Author's Note: This story has been a really long time coming, so this chapter is dedicated to all of you fans who kept asking me to write more of the story. I hope you like it.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, and I'm not making any money from this story.
Warning: Non consensual disciplinary spanking of an adult by a parent.



How It Should Have Been Chapter 13

Connor lay next to Julie on her twin size bed made for one, and gently pressed his ear up against her exposed stomach. There was a tiny bump there, small enough to easily be covered up by loose clothing.

"Can you feel it move yet?" he asked.

"Not yet." She brushed her fingers through his hair. "Connor?"

"Hmm?"

"I went to see the doctor on campus today."

Connor sat up abruptly. "Why? Is something wrong? Why didn't you call me? I…"

She put a finger up to his lips to stop the stream of questions, and pulled at him until he was resting on the bed facing her. "Nothing's wrong. I'm sorry I didn't call you, but I wanted to get checked out without a bunch of questions about the baby's father. The doctor said that the baby and I are perfectly healthy."

"Good," he said with relief.

"He also said that I'm three months along."

Connor propped himself up on his elbow. "But that can't be right… you said the baby was conceived the night the fire fell from the sky, and that was only three weeks ago."

"I guess that means she's more like you than…"

"She?" Connor cut her off.

"It's too soon to know for sure. I just think it's a girl," Julie said with a smile. "And I think she's more like you than me."

"What do you mean?"

"Well if I broke a bone, it would take me a month or longer to heal. It only takes you two days. Our baby is growing faster than a human baby would. If she keeps going at this rate, she'll be born in about six weeks."

"Six weeks!" Connor sat up, feeling sick to his stomach. "But we're still not married! We can't have the baby out of wedlock, Julie. It's an affront to God."

She sat up as well, and put both her hands on the sides of his face to make sure they had eye contact. "Hey, I've told you that's not the way things are anymore. The baby will be happy and healthy whether we are married or not." She kissed him on the forehead and said, "I'm not saying no. I'm saying give me a little more time. I promise I'll give you an answer next week."

He took her hands in his and said, "I swear to you that I'll do everything in my power to take care of you and our baby for the rest of my life. No matter what."

"I know you will." She leaned in to kiss him, and they lay back down on the bed together.

# # #

Angel stood at the counter, trying not to stare at the clock, or at the lobby doors.

Gunn noticed the furtive glances, and said, "He's getting worse."

"What?" Angel asked.

"Connor."

Angel glared at the counter. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Gunn rolled his eyes, but kept his mouth shut. He knew things were still strained between Angel and Connor. The aftershock of meeting Angelus had everyone a little jumpy that first week. And he could understand why Angel was hesitant to be strict with Connor after the things Angelus had said. But somewhere in the second week, Connor had started taking advantage of his father's current approach to parenting. Gunn wasn't sure if it was intentional on Connor's part, but he knew Connor was getting worse every day. While Gunn was thinking things over, the phone rang.

Lorne beat both Angel and Gunn to pick it up. "Angel Investigations," Lorne said with a cheery smile. His hopeful expression fell as he said, "We're not interested in donating this year."

Once Lorne hung up, Gunn sighed, "If things keep going like this, we're gonna have to start taking the normal human cases to pay the bills."

Lorne sipped at his drink and said, "Where are all the things that used to go bump in the night?"

"We should be happy," Angel said with a scowl. "Having no calls means that people aren't being attacked by monsters. A lot of vampires fried when the sun came back, and the others are still afraid to show themselves." He heard the lobby doors open, and turned to see Connor walking in.

"Hey," Connor said with a casual smile.

Angel's scowl deepened. "You're late."

Connor shrugged. "Sorry," he said without sounding remorseful in the least. "I had my cell phone on."

Angel huffed and muttered, "Next time call if you're going to be late."

"Okay."

Gunn had to literally bite his tongue to keep from blurting out something he'd regret. He thought, That's it? The kid is almost an hour late, he didn't finish his tutoring before he left, and all you have to say is call next time?

"Connor!" Gunn barked out, unable to keep completely quite about things.

"Yeah?" Connor asked cautiously, noting the irritation in Gunn's stance.

"The next time you're late for one of your tutoring sessions with me, I'm gonna make you do two hours instead of one. It's rude to leave people hanging, man."

Actually looking contrite this time, Connor muttered, "Sorry, Gunn."

It was Angel's turn to bite his tongue. He was still jealous of the bond Gunn and Connor had formed while Angelus was in control of his body. He knew Gunn loved Connor and only wanted what was best for him, but he still hated it when Gunn took a parental tone with his son. Angel glared daggers at the counter to keep himself from glaring at Gunn.

The phone rang again, and Lorne answered. "Angel Investigations… Really? I'll have someone there in a jiff." Lorne hung up with a smile. "Vampire nest in the sewer under Highland Street somewhere between fifth and ninth."

"Great." Angel clapped his hands together and walked to the weapons cabinet with a grin. "Let's go kill something."

# # #

Before going down to fight, Angel whispered, "I hear at least five different voices. Connor?"

"At least five. Probably more like eight."

"Okay." Angel said, "We'll all stick together down there. Back to back." He looked specifically at Connor and said, "No running off on your own to chase one of them down."

After getting a nod from both of his teammates, Angel lifted the manhole cover, and jumped down into the sewer. Connor jumped down as well, but Gunn climbed down rather than jumping. Angel and Connor had both made a kill before Gunn made it down the short wall ladder.

The nest was bolder and more viscous than most. The three men found themselves surrounded and fighting in earnest before Gunn's feet touched the tunnel floor. It made for a violent battle that was quickly over. Once the last vampire was dusted, an unnatural silence filled the tunnel. The calm was disturbed by a faint scratching noise around the bend to the right. Connor and Angel turned their heads towards the noise in unison. Angel opened his mouth to give an order, but before he could say anything, Connor darted off towards the noise with determination on his face. Gunn and Angel were too surprised to move for a moment.

"Connor!" Angel yelled as he saw his son disappear around the bend. Angel ran after him, quickly followed by Gunn.

Connor had a large demon gutted and decapitated before Angel arrived. Connor turned to his father with a pleased smile, and said, "I don't know what this one is, but it's sure gooey inside."

Gunn crossed his arms, and waited for the smackdown. Surly Angel wouldn't let this go without a swat or two at the very least.

Angel simply said in a tired voice, "You can't keep running off during a fight Connor. And you shouldn't try killing something, when you don't even know what it is. It could have been friendly like Lorne."

Frowning at his father's words, Connor said, "It didn't look very friendly. It tried to claw me."

"That's not the point." Angel said. "The point is you ran off after I told you we were all staying together."

Connor looked at Gunn to gage his reaction to what he'd done. His expression was much less promising than his father's. Connor said, "Sorry, Dad. I thought that only applied to the vampires, and since they were all dead, I figured it would be okay to check out the other noise. But you're right, I shouldn't have killed it without knowing what it was."

Relieved, Angel smiled and patted Connor on the shoulder. "Okay, apology accepted. Nice job killing the Maipok demon," Angel gestured to the messy blob on the sewer floor, "they're never nice."

Irritated with Angel, Gunn said, "Let's go home. Connor still has tutoring to do."

# # #

In the middle of Gunn's tutoring session, Angel burst into the room with a look of shock on his face.

"What?" Gunn and Connor asked in unison.

"I was just looking at my calendar," Angel said.

"And?" Gunn asked.

"Tomorrow is November nineteenth."

Gunn and Connor gave Angel a blank stare.

"Connor was born a year ago tomorrow," Angel said.

Gunn smiled and gave Connor a friendly punch in the shoulder. "Happy Birthday. You're one."

Not sure how he felt about it, Connor said, "November nineteenth… I never knew that was the day of my birth. Holtz never told me. He'd put a mark inside the cover of his Bible every year when we saw the first baby Kline. That's how I know we were there for eighteen years."

"We gonna have a party?" Gunn asked. "Or should we wait for August when his new birth certificate says he's eighteen?"

"I'm gonna be nineteen tomorrow," Connor muttered to himself, still trying to get used to the idea of having a specific date to call his.

"We'll have a party tomorrow," Angel said with a small smile. Turning to his son, he said, "Connor, I know Julie hasn't come back to the hotel since I got my soul back, and I now Angelus terrified her, but I'd like to get a second chance to get to know her better. If you tell her it's your birthday, and invite her to dinner here at the hotel with us, she might be willing."

Connor smiled. "I'd like it if you two could get along, Dad." Having never celebrated a birthday, he didn't really care about having a party, but he'd use any excuse he could to get Julie and Angel to tolerate each other. "I'll call her right now." He stood and headed for the door.

"Ten minutes," Gunn said. "Then you come back and finish your tutoring session."

"Okay," Connor said over his shoulder as he went to his room to call.

Angel muttered, "I need to go shopping."

"Is Fred home yet?" Gunn asked, trying not to let the bitterness show in his voice. She'd been spending more and more time over at Wesley's apartment, and it made Gunn physically ill every time he thought about that traitorous bastard touching his girl.

"Got home a few minutes ago," Angel said, and headed towards the kitchen where Lorne and Fred were softly talking. "I'll need to ask her to shop for me during the day tomorrow. And I'll need to talk to Lorne about cake. There should be cake."

# # #

"Your birthday?" Julie asked.

"Yes," Connor said, "So will you come to dinner?"

"I don't know," she said, "I'm not comfortable around your father. I know he's not Angelus anymore, but I didn't like him much even when he did have a soul. He hits you, Connor. I'm not okay with that."

"He hasn't since getting his soul back," Connor said, pleased to be able to take her biggest objection about Angel off the table for now. "And I've done things that would have gotten me spanked before he turned."

There was a pause, and he said, "Julie?" wondering if they'd been disconnected.

"I'm still here. I'm just… surprised. He hasn't hit you since?"

"Not once," Connor said with a smile. He'd given up on trying to convince her that hitting and spanking were different in his mind, and in the minds of his family. He knew she would never be able to see it as anything other than abuse, no matter how he personally felt about it.

"Well…" she hedged.

"I really want you two to get along, Julie." Connor said with some desperation in his voice. "You, me, and Angel… we're connected now. We're family. He's our baby's grandfather. You should come and see him. He's different now."

"Okay." She reluctantly agreed. "I'll come."

"Great!"

# # #

Connor could feel the tension in the room, when he walked through the lobby doors holding hands with Julie. He wondered if that was normal for a birthday party, or just for his family. Julie kept darting disapproving glares at Angel, who purposely kept his eyes off of her. Gunn was blatantly glaring daggers at Wesley, who had his arm around Fred's shoulders. Wesley pretended not to notice, but Connor could see the way the corners of Wesley's mouth turned up, and knew the man was happy with Gunn's anger. Fred was obviously unhappy with the tension between the two men, and awkwardly tried to pretend she didn't notice. Lorne seemed to be the only one in the room who wasn't on edge, and dinner hadn't even started yet.

With a forced smile, Angel said, "Now that the birthday boy is here, let's open presents."

"Presents?" Connor asked as he led Julie down the stairs towards the round couch. He saw a pile of brightly wrapped gifts on the counter. "What for?"

For a short moment, everyone stared at Connor, realizing he had no idea what a birthday party was supposed to entail.

"They're for you cupcake." Lorne said quietly.

Connor turned to Angel, hoping for a better explanation.

Angel's hands balled into fists when he thought about all the birthday's he'd missed. This was supposed to be Connor's first birthday, not his nineteenth. He hated Holtz, not only for taking his son away from him, but also for raising him the way he had. Trying not to let the anger and grief show in his voice, Angel said, "I guess I should have explained it to you, since it's your first birthday here. I just assumed Holtz would have… never mind. On your birthday, your friends and family get together and celebrate the fact that you were born. It's customary to give you gifts."

Not quite believing that, Connor turned to Gunn for conformation. Gunn nodded. "It's also traditional to have cake and ice cream, though I'm not sure why."

"That's a European custom that began back in the…" Wesley started in on lecture mode.

"And…" Gunn cut Wesley off, "…if you were actually one year old, we'd probably have to play some asinine game like 'pin the tail on the donkey' or get a piñata for you to bust open."

Connor thought the whole thing sounded pointless and frivolous. He turned to Julie, and said with a smile, "That can't be right. Your family didn't actually have parties to celebrate the date of your birth, did they?"

Her face showed both sympathy and pity at that question. She said quietly, "My parents went a little overboard on birthdays, especially when I was younger. One year they rented out the local stables, so all of my friends could go horseback riding." She dug through her purse, and pulled out a small box wrapped in blue paper. She handed it to Connor and said, "I hope you like it. It's the best I could do on short notice."

Feeling a little overwhelmed by everything, Connor kept his eyes on the gift, but didn't touch it. "You got me a gift too?"

Julie took his hand, and put it on the gift, so he would take it. She leaned in and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Happy Birthday."

Connor felt a lump in his throat, and had to clear it before he could mutter, "Thank you."

She gestured to the box and said, "Open it."

He turned the box over a couple of times in his hands, and carefully started to take the tape off the bottom.

Angel said, "It's okay to rip the paper. It's just for decoration. We'll put it all in recycling once you open everything."

Connor glanced at Julie to make sure she didn't mind, before ripping the paper off. He lifted the lid, and pulled out a leather wristband with a sliver pendant attached to the front. He took a close look at the intricate design on the pendant, and thought he could discern two dogs standing face to face.

"It's a Celtic Hound pendant." Julie said. "The guy at the store told me the Celtic Hound represented hunting, healing, and loyalty." She smiled softly. "And those are all things that make me think of you."

"It's beautiful," he whispered.

"Want me to help you try it on?" She asked, holding her hand out.

He handed it over, and held out his right wrist. She buckled the wristband into place. Once it was on, she said, "I think it suits you."

He grabbed her hand and held it in both of his. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

He leaned in and whispered in her ear, "Thank you for the gift, and thank you for seeing the good in me."

She turned her face and whispered back, "Always."

Conflicted, Angel cleared his throat and said, "Okay Connor, why don't you come open your other gifts." On the one hand, Angel loved seeing how happy Julie's gift had made Connor, but on the other hand, he didn't like the way Julie's gift would create an even stronger bond between the two of them.

Smiling, Connor kept Julie's hand in his, and walked over to the counter before letting her go. He picked up the biggest one, and started ripping off the paper.

# # #

Later that night, once everyone was full of chocolate cake, Connor talked Gunn into setting up some targets in the basement so he could try out the new crossbow Gunn had given him. While they were busy, Angel forced himself to smile, and went to talk to Julie.

Lorne and Julie were in the kitchen, animatedly discussing Pylea when Angel came in. Lorne finished his sentence, and looked up to Angel with a smile. "Have they killed any mannequins yet?"

"Not yet, they're still setting up," Angel said.

After seeing Angel's face, Lorne stood and said, "I'm going to get started on the dishes."

Before Julie could make some excuse to leave, Angel sat down next to her and said, "I'm glad you were able to come tonight." He could see her spine stiffen as he spoke.

"Connor wanted me to be here," she said.

"I know. That's why I'm glad you came. You've made it clear that you don't like me, but you came anyway for his sake, so thank you."

She pursed her lips, looked away, and reluctantly said, "It was a nice party. It made him happy, so thank you."
.
"The gift you gave him was very fitting." Angel said. "Did you know that I was born in Ireland?"

"No," she said with surprise.

Angel nodded. "I was."

After a small awkward pause, Julie said, "The laptop you gave him was nice."

"More practical than anything else. He needed one."

"Maybe," Julie's posture relaxed slightly. "But did you see his face when he opened it?" The corner of her lips curled.

"Yeah." Angel said softly, smiling as well.

"At least he knew what your gift was," Lorne said from across the room. "He'd never even heard of an iPod."

"But he loved it once you told him how it worked." Julie said.

Connor burst into the room with a wide grin. "The crossbow is awesome. You guys should come down and see how accurate it is."

Half an hour later the crossbow demonstration was done. Connor was discussing demons with Wesley, when Fred came up to them. She said to Connor, "It's getting late. I'm going to head upstairs to bed."

Connor wasn't quite sure why she was telling him, but said, "Okay."

"Remember to try on all your new clothes before you take the tags off in case we need to take something back."

"I will. Thank you for buying them for me."

She leaned in and gave him a hug. "You're welcome. Happy Birthday, sweetie."

"You said that already," he said, and hugged back.

Wesley cleared his throat next to them and said, "I suppose I should be getting home as well." He held out his hand towards Connor as if to shake, and said, "Many happy returns, Connor."

Raising one eyebrow in question, Connor shook the offered hand and said, "Um… okay. Thanks for the book."

"Let me know if you have any questions. I helped compile the section on demons from other dimensions."

"I'll be sure to let you know if I have any questions."

Wesley held his hand out to Fred and said, "Walk me to my car?"

As soon as the two of them were gone, Julie broke off her conversation with Lorne and wandered over to Connor. She said quietly, "I'm ready to go too. I have an early class tomorrow."

"Okay." Connor looked around for Angel, but he wasn't in the lobby. He could hear papers rustling in the office, and said to Julie, "Let me tell Angel that I'm taking you home."

She nodded and went to get her purse from behind the counter.

Connor went into the office, and Angel gave him a smile from behind the desk.

"Could I have the keys? I'm gonna take Julie home."

"Before you go, I wanted to give you one more gift." Angel picked up a picture frame, walked around his desk, and handed it to Connor.

"What's this?" Connor asked. He'd seen enough of his father's drawings to know that Angel had drawn this picture. A beautiful woman was staring back at him with what could only be described as a mischievous smile on her face.

"Your mother," Angel said softly.

Connor's eyes went wide with surprise. "My mother?"

"Darla. I figured every kid should have a picture of his mother, no matter how that kid might feel towards her."

"She was beautiful," Connor whispered in awe.

"She was." Angel agreed. He squeezed Connor's shoulder and said, "Happy Birthday son. I'm sorry I wasn't around for all the others."

Connor pulled an unsuspecting Angel into a hug and said, "Thanks for making this one so good."

Angel realized this was the first time Connor had initiated a hug since Angelus had been on the loose. He wrapped his arms around his son, and squeezed tight as if he could hold onto this moment forever. "I love you."

"Too tight!" Connor squeaked out.

Angel let the boy go with a small chuckle. "Sorry about that."

Looking at the drawing again, Connor said softly. "This means a lot to me. Thank you."

"You're welcome." Angel looked at his watch and said, "Better get Julie home, it's almost midnight." He dug out his car keys and passed them over.

"Right." Connor took them, and headed for the door. "See you when I get back."

"Home by one o'clock, okay?" Angel called after him.

"Sure thing," Connor called back. He set the picture on the counter with his other gifts to take upstairs later, and held his hand out to Julie.

Angel watched the two younger people leave, before sitting at his desk to finish up some paperwork. Or at least that was the story he planned to give anyone who asked, because he wouldn't want to be accused of being overprotective if he was caught waiting up for his son to come home.

# # #

An hour later, Connor and Julie lay together naked and snuggling in her apartment. As soon as he'd brought her home, Julie had pressed herself against him, and started kissing.

"I need to get going soon," Connor said, looking at the clock

"I want you to stay," she said, and tightened her arms around him.

"I told Angel I'd be home by one."

"You're nineteen now Connor. You can just call him and tell him you're spending the night here."

"I'm not nineteen on paper, and… well, things have been good between me and my dad lately. I don't want to mess that up."

Julie took Connor's wrist in her hands and ran her fingers over the wristband she'd given him. "You know the other reason the dog reminds me of you?"

He smiled as he looked at the gift on his wrist. "No."

"Dogs are loyal to their owners, even when their owners are abusive."

His body tensed beside her. She looked him in the eye and said, "As long as you show a dog a little bit of love and feed him, he'll cower when you beat him, and forgive you the second you show him affection again."

Connor sat up abruptly, and glared down at her. "That's not fair, and it's not true. I don't cower. Angel doesn't make me cower. Fath… Holtz could if he were here, but not Angel."

He started to stand, but stopped when she grabbed his shoulder and held tight. "I'm sorry. Connor, I'm sorry. Please don't be angry."

He turned to her and said, "You shouldn't talk about things you don't understand, Julie. Have you ever been spanked?"

She pursed her lips in disgust. "No."

"Have you ever been whipped until you bled?"

Her eyes opened wide with surprise for an instant, and then her mouth turned down, and her eyebrows furrowed in pity. "No."

"I have. You think both of those things are abusive. I don't. Maybe instead of bringing it up again and again, and making me feel bad for wanting to stay with my dad, you should be helping me to avoid pissing him off."

Julie's eyes filled, and a couple of tears slid down her face. "I'm sorry."

Shocked to see the tears, Connor's anger instantly went away. "Don't cry," he whispered. He cupped the side of her face with his hand, and rubbed a tear away with his thumb. He lay back down beside her, and pulled her into his arms. She clutched at him, and her quiet tears turned into noisy sobs.

"Please don't cry," he said, rubbing his hand in circles on her back. Guilt bubbled up inside his chest as he listened to her cry. He'd had no idea that his words could affect her so strongly. "I'm sorry. I'll stay with you. Okay? I'll call Angel, and I'll stay."

She shook her head, and tried to talk through her tears. "No y… you're right. I sh… shouldn't have s… said that. I just… keep thinking about o… our baby, a… and the future, and I… wanted you to stay."

"I'm gonna stay." He kissed the top of her head, and held her close.

She relaxed into the embrace, and after a few moments, she had her crying under control. "I really am sorry, Connor. I didn't mean to make you angry."

"It's okay. I didn't mean to make you cry."

Julie wiped at her face with her hands, and muttered, "I need a tissue."

Connor climbed out of bed, and got her some tissues from the bathroom. While she was blowing her nose, he slipped his jeans on, and pulled a shirt over his head.

"I'm going to step outside for a second and call Angel. I'll be right back."

"You don't have to," she said. "I'm fine. It was silly of me to be upset. If he doesn't agree to let you stay, then you should go home."

"I'm staying," he said with finality, and walked outside to call Angel.

Once the door was closed behind Connor, a satisfied smile formed on Julie's face. She lay back down and put a hand on her belly. She whispered, "Okay little one, you can quit that worrying. Your daddy's going to stay with us tonight."

# # #

Connor nervously paced around the apartment complex while dialing his father's number.

"Angel Investigations," Angel answered.

"Hey Dad."

"Connor?" Angel looked at the clock. It was ten minutes to one o'clock. "Is everything okay?"

"I'm…" Connor tried to come up with a good way to put it. He blurted out, "I'm going to be late."

Angel smiled, thinking this was good progress. "Okay. Thank you for calling me this time. When will you be home?"

"Um…" Connor bit at a nail. "I'm not sure."

"You're not sure?" Angel lost his smile. "What's going on, Connor?"

"Julie and I… well we kind of… had an argument, and I said some things, and then…" Connor ran a hand over his face in tired frustration, "… then she cried."

"Oh." Angel said feeling sympathetic to the upset he could hear in Connor's voice. "What did you two argue about?"

"It's not important," Connor really didn't need to hear his dad's opinions of their argument. "The important thing is that I made her cry, and now I can't just leave."

"Okay, I can understand that," Angel said. "How about another hour? That should give you enough time to get her calmed down."

Hating how calm and reasonable his dad sounded, Connor forced himself to respond in kind. "Actually Dad, I was planning to spend the night here tonight. I'll be home first thing in the morning."

There was silence on the line for a few moments, before Angel spoke. "I'm sorry, Connor, but I'm not okay with that."

That was the exact reaction Connor had been expecting from his dad, and he couldn't remain calm. He hissed into the cell phone, "You're not my owner!"

"What? What are you talking about?" Angel couldn't figure out what had happened. An hour ago his kid was giving him a hug, and now this? But then it hit him. Julie had put those thoughts and words into his son's head. That's what they'd argued about.

"I'm talking about you giving me orders, and expecting me to obey just because you said to. I'm an adult! I can make my own decisions!"

With difficulty, Angel kept his own temper in check. "I know you're an adult Connor. I don't expect you to obey me because you're a child. I expect you to obey me because you're inexperienced in this dimension. If we were in Quor-toth I'd follow your lead for a year before trying to make my own decisions."

That stopped Connor's anger short. "You… you would?"

"Of course." Angel's voice held nothing but sincerity. "You'd be the expert in that dimension, so if you said something wasn't a good idea, then I'd listen to you. And by the way, if you were a child, I sure as hell wouldn't let you work cases with us."

Connor sat down on the curb of the parking lot in back of the apartment complex. He put his forehead on his knees and muttered, "I'm sorry."

"It's okay, son," Angel said, pleased with the change in attitude. "So do we have an agreement? You'll be home by two o'clock?"

"No," Connor said, sounding defeated.

"Connor." Angel's voice held a clear warning that his patience was wearing thin.

"I made her cry, Dad. I have to stay."

Angel pinched the bridge of his nose. "Sometimes women cry. It's not the end of the world, and it's not a good reason for you to spend the night."

"I already told her I was staying. I can't go back on that now." Connor's tone was pleading now.

"Do you know how many people Darla tricked with her tears? How many she killed because they felt sorry for her?"

"That's not the same!" Connor stood back up to pace. "How dare you compare Julie to a soulless monster!"

"I didn't mean…"

"No!" Connor cut him off. "Don't lie, Dad. That's exactly what you meant. I'm staying! I'll be home first thing tomorrow morning." Connor ended the call before his dad could respond, and then turned the cell phone off completely.

He stood staring at the phone for a few seconds, and then muttered, "Crap." He shoved the phone into his pocket, and slowly walked back to the front of the apartment complex with his shoulders slumped. He seriously doubted his dad would let this go without punishment. But he didn't know if he could take a spanking from him without a fight after everything that Angelus had said.

Angelus' words circled his head as if they were on a loop. 'You think Angel doesn't enjoy it? You think he doesn't get off on spanking you? He loves hurting you, just like Holtz did. But all three of us are continually irritated by how quickly you break down and cry. What kind of a man cries because of a little spanking? But then you cry all the time. It's really sickening. Makes my stomach turn when I think about how often you have tears on your face.'

Connor stopped in front of Julie's apartment door, and pressed the heels of his palms into his temples, trying to make it stop. He whispered, "It was a lie," and tried to make himself believe it.

Taking a deep breath, he walked into Julie's apartment. He smiled softly at her and said, "Angel's fine with it."

She held out a hand to him. "Come back to bed."

He climbed in, and held her close as she drifted off to sleep. Connor stayed alert, half expecting someone from his family to come and drag him home.

# # #

"Connor!" Angel yelled, even though he could hear the dial tone, and knew they were disconnected. He slammed the phone down. "Damn it!"

He rubbed a hand down his face, slumped down into his chair, and muttered, "Crap."

Why couldn't his son just do what he was told? Why did he have to break one of the rules? Why hadn't he just let the kid spend the night this once? Now he'd have to punish the kid, but he didn't think he could actually spank him after the things Angelus had said. Angelus' words came back to him, making his stomach roll with disgust.

Angel slammed his fist down onto his own leg, before standing up to pace. He went out to the lobby, and saw Lorne sipping a drink by the counter.

"Oh…" Angel said, startled to see someone else still awake.

"Sounds like you could use a friendly ear right about now." Lorne said. "Want me to pour you a drink?"

With a loud sigh, Angel nodded, and walked towards the counter. Lorne pulled out a shot glass and some Irish whisky. He poured the vampire a shot, and passed it over.

Angel downed the shot, and handed the glass back, before resting his elbows on the counter. "I don't know what the hell I'm doing, Lorne."

"From what I've heard, and trust me I've heard a lot, that's how most parents feel. It's the parents that feel confident that really mess their little nippers up."

Angel ran a hand through his hair, and poured himself another shot. "Should I go over there and drag him home?"

"I can't answer that one for you, Angelcakes. There isn't a right answer. Let him stay, and he'll think he can do it again. Go over there to drag him home, and you have a serious fight on your hands, probably with Julie in the middle of it, twisting everything to her advantage."

Angel locked eyes with Lorne. "Do you think she's trying to manipulate Connor?"

Lorne chuckled, and poured Angel a third shot. "She's a teenage girl in love, Honey. Of course she's trying to manipulate Connor."

Angel snorted in laughter, and drank the shot. He set the glass down decisively and said, "It probably makes me a coward, but I'm leaving him there tonight. I need some sleep."

Lorne patted his shoulder, and said, "I'm headed to bed too."

Angel walked towards his room and thought, 'And I need to figure out what the hell I'm going to do with him once he comes home.'

All too soon, Angel was in bed staring at the ceiling, and he still didn't have any good answers. His mind escaped to the alternate reality he'd been force fed by Wo Pang to turn into Angelus in the first place. He didn't even want to admit how often he escaped into that fantasy. But while he was remembering how it felt to see Cordelia again, he remembered something specific she'd said. With that thought in mind, relief washed over him, and he was able to close his eyes and sleep peacefully.

# # #

Connor didn't get much sleep. He dozed on and off, and had anxiety dreams of being late to meet Holtz at their cave. At six in the morning, he gave up all pretence of sleep, and snuck out of bed without disturbing Julie.

He wandered into the kitchen, and got himself a glass of orange juice. He sat down at the kitchen table and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. With a small wince, he turned it on. His eyebrows furrowed with confusion when his phone showed zero missed calls. He set the phone to vibrate, and stuck it back in his pocket.

Why hadn't Angel called him? Was he that pissed about it? Or worse, did Angel just not care? The acidic orange juice grumbled in his stomach, and he pushed the glass away. He folded his arms on the table, and put his head down in the crook of an elbow.

He wouldn't go home before Julie got up, but he was torn about going home at all. He knew he had to, and in some ways he was itching to set things right with his dad, but when he pictured Angel waiting for him on the other side of the hotel doors, his stomach churned.

"Connor?" Julie asked from the bedroom.

"In here," Connor said softly, getting up to go to her.

"What are you doing?" she asked from the doorway of her bedroom.

"Couldn't sleep anymore. I didn't mean to wake you."

"You didn't. I usually wake up around this time." She walked up to him, and leaned into his body, with her head on his shoulder. "Thank you for staying. I felt so much safer knowing you were here with me."

He wrapped his arms around her. "I'm glad."

"You want some breakfast?" she asked, pulling away from him to look through the cupboards.

"No," he said quickly, thinking of his stomach. "I… I need to go home. I mean… if you're okay and everything."

She went back and pulled him into a kiss. When they broke apart she said, "I'm fine. Go ahead. I'll see you later."

# # #

Connor stood in front of the hotel, and tried to work up the courage to walk in. It was still early, even though he'd taken the side streets all the way home. He jiggled Angel's car keys in his pocket, and forced himself to walk though the lobby doors. Expecting the lobby to be empty, Connor froze in place when he saw Gunn walking down the stairs yawning.

"Connor?" Gunn asked when he saw him.

"Hi Gunn."

Gunn finished walking down the stairs, and asked, "What are you doing up at this hour?"

"You don't know?" Connor asked.

"Know what?"

Connor hesitated until he saw the look on Gunn's face that said he was short on patients this early in the morning. "I just got home," Connor said.

"What!"

"Is my dad even here?" Connor looked around the room, not sure if he was pleased or disappointed that Angel wasn't waiting for him.

"As far as I know he is. Why wouldn't he be?" Gunn asked.

"Um… no reason."

"No reason my ass." Gunn glared at the boy and crossed his arms. "You'd better start explaining Sparky, and it better be good."

Connor huffed and said, "Julie and I had an argument, and she was really upset. So I tried to do the right thing. I called Dad to tell him I was going to be late. I explained the situation, and asked him if I could stay the night, but he said no."

"So you decided to stay anyway?" Gunn asked with an edge to his voice.

Connor crossed his arms, and glared. "It's none of your business."

Gunn shook his head, and took the three steps that separated them. Connor took a step back, and held his hands up in a placating gesture. "Yes, okay? Yes," he answered quickly.

Grabbing the boy's arm, Gunn turned him to the side, and gave him two swats as hard as he could. Connor clenched his jaw to keep from making noise, but a small grunt came out of his throat with the second swat. Gunn let him go and said, "Just because your dad is back doesn't mean I'm putting up with you talking to me like that."

"Sorry," Connor muttered as a blush settled on his face.

The door to the basement opened, and Angel stepped into the room dressed in only his boxers. His hair was mussed, and there was a scowl on his face. "What's going on up here?" he asked.

Gunn looked expectantly at Connor, but the kid was busy staring at his own shoes. The older man rolled his eyes and said, "I was surprised to see Connor coming home at this hour, and when I asked him about it, he got lippy, so I swatted him for it."

Angel growled deep in his throat.

Gunn tilted his chin, and said, "You know what? You don't get to be pissed. You asked me to take on more of a parental role for Connor while you were out of commission. And before that I took care of him all summer long while you were missing. I've always tried to do right by him, even when he wasn't my favorite person. Because of that alone I deserve his respect, so when he's disrespectful, I'm gonna do something about it. That's not changing."

Sighing tiredly, Angel shook his head. "You're right. I'm sorry." Addressing Connor, he said quietly, "I wasn't expecting you to be back so soon."

The boy shrugged. "Julie gets up early for class."

"I'm glad you're home," Angel said. "Why don't the two of you get some coffee while I get dressed, and then we can talk in the kitchen." He turned and went back down to his room without waiting for a reply.

Gunn headed for the kitchen and Connor followed. Before the coffee started dripping, Angel came into the kitchen fully dressed. Connor was sitting at the kitchen table nervously bouncing his knee, while Gunn leaned against the counter next to the coffee maker. Angel sat down across from Connor and waited for the boy to make eye contact.

"What are the rules you have to follow?" he asked calmly.

"Really Dad?" Connor groaned. "We all know what they are."

"Humor me."

"So ridiculous," Connor muttered under his breath, and then spit out, "No lying, no running away, no going to fight something alone, no physical fighting with any of you, and doing what I'm told. And before you ask, it's the last one that I broke."

"That's right," Angel said, keeping calm with some effort. "Now the question is, do you think what you did was wrong."

"What?" Connor asked with a frown.

"Do you think it was the morally wrong choice for you to disobey me?"

Nervously crossing his arms to keep his hands still, Connor said, "I don't know."

"Well then take a minute to think about it. Did you have any reservations about staying the night after you hung up on me? Did you fall asleep thinking you'd made the right choice? Or did you have some regrets?"

Shifting in his chair, Connor's knee bounced faster than humanly possible. "I… I had some regrets, and I couldn't sleep. But Julie needed me. It would have been wrong to leave her."

"Really?" Angel asked. He leaned forward, rested his elbows on the table, and laced his fingers together. "Was she in physical danger? Was she so emotionally distraught that you were worried about leaving her alone?"

"Well… no, but…"

"But nothing." Angel cut him off. "Think about what might have happened if your roles were reversed, son. If her father called and asked her to come home, would you ask her to stay with you instead? In fact if you knew she was trying to rebuild a relationship with her father, would you try to make that more difficult?"

Connor's knee stopped bouncing, and he took a few seconds to really think about it. "No," he said quietly, glaring at the table in front of him.

Angel nodded, knowing that was a difficult admission for his son to make. He said, "You've been here with us for a while, and you're much different now than you were when you first came to this dimension. You've matured, so I think it's time to try a different punishment."

Connor's head snapped up, and he made eye contact with his dad.

"You're grounded for a week."

"What?" Connor asked, truly confused by this sudden change.

"What?" Gunn echoed from across the room. He'd been silently observing their conversation up to now.

Angel said, "For one week, you can't go on any cases, and you can't see Julie."

Connor sat up straight, and leaned forward. "You can't do that!" he said, slightly panicked.

"I can." Angel said softly. "Look Connor, I know Julie thinks I'm abusive, and after the things Angelus said…" He had to break eye contact. He cleared his throat, and forced himself to make eye contact again. "This is what modern parents do when their teenagers do the wrong thing. So you're grounded for a week."

"Angel man, can I talk to you in private for a minute?" Gunn asked.

Connor stood abruptly, accidentally tipping his chair over. "You can't keep me from seeing Julie!" He gestured wildly with his arm, making a cutting motion sideways through the air.

Angel lost control of his temper. He stood and yelled, "I can and I will! I'll lock you in that cage downstairs if I have to! See how you like being trapped!"

The teen swallowed hard. Thinking about being locked up had his heart pounding, and thinking about what he'd done to his dad over the summer made his stomach twist. He whispered, "You… you wouldn't."

Regretting losing his cool, Angel closed his eyes, and sighed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean…" he trailed off. He wasn't sure what he'd meant.

Gunn walked over to the table, and gently squeezed Connor's shoulder. Keeping a hand on Connor, but looking at Angel, Gunn said, "You both need to calm down before you say anything else you're going to regret."

"You're right," Angel said tiredly. "Connor stay here. Eat some breakfast or something. Gunn, let's talk in my office." He turned and walked out without waiting to see if he was being obeyed.

Gunn let Connor go and said, "Pick up that chair while I put some bread in the toaster for you."

Connor picked up the chair he'd knocked down, and sat in it. He put his elbows on the table, and rested his head on his hands. By the time Gunn put a cup of coffee and some toast in front of him, Connor's knee was bouncing again.

"Eat up, and stay put," Gunn said. He got a cup of coffee for Angel and one for himself before going out to talk to him.

# # #

Gunn found his boss sitting on the edge of his desk. His entire body was tense, and his arms were crossed defensively. Gunn shut the door behind him with a foot, and held one of the cups towards Angel.

Angel took the coffee and said, "I already know what you're gonna say."

"Yeah? What am I gonna say?" Gunn took a sip of his coffee, and sat down on the couch.

"That I should spank him."

"You should. You know it, I know it, and Connor knows it. So why aren't you?"

"I just… can't."

Gunn shook his head. "Can't? Try won't. This kind of inconsistency isn't good for him, Angel. It's going to do him more damage than good at this point. He's only been here for six months, and he's only been following the rules for three."

"I know how long he's been here" Angel hissed. "And I'm not being inconsistent. He's still supposed to follow the same rules, it's just a different punishment when he breaks them."

"This is going to blow up in your face." Gunn said with quiet sincerity. "I hope that I'm wrong, but I don't think I am. You think it's going to be traumatic for both of you if you spank him, but I think it's going to be even more traumatic in the long run if you don't. That kid is going to push, and push, and push at you until he finds your breaking point."

Gritting his teeth, Angel said, "The bottom line is that I've made my decision. You're not the one who has to follow through with punishment, and you're not his father."

Gunn felt as if someone had just punched him. He set his coffee mug on the floor, stood up slowly, and said, "You're right. I'm just the muscle around here. I'm not his father." He walked to the door.

Angel winced at hearing Angelus' taunt repeated. "Gunn…" he said.

Keeping his face to the door, and his hand on the doorknob, Gunn said, "But you're not his father either. Holtz was. You're just the sperm donor." He opened the door and walked out.

Angel snarled and followed him out to the lobby. "I've done everything in my power to be a father to him since I got him back!"

Gunn turned to face him, and yelled, "And the rest of us have done everything in our power to help you! You can't pretend that my opinion doesn't count for anything now that you don't like it!"

"I'm not!" Angel yelled, "But one of us has to have a final say, and that's me!"

"Dad?" Both men turned to see Connor standing by the kitchen door staring at them with wide worried eyes. He'd heard enough to know they were fighting about him, and that made him feel ill.

"Get your ass back in that kitchen!" Angel yelled while pointing at the kitchen door.

Connor reacted to that tone of voice automatically, and found himself alone in the kitchen. Angel hadn't used that tone since before Angelus got loose. Connor had almost forgotten how that tone made him feel. It was like a handful of beetles crawling around in his stomach.

Gunn and Angel faced off for a few seconds. Both highly aware that the boy was listening, and that they were close to doing real damage to their friendship. Gunn was the first to speak. "I'm sorry. I think you're making the wrong decision, but that doesn't mean I won't back you up."

Feeling old and tired, Angel said, "I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have said… what I said. And even though I'm not taking your advice this time, that doesn't mean I don't value your opinion, because I do."

Gunn wasn't quite ready to believe that, but nodded. "I'm gonna take a shower. Give you two a chance to talk."

"You don't have to…" Angel started to say, but Gunn had already turned and headed up the stairs. "…go." He rubbed his hand on the back of his neck, and tried to calm down again before going to confront his son.

He found Connor sitting at the kitchen table again. Angel pulled a chair up to sit next to the boy instead of across from him. Connor gave him a wary glance. Angel draped an arm around Connor's shoulders and pulled him close for a side hug.

"I'm trying to do the right thing by grounding you."

"Gunn doesn't think it's the right thing?" Connor asked.

"No."

"You guys shouldn't fight about me," he said quietly.

Angel squeezed his shoulder. "Friends and families argue sometimes. Even if it was about you, it's not your fault, and we're done now."

After a short pause, Connor said, "Julie's not gonna like it if she can't see me."

"Probably not," Angel said. "But don't you think she'll be glad I'm not spanking you?"

Connor crossed his arms, and slouched down to get away from his Dad's arm. "You should have just let me stay."

"No, Connor, I shouldn't have." Angel took his arm off Connor, and shifted so he was facing his son. "First, letting you stay would have set a bad precedent. If I let you stay once, you'll expect me to say yes again the next time. Second, you're not emotionally ready for a relationship that's so serious. You're still figuring out who you are. You're finding your place in your new family, and your place in this dimension. And maybe it's petty, but I promised you that you'd live with me for a year, and to me that means you're here in the hotel to sleep every night."

Connor didn't respond, but thought about it in the silence that followed.

After a few seconds Angel said, "So you're grounded for a week. That means you don't leave the hotel. You don't go on cases with us. You don't go see Julie or talk to her on the phone. And while you're grounded, you're going to do everyone's chores, especially making the meals, doing the dishes, and doing the laundry. And you can't use any of the new things you got for your birthday during the week either."

"That sucks." Connor said with a scowl.

"That's the point," Angel said gently.

Connor sighed. "Fine."

"Good boy." Angel leaned over and kissed the top of his son's head. "Later this afternoon once Julie gets out of class, you can call her from my office while I'm in the room. You'll tell her that you're grounded, and that you can't see her or call her for a week, just so we're all on the same page."

"Oh…" Connor shifted in his chair uneasily. "I um… kind of told Julie that you were fine with me spending the night."

"What! Why?"

"She'd just calmed down! I didn't want to upset her again."

Angel shook his head in disappointment. "Okay, now you're grounded for a week and a half. She was obviously calm enough for you to leave, and I bet if you'd told her the truth, she would have encouraged you to come home. How do you think she's gonna feel when she finds out you lied to her?"

Connor shook his head. "Couldn't we just tell her…"

"Connor." Angel cut him off with reproof. "I won't lie to her for you. If she asks me about it, I'll tell her what really happened, even if you've told her another lie to cover your first one."

"You'd just love it if she were pissed at me, wouldn't you?" Connor sneered.

"No." Angel patted Connor's knee. "Believe it or not, I want you to be happy, but you can't build a relationship on lies. Tell her the truth. Then if she's pissed, apologize and work it out."

His son didn't say anything, but the frown on his face said he didn't think this was sound advice.

"Come on. Let's do some tutoring since we're both up."

Groaning, Connor followed his father to his office.

# # #

By the time three o'clock rolled around, Connor had decided that being grounded was worse than getting spanked. All of his birthday gifts were sitting on the couch in his dad's office taunting him every time he passed by the room. He found some consolation in still having on the wristband Julie gave to him, and hoped Angel wouldn't ask him to take that off and add it to the pile, too.

Then to make things worse, Angel had talked to each member of the team separately as they'd arrived for work, which forced Connor to hear about his own misdeeds and punishment three extra times. At least when he got spanked it was over and done with quickly, and no one talked about it over and over again. He'd been grounded for all of eight hours, and he was already tired of it.

Connor had just finished tutoring with Wesley, when Angel came out of his office and said, "It's three. Will Julie be home now?"

"Yeah," Connor said dejectedly.

"Come on then."

Trudging over to his dad's office, Connor tried to convince himself that Julie wouldn't be upset, but he didn't actually believe it. Angel shut the door to the office, handed Connor the phone, and sat down at his desk to listen.

Julie answered her cell phone with, "Hi Connor."

"Hey."

"What's wrong?" She asked after hearing the hesitancy in his voice.

"You know last night when I told you Angel was fine with me spending the night?"

"Yeah…" Julie said.

"Well that wasn't exactly true." The line was silent for a few seconds. Connor said, "Julie?"

"I'm here." Julie's voice held barely contained fury. "Did that asshole hit you again?"

"What? No." Connor had been expecting anger, but he hadn't expected it to be aimed at his dad.

"No?" Julie asked. "Are you sure about that, or is that another lie to make me feel better."

Blushing with shame, Connor said, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lied to you. I just… I told you I was going to stay, and I thought if I told you Angel wanted me to go home, that you'd start crying again."

She sighed. "Well, I am glad you stayed, and I guess I can understand why you wouldn't tell me about it that night. Just trust me enough to tell me the truth next time. Okay?"

"Okay."

"So… Angel really didn't spank you?"

"No, but he was upset. That's why I'm calling. Dad says I'm grounded for a week and a half."

"Really?" Julie asked. "That's great, Connor! I guess you were right, Angel really did change. I'm happy for you."

Scowling, Connor said, "I'm not. Aren't you even a little upset that we don't get to see each other for so long?"

"What?"

"My dad says that's part of being grounded. No going on cases, no using my birthday gifts, and no seeing you."

"But… but that's not fair," Julie said. "He can't keep us apart. What about Thanksgiving?"

"Thanksgiving?" Connor asked. "I don't know what that means."

"Oh…" Julie said with pity in her voice

Angel quickly scanned the calendar on his desk. Thanksgiving was eight days away, but Connor would be grounded for the next ten. Angel spoke up for the first time during the conversation. "It's a holiday, Connor. Tell her I'll make an exception for Thanksgiving. She can come have dinner with us if she wants to."

"Dad says he'll make an exception. You can come have dinner here on Thanksgiving if you want."

After a short pause, Julie said, "I'll think about it, okay? I need to talk to my dad and see what his plans are. I'll let you know."

"Okay, but you'll have to call the office. Dad won't let me have my cell phone while I'm grounded."

"And…" Angel prompted Connor to tell her the rest.

"And I can't talk to you on the phone just to visit either. Sorry."

"No, don't be sorry," Julie said. "I understand. I mean I think it's all a little silly, because you're nineteen. You're an adult, Connor. You don't have to do what your father says, you could just move out. But since I know you want to live there with him for now, I'm glad that he's trying to be a better parent. You deserve it."

"Thanks. I guess," Connor said, still unsure if he was happy about this new development or not. "It's going to be a really long week and a half. I hope you'll be able to come see me on Thanksgiving."

"I'm gonna miss you too." Julie said softly.

Angel said, "Okay Connor, time to wrap it up."

Connor glared at his dad and said to Julie, "My dad says I've got to go."

"Okay. I love you."

"I love you too," Connor said softly.

Angel felt a stab of jealousy at that. It was painful to hear his boy say those words to someone else, when Connor had never said those words to him. As soon as Connor hung up, Angel patted his shoulder and said, "Well it didn't sound like Julie was too upset about the whole thing."

Connor took a step forward, moving away from his dad's touch before he turned back around. He said with irritation, "She said she was happy for me. I don't get it. I thought she'd be… more upset."

"Sounds like I've found the perfect punishment. Julie doesn't hate me, I get to keep a close eye on you for a while, and you're regretting your behavior."

"Julie may not hate you, but I'm getting there." Connor muttered.

Angel smiled. "It's hard to take that statement seriously when you're pouting. Especially since I've heard you say it and mean it."

Connor huffed and crossed his arms. "Fine. I don't like you very much today."

"Now that, I believe." Angel walked over and put an arm around Connor's shoulders, and didn't let him slip out from under his grip. "Come on. You can start the laundry while I tell you about Thanksgiving."

"Great." Connor rolled his eyes, and let his father lead him towards the laundry room.

# # #

The next week passed excruciatingly slowly for Connor. It was difficult for him not to see Julie, and it sucked always seeing his gifts that he couldn't use, but the worst was not going out on cases. It made him itch all over to sit still and wait at the hotel while there was monster killing going on. When the rest of the team went out on a call, Connor was left home with Lorne, who had specific babysitting instructions to not let the kid out of his sight. Connor had broken three punching bags already, and he still had four days left to go. The only thing that kept him sane was thinking about Julie, because she's agreed to have Thanksgiving dinner with them.

The day before Thanksgiving, Angel and the team got a call about a vampire nest on the west side of town. While the team geared up to go, Connor scowled and stormed off to the basement. Lorne patted Angel's shoulder and said, "Hurry back," before following the teen downstairs.

Two hours later, the team arrived home in good spirits. It had been an easy kill, and no one had been injured. The smile fell from Angel's face when he saw Lorne standing at the front counter, but not Connor. He was about to ask Lorne what had happened, when he heard soft sniffling coming from the lobby's bathroom.

While Gunn, Fred and Wesley put the weapons away, Lorne walked up to Angel and said urgently, "Connor's been… well you should go talk to him."

"What happened?" Angel asked. He could hear his son blowing his nose, and moving around in the bathroom.

"You'll have to ask him. I'm calling it an early night." With those words, Lorne headed upstairs.

Concerned, Angel went to the bathroom door and knocked quietly. "Connor?" he called quietly enough that the others wouldn't hear him.

"Be out in a minute." Connor said, trying not to let his voice crack and give away his tears.

Angel leaned up against the doorframe. "You okay? It sounds like you're… upset."

"I just… need a minute. Okay?"

"Okay," Angel agreed, but he was getting more worried by the second. He walked over to Gunn and whispered, "Can you get everyone to clear out of the lobby for a few?"

Gunn raised a quizzical eyebrow, and Angel indicated the bathroom door with his head. "Connor's upset." Understanding, Gunn said in a loud voice, "I don't know about you guys, but I'm starving. There's leftover pizza in the fridge."

Fred of course agreed that she was hungry, and Wesley followed her into the kitchen as well. Once the lobby was empty, Angel walked back to the bathroom door and said, "If you aren't ready to come out, how about you let me in?"

After a long silence, Angel heard Connor unlock the door. He opened it and looked in. Connor had red puffy eyes, and tear tracks on his face. The boy was fully dressed, and sitting on the toilet with the lid closed. Angel went in, closed the door behind him, and knelt down in front of Connor.

"Hey, what's all this about?"

Connor scrubbed a sleeve across his face and shook his head. "It's stupid."

"I'm sure it's not," Angel said, "Not if it's making you cry."

"It's awful to be left behind. I was so close to running off tonight, Dad. You don't even know how hard it was for me to stay here while you guys were out killing vampires. Three different times I had to force myself to sit down so I wouldn't make a run for it. When you guys leave me here, it's like…" Connor's voice broke again, and he looked away.

Feeling guilty, Angel put a hand on Connor's knee and said, "It's like what son?"

"Like I'm not part of the family." Connor made eye contact and whispered quickly, "Like you don't want me around." He turned his head to the door and muttered, "Told you it was stupid."

"No," Angel said softly, "It's not stupid." In one swift move, Angel stood, picked Connor up, sat down in Connor's vacated spot, and set Connor on his lap.

Startled by how fast his position changed, Connor tensed. And when he realized he was on Angel's lap, he squirmed uncomfortably. He hadn't sat on Angel's lap since before Angelus, and even then it had usually been when he was too distraught to care very much. "Dad…"

Angel pushed Connor's head down to rest on his shoulder, and wrapped his arms around his son's shoulders. "Just listen to me for a minute, okay? I never want you to feel rejected, especially by me. I love you, no matter what. I always want you around. I always want you with me in a fight, because I know you've got my back."

More tears slid down Connor's face, but these were tears of relief. He wrapped his arms around his dad's chest.

Squeezing his son a little tighter, Angel said, "I'm sorry, Connor. I try to make the right decisions where you're concerned, but being a parent is new to me, and I make mistakes. I knew being grounded would be difficult for you, that was the point, but I didn't realize it would make you feel excluded."

"It's okay." Connor mumbled while his face was still pressed into Angel's shirt. "There's justice in being forced to stay home, since I'm being punished for not coming home when you told me to."

"I'm not trying to get justice, kiddo. I'm trying to teach you how to be a responsible person. And I must be doing something right, because you stayed here tonight even though it was hard. I'm proud of you for that."

Hearing those words made Connor feel better than he had since they'd gotten the call about the vampires. "Thanks, Dad."

"Tell you what. It's been seven days, and you've done your time without much complaint. So starting tomorrow, you're still grounded for three more days, but you can go on cases with us, and Julie can come to dinner every night if she wants."

Connor sat up straight so he could look at Angel. "Really?"

Angel used a thumb to wipe some of Connor's tears away. "Yeah really."

The boy wiped at his face with his sleeve, and said, "Thank you." Self conscious about sitting on his dad's lap, and embarrassed by his tears, Connor muttered, "Can I get up now?"

"Yeah." Angel stood as well and said, "Why don't you splash some water on your face, and then come have some pizza with everyone."

At the mention of food, Connor realized he was hungry. "Okay."

A few minutes later, Connor sat in the kitchen eating pizza, and listened to his family arguing about the best recipe for stuffing. While they were talking about food, the office phone rang. Angel went to the lobby to answer it.

"Angel Investigations."

"Hi, this is Julie. Is that you Angel?"

"Yep." Angel tensed up, thinking this couldn't be good. "What can I do for you Julie?"

"It turns out I can't come over tomorrow."

"That's a shame." The tension left his shoulders. "Connor has been looking forward to seeing you. Is everything okay?"

"Yeah, but my Dad… it's the first big holiday without my Mom, and he's missing her. I am too."

"I understand." He felt bad for her. He sometimes forgot how recently she'd lost her mother.

"Do you think I could tell Connor myself? I mean I know he's grounded, but I'd feel better if I told him myself."

"Of course you can. I'll go get him, and you guys can visit for a while, since you won't be coming to dinner tomorrow."

"Thanks, I appreciate that."

Angel set the phone down, and went to get Connor. He hoped this wouldn't cause a setback after things had been going so well between him and his son. Walking into the kitchen he said, "Connor, Julie's on the phone."

Connor stood. "And I can talk to her?"

"Go ahead." Angel gestured to the door. "For a little while."

The boy rushed out, and Angel made himself a mug of blood.

"Julie?" Connor answered with a smile.

"Hi Connor."

"It's great to hear your voice," he said. "I miss you."

"Me too." Julie took a deep breath and said, "I've got something to tell you, Connor."

Connor's smile faded at her tone. "Okay, go ahead."

"It's about us getting married."

Connor's eyes opened wide, and he stood up straighter. "Okay."

"I've made up my mind. I'll marry you."

Connor sent a silent thanks to God, and said, "That's great news. It's what I want. For all three of us."

"Good, because it has to be tomorrow."

"What?" Connor shook his head.

"Just listen without interrupting for a second okay?" She didn't wait for him to answer. "I've spoken to my father about it, and he's going to help us, but it has to be tomorrow. He'll be here tonight, and he's set everything up for us. All you need to do is meet me at my apartment tomorrow morning at six o'clock with a photo ID and your birth certificate."

"Julie…" Connor looked back towards the kitchen to make sure he was alone, and whispered, "…this is crazy. All of a sudden you've decided to marry me, and now it has to be tomorrow? Why?"

"The baby… she's growing fast Connor. I can feel her moving, and my stomach is getting difficult to hide."

"Do you think you're going to have the baby tomorrow?" he asked, starting to panic.

"No, no of course not. The doctor I saw today said I was about four months along, which means she's growing fast, but steadily. She grows a month per week. If it keeps up like this, she'll be born at the end of December or the beginning of January."

Taking a deep breath, Connor said, "Then we have time. We could get married next week sometime. Your father could come with you to dinner tomorrow, and he could talk to Angel about…"

"No!" she cut him off. "Connor, you can't tell anyone about the baby, or about our plans to get married, until after we're married. I told my father because I knew he'd support me, and because we needed his help. I know getting married is important to you because of your religious beliefs, but getting married requires legal documents, and my father is a lawyer."

Connor felt dizzy when the reality of what she was saying hit him. "But… tomorrow?"

"You're seventeen on paper. That means you need a parent or legal guardian to give their consent before you can get married."

Feeling oddly relieved, Connor said, "Then I'll have to tell Angel."

"No, you won't, because my father has taken care of everything. He knows a judge, and because I'm pregnant, he's going to make an exception. But the only day the judge will be in town is tomorrow."

Not liking the sound of any of this, Connor said, "It doesn't seem right. Going behind Angel's back like that. I want our marriage to be authentic both in the eyes of the Lord and the government. I don't want there to be any loopholes."

There was an uncomfortable silence on the line. "Julie?" Connor said.

In a harsh, emotionless tone, Julie said, "You need to make a choice, Connor. Who do you have a bigger obligation to, your vampire father, or the mother of your child?" Her voice softened. "We created this child together through our love, and I want you by my side when she's born. Please, Connor. Please be here at six o'clock tomorrow."

Before he could answer, she'd hung up on him. He stood there staring at the phone for a few seconds, trying to wrap his mind around everything she'd said.

# # #

Connor lay in bed and stared at the ceiling. He felt more trapped in this moment than he had since his grounding had started. He knew what he had to do, but he dreaded doing it, especially since his dad had been so nice to him earlier when he'd been upset. But he strongly believed that his first obligation was to the mother of his child.

Holtz had often talked to him about what it meant to be a man in the world he hoped to go back to some day, and the biggest responsibility a man had was keeping his wife and children safe. And now that Connor had been in this world for a while, he knew Angel would agree with Holtz on that point. Angel, Gunn, and Wesley were all protective of Fred in a way none of them were protective of each other, and she wasn't even married to one of them, or having a baby.

Glancing at his digital alarm clock, Connor knew it was time to move. He'd need to leave in ten minutes to be at Julie's apartment by six o'clock, and he still needed to get his birth certificate and social security card out of the safe. With a sigh of regret, he stood up, and got his shoes on.

Before leaving his room, he checked the note he'd left for Angel. He'd written eight different drafts of the same letter, trying to make it sound like less of a lie. He still wasn't happy with it, but he couldn't tell him more. Not until after the wedding. He wouldn't let anything stand in the way of that, not even his own conscience.

His footsteps were silent as he crept down the stairs, and into Angel's office. While he opened the safe he wondered if his dad would be changing the combination after this. Angel had only given him the combination because they were about to bring out Angelus. Feeling guilty, he grabbed his paperwork, shut the safe quietly, and walked out the front door into the early light of dawn.

Ten minutes later he was knocking on Julie's apartment door. He frowned when he heard footsteps that were too loud to be Julie's. A middle aged man opened the door with a smile that didn't reach his eyes, and Connor realized this was most likely Julie's father. The man had dark brown hair, and piercing blue eyes that pinned Connor to the spot.

The man held out his hand to shake and said, "You must be Connor. I'm Nathan, Julie's dad."

Connor shook the offered hand firmly, the way Wesley had taught him. "Nice to meet you Sir."

"Call me Nathan," he said, and gestured for Connor to come in.

Connor scanned the apartment for Julie's heartbeat, and didn't hear it. "Where's Julie?"

"At the church. It's bad luck to see the bride before the wedding. We'll meet her there as soon as you get dressed."

Connor looked down at his jeans and long sleeved tee shirt, and then noticed that Nathan was wearing a dark gray suit with a white shirt, and a maroon vest. "Oh..." Connor said, not sure why he hadn't thought to wear something nice. Not that he had anything as fancy as what Nathan was wearing, but he did have some button down shirts, and one pair of black slacks that Fred had bought him, but he'd never worn.

"Come on," Nathan said, gesturing for Connor to follow him into the bedroom. "Let's hope Julie got your size right."

A suit that matched Nathan's was laid out on Julie's bed. Connor ran his fingers over the vest and said, "She bought this for me?"

"I rented them for the day. After the ceremony I'll take them back. Julie wanted me to rent her dress too, but I talked her into letting me buy it for her. Go ahead and try it on. I'll wait for you in the living room."

Connor stood staring at the clothes for a few seconds, while the reality of the situation hit him. He was getting married. He was getting married, and his family wasn't going to be there to see it. He started getting undressed, and tried telling himself that he was doing the right thing.

The clothes fit him perfectly. When he went to the living room, Nathan gave him a nod. "Okay, let's head to the church."

Feeling as if he were in a dream instead of awake, Connor followed the older man out the door, and got into his car.

While Nathan drove, he said, "It's my understanding that your father probably won't approve of this union. Is that correct?"

"I guess." Connor was quick to add, "It's not that he doesn't like Julie, it's that he would think I'm too young. But I'm not."

There was a long awkward silence before Nathan said, "The fact that you're willing to do what Julie wants, even if it means going behind your father's back, tells me that you're in love, and that you take your responsibility towards my daughter seriously. I have hope that this will be a good union."

Sitting up a little straighter in his chair, Connor said, "Thank you."

Fifteen minutes later the two were walking up the steps of a little white church. The front doors opened for them before they reached them. A plump older woman with graying hair and a kind smile gestured for them to come in.

"There you are," she said. "We've been waiting for you. The bride is anxious to get things started."

Connor walked into the church, and immediately felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. The tiny church was packed. The pews were completely full with people sitting so close they were touching. Connor took a step back, but Nathan put his hand on Connor's shoulder and held him in place.

"Who are all these people?" Connor whispered urgently as he scanned the crowd. They were all adults, and from what Connor could tell, they were all human. His hands balled into fists when he noticed they were all staring, and smiling at him as if they knew who he was.

Nathan patted his shoulder and said, "You're among friends here Connor. These are my friends and family."

He tried to take another step back, but Nathan's grip became tighter. "If you run out on my daughter now, I'll make sure you never see her or the baby again."

Shocked to hear those words coming out of the older man's mouth, Connor looked up at Nathan. Nathan smiled at him and said, "Don't worry son. Everyone gets cold feet. Come on, I'll introduce you to the pastor, and the judge, and then we'll get this ceremony started."

Connor let himself be led up the isle. The pastor stood at the front waiting. He was an older man with graying hair who wore a solemn expression. Connor noticed the woman who had let them in was now sitting at the piano, still grinning at him as if he were there to give her a million dollars.

Nathan held out his hand to the pastor and said, "Adrian."

Adrian shook, and said, "Greetings on this joyous occasion, Nathan."

Nathan put a hand on Connor's back, and pushed him forward a step. "This is Connor Steven Smith. The father of my daughter's child."

Connor blushed with shame. In Connor's mind it was a major sin for Julie to be pregnant before they were married, and here he was standing in front of a man of God. Connor didn't even realize a woman could get pregnant before they were married until recently. It was still difficult for him to connect sex and pregnancy in his mind, because he'd been told so often that God decided when a married woman would get pregnant.

"It's nice to finally meet you Connor." Adrian held out his hand.

Connor shook it and mumbled, "It's nice to meet you too, Sir."

Adrian gripped Connor's shoulder and said, "Are you prepared for this obligation son?"

Connor looked him in the eye and said with confidence, "Yes Sir."

"Good."

Nathan gestured to the first pew and said, "Connor, this is Judge Rhodes. He'll be filing the paperwork to make it all legal."

Judge Rhodes was a short man in his early thirties. His short cropped black hair looked almost plastic it was so perfect, and his teeth were so white, Connor wondered if they were real. The man nodded in Connor's direction as a way of greeting, and Connor nodded back.

Adrian cleared his throat to get Connor's attention, and said, "You stand here and face the audience." Once Connor was in place, Adrian nodded to the woman sitting at the piano. She started to play, and Nathan walked back down the isle.

A few seconds later a young woman Connor didn't recognize walked up the isle in a maroon dress. As soon as she was standing on the opposite side of Adrian, the music changed. Nathan walked into the isle with Julie on his arm.

Connor's eyes opened wide when he saw how different she looked. Her orange hair was intricately braided with tiny white flowers stuck in the braids. She wore a floor length white dress covered in lace, with a maroon sash right under her breasts, which accentuated the tiny bump of her belly. She held a bouquet of white roses and maroon carnations.

As they walked up the isle, Julie smiled at Connor, and he found himself smiling back even though the whole situation was putting him on edge. When she got to the front of the isle, the music stopped. Adrian cleared his throat and said to the silent room. "Who gives this woman to be bound?"

"I do," Nathan answered. He kissed Julie's cheek, and let her go. Nathan went to stand behind Connor, and Juile went to stand next to Connor in front of the woman in the maroon dress.

Adrian said, "Face each other and hold hands."

Julie handed her bouquet to her bridesmaid, and grasped Connor's waiting hands.

Adrian opened a bible, and looked out into the crowd. "We are gathered here today in the eyes of Our Lord to celebrate the marriage of Connor Steven Smith and Julie Nicole Overton. Today you've come before me as individuals, but you will leave here as husband and wife. The promises you make today will cement your union, binding together not two lives, but three. Today we witness the beginning of a new era."

"Connor," Adrian said, "do you have a token of your commitment to give Julie?"

At a loss, Connor shook his head no. Nathan stepped up from behind him and handed him a wristband. It was exactly like the one Julie had given to Connor last week for his birthday, except hers had a triquetra on the pendant. Connor looked back at Nathan, who gestured for him to face forward again.

Adrian continued as if Connor wasn't baffled. "Tie it onto her left wrist, and repeat after me. With this token, I pledge my life to you."

Julie held out her wrist for him. Connor tied it on with shaky hands, and said, "With this token, I pledge my life to you."

"Julie," Adrian said, "do you have a token of your commitment to give Connor?"

Julie took Connor's right hand in hers, and untied the wristband she'd given him. She held it up for Adrian to see.

"Tie it onto his left wrist, and repeat after me. With this token, I pledge my life to you."

Julie tied it on and repeated the line.

"Now clasp your left hands together in front of me."

Once Connor and Julie were holding their left hands together, Adrian walked over to the podium and opened a box. He took out a length of brownish maroon rope, and went back to the couple. He held the rope up for everyone to see and said, "No other human ties are more important, and no other vows are more sacred than those of marriage. Remember in the days to come, if difficulty and fear come into your relationship, you must focus on the things that are right between you, and not on the things that are wrong."

Adrian tied one end of the rope directly on top of Connor's wristband. Connor could smell old blood on the rope, and knew the rope's color didn't come from any dye. He frowned and said, "Why is there blood?"

Adrian frowned at the young man and said with quiet authority, "It's traditional. The blood represents the sacrifices made to get to this point."

Connor didn't understand that, but didn't ask anymore questions, because it seemed to upset the pastor.

Once the rope was tied on Connor, Adrian held the other end and said, "Do you Connor, take Julie, to be your lawfully wedded wife?"

"Yes," Connor said.

Julie smirked and whispered, "You're supposed to say 'I do.'"

"I do," Connor said smiling at her smirk.

Adrian looped the rope around their hands once. "Do you Julie, take Connor, to be your lawfully wedded husband?"

"I do," she said sincerely.

Adrian looped the rope a second time. "Do you Connor, promise to love Julie in sickness and health, in good times and bad, until death do you part?"

"I do." Connor said firmly.

He looped the rope a third time. "Do you Julie, promise to love Connor in sickness and health, in good times and bad, until death do you part?"

"I do." Julie said.

He looped the rope a fourth time. "Do you Connor promise to protect Julie from all those who might do her harm?"

"I do."

He looped the rope a fifth time. "Do you Julie promise to accept Connor's protection both for yourself, and for your unborn child?"

"I do."

He looped the rope a sixth time and tied the end of it on top of Julie's wristband. He looked to the crowd and said, "And so the binding is completed."

Adrian put a hand on top of their bound hands and bowed his head. "Let us say a prayer."

Connor bowed his head, and Adrian started speaking in a language Connor didn't understand. But he'd heard Fred and Wesley say things in Latin often enough to know that's what language it was.

Once the prayer was completed, Adrian let go of the bound hands, and said, "I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."

Before Connor could react, Julie stood on her toes and lifted her lips up to meet Connor's in a short chaste kiss.

The church erupted with cheers and clapping, startling Connor. Adrian put a hand on both of the young people's shoulders and said, "Your hands must stay bound until I remove the rope. For now, let us speak with Judge Rhodes and fill out some paperwork."

While the couple filled out a marriage license with the judge, Adrian addressed the crowd. "Nathan would like to invite you all to join the happy couple downstairs in the banquet room for a celebration of their new bond."

People started shuffling out of the room, and the room was mostly empty by the time Connor and Julie were done filling out paperwork. Judge Rhodes gathered up the papers and said, "I'll file these immediately."

"Thank you," Nathan said, and shook the judge's hand.

While Judge Rhodes walked out, Adrian turned to Nathan and said, "Go see to the celebration. We'll be along shortly." Nathan nodded to the older man, and gave Julie a kiss on the cheek before walking out himself, and shutting the doors behind him.

When Connor, Julie, and Adrian were all alone in the church, Adrian put his hand over their bound hands and said, "You must consummate the marriage immediately, before the binding is removed." He gestured to a door to the left of the stage. "A room has been set up for you. Once that's done, I'll say another prayer, and remove the rope. Then we can join everyone at your celebration downstairs."

"What does consummate mean?" Connor asked.

"I'll show you," Julie said. She tugged at their bound hands to get him to move with her.

The tiny room was about the size of a walk in closet, and the only item in the room was a twin sized bed. Julie shut the door behind them, and led Connor to the bed. She pushed him gently to sit on the edge, and started kissing him.

Calmer now that the ceremony was over, and it was just the two of them, Connor let himself relax enough to kiss her back. As they kissed, the reality of the situation hit him. He was kissing his wife. He'd hoped and dreamed of this moment for years, and since he'd met Julie, those hopes and dreams had been focused solely on her.

Julie pulled her mouth away long enough to climb onto his lap, with her legs straddling his. She whispered in his ear, "Consummate means to complete or fulfill something. A marriage is complete once the couple has sex."

"Here?" Connor asked with surprise. "Now?" He lifted their bound hands and added, "Like this?"

"Yes." She kissed one side of his neck. "Yes." She kissed the other side of his neck. "And yes." She kissed him on the mouth, and pushed him back down onto the bed.

He felt her free hand reach down and undo the button on his slacks. Connor didn't need to be asked twice, and started fumbling to untie the sash on the back of her dress with one hand.

Twenty minutes later, they came out of the room together with their clothes slightly askew. Adrian said the prayer, and took the rope off of the happy couple.

# # #

At ten in the morning, Angel woke up. He wandered into the kitchen, and found Fred, and Wesley at the kitchen table eating breakfast together. Angel mumbled, "Morning," and got himself a mug of blood. "Where is everyone?"

"Sleeping in?" Fred suggested.

Angel sat next to them and listened to them talk about a dimensional theory with half an ear. Fifteen minutes later, Gunn came in to join them, and ten minutes after that Lorne arrived too. It was strange for Connor to sleep in this long, and Angel kept looking at the kitchen door, expecting him to come through.

Gunn noticed and said, "Just go get him."

"He was pretty upset last night when he found out Julie wasn't coming."

"He'll get over it," Gunn said, "and if he's up there pouting, it will be better if you bring him down."

Angel sighed, put his mug in the sink, and went to get Connor. He raised a hand to knock on Connor's bedroom door, but froze before his knuckles connected with the wood. There was no heartbeat in the room. He opened the door without knocking, and cursed when he saw the empty bed. Even though he knew it was useless, he checked the bathroom. He scanned the bedroom, and found a note sitting on Connor's desk. It read:

Dad,

I needed to go out. I'll be back before nightfall.

I'm sorry,
Connor

"What?" Angel muttered. He didn't understand what had happened. He'd thought things were good between him and his son the past few days.

He turned the letter over, looking for something more, but found nothing. He scanned the desk area, and noticed the garbage had some crumpled up paper in it. He dug out the paper balls, and flattened them on the desk to read them. He found they were all variations of the same information. Connor had to leave for the day, he'd be back before dark, and he was sorry about it. None of them said where he was going, or why he had to go.

Angel grabbed all the letters and stormed back down to the kitchen. He slapped the papers onto the kitchen table, and said, "He's gone."

"Gone?" Gunn asked as he picked up a letter. Everyone picked up a version of the letter to look over. Once Gunn had scanned his he said, "I don't get it. Is this about Julie not coming for dinner?"

Angel paced and said, "I have no idea. I thought he was fine. He was upset that Julie couldn't come, yes, but that shouldn't have made him take off like this."

Fred had finished a second letter, and picked up a third. "His wording is interesting. He says he has to go and he says he needs to go. He never says he wants to go."

Wesley was also reading multiple versions and nodded in agreement. "And he's very apologetic about it too. As if he doesn't want to leave, but feels..."

"Obligated," Fred finished the sentence for him.

Lorne sipped his Bloody Mary, and said, "You let him talk to Julie alone. Who knows what she said to him."

Gunn shook his head, "But you know what he didn't do? Confide in any of us. I'm sure Julie did talk him into something, but Connor should know better than to run off and do what she says without telling one of us about it. Especially after being grounded for a week after she manipulated him into staying with her for the night instead of coming home."

Angel sat at the table and put his head in his hands. "You're right."

"If you don't spank him for this, I will." Gunn said with conviction, not caring how angry Angel got about it.

"You'll have to wait your turn," Angel said. He was angry enough in this moment to do it no matter what kind of complaints Connor put up.

Gunn nodded, thinking it was about time that Angel to got back on track. "You want us to go look for him, or wait for him to come home?" Gunn asked.

Angel sighed. "I don't want to wreck Thanksgiving for anyone, but I'd be grateful if any of you had a spare hour to go check Julie's apartment. If he's not there, we'll just wait for him to come home."

Gunn patted Angel's shoulder and said, "I'll go look right now. I'll call you when I get there to let you know what I find."

"Thank you."

Fifteen minutes later, Gunn called to let them know Connor and Julie were nowhere to be found.

# # #

By eleven o'clock, Connor and Julie had eaten some brunch, fed each other cake, and made it through an awkward first dance. By noon the banquet room was thinning out, and guests were congratulating the couple as they left.

Julie noticed Connor watching the clock, and squeezed his hand. She whispered, "Are you ready to get out of here?"

"Yes. I mean, if that's okay. I'm not used to so many people for so long."

"It's fine. Stay here." Julie walked across the room to talk to her father. Nathan handed her his car keys, and gave her a quick kiss.

Minutes later, Connor was driving them back to Julie's apartment. Julie rested her head against his shoulder, and said, "We've got a few hours before it's dark. After we've changed clothes, do you want to do something fun together?"

"Sure. What do you want to do?"

"We could drive out to the ocean and take a walk along the water."

"Okay." All his memories of the ocean were negative. It would be nice to have a positive one.

Half an hour later, they were in regular clothes and walking along the beach hand in hand. Even in November, the LA weather wasn't too cold. Julie took her shoes and socks off, and Connor followed suit.

"Oh," he said, as he felt the sand on his feet. He wiggled his toes, and smiled.

She grabbed his hand and said, 'Come on. Let's get our feet wet." The two wandered down the beach along the waterline looking for shells, and enjoying the sun for the next hour.

Looking up at where the sun was in the sky, Connor said, "We should head back, or we won't make it to the hotel before it gets dark."

"We?"

He frowned. "Yes..."

"Connor, I can't go back to the hotel with you."

"What do you mean you can't? Of course you can. We're married now. There's nothing anyone can do to change that, not even Angel."

She shook her head. "No, Connor, Angel can't know."

"We can't keep it from him forever, Julie," He said, frustrated that she wasn't planning to come home with him.

She put a hand over the swell of her belly. "Not forever. Just until the baby is born."

"I can't wait that long! I want to be living with you every day. I don't want to come visit you at your apartment every couple of days. How am I supposed to keep my vow of protecting you if you aren't even living with me."

"Do you want to come away with me?" she asked. "We could go anywhere in the world that you want to go. I'll be happy to live with you if we get our own apartment in another city where Angel can't find us."

Connor shook his head. "You know that's not what I want. If we did that, my dad would come looking for us, and he would eventually find us, no matter where we went. And he'd be pissed. Seriously pissed."

"I want to live with you, Connor. Honestly I do, but the baby's welfare has to come first."

"Angel would never hurt a baby, especially his own grandchild!"

"You can't know that for certain. The baby won't feel safe at the hotel. She won't go."

Getting more and more frustrated with the conversation, Connor yelled, "The baby doesn't get a say in where we live! You're supposed to accept my protection!"

Julie put a hand on the side of Connor's face and said, "I do accept your protection. We're married now. Bound together for life. We're going to have many happy years together. I don't understand why you can't wait for four more weeks until she's ready to be born."

He didn't want to wait, but found it difficult to disagree about waiting without sounding like a petulant child. He didn't like it, but he could wait a few weeks before they started living together.

"Fine, you don't have to live in the hotel with me, but we are going to tell Angel that we're married. I refuse to keep it from him any longer. Maybe he'll let me live with you for four weeks."

Julie's eyes rolled back in her head, and she fell towards the ground. Connor barely reacted quickly enough to catch her before she hit the ground.

"Julie?" he said with fear. He knelt down and held her upper body against his. When she didn't respond, he said loudly, "Julie!" He could see her breathing, and he could hear both her heartbeat, and the baby's rapid heartbeat too. "Julie, what's wrong?" He brushed the back of his fingers against her cheek.

Her eyes fluttered open and shut once.

"Julie?" he said, gently picking her up, and carrying her towards the car.

"Connor?" she asked when her eyes opened again. "What happened?"

"I don't know. We were talking, and you just fell. You were unconscious for a few seconds."

"I fainted?" she mumbled to herself, and put a hand on her stomach. "Did I land on my belly?"

"I caught you before you landed."

"Thank you." She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him tight.

He quickened his pace across the sand, wanting to get her into the car as quickly as possible. "Why did you faint? Are you sick? Should I take you to a doctor?"

She shook her head on his shoulder. "I'm not sick. I've always been prone to fainting. When I'm scared or anxious about something I faint. I fainted when Angelus got loose. The first time it happened, I was twelve and my parents were arguing about money. They took me to see a doctor about it. She prescribed some medication to help calm me down, but I didn't like the way it made me feel, so I stopped taking it."

Connor held her tight, and kissed the top of her head. Feeling guilty he said, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brushed aside your feelings like that. If the thought of me telling Angel that we're married is that frightening to you, then I won't tell him. I can wait. I don't want to, but what I want isn't as important as what you need. And for the next four weeks, what you need is to be free of fear or anxiety."

"Connor, put me down."

Frowning, he looked into the distance, trying to see the car. "Are you sure you won't faint again?"

"I'm sure, but if it makes you feel better, you can pick me up again in a minute."

He set her on her feet.

She smiled at him and said, "I thought you might want to feel her kicking." She took his hand in hers, and put it on her belly.

He could feel the small being shifting around under Julie's skin and simply smiled at her in wonder.

Once the baby settled, Julie said, "I'm fine to walk, but you can carry me if you want."

Connor picked her back up, and started walking towards the car, wondering what the hell he was going to tell Angel when he got home, since he couldn't tell him the truth.

# # #

Thanksgiving dinner wasn't a festive occasion at the hotel. Gunn bristled every time Fred and Wesley smiled at each other or touched. Lorne drank more than usual, and merrily told stories of his family back in Pylea, which had everyone squirming. Fred surprised Angel with some Turkey blood, and he accepted it with painfully obvious false cheer.

The instant the humans were done eating, Angel went to the lobby and paced like a caged animal, watching the clock and the lobby doors. If Connor wasn't home the instant the sun went under the horizon, Angel was going to go looking.

Once the table was cleared off, and the dishes were done, Lorne went upstairs to bed. Wesley and Fred had a quiet conversation, and decided neither one of them wanted to be around to see the upcoming confrontation when Connor got home. They told Angel they were going for a drive and left.

Gunn scowled at them as they left, and sat on the lobby's round couch to wait with Angel. He wanted to be there to support Angel, and show a united front to Connor, but he was also worried about what the kid had been up to, and needed to know he was home safe before he could do anything else.

Connor trudged home after dropping off Julie at her apartment, and making sure she was settled. The guilt he'd felt about having the wedding without his family had turned into regret and sorrow. He didn't just feel bad for his family, he felt bad for himself. He didn't realize it at the time, but now he knew he'd cheated himself out of sharing that moment with his family.

Less than fifteen minutes before the sun set, Angel and Gunn both saw Connor coming up the walkway to the lobby doors. His head was down, his shoulders were slumped, and his feet were moving slowly.

Connor looked up as he put a hand on the lobby doors, and saw both Angel and Gunn waiting for him with matching angry glares. His hand dropped from the door, and he took a few steps back before he'd even had a chance to think about what he was doing.

Gunn stood and crossed his arms, clearly unimpressed. Angel locked eyes with his son, pointed to the spot directly in front of him, and said with icy calm, "Come here right now."

In a panic, Connor shook his head, and backed up a few more steps. He had no idea what he was going to tell them. No matter what he said, his father would know he was lying, but he'd promised not to tell them the truth.

"Gunn." Angel said, without taking his eyes off Connor's.

Without having to ask what it was Angel wanted, Gunn walked purposely towards the lobby doors.

Connor's eyes darted to Gunn, and he shook his head again.

Gunn opened the door and walked into the fading sunlight. He headed straight for the boy and reached a hand out to grab him, but Connor scrambled backwards a few more feet to avoid the larger man.

Gunn stood still with effort and hissed, "Stop that right now. There's no avoiding this."

They maintained eye contact for less than a second before Connor hung his head in defeat. Gunn took the two steps that separated them, took Connor's upper arm in one hand, and swatted him five times with the other as hard as he could. Gunn knew the full force swats wouldn't be truly painful for the kid, but they would let Connor know just how disappointed he was.

Having expected it, Connor didn't make a sound at the swats, but his face turned bright red with shame and embarrassment.

Gunn let him go and said loudly, "Get your ass inside."

Connor quickly walked through the lobby doors, and down the stairs, with Gunn following at his heels. Connor stopped just outside of Angel's reach.

Father and son looked at each other for a moment, and when Connor opened his mouth to apologize, Angel held up a hand and barked, "Stop!"

Angel leaned towards the boy and sniffed the air. He glared at his son and said, "I don't want to hear it. I know all I need to know." He stepped forward, put a hand on Connor's shoulder, and looked into the boy's eyes. Disappointment laced Angel's voice as he said, "The smell of Julie and the beach is all over you son. Don't even try to deny it."

Realizing how irresponsible and childish that must seem to Angel, Connor opened his mouth to protest, but nothing came out. He couldn't tell them why he'd really left, and maybe it would all be easier if Angel made his own assumptions about what had happened. The boy looked away and said, "I won't deny it. I was at the beach with Julie."

"Why?" Gunn asked.

Connor shrugged and kept his eyes on the ground.

Angel's hand moved from Connor's shoulder to his upper arm. He towed the boy towards the round couch, and said, "Gunn asked you a question. Shrugging is not an answer." Angel sat, and yanked his son face down across his lap.

Connor landed with a startled gasp at the sudden change of position. "Nooo!" he yelled.

Angel swatted the squirming boy twice and said, "Answer Gunn."

The shame of being across Angel's lap again was bad enough, but having Gunn as a witness, and being in the middle of the lobby was utterly humiliating. "I had to!"

"Why did you have to?" Gunn asked.

"I can't tell you!" Connor shouted.

Angel reached under the boy, unsnapped the button of his jeans, and shoved both the jeans and underwear down to Connor's knees with one swipe.

"Not like this!" Connor yelled, as he was bared. He pushed to get up, but Angel held him easily. "Not in the lobby!"

"You listen to me little boy. You made Thanksgiving uncomfortable for everyone by running off again, so I see no reason why you shouldn't be uncomfortable right now." Even though Angel didn't say it, having Gunn there to back him up helped him not to dwell on Angelus' claim that Angel got off on spanking his son. He knew that if Gunn thought for one second that Angel was enjoying this, he would find a way to stop him. With that thought in mind, Angel laid down two more sharp smacks.

"Ow!" Connor yelled, and worked harder at trying to get himself up. "I thought you said you couldn't do this anymore!"

Now that he'd started, Angel didn't find it nearly as impossible as he'd thought he would. He spanked the naked butt over his lap twice more and said, "You haven't left me much of an option! Sneaking out of the house while you're grounded to spend the day at the beach with your girlfriend is completely unacceptable Connor!"

"I know!" He answered.

"So tell us why you did it!" Angel yelled.

"I can't!" he yelled back.

Shaking his head in disappointment, Angel said, "If that's the way you want it, fine." Angel raised his hand higher than before, and started spanking hard and fast, peppering every inch of Connor's butt and upper thighs with handprints.

Suddenly remembering just how painful this experience was, Connor grunted and yelped through the first twenty swats. He tried to think of something to say that would help get him up off Angel's lap, but nothing came to mind. He doubted even the truth would accomplish that.

Angel paused and said, "You broke three rules today. Wanna tell me what they were?"

"Three?" Connor asked nervously as he squirmed to relieve some of the sting. "I only broke one! Running off for the day."

Shaking his head Angel said, "What about disobedience and lying?"

Connor craned his neck back to look at Angel and said, "Lying? I haven't lied!"

Angel raised an eyebrow, and then looked at Gunn to gage his reaction. Gunn was scowling, and shaking his head. Angel looked back at the boy across his lap and said; "Tell us why you left today."

Connor kicked the toe of his tennis shoe onto the floor in frustration and turned his head back to the front. "I can't tell you! That's not a lie!"

"Really? You're physically incapable of telling us what you did today?" Angel asked.

"No!" Connor said, "That's not what I meant and you know it!"

"So what you really mean is that you refuse to tell us."

The boy thought about that for a second, and then hung his head in defeat. "Yes," he muttered to the floor in front of him.

"Gunn," Angel said, "could you please go get the silver hairbrush off my dresser?"

"Nooooo!" Connor whined.

"Sure." Gunn said, and headed towards the basement. He'd used the brush on Connor himself, and knew exactly where Angel kept it.

Angel rested his spanking hand on Connor's thigh and said, "My guess is, you won't tell me what you've been up to, because you've been doing something you know I wouldn't approve of."

Connor shook his head. "No, it's just that I promised I wouldn't tell. I didn't do anything you… wouldn't approve of." Even to his own ears that sounded untrue.

"Wow," Angel said, "That's a bald-faced lie if I ever heard one."

"Fuck." Connor muttered to himself.

"So you were out doing something that you knew I wouldn't approve of, and now you refuse to tell me about it. Does that about sum it up, Connor?"

"It's not like I did something horrible!" Connor said, trying to plead his case without giving out any actual information. "I didn't go hunt by myself! I didn't put myself in danger, and I didn't put anyone else in danger! Just because you wouldn't approve, doesn't make it wrong or bad!"

"How am I supposed to trust your judgement about any of that after today?" Angel asked.

Before Connor could formulate an answer, Gunn came back into the lobby, and handed the brush over to Angel.

"Thanks." Angel said, before turning his attention to Connor. "The first thing we're going to go over is doing what you're told." He started spanking his son with the brush and talked while he spanked. "I grounded you because I thought you were mature enough for that kind of a punishment, but apparently I was wrong. You got grounded for staying with Julie after I told you to come home, and here you are in trouble for almost exactly the same thing, except this time you were grounded when you did it. I told you to stay home, and you deliberately disobeyed me to go see her."

The boy grunted in pain with the first harsh swat, and groaned at the lecture. He had to bite his lip to keep from yelping as the smacks continued. By the time his dad had given him twenty, Connor was breathing hard and his whole body was twitching with each smack in an effort to stay still.

Angel stopped for a moment and said, "The next thing we're going over is running off. We've talked about…"

"That's what you just spanked me for!" Connor interrupted.

"No it isn't." Angel said with calm. "I just spanked you for leaving the hotel while you were grounded. Now I'm going to spank you for not telling anyone where you were going. We've gone over this more than once, and frankly I'm tired of it."

Angel started spanking even harder than before.

"Ooooow!" Connor yelped with each new smack, unable to keep his pain to himself any longer.

Angel spoke up to be heard over the smacks and yelping. "You don't get to take off all day without letting one of us know where you're going. None of us would do that to you. How would you feel if you woke up and everyone was gone?

"I'd… Ouch! I'd hate that!"

Angel said, "The note was better than nothing, but I still worried about you the whole day."

"I'm sorry!" Connor yelled. "I'm really… Ah! …sorry! I left the note… Ow! …so you wouldn't worry!"

Angel ended that round of twenty with two smacks to each of Connor's sit spots. When his dad paused, Connor slumped down across his lap, glad to have a moment's reprieve.

"Last one. Let's talk about purposely not telling me something because you know I won't approve. That's not a straight lie, but it is deceitful. So we're adding a new rule. No more deceitfulness."

Connor's eyes stung, and his throat felt tight. He hated the word deceit. Holtz would often call him 'deceitful child' while whipping him. And he couldn't exactly blame Angel for thinking the same thing, because he knew it was true.

Angel continued the lecture. "Believe me when I tell you I'll be a lot more understanding, if you come to me with something, than I will be if I find out about it after the fact. And I'll go a lot easier on you with any punishment if you come to me first, too. Taking that into consideration, do you want to tell me what you were up to today?"

Connor loathed hiding everything about Julie from his family. But Julie's wants, needs, and wellbeing came above his own, so no matter how much he wanted to confess, he wouldn't. Connor shook his head, and tried to keep his voice steady, but that was nearly impossible because the tears had started falling. "I'm sorry, Angel. I promised not to tell. I wish I hadn't, but I did. Even if you whip me until I bleed, the way father would have, I won't tell you."

Angel's eyebrows went up in shock. The conviction in Connor's voice didn't surprise him, but hearing his son call him 'Angel', and Holtz 'father', in the same breath made him realize something was wrong. More often than not Connor called him 'Dad' now, and he almost never referred to Holtz as 'father' anymore.

Angel set the brush down, and said quietly, "Hey, where's that coming from? I'll never whip you the way Holtz did, Connor. I've told you that."

Shifting over Angel's lap, Connor said softly, "I know. It's just…" his voice went to a whisper, "…father always said I was a deceitful child, even when I wasn't. But today, with you, I really was, so I'd deserve it. I'm sorry."

Gunn spoke before Angel could formulate a response. "How about we change that rule?" Gunn waited for Angel to look at him, and once he had a nod of approval from the older man, Gunn said, "The rule could be; trust your family enough to confide in us."

Smiling gratefully at Gunn, Angel said, "That's a much better rule, thanks Gunn." He looked at the back of Connor's head and said, "Isn't trust what we've been working on since you got here, son?"

"Yeah." Connor wiped at his tears with the back of his hand.

"And I think we've come a long way since then, don't you?"

"I guess."

"Holtz was wrong, you're not deceitful. You're an honest person who had a small lapse in judgement."

Blushing with shame, Connor muttered, "Don't say that, Dad. You don't know what I did."

"True," Angel agreed. "Okay then, this last part is for not trusting any of us enough to confide in us today."

Connor nodded in acceptance.

Using his hand, Angel started spanking again, aiming most of the spanks on the crease where butt met thigh.

Connor's tears started up again with the first swat, but they were about much more than the pain. They were about disappointing his new family, after they had been so much kinder to him than Holtz had ever been.

Well before Angel was done with the twenty, Connor put a hand back to block the blows. The older man didn't even have to pause while spanking. He grabbed Connor's wrist, pulled the hand away, and held it at the boy's lower back.

"Please, Dad! Please stop! I'm sorry!"

"Eight more." Angel said, and brought his hand down again.

Connor whimpered and yelped through the last eight.

When Angel was done, he let go of Connor's hand, and pulled the kid's underwear back into place, quickly followed by his pants.

Connor knew he should have felt better now that he was dressed again, because the punishment was over, but he only felt worse. He couldn't stop his tears, and even started crying harder. He felt himself being flipped over so he was sitting on Angel's lap. He immediately wrapped his arms around Angel and clung to him while he cried.

Angel and Gunn exchanged a worried look, and Gunn came over to sit down on the couch next to them. He put a hand on Connor's knee and said, "I don't know how Julie fits into you being gone all day at the beach, but if she's asking you to do things that you know aren't right, you should be telling her no."

Angel nodded and rubbed Connor's back. "Gunn's right. I know you love Julie, but if she loves you too, then why is she manipulating you into doing things I wouldn't approve of?"

The boy's only response was a shake of his head.

The three men sat quietly together for a few minutes, until Connor had his tears under control. He awkwardly eased up on the death grip he had on his dad, and wiped his face with the cuff of his long sleeved tee shirt.

Angel patted his son's back once, and said, "You're still grounded for three more days, and no today doesn't count as part of that because you weren't here. And since you won't tell me what you did today, I can't trust you to be alone. So for the next three days, you're going to have to be with one of us all the time."

Too ashamed to make eye contact, Connor nodded to the floor, and pushed to get up.

Angel held him where he was and said, "And the last time we talked I said Julie could come to dinner while you were grounded, but after today I've changed my mind about that."

"Okay." Connor hated the idea of not seeing her, but he knew she wouldn't be coming over to the hotel anyway now that her belly was too big to hide.

Angel didn't say anything at this point, but once the three days were up, he planned to have a long talk with his son about when he could and couldn't see Julie. For now he helped Connor stand. The kid looked exhausted, and Angel doubted that was all because of the spanking. He put a hand on Connor's shoulder and said, "What time did you get up today?"

"Five thirty. I couldn't sleep."

Angel turned to Gunn. "Could you go upstairs with Connor and keep an eye on him while he gets ready for bed?"

"Sure." Gunn said, and stood as well.

"Bed?" Connor asked. "It's barely dark out."

"And you're so tired you can hardly stand," Angel said. "You can sleep in my bed tonight."

"Your bed?" Connor wasn't sure how he felt about that.

Rolling his eyes, Angel said, "It's a king. There's plenty of room, and I'm tired too. I don't feel like sitting in a chair by your bed all night just so I can keep you from running away. I'm a light sleeper. I'll wake up if you try to leave the room." He gestured to the stairs with a tilt of his head. "Go on. Come back down when you're done."

Twenty minutes later, Connor was lying on the left side of Angel's bed, and Angel was sitting up against the headboard on the right side reading a book.

"Dad?" Connor asked tentatively.

"Hmm?" Angel didn't take his eyes off his book.

"You were with Darla for a long time right?"

Angel set the book down and looked over at his son. "I was Angelus at the time, but yes."

"Did you love her?"

"Most of the time."

Connor propped his head up with his hand. "How did you know."

Angel gave that some serious thought, suspecting Connor's thoughts were currently more about Julie than his mother. "I was happier with her than I was by myself. I loved making her smile." Angel didn't mention that making her smile often meant killing innocent people.

Connor lay back down and thought about that.

Angel turned off his lamp, and lay down too. He said, "A couple of years ago, thanks to Wolfram and Hart, I met Darla as a human with a soul. Do you want me to tell you what she was like then?"

Pushing his own thoughts of Julie aside, Connor said, "I'd like that."

Angel put his hands behind his head, and started talking. Before the story was half over, he heard Connor's breathing even out in sleep. Smiling softly, Angel closed his eyes, and let himself drift off to sleep, too.

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