In the shadowy darkness of his suite, Angel sat perched on the side of his bed, cautiously optimistic when his waking son did not immediately pull away from his touch. However, he felt it unnecessary to push the issue by lingering as long as he would have liked to. Right now, any sort of rejection from Connor would lethally wound his already dead heart.
Allowing himself one more second to gently brush the boy's flushed cheek with the pad of his thumb, he slowly and reluctantly pulled away, moving carefully so as not to spook his child. Connor was staring at him warily, as if he could not decide which one of the plethora of emotions running the gamut through his mind was the correct one to allow to the surface.
They stared at each other for a moment, concerned brown eyes searching, ice blue weary, confused and utterly saddened. Under his father's scrutinizing gaze, Connor shifted slightly in the warm soft bedding, the slippery silkiness of the 1000 count Egyptian cotton sheets that were one of Angel's few indulgences feeling foreign and decadent to him.
Growing up sleeping on mats made from the rough hides of the hell beasts that they had slaughtered was a daily fact of life and, if they were at all unpleasant, he had had no way of knowing any better. For the past few days, he had been given the opportunity of sleeping on one of the twin beds at the motel, but the thin cheap lumpy mattresses were too comfortable, lulling him quickly into a deep slumber that first night and throwing him off of his ever vigilant guard.
Unwilling to lower his defenses at such a critical time in his miserable existence, he had thrown one of the practically threadbare bedspreads onto the hard floor and taken what little snippets of rest he had allowed himself down there.
Connor knew immediately upon waking that he was resting in the vampire's own bed, the man's scent heavy in the air all around him, permeating his nostrils with its familiarity. The thick pillow behind him cradled his head in a cloud of feathers, the fluffy blanket that covered him insulating his weary body like a cocoon of protection. Connor closed his eyes, his mind shifting with snatches of long forgotten memories, this comfort, this feeling of protection, this feeling of safety.
Surely Father would reprimand him severely for forgetting himself in the demon's lair.
Connor winced in pain from the thought of the man, squeezing his eyes shut in agony, his breath hitching from the weight of the betrayal he felt. Even as his heart began to hammer in his chest, he felt the rush of a breeze that preceded a cool hand softly pressed against his cheek. Swallowing thickly, he opened his eyes and met the panicked concern in the face of the man hovering above him.
Angel had watched as his son's already pale face whitened even further for no apparent reason. The tension in his scrunched up eyes, the stiffening of his small body beneath the blanket. Fearing some sort of fit, he had darted quickly back to his son's side, only minusculely relieved when Connor opened his eyes back up, his gaze despondent but focused.
His son was alert and, for that, Angel was immeasureably grateful. But the boy was clearly struggling emotionally and Angel was at a loss as to how to help him. He forgot that he had his hand on the boy's flushed cheek until Connor began to blink rapidly, giving off the nervousness of a trapped animal. He didn't say anything to admit to his discomfort but, when Angel pulled away, he relaxed considerably.
A flash of hurt raced across Angel's face before he could stop himself and he didn't know whether to feel guilty or pleased when his small son shrunk back into the pillow in shame. Angel leaned back, away from Connor's personal space, giving the boy a chance to breath. He raised his hand and rubbed the back of his closely cut hair as he debated on how to approach his son in the most non-threatening manner possible.
The contest of wills continued as each stared at the other, neither one of them knowing how to breach the mountainous wall of silence between them. It was only when the immistakeable grumble of an empty stomach announced its displeasure that Angel's face relaxed slightly and the sides of his mouth turned up into the barest of smiles.
"You hungry, kiddo?" he asked quietly, his brown eyes warm and gentle. This he could do. He could feed his son. It was one of the few things he did for Connor before and he quickly eased back into the paternal role.
Connor's eyes widened and he tensed just a little bit from hearing his father's voice speaking to him so affectionately. In the dark recesses of his mind, he felt an overwhelming sense of deja vu from the tone and perhaps even the question itself. He felt himself nodding before he was even consciously aware of making the motion. It was purely instinct after years of being taught that keeping himself nourished was one of the most basic rules of staying alive.
Allowing his awareness to come further into focus, his heightened senses detected the smell of food to his right and he slowly swiveled his head in that direction to investigate what the source was. He saw the thick square of bread and meat next to the glass of room temperature white liquid and his mouth filled with saliva from the instant desire for sustenance. Angel followed his son's line of sight to the plate on the night stand and frowned.
"No, not that, pal."
Connor scowled in displeasure and turned his attention back to his father. He knew better than to take food that had not been offered to him, but he could feel the hunger building up inside of him and wondered why the man would have it lying next to his head but not allow him to consume it.
Was this some sort of torture? Some type of punishment for his earlier aggressive behavior? Father - he winced - had often deprived him of food when he had misbehaved. It would appear that Angel was no different.
Angel, for his part, immediately noticed his son's reaction and rushed to correct the boy's misconception.
"It's been sitting out for quite a while," he explained in a low soothing voice. "You could get sick from eating it now. Let's go downstairs and I'll make you a new one."
Connor's forehead wrinkled with confusion. He had been raised to never waste food, even if it was on the brink of spoiling. It was too precious a commodity to take for granted and they had never known when they might get their next good kill. His own constitution was strong and, more often than not as he grew, he consumed the older rations that would have wreaked havoc with his father's weaker stomach.
Did Angel think him weak? Had his own failure in killing the vampire effectively caused his demon father to think low of his abilities?
But Angel was looking at him with a face filled with what could only be called concern. His brown eyes shining down at him gently. The soft undertones of his voice compassionately warm.
Father, no Holtz, had told him over and over again how devious the demon was capable of being. But, then again, the man had told him many things over the years and Connor now found himself left floundering to believe anything he had said. How could a man who had always presented himself as being righteous and honest choose to deceive the boy he claimed as a son in such a low handed vicious manner?
Who had been the real liar?
Slowly, flexing his sore muscles that were unaccustomed to laying down for so long, Connor sat up against the headboard, nervously fiddling with the hem of the expensive comforter. Taking the boy's movement as his cue to give him some space, Angel stood up and slowly backed away. Still slightly wary of the much larger vampire, years of training brimming to the surface of his consciousness, Connor pushed the blanket from his lap and carefully eased himself out of the bed.
Both man and boy stood with a slight tension in their frames, Angel subconsciously raising his hands slightly in supplication, trying desperately to avoid spooking his damaged child. Connor moved slowly, fluidly, keeping his guard up out of habit.
Intellectually, the boy knew that this was the same man that had protected him, the same man who had held him tight when his world had spun out of control and watched over him as he slept. But a lifetime of prejudices was so hard to overcome in just a few minutes and he found himself on the defensive in spite of his growing feelings of attachment to the undead being.
They circled each other for a few seconds, not necessarily like adversaries, but cautious nonetheless. Connor dropped his guard long enough to allow himself to take in the familiarity of his surroundings. His eyebrows furrowed in deep thought, causing Angel to look at him in concern.
"I know this place," he muttered, his face still twisted in confusion, his eyes wandering along the walls still sporting unfinished repairs from the fire, his senses assaulted with fragments of long forgotten memories.
Angel smiled sadly, releasing a deep unnecessary breath, his torment exquisite.
"Yeah, you do."
Connor looked at his father, attempting to decipher the meaning of his words and inhaling sharply when he saw the man's eyes glaze over with tears. Startled by Angel's reaction, he dropped his stiff posture and slowly approached his father, silently asking for clarification.
Angel struggled to keep his composure, but found himself failing utterly. His jaw trembled with emotion as he tried to speak, tears of pain and regret slipping down his ice cold cheeks. His razor sharp mind racing with crystal clear memories of his infant son, the ghostly images of what the room looked like only weeks ago appearing before him.
Connor cradled in his arms as he rocked him to sleep over there. Cooing contentedly as he lay on the changing table over there. Connor, wearing only a diaper, laying on the bed, his chubby little legs kicking as his father blew raspberries on his little tummy.
The boy's voice dragged Angel back into the here and now and he rubbed a large hand across his face, brushing away the traitorous tears that had fallen. He turned back to the significantly larger Connor and gave his son a wan smile.
"Sorry," he whispered without further explanation. He straightened his shoulders and attempted to compose himself. "This room was..... This is where you lived..before..."
And then Connor realized. This room. This had been home.
Angel reached out tentatively and brushed a lock of hair out of his baby's blue eyes. "I think you're old enough now to have your own room, though," he teased, his voice thick with tears in spite of himself. The words and the painful reminder behind them not being lost on either father or son.
Connor nodded his head slightly and fidgeted, jamming his nervous hands into the pockets of the tattered jeans. Angel watched his son's movements and then made a face of startled realization. Connor was still unnecessarily clad in his soiled cast off clothes. Several hours earlier, Cordy had returned from shopping, and Angel, in spite of her determined efforts to be quiet, had clearly heard her deposit several bags outside of his suite's door.
"You probably want to wash up a little first, huh?"
Connor blinked rapidly, his father's abrupt change of plans throwing him off guard. He didn't deny the question. In fact, washing away the filth of the previous day sounded absolutely heavenly at the moment. The stench of his physical exertions and restless sleep rolled off of him in waves, and the scent of his dead father - kidnapper? - clung to him like a stain of shame. Surely Angel could smell it too, he thought, and he flushed with humiliation.
Connor averted his eyes and whispered, almost imperceptibly, "Yes, please."
"Yeah, um...okay, then." Angel clapped his hands together and sprinted towards the door. Standing still, his face frowning, Connor watched his father's nervous motions, the rapid jerky movements of an otherwise graceful being, setting him further on edge.
Angel opened the door and bent down, grabbing at the handles of close to a dozen laden shopping bags and effortlessly hauling them back into the main room. Briefly, he looked for a good space to unpack them before finally settling for the recently vacated bed.
With his back turned to his son, he began to unload the contents, stacking them in neat piles, his predisposition towards order ratcheted up a notch by his unease. The idea of his precious child being home again had brought all of his first time father insecurities roaring back with a vengeance and he found himself almost paralyzingly desperate to not do or say anything incorrect.
"I..uh...asked Cordy to pick up some things for you," he rattled on as he sorted. "There are shirts..pants..a few pairs of shoes."
Angel finally turned and faced him, holding a stack of boxes and showing them to the overwhelmed boy. Getting no verbal response, he turned back around and continued.
"There are socks and boxers, too," he said casually, turning around with a packaged of assorted boxer briefs in his hand. Seeing a look of confusion on the boy's face, he choked back his next sentence and stammered.
"You..uh...put these on..underneath...to..uh..."
Flustered, Angel halted his stuttering and just stared at the boy. He didn't know why talking about underwear with his own son should be unnerving him so. But the look on Connor's face was clearly confusion, so he struggled for understanding. He had no idea that the boy's discomfort was a product of his own slightly hysterical actions and not a matter of ignorance or modesty.
"Didn't....he...didn't you ever....use...." He sputtered and then could have absolutely kicked himself. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he mentally chastised himself for the question. His baby was raised in a hell dimension. Not a lot of chances to pick up a package of Haines, surely.
Before he could dig himself in further, he was unexpectedly rescued by Connor's soft voice.
"I know what they are."
Life in the Quor'Toth may have been brutal and bleak, but Fa-Holtz, had taken some pains to prepare him for the life they were to lead once they were delivered from their tormented existence. Connor wanted Angel to know that he was not completely ignorant in the ways of this world.
He must have said the right thing because he saw the immediate relief of the man and the return of the slightly pained smiled that had been sent his way a dozen times already since he woke. Connor's discomfort level grew and he fidgeted, eager to bath and be free of his father for even just a few moments.
"Okay. Good. Great," Angel muttered as he tossed the package back onto the bed with the others. "Um...just..pick out what you like. Cordy's pretty good with sizes, so...they should probably fit well. And..uh..."
Angel stopped his babbling and jammed his hands into his own pockets. He had the distinct feeling that if he was capable of sweating, he would be resembling a marathon runner right about now. He glanced at his son standing quietly next to the bathroom door and cleared his throat.
"The shower is through there," he indicated with a slight hand gesture, anxious to get this conversation behind them. He jerked to a start and stepped towards the door. "I'll show you how to use the,"
"I know what to do," Connor interrupted, the scowl firmly back in place on his face. At his father's look of disbelief, he felt compelled to explain himself further. "At the motel,"
Angel's eyes widened in realization and he mentally kicked himself again. "Oh, right. Of course."
Like two observers of a train wreck who could not seem to tear their eyes away from the carnage, father and son stared at each other for another highly uncomfortable moment before Angel finally started to make his way towards the suite door.
"Okay, um, I'll just be downstairs. Let me know if you need anything."
Connor nodded and turned to walk into the bathroom as Angel left the suite. Finally free of each other, each pressed against their respective closed doors and sighed deeply.
Bathing in Quor'Toth had been a practice that was both unfortunately infrequent and invariably dangerous, their only sources of water being the hot springs that burned skin after just a few minutes or the sporadic still pools that attracted sluks and other manners of indigenous demons. Consequently, Connor's past experiences were rough and almost always unpleasant.
To stand underneath unlimited water, without fear of attack or injury, was practically a paradise and the boy knew that he was quickly gaining a personal indulgence for long hot showers. In the quiet of his father's bathroom, he stood, face turned up into the spray, and finally relaxed as the taint of the previous day washed away from his skin.
He reached for the marbled green bar of soap resting in the small tray, reading the slightly blurry words imprinted on it, but not getting the joke, realizing that the scent from it must be partially responsible for the familiar scent he immediately had recognized as his father. Whatever this Irish Spring was, it was part of what made Angel, Angel. He hesitated a moment and then started to scrub himself with it. It was comforting and familiar.
All too soon, his stomach growled again impatiently and he reluctantly turned off the water and stepped out of the tub. Grabbing one of the large fluffy towels hanging by the sink, he rubbed himself dry, the softness of the fabric amazing him. He bit his lip and steeled his resolve to not allow himself to get comfortable and complacent in this indulgent world. Until he was more secure in his new surroundings, he could not afford to lose his edge.
Walking over to the bed, he stood, overwhelmed by the large piles of garments procured for him. He didn't really know if there was supposed to be any rhyme or reason to putting them together, so he settled for just grabbing things at random and donning them. Lacing up his new shoes as he leaned against the bed, he agreed with his father's assessment that the woman Cordelia did, in fact, choose well, everything fitting him comfortably.
With a slight pang of regret, he held the shirt and pants that Sunny had gifted him with. He felt himself unwilling to discard them, as if, to do so, would be to forget the sweet girl. He wrapped them in the slightly sodden towel and put the bundle aside, intent on asking his father as to how he could launder them and insistant that Angel would not force him to relinquinsh them altogether.
He took a brief moment to calm his revving nerves at the prospect of interacting with his father again. So far, the man had been kind and welcoming, and Connor found himself aching desperately for that to continue, but he immediately chastised himself for it.
With the betrayal and death of the only person he knew, and removal from the only home he truly remembered, were these feelings of hope only a result of a desire to not be all alone in the world? A few days ago, the warrior inside of him would have scoffed at such a suggestion, but the release of the darkness that had always engulfed him, while being held in the arms of the woman that he had instinctively recognized as the only mother he had ever known, had changed him irrevocably.
Even at the risk of damning himself, he knew that this was where he was meant to be.
Squaring his shoulders and opening the door, he called upon all of his strength as he braced himself and pushed forward into his new life.