Buffy wiped the sweat that was pooling between her breasts with the paper napkin that came with her iced coffee. It was hot, unbearably so. Buffy couldn’t remember L.A. being so hot, and she had lived here most of her young life. The evening air had not cooled with the setting of the sun and her light cotton top was beginning to stick. Buffy looked at her watch, and decided that she would give him five more minutes before giving up and going to join the throng of people walking past.
If not for Willow, the fact that she was waiting for a stranger, in the dark, would have given Buffy pause. Still….
Buffy looked up and stood. The young man was not what she was expecting. He was just a kid, a college boy from the looks. He could be Dawn’s age.
“Connor Reilly?” she asked as her hand found the stake in her pants pocket. It was one of the reasons she was wearing them in this ridiculous heat.
He noticed. “I’m not a vampire, Miss Summers.” He held out his hand for her to confirm that he did have a pulse.
Buffy relaxed just a little and smiled, shaking his hand to be sure. “Please, it’s just Buffy. Miss Summers is for old ladies and….”
“You’re a slayer.”
Connor seemed to know a lot for a college boy.
“I am…Connor. Willow said that you needed my help, that you’re a friend of Angel’s. What is going on? Where is he?”
“I’ll explain as we go.” Connor turned from her and walked away.
Buffy clamped her lips together at his manner, but followed anyway. The boy had telephoned Giles, looking for Willow Rosenberg. Apparently he knew Willow from someplace and had found her name and Giles’ in Wesley’s address book. Willow had contacted Buffy who, it happens, was in Los Angeles with other slayers, mopping up an invasion of demons creating havoc in the aftermath of some sort of war. No one had seen or heard from Angel, and as this was his territory, Buffy was worried. The devastation had covered one city block and no one seemed to know what the Hell had happened.
Buffy barely managed to keep up with Connor as he led them into the darker and seedier parts of L.A. Sure, she had the super speed but her sandals chafed a little, slowing her down. Annoyed now at his promise of explanation and none forthcoming, Buffy snapped.
“Well? Spill the beans!”
“What?” Connor looked back at her in confusion, a small frown marring his smooth forehead.
“Spill! Talk! Make with the explainy, buster, and it had better be good! You know Willow from where?”
Connor’s mouth turned down a little and Buffy thought he looked kinda sad.
“Willow came to L.A. to help put Angel’s soul back. I was there.”
Buffy stopped as Connor ducked through a hole in a wire fence. He looked back when she did not move.
“You were there?”
“I remember meeting another slayer, dark hair, very pushy.”
Buffy blinked when she saw Connor smile for the first time tonight.
“Faith.” He nodded. “I liked her.”
Uh huh. Buffy’s hackles wanted to rise but the blonde slayer put it aside. She couldn’t afford to be prickly about Faith with someone she barely knew. Buffy squeezed through the fence and followed the strange young man.
Connor disappeared down a sewer opening and Buffy groaned. She hated sewers. Buffy groaned again when her sandals hit the filthy water. Great! She fingered her pants; at least her cutoffs would stay dry.
“Connor. Do you know what went down a week ago? Do you know why all sorts of demons are running amok in L.A?”
Buffy watched as the young man moved ahead. His flashlight picked out eerie shadows, the light illuminated his form and Buffy could see that he moved like a predator, slayer. Her eyes narrowed, was he human?
“Angel never said in so many words, but I think it was something to do with the end of the world. Wolfram and Hart engineered the whole thing, and Angel took them down.”
Buffy detected a hint of pride in his words; she was about to ask how well Connor knew Angel when Connor stopped at a ladder.
“We go up.” And the boy clambered up without further ado.
Buffy decided to keep her silence until they were above ground. After all, her questions could wait until Connor’s butt was out of her face. The alley they emerged into was small and narrow and filthy, and there was no sign of Angel. Buffy started a little when behind her a door creaked open, it was Connor, and that creeped her out. She hadn’t heard him move.
“Where is he? And why the cloak and dagger?” she asked as she followed Connor inside.
No way was she walking ahead, she wasn’t that stupid. Buffy followed the young man who began to descend a dilapidated stairway. The building was derelict, just the sort of building that vampires and riff-raff loved and yet it appeared empty. Buffy could not sense any of the undead nearby and hoped that any homeless were well and truly out.
Connor’s next words sent a chill into Buffy that drove away the heat of the day.
“He’s hurt. Bad.”
He couldn’t feel anything that wasn’t hot and searing, or cold and crushing: his mind had partially shut down in a vain attempt at dealing with the world of pain. If he could think, Angel would know that it wasn’t working. Angel couldn’t, didn’t move. He lay on his side, not that he knew that; his eye, unblinking, stared at a wall. A scrape of sound entered his universe, piercing in the silence of his torment. The sounds penetrated his brain, which did not understand, his entire existence narrowed to the caress of exquisite agony. A shape formed between the wall and his eye, and still he did not blink. The sound became a murmur, the green and gold before him reached for him, he stared ahead, unfamiliar with familiar things. He could not think, he just was; torment. Something warm splashed his face, wet and salty; again his eye, as unfocused as his mind, ignored a strand of golden silk that brushed his face. The green and gold went away and there were more sounds.
Connor opened the door to the basement room and the smell of stale blood and suffering made her stomach heave. A match flared and the room was brought into light by the large stubby candle in Connor’s hand. Buffy’s cry of anguish escaped from behind the hand covering her nose.
Buffy knew that bad meant bad, but when she *saw* him, it was worse than that. Vampires can take a lot of punishment; it was par for the course. Preternatural strength and healing made a vampire virtually invincible and this also meant that they could suffer the consequences greatly. Angel was suffering, of that Buffy was sure.
A thin mattress lay on the cold floor, with a broken, bloody vampire lying on it. Angel was curled on his side facing the wall, he had not moved at her noisy entrance. Buffy could see once-white bandages soaked red and for a vampire to bleed so much, the wounds must be terrible.
Buffy stumbled forward and carefully knelt before Angel’s turned face. He was awake, his eye was open.
He did not blink.
Buffy reached out to touch a pale cheek. Connor had cleaned him up somewhat. Buffy’s eyes wandered to his hair, which was stiff with blood, peeking through dirty white linen. His skull did not look right. Buffy’s fear for him rocketed. Her eyes drifted down to the broken body before her. The once perfect form had begun to heal, she could see, but beneath the makeshift dressings Buffy wasn’t sure. Buffy frowned; there was something amiss with his healing, or lack thereof. Buffy lifted the light blanket. The skin that Connor had left bare was bruised and cut and even burned in places; the limbs twisted unnaturally. And were those teeth marks?
Buffy leaned forward to gently kiss his cheek. Her tears fell as she choked back a sob. He didn’t know she was there, he did not know that she cared.
Buffy sat back and looked into his eye, the other one unseen beneath his turned cheek. It stared at her, beyond her. He wasn’t in there. The thing that scared her most? She hadn’t sensed his presence.
Buffy stood and inhaled deeply. Connor was looking at her in dawning comprehension.
“You’re the one who sent him to Hell.”
Buffy’s mouth formed a snappy retort but she swallowed it. Now was not the time.
“Why the cloak and dagger?” she asked again, a week repeating in her head.
“Wolfram and Hart,” he answered just as tersely.
“Has he fed?”
“A little.” Connor looked a little squeamish at that.
“It’s not enough.” Buffy paced the small windowless room. A sword leaned in one corner, an axe and crossbow beside it. Darker smudges of the indiscernible were placed along the walls.
“He needs human.”
“He doesn’t drink human.”
“I don’t care what he doesn’t drink,” Buffy snapped, worried.
Buffy realised she had offended Angel’s friend when his shoulders tensed. She forced herself to calm down.
In a gentler tone, she added, “He’s not healing properly, he needs proper nourishment. I’ll go to the hospital and get some supplies.” Buffy looked at the thin blanket and makeshift bandages. “We’ll need more dressings. I’ll take care of it; you get rid of those.” Buffy toed the blood-soaked rags and clothing piled in the corner. Food wrappers and soda cans rustled beneath.
“Angel has a sensitive nose.” Her own nose wrinkled in disgust. “Burn them.”
“There’s a furnace in the next room.”
Buffy nodded. “Get another mattress if you can. This one will have to be burned.”
“I’ll see if I can find another. I didn’t search all the rooms.”
Buffy wondered if Connor minded her giving him orders. He hadn’t said and if he did? He’d have to deal with it.
Buffy stepped closer to Angel and whispered, “I’ll be back.”
Angel stared at the wall. Buffy let her fingers graze his bare shoulder before departing, leaving Connor picking up the mess. She headed across town taking a different route.
Buffy had no trouble walking into the hospital blood bank. The nurse’s uniform she wore, Christine on the name tag, made the heist easier. The slayer hoped that no-one noticed her improper sandals as she sauntered down the corridors, pushing a trolley ahead of her, the blood bags safe in a cooler, with dressings, ointments and water bottles and anything else Buffy thought she needed hidden under a couple of sheets and blankets. A closet, a quick change and stolen property inside two innocuous shopping bags, Buffy left the hospital, stopping once more before finally making it back to Connor and Angel.
Buffy knocked quietly and waited. Connor opened the door warily, axe in hand. Buffy relaxed. The boy did know what he was doing, although who else would come a-knocking?
“Could you get the other bag please?” she asked as she stepped into the room.
Buffy’s gaze went straight to the quiet form on the floor. It didn’t look as if Angel had moved at all.
“Has he said anything since…?” Buffy slowly put her bag of supplies down, the cooler as well.
“No.” Connor had the other bag on the floor, his hand rifled through the contents and lifted out a paper bag.
Two candles had been lit and there was enough light to catch the wrinkle of the boy’s nose.
“I brought you something to eat and drink. It’s only junk food but…”
Connor didn’t wait to be told twice. He had the bag open and the wrapper off the sandwiches. Mouth full and chewing, Connor mumbled “thanks” as his other hand freed a can of soda. A Twinkie fell onto the dirty floor.
Buffy gave the small space the once over. An old mattress was on its side against the far wall, the rubbish had been cleared, and the air smelled a little cleaner.
“Were you careful?” Connor mumbled, still chewing, his eyes on her, watching her.
“I didn’t use the sewers, but yes, I was. It was difficult carrying the bags, but an unexpected exit along a fire escape and several detours should have lost any one following. Not that I saw anyone following,” Buffy added, a little put out.
Buffy turned from Connor, leaving him to finish his meal and leaned over Angel, only to see his eye was closed.
“He’s asleep,” Buffy whispered. She couldn’t help it; it’s what you did when some one was asleep.
“I don’t think so.”
Buffy reached out to touch cool skin. “Why?”
“I think he passed out.”
Buffy’s watched as the tip of her finger barely whispered against Angel skin. Her eyes flicked up to his but there was no response. The finger slid up to a curved brow and followed the graceful line. Pressure was building behind her eyes and she wouldn’t let it go, she couldn’t. Her nose tingled in that way it did before the tears. She blinked them away and swallowed.
Jerking her hand back, Buffy said, “I hope so, because we have to move him.”
Connor held out the Twinkie. Bile rose in her throat. She shook her head.
“I’m not hungry.”
Buffy stood to examine the mattress. It was stained and torn but it would have to do. She fetched the sheet and with Connor’s help, she had the mattress ready for its new occupant. Awkwardly they both slid their hands under shoulders and hips. Buffy looked into Connor’s dark eyes and saw the concern there. Who was this young man?
She nodded and they both lifted as one. Angel groaned, low and soft, startling them both. Quickly, Buffy and Connor shuffled the vampire onto clean sheets and gently released him. Buffy peered into Angel’s face and saw the fresh blood staining his lips.
“Sorry,” she whispered. Biting her own lip, Buffy set to and began to remove the old bandages. She nodded in the direction of the stolen medical supplies.
“There are water bottles and a bowl in one of the bags. Oh, and fresh cloths and ointments….never mind. Here,” she said and relinquished her task to the young man.
Buffy rummaged around until she had set out the supplies she needed. Connor had managed to peel back the dressing on Angel’s head and she gasped. She couldn’t look at it and yet she couldn’t turn away. His skull was a soggy mess; Buffy’s trembling fingers met mangled flesh and the sharpness of bone. She breathed through her nose as the tears threatened once more.
Not dust, not dust, she chanted in her mind, Angel will be alright, he isn’t dust.
She forced her eyes down to his face, bruised and cut but still Angel. She could see both eyes, shut against the world and a furrow on his brow. Buffy released the breath it seemed she had been holding since she first set eyes on him this night. Angel was frowning; therefore, he was still in there. Buffy tenderly wrapped fresh linen around the wound, having rinsed it and the hair with water. There wasn’t much else she could do.
Together, they peeled back more filthy bandages to expose the horror beneath. There were gouges in his shoulder and arm that looked like teeth marks. The bone was exposed, gleaming red with blood, then white as the water washed it clean. Connor helped Buffy smooth in ointment before redressing the wounds. Lower down, over his ribs and heart, mottled bruising discoloured the pale chest. Buffy pressed lightly and felt rather than heard the ribs shift. Buffy looked up into Connor’s worried eyes, she was sure he mirrored the look in her eyes.
Buffy nodded and took the damp cloth to wipe at Angel’s chest. The bones should have knitted by now, so that begged the question, how damaged was he, in the beginning?
Buffy hadn’t realised she had spoken aloud.
“This.” Buffy cleaned Angel’s chest, wiping at a wound that was encrusted with dark matter. The smell that hit her nose made her want to retch and the “oh God!” from Connor told her that he, too, found it unpleasant. Buffy held her breath and cleared away blood and gore to reveal a tattoo? A slash crawled ugly and deep across the tattoo, splitting it into two. Buffy let out her breath and inhaled just a little.
God! It was foul! Connor leaned in for a closer look, two fingers pinching his nose.
“I thought you cleaned him?”
“I did. The wound was clean, a little blood, but that’s normal isn’t it?” Connor had released his nose and suffered the smell of decomposing flesh.
“Vampires are dead but they do not decompose. They heal.” Buffy sat back, leaving the swab in place to give them some small measure of relief.
“Zombies decompose.” Connor’s eyes were dark.
“Yeah, they do, but they…with vampires….” Buffy wiped at her brow trying to think.
“Zombies are animated corpses, mindless things that are controlled by majicks. Vampires are supernatural beings, demons that inhabit a dead body, and therefore the demon and its majicks keep it animated and whole. It *is* a demon. Zombies are not.”
Connor nodded and looked back at the hidden wound. “So why is he decomposing?”
“Let’s look at the mark, the tattoo. The last time I checked, Angel had a tattoo on his back, his chest was bare….err, you know what I mean.”
Buffy lifted the swab as both she and Connor held their breath. The damaged mark was a broken circle; the jagged rim, thorn-like.
“This isn’t a tattoo. This has been burned into his chest.”
“Angel’s been branded? Like they brand cattle?”
“And it’s killing him. This is why he isn’t healing like he should.”
“Wolfram and Hart.” Connor’s voice was hard.
“Do they mark all their employees?”
“I saw zombies once…in the building….” The memories surfaced, filtered through the false, leaving a trail of disjointed images. ‘Like you….No! It’s different.’ Voices from another life: his life.
“Uh-huh.” Buffy clenched her teeth, not wanting to vent her anger at the stupidity that was Angel, for working for the law firm when they exacted whatever price they did to their employees, even if their employee was the C.E.O. Instead, the slayer looked through her supplies for a scalpel, anything.
“Do you have a sharp knife?”
“I have this.” Connor went to the corner and picked up a leather device. Inside was a wicked-looking knife. Buffy eyes picked out the pair of black boots resting there.
“It was on D-Angel’s leg.” Connor held it out to her when he sat down.
“What are you going to do?” he asked as she took it from him.
“I want you to hold him down, although I think he is past feeling anything at this stage.”
Connor leaned over to gently cup the vampire’s shoulders, trying to avoid the injuries while giving Buffy the room she needed.
Buffy whispered “I’m sorry,” to Angel’s battered face before slicing into the wound. The knife was sharp, honed with years of use, and Buffy’s hand was steady. The churning in her stomach was not. As she sliced away the brand Angel didn’t stir, and for that she was grateful. The stench made her gag, and with grim determination she persevered. Soon a bloody mess of corruption and flesh lay in the bag of waste. Connor helped clean the raw but untainted muscle that remained. Buffy’s face was almost as white as the vampire they worked on. Only now did her hand tremble and her heart race, her gruesome task done. Buffy looked at the ashen face of her ex-lover, her lip quivering, as the horror of cutting into Angel’s flesh engulfed her.
Her voice wavered as she explained, “Don’t worry, it’ll heal and it won’t leave a scar.” She hoped. “We should see him improve now. Let’s see the rest of the damage.”
The gaping hole that met her eyes when she unwrapped the dressing around his waist made her hiss in sympathy, but the wound looked normal, or as normal as a gaping hole on a dead person could be. Motioning with her hand, Buffy and Connor turned the vampire onto his side. A hole matching the one on Angel’s front was encrusted with dried blood and had begun to close. Carefully, painstakingly, the Slayer and vampire’s son cleaned Angel and rewrapped his injuries. Vampires did not get infected but Buffy felt all the better when it was done. She couldn’t think of Angel as a walking corpse, although to look at him now, he had never looked more like one.
Buffy blushed when she began to cut away Angel’s dark pants, which were shredded and useless anyway.
Connor must have seen because he offered, “Here let me do that.”
Connor cut away both legs above the knees and left Angel some dignity by not removing the rest of his trousers. Buffy pretended not to look as she rinsed out the cloths and gathered the rubbish. She stilled, and watched as the young man re-wrapped a nasty wound on the vampire’s right thigh before pulling the tattered remains of his trousers down. Connor finished cleaning Angel’s long legs and sat back on his haunches. Buffy covered Angel with a fresh blanket and sat back to observe their handiwork. Angel looked better already; at least she wished it, willing it so.
“How long have you known Angel?” Buffy asked into the silence that had its arms wrapped around their shattered nerves.
Connor was watching Angel. Buffy looked at Connor from the corner of her eye and waited.
“It’s hard to say.” Blue eyes looked her way and back. “Years…yes, years.”
“Did he save-help you when you were a boy?” Buffy had little idea of what Angel’s life had been like before he came to Sunnydale. He had mentioned living in the streets. Had he come across the boy, then?
Connor did not know what to say. He stared down at his father, trying to find words to describe the indescribable.
“You care for him.”
Blue eyes darted back.
“You do.” Buffy nodded at Angel. “You took care of him when others couldn’t.”
Connor’s shoulders twitched. The soft hair on his head fell forward when he nodded.
“Do you know what happened to his friends?” she asked softly, knowing in her heart that his friends were dead.
“I think they’re dead.”
“Wesley, Gunn and Fred: all of them?”
“I didn’t find anyone else, so I don’t know for sure.”
Buffy looked at the still vampire. His friends all gone, his family dead; Buffy was sure that she would die if her world had disappeared the way Angel’s had. Sure Sunnydale had been swallowed up but it was the people that made a family, not a place.
Taking a deep breath, she stood. “Burn those,” she indicated the bag, “and move the mattress while I feed him.”
Connor rose, eager to not be the one doing that, and scampered away.
Buffy placed a damp cloth under Angel’s chin before snipping a small hole in the corner of a bag of AB Positive. She held the bag to his lips and slowly dribbled a few drops. At first, there was no response and Buffy had to wipe away the bloody rivulets that ran down his chin. She persevered, and was rewarded when Angel’s lips parted and the tip of his tongue lapped at the red ambrosia. Carefully, Buffy lowered the corner of the bag until it sat inside Angel’s mouth. The vampire eagerly suckled at the plastic for a few minutes before lapsing once more into the inert state of the dead.
Buffy had hoped that Angel would regain some sort of consciousness when he ate, but satisfied herself with the thought that at least he had fed, and if not aware, he was pain free. Gently, carefully, she straightened the almost empty blood bag, managing to not spill any as she did so.
Connor, with mattress, spoke from the doorway. “You don’t mind doing that, do you.”
Buffy sighed as she wiped Angel’s chin once more. “It’s what he is. We eat dead animals, so what if Angel eats only the blood of animals? He could be eating live humans, but he doesn’t.”
“Angelus eats people, kills people.”
Buffy looked sharply at Connor. “He isn’t Angelus, or at least he is, but he *is* the soul; and the soul makes all the difference.”
“People with souls can be killers.”
“Yeah, and aren’t they the assholes.”
“People can change.”
The hint of despair made Buffy rethink her answer. “Yes, they can.” It was hard for her to acknowledge but Buffy continued, “Faith killed someone,” several some ones, she thought but did not say. “She has changed. Angel had a lot to do with that,” she finished.
“He does that.” A small smile had finally appeared, lifting Connor’s face.
“Yeah, he does.”
Buffy climbed to her feet, her knees cracking as she rose. “I’ll stay tonight; you go and get some rest.”
“He’s my fa-responsibility. I should stay.”
“You’ve kept him alive.” She grinned at her joke, and was pleased that Connor returned that grin. “You’ve done a lot, but you need rest and I’m sure you have a life out there, somewhere.”
Connor’s grin faded. He ducked his head in a manner that Buffy found oddly familiar.
“I guess. My parents will be worried; I was supposed to go home for the holidays.”
Connor shook his head. “No, but I’ll give them a call.” Connor shoved the mattress through the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Buffy heard the thump of the filthy mattress hitting the floor next door as she closed the door.
Buffy made a makeshift bed with the remaining sheet and blankets and settled in beside Angel. Her hip could not force the floor to accommodate her but she did not care. Buffy snuffed the last candle out, the image of Angel imprinted against the back of her eyes as they closed. She lay there, listening to her own breath, waiting to hear movement from the chest beside her; she drifted off to sleep, unrewarded.
Only the walls heard her whisper, “What happened to you?” as sleep claimed her.
The minute shift of reality barely created a ripple in the sunless pool of his universe. His mind was not coherent enough to understand what the body could; an easing of pain; new cells forming, bone and sinew knitting, limbs straightening and healing. The steel jaws of his nightmare loosened and Angel fell into oblivion once more.
Buffy did not know the time when she woke. The gloom, a permanent resident, permeated the room; the inky blackness swam before her eyes as she blinked awake. Moving limbs that were stiff and sore, Buffy pushed upright, her hand searching for the box of matches. Yawning widely, Buffy’s hand found the elusive firebrands, and before long a candle sputtered into life.
The flame became two; the light licked away the dark and caressed the still form before her. Buffy’s knees indented the mattress as she leaned forward, the candle held aloft. Buffy inspected the face of her one time love. Was it better? It looked different. Buffy leaned close. Yes, definitely better. Angel’s brow was smooth, the worry lines had disappeared. His long lashes brushed the curve of his cheek, the bruising looked less, the cuts were closing. Buffy did not want to check the head wound just yet, it was too much for her, to see that damage. Slowly, carefully, Buffy lifted the blanket and looked at the vampire’s body. The wounds were mending; the twist of muscle and bone appeared to be lengthening as they unknotted, the bandages stayed in place but Buffy had a feeling that there was healing going on.
Buffy backed away and set the candle down beside the cooler. It was time for some O pos.
Something delicious was happening. The pain was there, trying to gain back the foothold it had lost, but above that there was this wonderful feeling: pleasure. It was filling his veins, his flesh, his being. Warm and red, he did not want it to stop. It was……he did not complete the half formed thought he was beginning to have.
Buffy sat back, empty blood bag in her hand. Angel had taken it all. He had drunk it down as a starving man would his first meal. Sitting on her heels, Buffy contemplated the meaning of that. Angel had still to waken, and it looked as if he would, but in what state would he be? Could his mind survive such an injury? Was Angel strong enough to endure and overcome? Did he want to?
A noise got her attention; she was beside the door with the sword in her hand before the soft rap of knuckles rang softly. Buffy cracked open the door, it was Connor. He had coffee and donuts.
Connor watched as the blonde bit into her donut and gulped down her coffee.
“Jeez, it’s bitter.” Buffy grimaced. “Did you bring any sugar?”
Connor laughed at the face the slayer made. He liked the girl, no, woman. He hadn’t seen her in action but he knew she was strong. She took charge and took crap from no one; Connor could see that in her eyes. He saw love there too and wondered how it came to be.
“Sorry,” he smirked, not really sorry at all.
Buffy chuckled and ate the rest of her donut. The coffee warmed her and lifted her spirits. She grabbed another jelly leaving Connor the remaining one.
Buffy knew that Connor was watching her, knew that he had questions just as she had questions of her own. Connor turned his head, breaking the spell, to look at Angel.
“I think he’s better,” Buffy said, finishing her meal.
Connor moved closer to look for himself. Buffy watched the gentle care Connor took with Angel. The featherlike touches were not those of one who was loathe to touch another, let alone a vampire. There was something more here; there was concern, kindness, tenderness, family. Buffy frowned. What *was* Connor’s story?
“Maybe.” Connor did not look convinced.
“Do you know how a vampire looks when he is healing?”
Connor looked over his shoulder at Buffy. “Not really. I mean I haven’t seen Angel hurt this bad.” He hadn’t cared, back in his other life.
“Neither have I, and I have seen a few in my time.”
“I thought slayers dusted vampires.”
“We do. Sometimes things are not so cut and dried.”
Buffy and Connor sat, the silence stretching until Connor moved.
“I can stay a while if you need to go.”
Leaving Angel was not something that Buffy wanted to do but she could do with a shower and a change of clothes.
Buffy nodded slowly. “Thanks, I could do with freshening up. I’ll bring back more supplies.”
Connor reached for his knapsack and withdrew a couple of extra candles, a dark pullover and a pair of dark jeans. Buffy guessed the clothes were for Angel, they were his colour. A Textbook of some sort and pad and paper were added to the pile. Lastly a soft cushion which Connor promptly sat upon.
Buffy smiled at the picture he made. “You did come prepared.”
Buffy creaked to her feet thankful for the stretch. “He’s been fed; I’ll be as quick as I can.”
Connor lit another candle. “Okay. Take your time.”
He picked up his book without another word and Buffy reluctantly left the room, leaving the strange young man alone with Angel.
It was late morning when Buffy emerged into the brightness of day. She didn’t think she had slept much during the night, the lateness of the hour telling a different tale as she ducked and turned, weaving a disjointed trek away from Angel’s safe house.
The temporary Slayer accommodation was quiet when Buffy let herself in. Tip-toeing past rooms of resting girls, Buffy found her change of clothes and headed for the bathroom. Refreshed from her shower, a carton of yogurt for lunch inside her, Buffy picked up the phone.
“Buffy. How are you? The girls said you-”
Buffy interrupted, not wanting Giles to put words to her whereabouts.
“Did you meet-”
“Yes, I met up with Willow’s friend. How did the girls go last night?” she added quickly.
Giles cleared his throat. “They did well. The demon menace appears to be somewhat vanquished. The girls will do a sweep tonight to be sure, catch the stragglers.”
Buffy breathed a sigh of relief. “Who called in?”
“Ashley. She is turning out to be quite the leader.”
She heard Giles take a breath before he asked, “Have you spoken with him?”
“No.” Buffy breathed out the truth-lie.
“Any clue as to what has caused this major breach between dimensions?”
“Wolfram and Hart.”
“Angel did this?” Giles had an unsaid ‘I told you so’ waiting.
“Wolfram and Hart’s revenge plan. He stopped the firm from ending the world.” Damn! Buffy had jumped to Angel’s defence. She hadn’t wanted to say anything over the telephone; you never knew who could be listening, if Wolfram and Hart were listening.
“I thought you said-”
“A snitch told me, some low life that Angel beat up for information. He was happy to spill the beans.”
“Ah!” There was that pause again. Buffy counted her heartbeats. Two. “Maybe we were wrong about him.”
There was that *we* that Buffy did not like to hear. Her name, along with the others, was etched in that *we*.
“He should have called us.”
“Buffy,” Giles said in that way he had when about to rationalize her actions.
Buffy did not want to hear it. “He couldn’t though, could he? We told him as much through Andrew.” Bitterness sharpened her words and filled her senses. “He gave me the amulet, Giles. It saved the day, saved us and how do we repay him? We don’t trust him.”
“I’ve gotta go. I’ll leave a note for the others.” Buffy hung up; her hands were shaking along with her voice.
Buffy did more than leave a note; she ransacked the cupboards for extra comforts and necessities and left without seeing a soul.
Buffy could hear voices when her foot left the last stair in the basement. Setting down her large carry all, Buffy crept along the small hall and pressed her ear to the slightly ajar door.
“-you should have seen Matt, he never moved so fast in all his life. He could have made the track team, like me. I suppose putting a spider on his arm wouldn’t be the thing to do every time before a race.” Connor paused, Buffy hadn’t heard voices, it was one voice and it belonged to Connor. “I never told you that I run at school. I’m fast, have always wondered which side of the family I got that from, I don’t have to wonder any more.”
Connor fell silent, guilt washed over her and Buffy crept away to retrieve her bag. Upon turning she saw Connor at the door, watching her. He did something to the handle and swung the door open.
Buffy blushed. “Sorry.”
“I knew you were there.” His tone was accusatory.
Buffy shouldered past with her bag. “I thought he was awake and didn’t want to disturb,” she said, all defensive now. The truth of it was that she would have barged in if Angel’s deep velvet tones had been heard. Buffy’s eyes were drawn immediately to the pale form on the mattress as if to assure herself that he wasn’t awake and playing possum. He wasn’t, and Buffy felt foolish. She had been eavesdropping and here she was, making Connor the villain.
Buffy put down her bag. “He hasn’t, has he, been awake?”
Connor pocketed the wire he had been winding and locked the door. Again, Buffy had to speculate on the background of this young man.
“The door *was* open,” she offered as an excuse.
“I thought the fresh air would do him some good.”
“He doesn’t breathe.” Buffy looked again at Angel, and no, he wasn’t breathing, although sometimes he did, at least she remembered that he used to, at times.
“Do me some good,” Connor amended with a smile.
The air *cleared*, Buffy opened her bag and pulled out a yoga mat. Rolling it out beside the sleeping vampire, Buffy sat and looked at Connor with a grimace.
“Time to change his dressings.”
“Oh yay, you’ve made my day.” Connor picked up the medical supplies and placed them next to the slayer’s knees.
“Let’s get started then,” he said.
Buffy lifted the blanket and bared Angel’s chest. Her slim fingers worked at the bandages, slightly larger hands took them from her.
“How did the two of you meet? Were you fighting, did you know he was a vampire, what happened?”
Buffy’s fingers stilled. Looking across at Connor with surprise, she asked, “I thought you knew?”
“He told me once, that his girlfriend sent him to Hell for a hundred years.”
Connor looked away from her gaze and down to his task.
“Nothing else? Angel didn’t tell you anything about me?” Buffy was a little miffed at that. She continued to stare.
“I didn’t know he had a girlfriend, let alone that she was a slayer.” Connor refused to look at her.
Still staring, Buffy asked, “Why did he tell you about me sending him to Hell?”
“You did, didn’t you?” Connor hedged. “Why?”
Buffy sighed and went back to her work on Angel.
“It started in an alley.”
Connor’s head shot up, his eyes wide.
Buffy noticed. “What?”
Buffy frowned. Maybe telling the saga of their beginnings would take her mind off what she was doing. Buffy’s heart ached as she cleaned the terrible wounds of her ex-lover. The ache in her heart had a name, it was assigned, Angel. It was loss, love, need, grief, betrayal, honour, valour and trust. Angel was all these things to her and more. Trust, now there was a word. Buffy had thrown that dagger called Trust at Angel whenever she felt betrayed and unsure. He hadn’t deserved her thrusts and cuts. She had betrayed his, more than once. She looked up when she noticed Connor’s stillness.
“Sorry. He was following me down an alley. I jumped him, kicked him to the ground and, he promised me he wouldn’t bite.”
The memory brought a smile to her lips and Connor could see it reach her eyes.
“He told you he was a vampire, just like that?”
“No…it was several weeks later. We kissed, he changed and I screamed.” Buffy giggled.
“Hey, I was only sixteen and in high school.”
Connor’s eyes were huge. “Sixteen? Da-Angel kissed you when you were sixteen?” He turned to look down at Angel.
“Cradle snatcher,” he told the unconscious vampire.
Buffy didn’t want Connor to think less of Angel. “He’s…was 242 years old, any one under two hundred and twenty, is always going to be under age. Besides, look at him. He looks….”
“In his twenties, and a girl definitely loves an older man, I just didn’t know how old.”
Buffy sighed. It felt like a million years had gone by since she had first set eyes on the vampire with a soul. A lot had happened, her death for one - or two - her mother, Angel.
Buffy finished peeling off bandages and began to wash the injuries. With Connor’s help, the slayer began smoothing ointment into the lesser wounds. The damaged flesh was healing and she decided that only two cuts needed redressing. The wall of muscle that she had butchered was rebuilding and the decay had not returned. Buffy carefully placed another dressing over the wound after rubbing ointment into the angry flesh. The hole at Angel’s waist was closing and she redressed it after gently checking his back. The ribs did not move with her touch and Buffy sighed with relief. Connor finished removing the bandage on his father’s leg and ran a swab across the gash. He left it to the air, to *breathe.*
Connor picked up the soiled dressings and threw them into the plastic bag Buffy held out for him. Together, they tackled Angel’s head. Buffy’s fingers were shaking as they unraveled the bloody linen around the vampire’s head, and both breathed out the air in their lungs at the sight of new skin and bone, and hair.
Blue eyes smiled into hazel, both sparkled in the candlelight.
“He’s going to be alright, Buffy.”
She nodded, unable to speak for the moment.
“Did you try and kill him then?”
“What? Oh….no, not at first. He had helped me, us. He rescued me from assassins the Master had sent. I didn’t know what to think.”
So it was that Buffy told the tale of the love between A Vampire Slayer and A Vampire with a Soul.
By the time Buffy and Angel’s tale was spun, Angel had finished off the last bag of O pos and Connor hadn’t batted an eyelid.
Buffy sat back after wiping Angel’s soft lips. “And I turned him away when he brought the amulet.” She saw the look Connor gave her. “Long story involving a very big evil.”
Connor’s eyebrows rose even higher.
“Yeah, I know. Stupid! We survived, thanks to Angel and everyone else that stood by me. We lost Sunnydale, but at least my friends and sister are still alive and kicking.”
“Is she a slayer too?”
“No, she’s just an ordinary girl.” Buffy didn’t know what prompted her to explain but Connor appeared earnest and really interested.
“Dawn is- was, a mystical Key. She was made human, using my blood. We have the memories of her whole life spent with us when she became human, only she hadn’t.” Buffy floundered not knowing how to begin to make him understand.
“Do you love her?” Connor’s eyes were bright as he leaned towards her, Angel’s body between them.
“Oh yes. I gave my life for her and would again in a heart beat. She *is* my sister. Majick or no, she’s my blood.”
Connor sat back and stared down at Angel. His memories were mixed, merged with what was real and what was manufactured. He was loved, had a normal life, a normal loving family, something he had wished for his entire life. The hatred and despair was there but no longer eating him alive, they existed as memory, and for that Connor was grateful. More than grateful, he felt normal, and not, and he owed it all to the one he now acknowledged as his Father, Angel. The past week had forged a bond that had begun when he had first met the vampire at Wolfram and Hart. The tightness in his chest moved to his throat, thickened there and Connor had to swallow hard, to clear it before it reached his eyes.
The young man looked up at the slayer; Buffy was concerned at his silence. He swallowed again, forcing back the grim memory of an imprisoned vampire sinking into the ocean. *He* had done that. Buffy had pushed a sword through the man she loved and sent him to Hell to save the world; Connor had sent Angel to a living Hell for misguided revenge. Connor shook his head to clear it. He wasn’t that young man anymore; he was just a college boy now, with cool super powers. His lips quirked into a grin. He had his Father to thank for that.
“Do you love him?”
Connor’s question startled her. Buffy stood with the bloody bag clasped in one hand.
“I’ll put these in the furnace,” and she was out of the room before Connor could say another word.
Buffy threw the trash into the cooling furnace, slammed the door shut and leaned against a wall. Did she love Angel? With every cell in her body. Why deny it then? Buffy didn’t know but maybe it was just easier that way. Buffy blinked and scrubbed at her eyes before heading back to the other room.
Connor was packing his book and papers when she returned.
“I’ve brought some food; do you want to join me before you go?” Buffy asked, not ready to let him go and wanting to know his damned story.
“What have you got?”
“Chips, crackers, fruit, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a couple of cans of Coke.”
Buffy giggled and then the giggle became a laugh. Connor joined her and soon they were both hiccupping with the absurdity of it all.
“Tell me how *you* met Angel,” she said as they settled down to eat.
Cellophane wrappers crinkled as Connor began his tale only to stop after the first word.
“I….” How did he begin? Connor did not want to divulge the fact that Angel was his Father, so how did he explain?
“Start at the beginning,” Buffy prompted.
Connor’s gaze rested on Angel as he began again. “I was kidnapped when I was a baby. A man took me away from my family.”
“This was nineteen, twenty years ago?” Buffy’s half-chewed sandwich became less palatable at the thought of kidnap.
“Two or three years ago, I’m not really sure.”
The slayer was smart Connor thought, who else would believe such a story? He would have believed it. He was living it.
“A man from Angelus’ past kidnapped me and raised me in a Hell dimension, he taught me to hate Angelus, taught me how to kill.”
Buffy stayed silent, listening to this life of horror and torment as she once again found out how low people could go.
“We came back when I was grown, although only a few weeks had passed here, I still can’t get my head around that.” Connor stared hard at her. “I tried to kill him.”
“Why?” Buffy whispered.
“I thought of Holtz as my father, Angelus had murdered his family a long time ago. Somehow Holtz had managed time travel and don’t ask me how he did that.”
Knowing Angel, Buffy knew that the vampire would feel remorse and guilt that another innocent was suffering for his crimes, Angelus’ crimes.
Connor reached out and straightened a wrinkle on Angel’s blanket. The vampire’s face, a healthier shade of pale, glowed in the candlelight.
“Angel treated me with kindness and I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a trick. He took me into his home and I betrayed him. I put him in a steel coffin and threw him into the ocean. He was down there for three months.”
Connor turned his head and looked at Buffy with haunted eyes. “Do you hate me now?”
The tears that Buffy had been holding back, spilled over. Angel had been locked at the bottom of the sea, in the dark, cold, alone, and, hungry. Angel had endured another form of Hell. Why hadn’t someone called?
Buffy fingers wiped away the wetness that glistened on her cheeks. “Angel doesn’t, does he? You’re here with him, for him, when it counts.”
“There’s more.” Connor’s head turned away and Buffy could see his slender neck tense with a swallow. “I killed a girl, she was an innocent, and I knew it was wrong but I did it anyway.”
Buffy held her breath.
“A lot of people died because of me.” Connor thought of Jasmine, his daughter. He did not feel the loss of her so much; it was the manipulation of an evil that had sent him over the edge into madness that angered him. Connor was glad that the memories were that, and no more. The sting of his fall and betrayal hurt in an abstract way. The knowledge disturbed him but he was well adjusted in his new life, and yet….he wasn’t hurting, was he?
“The world was in peril, because of me,” he whispered.
Buffy didn’t think so but held her tongue. Evil did as evil does, and this boy was not evil.
“I tried to kill myself and a lot of people at the end……Angel changed everything.”
Buffy waited and was rewarded when Connor faced her again.
“He changed the world for me. Angel gave me a new life with new memories, a loving family and no one remembers who or what I did. Only Angel knew.”
Buffy had difficulty speaking past the lump in her throat. “How?” But she had already guessed the answer.
“Wolfram and Hart.”
Wolfram and Hart. Angel had made a deal with Evil Incorporated to save this young man. Angel had used the same majicks that had installed Dawn into her life. Buffy kicked herself for not trusting in Angel’s motives, for not picking up the phone. Buffy felt really lousy now, her shame burned her cheeks.
“That’s why you were interested in Dawn.”
Connor nodded and sat back, feeling drained now that he had bared his soul: that Buffy was still speaking to him was a miracle.
“But you found out. Something went wrong.”
“A prophecy, and Wesley did something to make the memories come back, he didn’t trust Angel either. He thought that Angel had sold his soul to Wolfram and Hart, but did not understand why.”
“Prophecies; don’t they suck!” Buffy hid her anger at Wesley by making a face and Connor laughed.
“So….your family…the spell didn’t make them remember that...”
“I’m not real? No.”
Buffy leaned towards Connor, her fingers curled around his and she squeezed.
“You are real, and they love you. That is real. I know how much I love Dawn, so take it from me.” She smiled and was grateful that he smiled back. Buffy’s heart ached for this young man; he really had a guardian Angel looking out for him. She looked down and her breath hitched. Angel’s eyes were open. Her hand clenched, crushing Connor’s in her excitement, alerting him to Buffy’s attention.
Angel drifted through the darkness, he could hear a murmur and his mind found purpose, and followed the sound. There was a hollow ringing in his ears, jumbled, familiar, and yet he couldn’t fathom why. The sounds were separate, and two. Voices. He knew voices; he knew that voices belonged to people. Struggling against the chains of exhaustion and pain, Angel broke through to open his eyes. There was light and it hurt. Pain blossomed anew, he could not move. His eyes, heavy with the weight of his struggle, closed. He listened to the voices, trying to understand the words, knowing that he should. He was too tired, too weak to utter a sound, to make the creatures beside him pay him mind. So he listened, and language came back to him in increments until he understood the last few sentences. Love. Love came to him in the form of the two beings beside him. His son and his soul mate. Connor, that was his name, and…..Buffy. Angel laboured to open his eyes and finally his lids lifted. The words had ceased and he wondered why.
“Angel?” Hazel eyes stared into his and then blue.
His lips refused to move and frustrated, he lay there, the effort too much for him.
“Angel. It’s me.” Idiot, she thought, of course it’s me. Buffy babbled like the idiot she was. “Buffy; and you remember Connor. Connor, say hello.”
Connor’s face came into view again, the boy had a smile for him and Angel tried to return it. He failed.
The face turned. “Is he - can he understand us - is he aware?”
Buffy leaned forward again, her hair brushed against his face, he could feel her breath. He tried to smile again.
Her eyes searched his for signs of recognition, anything to show he was there. Angel’s eyes were dark, black in the candlelight. To Buffy, they appeared to be focused and not spaced out somewhere in the twilight zone. Hope swelled, filling her with incredible euphoria, initiating the gentle kiss she placed on his cheek. He blinked and Buffy saw the minute shift of his iris.
Buffy’s face lit up and a huge smile split her lips. “Yeah, he just *looked* at me.”
Connor leaned over again, elated and happy that his Father was going to make it. In his excitement he let slip, “Dad?”
Buffy’s heart stopped, she was sure it did. Dad? Connor called Angel, a vampire, Dad! Connor did not notice Buffy’s frozen posture or that her grin had slipped; dropping into the pit of her stomach and that her stomach was heading for her throat, fast.
Buffy stared at Angel and saw his eyes definitely shift towards Connor. She watched as Connor laid a hand on Angel’s, and squeezed. The young man’s eyes shimmered as the ghost of a smile tugged at the vampire’s lips before Angel closed his eyes and drifted away.
Buffy managed to whisper, “Dad?”
Connor’s head whipped up with a guilty start.
“Is it true? It’s impossible,” Buffy croaked, thinking, who is the mother?
“I’m sorry…I shouldn’t have blurted it out like that…but it is true. Impossible but true.”
Buffy thought she was going to be sick. “Your mother isn’t Cordelia is it?” Please God, no!
Regret, consternation, flashed across the face before her. “Darla.”
“Darla? As in the Darla that Angel dusted years ago, that Darla?” Buffy was sure she was going into shock, her body began to shake and the surprises kept right on coming.
“Darla staked herself so that I could be born, or so I have been told. My mother told me she loved me.”
None of what Connor said was making any sense. I have to lie down, she thought. Buffy couldn’t take much more, but her traitorous mouth kept moving.
“Darla….staked herself…so that means that Angel and she….when did this happen?”
“I think I was born in 2002, but I do not know for sure. I grew up in Quor-toth and not big on the calendars there.”
“The kidnapping….someone kidnapped you from Angel….God!” He must have been devastated….losing a baby…. Buffy’s mind whirled like a dervish; her thoughts kept coming back to: Angel has a son!
Buffy stood up; she had to leave the room. Buffy couldn’t sit and look at Connor and Angel, and not…feel a jealous rage, sadness, longing, loss. “I need to go to the bathroom.”
Connor could sense that Buffy was upset and wished that he hadn’t been the cause of it. “Upstairs. The toilets are pretty gross though.”
Buffy fled the room and practically ran up the stairs. She entered the first empty apartment and found the bathroom. Connor was right, it was filthy but she was desperate. Buffy did what any self-respecting woman would do and that was to hover above the grimy seat. Great! No paper, so the slayer shook herself and hitched up her pants, grimacing at the slight wetness of her underwear. Buffy washed her hands and splashed water on her overheated face.
Angel had a son! Angel has a son: to Darla.
Buffy breathed through her nose as she held her stomach against the icy wave of hurt that had nestled there. Calm down Buffy. You have no right to be jealous; you’ve had your share of lovers. That did not make her feel any better. The lovers Buffy had had did not bear thinking about. Another thought came rushing at her fevered mind. Willow. Did Willow know, and why did she not tell? Buffy threw some more water on her burning cheeks, tidied her hair, set her face into an appropriate expression and made her way back to Connor and Angel, father and son.
Buffy left the door ajar when she entered; the air felt oppressive with hidden truths and shared secrets.
“Are you okay?” Connor watched her warily. The boy was good; he read the tension that held her shoulders taut and kept her lips straight.
“I needed to pee.” All defensive now, Buffy stood, not knowing whether she should go and leave Connor to his father. Angel didn’t need her anymore. He has a son.
“You do what you can to protect your family. My Father taught me that.”
And just like that, Buffy’s hurt and jealousy fled, and she sat down.
“I’m sorry. It was just such a shock, you know? Vampires cannot have kids, them being dead and all. I never thought…” Buffy twisted her fingers and looked down at the sleeping vampire. “You do what you can to protect your family. I can relate to that,” she said, attempting a smile that belied the turmoil inside.
Connor relaxed. “No one knows about me.”
“It’ll be our secret.” Buffy inhaled and took the plunge. “What you said about the kidnapping and hell dimension….all of it…..” images of a dark and watery place flooded her mind, “it was all to get revenge on Angel, your….”say it, “father. How did Holtz get past him to get to you? Knowing Angel, he would have been super-protective of you.”
Connor nodded. It was all surreal but when he concentrated, and he never wanted to, he could separate the memories and try not to focus on the pain of it all.
“Gunn told me that Wesley kidnapped me because he thought Angel was going to kill me.” Connor wondered if that summer spent with Gunn and Fred, the games they played, the noisy meals, the almost feeling of family, should have made him feel guilt at what he had done to Angel.
Buffy’s heart thundered in her chest. Wesley kidnapped Connor. Wesley betrayed his friend by taking his baby.
“Why did he do that?” She would kill the Englishman if she didn’t think he was already dead.
“A prophecy, ‘The Father Will Kill the Son,’ that Wesley found. It was false but Wesley believed it, and took me so that Angel would not kill me. Holtz knew of this plan and stole me from Wesley.” God gave me to you, Holtz had said, only it had not been so.
“Why didn’t Wesley just tell Angel? He knows that Angel would never harm you.”
Connor shrugged, he had his own issues with that. He couldn’t, wouldn’t, judge; it was done. Besides, he had a happy life now, in fact, he had two fathers.
“What did Cordelia and the others do? Were they in on it?”
“No. When I arrived back on the scene, Wesley was not around, and his name was not mentioned for a long time.” Connor paused, breathed deep and continued hurriedly. “Wesley was the one who found Angel and dragged him out of the ocean. I think it was his way of making amends. Fred and Gunn were not happy with Wesley.”
“What-what was he…like-when-he…?” Buffy lowered her eyes to look at the man in question; trying not to hate Connor for doing what he had done to someone she loved.
“He wasn’t as weak as I thought. He threw me out of the house.”
Buffy snorted. “I would’ve done more than that.” Her small smile gave Connor hope.
“I thought that he had killed my father, Holtz. That’s why I….”
“No. A woman I trusted had. It was all some sort of twisted revenge, to get me to kill Angel or to do what I did.”
Buffy studied Angel’s son and saw remorse, saw that the majick had taken the sting out of the deeds, leaving memory and regret, sadness and an understanding of all that entailed. This must have been one messed-up kid and a dangerous one at that.
Connor forced out his next words, not sure how much Buffy knew. “Cordy was taken over by an old Power and gave birth to an evil Goddess. She, or what we thought was Cordelia, told us to bring forth Angelus. That was when Willow came to put back Angel’s soul.” Connor found it hard to think of Cordelia. He decided to remember her as a woman who had loved him, not as the Evil Genius behind all the mayhem, the manipulations, but Buffy deserved the truth or as close to it as Connor understood. His new life overshadowed Jasmine, leaving her in the in the dark, where she belonged.
Buffy felt that chill again, trepidation colouring her voice, she asked “How did Angel lose his soul?”
“Wesley had a shaman come and do majick to take it out.”
Buffy almost sighed in relief at the answer. It was what Willow had told her when they had finally discussed the reason she had ended up in Los Angeles, at a time that Buffy needed her most.
The relief turned to ire. Wesley again, in all his interfering, he never made a bad situation better.
Buffy felt like she had stepped into her old life back in Sunnydale. Anger raced through her, tightening the band that had wound itself about her temples. Angel’s friends were carbon copies of her friends. They meant well, but never once considered the consequences for Buffy and it seemed the same applied to Angel.
“I’m like a super hero. I have super speed, hearing and strength, and I heal fast.”
The slight change in subject and Connor’s obvious delight in his powers eased Buffy’s tension.
She chuckled. “I said that once.” She sobered as the information sank in.
“You’re like a slayer, a male slayer……I knew there was something about you….”
“Faith didn’t think much of me and I don’t blame her. I was an asshole at the time.”
The smirk that followed that statement was so Angel that Buffy believed. Angel has a son.
“Yeah, well, it takes one to know one,” she smirked, right back. Angel has a son, and suddenly, it was a good thing.
The slayer and the vampire’s offspring smiled at each other, not noticing a pair of dark eyes open and a pair of ears listening. Angel drifted up towards the pain, it was less, and bearable now. He opened his eyes to see the two people he loved more than anything in this world, smiling at each other. Connor calling himself an asshole and Buffy agreeing wasn’t a good thing, was it? Apparently it was.
His lips obeyed his will and his lungs took in air.
The “hey” that came out was as thin as the molecules of oxygen that carried it. Both heads jerked down all the same.
“Hey yourself,” Buffy smiled, really smiled, her questions put aside for later. She really was happy to see him see her.
“Dad.” Connor’s smile rivaled Buffy’s and Angel knew he had died and was in some form of heaven, or hell. He deserved Hell. This couldn’t be real.
Buffy reached down to a bottle of water. She showed it to him. “Do you want?” she asked.
Angel would rather a human-sized cup of O pos. but he parted his lips all the same.
As Buffy dribbled water on his parched lips Connor asked, “Do you need anything? We can get more blood, we-”
“Could give him a minute,” Buffy interrupted gently, tipping the bottle back from her vampire’s lips and allowing him to swallow.
Angel’s throat moved. “Why?”
“Why?” Buffy arched a fine eyebrow.
Buffy could have been insulted, could have let herself feel that but the guilt of not *trusting* Angel burned bright.
“Connor brought me.”
Dark eyes shifted.
Connor squirmed under that intense gaze. “I know you told me to go but I couldn’t leave it like that. I came back later and found you under a dragon. A *dragon* Dad!” Connor’s eyes were shining with awe as he continued, “I think that’s what saved you. You were squished flat beneath tons of dragon.”
“Hmmph! You fought a dragon and you didn’t think to invite me!” Buffy griped.
Angel’s lips twitched. The twitch turned into a groan when Angel tried to move his head.
Connor grabbed his arm as Buffy gently cupped his cheek. “You have a head wound that is the grand daddy of all head wounds, Angel. Don’t try and move, at least not just yet. It’s mending but it’s slow.”
“Long? A week.”
Angel frowned. A week and he was still incapacitated?
“Buffy cut something off your chest. You were branded like some animal.”
“I think it had some mojo that prevented your vampire healing from working its usual super dooper thing. The mark was rotting away your flesh.” Buffy could still smell the decay.
Both humans saw the vampire’s nose twitch. He could smell it too.
“I told you that you were like those zombies, Dad.”
Angel felt the chuckle rising and wished he could stop it. It was gonna hurt and it did when it escaped his lips. It was worth it though, when mirrored on his beautiful boy was a smile he hoped he had.
Buffy saw the pain through the smile. “Don’t try and move: anything. There’s some major damage but it is healing finally.” Buffy’s voice softened. “You idiot. Taking on the world; again. Promise not to do it any time soon. Okay, at least not without me next time.”
Angel wished that he could keep his eyes open; he tried to fight it, managing one word before he drifted off again. “Safe?”
“We’re safe Angel. Don’t worry about us, go to sleep…..”
“Too late, he’s gone.”
The candlelight was reflected in the shimmer of her eyes as Buffy carefully readjusted Angel’s blanket. Only Angel could bring Buffy to tears, and in so many ways, some of them good. She sat back, Connor and her, sentries for the man who, as he passed out, was thinking of their safety, not his. Because Angel never put his safety first. Never, and she should have remembered that, will remember. Always.
“What’s going to happen now?” Connor asked as they stood or rather, sat guard.
“We’re a family. His family, we do what it takes.”
Together, smiles defying the dark, reminding it of golden days to come, Buffy and Connor waited for the vampire they loved to wake.
It seem'd no force could wake him from his place; But there came one, who with a kindred hand Touch'd his wide shoulders, after bending low With reverence, though to one who knew it not. She was a Goddess of the infant world.
An excerpt from the Hyperion By Keats
Summary: Buffy is in Los Angeles one week after Angel and his team stood and fought in that alley.
Author's notes: A special Thank You to Jo for the awesome beta. For Deb, who is surprised that I am writing Buffy and Angel.