TITLE : Present Imperfect
AUTHOR : Eloise
RATING : PG13
DISCLAIMER : Joss and ME own Wes, and all things Angel. I'm only playing with them. I promise not to hurt them. (Well, maybe just a little.)
NOTES : Chap 11 of 11! Can I just say how much I appreciated all the gorgeous feedback – this is the first fic I've actually uploaded, and your kind reviews kept me writing when I should have been sleeping! Big thanks to my hubby, who accepts my Wes obsession, and looked after the kids, cooked tea etc, etc while I wrote!
I've referenced quite a few Angel eps in this chap – you may recognize dialogue from "Happy Anniversary", "There's no place like Plrtz Glrb", "Dad", "Loyalty" and "Slouching towards Bethlehem". (I know, that last one is Season 4 – but I just love that line!)
The title and quote this time come from a heartbreakingly beautiful poem I found in one of my kids' poetry anthologies – it's called "Lost and Found" by John Mole, and was a major inspiration for this fic.
Chapter 11 : Lost and Found
"In my parent's eyes I see
The child that I was meant to be
But who's gone missing, them or me?"
'Let me get this straight. I go away on holiday for a couple of weeks, and while I'm gone, Wesley finds this terrible prophecy, kidnaps Connor, who is then kidnapped by Holtz; gets his throat cut and ends up in his hospital, where his best friend…'
He felt he really should interrupt here, but Cordelia shot him a look that he truly believed would freeze hell. He shut up.
'His best friend,' She continued 'smothers him to death. Only it turns out that he's not his best friend, and that he's fulfilling the prophecy that Wes was trying to stop.'
She paused briefly, daring him to say something. He did not, knew better than to piss her off when she was in this mood.
'And now I find out that the kid I nursed, whose damned diapers I changed, is actually the man I had the hots for in my Senior year. Ew!'
'Second that Ew, with a side order of Gross.' Gunn chimed in.
She sent him the Ice Queen glare, and he also shut up.
'So. To recap. Wesley is Angel's son. Holtz is his stepfather. I'm his aunt, and he's his own uncle.' She huffed out a little sigh.
"I'm sorry, but did we all just fall through a portal to a parallel dimension? Or Arkansas?'
He wasn't sure how many times he was going to have to explain this before they would accept it. Hell, he was finding it difficult to accept. He looked round the office at the other members of Angel Investigations.
Gunn looked as if someone had smacked him about the head with a rather large, freshly caught halibut.
'English … is Connor? But how did he… What about the… How did you…?'
We're right there with you, sweetie.' Lorne crossed his legs, as he perched on the edge of the desk.
Fred sucked in a gasp of air, and they all turned to her. She seemed a little off balance, gave a small inappropriate giggle that reminded Angel briefly of the Pylean Fred.
'I was just thinking about when Connor was born, remember?'
'The event does hold some significance for me, Fred.' He returned sarcastically.
She blinked rapidly, appeared to regain a degree of control over her sanity.
'No, remember when we were in the hospital afterwards, and everything was going to be okay. When you named him…'
God, yes, now he remembered. Settling his perfect baby boy into the pushchair that Gunn had brought, Wes smiling faintly…
'Connor – that's a lovely name. I don't suppose you ever considered…'
'He wanted you to name him Wesley.' Her eyes became huge behind her glasses. 'You don't think he knew, do you?'
He looked at her, gave her a gentle, comforting smile. 'No, Fred, he didn't know.'
Cordelia was still standing in the centre of the room, her arms folded across her chest, a 'don't mess with me buster' attitude in her stance.
'So where is he?'
He did not answer, tapped his booted toe against the leg of the chair he was sitting on.
'Oh, crap! You lost him again, didn't you? I swear to God, Angel, you two are gonna drive me crazy!'
'He's not lost, Cordy. He's just… well, he doesn't want to be found.' He paused. 'Well, not yet.'
'You know, you really are as stupid as you look.' She snapped. ' He's out there, doing the genetically inherited brooding thing. Angel, the guy just found out he kidnapped himself. This is not a good time for him to be alone with his thoughts!'
Lorne nodded his agreement. 'Gotta say I agree with the Princess here.'
She rounded on him. 'And you, Bonanza Boy, can just shut up! At least Mr. Tall, Dark and Mentally Deficient here has an excuse! What's yours?"
Lorne scooted back on the desk a little. 'What?'
'You read him, right? When we did that drunken singalong thing after Brood Boy fired us. How come you didn't see this?' She hissed.
'Read them as I see them, sweetheart,' Lorne snapped back. ' All I got was he was going to be important to Angel. I'm afraid the Powers that Be didn't give me a heads-up on this little secret!'
He remembered again, the host getting under his skin, after he had turned his back on his friends.
('And the British boy? He's going to be playing a huge… well…')
'Okay.' He stood up and lifted his duster from the back of his chair. "We go and find him.'
'I can show you where he is, if you wish.'
He wasn't sure how she had managed to slip into the hotel unnoticed. She was standing in the outer office, her demonic visage calm and expressionless.
'He's in terrible pain, Angel.'
Oh, he couldn't hear this. The thought of his son, his best friend, his brother, in pain, made his heart split open.
'You see, he believes all this to be his fault. Knowing he's responsible for causing you and himself so much grief. That's a burden no one should have to bear.'
It had gone very still. No one moved, no sound disturbed the loaded silence. She gazed at him impassively, and he was struck again by the familiarity of her eyes.
'You can help him, you know.'
Anything, he would do anything for his boy. Make the hurting stop; make the guilt and anguish go away.
'If he had never taken the baby, he would be here now, you and he would both be happy…'
He was aware now of Cordelia beside him, touching his sleeve carefully.
'Angel, think about this…'
He pushed her away, but not roughly.
'Tell me what to do.'
Her voice soft, floating to him.' All you have to do is wish.'
He was mesmerized by her eyes, by the amber stone in her locket that eerily matched their colour. He closed his own eyes.
'I wish that Wesley had never…'
'I would consider very carefully what you are about to wish for, if I were you, Angelus.'
A hiss of frustration and despair escaped her lips.
'You said you'd help me, Daniel!'
Holtz walked down the steps by the main door of the lobby, placed his raincoat on the office counter.
'I lied, my dear.'
'As did you.' Wesley stood at the entrance to the atrium.
Gunn went to the office door and peered out.
'If anyone else is planning on a surprise entrance, now would be a good time.' He broke off as Fred nudged him in the stomach, hard. 'Damn, but you got some sharp elbows, baby!' He whispered under his breath.
Wesley made his way slowly to the sofa in the centre of the lobby. Sat down very carefully.
'You lied to me. You told me this wasn't about Angel.' He looked up, blue eyes seeking out Angel's own. 'And it so clearly is.'
'When isn't it?' He heard Cordy mutter behind him
Lorne stood up and pushed him gently out of the office.
'Okay, daddy bear, we get it. Shutting up now. Just know that we're here if you or the lamb need us.'
He looked over at Wesley as he spoke, directing a gentle smile at him, granting absolution. A look of heartfelt gratitude was returned, and Angel was suddenly reminded of what a nice guy Lorne really was. The door closed behind him.
She was right; Wesley was in pain. He looked dreadful; his skin was as pale as his own. He had heavy stubble growth above his bandaged wound, and his blue eyes were underscored with dark smudges. It registered with him now that Wes had lost his glasses; was not able to hide the pain behind them.
The demon, who appeared to know Holtz, and Wes, for that matter, clenched tight fists by her sides.
'How could you stop him! After everything he did to you… to Caroline and Sarah and the baby…'
It dawned on him now. Where he had seen eyes like that…
(She had fought, kicked, screamed and thrashed like a woman possessed. Angelus had loved that. It was always so much better when they fought…)
'They're gone, Halle. Nothing is bringing them back. I've devoted my life, my very existence, to bringing this creature to some kind of justice. But I've discovered, as you will too, my dear, that sometimes the price of vengeance is too high to pay.'
She slapped the older man across the face, then, hard; and he rocked a little from the blow, but did not retaliate.
'You dare to lecture me on vengeance, Daniel, after what you did to the boy!'
She sobbed a swift breath, and her demon visage faded back to human form.
'I didn't even recognize you, at first! Daniel, what happened to you? You were a good man… a good father…'
Holtz took her hands in his, very gently.
'I let myself be consumed by my need for revenge. I made mistakes…'
There was a gasp from Wesley, a hitch in his breathing that lasted an eternity.
'Halle, I know you're a good person. The same good person your sister was. Are you really willing to sacrifice him to punish the vampire?'
('I wish that Wesley had never taken Connor')
All at once he realized what that would mean. Wesley would no longer exist. He closed his eyes, reliving the past three years…
Cordelia and he, lost after Doyle's death, had welcomed Wes into their lives with a degree of wariness.
A flash – and he was in the deserted warehouse, watching Wesley fire two shots into a canister of liquid nitrogen, held by the Haxil beast…
A flash – and the look of embarrassed modesty as Cordy explained how he'd figured out the key to the restraint bracelet Angel had worn in his gladiatorial prison…
A flash – and he saw a man prepared to risk his life to save that of the woman who'd tortured him…
Too many times to count, Wesley had been there, supporting him, saving him, giving him strength when he could no longer find it within himself.
A flash – in the darkness of Pylean night…
'Wes, I do this, you know I won't come back from it.'
'Yes, you will. I know you; we know you. We know you're a man with a demon inside, not the other way round. We know you have the strength to do what has to be done, and you will come back to us.'
Steady blue eyes met his; a firm hand on his shoulder.
'You'll come back.'
Without Wesley, he would have been lost.
'Are you?' Holtz's voice was solemn; he held his sister-in-law's hands tight in his. 'Are you willing to take away the one child I have left?'
She shook her head, dropped her chin low, weeping silently.
'Come, my dear. There's nothing more for you to do here.'
She nodded; moved towards the hotel entrance.
'Holtz… wait… please.' Angel whispered.
The Englishman turned, met his gaze impassively.
'It wasn't for you, vampire.' His voice soft. 'My motives were purely selfish.'
His eyes flicked briefly to the sofa. 'Remember what I told you, Angelus.'
('Your son is mine. He'll always be mine.')
Without another word, he turned and strode over to the sofa. Wes was on his feet instantly, a reflex learned from early childhood.
'Wesley.' The older man said his name firmly.
'Father… I mean…Holtz,' He whispered, and Angel's heart cracked.
'Be a good boy.'
With that, the older man turned and joined the woman at the door.
And they were gone.
He was sitting in the atrium, the moonlight making his skin almost translucent. His hands were clasped on his knees, head bent low as if in prayer. Angel slipped the little velvet box into his pocket and came down the steps to join him on the low stone bench.
'You okay, Wes?'
He looked at him, just a trace of the old Wesley in the raised eyebrows, the upside down quirk of a smile.
'Okay, stupid question.'
He snapped the box open, carefully plucked the ring from its velvet bed.
'He gave me this.' He placed the gold ring in Wesley's palm.
The younger man's head dropped low again, and he heard his breathing catch. Waited for the sobs to begin.
Was rather surprised to hear a low chuckle from the Englishman.
'God, I hated him!'
That made him laugh even more.
'No. My Uncle Wesley. All my life he was held up as this shining bloody beacon of all that was good and pure and true. He had sacrificed himself in the cause of righteousness, and I could never live up to him, no matter how hard I tried.'
Wesley pushed the ring onto his finger, tightened his pale hand into a loose fist.
He was not laughing any more.
'Angel, do you think, maybe…' Wesley stopped, and he felt him searching hard for the words he needed. ' Do you think maybe… he loved me? Holtz, I mean?'
(Your son is mine. He'll always be mine.')
'Love can be a terrible thing.' He echoed Wesley's own words back to him. The younger man nodded, and bowed his head again.
'It's never simple, is it?'
Angel placed his hand over Wesley's, held it gently, but firmly.
'No, Connor. It never is.'
For a while they sat, side by side, the silence broken only by the gentle whisper of a breeze in the honeysuckle bushes, and the quiet sobs of his son.