Title: Never Over
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters and am not profiting.
Summary: Angel, Connor and Faith join up to keep on fighting after the Ats finale.
A/N: Written for the 'We Will Not Fade Away' Post-NFA Ficathon.
Thanks to: Garnigal for the beta.
Faith had heard too many different versions of what had happened in LA the previous month. She'd been making a lot of calls to Buffy, Giles, anyone she could get in touch with. Apparently both Buffy and Willow had spoken to Angel but he only had limited phone access – had to drive out of the city to find a working phone or some other incredibly inconvenient means – so he couldn't really receive calls, only send occasionally. They told her he was okay. Faith wasn't so gullible – it wasn't hard to find out just how badly things had gone that day. Angel was strong and capable, but even he couldn't be completely okay after something like that. She was getting pretty damn sick of being clueless about what was really going on with them, so she finally decided to pack a bag and go to check it out. She didn't bother telling Robin where she was going.
Faith arrived at the building she'd been looking for, after searching through the ruins of LA – blackened buildings and a few miserable, helpless survivors that hadn't made their way out of the city yet. She didn't bother knocking, just entered and walked down the darkened staircase to the basement, the only part of the building that seemed to still be fully intact. She took a moment to briefly wonder where they'd have found so many candles before Angel diverted her attention.
"Faith?" She heard his voice from over her left shoulder and turned to face him. He stood up from the couch and stepped forward with a degree of curiosity.
"Hey," she greeted nonchalantly. Neither of them thought to give each other a physical, affectionate greeting like a hug, or even a handshake.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, a confused expression on his face.
She gave a laugh. "Apocalypse this big and you thought I wouldn't show? Come on. Couldn't get a straight answer out of anybody about what went down here, so I thought it was time to take matters into my own hands. I'm betting there's still an ass or two to kick around here."
Angel grinned slightly before switching to a serious face and tone. "Actually, yeah, there are." Small talk wasn't required between these old friends and he intended to get straight to business, until he was interrupted by footsteps pounding down the staircase. Connor entered the room, looking worn out but determined. Relief passed across Angel's face as it always did when Connor arrived back from a mission safely. The relief was never so great as the moment he'd found out that Connor had survived that day, even when the rest of the Reilly family hadn't, but it was always there. Connor looked at Faith in surprise as she turned to face him.
"We've got company?" Connor asked, addressing his father but not yet looking away from Faith.
"We've got company," Angel confirmed.
Connor gave a satisfied nod and placed the box on the floor, wiping his hands on his pants before offering his hand out to shake. "Hey, Faith."
She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Do I know you?"
Connor looked confused for barely a second before understanding settled across his face and he pulled his hand back. "So the whole altered-past thing affected you too, huh? Angel can fill you in. Have you had lunch? I was about to heat up a pizza," he offered casually, already heading for the door on the opposite side of the room. "You like pepperoni?" She shrugged and nodded before he went through the door.
"Who's the kid?" Faith asked after he'd gone.
"My son," Angel answered simply, turning back to sharpening the sword as he'd been doing before Faith's surprise arrival.
"Your what now?" Faith asked. She looked at his face for an explanation, but he didn't return her gaze. "Last I checked? That wasn't possible. Plus that kid's old enough to have been – hey, are you okay?" She broke off upon noticing the difficulty he seemed to have returning to a sitting position on the couch.
Angel waved his hand dismissively as he finally reached the fully-seated position. "I've mostly healed in the weeks since the battle but I guess I got more beaten up than my body's used to. I'll be fine soon enough. Even now, it's only a slight pain with certain movements."
"Are you sure?" she asked. "Listen, I could-"
"Don't worry about it."
"Don't worry about it," he repeated, in a more final tone.
"Fine, whatever," Faith responded, walking closer to him and lifting an already-sharpened sword to admire it and give it a few swings through the air. The way it was just lying there while she was just standing there provided too big of a temptation. "So if you managed to get in such bad shape, big guy, how did the others fare?" She didn't disguise the concern in her voice as well as she'd have liked, but she managed to avoid eye contact and pretend that she was more focused on the sword than his answer.
Angel was making just as much effort to not look at her. "I don't know," he replied. "Things got crazy out there; we all got separated. I couldn't find anyone else afterwards."
Faith slowed her movements and looked hard at him. "But generally when you don't hear from someone for a month after something like that, there's not really a question of what happened to them. Come on, Angel, fess up. Am I wrong?"
"Could you be a little more careful with that thing?" Angel asked, sounding annoyed. "You could poke an eye out."
"Yes, grandpa," she answered mockingly, though not changing her motions at all. She did, however, pick up on his obvious attempt to ignore her question and change the subject. She decided to let it go. There really was no question of the others' fates and she'd rather they didn't discuss it. She found herself picturing Wesley as he'd been when she saw him the year before, and then as he'd been back in Sunnydale when they'd first met. Little stuffed-shirted Watcher with too little personality and too much sense of duty went and got himself all moody, dangerous, and actually kind of hot - just to get killed a few years later. Would he have been better off if he'd never left England? Would he have been better off if she'd been a better charge?
"You still haven't explained that guy to me," she said with a nod to the door Connor had exited through, changing the subject further and trying to force Wesley out of her mind. Angel gave her a withering look. She returned it pointedly. He sighed and nodded, putting down the sword and leaning back into the sofa cushions. She put down her sword as well and took a seat next to him, for once ready to sit and listen.
By the time Connor came out with the pizza twenty minutes later, Faith had run out of questions – thankfully, because Angel's patience was wearing thin. Those parts that he preferred not to explain in detail hadn't had a chance to stay private with her constant pushing. Things he had managed to avoid discussing with Connor all this time had come out, and those weren't moments he liked to relive in his memory.
Faith was unusually quiet as Connor approached.
"I'd normally eat the whole thing myself but since this is all we've got until tonight, I'll let you have a third," Connor said, setting the food down on the table, shoving aside the swords. Angel waited for a comment from Faith expressing disbelief that a guy so skinny could eat so much, but it never came. She just picked up a slice and started eating.
Faith was finding it hard not to look at Connor differently than she had before he left the room. She thought she'd had a crappy childhood. He'd looked upbeat and amiable before, still did on the surface, but now she couldn't help but notice something else reflected in his eyes. No one could go through that and not get screwed up. He'd lost the parents he could remember raising him and loving him barely a month ago and he didn't seem to be at all in mourning. Apparently the newer memories of a truer past had been enough to seriously harden him.
She decided not to dwell on that subject or the disturbing images it brought to her mind. Sitting there silently feeling sorry for this boy wasn't like her. She was more for being proactive and, as she'd said, kicking ass. "So what's the deal now?" she asked. "What are we up against?"
Angel nodded, happy to see her snap out of her brief funk and eager to get along with shop talk. He hadn't expected Faith to be here but as long as she was, he'd rather she was put to good use. "Our actions last month were partly effective in taking down the senior partners at Wolfram and Hart a notch or two, enough so they don't have the same level of control here in our dimension as they did, but they're still a much stronger enemy than we could hope to eliminate. We didn't win; we just got rid of some of their current favorite links to Earth: the Circle of the Black Thorn and the physical law firm. We've weakened them, but they're not so easily destroyed. They can build new followers, a new army, faster than you could imagine; they've already begun. We've still got a lot of fighting to do. We want to keep taking them down, but more carefully, more planned, more gradually."
"The slow and steady approach," Faith concluded with a sigh. "So how long until these guys are dead?"
"Probably never," Angel answered.
"Well, this just gets better and better!" Faith pepped with a false peppy grin. "I can't wait for all the super fun to start!"
Angel sighed. "I know it's frustrating. But this is a bigger force than you've ever imagined. They have the power to overthrow every living thing, make this world a hell on Earth – the kind we can't stop. We'll never take them out all the way. This isn't about that. This isn't even about dying trying. This is about doing what we can. It's about making sure we keep on fighting, no matter what. I'd like you on my team - what's left of it - if you're willing. If you're not? You can always go back to Cleveland. We won't hold it against you."
"Okay," Faith said. She didn't have to think it over. There was nowhere else to go. "I'm willing. I'm in. Where do we start?"
"We have it on good authority that there's definitely at least one of the senior partners' new liaisons currently here in LA," Connor stated. "We thought we'd start there."
"And I'm guessing going ahead and killing him isn't on our to-do list," Faith speculated.
"No, not yet," Angel answered. Faith gave a frustrated sigh, crossing her arms and leaning back into the sofa cushions. She would help as they needed her, but she'd still rather a fight that involved actually killing the bad guys.
"So we aren't offing him," Faith repeated. "So what's the plan? We give him a scolding about how he's been a very bad demon, running with a bad crowd? Come on, Angel, there's gotta be some killing to do."
"Oh, there's killing," Angel clarified. "Just not this guy, not now. He's got too much of their strength in him – he's their favored one. We've heard about a ritual he's been planning. It's supposed to restore the power the partners have lost and then some. Our best bet right now is to work to stop that ritual."
"Killing him might do the trick," Faith sniffed.
"Too risky and difficult," Connor dismissed.
"Why?" Faith demanded. Angel sighed and she looked him over. She noticed marks she hadn't seen before. He wasn't yet in good enough shape to kill something so powerful. She conceded. It was better than going back to Cleveland. "If that's all we can do, I guess I'm game. And what exactly does preventing the ritual entail?"
"There's a special, one of a kind orb that he needs to complete the event - the Reclusan Orb. We need to find it, steal it, destroy it," Connor answered.
Faith nodded. It sounded simple enough. "So where do we find the orb?"
"That's one of the things we don't know yet – that, and what procedures the ritual involves and how exactly it gives the senior partners greater power," Angel answered.
"So you know pretty much nothing," Faith pointed out.
Angel ignored her and continued, "And I don't think any of my usual contacts or snitches are still around, so it might not be as straightforward as we'd hoped."
"But he's supposed to perform the ritual during the next full moon, according to the one contact we did have briefly, so we better have answers by then," Connor added.
Faith briefly wondered how soon and thoroughly Connor had gotten into Angel's life and work after his other family died; he sounded like he was used to this sort of business.
"So basically, we've just gotta get out there and find anyone who knows anything, is that it?" she asked. The two men nodded. "So what happened to the contact you did have?"
"Got eaten," Conner replied.
"Of course." Faith rolled her eyes. She hopped up and declared, "Let's get to searching, then."
Angel glanced at his watch. "Not exactly my best time of day for heading outside. There's still about five hours before sundown."
"Okay, so me and the kid can go for now. You can go in the sunlight, right?" Faith asked Connor.
Connor looked offended. "I'm human," he stated in answer.
Faith nodded. "Right. Weird. You know, with your genes and all. Anyway, we can head out now and meet you back here when you're ready to go," she directed at Angel.
"All right," Angel agreed. "Until then, I'll just, uh…"
"Keep on polishing your sword?" Faith suggested. "Have fun with that. Not too much fun though."
Connor handed Faith a few blades and stakes and they made their way towards the exit. He began, "So, we've pretty much got the whole city to cover. How about we start-"
"How about we split up, huh?" Faith interrupted. "You head North, I head South, cool?"
"Yeah, that's cool," Connor answered, trying to hide his disappointment. He'd been hoping to see the slayer in action this time. He could remember being incredibly awed and intimidated by her the last time they'd met.
"Great," Faith replied breezily, heading out the door without a second glance.
Connor nodded to his father before heading out behind her.
Nearly five hours later, Connor returned frustrated to inform Angel that his efforts had been fruitless. There were too few people and demons left, and those there were didn't know anything. He was ready to regroup and try to think up another plan to get the information they needed. Searching for an informant was useless, but the ritual had to be stopped, no matter what. He pushed open the doorway at the bottom of the stairs to the basement and found Faith and Angel both there, looking notably bored.
Before he could open his mouth to declare that he hadn't had any success, Faith tossed her head at him. "Where have you been?" she asked, sounding impatient.
"I was – I was trying to find information on…" he trailed off, confused. He thought he'd been exactly where he was supposed to be.
"What, all this time?" Faith asked with a smirk. "I was back in an hour with the info we need to get started."
"Wha – how in the hell did you manage that?" Connor demanded. "There's no one useful around; I've been checking every-"
"I've been around the block more times than you, kid. I'm used to getting things done, you know, efficient-like," Faith stated plainly. Angel shot her a warning glance. There was no good in getting competitive now; they had to work together as a solid team. Like his old team. Connor was already starting to fume at Faith's dismissing his strength and competence. She noticed. "Well, no need to get your panties in a bunch over it. We all gotta start somewhere, and we've got work to do now."
"Yes, we do," Angel agreed, giving Connor a stern and yet pleading look.
Connor looked annoyed but backed down. "Fine. So what's the deal? What do we have to do?"
Angel started relaying what Faith had told him. "There's another demon connected with the partners, named Zerev, who's hiding out over by Caritas," he paused and corrected himself, "by where Caritas used to be. Seems he's not held in quite as high regard as the other guy, he's not as much of a threat to us either – he's more like a rung or two below the demon performing the ritual when it comes to the power ladder-"
"The flunky's flunky," Faith inserted.
"Right," Angel continued, "but he's responsible for the orb for now. He's holding on to it until the other demon needs it – a few days before the full moon. Apparently it's pretty well guarded but it should still be an easier hit than if we were to attempt an attack on the one who's going to perform the ritual himself, also more immediate."
"But we'll still have time to get it between him passing it on to the more powerful demon and the time the ritual takes place? Just in case things don't go as well as we hope with Zerev?" Connor questioned.
Angel glanced at Faith. "Well apparently they're doing a more thorough job of keeping that information and location secret. Faith had more trouble finding out about him, so as of now we don't really know about that."
Connor smirked at Faith. She rolled her eyes, not worried about him gloating over her one small failure when he'd come back empty-handed. "So let's go crash Zerev's party. No point waiting – we'd just increase our odds of missing it," she concluded, standing with a sword and crossbow in hand. "Can you handle this?" she asked Angel, mindful of his injuries.
"He's the flunky's flunky," Angel repeated, as if it was obvious.
Without pause, Faith headed up the stairs and Angel tossed Connor a sword and a smaller blade and began heading following her. He heard a crash behind him and turned, facing his son questioningly. Connor embarrassedly bent down to collect the blade that he'd missed catching.
"You okay?" Angel asked in his most fatherly concerned tone.
"Yeah, fine. Just wasn't paying enough attention," Connor tried to brush away the subject.
"You sure you're okay to-"
"I said I'm fine, okay, let's go." Connor headed for the door.
Angel blocked his path. "She make you nervous?" He cocked his head up towards the stairs that Faith had already moved on from.
Connor balked. "No! Of course not. Why would you-?" Angel smirked at him. "Shut up!"
Connor pushed past Angel and headed up the stairs.
The three arrived at the gate of Zerev's territory and hesitated; it had been a hasty plan and they hadn't had any chance to evaluate the grounds or what they were up against. They only knew that this building was where Zerev was, and Zerev had the coveted orb. They had to get it from him before it was too late, but they hadn't thought of any specific plan of attack.
"Maybe we should split up," Connor suggested.
"No," Angel responded immediately and roughly.
"And why not?" Connor demanded. "We have no idea what we're up against. If we split up, we can cover more ground, attack from different angles. We'll increase our element of surprise."
"And have to work defense three times as much because you won't have us there to watch your back," Angel countered. "Faith can go another way, but I want you to stick with me. I don't want you alone."
"Faith can go alone but I can't?" Connor gaped, insulted. "I though you trusted me and my fighting abilities. I know she's a slayer but I'm just as capable of taking care of myself as she is."
Faith laughed at that. "Yeah, I'm sure."
Connor glared at her in return. "I remember you; I know you're good. But you don't remember me. You have no idea what I'm capable of. I'm the spawn of two vampires."
It was the first time Angel had heard Connor mention that with what sounded like pride, rather than disgust, but he wouldn't let himself believe that it was for more reason than Connor intending to show Faith up.
Faith narrowed her eyes. "Yeah? Well, I've been slaying your parents' kind since I was seventeen."
"And I've been killing hell-demons since I was three," Connor shot back.
Faith stepped forward to an intimidating degree of nearness, making Connor stumble back a step, before responding, "You trying to start something, kid?"
Angel had had enough and stepped forward between the two, pushing them apart. "Hey," he growled. "We don't need this kind of delay. You two can't be fighting each other now; we've gotta be fighting them – together. Splitting up maybe isn't the best idea, but we've got to start making progress so let it go and let's get moving."
Connor and Faith remained unmoving, glaring at each other.
"Come on!" Angel snapped, shoving his way between them and heading towards the back entrance.
"Yeah, okay," Faith replied, finally breaking her eye contact with Connor. "We're cool and I'm ready for a fight."
"So am I," Connor added. He was still resolved to prove his worth and determination, and that his earlier clumsiness had been a fluke.
"I'll bet you both are," Angel said dryly with a roll of his eyes that he didn't even try to hide. He shoved open the door to the building and led the other two inside.
"Well, this is nice and homey," Faith observed cynically while they took in the dark, damp, cloying environment of the room they'd entered. "Which way?"
Connor peered through the door into the next room over. "I'm thinking that way," he answered, motioning towards the direction he was looking.
The other two stepped up beside and behind him, and looked through the door to the next dark room in which the glowing orb was resting on a marble pedestal. Connor took a step into the room.
Angel grabbed his shoulder. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Uh… getting what we came for?" Connor suggested. When they made no move or expression of agreement, he said, "Come on, you guys, it's right there. It's not even guarded like we'd thought." Without waiting for them to respond, he began walking toward the orb.
"Connor, stop, it's never that simple," Angel demanded.
The left half of the room had been so dark that they hadn't realized the space was so great. It was suddenly illuminated with a brightness that made the three flinch. They turned to see a large, horned demon sitting on an enormous armchair, flanked on each side by five hulking henchmen armed with spears and swords. In his hand was the true Reclusan Orb. Bigger, stronger, brighter.
"No, it never is, is it?" the demon Zerev chuckled. Three of his guards launched their spears.