her death glare. “Angel Investigations, we---oh, ok, yeah, of course I’ll tell him.” She hung up the phone and blithely said, “It’s time.”
The two men stared blankly at her until Wes bravely asked, “Tine for what.”
Cordelia simply shook her head at the sad specimens before her. “The baby. Buffy’s in labor.”
Angel became a statue, nothing moving at all. Finally, he managed to speak. “She’s only thirty-eight weeks. The baby’s not due yet.”
“Guess the kid had other ideas. Thanks Dennis.” Dennis had floated Cordelia’s suitcase over to the couch and was already filling it with neatly folded clothes.”
“Do you think we should go? I don’t want to intrude.” He couldn't imagine that anyone really wanted him there, including Buffy.
“Jeez,” Cordelia huffed. “Get over yourself already. If we weren’t expected, Willow wouldn’t have called. Don’t forget both my moisturizers. And the facial scrub. And see if Angel owns anything other than black.”
“What?” Angel asked, suddenly confused.
“You don’t want to traumatize the baby, do you? And Wes, do you own anything remotely non-tweedy?” Her voice softened. "And Dennis, make sure Angel packs enough clothes. I think he's going to be there a while."
When Angel got to the waiting room, it was exactly the same as four weeks earlier and completely different. Willow was once again the only person he noticed. But the tension that was present in her last time was gone. Instead, she smiled warmly upon seeing Angel and kissed him on the cheek.
“Come on,” she said tugging him by the hand. She stopped in front of a room and motioned to him to wait. She came back out with Joyce and even as Angel bowed his head, he could feel Joyce’s cold glare. He didn't move until he heard Willow’s loud whispered, “Go” and felt her hand on his back pushing him.
The room was painted a cheerful yellow pastel color and the curtains that were pushed back from around the bed had teddy bears printed on them, but it was still a hospital room. And at first glance, everything was much the same as when he was last in this hospital with Buffy – same IV line, same fetal monitor. But her belly and breasts looked huge and monstrous now, alien on her small body. Her hair was damply plastered to her forehead and her breathing sounded harsh. She opened her eyes and a tiny smile graced her face. She started to say something and then her face twisted with terrible pain; she was pushing out puffs of air even as she was gritting her teeth. After a moment she sank back into the bed, exhaustion lining her features.
“Are you are all right? Do you need a nurse?” He’d never seen her like this, her strength seeming to be gone.
“Fine,” she said a bit weakly. “Just a contraction.”
“I knew they were supposed to hurt but…” his voice trailed off, a combination of awe and horror.
“Now I know what a tube of toothpaste feels like,” she joked.
“Do you want me to get your mom? Or Riley?”
“Riley’s not here.”
It was then that he noticed she was no longer wearing her engagement ring. “What happened?”
“We’re no longer together.” She closed her eyes briefly. "My fault."
"I don't believe that."
"I've been more and more afraid of what's going to happen with this baby."
"I'm not exactly an expert on the subject but I think that's pretty normal."
"But I just don't worry if I'm going to drop her on her head or not hold her enough and emotionally scar her forever. I also worry about what happens when the demon underground gets wind. Or if she starts growing a tail. Or what's going to happen when some vampire gets the drop on me."
He didn't say anything. Other than the tail, her fears weren't exactly unfounded.
"I didn't tell Riley any of that. I just couldn't. And he knew it. He asked me when I was going to trust him. And that's when we both knew it was over. I was never going to let him in."
His fault. He had destroyed her ability to trust, just like so much else.
"Angel." She had been scrutinizing his face. "My issues with Riley are my issues. Nothing to do with you."
He didn't bother hiding his surprise. She gave him a small, tired smile. "I know you better than you think." She had barely finished speaking when another contraction claimed her body. Angel stepped closer and held her hand, letting her grip it so tightly that he actually felt his bones being squeezed.
“Thanks, that helped." She motioned to the chair and he folded himself into it, thinking that even as worn out as she was, she was still beautiful. “I've still been trying to figure out how I got pregnant."
"Does it matter?"
"I'd like to make sure I don't have to worry about green scales. It's a thing. And then I remembered there was another demon that I came into contact with that week. I somehow forgot about it.” Her eyes briefly got a far away look. "Well, not forgot exactly. Never forgotten. More like when I think demon I think of things that need slaying." She waited until her eyes had captured his.
“Tell me she’s not yours.”
His eyes darted around the room, seeking an answer that wasn't contained here. Finally, he looked at Buffy once more and didn't turn away.
"How? It was when I saw in LA after Thanksgiving, right?"
"It would only hurt you, Buffy."
Her expression crumbled as she tore her gaze away. "I thought that somehow, maybe, that something good had happened. I should have known. Was it some kind of spell? Just tell me."
He was an idiot. Once again, he had managed to do the one thing he had been trying to prevent. "I still don't really know how you're pregnant. But it was love. I loved you for almost a day. And then I gave it back so you could live." His voice cracked once but then it was steady once more.
His child. It was impossible, but then so was his very existence.
Fear suddenly gripped him. What did he possibly know about being a father? What child would want a monster for a parent? He saw it growing up while he remained unchanging, left behind. And even apart from those considerations, there was the more basic issue of logistics. He no longer belonged in Sunnydale.
“Don’t,” she commanded, tugging him firmly toward her.
He dipped his head. He could hear both sets of heartbeats. He visualized a blonde girl, a tiny version of Buffy with rounder cheeks and face. Her eyes were dark though. He picked his head up and looked into her eyes, falling into her. He bent over Buffy and kissed the curve of her belly through the hospital gown, feeling the life within.
“A daughter,” he whispered.
She nodded. “Shannon.”
“God’s gracious gift.” He looked at Buffy and soaked in her strength and determination and love and smiled, all his worries receding. “I guess I’ll need diapering lessons.”
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Summary: Cordelia rolled her eyes and looked heavenward. "Just when I think the Buffy/Angel show can't get more 'As The World Turns'." AU from the end of the episode Sanctuary.
Disclaimer: If you think I own any of these characters, I have a bridge I'd like to talk to you about.
Notes: 1. Big, gigantical thanks to my betas Cornerofmadness, Thenyxie, and Way2busymom. Betas do it with commas.
2. The dialog in the beginning of chapter 1 is from the AtS episode Sanctuary, written by Tim Minear and Joss Whedon. I suspect it will be obvious when that changes.
3. The first four chapters of this was published in draft form on my LJ. I wasn't planning to write more, but I got a lot of encouragement and interest. So, this is for all of you.