CHAPTER SIX

Death hath had a thousand doors to let out life,
I shall find one ... From a loath'd life,
I'll not an hour outlive
.

Philip Massinger - A Very Women, act 5, sc. 4 (1655).

Connor knew Angel had not left his room. He didn't know how long he had spent drifting in and out of consciousness, minutes, hours, days but he knew without being told Angel had been at his side the whole time, like he had been surgically attached in Connor's sleep. Connor still shivered a bit, but not as bad as previously. Maybe they were done transfusing him. What a waste. Didn't they understand he was happy to die?

Only, he wasn't sure it was true. He remembered the look in Angel's eyes after the fight with Hamilton, telling him so long as he was safe, no one could destroy his father. Connor had forgotten that pride, that overpowering love. It was the same love Angel was bringing to bear now. He'd not escape Angel's keen sight, not now, not when he might hurt himself again. It would be like a prison.

Connor looked over at his father, asleep and almost sliding out of his chair. It might not be a bad prison. It had been such a long time since he had felt loved for what he truly was. Holtz had loved him, in spite of himself and Connor knew damn well Angel did, no matter how much he tried to tell himself it wasn't true.

Connor tried to sit up but couldn't. He was still tied down. His throat felt like someone had poured cheap alcohol down it then lit a match. His lips were cracked like old pottery and there was a strange pressure in his lower regions. There didn't appear to be a call button for a nurse. His eyes flicked back to Angel, hearing the vampire murmuring in his sleep. The man had sunk lower in the chair. Connor figured if he said nothing, the vampire would fall on the floor in a matter of minutes. "Dad," he said, or tried to. The word could barely crawl past the desert of his mouth. He tried to wet his lips with non-existent saliva. "Dad."

Angel startled awake, nearly tumbling off the chair anyhow. He tried to regain his dignity. "Connor?"

"I'm thirsty," he said, figuring there was no sense in beating around the bush.

"They said you couldn't have water yet. Ice chips." Angel got up and got a little ice bucket off the night stand. "That's what they want you to have."

"Can't move my arms." Connor tried to lift his hands, not getting far.

"I know." Angel plucked a small cube out of the bucket and put it in Connor's mouth.

The young man sucked at it greedily then pushed it between his lips, trying to wet them. He lost it and the cube slithered down his face and into the bed. "Damn it."

"No problem." Angel fished it up and tossed it in the small bed-side garbage can. He gave Connor another one.

Connor rattled it along his teeth, enjoying the cool moisture. When it was gone, Angel gave him another. "This is humiliating."

Angel sat on the edge of the bed and stroked Connor's hair back with cool fingers. "It's okay, Connor. Sometimes we all need help."

Connor gave his restraints an experimental tug. "I want out of this bed."

Angel shook his head and that grateful feeling Connor had been feeling frayed a bit at the edges. "Not yet. Not until the doctor is happy about your state of mind and don't argue with me," Angel said, probably reading the glint in Connor's eyes. "A regular hospital would have committed you for days and I didn't want that. I've seen those places and I couldn't bear the thought of you there."

"You must be so ashamed of me...of how weak I am." Connor turned his face away. He couldn't bear the love in Angel's eyes. It made him feel worthless, made him long for that doorway out of this life.

Angel caught his chin and forced him to meet his gaze. "I'm not ashamed of you. Sometimes I think maybe I've made you feel that I am but I'm not. And you're not weak, Connor. You're sad and hurting and you don't know where to turn. You want to bleed just to know you're alive."

"What would you know about it?" Connor tore his chin out of his father's strong grasp. He could be stubborn if he had to. If he wasn't not, he'd just give in and let himself be cared for. He wasn't sure why his head was trying to spin that into a bad thing.

Undeterred, Angel took his hand. "I know that several Christmases ago, I went to greet the sun. Even Buffy, another Slayer, someone I love, I'll have to tell you about her some time, couldn't stop me. I thought I deserved to die, that I could never make up for the horrible things I had done. I watched her cry, horrified that she couldn't seem to love me enough to make me want to live. Then, the sun didn't shine. It snowed, snow for Christmas in southern California. Ask Faith about it. It was a pretty clear sign that even something like me was worthy of a second chance. You are more than worthy of living, Connor and we'll try to help you find ways of being happy."

Connor's eyes misted. He wanted to believe that Angel was telling him the truth even though he couldn't imagine the vampire trying to commit suicide. "Really? You tried to die?"

Angel nodded almost imperceptibly. "Ask Faith. She'll tell you I'm not lying."

Connor licked his dry lips and Angel put another ice chip in his mouth without him asking. He sucked on it, then asked. "How did you find me?"

"Fate maybe." Angel shrugged. "I finally realized I had my cell phone turned off. Your idiot roommate said you went off with your knife so we were out looking for you when Spike called about your message to me."

So that's where he had gone wrong. Still, it had seemed even more wrong to go without saying goodbye. "I figured you'd understand...I mean, you have to be the reason I have Byron in my head now."

Angel smiled faintly. "Guilty."

Connor watched the smile fade and knew it was in response to the sudden flare of anguish on his own face. "I'm so lost inside of my own head."

Angel's wide, thin lips trembled. "I'm so sorry...I just didn't know how else to fix you, Connor. You were so broken. I didn't think it through. I just thought if I did this, you'd be safe. I'd never see you again, and that alone was nearly enough to kill me but I knew you'd be out of harm's way and happy. I didn't think about what the person doing the spell would be able to hold over me. I forgot about the prophecies. I never gave thought about what would happen if you lost your temper and say, slapped that idiot roommate of yours."

Connor managed a weak grin. "You met James."

"Well, Faith's breasts did." Angel snorted. "I'm not sure he realized anyone else was in the room with him."

Connor almost laughed. Angel looked so offended by the encounter, it was comical. "I know what you mean."

"The point is, Connor, I didn't have time to mull over all the ramifications of what I was going to do when I asked for the spell. When Faith tried to get me to kill her, she only had Wes hostage and I was able to defuse the situation. Jail isn't good for anyone but it helped her put herself together. I did all I could for her and I was telling her, while we were waiting for you to wake up, that I did more for her than I did for you." Angel's voice shook and Connor saw the shame in his eyes. "I'm hoping you'll give me a chance to change that."

Connor didn't say anything. He didn't know what to say. God had to be laughing at him, sending two failed suicides to keep him from being the one in the bunch to get it right. He looked at the window. He could see the sun burning behind the curtain. He never thought he'd see the sun again and wondered if he should ask his father to step out so the curtain could be opened. Somehow he knew that would just crush Angel. "I wish the nurse would come and let me up so I can you know..." He blushed in spite of himself. "Go pee."

"If you're uncomfortable, I'll have Lilith get a nurse in here for you. They've took that function out of your...uh, hands." Angel seemed suddenly embarrassed. "They put in a catheter."

Connor shot him a horrified look.

"They didn't have much choice...they said...it would be okay later," Angel sputtered.

Connor knew vampires didn't blush but he could have sworn Angel was getting close. "Probably a woman doctor said that."

Angel looked away. "Ah, well, yes."

Connor was saved from having to think about the garden hose invading his penis by Faith coming in with his laptop case in one hand and a duffle bag in the other. God, the last thing he wanted was Faith to see him lying here like this, with a bag of urine hanging on the bed somewhere and Angel feeding him ice chips like he were a quadriplegic. He was humiliated but he knew if he said something, they'd take it all the wrong way.

"Hey, kid, you're awake. Your dad and I thought maybe you'd like some things from your dorm room to help you feel better," Faith said, setting the bags down.

Connor was confused at how nice they were being to him. It had to be a by-product of what he had done to himself. However, he was grateful someone cared enough to stop by. He'd have to endure his wounded pride. "How'd you get in?"

"Please, you think I can't sweet talk my way past your roommate?" Faith snorted. "And you need to get better because you so owe me right now. When he was helping me," Faith put air quotes around 'helping.' "That pig you share a room with kept brushing his crotch against my ass."

Connor made a face. "You got frottaged by James? That's not something that can be made up for."

"No kidding. Okay, I got you your lap top and your DVD player. I left the porno there." Faith grinned at him.

He tried to match her good mood. Maybe then they'd let him go and then he could do what he needed to. "Where's the fun in that?"

Faith beamed. "See, there's a little sense of humor hiding in there. But seriously, kid, your DVD collection...that psychiatrist appointment you have waiting would help. What's up with the cheesy horror flick fixation? I mean, Lost Boys?" She yanked the DVD from the bag as evidence.

"I can't explain it...the spell I guess." Connor wanted to shrug but he was bound too tightly

"Sounds like someone was having fun at our expense since I most assuredly did not ask you to be a devotee of..." Angel took the DVD, his brows shooting up. "Vampire movies."

Connor made a bitter sound deep in his throat. "Figures, I'm someone's cosmic joke."

Faith dropped her gaze, as if suddenly aware that he felt intruded upon. "Anyhow, kid, I got some other stuff for you, including some of the DVD collections you had. If there's anything else you'd want, I'll brave going back there."

"Couldn't risk you being slobbered on or worse by James." He tried to summon up his best face for her. "This is fine, Faith. Thank you."

"Okay, then I'll just set up the DVD player 'cause I'm pretty sure 'Mr. I Can't Turn on a Cell Phone' won't be able to handle it and then I'll let you guys talk." Faith smirked at Angel.

"Faith, why don't you leave it for now and see if you can find, Lilith. I want her to check up on Connor," Angel said.

"Yeah, sure, I'll be right back," Faith said, going out the door. She favored Connor with a parting smile. Connor was sure she knew Angel wanted her to leave them in private for a talk that Connor wished he could just skip because he knew it would hurt.

"Must have come as such a disappointment to you," Connor spat out, trying to rid himself of his self-loathing, failing miserably. "I can't be normal and happy no matter what anyone tries."

Angel leaned over, touching Connor's cheek. "Connor, I am so fortunate to have you, I can't even tell you how much so. I love you, which I've said many times before. I know you think I've tried but I'm not sure I ever did anything to prove that I do."

"You have," Connor whispered, shuddering under his father's touch. "That first night when I didn't have a clue and you took the shotgun blast for me. I think I knew it then. Holtz did, too ."

Angel swallowed hard as if he could gulp down all his pain. "I didn't do much after that. Granted you threw up some huge road blocks of your own. We can't change those mistake but we can work together try to find some common ground."

"I can't." Connor's voice cracked. "Don't you understand? I can't live like this, in between what I was and what you wanted me to be." Connor's emotions followed his voice. He couldn't patch the cracks and his soul bled out. He was barely aware of whatever it was Angel was saying to him. His world narrowed to the thudding of his heart, the ragged sounds of his breathing and the keening cries that tore out of him beyond all control, and he almost missed hearing someone coming into his room. Tears blinded him and he was so cold and numb he barely felt his father's hands on him. Connor barely processed Angel snapping out orders to someone named Lilith to free his son's hands. Faith's voice sounded like a teacher's voice on Charlie Brown.

"He's in no condition to be free, Angel." An unknown woman's voice snapped.

"Just do it, Lilith," Angel snarled. "He's not going anywhere and I need to...I can't do what I need to with him tied this tightly to the bed."

Connor heard her chanting something and his arms were free. He didn't move. He couldn't care about trying to break free of Angel and Faith or hurting himself. If he just lay still, maybe he'd fade away like the bad dreams left banging around in his skull. Suddenly Angel's arms were around him. That's why the vampire had wanted him free. His father jerked him into a sitting position, squashing him against his broad chest.

Connor instinctively curled his fists in Angel's shirt, tucking against him tight. Holtz had never been a nurturer. While Connor had always known the man loved him, he was cool and brusque. A wound could be gushing blood and Holtz would do no more than bind it up with a disapproving cluck of the tongue should Connor whimper about it. Holtz would never have cradled him and let him cry.

It didn't really seem like an Angel thing to do either but the closeness was on offer and Connor soaked it up greedily. His sobs slowed and his breathing evened out in the safe cocoon of his father's arms. Angel's cheek rested on the top of Connor's head. Connor pressed his face against the rough skin of Angel's neck. The vampire needed a shave. Connor didn't care. His father wasn't warm but the strength in him transmitted to Connor through his touch. The scent of him was so familiar and for once, comforting. It was like Connor had a cellular memory of that scent from the day he was born. Connor had always wondered, in Quor-Toth, if he'd know his father when he saw him and that fateful day, there was no question in his heart. He knew his father instantly but he would never have dreamed then that he'd be here now, desperate to be loved, to have his father love him.

Angel shifted him, putting just a bit of distance between them so he could make eye contact. "I wish I knew what to say, Connor, to make you happy again. I'm not good with people. I never have been. I was just thinking about Doyle, when you said about not being fish nor fowl. I told him that very thing almost six years ago now. I wish you could have met him. I think he could have helped you. Doyle was a little like you, half human, half demon and a little conflicted about it. He knew what it was like to be not one thing or the other. So do I. I'm not exactly a vampire anymore, not with this soul in place but I'm not human either. Maybe we can figure out a way of being happy and comfortable with what we actually are."

"If I stay like this, I will go mad," Connor choked and Angel's arms tightened on him again.

"I sent for Willow. She and Lilith are going to try and work on the spell, Connor. I know you hate magic, but we need it to fix this. We can either reestablish the spell and you'd go back to being Connor Reilly and you'll never remember any of this." Angel's hand rubbed across Connor's shoulders. "I don't want to have to give you up again but I will do anything to make you happy."

Connor just whimpered miserably.

"Or we can try to bring you back to who you really are...though maybe leave in the education if we can. I would like you to hang on to some of that. You'll need it." Angel hugged him again then eased him back down on the bed. "Lilith's going to have to put the restraints back on, Connor and I'm sorry for that but..."

"It's okay," Connor said, trying to wipe his face but he was too late. The spell slammed his arms down.

Angel got a tissue and did it for him. "You don't have to think about it right now, Connor. You just rest and we'll talk about it later."

"I want to stay with you," Connor said without thinking. There was no doubt in his voice and the look on Angel's face was one of so much love and relief that Connor doubted the vampire was even aware he was crying in front of the ladies who were moving silently toward the door. Connor didn't even worry that he might have just thrown away any chance at a normal happy future because he knew it didn't exist. It was a lie and this lie was killing him. Holtz had told him his place was with Angel. He had done it merely to piss Connor off, to work him into a killing fury but the man who raised him couldn't have known how right he was. "It's not going to be easy. I know that. Maybe for now, I belong right where I am at the moment. I might not like being chained here but at least you can guarantee I'm stuck here listening." Connor managed a smirk.

"You never were one for that." Angel tried to smile. "I know this is going to be tough on both of us but we're not alone in this. We have friends who'll help." He pointed toward the door where Faith had disappeared.

Connor sighed. "I know."

Angel's eyes dimmed suddenly. "Are you sure about this, Connor?"

Connor knew if he ever truly wanted to hurt this man, all he had to do was change his mind now. He had been happy for those brief months he didn't know he was the son of a vampire. He could go back to it and Angel would help him, merely because he had that much love for him. It would be trickier to try to find what his soul needed in Angel's harsh world and all his hysterical babbling to Cordelia crystallized in his mind. He had wanted that normal life Angel had given him but the worst part was, that was a lie, too. He wouldn't know what to do without having something to fight for. He wouldn't be where he was now if he could turn his back on the fight. Maybe love had come to rest and all he needed to do was give it a place to do so within him. The Reillys wouldn't be able to help him with that. The broken people that made up his extended family might. He took a deep breath and stepped back out onto the ledge. "I'm ready to be your son."