The next week passed excruciatingly slowly for Connor. It was difficult for him not to see Julie, and it sucked always seeing his gifts that he couldn't use, but the worst was not going out on cases. It made him itch all over to sit still and wait at the hotel while there was monster killing going on. When the rest of the team went out on a call, Connor was left home with Lorne, who had specific babysitting instructions to not let the kid out of his sight. Connor had broken three punching bags already, and he still had four days left to go. The only thing that kept him sane was thinking about Julie, because she's agreed to have Thanksgiving dinner with them.
The day before Thanksgiving, Angel and the team got a call about a vampire nest on the west side of town. While the team geared up to go, Connor scowled and stormed off to the basement. Lorne patted Angel's shoulder and said, "Hurry back," before following the teen downstairs.
Two hours later, the team arrived home in good spirits. It had been an easy kill, and no one had been injured. The smile fell from Angel's face when he saw Lorne standing at the front counter, but not Connor. He was about to ask Lorne what had happened, when he heard soft sniffling coming from the lobby's bathroom.
While Gunn, Fred and Wesley put the weapons away, Lorne walked up to Angel and said urgently, "Connor's been… well you should go talk to him."
"What happened?" Angel asked. He could hear his son blowing his nose, and moving around in the bathroom.
"You'll have to ask him. I'm calling it an early night." With those words, Lorne headed upstairs.
Concerned, Angel went to the bathroom door and knocked quietly. "Connor?" he called quietly enough that the others wouldn't hear him.
"Be out in a minute." Connor said, trying not to let his voice crack and give away his tears.
Angel leaned up against the doorframe. "You okay? It sounds like you're… upset."
"I just… need a minute. Okay?"
"Okay," Angel agreed, but he was getting more worried by the second. He walked over to Gunn and whispered, "Can you get everyone to clear out of the lobby for a few?"
Gunn raised a quizzical eyebrow, and Angel indicated the bathroom door with his head. "Connor's upset." Understanding, Gunn said in a loud voice, "I don't know about you guys, but I'm starving. There's leftover pizza in the fridge."
Fred of course agreed that she was hungry, and Wesley followed her into the kitchen as well. Once the lobby was empty, Angel walked back to the bathroom door and said, "If you aren't ready to come out, how about you let me in?"
After a long silence, Angel heard Connor unlock the door. He opened it and looked in. Connor had red puffy eyes, and tear tracks on his face. The boy was fully dressed, and sitting on the toilet with the lid closed. Angel went in, closed the door behind him, and knelt down in front of Connor.
"Hey, what's all this about?"
Connor scrubbed a sleeve across his face and shook his head. "It's stupid."
"I'm sure it's not," Angel said, "Not if it's making you cry."
"It's awful to be left behind. I was so close to running off tonight, Dad. You don't even know how hard it was for me to stay here while you guys were out killing vampires. Three different times I had to force myself to sit down so I wouldn't make a run for it. When you guys leave me here, it's like…" Connor's voice broke again, and he looked away.
Feeling guilty, Angel put a hand on Connor's knee and said, "It's like what son?"
"Like I'm not part of the family." Connor made eye contact and whispered quickly, "Like you don't want me around." He turned his head to the door and muttered, "Told you it was stupid."
"No," Angel said softly, "It's not stupid." In one swift move, Angel stood, picked Connor up, sat down in Connor's vacated spot, and set Connor on his lap.
Startled by how fast his position changed, Connor tensed. And when he realized he was on Angel's lap, he squirmed uncomfortably. He hadn't sat on Angel's lap since before Angelus, and even then it had usually been when he was too distraught to care very much. "Dad…"
Angel pushed Connor's head down to rest on his shoulder, and wrapped his arms around his son's shoulders. "Just listen to me for a minute, okay? I never want you to feel rejected, especially by me. I love you, no matter what. I always want you around. I always want you with me in a fight, because I know you've got my back."
More tears slid down Connor's face, but these were tears of relief. He wrapped his arms around his dad's chest.
Squeezing his son a little tighter, Angel said, "I'm sorry, Connor. I try to make the right decisions where you're concerned, but being a parent is new to me, and I make mistakes. I knew being grounded would be difficult for you, that was the point, but I didn't realize it would make you feel excluded."
"It's okay." Connor mumbled while his face was still pressed into Angel's shirt. "There's justice in being forced to stay home, since I'm being punished for not coming home when you told me to."
"I'm not trying to get justice, kiddo. I'm trying to teach you how to be a responsible person. And I must be doing something right, because you stayed here tonight even though it was hard. I'm proud of you for that."
Hearing those words made Connor feel better than he had since they'd gotten the call about the vampires. "Thanks, Dad."
"Tell you what. It's been seven days, and you've done your time without much complaint. So starting tomorrow, you're still grounded for three more days, but you can go on cases with us, and Julie can come to dinner every night if she wants."
Connor sat up straight so he could look at Angel. "Really?"
Angel used a thumb to wipe some of Connor's tears away. "Yeah really."
The boy wiped at his face with his sleeve, and said, "Thank you." Self conscious about sitting on his dad's lap, and embarrassed by his tears, Connor muttered, "Can I get up now?"
"Yeah." Angel stood as well and said, "Why don't you splash some water on your face, and then come have some pizza with everyone."
At the mention of food, Connor realized he was hungry. "Okay."
A few minutes later, Connor sat in the kitchen eating pizza, and listened to his family arguing about the best recipe for stuffing. While they were talking about food, the office phone rang. Angel went to the lobby to answer it.
"Hi, this is Julie. Is that you Angel?"
"Yep." Angel tensed up, thinking this couldn't be good. "What can I do for you Julie?"
"It turns out I can't come over tomorrow."
"That's a shame." The tension left his shoulders. "Connor has been looking forward to seeing you. Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, but my Dad… it's the first big holiday without my Mom, and he's missing her. I am too."
"I understand." He felt bad for her. He sometimes forgot how recently she'd lost her mother.
"Do you think I could tell Connor myself? I mean I know he's grounded, but I'd feel better if I told him myself."
"Of course you can. I'll go get him, and you guys can visit for a while, since you won't be coming to dinner tomorrow."
"Thanks, I appreciate that."
Angel set the phone down, and went to get Connor. He hoped this wouldn't cause a setback after things had been going so well between him and his son. Walking into the kitchen he said, "Connor, Julie's on the phone."
Connor stood. "And I can talk to her?"
"Go ahead." Angel gestured to the door. "For a little while."
The boy rushed out, and Angel made himself a mug of blood.
"Julie?" Connor answered with a smile.
"It's great to hear your voice," he said. "I miss you."
"Me too." Julie took a deep breath and said, "I've got something to tell you, Connor."
Connor's smile faded at her tone. "Okay, go ahead."
"It's about us getting married."
Connor's eyes opened wide, and he stood up straighter. "Okay."
"I've made up my mind. I'll marry you."
Connor sent a silent thanks to God, and said, "That's great news. It's what I want. For all three of us."
"Good, because it has to be tomorrow."
"What?" Connor shook his head.
"Just listen without interrupting for a second okay?" She didn't wait for him to answer. "I've spoken to my father about it, and he's going to help us, but it has to be tomorrow. He'll be here tonight, and he's set everything up for us. All you need to do is meet me at my apartment tomorrow morning at six o'clock with a photo ID and your birth certificate."
"Julie…" Connor looked back towards the kitchen to make sure he was alone, and whispered, "…this is crazy. All of a sudden you've decided to marry me, and now it has to be tomorrow? Why?"
"The baby… she's growing fast Connor. I can feel her moving, and my stomach is getting difficult to hide."
"Do you think you're going to have the baby tomorrow?" he asked, starting to panic.
"No, no of course not. The doctor I saw today said I was about four months along, which means she's growing fast, but steadily. She grows a month per week. If it keeps up like this, she'll be born at the end of December or the beginning of January."
Taking a deep breath, Connor said, "Then we have time. We could get married next week sometime. Your father could come with you to dinner tomorrow, and he could talk to Angel about…"
"No!" she cut him off. "Connor, you can't tell anyone about the baby, or about our plans to get married, until after we're married. I told my father because I knew he'd support me, and because we needed his help. I know getting married is important to you because of your religious beliefs, but getting married requires legal documents, and my father is a lawyer."
Connor felt dizzy when the reality of what she was saying hit him. "But… tomorrow?"
"You're seventeen on paper. That means you need a parent or legal guardian to give their consent before you can get married."
Feeling oddly relieved, Connor said, "Then I'll have to tell Angel."
"No, you won't, because my father has taken care of everything. He knows a judge, and because I'm pregnant, he's going to make an exception. But the only day the judge will be in town is tomorrow."
Not liking the sound of any of this, Connor said, "It doesn't seem right. Going behind Angel's back like that. I want our marriage to be authentic both in the eyes of the Lord and the government. I don't want there to be any loopholes."
There was an uncomfortable silence on the line. "Julie?" Connor said.
In a harsh, emotionless tone, Julie said, "You need to make a choice, Connor. Who do you have a bigger obligation to, your vampire father, or the mother of your child?" Her voice softened. "We created this child together through our love, and I want you by my side when she's born. Please, Connor. Please be here at six o'clock tomorrow."
Before he could answer, she'd hung up on him. He stood there staring at the phone for a few seconds, trying to wrap his mind around everything she'd said.
# # #
Connor lay in bed and stared at the ceiling. He felt more trapped in this moment than he had since his grounding had started. He knew what he had to do, but he dreaded doing it, especially since his dad had been so nice to him earlier when he'd been upset. But he strongly believed that his first obligation was to the mother of his child.
Holtz had often talked to him about what it meant to be a man in the world he hoped to go back to some day, and the biggest responsibility a man had was keeping his wife and children safe. And now that Connor had been in this world for a while, he knew Angel would agree with Holtz on that point. Angel, Gunn, and Wesley were all protective of Fred in a way none of them were protective of each other, and she wasn't even married to one of them, or having a baby.
Glancing at his digital alarm clock, Connor knew it was time to move. He'd need to leave in ten minutes to be at Julie's apartment by six o'clock, and he still needed to get his birth certificate and social security card out of the safe. With a sigh of regret, he stood up, and got his shoes on.
Before leaving his room, he checked the note he'd left for Angel. He'd written eight different drafts of the same letter, trying to make it sound like less of a lie. He still wasn't happy with it, but he couldn't tell him more. Not until after the wedding. He wouldn't let anything stand in the way of that, not even his own conscience.
His footsteps were silent as he crept down the stairs, and into Angel's office. While he opened the safe he wondered if his dad would be changing the combination after this. Angel had only given him the combination because they were about to bring out Angelus. Feeling guilty, he grabbed his paperwork, shut the safe quietly, and walked out the front door into the early light of dawn.
Ten minutes later he was knocking on Julie's apartment door. He frowned when he heard footsteps that were too loud to be Julie's. A middle aged man opened the door with a smile that didn't reach his eyes, and Connor realized this was most likely Julie's father. The man had dark brown hair, and piercing blue eyes that pinned Connor to the spot.
The man held out his hand to shake and said, "You must be Connor. I'm Nathan, Julie's dad."
Connor shook the offered hand firmly, the way Wesley had taught him. "Nice to meet you Sir."
"Call me Nathan," he said, and gestured for Connor to come in.
Connor scanned the apartment for Julie's heartbeat, and didn't hear it. "Where's Julie?"
"At the church. It's bad luck to see the bride before the wedding. We'll meet her there as soon as you get dressed."
Connor looked down at his jeans and long sleeved tee shirt, and then noticed that Nathan was wearing a dark gray suit with a white shirt, and a maroon vest. "Oh..." Connor said, not sure why he hadn't thought to wear something nice. Not that he had anything as fancy as what Nathan was wearing, but he did have some button down shirts, and one pair of black slacks that Fred had bought him, but he'd never worn.
"Come on," Nathan said, gesturing for Connor to follow him into the bedroom. "Let's hope Julie got your size right."
A suit that matched Nathan's was laid out on Julie's bed. Connor ran his fingers over the vest and said, "She bought this for me?"
"I rented them for the day. After the ceremony I'll take them back. Julie wanted me to rent her dress too, but I talked her into letting me buy it for her. Go ahead and try it on. I'll wait for you in the living room."
Connor stood staring at the clothes for a few seconds, while the reality of the situation hit him. He was getting married. He was getting married, and his family wasn't going to be there to see it. He started getting undressed, and tried telling himself that he was doing the right thing.
The clothes fit him perfectly. When he went to the living room, Nathan gave him a nod. "Okay, let's head to the church."
Feeling as if he were in a dream instead of awake, Connor followed the older man out the door, and got into his car.
While Nathan drove, he said, "It's my understanding that your father probably won't approve of this union. Is that correct?"
"I guess." Connor was quick to add, "It's not that he doesn't like Julie, it's that he would think I'm too young. But I'm not."
There was a long awkward silence before Nathan said, "The fact that you're willing to do what Julie wants, even if it means going behind your father's back, tells me that you're in love, and that you take your responsibility towards my daughter seriously. I have hope that this will be a good union."
Sitting up a little straighter in his chair, Connor said, "Thank you."
Fifteen minutes later the two were walking up the steps of a little white church. The front doors opened for them before they reached them. A plump older woman with graying hair and a kind smile gestured for them to come in.
"There you are," she said. "We've been waiting for you. The bride is anxious to get things started."
Connor walked into the church, and immediately felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. The tiny church was packed. The pews were completely full with people sitting so close they were touching. Connor took a step back, but Nathan put his hand on Connor's shoulder and held him in place.
"Who are all these people?" Connor whispered urgently as he scanned the crowd. They were all adults, and from what Connor could tell, they were all human. His hands balled into fists when he noticed they were all staring, and smiling at him as if they knew who he was.
Nathan patted his shoulder and said, "You're among friends here Connor. These are my friends and family."
He tried to take another step back, but Nathan's grip became tighter. "If you run out on my daughter now, I'll make sure you never see her or the baby again."
Shocked to hear those words coming out of the older man's mouth, Connor looked up at Nathan. Nathan smiled at him and said, "Don't worry son. Everyone gets cold feet. Come on, I'll introduce you to the pastor, and the judge, and then we'll get this ceremony started."
Connor let himself be led up the isle. The pastor stood at the front waiting. He was an older man with graying hair who wore a solemn expression. Connor noticed the woman who had let them in was now sitting at the piano, still grinning at him as if he were there to give her a million dollars.
Nathan held out his hand to the pastor and said, "Adrian."
Adrian shook, and said, "Greetings on this joyous occasion, Nathan."
Nathan put a hand on Connor's back, and pushed him forward a step. "This is Connor Steven Smith. The father of my daughter's child."
Connor blushed with shame. In Connor's mind it was a major sin for Julie to be pregnant before they were married, and here he was standing in front of a man of God. Connor didn't even realize a woman could get pregnant before they were married until recently. It was still difficult for him to connect sex and pregnancy in his mind, because he'd been told so often that God decided when a married woman would get pregnant.
"It's nice to finally meet you Connor." Adrian held out his hand.
Connor shook it and mumbled, "It's nice to meet you too, Sir."
Adrian gripped Connor's shoulder and said, "Are you prepared for this obligation son?"
Connor looked him in the eye and said with confidence, "Yes Sir."
Nathan gestured to the first pew and said, "Connor, this is Judge Rhodes. He'll be filing the paperwork to make it all legal."
Judge Rhodes was a short man in his early thirties. His short cropped black hair looked almost plastic it was so perfect, and his teeth were so white, Connor wondered if they were real. The man nodded in Connor's direction as a way of greeting, and Connor nodded back.
Adrian cleared his throat to get Connor's attention, and said, "You stand here and face the audience." Once Connor was in place, Adrian nodded to the woman sitting at the piano. She started to play, and Nathan walked back down the isle.
A few seconds later a young woman Connor didn't recognize walked up the isle in a maroon dress. As soon as she was standing on the opposite side of Adrian, the music changed. Nathan walked into the isle with Julie on his arm.
Connor's eyes opened wide when he saw how different she looked. Her orange hair was intricately braided with tiny white flowers stuck in the braids. She wore a floor length white dress covered in lace, with a maroon sash right under her breasts, which accentuated the tiny bump of her belly. She held a bouquet of white roses and maroon carnations.
As they walked up the isle, Julie smiled at Connor, and he found himself smiling back even though the whole situation was putting him on edge. When she got to the front of the isle, the music stopped. Adrian cleared his throat and said to the silent room. "Who gives this woman to be bound?"
"I do," Nathan answered. He kissed Julie's cheek, and let her go. Nathan went to stand behind Connor, and Juile went to stand next to Connor in front of the woman in the maroon dress.
Adrian said, "Face each other and hold hands."
Julie handed her bouquet to her bridesmaid, and grasped Connor's waiting hands.
Adrian opened a bible, and looked out into the crowd. "We are gathered here today in the eyes of Our Lord to celebrate the marriage of Connor Steven Smith and Julie Nicole Overton. Today you've come before me as individuals, but you will leave here as husband and wife. The promises you make today will cement your union, binding together not two lives, but three. Today we witness the beginning of a new era."
"Connor," Adrian said, "do you have a token of your commitment to give Julie?"
At a loss, Connor shook his head no. Nathan stepped up from behind him and handed him a wristband. It was exactly like the one Julie had given to Connor last week for his birthday, except hers had a triquetra on the pendant. Connor looked back at Nathan, who gestured for him to face forward again.
Adrian continued as if Connor wasn't baffled. "Tie it onto her left wrist, and repeat after me. With this token, I pledge my life to you."
Julie held out her wrist for him. Connor tied it on with shaky hands, and said, "With this token, I pledge my life to you."
"Julie," Adrian said, "do you have a token of your commitment to give Connor?"
Julie took Connor's right hand in hers, and untied the wristband she'd given him. She held it up for Adrian to see.
"Tie it onto his left wrist, and repeat after me. With this token, I pledge my life to you."
Julie tied it on and repeated the line.
"Now clasp your left hands together in front of me."
Once Connor and Julie were holding their left hands together, Adrian walked over to the podium and opened a box. He took out a length of brownish maroon rope, and went back to the couple. He held the rope up for everyone to see and said, "No other human ties are more important, and no other vows are more sacred than those of marriage. Remember in the days to come, if difficulty and fear come into your relationship, you must focus on the things that are right between you, and not on the things that are wrong."
Adrian tied one end of the rope directly on top of Connor's wristband. Connor could smell old blood on the rope, and knew the rope's color didn't come from any dye. He frowned and said, "Why is there blood?"
Adrian frowned at the young man and said with quiet authority, "It's traditional. The blood represents the sacrifices made to get to this point."
Connor didn't understand that, but didn't ask anymore questions, because it seemed to upset the pastor.
Once the rope was tied on Connor, Adrian held the other end and said, "Do you Connor, take Julie, to be your lawfully wedded wife?"
"Yes," Connor said.
Julie smirked and whispered, "You're supposed to say 'I do.'"
"I do," Connor said smiling at her smirk.
Adrian looped the rope around their hands once. "Do you Julie, take Connor, to be your lawfully wedded husband?"
"I do," she said sincerely.
Adrian looped the rope a second time. "Do you Connor, promise to love Julie in sickness and health, in good times and bad, until death do you part?"
"I do." Connor said firmly.
He looped the rope a third time. "Do you Julie, promise to love Connor in sickness and health, in good times and bad, until death do you part?"
"I do." Julie said.
He looped the rope a fourth time. "Do you Connor promise to protect Julie from all those who might do her harm?"
He looped the rope a fifth time. "Do you Julie promise to accept Connor's protection both for yourself, and for your unborn child?"
He looped the rope a sixth time and tied the end of it on top of Julie's wristband. He looked to the crowd and said, "And so the binding is completed."
Adrian put a hand on top of their bound hands and bowed his head. "Let us say a prayer."
Connor bowed his head, and Adrian started speaking in a language Connor didn't understand. But he'd heard Fred and Wesley say things in Latin often enough to know that's what language it was.
Once the prayer was completed, Adrian let go of the bound hands, and said, "I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Before Connor could react, Julie stood on her toes and lifted her lips up to meet Connor's in a short chaste kiss.
The church erupted with cheers and clapping, startling Connor. Adrian put a hand on both of the young people's shoulders and said, "Your hands must stay bound until I remove the rope. For now, let us speak with Judge Rhodes and fill out some paperwork."
While the couple filled out a marriage license with the judge, Adrian addressed the crowd. "Nathan would like to invite you all to join the happy couple downstairs in the banquet room for a celebration of their new bond."
People started shuffling out of the room, and the room was mostly empty by the time Connor and Julie were done filling out paperwork. Judge Rhodes gathered up the papers and said, "I'll file these immediately."
"Thank you," Nathan said, and shook the judge's hand.
While Judge Rhodes walked out, Adrian turned to Nathan and said, "Go see to the celebration. We'll be along shortly." Nathan nodded to the older man, and gave Julie a kiss on the cheek before walking out himself, and shutting the doors behind him.
When Connor, Julie, and Adrian were all alone in the church, Adrian put his hand over their bound hands and said, "You must consummate the marriage immediately, before the binding is removed." He gestured to a door to the left of the stage. "A room has been set up for you. Once that's done, I'll say another prayer, and remove the rope. Then we can join everyone at your celebration downstairs."
"What does consummate mean?" Connor asked.
"I'll show you," Julie said. She tugged at their bound hands to get him to move with her.
The tiny room was about the size of a walk in closet, and the only item in the room was a twin sized bed. Julie shut the door behind them, and led Connor to the bed. She pushed him gently to sit on the edge, and started kissing him.
Calmer now that the ceremony was over, and it was just the two of them, Connor let himself relax enough to kiss her back. As they kissed, the reality of the situation hit him. He was kissing his wife. He'd hoped and dreamed of this moment for years, and since he'd met Julie, those hopes and dreams had been focused solely on her.
Julie pulled her mouth away long enough to climb onto his lap, with her legs straddling his. She whispered in his ear, "Consummate means to complete or fulfill something. A marriage is complete once the couple has sex."
"Here?" Connor asked with surprise. "Now?" He lifted their bound hands and added, "Like this?"
"Yes." She kissed one side of his neck. "Yes." She kissed the other side of his neck. "And yes." She kissed him on the mouth, and pushed him back down onto the bed.
He felt her free hand reach down and undo the button on his slacks. Connor didn't need to be asked twice, and started fumbling to untie the sash on the back of her dress with one hand.
Twenty minutes later, they came out of the room together with their clothes slightly askew. Adrian said the prayer, and took the rope off of the happy couple.
# # #
At ten in the morning, Angel woke up. He wandered into the kitchen, and found Fred, and Wesley at the kitchen table eating breakfast together. Angel mumbled, "Morning," and got himself a mug of blood. "Where is everyone?"
"Sleeping in?" Fred suggested.
Angel sat next to them and listened to them talk about a dimensional theory with half an ear. Fifteen minutes later, Gunn came in to join them, and ten minutes after that Lorne arrived too. It was strange for Connor to sleep in this long, and Angel kept looking at the kitchen door, expecting him to come through.
Gunn noticed and said, "Just go get him."
"He was pretty upset last night when he found out Julie wasn't coming."
"He'll get over it," Gunn said, "and if he's up there pouting, it will be better if you bring him down."
Angel sighed, put his mug in the sink, and went to get Connor. He raised a hand to knock on Connor's bedroom door, but froze before his knuckles connected with the wood. There was no heartbeat in the room. He opened the door without knocking, and cursed when he saw the empty bed. Even though he knew it was useless, he checked the bathroom. He scanned the bedroom, and found a note sitting on Connor's desk. It read:
I needed to go out. I'll be back before nightfall.
"What?" Angel muttered. He didn't understand what had happened. He'd thought things were good between him and his son the past few days.
He turned the letter over, looking for something more, but found nothing. He scanned the desk area, and noticed the garbage had some crumpled up paper in it. He dug out the paper balls, and flattened them on the desk to read them. He found they were all variations of the same information. Connor had to leave for the day, he'd be back before dark, and he was sorry about it. None of them said where he was going, or why he had to go.
Angel grabbed all the letters and stormed back down to the kitchen. He slapped the papers onto the kitchen table, and said, "He's gone."
"Gone?" Gunn asked as he picked up a letter. Everyone picked up a version of the letter to look over. Once Gunn had scanned his he said, "I don't get it. Is this about Julie not coming for dinner?"
Angel paced and said, "I have no idea. I thought he was fine. He was upset that Julie couldn't come, yes, but that shouldn't have made him take off like this."
Fred had finished a second letter, and picked up a third. "His wording is interesting. He says he has to go and he says he needs to go. He never says he wants to go."
Wesley was also reading multiple versions and nodded in agreement. "And he's very apologetic about it too. As if he doesn't want to leave, but feels..."
"Obligated," Fred finished the sentence for him.
Lorne sipped his Bloody Mary, and said, "You let him talk to Julie alone. Who knows what she said to him."
Gunn shook his head, "But you know what he didn't do? Confide in any of us. I'm sure Julie did talk him into something, but Connor should know better than to run off and do what she says without telling one of us about it. Especially after being grounded for a week after she manipulated him into staying with her for the night instead of coming home."
Angel sat at the table and put his head in his hands. "You're right."
"If you don't spank him for this, I will." Gunn said with conviction, not caring how angry Angel got about it.
"You'll have to wait your turn," Angel said. He was angry enough in this moment to do it no matter what kind of complaints Connor put up.
Gunn nodded, thinking it was about time that Angel to got back on track. "You want us to go look for him, or wait for him to come home?" Gunn asked.
Angel sighed. "I don't want to wreck Thanksgiving for anyone, but I'd be grateful if any of you had a spare hour to go check Julie's apartment. If he's not there, we'll just wait for him to come home."
Gunn patted Angel's shoulder and said, "I'll go look right now. I'll call you when I get there to let you know what I find."
Fifteen minutes later, Gunn called to let them know Connor and Julie were nowhere to be found.
# # #
By eleven o'clock, Connor and Julie had eaten some brunch, fed each other cake, and made it through an awkward first dance. By noon the banquet room was thinning out, and guests were congratulating the couple as they left.
Julie noticed Connor watching the clock, and squeezed his hand. She whispered, "Are you ready to get out of here?"
"Yes. I mean, if that's okay. I'm not used to so many people for so long."
"It's fine. Stay here." Julie walked across the room to talk to her father. Nathan handed her his car keys, and gave her a quick kiss.
Minutes later, Connor was driving them back to Julie's apartment. Julie rested her head against his shoulder, and said, "We've got a few hours before it's dark. After we've changed clothes, do you want to do something fun together?"
"Sure. What do you want to do?"
"We could drive out to the ocean and take a walk along the water."
"Okay." All his memories of the ocean were negative. It would be nice to have a positive one.
Half an hour later, they were in regular clothes and walking along the beach hand in hand. Even in November, the LA weather wasn't too cold. Julie took her shoes and socks off, and Connor followed suit.
"Oh," he said, as he felt the sand on his feet. He wiggled his toes, and smiled.
She grabbed his hand and said, 'Come on. Let's get our feet wet." The two wandered down the beach along the waterline looking for shells, and enjoying the sun for the next hour.
Looking up at where the sun was in the sky, Connor said, "We should head back, or we won't make it to the hotel before it gets dark."
He frowned. "Yes..."
"Connor, I can't go back to the hotel with you."
"What do you mean you can't? Of course you can. We're married now. There's nothing anyone can do to change that, not even Angel."
She shook her head. "No, Connor, Angel can't know."
"We can't keep it from him forever, Julie," He said, frustrated that she wasn't planning to come home with him.
She put a hand over the swell of her belly. "Not forever. Just until the baby is born."
"I can't wait that long! I want to be living with you every day. I don't want to come visit you at your apartment every couple of days. How am I supposed to keep my vow of protecting you if you aren't even living with me."
"Do you want to come away with me?" she asked. "We could go anywhere in the world that you want to go. I'll be happy to live with you if we get our own apartment in another city where Angel can't find us."
Connor shook his head. "You know that's not what I want. If we did that, my dad would come looking for us, and he would eventually find us, no matter where we went. And he'd be pissed. Seriously pissed."
"I want to live with you, Connor. Honestly I do, but the baby's welfare has to come first."
"Angel would never hurt a baby, especially his own grandchild!"
"You can't know that for certain. The baby won't feel safe at the hotel. She won't go."
Getting more and more frustrated with the conversation, Connor yelled, "The baby doesn't get a say in where we live! You're supposed to accept my protection!"
Julie put a hand on the side of Connor's face and said, "I do accept your protection. We're married now. Bound together for life. We're going to have many happy years together. I don't understand why you can't wait for four more weeks until she's ready to be born."
He didn't want to wait, but found it difficult to disagree about waiting without sounding like a petulant child. He didn't like it, but he could wait a few weeks before they started living together.
"Fine, you don't have to live in the hotel with me, but we are going to tell Angel that we're married. I refuse to keep it from him any longer. Maybe he'll let me live with you for four weeks."
Julie's eyes rolled back in her head, and she fell towards the ground. Connor barely reacted quickly enough to catch her before she hit the ground.
"Julie?" he said with fear. He knelt down and held her upper body against his. When she didn't respond, he said loudly, "Julie!" He could see her breathing, and he could hear both her heartbeat, and the baby's rapid heartbeat too. "Julie, what's wrong?" He brushed the back of his fingers against her cheek.
Her eyes fluttered open and shut once.
"Julie?" he said, gently picking her up, and carrying her towards the car.
"Connor?" she asked when her eyes opened again. "What happened?"
"I don't know. We were talking, and you just fell. You were unconscious for a few seconds."
"I fainted?" she mumbled to herself, and put a hand on her stomach. "Did I land on my belly?"
"I caught you before you landed."
"Thank you." She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him tight.
He quickened his pace across the sand, wanting to get her into the car as quickly as possible. "Why did you faint? Are you sick? Should I take you to a doctor?"
She shook her head on his shoulder. "I'm not sick. I've always been prone to fainting. When I'm scared or anxious about something I faint. I fainted when Angelus got loose. The first time it happened, I was twelve and my parents were arguing about money. They took me to see a doctor about it. She prescribed some medication to help calm me down, but I didn't like the way it made me feel, so I stopped taking it."
Connor held her tight, and kissed the top of her head. Feeling guilty he said, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brushed aside your feelings like that. If the thought of me telling Angel that we're married is that frightening to you, then I won't tell him. I can wait. I don't want to, but what I want isn't as important as what you need. And for the next four weeks, what you need is to be free of fear or anxiety."
"Connor, put me down."
Frowning, he looked into the distance, trying to see the car. "Are you sure you won't faint again?"
"I'm sure, but if it makes you feel better, you can pick me up again in a minute."
He set her on her feet.
She smiled at him and said, "I thought you might want to feel her kicking." She took his hand in hers, and put it on her belly.
He could feel the small being shifting around under Julie's skin and simply smiled at her in wonder.
Once the baby settled, Julie said, "I'm fine to walk, but you can carry me if you want."
Connor picked her back up, and started walking towards the car, wondering what the hell he was going to tell Angel when he got home, since he couldn't tell him the truth.
# # #
Thanksgiving dinner wasn't a festive occasion at the hotel. Gunn bristled every time Fred and Wesley smiled at each other or touched. Lorne drank more than usual, and merrily told stories of his family back in Pylea, which had everyone squirming. Fred surprised Angel with some Turkey blood, and he accepted it with painfully obvious false cheer.
The instant the humans were done eating, Angel went to the lobby and paced like a caged animal, watching the clock and the lobby doors. If Connor wasn't home the instant the sun went under the horizon, Angel was going to go looking.
Once the table was cleared off, and the dishes were done, Lorne went upstairs to bed. Wesley and Fred had a quiet conversation, and decided neither one of them wanted to be around to see the upcoming confrontation when Connor got home. They told Angel they were going for a drive and left.
Gunn scowled at them as they left, and sat on the lobby's round couch to wait with Angel. He wanted to be there to support Angel, and show a united front to Connor, but he was also worried about what the kid had been up to, and needed to know he was home safe before he could do anything else.
Connor trudged home after dropping off Julie at her apartment, and making sure she was settled. The guilt he'd felt about having the wedding without his family had turned into regret and sorrow. He didn't just feel bad for his family, he felt bad for himself. He didn't realize it at the time, but now he knew he'd cheated himself out of sharing that moment with his family.
Less than fifteen minutes before the sun set, Angel and Gunn both saw Connor coming up the walkway to the lobby doors. His head was down, his shoulders were slumped, and his feet were moving slowly.
Connor looked up as he put a hand on the lobby doors, and saw both Angel and Gunn waiting for him with matching angry glares. His hand dropped from the door, and he took a few steps back before he'd even had a chance to think about what he was doing.
Gunn stood and crossed his arms, clearly unimpressed. Angel locked eyes with his son, pointed to the spot directly in front of him, and said with icy calm, "Come here right now."
In a panic, Connor shook his head, and backed up a few more steps. He had no idea what he was going to tell them. No matter what he said, his father would know he was lying, but he'd promised not to tell them the truth.
"Gunn." Angel said, without taking his eyes off Connor's.
Without having to ask what it was Angel wanted, Gunn walked purposely towards the lobby doors.
Connor's eyes darted to Gunn, and he shook his head again.
Gunn opened the door and walked into the fading sunlight. He headed straight for the boy and reached a hand out to grab him, but Connor scrambled backwards a few more feet to avoid the larger man.
Gunn stood still with effort and hissed, "Stop that right now. There's no avoiding this."
They maintained eye contact for less than a second before Connor hung his head in defeat. Gunn took the two steps that separated them, took Connor's upper arm in one hand, and swatted him five times with the other as hard as he could. Gunn knew the full force swats wouldn't be truly painful for the kid, but they would let Connor know just how disappointed he was.
Having expected it, Connor didn't make a sound at the swats, but his face turned bright red with shame and embarrassment.
Gunn let him go and said loudly, "Get your ass inside."
Connor quickly walked through the lobby doors, and down the stairs, with Gunn following at his heels. Connor stopped just outside of Angel's reach.
Father and son looked at each other for a moment, and when Connor opened his mouth to apologize, Angel held up a hand and barked, "Stop!"
Angel leaned towards the boy and sniffed the air. He glared at his son and said, "I don't want to hear it. I know all I need to know." He stepped forward, put a hand on Connor's shoulder, and looked into the boy's eyes. Disappointment laced Angel's voice as he said, "The smell of Julie and the beach is all over you son. Don't even try to deny it."
Realizing how irresponsible and childish that must seem to Angel, Connor opened his mouth to protest, but nothing came out. He couldn't tell them why he'd really left, and maybe it would all be easier if Angel made his own assumptions about what had happened. The boy looked away and said, "I won't deny it. I was at the beach with Julie."
"Why?" Gunn asked.
Connor shrugged and kept his eyes on the ground.
Angel's hand moved from Connor's shoulder to his upper arm. He towed the boy towards the round couch, and said, "Gunn asked you a question. Shrugging is not an answer." Angel sat, and yanked his son face down across his lap.
Connor landed with a startled gasp at the sudden change of position. "Nooo!" he yelled.
Angel swatted the squirming boy twice and said, "Answer Gunn."
The shame of being across Angel's lap again was bad enough, but having Gunn as a witness, and being in the middle of the lobby was utterly humiliating. "I had to!"
"Why did you have to?" Gunn asked.
"I can't tell you!" Connor shouted.
Angel reached under the boy, unsnapped the button of his jeans, and shoved both the jeans and underwear down to Connor's knees with one swipe.
"Not like this!" Connor yelled, as he was bared. He pushed to get up, but Angel held him easily. "Not in the lobby!"
"You listen to me little boy. You made Thanksgiving uncomfortable for everyone by running off again, so I see no reason why you shouldn't be uncomfortable right now." Even though Angel didn't say it, having Gunn there to back him up helped him not to dwell on Angelus' claim that Angel got off on spanking his son. He knew that if Gunn thought for one second that Angel was enjoying this, he would find a way to stop him. With that thought in mind, Angel laid down two more sharp smacks.
"Ow!" Connor yelled, and worked harder at trying to get himself up. "I thought you said you couldn't do this anymore!"
Now that he'd started, Angel didn't find it nearly as impossible as he'd thought he would. He spanked the naked butt over his lap twice more and said, "You haven't left me much of an option! Sneaking out of the house while you're grounded to spend the day at the beach with your girlfriend is completely unacceptable Connor!"
"I know!" He answered.
"So tell us why you did it!" Angel yelled.
"I can't!" he yelled back.
Shaking his head in disappointment, Angel said, "If that's the way you want it, fine." Angel raised his hand higher than before, and started spanking hard and fast, peppering every inch of Connor's butt and upper thighs with handprints.
Suddenly remembering just how painful this experience was, Connor grunted and yelped through the first twenty swats. He tried to think of something to say that would help get him up off Angel's lap, but nothing came to mind. He doubted even the truth would accomplish that.
Angel paused and said, "You broke three rules today. Wanna tell me what they were?"
"Three?" Connor asked nervously as he squirmed to relieve some of the sting. "I only broke one! Running off for the day."
Shaking his head Angel said, "What about disobedience and lying?"
Connor craned his neck back to look at Angel and said, "Lying? I haven't lied!"
Angel raised an eyebrow, and then looked at Gunn to gage his reaction. Gunn was scowling, and shaking his head. Angel looked back at the boy across his lap and said; "Tell us why you left today."
Connor kicked the toe of his tennis shoe onto the floor in frustration and turned his head back to the front. "I can't tell you! That's not a lie!"
"Really? You're physically incapable of telling us what you did today?" Angel asked.
"No!" Connor said, "That's not what I meant and you know it!"
"So what you really mean is that you refuse to tell us."
The boy thought about that for a second, and then hung his head in defeat. "Yes," he muttered to the floor in front of him.
"Gunn," Angel said, "could you please go get the silver hairbrush off my dresser?"
"Nooooo!" Connor whined.
"Sure." Gunn said, and headed towards the basement. He'd used the brush on Connor himself, and knew exactly where Angel kept it.
Angel rested his spanking hand on Connor's thigh and said, "My guess is, you won't tell me what you've been up to, because you've been doing something you know I wouldn't approve of."
Connor shook his head. "No, it's just that I promised I wouldn't tell. I didn't do anything you… wouldn't approve of." Even to his own ears that sounded untrue.
"Wow," Angel said, "That's a bald-faced lie if I ever heard one."
"Fuck." Connor muttered to himself.
"So you were out doing something that you knew I wouldn't approve of, and now you refuse to tell me about it. Does that about sum it up, Connor?"
"It's not like I did something horrible!" Connor said, trying to plead his case without giving out any actual information. "I didn't go hunt by myself! I didn't put myself in danger, and I didn't put anyone else in danger! Just because you wouldn't approve, doesn't make it wrong or bad!"
"How am I supposed to trust your judgement about any of that after today?" Angel asked.
Before Connor could formulate an answer, Gunn came back into the lobby, and handed the brush over to Angel.
"Thanks." Angel said, before turning his attention to Connor. "The first thing we're going to go over is doing what you're told." He started spanking his son with the brush and talked while he spanked. "I grounded you because I thought you were mature enough for that kind of a punishment, but apparently I was wrong. You got grounded for staying with Julie after I told you to come home, and here you are in trouble for almost exactly the same thing, except this time you were grounded when you did it. I told you to stay home, and you deliberately disobeyed me to go see her."
The boy grunted in pain with the first harsh swat, and groaned at the lecture. He had to bite his lip to keep from yelping as the smacks continued. By the time his dad had given him twenty, Connor was breathing hard and his whole body was twitching with each smack in an effort to stay still.
Angel stopped for a moment and said, "The next thing we're going over is running off. We've talked about…"
"That's what you just spanked me for!" Connor interrupted.
"No it isn't." Angel said with calm. "I just spanked you for leaving the hotel while you were grounded. Now I'm going to spank you for not telling anyone where you were going. We've gone over this more than once, and frankly I'm tired of it."
Angel started spanking even harder than before.
"Ooooow!" Connor yelped with each new smack, unable to keep his pain to himself any longer.
Angel spoke up to be heard over the smacks and yelping. "You don't get to take off all day without letting one of us know where you're going. None of us would do that to you. How would you feel if you woke up and everyone was gone?
"I'd… Ouch! I'd hate that!"
Angel said, "The note was better than nothing, but I still worried about you the whole day."
"I'm sorry!" Connor yelled. "I'm really… Ah! …sorry! I left the note… Ow! …so you wouldn't worry!"
Angel ended that round of twenty with two smacks to each of Connor's sit spots. When his dad paused, Connor slumped down across his lap, glad to have a moment's reprieve.
"Last one. Let's talk about purposely not telling me something because you know I won't approve. That's not a straight lie, but it is deceitful. So we're adding a new rule. No more deceitfulness."
Connor's eyes stung, and his throat felt tight. He hated the word deceit. Holtz would often call him 'deceitful child' while whipping him. And he couldn't exactly blame Angel for thinking the same thing, because he knew it was true.
Angel continued the lecture. "Believe me when I tell you I'll be a lot more understanding, if you come to me with something, than I will be if I find out about it after the fact. And I'll go a lot easier on you with any punishment if you come to me first, too. Taking that into consideration, do you want to tell me what you were up to today?"
Connor loathed hiding everything about Julie from his family. But Julie's wants, needs, and wellbeing came above his own, so no matter how much he wanted to confess, he wouldn't. Connor shook his head, and tried to keep his voice steady, but that was nearly impossible because the tears had started falling. "I'm sorry, Angel. I promised not to tell. I wish I hadn't, but I did. Even if you whip me until I bleed, the way father would have, I won't tell you."
Angel's eyebrows went up in shock. The conviction in Connor's voice didn't surprise him, but hearing his son call him 'Angel', and Holtz 'father', in the same breath made him realize something was wrong. More often than not Connor called him 'Dad' now, and he almost never referred to Holtz as 'father' anymore.
Angel set the brush down, and said quietly, "Hey, where's that coming from? I'll never whip you the way Holtz did, Connor. I've told you that."
Shifting over Angel's lap, Connor said softly, "I know. It's just…" his voice went to a whisper, "…father always said I was a deceitful child, even when I wasn't. But today, with you, I really was, so I'd deserve it. I'm sorry."
Gunn spoke before Angel could formulate a response. "How about we change that rule?" Gunn waited for Angel to look at him, and once he had a nod of approval from the older man, Gunn said, "The rule could be; trust your family enough to confide in us."
Smiling gratefully at Gunn, Angel said, "That's a much better rule, thanks Gunn." He looked at the back of Connor's head and said, "Isn't trust what we've been working on since you got here, son?"
"Yeah." Connor wiped at his tears with the back of his hand.
"And I think we've come a long way since then, don't you?"
"Holtz was wrong, you're not deceitful. You're an honest person who had a small lapse in judgement."
Blushing with shame, Connor muttered, "Don't say that, Dad. You don't know what I did."
"True," Angel agreed. "Okay then, this last part is for not trusting any of us enough to confide in us today."
Connor nodded in acceptance.
Using his hand, Angel started spanking again, aiming most of the spanks on the crease where butt met thigh.
Connor's tears started up again with the first swat, but they were about much more than the pain. They were about disappointing his new family, after they had been so much kinder to him than Holtz had ever been.
Well before Angel was done with the twenty, Connor put a hand back to block the blows. The older man didn't even have to pause while spanking. He grabbed Connor's wrist, pulled the hand away, and held it at the boy's lower back.
"Please, Dad! Please stop! I'm sorry!"
"Eight more." Angel said, and brought his hand down again.
Connor whimpered and yelped through the last eight.
When Angel was done, he let go of Connor's hand, and pulled the kid's underwear back into place, quickly followed by his pants.
Connor knew he should have felt better now that he was dressed again, because the punishment was over, but he only felt worse. He couldn't stop his tears, and even started crying harder. He felt himself being flipped over so he was sitting on Angel's lap. He immediately wrapped his arms around Angel and clung to him while he cried.
Angel and Gunn exchanged a worried look, and Gunn came over to sit down on the couch next to them. He put a hand on Connor's knee and said, "I don't know how Julie fits into you being gone all day at the beach, but if she's asking you to do things that you know aren't right, you should be telling her no."
Angel nodded and rubbed Connor's back. "Gunn's right. I know you love Julie, but if she loves you too, then why is she manipulating you into doing things I wouldn't approve of?"
The boy's only response was a shake of his head.
The three men sat quietly together for a few minutes, until Connor had his tears under control. He awkwardly eased up on the death grip he had on his dad, and wiped his face with the cuff of his long sleeved tee shirt.
Angel patted his son's back once, and said, "You're still grounded for three more days, and no today doesn't count as part of that because you weren't here. And since you won't tell me what you did today, I can't trust you to be alone. So for the next three days, you're going to have to be with one of us all the time."
Too ashamed to make eye contact, Connor nodded to the floor, and pushed to get up.
Angel held him where he was and said, "And the last time we talked I said Julie could come to dinner while you were grounded, but after today I've changed my mind about that."
"Okay." Connor hated the idea of not seeing her, but he knew she wouldn't be coming over to the hotel anyway now that her belly was too big to hide.
Angel didn't say anything at this point, but once the three days were up, he planned to have a long talk with his son about when he could and couldn't see Julie. For now he helped Connor stand. The kid looked exhausted, and Angel doubted that was all because of the spanking. He put a hand on Connor's shoulder and said, "What time did you get up today?"
"Five thirty. I couldn't sleep."
Angel turned to Gunn. "Could you go upstairs with Connor and keep an eye on him while he gets ready for bed?"
"Sure." Gunn said, and stood as well.
"Bed?" Connor asked. "It's barely dark out."
"And you're so tired you can hardly stand," Angel said. "You can sleep in my bed tonight."
"Your bed?" Connor wasn't sure how he felt about that.
Rolling his eyes, Angel said, "It's a king. There's plenty of room, and I'm tired too. I don't feel like sitting in a chair by your bed all night just so I can keep you from running away. I'm a light sleeper. I'll wake up if you try to leave the room." He gestured to the stairs with a tilt of his head. "Go on. Come back down when you're done."
Twenty minutes later, Connor was lying on the left side of Angel's bed, and Angel was sitting up against the headboard on the right side reading a book.
"Dad?" Connor asked tentatively.
"Hmm?" Angel didn't take his eyes off his book.
"You were with Darla for a long time right?"
Angel set the book down and looked over at his son. "I was Angelus at the time, but yes."
"Did you love her?"
"Most of the time."
Connor propped his head up with his hand. "How did you know."
Angel gave that some serious thought, suspecting Connor's thoughts were currently more about Julie than his mother. "I was happier with her than I was by myself. I loved making her smile." Angel didn't mention that making her smile often meant killing innocent people.
Connor lay back down and thought about that.
Angel turned off his lamp, and lay down too. He said, "A couple of years ago, thanks to Wolfram and Hart, I met Darla as a human with a soul. Do you want me to tell you what she was like then?"
Pushing his own thoughts of Julie aside, Connor said, "I'd like that."
Angel put his hands behind his head, and started talking. Before the story was half over, he heard Connor's breathing even out in sleep. Smiling softly, Angel closed his eyes, and let himself drift off to sleep, too.