It’s only when they can no longer touch that they realize how much they want to.
When Angel comes back to the crumbled building of Wolfram & Hart, calling it his home, and collapses on the floor or the medical table or sometimes even his bed, Wesley always treats him. He heals him. He watches over him. He doesn’t dress the wound with long, careful fingers. He doesn’t soothe the pain by rubbing soft circles around the bruises.
After Wesley has been punished by the Senior Partners for not fulfilling his role as conduit to its fullest extent – meaning he has assisted Angel in some manner, as opposed to simply spying on him and hindering his progress – and is left shaking and wondering how a non-corporeal being can be forced to feel excruciating pain, Angel rushes toward him. He sees instantly what’s wrong. But he can’t put an arm around Wesley’s shoulders and lead him to a seat. He can’t squeeze Wesley’s arm and show his support.
When Angel falls ill from the blast of a curse, Wesley sets about instructing him in the ingredients to cure himself. They mix a foul smelling concoction and Angel drinks it down. But the mixture will not set in for hours yet and Angel is left with, essentially, a bad case of the flu. Wesley should lay his hand on Angel’s forehead and check his temperature as Angel tosses and turns in bed, throwing off his covers. He should massage the sore, tense muscles in Angel’s back. He should be able to do something.
Wesley’s collar is always straight. His suit is always meticulous. When one has no corporeal body, it can’t get messy, Angel guesses. But Angel misses the days when he would reach out and fix an untucked edge of Wesley’s shirt. He misses clapping Wes on the shoulder and getting one of those smiles that were just for him, for Angel.
When they’re sitting side by side in front of the fire that was already ablaze when they arrived on the scene, they’re arms brush. Not really, of course. Wesley’s arm goes right through Angel’s. They both wish it were different. Wesley wants the warmth. He wants to feel what this new version of Angel has to offer. Angel just wants someone who knows the truth about him, who is there for him, who he doesn’t have to hide from. He wants Wes.
One day they work across the table from one another. Yet another futile research attempt. Angel turns the pages for the both of them. Wesley translates what Angel cannot read. Angel watches Wesley’s lips move. They’re heads lean closer together then they ever have in the past. There’s no danger now. No risk of the kiss they shouldn’t take. They shouldn’t ruin their friendship. They shouldn’t push their relationship. Now they never will.
One night Wesley slips onto the bed next to Angel. Angel has invited him. They talk for hours. It is more than they’ve said to each other in years. It is more than they ever could have said had they been anywhere but here. Here they will not move forward. They will not turn to each other and intertwine arms and legs. They won’t slip hands beneath clothes. They won’t make love and find one moment of happiness in hell.
One way or another, they are about to die. Not become ghosts, not return to vampirism. They will be gone. Wesley tells Angel what he needs to hear. This time, it is the truth. Being your friend and fighting by your side has been an honor. When Wesley reaches out and lays his palm upon Angel’s shoulder, fingers curling around muscle, Angel cannot feel it. He shouldn’t even notice. But he does and for that moment they feel each other in every way that matters.