A Million Miles Away, Part 3:
Baby Stepsby Wolfling and the Brat Queen
"I'm telling you," Angel said as he lay down on the floor by Connor. Connor, for his part, lay on his stomach and made swimming motions with his hands. "He's trying to crawl."
Wesley, sitting on the couch, looked up from his laptop and the books he had spread out around him for reference. "Perhaps if you demonstrated for him," he suggested with a straight face.
"Funny," Angel said. He moved to his side so he could watch Wes and Connor at once. Connor continued to swim through air, or at least wave his hands over the pale blue blanket he was lying on. "He's at the age, though."
"You've been reading the baby books again," Wesley noted, nodding sagely.
"No," Angel lied.
Wesley chuckled. "Shouldn't you have it memorized by now?"
"There's more than one book you know," Angel pointed out.
"Yes, I'm aware of that. The large pile on your nightstand rather confirms the fact." He observed Connor for a moment. "He's kicking his feet more than he was last week."
"Good," Angel said. He rubbed Connor's back approvingly. "Getting ready for those ice skates, right, son?"
Both of Wesley's eyebrows went up at that. "Ice skates?" he asked, laughter in his voice.
"For hockey," Angel said. "A nice, indoor sport."
"Hockey," Wesley repeated levelly.
"Yeah, hockey," Angel said. A wistful look crossed his face. "I got him a little hockey stick but... just have to get another one."
Wesley set his laptop aside and moved to settle on the floor beside Angel. "And little ice skates," he said, reaching out and letting Connor grab onto his finger. "At least we're in the right country for it."
"Actually had a jersey," Angel said. He ran his finger along Connor's back, where the writing would have been. "Had his name on it and everything. But we can get you a new one, right, son?"
Connor continued to kick his feet, both hands now wrapped around fingers - the left, Wesley's, the right, Angel's. Angel was amazed at the kind of thing that could make his son happy.
"Taking a break from work?" Angel asked. He kept his voice extra-friendly. Even with the Christening behind them now, he still felt twinges of guilt over how he'd first treated Wes. He figured it was better to be safe than sorry.
"Couldn't resist the lure of almost crawling any longer." Wesley smiled at Conner's happy wriggling. "I'm almost finished anyway."
Angel grinned. "Nice how that worked out, since he's maybe fifteen minutes away from needing a diaper change."
"That's all right." Wesley turned his smile Angel's way, a mischievous sparkle in his eye. "It's your turn to change him anyway. I've got KP duty."
"See and here I was hoping you'd forget," Angel replied. "Guess the translating's not that distracting?"
Wesley snorted dismissively and shook his head. "Not that kind of translating. I probably could have done that when I was still in public school."
"Yeah," Angel agreed, watching happily as Connor tugged and pushed against his hand, "but not everybody has Uncle Wes's big brain, do they?"
"I supposed I was a bit of a... geek when I was younger," Wesley admitted good naturedly. "But this little one is going to do other things than spend all his time studying, aren't you?"
"Yes he is," Angel cooed, deliberately exaggerating his voice - although mostly for the benefit it provided to teasing Wesley. "And this little one thinks it's funny that Uncle Wesley just used the past tense."
"Are you implying that I'm still a geek?" Wesley asked, mock offense in his voice.
"Me? Nah," Angel said. "But Connor's got a bit of a mouth on him sometimes. I think he gets that from his mom."
"Yes, I can see that," Wesley agreed after a minute of studying them both thoughtfully. "You're more of a one grunt for yes, two grunts for no type."
"Just for that, I get to hug him," Angel said. He scooped Connor up and rolled onto his back, letting Connor rest against his chest. He stayed close, though, in case Wesley still wanted to let Connor hold onto him.
"Besides," Angel continued, "you're the translator. Don't you speak grunt by now?"
"I've made a close study of it these last three years," Wesley replied, shifting over to let Connor keep hold of his finger. "I'm going to write a treatise on it when I've gathered enough empirical data."
"Is that like British empirical or am I thinking of something else?"
"You're thinking of something else." He stretched out beside Angel, moving his free hand to stroke Connor's back. "I envy him sometimes."
Angel looked at Connor thoughtfully. "Because all his clothes come in one piece with little feet on them?"
Wesley chuckled, then turned serious again. "Because he's got everything ahead of him. No disappointments, no failures to live down..."
Angel glanced at Wes. "Sounds serious. Something on your mind?"
"It's nothing," Wes said with a sigh and a small shake of his head.
Angel shrugged. "Humor me."
"You're going to be stubborn about this aren't you?"
"I'm known for it sometimes," Angel said.
Wes raised an eyebrow. "Only sometimes?" he asked blandly.
"Other times I'm set in my ways," Angel replied.
Wesley gave him a half smile then turned his gaze back to Connor. Quietly he said, "It's my father's birthday next week."
"Oh," Angel said. He wondered how he should respond to this. "Guess that's... awkward."
"That would be one word for it," Wes said with a half laugh that had nothing of humor about it.
"What do you want to do?" Angel asked.
Wesley sighed, turning onto his back and staring up at the ceiling. "Usually I call home, I wish him happy birthday, my mother worries if I'm eating enough, my father reminds me what a failure I am... fun to be had by all."
"You're not a failure," Angel said.
"I'm not a Watcher." Wesley continued to stare at the ceiling. "In my father's eyes that makes me a failure."
"Then your dad is blind," Angel said. He thought about it, then transferred Connor over to Wes's chest. "He doesn't think you're a failure. And he's a pretty good judge of character."
Connor burbled happily, immediately grabbing tiny fistfuls of Wesley's shirt, trying to pull it into his mouth. Wesley automatically laid a hand along Connor's back, steadying him.
"I don't think of myself as a failure," he finally said softly. "Not most of the time anyway."
Angel moved on to his side, watching Wes and Connor together. "Everybody fails sometimes, Wes. If you die without regrets and failures, you didn't really live. It's okay."
Wes' mouth twisted upwards into a wry smile. "I've collected my share of regrets and failures all right. I think I'd like to stop that now."
Angel chuckled. "Hate to tell you, it doesn't get any better when you're older."
"Thank you for the pep talk," Wes said dryly, finally turning his head to look at Angel.
"You've handled a lot, Wes," Angel told him. "More than most could ever take. Hellmouth, demons, me - uh, drool for that matter. Want a cloth?"
Wesley chuckled. "It's a bit late for that I think. This shirt is already laundry bound."
"Somebody's thinking about teething," Angel said. He caressed Connor's cheek, then turned his attention back to Wes. "I know what it's like. And I'm guessing you're not up for how I solved the problem."
"But did it solve the problem? Really?" Wesley asked, studying his face closely.
Angel shook his head. "Not really. I wanted him to say I was right, or better, or something at least once. Him being you-know-what pretty much put a stop to that ever happening."
"I thought..." Wes began haltingly, hesitating before plunging ahead. "Last year when I called I thought he'd finally... I was in charge of the agency, I was making the decisions, leading... "
"Doing a good job too," Angel said.
That got him a brief smile. "I thought I was. I was so... proud, and I thought he'd be too. Finally." Wesley shook his head. "I don't know how I could delude myself that way."
It occurred to Angel that Wes had never been this chatty about his dad before. He decided to take advantage of it. "He always look down on you like this?"
"I don't know if I'd call it looking down," Wesley responded thoughtfully. "He had definite expectations for what I would do and how I would do it. Things weren't as bad when I was doing what he expected of me."
"And what'd he expect of you?" Angel asked, with interest.
"To be the best Watcher..." He frowned. "No, that's not quite... He wanted me to be the perfect Watcher. Being the best was just part of it."
"Succeeded there, right?" Angel asked. "You Watched the Slayer."
Wesley's frown deepened. "And a fine job I did bollocksing that up."
Angel cleared his throat and gave a significant look in Connor's direction.
"What?" Wes asked, then realized. "Oh. Sorry. But I hardly think we have to worry that his first word is going to be... what I just said."
"He's got plenty of time before he even needs to hear things like that," Angel said. "Anyway -- so you made mistakes. You learned from them. That's what matters."
Wesley sighed. "Not to my father."
"Well unless your dad's got some secret you haven't told me about yet, I've got more experience," Angel replied, with a slight grin to let Wes know he was joking. Or at least sort-of joking. "So I win."
Wes returned the slight smile. "And that's why I envy Connor."
Angel gave him a sympathetic look. "I know it's not the same as your dad."
"No, it's not," Wesley agreed, then reached out and laid his free hand on Angel's arm. "But it's something. It's a lot actually."
"Look at it this way," Angel said, nodding towards Connor again. "I wouldn't trust him to just anyone."
Wesley smiled, but the smile faded again as he turned his gaze back to watching Connor. "I don't want to call him."
"Your dad?" Angel guessed.
Wes nodded. "It always leaves me doubting myself and feeling like a..."
"Failure," Angel finished. He took in their situation. "Guessing it's no better now since you can't exactly tell him what you're up to."
"Yes, but not the way you mean." Wesley's gaze was back on Connor. "He'd never understand how... important this is. I don't want him belittling it."
"Suppose he doesn't think much of raising a kid," Angel said. "All things considered."
"Given what a disappointment I was to him..."
"Wes, that's not your fault," Angel said. He gestured to Connor. "Look at him. Can you picture him ever doing something so bad you'd look down on him like your dad does at you?"
"No," Wes said softly, his gaze once again focused entirely on the child.
"That's what being a dad is about, Wes," Angel told him. "Believe me, I know. I didn't think it was possible, but when Connor came into my life I just had to look at him and I knew he was the best thing that ever happened to me. And this is me, Wes. The guy with so much dark in him that it's hard for anybody to see light. If your dad can't do the same to you -- that's not your fault, Wes. It's his."
Wes was silent for a few seconds before replying. "I know that," he said softly. "Intellectually. And most of the time I can hold onto that. But when I talk to him, suddenly I'm that eight year old boy standing in his study being lectured about being afraid of the dark."
"You were afraid of the dark?" Angel asked. He knew it wasn't the point, but he couldn't help but be curious all the same.
"I was raised on stories of vampires and other demons. I was terrified of the dark."
"Huh," Angel said. "Good point." He gave Wes a half grin. "You know I'm not coming to get you, right?"
That earned him a genuine smile. "After watching you down on all fours talking baby talk, the sinister aura starts to fade."
"If my friends could see me now, huh?" Angel said. "And I thought the soul was bad for my reputation."
"You're going to end up with a whole different reputation," Wesley said. "Which isn't necessarily a bad thing."
"Not if this little guy likes it," Angel said. He touched Connor's cheek with a fingertip. "So do you think you'll do it? Call him?"
Wesley was silent for a long moment. "I don't know. I don't want to -- it never goes well -- but if I don't..." He sighed. "If I don't call, it's possible that he will start looking for me. And I don't know if we want someone with connections with the Council tracking us down."
"Well, when you put it like that, Wes," Angel said, "what's to say he won't know where you are if you do?"
"Frankly? I don't think he cares that much. I'm not even sure he will look for me if I don't call, though I suspect my mother may worry enough that he would."
"Seems to me," Angel said thoughtfully, "that the Council's something to worry about no matter which way we cut it."
"It could be," Wesley admitted, "if they get wind of Connor's existence. I... don't think they know about him yet."
"They might," Angel said. "Guys I've never even heard of were ready to have a piece of him as soon as he was born. I don't think he's a well-kept secret. So I've been thinking," Angel added, watching Wes carefully, "that maybe we need help with that."
Wesley frowned and half sat up, a hand to Connor's back still keeping him comfortably cradled against his chest. "You're not suggesting my father-"
"No," Angel said at once. He shook his head. "No. Not your dad. Somebody else. Somebody we can trust."
"But who could we-" Wesley broke off and Angel could practically see the wheels turning in that big brain of his. "Giles."
"Hear me out," Angel said, sitting up as well, "what you said about your mom? That's got to be Cordy and the guys right now. And if Slimeball the demon down at the LA version of Willy's bar knows about Connor, then it's just a matter of time before the Council knows too. So we need help. We need somebody on the inside who can let the gang in LA know we're okay and keep the Council off our tail. Or we need one of each, but Giles could do both."
Wesley seemed to think about it, before sighing and nodding. "You're right. I just... I don't think I've gotten over what a prat I was when I was working with him in Sunnydale."
"Then let me talk to him," Angel said. "And -- for what it's worth, he's really good about the second chances."
That drew a slight, sad smile from Wes. "Yes, but you were merely evil. I was incompetent."
Angel patted Wes's shoulder sympathetically. "You tried. Nobody can fault you for that."
The smile turned wry. "I thank you for not trying to convince me I wasn't." His expression turned wistful as he admitted, "It would be nice to have just one person on the Council actually respect me."
"Giles might," Angel said, not offering it as a guarantee, merely a possibility. "I think he knows a little something about putting fatherly affection ahead of Council goals."
"Dear lord the man would have a fit if he even thought I was considering him as a father figure, I'm sure!"
"I didn't mean - " Angel hesitated. He wasn't sure why he didn't like the idea of Wes relating to Giles that way. It wasn't as though it affected him any. "I just meant considering what went on with him and Buffy."
"Oh." Wesley blinked, shifting Connor up onto his shoulder as he began to fuss. "Yes, I suppose you're right."
Angel checked the time. "Getting hungry, little guy?" he asked Connor. He turned back to Wes. "I'll call Giles. Explain things to him. See if he's up for it. Not sure if this makes things easier on you but -- you might want to wait until after that to call your dad. If you're gonna."
Wesley nodded. "Yes, it would be better to get this sorted out before I decide on that." He got to his feet, handing Connor over to his father. "I'll go get his bottle ready."
Angel held Connor against his shoulder. "Hey, Wes?"
"Yes?" Wesley looked back over his shoulder.
Angel looked at him with concern. "You going to be okay?"
He got a quick, bright smile for the question. "I will survive. And beyond that... despite everything, I'm... content here. More than I ever thought I could be."
Angel smiled back at him. He was pretty sure he believed Wes, even if "content" wasn't really the kind of happiness he would have Wes shoot for. "Okay. Good. We'll be in in a minute."
Angel pulled a t-shirt on over his head and, much though he knew he was opening himself up to comments, simply ran his fingers through his hair before slipping on a pair of sweatpants and heading downstairs.
The house might be old but, he had to admit, the showers were first rate. Or at least they were in his opinion. Not like he was affected by the hot water as much as Wes could be.
Things were quiet when he came into the common area. Wes was sitting at the dining room table and Connor was nearby, cooing happily into a mirror that had been placed in his playpen.
"There you are," Angel said. He scooped Connor up and gave him a kiss. "Did you have a good time while Daddy was away?"
"He played with the mirror the entire," Wesley glanced up at the clock, "ten minutes you were gone."
"Of course he did," Angel said, nuzzling Connor's cheek until he made happy sounds. "He's as handsome as his daddy."
"It's probably a good thing you can't see your reflection," Wesley teased. "We'd never be able to get you away from the mirror yourself."
"Funny," Angel said. He blew raspberries against Connor's stomach, then settled him down against his chest. "That work? Should we leave you alone?"
Wesley sat back in his chair with a smug smile. "Actually, that-" he gestured at the computer, "-is the end outcome of work. Payment for the job I finished two days ago."
"You get paid for that?" Angel asked, keeping a straight face. "Why didn't you guys ever tell me that when I was in charge?"
"Because it was much simpler to put me in charge instead than explain anything to you?" Wesley shot back without missing a beat.
"Uncle Wesley is planning on getting another job as a comedian," Angel told Connor, then stage-whispered, "Don't tell him he's not good at it."
"I wasn't the one who started it." Wesley leaned back even further, turning slightly to watch Angel with Connor. "But I did get paid for this job, quite a tidy sum. So we need to discuss what to spend it on."
"Usual round of food, diapers and more diapers not gonna do it?" Angel asked. He leaned over Wes's shoulder to look at the amount. Not that that helped. He was bad at guessing costs at the best of times, and he still hadn't quite gotten the hand of translating what little he knew into Canadian dollars.
"The job I got paid for last week has us covered on the essentials for the next month or so. And I have an inquiry for another job that will pay for the month after that. So this one we can spend elsewhere."
"Oh," Angel said, giving Wes a look to show he appreciated the translation. "Okay. What do you have in mind?"
Wesley smiled at him. "I was thinking we could look into getting that furniture for the living room you wanted."
Angel looked over at their secondhand couch and the wooden chair they'd rescued out of the attic. "Why? What we've got will do for now. You need a desk more than we need new living room stuff."
That earned him a startled look. "I'm managing fine as it is," Wesley protested. "The nice thing about the laptop is it can go anywhere."
"But what about your - " Angel made a vague gesture " - things? Files and paperwork? And you need bookshelves. And your library. You don't have even a third of what you had back in LA as far as books go."
"We could ask Giles to obtain some of the more essential volumes for me," Wesley replied. "And until I have more, I can make do with what I have now in way of storage. But I know how much you want the living room to be finished."
"You've got a religious objection to desks now?" Angel asked. "Is that how you're going to be raising my son? Desk-hating?"
"I'd like us to be raising my godson in a house with a fully furnished living room."
"Living rooms could have desks."
Wesley rolled his eyes. "They also have couches and chairs and matching tables and lamps, perhaps an entertainment center. Let's work on that first and then see if we have room and resources for a desk."
"Okay," Angel said, meeting Wes's eyes, "if that's what you want. I mean it's your money, Wes. Spend it on yourself."
All of Wesley's humor disappeared. "Are we a team?" he asked bluntly.
"You did the work, Wes," Angel said.
"So if you went out and acquired money, it would only be used for your needs."
"No," Angel said. "Wes -- I know you're the breadwinner here. I've accepted that. But you just said all the usual needs are taken care of. So why not treat yourself?"
"Because I'd rather treat all of us?"
For some reason that made it hard for him to look Wes in the eye. Fortunately a gurgling Connor was always a ready distraction. "I'm just saying it's okay to be selfish sometimes."
Wesley got up and came over to them, tilting his head until he was able to look Angel in the eye. "And I selfishly want something more comfortable to sit on than what we've got."
"Then okay," Angel said. "Get yourself a new couch and some chairs. You know I hear leather's nice."
"Yes, I've noticed your fetish for the stuff before," Wesley teased, humor fully restored by Angel's capitulation.
"You can wipe spills off it easy," Angel said, defensively.
"And it smells nice."
"Um, yeah," Angel said, his mind suddenly going into strange places. He pulled back, covering for the move by swiping Teddy out of the playpen and holding it up for Connor to drool on. "So -- we could look at furniture on Friday. When we go into town. If you wanted."
Wesley smiled at him. "Yes. So we're going for all leather furniture?"
Angel smirked. "Nothing wrong with at least looking, right?"
"Why do I have the feeling you're going to wander over to the desks?"
Angel gave Wes his best innocent look. "Connor'll need one some day."
The night air was cool. Not nearly as cold as when they'd first moved, but still chilly enough to matter. A month hadn't warmed the air up enough to totally get winter out of the way.
Angel wore a long coat. New, since he hadn't brought anything with him that he wasn't wearing at the time, but similar in style to coats he'd left behind.
He also wore black leather gloves. It kept him from accidentally touching Connor with too-cold hands.
He closed up the house behind him and looked around. It was clear. Stars could be seen. More than you usually saw in Los Angeles, and naturally his mind wandered briefly to Dru, but only briefly.
He had a new favorite child now.
He walked across the driveway, going to join Wes over in the somewhat icy grass. Wes cradled Connor in his arms, and Angel slowed his step as he heard Wes talking to the child.
"Do you see those three stars up there, Connor? That's Orion's belt. Orion was a hunter in some very old stories, who was so admired and loved by certain of the gods that when he died they placed him up in the sky." Wesley's voice grew more thoughtful. "Of course it was the fact that certain gods loved him that got him killed in the first place. But that's a story for when you're older and more jaded like your Uncle Wesley."
Angel walked up to stand beside them. "You know the Master used to try to tell me that there was a vampire constellation."
Wesley glanced sideways at him. "Where was it?"
Angel pointed at Orion. "That one. He liked to say everything had some link back to us. Big talk for a guy who rarely crawled out of the sewers."
"I guess everyone feels the needs for stories that connect them to what is around them," Wesley mused.
"Maybe," Angel said. He looked at Wes and Connor. "Must've been practicing your whole life for this, huh?"
"Teaching the constellations?" Wes asked, shooting Angel a startled look.
"What?" Angel looked at him in confusion. "Oh -- no. Not exactly. I mean -- all the stuff you know. That you can teach a kid."
"Oh." He looked down at Connor in his arms. "I gave up on having children a while ago," he said quietly. "So... not practicing, but I'm glad to be able to pass on what I've learned."
Angel nodded in the direction of the path they'd decided to walk that night. "Why give up?"
Wes fell into step as they started out. "Having children generally takes having a relationship with a woman. And the kind of life I'm -- I was -- leading wasn't the type that attracted women who wanted to settle down."
Angel watched Wes carefully as he broached the subject. "That why you were interested in Fred?"
"I..." Wes' voice trailed off. "Maybe. I don't know. I seem to have a history of casting my affections where they're not wanted -- or only wanted for a short time."
Angel gave Wes a sympathetic look. "I know that feeling."
Wes glanced at him again and they shared a look. "I know you do," he said gently. "I'm sorry."
"Hey," Angel said, trying for a sound of optimism. "At least you have a chance."
He got another look, this one enigmatic. "I'm quite content with the way my life is now."
"That's what I'm saying," Angel said. He kicked a fallen branch out of their way. "You've got a new life. New chance to meet somebody."
"Are you trying to get rid of me again?" The teasing tone in Wes' voice let Angel know it wasn't a serious accusation. "Trying to marry me off?"
"You kidding?" Angel joked back. "You leave and I have to get a job. Nah, I'm just saying -- you shouldn't close yourself off. Especially not because of what happened in LA."
Wes smiled at him, but didn't answer the comment. Instead he asked, "Are you still missing LA?"
Angel gave a twitch of a wry smile. "Sometimes. Lots of times. Doesn't help when I keep thinking of stuff I'd love to tell Cordy. The others too, just -- you know. Cordy."
"Yes," Wesley replied, his smile disappearing. "You love her."
"I - I don't know," Angel said. He stuffed his hands into his pockets. "I miss her. She's - she was my friend. I don't have many of those. Actually, right now it's pretty much down to you."
"I'm afraid that's what happens when you go into hiding. You're stuck with just me."
Angel gave Wes a smile. "Not saying I hate the company."
Wes returned it, briefly. "But I'm not Cordy."
"Hey," Angel said, nudging Wes's arm with his elbow. "If she was here, I'd be saying she wasn't you. You're both my family. Or you were to me. It's not about one of you being better than the other."
Wes didn't answer, but his silence seemed to be a thoughtful one so Angel didn't interrupt it. They walked in silence for a bit before Wesley spoke again. "You are too, you realize. My family. You and Connor both. And this place," he gestured at the land around them, encompassing the whole property, "is quite possibly the closest thing to a real home I've ever had."
"You're happy here?" Angel asked.
"All things being equal?" Wesley seemed to consider the question. "Yes. As happy as I can be."
"There can be more, Wes," Angel told him. He gave him a quick grin. "You don't have a curse on your soul. You're allowed to be happy."
He got that enigmatic look again in response before Wes smiled and said, "I am happy. What I have now... it's more than I would have thought possible even a few months ago. And so much more than I thought I would have when I came to the hotel that night."
"I get that," Angel said. He let his gaze wander over the land around them. "I never really expected much either. Not after I got the soul. Spent so long alone it felt normal. Never dreamed I'd meet the love of my life."
Wesley turned his smile down on the baby he held. "Connor."
"Yep," Angel smiled, and held his hands out for his son. He hugged him close when Wes handed him over. "There's only one guy in the whole world for me, isn't that right, son?"
Connor smiled at the attention, his mittened hand reaching up to brush against Angel's mouth.
"Connor is very lucky then," Wes said quietly, and when Angel glanced over, he caught a wistfulness in his friend's eyes even though he was smiling.
"I don't care what the gypsies say," Angel said. He tickled Connor as best he could through his son's warm coat. Connor gurgled in return. "He's perfect happiness to me." He looked over at Wes. "You'll find yours someday too."
"Finding it and achieving it are two different things, I fear."
"True," Angel agreed. He shifted Connor around so he could watch everything as it passed. "But you're a great guy, Wes. It'll happen. Be patient. Heck -- I waited over a century. Or... actually maybe that wasn't too encouraging, now that I think about it."
Wesley grinned at him, clapping a hand onto his shoulder. "The sentiment is appreciated nonetheless, my friend."
"Well you don't have as much garbage in your background as I did," Angel said. "In some cases literally. You'll do better, Wes. I know it."
"I really am happy in my life here, Angel," Wes insisted mildly.
Angel gave a wry smile. "This must sound funny to you. I mean -- me, giving advice. Not like I've lead the kind of life other people should follow. What do I know?"
"You're not doing that badly," Wesley told him.
"Thanks," Angel said. He felt as though he wanted to press. He couldn't shake the feeling that Wes wasn't as okay as he said. But it was just a feeling, and he had no way to force Wes to talk if he didn't want to.
Instead he changed the subject. "Finally got through to Giles."
Wesley's smile faded and there was a sudden tension in his body. "Oh?" he asked, putting his hands in his pockets, so obviously trying to sound casual and failing.
"Yeah," Angel said, trying to match Wes casual for casual, since that's what Wes apparently wanted to do. "You wouldn't believe -- well, actually, guess you would believe how hard it was to get through when I couldn't exactly leave our names in any of the messages, but I finally got him after some trying."
"What did he say?" Wes asked, still in that desperately-trying-for-casual tone.
Angel dropped into a faint imitation of Giles's accent. "I beg your pardon?"
That drew a small smile from Wesley for a brief second. "You really are horrible at accents, you know that, don't you?"
Angel tried to look disappointed. "I thought I did pretty good. Anyway, you can't blame the Irish for not being able to imitate the freaky way you people talk."
"I suppose I could go on about how it must be difficult for the savage to imitate the civilized," Wesley replied in a passable Irish brogue, "but that would be perpetuating old grudges and stereotypes that are best left in the past."
"You cheat," Angel retorted.
"I beg your pardon?"
"You cheat," Angel repeated. He flashed a grin at Wes. "No fair bringing your super special language skills into it."
Wesley's eyes glinted with humor though he managed to keep his expression straight. "Who ever said I played fair?"
Angel found himself looking at Wes for a moment. "It wasn't bad, though."
"I know." The tiniest ghost of a smile graced his lips. "But thank you."
It was a moment before Angel remembered what they'd been talking about. "He said he'd help."
"Good," Wesley said after a brief silence. "That's... good."
Angel glanced at him. "Having second thoughts?"
"No," he answered quickly. "We need to have someone we can trust on the inside of the Council. It's just..." Wesley shook his head. "Never mind. I have to learn to let the past go."
"Still worried about what he thinks of you?" Angel asked.
Wes nodded, not looking at him.
Angel wondered why this continued to bother him. "If it helps any -- he didn't say anything. Not about that. Of course I think he was a little distracted by the whole Connor thing. Apparently the Council's still too busy dealing with one Slayer who wasn't supposed to be here and another one still in jail. But Giles figured they'd probably find out soon."
"Perhaps it is a good thing we left LA when we did then."
Angel smirked. "Considering Justine was coming to kill you, I'd say yes."
Wesley shook his head and sighed. "I was seeing things so wrongly..."
"Wes," Angel asked quietly, thinking back over everything they'd talked about. "Do you want to go back to LA?"
"What?" Wes turned startled eyes on him.
"You just seem like you're not really happy all the time," Angel said. "And -- I'm not saying it'd be easy but Connor and I could figure something out if you needed -- I mean, you don't have to be trapped here, Wes. I wouldn't hold it against you if you went back."
Wesley was quiet for a long moment as they walked, the only sound the crunch of loose gravel under their feet. He was silent so long that Angel began to think that he was going to say he wanted to go back.
"Do you want me to leave?"
Angel was silent for a moment. He knew he should keep encouraging Wes to go if he wanted. He knew it was selfish to ask Wes to stay.
But for some reason he couldn't be noble about it. Not twice.
"No," he admitted. "Please don't."
He heard Wes let out a relieved sigh, saw the tension leave his body. "Good. Because I don't want to go." He glanced sideways at Angel. "I would appreciate it if you stopped asking me to."
"Sorry," Angel said. "I'm still kinda new at this."
Wes accepted that with a nod. "So am I. It's just... I've more experience with people wanting me to go away than with people wanting me to stay."
"I don't want you to go away, Wes," Angel said. "I just feel like I've ruined enough people's lives already with this. If I ended up hurting you too -- it'd be too much."
"The only way you'd hurt me would be if you sent me away," Wes said seriously.
"Then stay," Angel said. He stopped, stepping into the path so he could face Wes. "I need you. I need your help. And I'm still not...." He looked away for a moment. "Sleeping's still... not as great as it could be. At least with you here I know you're okay. I haven't lost you yet."
Wesley caught and held his gaze with a strange intensity. "You're not going to lose me."
Angel found himself gripped by a rush of emotion. He tried to cover with a joke. "Well -- don't go falling off ladders or drowning in the lake or anything like that either, okay?"
"Promise," Wes said with a faint smile.
"Good," Angel said. Connor squirmed in his arms, and Angel held him out for Wes to take. "Here. Think he wants his godfather again. And I know he wants you to stay."
Wesley's smile widened as he took Connor back into his arms.
Angel watched as the two of them got comfortable with each other, then resumed walking again. "Giles said he'd pass messages on for us. To anybody we wanted, in the States or over there."
"We'll be able to let the others know we're all right then," Wesley said. "That's good." There was something in his tone that told Angel he was thinking of something else.
Angel decided to hazard a guess. "He could pass one on to your dad, if you wanted."
"The thought had crossed my mind," Wes admitted.
"No shame in it," Angel said. He gave a sheepish grin. "Not like I know what I want him to tell Cordy. I may end up asking him to just say I'm okay."
"You can tell her about Connor," Wesley suggested.
"That he's okay?" Angel said. "Yeah, sure. Figured that'd be part of it."
"About how he's changed, what he's learned to do," Wes clarified. "The clapping, the almost crawling..."
Angel felt an ache at the thought of all that. The others should have been there to see it, cheering Connor on with each milestone. Somehow having Cordy and the rest find out about it thirdhand felt hollow.
"I don't know if I can do that," he admitted.
Wesley gave him an understanding look. "I know it's not the same as having them here to see it, but at least it's a way of keeping them as part of his life, even at a distance. Maybe... we can arrange to get some pictures to them instead?"
The ache became worse. "I - I can't. I'm sorry." He gave Wes an apologetic look. "If you want to -- that's okay. I just can't."
"All right," Wes said quickly, reaching out with his free hand and resting it comfortingly on Angel's arm. "It's all right. You don't have to."
"See?" Angel said. "When it comes right down to it I'm pretty much a coward."
"You're not a coward." A brief hesitation and then Wesley added, "At least no more than I am."
That coaxed a smile out of him. He reached over to brush a finger against Connor's cheek. "Two cowards. Guess we make quite a pair."
Wesley gave him another of those enigmatic looks. "Guess we do."
"Giles said he'd help out with some of the magic stuff too," Angel said, hoping this was a safer topic. "Barriers, hiding spells, whatever. Said he knew a coven who could really be of help but I told him the less people knowing about this the better."
"Good, good," Wesley replied. "I'd feel better with some backup in that area."
"I'd feel better with a nuclear missile protecting him," Angel said, reaching over to adjust Connor's hat, "but until they make those with child safety locks I'll take what I can get."
They walked on for a few moments, when something compelled Angel to ask: "Wes?"
He looked at Wesley. "Are we okay?"
Wes looked startled, but then gave him a reassuring smile. "We're fine, Angel. Really."
Angel nodded, accepting that for now. "Okay."
The door banged open as Angel and Wesley came in. Connor sobbed in Angel's arms, tears streaming down his face.
"Shh," Angel said, trying to soothe him. "It's okay. We're home. Wes is getting your formula, it's okay. Do - do you want to try the juice again?"
Angel held the bottle of juice they'd brought with them up to Connor's mouth. He turned his head away, crying louder.
Angel shot Wes a pleading look. "Okay, he doesn't want the juice."
"One bottle of formula coming up," Wesley said, dropping the bags he'd carried on the table unceremoniously and heading into the kitchen.
Angel looked over the bags as Wes worked. "And there's more in the car. How is this possible? We're three guys and two of us are on a liquid diet."
"Not for long," Wesley's voice came from the kitchen. "He should be ready to try some warm cereal and other flavours of mush soon."
Angel smiled proudly. "I know. He's getting to be so big." There was a pause, then Angel popped his head in the doorway. "I'm aware that was a dad moment."
Wes glanced over his shoulder from where he was heating up the formula on the stove and gave Angel a wonderful smile. "Yes, I caught it."
Angel leaned in the doorway, rocking Connor as best he could. Connor continued to cry, but he'd slowed down to hiccupping sobs. "Well, here's hoping Daddy doesn't have to eat any to show Connor how nummy it is. Because if that needs to happen? I nominate you."
"Because the faces you usually make when presented with solid food would quite probably put him off it for life." Wesley pulled out the bottle and tested the temperature, before handing it over to Angel.
"This is my point," Angel agreed. He took the bottle gratefully and gave it to his son, smiling with relief as Connor immediately devoured the contents. "There we go. All better now? And you know this wouldn't happen if you didn't have a thing about not eating in the car. Where do you even get that from?"
Connor remained silent on the subject, choosing instead to suckle happily at his meal.
The microwave beeped and Angel looked up to see Wesley taking out a glass of blood. "Oh no," Wesley said, "Because heaven knows his parents weren't picky about their food."
Angel grinned. "Well then I guess we can both blame Darla. And thank you. Can you put it over there? I'll grab it in a sec."
"I can take him, if you want to drink it now when it's warm," Wes offered.
Angel debated it, then nodded. "Yeah, thanks. Here." He passed the baby over, then picked up the mug, drinking from it with a sound of satisfaction. "Okay, that hits the spot. And maybe Connor isn't the only one who doesn't notice he's hungry until too late."
Wesley settled down in a chair at the table, shifting Connor to a more comfortable position. "Could you do me a favour, Angel? The green bag in the pile there, could you get something out of it for me?"
Angel carried his mug over to the table and looked the bags over. "This one?"
"Okay, what am I getting?" Angel asked as he opened the bag, then stopped with a puzzled frown when he saw the contents. He reached in and pulled out a set of charcoal pencils and a sketchbook. "Wes?"
Wesley was smiling at him. "Consider it a late housewarming gift."
Angel smiled back. "Thanks. You know I didn't - " he caught Wes's look. "Right. Of course you know I didn't bring mine with me. Thanks." He put his half-finished mug down, opened the pencils, and began to sketch Wes and Connor together.
"I thought... well, that you'd have more time to indulge now, than before."
"Least until he learns to crawl," Angel agreed. He kept his pencil moving. "But this way I get to catch up on all the pictures I missed."
"I got notification that the digital camera shipped this morning," Wes replied, with a tiny smile.
"You do know what a camera is, I hope."
"Oh that," Angel said. He nodded. "Also good."
"Some of us aren't blessed with your talent," Wesley said.
"Not everyone can be," Angel smirked. He started to shade in some of the details. "So - should Connor and I find something to do tomorrow night?"
Wesley looked at him blankly. "Why?"
"I just figured with you being busy and all," Angel said, enjoying the rare opportunity to needle Wes.
"Why would I be busy?" Wesley sounded honestly bewildered.
Angel grinned. "With your date."
Wesley frowned. "I'm beginning to think one of us got hit on the head."
Angel looked at Wes over his sketchpad. "C'mon. She was so flirting with you."
"Who?" Wes asked blankly.
"Who?" now it was Angel's turn to be bewildered. He lowered the sketchpad even more. "The redhead? In the cereal aisle? Who couldn't take her eyes or hands off you?"
Recognition finally dawned on Wesley's face, but he still looked a bit puzzled. "We were just talking about cereal."
"She was flirting with you," Angel said. He picked up his sketchpad again and resumed drawing.
"Maybe," Wesley finally allowed. Bottle finished, he set it on the table and sat Connor up, rubbing his back.
"So..." Angel said, pointedly.
"Ask her out," Angel said, enunciating each word carefully.
"Oh," Wesley said, in sudden comprehension. "No, I don't think so."
Wes shook his head. "I'm just not looking for that right now."
"What's to look for?" Angel asked. "She practically crawled into your lap."
"She's not my type."
Angel tried to think of what little he knew about Wes's type. "Okay, she's not a brunette but so what?"
"Why are you pushing this so hard?" Wesley countered.
Angel blinked. "Didn't think I was pushing. Just -- you were smiling. Looked like you were happy. Why not go for it?"
"I was happy. I am happy," Wes said firmly. "But it didn't have anything to do with conversations with strangers in the cereal aisle."
"I just thought you'd like a date," Angel said. "You haven't gone out with anyone since LA. I know you like to so I figured - " Angel shrugged.
Wesley smiled as he stood up, Connor still in his arms. "Thank you, Angel. I appreciate the concern, truly. But I'm really not looking for any outside relationship right now."
"Wasn't saying you had to marry her," Angel said. He sighed, putting the sketchpad down now that his subjects had moved. "Okay, forget it. I'll go get the rest of the stuff."
"Why is this so important to you?" Wesley asked curiously, following along after him as he went back outside.
"You've been cooped up in the house for a month, Wes," Angel said. He walked over to the still-open back door of the SUV and loaded up on the overflowing plastic bags that were inside. "You work all day, you help me take care of Connor -- why not take a break and catch a movie? Meet new people?"
Wesley gave a half shrug. "I don't want to."
Angel gave Wes a look. "You want to spend all your time dedicated to work and not meeting new people? Did we switch bodies and nobody told me?"
"This isn't about work." Wesley nodded down about Connor. "It's about him. About family."
A smile touched Angel's face. "I can understand that." He shoved the car door closed, then went back into the house to deposit the bags in the kitchen. "But you shouldn't be a prisoner, Wes. Somebody really smart once told me it's a good thing to hang around people. Not lock myself away with a mission."
"You and Connor aren't people?"
Angel gave Wes a quick grin. "You forgetting that at least one of us has a drinking problem he's not going to grow out of?"
Wesley remained serious. "That doesn't make you any less a person."
"Maybe not," Angel said as he started to put things away, "but it doesn't make me two or three people either. You could use new friends. So could I. And really I was just saying take her to a movie. I wasn't trying to make it into a thing."
"If it's going out and being around other people you're suggesting, we could go to a movie," Wesley suggested.
"And leave Connor to watch the house by himself?" Angel asked.
"We could take him with us." Wes said, then immediately admitted, "All right, perhaps not a movie quite yet, but I'm sure we could find something to do, if the object's just to be around other people."
"This is what you get for being a Watcher for so long," Angel told him. "You're so used to looking at stuff that you forget you're supposed to do things. Look, Wes, I'm the last guy to cast stones here so if you don't wanna rush it okay but -- can you at least tell me why you don't wanna rush it?"
Wesley looked down at Connor. "He should probably be put down for a nap."
Angel stopped, looking at Wesley. "Okay, maybe I'm not the best detective in the room but I know when somebody's avoiding a question." He walked over to Wes, trying to look him in the eye. "Wes? What's wrong?"
"Then what's up?" Angel asked, fighting the urge to roll his eyes. "Did - did I hurt you, somehow? Make you think I wanted you to leave again? Because, I don't, honest. I want you here."
Wesley smiled at that. "I know. But thank you for saying it anyway."
"I can't make you but -- if you ever want to talk about whatever this is," Angel said, "you know I'm here for you."
"Thank you," Wesley said, his eyes softening. "That means a lot."
"Taking you on faith there," Angel said, "since you don't act on it. But -- you're my family, Wes. You should be happy. Doing whatever you want to do."
"I am doing what I want to do," Wesley told him, the words obviously heartfelt. "Or as least as much as I can."
"Guess I can understand that," Angel said. He nodded towards the baby. "Here, want me to take him?"
Wesley moved to hand Connor over.
"I can put him down if you take care of the rest," Angel said. He gestured to indicate the mess in the kitchen, then reached over take his son. He flashed Wes a grin. "And when he's sleeping, we can talk about stuff you like, promise."
Wesley returned the smile. "Even Landorvian demon history?" he teased.
"Now you're just making things up," Angel shot back. Connor squirmed in his hands and he quickly moved to hold him steady, his hands bumping into Wesley's as Wes instinctively did the same.
He glanced up at Wes, intending to say "sorry" or something like it. Except Wesley was looking back at him and something in his eyes made it hard for Angel to talk at all.
And then, before Angel could realize what he was doing, he leaned in and kissed Wesley.
There was a soft intake of breath, then Wes was kissing him back whole heartedly.
Whatever Angel had meant this to be -- and he sure as Hell didn't know what that was -- the reality of it was something else. Wes's mouth was warm, and eager, and Angel found himself kissing Wes as though this were second nature, and something he'd planned all along.
He felt a subvocal moan vibrate through Wesley's throat and up and out, ghosting over his lips.
He felt himself drawn to it but at the same time somehow this broke the spell. His mind caught up with his body and reminded him this was Wes he was kissing. He pulled back, his mouth not entirely in agreement with the action, and looked into Wes's eyes.
For a moment they were completely unguarded, and the emotion Angel saw there would've taken his breath away if he had needed to breathe.
Angel folded Connor into his arms, trying to find words. "Wes..."
Wesley drew in a shaky breath and took a step back. "I..."
Angel reached out a hand to stop him. "Wes, I didn't - I - I don't know - "
He saw Wes' defenses slam back up. "It's all right." He took another step back. "I should... upstairs... work..."
He felt Wes slipping away from him -- literally and metaphorically. "Wes, wait."
But it was too late. Wes had already vanished.