Buffy headed downstairs after peeking in on Angel and Connor. The bedroom door had been slightly ajar. Both were sleeping soundly. A slender cat was stretched out alongside Connor. Buffy assumed that was the until-now-unseen Elf. Shadow was perched like a king atop Angel's chest. She had heard cats liked the warmth and movement of a human's chest. She wondered what Shadow was getting out of Angel who lacked both.
Shea and her sons were in the kitchen eating. The Watcher smiled up at her. "Mornin,' Buffy. Sit down and have some breakfast."
Buffy looked at the big bowls in front of them, dreading to know what might be hiding in them. "What's for breakfast?"
"Curach," Shea replied, not particularly helpful to Buffy who had no idea what that meant.
"Which is? And not to be rude, but if it has blood, liver, or fat in it, I think I'll just have toast," Buffy said, sitting down.
Shea laughed. "It's oatmeal with heavy cream and honey."
"No whiskey?" Buffy grinned.
"Och, aye, it has whiskey. That went without saying."
Of course it did, Buffy thought. Could Shea cook if someone pried the alcohol out of her hands? "Sounds good," Buffy said even though oatmeal wasn't her favorite.
"It'll get it for you." Ryan popped up, much to his twin's obvious consternation.
"I'll pour you some tea, Buffy," Scully said, not to be out done.
Buffy watched the boys fuss over her, catching their mother's sly smile. They settled down after she was served. The twins watched her like she was the newest animal at the zoo. Self-consciously, Buffy took a big spoonful of the oatmeal. It was better than she was expecting.
"Boys, she can't eat with you two staring. Shoo," Shea said, waving her sons off. They left reluctantly. "Sorry about that. You're now the next best thing to Anna Pacquin and Keira Knightley dropping by, wanting to double date."
Buffy laughed. "I'm in trouble."
"Boys and their hormones." The Watcher rolled her eyes. "They never change no matter how old they get."
"I believe that," Buffy said, thinking of Angel and Spike.
"You believe what?" Angel asked, coming into the room, surprising them.
"Did I wake you up? Sorry." Buffy gave him a sheepish look.
He waved her off. "I heard you close the door and I came back early last night anyhow. Been asleep too long. Why did you let the cat sleep on me?"
"He looked too comfortable to move." Buffy smiled innocently. "And we were talking about men and their uncontrollable hormones. It seems I have two new teenaged admirers."
"Understandable," Angel said, leaning on the doorframe. "And we can't help ourselves. It's true."
"If they get too unbearable, Buffy, just swat them one," Shea advised then canted her gaze up at Angel as if to say you can swat him, too.
"I'll take you up on that," Buffy said, seeing the twins peeking around Angel.
"Mom, if Angel's down here can we go cast that spell?" Ryan asked, his green eyes gleamed.
"Or at least take the poppet up," Scully added, as excited as his twin.
"Spell?" Angel asked, sidestepping so the boys could get into the room.
"The boys wanted to cast a spell to promote healing," Shea said. "But it requires the burning of a few herbs and I wasn't sure you would like that."
"What kind of herbs?" Angel asked. "Not that I'll say no in any event. Thank you, boys, for being concerned about Connor."
The twins smiled and Ryan said, "It's just cinnamon, eucalyptus and myrrh."
"That'll be an interesting smell," Buffy said wryly, wrinkling her nose.
"Like the church basement while the old ladies are baking pies after Mass," Shea remarked.
"I can stay down here for a while, maybe give your mother a hand with some of her research, so go ahead," Angel said and the boys took off.
"The poppet is just stuffed with lavender and morning glory in case you were wondering," the Watcher said, "to help ease Connor's dreams."
"It's really nice that the twins are so thoughtful," Buffy said.
"They've got good hearts in spite of the devilish brains," Shea said with a proud smile. "I'm afraid to think what they plan to do to Connor once he's well. I keep telling them he might be eighteen but he has no i.d. so they can not send him out for beer."
"Told you so," Buffy said, smiling up at Angel. "Ready or not."
"I'm not," Angel said decisively, his shoulders slumping.
"Don't worry, Angel, when all three of them go out on the town you and I can go to the Blind Cat and get pissed," Shea said, shoving a stray lock of hair out of her face.
Angel snorted. "It's a date."
"Is Connor still sleeping?" Buffy took another huge spoonful of curach.
Angel shook his head. "He woke up when I got up. He doesn't seem in a hurry to talk to me though."
"Give him time, Angel," Buffy said.
"Listen to the girl. We'll go up in a bit and see if he'll work with the ice chips," Shea said.
They wanted until Buffy finished her tea and breakfast before going up to the bedroom. It was pungent with the strong smells of eucalyptus and myrrh and an undercoating of cinnamon. All three young men were watching Lord of the Rings, though Connor's eyes seemed heavy.
"You two are going to wear him out," Shea chided gently as she put the head of the electronic bed up. She muscled Connor into a sitting position. She waved Angel over. "Connor, we'd like you to try an ice chip instead of the sponges today. Think you can do that?"
Connor's eyes fixed on the nurse then on his father's fingers as Angel offered up an ice chip. Connor's lips parted and Angel slipped the ice into his son's mouth. Connor sucked on the ice, a happy expression on his face.
"Does that count as a positive test?" Buffy asked.
Shea smiled. "Very much so."
Connor reached up and took his own ice chip out of the glass, startling Angel enough for the vampire to nearly lose his grip on the glass.
"I think he likes them, Shea." Angel had a goofy grin on his face that made Buffy glad. It was as if Angel's hope had been restored.
Shea pulled the tray table over the bed. "Set the glass down and let him help himself then. I can imagine that it feels very good to have something to lubricate the throat after weeks with that endotracheal tube in place. You keep working on the ice, Connor, and I'll call the doctor and tell him how good you're doing. Maybe we can try having you drink that supplement tonight and sooner than you know that tube will come out," the nurse said brightly.
A lump formed in Buffy's throat as she watched Connor touch his stomach, a look of abject pain on his face. She heard the little sound of Angel's breath catching as he tried to hold back his own sorrow.
"I know, little one." Shea touched his cheek. "But it'll be over soon, so long as you keep getting better."
Connor looked over at the petite cauldron that bubbled forth the aromatic smoke. Buffy had no doubt he understood what the twins must have told him as to its purpose.
"And I'll shoo everyone else out of here so I can brush your teeth for you. That'll be nice too after so many months," she said, looking at her companions. "And Angel, later I need to talk to you about the promenade. It's come to my attention that strange things have been happening there."
Angel nodded and everyone filed out of the room. The twins went up to the attic floor. Buffy knew that's where their room were. She and Angel went back down to the library, Angel taking refuge in the shadows.
"See, Angel? I think he understands us just fine," Buffy said, fitting in one of the overstuffed chairs.
Angel nodded, a depressed expression on his face. "I think you're right but that only makes it more disheartening that I can't make him talk to me."
"I'm sorry," she said, trying to find the right words to help. "I should call Giles now and make sure nothing's blown up."
"Buffy, if you need to go, I'll understand," Angel said, obviously saddened by the very idea, and suddenly leaving was the very last thing Buffy wanted to do.
"I was thinking, Angel, and I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me before, but maybe Connor's just not ready to rejoin this world. I mean, you said he wanted to die, that he was out of his mind with grief. I know when I was dragged back here from Heaven, the last thing I wanted was to be here. It took me a very long time to find the will to start living again. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm here for a purpose, even now," she said, her voice thick with emotion.
Angel's eyes reflected her pain. "I'm sorry you have to bear that sorrow."
Buffy shook her hair, her blonde curls falling down around her face. "The point is, it's hard to want to live again. You know that. It took a Christmas snowfall to make you see there were reasons for you to live. Connor's starting to see just how many people care for him. There are more people than just you in his life. It's obvious that Shea and the twins like him. But he hurt people in that mall. Maybe he thinks he killed them all. What if he remembers killing Cordy? You said he loved her. That has to be a very hard thing to live with."
Angel's bottom lip rolled inward as the vampire caught it with his teeth. "I hadn't really even thought about what's going through his mind."
"I should have thought of this before but Giles really helped Willow after she lost Tara. She didn't just try to wipe out a few hostages in a store. She tried to destroy the earth and, if not for Xander, she would have."
Angel's head snapped up at that. "Xander saved the world? The mind boggles."
Buffy snorted. "The point is Willow was in a very bad place but Giles and his friends helped her. Why don't we ask him if he could help Connor?"
Angel glanced away. "I hurt that man so much, Buffy. I can't see why he'd help more than he already has."
"Because he's Giles and that's what he does." Buffy shrugged. To her, it was that simple.
"He has all of the Watchers' Council to run now," Angel said, obviously preparing himself for a negative answer.
"So? Some Watchers survived. He could even ask Wesley for help. You lose nothing by asking. I can do it for you," Buffy said, thinking Giles would probably love to at least try if for no other reason than Connor's uniqueness.
Angel smiled at her. "Thank you."
Shea came into the room. "I put the ice chips away. Connor looked a little sleepy so I told him to go back to sleep. Are you two okay?" The Watcher looked between them, sensing the tension.
"We're fine," Angel said. "We were just talking about asking Giles for some help. He really helped one of Buffy's friends…um, psychiatrically speaking."
"Ah, Willow. Yes, Rupert might have some excellent insights for helping Connor." Shea smiled wickedly. "Tell your Watcher to make sure he brings his leather coat and his earring because I have someplace he can wear both."
Buffy's eyebrows reached for the stratosphere. "Are we talking about the same Giles?"
Shea laughed. "Dear, the things I could tell you about your Watcher."
"Ooo, I'm not sure I'm ready to hear them." Buffy shuddered.
Shea took a seat. "Well, let's talk about the weirdness at the promenade. It might be a place you'll want to patrol, Buffy."
Buffy readily agreed. Talking shop was much safer than thinking about places Shea would take Giles with a leather coat and earring. It was far too much like realizing her parents had once had sex. In the end, she agreed she and Angel should patrol the promenade, then Buffy called Giles and left him a message about helping Connor if he could.
"Oops, forgot my favorite knife," Buffy said, as she and Angel were ready to head out on patrol. "Be right back."
Buffy jogged upstairs. After retrieving her weapon, she heard something in Angel and Connor's room. She peeked in and saw Connor thrashing about on the bed obviously in the grips of another nightmare. Buffy went over and touched his arm. "It's okay, Connor. It's just a dream."
His eyes flew open and he sat up, his mouth wide uttering a guttural cry. His whole body quaked.
"You're okay. Dreams can't hurt you," Buffy lied, remembering one little boy's coma dreams that nearly ended the world, back when she first moved to Sunnydale.
Connor reached out to her and Buffy took his hand. He yanked her down onto the bed with him, far stronger than she expected. He crushed himself to her, his arms like vise grips around her, then he unmistakably said, "Dad!" Connor dissolved into tears.
Clinging to him as hard as he was to her, Buffy twisted and screamed, "Angel! Shea! Come quick."
Buffy rocked the boy in her arms, hearing Angel thundering up the stairs. He burst into the room, his eyes wild.
"What happened to him?"
Buffy held out her hands to Angel. "He was having a nightmare. Get over here, Angel." Her hands went to Connor's face, stroking his cheeks. "It's all right now, Connor. Look, he's here."
Connor's tear-streaked face lifted away from the crook of her neck. "Dad?"
Buffy wasn't sure if Angel had said a word in a language she didn't know or if it was just a strangled cry but she found herself caught up with Connor in Angel's big arms. She managed to disentangle herself from him and slip away from the family unit. Seeing Angel weeping as he cradled his child, Buffy just stroked his back once and followed Shea out of the room.
The women went downstairs. Shea sat down on the couch. "Looks like someone's finally ready to come back to this world."
Buffy nodded. "I'm so glad. I wasn't sure Angel could make it much longer," she admitted. "And at least Giles will be here tomorrow. I think he'll be needed."
"Aye, the boy has a long way to go, probably farther than Angel realizes," Shea said. "But at least he won't have to go it alone."
"I know." Buffy gazed up at the ceiling, wishing there was more that she could do but realized this was time alone Angel needed. "I'm going to the promenade, Shea, in case Angel comes down and wants to know."
"Good hunting, Buffy."
Buffy didn't do much real patrolling as she strolled the promenade. Her mind was too occupied with thoughts of Angel and Connor. It was also hard patrolling a place she didn't know well. The advantage was definitely to the demons who lived here. She was staring out off the promenade at the bay, just thinking about how beautiful it was reflecting the silvery light of the fat moon, when she felt someone sidling up to her.
"It's a wonderful sight, isn't it?"
She turned, looking up at Angel, not really surprised he had come after her. "It really is." She slipped an arm around him. "How is Connor?"
"Asleep when I left. He didn't say anything more but that's all right. I know he will," Angel said, starting down the promenade with her.
"I'm sure you're right," she said, then her gaze swept back towards the clubs. "I haven't seen anything weird tonight."
Angel didn't answer her. He just tightened his grip around her waist. He led her to the end of the promenade. Buffy looked at the diving board that extended out into the bay.
"Do people really jump off that thing?"
"I think they're saying the bay's not safe to swim in any more. A shame really," he replied.
Buffy leaned against him. "Did you swim in it when you were Connor's age?"
"We didn't swim for fun back then, not like you do now." Angel laughed suddenly.
"I was just thinking the other night about me and Sean Athy, a friend of mine and how we nearly met our deaths in the Claddagh Quay when we were boys."
"What happened?" Buffy wasn't sure why that would be funny.
He smiled at her. "We were diving for mermaids."
"Mermaids?" She bit back a giggle.
"There's a stained glass window in St. Nicolas church with mermaids. If it was in the church, we were quite convinced it had to be real." Angel looked out over the water. "We never found our mermaids."
"Probably just as well. Don't they drown people or something?"
"I think those are sirens," he replied. "Maybe mermaids, too, though I don't think either are actually real."
Buffy wiggled out of his grip, turning to face him. She took his left hand, her fingers resting over his claddagh ring. "I'm so glad Connor's starting to get better, Angel. I'll admit, I didn't know what to think when I got here, about Connor, about all of it, but I'm glad he's starting to recover."
Buffy took a deep breath, reassuring herself she was about to do the right thing. "And I talked it over with Giles, I want to stay here with you for a while to help you and Giles and Shea to help Connor."
Angel's fingers intertwined with hers. "Are you sure?"
"Positive…" She swallowed nervously, not sure he wanted her to stay. She couldn't judge by his expression. "that is if you think I can be of help."
"You already have been." Angel pulled her to him, kissing her softly.
After the kiss, Buffy rested against him, looking out over the water. "Come on, there's something weird happening around here. You and I have to figure out what, just like old times."
He smiled at her. "Better than old times."
"I like that thought even more." Buffy sighed, feeling strangely at peace for the first time in a long while. Maybe she was doing a little healing of her own or maybe growing up, finding herself like she wanted to. Whatever else, Buffy knew she had made the right choice.
Author's Note - There is a third in the series planned but I don't have it started yet sadly.