What It Means To Be Alive, Part 2
Page 1 of 5
Summary: The nature of love and what it means to be human.
Part of The Alive Series
Disclaimer: Joss owns all. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Comments: Please read and review!
Angel cleared the rubbish from his desk and sat down heavily. Looking at the clock, he realized that he should be getting home. Buffy was alone with Connor, which wasn't always a bad thing, but Buffy had been crankier lately. She was due to give birth in four weeks and she was having a hard time adjusting to not being able to work.
Connor had moved in with Buffy and Angel. He had tried to continue in his job, but after a few weeks Connor had grudgingly accepted that he was in no mental condition to work. Buffy had commented to Angel a few weeks ago that there was a Connor shaped impression in their couch. Angel's son hadn't been very active in the past two months.
Angel looked again at his desk. The proposal, written by Willow and signed by both the witch and Giles, was still sitting in front of him. Angel admitted he liked the idea Willow was proposing. The American Academy of Slayers was scheduled to open in two months and Faith had finally signed on as the headmaster. The only pieces missing to the council's new puzzle were financial backing and protection. The new academy would have neither if Wolfram and Hart didn't step in to help.
The entire team had been working for the past two months on the murder of Connors' family. They hadn't moved very far from square one. The only lead they had was a witch Connor had visited in order to find Angel. She had disappeared and there was no trace of her. Connor hadn't taken this news well. The idea that he could have inadvertently caused the deaths of his family by searching for Angel was like a festering sore inside his body. The guilt ravaged him on a daily basis.
Will and Angel had both tried to bring Connor out of the massive depression he had fallen into, but the times when Connor wanted to leave the house were few. Connor would train periodically, and when he did it was evident that he was a very angry young man. It was becoming more and more rare that he expressed his anger without his fists.
Fred had come back to work full-time, with Allie in tow. The baby had her own section of Fred's office that was dedicated to the infant. Allie could almost hold her head up of her own accord now. Wes and Fred were mending the bridges that had started to burn. Angel wasn't sure when he would have to have a heart-to-heart with Wes, but he was sure it would have to happen.
Glancing back at the proposal on his desk, he tried to keep his focus on work. It was hard not to think about Connor, existing in Angel's house but not really living. Angel tried not to reflect on the fact that there was nothing he could do to ease his sons' pain. The only thing that could possibly help Connor was finding who had destroyed his life. Angel knew that until they found who had murdered Connors' family, none of them would ever rest.
Looking up at the clock, he sighed. Faith was coming in tomorrow. Together with Angel, she would peruse her options for the slayer school. Angel's team had found three excellent selections for the slayer to choose from. In addition to traveling with Faith, looking for the best location for the school, he also had to telecommute to the Council, to meet with Willow and Giles. Sometime after these events he had to meet with Will and Gunn to discuss five new cases the firm had taken on in the last week. There were other cases in motion, of course, but these five deserved Angel's attention.
He carefully packed his briefcase and put the remaining papers away. He had to get home to Buffy and Connor and make sure they were okay. Turning towards the door, he entered a lobby that was just starting to quiet down. Half the employees had already left the building. Turning, he caught sight of Xander coming down the hall towards him. Xander didn't look happy. Angel stopped and waited for the other man to reach him.
"I got some news. You might want to be sitting down to hear it. And Will might want to be here too."
The anxious look on Xander's face made Angel immediately turn into his office and dial Will's cell number. In a little more than five minutes, the three men were sitting around the conference table and two pairs of eyes were on Xander.
Taking a deep breath, Xander composed himself before speaking. He had returned from Paris three days ago and had since been focusing his efforts on the L.A. branch of Wolfram and Hart. He had heard from their French counterpoints that there had been some kind of involvement by L.A. branch members with very unsavory events in the past few months.
"Okay. When I was France, I heard something I left out of the report. An employee, who was killed two mornings ago, by the way, mentioned something about death by fire and these deaths effecting Wolfram and Hart. I tried to track this guy down to talk to him more but I just couldn't get to him in time. Anyway, when I got back here I found a few people at this branch that had been in communication with the Paris branch.
What I found was Scott Genero, he's a low level clerk. This Scott guy not only had contact with the dead Paris employee who mentioned deaths and fire, but he also had some kind of contact with the witch Connor visited when he was trying to track you down. Genero disappeared this morning, he never showed up to work. I went to his apartment, just to scope it out, and it looked like he hasn't been there in a while. His can wasn't in the driveway or on the street."
Xander stopped and just looked at the men in front of him. Angel looked furious and yet somehow relieved. Will had the look of a cat that had been hunting a bird for hours and was just about to pounce. Angel spoke first.
"Find this guy. Find how he's connected to that witch Connor used. I know she was involved in that family's death. If Genero had contact with her, he probably had something to do with it too. This is the first good lead we've had in months, let's exhaust it." Standing, he turned to Xander, "Good work, Xander. Thanks."
In a few moments, Angel was standing in Human Resources, going through the file drawers that held the life stories of every Wolfram and Hart employee. Genero's file was frustratingly thin. Before tossing the file back into the drawer, Angel took a mental picture of the page with Genero's current living arrangements and family contacts. He was going to be late getting home tonight.
Will was waiting for Angel in the car deck. Silently, the two men got into a navy blue SUV and started away from the office. Angel wanted to confirm what Xander had alluded to was true. This Scott Genero was involved in the plot to murder Connor's family. Angel was sure that if this person had spoken to people in Paris the conspiracy was far reaching.
"Another f*king cult." Angel spat under his breath. "Can you believe it? Another cult in Wolfram and Hart. Another cult putting people I love in danger. Only this time it resulted in death."
"We're going to have to deal with this forever. The nature of this place draws people who want to be parts of cults. We can only catch it early enough that no one has to get hurt."
"We didn't catch it this time, did we? And Connor lost everyone that meant anything to him."
Glancing briefly at Will, Angel refocused on the road. They needed to search this guy's place and move on. Angel knew there was a team that could do this. He even knew that Will could lead that team. He felt compelled, though, to be the person to search this apartment. Connor deserved that much.
Pulling into the driveway of the address Angel had memorized, he and Will looked at a building that was sorely in need of new paint and a few new walls. If there was a stereotype for buildings that housed murdering cults, this would fit the description. The car that was registered to Genero wasn't parked on the street or in the small driveway to the left of the building.
There was no doorman. There was no security. Angel and Will walked into the building and up the three flights of stairs to apartment 3C. The door was dead bolted, which was little deterrent for the two men who wanted to gain entry. Once the door was swinging on its hinges, they started systematically searching every inch of the apartment.
After three hours, Angel slammed his fist into the kitchen countertop in frustration. Quickly getting himself under control, he swallowed hard and led the way out of the apartment. Feeling as though he had wasted the past few hours searching an apartment that held incredibly little information, Angel broke every speed limit there was on their way back to the office.
It was only after dropping Will off and checking in with Xander that Angel left for home. There had been no headway in locating Genero and Angel doubted there would be. The man was probably dead already. Genero and the dead Paris employee were minions, peons used by the more important people. Those kinds of workers were easy to come by and even easier to get rid of.
Buffy was asleep, as Angel expected. Connor, however, was sitting on the couch, mindlessly flipping through television channels with the remote. The young man turned to look at his father, obviously upset.
"What did you find?" Connor was not unintelligent. Angel was always home at a reasonable hour; he hated leaving Buffy alone. If Angel was this late, there would be a very good reason, and Connor knew the murders of his family members would be the best reason.
Angel sighed heavily and set his briefcase down. Taking a seat next to his son, he composed what he was about to say very carefully. "We found a lead. We think we found someone who was involved, but it looks like it goes further beyond him. This is a pretty big conspiracy, Connor. We'll find them, I promise."
Nodding, Connor did not look convinced. He looked less that sure that the murderers of his family would ever be brought to justice. Taking a deep breath, he released the frustrations he had been holding within himself most of the day. "Katherine broke up with me. She said she could wait for me but that I didn't want her. She said I could come back when I was ready to want a relationship. She was nice about it and everything. I guess I don't blame her. I wouldn't put up with me either."
Furious, Angel calmly put his hand on his son's shoulder. "I'm sorry Connor. I guess... I guess she couldn't handle it." Katherine leaving Connor during such a difficult time in his life seemed like betrayal to Angel.
"I don't blame her. I mean, I'm a wreck. I haven't seen her in weeks, I barely talk to her. I just can't do it right now. You know? I can't give her any attention when I'm so screwed up."
"You're not screwed up, you're grieving. You're aloud to grieve. Connor, you have to give yourself time."
He scoffed. "Everyone says that. Everyone says I should give myself time. What does that mean? Time for what? Time to go insane. Time to try and be normal again. I'll never be normal again. I'll never be who I was before. I mean... who am I now? I don't even know what name I should use anymore."
"You use the name you have used. Your family loved you Connor, nothing can ever change that. Remember that."
Connor's eyes were tearing a little and his silence told Angel it was time to part ways. Giving his sons' shoulders a gentle squeeze, Angel stood and made his way to his bedroom. Buffy was lying on her side, hugging a body pillow to herself, her knee raised on it and her stomach resting gently against it. She looked peaceful, serene.
Sitting next to her, he put his hand against her stomach. The baby didn't kick at night. His unborn son was sleeping, getting up his strength to join the world. Buffy stirred a little at Angel's touch. Smiling, she opened her eyes slightly.
"I missed you."
"I'm sorry. Something came up."
"Doesn't something always come up? Come to bed." Closing her eyes, she immediately seemed to fall asleep again. He knew when he had been dismissed.
Buffy took deep breaths and told herself what she was experiencing were false contractions. She wasn't going to tell Angel about the spasms passing through her back and around to her belly button; he didn't need to worry that she was going to go into labor. Wrapping a towel around herself, she stepped from the bathroom into the bedroom. Angel was sitting on the bed, having already showered, and was tying his shoes. He smiled at her as he looked up.
"You look beautiful."
She laughed, trying to fight through the discomfort plaguing her. Hiding her wince as she turned around, she went to the dresser and pulled out track pants and a t-shirt. The heat wave that had plagued L.A. the past few months had yet to break. It was August now and the heat seemed to be worse than ever. She silently thanked the heavens above for air conditioning.
Angel had explained why he had been late the night before. They had discussed the implications of the situation and decided that it would be best to keep the information secret. It was unnecessary to broadcast that Angel had a son and was searching for the people that had murdered aforementioned sons' adopted family. Genero's disappearance would be kept quiet; they didn't want any other members of the conspiracy to know they were in danger. It was better to keep the conspirators guessing.
Buffy sat next to Angel, her pants below her belly and her t-shirt riding up over it. She laughed as she put her hands on her bare skin. Her unborn child was kicking fiercely. Buffy figured the spasms she was feeling were probably squishing her baby a little.
"He's kicking a lot."
Breathing deeply, Angel pulled her to him and kissed the top of her head. "Only four more weeks."
Trying to hide her nervous laugh, she cleared her throat. "Yeah. Four weeks and we'll have a baby. I'm going to be a mom in less than a month." Looking at Angel, she bit her lip. "Am I going to be good at it?"
The surprise must have been evident on his face because she laughed a little. "You are going to be the best mom, Buffy. You are a wonderful, caring woman. I can't wait to see you hold our baby for the first time. You're going to be great."
"I'm nervous. I don't know anything about babies. I can't change one or bathe one. I mean, what if I screw up? What if I mess this baby up?"
"What's the worse that can happen? You put the diaper on backwards? Buffy, I'll be here. You won't be alone with our child. I mean, I know I'm rusty, but I think I can remember how to how to bathe and change and feed a baby. I'll help you. And you can help me. Your maternal instincts will take over and you'll know what to do. Even if we screw up a little, we'll know what to do different with the next one."
Her eyes looked ready to pop out of her head. "Next one? Angel, you're nuts. If you think I'm doing this," she motioned to her belly, "again, you're nuts. This has been really hard. And... well the labor part of it really scares me. I've heard a lot of horror stories. And I've been reading these books and there is some really scary stuff that goes on. I don't think I can do this again."
"You don't have to." He tried not to let the disappointment he felt show. He hadn't told anyone, but his secret desire was to have a few more children with Buffy. He longed for the family he had never been a part of. His heart ached a little for just a moment until he stuffed that secret desire deep inside of him with a hundred others.
Buffy looked at his face and saw the instant of pain that flashed there. It was gone as quickly as it was there, but he had felt something intense for a moment. "What? What's wrong, Angel?"
"Nothing. I just worry about you. I'm scared for the labor too. I think you'll be okay, we'll have the best doctors, but I know a lot can go wrong. I saw a lot of awful things the first time I was human."
A nervous look came to her face. "I hope we've gotten better at taking care of pregnant women since then. I mean..." She stopped and held her stomach as her baby gave her a series of kicks that she was certain would send most vampires flying.
Angel saw her discomfort and immediately put his hand on her stomach. "Buffy are you okay? I'm sorry; I didn't mean to upset you. Are you all right?"
Taking a deep breath, she rubbed circles on her skin. "I'm okay. It wasn't you, Angel. The baby's kicking. Hard. I think he's been taking lessons or something."
"You're okay, though? Nothing's wrong?"
"I would tell you if there was." Guilt ebbed at her for a moment but she pushed it away. False contractions were nothing to be worried about, she thought, and Angel didn't need the added stress. Another thought plagued her conscious, though. "Angel... are we always... I mean, will we ever, um... well, will we always be just dating?" Looking at him cautiously, she waited with bated breath for his answer.
"You mean you want to get married." He had known this conversation was a long time coming. Angel was well aware that Buffy wouldn't want to be his common law wife or the mother of his illegitimate children. Smiling reassuringly, he kissed her long and hard before answering.
"I want to marry you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want our children to be mine, legitimately. I thought you would want to wait until after the baby was born to get married. I mean, I don't know what you want, but..." He was cut off by her lips on his.
It was a few seconds before he had a moment to take a much needed breath. "Okay. I guess you like that idea."
"Angel, I want a real wedding. I mean, I know it's stupid for me to wear white." She indicated her stomach again, "but lots of women do it, right? I want flowers and a dress and everything. Everything."
"You'll have everything you want, I promise. I'll fly in half of Holland if you want, we'll have flowers from here to Santa Monica. It will be beautiful."
Reluctantly pulling herself from his embrace, she stood and stretched. "I can't wait to have this baby here already. I feel like I swallowed a Volkswagen. After I have the baby and we all get settled in, we can get married and we'll the perfect little family. Complete with a step-son the same age as my sister and a lot of demons, of course, but still the perfect family."
"The perfect family for us, Buffy. Neither of us could do white picket fences and PTA meetings."
"I'll go to PTA meetings." She looked a little offended. "I want to. I mean, I want to do everything a mom does. I want to buy a minivan and drive a dozen kids to soccer practice. Or hockey practice, or whatever. I want to bake cookies and cupcakes and make valentines for the whole class. We'll make papier-mâché planets for science projects and you can help with history homework. I want to have a family. A real family."
Nodding slowly, he looked at her as she completed a series of stretches she had been doing every morning. Trying to fight back the waves of fear he felt, he swallowed hard before responding to her. "Are you sure I'm the right person for this job?" His voice was slow and soft, and he watched her stop her movements and turn towards him.
"Angel, what does that mean? Do you think you won't be a good dad?"
"Maybe not the kind you're describing. I don't know if I can do all that stuff. I don't think I'll be good at it. What if I turn our kid into an emotionally stunted, socially awkward fighting machine? I don't think I'll be very good at parent-teacher conferences and helping with homework."
Crossing her arms over her chest, she pursed her lips and stared at him. "It's a little late for second thoughts, you know. We could have thought about that about nine months ago. Angel, you'll be a great dad. You're caring, supportive," she sat next to him, "you're funny when you're not brooding. You'll be great."
"I hope you're right."
"I'm always right."
He smiled at that. Raising from the bed they walked hand in hand downstairs. Turing his head, Angel caught a glimpse of his son in the living room. Connor was sitting on the couch, his arms wrapped around his knees, which were against his chest. He was staring at an infomercial, obviously not really watching. His eyes looked very far away.
"Connor? Are you okay?" Angel, concerned, approached his son and knelt in front of him. "Connor?"
It took a moment for the younger man to focus his eyes on his father. "What? I'm fine, Angel." His voice seemed very far away.
Touching his son's shoulders gently, he pulled Connor from the couch by his elbow. Guiding his son towards the kitchen, he pointed the young man to a chair and watched him sit. Angel tried to keep his emotions in check, but watching his son hurt so deeply was devastating.
Helping Buffy with breakfast, Angel put eggs and bacon in front of Connor. Buffy was ravenous in the mornings, and spoke little as she ate. Angel pushed the food around his own plate as he watched Connor periodically stab at his eggs.
"Connor, eat something."
"No." Not bothering to look up at the people he was seated next to, he continued to stab his eggs and crush his bacon into little pieces. "When are you going into the office?"
"Soon. After breakfast."
"I'm coming too."
Angel stopped pushing his food around and looked straight at Connor. "Why?" Angel knew the reason, but he wanted to hear it from Connor's mouth.
"I want to be a part of this investigation. I can't just sit here all day and think about what you guys are doing. I have to be there too." His anger rose as he raised his eyes to meet Angels'. "They were my parents, damn it! They were my f*king parents and my sisters and I want to be there to find their killers!" Having exhausted his short burst of energy, he slumped back in his chair and stared at his eggs again.
Buffy had been quietly sitting, watching Connor and Angel interact. "I think that's a great idea." She saw Angel's curious glance, but continued anyway. "You need to be active in this. It's the only way you'll heal. Sitting on the couch staring at the wall and thinking all day won't help you. Finding the people that did this and killing them will." She rose slowly, taking her plate to the sink with her.
"I agree that you need to be involved. Eat something, I won't have you passing out in the office. We'll leave after you get cleaned up."
Connor nodded, knowing that he looked pretty awful. He hadn't shaved in a week, there were black bags under his eyes and he had lost weight. His skinny frame looked almost anorexic now. He forced himself to eat almost half of what was in front of him and rose to go upstairs and shower.
Angel watched his oldest son leave the table and put his chin on his fists, his elbows resting on the table. He had so much to do and very little time to do it. Closing his eyes briefly, an image of Cordy flashed through his mind. He had very little communication with his seer over the past two months. They had met briefly a few times in restaurants or bars, but Angel longed for more time with his friend.
He missed their heart-to-hearts and the nights when they would watch old movies together and laugh. He missed talking with her, knowing that he wasn't going to be judged or ridiculed. She would rib him gently or tease him, but it was always good natured. They had grown so much together and experienced so much together in such a short period of time, he missed her when they weren't together.
No one knew of her existence. All their friends were still under the impression that she was dead and buried. Cordy had asked Angel not to tell anyone, but he knew they couldn't continue having clandestine meetings and funneling money into her bank account without someone noticing.
Her hair was still black, shoulder length and choppy and she was leaner than ever. He had fought with her a few times and she was as ruthless and powerful as he remembered her being. In fact, he reflected, she was better than ever; she had obviously put a lot of time and effort into perfecting her skills.
Will was suspicious, Angel knew. If the other former vampire didn't know Cordy was alive, he would soon. Nothing got by Will these days. Including Dawn, Angel thought. She had bypassed his friend's defenses fairly easily, it seemed. The young woman had kept her head down, made herself a vital part of the company in the past few months, but still remained unimportant enough that a few unexplained absences were never thoroughly questioned. Even when she and the vice president disappeared at the same times.
Will knew that Angel knew of the relationship, but thankfully no one else had found out. There would hell to pay if Buffy found out her baby sister was sleeping with her ex-boyfriend. Angel had hoped that the relationship would fizzle and burn out, but they seemed to be even more intense lately. Will had been leaving work at almost normal hours three days a week to meet Dawn for dinner or drinks.
Opening his eyes, he looked at Buffy, who was in the living room going through a few tai-chi exercises he had shown her. She was beautiful, he though. Perfect in every way that mattered to him. Looking towards the stairwell, he watched a shaved and showered Connor descend into the living room.
Nodding his approval to his son, he rose to kiss his wife-to-be goodbye. Reminding her that they would probably be late getting home, he walked with his son outside to the car.
It was going to be an interesting day.
Stepping into the sunlight, she straightened her blue camisole and pulled the shoulder strap of her bag higher on her shoulder. Her black boots and long jeans were making her sweat; it was ridiculously hot. Her hair was longer now, a few inches past her shoulders. Today it was pulled back into a ponytail; it was too hot out to have her hair against her neck. Looking around, she adjusted her sunglasses a little. She hoped they weren't late. Waiting out in the sun would put her in a bad mood.
"Faith?" She turned around and allowed herself to smile.
"Charles Gunn. Good to see you."
"You too." He motioned towards a car sitting at the curb and the pair got into the back seat.
"Doesn't anyone drive themselves around here?"
"Not if we can help it. How've you been?"
"Good. Did some traveling. Saw some sights. Cool stuff, I guess. So, what's on the agenda for today?"
She was right down to business. Gunn liked that in a person, especially in a woman. She looked good, a little lighter emotionally that the last time he had seen her, Gunn thought. Her mouth turned upwards in a half smile much easier and more readily than he remembered and her eyes looked a little less haunted.
"We're going to the office. You'll meet up with Angel and the two of you are going to see a few locations for the school. Then there's a meeting with The Council, via satellite. By The Council, I mean Willow and Giles. They seem to be the only people worth talking to anyway."
"Yeah," she smiled a little, "they shook that place up. After it was blown up, anyway. There is no one else to talk to. There's Red and there's Giles. That's it." She paused and looked serious. "I heard Connor's had a hell of a time lately. The kid lost his family, Red said."
Gunn shifted in his seat. This was still a sore subject among the group of friends. Their failure in finding the people who murdered Connor's family seemed to eat at them daily. "Yeah, his whole family's gone. Angel's all he's got left."
She nodded and seemed to take that information in for a few moments. "And B's got a bun in the oven, huh? Amazing. That guy just cranks 'em out." The joke was poor and she said it in almost a whisper. She really was happy for Buffy. Jealous, but happy. Sighing, Faith shifted in her seat and readjusted her sunglasses. Thinking of Buffy and Angel expecting a child was almost too much for the slayer to comprehend. A fleeting part of her wondered when she would have that kind of happiness. That part of her retreated quickly into her subconscious.
Robin and she had worked out for a while. For almost a year, they had been happy together, traveling throughout Europe, finding slayers. She almost wished he would have turned out to be evil, or would have betrayed her horribly in some way. Instead, though, it had been mutual misunderstandings that left their relationship broken and crumpled. As hard as she tried, she just couldn't seem to get it together for him and he couldn't seem to be patient enough with her.
Glancing at Gunn, she smiled to herself. She remembered the flirting that had gone on between her and the handsome black man the first time Faith had met him in L.A. She wondered if he had a pregnant girlfriend somewhere too.
As they pulled into the parking lot of Wolfram and Hart, Faith couldn't help but raise an eyebrow. She remembered the people that worked in this building and for this corporation as being so inherently evil that they hired her to kill Angel. Shivering a little at the memory, she couldn't help but feel uncomfortable as they walked into the building and stepped into the elevator. She was glad there was no one here who would remember who she had been in those years.
Just as she thought she would safe from the harsh criticism of anyone who would have known her before the Sunnydale apocalypse, she caught sight of Wesley. She opened her mouth to say something but was stunned speechless as the man came closer. He was gorgeously rugged and focusing a disarming grin in her direction. Taking the offered hand, they exchanged pleasantries for a short moment before going into the conference room. Surprised at the warm reception, Faith said very little to former watcher. She wasn't sure what she could say to the man she had previously tortured almost to death.
Angel was already in the room. He was flanked by Will and Connor. Faith had to hide her laughter, although she suspected she did it poorly. Seeing will in slacks and button down almost undid her. His new choice of hair style, he thought, was the perfect finishing touch. The man she had known as Spike was really dead, she realized. She and Will shock hands, both of them giving the other a very amused look. Faith sobered when she shook Connor's hand. She remembered Angel's son as precocious, flirtatious and headstrong. The man she was being reintroduced to was none of those things. This man looked as though he had seen hell one to many times.
Once everyone was seated and coffee had been passed around, Angel decided it was time to start the official part of the meeting. Connor had been included because Angel thought the normalcy of the proceedings would comfort the young man. Besides that, there was precious little for his son to do at the office. Will would soon take Connor aside and go through information and leads, but until then the young man would have to sit through a Council meeting and Faith's orientation.
"We decided, in the interest of time, to meet with Willow and Giles before we go see the sites. They have pictures and information on all three sites so they're already pretty well appraised of our options." Angel lifted a remote and aimed it at the far wall. The wall slid down into the cabinet and a television was revealed. The screen was split, Willow's smiling visage was on one side and Giles was seen on the other.
"Alright. Giles, Willow's told you that Wolfram and Hart agrees with all the stated objectives of the proposal. We have no changes to offer. Do you want to change any aspect of the agreement before we proceed?"
"No. The Council has no objectives and wishes to move on with the agreement."
"Good. Moving on."
Willow's snickering cut through the moment of silence. "That was pompous."
The entire group seemed to lighten at that remark. Gunn responded. "It was necessary. We need legally binding contracts to do all this. Even business with friends is still business."
"Agreed. Okey-dokey. Faith, thanks again for signing on for this. And Angel, it's great that you agreed to everything."
"It was a well written proposal, Willow. Besides that, I think it's a good idea. Now, let's talk about students. Who's coming to this school?"
Giles cleared his throat before speaking. "The slayers from the West coast, of course, will be included. There are a total of ninety-three students that have applied to the school. Twenty-eight of those students are currently enrolled in Slayer Academies in Europe. They are, mostly, the students that moved to be included in the schools but are originally from the states. They would like to be closer to home, which is understandable.
The others are slayers in the states that either couldn't afford the move to Europe or the U.K. or they were unwilling to move that far. The school in Cleveland has been working fairly well, but the location is too small and the leadership leaves something to be desired. Thirty of the ninety-three applicants will stay in Cleveland or be moved there. They are already advanced students, doing well, and there is no reason to send them to the new academy.
So, we have sixty-three students coming to L.A. They are scheduled to arrive within ten weeks. We have a little less than two months to get this school ready for them."
Angel nodded and sipped his coffee. "Okay. Sixty-three students. The locations we're looking at are old high schools. They're all big and we have crews standing by at each to begin new construction. We'll expand half the classrooms into small gyms. The other half of the rooms will stay the way they are, for classes. We'll build dormitories nearby. It will be like a college town, basically. Two months isn't long enough, really, to build the facilities we need, but we can put them in hotels and other places until the dorms are built."
Faith took a deep breath. "So what am I supposed to do with these girls? I can't teach all of them."
"I understand that," Giles said, "we're sending two teachers from the London branch to you. You'll need to fill out the staff. I'm sure Angel already has a few people in mind. One of Dawns' old professors has volunteered to come teach. There are five slayers that have completed their training and have been in the field for almost five years. You'll remember Rona and Vi. They'll be coming to you."
Faith was laughing lightly under her breath. "So, what you're saying is that we're screwed. I mean, absolutely screwed. We have five slayers coming to teach what? Fighting techniques? I remember Rona and Vi. They sucked. I mean, I'm sure they're better now than they were back then. So, we have five senior slayers and three teachers for almost seventy people? What am I going to do with that?"
Angel cleared his throat. "Dawn's going to be teaching for a while. She's moving to part time status here so she can teach a class. We're going to schedule it like a college. We'll start with twelve classes and they can pick as many as the feel comfortable taking. Dawn's taking a class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Her old professor, Dr. Wilkins, is taking three classes. The people Giles is sending us, Dr. Abrams and Dr. Palmer will be taking three classes each. That's ten. We need to find one other person to teach two classes. I think I have someone in mind, he teaches part time at UCLA. Dr. Saller. He's good.
"The five slayers coming," he looked at his notes, "Rona, Vi, Samantha, Carla, and Victoria; they'll run training sessions. Those are separate from the classes. Each girl will have to attend at least one training session a day and they'll last about two hours each. I have three personal trainers I've hired to work at the gym we're going to build.
We need each person teaching, there's five, to take about ten girls as advisees. You know, to help them choose classes. Faith, even though you're going to be head master, I want you to take five girls on as advisees. We'll work it so that each slayer has an advisor. Anyway, that's the plan."
He looked at Faith, hoping that she would still be interested. Shaking her head, she fought a smile and failed. "Alright. Sounds kosher. So, we need to assign classes to everybody and print up like a brochure or something. And we need to pick a place to put this school."
The group briefly discussed the nature of the classes but decided that the professors would be given a lot of leeway in choosing what they wanted to teach. After a few hours of the meeting, everyone was ready to continue their conversations at a later date. Goodbyes were said and Angel made sure Connor would be alright without him the rest of the day. The young man seemed a little cheered after the meeting.
It was nearly lunch and Angel was regretting not eating much breakfast. After asking Faith to lunch, he and the slayer left the law office. The drive was quiet. Faith was contemplating what her role was to be with this operation and Angel was making lists of all the things that needed to be done. Lunch was short and conversation revolved mostly around Faith's traveling and Angel's expectant fatherhood.
By the time they reached the first site, Faith was in a much better mood than she had been when he had walked off the plane. Angel was funny and making small talk with him was a lot less painful than she had imagined it would be. They traveled between different potential academy sites, reminiscing throughout the long afternoon. After hours of perusing their options, they both agreed on the site that seemed best.
As Angel dropped Faith off at her hotel, they hugged. Faith had to admit, it was nice to see the person that had always believed in her, even when she was trying to kill him. Angel had been the only one that had given her more second chances than she deserved. As she let her hair down and changed into clothes more appropriate for the club scene, she smiled. It was going to be nice to be back in the family.
Stretching, Dawn looked behind to see her naked paramour lying on the bed. Smiling to herself, she twirled around the bedroom like a ballerina. He laughed softly behind her.
"Good sex always makes me happy."
His laughter stopped, not abruptly, but entirely. "Is that all this is? Good sex?"
She stopped her impromptu ballet recital to look at him. Putting her hands on her hips, she let her shoulders slouch a little and stared at him. "What is this supposed to be? What do you want it to be?"
Standing suddenly, he reached for his pants and started to violently pull them on. Her hands on his arms did not stop his movements. He finally stopped putting his shirt on when she started screaming.
"Will you stop yelling? They're going to think I'm killing you! Hell, that's all I need, the cops to come when the neighbors call 9-1-1!"
"Where are you going? Will, what's wrong?"
"I'm your sex object, that's what's wrong! I'm not your toy you can use whenever you feel like, Dawn! I'm not a damn dildo!"
She stopped dead. For a moment, the only sound in the room was that of her hand cracking across his face. Both their breaths were coming hard as Will realized there was a very rapidly warming spot on his face. Reaching out faster than she could comprehend, he grabbed her arms and spun her into the bed. She hit the mattress hard and felt him grab her to turn her over onto her back.
Fear rose in her momentarily as he straddled her, holding her wrists none too gently. "This is what it feels like to be used. You want me to be that man? I can be him again, you know. This is who I used to be. I wouldn't ask politely, I wouldn't care about your pleasure. I'd use you. That's what I did to your sister. Do you want that? I can do that."
She stared at him, shocked. "No. I don't want that." Before he could read her movements she swung one of her long legs around and caught the side of his face with her shin. She had almost dislocated her hip to do the movement, but it worked in throwing him off. She spun her backside just enough to get momentum and kicked him full force in the chest.
He went flying off the bed. She jumped a few feet away from him, crouched low to the ground. Even naked, she didn't feel intimidated by him. "I'm not my sister."
He stood slowly, anger plain on his face. "I never said you were you stupid bint. Don't treat me like I don't matter to you."
She straightened up and grabbed a sheet to draw around her. Somehow, fighting naked wasn't frightening; having an intimate conversation naked was awkward. "You matter. You matter more than I can say, Will. I just... god, this is hard. This can't get serious. It can't. Buffy would be devastated... and the others... no one would understand."
His fist smashed into the wall, sending tiny shards of plaster across the room. He heard her give a surprised yelp. Will's day after the Council meeting had mainly comprised of showing Connor leads for his family's murder. It had been emotionally difficult work, especially when the young man had asked to see the crime scene photos. Will had felt raw and exposed all day; Connor's pain had been palpable and contagious. He had accompanied Dawn to her apartment after taking Connor home expecting to relax. Instead, he had felt even more exposed after their romp on the sheets.
"I'm tired of this! I'm tired of being your sex toy! I'm done, Dawn. This has either got to go further than drinks and sex or it has to stop completely. Do you understand? I can't keep doing this. Five, six years ago, I wouldn't have given this another thought if you had been the woman you are now. Today though, I can't do this. I can't be the man that doesn't give a damn any more!"
She waited for him to run out of air. With every word he spoke he seemed to deflate a little more. She could never admit it to him, but she was afraid of falling in love with him. Dawn had grown up in a world where love was painful and to be feared. Her parents had split, and not amicably. She had watched the saga of Buffy and Angel as a little girl and listened to her sister cry night after night for a long time. Dawn wasn't sure that love was a good thing. As far as she could tell it only led to pain and regret.
"Will... this won't work. You and I can't be together. I just..." She was cut off by his rapid movements toward the door. He had grabbed his shirt and shoes and was running down the stairwell before she had stepped through the doorway. She couldn't very well run down the stairs and into the street into a bed sheet and he knew that. He peeled away from the curb towards downtown before he could realize that his cheeks were wet.
Disgusted with himself, he slipped his shirt on at the first red light. Using the sleeve of his shirt, he wiped the tears from his eyes and dried his face. He pulled into the parking lot of the loudest and most undiscriminating club on the strip. Buttoning his shirt entirely, he pulled his socks and shoes on in the parking lot. He looked rumpled and unkempt, but he entered the club none the less.
Ordering two large vodkas over ice, he found a small table in a corner and starting drinking. He was vaguely aware of time passing, but nothing seemed to matter at that moment. He was mourning a relationship that hadn't even existed, he knew, but he felt the need to mourn none the less. After six or seven drinks, he was a few sheets to the wind. It was then that he noticed an opening forming in the middle of the dance floor.
Craning his neck over the ledge in front of him, he looked down into the sunken dance floor. A woman in a tight tank top cut above her naval and black cargo pants and sneakers was dancing her heart out. She was doing something he vaguely recognized as hip-hop dancing. Watching her was intoxicating; she was moving her body in almost inhuman ways. It wasn't until the song changed and the crowd was roaring that he recognized who he had been watching.
Smiling drunkenly, he waved to her, trying to get her attention. When she finally noticed him, she gave him a wry smile and came to join him. He could smell that she had been drinking also.
"I can only do that when I'm plastered, you know." Taking a seat next to him, she ordered another drink.
"That was sexy, Faith."
"Yeah. I got into it in England. There's this whole underground movement thing there."
They drank and yelled over the music in order to talk to each other. After nearly half an hour of laughing and talking they headed to the dance floor. Will was an excellent dancer; he could move his hips in ways she had seen few men move. Wondering if that extended to other avenues of interest, she kept grinding with him.
Will was vaguely aware that he was grinding his personal areas into Faiths' behind. He could almost grasp that he drunk and flirting and grinding with a slayer he had once gotten into a knock down drag out fist fight with. Nothing registered in his drunken brain fully. Faith wasn't as drunk as Will, but she was certainly tipsy. Throwing her knee across his back, she forced her hips to do wave like motions into his groin area.
Will didn't entirely remember leaving the club. He didn't remember the cab ride at all. He had fleeting memories of tearing Faith's clothes off and watching her move her naked form over his. Standing in front of the mirror the next morning, his head pounding and his eyes burning, he tried to remember if they had had sex or just fooled around until he passed out. It didn't matter, he knew. It was over. Everything he could have built with Dawn was over after this affair.
Feeling her anger rise, he mentally told himself that she had ended it last night, not him. He reasoned that he hadn't cheated on her since she never said they had a relationship. In fact, he reminded himself, she had been the one to end whatever kind of relationship that did have. Rinsing his face with cold water, he left his bathroom and went into the bedroom. He had no idea what had possessed him to take Faith to his apartment instead of going to her hotel. Slapping himself mentally, he wondered what he was going to say to Faith when she woke up.
Looking into the kitchen, he saw her in his robe making coffee. Swallowing hard, he silently took a seat.
"I'll leave soon. I just need some coffee before I go."
Looking up, he let the surprise play across his features. "You don't have to go. I mean, I'm not kicking you out."
She laughed. "Yeah, they all say that, but secretly, you want me the hell out of here. You want me to go back to whatever corner I came from. I get it, its okay."
"It's not like that at all. Look, I'm sorry for what happened last night. I was out of line, I shouldn't have..."
"What? Knocked boots with me? Yeah, I know. No one should touch this; I'm no good for anybody. But listen, no hard feelings. We got drunk, had a good time. It's all good, right?"
She turned to look at him and saw the look on his face. She stopped her motions and just stared at him. "Who is she?"
Startled, he looked up from the table. "Who?"
"Whoever I was playing second fiddle to last night. I know that look when I see it."
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "It ended last night. I mean, she ended it. I... I don't know. I didn't go out looking to pick someone up. I just wanted to forget for a while."
Nodding, she poured the coffee. "I get that. Needing to forget how much you hurt for a while. I'm sorry I came on so strong. If I knew you were rebounding I never would have gone home with you."
He was about to speak when the doorbell rang. Rising up he went to answer the door in just track pants, his hair mussed and smelling faintly of sex and strongly of booze. When he opened the door, his breath stopped in his chest. Dawn was standing before him holding a white paper bag and a carrier with two cups of coffee in it. He could tell by the label that the coffee and pastry were from his favorite coffee shop downtown.
He went to speak when Dawn looked over his shoulder and saw Faith started to edge her way out of the kitchen. Will had to jump back to miss the scalding coffee that was unceremoniously dropped at his feet. The look on Dawn's face told him all he needed to know. The woman wasn't stupid by any means, and another woman wearing his bathrobe this early in the morning meant only one thing.
He tried to follow her over the flood of coffee spreading over his hardwood floors, but received angry words and even angrier fists for his efforts. Stopping in the hallway outside his apartment, he felt his heart break as he watched Dawn storm down the staircase and into the lobby. Swallowing hard, he grabbed his hair and fought the urge to pull it out.
Faith was on her hands and knees with a towel cleaning up the coffee. She hadn't felt this guilty in a very long time. Screaming at herself internally, she hoped she wasn't going to be the reason that Will and Dawn would split but secretly knew that she already was. When she looked up, she watched Will step over her and into the kitchen. She watched as he proceeded to break every dish within reach. He then moved onto the small appliances. His kitchen was a wreck, strewn with debris by the time he was done.
Wiping his face, he realized with frustration that his cheeks were damp. His hands were bleeding from broken glass and his head hurt. His heart hurt the worse, though. He felt as though it had been torn from his body and run over with a semi truck. Looking up, he finally realized that Faith was still there. It took her a split second to raise and go into the bedroom. It was another three seconds before she was dressed and heading out the door.
Will wanted to apologize to her. He wanted to tell her it wasn't her fault. Instead, he said nothing. He felt out of words. Going into the bathroom, he turned the shower on. Broken hearted or not, he still had to go to work.
Buffy looked nervous. He noticed as soon he walked into the bedroom. She was pacing back and forth, an anxious look on her face.
"Buffy? Buffy, what's wrong?"
Her eyes were red and swollen; she had obviously been crying. Sitting down, she tried to take a few deep breaths. "I'm sorry Angel. I'm sorry; I don't mean to be such a big baby. I was having Braxton-Hicks this morning and I got scared. Then I thought, 'what if this really is labor?' and then I got even more scared. Then I thought about the fact that my mom won't be here to see my baby." She burst into a sob as she spoke the last sentence. She sat on the bed, leaning forward, her arms hanging limply at her sides as she balled.
Trying to focus on what would be most important, he asked, "Are you in labor?"
She shook her head. "No. I called the doctor and he said they were false contractions. They could happen all the time from now until I give birth. They're gone now. But what if I had been in labor?" Her sobbing started anew and Angel was confused as to how to comfort her.
Sitting next to her, he pulled her closer to his. "I'm sorry Buffy. I'm sorry your mom won't be here to see you give birth or hold our baby. I'm really sorry for all that. But... I think she would have been very happy and that you would be making her very proud. So, I think you should remember that, Buffy."
She nodded and tried to take a deep breath through her blocked nose. Her sobbing reached new decibel levels as she tried to communicate to Angel that her nose was blocked. After going into the bathroom to get her tissues, he sat next to her and waited for her to blow her nose. He was starting to realize that she needed to cry. The combined stresses of what had been happening in the last year were finally taking their toll on the pregnant slayer.
He held her and rocked her back and forth while she cried. Whispering reassurances in her ear, he rubbed her belly with one hand. He waited for over twenty minutes for her to cry herself out. When she seemed out of tears he rose to get her more tissues. Maybe she needed to do this a few times a decade, he reflected wryly. She seemed too exhausted to rise from the bed so Angel took her slippers off her feet and slipped the blankets over her. Watching her for a few moments, he waited for his love to fall asleep before rising and leaving the room.
Sighing deeply, Angel dragged his hands through his hair. He hoped Buffy wouldn't suffer from post partum depression, but it seemed as if she was already heading in that direction. As Angel made his way downstairs he looked out through the patio doors. Connor was throwing combinations at an invisible opponent.
Angel briefly considered leaving his son to be by himself, but quickly discarded the idea. Quietly making his way onto the patio, he watched a bedraggled Connor punching and kicking at the air in graceful yet stilted movements.
"You could use a partner."
"Are you volunteering?" Connor didn't stop his movements, but waited for Angel to step into it or block a move.
Angel chose to take the defensive. Connor seemed to need to relieve tension, and having a living punching bag would certainly help ease his frustrations. Dodging and ducking, Angel easily avoided Connor's movements. Deftly moving himself mere centimeters from Connor's arms and legs, Angel waited for the young man to really start putting effort into the moves.
Finally, Connor became frustrated. Then the young teenager that Angel remembered fighting starting to emerge once again. The Connor of yesteryear, an angry and combative young soul, emerged to give Angel an entirely decent workout. Connor was ferocious in his kicks and devastating in his punches. Angel managed to dodge most of them but did catch a few glancing blows. He was sure his arms and legs would be sore in the morning from blocking hits.
Connor suddenly unleashed a barrage of upper cuts and roundhouse kicks that took Angel off guard. The movements disintegrated as quickly as they had emerged though, and Connor was soon collapsing to the ground in a heaving and sobbing mess. Biting his lip, Angel knelt next to his son. It was almost impossible to stop himself from making a keening noise on behalf of his son's pain, but Angel somehow managed to stay silent.
He was starting to wonder if he would ever be around emotionally stable people, but laughed at the idea that he would consider himself emotionally stable. Pulling his grown son to him, he rocked the younger man in his arms, making meaningless yet comforting sounds in his ears. After a few minutes, Connor pulled away, obviously embarrassed. Trying to save the Connor from coming up with something to say, Angel helped him from the ground and into the living room.
After retrieving water and tissues for his son, Angel sat beside him on the couch, being careful not to touch Connor. Connor only wanted physical comfort when he was totally and utterly vulnerable. He was uncomfortable with it at any other time.
"Tell me what happened today."
Composing himself slightly, Connor sipped the water and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. "I saw pictures. Will showed me the leads, that Genero guy. They found out he was talking to a few other employees; got his phone records. Anyway, they're working that end and Will thinks we can find the guy soon. But... I asked to see pictures of... of the fire. And... oh, god, Angel." Connor put his head in his hands.
Angel fought the urge to curse Will. Connor was tenacious when he wanted to be and it was difficult to deny him what he wanted. Angel wasn't sure Will would have had a choice in showing the crime scene photos to his offspring.
"I'm so sorry, Connor." Angel gently put his hands on his sons' shoulders as he knelt before him. "We will find them, Connor. I swear that to you."
Connor merely nodded and indicated that he was going to bed. Angel nodded in response and gave his sons' shoulders a quick squeeze before watching him walk towards the stairwell. It was difficult to sleep after watching the two dearest people in his life so upset so Angel walked in a different direction.
Heading towards his study, Angel collapsed onto a leather couch. He pulled his sketch pad from behind the couch. He had been working on a very special project for Buffy for a few weeks. The sketch was one of the largest he had done in some time, but he was looking forward to framing it and hanging it in the nursery.
Smiling, he worked with his charcoals for a few hours until finally realizing he had to wake up in five hours. Sighing, he rose from the couch and covered the sketch with a special paper that would keep the charcoal from rubbing off. Setting the portrait in its hidden spot behind the couch, Angel quietly made his way upstairs and into bed.
He barely slept, but lay awake all night, tossing restlessly. Buffy didn't stir much; she had been sleeping more soundly lately. Rising when it was still dark outside, Angel scribbled a note to Buffy and changed into his jogging clothes. He hadn't been able to meet Wes, Will and Gunn as often as he had last year; they all seemed to have more pressing commitments lately. Today, though, he was sure Gunn would be out, at least.
Arriving at the beach, a cool breeze was blowing from the waves. It was too early in the day for the heat to rise too much. As Angel had suspected, Gunn was getting out of his car and was starting to stretch in preparation for his jog. Wesley was just pulling into the parking lot as Angel started stretching. Frowning, Angel realized that Will wouldn't be coming if he wasn't there already.
The three men stretched in silence and slipped their MP3 players into arm holsters. They ran in silence, the only sound to be heard on the beach was heavy breathing and the pounding of feet into sand. Angel was glad for the silence and the music pumping into his ears. He released some of the tension he had been holding recently and let his body sweat out his pain. This was a much more productive way of expressing his pain compared to his previous methods, Angel thought.
When they had cooled down and were leaning against their car hoods, Wes looked to Angel. "Where's Will?"
"Wasn't my turn to watch him."
"Uh-huh." Wesley seemed unconvinced. "His recent unexplained absences wouldn't have anything to do with a certain sister of a certain slayer, would it?"
Gunn's jaw dropped into the sand. "No way! I knew he was up to something, but Dawn? She's a kid, man! A damn kid. He's into that?"
"I suspected it." Wesley looked to Angel, presumably for confirmation.
Angel just sighed. Both men took that as all the answer needed. "Look, he's really sensitive about it. They don't want anyone to know; at least not until after Buffy gives birth. Even then, it won't be well received. So this is between just us, okay?"
"Why didn't he tell us? I'm hurt." Gunn finished toweling off and threw the terrycloth into the back of his jeep. "I mean, we tell each other everything, don't we?"
Taking that as a good cue to change the topic, Angel smiled and poked Gunn in between his ribs. "Yeah, we do. So why haven't you mentioned your little crush on a certain slayer?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Come now, Gunn. We all saw the way you were looking at Faith. It was rather obvious."
"Shit. She doesn't know, right? I mean, I'd look pretty lame."
Angel snickered and opened his car door. "I think it's a safe bet to say she had no idea. But hey, she might like you. Ask her out."
Gunn smiled and started into his own vehicle. "I just might."
The three men parted ways, each going back to their homes to shower and change. Angel lived the furthest from their meeting place, which meant that he showered and changed at the office. He drove without the radio, sighing periodically. Finally, he picked up his cell phone and dialed a number only he and possibly a few couture tailors knew. She answered on the first ring.
"I thought you would be calling."
"How are you?"
"Same. How are you?"
"Same." He waited for her to say something to break the silence. This had been the extent of their conversations as of late. He missed his Cordelia. This one was much too taciturn.
She finally spoke. "I'm going out in a little while. Want to get breakfast?"
"Meet me at our usual place."
She hung up without waiting for him to confirm where he would meet her. They both knew exactly where the other one meant when they requested meetings with each other.
Showering and dressing quickly, he headed to Cordy's favorite coffee shop. When he entered the small café, he saw her sitting at a back table, her knee length blue dress hanging around the thighs of her crossed legs. Her hair was pulled back and she wasn't wearing so much makeup that she looked gothic. She looked a little like his old Cordy.
They hugged as he entered and he took stock of her. She was smiling slightly, wearing a bright blue sundress that belted at the waist was cut rather modestly around the chest and had thin straps for sleeves. Angled bangs hung on her forehead and her cheeks were slightly rouged. The most telling sign she was in a good mood, though, were her shoes. She was wearing very fashionably espadrilles. Angel now knew that she wasn't going to brood throughout their breakfast. She only wore expensive, uncomfortable shoes when she was in a good mood.
"You look good."
"I have a job interview."
Angel hid his surprise. Cordelia did not need to work. He realized that she was probably bored out of her skull, though, so decided not to ask about her choice of timing. "Where are you applying?"
Angel thanked the waitress that brought them coffee and ordered an omelet. Cordy ordered a croissant he knew she wouldn't touch and scrambled egg whites with peppers and cheese.
"A little fashion magazine that comes out locally every month. I think I'll like it. Basic secretarial work. And I don't have to work nights, which is nice. It's a regular old nine to five. And I get to keep any samples designers send to me. That's the real reason I'm applying."
He smiled at her. "I'm glad you're happy."
"I wouldn't say that. I'm not sad, though. I guess I just am, you know? I don't have a feeling right now."
"I get that."
They made small talk as they ate their breakfast, and Angel had to suppress a snicker when Cordy only picked apart her croissant but never ate it. He still knew her, he thought.
They parted ways amicably, and Cordy promised to meet him for dinner later in the week. Smiling, Angel headed towards the office. He figured his day was going to get a lot worse since it had started out so well. That seemed to be the pattern his life followed.
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