By Kita (Donna M.)
Rating: PG-13. Wow that’s tame.
A/N #1: Story takes place immediately after “Damage”. As much as I loved the hospital scene, for the purpose of this fic, Spike is recuperating at Angel’s place.
A/N #2 : If you recall, in the previous episode, “Soul Purpose”, Angel was tormented by a parasite that gave him hallucinations. W&H’s end goal was to leave him comatose, in a version of “paradise” his mind had created.
A/N #3: Anyone else ever notice that Joss is obsessed with hands?
Thanks: Gloss & Jess for the beta. Jess for putting up with me.
Feedback: Yes please.
-Buffy, “Restless”, about the Tarot card The Hand.
“You got a plan?”
“Yea. Hold my hand.”
-Spike/Angel, “Hole in the World”
They let Angel keep one picture of Connor.
He doesn’t know why. Can’t imagine They didn’t know, or somehow forgot about the existence of just the one polaroid. But everything else was gone in that white instant; the flash of chemicalmajik that burned the longest year into something twisted, sharp, and unstained.
(Beach glass, erosion of rocks by determined tide. Old things, things without soul. Without memory. Existing is not living.)
The corner of the attic that held Connor’s half charred crib and changing table is empty. There’s no scent of little boy cologne in the hallways of the Hyperion. There are no bloodstains on Angel’s shoes.
There’s just a shaky image of Angel and Connor, with Cordelia’s thumbnail in the right hand corner. Taken in the Hyperion’s lobby, Connor in his yellow and gray hoodie and Angel holding him close against his chest. Angel has his hand up; Connor’s little fist is wrapped around his thumb.
“See, isn’t that the coolest thing? He does that every time I hold my hand out for him. Just grabs on like that. Doesn’t let go.”
“It’s a reflex Angel, all babies- Ow,” Wesley said, and Angel turned to see him catch Cordelia’s elbow in his ribs.
“Or,” Wes said, with a bright smile, “more likely he’s simply a genius.”
Angel had laughed. And then been blinded by the white flash as Cordy snapped the picture with the instant camera she now dragged everywhere.
(Wet wipes and apple juice in Cordy’s Kate Spade purse. Spit-up stains on the starched shoulders of Wes’ white shirts. Angel learned how to hold a sword in one hand and a squirming child in the other.
“Sorry,” Cordy said, after they watched the picture develop. “I’ll try to leave my thumb out next time.”
Not long after, Wesley would take Connor for their walk in the park.
Angel keeps the photo in a safe deposit box at a bank in a small suburb of Los Angeles. Visits on Fridays when the bank is open late. And he thinks maybe They let him keep it because it’s so fucking painful to look at.
“You sure you’re up for this, Angel?” Wesley asks him for the twelfth time. His tie is perfectly straight. Wes’ ties are always perfectly straight.
“Yes, Wes. Up. Very up.”
“The Selminth Parasite is still affecting your sleeping patterns, I take it?”
“Yea. Could say that.”
“Shouldn’t last much longer,” Wes says, as Angel heads for the stairs. “And at least it’s the after-effects from the larger demon. No nightmares anymore, just paradise in the subsconcious, correct? Must be lovely, actually.”
“Yea,” Angel says, without turning around. “It’s great.”
(And Angel knows that he should tell Wes, should – trust – him, but he can’t remember what that looked like. When Wesley’s adoring blue eyes staring at Angel through bottle- thick glasses, and his now absent stammer explaining prophecies (lies) meant safety and family and home. Angel isn’t even sure if those memories are real.
Bargains and blood, and realities shifting like plates of earth beneath him. And these waking-dreams are easier than waking. Than existing. Than knowing what he’s lost.
He kept his dreams of Darla a secret for much longer.)
“Daddy! Look what I did!” Connor says. He’s running down the hall toward the top of the stairs, a piece of white paper bigger than he is fluttering behind him. Energy and whirlwind. He’s dripping enthusiasm. And paint on the carpet. His mother is gonna kill him.
Angel smiles. “Show me.”
Connor holds the paper up like a banner. Ten birds of some kind..turkeys maybe? Made from his little handprints.
“It’s great Connor,” Angel says, still smiling. “We’ll hang it on the fridge.”
“They’re my hands, Daddy, see?”
Connor holds out his hands. Palms covered in red paint. The picture drifts down the stairs. Smoke and snow. Things that don’t stay.
“I see,” Angel says.
Connor reaches for him, but Angel ducks to the side.
“Let’s wash those hands first, little guy.”
Angel is alone when he reaches the bathroom. He leans against the hard wood door and closes his eyes.
Spike is in the bedroom down the hall. Angel can hear him breathing, can smell his blood clotting. Old, familiar smell; animal musk and jasmine, grave soil and lavender. Morphine. Spike hasn’t been awake since they re-attached his hands.
Angel wonders what Spike dreams. What colors paint the insides of his eyes. If he kisses Slayers or kills them.
Angel opens the bathroom door, and Darla is there. Sitting in front of the mirror, doing her makeup. Her hair is swept up in the back, baring her neck and shoulders. The skin of her nape is pink, translucent, beauty polished by years. She always makes him think of pearls, makes him want to kiss the places where she is pale and vulnerable.
“You look gorgeous,” he says instead, because they’re late. “Let’s go.”
She frowns at him in the mirror, but doesn’t turn around. Her lipstick is dark and she blots it carefully on a tissue, leaves the outline of her kiss on soft, white paper.
“I always look gorgeous. That’s hardly the point. Straighten your tie.”
Angel frowns back, looks down at his bow tie. “You do it better,” he tells her.
Connor in the doorway, wearing race car pajamas and a scowl. A petulant elf, with hair still damp from the bath. “I can’t believe you’re making me get a babysitter!” he says. Again.
“Connor, we’ve been through this,” Angel answers impatiently, failing miserably to adjust his damn tie. “You’re ten. You’re not old enough to stay on your own.”
Connor stamps his foot. He learned that from his mother.
“Sweetie, I’ll bring you back something. Ok?” Darla says, finally standing up and looking over at them. Black dress, shimmer and sparkles, nightsky. But her teeth are so white, and when she smiles, Angel can see all of them.
“You will?” Connor asks, edging closer inside the bathroom.
“Of course I will,” she says, fixing Angel’s tie without looking at it. “Now come here and give your mother a goodnight kiss.”
She wraps her arms around Connor, and he buries his face in velvet and lace and perfume.
Angel runs the cold water, splashes some on his face. When he looks in the mirror, there is only shining white tile looking back.
Spike is sprawled on Angel’s bed. He doesn’t open his eyes as Angel walks in, grabs a book off the nightstand, and sits in the chair beside him.
On his back with his hands over his head, in a position of surrender he would never abide while awake. The scars on his wrists are raised, red and angry. His face shines. Sweat. Sickness. Vampires stink when they’re sick. Angel will have to change the sheets tomorrow.
But he remembers:
(Angelus slammed the Baby Grand shut on William’s hands once, for playing early in the morning and waking him up. It broke every bone in all ten of his fingers, took days to heal. But when they did, he played the same piece that woke Angelus up, over and over again, whenever Angelus was around to hear it.
The streets of China stunk like Hell; rot and cinder, piss and fire. Bits of flesh between her teeth when Darla licked her lips and swallowed. Refused to kiss Angel, said he tasted like soul. But the only taste in Angel’s lungs was Spike. Standing in front of Angel like a puppy with a mouthful of mouse entrails, dropping the carcass at the feet of its master. Spike smelled like Drusilla’s sex and Slayer’s blood. He smelled like triumph.
Spike looked up at Fred in the ambulance. His arms were strapped to the gurney, but his hands were in a styrafoam cooler, on her lap.
Dana had cut through muscle and bone, using a rusted handsaw. Even with her strength it would have taken at least five minutes.
Spike’s jeans were soaked through with his own blood, the cigarettes in his front pocket were ruined.
Bones sound like wet cedar when they finally snap, and the release of pressure lets the blade slip through remaining skin and tendon like fresh baked bread. Angel remembers.
“We’ll put you back together,” Fred said.
“Yea?” Spike managed.
And Fred nodded, but Spike’s eyes were already closing. So she reached out for him. Pulled her hand back when she realized there was nothing for her to grab on to. Hugged the cooler tighter against her chest.
Under the blinking lights of the ambulance, Spike’s skin was blue and silver, the color of needles and razorwire. Sharp scent of fresh blood, he’d bitten a hole through his cheek while they unloaded him. Angel watched his throat move while he swallowed. And realized that Spike was keeping his eyes closed purposely. So Angel wouldn’t see the fear.)
“So, yer my babysitter, then?” Spike slurs. It’s the first thing he’s said since. And the affected accent is so overwhelming, guttersnipes choking on chocolate cake, that it takes Angel a minute to understand him.
“Yea,” he says finally. “Looks like.”
Spike still hasn’t opened his eyes.
“It itches! It itches so bad!”
Connor is squirming on his mother’s lap.
“I know baby, it’s chicken pox. They do that,” Buffy says.
Buffy says she’s too young to have such a big boy, so Connor lets his mother call him baby, lets her wrap the ends of his hair around her index finger and make curls. He draws the line at letting her kiss him on the cheek in public anymore.
She grabs the bottle of Calamine lotion off the nightstand and pours the stinky pink stuff all over her hands. The diamond in her ring throws small rainbows over the walls when she rubs the lotion onto Connor’s arms.
“Take off your shirt,” she tells him, and Angel watches his narrow, splotch covered chest appear from under the cotton. He winces.
Buffy paints his chest. Pours some more lotion, rubs a single line down the center of Connor’s nose, then one across each cheek.
“Daddy,” he whimpers. “Do my feet.”
“Sure, killer,” Angel says.
Reaches for the bottle, but there’s no more lotion left.
“There’s more in the downstairs medicine cabinet,” Buffy tells him. “Will you get it?”
And her lap is full of wiggling, crying, not-so-very-big-boy, so Angel climbs out from under their sheets, pulls his sweatpants on, and goes.
He comes back to an empty bed.
“Fuckin’ nose itches,” Spike mutters.
Angel opens his eyes. “What?”
“Said my nose fucking itches,” Spike repeats.
“So scratch…oh. Oh,” Angel says, running a hand over his face. Film of sleep and smell of medicine. He puts his unread book on the nightstand by Spike’s head.
Spike opens his eyes. Blue and sharp. Scalpels and ice. Staring at Angel.
“Right genius you are,” Spike says, wiggling his head on the pillow as if that will help. His hair is a mess. Angel hasn’t seen those curls in years. “S’like when you polish your nails. Nose always itches after that.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“No, you’re a big hero and all,” Spike drawls. “Don’t do those kind of things.”
Angel ignores the bait, leans in to scratch Spike’s nose instead.
Spike’s head snaps back. “Don’t fucking touch me.”
“But you said-“
Spike sinks farther into the pillows. Feathers, silk, Egyptian cotton. Creature comforts for the creature. His arms are folded over his chest, a petulant child (corpse). But his hands dangle uselessly, fingers splayed out like starfish left on the beach to die. Angel never realized before how big his bed actually is.
“Fine,” he sighs. “I’ll get you some blood. Wes said it’d speed up the healing.”
By the time Angel heats the mug, Spike is asleep again.
Sometimes, they aren’t dreams.
(It was just another argument at the time. Turns out, though that paradise is relative. Because now, just the chance to stand in a room with him would be.
But Angel didn’t know; sometimes happiness is only perfect in retrospect.)
“My mother was a common whore,” Connor says. Standing in front of Angel, all small fists and silent fury. His hair is dirty and his pants are too short. Angel wonders where he gets his clothes. He won’t wear anything Angel buys for him.
“My father told me. My real father.”
Connor’s breath smells like mint and alcohol. Like mouthwash. He never saw a toothbrush in Quor’Toth, but since he started keeping company with Cordelia, he’s taken to using mouthwash. Angel tries very hard not to think about that.
“Your mother was a lot of things,” Angel says. “But common was never one of them.”
“Buffy!” Spike shouts. Sits straight up in the bed. He stares at Angel, eyes wide and white.
Spike blinks, looks around.
Turns to Angel, chin up. Eyes open. Defiant. “She loved me,” he says.
“When he saved…when he was dying… I held his hand and-“ Buffy’s voice on the phone, after the Apocalypse that Wasn’t. But she broke there and Angel didn’t want to hear the rest of that anyway.
He knew they were…. and it was easier somehow, to think about the sex. About yellow hair and blue eyes, sun and sky, and things Angel would never see. He could live with Spike giving Buffy something she needed, something he wasn’t allowed to give her. Wasn’t allowed to have.
Could not for a moment imagine them whispering secrets. Laughing. Holding hands.
Then she told him:
“He just let the fire come. He looked..peaceful.”
And Angel could see it. Rot and cinder, flesh and fire, End of Days, and Spike probably had to tell Buffy to leave. Probably more than once.
Angel can’t remember if he held Darla’s hand, at the end. He can taste cold rain and her ashes on his tongue. Can see Fred kneeling by the baby, looking like the Virgin wrapped in his battered coat. Can hear the click of a long-dead madman’s crossbow. But Angel can’t remember what he did with his hands.
He knows he reached out for Buffy when she killed him, but it was too late. Hell was coming for him, and he couldn’t touch her and he didn’t leave any ashes.
Connor was sweating, his heavy cotton shirt slipping in Angel’s grip when he held him against the ground with his right fist, and slit his throat like a pig with his left. Spray of blood on Angel’s face (animal musk and jasmine) and he was so careful. Not to lick it off. Connor died with no one to hold his hand.
The new Connor doesn’t have a scar on his neck.
And neither does Wes, anymore.
When Buffy first came back from Heaven, she met Angel in a cemetery halfway between Sunnydale and LA. Still small and strong, but her eyes were glass; doll’s eyes. Wrong. She called herself “Version-two-point-oh”, tilted her head, showed him her neck. His mark was gone.
Angel came back from five hundred years in Hell with perfect recall and no physical signs of ever having been there.
But Spike came back from Wherever he was with the same old line bisecting his left eyebrow, and a new one on his right palm. Pale, pink-silvery trails, crossing lifeline and loveline. Skin badges, one from killing a single Slayer and one from saving all of them.
Proof that Buffy had held his hand.
And Angel knows damn well that that scar is never going to heal.
(She loved me)
“Yea,” Angel says, looking away. “She probably did.”
If it’s a memory of something that never happened, is it a dream?
Connor’s round belly rises and falls. Even and certain breaths, sun and tide. He curls his fists and kicks, hands and feet like snail shells. Smooth and small and infinite.
Cordelia is asleep on the other side of the bed, her lipstick has left dark red smears across Angel’s pillows. Connor’s bottle is still in her fist and Connor’s eyes are closed, but he’s still sucking. Still making small noises of pleasure and satisfaction.
Angel watches them both and tries to stay awake. He’s afraid of falling asleep and rolling over onto Connor, or snoring and chasing Cordelia from the bed.
And he wants to lay here and think about how innocence will always smell like oatmeal and baby powder now, and how when Cordy sleeps, she curls her toes like a dancer.
He wants to hold this moment in both hands.
Spike tosses on the bed, heat rising off of him like a fever. Vampires don’t get fevers. But there’s a damp outline around him on the sheets, sweat melting down from lightening sharp hair and staining the pillows.
“You need to eat,” Angel says.
Expects an argument. Gets rain gray eyes staring at him, and the slight tilt of Spike’s chin. Close enough to acquiescence.
Angel reheats the blood, brings it to the bed.
“I- ,” he starts, when Spike just keeps staring at him. “Here.” Straw in the mug and Spike props himself on his elbows and pillows.
Angel sits on the mattress, holds the cup while Spike drinks. Swallows and grunts, louder than storms in the silence of the room.
When he’s done he lays back, shuts his eyes. Angel watches his chest rise and fall.
William breathed in his sleep.
Angel doesn’t leave the bed.
Connor is shaking. Groaning and sweating, and Christ, he stinks. Like a public rest room. Like alcohol and vomit.
Angel watches him hunch over the toilet, and trembles himself. Clenches his fists. Fear. Fury.
And Angel wants to hit him, wants to wrap his hands around that pale throat and squeeze, wants to…
But he’s never raised a hand to his son and he won’t start now.
“The hell were you thinking, getting in a car like this?” he manages, when Connor slumps against the bathtub, eyes closed tight, spent for the time being.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” he mumbles for the hundredth time. “I’m really sorry.”
“Sorry isn’t good enough! This is – you were- Jesus, you’re barely sixteen, and you – you should have called a cab, or me, or…what the hell were you thinking?”
Foggy blue eyes. “Wasn’t, really. Just wanted to have- fun.”
Angel flushes the toilet, closes it, sits on the lid. “Fun,” he says, “Well, that’s great. Are you having fun?”
“No.” Sad and small. Curled around himself like a wet kitten. His shirt is torn. “Please. Dad? Don’t tell Mom?”
Angel snorts. “She’d fucking kill you, you know.”
“Yea, I know. I swear I won’t do it again. I just…oh, god-“
And Angel runs the water while the boy throws up into the clean, white bathtub. Hands him a wet towel when he’s done.
Connor looks up at him. “Swear, Dad…don’t..please…”
Drunken tears and sour sweat. Slim fingers around Angel’s ankle.
“Ok. This once, son, it’s between you and me. But that’s it. You don’t get a second chance.”
Connor almost smiles.
“Fuck,” is the only warning Angel gets, before Spike leans over the other side of the bed, and throws up onto the floor. Sour blood and sickness on the shiny, polished wood.
Angel grabs the nearby garbage pail, holds it out for him. Watches Spike lift his arms and try to reach, before remembering and dropping them again
“I got it,” Angel says, holding the pail closer, and Spike closes his eyes.
He throws up everything Angel fed him earlier, then shudders when his empty stomach doesn’t want to be done. Lays back down, wiping at his sweaty forehead with his arm.
Angel grabs a couple of towels from the bathroom, cleans up the mess and wipes Spike’s face.
“Thanks,” Spike says. His voice is hoarse. Wet and small.
“Welcome,” Angel answers.
“Fuck. Didn’t even know we could….”
“Me either,” Angel says. “Don’t worry about it. Won’t tell anyone.”
He helps Spike take a swig of mouthwash before going back to sleep.
Stink of blood, fresh pain and tears, and Angelus dreams. (Dreams with Angel’s thoughts, but that’s just a technicality. A slip of the syntactical tongue. Demon inside a soul inside a man; nesting dolls and homunculi. Whose paradise is this?)
The Hyperion’s basement keeps all of Angel’s dirty little secrets. Steel bars are a simpler, kinder cage than a soul, and Angelus smiles.
The boy is inside with him.
Skinny arms strung across the bars, feet barely touching the floor. He smells like fire and fury. A bit like Hell. A lot like Darla.
“You have your mother’s eyes,” Angelus tells him, moving closer.
Draws a light fingernail over the inside of Connor’s arm, just enough to raise a welt. Listens to blood rush beneath the surface of that baby fine skin, even as it rushes to speed up the beat of his heart.
Angelus closes his eyes. Inhales. “So pretty,” he says. Sing song voice. Nursery rhymes and child’s play. The better to eat you.
Connor spits in his face.
A slap, quick and bright, knocks Connor’s head back against the metal, leaves a mark on white white skin. Angelus’ palm print.
Angelus smiles, wipes his own cheek with the back of his hand.
“Mouth like her too,” he says, tugging on Connor’s bottom lip. “Like a whore.”
Blue eyes, wide and wet. Immense and deep. Seawater. When Angelus leans in to kiss him, Connor closes his eyes.
And Angel would deny himself this too; martyr and fool, even in his dreams he would never touch the boy.
Months under the ocean, dreaming of ways to kill him, crossbows and crosshairs, a quick snap of birdlike neck. But never this. He’d wake up, cold and alone, without enough blood for even a hard on, and always just before his hands closed around this pale throat, before he took a fistful of woman-soft hair and pulled…just like this.
Fragile moans between full lips and sharp teeth. Stab of tongue and thumb pressed hard over the pulse. Heart skiptripping under his hands, faster, faster, rabbit beat. Child’s beat. Then the blood in his mouth, sweeter than baby’s blood; it sparkles and howls, aged and fermented with years of hunt and kill.
Innocence perverted: Connor is a masterpiece.
Angel owned Connor just enough to destroy him: beat him and curse him, lobotomize him and send him away. Caged him as sure as his demon, safe and gone, where Angel never has to look at his face.
He whispers there, and he’s oh so much louder than Angelus ever was.
(You never loved me enough to touch me)
“Connor,” Angel whispers back. Looks up at his son, chained to the bars.
And Angel would beg for this: Forgiveness, grace. He thinks maybe he already has. He remembers asking someone to stay, remembers shock on a pretty face when he added “please”. He just can’t remember who it was, or what happened next.
Realities trembling like bird wings, and sleep and death look the same. He thinks he killed Connor. But they all come back. They always come back
Circles and symmetry, nesting dolls: Women who haunt him, and blue eyed boys who spit venom at him. Who crawl into bed with their mothers, take from him all the women Angel has loved, and only begrudge Angel respect while he beats the life out of them. Beautiful, bitter, broken boys whom Angel is only allowed to touch in anger.
Angel isn’t angry now. Just hungry. Desperate. Eighteen years worth of touch to make up for: diapers he never changed, cuts and scrapes he never kissed, tears he never even saw. Someone else taught Connor all the important things, how to love and how to kill.
All Angel has is this (leftover illusions, smoke and mirrors, paper moons) and there’s never enough time.
Fingers tangled in smooth hair, and another mouth under his own that tastes like family blood. Like mint and medicine. Mouthwash.
But home is ash and dead things, and that can’t be right. His boy should taste like light, and life. Didn’t Angel give up everything for that? Didn’t they all?
He falls to his knees, wraps his arms around Connor’s waist. Tears falling on the soft skin of Connor’s belly, where his shirt is still torn.
“I’m sorry,” Angel says. “I’m sorry.” Clutches tighter, leaves his fingerprints in the already drying blood.
Connor doesn’t move.
(Dru’s hands were bleeding. Center of each palm from two perfect holes, like something had been driven clean through bone and skin.
“Can’t make it stop,” William said, wrapping them again. “Can’t make her stop.”
She’d been crying since the morning, tearing out clumps of her hair, screaming about souls and punishment.
Now it was evening; parts of her scalp were visible, and the front of William’s shirt was soaked with her blood and tears.
“Do you think it’s….I mean…,” he trailed off, staring at the wounds.
Angelus laughed. “What? Stigmata? Thought you were Protestant, boy,” he said. “In any case, Christ was nailed through his wrists. Hands can’t support the weight of a human body.”
He looked down at Dru, rocking back and forth in Williams’ lap. Lifted her palm and ran his tongue down the center. She raised her eyes to him.
“She’ll be fine,” Angelus said, licking his lips.
William watched him walk toward the door.
“You sure? Da?”
Angelus turned around. “Trust me,” he said.
William almost smiled.
It was late winter, 1898. Romania, three days before Angelus’ birthday.)
Angel looks up.
Spike, his arms flung out across the bed, mouth kiss-bruised, eyes so wide the pupils are blown past the blue. His tongue flicks out over his bottom lip, licks up blood and the taste of Angel. His fingers twitch beneath the bandages, a gunslinger waiting for draw.
Other than that, he doesn’t move.
William is dead.
So is Connor.
Acid on his skin like blisters breaking, taste of bile and dust in the back of Angel’s throat. He won’t be allowed to dream anymore.
But maybe if he closes his eyes:
There will be only the scent of boysweat and lost innocence. Family and flowers, and the taste of generations of Aurelius coating the back of his tongue.
And maybe Spike will reach out his hand. Long fingers, smooth and surprisingly strong, wrapping around Angel’s thumb.
Maybe he will just hold on.