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Praise


They're outside the - "club" was what the girl with the visions had called it - , and Stephen feels the elation that usually comes with having won a good fight, only more so. Which is unexpected. As unexpected as Angel taking his arm and using his stake to dust the last of the vampires.

"They don't need to breathe or make any sound. You gotta be careful," Angel says, and the strangest thing is that Stephen isn't inclined to say "I know" or "you don't get to lecture me, monster", or "my father taught me that already". He doesn't even think of it. Instead, he just wants to continue what they have just done - fighting - against others, shoulder to shoulder, not against each other. Which is utterly and completely wrong, because this is Angelus the monster, and yet that is what he wants, at this moment.

"You know you were - you were good in there. I mean, normally I'd take you to a ballgame, or a museum, or - something," Angel continues, and Stephen, who doesn't know what a ballgame or a museum is, nonetheless grasps the most important thing. You were good in there. " But it's - it's good to know that you can handle yourself in a fight," Angel says, and makes a quick move towards Stephen. Stephen instinctively jumps back, but Angel doesn't follow, and Stephen understands. It wasn't meant as a serious attack. What then?

Perhaps it's just that Angel feels the same thing Stephen does. He, too, wants to continue what they started in there. But there are no other vampires around. So they have to do with each other. It's a game.

For the first time in this dimension, Stephen smiles. He doesn't think about it, he doesn't consider the enormity of betrayal this smile represents until later; at this moment, it's just a impulse of delight taking form.

"It's good to know you can do that, too," says Angel.


Accomplishment

Fred and Gunn in trouble again; wouldn't you know it. Connor tells himself the only reason he stays with them and keeps an eye on them is that they might actually stumble across a lead to A- to the drowned monster. Besides, they're human. So he can't kill them, even if they were the monster's friends and contributed to his father's death by luring Connor away.

He could leave them to die, though. He wouldn't have to do anything. So he really tries not to think about why he keeps checking up on them, despite Gunn's annoying lectures and Fred's conviction that she is the one protecting him, or why, when he sees a couple of vampires well in the process of making mince meat out of them, he hurries towards them. Gunn has managed to lose his axe to one of the vampires, who throws it at Fred, and Connor can't resist showing off a little. Instead of drawing Fred to safety, he catches the axe mid-air and throws it back to the vampire, perfect angle for a decapitation. The creature turns into dust, and the rush Connor feels comes out in a huge grin.

"Did you see that?" he asks Fred and Gunn. "Wasn't that cool?"

They're staring at him, and he can already hear the next lecture taking shape. Come on, he thinks, and lets the grin linger. Admit it. "That was cool!" he insists.

Angel would have admitted it at once, but that's a thought he allows himself even less than pondering why he keeps saving Fred and Gunn's lives.


Love

He wakes up, and she's lying next to him. Real, utterly real, not in a dream or a fantasy. Some of her scent is still on his own body. It all really happened. Also, the world didn't end, but that's really secondary.

"Morning," Connor says, and smiles at Cordelia, wishing this could last forever. Not the sex during the night, though that was great, but this, waking up next to her, the two of them together, knowing she loves him and trusts him, and all of it is real.

"Don't do that," she says, and he thinks she's teasing him; his smile gets even wider. He probably should say something smooth, something like the guys in the movies did he watched on tv when living at the Hyperion, but he can't think of a thing. He's too happy.

"Do what?"

"That. The look. The happy puppy look. Makes it harder."


Rebirth

"Top ten percentile is a big deal," says Mom, and Connor doesn't pretend to disagree. He feels giddy. It's probably because high school is really over now, and he didn't suddenly have a panic attack during tests, all those months of work and being called a nerd and asking Tracy to be patient were totally worth it. All the family talks at him at once, and for a moment, he tunes out, not listening to the words, just to the sound of their voices. He'll miss them once he gets to college.

Meanwhile, it's his official duty to tease them.

"Since it's my special day and I'm all brilliant and everything and I'm forced to spend at least a few more months with you freaks..."

"How mean," Aunt Jane interrupts, feigning shock.

"Um, I get to make the toast, OK? To family."

As Dad raises his glass to Connor, Connor is struck by a weird sensation of being watched. Just a for a second. Then he dismisses it. Of course he is; they're all watching him, and Mere will so get back to him for that freak comment. She wouldn't be his little sister otherwise.

Family, he thinks, and the giddiness never leaves his face.


Renewal

Weeks passed since he got his memories back, but when Angel suddenly stands in front of him, Connor is still unsure how to react. Or who to be. He decides to play it cool and stick with Connor Riley for a while; it's safer.

Also fun, unexpectedly, because Angel tells him all about a werewolf girlfriend, and Angel probably wouldn't if he knew Connor remembered. Plus he's so easy that way.

"There's some full-moon love, am I right? Fur flying."

" Huh?"

"So vampires really don't understand the concept of jokes," Connor says, dead-pan. Behind Angel, one of the girls who has classes with him and has been watching them ever since Angel showed up mouthes "boyfriend?" at him, and that's just too weird. But then, everyone here has met Connor's parents, and Angel is definitely too old to be another college student.

"I understand jokes. I was at the first taping of the Carol Burnett show. Tim Conway was on fire. It was special," Angel says, offended, and Connor decides to stop with the bs.

"I know you're my father."

Bad idea. Angel goes still and has that look again, that all out intense look he had when Connor first walked towards him at Wolfram and Hart's, and suddenly Connor is afraid to go there. Maybe it's chicken, but talking about the past, really talking about it would mean being the other him again, and he doesn't know how much of Connor Riley would be left if he allows that to happen. So he hastily says thank you and all but pleads to talk about something else, and Angel follows suit, asking him about internships and the like, and offering to help.

"Have you ever written a resume before? Ever?" asks Connor.

"No... but I have very nice handwriting."

So he's really going to let it go. And maybe this will work. Maybe he can hang around Angel without giving up his new life, his new self, that self unburdened by guilt.

"You girl," Connor says, and the dizzying relief becomes a smile that envelopes them both.

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abetterlie

July 2010

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