"We had a plan," Gunn said.
"Seems like it worked," Connor said. He was wiping blood from the demon dogs off his hands and onto his pants. He was going to burn these pants anyway, the smell of Pillors' blood was seriously toxic.
"The plan was you don't help," Gunn said.
The new guy moved two feet away to clean his guns. He seemed nice enough, Connor thought. He looked sort of like Harold from Harold and Kumar.
"I know," Connor said. "I'm down low, I get it. But no one's walking out of this one to tell the tale and I was nearby. I like getting to kill things while you make me do nothing and everyone's trying to kill the baby you won't let me track down."
"I'm not in charge of you, Connor," Gunn said. "Remember? Don't make me think about the last time I wasn't in charge of you."
Connor said, "You're still angry about that summer?"
"No, of course not," Gunn said. "Of course I am, you arrogant little shit. I never liked you."
"Sorry," Connor said. He really was.
"You look like I kicked your puppy," Gunn said. "Stop it."
Connor pressed his lips together and tried to think of an appropriate apology. Angel came out of the Pillors' den, growling and pissed. Spike was right behind him, looking unbelievably smug. Connor waved and braced himself for another round of yelling.
Instead Angel was all smiles as soon as he saw Connor, like usual. It was a little embarrassing. Connor said, "I know, I'm not supposed to be helping – "
"Hey, no one escaped so no one can talk," Angel said, clapping Connor on the shoulder. His hands were actually a little warm. Which was from the Pillors' effluvia and smelled really super bad.
Spike said, "Angel tried to let some of them get away to talk about, mind you."
"Wow, seriously, that smell," Connor said. "So you're not mad?"
"That's just me," Gunn said. "And I'm just pissed because one of the dogs puked his last on my shoes. Sorry."
"No, it's okay, I shouldn't have come," Connor said.
"I'm glad you came," Angel said. "But I agree with Gunn, you shouldn't have."
"Fighting evil always leads to bad smells," New Guy said. "Really bad smells."
"I completely agree," Connor said.
New Guy said, "Am I supposed to know why super-boy wasn't supposed to come?"
Gunn laughed. "Please do not call him that."
"It's Connor," Angel said. "He's not super. He's just a normal kid."
"Cat's kinda out of the bag on that one," Connor said. They did introductions where neither gave their last name and Connor didn't mention Stanford or how he knew Angel. He was mostly still feeling like an ass that Gunn didn't like him. He felt like he was pretty likable now.
Gunn said, "How were you in the neighborhood?"
"I finished my paper that was due and all my exams are next week so I thought I'd come down," Connor said. "See if I could do anything. There was nothing on TV."
"Good," Angel said. "I mean, not good. Because you shouldn't be part of this. We don't want people finding you, Connor."
"I know," Connor said. "I promise to leave right now."
"You don't have to leave right now," Angel said quickly. "How about some coffee? You like coffee, right?"
"Sure," Connor said.
He'd brought a bag, hoping he'd get to stay longer than a few hours so he was able to change at Wendell's warehouse. After he threw his stained clothes and once decent sneakers on the communal torch pile, he went down to the kitchen where Angel was brewing coffee. "This is a great espresso machine," Angel said. "Isn't it?"
"You're a barista now," Connor said.
"I know what that word means," Angel said. "If you were expecting me to say something stupid because I don't, I won't."
"No, I was just trying to be nice," Connor said. "I'm not doing very well with that tonight."
"Oh, Gunn's just, I mean, he likes you." Angel smiled and handed over a steaming mug. "Really."
"It's okay if he doesn't," Connor said.
Angel nodded. He sipped his own steaming mug and said nothing.
"There's blood in yours," Connor said. "I can smell it."
"None in yours," Angel said. "It's pig, though. Pig only. And espresso. It's a weird taste, but I like it."
"Oh, wow, that's a gross thought. Thanks for sharing."
"I have to agree," Gunn said. "I had no idea you were doing that." He sat down next to Connor. "Can I get one minus the o positive?"
Angel shrugged and turned back to his shiny machine. Gunn said, "It's not exactly the Hyperion, but we have two guest rooms if you don't want to drive upstate tonight."
"You should stay," Angel said. He was trying to sound casual and doing it badly. Angel could be kinda pathetic, it always made Connor feel a little guilty. This was parenting, he thought. Hopefully he would be more like his parents and less like Angel when he was finally allowed to be somewhat near Once.
"I figured I'd wait to tell my parents about all this, like, when everything's settled and I've had a chance to talk to Micah," Connor said. "Not to change the subject from the amazing guest rooms."
"They are amazing," Gunn said. "Yeah, I'd wait. We'll have a bunch of legal hoops to jump through, too."
"Like what?" Angel turned around and put Gunn's latte in front of him. "I made you a vanilla latte. I can do that."
Gunn smirked and sipped his drink. He started outlining the various steps they'd need to get Connor set up. Connor decided to take it as a "we're okay" kind of thing. Which also made him a little pathetic, he guessed. But he really did want to think Gunn liked him.
"Autumn," Micah said, "I'm just, you don't have to be here. You didn't have to turn down that editorial."
"It's about mystique," Autumn said. She looked mulish and stubborn. Micah already had mulish and stubborn in her baby, she thought.
"It's not mystique, that's the spin your agent wisely put on your foolish decision to turn down Numero because you wanted to hang around with me and my baby." Micah had almost finished packing her diaper bag with everything she'd need to spend ten whole minutes outside. In case of emergency. She was going to take Once to the park and she was going to watch her brilliant little girl toddle and play.
Autumn had Once sitting in her lap as she put on Once's favorite shoes. "She likes these best," Autumn said.
"Yes, I know," Micah said. "I got them for her."
"Duh," Autumn said, "you're a great mom."
"I'm just saying, you shouldn't be turning down work. You don't have to. Wait until you're 19 and you want that shoot back."
"I won't," Autumn said. She and Once were both making very stubborn faces. "I'll be really glad that I was able to help you out and be a good friend to you. And Once will be all, 'thanks Auntie Autumn.'"
Once said "thanks" with only a little bit of lisp and Autumn and Micah both clapped and said, "You're welcome."
"She'll say that," Autumn said.
Micah picked up Once and held her tight to her chest with both arms wrapped around her. "I've got you," she said.
"Thank you," Once said again. Then she waited for her clapping which only came from Autumn. It seemed to be enough for Once, she smiled and snuggled closer to Micah.
"See," Micah said. "My point is just, I've got five of you Slayers all buzzing about, and so far we've been fine. So you don't need to be here. I don't want anything happening to you, you know."
"As opposed to the rest of them," Autumn said quietly, opening the door for Micah and Once.
"I don't want anyone hurt," Micah said. "But with you, I'm just worried about your career. You should be worried about your career."
"Whatever," Autumn said. "Drop it, Micah." She looked back over her shoulder and for a moment Micah thought she looked much older than so very nearly 18. Thus, Micah thought, successful model for more than Seventeen magazine.
Autumn was turning down things, Micah was still taking what she could. It wasn't that easy for a model like her to come back from having a baby and even though she'd been working for the last 15 months, it still felt like a comeback. "I should find another job," she whispered to Once.
"Mahnh," Once said. Loudly. Then she started sniffling and then she was hitting Micah, pushing against her chest.
"Something's near," Micah said. She pressed on her new ring and hoped the stupid magic alarm worked this time. "Once smells something bad," she said.
Autumn looked back at her and said, "Up or down?"
"Let's keep going down, that's the closest to the street." They were both running then.
Autumn had her taser gun out. Micah was trying to get a very frightened and squirming Once into a sling while carrying her so she'd have her arms free. "Baby, come on," she said. Probably to Once and Autumn.
They reached the lobby and ran outside. "Cab," Autumn said. "We should get a cab."
Micah looked up and saw the window of her apartment turn black and then burst. She bent over to cover Once as the glass started falling. Once was crying and Micah was shouting and Autumn was very quiet.
"Autumn," Micah said and stood up. She was standing, she was fine, she was trying to signal a cab. "Autumn, they're in my place."
"We're not in your place, we've got to go, Micah."
Three Slayers came running up and Micah could hear sirens from a block or two away. One of the Slayers said, "What is it?"
"Something that smells bad," Micah said. "I don't know, they blew up my apartment." There was smoke billowing out. She thought of her very first Prada shoes she paid for herself and then remembered they were in Albany with her grandmother. In Once's hope chest. She had Once, and Autumn was all right and they just needed to keep everything like that.
"You three come with me," Giles said. She hadn't even seen him come up.
"Password," Micah said.
Giles smiled, "Yes, good. The password is Liya Kebede."
"You chose that," Autumn said, pushing Micah into Giles's car.
"We're going to get a ticket because Once isn't in a seat," Micah said. But they managed to make it to the Bronx with no one following them.
Micah took a deep breath and watched Once jump up and down in the sand box. It seemed safe enough, sitting here for half an hour before her four Slayer minders showed up. She was thinking she really should be more alert, more worried.
"Micah," she heard and she turned around and stared.
"Connor," she said. "Connor, what, how are you here?"
He smiled and he was standing right next to her. She said, "You're dead. The psychic told me you were dead."
"Well, I was, technically. Not for very long. And, uh, you." He looked around until she saw him see Once. "I'm sorry," he said.
"Sorry for what?" Micah suspected she sounded a little hysterical. People who were only technically dead but not for long just walking up to her on a playground in Long Island, she was okay with slightly hysterical. "How did you get here?"
But, of course, Once could hear that and she turned around immediately and toddled over to Micah. "Ma ma ma ma," she said.
"Wow," Connor said. "Wow."
"People are hunting her, you know," Micah said. She scooped up Once and hugged her too tight. Once squeaked, whined and then turned around to stare at Connor. "Once, sweetie," she said. She needed Once to be calm.
He was really transfixed by Once, which she understood. He said, "I know. I know they're after her. I'm not supposed to help because then people would realize I'm not dead. And that I exist. And my, people did things to pay for that and so I agreed, I feel responsible." He paused and reached out towards Once, not quite touching her. He said, "My friend Gunn said the stuff they were tracking, they thought maybe you were in New York City. He also said, um, he suggested maybe I wanted to interview for an internship. Here. Which was nice of him."
Once had twisted around to lean towards him. Micah said, "I don't get it, she doesn't really like people sometimes. I had this nurse practitioner who tried to tell me she was autistic or something but she's not. She's just really picky."
Connor reached out all the way and picked Once up from Micah's arms. Once stared at him and leaned forward until their noses were touching. Micah giggled hysterically and stopped herself from pulling her baby back to her. She said, "Once likes Autumn, though. Autumn the person. You don't know her."
"Hi," Connor said to Once. "This is weird, isn't it?"
"Yes," Micah said. "Why is she so into you, I don't get it. She's doing her sniffing thing, it's always so weird when she does that. She did it to Autumn, too, to everyone. But sometimes it's very obvious of her."
"She can smell, I guess," he said. Once had settled things in her head and decided she wanted to snuggle. She got a good grip on Connor's shirt collar and settled in quietly against his chest. Once started singing very quietly to herself.
"She does that, too," Micah said. "She's listening to your heartbeat."
"I mean, I can tell she's mine, like, family. It's really weird." He rubbed Once's back. "I mean, I've never been around someone who was related to me like that, and was also alive and human. I didn't think it would be so, uh."
"Weird?" Micah smiled. "I'm sorry, I'm still, how did you get here?"
"I interviewed," he said. His eyes were on Once and then he would glance at her and then back at Once. His eyes were a little wet which she decided to ignore. "I mean, I haven't really decided what I want to do with my life. I interviewed at an ad agency. Be an ad man," he said. He smiled. "Anyway, I don't think that's me. And I had this one interview, right off the street. This guy wanted me to be an actor. I took a drama class at Stanford freshman year. Like Reese Witherspoon."
"How can you go to Stanford? I am so confused," Micah said. "How can you be technically dead?"
"My throat was slit and my blood was drained and they used that as the basis for their spells. And they rewrote everyone's memories to forget me, except, apparently, you and the person who arranged for it to happen. I meant," he said, "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you. When you were pregnant, that had to suck. Not that I would have been much help. And you probably would have gotten killed. But, like, I know it had to suck for you."
"It wasn't so bad," Micah said. "They drained your blood?"
"Yeah," Connor said. "I don't remember it. I really don't, I'm not kidding."
"Wait, how can you interview for an internship, you're, were you going to school?"
"Not technically, then. But now I go to Stanford. So yes. And, I have a family. Not like when I met you."
Once patted her little fists into Connor's chest. She had stopped singing, at least. Micah said, "That means she likes you. I know, it sounds like she's a cat. But she does that. Mostly just to my grandmother. Which, you know, is her only blood relative besides me she's met, now that I think of it."
"What about your parents? Wow, I don't know anything about you. We should catch up. Who's this Autumn person, stuff like that," Connor said. He put his hand over Once's hands until she stopped. They had the same long fingers, she thought. It was about the only way they really looked like each other.
"My dad was murdered when I was 10, he was working as a security guard. My mom tried, but she fell apart and left me with my grandmother. She died, too, about a year later. They were both only children, so really, just the two of us, me and my Gran. She was born in Jamaica, raised in England, came over here in her twenties for art school. Then when I was fourteen I met the only person ever in the history of the world to offer some young girl his card about being a model who was not doing it for porn. Now you're caught up. Except for Autumn. And you, your story has to come next."
"That explains the sort of accent," Connor said. "I mean it's almost a British accent, I think. Your accent."
"Yes," Micah said. "And you?"
"I don't think I have an accent," he said. "Maybe a kind of southern California one, but that's mostly saying the 101 instead of 101." He smiled. "See, now I even make jokes."
"Still not very funny," she said. "See, Autumn, she's a model and she's my best friend. She's also a Slayer, did you know I'm a Slayer? Did you know back then?"
"No idea. I only know now because my friends told me. You didn't, uh, fight like a Slayer."
"Well, I wasn't one yet. But see, Autumn, I think she's in love with me."
"Oh," Connor said.
"And I definitely, you know, I think about her that way, too, but she's not 18 until next month and I know it's a stupid arbitrary number and she's very mature. But in some ways she is not mature and I just don't want to be predator girl on my younger friend."
"Oh," Connor said. "You're really freaking out now."
"Yes," she said. She took Once back and Once immediately started squirming.
Once twisted herself around so she was facing Connor. "Hi," Once said. "Hi."
"Hi," he said.
"You don't like the name," Micah said.
"I think it's unusual," Connor said. "But now that I see her, I think she makes it work."
"See, when I was pregnant and it was me and my grandmother, I was just thinking how all these names, they have meanings. And usually, people end up being the opposite. Chastity's a slut, Faith doesn't trust herself, Verity lies. And even if it's just Mary or Jane, there's some meaning. So I liked Once. Because the opposite of once is, like, multiple."
"Or never," Connor said.
"I didn't think of that," Micah said. "But it's still good, I think. And when you say it, it's like once upon a time and everyone smiles." She looked down at Once. "She's waiting for you to say your name,"
"Oh. I guess, uh, Dad?"
"Da," Once said, smiling. "Da da da." Then she made a face and started crying.
Connor took her back and said, "Yeah, me, too."
"Something's watching us," Connor said.
"Connor," Micah said. "How can you just tell that?"
"Connor," Giles said, walking up to them quickly. Another surprise appearance. "This is Connor?"
Micah said, "Giles, how does everyone know where I am?" She grabbed at Once's coat, tugging it down where it had ridden up.
"I dropped you off here, you might recall," Giles said. He looked at Connor and said, "How did you find them?"
Connor stared at Giles and his stance shifted slightly. He said, "Rupert Giles?" Then he said, "I tracked them. I have many skills. Also, I found this forum about fashion and someone posted in the model spotting thread about seeing Micah here. We need to be moving."
He waited, though, until she and Giles started walking. Giles said, "I understood you were dead."
"He said it was only technically," Micah said.
"But I'm fine now," Connor said.
"Da Da," Once said.
"See," Connor said. They were now standing by Giles's car. "So we're driving away?"
"I think that's for the best," Giles said.
"You still don't have a car seat," Micah said.
She and Connor and Once got in the back, while Giles complained he was not a taxi driver.
Giles said, "So, Connor, how have you been?"
Connor smiled and adjusted Once on his lap. "I'm good," he said.
"Could you explain only technically dead to me?"
"Hmmm," Connor said. He glanced at Micah and said, "You know, I was revived. I'm fine now."
"And not particularly trusting of me, I see."
"We have people in common," Connor said. "I mean, anyway, I think it's understandable."
"So your super strength, speed, where does all that come from?"
"No idea," Connor said. Micah was pretty sure he was lying. "I'm adopted. My birth mother died in labor, like, right after. But she'd already arranged the adoption. So there's no one to really answer those questions."
"You told Micah you were raised in Quortoth."
He looked at her. "You remember that?"
Micah shrugged and put her hand on Once's chubby leg. She felt better when she had Once close to her.
"I've never been there," Connor said. "That was a weird weekend. I was hanging out with some strange people, I think one of them said it. And I wanted to impress Micah."
Liar, liar, she mouthed at him. She should have said it out loud but he'd told her the truth, he was just lying to Giles. He most likely had his reasons. She should have thought of lying to Giles.
Giles said, "So you just happened to hear someone discussing a hell dimension. And helpfully, you had the super strength and fighting skills to protect Micah from five Bringers."
"Adrenaline and movies," Connor said.
Giles said, "Tell me, who are these people we have in common?"
"Well, see, I had totally forgotten about the strength thing, and then I was attacked. So my parents and I went down to LA."
"Ah," Giles said. "You know Wolfram and Hart is unalloyed evil."
"Good thing they're gone from this dimension, then," Connor said. He looked very Blue Steel for a moment, if there had been actual steel involved. She wished Giles would abandon all this.
Giles sighed and like he'd heard her thoughts, said, "Alright then, we'll table this discussion. Do you think we're still being followed?"
"By the police," Micah said. "You're going to get a ticket because of Once."
Giles had been speeding but the officer looked at Once in Connor's arms. Giles said, "I know we're supposed to have a seat for her, but my niece, Micah, had an emergency. We're going to New Jersey for my daughter."
"My cousin," Micah said. "And usually uncle Giles doesn't drive me around and I have a seat for her but she overflowed her diapers. And I haven't cleaned it all off yet."
"Who are you in all this," the officer said, looking at Connor.
Once said, "Da da."
Connor smiled and said, "I'm the dad."
"You should help her clean that seat," the officer said. He let them all off with a warning.
"New Jersey," Connor said. "What's in New Jersey?"
"We have a safe house in Hoboken," Giles said.
"Cool," Connor said. "Cause we'll need some place to change Once's diaper. 'Cause -- wow, she needs it."
"Mommy, mommy, mommy," Once said. She waited for Micah to say "What is it?" and then Once said, "Poo."
"Yes, we can all smell it now," Giles said. "Maybe we'll pull over here. A quick stop before we get back."
They stopped at a coffee shop and Connor followed Micah into the bathroom, carrying Once. "I can do it myself," she said.
"Yeah," Connor said. "But I'll be doing it in the future, so."
She didn't want to think about that. She agreed in the abstract that a baby did well with a mom and a dad but in the reality of Once and her father. He was -- she didn't know who he was now. The new Connor that went to college and spoke like a person. He looked better, she thought. He was looking over her shoulder as she did all the things she barely thought about now.
Once was babbling, her happy babble. Micah loved her baby's babble.
Then they were done and Micah carried Once out to where Giles was waiting.
The sky had gone dark. "Oh shit," Connor said. He had his cellphone out and he was saying something about "New Jersey" and she wasn't listening anymore.
Giles grabbed her arm and said, "We should get out of here. This is no place to fight."
"Agreed," Connor said.
Giles said, "You know all about fighting now?"
"Training," Connor said, not smiling. "What do you think of the rear exit?"
"Okay," Micah said. She turned around and let herself be half shoved, half pushed out the back door. There had been people in the diner, someone had yelled at them, she forgot the minute they were in the back parking lot.
Giles said, "I don't suppose you have a weapon of some sort on you?"
"You know planes," Connor said. "Can't have shit." He suddenly had a knife in his hand, though.
Once wasn't even whining and crying, she was clinging quietly to the collar of Micah's shirt. It was pretty frightening, like the dark sky and the way Giles and Connor had positioned themselves on either side of her.
"Pillors," Giles said. "They seem to be the ringleaders."
"Yeah, they're just hack and kill, though. Tough, but no magic bullet required," Connor said. "Also, where are those Slayers?"
"On their way," Giles said. "We have constant tracking on Once."
"Oh, awesome," Connor said. He did not sound enthused.
There was a loud whirr and then the demons were there. Dark brown and purple and as per usual, slime. Always slime, she thought. There were at least seven of them and they were very tall. Taller than Autumn. Autumn, she thought, not coming, because Autumn was at a fitting and reception for a show that Micah hadn't even gone to the initial go see for.
Micah really hoped her last thoughts weren't jealousy about her friend getting booked for Calvin Klein and not her.
Connor was already in motion. Frighteningly fast deadly motion. Even moreso than the Bringers, he was just brutal. And very quiet. Giles was grunting as he swung some sort of metal thing he'd pulled out of his jacket. Giles looked past her to Connor kicking one of the Pillors head into the asphalt and Giles swore, a lot.
Micah covered Once's ears and kept low. Then she saw Slayers, girls running from the same corner the Pillors had rounded. One of the Pillors was right in front of her and she covered Once and turned and prayed but her head hurt white and hot and everything was blank.
She woke up with a start and everything was very bright and pale. "Once," she said.
"Is fine," Connor said.
"Fuck, I'm supposed to be in a show, I have, tomorrow." She opened her eyes again and she was in a hospital. She really hoped she had all her limbs and no marks on her face. And Once was okay, Connor had just said.
"It's only been a few hours. When is your show?"
"Ah, um, I need to be there at 10 am. We just did the, this morning, Giles watched Once and I actually did work. It was very nice," she said. Her tongue felt clumsy. "Am I okay?"
"Bonk on the head, but they don't think it's a concussion. You can't see anything."
"Thank God," she said. "Wait, where's Once?"
"Once is with Autumn. She's being very loud and she definitely has a favorite parent and so far, it's you. She was really loud." He held out his phone or, no, it was a camera. There was a picture of Once bawling in Autumn's arms. She was wearing a different pair of pants and someone had put her blue dress on her.
"That's a dress," Micah said. "It's not a top."
"Autumn picked it," Connor said. He sounded a little perturbed. "She didn't actually let me near the bag. Is that, she's your friend?"
"We've had two whole conversations in our whole lifetime of knowing each other and I'm pretty sure, yes, I mentioned her."
"You said you were going to totally date her when she turned 18, actually," Connor said. He was smiling a little.
"Yes, but I didn't say it that stupid," Micah said. "When are the monsters coming back?"
Connor leaned back and looked down at the camera. He was flipping through the pictures. He smiled and looked conniving. "Well, here's the funny thing. The reason those Pillors were so desperate is that they heard from the west coast branch of clan Pill that they had all calculated wrong and actually, the last chance for their stupid ritual to work was about two hours ago. So, how stupid do they look? If any of them were alive to look, I guess."
"They made a mistake?"
"That's the story," Connor said. "I guess it started with my friends out in California, the ones Giles has no time for. So don't tell him."
Micah said, "Why are you lying to him?" and, "Are you sure they won't come after Once?"
"I feel okay about Once. I mean, I'm here for another day or two, and my parents are coming, but they can't help protect her. I just wanted to tell you. I called my parents. And my friend. Who's a lawyer. Actually, we did the DNA thing while you were unconscious, sorry. Not that you needed to be there to swab Once's cheek. She didn't mind." He was talking very quickly.
"Wait. Stop. One thing at a time." Micah tried to sit up but she wasn't quite ready. She took a deep breath and said, "First, tell me Once is going to be okay. With details."
"Once is basically safe. We killed a lot today and everything on the west coast is toast. Wes and Gunn spread, well, they told everyone that the Pillors read the prophecy wrong. Like, they have the wrong baby. If they had the right baby, it was last week or tonight. And given how dead everyone turned out, people and demons will probably accept that. It'll help that Once will have her dad and that's me and I'm pretty normal as near as anyone knows." He held up his camera again. "Do you want to see another picture of Once?"
She took the camera from him. He had five pictures in the memory and they were all Once, upset, snot on her face Once. Though the last picture showed Autumn, still in her make-up from the show, wiping Once's face clean. She said, "Thank you. Now, that's dealt with. Why are you lying to Giles?"
"The full story is my parents were vampires. My dad is Angel and back when you were having Once, I was, basically I cracked up. So Angel went to Wolfram & Hart and wiped my memory and lots of other people's and gave me new ones. And lots of other people got new ones, too." He was leaning forward and she thought his eyes were very very blue. Like a Russian model, she thought, though it was a horrible generalization.
"Wait, so your parents. The ones coming?"
"They don't know all that. See, it's like Once. The more people know, the more danger there is from stupid prophecies."
"They're your parents, but not really," she said.
"Yes, really," he said. "They don't need to know all of it." His face was weird, she thought. He mostly believed it, she thought. But he felt a little guilt or maybe he felt bad that he didn't feel bad about being selfish and just letting his parents think everything they remembered was real.
"That's selfish," she said.
"I guess," he said. "My psychiatrist says it's okay, so I'm not stressing."
"You have your own shrink?"
He smiled again. "I don't own him or anything. But yeah, I see a guy."
"Why?" She felt a little rude, but mostly her head hurt and she figured she had an excuse.
"Well, before they wiped my memory, I was a little," he shrugged. "Suicidal. Crazy. So once I got those memories back, it seemed like a good idea."
"Okay," she said. "Okay. When I can go to Once, I wanna go home and get some sleep."
"I think they said they're keeping you for another hour or two?"
"What did you tell your parents? About Once?"
"Same thing I told Giles, like, the story about coming down to Los Angeles, I was a teenage asshole. They were pretty furious." That expression, she thought, was rueful. He was very hard to read now that he was so close to normal. All open face and blue eyes.
"So they're coming to yell at you?"
"They're coming to meet their granddaughter," he said. "They're really good people, you'll like them."
"I bet," Micah said. She sat up and didn't pass out. "Those shoes, I'm so fucked."
"For the show tonight," Micah said. "Yeah, this morning, right. They're not the easiest to walk in."
"Have you ever fallen?"
"No," she said firmly. "I have not. My runway work is pretty fucking impressive, actually."
"I believe you," he said. "I remember those shoes you were wearing that night."
"Oh, haha, let's make fun of the model. And those were flats, you idiot. No one would fall in those," she said. "Once is okay, right?"
"Yeah," he said. "I can hear her, actually."
"She's close," Micah said. She started to get out of the bed. She could manage it, slowly. "Wait, what did you tell my agent? Why do people think I'm here?"
"You were mugged. And you probably should let yourself rest. Just for a little bit."
"You know what helps me rest? Having my daughter with me," she said.
"She's been screaming and crying for two, three hours straight. I don't think it's going to be restful."
"Why didn't you go sit with her?" Micah was actually standing now. Leaning against the bed was close to standing. She looked around for her shoes. "Also, where are my shoes?"
He handed her her shoes. She sighed and sat back on the bed as she slipped them on. Then she was ready to find her baby. She said, "You're afraid of her? She's not that scary."
"I'm not afraid of her," he said. "Not really. She's just super upset and nothing would calm her so I thought I would sit with you and let her be upset. With Autumn who is very protective of her."
"She's my best friend," Micah said. "She came here straight from her show and she gets a hysterical Once, that's very sweet of her. You can tell she's good people."
"I wasn't," he said and then stopped. "She's the best ever, you're right." He was grinning at her.
She walked stiffly out the door and then said, "Point me towards my daughter."
He helpfully led her by the elbow. It wasn't necessary as soon as they were close enough to hear Once's whimpering. She was almost cried out. From exhaustion, Micah thought. Micah was on the edge of tears, she hated when Once sounded like that. "Poor thing," she said, wishing she was up for running. She was walking as fast as she could with Connor as her support.
"I know, it was kind of painful."
Once got louder when they turned the corner, sobbing out "Mommy" and practically jumping out of Autumn's arms. Micah shook Connor loose and did a little sprint jog until she had her snotty wet crying baby snug in her arms. "Right here," Micah said into Once's hair. "I'm right here, baby."
"Here we are," Micah said. She was still holding Once's hand while Once looked around at the terminal and tried to wander off.
"Thanks," Connor said. He squatted down and held out his hand to Once. She grinned and walked forward. Micah reluctantly let go of her hand and then Connor had an armful of toddler.
"Hi hi hi hi," Once said. "Here we are." She grinned.
Connor said, "Do you have more teeth?"
"I have teeth," she said. She stuck out her tongue at him.
Connor picked up Once and said to Micah, "Are you heading out now?"
"No," she said. "You said I could stay in town. We have an agreement."
"I know," he said. "I was just, I was making a dumb joke because you were just standing there. Like you wanted to hang out in the airport."
Micah started walking towards the exit. "Well, ha ha. You know this is very awkward."
"Yeah," Connor said. He made a face at Once and she laughed. "But I figure it will get easier. I mean, people do this every day."
"Doesn't mean they want to," Micah grumbled.
Connor whispered to Once, "Do you think your mom knows we can hear her?"
Once giggled. Connor said, more loudly, "You know, it's not like I'm not nervous. My second overnight time with Once and this time I get her all week. She's just gonna be missing you again."
Micah turned and looked over her shoulder at him. It looked like a fashion shot, like always with Micah. Light streaming around her, all that. She was really super duper pretty. And completely in love with a super hot fashion model, Connor reminded himself. "Hey," Connor said. "How's Autumn?"
"Autummy," Once said, clapping her hands.
"She's good," Micah said, turning back around. She stopped at the curb. "Did you drive?"
"Yes, I did. I drove from my brand new apartment and you're going to be excited to see it. And Once has her own room and everything," Connor said. "My sister did the decorating. She's 14, so I figured she had better ideas than mine. But the Giants poster, that's my idea."
"Giants? Like football?"
"Giants like baseball. Girls can like baseball, too." He'd also been reading a lot about raising kids and raising girls. So he was trying to avoid gender rigidity. Something like that. He'd gotten a very long lecture about that stuff from this girl he'd tried to pick up last month. Instead of hitting on her, they'd just ended up talking about Once. Now that he was going to have actual shared custody of her, not just visits. Now it was all legal and set in stone.
He looked at Once who was looking at his ear. "But I think it's going to be great," he said.
"You say that now," Micah said. "Then she's going to be crying and being nearly two years old and you better have a good store of patience there. Because she's, well, she's perfect, but she'll wear you out."
"I know. We talked about this," he said. She was following him as they walked to his car. "I really appreciate that you're making this easy."
"Oh, ha ha," she said.
They'd reached his car and he unlocked the doors. He got Once in her car seat with much less effort than he thought it would take. He said, "No, I meant that."
"I'm being a b-i-t-c-h," Micah said.
"I k-n-o-w," he said. "But, like, it's hard for you, having to share and stuff and you don't know me that well, or you didn't. And you're trusting me with your daughter."
"Well, she's yours, too. And you have a lawyer and a DNA test."
"Okay," Connor said. "I can stop complimenting you and stuff, but I'm afraid we'll end up raising a daughter who's all screwed in the head because of it."
Micah laughed and hit him lightly on the arm. "Fine," she said. "Fine. Once, I want you to hear this. Thank you, Connor, for the nice and true things you said to me."
Once spoke loudly but even Connor couldn't figure out what she was saying. "Articulate," Micah said. "That means speak clearly. Slow down and say it again, Once."
"Thank you," Once said even louder.
"So," Autumn said. "You're not up in San Francisco?"
"I am not, clearly, since I am sitting here, at your belated birthday party. Why are you having it in Los Angeles, sweetie? This town sucks." Micah sipped her latte. "Also, not at a bar? You know we'd get served."
"I like LA," Autumn said. "Also, I don't want to deal with a bar. I don't like that shit."
"I don't like that shit," Micah said. "Listen to you and your grown-up cursing. And yes, I am here. My baby girl is up in Palo Alto in a little apartment and she has her own room decorated, well, mostly, it's very nice. Connor's little sister has excellent taste. And she has all these organic sheets and toys and stuff. I talked to her last night and she sounded okay. Connor said she's a little weepy and missing mommy but she's also keeping busy, you know. Connor's mother is living with him when Once is there to help out. It's all very nice and excellent."
"You hate it," Autumn said.
"No," Micah said. "A little? But a girl needs her dad. I mean, we were doing fine, but he is her father and now she has two grandparents and an aunt and I think they're going to spoil her rotten."
"I can hate it for you," Autumn said. "Ugh, hates it!" She grinned and looked completely unthreatening.
"Are you going to Paris next week?"
Autumn shrugged. "Yeah. I mean, I blew off Numero last time, so now I'll do it."
"What about your mystique?"
"Fuck it," Autumn said. She put down her oversized mug of latte. She pushed aside her pack of cigarettes.
Micah took a deep breath. As she expected for days, Autumn leaned forward and kissed her. It was a good kiss, hands on her cheeks, soft lips, perfect and good. Then Autumn sat back and said, "Now you have to give me my present."
"Don't be so cheesy," Micah said. "Ask me right."
"Will you go out with me?" Autumn clasped both of Micah's hands and made a sweet face.
"Maybe," Micah said. "Oh, fine, sure. If you're doing to be so demanding. We could also stay in, you know."
"Stay in," Autumn said. "You know I'm not a virgin, right?"
Micah laughed. "Yes, I do remember that time you described me to, for an hour, how you had sex with that boy and it was really only so so and then you saw him again when he walked for Calvin Klein and he looked so stupid now that you'd seen him naked. I remember."
"But I meant, I've had a girlfriend, too. I don't think I told you that. I know I didn't. I was hiding it from you."
"You and Freja, yes, I know." Micah smiled. "She told me. We've both, ah, dated her."
"Oh," Autumn said. She frowned. "Huh, I thought I hid that from you really well."
"You did," Micah said. "Good for you! Now stop that. Let's get back to kissing." She leaned over to kiss Autumn again and made sure to brace herself against her pretty pretty thigh as she did so, the perfect position to move her hand higher.
Once was staring up so hard, Connor was ready to catch her if she tipped over. "Yeah, I get it, he's tall," Connor said. Once turned around too fast to see him and did fall over a little that time. She landed on her butt and sighed. Then she scuffled around until she was standing again and held onto his jean leg by his knee.
"Smart," Angel said. "It's good to have an anchor like that. She's really smart. Thanks for bringing her down here."
"Well, Micah's in town for a thing," Connor said. He was not telling Angel about Micah's girlfriend. "And I've never had the fun of driving six hours with a toddler before, so that was a new experience I hope I never repeat again."
"Water," Once said. "I want water."
"Water you shall have," Angel said. He ran over to the counter and pored water into a bright yellow sippy cup. "I bought this for you when your dad said you were coming down." He squatted down and handed it to Once. "You like water?"
Once took the cup and made a face at Angel. "She thinks you're trying too hard," Connor said.
"She is not alone," Spike said.
"Get out of here, Spike," Angel said.
"But I want to meet the little girl." Spike leaned over the counter. "She's very cute. She looks nothing like you. Or Darla. Unlike him."
"Thanks," Connor said. "That was a compliment, Once."
Once moved closer to Connor's leg, making her hold more of a one-armed hug. She sipped her water and watched Angel.
"I think she has my eyes," Angel said.
"I think she has her mother's eyes," Connor said.
"Do you want to watch some TV? I bought some dvds."
"Wendell bought them," Spike said. "Angel sent him out with instructions about 2 year olds. Is she actually two years old? She looks bigger than that."
"Actually, she isn't two yet. But her mom's tall, so." Connor bent down and picked her up. "Once, we can watch some tv, or we can go to the basement floor and run around in circles."
"Circles?" Once had a big smile on her face. She waved her cup and said, "Circles!"
"She really likes running around," Connor said. "Running, dancing, jumping. I don't get it."
"She finds mindless things fun – must be Angel's kin," Spike said. He grinned and ran out before Angel turned around.
"I can, I can hurt him, you know." Angel reached out and patted Once's head. "I mean, if you want."
"I think we'll be okay," Connor said. "No violence needed. Unless you really want to."
"I always really want to when it comes to Spike," Angel said. "Run around in circles, I can do that."
"No, she runs, you just jump out of the way. Or wave your arms. I dunno," Connor said. Once was squirming. "But come on," he said.
They watched Once jump around and waved to her as she did it. Angel said, "You can go to the park, if you want."
"Eh," Connor said. "We've done the park. And she's, sometimes she jumps kinda high. I prefer the privacy before someone tries to recruit her to the circus or something."
"She's got the powers, like you," Angel said.
"Yes, the powers." Connor rolled his eyes. "Sorry, we have to find a different way to say that." Once jumped three feet and then stumbled and fell back on her butt. She laughed and got back up. Connor clapped and she looked over at him with a big smile. "That was kinda ahead on the normal development milestones."
"Yeah," Angel said. "She's special."
Once ran over and said, "Jump jump jump, Daddy." She grabbed his hands and started jumping so he jumped along with her. Angel jumped, too, which was really scary in Connor's opinion but Once loved it.
"I think I'm scarred for life," Gunn said. "Angel, you haven't frightened me like this in years. Hell, Angelus wasn't that scary."
Connor picked up Once and said, "Ha, I think I agree."
"Aw, come on." Angel smiled at Once. He patted her hair again and she didn't flinch.
"Your hair, Angel. The way it moved when you were jumping and that scary grin," Gunn said and shuddered. "Mostly the hair."
Connor laughed. "Mostly the hair, yeah."
"Fine," Angel said. "I get it. I'm gonna get us all lemonade! I got lemonade. Little girls like lemonade, right?"
"Yup," Connor said. After Angel went up the stairs, he looked down at Once and said, "You like lemonade, right?"
"Okay," Once said. "I like jumpy," she said. Her little legs were flailing.
"I like you having your naps," Connor said. "Which is in an hour, thank god."
"Good luck with that," Gunn said. "She's a little firecracker."
"Boom," Once said. She laughed.
"Her great grandmother calls her that," Connor said. "Micah's grandmother. So she makes the boom jokes." He let Once down to the floor so she could go back to jumping over pillows and jumping on pillows and jumping in general. "Boom," he said. And Once laughed and jumped up three feet again.