Bunch of Lonesome Heroesby Wolfling
Angel closed his eyes, feeling the warmth of the sun on his face.
He still wasn't used to this and he wasn't sure he'd ever get used to it. He could have this office for a hundred years and stand in front of the open windows every morning, and he'd still get that little thrill of fear for the first second when the sunlight touched his skin.
Still get that sense of wonder and yearning that being able to stand here in the light always gave him.
It was ironic, Angel thought, that he got even this limited ability to experience the light again only by stepping further into the darkness he'd been struggling against for so long.
And worse, dragging his friends with him.
But Angel couldn't bring himself to truly regret the bargain he had accepted, not when it allowed him to give his son the one thing he never would have been able to do otherwise: a happy -- normal -- life. For that, he would've agreed to much worse than taking over an evil law firm.
He was sure the others would have understood and agreed as well. If it had been their decision to make.
If they could remember the boy he'd sacrificed them all for.
Angel felt a wistful regret at that. Last time something like this happened, when he'd asked the Powers to turn back the clock, he'd at least had Doyle to talk to. But Doyle was long dead and the others...
Somehow he had a hard time seeing himself talking about Connor with any of them, not when he would have to explain the whole sorry saga to them first.
The only one he could even imagine ever bringing it up with was Wesley, and that,...that would be... problematical. Wesley's feelings toward Connor had to be almost as complicated as Angel's own were. The boy certainly used to lie in all the empty spaces of any conversation Wesley and Angel had had, things done and said on both sides that would always hang between them.
At least things that had always hung between them until they'd been wiped from Wesley's memory. And as simple as that, all of the Connor-induced tension between them had disappeared. There were still shadows in Wesley's eyes, but they weren't as deep, and they no longer grew darker and bleaker when he looked at Angel.
Angel told himself that he didn't talk to Wesley about Connor because it wouldn't be fair to Wesley. It would be cruel to put that weight of guilt back on Wesley's shoulders just because Angel felt the need for someone to talk to.
With all that in mind, Angel was able to resist the selfish desire to share the secret, no matter how heavy it sometimes felt.
But despite all of that, Angel didn't even once wish the memories of Connor away for himself as well.
No matter how much pain there was in those memories, Connor was his son -- the only one, barring some kind of miracle, that he was ever going to have. Angel would never deny him, would never forget him -- even though he'd had to give him up.
So he carried the memories alone, though he allowed himself to dwell on them only in these brief moments in the morning sun. The rest of the time he did his best to put it out of his mind and concentrate on the business of running and de-evilling an evil law firm.
That actually seemed to be going better than Angel had dared hoped when he'd made the deal to save his son.
With little discussion, the staff of Angel Investigations had divided the law firm up between them, each taking responsibility for running and cleaning up a different department, each playing to their strengths: Wesley dealing with Files and Records, Fred with Research and Development, Lorne with Forecast and Analysis, and Gunn... Well he wasn't quite sure exactly what Gunn was doing, just that it had to do with the White Room and some kind of forbidden knowledge. Of course what kind of forbidden knowledge that meant exactly Gunn so far had been pretty vague about.
And that was a sign of what, in Angel's estimation, was the biggest problem they had right now.
They weren't communicating.
Oh, they had regular meetings and talked about business, each of them -- aside from Gunn -- providing thorough and detailed reports that when put together provided a clear picture of where they stood professionally speaking.
But that was all it was: professional business meetings, with a bunch of people who were professional business colleagues, who worked well together, but never spoke to each other once they left the conference room.
They were still an effective team when it came to fighting evil -- both outside and inside their newly-acquired law firm -- but that was all they were.
Any relationship beyond coworkers -- the friendship, the closeness, that had held them together through some of the worst situations even Angel could imagine -- all of that seemed to have vanished.
Angel wondered if he was to blame for this... disintegration. If by removing Connor from his friends' -- and everyone's -- memories, something else essential had been lost as well. Something that had held them together, the lack of which had them drifting further apart with every day.
He knew that he himself had been pulling back, avoiding any interaction beyond work. Holding onto the memory of Connor set him apart, even more than he'd been already. It made Angel uncomfortable about reaching out, afraid, at best he wouldn't be able to connect any more. At worst he'd blurt out the truth and they'd all have to deal with the fallout of that little bombshell.
So Angel could understand the distance that seemed to have grown between him and the others. If that were all it was, he would have been able to live with it, would have seen it as part of the price he had to pay.
But it was more than that. It wasn't just Angel that everyone was distancing themselves from. The distance was growing among all of them. Each of them -- Lorne, Fred, Gunn, Wesley -- was withdrawing from all of the others. They were a group, but each of them was increasingly alone and isolated.
And that was unacceptable to Angel.
He intended to stop it.
Even if it meant that he was going to have to be the one to reach out.
It took time for Angel to work up the courage to actually make a first move. He tried to plan an approach, but he was just no good at this sort of thing, and he knew it. Fighting invincible god-like beings or demons made of stone, those he could handle and come up with a plan to defeat. But unfortunately, this wasn't a problem that could be solved by his hitting something. Something more subtle was needed and Angel feared that most of the time he sucked at subtle. And not in a good way.
Eventually though, Angel just bit the bullet and headed to his chosen target's office, trusting that he would go and be able to fumble his way through somehow.
If the way to approach this problem was hopelessly muddled, the decision of which person he should approach first was practically a foregone conclusion.
Angel didn't even consider approaching anybody but Wesley. Not only was Wesley the one he'd known the longest, but they understood each other. Or, at least, Wesley understood *him*; Angel was willing to admit that there had been times where he had totally misread the other man.
This wasn't going to be one of those times, Angel vowed to himself. This was too important. He wanted that comraderie, that closeness back, and not just for himself, but for all of them.
That was the thought that Angel kept firmly in his mind as he walked through the halls early one evening. They were mostly deserted, the majority of the staff having left for the day an hour or so earlier. It seemed better that way -- less people to notice and ask questions.
Not that the majority of the people who worked for Wolfram and Hart tended to be the type to ask questions, especially about something so seemingly mundane as the boss heading to the office of one of his department heads, but Angel still felt better about doing it during something less than peak hours.
After all, this wasn't something for office gossip, either among the employees or the Senior Partners. This was private.
Angel walked through Wesley's outer office, finding the lights dimmed and the place as deserted as he'd expected. There was a glint of light shining under the far door; a sign that Wesley at least was still here. Angel didn't need to see it to know that; after years of being friends with Wesley, he could tell, by sound and scent, when the man was close by.
Angel knocked on Wesley's office door, then opened it enough to stick his head in. "Wes? You got a minute?"
Wesley was sitting at his desk, the surface of which was totally covered in open books, files and pages and pages of notes. He'd looked up when Angel had opened the door and now set his pen down, giving the vampire his full attention. "Of course," he replied immediately. "Is there a problem?"
"No problem," Angel hastened to assure him. "I just thought that we could..." And here already his seeming lack of improvisational skills was showing as all he could think of to say was, "... you know... hang out."
Wesley stared at him. "Hang out," he repeated slowly.
Oh, this was going *really* well. "Yeah. Hang out, where we go... somewhere... and talk and... stuff." Yeah, he was really being smooth here.
Wesley continued to stare at him, with the same blank-faced expression that he always seemed to be wearing these days. "Actually, Angel, I'm in the middle of some research right now, so I really-"
"Can't it wait?" Angel blurted. "I mean the world's not going to come to an end if you take the night off, is it? And if it is, shouldn't you have people in here helping you? Come to think of it, if it is, shouldn't I already know about it?"
"It's nothing to do with an impending apocalypse," Wesley hastened to assure him. "Just some things I need to look into."
"Okay, good. I hate it when those sneak up on me."
The faintest hint of a smile touched Wesley's lips. "I promise, if I ever have any advance warning on a apocalypse, I will make sure to keep you informed."
"Thanks," Angel said. "I appreciate it." Then, bringing the conversation back on topic, he added, "But that means what you're doing isn't so urgent that you can't come out with me tonight."
"To... hang out," Wesley said dryly. "And do... stuff."
"Yeah." Inspiration suddenly struck and Angel offered, "We can go to that English-style pub you like so much -- you know, the one with all the dark woodwork and dartboards?"
Wesley was beginning to look at him strangely. "Angel, what is this about? Really?"
"Nothing," Angel replied too quickly, then, realising that he wasn't going to get any further with Wesley without giving him at least a partial explanation, added, "Okay, it's... something. But it's not an impending end of the world something. Just..."
"What?" Wesley asked, voice softer and more concerned than Angel had heard it in a long time.
Angel took it as a good sign, a breach in the wall of 'just business' that seemed to have sprung up around them all. He tried to couch his answer in words that would widen the breach. "This is all great, really -- evil law firm, big fancy office, company car pool, all the resources I could want to throw at whatever wrongs I'm trying to right, but..." It didn't take much effort to put an awkward, aware-of-the-irony expression on his face. "It's... isolating, don't you think?"
"Isolating," Wesley repeated, sounding half like he was doubting Angel's sanity, and half like he was... interested.
"Yeah," Angel said, nodding emphatically. "It's like... everything's being kept at an artificial distance. Like-"
"Like something's missing," Wesley finished, his eyes glowing with the light of someone who had just been handed another piece to a puzzle he was trying to solve.
"Exactly!" Angel agreed, immensely pleased that Wes had noticed what was happening as well. "That's exactly it. Something's missing. You feel it too?"
Wesley nodded and gestured at his books. "That's what I've been researching, trying to find the cause, and any possible solutions."
All right, perhaps they weren't talking about the same thing after all, since Angel wasn't sure why Wesley would be looking in his books for ways to act as friends again. But at least Wes was talking to him, with something like his old enthusiasm for solving a mystery. Not wanting to discourage the conversation now that it was actually flowing, and also thinking that maybe it would be a good thing to keep Wes talking so he could figure out exactly what it was that Wes thought they were talking about, Angel did his best to look interested and not at all confused, as he made an encouraging, "Yeah?"
"I've made a list of when this... phenomenon seems to be the strongest," Wesley said, pulling out a paper filled with his familiar scrawl and handing it over to Angel. "Discussion or even just the act of thinking about certain periods of time in the past year seem to be the trigger. I've been trying to see what these periods have in common -- if there is some kind of pattern, but so far I haven't been able to discover any."
Angel glanced down at the paper in his hands and felt a chill go through him; every instance listed was one where reality had been changed to remove Connor from all their memories.
"I'm glad you came to me about this," Wesley was continuing, giving Angel an earnest look. "I was starting to wonder perhaps I was just..."
"Imagining things?" Angel finished for him, making a decision in that moment, that he had up to that point been totally against. "You're not."
"That's certainly reassuring." Wes' mouth twisted into a distant impression of a wry smile. "At least I know that if I'm crazy, I'm not alone." He looked at the paper Angel still held. "I just wish I'd made some progress into figuring out what all this is about."
"I already know," Angel said, knowing how fateful those three words were as soon as he uttered them.
Wesley's eyes immediately fastened onto him, his gaze intense, as if he was trying to pull the information out of Angel by his look alone. There was no turning back; Wesley had the scent now, and wouldn't just let it drop, even if Angel changed his mind.
That was certainly a goad to go through with it -- that and the knowledge that his decision was the cause of the splintering of their group.
Taking a deep breath, Angel began talking about what he had thought he'd never speak of.
"When I made the deal with Lilah, for us to take over, there was something more to it than I told you." He could feel Wesley's eyes on him, but couldn't look at the other man as he continued. "There was... a shift in reality. I'm not sure if what happened actually got changed, or just everybody's memories of it, but the result's pretty much the same."
Wesley, quick on the uptake as ever, reached for the paper that Angel still held. "So these would be the periods of time that have been altered in our memories." He took a breath, and Angel could almost see the wheels turning as Wesley began to wrap his mind around the problem with this new information. "Right then. What we need to find is a way of discovering what the original reality -- and our original memories -- are. Perhaps there are some divination techniques that might-"
Angel's eyes widened as it dawned on him that Wesley thought they both had had their memories tampered with, that Angel was in the dark as much as Wes himself was.
For a moment, he was tempted to let that assumption stand; already the emotional distance between he and Wes had seemed to shrink, and that was the thing Angel had been worried about. He could play along, nod his head and make supportive noises while Wesley tried to find a way to discover what they'd forgotten...
Until Wes actually succeeded -- and Angel had no doubt that he would eventually; Wesley had both the brains and the stubbornness to do so -- and then all the closeness -- and trust -- that Angel was trying so hard to revive and cultivate would disappear.
Not telling the others about the changes that had been made was one thing; pretending to be affected once they knew about them, Angel knew Wesley would see that as the bigger betrayal.
So he broke into Wes' recitation of the things they could look into with a simple, "I know what happened."
Wes continued on for a few more words before Angel's words registered and he stumbled to a stop. "What did you say?" he asked, fixing Angel with a hard stare.
"The original reality. I know what happened." Though he wanted to, Angel didn't look away. "I had a son. His name was Connor."
He could hear the pain in his own voice, and could see in Wes' eyes that he heard it too. There was confusion in Wesley's expression, but also compassion, and patience, and that gave Angel the courage he needed to keep speaking.
He started at the beginning, and told Wes everything. From Darla showing up pregnant to his last glimpse of Connor in his new life with his new family, Angel left nothing out. Occasionally Wesley would interject a softly uttered question, and occasionally Angel's voice would falter with emotion as even now some things were almost too painful to face, but he somehow got through it, and kept talking.
Finally though, there was nothing left to tell and Angel fell silent. He felt completely drained but also strangely at peace about Connor in a way he hadn't been able to manage before. Content to let the next move be Wesley's, he remained still and quiet, and waited.
Wes had his deep thinking face on, and one hand was absently tracing the scar on his throat. "That certainly makes everything make more sense," he murmured, more to himself than to Angel. His eyes focused on Angel then with a gaze that seemed to see far more than just what was on the surface.
"I'm sorry," Wes said, in soft measured tones. "For what you had to do and what you lost." He took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "And for whatever part I had to play in it, no matter how little choice I had."
It took Angel by surprise; whatever reaction he'd expected from Wesley, this wasn't it. "Thank you," he replied, in an equally soft tone. "I... thanks."
"It must have been difficult, carrying those memories alone," Wes continued, voice still sympathetic.
"It-" Angel paused, finding he had to swallow the lump in his throat before he could continue talking. "It was. I've thought about him every morning, but it's not the same thing, y'know?"
Wes nodded in understanding. "Then why," he began, and his voice was still gentle though there was a hint of exasperation underneath, "did you feel the need to steal my and the others' memories of Connor? Why not let us remember the old reality with you?"
"I..." Angel stopped, and tried to figure out the best way to explain the reasoning -- and feelings -- behind his decision. "I had to remember him -- he's my son. But you, I could spare you the pain of losing him, and all the pain that happened along the way. You didn't need to still carry that. One less burden you have to share."
"But Angel, don't you see?" Wesley asked, not unkindly. "That's what friends do -- help carry the burden. But more than that -- friendships are built and strengthened on shared experiences -- shared hardships and shared joys. Connor's existence was the focal point of many of those this last year. Take him away, and you take away a lot more than just the knowledge of his existence."
That certainly would explain the distance that seemed to have grown between everyone, as well as Wesley's determined research to find the 'something missing'. Angel took that in and turned it over in his mind, adjusting his thoughts about the entire thing. "You think I should tell the others?"
"Yes," Wes answered bluntly. "It's not my decision to make, but if it was up to me, I would definitely tell them."
"And doing that -- telling them -- that will help us all get back to what we were?" Angel asked. "Friends?"
Wes gave him a tiny smile. "You and I are still friends -- and we would remain so whether you had told me or not. The weirdness would have eventually faded on its own as new shared experiences and memories took priority. The same holds true for the others." He sighed. "But yes, knowing what happened, even if I don't have the actual memories of it does make it easier. At the very least I know why my emotions don't quite match up to the events, and that helps. It's always reassuring to know you're not going crazy."
And that definitely decided Angel. He didn't want a bunch of employees -- much less friends -- doubting their sanity because of something he'd done. "All right," he said. "I'll schedule a senior-staff-only meeting tomorrow and tell them then."
"I think you're making the right decision," Wes told him, voice and body language both speaking of their approval of Angel. Moving to his desk, he began to pick up and sort the books lying there, but stopped again after a few seconds. "This can wait until tomorrow." He turned back towards Angel. "I think there's still enough time tonight for me to work in soundly thrashing you at darts."
Angel blinked. "Darts?"
"You wanted to go out to the pub." Wesley hesitated, his attitude suddenly becoming hesitant. "Unless, you've changed your mind after...?"
"No!" Angel quickly assured him, feeling a smile start to creep over his face. "No, the invitation stands. But what makes you think you're going to thrash me at darts?"
Wesley's eyes gleamed with anticipation and affection as he grinned and answered, "Shared experience."