Author: Dark Star
Summary: Buffy and Angel’s life is just perfect… right?
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon is creator and owner of all things Angel
Rating: PG 13
Distribution: Just ask, please
The shrill wail of the baby, freshly awake and unhappy, drew Buffy over to her crib. Reaching down over the side, she picked up the howling infant and rocked her against her shoulder.
“You’re wet,” she said reproachfully, carefully carrying the child over to the table, where she efficiently changed and dressed her.
“There,” Buffy said with satisfaction. “All clean again. Daddy would be proud of me.”
Buffy turned toward the door; Angel was dressed ready to go out, his bag already slung over his shoulder. He crossed over to where Buffy rocked the now calm baby, and drew her – baby and all – into his arms and planted a gentle kiss on her lips.
“I have to go,” he said with regret, leaning forward to kiss the squirming child on top of the head. "Be good for your mom," he whispered to her before turning to leave.
“Have a nice time,” Buffy said, earning her a mock glare from Angel as he retreated to the hallway.
“I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Bye, daddy,” Buffy called as she heard Angel’s footsteps down the stairs, and she returned her attention to the baby, swinging her in her arms before carrying her back to the crib. Over the top of the crib hung several toys and mobiles for the baby to look at. One of these, a bright crystal that sparkled with a halo of light, Buffy picked up and waved in front of her daughter.
The child immediately began to reach for the shiny bauble, and Buffy let her wrap chubby fingers round the crystal. She hugged the baby tightly, before lowering her back into the crib.
"You're going to have such a wonderful Christmas, Emma," she said softly. The baby gurgled but otherwise lay quiet, her chubby little legs making restless jerky movements as she settled down to sleep.
Buffy stayed with her for the few moments it took for the child to fall asleep, and then backed away from the baby, trying not to wake her, and watched from the doorway. She found it hard sometimes to believe how well things had turned out. She had Angel, a baby, and a home together. It was almost the normal life she had always dreamt of. Smiling, she clicked off the light and went back downstairs.
Remnants of the evening meal confronted her and she set about clearing away the debris and washing the kitchen floor. She then turned her attention to the chaos in her lounge. Marvelling at how one tiny person needed so much equipment, and made so much mess, she spent the next hour sterilising bottles and preparing the baby's feed, putting away buggies, sorting laundry, toys and other baby paraphernalia.
She made herself a drink, set up the ironing board and began her next task of the evening. Stretching out Angel's shirt over the board, she paused. When did she get so domesticated? Humming to herself, she reached over to the iron to plug it in, and that's when she heard the sound. Pitched far too high for normal human ears, a shriek assaulted her ears. She froze for a fraction of a second before her Slayer instinct kicked in. Taking the steps three at a time, she flew up the stairs.
The door to Emma's room was slightly open, and she knew that she hadn't left it like that. A chill crawled down her arms. Steeling herself, she flung open the door and raced inside. She could see the baby in her crib fast asleep; she breathed a sigh of relief, and spun round just in time to deflect a blow from some kind of stick aimed at her head.
The assailant spun away, putting distance between them. Humanoid but not human, dark eyes stared at her from a face that held a blue tint.
"What do you want?" she snapped.
The dark eyes met hers. The thin lips, dark red against the pale skin, quirked into a parody of a smile.
"I've come for my child."
Angel closed the door of the office and crossed over the courtyard. He had been working here as night security for six months. He liked this job. The pay was very good, largely because the warehouse backed onto the local cemetery, and that periodically threw up otherworld things. Not just vampires, but certain demons too. Everybody who had ever worked at the place before him had fled in terror, or ended up dead in the morning, and consequently, nobody wanted to work there. His employers had looked at him in astonishment when he had survived the night, and the night after that, and even more so when he had agreed to stay on as night security. He didn't tell him he had dusted two vamps that first night, and they had never asked if he'd seen anything strange.
They paid him well; grateful to find somebody at last willing to take on their difficult shift, and never queried why he insisted on changing shifts just before dawn. The daylight hours were not a problem for them, and they had happily agreed to his terms.
He liked to think that maybe they could finally put down some roots in this place. He looked up at the sky. It was going to be cold and clear tonight; with a bit of luck he might get some action too, and he smiled. He began his patrol of the grounds.
Buffy glared at the creature in front of her. "If you take one step toward her, I swear I will kill you."
It grunted, taking a last look at the sleeping child before backing up toward the door. "I'll be back," he said.
Buffy opened her mouth to make some quip about Terminators but the words stuck in her throat. She was too shaken to make her normal response and could only watch as the creature vanished before her eyes. She was shaking when she went to the crib and touched her hand against the child's cheek. Emma looked undisturbed, and Buffy breathed a sigh of relief. She needed to make a phone call but was afraid to leave Emma alone; she wrapped a blanket around her and took her downstairs, constantly alert for some kind of trouble. She passed the Christmas tree in the hall without a second look and went to the phone on the hall table. She rang the number from memory and waited until she heard the recipient pick up.
"Willow? Buffy. It's happened."
Angel's car pulled up in front of the small house that up until now had been home for them. He frowned. Willow's car was in the driveway, and it wasn't yet light. Had something happened?
He hurried from the car and went into the house. He heard voices from upstairs, and fearing the worst, he hurried up to the baby's room. Willow was chalking a circle round the crib, and chanting while she worked. Emma lay quietly inside the crib and Buffy paced restlessly.
Alarmed, Angel went to Buffy and put his arms round her. "What happened?"
Buffy's eyes glistened with tears she refused to shed. When she spoke, her voice was so quiet that Angel almost didn't hear what she said. But her words brought fear to his heart.
"Galoth came for her, Angel."
He pulled her close to his chest. "We won't let him take her, Buffy. Willow will set up a protective field to keep him out."
"But… he's a Dakk'a." Buffy murmured. "There isn't a safety device in the world that can keep him out. Eventually he just adapts and breaks through. What are we going to do?"
Angel did not know what to say to her, and stayed silent. Willow finished her protection spell and then went over to them.
"You know that the barrier is only going to be temporary, don't you?" she asked, and waited until Buffy nodded. "We knew this would happen one day, and I've always felt there must be a way to stop him, and I've spent hours researching that. There is… one way that I've heard of."
"Go on, " Angel said when she faltered.
"A Dakk'a's hold on the child can be broken with blood. A potion made with the blood of her mother, or sometimes father, will make a protection that he can never break."
She looked at the pair apologetically, and Buffy looked crestfallen. Angel's mouth set into a grim line.
"There must be another way," Angel said. He might not be Emma's natural father but he loved her as much as if she had been his own. Buffy would not like this.
"There isn't," Willow said. "I've been looking for an answer ever since you got Emma and this is the only way. I'm sorry, Buffy."
Buffy pulled away from Angel and stood straight. "What I want is not important. What is important here is that Emma does not end up as a Dakk'a slave. I will do anything… anything to keep her safe." She looked up at Angel, squaring her jaw and she said firmly, "Find her."
Angel looked over the edge of the rooftop and down into the darkness between the buildings. His prey sauntered out of the nightclub and down the alley. He dropped down and followed her. At the end of the alley, she paused and turned back.
"Not really in the mood to play games here," she said. "Are you going to show yourself?"
Angel stepped out of the shadows, his hands in his pockets. The girl's brown eyes widened. "Well," she grinned. "Look who has come to play."
Angel nodded in her direction.
Faith cradled her coffee mug and sat back in her chair. Unwilling to meet Angel's gaze, she looked round the quiet diner to buy herself some time. Eventually, she looked back at him.
"What are you doing here?" she asked before adding hopefully, "Some big evil brewing?"
"Nothing like that," he replied, and decided to cut straight to the point. "The baby needs you."
Faith laughed. "She don't need nothin' that you and B can't give her. Nice try, though."
Angel hesitated, wondering what he should say to make her listen to him. "Galoth has turned up."
Faith tensed, but she forced herself to relax and look nonchalant. "So, you and B deal with him." She shrugged. "You don't need me."
Angel sighed. "Faith, I didn't drive all this way to argue with you."
"So you'd better be gettin' back, " she suggested. "Not a great idea leaving her alone right now, either."
"She's with Buffy and Willow," he explained. "Faith… Galoth will keep coming. Emma will never have a normal life because he will never leave her alone. If he gets her… you know what will happen."
Faith nodded, her expression sombre for the first time. "He'll take her back to his tribe and she will be brought up as a Dakk'a slave. They'll work her until she dies."
"Is that what you want for her?"
Faith shook her head. When she spoke, her voice was strong. "You got a plan?"
"Yes." He said. "But we need you. We need the blood of the child's natural mother."
Faith grinned. "So take it," she said, giving him her best leer. "It was kinda fun last time."
Angel ignored the implication. "The blood must be fresh. Faith, we need you." His eyes met hers. "I need you. Please."
Faith swallowed, all pretence gone. Angel needed her. God, she owed him… She stood up. "We'd better get going then, hadn't we?"
Daylight was fast approaching by the time Angel had arrived back at his house. While Faith slowly got out of the car, he stretched over and pulled her bag out of the back seat. She was standing by the car door when he reached her, looking uncomfortable on the driveway of an unfamiliar house.
"I suppose it's too late to change my mind?" she asked.
He gave her an encouraging smile and walked with her to the front step. Before they had reached the door, it sprung open and Buffy came out. Faith looked as though she was about to bolt, and Angel knew she would rather be anywhere than where she was right now. She had no idea what kind of reception she would receive, and her whole body was tensed in readiness.
"Faith," Buffy said, stepping forward and hugging the older girl. Faith looked even more uncomfortable; whatever she had been expecting, it wasn't that.
"Come on in," Buffy said, ignoring Faith's helpless glance at Angel. "Are you hungry?"
Faith brightened. "Starved," she grinned, and allowed Buffy to lead her inside the house. She paused to look sadly at the brightly lit tree in the hall before moving into the lounge. She glanced around furtively.
"Emma is upstairs with Willow," Buffy told her. "I wasn't sure you would want to see her just yet. How about after you've had something to eat?"
"No," Faith said sharply. "Look… no offence, but I don't want to see her at all. Can we just get this ritual done so that I can get gone?"
Buffy looked hurt and bewildered, but she didn't say anything. Instead she went to the kitchen to get out the Bean casserole she had prepared earlier. She was glad she had saved some for Faith. The girl was thinner than she used to be; she'd felt bony when Buffy hugged her, and Buffy couldn't help wondering if she bothered to eat properly. That thought was reinforced by watching her shovel in the food as fast as she possibly could, and Buffy did her best not to stare.
From upstairs, there was a loud wail, and Faith paused in mid-shovel. She had the rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights expression again. Buffy smiled at her, and tried to keep her voice calm.
"It's just Emma. I'm going to go up and check on her but I won't bring her down." She started toward the stairs and stopped. "She's beautiful, you know. She's got your smile."
Something flickered behind Faith's eyes, and then it was gone. She looked back down at her dinner and concentrated on finishing it off. She felt, rather than saw, Angel slide into place opposite her across the table.
"B looks good on motherhood," she said.
"Yeah," Angel agreed. "She took to it well, considering that she didn't have a lot of choice about it."
Faith finished her meal and pushed the plate away. "You could have put her up for adoption," she said finally.
Angel gave her a reproachful glance. "You know that wouldn't have been possible."
"Yeah." Biting her lip, and looking a little awkward, she said, "I didn't know what else to do."
"I know," he said gently. "Our lives changed that day, you know." His eyes met hers. "At that time, Buffy and I hadn't even decided to stay together. But when you left Emma with us, we knew we had to protect her. We've been moving ever since; we can't stay in any place for too long because we knew he would find her. It's been hard on us all, and especially for Buffy." His expression softened, remembering. "And yet… you gave us something that we could never have had otherwise. I thank you for that."
Faith shrugged, pretending it was nothing. "What kind of life could I have given her, Angel? I can't even look after myself. I had to give her to somebody who could keep her safe, and I knew you would."
Uncomfortably, Angel decided to move the conversation away from where it was going. "Whatever made you do it? You must have known what the Dakk'a are like."
Faith's smile was wolfish. "Hell, yeah. I heard that they're great in the sack. And they really, really, are…" She sighed and leant back in her chair. "What I didn't expect was to get knocked up from it. Demon babies grow real fast, you know."
"I've noticed that," Angel said dryly. "You were lucky to survive."
"It was… touch and go there." Her melancholy expression disappeared as fast as it had come. "But hey… Slayer here!" She shrugged. "You know the rest."
Yes. Faith had arrived on his doorstep, wet, cold, bedraggled and looking like death, and clutching a wriggling bundle that turned out to be a newborn child. She told him what had happened, and later, while he slept she walked out, leaving her baby with him.
"I…" she hesitated. "That was the hardest thing that I've ever done in my life. If I hadn't known she would be safe with you, I don't… " She broke off and shrugged.
Angel was saved from answering by Willow coming down the stairs. She greeted Faith cautiously, and then started clearing the table to make space for preparing for the ritual.
Willow pulled the herbs and charms from her bag and set them out onto the table. Tearing the already prepared herbs into small pieces, she added them to an earthenware bowl in the centre. Next came some sprinkled spices, a small amount of something black and shrivelled that smelt vile, and some grated orange peel and juice, which caused Faith to raise an eyebrow.
"The ritual needs vitamins?"
"Citrus acid," Willow said. "It's the nearest I can get to Dakk'a berries."
Preparations done, Willow pulled a knife from her bag, and stepped toward Faith. She paused uncertainly when Faith's gaze settled on her. Faith waited, thrilled that Willow - a witch - was scared of taking her blood. Moments passed, and then Faith took the knife from her and held it over her palm. "How much do you need?"
Willow relaxed. "A few drops might do it, but to be sure…"
The knife came down, slicing across her palm, and she watched dispassionately as her life force dripped into the bowl that Willow gave her. Every so often she would press on the skin to prevent the wound closing up. Eventually Willow said she had enough, and Angel arrived with the first aid kit.
"I don't need that," she said, watching Willow mix her blood into the other ingredients.
"Yeah, you do." Angel said, and Faith noticed the slight clenching of his jaw. Ah, right. The bandaging was to take the wound out of his sight, not for her benefit. She could live with that.
"Is that it?" she asked when he finished, not sure if she meant the end of her part in the ritual, or if he had done bandaging.
"That's it," Willow confirmed, and Faith moved to get up.
"Please wait," Willow said, and Faith hesitated. "I know you want to make a getaway, but I want to make sure the spell has worked before you go."
Faith sat back down again, and Angel added, "You should stay here overnight, Faith. That was a lot of blood, even for you. You should rest until you feel stronger." Faith reluctantly nodded, but she smiled when Angel added, "It will be nice to catch up with you. It's been a while."
The mixture finished, Willow moved toward the stairs. "Coming, Angel?"
Angel got up. He nodded toward the lounge. "The TV is in there. Help yourself to some snacks if you're still hungry, and…"
Chuckling, Faith held up her unbandaged hand. "Go." She told him. "I'll be here when you get back."
Angel paused, not wanting to leave her but he was clearly itching to get upstairs. He nodded once at Faith and then was gone. Faith stood up, wondering if she should keep her promise to Angel. But standing, she realised that Angel had spoken the truth. She had lost a lot of blood and she felt a little distracted. Maybe she should stay here for a couple of hours and recover. Didn't Angel say something about snacks…?
In the nursery, Angel found a swaddled baby inside a triangle of strange shapes. She seemed to find it all a bit amusing, her infant smile in sharp contrast to the grim faces that the adults wore. Going to Buffy's side, he slipped his hand into hers without a word. She gripped it back, equally silently, but glad of his moral support. Willow was dropping spots of powder at regular intervals around the child, and the little flashes the powder made on contact with the floor made the baby chortle with glee. Finally, she held the powder over the baby's chest and dropped a pinch onto her. Buffy made herself stand still, alarmed that the powder would hurt Emma; but Willow had warned her that although the flash looked alarming, it wouldn't hurt her at all.
With the flash, came another sound. A whine filled the air, making Angel growl and shake his head to clear his head, when Galoth suddenly materialised among them, his arm raised.
"Bergira! " he bellowed, following his dramatic entrance with more expletives in his native language.
Buffy had already situated herself between him and the child, and behind her, she could hear Willow rush to pick the baby up. She folded her arms. "I'd rather you didn't use that kind of language in here," she said calmly.
"What have you done?" Galoth demanded.
"We have performed," Willow said as clearly as she could over the baby's wailing, "The Ceremony of Transference."
Galoth's eyes widened. "That is not possible! The child is mine!"
"No," Buffy said, taking a step toward him. "Not anymore. By your own customs, the baby's essence has been transferred to me. Do you want to argue with that?"
Galoth scowled. "Take it," he said harshly. "I have others to collect."
Angel moved toward Galoth but the Dakk'a was already fading away, and from the hallway, Faith's voice drifted up the stairs. "Are you okay up there?"
Angel went to the top of the stairs and looked down. "It worked," he told her, relief evident in his expression. "Emma is safe."
Thrilled, Faith exclaimed, "That's great!" She paused. "Can I have some more of those home-made cookies?"
Faith stirred restlessly, the blankets slipping sideways so that she had to pull them back up. It wasn't that Buffy and Angel's sofa was uncomfortable, it was just that she didn't sleep well in strange places. It was Christmas morning, and soon, all of the neighbouring children would be getting up, excited about the prospect of new toys and games. She brushed away a tear, annoyed with herself for letting old wounds seep through. Christmas was for saps. There was no Father Christmas, no magic, and no yuletide cheer for her; she had learnt that lesson early in life.
She pushed the blankets off, and sat up. She should be going, before anyone woke up and talked her into staying. She was fully dressed except for her boots, and these she pulled out from under the sofa and put them on. Her jacket went on next, and her bag, already packed before going to sleep and was ready to pick up and go. But she hesitated. Buffy and Angel had been kind to her, looking after her last night, and Emma all these… her mind shied away from that thought.
She went back to the sofa, carefully folded up the blankets and left them neatly on the top. She then went out into the hallway. The Christmas lights were still on, and she thought that Buffy might have left them for her. She touched the branches gently, and poked one of the glittering baubles to watch it swing. She could almost… she stepped back abruptly, shaking away the silly nonsense in her head and she went to the door. She should go, but… she couldn't make herself move. Why was that? Maybe she should leave a thank you note, or something?
But she still couldn't move. Finally, she allowed herself to think the one thing that had been nagging at her since she had arrived here. Upstairs, the baby was sleeping. Her baby. Well, maybe not hers as in the mothering stuff, but she had carried the child, and she had given birth to her. She had struggled so hard with her decision to give up the child, but she knew it had been the right thing to do. But that didn't mean she had forgotten her baby. She often wondered how she was doing, and what she looked like. Would it hurt to just nip upstairs and have a quick look before she left?
Faith put her bag down next to the front door and slipped stealthily up the stairs. She'd seen people go into the nursery and she knew where to go. The door was shut, and she pushed it quietly open. She could see the crib ahead of her, and to the left, she saw the makeshift bed where Willow was sleeping. She paused to make certain the redhead was fast asleep, then she approached the baby, eager now to see her before she left the house for good.
Inside the crib, the child stirred as if sensing her. When Faith looked over the edge, the baby opened her eyes and Faith froze. Don't cry, a voice in her head begged. Please don't cry.
Emma stared back at her, eyes wide and clear and shoved a tiny fist into her mouth. Charmed, Faith stared back. Buffy was right, her… the… baby was beautiful. Would it hurt to just touch Emma before she went? Cautiously, her hand went over the edge to hold the baby's tiny fingers, and at that very instant, a high pitched shriek filled the air and she jumped back, startled. The next instant she found herself pinned to the wall by a sleepy Willow's magic.
"Faith?" Willow blinked in surprise, immediately freeing the slayer from her spell. "What are you doing here?"
Before Faith could think of an answer, the door burst open and Buffy, closely followed by Angel, ran in. She took in the sight and demanded, "What's going on?"
Deciding to brazen it out, Faith glared. "What, I can't look at her now?"
Buffy bristled. "In the middle of the night? After everything that's happened tonight? How dare…"
Angel's voice, always so… calm, now held a certain something that made her pause. She looked at him, and then again at Faith, and this time actually saw her.
Already dressed, boots and coat, and looking sort of… shifty, but trying not to. And then Buffy understood; there could be only one reason she was in Emma's room at this hour. Willow got it in the same moment.
"You were just going to leave?" she exclaimed. "What? Once wasn't enough for you? How can you…"
"It's okay, Will," Buffy said, and she looked back at Faith. "Do you want to hold her?"
"I…" Faith's expression held a panicked look for a split second, and then she said, "Is it okay? I don't want to set off… what was that, anyway?"
Buffy smiled, going to the crib and bending over it to lift out the baby.
"Because we always knew that Galoth would come for her one day, and that we would not always be with her, I got Willow to set up an alarm system for her." She settled the baby against her shoulder and reached out to touch the crystal over the cot. "It's an alarm system, set to go off if anyone other than us three…" she indicated Angel and Willow, "go near her." She frowned. "But you got closer than you should have. Why is that?"
Willow considered. "Maybe because we used her blood in the ritual? Or maybe because she is the… um… maybe it confused the crystal?"
Buffy reached Faith and waited while the older girl awkwardly took the wriggling child from her. "You're going to stay with us for Christmas, aren't you?" Buffy asked.
Faith didn't answer, but her expression, as she looked down at her child, said it all.
Happy Christmas, everyone!
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