There was a light under Wesley's office door, just as he knew it would be even at this late hour. What Angel didn't know, was what he would find on the other side.
It had been several hours since Wesley had smashed the Orlon Window and released the stolen memories about Connor. Angel had watched the growing horror on Wesley's face as those memories poured back into him with the force of water bursting from a cracked dam. It must have been the slideshow from hell. But there was no time to deal with it then as Connor was fighting for his life against Sahjahn, and Angel had rushed to help him. It turned out his assistance was unnecessary and Connor had been the one left standing, but when they came back out of the room, both Wesley and Illyria were gone.
Angel stood outside the closed door for a few moments, listening. There was silence apart from the sound of two heartbeats. Angel felt a growl bubble up in his throat. Illyria. Wesley's little helper. Fighting down his irritation with an effort, he slowly pushed open the door and walked in. The drapes were open to the night, and the only light in the office was a lamp casting a soft glow in a corner. He could see Wesley sitting in a chair beside his desk, his profile turned toward the window. There was no smell of whisky, but Angel hadn't expected any: when Wesley was feeling sorry for himself, he drank; when he was punishing himself, he stayed stone sober so as not to dull the pain.
Angel stopped a few feet inside the door. "Wes," he said quietly. "Can we talk?"
Almost immediately Illyria was in front of him, her cat-like grace allowing her to move as quickly and silently as he could. "You have come to punish Wesley for his disobedience?"
Angel saw Wesley's chin lift a bit as if he too was interested in the answer, if only in a detached way.
"No, I'm not here to punish Wesley," he said irritably. He does such a good job himself. "And this is a private conversation, which means you leave."
She stared at him with her blue, unblinking gaze. "I do not believe you, vampire."
"Well, you know what? I don't much care."
"Do you believe him, Wesley? Do you believe he has not come here to punish you or exact retribution for you betrayal?"
There was a long silence broken finally by the sound of Wesley's soft, gravelly voice. "I believe him."
When Illyria continued to stare challengingly at him, Angel shifted to look around her. "Wes, would you tell her to go?"
"Illyria goes where she goes," was Wesley's somewhat cryptic reply.
Grinding his teeth, Angel said flatly. "Fine. Then I'll put it this way. Get out."
Illyria turned her head slightly in Wesley's direction, and Angel knew she was speaking to Wesley, not him. "I leave because I choose to leave. And because Wesley has not asked me to stay."
"Leave because the sky is blue for all I care," Angel growled. "Just go."
Illyria gave him a long, disdainful look, then turned and strode silently from the room. When the door clicked softly behind her, Angel finally moved. He grabbed a nearby chair and dragged it over so it was facing Wesley, then he sat down and dipped his head, trying to get Wesley to meet his gaze.
"Wes? Are you okay? You're sitting here alone in the dark --"
"Illyria was here."
"Right. You were sitting here with Illyria, which makes all the difference." Angel rubbed his eyes, then said, "I just needed to know you're okay. You know, after what happened."
Wesley was silent for so long Angel wasn't sure he was going to get an answer. But then he asked, "Connor? Is he --?"
"Connor's fine," Angel answered quickly. "He's just fine. Sahjahn's dead. And Connor went home to his...family."
At this, Wesley finally looked up, his eyes bleak. "You're his family."
There wasn't a day since Angel had made the deal with Wolfram and Hart that he didn't think about Connor, wonder how he was, what he was doing, if he was happy. The initial searing pain of that loss had settled into a constant ache he carried with him every day. That ache had escalated once more into searing pain today when Connor walked out of his life again, and he quickly stomped down on the spark of anger that threatened to ignite at Wes' words. Neither one of them had had a particularly good day.
"I'm Connor's father," he said carefully. "Nothing will ever change that. But he has another family now, and it's the only family he remembers."
"I won't apologize for breaking the Orlon Window."
Angel said dryly, "Didn't expect you to." He wasn't about to apologize for changing reality to give Connor a normal life either. It occurred to him that he and Wesley seemed doomed to go through life not apologizing to one another. For a moment he thought wistfully of the days when their friendship wasn't this complicated or fraught with hidden pitfalls; when they didn't have altered prophecies, attempted murder or stolen memories between them.
"So you've been sitting here in the dark brooding about the bad times."
"Certainly not. I was merely reviewing my successes, now that I can remember them." Wesley paused. "That actually took up very little time."
Angel leaned closer, his voice intense, "You're not a failure, Wes."
There was a small, tight smile on Wesley's face. "And yet I seem to have a remarkable number of failures on my record. How does one explain that?"
"By pointing out you're human? By pointing out that as long as there's such a thing as free will, people are going to make mistakes? You made a mistake, Wes."
"I cost you your son, Angel."
"You thought you were saving his life. I get that now." Angel shifted in his chair; he'd been through this so many times in his mind, but yet he and Wesley had never had this conversation. There were so many times in the past year where he'd started to say something to Wesley and had to stop because he remembered in time that Wesley no longer had those memories. But now he did, and perhaps now was the time. There was no more burning fury, no more murderous rage; all that was left was a weariness and a sadness that things had gotten so screwed up. "The mistake you made wasn't in believing the prophecy; it was not telling anyone. It was taking it all on yourself, making that decision and not trusting your friends."
Wesley accepted that without comment. Again the silence stretched until he finally spoke again, his voice was quiet, but as raw as if he'd been screaming for hours. Perhaps he had been, in his head. "I knew you'd kill anyone who took Connor from you. I couldn't put Charles or Fred or Lorne in that kind of danger." He looked at Angel, his face expressionless. "And you did try."
Angel cocked his head. "Wes, if I'd wanted you dead, you'd be dead. And I wouldn't have used a pillow."
Wesley looked away, a thoughtful look on his face. "I did wonder about that...about why I was still alive. So why did you...?" He made a motion toward his face.
Angel shrugged. "At that moment I hated you. I wanted to hurt you in a way you'd never forget." He winced briefly at the irony of his words, but he knew he'd chosen the cruelest way possible to punish Wesley in that hospital room: he made sure Wesley knew that the man he'd dedicated himself to, the man he considered his closest friend, the man who represented the cause he'd aligned himself with, wanted him dead. "And I was hopped up on Connor's blood, I wasn't thinking straight --"
"What? What did you say?" Wesley seemed to have stopped breathing, and he was staring at Angel in horror. "Connor's blood?"
Quickly replaying the events in his mind, Angel remembered Wesley hadn't been there when the rest of them discovered Wolfram and Hart had spiked his blood supply with Connor's blood. And he doubted anyone had ever told Wesley about it. Wesley really did need to start breathing again, so Angel quickly explained how it came about that he'd been unknowingly drinking his son's blood.
Wesley stared at him a moment longer, and Angel could see he was remembering how Angel had been acting weird enough to give them all concern, especially someone who'd read a prophecy he was going to kill his own son. Then Wesley turned his gaze to the window and looked out into the night. "That the vampire will devour his child is certain," he said softly, as if he was quoting a poem. Then abruptly he giggled. "It's nice to know the Loa can be depended on."
The last time Angel had seen Wesley giggle like that was right before he decided to kidnap Connor, which meant he'd probably been in the throes of a nervous breakdown at the time after agonizing over the decision for days. He really didn't like the sound of that giggle or what it might mean. He cleared his throat. "Yeah, Fred told me about the Loa. About you going to see him. Those things can kill you, you know."
"Yes," Wesley answered absently, "I know. Very cranky, the Loa. Very high opinion of themselves, don't like to be bothered by mere humans."
"You knew this, and you still went off alone to see one? Wes, you could've been killed."
"Perhaps it would have been --"
"I swear, if the next words out of your mouth are 'for the best'..."
"You have to admit, it would have saved a lot of grief."
Angel shook his head vehemently. "No, I don't have to admit that. You think we wouldn't have grieved for you? You think you getting yourself killed wouldn't have left a hole in our lives we could have never filled?"
"I think," Wesley said slowly and carefully, "that Connor would have grown up with a father who loved him and not been taken to a hell dimension. I think Fred would still be alive. Perhaps even Cordelia would still be alive and Jasmine would have never been born." His voice grew husky. "Such a large price to pay for one insignificant life."
Angel had to hold himself back from his first response, which was to grab Wesley and shake some sense into him. That would have worked with the Wesley of a few years ago, the one who was broke and starving and told Angel he was his faithful servant and had looked at Angel with shining eyes when he told him about Shanshu. But it wouldn't work now with this brittle, damaged Wesley, the one who remembered stealing and losing Connor, cutting off the head of his dead lover, and bringing back Angelus. In fact if this Wesley had been standing near a window Angel would be swiftly tying a safety rope on him at this point. So instead of reacting with the anger and frustration that was bubbling inside him, Angel took a moment to tramp those emotions down and then spoke calmly to his friend.
"No, Wes, there's no guarantee that Fred, Cordelia or any one of us would still be alive. We don't have any way of knowing what other choices would have made a difference, what decisions any of us might have made that meant you or me or Fred or Gunn or Cordelia might have died. We could sit here and play What If all day long, but it won't mean anything because in the end, Connor is with another family, Cordelia and Fred are dead, and we're alive, and we have to live with that." Wesley made no reply; he merely got to his feet and walked over to the window, staring out into the night. Remembering his earlier thought, Angel quickly got to his feet and joined him. "I suppose while you were sitting here in the dark -- with Illyria -- you were busy obsessing over some memories and ignoring others, right?"
Wesley frowned but didn't turn his head to look at Angel. "What?"
"Did you remember spending three months searching the Pacific Ocean, trying to find where my son had buried me at sea? Or bringing me up and feeding me your own blood because I was starving?"
"I remember keeping a woman chained in my closet," Wesley said softly, "and Fred saying she could see I didn't care any more."
"Do you remember doing an investigation into what happened to Cordelia and coming up with the only lead we ever got?"
"I remember Charles asking what happened to me, and I told him I had my throat cut and my friends abandoned me."
Angel sighed. "Wes, did you just skip over all the reasonably happy memories and go right for the ones that would hurt the most?"
"Well, stop it," Angel ordered irritably. "If you've got your memories back now, then you remember me coming to find you after you got me out of the ocean." He threw Wesley an accusing look. "Since you didn't bother to stick around after dropping me off at the Hyperion."
"Didn't think I'd be welcome," Wesley murmured.
"Are all Watchers this thick-headed?"
"Most likely bred into us."
"It wouldn't surprise me." Suddenly Angel turned toward him and took him by the shoulders. He felt the faint flinch of surprise thrum through Wesley and kept his grip carefully gentle as he turned the other man to face him. "My point was, by the time I tracked you to that alley, I'd already forgiven you. Do you remember that?"
Wesley's answer was a whispered, "Yes."
"And we worked together after that and eventually you came back on the team. When my son was trapped at Wolfram and Hart with the Beast, you were the one who found out and got us in there so we could save him. You were the one who found the way to stop Jasmine. If you're going to dwell on your memories, then dwell on those." He dropped his hands from Wesley's shoulders. "I won't apologize about changing reality," he said in a seeming non-sequitur.
"Didn't expect you do," Wesley murmured with a hint of dryness in his tone.
"I did what I thought I had to do for Connor. He deserved a chance at a normal life."
"No one can argue with that."
Angel gazed at him for a long moment, trying to read the answers in his carefully neutral face. "So where does that leave us, Wes? You and me?"
Wesley looked as though he seriously considered the question before replying, "I believe it leaves us with our record intact for not apologizing."
Angel conceded that, but offered, "You know, I think the reason neither one of us can apologize for what we did is that we both thought we were doing the right thing."
Wesley gazed at him steadily. "No, Angel. We both knew what we were doing was wrong, but we thought we were doing it for the right reason."
"So aside from the apology record, where does that leave us?" Angel hesitated a moment, then asked, "Are you staying?"
Wesley looked surprised. "I hadn't thought of leaving."
"Good," Angel said swiftly, relieved. "Because I need you here, Wes. I want you here."
Some of the tension seemed to leave Wesley then, and for a moment Angel saw the young, idealistic ex-Watcher who had first joined Angel Investigations. "I've always been on your side, Angel."
There was a part of Angel that was secretly relieved Wesley now knew the truth now about Connor; but there was another part of him mourning that Wesley had that burden to carry with him along with the others that were weighing him down. He hadn't had those painful memories when he came to Wolfram and Hart, and Angel could see that he'd been happier, more relaxed and confident in his decisions. Now all that was ripped away from him and he was dealing with his grief over Fred's death, the presence of Illyria, and his turbulent memories of Connor. He felt fresh worry wash over him as he looked at the person who had fought by his side for so long, endured so much, and in some ways seemed more fragile now than when he'd ridden into Los Angeles claiming to be a rogue demon hunter. "I know you have, Wes."
A ghost of a smile touched Wesley's lips for the briefest moment before he turned away. "I should check on Illyria."
Angel lightly caught his arm as he went by. "She can amuse herself for a while. Why don't you take a break? You don't have to spend every minute with her."
"We should keep track of her movements."
"I'll put Spike on it."
Wesley looked uncertain for a moment, then slowly nodded. "All right. She can be rather...wearing."
And Wesley looked worn, not to mention a little disconnected from the world around him. Angel considered ordering him home for at least eight hours of sleep but then immediately dismissed the thought. Wesley alone in his apartment tonight sounded like a recipe for disaster. He may not be the perfect choice of a companion for Wesley tonight, but he knew he was the only choice, and besides, he found he didn't want to leave Wesley out of his sight at the moment. Angel moved toward the door, bringing Wesley with him.
"My place," he said briskly, as if it hadn't been far too long since he'd asked Wesley to join him for food or drinks or just some quiet talk to unwind. "We can do Chinese or...I still do eggs."
"Eggs?" Wesley asked, sounding confused.
"Yeah, you remember eggs, right?" Angel gently led him outside the office and into the corridor.
Wesley's expression softened, and Angel knew from the look in his eyes that he was remembering sitting at the table with Cordelia, squabbling amiably as they passed a plate of toast. "Yes, I remember eggs. And toast."
"I'd never forget the toast," Angel assured him. Tonight they'd spend time remembering some of those good memories, and hopefully making some new ones for Wesley to hold onto in the future, just in case he needed them.