Disclaimer: Connor and all things AtS owned by Mutant Enemy, Lyta Hall and assorted Sandman characters owned by Neil Gaiman and Vertigo.
Timeline: Post-Not Fade Away for Angel; post-The Wake and The Furies for Sandman.
Spoilers: For all of AtS and the entire Sandman saga, plus Mike Carey's The Furies.
Thanks to: HonorH for beta-reading, and for insisting this story ought to be written. It's for you.
Connor wasn't sure what he had expected to find. He hadn't been sure he wanted to look for Cordelia at all, or how he felt about her. He remembered kissing her the first time as surely and intensely as he remembered kissing Tracy. He remembered that Cordelia tended to have cold feet and was always hogging the covers, which was different from Tracy or the other encounters which might or might not have happened in the life he had chosen. He remembered Cordelia teasing him about being eighteen, and her brown sparkling eyes and wide, wide smile, which made you feel you were swept up in that radiance which was hers.
He remembered her telling him to kill.
Cordelia hadn't been at Wolfram & Hart, and Connor didn't want to go back there to ask what had happened to her. So it took him a while to find out, and he had to bribe the most computer-savvy of his friends with the promise of writing an entire essay for him.
(Writing with a computer. Two memories, again; learning how to type at age 14, from his dad; learning from Fred at age 18, during that summer when one of his fathers was dead and the other buried under the ocean. Watching Fred's thin, skilful fingers fly over the board; watching Dad's heavy, burly ones demonstrate. Thinking this wasn't any more difficult than mastering a new weapon; thinking that this was annoying and that they should invent computers that took dictation already.)
When he found out Cordelia had died in her coma, he went very still, so still that his friend actually grabbed his wrist to feel his pulse. She had been someone from a dream, he told himself; not real, less real than any of the others, because so much of what she said to him he now knew to have been lies. But he still remembered the taste of her lips, and the way her hand felt when she stroked his hair, and that he had promised to keep her safe.
Asking where she was buried was almost an afterthought. He didn't really believe there would be anything of hers left, anything that would tell him why she had done what she did, and in none of his memories, not a single one, there was an example of visiting a burial place bringing peace. He never had returned to the spot where he and Justine had lain Daniel Holtz to rest; his father wasn't there any more, his body purified by fire and the ashes dispensed in the wind.
(In his other memories, the ones he decided were the real ones, there was not a single death. Even his grandparents were all still alive, and he and Mercy never had been allowed to keep pets.)
When he heard Cordelia was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica, he didn't go there at first, either. It would only serve to make the wrong memories more real. Then Angel showed up again, and everything was real once more anyway. It was the strangest, saddest and happiest day he had experienced in any of his lives. He left the city as he had promised, but kept listening to the radio all the time. When there were no reports of massacres or Los Angeles being destroyed, he tried to discover what had become of Angel and the others, and found no trace of them.
Ending up at Woodlawn Cemetery was probably as much about them as it was about Cordelia; he wanted to say goodbye to somebody
. It was a warm, sunny day, and the mist, which usually didn't vanish until it was nearly noon, had already risen early in the morning when Connor arrived at Santa Monica. He found her tombstone without difficulties. It wasn't as if there were many other people visiting the cemetery, or as if it was even that big. In fact, the only other visitor he spotted was a slim woman in faded jeans with hair so bright that he couldn't be sure whether it was blond or white, who looked rather uncertain. He was on the verge of asking her if he could help when he located Cordelia's grave. It was strange to see the dates and to realise Cordy had been so young. In other circumstances, she could have been at college, only a few years ahead of him.
There was a quote from Wordsworth under her name. "She was a phantom of delight
". Connor wondered whether Angel or Wesley had ordered this, and how whoever gave him his real life had managed to include all the data qualifying him for a college education, including British poetry.
Staring at her name, he waited for either rage or loss to hit him, or the emptiness that had swallowed up everything else in the end, before it was cut through with a knife at his throat. Instead, he felt confused. There was the name, Cordelia Chase, and he still could not understand what he had been to her, or she to him.
"Kinslayer," said a voice next to him.
Connor whirled around, and another voice in the back of his head, a low, gravelly voice sounding like it belonged to Holtz, told him that in the other life nobody would ever have managed to come that close to him without being noticed. Mistakes like that could get you killed in Quortoth.
There stood the woman with the white-ish hair. That close, he could see tiny lines in her face; she was in her late thirties, perhaps even older. Or perhaps it was the echo of the word she had spoken, that harsh, single word, that made her appear older. The hairs on his arms rose. There was something utterly and completely inhuman in her, and yet he didn't get the sense she was a demon, let alone a vampire. She stared at him, with the long tendrils of her hair curling around her neck like white snakes, and he remembered seeing Jasmine for the first time, in her bright, green glory.
"No," he whispered.
The cold, unforgiving glare wavered. The woman blinked, and suddenly she was nothing more than a woman on a hot summer day, looking tired, lost and bewildered. The horrible thing was that he was familiar with that expression as well. He had seen it on two faces melding into one, that day when he spilled the blood that allowed Jasmine to be born.
"Shit," she said. "I thought I..."
He didn't want to hear anymore. Connor turned and ran away.
That night, he had a dream. He was back in the Hyperion, going down to the basement where they had locked up Angelus, his heart pounding with a strange mixture of hate and desire. This, at last, would be the monster he had been waiting for. His father.
There was the cage, but it was empty. Three women stood in front of it, veiled, so he couldn't see their faces, and when one of them pointed at him, the others laughed.
"There you are, dearie," said the one who had hear arm outstretched, and her voice, the voice he had last heard begging for his help and speaking of love and trust, was Jasmine's. "So you've met the vessel at last."
"We've been waiting for you," said the woman in the middle, and he knew her voice as Cordelia's.
"What, did you think we wouldn't remember?" said the third, and her voice belonged to a stranger. This was unexpected, and suddenly he didn't feel frozen on the spot anymore. As fast as he could, he moved towards her and tore the veil off her face.
It was a girl's face, young and innocent, and it took him a horrible second to remember who she was, so much had he expected her to look like the woman in white who had claimed to have been his mother.
"I begged you let me go," said the girl. "And you tied me up like an animal. You slaughtered me. Why did you never try to find out whether I got a burial, Connor? Why is it that you got another chance, but I did not?"
"You promised to keep me safe," said Cordelia, and when he looked at her he saw that she had torn back her veil on her own. "You made me give birth to that abomination. I was screaming inside all the time, Connor, and you made me into the instrument that brought forth Jasmine. And then you let me die."
The third woman grabbed his hand, and her own was covered in maggots, as it had always been. She was older than anything existing on Earth. She had lived for little more than a month.
"I loved you," she said. "I love you still. Let me show you, as you showed me."
"You're dead," he shouted desperately. "All of you are dead!"
They laughed. "What, you don't like these masks?" said the thing that sounded like Jasmine. "And you've always been so fond of masks, Connor. Just like your father. Both of them."
"You spilled the blood of your daughter, boy," added the woman in the middle, sounding less like Cordelia now and more like the stranger at the cemetery in the morning had done, with every word as barren and unforgiving as the rocks of the world where he had grown up. "That makes you our prey."
"Who are you?" he asked, swallowing a protest that he was a hunter and no- one's prey. Hadn't he decided that the hunt was not for him any longer, that it was to be put aside together with the memories of blood and pain and conflicting passions that tore him apart?
The girl-shaped thing laughed. "Really, Stephen, you ought to know," she said, imitating the cadences Daniel Holtz had used when trying to make a point. "So many names they gave us through the ages, so many nasty names. What, have you been raised by vengeance and not been told about the Kindly Ones?"
At last, he managed to pull his hand away, but he could still feel the maggots crawling up his flesh.
"That was in another life," he replied defiantly. "You have no power over me now."
"We'll see," the middle one said, and he woke up.
Looking at his wrist, he found it covered by insect bites.
"And you're sure?" Pauline asked, staring at the woman pacing up and down in her apartment.
"Positive," Lyta replied, looking anything but. Her face was ashen, and her fists clenched. "This is bad, Paul," she continued. "I haven't felt... it wasn't this strong since..."
Pauline quickly rose from her couch and went to the fridge in the corner to get herself something to drink. She and Lyta didn't talk very often about the time when they had met, or what Pauline had watched Lyta do. They both had scars that went pretty deep, Pauline thought, and there was no need to poke at them on a regular basis. But Lyta knew things about her no one else did, and Pauline supposed the reverse was true as well. Certainly Lyta would have ended up in an asylum for the insane if she would have tried to explain to anyone else about channelling ancient deities.
"I thought that was over," Pauline said, ostensibly still hunting for the Diet Coke she knew wasn't there which enabled her to avoid looking at Lyta. "I thought you could, well, control them now."
"Nobody controls them," Lyta replied. "They can't be controlled. But they can be bargained with, and I thought... well, I thought we had come to terms. And then there was the boy, when I was visiting Carla's grave. I saw him and I knew
, and they rode me again."
Pauline gave up pretending and went to Lyta, tentatively putting her hand on Lyta's shoulder. It wasn't something she did very often; Lyta wasn't comfortable with being touched unexpectedly.
"But you pushed them back," she said quietly. "You didn't do anything to that kid, right? It's over."
"That kid is a killer," Lyta said distantly. She didn't move away, but she might have been on the other side of the planet. Her skin felt cold under Pauline's touch, and her eyes had the emptiness of a desert sky in them. Pauline let her hand drop.
"Maybe," she said. "Maybe someone asked him to." Like me, she didn't say, but Lyta knew what she meant anyway. Pauline's father had begged her to help him die, and she had born her guilt and resentment until Lyta had confronted her with it out of the blue, one night in Athens when nothing made sense anymore.
Lyta's eyes focused on her, and she lost something of that frightening distance.
"Not like that," she said gently.
"So what did he do?" Pauline asked, grateful that they didn't have to go there again. Restlessly, Lyta began pacing again, until she suddenly fell on her knees, as if someone had punched her in the stomach. Her shoulders shook, and she buried her face in her hands. Pauline couldn't decide whether Lyta was laughing or crying.
Then Lyta looked up again. There were no tears in her face, and no trace of mirth.
"He slew one of the powers that shaped the universe," she said, very clearly, as if pronouncing a judgement. Pauline could see that Lyta's fingernails had left tiny crescent moons on her forehead. "And yet he created her as well. Do you know what that feels like, Pauline? I do. I do
. And it seems someone has decided it's time I paid for it."