and I find it kinda funny
I find it kinda sad
that these dreams in which I'm dying
are the best I've ever had.
There was nothing to breath. His face was covered by a stretch of cloth that pushed into his mouth and nose blocking all access to oxygen. The burning line on his neck throbbed with every gasp and inside his chest his lungs began to falter and burn. I'll never forgive you. You took my son. I'll kill you. He didn't seem to have any arms; for when he reached up to relieve the pressure stuffing heavy cloth into his face there was nothing there. Fear pumped through his veins so fast it made his head spin, and the urgency that made him clutch more and more wildly at the nothingness holding him down also made him gasp faster and lose more air. The pressure kept on, slowly suffocating him and he felt himself dieing while above him the howl of a deep raging voice pounded into his head. I'll kill you. I'll kill you, you bastard! Your dead man Pryce. A dead man!
Wesley snapped awake thrusting his right arm out to stab an unseen enemy, the last words of his dream still echoing in his ears. Dead man. The walls and paintings and air seemed to whisper it. Dead man. He jerked upright in the chair he'd slumped in, one hand reaching up to clasp his throat as he gasped for air. Sometimes at night he still had trouble breathing. The doctors had said it was just a reflex, nothing was really blocking his throat anymore and it would go away given time. Unfortunately no one could say when that would be. Heart thudding against his ribs, he slowly re-gathered his wits and recent memory, eyeing the office's pealing green painted and badly hung paintings. He and Angel had been sweeping down the lobby all day. He'd come in to clear out the safe and must have shut his eyes a second to long. He looked across his left arm at the desk where stacks of brown folders and a silver money case lay together. He'd dropped off without realizing it.
Wesley gave his throat one last rub and pulled himself forward in the leather desk chair, making it squeak on its wheels, and glanced at the china clock. Five forty five. At least he'd only slept an hour or so, he thought with relief. The grogginess slowly bled out of him as he sat, head leaning against the palm of his hand, bent over the desk and staring vacantly at the clock.
The office was dark, the lamps turned off, and the indistinct shapes of furniture melded together into some weird excuse for an expressionist painting. A warm yellow glow seeped in under the door crack from the lobby and Wesley could hear the shuffling of papers and feet and the soft scraping of a box. So Angel was still hard at work then. Wesley shook his head in disbelief leaning further into his palm. Fourteen hours and not a break. No sleep, no pause, he just kept going and going, chugging along like some u unbreakable steam engine. It was inhuman. A wicked chuckle hopped past Wesley's cracked lips, and the sound of scraping outside stopped. A moment later the office door opened and Wesley shut his eyes against the sudden invasion of light.
"Wesley." Angel's dark voice mumbled. "Wes." And Wesley opened his eyes a crack, wishing they would adjust faster to light instead of just whining about it. Angel's broad shouldered silhouette stood at the corner of the desk blocking out part of the light. "You're awake." He said. Wesley worked his cottony jaw round in a yawn that insisted on coming out and mumbled back,
"Well, I need to use the phone." Angel said, pointing at the black plastic on the other side of Wesley's chin. Wes blinked and shook himself.
"Oh, yes, right." He murmured and hauled himself out of the chair's warm embrace. Angel swung the chair around and sat down in Wesley's place, flicking on the desk lamp over the phone while Wes wandered to the window looking over the reception area. He cracked his neck from side to side and leaned both hands on the bottom sill, staring at the desolate grotto of the lobby.
It was still dark but the shadows had lengthened with night as had the illusion of lamplight. Circles of yellow light overlapped each other in geometric patterns on the floor, covering up the stains from a still visible pentagram. The faded brown lines sent waves of menace crawling up his spine whenever he looked at it. But except for the symbol which neither magic nor Clorox could lift, the place was bare. No calling cards sat on the counter. Furniture was pushed into corners and covered in linen. The weapons cabinet was stripped down to its boards with one door hanging open. Even the dust had been swept away by their passing back and forth, and shoving boxes over the counter. It was as if all spirit had been drained out of the place by some unholy vacuum, sucking their lives into oblivion. Wesley ran a hand over his mouth and settled it into a fist under his lower lip. Behind him he could hear Angel flipping through the address book. So, they were really leaving, and to Seattle no less, the city of constant drizzle and suburban monotony. Whatever possessed Angel to choose that forsaken place?
"Do you realize it rains nine months of the year in Seattle?" he asked, still pondering the lobby. Angel looked up for a moment then shifted in his seat and flipped another card.
"That's not bad thing," he replied. Wesley turned, leaning his body against the window frame and crossing his arms.
"And none of us own any cold weather gear?"
"We can buy some."
"I don't need to tell you again I think this is a bad idea," Wesley pressed, taking a step forward.
"No you really don't," Angel answered, not looking up from the address deck. Wesley sighed and turned back to the window. Silence spread between the two like a coating of butter, broken only by the occasional mutterings of "stupid filing system" as Angel struggled through the phone cards to decipher Cordelia's P's from her F's. He was trying to call his real estate agent to check on the house he had up there before they left, make sure the services were changed and all. It wouldn't be fun to stumble in the door and find the water wouldn't work, or the electricity was out. Plus a slightly ominous feeling had been growing in his stomach since he remembered he hadn't inquired about the property for sixty odd years. When he finally he found what he was looking for and ripped the card out of the deck Wesley's gravelly voice reached back from the window again.
"… So. We're driving through two states to an entirely unknown city where we have no friends, no contacts, no job and no insurance, and sit around until inspiration strikes. Assuming we even have a residence waiting?"
"Of course we have," Angel said, aiming biggest grin he could manage at Wesley's back, thinking assuming it hasn't liquidated. "I told you, I have it all taken care of."
"MmmHmm" Wesley mumbled, not paying attention. Then he turned and looked at Angel over his shoulder. "What about Cordy?" he said, a sad sting coloring his voice. "Have you taken care of her as well?" he asked. Angel's brows closed together, a gloomy shadow drawing on his face as he stared down at the phone numbers without dialing.
"Yeah, I checked her into a private clinic this morning," he dead-panned. "I'm leaving instructions with Gunn."
"Along with a forwarding address I hope." Wesley muttered to the window pane.
"Would you stop?" Angel exclaimed "It's Seattle! It's not like we're dropping off the face of the earth." He grumbled while punching numbers into the phone, "You'd think he'd be happy to live somewhere with proper English rain."
"England," Wesley stressed, turning around fully as Angel listened into the receiver, "had more than rain. It had seasons, Snow, greenery, not just varying degrees of dampness."
"Buy a poncho," Angel mumbled than spoke more directly to the phone. "Yeah I'll hold." Wesley shook his head and turned back to look out at the lobby again. He eyed the balcony above the lobby, wondering if he would see the tell-tale flicker of a sleeve disappearing round the column. Catching glimpses of Connor eavesdropping always gave him pause and a rare cause to smile. He remembered plenty times as a boy when he'd hid himself on the stairs watching the glow of his father's study and drinking in the half heard conversations about Watcher secrets. The more information you had the better off you were, and what was hidden was often the most valuable to you. So Wesley couldn't help silently rooting whenever he spotted Connor listening in, crouched above them all in the balcony shadows. He gave what encouragement he could even if it could come only in silence. But there was nothing up there when he looked; the shadows remained calm and undisturbed.
"How is he?" Wesley asked, looking up the stairs. Angel glanced up from his drumming fingers, saw where Wesley was staring and looked away.
"He's fine," Angel said, in a no nonsense; brook no argument type of voice. Wesley frowned a little and said,
"Last night he wa,"
"He's fine!" Angel's curt bark cut him off, and Wesley stopped. "…He's going to be fine," Angel whispered, and Wes nodded silently, turning around to take his coat off the rack.
"Alright," he said. "I'm going to my apartment. There're some things I need, like clothing." Wesley shrugged into his jacket. "I'll call a mover later for the rest, when I have an address to give them," he said, giving Angel a pointed look which was ignored as the vampire started searching for a pen.
"Don't worry Wes" he said "you can always stay with us until you find someplace else." Wesley's face cracked, in what could pass for a smirk if you felt generous, as he pulled the office door open.
"Well so long as I can find someplace else," he muttered to himself. Angel looked up, hearing the whisper, and a nudge of guilt poked at his heart as he realized what he'd said, but it didn't reach as far as an expression and his face was still smooth when Wesley to turned around saying,
"I'll be back in an hour. We leave at seven?"
"Yeah," Angel said, holding the phone against his shoulder and resuming the search for a pen. "The sooner we put this place behind us the better." there was silence and Angel looked up again when he didn't hear the closing of a door. Wesley stood in the doorway a strange look on his face, contemplating Angel as if he'd grown a new and interesting third thumb. Angel blinked, frowned and spread his hands, dragging the phone cord as he mouthed "what?"
"Nothing." Wesley answered after a moment, then stepped out of the office with one hand on the door. "I'll be back," he said without turning.
"In an hour. We won't wait if you're late." Angel called after him. Wesley glanced back, mild and quick.
"I'll be back," he assured. Angel waited until Wesley climbed the lobby steps and he heard the front door screen rattle shut, then turned back to the receiver and hunched his shoulders round the phone.
"Yeah, I'm here Dev," he said. "I had to get rid of a… employee. Yeah I have employees now, well, had. Anyway that building in Seattle…"
Outside Wesley slammed the door shut on Angel's Chevy and sat tensely in the seat for a few moments. He took several deep breaths, and wondered idly where the numbness that had dominated his brain lately had run off too. It would be very useful right about now. He reached up and adjusted the rear-view mirror to his height. Then pursed lips and shook his head as he revved the engine and pulled off the curb with a squeal, wondering why he was getting himself into this.
"It what…" Angel's face couldn't have been more shocked if he'd just seen his reflection in the mirror. He shifted the phone to his other ear hoping to whatever god was listening that he'd heard wrong. A voice gibbered over the line for a minute before Angel broke in and cut them off with a hysteric,
"What do you mean it sunk!" he stood straight up as he said it, nearly knocking the chair over. The phone voice went into high speed gibber as Angel groaned "Oh my god," and grabbed the chair, flopping back down. "… yeah, yeah, the big fire," Angel replied during breaks. "… Heh, really, the whole city?" He rubbed his forehead "no I haven't really kept up with my history." Another babble from the phone and Angel smirked, "yeah I s'pose that is lucky… no I'll take a look when I get there… well just turn on what you can and let the rest corrode. Uh-huh, thanks Dev." Angel slammed the phone back into it's cradle and leaned back in his chair until it creaked, pressing his right hand fingers into his temple and whispering, "oh hell."
Connor woke up slowly. He was on his mattress face first, still fully clothed with a sheet wrapped around his legs and the rest of the covers kicked into a mound on the floor. A digital clock blinked on the nightstand by his elbow, reading 4:15 in red numbers. He blinked into the dark room, and watched a mosquito hawk skip along his window, looking for a way out. The stars had faded from the sky he could feel dawn on its way. The mosquito hawk skipped again and he thought about getting up and letting it out, but the thought didn't go very far. He was too tired and his body felt too heavy.
It was so heavy it felt like he was slowly sinking into the mattress. Like the bed would engulf him like some giant lumpy mouth, swallow him whole, and he'd be unable to move. A little unnerved by that thought he pushed himself onto his side, groaning as he heard every muscle creak when he forced it to work. His body sighed when he let it fall into the mattress again. Maybe never moving wouldn't be so bad after all. He could lie here, and go back to dreaming. He'd been dreaming… about plastic hands and broken glass.
Connor snapped awake fully, wonderland images from his dream churning into something far more real and frightening. He'd been walking down an open air mall and looking in the shattered displays at naked mannequins knocked akimbo, pausing every time to make sure they weren't people. He remembered; yesterday he'd tried to kill himself. He hung on that thought for moment trying to feel something about it, but all he got was a tiny ache in the back of his throat and the beginnings of a headache.
He remembered finding among the wreckage a bomb box half finished and forgotten, and he'd sort of felt sorry for it. He'd gone in, shoes crunching on broken glass as he followed the line of yellow wires running out of the box. The lines ran to another box, then another and another, all around the store. He'd looked at it them for awhile, then picked up a box and started tying the wires together just like Fred had taught him too. He remembered the mannequin that'd sat next to him while he worked, and how the painted eyes had stared just past his shoulder. He remembered thinking about Cordy and how perfect it was for her, how the scene suited her.
Connor moved his arm up and rested his hand on the back of his neck. All the people… they'd pleaded and whined a lot. He slid his other arm up in front of his face, his fist curling in his hair and his nose pressed into his inner wrist. He couldn't remember exactly why he'd done that, stolen people, except that he'd wanted to be… noticed. To make a scene. Cordy deserved a scene. A big blow out. Then Angel… Dad, had come, and there'd been blood and rubble, and crashing things. He didn't remember much after that except screaming. He'd screamed, and screamed and screamed, until his throat was raw and he ran out of air. Though he didn't remember what he'd been screaming for. He was pretty sure he didn't want to. He'd learned long ago the value of forgetting.
A soft knock sounded behind him and he buried his head further into his arms as the door swung open. He felt Angel's shadow fall across him and it sent goose bumps up his arms. He clenched his hands tighter and tried not to shiver.
"Connor?" Angel whispered. Connor didn't answer, but stared at the indigo sky beginning to lighten outside and the dancing bug that still hadn't landed.
"Connor." Angel said again, fuller. He shifted a load of cardboard boxes under his arm and looked at the hunched form of his son. The only reply was the rustle of Connor's breathing. Angel bent and set the flattened boxes by the door, saying,
"Were leaving soon Connor, you should pack up whatever you're bringing." Then he left.
Connor lay still for a few moments listening to the receding foot steps. Damn, he thought. Now if he didn't get up Angel would come back, and talk… he didn't want to deal with Angel now. He sighed and counted down; One, two, three, and hauled himself forward with a grunt. Sitting up made everything hurt again and he moaned, feeling like shredded apple peals. But he ran his hands through his hair and pushed himself off the mattress. Then shuffled over to the wall and picked up one of the white slabs of cardboard, staring down at the pictorial folding instructions.
So it was time to run again already. Or "move" as angel had called it. Call it what you want, Connor figured, it still came to the same thing, running. Whatever; that was his new word of the month; Gunn said every teenager needed to know that word, so, whatever. He wasn't going to go.
He dropped the folded box on top of his dresser maybe more forcefully than necessary and yanked open the top drawer. Something in him just naturally rebelled against the idea of being dragged off like a piece of property. He could go back and live in his loft. Let the others live and work and die and where they willed, he'd be fine up there with the stuffed beast heads and the smell of Cordelia's perfume. Her scent would lull him to sleep like it always had and, and… it would be fine. He yanked out a pair of jeans and shoved then into the box so hard it wobbled on the mantle.
Anyway, he was tired of running and fighting, and chasing. Tired of staying a step ahead, and surviving. God he was so tired, and sore. He wanted to crawl back into the covers and keep crawling until he'd tunneled away from the world. He wanted to be nothing, or he wanted the world to be nothing, either way so long as there was no contact between the two.
He stopped and thought seriously for a moment about leaving. He imagined himself climbing out the window onto the street and just walking away. He didn't remember where Angel'd said they'd be running off too. Wherever it was, he didn't have to go. Nothing could make him. It wasn't like they could tie him up and cart him along. Well, they could. But he could get away; he was good at getting out of ropes. He could live with the window washers and street venders, on unlit corners where people shifted around and passed small things back and forth between their pockets. It wasn't that bad, in comparison to some things. But, it sounded much too exhausting. He pulled out another fistful of ragged shirts from the dresser and packed them up. Then dropped the full box onto the floor by his feet and started folding a new one, his muscles aching as he worked and crying for the bed that lay behind him.
The irony was, he thought, getting up now and going with Angel would be easier than trying to find a squat to sleep. If he was honest with himself, he was just too tired to say no. Staying or going, following their lead left the decision up to them. He didn't feel capable of making decisions right now. Any choice that came up made his mind blink off like a television set. He was blank. He couldn't say yes, or no, or even commit to a maybe, and staying with Angel meant he didn't have too. If he let himself be taken away he could do the only thing he really felt capable of at this point, and go to sleep until the decision and the need for an answer went away. He wanted everything to go away so much. He'd whispered it to himself as he fell asleep last night; and maybe, just maybe if he could lie down, and sleep and make everything go away, he could make himself stop thinking again too. Thinking hurt now, and anyways, it was a bad habit that'd only gotten him in trouble since he came to this damn world, Father, Cordy, Jasmine… Angel. Everyone.
So he stayed, and stuffed piles of clothes he never wore into flimsy boxes like Angel said, and he followed and obeyed. Like a good little boy… Connor scoffed into the empty room.
It didn't take him long to fill the boxes, and half way through the second box he ran out of clothes. Then he wandered around the rooms in that wing of the hotel picking up odds and ends that struck his fancy, or his horror. Anything he had a gut reaction to he snatched up. He didn't ask himself why, and didn't think about what he was doing. Knowing that was a question best left for another day. When his boxes were full he pulled on the leather jacket that stilled smelled of heroin and dead men, stuffed his game-boy in one pocket, and hefted the boxes up. Then he turned around and looked at the room he'd spent four months trying to avoid and whispered into it,
"Bye," then he backed out the door and shut it firmly with his foot.
Connor crept down the eerie halls to the Hyperion's lobby for the last time and slipped out the back doors, which were propped open with stakes under their cracks. He shuffled across the stone garden and jasmine plants, following the sounds of dragging and bumping that'd lead him through the hotel.
Wesley's silver mini-van was backed up onto the curb just past the vine covered gates, with the trunk lid held high, and Angel's back shimmied back and froth in front of it as he worked.
Angel gave a firm tug on the pole holding the trunk lid above his head, just to check for strength. The locking… thingy on Wesley's van had broken and he'd spent the last hour pushing the lid up, starting to pack bags into the trunk and then having it give way and hit him mid back. Moderately satisfied the pipe wouldn't betray him and give out Angel picked up one of the boxes from the pile of luggage by his feet and ducked back into the trunk.
Bent over on his hands he gave the box a good shove, sending it as far back as it would go and mentally grumbled about the min-van being so useful for moving that he had to leave his beautiful Chevy behind. They just had to make do with what they could at short notice. And Wesley's van had more trunk space. More importantly it had a trunk space that didn't smell of formaldehyde. Angel grabbed a duffle below him and tossed it in, then rested his hands on the trunk floor for a minute, hanging his head with a sigh. There was so much that need to be done,
Maybe Wesley was right and he was making a mistake. Maybe he was being hasty, moving them too fast. He knew it wasn't fair of him to be uprooting them all like this. Poor Wesley didn't even have clean clothes with him, and he'd have to leave much of his precious library behind. Maybe he was overreacting and all they needed was to get back to work. He shook his head, too many maybes, he had to listen to his gut, and his said…if they stayed, they'd have nothing.
They would stay under the Hyperion's roof, locked into their routine; answering phone calls and exorcising client's bathrooms. The days would grow darker and emptier for them, and they would slow down, pulled by a despair that would grow until finally one of them just stopped. And Angel's undead heart lurched in his chest as he thought of coming home one long dull evening, walking up those same red stairs, to find Connor hanging from the ceiling by his neck, or lying with his arteries slit and blood pooling around him, or maybe just gone… with a cold empty room and missing shoes. Then Angel would follow him whether it was out the door or out of this world. He didn't want that for either of them.
Angel backed out of the now half full trunk and turned around to head for the hotel, then stopped and blinked. Connor stood a few feet behind him, his hair falling in his face as usual, one box held in his hands and another sitting by his feet, watching him with a blank stare. There was none of his usual "bite me" attitude or restless energy.
"Connor." Angel whispered, the name coming out like a question on his lips. He shook off his surprise and stepped forward. "How long you been standing there pal?" he asked. Connor shrugged one shoulder and looked to the side at dead leaf that had blown up against his sneaker. Angel came forward and picked up the box at his feet.
"Here, I'll get these; we'll get these packed up and be out of here in no time." Angel said and moved back to the car, watching Connor over his shoulder. Connor didn't speak but followed behind him, eyes still on the ground and head bent. Angel frowned and packed the box into the trunk, frowning even more at the light weight and lack of metal clunking that usually came from a weapons chest. He took the other box from Connor's hands and hefted, surprised again by the light weight. Connor never went anywhere without his weapons. What kind of twisted world was it when you worried that your son didn't pack butcher knives along, he felt like his life had started taking after the Adams Family. Inclining his head slightly Angel looked down to catch Connor's eye.
"You sure you've got everything you want to bring? No last minute, socks or books or, you know… iron clubs?" he asked. Sounding a little too hopeful even to himself. Connor's head swung gently back and forth, his eyes still not leaving the ground were his shoe was toying with the tattered old leave under his heel.
"Alright, it's your decisions" Angel said, turning back to the trunk and sliding the last box in with the others. He stood up and turned around saying, "so do you want to sit…" and broke off when he found only an empty curb where Connor had been standing. He looked back at the car just in time to see Connor's leg disappear into the back seat and the car door slam shut. "…up front," Angel finished in a deflated mumbled. He shook his head and slammed the trunk lid down. Then went around the car and climbed into the driver's seat.
Connor leaned against the window, one leg pulled to his chest and hands locked around the knee. Outside wire fences rattled in a light breeze, and Angel counted the minutes ticking by on the car clock while he watched for the tell tale sign of Wesley walking up the street. Angel tapped his fingers on the lower lip of the steering wheel, restless, and found his eyes drifting up to Connor's image in the rear view mirror.
He smiled sadly as he took the moment to look at his son. Maybe he was just a sucker for lost causes, Darla, himself, his whole twisted family. What was left of it anyway. Hell, maybe they were all crazy. He thought back to that joke card Cordelia'd gotten him of a far side cartoon of a gothic vamp punk holding up a drugstore demanding Prozac. It almost made him laugh, the image of himself on anti-depressants. At the time he had laughed, loud and hard, and Cordy had joined in. God, sweet Cordy… Angel shut his eyes and forced himself to swallow down the pain that rushed up his throat. There would be time for her, but right now, he looked back up at the mirror.
Connor would be alright, he had to be alright. He just needed some time. Time Angel was more than willing to give. Without turning in his seat, not wanting to make a match out of staring, Angel cleared his throat and said
"Connor?" there wasn't any answer from the backseat, so angel plunged ahead, staring down at the dashboard in front of him. "Connor, I hope you're listening right now. I want you to know that you can come to me, for anything, whenever you feel like talking, even if it's just what kind of food you want in the fridge. But I also want you to know, I understand if you don't. Sometimes it feels better. You don't have to say anything if you don't want to, I can wait, whenever your,"
Angel's soft voice was cut off by the opening of the front passenger door. The noise of Wesley climbing seemed unusually loud after the quiet that had penetrated the car as he came in saying,
"Sorry I took so long; the blasted pop-up blocker wouldn't work. I thought I'd print out some crime statistics for," Wesley stopped halfway through unfolding a sheet of paper and looked back and forth between the front and back seats. Connor staring sideways out the window and angel staring straight out the windshield as if they were two unrelated photo's rotated in opposite directions. "Did I interrupt something?" Wesley ventured, looking back and forth. Angel blinked, shook his head and turned the ignition.
"We'll talk about it later," he said as the car revved and angel pulled out into the street.