Previously in "The Rosenberg Inheritance": "So they get a happy ending," said Cordelia. "Everyone does, I guess, except for poor Angel."
"Now that we've admitted he's dead," said Willow, "I guess we'll have to hold a wake. It's what he would have wanted."
"So you're the one that killed Angel?" said the bottle blonde.
"I'm afraid so," said Billie. "I was under a spell, of course, but..."
"Don't apologize," the blonde interrupted, "you've done something that a hundred demons couldn't manage. You ought to be proud. D'Hoffryn was able to close nearly thirty files."
"Anya," said the blonde's muscular husband, "you might not want to say that too loudly. You'll upset Buffy."
"Buffy's moved on," said Anya. "And if you weren't still in denial you'd admit it."
Xander glanced across the lobby of the Hyperion, and saw the blonde slayer chatting to Cordelia and Spike. "I guess. But remember, this is officially the party to open Willow's new offices, not a wake. Some of the guests aren't in the loop." He gestured to the bar, where Lorne was chatting animatedly to Tara, Dawn, and another woman who looked like Dawn's slightly older double... the rock star Celeste, of course.
"So what's going to happen to the brat?" asked Anya. "He seems surprisingly... normal for the child of two vampires. A little smelly. I don't think Buffy liked changing him much."
"All babies are like that," said Billie.
"But in the Game of Life they're pink and clean," said Anya, "Why mislead people that way?"
"They ought to make a scratch and sniff version," said Xander. "But Anya does have a point, what's gonna happen to Connor?"
Wesley joined them and said "I'm hoping to become his guardian. David Nabbitt has some influence in the appropriate areas of City Hall, and will help when the time is ripe."
"Where is he anyway?" asked Anya. "I want to talk to him about his money."
"He's upstairs in Willow's offices, making a conference call to Korea. Some sort of problem at one of his factories, I believe."
"Damn. I was hoping to persuade him to help finance Willow's new labs. Maybe he'll have time to talk later."
"Surely Willow doesn't need his money," said Wesley.
"Not really," said Anya, "but we need to do something to make the company finances look more normal. A major corporate investor would be ideal."
"Wouldn't that cost in the long term?" asked Wesley.
"Not really. It might even be profitable, if I set things up properly."
"And you're the girl for that," Xander said with a grin.
"Darn tooting... what does that mean, anyway? Willow says it all the time and it doesn't really make sense...."
"I really ought to talk to Billie for a moment," said Wesley. "Would you excuse us?"
"I was expecting Cordelia to be his guardian," said Billie, as they moved towards the office.
"Not yet," said Wesley. "Although I still hope that one day..." He tapered off awkwardly, then said "But there are practical reasons why it might not be a good idea at present. Until we know exactly what happened to her and can neutralize the demonic taint, it might be too dangerous for her to be near Connor for extended periods. Some demons are best kept well away from children."
"Oh... I hadn't thought of that."
"I hope you don't mind me taking you away from the party," said Wesley, switching on the light, "It's really not particularly urgent."
"Angel's disappearance needs some stage management. The police, in particular, still want to talk to him. At the moment he's a missing person, we need a way to explain his death in a way that doesn't incriminate any of us. Then I can start the adoption process, and hopefully things will quieten down a little."
"What did you have in mind?"
"Holtz. I spoke to him in London yesterday, he's agreed to claim responsibility. We both thought that you might be the best person to pass on the news to the police."
"Holtz likes you," said Wesley, "and if a mysterious videotape were to arrive from.. oh, let's say Germany.. with a note asking you to pass it on to the police, I'm sure you'd do your civic duty."
"Won't they suspect something?"
"It will genuinely come from Germany, his fingerprints will be on it, and they'll have to find a PAL video-recorder to play it. I should think that ought to add an air of conviction."
"If there's no alternative."
"We could send it directly to the police, of course, but it might be more convincing coming from you."
"I'll set the wheels in motion. If you'll excuse me for a few minutes..." He picked up the phone. Billie took the hint and went back outside.
"...and so," said David Nabbitt, "without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to declare these offices open, and welcome my new trading partner, SunnyD Technology, to Los Angeles." He used a pair of gold scissors to cut a ribbon across the elevator gate, and handed a gold key to Willow. Everyone clapped.
Willow took his place in front of the microphone and said "Thanks to all of you for coming tonight. We're hoping to do a lot of business here over the next few years, and it wouldn't be possible without the help and generous support you've provided. I'd particularly like to to thank Anya Harris for her help in developing our corporate strategy... Anya, the check's in the post... our company secretary April Summers for her excellent work that's helped to bring this project in ahead of schedule and under budget... and above all my partner, Tara MacLay, for... for everything..." Willow seemed to be about to burst into tears, but swallowed and said "I also need to thank Angel Investigations for providing our office space and security. Angel unfortunately can't be here tonight, but I'd like to introduce Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, executive director of Angel Investigations."
"Thank you," said Wesley. "I'd just like to thank Miss Rosenberg and her associates for choosing the Hyperion for their business venture, and for their patience while we've got things ready for them. Additional secure office suites will be available for long-term rental later this year, and the new Caritas bar and health club will be opening here next month. However, I'd like to emphasise that our core business will be continuing unchanged; we're Angel Investigations, and we help the helpless. Thank you, and please enjoy the rest of the evening." There was a polite ripple of applause, followed by a rush for the bar.
"Okay," said Faith, "That's all of the civilians out of the way, apart from the creepy Dawn clone. Where is she anyway?"
"Don't worry," said Cordelia, "David's driving her home."
"So that's why she had the temper tantrum and fired her bodyguard," said Billie. "Clever..."
"You think...? Maybe, David's enough of a dork to fall for it, but I wouldn't wish that bitch on... on Holtz."
"So not our problem," said Willow, carrying Connor over and handing him to Cordelia, who sniffed, felt him, and took him away for a nappy change.
"She's actually a very misunderstood girl," said Lorne, pouring himself a large Seabreeze. "I think that she and David might be good for each other. Eventually."
"Where's everyone else got to?" asked Billie.
"Wesley's comparing notes with Giles and Tara," said Willow, "trying to work out how to test Cordy. I'm gonna stay out of the way, there's too much magic lying around in there. Dawn's surfing the web with Fred. Buffy and Spike went to check out that vision Cordy had this afternoon, probably won't be back for an hour or two. Everyone else is playing poker."
"It was a good party," said Lorne. "Maybe not quite the wake Angel would have wanted, but maybe we can do something about that once he's officially dead."
"If things ever quieten down," said Willow. "Every seer I know is tearing out his hair. Between Angel dying and the whole time travel thing half of the prophecies on record are gonna have to be thrown out. Nobody knows where they are any more."
"Is that good or bad?" asked Billie.
"Your guess is as good as mine. But one things for sure, there's gonna be one hell of a power struggle before everything settles down again. We're just gonna have to ride it out, make it clear that we're too dangerous to mess with."
"Don't worry," said Willow, "a lot of it will probably be fun."
Dawn came into the lobby carrying a piece of paper, and said "You know we never did work out who your dad was?"
"Sure. I can live with it."
"Think I might have something. Fred has some neat face-matching software. Take a look at this." She handed the printout to Willow, who looked at it and said "I don't remember this picture."
"That's because it isn't you."
"Wow..." Billie looked over her shoulder. Whoever it was could have been Willow's identical twin. "Who is she?"
"Trina Echolls," said Dawn, "Aaron Echolls' daughter."
"You don't think..." said Willow.
"He's about the right age to have known your mom, maybe at college."
"Maybe," said Billie, trying to remember her sister's tastes, "but I think he would have been a little too young for her. She liked older men."
"You don't know that," Dawn said excitedly. "C'mon, Willow, you've got to check."
"Maybe," said Willow. "But not tonight. Let's help Cordelia first."
One minute he was in Hell, the next...
"Let's see if I've got this right," said a voice Skip recognized. Cordelia Chase. "This bastard put a demon into my body so that I'd somehow end up seducing Connor and giving birth to some sort of demon god?"
Something thudded into the side of his head. A kick, he thought. Skip writhed and tried to get free of the chains that held him.
"I know it's hard to believe," said another woman, "what with Connor being a baby and all, but things got derailed when Angel was killed. If it wasn't for that he'd have been sucked into another dimension and grown overnight."
"How could they know that?" wondered Skip. How could anyone... another blow to his head interrupted his chain of thought.
"So what happens now, Willow?" asked Cordelia.
"We've gotta get the demon out of you somehow, without letting the visions destroy your brain. Skip's gonna tell us how."
"Why should I tell you anything?" shouted Skip. "When I am free I will..." Another kick, and an English voice said "Oh, you'll talk." There was a noise, a mechanical clicking repeated a couple of times, then a sudden coughing roar. "You know," said the same voice, shouting slightly. "There are four basic torture groups. We thought we'd start with noisy this time. Faith, if you're ready with the chainsaw..."
"Are you sure this is the place?" asked Lilah Morgan. "It looks like a dump." Behind her the squad of heavily-armed mercenaries checked their weapons.
"Quite sure," said the psychic. "This is where the vampire with a soul can be found."
"Okay," said Lilah. "Kick the door in, cover him, then wait for me to come in. I knew that the whole death thing was just a stunt."
There was a thud as the door went down, followed by a piercing scream, shouts, then silence. One of the mercenaries said "We're ready for you, miss Morgan."
"Okay Angel," said Lilah, striding into the room, "you had us fooled for...." She tapered off in confused silence.
"Sorry," said Harmony Kendall. "I'm so not Angel. Do I look like him?"
"Well?" said Lilah.
"It's her," said the psychic. "She's the vampire with a soul."
"Ewwww," said Harmony. "Don't be gross. Of course I'm not. Do I look like I've got a soul?" She undid one of the buttons of her blouse. "Why, I'm just a fluffy little..." another button... "girl. And all you big mean old men with guns are kinda scaring me..." By now it was obvious that she wasn't wearing a bra. "But hey," said Harmony, abruptly grabbing a distracted goon and throwing him at another, "I'm kinda scary too." Before anyone could react she had her fingers around Lilah's throat. "Now you're probably wondering if you can shoot me without hurting your boss. The thing is, if you don't hurt her, I will. Unless you guys get well away from the door. Then I might just let her go."
The guards reluctantly parted, and Harmony backed towards the door, using Lilah as a shield.
"There's a thing about souls," said Harmony. "All of you guys have got them, and you're still kinda nasty. Soul doesn't make me a nice person. But hey..." Her free hand lashed out with demonic speed, crushing the psychic's larynx and dislocating a neck vertebra. He fell to the floor, convulsing. "...you guys knew Angel, you should know that." She grabbed Lila's purse and threw her at the guards, and ducked out of sight before they could fire. By the time anyone reached the doorway she was gone.
"No cure?" asked Cordelia.
"He was quite vocal eventually," said Wesley. "Either you have a demon in you, or you die."
"And if I die you lose the visions."
"It's already too far gone," Wesley said regretfully. "Your brain was already badly damaged when the demon was implanted, now..."
"Okay. How long have I got if the demon's removed?"
"Hours, maybe days. Even if you lose the visions, the brain damage will catch up with you sooner or later."
"And if the demon stays inside me?"
"Eventually it'll take over," said Tara, her eyes glinting with tears. "Even with you knowing it's there, it'll gradually drive out what's left of you and take control."
"Actually," said Willow, "We have, but you're not gonna like it."
"I did some checking and a vision quest before we started," said Tara, "just in case Skip couldn't fix things, and got an answer. You become a Higher Being."
"We pull out the demon and shove it into what's left of Skip," said Willow, "then a Higher Being takes its place. It'll keep you alive, repair the damage and help you with the visions."
"What happens to me?"
"Oh, you'll still be there, you'll just have a passenger on board."
"What's the catch?"
"You're gonna have to spend most of your time Ascended over the next few years."
"Buffy liked it."
"And your point is..?" asked Cordelia.
"And there were four of these creatures?" Holtz asked in German, wiping blood from his sword, and turning over one of the eyeless bodies with the tip of his boot.
"That's right," the shaken potential said in the same language. "Good thing you got here when you did."
"It isn't the first attack," said Holtz. His radio crackled, and he lifted it and in English said "Yes?"
"We've spotted the priest," said Justine. "He's crossing the plaza now, heading directly towards you."
"Then finish him."
There was a staccato burst of shots, followed by a muffled explosion. Outside there were screams and cries of pain.
"He's bleeding, but he's still moving. We have civilian casualties."
"Pull out," said Holtz, "we'll meet at the agreed rendezvous. I'll get the girl out." In German he added "Head for the roof, there's a fire escape on the next building. Four blocks due north, the car park under the Holiday Inn. I'll cover you."
The potential began to argue, but paled as she heard a heavy pounding on the barred door to the plaza. Wood began to creak.
"Get out now," Holtz said again. He turned towards the door, ignoring the potential. After a moment she turned towards the stairs.
There was a crash, and a tall figure dressed as a clergyman stood in the shattered doorway.
"You migh as well tell me where the girl is," said the priest. "That way I'll kill you fast."
"That's an interesting theory," said Holtz, drawing a second sword. "But I think we'll test it..."
"Maybe your tastes will differ a little..." said Wesley, "but you'd still be able to keep an eye on things down here, visit us if anything came up that needed a vision, and a few years down the line when your brain has finished healing you can stay down here permanently. But you'll still have a passenger as long as you continue to get the visions."
"Do I get any choice of Higher Being?" asked Cordelia.
"At that sort of level it isn't gonna be anyone or anything you've heard of," said Willow. "They're as far beyond us as we're beyond an amoeba."
"So what's in it for the HB?" asked Cordelia.
"My guess is curiosity," said Tara. "They watch us from the outside, but they miss the nuances, don't really understand how we think. You can help them with that."
"Fine. Let me get this right... these guys look at us the way that we'd look at a bowl of guppies, and one of them wants to ride in me so he can see what being a guppy is all about?"
"That's about it," said Willow. "It's kinda your guarantee of getting back, they want to experience life as a human."
"Okay..." said Cordelia. "What about Connor?"
"As we discussed. I'll adopt him," said Wesley. "With David's help Willow's lawyers can handle that without too many questions being asked."
"What about a mom for him?"
"He's got one," said Willow, looking at her. "Okay, kinda. She's not gonna be around a lot, but she'll be keeping a close eye on things, won't you."
"I guess. Okay... Okay, let's do it."
"Now?" said Tara.
"Now," said Cordelia, "before I lose my nerve."
Willow burst into tears, and Cordelia hugged her a little awkwardly. "Like you said," said Cordelia, "I'm still gonna be around." She kissed Wesley, Gunn, and Fred, taking care that the visions didn't transfer to them, hugged Connor, Lorne, and Tara, and shook hands with Faith.
Willow and Tara took her hands and they stood over the demon spread-eagled on the ground in the rear courtyard. There was a bright flash as something left her body, and the remains of Skip's body jerked. His exoskeleton began to rot, maggots crawling in the gaping wounds, and his shape slowly morphed to a rotting corpse.
"That was inside me?" said Cordelia, horrified. "Gross!" They stood clear as Gunn incinerated it with his flame thrower. It took several minutes to die.
"Okay," said Willow. "You ready?"
"I guess," said Cordelia. She looked at the night sky overhead and said "Beam me up, Scotty."
Willow and Tara began to chant something, with Wesley joining in on the choruses. A shaft of golden light suddenly shone down into the courtyard, illuminating Cordelia, and everyone felt a sensation of peace. She floated into the air, slowly at first but rapidly accelerating, and vanished into the night.
"Holy crap," said Gunn. "You sure it isn't permanent?"
"I think so," said Willow, "unless we got things really wrong. But..."
"I don't think you need worry," said Fred, pointing at the back wall. Glowing letters were slowly appearing, spelling out "I'll be back."
"Damn," said Gunn. "That's cool."
Inside the hotel a phone was ringing. "Back to work," said Wesley, and went inside to answer it.
Author's note: No, I'm really NOT planning a sequel. Not any time soon anyway...
Comments please before I post to archives.