A Million Miles Away, Part 2:
Settling Inby Wolfling and the Brat Queen
Angel drove along the winding road, not for the first time being glad of Wes's SUV. He hated to think of what the dirt and rocks that passed for pavement would have done to his convertible.
Then he shoved the thought aside because right now wasn't the time to be thinking about things like that.
It was evening. Not too long after sunset. Wes had called with fairly good directions and Angel was certain he was going the right way. All the landmarks were there including - yep, there was the swamp, just around the curve as Wes had promised. Angel kept going, crossing a narrow wooden bridge that he doubted was made for a car with the kind of poundage that Wes's truck carried, but he figured that problem was - no pun intended - a bridge they could cross when they came to it.
He drove up the steep hill that met him, feeling a bit of vicarious masculine pride at how easily Wes's engine handled the climb. He also liked the hill itself. Hills meant higher ground. Higher ground meant better defenses.
Also there were rough hewn wooden fences all along the way which, really, he thought was just a nice decorative touch.
At the top of the hill he was met by a long driveway. He drove down it, noting the tool shed - he assumed it was a tool shed - along the way and already thinking of the weapons that could be stored there. The house itself wasn't much further down and he parked beside it, just a few feet away from the bright red SUV that Angel assumed belonged to the real estate agent.
"Well, Connor," he said, "what do you think?"
A soft coo came in return. Angel smiled, turning around to face the back seat. "Hey. You're up? Why didn't you tell me? You could've helped with directions."
Angel got out of the car, going around to the back and carefully taking his son out of his carseat. He cradled him close to his chest. "I thought you'd be asleep for another hour. Uncle Wesley's car always makes you drop right off, doesn't it?"
The night air was cold. Even he could tell that. He wrapped Connor up in an extra blanket, shouldered the diaper bag, then closed up the car. He allowed himself a moment to look around.
It wasn't bad. Private, which he liked. He couldn't pick up on much human activity beyond the faint traces of Wes and the perfume he assumed belonged to the real estate agent. Beyond that there was nothing but nature and everything that normally lived in it.
"You could have a lot of adventures in a place like this," Angel told Connor. He heard a faint sound of a bird getting ready for the night. "And learn all about the... whatever that animal was. Which we can get you books to help you find out."
He turned to face the house, studying it critically. There was normal wear and tear, but nothing that suggested it needed to be condemned. White, two stories, front stoop - add in the windows and the roof and it at least had all the necessary parts.
He went in. "Wes?"
"Angel?" Wesley's voice came from further in the house, the man himself appearing a moment later at the far doorway to the large living/dining room area the front door let in on. "Did you have any trouble finding the place?"
"No," Angel said. He moved Connor higher up on his shoulder, knowing his son liked being able to see what was going on. "Directions were fine. Plus Connor read the map."
Wesley smiled at the baby, coming over and holding out his finger for Connor to grasp. "Keeping your daddy on the straight and narrow were you, Connor?"
Behind Wesley a well dressed, well coiffed woman came into the room, who Angel assumed was the real estate agent. She looked vaguely nonplussed as she regarded them.
"Yeah, well, I keep telling you he's a genius," Angel replied. He pulled back a bit -- not far enough to force Connor to let go if he didn't want to, just enough to get some distance between himself and Wes. "So -- this the place you wanted me to see?"
"Yes." Wesley's eyes flicked up to meet Angel's, momentarily full of something dark, before he lowered his gaze to Connor again. "I was thinking if you liked it we could make an offer."
Angel tried for something like a friendly look. Or at least a patient one. "Can I actually see it first?"
"Of course, I wasn't expecting an answer without giving you a chance to look around." There was just the slightest hint of exasperation in Wesley's voice; Angel doubted anyone else would have picked up on it.
The real estate agent came forward then, holding out a hand to Angel. "I'm Elizabeth Brooks. I'd be happy to show you around, Mr...?"
"Angel," he told her. There was a split second before he remembered manners and offered out his hand in turn. "Just Angel."
Miss Brooks' professional smile didn't falter as she shook Angel's hand then turned her attention to Connor, her smile growing warmer as the baby looked back at her. "And this is..?"
Now Angel smiled. He turned Connor a bit so he could see better. "This is my son Connor. He's three months old. Well - just over three. But he acts much, much older. He's started on clapping already and they swear they can't do that until later but I say he does. You just have to help him a little."
He turned back down to Connor, who at the moment was attempting to get his hand into his mouth with intermittent success. "Connor? Do you want to say hi?"
"First time father," Wesley said by way of explanation, though the look he shot Angel just then was warm.
"I figured," Miss Brooks replied with an understanding smile. "My brother was the same way when my neice was born." She turned back to Angel and Connor, holding out a finger for the baby to grab onto and shake. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Connor."
Angel felt that flicker of happiness that always came when he saw his son connecting with the world, but tried to damp it down in the face of possible negotiations. "So -- what are we looking at?"
"It's a two story turn of the century farm house," Miss Brooks said, becoming all business again. "It has three bedrooms, one and a half baths. The kitchen has been totally remodelled and updated two years ago, so it's thoroughly modern. The wiring's been redone as well, so there should be no problem with any kind of power load. The outbuildings, and the surrounding 10 acres of land are also included in the property."
"Have its own generator?" Angel asked.
"Two. One located to the back of the house, and one down at the barn."
Angel merely nodded to acknowledge this. "Okay, show me around."
She nodded and led them through the downstairs, the main room where they were standing, combination living and dining room, back to the kitchen, thoroughly modernised as promised.
Angel looked through everything as they passed, noting random bits of damage and even the general layouts. He looked long and hard at the refrigerator, trying to imagine what it would be like to take his blood supply out of it every day.
"Suppose it'll do," he managed at last
Miss Brooks took them next out to what looked like an enclosed porch area. There was a door going outside and another door, that the musty scent from beyond it told Angel was probably a root cellar. Over in the corner was an oldfashioned wood stove. "This is the original kitchen," Miss Brooks supplied. The previous owner was using it mostly as a storeroom."
"Stove still work?" he asked.
"I believe so, yes. It might need some cleaning."
"I can work a wood stove," he told Wes.
Wesley gave him a faint teasing smile. "I had rather suspected you might."
Angel found himself giving an answering smile back. "Just trying to offer my talents."
Miss Brooks gave a half cough to get their attention. "Shall we look at the upstairs?"
Connor gave a few questioning cries. Angel shifted him to his other shoulder and rubbed his back, the adjustment second nature to him now. "Yeah. Sure. Bedrooms, right?"
She nodded. "And the full bath." She led them back through the living room and down a short hallway, off of which was the other bathroom that she pointed out in passing. Then they were climbing the stairs, which were a bit steep and narrow but in sound if worn condition.
Angel continued to look around, trying to imagine living in this place. It was difficult. Usually he hadn't cared much. Who was he to have needs? The only place he'd ever really given a damn about was the Hyperion and, well, nevermind that now.
He tried to ignore whatever his feelings were and tried to look at it as a place for Connor to grow up.
"How're the schools?" he asked. "Local pediatricians? Hospitals?"
"You have a choice of schools here, as you're right on the edge of two school districts. The local village has its own doctor and the city of Meyer's Mill, which is about 45 minutes away, has a hospital which was rated in the top 5 in the province."
Angel nodded along as though all this meant something, then in sotto voice to Wes asked "That's good, right?"
Wesley smiled. "Yes, Angel, that's good. And something I checked out before -- I'm sure I told you about it?"
"Right, right," Angel said as a vague memory of Wes quoting statistics at him clicked into place. "I just didn't - I mean top five's not that great if there are only five, you know?"
"Angel," Wesley said patiently, "this is the most populous province in the country. There are a couple of cities that have five hospitals."
"I knew that," Angel said defensively.
Wesley continued to look at him expectantly.
"So it's good, I get it, jeez," Angel said. "Not like I ever have to -- " he trailed off as he caught sight of Elizabeth again. "Anyway. Good place to raise kids then, huh?"
"The previous owners raised five," she offered.
Angel nodded with approval. "So they were Catholic?"
She blinked. "Anglican, I think."
"Oh," Angel said. He glanced at Wes. "That's okay too."
"Shall we?" Miss Brooks gestured at the bedrooms.
"Sure," Angel replied. He followed her up the stairs, listening to the faint creaks that came with age. "How old's the place anyway?"
It was Wesley who answered. "It was built in 1909."
Angel tried to remember 1909. Unfortunately the memory banks were foggy. "Oh. Well. Good year. I'm sure."
Wesley shot an amused smile at that as Miss Brooks led them on a tour of the bedrooms, ending in the one that had a large picture window with an eastern exposure. Someone at some time in the past had built a window seat beneath the window, which would be pefect for a child to curl up on and stare up at the stars -- or the bright daylight sky.
Angel stood in front of it, Connor cradled in his arms, and stared out of the window long and hard, glad for the faint light of the room that allowed him to do this without worrying about his lack of a reflection.
He sensed Wesley came up behind him, staring out the window as well. "You see it as well," Wesley said softly.
Angel flicked a glance in his direction. "What?"
"This is Connor's room."
"Oh. Yeah. I mean -- yeah," he replied. He looked back out the window again. In point of fact, he had been thinking it. Or, rather, he'd just known it. Somehow he knew this room was one his son could be happy in.
"You see why I called you out here?"
Angel glanced over his shoulder at Miss Brooks. "Do you mind if we...?" he left the question open-ended but pretty clear: he wanted to talk to Wes privately.
She smiled. "Of course. I'll be downstairs, when you need me."
Angel looked around the room. It wasn't bad. Big enough for some furniture and room leftover to play. Not that far from the master bedroom for when the time came that Connor was old enough to have his own room but not so old that his father shouldn't be nearby.
Schools. Land. Hospitals. It was all... perfect.
He shook his head, sighing.
"Angel?" Wesley was watching him carefully.
"It's kind of small, don't you think?" he asked.
"I'd say cosy rather."
"Sure, for you," Angel replied.
"For him as well." He reached out and laid a hand gently against Connor's back.
Angel winced. Yeah. There was the Hell of it. Of course for Connor it was a Hell he'd gladly take.
He looked down at his son. Connor looked back. No matter how many times he did that, Angel couldn't get over it. Each and every time it happened he remembered the first time. The moment when this child -- this human -- had looked at him with utter trust and devotion.
"Yeah," he murmured, mostly to Connor, "you probably would like this, huh? Playing in the swamps, learning about the animals, drawing pictures all over the walls..."
"What about you?" Wesley asked in a quiet voice.
He looked back at Wes, not wanting Connor to see the ironic smile that crossed his lips. "Don't suppose there's a really good sewer system I can get to through a trap door in the basement?"
Wesley smiled sadly. "I'm sure we can improvise something."
Angel tried to shake off the feeling of melancholy. "Hey -- better than -- " he caught himself from saying the 'H' word where Connor could hear him " -- certain places I've spent hundreds of years in. I mean this place has cable, right? Or satellite or whatever it is they have in the middle of nowhere in Canada. Plus -- " he added, looking back down at his son. "This place has him. It's perfect."
"He can have a home here." Wesley stroked the baby's back once again as he continued with a bit of wistfulness in his voice, "He can have a childhood."
"That's the most important part," Angel said. He looked around again. "We got good defenses here? I liked the hill."
Wesley nodded. "The land around comes with the house. We can set up a defense perimeter. And we can be fairly self sufficient here if need be."
"Nobody around for miles. I like that too," Angel said. He looked out through the window again, trying to imagine what the land would look like once they got their hands on it. "Can we afford it? Do I need to make another little side-trip? Gotta say I'm feeling really warm and comfortable with paying cash in full. Less paper trails."
"It'll be tight, but we should be able to do it. Generally we can talk down the price a little if we're paying in full."
"Tight we can do," Angel said. He gave Wes a quick hint of a grin. "Not like I'll be eating up the food budget."
Wesley returned the brief smile. "We may be able to do something to make that easier as well in the long run. Not have to rely on outside sources for your...food."
Angel couldn't help but raise an eyebrow. "You offering to tap a vein?"
"Ah..." Wesley flushed slightly. "Not that I wouldn't if it was needed, but I was thinking more about getting some animals."
"Oh," Angel said. He looked back out the window again, remembering the barn. "Yeah. Guess that could work. And hey - I kill a chicken and you still get dinner. Win/win I guess."
"If we get something a bit larger than a chicken, it could be a renewable resource."
"What -- a turkey?"
Wesley gave him a Look. "No, we already have one of those."
Angel smirked. "So -- what? Cows? Horses? Been a while since I've had to raise a horse."
"Miss Brooks said the previous owner was a dairy farmer so perhaps cows. It's something we can look into and see what best fits us."
The life of a farmer. Never in all his years -- mortal or otherwise -- did he think he'd be reduced to that. He chuckled to himself, unable to stop from wondering what so many -- Darla, his father, hell, even Buffy would think if they could see him now.
He saw Wes look at him expectantly.
"Sure, fine," Angel replied, "Whatever. We'll take it."
Wes looked as though he might say more, but Angel walked back downstairs before he even had a chance to start.
Twilight had fallen, so they were able to keep the curtains open. The previous owners hadn't left a lot behind, but Angel and Wes had made sure that heavy curtains and shades were high on the list of things to buy before move-in. Now they could close the house up like a tomb if they had to.
Wes was in the kitchen, doing things that made ceramic clank against metal. Angel figured he was washing up after dinner. They had a dishwasher, but for the moment only one plate so Wes cleaned it by hand to keep it ready.
The living room was spare. An old couch, a table, a few chairs. Nothing much. Some they'd found hidden in the attic. Nothing to last the ages but, much like the plate, it would do for now.
The biggest purchases had been for Connor. New stroller, crib (since he'd nearly outgrown his bassinet even before all this had started), formula, bottles, diapers, clothes, spit-up cloths, brightly colored toys that swore they were educational even though Angel couldn't really understand how much there was to learn from a cube made of felt - all the things a baby could possibly need and more often than not completely tear through in less than 10 minutes before starting to get bored.
Still, Connor was happy. That was the key thing. Unsettled, yeah. He'd slept restlessly during the weeks he and Wes had zig-zagged their way through America. With a new location every night which was more often than not combined with a Dad who tended to come home smelling of whatever demon he'd fought either to protect them or just get their hands on some extra cash, Angel couldn't really blame him.
Hell -- he hadn't been sleeping so good himself.
But last night had been okay. Connor had only woken for feedings. And now he was lying on the couch by Angel, looking up at him as though the sight of his own father was the most fascinating thing in the world.
This, too, was something Angel could understand. Although of course for him it was the reverse.
Wesley came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands dry. "You two have a mutual admiration society going, I see," he commented, tossing the towel on the table and coming over to sit on the couch on the other side of Connor.
"He's really observant," Angel said, not taking his eyes off his son. "He watches stuff. You can tell."
"I suppose when you're three months old, everything is new and amazing." He reached a finger to brush against Connor's cheek.
"True in his case," Angel said. His eyes flickered over to Wes only for the duration of the touch. He then reached out to Connor himself, smiling as his son reached back and wrapped his entire fist around one of Angel's fingers. "Besides. He knows his daddy."
"It's getting close to feeding time for him, isn't it?"
"He should be getting hungry soon, yeah," Angel replied.
Wesley got back up again. "I'll go get his bottle ready."
"I've got it," Angel said. He pulled Connor into his arms, holding him so that he could still see what was going on. "Connor wanted to see the kitchen again anyway, didn't you son?"
"You've got your hands full there," Wes protested. "I can--"
"Nah, don't worry about it. Connor and I have cooked before, right?" Angel said. With one hand he got the saucepan out of the cupboard, then filled it with water in the sink. "So what's the status on that satellite thing?"
Wesley hovered in the kitchen door. "They'll be delivering the equipment next Tuesday. Between the two of us, we should be able to get it set up. I hope."
Angel stopped, turned around, and looked at Wes bemusedly.
"I have every confidence in our abilities," Wesley elaborated dryly, "but I've never actually set up a satellite before. Have you?"
"Oh yeah, sure," Angel said. He put a bottle of formula into the saucepan and set it on the stove. "Every other Saturday, don't you remember? That and the golfing, my two big hobbies."
Wesley looked at him appraisingly. "I'm trying to picture you in a typical golfing outfit..."
Angel looked down at Connor. "We need to get Uncle Wesley certain TV channels that you won't be allowed to see for years and years, don't we?"
"And just what, exactly, are you implying?" Wes asked in mock offense.
"Cabin fever does strange things to people," Angel replied. The formula heated, he took it off the stove and waited a moment for it to cool long enough to be safe for Connor. Connor, perhaps recognizing the routine, started to give a few gasping cries
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Wesley asked, stepping forward, as Angel juggled baby and still too hot formula.
"We're fine," Angel said. He rocked Connor comfortingly. "So -- delivery on the thing we can't install in a few days. What else is on the agenda? We're going to need to buy more stuff. I've lived in alleys that had more furniture in them."
"We may have to get a bit creative with solving that. Our coffers are rather depleted right now."
Angel shrugged. "So? I'll get more."
Wesley shifted uneasily. "I don't think that's the best idea right now."
Angel gestured to the emptiness that surrounded them. "Because we've got so much else to do?"
"We're trying to keep a low profile, remember?"
"I can keep a low profile, Wes," Angel said. "Vampires are actually pretty good at that."
"It's still an unnecessary chance," Wesley insisted, stepping forward.
"We can't exactly buy furniture and baby formula on winning smiles, Wes," Angel pointed out. He shifted Connor in his arms and gave him the bottle. Connor stopped crying and suckled happily.
"We've got enough for the necessitites for the forseeable future -- if we're careful."
"I really don't see what the big deal is, Wes," Angel said. "Why not get the cash now and have it handy? Or are we going to be scrimping on the defenses too?"
"Of course not." Wesley sounded offended. "But we don't need you taking foolish risks --"
"Done this a million times, Wes," Angel said tiredly.
"Things are different now. You know that."
Angel glanced down at Connor. "I can handle it."
"Yes, you seem intent on proving that." There was bitterness sharp enough to cut in Wesley's voice.
"Just trying to help," Angel said. He brought Connor, still feeding, back into the living room.
Wesley followed behind him. "Is that what you call it?"
"Call what?" he asked.
"What you're doing. Trying to do it all, dismissing everything I say--"
Angel looked at Wes incredulously. "Excuse me? I'm asking you what's going on and what the plan is. You call that dismissing?"
"Yes, I do when you disregard my concerns and my help."
"I heard your concerns, Wes," Angel said. "I think you're being paranoid."
Wesley crossed his arms. "If I was being paranoid, I would think there was a reason why you suddenly seem intent on keeping Connor away from me."
Angel blinked. "What? What are you even talking about?"
"Since we moved in, every time I go to pick up Connor, or feed him, or change him, or anything to do with him at all, you tell me not to worry about it, you've got it." Wesley gestured at the kitchen. "Like just now -- you'd rather juggle holding Connor and heating his formula instead of letting me do either of those things."
"So... you're mad at me for being good at raising my kid," Angel said.
"Letting me heat his formula would imply you weren't?" Wesley asked exasperatedly.
"I didn't say that," Angel replied. "I just said I could handle it. I'm not really seeing the problem here, Wes."
"Then let me hold Connor."
"He's eating," Angel reminded him.
Wesley spread his hands. "It's not like I've never fed him before."
"Could we maybe wait until he's finished for you to want to prove a point here?" Angel asked.
"Fine." Sighing, Wesley sank down on the couch.
Angel shook his head in bewilderment. "What's gotten into you?"
"I just..." He looked up at Angel. "Ever since we left L.A., things between us have been...changing."
"You mean besides the locations?" Angel asked dryly.
Wesley didn't respond to the joke. "Are we even friends anymore?" he asked quietly.
Angel became quiet. He knew this was probably a far more telling answer than anything he was about to say, but unfortunately he'd never had much skill with polite lies. "What do you want me to say?"
The sadness was clear in Wesley's eyes, the slump of his shoulders, the very aura that surrounded him. "It doesn't sound like there's anything to say." He got up and headed for the stairs.
A spark of anger flared through him. Angel tried to keep it in check so Connor wouldn't feel it as he ate, but he couldn't keep himself from muttering "Yeah, you're the loser."
He must have muttered loud enough for Wesley to hear him because he spun back around. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," Angel said. He sat down on the couch, watching Connor gradually suck down the last of his food. "Doesn't mean a thing. So why don't you go on with that leaving thing? I hear you're good at it."
He saw those words ripple through Wesley like a momentary chill. "You really don't trust me at all anymore do you?"
"No, Wes," he said flatly. "I trust you."
"Somehow I'm finding that difficult to believe at the moment."
He turned, looking Wes right in the eye. "I trust you," he said, "that when the time comes you will put a stake through my heart and raise my child for me because apparently I'm destined to kill the one thing on this earth that I care about. Now ask yourself, Wes: how likely is it that that means that I like you?"
"So that's all you see me as anymore," Wesley said mostly to himself, "your potential executioner." He seemed to slump in on himself even more, looking more weary and defeated than he had since they'd left L.A.
"I see you," Angel said, "as the guy who's going to end up spending more time with my son than I will."
"You're assuming the prophecy is inevitable."
"Aren't you?" Angel asked. "If I remember correctly you felt it was pretty inevitable to take my kid away from me."
"If I believed that -- still believed that..." Wesley faltered for a second before continuing doggedly on, "If I believed that the prophecy was inevitable I never would have told you."
"People's minds change, Wes," Angel said. "Can you honestly tell me you won't try to steal him again?"
"Is that what you need to hear me say?" Wesley asked bluntly.
"What do you want me to say?" Angel asked again. "Do you think I like this? Do you think this is a happy arrangement for me? Hate to break it to you, Wes, but the soul's still in place. There isn't a single thing I like about this."
Connor stirred in his arms, having finished his bottle. Angel put it aside and moved Connor to his shoulder, rubbing his back. "Okay. One. But that one thing is something I'm not allowed to have. And even -- "
Angel sighed. "Forget it. Never mind."
"No," Wesley said, taking a step toward him. "Don't stop now. And even what?"
"You don't think I had plans?" Angel said. "Hopes? Dreams? Fantasies of the kind of future me and Connor could have? Fantasies of some one -- " Angel stopped, his hand hugging Connor a little as he massaged him. "Look. Don't take it personal, Wes, but you're not exactly the mortal I had in mind as a parent for him."
"No, I don't suppose I am." There was a strange expression on Wesley's face, almost wistful, but it vanished before Angel could truly decipher it. "I know I'm no one's idea of fantasy material, but I considered us friends. I'd hoped that we had at least that still."
"Do you even know what this is like for me?" Angel asked. He nodded to indicate their surroundings. "This isn't a home, Wesley. It's a prison. Yeah, I get to be with Connor and believe me I'm not unhappy about that. But I get to be with him until the day you decide to take him from me. And even if that day never comes I have to look at you and know that you're the guy who's going to be taking him out into the sun. You're the guy who's going to be walking those fields with him and having picnics and going on field trips and doing everything while I stay here because it's that or turn into dust. You. Not me. He's my kid, and I can't even be with him. So excuse me if I'm not exactly bursting into song right now. You wouldn't either if you had everything that mattered to you taken away."
"I've had everything that's mattered to me taken away," Wesley shot back. "More than once. And you know what the worst thing is you can do? Give in to self pity."
"Thank you, Wesley, because what I need right now is a lecture," Angel replied. Connor cried a little, and he winced, hating how much of this his son had to be picking up on. He tried to keep his emotions in check.
"Well you need something." Wesley was moving closer to Angel again as he spoke. "You say you've lost everything that mattered? You've got him. Connor. You've been given this impossible gift and all you can do is focus on what you don't have? All right, so you can't go into the sun with him, that doesn't mean he still isn't yours or that you won't be a part of his life. You have Connor, you have a chance to watch him grow up, to raise him. And you have me, my friendship. Even if that isn't something you consider worth much. So don't tell me you've lost everything."
"Beggers can't be choosers, huh?" Angel replied.
Wesley looked back at him steadily. "If you consider yourself a begger."
Anything Angel might have said was cut off when Connor finally burped, then settled comfortably against Angel's shoulder.
Angel nuzzled him, holding him as tenderly as he could.
"I don't forget how lucky I am to have him, Wes," Angel replied. "And you really don't know me that well if you think that I do. But don't come to me with this prophecy and then get mad at me when I want to spend every second with my son that I can. You'll have him soon enough, apparently. So give me a chance, would ya?"
Wesley sighed. "Fine. I'll try and stay out of your way. If you decide that maybe you could use a friend as well, you'll know where to find me." With that he turned and went upstairs. A few seconds later Angel heard Wesley's bedroom shut.
It was, Wesley thought, not unlike his childhood.
Living in a house with someone and trying to stay out of their way, at the same time wanting them to give some sign that the avoiding wasn't necessary... It was a familiar feeling, a familiar routine, and Wesley found it all too easy to slip back into it.
When he had been a child, he'd thought that this was just the way things were, that every household was like that. It was only when he grew and got out on his own, started finding his own identity that he learned differently. He'd vowed then that he'd never live in another household like that ever.
That broken vow only added to the stomach churning wrongness of the situation.
Since the discussion he'd had with Angel two days ago, Wesley had been doing his best to stay out of the vampire's way, spending most of his time in his bedroom or outside in the bright but cool day, familiarizing himself with the landscape and trying not to think too hard about things he couldn't change.
He wasn't as successful at the latter as he would have liked.
At least he was getting some exercise.
Hunger drove him back to the house from one of these hikes early that afternoon, and he slipped in through the back porch door and headed to the kitchen. He glanced in the living room along the way.
Angel was there. Asleep, apparently. Caught in an impromptu catnap with a book splayed across his chest, one hand resting over it as though he were about to pick it up again at any moment.
But Angel didn't move, and his face bore the hints of a vampire caught in deep slumber.
There was no sign of Connor; Wesley surmised that the baby was probably asleep also, in his crib upstairs.
His stomach growling reminding him of his mission, Wesley headed into the kitchen and made himself a sandwich, taking that and a cup of tea upstairs to his room.
Passing the door to Angel and Connor's room, he heard the beginnings of some soft whimpers, which if not responded to immediately, he knew would in a matter of minutes escalate into full blown crying.
Wesley nipped into his room long enough to put down what he was carrying, then went it to check on Connor.
The baby was indeed waking up, chewing on his fist and stirring restlessly as he made the tiny sounds. Wesley picked him up and cradled him against his chest, humming just under his breath which always seemed to calm and quiet the child.
Connor moved against him in the clumsy, disconnected movements of a babe who was both too young to fully know what he wanted or be able to act on it even if he did. He gave a slightly louder, more experimental cry, as though uncertain if that were the correct thing to do.
"Shhh," Wesley soothed him, rubbing his back gently. "You're okay. Uncle Wes has got you."
Connor's head continued to wobble, bumping against Wesley's chin as it did. He cried again, this time shorter, and Wesley's brain automatically translated it into a sound of confusion - the normal confusion anyone would have after waking from a midday nap.
Sitting down on the edge of Angel's bed, Wesley shifted Connor in his arms so that they could look at one another; experience had taught him that curiosity would often short circut other emotions, and that Connor was most curious about faces.
Sure enough, it only took a few moments for Connor's cries to quiet with each breath. His face became almost thoughtful -- or as thoughtful as a baby's could be -- as he looked back at him, his eyes traveling over a path that Wesley guessed was back and forth between his own eyes and his mouth.
Wesley smiled down at him, resisting for now the urge to make silly faces. It was only a matter of time though he was sure until he gave in.
"Did you have a nice nap?" he asked.
Connor continued to look back at him, his eyebrows raising and coming together as though he were completely unaware of it. Which, Wesley thought, he probably was. His mouth opened and closed and after a moment it occured to Wesley that Connor might be attempting to imitate his own mouth as he spoke.
The idea enchanted him and he spent several moments making exaggerated movements with his mouth just to watch Connor react to them.
Connor's eyes lit up. He attempted to imitate the first few tries, then gave in to delighted gurgles.
"Was gonna ask if he was okay," Angel's voice cut through the small reverie their play had produced. "But I guess the answer's yes?"
Wesley started at the sudden noise, looking up to see the vampire leaning against the doorway watching him with Connor. "He's fine. I was just-- I could hear him beginning to fuss and you were asleep..." Wesley trailed off, when he realised that he was about to apologise for touching Connor.
"Heard him cry," Angel said, as though this were a guilty admission. He rubbed his hand over his eyes, looking old even for a creature of his centuries. "I was... asleep," he added, as though this hadn't been established already.
"Not the most restful of sleeps?" Wesley ventured with a frown. He'd seen Angel with that look before.
Angel shrugged. "Just a nap," he said, as though this answered the question. He nodded towards Connor. "So -- you two were talking, huh?"
"Of a sort. Communicating at any rate." He smiled down at the child in his arms and admitted, "I've missed him."
"He liked what you were doing," Angel said. His eyes were dark, and Wesley found he couldn't read the emotion in them.
"I seem to have a fascinating mouth."
A hint of a smirk crossed Angel's face. He came forward, his hands in his pockets. "He likes mouths. I think because he can see them. That and eyes."
"I've noticed. Faces in general actually. I think all babies instinctively seek out the face when they're looking around." Wesley watched Angel with a hint of wariness, waiting for him to step forward and to take Connor away from him.
Surprisingly, Angel simply sat down on the bed beside him. He reached out to stroke Connor's cheek, smiling when the baby smiled back at him in return. "Looks like he slept well."
"Yes." Then, greatly daring, he added, "He wakes up a lot less cranky than some people in his family."
"Gets that from his mom," Angel replied, completely deadpan.
"Of course he does."
"You know," Angel observed, moving his hand over so Connor could clutch his finger, "sometimes the fact that he and I technically share a mom hurts even my head. And I was able to cope with Dru."
Wesley watched for a moment, noting all the subtle signs of strain and stress the vampire was exhibiting, before he found himself asking, "Angel?"
"You look pretty rough."
"Thanks for the compliment," Angel said, but there was a ghost of an attempt at humor in his tone.
"The next logical question would be why?"
"You're right," Angel said. "That is the next logical question."
"If I asked it, would you answer?" This was a rather strange conversation, Wesley thought, but at least they weren't yelling at each other.
Angel looked at him for a while. Wesley was oddly reminded of the similarity between father and son as it seemed as though Angel, now, was intent on studying his face.
After a long moment of quiet, Angel looked back down to Connor. "Do you think she's mad?" he asked softly.
"Who?" he asked just as softly.
"Cordy," Angel replied. The sound of Cordelia's name was so strange that Wesley realized that Angel hadn't spoken it once since leaving Los Angeles. "I mean she was away, but she'd be back now, and she'd know and...."
"I think," Wesley answered, feeling a strange little emotional twinge that he steadfastly chose to ignore, "that Cordelia will be furious. But I also think that she'll understand."
"She'll be fine, you know," Angel said, and the words sounded so practised that Wesley wondered if Angel had been repeating them to himself during the course of their travels. "I mean the visions don't hurt, and she was really coming into her own, and - and she's got him." The last words were said softer, and though Wesley often doubted it was possible, there was a greater hint of sadness in Angel's eyes.
"You miss her," Wes said quietly, thinking Angel had been missing her even before they left as well.
"I don't know what I was thinking," Angel admitted. Connor tugged on his finger, and Angel let him draw it closer. "Not like I ever really expected anything to happen. But it was nice. To think about. To pretend."
Thinking of his own wistful daydreams about Fred that had come to a crashing halt that night at the ballet, Wesley nodded in agreement. "Yes, it can be."
"I mean even if Darla hadn't killed herself, she was never really mom material. Well," Angel amended, "not the kind he needs anyway. I had no complaints. Think she knew that, though. Think that's why she didn't mind doing it. She knew it was the only thing she could give him."
Wesley nodded again, looking down at Connor. "Maybe." He hesitated then asked, "Do you wish it was Cordelia here instead of me?"
To his surprise, Angel shook his head. "No. This isn't the kind of life she should have. She's in enough danger as it is. She shouldn't be beholden to me."
"Whereas I..." Wesley smiled faintly, echoing words he'd said long ago. "Your faithful servant."
Angel looked up at him, appearing touched by the words. "This -- I know this was hard for you too. I'm sorry."
He didn't try to deny it. "The reason is worth it," he said instead, smiling at Connor who immediately gurgled back.
"You gave up everything -- job, friends, Fred," Angel glanced at him, "same as me. Except, you know, Cordy. And -- he's not even your kid. Or your phrophecy. I have to be here. You could leave."
"No, I don't think I could." Wesley was quiet for a moment, trying to put his thoughts in order and decide how much he should share with Angel. "He's not my child, but I care for him as much as if he was. This isn't the first time I've had to totally remake my life, but perhaps it's for the best reason. As for the prophecy, every day I wish to god I hadn't found it."
"You think it'd be better that we don't know?" Angel asked. "That one day I just turn and kill him?"
"I..." Wesley sighed. "I don't believe it's going to happen."
"I was supposed to." He'd been thinking about this a lot and the more he did the more sure he became that he had been set up to do exactly what he almost did.
"Even if it wasn't true," Angel pointed out, "we can't go back."
"No, we can't," Wesley agreed. "Just forward."
Connor continued to tug at Angel's finger, enraptured by the activity as only a child could be. Angel watched him, fascinated in his own right. "Wesley," he finally said, "I -- I am sorry. You're here beause of me. You lost everything because of me. Again. I've got no right to complain to you. Or take it out on you because I'm unhappy."
"No," Wesley agreed. "But I understand this is...difficult for you. And I understand needing someone to blame."
"I feel like I'm failing them," Angel said. "Failed them."
"No." Wesley shook his head vehemently. "No, Angel. You haven't. You didn't."
"Every night I see it," Angel said, looking even more haggard than he had before. "They fall. One, two -- sometimes all of them. Because I wasn't there. Because I'm not fighting the good fight."
"There's more than one way of fighting the good fight," Wesley told him, the same words he had told himself when he first contemplated taking Connor and leaving.
"By running away?"
Wesley shook his head. "By keeping Connor safe. By taking care of him -- raising and teaching him." He gave a half shrug. "Maybe not as exciting as battling evil with your fists and fangs but just as important."
"It's not about excitement, Wesley," Angel said. "You think I like wondering what day it's gonna be where I'm not quick enough to keep some demon from killing somebody I love? It's about what I can do. Being a fighter is all I am, Wes. I've got nothing else. If I'm not battling for good - what am I?"
"You're Connor's father," Wesley said, voice sure, holding Angel's gaze steadily.
"Connor's dad was a brave guy who conquered evil," Angel replied. "Now he can't even leave the house. You tell me which one's worth being proud of."
"Did what your father do when you were growing up mean so much to you?" Wesley asked.
"You mean his job?" Angel asked. He laughed. "Hardly."
"So why do you think Connor's going to feel differently?"
"Because I do?" Angel offered, but didn't seem certain of it.
"My father was terribly impressed with his vocation. It coloured all his interactions with me." Wesley looked down at Connor when he spoke, it never being easy to talk about his family. "I always knew that I wasn't as important to him as the Council. It...wasn't a good way to grow up."
Angel gave a sardonic smile. "My dad thought I was his biggest disappointment and I did my best to live down to his expectations ."
Wesley took note of this tiny glimpse into Angel's past but determinedly continued with making his point. "Connor's going to grow up knowing that he's the most important thing in his father's life. He's going to grow up knowing his father is always there for him and would do anything for his well being -- because you already have."
"I would," Angel said. He nodded towards Connor. "Can I...?"
"Of course." Wesley handed Connor over, ignoring the slight pang of regret; he didn't know when he'd get to hold him again.
Angel cradled Connor close to his chest. "Hey there. Uncle Wesley's been taking good care of you, huh?"
Connor burbled and cooed, his eyes lighting up as he recognized his father. Angel smiled at him, hugging him closer still.
"Um," Angel said, after a few moments had passed, "I was thinking the living room could use a new coat of paint."
It took Wesley a second to switch mental tracks. "We could probably afford to do that," he finally said.
"I mean I helped out with Fred's room. Thought I was pretty good at it," Angel said. He glanced at Wesley. "Sorry. Should I not talk about her?"
"No, it's all right," Wesley said, surprised a little at how much the mention of Fred's name didn't hurt.
Angel studied Wesley, then nodded. "Okay. So -- I was thinking I could do it, maybe. Fix the place up a bit."
"Of course," he replied immediately. "We can do it room by room, really make the place ours. Unless," he hesitated as he realised he may have overstepped the boundaries Angel seemed to want, "you'd rather I just stay out of your way?"
"Connor's room needs work too," Angel said. "We should get started on that before he moves in. 'course that still gives us a few months."
Wesley felt something inside him relax at the matter of fact inclusion of him in that statement. "We could do the living room first, then Connor's room?"
"Sounds like a plan," Angel said. Connor drooled on his shirt. Angel didn't seem to mind. "You know when you're going to start looking for work?"
"Trying to get rid of me already?" Wesley joked but it came out more serious than he had meant it to.
"No. No," Angel said. He moved Connor higher up on his shoulder. "Just -- if we're fixing things up, we'd have to work that in, right?"
Another piece of the tension of the last few days eased. "Actually," Wesley began, sharing the plans he'd been considering for a while, "I was thinking, once we get the satellite set up and have an uplink, I could see about doing some translation work via the computer. So I wouldn't have to go anywhere..."
"Really?" Angel looked pleased at the idea. "That's -- um. I mean boy. Computers, huh?"
"It's a small box, with a keyboard," Wesley deadpanned.
Angel rolled his eyes. "Oh, you mean the harpsichord."
Wesley grinned. Then, serious again, because he needed to ask this, he said, "Angel...are we friends?"
Angel became quiet again. "Wes -- can I ask you something?"
"Of course," he replied, heart sinking when Angel didn't answer his question right away.
"Thing is, it's been a while. And I know we don't really see eye to eye on this," Angel said, fussing over Connor more than was necessary. Wesley couldn't help but feel that it was in order to avoid having to make eye contact with him. "But... it's important. And I need this to be the right person."
"The right person for what?" Wesley asked, more and more mystified.
"I mean it's gotta be somebody who cares for him, right?" Angel asked, looking at Wesley as though he understood. "Somebody who'll be there for him, when I can't. Somebody I trust."
Wesley wished he did understand; he was getting it was something to do with Connor, but wasn't quite sure what.
"I thought the church in town was nice," Angel said, as though this were a natural continuation of his thoughts.
"Angel," Wesley began, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
For some reason Angel seemed to be gathering his courage. "Connor," he said, "hasn't been baptized yet."
Ah. It was something that would mean a lot to Angel, something both profound and commonplace, a rite of passage. Wesley thought it could also mark a start to this new phase of their lives, which could be a very good thing indeed. "Yes, the church in town is very quaint. I'm sure it will do nicely. Do you want me to contact them and arrange it?"
Angel looked at Wesley in surprise. "Yeah. You -- you mean it?"
"What, you think I'd object to you getting Connor christened?"
"You're not Catholic," Angel replied.
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"I didn't know if that'd be a thing for you," Angel said.
"You think I'd object to you having Connor babtised in the Catholic faith?" Wesley shook his head, perplexed.
"Well yeah," Angel said. "I mean I know I haven't exactly been a great example of the faith but -- I'd still like him to know about it. You don't mind? Teaching him?"
"Me? But isn't that usually reserved for-" Wesley trailed off as everything clicked. "Angel, are you asking me to be Connor's godfather?"
"Oh. You didn't -- " Angel faltered, then nodded. "Yeah. I know it's not the same or whatever you had growing up but -- I trust you. To do the right thing for him. And... I'd ask you even if we were in LA."
"Oh. I. That is..." He paused, trying to gather his wits. "I was capable of forming complete sentences at one point."
Angel looked at him steadily. "So you don't want to?"
"No!" Wesley exclaimed. "I mean yes..." He stopped and took a deep breath. "Angel, I would be honoured to be Connor's godfather. More honoured than I can express." He gave a small self effacing half smile. "As I'm sure I'm demonstrating."
"Oh," Angel said. A smile spread across his face. "Then -- good. Thanks. I -- thanks."
"Thank you for asking me." Inadequate words for expressing what the gesture meant to him, but they were all that Wesley had.
"Okay," Angel said, back to fussing with Connor again. "So -- painting and -- and that and -- good. Good. I was gonna take him for a walk. Do you want to come?"
"If I wouldn't be in the way --" Wesley began.
"You wouldn't," Angel said. "You could even -- if you wanted -- I mean it's cold outside. He needs something else to wear. You could help. If you wanted."
Wesley found himself smiling so wide at the acceptance that his face actually ached a little. "I'll get his jacket," he said, getting up and going to the small dresser where they were keeping Connor's clothes.
Connor made a few mumbling sounds to himself, as though attempting to join in on the conversation. Angel spoke softly to him in turn, then said, "Wes?"
"Yes?" He turned back around, holding the bright blue jacket decorated with baby ducks that they had picked up in the last spree of baby clothes buying.
Angel met Wesley's eyes. "Yeah."
Wesley shook his head, not understanding. "Yeah...?"
"What you asked me," Angel said. He stood up and brought Connor over, dropping a kiss on the child's forehead before holding him out for Wesley to take. "Yeah."
What he asked before. Are we still friends? Yeah. Wesley savoured the word, the moment, then smiled at his friend as he reached out and took Connor to dress him.
There was something he had been meaning to say, but there hadn't really been a right time. Until now. "Angel?"
"I trust you. Not just some of the way. Completely."
Angel nodded, clearly not getting it. "Sure."
Wesley held his gaze. "I trust that you'll never hurt Connor."
Wesley could see the words sinking in. "Thank you," Angel said softly.
He nodded and smiled, then looked down at the baby he still held. "Shall we take my godson outside and show him the stars?" he asked.
Angel smiled. "Yeah." He turned, leading the way, then hesitated at the doorway. "Um -- Wes?"
Angel cleared his throat, embarassed. "Doubt it's gonna come up but - if we ever run into Linwood again, and he says I asked him first? Don't worry about it. It was a totally different thing."