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The Welcoming

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Cassidy McMillan dies, the daughter of a prominent political figure in Los Angeles, Scott McMillan.

Over 150 people came to the funeral of 19-year-old Cassidy McMillan. The promising young woman graduated high school almost a year and a half early and was taking two years off from school to figure out what she wanted to do in life, according to her father, deputy mayor Scott McMillan.
Only a day after the bizarre weather phenomenon hit L.A. turning the sky black, Cassidy was found dead in a grotesque display of bodies at a local nightclub. According to police, almost 200 people were killed in what is assumed to be some sort of cult involved mass-murder. While Scott McMillan and Cassidy’s brother, Andrew, firmly deny that Cassidy was involved with any cult-like activities, police remain skeptical. Through a statement released to the public, the police are saying that some bodies were so mauled as not to be recognized (Cassidy was one of the luckier victims) and said it is most likely the work of ten or twenty people with machetes.
At the funeral, Andrew McMillan gave a touching speech detailing his younger sister’s charming personality and genius IQ, pointing out that violence is always wrong, no matter whose family member it is. The casket was closed, and soon after the coffin was placed in the McMillan family tomb, which was then resealed. The staff of this newspaper would like to offer our condolences to the McMillan family on the death of such a promising young woman.

Angelus read the newspaper with slight curiosity, certain that the Beast had killed the young woman. After reading several obituaries and articles on the Beast’s victims, Angelus had found that they were all relatively the same age, and all from wealthy families.

This was a trend that Angelus knew would lead to the Beastmaster. His sire had once said that what you were informs what you become, and he knew from experience that this was true, so if the Beastmaster was killing rich teenagers, it was something to do with their own past.

Angelus just hadn’t figured out what yet. Folding up the paper neatly, the vampire stood up from the table where he had been sitting and left the coffee shop without any blood being shed. “Guess it’s time to pay Cassidy McMillan a visit.”

-*--*-

“That’s the last one,” Fred announced tiredly, pausing to wipe at her sweat-soaked brow as she tossed the heavy stack on the tabletop.

Gunn, Wesley, and Lorne looked up from their respective places, staring with slightly wide eyes at the large stack of newspapers. Lorne cautiously asked, “That’s edited, sweet-cheeks?”

Rolling her eyes, Fred explained, pointing out the color-coded tabs with names on them. “These are all the newspaper articles I could find online about all of the victims the obituaries mentioned. We’ve got lifetime histories on some of them, even home addresses so we can go visit the families if need be.”

Gunn shook his head, still staring at the large stack of papers detailing the lives of almost two hundred people who had been killed by the Beast in that club. “Wow, that’s just… you did an amazing job, Fred.”

Wesley piped in, still not quite feeling like a part of the group but knowing that they needed him there and involved with Angelus on the loose, “That was very nicely done, Fred. Above the call of what was needed.”

All three men chorused together as though it had just occurred to them, “Thanks, Fred.”

Blushing, Fred took her seat next to the men and muttered, “It was no big. I just hope this will help us find… you know.”

Everybody was afraid to mention Angelus or the Beast because nobody could quite believe all the damage caused by the two or that they had been the ones to let Angelus out in the first place. Reaching forward, Gunn grabbed two stacks from the top of the pile, passed one to Wesley, and kept one for his own. “Let’s split up, see what we can find out. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Lorne, why don’t you go with Wes and Fred can come with me.”

Nobody dared challenge Fred staying with Gunn, knowing the problems the two had been going through lately. Stress was not conducive for a good relationship. Nodding, Wesley looked to the name on his tag and said, “Whom do you have? We’ve got a Frederick Von Hagen III. Did you organize by amount of information, Fred? His file is exceedingly large.”

Fred spoke up before Gunn could about the name they had, “We’ve got Cassidy McMillan, and yes, I did organize by the amount of information. It seemed to make more sense that way.”

The assembled group nodded and found that they had nothing to say to the others present. Nobody wanted to tell Connor about this adventure, because they didn’t really want to discuss anything with him, especially Cordelia, and he was too likely to go off hunting Angelus anyway. And there was nothing else to say. With mummers of “be careful,” the Fang-Gang silently gathered their stuff and headed out in separate directions.

-*--*-

From upstairs, Connor paced the small room that his love was in. Cordelia watched him with some mild interest, asking, “Who do you want to track first?”

Spinning around, Connor demanded, “Why didn’t they tell me about all this? I could have helped, this is important - about the Beast!”

Smiling gently, Cordelia motioned for Connor to come lay next to her and he immediately did as she had requested. Once he was lying down and facing her, Cordelia sighed, “They’re trying to exclude you, Connor. I’m sorry it’s come to this, but they don’t trust you and they’re keeping you out of the loop on purpose.”

Connor nodded, knowing that Cordelia was telling the truth. He placed his fingers cautiously over her stomach, encouraged by her soft smile. “I know, it’s just…”

“No buts, Connor, you have to forget them, they don’t understand us, don’t want us here,” closing her eyes, Cordelia willed herself not to smirk at the obviousness in this statement.

Craving reassurance, Connor leaned closer in Cordelia’s embrace, holding his new family tightly, but not so tight as to hurt. Sighing quietly, he announced, “I’ll track the girl first, it’s more likely that Gunn and Fred will be too distracted to notice me.”

Cordelia nodded and watched Connor about to get up; she reached for his hand and spoke carefully soft, “Connor,” beckoning him back to her.

Bending back down, Connor’s lips met that of his lover and the two shared a passionate if brief kiss, neither noticing how Cordelia’s eyes lit up with an unholy light when Connor’s eyes were closed. Once he pulled away, Connor quickly exited the room, promising, “I’ll keep you both safe, no matter what.”

Cordelia watched him go, proud at her handiwork, Connor was turning out better than she could have planned, with such loyalty to her, he would kill whoever she asked, she knew it. Perfect for her plans - now all she had to do was worry about keeping her identity secret.

-*--*-

Angelus strolled through the carnage, lifting a limb here or there to investigate. Baleful eyes followed him, mouths opened in screams that were impossible with throats ripped out.

It was - impressive.

Definite points for creativity. There were a few piles of dust scattered here and there, presumably from when the vampires' heads had been, quite literally, ripped off, but most of them were still undead - torn into pieces and left scattered, bloody, across the tomb.

Angelus squatted down to investigate one of the severed limbs - it had definitely been ripped and not cut, but too many bones had survived the pounding to be the Beast. He was debating whether to put the hapless vampires out of their misery or just enjoy their suffering while they attempted to piece themselves back together, when he caught the scent.

Impossible.

Straightening and brushing the dirt off his pants, Angelus took a deep breath. It smelled like - but it couldn't be. There were footsteps crunching across the grass towards the tomb, but Angelus couldn't be bothered with them just now. "Now it's getting interesting."

-*--*-

Gunn and Fred entered the tomb cautiously, crossbows and flashlights raised. The door was already gaping open, the heavy stone off its hinges, and that was never a reassuring sign.

Gunn edged inside first, passing his flashlight over the scene quickly, hyper alert for anything that could do them damage. "Oh, hell no. That is just nasty."

Fred pushed in after him at the exclamation. The gory display made her turn her head away for a moment, catching her bearings, before she took in the scene a second time. Nothing in there was capable of doing them any harm. "What could do this? The Beast?"

Gunn shrugged at her question, but his flashlight was stuck on one vampiric torso, missing its limbs but attempting valiantly to worm its way towards the exit. "That. Is just wrong."

They surveyed the scene again, but there wasn't much information to be gained from the various parts and blood strewn about. The sarcophagus itself was sitting in the middle, pristine and undisturbed.

Gunn drew his stake and quickly ended the few miserable creatures still blinking up at him. Thankfully, their detached parts also dissolved to dust. When the room was a little less Psycho and a lot more dust, Gunn handed his flashlight to Fred and moved towards the coffin. "Let's see if Cassidy is here or not."

It took some doing. Gunn retrieved a crowbar from his bag and managed, with some difficulty, to get the sarcophagus opened. Fred carefully balanced flashlights with the crossbow, all aimed towards the newly revealed dark opening of the coffin. They edged closer slowly, wary. Gunn reclaimed his own crossbow from the floor and took back his flashlight from Fred with a careful nudge. They didn’t speak.

It was empty.

Gunn let out a relieved whistle, while Fred glanced around nervously. "Charles?"

Leading them out of the tomb carefully, Gunn shook his head. "Whatever happened here - I'd say we hit the jackpot first go. Nothing about that was right."

Fred agreed uneasily. "I guess we'd better check the others."

They were already edging away from the tomb warily, eyes peeled for any monsters in the dark. Gunn's hand unconsciously came down to Fred's arm, steering her with him. "Let's get a move on. It feels like something is watching us."

His hand stopped Fred from spinning around to check, and they kept their eyes resolutely forward as they left the cemetery, perhaps at a bit too fast of a pace to be considered normal.

-*--*-

From his spot crouched among a nearby copse of trees, Connor listened to Fred and Gunn as they made their way out of the tomb. Something in there certainly had them spooked. It could have been Angelus or the Beast. Either way, Connor was determined to find the trail and follow it to the source.

As soon as he started moving forward, Connor could tell that Angelus had been there. Mingled under the scents of various vampires and humans and Fred and Gunn, it was sharp, distinct. Connor had long ago honed all his senses to pick up any trace of Angelus lurking.

Connor spun on the spot, wary, edgy. He didn't see Angelus, but he could be nearby, just out of the range of his senses. There was something, though, a flash of white on the far side of the cemetery.

Connor hefted his axe over his shoulder and stalked silently through the night. As he got closer to shape in the far trees, he began to feel as though it were vaguely familiar in some way. But he knew he didn't recognize the scent. He could also tell that whatever it was, it was dead.

Rounding the last tree, Connor hefted his axe - and stopped mid-swing. "Who are you?"

There was a young woman, barefoot and dressed in a thin white slip, standing amongst the trees and blinking up at him in confusion. "I - I don't -"

She took a step forwards and Connor stepped back, his axe coming between them. "That’s close enough. What are you?"

He knew that this was distracting him. He should be focused on finding Angelus. He should kill whatever this creature was and continue on his mission. Cordelia was waiting for him at home. But something about her - he found himself strangely reluctant to kill her. She smelled like dirt and death and jasmine and magic... which was probably the problem. Magic was never good.

She looked down at herself, bringing her hands up to examine in the paltry light. "What am I?" It was a question, soft and confused. Her voice fluttered weakly against the wind.

Just as Connor was backing away, he noticed the dark splotches that shadows had hidden along her dress. Blood. He glanced around for signs of a struggle, and when he looked up, she was right in front of him. Her hand came up to touch his cheek - cold. "I - I can't - I was... dead."

Vampire. Connor twisted out of her grasp and lunged at her, axe swinging. She ducked in a motion that was fast, too fast - this was not some newly risen fledgling. His second blow she pushed him back, throwing him against a tree.

Connor attempted to regroup, surprised at the force of her attack and noting with annoyance that his axe was broken in two. She spun around and ran, disappearing into the night as quickly as she'd appeared. Connor wiped at blood on his split lip and stalked in the other direction.

It was all distractions. But anything with a punch like that needed to be dealt with. After he got weapons and reinforcements. He couldn't sense her anywhere near and the trail for Angelus had gone cold. Muttering under his breath, Connor went after the two people he could still track - Fred and Gunn - and hoped they would lead him to something he could kill.

-*--*-

Once she got moving, she was really moving. She tried to slow her limbs, but they were still blurring along past the permanently darkened streets, while her mind fought a panicked urge to breathe. It was ridiculous, how little control she had over her own body, but it didn't make sense that she could still move this fast. She didn't remember being like this, not for a long time, not without eternities of being dead interrupting her thoughts.

She'd been dead.

Well, she still was, as a point in fact. Only, she used to be better with this kind of dead... it was all too hazy to sort, and too hard to focus. Focus.

Only, it wasn't her focus that stopped her. It was crashing, rather abruptly, into a stone wall. She brought up a hand too fast and found it caught in another. Not a wall then. Jerked her head up.

Cocking his head at her, Angelus dropped her arm. Held her back from him and took a deep breath of her scent. It was undeniable. "Darla?"

"Angelus." And, like a tidal wave breaking on the shore, her memories rushed back into clarity, fighting for dominance and demanding to overwhelm her tuned senses.

She still felt, disorientated. Her body was moving too fast, not quite under her control. Actions leaping out before her thoughts had fully formed. Which is how she found Angelus pressed against a nearby crypt, with her pressed against him.

For his part, Angelus wasn't complaining. He caught her wrists in his hands, stilling her, and met her halfway for a kiss, mouths and teeth plundering at one another: fangs and tongues and flesh.

Darla still felt shaky, jittery. Not quite anchored to herself. But Angelus' hands and body grounded her, pulled her to him. She could be anchored by him - she always had been. He spun them around and pinned her against the rough stone, individual pieces pressing and jabbing into her, undeniably real.

So much sensation - the stone at her back and Angelus pressed to her front. The latter so familiar that she arched into the hands ripping her dress in two and pulling the scraps off her. Hands that traced and bit into her body in a way that was familiar enough for both of them.

"You were dead." His fangs sank into her throat, and she let him. Relishing the sharp slide and press of him against her, the pain and ecstasy all twisted up together.

Darla gasped around her reply, borrowed blood rushing loudly in her ears and movements still blurred at the edges. "So... observant..."

Her hands fumbled with his clothing and Angelus hitched her leg higher over his hips, pressing her back against the crypt until she could feel the cracks forming behind her. Fast, too fast, but real. She quelled any response with her teeth in his throat, licking and biting at the rush of blood that flowed from the wound, familiar and different at the same time.

The wall began to give, and they tumbled after it, bodies never slowing as the stone crumbled and crashed around them. This time, when her scream rent the stale air of the dusty tomb, spaced over gasps of pleasure, Darla came alive.

-*--*-

Now that they knew where to look, the details started to come together. The slaughter atop the club had not simply been an act of carnage; that much had always been abundantly clear.

"It's a spell," Wesley pronounced, nose buried in yet another ancient and crumbling book. At least they had more information at hand about this than the Beast.

The others glanced between one another nervously. It was Fred who finally ventured, "Besides the whole everlasting night, reign of fire bit?"

Wesley sighed and handed over the relevant passage, "I'm afraid so."

Connor, who was hanging back by the weapon's cabinet as he tested new axes, glanced up. "More magic. Great."

Lorne rolled his eyes at Connor, but kept his mouth shut. He was looking a little greener than normal at this new revelation.

"So what's the Walking Wall trying to throw at us now?" Even Gunn was somewhat subdued, still thrown by the scene at the crypt.

Wesley's expression was the edge of exhaustion, that bone-deep weariness that they'd all been feeling in increasing doses since they sky darkened, worsened still with Angelus' escape. "It appears to be... some sort of resurrection spell. Though not like any I've seen before."

Fred fidgeted, eyes wide. "Someone summoned the Beast, and now the Beast has resurrected something else?"

"I'm afraid so," Wesley sighed again, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Gunn huffed, trying to muster the bravado he didn't feel. "What is there, a convention or something? How many Big Bad's do we need in one town? Wait - don't answer that."

But Fred was already nervously reaching for the book, careful not to let her hands or eyes meet Wesley's as she did so. She skimmed it rapidly, eyes widening further. "Uh, guys? I don't think this is the Beast." When everyone's eyes focused on her, Fred shuffled nervously, "I mean... this spell, it's... really complex? I know we don't exactly have the most reliable information on the Beast, but this seems... a bit much for the Beast to manage on his own. Some of these details..."

"You think Angelus was right, about there being a Beastmaster?" Wesley's voice was sharp and to the point.

Everyone let that statement hang in the air for a long moment, turning it over.

Connor threw his axe back in the case with a loud clang. Everyone started nervously and turned to him. Connor refused to meet their eyes. "I'm going to check on Cordelia."

Nobody stopped him, and Connor took the opportunity to hide away from prying eyes as he digested this news. Angelus. The Beast. A Beastmaster. And something else newly resurrected with an old spell. Something like the vampire he'd crossed in the cemetery, reeking of old magic and power?

Connor shook his head to clear the jumble of questions forming. One more monster made no difference. He'd fought more than that before - he'd fight hundreds more, to keep Cordelia and their child safe.

His feet moved habitually, and Connor found himself knocking gently at the door to Cordelia's room even before he'd fully cleared his head. He didn't want to worry Cordelia more than she already was - it wasn't good for her or the baby, he imagined. "It's me."

Cordelia's voice was soft as she bade him to enter, and she was propped piteously on the bed when he pushed open the door. Connor rushed to her side, fluffing her pillows and wishing that he knew how to help her.

Cordelia watched him shrewdly - Connor was agitated, which meant he was hiding something from her, and that would never do. "I'm fine Connor," she kept her voice soft and weak on purpose, her finger brushing over some dried blood on his lip, "but what happened to you? Are you all right?"

Connor ducked his head away, his tongue darting out to swipe away the traces of his blood. "It's nothing."

"Did you find Angelus?"

Connor shook his head, hating to admit that he'd been distracted and lost the trail. "He was in the tomb, but I... lost him..."

Cordelia let her relief show. "Good, Connor." When his eyes snapped up, she fixed him with a steady look. "I was so worried. We need you, Connor. I need you, and our baby needs you."

"I can take care of myself." Connor pulled back, but remained on the bed. He hated that Cordelia still viewed him as inferior to his father, after everything between them. But he was softened by the reminder of their child - tangible proof that Cordelia cared for him.

Cordelia sighed. They'd had this fight before. It didn't matter anyway - her plans were progressing. She just needed a little more time, and then Connor could be brought to her side, and his ridiculous insecurities with Angelus would be over. That was one of the reasons she knew they'd need Darla. Which reminded her, "And the tomb? Angelus had been there?"

Connor sneered, "Oh, he'd been there. Left a pretty trail of bodies in his wake."

"And what about the girl?"

Connor nuzzled into Cordelia's side, momentarily appeased now that the conversation was shifting away from Angelus, and using the opportunity to hide from Cordelia's knowing eyes. "I didn't see any girl. Just dust and vampires." It wasn't exactly untrue, he reasoned with himself.

Cordelia shifted her weight as best she could, annoyed. She had counted on finding Darla first - seeing what she remembered and how she could best be used. "She's with Angelus then. I should have expected that."

"What?" Connor was sitting up, watching her in confusion.

Cordelia startled, quickly trying to cover the slip. "We should have - I mean, Angleus and the Beast are working together, right? Makes sense that he'd have been sent to fetch the Beast's new toy."

The frown did not completely leave Connor's face. This was not the first time that he'd worried at Cordelia's interest in the Beast and Angelus. If she was worried for their safety - well, he'd protect her. Connor pressed his hand gently over Cordelia's stomach, letting himself be lulled by the life he could feel kicking there. Their child. "Well, it will only make it easier to track them and kill them."

Stroking Connor's hair absently, Cordelia began to plot her next move. It would make one thing easier, at least - Darla was with Angelus. And Cordelia knew exactly how to find him.

-*--*-

They'd eventually made it out of the cemetery - many hours later. Darla was still a little unsteady - her movements a little disorientated and too fast, her thoughts somewhat jumbled. But Angelus was anxious to track down the Beast and Beastmaster - more so with Darla's reappearing act. Not that he was complaining - but someone clearly had an agenda and he didn't like being pulled around on someone else's strings. So he'd filled Darla in and they'd discussed a plan.

They strode into the demon bar, deceptively casual. Angelus began the torturous process of demanding answers while Darla hung back slightly, either because she still wasn't feeling quite like herself, because she was only wearing his coat, or because she simply liked to watch him work. He caught her little smirk and decided it was the latter.

Her face wrinkled in disgust at the back room. As a rule, Darla didn't approve of prostitution of any kind. Angelus was momentarily torn between keeping enough people alive to get useful information and watching the pretty mess his sire would make of them.

It was decided for him when a voice split his skull - full of typical monster-movie doom and portent. "Angelus! I am not well pleased!"

He spun around, fangs bared, "And I'm not well deaf! Who's there? Show yourself!"

Darla was blinking at him in concern, which was never a good sign. She cocked her head to the side, "The only thing here is that useless creature you have pinned to the wall, Angelus."

He spun again, peering into all the dark corners, "You didn't hear that?"

"You're the only one who can hear me, Angelus. Because I own you. I have your pretty little soul, and you'd do well to listen to me, unless you'd like it back."

Angelus snarled at the disembodied voice as an image of his soul flashed tauntingly in front of him.

Darla strode quickly forward, pinning him back against the wall with one hand to his chest. "What's going on, Angelus?"

Angelus shook his head as though he could shake the voice out of it. Darla's grip on him was firm and grounding. "I think I just got an up close and personal introduction to the brains behind the rain of fire. Up close as in: in my head."

The voice chuckled in a manner that was probably meant to be sinister but came off as trying too hard. Angelus gnashed his teeth and tried to keep his focus on Darla, who was watching him carefully.

"I have plans for you, my sweet boy. We'll meet when you are ready to bring me your sire."

That sounded like a dismissal. And, while most of Angelus railed at being dismissed, he couldn't deny being glad if the voice was popping back out of his head. He waited to be sure.

Darla still seemed confused, but her mien was quickly changing to calculating. "What is it saying?"

Angelus glanced around the dingy back room, even though he knew it was futile. They were alone - the other occupants had used their distraction as a convenient excuse to escape. No telling what voices might be listening, though. "Oh, the usual: smoke and mirrors and threats. It would seem the Beastmaster has plans for me. Well, both of us. Didn't seem too pleased that I got to you first."

With a slight smile, Darla ran one hand soothingly across Angelus' jaw. His head tilted into her palm, seeking her touch, as always. "You do make something of a habit of ruining plans. How does this creature plan to control us, once we're within distance of its throat?"

Angelus couldn't help but match his sire's grin - sharp and full of teeth, even without the fangs. It was a pretty thought, ripping the throat out of whatever was dangling his soul in front of him like a carrot for him to chase. "It's got a mighty pretty picture of my soul in a jar."

"How convenient," Darla murmured, "it sets up the Beast to raise me, convinces Angel's little friends to release you, and manages to acquire Liam's soul without them noticing?"

It made a disturbing kind of sense. "You think one of Angel's little do-gooder friends has it in them to try to take over the world in a rain of fire and destruction?"

Darla shrugged and finally stepped back, though Angelus followed her easily. Her lives and unlives were still all muddled together, and she didn't remember much of Angel's sheep. "Perhaps."

They slipped back out into the night, joining the throngs of other monsters prowling. Angelus brooded over the uninvited guest that had dropped by his head. A B-horror movie voice, trying too hard to play act evil. Cassidy McMillan and rich kids led to the slaughter.

Angelus burst out laughing, doubling over in his hilarity. "Never would have thought the Cheerleader had it in her."

Darla stopped in her tracks as she waited for Angelus' amusement to calm. So the Cheerleader thought she would run the show? Darla still had very distinct memories of her - of the taste of her blood and terror. A slow, wicked smile spread across her face. "Well, if it's destruction she wants... I'm sure we could arrange some."

When Angelus looked up, his expression was a perfect mirror of hers.

-*--*-

The Beast was not exactly discrete. It was easy enough to track the big lug of rock to his hideout in the industrial district. A bit of an obvious choice, but it fit with the bad movie vibe.

Darla was not exactly in top form, but a good meal and a shopping trip had steadied her somewhat. Angelus hadn't exactly appreciated the shopping, though he'd thoroughly enjoyed stripping Darla of the outfits she'd tried on.

Angelus was understandably reluctant to let Darla out of his sight. She'd been resurrected for a second time, and magic was far from trustworthy. Thankfully, the voice in Angelus' head had issued them something of an invitation.

"Hey there, Rocky, nice condemned building you've got here."

The Beast gnashed his teeth together. "Angelus, how I've longed to crush your skull into pulp. But I didn't bring you here to fight. That wasn't my instruction."

"Your instruction?" Angelus kept one eye on the Beast and one eye on Darla, who was wondering dreamily along the edges of the building, looking more like Drusilla than he thought she'd be appreciative of him noting.

Somewhat reluctantly, the Beast admitted, "My master has requested you."

Darla glanced at the Beast with disinterest, busy scanning the various shadows and crannies where something might be lurking. "Yes, and where is your master?"

The creature drew itself up to its full height, horns erect as it preened. "You will meet my master in time. For now, you will take your orders through me."

Darla laughed prettily, amused by the sheer brashness of the creature in front of her. Its orders were not to kill them, not that she feared death. She felt more than a little dead still, and the Beast had nothing on the creatures in hell.

Angelus snorted. What was the Beast going to do? Glower them to death. Ooh, scary. "Or, here's a better idea: no, I won't." He walked right up to the Beast and got in its face, sneering. "Tell your boss I'm grateful for the attention, but I don't take grocery lists from the messenger boy."

Something caught Darla's eye, and she wandered over to dagger, resting conspicuously in the open as if an offering. It looked homemade and... carved. There was a thrum of magic and power around it that made her wary.

The Beast was distracted by Angelus. Its earlier vow not to hurt them seemed to be forgotten in its anger. "I will teach you respect!"

Angelus dodged the heavy fist that swung out, dancing backwards and leading the Beast away from Darla - just in case. She wasn't exactly predictable at the moment - not that his sire ever was. Her temper had always been a fierce and unpredictable thing. "Is your master here? Because I won't take orders from a lackey." The Beast growled, picking up momentum with its anger, and Angelus grinned. "What? You don't like lackey? Hmm. Or how about, uh, toady? Or lickspittle? Lickspittle's nice. Oh, wait, I got it. Flunky. That's it. You're just a big, stupid, butt-ugly," the Beast lunged at Angelus but was too slow and Angelus' grin sharpened further, "slow-moving flunky."

The Beast was just charging at Angelus when a high-pitched and highly-annoyed voice rang out. "Enough!"

Angelus and the Beast spun to face the newcomer. The Beast offered a low bow, simpering, "Master."

Cordelia rolled her eyes, making her way slowly forward, hindered by her swollen form. "Well, you handled that brilliantly." She turned toward Angelus, "Sorry about that - he gets really excited at the idea of pulling your head off and tearing you to pieces. Remind me again why I shouldn't let him?"

"Come now, Cordy," Angelus chided, "you didn't go to all this trouble bringing Darla and I back just to let this big hunk of rock end the party before it's really even started."

Cordelia shrugged, scanning the room until she spotted Darla, still carefully hidden in the shadows. "Perhaps. I know how important family can be."

But it was another voice that echoed questioned shakily, "Family? Cordelia, what's going on? Why are you out of bed?"

Cordelia's eyes widened as she spun around to face Connor, whose eyes were darting around suspiciously between the various monsters in the large room.

Angelus grinned, "Now this is what I call a family reunion."

Cordelia took a step toward Connor, who shrank back, crossbow raised. "Connor - it's not. We're family, now, Connor, and I just wanted to see if there was something redeemable-"

"She's lying." All eyes cut toward Darla, standing still and certain.

Connor's eyes found Darla's and stayed there, recognizing her from the trees by the tomb. Drawn to her, somehow, to that same strangely familiar scent, even if it was now intertwined with Angelus'. "I - I don't - who are you?"

With as kind of a smile as she was capable of, Darla took a step into the light and offered, "Your mother."

Gulping and reeling, Connor stepped back. "My mother is dead! She killed herself before I was even born."

Darla offered a half shrug that was almost too fast. "I'm still dead, baby. Just in a different way."

"See, Connor," Cordelia tried to salvage the situation, turn it to her advantage, "It's all going to be OK. We're family, now."

"What do you mean?" Connor tore his eyes from Darla to glance around the warehouse again. They settled on the Beast. "What's that doing here?"

The laughter Angelus had been suppressing escaped. "Could you be any slower, Junior? This is all part of your girlfriend's little plan - the Beast, me, Darla. The apocalypse."

"I don't believe your lies!" Jaw clenched, Connor turned back toward Cordelia. "You should go somewhere safe. I'll take care of them."

Angelus snorted, addressing the whole room conversationally, "See, what I really don't get - how has he not noticed her screwing the Beast. You're out of your depth, Connor. Leave this to the adults."

Cordelia turned a white-eyed glare at Angelus, just as the Beast rushed forward, not cowed enough to listen to his taunting. Darla stepped neatly into the Beast's path. They cocked their heads, observing each other, and then Darla stepped forward in one supernaturally fast movement, shoving the bone dagger into the Beast's chest.

The Beast slumped to the ground, reaching for the dagger, but it was too late. He was already disintegrating, light forming in his wake and reaching toward the heavens.

Angelus rushed forward and yanked Darla back before the light could touch her.

Cordelia rushed forward before turning, shrieking, "No! This is not the plan! You - how could you!"

The sky lit, the sun returning, and forcing Angelus and Darla back into the shadows. Cordelia growled, stalking toward them.

It was Connor who stopped her. "It's true, then." Cordelia spun back to face him as she realized too late what she'd said. "It was you all this time?"

Softening, Cordelia went to Connor, cradling his face in her hands. "It's all going to be all right. You'll see. I have a plan for us, for our baby."

Connor's face crumpled, distraught. "You swore you loved me, but you never wanted me." He snorted, features hardening, "You wanted Angelus. You wanted the Beast. What was I - convenient?" He swallowed, "It's not even my baby, is it?"

"Of course it's our baby, Connor - you know how I feel about us. That's why I brought them back - for us, for our family."

Their eyes met and held. Cordelia pressed closer to Connor, his crossbow crushed between them. Tears wet Connor's eyes. "I don't believe you."

The tip of the bolt pressed out of Cordelia's back.

Eyes wide and shocked, Cordelia slumped against Connor. He carefully lowered them both to the ground, cradling her in the too bright sunlight. His Cordelia, consorting with the very monsters he hunted. Lying, always lying. It was better this way. It was too late for her. Too late for them.

Trapped by the shadows, Darla and Angelus watched. Angelus was grudgingly impressed - he hadn't thought the kid had it in him. But Darla's brow creased in what might have been sympathy. "Connor," she called, her voice quiet. "Everything will be all right."

But Connor merely leveled the automatic crossbow in their direction. He was too pale in the bright light, too broken and angry at the world. At the monsters lurking in the shadows who had brought him into this desolate existence. "How would you know? No. Don't come any closer." He scoffs, "I can't feel anything. I guess I really am your son... 'cos I'm dead too."

Angelus muttered, "A bit melodramatic, isn't he?"

But Darla spoke over him. This was her child. She remembered that. She remembered being pregnant and hating it and yet loving him. Her baby. Still so very young, and so desperately lonely and sad. Beaten down by the world. Darla knew all about that. "You're not dead. You're just starting your life and -"

Connor's grip on the crossbow and Cordelia were white knuckled, tears streaking down his face. He made a hysterical sounding, sobbing laugh. "And what? Why do you even care? You're monsters, both of you. You don't love me - you never wanted me. It's all just lies. You can't be saved by a lie. You can't be saved at all."

He twisted the crossbow around in one smooth motion, aiming for his own heart with a rueful smile. The thud of the bolt sliding home was audible in the sudden silence. Connor crumpled over Cordelia, the crossbow clattering to the dirty floor.

Darla made to move forward, but Angelus caught her before the sun could do more than scald her hands. She turned in his arms, eyes wide and feral. "No - let me - we'll save him."

"It's too late," and they both knew it was. Connor's aim had been perfect, and his heart had already ceased struggling to beat.

"I loved him." She was surprised at the echoing, painful truth of that. She had had a child and now it was dead. All she had to offer was death. And yet here she was, alive.

"A life for a life. There's always a price."