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Beloved – Chapter 2 – Ties That Bind
Two Days Later – William’s First Birthday
Angel could almost imagine the past three and a half years hadn't happened. That the baby cooing behind him was Connor; the woman laughing and making him smile was Cordelia. The illusion fell apart when he turned around and it was Nina, playing with Will.
He loved Nina, he really did. She was gorgeous, talented, an out of control demon locked away for three days a month, and willing to put up with raising and loving a child that wasn't her own., everything a souled vampire could hope for in a woman and yet...
Then she smiled at him and his still heart suffused with warmth. Angel wrapped his arms around Nina’s shoulders, placing butterfly kisses along the side of her neck. She sputtered a bit, but turned her head slightly, finding his lips and allowing herself to get lost for a moment before remembering the task at hand.
"Oh you wicked demon!” Nina laughed, swatting at her fiancé with a floury spatula. “Don't you try and distract me, mister. You know I've still got a birthday cake to try and bake!"
“How about forgetting the cake altogether,” he wheedled. “…and slipping away for a quickie before...”
Nina’s good mood abruptly vanished. “That’s enough, Angel. We've been through this before - it's Will's first birthday, and it's going to be acknowledged. By you! In all the ways a first birthday is celebrated, and that includes a cake made by his mother and time spent with his father. Now get out of here and let me bake - before I think not so very fond thoughts of you. Like wouldn't it be nice if Angel slept on the couch for a change? And take Will with you. He doesn’t need to be cooped up in his highchair watching me when he has a perfectly unencumbered father to play with.”
Seeing that he wasn’t getting anywhere in his quest for a little morning fun-time with his now unhappy fiancée, Angel relented and grabbed Will from his highchair. “Come on, bratling. Let’s go see if they’ve made any progress with freeing Buffy.”
He didn’t notice the scowl on Nina’s face, nor hear the soft growl that escaped her tightly clenched lips.
Angel turned toward the sound of voices coming down the main stairway.
"I still don't understand why you couldn't have come sooner, Willow. It's not like you to take the long way around things."
Willow didn't answer, apparently caught in a memory.
"Willow?" “Giles snapped his fingers, trying to rouse his companion.
Startled, the witch nearly dropped her armload of books. "Th-that’s not the way I do things anymore, Giles, and you know it. Because I used to make that mistake in judgment all the time, and I know now it would have been wrong. There was no reason for you to teleport, either. Who knows what magicks are in place around Buffy to keep her statuefied? Even a simple teleportation spell could have been disastrous for her."
Giles reached out to gently grasp her shoulder. "Now you know what happened with Kennedy wasn't really your fault," he said, kindly.
"Wasn't it? Ken told me to stay back – that there was no need for magic – but I knew better than her." Willow made her way down the stairs, putting her books down in front of Buffy. "She told me magic would not only be useless, it would be dangerous. But I was so sure that I could protect my woman that I really didn’t pay her much heed. I was confident in my abilities, and that was it, so I pretty much blocked out what Kennedy was saying. I knew I could do this and it almost ended up costing Ken her life."
Angel trembled from the intensity of the pain in her voice. He put Will down in his playpen and sat next to him, quietly watching the story unfold before him.
"She might never get out of that wheelchair because of my arrogance," Willow insisted.
Amazement showed on the Watcher's weary face. "I don't believe this," he murmured. "How many years did I try and bash that into your pretty head and get nothing but sarcasm and disdain for all my efforts? Care and respect for all things magical, I preached. And Tara, too, tried to get you to temper your reckless use of magic. When did the student finally outshine the teacher?"
"When Kennedy refused to even look at me after... the incident. I still tried to make excuses, make apologies... Ken was the first person who didn't let me get away with them." Willow ignored his outraged splutters and looked around for Angel, spotting him towards the back of the room with Will.
"The first one…?" Giles snorted. "Nevermind that nonsense. We're both – all – here now, and need to get on with rescuing Buffy. Angel... should we set up right here in the lobby, or perhaps move this to a more secure location?"
"The lobby'll be fine. Just try not to set the place on fire. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had to redecorate thanks to spells going whacko. "
Giles didn't have a clue as to what the vampire was going on about and Angel wasn't about to go into details. Memories of the bloody pentagon on the lobby floor and the temporal rift he’d opened haunted him still.
Angel watched the proceedings half-heartedly. It couldn't be this easy; a spell. He knew the way his unlife went that something had to happen to make things hellish.
Willow began by sprinkling herbs in a carefully formed circle around Buffy and then dressed the herbs with some kind of liquid while Giles struck the small, animal skin-covered drum with the flat of his hand that he’d requisitioned from Council resources whenever she paused.
Suddenly, the lobby doors burst open, revealing Gunn and his very pregnant wife, Anne, loaded down with balloons, brightly wrapped presents, and shopping bags from a local restaurant.
"Yo, Angel! Time to get this party started, bro. Where's my little monkey-boy?"
"Ucca! Ucca!" Happy shrieks rang from the back of the lobby.
"There’s my birthday boy!" Gunn called out as he strode towards the child, passing all other goings on with a blind eye.
Will pulled himself up on the mesh side of the playpen and held out his hands for Gunn to pick him up. The father-to-be put down his packages and snatched the child from his nest, delight shining from his warm brown eyes as Will patted him about the face. He laughed as he set the boy down, watching as Will took one unsteady step, then another, while in the background Willow started to chant and Giles just... beat his drum.
"Ucca! " Will called out as his bottom hit the floor. There was something to be said for the cushioning of diapers on a soft human tush.
A flash went off as Gunn enveloped the boy in his broad arms, hugging Will to his chest. Anne quietly took pictures to record the day for posterity.
Angel rolled his eyes. "Ucca," his vampire ass. Only one year old and Will already knew exactly who to take advantage of. The fact that Gunn always brought some kind of gift for the brat didn't really help matters, either. Nothing big – just a bit of candy; a small cereal box type toy – just something for Will to play with for a few seconds before he was pulled in by some other shiny bit.
"Damn it, Gunn," Angel fumed. "You know I didn't want this. He's just a baby. He doesn't have the slightest clue what all the fuss is about. Not to mention we have other, more important things going on right now and can't afford the disruption."
"More important than a first birthday? Man, you must be joking. Hell, my dad saved for months to have a decent birthday cake when Alonna turned one. See, Anne? I told you Big and Broody wouldn't bother." Gunn snorted, digging his fingers gently into Will's belly, eliciting happy giggles. "Good thing the vamp has friends, or he'd fade into the woodwork."
Anne just smiled, making Angel wonder how she could even look at William. Hadn't he tried to kill her once? It grated on his nerves until he couldn’t contain himself any longer.
"I'm sure Gunn's told you exactly who it is you're both fawning over, Anne," he pushed. "Right? Wasn't I there during that vampire club disaster you were involved in? Didn't Spike rip a chunk out of your throat?" he sneered. "I just don't get all this lovey dovey devotion to a monster."
The woman looked at him with pity in her eyes. "That's the problem, isn't it, Angel? You still see that sweet little boy as Spike, the evil vampire. He’s just William, a one year old innocent baby. He's been given another chance to live a good life. When will you get that? When will you give him the chance everyone else has?"
Angel turned away from her, unable to answer… even though he knew she was right.
The chanting and drum beating grew louder, finally seeming to attract Gunn's attention. "What's up with the witch doctors? Trying to bring your pottery to life?" he chuckled, still looking more at William than Angel.
"It's not pottery" Angel grumbled, turning back to Giles. If he'd been wearing his coat, it would have swirled around like a bullfighter’s cape.
"Where's Nina?" Gunn asked.
Angel shrugged. "She's in the kitchen, wasting time trying to bake a cake."
Putting Will back into his playpen, Gunn gathered the party supplies and handed them to his wife. Anne smiled, dropped a kiss on Will’s forehead and went into the kitchen to join her friend.
"All right, let's see what's got your undies in a bunch." Gunn walked over to the statue, staying out of Willow's and Giles' way, taking care not to mess up the herb circle surrounding the statue.
Angel was about to warn him to steer clear, when am explosion sounded.
"Presenti! Presenti! Fuoriesca la vostra prigione di pietra.!"* Willow’s voice rang loud and determined throughout the lobby as flames jumped up along the herbed circle around Buffy.
Crap! After he’d specifically asked her not to set the lobby on fire.
"Whoa, guys. Wasn't gonna take your toys away. So who's the statue of, anyway, and why the hoo-doo voo-doo?"
"Her name is Buffy," Angel replied softly, his attention focused on the marble statue; his eyes full of hope and trepidation as the emerald flames grew ever higher and brighter
"What the hell kind of name is Bu... no! You dawg! You have a son, a fiancée willing to take you both on, and you're still pinin' over the ex?"
"It's not like that,” Angel insisted. “She's trapped inside of the stone... the Immortal’s responsible. If that were Fred, wouldn't you do the same?"
Gunn looked at Angel as if he’d grown a third head.
"She's still alive, damn it, but stone. Giles and Willow are trying to release her."
Gunn stuck his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "Cool. I’m gonna go play with Willy-boy. You have fun bringin' back Barbie."
Angel stared down at the ground, looking past William and Gunn - not really seeing the boy at all as he babbled to his stuffed animals, blocks and his “Ucca”. Trying to reconcile the different parts of his life gave him a headache. On the one hand, he’d been relatively happy. Nina was good for him. She brought life and a bit of color into his otherwise black and white world.
Then there was Spike... William. Damn it, he still couldn't find the fairness in this deal. Another twenty years where William Pratt was totally dependent on his good graces, even moreso than the first time around.
And nobody wanted to cut him any slack. Anne was unbelievable, forgetting that Spike nearly caused her death... just like... no, he could barely say it. Buffy would never let him get that close. She was just war-stressed when she said he was in her heart.
It's not like she'd cared all that much about his life, if she did. She never would have made him wear that amulet, otherwise. She’d used him just like any other ant in an army. Cannon fodder. Let him take out some of the vamps and then distract him long enough that he wouldn't try to escape while he still had the chance.
Angel didn't bother to think that if Buffy were capable of acting that way, she wouldn't be half the woman he'd thought she was. Nor did he stop and think for one moment that he'd been willing to sacrifice himself in that same Hellmouth. He wondered if the amulet would have dusted him the way it did Spike. Since it was meant for him in the first place, surely he'd have survived it, right? Being the better vamp? He didn't even want to think about Spike's second… no, third death. The one where he'd almost respected the bastard, right before he stole everything Angel had ever cared about.
It just felt like his soul wasn't his only curse. Maybe this was the powers' way to keep him from feeling perfectly happy ever, ever again. Maybe he should celebrate this birthday, he mused. One year closer to getting rid of the bastard.
Buffy felt the oddest buzzing sensation throughout her body – sort of like everything had fallen asleep. Very different from the periods of feeling nothing.
Last thing she remembered was Angel stomping out of the room in a tizzy, and now the room was full of other people making noise. If she concentrated, she could hear a drum banging close by, and... Willow? Some foreign phrases... oh goody, must be some kind of magic. That always goes well.
She suddenly found herself surrounded by a ring of green flames. She wanted to scream for help, but of course was unable to do so.
The drumbeat intensified and Giles came into sight.
"Help me!" she screamed. She didn't realize her words echoed in the room around her.
The sound of Buffy's voice had all the adults turn immediately towards the statue. No change - still a solid piece of marble. Giles continued to beat his drum, albeit gently and continuously. Willow's chanting was so low as to be nearly indiscernible.
"Please, it hurts." sounded again; the words came out almost mangled. It wasn't until Angel smelled blood, that he looked at Will and noticed the boy’s nose was bleeding heavily. "Please, stop!" Hazel eyes – Buffy’s eyes – looked up at him from a teary face that usually sported blue.
As he reached for the boy, the tiny figure seized, convulsions wracking his small frame. Angel grabbed him before the boy could hurt himself falling.
"Please... stop!" Will cried again, Buffy's voice issuing from the boy’s lips.
As Will's oddly colored eyes rolled back into his head, he went limp; a strong smell of ammonia assaulting Angel's sense of smell as he lost control of his bladder, almost overpowering the coppery tinge of the boy's blood.
In the background, the sound of shattering glass was heard.
He heard Gunn running into the lobby, Anne screaming, wind whipping up all around them and all Angel could do was hold on to Will and try to keep him safe, keep him from hurting himself as the spasms hit harder and closer together.
It took quite a lot of strength to hold onto the baby. For a moment, Angel forgot he resented Will, and hoped the spasms wouldn't hurt his frail human body
Hearing Buffy's voice crying "Stop, please!" from Will's mouth as he shook and bled had driven all rational thought from Angel's mind.
“Hang on, kid,” Angel growled, holding Will tighter to his chest. “Don’t you dare leave me, boy.”
He barely registered Gunn's frantic shouts of "Damn it! Somebody stop that danged spell!" in the background, until the wind finally slowed, and Will's body was lax in his arms once more; the boy's bloody nose slowing to a trickle before the bleeding stopping altogether.
"What the hell was that?" Angel yelled. Nina clung to his arm, just as shocked as he was.
"Oh, Goddess!" Willow exclaimed, running over to the crowd around the playpen. "Is he all right?"
"No thanks to you." Angel held the boy close. He wasn't even sure why he cared so much. All he knew was that his boy had been hurt. Nobody under his protection got hurt. Not anymore.
"But... but... you begged me to try and save Buffy! That's all I did," the witch insisted. "The baby wasn't part of the spell at all. Honest!" She reached out to stroke Will's forehead, smoothing the sweat-soaked hair from his eyes.
"I know you all hated Spike, but he's an innocent now." Angel found himself practically growling "Anyone that tries to harm him, deals with me. Get it?"
Giles stepped in front of the irate vampire. "Come now, old man. Be reasonable. If you're talking about hatred towards Spike, you lead the bandwagon. Willow's done nothing wrong - I checked and double checked her spell before we began." Brow furrowed with thought, he continued. "Maybe there's something else involved here - some kind of tie or link that's allowed Buffy to speak through the boy?"
"What link could he possibly have with her? Even vampires don't put that much emphasis on sex."
"Angel, I'm trying to cover all possibilities here," the Watcher placated. "As much as I hate to admit it, myself, Spike and Buffy shared a very intimate..."
"...relationship, and I'm not referring to their sexual trysts. The year leading up to Spike's sacrifice on the Hellmouth was intense, to say the least. I'd lectured Buffy on their emotional ties and dependent nature ad infintum, though you can imagine how well that went over."
"Maybe we can try it again." Willow whispered. She backed off when Angel glared at her, but opened her mouth again. "We could be more careful, check over the spell or something, but this way we could at least try to communicate with Buffy. Maybe she knows of some way to save her?"
Willow almost broke off before she was halfway through the sentence. "We wouldn't do it if it hurt the boy, but... if there's some kind of connection..."
"Get out!" Angel dropped into gameface. "Now!"
Nina laid her hand on her fiance's arm, trying to gentle him. "Give me the baby, hon. I need to bathe him and change his clothes. You need to calm down and work things out with your friends."
With a whimper as Nina reached out for him, Will's eyes opened, normal blue coloration showing once more.
"Mama," he whined, then joyfully as if he'd just discovered the most fun thing in the world, he repeated the word over and over again. “Mama! Mamamamamamamama,” he babbled.
Nina just giggled with him, tickling his tummy as they went up the stairs. Angel couldn't help stare after both of them. Mama - the mother of his son. For that instant, even though it wouldn't last, Nina was the only woman that mattered to him and just the idea of having a little family felt like heaven.
He shook his head to clear the fantasy image from his mind. "I - I'm sorry for the outburst. I'm sure you did your best, Willow," Angel sighed, noting the witch's hang-dog expression. "I think we need to rethink our efforts and methods. Something that won't attack William."
"Agreed," Giles chimed in. "Perhaps some distance will be a good thing, as well. We could take Buffy back with us - where we'll have access to all the Council's information we can find, as well as the coven, and..."
"No!" Angel snarled. "No way! Buffy stays right where she is."
"She's a slayer. I don't think the council would approve of us leaving their most senior slayer in the hands of a vampire."
The coldness hit Angel like an icepick through the heart. That's all he was to them, wasn't he? Just a vampire.
“That’s right, Giles. Just a vampire. One who has no feelings for this particular slayer.” His tone had become deadly calm. “As William had no feelings for this particular slayer. I think we both have more of a tie to her than you or the damned Council she’d reviled for years, even if it’s now under your leadership. I’m sorry I brought you into this at all.”
"Giles! Angel! You're not helping! This is about Buffy and what's best for her, not about settling some damned pissing contest that you guys should have settled years ago if you weren't being brats and I'm sorry, I didn't mean to yell, but you're acting childish and god I thought I'd gotten rid of that babbling thing." Willow glared from Watcher to vampire, holding them steady with the intensity in her blazing green eyes.
Nodding her head in agreement, Anne stuck her two cents in. “Willow’s right, guys. Buffy isn’t anyone’s property. She’s not a prize to be won at the county fair, either. Right now, it’s not hurting anyone to have her stay here, at the hotel.
Angel looked around the room. Giles was furious, Willow merely unhappy. Gunn and Anne seemed neutral, more on his side out of the loyalty due to a long association than belief in his conviction. The relief he felt when Nina came back downstairs and wrapped her arms around his waist was palpable.
“Will’s asleep, hon. All cleaned up with nary a scratch to show for the earlier ordeal,” Nina offered. “Pretty blue eyes, little boy babble – all back to normal, it seems.” She pressed a kiss to his cheek, unaware of the tension in the room.
Gods above and below, but he was grateful for this woman.
Finally, Giles stepped forward. “Look, Angel… I still feel that Buffy would be better off with us, but we’ll continue to research as long as you promise to take the proper precautions here and not place the statue in any undue jeopardy.”
“And I promise we won’t cast any spells without discussing things with you first.” Willow’s contrite expression spoke for her sincerity. “I’m glad Spike… erm, Will, is okay. He’s a very cute baby. Doesn’t look like you at all.”
“It’s been a long day, Willow,” Giles said, pushing her forward with a hand at the small of her back. “Let’s go upstairs and pack before… well, before any of us say something… inflammatory. Goodnight, all. We’ll be taking the Council’s jet back tomorrow morning.” Not waiting for anything further to be said, they headed upstairs to their rooms.
“You sure know how not to throw a party, dude.” Gunn slapped Angel on the back as he and Anne made for the door. “We’ll talk, soon. Just take care of the boy, will you? He’s good people.”
Once they were alone, Nina and Angel made their way to the kitchen for some coffee and blood.
*Arise! Arise! Escape your stone prison. (As translated by Babel Fish)