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Lighter

by Scy

[Story Headers]

There were some discoveries made with the help of rumor, and others were the product of listening to one's instincts. Oz just followed his nose.

The house was exactly the same as all the others on its block. A perfect example of good clean middle class living, on the surface. Away from the dwelling each person smelled odd.

The mother, father, and daughter scratched the air. Not harshly like a real cleanser, but enough that anyone whose senses were more than human could catch it. Their scent was that of 'pure unreality.' Last was the son, who jarred against his relatives. One breathed in and caught the heaviness of soil, sweat, and wilderness. He was out of place.

Dark magic clung to the boy like the taint of a sickness which could be cured if only it was acknowledged. Oz let himself inhale Connor, for scent often revealed more than speech. The boy's confusion and fear smelled like soured milk.

Oz hadn't been sure what he would do when he found the end of the trail. Ask for an explanation, cautiously satisfy his curiosity. He hadn't planned on being seen.

The boy stepped off the front step and ever further away from what he instinctively knew couldn't be claimed by one such as him, and he somehow knew that Oz understood what that felt like.

"Who are you?" he asked, trying to hide his emotions. All his confused anger was visible in jerky half-realized stretches towards what he had been.

"Oz." He kept his posture as nonthreatening as he knew how. Whether the boy would bolt or attack was up for debate, and he didn't care to find out which was worse.

"You- you're not.." The words wouldn't form and Oz let silence win out.

"No."

//And neither are you.//

They both heard the words.

"That's why you're following me? Because I'm like you?"

"Sort of." He didn't want to lie and the kernel of 'not the whole story, but mostly, yes' was apparently sufficient for a couple steps forward.

No one had looked at him with that particular mix of wonder and fear. It had been all about love or clinical observation- 'do we need to get the tranquilizer gun?'.

Connor stared at him and reached out as though Oz was both a ticket to get in and the main attraction at a paranormal petting zoo. And the boy either didn't know better or didn't care about getting bitten.

He was given the name 'Connor' as a sort of trade for a hesitant brush of fingers over Oz's face. Grounding himself to a world he didn't know his way around yet.

The simplest method of 'taking care of things' would be opening the gate and leading Connor out. There was room in his van for another person, even if they were a teenager.

Yet, few things were that uncomplicated.

Barring another magical readjustment to reality, Connor's new family would search for him. And of course, there was the matter of an absent but never-distant father-figure. It was difficult to imagine Angel, who seemed by way of longevity to know a little about everything, didn't have a clue that Connor existed. Surely he had sources, a network of creatures who picked up on important details. Things like a teenage boy having Angel's scent and habits.


There was so much ground to cover before he knew even the barest outline of what he was that Connor shook with not-knowing. That more than the neat lawn and 'Pleasantville neighborhood' made Oz wonder.

For a second it seemed that Connor having a connection with Angel was anything but a joke or game. His demon had to have established a rapport with kids as he pursued them, and it was possible that some urges carried over to the soul. A family in whatever form was preferable to loneliness.

But there was something about Connor, other than his scent that declared him to be more than a toy.

Oz hadn't ever really thought about having children of his own except in the most abstract way. After the first full moon that mattered he'd decided that passing on fur was unfair to anyone who didn't know what they were getting into.

'Not part of it' wasn't applicable to Connor. The kid was in it up to his eyes and didn't even know why.

That Connor was already in felt too much like a rationalization for his liking. In all honesty, jumping straight into Connor's life complete with problems was like going over a pit of 'the smart thing to do'.


Connor raised his head and Oz froze, startled out following the paths of his thoughts. Something was off in the boy's eyes. Not in the way that made people back off and call the cops, but nobody could honestly say that they wanted to be close to him. Once Connor had started waking up, his eyes said more than the world could handle.

Oz thought that anyone too unwilling to see Truth might be able to fool themselves into thinking that Connor was human. If they wanted ordinary very badly.

For Oz, Connor stalked too much for even a young man staggering back when adulthood loomed. When he forgot that he was supposed to be slow-moving food Connor's parentage showed in his walk.

His confidence was still louder than he could shout but that came with time. First came the realization of talents and the tests of 'how far'. Already undeniable was how badly limits had been explained to him and how little he cared for such things.

Clearly, Connor was screwed up. Oz smelled a lot of things on him and the seams came through like moans. He couldn't fix the boy, even though he'd like to think that it was possible. All the perfect families wouldn't make up for Connor knowing that they weren't real. One had to just make the most of what was present and available.


Like any kid who'd learned a new trick and wanted to impress others, Connor delighted in tracking Oz. If it had bothered Oz the boy would have backed off, but not stopped. Connor might not know who he was trying to prove himself to but Oz did. He got the sense that Connor had been put in the spotlight and while he dealt with it amiably, at his core he felt it wasn't his place to be that well-lit.

Sometimes Connor stared at people as if he wondered where they came from. He was more comfortable out of the way, watching life happen to others.

Seeing Connor try to play at being 'alright' in his old life was like observing a hatched creature try and wear its own razor lined skin.

So Oz stopped by once or twice a week to take Connor 'around.' He never went so far as to call it 'keeping sane,' but the words floated in the air. Connor could only stay in a place he knew he didn't belong for so long and then he would go and seek out answers.

It wasn't hard to coax Connor to come with him. The sense of other went both ways. While he couldn't remember his past, Connor knew that Oz was something that didn't fit in with a 9-5 life. Looking 'harmless' was helpful in more than a few situations.

He didn't ask to meet Connor's 'family.' The smell of unreality that came from the house was sufficient to make distance necessary. Not that Connor seemed to mind much. There was no way to explain Oz and the connection they had and the fallout from that was evidently beyond what Connor could handle.

Connor climbed into Oz's van with all the nervous excitement of a kid doing something that went contrary to all parental advice. Yet, for all his gleeful rebelliousness he took in everything around him. It was an instinctive thoroughness where on anyone else it would have been casual and forgotten in minutes. A not so gentle remind that there was more to the arrangement than an older member of 'Don't Belong Inc.' keeping an innocent from getting caught up in a greater dangerous picture. For Connor handled blood like someone who might use it in tracking.

The boy was alternately animated, carrying on about random aspects of his life and quiet, weighed down by reemerging memories.

Getting information out of Connor's fractured mind was like seeing the movie before the book. So much back story cut out for the sake of a finished product, and who it hurt in the end was no debate when he watched the boy struggle with where to look next.

As Connor seated himself more fully in who he'd been, the conversations dwindled and most of their communication took place in looks and gestures.

Connor's defenses seemed 'learned by necessity.' The kids in Sunnydale might have gotten field experience, but Connor's exposure was much more long term. He'd grown up on a never-ending battlefield.

Despite the evidence of a life spent on guard, Connor trusted that standing beyond humanity was the common bond which would keep their dealings truthful.

Though a quick learner, and apt to act as though 'drifter' was another layer that he wore whenever the occasion struck, there was too great a need for stability in his eyes for it to stick.

If he made Connor pack there was no way that Oz could leave the boy behind, not even for his own good. Connor had abandonment issues begging for companionship in every brush of skin.

The boy wanted to be someone's beloved. Whether that was healthy Oz didn't know exactly. The sheer want in Connor's eyes when he looked for his place was worrisome.

Connor could only claim a ruin of lost childhood and 'never had that.' Oz could see Connor breaking something just so that no one would want to take it from him.

It hadn't bothered him that he was essentially alone until he realized what it meant to Connor. How he needed to be saved from solitude, as though it were a force that would devour him if given the chance. Much like Connor's fears of his own mind.

They spent their time away from Connor's non home either wandering wherever impulse took them or in the van. There were times when even the most casual contact with people was confusing and both of them preferred to have a little space.

Connor asked questions in the way he hovered, nervous-quick on the edge of Oz's vision. As though a direct line of sight would cancel out whatever he was working out in his head. Oz let the boy have his diagonals.

Oz made a point to give every question its own separate period of contemplation, letting Connor know that he took words seriously, and the boy came to expect the precise delivery of knowledge as right.

When he asked where Connor came from, the answer was 'Hell.'

It was statements like that which made his fur ruffle and made the wolf-self step back. Bad for a pack to take in the weak. At those times Oz thought about his own unsuitability and moved closer.

Being careful around Connor wasn't physical protection, so much as he had to keep from being less than whole, at least on the surface.


Connor touched Oz like he'd found the best way to worship his new religion, but Oz hadn't really wanted to be a deity.

He knew that the call of home transcended all reprogramming. Oz expected memories to rise up at anytime, and Connor to whisper the name of the one who made him whimper in dreamtime.

Oz could feel time running out for Connor's cautious reorganization of his life. The things hiding in his mind were waking up and they were only waiting for the right moment to pounce. Then Connor might find that he wanted someone else and he would leave.

The boy plainly expected something was about to happen. He had taken staring out windows and prowling his room at late hours. As though he thought staying awake would make his vision clearer.

That he didn't remember a bargain meant nothing. It was plain to see that whatever it was that held Connor in 'happy days' was fraying with no mending good enough to halt the tearing. As Oz knew, leaning in the direction of light was less appealing as one's eyes adjusted to nighttime.

Even that was not his biggest worry.

There was too much quiet rage in the boy. Oz could nearly see it vibrate under Connor's skin, and there had to be something that would pull that layer back so that it could be let out. How to avoid the fallout was a question Oz didn't know the answer to. Connor didn't yet know how to wear shadows under bright lights.

The boy didn't have to cry out, his eyes were split open with suffering, and the red rimming of pain was all the call to arms needed.

Oz thought about love, and how it stopped being an ideal and instead was fashioned by tragedy into a blade that one didn't want to handle any more.

The only way to turn the edge away from soft flesh was to discover where the fractures originated and glue them together.


As they lazed about, Connor listened to Oz's tapes as though he had preferences, they'd just been misplaced for awhile. At first he thought the usual R&B artists of the second were 'cool,' then the songs had to have an edge. Pain or anger, or just whatever made a singer rasp out notes instead of croon. Songs of fighting and demands to be known.

When Oz reached out to change the tape his wrist was caught in a move that illustrated how unlike human his companion was.

Connor examined Oz's hands from his position belly-down in the back of the van.. He nudged at calluses like they were old friends he could count on, and aimed a questioning look upwards.

"I used to play guitar," Oz said, and Connor looked around, clearly seeking the instrument. "It got sold. Along with pretty much everything nonessential." Things left behind that reminded him too much of Willow and a life he couldn't make work. Trying to live with pieces of failure had been too much.

"Could you...get another?" As if music was something heard of and never experienced close up.

Oz thought about rare smiles and strange comforts. "Yeah, I could."

-Fin

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Fandom:  Angel
Title:  Lighter
Author:  Scy   [email]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG-13  |  *slash*  |  13k  |  04/20/04
Pairings:  Oz/Connor
Notes:  Sequel to 'Disquietude' which can be found at my website: http://www26.brinkster.com/scynneh
Disclaimer/Other:  Really and truly not mine. Isn't that sad?
Author's Notes: For Glossing, who knows the reasons. Also to Ladycat who made encouraging noises and told me why.
Spoilers: A:ts S4, some S5.

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