"WHAT ARE VERY OLD FRIENDS FOR?" (3/3 in the "Not-So-Blithe Spirits" series)
This story has been revised from the earlier posted versions on TtH and LJ.
Warning: This story contains some (very veiled) references to possible past romantic entanglements between souls that were once relatives in former lifetimes. Don't read if that will disturb you.
I've raised the rating on this story to T solely for that reason (there's no violence or explicit references to sex, etc.), just to be on the safe side.
Author's Note: Just for now, this is the last story in the series (a reviewer earlier today suggested that someone else might be a more interesting choice for the Xenaverse soul I've assigned to Connor, and I've had a couple of TtH requests for a Spike/Buffy reunion scene and possibly a world tour of evil butt-kicking).
This is Connor's side of 'what happened next?' at the end of the final AtS episode "Not Fade Away" - as seen through a rather Hercules: The Legendary Journeys-tinted lens.
Standard disclaimers apply. I don't own and I make no profit from playing with the characters and plots of H:TLJ and AtS.
"WHAT ARE VERY OLD FRIENDS FOR?"
. . . . .
Angel: What the hell are you doing here?
Connor: Come on. You drop by for a cup of coffee, and the world's not ending? Please.
. . . . .
Angel: Go home...now.
Connor: They'll destroy you.
Angel: As long as you're OK, they can't. Go.
. . . . .
Connor Reilly was a well-adjusted and mild-mannered Stanford University student, raised by a loving family in the suburbs. His memories of growing up were mostly good ones.
On the other hand, Connor also happened to remember being the super-powered son of two vampires, born to fulfill a prophecy but kidnapped and raised in a hell dimension by a vengeful fanatic from the 18th century who hated his father, a vampire with a soul now known as Angel.
He'd be the first to admit that living with two sets of memories made for a complicated young adulthood, but by and large he felt he'd managed the two sides of himself pretty well.
He treasured the gentle, confident, sunny disposition that he'd gotten from his suburban family, along with a first-rate education and every opportunity to excel. But he also appreciated the sacrifices that his birth father Angel had made for the sake of his sanity and soul, and the example Angel had set by giving Connor up in order to save him.
Plus, it certainly didn't suck to have the super-powers and fighting skills of his old "Destroyer" persona to draw upon, should the world suddenly need saving for some reason . . . or, say, in the 'unlikely event' that his birth father decided to pick a fight that was way above his weight class and then needed some enhanced back-up to keep from getting totally pulverized in the 'Battle Against Evil.'
That 'unlikely event' (that his vampire father would show more balls than brains and rush in where even real angels might legitimately fear to tread) was what had brought Connor to downtown Los Angeles a short while ago, trying to save Angel just this once, as a gesture of appreciation for all that Angel had done (and tried to do) to save him.
Connor was a young man with a plan.
But, predictably, things hadn't gone exactly according to plan. Though Connor had been able to distract Marcus Hamilton for a crucial moment, giving Angel a brief reprieve in that mismatched fight, it was Angel who had done most of the work, and only Angel's vampire nature that had allowed him to use Hamilton's own borrowed power against him.
Then his birth father told him that the best way Connor could help was by saving himself, while Angel's world literally crumbled around them and the vampire himself had that "There's no chance I'll survive but I'll go down fighting" look on his face.
Which explained why Connor was currently watching from a safe distance – as requested – while the building which housed the main offices of Wolfram and Hart in L.A. finished becoming a giant pile of rubble.
Meanwhile, some instinct was pulling him in the direction of Angel's old headquarters at the Hyperion Hotel. It seemed that one of those enhanced senses of his felt he'd want to know about a major supernatural slug-fest going down within easy running distance (for someone with his speed and endurance, that is), in case he should be inclined to join in.
The part of him that remembered his nightmare days as "The Destroyer" was pushing him to go and investigate – especially since it was a safe bet that the battle he sensed was Angel making a bloody Last Stand.
But the greater part of him, which would always be "Connor Reilly, Genuinely Good Guy," held him back, reminding him that Angel's peace of mind and ability to give his best to the fight ahead was dependent on his belief that Connor would live, well away from what was going down.
Still, it seemed to require all Connor's resolve and courage to stay where he was, not to take that next step closer to the Hyperion, and then the step after that . . . .
"Hey, there, buddy!"
Connor's whole attention was suddenly claimed by a cheerful, short-ish, thirty-ish, blond man with lots of hair - and an odd taste in crocheted sweater vests (was that purple...?)- who was standing directly in front of him, blocking his most direct path to the Hyperion, and . . . GLOWING?
Yes, there was definitely far more light shining around this man than could be accounted for by anything in their immediate surroundings.
"Not to be rude, or anything," Connor cautiously replied, "but do I know you?"
"Sure you do, buddy!" the blond man replied with no discernible dimming of either his good cheer or his persistent glow. "It's just been a while, that's all. If you think back – right NOW – I'm sure it'll all come back to you."
Connor's eyes slammed shut and his head jerked back, as though he'd been punched in the face by someone strong enough to make it count (like a Slayer, or major demon, at least), as his mind was suddenly filled with still another set of memories – this time, a whole lifetime's worth, and then some.
He just had time to think, 'Here we go again!' before his strong survival instinct urged him to just let the memories sort themselves while he focused on the possible physical threat in the here and now.
He quickly opened his eyes, finding the other man had moved no closer, but was still standing there with a beaming smile and eyes that were . . . . damn it! Those eyes were actually twinkling at him. Connor had never before seen quite such literal twinkling, and on some level he thought this ought to be creeping him out much more than it was.
All Connor could think to say, though, was, "I kind of hate it when that happens – you know, the whole memory overload thing . . . ."
And then, "Iolaus?"
Followed by, "Hey, old friend! How long has it been?"
Iolaus – for Connor knew without a doubt that this was the other man's name – just beamed and twinkled even harder, if possible, as he answered, "Hiya, Herc! It's been less than twenty years this time, and you've still got a lot more years ahead of you (we think), but Michael gave me a one-time-only opportunity to come down and chat with you mid-incarnation, in light of the Very Special Circumstances taking place right now."
Connor Reilly suddenly realized that he was a very small part of a very long series of different heroic lifetimes, stretching all the way back to the legendary Hercules – a guy who, by the way, had known a thing or two about living with a dual nature, never entirely fitting in with either gods or mortals, but who had managed to make a rich, rewarding life for himself in the mortal world, through generous applications of grace and kindness (as well as his enormous, super-powered biceps and all those other physical assets, of course!).
And, as Hercules, Connor also knew Iolaus, his oldest and truest friend, and over the millennia he had gained at least a passing acquaintance with the archangel Michael, so he had to take a half step back and ask:
"What kind of 'Very Special Circumstances' are we talking about, Iolaus? The kind that are likely to promote my father – well, one of my fathers in this lifetime – from 'un-dead' to just plain 'dead'? In the full-on, 'dust to dust' sense of the word 'dead'? Is that why you're here, now?"
Iolaus was tempted to try to stall, perhaps by commenting on the fact that Hercules now sounded half like his old self and half like young Connor, but he knew that would do nothing to calm his best friend, and Iolaus needed Hercules very calm indeed for this next part. "It's not quite what you're thinking, Herc. Yes, Angel's battle against the demonic forces of the Senior Partners is the reason I'm here. But no, it's not because Angel is doomed to fall in that battle tonight and I'm somehow supposed to make sure he doesn't take you down with him.
"You see, Angel and his friends won't be facing those hordes of hell alone. Instead, because Angel managed to provoke the Senior Partners into breaking the rules and importing so many of their forces from other dimensions, Michael and quite a few of his friends from - well, you know, . . . 'up there' - will be joining the party as well. They've actually been looking forward to this for a long time, since they rarely get to do physical battle on earth anymore. Not since the Renaissance, at least."
Iolaus could see the beginning of hope and a surprisingly deep sense of relief on Connor/Hercules' face. After all, Herc had very personal and up-close experience with the kind of wallop that Michael could pack here on earth when coming up against 'mere' demigods and even full gods (he had to give Ares credit for at least trying to be helpful that time).
Taking this as the encouraging sign that it was, Iolaus continued: "The truth is that tonight's battle was never meant for you, for Connor. YOU have a number of battles yet to fight, but tonight was a test meant for Angel, and a chance to set him more firmly on the right path. In order to make it through tonight, Angel can't be distracted by worrying about you, no matter how hard you can hit and be hit without breaking."
Iolaus paused to let all of those revelations fully sink in, and then explained, "Knowing your soul was in Connor, I knew that you would never be able to stay away when there was a major battle for the fate of the world taking place, and that if there was any way to get through the dimensional barrier now surrounding that battle in order to jump right into the middle of it, you would find that way.
"That's what I told Michael, . . . and that's why he made sure that I was given a chance to talk you out of it."
Iolaus hesitated for a moment, but then couldn't resist adding, "You know, this isn't the first time I've had to talk you out of doing something dumb!" He laughed and easily ducked the mock-punch that Connor/Hercules threw at his shoulder.
"I think your memory must be failing you in your old age, Iolaus. I seem to recall that you were the one who had the dumb ideas," Hercules replied, "and I was the one having to talk you out of throwing yourself headlong into every battle."
Iolaus chuckled. "That's pretty low, Herc – using the fact that you're currently a teenager to call me 'old.' Do you even need to shave, yet? Perhaps I should get you some warm milk and a blankie, considering that it must be way past your bedtime."
"Oh, yeah, that's real funny, Iolaus." But Connor/Hercules couldn't keep from smiling – Iolaus always had that effect on him.
Both men suddenly became more serious as the glow around Iolaus' body seemed to flicker – which they knew was fully intended to serve the same general purpose as a parent flicking the porch light off and on again to warn their son or daughter to finish saying 'good-night' to their date and come inside before they broke curfew.
"I guess it's time for you to go," Hercules said, managing to keep his voice from betraying most of his grief at having to wait an unknown number of years before being reunited with his friend in heaven again.
Iolaus nodded, his own grief mitigated by his current blessed state of existence in heaven, but still not eliminated altogether. Then he smirked, as some part of the spirit of mischief which had led his alternate universe counterpart to become a court jester inspired him to leave Hercules with a parting 'gift.'
This was the sort of thing that Michael would have explicitly forbidden Iolaus to mention (if the archangel had thought about it at all), because Michael knew that even on the heavenly plane human souls still tended to cling to their past identities and past relationships, sometimes at the expense of moving on and doing the work they needed to do in their next incarnation.
It was standard policy not to offer information about what familiar souls one might encounter in one's next life, though the non-human residents of heaven wouldn't hesitate to truthfully answer direct questions on that subject.
"By the way, Herc," Iolaus began, "when you volunteered for this gig on earth, did Michael ever mention whose soul your vampire father currently had? I mean, in a way it's a nice kind of symmetry, keeping it all in the family, as it were."
"Iolaus . . . !" Connor/Hercules' voice carried a stern note of warning, now. "Since you're dying to tell me - or would be, if you weren't . . . what you currently are! – why don't you just go ahead and say it? Who did Angel's soul used to be?"
"Oh, just your dear half-brother, Ares."
The look on Connor/Hercules' face was everything Iolaus could have hoped for. One thing for sure: Herc was no longer thinking about how much he was going to miss Iolaus. Instead, he seemed to be thinking—
"Ares is my FATHER? What did I do to deserve that?" As Iolaus started to become less substantial, Hercules called out to him, "Tell Michael that the next time I see him I'm gonna kick his ass, wings or no wings!"
Iolaus nodded, but couldn't resist getting the last word in – especially since in a few more minutes Connor wouldn't consciously remember any of this, and surely Herc would have had time to cool off by the time he returned to heaven in another four score years or so?
"Look on the bright side, Herc: aren't you kind of glad you didn't know that Cordelia carried the soul that used to belong to Aphrodite, twenty or so incarnations ago?"
And with that, he faded from sight before Connor's voice could finish yelling, "Ewww! Don't even go there, Iolaus! She wasn't in her right mind at the time, anyway. And remember, I know where you live!"
Connor Reilly looked around in sudden puzzlement. What had he been doing, just a moment ago?
Oh, yes, he'd been resisting the temptation to go after Angel, in spite of what his birth father had asked of him.
Somehow, he no longer felt that intense, almost irresistible pull to run and join the battle, though.
In fact, if he had to put a name to what he was feeling right at that moment, he'd call it 'being at peace.'
The part of him that was Connor Reilly knew that feeling well, from many experiences in early childhood. But the part of him that was 'The Destroyer' recognized it for the rare and precious gift that it was - not something you want to question or dissect too much (as long as this wasn't the side-effect of some sort of mind-control, like that bliss which Angel and the others claimed to have experienced from Jasmine), as but rather something to be cherished for however many moments it lasted. And all parts of Connor's self rejoiced in this reprieve from the gloom and doom he'd expected to encounter tonight.
Angel was doing what he had to do, Connor reminded himself, and judging by the fact that the entire city wasn't yet engulfed in flames, there was a good chance that things had gone considerably better than expected.
Meanwhile, in the here and now, Connor had his own responsibilities, including keeping his loving family safe from the supernatural world (whenever possible) and keeping up his grades so that he could make Angel and the Reillys proud by graduating at least magna cum laude from Stanford in a few more years. Short of transferring to Notre Dame (which he was unwilling to do), he knew there was nothing that would please Angel more right now.
It was time for Connor Reilly to go back to work, doing what he did best: living a full, interesting, generous life, using the advantages from his unusual parentage (both sets) to help make this world a better place.
Because that's what champions of his kind were for, after all.
(For now, this really is the end. I have no more fleshed-out ideas for this series, at this point. But do let me know if anyone's interested in the further adventures of Spike/Gabrielle and Buffy/Xena following NFA. or anything of that sort.)