UNDER THE RAGGED THORN

By D M Evans

Disclaimer - The only ones who are mine are Shea and her sons and they earn me no money. All else belong to Mr. Whedon and the poem belongs to Mr. Yeats.

Rating - PG -13

Pairings - B/A (mentions of B/S and C/A)

Time Line - AR of S5 of Angel

Summary - Learning Angel is caught in a large problem, Buffy goes to Ireland to help and is stunned by what she finds.

Author's Note - This is written for Maren as part of Leni's Secret Santa 2004. It is the sequel to Here at Life's End. It's not necessary to read that to understand and enjoy this story. All you need to know is the previous story went AR with I Home /I and Connor detonated several bombs at the mall, killing Cordelia and maiming himself. Angel has brought him to Ireland to recover.

But if you want to read I Here at Life's End /I head here http/ Note #2 - Thanks to MAKD, SJ, Kristi, Leni and A2Z Mom for the various beta's on this. (let's see how many mistakes a total of 6 sets of eyes still missed cause I'm betting there're some!)

Author's Note # 3 - Going from what little ME gave us about Angel's past, I've extrapolated that Galway meant the city not the county and that if his father was a rich merchant there, he was most likely part of the fourteen tribes. That said, I've given Angel an appropriate last name (for those of you who don't like that, sorry) fitting the history of the town and what we know about him since this story is in part about him connecting with his past. Oh, and while I've been to hundreds of cemeteries in my restorations projects, I've yet to see one that didn't at least have a first name on the headstone unless an infant that was not yet name so I did bend canon a bit in describing Liam's grave.

I The mountain throws a shadow,

Thin is the moon's horn;

What did we remember

Under the ragged thorn?

Dread has followed longing,

And our hearts are torn.

Love's Loneliness - William Butler Yeats /I

CHAPTER ONE

Buffy didn't know what she was doing in Galway City. She had promised herself that she wouldn't go looking for Angel or Spike until she had found herself. After faking happiness in Rome, she learned going it alone wasn't the best idea. With all her friends scattered to the four winds, she wasn't sure how she ended up with Andrew. His incessant attempts to document her life had been driving her and the Immortal nuts.

Buffy found walking the path alone to be hollow. She missed everyone. She missed having her Watcher near. She missed having a real boyfriend. The Immortal was wealthy and handsome and she was just a prize to dangle off his arm. This wasn't how it was meant to be.

So, when a late night call just to hear Giles' voice had revealed Angel was in Ireland, Buffy found herself thinking about him. Giles had let slip that something very bad had happened and Angel had turned to the Watchers for help. Angel had asked that Buffy not be burdened with his new problems because he had made a promise to wait until she was ready to talk to him. She appreciated that Angel was keeping their bargain, and at the same time was irritated because she could tell from Giles' tone that Angel's problems were horrific. She thought Angel knew he could come to her when things were bad.

Maybe she hadn't made that clear. Maybe she had even told Angel otherwise. She could barely recall their last conversation after she took out Caleb. Giles had refused to tell her any details, saying it was Angel's story to tell. It had taken her nearly a month of arguing with herself before she got up the courage to face Angel. In the meantime, Spike had been resurrected from the amulet he had been trapped in and returned to flesh with the help of Wesley and someone called Fred back in L.A. She had spoken to Spike and the conversation had been surreal. She suspected Spike had moved on to this Fred person just from things he had said. She wished the best for him because she did love him but wasn't in love with him. The day he 'died,' Spike knew she wasn't in love with him and in their post-resurrection conversations, it was obvious he still felt some kind of emotional distance between them.

Finally, Buffy had left Andrew a note saying she had gotten called out on Slayer duties without saying where and had left in the middle of the night. She knew it was the coward's way out but she didn't want Andrew and his camera following her to Ireland. She told Giles where she was going and suggested assigning Andrew elsewhere. Buffy didn't know when she would be returning to Rome, and more importantly Andrew wasn't needed at her side. If he really wanted to be a Watcher, he would be better off with one of the new Slayers who needed far more help than she did. Buffy wanted only Giles as her Watcher.

Buffy had been in Ireland for a week, trying to work up the courage to find Angel. No, find was the wrong word. She knew where Giles said the vampire was. She just didn't know where to find the house and when she did finally go looking, she was surprised. She wasn't expecting a grand house with a view of the bay. It looked so sweet, so homey, so un-Angel.

Buffy knocked and felt the sweat starting to trickle down her body and slick her hands. She hated being this nervous. It was like she was a teen again, trying to work up the courage to ask out the captain of the football team. To her surprise, a red-haired woman answered the door. She was around Giles' age, maybe a little younger, very pretty.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I think I have the wrong house," Buffy said, glancing around trying to be certain of the house number.

"No, Slayer, you have the right one. Giles said you'd be coming but I didn't think it would take you this long to get here. Come on in. I'm Shea." The redhead stepped back from the door.

"Angel's here?" Buffy asked, unable to move.

"Yes, love, he is but you didn't expect him to open his own ruddy door in the bright light of day now did you?" Shea smiled.

Buffy grinned sheepishly. For a brief moment, Buffy wished Angel had Shea's accent. What was it about accents? "I guess I'm a bit too nervous to be thinking straight."

"Ah, men will do that to you, dear. Come on in, Buffy. I've already set up a guest room in anticipation. Let me show you there first then I'll take you to our resident quare hawk."

Buffy's kaleidoscope eyes stared hard. "That last thing again in English please."

Shea laughed, leading Buffy upstairs. "Quare is one of those funny words, with a couple of meanings. A quare hawk is a strange person and Angel is that, at least as far as vampires go. Now a quare lad, that's a boy who likes other boys, just so you don't make that mistake." Shea smirked and showed Buffy into a cozy little room with its view of the water half-shaded by lace curtains. The curtains matched the lace bedspread. Buffy hadn't seen so many feminine touches since her mom had passed away. She felt a pang of loss for the first time in a while then guilt over having not thought about Mom in awhile.

A worried expression clouded Shea's pale face. "Is the room all right?"

"Yes, it's lovely."

"You'll find a sword and a crossbow in the wardrobe and stakes and holy water in the hope chest should it be needed," Shea added as casually as if it were an every day thing to need such items.

Buffy gave her a wry look. "I left all of my stuff in the hotel."

"Plenty of time to bring it round." Shea beckoned. "Angel's this way. And tell your Watcher he needs to come round for a visit." The redhead pointed to a door. "I'll be downstairs should you need me."

Buffy took a deep breath, telling herself this was ridiculous, being so nervous. This was Angel. She knew him deeply. No matter what, he'd be glad to see her. She had seen agony in his eyes that last time in Sunnydale, some unspeakable grief weighing on him even as he handed over the amulet. She hadn't asked. She couldn't have taken on any more pain. She was already dealing with too much with the First Evil.

She still loved him. Spike knew it. He hadn't even entertained the idea that she had feelings for him as well. Would she tell Angel about that? He already knew about her and Spike. No, she wouldn't tell him, at least not right away. Angel had a problem; that had to come first. She tapped on the door hesitantly.

"Come in."

At Angel's invite, she slowly opened the door. Buffy wasn't prepared to see two beds in a room that smelled stale like a hospital. It took a second to realize that that's exactly what it was; a hospital sick room complete with several pieces of medical equipment Buffy didn't know the names of. Angel sat next to the bed, a book in hand. His eyes filled with emotion upon seeing her.

He set the book down and was across the room so fast Buffy didn't know what was happening. She found herself swept up in his arms, her lips pressed to his. It felt like time stopped and the only thing that existed was them. Finally, after time resumed moving, he broke the kiss.

Angel smoothed her hair and asked "What are you doing here? Giles must have told you where to find me."

"I hope you're not angry."

His expression said that was the most ludicrous thing he ever heard. "Of course not."

"He said you were having trouble, and I'm sorry it took me so long to come help. I..." Buffy trailed off. She had no good excuse for her actions so she decided not to make any. "I don't understand this." She gestured to the young man in the bed.

Angel took her hand. "Come here. There's someone I want you to meet. We were just finishing a chapter in our book before lunch." He took her over to the bed.

Buffy looked at the thin young man trying not to see the thing that was taped over his mouth, hissing ominously, nor the metal pins and bars encircling and invading his legs. His blue eyes were open and fixed on her in a way that chilled her to the bone.

"Buffy, this is Connor. He was hurt in an explosion. He can hear us though and hopefully he'll be able to talk to us soon. The x-ray tech is coming this afternoon and hopefully the Ilizarov devices and the trach tube will come out tomorrow," Angel said excitedly.

Buffy couldn't understand it. Who was this boy and why did Angel care so much? He wasn't a friend that she knew and she couldn't imagine Angel in such a protective nursing role. He seemed so different with this boy that Buffy barely recognized him. "Who is he, Angel? Why are you here with him?"

Angel looked at Connor then back to her. She couldn't decipher the strange look in his eyes but felt the frisson of fear that it caused inside her. "He's my son, Buffy."

She couldn't make her mouth work nor swallow past the lump in her throat. The words Angel spoke didn't make any sense. It was obviously not a vampire lying in the bed and that was the only child Angel was capable of having. She watched the heart monitor carrying out its steady beat. If she touched him, she knew Connor would be warm. She couldn't have heard Angel correctly. "What?"

"He's my son," Angel said, reaching for her.

Buffy recoiled, curling her arms in to her chest. "That's not possible. He's alive."

Angel's hand dropped. "I know."

"So all this time you've been lying to me?" Her voice was ragged and spiteful and she hated herself for it. "Telling me you were leaving all those years ago because you couldn't give me normal things like a child and you've had one all along?"

Angel's shoulders slumped, his eyes glistening. Buffy had never seen him so quickly moved to emotion. She saw how raw he was, barely holding himself together. She almost regretted her harsh tone. "No. It's far more complicated than that. Connor's special...and he's not quite two years old, or just a little past two. I've lost track. He grew up in another dimension, a different time flow...I wanted to explain it to you but there was..."

"Never time," she broke in. "There never is. " She backed away. "I...I can't deal with this."

Buffy wheeled around and thundered down the stairs. She reached the front door and almost tore it open then stopped. This was insane. What was she helping by running away? Connor...this son, had to be the problem Giles refused to discuss with her. Her Watcher had known. How long had he known? Buffy hunted down Shea. She was in a library Giles would kill for but unlike his dark little room, this one was full of windows letting the sun spill in off Galway Bay.

Shea met her halfway across the room and pressed a glass of amber liquid into her hand. "Didn't go well."

"You expected as much," Buffy said, lifting the glass to her nose. The smoky scent promised it would hurt going down. She took a tentative taste, trying not to make a face.

"A drop of good Irish whiskey never went awry," Shea said, settling back down into one of the soft, over stuffed chairs. She picked up a huge leather-bound tome as if going back to work but she didn't open it.

A drop? Considering the crystal-contained ocean she held, Buffy hated to think what Shea might consider a real drink. "Thanks. Giles knows, doesn't he?"

"About our wee man? Yes, he does," Shea said, tucking a stray lock of red hair behind her ear.

Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Why didn't he tell me?"

"Because I asked him not to."

Buffy twisted around, hearing Angel's voice. The vampire stood in the doorway, looking like a whipped puppy. It was an expression Buffy hadn't ever seen on his broad face before. "Why?"

"Because I should have been the one to tell you. I didn't want you hearing about Connor from anyone but me," he replied.

"So why didn't you tell me?" Buffy's hand convulsed on the whiskey glass but she managed to rein in her temper before she had a handful of broken crystal. "Oh, that's right, there wasn't time." She glared at Angel; he had no comment.

Shea cleared her throat, getting up. "I'll go check on lunch. Try not to break anything or each other. I've got enough messes to clean up around here."

Buffy watched the Watcher leave. "Are you just going to stand there?" she asked crossly.

Angel gestured to the windows, moving as far into the sunlit room as he could.

"Oh." Buffy sank into a chair, feeling the rage draining out of her along with her strength.

"Do you want me to tell you about Connor now? I don't have very good reasons for never telling you about him, but I have a few...or would you rather I just go?" He leaned against the wall, letting the shadows absorb him.

Buffy didn't answer at first, wishing she knew what to do or say. She wanted to just go. This was too hard. Every time she was with Angel, things were too hard. She loved him and he always made her hurt inside. Spike, at least, had been easy; that was just losing herself until she had lost far too much. "Tell me," she said at last.

Angel did something that surprised her. He sank to the floor, resting against the wall as if he needed it for support, as if he might collapse entirely if it weren't there. She was used to him prowling the room, full of energy, never knowing what to do with those big hands of his. Angel seemed so broken that she wanted to put aside her hurt and anger and just hold him. He started telling her about his 'miracle' child. He didn't get further than Darla's name before she interrupted him and he had to explain how Wolfram and Hart had brought the vampire back as a sick and dying mortal woman.

"They could do that...bring back a dusted vampire as a living being?" Buffy's breath caught. She could have had Angel or Spike back as breathing, warm-blooded men. Why had Angel never done it?

He got up and crossed over to her but was kept from her side by the swath of sunlight. He sat at the golden border, looking up at her. "I considered what you're thinking, Buffy. It would only hurt a little...I think, to die again. We had the spell. Wesley could have cast it. Granted you had to have a half dozen vampires present and their deaths and dust get bound up into the spell to make me whole and human again. Who would miss vampires?"

"What stopped you?" Buffy knew there had to be a reason.

"As we read the spell, we realized the part I had witnessed, the part with the killing of vampires, was the final step. There were others...vile, disgusting things that the spell required. There was a loss of innocent lives before that last step." He shook his head. "I couldn't put my humanity above the lives that would be lost to regain it. There might be other ways to regain my humanity."

"I don't understand," she said, sipping at the whiskey. Angel explained the shanshu and realizing there were other important things he had been keeping from her, Buffy felt something dying inside her. "Why would you not tell me this...that you could become...human?"

"Because I have no idea when it will happen. Why give you hope for something that might not be granted by the Powers until long after you're gone?" Pain made his voice tight. "I didn't want you wasting your life waiting for something that might be centuries in coming."

Her fingers felt numb. Buffy set the whiskey glass down before it fell. She slipped from the chair, puddling before Angel, keeping that band of broken sunlight between them. He reached into it and stroked her face with smoking fingers before withdrawing them to the shadows. He started telling her, tears trickling down his face, about fighting to save Darla's life and failing, of his fall from grace and how he had tried to lose his soul. He told her how hitting rock bottom turned him around and how he was gifted with his child, the payment for his sacrifices on Darla's behalf. She thought about the time line, wondering why he hadn't turned to her then realized that was when she was frantically trying to keep Dawn safe from Glory.

"Why didn't you tell me when Connor was born? Did you think I wouldn't want to see him or be part of his life?" Buffy whispered, taking his pain into her, making it her own.

"In one word, Holtz," he replied and went on to explain to her who Holtz was and why his hatred had spanned centuries. He told her about Holtz taking Connor to the darkest of hells and his fight to get him back.

"But why didn't you tell me? I could have helped you," she insisted, thinking she knew why. She was still reeling from being stolen from Heaven and Angel confirmed that was why he hadn't turned to her. He let slip about him and Cordelia as he explained that horrible time trying to find his son. "Cordelia?" was all she could say, part accusation, part incredulity.

"She had been with me for three years, Buffy. Lorne and Fred seemed convinced we were meant to be together...I should have realized better when she dropped me the moment Groo arrived." There was fury in Angel's voice but Buffy could tell it was directed at himself for some perceived shortcoming rather than at Cordelia. Maybe he simply didn't want to speak ill of the dead, she mused. He explained how Connor came back from Quor-Toth full of hate for him and how he had exacted his revenge for a murder Angel didn't commit.

Buffy leaned forward, capturing his hands as he told her about his entrapment under the ocean, of Cordy's return from another plane and her rejection of him, of the thing taking control of her making her seduce his son, of how he thought Connor had betrayed him, of the hell goddess that Cordelia had given birth to, of how Connor had killed his own daughter and gone mad. He ended with the horrors of the mall, Cordelia dying and Connor maiming himself in the explosions. Buffy didn't have to ask why Angel didn't turn to her. Between his sojourn into Angelus-land and her dealing with the First, there was little to be said, but she would have words with Willow and Faith for keeping this secret.

"You knew, didn't you, that the amulet would kill you when you brought it to me," Buffy said softly.

Angel moved back as the sun advanced on him. "I wanted it to. Wolfram and Hart were putting Connor back together but I had little hope of him surviving. I wanted to join him and helping you one last time seemed like the best death I could hope for."

Buffy's lips trembled and she couldn't make words come at first. "But why did Wolfram and Hart help?"

"They wanted me to work for them. I don't know why yet. I wasn't supposed to run away to Ireland. They didn't expect me to turn to the Watchers for help. Wes, Gunn, Lorne, and Fred are working for them, trying to figure it out from the inside. There's a reason, don't doubt it. Now, Spike's helping them, taking over the role that was meant for me." Angel shook his head. "I can barely function most days. I sit here with my son, wishing for him to either get better or give up and let go of his life. For weeks I was afraid to close my eyes because it looked likely he wouldn't be alive when I woke up." A shudder shook Angel's big body. "Now, he's beginning to heal again...he usually heals like a vampire or a Slayer. No one knows what it means that it's taking so long. Maybe he gave up. Maybe he wants to die and can't because I interfered."

"Do you know..." Buffy's voice broke. Her stomach twisted. "Is he sane now?"

Angel turned from her, scrying the shadows for answers. "He could be brain damaged. He might still be insane. He might never get better than he is now. Until just a few days ago, all I did was sit with him all day and go out every night getting drunk, trying to forget it all. Shea and I had a big talk a few nights ago...I don't know what I'd do without her. I know now everything I did wrong with Connor...and what I did right. All I want is for the doctors to come by and tell me that horrible tube can come out of his throat. I don't care about the things holding his legs together. I know that'll heal but I need to hear my son's voice. I need to know if there's anything left inside him. I don't want to have to pour Ensure through a tube they punctured into his belly to feed him...and I should have told Shea I didn't get to feed Connor before coming down here to talk to you." Angel fretted, looking at the door.

"She probably figured it out, Angel," Buffy said placatingly, wondering what exactly Shea's role was in this house.

Angel got up regardless. "I have to check on him." He looked down at her. "I'm so sorry, Buffy. I don't know...I can't take it all back and do it again or I would. Can you forgive me?"

She wanted to say yes, of course, there was no need to ask but she heard herself telling him she needed time. She saw the crushed look in his eyes.

He just nodded and turned from her. "Please stop by the kitchen and have a bite to eat. Shea will be hurt if you don't...only don't eat the black pudding."

"But I like pudding."

He glanced over his shoulder smiling. "It's a mix of pig's blood and livers. Traditional Irish but I don't think you'll care for it."

Buffy made a face and watched him go. She fumbled for the glass of whiskey and pounded it back. She gasped as the smoky liquid burned down her throat and settled like ingested sunlight in her belly. She followed her nose to the kitchen, which was redolent with the smells of fresh baked bread and onions and some kind of meat. Shea was pounding dough on the floured counter top. She looked up, smiling.

"I heard nothing breaking. Good on you," Shea said. "Sit. I can get you a bite to eat."

"Um...there's no black pudding is there?" Buffy asked warily as she sat at the table.

Shea grinned. "Angel warned you, did he? No, I have a nice Dublin Coddle for you and some soda bread." Shea sat a bowl in front of Buffy; it was filled with something that smelled delicious.

"Which is?" Buffy eyed it nervously.

"Not a hint of blood," Shea promised, adding thick, warm slices of soda bread to the table. "The best bacon bits, sausage, potatoes and onions cooked with a wee bit of hard cider for taste."

Buffy had no appetite after everything she had just learned but after one bite she was suddenly ravenous. She ate voraciously. "What are you making?" she asked around a mouthful of rich, dense bread.

"Guinness bread. My sons love it," Shea replied.

Buffy wondered if everything in Ireland came with alcohol. "Need help?"

"Do you cook?" Shea eyed her critically.

Buffy shrugged. "I'm not so good but I try."

Shea nodded. "I find it therapeutic. I'm a nurturer by nature. I probably should be getting one of those new Slayers you made, Buffy."

Buffy considered that, figuring Shea probably would get a new Slayer. They were very short of Watchers, after all. "Why are you here with Angel or is it the other way around?"

"This is my place. Rupert asked me to care for our wee man. I'm nurse by trade. Usually I patch up other Watchers but I could hardly turn down a unique challenge like this one," Shea said, humping the dough into three balls.

Buffy thought on the pain in Angel's eyes. "Will Connor recover?"

Shea put damp, warm towels over the bread. "I think that he will recover physically. I can't speak for his state of mind."

Buffy set her fork aside, having powered through the Coddle. "Do you want me to do the dishes?"

Shea shook her head. "Set them in the sink. Fiona will get them. She's a junior Watcher. I'd introduce you but she's out gathering some magical herbs. She's a right good witch. Is there anything else I can get you?"

Buffy sighed. "No...Angel was worried about Connor getting fed."

"I took care of it. Angel likes to fret." Shea smiled gently. "When he's not out at the pub getting pissed, that is."

Buffy smiled not needing a translation for that thanks to hanging around Spike. "I've never seen him drunk."

"Pitiful, it is." The Watcher wagged her head. "A drunk vampire is a sad sight."

Buffy nodded. "I've seen it," she said, thinking about Spike. "Just not with Angel. I just wish he would have asked for my help somewhere along the line...maybe this wouldn't have happened."

"Men aren't much on asking for help in my experience," Shea said. "Quare, each and every one of them, including my poor Danny."

"Your husband?"

"Once upon a lifetime ago. Another Watcher. He was killed when our boys were still in diapers," Shea said sadly.

Buffy didn't want to imagine it. "How many boys do you have?"

"Just the twins. I had a daughter, Caitlin, but she was killed a few years back," Shea said. "Are you going to go up with him?" She nodded at the ceiling.

Buffy wanted to but she couldn't bring herself to go back into that room. "I think I need to take a walk."

"Mind if I come with you, at least for a bit?" Shea asked. "I need to get to the market and buy mussels and to stop off at Sheridan's Cheesemongers. I promised Ryan and Scully I'd make some Guinness mussels. They've been staying with their Gram for the last few weeks so as to be out of the way. Sixteen-year-old boys can make a bloody loud racket when they set their minds to it. Besides, me mum wants to teach them some spells before she dies."

"I'm sorry your mother is sick," Buff said quickly, thoughts of Joyce flashing in her mind's eye.

Shea laughed. "There's nothing wrong with her beyond an Irish sense of drama. She's always dying, has been for decades. Do you like mussels?"

Buffy shrugged. "I've never really tried them."

"I'll make extra. They won't go to waste," Shea assured her. "You'll just have to beat my sons off of them."

Shea walked with Buffy and directed her down Kirwan Lane to look at the shops and let herself not think about it all. Shea promised it was the best medicine. Buffy wasn't about to argue. Shopping could be a cure-all, as she well knew. She bought a few small things for Willow and Dawn but it didn't quite take away her pain. Buffy did her best to just lose herself in the bustle of Galway City.

It was much later than Buffy had realized when she finally returned to Shea's house. She had her luggage in tow. Shea was doing something very un-Watcher like; she was watching TV. She looked over the arm of the couch at Buffy.

"There's some ham and cheese sandwiches in the fridge if you haven't eaten. Help yourself."

"Is Angel here?"

Shea shook her head. "He went out. He didn't say where he was going. Probably doing the same thing you were, walking the city."

"You're probably right."

If that was what he was doing it was the first Angel-like thing he had done since this morning. Buffy got herself one of the thick ham and farmer's cheese sandwiches and went upstairs. She dropped off her luggage and went to Angel's room just in case he had come in and Shea hadn't heard him. He wasn't in but she saw Connor's eyes on her. Sandwich in hand, she went in and saw the TV was on, featuring a show she had never seen. Connor's eyes tracked her as she crossed the room.

"I hope I didn't wake you up," she said and remembered he couldn't talk, not with the tube down his throat. His eyes met hers. He looked bored. His gaze flicked to the TV then back to her. She looked at the TV. "Do you want it off?" She used the remote and killed the TV. "I'm Buffy. Your dad introduced us this morning. I'm a good friend of his." Buffy watched his brow furrow a bit.

Did he understand her? Did he wonder who she was? Was he aware enough to be afraid of a stranger? "He's so proud of you, but I'm sure you know that. He was telling me about how hard life's been for you. I know how life can suck, trust me. I should introduce you to Dawn, that's my sister. She's like you, a little different." Buffy bit her lip, realizing she was babbling. She just didn't know what to do so talking seemed the safest. She could do that without really looking at him and thinking about how uncomfortable the tube down his throat had to be. The same went for the metal circles around his legs. He couldn't even move in the bed much.

She sat in the chair next to the bed and his eyes tracked her. She was sure that he understood some of what she was saying and was paying more attention to her than he had been to the TV. That was a good sign, right? "I hope you don't mind me eating in front of you. I forgot dinner."

He blinked at her. She had no idea what that meant, if anything. Buffy took the book off the night stand. She was surprised at the cover. "Angel's reading you, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone?" She smiled. "Sorry. That's just so weird. Angel's just not a bastion of things pop culture. Me, I love Harry. I especially like Ron. Willow, Xander, Dawn, and I - they're all friends of Angel's, too - we would just sit around the TV with a big thing of popcorn and watch the movies." Did she just see his eyes flick to the book? "Do you want me to read this to you?" His eyes definitely came up to meet hers. "Okay. Don't mind me still munching on the sandwich though, okay?"

Connor didn't seem to mind. She started reading to him. It was harder to read out loud than she thought it would be, stumbling here and there like it was fifth period English class all over again. She remembered reading to Dawn when she was a little girl, even though Buffy knew it never happened. She was convinced Connor seemed more relaxed after she got into the swing of things. She was halfway through reading him a second chapter when she heard someone in the doorway. She glanced up and Angel was standing there, smiling so broadly she thought his smile would jump off his face and be continued on hers.

She set the book aside and crossed over to him. "I hope you don't mind. He was awake when I peeked in and I don't know...he seemed bored with the TV. Does that make sense?" she shrugged. "It just seems like he was listening to me and liked hearing my voice."

Angel took her hand, drawing her out into the carpeted hallway. "Thank you for sitting with him. He likes people to read to him. I know he does. It's just like you said. You can see the difference in his face when something he likes is on TV or when you're reading him something he likes. It gives me hope he'll recover some day. We've tried to get him to write, to communicate with us but he won't...but I think he can still. He's just not ready."

Buffy wanted to ask what happened if Connor was never ready but she knew the answer. Angel would wait on his son forever if he needed to. "I'm sorry I walked out of the house this morning."

He held up a hand. "You don't have to explain, Buffy. I dumped a lot on you on top of not telling you about Connor in the first place." He moved passed her into the room. He stroked his son's hair. Connor's eyes were half shut. "I think you're sleepy, Connor. Let go and go to sleep. Buffy can read more to you tomorrow." He looked over his shoulder at her as if to ask 'will you be here?'

Buffy went over to the bed. "I sure will." She smiled at Connor. His eyes canted up to hers then shut. She took Angel's hand. "If you want me to, that is."

He squeezed her hand. "There's no place else I'd rather you be."

"I'll be staying here for a few days," Buffy said, not willing to commit to more than that just yet. "If that's okay."

He smiled at her. "It's fine. You look tired. Maybe you ought to get some sleep, too. I'm going to sit up with him for a while longer."

Buffy wanted to point out that maybe he needed a break. She didn't. She put her arms around him and whispered, "I forgive you." She fled the room before he could say anything. She willed him not to come after her as she took refuge in her room. She got her wish.