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Litany In Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out

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Every morning the maple leaves.
Every morning another chapter where the hero shifts
from one foot to the other. Every morning the same big
and little words all spelling out desire, all spelling out
You will be alone always and then you will die.

/./

Fred was the closest thing he had ever had to a mother. Or a sister, or an aunt. A friend, even. She had watched his back and made him food and gave him a warm place to sleep, taught him about this strange new world where things didn't always lurk in shadows and you were expected to keep clean.

Fred was the first person he ever felt he should be kind to, and he had lied to her (thou shalt not lie, except when the truth will get you killed, his foster father's voice echoes in his mind) and hurt her friends. Taken advantage of her kindness. But it was for the greater good, wasn't it? Fred couldn't see the monster Angelus was, because he had saved her. Connor expects he would have forgiven the worst monster he had ever encountered, if he was in Fred's place.

Fred did not see it that way, and in only a few moments, his entire world comes crashing down as she sticks an electric gun against his skin.

She was his first family, first friend, first person who kept him safe. But betrayal is the worst sin he knows, and she makes him pay.

/./

So maybe I wanted to give you something more than a catalogue
of non-definitive acts,
something other than the desperation.
Dear So-and-So, I’m sorry I couldn’t come to your party.
Dear So-and-So, I’m sorry I came to your party
and seduced you
and left you bruised and ruined, you poor sad thing.

/./

He never knew beauty before he came to this world.

Quor'toth was ash and fire and pain and monsters, blood and death and a father who used him as an experiment and a way to survive. After that place, nothing ever seems ugly. But some things seem beautiful.

Cordelia is one of those things. Her hair is soft and her skin is smooth, her eyes wide and smile kind. She healed his raw edges with the glowing white light, and fought demons to save people. He is taken with her, and wonders if the feeling he gets when he thinks of her is the mythical emotion of love.

When they watch fire fall from the sky, Connor wishes his father Holtz was there. He would know exactly which passage of the Bible to turn to, which passage of God's word speaks of raining fire (the first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up, Revelation 8:7, he discovers later) and how to stop it.

But then Cordelia turns to him, with words that make tears that have nothing to do with pain drip from his eyes, and presses her mouth against his, presses her body against his. Pulls him down into the bed which is a sad excuse for one in her mind and a luxury in his. Moves against him with slick skin and heavy breaths.

The dark black and the red glow of fire twist around the room and he loses himself.

In the morning, she tells him it can never happen again. Pain worse than fighting wounds blossom in his chest, and he doesn't know why.

/./

You want a better story. Who wouldn’t?
A forest, then. Beautiful trees. And a lady singing.
Love on the water, love underwater, love, love and so on.
What a sweet lady. Sing lady, sing! Of course, she wakes the dragon.
Love always wakes the dragon and suddenly
flames everywhere.

/./

He heard that when Angel was imprisoned underwater, chained, starved, slowly going mad, his mind retreated into dreams. Dreams of a happy family, where his son didn't hate him and no one ever had their throat slit or heart destroyed.

Connor doesn't know what to do with that. He wishes he could look at Angel and only see Angelus, only think of the stories he had heard as a child, about the hundreds he had slaughtered, the villages burned to the ground. But when he looks to his father, he sees a man who loves him despite his treachery and hatred.

He wants to blame it on him. He can almost rationalize it. It's Angel's fault- he welcomed him back into his life, accepted him without a question. His love for him- the son he never got to see grow up, the one he thought he had lost forever, only to return- is the reason he was so easily tricked into the trap.

Connor tries not to think about how his love for Holtz was what so easily tricked him into making the trap.

/./

I can tell already you think I’m the dragon,
that would be so like me, but I’m not. I’m not the dragon.
I’m not the princess either.
Who am I? I’m just a writer. I write things down.
I walk through your dreams and invent the future. Sure,
I sink the boat of love, but that comes later. And yes, I swallow
glass, but that comes later.
And the part where I push you
flush against the wall and every part of your body rubs against the bricks,
shut up
I’m getting to it.
For a while I thought I was the dragon.

/./

There are versions of reality where he is still a baby.

He's heard Fred talk to him about alternate universes- they, who know them more intimately than most others- about how there are infinite worlds, how every decision made creates a new one for every different possibility.

So there must be worlds in which he was never taken from Angel.

He wonders what those versions of Connor are like. Little boys who haven't been raised in Hell, weren't taught how to kill before they could read. Boys who gazed up at their father and didn't hate themselves for not sticking something wooden through his heart. Boys who didn't hate themselves for not doing something similar to themselves.

Another night, another vampire preying on weak humans. Another filthy alley that he considers clean enough to eat off of. A fight, a strike, exploding demon. Dead man dust narrowly avoided being sucked into his lungs.

“Connor,” his father's voice doesn't sound surprised to find his son here. He turns to the humans. “Go home.”

They look at each other, then to the young man who made their attacker turn to dust, then back to Angel. They run.

“What are you doing here?” Connor asks, turning away to pick up a weapon that he had lost in the fight.

“I was out. I heard a scream. Came to see if I could help.” Angel pauses. “You're getting even better at fighting. I didn't think that was possible.”

He snorts coldly. “Thanks.” Sticks the knife back into its sheath.

His father hesitates for a moment, staring at his son. “How... how have you been?”

“Fine.”

Angel waits for a moment, hoping he'll elaborate. He doesn't.

“How's Cordy?”

A flash of tan skin and soft smile in his mind's eye. “Fine.”

He hesitates. “We miss her. Maybe she could, y'know, come to the hotel sometime? See Fred, and Lorne, and Gunn?”

“She'll see you when she wants.” Connor tells him, debating simply leaving. He's sure Angel could track him, follow him no matter how fast he ran if he wanted to, but he might just let him go.

“I know. But, just let her know she's welcome, anytime?” His eyes are filled with such compassion, something which still takes Connor a moment to identify. Its not an emotion he knew, ever, before he came back to this world, and its still as alien as toothpaste to him.

A jolt of white-hot anger surges through him, and he jumps forward to shove his father against the wall of the alley, grime-covered bricks catching the material of the stupid jacket he's always wearing, despite being dead and not getting cold (more pretending, his mind supplies, he can drink coffee, and watch television, laugh with his friends and even have a child, but pretending will never make him not dead, never make him human).

“She'll see you when she wants to see you, alright?!” He nearly screams at him, his forearm pressed against his throat.

Angel looks at him with his stupid eternal patience, and moves gently out of his grip. “Okay,” he agrees. “Okay.”

Then he's gone, and he takes the sudden burst of anger with him, leaving Connor feeling like maybe he's the monster.

/./

I guess I can tell you that now. And, for a while, I thought I was
the princess,
cotton candy pink, sitting there in my room, in the tower of the castle,
young and beautiful and in love and waiting for you with
confidence
but the princess looks into her mirror and only sees the princess,
while I’m out here, slogging through the mud, breathing fire,
and getting stabbed to death.
Okay, so I’m the dragon. Big deal.
You still get to be the hero.
You get magic gloves! A fish that talks! You get eyes like flashlights!
What more do you want?

/./

It would be easier to be a villain, he thinks.

He couldn't be the leader, though. Couldn't choose who to destroy. But he would make a good soldier. To simply follow orders would be so easy. He doesn't think he would even feel bad about killing innocents. To him, killing is a second heartbeat. It's like drawing breath. Something he does without thinking, usually without effort, and he must do it to survive.

So maybe he is a monster. Maybe Angel is the good guy, and Holtz was wrong all along. Maybe it's all his fault. He raised Connor, after all. Shouldn't whatever he becomes be placed on his shoulders?

When Connor was a child, when he was Steven, in the rare moments when he misbehaved, failed to follow instructions, or even made a simple mistake, Holtz would look at him with disgust and say I don't know what else I would expect, not with your bloodline. You are born of evil.

The first time someone gives him the name The Destroyer, though, Holtz couldn't be more proud.

/./

I make you pancakes, I take you hunting, I talk to you as if you’re
really there.
Are you there, sweetheart? Do you know me? Is this microphone live?
Let me do it right for once,
for the record, let me make a thing of cream and stars that becomes,
you know the story, simply heaven.
Inside your head you hear a phone ringing
and when you open your eyes
only a clearing with deer in it. Hello deer.
Inside your head the sound of glass,
a car crash sound as the trucks roll over and explode in slow motion.
Hello darling, sorry about that.
Sorry about the bony elbows, sorry we lived here, sorry about the scene at the bottom of the stairwell
and how I ruined everything by saying it out loud.
Especially that, but I should have known.

/./

Cordelia is curled on the floor, and he gazes out the window. Not that he can see much, even with his eyesight, which is slightly better than human. He wishes he could say it was because he grew up in a hell dimension, that it made all his senses stronger, but he's fairly sure he's slightly better than human because he's slightly more than human.

In the dark of the night that's been randomly lit by flames and flashing police lights, the background noise of the city has changed to the sounds of his childhood. Screams dot the night, the hunting noises of monsters echoing after, death and blood and fear soaking every block as sirens chase after.

There were other noises of a world on the brink, too- young criminals smashing windows, looting anything they think they can sell or use themselves. The crunch of metal-on-metal, metal-on-cement, metal-on-stone, as cars collide with every possible thing they can, trying to get away. Away from the fear and destruction that brimstone from the sky can cause.

More blood soaks the air.

He's amazed that Cordelia came back with him- he was sure she would leave him. She said they would never do that again, told him he was Angel's son, that it was wrong, so many reasons why. And he had been sure she would stay in the hotel once they went in; once she saw his father, he was sure she would never leave again.

But she did. She left, and came back home to him. With him.

And in a flash of memories, he realizes. Remembers that night, was it just last night? When he had been moving so slowly, so gently against her, almost kissing but not quite, he had breathed the words into her mouth, I love you.

He doesn't know if this is actually love. He doesn't know what it is. But Cordelia had still froze, and blinked, and then seemed to decide to ignore that comment as she grabbed his lips with her teeth.

/./

You see, I take the parts that I remember and stitch them back together
to make a creature that will do what I say
or love me back.
I’m not really sure why I do it, but in this version you are not
feeding yourself to a bad man
against a black sky prickled with small lights.

/./

She offers to give herself to Angelus, if he tells them what they want to know. He hears her, through the floor, with his inhuman abilities.

That can't happen. He can't allow it to happen.

He doesn't have to stop it, in the end. Because Cordelia doesn't give herself to him, and she tells him to kill his father.

Part of him questions why she would do that, why she would ask him to kill the man she claims as a best friend. Then she places a hand over her stomach, and it makes sense. You do anything for your child. You kill the monsters to keep them safe.

He pushes away the memories of Angel doing that, and Holtz doing the exact opposite.

/./

I take it back.
The wooden halls like caskets. These terms from the lower depths.
I take them back.
Here is the repeated image of the lover destroyed.
Crossed out.
Clumsy hands in a dark room. Crossed out. There is something
underneath the floorboards.
Crossed out. And here is the tabernacle
reconstructed.

/./

Cordelia lies still, and if not for the minuscule movement of her chest as she breathes, softly, weakly, he would think her dead.

It is a miracle she is not dead, apparently. Not just because she gave birth to a God, a birth which even She admits should have killed her, but also because Angel was ready to plunge a sword into his best friend's stomach to kill his own granddaughter.

The Powers must have thought it time to give them something good, because his father was a moment too late, and once he met Her, there wasn't any way he was able to harm Her.

Sweeping a hand gently across Cordelia's face, brushing back her soft hair, Connor smiles. His daughter looks nothing like Her mother- Her skin is darker, Her hair curlier, Her flesh rotting, Her eyes black holes with maggots crawling around.

Connor suspects no one else can see the last bit- for who else would love Her like they did, when she looked like that? This world, so vain, would turn on his daughter if they saw Her true face.

Cordelia wouldn't, though- it's her daughter, after all. Cordelia had looked inside him and seen the pain and anger and brutality that his raising in a hell dimension had caused him, and she had loved him anyways. She had helped heal the hurt.

When Cordelia woke, she would do the same for their daughter, he was sure.

/./

Here is the part where everyone was happy all the time and we were all
forgiven,
even though we didn’t deserve it.

/./

He wishes he could believe Her words of forgiveness, but he can't. He knows there is no forgiveness, not for them, not for the things they have done.

His daughters face is rotting and Her words are lies, but the others stare and speak of Her beauty, of how everything She says is gospel. She tells them to love and forgive, that She forgives them, but Connor knows its impossible.

The happiness everyone feels is fake, as fake as if they took a pill or shot the strange liquid into their veins, like Sunny had, that first night in this world. Connor knows its fake because the smiles are a bit too wide, the laughs a little too loud. But then, happiness has always seemed foreign to him. It was never something he knew in Quor'toth, and even though in this world its closer, happiness is still out of reach. Even with Jasmine telling him to be happy, he can't quite manage it.

When Fred forsakes them, and she is declared unworthy of forgiveness, he knows its wrong. Of them all, she is the only good one. Wesley is a traitor, Gunn is a killer, Angel is a monster. Connor is all those things. And every time he looks at his daughter, he comes closer and closer to knowing that he must kill Her.

He has betrayed his father, and took his mothers life for his own, so he supposes its only right that he should have to end his child, too.

But not yet. One more day, or week, or month. Let him watch everyone's smiles and revel in the peace for just a moment longer. For the first time in his life he doesn't have to fight, and he is tired. He wishes he could join Cordelia in her slumber, he is so tired. And once Jasmine is dead, he thinks he will have to fight again.

So he brings the people, the adoring masses, to his daughter and watches as She devourers their devotion, their entire being. It is wrong, and She is a thing that he should kill, but the people are smiling as they die, so it can't be that bad, can it?

He thinks of the people he knows who are not under Jasmine's spell; he thinks of Faith, the dark-haired Slayer with beautiful anger running through her veins, with an urge to live but a desire to die. The fugitive who defeated Angelus, sacrificed herself to stop him, so they could bring Angel back.

Thinking of Angelus, of course, reminds him of Willow- the witch, who hummed with power but stuttered when she spoke too fast, who watched him with the strangest combination of anger and happiness and loss.

He knows things are bad for them, too, right now. Something about the First Evil, and Hellmouth sounds nothing but horrible. But he thinks of calling, warning them whats happening. Perhaps asking the other Slayer, the original Slayer, Buffy (he thinks that's her name- they rarely speak of her, not when Angel's around, but he knows he was the love of his father's life, that she died, twice, that she was resurrected once with medicine, once with magick. Knows she saves the world every other day, knows, in a random burst of remembrance from Cordelia, that she blew up the high school she attended) to come kill his daughter.

If he can't do it, he will turn the burden to her.

/./

Inside your head you hear
a phone ringing, and when you open your eyes you’re washing up
in a stranger’s bathroom,
standing by the window in a yellow towel, only twenty minutes away
from the dirtiest thing you know.

/./

There is blood on his hands.

Literal blood. And brain matter. Bits of skull fragment cutting into his skin, chunks of flesh with long dark hair sticking to it.

Bits of Her, or really, now, just her, bits of Jasmine, his daughter, remnants from the blow that ended her.

He came to this world to kill his father, and instead killed the daughter he loved to save his father he hates. Doesn't hate. Feels confused over what he feels for him.

It doesn't matter, at that moment. Because his hands are coated with blood, and he has to get it off.

The world has gone to hell, and walking through the streets of LA had felt much more like home than it did before- he will never miss Quor'toth, never think of a single moment there with fondness, but it was home, the only true one he's ever known. Because of this, houses are empty, the occupants rioting in the streets at best, dead in those same streets at worst (no, he thinks, at worst their clothing is piled in the hotel), but either way it leaves him free to pick a home at random and use the sink to wash up.

There is hot water, but he does not use it, because even if it still feels strange to have cold anything- Quor'toth is a fire hell dimension, after all- blood washes quicker in cold, and besides, it doesn't feel right to take any pleasure in the act of washing off Jasmine's blood.

The brain and bone and flesh and hair fall off as he claws at it under the running water, and the still-wet blood rinses too, but he can't get the dried flakes of it out from underneath his fingernails. Or maybe that's just dirt. He's never had clean nails, but it feels like blood. It feels like his daughters blood, stuck to his skin.

Connor takes a deep breath, and wishes it wouldn't shake as he did. Wishes he wasn't here, in this room, in this house who's family might not ever return, wishes to be far away from this entire city.

He wishes it was just... over.

/./

All the rooms of the castle except this one, says someone, and suddenly
darkness,
suddenly only darkness.

/./

There's a birth certificate somewhere that says he is Connor Angel, son of Geraldo Angel, and he is not yet three years old. Connor Angel was born to a loving family, if not traditional, and even though his mother was unable to see his first breath, he always knew that she had loved him, had declared him the only good thing she had ever done. Connor Angel was cared for, and protected against terrible odds. Connor Angel was loved.

There is also Stephen Holtz. Stephen Holtz was raised in hell, and trained to fight and track and kill. Stephen Holtz was a loyal son, a soldier, and nothing else. Stephen Holtz never felt what love was, not to love or to be loved. Stephen Holtz was a lie.

Connor, just Connor, was a bit of both. Connor's father was Angel, and he had people who cared about and protected him- or would, if he needed it. But Connor was also a killer, a blunt or sharp weapon to fight with, to fight against. He could track something through the streets of Los Angeles, and he even occasionally saved people. He followed the lessons Holtz had taught him on how to stay alive, and he was painfully alone.

Lying on his back in the empty store, defused bombs scattered around him and Cordelia's soft breathing a couple feet away, his father holding him down with a blade held above him, ready to strike, Connor doesn't know who he is anymore.

He wants Angel to just kill him, already, but at the same time something in him freezes in fear at the idea of death. He had survived hell, and now he would die by his father's hand- the father that was meant to die by his.

Then everything goes black.

/./

In the living room, in the broken yard,
in the back of the car as the lights go by. In the airport
bathroom’s gurgle and flush, bathed in a pharmacy of
unnatural light,
my hands looking weird, my face weird, my feet too far away.

/./

Connor Reilly is a bit of a genius, if he does say so himself. He doesn't mind bragging, a bit- he did work pretty hard to get into Stanford, after all, even though he hadn't actually known he wanted to go there until he was accepted.

He knows lots of things, is the point. Understands them. For example, he knows the force of a vehicle going almost sixty miles an hour hitting a teenage boy and pinning him against a garage should kill said teenage boy. In a miracle case, he should be rushed to the hospital, half the bones in his body broken, probably even paralysed for the rest of his life because his spine was crushed.

There is almost no way in hell that teenage boy could stand back up, rub the sore spot on his head where it connected with the garage, and shake it off.

However, that is exactly what Connor Reilly does when that happens to him.

Tracy's leaving for a college on the complete other side of the country, and he's seeing her off with her family. He told her they would stay together, and he wants to, he does, but he doesn't think they'll be able to pull it off. Not with so many miles between them, and he's sure the first year will be pretty busy anyways, and-

A goddamn van slammed him into a wall and he got right back up.

He grips the sides of the sink, the florescent lights in the bathroom flickering and making his face look too gaunt. He doesn't know what's going on with him. He should be dead, but he's fine.

Connor knows his parents are freaked- so is he, honestly. But he's not dead, and that's what should count.

He so doesn't need this right now. He has way more important things to think about right now, like his girlfriend, and Stanford, and if his roommate will be annoying.

So he pushes the thoughts of his possible invulnerability out of his mind.

/./

And then the airplane, the window seat over the wing with a view
of the wing and a little foil bag of peanuts.
I arrived in the city and you met me at the station,
smiling in a way
that made me frightened. Down the alley, around the arcade,
up the stairs of the building
to the little room with the broken faucets, your drawings, all your things,
I looked out the window and said
This doesn’t look that much different from home,
because it didn’t,
but then I noticed the black sky and all those lights.

/./

He's never been a huge fan of LA.

Its too big, and loud, and bright. He likes home, where the air doesn't stink and you can normally walk alone at night, and you can even sometimes see the stars.

But his parents insisted on coming here, to go to that big law firm to talk to them about 'setting up a trust'. Connor very nearly laughed when they told him that- he's pretty smart, remember? He knows this is about The Van Incident. He knows from the way that his parents keep looking at him like he's about to leap over a building, or stop a speeding bullet (as opposed to what, he used to wonder, a slow-moving bullet?) or maybe just hop into a phone booth.

Which is ridiculous. He's not Clark Kent. He doesn't even have glasses- his eyesight is really good. Always has been.

He doesn't really like LA, but this time it doesn't seem so bad. It feels like... home, almost. He doesn't understand why. It's not like home. Even with his really good eyesight, he can't see stars. All he can see is black, washed out by city lights.

But he still can't shake the part of his mind that whispers, you belong here.

/./

We walked through the house to the elevated train.
All these buildings, all that glass and the shiny beautiful
mechanical wind.

/./

Wolfram & Hart is really big. Like, huge. And shiny. It's pretty cool, to be honest. Even if he's pretty sure everyone here is evil. They're lawyers, right? Aren't lawyers supposed to be evil?

His parents tell him to wait downstairs while they talk to someone about setting up the trust, which they actually have no intention of doing. From the way they shoot nervous glances at him, and whisper to themselves, the only way he could not know what was going on was if he was remarkably stupid. Which he wasn't. Hello, Stanford?

Wolfram & Hart was... weird. There were way too many security guards, for one. And the people seemed... off. Some of them smelled wrong.

(and, yeah, he knows how that sounds. But he just has a really good sense of smell. Its not like he's smelling them on purpose)

No one seemed to even notice him, so he spent a while just looking around. It was an impressive building, for sure. Even from the outside, all shining glass and dark metal.

The lobby was beautiful, alright, but not terribly interesting. Which is why he ended up ignoring what his dad had told him about staying in the lobby, and taking the (also impressive) elevators up.

When he got to the right floor and found his parents, he also found out that the people who worked here were rude.

Which was proven to be a bit of a hasty judgement when the big rude guy saved his ass from some monsters, and nearly ripped one in half, which was awesome.

So, it turns out that the people- people being a relevant term, in this case, 'cause when he says 'people', he also means vampires, and hot, blue, leather-wearing, ancient demons, and green horned guys in clothes that should have stayed in the seventies- who work at Wolfram & Hart aren't rude, but actually pretty awesome.

Really awesome, actually- he's barely knows any of them, but they feel like family, the way LA feels like home. It's sort of freaking him out, if he's honest.

But then he has to learn how to kill someone, and that someone turns out to be inside a vase owned by a creepy old man who is bright red, and Angel was right, he does talk a lot.

But Wesley was right, too, and Saj-whatever is kicking his ass.

Until there is a flash of light, and a life he didn't know was his flashes before his eyes.

/./

We were inside the train car when I started to cry. You were crying too,
smiling and crying in a way that made me
even more hysterical. You said I could have anything I wanted, but I
just couldn’t say it out loud.

/./

It doesn't really sink in, all the new memories, not until he is back home, taking out a bag of garbage, and stops, sees the mark still on the garage wall from where he hit it.

And all of a sudden, Connor remembers. It had felt like a movie he had watched, a story that wasn't real.

Now its real, though, and he can still smell Quor'toth, can hear screams, taste vampire dust, feel a weapon, heavy in his hand, and he can see his daughter, dead at his feet. See Cordy, a bomb strapped to her. See his father sink into the water.

He's on his knees, he realizes, suddenly. Realizes he's breathing too fast, that his eyes are squeezed shut against the memories. He remembers being four, and playing with a tricycle- he remembers being four, and a hell beasts blood hitting him hot and wet as Holtz killed it. He remembers his first day of school- he remembers Holtz tying him to a tree. First lost tooth- first time he nearly died. First time riding a bike- first time someone called him The Destroyer.

It goes on and on, every normal memory he has overlapped with hell dimension, and then slightly better ones- until they became just as bad, only with more soap.

He stands up right before his mum opens the front door to see whats taking him so long.

He has nightmares for the first time in years that night.

The next day, he looks through photo albums. He looks at a picture of Tracy and him, at the prom. He sees Cordelia.

And then it hits him. Cordelia wasn't there. Neither was Gunn. And that blue woman, Illyria...

His mum finds him hours later, crying, because he is smart. And it is surprisingly easy to call Wolfram & Hart and trick Angel's secretary into giving him Willow's number. Who doesn't remember who he is, but confirms that Cordy is dead and Fred's soul destroyed.

He wonders if he could have done anything to save them.

Then Connor remembers that he was going to kill Cordy.

No matter what his mother says, she can't get him to stop crying.

/./

Actually, you said Love, for you,
is larger than the usual romantic love. It’s like a religion. It’s
terrifying. No one
will ever want to sleep with you.

/./

He even calls Tracy, to make sure she remembers him. Tracy tells him he's nuts, and that she misses him. He tells her he misses her too, even though he misses other people more right at that moment.

He goes back to school.

His roommate grins, welcomes him back, tells him all about his break. How his family was insane.

Your family is insane? Connor wants to laugh. You should hear about mine.

Connor doesn't tell his roommate that he discovered his father is a vampire, that he is a sort-of-demon thing, that he had actually been raised in a hell dimension and had killed more things than he knew existed, last he saw him.

When asked what he did over break, Connor tells him his parents set up a trust.

Life goes on. Classes are attended, papers are written. People are met. And after a month or so, he gets asked out.

Michelle is the type of girl Connor has always ended up with a crush on. She has long, dark hair, and smooth tan skin, and full lips. She's got an athletic build, a sharp wit, and a nice smile. The date goes perfectly, and so does the next one, and the next one, and before long he's her boyfriend.

One night, they're lying next to each other in her bed, when Michelle turns to him. “Have you ever been in love?” She asks.

Before he can think about it, he says, “yes.”

“Who was she?”

Then it occurs to him, that he had been thinking of Cordelia. He had loved Tracy, more or less, but it was closer to less, whereas his love for Cordy had been closer to an obsessive devotion that nearly turned humanity into mindless slaves.

“Her name was Cordelia.”

“That's an unusual name.”

Connor snorts. “She was an unusual person.”

“What happened between you two?” Michelle is resting her weight on her elbow, looking down at him curiously.

“That's pretty hard to explain. But the short of it is, uh, she got- injured. Someone hurt her, and Cordy ended up in a coma. Then she died.”

“Oh my god.” Michelle looks so sad, so sad for the death of a woman she had never met or heard anything of- except she may had heard of her, if she was in LA during Jasmine's reign. “Did they catch the person who hurt her?”

Something thumps in Connors chest. “They're dead.”

She must have seen something in his eyes, must of seen his face revert to the cold hatred of The Destroyer, because Michelle sits up suddenly. “Did you kill them?”

Connor jerks in surprise. “What?”

“I wouldn't blame you, if you did. I wouldn't- they hurt the girl you loved.”

“I didn't kill them.” Its not really a lie. Connor Reilly wasn't even in LA when all that happened. He was thinking about what colleges to apply to, and going on dates with Tracy, and having family dinners. He is not the same boy who came to this world dressed in animal skins, with the mission to kill his father.

“Okay.” He can tell she doesn't fully believe him, and she gets out of bed. “I'm going to go get us some coffee.”

She leaves, and Connor wonders if she will ever come back.

/./

Okay, if you’re so great, you do it—
here’s the pencil, make it work . . .
If the window is on your right, you are in your own bed. If the window
is over your heart, and it is painted shut, then we are breathing
river water.
Build me a city and call it Jerusalem. Build me another and call it
Jerusalem.
We have come back from Jerusalem where we found not
what we sought, so do it over, give me another version,
a different room, another hallway, the kitchen painted over
and over,
another bowl of soup.

/./

He doesn't see her for a week, but Michelle does come back.

She stays until one night, walking down the street after a date, two people with mutated faces grab them and haul them both into an alley, grinning and laughing, blood from a previous victim still shining on their fangs.

The female of the two vampires taunts him, telling him that she's going to rip his girlfriends throat out in front of him, and when he tells her flatly that, no, in fact, she won't be doing that, ever again, because he is going to stop them, the vampire asks him who the hell he thinks he is, and does he know what they are?

Connor smiles, his cold grin that began in Quor'toth and was perfected on the monsters of LA, and wishes that there was the possibility that these vampires could remember the miracle child. But the name of his parents will have to do.

“Ever heard of Darla and Angelus?”

The male vampire hisses like the names are holy water against his skin. “What do they have to do with this?”

“Well, I'm sort of their son. I know, you guys can't have kids. Its a long story. You won't get to hear it.” Before either can respond, the vampire holding him has his head ripped from his neck with Connor's bare hands, and the other one is thrown into a wooden crate which impales her chest in several separate places, including the heart.

Michelle stands stock still, staring at what should of been her death but is now simply dust.

“You weren't wrong when you said I was a killer.” Connor explains softly.

She inhales shakily, then clears her throat. “Walk me home, then never come near me again.”

He does just that.

/./

The entire history of human desire takes about seventy minutes to tell.
Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of time.
Forget the dragon,
leave the gun on the table, this has nothing to do with happiness.

/./

Linda isn't his type at all, but she is warm and eager and attractive. Her kisses are more like bites and her fingernails dig into his skin, deep enough that it might hurt a normal person. He wishes he could be as careless with his grip as she is, but he knows that one moment of a too-tight grip could snap this blonde girl in half, quite literally.

So he lets her lead- which is fine, because when has he ever done anything but, in this area? Even with Tracy- and its over after a time which is both too long and not long enough.

Connor watches as Linda collects her clothing, grinning at him as she pulls them back on, and jots down a number, leaving it on the table. In case you wanna do that again.

Somehow that sounds even worse than this can never happen again.

/./

Let’s jump ahead to the moment of epiphany,
in gold light, as the camera pans to where
the action is,
lakeside and backlit, and it all falls into frame, close enough to see
the blue rings of my eyes as I say
something ugly.

/./

He's sitting in a coffee shop when Angel comes to him.

Its both unexpected and what he's been unconsciously waiting for since he left LA. He used to seek Connor out at random times, finding him in back alleys and abandoned warehouses, sewer tunnels and vamp nests, and he would try to be a father. But Connor had no way of knowing what a father was, then. Holtz was the man he called dad, and he was no reference.

So when he looks up and the souled vampire is standing in front of him, looking nervous and hopeful, he can't really bring himself to be surprised. All he can really do is ask him to sit, and get him a coffee.

Connor talks to him, and it might be the only real conversation they've ever had. He wants to ask about Cordelia, about Fred, about Gunn. But he can tell something is wrong, and not just because there is no way Angel would be sitting here, drinking coffee, if the world wasn't ending (again). So he doesn't bring up those things which will make his father's face fall into lines which have impossibly deepened since they last saw each other. Impossible because Angel is immortal, blessed- or cursed- with eternal youth. Yet somehow he looks older. Maybe its the soul.

Angel tells him about Nina, the werewolf girlfriend, and Connor can't help but poke fun at him. He was just watching a movie with vampires and werewolves the other night, with his roommate, and in that they were ripping each other apart. Of course, in that movie, the vampires had been totally unrealistic.

When he tells his father that he remembers, he has to add that it feels like a weird dream. Has to, when Angel's eyes grow so pain-filled at the thought of his son's head being stuffed full with monsters and hell once again. Its only mostly a lie; he does have dreams about that life. A lot.

They talk for a while longer, and then he leaves. Off to stop an apocalypse, probably.

After a bit more deliberation than he is comfortable admitting (he's not the same boy who would jump into danger because fighting is the only thing he knows- he has more things in his life, now, friends and family and homework. But at his core, he is, at the very least, the son of a champion), he leaves to help stop it.

/./

I never liked that ending either. More love streaming out the wrong way,
and I don’t want to be the kind that says the wrong way.
But it doesn’t work, these erasures, this constant refolding of the pleats.
There were some nice parts, sure,
all lemondrop and mellonball, laughing in silk pajamas
and the grains of sugar
on the toast, love love or whatever, take a number. I’m sorry
it’s such a lousy story.

/./

It occurs to him, as he's driving out of LA, away from Angel and his real life, away from a fight which every part of the half of him that grew up in hell and died by his father's hand in mercy screams to join, that he wasn't ever going to be Connor Reilly again. Not really.

Because he keeps a blade in his pocket and a stake in his boot, and bumps in the dark are warnings instead of things to be dismissed with logic. He wears a cross around his neck, hasn't fully fallen asleep since he remembered, and he has to fight the urge to go on patrol at night.

At the same time, though- he still loves his sister, still worries about his grades and plays video games. He may remember that he's Connor, but he will never forget that he was a Reilly.

Connor comes back to his dorm to find a TV on, at least a dozen people crowded around it. Live reports about the mass destruction and death in Los Angeles flash across the screen. His fellow Stanford students mutter in disbelief and shock. One boy, Stan or Sam or something, comments on the bad luck LA's been having lately.

Luck has nothing to do with it, he wants to tell him. This is prophesy and destiny and lawyers from hell. This is what my father, my first family, were trying to stop. And since they didn't stop it, who knows if any of them are alive?

Connor thinks of Wesley, then, his tired face, sad eyes, ones that he knew had once been filled with life. The man who had kidnapped him, who was part of the reason he had ever ended up in Quor'toth. He had never gotten to know the man very well, had barely spoken to him before Jasmine, and can you really call conversation under her rule getting to know someone? All they spoke of was his daughter. But still, with all the bad and the very little good he knew of the former Watcher, he didn't wish him dead.

Connor thinks of Illyria, the ancient demon/hell god who had killed Fred. Thinks of her curious expression, the strange way she moved, like she didn't know how to move properly in her stolen skin. He remembers the words the man he now knows to be a vampire, Spike, had said about her- that she hit like a Mac truck, that she had power over the flow of time, that she may or may not of been able to talk to plants. He remembers how she had watched him as his body had warmed at the sight of her outfit. The blue tint to her skin, her eyes, her hair.

He thinks of Gunn, the man who, during that one summer, attempted to be something close to a father. Who he challenged at every turn, who he respected. Remembers fighting side by side with the man, movements in tune, and being impressed that even though he was human, completely human, he could fight almost as well as most vampires. When he found out the reason for that, when he was told that Gunn had lived is a different version of hell, one with abandoned buildings and burning friends bodies, stolen food and guarding homeless children against demons, Connor couldn't help but be impressed.

And he thinks of Angel. His birth father, who had held him and named him and loved him and lost him, feed him and feed off him. Angel, who had loved his son so much he had sacrificed his morals, deceived his friends, and altered reality to make him okay. He thinks of the look on his father's face when he had sent him away, refused to let him fight with them.

Now Connor knows that it was because Angel knew this was a suicide mission. Knew this couldn't end in any semblance of good. But they've gone through that before, right? So, they might still be okay. His first friends, his first family, they might not all be dead. Fred and Cordelia may have slipped away, before he ever got to see them again, but the others, Wesley, the demon who held the only things left of Fred, Gunn, his father- they could still be alive.

He feels how unlikely it is, and can't help but think, I could have saved them.

/./

Dear Forgiveness, you know that recently
we have had our difficulties and there are many things
I want to ask
you.

/./

The thing is, while regret and remorse were things that Connor had sucked out of him in Quor'toth (or maybe never learned, in the first place), Connor Reilly had a pretty big guilty conscience. He still felt bad for breaking his sister's barbie when he was nine, for gods sake.

So while Connor could kill, maim, and torture as much as he needed to without guilt- or, he could stuff it down, sometimes not even recognize what the sick feeling in his stomach was- Connor Reilly lay in bed at night, and cringed.

He had finally given up on waiting, and called the number he still had for Willow- who demands to know who is he, and when he tells her he's at Stanford, she tells him what coffee shop to go to and hangs up.

When he gets there, he spots the witch immediately. She looks more tired than he last saw her, but when he sits down at her table, she still gives him the innocent smile which took him off guard last time they met.

“Hi. Connor, right?”

“That's me. Did you teleport here?”

Willow gives him an odd look. “Uh, you may have noticed, but LA is a bit...”

“Under attack by an army of demons and hell-spawn, with whatever is left of Angel Investigations as its only defence? I noticed. That's why I'm here. I need to know if any of them are still alive. If I can help.”

She seems surprised. “Okay, who are you? Seriously? 'Cause, not many people that know what's really going on volunteer to go fight, unless its their sacred duty. So, unless you're a girl and we somehow missed you when we were rounding up Slayers... also, how do you know AI?”

Connor considers lying. He does. But he's lying to everyone in his life. His family, his friends, his girlfriend, when he had one. And its tiring. Here's someone that can actually understand- or as close to understanding as he'll ever get.

“Angel's my dad.”

“...What?” Willow blinks at him in confusion. “What do you mean by that?”

“I mean, Angel provided 50% of my DNA. Him and Darla. I was born in 2001, then got kidnapped as a baby, grew up in a hell dimension. When I got back here, I was a teenager. There were some pretty dramatic things, and my mental state sort of went- non-existent. So Angel, trying to save my life, took over Wolfram & Hart in exchange for a reality shift which wiped everyone's memories of me, even mine, and made me into Connor Reilly, who is a normal kid who just happened to get his memories back by accident a few months ago.”

There's a long moment of silence between them, before the witch blinks a couple times, and takes a long sip of her drink. “Okay. That's... this is Dawn all over again.” She paused. “You don't have magic blood, do you?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Wow. I really hate reality shifts. So, Angel has a kid, huh? That's not supposed to be possible. And with Darla! She's supposed to be dead!” She sighs. “Anyways, you want to know about your dad?”

“And the others. Anything you know, please.”

“Well, I know- I'm really sorry, but Wesley's dead.” She looked so sad, and Connor remembered she had known him too, years before he was ever born, and that was still weird to think about.

“I'm sorry too. You knew him, back in Sunnydale, right?”

Willow nods, looking even sadder at the mention of her destroyed home town. “Not very well, but, y'know, once you're a Scooby, you'll always have a place in our hearts.”

“You've... lost a lot of friends?”

“Some have died, some have left. But, uhm, you wanted to know about your friends. Angel's alive. Or, well, y'know. As as alive as he can be. Same with Spike, and Illyria. Gunn got wounded pretty bad. By the time he got help, he was almost dead. I had to use magick to keep him from dying, and using magick as medicine is a big no-no. He's still touch and go.” Willow doesn't meet his eyes when she admits, “There's a good chance he won't. Make it, I mean.”

Dread hits Connor in the stomach like sledgehammer, and all he can think is what would have happened differently if he had gone to fight, too.

/./

I tried that one time, high school, second lunch, and then again,
years later, in the chlorinated pool.
I am still talking to you about help. I still do not have
these luxuries.
I have told you where I’m coming from, so put it together.
We clutch our bellies and roll on the floor . . .
When I say this, it should mean laughter,
not poison.
I want more applesauce. I want more seats reserved for heroes.

/./

In the end, an army of Slayers, Watchers, witches, two souled vampires, and a hell god defeat Wolfram & Harts army. Or, at the very least, cause the Senior Partners to retreat for a while. It doesn't really matter, not today. Not when everyone was just happy it was over, and didn't want to think about what fight they might have in the future, only wanted to mourn the fallen.

Connor doesn't know any of the dead, except for Wesley, but then, he doesn't know many of these people. None of them but Willow, his father, and Illyria know him.

Somehow, though, that doesn't prevent him from eating with the group one weird Watcher named Andrew had called 'California's Heroes', until the Watcher in the eye patch had made him shut up and told him it was a Scooby dinner.

Willow tried to point out that Gunn, Illyria, and Connor had never been part of the Scoobies, but that had been dismissed.

Angel had then felt the need to introduce him to everyone- Rupert Giles, head Watcher; Buffy Summers, the Slayer, and yeah, he knew the story behind that, didn't need to hear it again; Dawn Summers, Buffy's little sister who also happened to be a mystical ball of millennium old energy; Willow Rosenberg, the most powerful witch in this dimension, but he already knew her; Xander Harris, the eye-patch Watcher; Andrew... something-or-other, the former evil-genius (and since everyone seemed to hide back smirks at that, Connor sort of doubted how evil and genius he really was) turned good guy Watcher; Kennedy, Slayer and Willow's girlfriend (which was hot); and Faith, who he actually already knew, but she didn't know him.

Then Angel introduced Illyria to the former Sunnydale residents, and Gunn to those that hadn't met him already. Spike rolled his eyes and introduced himself, although everyone seemed to know him, and the only ones who seemed at all impressed were Dawn, who had snorted, and Andrew, who had given him such a puppy-like grin, Connor was almost certain he was, in fact, a puppy shape shifter.

What? It wasn't the weirdest thing he'd come across, lately.

Even though he didn't really know anyone- even the ones he had met, he had never really known- it was... comfortable. These people, most of them not much older than him (the immortal people didn't count- and besides them, the only old person was Giles), all had seen monsters and apocalypses (apocali?) and death, they knew the bumps in the night, the shadows in the alley were more than just wind and stray cats.

But still, they had fought. For what they knew to be right, to protect people, they had risked their lives, lost their lives, lost their home, and in Xander's case, lost an eye. They may not have been raised in hell, but they did grow up on a Hellmouth (Connor's still not sure what that is, but it can't have been fun).

At the same time, though, they were still kids. They watched TV and goofed off and went shopping, like normal people their age.

These people, these Scoobies, they were both Connor The Destroyer and Connor Reilly. They could understand both parts of him.

For the first time since he had stepped into Wolfram & Hart, he felt like he fit.

/./

Dear Forgiveness, I saved a plate for you.
Quit milling around the yard and come inside.

/./

They made him finish his year at Stanford, before letting him join the New Watchers Council.

It was sort of awkward, at first- when Angel had told them who he really was, dealing with Buffy got a bit strained, for some reason Xander got unreasonably hostile, Andrew wouldn't stop filming him, Faith couldn't seem to figure out if she should flirt or not, Giles watched him like an interesting documentary, Gunn always looked like he was trying to remember something, and Dawn became oddly obsessed with the fact that Connor Reilly didn't really exist, and the only thing making him real was a reality shift.

Spike merely chuckled at them all, while Illyria attempted to learn make the blonde vampire... whatever Wesley had been to her, before.

But then, after a while, Buffy began watching him with a wistful expression, and everyone else seemed to become used to him as a human(ish) being. He got his own room to train Slayers in, and since he was as strong as them, they weren't always afraid they were going to hurt him.

There were a couple end-of-the-world instances, and a handful of funerals. Demons were killed, vamps were slain, people were saved.

Connor was... happy.

Happy in a way which he had never been, not in any life. Not as Connor Angel, or Stephen Holtz, or just Connor, or even Connor Reilly. This time, he had friends. Family. A life in which he helped people, saved the world.

He was home (at the Reilly's) one night, for Sunday dinner with his mum and dad and aunt and sister, when his father commented on it.

“You seem happy, son.”

It was four words. Four words which make him realize something, flashing back to that old hotel, his daughter's rotting lips smiling at him, telling him he's forgiven. He hadn't believed it, then. Felt he didn't deserve it, not for his sins. Forgiveness brought joy, and he didn't deserve it.

But now, he smiles, and nods.

“I am.” He admits. “I'm happy. And I'm forgiven.”