Cordelia sat in her car outside the Magic Shop, gathering her courage to get out and go inside. Through the window, she could see Buffy standing next to Willow, the blonde’s arms were folded over her chest and her face was expressionless. The red head was chewing on her lower lip and attention was fixated at her feet by the looks of things.
She knew she couldn’t put off going inside any longer, it wouldn’t be fair on either Willow or Giles if they were left to clear up the mess she was sure she had created. Squaring her shoulders and smoothing down her clothes, Cordelia got out of her car, closed the door and locked up.
Her heels click-clacked slowly off the concrete pavement as she unsurely approached the door. Her hands pushed strands of chocolate curls behind her ears and the chant of having nothing to apologise for was repeated over and over.
Every occupant of the Magic Shop was immediately drawn to her as the brunette closed the door behind her with a soft click. Her breath was stuck in her throat as she prepared to receive whatever was coming to her.
Intense pressure hung in the atmosphere like a lead cloud, suffocating everyone in there as they all watched brunette enter the shop. “Let’s have it then” Cordelia stated as she turned to face the people she’d left behind, not feeling surprised when the first person to approach her was Buffy.
Glancing around the shop, her gaze finally landed on Spike who had a brunette draped around him. The blonde vampire greeted her with a knowing smirk that was matched by the smirk from the strange brunette.
Then Cordelia’s gaze landed on her ex high school sweetheart, Xander Harris, and she waited for him to be the one to start the interrogation but he didn’t.
After a few seconds of staring emotionlessly at her, his green eyes full of nothing but resentment and disrespect. Xander simply shot her a disgusted expression before standing up from his chair so fast, the legs scraped along the floor as he left for the back room.
“I’ll just…” Willow pointed after the young man and was suddenly hot on his heels. That was one less person for her to worry about just yet.
Buffy pinned the brunette with an ice cold blue gaze, the blonde slayer narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth. “I want you to explain what the hell it is you’re doing back here” her voice was low, her face was bordering on thunderous while her eyes gave nothing away.
Faith and Spike waited for the brunette to respond, both hoping she wouldn’t give in and become another one of her loyal disciples.
“I fail to see why it’s any of your business what I’m doing back” Cordelia’s expression and gaze was as cool as the one staring back at her. She refused to give Buffy what she clearly wanted, she would not give the private details of her life up until she, and Angel, were ready.
“Excuse me if I think it is” Buffy’s never changed from the low, warning tone. “It is when you just pack off and leave without any explanation then turn up out of the blue”
The brunette took a step back when the slayer moved a little closer, Faith tensed and moved into a position that would allow her to prevent anything from happening. Spike caught the spark in his girl’s brown eyes, followed the direction of her gaze and he too tensed.
Buffy was impulsive when it came to losing her temper and often acted before thinking of the consequences her actions would lead to. Faith and Spike didn’t want a fight to happen for a lot of reasons, the main one being when Angel found out Cordelia had been on the receiving end of the slayer’s temper tantrum, he wouldn’t be all that happy.
Cordelia thought back to the words she’d said to Angel the night before, “I can’t apologise for something I’m not sorry for” and left things at that. Her hazel orbs travelled to the only person in the room she remotely trusted right then. “Is Giles here? He told me he needed to go to the cash and carry for a few things”
Spike acknowledged the immediate trust and gave a slight nod in return. “Shouldn’t be long Cheerleader” he resisted the urge to smirk at the blonde slayer who was glaring at him for daring to interrupt. “No little bit tonight?”
The brunette’s demeanour changed in an instant at the thought of Connor. “Not tonight” Cordelia beamed at the vampire, thanking him for asking after her son and for taking the heat off her. “He’s with his dad who’ll be bringing him here in a few hours”
“Ahh” Spike nodded, “A bit of man-to-ponce bonding” He wished he was there to see it. He could imagine Angelus tucking the little mite in and reading bedtime stories. He wasn’t sure what was scarier, the fact that it was happening or the fact he could see it.
Luckily for Cordelia, Buffy didn’t pick up on Spike’s reference to who Connor’s father was.
Her son wasn’t here and that meant Buffy could get what she wanted without having to sugar coat things for the sake of a kid. “I don’t know how you dare” all attention was back on her and what else would be said. “Thinking you can just walk back into my town like nothing happened? One word. No”
Blinking at the girl in front of her, Cordelia wasn’t quite sure but she could have sworn that Buffy had indirectly told her what she could and couldn’t do. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think this ‘town’ had your name on it Buffy.” The brunette once again raised an elegant eyebrow, “I think I can do whatever I want”
“You owe an explanation and you’re going to give one”
“I’m not ‘going’ to do anything unless I want to and I don’t want to give an explanation” the brunette retorted. “I don’t owe anything. I made the decision that was best for my son, for that I don’t have anything to apologise for”
“Right” acid dripped from Buffy’s tongue as the subject of the kid came up, “Your son”
Spike and Faith heard the underlying insult in the way the blonde spoke about Cordelia’s son, both taking mental notes of anything that would be said. No doubt, Buffy would go straight to Angel with her version of events while leaving out everything else.
Instantly, the young mother’s protective instincts towards Connor caused Cordelia to tense and her stare turned lethal as she glared at the slayer in front of her. “Yes. My son. Got anything to say?”
“Lots of things actually, like how I know you left to stop people finding out your secret. I always knew you would get yourself knocked up but I honestly thought you had the decency to wait until after high school” Buffy used every bit of ammunition she could against the other girl, wanting her to leave.
With the height advantage she had over the slayer, Cordelia stared harshly down at Buffy as a cold smirk raised the corners of her mouth. “You can say whatever the hell you want about me, but don’t you dare bring my son into this. He has nothing whatsoever to do with you”
“I couldn’t be happier about that fact, he’s your responsibility. You made your bed and you can lie in it”
“Stay away from my son Buffy, that’s the only warning I’ll give you”
Buffy choked back a cold laugh, “You’re warning me? Let me tell you something you little…”
Having heard his slayer raise her voice, Giles chose that moment to walk in and put a stop to anything else before it started. When he heard the confrontation between the two young women, he had hoped they would be able to act like mature adults not like the rivals they had been in school.
His hopes were shot down when he heard Buffy taunt Cordelia about promiscuous behaviour in school.
Giles chose the moment when Buffy raised her voice to walk in and effectively cut off her furious retort. “Ah Cordelia” he acted as though he hadn’t heard a thing, “You’re here, is young Connor with you?”
Her gaze slowly left Buffy’s to rest on the Englishman kind enough to give her a job. “Not yet, he’s with his father for a while” Cordelia replied, still feeling the icy gaze boring into her she turned back round. “Now if you’ll pardon me, I have a job to do”
Letting the brunette past, Buffy accidentally-on-purpose brushed her shoulder against Cordelia’s and smirked when the other girl glared at her. “Real mature” it was annoying when that happened, really annoying. Her heels clacked against the floor as she moved round the serving counter under the curious and amused gaze of the brunette draped over Spike.
“I received a delivery of new books on the occult” Giles sent Buffy a stern expression, shutting her up before she started. “If you could mind the till while I sort them out, I would be very grateful”
“Not a problem” Cordelia gave him a thankful smile, “I’ve had experience with minding a shop desk before. Before I gave birth to my son, I worked in a…”
“Burger shop?” Buffy sniped as she proceeded to stand where she could see the brunette’s every move. “After all, you never graduated so you couldn’t go to college”
“Buffy” Giles reprimanded with another stern glare, he for one was interested on how Cordelia had managed at such a young age in providing for herself and son. “Do go on”
“It’s not important” the brunette waved it away with a flourish of her hand.
“You supported your kid and yourself” Faith spoke to Cordelia for the first time, her voice was hesitant, unsure of the reaction she would get. “You took care of yourself, kudos”
Cordelia paused, not sure how to take the other brunette. From her physical appearance, she looked hardened, like life hadn’t been so easy for her and she could relate in a sense. The full mouth was a deep red and curled up in a half smirk half smile, her eyes were a deep brown and her hair was thick with natural waves.
Beside the brunette, Spike was watching her through a studious deep blue gaze, as though he were sizing her up and waiting for her to say something about the way Faith was draped around him. However, Cordelia relaxed when the vampire introduced her to the brunette with an ease only he could carry off.
“Slayer, Cheerleader” Spike stated, “Cheerleader, Slayer”
Cordelia frowned at both his introduction and the way he introduced the brunette as a slayer. Glancing at Buffy, she saw a gleam of annoyance within her blue eyes and wondered if Spike just used that as a way to taunt her. “Slayer?”
Faith nodded with a full on smirk, “Yup, I got the call when Kendra kicked it”
“Oh” Cordelia nodded, still not understanding it yet.
Spike couldn’t help the inward delight he felt when Drusilla had taken down her first slayer, before he could hide the shine Faith walloped him across the back of his head. “Oy, what the bleedin hell did you do that for?” he rubbed the sting from his skull with his palm and scowled again.
“Felt like it” Faith shrugged, “Faith” she nodded at the new girl.
“Cordelia, or Cordy” Cordelia replied as she relaxed a bit more, “Whichever you prefer. Are you and Spike…” she didn’t know how to put it.
The brunette slayer nodded, “Billy Boy’s my currant slave, aren’t ya?”
Willow cleared her throat and interrupted their conversation warily. When she gained the young mother’s attention, the red head smiled meekly when Cordelia looked at her. “Xander wants to talk”
Xander had his back to the small flight of stairs, not turning around to greet the young woman when he heard her footsteps approach him. His chin rested on his entwined fingers and his green eyes portrayed the extreme hurt he felt at her sudden departure all those years ago.
The tension that had begun the moment Cordelia walked into the Magic Shop seemed to increase ten fold as the young man spoke without looking at her. His shoulders were straight and square, his back was stiff and she could almost see the anger emanating from him.
“Well?” his voice made her jump a little.
“What do you expect me to say Xander? That I’m sorry for doing what was best? I’m not going to do that”
Finally looking at her, Xander’s gaze showed nothing except cold hurt that pierced her more than anger ever would. “I expect something Cordelia, we all went through hell trying to find out what happened to you. We didn’t know if you were alive, dead or worse. Turned into a vampire that we would have to kill”
“I did what I had to do” Cordelia felt the sting as he pointed out something she never thought of. Xander Harris had always been one of the few people could make her see things she either didn’t want to or hadn’t thought of.
Apart from Angelus, he was the first one she’d had real feelings for and she couldn’t deny him some form of explanation.
“Give me something Cordy” the old nickname came easy for him as he pleaded with her to give him some answers. “Out of anyone here, I deserve something”
It was truth, she knew this but she just wasn’t ready to give everything yet. It was too soon and too hard. “I can’t give you everything, but I can tell you I left because it was necessary”
“Why? What was so bad that you ran away from people who would have helped?”
Sitting down in a chair opposite him, Cordelia prepared to give that at the very least. With a deep intake of breath she began to twist the truth into something that would both give him the answers he deserved and keep her secrets. “When I found out that I was pregnant with Connor…”
Xander’s gaze flinched when he was once again reminded that she had possibly cheated on him. “Do you know who the father is?”
“Yes” there was a definite coldness to her voice and he immediately berated himself for the way his question had sounded to her.
“I didn’t mean…”
Cordelia shook her head, “Yes Xander, you did mean it like that and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to sneak out of it.” She simply smiled at the contrite expression on his face as he silently apologized for a comment he meant. “I know who the father is, Connor’s with him tonight. Giving me a night off”
“Anyway,” she carried on “The first thing I was scared of was how people would see me” she explained with a nod at him, showing how right that statement was. “The second thing was Angelus” forgiveness was asked for as she twisted the truth.
“With him gunning for Buffy, I thought if he found out I was pregnant he would…”
“Go through you and your baby to get to Buffy” Xander let out a breath as comprehension dawned on him. He’d never thought of that, but then how could he? None of them knew she had been pregnant. “I get that but what I don’t understand is why you didn’t tell anyone”
“That’s the part I can’t tell you” Cordelia said quietly as she fidgeted with the table top.
“Because I’m not ready, if you try to force me into doing something you’ll get nothing.” Sensing they were about done in their short but emotion discussion, Cordelia nodded and stood up with the intent to leave when he stopped her.
“For what it’s worth” Xander cleared his throat and raised his green gaze to her face, the hurt receding but no forgiveness shone in the softened orbs. “I’m glad you’re okay”
He got a silent nod before she made her way back to the front of the shop.
Since the mansion didn’t have many lights, it was safe for Connor to remove all of his protective clothing. A small light flickered from an old oil lamp placed safely on the high mantle above the well-lit fire. The five year old was sitting on the floor a few feet away from the line of both the firelight and the oil lamp.
With no cloak and facial mask to protect his features, Angel could once again admire his son without obstruction. He felt so damn proud of how Cordelia had raised him, he was so proud of Connor, his baby boy. He choked back a laugh when his vision went a little blurry and only just managed to blink back the tears before his son noticed them.
Angel had been right when he thought that this would be the best night of his existence. He and Connor had played soccer, drawn pictures and he’d gotten stories of his growing up out of his son. Not to mention the vampire had been put to the test in a way he’d never been tested before.
Having pestered Angel about whether or not he really was as strong as his mom said, the vampire had finally given in and indulged his son. He’d done 50 push-ups, lifted all the heaviest objects he could find and worked out by using his son as a weight.
The vampire had to bite back his laughter at Connor’s awed expression and his muttered “Aw, mom was right. She’s always right”
Now, Angel was watching his son quietly colour in the pictures he’d drawn. A quick glance at the antique grandfather clock he’d recently bought told him it was almost time to take Connor to see Cordelia at the Magic Shop. Thinking about it now, he wasn’t sure him turning up with his son would be the right thing to do, it would only serve to bring up questions he knew Cordelia wasn’t ready for.
Shaking his head at the realization that he didn’t care what the others thought, he wasn’t ashamed to say he had child with her, if anything he wanted them to know. He wanted everyone to know that the amazing little boy in front of him was his son, his and Cordelia’s. That young woman had given him more than he’d ever thought possible and he wanted everyone to know it.
“Son” Angel would never get tired of saying that, “You ready to go see mom now?”
Connor glanced up at him, nodding through his yawn and a quick arm stretch. His dad had more energy than his mom. “Yeah okay, are you still gonna ask her if I can stay overnight?”
“I was gonna ask her if she wanted to stay overnight, we could camp out again if you wanted too”
“You and me and mom?”
“You and me and mom” Angel confirmed then beamed when Connor’s smile grew into that same boyishly charming one from earlier. This time, when his chest began to ache it wasn’t caused by the fact of not being have what he wanted, but was caused by the fact of knowing he did.
The five year olds’ smile began to fade as he contemplated something he knew his mom would think about. He wasn’t stupid where his condition was concerned, his mom had told him enough so he could keep himself safe too. “What about the light? It hurts me”
Quicker than Connor could see, Angel had the little boy engulfed and crushed to his chest. “It won’t hurt you son, I’ll take good care of you just like mom does, I promise.” Is this what Cordelia felt like every time she heard him say the light hurts him? “You’re my son, I love you”
“Really? Like a real dad?” The hope that shone out of his son’s big brown eyes heightened to childish happiness when his dad nodded that he did indeed love him like a real dad.
“Like a real dad” Pulling away from Connor when he had once again blinked back the sharp sting of tears, Angel ruffled his son’s hair and smiled when his hand was slapped away.
“Aw dad, stop it” the five year old grumbled as he tried to put his hair back the way he liked it. “Can we go see mom now? I wanna tell her that you’re like a real dad now and that we can camp out again”
Angel never missed the assuming proclamation and halted Connor right there. “IF mom says it’s okay, but only if” he gave the boy a stern glare and waited for a responding expression before smiling at him. “Put your special clothes on son, mom will be waiting for us”
After the exhausting night of being watched constantly for the past four hours, Cordelia glanced at the clock above the shelving unit and was suddenly filled with renewed energy when she saw it was 8:55. Almost time for Angel to bring Connor to see her.
Willow bit her lip as she watched the brunette go from dragging her feet to all but skipping around the Magic Shop. She figured it was due to the fact her son would be coming soon. She’d overheard Cordelia tell Faith that Connor’s father was bringing him to see her before they went to find a park.
Though the red head would like an opportunity to see the little boy again, she wasn’t sure how she felt at the thought of Angel bringing him here. Not when everything was still so volatile, not when Buffy was still so volatile.
Cordelia deserved a lot of respect for what she’d put up with off the blonde slayer tonight, just letting the sly little comments wash over her like they were never said. Faith and Spike had obviously sided with the brunette, both of them turning Buffy’s statements back on herself whenever she said something hypocritical.
The only people to speak to her directly were Spike, Faith and Giles; Willow would have felt like she was betraying her best friend if she’d spoke to her.
Now, Cordelia was dusting the serving counter down with a very bouncy spring in her step as she watched both the time and the front door, waiting for son to arrive. When the clock reached 8:58, the brunette stopped the dusting and looked at everyone in the shop. “I have to turn off the lights now so my son can come in without being hurt”
“Can’t wait to see the little dude, bet he’s a handsome devil” Faith stated with a grin on her face, she knew who the father of Connor was and Cordelia knew it. As long as she kept quiet about it, she didn’t mind her knowing.
“The lil’ chappy’s a heart breaker alright” Spike smirked, “Grown quite fond of him myself”
Giles nodded with a warm, understanding smile at the brunette who had more than earned her keep tonight. Perhaps if the father of Connor were willing to take on more responsibility, Cordelia would be open to starting work during the afternoon when they were usually most busy. “Of course Cordelia, should I bring out some stakes for your son to play with?”
“I’m pretty sure he’ll be asking for them Giles” Cordelia grinned at the watcher as she flicked the main light switches, plunging the shop into darkness. Now she was stood next to the front door and not able to see a thing since she left her torch in her purse by the till. “Spike or Faith, can either of you reach into my purse and pull out my torch please?”
“No problem C” a thick beam of light made it so she could walk safely back to the serving counter when she waited in silence for her son.
“How old is he?” Buffy asked coolly, figuring she may as well get used to the idea of the brunette being back because it didn’t look like she was going anywhere anytime soon.
“Five, six on the 18th of June” Cordelia replied just as coolly with a warning glare at Buffy, daring her to ask anymore questions about her son. She’d meant it when she said Connor was nothing to do with her and for the slayer to leave him out of anything to do with her.
Willow took the small conversation as a good sign and she smile a little, “He’s a cutie”
The young mother raised an eyebrow at the red head when she spoke directly to her for the first time that night. “Isn’t he? I could talk forever about Connor, he’s really great” Cordelia cut her praise short. Her son was private to her and if these people thought they could get what they wanted by playing nice with her son then they had another thing coming.
Giles cleared his throat as the subject of Connor was brought into the spotlight, “Cordelia, I hope you don’t mind but I took the liberty of searching for anything that could possibly help with your son’s condition. Now, I don’t want you to get your hopes up but I’ve contacted an acquaintance of mine who is in the alchemy business who maybe able to…”
“Giles” the feel of her hand on the back of his made the watcher glance at her, seeing high amounts of gratitude on her face. “I don’t care if he may or may not be able to help Connor” Cordelia squeezed his hand tightly, ignoring the sound of a throat being cleared behind her. “Thank you very much for trying, I more than appreciate it but you didn’t have to”
“You’re very welcome Cordelia” the Englishman gave her a pat on the hand, “I may not have had to but I wanted to be of some help to young Connor. Now how about I fetch some stakes for your son to play with or possibly cause himself an injury?”
“That’s why you came back, isn’t it?” Buffy surmised as she pursed her lips before thinning her mouth into a tight line. “You couldn’t find another way to help your son”
Cordelia said nothing as she waited to see what else the blonde slayer had figured out. Crossing her arms in front of her chest, the brunette regarded her with a simple glance and raised eyebrow.
Nodding as she realized that was a reason the brunette had come back, the blonde couldn’t really argue with it unless Cordelia was wanting help so she wouldn’t have to put up with the amount of care the kid obviously needed. “Too much for you is it?”
“Buffy” Giles warned, even Willow sent her best friend a wary glance.
“No Giles!” Buffy stood up, the move sending the chair she’d been sat in all night crashing to the floor. “I’ve sat in here all night, watching her go about the place like she owned it and now she has you running round trying to help her kid”
“His name is Connor, not kid” Cordelia snapped right back, the front she’d put on all night was finally slipping away as the need to defend her son appeared. “And I’ve already told you once tonight, he does not have anything to do with you”
Buffy spun on the brunette, “Just because you can’t handle it doesn’t mean you get to pawn him off on someone else. I won’t let you take advantage of my watcher and let you pass off the responsibility of your son to him. You gave birth to him, he’s your mistake so you look after him”
That was the last straw for Cordelia.
After spending all night listening to the muttered comments, seeing the sly glances and the purposely pushing past her, that last statement really, really got on her nerves. Cordelia opened her mouth, fully prepared to let the slayer have it when a voice cut her off.
“Is there a problem?” Angel asked, causing the room to focus on him rather than Cordelia and Buffy. Connor was barely awake on his shoulder, his bleary eyes searching for his mom but too tired to hold his arms out for her when he found her.
“Giles, it would be for the best if Cordelia went home early don’t you think?” It wasn’t a question and the Englishman merely nodded, too stunned to actually say anything else.
“I’ll take him out to the car, thanks for bringing him, Angel” Cordelia reached behind for her purse, smiling gratefully when she felt Faith pop the bag into her hands. “Night everyone, thanks for everything. Buffy”
“G’night C. Anytime you want a ‘sitter” Faith offered, it wasn’t often she did something out of the goodness of her heart but then it wasn’t often a total stranger had practically forced both her and Spike into having a cup of coffee. Besides, she knew how hard life could be and everyone needed a little break now and then.
Cordelia beamed outright at Faith, “Thank you, if you want to call over for whatever, my address is…”
“Mansion” Spike and Angel finished.
“1325 Montgomery Street” the brunette gave the dark haired vampire a quizzical glance before smiling her goodbyes at the other vampire. “Bye all” turning to take the half asleep little boy, “Give him here, I’ll take him out”
Angel held out a set of keys to her, “My car, the black convertible. I’ll be there in a minute”
She looked like she was about to argue for a second but the look in his eyes made Cordelia rethink her decision. Giving him a half smile as way of apology for her part in the row between her and the slayer, she tucked Connor’s head into her shoulder and left.
The silence in the shop was deafening, a human would have been able to hear a pin drop in the heavy noiseless room. No-one was entirely sure how to react to the startling revelation of who the father of Cordelia’s son was. Out of everyone they could think of, Angel was definitely the last person they had expected.
Buffy wasn’t numb, she wasn’t in a daze or anything of the kind. Her mind was completely clear on what exactly had just happened. Cordelia had been waiting for the father to bring the kid in and Angel had turned up with said kid. That wasn’t to say he was the father because he couldn’t be.
Vampires were, by nature, infertile.
Willow tried to keep the guilty expression from showing in her face but Xander caught a flash of it and covered his face with his hands for a second or two before resigning himself to the fact he didn’t have a clue about any of it. Until he did, he refused to jump to anymore conclusions.
Giles had removed his glasses, cleaning the lenses while he stared long and hard at Angel; recognition of the little boy’s face set in and he exhaled sharply.
“Daddy’s home” Spike broke the silence with a smart comment before smirking at the hardened black gaze that came from his grandsire. It looked like having a kid had given the ponce his edge back, the blonde would have to get the boy something to say thank you. Maybe a set of fake fangs.
“You have something to say about my son, Buffy?” Angel asked lightly, her name rolling off his tongue in a way that made her shudder. “Or his mother?” It became obvious he’d heard every word exchanged.
“A-Angel?” Buffy’s blue eyes peered up into the dark, expressionless orbs of the vampire in front of her. A small smile played with her bubblegum pink lips as a sparkle came into the blue gaze. Her small hand went up to touch his cheek but an iron grip curled around her wrist prevented any contact from her.
Lowering her hand away from his face, Angel let go the second her hand was far enough away from her face. “If I ever hear you refer to my son as a mistake again, you’ll have me to deal with. And before you think of laying anymore on Cordelia, one word. Don’t”
Angel left it at that, not wanting his night ruined by an argument that could lead to a fight that would no doubt end up with his son watching, the vampire turned his back to the stunned people. “You’ll get your answers, until then all of you back off. And thank you for trying help my boy Giles, it means a lot to Cordelia and me”
After that, the only sound in the room was of the door falling shut, leaving the rest of them in sheer silence.