Wordcount: This part, 5989.
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Boss Whedon and his merry band of Mutant Enemies.
Summary: Ten days after the final battle in LA, allies gather to search for survivors and attempt to understand the events that led them there.
It's over! Remember, this hasn't been beta'd, so if you spot something wrong I do hope you'll say so.
Even in death, the dragon was among the most intimidating creatures that Connor had ever seen. It took time for him and Bethany to circle it, all the more so because every inch of its body was alien and fascinating to human eyes. Connor counted the curving talons on each of its feet, tried to see over its slumped shoulders and couldn’t, and tentatively reached out to touch the leathery membranes of its wings. He had no inkling of the origin of such a beast, whether evolution or magic was primarily responsible for its design, but the end result was clearly the kind of power that this world had never known.
And nevertheless, it had been killed. As Connor made his way around its sinuous form, he noted the deep slashes scored into its skin at various places, and its own retaliation had been evident in the scorch marks all over the city, but when he reached its head, the ultimate cause of death was obvious. The dragon had fallen so that its neck was stretched out with its throat bared, and in the narrow gap between the armor of its jaws and underside, a sword was buried to the hilt.
Unable to curb the impulse that the sight of it gave him, Connor grabbed the sword and pulled, meeting with enough resistance to need his enhanced strength but not enough to stop him. The blade was covered in some dried substance that looked more black than red, and it gave him an odd feeling of sobriety that checked the joke about Excalibur he had been about to make. Still, he was holding the sword that had killed the dragon, and nobody could tell him that that wasn’t badass. He might have to take it home as a souvenir. Maybe give it back to Angel someday...no, it was better to not start thinking like that again. And why was he feeling so certain that Angel was the one who did this, anyway?
Still holding the sword, he stepped back and looked around for Bethany, so he could show it to her. She wasn’t visible-- must have been on the other side of the dragon. He was about to head over there when a soft creaking sound brought his attention back to where he had just been standing.
As he watched, bewildered, the dragon’s head rolled upright and faced him. Both of its eyes snapped open, revealing huge black pupils swimming under a milky haze.
Connor’s whole body went cold. I know this, he told himself. I know how to fight. Oh God, it’s not even decayed, it doesn’t smell, of course it was alive, I am such a-- no, I can do this, dammit! He gripped the sword and swung into a defensive stance. “BETHANY!” he yelled. “RUN!”
His mind was so divided between listening for her response and preparing for the dragon’s attack that both of them managed to take him by surprise. The dragon had stopped moving; its eyes, he saw, were closed once again. He kept his own locked on its form, unwilling to come out of his stance, and the seconds ticked by until he finally identified one solitary sound in the weighted stillness: Bethany’s laughter.
“I’m sorry,” she gasped as he whirled to find her, behind and to his left. “It’s just-- the look on your face!” The look on his face was, apparently, so funny that she was almost doubled over with mirth. “I couldn’t resist. Bad joke, I’m sorry, but...hahahaha!”
Connor took one last untrusting glance at the dragon, then gradually let his sword arm lower. “You did that? Are you kidding me?” Then full realization hit him: it was dead, they were safe, he didn’t have to fight. The relief that hit him was a powerful, physical sensation, and he drooped under it, using his free hand to mop a forehead that was suddenly drenched in sweat. “I should thank you. This whole trip would have been so boring if I didn’t fear for my life at least once.”
She stopped laughing, actually appearing to be a little dismayed.
“That was a joke,” he clarified. “Abandoned war zones, dead dragons, sadistic telekinetic pranksters...not what I put in the ‘boring’ files.”
“Still,” she said, coming a little closer to him. “I am sorry. I’m not usually sadistic. Um, you okay? You need a change of pants or anything?”
“My pants are fine, thanks.” He pointed at the dragon with his sword. “I think I’m done with this guy, though. Let’s hit the road.”
She tilted her head, peering at the weapon. “You’re going to keep that?”
“Sure, why not?”
“It’s all dirty.”
He chuckled. “It’ll clean up.”
They set off again, although both of them kept looking over their shoulders at the massive, dust-colored mound of the dragon. Crows were conspicuously absent from that entire area, and the fact that the creature hadn’t decayed popped into Connor’s head again, but he had no explanation for that and had to dismiss it. The thing wasn’t from this world; rules were just different.
He turned his gaze back in front of him once to see Bethany’s turned on him. “You were going to fight it,” she stated, almost shyly.
That made him smile, and he put on a pretentious accent. “Madam, I was going to kill it.”
“Why’d you tell me to run?”
He hadn’t really thought about that, and he suddenly had the feeling that this was a girl who wouldn’t like the implication that she shouldn’t fight alongside him. She had a right to it, too-- he had little doubt that if the two of them ever faced off, his strength would be no match for her. “I just had this thought in my head,” he said slowly, “that whatever happened there was a family affair. If Angel hadn’t finished it off, it was kind of my business.”
“Then it’s lucky for us that he did so it wasn’t.” She smiled at him, a beautiful sight. “But it’s cool you were going to fight it.”
The sun was going down soon, Connor saw. They had a little time, and he felt they could manage in the dark if they had to, but he started keeping an eye out for possible shelters. Nothing seemed very promising. The site of the dragon’s death must have been the hub of the most vicious parts of the battle, for the buildings and pavement in this area were proportionately more decimated.
Finally they crossed a street that looked like it had been mostly spared, and they agreed to try their luck taking a walk down that way. It wasn’t long before something about his current surroundings began to niggle at him, and then Bethany echoed his thoughts in an uncertain voice: “This looks familiar...”
“We’re on Hyperion Avenue,” Connor realized out loud. “We’re headed toward the hotel.”
Bethany’s anticipation was evident in the extra spring in her step. Connor quickened his pace to keep up with her, though he left a wide berth to accommodate the sword, having no way to carry it other than openly in his hand. This was a serendipitous turn of events, for sure. He had guessed that they were in that section of town, but the proximity to Angel’s former base of operations came as an almost complete surprise.
He won an unspoken competition between them to see the building first, but Bethany broke into a run when she did, and thus beat him to the gate. “It’s not smooshed!” she told him excitedly. “It looks just like it did when I left! Except they fixed all the windows. Let’s go!”
“How do we get past-- oh.” He had no sooner started the question than Bethany had peered through the iron bars and telekinetically picked the lock on the other side. She swung the gate in with her hands and walked into the courtyard without a backwards glance, and Connor followed closely, wondering if she could repeat the same trick on the hotel’s actual doors.
She couldn’t-- she said she needed a clear view of the objects she was moving-- but Connor decided that leaving some minimal damage wouldn’t be a big deal, and he found it fairly easy to force the lock. The two of them entered in a reverent hush, but in a few seconds Connor snapped out of his. They didn’t have much daylight left to them, and he wanted to use it to find some candles and flashlights.
They were in a storage closet, the first one he checked, and it seemed like such an obvious place to look that he couldn’t tell if it was tied into an old memory or if he had just made a lucky guess. As he laid out the candles to light up the lobby, Bethany wandered around peering at everything and murmuring little sounds of surprise or recognition. Connor finished lighting the single gas lantern he had found before he joined her.
She turned from the courtyard window to face him, hauntingly illuminated in the waning light but wearing a blissful smile that increased her beauty tenfold, and said, “Do you know where they kept the food?”
He never could explain why that made him laugh, but they did find some food. It had been at least a year since anyone had entered the hotel, he judged, so they had to be careful about what they chose to eat, but he also got a chance to show off some more of his Boy Scout credentials by rigging up a cookstove on the front desk, using some pans and candles.
“Why do you think he had all this canned stuff?” Bethany asked as she finished off her plate of beans and mixed vegetables, her legs tucked up under her on the lobby’s couch. “I thought vampires didn’t eat human food.”
“Oh, Angel wasn’t the only one who lived here. Fred and Gunn had a room upstairs, Lorne had one...heck, I was a resident here myself during the short window of time that nobody thought I was waiting for a chance to off my father.”
His casual reference to patricide didn’t even give her pause. “Not Cordelia?” she asked.
He considered. “I don’t think so. Wait, maybe sometimes? My memories of her are a little fragmented. She was gone for a while, and then she had amnesia, and later on she was under a mystical influence. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t even herself, really, by the time we slept together--“
Bethany had just taken a sip of water, and she interrupted him with a classic choking sputter. “You did what together?”
“Hey, this is the old hell-baked twisted me, remember? If Angel’s asshole past is his own business, so is mine.”
“Okay, okay. I was just surprised.” She looked down at her empty plate. “I get that you were different in that life, but you seem so...”
“So...?” he prompted her.
“Wholesome.” There was only a slight pause before they both started chuckling. “And speaking of which,” she continued, “is there anything in that cupboard for dessert?”
“I’ll go check.” He went back to the cupboard with a flashlight and peered into its depths until he spotted something that looked like chocolate bars. He reached in to move a few cans, and then the flashlight beam landed on a label that caught him completely off guard. He pulled out the container and stood there staring at it.
“Connor?” Bethany inquired from the couch. “What is that?”
He shook his head to clear it and finally looked up. “It’s baby formula.”
“Why...oh.” She got to her feet and drifted over to his side. “It’s still here even after the reality shift?”
“I guess it slipped through the cracks.” He didn’t really understand how that could happen, but he didn’t really understand magic in the first place, so that was a given. It was uncomfortable to think that physical traces of his former presence could be left here, but since reality didn’t seem to be coming apart at the seams, he had to just accept it and trust the experts.
He kept the flashlight trained on the can, trying to find words to express the way it made him feel. “I was here,” he said. “And, I mean, it was Connor Angel, not Connor Reilly, but...I was a baby, I wouldn’t remember it anyway. It’s real. It really happened.”
“And Angel remembers it,” said Bethany. She tilted her head, regarding him. “This must be so weird for you. I have memories here, but you-- you were a part of this."
“Yeah. I was...” He looked up from the can, and for a second their eyes met over the narrow shaft of light. “Loved. I feel loved.”
Bethany’s responding smile was tinged with sadness. “Boy, you’re lucky you’re not standing here with the old me. I think I probably would have made some noise about lame that sounds.” The baby formula pulled itself out of his hand and placed itself back on the shelf as she spoke. “But it’s not lame, is it? It’s just what it is. Being loved.”
Connor felt himself flush, though it was thankfully too dark for her to see it. For a moment he wondered how he had gotten here, talking about love with a telekinetic in an abandoned hotel, but the question was answered by the can of baby formula on the shelf and he let it go at that. “Let’s go check out some rooms,” he suggested.
He led the way with the gas lantern, she followed with a flashlight, and a few candy bars and unlit candles tagged along in the air behind her. Connor’s night vision was adequate in almost any circumstance, but even so, the corridor upstairs was downright creepy. He moved hastily to get into a room, even though he knew it wasn’t going to offer him the reassuring familiarity of flipping the lights on with a switch.
Setting down the lantern on a table and closing the door behind them was still an improvement to the atmosphere. “Here it is,” he said to Bethany. “This was my room.”
She stood in the center, did a 360 turn, and announced with a grin, “Mine too.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Hey, you’ve got the better claim on it, but yeah, I’m sure. Although, wait! I was here first, so maybe I’ve got the better claim.”
He laughed. “Rock-paper-scissors?”
There was nothing left in the room that Connor remembered as being specifically his, but it was fully furnished and squared away, awaiting some future guest that the former residents had probably thought they would never have. Bethany found sheets and blankets in the closet, and they made up the bed together just because it seemed like the thing to do. They were human, Connor reasoned, and since the beginning of time, humans had done what they could to chase away the darkness.
Deep into the night, the lantern’s light faded but still flickered valiantly on, and Connor and Bethany had paid no attention to it for hours. They shared thoughts, joined lips and opened to receive tongues, settled against each other in silence with his arms looped around her, talked some more, kissed some more.
“This is nice,” Bethany confided at one point, still close enough to him that her lips brushed his cheek as she spoke. “I’ve never really...well, most guys just want to see how fast they can get the clothes to come off.”
“Most guys are idiots,” Connor assured her, punctuating the sentence with a kiss to her nose. “But I’m the rare exception. Sharp as a tack, really.” He kissed her cheek. “I’m also devilishly handsome and amazingly well-adjusted.” He kissed her other cheek. “Oh, and let’s not forget the supernatural strength. Not exactly a dragon slayer, but it’s not for lack of trying.”
Bethany giggled and nuzzled his neck, a gesture that he would recall much later with perfect clarity. “And you’re wholesome,” she said.
“Goes without saying.” He stroked his hand down her hair. “Hey, finish that story you were telling me.”
She sat up a little straighter, thinking, and then smiled. “Oh. Okay, so he pulls the rebar out of his chest, and I’m already a little hysterical, you know? All I can think is that this is some kind of divine intervention, like a messenger from God took a wrong turn and met up with the crazy loose cannon girl instead of the virtuous maiden. And then he says his name is--“ She broke off there and started laughing, a genuinely amused sound despite her evident embarrassment. “He says, he says--“
Her mirth was contagious, and he grinned as he helped her finish the story. “You thought he was a real angel.”
“I sort of did! I mean, just my luck, right? The heavens part and there stands the champion in all his glory, and wham, I run him through with a rebar. If he hadn’t given me his card before I ran off, I probably would have convinced myself that it had all been a hallucination.”
“Well, I’m glad you gave him a chance.”
“Believe me, so am I.” She leaned into him, lending him a surge of gratitude that she had overtaken her reluctance to be touched. Without meeting his eyes she queried, “Did you ever meet Lilah Morgan? Wolfram & Hart lawyer?”
He thought about it, taking her change of topic in stride. “Yes,” he said, unable to hide his cringe when he remembered what had happened to the woman in question. “She died. It was a bad time.”
“Oh.” Bethany sounded impassive. Why she was curious about Lilah, Connor couldn’t guess, but at least it wasn’t another Cordelia situation.
He hugged her anyway, feeling that offering comfort was just the natural thing to do when death came up, and she squeezed him back and tilted her face up to his, seeking another kiss. He obliged, making it one to remember, and then there was a long moment of silence. When she broke it, her voice was soft and guilty. “I tried to seduce Angel.”
“Whoa.” A confession like that was too much of a surprise for him to react any other way, but he felt her body stiffen against him and he automatically did what he could to relax her, rubbing her back and taking on a reassuring tone. “I’m guessing that didn’t work out too well?”
“Heh. No. I...I had some issues back then. Thought it was kind of my duty to reward him for saving me. Thought that if I was the one who got into his bed, he’d get what he wanted from me without a fuss and I could maybe trust him to not take anything else.”
“But that wasn’t really want he wanted from you, was it?”
“Nope.” She sighed heavily. “He just wanted to help. I couldn’t believe that. I wouldn’t believe that. Everyone I knew was trying to take advantage of me in one way or another. God, I got so tired of being used.”
He hesitated, not sure if he was meant to comment on these thoughts or if it was enough to just hear them without judging. Sympathy wasn’t something he had to fake for this, though. “Well, I believe that,” he said. “But just for the record, I can’t imagine you ever letting anyone use you. Not the girl I see now.”
“Thank you,” she murmured. “I’ve been working pretty hard at being this girl.”
Something clicked as Connor mentally reviewed Bethany’s newly revealed history with Angel, and he failed to stop himself from saying it out loud. “That’s when you heard about Darla, isn’t it? He was trying to discourage you and he told you there was already a woman in his life.”
“Not exactly,” she replied easily. “He was talking in his sleep. Having, you know, one of those kinds of dreams...”
“Say no more,” Connor interjected. “I beg you.”
She snickered, pulling his hand into her lap and idly tracing its lines with her fingertip. “Still, it’s pretty crazy, isn’t it? Angel dreams about Darla while I’m there, and then a year and change later, they’re your parents. You think she was like, his soulmate or something?”
Connor winced. “I sure hope not. She was evil. Mostly.” He thought briefly of Angel’s feelings for Cordelia, but chose not to bring them up. Even from his admittedly skewed perspective, something hadn’t felt quite right about the two of them.
He left the room not long afterwards, nobly forgoing the game of rock-paper-scissors and letting her keep it. She told him to take the lantern, so he lit the candles beside her bed before he left, thinking she wouldn’t want to be left in complete darkness. The last kiss that they exchanged was different than the ones that had preceded it: almost bashful, as if they were both noticing for the first time that they had crossed into new territory with each other.
Connor didn’t tell Bethany which room he was headed for, and he didn’t know what had made him decide to sleep in Angel’s room. It felt a little weird, sure, but there hadn’t been a part of the last two days that hadn’t been weird, and anyway he must have had a crib in there at some point, so it was a little like it was his room too.
He had to force the lock again, which caused a loud bang. “I’m okay,” he called out, embarrassed. “Sorry.”
A tinkling laugh drifted down the hall in reply, and he walked into Angel’s suite and looked around. It had collected some dust, but was otherwise fastidiously clean and organized, and most of Angel’s personal possessions seemed to have stayed. Connor wondered why he would move somewhere without packing up his life. Perhaps he didn’t want his lodgings at Wolfram & Hart to be personalized.
It was too dark to do much snooping even if snooping had been his primary intention, so he sat down on the bed to think and woke up in the same place, feeling as disoriented as he’d ever been. Aside from not knowing where he was, he wasn’t even sure he had fallen asleep: the heavy drapes kept the room in uniform darkness. Both questions were answered when he stumbled to the window and pushed the drapes aside, blinking into the morning sun, and he wondered crossly why Angel had arranged the room to keep out all the light. A few seconds later he came back to his senses and had a good laugh at himself.
His watch told him that he hadn’t slept in too long, but he didn’t linger in Angel’s suite. Everything he needed was in his backpack, and it felt better to leave the place undisturbed.
When he got downstairs he found Bethany already up and waiting, dressed in clean clothes that he knew she hadn’t brought with her. “I found them in another room,” she said with a shrug. “I guess they were Cordelia’s.”
She looked down at the powder-blue blouse she was wearing. “Interesting guy, then.”
He smiled. “Fred was a girl. Sleep okay?”
It only took a few minutes of chatting to plan their next step: both were hungry and neither wanted to raid the hotel’s stash again, and Bethany suggested they “eat out,” trying their luck with the city’s stores. Connor was loath to leave the hotel without at least a little bit of daylight exploration, though, and that led to a few more discoveries.
One was the weapons cabinet, which was locked securely and still contained an impressive collection. Looking at it gave Connor an idea, and he poked around in nearby cabinets until he found a sheath for his souvenir. He also found some supplies to clean the dragon blood off the blade, and sat down with it immediately, refusing to leave it dirty any longer.
While he was thus occupied, Bethany found some mail that had been dropped through a slot and never opened, and she brought it all over to Connor and sat down on the floor with him. “Here’s another moral quandary,” she said. “Do we assume he’ll get back here someday and read this, or do we take the chance that reading it ourselves means we might be able to learn something that would help him?”
Connor shifted the sword on his knee and peered at the small stack of postal items. There were several women’s magazines, all addressed to Cordelia Chase, and most of the rest of it looked official and outdated, bearing the names Charles Gunn or Winifred Burkle. The only one that actually looked like a letter was also the only one with Angel’s name on it, and Connor’s hand automatically reached for it, then stopped and hovered there uncertainly. “It’s got to be around a year old now,” he said. “Whoever sent it”-- he checked the return address—- “this Robin Wood, he-slash-she has either gotten in touch with him by now, or whatever he-slash-she had to say isn’t relevant anymore.”
Bethany nodded. “So, is that an ‘open it’ or a ‘don’t open it’?”
“Let’s be realistic here. Our actual choices are ‘open it’ or ‘leave it in my backpack for a few hours until the curiosity kills us, and then open it’.”
“How very fatalistic of you,” said Bethany, seating herself next to him so they could both see the letter. “I’m opening it.”
The letter was typed, one terse paragraph over a list of contact information and a signature in pen: The Sunnydale team has become divided in several matters, yourself included. I am a friend of Faith and she assures me that you can still be trusted, so I hope to begin a correspondence with you and keep our purposes aligned to some degree. Given our current drought of information, this is the only address of yours that we could find. If you receive this letter, please contact us as soon as possible.
“Any idea?” asked Bethany after they had finished reading.
Connor shook his head. “Sounds like a missed opportunity. Too bad.” He picked up the sword again and got back to work on it, and Bethany frowned and folded up the letter to put in her pocket.
Walking out of the ruined city felt a lot different than walking into it. What had been ominous became standard, and they spent a lot more time laughing and horsing around and just generally being inane. Connor turned a car over just to show that he could, and Bethany flipped it back upright with a smirk, and for a moment they came dangerously close to making a game out of tossing cars.
Breakfast at the nearest grocery store was no less chaotic, as Bethany got so excited by all the food that she started pulling it all off the shelves telekinetically, letting various containers float around her head while she made her selections. The potential food fight was cancelled on account of the terrible smell in the produce and meat departments, but they left the place with armloads of groceries and had a picnic on top of an abandoned semi. “I think I can check a few off my list of things I’ve always wanted to do,” said Bethany cheerfully.
For long stretches of the walk they held hands, letting go and coming back together as the terrain allowed, needing no discussion about it. Deep conversations from the day before were periodically revived, but Connor soon noticed how exhausting that could get, and the walk was long enough to accommodate any number of topics.
The hottest part of the day featured the most frivolous talk. “Is it alive?” Connor asked as he squinted against the reflection of the sun on an office window, wishing for sunglasses.
“Nope,” Bethany replied. “Thirteen.”
“Did it used to be alive?”
She grinned. “Yes. Good one! Twelve.”
“Okay, does it still move even though it’s dead?”
“You’re too good at this. Yes. Eleven.”
Connor cleared his throat with premature triumph. “Is it the dragon?”
“What?” He faked a glare. “It has to be the dragon. You changed the answer in the middle so I wouldn’t get it.”
“I would never!”
“Well, if something croaked and doesn’t stay still, experience tells me that you have something to do with it. Seriously, who else do you think I know who makes inanimate objects attack me?”
She punched his arm playfully. “Yes-or-no questions only. And you only have ten of them left.”
Connor lost his train of thought quickly, which was not unusual for him when he was stuck on a missing part of a puzzle. “I used to play this game in the car with my sisters,” he said. “Only instead of Twenty Questions we called it Infinity Questions, and kept guessing until someone got the answer.”
“Yeah? I feel like I’ve been playing Infinity Questions for days. Except without the answer at the end.”
Two crows launched themselves from the middle of the road as Connor and Bethany approached them, and his eyes followed them up to the sky and behind a tall building. “We got a few answers, didn’t we?” he replied.
She shrugged. “Sure. But mostly the kind that makes more questions. You remember everything Lorne said about heroes?”
“Heroes did this.” She waved a hand in a wide arc, indicating the vast expanse of broken, empty landscape surrounding them. “I know they were fighting evil, but one way or another, the second-biggest city in America got trashed. People died. Because the heroes decided this was when they were going to fight, and where, and how. And what did we get out of it? Questions.”
Connor took a deep breath, shaken. His hand dropped to the hilt of the sword at his hip, and he gave it a squeeze. “They must have known something,” he offered. “There must have been some reason that things would have been even worse if they didn’t end it this way.”
“I hope so,” said Bethany sadly. “I believe so, really. I just wish I had some proof to hold onto, even just a word from someone who knew the truth. I wish it wasn’t just me trusting a guy who was good to me a few years ago.”
“I see what you mean,” said Connor, wishing he didn’t. He felt like there had to be something he could say to make her believe that everything was for the better, but instead he found himself immersed in her doubts. He too was operating on nothing but trust. He closed his eyes for a moment and pictured Angel as he had last seen him, radiating energy and desperation and fully prepared for his final sacrifice. He had just drained the blood of an enemy. He was...
“Oh.” Connor opened his eyes and looked at Bethany. “It’s Angel, isn’t it? Dead but still moving.”
She looked bemused, then laughed. “Yeah. Honestly I thought you would guess that a lot faster.”
“I never really thought of him as dead.”
“Hm. I like that.”
They walked on. Leaving the heart of the city meant that the increase in destruction that they had seen on their way in happened in reverse, and it was a bit of a relief to look around and see less and less damage. Eventually there was none in view. The route they had chosen was slightly different than the one from the day before, but there were still recognizable landmarks telling them how close they were to the borders.
Connor kept his eyes on the sun, feeling its progress across the sky as a kind of oppression. He had no fear of being trapped inside Los Angeles-- just the opposite. Once the day was over, the journey was over too, and he would have no further reason to be trespassing on battlegrounds and making discoveries with Bethany. He took a glance at her, then straight ahead, and sighed. The barrier was within sight again. It was time to have the talk.
“Where are you going to go?” he said quietly.
She folded her arms against her chest and looked straight ahead. “I haven’t really decided. I was staying with some friends in Oregon before this. I might go back there.”
“Well, it’s just...” He caught himself before it turned into an unintelligible mumble. After everything that they had shared about themselves, why was this hard to talk about? “I mean, if you’re not already in college, you could maybe...Stanford’s a good school...”
The look she gave him then was intensely skeptical, but he thought there might be a little bit of a smile behind it. “You want me to apply to your college?”
“No! I mean, yes, if you want to. Obviously. But if it wasn’t right for you there are other ones nearby. And if you don’t want to go to college at all, it’s still a nice town. I mean, there’s, there’s houses, and roads, and stores, and, wow, all kinds of stuff, it’s amazing.”
“I can’t afford my own place.”
They hadn’t stopped walking during the conversation, and now they had reached the inevitable end, the barrier. Both of them halted a few yards away from it and faced each other, Bethany holding her gaze a little more downcast than Connor’s. Her statement about her financial matters had been no more than the bitter truth, he realized.
“I could help you,” he said. “My family has money. I could get you set up.”
“Connor, we’ve known each other for two days.” She lifted her eyes, but there was a resigned note of finality in her voice.
“Lorne said we should stick together.”
“You always do what karaoke demons tell you to?”
“Only the empathic ones.” He took a step closer to her and touched her shoulder. “Please, Bethany. Don’t just walk out of my life.”
She didn’t return the gesture, but she didn’t move away from it, either. “I think...I think there’s something I’m supposed to be doing with myself. With my powers. I have to find another Angel, or...can I have that letter from Robin Wood?”
He blinked in surprise, but fished the letter out of his backpack and handed it to her. “You’re going to find these people?”
She nodded. “Hey, if anyone knows what to do with a telekinetic, sounds like it might be them.”
It made sense, he had to admit. Beyond money, he had little to offer her, and if she was looking for a purpose, he had no right to try to stop her from finding it. Still, it didn’t mean he couldn’t follow her example. “If you get somewhere with this, maybe I should--“
“Maybe you should give me your number.” She smiled. “Maybe we should keep in touch. Maybe we should spend a couple days finishing off our respective California vacations.”
Gradually Connor began to feel his own face reflecting her smile. “You’re a smart lady,” he said. He looked up and over at the barrier. “Can’t really say I relish the thought of returning to the real world.”
The sentence was barely out of his mouth when she launched herself at him and threw her arms around him. Connor needed no help from his brain to tell him how to respond; his body knew exactly where his arms should move to encircle her, how his hand should cradle her head as she tilted it back to look up at him, how his mouth should be pressed against hers and his heartbeat indistinguishable from hers. She smelled like a waterfall in a deep forest, and suddenly he knew beyond a shadow of doubt that there would be a time to tell her that, and it wasn’t today.
“Okay,” he said breathlessly as they separated. “I’m ready.”
illustration by janasbangel
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