HERE AT LIFE'S END
By D.M. Evans
Disclaimer - I don't own them, Mr. Whedon does. Well, Shea's mine but she earns me nothing but the pleasure of having created her.
Rating - R (for graphic descriptions of bodily injury)
Spoilers - Goes AR during Home.
Feedback - yes please,
Summary - Angel is unable to deal with the events that unfolded after Connor killed Jasmine
Author's Note #1 - This was written for Leni's Choose Your Own Author ficathon for Vampedvixen. The only requirements were: Angsty AR piece in which Angel didn't get to Connor in time before his son blew up the building at the end of Home. As such, this story is a bit grim.
Author's Note # 2 Thanks to SJ for editing this and Esmerelda for all her input. This story assumes that in the historical bits about Liam were set in Galway City and not County Galway which you could make a case for either. Mistakes with Irish slang are all mine.
My temptation is quiet.
Here at life's end
Neither loose imagination,
Nor the mill of the mind
Consuming its rag and bonc,
Can make the truth known.
William Butler Yeats - An Acre of Grass
Angel licked the foam off his lips, the bitter, hoppy taste barely registering on his tongue. It didn't matter that the stout didn't have the smoky, savory taste he distantly remembered. What mattered most was that if he poured enough of the alcohol down his throat the pain would ebb. He could almost forget what happened, if only for a little while.
The pain never left for long. There was too much of it with not enough outlets, too many victims and it was all his fault. He let more stout slip down his throat. Maybe some would argue about where to put the blame. Maybe if he had tried harder, tried different ways to reach his son it wouldn't have ended in explosions, blood and death.
The truth of it was, Angel had made a mess out of it with his hopes and expectations. He hadn't adapted to reality. He kept pushing Connor into a mold that he just didn't fit into. Angel slugged back a shot of Jameson and followed it with more swallows of stout Maybe this would be the pint that washed the memories deep into the caverns of his mind where they couldn't haunt him any more.
Angel savored the burn of the whiskey, dulling the pain. Nothing would completely kill it, except maybe his own death and he was definitely here, waiting for life's end. He poured another shot from the bottle. The bartender had argued just briefly about giving him a bottle for the table. Angel hadn't even had to flash him golden eyes and fangs to make the man nearly wet himself and give in. Angel slammed the shot.
If he had been less like his own father, maybe he wouldn't have lost his son but like his father he demanded Connor behave a certain way, be the man Angel envisioned. Maybe he hadn't done it with words like his father had. Angel showed it by his actions, his obvious disappointments, pushing Connor this way and that. Wanting so much for his son had left Angel blind, missing every warning sign.
"Do I have to tell you this isn't helping?"
Angel canted his eyes up to the woman standing before him. She had a silver Celtic cross dangling between her lush breasts. Her thick auburn hair, pulled into a sloppy twist, accentuated the swan-like nature of her neck. He considered her skin perfect for an Irish woman; milk pale, threaded with cinnamon flecks of freckles. He tore his gaze away from her, concentrating on emptying his pint as he willed her to leave
It was no surprise when she sat down. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"It's probably not a door you want to open, Shea," he grumbled, not looking at her. If he had hopes his tone would scare her off, Angel quickly learned he had forgotten how stubborn his countrywomen could be.
She waved at the bartender and he brought over two pints.
Angel eyed the dark-colored liquid. "I thought that it wouldn't help."
"This?" Shea clinked a nail on her pint. "Just a little something to lubricate the throat. What sort of an Irish woman would I be without a little of the Black Stuff?" Shea grinned, taking a drink of the Guinness. "The thing about Watchers, Angel, is we do a lot listening, too. We're actually pretty good at it."
Angel sat back gazing at her. Shea, if he had to guess, went through Watchers' training at the same time as Giles. They were certainly friends. She had a timeless look, however. Angel could picture her in this pub, two centuries past, as the wife of the owner perhaps. Certainly he had frequented the pub then, the place being a pub since long before his time. He had grown accustomed to Shea in the last several weeks, loud, forthright and determined. Angel knew she wouldn't just drink her stout and go. "What good will talking do?"
"I've seen a lot of problems that didn't have to occur, stemming from the lack of good communication."
Angel snorted. "The last few years of my life proves that." Angel poked a finger in the foam of his stout. "I was just thinking of all the things I didn't do. I kept telling myself all along I was being a good father but I never once sat down and asked what my son needed. I tried when Connor first came back but after the whole thing with dumping me in the ocean, I just quit trying." Angel paused, never having voiced that shortcoming before, not even to himself. "There was so much happening and I blamed the Beast and the eternal darkness for my not trying harder to get through but the truth was, I was hurt. I'm not sure you can understand."
Shea opened her black leather purse and took out a photo. She surrendered it to Angel. "I wasn't sure I wanted to talk to you about this, given what happened at the mall."
Angel looked at the picture, trying not to think about the mall or the newscast he had seen with Lilah, of Connor staring up at the security cameras, hostile, empty. If only Angel had been faster, maybe he could have stopped it. He had argued too long with Lilah. Parts of the mall were gone by the time he arrived. His only consolation was that the bombs Connor had made -with Wolfram and Hart's help, just like he had guessed in spite of Lilah's claims to the contrary - had been hooked to detonate at random and one at a time. Most of the explosive devices were on the building, bringing down large hunks of the sports store but luckily only two innocents had died and several others merely injured. It could have been so much worse.
Angel squeezed his eyes shut, taking the pictures on TV and the news headlines and forcing them out of his memory. He felt light-headed from the alcohol and effort. Wolfram and Hart had fed the story to the press, a love affair gone wrong, the bomber killing his lover and himself and managing not to kill most of the hostages. Angel knew all the spin doctoring Wolfram and Hart did, inventing a life and death for Connor, was to put Angel over the barrel. They wanted him to be grateful and join them. He had been too crushed to do anything more than flee the country with a little magical help, a teleportation spell from Los Angeles to Galway City.
He jumped when Shea's fingers brushed his as they held the picture. "Angel, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought up the bombing."
"What does this girl have to do with what my son did?" Angel didn't look up from the picture. The girl was darling, hair like fire and eyes as green as Connemara marble. She was Connor's age. This was the kind of girl his son should have been dating, not Cordelia.
"Her name's Caitlin, my daughter."
"I didn't know you had a daughter," Angel said, feeling the air closing in around him. If he breathed, he'd be struggling. He knew he didn't want to know what Shea was going to say.
"I have a daughter and twin boys actually. My sons are a year or two younger than Connor. They're very much like George and Fred Weasley...but you probably haven't read Harry Potter." Shea smiled but her eyes remained melancholy. "Cait was fiery. I thought I understood her, even if we riled a time or two. I think it's a biological imperative for teens to make their parents go off their nut." She took a deep drink of stout. "Caitlin went away to college. You know how idealistic young people can be. Cait's boyfriend was a member of a radical splinter group of the IRA The Garda were never sure if she had anything to do with what Ryan was up to but it hardly mattered. The bomb he was making to kill Englishmen exploded, killing him and all his friends including my daughter."
Angel looked at her, her eyes hard like emeralds. The pain was caged there. He didn't know what to say. He came up with the belabored catch-all, "I'm sorry."
"I'm luckier than you, Angel." Shea didn't sound lucky. He was sure she didn't feel it. "I didn't have to see my beautiful little girl with a bomb strapped around her middle. I didn't dig her body out of the rubble but I can tell you eventually the hurt fades some, enough that you can live."
Angel dropped his gaze. "That's the worst part of it, that I might actually recover. When Buffy died, before she was brought back, I wanted to die. I should have died. I knew deep down that it should have killed me to lose her but then I started feeling better. I could live with the pain and that made me feel..." Angel reached for his pint.
"Like the most horrible person to walk the earth. I know the feeling," Shea assured him. "I've been there, too. But you learn to pick out the pearls, the good things to remember and leave behind the rest because letting it kill you only shames their memories, no matter what some writers say. Of course, occasionally you go back to the pain, especially people like you and me. Where would the Irish be without our sense of melancholy?" Shea's smile conveyed that very emotion. "Every so often, I think 'where did Cait learn to hate the English, if she even did?' It's all around here, I suppose, that prejudice, but I taught her better than that. You sit and wonder 'when did their hand slip from yours'?"
Angel nodded. "I actually know when. My son never came back from Quor-Toth. Holtz's son did. But I can't blame it all on Holtz. I made huge mistakes and so did Connor but if I had done better maybe he wouldn't have made so many." Angel sat back. "Pride, it crippled us both."
"Jaysus, Angel, there's a reason it's one of the deadly sins."
Angel tore at his hair. "You have no idea. My biggest mistake was never trying to talk to him, Shea. I kept thinking there's be time once all the bad stuff was dealt with, it could wait until after the next disaster was cleared up until Connor was the next disaster. I can trace it back to where it all went wrong. Does that make it better or worse?'
Shea took a swallow of her pint. "That's something you'll need to figure out for yourself, Angel. What do you think you did wrong?"
"I threw him out." He killed another glass of whiskey and immediately poured another.
"He did send you to the bottom of the ocean to punish you."
"And I was angry. I still feel I had a right to that anger but I handled it wrong. I should have gone after him, Shea. I followed him around, watching what he did. I knew how he was living on the street. I watched him put himself in danger night after night killing demons. I knew how hard his life was and I did nothing."Angel gulped down more whiskey.
"You wanted him to come back on his own, looking for forgiveness," Shea said and Angel felt the knife of her perception gutting him. That was exactly what he wanted, Connor limping back, realizing he couldn't do it alone. It never happened. "Your pride made you forget that being homeless here had to be a better life than the one he left behind in that hell."
Angel's fingers gripped the table, the wood groaning. He hated hearing it laid out like that, knowing it to be true. "That's it exactly. I was so convinced he'd come back and say 'Dad, I'm sorry.' I should have realized he wasn't going to. You said it, Shea, the resentment of the English is all around here. It's not easy to forget the prejudices you grew up with. That same prejudice is in me. Magic reverted me to my teen-aged self and my hatred of the English popped right out, something I hadn't actively thought about in a century or more. This happened early on before the Beast. I should have made the mental leap and realized Connor wasn't going to get over eighteen years of being trained to hate me over night. Holtz orchestrated his death to insure that hate. I should have gone to Connor, talked to him and worked it out. Instead I just waited for it to spontaneously fix itself."
Shea's eyes cut into him. "Why do you think you did nothing?"
The question was gentle but it felt like being flayed. He had done nothing, it was now out there for all to see. "That's the heart of it, isn't it? I did nothing. I spied on Connor, living in filth and I left him there. I watched him fighting but I was more interested in finding Cordelia. I got her back and she moved in with him. I knew that was wrong but she had nowhere to go and with her memory gone she didn't trust us. After her memory returned, she didn't move out."
"And this bothered you?"
Angel looked at Shea, wondering if she had been a psychiatric nurse once upon a time. She was part Watcher part nurse now, but her questions made him wonder. "Cordelia and I...never mind. What we might have been is meaningless now. I should have put an end to her living with Connor, even if she didn't want to be with me and the others. I didn't know what Connor would do if I asked Cordy to move. I wasn't sure he'd understand why I thought it was wrong, even though he did tell me about Cordy stealing the covers."
"And it didn't concern you then they were sleeping together?" Shea didn't look judgmental but Angel thought she should be.
"I was convinced they weren't." Angel stared at his rough knuckles. "I thought he was just trying to rile me up by suggesting it."
"How would he know to do that, Angel? Surely that isn't something he would have learned in Quor-Toth. Would he even have known you were in love with her?" Shea was studying him intently now, burrowing, wielding words like a surgeon did a scalpel; probably with the same intent, to lance an infected limb.
Angel shrugged. He hadn't ever even thought about it. He had assumed Connor was out to be irritating and never thought about his lack of a normal social background that would have allowed him to know how cutting he was being. "I thought Fred and Gunn might have...it doesn't matter. I did ask him to come back...no, that's a lie. I told him the front door was always open. He didn't have to sneak in. What I meant was 'please come home, son'."
"And he didn't read between the lines," Shea said, wagging her head. "Jaysus, teenagers aren't always that astute, Angel. Sometimes they just need it spelled out. You fucked that up."
"I know," he said, miserably. "I just couldn't talk to him. What I should have done was talk to Cordelia and ask her, for Connor's sake, not to stay there. She should have known it wasn't healthy. He was just a kid and she was an adult. But I didn't talk to her and they did sleep together. I was so furious that I shut Connor out. I didn't even know Connor thought the rain of fire was his fault until she told me. I guess I did do something for my son. I went right into the Beast's line of fire to rescue him."
"Was Connor grateful?"
Angel turned away, looking at the unlit fireplace. "I fucked that up, too, Shea. When we got home, Connor reached out to me. All he said was 'Dad' and I could see it in his eyes. He wanted to talk. He needed me. He was scared that he was connected to the apocalypse and all I could think of was 'you spent last night screwing my girl and I don't want to see your face now that I know you aren't in danger'. I not only threw him out again, I threw out Cordelia, too."
Shea pursed her lips. "Giles told me a lot about you. He never mentioned you were a real fecky the ninth. Jaysus, Angel, doing nothing would have been better. You helped author this whole cataclysm."
Angel glared at her, shocked that she had spoken to him like that. Shea knew better than anyone in the pub that he could kill her in a heartbeat without trying. She had just called him an idiot to his face and was cool as ice while doing it. Shea did honestly remind him of Giles.
Her eyebrows lifted. "You looked gobsmacked, Angel. When I sat down and invited you to talk it out, did you think I was going to tell you that you did all the right things when you so clearly didn't?"
"I didn't know what you'd do," he replied, honestly. He considered her blunt honesty and decided maybe it was time he heard that. No one had dared use it on him outside of Cordelia. "It's probably better this way. Maybe it's exactly what I need to hear. I've been blaming Wesley and Holtz and Cordelia and Connor himself. Deep down I've always blamed myself, too, like I do for everything but maybe it's time others put the blame on me, too."
"Blaming is a pretty useless endeavor, Angel. It solves nothing unless it makes changes in how things are done."
"A little late for that now." Angel lifted the Jameson bottle to his lips, to hell with the shot glass. "It's worse than you know, Shea. Cordelia told me how scared Connor was, how much he needed me and my response was I didn't want a progress report on how he was doing and that Connor was right, the Beast always did show up when he was around. My friends didn't really buy into the fact Connor was connected with the big evil. Well, Gunn did, I guess. I believed it because I was hurting. Cordy called it a teenaged snit and she was right. I've been stuck in a fucking teenage frame of mind my whole life and I let it blind me to the fact that my son needed me. Connor called me a self-righteous bastard."
Shea tightened the twist her hair was in, her eyes never leaving him. "Was he wrong?"
"No. Actually I called my father that and Connor implied that I was one, too. And I am and so is Connor. Three generations of stubborn self-righteous idiots. But that was the end of it, Shea, me saving Connor from the Beast. It went downhill on a rocket sled after that. We summoned Angelus and by the time I was myself, Jasmine was here. That was the last time I reached out to my son. We tried to break him out of Jasmine's hold but Cordy's blood had no effect on him like it did on us. I had lost him."
"Why would you think that would have worked?" Shea asked.
He stared at her as if not understanding the question. "Why wouldn't it? It worked on everyone else. Connor was obviously a willing partner."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that. You used Cordy's blood because she shared a blood link with Jasmine, yes?" Shea waited for his nod. "Connor shared a link, too. Did you forget half of Jasmine came from Connor? He naturally would have been immune to what you were attempting. He was already linked by blood."
"I never even thought of that. We assumed Connor was with Jasmine willing...but I guess that wouldn't explain why he bowed down to her when she was born. That's not a natural reaction and yet we both did it. I know I did because she required it of me." More whiskey passed his lips. "I failed him one last time. I let him kill his own child and it destroyed him. I should have done it. Instead I tried to save Jasmine, tried to make her see another way of helping humans. She said she wanted to help."
Shea touched the cross at her neck. "I'm curious what you thought a hell goddess could do that was good, Angel."
Angel wagged his head. "I don't know. I just didn't want my son to have to suffer through losing his child. I knew how much that hurt. I had lost him. I had inflicted that loss on countless families. I thought maybe I could have saved her and I know it was stupid. She needed to eat people to survive and she didn't want to help. She wanted to dominate and rule while wrapping it up in pretty paper, making it look good. I should have been the one to kill her but I don't know..."
"That might have destroyed him just as badly." Shea cupped a hand over his.
"Maybe. Now you know it all," Angel said, feeling wrung out, exhausted deep to the marrow. "Maybe Wesley was right. Me being locked away at the bottom of the ocean destroyed my higher brain functions. Guess it would explain how I could make the wrong choice time and again." His face took on a sardonic cast. "Maybe you're right. I am an idiot."
Shea's lips went Mona Lisa sad. "A complete idiot wouldn't be smart enough to realize his mistakes, Angel. And you're luckier than you know. It's of small consequence, I know, but at least you know what you did wrong. You won't sit up nights like I have wondering about it. You know most of the wrong moves you made. If you could ask Connor, he could probably list out more of them while being totally blind to his own faults. That's natural and it hurts like hell, doesn't it?"
Angel eased his hand out from under hers. "You can only imagine."
Shea nodded. "Cancer has to be cut out, an abscess has to be drained, before healing can begin. You have that now. You came home to Ireland, Angel, looking to heal. This island has the power to do that but you won't find it in a manky pub, getting fluthered every night. Redemption is not at the bottom of the whiskey jar." Shea got up and took away his bottle.
Angel just watched her take it to the bar and drain it away in the sink. She tossed the bottle and stopped back at his table. "Think about, Angel. I'm off. Mind yourself."
Shea didn't look back as she swept out the low door to the pub. Angel considered her words. Angelus considered draining her dry for stirring up all the agony he had come into the pub to drown. Angel got up and started to prowl the streets of his one time home.
Angel found himself in Eyre Square, the heart of the city. At this time of night, there were few people out and about. If he ignored the street lamps and edited out the newer buildings, this could be the city of his boyhood. There was an odd comfort in that. Perhaps Shea was right about the land having healing properties. That was, after all, what he had been gambling on when he returned to Ireland for the first time in a very long time.
If he stood still, Galway City's differences filtered in, ruining the illusion. He could hear a distant car rumbling over the cobbles. The place smelled much better now, however. No smells of horse apples and worse running in the streets, no sour unwashed human scent. Angel nearly stumbled over some of the cobbles and realized he had stepped drunkenly into the streets. God, it was just like old times. He could probably shut his eyes and stagger his way back to his father's home, or whatever stood in its place. He hadn't had the heart to go and look.
Angel glanced around at Eyre Square and knew he'd find nothing healing in the center of the Square. Shops weren't comforting. They only harkened back to his merchant father's lessons on commerce. Thinking of his father only added to Angel's pain. He had become his father, at least in Connor's eyes, a self-righteous bastard, and his son wasn't wrong in many respects. If he had just stopped expecting Connor to like the things he had liked, to want what he wanted, then maybe they could have connected.
Angel started down Williams Street, trying to find some connection to the land, to his past, to anything that might lift the burden from him. As painful as talking to Shea had been, it had helped some. She put his feet on the path and now it was up to him; continue to walk and maybe find forgiveness on the trail or turn and hide back in the bottle until either he did die or he just gave up.
Galway City sloped down towards the river Corrib. Most of the roads would take him there. In his day, he would never have gone down there, at least not at night. That's where the roughest of people haunted the land. Eventually he himself was the far bigger blight. Just meandering aimlessly, Angel found himself on Abbeygate Street, the place he hadn't ever wanted to be again, the place not five minutes before he was thinking he didn't have the heart to return to. The fourteen tribes of Galway had once made their homes here, the merchant princes who had 'ruled' Galway for centuries.
Angel was of that lineage, something his father never let him forget, something he had forever been shaming. Angel leaned against the pale grey-brown stone of what they now called Lynch's Castle. It was all that was left of the practically medieval collection of townhouses. Cromwell's men had taken a toll and time did the rest. Angel canted his eyes up, looking at the gargoyles, his gaze firmly reeled in by the massive Lynch family coat of arms. How would the Lynch's of his mortal days react to learn their beautiful townhouse was now a bank? It hit Angel like brass knuckles and he was shocked at his depth of feeling.
Nothing ever stayed the same. He knew this intimately. The consequences of his unnatural life were he would watch all he knew turn to dust. His own part of the fourteen tribes had lost their townhouse in the war a century before he had been born. Angel had never known such wealth. Oh, his father had money, that's for certain. He had supported his wastrel son into Liam's adult life, even as he undermined Liam with every word out of his mouth. Angel pressed his forehead against the stone of Lynch's one-time home. He was the opposite of his father. He told his son how much he loved him and lied with every action.
Angel forced his feet to walk. Where was that healing Shea promised? Not before him, that much he knew. His traitorous feet had brought him to a place of childhood fear. Angel sank to his knees in front of a stoned-up archway. He leaned back staring up, not at the beautiful night sky where he might find the peace he craved, but at the small window above the archway. Between the two rested a skull and crossbones, framed out by a sharp pentagon. Even now, that simple stone representation of death made his skin creep and crawl. Nearly three hundred years before Angel had been born, magistrate Lynch had thrown his son out that window, hanging him. The love struck teenager had killed his friend over a girl, so the legend went. The town and executioner had so loved the boy they refused to hang him. Lynch, no forgiveness in his heart, had done the deed himself.
Angel remembered his father pointing out that window nearly every Sunday from the time Liam had been just a boy. That's what happened to bad boys who don't obey, who shame their fathers. Growing up, Angel had expected to find himself hanging from a window some day for being 'headstrong,' for that's what he had been as a boy. 'A wastrel that would amount to nothing' was the title reserved for his teenaged years and beyond. Way beyond, Angel thought bitterly, because except for the past ten years or so what had he really done that was good? Saved a puppy here, fed on a dying store clerk there. He had just floated through life until Whistler dragged him into it, kicking and screaming. He wished the demon had never found him and made him go through all these years of pain. The Romany tribe he had wronged were probably rejoicing if they knew the agony he was in.
Angel hunched over, tearing his eyes away from the skull, pressing his face against his knees. His hair brushed the earth. The memories of how small his father had made him feel, standing here under Lynch's Window, flooded him. Had he made Connor feel so small? Of course he had. It fed into Connor's self-destruction just as his father's actions had with him. Liam had raced drunkenly to his doom. Connor had blown himself up.
Angel rocked back, gazing back at the empty eye sockets of the skull. What strength of will, what coldness of heart had been necessarily to kill one's own son? Angel wasn't sure he possessed it. Angelus, yes, but not Angel, not the Liam part of him. Connor had it in him, at least at first but that rage died in him long before the bombing. Angel knew it deep down. The town had tried to save Walter Lynch from going out that window. He had tried to stop Connor before the bombs went off. They both failed miserably.
The horrible visions rushed him, the things that had danced in his nightmares ever since the day Jasmine's death kicked off the cascade of death and blood. Angel had dug through the rubble, deemed a hero by the press. Wolfram and Hart helped spin that tale as well. Angel remembered Cordelia, finding first only half of her. Her legs had been blown halfway across the store. Her face had been so peaceful. His only solace was that she probably never felt the force that killed her, shredding her like a rag doll.
He had tried to filter out the smell of blood as he cradled her, tried to ignore the organs sagging out of her torn abdomen. For the briefest of moments, he could pretend Cordy was just sleeping and his kiss to her cooling forehead would wake her up. As his lips had pressed against her tanned skin, Angel had heard a groan.
He had been drawn to that life and rescued one of the hostages. She had been lucky. The support beam that had detonated just after Cordelia's bomb had collapsed the roof in such a way it had fallen around the young woman, making a little cave. She was relatively uninjured. The person beside her hadn't been so lucky. He had been closer to the blast, his legs and chest crushed by the debris.
Looking at his son lying in the rubble, Angel felt the pain Cordelia would have if not for the coma. Blood covered Connor's face. Loops of Cordelia's intestines festooned him like some perverse Christmas tree and tinsel. Angel thought Connor must have been kneeling in front of Cordelia when he detonated the bomb. Perhaps he had been kissing her forehead just as Angel had done. Part of Cordelia's hipbone had scythed into Connor's gut, the two of them now one again.
Angel had screamed, he remembered that. Had Lynch bellowed with that sort of heart-rending pain as he sent his son out the window? Angel had cradled his child to him, bargaining for a chance to rescue the boy from the hell he had created. Hadn't the Powers That Be done him this favor before? They had spooled back time for him and Buffy. Damn them, they could do it again. He'd take anything to keep Connor from paying this price. Send them back to this morning and he'd stop Connor from killing Jasmine and going insane. Send them back to when he first found Connor with Cordelia and he'd be the understanding father and talk to his child when Connor reached out in fear. Send them back to when Wesley brought him to the surface and he'd never throw Connor out. Send them back to when hell spat Connor out and he'd make his peace publically with Holtz. Send them back to when Connor was an infant and he'd never let the boy go. Send them back to before Connor was conceived and spare them all this horror.
His vehement prayer went unanswered by God, by the Powers, by any passing hell goddesses. Time ground forward, running him under its wheels. Angel had abandoned Cordelia in the smoking ruins of the store. He left the injured. He carried his son to Wolfram and Hart to make them help. He was far too late for it to do much good.
Hearing rubber on the road, Angel faded into the shadows. A patrol car crawled by. Maybe they had seen him in his misery and were coming back for a better look. Angel left without another glance back at that horrid window that had haunted his dreams as a boy but he didn't go far. St. Nicolas' Church was just next door.
Still very much the heart of this town, the church stood proud with its odd triple-nave structure, those three high peaks with the spire behind them that he and his friends had once tried to scale as boys; another gift of the Lynches. It had been a place of worship since the 1300's. Angel knew Shea went to the Galway Market outside its gates every Saturday.
He hopped the gates. How many Sundays had he spent inside those walls, once defaced by Cromwell? Damn, there came that resentment of the English he and Shea had discussed. Angel couldn't count up the masses he had attended with his family, first as a boy terrified of hell then as a young man, there only because the pubs were closed on Sundays. Church was different back then, Sundays far different. Even wastrels like himself could be found at church finding time to act right for a few hours. He remembered sitting there, red-eyed, head pounding his sad-faced mother sitting between him and his father as a buffer. Kathy would put her tiny hand in his, her love for him never wavering until the day he murdered her.
The doors to the church were locked. He wasn't surprised. Angel didn't need to enter the church to recall its beauty. It was all there trapped in his distant memory. He could picture the round, red-faced priest standing at the stone lectern with its barley sugar twists columns, preaching damnation and on rare occasion, God's ever-lasting love. As a boy, he had looked forward to Sundays not so much for church but because it was the day that Father loosened the purse strings a bit and they had a sumptuous meal. He could taste the hare stew his mother made and the pies. When had thoughts of family turned from such innocence to loathing? When had it happened for Connor? Had the boy ever had a kind thought for him? No, Angel knew Connor hadn't had a kind thought for him, not until after he had taken a back full of buckshot for him in that crack house. That was the first flicker he had seen in Connor's wide eyes that didn't scream hatred.
Angel circled the church, looking for his favorite window, the one with the mermaids. He never could figure out what they had to do with Christianity. Still to this day he couldn't fathom it but there they were. He smiled up at that window, touched its cool glass, and let his mind actually entertain fond memories. Sean Athy, there was a name he hadn't thought of in a century, maybe more. He and Sean had been friends since his earliest memories. The Athys were another of the fourteen tribes, their fathers business partners. He and Sean had taken the mermaid window as truth and both nearly drowned one day in the Claddagh Quay trying to dive deep enough to find a mermaid of their very own.
St. Nicholas boasted of a tomb of a crusader. It was the pride and joy since what, the late 1100's? Maybe the early 1200's? That tomb was nearly a thousand years old and he knew the church was still as proud of it today as it had been from the moment the knight was laid to rest. He and Sean had whacked each other bloody with sticks for swords pretending to be crusaders. Tears trickled down Angel's face. His son never had friends. Connor would never have been able to sit and think fondly on his childhood. Maybe he had a few good memories of himself and Holtz but that wasn't the same as having a best friend. Where would Connor have found his solace?
Angel's feet carried him into the graveyard. Here lay many of the fourteen tribes, the Lynches, the Athys, the Kirwans, and his family. He shouldn't be in the churchyard looking for headstones he knew he couldn't face. He tried to force himself to leave the cemetery, maybe go to O'Brien's Bridge and sit by the Bridge Mill. It had been a real mill in his day. Now he could get coffee there, were it open at this late hour. Still, he could sit there and watch the swans drifting asleep on the water.
Somehow, Angel knew his healing wouldn't come from the river. It was this earth he stood upon now that could be the poultice he required. Shea had missed some of the cancer as she cut him earlier. He would have to dig out the rest of the malignancy himself. He sank to the soft green earth, sitting there facing the tombs, trying hard not to look at the one that bore the words 'beloved son'. Had his father really felt that way about him or was it just something he had engraved because it was expected.
An arm's length down from that stone, barely visible in the grass, was a small square of stone, hollowed in the middle, a vampire staking hole. He had seen them in his youth and had thought them an expensive folly born of stupid superstitions. Too bad for Galway City he hadn't been in his coffin when the frightened townspeople had done this. He, himself, had replaced the dirt on his grave under Darla's command just so no one suspected and came looking. Angelus hadn't given a shit about it but she had, more cautious than her newborn son.
The headstones were all now a little lopsided from shifting earth but they were relatively clean and the grass clipped. That was the benefit of the church being a tourist attraction. Angel turned and stretched out over the tomb he should have been laying in for the last few centuries. He couldn't look at the names chiseled into the stones a moment more.
He turned his head and spoke, "Hello, Kathy. I never got to tell you how sorry I am for not being the angel you thought I was."
Somewhere a night bird sang and that was the only sound. Just as well. Had someone answered, Angel would have known his mind had snapped, too. He glanced to his right, over his mother, his gaze resting on the grass upon his father's grave.
"Were you always the overbearing self-righteous bastard, Dad? Or did me being a pain in the ass teenager turn you into one? Did you create me or the other way around?" Angel sighed. "I suppose it doesn't matter. Either way, you made me feel so small, so worthless I had to find my own way of being noticed. I was dying in your shadow." What he wouldn't give to have understood that while he was alive. "I have a son now, and maybe it made me understand you a little better. For my part, I'm sorry for being such a drunken layabout. I'm probably sorry I killed you but it's harder to feel it. There's still so much resentment, that feeling of being small, in my heart.
"Connor, that's your grandson's name. He is exactly the son you would have wished on me as a punishment for my ways. Maybe he's the universe's way of balancing the scales." Angel crushed a handful of grass, letting the scent wash over him. It was pure and sweet and somehow rejuvenating. "I made him feel small, too. I never could admit it until now, but I did."
Angel stared up at the fading stars, knowing it to be true. The clearest moment of that was when he had shoved Connor into that wall as the boy tried to hare off when Wesley had brought Angel home. Connor curled in on himself, staring up at him with huge, frightened eyes. It never registered at the time but Angel had never seen Connor afraid before, rarely after that. What was it about that time that scared him? Had Holtz beaten the boy and Connor knew what came next when a father was that angry? Maybe it had been that Connor knew Angel had held back each time they had fought and feared there would be no holding back this time?
No, that didn't make sense. Connor knew how weak Angel was at that point. If he could beat his father when Angel was at full strength, Connor had to know he could take the vampire then and there. Maybe he feared hurting Gunn or Fred because surely they'd come to Angel's aid. No, Angel suspected it was because he had made Connor feel small, too afraid to fight back just as his father had done to him. Angel had been bigger than his father when he had grown into a man but Liam had never fought back. Connor wasn't bigger but he was as strong as Angel, or nearly so. Angel had won a psychological battle that day, water-logged and voraciously hungry as he was, and hadn't realized it. He had diminished his child without knowing it.
Maybe Angel had done it before. He couldn't decide. Maybe giving the boy a room full of books was wrong. How good could Connor read and write, stranded in a hell dimension where that sort of learning had to have been second place? Obviously Holtz had taught him the skill but had Angel overwhelmed his son, trying to make him into the young man he was envisioning? Liam knew what that felt like. God, why was insight usually hindsight as well?
"I wish he could have met you, Kathy. You would have liked Connor. He had the prettiest blue eyes, like the sky over Inis Mor." Angel thought back to that time their father had taken the whole family to that particular Aran island. It had been a business dealing, maybe; he could no longer remember. "And a smile...he smiled with his whole self. Fred said it was a scary smile. Gunn called it psychotic. What did they know? It lightened my soul to see it."
God, what he wouldn't do for a picture of his son smiling? Even scowling, he'd take that, too. He had only one or two pictures of Connor as an infant and precious as they were, they didn't capture his son. Angel had lived for so long and still hadn't realized how little time there was. What remembrances did he have of he and Buffy? His one picture of her had burnt up with his home. There might be a picture of him and Cordy. He'd have to root through her things. What of Gunn, Wes, Fred, the people who meant so much to him? Would he be lying next to their graves lamenting lost chances?
Shea was right. Where would the Irish be without their sense of melancholy and guilt? Angel shut his eyes, picturing Kathy, remembering the games he'd play with his baby sister. She was practically young enough to have been his daughter. He remembered her fondly, interlacing that memory with the ones of his son. What was that airy-fairy stuff Cordelia had told him about from her self-help books back when Doyle was still with them? Push the bad stuff down to your toes and walk on it? He tried to force it out of him and into his empty grave where it belonged.
He smelled the sun, felt it coming. Angel opened his eyes to the pretty rose-silver of pre-dawn. He got up from his grave feeling lighter, as if forcing his pain away had actually worked. His anguish felt manageable for the first time since Jasmine's death. He had best get home. There were people waiting for him who might be worrying.
"Goodbye everyone. Father, I forgive you for the things you did to me. Maybe you didn't mean them any more than I had," Angel said, picturing Connor whispering those words to him as he headed for home.
Angel made good use of the shade as he raced to the one-time guesthouse in Lower Salthill, overlooking Galway Bay. The multi-bedroom home even sported an indoor pool. How the Watchers had afforded such a prime location, Angel didn't want to know. Probably like the Catholic church, they had been hoarding and investing money for centuries. He could live life here, serene and content, provided, of course, he was anyone but the vampire with the soul.
"Jaysus, so there you are," Shea's voice rang out. "I thought I'd be finding a can to put your ashes in."
"Well, all the alcohol would have made me go up faster," he said, in a weak attempt at levity as he wondered what she was still doing up. Usually, if something happened at this time of day, her assistant, Fiona, would take care of it.
Angel hugged the wall going up the stairs as the early-morning sun kissed them. The soft shush-shush noise he had grown accustomed to greeted him along with a bad smell but Angel was used to that now, too. The bleeping noise of the heart monitor was far more annoying and harder to get used to. At least the hum of the air mattress's unit was bearable but the soft mattress was giving Shea troubles at the moment. The hutch had been rolled in front of the window, blocking out all the light so he could get to Shea if he needed to. Often the hutch was rolled the other way to give the room's occupant a view.
"Need a hand?"
"I wouldn't say no to that," she said, tossing a wipe into the garbage.
Angel went to the bed and gently took his son's shoulders, helping to keep him on his side while Shea finished cleaning him up. Wolfram and Hart doctors had saved Connor's life, such as it was and the Watchers' mages had brought him here when Angel turned to Giles for help. "Where's Fiona?"
"Out with her man friend." Shea smiled. "She left as soon as I got back from the pub. I told her I could handle this. I heard Connor getting fussy on the monitor so I came to check on him."
"Sorry." Angel would usually be back in the room by this time, taking care of Connor.
"I'm a nurse, Angel," she said as she had many times before. Angel knew she usually treated other Watchers when they got injured. Angel didn't like taking her away from her usual duties. However, as she pointed out, this was her job and he knew she liked taking care of Connor who seemed to be getting better. Angel knew there was still a risk of sudden death, given the extent of Connor's injuries but he refused to even contemplate that. "This is hardly the worst thing I've ever had to do." Shea put the diaper down on the bed and together they situated the young man's hips over it. "It's probably not good for you to be helping. You're still too raw and this is hard."
"Actually, I'm feeling better," he said, and her green eyes snapped up to meet his. "I mean that."
"Aye, I think you do. Was my talk that mighty?" She flashed a quick smile then arranged the in-dwelling catheter tube so that it ran out the leg of the diaper.
"It was a help. The city did the rest. I left my burden back at my grave," he told her quietly as she clamped off the catheter tube so she could remove the full bag of straw yellow fluid and replace it with a fresh bag.
Shea cocked a feathery red eyebrow as she washed her hands with a sanitizing gel. "Well, that's one way of doing it, I suppose. Better than getting langered every night." Shea took out some keyholed gauze, fluffy thick gauze and alcohol swabs as she sat at the end of Connor's hospital bed. "This may sting a bit, son. I'm sorry for that," she said as she always did before cutting away the dressings over the wounds on Connor's legs.
Angel sat in his comfortable chair at the head of the bed, next to the IV pole and held Connor's hand. He hated watching Shea work, seeing the external fixators on Connor's legs, their pins violating his flesh, piercing down to bone. Angel knew they were needed to keep the crushed bones straight, to keep them from shortening up but it looked like torture, especially when Shea turned the little knobs to slowly lengthen the bone callous because Connor's injuries would have left his legs short and crippled without it.
"It looks good," Shea said, swabbing each pin up and away from his legs. "Tim will be by tomorrow to take more X-rays. At the rate you're healing now, the fixators can probably come out soon."
"Hear that, Connor? That's good news," Angel said, leaning in close. Connor's blue eyes slipped over to him. He wasn't sure how much Connor understood. His son floated in and out of consciousness and had only started that last week. He had been in a coma for weeks before that. There had been so much damage to his slender, little body that Angel despaired his boy could ever recover. They had no idea if he was brain damaged from his injuries or catatonic from his nervous break down, both, neither. It was too hard to tell at this stage. At first, Connor's body wasn't healing at all. Angel knew Connor healed like a vampire and had prepared himself for Connor's death in light of the fact Connor wasn't healing. Angel thought perhaps his son had simply given up and wasn't so much comatose as willing himself to death. All that changed last week when Connor finally opened his eyes. Shea said there was a belief in the medical community that the mind contributed as much to healing as anything else.
It was as good an explanation as any for Connor's turn around. Now, he was healing fast, not as fast as he once did but faster than normal. Still, Angel had found it hard to hope, too hard to want to even keep on living himself. He had been caged by his losses, imprisoned by his fears for his son. Tonight, he was finally free.
"They'll be x-raying his chest, too," Shea said, finishing up. "If Connor's a lucky boy, they'll pull his trach tube, too."
"I sure as hell hope so." Angel stroked Connor's hair. "You'd like that wouldn't, you son?" Angel looked at the horrible thing that was pushed down his son's throat, helping him breathe. Connor had had something the doctor's called a flail chest, too many ribs broken, his chest walls moving with every labored breath. They had put in the endotracheal intubation and then gone in and tried to fix the ribs with screws or some damn thing. Now that tube was still down Connor's throat. Usually no one would leave the hospital with one still in their mouths, as Shea had explained to him. They would usually do a tracheotomy and place it directly into the neck for long term situations but Connor healed too fast, at least with soft tissues. His hard-to-break bones were healing quickly, too, but nothing like the soft tissues now that his body seemed ready to fight for his life.
Angel hated that tube down Connor's throat. The boy couldn't talk with it in place and when he woke he had nearly clawed it out. Connor had spent the next two days tied down but soon he had calmed and listened to them when they told him to leave it alone. Shea said that was a good sign, that maybe Connor could understand them and that he would recover. They had tried to make him write instead of trying to talk but Connor either couldn't yet or wouldn't.
"I don't think he needs another IV right now. He's looking good and hydrated," Shea said, pressing a finger into the skin of Connor's foot, looking to see its rebound. "But he's awfully alert for this early hour. Maybe he'd like some breakfast."
"I'll do that," Angel said. "You get some sleep. You look exhausted."
"I'm not the only one." She patted Angel's shoulder.
"It's a good tired," he assured her. "Like I'll be able to rest for the first time since I don't know when. But I'll read to him until he goes back to sleep. It usually doesn't take long." Angel put his hand on Connor's head. "I have The Sign of the Four for you today, Connor. You'll like it. Sherlock Holmes is fun."
"He is, at that, but I brought you some other stuff to read to Connor, too," Shea said, nodding to a stack of books. "The Harry Potter series. Connor will probably like them. He can meet Fred and George, who as I've said many a times must have been modeled after my boys. Some day, Connor, you'll get to meet my sons. I think you'll like them."
"Harry Potter?" Angel gave her a bemused look. "Connor doesn't like magic."
"This is fun magic. There are things in those stories he'll relate to. And." Shea went over to the TV, patting the brand new DVD player that sat on it. "Just for you, Angel, the movies you asked for are here. Maybe you two can watch a movie together this morning."
Angel managed a smile. "I'd like that. And Shea, thanks, for everything. I think...no, I know, I can get through this now. I think I found forgiveness out there."
"I told you this place has healing powers. It'll be good some day for you both," she promised and headed off to her room.
"It will be," Angel whispered as he got a can of food for Connor. The young man who bombed the mall was dead. He didn't know what the boy lying in the hospital bed before him would become but he would be free of that horrible crime, redeemed somehow. Angel believed that. He believed in it for himself as well. Faith and Willow had found redemption for their killings. He could hope that this trial by fire would burn away whatever was wrong inside of Connor and that he could someday have a better life. "How's chocolate sound, Connor?"
Angel didn't know why the food replacements had flavors but they did. He filled the syringe with the thick brown fluid. He hated doing this, but Shea needed a break. Angel hated seeing the tube that had been shoved through a surgical opening right into Connor's stomach. He hated twisting the tube just a little so Connor's ability to heal wouldn't seal it into place, heal right up over it. The doctors said the micro trauma kept the tube viable. Connor always groaned when Angel did it and this morning was no different. Angel tried to ignore it. If he didn't, the sounds of his son's agony would drop him right back into the pit of despair he had finally clawed his way out of.
As he pumped the food through the tube, Angel told Connor about the town, about his long-dead family, and, most importantly, apologized for every slight, real and imagined. He told Connor again how much he loved him and forgave him the things the boy had done. If Connor understood, Angel didn't know but he thought there was a spark in Connor's eyes, maybe a hint of sadness.
Angel pulled up the covers, hiding away the healing scar across his hollow belly where they had dug out the pieces of Cordelia's bones. Over his sunken chest there were more ragged scars where bits of the building had crushed and tore his flesh. He tucked the blankets up along Connor's shoulders then put the stuffed bear against Connor's arm. Angel didn't know who had bought the bear. It was left on Connor's bed one night while Angel was out at the pubs losing himself in the whiskey. It was designed for babies with different textured fabrics and jinglies inside of it. Shea said it was meant to stimulate the senses and it was good to do that with coma patients as well as babies. Stimulating Connor's senses was why Angel read to him every day, leaning toward Sherlock Holmes and Raymond Chandler mysteries.
Angel kissed Connor's forehead, seeing the boy's eyes rolling up, tracking his motion. "You're going to be well some day, Connor, and then I'll show you this beautiful place. It might be our home for a long time. It'll do you good, to be out of Los Angeles. That city is too big for you. I bet you're used to more open places. Who knows where we'll go when you're better but I promise you, I'll show you the world."
Angel was aware of the irony in those words as he went to the TV to put in a movie. Darla had promised him that very thing. She had kept her word, after a fashion, and he would keep his. He put the movie in and climbed into his own bed that was a few feet away from Connor's so he'd be right there if the endotracheal tube got clogged or Connor woke up and found the will to communicate again. No, that was only part of it. The real reason he stayed close was he had never spent time with his son and now he'd be damned if he didn't. He was out of the way here, out of the Watchers' hair. There was a movable dividing wall that could be put up so the sun wouldn't get to him if they moved the hutch away from the window to give Connor a view of Galway Bay. Angel was content in this room even with its sick-room smell and all the mechanical noises. It was where Connor was and it was where he wanted to be.
"This is my favorite movie, Connor, well, one of them. I know you'll enjoy it," Angel said as Indiana Jones tried to figure out a way to get the little idol out of the tomb. Connor looked over at him at the sound of his voice. Angel smiled and the boy's eyes went to the TV. Angel settled back, exhausted from wrestling with his inner demons but he had slain them. He had won, here at life's end, that's how his countryman Yeats had once put it, life's end; maybe it was just that, not physically but emotionally, mentally, the end of one way of life and the beginning of another. He had faced his mistakes. He was caring as tenderly as he could for one of them. Maybe here at life's end, things could be mended and redemption granted. Angel had that in mind as he drifted off to dream.
AUTHOR'S NOTE - If you care to see the places Angel finds himself at check here.