Secrets & Lies, Part IV

Author’s Notes: Future-ish fic.

Dedication: This chapter is for the team at The House of Blues – Baby Blues, AudBall & Chad – for featuring one of my fics in their Hall of Fame, for the *amazing* graphic that accompanied it, and because they just totally *rock*!

A big thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this story and send feedback. Much appreciated!

Fic Notes: Cordelia has lost her man and will stop at nothing to get him back. (She is part demon, remember?) Angel’s starting to get his head out of his ass, and Connor realizes that you don’t always want what you get. Oh, and the crimson lilies return…

Rating: Adult; explicit sex

Disclaimer: Own nothing. All belongs to Joss, ME, Fox, et.al.

Pairing: Ultimately B/A. Has C/A and mentions of B/S.

Distribution: My site, EverySixSeconds; sites currently with permission to host my fics; all others please ask.

Originally Posted: Feb 9, 2003

Cordelia muttered a few choice expletives at the closed door before she sat the box in her arms down with a thud and stomped out of the room. Hours later when she returned to retrieve her things, she noticed that Angel had not only rearranged the furniture in the bedroom but the coverings on the bed had been replaced; her pale pink satin comforter had been exchanged for a textured velvet duvet in a rich crimson shade with a deep gold crushed swirl burnout overlay.

An oversized dark leather chair and ottoman now occupied the corner of the room where her dressing table had been. The dressing table now sat next to the sofa in the living room obviously waiting to be moved. Along with the pink comforter, her other personal effects had also been boxed up, leaving the bedroom masculine and spartan; much as Angel had it prior to her occupancy.

Grudgingly Cordelia moved her belongings, albeit not far, having selected the room directly across the hall from Angel’s. She unpacked only the things that she needed immediately or that would wrinkle, leaving the rest of her stuff in boxes for her planned move back across the hall and back into Angel’s life. She could have anything she wanted if she set her mind to it; she’d proved that already by not only landing the handsome vampire years ago but by convincing the Powers that Be to return her to this dimension. She’d get Angel back; she had to. It was simply a matter of time and a little bit of planning.

With that thought lingering in her mind she made her way downstairs in search of Fred. The girl obviously knew something, and Cordelia Chase wanted to find out exactly what that something was.

Pausing at the counter in the lobby, Cordelia glanced around for any signs that the other occupants of the hotel were lingering about then picked up the small pink message notes carefully stacked along one side. Since it appeared that she was alone, she flipped through the neatly written messages, scoffing at Fred’s retentive attention to detail in writing not only the name and number for the caller, but the date, the time and a short message on each slip of paper. Pulling two of the slips of paper out of the small stack, Cordelia glanced around once more to make sure she was still alone before slipping the notes into her pocket. She saw no reason for Angel to know that Giles was trying again to reach him.

The dyed blonde seer then made her way through the hotel to Fred and Gunn’s suite of rooms. When she reached the door, she listened quietly for a minute before knocking, hearing only Fred’s voice on the other side singing and talking to baby Amelia.

After a long pause the door opened. Fred glanced nervously at Cordelia, then at the baby before her eyes dropped to the floor. “Hi, Cordelia.”

“Fred.” Cordelia brusquely greeted the young mother as she pushed past her into the room. “We never spend any time together any more. You’re so busy with the baby now… And me, well I have Angel, and lord knows that man keeps me busy.” Cordelia smiled brightly as she made herself at home on the denim-covered sofa. “I thought we should have some girl-to-girl time. You know, a little chitchat, a little gossip.” The seer patted the spot on the couch next to her next to her.

Fred smiled uncertainly and sat down, bouncing the baby gently in her arms. “Okay.”

Cordelia extended her arms, a smile playing on her lips. “Please. Can I hold her?”

“Well, she’s really not-” Fred began, uncertain about handing her baby over to the blonde seer. Cordelia had shown very little interest in Amelia in the few months since her birth, so her attention now was suspect.

“Please?” Cordelia pleaded prettily, a small smile on her lips.

“Uh… she’s about to fall asleep-” Uncertain how she could say no, Fred stalled.

“Even better, then. Come to Auntie Cordy, now.” Cordelia reached over and plucked the baby from her mother’s arms almost before Fred could blink. The jostled infant looked up at the blond seer with wide eyes.

“She’s so adorable. You know, Angel wants a baby. He’s been suggesting artificial insemination now for weeks since, well, he can’t… he just has this thing about wanting to see me ‘bloom’ with motherhood.” Cordelia lied easily, enjoying perpetuating the myth that she and Angel were still the happy couple. Actually, a baby was not a bad idea now that she’d thought of it… it’d certainly ensure her place in the vampire’s life for a long time to come. Tucking the thought away to be used later when Angel returned, Cordelia turned her attention back to the girl sitting next to her.

“Oh, I thought-” Fred murmured softly, not entirely convinced that the seer was telling the truth after having seen her with Connor last night and having been recruited to help Angel earlier in the day with his bedroom refurbishing.

“You didn’t think we were fighting this morning did you?” Cordelia cast a playful glance at the young mother. “It was a simple misunderstanding. I’m sure we’ll work toward a, ah, resolution tonight when he returns. Making up is always so much fun, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh. I see.” Fred forced a small smile and nervously glanced at Amelia, who was drifting off to sleep.

Shrewdly, Cordelia glanced at Amelia then back at her mother’s nervous expression. “Babies are so tiny. So fragile, aren’t they?” She sweetly purred, reaching down and lifting the infant’s tiny arm.

“Yes.” Fred whispered, her eyes wide as she watched the woman that she’d thought of as her friend toy with her baby’s wrist and forearm.

“You must worry constantly. I mean, something could happen to them at almost any time.” Cordelia’s eyes when they met Fred’s were cold.

“Um, I really – it’s past her bedtime – and she should- I really should take her-” The young mother stammered and reached for her daughter, her eyes wide as Cordelia brushed Amelia’s tiny hand along her cheek.

“She’ll sleep just fine right here. Let’s not disturb her, just yet.” The part-demon seer’s smile was sweetly malevolent as she glanced up. “So tell me, what’s new, Fred?”

“N-nothing.” Fred murmured softly, her palms cold and sweaty now with nerves. She impulsively wanted to yank her baby out of Cordelia’s arms but she didn’t dare.

“Really?” The dyed blonde’s tone was sugary sweet, “Are you sure about that? Now Fred, honey, you know you can tell me anything. *Anything* at all.”

“I-I know.” Fred swallowed nervously, her eyes watering. She was afraid to look away as Cordelia ran her fingertips along the baby’s face before cupping her palm around the infant’s tiny head.

“My, my, you’re a little jumpy tonight. Is something wrong?” Cordelia scrutinized Fred’s pale face with intense regard. The girl definitely knew something.

“No-no.” The young mother licked her lips uneasily. Cordelia hadn’t really threatened her or the baby, but there was something menacing in her expression that was making Fred very nervous.

“What little secret are you keeping from me, Fred darling?” Cordelia hissed softly, once again lifting Amelia’s tiny arm and toying with it absently.

“I saw you kissing Connor.” The words came out in a rush, Fred fearful that the seer might actually harm the infant in her arms.

The door swung open with a soft squeak, Gunn’s frame coming into view in the next instant and blocking out the light from the hall. Fred jumped and looked anxiously at him, while Cordelia simply looked in his direction and smiled calmly.

Gunn glanced from his wife’s nervous face to Cordelia’s then back again. The tension in the room was obvious. Casually, he stepped forward and took his daughter from the seer’s arms. “Is everything all right?”

“Fine.” Fred hastily murmured, standing up to cling closely to his elbow. She was more than relieved to have her baby back in familiar arms.

“We were just catching up on some girl talk, weren’t we? Nothing you’d be interested in. Right, Fred?” Cordelia grit her teeth and smiled. Only a few minutes more and the girl next to her would have been ready to tell her everything else she knew. Damn. Luck was just not in her favor today.

“I’ll just run along now.” Cordelia stood and brushed past Gunn on the way to the door. “Night you three.”

Gunn stared thoughtfully as the seer’s back as she left. He had never before had any reason to suspect that Cordelia might actually threaten or harm his little family but with the expression on Fred’s face as she clung tightly to his arm, he was considering revising that opinion.

————————————————————-

In Sunnydale…

Connor watched his father with surprised and interested eyes. He’d never seen the vampire look at another woman the way his eyes followed the little blonde, Buffy. Nor had he ever seen his father react with same level of emotional intensity or even what appeared to be possessiveness with anyone else before. Maybe there really was something to the whole vampire/mate bond thing. Of course, Angel seemed to be infuriated with her about something… wonder what it was? And Buffy – well, she didn’t seem to want to have much to do with him either. It was all very interesting…

Angel turned back to Connor and felt his earlier anger at his son return. His attention had been so riveted on Buffy in the last few minutes that he’d nearly forgotten his son’s presence.

“Get in the car. Now.” Angel commanded impatiently as he pointed in the direction where the car was parked.

Connor glanced at the retreating back of the Slayer then back at his father. With a small grin, he recalled Angel’s softly uttered words to the girl just moments before. “Shouldn’t you follow your *girl*?” he asked, a trace of sarcasm in his voice.

Glancing at his son with annoyance, Angel ignored the unwelcome comment and gestured for Connor to move forward. His patience was stretched thin and was he was angry for more reasons than he could count; none of which boded well for the two-hour drive back to LA in the close confines of the car. Angel only hoped that he’d be able to keep a tight leash on his anger and not say or do something he’d regret later.

“Oh, sorry. Forgot, she’s not your anything.” Connor added in mock apology even he smirked with delight; his father had obviously just been spurned by his own *mate* which made for much too good of an opportunity to resist taking jabs at what he suspected from Angel’s behavior could be a sensitive subject.

“Just get in the car.” Angel bit out, looking at Connor across the roof of the black GTX as he opened the door. He laid the stolen knife that he carried on the floor behind the seat, next to the axe that he had habitually brought along.

Connor opened the door just as Angel started the car and gunned the engine. Sliding into the passengers seat and glancing at Angel uneasily, he mumbled, “Geez, what’s your problem?” He was beginning to wonder if his father might not have bought the lies he’d told about why he’d come to Sunnydale after all; although the vampire was usually pretty easy to fool when it came to stuff like that. More often than not, he could just pull the “but I love you and want you to love me” crap and Angel bought it: hook, line and sinker.

“We’ll talk about it at home.” Angel curtly replied, shifting the car into gear and pulling out into the street.

“Whatever.” Connor muttered under his breath as he slumped down in the seat and stared out the window.

Angel guided the car through the narrow Sunnydale streets and headed for the freeway. A thousand thoughts were crossing his mind; rage at his son for coming to Sunnydale and attacking Buffy, roaring anger with underlying mind-numbing fear directed at Buffy for what she might have done to herself with whatever powerful magic she had employed; guilt that he might have been the one that had driven her to harm herself in some irreparable way…

“How’d you find me?” Connor’s voice interrupted his thoughts, the young man restless and fidgeting on the seat.

Angel glanced over at his son just as he pulled onto the freeway. The GTX picked up speed as he pressed firmly down on the accelerator. “It wasn’t hard.”

Knowing that no additional information was forthcoming, Connor contemplated how his father could have figured out his destination so quickly. Had he left his note about the bus schedule times out? Dismissing it from his mind as unimportant for the moment, he restlessly leaned forward and switched on the radio, turning the knob to a raucous and loud heavy metal music station. With a self-satisfied grin, he cranked up the volume.

Irritably, Angel leaned over and turned the radio off.

“Asshole.” Conner muttered under his breath and reached for the dial, turning the radio back on, louder this time.

Angel looked at Connor with aggravation, then turned the knob and snapped the radio off. “Take a nap or something.”

“I’m not a baby.” Connor leaned forward and turned the knob again, the loud music once more filling the car.

“You’re acting like one.” Abruptly the music stopped as Angel turned the knob on the radio again. “So I’ll treat you like one.”

Connor crossed his arms over his chest and looked at his father warily, “What do you mean?”

“Children have to be supervised constantly. Keeps them out of trouble or from hurting themselves. Looks like I’m going to have to hire a sitter for you when I’m not around to watch you.”

“I’m not a child!” Connor retorted angrily, his eyes hot with temper. “And I don’t need a babysitter!”

“You haven’t shown me that you’re an adult either.” Angel replied bluntly. He glanced at his son briefly out of the corner of his eye before returning his attention back to the road. At this time of night there were only a few other cars on the road; cars that began to drop behind them as Angel steered the car into the fast lane.

Connor slumped back in his seat and sulked, thinking how much he’d like to tell his father about just how much of a man he really was. How much of a man Cordelia proclaimed him to be. But, he’d promised her that he wouldn’t give away their secret so he wouldn’t.

Connor’s thoughts shifted back to the blonde Slayer and his father’s obvious interest in her. He was dying with curiosity to know more about their relationship; particularly his father’s feelings for her. Forcing aside his earlier anger, Connor schooled his expression to one of curious interest. With practiced innocence he asked, “So that’s was the Slayer huh? What’s her name? Bunny?”

Angel sighed with exasperation. He didn’t want to talk now and he was fast tiring of Connor’s innocent act. “Buffy. Yes, that was Buffy.” Of course that was the Slayer, Connor, unless you’re indiscriminately attacking just any girl on the dark streets at night with a knife. Angel shuddered involuntarily at the thought of his son becoming a cold-blooded killer. It bothered him more than a little that things had gone so wrong with his only child, starting with his abduction almost at birth.

Connor smirked, watching his father surreptitiously. “You know, I thought she’d be bigger. Especially, since, you know, she kicked your ass to hell and all.”

Angel shot Connor an annoyed glance then returned his attention to the rapidly approaching taillights in front of him. The shrubs along the darkened median of the road passed by in rapid succession as he pressed firmly on the accelerator, the speedometer on the car now passing 80.

After a few minutes of silence, Angel asked, “You thought you’d just be able to walk in to Sunnydale and what? Take out the Slayer?”

“I could’ve kicked her ass.” Connor snapped with false bravado, “If I’d really wanted to.”

Angel chuckled softly then pointed at his son’s face, “You’ve still got a little stuff on your cheek there from kicking her ass.”

“Whatever.” Connor replied hotly, indignantly rubbing at the grime still on his face. “She’s had her ass kicked pretty good before. I’m sure it’ll happen again. It’s just a matter of time.”

Connor paused, watching for Angel’s reaction. The vampire grimaced at the reminder that Buffy risked her life daily; that she had even died even though he had often told her that he’d never let anything happen to her. He’d left her to die alone – even though he said he wouldn’t. His words had been a lie. Even though he’d never intended it as such when he spoke them, he’d been too cowardly of a man to back up those words with actual acts. The end result was that he’d left Buffy with a legacy of lies and a wealth of broken promises. That was the man he’d shown her he was; one that was no better than he had been as foolish and self-indulgent Liam. Even Angelus, with his predatory sexual advances and all his blustery attempts to hurt her, had been more honest with her than he had been.

After a long silence with no response from his father, Connor insinuated with a soft touch of malice, “You’d probably like that, huh, *Dad*? After all, vampires, slayers – sworn enemies, right?”

“Connor-” Angel growled softly, warningly, the anger simmering below the surface once more threatening to emerge.

Connor interjected with a smirk, “Well, at least they’re *supposed* to be…”

Still uncertain of Angel’s mood, Connor blithely continued fishing for information. “Course, she doesn’t seem to like you much. And what’s up with that whole ‘what’d you do to yourself’ thing anyway? What’d you care? You dumped her, didn’t you?”

“It’s none of your business.” Angel replied sharply, his tone cold.

“I have to say, though, she’s pretty hot. All that golden blonde hair and creamy skin…” Connor added slyly, deliberately hoping to provoke a response. “Great body too. Nice tits. But man, what a bitch.”

“Watch your mouth.” Angel snapped as he gripped the steering wheel hard, working to control his anger and prevent his demon face from forming. Furiously, he pressed harder on the accelerator propelling the speedometer easily over the 100 mark. He was pushing the GTX at a furious pace not because they had to hurry to beat the dawn but simply in an attempt to appease some of the fury still burning inside him.

Connor smirked, delighted to get a rise out of his father even as he now glanced nervously at the road. After a long pause, he leaned over slightly, as if they were sharing confidences and asked, “Hey – but you actually slept with her, didn’t you? What was she like in bed? Hot? I mean, c’mon, you did her when she was what? Like 17?” Connor paused dramatically, as if mulling something over, before he continued thoughtfully, “You must’ve been over 240… Isn’t that illegal or something?”

“That’s enough, Connor.” Angel snapped, his eyes more gold than brown as he shot an angry look at his son. Quickly glancing back at the road, he swerved, pulling the car back into the center of the lane and nearly missing the center divide guardrail.

“Jesus fucking Christ, slow down! You may be dead but I don’t wanna die.” Connor yelled nervously, his eyes now trained on the road watching as the white dividing stripes on the pavement disappeared rapidly in the speeding headlights.

Without even glancing over or slowing down, Angel furiously retorted, “Buckle up. And watch your language.”

“Watch my language. Watch my mouth. Anything else you want me to watch? Hey – I know, I can go back to Sunnydale and watch the Slayer’s ass for you.” Connor replied mockingly, even as he secured his seat-belt. “You know, your *mate*.”

Angel’s eyes flared slightly in surprise. How had Connor known that he had marked Buffy as his mate? His eyes narrowed and he pressed his lips together tightly as he recalled that she no longer had any visible mark; something Holtz would surely have taught Connor to look for. Cordelia. The seer must have told him about the bite, along with who knew what else.

“Is it true? She your *mate*? I didn’t see a mark…” Belligerently, Connor continued his taunting, “That’s a pretty big deal for you vampires, or so I’ve been told. But *your* mate – she doesn’t even want anything to do with you. Guess it sorta changes that whole mate for life thing, huh?”

“You know nothing about it.” Angel snapped, his eyes flashing gold again. He cursed softly under his breath, chiding himself for being so complacent these last few years that he hadn’t dealt properly with his son. The boy obviously still had considerable anger directed to him; anger that had festered while he had sat back and done nothing except pretend that he had one big happy family.

“What’s there to know?” Connor spat, ignoring the cold anger radiating from his father. “You got a piece of ass so good that it was your ‘one moment of perfect happiness’ and you lost your soul, *Angelus*. Shit, I just hope you got more than just a ‘moment’. I know I’d have given that hot little bitch more like a couple of hours of happiness at least…” The young man punctuated his last sentence with a lewd gesture, enjoying the feeling of control that he mistakenly had in pushing his father’s buttons.

With uncanny preternatural speed, Angel reached out with his right hand and grabbed Connor by the back of the neck, yanking him close. The car swerved dangerously on the road as Angel focused his attention on his son. Connor’s face was inches away from his own, his piercing golden brown gaze staring coldly into a similar but now frightened pair of brown eyes.

Connor swallowed nervously, suddenly afraid. Either his father was going to kill him or crash the car, neither of which seemed particularly appealing at just this instant. He was rapidly regretting the rash impulses that had led him to continually goad the vampire.

“You really want to do this now, Connor? Hmm?” Angel growled, each word pronounced with lethal softness, Angel’s jaw clenching as he forced himself to calm. He couldn’t physically abuse his son, as much as he wanted to right now.

Connor hesitantly shook his head, at least as much as the tight grip of his father’s hand on the back of his neck would allow.

“Now. I never want to hear you talk like that about her again.” The low growl continued, rumbling deep in Angel’s chest. “You understand?”

Connor, his eyes wide, swallowed hard before he nodded slowly.

“I’m not buying your innocent act. Not this time. Now do us both a favor and shut your mouth. We’ll talk about this when we get home and I can give you my full attention.”

Abruptly, Angel released Connor shoving him slightly back into his seat before returning his attention to the road.

After an hour in tense silence, both occupants in the car were grateful to see the lights of LA in the distance.

When they reached the hotel, Angel parked with an abrupt stop and cut the engine.

Connor grabbed his pack out of the backseat but at a warning look from his father, left the weapons that lay on the floor and bolted from the car. Still enraged over his father’s assertion that he was a child and feeling a bit embarrassed that he’d been so easily cowed by his father’s anger, he slammed the door hard, breaking the window.

“You’ll fix that.” Angel warned, reaching behind him to retrieve the lethal looking knife, dried traces of Buffy’s blood still evident along the sharp edge, along with the axe before following his son into the hotel.

“Yeah, right.” Connor muttered under his breath as he crossed the lobby and made for the stairs.

“Connor.” Angel called out commandingly, his tone clearly implying that he would not accept anything less than complete conformance to his demand.

“What?” Connor snapped irritably, whirling around. He resented the fact that a trace of his earlier fear was rapidly returning. He watched as Angel carefully and deliberately laid the weapons that he carried on the counter.

“I said we’d talk about your trip to Sunnydale when we got home. We’re home.” Angel examined the knife one last time before he turned his attention back to his son, walking toward him slowly as he removed his coat. Casually, Angel tossed the long black duster on the back of a nearby chair. “I want an explanation.”

Connor’s chin lifted in defiance his eyes flashing rebelliously as Angel approached.

“Well?” Angel curtly demanded his cold gaze trained steadily on his son’s face.

“I told you already.” The young man replied sullenly, resentful at being brought home and treated like a recalcitrant child.

At the sound of voices Lorne sat up groggily from the chair where he had been dozing. He’d come in just a short while ago himself and had intended to wait up for Angel’s return when he’d fallen asleep. After a brief debate with himself as to whether he should make his presence known, he gave in to his nosy impulse and quietly sank back in the chair to listen.

“Yes, you did. Now tell me the truth.” Angel quietly replied his voice touched with anger.

“That was the truth!” Connor blurted heatedly, his fists clenching at his sides belligerently as he began to bob restlessly back and forth on the balls of his feet.

Angel raised a brow, his expression cold as he calmly surveyed his son. “Then why don’t I believe you?”

“How the fuck should I know what a *vampire* thinks?” Connor retorted contemptuously, his eyes now fierce with temper.

Silence fell between them for a long moment, Angel staring at his son contemplatively. Knowing that Connor was only seeking a reaction, something that would further justify his anger and hatred for him, he pushed his rage aside.

“Well, let’s just say that this *vampire* finds it hard to believe that you’d suddenly choose to avenge perceived wrongs done to me in the past, when you’ve always taken great pleasure in pointing out that those wrongs have been justly deserved because of the demon that I am.” Tucking his hands in his pockets, Angel paced around his son in a circle like a lethal jungle cat, barely restrained aggression evident in every line of his powerful frame. “Having you suddenly as my champion and against the Slayer… well, I find it more than a little peculiar.”

Connor stared back mutinously, clenching his fists. His lips curved mockingly as he angrily retorted, “Yeah, against the Slayer, Buffy Summers… your *mate*.”

Angel let the silence stretch between them for a moment before he once more advanced on Connor, stopping just in front of him. Words filled his head, jostling for prominence as his rage threatened to spill free. His eyes flashed golden as he worked to keep the demon inside him tightly leashed.

“Are you sure that this little ploy isn’t a cry for attention, Connor? Are you feeling neglected?” Angel asked softly, his voice touched with a hint of irony.

“I don’t want your attention any more than your *mate* does.” Connor spat hatefully, resenting his father’s continued insinuations the he was a child.

“I’m beyond disappointed in the man that you’ve allowed yourself to become.” Angel shook his head sadly, “I think you went to Sunnydale to hurt or maybe even try to kill Buffy because you thought it would hurt me. You wanted to harm an innocent woman for some misguided attempt at vengeance against *me*.”

“You deserve it!” Connor cried angrily, the hatred and resentment for his father that he’d nursed over the years threatening to burst forth.

“Maybe. That’s not for you to decide.” Shadows of gold flitted through Angel’s darkened eyes as he inclined his head in acknowledgement, too familiar with the crimes that he had committed as both man and demon. That didn’t change the fact that his son had attempted to murder Buffy, an infraction that could not go unpunished. “Nor is it even remotely acceptable that you risk harming others with your little schemes.”

“But-”

“Connor. Daddy isn’t finished yet.” Angel interrupted, grabbing Connor by the front of his shirt. When he continued, his voice lowered, the tone now chilling. “Now. We’re going to make some changes around here. We’re going to do things my way. And you, as much as it pains me to say this, you will either straighten up your act or I will personally see to it that you get the punishment you deserve.” He hated to take this firm of a stand with his son, but he saw no other way. It was long overdue.

Connor stared back defiantly but didn’t interrupt this time.

“Since I don’t want to turn an attempted murderer loose on the streets and since you’ve shown me that you’re a child that can’t be trusted, consider yourself grounded. You’ll remain in the hotel and either I, Gunn or Lorne will know where you are at all times. When you earn my trust again, we’ll talk about giving you more freedom.”

Connor regarded his father coldly, his eyes flashing angrily. He clutched the smooth edge of the furniture behind him. “Cordelia-”

“Is not an acceptable alibi as to your whereabouts.” Angel interjected, anticipating the direction of the young mans’ thoughts. He released Connor’s shirt and stepped back. “Now go to your room. I don’t want to see you again tonight.”

Connor stared at Angel’s back as he turned away, enraged at being so dismissed, furious at being talked to as if he were a child, and infuriated that his plan to strike out at his father and show off his physical prowess for Cordelia had been so easily curtailed.

“Damn you!” Connor sputtered as he whirled around and grabbed the first thing within reach: the vase of crimson lilies that he knew his father hated so much. He smiled maliciously as he heaved the flowers, striking Angel squarely in the back.

Angel’s knees buckled and he staggered slightly from the sharp biting pain as the vase slammed into his back and shattered. The acrid smell of blood filled his nostrils as the flowers burst into a thousand tiny bits, showering him with tiny glistening drops. He fell to his knees, howling in agony as the icy sensation ripped through him, the pain exploding in his chest in waves that were both excruciating and severe. As the scent of the familiar blood grew stronger, engulfing him, the demon inside him raged and his demonic countenance appeared. His own blood splattered and mixed with the slowly evaporating crimson shimmers as he fell face down on the marble floor, cracking open his head.

How cool the marble floor is, he thought, as if his life weren’t perhaps in danger, as if he had all the time in the world to consider the tactile sensation of the cool tile. The thought was fleeting however, as the excruciating pain was fast beginning to overwhelm the nerve endings in his brain. Before completely drifting into the dark sea of oblivion, he pleasantly recalled the vision of Buffy standing in the glow of the streetlight looking up at him with her green eyes, their mossy depths dark and enticing in the dim light. “Buffy…” It was his last thought before he lost consciousness.

Eyes wide with shock, Connor looked up over Angel’s prone form and right into Lorne’s angry face. He backed up slowly, panic fast overtaking him as the magnitude of what just happened sank into his consciousness. He expected at any moment that Angel would evaporate in a cloud of dust. He turned abruptly when he bumped into Gunn, standing just behind him on the steps with an angry scowl on his face, blocking his exit. Connor had no idea how long either of them had been there or how much they had heard; but they both obviously were not going to let him go. Nervously, he licked his lips and returned his gaze to his father, lying still and quiet on the lobby floor.

The next minute passed in horrified trepidation as the three of them waited for Angel to explode into ash, but with each second that ticked by, their confidence rose that their expectation would not, after all, come to pass.

While Lorne cautiously stepped forward to check on the vampire, Gunn promised Connor in a low voice that if Angel did not recover he would see to it personally that the young man spend a good part of his life locked in the cage in the basement of the hotel.

————————————————————-

Buffy woke with a start and sat up. She shivered as a cold chill abruptly raced down her spine, unbeknownst to her signifying the completion of the spell that she had initiated three years prior. When the disconcerting sensation subsided, Buffy shrugged a shapely shoulder and snuggled back down in her bed. Within minutes, the deep even breathing of sleep resumed and she returned to her dreams, unaware of what just happened at the Hyperion.

————————————————————-

At the sound of the door to Angel’s room opening and closing, Cordelia sprang up from the chair where she had been waiting for him to return. Checking her appearance in the mirror, she ran her fingers through her hair, tousling it, and applied a fresh coat of dark red lipstick. She smoothed a hand over the tight red peignoir she wore, now reassured of her appeal. Step one in Operation Reclaim Angel was to appeal to his baser instincts. If she could get back into his bed, the rest of the relationship would easily fall back into place.

She stopped short when she opened the door to his room only to find Gunn and Lorne laying Angel on his bed, Connor hovering nearby.

“What happened?” Recalling then that Angel had gone to Sunnydale to retrieve Connor, Cordelia’s eyes landed on her young lover. “Just what the hell did Buffy do to him?”

Connor’s eyes lit on Cordelia appreciably, taking in the sight of her lace-clad figure with her breasts threatening to topple out of the low-cut gown.

“She didn-” Gunn started, glancing at the blonde seer with disdain.

“She’s always trouble for him, that bitch. Trouble with a capital T.” Cordelia muttered, angry to have her plans for the night altered.

“But Connor-” Lorne turned, finally realizing that Cordelia had not been in the room when they entered with Angel but had come from somewhere nearby. His eyes drifted casually around the room, noting too the changes. Had someone happened between the couple that he wasn’t aware of? But then, she was in his room scantily clad…

“You! You had to go to Sunnydale didn’t you?” At Connor’s name, Cordelia whirled back to him, jabbing her finger in the air in his direction. “You just had to find little Miss Buffy slay-gal didn’t you?”

“I-” Connor

“Well – was she everything you thought she’d be? Are you in love with her now too?” Cordelia interject jealously, her features twisting into an angry mask.

“Cordelia, honey-lamb chop, calm down. Angel came back from his old neighborhood just fine.” Lorne soothed, putting his arm around the blonde seer and taking her hand.

“Then what happened?” Cordelia shrieked, shaking loose from the green demon as she was fast losing any attempt at calm.

“Connor here seemed to feel the need to throw the vase of odd and ever-appearing lilies at his father in temper-tantrum of sorts, and, well, let’s just say, I’m confident that Angel-cakes is more than allergic to the former botanical beauties.” The Host quipped, answering Cordelia’s question. “Of course, it would appear that we’ve finally figured out how to get rid of them.”

“What flowers? The lilies? What are you talking about?”

“Yes, my little éclair, *those* lilies.” Lorne replied with a nod.

“You did this to him?” Cordelia hissed, pinning Connor with an angry look. “How could you?!”

“I-” Connor stammered, uncertain of what to say and shocked that the love of his life was turning on him so unexpectedly. After all, he hadn’t known that Angel would have such a violent reaction to the flowers.

“How could you do that to your own father?” Cordelia shouted at Connor as she pointed to where Angel lay prone on the bed. “Come with me and tell me what happened.” Whirling around the seer made for the door. She wanted to talk to Connor alone and find out what happened in Sunnydale.

“He doesn’t leave my sight.” Gunn called out to them before they reached the door. “I told you that already, Connor. You either stay where I can see you or I lock you in the old cage in the basement. Your choice.”

“What?” Cordelia turned surprised eyes back to the man standing behind her, his arms crossed over his chest.

“I don’t trust him and until Angel wakes up, he’s not getting out of my sight. If Angel never wakes up, then I’m judge and jury and Connor goes to Hyperion State Penitentiary. It’s as simple as that.”

Cordelia pursed her lips in frustration at Gunn’s stance. In an aggrieved tone, she capitulated to his demand as she said, “Well, I’m sure Angel would trust me to watch his son *and* his back as well. Rest assured I won’t let him escape or attack Angel again.”

“No.” Gunn stood firm.

“Fine. But let me tell you Angel is not going to like hearing how you treated me.” Cordelia turned and stomped out of the room, stopping to grab Connor’s sleeve and drag him along with her. They stopped at the far end of the room, still in sight but not close enough for the others to hear them clearly.

“Did you find Buffy?” Cordelia whispered, anxious now to hear what happened with the blonde Slayer in Sunnydale.

“Yes.” Connor replied, his attention drifting to the tops of her breasts, which were now heaving in agitation.

“Connor. Stop that. They’ll know if you keep looking at me like that.” Cordelia admonished, glancing back to Angel’s bedroom where Gunn and Lorne now stood by the bed talking quietly. “Did Angel see her?”

“Yes.” Connor reflected back on the intense way that Angel had stared at the petite blonde.

“And? Don’t make me ask for every little detail. What did he say to her?” Cordelia questioned, wanting to know each and every word spoken between Angel and Buffy as if knowing would somehow help her in her quest to return to her former relationship with the handsome vampire.

“I dunno. He just stared at her a lot. He seemed mad at her about something.”

“Really?” Cordelia smiled broadly, delighting in the idea that the two star-crossed lovers would not be getting along, even now. “What?”

“I dunno. He just yelled something about what had she done to herself.” Connor muttered, annoyed already with her questions. He glanced over his shoulder to Angel’s bedroom. Lorne was watching them curiously.

“Oh? What had she done? Was she fat or what?”

“No. She looked like the picture pretty much. Longer hair maybe.” Connor replied distractedly. He was feeling considerable remorse of the events of the evening for reasons that were too difficult to understand, particularly with Cordelia in his face, grilling him about the girl.

“Humpf. Well, then what had she done?”

“Cordy, I told you I don’t know.” The young man replied in irritation.

“Well, what did she do when he said that? What did she say?”

“She hit him.”

“Really?” Cordelia beamed, pleased that there had been no touching reunion between vampire and Slayer.

“Yes.” Connor replied, the realization dawning that Cordelia – his love – had dressed in the tiny, sexy wisp of lace for his father. Not for him. Yet, she hadn’t been in *their* bed… It made no sense. In a pique of anger he couldn’t resist adding, “But then he just said something like ‘That’s my girl’.”

“Shit.” Cordelia muttered, her mind racing. She glanced over at Angel, still motionless on the bed. Her eyes returned to Connor’s face. “Why’d you hit him with the flowers? What were you thinking?”

“I dunno. It just happened. I was mad. I threw them. I didn’t know they were magic or whatever.” Connor replied with annoyance as he turned to walk back to his father’s bedroom. He was tired of this game of 20 questions, irritated by the reminder that his girl shared her sexual favors with his father, and worried – although he wouldn’t admit it – about the vampire.

“Connor.” Cordelia whispered, grabbing Connor’s shoulder to stop him. “Listen. You, me, us. It’s over. I realized that I really … love Angel and I need to make things right with him. It was fun – our little fling and all – but, well, you understand.”

Connor’s eyes widened with surprise at her words. He was unable to mask the hurt on his face at her blunt words. “What? What do you mean?”

“What I said. It’s over. Now scram, okay?” Cordelia gritted her teeth and said softly, smiling as Lorne approached her with one of Angel’s shirts. Raising her voice, the seer continued, “And don’t ever let me hear you talk about your father like that again. I’ll throw your ass out on the street.”

“Here sweets, you must be cold.” Lorne draped the shirt over Cordelia’s shoulders, glancing at Connor who shot Cordelia a hurt look before walking back into Angel’s bedroom. “He’s strong, that vampire of yours. I’m sure he’ll be okay.”

“Oh, Lorne. I hope so.” Cordelia turned to look at the Host with a worried expression, the two of them following Connor back into Angel’s bedroom where the vampire still lay quietly on the bed.

————————————————————-

Angel made his way rapidly through the streets of LA, urgency drumming through his every nerve as he hurried toward his destination. The tall brick building was familiar, as were the people that he passed now at a near run. As they had always done before in his dreams, they watched and whispered as he past them by but he paid no attention, his sole thought to get to her before it was too late.

When he reached the door between the blue lights, he yanked it open without slowing and pushed his way inside. He wasted no time in working his way to the back of the room, straight to the blue glass cage.

It was just as he had remembered; the glass base and top were covered with tiny white crystals, sparkling brightly; the surrounding bars were icy, clear and thick. Only this time, there was no girl inside for the blue light to shine upon; there was only a single crimson lily.

He stepped closer, reaching through the bars toward the flower as if somehow to touch it would confirm what his eyes were seeing: that she wasn’t there. When his fingertips grazed the stem, a chill swept down his spine. When he grasped the flower, he gasped, the icy bite of the stem in his palm sharp and piercing. The flower then seemed to explode in a cloud of shimmering drops, leaving behind only a few traces that it had existed at all: drops of deep red blood stark against the pristine white snowy-like crystals that lined the bottom of the cage.

Angel reached up to grasp the icy bars, yanked on them in frustration as he stared into the empty cage. Without realizing it, his features had morphed into his demonic countenance, a single drop of blood falling from his fangs onto the crystal floor. As he howled with rage and pain, a chill wind swept over him, a wind as bleak as his thoughts and he damned himself to hell a thousand different ways for ever being foolish enough to let her go. For the first time since he’d left her, he felt completely and entirely alone.

The stabbing cold eventually numbed his fingers and arms, forcing him to let go, to move, to go back to the hotel …back to his life which now seemed utterly empty. Speaking softly into the icy wind and silent blue-lit platform as he lowered his arms, his visage returning to his human face, he murmured, “Buffy…you’re not gone forever… right, sweetheart?” No reassuring reply returned, only the continued wailing of the wind and the faint fluttering of a few sparkling iridescent crystal slivers.

————————————————————-

Angel’s eyelids fluttered at the touch of the cool cloth on his face. He could hear Amelia crying close by, the sound rivaled by Cordelia’s voice reverberating through the room in shrieking bursts alternated with Lorne’s low whispers.

The first thing he saw as the room came into focus above him was Fred’s face, hovering over him anxiously. A hasty scanning look assured him that he was in his own room, in his own bed. His last memory had been talking with Connor in the lobby of the hotel…

“Oh thank god you’re all right.” Fred said softly dabbing at his face with the cloth, her brown eyes full of worry. “We were so worried.”

Angel pushed her hand away as he struggled to sit up. What had happened? How long had he been out? Glancing at the clock he noted the time: 6: 45 am. It had been two hours since he and Connor had arrived at the hotel. Somehow, two hours had slipped away from him.

“Angel? You okay, man?” Gunn stopped next to his wife, looking at his friend and co-worker with concern as he patted the back of the still crying baby he held over his shoulder. He’d missed most of what happened, waking only minutes before to the sound of loud voices in the hotel lobby and arriving just in time to see Connor throw the flowers as Angel turned away.

Connor slowly rose from his crouched position against the wall, his eyes wide with apprehension. He’d spent the last two hours vacillating between bitter anguish that Cordelia had dismissed him so readily from her life and agonizing, unexpected worry that Angel might never wake. Now he was facing the stark reality that deep down he actually did care about his father; the feelings were vague and unformed, but there just the same. He wasn’t ready to face the absolute finality of Angel’s death – or rather the snuffing out of his unlife, as much as he thought that that was what he wanted all along. He knew that Holtz would be disappointed in him, but somehow that mattered less right now than the fact that it appeared that his father was apparently all right.

“Yeah. Fine.” Angel’s voice was low, emotionally charged. He rubbed his hands across his eyes as he attempted to make sense of what had happened.

“Oh my god, Angel. You’re all right!” Cordelia pushed past Lorne, then shoved Gunn and Fred aside to launch herself on the bed. She threw herself at Angel, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck and dramatically weeping on his shoulder. “I was so worried.”

Lorne smiled, touched at the seer’s obvious concern for what he still believed to be her significant other. “There was powerful magic on those flowers, Angel-pie, of that there is no doubt.”

Angel met Lorne’s eyes over Cordelia’s head as he attempted to shake the clinging woman loose. “Cordelia, let go.” Irritably, he grasped her arms and untangled her, forcibly pushing her away from him.

“Oh Angel, I was so worried. When Gunn and Lorne brought you up stairs, I just nearly died.” Cordelia shrilly exclaimed, reluctantly releasing her hold and standing next to the bed.

Angel glanced thoughtfully around the room, his eyes coming to a rest on Connor.

Sheepishly, Connor looked at the floor, ashamed to meet his father’s eyes.

It came back to him in that instant – the flowers hitting him, the excruciating icy pain, the overwhelming scent of blood… Buffy’s blood. His dream.

Gradually Angel became aware that he felt… changed. He was used to the utter stillness of his own body, but this was something different. It wasn’t as drastic as the loss of his soul, and yet it was strangely similar. Something was missing… something that had been ripped from him painfully. It was as if some subconsciously relied on sense of comfort, some underlying sense of confidence or feeling of well-being were … gone.

Angel’s head came up with a snap. He kicked at the blanket draped over his lower body. “Phone. Where’s my phone?”

“What?” Cordelia glanced at Angel with consternation, putting her hands on her hips.

“Give me the damn phone.” Angel swung his legs over the bed and scanned the room for his coat. His cell phone was in the pocket. Both of which were still downstairs.

“Here.” Gunn tossed Angel his own phone, picking up on the obvious unease and frustration in the vampire’s voice.

“Thanks.” Angel caught the phone, immediately dialing the number he had long since memorized. He stared at the floor as the phone rang and rang, each ring ratcheting up the level of anxiety and trepidation that was threatening to consume him.

“Hello.”

“Buffy?” Angel released an unneeded breath of relief. He’d thought that Buffy had… that she was … gone. He’d only felt this strange emptiness once before and that had been when she had been taken from her life – and from him – so abruptly all those years ago by Glory.

After a long pause, Buffy sleepily questioned. “Angel?”

“Are you all right?” He asked softly, savoring the sound of her voice.

“Yes. Sleepy.” Buffy yawned, curious about the early morning call after last night’s events. The cuts Connor inflicted were not bad enough to really warrant a follow up call, but she should have known that Angel was not the type to leave well enough alone. Of course, he seemed… relieved, not challenging or angry has he had been or as she might have expected. “What’s up?”

Glancing up, Angel suddenly realized that there were now 4 pairs of eyes trained on him with intense interest. “Uh, nothing.”

In a sudden flash, the pieces began to fall into place. The flowers. The missing mark. The tattoo-like vine on her finger. The dream. Magic. Buffy’s blood was on the flowers. The lilies were somehow part of whatever very powerful magic spell that Buffy must have used to sever the connection between them. Their bond… it was now broken.

“Nothing?” The confusion in her voice was obvious as she reiterated his word. ” Are you all right? You didn’t hit your head on the way back or something, did you?”

“Can I call you later?” Angel glanced up once again at the curious faces. He wanted to talk to her, but he didn’t want an audience to do so.

After a long moment, Buffy finally replied. “Uh, okay I guess. Why?”

“I need to talk to you.”

“Sure, okay.” She replied matter-of-factly, once more pleased at her ability to deal with Angel objectively, without the emotional baggage that she had carried with her for so long.

“When? I mean, what’s a good time?” Angel glanced up again, noting Cordelia’s scowl and Lorne’s puzzled expression. Connor was looking at the floor and Gunn was taking in the whole scene with a bemused expression. Fred had taken the hungry Amelia into the other room to feed her.

“Well, I usually get home around 7 and then I’m home until I go on patrol around 10, so anytime between there.” Buffy replied, her voice somewhat muffled as she moved the phone around. The muffled sound of feet padding across the floor was followed by the hum of running water.

A vision of Buffy, wearing only her robe with her hair rumpled from sleep, running water in the kitchen to make coffee or tea in preparation to start her day rose agreeably in his mind. He smiled slightly. “I’ll call you tonight then, okay.”

“Fine. Bye.” The phone when dead as Buffy hung up.

Angel, his expression thoughtful, clicked off the phone and handed it back to Gunn.

The lilies must have been part of whatever powerful magic spell that Buffy had used to somehow break the bond between them. A part of him had known instinctively to avoid them; perhaps he detected the scent of her blood on them or perhaps somehow he just knew.

Their bond had been something that he carried inside him; it reassured and comforted him, it gave him confidence and strength and, more than anything, it had made him believe that he could be more than what he had been. It was part of what Angelus had so resented about her – that she made him feel human. But now it was gone.

When had the flowers shown up in the hotel? 2 years now? 3? And why had she done it? Why then? Was it permanent? Did he have a chance to repair the damage that he had done to their relationship, to make things right? Angel’s mind whirled with question.

Willow. He needed to talk to the most likely person that would have helped Buffy with such a spell.

“Angel, what the hell was that all about?” Cordelia demanded, drawing his attention back to her. “Just what happened last night?”

“Nothing.” Angel sighed, tired already of her shrieking and insistent demands even though he knew from experience that she had only just begun. “It’s nothing.”

“Well, everyone’s in here acting like they thought you were going to die. Damn it, Angel, you can’t just dismiss it like it’s nothing.” Cordelia demanded impatiently. In her apprehension of the last hour while Angel lay motionless on his bed, she had never lost sight of her reason for being here. He had to live, not just because without him she would no longer receive her visions, but because she had to allied with him, a true and chosen warrior, in order to stay in this dimension.

“I’m fine.” Angel interrupted, glancing at Connor who appeared repentant and mortified. Not to mention … wounded. “Thanks for your concern, everyone, but I’m fine now. I would like talk to Connor for a few minutes alone.”

“You sure?” Gunn looked coldly at Connor before his eyes returned to Angel’s. He didn’t trust the young man after what he’d seen and what Fred had told him.

“There’s nothing magic or heavy for him to hurl at my head, so I think we’ll be fine. Right, Connor?” Angel quirked a brow in question at his son as he rose from the bed.

Connor nodded, tucking his hands in his pocket.

“I don’t think you should be alone with him, Angel. What if he has a stake?” Cordelia viciously retorted. Since step one in Operation Reclaim Angel had been diverted, she’d switch to her next step in the plan, which was to prove her love and loyalty to him in no uncertain terms. And that included ceasing her affair with his son, no matter how enjoyable that relationship had been for her. She never once stopped to think that she might actually be hurting her young lover in the process; that simply had never crossed her mind. “I’ll stay here with you.”

Angel nodded at Gunn who followed Lorne out the door. “It’s not your concern, Cordelia. Now get out.”

“But-” Her eyes widened in surprise as the vampire ushered her quickly and efficiently to the door. Once more Cordelia found herself outside Angel’s bedroom with the door closed firmly in her face. And once more, she let out a few choice expletives before stomping out of the room.

“Now Connor,” Angel turned back to his son. “I think we should talk.”

————————————————————-

Hours later Angel emerged from his room, refreshed from a few hours of sleep and a shower, all effects from the earlier impact of the flowers fast becoming a distant memory. He and Connor had talked for a while that morning, not resolving their differences but finding some common ground to at least begin mending their broken relationship. Nothing had changed from their earlier conversation, however, and Connor had accepted his punishment of being confined to the hotel and had been in his room ever since.

Now sitting at his desk, Angel shuffled through his messages and returned a few calls for their various cases before turning his attention to personal matters. Fred had found Willow’s number for him earlier, and had left it on his desk along with his other messages and several case files before she and Gunn had gone out to dinner.

Angel turned the slip of paper over in his hand a few times, before he finally worked up the nerve and reached for the phone.

“Hello.”

“Willow?” Angel asked, somewhat taken off guard when she answered on the first ring. Even though he hadn’t heard her voice in years, he would have recognized it. She still sounded exactly the same.

“Yes? Who is this?” Willow replied, a touch of curiosity in her voice.

“Angel.”

“Angel?”

“Yes.” Angel murmured softly, feeling somewhat transported back to the years in Sunnydale at hearing the titan haired girl’s voice again. Only now she would no longer be a girl.

“What do you want?” Willow asked coolly, her voice unwelcoming.

“I- It’s about Buffy.” Angel hesitantly posed, not sure where to begin and somewhat surprised at Willow’s unfriendly tone. Of all of Buffy’s friends, she had been the most accepting of him, the most encouraging and supportive of their relationship.

“And?”

“I need your help. I want to know what she did. What magic she used to … I’m not sure exactly. Somehow she broke the bond between us. I don’t know how or why…”

“Why should I help you?” Willow interrupted bluntly.

Angel was a bit taken aback at Buffy’s best friend’s candid question. “Well, I-”

“Why would I help you with anything? You’ve done nothing but hurt her. If she’d done anything to break the bond between you, then I say good for her. If you need help with something, then why don’t you go to your superficial saint, Cordelia, Ms. higher power, the new love of your eternal life, and ask her? I mean, she should know everything right? She works for the damn powers. Maybe she can be good for something besides leading a gullible and senseless champion for good off the righteous path. Wait – this probably doesn’t involve money or a vision so perhaps she can’t help you.”

“Um-” Angel wasn’t sure how to respond to the former wicca’s statements and accusations. Honestly, he had no idea that anyone in Sunnydale knew so much about his life now – or at least how it had been these last years.

“Just because something’s pretty and glowy, Angel, that doesn’t make it good. Or safe. Or even right. You should know, things aren’t always as they appear. But then again, you’re always one to believe any claim from the selfish and evil ones so I doubt things will change very much for you.”

“Willow -” Angel began, wanting to explain, to somehow try to defend himself and his actions. Of course, other than admitting that he’d been incredibly shortsighted and most likely selfish, he had no excuses.

“Goodbye Angel.” Willow hung up the phone without waiting for his response.

Angel cursed softly. What now? He had suspected that working his way back into Buffy’s life wasn’t going to be exactly easy but he hadn’t expected to be so firmly shut down by her best friend. No matter. He wasn’t anywhere close to even considering giving up yet. But he needed to find out what she had done.

Nikkos! Of course! He’d know about spells like this. Angel rifled through his desk in search of the phone number for Magos Exousia. Not finding it immediately on hand, he dialed information.

He asked for the number and jotted it down before waiting impatiently for the call to be connected.

The phone picked up on the second ring and Nikkos’s voice sounded. “Hello.”

“Nikkos-”

“Magos Exousia will be closed until the 15th for an extended holiday. Thank you for your continued patronage and we will see you all in the new year. Kala Christouyenna and Eutychismenos ho! (Merry Christmas & Happy New Year).”

Angel dropped the phone back in the cradle with a resounding thud. Was he not going to get a break? He guessed that now he’d just have to go to the source: Buffy. He glanced at the clock. It was only 5 pm. He headed to the training room. It would not only kill some time, but it would help to burn off some of the nervous energy making him edgy and restless.

————————————————————-

Just after 8 pm, Angel once more picked up the phone. He dialed Buffy’s number and waited anxiously for her to answer.

“Hello.”

“Buffy.”

“Angel.” Buffy paused, curious and little bit unnerved that Angel had insisted on calling. After a long moment of silence, she asked. “So what’s up?”

“I wanted to apologize about last night. About Connor. And for my own behavior.” Angel briefly toyed with the paperweight on his desk before sitting it down and turning his full attention on their conversation.

“Hey – no big. Thanks for the apology though. I can see you’ve pretty much got your hands full with him. He’s rather feisty. Bit of an attitude too. Course have you tried giving him a good ass-kicking? I’m pretty sure it’s not child abuse when he’s – well, as old as Connor appears to be.”

“It has crossed my mind.” Angel smiled slightly at Buffy’s ramble. He’d forgotten how endearing that trait had been, how absolutely adorable she was when she trailed to a halt from one of her various conversation tangents with a slightly self-conscious expression on her face.

“How are you?” Angel asked softly, wanting to hear her voice, wanting to get to know her all over again.

After some hesitation, Buffy warmed up to their conversation. They talked for a while about various mundane topics; Dawn, Sunnydale, LA, slaying.

They’d been talking for little over an hour when Angel blurted, “Can I see you?”

“What do you mean – see me?” Buffy replied after a brief pause, her voice tinged with reservation.

“Giles was here recently. He told me something that I wanted to tell you.” Angel answered, suddenly grateful that he hadn’t yet used his original excuse for getting in touch with her.

Silence hung between them, Buffy indecisive as she pondered why Giles might have come all the way to LA recently and not visited Sunnydale; what he might possibly have said to Angel.

“And I really don’t want to do it over the phone. Please?” Angel entreated softly after waiting for what seemed like an interminably long pause in which Buffy didn’t answer his question.

“Okay.” Buffy softly agreed. Even though their earlier conversation had been warm and friendly, she wasn’t sure that any further contact between then was necessary or even a good idea. Of course, he hadn’t suggested anything more than sharing information. It wasn’t like it was a date or something. He’d probably even bring Cordelia. They could all catch up on old times. “When?”

“How’s Saturday?” Angel glanced at the calendar. Saturday was New Years Eve. Damn. The next thought that crossed his mind was entirely unwelcome – what if she had a date?

“Saturday’s good.” Buffy replied automatically, rarely occupied with social engagements. She rarely went out on dates anymore, having found so few men that interested her beyond more than just casual conversation that she’d pretty much swore off the whole dating scene. Anya of course still pushed, she so did the occasional blind date to keep them pacified and happy, but she was busy with her job at the school and with patrolling at night, which didn’t give her a lot of free time to ruminate on the lack of a partner. When sexual urges were an issue, she had Mr. Happy, as she had affectionately named her pink vibrator.

“Buffy?” Angel’s voice startled her out of her reverie.

“Damn.” Buffy glanced at the calendar. Oops. Anya had insisted that she join the gang at the Bronze for their New Year’s festivities and Buffy had reluctantly agreed. “You know that’s New Years Eve, right?”

“Yes.” Angel replied, not especially concerned with the particular date as much as he was in seeing Buffy again.

“Why don’t we meet at the Bronze? It’s probably easiest.” Buffy suggested. A group setting was probably best now that she thought of it; she wouldn’t be required to make uncomfortable small talk with Cordelia and she could hear whatever Angel wanted to say then make her excuses and leave. No awkward moment at midnight while she was alone amidst all the kissing couples; her friends would be understanding that she wouldn’t want to see her ex with his new love so for once they wouldn’t badger her about the acceptability of this or that guy as her new potential love. She didn’t need to tell them that Angel’s new life no longer bothered her, rather she’d be grateful for the excuse to escape from more of her friends sweet but feeble attempts to force her into a ‘normal’ life. A life that everyone seemed to want for her, but her. Meeting at the Bronze was perfect.

“What time?”

“Um, ten or so?”

“Perfect.” Angel smiled, relieved that he’d gotten what he wanted: an opportunity to see her in person and begin his campaign to win her back.

“See you then. Bye, Angel.” Buffy hung up the phone, her curiosity piqued.

Angel stared thoughtfully at the phone as he clicked it off, a faint smile still playing on his lips.

As man or demon he’d never failed to charm, captivate and eventually seduce any woman that had attracted his interested eye. In fact, most had been absurdly easy. It wasn’t masculine bragging, just the plain truth.

With Buffy, he’d always felt a sense of restraint in courting her; initially because of her age and her inexperience, later because of his own misguided reservations about her duty and eventually because of the curse. Now that none of those were an issue he could pursue her unimpeded.

Angel stood, walking toward the stairs as he contemplated his upcoming trip to Sunnydale. He couldn’t get back the years he wasted, he mused, but there was still plenty of time for a leisurely seduction…