Timeline: season 5, post-Time Bomb, pre-Not Fade Away
Thanks to: Vic, for beta-reading; Karabair, for inspiring it.
Disclaimer: all owned by Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemies.
There was, Wesley thought, something deeply unnatural about it. Visiting a grave in sunlight, bright, merciless Californian sunlight without even as much as a hint of rain felt wrong when visiting cemetaries at night had all the rightness in the world.
Of course, he lived and breathed another burial ground, forever by his side, blue and beautiful. Illyria was Fred's grave and followed him like a shadow, or maybe he followed her, breaking bread with Fred's death on a daily basis. This was what had been waiting in Lilah's amused smile when he had last seen her, the day they took over Wolfram and Hart. Lilah, of course, was her own grave, but out of reach. Strange that the only woman who actually was entombed in a way that allowed him to visit and leave her behind was Cordelia.
Yet, he had not visited Cordelia's grave since the day they buried her; not until he broke the Orlon window, and the memories of a year and a half returned in their harsh, encompassing glory. Then time repeated itself and split apart, and after Wesley had saved Illyria, he knew he needed to leave Wolfram and Hart, if only for an hour or two. Woodlawn Cemetary seemed like a sensible alternative.
He did not know what he expected to find. Not another miraculous appearance by Cordelia from the beyond, surely. It said something about the way death insisted on behaving around Wesley that he nonetheless mistook the figure kneeling in front of the gravestone for a moment. Later, he blamed the Scotch, for there was really no resemblance. Male, not female, old jeans and oversized shirts Cordelia Chase, even possessed, would not have allowed herself to be seen in at any price. But nonetheless, there he was, no longer protected by the ignorance that had allowed Wesley to see nothing but a boy whose parents had asked for help: Connor.
"Well, that answers one question," Wesley said, and it felt as much an effort to speak as it had done after Justine had cut his throat. "You do remember now."
Connor looked at him, warily. Then he rose.
"Sort of," he said. "It's more like a dream. Look, don't tell him. I don't know yet whether…"
"Was it worth it?" Wesley interrupted. Him. Angel. He's my son, Wesley. There was the desire to break up this father-son exclusivity, that circle of two that made the rest of them bleed; but there was also the genuine wish to know. "He changed the world for you. Was it worth it? Are you happy?"
You owe us to be happy, he thought. The boy's expression changed; there were shadows of old anger mixed with the rather endearing matter-of-factness he had shown at Wolfram and Hart before his memories were returned.
"It's a good life," Connor said, which was and wasn't a reply. "And I'm grateful. But it's funny that you ask. You never did before."
"Ask you whether you were happy?" Wesley enquired, startled in the midst of his bitterness and guilt. "Well, I was hardly in a position to…"
"No, ask me anything at all," Connor interrupted. "I mean, we never talked, right? Or did we and those memories didn't come back?"
He didn't sound accusatory, just bewildered. And he was, of course, quite right. Wesley recalled only two conversations with Connor in the course of a year. Both had been an attempt to break him away from Jasmine.
"No. No, we never did."
Connor gave him another look, then shrugged and, to Wesley's surprise, went back to kneeling on front of Cordelia's grave.
"You didn't talk much with her, either," he said, voice uncertain. "But she had all those photos with the two of you. And A- him. And Gunn."
„She was my dearest friend, once upon a time," Wesley said softly, but even the old grief, the double loss of Cordelia, failed to evoke more than an echo of the impact it used to have. When finding Angel's signature on that contract, he had believed the ability to feel had come back, swept up in the hot, violent rage that filled him, and the desperate hope that there might be, after all, a way to bring Fred back. And then it all fell apart in shards of broken memories.
"I don't know what she was to me," Connor said, one hand outstretched and resting on the ground. He had more of his mother's slight build than of his father's massive appearance, but his hands were Angel's, big and familiar. When one knew where to look, there was a scar at his throat,barely visible, unlike Wesley's. "Not anymore. I just know I loved her."
It was as strange an idea as ever: that the girl whom Wesley had kissed in a high school library, feeling thrilled, guilty and embarassed and quite sinful in a tiltilating way had been the same woman who had bedded this boy and had a child with him. Fred had always been revolted by the mere idea of Connor and Cordelia, and Angel, of course, had been filled with fury, betrayal and jealousy; Wesley had mostly been puzzled, as if faced with two ancient languages who were supposed to hail from the same common source but had nothing to do with each other.
Maybe if he had figured out that puzzle in time, Jasmine would not have been born, and Fred would still be alive today. But Cordelia would be dead, either way.
"You must have questions," Wesley said abruptly. About Cordelia, he meant. But Connor seemed to mistake his meaning, as he rose again, and shook his head.
"No. No offense. I kind of figured it out."
For some reason, this felt impertinent. "Somewhat belatedly, to be sure. But then, you never knew the real Cordelia. There was no basis of comparison."
Are you Wesley now? Illyria had asked him, nothing of Fred in her blue, alien gaze, and everything in the way her head tilted. Does this change your feelings for Fred?Is she still the person you thought she was? Does this make you Wesley?
Memories. They were betrayers, all. No wonder he liked their company so much he was drowning in them.
"I was with her for most of that year," Connor said, something shifting in his blue eyes, "and you weren't. So how would you know whether she was real? Anyway, that wasn't what I meant. I meant I figured out why you never talked to me before."
"Enlighten me," Wesley said.
"You were the reason my life sucked and I was the reason yours did," Connor replied, not sullen as he had sounded most of the time when with his father, or eager to please as he had done with Cordelia or Faith, just matter-of-factly. "So I guess you were on a guilt trip when you didn't hate my guts. Hence no conversations."
The ensuing silence prompted him to add: "My mom reads a lot of self-help books, you know." And suddenly he appeared very young. Untouched by hell dimensions in any way.
Your uncle Wesley loves you bunches, Angel had told the baby, handing it over, and Wesley, exhausted beyond tiredness, much as he was now, had wondered how Angel had arrived at this conclusion. The baby had been Angel's miracle, not his. Cordelia, Fred, Gunn and Lorne could swoon over it; Wesley, holding the warm, small body, had just felt awkward and scared. He only knew that he could not permit the prophecy to fulfill itself.
He moves just like… Lilah had begun, and Wesley had continued, "…his father," staring at the impossible sight, the boy fighting next to Angel and expertly dealing out death, with wonder and rage. He had to get out of the club without any delay at that point, he just had to, and it had nothing to do with Lilah or Justine. He just couldn't bear to look anymore.
And he had looked away for the next year, until all the reasons and the very existence of the child standing in front of him now had been forgotten. The boy regarded him, and if there was any parent shadowing his face, it was Daniel Holtz with his measuring, penetrating gaze.
"You've grown up," Wesley finally said.
Connor shrugged again. The relentless Californian sun made his skin appear very white, as if belonging to to the inhabitant of a rainy island, or one of the undead. Unnatural. "No, I just lucked out," he said. "I guess that sometimes happens. You get a break. Until someone messes up the spell. You people rely far too much on magic."
Then, surprisingly, he smiled at Wesley.
"But that's okay. I mean, I feel like some kind of weird schizophrenic. Like that Gollum guy. But I know what the score is now. I couldn't protect my family if I didn't."
So Cyvus Vail had seen it fit to let Connor remember Lord of the Rings, but it seemed, only the film version, which Wesley had mixed feelings about. Somehow, this made sense.
"Quite," he said, trying to decide what he was hearing right now.
"You do what you have to to protect your family," Connor said, and it was clear he wasn't just talking about that charming, harmless couple who resembled the Burkles so much. Wesley remembered the dawning realization that the reason Cordelia's blood had had no effect on Connor was because he had always seen Jasmine as she was. Had never been under her thrall. And had aided her anyway. He remembered the red, stark letters under a Wolfram and Hart contract and sighed.
"You and your father certainly set that principle at work."
Connor did not flinch. There wasn't an acknowledgement of guilt or defiance in his eyes, either. Wesley really could not interpret quite what he found there.
"So did you," Connor said, quietly, and then he turned and headed towards the exit of the cemetary, leaving Wesley alone with the dead. Only then did Wesley understand what it had been, that unfamiliar, strange element that had been conveyed on him right now. Perhaps it had taken him so long because nobody else had given it, but then, nobody else could have.