"I'll ask this again nicely," Angel said, his hand clenching more tightly around the sword he'd gotten from Skip's guard. "Where is Cordelia?"
"I heard you the first time, champ. She's here," Skip said, doing the demon-without-hair version of a hair flip. "What, did you think that your girl was gone? No man, she's here. Maybe not in the driver's seat but," he spread his hands, his voice trailing off.
Gritting his teeth, Angel slowly circled his prey. "Cordelia wouldn't."
"Wouldn't? Wouldn't what? Mess with your son? Get pregnant? Puh-leeze." Skip showed an amazing lot of teeth. "It's all been orchestrated and you've been led around by your nose. Or," he flicked his eyes south, "some other, more appropriate body part."
Skip snorted. "Don't you listen to anything? We've well, they've been involved in every step you took. From Cordelia getting the visions to Gunn's sister becoming a vampire to that British ex-Watcher joining your crew. That girl genius, what's her name, Fred? Opened the book just when we wanted her to. Pylea? Got you out of the way for some other stuff they had going on." Skip turned to follow Angel's movement. "You know, I was really looking forward to a rematch. I hated taking that dive when you came and pulled Billy from his cage of fire."
"You couldn't be everywhere," Angel said, eyeing Skip closely. The demon was huge, bigger than he remembered. He hoped the sword would be enough. "You didn't know that Doyle would sacrifice himself to stop the Mohra demons."
"Yeah, if you'd made an ash of yourself, they might've given that other vamp his soul that much sooner," Skip said, shrugging. "But you didn't, so they could make use of your seer's death to make sure Cordelia got his visions." He snickered. "The visions aren't meant to be borne by a human.' I can't believe you all fell for that one. Just another of their little manipulations."
"I don't believe you." Angel felt his body tensing upright. He felt something tingling through his awareness. It couldn't be.
"What's not to believe? They just did a little tweaking of Cordelia's brain not that there was much effort in that and viola, instant migraines associated with the visions." He gestured around the cavern, meaning outside of it. "You have to admit, they're pretty tricky. Come on, Angel. You're the champion. You didn't really believe that Cordelia Chase was elevated to a Higher Being, right?"
"I know I wouldn't." The voice came from the stairway. "But then, I went to high school with her."
Both Skip and Angel straightened as a petite blonde walked down the stairs, Skip in surprise, Angel in recognition. "You know, you ought to clean up more when you have guests. There's this demon," she hooked a thumb over her shoulder, "up there, stretched out like a Mack truck hit him." She stuck out her lower lip at their lack of reactions. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I? I mean, this isn't a whole big private affair?"
Skip stared at her. "Who are you?"
Angel held up a hand in warning at Skip and said, "I'll get back to you." In his best threatening voice, he added, "We're not finished yet." He then stalked across the floor to where Buffy stood on the last step, her arms folded, greeting him with a cheeky smile. "What are you doing here?"
"Hello to you, too," Buffy scolded.
"You know this woman?"
Angel glanced back at Skip. "Yes." He turned to Buffy. "I asked you a question."
One of her shoulders lifted in an indifferent shrug. "Wes called. Said you might need some help. Sounded all apocalyptic-y." Her nose wrinkled. "Something about a demon baby that could destroy the world?"
"It will," Skip rumbled behind Angel, "and there's nothing you can do about it."
Buffy peered around Angel to look at Skip. Her expression changed to disbelieving before she straightened, asking Angel in all seriousness, "Does he know who I am?"
"He knows everything else," Angel said dryly. "Or that's his claim."
"I heard that," Skip muttered.
"Oh." Buffy peeked around Angel again. "So, he's supposed to know who I am?" she asked Angel dubiously.
"And he has answers about the demon baby?" Buffy stepped onto the floor so she could study Skip without having to look around Angel.
"I know everything about that child." Skip's grin returned once the attention was focused on him.
"Uh, huh." Buffy took a deep breath. "Okay, so there's this demon baby." She started walking aimlessly away from Angel.
"Being carried by the woman he loves," Skip said gloatingly.
She stopped walking, glancing back at Angel then at Skip. Her voice dripped icicles. "The woman he loves?"
"Maybe we should get back to Cordelia," Angel said, starting in the opposite direction of Buffy. "And what you know about her, Skip."
"Yeah," Buffy said. "I heard something about higher being," she made air quotes, "and Cordelia Chase in the same sentence. I'd love someone to explain that one to me."
Skip was only too happy to spill. "Cordelia Chase, made a higher being for all her, what, sacrifices of clothes and shoes? Like a few little migraines would prove her worthiness to ascension? But all of you believed it."
"Really?" Buffy exchanged another glance with Angel, her nose wrinkling. "You believed that?"
He spread his hands. "What can I say? I thought it made sense at the time."
"Oh, Angel." Disappointment colored her voice and he winced.
"Oh, it gets better, blondie. Angel and his little friends even believed that Cordelia was in paradise and came back here!" Skip's laughter was disturbing. "I mean, sure, there was this one case, with a Slayer, but -"
"Paradise?" Angel interrupted. It was his turn to give Buffy a disturbed look.
"Yeah, well," Buffy said, waving off his concern. "I'm sure Cordelia was as thrilled to come back from Heaven as I was." Her smile became decidedly wicked as Skip turned slowly, ponderously towards her. "Darn. I probably shouldn't have said that, should I?"
"You're a Slayer?" Skip all but whispered.
"That's what it says on my business cards." Buffy made a show of patting down her pockets. "Or it would, if I carried business cards."
"You can't be."
Angel showed all his teeth in a mocking smile. "Take my word for it, Skip. She's the Slayer."
"Buffy Summers at your service." Her voice was chirpy and familiar; the "good guy, bad guy" routine. They'd done this before. Only the "good guy" never actually existed. Just "somewhat nicer than the other guy". And Angel wasn't even sure which one he was supposed to be this time.
Not that it mattered if it got them what they needed.
Skip started backing up. "That can't be right. You'reƒyou were dead."
"What can I say?" Buffy smirked. "I got better." She closed the distance between herself and the demon, turning her forward momentum into a punch to Skip's midsection. She yelped and fell back, shaking her hand. "What is he made of, rock?"
"That was the last demon," Angel told her as he attacked from the other side.
Skip swatted him into the wall. "You can't defeat me," he snarled.
"That's what you think," Buffy said, leaping into the air with a spinning sidekick. It rocked Skip back but he still had the presence of mind to grab for her as she landed. Buffy danced out of his reach. "Angel? A little help?"
"Coming," he growled, grabbing his stolen sword from the ground and rushing back in. He swept the weapon in a high, overhead arc, slicing through Skip's horn. Buffy kicked out as the demon wailed, her foot connecting with his jaw. Angel brought the pommel of his sword down on Skip's head and the demon staggered.
"Once more," Buffy said, diving in. Angel swung around, timing his strike to Buffy's. His heavy boot and Buffy's sneakered foot struck on opposite sides of Skip's head, making it ring. The demon wavered, his mouth opening. Buffy was still in a coiled position, ready to take another swing. Angel caught her shoulder as the demon slowly toppled. "The bigger they are," Buffy said as Skip crashed to the floor.
"The harder they fall," Angel finished off for her.
She gave him a quick, surprised grin. "I didn't know you knew that one."
Angel scoffed. "Everyone knows that one, Buffy."
"Yeah, well, everyone doesn't know that Cordelia, the woman you love," she hit that last word in a particular tone, "is pregnant with a demon baby."
Angel set aside his sword to yank some chain from the ceiling. He began wrapping the links around Skip's limbs. "Wes really called you?"
"Willow said she didn't think everything was on the level here and then Wes called." She shrugged that shoulder again. "And my spidey sense was tingling. Which is never of the good."
"So," Angel said, making sure the bindings were as secure as they could be. "Paradise?" He didn't rise from his place next to Skip's body, just looked up at her. She turned a little away, her hands fussing with her hair, twining with each other. "Buffy?"
"Yeah." She ducked her head.
He rose then, going to her, laying his hands on her shoulders. "Buffy, I'm sorry."
She stiffened at his touch then relaxed, leaning back against his chest lightly, her hands coming up to circle his wrists. "Yeah, well. I'm back now." She sighed and stepped away from him, breaking the contact, all business. "Now, about this demon baby." She cocked her head at Skip. "What else do you think he knows?"
"I'm not sure," Angel said, letting his questions, his concerns, go for now. "But I think we probably need to find out."
"Your place is closer."
"Just so you know," Buffy said, pointing at Skip, "I'm not into the whole carrying the demon body thing."
"You're stronger than me."
"Men carry demons. Women carry," she chirped delightedly, spotting it, "the sword." With a flourish, she picked it up.
"Right. Then you can fight anything that tries to attack us," Angel said.
"I'll take care of it." Buffy started up the stairs.
"You do that," he grumbled, squatting to haul Skip up over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. He rose awkwardly, forced to find his balance first before following Buffy.
"While we're on the way, you can tell me all about this woman you love," Buffy said, her voice carrying down to him.
"Are you sure you heard that right? Maybe he didn't say love', maybe he said glove'. As in, the woman I glove'. That makes sense, right?" Angel started up the stairs carefully, trying to find his balance.
"I heard love'." She waited at the top of the steps. "You're slow. I don't remember you being this slow."
"I never had to carry someone as big as Skip before," Angel said through gritted teeth. "And about that whole woman I love' thing?"
"Yes?" Buffy drew the word out.
"There's only one of you."