Disclaimer: see chapter 1

Author's note: this part marks the end of 'Thicker than Water'. But the story will continue. Watch this space!

"The main points about vampires," Angel said, leaning against the table in the basement, "is that they – we – are essentially immortal. Four things will and can kill us." He ticked them off on his fingers. "Direct sunlight, if the exposure lasts more than a few seconds. Fire. Decapitation. And a wooden stake through the heart. Holy Water will burn and can be used as a deterrent, the same for a crucifix. Except crucifixes aren't much use against an older vampire. Got that?"

Connor nodded. "Got it."

"Okay. Next, vampires are faster and stronger than your average human, and both things increase as a vampire ages. Vampiric senses are also stronger than human ones – I can smell that you didn't shower this morning."

"Dad!" Connor blushed red. "That's not fair. I tried, but nothing came out of the shower head."

"I'll get it fixed." Angel picked up a stake from the table. "Okay, now try and attack me. Don't tell me when you're coming and should you manage to get anywhere near my heart, don't stake me."

Connor caught the stake and weighed it in his hands. "What if I hurt you?"

Angel smiled. "You won't."

Connor turned the stake another time, and then suddenly launched himself across the room at his father, the point held out before him, aiming at Angel's chest. But he had only moved a few yards before Angel had sidestepped, and Connor tripped and fell on the mat.


Angel held out a hand and pulled Connor up. "See?"

"I bruised my butt."

"Sorry." A flash of regret flickered through Angel's eyes. "Let's try fencing. Ideally you should start with safer blades, ones you can't hurt yourself with, but I don't have any." He passed Connor a thin sword, shining with care and attention, and showed him how to hold it. Connor found it comforting to have his father's solid body behind him, correcting his grip with gentle, cool hands. For a second he reflected that it should have felt strange, this lack of heat, but forced himself to concentrate on his sword as Angel picked up another, much bigger and heavier weapon and with a swift flip turned it in the air.

"Wow. How do you do that?" Connor said, his eyes wide. Angel looked at his sword and then back at his son.

"What? This?" He turned it again. "Um. I … just do?" He frowned at Connor. "I don't know. I suppose I've just had a lot of practice. All right. Copy me."

Over the next hour Angel took Connor patiently through the basic moves of fencing until he was satisfied that his son could at the very least handle a sword safely. They left the dark basement and went up to the lobby to get drinks, Connor opening a can of fizzy orange and Angel, with a look of apology, taking out a cup full of blood.

"You don't mind?" he asked, gesturing with his free hand.

"It's kind of gross," Connor admitted truthfully. "But it's part of you so I guess I'd better get used to it."

"Wes never did get used to it," Angel said softly, and broke off. "Sorry."


"Have you inherited our hearing?" his father asked.

Connor shrugged. "Maybe. I can hear pretty well. Who's Wes?"

Angel turned his back and said nothing, lifting the cup to his lips and drinking. Connor watched him and thought.

"He's the guy with the glasses in my baby photos, isn't he? Where is he? What happened?"

His father turned round abruptly, crushing the empty cup in one large hand.

"What happened, Dad?" Connor repeated. Angel threw the cup into a bin and said nothing. His face was stony, and Connor thought he seemed to be fighting against something. "Dad?"

The word acted as a trigger, and in a flash Angel's face had gone, replaced by something hideous, ridged, toothy, with a pair of golden eyes glaring at Connor.

Connor opened his mouth to say something, and stumbled backwards, tripping over a chair and landing on his backside for the second time that day. The thing that had been his father took one step forwards, growling low, and bared long fangs before pausing, turning, and retreating like the wind towards the stairs.

Connor was still shaking when Cordelia and Fred arrived, ten minutes later. Cordelia took one look at Connor and sat him down with her arm around his shoulder.

"Angel went 'grrr', didn't he?" she said. "Big teeth and stuff?"

"It just happened," Connor said, staring into space. "We'd had such a great morning."

"What triggered it?" Fred asked. "Because it doesn't happen very often, not now, though it used to, and in Pylea when it happened it was all over, ya know?" She paused. "Sorry, I'm babbling again."

Cordelia patted Connor on the shoulders. "It's still Angel. Just, sometimes his demon gets the better of him, and comes out to say hi and then goes away again."

"He growled at me!" said Connor. "Like an animal."

"A vamp's just a demon," Fred said. "'Cept Angel has a soul, but there's still this demon inside him. He'll be normal next time you see him. But what triggered it?"

"I wanted to know who Wes was," Connor explained, cautiously.

There was silence. Fred and Cordelia exchanged glances, and Cordelia sighed. "That explains the grrr."

"But why?"

"It's a long story," Cordelia said. "Not a nice story either. Your dad doesn't come out of it smelling like roses. You want to hear it?"

"I want to know," Connor replied. "Even if it's nasty."

Cordelia took off her coat and sat back in her chair.

"Wesley was English," she began. "I met him at high school – he came to help … well, to help our librarian. But he got sacked and wound up here like everyone else does, tracking demons. Ran into Angel and like me never went away." She frowned, her beautiful features showing sadness and a little age. "Wes was sometimes stuck-up and boring, but he improved. Angel's like an older brother. Wes was too, but he was the annoying brother you argue with. He was smart and brave and strong. And irritating as hell."

She paused, and swallowed, and took a deep breath.

"One day – must've been ten years ago? I had a vision, and Angel took Gunn and went out after it. Then I had another, and Wes said he wouldn't wait, but went to deal with it. He didn't come back. It got to dawn, and Angel was back covered in goo, but Wes was still out there and didn't respond to his phone. We called his ex-girlfriend, we called anyone we knew. Lorne hadn't seen him – "

"That's the green guy," Fred put in, helpfully."

"Neither had anyone else. Nobody like Wes in the hospitals. We waited all day. Angel went out into the sewers to ask around. Then about an hour after sunset, Wes … came back." Cordelia shrugged. "Angel was upstairs. I just saw him and ran and hugged him, and he kind of hugged back but like his heart wasn't in it, you know? He said he was glad to see me. Then … then he vamped out. Did the 'grr' face. I screamed, kicked him, ran away, and Angel came down the stairs. He knew at once, and threw me a stake, and then went to the cabinet and started chanting."

"Chanting?" said Connor.

"There's a spell which gives vamps their souls. What Angel had done to him. He was trying to curse Wesley, and give him his soul back. Bu Wes got to the Orb of Thesulah …"

"… which holds the soul till you can transfer it," explained Fred.

"… and broke it," continued Cordelia. "Smashed it. So Angel stopped chanting and grabbed a sword, and Wes grabbed another, and they were at it here in the lobby. And Wes was always good with swords. They fought and fought and fought, and Wesley was talking all the time. Saying to Angel how could he not embrace being a vamp, and killing was wonderful, and he just went on. It was horrible. And then … then Angel got lucky, and cut Wes's head off … there was dust everywhere, and it was Wesley. And I'd had a crush on him when he arrived in Sunnydale, and he'd given me aspirin and saved my life …

"And Angel dropped the sword and disappeared, and I was left here till Fred arrived." Cordelia shrugged. "That was Wes. That's why Angel doesn't like talking about him."

Connor leant over and gave Cordelia a hug, which she returned, sniffing. "I'm sorry," he said.

"Not the first friend I've had who's been vamped," she replied.

Fred got the giggles, and clapped a hand over her mouth. "Sorry," she gasped.

"There's Harmony," Cordelia explained. "High school. She got turned at the end of it. She's still around, somewhere, being a complete bimbo." Her expression became more serious. "Angel's got a lot of things over his head, Connor. Lots of things he feels guilty about. Most of it, he doesn't need to. Just don't press him. He's a vampire, after all."

"But he's my father," Connor said. "And we've got fifteen years to catch up."

"And he loves you," Cordelia reassured him. "Believe me, he loves you."

* * *

Connor tapped on the door and went in before he got an answer. He found Angel sitting in an armchair in his darkened room, glaring at a sketchpad on his knees and drawing with brisk, firm strokes.

"Hey." Connor looked over his father's shoulder, and saw a good representation of the man with the glasses – Wesley. "I'm sorry about earlier. I came to see you were all right."

Angel scowled at the picture and tore off the sheet, scrunching it into a ball and throwing it into the bin across the room. "I'll be okay."

"Good. 'Cos I just rang … my other parents, and they said I have to come home tomorrow. We've just got this evening."

Angel turned his head and met Connor's eyes. "You have to leave?"

"I've got school and stuff," Connor said. "And … and I love them too, you know? I'll come back."

"Promise me you will," said Angel intensely. "Promise me."

"Of course." Connor sat down in the opposite chair. "It's like … like something was missing that I never knew about, and now it's not missing anymore. You're my father. That's important. And," he admitted honestly, "I think it's cool what you do. I want to learn more fencing and stuff. How many kids can say their dad's a real hero?"

"I'm not a hero, Connor," Angel objected gently. "I'm just … I'm trying to atone. And I'm trying to keep a part of me quiet. If I can't kill humans, I'll kill demons. It just happens to be something I enjoy and am quite good at."

"You help people!" Connor said. "I've been talking to Fred. You saved her."

"I killed so many more," Angel returned, his voice soft and sad.

"I saw you save a life," his son said. "That's cool. That means something. I'm proud of that. Plus, all my friend's parents have grey hair and work in banks and stuff. Anyway, I want to go and catch a movie and then have something to eat, and though you might not like pizza you're coming too. I want to hear about you saving lives. And about my mother. And Cordelia when she was younger."

With a resigned smile, Angel allowed Connor to tow him out of the room.

* * *

"I'll call every week," Connor said. "I'll write. Can I send emails? And I'll come and see you every holiday. Come to San Diego."

"It's a bit sunny in San Diego," Angel said. "But if I have time, yes. Be careful, Connor. Watch out. There may still be people or demons after you, because of me, because of Darla. Look after yourself, and call if you have problems."

"I'll be fine." Connor hesitated, and then reached up and put his arms around Angel's neck. "You know, I think I kind of love you, Dad."

"I love you too. More than anything." Angel returned the embrace cautiously. "Now go, you'll miss the bus. Thank you for coming."

"Thank you for being honest." Connor stepped out of the shade into the sun and climbed into the bus, sitting down as the engine started and the grey vehicle moved away. In the shadows of the shelter he saw his father standing like a statue, hands in his pockets. He waved, and then Angel was gone.