The darkness was comforting. Connor had been brought up in it, understood how to move in it - how to become a shadow amongst shadows; and he felt more at home out here in the forever night of the 'urban jungle' than inside houses that always made him think of traps.
He'd fled the hotel, no one there having the power to stop him. Cordy had called out after him, but he'd ignored her. He knew what needed to be done, even if nobody else agreed - or were too emotionally attached. Angelus was free again, free to maim and kill and destroy people like his father's first family...
Trying to track the scent he ran into yet another group of vampires. With a sigh he drew out a stake and set to work.
A few bruises later the demons were dust, but as Connor turned to walk away he saw a familiar silhouette come towards him. The vampire exuded casual, almost nonchalant, menace with every step, and his scent was still heavily tinged with Lilah's blood.
With a grim smile Connor tightened the grip on the stake.
But Angelus stopped a little way off, shaking his head with an amused little sideways smile.
"Now, now son - just relax. I didn't come to fight."
Connor's eyes narrowed. "Do you think I care about what you want?"
Angelus smirked. "I'd be gone before you could lift your arm. But - I found you for a reason. There's someone I'd like you to meet! Apparently he's been checking in on Angel every decade or so - very touching. And arriving now? Serendipity doesn't begin to cover it. Do you think someone up there likes me?"
Connor frowned. What was this? But Angelus merely turned a little and motioned to someone yet hidden, before catching Connor's eyes again.
"Son - please say hello to your big brother, Sam Lawson. Lawson, this is Connor."
Out of the darkness came another young man, dressed in a dark blue woollen jacket and jumper. Nice haircut, handsome face... but definitely a vampire.
"Hi!" the Lawson vampire said, smiling and holding out his hand. "Pleasure to meet you. It's funny, because I always wished I had a little brother - all I had were sisters."
Connor stared at the hand in mute disgust.
Angelus shrugged. "Told you! His step dad really could have done a better job teaching him manners."
"What is this?" Connor asked, looking from one to the other.
"Oh - sorry!" Angelus said, holding out his hands, the very picture of apology. "Did I forget to explain? How terribly rude of me! You see, meeting Lawson again set me thinking about what you told me, back when I was in the cage - about me being your real father, remember?"
Connor nodded cautiously. He couldn't work out where Angelus was going with this, but thought that maybe if he kept him talking, Angelus might let down his guard for a moment or two and Connor could let the stake do some replying.
Angelus however happily continued, as chatty as ever. "The thing is - I've come to the conclusion that you're right."
Connor blinked. What new game was this?
"Absolutely! So, I made a decision. From now on I'm going to take some responsibility. Because - quite frankly Angel just sucks at the parenting thing... I mean, just look at poor Lawson here. Angel sired him during the war - it's a long story involving covert military operations and submarines and the crew being killed off one by one... quite exciting if you like that sort of thing, someone ought to make a movie..." Angelus smiled a little, before seriousness overlaid his features again. "But the story has a tragic ending, because then Angel just abandoned the poor kid. Told him to kindly fuck off and that if he ever saw him again, he'd stake him. I mean - what sort of father says that? And we both know how he couldn't even look after you... And by the way, I'm really sorry about that. I think it's that soul, messing things up. All that love and 'trying to do what's right'. Guess he can't help it."
Connor was listening, feeling himself agreeing with a fair bit of what Angelus was saying. And despite knowing that the deep sincerity in the voice was fake, it still affected him.
But then the vampire smiled that unnerving smile again, somehow appearing more like a demon than if he'd worn his gameface.
"But see - this is where I'm so very different from Angel... I am a good father. Wes stole you because he was worried what Angel might do - and quite frankly I'm thinking he was right. I mean look at this apocalypse we're having. Which obviously is somehow connected to you... And what if it's your blood that can save the world? What do you think Angel would do?"
Connor swallowed. Angelus studied him carefully, and, even though Connor's sight was as keen as any vampire's, he still couldn't work out what went on in the dark depths of those eyes. Angelus however didn't give him time to answer.
"Now me? I'd let the world go to hell before I let anyone lay a finger on you! This is what they don't understand, any of them." He pulled a dismissive face. "Humans. No concept of loyalty. But you Connor - you're my son - my family - and I always looked after my family... Until that stupid gypsy girl messed everything up. Oh... we were magnificent back in the day!"
He sighed and turned to Lawson. "Remember Spike?"
Lawson, who'd been silently following Angelus' monologue, frowned. "You mean the vampire in the Nazi uniform?"
Angelus grinned. "Yeah, him. He was one of mine. Dru sired him as her playmate, so I took him under my wing. Guy was a pathetic little poet when he was human, but I turned him into quite the legend. He's killed two Slayers, and has a thoroughness that's quite something. That is what I'm talking about! Also known as William the Bloody - which reminds me, Lawson, you really should get yourself a new name. Connor's nickname in Quor'Toth was 'The Destroyer', which is much more like it."
Lawson looked unsure and somewhat put out as Angelus proudly smiled at Connor. Connor stared back, silent. He ought to walk away - away from Angelus who was obviously having a wonderful time, juggling the two of them like some macabre street performer. And yet he couldn't make himself leave until he'd found out what Angelus' motive was... what his next move would be.
Angelus continued smiling and spread his arms wide.
"But this brings me back to what I meant to say all along - Connor, why don't you join us? After all we're your family - the same blood runs in our veins as in yours. And quite frankly - you're quite the chip off the old block. Spike was full of fire, but he never had any patience; no sense of artistry. Couldn't understand the pure, delicious joy of letting someone suffer and suffer and suffer with no hope of respite. But you..."
Angelus stopped, tilting his head, and studied Connor intently. There was a glow in his eyes that abruptly made Connor remember everything Holtz had ever told him, and also remember that Holtz had only used him as a means to an end. How would he ever be able to untangle the truth?
Then Angelus' voice ensnared him again, darkness trailing in its wake as it stole across his mind.
"You make your old man proud. Only eighteen and already you've got that sophistication down to a T! Can't say that being stuck under the sea was fun, but it sure proved that you really are my son! Lawson here doesn't even come close to having your natural abilities."
Lawson turned his head sharply, and Angelus chuckled softly as he caught the other vampire's eyes. "Hey - it's not your fault, kid. You were brought up a good, honest little boy by a loving family. He was brought up in a Helldimension by a psychopath consumed with revenge. And of course he is the child of two vampires... kinda hard to beat that basic evil input."
Connor felt like his chest was too tight. The absolutes in his world had been shaky ever since he had first entered this dimension... but now he felt as though everything he knew was being trampled and destroyed and altered. Like truth was being bled dry and all he'd be left with was a rotting corpse of deceit and lies.
"Angel wasn't evil when he fathered me!" he said, angrily, trying to hold onto something, anything - any sliver of reality that was still untainted.
"Oh really?" Angelus said, and then burst out laughing. "Let me tell you a secret: The only reason Angel slept with Darla was because he wanted to lose his soul - he was just so depressed and felt so useless. Really it was a new low, even for him! Didn't work - so he just sent her away too. Always a bastard towards his family. But I'm not... So what do you say Connor?"
Connor stared, unable to speak. What was he supposed to say? What did Angelus want to hear? It was hard to know how to formulate a 'no' when he wasn't even sure what he was declining. Angelus obviously sensed his confusion, chuckling as he folded his arms - a black shadow amongst shadows.
"You were the one who said it, boy. You're my son. I'm sure Holtz saw it too - evil is inside you and it's pointless to fight it. That's where your talents lie. The only reason you want to kill me is because I remind you of what you really are. You know that all of Angel's 'love' can't - and couldn't - ever save you. But I? Can make you what you were meant to be! And you'll be where you're supposed to be - with your real family. The world would tremble before us as it did before. What do you say?"
Mutely Connor shook his head, unable to even begin to explain his revulsion. He could feel his heart beating far too loudly, and had to restrain himself from stepping backwards - away from the smiling monster in front of him, who was now holding out a hand towards him.
"I can make it go away Connor... All the fear, all the worry, all that pain - it'll melt away and you'll be able to see clearly. You can be what you were supposed to be..."
The voice was silken, low and tempting and full of promise. And despite everything - despite his insides recoiling - Connor could hear a tiny little voice - deep, deep down - saying that maybe Angelus was right. Maybe he was fighting a losing battle.
To be free...
But as soon as he became aware of the thought he rejected it. Holtz might have used him, but he'd used him for a reason. He still had a mission.
"Never," he said, voice defiant, despite being barely above a whisper.
"Ah well - your loss," Angelus shrugged - the spell gone as abruptly as if a light had been switched off.
"But think about it, yeah? Trust me, I only want what's best for you, son! If you want me, you'll know where to find me - just follow the bodies."
He winked at Connor, then he slung an arm around Lawson's shoulder and grinned.
"Now my boy - what do you say we go find out where this Beast is holed up and show it that the Clan of Aurelius still has some bite?"
Lawson smiled widely, eyes lighting up, and the two vampires walked off - never looking back.
Long after their footsteps had died away Connor was still rooted on the spot, the stake in his hand as heavy as lead, as realisation slowly began to seep through him.
He couldn't hurt Angelus.
He could kill him - probably, maybe, if he got lucky - but he'd never, ever be able to hurt him.
He couldn't win.