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Baptism

by landrews

TITLE: Baptism
AUTHOR: LAndrews
SUMMARY: Angel struggles to reconcile his past with his current idea of parenthood RATED: PG-13 Mild Language
SPOILERS: Set between AtS Provider and Waiting in the Wings - So everything AtS and BtVS into Ats Season 3 DISCLAIMER: Most Characters described within are property of Mutant Enemy Productions, 20th Century Fox, Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, and anybody else working for/with them - in any case, not me! These characters are used without permission, intent of infringement, or expectation of profit - it's just kinda fun! NOTES: Liberties were taken where cracks in the storyline have allowed them! Feedback to Landrews@carolina.rr.com
THANKS: To all the great websites out there offering so much info and insight - Tavia for her terrific suggestions- the Angel Fanfic Workshop and to that God of creative genius, Joss Whedon - without whom life would be extremely boring, and we'd all have a lot more time to sleep and eat- :) FEEDBACK: Thanks! landrews@carolina.rr.com

1880 London

"Dru! What are you doing?"

Drusilla sat up, blood still clinging to her lips, "Angelus, I want him." Her voice was soft, wheedling. She leaned forward toward the barely conscious man, and then collapsed on his chest.

"Then finish eating, Dru, and I'll take you home." Angelus knelt and took her shoulders gently, but she twisted from him.

"No! I want him. I'm lonely."

"The playmate I suggested? He's more the blubbering idiot type. I've been busy, precious, I've neglected you. Come, I'll bring you something...younger." He smiled. "And we'll play." He reached for her again.

"No, Angelus! I want him. Darla has you, I want my own. My mummy always said I'd have my own. I want this one. Now." She still lay across the man's chest. " He's a poet, this one, and quite lovely. He tastes like fog and kittens and death. Deep, dark, bloody death." Drusilla struggled to sit again. "Besides, he's already tasted of me." Then she moaned, the low sound growing to a near howl, "But not enough, not enough! Angelus, please!"

Angelus stood, head bowed. "Dru, finish him. You have us; we don't need a weak stray to slow us down. It's time to leave here."

Grabbing his hand, Drusilla pulled Angelus down to his knees.

He shook his head. "Don't, love, you know I can't deny you. You're mine. I don't want to share you." He cupped her face, slid one hand back to tangle in her hair. He jerked her head back, causing her to gasp. She smiled, slow, seductive.

He leaned in and roughly kissed her. "Now, this alley is not the best place to linger. Come."

She wailed then, a screaming cry, and he slapped a hand over her mouth. She sank her fangs into his hand. Standing, Angelus shook her by the nape of the neck to make her let go, never losing his grin. "That's my girl."

"He's mine!" She threw herself back down. The man hitched in a shaky breath and his glassy eyes closed. Drusilla moaned in alarm. Turning puppy-dog eyes back to Angelus, tears streaming down her face, she crooned, "You can have him when I'm done, you can kill him any way you please, just for a while, let me have him, like Darla has you."

"Darla is not my keeper," he growled. "For you then, but if he's weak or boring or if I just want to... I'll kill him." He clenched his fists. "You're mine. Don't you forget he's just a toy."

Licking her lips, Drusilla sat up again, made to deepen a shallow cut across her chest.

Angelus laughed, unbuttoning his shirt cuff. "No, Drusilla, one mad vampire is enough, the Devil only knows what you would cause."

He knelt, vamping, and sliced open his forearm with a fang as he raised the barely conscious man to drink from him. "She wants you, man. She's made you thirsty to the point of death. You want to live, then drink. But choose now before I lose my patience."

As the man latched on, sucking more greedily by the second, Angelus closed his eyes. He felt that peculiar sensation, a maelstrom of emotion. Rage, joy, physical ecstasy, then that moment; that moment that kept so many from turning others once they'd tried it, vulnerability, everything rushing out of him. He gasped, weakening, "Drusilla."

As Angelus slumped forward, the poet dropped from him, his head hitting the cobblestones with a resounding thud. Drusilla rushed to cradle the head of her intended, "You! You'd damage him!"

Head down, hands palms up on his knees, Angelus sighed, "He's dead, Dru."

Fatigue washed over him, even as he could feel his preternatural strength seeping back into him, filling him up. He rolled his head back to glare at Drusilla. She ignored him, stroking her new toy. "There now, pet, sleep. When you wake up, we can visit all those mean, mean people. You'll be just William the Bloody, and they'll all be sorry."


2002 Los Angeles

Angel leaned against the frame of the office door, arms crossed, and watched Cordelia out in the courtyard. Her hair framed by the early afternoon light, head bowed, she was carefully painting her toenails. Beside her, Connor cooed and gurgled, kicking his legs out in the morning sunshine. Fred sat on the bench, furiously tapping away on the laptop Gunn had scrounged up from somewhere at a deep discount. Reworking the website. At least after last week's "miscommunication" they had a bit of a cushion, and most of the cases that had flooded in had been cleared. Angel sighed deeply. Even though Lorne had discovered he was recruiting, they had yet to locate Holtz.

Wesley's voice drifted out to him. "Angel, I've been trying to update our activities journal. We've been quite busy."

That's a bit of an understatement, Angel thought, turning in the doorway. Still resting against the frame, he shoved his hands in his pockets.

"Anyway, that has, of course, led to additional research." Wesley continued, "Giles sent complete copies of the Watcher's Diaries to me before he...returned home."

"Buffy..." Angel stopped.

"He felt he was hindering her growth. It really is for the best, Angel."

"Yeah." Angel glanced over at him. "Is this going someplace, Wesley?"

"I, uh, I had thought to write a, um, somewhat edited version of your history. Connor will be interested one day."

Sharp protectiveness stabbed him deep. Instinct kept him frozen, but his voice, low and fierce, betrayed him. "Connor doesn't ever need to know."

"Angel," Wesley stood, moving out from behind the desk. "You can't hide your life from him. You and Cordelia have both said Doyle suffered from not knowing what he was, and Connor has a purpose. He is almost certainly a player in the cosmic order." When Angel remained silent, Wesley went on, "Besides that, his existence will not go unnoticed by those who have something against you. He'll need to be able to protect himself against the likes of Penn, Drusilla, Spike."

Damn him! Angel exploded toward Wesley, and stopped just as quickly, regaining his control. "They aren't siblings, Wesley, they won't be interested in him! And they won't get the chance to use him against me. Penn's dead, I'll stake Drusilla on sight, Spike..." He shrugged, " Spike's not feeding, he's different."

"Spike doesn't have a soul. That chip is all that's..."

"Spike has always had humanity, always liked the world, even if it was just because he liked pain. He tried to stop me from waking Acathala. He just got lucky with that damn Demon they raised in Sunnydale, that it didn't touch him." He paused, "The others, they won't come."

"The others? Angel, I didn't mean ... It was an unfortunate choice of names...siblings... of course." Wesley adjusted his glasses and returned to his chair.

Angel plopped down heavily across from him. "Yeah."

Wesley spun to reach the scotch glasses on the cabinet behind him. He deliberately set them down, then opened the scotch and poured. He nudged a glass toward Angel, and took a long swallow. Angel warmed his, peering into its' depths.

"I guess we all have a tendency to forget how old you are. And we always count vampires' years from the time they were turned, from the time the Council can document their existence. You did have twenty-six or twenty-seven years before that."

"Almost twenty-seven."

"Plenty old enough then to have had a family of your own."

"Too much work. I fathered more than..."

"Well, yes, I could guess you had." Wesley cleared his throat. "And of course, you, Angelus rather, sired vampires, taught them skills." He swallowed. "How many, exactly?"

Angel could feel the guilt rising, a tightness in his chest. Talking about any of his time without a soul was painful.

"Angel, it might help. I know you've never discussed your past in any detail. Having Connor is bound to have you thinking of it. I think good parents must have to reconcile their former lives with their image of parenthood. They are forced to become role models," he frowned, his eyes dropping to his drink, "for better or for worse. The ones that come to peace with themselves seem to do the better job." Wesley leaned forward, peering intently at him. Angel remained silent, wondering if Wesley understood what he was asking, how much he already knew. "This is different, Angel. You have age and experience, culture and education. You can have a second chance at parenting. You can be a true father this time."

Looking down, Angel couldn't raise his voice much above a whisper. "22. But some of those were just for sport."

"I've always wondered about Spike," Wesley mused, his chair creaking as he sat back. "The Diaries conflict."

No one had ever asked. "Drusilla started, I finished." He could never explain Spike's existence to Wesley. He could still remember the feel of his obsession for Drusilla; it had swallowed him for decades, inspired some of his worst deeds. Darla had encouraged him.

"How many are still out there?"

"I don't know, maybe four, including Spike. Maybe more. They won't come. I'll know it if they do." He stood. Just tell him. Sat again. He could do this, needed to. Wesley would already know anyway, from his research. Surely he wouldn't be shocked and maybe ...

"I look at Connor when he's sleeping, and I can see all the babies. All the children." He gripped the glass tighter and closed his eyes. "They were so scared, and their fear tasted so sweet. I don't think I ever truly understood the pain I caused, making parents watch, not until Connor. I knew it was terrible. I've felt the guilt, always... but the pain they must have suffered." The glass shattered. Wesley jumped up, but Angel shook his head, took a deep breath, clenched his fist tighter. Physical hurting was far preferable to the mental, and kept his mind clearer. "Sit."

He looked at Wesley. "Holtz. Holtz and whatever army he's putting together is my worry. The happiness... the love... I feel for Connor is tempered by fear." He knew the laugh that escaped him sounded tortured and he closed his eyes again. "Otherwise I'd fear for my soul."

"What you did to Holtz..."

"I deserve whatever Holtz can devise."

"Angel, you have a soul now, your soul, you are not Angelus."

Scowling at Wesley's earnestness, Angel struggled with his desire to just walk out. "I take responsibility for my actions, Wesley. Darla said I couldn't be what I was, unless those traits already existed in me, and she was right. Some vampires are less human than others, it all comes from the person they were before they died."

He stalled, staring at his fists. "I... What...I enjoyed it. And I remember that. Sometimes I dream about it. Holtz's family, his baby... God..." He started to cover his face, realized his hand was bloody. Resolve swept emotion from him, hardened him. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees and started picking the glass out, dropping the shards to the floor. "We turned his daughter. I sired her just to provoke him. Guess it worked." Tired, he settled into the chair, let his head fall back, his eyes close.

Silence. After a long moment, Angel realized he could smell Cordelia, and had been able to for some time. Shame made him heavy, kept him silent and still. She lifted his hand, used a damp cloth to wipe the blood off. As she started to wind gauze over his palm, he had himself back together enough to speak. "How much did you hear?"

"Enough."

Damn. He needed her. Needed her more than he'd ever wanted to depend on anyone. How could she stand to be around him? How could any of them?

Eyes still closed, "Fred?"

"Still out with Connor."

Gunn's day off, thank God. Angel didn't think he could ask, but he'd try.

"I want..." He sat up suddenly, opening his eyes, startling Cordelia. The look of fear that shot across her face was devastating. "Cordy!"

"It's okay, you just scared me. I mean... when you moved." She took a deep breath. " What I mean is, you don't scare me. I know you. You're good, and honest, and brave. You are not the same man you were when you were alive. And you're not Angelus." She tried a small smile. "At least not right now."

Taking them both in at a glance, Angel started again. "I know I got off track last week. I never used to consider next week, let alone a college fund. First things first. I want to protect Connor from Holtz. I'm going to need everybody to help, especially if something...happens...to me. I need to know," God, how hard could this be?* But he'd slaughtered the man's family, why would they protect him from just deeds? "I need to know that..."

Wesley moved around the desk to stand near Cordelia, "Angel, rest assured we will protect him to the best of our abilities. That goes for all four of us. Even without the Powers That Be, we would do it for you."

"You should know that by now." Cordelia added.

Overwhelming emotion washed over him and it took him a moment to identify it. Gratitude. Relief. More guilt. That one was familiar. What would he do without it? "Thank you. There's one more thing. I can't really explain..." He heaved in another deep breath. "I was raised Catholic. I don't know anymore how everything fits together. The Powers, Christianity, Buddhism, I gave up figuring a long time ago. What I do know is the power of the symbols of Christianity is real." He saw Cordelia move her hand to the small gold cross she wore. "I want Connor christened and baptized." He held up his hand in a wait motion. "Let me finish. I know. I was baptized." He managed a ghost of a smile. "Obviously he'll own a cross and holy water. Still, it just seems like he should be. Baptized."

Wesley nodded. "I think I can arrange it."

"Thank you. Both." Feeling worn, Angel rubbed his face.

"Connor's sleeping, Angel, why don't you go rest for a while." Cordelia's voice was soft.

He stood, not sure if there was anything else he should say.

Cordelia made shooing motions with her hands. "Go on, it's fine, you haven't had any alone time. Go brood. Please."


"Good. Switch your leading hand and foot. And don't hold your breath." Over the rattle of the chains on the weight bag, Angel could hear the light footfalls on the stairs come to a stop. "Cordelia. If you're coming down, come on down."

"Yeah, well, I can't believe you wasted your opportunity to rest to come down here." She came around the corner. "It's not like you have to do this.... Hi, Gunn! How'd you get by us?"

"Sewers." He stopped swinging at the bag Angel was holding, swiped the sweat off his forehead.

"Why?"

"I don' know. Just seemed easier."

"Okaaay." She turned, "Angel, Connor's going to be ready to go up soon."

Gunn was stripping off his gloves, "I'm going, tell Wesley I'll be early." He pulled up the trap, and disappeared.

"What's with him?"

"Bad day." He finished putting the weapons he'd been using away, closed the cabinet and leaned back against it, just looking at her.

"Angel, are you all right? Really?" She stepped toward him.

He gave her a wan smile, the best he could manage. "Yes. No. I don't scare easy. But what if I can't protect him?"

She stepped forward again, put her hands on either side of his face. "You will. We will. If it takes all of us training every day. But you will have to rest. And eat. When was the last time you ate?" Her eyes dropped to his lips.

Oh, Cordelia, you're killing me. He turned his head slightly, kissed her palm, slid his hands over hers and brought them down. "I'm okay. Thank you...for...everything. I know this wasn't what you thought your life would be." He grinned. "Especially the half-demon thing. I'm so glad...I couldn't stand to lose you. I can't tell you..." I can't. I really can't tell you.

"You don't have to." She frowned slightly, and it seemed to him she was deciding on a response. "I had a choice, Angel. I chose this life." She smiled. "Come on, you save Connor from Fred's lecture on paper airplanes and wind velocity, and I'll save my kitchen from Dennis."

Angel stood at the window, watching the city through hooded eyes, Connor in his arms. He swayed, swinging his hips in a slow arc, keeping Connor half-asleep while the baby emptied his 3 AM bottle. The dark places between the lights beckoned him. Hunting time.


1880 Florence

"William."

Spike looked up from the book he was idly skimming. Angelus crooked his head toward the door. Spike grinned and stood gracefully, then banked the fire, and turned to his sire. Angelus was already in the open door, his wool coat blowing in the slight breeze.

"Santo Spirito, tonight, I think. Let's see what Drusilla's been teaching you." As much as Dru wanted to believe Spike was hers, Angelus knew better. He'd make his own mark on this one, teach him cunning. He already had ruthlessness. They had been forced to flee London due to William's fledgling rampage.

It had only been two months since they had turned William, but Angelus already knew he'd never destroy this one. Make him hurt, yes. Vampires being much more resilient than humans, William made an excellent mouse to Angelus's demonic cat. This one was fun to play mental games with, too. Taking Drusilla, making her moan his name, Angelus, Angelus, loud enough to echo through the apartment, never failed to cause this one to pace and fret. The fool! He'd fallen for Dru, believed himself still capable of love. What kind of demon was he, that he'd allowed his body's memories to taint him, retain humanity?

Angelus drew in a deep breath, smelling, tasting even, the possibilities the city offered tonight. I'll force him to be the demon he's capable of being. He smiled into the dark, feeling William standing a step behind him. I'll get him a toddler for dessert, warm from the crib, smelling of milk and woman.


2002

The phone rang, startling Angel, causing Connor to jump into wakefulness. They blinked at each other in the darkness. The shrillness of the second ring got Angel moving.

"Hello."

"Thank God. Angel."

"Cordy! What's wrong?" Connor, in Angel's arms, squirmed and whimpered at the loudness of his voice.

"Nothing. A vision..." Her voice conjured the memory of his kill with Spike once more. Milk and woman. Connor's sleepy, milky smell filled his head. Pay attention! " ... just that I was asleep. It's all right. You're up."

Angel put Connor over his shoulder, settled himself in a chair. "Yeah, well. Connor needed feeding and, you know, I'm kind of a night person." He could hear her breathing quiet. "So, this vision?"

"Demons, two, smell like sulfur, three eyes, in the sewers, west of you, not far, maybe a mile." Silence.

"And...?"

"Um...actually, it's Holtz they're tracking, and you don't have long to get there."

"Holtz. No one else?"

Cordelia sounded like she was being strangled. " No."

"The PTB want me to save Holtz."

He waited, and waited. The numbness started to recede and he could feel Connor's warmth again, the baby's breath soft against his neck. "Cordy?"

"Yeah, okay, well, the visions are clearer now that...you know." She cleared her throat and her voice came out strong and steady. "Yes. The feeling I got was yes. You need to save him. Go. Now."


Angel stalked carefully through the sewer. The walls glowed here and there with a luminescent mold, probably not visible to humans. He'd grown used to the odor, but it still obstructed his ability to smell other creatures sharing the dark. He had to consciously sift the layers. He could hear the drip of water, the muted traffic above, an occasional raised voice, and the soft whoosh of Gunn's breath behind him. He narrowed his eyes, concentrating, could hear the blood whooshing, too, the strong beat of Gunn's heart, his pulse only slightly higher than normal. Angel focused forward again, throwing his senses out ahead of him.

When he had pounded down the staircase, Connor and the diaper bag in one hand, his cell phone and jacket in the other, he had been mildly surprised to see Wesley awake and having coffee with Gunn. They were taking things in stride, and their constant loyalty was something of a mystery to him.

Gunn stood and reached for Connor, "What's up?"

Striving for indifference, Angel kept his voice low. "Cordelia called, I think she's on her way, she says there's two demons after Holtz, not far from here." He shrugged into his jacket, dropping the phone into his pocket.

"Holtz!" Wesley and Gunn half-shouted in unison.

"Jinx!" called Fred, coming down into the lobby on the other side.

Where have I been? thought Angel, "Are you all insomniacs now?"

"Cordy called me to fetch Connor for you," explained Fred. Her hair hung in a loose braid and she had pulled a big T-shirt over baggy pajamas bottoms.

Angel noticed Wesley trying to peer casually over his glasses at her, but Gunn saw too, and smirked at him, turning to look for himself. "Look, Connor, you get to spend quality time with a beautiful girl in jammies." Fred blushed and took Connor from him.

Angel handed over the leather bag he'd bought out with Cordelia. She had wanted to get one with bunnies on it, but Angel had standards. Leather was always good. "Everything's packed, there's two bottles, more formula in my fridge." God, I still can't believe I have a son.

He headed to the weapons cabinet and pulled out his own leather duffel. "He ate just now, so he'll probably be ready to go down in a while if you get him back in the dark." He packed in two axes, a short sword and a handful of stakes, just in case. Slinging his favorite broadsword across his back, and grabbing the double-headed battle ax, he turned back to them, adjusting the sword's scabbard strap across his chest. "Thanks, Fred. Wesley?"

"Ah, you're going, I guess."

Now he did let disgust cross his face. "Cordy said I had to, she... the PTB... whatever..."

Wesley looked blankly at Angel, and then shook his head. "Gunn will accompany you. When Cordelia arrives, we'll figure out what kind of demons you're dealing with, though since time is of the esse...

"Smells like sulfur, three eyes." Angel didn't so much as glance at Gunn before tossing the ax to him.

"Beheading usually works. Usually."

Gunn caught it deftly. "Holtz," he whispered again under his breath, but Angel heard him and shrugged. Eyebrows going up, mouth turning down, Gunn shrugged back. "Let's go slay, Bro!"

The hollow sound of a wider opening became a little louder, and Angel could hear the trickle of water from probably three different openings joining up. He halted and Gunn silently waited behind him. Wesley had chosen well, and Angel was glad that they'd had yet to have an open confrontation over how to go about business. Wesley's leadership skills had simply been buried under insecurity masking as arrogance. He had grown increasingly confident in his decision making, and was much more relaxed in their interactions. And his training sessions! He was quick and strong... Angel was as proud of him as Angelus had been of any of his children. Although...

"Angel!" Harsh whisper from Gunn.

*Concentrate, damn it. A tug, more of a gut feeling, going to the right. Angel stepped out into the cave like opening, carefully placing his feet so as not to splash. He motioned to the right. About a hundred yards down, Angel finally picked up scent, sulfur, headed toward them. He melted back against the tunnel wall and Gunn followed, close to him, their shoulders touching. Angel knew Gunn had to be almost blind in the near darkness.

He threw out again, trying to ignore Gunn's scent. He closed his eyes, inhaled deeply. Holtz's familiar scent hit him, and his body stiffened. Memories flashed through his mind, blood on his hands, the way chains looked ascending above him, the metal cutting into his wrists, Darla laughing as she galloped away from him and the flames surrounding him, horses passing above him, near enough to touch on a moonless night, Holtz's scent wafting back, settling over him, Holtz's scent, rage and fear as the vampire hunter buried a hot iron right through his belly and back, Angel could almost feel it, could almost feel his own laughter as Holtz's daughter turned to him, her hair spilling over her shoulders, wide eyed little innocent, Connor kicking in the sunshine.

"Angel! Angel, man!" Gunn hissed, leaning hard against him. "You're shaking!"

Angel vamped, an involuntary growl escaping. He leaned forward and drew his sword with both hands, then stood rigid, stopped trembling.

"Angel, tell me," Gunn hissed again. "Tell me, it's dark in here!" He twisted away from the wall slightly, and Angel could feel his surprise, smell the slight tang of his fear. "Oh, shit."

Couldn't stop it, couldn't stop it. Angel concentrated, tamped his pain down into a more controllable package. The rage he felt was all directed towards himself. He sucked in a deep breath, Holtz washing over him again, his senses enhanced by letting his demon out. He breathed out in a barely there voice, "Holtz is coming, but not fast. If he doesn't have a light, I'll let him get by me, you get him out of the way. Wait here." He moved off in complete predatory silence.


Gunn, mirroring Angel's two handed stance, blinked the sweat out of his eyes. As far as he knew, Angel didn't vamp without a distinct reason. He'd seen him do it on purpose, using it when it suited him, and Angel's game face at Caritas was seared into his memory. He was well aware that Angel might vamp when injured or fighting, some instinct of survival. But most of the time, Angel didn't even do that, he seemed to have it pretty much under control. What the fuck could cause Angel to lose it just standing here?

A muted splash drew his attention back down the tunnel. He squinted, no light for sure. A second later, a darker than the dark shadow oozed around the curve, then made its way to the center. Holtz was carefully placing his feet, making an effort to be quiet, but not silent. A few feet further he stopped, listening. Gunn pressed his back firmly against the wall, drew the ax in close to him, braced his feet so he would be able to avoid sliding when he moved to hit Holtz, and took two deep breaths. When Holtz finally started forward again, he took one more, then held his breath. He was black, he was wearing black, Holtz would miss him. He waited. With all his hard-earned patience, a learned skill, he waited.

"I know you're there," Holtz said, coming to a stop just out of range.

He's bluffing. Just wait.

"Really, you can breathe. You can breathe can't you? Even vampires breathe, for appearances, and talking and scenting." Holtz took a deep breath, then another. "You can feel your lungs burning, your chest constricting..."

Damn! Waiting me out. Smart motherfucker. Gunn let his breath out in a noisy rush, sucking in the fetid air in several great gulps, his intent gaze never leaving Holtz's bulky darkness.

"There, feel better? Let me guess...human, obviously. Trained to some degree."

Gunn bristled, but remained silent.

"Not afraid, so you're here for a purpose. If that purpose is killing wayward vampires, I could teach you more than you'll ever use." He paused, lifted a hand to stroke his beard. "Or. I'm within, say, roughly a quarter mile of Angelus' lair and he's set out his youngsters as guards."

"My purpose is killing vampires, and I'm not a youngster," Gunn bit out.

"Ah. But you are to the vampire you haven't killed. Most vampires never make it past their first fifty years. Angelus spent one hundred and fifty feeding at will across the most civilized of continents. That takes intelligence, foresight. But now that he's made it this long, is old in human years, you must consider the fact that for a vampire, he's young yet. Angelus won't be able to pass as human forever. He's setting up his base. He needs to surround himself with loyal humans; humans that will pass their loyalty to him down through the generations like well bred dogs." Holtz stepped toward Gunn. "You're nothing to him, he's using you."

I will be calm, I will be calm. Gunn shifted his grip on the ax. "You're wrong. Angel has a soul, and he's a warrior for the Powers That Be. We all work for them."

"Yes, I've been told about Angelus's soul. Master Liam was hardly a worthwhile soul, not someone, from what I could gather, worth loyalty. You know, he left very few souls still living in Galway. When I unearthed them from the places they had hidden themselves away in, they all assured me Liam's passing was fair unlamented. They had not been surprised that in death he was as troublesome as in life."

Liam, his name was Liam. "Well, Angel ain't him either. People adapt." He pushed away from the wall, leaned in towards Holtz. "Even though he says he don't believe in it anymore, Angel's doing a bang up job at redemption. And for what, being a lousy, twenty-something human? His mistake was Darla, a mistake any man might make. He has to live with memories from a demon he had no control over. Shit, I'd be so pissed off, I'd be on an adrenaline high for centuries." He stepped boldly into Holtz's face, his steely voice coming from his core, "He's helped save the world more than once. I've found more purpose in this life with him, than I ever thought possible. If you want vengeance, it's already been done, go thank the gypsies for burying Angelus under the weight of Angel's soul."

Holtz continued to stare, unblinking, at Gunn. "My, my, not what I expected." He went still at the sudden commotion far behind him, but wasn't willing to turn his back to Gunn.

"That would be Angel now, saving your sorry ass."

"Saving my sorry..."

"Yeah. Two demons were tracking you, the PTB sent Angel to save you."

"The PTB..."

"Yeah, you know, Powers That Be, you usta work for 'em." Gunn grinned at Holtz's confused look. "You were a warrior, man, fightin' the good fight. Selling your soul for a vengeance not available, now that really sucks. You should go demand it back." He rocked back, and fell to his knees as Holtz whipped a fist into his face at warp speed.

Damn, goin' getting cocky again. His eyes tearing, he blindly swept the ax across the ground, Holtz jumped, then kicked his leg out, catching Gunn in the side of his head, slamming him into the concrete.

"Tell Angel this isn't over." Holtz kicked him again for good measure.

Darkness hovered at the edge of Gunn's vision. He had just started to drift when he heard footsteps echoing towards him. His own voice yelling Get up! Get up! Get up! He maneuvered his heavy legs, trying to find some purchase against the slime. Sliding into the wall, he pressed hard against it, levering himself up. He blinked rapidly, then wiped warm and sticky, lots of it, away from his left eye and, painfully, off his lips. Damn, broke my nose. He threw his head back suddenly at the dark shadow rushing in on him, then clutched his head with both hands. Fuck! I'm an idiot. Woulda done better with the demons.


"You all right?" Angel hoped his vampiric visage wasn't visible in the gloom.

"Yeah," Gunn groaned. "I kept him outta the way with my mouth, I didn't even know I liked you so much 'til I started talking." He leaned drunkenly towards the larger man and Angel grabbed him. "Thanks. Damn, think Cordelia has any of those painkillers left?"

Angel carefully pulled Gunn closer to him, got him turned and walking, sort of, back toward the Hyperion. Holtz was gone, though his scent lingered, overwhelmed by sewer stench and the fresh, salty ripeness of Gunn's blood. Angel pushed down his hunger, at some level always with him, knowing it would be a couple of hours yet before he'd find time to feed. Gunn was mumbling something. Angel sighed; it'd be easier if Gunn would tolerate being carried. "What?"

"What's with the face?"

Angel didn't bother to answer, what could he say? Fifteen minutes later, he carefully placed Gunn beneath the sewer access. "Can you stand?"

"Yeah, that guy really rang my bell. I was stupid." Gunn waved one hand in Angel's direction, "Glad to see you back."

"I, uh...it's been...sometimes its' hard to..."

Gunn grinned at him, "No need, man, I've hooked into some intensity in my time... hard to let go sometimes." He swiped blood off his face again, but it was starting to clot. "Ow! Shit! Help me crawl up there, my head's gonna bust."

"Hey! I got doughnuts!" Gunn yelled as he pushed the front doors in.

A chorus of voices greeted him as he made his way gingerly to the front desk. Fred came around to see the neat row of stitches near his left ear. She reached out gently. "These look good, Charles. Feeling better?"

"So long as I don't move my head, the ache stays at a low roar." He grinned his trademark grin. "I've been worse."

"I am so glad I don't have those anymore," Cordelia said, staring intently at the computer. She hit one button, shrieked. "It works! Thanks, Fred! I'm going to send somebody a picture right now!" She continued to sit there, and then Gunn saw her face fall.

Abandoning him, Fred rushed back to Cordelia. "What! What!"

Flapping a hand at her, Cordelia let escape a short bark of laughter, then dissolved in giggles. Fred stopped, looking confused. Wesley wandered in from the office, a book in one hand.

Cordelia whooped, trying to get her breath, then shook with silent spasms of laughter.

"Did I miss something, kiddies?"

Gunn jumped along with everyone else, and then grabbed his head. He shot a glare at Lorne, who was trying hard to look innocent.

Cordelia hiccupped, took several deep breaths. "Oh! Oh! I'm sorry, but I needed that! Oh, man." She fanned herself.

Wesley pushed his glasses up. "What was so funny?"

"Nothing. I mean, nobody. Here I've been dying to get this program in for the digital camera so I can send pictures to somebody." She glanced at Wes. "I know; it's for the case files. Of course, nobody thought to make Angel take it last night, a perfectly good Demon Photo Opportunity missed." She finally noticed Wesley and Gunn looking at her. "Anyway, the point is, I can't think of a single person I'd want to send a pic. Isn't that just a statement on our lives?"

Gunn groaned, "That's funny?" He headed for the couch.

Lorne drawled, "Laugh or cry. Personally I'd rather laugh. We are rather a closed cell at the moment."

"Let's send some pics of Connor to my Mom and Dad, they'd love it," Fred ventured.

"Your parents! We could do that! Hey, do you think I could send some to Willow? The Scoobies should come to Connor's baptism; maybe your parents could come, too, Fred. We could..."

"Cordelia." Wesley's voice cut through Cordy's enthusiasm like a whip. She frowned at him. "Maybe we should ask Angel first."

"Sure, Dead Boy will just say no. Probably want to do it in the dark of night with no one there but us."

"Perhaps that would be for the best. We don't know who may decide to come after Connor."

"We can't hide him forever behind Wolfram and Hart, I'm sure the gossip train to the underworld has already left the station."

Gunn had to agree with Cordy. "Maybe he could use seeing how many friends he's got right now," he piped up.

Wesley looked down, thinking. "He has seemed down after last week's free for all."

Glancing up the staircase, Lorne said in a hushed voice, "Vampires? Extraordinary hearing. Where is the big guy, anyhow?"

"He didn't go up until I returned a couple of hours ago. Connor was ready for a nap," Wesley answered.

"He was bushed, I'm sure he's conked out," added Cordelia.

Gunn sat back up, trying to figure out how much to say. "It's just that..." He stopped.

Everybody moved towards him, coming to sit across from him, Lorne motioning him to make room on the couch. Gunn gratefully leaned back again. "This morning in the tunnels...has anyone ever seen Angel vamp when he's not fighting? Or maybe threatening someone on purpose?" Silence. Everyone just looking back at him.

"Go on, Charles," Wesley encouraged.

"Well, we had stopped. I thought he was listening or smelling or whatever he does, because he got up against the wall, fast, but I couldn't hear anything yet. Suddenly I notice he's shaking and when I lean forward so I can see him, he's vamped. I already told you about Holtz. It wasn't 'til we were almost here before he changed back. I thought he could change anytime he wanted."

Wesley shook his head. "No, adrenaline and any sort of strong negative emotion such as fear or rage can affect the ability to change back."

"But Angel..."

"Yes. Angel has a strong ability to control himself, probably because he's ensouled, but also because he's always been unusually strong, even as a fledgling. All accounts point to the Master having made Darla. Add to that her two hundred years before she sired Angel and Darla's blood was quite potent." Wesley paused, looking at Cordelia.

Cordelia was rolling her eyes. "He's got great control! Sometimes he has think about it before he can change, but he wasn't vamped after he'd been tortured by Spike, and he didn't vamp when he got beat up so bad in that fight club, and that whole time he was dark over ...anyway, no, it's been years, he has control. He even managed to revert in Pylea during that fight with Groo." She sighed. "I wonder how Groo's making out?"

Groo? Glancing at the other men, Gunn could see his own reaction reflected on their faces. "Anyway!" he blurted, "About Angel. He vamped for no reason, and I don't think he could help it."

"Maybe Holtz is a strong emotional trigger," Fred timidly offered. Gunn suppressed his smile. She was just so pretty, and she had all those thoughts flashing around inside, making her eyes light up. You got it bad, brother. "You know, how certain people can cause a physical response in others because some factor, say looks or the sound of their voice, triggers a memory related to that response, in turn triggering an emotion like fear or love."

"Yes, " Wesley pondered. "Like the smell of coriander always reminds me of a cottage where we stayed one summer. It makes me...melancholy."

"Exactly! And smell is actually our strongest memory trigger."

Lorne smiled. "Vampires? Aside from their hearing? Terrific sense of smell. His aura's been brighter the last couple of weeks. That boy spent a century building his emotional wall. From what I gather, the slayer tore out chunk. The last couple of years he's alternated between having actual friendships and trying to get rid of them. You," Lorne cocked his head, considering. "Us. We're family now. His family. Connor will be our common bond. He's a vampire with a child. A biological son after 250 years. No doubt about it, that defensive wall of his has got a few stress fractures growing."

Wesley stood up. "Lorne's right. Angel's been less guarded with his feelings. And strong in his defense of and loyalty to us. Fred may be right, maybe scent triggered his memories of Holtz. Holtz hunted Angelus across Europe for a decade or more. Caught him a few ti..."

"Hunting!" Fred interrupted.

Cordelia grimaced. "I sent him hunting."

"Yes," Wesley exclaimed. "After someone who's played this game with him before."

Silence.

Angel was scared, which couldn't be a good thing. "So," Gunn asked. " Is this a good thing?"

Wesley paced back toward them. " I don't know that anyone can answer that, except Angel himself."


Cordelia crept into the room. Angel had left a lamp on low and she could see him sprawled on his back, his face turned away from her. The arm closest to her curled protectively around Connor, holding him close to Angel's side. Connor cooed when he spotted her, kicking out with both legs, back arched, fists waving. She practically leaped across the remaining space. "Shhh, Shhh, baby, don't wake Daddy," she whispered.

The baby cooed in response. Stymied by the width of the bed, Cordelia had no option but to carefully ease a knee onto the mattress to reach Connor. Just as she got her hands maneuvered under him and started to lift, Angel's hand locked onto her arm. She gasped, loudly, falling flat onto her belly, throwing a wild look at him. He blinked slowly, and then let his eyes close, his grip relaxing. "Cordy."

"Just getting Connor," she breathed, keeping her voice low.

"I'll get up." His voice was just a rumble deep in his chest. His eyes still closed, he rolled onto his side toward her as she sat up, lifting Connor with her.

"Shhh. You sleep, it's only been three hours since you came up."

"Hmmm."

She watched him for a moment as he settled again. He looked younger with his face relaxed, his intensity muted with his eyes closed. His tank let her admire the powerful build of his arms and chest. He was so out that he wasn't even breathing. He'll be cool to the touch, a sculpture, "Vampire in Repose". She lifted her hand, ran a finger down the side of his face, passed her thumb slowly across his full lips. She tightened her hold on Connor and slowly leaned forward, kissed Angel gently. His soft lips parted and he kissed her back. He shifted slightly, and she sat up fast.

"Hmmm. Cordy." Just a mumble as he rolled away from her.

She scrambled off the bed, trying not to bounce, but slightly panicked. What are you doing? This is so not happening.


Composed and back downstairs, Cordelia changed Connor while Gunn put together a bottle for him. Wesley collected both baby and bottle and retreated to the office.

Gunn returned to his place next to Fred, and resumed wiping down the broadsword he'd been cleaning. Fred hefted the dagger she held, considering. "We could make food."

"I guess we could have some finger food, maybe some champagne." Cordelia could feel the natural hostess in her rising. She had cut her teeth on black tie, this would be simple. "I'm so glad Wesley arranged for the priest to come here."

"Actually," Lorne said, strolling over, "it may be safer to have it at the church."

"Can Angel even..."

Cordelia nodded vigorously. "Oh yeah, churches aren't hard for him. Uncomfortable, maybe, and I think he avoids looking at the crucifixes too much." Worm guy dissembled in her mind and she shivered. "There was this one time? Back in Sunnydale? We were in this church. And Spike and Drusilla, this was before Spike had the chip, had Angel strung up on the altar because Drusilla needed his blood. Some sire thing... anyway, there were these assassins Spike had sent for Buffy..." Cordelia stopped short, mouth still open. "Oh, god! If... when, she finds out Connor is Darla's, Buffy's gonna blow a tube!" She snorted. "Darla! I swear that man is such an idiot over blondes." And I can't believe I kissed him. "Maybe we should use the ballroom and hi..."

"Maybe we should tell him." Fred said.

"No! No, he'll just say no, and he needs this." Cordelia raised her eyebrows at Fred. "Dead of night or beautiful soiree?"

"Well... we could leave space, if you really think..."

Gunn looked up from his cleaning. "I'm with Cordy on this one."

Cordelia flashed her brightest smile at him. She remembered Lorne. "So, why do you think it'd be safer at church?"

"One room with visible entrances, easily guarded. Most vamps, and demons too, think twice before entering."

Fred laughed. "What about lawyers?"

"Got me there, sweetie."

"I have to agree with you," Wesley called. "However, the priest was not so thrilled at having a vampire in attendance, let alone the possibility of unwanted company in the sanctuary. He was only willing to baptize Connor because he's heard of Angel through mutual sources." Connor was still working his bottle as Wesley came back out to them. "I, um, I also think we should try Connor with some holy water before the baptism."

Cordelia felt the blood leave her head.

"Oh. Good thought. Just in case..." Lorne started, but then saw her face.

She swallowed hard. "I thought we were sure..."

"That he's human," Fred finished.

"Well, pretty sure. But his was a miraculous birth, unheard of, the prophecy vague until actually fulfilled, and we are still unsure of his destiny. We don't want to take any unnecessary chances, or be in for any surprises." Connor cooed and Wesley smiled down at him, swaying gently "No, we don't want to do that, do we, little one, no, no, no."

"I guess it wouldn't hurt to know for sure," Cordelia said. "Fred, why don't you grab a bottle of water? I'll get the holy water. Lorne? A washcloth?" Cordelia crossed to the weapons cabinet while Fred headed to the refrigerator and Lorne scooted upstairs.

A few minutes later they reconvened. "Here, Wesley, sit down, so we can rinse quick if we need too." Cordelia folded the washcloth and held it underneath Connor's calf, pinning his tiny ankle with her thumb. "Are you ready with the water, Fred?"

Fred nodded, moving in to hold the bottle half-tilted over the baby's leg.

"Here goes..." Cordy tipped the small container of holy water, letting a small amount splash onto Connor. He jerked and screwed his face up, trying to kick. Cordy leaned closer, and then let out her breath, hearing everyone do the same, as Connor finally got his cry going, his angry wail climbing in pitch. Shaking with relief, Cordy wiped his leg, spilling more holy water in the process before handing it to Fred.

Wesley pulled the baby up against his chest, rocking him. "There, there, just checking, you're fine, a fine, fine boy." He patted the baby's back and as quickly as he started, Connor stopped, laying his head over on Wesley's shoulder, sniffling.

"I guess we should have warmed it," Fred said, grinning.

Cordelia laughed. "What a prince. Spoiled already. Whew, you guys had me worried."


As the early evening light gave way, Cordelia gathered Connor and his paraphernalia and headed back up. She knocked quietly, but when Angel didn't answer, she went on in. The shower was running, so she put Connor in his crib and cranked his mobile for him. As she dug for jammies, the water shut off. She gathered a fresh diaper and Connor's hooded towel. Angel cracked the bathroom door, steam billowing out.

"Hey, I brought Connor up!" she yelled. Just what I would need, naked Angel. She bent over the crib, unsnapping Connor's one-piece, pulling his arms out one at a time. Angel moved in next to her, dressed but damp, his shirt hanging unbuttoned, hair wet, smelling... she took a deep breath, cradling Connor's head to slip the onesie off, clean, she decided. Angel had a clean earthy odor, that fresh smell like after a thunderstorm.

She glanced over at him. He was looking at the baby's face, but unfocused, lost in thought. "Penny for your thoughts," she teased.

He shook his head gently, "I'm not thinking about me."

Cordelia turned to him with a questioning look, and he glanced at her, taking the one-piece and folding it. "For once, I'm not thinking about me. About my actions. About the people whose lives I've affected. I truly have these moments when I'm free, all I can think about is him, his future." He reached for Connor's sock, damp at the fold. Suddenly he snarled and leapt back, grabbing his hand.

"Oh, shit! Angel! I'm sorry, I'm sorry. " Cordelia bent over the kicking baby and snatched his socks off. She turned to explain. " We wanted...Angel?"

As he quickly turned away from her, she could see his demon's visage. He shook his hand violently, and then let both drop to his sides. He took a deep breath, straightening his shoulders, pulling himself up to his full height. Letting his head drop, he stood perfectly still, back to her.

"Angel? We had to make sure, before the baptism, cover all the bases. I guess I spilled more than I thought. I'm so sorry." Her throat was closing up.

"It's okay." He turned around, his Angel face smooth and human, his dark eyes impassive. "It startled me. I wasn't ready." They stood in silence, regarding each other. "Why don't you head home? I can get Connor from here."

She looked down, nodding, balling the socks in her fist, and felt Angel step towards her. His bare feet came into view. His cool hands landed lightly on her upper arms. "Cordelia, look at me." She swiped her eyes quickly. "Cordelia." His voice carried a note of command and he brought a hand to her chin, bringing her tear-filled eyes to meet his. He wiped a wayward tear away with his thumb. "I'm fine. I wasn't ready. I understand. I'm glad I have...friends who cover all the bases." He paused. "I'm glad I have friends like you. Now, please." He smiled. " Hie yourself away home. And take those socks with you."

Cordelia tried to smile, managed to snuffle. At the door she turned back to see him watching her, hands in his pockets. "Wesley's staying awhile yet, Gunn's due back around eight. Lorne was catching some shut-eye, he's going back out tonight. I really am sorry, Angel. I'll see you in the morning."


Angel was holding a book open in front of him, but he was staring down at the baby nestled in his arms. Connor's eyelids, tissue thin, crisscrossed by fine veins, rolled and swelled like a current with the rapid movement of his eyes underneath. His mouth was open, framed by dewy, full lips, slightly chapped. His belly and chest lifted rapidly and fell with a whoosh, over and over. Angel could both feel and hear the quick-fire patter of the baby's heart. Lorne eased in, sat on the edge of the desk, watching Angel watch Connor.

"He's so alive," Angel whispered, without looking up. "Do you think they dream of things to come? Or things that were?" After a moment, he pulled Connor in a little closer and settled his head back, looking up at Lorne, who hooked a chair closer to the desk with his foot and sat down.

He gave Angel a concerned look. "So spill," he invited.

The trouble with friends was that they wanted to talk. Angel shrugged slightly, "What."

"Can't fool me, sweet crumb, and you're not doing a great job with them either." Lorne waved a hand toward the office door. "We know your walls are coming down around your ears. You need to forge a new truce with your demon."

Angel let his eyes wander to the far wall, then trace a line across the ceiling. "Oh, that." He absently set the book down and spun in the chair, carefully lifting his legs to rest his feet on the corner of the desk. Connor sighed as he rolled against Angel's chest. Angel remained silent, knowing sooner or later Lorne would leave him alone.

Minutes ticked past. Lorne put his own feet up, seeming content to wait Angel out.

Damn. Still looking nowhere, Angel rumbled, "I'm working on it. I...I can't quite..." He grimaced slightly and shut up again.

"This is new, you're tapping into emotions you haven't accessed since you were human. Did you think it'd be easy? You spent most of the twentieth century depressing emotion, but it's the spice of life, sweetie, and joy and fear are part of that. I craved it in Pylea, home of repression and sarcasm."

Fear he got. "Joy..."

"Creampuff, your human soul demands the full emotional range. I don't think you're going to get around that, regardless of your demon. Let me ask you a question."

"Yeah?"

"In Caritas that night, when you vamped, you asked Gunn if he could accept you as you really are. Do you remember how you felt, right then?"

Angel closed his eyes, thinking. "Threatened. Relieved that I could relax, go with it. Strong." He opened his eyes, whispered, "It always makes me feel strong." He went on, voice strengthening. "It scares me. I don't want that part of me on top. Holtz is right, I do want to pass as human, need my soul to be stronger than the demon." He fell silent again, having surprised himself. Threatened. That was the right word. "I was rid of it, once, did you know that?" He turned his head, wanted to see Lorne's eyes, buried the anger seeping through him. "I took it back. I chose to be what I am, embraced my demon in theory, but I still want to be in control." Connor shifted against him. Looking at his son, Angel lowered his voice. "Right now I don't feel in control of anything."

Growing anxiety was getting the best of him. Wesley had gone over the baptism with him. As godparents, none of the four had expressed any problems with the required answers to the required questions of the ceremony. But as a parent, Angel also had to reconfirm his faith. Could he say those rote answers, confirm his belief in a savior and a religious faith he had so long been excluded from? He had gone years without conscious reflection on his faith, preferring to avoid thinking of the sins he had committed before and after death, of his demon's delight with churches and convents and the faithful in general, of the hundreds of years, thankfully not very clear in his memories, he had spent in a very real hell. He looked down, unseeing. He'd been in emotional turmoil for three days. Why had this seemed so important to him?

Angel trotted down the basement stairs, feeling sharp in his nicest suit for the ceremony. He stepped hard, missed the last stair... Falling! He stumbled forward. He had felt for a second like he was falling. He stood up straight and blinked, trying to remember why he had come down to the basement. He grimaced and shrugged, turned back to the stairs.

He drew up short, feeling a strong presence, and spun to see a tall man standing in front of the weapons cabinet, appraising a broadsword he turned in one hand. The man rent the air with a powerful swing, turning the hilt in his hand at the end of it with a gracefulness born of experience.

Angel cleared his throat and the man dropped into a fighting stance, then immediately relaxed, a small laugh echoing from him, and pointed the sword down. His eyes were a startling, crisp blue, nose aquiline, lips full. An athletic, smooth-faced Greek soldier, dressed in heavy, lace-up boots, flowing, pleated trousers, an old fashioned, full sleeved blouse open at the neck and a light wool overcoat that draped over his large frame. He triggered no alarms in Angel.

Approaching carefully, Angel reached for the sword and the man easily let him, stepping aside to let Angel replace it in the cabinet. As he fitted the sword to its proper place, Angel finally spoke. "Dangerous place, this. You here for a reason?"

The man laughed again, a full rich sound. "Have no fear, I was sent to deliver a message."

"How'd you get in?"

"The priest won't be coming for the baptism. He will be unavoidably detained."

Angel regarded the soldier levelly, waiting.

"It is understood that you may have some trouble in reconfirming your faith, a vital part of the Christian ceremony. And, anyway," he waved a hand at the room, "much magic hovers around those close to you. Meddlesome Pagan spirits may choose to invoke the ancient spells. And spells no longer have a place in baptisms. They are truly only ceremonial now, ...usually. We choose not to take chances in this case. "

His patience gone, Angel narrowed his gaze. "Who are you?" he snapped.

The man shook his long, blonde hair, swept his hand across his head to pull it away from his face. Again, Angel felt power in his graceful gesture, the pent-up energy of a caged cat. "Your son has been blessed, marked by the hand of the one who will be, is, and always was. He has no need of this ceremony. You have no need of it. The Powers That Be simply are. Religions exist for the benefit and sometimes detriment of man. Religions are tools of the highest energies, that of which we are all a part and in which we all play a part, in all of our lives. The most basic truths are real. We are all one." He gave a firm nod. "You will have a naming ceremony, a celebration of an impossible life. This gift, your son, plays a pivotal role in this time's future. He has been marked and placed in safe keeping with those who will guide him."

"There's a catch, right? You're telling me this because...?" He left the question hanging.

The soldier paced away, returned. His voice softened, compassion evident in his tone. "The future will be hard. You will be confused, angry, lost on your hard-won path."

Angel turned his back to the soldier, placing his hands flat against the cabinet. "Tell me something new."

"I am here to give you peace, remind you of the strength in your core, the place within you can turn to when in need." He gripped Angel's shoulder and Angel felt compelled to allow the soldier to turn him until he was looking into those depthless eyes. "I'm talking faith, Liam. There is always a higher purpose. We are all one."

Then Angel was drowning, flooded in visions of Hell. His Hell had been his paradox. He and his demon were both separated and inextricably linked. One was offered a torment of unfulfilled desire, while the other received anguish as each memory of the thousands he had ultimately wronged was shared, to the most minute detail of every thought, emotion, physical sensation.

Every memory, every moment: his constant attraction to the sensuousness of life, the feel of velvet and leather, the explosion of wanting, wanting to possess, intimidate, dominate, the slide of skin on skin, the absorption of warmth, the shock of coolness, the smell of fear and night-blooming flowers, the awareness of danger, the taste of fear and desire laved from human skin, the firmness of a cold mouth, the sudden knowing: I'm predator, I'm prey, the turned ankle in the hopeless flight for life, the joy of the chase, the panic, the pleasure of tearing flesh as he marked or beat or raped, terror and agony as he was marked or beat or raped, the bloodlust, knowing his life was forfeit as he was drained of it, fear of death, desire for death, real unknowing death. Always fear and desire.

He remembered rage. Internal rage. They did battle. His own human desires were used to condemn him. He was never allowed to feed. He was cold and afraid. He was hungry. Always the bloodlust, fierce, undeniable. Always Buffy. His hatred of her was overwhelmed by his love for her. His mind was tearing apart, and still he wanted her, had spent two decades waiting for those moments, despite the inevitable pain, sometimes for the pain. She loved him. He'd felt it from the inside, been tortured by it those first few years, needing the punishment, letting it sustain his endless, unquenchable thirst for forgiveness. After fifty years or more, he went interminable amounts of time before her name would save him, let him hang on through some harsh nightmare. Her face was long gone. He was losing her, losing track of time, losing his mind.

Then this... this soldier now before him, this angel of dubious mercy, had appeared in Hell, his glorious wings unfurled, glowing with a pureness so alien to the environment, that had Angel not at that moment been chained, he would have joined the scurry to darker places. All he could do was shut his eyes, not a proven tactic in any dimension.

When he would have fallen to his knees, the angel steadied him. "No, you'll stand in my presence."

"You gave me Buffy, when I was losing her. She was all I kept, and even then..."

"She was a dimming spark when I was allowed to drop you out of your Hell dimension. Free will has made many a..."

"You..." Angel groped for the memory, but he'd been reduced to a quivering mass of self-hatred at that point, surviving physically only because death was denied him. He shuddered. What dimension awaited souls with no physical body to wrap around them? No redemption? This angel had already given it to him, on order of the PTB. How could he harbor even the smallest particle of hope for shanshu? How could he not? His son would live a single lifetime, growing up, growing old, dying, while he, himself remained forever young and strong. And an emotional wreck. Connor would hate him.

"Humanity is both the link to your path when you're lost, and your strongest defense. When your walls come down, you will still be protected by, encircled by humanity." The soldier angel drew a circle in the air. "First tier, your pets." Pets? And then he could feel the answer forming in his head, the angel's voice, tinged with laughter; yes, immortal, pets, you love them. Pay attention. He drew a larger circle around the first. "Second tier, from Sunnydale. It includes your lynchpin, the Slayer, and a gate, the one without a soul." He stabbed at four points staggered around the outside of the circles. "The key. The lock. The links to this reality."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"It's there, deep within you, Liam. Like fear. Like desire." His eyes were hard now, and Angel dropped his own gaze to the floor, suddenly sure he could no longer stand before this being. I am not Liam. Again, his head filling with a gentle tide of words. Your birth name has power; it is as strong as your blood name and as strong as your chosen name. You have been marked ...

"Faith and Strength. Go in peace, Warrior." The angel lunged forward, hitting him in the chest with both hands. Red-hot heat flowed into Angel, seared his senses, and light bloomed through him in a rush. He was falling.


Falling! Damn, he was falling, and he could feel his demon surging forth. Hot! Hot! Angel fell to his knees, hands hitting the floor a second later, just barely managed to keep his head from hitting the concrete. His head felt so heavy. In seconds, the dizziness and heat left him, along with all conscious memory of his encounter. He sat up, hands resting palms up on his thighs. He growled, a low rumble. What the fuck is going on? And his senses were buzzing. One of his was here. Drusilla's voice drifted through him, "...fog...death..."

As he lifted his head, his eyes focused on a large white feather sitting on the bottom stair. He frowned. The feather was the color of fresh milk, with a pearly glow, clean, and at least a foot in length. Angel lumbered up and crossed to the step. Was I that far from the stairs? He plucked the feather up.

Peace settled over him like his favorite leather coat, and the background hum of anxiety left him. A memory he could almost capture; cool breeze on his face, his arms bloodied, supporting his weight, hands numb, and the sound of a thousand sparrows in flight. There are still mysteries in this world, he thought, even for me.

Another memory rose, unbidden; his conversation with Kate, after his epiphany. He could see her feet swinging like a child's. No redemption. Nothing matters, so the only thing that matters is what you do. He could grasp that concept again, for the moment. He carefully held the thought, considered it.

No ultimate reward, doing just because doing's right, the good fight. It occurred to him that this thought was a koi, rising in a deep pond. He couldn't always keep it in sight, it was elusive, it came and went in his consciousness. I'll just do what feels right when the time comes, say the words or not.

Fred's voice drifted down to him, rousing him. "Angel? Are you down there?"

And not alone. How come I can't get that? He turned the feather in his hand, and then absently tucked it into his inside pocket. Feeling lighter than he had in days, he started up, "Coming!"

Lorne met Angel at the top of the stairs with Connor. "Thought maybe you decided not to attend." He pointed. " Might go for your pretty boy looks."

Instantly finding his human face, Angel glanced at his watch, frowned. He hadn't even realized he was still vamped. "I was just..." Confused, I'm very confused.

"Here, you take your wee one. We're all set up in the ballroom."

"The ballroom? Isn't that a bit much? Who cleaned it?" Angel settled Connor over his shoulder, then took the cloth diaper Lorne handed him and readjusted, trying to protect his suit coat.

Lorne pulled on his own peacock blue coat, which had been folded over his arm, tugged his cuffs out. He grinned at Angel, looking slyly out from under his heavy green lids. "We thought you needed some cheering, the girls invited only people you need to know are friends, the kind that come no matter what."

Angel groaned, closing his eyes. "Shit, I thought I was imagining it."

"What, big guy?"

"Buffy's here." He paused and opened his eyes, stared at Lorne's top button while he focused. Lorne ducked his head. Angel reached for the feeling. "And Spike."

"Yep, all the ...what'd Cordelia call 'em? Scoobies! The scoobies are here." His voice dropped. "They're on your side, sweetie. Remember?"

Angel shook his head, patted Connor. "Let's get this over with."

As they headed across the lobby, Wesley joined them from the office, his face glum.

"That was the priest. He's been unavoidably detained. He may be out of town for several weeks."

Angel stopped mid-stride with the strongest sense of deja vu. "What?"

"I'm sorry, Angel. We ...we, uh, have guests, and food and everything..."

Striding off again, Angel felt...at peace. All was right in his world for the moment. "That's okay, Wes. I'm...over it. We'll figure something else out. All that's important is..." right there in that ballroom. He bounced up the side stairs and picked up his pace.

Cordelia and Fred opened the doors to the ballroom from the inside just as he arrived at them. They stood to either side, grinning at him. He stopped in the doorway. The room had been cleared of all its' storage items and cleaned. The dance floor was waxed and shiny. Heavy velvet drapes in dark jewel tones had been hung, and linen draped a grouping of round tables to one side. A long table with a cut crystal punch bowl and silver trays of finger sandwiches and elegant canaps was set up nearby. Silver urns holding coffee, tea, and incredibly, blood, crouched over small gas burners. A disco ball had, at some point in the Hyperion's history, been suspended mid-room and it threw a light glitter over all.

Angel breathed, "Guys..."

Then he realized Buffy was moving straight towards him. He brought Connor off his shoulder, cradling him close, and strode forward again, eyes locked on Buffy's. Fred and Cordelia fell in, flanking him, and with Wes and Gunn completing a vee formation, Lorne trailing in the wake, Angel aimed for the petite blonde slayer.

Willow fell in on one side of her and Xander on the other, Anya a step behind him. Spike turned from Dawn and Kate, as they strode by him. He rolled his eyes, but joined them, catching up to Willow.

Kate and Dawn stood side by side, watching, and Angel knew what they were seeing: two battalions, staggered behind their leaders forming point. The swirling energy was potent, drawing Angel onward, his senses quivering, fanning out, capturing this moment, every detail, time itself seem to slow. The beast in him focused on the liquid movement of these trained warriors, couched in strength, the human in him savored the beauty of the moment. All of him felt the sensuality and violence. He saw Kate shiver, saw Fred's mother reach blindly for her husband's hand, absorbed the whole moment, while never letting go of Buffy's gaze.

They stopped a step apart. Angel's eyes never left her face as he rolled Connor slightly towards her so she could see him. She reached out tentatively, as Connor solemnly blinked at her, then stroked his cheek. She swallowed, her mouth turning down slightly, "He's beautiful, Angel." She looked up, into his soul, nodded firmly. "He's beautiful."

Just that suddenly, the tension broke and everyone surged forward to crowd close around Connor. Spike leaned over Buffy's shoulder, pressing into her back, and Angel didn't miss seeing the hand Spike wrapped over Buffy's hip, or the leap of electricity between the two.

"Nice tot, suppose it's off limits." The grin he flashed Angel was taken off his cocky face by Buffy's elbow connecting with his solar plexus.

"Back off, Spike," Buffy growled.

"Just looking, love." He leered wolfishly, possessiveness glinting in his eyes.

Angel froze, as something clicked in him, and then he had it, China.


1900 The Boxer Rebellion

"You leaving?"

Angelus was sitting as far into a corner of the wooden warehouse as he could get, knees drawn up, hands laced over the top of his bowed head. The odors of the marina were overwhelming, and the warehouse was buried behind others, with no hope of a breeze. Go away, Spike.

"The world's ripe, Angelus. Surely your tastes are stronger than your morals."

Hunger bit deep. There were so many dead here and so much fear and he wanted it, wanted it so badly, but the look of terror these days drew from him the need to comfort, and his hunger filled him with disgust, and on these faces he saw the ones from whom he'd fed and hate boiled in him, hatred for what he had let himself become.

"Darla laughed when she told us you ran off to save a baby. A baby! A squalling brat only big enough for a nip. Although, granted, it's a sweet nip. You taught me that."

Angel cringed.

"Of course," Spike mused, "the slayer was sweeter."

Angel could hear Spike shifting his feet. Go away. But, his decision made, Spike came and slid down next to him, back to the wall. Angel wanted to move away, but being wedged into a corner had certain disadvantages, and Spike was warm. They'd been gorging themselves here, where they were so unlikely to face any consequences. Despite himself, he actually leaned in a bit, pressing against Spike's side.

When he spoke again, Spike's voice was softer. "You're still a vampire. Shake it off, man. I heard you say it; I'm one of you now. But Angelus, you don't seem to be one of us." He snorted. "Should probably just call you Angel now, if you're going to go about rescuing people from us."

Right, Angel. And that made him think of his sister, the wonder that had crossed her face seeing him at the window. "I killed it."

He could feel tears starting to slide down his face. Guilt and hate and hunger. Dizziness washed over him; he'd never felt sick before, as a vampire. He retched, dry heaving, then felt the demon come forward. He growled and stood up on shaky legs. Spike stood with him.

"You're just hungry. Let's go hunt up something a little larger."

Angel finally turned, grabbing Spike to him so they were face to face. Spike changed and they were demon to demon. "I didn't drink, Spike, the mob got it. I might as well have left it to Darla."

Spike grabbed the front of Angel's shirt, pushing him back as hard as Angel was pulling him forward. "You're driving me mad, Angel. You're the one followed us here. We were fine without you." He forced Angel's arms apart, breaking both their holds. "Last night was the best night of my life! I killed a slayer. A slayer! We should be out drinking the town! Instead I'm here trying to convince you to eat and you're crying over a brat! You and Dru gave me life! I thought I owed it to you to find you, but I'm done."

They both froze at the sound of footsteps approaching. Spike leaned closer, his yellow eyes gleaming voice low, persuasive, "Come, Sire, come feed with me."

Hunger. Angel pushed it away savagely. Why did he think he could do this? For Darla. Even the criminals he'd killed to prove himself to her had brought him guilt. And the blood. The human blood, the first he'd had in almost two years, sang in his veins, made his cravings unbearable. I can't do this. I have to go. The demon's visage receded, leaving him looking, he knew, like the human he had been. He grabbed Spike again, violently, and smiled at the startled look on Spike's face.

"Let go, you poof!"

Glaring at Spike, Angel took a deep breath, "Run! Get out of here!" he yelled.

Spike rolled his eyes and changed his countenance, resignation and disgust emanating from him. "Your Mandarin is good, Angel. I'll tell Darla you're gone for good. Now let go."

Angel's chest closed up, anxiety and fear welling up in him. He hated these human emotions. He took another deep breath and nodded, closing his eyes. He let go. When he opened them, Spike was gone.


2002

Willow reached for Connor and Angel, with a wary look at Spike, gave him up to the group. Cordelia warmed his arm. He looked out over the room, nodding to Kate and Dawn, smiling crookedly at Fred's parents, pocketing his hands, rocking back on his heels.

"Thanks, Cordy," Angel said, looking down at her. "Thank you. I'm sorry there won't be a baptism after all."

"Priest can't make it," Wesley clarified.

Willow looked up from cooing at Connor, being awkwardly held by Xander. "We could do a naming ceremony."

Xander, Anya, and Buffy's heads all snapped around, tweaking Angel's curiosity.

"No! No magic, I promise. Just a... just a combination maybe of different cultures' welcome to the world, new soul ceremonies, you know. It'd be cool. I'm sure Wesley and I could work one up pretty quick."

So they had finally caught on. Willow had crossed the line when she brought Buffy back. She had a hard road ahead of her. Angel smiled, and then let himself relax into his best tavern grin, the one that made him feel young and human again. "That'd be great, Willow, just great."


A while later, after he had been hugged by Fred's dad, told Kate he was glad to see her again, and played a careful dance of avoidance with Buffy, Wesley appeared in the doorway. "We're ready. Could all of you join us in the courtyard?"

The moon threw a clear celestial light over the small garden, and Wesley and Willow had found a dozen candles or more and scattered them about. An assortment of items was gathered on one of the stone benches.

Wesley spoke first. "We gather here to celebrate a life formed in death and saved by death. In what may be the redeeming moment for a demon who found true, pure love after four hundred years, life was given to this child, for a purpose we cannot yet know. This is true of all children born of this earth. And, as is true for all children, this one must be protected, nourished, and cherished. In this spirit, we offer a prayer to all that may require one." He paused. "Willow."

"We ask that this child be protected by all powers that be. We offer earthly gifts. We offer fire." Willow handed a candle to Wesley. "We offer water." She passed a wooden bowl of water to Cordelia. "We offer earth." She motioned Gunn to step forward, gave him a stone bowl filled with dirt. "We offer wind." She smiled at Fred, giving her a paper fan. "Angel, come stand here, in the circle of your friends."

Stepping forward, Angel remembered the feather in his jacket. "Wait, I've got something..." He jostled Connor around, got hold of the feather and pulled it out with a florish. "Can you use it?"

"That's great! Sure." Willow took it, looked at it a long moment, then gave Angel a strange look. "Angel...," she whispered.

"I know," he whispered back.

"Um...Buffy?"

Angel nodded.

Willow crossed the circle, and handed the feather to Buffy, who looked surprised when she touched it. "Take this feather and anoint it with each earthly gift, then hand it to Angel, and leave the circle."

Slowly and with grace, Buffy dipped the feather into each offering. At wind, her hair blew back over her shoulder with Fred's vigorous fanning. She took the feather to Angel with a gentle smile and retreated.

"Angel, mark your child and name him."

Brushing the feather over the baby's forehead, Angel's voice was clear and deep and Irish. "As your Father, your Da, I name thee Connor."

"This child has been marked. We offer you our prayer. We humbly ask that protection from hardship and evil be given to this child, Connor, son of..."

"Liam!" Gunn burst out. Everyone turned to him. He looked at his feet for a long moment, and then lifted his head to look at Angel. "Holtz told me. Where I come from, gatherings this important, you always use your given name."

Irritated, Angel sighed. "I am not..." Yes, you are. Angel could feel the truth of it. He looked at Connor, and some strong emotional mix he couldn't name swept through him, made him ache. I named you Connor. I named you by custom, Father's name. I can never outrun who I am. He closed his eyes. I vow to stop now. I am Liam, and Kathy's Angel, and ... Angelus, and always will be*.

Drawing in a calming breath, Angel settled himself, then looked once more at his son, so secure in his arms. "I... Liam, promise to do what's right because it's right, even if it hurts. I promise to teach you, my son Connor, what's right and to follow that path, even though it's sometimes hard to see it." He thought for a moment. "I promise never to look upon you in shame, yours or mine. I promise to be true to you, give you loyalty, honesty, and strength. I promise that when we are at odds, you'll have family and friends to turn to for wisdom and advice."

Angel glanced around, surveying his friends. I wish.... "I promise to teach you to fight the good fight."

Silence draped the garden. Wesley's voice rose then, gathering strength. "I, Wesley, promise you the gift of study. I promise you my loyalty and honesty."

"I, Cordelia, promise you the gift of learning not to take yourself too seriously." She shot a considering glance at Wesley and Angel saw him smile and nod. "I promise you my loyalty and honesty."

"I, Charles, promise you the gift of street sense. I promise you my loyalty and honesty." He grinned at Angel.

"I, Krevlorneswath, promise you the gift of song. I promise you my loyalty and honesty."

"I, Winnifred, promise you the gift of science. I promise you my loyalty and honesty."

Willow stepped forward again, but did not break Angel's inner circle. Angel realized it was powerful, this circle, radiating an energy he could feel. "I, Willow, and..." She nodded, and the others stepped forward, one by one, spreading out in a second circle.

"I, Buffy."

"I, Alexander."

"I, Dawn."

"I, Katherine."

"I, Roger."

"I, Patricia."

Spike, who'd been standing well back from the gathering, lounging almost, against the garden gate, suddenly strode forward, coming to stand between Trish and Buffy. Angel realized instantly that Spike had been guarding the gate, watching the perimeter as he'd been taught. "I, William."

Willow finished for all of them. "...promise you, Connor, the gift of friendship."

The city lights spread before him never failed to calm him, having the same effect on him as a blazing fire. Brood time maybe, but as necessary to his existence as tacos seemed to be for Fred. Sitting on the parapet of the hotel, Angel leaned back against the rooftop wall behind him. He rubbed his thumb absently over the monitor in his hand. Connor was down for the night. Wesley was downstairs. The Sunnydale gang should be safely home. Holtz... Holtz was still out there, somewhere.

The energy of the evening still flowed through him, but he was not restless. He felt alert, wide awake in some way he hadn't been since Darla had appeared and turned the world upside down. He was well and truly a father now. He felt whole. He hadn't expected the baptism and certainly not the naming ceremony it became to feel so powerful, affect him so strongly. Maybe it was acknowledging in front of ...his...his what? Friends? Family? Friends and family? Would he separate them in that manner? No. They were just his. Period. A part of him like no others had ever been before or after death. The strength in them!

Cordelia's strength and practicality had calmed him, steadied him against the emotional tide of facing Buffy, Darla's child in his arms. Strong women. Am I that needy? The room had been full of strong women tonight. Desire surged through him and he laughed at himself, hanging his head.

Darla had dominated his life and now had fundamentally changed it once more. Buffy had drawn him from a depression and self-pity that had engulfed him for years; she was the reason he now lived this life, had people who could draw him back from that despair he could get so trapped in at times. Even after last year, I have people who will actually stand by me, help me raise a son. Me. And I could have Cordelia, maybe, but it's different with her, somehow. I don't want to hurt her. My turn to be strong.

The sound of a siren drew his attention back to the city, the dark places held his gaze. He could remember walking in shadow, watching humans play out their lives in the stage sets of plate glass windows. More than once, he'd been told, move along, move along. Kate had been a surprise, but she fit. Would have fit him in different circumstances. It had not escaped him that both the blondes in the room carried his mark. *Make that three including Spike. Dru always got her way in the end. China. God, what a... Not gonna think of Spike right now. Look at the lights. Ommmm.... His, a part of him now. He was a long way from the Angel he had been just a few years ago.

His. The feather! He sat up and fished it out again. It glowed. I should do something...and then he knew.

"Protect my child. Hear my plea." He lifted the feather on his open palm. The light breeze caught it, and he watched it swirl up and away into the darkness.

He relaxed, letting the view below soothe him, opening himself to the energy of the universe.


A familiar feeling settled over him. Still gazing out at the lights, Angel acknowledged its presence. "Spike."

"Sire." Spike moved out across the roof, coming to stand near Angel. Taking his cigarette from his mouth, he indicated the city below. "I miss it sometimes."

"What?"

"The hunt. Hunting with you." He shook his head. "To hunt in a city like this, you without that pesky soul. That would have been something."

"I don't. I don't miss it, don't want it." Except sometimes I do.

"You're a fool."

Angel felt certain they were no longer speaking of hunting. "Do you love her?"

"She doesn't love me. She just needs me right now, what I give her. I'm the fool." He crushed out his cigarette. "I wish I didn't have this chip, I'd wash her clean out of my system. Bathe in her blood."

Angel stood up.

"Settle." Spike leaned his elbows on the parapet, avoiding Angel's eyes. "I could you know. Something's happened to her. I can hurt her." He tapped his head. "Doesn't work with her."

"Spike..." Angel growled.

"Liam. You never told me that. It's the short form of William." He finally gave Angel his eyes. "Something's happened to me, too, mate. I can't kill her any more than you could. Like demon, like spawn, I guess." He laughed.

He would be the one to truly understand me. "You will not hurt her."

Spike grinned. "Can't promise that, Sire. Pain's still my pleasure. I don't have a soul."

"Leave, Spike, before I stake you."

Spike sobered. "I would like to make a promise, Angel, like they did down there. If you need me, I'll help you keep Connor from ending up undead, or I'll help stake him if he does." He paused, then added cheerfully, "And you, too, if it comes to that."

Angel knew this was Spike's humanity speaking up, and his sense of well being returned. "Thank you."

Looking back out at the lights, Angel had a sudden thought and grinned. "Come on, I've got Irish whiskey, " he said, steering Spike back toward the interior door. "You know, you could never take me."

"Could, too, if I really wanted."

"Yeah, that's why you ran last..."

"Did not."

Heading down into the hotel, his home, Angel felt light.


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