Actions

Work Header

Homeless

Chapter Text

Angel kept an eye on Lilah as they walked through Wolfram & Hart. He was distracted, and he knew it, so he was making a real effort to pay attention to what she was saying, waiting for the casual talk to turn into something more complicated.

"Money, clothes, women," Lilah said. "Did I mention we have a juice bar?"

Angel frowned. "This is what you came back from the dead for? To play 'Let's Make an Evil Deal'?"

They arrived at their destination, a very large office with double doors. "Show him what's behind door number one, Bob," she said, opening the door. "I know it's not much, but the Taj Mahal was a bit of a commute."

Looking around, Angel said, "Hmm. What, am I supposed to swoon? It's an office." Actually, it was a really nice office, but it wasn't like he was going to admit that.

Lilah gestured like a game show hostess. "With your own private elevator. Care to take it for a spin?"

"What's it gonna do, huh? Drop me in a vat of holy water?"

"I was pushing for that, but they went with the motor pool. Figured you'd like to stay mobile, what with all that rushing out to save the day you're so fond of." Lilah looked irritatingly pleased with herself.

Angel smirked. "Thanks, but I already have a car."

"Now you have twelve."

"What am I gonna do with twelve cars?" Angel asked.

"Anything you want. That's the point," Lilah said. "Or haven't you been listening?"

"I have, and, uh, I'm done now." He could feel the seconds ticking away, seconds that he could have been using to search for Connor, who was still out there somewhere, in trouble. Talking with Lilah was just wasting his time.

"Wait," Lilah said. "I forgot to show you the best part. You're gonna love this." She picked up a remote that was sitting on a small table and pressed a button, and the shades over the windows started to slide to the side, letting sunlight pour into the room.

Instinctively, Angel put his hands up to shield his face, backing away from the wall of windows that was being revealed, but - "I'm... not bursting into flames."

Lilah smiled smugly. "Nope." She tapped on the window. "Necro-tempered glass. The whole building's fitted with it. Helps keep those uplifting, wholesome rays from charbroiling the boss, and thirty percent more energy efficient." Looking at Angel, she added, "Feels even better when you're naked. I could turn around."

"Close it," Angel said.

"Promise I won't peek," Lilah said. She opened her mouth to add something else, but Angel beat her to the punch.

"Close it," he said.

Lilah sighed and picked up the remote again, pushing the button that made the shades start closing. "Good-bye, Mr. Sunshine. Hello, Gloomy Avenger."

"Make that good-bye," Angel told her. "I'm not taking the job."

"It's not a job. It's an opportunity," Lilah said.

"Oh, an opportunity to be part of the problem. No." Wondering why he'd even bothered, Angel turned to go.

"Angel - "

He didn't wait to hear the rest of her sentence.

He managed to find his way back to the lobby where they'd come in, which was still crowded with people who seemed to know him, something he found irritating. He didn't want to leave without telling anyone; the last thing any of them needed was to be stuck in Wolfram & Hart any longer than they had to be. Unless they wanted to be, which was something Angel wasn't sure he was ready to deal with.

Ignoring the cheerful greetings sent his way by various Wolfram & Hart employees as they hurried past, Angel stood off to the side and waited. It was at least fifteen minutes before Lorne came back. He was singing and looking pretty damned pleased with himself. "Could be...who knows? There's something due any day -- I will know right away, soon as it shows..."

Angel tried to refrain from rolling his eyes as Fred joined them and was whisked into a dance by Lorne, who kept right on singing. None of the Wolfram & Hart employees seemed to care or even notice.

"You know, I mean, it's unbelievable," Lorne said. "Secrets of the universe, like, Siegfried, evil. Roy? Not so much. Oh, and balance? Very, very important." He spun Fred out, her hair spinning in a circle, and she twirled right into Wesley.

"Oops," Fred said apologetically, backing up. "Guess we're all straggling back, some more straggly-like than others. Are you...?"

Wesley definitely looked off. Distracted, if nothing else. Then again, he'd been looking off for quite a while, now. "Just, uh... a lot to take in."

The elevator off to Angel's right gave an electronic chime, and Gunn stepped out, his expression focused and determined.

Fred blinked. "You look... did they make you taller?"

"I'm doing this," Gunn said, apparently not in the mood to beat around the bush. "Hope it's not just me, but if it is, that's all right, too."

Angel felt more than a little bit stunned. Part of him, he had to admit, had just assumed that they'd all be on the same page. "Fred?"

She nodded. "There's... with these kinds of resources, there are so many things we could do. People we could help."

"She has a point," Lilah said, appearing at Angel's elbow with a package in her hand.

"We're not talking about this again," Angel told her. "I said no. I meant it."

"But, Angelcakes - " Lorne started.

"I'm not talking about it," Angel said, frowning. "We're all individuals. Any of you can take the deal, if that's what you want. Or do what I'm going to do and walk away. It's up to you. But I've already made my decision."

"He didn't even wait to see the wide-screen in his office," Lilah said with the same cheerful smile that even death and dismemberment hadn't been able to remove.

"Have you given it enough thought?" Wesley asked. At Angel's look, he clarified, "Not the television; Wolfram & Hart. Fred's right about the resources we'd have at our disposal here." He didn't seem certain, though, not like Gunn or even Fred, and there was a distinct furrow between his brows.

"I don't need to give it any more thought," Angel said. "I'm leaving."

"Not without this, champ," Lilah said, handing Angel the package she'd been holding.

He opened it. Inside was a file - the words 'apocalyptic battle' and 'Sunnydale' caught his eye - and a shiny amulet that would have rivaled anything Elizabeth Taylor wore.

"That chic little gem comes with the file," Lilah said. "Apparently, it's crucial for some kind of riveting final battle, like the one going on up Sunnydale way." She shrugged. "A bit gauche for my taste, but, hey, not a Slayer."

Angel stuffed the amulet back into the package. "Buffy can handle herself."

"Not without that," Lilah said.

"Fine. Then we get it to her." Fred was standing closest, so Angel gave the package to her. "Can you make sure Buffy gets this?"

Frowning slightly, Fred nodded. "Sure," she said.

"Well, even if Angel's being even a bigger wet blanket than usual, at least the rest of you are staying," Lilah said with another of her annoying smiles.

"I'm not." Wesley met Lilah's eyes, his expression grim.

"What?" Fred asked.

Wesley glanced over at her. "I'm not staying. I'm not going to work here."

"But think of all the books they must have," Lorne said. "All those years you had to go to those dusty and depressing second-hand shops, and now they'd be right at your fingertips."

"As impressive as their library is," Wesley said, and Angel detected a definite note of wistfulness in his voice, "it's not the place for me."

Angel couldn't help but feel hopeful at that; sure, Connor was out there, God only knew where, and he still needed to find Cordelia, but at least he'd have someone with him.

Maybe.

"Well, no hard feelings," Lilah said, in that falsely cheerful voice she used so well. "The car's waiting to take you back."

"I can't believe you two are just gonna walk away from all this," Gunn said, shaking his head. "Think of everything we could do with this place behind us."

"I am," Wesley replied flatly.

Gunn's expression grew less friendly, and he squared his shoulders. "What's that supposed to mean? What do you think we're going to do?"

"Boys, boys," Lorne broke in. "There's no need to fight."

"No, working here's a free choice." Lilah caught Wesley's gaze again, and Angel saw something soft in her eyes for the first time he could remember.

After a moment, Wesley looked away. "And I'm not taking it."

"Okay, well..." Fred trailed off, obviously at a loss as to what to do next.

"We'll talk soon," Angel said, because it seemed like they should. "I've got stuff to do." He looked at Wesley, hoping Wesley would say something to indicate whether he was going to stick with him or go off on his own.

Wesley was next to unreadable, however, as he asked in a neutral tone of voice, "Would you like some assistance?"

Angel looked at him for a couple of long seconds as he tried to judge the offer; then he nodded. "Yeah. Thanks."

Sliding his hands into his pockets was Wesley's only reply.

"You know how to reach us if you need us," Fred said to Angel.

"Just call the main number," Lilah said helpfully. "They'll be happy to transfer you."

"Right," Angel said. What he wanted, at that point, was to get out of there before Lilah had a chance to say anything else. He'd be pretty damned close to perfectly happy if he never had to see her again. "Come on," he said to Wesley and started for the elevator.

With one last look at their friends, Wesley followed him, falling into step beside him. He seemed to be thinking about something and was quiet as they crossed the lobby, but when he reached out to press the down button, he said, "I assume you're going to look for Connor?"

"Yeah. I don't even know where to start, but I have to find him." Angel thought he'd never forget the look on Connor's face after he'd killed Jasmine. It made his gut ache, and it took him a few seconds to realize that it was a literal ache. Damned demon and its giant claw thing.

As they stepped into the opening elevator, Wesley gave him a measuring look, the sort that had always made Angel a bit uncomfortable, but answered with a simple, "Perhaps if we go to where you last saw him we'll find some clue."

Angel nodded. "Okay, yeah. Except there's that whole sunlight thing to contend with." He turned to push the button on the inside wall of the elevator and winced as the healing hole in his gut tore at the movement.

"I'm sure the limousine can - " Wesley frowned and finished his sentence in what Angel had to assume was a different fashion from what he had originally planned. " - take us back to the hotel so that we can be sure that your wounds are healing before we go searching for Connor."

"I'm okay," Angel lied. "But actually, yeah, I'd like to get away from anything that smacks of Wolfram & Hart as soon as we can, and that includes the limo." It was a pity, really, since having someone to drive them around might have come in handy, but he didn't need Wolfram & Hart tracking his movements quite so easily. "You sure this is what you want to do?"

Wesley watched the numbers count down on the elevator's display. "It's not the first time Wolfram & Hart has offered me a job," he replied. "If we had all decided to stay, I might have been willing, but..." He met Angel's eyes again. "I have no desire to be here."

There was something there that deserved comment, Angel knew, but he was so distracted, had so many thoughts going on in his head, that he couldn't figure out what to say. He felt off, unbalanced, like his legs were unnaturally heavy. Getting off his feet seemed like a really good idea all of a sudden.

"You're not all right," Wesley said, putting his hand on Angel's arm and attempting to guide him to lean against the wall. "Is there blood at the hotel?"

Angel tried to think. "Yeah. Some." He'd had some last night, but probably not enough, plus he really hadn't slept at all. No wonder he was running on empty.

"We'll start with that. I can get more if you need it." The elevator dinged, and the doors slid open. "Come on." Wesley used one hand to hold the door open and extended the other toward Angel, offering help if Angel wanted to take it.

"I'm okay," Angel said again, hoping that Wesley would understand that he needed to walk out of there on his own.

They made their way through the tiny garage lobby and the next set of doors to where the limousine was waiting. Angel sank down onto the leather seat with a sigh of relief, moving his legs out of the way so Wesley could get in, too.

Wesley ducked into the car and settled onto the seat perpendicular to Angel's. "Far more comfortable than traveling through the sewers," he remarked, running one hand lightly over the soft leather. "I can see why they wanted it."

"Easier isn't always better," Angel said. He leaned his head back against the seat, not slouching because he could tell that would just make his gut ache more.

"No," Wesley agreed, returning his hand to his lap. The word sounded faintly bitter, but his voice was even again when he said, "When we get back to the hotel, I can make some calls to try to narrow down our search. Assuming any of my contacts are still in the city after everything that's happened."

Again, Angel knew that he should respond to that, but it didn't feel like his brain was working enough to think of anything to say. He kept flashing back to the look on Connor's face last night, so blank, so hopeless...

Wesley stayed silent, the muffled sounds of the car filling up the empty space between them.

When they got to the Hyperion, Angel asked the driver to pull around back where it'd be easier for him to avoid the sunlight, and the driver just murmured, "Of course," like that had been the plan all along. Which, as far as Angel knew, was true.

He pushed the door open and gestured for Wesley to get out first.

Wesley climbed out and waited a few feet away for Angel to follow, not offering his hand but watching him closely enough that Angel suspected he'd jump to help if needed.

It took more effort than Angel would have liked to get out of the car and into the shade, but he managed. Weird how this exhaustion hadn't hit him sooner. Maybe he'd been running on adrenaline, although actually he didn't know if technically he even had adrenaline. "Wes?"

"Yes?" Wesley stepped toward him, glancing over his shoulder at the limousine as it pulled away.

"Do vampires have adrenaline?"

Wesley blinked before replying, "Not precisely, no, but a vampire's body produces similar chemicals during times of stress or excitement. Why do you ask?"

"Just wondering." Angel took advantage of the railing on the stairs, careful not to grip it too hard and break it, as he made his way slowly up them.

"If you feel you can make it on your own, I'll go ahead to fetch the blood," Wesley said, following behind him. "I'll meet you in the lobby?"

Angel swallowed, his body reacting strongly to the thought of blood. "Yeah, okay. Thanks. That'd be good."

Wesley nodded and left Angel to walk the rest of the way alone.

It was tougher than he'd hoped it would be, but it wasn't like he was any stranger to pushing his body to keep going long after it should have collapsed. And he'd been hurt worse before. This was just a collection of bills coming due at the same time. With a stifled groan, Angel lowered himself onto the couch, grateful as it supported his weight.

It wasn't long before Wesley reappeared, holding a large mug. "Here. Drink this," he said, offering the blood to him. "I'll take a look at your wounds afterwards."

"It's really just the one," Angel muttered, already raising the mug to his lips. The blood was warm, and it had the thick, fetid quality to it that old animal blood always had, but he swallowed it down quickly. He thought he'd gotten over the feeling of being on display when he drank blood until right then, he realized, with Wesley standing there waiting for him to finish, and he was careful to wipe his mouth with his hand as he lowered the now-empty mug.

"There's more heating in the microwave." Wesley held out a hand for the mug, as efficient as ever as he performed his part of a ritual they had enacted countless times over the years.

"Thanks," Angel said, handing it over and trying to ignore how awkward things felt between them.

"You're welcome," Wesley replied, his expression still frustratingly bland. "I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere."

"Not planning on it," Angel said. When Wesley had gone again, he shifted his position painfully, trying to find one that hurt less and not really succeeding. He hoped the demon that had done this hadn't had poisonous arms - or claws, or whatever they'd been.

Wesley returned quickly with another full mug of blood, which he gave to Angel before sitting on the low table in front of him. "How are you feeling?" he asked, his eyes intent on Angel's face.

"I'm okay," Angel said automatically, then he grimaced. "You know."

A faint smile formed on Wesley's lips. "You've had worse?"

Angel nodded, grinning a little bit in return. "That, too." He drank this blood more slowly, trying to remember how much had been left after last night.

"The blood will help," Wesley said. He glanced around at the lobby with a quiet sigh. "Well." There didn't seem to be any more coming after that.

Finishing the blood, Angel set the empty mug down next to his thigh and watched Wesley, who wasn't looking at him. He wondered how hard it had been for Wesley to walk away from Wolfram & Hart, and Lilah, considering everything that had happened. It couldn't have been easy.

After a few moments of frowning into the distance, Wesley seemed to realize that his mind had drifted off, and he straightened up where he sat, turning his attention back to Angel. "When you feel well enough, I'll re-bandage you."

"I can do it," Angel said, even though at that point the thought of standing up sounded like more than he could handle.

"Angel," Wesley said with mild disapproval, "don't be absurd. I'm here. Let me help you." He hesitated, growing still. "Unless you'd rather I weren't."

Angel frowned and restrained himself from reaching out to pat Wesley's arm reassuringly. "No, I'm glad you're here. And yeah, I could probably use some help." It was hard to admit, but he'd have to sooner or later.

Wesley relaxed a bit and gave him a small smile. "All right. Do you want to do this here or upstairs?"

"That depends on whether or not you feel like carrying me," Angel said, slouching down a little bit more.

Wesley's grin grew. "I don't think I'm quite up for that. We'll do it here. I'll fetch the first aid kit." He rose from his makeshift seat and started toward the reception desk.

Angel watched as Wesley walked away, unable to keep from noticing how differently Wesley moved now compared to when he'd first come to L.A.. Before he'd been all about the posture, like he'd forgotten to take the hanger out of his shirt. Now, Wesley moved like someone who'd grown into his own skin.

"Hmm, where did it... Ah." Wesley disappeared for a moment behind the counter and stood up holding the familiar white and red box in his hands. "The office seems to have been reorganized somewhat while we were out of the hotel."

"I guess that shouldn't be a surprise," Angel said. He thought about taking off his jacket but decided that would hurt too much even though the blood was making a big difference already. He started to unbutton his shirt. "We're probably lucky the place is still standing."

"Or wasn't repainted with a huge mural of Jasmine." Wesley grimaced, although whether the expression was at the thought or at Angel's wounds was unclear.

Angel's hands stilled as he remembered what it had been like to be under Jasmine's thrall. How it had felt to know that everything was okay, and was going to stay that way. He'd told himself that he'd removed all of that, burned it out of himself so that all that was left was a cold sort of determination, but that had been a lie, too.

Wesley gave him a sort of pained, apologetic smile as he sat down again across from him. "At least we're spared that much," he said. He nodded toward Angel's shirt. "Do you want my help with that?"

"What?" Angel said, then he shook his head. "No. Sorry." He wasn't sure what he was apologizing for.

Wesley rearranged the supplies as Angel continued to unbutton his shirt. "We're low on antibacterial ointment, but that won't be a problem for you," he said, pulling out some gauze pads and tape.

"One of the few benefits of being dead," Angel said. He finished with the last button and opened his shirt, looking down at the place where his gut had been torn apart from the inside out. He'd covered it with some gauze the night before, mostly just to keep blood from getting everywhere, but now the bandage was stained and wrinkled. "Maybe I should have taken a first aid course, huh?" he asked, looking up at Wesley.

"It doesn't matter," Wesley said absently, his attention obviously focused on the blood-stained bandage. He reached forward to peel it away but held back before he made contact with Angel's skin. "Are you ready? This might hurt."

Angel nodded. "It already hurts," he said, trying for humor.

Wesley unfastened a corner of the bandage and carefully pulled it away from the wound. "I can see that," he said with a frown, his brows drawing together with displeasure. "You should have let one of us take care of this last night."

"Yeah, I guess." Angel sat still, trying not to flinch and make Wesley's job any harder. "I was just... well, you know." He did, he realized, expect Wesley to know.

As he worked on easing the gauze free from the dried blood that adhered it to Angel's skin, Wesley suggested, "Caught up in other things?"

Angel winced and put his hand over Wesley's, stilling it. "Just pull it off all at once."

Wesley looked up and met Angel's eyes, studying them at close quarters for a moment. Then, without warning, he ripped off the bandage completely.

Choking back a sound that might have been a scream so that all it came out as was a whimper, Angel offered Wesley a sickly smile. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," Wesley said dryly, folding up the used bandage and getting a good look at the wound for the first time. His expression grew grim as he reached for the fresh supplies. "If you were human, I'd say we should clean that, but if you were human it would have killed you, so there wouldn't be much point." He set aside the smaller gauze pads and sorted through the box in search of something else.

"It'll heal up," Angel said, swallowing. "I should have had more blood last night." He glanced down, seeing what Wesley had seen -- the ragged edges of the wound, the way the skin just seemed to be gone, leaving raw flesh exposed. It still wasn't the worst injury he'd ever had.

"Yes, you should have." Wesley pulled out a large piece of gauze from the first aid kit and unwrapped its protective covering. "But you're right. You'll heal." He considered the antibiotic ointment for a second before smearing some on the gauze. "There's a bit more blood left, if you want it."

"Couldn't hurt." He felt like he could drink three times what he had and it still wouldn't be enough, but then, that wasn't an uncommon feeling for him, really.

His mind circled back around again to Connor, where he might be, what he was going through. He could be anywhere, doing anything. Fighting, hiding, looking for Cordelia, getting into all sorts of trouble in the ravaged city. It was clear from what Angel had seen the night before that Connor was emotionally torn up at the loss of Jasmine, and if he wasn't thinking straight he could have gotten himself hurt in a thousand ways... or he could just need to hole up somewhere for a few days until the shock wore off. Either way, Angel needed to help him. Not that he knew how.

His mouth set in a faint frown, Wesley lightly pressed the gauze into place over the wound and said, "I'll get it for you in a minute, then." Tearing off strips of cloth tape, he began to secure the bandage, his hands steady and strangely gentle.

Angel closed his eyes. It was nice to have someone touching him, even like this. "Thanks," he said, while his eyes were still closed.

"You're welcome," Wesley said again, this time more softly. "Am I hurting you too much?"

Shaking his head minimally, Angel said, "No. Anyway, you know what they say about pain."

"That which does not kill you makes you stronger," Wesley said, the words quiet and resigned. Angel thought that he could hear some weariness behind them, but it was gone when Wesley spoke next. "There." He smoothed down one last strip of tape and sat back, fitting the supplies back into the kit. "Is there anything else I should look at?"

"Nah. Everything else will take care of itself." At this point, the rest of his injuries were either half-healed or internal, or both, and he could feel the blood he'd had going to work on that stuff. "What about you? Are you okay?" He studied Wesley; fatigue was etched into the lines of his face, and there were a few cuts and abrasions as well.

Wesley nodded, not looking up from his task. "There's nothing serious." He snapped the lid shut and stood up again. "I'll get you your blood."

Angel waited until Wesley had gone, then got painfully to his feet and trailed after him, not bothering to button his shirt back up. Wesley was standing in front of the microwave, watching it. Angel was pretty sure Wesley knew he was there, but he didn't turn or say anything, so Angel said, "Seeing Lilah like that... must have been hard."

"Yes," Wesley said, remaining where he was. "You could say that."

"That wasn't what I was thinking about, before," Angel offered, because even though he knew he probably couldn't say anything that would make Wesley feel better, he wanted to try. "About pain." Wesley didn't move. "I was thinking, 'Feeling pain lets you know you're alive.' I mean, not exactly a good indication in my case, but..."

The microwave beeped, and Wesley opened its door to remove the mug. "You should be sitting down," he said, turning. Angel could tell that he was struggling to keep his expression neutral, but his eyes were dark and unhappy.

Angel waited, thinking that if he did, maybe Wesley would say something else.

"Angel," Wesley said more gently, handing him his blood. "Sit. Please. You can discuss how alive I might or might not be feeling just as easily while you're not taxing yourself."

"Not really what I had in mind," Angel muttered under his breath. He sighed. "I just want you to know. That I... care. About what happens to you."

Wesley blinked at him, obviously startled by the statement. "Thank you," he said after a moment. "That's... I care about what happens to you, too. Which is why I keep telling you to sit."

"How about if we compromise and I lean?" Angel suggested, doing just that, letting the wall support his weight. He drank half the blood in one gulp. "I'm okay, really. This is helping a lot."

"Good," Wesley said with a more open smile than Angel had seen from him all day. It still wasn't much and was certainly a far cry from the expressions of utter delight he used to share what seemed like a lifetime ago, but it was something. "We're going to need to be in top form to find Connor if he doesn't want to be found." He sighed. "Let's hope he's gone to ground wherever Cordelia is and isn't a moving target."

Angel was grateful for the wall holding him up. "He could do anything. If you could have seen his face..."

The last traces of Wesley's smile vanished. "I saw his face when he was about to separate my head from my shoulders. That was enough," he said flatly, but then he visibly gathered himself together. "We'll do our best to help him. He knew what she was, and he still loved her; he must feel like his world has crumbled."

Knowing that Wesley had mixed feelings about Connor didn't make Angel's day any better, but he focused on something else. "I thought I'd never see any of you again."

"I know," Wesley said, looking steadily into Angel's eyes. "We were fortunate that Jasmine wanted us alive to try to use against you."

"When I walked in here last night and you were here..." Angel couldn't finish because there was no way he'd be able to express the surprise and joy that had bolted through him, even considering what had just happened. He drank the rest of his blood and held on to the mug.

Wesley's voice was soft and sincere as he said, "We were very glad to see you, too. When you went through that portal, I was sure it was one of the last things any of us would ever see. I knew you would be able to defeat Jasmine, but I didn't expect to be here to help patch you up afterwards."

Angel nodded, the motion feeling strangely unnatural. The mug in his hand was still warm. It felt nice against his palm. "It wasn't easy. You know that, right? Leaving you behind?" He meant all of them, really, but in this moment he was just talking about Wesley.

"It was what you had to do," Wesley replied. "We all knew that."

"Yeah," Angel said. "Didn't really make it any easier." He looked down at the empty mug.

"I know," Wesley said quietly, and there was something in his voice that made it sound like he did.

Angel wondered if Wesley felt the same way about walking away from Lilah and Wolfram & Hart. "You did everything you could," he said, his voice low and even. "She would have ended up where she is now sooner or later."

Wesley's face tightened in a movement Angel might have called a flinch if it had been more pronounced. "Apparently so," he said, straightening up from his slouch against the counter. "She made her own choices."

"So did you," Angel said. "That's all any of us can do, right?"

"Yes." His mouth set in a grim line, Wesley looked down for a moment and then held out a hand for Angel's mug. "If you need more blood, I'll have to go out and fetch it. That was the last."

Angel shifted his weight and put the mug into Wesley's hand, not letting go until he was sure Wesley had it. "I think I'm good for now." He knew that they needed to get moving, to find Connor before he got too far, if that was his intention. Glancing down at his bandaged stomach, he said, "I should probably go change."

Nodding, Wesley said, "I can make some calls while you do that, see if any of my contacts are still in town and if they've seen anything."

"Okay. I'll be right back." Slowly, Angel made his way upstairs. He could feel his body knitting, but he'd be glad when the pain had dulled a little bit more. In the meantime, he'd try to ignore it.

He slid out of his suit jacket and shirt, put on a clean one, and slipped his feet out of the dress shoes that'd been the only thing he was able to contemplate that morning. Then he sat on the edge of the bed and put on his boots, which would be better for whatever they ended up doing in the search for Connor.

Angel had just stood back up again when he heard Wesley call, "Angel!" from the lobby.

Heading out into the hallway, Angel buttoned the cuffs of his shirt as he walked. He was definitely feeling better now that he'd had that blood, and he was starting to get into the mindset of thinking about where Connor might have gone and where to start looking first as he joined Wesley, who was looking at the television. "I thought you were going to call some people," he said good-naturedly.

"I did," Wesley said. "But this apparently would have been more efficient." He met Angel's eyes gravely and gestured to the screen.

"-ding to the authorities, he has been in the store for at least an hour," a reporter's smooth voice was saying over pictures of the outside of a sporting goods store, its parking lot filled with police cars. "Attempts to contact the man to broker a release of the more than a dozen hostages have so far been unsuccessful, and the police have no idea about his identity beyond these few images." A series of three grainy pictures flashed on the screen. They were obviously taken from low resolution security footage, but Angel would have known that face anywhere. "If you know who this man is or how to contact him, please call the police immediately at..."

"Connor." Angel breathed the word, his eyes riveted to the screen. The pictures weren't in focus and the lighting was wrong, but he could still tell from them that Connor's state of mind hadn't changed any from last night. Actually, considering the circumstances, he was probably worse. Angel felt cold, numb, and those were good things, because he couldn't afford to get all emotional now. He needed to get there and stop whatever it was that Connor had planned. "You know where that is?" he asked Wesley.

"Yes," Wesley replied. "I can drive us there. My car's out back."

Dragging his gaze from the television screen, Angel said, "Let's go."

~ * ~ * ~

It was a blessing, really, to have something concrete to do, Wesley thought as he pulled his SUV out from behind the Hyperion and into the chaotic flow of traffic on the street.

Not that patching up Angel hadn't been important, but the familiar task had allowed thoughts to creep in around its edges - memories, failures, and the realization that his life had been turned upside-down yet again in the span of a morning. Most of Angel Investigations, people who had once been his closest friends, had taken jobs with Wolfram & Hart, their long-time enemy. It was almost as big of a shock as seeing Jasmine for what she really was.

Well, perhaps not that. Nothing could ever compare to the aching hole in his chest that had formed after losing the sense of certainty and community he had always so desperately wanted. It still threatened to overwhelm him with loss when he allowed himself to think about it, so he didn't. He wouldn't. It was over. He didn't think about how touching Angel had helped, either.

"It should take about fifteen minutes, if traffic and the current chaos of the city don't cause too many problems," Wesley said to Angel, who was shielding himself from the sun in the back seat.

"Let's hope they don't," Angel said. He sounded terse, which was certainly understandable given the circumstances.

"I know some back ways, if they do," Wesley assured him, maneuvering around an overturned car. "I'll get us there as fast as I can." Silence descended over them again, and Wesley found himself analyzing why Connor would have taken innocent people hostage. To what end? What could he possibly hope to gain? He had certainly shown a great deal of enthusiasm for killing Angel's friends, but Wesley had assumed that was personal and thus quite different from the current situation. "You said he killed Jasmine?"

"Yeah. He just..." Angel trailed off, then he cleared his throat. "Yeah." Wesley waited, and after a minute Angel added, "He told her that he still loved her, and then he killed her."

Wesley considered in what state of mind Connor must have been to have done such a thing. "He must be inconsolable." He could think of other words to describe Connor - unstable, unpredictable - but he kept those to himself.

"He just ran off," Angel said. "Kind of hard to console someone when they won't stick around." He didn't sound defensive.

"I doubt you could have even if he had," Wesley said. He tried to choose his words carefully. "Angel, he's obviously not thinking clearly."

"Really?" Angel said. There was more sarcasm in his voice than Wesley could remember hearing before. "Gee, I thought taking hostages was a sign of a good mental health. I know he's not thinking clearly, Wesley. What I need to know is how to help him."

It was more difficult than Wesley would have liked not to snap right back, which was a sure sign that he had himself less under control than he'd thought. "What do you think he needs?" he asked, with as much neutrality and distance as he could manage.

"If I knew that I'd have given it to him already." Angel sighed.

Wesley made a quick left in a small break in the oncoming traffic. "Then what are you going to do? Do you think you can reach him, or is he too - " He wanted to say 'far gone' but stopped himself at the last minute. " - upset for that?"

"The first thing I'm going to do is stop whatever it is he's got planned. Assuming he even has a plan." Angel paused. "After that? I don't know."

"All right." Wesley didn't have to ask how far Angel would go to protect the hostages; he'd already seen him beat Connor unconscious so that they could escape from the hotel. He wished that he'd thought to bring along tranquilizer darts as well as his usual weapons, but Angel was strong enough to bring him down. "If worst comes to worst, there's always the cage in the basement," he commented absently, thinking of ways to restrain Connor until they could get through to him, "if we fix the lock."

"We can do that if we have to," Angel agreed. "But maybe I'll be able to talk some sense into him."

"I hope so," Wesley said, though Connor had seemed to be skirting some internal precipice when he had seen him last, and if he'd gone over that edge... There was a snarl of traffic at the intersection ahead, and Wesley turned down an alley to get around it. "I can only imagine how he must feel at Jasmine's loss. Far worse than we did."

"He saw what she was the whole time, and he loved her anyway." Wesley could hear Angel shifting in the back seat, no doubt trying to get more comfortable. "So I don't know if it was even the same for him. I mean, for us, it was kind of like a dream. For him, it was real."

It had felt awfully real to Wesley at the time, but he knew what Angel meant. The sense of peace, of love, of companionship, of rightness of what they were doing hadn't been genuine for them; it had been for Connor. "I know. And yet he still killed her. I'm not sure I understand."

"I'm not sure I want to," Angel said. "But maybe I can get him to explain it to me. Maybe that will help." He didn't sound particularly convinced.

Wesley doubted that talking would be enough, but as he had no other suggestions about what to do he kept silent on that matter. "We're making good time," he said instead. "Apparently being freed from the yoke of peace and harmony means that everyone is willing to speed again."

"They say every cloud has a silver lining." Still, Angel's tone made Wesley think that he was having a hard time finding one in the current situation.

"So I've heard." Wesley tapped his breaks as another driver cut him off with just inches to spare. He grew quiet as he navigated the traffic on the freeway, not quite up to making small talk, but the silence in the car meant that memories of Connor, Jasmine, Lilah, and his friends could grow louder in his mind. Faces, failures, loss, hopelessness. Jasmine. His heart twisted in his chest, and he ruthlessly shoved his thoughts away with the skill of great practice before they could threaten to overcome him. He knew how to focus on what was before him, not what he had left behind.

Angel was quiet, and Wesley wondered what he was thinking about. There were certainly many potential subjects. "How much longer?" Angel asked.

"A couple of blocks. I'm going to come up from the side in the hope that the street won't be blocked off," Wesley replied. "The building is surrounded by police, but we might be able to get in the back."

"Just drop me wherever I can get inside without bursting into flames," Angel said.

The traffic began to slow, and Wesley shifted in his seat to try to get a better view of what was going on ahead. He could see the flashing lights of emergency vehicles, but he couldn't tell whether or not traffic was being diverted. "Or being waylaid by the police."

Angel shifted in the back seat. "I'm not worried about the police."

"No, I suppose you aren't," Wesley said. "Although, as they might feel quite differently about you should you try to force your way inside, it would be best for them not to see you."

"Yeah. Yeah, okay," Angel said, almost grudgingly. "I'll be careful. You think you'll be able to get inside?"

"I'll manage somehow," Wesley replied, though he wasn't convinced of that fact, given that security was bound to be tight. "If there's..." He trailed off as the building came into view, the parking lot in front of the store filled with police officers and emergency workers attending to scared-looking people wrapped in thin blankets. "Something's happened."

Angel straightened up, and Wesley glanced back at him in time to see the vampire nearly expose himself to the sunshine coming in through the car's windows. "What do you mean, something's happened?"

"Be careful." The traffic slowed further, and Wesley scanned the scene ahead. A pair of police officers walked out of the front doors of the store, and others were looking down the street, talking into their radios. "There are hostages outside, and the store seems to be under police control."

The sun was high in the sky, leaving very few of the shadows that would allow Angel to get out of the car, but his hand was on the door handle, anyway. "Do you see him?" It was clear that Angel was talking about Connor, although realistically he had to know that the chances that the police had managed to capture him were slim... unless they'd killed him.

"No. There's no sign of him. The only activity is around the hostages." His eyes on the people in the parking lot, Wesley stabbed at the power button of the radio as a news helicopter flew overhead. He flipped to the local all-news station.

"... is wounded and is considered armed and dangerous," a reporter's voice came from the car's speakers. "Do not approach him on your own, and call the police hotline immediately if you see him."

"He's escaped," Wesley said unnecessarily.

Angel muttered a series of curses in the back seat.

"...hostages have been rescued unharmed, with the exception of one unconscious young woman whose identity is unknown at this time but who has no apparent injuries," the radio said. "Medical personnel are attempting to..."

Wesley looked back as Angel shifted his position again, and their eyes met. "Cordelia," Angel said. "Why the hell would he bring her here?"

The traffic inched forward, and Wesley was forced to turn his attention back to driving. "I don't know," he said with a frown. "Yesterday, when he had captured us, we - I - encouraged him to learn where Jasmine had moved her. It seemed the only way to find out where she was, and it got him to leave us unguarded. Obviously it worked, he found her, but..."

"We can't deal with this now," Angel said. "She's safe; they're probably going to take her to the hospital or something. I'll ask Fred to take care of it." His voice sounded hard, as if he were divorcing himself from the emotion of the situation, which, as far as Wesley was concerned, wasn't necessarily a bad thing at that moment. "I need to get somewhere underground and see if I can track Connor."

Wesley pushed his concern for Cordelia out of his mind; if she was in the care of the emergency workers there was little else they could do for her right then. "I'm sure there's a sewer entrance somewhere nearby," he said as they were directed to turn left by a police officer ahead. "I'm going to see if we can get behind the store. Perhaps you'll be able to pick up his trail there."

"Okay."

It took several turns and a tight squeeze between an abandoned city bus and a brick wall before Wesley could make his way to the rear of the store. There were two police cruisers parked on the corner within view but no officers in sight.

He pulled the car into the small shaded portion of the loading dock area and turned to face Angel. "If he is wounded, he should be easier to track."

Angel had already shrugged the blanket onto the seat. "Yeah. I'm just gonna duck inside for a few minutes, see if there's anything. Wait here."

"You don't want my help?" Wesley asked, a bit surprised. Not that Angel didn't frequently take off on his own, but Wesley had thought that he was there to be more than a chauffeur. He'd thought he was helping Angel like he used to. Obviously he wasn't thinking at all.

Sounding as surprised as Wesley felt, Angel said, "You want to come?"

"Well, I..." Wesley cleared his throat and told himself not to be a prat. "I'm here to help you. But if my presence would hinder you, I can certainly wait here."

"No, I just didn't think..." Angel inclined his head in the direction of the building. "Come on."

With one last check to be sure that no one was around to notice them, Wesley shut off the car and pocketed his keys as they got out, shutting the doors quietly behind them. The back entrance to the building was unlocked - an oversight, Wesley thought at first, but then he saw the broken lock.

"Must have come in through here," Angel said. "Or the police did. He didn't leave this way, though. No blood."

"If he had gone up to the roof, the helicopters would have seen him," Wesley added. "There's obviously another exit."

"Or he made one," Angel said, heading through the door.

They entered the building and walked cautiously down a hallway, both of them falling silent. Compared with the bustle outside of the building, the interior was surprisingly quiet. There were no sounds of life in the rear portion of the store at all, at least not to his human ears. Doors were open to messy offices and storerooms, which Wesley assumed was the sign of a search or chase, but Angel didn't do more than poke his head into the first few before continuing on.

The vampire paused again at the end of the hall, holding one hand back toward Wesley to indicate that he should stop for a moment. Then, more slowly than before, they went through a doorway and started up a flight of stairs. As they neared the top, Wesley could hear what Angel had obviously heard before -- sounds of people talking, muttering as they worked, and the occasional bleep and hiss of walkie-talkies.

"There's no way we're getting in there," Angel whispered. "Hang on. I'm just going to get a little bit closer..."

Wesley nodded his assent and stayed where he was as Angel crept forward.

Angel went as far as the doorway, appeared to be listening intently for a few very long minutes, then returned. "He went out the window," Angel said tersely, every line in his body broadcasting his tight control over his emotions. "They shot him. Twice."

Despite the fact that Connor had nearly killed him, Wesley couldn't help but wince at the news. "He's strong. If he ran off, he can't be that badly hurt."

"I won't be able to tell until I can find the trail," Angel said, starting back down the staircase. "I'm gonna have to go underground; it's hours until sunset." Angel stopped and turned, looking up at Wesley. "You want to come?"

Wesley was grateful that his only outward indication of his pleasure at the request was the rhythm of his steps faltering for a moment as he walked down the stairs after Angel; he was still painfully aware of how awkward things were between them. They probably always would be, but at least there was some sort of relationship again to be awkward. "Yes, I would," he said. "I might not be as fast as you are, but I think I could be helpful."

There might have been the tiniest smile, but it was gone so quickly that it was hard to say. Angel inclined his head. "Good. Come on."

~ * ~ * ~

Finding a sewer entrance near the store wasn't difficult, although locating one that was in the shade or near enough to it that Angel could get from the car to the safety of the sewers without catching on fire took a bit longer.

Once they had climbed down into the sewers, Angel led the way through the damp, dark tunnels back toward the store. Following behind, Wesley carried a flashlight he had taken from his car but did not turn it on; there was enough ambient light filtering down from above that he could see well enough without it.

"With a twenty minute head start, he could be anywhere by now," Angel said. "Wait. That might be..." Moving more quickly, Angel turned down the tunnel to their right.

Wesley picked up the pace, his footfalls much louder than Angel's as they splashed through the shallow rainwater runoff. "What is it?"

"It's faint," Angel said, turning to look back at Wesley over his shoulder. "But I think it's... yeah, it's gotta be him. First time I've been thankful that sometimes he heads underground."

"It certainly is working in our favor here," Wesley replied. "Which way has he gone?"

"There," Angel said, gesturing. They kept jogging down the tunnel. "He'll stay down here for a while, until he thinks he's far enough away. Then he'll head back up and look for somewhere to hide. He's trying to slow the bleeding, but he'll need to do a better job than he's doing now before long."

Wesley never ceased to be amazed by how much a vampire's senses could pick up, and he was struck not for the first time how useful they could be. "We'll have to catch up with him before he goes aboveground again. He's that badly hurt?"

Angel shook his head. "I don't think it's arterial." He stopped, crouching down in the shallow water as Wesley tried to breathe more quietly in case he was listening for something. "No, I don't think so. And he heals fast. But he can't run forever."

"No. We'll find him." What they would do with him when they did, Wesley still wasn't sure, but at least they could stop him from hurting more people.

Angel stood up and started moving again, and Wesley followed. The tunnel still wasn't dark enough to require his flashlight, but he did have to be careful of his footing, and the splashing of their feet in the water sounded loud, nearly echoing.

Angel seemed to be moving with a purpose, focused on his task, as he followed Connor's trail. He was perhaps as relieved as Wesley to have something to do, although Wesley had no doubt that his concern for Connor was the main thing driving him.

Wesley tried not to slow him down, moving as quickly as he could and reaching out to steady himself against the damp walls when the footing got slippery. He couldn't help but be aware that he was in some ways a hindrance, but he knew Angel would have no problem leaving him behind if it became problematic. It was a small, bitter comfort.

At an intersection of tunnels, Angel turned determinedly to the left and kept going, then he faltered and stopped.

"What's wrong?" Wesley asked, looking around them.

"It stops," Angel said with a frown, sounding distracted. He turned and went back the way they'd come, passing Wesley and entering the tunnel that had gone off to the right, jogging a slight distance and pausing again. He came back to the juncture and jerked his head in toward the right-hand tunnel. "This way."

Wesley followed, switching on his light as the tunnel grew darker. He was careful to keep its beam from shining too far ahead and interfering with Angel's vision. It was too much to hope that they could keep from alerting other creatures of their presence, as the noise of their splashing footsteps would give them plenty of warning.

The ceiling was getting lower as they went on, an indication that they were moving away from one of the main branches of the sewer system, and there were noises in the shadows. As Angel didn't falter, Wesley assumed that they were from rats or other relatively harmless creatures, although he didn't stop to ascertain for himself.

After what Wesley thought had probably been twenty minutes, Angel slowed down, turning to look back at him with more than just a passing glance. "You okay?"

Putting out a hand to help to keep his balance as his foot skidded across a slick patch of something he didn't want to look at too closely, Wesley nodded, although there was no way to hide the fact that his breathing was rather ragged due to the rapid pace Angel had set. "Is the trail still strong?" he asked.

Angel shook his head. "Not as strong as it was. But it's still there." He hesitated. "If you need to stop..."

"No, I..." Wesley's denial was undermined by having to draw in another breath before he could finish. "I can keep going."

Seeming to take him at his word, Angel nodded. "Okay."

They continued for less than five more minutes before Angel stopped again, this time with his shoulders slumped as he looked up at the sewer grate above them.

"He went up here," Angel said.

There was sunlight filtering through the grate and no perceptible way up besides straight up the wall. It would have provided little challenge for either Connor or Angel, apart from the possibility of burning up for the vampire, but Wesley didn't have their abilities. "If you want to give me a boost, I can see where we are," he offered.

"Okay." Angel moved over against the wall and pressed his back to it, which couldn't have been very pleasant, although Wesley appreciated the apparent unwillingness to provide anything but a stable platform. The vampire laced his fingers together and nodded.

Placing his foot on Angel's hands, Wesley pushed himself upwards and hooked his fingers into the grate. He slid it aside, causing a fine shower of rust and gravel to drift over them both, and carefully poked his head into the air. He was looking at a fairly anonymous alley between two large, featureless warehouses.

"There's nothing to indicate where we are," he said, looking back down at Angel. "I'm not certain that looking around the area to figure out our location would do much good, given how quickly Connor can move, but I can if you'd like."

"Yeah, that'd be good," Angel said, lifting Wesley a few inches higher. "Just be careful."

Wesley gripped the edges of the sewer opening and pulled himself up onto the pavement. "I'll be as fast as I can," he told Angel and didn't wait for a reply before setting off down the alley.

The street to which the alley led was grim, with graffiti-spattered abandoned buildings and broken windows. Trash blew about in the faint breeze, and Wesley could hear the noises of people - talking, yelling, babies crying - from far away. He had the feeling that the area would be far more active when the sun was down.

Keeping his eyes out for danger or for any sign of Connor, he walked down to the end of the block so that he could make note of the street sign. He felt fortunate that it was there at all, though it was battered almost beyond recognition.

He got back to the sewer entrance without encountering any trouble or in fact a single living creature and lowered himself back down, dropping the last couple of feet and landing a bit awkwardly. Wesley saw Angel put a hand out to steady him, but it didn't make contact; he wasn't sure whether he was glad that Angel didn't reawaken his Jasmine-induced need to be in physical contact with someone or sad that it wasn't assuaged even that much. "I have the street name, although I’m not sure exactly where we are in the city; we can look it up on a map."

Angel's hand, which was still extended, moved back to his side. "No sign of him? No blood or anything?"

"Not that I saw," Wesley said, "but I could go back and look more closely." He glanced up at the opening, steeling his still-bruised body to pull itself up again.

"No, it's okay," Angel said, shaking his head. "If there was anything obvious, you would have seen it." He was clearly tense and disappointed that their luck had run out.

"Probably," Wesley said, his voice softening with something like apology.

Angel was looking upward at the sunshine, his expression regretful. "Well, that's it. For now. Come on, let's get out here."

Wesley wished he had some other suggestion, but Connor was skilled at not being found and was far enough ahead that he had little hope that he could track him on his own aboveground. "All right. I've got a map in the car, which might help us plan our next move."

As they started back the way they'd come, moving a bit more slowly, Angel didn't say anything. He didn't seem lost in thought so much as if he'd run out of things to say. The only sounds were their feet in the shallow water and the occasional noise from elsewhere in the tunnels.

"He'll probably hole up once he finds someplace safe," Wesley said finally, both to think aloud and to fill the silence between them. "If a search of the area turns up no clues and none of my contacts has any information, we could always attempt a spell of some sort."

Angel nodded. After a few moments, he asked, "Am I that obvious?"

Wesley managed not to laugh but said before he could stop himself, "I think even you would agree that subtlety has never been your strong suit." It felt wrong to tease, though, given their relationship and the current situation, so his grin faded almost before it reached his lips. "Of course you're worried about him. He's your son."

"I just can't believe it got this far," Angel said, rubbing a hand against his shirt over where the bandage was. "When I think about everything he's been through..."

An all-too-familiar spark of guilt flared in Wesley's chest, and he set his jaw to fight against it growing large enough to distract him.

As the silence stretched on again, Angel, surprisingly enough, seemed to realize that he wasn't the only one with regrets about how Connor had been forced to grow up. "I don't think he blames you."

Wesley was glad that Angel was ahead of him and thus unable to see him try not to flinch; Connor was certainly not the only person who was able to cast blame about the past. "How fortunate for me," he said. His voice sounded tight to his own ears.

Angel's pace faltered, and he turned his head to look at Wesley, which required him to walk, awkwardly, sideways. "Neither do I," Angel said.

Wesley's eyes snapped up to Angel's before he could stop himself. "No?" he asked with little emotion besides utter disbelief. "I should think you'd have to, for some of it, at least."

Angel shook his head. "I can't. I know you were trying to do the right thing."

As much as Wesley would have given to hear those words said with forgiveness when he was lying in the hospital with his throat cut, it almost hurt to hear them so long afterward. "Yes. I was. But that hardly mattered," he said flatly. His motives hadn't made a difference to Angel, to his friends, or to Connor's fate.

"No, it did matter," Angel said, still walking so that he wasn't looking where he was going. "But we can't change what happened. All we can do is try to make things better for him now."

"I'm well aware of that." That there were times he looked at Connor and couldn't help but envision the happy boy he should have been was a bitter gall in the pit of Wesley's stomach, but he tried to keep his tone even and his emotions hidden; Angel was right that they could only look to the future. The past was what it was, no matter how many people it might have hurt. "Please tell me that you are paying attention to our route back to the car."

"What?" Angel glanced over his shoulder in the direction they were walking. "Yeah. Don't worry about it."

"Good. I'd hate for us to lose any more time." It was, Wesley thought, not the most subtle way to turn the subject, but he could perhaps be excused, given how trying recent days had been.

He was relieved when Angel appeared to take the hint and turned back around, falling into the same sort of silence they'd walked in earlier, although it was now perhaps a bit more subdued.

"We should call Fred... or Gunn. One of them," Wesley said quietly after a few minutes of churning over potential next steps in the search for Connor. "Let them know about Cordelia."

"Yeah. You want me to do it?" Angel sounded half-lost in thought, his voice made hollow by the odd acoustics of the tunnel.

There was no question in Wesley's mind that almost any conversation with them would go better for Angel than it would for him; they might have started speaking to him again, but he couldn't presume that they would be happy to hear from him. "Once we're somewhere your phone has reception, yes."

"Huh. Yeah, I guess it wouldn't get any here," Angel said, continuing to walk. "I'll call when we get back to the car."

"Thank you." Wesley paused and then added more softly, "Perhaps proper medical care will help her to recover quickly."

Angel didn't respond.

Wesley fell silent, then, since it was obvious that Angel did not want to talk. He was aware that he would have to be careful to keep Angel from falling into the full-on brooding of which he was so fond, but he had his own concerns about Cordelia and Connor - and not, he told himself firmly, his friends now at Wolfram & Hart or especially Lilah - occupying his mind. Focusing on the concrete, he tried to order his thoughts and come up with plans for searching the area in which they'd lost Connor and contacting likely informants to help them narrow down the search.

They turned several times, and Wesley had to admit to himself that, although he'd tried to pay attention to the trail they'd followed, he was no longer certain where they were or how close to their original starting point. He'd just begun to wonder if Angel was a bit lost as well when the vampire gestured up ahead. "Here we go."

The ladder leading upwards looked the same as a dozen others they had passed, but Wesley took Angel's word that it was the right one. "I'll go up first to make sure that the sun hasn't shifted too far."

"Thanks." Angel waited at the foot of the ladder while Wesley clambered up.

The sun had inched toward the sewer entrance but hadn't blocked the path to the car, which was parked across the narrow side street. "It's safe," Wesley called down to Angel, looking into his upturned face.

Angel came up the ladder quickly, but not with the same easy movements that Wesley was used to seeing from him. Kicking the sewer cover back into place, he said, "I'll call Fred as soon as we get in the car. You know how to get to where we were?"

"I will as soon as I consult the map," Wesley assured him. He led the way back to the car, hastening to open the rear door so that Angel could get inside.

Once Angel was safely crouched under the blanket in the back seat, Wesley got in and shut his own door. "This won't take long," Angel said, apparently dialing Fred's number. Before Wesley had finished unfolding the map, Angel was saying, "Hi, Fred, it's me. Listen, I need you to do something for me..."

Wesley didn't listen to the call, instead locating the intersection of streets on the map and quickly figuring out the best way to get there. He buckled his seatbelt and started the car, pulling out into traffic.

He heard Angel say with some relief, "Yeah, that'd be great. Thanks," and he kept his attention focused on the road ahead. It was hard to sit back and leave Cordelia's care to people he wasn't sure he could trust, and it was even harder to know that Cordelia might not actually want his help. If she had returned from being a higher being already carrying Jasmine, she might not have been herself for months. The tentative peace they had negotiated between them might not have been with her at all, and she could still be carrying all of the hatred for him she had obviously felt after he had stolen Connor.

He felt suddenly, acutely lonely, and he tried to push his emotions back. There was no place for them when they had work to do. There was no place for them at all.

Angel didn't say anything after he disconnected the phone call. Wesley tried to tell himself that it was only because there was nothing to say, that it was patently obvious that Angel had finished talking and there was no need for anything to be said, but it still seemed to be another indication of how tense things were between them.

"Fred agreed to take care of her?" he asked as they stopped at a red light, having to say something to break the silence.

"Yeah," Angel said. "I'll call her later and see how it went. See if there's... you know, anything to report."

"Good," Wesley said. "That's... good." He could hear how lame he sounded, but normal conversation seemed to be failing him. He felt unsteady, strangely off balance, and though he could attribute it to all of the recent upheavals he wasn't pleased in the slightest. He needed to hold himself together.

"Yeah. It's good." Angel sounded distant, detached, as if Cordelia was the furthest thing from his mind, which Wesley couldn't help but think wasn't true.

Wesley frowned slightly and focused his attention more on him. "Angel, are you... well, I hesitate to use the phrase 'all right,' since I'm sure that you aren't, but..."

"Yeah," Angel said sharply. "Sorry if I don't feel like making small talk, what with the Connor being on a psychotic killing spree thing and all."

Managing not to wince at how definitively his concern had been rejected, Wesley gripped the wheel more tightly, took a shallow breath, and kept his eyes on the road. "We're nearly there."

There was a moment of silence. Angel sighed heavily. "Sorry. It's not you."

"I understand," Wesley replied. He slowed down to read the upcoming street sign and turned right at the intersection.

"No, I mean it," Angel said. "This is... coming so soon after the whole Jasmine thing, it's just..." He didn't seem capable of finding the words he wanted.

"It's a lot all at once," Wesley said more gently. "I know."

Angel sighed again. "For you, too," he acknowledged. "You shouldn't let me take it out on you just because you're here." He sounded genuinely regretful.

Wesley's mouth quirked up in a faint smile. "And how do you suggest I stop you? I suppose I must have something that would work as a gag."

"You might need one," Angel said. "I have a tendency to say stupid stuff." He paused. "A lot."

A chuckle escaped Wesley. "Really? All these years and I hadn't noticed."

"That's because you were too busy actually working," Angel said. It was casual, but Wesley couldn't help but feel that it was a sort of recognition.

"Yes, well..." A bit flustered, Wesley cleared his throat. "Someone had to make sure you were hitting the right thing."

"Yeah. And I appreciate it... you know, everything you've done," Angel said.

Wesley did not miss the irony that on some level it was easier for him when Angel was being unpleasant than it was when he was being kind. He could feel his defenses trembling. "Thank you," he said.

"You shouldn't thank me for saying something I should have said a long time ago. Not to mention more often," Angel said.

Wesley swallowed and tried not to let the words mean more to him than he could handle. He couldn't help but think about how much that sort of reassurance would have meant to him in years past... and how much more it would have devastated him to have been cast out after receiving it. "It wasn't necessary," he assured Angel. "I certainly never expected it."

"You shouldn't have to," Angel said, as if that explained everything.

"Yes, that was my point." Wesley glanced over at the map beside him and then slowed down to turn left at the next light.

Angel made a sound that Wesley thought was meant to indicate frustration. "No, I meant you shouldn't have to expect it because I should have been doing it."

"I knew you found what I was doing useful," Wesley said, flipping on his turn signal; if Angel hadn't found him useful more often than not, he wouldn't have kept Wesley around.

"Oh," Angel said. "Well... good."

Wesley hesitated and then added, "But, still, thank you for saying it."

Clearing his throat, Angel said, a bit hoarsely, "There are a lot of things I should have said to you. Some of them a long time ago."

"I'm not sure that's a comforting thought," Wesley said dryly, ignoring the sudden twisting in his chest. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear anything Angel had to say, but he probably deserved it if not worse.

"Not bad stuff," Angel said. "At least, I don't think so. Unless..." The pause was excruciatingly long, to the point where Wesley was just about to prompt him to continue when Angel spoke again. "Maybe this isn't the right time for this."

Since they had reached the street by which Connor had disappeared, Wesley was forced to agree. "It sounds like it is the sort of conversation best undertaken when one of us is not crouched in the back seat under a blanket."

"I'm not sure that most conversations aren't," Angel said, with what might have been a touch of humor.

"Perhaps you're right, although I'm sure you can appreciate its advantage of obstructing eye contact." Wesley slowed down the car as they approached the intersection he had walked to earlier. There was still no movement on the street besides a discarded page of a newspaper twisting in the wind as it danced down the pavement. One side of the road was in shade, and he pulled the car into it and parked so that Angel could see the area for himself. "Connor left the sewer around the corner from here."

Angel sat up, letting the aforementioned blanket fall from his shoulders, then got out of the car on Wesley's side, not closing the door as he stepped out onto the pavement. "Where? Over there?" He gestured.

Wesley got out with him, pointing to an alley ahead of them on their right. "Down there. The entrance itself was in the sun earlier, but you can see it from the corner."

Going to the edge of the shade and stopping there, his posture making it clear that he wished he could go further, Angel rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. He seemed to be concentrating fiercely, so Wesley didn't say anything, waiting. "I can't tell where he went from here," Angel said finally. "I'm gonna look around a little bit."

"All right," Wesley said, nodding. Leaving Angel to his own devices, he went to check the area around the sewer grate again, although he didn't expect to find anything. He inspected the pavement thoroughly, looking for traces of blood or other signs of Connor's passage.

By the time he and Angel met at the car again, the vampire looked distinctly worried. "There's nothing," he said. "Maybe he stopped the bleeding? Or got in someone's car?"

"I expect he staunched the bleeding enough to stop leaving a trail," Wesley replied, scanning the rooftops and watching for movement in the dark windows of the buildings nearby. "It's a good sign that he's all right, even if it's problematic for us."

"Could be problematic for other people, too, if he decides to do something stupid," Angel muttered. "Something else stupid."

"Yes," Wesley said grimly. "Which is why we have to keep looking." He sighed with frustration as he looked down the street. "He could be anywhere."

"I know." Angel sounded just as frustrated as Wesley felt. "Okay. He's hurt, so if he doesn't decide to keep moving, he'll try to hole up somewhere for a while. Is there anywhere nearby that might work? Abandoned building, anything?"

Wesley gestured to the street, which was lined with buildings that looked largely vacant. "Your guess is as good as mine. Although I expect that we'll find inhabitants inside most of them, even if they haven't entered into a formal rental agreement. Given that we have no other leads, we might want to start searching through them." As plans went, it was uninspired, but apart from employing some sort of spell he didn't know what else to suggest. "If nothing else, you might pick up the smell of his blood again."

"Okay," Angel said, nodding. He looked around, then pointed at the building behind them. "Let's start here."

Pulling open the door, which shuddered on hinges in desperate need of oil, Wesley walked inside. Peering into relative darkness, he found himself in a small lobby, with a corridor ahead of him heading toward the rear of the building and stairs to his left leading upwards. The walls were covered with graffiti, and no lights were on. Even he could hear movement on the floor above, far too large to have come from rats or birds.

He looked at Angel questioningly as the vampire stepped up beside him, but Angel shook his head slightly. "If he's here, I can't tell. Check the upper floors anyway?"

Wesley nodded. "He could have come in from the roof."

They went up the staircase slowly, with Angel in front and Wesley shadowing him. At the top, Angel paused, looking at Wesley and tilting his head to the right before starting in that direction.

There was the distant smell of smoke in the air, from a cigarette or a fire Wesley wasn't sure, but otherwise the building around them was quiet. It was the stillness of waiting, not of emptiness, and Wesley flexed his wrists, ready to produce a weapon if he needed it.

Angel gestured to the left, indicating that there was something - or, more likely, someone - hiding over in the shadows. Wesley had to assume from Angel's casual attitude that it wasn't Connor, but that didn't mean whoever it was didn't have information that could be helpful to them.

Wesley took a couple of cautious steps over as Angel circled around the other way. He saw a rustle of movement and then a blur as whatever it was leapt forward between them.

Angel's hand shot out and grabbing the front of the muddy grey t-shirt, catching the boy wearing it before he could get past them. The boy looked to be about nine or ten, with unruly dark hair and a pale face smudged with dirt. His t-shirt incongruously read - at least as far as Wesley could guess with Angel's fist clenched in the middle of it - 'Mama's Boy.'

It might have been Wesley's imagination that Angel looked a bit paler than usual as he released the boy almost as quickly as he'd grabbed him. The boy darted off again, and Angel caught him again, but more gently this time. "What are you doing here?"

"What's it to you?" the boy asked.

"We're looking for someone," Wesley said, trying to sound calming. "A teenage boy who came through here about an hour ago. Have you seen him?"

"Wouldn't tell you if I did!" The boy was defiant, his bottom lip thrust forward.

Angel gave him a shake which, Wesley thought, demonstrated a great deal of self control. "Yeah, you will."

"No, I won't," was the boy's reply.

Wesley's eyes narrowed, and he tried not to sigh. The boy could probably perform this routine indefinitely. "There could be twenty dollars in it for you."

"Fifty," the boy said immediately.

Angel gave him another shake. "Twenty, and you'll say thank you," the vampire countered.

The boy nodded, all the fight going out of him at once for no discernible reason. "Okay, okay. I don't know if the guy I saw was even the one you were looking for."

"What did he look like?" Wesley asked.

"I didn't get a good look at him. Not as tall as you. Hair in his eyes," the boy said. "He looked pissed. I stayed out of sight until he was gone."

"Where did he go?" Angel's voice was tight, controlled. When the boy didn't answer immediately, he shook him again. "Where?"

"Upstairs, I think." The boy jerked himself away from Angel, and Angel let him, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his wallet. Wesley suspected from the small wad of folded bills that Angel pressed into the boy's hand that he was given considerably more than twenty dollars. The boy snatched it away, tightening his fist around the money. "What'd he do?"

"It doesn't matter," Wesley told him. "But you'd be better off staying away from him."

"You can't tell me what to do," the boy muttered. "Who do you think you are, my father?"

"I'm sure we're both happier that I'm not," Wesley said coolly, dismissing the boy from his thoughts as he turned to Angel. "Let's go."

"We can't just leave him here," Angel said in a low voice, as if the boy wouldn't be able to hear. "He's just a kid."

Wesley wondered when exactly Angel had lost his mind. "And what do you propose we do with him? Stick him in your pocket and take him back to the hotel? This is his home."

"This shouldn't be anybody's home," Angel said, a hint of anger creeping into his voice. "No kid should have to grow up in a place like this."

"Feel free to take it up as your next charitable cause," Wesley replied, not flinching from the look in Angel's eyes. They had to stay focused. "After you find your son."

Wesley might not have flinched, but Angel certainly did, a visible twitch and a hardening of his jaw. "Fine. Let's go."

The boy had begun to edge away as they talked, and once he was out of Angel's reach he turned and ran.

Wesley didn't spare him another glance as headed for the stairs, expecting Angel to follow.

After a brief hesitation, Angel did, catching up with him at the foot of the stairs without comment. They started up, footsteps sounding loud despite their attempts to be quiet. Angel's body language radiated his tension even more loudly.

"Do you smell him?" Wesley asked softly, glancing over at him.

Angel nodded, putting a hand out to steady Wesley when the wooden stairs creaked suspiciously. "Yeah. He was definitely here. Don't know if he still is, though."

"Thank you," Wesley said as he placed his weight more carefully on the next step. "At least we know the boy wasn't lying to get rid of us."

"He probably needed the money bad enough," Angel said. They reached the top of the staircase, Wesley blinking as he waited for his eyes to adjust in the darkness. "You okay?"

"Yes, fine," Wesley replied, surprised by the question. "I should have thought to bring the light."

"Just give yourself a minute," Angel said, staying where he was as if to indicate that he'd wait until Wesley could see again.

The sunlight filtering through boarded-up windows and blacked-out glass was faint, but it allowed Wesley to make out rough shapes and movement. As it was sufficient for him to shoot someone if necessary, he repeated, "I'm fine."

"Okay... come on," Angel said. It was, Wesley thought, flattering that Angel took him at his word. They moved forward cautiously, Wesley sticking close behind him and being as quiet as possible so as not to disturb anything that Angel might hear. It was almost comfortable to work together in such a familiar way, the two of them together, know each other's signals, anticipating -

A floorboard creaked underneath Angel's shoe, and sound exploded at them from both sides as vampires - two or three of them, at least - attacked.

Wesley's breath was nearly knocked out of him as he was shoved backwards by a shoulder barreling into his chest, but he managed to deliver a sharp jab to his attacker's stomach to push the vampire away. He flicked his wrist in a practiced move, and a stake sprang out from its hiding place in his sleeve as the vampire closed in again.

He could vaguely see Angel fighting with at least two more, but Wesley's attention had to be on the growling demon trying to sink its fangs into his throat. At such close quarters, however, it was difficult for him to get into the right position to stake the vampire, so he was forced to brawl instead of kill, using his fists and the advantage of his additional height to keep from being seized bodily and bitten.

There was a crash and a grunt and the familiar soft implosion of a vampire turning to dust, and Wesley couldn't help but glance over to reassure himself that Angel was all right. Angel backhanded the remaining vampire that he was fighting with, knocking it to the floor.

Wesley grimaced in pain as the vampire used his brief distraction to get hold of him and toss him into a nearby pillar, the impact jarring the bruises he still carried from his fight with Connor and the military. He didn't fall, however, and twisted aside when the vampire came at him again. It was difficult to see exactly what was happening, but he instinctively plunged his stake into the demon's back and was pleased when the creature disappeared in a puff of dust.

Coughing, he turned to Angel to find him grabbing the back of the other vampire's leather coat to keep it from running away.

"We're looking for somebody," Angel said, holding the struggling vampire. "He's a hunter. Brown hair that falls into his eyes. You seen him?"

Wesley thought that if it had it would likely have been dust before they got there, and the vampire seemed to support that statement by shaking his head frantically.

"No, man," it said, trying unsuccessfully to squirm out of Angel's grip. "I haven't seen nothing."

"You sure?" Angel asked, and, when the vampire shook its head again, drove the stake in his free hand through its heart. It exploded into dust, and Angel brushed off his sleeve, tilting his head. "Come on. This way."

Angel started walking in the direction they had been going, and Wesley followed, sliding his stake back into place in his wrist sheath.

His eyes had adjusted to the gloom, and he could see that they were in a large room, the piles of wooden crates and scattered lengths of pipe making it clear that it had been a factory or warehouse of some sort. It was, he thought, a perfect daytime haven for vampires, and he kept his eyes out for any sort of movement.

After a few moments, Angel stopped, frowning. "He must have gone up another floor. I'm not getting any traces of him here."

They backtracked to the other end of the building and went up the next flight of stairs. Wesley didn't comment that the noise they'd made fighting the vampires had surely alerted anyone on higher floors of their presence and instead kept as quiet as he could in imitation of Angel.

Continuing upward until there was nowhere left to go, Angel opened the door onto the roof cautiously, looking out at the sunshine with obvious regret. "He went this way," Angel said, brushing his hand against the inside of the door and holding his fingers up so that Wesley could see the tiny smear of rust-colored blood.

Wesley stepped out onto the roof and did a quick circuit, but Connor was nowhere to be seen. There was a telltale smudge of blood that could have been a handprint by one corner, though, and Wesley dipped his finger in it. "Is this his?" he asked, holding out his hand to Angel as he returned to the shadowed stairwell.

Angel reached out and caught Wesley's wrist, bringing it closer to his face and inhaling subtly. "Yeah." He didn't let go of Wesley's arm, and when Wesley glanced up at Angel's face he found the vampire studying him thoughtfully.

His next sentence should have been to explain where Connor must have left the roof, but instead Wesley said, "Angel?"

"It's just... familiar," Angel said, still not releasing him. "The two of you together." The vampire didn't seem upset; it was more as if were caught in a pleasant memory. His thumb rubbed gently along the pulse point of Wesley's wrist.

Wesley swallowed, struck by the sudden memory of holding the infant Connor in his arms, making faces at him to get him to laugh. "And fitting finally to have his blood on my hands," he said, trying to shake himself back to the present instead of getting lost in the tempting scenes of a far gentler past. There was work to be done, and they were close. They didn't have time to waste. "He's gone over the edge of the roof. Probably jumped to the next building."

"Well, it's not like I can get there from here. We'll have to go back down." Angel was still holding Wesley's wrist, his thumb still caressing the sensitive skin there.

A shiver raced through him at the movement of Angel's thumb, and Wesley pulled his hand back slightly at the touch; its gentleness left him confused instead of comforted. "Yes," he said in a weaker voice than he would have liked. "Preferably before he gets too much further ahead of us."

Angel tipped his head toward the stairs with a faint smile on his lips that Wesley couldn't begin to translate. "Come on, let's go."

Trying as best he could to put the odd twisting in his stomach out of his mind and to deal with the situation at hand before Connor escaped them completely, Wesley followed him down the stairs.

~ * ~ * ~

Angel was worried about Connor, but concentrating on following his trail was distracting enough that he was able to put most of his emotions aside. Barring, of course, the incident with the kid in the previous building. It was just... that kid could have been Connor. Might end up being another Connor, six or seven years from now, if no one did anything about it. If he didn't do something, maybe. But Wesley was right; for now, he needed to focus on finding Connor and helping him get his head on straight, whatever that took. Then he could think about helping other people.

The second building wasn't all that different from the first - dusty, dark, and full of debris. He and Wesley headed up toward the roof, but on the third floor Angel heard a noise - voices, people talking. He gestured to Wesley, and they walked in the direction of the voices.

They slowed as they got closer in an attempt not to be heard, but it turned out that it probably wouldn't have mattered, since the handful of young men and women lying around on sleeping bags and blankets in the middle of the large room were obviously too distracted by each other and the beer in their hands to pay attention to much else.

"We'll be lucky if they remember we're here," Wesley muttered.

"Yeah," Angel agreed, then raised his voice. "Hi," he said, as all their heads turned to look at him and Wesley. "We're looking for someone. Um, my son, actually. He's got long hair, kind of in his eyes."

"What'd he do, get his girlfriend pregnant?" one of the young men said, laughing.

That was a little bit too close to the truth, but Angel tried to ignore it. "We're just worried about him. Have you seen him?"

A girl with mussed hair sat up. "What are you going to do to him if you find him?"

"And how do we know you're really his father?" another boy asked. "How do we know you're not cops?"

Wesley's frustration was clear in the look he shot Angel out of the corner of his eye. "Do we look like the police?" he asked.

"You could be undercover," the second boy said.

"Yes, then I'm certain we'd give ourselves away by admitting it to you."

The girl frowned. "Plus they'd be arresting us for underage drinking," she said, then slapped her hand over her mouth as she realized she'd admitted more than she should have.

"We're not the police, and we don't care about the beer," Angel said. "Did you see him, or not?"

"Like we'd tell you, Dad," the first boy said.

Striding forward, Wesley grabbed the young man by his shirt and yanked him to his feet. He pulled a gun from beneath his coat and pointed it at the other boy who had spoken. At such close range, even if he weren't as good as shot as he was there was no way he could have missed. "You will tell us, one way or another. Would you like to stop wasting our time?"

More than a little bit alarmed by Wesley's actions but telling himself that Wesley wouldn't carry through with his threat, Angel waited to see what would happen. The boy Wesley was holding was struggling nervously, begging Wesley to let him go, and the other one had scrambled backward until he hit the wall, blinking in terror as he looked up the barrel of Wesley's gun. Neither of them seemed capable of answering the question.

The other young people had scattered further, but the girl stammered, "Yes, okay? We saw him. But we don't know where he went." Even Angel knew that she wasn't telling the whole story.

Wesley shifted to aim his gun at her. "Are you absolutely certain about that?" he asked, his voice and his expression completely cold. Angel began to wonder if he'd been wrong about Wesley not carrying through with the threat. "I could jog your memory."

The boy in his grip jerked, looking panicked. "Lori!"

"Perhaps you remember something?" Wesley asked him.

"Ye-yeah," the young man said, his words jumbling together as he spoke quickly. "He asked us for a shirt. Gave us some money for it. Kyle gave him one. And then he went that way." He pointed to his left. "We don't know anything else. Honest."

"Wes, let him go," Angel said, as much wanting to remove Wesley from this situation as to get on Connor's trail again. There was something about Wesley's expression and eyes, the way he sounded, that left Angel feeling cold.

Wesley didn't move for a long moment, just unflinchingly staring down the boy he was holding and pointing his gun at the girl to his side. Finally he released the kid and lowered his weapon. "That's all they know," he said.

"Okay, so let's get out of here." Angel relaxed a little bit now that Wesley seemed to be coming around. This wasn't the time to ask Wesley what the hell he was thinking; that could wait.

Nodding, Wesley turned in the direction the boy had pointed, seemingly entirely unconcerned about the youths now that they had told him what he wanted to know. The boy he had been holding had rushed to the side of the girl - Lori - but otherwise the kids didn't move as the two of them walked away.

"If he's changed his shirt," Wesley said thoughtfully, "he's probably trying to look less conspicuous than he would with the blood that must have been on his clothing. It also means that he's probably stopped bleeding so much, which bodes well for his health."

"Yeah," Angel said. "I don't think he'd have made it this far otherwise." It was reassuring to be reminded that Connor was okay physically, but that didn't make Angel any less worried about his state of mind.

The stronger scent of blood washed over him, and he forgot everything else as he followed it around a corner and partway up another flight of creaking stairs before he found where it was coming from. Connor's bloodstained shirt was in a damp, wadded up ball in the corner of one step. He bent down and picked it up, turning to show it to Wesley.

"Well, that's the end of the trail, I guess," Angel said. "The easy part of it, anyway."

Wesley frowned at the shirt. "It's still wet. We can't be far behind him." He glanced around them.

"Might as well keep going up," Angel said. "If it's the direction he was headed in, we could still get lucky." He tightened his fist around the shirt, feeling the dampness seep into his skin.

"It has happened before," Wesley replied. "Once or twice." He followed Angel up the stairs to the next level of the building.

The light filtering in between gaps in the windows showed that the floor was uneven and even had a few holes in it. As they stepped out, the worn wooden boards groaned and shifted beneath their feet.

Angel didn't like the way that sounded. "Stay here," he told Wesley, one hand back to emphasize his point as he took a few cautious steps, trying to find the most logical route Connor would have taken because he had to have come through here. "He wouldn't have gone right through the center of the room," Angel said, half to himself. "Not unless someone was chasing him."

"Someone is chasing him," Wesley pointed out, and Angel could hear the smile in his voice. "But you're right that he doesn't know that."

Glancing back to make sure Wesley was staying put, Angel started to walk carefully over toward the wall, figuring Connor would have stayed away from the middle of the room. As he put his right foot down, he felt the floor shift again, and an ominous cracking sound made him freeze.

"Angel!" Wesley called sharply from the landing. His tone moderated when it became apparent that Angel wasn't going to crash immediately through the floor. "He could have gone up into the rafters. They look far more reliable than the floor."

Angel looked up to see a network of beams crisscrossing the room. They were high up, but Connor could have easily have climbed a wall to reach them. Easily if he weren't hurt, that is; his injuries had to be hampering him.

Backtracking, Angel returned to the landing without further mishap and then moved to a spot just under a beam and jumped up into the rafters, ready in case they weren't any sturdier than the floor had been. Luckily, they seemed solid enough. "You were right," he said to Wesley, looking at the footprint-sized clean spots on the dust-covered rafters.

"Where do they go?" Wesley asked.

"Over here," Angel said, gesturing toward the back of the building. "Stay there, okay?"

For a moment, Wesley looked like he was going to argue, but he sighed and said, "All right."

It didn't take long for Angel to work his way across the rafters to the other side of the building; Connor's footprints were easy to see in the thick layer of dust. By the time Angel had run out of places to go, he could see more disturbances in the dust down on the floor below, so he jumped down carefully, glad to find that the floor was fairly stable. There was a heavy steel door, and when he opened it he saw that it led to a stairwell.

"I'm going down!" Angel called across to Wesley, whom he could still see in the dim light. "You want to stay here? Or meet me downstairs?"

"I'll go down and see if I can find that staircase!" Wesley called in reply. "Be careful!"

"You, too!" Angel didn't wait to see Wesley go; he just turned and started down the stairs. The stairwell was dark and smelled funny. There was no lingering scent of Connor but no other way he could have gone out, so Angel continued down the steps, looking for any signs that would tell him anything helpful. There was a fair amount of debris on the stairs - broken boards, bits of glass, empty boxes - that told him the building had been sitting abandoned for a long time.

He reached the bottom of the stairs and opened the door cautiously onto what he thought was the first floor only to discover that he'd gone too far and ended up in the basement. By the time he'd backtracked up a flight, Wesley was opening the door into the stairwell.

"Anything?" Wesley asked when he saw him. He immediately pulled the door nearly shut so that the light from the outside wouldn't be a danger to Angel.

"Not unless you want to count trash," Angel said. "And there might have been rats."

Wesley glanced down the stairwell with faint disgust. "But no sign of Connor?"

"If there had been, would I be talking about rats?" Angel sighed. "He had to have come down this way, but damned if I can find any sign of him. You see anything outside?"

"No," Wesley replied, sighing as well. "It's just an alley; dirty, foul-smelling, and probably with the aforementioned rats. He could have gone anywhere."

"Damn." Angel looked down at the bloodied shirt in his hand. "Okay, so we lost the trail. We can pick it up again, right? Even if we have to wait until sundown." He was hoping, little as he wanted to admit it, for some reassurance.

"I'm sure we can. I doubt he's in top form right now, but even if he were we could track him down eventually," Wesley said. He didn't look like he had any doubts, and Angel felt buoyed by his confidence.

"Right." He nodded and looked down at the shirt again. He felt tired, but he tried to think what the next logical step might be. "There's this bar not too far from here," he said. "Maybe a mile? Demon place. Maybe somebody there will have heard something. It's a long shot, but..."

Wesley glanced down at the shirt in Angel's hands and then met his eyes, his face softening slightly with unspoken sympathy. "It's worth a try. Should we drive or take the sewers? Or do you want to try dodging the sun?"

"Let's drive," Angel said, thinking that was both quicker and easier on Wesley and that they didn't want to get stuck too far from the car if they needed it.

With a nod, Wesley turned to open the door to the ground floor of the building. Angel was relieved to see that the floor looked solid enough, although it was covered with a thick layer of dust tracked with footprints.

Wesley gave him a look and Angel frowned, holding out his arm to block Wesley from stepping through the doorway and possibly disturbing anything. "I went down to the basement by mistake," he explained, going further into the building with his eyes on the floor. Almost immediately, it became clear that there were lots of footprints, several people's worth at least. He shook his head. "If any of these were him, I can't tell."

"Perhaps we'll see something when we walk through," Wesley said, looking around as he joined him.

"Yeah." He was running out of hope again, for the moment, at least, and he couldn't do more than remind himself that things would turn around. They usually did.

Wesley laid his hand briefly on Angel's arm, just a quick, comforting touch. "We'll find him," he said gently.

"We have to," Angel said, but he gave Wesley a grateful look, feeling the warmth linger where Wesley's hand had touched him. Like before, when they'd been up on the rooftop of the other building and he'd held onto Wesley's wrist, there was something about touching Wesley that made Angel want to keep doing it. He'd forgotten that.

"We will," Wesley said again, holding Angel's gaze for a long moment. "Come on. Let's get back to the car."

"Wait," Angel said. He reached out and grabbed onto Wesley's arm, stopping him, needing... something. "Sorry, I just... I don't know." He let go again. "Sorry."

Wesley's brows drew together, and he searched Angel's face. "What is it?"

"I don't know," Angel said again, helplessly. "I wanted... I guess I just wanted to." He wasn't sure if it was a good idea to say what it was he'd wanted.

"Are you feeling all right?" Wesley asked with obvious concern.

That caused Angel to make an effort to pull himself together. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. Let's go."

"Angel..." Wesley studied him for a moment before coming to some sort of decision. His expression shuttering slightly, shifting from worried to businesslike in the blink of an eye, he said, "All right." He turned in the direction of the car.

Angel managed to refrain from swearing under his breath as he followed Wesley. He wanted to say more, to explain, but that would have required him actually knowing what the hell his problem was, and he wasn't sure he did. He just knew that going back to this, after how things had been with Jasmine, was even harder than he'd have guessed it would be. "I miss it," he said out loud, then, when Wesley stopped and looked at him questioningly, said, "The way things were. With Jasmine."

Wesley's face softened again, this time in understanding, and he looked down. "I do, too," he admitted.

"I missed you." Angel said, continuing since he'd already started and who knew if he'd ever get up the guts to say it again. "I don't think I realized how much until after Jasmine's thrall was broken. And... I don't want things to be like that again. You know what I'm saying?"

When Wesley met his gaze, his eyes were wide and shocked. He stared at Angel for a moment as though he wasn't sure whether he could believe him, and then said, "Yes." His voice sounded hoarse. "I do know. I missed you as well, the friendship we once had."

"We could have it again," Angel said. It was almost a question.

"Can we?" Wesley asked quietly.

"I want to," Angel said. He stepped closer to Wesley, close enough that he could, just faintly, feel the heat that radiated from Wesley's body, even though they weren't touching.

His eyes fixed on Angel's, Wesley was almost inaudible, even to a vampire's hearing, as he said, "I do, too."

Angel sighed as relief flooded through him. Wesley's eyes were wide and dark, and Angel couldn't help but lean in, needing to be closer. Maybe it was losing Jasmine, maybe it was something else, but he didn't care why; he craved it, the contact, the connection. Even just this much was easing the gnawing ache in his chest, but he wanted more. He'd lost so much. He needed... something.

Wesley's breath hitched, and he said, "Angel?" The word held an awkward uncertainty Angel hadn't heard from him in a long while.

"It's okay," Angel said immediately, resting a hand on Wesley's hip, trying to be soothing even as he moved closer, so that there was hardly any space between them at all. "I just... it's okay." He could almost hear Wesley's heart beating.

Wesley's eyes grew larger as Angel touched him and then larger still, if that was possible, when a sudden trilling sounded from his coat pocket. Jumping with surprise, he stumbled a step backwards, fumbling for his phone and lifting it to his ear. "Pryce," he said and then listened. "Yes... Yes..." His posture grew more confident as he spoke, and he gave a sigh of frustration. "Of course I can see why you'd want to move out of Los Angeles, Lester, but if you could get to the point?" He drew in a sharp breath. "Excellent... Yes, you can consider your debt to me cleared. Thank you."

While Wesley was talking, whatever spell Angel had been under broke, leaving him standing there, confused, one hand rubbing the back of his neck. As soon as Wesley flipped the phone shut to end the call, Angel asked, "What was that?" Anything to get them back to normal, even though part of him was disappointed.

"One of my connections," Wesley replied, sliding the phone back into his pocket. "Connor's at the bus station."

"What?" Angel was so startled that it took a few seconds for that to sink in. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. My informant just saw him buying a ticket." Wesley added more dryly, "One of the benefits of Connor being Jasmine's father is that some people remember what he looks like."

"Okay. Let's go." They headed swiftly for the door, the apparent emptiness of the building making their footsteps sound loud, but that didn't matter. They had another lead, and all of Angel's attention was back on finding Connor.

Well, most of it. The ache was dampened but still there, and with Wesley so close he didn't think he'd be able to block it out entirely.

Wesley seemed similarly focused on the mission, his brow furrowed in thought as they walked. "Lester didn't know where Connor was going, but if we can get to the station fast enough it hardly matters."

"And like you said, someone might recognize him and remember which bus he got on." That didn't mean Angel wasn't anxious to get over there, but it made him a little less tense about it. Glancing up at the sunlight overhead as they stepped out of the building, he said, "He really couldn't have done this at night, could he."

"We'll manage," Wesley said. "You've had plenty of practice dodging the sun."

"Doesn't mean I like it," Angel said. "Cut through the other building? Or would it be quicker if you went to get the car from here?"

Wesley started across the alley to the other building, glancing behind him to make sure that Angel was following. "It will be faster to cut through together. Unless we get attacked again, of course."

"No, probably not," Angel agreed. "If there had been more of them there they either would have gone after us with the others or will leave us alone now."

It didn't take more than a minute or two to walk through the first building back toward where they'd left the car, and another minute after that to get into the car, Angel huddled under the blanket again, but it felt like a lot longer. He couldn't help but wonder where Connor was headed; if he had a particular destination in mind, or if he was just running. Still, the thought of Connor on a bus full of people wasn't a great one.

"Are you ready?" Wesley asked as he started the car.

"I've been ready for the past hour and a half," Angel said. "What about you? This could get more involved than just going across town."

The car began to move as Wesley pulled it away from the curb. "You haven't been safely under the blanket for the past hour and a half," he pointed out. "And I always carry a change of clothes in the car, so, yes." There was a familiar lack of hesitation in his willingness to do whatever was necessary for Angel. It was slightly disorienting, like déjà vu.

Sunlight filtered into the car as Wesley drove down the street. Angel closed his eyes, trying to picture Connor at the bus station, buying a ticket, getting onto a bus and riding off toward who knew where, thinking... whatever it was Connor was thinking. God, Angel had fucked things up so badly. He wished there was a way to go back and do them over again. "Where do you think he's going?"

Wesley sighed quietly. "I haven't the slightest idea. I doubt he's thinking clearly; he may have just purchased a ticket for the first bus to leave or a name that caught his fancy. Has he spoken of wanting to visit somewhere in particular?"

"I don't know." Angel tried to think, but couldn't remember.

"If nothing else, the ticket agent will know." Wesley sounded sure enough that he might have been contemplating helping him along should his memory prove slow.

That reminded Angel of the way Wesley had 'persuaded' the kids in the building to admit they'd seen Connor. "As long as you don't pull a gun in a crowded bus station," he said.

There was a pause, and Wesley's voice was cool when he replied, "I wouldn't endanger innocent people." It was not, however, quite an agreement.

"I hope not," Angel said.

"Thank you so much for your confidence," Wesley replied, his tone positively icy.

"Hey, what, I'm not allowed to be worried after you held a gun on a couple of half-drunk kids? There were other ways of getting them to talk." Angel was aware that he was being a hypocrite, because if the circumstances had been different he might have been just as threatening as Wesley had been, but now that the incident was over he was more concerned about what it said about Wesley's state of mind than anything else.

"We didn't have time for other ways," Wesley said sharply. "Your son is out there threatening to murder people, and you wanted to sit down and have a nice chat with them?"

"I didn't say that." Angel tried to bring the conversation down a notch, using a gentle voice even though he was pretty sure Wesley wasn't going to like what he had to say. "Look, this isn't about those homeless kids, okay? It's about you."

The car slowed as they turned a corner and then accelerated once more. "I rather thought it was about getting to Connor before he explodes and takes half of the city with him."

Angel sighed. "I meant the conversation." He repeated his earlier question, changing the wording slightly. "Am I not allowed to be worried about you?"

"There's no reason to be worried about me," Wesley said. There was a hint of surprise beneath the words.

"No? Is that normal behavior, pulling a weapon on some kids when they aren't quick enough to answer your questions?" Angel was pushing it, and he knew it, but he felt like he needed to know what was going on in Wesley's head.

"Yes," was Wesley's blunt response. "It got them to talk and stop wasting time."

"They were scared," Angel said softly.

"They also stopped lying to us."

It was clear that they weren't getting anywhere - figuratively, at least - and Wesley was right that he probably ought to be concentrating on finding Connor, so Angel decided his best plan of action was to shut up and let Wesley drive.

Wesley didn't seem interested in continuing the conversation, so for a while the rumble of the motor was the loudest sound around them. Finally, as the car idled at what Angel assumed was a traffic light, Wesley said quietly, "You don't have to like it, but this is who I am, Angel."

Angel let that sink in before responding. "Yeah, well... I could say the same thing, couldn't I?"

There was a faint smile in Wesley's voice as he said, "Yes, I suppose you could."

"So I guess we're stuck with each other." The prospect made Angel feel strangely cheerful.

The car began to move forward again. "We're stuck with who the other is, certainly, but we aren't necessarily stuck together. I know I'm not like... what you miss."

That went so far over Angel's head it might have been in the next galaxy. "What?"

"I've changed," Wesley said. "You may not want..." He cleared his throat. "You might find once the effects of Jasmine's influence are further in the past that our friendship isn't one you wish to continue. I understand that."

Angel shifted in a more comfortable position. "Tell me how you're different."

Wesley gave a short, humorless laugh. "Do you even have to ask? You've seen it, yourself."

"It started with Billy, didn't it." Angel knew Wesley didn't like to talk about that; he'd avoided the office for days following the incident and only come back in after Angel sent Fred to his apartment to convince him it was okay. "Wes... there's nothing wrong with having a dark side. Everyone does. Okay, sure, some are darker than others, but it's good to know that it's there."

"That doesn't bother me," Wesley said with a mildness that Angel couldn't believe. "It's who I am, after all. I might as well get some use out of it."

"There's a difference between using it and letting it use you," Angel said. He wasn't one hundred percent sure that that was what Wesley was doing, but the suspicion was definitely there.

"I know what I'm doing," Wesley replied. "I simply see no reason to fight it when it's more efficient."

Angel could, on some level, at least, understand that. "I just don't want you to get in over your head."

They turned again, and the car sped up. "Since it is my head that's making the decisions, that's not possible," Wesley said.

Angel really, really didn't want to argue with Wesley. Not about this; not about anything, if he could help it. It was one thing if it was something important, but he still wasn't sure this was, and he wanted - needed - Wesley on his side, now more than ever. "Okay."

"I do appreciate your concern," Wesley added after a moment, and he did sound like he meant it. "It simply isn't necessary."

"Okay. Good." What with the whole hypocrite thing and all, Angel figured that he was coming out of the conversation ahead it if ended there, so he cleared his throat and tried to change the subject. "How far are we?"

"A mile or two," Wesley replied, and Angel could hear him relaxing back into his seat. "Traffic is moving well, so it should be only a few minutes more."

"Maybe whatever bus he's taking hasn't even left yet," Angel mused out loud. "Although I guess he could have picked based on the schedule for all we know."

The car braked suddenly, and Wesley swore under his breath. "Given his state of mind, it's almost impossible to predict what he'll do."

Angel waited to see if they were okay, then replied once the car was going forward normally again. "I feel like that should be reassuring - that at least it means we're kind of sane, you know? But somehow it's not." Mostly, he felt worried and sad.

"I doubt anything's going to be reassuring right now, for you especially," Wesley said.

"I just want him to be okay," Angel said quietly.

"I know." There was sympathy in Wesley's voice. "We'll do our best to help him."

"Are we even capable of helping him?" Angel asked. "Maybe it's too late." The thought filled him with despair.

"Maybe," Wesley conceded, which didn't exactly help Angel's outlook, "but we'll try anyway."

Angel tightened his jaw, willing himself to stay focused. "Are we there yet?"

"Almost. I can see it ahead." There was a brief pause, and then Wesley said, "Don't lose hope, Angel. He's survived a lot. He can get through this, too."

"Yeah." But what would be left of him? If this was all there was now - a half-crazed boy willing to take people hostage, commit murder - then what would Connor be when he came out the other side?

"He'll need you to believe in him," Wesley said more quietly.

Angel wanted to be able to say that he did. The kid was strong, there was no denying that, but sometimes people just went too far over the edge and there was no way to pull them back. "Yeah. I know," he said.

Wesley didn't reply, and after another minute or so the car turned right. "We're here," he said as the sunlight streaming through the windows was blocked by an overhanging roof. Angel immediately sat up and discarded the blanket, looking around for his son.

Flagrantly disregarding the "No parking. Passenger pick up/drop off only" signs, Wesley stopped the car by the entrance to the bus terminal. "I'll go in from the other side of the building in case he tries to run."

Already halfway out of the car, Angel said, "Okay. Be careful."

They split up, Angel going in through the nearest door, his eyes scanning the large room for anyone about Connor's height. His gaze caught on a few people, one of which was a young woman in raggedy clothes, but none of them was Connor. Quickly, still looking through the station and spotting a glimpse of someone he was pretty sure was Wesley on the other side, Angel ducked into the men's room. A few men at the wall of urinals gave him irritated looks as he stormed through, checking each stall, but there was no Connor there, either.

He met up with Wesley again in what was pretty much the center of the bus station. "Anything?"

Although his eyes were busy still scanning the area, Wesley said, "No. He's not by the buses or anywhere else I looked, and my contact is already gone. We'll have to ask the ticket agent."

"Damn it," Angel muttered, looking around to locate the right place to ask. There were three people in line in front of the man who seemed to be selling tickets, and Angel strode over and interrupted, both the ticket agent and the woman he'd been talking to looking up at him with startled expressions. "Hi. I'm looking for my son. He's about this high - " He held up his hand. " - long brown hair in his eyes. He might have been kind of upset, or distracted?"

"Can't you see there's a line?" snapped the woman.

"This is very important," Wesley said.

"I don't care how important it is," the woman said. "We all want to get out of here. You can wait in line like everybody else."

"Actually, we can't," Angel said, turning to give her a hard look before focusing on the ticket agent again. "He might not have cared where he was going. Do you remember him?"

"A lot of people come through here," the agent said and then looked back at the woman he had been helping. "One way to San Francisco?"

Frustrated, Angel slapped his hand down flat on the countertop. "I'm not asking you to remember a lot of people," he growled. "Just one."

The man behind the counter looked alarmed, and the woman backed away a step or two, bumping into the person behind her.

"Please," Angel said, softer now that he knew he had the man's attention. "He's my son."

"I, uh..." The man swallowed. "Skinny, hair in his eyes?"

"Yes," Wesley said. "He might have wanted the first bus out."

"There was a kid like that, but he knew where he wanted to go," the agent said.

"Where?" Angel asked. He would have held his breath if it had been necessary.

"Utah." The ticket agent was still looking at them wide-eyed. "But he didn't buy a ticket. Just looked at me for a minute and then walked off. It was like he was stoned or something."

"You're sure he didn't get on the bus?" Wesley asked, watching him intently. "Could he have bought a ticket elsewhere?"

"No, they wouldn't let him on without buying a ticket here," the man said. "There are more people wanting to leave than buses running."

"All right," Angel said. "Thanks."

As soon as they stepped away from the counter, the woman pushed forward, taking her place again.

"At least we know he was here and that he didn't leave town," Wesley said, looking around the station. "Maybe you can pick up his trail."

Angel shrugged. "I can try."

They walked slowly around the area, Angel feeling oddly self-conscious as he breathed deeply, but he didn't catch more than the slightest whiff of Connor's scent. After they walked twice by the loading buses and all of the exits, he finally stopped, his shoulders slumping as he turned to Wesley. "Nothing," he said. "Or not enough, anyway."

Wesley sighed but gave Angel what was probably supposed to be an encouraging smile. "It's all right. We'll find him another way."

They went back out to the car and got in.

"We can pinpoint on a map where Connor has been when we get back to the hotel," Wesley said as he snapped his seatbelt into its buckle. "He might not know what he's doing, but there might be a pattern we can see. We could make an educated guess as to where he'll go next."

"Okay." Angel wasn't feeling particularly optimistic, but anything was worth a try.

Wesley, on the other hand, seemed to be planning enough for the two of them, since he barely paused for Angel's reply. "We'll also need to get some blood soon, if we can find a supplier."

"And something to eat for you," Angel said. He could go long periods without blood if he had to, but Wesley would need food at some point.

The car's engine revved into life. "Hmm?" Wesley said distractedly. "Oh, yes, eventually."

Angel struggled to get the blanket over him and to find a comfortable position to lie in. "Should have taken the glass," he muttered under his breath.

"Is there something you need?" Wesley asked.

"No?" Angel said, not particularly wanting to bring up anything to do with Lilah.

"Angel," Wesley said with a sigh, turning in his seat to look at Angel. "What is it?"

"Nothing." Angel pulled the blanket up higher and didn't quite meet Wesley's eyes. He knew that Wesley wouldn't let the subject drop, though, so he said, "There was just... at Wolfram & Hart, they've got this special glass. Necco-something. I was thinking it would come in handy about now."

"So would have their impressive SWAT teams, which could pinpoint Connor's location and bring him back to you while you sat and sunbathed." There was a pause before Wesley asked, "Are you sorry you didn't take the deal?"

"No," Angel answered decisively. "Doesn't mean I can't wish we had some of the perks." He knew he was being hypocritical, but he didn't care.

"Of course not. I expect the library to feature prominently in my dreams for some time to come." Wesley offered Angel something of a grin before he turned around and put the car into gear.

"I take it it was nice, then?" Angel asked. "What else did you see?"

"Mostly corridors, crawl spaces, and filing cabinets, although they weren't on the tour," Wesley said distantly as the car began to move. "Their collections were extensive, as you might imagine. Rare, even lost texts were at their fingertips."

"I guess when money's no object, you can do pretty much anything you want." Angel said, thinking back to his own soulless days when he hadn't cared about money at all.

Wesley gave a dry chuckle. "I think that's the official motto of Los Angeles," he said. "It's certainly easier to acquire manuscripts if you don't care what you have to do or who you have to kill to obtain them."

"You think we shouldn't have let them stay?" Angel asked after a moment's thought.

"I'm not certain even you could have stopped them," Wesley replied. "They seemed sure of their decision. Particularly Gunn. But, then, he's been unhappy for some time."

Angel frowned under the blanket, turning that idea over in his mind. "You think? Is it because of Fred?"

"Things between them have been increasingly strained," Wesley said, his tone growing almost painfully detached as it did when touching on a sensitive subject, "but I don't think it factors into his choice. I think it was about the power he would have at Wolfram & Hart. It's always galled him not to be in charge. One would assume he would have more autonomy there, running his own department, whatever that happened to be."

"Yeah, I guess."

There was silence in the car for a while as Angel mulled over those insights, and then Wesley asked, "Do you have any idea why Connor might have asked about Utah? "

Angel rubbed a hand over his face and tried to think. "He said something about it before. When... I don't know, we were talking and Holtz came up and... but it was okay, you know? Because of Jasmine." He listened to the sound of the engine. "I think Holtz talked about taking him there."

"Hmm," Wesley said, a thinking sound Angel knew well.

"Maybe he thinks of it as somewhere, you know... safe," Angel ventured.

"Yes, it's quite possible," Wesley replied. "Or perhaps he simply knew the name. At least we don't have to follow him."

"Yeah, that would have been great," Angel said, rolling his eyes.

Wesley chuckled softly. "And here I thought you would look forward to a lengthy road trip stuck under a blanket in the back of my car."

"Once the sun set, I could have driven," Angel said. Or at least not have to crouch in the back seat, which would be a big improvement.

"That would probably have been wise," Wesley said, shifting slightly in his seat. "At some point I'm bound to get tired."

Angel was surprised that Wesley wasn't already tired, but he knew better than to say so. It'd probably end up getting taken badly. Instead, he admitted, "I'm pretty tired myself." It wasn't until he'd said the words that he realized how true they were.

"I'm sure you are. Did you get any sleep at all, or were you out all night looking for Connor?" Wesley asked.

"I got some sleep," Angel said. "Just not, you know... enough." He'd actually spent half the night wandering around outside, partially thinking that he might run across Connor or a clue to where he'd gone, but partially just waiting for the despair that had replaced all the love and warmth Jasmine had left in her wake to fade.

"Yes, I know that feeling." Wesley sighed. "I couldn't seem to keep my eyes closed."

"What were you thinking about?" Angel asked.

"Everything that has happened. Jasmine. Cordelia. Connor. You. Wolfram & Hart." There was another brief pause before Wesley added almost reluctantly, "Lilah."

That wasn't a surprise, but Angel wondered if Wesley would talk about it more. "What about her?"

"What happened to her. How she was brought back," Wesley said. Angel heard him draw in a slightly shaky breath that belied the evenness of his words.

Cautiously, Angel said, "She doesn't seem all that upset about it."

"No. She knew it was the price she would pay." There was yet another pause, and Wesley's voice grew even softer. "I sought out her contract this morning. I tried to destroy it, to set her free. I should have known it wouldn't work."

"You did what?" Angel asked, startled. Then, more gently, "What did you try?"

He heard Wesley shift as though he were sitting up straighter. "I found it in Wolfram & Hart's files and burned it," Wesley said with more than a hint of defensiveness.

Angel nodded even though Wesley couldn't see him. "Worth a shot, I guess."

"Apparently it wasn't," Wesley replied flatly.

"Just because it didn't work, doesn't mean it wasn't worth trying," Angel said, although he understood where Wesley was coming from. "You tried. That counts for a lot."

"Oh, yes, I've always found that to be such a comfort when I've failed," Wesley snapped. He sucked in a ragged breath and said far less heatedly, "I shouldn't... I'm not angry with you. It's been a rough few... well." He didn't finish the sentence.

"Yeah. I know." Part of Angel wanted to reach out and touch Wesley, to comfort him, but he couldn't from where he was. He wanted to pull Wesley against him, run a hand along Wesley's spine, feel warm breath on his neck and shoulder. Words were such a poor substitute to that tactile reassurance he was craving. "You did what you could. I know it doesn't make you feel any better, though."

"No, it doesn't." The car veered in a gentle curve and then slowed, and Wesley said, "Given the traffic going in this direction, it's going to take quite some time to get to the hotel. It would probably be faster on foot. You should get some rest if you can."

That was a pretty pointed way to say Wesley didn't want to talk about it anymore, Angel figured. "Okay. Wake me up if you need anything."

Wesley made a non-committal sound, and Angel settled down into a more comfortable position, closing his eyes and listening to the hum of the engine. It took a little while, but finally it lulled him off to sleep.