A/N: OK…now I'm sure some of you thought you'd never see the end of this story. Truth be told, I wasn't sure that I would, either, due to real life stuff, but I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank all of you for reading and reviewing. If it hadn't been for your kind words of encouragement, I never would have finished this. Special thanks to Angeldovey, Angel's blue eyed girl, LaMissile, Mitsukino Tennyo, and mendenbar for taking the time to add a review for each and every chapter. You guys rock (as do all readers and reviewers)! I haven't written a ton of fanfic, but you all have definitely encouraged me to write more. And extra warm fuzzies and cookies to my wonderful beta, Ares.

I hope that I came up with the goods and it was worth the wait….so, without further ado…

Chapter Eight – Belonging

By: Adjovi

He felt all of the blood drain from his face, reeling from the shock of what had been said aloud. He remained rooted at the spot, staring at Angel, whose gaze seemed to be fixed somewhere around Buffy's knees. After a long moment, his father raised his eyes, almost imperceptibly giving him his leave by a quick nod of the head.

Connor didn't hesitate after that, running as if the devil himself was chasing him. He pumped his arms hard, sneakers thwapping on the pavement as he ran through the streets, his movements just skirting along the edge of the normal human range. When he felt he had left them far enough behind and his lungs were about to burn out of his chest he finally stopped. He immediately bent over, hands on thighs, taking in huge gulps of air. He collapsed on the curb, leaning his elbows on his knees. After his breathing got back towards some semblance of normalcy, he looked around and tried to get his bearings. He was utterly and completely lost.

The temperature had dropped noticeably since he left Angel and Buffy and he could see the pale undersides of the leaves as the wind buffeted the trees. The air felt thick and heavy, pregnant with the smell of static. He turned his face upwards, catching the first fat drop raindrop on his forehead. Just perfect.

He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, but the multitude of scents that assaulted him just further confused him, leaving him feeling even more lost than before. He shook his head and tried again, closing his eyes and stilling all of his senses. He shut out everything else, sight and sound, focusing only with his nose. If he filtered out everything human, focusing closely on one scent he now knew particularly well, maybe he could find Spike. Spike would lead him to the safe house. With great concentration, he stretched out his preternatural senses, perfectly centering on…the smell of a piece of gum ground into the pavement. He felt another heavy drop on the top of his head. Great. Well, at least he could follow the sound of the metro rumbling underneath the ground towards the nearest station. At any rate, it was the less wet way to return.

By the time he got back to the house, some of the panic that had spurned him on had left, and he felt oddly calm and detached. That was until he was hit with a wave of guilt and nausea at the thought of facing Spike. He felt like he had betrayed Angel in some way, which he didn't completely understand. There was a time, not too long ago, when he wouldn't have cared, would have actually reveled in these feelings. And any thought he would have spared towards his father's…companion? Well, he'd probably be dead by now, painfully and slowly. Now? He wasn't sure he was ready to say.

He sighed and walked up the stairs, his hopes at avoiding Spike dashed as the vampire met him as soon as he entered the hallway. Spike's eyes widened and he knew the vampire could smell his apprehension and hear his skittish heartbeat. Spike reached out and hauled him into the bedroom he shared with Angel, shutting the door with more force than was probably necessary.

"What the hell happened? You alright?" Spike looked at him closely, checking for any obvious signs of a struggle, any visible injuries. His look gradually softened towards outright confusion, a crease appearing between his eyebrows, but he still held onto Connor's arm tightly. He looked around Connor, seeming to attempt to conjure Angel from the empty space. "Where is he?" When he got no response, he shook him a bit. "Connor?" Connor swiveled his head to look at him. "Where's Angel?"

Sufficiently dragged out of his morass of self-hatred and dread, Connor tried to twist out of Spike's grip, and after a brief initial struggle, Spike let him go. Connor absently rubbed the spot where Spike had held him. "He's fine. He's…" He took a step back, his knees connecting with the edge of the bed, forcing him to sit. He looked up at Spike. "He's with Buffy."

"Oh." Spike blinked rapidly, a whole range of emotions flitting over his face before something appeared to slam down behind his eyes, shuttering him off. He turned away and squatted down, rummaging through one of the bags near the closet. He pulled out a black t-shirt and a towel, both of which he held towards Connor. "Here." His voice seemed gruff and overly controlled.

Connor blinked himself a few times and took the proffered items, looking at them like he didn't understand what they were for. "Oh!" He shook his head several times. "Oh. No. No…they're not…he's not…" He sighed, rubbing his wet hair with the towel. "They're talking about you, actually." He gave Spike a pointed look. "About the two of…" He gestured vaguely towards the vampire and licked his lips, looking down, embarrassed. After a short beat he sniffed and pulled his wet t-shirt over his head, replacing it with Spike's. At least it smelled clean, and fit him pretty well. He would be swimming in it if it were Angel's.

Spike nodded once and seemed to visibly relax for a brief moment, but quickly covered, trying to act nonchalant. He fished out a pack of smokes from his duster and pushed open the window, hopping up onto the sill and lighting up. "How did she seem?"

"Pretty pissed." Spike sighed deeply and looked down, picking at the nail on his thumb. Connor watched him a bit longer before continuing. "And I think I made things worse."

"Don't know if that's possible, mate." He took a deep drag off of his cigarette, glancing out the window behind him as if watching the path of the smoke, before turning settling his gaze back on Connor.

"I called him 'dad'." He gave a sad huff of a laugh before giving his own nails a close inspection. "In front of her." He swallowed and looked up. "I called him 'dad' right in front of Buffy."

Spike gave him a small smile, flicking his cigarette out the window. He swung his legs around so that he was facing Connor directly. "Oh." He nodded, eyes faraway, before refocusing on Connor. "Well, m'thinking that's not your fault. Not really." He gave him a sly, knowing smile. "And, you have to know that old Broody's dried walnut of a heart positively bursts every time you call him that."

Connor shrugged noncommittally, knowing exactly the effect that name had on Angel. He started to say something, hoping to change the subject to something he was more comfortable discussing, when the door flew open admitting a very soggy Angel.

Spike sat up fractionally taller, immediately reacting to the other vampire's presence. Angel's hair was completely plastered to his head, and the water dripping from his clothing formed a small puddle beneath him. "It's pouring out there," he said unnecessarily, peeling his sopping coat off with some difficultly and letting it drop to the ground with a wet plop. He banged the side of his head, ostensibly to clear the water from his ears.

Connor silently handed him his damp towel, watching him carefully. He could tell that Spike was just as confused as he was, as the other vampire remained very still, head cocked to the side, eyes never leaving Angel. He had thought that perhaps his dad would be upset with him, or at the very least arrive in a deep brood. He never expected Angel to seem so absolutely peaceful and relaxed. Angel vigorously scrubbed his hair with the towel, chuckling a bit at the realization that Connor was wearing Spike's shirt. "So…you made it back ok?"

Connor stood there staring at him, mouth agape, before answering. "Uh…yeah." He glanced quickly back at Spike who remained nonplussed. "I found the subway."

Angel nodded, pleased. He pulled his damp shirt over his head and toed out of his wet shoes, holding one foot up and yanking off a waterlogged sock. "Yeah. That was probably the better way to go. Buffy said she going to take the metro, so I decided to walk." Connor turned politely to allow Angel the chance to change his jeans, busying himself with a couple of unfinished stakes that were scattered on the dresser. When he figured enough time had passed, he turned back around to see Angel bounce down onto the edge of the bed and pull on some dry socks. He was wearing a plain white t-shirt and faded jeans, the overall effect being so incongruous to the usual black-on-black that he favored that he looked practically un-Angel-like. Practically human. Connor noticed that Spike had yet to move or utter a word.

Connor cleared his throat. "So…you ok?"

Angel grinned at him, rubbing a hand through damp hair. "Yeah." He looked between Connor and Spike. "I'm fine." At their matching looks of incredulity, he ducked his head for emphasis. "Seriously guys…I'm fine."

Spike remained silently unconvinced. Connor took a deep breath. "Dad…I'm really sorry…"

Angel cut him off. "No need." He stood up and reached over, squeezing Connor's shoulder. "It's ok, son." He gave him another untroubled smile. "She was bound to find out, one way or another. It's better that she heard it from me first." He moved to sit back on the bed, leaning back onto his elbows. Connor began to understand his father's light mood — the huge burden of secrets he had been carrying had finally been lifted from his shoulders.

Spike shook his head and scoffed dubiously, shaking another cigarette from the pack and leaning over to light up. Angel sprang off the bed and plucked it from his fingers, tossing it out the window. He gave Spike a stern look, jerking his head back towards Connor. "He actually uses his lungs, you know?"

When Spike just glared at him and looked away, jaw clenched in anger, Angel hesitated a bit, watching his face closely. After a moment, he reached out and gently tugged at Spike's fingers, forcing him to turn back. A silent missive passed between the two vampires then, to which Spike appeared to concede as he gave Angel's fingers a brief squeeze in return, before dropping them again with a short nod.

Connor's uneasiness at the exchange was cut short, as Angel quickly moved away and reached down for his duffel, promptly upending the contents out onto the bed. He sat next to the pile of clothing and began refolding and replacing each item as if packing.

"You going someplace, Peaches?" This was the first that Spike had spoke upon Angel's return. He crossed his arms across his chest and leaned back, clearly taking a defensive posture.

Angel didn't offer him a glance, just kept his eyes on his folding. "Yeah. We're going home." He sighed and carefully placed a shirt in the duffel.

"Yeah?" Connor could hear the challenge in Spike's tone which Angel either chose to ignore or didn't seem to catch.

"Yeah. I think its way past time." He shook out a pair of pants, folding them together at the seam, and continued on, speaking quickly and not giving Spike the chance to cut him off. "Taking out the Senior Partners has left a vacuum of power in L.A. Pretty soon, all the Big Bads are going to be duking it out to see who gets to be the next top dog." He continued explaining rationally, seemingly oblivious to the open hostility now rolling off of Spike. "I kept up the lease on the hotel, so we already have a base of operations." Spike began pacing in front of him now, but Angel paid him no heed, just kept his head bent over his task. Connor tracked the other vampire with his eyes. "And, my contact told me he saw a woman with blue hair observing the mannequins at the GAP in Westwood for over three hours last Tuesday night."

Connor watched Spike's eyes narrow and his stance harden towards Angel. His father remained apparently unaware, more focused on matching up his socks. All black, of course. With a short nod towards Connor, Spike headed for the door without a further word.

"Uh…wait?" Angel finally raised his head, miles away and clearly flummoxed. "So…" His voice was hesitant, unsure. "Uh…so…what do you think?"

Spike froze but did not turn his back around. "I think you've got it all sorted." His voice was rough. After a brief moment of indecision, he started for the door again.

"I…I'm sorry?" Angel phrased the statement in the form of a question, belying his obvious confusion. He glanced at Connor, looking for some help. Connor just shook his head at him in amazement. He didn't feel particularly inclined to assist him, considering he had witnessed Angel digging his own grave on this one.

Angel spoke very slowly, as if the idea that he had done something wrong had just occurred to him and he was still trying to figure things out. "I just assumed…"

Spike whirled around. "That's right. You assumed." He pointed at Angel, angry. "And you know what they say about assuming?" He faltered for a moment, crinkling his forehead in contemplation. "Actually. Scratch that. Because that implies that I'm an ass, too." He shook his head. "You just assumed that I would go merrily along with whatever plan that you could cook up. Did it ever occur to you that maybe I'd have my own ideas?"

"I…I'm sorry." Angel sounded somewhat more sincere, but still a bit bemused. "I just thought…" Both Connor and Spike rolled their eyes in disbelief. When Angel continued, he spoke carefully. "If you need to go someplace else, I'd understand."

Spike ran a hand through his hair, frustrated. "Where the hell else and I supposed to go, you sodding pillock!" When Angel reared back, wounded, Spike sighed and closed his eyes for a moment before continuing on more gently. "Because of course I would be going with you, pet. It just would have been nice to have been asked, ya know?" Angel blinked at him, finally understanding, and gave him a weak smile, sufficiently chastised. Spike sighed again and then moved over to sit on the edge of the bed, picking up one of Angel's shirts in an effort to help him pack.

Connor decided to let the vampires have some space and begin his own packing, but as he reached for the door, something else occurred to him. "Hey dad…what about the prophecy? Mr. Giles said…"

The vampires exchanged a small smile, obviously sharing a secret understanding. Angel gave him a reassuring grin. "Don't worry about it, Connor."

Connor frowned at his father. "What do you mean?" He looked pointedly at Spike. "You told him, right? What Mr. Giles said?"

Angel nodded in answer. "He told me." He glanced over at Spike who gave him a quick, encouraging nod. "Look…ok...I wasn't completely honest with Giles about the prophecy."

He looked between his father and Spike, shaking his head slowly in confusion. "Wait...I don't…." He sighed and leaned back against the dresser. "About which parts?"

Angel laid down his folding, giving Connor his full attention. "The prophecy itself, that's real. The part that's already come true. But, I got a little…creative." Connor felt Spike eyeing him searchingly. "I just added some stuff…just enough to keep him occupied and out of our hair."

Connor stood up tall. "You lied to him?" He squinted at his father. "Why? I mean, why even bother giving it to him in the first place?"

Angel glanced back at Spike, whose face appeared unreadable. He turned back towards Connor. "Well, I know Giles. Know his type at least, and Watchers like him would need some kind of tangible evidence of your existence. He already doesn't trust me, and I knew he wouldn't have taken me at my word."

Connor shook his head, still baffled. "But, then, why even bother telling him about me to begin with?"

Spike huffed a sarcastic laugh. "There's the million dollar question, luv."

Angel scowled back at him, placing the heels of his hands over his eyes in obvious frustration. "Yes. Please. Let's have this conversation again. It was so much fun the other 61 times we've discussed it." He removed his hands and fixed Spike with a patented glower. After glaring at him a bit longer, he spread his arms wide. "Ok, Spike. Push comes to shove, are you really going to be able to stake me?"

Spike answered by pitching the shirt he had been folding at Angel's chest, unerringly finding his mark. "Might just stake you now." His voice was thick with derision.

Angel just rolled his eyes and tossed back the shirt lightly. "Real mature, dumbass." He picked up another pair of socks, then sighed audibly. "Look. It has to be him, ok?" He looked between his son and the other vampire, willing them to understand. "We've been over this like a hundred times. There just isn't anyone else." He shook his head and shrugged. "He's protected. At any time, he has at least a couple of dozen Slayers under his charge. I won't be able to get to him." His voice threatened to break then, and he cleared his throat. "I'm not happy about it either, but this has to be the way. It has to be him."

Spike nodded slowly, begrudgingly agreeing his point. Connor watched them, beginning to appreciate that the relationship the two shared apparently went beyond mere familial bonds. Which, truth be known, he had suspected for some time now. The handful of times he had been privy to this particular argument the other part of the equation had never been discussed, the part where Angel had asked Giles to watch over him. He guessed that was a conversation they never had, and he began to understand why – neither of them saw it as an argument worth having. Because there was nothing to argue about. The truth was, when and if his father fell, he was absolutely certain now that the other vampire would not be far behind. A thought which gave him an inordinate amount of peace.

When Angel had told him that his death would destroy him, Connor had believed that it would. Still did. However, some of the guilt associated with this fact had begun to loosen its icy grip around his heart. Admittedly, his father and Spike lead dangerous lives and skirted along the edge of death pretty much on a daily basis. But, there was one hard fact that none of them could ignore. Connor was human, and it was far more likely that his father would outlive him then the other way around. Alone, Angel would not be able to survive this, of this he was certain. But Angel wouldn't be alone – he would be with Spike, and with his help, maybe his father would be able to endure.

Connor became aware of two pairs of eyes regarding him closely, and he was embarrassed out of his reverie. He gave them both a shy smile. "I'd better get packing, then." He beat a hasty retreat out of their room without another word.

A short while later he stared at his bed, incredulous. He had bought a couple of small souvenirs for his family and friends back home…but this? It looked like his belongings had pretty much tripled in amount. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, unable to decide where to begin.

He heard a soft knock at the door, expecting Angel or Spike to be checking on his progress, but Faith surprised him again.

"Whoa…"

"Yeah." He nodded in agreement and sighed. "I don't even know how this happened."

"Packing demons. They'll get you every time." She grinned at him. "So…you're really leaving?"

"Yeah…if I can figure out how to get all of this crap back into my bags." He picked up the obviously inadequately-sized bag for emphasis.

"Can't help you out there." She pushed over some clothes, making a space for herself to sit on the bed. "So…Angel asked me to come along."

"Really?" Connor tried to remain casual, picking up some clothes and beginning to fold. "You gonna go?"

She shrugged, trying to act less interested than she clearly was. He had some inkling of what Angel meant to her, and knew enough to suspect she was pretty happy to be asked. "Yeah…was thinking about it. I mean, I don't exactly fit in with the 'in crowd', if you know what I mean.'

"Who does?" He opened the bag and tried to begin squeezing some clothes back in.

Faith was toying with the t-shirt he had bought for Erin, the one with the stylized drawing of the Coliseum. She held it up against her own chest. "Sorry dude, but I don't think it will fit."

Connor chuckled. "It's for my sister."

Faith just stared at him before carefully laying the shirt back down. "Your sister." She cleared her throat. "So, you gonna be coming to help Angel out, too?"

Connor shrugged. "On weekends and stuff. I have school."

"Oh right. Stanford." She sing-songed the name, then smirked at him. "Angel's really proud of you, you know? And he should be. I know my mom'd have a heart attack if I told her I got into Community College." Connor opened his mouth several times, unsure of what to say. She smiled at him knowingly. "Yeah. He told me. About you. Gotta say, it's kinda cool. And very weird."

He laughed, relieved. "Yeah…weird really doesn't even begin to cover it."

She shrugged. "Could be worse. Angel's a good guy." He didn't trust himself to answer, just concentrated on folding. She nodded and got up. "Well, I'll leave you to it." She hesitated a bit, unsure.

He smiled at her. "You know, I think you should go. I know that Angel could use the help."

She nodded in agreement. "Yeah…well, then I guess this isn't goodbye."

"You could help me pack."

"Not a snowball's chance in hell."

After he finished packing, which took a lot longer than anticipated, he went looking for the vampires, only to find they were saying their farewells. Angel was with Giles, having already said goodbye to Buffy, and now she was with Spike. Connor had some awkward moments, unsure of what to do or say, but in the end, he was able to get out relatively unscathed. He received a frank admonishment from Giles to focus on his studies and keep out of trouble, a knowing smile from Willow, and a long hug from Buffy who told him sincerely that it was nice to meet him.

The ride to the airport was silent, as both of the vampires were understandably tetchy and not in any mood for talking. They boarded the plane mutely, choosing seats apart from one another. Connor didn't really feel like discussing anything and decided instead to try and sleep, slipping on his headphones and drowning out the ambient sounds of the plane. They had reached cruising altitude and he had just about fallen asleep, only to be roused awake when he felt something brush past him. He saw Spike, who smelled like he'd already made quite the dent in the mini bottles, weaving his way towards the front of the plane to sit near Angel. Connor watched them under eyes that were half-mast.

"So…you ok, then?" Spike voice was only slightly slurred, but he was looking at Angel rather muzzily.

"Yeah." Angel shifted down in his seat, bringing his head closer to Spike's. "You?"

Spike shrugged. "You want to talk about it?"

"Not particularly." Spike nodded slowly, straightening a bit. Angel sighed and looked down at his lap. "She was pretty hurt. Can't blame her for that." Angel looked back over his shoulder, and Connor shut his eyes quickly, feigning sleep.

"She upset about the boy?"

"More that I didn't tell her about him first." Connor opened his eyes fractionally again. Spike had shifted in his seat so that he was facing Angel. "I left her because I wanted her to have a normal life, ya know? Family, kids, the whole nine. And I'm the one who shows up with a son. The one thing I thought I'd never have with anyone."

Spike placed a reassuring hand on Angel's shoulder. "Not really your fault, mate. Well…ok…so yeah, that pretty much is your fault, but…"

Angel shrugged off his hand. "Not helping." His words didn't have much heat behind them, though.

Neither of them spoke for a bit, shifting and seeming discomfited. Spike finally broke the silence. "So…what did she say about…" He gestured the air between the two of them.

"About empty space? Strange. She didn't have much to say about that." Spike smacked him on the arm, and Angel raised up an elbow, defensive. He soon settled back down, serious again. "I dunno. It really wasn't a fun conversation." He sighed and looked forlornly at Spike. "She was pretty upset – thought maybe we'd come to Rome to deliberately hurt her."

"Bugger."

"Yeah. I think I convinced her that was the last thing we wanted…but, then it really started to rain and she just kind of took off." Angel leaned back on the seat and settled back before changing his mind and turning to face Spike again. "I don't think she's doing great, but she's dealing. At least she told me to take care of you."

"Told me the same."

"What did you say to that?"

"That you were a bloody wanker who could take care of your damn self."

"Figured." Spike just chuckled at that. Angel reached over and cupped the back of his head, bringing their faces closer together. Connor closed his eyes tightly, not wanting to pile up any more emotional baggage then he already had. There was a long moment before they began speaking, and when they did, their voices sounded very far away. Their heads were bent over a small white rectangle that Angel was holding.

"Those have to go." Spike flicked the corner of the card.

"Why? They're all printed and everything." Angel was holding the rectangle up, regarding it critically. Connor now saw it was a business card.

"Well, first off, we're changing the name."

"What's wrong with Angel Investigations? It has name recognition."

"That's not exactly what we need if we're trying to maintain a low profile, yeah?" Spike looked closely at the card again. "And, what the hell is that thing supposed to be?"

"It's an angel." Angel's tone was a bit defensive, and when he spoke again, his voice was soft. "Cordy drew it."

Connor felt a twinge at that. Spike stared at Angel for a long beat, then took the card from him gently. "Well, I guess that's ok, then."

Connor allowed his eyes to drift shut then, their voices fading away. His whole life, whatever the version, he had felt like he was on the outside looking in, desperate to be a part of something but always falling just shy of the mark. Strange that he would find a sense of belonging with this bizarre family, but there it was. He smiled and settled down in his seat, feeling relaxed and comforted as their bickering lulled him to sleep. For the first time in his life, he felt like he was home.