A/N: I started this a long time ago and just recently decided to finish it. It's AU and out of character and isn't related to my other stories. It contains disciplinary spanking, so skip it if you're horrified upon hearing that.
"Boy, you best stop pushing me," he warned yet again.
Connor rolled his eyes. Gunn talked a lot, but they both knew he wouldn't and just flat out couldn't do anything about it. What was he going to do, hit him? Please. Connor knew he could knock the man out cold in two seconds if he wanted to.
"Oh yeah, roll them eyes some more," Gunn invited, crossing his arms over his chest and offering him a smirk for some reason. "We'll see how funny you think it is when your daddy gets home today."
Wait. What now?
"Angel's coming home early?" he asked nervously.
"That's right," Gunn said. "Don't feel quite so cocky now, do you?"
"Whatever," Connor grumbled, but he got off the bed and picked up the mess around his room like Gunn had asked him to anyway.
Connor had been looking forward to two blissfully Angel-free weeks, but no, he couldn't even have that. His father had said that it would take at least that long to work on whatever case he was trying to crack, but lo and behold, the great heroic vampire had apparently dispatched with the evil in a mere four days. Lucky, lucky. Not.
"I swear, Connor, Angel's not even gone a week and you turn right back into that little brat you used to be," Gunn continued, shaking his head.
Connor frowned. He didn't think that was fair. He felt that he'd been trying very hard to adjust to the way things were now. So what if he just wanted to kick back and relax a little to enjoy his freedom from the tight reins of the ever-domineering Angel? He should get to once in a while.
"You know you almost made Fred cry?" Gunn continued, and Connor paused to look at him.
"I didn't mean to," he offered quietly, feeling a guilty knot form in his stomach.
"Yeah, well, you did," Gunn said sternly. "What's the matter with you, thinking you can talk to her that way? Huh?"
Connor shrugged and felt the heat rise in his face.
"Sorry," he mumbled, but instead of sounding heartfelt like he'd meant it, his embarrassment gave it an unintentional sarcastic flavor.
"I hope your dad takes a belt to you when he gets home," Gunn said, pointing an angry finger at him. "That'd straighten you right out."
"No," Connor said weakly, unsure what exactly he hoped to accomplish with the word.
He had learned real quick after Wesley had brought Angel home that his father didn't intend to mess around anymore. He had given him a good hard demonstration of that fact three miserable nights in a row, showing what he called "a little tough love" not with his fists, but with the palm of his very large, very hard hand. Not until Connor had sought him out on the fourth night, eager to just get it over with, had Angel relented.
"Not tonight, son," he'd said gently. "I think we can skip it."
"But you said every night for three months," Connor had reminded him.
"Yeah, well, I was mad, and even I have to admit that that might be overkill," Angel had said with a rueful smile. "I think I've made my point. Am I right?"
Connor had nodded quickly, grateful and relieved and yet somehow wary as well. What if Angel changed his mind and decided to pick up one day where he'd left off? Father had often been fickle like that, bringing up words and actions that should have remained long-buried in the past. Why should Angel be any different? He'd likely hold this over him the rest of their lives together and, Connor thought, he couldn't really blame him if he did.
But, much to his surprise and somewhat to his chagrin, Angel had crossed the room and gathered him into the biggest hug he'd ever gotten, and had kissed his face and stroked his hair and murmured sweet nothings into his ear until he'd thought he just might be sick from it. At the point when he'd thought he could stand no more, Angel had pulled him back to arm's length, keeping a tight grip on his shoulders as he'd looked straight into his eyes and made the sincere promise to always love him and care for him and, if necessary, to beat his butt for him.
Connor had been surprised by the words, but he'd nodded his acceptance and let Angel fawn all over him a little more. And after that, things really had been different. Connor made a genuine effort to straighten up and fly right, as Gunn had told him to do countless times, and he'd found it really wasn't all bad, living in a hotel with a vampire and his well-meaning, if weird, friends.
But now, well, maybe he had backslid a little bit. Shouting at Fred hadn't been the best move, he knew, and now Gunn was getting on to him just like old times. Except now, he had that added threat of what his father might do about it.
"I'm sorry, Gunn," he offered, managing to make it come out sincerely this time. "Don't tell Dad."
"Oh, I ain't gonna tell him," Gunn said, shaking his head. "That honor will be all yours."
"Don't make me tell him, either," Connor said immediately, and Gunn couldn't suppress his smile. That was a good sign. If he could just get him laughing, he'd be home-free. "Besides, you know as well as I do that what I said was true. Her cooking does suck and she should have to clean up the dishes herself."
Uh oh. If the look on his face was any indication, Gunn apparently didn't find that comment as funny as Connor did.
"You get your scrawny little ass downstairs right now and apologize to her!" he demanded.
Connor was startled right into cooperating, and as he passed him in the doorway, he got a swat on the back of his leg that actually stung a little. That was new. Not just the fact that it stung, but all of it. Gunn blustered and threatened a lot, but he'd never actually done anything, not like that. Connor risked a glance back and saw that he was being followed, so he sped up a little and sprinted down the stairs to find Fred.
"Sorry, Fred," he said humbly, staring at his feet and playing with the ends of his shirt sleeves. "That was stupid, what I said. I didn't mean it."
"Oh, sweetie, it's all right," Fred said, just as Connor had expected her to.
Fred's forgiveness always came easily, whether it was deserved or not. She gathered him into a hug and kissed him on the forehead. But when she pulled away, Connor realized that she still looked sad.
"I shouldn't have yelled at you," he continued, really hoping to make it better. "Your cooking doesn't suck. I don't know why I said that. And I'll do all the dishes from now on, okay?"
"You don't have to do that," Fred said with a smile, but Gunn cleared his throat, so Connor insisted again that he would.
"What's going on?" Angel asked, appearing unexpectedly in the doorway as he had an annoying habit of doing.
Connor spun around, and he could tell from the hard expression on his dad's face that he'd heard more of that than he would have liked. He tried to just man up and admit that he'd been a little jerk the whole time he'd been gone, but he found that his mouth was dry, so he just swallowed a couple times instead.
"Connor?" Angel prompted when no one spoke.
"I … I'm sorry," Connor finally got out.
"For?" Angel asked, clearly not intending to make it easy on him.
"I acted stupid," Connor whispered hotly. "Okay?"
"Go to your room and wait for me, please," Angel said, taking off his jacket and laying it across the back of his desk chair. "I'll be up in a little while and we'll talk."
Connor ducked his head and walked past his father, half expecting a warning swat like he'd gotten from Gunn—or more—but none came. Somehow, that was almost worse, because he hadn't quite managed to gauge just how upset Angel was with him.
He sat on his bed for what felt like an agonizingly long time. He'd shut the door to his room to muffle the voices from downstairs, knowing they must be talking about him and his behavior but not even wanting to hear it. He already knew the prospects weren't good.
Finally, Angel arrived and entered his room without even knocking. He'd gotten used to it, because his father didn't seem to think he needed or deserved much privacy and was always doing things like that. Thankfully, though, he did shut the door behind him.
"Start talking," Angel invited, sitting right down beside him.
"What do you want to hear?" Connor asked.
"The truth," Angel replied, cupping his chin in his hand and tilting his face up to gaze into his eyes. "Always the truth."
Connor pulled his face away and stared down into his lap.
"I was bad while you were gone," he confessed, feeling much younger than he was.
"I'm sure that's not true," Angel interrupted. "You might have misbehaved, but I'm sure you weren't bad."
Connor fought the urge to roll his eyes. His dad was always arguing semantics with him like that. "I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed," or "You couldn't do it or you didn't want to do it?" Connor had once asked Angel what difference it made, and despite how long-winded his father normally was, he'd only replied, "A lot."
"Tell me from the beginning," Angel said, patting him on the leg.
Connor took a deep breath and confessed to all the things that he could remember doing in the last four days, from sneaking out at night to go see a late movie to blatantly ignoring Gunn when he'd asked him to do something to just now when he'd told Fred to wash her own dishes. Once he'd enumerated every single crime he could recall, he glanced quickly at Angel's face and didn't like the grim expression he saw there.
"Son," Angel said, "you can't talk to Fred like that. There's a certain way you're supposed to treat ladies, with respect, and that's not it."
"Sorry," he mumbled.
"And you can't do whatever the hell you please just because I'm not here," Angel continued.
"I know," Connor mumbled.
"Stand up," Angel directed, and Connor did, feeling his heart beating hard in his chest.
Angel pulled him gently by the hips until he was standing right between his knees.
"Tell me what you promised me before I left," Angel directed.
Connor shook his head, too embarrassed to speak.
"Don't be like that," Angel said gently. "Tell me."
"I promised you that I would listen to Fred and Gunn and do whatever they told me," he whispered.
"And?" Angel prompted.
"And that I would be on my best behavior," he said with a sigh, "just like if you were here."
"And what did I promise you?" Angel asked.
Connor felt tears welling up in his eyes. He didn't like to admit it, but Angel knew exactly how to get to him and reduce him to a blubbering mess before they even got to the punishment.
"What did I promise you?" Angel repeated, reaching up and swiping a thumb over a stray tear that had escaped down Connor's cheek.
"That if I was good, we could do something fun together, just the two of us," he dutifully answered.
"And if I was bad, I'd get in trouble with you," he whispered.
"Can you tell me which one of those options you chose?" Angel asked.
"Trouble," Connor murmured sullenly. "Sorry I broke my promise."
"It happens sometimes," Angel said kindly, wiping away another tear from Connor's burning face. "But as your father, it's my duty to keep my promises to you. Understand?"
"I know," Connor said, his voice strained. "Are you gonna use your belt?"
"What?" Angel asked, taken aback.
"Gunn said I needed the belt," Connor said sadly. "But please don't."
"Connor, have I ever?" Angel asked, taking him firmly by the chin again and turning him to face him.
He hadn't. That first one had certainly been a good one, but it had still only been with his hand.
"No," Connor admitted. "But that doesn't mean you're not gonna start."
"That's true enough," Angel conceded with a small smile, "but you let me worry about that, okay?"
Connor nodded uncertainly, unsure why Angel would be worried about it. After all, it wasn't his ass on the line. But that seemed to be what his father wanted, so he agreed.
"C'mon, you know the drill by now," Angel said, guiding him over his left knee with a little firm pressure to the small of his back. "You'll survive it. I promise."
Connor allowed himself a nervous little laugh. Angel had told him the exact same thing that first time when he'd gotten home from the ocean. He was sure it was true now, but he hadn't been sure back then, not by any means.
"Dad, you don't have to… I know it was wrong," he pleaded, shifting around to get as comfortable as he could under the circumstances.
"Yet you did it anyway," Angel pointed out. "That's why I have to."
Connor groaned and dropped his head, letting his hair fall into his face.
"You—do—not—misbehave—when—I'm—gone," Angel scolded, punctuating each word in his own special way. "Hear me?"
"Yes!" Connor readily agreed. "I get it!"
"And you will mind Fred and Gunn when they ask you to do something," Angel added, continuing to warm the seat of his pants.
"Yes!" Connor yelled desperately. "I will!"
"And if I ever hear that you spoke to Fred that way again…"
"You won't!" Connor assured him. "I won't!"
"Just to make sure…"
Angel slipped his protection right off his bottom and really went to town "making sure." Connor broke down into tears despite his best efforts to keep a dry face. He knew he would. Angel always got him there; it was just a matter of time. The first time he'd gotten punished, he'd been so angry that it had taken a great deal to push him over the emotional edge, but still, he'd gone. He hadn't liked it at all, but he'd gone, cursing himself all the while for being weak. He wasn't stupid, though, and it hadn't taken him long after that to figure out that withholding tears from sheer stubbornness only equaled a sorer behind.
"I'm sooor-rrry!" he wailed. "Dad! Ow-uh! Ow!"
"Okay, pal," Angel said, finally relenting and righting his clothes for him. "We're done here."
Connor got to his feet on shaky legs and didn't care at all that his dad watched with amusement while he tried to rub the sting out. Pretty soon he found himself engulfed in a big hug which he readily accepted, and when Angel offered him kisses on the head and whispered sweet nothings, he took those, too.
"Sorry, Dad," he murmured when he was finally ready to pull out of the embrace.
"It's all right now," Angel said. "It's forgiven."
Connor searched his face and saw that he meant it, and he was overcome by such a mixture of relief and guilt that he threw his arms back around his father's waist and held on for dear life.
"I was mad that you left me," he admitted to his father and to himself for the first time, his voice small and muffled by Angel's shirt.
"What?" Angel asked, running his hand fondly over his boy's hair. "I didn't leave you, son."
"Why couldn't I go with you on your trip, then?" Connor asked. "I can take care of myself. I wouldn't have been in your way, and I know I could've helped."
"You wanted to go with me?" Angel asked, surprised.
"Of course I did," Connor mumbled. "Don't you know anything?"
Angel swatted him lightly on the backside for that comment, but he didn't apologize for it.
"I guess I have some things to learn," his father admitted after a moment. "Next time, if you want to come, ask me. I'm not promising that I'll say yes, but ask me and we'll see."
"Thanks, Dad," Connor sighed, satisfied with that answer for now. "Am I grounded?"
"No, Connor, you're not grounded."
"Are you sure?" he checked, causing Angel to look him over carefully.
His dad put a hand to his forehead to check for fever.
"You sure you're feeling all right?" he asked. "Because it sounds like you want to be confined to your room."
"Well…" Connor said with an impish grin, pulling back and well out of Angel's reach, "if I'm confined to my room, I can't go downstairs and finish the dishes."
"Oh," Angel said, shaking his head. "Never mind. I can see you're gonna be just fine."