D.M. Evans

Disclaimer - none of the characters belong to me. They belong to Mr. Whedon. None of the lyrics were created by me. They belong to whomever I've credited them to within the body of the story including R.E.M.,Mike the Mechanics, Human League, and The Bangles.

Rating - PG-13

Summary - After the battle with Black Thorn, Connor struggles to save his father

Feedback - Feed me Seymour!

Time Line - Post Not Fade Away

Author's Note - this is the prequel to The Common Good of Life. It's the first story in the Burrs and Brambles of Life series and this one is dedicated to VampedVixen for her birthday.

Sleep eluded Connor, evanescent, refusing to bless him with release. He wished Lorne would just let him drive the RV, but he had driven for nearly ten hours straight. The demon was afraid Connor would put them sideways in the ditch if he didn't rest. Good theory, now if only he could put it into practice.

When had he last slept? Not properly, not since before Angel had come into that coffee shop and pretended to help him fill out internship papers Connor would never file. Oh, he had grasped onto Morpheus' arms once or twice but he couldn't hold on for more than an hour or two, too many ghosts in his head. He wished he hadn't just added to them by thinking about the coffee shop. He and Angel hadn't talked about anything important, both dancing fast around the painful parts. Connor had shuffled hardest around it all because he still wasn't sure what to think about what his father had done. It hurt to have been rearranged by magic, something he hated, but on the other hand, there was an inner peace he had never known. He hadn't lied about being grateful about that.

Connor shifted on the thin mattress. How could he possibly sleep on such a thing? In the driver's seat, Lorne flicked through radio channels and stopped when R.E.M.'s "The End of the World as We Know it," came over the speakers. Was it a sign, he wondered tiredly? It had nearly been that, the battle with Black Thorn's hordes. Connor mouthed the chorus, thinking about what he had seen. He hadn't listened to Angel - wasn't even sure why his father thought he would. Since when had he listened to reason?

Connor had only left Angel's side long enough to ensure the Reilleys had escaped the city, planning to turn back to the battle once he knew they were safe. He had been too damn late. His parents and sister weren't at home; they didn't answer their cell phones, so he had to give up on making sure they were safe and went back to the Hyperion. In the eerie calm after the battle, Connor learned that they were among the dead, having been too close to the battle down town. Mom had won tickets to a show, and when she couldn't raise him on his cellular, had left a message for him at home to pick up the ticket and join them.

Connor shuddered; he'd never sleep this way. The radio announced that it was an 80's retro weekend and launched into The Living Years.

Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door

How true was that? Connor had laid so much at Angel's door, much of it deserved. Some of it Connor should have shouldered himself. He should have gotten his parents out of town the day Angel came to the coffee shop. He had known then things were going to get ugly but he had been too absorbed in himself, in what Angel's visit, meant to take action. He hesitated. Holtz had been so right about that, to hesitate was to die. His new parents paid that price. His true father had as well. Connor promised himself he would never hesitate again and yet he had. He waited three days to take action, to try and save Angel one last time and got this RV and started out.

I know that I'm a prisoner
To all my Father held so dear
I know that I'm a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Tears slicked Connor's cheeks. He was born many years too late for Mike & the Mechanics to have written this song for him but it resonated; it was his life. Even when he had been oblivious to his true nature, this song had wormed its way into his brain at retro night dances. Now he understood why. He had been so much a prisoner to his first two fathers, caged by their expectations of him, their hatreds, their loves, their fears. There had been no room for Connor in that prison and he had stifled, smothered by their burning passions, still born.

It had taken magic and a demon horde to crack him open, to let him spill out with all the blood and pain that birth always entailed. Connor understood it was missing from his actual birth. Maybe that had been part of his problem. He had bled profusely as he dug through the rubble after the battle, trying to find his father. Illyria's shell had given way, and the arcane energy released took out the demons and much of the surrounding area

Connor had found Spike first, crushed from the waist down by debris but since that destroyed neither heart nor head, the demon lived. Angel wasn't far from Spike's side. Connor had fallen to his knees, unable to keep back the fear and agony seeing the wounds. Angel's skull had been crushed like a rotted pumpkin. His chest flattened and when Connor finally dug him free, one arm had been broken in more places than the boy could count; that was the good arm. The other had been stripped to bone.

Connor had debated just picking up the first piece of handy wood and ending it for both vampires. He couldn't imagine the pain they were in, or would be if they ever woke up. He couldn't bring himself to do it. He knew it was the merciful thing to do but something had changed in him. He no longer wanted Angel dead. Part of him roared in his head, angry at being denied that, the part of him that had been fed for a lifetime on hatred. But the tiny thread of love woven into his soul held back his monster.

If only he could tell if taking both vampires to safety was the right thing to do. Once Spike and Angel were safely stowed in the darkness, Connor had gone looking for his parents. Numb, almost petrified with grief when he learned of their death, Connor couldn't bring himself to end Angel's suffering. He would be alone in the world if he did that, and he was terrified like he had never been before, not even in Quor-Toth. He had to find a way to save Angel.

He managed to track down Lorne, and kept his loathing for the demon to himself. Connor considered him a coward for running away at the end. Maybe it was for the best. Lorne most likely would have died but he should have been there. Everyone else was, and they had spilled their blood to make a difference. Those thoughts he bottled up inside because he needed the man. Lorne, as it turned out, knew some people who might help, people from Angel's past; another Slayer, Buffy. It had been next to impossible to make her believe that he was Angel's son.

In the end, it was Giles, another Watcher like Wesley, who helped convince her that Connor was telling the truth. Buffy wouldn't hear of Connor putting the vampires out of their misery, which had been what Connor wanted to hear. He wanted someone to tell him there was a chance and she and Giles had done that. Three days of hesitation ended with he and Lorne heading across country in an RV, transporting the vampires to Cleveland so Giles and Buffy could help.

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It's too late when we die
To admit we don't see eye to eye

Connor sang along softly, trembling from head to toe.

Lornelooked back into the RV. "Don't sing. I'm going to drown in your grief, and that won't be good while we're doing sixty."

Connor ignored him, not even caring if the demon saw him crying. At least his tears would make his nose stuff up. The RV reeked from the vampires' wounds. The scent of blood and something worse made it smell like the inside of an abattoir. Connor had taken to mouth-breathing just to try and avoid it. Jack Daniels added to the sickly smell. Spike, unlike Angel, had regain consciousness, howling from the anguish of his terrible wounds. There wasn't much Connor or Lorne could do for him other than let him drink himself into a stupor.

'It's too late when we die,' The words tumbled around in Connor mind, pricking his soul, splashing the wounds with salt. Why had he and Angel let things go until it was too late? They should have talked. They never said anything of importance to one another. The coffee shop had been meaningless small talk, both of them shutting down, steering away from the harrowing stuff, from the things they desperately needed to discuss.

How could it be that their three longest talks outside of the coffee shop had been so full of wasted moments? All the time they spent talking about how to beat Sahjhan, Angel trying to protect him from his destiny, that was the time Connor begrudged the most. Angel should have just been honest with him instead of shoving him into that arena poorly prepared. If not for Wes breaking the spell, Connor had no doubt he'd be the one decapitated.

The other two long talks had been more soul-racking. As clear as day, Connor could see himself in Sunny's squat, confused, frightened and furious. He had hated Angel so much that night, hated the concern and love in those dark eyes, hated feeling his father's hands on him, hated the memory of losing to Angel, the cold metal of his own weapon pressed against his throat. He was a failure. He never shook that feeling. Worse, the trepidation in his heart when Angel sacrificed his own body to shield him from the policeman's gun. Connor couldn't shake the memory of himself actually being worried that Angel was hurt. He shouldn't have had those thoughts. Why had they never talked about it? Now it may be too late. Angel might never wake up.

That final talk, the one in the store where his soul had bled all over, they should never have let that wound alone. Even now he felt it festering inside him. All his torment was still just under the veneer the spell had laid over his mind. They needed to talk about it. Now that the spell was gone, Connor could feel it eating at him. The deadness deep in him had begun to spread once more. He had pretended it wasn't because he knew it was what Angel wanted to hear. Now he condemned himself for shying away from the topic. What if that coffee shop had been the last of Angel's living years? What if when Giles and Buffy saw what was left of his father, they would confirm his worst fears, that death was the only option?

Then he'd be alone with all his misery. Was that selfish of him? Was he so reprehensible that it took this extreme to make him finally reach out to his father? No, that wasn't true. He had reached out, once again afraid and confused, that night after losing his virginity - something he didn't even understand until that moment - with Cordelia. Her one 'real' thing had been revealed to his revamped mind as the pity screw it was. Even before he realized how twisted she had made his first time, he had known something was wrong. All he wanted was to talk to his father about what had gone wrong, about the Beast, about his fears that it was connected to him, about his terror of finding something capable of fracturing his bones. Angel had turned his back on him then, and it wasn't until Connor was in danger of dying inside of Wolfram and Hart that Angel came around.

Maybe it was genetic. Neither of them could seem to find the words, the will, to talk until one of them was close to dying. Both of them were somehow deficient; it was the only explanation. As the radio slipped into the Bangles' Hazy Shade of Winter, Connor thought that somehow the DJ had slipped into his subconscious and was writing him a soundtrack. He glanced up at Lorne, seeing the demon doggedly driving the cumbersome vehicle, totally absorbed in his task. Outside the window, the sun beat down mercilessly. Connor wondered what people would think if they cruised by and saw Lorne in the driver's seat. Maybe they should have thought out their drive times better but truth was, Connor was more comfortable on vampire time. He liked the dark.

Realizing that sleep would never come for him, Connor slipped out of bed. He went behind the royal blue bed sheet that they used to cut the sun off before it hit either of the back berths. The little windows there had been cardboarded over. After making sure Spike was still unconscious, smelling like a bloody accident at a distillery, Connor climbed into Angel's bunk. He let his legs dangle over the sides.

He looked at his father. Not much of Angel's face was visible through the gauze Connor had swathed around his head, trying to piece his father's skull back together. A pale bit of cheek was unmarked, a speck of brow. It was hard to tear his eyes away from the gauze running over one side of Angel's face because Connor knew what lie beneath, the eye crushed like a grape, the missing lips and bared teeth.

His stomach turned over at the memory. Shoving his unexpected squeamishness into a cage, Connor leaned down and pressed his lips to Angel's brow. His mind jumped chasms to the horrible night when he had kissed Holtz's dead flesh. How much had he not said to the man who had raised him? At least he and Holtz talked. They knew each others fears and joys. Holtz always told him the truth, even when it wasn't what Connor wanted to hear. He hadn't wanted to know he was the demonic offspring of two wretchedly evil creatures. For years he railed against the knowledge but at least Holtz hadn't kept things from him. And for his part, Connor didn't lie to Holtz or keep secrets, well except maybe one or two, like how he really didn't like the stews Holtz made or how he had committed the sin of Onan more than once. Of course, now he knew there was no sin in masturbating but Holtz's antiquated sensibilities had deemed it so. Still, he felt no guilt now nor then. After all, what was a teenaged boy with no chance of even seeing a girl to do, even when he didn't understand the biological drive that brought him to that particular 'sin'?

He hated that he could talk to Holtz but never found it in himself to be able to talk to Angel. Maybe it was his openness with the man who raised him that poisoned the well he and Angel shared. Maybe it was a case of like father, like son and both of them were inadequate in some way. The Bangles faded into The Human League. Now he was convinced there was magic in the air.

Connor ran a thumb over the bare patch of Angel's cheek. The bone felt squishy. Tears seared their way down Connor's cheeks, dripping on to the snowy gauze. Connor whispered along with the radio.

I'm only human
Of flesh and blood I'm made
Born to make mistakes

Maybe it was a lie. He wasn't only human but he made mistakes. Connor crawled over Angel's unmoving body and put his back to the wall. He drew his knees up, thinking about the words he had heard mouthed many times; coma victims can hear their loved ones. Was it just something they said to make you feel better? No, he had to believe it was true.

"Dad, I think it's time we talked."