Title: Losing My Religion
Author: Donna M.
Rating: Pg-13. Tamest thing I've ever done. Jess seems to believe this is why the fucker gave me so much trouble.
Email: Kita0610@aol.com
Distribution: All lists fine. Others, just ask.
Author's Notes: Thanks to Jess for multiple attempts at beta. I worked on this fic for months. Bastards over at ME fucked up my godamn show and.... Grumble grumble. Please note this fic ONLY works if you can see italics.
Disclaimer: Joss owns all. Also, while I would love to take credit for the plastic castle line, Ani D. did it first. It fit so damned well I had to steal it.  The overlapping POV thing comes courtesy of Jenny O', who no doubt did it better in her fic.
Summary: Angel. Wesley. Insanity. Italics.

"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him."
-Christ

Losing My Religion

It's Midsummer when he loses track of time

of the days.

Forgets that he used to eat three meals a day.

Forgets that beds are for sleeping.

Forgets that he used to blink and breathe, even though he didn't have to. Just because he could.

Forgets how long he has

been here.

He remembers a onceuponatime when there was warm and dry.

When there was family, but-

that was Before.

He dreams but-

His dreams are no longer his own. There are alleyways and dead women, alcohol and death in them. Sometimes there is blood. Water and wine.

Codeine, Glenlivet and

guilt.

There is someone else inside of him, trying to get further in

trying to get out.

Trying to tell him

something.
 

The child Liam heard stories of the Saints from his father. "They suffered for God, and their suffering brought them closer to Him. So close we can pray to them, too," he'd said.

Later the mandemon Angel read about St. Christopher, tortured for his religion, burned and beaten and buried alive. They dug up Christopher's  grave in recent years (the bones of the saints will remain pure, they will not decompose) and he was quickly stripped of his sainthood. His body was in perfect condition, but there were claw marks on the inside of his coffin. Bits of nail and dried blood, decades old. Ten jagged stripes in the wood of the lid carved over and over and the expression on the dead man's face was one of horror. And the Church felt it wouldn't be right to canonize him, you see, because in the end, when he fought and screamed and cried out, he may have lost faith in God. A saint never loses faith in God.

When Angel was in hell, it took about a hundred years for him to forget his own name. Almost two hundred before he forgot he had ever lived anywhere else. Almost three hundred before even his demon knew madness, (whispers in broken glass and the buzzing of gnats in his head- Angelus, softly softly, 'Mercy, Christ, Mercy.'  There was none. )

It takes just a little over a month alone in the underwater coffin before his demon speaks to him now.

Angelus in the sting of salt behind his eyes, in his nose, down his lungs. Angelus under his fingernails as they are torn from him, embedded in the box and still they grow back, they always grow back; a hundred hundred sets of ten in the coffin's lid. Angelus in the howling and the clanging and the cursing and the blaspheming. Angelus in the thunder in his stomach and the vomit in his throat. Angelus, finally in the fragilest of  whispers -

(please)

Angelus wishing for hell.

Angel hasn't been a Catholic in a long, long time. And now, he will never be a saint.
 

Wesley keeps a small aquarium.  He bought it shortly after moving to LA, when he read somewhere that watching fish lowers a man's blood pressure. He spent nights staring into false blue cheer, watching shiny, living colors swim past phony castles again and again and again, and waited for the moment this would suddenly become relaxing. He never had a great fish epiphany, but he felt sorry for the stupid things so he kept the tank.

Now he understands why the hobby never made him remotely happy. Wesley related to the damn fish, to their silence and dull acceptance, to their redundancy. No memory to speak of; round and round in one tiny place, yet that same plastic castle is a surprise to them every damn time. Of course, maybe they don't really *forget* what is in the bowl with them. Maybe they are just clever enough to remember only what they want to, and disregard the rest.

They never blink either, he realizes one night, when alcohol has made a philosopher of him again. Fish never blink. He has watched Angel when the vampire wasn't looking back at him. When Angel was tired, or perhaps thought he was alone. He could sit so still, so perfectly still. No breath, no sound, no blink of hazy yellow eyes. And Wesley has been around vampires for most of his adult life, he has known Angel for five years, but in those moments he was completely unable to relate to this- this *creature* who could walk and talk and breathe, but sometimes, for reasons beyond Wesley's mortal ken, simply chose *not* to. Oh, it never lasted. The alienmonster would turn his head, and smile (he always knew you were there Wesley, always) and then he was just Angel again. And Wesley could see a man under that dolphin smooth skin, a soul under that ancient veneer. And Wesley always forgot about the fish. Til the next time.

He doesn't have to think of such things now. Of legendary beasts wearing the mask of friend, of how utterly useless his own vocation has turned out to be. No more unblinking vampires, and no more plastic castles for Wesley. Because at some point, he stopped being surprised by either of them, and started to believe that they were just the comforts of home.

(The smell of burned coffee in the morning because neither Cordelia nor Fred could ever learn to work the coffee maker, the sight of Angel, rumpled and often bruised from the prior night's battle trudging down the stairs well after noon, the sound of Connor's first evening cry and the feel of Gunn's palm on his back when they left for the night.)

Now the rhythm of Wesley's day consists of finding just the right mix of prescription medicine and the medicine that comes in bottles from the corner liquor store. Just drunk enough that his throat is blissfully numb; damned if he can find the level of drunk required to numb the rest of him.

He never drinks "too" much- the definition of which is too drunk to get it up for his twice a week fucks with Lilah. When a man has so few pleasures, he guards them jealously. So Wesley takes pleasure in the sounds of her head slamming against the wooden headboard, in the feel of her elegantly manicured fingernails digging evenly into his thighs, in the sight of her, red and swollen, bruised by his palms and cock and teeth.

He bit her one night. Hard, on the shoulder, clean through the flesh, made her blood well up in tiny lines under his lips. She screamed and he couldn't tell if it was pleasure or pain, and he didn't care. He has earned either, both.

Someone should damn well scream for him.
 

Angel dreams that his teeth are gone. All of them, his human teeth, ripped out of his head while he slept in the blue-black, in the tomb that doesn't quite fit. He's been able to wiggle one shoulder free, just a bit, just enough, and there are bite marks there, fangs in his own flesh. He'd tried his tongue first, a series of desperate piercings: two by two by two. Soon it didn't bleed for him anymore. His lips are torn, most days (nights) he can no longer feel them.

But in dreams he has no teeth, no bite. Wesley stands over him, and there are a pair of pliers in his left hand. His shirtsleeves are rolled up.

"Now you'll have to show the world your true face," Connor says. "The demon has his own teeth."

Angel shakes his head. His mouth is filled with blood. His jaw aches. It hurts to keep his eyes open. He is still hungry.

Wesley just smiles. "Or perhaps we could keep him as a pet. Our very own vampire. We could feed him scraps." And the Watcher leans in toward him, arms bare, spiderwebbing of blue veins- then madness, and one thin, pale wrist between the vampire's impotent gums.

A whining, loud and shrill. Wounded. His.

"Now that," Wesley says, shaking the vampire loose, "is pathetic."
 

There have been earthquakes. Frequent, small, persistent. Wesley is awakened to the latest quake with the tinkling noise of shattered china.

He opens his eyes to cracked mirrors. Wonders if it's seven years for every mirror. If it matters anymore.

Wesley begins to pick up the pieces. He has recently chosen to forget what earthquakes mean here.

He is on his knees under the old table which supports the aquarium when it finally gives way. He ducks and rolls as wood and glass breaks, and suddenly there is a wet rainbow on his floor. Splinters, stakes, marbles and gravel; little castles so undignified out of water with multi-colored fish flopping about them.

Some of the fish are dead, some are dying, and some would probably live to swim another day, if he gathered them up carefully and placed them in a bowl. Bought them a new tank tomorrow.

He looks down at them and the fish do not blink back.

And now is a damn fine time for another drink. He is halfway to the nearest stash when a glass shard caught in his foot makes him stumble. He trips and falls face first onto the hardwood floor, into the puddle of pastel colored rock and fake ferns. Beneath the remnants of the table, one last living goldfish.

Gold and white, tail twitching, mouth open in one huge round O, gasping. Even dumb animals know enough to breathe. To want to. The fish stares at him. Waits. Wesley stares back. After a moment, it stops moving.

Bloody footprints back to the kitchen; he grabs a bottle from the top shelf, slides down the wall and takes two long swallows. Grabs the piece of glass embedded in his heel between forefinger and thumb and tugs.

Looks at the blood on his hands.

He rests his head against the cabinet, and closes his eyes against water and blood and dead gasping things-

- and there is something he is supposed to know here, now, on the edge of sober and sane, but he is drunk and he cannot recall. Or maybe he is dying. Again. Still. He can't remember much these days, but he can remember what dying feels like.

"Why did you do it Wesley?"

Dying for hours, dying for days, and he'd clung to to consciousness and sanity for the sole purpose of hearing that question. Because he had answers. He had *reasons*. If the gods weren't on his side, well, he had a giant talking hamburger, and that had to count for something. And he had Angel making him swear to protect the child, and he had blood from the sky and the shaking of earth and sun, and godamnit, he had *prophecies* - God or the Powers or Something talking to *him*, to Wesley, finally, finally. He mattered. And he could explain that, surely, to the people who loved him, whom he loved, and he could say "I did what I promised, I did what I had to and I still-"

But they never asked, and Wesley never really mattered. He cannot be redeemed. He may as well truly be dead.

Because they didn't understand, they'd never understood, not really. His purpose, his goal, his own fucking *mission*. Carved into him since birth with folk tales and majik words, the backs of hands and the backs of  belts. He was born to do this, inasmuch as Angel was born to live forever, and Buffy was born to die young. Some things just *are*, and mortals were not meant to understand. He thinks maybe that was his greatest folly, in the end. His arrogant single-mindedness, the trying to understand.

He was created to read and interpret, to spit the knowledge out and let others act upon it. He was not made to act himself. But he wanted more, he needed more, he foolishly believed he could have more, and Angel, and the others, they let him go right on believing it. It sickens him more than anything to know now that his father was right, the Council was right- that Wesley himself is an idiot. For trusting in a vampire and his pet Seer, for trusting in the fucked up Powers who have no name and no face and have never even once given him an inkling that they give a damn if he lives or dies. For trusting in himself.

Because this is what we do, Wesley thinks. We choose. Every day, we choose who lives, and who dies. Because no one really wins in this endless, pointless, stupid fucking war. All that remains are the dead and the survivors. And it has taken a long time to learn this lesson, but Wesley now knows that there really is little difference between the two in any case.

There are so many ashes, and sooner or later, we all fall.
 

He remembers thinking as he fell, just before his knees met cold, unforgiving earth (dust to bone, water to wine as he was becoming holy, martyred for a cause):

"It ought to have hurt more."

Surely bleeding to death slowly (oh so slowly) from a wound in one's neck ought to be agony. Surely he ought to be afraid. Of dying. Of death. Of what he has now

become.

But instead, he felt - nothing. The air was warm, and he was tired, and he simply

did not care.

And the rush of painpowerpain dulled the edges of the night.

He bled out, onto his own hands, onto hers.

He wondered if she licked her fingers clean, after.

He lay dying where she left him, there in the darkness, in the dirt, with the memories of her cold arms clasped tight about him. It scarcely hurt. And all he could think was -

*nothing* will ever be the same again. He woke two days later, the scent of his own death in his nostrils, and he realized he was right.

He still smells it, every time he wakes up.

He still

Still hears

the sound of a door

of a lid

slamming.

slamming shut.

Days

weeks

later and still that sound inside his head. A young girl's laughter, classical music and the ballet. Babies crying. Things he does not believe in anymore. Old things. Sacred things. Fishers of men.

The box is made of pine. It smells just like his coffin once did. Wet with earth and memories even before it hits the bottom of the water. But he cannot claw his way out, and Darla is dead. This time.

Fred hadn't actually slammed a door when she walked out of his hospital room, Wesley knows that. Hospitals don't take kindly to noise, to disruption, to raising the blood pressure of a patient who had no blood pressure merely hours prior.

(To not-so-soul-less-vampires smothering patients with pillows). No matter. He still lives.

Survives.

Exists.

He wants to shiver and his teeth want to chatter and he wants to gasp, but vampires don't have to breathe. All this water cannot willnot will never kill him.

This is not the end. Just a - metaphorical slamming of a door. Wesley is usually quite talented at deciphering metaphor. At reading portents, at finding the End. Of Days. Of everything.

(Eye for an eye. Who is in the third mouth of Hell, Wes?) Oh yes, it's all terribly biblical. Terribly funny. And he would laugh if

if he could just breathe.

**

The first thing Angel remembers

Wesley remembers

before Connor is Cordelia.

The two men standing in the lobby of the Hyperion, rearranging the weapons' cabinet for the infinite time since Angel's return.  Listening to Cordy talk about wanting a "real tree this year since we're not living on the streets without money and a crazy man for an ex-boss like last Christmas."

Wes was going to say something about Christmas trees and the nature of vampires,

Angel was going to fix her with a stare and ask if she wanted a damn Nativity too-

And then Darla came.

Then she came.

There wasn't time for a tree, but tiny sparkling ornaments covered the hotel bannister and

Wesley's desk

Angel's desk

downstairs  was overlaid in pine and fir branches, bundled in plaids. This was of course, Cordelia again, muttering now about the baby's first Christmas, and barely gracious enough to mention that it would quite possibly be his last.

She hung a mistletoe over Angel's doorway. Wesley said nothing but wondered if the irony of it was

not lost on Angel. No. A great many things are, but irony is never lost on him.

Kiss me.

in the garden of Gethsemane.
 

Wesley knew the first night that there was no way for this to end with lullabies, and certainly not a wise man here among them. He'd studied enough ancient prophecies to be aware that they seldom herald comfort or joy, that the best one can usually hope for is a resurrection of some ancient dead. Wesley heard the quiet singing from Angel's room, and wondered who the lamb would be, this time.

Angel knew the first time he held his son that the season's Savior is not his own, and that he is not worthy of such in any case. Because no one should outlive their children. Should walk in on their firstborn killing their second. Should have to throw their daughters into the sunlight and watch them burn in order to save their souls. For sins such as these, Angel can't be saved by any death other than his own. And he thought- I will give it, I will die, only, let it be tomorrow. Because right now, just for right now, this is grace, and it is mine and it is - alive. Breathing and humming and buzzing and moving and he *did* this.

He *made* this. Bone. Muscle. Blood. Flesh. Life.

They were all still in the hotel, beneath him. He could smell them, could hear them; Wesley, Cordelia, Fred, Gunn. Worry and confusion, will and fear. Humanity. Breath.

He watched his son stretch and squirm. Caressed paper skin and angelhair with an outstretched finger. No crib for a bed, and strands of gold-red tinsel scattered the floor beneath his makeshift basket. He remembers wanting to laugh.

The sun was rising.

He realized with a start that he was singing, and he froze. Pulled the infant and the blankets from the bassinet and cradled the small body against his chest.

He heard doors close finally, end of night sounds, the others leaving. Connor slept soundly in his arms, but Angel stayed awake, all through the morning and into early afternoon.

Because Angel remembers: Lovemaking did not cost him his soul the last time, love did. He'd slept with his arms and legs wound around it, and it breathed soft and slow on his shoulder, and he knew peace. He would not take that chance again. Would not fall asleep with the warm glow in his belly and his still heart, knowing he is loved and can love in return, and wake up wanting only to kill the thing which laid this feeling in his breast.

Dawn crept through his blinds, skittered across the wood to lay silent and deadly at his feet. He thought of Darla. Stayed awake, and listened to the sound of breathing.
 

Prophecies never deal with the aftermath, the mundane: the sudden need for diapers, formula and elaborate alarm systems. It is not written anywhere what happens *next*. To those who are passed over, those who survive when the Hand of God comes down. Even the apostles don't speak about the toll of sleeplessness and cynicism, the gathering force of nameless enemies, and the price that comes from just knowing too damned much.

"I want Connor to be baptized," Angel says. "And I can't- I can't-"

Cordelia, new to mercy, silences him with a hand on his arm. "We'll take care of it," she says.

False documents, dark suits and the Church of Saint Michael. Wesley stands at the altar of God. Renounces Satan and all his works, holds the squirming child and his own breath when the Priest pours holy water onto Connor's forehead, and Wesley promises

-solemn oath your faithful servant, Angel-

to ever protect this son who is not his.

And after, brings the child home, hands him to his father. Pretends not to notice Angel's hands shake.

"Was he-?"

"He was fine. A perfect gentleman."

Angel hugs Connor close to his body, breathes in the scent of incense and forgiveness. Brushes the fine, fair hairs off his forehead. A tingle on fingertips, lips as he brushes them across the same skin. Holy. Marked. Protected.

"Thank you," he says.

Wesley smiles.

Late that evening, Connor gets his last bottle. Upstairs, in the room with the largest bed. Wesley watches Cordelia disappear behind Angel, says nothing.

Two hours later he will walk past the bedroom, and see the three of them together. The vampire on one side of the mattress, Cordelia on the other. Connor tucked between them, the only one still awake. His arms wriggle in the air like little hungry fish.

Angel is barefoot.

And it will occur to Wesley that should this - any of this- go horribly wrong, he will have to be the one to fix it, because there is no one else. Certainly not Cordelia, with her pink lipstick smeared in pale kiss marks across the cotton pillows. Not Fred, yet much too fragile to be considered for such a task. And not even Gunn, who can match Angel blow for blow in carefully staged fights in the hotel's halls, but has never once laid eyes on the real Angelus. It will be up to Wesley, and the simple prayer that luck and years of study will pay off in one vicious thrust. It will be up to Wesley because Angel trusts him. And, more importantly, Angel trusts him not to return that favor.

He shuts the hall light off, and turns to go. Hears a gruff whisper- "Wes-"

Does not turn around.

Wesley believes in the mercy of silence.
 

Morning in the hotel lobby, the coming of the new guard. Wesley watches Angel exercise. Dawn, and the vampire is awake because the child is awake. Connor tucked in a bassinet on the floor, while his father practices katas;  a sword in his left hand and a parcel of newspaper wrapped in a blue, moon-covered blanket in his right.  Parry, thrust, guarde, all the while clutching the bundle close to his chest.

Sometimes Wes hears Cordelia humming tunelessly in the kitchen while she scrambles eggs.

Feint, parry, thrust. Connor never makes a sound. Wesley is unable to look away.

There is something fascinating, horrifying about this: 18th century fencing styles with a modern day broadsword, the vampire in game face and a t-shirt, three week old Connor at his feet, watching his father with sleepy eyes.

Can infants so young see from that far away? Wesley cannot recall.

Angel takes to sparring with Gunn finally, still balancing the newspapers. Connor is gaining weight fast, and so Angel adds more. But the proportions are never quite right.

Two weeks more go by and Angel gives up pretense, begins to spar holding Connor like a football under his arm. Cordelia winces, but says nothing.

(God, all those merciful silences until no one noticed them any longer, or perhaps they all simply chose to forget-)

Angel never once drops Connor.

When Justine slit Wesley's throat, he was clutching the child in much the same way. And Wesley didn't drop him either. Justine had to wrestle the child from his arms, even as Wesley fell, dying.

He remembers thinking that Angel would have been proud of that.
 

In the hospital, Angel looks at Wesley's palms. They remain unmarred because he had not raised his hands in defense when Justine slit his throat. And he did not raise his hands to fend off Vengeance dressed in black leather and the face of his once-friend when it sought Wesley out, stinking like fury and grief. He did not scream, did not cry out, did not struggle. Maybe he learned it from Angel.

Being a hero is difficult. But if you want to be a martyr, well then, all you have to do is

die.

If being strung up cruciform countless times weren't metaphor enough, surely the lesson of Connor was well taken.

From the moment he washed the clumps of wet ash off his baby's feet (all that remained of his - their- mother) nothing had never been so clear.  Not a man, not a god, your death can save the world. Oh, he knew it was bullshit. He has long known. No longer egotistical enough to see himself as Savior, just wary enough of humanity's need to cling to ancient myths.

His own death

His traitorous words and words to deed

will change nothing.

are but a fine excuse.

To wonder if the rotted scrolls he has given his life to mean anything at all. If Angel's sole purpose on this earth had been to donate dead seed to a dead whore- and if so, what did that mean for Wesley? Following this manthing around for years on the advice of treasonous prophets who eat babies for breakfast.

To realize it may not even be *him*. That Angel himself may not be the Osiris after all, and he would have to be a much sicker bastard than he is to admit relief. If instead it is his son, see him there: squalling in the rain, beneath Fred wrapped like the Virgin in his battered coat, with nowhere left to go. No room at this inn, and the Sanctuary been blown to hell.

Didn't want to think about that.

Didn't want to think about that.

About his son and a crown of thorns, his child and the thrust of spears, those smooth, pink hands and the pounding of cold, metal nails. Because being a Savior never works out well for anyone, and he'd be damned if Connor is next in line.

Of course Angel will be damned anyway; he will live forever, which is just long enough to watch his only son die.

The world, the Powers, the fucking Universe, they owe Angel nothing, nothing. He knows this, and most days he doesn't begrudge it. But Connor- it had nothing to do with Connor, it should never have been Connor. Stupid, foolish, arrogant, to think that two dead things could make life, to think that a child conceived in hatred could ever be blessed, but he should have been, damnit, he should have been. Because Angel would have done anything They asked, given anything They wanted. Turns out he had nothing of value to offer.

Except Connor.

Angel doesn't believe in sin, but he sure as hell believes in punishment.

And so It took him- the Universe, the Powers, his past, his sins, God -They took him. Stolen and swallowed and eaten and - gone. A stuffed rabbit, a tiny blue hat, and the scent of talcum powder and fire, all that remains of his child. Even the photographs are ashes. No proof that he was ever here, that the impossible actually lived, and gurgled, and reached tiny hands for him in the night.

He thinks about Hell as he tears the crib apart and he rages and screams in silence. Can't bear to speak out loud what he is hoping for, wishing for (praying for).

But he breaks his own rules, and he speaks right to God this time, because Connor is a child, and so God has to listen just this once, right?

Please, God, for his mother who died for him, for me if I have ever done anything right, please just listen this once, Dear Lord, I swear I will never ask for anything again, just God, please, please -

let him be with his Mother.

let him be dead.

But the God of Man is not his, and does not hear his prayers. Irony is Angel's god. And She is a merciless bitch.
 

Wesley is discharged from the hospital in a week, but has to change the dressing on his neck every night. He looks in the mirror, peels away the layers of cotton, the smears of anti-biotic and the clumps of clotted blood. This new scar runs directly over his first, the jagged-edged slice a half inch above his jugular from having a cross shoved into his neck during his failed exorcism attempt. Near where a vampire would bite. Because religion has always held the hand of death.

Wesley learned to pray when he was very small. His mother taught him prayers by rote: Our Father Who art in Heaven, If I die before I wake, meaningless words that brought neither solace nor grace. He believed in something - bigger, something Other. But it was not the god of his mother. He found It when he found his calling, when his father taught him about the Council, and his Duty to mankind. And Wesley is sorry that his father is bound up in the memory of becoming a Watcher, that he had any place at all inside of Wesley's sacred space.

Wesley swore faith with the Council, with the Lord, and then with his Angels. Thereby guaranteed his own damnation, either fucking way. And he is grateful that he had no voice when Vengeance came to him that night, because he still has no idea if he would have begged for life, or death.

He wouldn't know which to beg for now either, if he were still inclined to talk to God. But Wesley knows now that he is not part of any prophecies, that his name isn't in any scrolls, and that no one listens to him when he prays.

He cleans the wound on his neck, but does not bandage it. He has traded everything for this scar. Family, loyalty, faith- they are all buried in a park somewhere, covered in dirt and his own blood. It is - freeing, in a way. He no longer fears death, he no longer fears Angel.

The vampire comes to him in dreams, sometimes. Wesley didn't know the dead could dream.

"Thought you Watchers knew everything," he says. Scribbled out of shadows, motionless, expressionless. He crouches in the corners, and Wesley can scarcely make out his face.

"I'm afraid not. For example, I had no idea that you would come to live inside of my head."

"Yea," the vampire agrees. "Not a lot of room in here for a guy so smart." He struggles to stand, fails in the cramped space. "Where are we, anyway?"

"Where we always wind up, Angel. Under the fucking stairs."

He awakens to yellow eyes in the darkness, but Wesley has no fear. There is nothing left for anyone to take away, nothing left to ask for.

Wesley doesn't pray anymore.
 

Angel does, now. In brief lucid moments, in the box beneath the dark, he prays to Mary.

It was actually Angelus who discovered the secret of the rosary beads. He tore them off Drusilla's neck and realized they didn't burn his hands. The cross did, but the shiny pink beads did not. Angelus found that fascinating. He kept the beads, hung them over his bed where Drusilla could see them when he raped her.

Angel held onto them, a keepsake of the many kinds of eternity. He never prayed on them; they were hers after all, and it didn't seem right.

Even now it feels wrong, to stand before Her and ask any blessing in light of all his sins. But she must be listening, she must care, because he could once touch the beads without singeing his fingertips. And he figures there must be some deep meaning in there somewhere, something about Mothers and their ever-dying sons, but he is afraid if he dwells on it too much, She will stop hearing him too.

Instead he imagines counting the beads and he whispers the prayers. Counts his blessings and his sins. His triumphs and his regrets.

He has had centuries to collect them all -not only the obvious, the sins of the vampire, uncountable and unforgiven. But the simple regrets of a man.

Not saying good-bye to Buffy.

Not telling Cordelia he loves her.

Not burying the remains of his child's mother.

He wonders where she is now- and cannot decide which 'she' he means. All the women who loved him, and he has loved in return.

He talks to Mary in the dark, and for a few pink moments, the silence is peace and the pain is penance.

**

Alone now - always

(you're not alone)

he thinks often of her.

Fucking her is wrong

 was wrong.

He knew it the first time, and he did not care. With nothing else to lose, what was the price of dignity

his soul

in any case?

She smelled like powersex

sexpower.

She kept the lights on and her eyes open and her mouth open and

and he hated it. He wished her hair would fall across her cheeks so he wouldn't have to look Eve in the face.

But his Eve wore too much hair spray, and she tossed brown

gold

locks over slim shoulders when she arched, so he had no choice but to see.

None of which stopped him from getting off

three times.

Angel wonders which time it was. Which of their couplings created Connor. The first time, right after he threw her through the door: Bits of colored glass embedded in her breasts;  he pulled them free with his teeth while she thrashed beneath him. She petted him and screamed for him and called him Angelus. The second time: she held his arms pinned to the mattress above his head while she rode him. She was so damned soft inside, and he wanted to close his eyes for just one moment, to disappear into kith and kin, but she was neither of those anymore. So he kept them open. She smiled for him when she came. He could see all of her teeth. The third time: Up against the wall in demon face, biting and tearing, she tasted like baby powder and stale perfume. Her heels left bruises on his back. He groaned, and in that voice, heard two hundred years. He no longer wanted to die.

Maybe, he thinks, maybe it took all three times to make the majik.

He thought of killing her

after.

After everything

everyone

he had betrayed, what was one more -

(But the curve of her naked back made the perfect bow in the moonlight, and

she stared at him with wide, familiar eyes, the sheet wrapped round her middle and he couldn't even look bear to look, after all he had once been to her:  Father, Son and the holy)

fuck up. Just another kiss in the garden.

Rent her through with words instead: I wasn't thinking of you while you were here.

If I see you again, I'll have to kill you.

Go

Go

Go away.

There is only mercy in silence.

And if all this has truly been pre-ordained, then perhaps for her, finally, in death.

**

He knew it was Connor

it was his son

before Lilah spoke

before the boy spoke.

Proud lift of shoulders, half tilt of head, and the eyes.

He has his mother's eyes.

Wesley has only a moment to wonder exactly how much three week old Connor had learned at his father's feet. Then he has to leave the bar, to lose his dinner and six whiskeys in the rain covered alleyway.

"Hi dad"

(Angel called his father 'Father', because... he was. A presence larger than anyone else in their town, certainly much larger than anyone else in their house, even when Liam had a head and thirty pounds on the old man. Father. Who meted out praise and punishment in vastly unequal measure, who was everything Liam aspired not to be. Father, and even now, even after the passing of two centuries and a child of his own, there is the taste of bile in Angel's throat when he speaks the word.

He would be more than father to Connor.

Daddy. Cordelia referred to Angel that way immediately, after Connor's birth.

"Here's your daddy."

"Let's go and find daddy."

He pretended not to wince. So grateful that Cordy had cut her hair; when she was writhing on the floor in vision agony he did not have look at her, shudder, and see his Drusilla. Daddy.

Screamed while she and Darla burned, the living flame he had set, "Daddy no!"

Screamed while Angelus beat her and fucked her and recreated her in His image. "Daddy, yes!"

Not Daddy. Not anymore.

It was the middle of the morning and Angel awoke to the familiar cry, stumbled the four feet to Connor's crib without opening his eyes , and grasped the warm bundle close to his chest. "It's all right," he whispered. "It's all right. Da is here.")

Connor was gonna call him Da, and Connor was gonna be a southpaw

and Angel realizes he was mistaken, because Connor wears the weapon on his right wrist. But he leads with his left foot, and Angel is just surprised enough to have his own feet swept out from under him. Cordelia screaming his name from far away and the men are tossing him weapons. He doesn't want weapons. He can't use them here.

Not with Connor close enough to scent - (familiar) baby powder and freshly laundered cotton diapers because no son of mine is wearing plastic pants, (haven) warm milk be careful Angel that's too hot jeez don't you know anything you test it on the inside of your wrist oh give it to me Mr. I have no body temperature, (kin) Cordelia's perfume on sheets and pillow cases lingering on Connor's skin because she bathes him almost as often as Angel does and holds him even long after he's fallen asleep most nights  -

but it is not.

The scent of him is familiar, yes, but it is old and sour and rank. It is death that never comes, it is the slow stink of rotting humanity. It is the sickening flavor of hope lost. It is the stench of the damned. It is the scent of Hell, and should Angel live another ten thousand years, he will never forget it. It is all over his son.
 

He looked so strong

felt so fragile

all muscle and cat grace

bone and hair

when he fought beside his father in that bar.

when Angel tossed him face first into the wall. A thousand hundred thousand million memories reborn in that one action. Memories in his cells, in the itch at the base of his spine where eons ago he once had a tail, and the Hunt still sits snarling. Howl strangled in his throat at the scent of fight or flight, and the certain knowledge that his son would choose the former. And that Angel would enjoy it.

He fights like his father.

Connor spins to face him, and he remembers

(fistfights with his father while his mother stood by weeping, until the old man knocked Liam into the ground finally, breaking four of his ribs but none of his will. William the Not So Bloody fighting Angelus' strength and stature with nothing but fury and small fists . Darla laughing. Then the satisfying *crunch* of ribs against solid brick, the trickle of blood from ears and mouth, and the unwavering look of defiance in ice blue eyes

-he has his mother's eyes.

Humanlike rage and lingering hatreds over things Angelus never understood and Angel understands much too well.)

It makes perfect sense, Wesley thinks. Visiting sins, and all that rot. The gods laugh.

holding the infant Connor in that very first moment when the sky broke open, and he thought, "I cannot do this, God, I don't know how to do this."  Staring down a long dead madman's crossbow, wondering if the alternative wouldn't be more merciful for them all. So many things he would never be able give this boy; can't teach him to stand and piss or to kneel and  pray. Because the mundane and the sacred have both forever been denied to him and all that he remembers of his own father is the unfulfilling taste of blood in his throat. Because he killed his mother's children, and he cannot even recall the color of her hair.  Because some days he wants to be good, but in the end, all he's ever given to anyone he called family are promises that break like lies and artful lessons in death and insanity.

And if there is some kind of lesson here, it is written in the mangled flesh of resurrected blond women, and the carelessly spilt blood of men who betray him to gypsies and lawyers. But it is  two hundred  years gone by since lesson the first begun, and he still has yet to figure it out. Still has nothing to bequeath the single true member of his family but this.

Knuckles and skin and cry and rend. Useless words that sound foolish even as they fall from his lips: Trust me, Connor.

(don't ever trust me, Wesley, counting on you)

But love made him trust, even when he didn't want to even when he

shouldn't. He trusted Darla and he trusted Wesley and he trusted Connor and damn it but he would

do all the same again, because what is he without trust? Not a man. Certainly not a man.

Foolish, he was so foolish, but oh, he meant what he told his boy, It's all right, Connor, I forgive you, don't hate yourself

for what you've done,Wesley. You only did what you thought was right after all. You only did it out of love.

In the elevator with Holland, two dead men going back to Hell, the lawyer said something to Angel he wonders about still.

"The moment you locked that wine cellar door, Angel. That was your Shanshu." And the fucker was right. The anger, the apathy, the petty need for vengeance, it was all as close to human as Angel had felt in over two hundred years.

Then Connor came. And it was back again, that feeling, but - flipped somehow, turned inside, sideways and shining, shining. Like a string of pink beads. He was touching humanity again, only it was - clean. Good. And he had never known such existed.

He has loved before, certainly. Liam, if only in the most rudimentary form, adored his younger sister Kathy. He can remember that feeling when he calls to mind the last time he saw her in human face, brushed away her tears and told her that he would see her again. He must have loved her, because the guilt he carries for her death far outweighs that of the murder of both his parents. He is in love with her innocence, still.

Buffy, who he still loves, will always love, with a quiet kind of desperation and all the bitter turning to sweet with the passing of time. Their love, like him, frozen in one place forever because they never had to deal with the crush of the mundane before it all went to hell.  And in a way he is grateful for that. She can always be golden to him, always be pure, always remain just out his of reach.

Cordelia, who he loves more than he thought himself capable of again, for her pride and her wit and her godamned  mouth. For putting up with him even through the mundane. For the way she looked at his son.

But Connor- he cannot think of reasons why he loves Connor, cannot even fathom reasons why he *should*. He never thought he would have a son, the idea of it was a glorious grail. But it came in the form of dead Sires and world ending proclamations, of endless cycles of daywalk and nightwalk and diapers and vomit. The reality always so much less shining than the dream - except somehow, it *wasn't*. Exhausted and stinking of sour milk and still, still Angel wanted to sing, to shout, to buy ridiculously expensive trinkets he doesn't know how to work from the local toy store for this tiny, wrinkly creature that would one day call him father.

He loved that baby, and he loved the angry, damaged young man he became. Loved Connor when he tried to kill Angel with sharp stakes and familiar fists and cruel words. Loved him when he forsook mercy and forgiveness for the sake of vengeance and a pretty face. Loved him when he sealed this stupid fucking box closed and would not, could not do Angel the decency of looking him in the eye while he did it.

Loved him. Still loves him.

Meant every fucking word he said to that boy, every word. Love you, forgive you. Be happy. And for no reason at all. Loves him just because he - *is*.

He touched humanity, finally; he held it and he fed it milk, he kissed it and he called it by name.

And if this is his Shanshu - Connor, the memories of love, and neverdeath in a fucking box? If this is all he gets? He would still do the same. Most days (nights) this understanding is the only thing that keeps him from dying in all the ways that really matter.

And his last thoughts every night before he falls into something resembling

sleep are the same ones he had as he lay dying

I still love you

love you.

But Wesley is never certain to whom he is speaking,

and Angel's sleep is nowhere near as kind as death

and there is just not enough codiene, alcohol

madness to stop the other voices

(He's not here

not here

and we are not going to mention his name

again.

We don't need him

him.

We can do this

alone.)

And just before he falls asleep, the one, the most familiar voice of all and it belongs to

his own father and he always says the same thing (whisper now, soft as baby's breath, soft as water, soft as pillows)

"Boy, what did you think would happen?"

"Did you think you would be some kind of  hero?"

~Fin