LOVE ITSELF HAVE REST
D M Evans
Disclaimer - Still aren’t mine as much as I might want to adopt Connor.  All rights belong to Mr. Whedon, though Yseult is mine and is a non-money making freeloader in my mind. All quote and lyrics belong to whomever I’ve notated.
Rating - FRAO (for sexual situations and graphic violence)
Feedback - it helps me grow connorswhip@yahoo.com
Time Line - Post Not Fade Away
Summary - Connor tries to deal with the ’very strange and violent, at times, inappropriately erotic...dream’ left in his mind after Wesley shatters the Orlon Window.
Author’s Note #1 - Thanks to SJ and Kristi for the beta

Author’s Note #2  - This was written for the lyrical ficathon. My lyrics were:

If I was dressed in my best defenses,
Would you agree to meet me for coffee?
If I did my tricks with smoke and mirrors,
Would you still know which one was me?

Superhero -- Ani Difranco

http://www.stanford.edu/home/welcome/campus/memchu.html


CHAPTER ONE

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul outwears the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.
Lord George Gordon Bryon - We’ll Go No More A’Roving


The cry died in his throat as he thrashed hard against the thin mattress of his dorm room bed. A warm trickle cut a runnel down his leg before he clamped down hard on his inner muscles. He wasn’t going to do it again; throughly wetting his bed wasn’t an option. The sharp tang of the small amount of urine the nightmare had let escape was humiliating enough.

Connor rolled out of bed, ripping the sheets off the bed before it leached into the mattress. He pulled off his soaked boxers and tossed them on the soiled bedding. Sweat soured the smell of the room, clung to his body like a sticky glaze. He yanked on some ratty jogging pants, tossing a  glance over at James who snored loudly. His roommate was so utterly self-involved that he probably wouldn’t notice Connor even if he started dancing naked around the room.

Instead, Connor grabbed a clean set of pants and his bucket of toiletries and headed for the bathroom. At three in the morning, even undergraduate dorms were quiet, in spite of the fact it was just two weeks into the fall semester. With the water practically boiling out of the shower head, Connor stood under the stream, letting it carry away the sweat and piss. However,  it didn’t revive him like he had been hoping. Maybe coming back to Stanford was a huge mistake. Maybe he should have gone with his family to New York.

Los Angeles didn’t turn into a stinking pit from the ‘terrorist’ attack but large hunks of it were fairly ruined. He was just glad the Reillys had weathered it intact but his mom couldn’t stand to be in the city any more, didn’t feel safe. Why she felt safer in New York City, a site of a real terrorist attack, Connor couldn’t even fathom but he had refused to go. He argued that Stanford was so far from Los Angeles that it might as well be in another state. Somehow, given how little his parents had fought with him, Connor thought they might be relieved he was gone. Ever since they found out he was ‘special’ there had been a terrible strain on their relationship, as if they sensed he was some horrid cuckoo bird placed in their nest, intent on smothering them.

Just thinking about how his parents had looked at him when he drove off for college, as if they were relieved to be cutting their losses and ridding themselves of their strange son, brought his bile up.  He bit back the urge to vomit, telling himself having the Reillys away from him where they’d be safe was a good thing because the demons would just come for him again. They already had, after all, but that possibility wasn’t the thing that woke him out of the dream, pissing down his leg in fear.

It had been the overwhelming terror he had never indulged in, memories of the horrible night it had rained fire came back to haunt him bringing back the terror of having a broken bone, realizing that he could be hurt and killed and that his fear hadn’t mattered to those around him. That’s what made him scream tonight. A monster had broken him. Worse, more frightening was that demonic powers had twisted up a woman so badly that she didn’t stop, seeing his innocent fears and naivete, until she had fucked him until both of them were exhausted; that same feminine monster tore out his heart the very next day and the creature that fathered him wouldn’t even look at him when Connor turned to him, terror in his eyes.

It’s a vague dream, it didn’t happen, he told himself, just like he always did. Every time his past bubbled up from the cauldron of his sick brain, Connor tried to tell himself that it was a dream, a movie, something that happened to someone else. It certainly didn’t feel real and maybe that’s what made it worse.  His calming mantra didn’t work. Naked and wet, he dashed from the shower, falling to his knees in a stall. Pain cracked through them as they slammed into the tile. His stomach emptied violently, acid burning his throat and nose until tears slid down his cheeks. He vomited until there was nothing left inside of him then dragged himself back into the shower.

Connor hadn’t lied to Angel about any of it that day in the coffee shop, not about it feeling like a strange and violent dream, not wanting to make a thing of it, of being grateful. At the time, he had been grateful. He understood what Angel had tried to give him but like most of Angel’s plans, from what he could tell, it had gone to hell. The past ambushed him, torturing him until he barely slept. Changing the past obviously hadn’t altered the fragility of his mind. It was too late for him. He was damaged goods slid into a pretty new box.

Sometimes his past would rush through him like a torrent and he’d say something that would have his friends staring at him like he was insane. It was as if they sensed that Connor Reilly who used to play hockey for the Cougars never saw the inside of that high school, had never played hockey and had never gone to the prom. When he kissed Yseult, his girlfriend, it was as if she knew he didn’t really lose his virginity to Tracy in the backseat of his dad’s car. He started imagining Yseult knew he murdered his daughter, that he had lusted after a Slayer and a demon-king who had slaughtered the only real mother-figure he ever had and slipped inside her skin calling itself Illyria. Connor was nothing but smoke and mirrors and his friends had begun to see behind the illusion.

One by one, they found reasons to drift away from him, as if they sensed the decay within.
Ever since the day he had been run down by that van, more of his life had been chipped away daily like marble under the hands of a mad sculpture. He was becoming more and more isolated, just like before. It was happening all over again. How long before he was babbling his brains out to a comatose woman in an abandoned church, longing to just lie down and rest, even if he knew that meant death? Connor had wanted to toss his arms open wide and embrace the Reaper. He still understood that feeling, knowing it would end his pain.

It never happened. It was a dream. Who am I fucking kidding? Connor turned off the shower, drying with a thick towel. A rest sounded so good to him. Why couldn’t Angel have just let him go completely? Because he loves you. He felt his stomach flip again. As much as he craved that love, it still made him ill. Holtz had spread like a cancer inside him and all the love in the world might not be enough to irradiate it out of him.

Dressing in his clean pants, Connor picked up the ratty jogging pants, smelling the faint scent of urine that had soaked into them and headed back to his room. Setting aside the toiletries, Connor tossed the jogging pants on the bedding then scooped it all up and grabbed his laundry soap and some quarters. James snored on. That suited Connor just fine.

He wasn’t even supposed to be in the dorm this semester. Laurence Reilly had been a Sigma Chi brother, making Connor a legacy. He had entered the fraternity in the spring and was supposed to be in the frat house for lodging but something had gone wrong. They said the room wasn’t ready, maybe later in the semester he could move in. Connor felt like they didn’t want him and couldn’t discern if it was real or if his paranoia was growing.

The only one who stayed with him was Yseult. Maybe she’d live up to her namesake, he thought bitterly, shoving his soiled sheets into the washer. It could be that Yseult was different. True to form, she was older, already in law school while he labored on in pre-law, wondering if this was part of Wolfram and Hart’s plan. He was sure it was but he didn’t know what else to do with himself. Nothing interested him and that was the problem according to Yseult. She tried to be supportive and the sex was great but he knew he didn’t love her. He wasn’t sure if she loved him or if he was just something to do until she graduated. She did care for him and had suggested seeing a therapist, thinking he had PTSD from the attack on L.A., like so many others had. Oh, he had post-traumatic stress all right but nothing a therapist could help him with. If he told the truth, he’d be lucky to ever see the outside of mental hospital.

Would Angel come visit him there? Doubtless. Would the Reillys? Doubtful. God, it hurt so much to even think it. Why was he so hard to love? Yseult, did she even try or was he a toy? His parents? No, he didn’t imagine the relief in their eyes. Cordelia? It was a mistake, those were the words of the real Cordy, not the one who took everything from him. Jasmine? He still clung to the belief she had loved him but he knew that was a lie. She treated him like he was the child, not the other way around. Fred? She had guided his new life here but he had seen the viciousness in her when she wielded the taser. Angel? Vampires couldn’t love.

A laugh, mirthless and dry, percolated up out of him. Vampires, why didn’t that feel like a vague dream? Because they were everywhere. He had killed a fair number of them just on campus. The way he tore after “PCP gang-bangers” was one of the things that had begun to isolate him. The dream didn’t want to be nebulous any more but it also didn’t want him to get a handle on it. It slipped through him like ice chips skittering over a frozen lake.

Maybe Angel could help him sort it out. Maybe there was a spell that could completely undo what Angel had done. It was so unfair to get his life back like this, in snippets and broken fragments of video tape in his brain. Maybe he should make a thing out of it. He needed help. Connor knew it. His family was all too aware of it. Yseult was pushing him toward help. He needed to be Connor from Quor-Toth or Connor Reilly but he wasn’t sure he could live with being both together, their memories a like a Jackson Pollock painting in his brain that he couldn’t make sense of, eyes in the heat.

Every time he reached for the phone to call Angel, fear paralyzed him, as if he made the call, there’d be no going back. Everything normal in his life would be burned away and all he’d have left would be the nightmare. He couldn’t risk it. Connor had only seen Angel once since the attacks. Connor had stayed around after Wesley and Gunn’s funerals, haunting the cemetery like it should be his home, wondering if the voice he had heard on the Reilly’s answering machine, telling him when and where Gunn and Wesley were to be buried, had been real. Had Angel come through the battle all right or was that a longing-filled fantasy?

Angel being all right was a stretch. That night in the cemetery his father shown up severely burned by something, his thick mane of hair gone and one side of his face melted. He smelled like roasted pork. The vampire used a crutch to walk, his leg obviously shattered and put together with a leg immobilizer probably stolen from somewhere since nothing human would still be alive with those injuries. A hospital hadn’t treated him. Spike looked worse yet, his legs in similar immobilizers as he sat in a wheelchair being pushed along, apparently effortlessly, by Illyria. The demon-king didn’t look more than badly bruised but maybe being blue-skinned was nature for her; Connor didn’t know but she was wounded inside. He could see her all-too-human distress at Wesley’s death. Faith was with them, self-appointed guardian of the injured heros.
He and Angel had talked that night like equals, never actually saying how happy they were to see each other. Oh, Angel had tried but he had cut his father off, not ready to hear how much he was loved, as if something inside him couldn’t bear it. Angel had called his dorm several times since then; Connor was unsure why he had given the vampire the number if he was so unwilling to talk. He never picked up, leaving Angel to talk to the machine, never called him back, unsure if he hoped Angel would just give up or get fed up and just appear on his door step.

It killed him to admit that he might need Angel to help him sort out the reality from the spell. He knew which was which when he thought about it but his real world was behind doors, in the corners and under the beds of his brain while the fake life was out in the open. He felt the cracks inside of him and knew they were getting bigger, deeper and he didn’t know what would happen when those faults got too big for his mind to plaster over.

He just wanted the dreams to stop turning into nightmares. He either wanted the stones to face his life and not wake up shrieking like a banshee or he wanted the reality removed again. He would just forget his father and go back to being Colleen and Laurence’s son until the next time the demons came and chances are they’d all die.

Connor went outside, curling up under a magnolia tree and wept. He had no options. All he wanted was to rest. Before he had wanted to stop fighting and rest and now he had but this was worse than fighting. Maybe it wasn’t the harshness that was so bad. Maybe it was the fact that love couldn’t quite touch him that was the problem. Love had made this horror he lived in. Love had become his cage. He wished love would just rest and leave him be.

CHAPTER TWO

Through the early morning fog I see
visions of the things to be
the pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see..
Suicide is Painless - M.A.S.H. theme Song

He could almost forget his pain, letting it get carried away by the rhythm of his body. Sex tended to numb his brain, blending all the Connor’s into one focused mix but it wasn’t a cure-all. Connor knew he could hurt Yseult by accident. Had Angel even given a thought to his extraordinary strength? Still, he knew how to restrain himself, like it was second nature. At this point perhaps it was, since violent, strong Connor was some hazy figure lost in the corridors of his mind; Reilly lusted for the beautiful woman whose neck he was suckling; his dream self that shrieked at him to run as far from Yseult as he could.

As he slowly thrust into her, just beginning to build the fire, Connor gazed down into her chocolate eyes. Her hair splayed out on the soft sheets, thick walnut ringlets, long, begging for fingers to be lost in them. He nuzzled the bare skin of her shoulders, tasting the rich flavor sex brought to her flesh. His tongue lathed down her café au lait skin, finding a cocoa nipple, hard and ready for his mouth. Reilly insisted that he was with this girl because she was intelligent and beautiful but dream-boy was huddled in the corner of his brain, sobbing she looked like Jasmine. It was a lie, there was no such person. She was just a nightmare he had once.

The only thing that was real was the woman lying under him. This was his life; this was reality. Her warm, tender skin, the sounds of his flesh slapping against her as his cock moved in and out of her slick depths, her sharp little moans, his breath in tatters, this was actuality. There was nothing dream-like to her firm hands gripping his shoulders and her thighs capturing his hips. Yseult rolled him and he mewled a protest as he slipped free.

She grinned at him, twisting on the bed. Her hand grabbed his penis, now purple and twitching at her touch. She peeled the condom off of him. Yseult milked him hard, laughing softly at his groans. Her bee-stung bronzed lips planted a kiss on the wet tip of him then all but inhaled him, deep back into her throat. Every time he thought he could almost put himself back together, use sex to batter his inner being submission, to make the dream fade away into the mist, the imagery coalesced, demanding his attention. Even as Yseult’s greedy mouth worked him, soft sucking sounds filling the air, he was reminded that she was the first woman to ever go down on him. Tracy had never sucked him off, no matter how many memories he had of it. Sex had only two meanings for his dream-self; a means to a dark end and later way to control him lest he slip his leash and help Angel.

It can’t be real. I won’t let it. Connor tried to force those thoughts from his traitorous brain. He caught Yseult’s hips, shifting her so he could part her dark lips like a sweet tulip. He ran the tip of his nose over her nub as his tongue flickered over her, tasting salt and oysters. She moaned around his cock as his tongue dipped inside her. His mouth moved hungrily, desperately trying to cobble himself together so he could fill the hole inside of him by sucking the love straight out of her.

Connor slid fingers inside of her, making little ‘come hither’ movements that were supposed to hit one of the ‘G’- spots. Programing the kamasutra into him must have been Vail’s idea of a joke or Angel’s idea of normalcy for teen-aged boys. Stop it, you came by this naturally. Forget that dream. God, brain, just let me rest. Frantic to not lose the numbness fucking bestowed, he threw himself back into it, his tongue teasing Yseult as his fingers worked. She let him slip free of her talented mouth as he caught her clit with lip-blunted teeth, clamping, pulling and releasing.

She howled as her orgasm left her loose-limbed on top of him. His fingers, running dew, kept working as her vagina spasmed around them. He left Yseult panting on the bed, shifting into a new position, giving her freer access to him. He was hers to do with as she wished. Yseult, still trembling from the force of her climaxes laid him back down. Her mouth played with his glazed lips then her tongue blazed a trail down to his rigid cock.

Yseult mouthed his balls as she stroked him hard. He liked the roughness. There was no talk about gifts and things that were real. This was animalistic and demanding. The milking hurt just a little but the pain felt good. His back arched, his chest heaving as she added a twist to her stroking. Her mouth went back around the head of his cock and he came hard as she sucked him in down to the root. His cries echoed in the room with each powerful wave pushing through him until he was sprawled on the bed, utterly sated.

For a while they didn’t talk, just lay there quivering masses of well-used flesh. Finally they made their way into the shower then to the couch in front of the tv. Beer and potato chips and re-runs of the X-Files, life felt pretty good, almost normal. Connor liked how Yseult treated him like an adult, like he was old enough for beer. He could almost pretend his life wasn’t a long-lost X-File episode.

Yseult caressed his thigh as they lounged together. “I know I probably shouldn’t have but I called him.”

Connor’s broody brow knitted together, an action so much like his father if only he’d admit it. “Called who?”

“The man who keeps leaving all those messages on your answering machine,” Yseult said, warily.

Connor sat up, moving away from her touch. “You called Angel? What in the hell for?”

Yseult eyed him sourly, not liking his tone. “Because the man is obviously worried about you. He calls practically every day and you never even told me you had an older brother.”

Connor got up, slamming his beer down on the coffee table. How dare his father try to insinuate himself back into his life? He’d never knit himself back together if that happened. He refused to listen to the little voice that said he shouldn’t blame Angel for trying to help, for making up a plausible lie as to why he kept calling. “There’s a reason for that. He’s...dangerous, okay?”

“He didn’t sound dangerous. He seemed very concerned about you.” She set the chips on the table, getting up. She caught Connor’s hand. “So am I. Connor, it’s getting worse. I look in your eyes and you’re not even in there sometimes. I see this sea of misery and you are so far adrift on it I can’t toss you a lifeline.” Yseult’s hand skimmed his face, taking his hair out of his eyes. “Even in bed, it’s like there’s someone else with us. I can see you struggling with whatever it is that’s devouring you but you won’t let me help.”

“Because you can’t,” he said in a voice so frail and helpless it could have belonged to a child.

“You won’t even let me try.” Her dark eyes glistened. “Why don’t you let Angel try to help? Dangerous or not, he’s obviously so concerned about you that it hurts him. I could hear it in his voice.”

Connor’s hand tore through his hair, catching hanks of it. He knew she meant well but Yseult had no idea what she had just done. If Angel thought he was freaking out, the vampire would do something. God only knew what that meant. Angel had an amazing capacity for shooting himself in the foot with blow back that took out everyone around him. “What did you tell him, Yseult?”

She stiffened, preparing for the inevitable fight. “The truth, that you’re growing distant, brooding all the time. Your studies slipped in the summer, Connor. Do you think you’ll do any better this semester?” Her lips thinned. “I don’t because you can’t pull yourself together.”

At that he laughed, cold and brittle as the first ice storm in a Wisconsin winter. He jumped to his feet, his body shaking.

“I told him what everyone thinks, that you have PTSD from the attacks in L.A. and that you won’t get help,” Yseult said.

“Because I don’t have PTSD,” he snapped, pacing the room, feeling very much like a caged animal.

“Irregardless, Angel will be here this weekend with his girlfriend I guess.” She shrugged as he looked at her curiously, in spite of himself.  “Someone named Faith.” Yseult’s eyes fastened on him.  “Are you sure that your brother is dangerous? I mean, Faith and Angel, they sound like a pair of religious fanatics.” A smile tugged at her lips. “Then again back home in Atlanta, some of those Southern Baptist holy rollers could be downright dangerous.”

This time his laughter was high pitched, nearly hysterical in tone. “You have no idea how funny that is. I’ll have to tell him that. Trust me those two would explode if they stepped inside a church...well, Angel at any rate.”

“I’m hoping you’ll let them and me help you.” She caught hold of him, pulling him tightly to her lush body. “You need it and there’s no shame in that.”

“You have no idea what you’re asking. I can’t just go talk to a therapist.” Connor pulled away from her roughly.

“Why not? It won’t reflect badly when you apply to law school, trust me on that.” Her lips trembled. “Talking will help you.”

“If I told you the truth, you’d never believe it,” he said and thought for a moment about actually telling her everything just because he wanted to drive her away, to save her from even trying to love him. He knew where that could lead. Reason, however, ruled and he headed for the door. “I’m glad you’re concerned, Yseult, really I am. I’ll introduce you to Angel and Faith when they get here but I...I just need to walk and clear my head, okay?”

Connor didn’t wait for her reaction. He didn’t notice her tears. He didn’t see the citrusy eyes that tracked his path away from her apartment before the creature knocked on the door and pretended to be him returning. Connor didn’t hear Yseult invite it in. All he was aware of was the thunder of blood in his head and the little voice that kept reminding him Humpty-Dumpty couldn’t be put back together again.

CHAPTER THREE

If I commit suicide, it will not be to destroy myself but to put myself back together again. Suicide will be for me only one means of violently reconquering myself, of brutally invading my being, of anticipating the unpredictable approaches of God. By suicide, I reintroduce my design in nature, I shall for the first time give things the shape of my will.
Antonin Artaud- “On Suicide,” no. 1, Le Disque Vert

Withdrawn was the term he had been using for himself. It was his way of coping with the strange and violent dream, that’s what he had been telling himself. Withdrawn, so much so he hadn’t even known that Yseult’s friend Stacy had called her in missing. She had been gone two days and he was so lost in his own world he hadn’t noticed. Coping went out the door when Yseult had shown up at his dorm, so sexually alluring and hungry for him that it wasn’t until she was inside and he turned down his music that he noticed a lack of heartbeat.

The tussle was brief. She had been too young, hadn’t had a clue what he could bring to a fight. Still, she almost had him like a fly in amber as their eyes met and he was force to acknowledge how much she looked  like his daughter. He froze for a moment, watching the fangs descending toward his neck. His thing about having his neck touched kicked in and he was in motion. There was almost a look of relief in her eyes as his stake punctured her and he felt the slickness of Jasmine’s blood on his hand so strongly he looked for the smear of brains and blood.

He sat on his bed, covered in Yseult’s dust and reached for the phone. He almost sobbed when he heard the voice on the other end of the line. “Mom?” Tears started rolling down his face. He managed to even out his voice so she couldn’t tell he was crying. “No, I’m not doing so good. Yseult disappeared. The police are looking for her.” He trailed a finger through her ashes on his bed. “Mom...maybe this semester is a bad idea. It’s not too late to drop and get my money back...no, I know that it doesn’t look good on my transcripts, it’s just...no, Mom, don’t put Dad on. I just need to tal...damn it.” Connor wiped his face. “Yeah, hi, Dad...come on, don’t yell. I know what it’ll look like when I apply to law school. I...I need a break. Yeah, Dad I know school’s supposed to be hard. That’s not it...yeah I know my grades weren’t great this summer...no, it’s not drugs. You know I don’t touch that stuff...I just feel...did Mom tell you about Yseult? I know girls aren’t more important than school but my girlfriend disappeared. No, fine, I’ll stick it out. Okay, talk to you later.”

Connor slammed down the phone and curled up on the bed, weeping loudly. How could they so completely misunderstand him? He didn’t know how long he lay there before James came in. His roommate eyed him sourly.

“What’s your problem?”
“Yseult is missing. The police are looking for her,” Connor said, trying not to think on how they’d never find her.

James just shrugged obviously unconcerned since it didn’t involve him in any significant way. Connor rolled out of bed and fled to the bathroom. It shouldn’t bother him to kill vampires. It never had before, not in his dream-past or any time on campus but he had never known them personally before outside of Angel. He barely made it to the toilet before dinner forced itself out of him. He thought he’d turn inside out from the violence of his body’s rebellion.

As he went to wash his face, Connor saw his skin was ash-streaked, Yseult’s remains muddied with his tears.  It sent him back into a stall, dry heaving. After washing up, he walked, dead inside, to his room and stripped the bed. He just kicked the dusty bedding into a corner, remade the bed and collapsed. James didn’t even look up from his movie. Connor saw he had a message on the machine.

Connor, it’s me. Your friend, Yseult, called me. She was really concerned about you. Call me...please.

He stared at the phone. It was Saturday. Didn’t Yseult say Angel would be here for the weekend? No, he wouldn’t call him and beg for help, even though he knew Angel would try to give it where the Reillys were more concerned with his future than his present. The phone rang. He almost didn’t answer it. It was probably just Angel saying he was on his way. For a change, he picked it up.

“Yeah?” he said without enthusiasm. He sat up. “Oh, hi, Rose,” he said to his ‘sister.’ “Sorry if I freaked out Mom and Dad...no, I don’t feel so good. I’m just so tired, Rose. I want a break and they just think I’m slacking. It’s not that. I feel like I’m going to pieces...no, it’s not drugs. Why does everyone keep asking me that? I don’t do drugs. I just need to get away from here...what? You have to go already but...” Connor felt the tears coming again. “Mom and Dad don’t want you calling me? Why? It’s not drugs. God, so I got straight B’s in the summer, that doesn’t mean drugs. Maybe I’m just not as smart as they think I should be. Maybe I just need a break. No one should go to school every day of the year...I’m not yelling at you, Rose...okay, fine. I’ll talk to you later...please, call me tomorrow...no? Okay, no, go out with your friends. Bye, Sis.”

Connor let the phone drop. His parents thought he was messing with drugs. They didn’t want his little sister to get caught up in it. He couldn’t even make them see it wasn’t that. He didn’t need rehab. He really did need a therapist but there was no one prepared to hear his life. It was easier to think drugs than it was to realize he needed to be loved and reassured. Angel had been the same way. It was easier to rewrite him and hand him to strangers than it was to rewrite him and keep him and do the hard work it meant to be family.

Still, Angel was the only family he had. Connor made the call and no one answered. Of course not. There never was anyone to hear his pain. Every time he reached out, there was never anyone there for him. Love didn’t want anything to do with him and that terrible dream that was his past showed him that all too clearly. Holtz, Angel, Cordelia, Jasmine, none of them could love him the way he needed to be loved. Their love was conditional and he never fulfilled the conditions.

“Time to rest,” he whispered.

Connor was barely aware he had picked up the knife he had purchased for his nightly outings. It was slender and sharp, perfect for slicing flesh quick and clean. It was more for demons than vampires since it wasn’t a good beheading tool. James barely noticed him and his weapon as he left. His feet carried him outside and across the quad. Connor found himself staring up at the mosaic on the Memorial Church. It was an impressive thing, running up both sides of the front facade to the peek, Jesus and the disciples or some such. Connor went inside, not sure if the door had been locked or not. He’d feel bad if he had broken the lock in his haste.

He wandered around. The stained glass looked black at night and only a few flickering offering candles lit up the stonework and gold leaf decorations. He was Catholic. Lies!  If nothing else, Holtz had preached God to him. Connor tried to find God in these walls with all their inscriptions. “Why did you let something like me be born?” he muttered. “I am an affront, a bastard thing that no one wants.” He cast his gaze heaven-wards. “Do you want me, God? Is there a place for me anywhere but in hell? Maybe I should have stayed in Quor-Toth. I knew my place. I was content. I made sense.” Connor looked at his feet. “I don’t make sense here.” He put a hand over his face, biting back a sob.  He stopped in front a wall and read the inscription, his inhumanely sharp eyes picking out the details in the dim light.  Remedies in sickness, Love in trouble, Comfort in weakness, Renewed hope in disappointment, Tears in sorrow, Smiles to follow tears. He traced the words with a finger. “I’ve never found love, God. There is no comfort in being this weak.” He swallowed hard. “Would I smile in heaven?”

He refrained from punching the wall and destroying the historic building. Heaven? No, creatures like him had no rights to heaven. He’d be lucky to find oblivion. Connor went outside to sit under a tree, gazing up at the church and the faint stars above it. He called Angel’s cell phone again but there was no answer. His father probably couldn’t figure out how to turn it on as per usual. Connor called the Reillys and they told him it was too late in the day to talk. They’d call him tomorrow. He didn’t even get the chance to tell them how much he hurt.  He dialed Angel’s new home. Maybe his father hadn’t left for San Francisco. Connor got the answering machine. He hung up.

He turned his eyes skywards, wishing he could see the stars more clearly. The stars weren’t as pretty here as they were in Quor-Toth. Maybe they would have been had he ever left the confines of the big cities of L.A. and San Fran. Still, they would have to do. He could watch them for as long as it took. Connor took out the knife and didn’t even hesitate. There was no need to waver or to test himself. He knew how it would feel to be cut. He wasn’t afraid of dying tonight any more than he had been when he waited for Angel to slit open his throat. He welcomed death as much now as he did then.

There was burning pain as his flesh parted. The salty, coppery smell of his blood filled his nostrils. It spurted warmly from the wound. He put the handle in his mouth and drew his other wrist swiftly across the sharp blade. Spitting the knife aside, Connor looked at his bleeding wrists. He didn’t have much time now. With numb, weak fingers, he hit redial and got the answering machine again.

“Hi, Dad. I know this isn’t the call you wanted to get. I’m just so tired, Dad. I know you understand that. I don’t work. I never will. Just calling to say...” Connor stumbled, trying to find the right words. To hell with the tears running down his face, filling his voice with agony. Angel would understand his weakness, but what else would tell his father exactly what he meant. Then he remembered what his father liked. “We’ll go no more a’roving, Dad. I think you know what I mean. Bye now, Dad. It’s all right. I know you love me.”

Connor lay back on the grass, watching the stars getting further away as he grew sleepier and colder. Maybe he’d get to dance among them when it was all over.


CHAPTER FOUR

Death cancels everything but truth
William Hazlitt-. “Lord Byron,” The Spirit of the Age

“God, that’s such a long ass drive,” Faith moaned, stretching as she got out of the car.

“Try riding in the trunk most of the way.” Angel rubbed his neck, slamming the passenger’s side door shut. Part of him wanted to consider moving closer to San Francisco and spare himself the drive but Connor, like most teens, wanted independence. Angel didn’t need to be told that.

“You’re the one who wanted to leave L.A. in the daylight,” Faith reminded him.

Angel shrugged as they headed for Connor’s dorm. At least his face had healed enough that people wouldn’t run screaming from the sight of him and his leg only twinged a bit, having healed for the most part. “It’s nearly a six hour drive to here. I didn’t want to waste the night.” He glanced over at her. “Thanks for driving, Faith.”

She shrugged, an easy roll of her shoulders. “It beats listening to Spike whine about being in that wheelchair. I think the bastard can walk already but he wants us to wait on him.”

Angel snorted. “I wouldn’t put it past him. You can test it very easily.. Dump him in the yard at day break. If he doesn’t run for cover, you know you were wrong.” He smirked, pleased with the idea.

Faith swatted him. “I didn’t put up with the two of you these last few months just so you can fry Spike now. Speaking of which, did he ever call like he was supposed to?”

Angel pulled the tiny cell phone out of his pocket, peering at it. If the things got any smaller, he’d need a jeweler’s loop to work it.  “Does this thing have voice mail?”

Faith took it from him and he wilted under the heat of her gaze. “It’s not even on, Angel...again. How hard is it?”

He made a face, contemplating long lingering deaths he’d like to inflict on the inanimate object. “I hate those things.”

“Welcome to the twenty-first century,” she shot back as they went inside. She turned the phone on and gave it back to him.  “And don’t tell me how much better things were in the good old days. I saw and smelled that cluster fuck. This is so much better.”

“Faith, I don’t want that kind of language around my son,” Angel scolded, knocking on the door.

She snorted. “Angel, he’s in a fraternity. If he has any balls at all, he’s been part of a cluster fuck. It’ll do him good. That kid’s wound too tight.”

Angel couldn’t argue that part. Connor was always high strung and from Yseult’s phone call, that hadn’t changed. He was getting worse and Angel only wished he knew why Connor wouldn’t ask for help. He thought they had reached some kind of accord in that coffee shop but obviously he misunderstood once again. Maybe Connor remembered his past life more clearly than he confessed to and it was bothering him. Angel just wished Connor would open up to him. He was certain he could help.  “Faith, I’d rather not think of my son in the middle of performing bukkake on someone.”

Faith shrugged. “I don’t know what that is, but if it means him getting ridden hard, I’m sure it’ll help.”

Angel decided to forgo telling her the meaning of bukkake especially as the door opened and a wan face peered out. The young man dismissed Angel immediately, his eyes going straight to Faith’s chest and never wavering. “Is Connor here?” Angel tried to drag the boy’s attention to him and failed.

“Nah, he went out.”

Was the boy trying to guess Faith’s bra size, incite her to kill him or did he think this was a turn on for her? Angel couldn’t tell. “Do you know where?”

The lusting eyes finally peeled away from Faith and fell into suspicious slits as he was forced to acknowledge Angel’s existence.  “Who wants to know?”

“I’m his girlfriend,” Faith said, obviously irritated at the blatant ogling from an equally blatant prick. “Where’d my little love muffin go?”

Angel tried not to laugh at the idea of Faith using the word ‘love muffin or applying it to Connor. She needed to stop drinking with Lorne.
The teen rolled his eyes. “You the girl he was whining and crying all night about? The one the cops were looking for ‘cause you ran off or something.”

“I’m his L.A. girl.” Faith smiled flatly, but Angel could tell she was on high alert same as he was. She also looked tempted to kick this kid’s ass. “You’re saying Yseult is missing?”

He shrugged. “I guess. He was weeping like a girl, calling his mommy all night. Even they didn’t want to hear him whining.”

Angel resisted the urge to throttle the kid. “So, do you know where Connor went?”

“So long as I didn’t have to listen to him, I could give shit. He took his knife with him.” The boy  slapped his thumb and forefinger in the shape on a L to his forehead. “He’s always out at night, acting like the caped crusader or something, like that knife is gonna impressed some girl.  No offense, sweet lips, but you can do better than him.” He added that direct to Faith, who curled said sweet lips at him. “He belongs in a psych ward.”

“Whatever.” Her fingers curled and uncurled and Angel knew she wanted those digits around the boy’s throat, squeezing until his eyes popped. “Any clue where he’d go?”

“If Yseult’s gone, not a clue.” He ran a hand through his perfectly styled hair. “Could be hanging with his brothers at the Sigma Chi house but why they took that loser, I couldn’t tell you.”

“Come on, Faith.” Angel tapped her elbow, knowing they’d get nowhere with this idiot. They headed down the hall.

“Where do you want to start looking for him?” Faith shot him a dubious look. “His girlfriend’s? Do we even know where that is?”

Angel shook his head. “I can pick up his trail once we get out of here. It’s a little...ripe.”

She snorted. “That’s a dorm for you. Men are pigs”

Angel’s phone rang, playing AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirty Cheap. He glared at it. “Damn that Spike. Hello? Spike, what have I told you about playing with...what? What do you mean? Play the damn message.”  Listening to it, Angel felt the hooks go into his soul, ripping it to shreds. The phone fell from nerveless fingers and he had to reach for the wall to steady himself.
Faith scooped up the phone. “Angel, what’s wrong? Spike?” The phone had disconnected in the fall. She reached for Angel but he was already running for the door. She tore after him. “Angel, what is it?”

“We’ll go no more a’roving,” Angel muttered, spinning around outside, trying frantically to catch his son’s scent.

She yanked him to a stop. Faith picked up on his rising panic. “You aren’t making any damn sense.”

“We’ll go no more a’roving, it’s a poem about death. Connor left me a suicide note on the answering machine, Faith. He went off to die,” Angel snarled.

“Damn,” she whispered. “Can you track him? Maybe we’ll find him first.”

Angel didn’t answer her, taking off across the quad. Her words were his only hope. Spike said the message was time stamped just an hour before. If he was fast enough, if he could track good enough, he might be able to save his son but for what? He already tried to save Connor from suicide once and this was his reward. That fact wouldn’t stop him from trying again. He would have the same resolve Buffy had shown that Christmas eve when he tried to give in to his own pain.

At least his son’s scent was strong, even with the confusing mix caused by many students being out and about on a weekend. Very few of their trails led towards a church. That would suit Connor’s sense of theatrics, Angel knew that much about his son. He  broke into a flat out run that Faith was barely able to keep up with. He didn’t need to follow the trail now. He knew that had to be where Connor went, knew it instinctively deep to the bone.

He was nearly run down by a truck as he raced across the street. Tears started forming in his eyes. They were too late. He could smell blood, strong and heady. His demon growled in hunger and he felt something die inside him as he spotted Connor by a tree. His son was sprawled on the grass, perfumed in copper.

“Aw, fuck no,” Faith moaned.

Angel couldn’t talk. His knees hit ground hard. He felt the blood seeping into the cloth of his pants. God, was that a heart beat?  Angel had never had time for God or any real belief be it as a mortal man or afterwards. Buffy’s story about being in heaven was the only thing that made him think maybe it could be real and he’d give just about anything for that faint, sluggish heart beat to be real. Angel gathered his son up in his arms. There was no denying the faltering warm breath curling against his neck. Angel staggered to his feet.

“Angel...we probably shouldn’t move him. The police will...” Faith trailed off.

“He’s not dead, Faith.” Angel’s voice was ragged, thick. “He’s hanging on but not by much. We have to get him to the hospital.”

Faith looked like she wanted to suggest an ambulance or something but didn’t. Angel was already running awkwardly towards the parking lot where they left the car, heedless of what it might look like to be carrying a body through a college campus. She turned on the cell phone and made a call to Lilith, the local Slayer’s Watcher. “Lil’, need to know the closest hospital to Stanford...yeah, meet us there.”

Angel heard the directions and didn’t wonder why Faith wanted the Watcher there. All he could think about was the failing heartbeat inside his son’s chest. He ignored the demon telling him to finish the boy off, turn him, keep Connor with him forever. He slammed his body into the backseat with Connor and Faith screamed away from the parking lot.

He held Connor close, his cheek resting on the young man’s head. “Just hold on, son. You can’t die now. Please, just fight a little. Don’t give in.” Angel listened to the heartbeat slowing and wept.


CHAPTER FIVE

That's the greatest torture souls feel in hell,
In hell: that they must live, and cannot die."
The Duchess of Malfi  - John Webster

Angel was not a big believer in fate or karma or anything along those lines but maybe he could be convinced otherwise tonight. He never wanted to believe that the sins of the father would be visited on the son, because what supreme being could be so cruel as to want such a thing? Tonight he had proof that it was possible that sort of harshness was the way of the universe.

Faith put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s not your fault, Angel. You did everything you could.”

His jaw clenched. He would not cry in front of her. Angel knew Faith had seen him cry before on the Orpheus trip but he wouldn’t break down here. “I didn’t do enough. Connor was in so much pain and I didn’t see...I failed him again, just like always.”

“He took the easy way out, Angel. Just like I tried to do.” Her voice was thick with self-loathing. “I know what it’s like to be that low and so do you. We all got our second chances, third chances and then some.” Faith waved a hand at the bed Angel was sitting vigil next to. “He’ll get his.”

Angel looked at his son. Connor was the same white-grey of recycled paper and just as thin. Lilith, Minuet’s Watcher, headed up a small private hospital. Abingdon House specialized in treating maladies and traumas that befell Watchers thanks to their rather high risk life styles.  Lilith had escaped the fate so many Watchers had met at the hands of the First and Angel was beyond grateful for the fates working his way for once.

After Connor had received two units of whole blood, with two more in Lilith’s careful hands, he was transferred to the Watchers’ ‘hospital.’ Lilith had cast a memory spell on the staff of the every day hospital Connor had been taken to first and Minuet did a number on the computer records. Connor Reilly had never been admitted as a suicide attempt. The Reillys in New York would not be contacted.

Angel had been holding his son’s hand for hours, trying to convince himself that Connor still clung to life, even if he was comatose. He remembered seeing Buffy in a similar state after he had guzzled her down to save his own life. He could recall how fragile Faith had been laying in a hospital bed and how he had wanted her dead then for making him hurt Buffy. There were other times with other friends and putting them all together, they barely made him ache like this did.  He had invested too much of himself into his son, if that were possible. Parents were supposed to put their children above themselves, right?

Angel didn’t know the answer to that. All he knew was his son could still die, that the young man wanted death and that it had taken a good deal to convince Lilith that Connor belonged here in the Watchers’ hospital and not in the psychiatric intensive care unit. Angel’s arguments that Connor’s vampire-level strength made him ill-suited for a human hospital and that the Watchers employed good psychiatrists who knew demons were real and wouldn’t think Connor insane should he talk about them did much to sway the woman.

Angel was doing the only thing he wanted to do, sit with his child, hold his hand and try to pretend he didn’t see the four point restraints that bound down the boy’s arms and ankles. Lilith had opted for a binding spell in lieu of the regular restraints as a nod to Connor’s strength and a desire to not put any pressure on his healing wrists. The mystical restraints glowed blue around Connor’s limbs. Angel tried to ignore the fluffy white gauze that encircled Connor’s slender wrists, tuned out the bleep of the heart monitor, and tried not to look at the IV bag full of blood that was dripping slowly into a vein.

Connor was breathing on his own, with the little oxygen tubing supplementing his air but that was all he appeared to be doing. Angel wondered if there was anything left inside his son that could fight. He had lost so much blood the doctor’s feared he could be brain damaged. Angel could only hope that like the Slayers, his son would come out of this coma. He just wished it would happen faster than it had for Faith.

Faith’s strong fingers rubbed Angel’s neck as if she could squeeze the tension out of him. “Can I do something for you, Angel? Round you up some pig’s blood or something?”

He shook his head, his eyes straying unbidden to the blood bag. “I’ll be fine, Faith. I just need to sit here with him.”

“Well, maybe you should try talking to him. I remember snatches of stuff from when I was in a coma, not that anyone bothered to come talk to me,” she said, bitterly.

“What should I say to him?” Angel’s voice drew blood. “All I can think about is how I obviously didn’t do enough for him.”

Her fingers dug in. “Do not say that shit. I dunno, tell him about that ballet you dragged me to last weekend or the art walk we went on. Just don’t make it sound like we’re dating because you know, that’ll just get back to Buffy and even though she’s too busy pretending she doesn’t want either you or Spike, she’d kick my ass if she thought you were putting it to me. Really, I don’t get why she doesn’t just move in like a threesome with you and Spike. It’s not like you guys aren’t used to living that way with Darla and Dru, right?”

Angel rolled his eyes. “Faith, I’m not telling my son about the group his mother and I had. Or threesomes I could have in the future. We can avoid me having sex totally as a topic.”

Faith batted him on the back of the head. “I didn’t tell you to tell him about you having sex. I said tell him about the art show. You could tell him I didn’t miss how fighting with me got him all hot and sweaty and it’ll be pretty damn hard for him to make a play for me in a coma. The magical restraints, however...”

“Faith!” Angel glared at her but she looked unrepentant. He knew she was trying to lighten his mood but she didn’t quite have the tools to do it.
“Okay, how about you tell him how I’m gonna wheel Spike out in the sun just to see you smile.”

Angel smiled tightly. “He might enjoy that. Connor’s not much on the undead.”

“Or how about telling him about what a prick his roommate is. I’d bet he’d wake up just to agree with you,” Faith said.

Angel smirked, taking her hand. “Thanks Faith. I’d let him pick any topic he wanted if he just wakes up...except the sex one.”

“Aren’t dads supposed to give the sex lecture? Wasn’t Holtz like a Puritan or something?” Faith squeezed his hand then let go. “Bet Connor missed right out on that.”

“I asked Cordelia to do that for me,” Angel said woefully.

“Talk about miscalculations.” Faith shuddered.

Angel leaned over to run a hand over Connor’s hair. “That was one of the worst ones I made. I did so little for him and I couldn’t tell you why.” Angel glanced up at Faith, tears standing in his eyes.  “I did more for you, Faith, than I ever did for my own son.”

She looked at him, deeply pained.

“Not that I regret a thing I did for you. I don’t. You tried to kill me and hurt Buffy and I helped you without hesitation.” Angel turned his gaze back to his son. “He tried to kill me and hadn’t laid a finger on anyone I loved and I threw him out. I left my teenaged son on the streets of Los Angeles with nothing.”

“Why?” Her voice was the barest of whispers. Her eyes held a look of disbelief and disappointment.

Angel’s jaw clenched. “Because I wanted the same thing my father wanted when he threw me out, for him to crawl back to me and say how much he needed me to be his father. I wanted to be the one in control, because I’m the same self-righteous bastard my father was.”

“From some of the things Connor said when we went Angelus hunting, I think he might be third generation in that vein,” Faith said.

Angel laughed mirthlessly. “I know. Between his inherited self-righteous tendencies and all the high-handed moralism Holtz spoon-fed him, Connor never stood a chance.” He took Connor’s hand again. “Maybe that’s it, Faith. Maybe I was so disappointed that I got back Holtz’s son and not mine that I just closed myself off to him.”

“I can’t imagine you being closed off to anyone.” Faith put a hand on his shoulder.

“Oh, I can be and I was. I told him how much he was loved but I never showed him. What good are words without actions to back them up? Maybe it wouldn’t have helped if I had acted like I loved him. He had a life time of hatred in him. Maybe nothing could burn that out.” Angel wiped at the tears that spilled down his cheeks.

“Bullshit. I was filled with it, Angel, and you pulled me free of that,” Faith said strongly.

“Then why have I failed him so miserable?”

“He’s still alive. The fight ain’t over, big guy.” Faith made a face. “Damn, I sound like a cheerleader.”

He sighed. “I appreciate it though, Faith. When he was just a baby, I made him the center of my world. I would have done anything for him. Even when he first came back, all I could think about was him. I was so proud of how he could handle himself in a fight. I tried to make him at home in the hotel, tried to figure out what would be best for him, tried to give him things I thought he’d like but it didn’t work. I knew he was in shock from Holtz giving me that letter, telling him to live with me. I didn’t know at the time it was a set up and Connor...I don’t think he realizes it yet. Still, even before Holtz had himself killed, Connor wasn’t happy with being with us.”

“Well, he did just come out of hell, Angel. He probably needed some adjusting time.” Faith touched Angel’s shoulder comfortingly. “Did you ask what he wanted from you?”

Angel shook his head. “I didn’t think he’d know. I mean, what did he know about this world.” Angel blew out a long puff of air. “I didn’t even think to ask him, Faith. What he wanted didn’t matter. I had this idealized version of what he’d be and what he’d want in my head and I tried to force him to be that boy. But I tried.”

“Up until he dumped you in the ocean, I’m guessing.” Her calloused hand caressed his shoulders

“Good guess. It changed everything. I never forgave him for what he did. Even when I knew he was lying on the streets sleeping under a stinking rag, I didn’t even try to help him. I stopped being his dad. Even when I knew Cordelia was staying with him, I didn’t step in until it was too late and then I wasn’t a father. I was a jealous boyfriend out to punish a rival.”

“I think you’re being too hard on yourself, Angel. I mean, it was probably not that black and white and what Connor did to you...that’s a big thing to try and forgive,” Faith said.

“How many vampires have you killed, Faith, and enjoyed it? Connor didn’t see me as his father, just as another vampire to be punished. I’m the one who should have tried harder to get past the hardness in him. It’s nothing to be a dad when the kid’s doing okay. The real test of being a parent is dealing with the child when he’s hurting or when he’s done wrong and I failed it.” Angel’s head snapped up as he heard a change in the sounds coming from the heart monitor.  He squeezed his son’s hand. “Connor, son, can you hear us?”

Connor took a ragged breath in and his eyes opened. Angel wasn’t sure he was seeing anything, his gaze wild and seemingly unfocused. He tightened his grip on Connor’s cold, clammy hand and those blue eyes flicked over to him. He watched his child’s face crack and crumble like one of Dru’s china dolls. Connor tugged on his bonds then shuddered head to toe as tears flooded his eyes, spilling over the dam. “Why?” he sobbed.

“Oh, Connor,” Angel couldn’t keep his voice steady.

“I just...wanted it...to end,” he rasped. “Why did you...”

“We couldn’t let you go, son. There’s too many people here who love you, who’d never be able to repair the hole your death would leave,” Angel said, feeling Faith’s hand on his back. He didn’t have to see to know she was trying to give Connor an encouraging look.

Connor shook his head. “Can’t...can’t live like this.”

“Then tell us what’s wrong and we’ll help you fix it. It’s not too late,” Angel said.

“Can’t fix me,” he murmured, breaking every heart in hearing distance.

“You don’t know that,” Faith said. “I never thought anyone could fix me, either, Connor. I tried to make your dad take me out and he wouldn’t. He made me see even I could be fixed and I sort of am.”

Connor trembled uncontrollably. “That’s different.”

“Yeah, I’m the one who fucked me up,” Faith said, sternly. “You had a lot of help.”

He made a sound between strangled laugh and sob. “I’m so fucked up.”

“And part of that is my fault,” Angel said and Connor turned his face away from him. The vampire twisted, glancing up at Faith. “Go get Lilith and the doctor please, Faith.” She nodded and he turned back to his son. “It’s the spell, isn’t it, Connor? It’s not like some dream to you.”

“It is...and that’s the problem,” he grated out. “Oh, god, I’m so cold.”

Angel tucked the covers up to his son’s chin and made sure his hands were covered up. “You lost so much blood, Connor. They’re putting it back in you but you’re going to be cold for a while.” He sat on the edge of the bed. “You’re in a private hospital for Watchers. The Reillys don’t know yet that you’re here. No one but the people here know you tried to kill yourself.” Angel stroked Connor’s sweat-slicked hair off his forehead. How could anyone so cold be sweating so much? “Minuet, another Slayer and Faith went back and washed away the blood and...let’s just say no one at the hospital will remember you being brought in.”

“More damn magic,” Connor sneered, his eyes like hard blue marbles.
Angel’s lips thinned and he decided to let that pass. “I’m sorry...Connor, I....I wish you would have told me you were hurting so much. I would have tried to help.”

“Make me forget again...give me to strangers?”

The agony in Connor’s voice twisted the knife in Angel’s heart and the vampire couldn’t stop the tears pouring down his face. He shielded his emotions behind his hands.

“Angel...Dad?” Connor’s voice was tremulous.

Angel dropped his hands. “You said you were grateful. Was that a lie?”

Connor shut his eyes. “Not then, no...I know...you tried, Dad. But now I’m not one thing or the other. I can’t sort myself out and I can’t live like this...neither fish nor fowl.”

“I can help you, Connor. At least let me try. You’ve been through too much for it to end here,” Angel said earnestly.

Connor’s chest heaved but no sound passed his lips. His hand fumbled under the covers his father had just tucked over his hands and Angel flipped up a corner so he could take his son’s hand. “If I did my tricks with smoke and mirrors... would you still know which one was me, because I wouldn’t, Dad. My lives aren’t meshing and everyone knows it...they know something’s wrong with me. My parents barely talk to me...left me here and moved across the country. They don’t...Rose, my sister, isn’t allowed to talk to me. They think it’s drugs...but they know deep down, I don’t fit. I’m inherently wrong.”

“Then you can come back with me,” Angel said, excitement in his voice. “Maybe we could find a way to make it work.”

Connor shook his head again, his eyes sunken and dim. “Too tired, Dad. I’ve got nothing left.”

“You do,” Angel assured him. “You just don’t know it yet.”

Connor just wept silently. Angel got up and took the tissue box off the night stand. He wiped his son’s face then sat back in the chair next to the bed.

“Sleep now, Connor. Just rest. When you’re stronger, we’ll talk about what we can do together. You don’t have to be alone with this and I’m sorry that you ever thought that you were alone. I know that’s my fault, that I needed to do more. We’ll worry about that later. For now, you just rest and let us take care of you.” Angel wanted to hear his son say he would. Connor just shut his eyes, drifting away back into unconsciousness, his body shaking from the trauma it had endured.

Even though he had been denied reassurance, Angel had no intentions of giving up now.


CHAPTER SIX

Death hath had a thousand doors to let out life,
I shall find one ... From a loath’d life,
I’ll not an hour outlive.
Philip Massinger  - A Very Women, act 5, sc. 4 (1655).

Connor knew Angel had not left his room. He didn’t know how long he had spent drifting in and out of consciousness, minutes, hours, days but he knew without being told Angel had been at his side like he had been surgically attached in Connor’s sleep. Connor still shivered a bit, but not as bad as previously. Maybe they were done transfusing him. What a waste. Didn’t they understand he was happy to die?

Only, he wasn’t sure it was true. He remembered the look in Angel’s eyes after the fight with Hamilton, telling him so long as he was safe, no one could destroy his father. Connor  had forgotten that pride, that overpowering love. It was the same love Angel was bringing to bear now. He’d not escape Angel’s keen sight, not now, not when he might hurt himself again. It would be like a prison.

Connor looked over at his father, asleep and almost sliding out of his chair. It might not be a bad prison. It had been such a long time since he had felt loved for what he truly was. Holtz had loved him, in spite of himself and Connor knew damn well Angel did, no matter how much he tried to tell himself it wasn’t true.

Connor tried to sit up but couldn’t. He was still tied down. His throat felt like someone had poured cheap alcohol down it then lit a match. His lips were cracked like old pottery and there was a strange pressure in his lower regions. There didn’t appear to be a call button for a nurse. His eyes flicked back to Angel, hearing the vampire murmuring in his sleep. The man had sunk lower in the chair. Connor figured if he said nothing, the vampire would fall on the floor in a matter of minutes. “Dad,” he said, or tried to. The word could barely crawl past the desert of his mouth. He tried to wet his lips with non-existent saliva. “Dad.”

Angel startled awake, nearly tumbling off the chair anyhow. He tried to regain his dignity. “Connor?”

“I’m thirsty,” he said, figuring there was no sense in beating around the bush.

“They said you couldn’t have water yet. Ice chips.” Angel got up and got a little ice bucket off the night stand. “That’s what they want you to have.”

“Can’t move my arms.”  Connor tried to lift his hands, not getting far.

“I know.” Angel plucked a small cube out of the bucket and put it in Connor’s mouth.

The young man sucked at it greedily then pushed it between his lips, trying to wet them. He lost it and the cube slithered down his face and into the bed. “Damn it.”

“No problem.” Angel fished it up and tossed it in the small bed-side garbage can. He gave Connor another one.

Connor rattled it along his teeth, enjoying the cool moisture. When it was gone, Angel gave him another. “This is humiliating.”

Angel sat on the edge of the bed and stroked Connor’s hair back with cool fingers.  “It’s okay, Connor. Sometimes we all need help.”

Connor gave his restraints an experimental tug. “I want out of this bed.”

Angel shook his head and that grateful feeling Connor had been feeling frayed a bit at the edges. “Not yet. Not until the doctor is happy about your state of mind and don’t argue with me,” Angel said, probably reading the glint in Connor’s eyes. “A regular hospital would have committed you for days and I didn’t want that. I’ve seen those places and I couldn’t bear the thought of you there.”

“You must be so ashamed of me...of how weak I am.” Connor turned his face away. He couldn’t bear the love in Angel’s eyes. It made him feel worthless, made him long for that doorway out of this life.

Angel caught his chin and forced him to meet his gaze. “I’m not ashamed of you. Sometimes I think maybe I’ve made you feel that I am but I’m not. And you’re not weak, Connor. You’re sad and hurting and you don’t know where to turn. You want to bleed just to know you’re alive.”

“What would you know about it?” Connor tore his chin out of his father’s strong grasp. He could be stubborn if he had to. If he wasn’t not, he’d just give in and let himself be cared for. He wasn’t sure why his head was trying to spin that into a bad thing.

Undeterred, Angel took his hand. “I know that several Christmases ago, I went to greet the sun. Even Buffy, another Slayer, someone I love, I’ll have to tell you about her some time, couldn’t stop me. I thought I deserved to die, that I could never make up for the horrible things I had done. I watched her cry, horrified that she couldn’t seem to love me enough to make me want to live. Then, the sun didn’t shine. It snowed, snow for Christmas in southern California. Ask Faith about it. It was a pretty clear sign that even something like me was worthy of a second chance. You are more than worthy of living, Connor and we’ll try to help you find ways of being happy.”

Connor’s eyes misted. He wanted to believe that Angel was telling him the truth even though he couldn’t imagine the vampire trying to commit suicide. “Really? You tried to die?”

“Ask Faith. She’ll tell you I’m not lying.”

Connor licked his dry lips and Angel put another ice chip in his mouth without him asking. He sucked on it, then asked. “How did you find me?”

“Fate maybe.” Angel shrugged. “I finally realized I had my cell phone turned off. Your idiot roommate said you went off with your knife so we were out looking for you when Spike called about your message to me.”

So that’s where he had gone wrong. Still, it had seemed even more wrong to go without saying goodbye. “I figured you’d understand...I mean, you have to be the reason I have Byron in my head now.”

Angel smiled faintly. “Guilty.”

Connor watched the smile fade and knew it was in response to the sudden flare of anguish on his own face. “I’m so lost inside of my own head.”

Angel’s wide thin lips trembled. “I’m so sorry...I just didn’t know how else to fix you, Connor. You were so broken. I didn’t think it through. I just thought if I did this, you’d be safe. I’d never see you again, and that alone was nearly enough to kill me but I knew you’d be out of harm’s way and happy. I didn’t think about what the person doing the spell would be able to hold over me. I forgot about the prophecies. I never gave thought about what would happen if you lost your temper and say, slapped that idiot roommate of yours.”

Connor managed a weak grin. “You met James.”

“Well, Faith’s breasts did.” Angel snorted. “I’m not sure he realized anyone else was in the room with him.”

Connor almost laughed. Angel looked so offended by the encounter.  “I know what you mean.”

“The point is, Connor, I didn’t have time to mull over all the ramifications of what I was going to do when I asked for the spell. When Faith tried to get me to kill her, she only had Wes hostage and I was able to defuse the situation. Jail isn’t good for anyone but it helped her put herself together. I did all I could for her and I was telling her, while we were waiting for you to wake up, that I did more for her than I did for you.” Angel’s voice shook and Connor saw the shame in his eyes. “I’m hoping you’ll give me a chance to change that.”

Connor didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what to say. God had to be laughing at him, sending two failed suicides to keep him from being the one in the bunch to get it right. He looked at the window. He could see the sun burning behind the curtain. He never thought he’d see the sun again and wondered if he should ask his father to step out so the curtain could be opened. Somehow he knew that would just crush Angel. “I wish the nurse would come and let me up so I can you know...” He blushed in spite of himself. “Go pee.”

“If you’re uncomfortable, I’ll have Lilith get a nurse in here for you. They’ve took that function out of your...uh, hands.” Angel seemed suddenly embarrassed. “They put in a catheter.”
Connor shot him a horrified look.

“They didn’t have much choice...they said...it would be okay later,” Angel sputtered.

Connor knew vampires didn’t blush but he could have sworn Angel was getting close. “Probably a woman doctor said that.”

“Ah, well, yes.”

Connor was saved from having to think about the garden hose invading his penis by Faith coming in with his laptop case in one hand and a duffle bag in the other. God, the last thing he wanted was Faith to see him lying here like this, with a bag of urine hanging on the bed somewhere and Angel feeding him ice chips like he were a quadriplegic. He was humiliated but he knew if he said something, they’d take it all the wrong way.

“Hey, kid, you’re awake. Your dad and I thought maybe you’d like some things from your dorm room to help you feel better,” Faith said, setting the bags down.

Connor was confused at how nice they were being to him. It had to be a by product of what he had done to himself. However, he was grateful someone cared enough to stop by. He’d have to endure his wounded pride. “How’d you get in?”

“Please, you think I can’t sweet talk my way past your roommate?” Faith snorted. “And you need to get better because you so owe me right now. When he was helping me,” Faith put air quotes around ‘helping.’ “That pig you share a room with kept brushing his crotch against my ass.”

Connor made a face. “You got frottaged by James? That’s not something that can be made up for.”

“No kidding. Okay, I got you your lap top and your DVD player. I left the porno there.” Faith grinned at him.

He tried to match her good mood. Maybe then they’d let him go and then he could do what he needed to. “Where’s the fun in that?”

Faith beamed. “See, there’s a little sense of humor hiding in there. But seriously, kid, your DVD collection...that psychiatrist appointment you have waiting would help. What’s up with the cheesy horror flick fixation? I mean, Lost Boys?” She yanked the DVD from the bag as evidence.

“I can’t explain it...the spell I guess.” Connor wanted to shrug but he was bound too tightly

“Sounds like someone was having fun at our expense since I most assuredly did not ask you to be a devotee of...” Angel took the DVD, his brows shooting up. “Vampire movies.”

Connor made a bitter sound deep in his throat. “Figures, I’m someone’s cosmic joke.”
Faith dropped her gaze, as if suddenly aware that he felt intruded upon. “Anyhow, kid, I got some other stuff for you, including some of the DVD collections you had. If there’s anything else you’d want, I’ll brave going back there.”

“Couldn’t risk you being slobbered on or worse by James.” He tried to summon up his best face for her. “This is fine, Faith. Thank you.”

“Okay, then I’ll just set up the DVD player ‘cause I’m pretty sure ‘Mr. I Can’t Turn on a Cell Phone’ won’t be able to handle it and then I’ll let you guys talk.” Faith smirked at Angel.

“Faith, why don’t you leave it for now and see if you can find, Lilith. I want her to check up on Connor,” Angel said.

“Yeah, sure, I’ll be right back,” Faith said, going out the door. She favored Connor with a parting smile. Connor was sure she knew Angel wanted her to leave them in private for a talk that Connor wished he could just skip because he knew it would hurt.

“Must have come as such a disappointment to you,” Connor spat out, trying to rid himself of his self-loathing, failing miserably. “I can’t be normal and happy no matter what anyone tries.”

Angel leaned over, touching Connor’s cheek. “Connor, I am so fortunate to have you, I can’t even tell you how much so. I love you, which  I’ve said many times before. I know you think I’ve tried but I’m not sure I ever did anything to prove that I do.”

“You have,” Connor whispered, shuddering under his father’s touch. “That first night when I didn’t have a clue and you took the shotgun blast for me. I think I knew it then. Holtz did.”

Angel swallowed hard as if he could gulp down all his pain. “I didn’t do much after that. Granted you threw up some huge road blocks of your own. We can’t change those mistake but we can work together try to find some common ground.”

“I can’t.” Connor’s voice cracked. “Don’t you understand? I can’t live like this, in between what I was and what you wanted me to be.”  Connor’s emotions followed his voice. He couldn’t patch the cracks and his soul bled out. He was barely aware of whatever it was Angel was saying to him. His world narrowed to the thudding of his heart, the ragged sounds of his breathing and the keening cries that tore out of him beyond all control. Tears blinded him and he was so cold and numb he barely felt his father’s hands on him. Connor barely processed Angel snapping out orders to someone named Lilith to free his son’s hands. Faith’s voice sounded like a teacher’s voice on Charlie Brown.

“He’s in no condition to be free, Angel.” An unknown woman’s voice snapped.

“Just do it, Lilith,” Angel snarled. “He’s not going anywhere and I need to...I can’t do what I need to with him tied this tightly to the bed.”

Connor heard her chanting something and his arms were free. He didn’t move. He couldn’t care about trying to break free of Angel and Faith or hurting himself. If he just lay still, maybe he’d fade away like the bad dreams left banging around in his skull.  Suddenly Angel’s arms were around him. That’s why the vampire had wanted him free. His father jerked him into a sitting position, squashing him against his broad chest.

Connor instinctively curled his fists in Angel’s shirt, tucking against him tight. Holtz had never been a nurturer. While Connor had always known the man loved him, he was cool and brusque. A wound could be gushing blood and Holtz would do no more than bind it up with a disapproving cluck of the tongue should Connor whimper about it. Holtz would never have cradled him and let him cry.

It didn’t really seem like an Angel thing to do either but the closeness was on offer and Connor soaked it up greedily. His sobs slowed and his breathing evened out in the safe cocoon of his father’s arms. Angel’s cheek rested on the top of Connor’s head. Connor pressed his face against the rough skin of Angel’s neck. The vampire needed a shave. Connor didn’t care. His father wasn’t warm but the strength in him transmitted to Connor through his touch. The scent of him was so familiar and for once, comforting. It was like Connor had a cellular memory of that scent from the day he was born. Connor had always wondered, in Quor-Toth, if he’d know his father when he saw him and that fateful day, there was no question in his heart. He knew his father instantly but he would never have dreamed then that he’d be here now, desperate to be loved, to have his father love him.

Angel shifted him, putting just a bit of distance between them so he could make eye contact. “I wish I knew what to say, Connor, to make you happy again. I’m not good with people. I never have been. I was just thinking about Doyle, when you said about not being fish nor fowl. I told him that very thing almost six years ago now. I wish you could have met him. I think he could have helped you. Doyle was a little like you, half human, half demon and a little conflicted about it. He knew what it was like to be not one thing or the other. So do I. I’m not exactly a vampire anymore, not with this soul in place but I’m not human either. Maybe we can figure out a way of being happy and comfortable with what we actually are.”

“If I stay like this, I will go mad,” Connor choked and Angel’s arms tightened on him again.

“I sent for Willow. She and Lilith are going to try and work on the spell, Connor. I know you hate magic, but we need it to fix this. We can either reestablish the spell and you’d go back to being Connor Reilly and you’ll never remember any of this.” Angel’s hand rubbed across Connor’s shoulders. “I don’t want to have to give you up again but I will do anything to make you happy.”

Connor just whimpered miserably.

“Or we can try to bring you back to who you really are...though maybe leave in the education if we can. I would like you to hang on to some of that. You’ll need it.” Angel hugged him again then eased him back down on the bed. “Lilith’s going to have to put the restraints back on, Connor and I’m sorry for that but...”

“It’s okay,” Connor said, trying to wipe his face but he was too late. The spell slammed his arms down.

Angel got a tissue and did it for him. “You don’t have to think about it right now, Connor. You just rest and we’ll talk about it later.”

“I want to stay with you,” Connor said without thinking. There was no doubt in his voice and the look on Angel’s face was one of so much love and relief that Connor doubted the vampire was even aware he was crying in front of the ladies who were moving silently toward the door. Connor didn’t even worry that he might have just thrown away any chance at a normal happy future because he knew it didn’t exist. It was a lie and this lie was killing him. Holtz had told him his place was with Angel. He had done it merely to piss Connor off, to work him into a killing fury but the man who raised him couldn’t have known how right he was. “It’s not going to be easy. I know that. Maybe for now, I belong right where I am at the moment. I might not like being chained here but at least you can guarantee I’m stuck here listening.” Connor managed a smirk.

“You never were one for that.” Angel tried to smile. “I know this is going to be tough on both of us but we’re not alone in this. We have friends who’ll help.” He pointed toward the door where Faith had disappeared.

Connor sighed. “I know.”

Angel’s eyes dimmed suddenly. “Are you sure about this, Connor?”

Connor knew if he ever truly wanted to hurt this man, all he had to do was change his mind now. He had been happy for those brief months he didn’t know he was the son of a vampire. He could go back to it and Angel would help him, merely because he had that much love for him. It would be trickier to try to find what his soul needed in Angel’s harsh world and all his hysterical babbling to Cordelia crystallized in his mind. He had wanted that normal life Angel had given him but the worst part was, that was a lie, too. He wouldn’t know what to do without having something to fight for. He wouldn’t be where he was now if he could turn his back on the fight. Maybe love had come to rest and all he needed to do was give it a place to do so within him. The Reillys wouldn’t be able to help him with that. The broken people that made up his extended family might. He took a deep breath and stepped back out onto the ledge. “I’m ready to be your son.”

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