Moonlight cascades over her golden form, making it seem almost as if the sun were shining. She does not seem bothered by the dark. Her hips sway slightly as she begins to descend the stairs, graceful even in sky-high black stilettos. Hearing movement nearby, her tongue darts out to lick her lips as she confidently calls out into the deep building, “I know I’m a little late, Angel, but congratulations on the baby. Better late than never-”
Connor's entrance from a side room cuts off her cheerful speech coolly but quickly. He is wary of a strange voice and full of a dangerous efficiency as he scans the room for other intruders. They are alone together except for Cordelia sleeping peacefully upstairs. “Angel is gone.” He has to worry for Cordelia now, for their baby; Connor does not have time for strangers.
“Oh,” and now that he’s said it, she notices everything all at once. The hotel doesn’t smell like it would have if Angel had been there, the movements of this young man are too noisy to have been the souled vampire, and the building feels like death. Cursing herself for getting distracted by the thought of Angel, she tries for casual, wondering who this boy is and why he seems so familiar, “What about the baby?” She will not be caught unaware again.
Discretely, Connor removes the stake he is carrying from behind his back and sets it down on a table. He isn’t sure who this seemingly young woman is but he knows well that looks can be deceiving and she makes him wary with questions about a baby. For a moment Connor thinks she knows about Cordelia’s pregnancy, but he quickly realizes she means Angel’s baby - him. And not him; Connor refuses to be the child of that beast. “Angel doesn’t have a child.”
For just a moment, she stands frozen, her face unreadable. Then she makes a soft sound bordering on a whimper and sinks down on the steps as though knocked over by the cool breeze from the still-open door. Carefully, she rests her arms on her knees and looks up at Connor, expression hard. “The baby, it’s dead?”
That only increases his suspicions. He wonders how a seeming stranger would know about his brief childhood in this dimension. Until this moment, he had believed that only Angel’s close friends - Gunn, Fred, Cordelia, Wesley – knew about him. Connor keeps his reply short but leading. He needs to know how much she knows. “No. Holtz took him.”
She drops her head into her hands and, by the soft noises coming from where she sits, Connor can tell she’s crying. Over him? She stays that way for long minutes - hunched over, crying in the moonlight - while Connor watches and debates how to handle this unexpected turn of events.
Her tears eventually cease; she lifts her head up and brushes stray blonde locks out of her face. Her eyes are wet as she breathes out, “What did Hotlz do to… him?”
Everything about her is expectant, as though she genuinely needs to understand what happened to him. Baffled but strangely sympathetic, Connor decides to answer her question if only because she has showed genuine concern for his wellbeing above that of his father. Conscious that he still must protect his family, Connor ascertains the locations of all the nearest weapons and exits and keeps a sharp eye out for anything amiss on the second floor even as he meets her gaze. “Holtz took the… baby… into a hell dimension and raised the child as his own son.”
Something about his tone, his careful wording, is starting to trigger alarms inside her head - she is missing something. However, the overwhelming fact that Holtz took the baby is shutting down her more logical thought processes, leaving her only to wonder how long it really has been. She really always has been too emotional, but it's hard to be anything else at this moment. “Oh.” She figures that saying ‘oh god’ would be inappropriate, yet she is struck as with what else to say. “Oh.”
Connor watches her reaction closely; she is staring, no longer at him but beyond and through him into some oblivion only she can see. Crystalline tears spill over her eyes and trail down her cheeks, but she seems unaware and relived enough that Connor is not dead so that she is not weeping. Connor is just trying to form words for his own questions when Cordelia calls weakly from upstairs, “Connor? Connor, what’s going on?”
In a moment of indecision, Connor finds himself frozen. He knows better than to let a stranger out of his sight, yet he is at a loss of how to check on Cordelia without tossing this confusing young woman out into the night to be prey for vampires. As he is debating this all, her eyes snap back to focus and she looks at him with wide eyes, as though something is finally dawning on her. “Connor…” she says his name as though sounding it out for something.
Though he is undeniably intrigued, Connor has been reminded of his duty to protect his family. He will go check on Cordelia first and worry about everything else second. He rushes up the stairs, calling back, “Just a second,” to both the supposed love of his life and the woman downstairs.
Only once he is out of sight does another almost unnoticeable sound become apparent. Someone has been coming up the walkway very silently, too silently to be human. Closing her eyes, the young woman stands and listens, unafraid.
There is a cool breath of air against her neck, too deliberate to be the wind, and she tenses. Hands roughly grab her hips before trailing slowly up her body, over her flat stomach, pausing briefly to cup her full breasts, thumbs rubbing hardening nipples. Too quickly, the hands slide back to her hips, making her shiver slightly at his touch. Strong arms encircle her petite waist, spinning her around and forcefully crushing her body against a very masculine one. He drags her back over the threshold with him and into the warm night.
Both can hear the bones shifting in his tight grasp, just the edge of pain, as she tilts her head up questioningly and his mouth descends to plunder hers. One slim leg lifts to wrap around his waist, and he hoists her into the air in response; she can feel every inch of his hard body pressing into hers. Her bosom heaves against his chest in what could be panic or excitement.
Still, she makes no move to escape his punishing grasp or lips, instead wrapping her arms around his neck, digging her fingers into the soft flesh there. He makes a low, animalistic sound into her mouth that she returns with a whimper, as their teeth and tongues and mouths clash together, violent with need. One of his hands slides down to grip her ass and grind her hard into him, and she breaks away with a gasp. Her eyes meet the hard brown ones of her captor, soft and questioning, and his grip finally loosens.
One of her hands comes up to trace over his brow, her reprise short-lived as it shifts to a demonic mask. Yellowed eyes stare into hers for a long moment, and then he is tilting her head forcibly to the side, fangs piercing deep into her neck. Moaning, head tilted back and eyes squeezed shut, her hands move to push at his chest in a weak protest.
A wooden stake hits the door just above the entwined pair with a loud whoosh. In a split second, he has released her, pulling back and out of harm's way, while she sinks to the floor without his support. From the staircase, Connor’s chilled voice cuts through the whispers and tension building in the room, “Angelus, stay away from her!”
Casting a dark look from the young man with the crossbow to the fallen beauty at his feet, the vampire offers a casual grin. He steps back just enough so that the there is no clear shot on the crossbow, staying just outside the building. “Mmm, she’s delicious,” he notes with a wink. “Better keep away from her, Junior; she’s mine.”
There is a blur of black as the vampire disappears into the night; easily avoiding the sloppy stake shot his way. Within a second, Connor has rushed to her side, feeling an immense swell of concern warring with adrenaline as he recalls the dangers that are Angelus. He attempts to pull her small hand from her neck but she resists and he lets her, frustrated but trying to be comforting. “It’s all right, I won’t hurt you. Let me see?”
By the time the petite blonde has looked up, Angelus is long gone, but her features remain a mask of confusion, one hand resting up against the wound in her neck while her gaze remains steady on Connor. She shies away from his hands, refusing to let him see the bite, shocked and angry despite his soothing words. “You lied to me. You said Angel didn’t have a son - you’re Angel’s son.”
It is a statement and Connor recognizes it as such, conceding her that point. As he worries whether she has been badly wounded by the monster that is his father, Connor is not sure it is the time to explain how he never wants to be considered Angel’s son. He respects her wishes and does not attempt to tend to her wound again, instead he asking with rising suspicion, “And who are you?”
Smiling slightly, she removes her hand from her neck and stands without his cautiously offered hand. Running her fingers though her hair, she does not allow Connor to look at her neck, but her demeanor has changed as she looks at him. A strong mask that is just slightly wistful at the edges. Still her voice is calm and light as ever and her eyes are smiling even if her lips are not, as though she knows exactly what his reaction is going to be. “I’m Darla.”
He’s heard that name before, had it drilled into his head as synonymous with everything evil. Yet, she doesn’t seem evil, this Darla - she seems sad. She cared enough to cry over him - something that doesn’t lend towards the heartless and soulless theory. Angelus could have warned her who he was, she could have been manipulating him from the start - but that doesn't feel right. The emotion, even to him, seemed too genuine. She was mourning him. Unbidden, the quiet idea that has lurked in corners of his mind spills across his lips. “My mother’s name was Darla.”
There is a pause. Glimpses of emotions flicker across Darla’s face as she patiently tries to decide how to answer, allowing him time to think over what she’s said - what he’s said. She’s still shaken by her meeting with Angelus, by this adult child. Darla sighs, blowing the air out for far longer than necessary, and retreats back to the persona that she uses to mask herself, carelessly tossing her head back and shaking out her hair, smiling almost playfully. “I know.”
For a long moment, Connor's brain stumbles clumsily over the information it doesn't want to acknowledge. He wonders how Darla could have possibly known that she shares his mother’s name. Inside his head, Connor hears the instant replay of Angelus' words: ‘Better keep away from her, Junior, she’s mine.’ Understanding barrels through him, even as he fights it. Fights the realization that this woman knows far too much to be a stranger, that she didn't cry as though he were an acquaintance but as if he were family. His mother. A million questions race through his mind, most too fast or foolish to catch. He considers asking her outright if she's evil, and he fights the urge to step back. With a calm exterior belying his concerns, Connor finally manages, “I thought you were dead.”
Her laugh is light as he speaks, as though she had considered his words as a possible response but not the most likely one. Connor amuses her, reminds her of people long dead: the old Angelus and herself the first time around. Yet it’s not really him Darla is laughing at - she is laughing at death. Having been through various stages of it more than once, she no longer finds it interesting; simply amusing that she is back again and that nobody expected it. “Well,” she concedes, “I’ve been there, done that - more than once, actually.”
Connor's eyes are pinned to her bare neck, revealed as she laughed, and he can’t quite find the words he wants, or the questions. Where twin puncture marks should be there is nothing, just a pale expanse of throat without even a scar. Slowly, her hand follows his eyes until her fingers just brush lightly over her neck. The amusement is gone, her expression blank, even to Connor’s well trained eye. He backs up until the crossbow is within reach and Darla is not before speaking, “I guess that answers one question.”
“Connor, it’s not what you think…” Darla trails off, her hand still lingering on her neck as she remembers her brief encounter with Angelus. There is no doubt in her mind that that was her lover there - no insanity, no soul, just her precious boy. Yet, standing in front of her is her other boy - one she promised to love, died for because she loved, and Darla wonders how she can explain anything to him without giving the game away. Finally, she settles for a version of the truth. “I’m not the same vampire. I have a," she smiles, wryly, "conscience, I suppose.”
Looking up sharply, Connor meets the eyes of the woman who brought him into this world steadily. It’s hard for him to understand why anyone would want to be born here, or why it’s a good thing that she saved him, except for her dying. Thinking of Cordelia and his pending family, Connor decides it’s a good thing if only for that. Still, there’s a creature standing in front of him in the guise of a mother he never knew. “Why should I trust you? Even if I do believe you - a conscience? Angelus had his soul and we can see how well that turned out.”
Sinking back down, Darla threads her hands through her hair, not looking up at the accusing eyes of the young man in front of her. A teenager - she doesn’t understand how it could possibly have been that long, she wanted her new un-life to allow her to raise him - with Angel. Instead, everything she’s wanted for almost a century is being offered to her and something she’s wanted for what seems like barely a year is the only thing holding her back. It’s too much, even for her. But this is her offspring in front of her, and she can't bring herself let him go so easily, even if it means offering up the truth. “This isn’t how I wanted things to go." She laughs, light and bitter, "You're not quite the baby I was expecting." She meets his eyes, feeling more exposed and honest than she has since his birth, "I just want to know you, Connor. I’ve lived four hundred years and the best I can tell you is that I want to try.” Her arm comes up and hovers in the air between them, "My boy."
This makes him uneasy, a long conversation with seeming openness, it’s alien to him and he can’t afford to find out how it all works. Not with Cordelia and his child depending on his silence for their lives. All Connor really knows is that he would die for them but he would prefer not to; he wants to protect them at all costs. This woman presents a risk he can’t afford to take, a chance he won’t allow himself to grasp. “It’s late. I would ask you to come back tomorrow, but I think it would be better if you don’t come back, Darla.”
Looking up, her head tilted slightly to the side, Darla seems to be seeing him and more, everything he’s trying to hide feels too open to him. A slight smile graces her face at this, knowing that she can still make men squirm and fear for their secrets, but she doesn’t want him to squirm. Taking a purposeful sniff of the air, Darla stands up and turns to go, pausing before the door to speak. “I created you, Connor, I’ll always know you. I’ll go, and you can find me when you're ready. Just a bit of motherly advice: when you go upstairs, don’t tell Cordy that I was here, and don’t tell Angelus she’s pregnant - he always liked babies.”
She’s gone before Connor can even begin to guess how she knew all that. He’s left feeling naked and confused, and wondering how powerful she is. Four hundred - over a hundred years older than Angelus - which begs the question, how much difference does a hundred years make? Is she more dangerous, a threat to his family?
Shaking himself, Connor absently straightens his hair before shutting the door firmly and turning towards the stairs. He never had any intention of telling Angelus about his child, but now that he thinks about it, he doesn’t want to tell anyone about Darla either; his two little secrets. Cordelia moans his name from upstairs and he strides purposefully there. “Coming, Cordy.”
All he can hear is her. She’s been invading his head steadily the entire time that he has been free, but now there is more than distant memories to grasp onto. And there is no doubt in his mind that it was her, right down to the scent.
He can still feel her breath cascading over his skin, still taste her. Her little gasps and moans are fresh in his ears, and the feel of her cold, powerful blood sliding down his throat is enough to make him weak in the knees. He’s long since realized that there is nothing on this earth that he craves more than her - not blood, not death - it’s only her. Always has been, always will be.
Now his only question is what to do about it. She knew it was him, just as he knew it was her, no reincarnations or souls for either of them, just the real thing. But he can’t decide if he should wait for her to come seek him out, as he knows she will, or if he should just give into his cravings and go to her.
He knows either option will lead to the same enjoyable outcome; it’s been too long without her, and she always did like when he was in control. Yet, he stays because he is unsure of one thing. It is obvious that she wants him - she is just as trapped in him as he is in her. But what does she want with Connor? Connor, the unknown equation.
Angelus wishes that she had never died for Connor, that he had killed the child, or let Holtz. Hell, he would be perfectly happy if Junior had stayed in that hell dimension to rot for the rest of eternity, instead of ruining his plans.
“Wonder if she’d be pissed off if I killed him already,” but he thinks she would be. What he can't figure out is why? He won’t test it yet, though - he’d rather not make her angry before he’s reminded her how much she missed him.
He sits and broods, even though he despises the way that reminds him of the soul, debating his next move even as he listens to her blood singing in his veins. The bond to his sire is stronger than ever without the soul trying to dissuade it, and with her so close, it's all he can think about.
Trying to shake off the cloud her presence is creating in his head after so long without her, more lifetimes than he likes to think about, Angelus tries to remember that things are different now. He has to look at them entirely different, because he isn’t even sure that she still feels about him like she once did. That miserable soul did some things to her that Angelus would like to kill him for - he can’t even imagine the tortures she’s thought up.
But now he’s hungrier than before, despite the fact that he already caught a meal before going to the hotel, before the decadence of his sire. Still, no reason not to grab another tasty bite. The perpetual darkness blurs nights and days into one, keeps him awake - hungry.
Once he is out on the darkened streets, it takes Angelus only a few seconds to find a suitable meal and convince her to come with him. It’s like they can sense some lingering feeling of the soul on him, champion of the night that he was. He's had a lot of practice looking soulful, and they feel safe with him, not seeing the demon beneath. He lets his accent come out more because it always makes them melt. “We should be getting you inside; it’s dangerous out in the dark for a pretty wee lass like yourself.”
As expected, between the accent and his good looks, she’s already nodding and taking his arm, no matter that somewhere warning bells have to be going off in her head. She’ll follow his face anywhere, even if, like now, it’ll lead to her certain death. She’s muttering under her breath, nattering away praises and thoughts and her whole life story.
He doesn't care enough to listen, still thinking about his sire. He's trying to decide if he should find Darla and leave this pretty thing as a present and catch himself a different meal. But she’s probably making just as good use of the never-ending night as he is, and he’s hungry now. There’ll be plenty of time to find a proper present later.
As they turn into an even darker alley, the girl pauses, steps faltering. The girl looks around quickly, almost jogging to keep up with his rapid pace. Finally she looks up and catches his blankly determined look, “Umm… we’re going the wrong way?”
He really doesn’t care, and he’ll tell her that, flashing a smile that will reassure her long enough for him to slip into game face and press her up against that strategically placed wall so that he can bite her. By the time she looks up again, he repeats himself, “I really don’t care,” before pinning her body above the ground with his, “and I don’t think I’d be worrying about that either, if I were you.”
Without bothering to try and stop her scream, he rips into her jugular. In the crowded neighborhoods of LA, nobody cares about her screams - no faces appear at the lit windows, shades drawing tight and people going out of their way to avoid looking.
Too soon, her heart slows and she slumps, lifeless, silent. People go back to their business, pretending ignorance, and Angelus pauses only to wipe a small dribble of blood from his face before reemerging into the nearly empty streets. He shrugs apologetically at the body, “Told you it was dangerous,” before promptly forgetting all about the girl.
Maybe he’ll go find some demons - remind this city that he’s the one who owns it now, and nobody else. Sure, he’ll have to kill a few, but that has never bothered him. With any luck, enough will remember him and know him that the news will spread that he’s back. He's feeling quite lucky lately. “Then I’ll go find Darla a proper present, after everyone’s reminded who's in charge here.”
Lying thick with thoughts in his bed - their bed, - Connor is being steadfastly avoided by the magical world of sleep. In this never-ending night, his body is on constant alert for possible predators, possible threats towards the woman sleeping fitfully beside him. The woman whom he should be sleeping peacefully and blissfully beside right now.
Instead, Connor lays wide-awake in the dimly lit expanse of their room, contemplating. It is not so much Cordelia and their child that he loses sleep over - although, admittedly, he has lost more than his fair share worrying over them - but the most burning problem tumbling around his mind is that of Darla.
The mysterious stranger, wary visitor, supposedly conscience-bound vampire: his mother. He is not sure which it is that bothers and confuses him the most. Surely she was a surprise guest, and a much more surprising connection to him, both which put him on edge and off guard.
Why? Why was she, a four hundred year old self-professed vampire with a conscience, sitting on the stairs of this damn hotel and claiming that she wanted to try to get to know him? Why was she alive - or unalive - and here, looking for him? Why had she cried when she had thought he was dead or lost to Holtz, his adoptive father?
And how? How did she know about Cordelia's pregnancy and that nobody else knew? How come she'd correctly guessed that he wouldn't mention her visit, even to Cordelia, his love, the one he was supposed to - and, up until now, had - told everything to? How come she'd known of him and where to find him but not anything else? How had she known that he was who he was simply by hearing his name? How had she stayed so calm after an encounter with that monster Angelus?
Ah, Angelus. The counterpart of the bastard who had bore him, and from all of Holtz's many, long and unforgiving stories the counterpart to Darla as well. But she hadn't cried over Angel, had she? No, she'd cried over Connor himself. So why would Angelus matter?
But Connor knows the answer to that all too well. Angelus makes all the difference. He is what Connor had always known Angel was deep down: a murderer, a killer, a monster. The one who killed Holtz's family right alongside Darla and loved it.
So why is Connor willing to keep her secrets? Why is he even sparing Darla's reappearance a second thought? She died to plunge him into a world he never asked for, a life he never really wanted, stuck trying to repay his parents' sins. A monster, like Angelus.
Only she hadn't seemed like Angelus.
He finds her waiting for him in the posh penthouse he has too easily liberated from its deceased owners. Her jacket is draped casually across the back of the couch, and she is lounging in his favorite wingback chair, next to the hearth roaring ever-burning flames.
The balcony curtains are open, fluttering in the breeze. He knew she'd love the view.
"Angelus." Her voice is low and enticing as she glances up to match his hungry gaze.
Angelus has to suppress his own shiver at her voice, so achingly familiar. They're alone - just the two of them. And the century between this time and the last melts away as insubstantial. Angelus finds himself crossing the room in one instantaneous burst of speed the moment she speaks. He is on his knees, worshipping her. His hands slide across her bodice and around her waist, his body pressing between her parted knees, his face buried in the heaving curves of her breasts. "Hello, darling."
Darla makes a soft noise, something like relief that makes him want to shred his soul to a thousand pieces for causing, and then her hands are coming up to stroke across his face and into his hair. She lets him linger only a few moments, before her grip tightens and she is hauling him up for a greedy kiss. Her mouth is demanding, tongue thrust against his and teeth nipping at his lips.
He growls and bites down on her invading tongue, and then fangs are replacing blunt teeth and all he can taste is their shared blood. He presses her harder into the sturdy leather chair, hands busy undoing the laces of her corset with the practiced ease bred from living through the 18th century, while their mouths continue their passionate battle.
Far from idle, Darla has him stripped before he's finished with her corset. He may be good at lacings, but Darla is a professional. She tears herself away long enough to laugh mockingly, albeit breathlessly, at him and tilts her hips to make his task easier. "Out of practice, lover?"
"Just enjoying the view." Then they are naked, lips already bloodstained, and his gaze rakes over her. This new body is slightly different from her old, but he remembers how it feels under his hands just the same.
As his hands come up to trace along pale, cool skin, Angelus imagines the blood and bruises that will flare and fade in his wake. He wants to mark her and reclaim her and bathe her in blood.
His favorite canvas.
Darla traces her fingertips absently across Angelus' brow. His head is pillowed on her chest, one arm thrown possessively across her waist. In another life, she'd have put him in his place - reminded him that no man owns her. Now, she thinks she almost understands. So many centuries and lives lie between them now that his weight over her grounds her in this one - reassuring.
"Penny for your thoughts, darling," Angelus rumbles, voice thick and sleepy. It should be midday outside, she thinks - if there were still days. And isn't it perfect that they are reunited under endless night?
"I was thinking that I've mellowed in my age," Darla says instead, glancing down to see Angelus regarding her with upturned eyes.
He pushes himself up, sliding over her to grin rakishly, her hand trailing easily down his back as he moves, resting over where she knows his tattoo lies. She remembers the stench of blood and ink when he first had it burned into his skin. Her angel. "You didn't seem much mellowed an hour ago, lover," he teases, dipping his head to nuzzle and nip at her neck.
Darla tilts her head back into the crisp sheets, allowing him better access. They're insatiable for one another, after so long. They'd always been insatiable, but there's something different in it now, a little more desperate than she'd ever admit aloud. "I should have your tongue out for contradicting me."
Angelus chuckles at her threats, "Aye, but you do so enjoy my tongue where it is," he proceeds to demonstrate, stalking down her body with the practiced ease that even a century apart cannot dull.
Darla lets him slip through her fingers, arching her body up to meet his lips and tongue and teeth. "Impertinent childe," it comes out half chastisement and half fond, "But then, you always did know how to make it up to me."
They only speak through their flesh for a long while after that. Angelus has always been excellent at distracting her, and, for once, Darla is disinclined to argue the point.
It is not until much later, after they've caught unneeded breaths and collapsed sweaty and satiated back onto the bloodstained sheets, that Darla asks the question that has been plaguing her. "What is he like?"
She stares out the window at the smoky sky as she asks, even when she feels Angelus roll back toward her, his hand lazily tracing across her spine. "Who's this, now?"
Angelus sits up with a curse and a low growl. "He's... impertinent," he steals her words from earlier, and there is nothing fond about them at all.
Darla turns back toward Angelus, pressing her body to his, tracing his brow and jaw in soothing stokes even as she offers wryly, "All our children are."
Try as he might, Angelus' demon is complacent, submissive, around her. The anger he would like to feel melts into frustration and confusion. He huffs instead, "Seems hell-bent on killing me. Dear old Holtz told him all our misdeeds while he was off in a hell dimension and now Junior wants vengeance for his adopted daddy and all the screaming peasants."
Darla shrugs as best she can, swallowing back the bile that has no place at his words. They both know far too much about living through various hells, often of their own making. "I seem to recall William swearing he would have my head a time or two. And we won't even discuss Drusilla."
She feels strangely open and naked, which has nothing to do with her state of undress. Angelus knows her well enough to see through to what she's asking, or he used to, and too much of her is terrified that he'll reject her for this. She would deserve it - she's rejected him for less before.
Angelus sighs, but does not pull away immediately. "What did you go see him for?"
"I didn't. Being dead tends to limit one's sources of information. I was going to drop in on... Angel... and tell him that self-sacrifices weren't all they're cracked up to be." She turns her head away again, not certain that she wants Angelus to see the feelings that are leaking out around her eyes, "I wasn't even sure Connor had survived."
Angelus wraps his arms around her and pulls her close, tucking her head under his chin. If his hold is a little too tight, Darla breathes in his scent and rests her head against his cool skin, saying nothing. "He stole you away from me. I had to watch you die, again, because of Connor. Even the fucking soul didn't want to let you go." He tilts her chin up, "He'll try to kill you, Darla. And I'm not about to let you go this time."
Something in his eyes looks haunted, the part that has been trapped, caged behind a soul for too long. It was never like her or Angelus to admit that they'd miss one another, but it has been so long and they have missed each other. Darla presses her lips to his in a harsh reminder that they are both very much (un)alive. "You won't have to."
When they part, Angelus sprawls back out on the bed with a dark expression. "Won't I?"
Darla curls up on his chest this time, smiling when his arm comes up to pull her closer. The boy means nothing to Angelus - should mean nothing to her. But she remembers carrying the child inside her - the hunger and the pain and the sacrifice and the love. "He's ours, Angelus. We just have to give him time. He's family, after all."
She's easy enough to track, once Connor puts his mind to it. He's always been extra sensitive to tracking vampires, Angelus in particular. And now Darla, as well. He wonders if he should find it amusing that the very creatures he hunts are so much easier to find because he was created from them. But that just reminds Connor of the Sanctuary spell, and he doesn't like to think about the nature of his birth anyway.
That's not why he's trying to find her, he tells himself resolutely. He needs to make sure that his family - Cordelia and their child - is safe. He needs to know what Darla is planning, what she wants from him. That is all. He'll find her, find out if he needs to kill her and go.
Connor keeps a wary watch for Angelus but, though their scents cross as he tracks her, Darla is alone when he finds her.
She's standing outside of what used to be Caritas, the alleyway where he was born, running her hands along the charred walls. She doesn't turn when he enters the alley, crossbow raised warily. "It was raining, when I died here. When you were born."
Connor refuses to be shaken by the strange light melancholy in her voice. By the questions he suddenly feels he needs answers to - why she died here, for him - why she would possibly want to bring anyone into this world. It doesn't matter - he shakes his head and tries to keep his focus. "How did you know about Cordelia?"
Darla turns and faces him, even less concerned about his crossbow than the first time they met. "I could smell it. Angelus could too, if he were a little older or smarter, or not so busy playing his games."
She's walking towards him, slowly. Connor snorts and adjusts the aim on his crossbow until she stops moving forward. "And you're not playing games?"
"No," Darla seems as surprised as he is. "I meant it when I said I wanted to get to know you. I gave my life for yours, Connor. You were the first unselfish thing I've done in four hundred years."
"So, what, you're - curious?"
She shrugs, as though that is as good an answer as any - as though she's not quite sure herself. "Before you were born, I told Angel that you were the one good thing we'd ever done together. Was I right?"
Connor kicks at the charred filth littering the ground. He'd rather not look at her and face all the strange feelings that are churning inside him. But he has to keep her in her sights. "You're a vampire. What do you care?"
Darla regards him with a half-smile. "I'm not sure I do."
He shouldn't listen to any more of this drivel. He should turn around and leave - better still, he should kill her while she's dropped her guard around him. Instead, Connor finds himself asking, "Why did you leave me?" He scoffs to cover how badly he needs the answer, demanding, "Did you hate me that much?"
The little smile is gone - replaced by distress and what might be pity. "Baby, no. I wanted to be with you more than anything."
"You killed yourself," he accuses, hating the way he wants to believe that. "I wasn't even born yet. And you-"
Darla cuts him off gently but firmly. "I did what I had to." She laughs but it is without humor, "My life for yours. I did so many terrible things, Connor, so much destruction, so much pain. You were the one good thing I ever did. The only good thing. I'd die every day for the rest of eternity for you."
She seems so desperately honest - her palms out, her stance relaxed. She makes no move to approach him, but he can tell she'd like to. He swallows hard. Shakes his head to clear it and tightens his grip on the crossbow. "How do I even know it's really you, and not some trick?"
Darla seems to shake herself out of her melancholy. "Well, Angelus believes it's me. And he's checked - very thoroughly."
Connor sneers, disgusted again - disgusted in the way he should have been when she was telling him about all the destruction she'd caused with the monster she made him with. "Then maybe you should go back to him. Leave me alone."
Darla regards him for a long moment. So long that Connor has to fight the urge to fidget, his finger twitching nervously over the crossbow trigger. Finally, she shrugs delicate shoulders, taking a step further into the depths of the alley. "Oh Connor, if only it were that simple."
He moves forward to follow, to keep her where he can see her, but she's already gone.
Nothing is simple. There's the Beast to deal with, for one. The Beastmaster, for another. Angelus has decided to make a present of them for Darla. While she is off playing with their offspring, he starts to put together a plan to rid himself of his new best friends.
Friends really are only good for killing later.
If he can draw the Beastmaster out, he's certain him and Darla can come up with an appropriately bloody plan to deal away with the uninvited guest in his head. Neither of them have ever appreciated omniscient beings.
The Beast, he kind of wants to deal with himself.
He's also curious to see how omniscient his Jiminy Criket is - whether or not the Beastmaster will know about Darla. Best to keep her out of things at first, in case the Beastmaster is bluffing with that all seeing bit, as Angelus suspects. He can keep Darla as his vicious surprise.
Of course, he's also got the nasty suspicion that killing the Beast will bring back the sun. Disappointing, that. Still, it's getting more than a bit hard to find any viable food with every creature of darkness gorging themselves on a 24/7 buffet. Dodging the sun is probably worth keeping the food supply stable. Especially if it means he gets to kill Rock for Brains.
Then there's the whole connection between Connor and the Beast that makes him uneasy. Darla seems somewhat attached to the kid, probably because she hasn't had the displeasure of getting to know him. Well, he supposes she has humored some of his less than sane childer. And this one has their blood as much as any. If putting up with some snot-nosed brat is the price he has to pay for getting Darla back, he'll pay it.
But if Connor so much as attempts to lay a hand on Darla, Angelus will kill him without remorse and take whatever punishment Darla exacts gladly.
So he'll go meet with the Beast, play at being de-fanged, and see what he can learn until there is an ideal time to rid himself of the Pet Rock and its master. If the opportunity presents itself to toss out Junior at the same time, well - Angelus won't complain.
One seedy demon bar later and a whiff of familiar blood and he's conveniently located the Beast's "hideout". Angelus strolls casually into the abandoned warehouse where one hard, dumb and annoyed piece of rock glares at him. Angelus chuckles. "Well, you haven't changed in the last couple hundred years. Still a big dumb hunk of rock looking to kick my ass? You didn't have to lure me all the way out here. I don't know if you've noticed, but it's eternal night. Monsters in the streets. Yadda, yadda. You don't need to hole up in an abandoned warehouse. Live a little."
The Beast glares at Angelus, or glares more than he had previously, at least. The creature has a limited repertoire of expressions as far as Angelus can tell, and most of them involve glaring. The Beast's voice is slightly wistful as he responds, choosing to ignore most of Angelus' speech. "It's true I long to crush your skull, but I didn't bring you here to fight. That wasn't my instruction."
That stops Angelus in his tracks. "Your instruction?"
The Beast smiles, which is not a pleasant sight, gesturing imperiously to Angelus. "My master has requested you."
"Your master?" Now they're getting somewhere. Not to mention the wicked looking dagger set out ceremonially on an overturned barrel. Angelus whistles and keeps his tone casually insulting. "Nice workmanship. Did you make this in shop for daddy?"
Angelus is close to the dagger when the Beast snatches it away from him. The big lug can move pretty fast when he wants to.
"Don't touch that!"
Angelus chuckles, making a note that he needs to get a hold of that dagger. Rock for brains was protesting just a touch too much, and... oh, of course. "Sorry. I can see you put a lot of yourself into it. So... the attack on Angel Investigations, rain of fire, blotting out the sun -"
Thankfully, the Beast is easily distracted from Angelus' faux pas with the bone dagger. "Stealing your soul," it gleefully sneers, "all designed by my master to bring forth and keep Angelus."
Angelus laughs again because, really, the Beast is just too much. A minion that isn't even smart enough to resent being used as a pawn. Dangerous thing to be, a pawn. "Hell of a plan. Real "big picture" thinking. So, when can I meet the big brain behind my liberation?"
The Beast sniffs imperiously. "In time. For now, you will take your orders through me."
Oh, the Beast would get a kick out of that. Angelus groveling to do his bidding. Like that's gonna happen. "Or, here's a better idea: no, I won't." He strolls right up into the Beast's personal space. It smells worse than it looks, as he's tried to forget. "Tell your boss I'm grateful for the attention, but I don't take grocery lists from the messenger boy."
Sure enough, the Beast becomes enraged. Really, he'd been holding up admirably. The Beastmaster really has brought the Beast to heel. Well, almost. "I will teach you respect!"
Angelus is not impressed. "Look, you may have played those suckers at Angel, Inc., but I don't like having my strings yanked, and I don't like being kept in the dark." He smiles, "Figuratively, anyway. And if your boss was half as smart as he thinks he is, he knows I won't take orders from a lackey."
As expected, the Beast glares at him again. Angelus amps up the insults, which he can't say is a hardship. "What? You don't like lackey? Hmm. Or how about, uh, toady? Or lickspittle? Lickspittle's nice. Oh, wait, I got it. Flunky." The Beast's fists clench and Angelus knows he's got him. "That's it. You're just a big, stupid, butt-ugly-"
The Beast lunges at him, but misses. He can move faster than one would expect for a giant pile of rocks, but his speed is nothing compared to a vampire.
Angelus ducks away from the painful wall of rock that is the Beast's fist, and continues blithely, as though he had not been interrupted. "Slow-moving flunky."
The Beast swings at him again, giving Angelus a chance to get a hold of the dagger without the Beast noticing. "Ah, come on, Rocky. If that's all you got, you better throw in the towel and call it a night." Prize secured, Angelus makes for the rafters. "When the Beastmaster's ready to peek out from behind your skirt, have him give me a call."
He disappears from the Beast's view, counting on the rock-head to be too wound up to notice that he hasn't actually left.
The resulting scene is more than interesting. The Beast is whipped all right, though he had the taunt about hiding behind skirts backwards... Well, well, Angelus wouldn't have thought the Cheerleader had it in her.
But apparently Little Miss Perfect has had more than a few things inside her lately. Which is absolutely a disgusting thought. Thank hell the soul never got over himself enough to bang her - Angelus prefers not to share bedmates with a hunk of stone and stupidity. He'll leave that dubious honor to Junior.
Oh, Darla is gonna love this.
Darla is not pleased.
The Beastmaster is sleeping with her child, likely wagering his TPTB-granted life as a bargaining chip to bring forth the magic required for world domination. The pretty little Cheerleader is warping Connor's head to her own ends.
Honestly, if anyone is going to manipulate her offspring, it's Darla.
Angelus is less than thrilled about her plans regarding Connor, but he's distracted ripping some spare Slayer to tormented pieces. Besides, he's learned by now not to question Darla when she has her mind set.
He got to kill the Beast, at least, which improved his mood immensely, even if it did bring back the sun. Darla doesn't mind - she's always appreciated the view sunlight affords.
What she doesn't appreciate is watching her son kidnapping some helpless virgin at the behest of his monstrous lover.
Darla's been watching Connor's progress curiously. She should probably feel something about the virginal girl - but whatever vestiges of her soul or Connor's allow her to feel for the boy does not extend to strangers. Her only interest in the girl is what Connor plans to do with her.
Which, honestly, is more than abundantly clear by the time he makes it to the warehouse.
In another of her lives, Darla might appreciate the manipulations of the Cheerleader. Conner is touching the very darkness that Darla needs if she's going to bring him with her and Angelus. But this is her offspring, and she feels - responsible for him. She certainly didn't send herself back to hell to watch him throw his shiny soul away. And this - Darla may not care for the girl, but she knows something about murder and sacrifice and bathing souls in blood. It's not something one comes back from.
Darla has always been a selfish creature - it's the one constant of her many lives. But she would rather lose Connor than see him broken. And this - the Cheerleader's little plan - it will break whatever part of Connor survived a hell dimension and still came out believing in justice.
Not that justice is at all what it's cracked up to be. Darla's lived enough lives to know that the just do not get what they deserve, and no good deed goes unpunished.
The girl is weeping in the corner, where Connor dropped her. "Let me go," she sobs, as millions before her, "please..."
Darla slips from the shadows, careful not to startle Connor as she walks toward the girl. "I know that sound, the look in her eyes, the smell of fear," she muses as she kneels down next to the girl and shushes her with a hand against her cheek that does not offer comfort. She looks back at Connor, smiling sweetly. "I've nurtured it a thousand times in all the people that I've murdered."
Connor stiffens at the accusation. "You don't understand. We need her for our baby to keep it safe."
Her poor boy. He looks confused, desperate for someone's approval. She's been gone too long if he's seeking it in the arms of the Cheerleader rather than from her. Still, it might not be too late. Darla has never sugar-coated her words, and she does not intend to start. Not with something as important as her child's soul. The irony of her trying to save someone's soul after she took so many, after she did everything to take Angel's, is not lost on her. "By anointing it in the blood of an innocent?" Darla fixes Connor with an incredulous look. "You really think that safety can be plucked from the arms of an evil deed?"
Connor looks torn, shaken. Still, he sneers at her. "Good, evil. They're just words."
Darla shakes her head. "Don't let this happen, Connor. Is this who you want to be? A monster that is feared and hated?"
Connor clenches his jaw. There are huge circles under his eyes that say he hasn't slept. His mind is twisted up around the Cheerleader and all his hopes for family. "They hate us... because we're special."
The girl sobs openly. "I don't hate you. Please."
She's braver than Darla would have expected. Still, Darla ignores her. She offers Connor the smile she usually saves for Angelus when he is being impossibly dense. Connor takes too much after his father. "They're scared because of what you've done not because of what you are."
Agitated, Connor begins to pace. "They wanted to kill me when I was still inside of you."
Ah, so he's figured that bit out. At least that means he might believe her now; that she hadn't died to get away from him but to save him. Darla stands and extends her arms to him. Connor so desperately needs family. She understands. And a mother's love is something that is eternal. "But that changed when they saw you, held you in their arms, felt the warmth of your skin, the goodness in your heart."
He doesn't approach her and Darla suppresses a sigh. She held him in another body and is yet to hold him in her arms. Connor retreats, shaking his head, hysterical. "And it will happen again when they hold my child." His gaze drifts apologetically to the girl in the corner. "It's the only way."
Darla keeps her gaze locked on him, her voice calming, even as she knows their time is running out. Angelus and the Beastmaster are making their way here, and her plans will all end better if Connor comes away with her now. If he doesn't see what has to be done. "You have a choice, Connor. That is something more precious then you'll ever know."
"What choice?" he yells, brandishing his weapon and rounding on her, "They're hunting us like animals!
Darla ignores his threatening posture, walking closer. "Because you're acting like one. As a vampire, I killed without mercy or remorse because I didn't have a soul." She uses the past tense even though she's not sure what her current status is. She hasn't tested her remorse this go around, but she doubts her conscience extends into mercy or remorse. Darla cocks her head and demands, "What's your excuse?"
Connor takes a step back, shaken and shaking his head. His voice is a broken whisper. "You think I wanna do this?"
Darla shrugs easily. "Then don't."
This time, when Connor shakes his head, his eyes are wet and his voice is a broken sob. "I have to."
He looks to her as though she can somehow fix everything, and some forgotten part of Darla aches for him. She wants to make it better for him, even though she knows better than most that sometimes, once the world has broken you down, there is no making it better. "Why?" She gestures maliciously toward the far room where she knows Cordelia is, distracted by pain, rituals and, with any luck, Angelus. "Because she told you? There are things happening, Connor, things that I can't-" Darla sighs, resigned - she won't be the one to tell him the truth about Cordelia, not here, not now. "It has to be your choice. You can stop this."
Connor fixes bitter eyes on her, gesturing callously toward the girl. "Her blood for our baby's. It's fair, isn't it?"
The girl is openly weeping again. Sobbing a repetition of, "Please. I just wanna go home."
Agitated, Connor rounds on the girl, "Shut up!"
Darla sighs again, placing herself between the bleating virgin and Connor. "This isn't you, Connor."
Connor sneers and brushes past her, "You've been gone a long time, Mom. How would you know?"
Darla catches his arm and halts him in his tracks. Connor glares at her, fighting her grip but making no move to properly threaten her with the axe. Not that he could get anywhere. His fighting style is sloppy, and he's young. He may have her blood, but he will never be as fast or as strong as her. Darla softens her voice to counter her rough grip, even though she'd like to shake some sense into the boy. "Because we shared a soul. I feel the pain, the anger, the hurt, like it were my own. But most of all, I feel the good in you and no matter how much you're beaten or twisted or lied to, it's still there in your heart. I know it, and deep down, you know it, too."
She releases him and steps back, waiting as Connor contemplates the young girl cowering in the corner, giving her words a chance to sink in.
With a pained sound, Connor goes for the girl. If Darla had breath, it would be caught in her throat. But he kneels and unties the girl's hands, muttering, "Shh. Shh - it's okay."
Darla smiles at Connor when he looks back at her for reassurance, and the smile is genuine. "You're all right now. Everything's going to be all right."
Of course, that is the moment that Cordelia appears. She stares at Darla, and then her gaze shifts to Connor, who has frozen near the virgin. "What are you doing?!"
Connor stutters, his eyes darting between the occupants of the room like a trapped lamb lined up for slaughter. "Nothing. I - uh." He straightens, addressing Cordelia as he gestures to the girl. "She didn't do anything. We should let her go."
Cordelia looks like she wants to yank the girl from Connor's grip, but the pregnant woman keeps a wary eye on Darla. She's learned enough not to turn her back on the vampire, at least, whatever she is now - the Cheerleader certainly doesn't smell entirely human, unless that's the Beast rubbing off. "No, we shouldn't." She tries, cajolingly, "We need her, Connor. Our baby-"
"She's lying to you," Darla interrupts, relishing the glare she receives from the Cheerleader.
Connor straightens, licking his dry lips and trying to stand his ground. "Cordy - our baby shouldn't be anointed with innocent blood."
"Anointed?" Cordelia spits back, incredulous, "What a big word - did she tell you that. Has she been confusing you? Why listen to her, Connor? She's just a trick. Angel's trying to turn you against me by torturing you with this sad, dead imitation of your mother."
"You're one to talk," Darla counters, keeping her stance relaxed and relishing the way the Cheerleader stiffens, as though expecting an attack. Darla knows from experience that hefting around the bulk of a baby can slow one down, and she doesn't think Cordelia has the preternatural ability to offset the extra weight. The deal is usually omniscience or strength, not both. "You don't exactly smell human, Cordelia. What has gotten inside you to make you twist and lie and use my son like this?"
A low whistle announces Angelus' presence. He'd been giving her time, she knew, distracting Cordelia in case she was still in his head. "I gotta hand it to you, Cordy. I didn't think you had it in you. Rain of fire, blotting out the sun, screwing my kid. Not to mention the pretty impressive apocalypse mojo you've got all set up in the other room."
Cordelia turns desperate, wide eyes on Connor. "Are you going to let them do this to us? Are you going to let them kill our baby?"
Angelus laughs outright. "What baby? You mean that thing inside you that's growing creepy fast?" He rolls his eyes and glances at Connor. "Use your head, Junior. Whatever's inside her isn't a baby."
"How do you know?" Conner counters, stricken, and seething at Angelus' presence. "I was supposed to be impossible."
They're all facing off in a loose circle, careful not to advance or retreat. The little virgin is still whimpering somewhere behind Connor, though she seems to have finally realized that she should not be drawing such attention to herself. If she's smart, she'll run away while the monsters are distracted.
Angelus snorts. "Even your mother was pregnant for a full nine months with you, Connor."
Darla nods, raising one hand to her flat, barren stomach. "It's true. I felt you grow and kick. I felt your heartbeat and your soul, Connor. For nine months. What do you feel when you get near that thing inside Cordelia?"
"Be fair, now, darling. I don't think he's ever actually seen Cordelia screwing Rock for Brains. It would be a bit hard to miss." Angelus watches Connor's gutted expression and Cordelia's narrowed eyes with amusement. "Oh, was that a secret? Did you really not notice Cordelia and the Beast? I mean, she's been behind this whole thing. And you've been, what? Running around at her beck and call like a kicked puppy begging for scraps?"
Cordelia nearly launches herself at Angelus, which is likely exactly what he is hoping happens.
Connor's snarled, "That's not true!" stops Cordelia in her tracks.
The larger woman turns back to Connor, her voice taking on the type of sickeningly sweet quality that Darla associates with poison. "It's not true. Of course it's not. This is just how much your father hates you."
Angelus takes the opportunity to inch closer to Cordelia, while Darla makes her way nearer to Connor. There's a butcher's knife glinting in Cordelia's hand.
Darla needs Connor's focus on her. He still has that trapped animal look. She hates to see her offspring looking like prey, when he should be anything but. "Connor, listen to me. Listen to your senses. Does any part of her seem human?"
Connor is just starting to shake his head and step back from Cordelia when Angelus makes his move. He embeds the Beast's dagger straight through her, the tip poking out of Cordelia's chest.
Cordelia's mouth opens, black blood already dribbling out of her lips, as she looks down. "Angelus! I'll kill-" but the hand brandishing the butcher's knife goes limp before she can finish the sentence.
Connor makes a wounded animal noise, but Darla closes her arms around him before he can go after Angelus with the axe. "It wasn't her, baby. She wasn't human anymore."
"You should listen to your mother, Junior," Angelus agrees, letting Cordelia's body drop as he quickly moves out of the way.
The ground is already shaking where Cordelia lies. A strange black ooze seeps out into the floor that is anything but blood, while lumps and shapes form in her distended stomach in a way that is definitely not human. They retreat, Connor struggling in Darla's grip as she drags him away from the husk of Cordelia.
They make it outside before the earth splits and the entire warehouse sinks out of sight, metal and wood and cement cracking and crashing into the resulting pit.
Connor tears himself free, eyes wild as he races to the edge of the abyss, collapsing there in a pitiful heap.
Angelus sighs, his hand catching Darla's arm as she moves to follow Connor. "We should go now, Darla."
His eyes are tight, worried, but Darla shakes him off, keeping her voice too low for Connor to hear. "This is our child, Angelus, and he's hurting because of that vapid Cheerleader. We're the only ones allowed to hurt him."
"He's never going to forgive us our sins," Angelus reminds her, brooding already. "He's broken and he'll try to kill us."
Darla offers him an indulgent smile. "That's what makes him family." And then she slips out of Angelus' grasp and makes her way to the edge.
Despite everything, Angelus stays. Darla can feel his wary, resigned eyes on her as she kneels carefully next to Connor.
She takes her son in her arms for the first time. He stiffens for only a moment, and then he is clutching at her, sobbing brokenly in her cold embrace. "Hush now, baby," she soothes, humming an old lullaby she only half remembers from another life, "Everything will be all right."
Crouched on the dirty edge of a gaping pile of cement and magic, Darla cradles her son in her arms and dares to hope.