AUTHOR: CORDELIA’S DESTINY (aka JULIE)
SUMMARY: Someone’s trying to use Connor to kill Angel, and Cordelia has to come back from the dead to stop it.R/.
POSTED: 17 May 2004
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A, W/F, S/B implied
WARNINGS: Sexual Content
FICPIC CREDIT: ?
1) To Lysa, whose great suggestions kept me from sinking in my own literary quicksand.
2) This is my take on what should’ve happened after Cordy “died.” Blecch. Can’t even say it without putting it in quotes. *sigh*
3) You might want to remember that as far as Connor knows, he grew up normal in suburban America, so his way of speaking will be different than we saw in S3-4, at least at first. Don’t be surprised if you hear Connor use current “teenagery” phrases in this story. 😀
Book I: Faith
I show you doubt, to prove that faith exists.
Seeds of faith are always within us; sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.
Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.
Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Faith makes the discords of the present the harmonies of the future.
Life without faith in something is too narrow a space to live.
George Lancaster Spalding
San Francisco, CA
A silent figure watched from the shadows of the abandoned warehouse as her lover trained their protégé. Swords clinked against each other with a metallic harshness that should’ve made her grimace, but it didn’t. The sound merely increased her pleasure, their obvious skill soothing her need for reassurance.
The kid would do nicely.
The lover of the silent observer, Jace, caught an opening and tripped his opponent, sending him sprawling to the ground, the young man’s sword clattering out of reach. In an instant he was over him, his boot on the teen’s chest, sword at his throat. The smile on his face was the only indication that the young man’s life was not really in danger.
“You’re getting better, boy.” Jace’s voice reverberated off the dingy metal walls of the warehouse. Removing his boot from the young man’s chest, he reached down to help him up.
“Finally,” the young man said with a smirk. “I was starting to think I’d never beat you, ‘cause you’re pretty fast for an old fart. It was getting embarrassing.”
“Gee, thanks.” Jace’s tone was dry, but he cancelled out the sarcasm by clapping a hand on his young opponent’s back affectionately. “You’re turning into quite the superkid. You’d never know now that you haven’t always been so strong. You do me proud, Connor.”
“Thanks, Jace. I hope I can repay you someday for everything you’ve done for me.” He smiled widely at his mentor, then looked down and frowned at a smudge on his blade.
Jace’s eyes darkened a fraction and his jaw twitched. Connor was buffing the surface of his sword with his shirtsleeve and didn’t notice the dark cloud that flitted across his mentor’s face.
“I’m sure we can figure out something.” Jace’s voice was gruff as his grip tightened on Connor’s shoulder. “But you have to kick my ass first.”
Connor’s eyes came up to meet with his, a wide grin splitting his face. “No problem, old man,” he laughed, his sword sparkling once more and at the ready. “Your ass is grass.”
“We’ll see about that,” Jace said, the shadow on his face now replaced by the pure pleasure of battle as they fought again.
In the shadows, she smiled at the exchange. Connor would most definitely repay his mentor and his unseen benefactress. He would repay a higher price than he’d ever dreamed.
He would get an opportunity that few young men ever had: he would asked to kill his own father.
“Please? Pretty please with a cherry on top?” Cordy’s request, amazingly enough, was made without the hint of a whine, but David was annoyed by it nonetheless.
“Cordelia,” David’s deep voice was calm. “You know I can’t fulfill your request. Just like I couldn’t do it yesterday or every other day since you’ve been here.”
Shining with sudden tears, her face fell. “But he needs me, David, I know he does.”
Her guardian let his eyes soften a fraction while powerful arms stayed in place, crossed firmly over his chest. “That is of no consequence, little one, and you know it. The Powers have decided that you belong here, and he belongs there. There are no other options for you.”
When the tears didn’t work, she switched tactics again. Crossed arms in a mockery of his pose and a dramatic stamp of her foot made her look like an impatient four-year-old. “Enough with the overbearing big brother act, Davy. I’m getting really tired of waiting for you to come to your senses. You’re starting to make me angry.”
Marching up to him, she poked his formidable chest and placed a hand on her hip. “An angry Cordelia is not fun to be around, let me tell you.”
There was no doubt in David’s mind that her claim was true, but her threat fell on deaf ears. If he hadn’t been so annoyed, her little display would’ve made him chuckle. She glowed when she was angry, her eyes shooting sparks, and it had entertained him immensely to watch her like this at first.
But day after endless day, she came back to him, begging to be sent “home,” as she called it. Sent back to Angel. Back to the imperfect champion that she loved. Every damn day she begged him until she either stomped off in anger or broke down in tears. Occasionally, she would just look at him with sad eyes, then turn and walk away dejectedly, and those were the worst days of all. The days when his heart broke to watch her suffer. This was Heaven, for St. Peter’s sake. Couldn’t she just be happy?
“Can’t you just go to the Powers and tell them that I have to go back? Make up something? Please, David,” she begged, her hand reaching out to touch his elbow.
“I can’t, Cordelia. You belong here.”
“I hate it here!” she shouted, gesturing to the unearthly beautiful surroundings. The two of them stood in the softest of meadows, the colors of the wildflowers bright and cheerful, the mountains behind them snowcapped and sparkling, the stream wending nearby with its glittering waterfalls and silvery jumping fish. Cordy turned her nose up at it all as if it were nothing more than the destroyed remains of a war zone.
“I will leave this place, David, one way or another,” she said softly, and David’s eyes jerked to hers as he heard the threat in her voice.
“You wouldn’t let yourself get that far, Cordelia, you can’t.” Worry sent wrinkles into his smooth, agelessly handsome face.
She shook her head sadly. “I can. You yourself told me what happens to heavenly beings when they give up hope. When they don’t enjoy being here.”
A terse nod was her only acknowledgement that David had heard her.
David’s mind was in turmoil. He’d told her the truth, hoping it would scare her into putting her life behind her and move on to starting her afterlife in peace. But instead, his words had given her a sense of strength, of power. It had given her a bargaining chip, because, annoyed as he was, he loved her and would do anything to keep her from disappearing. Do anything to keep her from sinking through the floor of heaven and into the depths of hell.
“You told me that when spirits give up hope, they are cast into the other place, doomed to torment for ignoring their gift.”
Looking away from her, he set his mouth in a grim line.
With the finesse of a courtroom lawyer, she continued to press her point. “I come here every day to beg you, David, because I see something in your eyes that gives me hope. That maybe, someday, if I push hard enough, you’ll go to bat for me and get me back where I belong. Back with the man I love more than anything else, even myself.”
A deep breath shook her before she continued. “But you’re starting to make me doubt you, Davy. You’re starting to make me think that you’ll never give in, and that makes me want to disappear. This,” she said, gesturing at the paradise around them, “is torture already. Being here without him and exchanging it for eternal torment in a slightly hotter place wouldn’t be all that much different.”
Jolted by her determination, he panicked for a moment. She didn’t really mean it. Did she?
Turning to look at her finally, he walked over to her and placing his big hands on her shoulders. Magnificent wings unfurled behind him and glistened in the sunlight. “I don’t have that kind of power, little one, and you know that.”
Her hands came up to encircle his wrists, squeezing. “But you know who does. And you can talk to them for me.” Her voice broke as her eyes filled with tears again. “Please, David. Please!”
An uncertain look passed over David’s face, and Cordelia pressed her point, eager for the opening. “I need him, David, and he needs me. We didn’t have enough time. We barely even said how we felt about each other, and then I was gone. You don’t understand him, David. Without me, he’ll go all dark and wonky. And without him, I don’t exist. I can’t exist. Not without knowing what we could’ve had.”
David wanted to ask her why she’d agreed to being released from her visions in the first place, but she’d already answered him weeks ago. She’d said that she thought it was for the best. That Angel could get on without her and that he didn’t really love her. But then at the end she’d kissed him, and she realized what a huge mistake she was making. But by then it was too late. She’d already made the deal and now she was stuck.
He squeezed her shoulders before releasing her. Stepping back, he gave her a wry smile. “I’ll see what I can do.”
David barely got the words out before he was nearly knocked over by a lunging Cordelia. Her arms wrapped around him, face pressed to his chest as her tears soaked the front of his gossamer tunic.
“Thank you,” she said through her tears. “Thank you.”
“I can’t promise anything, Cordelia,” David warned. “But I’ll try.”
“That’s enough, for now,” she said, pulling back. “Just let me know who else I can annoy, and I’ll see that it’s done.”
A groan of dread escaped him. God help them all if she actually figured out how to contact his superiors. Heaven would never be the same again.
Wolfram & Hart
“Angel! Will you please pay attention?”
The annoyance in Wesley’s tone made Angel jump, as if he’d been startled to hear the other man speak. The only thing that had changed from the moment before was the volume of Wesley’s voice.
“Sorry, Wes, I guess I’m just preoccupied.” The vampire wouldn’t meet Wesley’s eyes. “What was it again?”
Wesley sighed, closing his notes and gathering his books together. “It’s not that important, Angel. Obviously, you aren’t able to concentrate right now.”
“No!” Angel stood up and walked around the conference table to stand next to him. “I can do it. Just start over again. I promise I’ll pay attention.”
Wesley shook his head. “Angel, we’ve had this conversation nearly every day for months now. And every day, you do the same thing.” Running his fingers through his short hair, he sighed again. “Losing her hit all of us hard, Angel. But we managed to move on.”
Angel growled at this, his hands clenching at his sides as Wesley’s insensitive comment hit him in a weak spot. “You weren’t in love with her, Wesley,” Angel said menacingly. “What if Fred had been the one to die like this?”
Wesley’s face whitened at the thought. They’d almost lost Fred, just recently. She’d almost opened a sarcophagus that would have—God, even now, he couldn’t think about it without shivering in fright. Thank God he’d been there. If he hadn’t—
“I see your point,” Wesley finally said reluctantly. He wouldn’t trade his new love with Fred for the world. He’d already wasted so much time worrying about it, just like Angel and Cordelia had done. But at least he and Fred could live out their feelings. Angel and Cordy couldn’t. Not anymore.
“I’ll try to save my depression for off-work hours, okay?” Angel said bitterly, sinking back down into a chair. He ran a hand over his face, rubbing the space between his eyebrows. “I just can’t forget about her, Wes. I loved her so much more than I ever thought I did, and I didn’t realize it until—” his voice broke.
“You just need time, Angel. Time to get over her. Time to heal.”
“I’ll never get over her. Never.” He refused to. She didn’t deserve to be forgotten. “But I’ll try to get on with my life.” He looked up at him determinedly. “I will.”
They were after him.
Big, horrible monsters, their faces contorted in evil glee, their fangs dripping blood as they lunged for him. He looked down at himself, caught off-guard for a moment at the sight of his body clothed in animal skins, but recovered quickly as the first creature sprang at him. He held his knife tightly in his hand, stabbing and jabbing, until the creature howled in pain and rage. He moved, with superhuman speed and strength, until he had reduced his opponents to dust.
“Well done, son.”
The voice came from behind him, punctuated by clapping.
He felt himself straightening up, then turning to face the old man behind him. “I am glad you are pleased, father.”
“You are ready to face Angelus, boy.”
Connor’s dream self shook at the thought. “I will make you proud.” His shoulders squared as he straightened up.
“Of course you will.” The old man’s face was determined. “Angelus will suffer, and you will see to it that he is destroyed.”
Something deep within his real self rebelled at the thought, but Connor pressed it down.
Suddenly, a light flashed and he was somewhere else, in a store of some kind. He felt undeniable rage and sadness, anger and pain, course through him. He looked down, his hand holding an explosive detonator. Around him, people trembled, whimpering, explosives attached to their bodies. Almost against his will, he turned and saw her, her body strapped with explosives. He felt love for her, desire for her, pain at her rejection.
And then hewas there.
His father. His real father, not the old man that had raised him. This was the father that he loathed and loved all in the same breath. The father that had given him life but had lost him. The father that had unintentionally confused him, had taken away his sense of identity even as his surrogate father manipulated him with his staged death. God, he was so confused. He hurt so badly that he just wanted to end it all. End his very existence until he was no more.
“Connor? Son?” His father’s voice penetrated the pain for a moment, then increased it. He pushed a button on the device in his hand and something behind his father exploded. Everyone jumped, and a girl in the group of hostages began to cry softly.
“You might not want to move. Everyone’s rigged. Can’t save ’em all, dad. Don’t know who’s gonna be first. Could be any one of ’em.” Connor looked down, noticing for the first time that he, too, was wired with explosives. “Could be me. Could be her,” he said, pointing to the young woman who meant so much to both of them.
The next few minutes were a blur, all pain and emotion as he and his father talked, then fought. In another instant, Connor was on his back, his thigh burning, his father poised above him.
“I really do love you, Connor.” His father’s face was sad.
“So what are you going to do about it?” Connor said, almost beside himself.
“Prove it.” His father’s hand raised, a knife glinting in the light, then descending in a deadly arc toward his son’s throat.
Connor’s mouth opened on a scream, the sound filling the night.
Connor shot up in bed, panting, his body covered in sweat. He raised his hands to his forehead, rocking back and forth, trying to calm himself. It was a dream. Just a dream. It had to be a dream.
So why did it feel so real?
“Any news yet?”
The hope in Cordelia’s voice nearly broke David’s heart. He shook his head slowly.
“Give them time, little one. They don’t move at the same speed humans do.”
“But if they wait too long, it’ll be too late! Angel needs me.” She sounded determined, as if going back were a foregone conclusion.
“They’re considering it, that’s all I can tell you.”
“They are?” Cordelia was suddenly breathless, her eyes shining with hope. She squealed, then trapped him in a bear hug that would’ve threatened his life if it could have been destroyed. “You’re the best, Davy!”
David sighed then returned her hug, squeezing her gently. His mind wandered back to the surreal meeting he’d had with his superiors. He’d finally psyched himself up to go speak with Raphael, the general of his order, and it made him unaccountably nervous. Inquiring as to Rafael’s whereabouts, he’d discovered that the general was in chambers with the Powers themselves. As everyone was welcome at these meetings, he’d entered quietly and listened in on the proceedings.
“This problem will not go away.” The female Power’s voice was mellifluous, “We must intervene.”
“Sister,” the large man to her right intoned, “we have intervened without being heard. Our Champion’s ears are deaf to our cries.”
Rafael stood, his wings spread magnificently behind him as he bowed deeply before the tribunal. “Great ones, our enemies have masked our Champion’s eyes, have covered his ears with their hands. They distract him with their own petty business and we are not able to penetrate their barrier.”
The woman frowned. “We knew it would be difficult if we allowed him to infiltrate the lair of the Wolf, Ram, and Hart. We should have anticipated this.”
For the first time, the other being, a gender-neutral angel, spoke up. “We did anticipate it,” it reminded them gently. “But we felt we could overcome it.”
“It does not matter,” the man said. “What we should’ve done is past. Now we must concern ourselves with fixing this current problem. Our champion did well when he restored the happiness of his son, but now that happiness is threatened.”
“And the life of our Champion hangs in the balance,” the woman added. “We cannot allow these evil lower beings to prevail. We must get word to him.”
“How?” The angel asked, its face serene. “He no longer has a seer to give him our messages.”
“We can send a vision to another of his associates,” the man suggested. “The other vampire or the girl.”
The woman shook her head. “No. The other vampire would retain the visions permanently, and we have other plans for him. He is destined to help the Slayer as he did before. We cannot interfere with that. And the girl? She would not survive a vision of this magnitude. Neither would her lover.”
“And the other human?” the man countered.
“He has been corrupted,” the woman dismissed him. “The Wolf, Ram, and Hart have infected his essence and would detect our presence. He cannot be used.”
They fell silent as the last of their options was taken away from them, the only sound in the room the faint fluttering of wings.
In the audience, David shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He had the answer, knew what could be done, and yet, he was afraid to speak. This was the tribunal after all. If he was deemed impertinent—he shuddered at the thought. Disobedient angels were not punished lightly.
“Have we no other recourse?” the woman lamented.
“My lady, if I may,” Rafael said, bowing again. She nodded regally.
“We may consider sending him a new seer.”
The man laughed derisively. “He would trust no one at this juncture. The vampire is overly distraught over the loss of his previous seer, and it is unlikely he will trust a new one in time to stop the evil beings from destroying him and his son.”
They seemed to contemplate this and David used the opportunity to spring into action before he lost his nerve.
From his seat in the audience, he called out strongly, “You could send his former seer back.”
The silence in the room was shocking after his voice faded away. Not a wing rustled in the stillness and David gulped, wanting to sink through the floor and disappear as the silence dragged on.
The man frowned fiercely, glaring at the crowd, then at Rafael. “Who dares to speak without permission?” His voice echoed in the sacred space, and everyone cringed slightly.
David stood slowly and faced his fate. “I did, your greatness.”
“And who are you?” the angel on the tribunal asked.
Rafael had turned and glared at him, then motioned him forward. Turning back to the tribunal, Rafael put on an apologetic mask. “He is one of the guardians in my order, masters.”
“And how did you come to determine what is in our best interests, young one?” The woman’s eyebrows were raised.
“I am Cordelia’s guardian.” They nodded in understanding.
“Why would you feel it necessary to tear her away from her heavenly reward, only to restore her to the pain and misery of human life?” The angel seemed genuinely curious.
David hesitated before answering. “She is not happy, Great Ones. She begs me daily to find a way to send her back. I fear—”
He stopped, hesitant to speak of such a forbidden thing in the Powers’ presence.
“What do you fear?” the woman asked.
“I fear she will disappear.” His eyes were sad. “She is beginning to give up hope, and she refuses to put her life behind her. She claims that our Champion needs her and will not heed any arguments.”
The Powers exchanged glances. Finally, the man spoke. “Do you feel she will survive the shock of a return to human life?”
No one said it, but everyone immediately thought of the trouble the Slayer had adjusting to life on Earth after leaving their exalted presence.
“I do,” David said with conviction. “She has never let go of her life. She has not once enjoyed her stay here. She longs for him, and I believe she needs to go back.”
“We will decide what she needs, young one,” the woman reprimanded him, but her tone was without malice. “We will consider your request. You are dismissed.”
David bowed deeply, moving back, then running out the door. He didn’t look once at his general’s face, knowing that he’d be in trouble.
“So how do you know they’re considering it?” Cordelia’s hopeful voice penetrated David’s thoughts and brought him back to the present.
“I visited a tribunal meeting. They spoke of you,” he said simply.
She nodded. “Good. Thanks, Davy! You’re the best.” She flashed him one of those smiles that made his heart melt and he gathered her into a hug.
Waiting would be the hardest part of all.
Angel knew he could do this. He was a master vampire for Pete’s sake, not a weakling. He could get back out there. He could find someone to fill his lonely nights. He could.
He just didn’t think it would be with this particular woman.
Nina smiled at him from across the table. “I was so surprised when you called me, Angel,” she said, her eyes soft. “After the whole um, puppet thing, I didn’t think you were interested. After we had breakfast together, you never—” she trailed off.
That breakfast had shown him that he wasn’t. Interested, that is. Despite what he’d said. All he could think about was the fact that was betraying Cordelia’s memory. But then his well-meaning friends had thought that this date could help him. That he should give it another try. They had suggested that this date could help him get over Cordelia.
The mere thought of it was ludicrous and yet he was here anyway, sitting down to dinner even when he didn’t eat.
He shrugged an answer to her question. “I just thought we could get to know each other better, that’s all.”
Smiling again, she reached across the table to take his hand. “I would like that.”
He let her hold his hand, but he didn’t smile.
Nina spoke again after a few seconds of silence. “I think we’re good for each other, you know?” she said thoughtfully. “We’re alike. We’re both freaks. We understand each other.”
For a moment, Angel’s mind flashed back to another ‘freak’ he’d met when Cordelia hadn’t been herself. Gwen had thought there might be a connection between them, too. But there hadn’t been. He sighed. Just like there wasn’t now.
Gently, he pulled his hand away from hers. “We aren’t that much alike, Nina. I’m a vampire. You’re a werewolf. Big differences.”
She frowned, “But lots of common ground, Angel. Do you know how hard it is to find someone who can relate and isn’t evil?” She shook her head. “It’s almost impossible. But we’ve found each other, and I think we should make the best of it. We can be good together. Why should we let the unknown take that way from us?”
Unwittingly, her words sparked something deep inside Angel. He jerked a bit, struck by a sense of betrayal so strong he almost couldn’t function. This whole date was a sham. He couldn’t do this. He didn’t want to hurt her, but he couldn’t do this.
Maybe someday he could move on. Maybe. He doubted it, but it would take a long time. A very, very long time.
“I’m sorry, Nina. I just—,” he stopped, his eyes turning apologetic. “I can’t do this. I’m sorry.”
“But, why?” she asked, confusion etched on her face. “I thought, I mean Wesley said. . .”
“Wesley means well, but he doesn’t understand me right now. I like you, Nina. I like you a lot. But I just can’t . . . you know. . . with you.” He sighed. “I’m still in love with someone else.”
“The Slayer.” It was a statement, not a question. “Wesley told me about her.”
“No, not Buffy,” Angel said, shaking his head. He was distracted for a moment. Why would Wesley tell her about Buffy and not about Cordelia? “I lost my best friend last year. I didn’t realize I was in love with her until she died. I can’t move on yet. It’s just too . . . just too soon.”
She sighed, leaning back in her chair. “I get it. I knew this was too good to be true,” she said, shaking her head and smiling wryly. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a rare steak together, now does it?”
He smiled back at her, relief coursing through him. She understood. It was more than he’d hoped for. “I suppose we could celebrate our common love of red meat,” he joked.
“Steaks it is, then.” She scrutinized him for a moment before reaching back to take his hand again. This time there was only friendship in the gesture. “You know that I’m willing to listen if you need to talk, right?”
He was shocked by her offer considering how little they knew each other. “Thanks,” he said, pulling his hand away. “I think I’ll be okay, though.”
Even as he said the words, his soul rebelled. In his waking hours he coped, but at night, his soul suffered the torment of her loss. He would never be okay.
Never again would he be the same. Without Cordelia, he was lost.
“Aw, shit! Anybody could’ve caught that pass! My grandma plays better football than these pansies.” Connor’s voice was full of scorn for the team whose praises he’d been singing all the way to the football game.
Next to him, Jace smiled indulgently, taking a drink from the monstrous soda in his hand. “Told you my team was going to whoop your team’s ass.”
“Shut up!” Connor barked, but he grinned anyway, his eyes still glued to the field. “Besides, it isn’t like you don’t get tweaked out when your team loses.”
“That’s because my team doesn’t lose,” Jace countered.
Finally Connor looked at him, but only long enough to roll his eyes and laugh derisively. “Yeah. Sure. This from the man who practically demolished his living room last year when his favorite team got their asses handed to them at the Superbowl.”
“At least they made it to the Superbowl,” Jace said smugly, then handed Connor the nachos.
Connor took the chips without comment, groaning when his team’s quarterback got sacked. Again.
The whistle blew ending the second quarter, and everyone around them began shifting in their seats, standing and stretching or going to the snack bar as the half-time show geared up. Jace watched Connor in silence, noting the young man’s tired eyes. As if to underscore his observation, Connor stretched and yawned widely, slouching back in his seat as he propped his feet up on the now-empty row in front of him.
“You okay, son?”
Connor swung surprised eyes to him.
He forged on. “You’re looking a little tired these days.”
Connor raised an eyebrow. “You work me from dawn till dusk and you wonder why I’m tired?”
Jace shrugged. It was true he’d been working Connor to the bone, but they needed him to be ready. They would put their plan into action soon and Connor needed to be in top form. It didn’t matter that the boy had no idea he was so important; he would be ready anyway.
“I’ve been working you this hard for weeks now, and it’s only in the past few days that you’ve looked so worn down. Making time for a girlfriend on the side?”
Connor snorted, “Hardly.”
Good. They didn’t need the added complications. A smile graced Jace’s face but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Are you having trouble sleeping?”
Frowning, Connor shifted in his seat uncomfortably. “Oh, you know,” he said vaguely. “Bad dreams.”
“Ah,” Jace said in understanding, relieved that his charge wasn’t having second thoughts about their training sessions. “Your parents.”
Connor’s jaw tightened just a fraction. Dreams about his parents’ accident hadn’t haunted him in months, and they still weren’t now. But should he tell Jace about his other weird dreams? About the dreams that seemed more like memories than anything else? He liked Jace, but there was just something about him that made Connor hold back, something not quite right.
“Yeah, my parents. Keep dreaming about the accident,” he lied. “I get so tired sometimes and the exhaustion makes them come easier.”
Jace seemed to think about this. “Maybe you should try meditating before you go to bed.”
“Okay,” Connor said, but he wasn’t really listening. His eyes were glued to the field and to the casual observer, even to Jace, it looked like the young man was enjoying the display of the voluptuous cheerleaders gyrating below.
The situation couldn’t have been more different. Connor’s mind had gone back to the dreams he’d had. After that first one, the one where he’d fought the beasts he almost couldn’t describe, then the terrorist scene where he’d tried to blow up everyone he cared about, Connor had had others. Every night. Some were less disturbing, but all had the undercurrent of pain and heartache and he’d really had to concentrate to pull his mind out of the dark place he entered during the dreams.
Last night had been the worst of all. He’d dreamed that his father, his dream father, not the one who’d raised him in San Francisco, had turned evil. It was a Dr. Jekyl-Mr. Hyde transformation, and from his other dreams, Connor had known that this version of his father felt no love or responsibility toward his son. This was the one the old man in the beast-world had called Angelus.
Connor’s dream-self had been both fascinated and repulsed by his father’s transformation. He’d watched himself speaking to his father, watched himself be angry at him, taunt him, even as his heart cried out for love and acceptance.
And then the dream had gone from bad to worse. The next flash had sent him to an abandoned warehouse where he’d obviously been living, a mattress sprawled in the background. A woman was there with him, a woman that he cared about, a woman that he had conflicting emotions about. It startled him later to realize that she was the same woman who’d been hooked up to explosives in his first dream.
Whoever she was, she was important to his father, he sensed that. And for that his dream-self had wanted to hurt her. His dream-self had wanted her for his own, but his father loved her. And yet, there was something not quite right about her, either. Like she wasn’t the way she should be.
She had come to him, offered herself to him as a prize, as comfort when the world was falling down around them. His real self had retched as his dream-self gloried in her body. His dream-self experienced what he thought was acceptance and love when his real self, with an outsider’s perspective, saw his father standing on a nearby building’s ledge, watching them with pain pouring from his eyes.
Connor had woken up breathless, clutching his pillow and crying, whimpering his apologies to an empty bedroom in that fuzzy place halfway between dreamland and the real world. He couldn’t seem to stop himself from begging for forgiveness from a father that, as far as he knew, didn’t exist.
As he watched the halftime show progress, Connor mulled over these perplexing dreams. Every one of them seemed connected. Every dream seemed to build off the last. He’d discovered that they didn’t move in a linear progression, but rather gave him snapshots of different points in time. Of a life he was certain he’d never lived.
And yet . . . they seemed so much like memories.
But he knew where he’d grown up. He knew who his parents were, and they were not a pair of vampires, as his dreams told him. He’d been loved by his parents, loved by his sister, and he wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. But something in these dreams called to him. Something told him that they were the truth, and his life had been . . .
No. He couldn’t think that. To think his entire life had been a sham would call into question who he was. Who he’d become. He was proud of himself. Proud of his life. Proud to be his father’s, his real father’s, son.
They were just dreams. They had to be.
“Here we go,” Jace said from his side, motioning to the resumption of play on the field. He took the half-eaten nachos back from Connor. “Time for my team to show your team how to play the game.”
Connor snorted his derision, letting his anxiousness over the troubling dreams fade away for now. “You wish, old man. They’ll come back. They always do.”
“We’ll see about that,” Jace said, smiling, and they both turned back to the game in silence.
Rafael’s imperious voice made David jump in fright. He straightened up, trying to gather his dignity back to him.
“General.” He inclined his head, bowing to his leader. “How may I be of service?”
“Oh, drop the diplomatic crap, Davy,” Rafael said in annoyance. “I’m your older brother, so knock it off.”
David smiled slightly. Sometimes he forgot the familial connection; they rarely acknowledged it. Rafael’s position didn’t allow him to indulge himself in brotherly affection very often.
“You’re wanted at the tribunal,” Rafael continued. “Let’s go.”
“N-now?” His voice squeaked slightly.
“Yes, now, ‘fraidy cat.” Rafael rolled his eyes. “You were always such a ninny, even if you never looked like it.”
David frowned at this, raising himself completely to his impressive height. At his full strength, he towered even over his brother. “Very well. I am ready.”
“You’d better be,” Rafael said, “Because I’m not taking the heat for you. You got yourself into this, and I’ve let them know that it was entirely your idea.”
“Fine,” David said, following him quickly down the corridor to the chamber. “I accept full responsibility.”
Minutes later, he stood next to his brother in front of the council.
“We have discussed your suggestion,” the woman said, “and have decided that you may hold the answer to our dilemma.”
“However,” the tribunal angel added, “we believe that some adjustments are in order before we send her back.”
“Quite right,” the man acknowledged, nodding his head. “Our Champion’s soul would be at risk due to their strong bond. It must be made permanent, or our problems will increase.”
“We will link his soul to hers,” the woman decreed. “They must bond and mate. She will retain immortality, he will gain the permanence of his soul.”
“That is acceptable,” the angel said. “We will send her back.”
“You may inform her of her good fortune,” the man declared, pointing imperiously at David. “She will return tomorrow.”
David could barely hold back his smile. “Thank you, great ones,” he said, then bowed deeply, backing away from them and returning to his seat. He ignored the glare that his commander sent his way, knowing that when Cordelia left, he’d probably be relegated to guarding the unruly spirit of a two-year-old. But it was worth it if Cordelia would be happy. She deserved to be happy.
The tribunal stood, their robes fluttering around their bodies in diaphanous clouds. “As we have decreed, so it shall be,” the intoned together, their hands raised.
“Let it be done.”
“Still got the poncey broodiness going there, I see.”
Spike’s voice intruded on Angel’s morose thoughts and Angel frowned. Fiercely.
“Go away, Spike.” His tone left no room for argument. He turned around in his chair, facing out the darkened window and away from Spike.
As usual, Spike paid no attention, perching on the edge of Angel’s desk and making himself at home. “So how did the little date go, mate?”
Angel turned to him, an eyebrow raised. “Since when are you concerned with my social life?”
Spike shrugged, trying to look casual. “’m not. Just curious, is all. Want to know if you made an ass out of yourself. That’s always good for a belly laugh.”
Angel rolled his eyes. “It didn’t. Go, I mean. We just aren’t, you know . . . And she isn’t . . . ”
“Cordelia?” Spike finished for him.
“Yeah.” Angel sighed, then rubbed his forehead with his fingers.
“The cheerleader was one of a kind,” Spike said, nodding in respect to her memory. “Can’t believe you were such a wanker. You had three years with the chit, and you never said anything.”
Angel turned on him, angry. “I didn’t know I loved her, damn it! She was just there. I knew I cared about her. Hell, I practically told her before I got dumped into the bottom of the ocean. I knew I would die for her if it came to that, but I didn’t realize how much I need her until—” He paused as his voice broke. “And then she was gone.”
Spike sighed, and Angel heard dejection in the sound. “Can’t say I don’t know what you mean.”
Angel snorted. “But are you doing anything about it? No.”
Spike glared at him. “That’s none of your business, mate,” he said, irritated.
“Yeah, sure. You’re in love with my ex-girlfriend and that’s none of my business.”
“The ‘ex’ part takes it out of your territory, Angel.” Spike stood defensively, his tone warning Angel to stop this thread of the conversation.
The older vampire wasn’t finished yet. “You say you love her, Spike. She doesn’t even know you’re alive.”
“And I mean to keep it that way.”
Raising an eyebrow, Angel looked at him incredulously. “And you say I’m the wanker.”
Spike just growled at him. “And what the hell am I supposed to do, Peaches? Go find her and say, ‘Hey, guess what. Didn’t die in the apocalypse like you’d thought, love. Here I am! Want to shag?’ I don’t think that will work.” Slumping back down dejectedly, Spike crossed his arms over his chest.
“Well not if you do it that way, no,” Angel said dryly.
“Besides, what do you care? Thought you’d never approve of Buffy and me.”
“I can’t say that I like it, Spike. She deserves normal. That’s why I left. That and the curse. I couldn’t stay there, knowing that I loved her so much and couldn’t have her.”
Spike snorted. “Yeah, that. Can’t have my poncey grandsire running around terrorizing the countryside.”
Angel let that one slide. “You can’t let it pass you by, Spike. I don’t like the thought of you with Buffy. I never have. She deserves normal. But,” he said, stopping Spike’s protestations with a look, “I think you might be right. Buffy can’t have normal, even if she deserves it. And if she loves you. . .” he shrugged. “Just don’t wait until it’s too late, like I did.”
“It’s only been a few months.”
“Yes, but she doesn’t know she’s waiting for you. She might be mourning you, but she’ll get over you eventually because she believes she has to. She’ll start dating someone else, Spike, because she needs that. She deserves that.”
Spike stood up suddenly, fear striking his heart at the thought of Buffy moving on. He turned to Angel. “I bloody well know that!” There was fear on his face. “But I can’t take the rejection again, Angel. Not from her. I love her too much. I’d rather be alone than whipped and tortured like I was before.”
Angel just looked at him. “I still think you should say something. The soul changes things. And I saw the look in her eyes when I went back to Sunnydale. She could be yours with a little convincing. The resurrection thing is bound to score you a few points.”
Spike looked at him suspiciously. “Since when are you on my side where Buffy’s concerned?”
Sighing, Angel leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk. “You annoy the hell out of me, Spike. You probably always will. But Buffy deserves to be happy, and I think she could be with you. If you’d just get off your ass and go tell her.”
“I can’t yet. It’s too soon.”
Angel just nodded, knowing that Spike wouldn’t budge. Besides, Angel’s heart wasn’t really in this conversation anyway. It was far away with someone he couldn’t go and give his love to. Not anymore.
His despair must’ve shown on his face. “She still isn’t coming back, Peaches,” Spike said softly.
“I know,” Angel said, tears coming to his eyes as he thought of her again. “God, I know.”
“So what’d they say?”
Cordelia was practically hopping from one foot to another in her nervous excitement.
David frowned at her. “How did you know I saw the Powers?” he asked, knowing that he hadn’t been the one to spill the beans.
“Oh, it’s all over the place,” she said lightly, waving her hand airily. “Everybody knows about it. I’ve been keeping up with the rumor mill.”
David frowned at this. Before now, Cordelia had never expressed any desire to make friendships with her fellow citizens of heaven. Obviously she felt better about being here now that she thought it was temporary.
He sighed. It now really was temporary. He was going to lose her.
“They said yes,” he said simply.
She stared at him, awestruck for a moment, before lunging at him throwing her arms around his neck and squealing. “Oh my God, Davy! Talk about fantastic! You’re the best guardian EVER!”
Gently, he extracted her arms from around his neck and set her lightly on her feet. He smiled down at her, his eyes tinged with sadness. “There’s more than that, Cordelia.”
“Duh!” she said, shaking her head and plopping down into the grass, reclining back on her elbows as she looked up at him. “D’ya mind?” she said, shielding her eyes from the sun. “You’re giving me a crick in my neck. Sit down.”
Rolling his eyes, he joined her on the grass, his wings tucked neatly behind his back.
“So, yeah, there’s obviously more to it than me just going back. What’s going on? Is there some kind of problem they’ve gotten themselves into and they couldn’t find a way out?”
David smiled inwardly at her astuteness. She did know the Powers pretty well after having worked for them for a few years now. “There is a problem,” he conceded, “and you’re their best hope at fixing it. They don’t think Angel will trust a new seer.”
“And the rest of the gang couldn’t take the visions, right? Wes and Fred probably couldn’t handle it because they’re human.”
“Not a vision of that strength, no,” he agreed.
“And Gunn? Same reason?” she asked.
“Not exactly,” David hedged. “Gunn’s been determined ‘infected’ because of Wolfram & Hart’s upgrades to his memory.”
Cordy rolled her eyes. “If I’da been there, I’d never let him do that,” she said, shaking her head. “Anybody can tell you that you never get something for nothing. He’s gonna end up paying for that.”
David just looked at her, not willing to reveal his knowledge on that subject.
“And Spike?” she asked. “Lorne?”
“Lorne is out because he’s pure demon,” David said. “He wasn’t even considered. And Spike would retain the visions like you did, and the Powers already have another path for him to travel.”
“To help Buffy again,” Cordelia said, nodding. “Makes sense. So I’m all that’s left, huh?” She couldn’t help but smile. “Figures that they’d take so long to get the right idea. Silly Powers.”
David squirmed at her near blasphemy. He’d cautioned her about her boldness before, but she seemed unfazed by it. He seemed to recall her haughty declaration that “nobody” could tell Cordelia Chase what and what not to talk about.
“So what’s the big problem that little ol’ me gets to fix?” she asked. “Did Angel get himself in trouble already?”
David shook his head. “No. It’s Angel’s son, Connor.”
Cordy frowned. “But Angel took care of him. Gave him new memories so he could have a happy life.”
“He did. But Connor’s new parents died in an accident about five months ago, right after the last time Angel went to check on him. Everyone thinks it was an accident, but someone orchestrated it to isolate Connor.”
“Oh, God!” She was appalled. “And now he’s all alone?”
“Pretty much,” David said. “His sister is living with their grandmother, but Connor hardly ever sees her. It’s too hard on both of them.”
“So what’s wrong with him besides that?”
David explained about Connor’s new mentor. “There’s someone behind him calling the shots. The Powers can’t see who it is.”
Cordelia gasped as the pieces fell into place. “They’re training him to take out Angel, aren’t they?”
David nodded. “They are. We need you to go back and warn Angel, then find out who’s behind this and stop them. Making Connor safe is very important. The Powers have plans for him.”
Cordy sat up straight, nodding tersely. “I can do it. How long do I get to stay?”
David was taken aback by that question. She thought they’d bring her back again? After all the trouble she’d caused them?
“You’re staying until Angel dies, Cordy,” he said gently.
She gaped at him. “H-how? He’s immortal. I’m not.” It didn’t get much simpler than that.
David finally smiled at her for the first time today. “The Powers have bound your soul to his. You need to bond to him and you will be tied to his fate. You’ll survive until he dies, by his side all the way.”
“Bond? You mean have sex?”
David, the mighty guardian angel, actually blushed at her bluntness. Angels didn’t talk about these things. “Yes, Cordelia. That and a blood exchange. Moreover, it must be done soon after your return to ensure that the bond is strong.”
She smiled at this, her eyes taking on a far away quality. Just as quickly the dreamy look was overtaken by worry. “But it’s been so long, David. What if he’s forgotten he loved me? What if he didn’t really love me like I thought? What if he’s moved on?”
David raised an eyebrow. “This from the girl who claimed that Angel wouldn’t survive without her?”
She bit her lip in worry. “Well, yeah. But I can’t see him. I don’t know that for sure, even though I’d like to think I do.”
He took pity on her and put her fears to rest. “He still loves you, Cordy. He’s having problems without you there, just like you thought.” He smiled for a minute. “They say he’s even started talking like you, he misses you that much.”
She laughed at that and the tension melted away from her shoulders. “So when do I go?”
He just smiled sadly, then stood. “You’re leaving tomorrow, Cordelia. This is the last time I’ll see you before. . .”
She stood, too. Reaching out, she touched the back of his hand. “Thank you, David. You’re the best guardian angel a girl could ask for.”
He remained silent, not trusting himself to speak.
“Watch over me good, ‘kay?” she added, grinning at him with one of those smiles he loved so well.
“I’ll try,” he said gruffly. “I know you won’t make it easy.”
“Would ya want me to?” she said cheerfully. Suddenly, she lunged at him again, wrapping her arms around his waist and squeezing him so tightly that a mortal man may have been crushed by her affections. “I love you, David, and I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, too, little one. Be happy.”
“I will, David. Definitely.”
“Good!” Jace’s voice cut through the stillness of the warehouse as he and Connor battled it out for the fifth time that afternoon. “Keep your sword up, your arm strong. Protect your weak side.”
Connor followed the instructions, even as he fought with lightening speed. Jumping higher than any normal human ever could’ve, He landed on a pile of pallets nearby. He brandished his sword and smirked at the advantage he now had over his teacher.
Inwardly, Jace groaned. Every day, Connor got stronger. The mystical enhancements that Jace had been taking were losing their effectiveness. He’d been warned of this, but he had hoped that he’d be able to hold on awhile longer. It didn’t look like it was going to happen. An infusion of something powerful was what he needed, and he needed it fast. There was another option, but that was—he grimaced, not wanting to think about it.
The boy was obviously the child of something inhuman, despite the story his DNA told. Connor was a miracle, and it was all Jace could do to hang on for the wild ride.
Just as Jace was trying to get his advantage back, Connor sprung again, this time landing directly behind him. He reached out, his fist slamming Jace’s sword from his grip, then hauled his mentor back against his chest and pressed the blade to his throat.
“How you like that, old man?” Connor said, a smirk in his voice.
He must’ve been too cocky, because what happened next caught him off guard. Jace stepped back with one foot and used his weight to throw Connor over his head, dumping the young man unceremoniously on his backside.
“It ain’t over till it’s over, kiddo,” Jace said now that it was his turn to smirk. He reached a hand out to help Connor up. As Connor took it, someone in the shadows began to clap.
“Excellent job, Connor.”
Connor stared curiously in the direction of the feminine voice, then looked to Jace in question. Jace’s face was instantly transformed into a proud smile as he watched his lover walk into the light and toward him.
“Hey baby,” he said softly, reaching for her and giving her a long kiss that had Connor turning away and clearing his throat.
“Hey yourself.” Rubbing Jace’s chest, she smiled up at him through her lashes. She finally turned to Connor, looking him up and down once in a way that made him want to stand up tall and straighten his wrinkled shirt. “He looks like he’s ready,” she commented as if he weren’t even there.
“Who are you?” Connor asked, not without some edge to his voice.
With the exception of Jace, who he’d accepted almost immediately, he’d been wary of meeting new people so soon after he’d lost his parents. Come to think of it, he couldn’t figure out why he’d accepted Jace so quickly. There’d just been something about him that had drawn him to the other man. His broad shoulders, his brown eyes that said and hid so much at the same time. He’d had an attitude that seemed to suggest that he could be an extremely violent man, but he kept his inner beast tightly leashed.
At Connor’s question, Jace tightened his grip on the woman next to him.
“Connor, I’d like you to meet the person who means the world to me. The woman who encouraged me to seek you out. The woman who is going to change your life just like she changed mine.”
Connor raised an eyebrow at Jace’s description, but kept his mouth shut and let the man continue.
“This is my girlfriend, Eve.”
Unexpectedly, breath whooshed into Cordelia’s lungs. She gasped, feeling as though weights had been strapped to her shoulders. Breathing erratically, her heartbeat quick, she felt heavy and lethargic. Then, after just a few seconds, she felt normal again. Her eyes arching upwards, Cordy said a silent prayer of thanks that she hadn’t had to claw her way out of her own coffin like some other people she knew, and took stock of her surroundings.
The light was dim, but she could still see an outline of furniture clearly. Carefully making her way over to a wide window, Cordy pulled back the drapes. A stunning view met her eyes—the twinkling lights of Los Angeles at night that always took her breath away. Her mouth curved into a smile upon realizing where she was: Angel’s apartment.
Dropping the drape closed, she turned and picked her way through the dark to the half-open doorway to his bedroom. Careful not to make a sound, she slipped through the door and moved toward the bed where Angel lay, his pale skin gleaming in the moonlight. One bright shaft of light spilled across his face, bringing the angles and planes into sharp relief. His mouth was closed, expression somber, almost angry as he slept. His fists gripped the blanket and as she watched, his jaw twitched in his sleep.
God, she loved him.
It struck her as she watched him sleeping. Standing there seeing him for the first time in months brought waves of emotion over her, so much so that she nearly staggered with the weight of them. Her fingers itched to touch him, but if there was one thing she’d learned when working with Angel, it was that one went about waking vampires in a very cautious manner.
But then, she’d never been one to follow the rules. She shook her head as she stared at him. Damn, the man was beautiful. A male version of sleeping beauty. At that thought, her lips curled upward in a smile, and once she’d thought of it, every other thought fled her mind. She would kiss him awake.
Carefully, she pulled her now-long hair around her neck to one side, wanting to avoid any warning touches before her lips met his. He clung to the edge of the bed, laying on his side. Kneeling down next to him, she stared into his face, almost willing his eyes to open. When they didn’t, her eyes softened, and she smiled briefly before moving in. Parting her lips slightly, she brushed them to his, once, then twice, waiting for a reaction.
Cordy frowned when she got nothing. Not even a twitch. Contemplating him for a moment, she decided to try a different tack. Moving in just as slowly, she darted out her tongue and dragged it along the length of his bottom lip, then back the other direction along the seam where his lips met. He parted his lips and she sighed, leaning in to kiss him fully. She didn’t touch him at all, save the soft attention of her mouth to his, a sweet, slow, deep kiss where she tried to coax him to enter it.
Finally, she got a reaction, although nothing like what she’d expected.
Just as she was really starting to enjoy the kiss, to marvel in the taste of him, a steel-hard arm clamped around her shoulders, a hand grasping her under her arm and pulling her across him and onto the bed. Immediately, she was pinned beneath his rock-hard body, one heavy thigh and strong arm clamping her in place.
She squeaked and wiggled, trying to pull away. She looked up into his face, about to voice her indignation, when her mouth dropped open.
He was still asleep.
Angel’s eyes were closed and his chest still, as if a statue had suddenly shifted then trapped her with him. He showed no signs of waking and that puzzled her. Angel was the lightest sleeper she’d ever met in her life.
Then again, David had said that he’d been going through a lot lately.
Tentatively, she ran a hand up his arm, dipping and curving around all of his muscles, her fingers loving the feel of his cool, smooth skin. His bicep twitched briefly as she squeezed it, a feather-like movement that she almost didn’t notice. Unable to help herself, she leaned over, her mouth tracing the same path her fingers had traveled. And still, he showed no signs of waking.
Emboldened by her lack of reaction, Cordelia moved up, her mouth finding his shoulder, then his neck. She stopped, breathing in his clean, cool scent, and her eyes closed at the wealth of emotions it inspired. Being with him, even in this way, was so comforting.
She really had come home.
Sighing, her breath fanning his skin, she moved closer again, her mouth opening and latching on to the juncture of his shoulder. Her tongue darted out, licking the spot where his pulse would have been, lightly fluttering there and tickling him. She jumped when she heard him growl.
He settled down again when she rubbed his chest gently. Deciding that his pulse point was too dangerous, she moved higher still, kissing his jaw and then finding his mouth again. This time his mouth opened, still obviously in dreamland, but he was dreaming of her.
She frowned against his mouth. He’d better be dreaming of her.
That slight mental detour cost her dearly. One moment, Cordelia had complete control of the situation; the next, her mouth was being plundered by an obviously turned-on vampire if the hard length pressing against her leg was any indication. For a moment, she lost herself in his kiss, his cool mouth so demanding on hers, his tongue insistent as it sought out her own. She moaned into his mouth, clutching his bare shoulders, her fingernails making half-moon shapes in his pale skin.
His fingers moved down, trailing under her collar, following the edges and tracing her warm skin underneath. Each touch felt as though it were charged with electricity, every nerve ending tingling with his nearness.
Her eyes crossed as he cupped her breasts through her thin shirt, and she moaned again. She knew she should pull away, should stop and wake him up, explain that they couldn’t do this unless they were bonded, but it just felt so good. And while she was arguing with herself, she missed the chance to back out. The next thing she knew, her breasts were bare, his mouth descending and capturing her nipple until all thoughts of fleeing vanished, instantly replaced by a growing hunger for the man she’d never thought she’d see again.
Angel seemed to know exactly what she was thinking. His eyes still closed, he whispered against her breast, “God, Cordy, I missed you so much.”
She bit her lip as he nipped her breast lightly, moaning, “I missed you, too.”
He kissed his way down her belly, her breasts aching from the loss of his attentions. His cool breath fanned her stomach, fingers coming up to pull at her skirt, making it seem as though it just melted away. She arched up against him, pressing her tummy against his open mouth, loving the feel of his slightly rough tongue on her silky skin. He sucked slightly, marking her, as his hand found its way between her legs to stroke her in just the right way. Within minutes, he had her panting, nearing a climax that she knew would make her sob.
He didn’t let her get that far, kissing his way back up her body and aligning himself with her entrance. Never once opening his eyes, he slid deep, groaning, and she lost her breath and swore her heart stopped. He filled her so well, so fully. Looking up into his face, she knew she’d come home. She belonged with him.
Angel pushed into the hilt, a fierce look of concentration on his face as he held himself there, still within her body. His mouth came down, feasting at the crook of her neck, and pinned her to the mattress, preventing any movement. She sighed, allowing him to set the pace, and enjoyed the feel of his body joined with hers.
“You feel so good, baby,” he whispered near her ear, “just like I always imagined you would.” He adjusted his hips slightly and she gasped, her nerves exploding at the slight movement.
He was still kissing her neck, licking, sucking, tasting. “You feel so real, like you’re really here with me, like this isn’t a dream.”
She managed an answer, though her lungs felt airless. “It isn’t. I’m really here, Angel.”
His face screwed up in a frown, as if she weren’t supposed to say that line. “No you’re not. You’re a dream,” he argued.
“I’m not, Angel,” she insisted, cupping her hands around his face.
“Don’t leave me, Cordy. Stay with me,” he whispered pleadingly, kissing her chin, and then her mouth. “Stay with me.”
“I will,” she promised breathlessly.
He stilled as she said the words, his forehead buried in her shoulder. “Promise you’ll stay with me.” His hands found hers and brought them overhead, gripping them tightly. “Promise!”
She grimaced at the pain of his grip, but answered, “I’ll stay, I promise.” It was the truth anyway. She was going to be bonded to him.
Time seemed to stand still as that last thought bounced across the walls of her brain like a bullet’s ricochet. Oh, damn it! The bond. She’d forgotten about it. She had to bond with him before the sex. Duh! How could she have been so stupid? Oh, yeah. Sleeping beauty. Sure! Damn the man! Why did he have to be so irresistible?
Angel had no such reservations and began to thrust within her, steady, strong strokes that made her eyes cross and her concentration flee. She fought for it, gripping his shoulders and shaking him, but her attempts were no more effective than a bee’s attempt to anger an elephant.
“Angel!” she shouted, but still he continued, his fingers moving down between them and stroking her clit, making stars appear behind her eyes. “No,” she whimpered, pushing against him again. “Angel!”
But still, he didn’t listen. She began to pummel him, her fists hitting his shoulders, her tears flowing as she knew they were close to something catastrophic if she didn’t stop him. She knew somehow, knew intuitively, that Angel would realize she was real somewhere along the way, and it would give him the impetus he needed to lose his soul. She wouldn’t let it happen, not after all she’d been through to get this far.
She was fast running out of options. She frantically searched her brain for any other choices, her body betraying her and tightening around him even as she argued against it. Angel changed tactics, lifting her hips and tilting her slightly, changing his angle and making her gasp at the new sensations. But the shock of the change in adjustment gave her the moment she needed to find the answer.
Suddenly, an insanely brilliant idea popped into her head. She knew she’d been smart to sneak those vampire sex manuals out of Wesley’s office. At first it had been out of a twisted curiosity, but now she thanked her lucky stars that she’d been such a perv. She knew exactly what to do.
Grabbing his head, she opened her mouth and bit him hard on the curve of his neck right where his pulse would have been.
The reaction was instantaneous. In the throes of his lust, Angel’s head jerked back, his features shifting immediately, his eyes flying open. He growled at her, staring unseeing down into her face, and swiftly descended toward her neck. She squeaked as his fangs penetrated her skin and then sighed as the pleasure of the penetration washed over her.
She didn’t have any time to enjoy it. One minute she was laying beneath Angel, gasping at the surprisingly pleasurable sensation of a vampire’s bite, and the next, he had her by the neck, his powerful fingers gripping her tightly and cutting off her air. He jerked her roughly off the bed, holding her aloft. Slowly, he sat up, his demon’s eyes sparkling in the moonlight.
“Angel,” she croaked, barely able to gulp the air in she needed to speak. He kept his grip, and she knew he wasn’t fully awake yet. She gripped the wrist that held her, pulling on him, beating her fists against his arm as she tried to get him to loosen his grip. For a moment, she thought he’d squeeze her new life right out of her, but just when she started to see stars behind her eyelids from lack of oxygen, he released her, dropping her to the floor with a thud.
“Okay, bad idea,” she said gruffly, coughing a bit and tenderly rubbing her shoulders where his finger marks were sure to be visible for at least a few days. Her body still tingled from being joined to his, and she ached to jump back into his arms. Looking up into his face, she shrank back. Definitely a bad idea.
Angel stood up from the bed, towering over her in an impressive display of anger. He didn’t seem to notice that he had not a stitch of clothing on, and somehow, it didn’t detract from his commanding presence one iota.
She gulped, startled for a moment as she stared at him in all of his masculine glory. Sure, he’d just been inside her, but she hadn’t gotten a good look at him. She gulped again.
He smirked down at her, the danger in his eyes still firmly in place. “Stare much?”
She couldn’t help herself; she laughed. “You do talk like me!”
Angel’s expression was immediately puzzled, then the anger over took him, even stronger than before, and he moved closer. It was obvious he was fully awake now, the memories of his “dream” coming back. Only now, he knew it wasn’t just a dream.
“Stand up!” he growled.
Noting the menace in his tone, she complied, but not remaining silent. “Angel, it’s me. It’s Cordy!”
He shook his head, stalking towards her and backing her in the corner. “Cordelia’s dead,” he said, his voice flat. “I don’t know who you are or what you’re trying to pull, but she’s dead!”
“No! They let me come back! I begged and begged and—” He didn’t let her finish. Snarling, he grabbed her shoulders and shoved her against the wall, her head banging unmercifully against the hard surface.
“Don’t fuck with me!” he growled, his demon sliding off and his human eyes glinting with tears. “Not about this. Not about her! Cordelia is OFF LIMITS, is that clear?” Instead of getting louder with each word, his voice dropped, quieter and quieter, until the last word came out on a hissed whisper.
Cordy’s eyes filled with tears as she watched him struggle. Despite his strong grip on her, she slowly raised her hands to cup his face, stroking her fingers along his cheekbones. She was surprised that he would let her, but he did.
“I’m Cordy, Angel. I’m back. The Powers sent me back.”
He regarded her in silence for a moment. “How can I trust you?” he finally asked, his voice breaking. She saw the struggle in his eyes, and knew in that moment that this being a farce would kill him. His heart would break and he’d dissolve into dust on the spot. Her heart ached for him in that moment.
“You tasted me, Angel,” she said simply.
The reaction was instantaneous. He shrank back from her, his hands leaving her abruptly and making her feel cold all at once. His eyes were frantic, darting around the room as he closed his mouth and swallowed, tasting her on his tongue. He’d smelled her blood before, yes. But tasted her blood? No. Never. It would be unthinkable. And yet, every time the tantalizing aroma of her blood had filled the air, he’d tasted it on his tongue even if his mouth had never come near her wounds. The scent had been that powerful.
Now it seemed as though it were happening again. But it couldn’t be. She was dead!
“No,” he said again, shaking his head and sinking back onto the bed. “This is some kind of trick. You aren’t her. You can’t be her!”
She was crying now, tears streaming down her face, love and worry in liquid form. “Please, Angel. I love you. Don’t push me away. Not when I’ve just come back! Prove it to yourself that it’s me. Taste me again.”
She reached up, touching the wounds in her neck where the blood had slowed. She prodded them gently, the clot breaking and her warm blood trickling out again. Immediately, his nostrils flared at the scent of her blood on the air. He took in the aroma, his delicate senses breaking it down and searching it for hidden falsehoods and finding none. Now, in the harshness of reality, he could analyze it critically. She smelled like Cordelia. Like the woman he’d sworn never to forget but never thought he’d have the chance to see again.
But he had to find out for sure. Only another taste of her would satisfy his need for reassurance. She walked over to him, tilting her neck and moving her hair out of the way in obvious invitation, her eyes full of love. He took her shoulders gently in his hands and brought her closer, his cool tongue reaching out and licking up the blood that dripped from her wound, quickly swiping over the wound and closing it to the air. His eyes closed, squeezed tightly shut, as the taste of her burst on his tongue, overwhelming him.
Oh, sweet lord. It was actually her. His beloved Cordelia had returned to him.
Slowly, his eyes opened, and a torrent of tears spilled from them. He vaulted to his feet, reached both arms out and grabbed her to his chest, crushing his mouth to hers. His kiss was all-encompassing, an infinity of days filled with misery and sadness without her all poured out into one physical touch. He purged himself of his pain, clinging to her, sobbing as he frantically tasted her as if he could never get enough.
After what seemed like too short a time, he pulled away from her, knowing that she needed breath. Still clinging to her, he buried his face in the crook of her neck, kissing her tenderly, laving her skin with his tongue, licking his mark again.
“God, Cordy, I can’t believe its you. I never thought I’d—” His voice breaking, he pressed his forehead against her shoulders, squeezing his eyes shut to keep the tears from flowing again.
Cordy wrapped her arms around him, clinging just as tightly, her own tears dampening her cheeks. “I know, brood boy, I missed you, too.”
He laughed against her and then pulled back as his hands gently cupped her face. Smiling down at her, he kissed her forehead, her nose, her cheeks, her chin, and finally her mouth. This time, it was soft, gentle, and achingly sweet.
“Cordy, I love you. So, so much.”
“And I love you.” She smiled softly, gently rubbing his chin with her thumb. “But damn, bubba, do we have a lot to talk about.”
“Um, hey.” Connor’s voice was less than enthusiastic as he took in the slight form of Jace’s girlfriend.
Eve smiled at him, but Connor noticed that it didn’t reach her eyes. He frowned inwardly when he suddenly realized that Jace’s rarely did, either.
“Jace has been bragging about you a lot, Connor.” Eve’s voice was casual. “Says you have a lot of talent.”
Connor shrugged. “He’s been a good teacher.”
“From what I just saw, looks like your talent goes beyond the norm.”
His eyes darted away and he shuffled a little bit. “I’ve learned a few new things, is all.”
“Uh huh.” She made it sound like anything but. Pulling away from Jace, she stood on her own, crossing her arms over her chest and regarding him with a regal set to her chin. “Has he told you anything about what you’re training for?”
Connor’s eyebrows raised. “I’m training for something? Thought we were just messing around, you know?”
Eve smiled indulgently. “Everything has a purpose, Connor.”
A fierce frown swept over his face at her comment. The phrase rang a discordant note in his soul; so many people had said something similar when his parents had died so needlessly. “Yeah, whatever.” The bitterness in his tone was clear.
“Thing is,” Eve continued, “Jace and I need someone like you. We have something important that we need to do, and you’re our best shot at getting it done. You’re our ace in the hole, Connor.” She smiled at him in what looked like an attempt at motherly affection. It didn’t fly.
Connor looked at them skeptically, his eyes darting back to Jace and pinning him like an insect under a microscope. Jace had the grace to clear his throat and look away.
“You mean you’ve been playing me this whole time?” Connor’s sounded calm, but there was an undercurrent of anger there that Eve was quick to reassure.
“No!” she said soothingly, reaching out to touch his arm. “Jace was just doing his job. But he likes you. He told me so himself.” She didn’t seem offended in the slightest when he jerked away as if she were infected with some contagious disease.
“I do, Connor.” Jace’s eyes met his. “You’ve become like a son to me. You know that.”
Connor just stared at him, his expression unreadable. After a moment of silence he said finally, “So what is it that you want me to do?”
Eve’s insides exploded in glee at his reluctant acceptance. “Jace and I work for a secret organization that hunts down and eliminates dangerous criminals. People who prey on others. People who aren’t . . . aren’t quite people.”
“Yeah, sure,” Connor said, the skepticism dripping off his tongue. “Like the CIA and shit.”
“More like the MIB and shit,” Jace cut in, referring to one of Connor’s favorite movies. “Otherworldly stuff, you know?”
Connor’s eyebrows wigged. “Aliens? Yeah right.”
“Not aliens.” Eve was scornful, waving the thought away with a slash of her hand. “Everybody knows that’s crap. No, what we deal in is the mystical. The supernatural. The monsters that everyone doesn’t want to talk about.”
“Like what?” Connor asked, curious despite himself.
Eve shrugged. “You name it. Witches, warlocks, demons, werewolves, vampires. . .”
Jolted inside by her last word, Connor fought to keep the reaction from showing on his face. Somehow he knew it would be a really bad idea to tell them about his dreams. About his dream vampire parents.
“So what’s this got to do with me?”
She stared at him for a moment. Abruptly, she began to pace back and forth like a general giving orders. “There’s one enemy that’s beaten us time and again. He’s extremely powerful, and even more evil. He needs to be eliminated; the whole of California, maybe even the entire world, is in danger from him.”
“What’d he do?” Connor asked innocently.
“He’s murdered thousands, tortured scores more. He ended an extremely promising path to world peace. He’s single-handedly destroyed one of the most powerful, benevolent law firms in L.A.”
Connor caught something else swimming in her tone, something much more personal. “Sounds like a lot of anger towards one bad guy,” he said artlessly.
Her jaw clenched, the fury in her eyes barely controlled. “He also killed my fiancée last year.”
Connor just nodded, his face carefully expressionless. Bingo.
“I’m sorry,” was all he said. “So what do you want me to do?”
Eve smiled, the expression almost inhuman. “We want you to kill him.”
“Talk? Now? Nuh-uh” Angel pulled her back into his arms. “I just got you back. Talking is the very last thing I want to do right now.”
Cordelia definitely agreed but knew that they still had a lot to discuss. Namely, they had to finish this bond. Pronto. She still had to drink from him to complete it. Laughing, she steadfastly turned her face away when he made a move to kiss her. “Angel, we have a lot of time for that later. Believe me, a whole lot of time.”
He scrutinized her carefully. “You mean you don’t have to leave again?” Her promise in his dream flitted back to him, making him worry that he’d imagined it.
“No,” she said softly. “I don’t. I promised, remember?” she smiled gently. “It’s a long story, one that probably shouldn’t be told here where there are so many . . . distractions.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being distracted,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively at her and purposefully pressing her hips against his. She closed her eyes and groaned as she felt his hard length pressed against her stomach.
“About that. . .” she said, trailing off. Suddenly, she got an attack of shyness and wouldn’t meet his eyes. “The Powers have given me a way to secure your soul.”
He was speechless for a moment. “What?” he asked when he recovered.
She looked up and met his eyes. “They sent me back on one condition. They said that I had to bond myself to you, and that your soul would be secured by it. I’ll be with you until you die.”
“God, Cordy, that’s. . .” there were no words for what he felt.
“I know.” It really was too much to take in. “They said it has to be done soon. The bond will lose its strength if we wait.”
“Okay. Let’s do it. Now.” He pulled away from her, grabbing her hand and tugging her back to the bed.
She just laughed at him, tugging back. “Hold your horses, cutie. I still have to explain.”
“What is there to explain?” Looking puzzled, he gestured to her neck. “I’ve already claimed you when I bit you. You bite me back. We make love. End of story.”
She gaped at him for a moment, then blinked rapidly.
“Isn’t that it?” he asked, obviously impatient.
“Well, yeah,” she said, nonplussed. “But you kinda stole my glory there, dork.”
A smirk graced his lips. “Gee, sorry, Cordelia.” He obviously didn’t mean it at all. He tugged on her hand again, and she moved toward him this time. He sat down on the edge of the bed, pulling her legs apart and settling her on his lap. Reaching up, he tenderly stroked her face.
“I love you, Cordelia.” Sincerity was written over every part of his face.
“I love you,” she whispered back, her eyes filling with tears. She scooted forward until they were touching, close, but not yet joined. Bracing her knees on the mattress on either side of his hips, she pushed herself up, then reaching down, encircled him and guided him into her. His hands went down to grasp her hips, sliding her down onto him until they both gasped from the pleasure. She stilled there for a moment, panting, and looked over into his eyes.
The naked love there overwhelmed her.
Cordelia didn’t know if she’d ever seen Angel’s eyes so open, so raw with emotion. He tightened his fingers on her hips, grasping her firmly, then lifted her up, then down again, creating a thrust that had her closing her eyes and throwing her head back in agonizing pleasure. He leaned into her, his mouth finding her neck again. The moment his tongue ran over his mark, her eyes flew open and she gasped. She knew in that instant that if she’d have been a vampire, this was the moment that her demon would come out and she’d claim him as her mate.
Being human didn’t deter her in the slightest. Pulling his head back by his hair, she growled at him, a low, feminine sound of possession, and his eyes darkened at the feral look in her eyes. He reached his hand up to his neck, taking one fingernail and digging it cruelly into his skin, right near the bite marks she’d left there earlier.
Immediately, his blood welled up in the cut and her eyes dilated, fixating on the small wound. She lunged for him, her mouth fastening there and suckling frantically, the copperish taste of his blood washing over her tongue and making her groan. She knew instinctively that she shouldn’t be enjoying this so much, but she was. She was surprised that she enjoyed the taste of him, dark and earthy. Somehow, she knew what to do, pulling her mouth away and licking the broad side of her tongue across the jagged tear, sealing it and slowing the flow of blood.
They stared at each other as the bond overtook them, bringing them closer and closer as they joined into one. She couldn’t read his mind, that would have been freaky, but she could sense him like she never had before. She could feel his apprehension, his love, his worry, more acutely than she’d ever felt before. And somehow, she knew he could feel her as deeply.
Desperate to deepen the connection, she ran her hands down his chest, their eyes locked as their bodies completed the bond their souls had already made. She went to move against him, but Angel growled and flipped her over so fast she lost her breath. He was suddenly looming over her, his heavy body pinning her to the mattress as he sank deep inside her. His mouth came down and molded to hers, tasting her lips as he’d tasted her blood. His hips began to move against her, thrusting in a steady rhythm that had her gasping and begging for him never to stop.
And then, all solemnity was gone. It was replaced by a love so deep, so consuming that neither of them could stop its overflow. Frantic, he thrust, desperate to go deep, desperate to touch her and show her how he loved her. They moved, in a rhythm as old as time, and together, they found the stars.
“You think he bought it?”
A cool smile curved her lips. “No doubt about it,” Eve said confidently. “Hook, line, and sinker.”
Jace wasn’t convinced. Tightening his arms around her, he shifted slightly, the sheets rustling in the quiet night. “I don’t know, baby, there was something in his eyes that—”
“He bought it,” she interrupted tersely. “Besides, if he didn’t, he doesn’t have a choice. He’ll do what we want.”
Frowning in the darkness, Jace sighed. “He’s smart, Eve. Smart and powerful. He could kill us both without too much trouble, you know that.”
A hard push on his bare chest told him of her irritation as she flipped over onto her stomach. Thrusting her face into his, she bared her teeth in anger like a snarling panther.
“And whose fault is that, huh?” she accused him. “You were supposed to stay distant from him, Jace. You weren’t supposed to adopt the brat. You were supposed to keep him emotionally vulnerable while making him physically unbeatable. Then he wouldn’t have the nerve to attack us.”
Eve shoved away from him and sat up with disgust. “You knew the plan. You were supposed to make him hate the very sight of you, but feel bound to you. But no, you had to go and play Big Daddy and fuck everything up.”
Scooting up into a sitting position against the headboard, Jace cupped her face in his hands. He was surprised when she didn’t jerk away from him in disgust. In an instant, tears formed in Eve’s eyes. The calculating mind behind them only whirred faster, one step ahead of her lover and using every feminine wile in her arsenal to keep him under her thumb.
“I trusted you. I needed him to be a machine. I needed him to look at your face and feel pain and confusion. I can’t run the risk that he’ll go all soft when he sees Angel again.” A small sniffle escaped her as one tear overflowed and ran down her cheek, wetting the fingers that held her face. “I thought you loved me, Jace,” her voice broke, his name a mere whisper.
“I do love you, baby, I do,” he quickly reassured her. “But he needed somebody. He was so broken after his parents died. I wouldn’t have been able to gain his trust if I’d been the mean bastard you wanted me to be. I needed to be the father he’d just lost.”
She only looked at him despondently and pulled away, turning her back to him and drawing her legs up to her chest. Burying her face in her knees, she let sobs wrack her body. Her face averted, Eve let a smile spread across them when she could almost hear his resolve cracking behind her. The triumph swept over her small frame as his big hands spread across her back, rubbing her shoulders in an attempt to comfort her.
“I’m sorry I disappointed you, baby,” Jace whispered. “But I know Connor will come through for us. I’m just worried that something will go wrong and that—that I’ll lose you. I can’t lose you!”
“I couldn’t lose Lindsay either, but Angel killed him anyway!”
A pregnant, painful silence hung in the room after her outburst. It wasn’t difficult for her to ignore the grimace of pain on Jace’s face as Lindsay’s hallowed name once again invaded the privacy of their bedroom.
Hardened eyes met his again. “I guess you’ll just have to make sure that Connor can’t win against you, Jace.”
He stiffened immediately. “But the mystical enhancements you’ve given me aren’t working anymore, Eve, not like they used to. We’ll have to find some other way.”
Defiantly, she raised her chin and set her lips in a grim line. “You know what you have to do, Jace. The permanent treatment this time.”
“But baby—” he pleaded, raising a hand to her in supplication.
A resolute shake of her head was his only answer. “You’ll do it, Jace. If you love me, you’ll do it.”
Sighing, Jace slumped and buried his face in his hands. An eternity of seconds reigned as he resigned himself to his fate. Clear brown eyes finally raised to meet cold ones.
“Of course I will.”
Angel and Cordelia lay together, wrapped up like two halves of the same exquisite sculpture. Cordelia’s breathing had finally returned to normal, and they both knew there was so much more to discuss. Neither of them wanted to break apart just yet, though.
“We should probably get up,” Cordelia said, but immediately snuggled further into Angel’s embrace.
“Yeah, we should,” he whispered against her head, kissing her hair.
It was silent for a few more minutes. Angel finally sighed, then briefly kissed her forehead before releasing her. He pulled away from her, standing up beside the bed.
“Okay, I guess we can go out and get you something to eat.”
Immediately, she began to salivate. She bolted out of bed, then swayed on her feet as her eyes closed in near rapture at the thought of eating. His eyes darkened again as he caught sight of her bliss-filled face, the sheet down low around her hips. “Oh, God. Food! I’ve been dying for some really good Chinese food, Angel. Let’s go to Golden Panda, okay? Like right freakin’ now!”
“Golden Panda it is,” he said, smiling at her indulgently. He made a move toward the door, but stopped when she laughed.
“Hey, nudie boy. Prob’ly better rethink the dinner outfit, there.” She gestured to his naked state.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, frowning, as if perturbed that he had to be bothered with such trivialities. His eyes lit up as he looked at her. “Wanna pick out my clothes for me?”
She grinned. “Definitely.”
A half hour later found them in Cordy’s favorite Chinese food restaurant, their Emperor’s Feast ordered, beverages in front of them. Again, Cordy admired the outfit she’d picked out for him: a soft, grey button-up that clung to him like a second skin, defining every delicious muscle in his upper half, and a pair of jeans that were worn in all the right places. She’d bought them for him at a consignment shop the year Connor was born, but she’d never ever seen him wear them. He’d frowned when she’d held up the outfit at his apartment and wiggled her eyebrows at him suggestively. It was obvious he didn’t like the departure from his usual dark slacks.
“Jeans?” he’d said, scrunching his nose up. “But they’re so. . .stiff.”
She’d raised her eyebrows at him and regarded him with a look that only Cordelia could make both condescending and loving at the same time.
“Geez, somebody saw the birth of Levi’s and copped a bad attitude. Have you felt these, Angel?” she’d asked, then shoved them into his hands. “Here. Touch them. They’re soft. Incredibly soft. And worn in all the right places. They’re the most comfortable pair of jeans on the planet.” That and they were sure to make his ass look fabulous.
She hadn’t been wrong. She’d sighed, practically drooling, as he’d pulled the jeans on and fastened them up, her eyes immediately drawn to the worn button fly, her mind traveling to the, um, impressive parts she’d seen underneath. Seen and felt. Oh, god. . . but not a good place to go at a restaurant.
One word came to mind as she saw him in those clothes: Damn! Her vampire was dead sexy.
“What are you thinking about?” Angel’s question startled her out of her thoughts and she blushed.
Her hand was cradled in his on the table top, and he smiled at her reaction, rubbing his thumb gently against her palm.
His eyes darkened slightly. “Me too, baby,” he said deeply. “I haven’t begun to show you how much I missed you.”
His words sent a rush of chills up her spine. Delicious shivers that made her anticipation grow. She mentally straightened her spine, sticking to her guns. “But we have more important things to talk about right now, Angel,” she said, a stern look on her face as she willed him to behave.
“Something more important than that?” he asked incredulously. His mind was already back in his apartment, in his bed, in her mouth and between her thighs.
“Yeah,” she said. “So hang on to those fantasies, stud. We can continue our forever an hour or so later, okay?”
He nodded reluctantly, then turned serious again. “So what is it that’s brought you back to me?” he asked, the worry in his face creeping in to bring lines between his eyebrows.
She frowned, regarding him in silence as she tried to figure out where to begin. Just then her food came, and she had enough time to think about what she’d say.
“Connor’s in trouble,” she finally revealed softly.
If he’d been human, his breath would’ve stopped for a moment. “But I get reports on him,” he argued. “He’s fine.”
“Reports from who?” she asked around a mouthful of Peking Chicken.
“Well, the investigation division, I think. I don’t know. I guess I thought. . .”
She frowned at him. “I told you that place was bad news, Angel.”
“I know,” he said, sighing. “We’ve been so busy lately, and I just knew that Connor was safe. He’s not?” he asked anxiously.
“Well, he’s all right for now, but he’s heading down a really bad road.” Putting her chopsticks down, she explained to him everything the Powers had shared with her.
His face darkened in anger against the person who would dare turn his son against him. “Connor has already been through so much,” he said through clenched teeth. “I don’t want to drag him through it again, Cordy.”
“I know you don’t. But you don’t have a choice. He’s already been set on this path. If we don’t get him back, if we don’t restore his memory and tell him the truth, he’ll try to kill you. And according to my sources, killing you will bring all of his memories back in a rush. I don’t think he’ll be able to handle it if it happens that way.”
“They have no clue who’s behind this?” he seemed exasperated at the lack of information. “They have to know something. Anything!”
“Nothing,” she said. “David, my guardian, wouldn’t hold anything back from me. He told me everything he knew. We’ll have to figure out who it is on our own.”
Angel stared at her unseeingly, his mind swirling with anger and worry over his son’s situation. “Whoever it is, they’ll be sorry they messed with my son.”
“Damn straight,” she affirmed, then went back to her dinner. “God, this is good.” Her eyes closed in bliss. “I missed food.”
Connor bolted upright in bed, shaking, his body soaked in sweat. Furious, he threw back his blankets and strode to the window, flinging it open and letting the night breeze cool his heated flesh. He’d had another dream.
This one was a re-run, but it was no less powerful than it had been before. This time, the familiarity of the plot had given him the ability to notice more details. Feel more of the gut-wrenching emotion that seemed to accompany each dream. But that familiarity had just served to wrench his battered soul further in two conflicting directions.
They were so damn disturbing.
As much as they bothered him, he was more convinced than ever that he should keep them to himself. He liked Jace, but lately, he’d started to get the wiggy feeling that he couldn’t really trust him. That feeling was compounded when his creepy girlfriend showed up.
Just how did Eve fit into all this?
Okay, so she claimed they were secret agents that hunted scary monsters. Yeah, whatever. Connor still wasn’t sure how much of that to believe. It didn’t seem crazy to him that the monsters existed. Somehow, he’d already known that. What did seem totally wacko was that Eve could be on the good guys’ side. He just didn’t trust her. Something inside him recoiled in her presence, an inner sense he’d always had that had never steered him wrong.
The one thing that worried him was that he’d trusted Jace so quickly. Now when Connor was having second thoughts about him, he wondered about what had drawn him to the older man in the first place. He had just been so needy at the time. So lonely for a father. He’d ached so much for his parents, and Jace had just been there. Jace had been a presence that had lent strength and stability to a young man who so desperately needed something solid in his sorrow-drenched life. Jace had pulled him out of the darkness and had given him something to live for again.
So why did he suddenly have the eerie feeling that Jace would ruin his life?
Cordelia studied her reflection critically in the mirror of Golden Panda’s bathroom. Her eyes took in the now-long hair, back to its original brown, shiny and healthy. It was natural, in soft waves that fell from her face and hung down her back in a heavy cascade. She scrutinized her nose, scrunching it up, opening her eyes wide and leaning close to the mirror to examine them. Last, she looked over her skin, smiling with satisfaction when she saw that it looked healthy. Not a blemish in sight.
Satisfied that she hadn’t changed a bit in her return trip, she pulled back and straightened her blouse, then adjusted her skirt to rest more comfortably on her hips.
“Well, Queen C,” she said to her reflection. “You’ve still got it goin’ on!” At 11 p.m. on a Tuesday night, the place was dead, her voice echoing off the tiled walls.
She jumped three feet, shrieking, when a cool hand delved beneath her hair and rested on the back of her neck, but immediately relaxed when reason set in.
Whirling around, she smacked Angel hard on his upper arm. “Geez, dumbass! Scare me back to the afterlife, why don’t ya?” She glared at him, but her eyes twinkled.
“I missed you,” he said simply, putting his arms around her waist and leaning against her, trapping her between his hard body and the equally hard granite countertop.
“Dork,” she said, but it was obvious she was pleased.
Her smile left an hurry when she saw his eyes grow dark. He pulled her closer, so close she could feel every single muscle pressed against her. They held there, breathless, staring into each other’s eyes. Cordy felt as though she’d stuck her finger in a light socket and was feeling the immediate jolt of electricity flow throughout her body.
Angel felt it, too, and proved it by attacking her, a tender assault on her lips that made her pant. His tongue entered her mouth, finding hers and tangling with it, his hands roaming under her gauzy shirt. She shivered as his light caresses barely touched her skin, lingering at the small of her back, then traveling around the front until he found the clasp of her bra and undid it.
As soon as her breasts fell free, she shivered again, then arched against him, leaning away from the counter and pressing her body flush against his. She used the weight of her body to grind her hips against his, bringing her hands up and stroking the strong line of his jaw, then scratching the back of his neck.
Angel popped open the buttons on her blouse, his fingers tickling their way down her body until he found the hem. He smiled, a slow, lazy curve of his lips as he pushed her blouse and bra off her shoulders and bared her from the waist up. Immediately, his hands founds found the treasures they sought, cupping her breasts as if testing the weight of them in his hands.
Briefly, he reached further down, gently caressing her hips, traveling behind her to cup her ass and squeeze lightly, then a brush to the gentle dip between her legs. He found the side zipper on her skirt, tugging it down, pulling it and the rest of her clothes off until all of it pooled in an airy cloud at her feet. Then his fingers went back, traveling to all of the same places, her hips, her ass, her curls, all lightly enough to drive her insane.
Not for one moment did his eyes stray from hers.
The magnetic pull of his stare was more erotic than any touches Cordelia had ever felt in her entire life, either this life or the last. His eyes were black, the color of volcanic glass and just as deep. It was as if his eyes were the match to the flame, his hands only fanning it into a fire. Those depths held a vast store of emotion, just like they had earlier, and as his hands traveled her sensitive skin, she watched them change, watched the love flow over the lust, then back again, in an ebb and flow of desire that caught her up in a hypnotic trance.
She was startled when he finally broke eye contact, dropping his eyes down and staring at her breasts, releasing them and leaving her feeling cold at the loss. He stared, and stared, and stared, his gaze wandering her body, resting in every interesting place until her breathing was ragged and her fingers itched to grab him and pull him back to her. He seemed mesmerized by the beauty of her body, and she could almost feel the heat of his eyes searing her skin.
She watched, in slow motion, as his head descended, one hand coming back up to cup her breast and lift it to his mouth. But just as he was about to taste her, he paused, his breath fanning her tender skin, and breathed, “So beautiful, Cor,” and then closed his mouth over the tip of her breast.
Cordy moaned as she felt his mouth on her skin. His cool tongue tugged at her breast, sending shivers of pleasure like tendrils of smoke throughout her body. Her hands came up again, clutching at his biceps, her eyes flying open as she made contact with his shirt and not the bare, cool skin she craved. She grabbed his lapels blindly, his head blocking her way, and pulled violently, his buttons scattering and ricocheting off the walls like candy dropped from a bag. Her mouth watered as his broad shoulders came into view, her fingers greedily moving across his skin and memorizing its texture with her fingers. Her nails lightly scored him, then she gasped and scratched deeper when he bit her nipple slightly.
The sounds pouring from Cordelia’s mouth grew louder and more frantic as Angel moved one hand between her leg, gently prying her thighs apart until he found her center, hot and more than ready for him. She arched against his hand as his fingers found all the right places, each tiny nerve that made her whole body tingle and bright lights appear before her half-shut eyelids.
Suddenly, the reality of their location doused her like cold water. She’d never been one for public acts of lewdness, despite her frank speech. Frantic, she pulled at his hair, bringing his mouth away from her breasts and his eyes back to hers.
She panted, her eyes wide, and all she could manage was a whimpered, “Angel!”
He smiled, a sensual expression that started slowly and grew to consume his entire face, his eyes lighting up as he saw how needy she was for him.
His smile seemed to give her strength. “Angel, please!” she said, clutching at his arms. “We’re in a bathroom, for pete’s sake,” she said, blushing. It didn’t last long, though, her brain overheating again as his hand between her legs resumed its tormenting movements.
Gently, he placed a finger against her lips. “Don’t worry, baby. It’s fine. The place is empty.”
She clenched her teeth, steeling herself against the euphoria that was about to wash over her. She was not going to have sex in a restaurant bathroom. She had more class than that! She reached down, grabbed his wrist, and jerked it away from her.
“Angel!” she growled through clenched teeth, her eyes flashing. “What if someone comes in?”
He sighed, then brought his now empty hand up toward his mouth and she gasped. “Don’t!” she whispered, knowing that his intended action would drive her over the brink of her lust and she’d be lost, but he didn’t listen. His tongue came out, licking her from his fingers, and she moaned, feeling every swipe of his tongue as if it were affixed on her own skin.
“Sorry,” he said, obviously not meaning it. “I just couldn’t help myself. You just smelled so damn good, baby,” he growled, leaning into her ear for the last word, the vibrations from his deep voice making her shiver.
She could only pant some more.
“Don’t worry,” he said again between kisses to her ear and neck. “I locked the door.”
“That’s not—Oh god,” she said, losing her train of thought as his tongue dipped into her ear.
“Not what?” he said.
She swallowed, then opened her eyes, trying to focus on something. Anything.
Oh, what the hell. She wanted him. Needed him. Who cares where they were? “Nothing,” she said finally, her voice nothing more than a whisper.
His mouth stilled on her for a fraction of a second, then resumed, moving down to the juncture of her shoulder. “Okay,” he said against her neck, and she felt the word all the way to her toes. He licked her skin, right over her his mark, then sucked until the blood rushed even further to the surface. She arched against him, feeling the call of her blood to him, and she’d never been more turned on in her life. Suddenly, she wanted nothing more than for him to bite her again.
“Do it, Angel!” she said, frustrated. “Hurry!”
“No,” he said back. “If I’m going to be biting you, I’m going to do it my way,” he said, and she could hear the determination in his voice. God, what the hell was wrong with him? He’d had no problem with this earlier. When he was dreaming.
Somehow, though, as his hands once again began their exploration, she knew in the more rational part of her mind where his hesitance came from. Biting of any kind meant accessing his demon, unleashing Angelus if only in a small part, and that meant relinquishing some of his tight control. Doing that was dangerous. Very, very dangerous. She’d been playing with fire earlier when she’d bitten him in his sleep, and she was lucky she hadn’t been scorched. Much.
“Angel!” she gasped again as his fingers worked her close to climax. She gripped his shoulders tightly, her tailbone pressing hard into the counter behind her, and she knew if it weren’t for his hands and the counter’s support, she’d be a puddle on the floor right about now.
And then, just when she was about to go over, he backed away, his hand stilling as his eyes found hers. She watched his handsome features shift into the dangerous ones of his demon, his eyes glowing yellow, but no less passionate. Even there, in the depths of his beast, she could see his true feelings.
“I love you, Cordelia,” he said simply, then leaned down and sank his fangs into her skin.
Cordy gasped as she felt the pain, quickly followed by a burst of pleasure that sent her screaming into a powerful climax. His fingers slid deep, touching her inside and out, and her body clutched at him, even as he tasted her desire in her blood.
Angel had to work to avoid losing himself in her taste. Every emotion she was experiencing spiced her blood, making her taste like the finest of wines, heady and intoxicating. He forced himself to pull back, his tongue sweeping out and closing the wound, infusing it with his scent and claiming her as his. He wasted no time in putting his fangs to his wrist, then shifting back into his human features and lifting the wound to her open and gasping mouth.
Cordy’s eyes flew open as she felt the taste of Angel’s blood on her tongue for the second time in one night. She sucked automatically, again marveling at the fact that she loved the heady taste of him. But after just a moment, she stopped herself, her tongue sweeping the wound and closing it.
But it still wasn’t enough.
Scoring his chest with her fingernails, she reached for his jeans and quickly opened his fly, pulling him out and into her hand. He grasped her ass, lifting her up and onto the edge of the counter, then moved closer, aligning himself to her. With one swift thrust, they were one. And just like the last time, they felt whole.
“Your left arm is weak, Connor. Protect it!”
Jace’s instruction grated on Connor’s nerves, but he was right. He had been leaving one side unprotected, and Jace was taking advantage of it. Connor already had one good bruise on his side from the blunted tip of Jace’s sword.
Connor did as he was told, and fought back viciously. His hair hung in his eyes, sweat pouring from his temples, and yet he didn’t feel tired. He never felt tired, at least not from fighting. The dreams on the other hand. . .those were becoming exhausting.
Kicking out, Connor planted one foot solidly in Jace’s midsection and sent the older man sprawling, his air escaping in an audible “ooph.” Connor sauntered over to him, balancing on the balls of his feet as he stood near him, waiting for the other man to get up. Jace lay there for a second, winded, amazed yet again that Connor was so powerful. He had to work to keep the grimace from his face as he thought of the treatment Eve had planned for him later this week. A treatment that would make it almost impossible for Connor to defeat him in a one-on-one battle.
“Had enough?” Connor asked calmly, staring down his nose at Jace.
Jace stared up at him, then vaulted to his feet with the grace of a gymnast. He might not be up to the same strength as Connor, but he was still very powerful and agile by human standards. He set himself up across from Connor, and the two men began to circle one another.
Connor stared into Jace’s eyes, realizing for the first time how cold and hard they were. The brown irises had seemed to be full of warmth when he’d first met him, but now, they seemed icy, like frozen mud in winter. Jace smiled at him, a harsh curve of his lips that barely transformed his face, and then lowered his head, looking at Connor from under his heavy brow.
That one look made Connor’s breath catch. A flash of recognition hit him, a minor flash from one of his dreams that stole the air from his lungs and made him stumble backward. He caught himself just in time, schooling his features and tucking the revelation away for another time. He couldn’t think about it now. Even if what he’d just discovered had raised so many questions it made his head spin.
Jace noticed the startled look on Connor’s face, but it was gone so briefly that Jace thought he might’ve imagined it. Whatever it was, Connor didn’t seem to be affected by it. He punched out swiftly, catching Jace by surprise and knocking his jaw so hard that he flew across the room, smacking against the concrete wall, his back popping with a sickening crack. He moaned, but stood his ground, planting his feet solidly and turning to face Connor again. Connor bounded over to him, thrusting with his sword, and they fought for a minute, their weapons clanging in the stillness.
Connor kept everything inside, his face neutral, his eyes in fierce concentration. Jace was nothing but an opponent now. Whatever warm feelings he’d had for the man were beginning to dissipate, and he attacked him as though Jace were the ultimate enemy.
What he really was, Connor had no idea.
Book II: Hope
Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.
True hope is swift, and flies with swallow’s wings;
Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings.
William Shakespeare, “King Richard III”, Act 5 scene 2
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul.
And sings the tune
Without the words,
and never stops at all.
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
If it were not for hopes, the heart would break.
Cordelia stared out the window of the Plymouth, the wind tangling her hair. She was excited that Angel hadn’t ever gotten rid of his car. His new fleet of toys had made her think he might’ve gotten rid of it, but he hadn’t. As much as she’d hassled him about his obsession with it, she loved this car. It held so many memories.
Sighing, she looked back into the car and over at Angel’s stoic figure. Ever since they’d left the restaurant, Angel had been quiet. Reflective. Almost broody. She’d sighed, holding his hand in silent support, knowing that he probably wouldn’t talk about it. They’d gone back to his apartment only long enough for him to pack and then had headed north.
Cordelia had put up with Angel’s silence for a little while, but now she was about to tear her hair out from boredom. In the last half hour, she’d tried every conversation topic she could think of, from reminiscing about their past to her stay in Heaven, but none of it had seemed to interest him. Finally, she’d decided to talk about Connor, hoping that his worry for his son would draw him out of his shell.
“So Connor’s been living in San Francisco?” Cordelia asked conversationally.
“Yeah,” Angel said, clearly distracted. Stress had made his fingers grip the steering wheel with a force that should’ve shattered it. As it were, the tough material was used to his super strength and hadn’t cracked yet. “Wolfram & Hart erased his memories and gave him new ones, putting him with a family in the Bay Area. Far enough away that he wouldn’t run into me by accident, but close enough that I could keep an eye on him.”
Close? Cordelia frowned. A five hour drive wasn’t what she’d call close, exactly, but she guessed he’d had a point. Having Connor in L.A. would just be too hard for Angel. Having his son nearby and not being able to see him would be heart-wrenching. It was already hard enough the way it stood.
But things had changed. Cordy sighed, running her fingers through the hair that kept falling in her face as the breeze from the open window whipped around her. The night was beautiful, the coast highway winding and breathtakingly scenic. Off to the west, the Pacific Ocean twinkled in the moonlight as they glimpsed it in a few minute intervals. They were nearing San Francisco, and as the closer they got, the more their apprehension grew.
Angel had been very reluctant to confront Connor. They’d argued about it briefly while he’d been packing. Cordelia had pushed Angel to do it, to walk up to his son and explain that he was in trouble and they were there to help. Angel had argued with her and they’d had their first fight since she’d come back. She’d sighed; it was bound to happen sometime.
“I won’t do that to him,” Angel had said vehemently, his face set in a determined expression. “His parents have just died. He doesn’t need anything else to deal with.”
He’d yanked the zipper on his duffle bag closed with a violent movement, and turned to face her. He’d even closed his stance; his arms were crossed, his jaw clenched, his feet spread wide.
“Angel,” she said, her voice carefully neutral. “The Powers insisted that time is an issue here. If we don’t confront Connor, how are we going to warn him of the danger? For all we know, they could be planning to kill you tomorrow. We need to hurry.”
“I realize that,” he agreed, “but I know Connor. His memories may have changed, but his personality is still intact.”
“Less psycho, I hope,” she said irreverently.
He frowned. “Yes. But he’s still my son. And you of all people know that he inherited some personality traits from me.”
“What?” she asked innocently. “Stubbornness? An inability to trust people? A preference for black clothing?”
He glared at her. “Cordelia, this is serious!”
A sigh escaped her as she reached out her hand to reassure him. “I know, baby, but Connor is different now. He doesn’t remember Quortoth, so he has to be softer. More receptive. We should talk to him. Appeal to his sense of reason. Maybe he’s noticed something not quite right about this guy that’s training him.”
“We won’t know until we see him, Cordy, and I don’t want to just go barging in there without knowing the score.”
In the end, they’d agreed to a few days of surveillance to discover just what was going on, and then they’d reevaluate. Cordelia had been somewhat mollified by this course of action. At least they’d be able to keep an eye on him.
Her need to use the bathroom brought her thoughts back to the present. She glared over at Angel for awhile, willing him to look at her, but he was lost in space, his eyes firmly affixed to the winding road in front of them.
“Are we almost there?” she asked, bouncing in her seat and trying to keep the childish whine out of her voice.
Angel clenched his teeth. She’d asked that question at least once every thirty minutes since they’d left the hotel. “You have the map, Cordelia. You know how far away we are.”
She shot him annoyed glance. “Well, duh, Mr. Smarty Pants. It’s just that some people around here need to stop to pee once in awhile, unlike other self-absorbed vampire types who shall remain nameless.”
“You want me to stop up here?” He gestured to an illuminated gas station sign at the next exit.
She flashed him a brilliant smile. “Gee, thanks, Angel! How thoughtful of you to come up with that idea totally on your own.”
He made a face at her, but she could tell that some of the tension had eased from his shoulders during their light conversation. “Sure, anytime.”
“Where the heck are we?” Cordelia asked, turning the map in her hands upside down, then sideways, as if it would help.
Angel glanced over at her, then back at the road. “We’re near downtown. His address is listed in this area, right?”
She nodded, then grabbed the paper where Angel had jotted down the address Harmony had dug up for him. They’d called the office on the way up north, telling Wesley only that Angel needed to get away for awhile. Nobody knew yet that Cordelia had returned, and Angel wasn’t yet ready to share her. He’d asked to be transferred to his secretary, and after a little bitching and moaning, Harmony had given him the info he needed, just like she always did. It always amazed him how efficient she was for being such an annoying airhead.
“Yeah,” she said in answer to his question. “Just up here. Oh!” she said, bouncing in her seat, then pointing. “There’s the street. Turn quick!”
Angel executed a swift left turn, just barely missing the light as it turned red. A cop on a motorcycle frowned at them as they whizzed past, but they’d been under the line of legality this time. Just barely. Angel slowed immediately, and they both scanned the numbers on the row houses turned apartments nearby.
“What number?” Angel asked, trying to keep one eye on the street and the other on the house numbers.
Cordy consulted her notepad again. “517, Apartment 2C.”
Just as she looked up again, she spotted it. “There it is! The green one. Look, there’s a parking space right there.”
Angel maneuvered the big car effortlessly into the tight space. He shifted it into “park” and looked around apprehensively at the neighborhood.
“You think he’s safe here?” he said, noting all the dark corners on the silent street. “San Francisco’s not exactly a safe place, and he doesn’t have anybody to look out for him here. Don’t you think that—”
Cordy laid her hand on his elbow and his words stopped immediately. She smiled softly, sliding over on the bench seat. Pulling his arm up, she draped it across her shoulder, then snuggled into his side. She kissed his chest, her nose tickled by the soft material on his shirt, then ran her hand up his jean-clad leg.
“He’s fine here. At least for now he is. The neighborhood looks good. Expensive. Rent here must be pricey, so I’m sure he’s totally safe.”
Pausing, she looked up at him and reached her hand out to stroke his jaw with her fingers. Her voice was soft. “He’s a grown man now, Angel. A grown man who’s had a good life, at least as far as he can tell. His new parents raised him well. Wolfram & Hart saw to that. He can handle himself.”
Angel’s muscles relaxed a little under her words and gentle hands.
“Besides,” she added. “He’s your son. Whether he knows it or not, he’s like you, and the men in your family can take care of themselves.”
She smiled in the dark, thinking of Spike. That one definitely had the stubborn, self-preservationist Aurelius streak in him, too. She’d heard about him during her stay in heaven even though she’d tried not to make any ties there. Spike had become a legend when he’d saved the world and for awhile, he was all anyone up there could talk about.
“I’m worried about him,” Angel finally admitted, the his fingers lightly brushing her side as he hugged her close to him. “He’s all I’ve got, Cordy.”
She punched him playfully. “Not anymore!”
Smiling down at her, he kissed her softly. “You’re right. Not anymore. But he’s still my son, and I want to protect him, grown man or not.”
“We’ll keep him safe, Angel,” Cordy promised with a confidence she didn’t feel right now. The Powers had sent her on a mission, but they hadn’t promised success. They expected it, yes. But could she deliver?
Right now she wasn’t sure.
Connor stood at the window to his apartment just as the first fingers of light began to stretch across the eastern horizon. The sky began to turn purple, then pink as the sun crept over the ragged mountains beyond the bay like a sliver of molten gold. He watched the bay, its waters rough, and knew the ocean behind him would be even choppier. It was a typical day in the windy jewel of California.
He yawned, a jaw-popping movement he felt all the way to his toes. A full-bodied stretch brought his hands high above his head, every joint popping as it moved into alignment. The stretch gave him a boost of energy, but within seconds it was gone, his exhaustion once again seeping into every pore.
He’d been up all night.
After royally handing Jace his ass, Connor had stalked out of their warehouse gym and headed home, his mind filled with everything that had happened that night. Fighting Jace had been hard, but he’d finally beaten the older man down within an inch of his life. He hadn’t held anything back and Jace hadn’t complained at all.
Eve had stood by, leaning against some old boxes in a shadowy corner, her mouth curved up in a satisfied grin that gave Connor the shivers. She watched his moves like a millionaire admiring her latest roadster, and he hadn’t appreciated it. Every calculated gaze told him she was planning to use him, but he didn’t have to like it. And he didn’t. Not one bit.
Before they’d sparred that night, Eve and Jace had taken him out to dinner. It had grated on Connor’s nerves that Eve attempted to treat him like she was his benevolent big sister, chucking his arm playfully and smiling up at him as she clung to Jace’s arm like fur on a rat’s ass. Even Connor’s exquisitely cooked steak had seemed dry and tasteless when accompanied by a side of Eve’s conversation. Her words were smooth, but there were threats and innuendo threaded throughout, like expensive ice cream blended with shards of glass.
Connor had come to one important conclusion by the end of that dinner, though: Eve was shrewd. She knew exactly what the score was and knew that she had Connor over a barrel. An innocent inquiry had been slipped in her conversation effortlessly, seemingly naive when paired with fluttery eyelashes and a plastered-on smile, but Connor’s face had hardened at the telling glint in her eyes.
His blood ran cold as he remembered the exchange. They had just finished their meal and Eve was nursing a glass of red wine. Her blood red lips left a mark on the edge of the crystal glass, and she’d smiled at him over the rim before taking another dainty sip.
“So how are your grandma and sister doing?” Eve had asked, her eyes wide and innocent.
“They’re fine,” Connor answered simply, carefully schooling his features. “You know,” he shrugged.
Eve sighed, shaking her head in pity. “It must be so hard for your sister. First she lost her parents, then you. . .”
Connor’s eyes flew to hers, narrowing. That bait he couldn’t avoid. “She hasn’t lost me.” A layer of steel ran under the words. “I talk to her all the time.”
Eve regarded him for a moment, her head cocked to the side, then nodded. “I’m sure you do.” Her tone made it sound like he’d been covering his ass, not telling the truth. “I hope they’re safe there,” she ended with a sigh, every inflection implying that they would be anything but.
The words hung in the air like a rotten carcass. Connor clenched his napkin into a hard fist under the table in an attempt to control his anger.
“Why wouldn’t they be? They live in my parents’ house. It’s a good neighborhood. They’re fine.” It was hard to get the words out when his teeth were gritted so hard.
“Oh, I’m sure they will be,” Eve said airily, sipping her wine again. “It’s just that there are so many unfortunate accidents these days. I would hate for your family to suffer another needless tragedy.” She blinked at him from across the table as she set her wineglass on the table and it was all Connor could do to keep from growling.
That little bitch was threatening him, threatening his family. Her words had been innocent, but that unspoken threat was still real and he knew he couldn’t back out now even if he’d wanted to. It had taken Connor several minutes to clear the haze of anger from his mind, although his face remained stoic. For the rest of the meal, he managed to hold his cool and keep his answers short and to the point.
Jace’s expressions had varied little throughout their meal, his conversation sparse. He’d added not more than two comments to Eve’s one-sided conversation, and for all the world it looked as though he were enthralled with her, content just to stare at her and bask in her beauty. Connor wasn’t fooled; Jace did love Eve but he didn’t always trust her.
Jace agreed with her plan though, and he’d die to help her avenge the one who’d wronged her. Connor did feel a flash of admiration for Jace as Eve had reminisced about her deceased fiancée; it had to be tough knowing you lived in the shadow of a dead man.
When they’d left for the warehouse, Connor had followed silently. He’d said enough to keep Eve and Jace from questioning his behavior, but he knew there were problems. Taking out his aggression on Jace had helped, and his mentor had absorbed it all without question.
Coming home, he’d tried to sleep, but Connor knew it was a futile effort after an hour of tossing and turning. Every time he closed his eyes he saw the images from his dreams and they wouldn’t leave him. Dragging himself out of bed, his eyes grainy and watery, he paced his apartment for an hour or more, running the scenes through his mind. He’d mentally driven in circles so many times that he was dizzy and he still hadn’t figured out what to do yet.
As he stared at the morning sky, Connor’s mind drifted back to the startling realization he’d made while sparring with Jace. In that moment when Jace had looked at him, his chin tilted downward, his eyes up, he’d been so eerily familiar. There wasn’t an exact match in Connor’s dreams, but someone looked just like Jace.
Or Jace looked just like someone else.
When Connor’s insomnia had caused him to start wearing a hole in his carpet, he’d finally come to the conclusion that he needed to write it all down. In school, outlining had always helped him get a handle on what he wanted to say in his papers, and he hadn’t changed much since then. Whenever faced with one of life’s problems, Connor found it easiest to just write everything down. Seeing it on paper made everything so much clearer.
He’d found a stack of index cards in his drawer left over from his first and last semester at Stanford, the fall before his parents died. Each scene from his dreams went on a card, and when he was done, he had nineteen cards, all filled with distinct dreams. No, he’d thought. Distinct memories.
The more he thought about it, the more it seemed to be true.
He’d begun to think about each scene, placing them in what he thought was the correct order. The scene with the mall and the explosives was obviously last and it made the most sense to put the strange beast-world with the old man at the beginning. The others seemed to be jumbled, until he realized that in some, his dream-self was more unbalanced than in others. Applying his logical mind to the task, he thought he’d managed to put them in an order that seemed plausible.
Sitting back in the chair, he crossed his arms and stared at them, his eyes going unfocused as he tied his dreams to what he’d discovered about Jace. The only person in his dreams that came anywhere close to Jace’s description was his vampire father.
Connor had shivered suddenly, bolting up from the desk and pacing the room again. Jace looked like the father in his dreams. The thought flitted through his mind for the briefest of moments that it might actually be Jace in his dreams, but the thought was gone just as quickly. There were differences between the faces. Subtle, but definitely there.
Besides, the dreams had started after he’d met Jace. Using that line of thought, maybe the dreams were just manifestations of his physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. He’d been through a lot this past year and it wasn’t unthinkable that his brain would need an outlet for the problems he faced every day. Maybe his mind was just conjuring up a Jace clone to star in his bizarro nocturnal imaginations.
That theory, too, was thrown out almost the moment he’d come up with it. In truth, Jace reminded him of his dream father, not the other way around. It was as if somehow his mind knew that the dream version was the real one and Jace was just a look-alike.
That left the only other option: Eve and Jace were playing him and they knew more about his past than he did.
The idea of their deception made his skin crawl and his blood boil. He felt betrayed, used, and torn, knowing that he had few people he could trust. Thinking of his grandmother and his sister, Connor felt a stab of real fear. In the end, what was true didn’t matter as much as keeping them safe.
As the morning turned a beautiful golden color, the sky brightening to blue without a cloud in the sky, Connor reevaluated everything he’d discovered during the night. No matter how he rearranged the information, it all came out the same. What was left of his family was in danger, and no matter what his dreams told him, he would follow Eve and Jace, doing as they asked. He couldn’t see any other way to protect his sister and grandmother.
He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. Turning back into his apartment, he headed for the shower. Even though he’d tried to escape it, the reality of his situation followed him there like a ball and chain attached to his ankle.
He was in deep shit and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.
“There he is!” Cordelia whispered, sitting up abruptly and peering into the darkened foyer of Connor’s apartment building. Sure enough, Connor stood there, holding the door open for a woman and her baby stroller, then ruffling the hair of a little boy that tagged along behind.
“Must be neighbors,” Angel said, his eyes drinking in the healthy figure of his son. “He looks good,” Angel said, his voice hoarse.
“Yeah,” Cordy sighed, her eyes tearing up. “He does. Looks kinda tired, though.”
Angel peered at him, noting bleariness in his sons eyes and the messy state of his hair. Connor took off down the street, and Angel and Cordelia watched him for awhile before rousing themselves from their stare-fest.
“Let’s go, broody butt,” Cordy said, poking Angel in the ribs before sliding back over to her side of the car and fastening her seatbelt. “Good thing you have these fancy windows so we can play Turner & Hooch during the crispy daylight hours.”
“Yeah,” he said distractedly, pulling the car out into the rapidly busying city street. Half a block later, her reference sank in. Contrary to popular belief, he did watch TV once in awhile. “Who exactly is supposed to be Hooch in this situation?” he asked warily.
She gave him a pitying look. “Don’t even think about putting my name anywhere closely associated with a big ugly slobbery dog. ‘Sides, you’re the strong silent type anyway, and you do like to pant.”
“Pant?” he asked, his eyes wide. “I don’t breathe. When do I pant?”
She looked at him askance, her eyebrows raised.
“Oh,” he said, and cleared his throat, turning back to the road. “I just get carried away when I’m with you. Sometimes you make me forget I’m a vampire.”
“And so you pant?” she teased him.
“Yeah,” he said, squirming in his seat and obviously wanting to end this crazy conversation. “Look! He’s turning in there.” Angel pointed to a warehouse three blocks from Connors apartment. They drove past as Connor disappeared inside.
“Doesn’t look like much going on there,” Cordy observed. “Pull in here.” She gestured toward a shadowed alleyway that would provide Angel enough cover from direct sunlight so they could continue their observation of Connor.
Angel killed the engine and coasted to a stop outside the building. Pallets were stacked against the building’s edge, arranged rather fortuitously like stairs up to a dingy set of windows.
“Well, time to play spy,” Cordy said, grabbing his hand and squeezing it tightly. Looking into his eyes, she smiled. “It’ll be okay, Angel,” she said, trying in her own small way to reassure him.
He squeezed her hand back, unable to say anything. She had to be right, because there was no way he could survive losing his son for the third time in two years. There was no choice but to succeed.
Connor resisted the urge to glance back over his shoulder at the road behind him when he pushed open the creaky door of the weather-beaten warehouse. He’d had this weird crawly feeling up his back ever since he’d open his apartment door, like someone or something was following him. One of his high school friends had termed his strange form of radar as his “spidey sense,” and somehow it had stuck. Today, his spidey sense was spiking off the charts.
He shook off the feeling and walked confidently into the depths of the darkened, cavernous room, coming to a stop just inside the ring of light cast by the overhead fluorescents. Sticking his hands in his jacket pockets, he just stood there nonchalantly, his hair hanging in his eyes.
“So are we gonna get started already, or what?” he asked neutrally, trying to keep the exhaustion and wariness out of his voice.
Jace walked over to him, standing a few feet away and mimicking Connor’s stance. “No sparring today, son. We have some other, more important things to discuss.”
Connor looked wary. “Like what?”
Eve walked up beside Jace, standing with her arms crossed as she faced Connor, all business. “We need to solidify our plans, now that you’re ready.”
“Now that I’m ready?” he repeated. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’ve proven that you’re nearly invincible, Connor. You’re ready to face him.”
Connor nodded tersely. He didn’t like it, but he had no choice. After all, this guy was evil. Killing someone evil shouldn’t be too bad, right?
“So we gonna talk about this here?” he asked, slinging his backpack to the floor at his feet.
Eve shook her head. “Let’s go out to breakfast.” She smiled up at Jace, pulling on his hand as she led them back toward the entrance. “I know a great place where we won’t be bothered at all, and no one will think twice about what we might have to say.”
Connor knew a lot of places like that around this city; people seemed to accept the strange and abnormal as if were an everyday occurrence. In this city, it was.
At least now he’d know exactly what he was getting himself into.
Cordelia stared through the half-opened window, her mouth dropped open so wide a Fyarl demon could’ve nested there.
“D-did you see that?” she said, finally closing her mouth and swallowing audibly. She turned to Angel and tugged on his jacket sleeve, noting the stormy expression on his face. “Angel?”
He turned to her, his eyes dark with anger. “I saw it,” he said with clenched teeth. “Eve, that little bitch!”
“Oh, yeah, her. Never liked the skank either, but that’s not what I’m talking about.” She gripped his sleeve tighter as her eyes grew wide. “That guy! He looked just like you!”
Angel frowned at her words. “No, he didn’t,” he denied, affronted. “I don’t look anything like him.”
Cordy rolled her eyes at him. “Well, duh, of course you wouldn’t know. You don’t exactly look at yourself every morning, now do you? Believe me, I know what you look like. And he looks like you.”
Angel stared back into the empty warehouse as his mind conjured up the image of the man who’d just left with Eve and Connor. Okay, so he had dark hair and black clothing, but what else was the same? He said as much to Cordelia.
She rolled her eyes again. “Hello? Overhanging brow, bushy eyebrows, broad shoulders, cute ass. Salty goodness and everything, you know?”
“You thought he had a cute ass?” Angel said, grabbing onto the one worrisome thing that jumped out at him and hanging on like a neurotic hypochondriac.
“Well, yeah, he’s hot. He looks like you,” she said as if the conclusion were foregone.
“Is he hotter than me?” Angel asked.
She scowled at him. “Is this conversation really necessary?” she asked. “Don’t we need to follow them?”
He frowned right back, staring at her, then finally jerked himself out of his thoughts. “Yeah,” he said, and jumped down off the pallets in one leap, down about fifteen feet.
“Showoff,” she muttered as she picked her way down the wobbly stack by herself. Angel waited at the bottom, ready to catch her if she fell. She felt his big hands grip her waist as she neared the bottom and let him lift her onto the blacktop.
She looked up into his face and still saw the insecurity in his eyes. What was it about him that made him so vulnerable? This guy with Connor was their enemy for crying out loud. Sexy and enemy weren’t good mixy things, so it was merely an observation, not an declaration of intentions. So what if she thought the guy was a hottie? Angel was way better, and he was hers.
“Angel,” she said, smiling up at him, using her small hand to cup his cheek. “I love you. You’re the saltiest of salty goodness, okay?”
His eyes lit up at her words. “Okay,” he said, squeezing her back. “Let’s go find out where they went.”
She rolled her eyes to the heavens and sighed as he turned away from her to head back to the car. You’d think 250 years of kicking butt would work out some of those insecurities, but sometimes she thought he was the most vulnerable person she’d ever met.
It looked like she had an eternity of hard work ahead of her.
“We need to strike soon,” Eve said, her fork poised in the air as she planted her elbow on the table. A goopy clump of eggs clung to the end of her fork, threatening to slide off at any second. Eve didn’t seem to notice. “He doesn’t know we’re coming, but the longer we wait, the more likely it is he’ll get wind of this. He has amazing connections.”
She caught the bite in her mouth just before it slipped back onto her plate.
“What kind of connections?” Connor asked, his pancakes barely touched in front of him. “The Mob or something? Gangs?”
Eve shook her head around a mouthful of food, then elbowed Jace to explain.
“This is mystical, remember?” Jace answered. “His contacts are demonic. He has a legion of vampires and demons working for him, along with some mystically gifted and enhanced humans.”
Finally having swallowed, Eve smirked evilly. “He did have one really strong connection to his evil backers, but she died a few months ago. She was in a coma from that whole fight against world peace.”
Connor only nodded. “So now he’s not as connected?”
“No.” She shook her head. “The law firm he took over, Wolfram & Hart, used to be a force for good in the mystical realms, but since he’s been there, his evilness has infiltrated the entire organization and its effectiveness is barely half of what it used to be. He’s systematically destroying the balance between good and evil in the universe, and every day he gets stronger.”
“So we’re going to kill him.”
“Yup. One beheading from you and everything will be all good again.” She smiled, for once the expression reaching her eyes. The evil glint was still there, though, and it gave him the willies. “But not before a little good old-fashioned torture.”
Connor squirmed slightly, not liking the thought of torture at all.
“Shouldn’t you tell me a little bit more about him?” he asked, wanting to know as much of the score as he could before he got himself involved in this.
Eve and Jace exchanged a glance, as if to warn each other to keep their stories straight. Connor pretended not to notice the surreptitious look.
“He’s a vampire,” Eve said, “As we told you before. He’s evil, as all vampires are. Can be killed with a wooden stake, decapitation, or sunlight, although I prefer you decapitate him. It’s the most satisfying to watch and the easiest to execute.”
“So he’s been around awhile?” Connor asked.
“Yes,” Jace said, nodding. “He was turned into a vampire back in the late 1700’s by a vicious female vampire named Darla. They terrorized the whole of Western Europe for a hundred years, give or take, and moved here to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. In the last twenty years or so, he’s set himself up as a powerful figure in Los Angeles and his strength continues to grow.”
“You gonna give me a name?”
“Why do you want to know that?” Eve asked, her eyebrows raised. The less Connor knew, the better. Erased memories had a funny way of leaking back, and she didn’t want to trigger anything. Especially not now that he had such close, comfy ties to Jace. She struggled to keep the fury off her face. He was such a fucking screw-up.
Thankfully, Connor didn’t seem to notice her anger. “Seems kinda unfair to be killing a guy whose name I don’t even know. I mean, what if I get the wrong guy or something?”
“You won’t,” Eve insisted.
“I want to know,” Connor said forcefully when she seemed disinclined to continue. Somehow, he had to know. Thought it might mean something. Might make something in his dreams make sense. Not that his dreams had ever given him anything to work with that could help here.
Eve pursed her lips in thought, then finally sighed. “His name is Angel.”
Connor was silent for a moment as he digested this. He fidgeted when the name didn’t affect him at all. The name Angel didn’t mean anything. At least not to him.
“Kind of a dorky name for a vampire,” he commented. “Sounds kinda girly.”
Jace laughed. “He’s anything but girly. Lore about him says that his sire named him that because he has an ‘Angelic face.’” Jace grimaced at the words as if they tasted bad rolling off his tongue. “He’s a formidable fighter, kinda rough around the edges.”
“You’ve fought him?” Connor asked, intrigued.
Jace nodded. “Once.” He didn’t elaborate because he would’ve had to explain way too much. He’d been muscle at Wolfram & Hart a year or two previous, when Angel Investigations had moved into the hotel. There had been a skirmish once when they’d tried to infiltrate the hotel, and he’d come face to face with the vampire. Jace hadn’t fared well. His wrist still ached when it rained and his nose had healed slightly crooked.
“So if he’s all wicked protected, how do we get in?”
“I still have some contacts on the inside,” Eve said, her smile gone again. “They’ll see that we can enter the offices of Wolfram & Hart undetected.”
“We’re all going? I thought I was the one who was going to kill him.”
“You are,” Jace answered. “But you’ll need back up. He has henchmen. Evil groupies who will stop at nothing to protect him. Even a superkid like you needs help once in awhile.”
Connor smiled at him, amused despite himself. He kinda liked the superkid moniker. “Okay, fine,” he said, acting bored with the plans. “When do we go?”
Eve sat back in her seat with a sigh, her plate empty in front of her. “We have to wait two weeks until our opportunity comes up. My contact has to sever some important mystical ties protecting the building, and the spells can’t be cast until the full moon. We’ll strike the next morning.”
“I guess now we know when to expect them to drop by,” Cordy whispered, her ears twitching as they heard Connor, Eve and Jace move the conversation back to more mundane things. They were in a dim diner, ensconced in a back booth right next them. They could hear every word spoken, and as the conversation had progressed, Angel’s tension had mounted.
Beside her, Angel sat as still as granite, his jaw locked and his body tense. All he wanted to do was reach over the high back of the booth and yank Eve out of her seat, then rip her head off her body in one swift pull. He could, too. And boy, oh boy did he want to.
The only thing that stopped him was Connor. He knew that his son didn’t remember him, and he wasn’t about to reinforce the ideas Connor had about him from before his new life was created. Connor would remember him manhandling Eve, and when he got his memories back, he would think that Angel was the same person he’d been before. He’d never understood his father well enough to let him in his heart, and Angel didn’t want to jeopardize it again.
There were already too many burned bridges in their past.
“So what are we going to do?” Cordy said a little louder after the trio got up from the table and headed toward the exit.
“We wait,” Angel said through clenched teeth. “We wait until Connor—”
Angel stopped abruptly, pulling Cordelia into his arms and kissing her thoroughly. His mouth attacked hers, his tongue sweeping inside and brushing hers until she arched into him and moaned, despite their location. His hands roamed her torso, briefly brushing her breasts, restraining himself only because he knew she wouldn’t appreciate getting naked in public. He didn’t really have a problem with it
“E-Excuse me?” A timid voice infiltrated Cordelia’s now-foggy brain and she pushed Angel away. He let her, gave one quick glance back toward the restaurants front door, then flashed a big smile at the waitress.
“Sorry about that.” Angel grinned, squeezing Cordelia against his side. “We’re newlyweds,” he said as if that explained everything.
“Oh! Congratulations.” The waitress’s blush fading slightly. “Would you like me to come back later?”
“No, we’re ready to order,” Cordelia said, a fierce blush of her own lighting up her face. The waitress wrote down their choices and left, smiling at them knowingly before walking away.
As soon as she was out of earshot Cordy elbowed Angel hard. “What the hell was that for? Embarrass me, why dontcha?”
He grinned. “You loved it. Admit it!”
“Well, pfft, yeah,” she said, smiling. “But you aren’t usually one for public displays of affection,” she pointed out.
“Except in restaurant bathrooms,” he countered, his eyes darkening.
Blushing again, her face heated. “Dumbass!” was all she could say.
He finally took pity on her and explained. “Connor suddenly turned and looked over here, and I freaked out, okay? I just wanted him to think he noticed us because of our behavior, not because of anything else.”
Pausing, he tried to figure out how to explain himself. “He’s got a sixth sense about the supernatural,” Angel said slowly. “I remember him mentioning it when he was staying with us. He can sense vampires and demons close by, just like I can.”
Cordy nodded, seeming to be satisfied with his explanation. “Then you were probably smart to do that, I guess.”
“Glad you approve,” he said dryly.
They sat in silence for a moment as Cordelia drank some of her water. “So what are we going to do about him?”
“I think we should tranq him, then take him back to L.A. and restore his memories,” Angel said bluntly.
“Angel!” Cordy gasped. “He’ll hate you for that when he remembers. We should just explain it to him.”
“We can’t,” Angel said, shaking his head. “We can’t afford to. What if he doesn’t believe us and he runs off to tell Eve? She told him my name, Cordy. He thinks I’m evil. He won’t trust me.”
“He doesn’t trust you anyway, Angel, remember?” She hated to say it, knowing it would hurt him, but it was the truth.
He sighed, running his fingers through his hair. “Yeah, I know,” he said darkly, “but it’s going to change. It has to. I won’t have the life I created for him be destroyed completely.”
“And it won’t be,” she reassured him. “Even if we restore his memories, he’ll still have the new ones to help cushion the blow. Happier times to remember.”
“But they weren’t real.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Cordelia insisted. “They were real to him, so that makes them real. End of story.”
He stared at her for a little while, pondering the good fortune that had brought her back to him. He pulled her into his side, reaching his other hand up to cup her chin and bring her mouth to his. He lingered there for a moment, the kiss they shared as sweet as warm honey, and they both basked in the strength of their love.
Whatever happened with Connor, they had each other, and no one could take that away from them.
Angel stood over his son, his big form blending into the apartment’s shadowy corner near Connor’s bed. He clutched the tranq gun in his hand tightly, barely noticing it. His son’s beautiful face held him in thrall, commanding every bit of his attention. Greedy eyes, long starved for a close view of his child, swept over the shrouded figure on the bed, resting briefly on each limb. He released a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding as his exceptional vision reassured him that his son, after months away from his protection, was safe.
To the father in Angel, the fact that Connor was now an adult did nothing to assuage the worry raging within him. Angel knew that Connor was special. He knew that his son could take care of himself, even without the memories and lessons he’d learned about combat in his troubled youth. Surviving without Angel had been almost a badge of courage to Connor, and there was nothing to indicate he couldn’t do so for another eighteen. But Angel had every intention of seeing that he wouldn’t have to.
The love he felt for Connor overwhelmed him, bringing tears to his eyes. His fingers tightened further on the grip of the gun, his finger lightly brushing the side of the trigger. He didn’t want to do this. Didn’t want to bring his son back into the darkness of a life with too many bad memories. Bottom line: he didn’t want his son to hate him again.
But as fate would have it, he didn’t have a choice.
If he didn’t restore Connor’s memories, Connor would never believe him. He’d heard what Eve had said about him, and Connor thought he was an evil demon crime lord. Cordy seemed to think that they could appeal to Connor’s sense of reason and convince him to be on their side without destroying his new past.
Angel knew better.
He knew his son was just like him, despite Connor’s desperate wishes to the contrary, and Angel didn’t trust anyone without a good reason. The same stubborn, mistrustful streak had been present in his child from birth. He’d been wary of strangers as a baby, clinging to Angel, Cordy, or Wes if a stranger wanted to touch or hold him. The teenage version had the trait in spades, his time in Quortoth only sharpening it to a razor’s edge. No, there was only a slim chance that even this well-adjusted Connor would take Angel and Cordelia at their word in enough time to stop Eve’s plans.
The only other recourse had been to abduct his own son and restore his memories by force. Despite the fact that the whole plan made Angel queasy, he was more determined than ever to carry it through. The only hitch in the plan was that the old Connor didn’t trust him either.
He could only hope that his happy life, though fake, would give his son the level-headedness he’d always so desperately needed.
Connor’s arm twitched in his sleep and Angel was startled out of his musings. The time had come to bring his son home. Angel raised his hand, the gun steady, and pointed it directly at Connor’s jugular. Connor moaned in his sleep and Angel’s steady grip wavered. He watched, his resolve faltering as Connor began to toss his head from side to side, moaning, moving restlessly against the mattress. His eyes moved rapidly underneath his eyelids, his REM cycle in full swing as the nightmare overtook him.
Every paternal instinct within Angel screamed for him to lay the gun aside and cradle his son in his arms until Connor’s breathing evened and his heartbeat slowed. Angel fought against it, knowing what he had to do and knowing that prolonging it would only make it more difficult. Every second that ticked by made it harder for him to squeeze the trigger, knowing what it would mean for Connor.
His son began to stir more violently, his fists clutching at the blankets and sheets as if they would save him from the images that plagued him. He began to mutter, phrases that begged the phantoms to leave him alone, to go away and never come back.
Angel closed his eyes and turned his head away, gun still raised, and swallowed hard. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he swung back to face Connor, his finger tightening on the trigger.
Just then, Connor’s back arched, his mouth opening in a blood-curdling scream that sent chills up and down Angel’s spine. His finger flew from the trigger, the gun lowered immediately. He took a step forward, his hand reaching out for his son, and Connor bolted upright in bed, his breath coming in gasps.
Wide blue eyes met anxious brown ones, and for a moment, time stood still. Angel recovered quickly, raising the gun and firing in one swift motion, the dart lodging itself in Connor’s artery.
Connor’s fingers brushed the dart in his neck, pulling it out and holding it up in the moonlight. Angel’s eyes widened in shock as recognition flashed in Connor’s eyes, his breath hitching. Eyes struggled to focus as the tranquilizers began to overtake him, and looking up at Angel, he said the one thing his father never could have anticipated.
“I told you that he’d fallen for it, Jace,” Eve said smugly. Snuggling into his side, she kissed his chest lightly, then rubbed her fingers over the spot where her lips had been. The black cloth under her fingers was warm, the fabric of his shirt soaking up the late morning sun that shone above them.
Jace just squeezed her tighter, shifting slightly on the blanket beneath him, the grass rustling underneath. He wasn’t convinced that Connor was completely won over to their side. A look of mistrust had been clear in Connor’s eyes and it had grown into a visible emotion that threatened to explode all over them when Eve had made her barely-veiled threat against Connor’s family. The boy’s face had hardened instantly making Jace hold his breath as he waited for Connor’s reaction.
The sigh that had escaped him when Connor shrugged off her threat should have been of relief, but it was almost wholly of regret. He didn’t want to ruin this young man’s life; God knows he’d been through enough horrible things already.
But Jace had chosen his path. He loved Eve. He was Samson to her Delilah; he would give everything to her if she asked him.
“Yes, you were right,” Jace conceded, keeping his reservations to himself. “He’ll do it, and he’ll do it well, just like I taught him.”
He felt her cheek shift as she smiled against his chest. “It’s almost noon,” she finally commented, making a move to get up. “Time for your appointment.”
The grimace he gave her made her smile. “I don’t want to do this, Eve.” His voice was deep and pleading.
“I know you don’t, but you’re going to.” Her smile fell away abruptly. Moving closer, she stood so that she blocked the sun in his eyes. “This,” she gestured to the blanket and the remains of their picnic lunch, “is nothing. Nothing! The mission is what’s important, Jace. Angel will die. And I won’t have you standing in my way, do you understand?”
When only uncertain silence answered her, Eve pressed her point. “Need I remind you that you almost fucked this up already with your little Daddy Dearest routine? You owe me, Jace. Upgrading your strength will make you strong enough to throw him around a little bit. Maybe there’s time to salvage this, time to make him hate the sight of you yet.”
There was no mistaking the threat in her words. If he didn’t comply, she would destroy him. He would do as she asked. Submitting to the ritual would be painful beyond measure, but he would do it.
“I get it.” He stood up abruptly, gathering the basket and blanket before reaching for her hand. “It’ll work out, Eve. I won’t let anything destroy this for you. I’ll do the ritual.”
A smile that stole his breath lit up her entire face. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down, Jace.”
Jace only nodded. He really liked Connor, but he’d never choose Connor’s happiness over Eve’s. He loved her. There really was no other choice.
“Don’t you think he’s been asleep for too long?”
The worry in Angel’s voice was starting to grate on Cordelia’s nerves. She glanced back at Connor’s still form, noting that his chest rose and fell with a regularity that was anything but frightening.
“He’s fine, Angel. Tranquilizers haven’t been known to kill anybody.”
He glared over at her before turning his eyes back to the road. “Of course they have. He could be having an allergic reaction and we won’t know until its too late. Or maybe I gave him too much and it’s damaged his brain. What if—”
“Geez, will you just shut up about it?” she groaned, glaring back at him. Instantly, she felt guilty as she saw the hurt expression on his face. She wasn’t usually so mean, at least not to Angel.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, resting her hand on his arm. “Angel, you have to let go. I know that there are issues here that make you clingy, and its perfectly understandable. But he’s an adult. A healthy adult. An adult that wouldn’t be knocked unconscious until you shot him three times!”
A sigh escaped his lips and he ran his fingers through his hair. They were halfway back to Los Angeles, and the road wound in front of them like a dangerous snake. At the other end, Connor would come to and they’d have to give him back a life he’d hated.
At the other end, Angel would have to ruin his son’s happiness.
“I’m worried about him,” he whispered.
“I kinda figured that out,” Cordelia said dryly. “But you have to have faith that we did the right thing. It will work out. I know it will. The Powers wouldn’t have sent me back if they thought we would fail.”
Angel shook his head, unconvinced. “I hope Wesley’s research goes fast.”
Cordy laughed at that, scooting over and snuggling up against Angel as he drove. “I think he was a little surprised when you called him,” she said.
He made a sound that suspiciously resembled her patented Pffft. “Surprised? That’s an understatement.” Wesley had been anything but prepared for the news Angel had thrown at him earlier that night.
They’d pulled Connor into the car quickly after he’d lost consciousness. A short drive led them to an empty parking lot where Angel stopped to make a call that was sure to turn his friends’ lives upside down. He hadn’t wanted to be driving while Wesley was sure to be yelling into his ear. Wesley didn’t yell often, but something like this was bound to shake him up a little. Even now, the conversation made Angel’s mouth twitch in a grin.
“Wes, it’s Angel.” He’d put on his no-nonsense boss tone and he could almost see Wesley straightening up in bed.
“Angel, it’s 2 in the morning.” Wesley’s voice had been gritty, his British accent slightly more pronounced at the edge of sleep. “What in the world is so important?”
Angel decided that being up front was probably the kindest option. “Cordy’s back,” he said simply.
Silence descended on the other end. “Angel, where are you?” Wesley’s voice was calm. Measured. As if he doubted Angel’s sanity.
“I’m not crazy, Wesley. She’s back. You wanna talk to her?”
Wesley sighed. “Angel, I really don’t think that—”
“Hey, Wes!” Cordy’s cheerful voice rang in Wesley’s ear and he jumped, holding the phone out in front of him as if it were a snake about to bite him. “Wes? Hello! Angel, he’s not there.”
Wesley quickly closed his mouth and brought the receiver back to his ear. “I’m here, I’m here!”
“Geez, freak out much?” she said good-naturedly. “You’d think you weren’t used to friends’ resurrections or something.”
“Well, they don’t exactly happen every day.” It was all he could think of to say.
“Very true. You okay, Wes? Angel told me about the close call with Fred. Alls I gotta say is that I’m glad you two finally got your heads outta your asses and got together. It’s about time. Everybody in heaven was betting on the date you’d come to your senses.” She winked at Angel in the darkness of the Plymouth’s interior.
On the other end, Wesley was startled. “People there pay attention to us?”
“Oh, hell yeah!” she said enthusiastically. “No TV there, you know? Gotta have something to keep themselves entertained. Eternity’s kinda boring without something to do.”
“I see.” To say he was dumbfounded would’ve been a gross inaccuracy. This entire conversation threatened his mental stability.
“Well, I’ll let you talk to Angel again, okay?”
“Yes. Okay.” He paused for a moment, then sat up and said loudly, “Cordy, wait!”
“Yeah?” she said softly, pulling the phone back to her ear.
“I missed you,” he said simply. “We all did.”
“I missed you guys, too. Can’t wait to see everybody. But Angel needs to tell that part, okay?”
She’d handed the phone back to Angel, and he’d explained part of what had happened to bring Cordy back. He told Wesley only that there was a young man who was trying to kill him and that he’d had his memories altered somehow. He needed to find a way to restore them. Wesley had assured him he’d have something by the time Angel got back to L.A.
Not once had Angel mentioned that Connor was his son.
“So are we there yet?”
The whine in Cordelia’s voice was enough to jerk Angel painfully back to the present. He gritted his teeth and glared at her briefly, but his face softened when he saw her smirk.
“Don’t tease me like that,” he shuddered. “It was bad enough the first hundred times.”
“Oh, shut up,” she countered. “You just looked so serious I had to do something. You’re so cute when you smile.”
“Vampires aren’t cute.”
“Whatever you say, Angel.” One of her mega-watt smiles beamed up at him. “Besides, I like teasing you.”
Angel just sighed long-sufferingly.
Cordy laughed at him. “Maybe I could change my methods,” she suggested. “Maybe a different kind of teasing would be better.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said innocently, pulling away from him and sitting forward in the seat, now better to be seen in his peripheral vision. Lightly running her fingers down the edge of her collar, she let her gaze get hot. “Something fun, maybe?”
Her fingers pulled the collar away from her chest, two buttons sliding loose as she tugged. Her lacy bra peeked out at him.
“Cordy!” he gasped, reaching an arm out to push her back against the seat. “Connor’s right there!”
She rolled her eyes and pouted, but ran her hand up his leg from the knee to his crotch anyway. “You’re no fun,” she grumbled, then stroked him through his jeans.
Angel groaned. “You’re going to kill me,” he muttered.
“Good thing you don’t die easily.” She grinned. “So we’ve got a lot of time to figure out a really fun way to get there.”
The pain searing through Jace’s body was excruciating. It felt like someone had peeled off his skin, smeared jalapeño sauce all over the open wounds, and stitched his skin back on. Fire crawled up every square inch of his body, his eyes stinging and his mouth dry.
Nearby, Eve watched him with a grim smile. Jace lay on a stone slab, his hard body bared for the ritual. Black tribal artwork covered his arms and torso, snaking down around his powerful thighs and ending halfway down his calves and forearms. His black hair was wet with sweat, his face flushed. The pain on his face was evident but it didn’t deter Eve from her mission at all. She needed Jace at his best. Nothing else would do.
Satisfied that Jace wasn’t dying, Eve turned her critical eye to the other elements of the ritual. A hooded figure stood at Jace’s side, his arms crossed over his chest and his hands tucked into his voluminous sleeves. The figure had no face, only a deep, black void that seemed to suck light and energy from the room. The demon was the best at what he did, and it didn’t matter what he looked like. He could resemble a cockroach for all she cared as long as the result of the ritual was the same.
A bloodcurdling scream drew Eve’s attention away from the demon and to the stone slab to Jace’s right side. It was identical in size and shape to the one under her lover, but its occupant was almost a perfect opposite. A vampire lay rigid, back arched and jaw locked. Long, flowing blonde hair cascaded off the end of the slab, brushing against the floor. The vampire’s pale skin gleamed, her full mouth contorted in pain as the hooded figure drew closer to her side. She moaned, her blood being sucked from her drop by drop, only to be siphoned into Jace’s bloodstream. The end result: Jace’s mixed blood would give him the power, strength, and speed of a vampire. The vampire would be dust.
Naturally, Jace had been reluctant, but Eve had managed to persuade him. It was sad really. He was so in love with her, and she didn’t really care about him at all. Oh, she liked him okay, loved his body and what he did to her in bed, but her heart was off limits. Lindsay had taken it with him to the afterlife and she had nothing left to give Jace. She was using him and he knew it.
He followed her anyway.
Eve watched wordlessly as the last of the vampire’s blood drained into Jace . One final, eerie wail emerged from its mouth, floating away with the dust as the body disintegrated into nothingness.
Eve’s smile spread wider, shoulders straightening. The full moon was in eight days.
They would be ready.
“Angel. Sit down. Please.”
Cordelia spoke the words through gritted teeth. They’d arrived in L.A. ahead of schedule, Angel’s speed-demon driving combined with the late-night lack of traffic had brought them careening into the Wolfram & Hart parking lot two hours before Wesley and the rest of the crew would arrive.
Cordy’s excitement at seeing everyone had worn off slightly in the face of Angel’s agitation. Despite her attempts to calm him and redirect his nervousness on the way home, he remained more unsettled than a wild tiger caged for the first time. Cordy was surprised that the carpet beneath his feet hadn’t worn through already.
They’d administered one additional tranquilizer to Connor when he’d begun to stir and the young man was out cold once again, down for what would probably be at least another three hours.
Cordy’s frown grew deeper when Angel completely ignored her words. Standing, she walked over and planted herself directly in his path. Just as she’d suspected, he halted abruptly in front of her as if he hadn’t seen her, then looked down at her with a puzzled expression on his face.
“What?” He sounded annoyed.
Cordy raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest. “Obsessive much?”
“You’ve been pacing for a half hour now, and you would’ve been pacing in the car if you could’ve. We have Connor, Angel. He’s safe, if a little out of it right now. It’ll work out. You just need to give it up for a little bit. Let your mind rest.”
“I can’t, Cordy,” he said agitatedly, and walked around her as he resumed his pacing. “He’s my son. I can’t mess this up.”
She grabbed his arm, pulling him to a halt again. Reaching a hand up, she turned his jaw so that his eyes looked down into hers. “You won’t, Angel. You love him. You can’t hurt him like that. You won’t.”
“But I have before,” he argued.
She shook her head. “How was any of that your fault? Did you arrange for Wesley to kidnap him? Did you ask Holtz to take him to Quortoth? Did you set it up so Jasmine would seduce him?”
Angel’s frown grew deeper. “No.”
“Then it wasn’t your fault,” she answered. “Just like it wasn’t my fault when Jasmine hijacked me. If you keep holding onto it, it’ll eat you from the inside out, Angel. Believe me. I know.”
Her tone was wry, but Angel could hear the pain in it. Nodding, he reached down to grasp her hands, his thumbs brushing smooth skin on the back of each hand.
“I know it’ll work out, Cordy, I just keep forgetting. Things never seem to go right for me.”
She smiled up at him, leaning closer until her breasts brushed his chest. “Well, your luck has changed, cutie. Your soul is secure, your link to the Powers is back, and your son is safe in your care. All the rest? Itty bitty details.”
He smiled at her understatement. “I think a plot to kill me might be more than a minor detail.”
“Eh,” she scrunched up her nose in an expression of mild disagreement. “You’re a studly guy. You can handle it.”
Angel’s arms came up to pull her closer to him. “You think?”
“Yeah. I think.” Cordy looked up at him through lowered lashes. Needing to be closer to him, she slid up onto her tiptoes and leaned forward so that her breath brushed his face. Glazing eyes hungrily took in his bottom lip, then a tongue darted out to taste him. A long, slow swipe of her tongue made Angel shudder and pull her closer, crushing her mouth to his.
Whimpering, Cordy brought one leg up and wrapped it around his hip, trying to climb up his body to get closer to his mouth. Angel’s hands grasped her ass, pulling her warm center against him, her other leg wrapping around so that she straddled him. She cradled his head in her hands, her tongue dancing with his in a frenetic motion that made them both breathless.
A groan left Angel’s lips as he pulled his mouth away from hers and buried his mouth in her neck. He licked his mark, lingering there as he breathed in his scent permanently etched in her skin. Cordy shuddered, pulling him closer, her fingernails scratching his scalp lightly.
“We’ve gotta. . .” Angel trailed off when Cordy squeezed her legs around him and moved slightly, rubbing her pelvis against his.
“Gotta what?” she asked breathlessly, biting her lip as his hardened length rubbed her clit through two layers of clothing.
“Gotta find a . . .” he tried to say, but Cordy leaned down, snaking her tongue into his ear. “Gotta find a bed,” he finally finished. Angel ran his hands along the length of her thighs to her calves, pulling on her legs and setting her to the floor once he got her to loosen her grip. Cordy slid down the length of his body until her feet touched the floor, every nerve ending crying out as the move created a friction and heat that only promised more pleasure to come.
“Well, let’s find one then.” Eagerly, she undid the top button on his shirt, kissing the skin she revealed. Angel staggered backwards, pulling her along with him. Cordy kept her hands on his shirt, unbuttoning and licking her way down his chest as he moved, stumbling along after him.
Angel found his bedroom door in a matter of minutes and abruptly turned Cordy around, shoving her up against the closed portal, cupping her ass in his hands. He pulled her up against him, grinding his erection into her heat, and they both gasped. Cordy shoved at his shirt, the material sliding down his arms and bunching at the wrists until he finally let go of her and it dropped to the floor. Immediately, her hands reached for his fly, unbuttoning him and shoving his jeans and boxers to the floor, baring him to her hungry hands.
Hot, dark eyes bored into hers as she looked dazedly into his face. Her heart felt as though it would beat out of her chest as Angel turned the doorknob and they tumbled into his darkened bedroom. They fell in a heap at the foot of the bed and stayed there, not bothering to move any further.
Roughened hands worked magic on her breasts. White-hot sparkles of desire burst at every touch of his big fingers to her nipples, the lace of her bra scratching at the sensitive skin. Mouth falling open, Cordy let her eyes close and her back arch, pushing her breasts up into his hands as he kneaded them, their ample size filling his large palms.
“Thought you said you wanted a bed,” she whispered into his ear.
Angel had barely had the mental clarity to respond. Small, warm hands ran down his back and stroked his ass, nails scoring his skin in a way that made his muscles clench in pleasure. One hand reached around his hip, diving under him to cup him, stroking his hardening length until his mouth dropped open in a moan.
In retaliation, his mouth descended on her neck again, licking his mark, before moving down and sucking at the delicate skin on her collarbone. One-handed, he unbuttoned her blouse, pushing it off her shoulders and pulling it from beneath her body. Her skirt and panties followed quickly until nearly every glorious, hot inch of her skin was flush against his. Only her bra remained.
Writhing against him, Cordelia twisted her arms underneath herself to unfasten her bra, hasty as she was to feel her breasts against his hard chest. Angel grabbed her wrists, pulling her hands out of the way, and worked his mouth down her chest until his nose brushed against the delicate lace of her only remaining undergarment. His nose brushed the tip of her breast, the nipple hardened and straining against the fabric.
Delicately, Angel’s tongue swept out and touched her, the contact making Cordy gasp. His tongue moved over her, stroking, the movement both muffled and enhanced by the lace of her bra. He worked in a movement that had no rhythm, alternating from gasp-inducing speed to agonizing slowness. Cordy’s only defense was her determination to make him just as crazy, yanking one hand away from his grasp, sneaking it down, stroking and touching in a way that had him thrusting against her hand.
Cordy lost all sense of strategy just a few moments later when Angel’s mouth closed fully around her sensitive nipple, sucking and biting through the fabric of her bra. She arched her back, a soft scream escaping her lips, as stars exploded behind her eyes. Reflexively, her hand tightened around him, and Angel growled against her breast, his face shifting into his demon.
Abruptly, the cool heat of his mouth was gone, and Cordy’s eyes flew open. Hazel eyes met yellow ones, and Angel’s growl of possessiveness was met by her own. If Cordy could’ve changed, she would’ve. In a way, she felt as though she had. Savagely, she yanked on the straps of her bra and ripped it off, saying without words that she was done with the preliminaries.
Angel slid up her body, every glistening inch of his form rubbing deliciously against hers until he was cradled in the heated junction of her thighs. Nuzzling her neck, he entered her in one long, slow, thick thrust that made Cordy growl with the pleasure of it. She spread her legs wider, wrapping them around his waist and using her heels to push him in deeper. Angel rocked against her, the hard floor giving him room to sink deep and stay there.
Sharp fangs scored Cordy’s skin, drawing blood to the surface. Angel’s tongue snaked out to lick up the drops, a rumble in his chest signaling his deep satisfaction with her taste. Cordy bucked up against him and Angel began to move, setting a rhythm that was both rough and secure. He brought his arms beneath her back, his palms resting on her shoulder blades, and cradled her in his arms as he sank his teeth deep into her neck. He drank her, the thick, warm extravagance of her blood heating him like none other had.
Cordy wasn’t about to be upstaged. Licking the salty drops of sweat from his skin, she bit down hard and pulled, her savageness tearing his skin slightly. A mewl of approval escaped her, his copperish blood teasing her taste buds. She sucked at the wound, drawing his blood into her mouth.
The feel of Cordy’s mouth at his neck was enough to make Angel throw his head back and roar, the animalistic yell echoing off the glass and stone walls of his bedroom. He rocked harder against her, growling, his eyes flashing in the darkness. Cordy met him for every thrust, and yet it still wasn’t enough.
With the speed of lightening, Angel pulled out of her and sat back, then pulled her out from underneath him and turned her around as if she were no more than a rag doll. He brought her to her knees, pulling her back in a sitting position against his thighs, bringing her calves back to rest along side his. Angel sat back on his heels, lifted her hips up, and then sheathed himself inside her once again.
Cordy hung on for dear life. His chest rubbed against her back, her skin slicked with sweat, her hair tangling and rubbing between them. Her legs weren’t long enough for her knees to rest on the floor beside his, so he controlled her movements with his big hands on her hips. With every downstroke, she slid down his thighs, her body weight pushing him deeper than he’d ever been before. He felt so huge inside her, his thick length stroking her so good it made her eyes cross. Her hands shot out, searching for something to hang onto, finally grasping the edge of the bed blindly. She leaned forward to balance herself, her fingers fisting in the thick comforter.
Finally, Angel gave her the edge she needed for fulfillment. One big hand snaked around to her stomach, spreading and holding there. The other hand dove around between her legs, his roughened fingers finding the swollen, slick folds of her sex. Matching the stroke of his hips against hers, his fingers danced on her flesh as stars exploded behind her eyelids.
Leaning forward, Angel sank his fangs into her shoulder, growling against her skin. The feel of her blood leaving her body again threw Cordelia over the edge, a scream ringing through the room as the orgasm overcame her. Angel’s shout echoed hers, his cool body exploding inside hers.
Panting, they sank to the hard floor, still joined, and spooned against each other. Cordy reached a hand back and stroked Angel’s cheek blindly, her fingers lovingly tracing the side of his face. His hand stroked her belly, the touches an unspoken declaration of their love.
“Geez, you’d think you guys weren’t used to weird stuff happening,” Cordy commented a few hours later as the 5 pairs of shocked eyes stared back at her. Wesley’s face was the only one wearing a smile. Apparently he hadn’t wanted to spoil the surprise.
“C-Cordy?” Harmony breathed. “Cordy!” Her shriek made everybody cringe as the blonde vampiress shot across the room and lunged at her former best friend. “Oh. My. God! You were like, dead and everything!”
“Like, totally!” Spike muttered under his breath in a high, squeaky voice. Angel frowned at him but couldn’t suppress the twinkle in his eyes.
“Harm! Geez! Still need air here, kay?” Cordy shoved Harmony away from her, holding her friend at arms length. “Didn’t think you cared so much.”
Harmony put on a pained look. “Not care about my best friend in the whole world? My best friend who died? Cordy, do you really think so little of me?”
Cordy blinked in disbelief. Harmony was evil. A vampire who’d painted her toenails glitter pink and had tried to kill her in the same night. So yeah, she thought so little of her.
In the end, she just sighed and smiled tiredly. “It’s good to see you, too, Harm.”
Harmony squealed. “Oh my god. We have so much to talk about! There’s like totally juicy gossip around here. Especially about Wes and Freddy over there. We’ve totally gotta have a gab fest!”
“Maybe later.” Cordy pried Harmony’s fingers from her arms and turned to face the rest of her friends. “Hi, guys,” she said softly, her smile lighting up her face.
It was contagious, and the rest of them couldn’t help but smile back. Wesley stepped forward first, pulling Cordy into a tight hug.
“We missed you, Cordelia,” he whispered into her ear, then kissed her cheek.
She looked up at him, teary-eyed. “I missed you, too, smart guy. Talking on the phone just wasn’t the same thing.” Caressing his cheek, Cordy winked at him. “Ready to crack the books?”
Wes smiled back at her, a twinkle in his eye. “As always. Are you going to help me?”
“Pfft!” She rolled her eyes in disbelief. “As if! Like I ever enjoyed the dusty, sneeze-inducing research boringness.”
“Oh, you know you loved it,” Gunn said, coming up to squeeze her in a bear hug. “You just wouldn’t admit it.”
“Hey! You lost the hair again!” A light rub to Gunn’s shiny head made him smile and duck away playfully.
“Yeah. Kinda ruined my look.”
“Needed the baldy goodness to be the badass lawyer?” she joked.
“Something like that. It’s good to have you back.” Gunn smiled at her, then moved out of the way so the rest of the gang could say hello.
A hug to Fred and a kiss on the cheek to Lorne was enough to make Cordy’s eyes tear again, and then she faced Spike.
“Hey, famous guy.”
“Famous?” he asked, his expressive eyebrows arching. “How’s that?”
“Hey, you’re totally legendary in heaven. What with the saving of the world and all.”
“They talk about me?” Sticking his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans, Spike straightened up and let his trademark smirk grace his handsome face.
“Yup,” Cordy nodded, grinning. “I was up there almost a year after you saved the world and they were still talking about you. Totally hung up on the Spike worship. It was way cool. I was a celebrity because I knew you.”
She conveniently left out the part about how she was oblivious to it all until David said something, what with her crusade to be sent back and everything.
Angel rolled his eyes. “Please, Cordy. He doesn’t need the encouragement. His ego’s already twice the size of this room.”
“Like you’re Mr. Humility, Peaches.”
Angel glared at him. He opened his mouth to insult Spike back when Cordy stepped in front of him, putting her hand on his chest and glaring up at him warningly.
“Please, enough of the two-year-old bickering. I got enough of that with Xander back in Sunnydale. There are more important things to consider now.”
“Big apocalypse?” Fred asked. “Is that why they sent you back?”
“Something like that,” Cordy said, now completely serious. “I think we should go out for Mexican food. This is going to take awhile to explain.”
“But what about—” Angel’s hand fell on her arm as he spoke quietly. Turning to face him, Cordy found the apprehension in his eyes. Pulling him away from the group’s hearing, she stroked his hand, smiling up at him reassuringly.
“You can stay here if you want,” she said softly. “I can explain it to them without you.”
“But I want to be there.” They’d agreed that they wouldn’t reveal Connor’s parentage right away; it would make things too weird and leave too many questions. Angel was nervous that the gang wouldn’t buy Cordy’s story at face value.
“Maybe your place is with your son right now, Angel. There isn’t anything you can add that I can’t tell them myself.” Her expression added silently that she would make sure it all turned out well.
After a moment of silent battle, Angel finally nodded.
“Fill me in when you get back.”
“Of course.” Leaning up to kiss him gently, Cordy wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly. “It’ll be okay, Angel. He’ll be fine.”
Angel could only hug her back.
Wesley looked at the young man on the other side of the two-way mirror. Connor was obviously agitated, the tranquilizers worn off and the effects making him jittery. He didn’t know where he was, didn’t know who held him or why. It was understandable that he’d be a little off.
“So you want me to interrogate him.” Wesley didn’t bother look at Angel as he spoke. Cordy had filled them in at the restaurant, and Wesley, even though he’d known most of it from their phone conversations, had still been floored by her story. He’d gotten the impression that Cordy was hiding something, though.
Angel cringed at Wesley’s choice of words. “I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘interrogate,’ Wesley. He’s not a criminal.”
“But he wants to kill you.”
“And I shouldn’t question him.”
“Oh, you should question him. Definitely.” Angel paused. “Just go easy on him. He doesn’t know anything that we know yet.”
Wesley was silent for a moment. “And what is it that we know?”
Angel frowned. He’d tried to explain it to Wesley, but some how the story had come out jumbled. It made sense that Wesley would be confused.
“Eve has this revenge scheme going. She wants me to suffer and die for killing Lindsay. She found Connor and she and her lover have trained him to kill me.”
“Connor has special abilities?”
Angel nodded. “It’s kinda complicated.”
“Humor me.” Wesley’s tone was dry.
Angel sighed. Telling one person wouldn’t hurt, and of everyone, Wesley was the best equipped to handle the information. Finally, he turned to Wesley and met the younger man’s eyes.
“He’s my son, Wes.”
Wes immediately did an admirable impression of a fish out of water. Cordy hadn’t said a word about this. “Come again?”
“He’s my son. Mine and Darla’s.”
“But you’re a vampire. You’re both vampires. And why do I not know this?”
“Again, it’s kinda complicated.”
Wesley scrutinized him with the concentration of a teenage boy studying a Playboy centerfold. “You are going to tell me eventually, of course.”
“Of course,” Angel agreed, turning back to the two-way mirror. His mouth set in a grim line as he watched Connor. “He doesn’t know he’s my son. I don’t want to traumatize him with it yet, so I need you to question him.”
“Very well.” Wesley didn’t like so many unanswered questions, but he knew that he’d probably wrung as much information out of Angel as he was going to for the time being. “Anything in particular you want me to ask?”
“Ask him about Eve and Jace, if he’ll talk about them. See if you can find out what exactly they plan to do.”
Wesley nodded, then moved towards the door. Angel grabbed his arm just before he went in. “Be careful with him, Wes. I just got him back.”
Wes only nodded again, then proceeded to enter the room. Connor’s head shot up the moment he noticed Wesley’s presence. Staring at Wesley neutrally, he leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms.
Casually, Wesley walked over to the table and sat down, making himself comfortable. He met Connor’s eyes.
“Can I get you anything? Soda? Coffee?”
Connor just stared back, his eyes nearly empty.
Wesley nodded at his silence. “Very well. My name is Wesley. I’d like to ask you a few questions, if that’s all right.”
“It’s not all right.” Connor’s voice was low, a thread of menace present.
Wesley just raised his eyebrows, poising his pen over the legal pad in front of him. Acting as if Connor hadn’t spoken, Wesley asked, “What is the last thing you remember?”
Connor’s eyes narrowed but he didn’t answer.
Wesley sighed. “Connor, this would go a lot easier if you cooperate.”
“I’m not telling you anything.” There was an underlying steel to Connor’s voice that made Wesley blink. For a moment, he sounded exactly like his father. “I have questions of my own. Until you answer them, I won’t tell you shit.”
Wesley just blinked at him again. Setting the legal pad down on the table, he leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “What is it that you want to know?”
“Where am I, and why are you holding me?”
The older man frowned. What good it do to lie to the boy? It wouldn’t hurt to answer his questions, if only vaguely. “You’re at Wolfram & Hart. As for why you’re here, I’m not at liberty to say as of yet.”
At Wesley’s answer, Connor felt a flood of relief course through him. Finally, he knew the lay of the land. He was in the lion’s den. Wolfram & Hart, the law firm that his vampire target ran. The demon called Angel that Eve wanted him to kill.
Connor sneered at the older man and sat back as well, his face showing no doubt as to his disdain. “Big mistake, Wesley,” he drawled, making Wesley’s name sound like the profanest of words. “I know the score here. And I’m not going to tell you anything.”
Sighing, Wesley’s eyes softened. “I’m not asking you to tell me anything important. Anything you would consider important, anyway. I just want to make sure that the tranquilizers didn’t have any lasting effects. It’s standard procedure in a case like this.”
Wesley’s voice was calm and rational, soothing the young man in front of him. Connor stared at him suspiciously, but his shoulders relaxed somewhat and he slumped down in his chair.
“Fine.” Connor twirled the string on his sweatshirt hood absently, staring sightlessly down at the metal table top. “What do you want to know?”
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
Connor was silent for a moment before speaking. He supposed that revealing this much wouldn’t compromise him much. Wesley probably knew what had happened, anyway. “Last thing I remember is a dream I was having. I thought I woke up, but I don’t know what happened. Somehow my dream mixed with reality, I think, because the guy from my dream shot me with some kind of dart.”
With a jerk, Wesley straightened in his seat, immediately interested. “You dreamt about the man who shot you?”
“What did the man look like?”
A shrug lifted Connor’s shoulders. “Tall. Dark hair, broad shoulders. Been having these totally weird-ass dreams about him for months. Some kinda twilight zone crap or something. I’ve probably just been working too hard. Exhaustion does weird things to your brain, or so I’m told,” he said, thinking of Jace’s words at the football game last week.
“What are these dreams about?” Wesley tried to keep the excitement out of his voice.
For a moment, it seemed as though Connor had escaped to some other place in his mind. He started suddenly, jerking his mind out of the other place, and looked up at Wesley. “Um. . . I don’t know. Weird things. They’re like memories, almost. I’m in them, but I’m different. Psychotic and shit. And that guy I told you about is my father. A vampire, if you can believe that.” He laughed humorlessly and shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Warily, he looked up at Wesley and a feeling of sharing too much suddenly swept over him.
“This figure is present in each of your dreams?”
Connor frowned at Wesley’s curiosity, his eyes narrowing. “What’s it to you? Last I checked, I wasn’t taking tranquilizers with my Flintstone vitamins. No connection to what you claim to be interested in.”
Wesley cleared his throat and fidgeted on the hard chair. It seemed that Connor wasn’t going to be very forthcoming about Jace and Eve’s plans. Maybe Cordelia’s plan was more appropriate. Connor did seem to have a moral code, despite his bad attitude at present. Appealing to his sense of right and wrong might be a safer route.
Standing abruptly, Wesley straightened the notebook on the table and pocketed his pen. “Very well, Connor. I can see that you aren’t willing to cooperate. I will—”
Wesley stopped abruptly when Connor’s face went white, his mouth dropping open as his wide eyes fixed on a point over Wesley’s left shoulder. Standing clumsily, Connor knocked over the chair and backed toward the wall, his eyes darting around the room.
“I can take it from here, Wes.” Angel’s deep voice seemed to reverberate around the room with the strength of a police siren. Connor jumped at the sound of his voice, retreating further still to the wall. His breathing and heartbeat regulated, though, and he closed his mouth, swallowing audibly.
“Very well, Angel. I’ll be nearby if you need anything. “ Wes gathered his things and left quietly. Angel stood near the door, his hands buried in his pants pockets.
“Y-You’re Angel?” Connor sounded as if someone were strangling him, the words were so hoarse. Suddenly, the lines of logic began to click into place. Eve wanted him to kill Angel, the vampire who ran Wolfram & Hart. This man claimed he was Angel. This man was the vampire from his dreams. That meant that—Connor’s brain suddenly stopped working.
“You’re the Angel that runs Wolfram & Hart?”
He nodded. “There are things going on here that you don’t know about, Connor.”
Angel’s son straightened his shoulders, fire creeping into his eyes. He stood defiantly, the trembling of his hands the only clue to his near-breakdown. “Who the hell are you?” he whispered.
The vampire sighed, his eyes tired. “I’m your father.”
“Where the hell is he?”
Absently, Jace admired the way Eve could enunciate so well through clenched teeth. God, she was beautiful when she was angry. It was too bad he didn’t give a shit anymore.
That ritual yesterday had changed him. More than just physically. He’d seen her standing there, that smug grin on her face as he was being flayed alive for her. And yet not once did he see a look of love or concern on her face. She was using him, and he’d finally realized it. She was never going to love him back.
After a moment, Jace shrugged. “Not here.”
Eve whirled around, practically snarling at him. “No shit, Sherlock. But he’s supposed to be here. We haven’t seen him in almost two days.”
Jace just shrugged again. “Sometimes he does this. The disappearing act. He’ll be back in a couple of days. No big deal.”
She was before him in an instant, her fists grabbing at his shirt and bringing his face close to hers. “No big deal?” she hissed. “This is your fault! If you hadn’t been so nice to him, he’d be easier to control.”
A frown darkened his handsome face. God, she could be such a bitch. “Eve, you weren’t there in the beginning. After his parents died, he was a big mess. He wouldn’t trust anybody. I had to play the sensitive father figure or he wouldn’t have responded. He needed that.”
Reluctantly, she seemed to accept that. “But he shouldn’t be gone. Not without at least telling you.”
Jace detached her fingers from his shirt and stepped away, pulling a cigarette out of his pocket and lighting up. Casually, he leaned against a pillar and took a deep drag. “Like I said, sometimes he does this. Especially at the beginning. Freaked me out the first time, but he came back in a couple of days and he was better for it. It’ll be the same this time.”
Eve shook her head and began to pace. “But he knows our plans. He could be double-crossing us right now! I don’t trust him.”
Jace just blinked at her. “Look, if he’s not back by day after tomorrow, I’ll go look for him,” he offered, just wanting her to shut up.
Her eyes narrowed as she recognized the patronizing tone of his voice. Her heels clicked on the cement floor as she walked over to him, her fists finding the front of his shirt again.
“You will find him now, Jace. I need him back where I can see him.”
Jace’s stance against the pillar had put them at almost eye level. Growling, he straightened up abruptly, and with newly-honed, lightening-fast reflexes, he snaked a hand out and grabbed her by the neck, twirling her around and shoving her up in the air.
“No.” His voice was barely a whisper, yet she trembled at the power in it. The edges of his eyes were tinged with gold. “I said he’d come back. He will. And I won’t go looking for him until day after tomorrow.”
Trying to breathe, Eve nodded, a hint of fear mixed with a growing sense of desire in her eyes. Jace slowly lowered her to the ground, his dark eyes still rimmed with gold. Eve breathed rapidly, her eyes flashing, and she grabbed his head, pulling it down to hers. She’d never been more turned on in her life.
“My father is dead.” Connor’s voice, deep with newfound maturity, rang with a flat, emotionless certainty. His panic was suddenly gone, as if Angel’s words had shut off that valve in his brain and switched on the one marked “proceed with extreme caution.”
Circling the room, Connor moved himself further away from Angel as if the distance would make him safer. Angel kept the space, moving around the room with him, facing him every step of the way. Finally they stopped, halfway from where they’d began, Angel facing the door and Connor with his back to it.
Angel sighed, motioning to the seat Connor had fled. “We need to talk about this.”
Connor stayed where he was, arms crossed over his chest in a defiant stance. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
A feminine voice answered him. “There’s a lot to talk about.”
At the sound of her voice, the valve switched back and Connor’s mind flooded with panic. Every other thought fled, save a complete and utter blankness.
Whirling around to face the door, Connor stared in disbelief at Cordelia, her soft voice startling him. He felt trapped, as if he’d been caught in the end of a tunnel and his only access to the exit blocked. Like a deer caught in the glare of headlights, his eyes whipped from one to the other as he backed away, skittish and jittery.
“Y-you’re dead!” His voice was hoarse, an audible sandpaper. “I saw you, in my dream, strapped with explosives. I was going to kill you!” Connor backed up further, his shoulder blades slamming against the hard rock wall, and still, he tried to back up further, scrunching his body against the wall. He felt like a lab rat in too small a cage, desperate to escape the torture he knew was coming. He couldn’t take this.
“Connor,” Angel said softly, stepping closer to him. “Breathe. You’re safe. We aren’t going to hurt you. We’re going to explain.”
“Leave me alone!” he shouted, his eyes wide and panicked. “Just leave me alone,” he said again, sliding down the wall and into a fetal position. “Leave me alone.” His voice became a whisper, his eyes filling with tears.
Cordy walked closer to him, crouching down and making her eyes level with his. “We can’t leave you alone, Connor.” She spoke softly, putting liquid comfort into her voice. “We love you.”
He looked up at her, pain and tear-filled eyes boring into hers. “But how? You don’t exist. My dreams aren’t real. They can’t be!”
Crawling closer, Cordy reached a hand out to touch his leg. When Connor didn’t pull away, she slid beside him and leaned against the wall, her face close to his. She brought one hand up to stroke his face, pushing his hair away from his eyes, wiping his tears away.
“They’re memories, Connor.” She said it gently, apologetically. “Memories of an old life that was so painful it almost destroyed you. We have the power to restore them to you, and we may have to do it soon. They’re coming back on their own, and they’ll ruin you if you don’t face them.”
Connor only sniffled a little and running his hands over his face to dry his tears. With that, his face turned neutral again, a cold detachment that scared Angel. He knelt next to his son, longing to reach out and touch him like Cordelia had been able to, but he knew that Connor wouldn’t be receptive. And Angel wasn’t ready, either.
“We’ll give you some time,” Angel said slowly. “We’ll leave for a few minutes, then come back and answer any questions you have, okay?”
Dragging his eyes from the floor, Connor met Angel’s stare, then nodded after a brief, tense moment. He turned his expression away immediately, staring into nothingness and tightening his legs to his chest. Angel reached his hand out and brought Cordy to her feet, and they exited the room quietly.
“Say what?” Fred’s mouth hung open in disbelief, much like that of her contemporaries seated next to her. Her boyfriend had just said something that defied any known definition of logic and her scientific mind was having a really hard time processing it.
“Angel has a son,” Wesley repeated.
“Oh that’s just lovely,” Spike complained, standing up from his perch on the edge of the chair. “Peaches not only gets his girl, he gets a son, too. Figures.” He threw his hands up in exasperation. “Always has to show me up.”
“Somehow I don’t think this has anything to do with you, Blondie Buns,” Lorne said dryly. “Methinks Wesley here has stumbled on some sort of prophetic birth that only Angel knows about.”
Gunn frowned, his arms crossed over his powerful chest. “So why didn’t the boss tell us about this? It’s not like we couldn’t have researched it for him. Or that we wouldn’t have accepted his son.”
“But Angel’s son wants to kill him.” Wesley regarded the room’s occupants thoughtfully. “Maybe there’s a good reason for keeping him a secret.”
“I just don’t get it.” Fred shook her head. “It’s scientifically impossible for two vampires to produce a child. I mean, the equipment’s there, it just doesn’t. . . function.”
“I’ll have you know it functions right proper,” Spike said, affronted. “It just doesn’t make little vampires, ’s all.”
Fred frowned at him. “I wasn’t trying to insult you, Spike. I just think that Angel might be thinking that this kid is his son when he isn’t. How did he find out?”
Wes’s frown matched hers. “He didn’t say. Angel wasn’t exactly forthcoming with meaningful information. He seemed to indicate that he would fill me in later.”
“Whatever it is, it doesn’t sound like anything good. Sounds like we might have to beat somebody’s head in before this is all over.” Gunn’s frown had grown deeper and he dropped his arms to his sides, as if prepared to fight that very instant. Somehow, it didn’t seem out of place with his 3-piece Armani suit.
“Well, it better not be Angel’s son that gets harmed,” Spike said as Harmony walked in carrying a tray of beverages. “Peaches gets kinda tweaked when people mess with his family. Not that he ever stuck up for me,” he added as a bitter-sounding afterthought.
“Sorry I’m late, but the break room is way crowded. I had to practically behead someone to get to the microwave for Spikie’s O-pos.” Harmony set the tray down on the table and handed out everyone’s drinks. Grabbing a mug for herself, she sat in one of the swivel conference chairs and grabbed her steno pad, readying herself to take notes.
“Did you say Angel’s sun?” she asked curiously. “What, does he get to walk around outside in the day now, too? Lucky guy.”
“Not sun, Harm,” Spike said, exasperated. “Son. S-o-n. As in a rugrat. Curtain-climber. Snotty, irritating little gems that louse up your life for good.”
“Geez, somebody’s bitter,” Harm bit back. “And that’s impossible. Vampire’s can’t have children. Believe me, I know,” she said as if imparting top-secret knowledge to people who should feel privileged to be given the opportunity to hear it.
“Well, Angel did, and that’s what we’re discussing.”
“Oh.” Harmony was silent for a moment, then her eyes grew huge. “Oh! Oh, no. Oh. My. God! I just had sex last night. I could be pregnant right now! What am I going to do?” She bolted up out of the chair and began to pace, ringing her hands.
“It’s okay, Harmony,” Fred tried to reassure her. “I think this was just an accident. Well, sort of.”
Harmony whirled around and pinned Fred to the wall with her eyes. “Aren’t they all accidents? Nobody plans to get knocked up, it just happens. I’m too young to be a mother! I can’t be saddled with a kid!”
“Will you shut the bloody hell up, woman!” Spike roared at her, clutching his head and moaning. “It was a blasted prophecy, not a contagious disease. We mediocre, run-of-the mill vampires can’t have children. You’re. Not. Pregnant!”
“Oh good.” Harmony slumped into a chair, sighing with relief. “I was so freaked out there for a second!”
“I never would’ve known if you hadn’t said that.” Gunn’s face was the picture of innocence.
“No, I really was! But it’s good to know that I can act so calm in a crisis,” she added in all seriousness.
It was hard work for everyone to keep a straight face.
“So you don’t want me to take notes?” Harmony asked again a few moments later, looking a little lost.
“No,” Wesley said through clenched teeth. Harmony may just be the death of him yet. “And this should be a strictly confidential conversation, Harmony. No talk in the break room about this. If I hear anything, I’ll know exactly who spilt the beans.”
The threat in his voice made Harmony smile nervously. She backed toward the door looking at him warily. “Of course, Wesley! You can count on me to keep my lips zipped. I’ll be the soul of discretion. I mean without the soul and all. Um, bye!”
Everyone was silent for several minutes in the wake of Harmony’s departure. She had a way of sucking all of the intelligence out of the room so that everyone had to work to get it back.
“I still think that Angel’s known about this for a long time,” Fred said quietly. “and I think its way weird that he never said anything about it to Wesley. Hasn’t he told you just about everything?” she asked her boyfriend.
“He’s told me a lot,” Wesley admitted. “Sometimes more than I’d like to know. And I would think that if he had a son, Lorne would’ve seen that in at least one of the times he read him, right Lorne?”
The green demon nodded. “At least a shadow of a munchkin, if there was one. Especially back when he was going through all of that beige aura unpleasantness a couple of years ago. But I saw nothing. Angel didn’t know about a son then; I would stake my front-row Aretha tickets on it.”
“What about a memory spell?” Spike suggested. “Red liked to play around with those just before she went all wonky. We forgot who we all were with no clue as to how it happened. If she hadn’t loused up her own spell, I might still think I was Giles’ son.” He shuddered at the memory.
Wesley looked thoughtful. “That would make sense. If Angel’s son was in danger, anyone who knew him would be in equal danger. Angel might have convinced us to alter our memories for the boy’s protection. Hell, I might even have suggested it.”
Gunn frowned. “I would never agree to that, Wes. I don’t like people messing with my mind like that.”
Everyone stared at him in disbelief, and Gunn fidgeted nervously. “Okay, so I don’t usually like that. The lawyer stuff was an exception.”
“I’m sure,” Wesley said, letting him off the hook.
“So what’s the game plan, Watcher Jr.?” Spike sat back down, lighting up a cigarette and inhaling deeply.
“I say we make Angel tell us the whole story.” Gunn crossed his arms again in his decisiveness. He still didn’t like the idea of his memory being altered, despite his own choices in the same area.
Wesley shook his head. “I think we need to bide our time. Angel will tell us everything; I’m certain of it. If he had our memories altered, it was for a good reason. We just have to trust him. And without a doubt, Cordelia will know the entire story as well.”
Fred nodded, coming over to stand by Wesley and grab his hand, squeezing it in support. “Cordy won’t let Angel do anything weird.”
“I agree with the woodsprite, here,” Lorne said, standing as if to leave. “If you need me to read the kid or anything, let me know. Otherwise I’ll leave it in your efficient hands.”
The rest of the group nodded their agreement, Gunn somewhat reluctantly, then left the room. Wesley stood alone after kissing Fred goodbye, staring out the window. He hadn’t told them the whole of it: he was scared for the boy. In those brief moments he’d had with him, he had seen an instability there that was just below the surface. The kind of instability he’d seen only once before in his recollection: in the eyes of Angelus.
“You really are my father, aren’t you?”
Connor seemed resigned to the fact, even though he couldn’t quite get his mind around it. From what he could tell, there were, so far, three fathers if he counted the two in his dreams and the one that had just died. Not to mention Jace, who’d tried to be like a father to him. A guy should be lucky to have so many strong men in his life. So why did he feel like he’d been given a three-for-one deal that went horribly wrong?
Angel’s dark eyes were fathomless, but Connor found he could meet them without fear. There was something comforting in them. It was as if he could sense Angel’s nervousness, and knowing that his father was just as jittery made him calmer somehow. In a flash of insight, Connor realized that Angel had a lot riding on this. If his dreams were any indication, Angel had never been given a chance to love his son in any normal way.
And Eve wanted him to kill Angel. Kill his own father. How the hell had he gotten mixed up in this nightmare?
“So are you guys going to explain this to me, or what?” Connor sat back in his chair, sipping the soda Cordy had thoughtfully brought with her when they reentered the interrogation room. “I’m kinda confused.”
Cordy raised her eyebrows at him. “You seem sorta casual about this, considering how you were a half hour ago.”
Connor shrugged. “I’m adjusting. I thought all along that the dreams felt like memories, and every minute that goes by makes it seem more plausible. I’m still totally wigged out by it, but my brain can’t process it all right now.”
“You’re on autopilot.”
“Basically,” he agreed. “I’m sure it’ll come back to bite me in the ass later when I can think about it, but right now I can’t.”
Angel nodded, twirling his pen on the table top.
“So? Where do we start?” Connor prompted again.
Angel’s eyes met his. “Maybe you should explain what your dreams were about and we can fill in the gaps.”
Connor nodded, then proceeded to explain every dream he’d had and in the order he’d arranged them. Cordy and Angel just listened, their eyes widening and meeting each other’s at sporadic intervals. Connor ignored their sideways glances, knowing that they remembered everything he was recounting and it was probably as painful for them as it was for him.
“So the way I figure it, the last one was the one with the dynamite in a mall or something. I was pretty Ted Kaczynski-ish there, wanting to blow everybody up because I couldn’t live with myself. But I wasn’t really there. I mean, the me now wasn’t there. I was just watching. I felt the pain of the other me, but I couldn’t really relate to it. I didn’t understand it.”
“You had been through a lot,” Angel said softly, speaking for the first time in several minutes. “You were in so much pain.”
Connor just stared back at him, the eyes of his mother boring into his father’s. “And then you came at me with a knife. Everything went black, like when a movie fades out, and I wake up screaming every time I have the dream.”
“Best I figure it, that’s the last dream, chronologically speaking. My dream-self’s emotions are totally wacko in that one. Suicidal. Homicidal. Psychotic. Neurotic. Take your pick. It’s a great big smorgasbord of postal.”
“That was the last one, I think.” Cordy looked at Angel. “I was in a coma by that point. I don’t remember any of it, but from what Angel tells me, it was.”
Standing, Angel walked over to the two-way mirror and stared at the place where his reflection would’ve been. Slipping his hands in his pockets, he sighed deeply and began to explain. It all came out: Connor’s conception and birth, Angel’s joy over having a child, Connor’s abduction and Wesley’s betrayal, Holtz’s revenge scheme, Cordy’s body hijacking, Connor’s downward spiral into mental breakdown. He fell silent when he remembered the day in the sporting goods store when he realized that he couldn’t save his son.
“I knew then that I would lose you again, Connor. I knew that if I didn’t give you a new life, you would die and take us all with you. You’d given up. You didn’t believe I loved you. You didn’t trust me, and I don’t blame you. Everyone you relied on had either been taken from you or abandoned you. There was nothing left.”
“So you killed me?” It wasn’t an accusation.
Angel nodded. “I made a deal with the devil to save your life. Wolfram & Hart agreed to wipe the painful memories from your mind and give you a new happy life if I agreed to head their L.A. offices.” Angel turned to face him, his deep brown eyes begging his son for understanding. “I loved you too much to say no. You deserved to be happy, Connor. This was the only way I could give it to you.”
Connor nodded, suddenly unable to speak. Everything he’d felt when he’d seen them came rushing back again and his eyes filled with tears. Leaning forward, he planted his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands. He tried to control his breathing, but harsh gasps escaped him anyway, and he jerked away violently when a hand clasped his shoulder.
“Just go away, please,” he begged brokenly. Pain-filled eyes came up to meet Angel’s concerned ones. “I’m sorry, I just need time. I need to sleep, to think about this, I just can’t. . .” he stopped, his voice breaking.
Angel nodded, stepping back. Cordy stood and went to his side, clasping Angel’s arm in her hands and stroking him softly.
“There’s a bed through that door.” Angel nodded to a door that hadn’t been opened yet. “And a shower. Get some rest. We’ll come back tomorrow morning and talk through this some more, okay?”
Connor nodded again, not trusting his voice to speak.
Connor watched as the other version of himself kissed Cordelia, his eager hands reaching for the golden flesh that was offered to him. The real Connor flinched as his dream-self deepened the passion, baring her body and his own, then lowering them to the bed. He watched with revulsion as his dream-self took pleasure in the body of the woman who should’ve been his mother, the woman his father loved more than life itself.
His real self longed to go over and yank his dream-self away and shake some sense into him. To shout to the rooftops that he was betraying his father, a father that loved him and would sacrifice his life for his happiness. But it wasn’t to be. He knew, the real Connor knew that he couldn’t change the past.
Almost against his will, his feet moved, bringing him closer to the bed. He towered over the writhing figures, Cordelia’s glazed eyes seeming to stare up at him, taunting him as she manipulated his dream-self’s young body into pleasure. He could see it there, see the evil in her eyes, see Jasmine in Cordy’s body. It sickened him. Turning his eyes away as their bodies exploded into gasps of pleasure, Connor fought to keep his stomach from retching. Time seemed to stand still and speed up all in the same moment until he was aware that they were both asleep, intertwined like stems of young ivy.
And then, his dream-self stood beside him, looking down at the woman on the bed whose eyes were closed, face flushed in sleep.
“She is beautiful.” His dream-self held a hint of pride. Of possession. Of conquer.
“She is evil,” his real self retorted. “She manipulates you.”
He could feel his dream-self tense beside him. As if drawn by the pull of a powerful magnet, Connor turned to meet the eyes of his former self.
“Maybe,” his dream-self conceded, “but she makes me feel.”
“It’s wrong,” he argued.
“I am weak,” his dream-self responded, shrugging. “I have nothing left. She gives me emotion. Gives me life. Gives me a reason for living. No one else cares like she does, even if she is evil.”
“But we aren’t like this! I’m not like this.”
His dream-self looked at him sadly, shaking his head. “Don’t you get it? I am you. You are me. This is who we are.”
“I won’t accept that,” he denied vehemently.
“You can’t change who you are. You are born with it. You become it. There is no escape.”
Connor shot up in bed, tears flowing and mixing with the salty sweat on his face.
He didn’t want to be that person again. He couldn’t. But in the back of his mind, his worst fear haunted him. What if he couldn’t change himself? What if he was destined to be alone and tormented?
What if he was, at an elemental level, wrong somehow?
The mere thought scared him to death.
“He’s not back yet.”
The irritation in Eve’s voice was barely audible, but Jace knew it well enough to hear the tiny threads of it sewn throughout her tone. It stood out like silver strands against grey cloth: visible in only the right lighting. Jace had had time to learn many of her moods, and irritation was one of the most familiar.
Eve lay next to him on the bed, the sheet partially covering her bare skin. Not one part of their bodies touched despite the fact that they’d just made love minutes before. It was as if their bodies had connected but their souls had not. And in the afterglow, neither of them had been in the mood to extend the pleasure to something more cerebral. It worried Eve that Jace hadn’t wanted to cuddle. He always wanted to cuddle.
“It’s only been a day, Eve.” Jace tried to keep his voice neutral, but his exasperation was close to the surface.
“I still think you should look for him.”
“I said I would look for him if he didn’t come back tomorrow, and I will.”
“That’s not good enough!” Eve exploded, bolting up in bed and pinning him to the mattress with her angry stare.
When Eve met Jace’s eyes, what she saw there scared her. They were emotionless. Bottomless. A black well, void of the love she’d come to expect in his gaze. She’d broken him and now she was paying for it.
Her biggest problem wasn’t that she didn’t love Jace back; that was an impossibility. The problem was that she’d let him realize that she would never love him. She’d taken away the only leverage she had over him with her cold brutality and desperately needed it back. Mental manipulation was her only weapon now and she seemed to have forgotten how to use it.
Her eyes softened, filling with tears. As if embarrassed, she dragged her eyes away from him and turned her back. With sheer willpower, she forced her voice to drop, pulling the anger out of it and replacing it with frantic despair. “I’m so worried that it will all go wrong, Jace.”
She went in character, the sound of a woman just about to burst into tears, but hanging on by just a thread. Breathing deeply, she shuddered, her bare back shaking like a leaf.
Silence filled the room like a thick, choking blanket as she waited for him to respond. When he didn’t, she sighed again, quivering for effect, and slipped from the bed, disappearing into the bathroom and turning on the shower.
A few minutes seemed like years as she waited to see if he would break and follow her. She kept her tears flowing, knowing that she’d need the red-rimmed look to keep her ruse authentic. Just when she was about to give up, the shower curtain slid open and a breeze of cool air hit her back. Jace’s arms closed around her from behind.
One large hand stroked her belly, just below her navel, his fingers spread wide over her skin. His lips sank into her neck, teasing her, and leaning back into him, she allowed herself a small smile of satisfaction at the feel of his erection pressing against her backside.
“I thought you weren’t going to come,” she said tearfully. “I know you’re unhappy with me, but I just—”
“Shhh,” Jace said, silencing her with his free hand across her mouth. He sighed against her skin. “I was mad at you. I still am. You’ve hurt me a lot since we’ve been together, Eve. I went through hell for you, contaminated my body for you, and you didn’t seem to care—” his voice broke and he buried his tear-filled eyes against her shoulder.
Quickly, she turned around in his arms and cupped his face in her hands, tilting it up to him.
“I couldn’t let the pain you felt get to me, Jace. I couldn’t let it keep me from completing this mission. I’m so grateful for everything you’ve done for me. I don’t want you to think I’m a shallow, heartless bitch.”
“I don’t!” he quickly reassured her, soothed by the contrition he saw in her gaze. “I just don’t know what to think. About us, I mean.”
She sighed, stroking his stubbly chin with her wet thumb. “Jace, I know I’ve thrown my love of Lindsay in your face so much that you think I can’t move past him. But I care about you a lot. A whole lot. But with everything that’s going on I just can’t let myself. . .” she trailed off, biting her lip. “I owe this to him.”
“Shh, baby, I know,” Jace said, stroking her back with his hands.
“No,” she said firmly. “I need to finish this. I can’t be what you need right now, but after this is all over, after I avenge Lindsay . . .” she didn’t finish the sentence, but the light shining in Jace’s eyes told her that he’d finished it for her. Exactly in the way she’d meant for him to.
It was the hardest thing she’d done in her life to keep the burst of glee from showing on her face or glinting in her eyes. She must’ve been successful, because Jace cupped her face in his hands and smiled tearfully at her, kissing her softly.
“God, baby, I love you so much,” he whispered, then began to kiss his way down her body until he knelt in front of her.
It wasn’t until Jace began to worship her with his mouth that Eve let the sweet satisfaction of victory wash over her. She’d done it. Jace was a stupid, malleable thug, but he was all hers.
“You said yesterday that you can fully restore my memories.”
Sitting at the counter in Angel’s apartment kitchenette, Connor’s voice was filled with wariness and something else Cordy and Angel couldn’t quite identify.
“Yes,” Cordy nodded. “Wesley’s big with the spell mojo and he can help restore them today, if you’re game.”
Connor frowned. “What will happen if I don’t get them back?”
“Our experts say that your old memories will eventually replace your new ones, and you’ll become the person you were before we gave you a new life.” Angel tried to say it gently, but there wasn’t really a good way to do that.
Startled eyes whipped to meet his. The entire, nightmare filled night, Connor had thought that restoring his memories would mean turning his back on the life he’d loved, even if it were fake. That it would mean abandoning his sister and grandmother, and spitting on his parents’ graves. It had never entered his mind that not restoring them would do that.
“You mean I would become the psycho person in my dreams?” It was currently his biggest fear. A shudder ran through him as he recalled the conversation he’d had with his dream-self last night.
Angel nodded sadly. “It seems that way. Wesley seems to think that your new memories would help to soften the full impact of your old ones. That the person you’ve become because of your changed life could salvage the destroyed person you were before.”
“Connor.” Cordy’s voice was soft as she came to sit beside him at the breakfast bar. She touched his hand where it sat on the table, stroking her fingertips against the back of his palm. “Getting your old memories back doesn’t mean your new memories weren’t real.”
“What I mean is that your parents died believing you were their son. Their love for you was real. Your sister’s love for you is real. The experiences you were given and those you had after time started again made you into the well-adjusted person you are today.”
He laughed wryly. “I don’t know if well-adjusted is the best word to describe me right now.”
Angel stared at him. “The old Connor would’ve tried to stake me already.”
Connor’s eyes grew wide. “You’re probably right. But I don’t understand him at all. I mean I don’t understand that me at all. None of what happened was your fault. Holtz did it all. He destroyed your life and mine, too. He’s the one I should’ve hated, but I listened to him and hated you instead. How could I have been so stupid?”
Cordy threw her arm around him and squeezed him tightly. “You were too close to the situation, Connor. Now, with the stability you’ve had in your new life, you can assess the situation rationally. But then, you had no stable foundation to rely on. You couldn’t trust anybody. But now you have the chance to have the best of both worlds.”
“But my grandma and my sister will know the truth when we get our memories back. I won’t exist for them anymore.”
“You still will,” Angel countered. “The spell only affects people who are in the same room when the spell is performed. If you want, you can go back to San Francisco and live your life as if none of this had happened. Only you and we here would know the difference.”
They fell silent as Connor digested this. Finally, he nodded.
“When do we do this?”
“You want to?” Angel tried to keep the excitement out of his voice.
Connor’s eyes softened as he allowed himself to look at his father for the first time without malice.
“I’ve already lost one father; I don’t want to lose another one if I can help it.”
Angel was speechless.
Cordy gave him time to gather himself by saying, “So what’s with the Fruity Pebbles, sport? Isn’t that kinda lame for a nineteen year old?”
Connor let a ghost of a smile cross his face. “Back off, babe. I’ll have you know that Fruity Pebbles is a highly nutritious breakfast choice.”
“Oh, really,” Cordy said, grinning at him. They began to discuss the pros and cons to sugary cereal, and finally, Angel recovered enough to join them, adding his own opinion to the mix. The cloud over them finally disappeared when he laughed at Cordy’s remark: anyone who mixed cereal with a bodily fluid wasn’t qualified to comment.
Wesley looked nervous as he clutched the notepad in his hand. “Angel, there’s no easy way to put this.”
The boss raised his eyebrows as he looked up at Wesley, then scanned the fan club behind him. “So just tell me.”
Wesley nodded. “We want our memories back, too.”
His support group flanked him: Lorne, Gunn, Spike, and Fred. When Angel had approached him about restoring Connor’s memories this afternoon, the group had determined that they wanted to be there. They’d all decided they would confront Angel about the memory alteration. They wanted their memories back, too.
Angel just blinked at them in disbelief. “Your memories? What do you mean?” he asked, playing dumb.
“Oh, come off it, Peaches. We know our memories were changed when Connor’s were.” Spike regarded him with nothing less than disdain.
“And how do you figure that?”
“We realized that Connor couldn’t have been born without us knowing about it. He’s obviously the child of a prophecy if you and Darla are his parents. What doesn’t make sense is that you would keep us completely in the dark, unless you feared that our knowledge would put him in danger.”
A frown marred Angel’s face. He knew Wesley was smart, he just didn’t think his friend would’ve put all of the facts together in a way that would come so close to the truth. Right then, he wished Cordy were there with him. She would know what to say. As it were, she was entertaining Connor and hadn’t wanted to join him.
Angel sighed, giving in to the inevitable. “You’re right, Wes. Your memories were altered when Connor’s were so that no one would know of his existence except me and a few other Wolfram & Hart people. He couldn’t be safe otherwise.”
“Oh, good,” Fred said, sighing with relief. “We knew you would have a good reason.”
“Speak for yourself,” Gunn muttered, earning a glare from Wesley.
Lorne frowned at Angel. “If you knew about this, how were you able to hide it from me when I’ve read you?”
Angel shrugged. “I think it was some kind of mystical shield the set up when the memories were altered. I don’t know a whole lot about it, just that I wanted it done.”
“Whatever the case,” Wesley continued, “we want our memories restored as well.”
Regarding him seriously, Angel stood and walked around the desk, leaning on the front of it and crossing his arms. “You should think about this awhile before you do it. None of us acted in a way we can be proud of.” Angel met each pair of eyes and stared them down. Most looked away uncomfortably. Only Spike met him head on, understanding in his blue-eyed gaze. Only he understood what it was like to regret the past in the same way Angel did.
“Nonetheless, we’re quite certain this is what we want.” Wesley felt comfortable speaking for the group. Their conversation before this meeting had left no doubt in anyone’s minds as to their intentions.
Angel frowned, wondering if he should prepare Wesley for what he was about to face. In the end, he decided that Wesley was willing accept it, whatever his past might hold.
“If you’re sure, I have no problem with it. Connor can use all the support he can get. If you remember what he was like before, you’ll be able to be his family again.”
“Very well,” Wesley said, nodding his head confidently. “We can have the spell set up for early this afternoon. I’m sure that Connor is anxious to get on with it?”
Nodding, Angel stood. “We’re ready. We’ll meet you in the conference room at one o’clock.”
With that, he strode out of the room, leaving his friends to ponder the change they had just agreed to.
The ritual’s participants stood in a circle, hands clasped. Wesley stood in the center of the room, a book in one hand, his other palm open and facing the sky.
“Focus your concentration on my hand. Repeat the words with me.”
Wesley recited a Latin phrase, the words flowing over his tongue like cool water. The others intoned the incantation after him. Wesley’s palm grew warm as he felt the energy wash over him. A small black and beige glass box appeared and shimmered in his hand.
“We did it,” he breathed, his eyes wide as he took in the small, glowing box. Gently, he set the book aside, taking the box in both hands. Steadying himself with a deep breath, he circled once, catching the eyes of each person in the room.
“Release each other’s hands. The memories are said to be overwhelming, almost choking at first. Your new life will mix with your old life, and it will take work to distinguish what is real and what has been made real. If the old memories are bad, use the new ones to soften their impact. To escape from them.”
Angel knew that Wesley’s speech was as much for himself as it was for everyone else. Connor was the only one who looked somewhat confident, already knowing what he was about to face.
“Is everyone ready?”
Everyone nodded in answer to Wesley’s question.
“Then it will be done.” As the words left his lips, Wesley released his fingers from the box and it dropped to the tabletop, shattering in a million tiny pieces. A burst of energy lit up the room, everyone’s eyes lighting up and the breath leaving them in one huge whoosh. Angel and Cordy staggered, a bit disoriented, but it was mere moments before they felt normal again. They had no memories to be returned.
Angel watched his son’s face with apprehension. Connor’s eyes grew wide as soon as the box broken, his face turning immediately toward his father, and the anguish in his eyes grew almost tangible. Angel longed to walk across the room and pull him into his arms, but the old Connor, the distrustful Connor, was way too close to the surface right now.
Around the room, gasps and moans could be heard as each of the other participants, save Spike, sank to the floor. Tears rolled down Fred’s face as her mouth dropped open in disbelief. She clutched her hand to her heart and her eyes flew to Cordelia’s, then Connor’s, faces. It was as if she almost couldn’t comprehend what had happened to them.
Gunn shook his head, slamming his fist against the floor, growling his anger. Lorne muttered under his breath, holding his head, the psychic headache a painful side effect to the ritual.
Wesley was the worst off. He’d sunk to his knees the moment his memories came back, his eyes staring unseeing at the floor. As if in slow motion, his eyes filled up with tears, one overflowing and running down his cheek. Despair laced his gaze as he turned his eyes up to Angel’s, his very posture already begging for forgiveness.
“I betrayed you,” he whispered. “I thought you were going to kill him.”
Angel walked over to him, kneeling down at his side, one large hand clasping Wesley’s shoulder. The younger man tried to shrug away from him, but Angel wouldn’t let go.
“It’s in the past, Wesley. You’re different now.”
“I was different then,” Wesley argued. “I knew you would hate me but I felt I had no choice. I thought I was doing what was best for Connor.”
Wesley let his eyes move across the room and rest on Angel’s son. Connor’s eyes met Wesley’s and for a brief second, pure hatred rested there. His new self felt the need for vengeance for his suffering, and it seemed at the moment that all of his problems could be traced to this one man.
But just as soon as it appeared in his eyes, the hatred was gone, replaced by a compassion that mirrored his father’s. There were so many people at fault for what had happened to him, yet no one person to blame. Except maybe Holtz. But even he’d had a reason for his sadistic actions.
Wesley nodded as he looked from Connor’s eyes to Angel’s, then back again. He realized in that one moment that it was truly over. He’d lived with the betrayal hanging over his head for so long, the brief period of obliviousness his only respite. He could see the forgiveness in Angel’s eyes, even if the vampire would never say it.
Now they had Connor back, and all would be well again. At least they hoped so.
Cool lips trailed across hot skin, finding all the hidden places that made her shiver. A sigh escaped her, the breath accompanying it skimming across his shoulder and sending sparks shooting down his back. He kissed his way up between her breasts, along her collarbone, her chin, and finally claimed her mouth. He paused there a moment, their lips brushing faintly, their breaths mingling in the still light of mid afternoon, and opened his eyes, staring into hers so deeply she feared she’d get lost.
“I love you, Cordy,” he breathed against her mouth, then kissed her until she thought she’d expire from the heat of it.
“A-Angel,” she gasped, pushing him back after a few breathless moments. “We don’t have time. Connor and the rest of the gang are coming back in just a little bit to hang out tonight.”
Angel looked at her funny. “Cordy, all of them were drained from the ritual. Fred and Wesley practically staggered from the room. Even Connor said he was going to take a nap. I think we have some time.”
She shook her head. “We don’t if we want to – ah!” Her eyes fluttered shut as Angel’s fingers tweaked her nipple. “Not fair!” she whined. “You’re cheating.”
“Oh, look at that pout,” he teased her, snaking a tongue out to swipe along her protruding bottom lip. “Tasty, baby. Very tasty.”
“I give up,” she said breathlessly. “Just be quick.”
He grinned, then set to work. With speed that defied the laws of nature, he had Cordelia undressed and perched on the edge of his desk, her toes barely touching the floor. He knelt in front of her, and with no warning at all, dove in and sucked on her clit. Hard.
Cordelia screamed without thinking about it. Angel jerked back, his eyes twinkling even as her fingers grasped his hair and tried to pull him back to her. He stood up, his duster and shirt sliding off his shoulders as he rose. He pulled his undershirt over his head, stomach muscles rippling with the movement. Cordy’s fingers reached out to touch him, but he backed away before she made contact, earning a whimper from his now-frustrated girlfriend.
The undershirt became a gag of sorts, although it probably wasn’t necessary. Screams at Wolfram & Hart were common place, and it was doubtful that any heads even turned when Cordy let her feelings be known so audibly. Even so, he didn’t want to take any chances that they’d be interrupted.
He kissed her mouth through the shirt now in his way. Her eyes were wide, but sparkling. She was loving this.
Sinking back to his knees, Angel took up where he left off, Cordy’s muffled screams telling him that his technique was flawless. He sucked, bit, and licked every inch of her swollen folds, sliding two thick fingers inside to stroke her sweet spot. She came more than once, her body trembling as he worshiped her in the best way he knew how.
Shaking hands brought him back up to eye level moments later, and Cordy reached behind her head to take the gag off, needing to feel his mouth on hers. The shirt fell around her neck and she pulled him to her, attacking his mouth with a ferocity that defied her human status. She bit his lip, drawing blood, sighing at the taste of him flowing into her mouth.
Angel’s growls matched hers. His pants were gone in moments and he stood closer to her, drawing her near the edge of the desk and against his hips. He thrust against her, rubbing but not entering, teasing them both into breathlessness. Trailing her face, then her neck, his cool mouth left a trail of ice that made her shiver as he licked his marks and bit them with blunt teeth.
“Now, Angel,” she demanded, reaching down and grasping him in her hands, determined to feel him inside her as soon as possible. He let her take control, guiding him inside her, and they both groaned at the feeling that was so new. It was as if they’d forgotten the beauty of being together until this very moment, and it overwhelmed them with its intensity each and every time they came together.
The rhythm was slow, steady, a sensual sliding in and out of her that made her close her eyes and shudder. Cordy let her lips rest on his neck, sucking at her mark there, biting him, needing to taste him again. She didn’t, not yet.
Angel let his demon out to play, his forehead ridges brushing against her shoulder as his fangs scored her skin. In one swift bite, the claim was renewed, her blood flowing over his tongue with the sweetness of a gift from the gods. Colors exploded behind his eyes as his body found unparalleled pleasure in the depths of hers.
Quivering, Cordelia found her own release as she felt her blood leave her body and nourish his. He needed her. Craved her. Desired her. Loved her. All of it culminated in this powerful, explosive physical joining that both drowned her and gave her life, all in the same instant.
Small, delicate licks closed wounds and stopped the flow of sweet blood. Cordy wrapped her arms around his neck, scooting further on the desk until her balance rested on him, not the furniture. They were still joined, still one, and she had an innate knowledge that when their bodies separated, it would be an unimportant physical fact, not anything symbolic of their new relationship. They were together. They belonged together.
Because of the Powers that Be, they would be together forever.
“We should get up,” Angel said softly, cradling her in his arms. They were draped over the leather sofa in his office, once again fully clothed, but pressed up against each other so tightly it would be nearly impossible to separate one from the other.
“What time is it?” Cordy asked, kissing his jaw.
“Five-thirty,” Angel whispered. “They’re supposed to be there at six.”
He shook his head, his stubble brushing against her forehead making a light, pleasant friction. “No. Lorne has some celebrity thing tonight and Spike wanted to be alone. He’s still working some things out about Buffy.”
She squirmed in his arms at the mention of his ex-girlfriend. “Are you okay with them?”
“Yeah.” She bit her lip, trying not to sound too apprehensive. He’d taken her when she’d offered herself, and he’d known that without her, his soul wouldn’t be permanent. If he could have any woman and his soul, would he still have chosen her?
Angel shrugged, feeling the tension in her body but not commenting on it. “I will always care about Buffy and I’ll always want what’s best for her. I used to think that Spike was the worst person for her, but now, I don’t know. The soul has strengthened the good that was always in him. Hasn’t changed his personality much,” he said wryly, “but he loves her. And she needs someone like him, I think.”
Cordy relaxed against him. They lay silent for a few more moments and she stroked his collar bone lightly with her fingers.
“What are we going to do about Connor?” she finally asked.
Angel gripped her more tightly. “We have to ask him to go back.”
Her breath stopped for a moment. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. I can’t see another way. We haven’t even talked to him about Eve’s plans yet, but I know he won’t be able to tell us much. We don’t know enough, and he’s the only one who can get the information we need. We have to stop her. Kill her. It won’t be over otherwise. Connor won’t be safe.”
“Will he be safe if we send him back?”
Angel frowned fiercely. “I’ll send Spike to watch over him. Somehow I think that Eve’s people would recognize me. They might even recognize Spike, but there’s less chance of that. I’m worried about him, but Connor can take care of himself.”
She sighed. “You’re right. He’s a man now; he can take care of it.”
He was silent for a moment. “I just wonder . . .”
Burying his face in her hair, Angel shuddered as if ashamed. “I keep wondering if I can trust him. He’s pretended to be on our side before, and then he tried to kill me. I love him, but I don’t know if I can trust him, Cordy.”
“I know,” she said softly, giving him a tight squeeze and kissing him softly. “You feel guilty for saying that, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “He’s my son. I love him more than I’ve ever loved anyone except you. He’s a part of me, and I hate myself for thinking that about him.”
“Look at me,” she demanded, raising her eyes to fasten on his. “Connor is your son. He told us himself that he felt tremendous guilt about what he did to you before. His new life has given him the conscience he lacked in his old one. He won’t betray you, Angel.”
“I hope you’re right,” was all he could say before kissing her again, needing the contact to keep his perspective straight.
“Oh my gosh, Connor, you have to look at this stuff!”
Fred’s excited voice rang out from the back of Angel’s apartment. Just a few moments later, her pixie face peeked around the door into the living room, her bright smile making her eyes shine.
“I totally found the best stuff!”
Angel looked puzzled. “What were you doing, Fred?”
She had the grace to blush. “Well, see Cordy was looking in your closet for something she needed and she asked me to help because she said that I’m good at that kind of thing, well better than she is anyway, at least that’s what she said, and so we were looking around and I found this box marked ‘Connor’ and I opened it up and there was all this cool stuff in it!” She took a deep breath. “So I thought Connor might want to look at it.”
A blink from the big guy was her only answer for a moment. Angel regained his composure a mere second later. “O-o-okay.”
“It’s all right, isn’t it?” Fred asked anxiously, her eyes wide as she bit her lip in worry. “I mean, didn’t you save it for him?”
More like so Angel wouldn’t forget, but it basically amounted to the same thing, didn’t it?
“Yeah, it’s fine,” Angel agreed. “As long as Connor wants to.”
Connor looked up at his father, an amused smile gracing his lips. “I don’t see how I can pass it up. What’s in there, Fred?”
“Oh, goodie!” she squealed, running over to the couch and sinking into its cushy depths. “Come sit here!” she patted the seat next to her and Connor complied.
Opening the lid to the box, Fred oooed and aahed over the contents for a few minutes, pulling out items one by one and placing them on the coffee table.
She beamed, picking up a teddy bear that had obviously seen better days. “Mr. Snuggles!” she squealed. I haven’t seen him in so long. You used to sleep with him all the time.”
A strange look passed over Connor’s face as he looked at the grubby toy in Fred’s hands. It amazed him that one small item could look so roughed up, especially since he hadn’t been with Angel for very long as a baby. A few months at most before Holtz stole him away. Yet the small toy looked very worn, as if it had been tugged around carelessly and loved a great deal.
Almost against his will, Connor reached out and took the soft toy in his man’s hands, the large fingers surrounding the brown bear and sinking in the plush fabric. The bear blurred before his eyes as tears stung him, and he swallowed against the lump in his throat. He looked up quickly at Angel, who’d come and sat across from them on the coffee table. Cordy sat next to him, sliding under his arm and snuggling into his side.
“How did it get so . . .” he trailed off, not trusting himself to look at either Angel or Cordy at that moment.
“Skuzzy?” Cordy finished for him, a smile in her voice. She reached out a hand and trailed it over the bear’s fur, as if petting him. “This little guy saw a lot of action after you were taken. We all held it at one time or another, just wanting to be close to you again after you were gone. I think some of us even slept with it.”
She didn’t say who, but Connor’s eyes flew instantly to his father. Angel swallowed, his eyes dark and fathomless. He finally shrugged slightly, as if he didn’t know quite how to explain himself. It seemed so simple.
“It smelled like you. Like my baby, my son. I just couldn’t let go.” Angel’s deep voice warmed Connor, and his tears spilled over, tracking down his face.
Connor clutched the small toy to his chest, burying his nose in its head for a moment, smelling the surprisingly comforting scent of his father mixed with the smell of a baby: powder, milk, and love. Strangely, the toy didn’t look out of place in the arms of a grown man.
The sight of him brought tears to everyone’s eyes.
“Can I keep it?” he asked hoarsely.
Angel nodded, not able to speak. Finally, he said, “It is yours. Of course you can have it.”
“Now the pictures,” Fred declared, picking up a small album and thrusting it into Connor’s hands. “Here! You look though them and we’ll fill you in.”
Connor set the teddy bear in his lap, then opened the album with no small measure of apprehension. He was still trying to absorb all of the negative feelings he’d had toward his father in the first version of his life, and that part of him was repulsed by celebrating any time he’d ever spent with these people. The new part of him, though, was of complete opposite opinion, desperately needing the acceptance and love he knew he was going to find inside.
The first picture made his breath catch, tears blurring his eyes for a moment. The photo was of Angel, Cordy, and baby Connor at the hospital, Cordy cradling Connor in her arms and smiling sweetly. Angel was perched on the arm of her chair, his arm slung around her shoulders, a huge smile on his face, the likes of which Connor had never seen in this life or his other one. The love Angel felt for his child was almost palpable, so visible it was in his expression. He stared down at the cherubic face of his son, his hand reaching out to stroke the baby’s soft cheek, the pride and joy overflowing from the photo and into adult Connor’s heart.
He swallowed audibly.
“Oh, that one’s so cute,” Fred commented, smiling. “That was right after you were born. We took you to the hospital to make sure you were okay. We didn’t know what to expect from the child of two vampires, but they checked you out and said you were perfectly healthy and normal.”
Connor nodded, not trusting himself to speak, and flipped to the next picture. More of him as a baby, being held by everyone, but mostly by Cordy or his father. He stopped cold about six pictures in, the one in front of him making his mouth drop open in disbelief.
“What one is that?” Cordy asked, craning her neck over his lap so she could see the picture, albeit upside down from her vantage point. She laughed when she saw which one it was. “Oh my gosh. I’d forgotten totally about that. You used to love it when your dad went into vamp face.”
A ghost of a smile washed over Angel’s face as he remembered it. “There’s a story behind that. When we first brought you home, you cried nonstop and I couldn’t figure out how to make you quiet down. I fed you, changed you, sang to you—”
“That made you cry harder,” Cordy interrupted with a laugh.
“—but nothing would work,” Angel finished, ignoring Cordy’s comment. “I was at my wits end and in my anger, I vamped out. You immediately stopped crying and you actually liked it. It comforted you.”
“It was like you knew that was who your father really was,” Cordy said, smiling. “It was so sweet.”
The look Connor gave Angel in that moment was almost indecipherable. Hell, he didn’t know what to think. The thought of the baby self not being scared by his father’s vampire visage was ludicrous. Suddenly he had to see it again, just to know for himself.
“Do it, Dad,” he asked quietly.
Angel was startled, both from the request and the fact that his son had called him “dad” for the first time since he’d been returned to him. “Change?” he asked.
Connor nodded. “I want to see it.”
Angel stared at him for a moment, then let his human features slip away and his demon emerged. Bottomless yellow eyes stared unashamed into his son’s, and the love that shone there took Connor’s breath away.
For a moment, time stood still. Connor stared wide-eyed into his father’s gaze, feeling trapped. The picture had stirred so many feelings within him. Seeing himself, as a helpless child in the arms of a monster had offended his old self so much that he thought he might burst from his skin. But more telling was what his new self felt now as he looked directly into the eyes of his demonic parent: it just felt natural somehow.
Abruptly, Connor stood, clutching the teddy bear and photo album to his chest. Eyes darting around nervously, he swallowed, mouth dry. Finally, his eyes rested on Angel’s. The worry there was almost his undoing.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t—” he stopped, looking down at the items he grasped. “I need to be alone.”
“Of course,” Angel said hoarsely, standing and trying his best not to give into the temptation and snatch his son up in his arms. “The guest bedroom is down the hall, first door on the right. Get some rest. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
Connor nodded, then headed unsteadily in that direction. Cordy stopped him with a hand on his arm as he passed her. “Good night, Connor,” she said softly. “You know we love you, right?”
He just nodded, then hurried away before he burst into sobs on the spot. He was so confused. It warred within him, the desperate need for his father’s love and the hate that bubbled just beneath the surface. So he did what he did best: escape into the darkness.
He felt safe in the dark.
It was a startling realization. Connor lay awake in a strange bed, in the spare bedroom of his father’s apartment, staring up at the ceiling. Thinking back, he realized that he’d always felt safer in the dark. As if he could hide himself from everything evil there. As if there was something in the dark that he knew instinctively would protect him.
It wasn’t until the nightmares, his old memories, started to come that he felt afraid of the night. Now that he had those memories back, he felt safe again. Having his father and near step-mother next door didn’t hurt things any. Connor didn’t remember feeling so much love since before his parents died. It amazed him.
It scared him to death.
He didn’t deserve the love that Angel and Cordelia so unconditionally heaped upon him. He’d done horrible, unforgivable things to Angel after he’d returned tot this dimension from Quortoth. He’d tried to kill his own father more than once, not to mention taking away his happiness with the one woman who meant the world to him. Every fiber in Connor’s being shouted at him that he was a traitor. A betrayer. A son who didn’t deserve to live. And yet, somewhere deep inside, he wanted to commit those atrocities all over again. The dark part of him craved the excruciating pain he felt when he tortured his own father.
More than anything, Connor wanted to rise above that and be the son Angel deserved to have. To be the son he’d been for the Riley’s. The fatherhood Angel had been denied and the childhood Connor had had stolen from him.
It was all quite clear to him now. He had to go back. Had to stride back out into the bright sunlight and face two people who were determined to destroy everything that mattered to him. Two people who were determined to use him to destroy the only father he had left. He had to stand there, be burned by the sun and their lies, and smile the entire time. Or at least look like he was devoted to them and their insane cause.
Connor flipped over abruptly onto his stomach, burying his tear-stung eyes into his pillow. His fists gripped the edges of it tightly, squeezing the cotton fabric until his fingers ached. He moaned into his pillow, the anguish inside tearing him up.
The last thing he wanted to do was go back, to leave this idyllic existence with a family that loved him and walk right back into the demon’s lair. Just the thought of seeing Eve and Jace made his stomach churn in revulsion. They’d betrayed him. Jace had betrayed him, even after Connor had trusted him and practically loved him like a surrogate father.
But in the end, Connor knew he would go. He knew he would get up in – he checked the clock – three hours and leave his father and the rest of his family, and go back to bring down the beast from within. He would lie, he would manipulate, and he would betray. He would come dangerously close to rekindling the insanity that was forced into silence deep inside him.
Desperately, he sought forgiveness for the things his old self had done, all in the name of vengeance.
It all came down to one simple reason: redemption.
An apprehensive breath was sucked into Connor’s lungs as he looked across the apartment at his father and Cordelia. Bathed in soft morning light, they were sitting close together on the sofa, their heads touching, their voices in soft whispers. Angel had his arms around Cordelia and she had her hands on his chest, playing with the edges of his shirt. They had contented smiles on their faces and every few moments, he could hear the slight hint of a feminine giggle or a masculine laugh.
He hated to interrupt them, but there was no other choice.
Walking over near them, Connor cleared his throat, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his baggy cargo pants.
Angel and Cordy turned smiling faces to him, but they made no move to separate.
“Hey, sunshine. Sleep well?” Cordy asked, grinning at him.
“Um, yeah,” he lied, his face serious. “I need to talk to you guys.”
Cordy sat up, moving off Angel’s lap and onto the cushion next to him.
“What is it?” Angel sounded apprehensive, his eyes darkening with concern.
“I need to go back.”
A stunned silence greeted his declaration. Cordy swallowed and Angel shifted in his seat, and then they both looked at each other, exchanging a glance that held an entire conversation from the day before. It looked as though they wouldn’t have to ask.
“When?” Angel’s simple question seemed to throw Connor off guard. He hadn’t expected his decision to be accepted so easily.
“Today. I’ve already been gone for too long. Jace and Eve will come looking for me, and I don’t want them to find out I’ve been here.”
“What do you plan to tell them?” Cordy looked at him with concern etched on every feature.
Connor shrugged. “That I went away to meditate, I guess. I’ll think of something. I just want them to think I’m still on their side.”
“Are you?” Angel asked bluntly, shoving away the guilt.
Connor’s mouth dropped open in shock. “No!” his voice was hoarse. “Of course not. You’re my father. I just found you again. I’m not going to try to kill you. If I wanted to, I would’ve done it already.”
“I’m sorry, Connor, but I had to ask.”
“I know. But I can’t let them try to kill you without me. At least if I’m back there, I’ll know how to stop it.”
“Are you sure that you can handle being undercover like that?” Cordy asked. “You’ve been through a lot in the last twenty four hours. A lot of emotional strain.”
“Yeah,” Connor sighed. “But I think they’re more comfortable with me if I’m in pain. I’ve tried to be happy around Jace and he doesn’t take it very well. He thinks I do it to hide something. And Eve,” he shuddered, “she doesn’t take any change very well.”
Angel’s countenance darkened, his fists clenching into the armrests of his chair. “Do you know their plans?”
Connor nodded. “Some of it. Basically all I know is that they plan to strike right after the full moon. Eve has somebody on the inside of Wolfram & Hart who can neutralize your security. They want to do the hit the next day. I don’t know anything else.”
“I’ll come with you,” Angel said quickly, suddenly feeling as though Spike wouldn’t be enough. He needed to protect his son. “I’ll just hide out and see you when you aren’t with them.”
“You can’t,” Connor said, his eyes meeting Angel’s. “They keep tabs on me around the clock. Once I went to a club and Jace reamed me out about it the next morning. Said that I was compromising my training or something. They have spies, and they’ll see you.”
Angel looked frustrated. He’d have to send Spike without telling Connor. “Then we’ll meet with you in a couple of days, in secret.”
“I think that could work. I’m sure I’ll know more by then.”
Silence fell over them, an uncomfortable fog that made them choke. Connor stood hastily.
“I’d better go before it gets too late. If I leave now, I can be back before nightfall.”
Standing too, Angel and Cordy moved closer to each other, as if their shared presence would give them strength. After a moment’s hesitation, Cordy jerked forward and drew Connor into a quick hug. He awkwardly returned it.
“Be careful, Connor,” she said softly. “We don’t want to lose you again.”
“I’ll be careful.”
He seemed to hesitate for a moment, then turned to leave, grabbing a backpack from the couch.
“I’ll call you,” he said without looking at them, then strode toward the door. Angel followed, determined to see him out even though he felt as though his son was leaving and never coming back. Even so, he couldn’t seem to find the wherewithal to reach out and hug his own son.
Connor paused, his hand on the doorknob, as if he’d forgotten something. His mouth pursed into a frown. In one swift movement, he dropped his bag and turned, reaching for Angel and pulling him into a hug. He squeezed him tightly for a mere second, not even long enough for Angel to hug him back.
“Bye, Dad,” he whispered, then released him and escaped out the door.
Angel stood in stunned silence staring at the half-open portal. Cordy came up behind him and put her arms around his waist, squeezing him gently.
“He’ll be back, Angel,” she reassured him.
Angel just swallowed against the lump in his throat and shut the door.
The former Angel Investigations crew took their respective places in their new headquarters: Angel’s office. Gunn stood, feet spread wide, arms crossed over his expensively clothed chest and waited with the quietly controlled violence of a gladiator before a fight.
Wesley and Fred were joined at the hip, as usual, seated close together on the leather couch. Fred sat perched on the edge of the cushion, her ankles crossed delicately. A pile of books sat on Wesley’s lap and he clung to them as if the knowledge in their pages would steady the nerves that hadn’t quite recovered from yesterday’s ritual.
A cell phone seemed permanently attached to Lorne’s ear as he paced a corner of the room, gesturing wildly as he used his witty banter to soothe the easily ruffled feathers of one of his most popular celebrity clients.
Spike was the only one absent, having trailed Connor almost immediately after he’d left. Angel had called him, given him access to one of the necro-tinted cars, and sent him after his son with the charge to keep him safe. Spike hadn’t questioned him at all; a terse agreement holding a promise that Angel instinctively knew only Spike’s death could break.
Watching his soldiers prepare for this meeting made Angel uneasy. None of them seemed to be in top form; everyone’s demons were close to the surface today, including Angel’s own. Cordy’s presence calmed him, no doubt. It was just that having Connor out of his sight made him unaccountably nervous.
“Let’s get started, then,” he said, calling everyone to attention. Once all eyes were tuned on him, he continued. “Connor’s gone. He went back to San Francisco to learn more about Jace and Eve’s plans. Spike’s trailing him, keeping an eye on him.”
“Do you think that’s wise, Angel?” Wesley questioned. “Connor has been through a lot in the last day or so.”
“He has,” Angel agreed, “but he wanted to go. He suggested it.”
“He’s betrayed us before,” Gunn said darkly. “How do you know he won’t do it again?”
Angel’s hands fisted in anger at Gunn’s comments. It didn’t matter that they’d so clearly mirrored his own a few hours before. Hearing it come from someone else was an insult. One he tried hard not to react to.
“He won’t,” Angel said hoarsely. “He’s changed.”
“I’m not so certain,” Wesley cut in. “Connor has a history of appearing devoted but having loyalties elsewhere, especially with our enemies.”
“But he’s not like that now,” Angel defended him, his jaw clenching.
Wesley shrugged. “He wasn’t before the memory restoration spell.” Tapping the books on his lap, he continued. “I’ve been researching the memory restoration, looking for side effects. It seems as if there are no lasting ones. We were able to restore Connor’s memories early enough so that his new, more stable self will be able to compensate for the instability of his old one.”
“Well, then that should take care of it. No more psycho Connor,” Cordy said.
Wesley frowned. “That’s a hypothesis only, Cordelia. It’s entirely possible that he will choose to discard his new memories, deciding that they’re fantasy and can’t be trusted. We can only hope that he will embrace them and let them take over the darkness from his past. What we should’ve done is had Lorne read him before he left.”
“Oh, I didn’t think of that,” Fred said absently. “I suppose that would’ve helped.”
Lorne shrugged. “I don’t know if I could’ve done anything. The boy’s aura is probably messier than Florida in hurricane season. I might not have been able to get any kind of reading that would make sense.”
“We can’t do much about it now,” Fred pointed out. “I think we should just stick to what we can do before they attack. Do we have any clue when that will be?”
Angel nodded. “Connor said it would be right after the full moon, which is in just over a week. He said that Eve has someone here on the inside who will neutralize our security. That’s about all he knew.”
A frown still marring his handsome face, Gunn shifted slightly on his feet. “I’m still uncomfortable with the kid being undercover. I’ve just got this feelin’ that he’ll betray us. There was this look in his eyes—” Gunn stopped abruptly when he saw the thundercloud growing on Angel’s face.
“He’ll be fine,” Angel said, now more to convince himself just as much as everyone else. He’d been secure in Connor’s loyalty before this meeting started, but all this talk was stirring up his doubt again.
Abruptly, he changed the subject. “Wes, I want you to focus on how to shore up our security around here. See what spells you can find to protect us, and see what loopholes they might be exploiting. I want them to get into the building, but I don’t want them to be able to kill me without warning.”
“I’ll help Wes,” Fred said.
Angel nodded his consent. “Gunn, gather anyone from your sources here to defend the building if it is overrun. I need your strength this time, not your brain.”
Gunn frowned darkly, but nodded.
“What should I do, Angelcakes?” Lorne asked.
“See if you can figure out who on our staff is the betrayer, and how they plan to get in.”
“Tall order, Boss, but I’ll work on it.”
“Good. Everyone get to work. We’ll meet back here tomorrow to discuss our progress. Cordy and I are meeting with Connor in a couple of days to find out what he’s learned. We need to have a plan by then. A good plan.”
As his motley crew walked out the door, Angel felt a wave of apprehension wash over him. For the first time, he had doubts about their ability to succeed. They’d all be tested severely. Would they come through for him when it mattered most?
Only time would tell.
“It’s the day after tomorrow, Jace,” Eve said, staring him down and willing him to put her off again. “I called him this morning. He wasn’t there. We gonow.”
Jace smiled at her indulgently. “I know, baby. That’s why I came prepared.” He whipped open his duster in the way of a street vendor selling watches, his grin just as smarmy. A myriad of weapons glinted in the dim light of the warehouse.
Eve’s smile lit up her whole face, her eyes sparkling with devilish excitement as she strode over to him and stuck her hands inside his jacket. She ran her fingers over the weapons strapped to his hips and sides, then drew her hands over his back and clutched him to her. She felt the hilt of his sword press up against her hip and she sighed, closing her eyes and leaning her head on his chest.
“I knew you wouldn’t let me down,” she said softly squeezing him. She was practically choking on the syrup she fed into her voice. If it hadn’t been for his shitty mentoring, they wouldn’t even need to go after the damn kid.
Finally, she pulled away from him. “I’ve been checking around. He hasn’t been to see his granny or lil’ sis. Last sighting I had of him was entering his apartment the night we saw him last. He disappeared into the night.”
Jace nodded. “There’s this place he goes to when he wants to be alone. He took me there once. That’s where we’ll look for him first.”
“Look for who?”
Jace and Eve whipped around so fast they stumbled. A thunderstorm gathered on Eve’s face as she took in the infuriatingly nonchalant pose of their errant ward.
“Where the hell have you been?” she growled, forcing tears to flow into her eyes and her face to transform into that of a worried aunt. She crossed the room, a look of utter relief mixed with fading fear for Connor’s life. “We’ve been so worried about you!”
Jace hung back, finally closing his mouth as Connor walked toward them. The look in the boy’s eyes was disconcerting.
“Hi, Jace,” Connor said quietly, a smile stretching at the corners of his mouth just briefly.
“Connor,” Jace said, nodding. “We were worried about you.”
Connor sighed, flopping into a folding chair they’d kept nearby for rest during sparring practice. His movement held every ounce of the carefree collegiate. He looked up at them and shrugged. “I needed to be alone for awhile. Get my shit together, you know?”
They just stared at him. Connor rolled his eyes and stood to his feet. “Jeez, you two are worse than a couple of prison guards. It’s not like I broke parole or something. I wanted to be at top form for this thing we’ve got planned. I can’t fight the world’s biggest badass and not be at my best, right?”
“Right,” Eve said, looking at him warily. “Where did you go?”
He nodded in Jace’s direction. “That place he was talking about when I came in. There’s a nature conservatory not too far out of the city. I needed to relax. To meditate. To train in my own way. You said we had two weeks until the full moon, so I was trying to use it to my best advantage.”
Connor relaxed inside a bit as he watched the tension start to drain out of Eve’s shoulders. “Look,” he said, raising his hands in a gesture of peace. “I knew if I told you I wanted to leave, you wouldn’t let me. But I had to. You guys don’t get it; sometimes there’s this psycho me that just wants to break out, and I had to smash him back in again.”
Eve shot him a funny look, undoubtedly remembering the Connor before the memory change. Finally, she nodded. “We probably wouldn’t have let you go. But at least you could’ve left a note saying that you would be back. I was starting to think that you’d gone to screw it all up.”
Connor laughed. “What, and miss out on the action? No way. I’m ready to fight the big bad evil.”
“Good,” Jace said, standing up straight. “So how about we train?”
A defiant chin raise was his only answer. Connor set up to fight, dropping his backpack at his feet and standing at the ready. “Bring it, old man.”
Jace stepped up, an unreadable expression on his face. His fist shot out, catching Connor in the chin and throwing him across the room and into a pole.
Breathless, Connor stared wide-eyed at Jace. “Guess somebody’s been eating their spinach,” he joked, not quite believing the obvious. “Looks like I’ll have to break out the big guns.”
“I’m ready, superkid.”
Connor shivered. Somehow that nickname now had a deadly ring to it.
“So how’s he doing?”
Anxiety colored every word Angel spoke. He squirmed in his seat, Cordy’s hand on his thigh the only thing keeping him from jumping up and pacing in the aisle near their booth.
Spike sat across from them, calm and collected in his trademark duster. Defiant against California’s non-smoking laws, he pulled out a cigarette and lit it, knowing that the late-night diner probably wouldn’t kick him out for it.
“He’s doing well, all things considered,” he finally said, his face serious. “Gave me a bit of a scare there at first, though.”
“Why?” Cordy sounded anxious, too.
Spike shrugged. “You shoulda seen the act he put on for them the first day he showed up at the warehouse. Psycho bitch was there with her puppy. Both of ‘em looked like they’d just seen a ghost, but the kid played it cool. So cool I thought he’d been foolin’ us the whole time.”
Angel frowned, a crease forming between his eyes. “You don’t think he was?”
“I would’ve,” Spike said, knocking his cigarette against an empty coffee mug and dropping the ashes into it, “but that was before I saw him a few nights ago. He was crying.”
“Was he okay?” Cordy asked.
Spike nodded. “Wasn’t hurt or anything. Just sad, I guess. He had a picture in front of him. His back was to me and I could see it; was of the two of you and him as a baby. I realized then how conflicted he is. He’s loyal to you, I think, but they’re messing with his head pretty bad.”
Shoulder’s sagging in relief and weariness, Angel nodded. “Thanks for looking out for him, Spike.”
“He isn’t hard to watch. Does pretty much the same thing every day. I think he’s making it easy on me.”
“He knows you’re there?”
Shrugging, Spike dropped his cigarette butt in the cup and reached for his drink, taking a large swallow. “Think so. He kinda looks over his shoulder like he knows I’m there. Always a little smirk on his face when he does that.”
Cordy leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table. “What are they having him do during the day? Do you know more about their plans?”
Spike shook his head. “No, but Eve’s boy toy got a burst of juice from someplace. He’s all fired up and is giving Connor a run for his money. The kid’s kinda scary when he’s fighting him. Reminds me of Angelus.”
“Don’t say that,” Angel growled. The last thing he wanted his son to inherit was anything from his alter ego.
Spike just shrugged again. “Can’t help it. It’s true. Anyway, I think they’re trying to mess with his head. Make him hate the sight of the guy or something. And since he looks so much like you—” he trailed off.
Cordy sat back again and sighed, crossing her arms over her chest. “I’m worried about him.”
“We all are,” Angel said softly.
Spike shifted in his seat uncomfortably. “I think you should be worried. He’s been changing, little by little. I think he’s still on our side, but he smiles less and less. I think they’re starting to get to him.”
Angel bit back a growl. “We’re meeting with him tomorrow night, though, right?”
Swallowing the last of his drink, Spike answered, “Yep. They’re giving him the night off. I’ve got someplace for us to meet. We should be all set.”
After his words died away, they sat there in silence. Nobody wanted to say anything. It seemed as though enough had already been revealed for one night.
The picture wasn’t even framed, but it held Connor’s attention so acutely that the average observer might think it had been dipped in gold. One strong finger reached out and traced the edges of the faces in the picture, trembling. A hot tear tracked down his cheek, glittering in the moonlight that filtered through his open bedroom window.
It felt crowded in this room. Stuffy. As if there weren’t enough oxygen to breathe. Nothing had changed since he’d been in L.A., yet everything had changed. The dreams he’d experienced while sleeping in the bed on which he now sat had become his reality. He did have a vampire father. He did have a psychotic side to himself.
It was that psychotic side that had him scared. His feelings were in such a jumble right now and had been since his memories had returned; clear as day and full force enough to practically knock him over backwards. He’d thought, having dreamed them, that the ritual to restore his past would be relatively easy. But he hadn’t been prepared for the hatred, confusion, and self-loathing of his old persona to wash over him like lava from an unexpected volcanic eruption. He’d felt burned by them, the confidence his new life inspired a mere misting of cool relief, but not enough to stem the hatred that had welled up within his soul.
A muscle twitched in Connor’s jaw as he stoically turned his gaze back to the picture. His finger curled away from his father’s face as he tried to keep the growl deep within him from escaping in a mindless, animalistic roar. A tightly coiled beast lay within his chest, demanding vengeance. Demanding retribution. Demanding punishment for the man who’d given him life and then failed to protect him from the monsters in the world.
Every moment, that beast within him grew larger, fueled by the fury he felt every time he battled with Jace. It had been just under a week since he’d returned from L.A., a week in which he’d been floored by the increase in Jace’s strength. He’d battled the older man with everything in his arsenal, but he’d fought long and hard before he saw any progress. It was as if the Jace he’d known had left and been replaced with a man who had the strength of a vampire.
Connor’s eyes darted away from the picture even as his fingers curled more tightly around its edges, bending the paper. Jace had the strength of Connor’s father. The looks of his father. And deep within his dark brown eyes, there was a hint of the struggle that Connor had seen so plainly in Angel’s gaze. Oh, Connor knew that Jace’s turmoil came from a different place, but he could see that Jace was a man apart, a man who was driven by darkness now, but tempered by a conscience that wouldn’t die. He could see it in Jace’s eyes every time he came at him, and it fueled the pain and anger in Connor’s chest.
Turning to the only strategy he could think of, Connor took his fury out on this look-alike, hoping that it would fool his psychotic personality into feeling vindicated. Hoping that Connor’s amalgamated self would have the strength to keep his sword in check when he faced Angel again.
His new self, the one who’d been loved and coddled by the Rileys, lay huddled in a corner of his mind, cowering away from the beast. And every day, as his darker side grew stronger, and the settled, happy person he’d been got weaker.
Standing, Connor moved to the head of his bed and slipped the picture under his pillow. Looking at it only brought him pain. Only reminded him that at one time, the people in that picture had loved him, yet let him be destroyed. They said they loved him, but they’d lied to him.
They were coming tonight. Angel, Cordy, and Spike were going to meet him in less than an hour to discuss Eve and Jace’s plans. Something within Connor recoiled at the thought of betraying Jace and Eve. It made no sense, though. A week ago, that same conscience had rebelled at the idea of betraying Angel and Cordelia.
Connor had never been so confused in his life. He felt like a rubber band being fought over by two hyperactive fifth graders, pulled in two directions so strongly that he didn’t know how to deal with it.
A million questions plagued him. Did Angel really deserve to die like Eve claimed? He had committed untold atrocities in his years as a vampire. The sense of justice instilled in him by Holtz wouldn’t allow him to dismiss that past. And did Connor really love his father? Or was it all just another lie? Was he taking the love he’d felt for Mr. Riley and turning into a false sense of love for Angel?
Either way, the hate from his past had been eating away at the loyalty he’d felt toward Angel, like the darkness filling a sky after the sunset. He could barely remember the warmth of his father’s love from just a few days ago, and as the midnight in his life wore on, Connor wondered if it had ever really existed.
Angel stared at his son, his mouth suddenly dry and his mind without words. There was so much to say to Connor just five minutes ago, but when faced with his actual presence, Angel lost everything like sand falling through a sieve. All he could do was stand there, his muscles tightened with nervousness, and drink in the sight of Connor.
He looked okay, if physical appearances were any indication. Angel could find no bruises marring Connor’s skin, no cuts or scrapes alerting him to Connor’s blood. Just about to finally relax and go with the assumption that Connor was okay, Angel met his son’s eyes. In that instant, everything changed.
Connor’s eyes were emotionless.
It was as if the sunlight in the young man he’d met a few days ago had been completely eclipsed by the darkness of Connor’s old persona. There were ghosts in his eyes, haunting, heavy ghosts that visibly weighed Connor down. He blinked stoically at Angel, his arms crossed over his chest as he stared his father down. There was a flash of softness there for a moment, an almost-smile that tugged at the corner of his mouth, and then it was gone like the sun disappearing behind stormy clouds.
The façade Connor presented at that very moment was one he should’ve had only for Jace and Eve. He was here with his father, with Cordy. With people he could trust and relax around. And yet there was a mistrust about him, a wariness that clung to him.
Spike’s words from last night suddenly rushed back to haunt Angel: “I think they’re getting to him.”
Instantly agitated, Angel crossed his arms over his chest, clenching his hands into fists. It scared him, the apathy in his son’s gaze. The abject surrender to his circumstances. Connor’s whole demeanor reminded Angel of a spirited animal that had been broken and was being molded into its trainer’s ideal killer.
Eve’s ideal killer.
Angel’s face darkened as these thoughts ran through his mind. He straightened, his jaw tightening in determination. Jace and Eve were messing with Conno’rs head, and that was unacceptable. No one was going to steal his son from him again. Not if he had anything to say about it.
A small hand gripped Angel’s arm and he relaxed slightly. Looking down into Cordelia’s concerned face, Angel tried to wipe the fury from his eyes and push the negativity away. He must’ve been somewhat successful, because Cordy gave him a small smile and turned to the young man across from them.
“Hi, Connor,” she said softly, a smile on her face. “We’ve missed you.”
Connor just stared at her for a moment, then nodded almost imperceptibly. “I don’t have much time. Jace wanted to stop by later tonight and spend some ‘quality time’ together, whatever the hell that means.”
Spike snorted indelicately on Cordy’s other side, lighting up his cigarette and leaning against a post in the dim warehouse where they were meeting. “So what does the evil bitch have planned?”
A shrug was his only answer at first. “I told you before that she had someone to break through your security at Wolfram & Hart. She plans to have her sorcerer cast his spells tomorrow night on the full moon. She’ll want to strike sometime right after, but she hasn’t said yet. I think she’ll want to do it soon, though. Like in a couple of days.”
Angel finally spoke, his deep voice echoing in the large space. “So she’s just going to get rid of our perimeter defenses and march into my office?”
The bottomless eyes of his son stared unblinkingly back into his. “She wants the three of us to come into your office, weapons out, and for me to subdue you. She says she has a sword of some kind that neutralizes vampires, kind of like a poison.”
“Wes should know where to look,” Cordy said, the tremor in her voice indicating her worry.
Angel only nodded. “Okay, so we’ll figure out how to counteract the weapon. Do you know what it’s supposed to do? If it has a name?”
Suddenly, Connor had the uneasy feeling that he’d shared too much. He recoiled at the idea that he’d given his father key information about their attack, and that very reaction confused him even more. He wanted his father dead. Yet he didn’t. His head ached with the conflict tearing through him.
The sword was called the Blade of Nefyra, an ancient weapon that had been infused with mystical power. It was supposed to affect the blood of a vampire, increasing sensitivity to pain and preventing feeding of any kind. It also caused almost complete immobility, but not paralysis. The vampire couldn’t move but could feel even the barest of sensations.
While thinking, Connor had stared at Angel for so long that everyone thought he wouldn’t answer. Finally he shrugged. “I don’t know any more.”
That wasn’t true, but it made Connor feel better. At least he’d managed to keep one secret.
“We’ll be ready anyway,” Angel said.
“Maybe we shouldn’t even do this at all,” Spike said, standing away from the column and dropping his cigarette butt to the floor, grinding it beneath his heels.
“What do you mean? We can’t just let her get away with this.”
“No, that’s not what I meant.” Spike looked away and wouldn’t meet Angel’s eyes. “Maybe you should just do what you did with Lindsay. Get the Senior Partners to suck her up and deal with her themselves.”
Angel shook his head stubbornly, his face a hard mask. “No. The partners can’t be trusted to get rid of her. She’ll find someway to escape and then we’ll have to deal with this all over again. I want Connor to be away from her and safe.”
Connor stood up from the wall he’d been slouching against. “If that’s it, I should go.”
“There’s nothing else you need to tell us?” Cordy asked softly, reaching out to touch his arm.
He shrugged away from her as if uncomfortable with her nearness. “No. I told you everything I know already. And I don’t know what day, exactly, so there’s not much else to say.”
“Okay, then,” she answered, feeling awkward. “We love you, Connor. Be safe.”
He just nodded, stealing a quick glance at Angel’s closed expression before darting out the door and into the night.
Cordy sighed into the darkness when he left. “I’m worried about him.”
“You should be,” Spike said, frowning. “Something’s changed in him. The kid I saw crying into his pillow a couple of nights ago wasn’t in this warehouse just now. That was somebody else.”
Angel stared off into the doorway where Connor had disappeared moments before. “That was the old Connor,” he said emotionlessly.
“Not all of him.” Cordy tried to argue. “He’s not going to betray you, Angel. I know it.”
Angel didn’t answer her, nor did he meet her eyes. All he would do was turn and walk out into the night, a silent, troubled warrior who knew that there was a good chance his only child would turn him to dust.
Eve paced the dimly lit interior of Connor’s apartment living room. Agitation radiated off her like heat waves, rippling and melting anything that got too close. Jace stood off to the side, his mouth set in a grim line, arms crossed over his powerful chest as he leaned far away from her against the wall.
“I’ll kill the little prick,” Eve hissed, her fists clenching at her sides as she stopped in the middle of the room, shaking in her anger. “I knew we couldn’t trust him. I knew it!”
Jace frowned at the intensity of her fury. “Baby, we don’t know for sure what’s going on. Maybe we should let him explain. Besides, we need him, remember?”
Whirling around to face him, Eve’s eyes flashed fire. “He was seen with Angel, Jace. Angel! How the hell Connor knows about him, I don’t know, but he’s screwing us over. I can feel it.”
Jace just shook his head. “Relax, Eve. You’ll hurt yourself. And we need him. I don’t think we can do this without him.”
“Hello!” she screeched, throwing her hands up in exasperation, turning away from him and stalking across the room. “I have you. Super guy, remember? Now that you’ve got the blood of a vampire in your veins, you can kick Angel’s ass if you have to.”
“Then why did you get Connor in the first place?”
Eve looked at him like he’d sprouted another head. “This is Angel’s son, Jace. Don’t you get it?” Her eyes turned misty, her voice dropping to an impassioned whisper. “I can just imagine it. Connor with the dagger at Angel’s throat, stabbing him. Then when he can’t move, Connor taunts him and dusts him.”
The feral gleam in her eyes sent a cold chill up Jace’s spine.
Whirling around, she faced Jace. “It’s the perfect revenge. Angel killed by the one person he most wants to love him. That’s why I need him, smartass. But now, everything is all screwed up. He’s a traitor!”
“You’re not talking about me, are you?”
Connor’s voice made Eve jump, stumbling as she tried to right herself. Her eyes narrowed as she looked him up and down, scanning his frame as if she expected him to whip out a machine gun and kill her on the spot.
She pointed to an armchair nearby. “Sit!”
A frown greeted her as Connor made no move to follow her order.
“Sit!” she screeched, the storm clouds brewing on her face making Connor jump, then do as she asked.
“Jeez,” he said sullenly. “What the hell is this, the Inquisition? Who put a swarm of bees in your panties?”
Tremors wracked Eve’s frame, the fury making her face red. “Shut up, you little brat. We saw you tonight. We saw you with HIM!”
Connor stared her down. “So?” he said, slouching back in the chair, taking up the perfect image of a defiant teenager. “Who gives a shit? It’s not like I told him anything. Or like I had a choice.”
Eve strode over to him, bent over, and placed her face level with his, her nose inches from Connor’s. “Listen, Connor, and listen good. Your worthless life belongs to me, do you hear? You would still be sniveling over your parents sad little deaths if it weren’t for me and Jace. You owe me an explanation.” She straightened up, crossing her arms over her small frame. “And if I don’t get one I like, well, I’ll just have to pay a little visit to your sister and tell her how concerned I am for you.”
At her threat, Connor shot up out of his seat like it had been set on fire. “Leave my family alone, Eve. They have nothing to do with this.”
“Then tell me what the fuck happened with Angel!”
Connor stared her down for a minute more, finally slouching back down into the chair. He sighed, running his hands over his face. “I didn’t want to tell you because you’d freak, and I didn’t think you’d trust me anymore. You’d think they got to me.”
His eyes finally met hers, then flicked over to Jace for the merest of seconds before returning to Eve’s. “I didn’t go to the nature conservatory to meditate when I was gone. Angel abducted me from my apartment and tried to convince me to go back with him. He told me he was my father, and he gave me my memories back.”
Eve’s face turned deathly white as she sank down into another chair, suddenly breathless. “You remember.”
“Yeah,” Connor said, his voice full of anger. “I remember everything. I remember how Angel tried to hurt me. How he took Holtz away from me. How he tried to make me believe he loved me and he took away everything that mattered to me.”
Eyes searching him intently, Eve was silent for a moment. “How do you feel about him?”
A glassy look came over Connor’s eyes and he stared off into space, as if lost in his thoughts. “You know, for a few days there, I thought he might actually love me. That maybe the person I used to be before was just screwed up and misled. That maybe I should love him.” He paused, a sneer curling his lip. “But that’s a load of shit. He doesn’t love me. He lied to me. Changed my entire freakin’ life because he couldn’t handle me anymore. Because I wasn’t good enough for him.
“So how do I feel about him? Screw him. He can go to hell.” His angry eyes finally met Eve’s again. “Fuck it, I’ll send him there.”
Eve stared for a few moments as if she didn’t think she really believed him. Then, seeming to make a decision, she stood again, walking over next to Jace, whose expression hadn’t changed throughout Connor’s revelations.
“Fine. Good. Just so long as we’re clear. If you screw me over, your family will see the end of my knife.”
Connor nodded curtly. “I get it.”
“So,” Eve said, a bright, false smile on her face as she pulled a folding chair up next to his. “Let’s talk about what exactly you told them to get them off your ass.”
Jace watched with mixed emotions as Connor sharpened the mystical weapon they’d be using against Angel. Pride pulled at him, pride at what Connor had accomplished so quickly in his young life. He was ready to take on anything that stood in his path, and Jace felt a sense of fatherly satisfaction that he’d had a hand in Connor’s training.
This emotion was a double-edged sword, however. Sorrow pushed at him with equal pressure, making him feel as though he were torn in two. He felt guilt for guiding Connor into the person he’d become, knowing that he was setting him up for an emotional and psychological destruction. He’d assuaged his guilt by showing Connor kindness, but that hadn’t stretched very far. He loved Eve, and he’d done everything within his power to see that she would be happy, including insuring the destruction of the only son he’d ever known. He’d changed his life, turned it upside down and inside out for her, but now, on the eve of his first battle under her banner, he questioned his loyalties.
A shudder broke through him as the Blade of Nefyra glinted in the overhead lighting. That weapon was as disastrous to him as it was to any vampire, thanks to the borrowed blood that now flowed through his veins. He had some advantages over vampires. He could walk in sunlight, could stand the sight of crosses, could avoid feeding, but when push came to shove, he died in the same way they did. Stakes and beheading would do him in, and there would be no casket when his time came, only an urn for his ashes. All it would take would be one careless slip of that blade and he’d be paralyzed, helpless to any enemy who wanted his head.
The thought made him shudder again, fear coursing through him at the idea of a death so utterly painful.
At that moment, Connor raised his eyes and met Jace’s, his gaze unflinching. He’d finished cleaning the weapon, sheathing it in the scabbard belted to his waist. Now, he rubbed the handle absently with his fingers and suddenly, Jace felt that Connor could see right through him. Could see the doubts in his eyes, could see the indecision that hovered around him.
In contrast, staring into Connor’s eyes was like looking at a brick wall. He gave away nothing. Absolutely nothing. Jace had no way of knowing if Connor was sympathetic or ambivalent to his current struggle. It was that mistrust that led Jace to look away, his jaw tensing as he stood upright, leaning away from the wall.
His chin up, Jace walked over to Connor and stood in front of him, arms crossed over his chest. “You ready, kid?”
Connor watched him silently for a moment. Finally, nodded swiftly. “Yup. I’m ready to kick ass, old man.”
It was those words, the nickname Connor had given him in affection, that cut him deeper than any knife ever could. With one last surge of regret flowing through his being, Jace straightened his shoulders and closed himself off from the pain. He’d already made his choice when he’d agreed to the blood ritual. He’d reinforced it when he manipulated Connor, confusing his feelings. By this point, any concerns about Connor’s welfare were irrelevant.
Jace jerked himself out of his self-reflection long enough to nod tersely. “Good. Just stay the hell away from me with that thing.” He pointed at the Blade of Nefyra at Connor’s waist, then turned and walked swiftly away.
As he left, Jace struggled to tamp down the volatile emotions that threatened to break through. He kept shoving them down, locking them away, but one residual thought remained, one that wouldn’t be eradicated despite his efforts. When it came right down to it, Jace had the uncanny sense that he wouldn’t make it out of this alive.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
If his words hadn’t said it, the tone of Wesley’s voice would’ve delivered his message anyway. Accompanying it was a grim look, one that made Angel wonder who’d died.
“What is it?” Angel sat back in his desk chair, his hands gripping the armrests as if they’d give him an extra measure of stability. How he wished for Cordy’s strong presence beside him right now, but she was upstairs, getting some much needed sleep.
“I’ve researched weapons that could cause a vampire’s paralysis, just as you mentioned. There are only two in all of the historical and mythical records that Wolfram & Hart contains.”
Angel knew that if Wolfram & Hart didn’t have it, it probably didn’t exist. “Go on.”
“One weapon is a short sword, called El Matado de los Muertos, or Killer of the Dead.”
“Is there any defense against it?”
Wesley pursed his lips in contemplation. “I doubt this is the weapon you’ll be facing, Angel. It was lost in the Spanish Armada. Went down with the flagship, which, by the way, has never been fully recovered. Although I don’t know why the Spaniards would’ve needed an anti-vampire weapon to invade the British. Anyway, it is highly unlikely that it would be in anyone’s hands.”
“Okay, but if it is?”
Wesley shook his head. “There is an antidote, but only if the weapon is recovered as well. But as I said, I don’t think it will be the weapon Eve will use.”
“Fine,” Angel sighed, running his fingers through his hair. “What’s the other one?”
Wesley’s eyes turned grimmer. “That’s the one I’m worried about. It’s called the Blade of Nefyra. An ancient weapon, origins unknown. It’s power is mystical, and as far as I can tell, there is no defense against it. None.”
Angel stared into Wesley’s eyes for just a moment, and then nodded his head swiftly.
“I can keep looking if you want, I might have missed something, but—”
“No.” Standing, Angel walked around the desk and placed a hand on Wesley’s shoulder.
“You did well, Wes. I’ve known from the beginning that this would be between me and Connor, and that it might come down to my death. I’m ready to accept it. He’s my son, and I love him. But he might kill me.”
Angel paused, looking over Wesley’s shoulder. “Right, Connor?”
“You’re right. I might.”
Wesley’s head whipped around so fast his neck ached. Quickly, he backed out of the way, around Angel’s desk. The look in Angel’s eyes was indiscernible as he faced his son and attackers.
Connor, flanked by Eve and Jace, strode quickly across the room and stood before his father. The glint in his eyes was feral, angry, and intense. In his left hand was a crossbow, aimed right at Wesley’s midsection. The other held Eve’s secret weapon, light glinting off the curving blade, a scimitar with an ornately carved handle. The pointed end was at Angel’s throat in a matter of seconds, a hair’s breadth away from his skin.
A stoic expression covered Angel’s face as his eyes bored into his son’s. He couldn’t read Connor, and it scared him. The barriers in Connor’s eyes were up in full force, and try as he might, he couldn’t burrow deep enough to discover where his son’s loyalties lay.
Behind Connor, Eve smirked triumphantly. “Thought you were ready for this, didn’t you, Angel?”
He didn’t answer, only continued looking into Connor’s unflinching gaze.
After a moment of tense silence, Angel finally spoke. “Connor, you don’t have to do this.”
“Oh, yes, I do.” Connor’s voice was flat. As emotionless as his eyes. “And you want to know why?” He pressed the blade into Angel’s neck, nicking him slightly. Angel felt a slight tingle of power in that cut, enough to know that he’d be in deep trouble if Connor actually stabbed him with it.
Connor was still talking. “I have to do this because you’re a liar, Dad. A fucking liar!”
The moment Connor called him Dad, Angel’s eyes whipped frantically over to Eve and Jace’s faces. His heart sank like a stone when he realized that they already knew what Connor knew. That could only mean one of two things: either Connor went back to their side, or his cover got blown.
Connor’s next words did nothing to relieve Angel’s fears.
“You take me from the only security I know and you force these psycho thoughts back into my head, trying to tell me its good for me. You say you love me. You say that you want me to be happy. Well bullshit!”
By this point, Connor was yelling. His breathing was heavy, his face flushed as his eyes flashed fire. Wesley shifted slightly in the background, trying to get out of Connor’s line of fire, but Connor just cocked the crossbow’s firing mechanism and shook his head. Wesley moved back into place.
He turned his attention back to Angel. “It’s all bullshit, Dad,” he said, making the name sound like an insult. Angel flinched at the inflection, Connor’s tone of voice cutting him sharper than any knife ever could. “You lied to me when I came back from Quortoth. You lied to me when you said you loved me and then erased my entire memory. You lied to me when you put me with a family that wasn’t mine. And you lied to me when you took me back and said that you didn’t want to lose me again.”
Angel jumped in when Connor took a breath. “Connor, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that I can’t begin to apologize for it.”
Connor laughed dryly. “Good try, Dad, but I can’t trust anything you say. You ruined my life and you deserve to pay for it.” By this time, Connor’s voice had flattened to a monotone, as if he were repeating words he’d memorized. Angel saw something flicker in the depths of his eyes. For a moment, it looked like sorrow, but it was gone so quickly that Angel couldn’t identify it.
Eve smirked in the background, enjoying the emotional fireworks.
“So how does it feel, knowing that your baby boy is going to kill you?” She walked up behind Connor, her well-manicured hand reaching up to curl around the back of Connor’s neck. Scratching through his hair lightly, almost affectionately, her blood-red nails ruffled his hair. She took in the death grip Connor had on the handle of the weapon and squeezed his shoulder reassuringly.
“Don’t get too carried away, kiddo. I still have great plans for him.”
Connor turned to look at her, fire still flickering in his eyes. “So do I.”
What happened next came so fast that if it weren’t for the carnage, Wesley might’ve questioned whether it happened. In one fluid motion, Connor whipped the crossbow into Eve’s stomach, fired, and threw the blade of Nefyra across the room, burying it into Jace’s gut. Eve staggered back, the arrow piercing deep, her life waning even as she stared in disbelief into the flashing eyes of her betrayer.
“No!” she cried weakly as Connor strode across the room, yanked the scimitar out of Jace’s chest and gripped it tightly with both hands.
He looked down at Jace, noting the sorrow in the older man’s eyes. His borrowed blood was going to kill him after all. He lay motionless, barely able to breathe in the sudden paralysis. “You didn’t have to come today, Jace,” Connor said softly. “I thought you were going to back out, but then—” he stopped and shook his head sadly.
“I love her,” Jace gasped out. “I couldn’t leave—” he stopped, choking.
“I’m sorry, old man,” Connor whispered, and brought the blade down, severing Jace’s neck. His body disintegrated before their eyes, a pile of ash the only thing left as a reminder to what might have been.
Connor walked over to Eve, his cold eyes taking in her weakening form where she’d propped herself up against the wall. “How could you?” she said, gasping, tears pooling in her eyes. “You ruined everything! You said—” she labored for breath, “you hated him!”
Shrugging, Connor watched apathetically as she crumpled, sliding to the floor. “Sometimes I do hate him, but he’s my father, Eve. The only one I’ve got left. You should’ve known that a blood tie is always stronger.”
She sobbed once, and as she clutched her wound, her eyes slid shut.
Eve was dead.
The moment the last breath left Eve’s body, Connor seemed to wilt. His fingers loosened around the sword and it dropped to the floor soundlessly, its descent muffled by the carpeting. As if defeated, his head hung down, his shoulders sagging.
Angel went over to him, his hand already reaching out to grasp Connor’s shoulder when the elevator doors swished open and Cordelia strode out, a bright smile on her face as she looked down at a piece of paper in her hand. He jerked his hand back, startled. Connor’s head whipped over toward the elevator.
“Angel, I thought that maybe—” she looked up and halted immediately, the now unimportant paper fluttering to the floor. Her words came in a gasp. “Oh, my God! Connor!”
Her hand flew to her mouth and covered it, tears welling in her eyes as she took in the violent scene and the look of utter weariness on Connor’s face. Walking over to him, she reached for him, but he backed up, away from her and toward the door.
Like a startled deer, Connor’s eyes darted back and forth, to Angel, to Wesley, to Cordelia and back again. He wrapped his arms around himself as if cold, and he trembled, shaking visibly.
“I can’t—I just can’t do this.” Finally, his eyes rested on Angel’s, and suddenly, all the barriers in his gaze were gone. Angel’s heart wrenched as he saw the naked emotion there, the sorrow, the self-loathing. It was obvious that everything had drained Connor of whatever happiness he’d possessed.
All that was left was pain.
Angel opened his mouth to reassure his son, to offer some comfort if he could, but Connor shook his head.
“No, Dad. Don’t say anything.” Connor’s eyes welled up with tears. “They found out I’d seen you and they thought I was betraying them. I had to make it convincing, but I didn’t mean to say so much. It’s just that I don’t know what I feel and—” He choked back a sob.
“It’s okay, son,” Angel said softly, fighting with every ounce of his inner strength to keep from going over and pulling his son into his embrace. Cordy moved to his side, her hand sliding gently into his and squeezing, offering him what silent support she could.
“It’s not okay!” Connor shouted and then quieted, whispering, “I don’t hate you. I don’t! But these horrible feelings are there, deep inside, and they keep coming out. I can’t be here with you right now. It’s all too much. I can’t take it. I have to go!”
He turned abruptly, striding for the door. He came to a jerking halt when Angel spoke again.
“I love you, Connor.”
The room seemed to echo with his declaration. Connor stood, frozen, for a fraction of a second, then nodded slowly.
“I know,” he whispered.
And then he was gone.
The silence in Angel’s bedroom was anything but uncomfortable. As the darkness surrounded them, Angel tightened his grip on Cordelia, his lips faintly brushing her forehead, murmuring his love into her hair. It was so amazing. She was so amazing. He was so, so blessed to have her back. He would never forget that, even if he lived 1000 years.
The only thing keeping him from total and utter bliss was the lack of his son. They hadn’t heard from Connor since the day he’d slipped out of Angel’s office. Every day, he kept hoping for something, anything that would tell him his son was all right. At least when Connor had his memory altered, Angel had known where he was, that he was safe, that he was loved. Now, though, Angel’s dreams were plagued with scenarios where Connor was in danger and helpless. Where Connor was unloved and depressed. Where Connor became destructive again and tried to hurt himself or others.
Somehow, deep down, Angel knew that Connor had moved past that. He knew that Connor would be all right and that he would come back to them someday. Maybe not happy, but moving toward the neighborhood of adjusted. He knew, in his heart, that Connor would openly return his love someday. It was only a matter of time, but the problem was convincing his worrisome mind of that fact. At the strangest parts of the day, he’d find himself staring blankly out into space, wondering where Connor was at that moment and what he was doing. Worrying himself into a frenzy until his Cordy-shaped lifeline came back to pull him out of it. Until Cordelia snapped her fingers in front of his face and distracted him with the love that she offered him.
Cordelia had indeed become his salvation. Without her, he didn’t know how he’d ever survived life. He’d thought, when she’d died, that he could move on, that he could make it without her. Certainly, she’d been a powerful force in his life, but he’d never truly realized how much until she was gone. Really gone. Her coma had given him an excuse to deny his feelings under the hope that she’d one day wake up.
But here she was, restored to him. As if aware of his thoughts, Cordelia stirred against him, draping her leg across his thigh and skimming her palm down his bare chest. Her fingers tickled his belly, and she looked up at him with a lazy smile.
“Hey, handsome,” she said, grinning sleepily.
“Hey, gorgeous,” he said back, kissing her deeply, both of them breathless when they parted.
“Mmm,” she sighed, her eyes sliding shut again in pleasure. “I can totally get used to that.”
“You aren’t used to it yet?” he asked, grinning.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be used to it. Used to it means that you can forget about it and think about more exciting things. I want you to always be exciting, baby,” she said, kissing his chest lightly.
Just then, her stomach rumbled loudly and he chuckled.
“So you’re saying you’d pick me over food right now?”
She raised a haughty eyebrow. “I love you, but I’m not completely stupid. You cook. I need food. Good combo, in my opinion. If you feed me, we both get to have fun,” she said, then winked at him.
“I think I can arrange that,” he said, sliding out of bed and into his sweatpants. Cordy pulled his shirt over her head, rolling up the long sleeves a few times until her hands were uncovered. She yawned widely, then stretched, running her fingers through her hair. Angel’s mouth dropped open as she arched her back, giving him a tantalizing view of her ass peeking from the hem of his shirt. He sighed and shook his head as he headed for the door.
“You coming?” he asked, holding the bedroom door open for her.
“Have been all night,” she said impertinently, winking at him again.
He just rolled his eyes at her, then turned to follow. Immediately, he ran into her. She’d stopped almost directly out of the door.
“Angel, look,” she said, her voice a whisper.
Angel followed her gaze, and his heart flipped over at what he found. His eyes brimmed with tears as he saw Connor, his beloved son, sprawled out on the couch under one of the throw blankets, the worn teddy bear clutched in his arms. Strangely, the toy didn’t look out of place in the arms of a grown man. It looked as if he’d finally figured out where he belonged. Angel reached for Cordy, pulling her back into his embrace and resting his chin on her shoulder.
“He’s back,” Cordelia said, a wistful note of happiness in her voice. Her hand lightly stroked the back of his where it lay against her tummy. “You can finally be happy, Angel.”
One tear escaped Angel’s eye and tracked down his cheek, landing with a soft plop on the shoulder of Cordelia’s shirt.
“I was happy before he came home,” Angel whispered. “I never thought I could be happy without him, but you made it possible, Cordy.”
She turned in his arms and cupped his jaw. “I love you, too, Angel.”
“You’re right, though,” he added as he gripped her tightly. “I can be happy now. Happy for Connor. Happy that my son is alive, safe, and here.”
Exactly where he belonged.