First he says, “I need your help,” and she can scarcely believe it, because she’s always known that Angel’s the kind of guy who’d rather burn to dust than ask someone else for help. Even her. Especially her. She’s suspected in the past that one of Angel’s favorite things about her was how very vulnerable she could be around him, and how easily he could take care of her because of it.
Then he shuffles out the bundle he’s been holding under his jacket, and disbelief gives way to shock, because there’s an actual gurgling baby under there, squinting up at her through near-newborn eyes. “Who is he?” she asks, and Angel shifts uncomfortably.
“His parents are dead,” he says finally, and she wonders what he’s hiding, what’s happened to the baby’s parents that he doesn’t want to tell her. Then the baby makes a sound and he glances down, suddenly awed, and she can see the fatherly pride emerging.
“You’ve caught the daddy bug,” she observes dryly, and when he looks up at her, his gaze is pained and uncomfortable and there’s an impossible suspicion bubbling up within her. “Angel?”
“He’s mine,” he admits, looking away. “His name is Connor. Darla…she…” He haltingly explains his descent into darkness the year before and she listens impassively, unwilling to show him her reaction until she’s figured it out herself. He had been driven insane by a malicious enemy. But she spent time not a week before beating a man who loved her to near-death in an alley, and she’s still unable to explain to herself why.
“What do you want me to do?” she asks him blankly as his story comes to a close. “I can’t come back with you and fight off these lawyers. I have Dawn, and a job, and-“
“Keep him safe here,” Angel whispers, and his hand is on hers, guiding it over to rest on the baby. “They won’t come out here for him, not for a while. They know better than to mess with a slayer.”
She blinks at him, ignoring the tingling in her hand as he rubs the pad of his thumb against the back of it. “Let me get this straight. You want me to take care of yours and Darla’s lovechild? Me? I can barely take care of Dawn. I'm one of those people who make babies cry when they look at them. Hell, I broke my egg in Sex Ed class!”
“It was a demon,” Angel points out.
“So not the point.” She shakes her head. “I’m not a mother. I can’t be a mother. Can’t you just...” Her voice trails off as she considers his options. There weren’t many.
“Please,” he murmurs, and she notices suddenly that she’s been inching closer to him the whole time, and now she’s standing face-to-chest with him, just inches away from Connor. “Buffy, please, do this for me. I can’t let him be hurt, or taken, or…”
“He’s so tiny,” she says, watching a little hand wave upwards. “How am I ever going to take care of him?”
Connor’s laughing for the first time, Buffy reports to him two weeks later. He calls every day- sometimes twice, three times, even- but until now, it’s never felt so painful to be far from him. Now, he listens over the phone and swallows his silent misery while Connor lets out a happy little burp as Dawn blows raspberries on his stomach and Buffy laughs at both of them. But it’s reassuring to hear her laugh as it is to hear Connor, enough so to break his depression. She’s been so dull and unfocused the past two times he’s seen her, so empty since her death and resurrection. And in a way, he’s glad that Connor is away from hi', that the baby can be there with her now and give her the life she’s desperately been needing.
Their first suspicious visitor arrives at the Summers house less than a month after Connor, a woman named Justine who pretends to be from social services and instead tries to make a dash for the door with the baby. Buffy fights her off and knocks her out, and Angel comes to bring the woman back to the Hyperion to interrogate her.
This time, Buffy offers him a drink and they sit on the couch together, holding an ice pack against Connor’s forehead where he was injured in Justine’s escape. They’re both so breakable, woman and child, struggling against a world that tries only to harm them. He wants nothing more than to keep them with him at all times, to stop the pain and suffering and give them what they deserve.
Instead, he rises unsteadily, kisses first Connor, then Buffy, on the forehead, and promises that he’ll be in touch. He’s like a beacon of danger, attracting even more grief to them, and it’s his duty to leave, to keep them safe.
The next time he returns to Revello Drive is strictly business. He’s heard a rumor that Lilah has been rerouted to Sunnydale, and he’s not about to let her get her claws into Buffy and Connor without a fight. He makes it as far as the front yard when he crashes into Spike, who’s holding a stuffed animal and whistling jauntily as he heads toward the door.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he demands through gritted teeth.
Spike shrugs carelessly. “Visiting the little one. What’s the absentee dad doing here for a change? Off for a quickie with Buffy?” His words are hostile, but his eyes are soft and pained when he mentions her, and Angel makes the connection instantly.
He swings Spike around to crush him against the side of a tree, enraged. “You bastard!” he hisses angrily. “You’re in love with her!” The idea of it infuriates him, that something so perverse could ever come close enough to Buffy to be affected by her.
But Spike just gives him a sad sort of smile and murmurs, “Aren’t we all?”
He glares at Spike threateningly, hating Drusilla’s get more than ever before. “If you’ve touched her…”
“I haven’t,” Spike retorts, then reconsiders. “Well, not anymore.” He rubs his jaw thoughtfully. “I thought I could give her what she needed. But don’t worry, you great lummox,” he finishes brightly. "Your thing was better.” He flashes him a sardonic grin before he pulls away and stalks into the house.
When he asks Buffy about it, she shrugs uncomfortably. “We were. It’s over now. I was…I was lost," she admits. "But I figured it out. We’re just friends now.” The light is back in her eyes as she watches Spike and Dawn play peek-a-boo with Connor, and when he rests a hand on the small of her back and she leans into him, he decides that fighting over the Spike situation isn’t worth losing this perfect peace.
He’s been visiting too often now that they’ve taken care of Holtz and Wesley’s healing from his misguided attempt to kidnap Connor from Buffy. (The Summers women are like lionesses guarding their cub, and his former friend had never expected Dawn with a poorly aimed crossbow to be his undoing.) It’s getting dangerous, being around Connor and Buffy all the time, but he can’t resist the temptation anymore, not when Cordelia and Groo are off on another vacation and Fred and Gunn have become so nauseatingly couple-y that he can barely stand to be in the Hyperion anymore.
He camps out on Buffy’s couch one night and talks to Willow for a while about her own battle with temptation while he rocks Connor to sleep. When he goes upstairs to move him to his crib, though, he comes face-to-face with Buffy, just out of the shower and wrapped in nothing but a towel.
There are rivulets of water slipping down tanned shoulders, sliding along the curve of her neck and joining together to trace a line to her breast. He’s frozen, his eyes wandering from that spot to her face, fresh and clear, from her long, shapely legs back to the swell of her breasts, just barely visible above the towel. He swallows, turns around sharply, and walks to Buffy’s room to set Connor down in the crib.
He hears her sigh. “Ang-“ Then he’s back in front of her, seizing her to him and kissing her senseless as the towel falls to the ground, he caught in the taste and feel of her all over again. He licks up the water and is suckling at one breast when he finally gains control of himself again and remembers who he is, and what he can never do.
Buffy sits down on her bed shakily, pulling her blanket over her exposed body. “Whoa.”
“Yeah.” He doesn’t sit beside her. He doesn’t trust himself around her, and he’s let himself forget that far too often lately. “Maybe I should go.”
“No,” she says quickly, flushing a little. “Stay. Please?”
She dresses quickly and he sits beside her, up against the headboard, silent. Connor shuffles a little and they turn to watch him as one, laughing together at their own fascination with the baby.
“I love you,” she says sleepily from beside him.
She shrugs. “I’ve been…I haven’t been sure that I did anymore. That I could love anyone.” He watches her worriedly. None of this is a surprise, but he’s never heard her admit it before. “But you and Connor…you brought me back.” She kisses him lightly on the cheek. “I love you two so much.”
His heart is swelling with joy to hear it again, to know that his Buffy is finally herself, that their love is still real and true. It’s wonderful, it's heaven, it's…well, it’s perfect-
And then his heart is swelling with something very different, and he’s crying out in horror as his soul is torn from him.
It’s been almost three years since he’s seen them, three years he’s spent wandering the world in search of salvation. The PTB fought it, of course, made it clear that his mission was in LA, but he’s finally learned how to tell them to go screw themselves and do good where he deems it necessary. He’s no longer tempted by their empty promises of humanity. It’s time to stop caving to others’ ideas of his future and make his own destiny.
And his destiny is entangled in theirs, with the happiness they can bring each other. So he hunts down lead after lead, chases clue after clue, until he finally finds the elders of the Kalderash clan. They’re not happy about helping him, but the threat of Angelus is even more distasteful to them and they finally make him whole, incorruptible.
He wonders if it’s been too long, if Connor will look at him as a stranger, if Spike finally got what he wanted and Buffy barely remembers him anymore. He knows that none of that can stop him, not when he’s traveled to the end of the world and back for the two of them.
He senses a slayer the moment he steps into the front yard, and smells Spike and female arousal a moment later. He knocks, tense-
-And Faith opens the door, startled. “Angel! You've gotta be kidding me!" She punches him on the arm, friendly and just close enough to make him uncomfortable. It's classic Faith, and that's enough to convince him that he isn't imagining this and she's really here.
Spike regards him seriously, and there's still the pain of inaccessible love on his face. "She's upstairs," he says quietly. "She's waited for you."
He nods shortly, and he finds that he's oddly grateful to the other vampire for watching out for Buffy all this time. He doesn't say anything, of course. That's not their style.
Upstairs, all the signs of a child are present, and his heart pounds with trepidation as he hears low voices and splashing from the bathroom. He nearly trips over a Fisher-Price truck and stumbles into the room with the crayon markings all over the lower three feet of the door, and he nearly chokes when he sees Connor's room.
There's a photograph on the dresser, blown up to double size and encased in a macaroni frame, and it's his face peering out at the room. "Daddy?"
He turns and sees a child of about four years standing in the doorway, his eyes his mother's blue and regarding him quizzically. The boy glances over at the image and back at him. "Daddy?" he repeats.
Behind him stands Buffy, her hand over her mouth and tears pouring freely from her eyes. He reaches out to both of them and they run into his arms as one, burying themselves in his embrace.
He has to fight back his own tears as he clutches them close. "I'm home," he whispers. "I'm home."