Chapter 34

I had some computer problems and had to wait for new parts to come in. I apologize for taking so long to update this, but my computer wouldn't turn on for over a week! Then, I moved and that took a lot of time and energy. I hope everyone will still want to read this!

Angel rubbed his eyes for a while and then let his head fall back. Connor had come downstairs for a time and let Angel make him some food, but the young man hadn't been very enthusiastic about eating. Sighing heavily, Angel had watched his son drag himself back upstairs and presumably into bed.

Cleaning dishes and wiping down the countertops gave Angel something productive to do. He had to stay with his son, but the feelings of uselessness were pervasive. Angel wanted to be doing something, he wanted to find who was torturing his son and beat them thoroughly. He wanted to prowl the streets for information and act violently towards anything or anyone that got in his way.

He couldn't do any of those things, though. Connor was barely functioning, and Buffy had dragged herself upstairs, into the shower, and into bed when she returned home. She was more emotionally exhausted than physically, Angel knew. Her body could endure much more than she currently was, but her mind was tired of the constant barrage of stress.

Buffy was worried about her baby. Angel was aware that even though Buffy denied any anxiety about the seemingly amazing powers of their offspring, she was deeply troubled by the myriad unknowns surrounding their baby. The combined stressors of her near death experience and the danger her baby had been in, the newly discovered powers of their child, and Angel's stress related to Connor had taken their toll on the woman. She needed time to recharge her batteries, and Angel was going to give her that time. He was not about to wake her simply to talk about his feelings. She needed to rest, for herself and for the baby.

Looking at his watch, he sighed again. Will had said he would call with new information, but so far the phone had been silent. The last time Angel had talked to his friend Will was about to let off steam patrolling. Angel was slightly envious at that. Making his way onto the patio, he unbuttoned his shirt. Laying the garment on a patio chair, he slipped his shoes and socks off. Taking deep breaths Angel started the first of the dance like movements of tai chi.

Breathing deeply throughout his movements, he turned and pivoted slowly and gracefully. Concentrating on keeping his weight bearing knee bent, he went through a series of circular movements, concentrating on far reaching and open handed strikes. His nerves were raw, his emotions felt scattered. Thoughts had been racing through his mind since he had first seen Connor at the police station. His learned coping mechanisms, until now, had been working, but he was finding that it was more and more difficult to release frustration through self harm.

His movements became faster and his arms struck out with ferocity and grace. His movements quickly transformed into fast, short bursts of speed that were circular and beautiful yet violent at the same time. Angel continued through the movements until his nose caught a scent that he would never fail to recognize.

He slowed and then stopped, turning to see the mother of his unborn child. She was in sweatpants and a tank top, her hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail, and she was as beautiful to him as anything he had ever seen. Taking a deep breath and wiping some sweat from his brow, he didn't even try to give her a reassuring smile. She wouldn't buy it if he tried to sell it.

"You don't look very good."

He didn't respond to her. He knew that she was staring into him, and anything he said, if not entirely truthful, would be immediately deciphered. Her gaze left him naked and exposed, and he chose to stay silent instead, fearing what she would hear if he allowed himself to speak.

"Come inside. The air conditioning's much nicer than being out here. I feel like I'm back in Africa. Only I wasn't pregnant then so I didn't mind as much." She turned on her heel and walked into the living room, knowing that he would follow.

They sat together on the couch, staring vacantly into space. It seemed there wasn't much they could say to each other in that moment, but Buffy somehow managed to find words to fill to silence.

"Connor can survive this. He might not survive it well, or totally intact, but he will survive it. He'll be okay eventually, Angel. I know he can find himself again, find his true purpose in life; find the meaning of why he's on this planet. Loosing everyone, so violently, that will devastate him completely for a long time. But he won't always be devastated. It's you I'm worried about. You look…dead inside sometimes. What's going on, Angel?"

His breath caught. She was calling him out and he had no truthful response for her. "I'm not dead inside."

She sighed heavily and shifted in her seat to face him slightly. "I know that. You just don't always have to be the strong one, Angel. You don't always have to be the hero. You are most of the time, and you don't have to try to be. You just are. But sometimes you're not and that's okay. It's okay to take a break."

"How can I do that? Connor is basically catatonic. He needs me right now. I can't take a break."

"None of us ever really can. I mean, there is always a crisis. This one is bigger than most, bigger than world saving. This is your son. I get that, Angel, I really do. But, you don't always have to have the strong face. Not with me. You can be real with me, Angel, I won't judge you."

He sat for along time, staring at the wall in front of him. He was so used to saving everyone else he didn't think he had the energy to take time for himself. He was too used to solving the problems of the world that he wasn't sure if he could solve his own. He wasn't even sure what his problems were. How was he to fix something if he didn't know what exactly was broken, he asked himself.

"Buffy….I'm just overwhelmed. Connor needs me, and I'm glad that I can be there for him. This was…I can't imagine what he's going through. And the baby…and you. And…I'm just a little overwhelmed. That's all."

"Yeah, and I'm the pope. There's something you're not telling me, but you never tell me anything until you're good and ready, so I won't press that. But there is more to this than you being overwhelmed. What's going on?"

"It's my fault." The words tumbled out of his mouth faster than he could control them. "It's my fault. If Connor wasn't my son, his family would be alive. And our baby will be in danger forever because it's ours. Everything I touch, everything I'm around, turns to dust. It's all my fault. I should have given him up entirely. I shouldn't have kept that book, he would be with his family safe and sound and happy. But I was selfish and I got innocent people killed."

She gaped at him. "You have some serious issues. It's not your fault. We don't know that your book had anything to do with Connor's family. Whoever killed them may not even want to hurt you, Angel. Connor is a force for good, even though he isn't active right now. Maybe someone wants to turn him. It could have nothing to do with you."

"His life being screwed up is my fault in the first place. Everything…it was all my fault. He would be a happy little kid right now if I didn't screw up and he didn't go to hell for the majority of his life. I mean…Buffy…" His sentence died on the wind as he ran out of energy to speak.

Connor's life was his fault; Cordelia's recent return to this plane was his fault, though he could never tell Buffy that. Buffy couldn't know that Cordelia was back. No one could. He knew what they would think, how he would be judged, and he wasn't ready for that. Besides, he reasoned, Cordy needed her time and space.

"Angel, you are either bossing everyone around with your type A personality, acting like the emperor of the universe, or you're beating yourself up and thinking about how worthless you are. You need to see a shrink. I mean, there has to be a middle in that spectrum where you can live."

Sighing, Angel realized that he had never fully gotten over his perceived rejection by Buffy. He was still carrying that hurt around with him even though she was with him and pregnant with his child. Logically, he knew she loved him, but he also still remembered the devastation he felt when he thought she didn't. It was difficult to forget that kind of pain, he realized.

Nodding slowly, he reached across the couch and pulled her closer to him. Laying his hand on her protruding belly, he whispered to his son, still growing inside the woman he loved. He whispered too low for Buffy to hear, but he felt the tension in her body melt away as rubbed his hand across her stomach.

Lifting his head, he put his lips to hers in a touchingly passionate way. "I love you. I'm okay, Buffy. Right now, I'm okay. We'll be okay. I promise."

Smiling, she stroked his hair. "I know we'll be okay. We're together."

Pulling himself from the couch, he put his arm around her and they ascended the steps. They were going to need their energy for the days ahead. Connor would need support, murderers would need to be brought to justice, and their family would need camaraderie. Angel would need his strength to deal with the coming days and weeks, and he was starting to realize that he could get that strength, not only from himself, but from those who loved him.