Off from the Straight Path
Characters: Wesley, Jonathan Kent
Summary: "I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off from the straight path." Wesley journeys east, only to find that the journey brings an unexpected end.
A/N: About a week ago, I wrote "Last Place They’d Expect," a 20-minute response. This grew out of that, and the theme of journey. As with "Last Place," this is an AU ending to "Sleep Tight" in Angel Season 3.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not at all. Belonging to Joss and WB and Alfred Millar, who created Smallville.
I don’t know the timeline for season three, as far as where the episodes fit in the year. I’m guessing it was midwinter when Connor disappeared. I’m arbitrarily stating that it’s a little before Christmas, because... well, I said so. And, without further ado...
"Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off from the straight path."
-Dante Alighieri (1265—1321)
"Inferno," cto. 1, l. 1-3
Off from the Straight Path
The first stop was just outside of Las Vegas, at a dilapidated gas station that sold plastic Elvis statues and cactus lighters. He ignored the greeting of the woman behind the register and went straight for the bathrooms with Connor, whose cries were loud enough to wake the dead. The baby’s diaper had probably been dirty since they’d hit the outskirts of the city, but there was the danger he’d be recognized this close to LA.
He wrapped the gun up in the dirty diaper and left it in the waste bin.
Connor was much happier, then, and sucked his thumb happily as Wesley poked through the cheesy souvenirs. "Took your baby to Las Vegas?" the clerk asked.
"Just passing through." He set a soda on the counter and dug for his wallet, one-handed.
The clerk nodded sympathetically and glanced out at the car. "From California? LA, I’ll bet. We don’t get many British people through here. Don’t get many people through this way, in general."
Wesley stabilized Connor on his hip and dug through his wallet, slapping a bill down on the counter. While the clerk rung up his soda, he glanced out at the car. The California plate stood out against the backdrop of Nevada desert.
It would be easy for Angel to follow him, in his trendy SUV with the California plates.
"Your son’s pretty cute. How old is he?" The clerk offered up his change, and he put his wallet back into his pocket.
"Six months." Connor squealed, and grabbed at Wesley’s glasses, and for the first time since Los Angeles, Wesley smiled.
She nodded and opened the bottle of soda. "I remember when mine were that small. It’s impossible to do everything with one hand."
He downed half the bottle in one gulp, and the woman’s eyes narrowed. "You okay, there? You got blood on your sleeve?"
"It’s ketchup," Wesley said calmly. "McDonalds attacked in Las Vegas."
He thanked her, strapped Connor back into the car, and drove toward the highway again. After a few minutes he turned the car around, parked behind the convenience store, and swapped license plates with the clerk’s car.
The second stop was at a Wal-Mart in Cedar City, Utah. He wandered through the aisles and let a clerk and an elderly woman coo over Connor. He even let them pass the baby around. Connor looked to be having the time of his short life as he was the center of attention, and it gave Wesley time to lift a utility knife. They were low on food for Connor, and clothes and diapers, since Wesley had only the bag they took when they left. He bought a new shirt, too, and changed in the car while Connor burbled away in his car seat, chewing on a stuffed bear.
He left the shirt, stained with Justine’s blood, in the bin of the used car place, where he swapped the SUV for a junker pickup and cash. When the salesman was working the transaction, he swapped plates with the lot next door. "Where you from?" the salesman asked, looking at the Nevada plates on the old car.
Wesley ruffled Connor’s hair, and the baby grinned his gummy smile at the salesman. "Reno," Wesley said, "but his mother died and left me with debt. Her family is here."
The salesman gave an understanding nod. "Glad we could help, then. Hope your boy enjoys Utah. Make sure to take him to the Tabernacle, up in Salt Lake, sometime."
"Of course," Wesley said, and loaded Connor’s car seat into the truck. He got back on the highway and went east.
They only seemed to play country on the radio through Utah. When the Dixie Chicks came on, he thought of Fred.Fred in her beautiful dress, kissing Gunn. Fred singing before Gunn’s band of madmen destroyed Caritas. Fred scribbling on her wall, frantic, but smiling to herself with the smile Wesley would never be able to forget.
Fred and Angel, talking while Connor slept and Wesley was doing the numbers. "I’m a dad, can you believe that?"
"You’ll be a great dad. You’ll teach him everything. Well, I’ll teach him to make tacos, cause I make the best tacos in town." She grinned and giggled, and her smile lit up the room, and even Angel had to stop brooding.
"Me. A father. Vampire with a soul, and father," Angel grinned.
And Wesley focused back on the miles passing on the odometer, instead. The truck was worth less than what he gave for it, but he couldn’t use the Angel Investigations credit line, anymore. Or his. He could be tracked. He knew guys, back in LA, who could get him fakes — a fake ID, a fake green card, a fake citizenship, but LA was dangerous, LA was west, and he was heading east.
He was sure there was an underworld in Chicago.
They stopped again in Green River, when Wesley couldn’t go without eating any longer. The little diner beside the road had a high chair, and Connor got to try Jell-O for the first time. He grinned at the waitress, and she gave Wesley pie for free.
"You know, Connor, you’re going to have to be careful when charming the ladies. Sometimes, they aren’t forthcoming about their motives."
The baby, of course, didn’t respond. He stuck his thumb in his mouth and pounded on the high chair.
Justine had been lying outright.She staggered forward. "It was Daniel. You were right, he’s lied to me all along!" She appeared to be injured, maybe stabbed or shot by Holtz.
And Wesley had almost been stupid enough to believe her, to try and help. But before he could take more than a step toward her, he saw the glint of steel under her jacket and the matching glint of madness in her eyes.
Connor was special. Too special for Holtz to use as a punishment for Angel, too special for Justine to touch. Connor was the key, the savior, the destroyer, and Angel would be his undoing. Connor, savior, destroyer, was asleep, and Justine had a knife. For the baby? For Wesley?
He didn’t flinch. He took another step toward her, drew his gun, and fired point blank into her brain before she had the chance to act. And Connor started crying, awakened by the loud sound, or maybe by the blood and brains that spattered the both of them.
Within moments, they were on the road.
Wesley spilled ketchup when Connor threw out his arms and whimpered to be held. Wesley cursed, but the waitress sent a scathing glare, so he went back to being silent and wiped his sleeve the best he could.
His hands were covered in blood — ketchup, it was just ketchup — and the waitress was happy enough to watch Connor while he washed his hands until they were raw.
He switched the radio station when he could no longer think about Fred. No one in Utah seemed to listen to National Public Radio, at least not outside of Green River. Hard rock (and punk, and rap, and most everything else) made Connor cry.
Wesley tried turning off the radio, and singing to him. "Speed bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing. Onward, the sailor’s cry. Carry the lad that’s born to be king over the sea to skye
But Connor seemed to want something else... or maybe it was just Wesley’s tone deafness. He cried even louder. Wesley turned back on the radio.
When they hit the Colorado border, he found a station playing Christmas carols, and Connor finally stopped crying. "A long time ago in Bethlehem, so the holy Bible say, Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ was born on Christmas Day."
"Hark, now, hear the angel’s sing: a new king’s born today." Angel rocked the cradle and sang. Wesley was in his office, and the prophecy was still in the book, not long from translation.
"I doubt very much that he’s a king," he said.
Angel smiled and kissed the baby on the forehead. "Lighten up, Wes. He’ll always be my little prince."
Cordelia rolled her eyes from her desk, outside. "I can hear the sap from here, boys. It’ll make me vomit."
"But they’re just so cute!" Fred exclaimed. "The baby... with his little nose, and his little fingers and toes..."
"As cute as the baby is, the vampire just doesn’t cut it."
"Trumpets sound and angels sing, listen to what they say..." And Angel stopped singing. "Hey. That’s what we should do. We should have Christmas, this year! All of us, and Gunn and Lorne, too!"
Cordelia came into the office with Fred trailing behind her. "Angel, has someone been spiking your blood again? You don’t celebrate Christmas."
"I used to. And it’s Connor’s first Christmas. We should have a tree... a big tree. With decorations!" Angel took a sip from his mug. "Isn’t that right, Connor. Presents just for you."
Maybe they’d been spiking his blood, even then. Wesley reached back and touched Connor’s head, just to be sure he was still there.
It wouldn’t happen. He wouldn’t let it. Justine was dead in a park, and Wesley would do anything to keep Connor safe from Angel.
The sun was coming up in the east.
Not more than five miles over the Colorado border, a car with Kansas plates was abandoned on the side of the highway. Wesley pulled off the road and swapped license plates.
By Grand Junction, Colorado, he couldn’t stay awake any longer. He pulled off into a roadside motel and unloaded Connor’s bag. Eventually, he’d have to buy some clothes for himself.
"Don’t got cribs," the clerk said. The sunrise shift was an old man with a lazy left eye.
"He can sleep in the car seat, I suppose," Wesley said.
Connor sniffled and pouted, and the clerk gave them a discount. Wesley brought the car seat into the dingy room.
While Wesley got ready for bed, Connor rolled around on the hotel floor. It wasn’t sanitary, so Wesley covered it with a blanket and surrounded the edge with flat motel pillows so Connor couldn’t crawl off.
The baby was asleep when Wesley stepped back out of the bathroom, so he tucked him into the car seat and settled the teddy bear from Cedar City next to him.Angel bounded into the lobby waving around a shopping bag from the nearby 24-hour drugstore. "Look! I got Connor a teddy bear! Me!"
Gunn glanced up from sharpening his axe. "Yeah. Fuzzy bear. You think that’s what a vamp’s kid should play with?"
"Well, he’s a baby. When he’s older, you could buy him a sword," Angel said. He looked slightly crushed. "Don’t you like teddy bears?"
"I like teddy bears," Fred said, pouting, and Wesley managed to translate Father. Fred poked Gunn in the side, and Wesley was distracted again. "If you can find him a stuffed dagger, Charles, I’m certain Angel would like it, but Connor’s just a little baby. He can have a teddy bear."
Wesley would make sure that Connor always had a teddy bear and a dad who could take him for picnics in the sunlight.
He shut out the sun and went to sleep.
Connor woke up at two, and six hours of sleep was enough for Wesley. They got back on the road and went east. They were putting the Rockies behind them, and out in the distance, Wesley could imagine the plains stretching out toward the Appalachians, days away.
There were ranches, too, and Wesley decided to make the trip a little more educational. "That’s a cow, Connor. Can you remember that? Of course you can’t, not now, but you will.""See? This is a picture of a horse." Angel held up a National Geographic. "What does a horse say, Connor? A horse says ‘Nay,’ isn’t that right?"
Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Angel, he’s a baby. No talking. No comprende, and all that. He can’t understand a word you’re saying. You could be reading one of Wes’ books in ancient whatever-it-is to him, and he’d understand the same!"
Wesley translated ‘Son’ and shrugged. "He should be multilingual, being raised by the lot of us. I fully intend to begin to speak to him in Latin and Greek, to aid his learning processes."
"Someday he’ll be able to answer," Angel pointed out. He rocked Connor. "Isn’t that right, Connor?"
"Cows say ‘moo,’ Connor." Wesley reached back to touch the boy’s head again. "We’ll be passing plenty of cows."
In the old days, all the Americans wanted to go west. There was gold there. Indians. Manifest Destiny, and the expansion of their country. Everything that was good was western, and everything bad — poverty, pollution, quaint foreigners — they were all in the east.
The East was dark, even though it was the dawn. The East was Oriental, and the West was Occidental. The East was heathen, and the West was Christian. America was West, and the Holy Land was East.
So where did that put him? He’d gone west, as far West as was possible. He’d gone to the seedy bars and upper-crust restaurants. He’d seen Los Angeles and he’d seen the Hellmouth.
The East was mysterious, and that was where they were going.
They stopped for lunch at Vail, Colorado, and Wesley used some of the money from the SUV to buy jeans, flannel shirts, and a new coat. Connor got a jacket, too, a carrier and a fuzzy blanket with horses on it. Cordelia would’ve loved it.
It was cold, but not too cold. Crisp. He wouldn’t go farther north, though, just east. Chicago was too far north, too cold for an Englishman and a baby. They could get lost in Atlanta, or Washington, D.C. Wesley stared at the "You Are Here" marker on the map in the Embers and saw how far they had left to go, how far until they hit the east coast. He didn’t know what they’d do when they got there.
Maybe they’d fly to England, and finally escape. He was conspicuous here, the Englishman with the baby and no wife. If Angel managed to get this far, to stop in the Target or the Embers, he’d know he was on the right track.
He’d been drinking his son’s blood, and Wesley didn’t know what that meant. Could he smell Connor? Track Connor from miles away?It wasn’t often that Angel was totally serious around Connor. Normally, it was only when the baby was asleep, but this time, he handed the child off to Cordelia. "We need to make him a stake," Angel said to Gunn.
"Woah. No weapons. You crazy? He’s a little kid."
"He’s a kid whose father is a vampire." Angel traded glances with Wesley, and the vampire’s eyes were full of certainty. "Maybe not now. But soon, very soon."
"It may not be necessary. After all, it takes quite a lot for you to lose your soul." Wesley looked back to his translation.
Cordelia snorted. "Just don’t get too happy. We remember what happened last time. Or, I do."
"He needs a stake," Angel repeated. "A child sized stake. And he’ll need to learn how to use it. I’m not going to risk it. I’m not going to risk him. You’ll show him how to use it, Gunn, as soon as he can stand up."
Wesley thought the next word was "death" but he couldn’t tell whom it referred to.
Connor would learn to use a stake. He’d learn the rapier, too, and the broadsword. Crossbows, katanas, axes, and guns. Wesley would teach Connor all of them, for the day they had to face off against Angelus in his full glory.
Though, Angel wouldn’t be happy very soon, if ever. That was most certainly Wesley’s fault.
He broke a branch off of a tree to whittle a stake, once they stopped moving. It was all he could do to be ready.
Connor slept for hours, through a refueling stop just inside of Kansas. Dinner was late, in Metropolis.
There were two men in the restaurant, a father and son. The father was scraggly, bearded, and dressed in a fine suit. The son was maybe nine or ten, with a shock of disturbingly red hair. The father was familiar.
When he asked the waiter, he laughed. "You don’t know who he is on sight? That’s Lionel Luthor!"
"Luthor?" It was familiar. And then he had it, the reference pulled from a file deep in his brain. "Oh. Luthorcorp. I’d forgotten their headquarters was in Metropolis." Wolfram and Hart had connections to the company, tenuous ones, and that was all Wesley needed to know to stay away.
"Mr. Luthor eats here often. That’s his only son, Lex. Heir to a fortune... bet you wish you could pass that on to your son."
Wesley’s lips curled into a smile. "Not so much as you’d expect, I daresay."
The waiter gave him a funny look. Wesley tipped him extra for putting up with Connor’s screaming fit.
He had to abandon the truck outside a small town in Kansas, when the second tire went flat. Connor was fussing as Wesley strapped him into the front. It was as though the little boy knew he’d never be seeing his father again. He tried to forget the sudden shock in Justine’s eyes. The gun would never be found, in Nevada.
He was just taking every road marked east, heading blindly for the other coast, and he had no sense of direction anymore.
Connor finally stuck his thumb in his mouth and stopped crying, after he locked the door and left the keys in his pocket. Maybe he’d be able to sell this car, too, trade it for some other piece of junk. They were detectives — they’d be after him soon enough, but until then he had a head start. He just needed a plan.
How long had they been gone? A day? A week?
No, only two days. The miles rolled together, just like the pavement was doing beneath Wesley’s feet.
Around the bend, there was a farmhouse. Kansans were supposed to be kind, he’d read that somewhere, back when he was a Watcher and didn’t have any blood on his hands. There were farm animals. A tractor. And cows.
American as apple pie, as the red barn, the pickup truck, and a man out moving bales of hay in the yard. "Hello, there, stranger! Need a hand?" the man yelled. He jogged to the edge of the field and Wesley stopped dead in his tracks.
"I- my truck broke down- I’m on my way... east..." He trailed off, trying to decide how to deflect questions when Connor started screaming. Frantically, Wesley pulled Connor from the carrier and rocked him. "Shhh... It’s alright, little one... Connor, shhh..."
"Connor, eh? Cute kid, there. Where’s your wife, back at the truck?" He leaned up against the fence. He was youngish, maybe five years older than Wesley was.
Wesley hugged Connor to him. There was a façade to keep up, there would have to be... "She passed away," he lied, looking down at Connor’s wispy hair. "When he was born. She’s gone."
"I’m sorry," the man said. "We can help with the truck, though... you can stay for a few days, if you need. Name’s Jonathan Kent."
Connor finally quieted, thumb in mouth once more. "Wesley... Summers," he said, grabbing the first name that came to mind. "I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Kent. Could you... could you tell me where I am?"
"Smallville, Kansas. And we’re pleased to have you. Come up to the house with me. My wife’s up there. Martha. She’s probably got a pie in the oven. Apple, likely." Mr. Kent patted his shoulder. "We don’t have kids, but she loves ‘em. I bet she’ll be pleased as punch to meet Connor, there. You can take a load off."
"I’d be very much obliged, Mr. Kent. However, I don’t have a crib for Connor. I — I left it at home. We left rather quickly... I just couldn’t stay, not when -"
"Naw, I understand. And call me Jonathan." He held out his arms. "Here, you look tired. Let me take the boy." Wesley handed him over, gratefully. "Me and Martha will drive into town later on, today. We can pick up a cradle."
"I’ll pay you back, I promise." Wesley hitched the bag higher on his shoulder.
Jonathan shrugged. "It’s nothing. You’re welcome as long as you like."
Smallville, Kansas. It was the last place they’d suspect. It sounded safe, secure, boring. And never being found was just what Wesley wanted.
Safe, that was, until the comet struck. But that was a whole afternoon away.