"I had nothing to do with it," said Lorne, not for the first time. Connor and Spike had quickly briefed him on the situation, and Spike was explaining - rather poorly, Connor thought - why he assumed the disappearances and Lorne's club were linked.
"Like you had nothing to do with Charlie-boy pissing in Angel's chair last Halloween?" shot back Spike. "What other little gifts did you take from Wolfram & Hart?"
"If you think that I would take anything from them after Fred - "
"Didn't mind drawing a salary, if I remember, which is more than I ever took."
"Oh, and I suppose you bought a Mercedes with necrotempered windows at Gene's Used Cars?"
"I need that car if I want to move freely without going all crispy. You liked your Hollywood flat and lunch dates with Angelina Jolie. There's a difference."
"Look, I don't know what's going on, Spike, but I'm telling you, it wasn't me," said Lorne. "This club isn't like Caritas. I don't read auras. I don't even let people sing. Ask Harmony!"
"Right, because if want a reliable witness, I'm going to pick a soulless demon who didn't have two braincells to rub together even before she -"
"A demon can hide its face," interrupted Connor, "but its nature will always show." His voice was toneless.
"Well that was irrelevent and oddly bigoted," said Spike.
"It's something Holtz told me once," said Connor. "And he was right. Think about it: you've got a soul now, right?"
"You'd better hope so."
"See, right there. That's what I mean. You've got a soul, so you don't feed on humans and you actually fight on the right side, when it comes down to it. But soul or not, you still have the instincts of a vampire. When that reporter wouldn't give us the names, your first move was to threaten him. I'm betting humans still smell pretty tempting to you. And, no offense, but a lot of the time, you're kind of an asshole."
"Yeah? What of it?"
"The point is you're still finding a way to express your demon side. Even Angel - I saw his face when he was fighting Hamilton. He was enjoying it."
"Look, kid," said Spike. "I'm thrilled that you're working through something here, but let's deal with what we have to deal with and you can call in to Dr. Laura a little later, okay?"
"And you call Angel stupid?" How did he not see it? He turned to Lorne. "Reading auras when people sing is a talent. But an empath demon is what you are. You can't just turn it off.
"So say I do get flashes of insight, sometimes," said Lorne. "Where's the harm?"
"Here, boss," piped up Harmony, who had apparently been listening at the door the entire time. Everyone ignored her.
" The harm, you sad prat, is that by bottling all this up - no pun intended," Spike added, nodding toward the bottle at Lorne's desk, which contained something much stronger than a Sea Breeze, "you've started projecting. All that psychic energy has to go somewhere."
"So you mean that the vanishing people -"
"Are potential versions of your customers," said Connor. "You're seeing possible futures for them, consciously or not, and projecting so strongly that they're becoming physical manifestations."
"Oops?" said Lorne. "But still, it isn't like I've hurt anyone. Scared a few people, maybe, but that's it."
"That's it for now," said Connor. "But we have reason to believe the manifestations are getting stronger. At first, they just looked like ghosts. Now, they look like regular people. Maybe after a while, they'll stop disappearing entirely."
"And there's precious few people I can tolerate one of," said Spike, "let alone two."
Connor brushed the memory aside. "The good news is that this should be pretty easy to fix. Just start having people sing for you again, and it'll be fine."
"Well that's a little anti-climactic," said Lorne wryly.
Someone screamed. The door banged open. Connor, who was closest, instinctively ran to the woman who had just fallen backwards to the floor. It was the female vampire Spike had called Harmony. A stake was protruding from her chest. It should have been a killing blow. Instead the stake, which had looked deadly solid just a moment ago, flickered for a moment and vanished.
"What kind of magic is this?" said a very familiar voice.
Connor looked at himself. He had seen this in the memories, this other self, recollected but still unfathomable. The man - boy - Stephen - had longer hair than Connor did, and was dressed for the hunt. Connor looked quickly at his ankle, and, sure enough, saw the outline of a dirk under his pantleg, or rather the approximation of a pantleg created by the hanging furs. These, Connor noted, were from Earth animals.
"Who are you?" demanded Stephen, deftly getting his hands on the knife without ever taking his eyes off Connor. It looked real enough, and Connor knew he couldn't count on having Harmony's luck.
He heard Spike move behind him, and so did Stephen, who aimed a stake at the vampire before Connor was even aware he was holding one. Spike dodged, but not quickly enough. It caught him in the thigh, and he fell to the ground, swearing.
"Lorne," said Connor. "Help Spike, and stay back. Spike," he added. "Sing."
"Early one morning, just as the dawn was rising..."
Stephen made a run at Connor, knife poised. Connor grabbed his hand, and sent him reeling back with a roundhouse kick. Spike paused in his singing and shouted "Connor!" Both of them looked up. Spike rolled Lorne's glass to Connor across the floor. He broke it against the table, and held the largest piece out in front of him. Stephen had recovered the blow, and was evidently preparing to rush Connor again.
"Wait!" shouted Connor. He thought quickly. "You can't kill me. I'm...I'm you! In the future! Kill me, and you won't last much longer."
Stephen paused. "You're lying. I'd never spend my time around these filthy demons."
"Yeah? I'm pretty sure you already know Lorne. And don't forget Cordelia."
"Don't talk about Cordy!" Irrationally, Connor felt himself feeling guilty. Why wasn't he gone yet? Spike's aura had to be interesting enough to banish ten dopplegangers. In the meantime, he had to keep stalling. They might both be armed now, but Stephen was the better fighter.
"Okay. Let's just - we need to figure this out," he said, hoping that Spike and Lorne would have the wherewithal to play along. "Maybe we can call in the witch who brought Angel's soul back. Willow."
"No," said Stephen. "No more magic."
"No," he repeated. He moved closer to Connor. "Maybe you are my future. But you know what?" he said. "I don't care."
He made another run at Connor. This time, Connor had his own weapon, and didn't immediately go on the defensive. He dove at Stephen, who pulled Connor to him so that they fell to the floor together. Connor's shard of glass shattered. He reached for the dirk, and after a struggle, managed to send it careening across the floor. Spike picked it up.
"Connor," he shouted. "You need to sing. He's too strong. It has to be you."
"Three blind mice,"Connor sang. He flipped Stephen over, gaining the advantage. "Three Blind Mice." Stephen punched him in the jaw. "See how they run."
"Row, row, row your boat," sang Stephen. "Gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily-" he stood up, leaving Connor at his feet. He began to kick at him. "Life is but a dream."
Connor grabbed his leg, pulling with all the strength he had never known he'd had. "Oh, Jasmine," he began. Stephen took a step back. "Oh you came and you gave without taking." Connor stood up. "It isn't working," he heard Lorne say, somewhere in the distance, but Connor wasn't finished. "So I'll love you forever..." He knocked Stephen to the ground. He still showed no sign of disappearing.
"Spike," he shouted. "The knife!"
Spike tossed it to him, and he grabbed the handle. Before Stephen had time to recover, Connor had plunged it into his stomach.
Vaguely, he was aware of motion, as Spike, still limping slightly from the stake wound, made his way to Stephen. Connor turned away until, a moment later, Spike called out to him.
"Connor," he said, but it was the boy on the floor who answered. "Dad?" he said.
Connor went to him. He was fading, but not in the way Connor had expected. His eyes were blinking rapidly, and his breath was harsh.
"He isn't you," said Spike quietly.
"Yes he is," said Connor. He took the boy's hand. Spike stepped aside.
"It's okay," he said to him. "It'll be okay."
"Cordy," he gasped. "Is she -?"
"She's fine," Connor lied. "They're all fine."
"I know." He wrapped his arms around him. "Rest now."
He began to hum. It sounded like a lullaby. Irish, he knew, somehow. He couldn't remember ever hearing it before.
Connor closed his eyes. When he opened them, his arms were empty.