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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.


"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."


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.

Chapter Text

With a great deal of determination, Wesley had forced his thoughts away from the endless internal litany of past failures and the aching knot of unhappiness deep in his chest and focused instead on the problem at hand, specifically on how they would track Connor and what they might do with him once they found him. He considered countless scenarios as he fought the chaotic Los Angeles traffic, some more pleasant than others. He couldn't really think of one that ended well for everyone involved. He certainly didn't expect that any of them would end well for him, but that wasn't particularly a surprise. It wasn't the point.

Finally they reached the hotel, and he pulled into the shaded area behind it. It seemed impossible to believe that only that morning they had all taken a limousine to Wolfram & Hart together, and now the team was only the two of them, for whatever length of time Angel wanted him around. For all of Angel's surprising words earlier, Wesley still didn't expect it to be long.

As Wesley shut off the ignition and unbuckled his seat belt, Angel stirred in the back seat and gave a small, muffled groan. "Wes?"

"Yes?" Wesley turned so that he could see him, or at least the blanket that covered him. "We're in the shade, if you would like to sit up."

"Thanks." Angel sounded weary as he struggled to a sitting position, the blanket slipping down around his shoulders. "Where are we?"

"The Hyperion. I think people are making up for all of the road rage they didn't get to experience under Jasmine's thrall, but we're finally here."

"Oh. Good." Angel opened the door and got out, leaning against the car as if grateful for its support.

Frowning, Wesley got out of the car as well. "Are you all right?" he asked, coming to stand in front of Angel. "How are you feeling?"

Angel rubbed a hand across his mouth. "I'm okay. Just... not really awake. I think I was dreaming." He looked up at Wesley, blinking.

"All right," Wesley said, relaxing a bit and trying without much success not to smile at the oddly endearing expression. "Let's go inside, then. You can rest in an actual bed, if you'd like."

"No, I'm up," Angel said. He pushed away from the car and led the way inside, but he sank heavily onto one of the couches when he reached the lobby.

Wondering whether he should encourage the obviously tired and injured Angel to go to bed, Wesley walked behind the counter and was pleased to see that the coffee maker was not only in its position but that the battered tin that housed the ground coffee was still halfway full. He set up the machine to brew a fresh pot and began to clear away the assorted debris that had found its way onto the counter.

Opening up a nearly empty box of pastries, he found his stomach clenching in a reminder that he couldn't remember the last proper meal he'd eaten. He selected a cheese Danish that looked less stale than the rest and wandered out toward Angel to wait for the coffee.

Angel was leaning against the back of the couch, his arms crossed over his chest, and looked considerably more alert than he had when Wesley had left. "Good. I'm glad you got something to eat."

"You must have higher hopes for its edibility than I do," Wesley said, sitting down next to Angel. He tore off a piece of the pastry and tasted it. It certainly wasn't fresh, but it wasn't unpleasant. "I doubt it'll kill me." He took another bite.

"I hope it won't." Angel shifted his weight slightly, the result being that his shoulder was touching Wesley's.

At the contact, Wesley swallowed hastily and told himself not to be so jumpy. Angel was just feeling comfortable around him, and he should be grateful for it. "I'm glad you were able to get some sleep, despite the obvious drawbacks of the setting."

"I'm okay," Angel said. "You'd tell me if you weren't, right?"

"I'm fine," Wesley said automatically. "There's coffee brewing. Working long hours comes with the territory in our profession."

"Doesn't necessarily make it any easier," Angel pointed out. He did sound better than he had before his brief nap, less down and more alert.

Wesley shrugged. "I can't remember the last time I had something like a regular schedule. I'm used to it."

"You should have something decent to eat, at least," Angel said. "You want me to call the place down the street? You know, the one with the pizza?"

"That's not necessary, even if they were operating in this chaos. I'm sure there's some food left in the kitchen," Wesley replied, although he didn't have much interest in going to look.

"You want me to go see if I can find you something?" Angel offered.

At that moment, Wesley didn't want either of them to move an inch. The hotel was quiet, the couch was comfortable, and it was oddly reassuring to feel the solidity of Angel's arm against his. He turned his head to look at Angel and put voice to his curiosity. "Why are you so concerned about feeding me?"

Angel's eyes were dark and possibly worried. "I just... food's important. You're..."

Since Angel didn't seem inclined to finish his thought, Wesley said, "I'm hardly likely to waste away because I miss a meal." His stomach chose that moment to rumble in objection, and he took another bite of his Danish. "Or several."

"No," Angel agreed.

"How are you feeling?" Wesley asked, studying Angel's face. "I'm sure lying on the floor of the car didn't help the healing process."

Angel shrugged, the movement sliding his shoulder against Wesley's. "I'm okay. Not saying I'm not looking forward to spending a couple of days catching up on my sleep, but I'm pretty sure you feel the same way."

"Yes." With a quiet sigh, Wesley rubbed absently at the cut on his temple, which was beginning to itch as it healed, and then dropped his hand into his lap. "One benefit to being under Jasmine's thrall was that we were well-rested for a little while, at least." His chest tightened at the thought of her, though, and he looked away from Angel's eyes.

To his surprise, Angel reached out and touched Wesley's knee, a gentle sort of pat that ended with Angel's hand resting there lightly. "Yeah." Even with that one word, it was clear from Angel's tone that he understood.

It was very tempting to lean more fully against Angel's side, to focus on that small bit of tangible proof that he was not entirely alone in the vast, cold world that was all that was left without Jasmine, but Wesley wouldn't let himself give into the desire. Even clinging bodily to the vampire wouldn't slake his gnawing need to have something to hold onto, so he reminded himself that he simply had to get beyond it. The belonging that he had felt under Jasmine's influence had been false. He would not experience it again.

Still, he couldn't make himself move away. He was weary down to his bones, and the hotel lobby was filled with memories of happier times, both with Jasmine and long before. He shut his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, trying to push them all away.

"I need some coffee," he said, sitting up in preparation to stand.

Angel patted his knee again and shifted his own weight forward. "Let me get it."

Wesley considered arguing, since he was certainly able to do it himself, but Angel seemed to need something to do. He always preferred to act than to sit around. "Thank you," he said and leaned back against the cushions.

He watched as Angel got up and walked over to the counter, then went behind it. He could hear the sound of pouring coffee, the rough clatter as the glass pot was put back onto the metal plate that kept it warm. A moment later, Angel reappeared with a mug and a sheepish expression. "I don't know how you like it," the vampire said.

"Black is fine," Wesley said, reaching out one hand to accept the mug. "Thank you."

"No problem." Angel sat down next to Wesley again in very nearly the exact same spot he'd occupied earlier, his knee touching Wesley's.

It was interesting, Wesley reflected in a somewhat successful attempt to distance himself from his feelings, how they both seemed to want contact. Not that they hadn't touched before Jasmine, although Wesley had to skip back quite a while to get to a place in his memory where their relationship wasn't strained at best, but now they were obviously seeking some resonance of the connection they had all shared before everything broke apart into chaos, this time of their own doing. He wondered if Angel was even aware of what he was doing or if he was working on instinct as he so frequently did.

Wesley popped the last of the pastry in his mouth and, as he had no napkin, brushed his fingers on his jeans to rid them of clinging crumbs before taking a sip of coffee. "This should kick in in a minute or two, and then I'll be ready to get back to work," he said.

"What's next?" Angel asked. "There are some places I could check out. You think we should split up?"

Wesley opened his mouth to disagree but stopped himself before he got the words out. It was important to make decisions based on logic rather than his own preferences. "We can. We would probably cover more ground that way, and I wouldn't be slowing you down."

"Hey, you're the one who can walk around in the sunshine," Angel pointed out. "If there's one of us slowing the other down, it's me."

"Your speed and agility far outweigh the simple capacity to walk in the sun," Wesley said with a small shake of his head. "You can move faster and more easily without me. Although you do make a good point that there are places you aren't able to go at this time of day, in which case it might be useful to have someone else along." He felt like it should have been easier to make such a basic decision, and he drank some more coffee to help his brain along.

"Maybe we should split up," Angel said. "Like you said, we could cover twice as much ground that way, and you can check out the places that are harder for me to get to."

"All right." Wesley swirled the coffee in his mug to cool it off a bit more. "Is there anyplace in particular you'd like me to look?"

Angel frowned as if he were thinking. "You know that park over near that restaurant?" He seemed to grasp almost immediately that that description was too vague. "That place that Fred likes, the one with the tacos? Connor likes that park. He told me he likes sitting there and watching the kids on the swings."

Fitting that bit of information into the puzzle that was Connor, Wesley nodded. "I can look for him there, although I'm not sure there will be many children out today. We should also check where he was living when Cordelia first came back, in case he has holed up there."

Angel's jaw tightened slightly, but all he did was say, "Yeah. There's one place I want to check out first -- maybe we could meet over there?"

"Where else are you going to look?" Wesley asked.

"There's this place in the sewers," Angel said. "We were down there one time, and Connor said some stuff... I don't know, I just think maybe he might have gone there."

"It's certainly possible." Wesley drained the last of his coffee and set the mug down on his thigh. "All right. I'll make a few more calls and investigate the park, and then I'll meet you at Connor's old home. Do you even have your mobile phone in case you need to call me?"

Angel got up, checking his pockets with a somewhat bewildered expression on his face. After a moment, he put a hand into his inside jacket pocket and pulled it out along with a handful of splintered plastic shards, some of which slipped out of his hand and fell to the floor. "Um..." Angel said. "I guess technically I have it. Sort of."

Grinning despite himself, Wesley said, "Yes, that will be very helpful, won't it? We'll just have to hope we don't need to be in contact with each other."

"Yeah." Angel set the remains of his cell phone down on the couch and tucked his hands into his trouser pockets. "But this shouldn't take long."

"Unless one of us finds him," Wesley pointed out. He rose to his feet and set the mug on the counter before patting his own pockets to be sure that he had everything he needed.

"You really think we're going to?" Angel asked. With his posture somewhat slumped, there was an air of defeat about him.

"Perhaps not in the next hour, but eventually yes," Wesley said firmly. "We haven't even begun to explore mystical means of tracking him. If you want to find him, we will."

Angel straightened up and nodded, seeming to take heart. "Yeah. I do. We have to."

The tightness in Wesley's chest loosened just a bit at his encouragement seeming to help. "We will. We've found people under worse circumstances than this."

The way that Angel met his eyes was even more reassuring. "Yeah, we have. Much worse."

"Then don't worry," Wesley said with a faint but honest smile. "No matter how well he hides, we'll find him."

Angel nodded. "Okay, I'm gonna go." His head was tilted to one side a bit, his eyes thoughtful and less worried than they had been. "Meet you at his old place. If something happens, meet back here?"

"All right." Not quite able to look away, Wesley hesitated for a second but couldn't help but add, "Be careful."

"You, too." Angel turned and started toward the door that led to the basement stairs, then hesitated. "If you find him... I don't know. Call the police, or something. Don't try to take him yourself."

"I'll handle him carefully, but I think the police are the last people we need involved," Wesley said. "Not if you don't want anyone to get hurt."

"I don't want anyone to get hurt," Angel agreed. "Including you. Look, if you're not at his old place in forty minutes, I'm starting back toward the park, okay?"

"Angel," Wesley said with a more than a hint of exasperation, "as much as I appreciate your concern, I seriously doubt he's going to try to kill me again. I'll be fine."

"Good. Then I'll see you in less than forty minutes." Without waiting for a reply, Angel left, closing the basement door behind him.

Wesley stared after him for a long moment before sighing and pulling out his phone.

~ * ~ * ~

It didn't take Angel all that long to get to the spot in the sewers where he'd had the conversation with Connor where he had told him about his childhood with Holtz. He'd walked a further distance than was probably necessary in all directions from there, listening and looking for any signs of Connor, but there was nothing.

Not, he thought, that he'd really expected there to be. But there were only so many places he could think of to look, and it was one of the last places they'd had a real connection.

Sighing, he headed back toward the building where Connor had been staying with Cordelia. He made a mental note to call Fred later and check in, see how Cordy was doing. He didn't really figure Connor was going to be there, either, but at least he and Wesley could regroup, decide what to do next.

Angel was counting on Wesley through this ordeal so much more than he would have thought. He wasn't sure if the whole Jasmine thing was lingering, making them feel closer again than they would have, but he wasn't going to complain even if he couldn't help but wonder. He was grateful for the support and, he hoped, friendship. He wasn't lying when he'd said he missed how close they used to be.

The building where Connor had been staying was almost completely silent. There were windows letting the sunlight in, though, so Angel had to be careful, but with the place apparently empty that wasn't really all that hard.

The room was quiet, too, and Wesley wasn't there yet. Angel didn't have a watch, but he could keep time pretty well in his own head. It was damned close to the forty minutes they'd agreed on, and Wesley wasn't there.

Angel moved around the room slowly, staying to the side of it that was in shadow. There was no sign of Connor here, either. Even the faint traces of his scent were mostly gone. He hadn't been here.

He waited another four minutes and was just about to head in the direction of the park when he thought he heard a soft sound.

He glanced over at the doorway to see Wesley quietly walking through it, his eyes sharp and wary as they scanned the room.

Wesley relaxed a bit when he saw Angel. "Anything?"

Angel shook his head, relieved. "No. You?"

"No," Wesley replied. He looked around them. "Has he been here?"

"No." Angel swiped his fingers through a thin layer of dust on top of a box and held them up in illustration. "Doesn't look like anyone has."

"I doubt the housekeeping service is running on its usual schedule," Wesley said. He took a deep breath and let it out, as though he were releasing some tension. "I made a few more phone calls, but with the city still in such chaos I can't depend on my informants as I usually can."

Angel looked at him closely, trying to figure out if it was something new that had him so tense or if it was just the usual. "So what now? Back to the hotel?"

At the sound of a yell from outside, Wesley glanced toward one of the windows. "Given the resources we have there, it's probably the best place," he said. "Unless you have any other ideas."

"I wish I did," Angel said. The truth was, he was just about out of ideas and hope.

The shouting died out, and Wesley met Angel's eyes again. "At least the police are even less likely to find him than we are. And he doesn't seem to be doing anything else newsworthy."

"Keep your fingers crossed it stays that way." Angel shifted his weight, listening to the sounds outside, making sure that it wasn't anything serious. Not that he could have done much about it if it was, but he felt at least partially responsible for the chaos the city was in. He sighed. "Come on, let's get out of here."

"Yes." Wesley looked around with a faint frown as though thinking of something distasteful, then started toward the door.

Wesley's expression had reminded Angel of something he'd been trying really hard not to remember. "You don't think he'll go back for Cordelia, do you?" he asked, following Wesley, figuring he would say something if his car wasn't somewhere Angel could get to it.

Wesley turned his head to look at Angel, his frown deepening for a moment before his expression cleared. "No. He doesn't know where she is, and I can't see why he'd want to hurt her."

Personally, Angel didn't have a hard time at all remembering wanting to hurt her, but he had to remind himself that it probably hadn't even been her. Or maybe he was just fooling himself, wanting to think that. "I don't even know where she is," he said. "I'll have to call Fred later and check in."

"Yes." Wesley's eyes softened with concern before they regained their professional distance and focused back on the door. "I can do some research on mystical comas, as well."

"Maybe she'll wake up now that the Jasmine thing's over," Angel said. It was one thing to be hopeful about, anyway. He paused to let Wesley go through the doorway first.

"It's possible," Wesley said. "Still, it doesn't hurt to look for other options in case she doesn't." His tone of voice sounded just a little flat to Angel, but he could have been imagining it.

"What kind of other options?" Angel asked, more to keep Wesley talking than anything else.

Wesley shrugged. "Spells, potions, charms. Some way to find her spirit and draw it back, if indeed she was pushed out of her body instead of being subsumed into Jasmine's consciousness."

"What do you think happened?" They turned in the hallway and started down the long flight of stairs.

"I suppose it would be easiest to think that she never really came back at all," Wesley said after drawing in a long breath. "That her true self was left on the higher plane and that her body and personality were hijacked from the start. However, I doubt it's that simple."

"So she might never wake up, because she might not even be in there?" Angel didn't know why he was continuing the conversation when all it did was depress him.

"That is a possibility," Wesley agreed, which certainly didn't help. "On the other hand, if the real Cordelia never returned at all it might be easier to reunite her disassociated spirit with her body." He stepped over some fallen bricks that were scattered on the stairs. "My guess is, however, that she came back as a combination of both herself and her evil stowaway. We'll have to find out what happened to her as the other presence inside her grew."

"She should have stayed in Sunnydale," Angel said. "She would have been better off." He offered Wesley a reluctant smile. "This would probably be the place where a good friend would suggest that you leave, too. Get the hell out of L.A. before..." But plenty had already happened to Wesley because of Angel.

"It's a bit late for that." There was no heat in Wesley's response, like he had simply accepted everything that had happened to him as his due. "And I highly doubt that staying on the Hellmouth would have been all that much better for Cordelia. Perhaps she should have considered breaking into the New York acting scene."

"Pretty much anything would have been better than here," Angel said. The stairwell created a gentle echo of the sound of his voice.

"Angel, if she hadn't wanted to be here, she wouldn't have stayed," Wesley replied, holding his gaze. "Regardless of the visions, she has never been the sort of woman to allow herself to be forced into anything."

"Yeah, but it's not like she could have just gone off, not after she got the visions," Angel said. He wasn't arguing, and he didn't want to. "Am I gonna be able to get to your car?"

"It's just outside," Wesley said before stopping on the step in front of Angel and turning to face him directly. "Cordelia made a choice. Even with the visions, she could have pursued her acting career or stayed at the office and read one of her glossy magazines, but instead she picked up a sword and fought by your side. She chose to follow your destiny and help people in need. I agree that she has suffered more than her share of hardships, but don't dismiss what the decisions she made mean about her character."

Angel knew Wesley was right, but he wasn't sure he was ready to admit it. "I don't want anyone to follow my destiny. It's bad enough I have to follow it."

"You may feel that way, but others of us don't," Wesley said simply and resumed his descent down the staircase.

That made Angel pause for a second, so that by the time he got moving again he had to hurry to catch up to Wesley. He grabbed onto Wesley's sleeve to stop him, because this wasn't a conversation he wanted to have while running down the stairs. "Is that what this is? You following my destiny?"

"I've never hidden the fact that I think that your mission is important," Wesley said, standing straight and unflinching. "But if by 'this' you mean why I'm here with you, then, no, it's not only about that."

Angel deliberately gentled his grip on Wesley's arm, relaxing. "Good. I mean..." He cleared his throat. "I wouldn't want you to stay just because of that."

Wesley's chin raised in defense or defiance, Angel couldn't tell which. "I would," he said. "But that's not why I'm here."

Angel swallowed, feeling like he had back at that other building, that empty warehouse when he'd wanted to... he wasn't sure what he'd wanted to do. Just knew that it had been like this, with his hand on Wesley's arm and them standing close together. "Why are you here?" he asked softly.

"I should think that's obvious," Wesley said with something of a smile. It didn't look all that happy. "You've been one of my closest friends. I care about you."

"Do you?" Angel asked, leaning in closer, watching Wesley's eyes.

Wesley's smile faded as some indefinable emotion flickered across his face, but he didn't look away. "Yes."

Wesley's smile fading equaled bad as far as Angel was concerned, so he let go of Wesley's arm and moved back a little bit, not quite ready to end the conversation there. "I do, too. Care about you, I mean." He could smell Wesley's skin, the slight tinge of salt sweat, and damn but he wanted to be closer instead of further away.

"You don't - That is..." Wesley looked down and cleared his throat with a nervous little cough before not quite meeting Angel's eyes again. "Thank you."

"I don't what?" Angel asked gently.

There was a pause, and then Wesley finished, "Have to say that."

"No, you're right, I don't." Angel was on the same step as Wesley, so they were just about the same height, and he was pulled closer to him like a magnet. Barely realizing that he was doing it, Angel leaned in, his left hand closing around the railing beside Wesley's hip. "I wanted to say it. It's true."

Taking a shallow breath, Wesley met Angel's gaze and said, "Then it seems I have something to thank Jasmine for, after all."

Angel was very still. "I guess we both do."

Wesley's eyes darted to Angel's mouth for a tense moment, his breathing growing more rapid as the silence lengthened. "I... ah...." He swallowed. "I don't know what you want, Angel," he said in a hushed voice.

"I think maybe you do," Angel said. He suddenly knew what he wanted, the sort of physical contact and connection he was craving, and that this probably wasn't the time for it even if Wesley wanted it, too. Still he leaned in a tiny bit more, his leg brushing against Wesley's.

"If you've reacted like I have to what has happened, you want to be close to someone." The words were rough, as if they almost hurt to say despite their clinical nature.

Angel couldn't say anything at all. He didn't know where to begin, didn't want to get it wrong.

Wesley's tongue darted out to wet his lower lip, and he murmured, "I can... be that for you, if that's what you want."

Angel felt like he'd already been waiting too long for this. He didn't want to wait anymore. He slid his hand up Wesley's arm, curling his fingers around just below the shoulder, feeling how warm and solid Wesley was. Then he leaned in the rest of the way and kissed him, slowly, firmly, but controlled. He didn't want Wesley to get the wrong idea.

A subtle tremor ran through Wesley's body when Angel's mouth touched his, but he didn't hesitate to return the kiss. His hand came up to fist in Angel's jacket at the small of his back, holding on but not pulling him closer. More importantly, he also wasn't pushing him away, instead following each movement of his lips with focus and determination.

Wesley's mouth was warm, and he tasted like coffee. It wasn't the coffee that Angel was hungry for, though; it was for the way Wesley fit perfectly against his mouth and made soft sighing sounds with each breath. It was just what Angel wanted. The start of it, anyway.

He drew the kiss out for as long as he reasonably could, which wasn't anywhere near as long as he might have liked it to be, before pulling back, opening his eyes and meeting Wesley's dazed blue ones. "I want to be close to you," Angel said, wanting Wesley to get the distinction.

The leather of Angel's coat creaked as Wesley's hand tightened on it. "I'm right here, Angel," he said, his eyes growing a bit stormy but not wavering for a second.

Angel smiled and slipped his arm around Wesley's waist, running his hand up along Wesley's spine until it rested between his shoulder blades. He was answered by another faint shudder that he could feel beneath his palm; it was comforting to see that Wesley wasn't in as much control as he was pretending, although Angel had gotten a pretty good idea of that from how he'd dealt with those kids earlier. "I know," he said, and kissed him again, harder this time. Yes, this was what he needed. "And as much as I'd like to do this right now, we need to find Connor."

"I know." Wesley hesitated, his gaze focused on Angel's mouth, and then squared his shoulders and looked back up at his eyes. "My car's just outside. The blanket is still in the back seat."

"Okay. Let's get back to the hotel and figure out where the hell we're going to look next." Angel sighed, but felt strangely comforted.

Wesley waited for a second and then asked, "Were you planning to walk like this?" He indicated Angel's arm around him by pressing back into it.

"Guess that might be kind of awkward, huh?" Angel said, letting Wesley go but allowing his hand to linger on Wesley's hip for just a little bit longer than he needed to.

"It would be dangerous, as well, given that I wouldn't be able to open the car for you." Wesley moved to the next step down, looking over his shoulder to be sure that Angel was following.

Angel started after him, trying to shake off what had just happened and come to terms with it at the same time, which, he had to admit after a minute, wasn't working too well. "I'm not dreaming, right?" he asked Wesley's back.

"I doubt this is what you'd dream about," Wesley replied, gesturing at the dingy stairwell.

"Maybe not. But the part with you was good." Angel spoke without thinking and didn't regret the way the words came out.

Wesley didn't turn around, but it took him a moment before he said, "I can assure you that you're not dreaming."

"I'm pretty sure that's what you'd say if I was dreaming," Angel said.

Wesley glanced back again, his mouth curving upwards in a small smile. "But wouldn't I say it in some archaic tongue and then disappear?"

"Maybe," Angel admitted, thinking that he'd rather Wesley's clothes disappear so they could do a lot more touching with their kissing, then immediately feeling guilty. He needed to concentrate on finding Connor, not on doing what he wanted in the moment. It was never supposed to be about what he wanted.

The amusement in Wesley's eyes dwindled as Angel's face fell, and when he stopped at the bottom of the stairs he reached out to touch Angel's arm. "It's not a dream," he said and then pushed open the door to the outside.

Confused and distracted, Angel followed, stepping out onto the loading dock and looking for Wesley's car, which was parked close to the building but still in the sunshine.

"Wait here," Wesley said unnecessarily, heading down the stairs toward his car. He unlocked it and opened the back door, pulling out the scratchy blanket Angel had huddled under earlier and bringing it back to him.

Angel took it, his hand brushing over Wesley's. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," Wesley replied. Although there was a vague sense of wariness about him, he seemed almost relaxed in comparison with earlier in the day. He stepped out of the way of Angel's direct route to the open door.

When they were settled in the car, Wesley said, "I stopped by a butcher's on the way over and picked up some blood for you, by the way, which is among the reasons I was late. I'm afraid it's a day or two old, but it ought to be better than nothing."

Angel knew he probably shouldn't have been surprised, but it didn't change the fact that he was. He felt his gut respond to the thought of the blood, and had a sudden, powerful scent memory of what Wesley's blood had tasted like, hot and powerful across his tongue. "You didn't have to do that," he said.

"You need it," was Wesley's matter-of-fact response. The car pulled away from the curb, rocking Angel's body gently with the motion.

"Doesn't make it your job," Angel muttered, then, louder, he said, "But thanks."

Wesley hesitated before replying, "You should be able to get it from your usual supplier when you run out again. It looks like the chaos from the end of Jasmine's reign is slowly dissipating."

Angel sighed. It was something to be relieved about. Maybe. "Somehow, I feel like I should be more happy about things going back to normal."

"It's difficult when that normalcy means that you'll be less happy," Wesley said.

"That might not be a bad thing either, though," Angel pointed out. "I mean, being me."

"It's only perfect happiness that is a concern, and it would take quite a lot for you to achieve it," Wesley replied thoughtfully. "Even Jasmine's influence didn't make you lose your soul."

Strangely enough, Angel hadn't thought of that. "You think maybe because it wasn't real?"

"Possibly. Or perhaps there was still enough weighing on you that you could only be blissfully happy but not perfectly so." The car slowed as it turned, then sped up again.

Closing his eyes and remembering, Angel said, "I don't know. It... it felt like perfect happiness." It came out sounding wistful.

"Then you should be glad you were able to enjoy it for a little while, at least." Wesley sounded nostalgic.

"Yeah. I am." Jasmine had given him back Connor - like Wesley said, for a little while, at least - and that had meant a lot. Even if losing him again was that much harder.

Wesley was silent for a moment. "It's possible that what you - we - felt then was real, even if the power causing it was a lie. Some of the emotions could have been genuine."

"I don't see how they could have been," Angel argued. "If it'd been real..." If it had, he'd have been Angelus, because if that hadn't been perfect happiness then he'd obviously lost the ability to tell what was, and he didn't think he had.

"Perhaps you're right," Wesley said with a sigh. It was a sound of defeat, maybe even of despair. "If Jasmine was a lie, I suppose it follows that what came of it was, too."

"Yeah, but it doesn't mean I didn't feel it," Angel said, shifting his weight. "It was still... maybe it didn't count, but it was there. I felt it. I remember it."

"It's hard to forget," Wesley said. "Regardless, I don't think being too happy is much of a concern for you."

"Maybe not." There was so much to think about, and Angel couldn't. Shouldn't. He should be focusing on Connor, on finding him and figuring out how the heck to make things better for him.

"Angel, judging from my own experience you probably feel like some part of you has been ripped away and can never be replaced; I doubt even unalloyed happiness is a possibility right now." Wesley cleared his throat and continued with less heat, "All of which is to say that feeling mixed at best about things returning to normal is to be expected."

He could hear the complicated emotions in Wesley's voice. "What would you like to have happen?" Angel asked, wondering if talking about it might make Wesley sound less sad, less angry. "In a perfect world?"

The car sped up with a jerk, and Wesley replied in clipped tones, "There's no such thing."

It wasn't that Angel couldn't understand why the question might make Wesley short-tempered, but that didn't make him any less curious about the answer. "Yeah, I know. Humor me."

A good minute or more passed before Wesley spoke again. "I don't... I can't think that way, Angel." The annoyance had drained from his speech, leaving a hollowness behind. "I haven't been able to for quite some time."

Angel sat up a little bit, looking across the space between them and seeing that it was in shadow. He reached out and touched Wesley's sleeve, giving a squeeze until he could feel Wesley's arm underneath it. "Have you tried?"

Wesley jerked with surprise at the touch, but he didn't pull away or look back at him. "I'm afraid I really don't see much point."

"I do," Angel said. He wanted to know what Wesley wanted. "Try? For me?"

"Angel..." His name on Wesley's lips was a soft plea for mercy. "Things are as they are. Why would you want me to taunt myself with rosy visions of an impossible future?"

"Because I want to know," Angel said. He rubbed his thumb along Wesley's arm firmly.

There was another long silence. Angel waited, feeling the painful tension in Wesley's arm, but didn't speak. "I suppose I would like things to go back to how they once were," Wesley said finally. There was little inflection to his voice, like he was working hard to speak without emotion. "To restore Cordelia. To have Connor be a part of the team."

Angel let that idea wash over him, and he had to admit that it was pretty much exactly what he'd wish for, too, although he'd probably throw something in there about Connor and Cordelia being completely uninterested in each other as anything more than friends. His feelings for Cordelia were a confusing, mixed-up jumble that he didn't really want to examine too carefully, though, so he set that aside. "Sounds nice," he said. "You, me, Cordy. Things were good back then."

"Yes." Wesley took a deep breath and pulled himself upright in his seat as the car turned and then slowed to a halt. "We're here." He removed his arm from Angel's grip as he shifted into park and set the emergency brake.

Angel wasn't sure if he should take that as meaning something more than it did. Wesley had parked in the shadow of the building, safe from the late afternoon sun, but Angel brought the blanket with him anyway as they went in, walking side by side but not touching each other, like they'd regressed and didn't know how to undo it.

When they reached the lobby, Wesley hefted the paper bag he was carrying and asked, "Where would you like your blood?"

"Oh. Right." Angel reached out for the bag, and Wesley handed it to him. "Thanks. I guess I'll have some now." His wound had faded to a dull ache, but that didn't mean some more blood would be a bad thing. "Do you think - " A faint hint of something filled Angel's senses and he froze. "Hang on."

Wesley quickly surveyed the area and then looked back at Angel. "What is it?"

"Connor," Angel said tightly, bending and setting the paper bag on the floor and heading for the stairs. "He's been back. He might still be here." It wasn't a strong scent, but there was no question in his mind that it was fresh.

He heard Wesley following behind him, but he didn't slow down or look back, instead moving with a single-minded purpose.

It didn't take Angel long to find where Connor had been - upstairs, in the room he'd been sleeping in during the time Jasmine had been there. He looked around, trying to remember what had been in the room before, but too much had been rearranged for him to be sure that anything was missing. "He must have come back for some of his stuff." Angel went over to the window and looked out; the sun was setting on the other side of the building, throwing the world on this side of it into shadow.

"That shows he's thinking more logically and long-term," Wesley said from where he stood in the doorway. "It's a good sign."

"Yeah," Angel agreed reluctantly. "Unless he's planning on going back to the bus station." He turned around and looked at Wesley.

"We should see if he is," Wesley said, taking a step back into the hallway.

"I ought to at least be able to figure out which direction he went from here," Angel said, heading for the hallway himself, passing Wesley and going the opposite direction from the way they'd come until there was no further to go, stopping at the larger window there. "He went this way," Angel said. "I'm going down."

Without waiting for Wesley to respond, he jumped out of the window.

The rush of the fall was always kind of adrenalizing, and if anything the impact of his feet hitting the pavement and resulting shock up through all his joints doubled it. He could tell almost immediately that Connor had gone to the right, so he went that way far enough to confirm that Connor was, in fact, headed in the opposite direction from the bus station, which was good enough for Angel. He backtracked to where he'd started, meeting Wesley, who'd just come downstairs the more traditional way. "That way," Angel said, gesturing.

"I'll follow," Wesley said. "You don't have to wait for me."

Still, Angel started off the way Connor had gone at a walk. "If he came back for his stuff, he's probably going to hole up somewhere," he said. "Wait until he heals. Then, who knows."

Wesley nodded, falling into step beside him. "If he's making plans, he is probably growing less volatile as well. That's encouraging."

"I just hope he didn't go too far," Angel said, pausing and then turning down into an alleyway. The sun was low enough now that as long as he stayed on the ground, chances were good he wouldn't have any trouble. "Not that I have any idea what to say to him if we find him."

"Perhaps telling him you understand how he's feeling is a start," Wesley suggested. "That you want to help him."

"If he doesn't know I want to help him by now, he's never going to," Angel muttered. He glanced at Wesley. "Yeah, I know. But it was so much easier when he didn't hate me."

"Your time together under Jasmine shows that he doesn't want to hate you," Wesley said. "That's something. We can hope it's enough."

"What if it's not?" Angel asked. "Like you said before, it's not like the cops are going to be able to hold him, not if he doesn't want to be held. Look at Faith."

Wesley's posture stiffened almost imperceptibly, but he sounded calm as he replied, "She came around. So can Connor."

"Yeah, but my point is, I can't see him agreeing to spend a bunch of years behind bars. Not in prison, not in... whatever kind of a facility might be able to help him." Angel wasn't sure anything could help Connor now.

"No, but perhaps he will agree he needs help and be willing to accept it from you," Wesley said, his eyes roving over the street and its few pedestrians as they walked. "You'd be able to hide him from the authorities."

"In what? A cage?" Angel knew he was being fatalistic. "Okay, yeah. Maybe I'll be able to convince him that we can help."

"The cage is still in the basement," Wesley reminded him, but when Angel looked over he could see the crinkling around his eyes that meant he was joking. Mostly. "But unless you are willing to employ physical restraint, you'll have to settle for talking to him. Which, I'm aware, you consider a fate worse than being dusted."

"It's not that bad," Angel said. They reached the end of the alleyway, and he stopped, tilting his head to the right and frowning. He knelt down and touched a tiny dark spot on the pavement. "No wonder I can tell where he's going. He's losing blood again."

Wesley's expression grew grimmer as he looked at the drop of blood. "How fortunate for us. Let's keep going."

Angel wasn't sure if that was Wesley sounding worried. Actually, Connor's physical well-being wasn't at the top of the list of things Angel was worried about, although that was mostly because he knew what his son was capable of surviving. He healed fast. He'd be okay.

They followed Connor's trail eight or ten blocks into an area where the buildings were in pretty ramshackle condition, some of them apparently abandoned. At the battered door that led into one, Angel stopped, pushing at the door with two fingers and watching it swing open. "I think he went in here."

"It looks like it," Wesley replied, pointing to a tiny smear of blood on the doorframe.

The room beyond was unlit, the darkness only broken by faint beams of late afternoon sun. Angel knew that Wesley would be able to see very little until his eyes adjusted, but there wasn't much to pick out beyond the rubbish that seemed to gather in every abandoned building and a door at the end of the long, narrow space.

"Come on," Angel said, stepping inside but not going far until he knew Wesley was following.

They made their way across the room to the far side, and Angel reached out cautiously to turn the door handle. He could hear the faint, reassuring sound of Wesley's breathing behind him as he pushed the door open to reveal... a bathroom.

A dim, dirty bathroom with a couch in it.

On the couch sat Connor, curled up at one end of it, a blanket over his shoulders and his arms wrapped around his knees. He didn't move when Angel opened the door, didn't even turn his head. "Go away."

Angel leaned against the door frame, grateful for its support. "I can't do that."

Wesley came to stand behind and to the side of him, just far enough away that he had plenty of room to move. Angel didn't want to think about what could happen that would require that sort of mobility.

"Yes, you can," Connor said flatly. "Turn around, close the door, and walk away."

"I need to know you're okay," Angel said.

Connor shook his head. "Maybe you do, but that's not what I need." He did turn and look at Angel then, his eyes dull, far away. "I'm fine, okay?"

"There's a trail of blood leading right to your door that says otherwise," Angel pointed out. He could remember Jasmine smiling at them when they'd hugged, his son's lean body solid in his arms.

"It'll stop. What's the problem?" Connor asked. "Does it make you hungry?"

"Connor...," Wesley chastised him quietly.

Connor's eyes moved to Wesley. "Or do you want more of it? Go ahead. It's not like I'll feel it."

"We're not here to hurt you," Wesley said.

"Well, I don't need your help, so just go." Connor sounded tired, Angel thought, and no wonder.

"Come back to the hotel with us," Angel said softly.

"No," Connor said, wrapping his arms around his bent knees again. "Look, I get that you want to help, okay? But I don't need you. Not now. Maybe not ever." That struck Angel like a blow. Connor rested his head on his knee, muffling his voice. "I'm okay. I'm not going to go hurt anyone, or blow up anything, or whatever it is you're worried about."

Wesley shifted a bit, but if he was going to touch Angel or move somewhere else he didn't. "You'll have to pardon us for needing more assurance than that, given your past behavior," he said.

"I don't know what you want me to say," Connor replied. "I'm not going to do anything. I'm not. I'm just... Look, I'm tired. And I need to be alone. I can't... I can't do this right now."

Angel thought that this fairly reasonable statement that Connor didn't want anything to do with him was much worse than a crazed shouting match would have been. At least then he could have told himself that Connor didn't really mean it.

This way, he knew that Connor did.

"What about later?" Angel asked, because he had to. "If you want to talk, or - "

"I'm not going to," Connor said, looking right at him again. "It's over, okay? It's just... over."

Wesley did touch Angel, then, resting his hand gently on his back for a moment. "You may find you feel differently after some reflection. You're lucky enough to have a father who will take you in. Don't forget that."

Connor hunched his shoulders, fatigue evident in every line of his body. "Yeah, that's worked out so well in the past."

"He's tried his best. Have you?" Wesley asked.

"Don't," Angel said to Wesley, turning toward him. To Connor, he said, "You know where to find me." He didn't wait for either of them to say anything else, just brushed past Wesley and headed for the other door.

Wesley caught up to him outside, grabbing the arm of his coat to try to stop him. "Angel, you saw him; he's crumbling. Is it really safe to leave him like this?"

Angel pulled his arm away from Wesley and turned to face him. "He's crumbling because of me. Because of what I am. You heard him; he'll be fine. I'm the one that makes things harder for him." His chest felt tight, and he realized he was breathing, shuddering, desperate breaths.

Connor wasn't the only one falling apart.

His expression shifting from frustration into concern, Wesley took a small step toward him, his hand extended, but held back from actually touching him again. "It's not you. He doesn't understand what he's feeling, but it's not you that's the problem."

"I'm thinking it is," Angel said. He felt cold, confused, bereft, and underneath all that there was a thread of something that might have been anger. Was it really too much to ask that his own son not hate him?

"No, he thinks it is, but he's wrong," Wesley told him. "You have to be the adult here, to realize that he's unhappy, confused, and in many ways far younger than his years. You're the easy answer for him, but you're not the problem."

"I could really do without the parenting lecture right now." Angel knew it wasn't Wesley he was mad at, but he was right there, presenting such an easy target.

Wesley froze, his eyes growing cold as they narrowed. "Yes, of course. I'll just let you deal with your homicidal son as you see fit, then, shall I?"

"He's not a little kid," Angel said. "He needs some space, Wes. He can take care of himself, and I'm not getting him out of there without a fight. I don't think he's going to hurt anyone now. What the fuck do you want me to do?"

They stood, their eyes locked, for a long, tense moment before finally Wesley broke the stand-off and looked away. "Do you at least plan to keep an eye on him?" he asked.

"If I say no, what are you going to do?" Angel asked with some annoyance. "Yes. Of course I'm going to keep an eye on him, but it's not like I could tell him that, could I?" Right then, though, all he wanted to do was get the hell out of there.

"All right," Wesley said flatly, glancing around him like the littered street actually held some interest before looking back at Angel. "We're done here?"

"Yeah," Angel said, feeling the tension in his shoulders. "Come on, let's go."

They walked back to the hotel without speaking, Angel staring at the pavement while he walked the whole time. They could have been jumped by anything, and he wouldn't have seen it coming.

Inside, the paper bag with the blood Wesley had got for him was still sitting on the floor where he'd left it. Angel went over to it and looked down at it, thinking that he should pick it up and at least go put it away, but somehow not having the energy to deal with it.

"You should refrigerate that before it goes bad," Wesley said, coming more slowly down the steps to the lobby floor.

"Yeah," Angel said, nodding a little bit, but not moving.

"Angel," Wesley said, his tone beginning to mellow, as he walked closer. "Would you like me to do it?"

Angel shook his head and bent down to pick up the bag. "No. I've got it." Slowly, he went to the small refrigerator behind the counter but discovered upon opening it that it was packed full of food.

He sighed, closed the door, and headed for the kitchen and the bigger refrigerator there. As it turned out, that one was also full of food; he might have been able to fit an apple in there. If he'd had an apple. Which he didn't. He had a paper bag with what felt like four containers of blood in it, and there was no room for it.

Very calmly, Angel set the bag down on the countertop, dragged a trash barrel over in front of the open refrigerator, and swept one whole shelf clear of its contents. He kicked the trash barrel to one side, put the bag of blood on the now-empty shelf, closed the refrigerator, walked over to the wall, and proceeded to punch it until he felt better.

It took longer than he'd thought it would.

When he was finished, he looked up to see Wesley leaning in the doorway, calmly watching him.

Angel cleared his throat and looked from the broken wall to his bleeding knuckles. "There was, um... a bug."

"Of course," Wesley said, not moving from where he was leaning. "Apparently one with a very strong shell."

"Don't they say cockroaches would be the only living thing to survive a nuclear blast?" Angel wiped his hand on his pants, not sure how much of a fuss Wesley was going to put up. "Anyway... everything's under control."

"I can see that," Wesley said. His tone was mild, almost pleasant. "Although I wouldn't be surprised if you came across more bugs during the evening."

Angel shook his head slightly. "I don't think so. I think... I think I took care of the problem." That was as far as he was willing to go.

Wesley gave a small nod in response and moved for the first time, straightening up where he was leaning. He looked away from Angel to glance at the damage he had caused. "At it wasn't a load-bearing wall."

"I wouldn't know," Angel said honestly, stepping away from the wall and sighing. He didn't know what to do next.

"Would you like me to leave you alone?" Wesley asked after the silence stretched out over a few of his breaths. "Give you some peace and quiet so you can rest?" He sounded as though he weren't sure whether he liked the idea or not.

Angel looked at Wesley. "I don't really want to be alone, no," he said.

Something like relief passed in a flash across Wesley's face, almost too quickly to identify. "All right," he said. "Then why don't you get some blood, and I'll take a look at your hands in the light."

"Okay." Now that some of Angel's aggression had been worked out, he was just tired, mostly. He went back to the refrigerator, hoping he hadn't thrown out any food that Wesley might have liked, and took out one of the cups of blood, then followed Wesley back to the lobby. Once the blood had been heated up, Angel went to the couch where Wesley was sitting with the first aid kit and sat down next to him. "You ever get tired of patching me up?" he asked, removing his coat and laying it over Wesley's.

"Only due to the fact that I'm tired of you getting hurt," Wesley replied. He pulled out some antiseptic wipes and tore open one of the packets before reaching for Angel's hand. "But we're both used to it." He clasped Angel's hand lightly in his own as he dabbed at his bloody knuckles.

Angel stayed still, focusing on the mild sting as Wesley carefully cleaned off the blood. It was nice to have Wesley touching him again; somehow it took the edge off of what he was feeling. "Thanks," he said softly.

Wesley met his eyes and said, "You're welcome." His mouth softened into a hint of a grin as he went back to his task. "Although next time you might consider wearing boxing gloves. Or hiring an exterminator."

"They use poison though, don't they?" Angel asked, pressing his thigh to Wesley's, absorbing some of his warmth.

"I suppose so. Why?" Wesley asked. He made a little noise of displeasure as he removed a fragment of plaster from Angel's hand.

"I don't know." Angel was just making conversation, really, because it was distracting. It distracted him from how Wesley's hands felt on his.

Wesley frowned down at Angel's hand. "I don't think there's much hope of getting bandages to stick," he said. "You'll just have to be careful with them." He released the hand he was holding and extended his hand, palm up, for the other.

Angel was still holding the mug of blood in that hand, so he switched it over to the one Wesley had just doctored and shifted his weight, putting his second bloodied hand in Wesley's and drinking most of the contents of the mug in a few quick swallows. "They should heal up pretty fast," he said. He finished off the blood and set the mug on the floor at his feet.

"Yes. They're not deep." Apparently Wesley found Angel's hand very interesting - or at least very important - because he was focused intently on it as he worked. His grip was firm but not overly so as he supported Angel's palm, and he cleaned the wounds with gentle, delicate movements. "How is your stomach feeling?"

"Better," Angel said. "Much, actually. Another day or so and I'll be good as new." He was watching their hands together with as much fascination as Wesley.

"Good," Wesley said, folding the wipe so that the clean side was out before returning to caring for Angel's knuckles. "I don't think I had the opportunity to thank you for saving my life; we were rather busy at the time."

His body thrumming from the touch, Angel just sat very still, watching. "When I turned around and you weren't there... it was my fault you got taken in the first place."

"Angel, regardless of the fact that you are the center of at least one major prophecy you aren't actually responsible for everything that goes wrong in the world," Wesley replied with a small shake of his head. "I'm a grown man and am capable of not standing where I'm a tempting target for a demon."

"Yeah," Angel said, hissing as Wesley dabbed the antiseptic wipe into the one deeper scrape across his middle knuckle. "I was worried. Am I not allowed to be worried?"

Wesley's jaw clenched at Angel's sound of pain, but he didn't falter as he cleaned the wound. "Of course you are. But there's no need for you to take unnecessary blame."

Angel didn't respond to that; he didn't know how to. As far as he was concerned, he was at least partially responsible, but he was tired of arguing with Wesley.

After a little more dabbing, Wesley sat back and loosened his hold on Angel's hand. "There you are."

"Thanks," Angel said again. He turned his hand in Wesley's before Wesley could pull back all the way, tangling their fingers together. He stroked his thumb over Wesley's palm, paying careful attention to what Wesley's reaction might be.

There it was, that telltale catch of Wesley's breath, but he didn't move his hand away. Instead he tightened his fingers on Angel's and silently looked up from their joined hands to his face.

Angel met his eyes, his thumb still tracing back and forth, catching on Wesley's life line. Or was it his heart line? Angel never could keep track of which was which. "You want to come upstairs?" he asked. He knew that Wesley was more than sharp enough to understand what he was asking.

~ * ~ * ~

Although the question wasn't a surprise, despite its rather trite phrasing, it still did something strange to Wesley's stomach to hear it. It wasn't the unpleasant twisting of nervousness but instead the warm burn of anticipation combined with the giddiness of hope.

The hope Wesley quashed without hesitation. As much as he wanted the contact, as much as he wanted Angel, he had no illusions that any of Angel's actions had much if anything to do him. Certainly he seemed to have regained some place in Angel's heart, for which he was grateful, but he knew without any doubt at all that the emotional impact of the current situation was the impetus for Angel's question and not some sudden revelation of his own deepest desires.

Still, the question was easy for Wesley to answer. Helping Angel to stay on the right path by keeping him from sinking into brooding and despair was a lofty goal; it was perhaps the greatest achievement to which he could aspire. Even if he hadn't felt like an addict suffering withdrawal from the connection with other people Jasmine's influence had created, he would have given Angel anything he could to help him focus on being the champion he was destined to be instead of Angel losing himself in depression over all that had happened. That Wesley wanted him - had, to his shame, considered his attention more important than food or water for many years and had felt its loss as a sharper wound than the slice of the knife across his throat - was just an added benefit and an added torture rolled into one.

"Yes, I would," he said, his gaze not wavering.

Angel relaxed perceptibly, but he didn't let go of Wesley's hand. Instead, he stood, pulling Wesley to his feet as well. They made their way up the stairs slowly, without speaking, leaving Wesley to wonder if Angel was nervous even though nothing else about his manner suggested that might be the case. Angel pushed open the door to his suite and hesitated, then flicked on the light. "Is that okay?" he asked.

Wesley couldn't help but smile, and he gave Angel's hand an encouraging squeeze.. "Much preferable to stumbling around in the dark, yes."

"Good." Angel turned to him right there, the two of them barely through the doorway, and pulled him in close. "That's better." Angel's free hand ran up along Wesley's back and settled at the nape of his neck, and then gentle pressure encouraged Wesley to lean in for a kiss that was slow and careful.

His eyes closing, Wesley slid his arm around Angel's waist and sighed into the kiss. It wasn't anywhere near enough to fill the void inside of him, but even that much of a touch smoothed its very roughest edges.

As much as he wanted more, he felt no need to rush, particularly as there was the very real possibility that he might never have this opportunity again, so he set to exploring Angel's mouth in slow stages. His lips were surprisingly soft against his and were tinged with the coppery aftertaste of blood. Though Wesley hadn't enjoyed his own experience drinking it, he found himself seeking more of its taste on Angel's lips, and his tongue darted out to trace along the seam of Angel's mouth. There could be no question whose mouth he was kissing.

Angel let go of Wesley's hand, pulling him closer and making a small sound that couldn't have been anything but pleasure. The hand that wasn't on the back of Wesley's neck slid down along his spine to the base of it. He opened his mouth willingly to Wesley's probing tongue, allowing Wesley to do whatever he liked.

"Yes," Wesley murmured as he pressed against Angel's body, one hand flat between his broad shoulders and the other at his waist to keep him from moving away. A surge of arousal and of power rushed through him as Angel's mouth parted beneath his, their tongues sliding and rubbing against each other, and he fisted his hands in Angel's shirt, kissing him again and again.

Angel seemed more than happy to let him, going along with everything Wesley did and participating eagerly. Angel's hand on Wesley's lower back slid lower still, using the grip to adjust Wesley's position so that they were lined up in the best of all possible ways.

Their soft groans mingled at the press of hardness against hardness, and Wesley impatiently tugged at the back of Angel's shirt, sliding his hand inside to skim across the cool skin underneath. He could feel the muscles rippling beneath the surface, and it took sheer force of will not to pull back to strip off his shirt entirely.

Aware that his increasing eagerness was getting in the way of his desire to be slow and thorough, he refocused his attention on kissing Angel, exploring every inch of his mouth. He learned that the tip of his tongue fit perfectly in the little divot at the corner of Angel's mouth and that tickling his soft palate coaxed a noise from Angel that was a cross between a whimper and a growl. He learned that beneath the blood Angel's mouth tasted comforting as well as exciting and that the thrust of Angel's tongue into Wesley's own mouth was enough to make his heart pound in his chest. He learned that the strength in Angel's arms and in his lips made him feel like there was no chance of the moment slipping away before he was ready. Mostly, however, Wesley learned that he liked kissing Angel. A lot.

It was reassuring that Angel seemed to enjoy it just as much. After another few minutes, Wesley found himself being guided across the room, presumably toward the bed although he couldn't be bothered to look or, quite frankly, to care. As long as the kissing and touching didn't stop, he was perfectly content to move.

With the edge of the mattress brushing against Wesley's leg, Angel stopped and pulled back, his hand moving between them to the front of Wesley's shirt to toy with the buttons there. "Off?" Angel suggested, the one word apparently all he could manage.

"And yours," Wesley agreed, sliding a hand around to work on Angel's buttons. With his head spinning with need, it took more concentration than it should have to open them.

It seemed that Angel was having just as much trouble; they finished at about the same time, Angel's mouth leaving Wesley's and zeroing in on his shoulder, kissing it as clumsy hands completed the job of pushing Wesley's shirt down off him and onto the floor. Angel's lips were cool against Wesley's skin but no less erotic than if they'd been warm.

Angel's shirt quickly joined Wesley's on the rug, and Wesley took full advantage of the feast of skin now revealed to him. He murmured Angel's name as he swept his hands over his strong back, doing nothing to get in the way of the movement of Angel's mouth.

Closing his eyes as Angel's tongue traced a path along his collar bone, Wesley shifted his weight, pressing in closer again now that bare skin could touch bare skin. Angel groaned softly and moved his mouth back to Wesley's, leaving Wesley to wonder if Angel had avoided his throat deliberately... but only for a few moments, because they were kissing again and he couldn't concentrate on anything but the feel of Angel's lips on his.

Somewhere in the back of his mind Wesley was aware that he wanted Angel to be talking to him, although that would have required him to move his mouth away, and that would have been horrible. Even the thought of it made him kiss Angel harder. Yet as he slid his hands down Angel's spine and gripped his hips to pull their bodies flush against each other he couldn't help but feel a flutter of sadness deep inside that the only way he could get this close to Angel was when the vampire didn't care who he was kissing.

The emotion vanished into thin air, however, as Angel gently worried Wesley's lip with his teeth and tore a gasp from his throat.

Almost instantly Angel soothed him, tongue licking lightly over the spot, hands stroking over his skin. "Shh." Wesley found his chin being lifted, his eyes meeting Angel's with so little space between them that it was as if he couldn't see anything else. As if nothing else had ever existed. "Take off the rest of your clothes," Angel said.

A tremor of excitement raced through Wesley at Angel's tone, which was somewhere between a request and an order. Whichever it was, it was full of promise, and it made Wesley ache with need. Now that he was admitting his desires, he was desperate to touch, to be touched, and the only way to make that happen was to follow Angel's suggestion as quickly as possible. "You, too," he said, smoothing his palm down Angel's chest as he took a small step back to unfasten his own belt.

In what felt like a very long time, but was probably only mere moments, they were both completely undressed and Angel was pulling Wesley down onto the bed to sit next to him. Their mouths sought each other as if they might never get enough kisses.

The world tilted as Wesley was pushed gently down onto the mattress, Angel lying half beside and half over him, braced on strong arms as Angel's lips teased at his. "God you feel good," Angel muttered, his erection rubbing against Wesley's thigh.

"Yes," Wesley breathed and then realized that it wasn't quite the right response. He flicked his tongue along Angel's lower lip and said, "So do you." Good wasn't even close to describing how Angel felt, his body so powerful and large against him, but he was too busy touching him to consider other adjectives.

Wesley took advantage of their positions to shift his attention to Angel's chest, tracing the lines of his muscles and rubbing his nipples with the sides of his thumbs. He itched to taste the skin he touched, but he didn't want to lose the connection of their kisses. Instead he twined his legs more closely around Angel's and wrapped his hand around the back of his neck to draw him in for a deeper kiss.

Angel groaned, the sound vibrating along Wesley's lower lip and into his throat. His body moved against Wesley's, the two of them writhing together slowly, unable to keep still when there was so much sensation to experience. Angel's weight prevented Wesley from moving quite as much as he might have liked to, but, at the same time, being held down was just as good if not better. Wesley could feel Angel's solid, muscular thigh press against his erection and kissed Angel all the more fervently.

"Angel," he pleaded against the vampire's mouth, though he couldn't have said exactly what he wanted besides more of everything. He needed so much more. His hands were restless on Angel's body, taking full advantage of the opportunity to touch him. His back, his hips, his chest, his arms, his throat, anywhere he could easily reach he did as they moved against each other.

When Angel's mouth left his, Wesley made a small sound of despair, but Angel didn't leave, only slid down along his body, lips and tongue exploring Wesley's skin with what seemed to be the same sort of eagerness that Wesley was experiencing.

He gasped when Angel's teeth tormented one nipple and then the other, teasing him with rough treatment that just heightened Wesley's ache. "God," he said hoarsely, his fingers digging into the flesh of Angel's back. His cock rubbed maddeningly against Angel's abdomen, and he shifted his thigh so that Angel's erection was pressed against it once more. It felt reassuringly solid and real in this almost unbelievable moment he found himself caught in.

"Yes," he begged, and Angel made no move to stop, nibbling and biting at his nipple before laving away the pain with the flat of his tongue.

"Love that you're so warm," Angel murmured, shifting again, this time so that he could get a hand between them and close it around Wesley's erection.

Moaning, Wesley unconsciously rocked his hips upwards into Angel's hand. He knew dimly that he ought to be doing more, but Angel's touch was overwhelming him, and he didn't want to fight it. He was so desperate for it, and he didn't even want to think about why. "God, you're... please," he gasped out.

"What do you want, Wes?" Angel didn't wait for an answer, moving back up to kiss Wesley again while his hand continued to work Wesley's cock, foreskin slicking wetly back and forth in Angel's firm grip.

Wesley's reply was to pull Angel as close as he could, kissing him fervently and rubbing his thigh gently against Angel's erection. If he could have, he would have crawled inside of Angel's skin, but he had to make do with pressing himself against him and groaning when Angel's thumb swirled over the head of his cock. "Let me touch you," he managed to say, trying to roll them both onto their sides.

Angel let Wesley shift them but didn't stop what he was doing, although his hand paused briefly in its movements when Wesley began to run his own hand down over Angel's stomach, being careful not to touch the bandaged wound there. "Jesus," Angel muttered. "Wes..." His voice was full of longing.

Encouraged, Wesley murmured, "Let me." He lightly dragged his nails down Angel's flat stomach and then wrapped his fingers around his cock. It was large and thick in his hand, cool but not unpleasantly so, and he stroked it firmly once, watching Angel's reaction.

He was well rewarded when Angel's eyes closed, head tipping back a bit. The vampire drew breath unevenly, then his eyes opened again and his grip tightened on Wesley's own erection. "Wouldn't complain if you wanted to do that some more," Angel said with a crooked grin. "God, your hands."

The feeling of power that he had experienced when first kissing Angel returned, and Wesley began to stroke Angel's erection, his own arousal climbing even higher as Angel made a sound of pleasure deep in his throat. Angel's touch made it a bit more difficult to concentrate, but he was too enthralled by Angel's reactions to get too distracted from the slide of his hand around Angel's cock.

His hand was around Angel's cock. If Wesley had had time to think about it, he might have been stunned, but as it was the realization that he was not only touching Angel but giving him pleasure made him lean in for another hungry kiss, his own hips flexing in subtle motions with the rhythm of Angel's hand.

Angel groaned, kissing Wesley even harder, his hand on Wesley's cock suddenly determined, relentless. It felt as if every cell in Wesley's body was aware of what was happening, his skin and muscles and nerves all tightening. Angel's other hand tangled in Wesley's hair, holding him still as they kissed in wide, open-mouthed kisses that swallowed up the sounds Wesley was making.

Pressing as close as he could - not nearly close enough - and kissing him over and over again, Wesley whimpered in dismay as his body tensed; he wasn't ready for the experience to be over, but with the way Angel was touching him - hard, demanding, commanding - he wasn't going to have a choice. He sped up his own movements on Angel's erection, trying to coax more sounds out of him, trying to make him feel as good as he felt, himself.

"Jesus, Wes," Angel muttered, drawing Wesley closer to the edge with every movement of his hand. He brought his mouth down on Wesley's again, almost brutally hard, rocking his hips to push his own cock into Wesley's grip.

Though his touch felt unbelievably good, Angel's kisses were what was going to be Wesley's undoing. They were overwhelming with their intensity, bruising his lips and driving out every other thought from his mind. There was just Angel, wanting him, devouring him, holding onto him like Wesley was the only thing he needed. He was as desperate to be wanted as he was to be touched, and he could feel his control slipping with each touch of Angel's lips. "Angel," he warned, desperately trying to hold back his orgasm even as his hips began to stutter in their insistent thrusting.

Angel seemed to understand, pulling away just long enough to say, "Come on, Wes. Show me. I wanna see."

And then Angel's mouth was back on his, kissing him so deeply Wesley could barely breathe, and he was lost. His body jerked, thrusting into Angel's strong hand, and he cried out against Angel's lips as he came in blinding, shuddering pulses. He couldn't stop, couldn't breathe, couldn't think. All he could do was feel - body-melting warmth, mind-melting bliss, comfort, connection, the best he'd felt in days. Possibly ever.

Time passed - seconds, hours, days - and Wesley slowly slipped back into his body. He was gasping for air, his hand still wrapped around Angel's cock, and he felt wonderfully lethargic as the room spun around him. The ache in his chest was still there, but it was dulled, and he hated to have to open his eyes, since the moment of peace was sure not to last.

Wesley did, though, because there was no reason to delay the inevitable and, more importantly, because he desperately wanted to see Angel's face.

Angel was watching him, their noses nearly touching. The vampire looked serious but not at all unhappy, and his fingers, no longer wrapped around Wesley's cock, trailed through the sticky fluid that was the evidence of Wesley's release. "You look good like this," Angel said softly. "Relaxed."

"I feel good," Wesley said with a shaky smile. He gently squeezed Angel's erection. "Let me do the same for you."

"I'm good," Angel insisted, as though he thought Wesley would consider the matter closed that easily when, in reality, Angel's hips were still moving just slightly, his cock sliding in Wesley's grip.

"You could be better," Wesley replied. He leaned in, nudging Angel onto his back and propping himself up on his elbow beside him. "I don't want this to be one-sided," he said, dipping his head to lick one of Angel's nipples and making a breathy sound of satisfaction as he tasted his skin. His hand stroked Angel's cock, feeling its hardness and twisting around its slick tip. "Neither do you."

"God," Angel said, shuddering gratifyingly under Wesley's touch. "That's... do that again?"

"Which?" Wesley asked. He sucked more fully on Angel's nipple and repeated the twisting movement with his hand.

Crying out softly, Angel arched up, every line of his body begging for more despite what he'd said before. "Both," he said raggedly. "Like that..."

Wesley murmured his agreement and pressed open-mouthed kisses across Angel's chest before using his teeth on his other nipple. Angel's hips worked in rhythm with his hand, but Wesley tried to keep moving just slowly enough that Angel wouldn't go over the edge quite yet.

It didn't seem as if any part of Angel's body was still. His head rolled slightly on the pillow, one hand rubbed at Wesley's back while the other tightened and loosened around a fold of sheet underneath them. Even his voice refused to be silent, small noises and the occasional groan escaping him as Wesley's hand stroked up and down.

It was such a relief to Wesley to have such a single-minded purpose that for once couldn't hurt anyone. That moment was only about touching each other and being together, and having that connection with Angel felt even better than his orgasm.

Determined not to let the opportunity go to waste, Wesley slowly slid down the bed, skirting Angel's wound as he kissed along Angel's stomach. He blew warm air across Angel's navel and then down over his cock, watching its glistening head disappear into and reappear from the tunnel of his hand.

Angel's hand had slid up along Wesley's shoulder and now rested at the back of his neck, fingers stroking the hair there slowly. When Wesley leaned in closer, Angel moaned and rocked his hips again, more urgently than before. Almost, Wesley thought, pleadingly.

It was all the permission Wesley needed. Moving his hand down to the base of Angel's erection, he swirled his tongue over his cock, starting with gentle licks and puffs of air before tasting him in earnest. The mixture of bitter and salt made his mouth water, so he licked over the head once more before taking him in and sliding his lips down the shaft with a groan he couldn't quite muffle.

Angel went suddenly and utterly still underneath Wesley, unmoving save for a fine tremor that seemed to shiver its way along the length of his body.

Wesley rubbed his free hand over Angel's hip as he began to suck on his cock, alternating taking him deep and moving back to focus on the tip, all the while stroking its base gently with his hand. It felt good, it felt right to be giving him that pleasure, and the hand at the back of his neck made him feel, absurd as it was, like Angel was glad to have him doing it.

And Angel's reaction to the attention certainly didn't hurt. Angel moaned and tightened his fist in the sheets, his other hand on Wesley's shoulder now, hips moving just the tiniest bit as he clearly made an effort to remain still, which Wesley had to assume was out of a misguided sort of consideration. "Wes," Angel murmured, thumb rubbing over Wesley's collar bone.

Making an encouraging noise in return, Wesley increased his suction, laving the head of Angel's cock with his tongue and letting it glide along the roof of his mouth. He unwrapped his fingers from around Angel's erection and cupped his balls instead as he took as much of Angel into his mouth as he could. He was rewarded by Angel's moan and a slightly firmer thrust of his hips.

It wasn't until Wesley's teeth grazed sensitive skin that Angel cried out, his thigh under Wesley's forearm turning from skin and muscle to something more closely resembling stone. Angel's cock swelled slightly, and Wesley tasted another hint of him. "God. Wes." It was obvious that Angel was doing his best to stay in control.

Wesley definitely needed to hear Angel call out his name again, and on his next pass upwards he sucked hard and dragged his teeth excruciatingly lightly along his skin, hoping that it would shatter some of Angel's reserve.

Angel cried out again, more loudly this time, his hand clutching at Wesley's shoulder. When Wesley glanced up at Angel's face, it was to see his head thrown back, eyes closed in pleasure. "Wes... Jesus, don't stop. Please."

His heart clenching with fierce pride, stopping was the furthest thing from Wesley's mind. He tugged lightly on Angel's balls and fingered the delicate strip of skin behind them as he swallowed around Angel's cock and tormented him with his teeth and tongue.

With a groan that Wesley would have said with all certainty was elicited by pain if he hadn't known the actual cause, Angel came, his body spasming underneath Wesley, his cock throbbing inside Wesley's mouth and spilling its offering. Wesley did all he could to coax more from the vampire, to draw the pleasure out as long as possible, and by the time it was over Angel was inhaling in shuddering breaths that sounded a bit like sobs and whispering Wesley's name on each exhale.

Wesley's chest was tight when he lifted his head, the sound of his name in that tone almost too much to bear. He shifted upwards, sliding his hand up Angel's body because he couldn't think of losing contact with him, and settled on his side next to him, watching him recover.

Angel was always attractive - even when he was furious his face lived up to his name - but with the furrows of worry smoothed away his features were even more striking. Wesley swallowed against the happiness he felt at giving Angel that reprieve from his burdens.

He found himself being pulled closer, almost cradled against Angel, and then Angel was kissing him again, softly, gently, with great care.

It was so wonderful it hurt to be treated that way, but Wesley couldn't possibly have moved an inch away. Instead he caressed Angel's shoulder and arm and returned the kisses gratefully. In that moment, he felt like they were connected, like he was wanted, and he didn't want to lose that experience.

Angel felt relaxed, nearly limp beneath him, but didn't seem inclined to release Wesley in the slightest. He also didn't seem interested in speaking, concentrating instead on the kissing, his hand coming up to rest on the side of Wesley's face.

Not talking was fine with Wesley, because there was less chance of breaking the mood if they avoided words. Touching as they were was in some ways more intimate than what they had done before, since the soft circles of Angel's thumb where it rested on his back and the gentle movements of his mouth spoke of a tenderness of feeling that was very appealing to believe in. Wesley was well aware of the dangers of getting lost in it, but he found that he simply didn't care. He wanted it so very badly.

Finally, though, many minutes later as he stroked the tips of his fingers along Angel's throat and over his face as they indulged in kiss after kiss, he had to murmur, "Are you all right?"

Angel nodded against Wesley's mouth and pulled him in for another, deeper kiss, then released him as if knowing that might not be enough of an answer. "I'm good," Angel said. "How about you?"

"Mmm," Wesley agreed as he met Angel's mouth once more. He sighed, relaxing further in Angel's arms.

Angel ran a hand down along Wesley's body slowly and appreciatively. "Feels nice. I like touching you."

The statement surprised Wesley, but he smiled gently and said, "I wouldn't dream of stopping you." He lazily slid his hand along Angel's broad shoulder and down his muscled arm.

Rolling them over so that Wesley was half-underneath him, Angel looked down with quite a serious expression. "Sooner or later you'll want me to, though." It was almost a question.

"No," Wesley replied quietly, steadily meeting Angel's eyes. It wasn't a conversation he wanted to be having, but he wasn't going to lie.

Angel didn't respond, but did lean down and kiss Wesley again, his tongue tracing the sensitive inside of Wesley's upper lip and making him shiver and gasp.

Wesley tightened his arms around Angel, keeping him close, and kissed him harder. It was the only way he could keep himself from saying things both he and Angel would hate him for later.

He could feel Angel's cock stir and swell against his thigh, the vampire rocking slowly above him as their kisses grew more heated again.

As tired as he was, Wesley couldn't help but respond in kind, his pulse speeding up and his breathing becoming more ragged as his arousal began to return. His need was too strong to be slaked already, and his body didn't seem to want to remember that it wasn't as young as it once had been. "Angel," he whispered as he canted his hips upward to press his half-hard erection against the vampire's stomach. He speared his fingers into Angel's hair, holding his head steady so that he could explore his mouth more deeply.

Angel let that continue for a minute or so - not nearly as long as Wesley would have liked - then pulled away, sliding down along Wesley's body, kneeling between thighs he spread wide with his hands and leaning to lick at Wesley's cock with a hum of contentment.

Angel's tongue was slick and cool, and Wesley gasped and arched upwards as it slid along his erection. He opened his eyes again, though, so he could look down and watch Angel touching him, his mouth on his cock and his hands stroking the insides of his already trembling thighs. "God, Angel..." He reached down to touch Angel's hair, needing to have confirmation that he was actually there and not just a figment of his imagination.

There was a slight sound from Angel, a sound that Wesley couldn't help but think was the same sort Angel had made when feeding from Wesley's arm after being pulled up from the depths of the ocean. Not a whimper, but an eager, hungry sound that made Wesley's heart pound. Then Angel's mouth closed around the tip of Wesley's cock and Wesley lost the capability to think in quite that much detail.

For something with no warmth of its own, it was amazing how hot Angel's mouth could make Wesley feel, and he knew that it was just the beginning. He moaned, tangling his fingers in the sheets to keep himself still, as Angel sucked far too lightly, toying with his foreskin with his tongue. "God, oh... Angel," Wesley gasped, his eyes shutting against his will.

Angel's mouth slipped away for a moment, then Wesley felt the slow, damp swipe of a tongue up the underside of his balls. Angel seemed intent on tasting every square millimeter, lips and tongue seeking out each sensitive spot and lingering over the ones that made Wesley's breath uneven and his hands tighten in the sheets. Both of Angel's hands rested on Wesley's thighs, thumbs rubbing lightly up and down to either side of Wesley's sac.

Wesley tried his best to be patient, taking shuddering breaths to keep from demanding more. He wanted Angel to take his time, but his every exhalation seemed to end on a gasp or a groan at how good Angel's touch felt.

With each downward stroke, Angel's thumbs swept closer to skin so responsive that it made Wesley tremble. When Angel's tongue followed the same path and flickered wetly over the opening to Wesley's body, the sensations it left in its wake were powerful and filled Wesley with an aching need.

Wesley gripped the pillow above his head, trying without much success not to whimper. It didn't seem real that it was Angel who was making his hips shift and his cock throb so insistently, but he couldn't possibly open his eyes again to be sure, if only because he felt like he might come just at the sight. He could feel his body opening at the gentle touch of Angel's tongue, and he felt the knowledge deep into his bones that he would give Angel anything he asked for. Though it wasn't a new realization, it was tinged with gratitude that for once there was a reward.

"Please. Angel, please," he heard himself saying, but he couldn't be distracted enough from Angel's touch to be mortified.

"Anything you want, Wes," Angel murmured. He licked a wet path along Wesley's shaft and teased at Wesley's opening with the tip of one finger, easing it inside when Wesley's body yielded willingly to the gentle pressure. "Just say the word and it's yours." Again, his mouth closed around the tip of Wesley's cock.

Anything he wanted? "More," seemed like a good place to start, although he hadn't planned on it coming out as such a breathy moan.

Angel seemed more than happy to give it to him, sliding his finger deeper. Wesley arched slightly at the increased pressure, feeling a tingling throughout his body as Angel continued to lick and suck at just the head of his cock, focusing his attention on the area with the most nerve endings as if determined to give Wesley as much pleasure as possible.

"Yes," Wesley choked out. "More. Like that."

Angel sucked harder, the stimulation nearly dizzying, and slid another finger inside Wesley so carefully that it didn't hurt at all. Still, Wesley ached for more, writhing under Angel's attention, and Angel continued to give him more, driving him higher and higher.

As wonderful as Angel's fingers felt as they filled him and rubbed over just the perfect spot and as easy as it would be to let them coax him to his orgasm, Wesley knew what would feel even better. "Any-" Arching his back, he groaned as Angel swirled his tongue around the head of his cock. "Anything I want?" he asked.

"Mm-hm," Angel managed without pulling his mouth away, then he did lift his face briefly enough to say, "Anything." His fingers slid deeper, rubbing.

His senses of shame and reason having long since fled, Wesley struggled to open his eyes through the onslaught of pleasure and looked down at Angel as he said, "I want you to fuck me." Just the thought of it made his cock throb against Angel's lips.

Much to Wesley's dismay, Angel's fingers stilled, and he lifted his head once more.

"Wes, I -" Angel said huskily. He looked dazed but determined. "The curse - "

"Bugger the curse," Wesley snapped, trying not to clench around Angel's fingers no matter how much his body was rebelling against conversation. "This isn't perfect happiness. It's nowhere near perfect happiness."

Angel just stared at him, preternaturally still and silent, like he couldn't move a muscle.

That wasn't, however, a no. "Fuck me," Wesley told him. "I want you to. You want to." He was guessing on that part, maybe Angel didn't really want to go that far, but he had nothing to lose. Not anymore. "Fuck me."

For just a moment, Angel faltered, but Wesley didn't have more than a second to worry that he'd said something wrong because Angel looked up at him with an expression that couldn't have been called anything but sheer lust. Again, Angel's fingers rubbed, and Wesley's jaw tightened in response. Then Angel slid his fingers out all the way and instead used his hands to spread Wesley's thighs a little bit wider, probing with his tongue where his fingers had been before.

Wesley cried out as he shook with yet another wave of pleasure, clutching at the pillow and opening his legs wider. Angel's tongue pushed slickly into him, coaxing his muscles to relax even further and making him so hard it was just barely on the enjoyable side of being painful. In and out, in and out - the thrusts of Angel's tongue were a parody of what Wesley really wanted, and yet he wanted this, too. He wanted everything. Every sensation, every centimeter Angel's tongue forced him to open, every unintentional clenching of Angel's hands on Wesley's body that made it clear he was enjoying it, too.

Angel continued, licking at Wesley and pushing his tongue inside him time and time again until Wesley was barely coherent, writhing and very nearly sobbing for air under Angel's attentions. Then he slid back up Wesley's body, pushing Wesley's legs up and covering him with his own solid weight, and guided the tip of his cock into place, pressing forward steadily. "Is this what you want?" Angel asked huskily.

"Yes," Wesley gasped, the rightness of Angel's cock pushing into him nearly overwhelming. "God, yes." He clumsily ran his hands over Angel's back to urge him on, needing it all.

Before Wesley could take another breath, Angel rocked forward, his hard cock sliding deep into Wesley, driving the rest of the air out of Wesley's lungs. There was just enough lubrication; more wouldn't have done any harm, but the combination of Angel's arousal and what he'd been doing with his tongue was enough. Angel paused when he was as deep as he could go, and Wesley felt a small shudder go through him.

Wesley felt like he could barely get any oxygen, and he trembled as he tried to hold still. He wanted to savor the way Angel filled him so completely, because he knew once they started to move he wouldn't be able to think anymore. Angel was in him. Right there, in him, as close as they could be. His breath coming in harsh gasps, he looked up at Angel, hoping to find pleasure and need similar to his own written on his face.

Angel's eyes were wide, almost startled, his lips parted and perhaps a tiny bit swollen from their earlier kissing. "Jesus, Wes," he whispered, withdrawing only an inch or two before surging forward again, both of them crying out softly in unison as they began to move.

They started with a gentle rocking as they got explored the way the other felt, but their movements quickly grew faster and harder. Every thrust of Angel's cock made Wesley moan, and he met them eagerly, tilting his hips to take Angel as deeply as he could and relishing the burn of his muscles as he was forced to open even more. He couldn't hear anything but Angel's voice and couldn't feel anything but his large body on him and in him; there were no thoughts in his head besides his endless silent repetition of 'Angel. Angel. Angel.'

There were lips on Wesley's shoulder, teeth scraping the skin there as Angel's cock pushed into him again and again, then Angel's mouth found his in another hard kiss. Neither of them was the slightest bit hesitant now; everything was concentrated on what felt good, gasping each other's names as they moved together.

"God... Angel... Yes...," Wesley moaned between almost violently hungry kisses. Angel's thrusts were deep and determined, his weight pinning Wesley to the mattress and giving him little room to move besides to follow his rhythm and urge him to go faster. He felt incredibly alive, his blood coursing through his veins and his cock throbbing with its imminent release as it rubbed against Angel's stomach.

Angel shifted his weight to one side, running the hand of the arm no longer supporting him down along Wesley's thigh and then back up the inside of it, shifting Wesley as easily a rag doll and changing the angle of his thrusts in one smooth movement. "Wes... God, yeah." Angel's hand slid around to Wesley's ass, pulling Wesley up flush against him so that each thrust was a delicious drag of skin against even more skin, Wesley's erection trapped between them.

Louder moans were ripped from Wesley's throat, his fingers digging into the hard muscle of Angel's back to keep him as close as possible. "Yes. Oh, god!" The first burn of his orgasm began to crackle along his spine, and he snapped his hips as hard as he could to try to get Angel to follow him. Angel responded by thrusting even faster, and the last tendrils of Wesley's control slipped away. He arched against Angel, pushing himself hard down onto his cock and then up against his abdomen again and again as a series of harsh tremors cascaded through him. He couldn't hold back. He didn't even want to try, and he called out Angel's name as his release overtook him.

~ * ~ * ~

Every time Wesley had said his name it had made Angel just a little bit harder, a little bit more eager. Being inside Wesley was like a dream - so fucking close to perfect - and when Wesley started to come and said his name again, Angel threw his head back and groaned, giving one more thrust before he came, too.

He came back to the world with his forehead resting on Wesley's shoulder, their bodies still pressed tightly together. Wesley's arms were wrapped around him, his hands skimming in light touches over his back.

Slowly, Angel got his arms underneath him so that he could support some of his own weight. He kissed Wesley, shivering a little bit with emotions so complicated he couldn't have sorted them out even if he'd had the energy to try. He was still hard, still inside Wesley, so he didn't move away, concentrating instead on the taste of Wesley's mouth again in case after this he didn't get to kiss him anymore.

Wesley made a soft, pleased sound and met Angel's kisses with the same lack of hesitation he had displayed since their first kiss earlier that day. His hands kept up their gentle stroking, and he gave into Angel's unspoken requests, opening his mouth further when Angel traced Wesley's lips with his tongue and making no move to pull away from where he was trapped beneath him.

"I could probably do this all night," Angel said finally, trying to give Wesley an out if he was regretting what had happened. "So you'll have to tell me when you're ready to stop."

Wesley's fingers tightened slightly on the back of Angel's neck. "At some point my sadly mortal body will require me to sleep," he said, his lips twisting with something that Angel wasn't quite sure was humor, "but not yet."

"You could..." Angel offered it hesitantly, not sure how Wesley would respond. "Um, sleep here. If you wanted to." He kissed Wesley again, softly.

When Angel pulled his head back, Wesley still looked surprised. There was a softness in his eyes, a yearning, that Angel hadn't seen in years. Maybe not ever. It was as if some of his defenses were gone, leaving his eyes bluer and less guarded than he remembered.

Wesley searched Angel's face for a moment and then glanced away, which made Angel's heart fall, but he looked up into his eyes again before he took his next breath. "I wouldn't want to make things awkward," he said quietly.

"Hey, this is me we're talking about," Angel said, trying to coax a smile out of Wesley. "Awkward's my middle name."

"Ah, that's what it is. I've always wondered," Wesley replied with a faint grin that quickly disappeared as his expression grew more troubled. He took a shallow breath. "If you'd like me to stay, I will, but there's no need to ask me out of politeness." There was obviously more going through his mind, but that seemed to be all he was going to say.

Angel glanced back over his shoulder like he was trying to figure out who Wesley was talking to. "Politeness?" he echoed, then shook his head, stroking a hand down over Wesley's hip. "I want you to stay. If you want to." The thought of having someone there overnight was comforting, somehow, but it wasn't like Angel wanted Wesley to stay just because Wesley felt sorry for him.

"I..." Wesley hesitated and then sighed. "We could probably do this all night, couldn't we?" He leaned up to give Angel a gentle kiss, and when he put his head down there was a smile in his eyes if not on his lips. "I would like to stay."

"You don't sound too sure," Angel said. He wished he could figure out why Wesley was so reluctant. Did Wesley not trust him? Carefully, Angel eased out of and off Wesley, lying down next to him and tentatively putting an arm around him.

Wesley rested his hand on Angel's arm and slid his leg over until it was pressed against him. "I'm sure," he insisted, tilting his head to maintain eye contact. "But as much as I'd like to remain here, preferably without either of us moving too far from this spot, I don't want to wear out my welcome."

Angel stroked his hand along Wesley's back. "I can't picture that happening," he said honestly.

"Good," Wesley said, although there was a faint tension in his body that made Angel suspect he didn't believe him. Still, he smiled at Angel and let out a satisfied sigh. "Particularly since I'm not sure I could make myself move right now even if you wanted me to."

Shifting up onto his elbow, Angel reached down and managed to snag the blanket - they were lying on top of the sheet and like Wesley he didn't feel like moving enough to get underneath it - and pull it up over them both. "So... what now?" he asked.

"After we regain the use of our limbs, you mean?" Wesley inched over again until his foot was touching Angel's. "Or beyond that?"

Since it seemed clear that despite his verbal hesitancy Wesley did want physical contact, Angel pulled him in close again, settling back down with Wesley pressed warm against him. "After that. I mean, is this... was this..." Angel couldn't ask it; he was too afraid to find out that this had been a one-time thing, some kind of pity fuck.

"Angel," Wesley said, his voice soft but grave, "this is whatever you want it to be. I'm not going to put pressure on you; you have enough of that already."

"But this isn't just about me," Angel said. Unless, he thought, that was Wesley's way of telling him that it was.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to be," Wesley replied, and his eyes didn't waver for an instant.

Okay, right. Angel made a mental note that Wesley didn't want to talk about what happened next and did his best to move on. "I'm glad you're here." He leaned in and kissed Wesley, just once. "You want to get some sleep?"

"If you'd like." Wesley sighed and looked down, watching his fingers as he traced small designs on Angel's shoulder. They seemed to be random swirls, but knowing Wesley they could have been words in some archaic language. "I'm trying to make this as easy for you as possible. If I'm not please tell me."

That sounded way too much like Wesley was trying to tell him it had been a pity fuck for Angel's taste. He went from feeling warm and sated to cold and empty in what felt like the blink of an eye. The last thing he wanted was for Wesley to go to bed with him because he thought he should and not because he actually wanted to, and being told Wesley was trying to do something for Angel's own good sounded way too close to the former. "You can't make it easy for me," he said bluntly. "Because one has nothing to do with the other." Frustrated, he got up and started pulling on his clothes.

Frowning, Wesley slowly sat up. "I'm afraid I don't understand."

"Don't understand what?" Angel asked, fastening his pants and looking around for his shirt. "That maybe I might not want you to 'make things easy for me' by going to bed with me?"

"That's not what I meant," Wesley said, although there was a nearly imperceptible hesitation before he spoke - a hesitation that took Angel from irritated to angry, because now Wesley was lying to him on top of having sex with him for all the wrong reasons. Wesley pushed the covers off of himself and got to his feet. "While I think it ought to be clear by now even to you that your well-being is of the highest importance to me, when I said I was trying to make things easy I was speaking specifically about allaying any discomfort you might feel in dealing with me after having uncharacteristically invited me into your bed." He picked up his jeans from the floor and began to step into them. "Apparently it was not a success."

"The only discomfort is from the part where you'll do anything to make me feel better, including let me fuck you," Angel said, finally spotting his shirt half under the bed and snatching it up.

Wesley stood very still for a moment before saying coolly, "If this is news to you, you've been paying even less attention than I thought." He pulled on his shirt and methodically began to button it up. "I would do anything to help you. That doesn't mean I didn't want it. In fact, I should think it was blindingly obvious that I did." Turning his back on Angel, he sat on the edge of the bed to put on his shoes.

Well, this was just great. Angel wished they hadn't started any of this in the first place if it meant things were going to be even more messed up between them. "So you're leaving." He was being unreasonable and he knew it, but somehow he couldn't stop himself. Everything felt wrong. Well, not everything, and that was pretty much the problem.

"Given how you're acting, it hardly seems like you want me here," Wesley replied, not looking up.

"I want you to want to be here, not to go to bed with me because you feel sorry for me, or because you're... worried about me losing my path, or..." Angel ran out of words and shook his head, frustrated and wishing he didn't have to deal with this at all. "You know what? Maybe you should go."

Wesley was silent as he tied his shoes with jerky movements, and when he stood and faced Angel again it was obvious that he was working very hard to keep a tight rein on his emotions. All of the warmth in his expression was gone. "Before I do," he said with an odd formality, "I would like to be perfectly clear that I slept with you because I wanted to. I did think it would help you, but it was far from a selfless act on my part. Hate me for wanting to support you, if you must, but hating me for not wanting you is so absurd it's laughable."

Angel couldn't let that go. "I don't hate you. Not for any reason." He was irritated, frustrated, sure, but he didn't hate Wesley. Not even close. He rubbed at his temples, fingers on one side of his eyes and thumb on the other. "Maybe I just need some time to cool off. Okay? But I don't hate you."

"All right," Wesley said, and there was no indication from his tone whether he believed Angel or not. He was regaining the same lost look in his eyes they had all had after they were freed from Jasmine's influence, but he didn't say anything more until he walked to the door. "If you need me..." He didn't finish the sentence and just reached for the doorknob.

I do, Angel wanted to say, but, as much as he wanted Wesley there, he didn't want to say anything else he'd regret. It was probably better to let him go. For now. He walked to the door as Wesley stepped into the hallway. "Be careful, okay?"

Wesley turned partway, squarely meeting his eyes with the directness Angel had always admired, and said, "You, too." He seemed to be deciding whether to say more, but after a few moments he faced forward and walked down the hall without looking back.

~ * ~ * ~

It wasn't as though Wesley hadn't expected to be told to leave at some point, but he hadn't thought it would be quite so soon after being asked to stay. Still, he reflected numbly as he gathered his coat and weapons in the lobby, it was perhaps better that it had happened when it did, because it had been dangerously easy for him to believe in the connection between them and the needs they were filling for the other while they were together. The way Angel had looked at him, the way he had said his name, like he was precious and important and... He shook his head. Better to be over that fantasy now and to remember that Angel was in a very delicate and mercurial emotional state. They both were; obviously neither of them was thinking clearly.

It was also good that Wesley had left when he had because he had been very close to blurting out just how deeply he had wanted Angel over the years, and from that admission there was no way their friendship could recover. If indeed it could recover as it stood now.

Perhaps when they were both rested they would be able to go back to the slightly strained friendship they had seemed to be renewing. It was the best Wesley could expect, and Angel saying that he didn't hate him was the only faint glimmer of hope he held onto as he drove back to his apartment. Yet he knew better than to hold his breath for a phone call; in the light of day, Angel might change his mind about all of it.

Although the streets were far calmer than they had been the night before, it still took Wesley longer than usual to get home amidst the abandoned cars and angry groups of people. Finally he parked in front of his building and trudged up the walk, his attention drawn away from his own thoughts only when he tried to put his key in the lock and noticed that the handle of the outer door was broken.

The hallways were strewn with more rubbish than they had been when he had left that morning, and a number of his neighbors' doors were unlatched. His door was closed, as was the one next to it, but when he got closer he could see that the lock had been forced. He pushed the door open with his foot and stood in his doorway, surveying the remains of his apartment. It was utter chaos.

Furniture was overturned and broken and lamps and pictures were smashed, his couch spilling its stuffing onto the remains of his kitchen table, but the worst part of the destruction were the books. His books, what he loved most out of everything he owned. They had been flung all over the room, their spines bent and their pages torn. Scraps of paper littered the floor like snow. Like dismembered corpses.

He couldn't have said how long he stood there, staring at what was left of his possessions, his life, before he neatly pulled the door shut and walked away. His chest tight and his stomach churning, he sat in his car, looking blankly at the street in front of him, but didn't start it up.

He was completely exhausted, and he had no options; he doubted there were any rooms to be had in the few hotels that were in operation, and he had no friends on whom to call. If he didn't want to sleep in his car, which in the chaos of the city seemed unwise at best, the only real choice was the Hyperion, where at least he had moved some of his books and clothes while living there under Jasmine's rule. Although when he had left he hadn't been sure he would ever see the hotel again, he would have to go back.

The Hyperion was quiet when he returned. The lights in the office had been turned off, and there was a coat he recognized as Fred's tossed over the reception counter. They must have come back from their time at Wolfram & Hart, he realized, and the thought of seeing them made his nausea return. Not eager to linger, he quickly made his way upstairs toward the room he had shared with Gunn, but as he neared Angel's door he slowed. He had to tell him he was there, at least. It wouldn't be fair not to do so. Then he could go to bed. He hoped to any deity that might be listening that he wouldn't dream.

He stopped, took a shallow breath, and knocked softly on Angel's door.

He heard nothing from inside the room for a long moment, and then the door opened suddenly. Angel's eyes widened with surprise. "You came back."

"Yes, I... I don't mean to disturb you," Wesley said. "My flat is... I need to stay here for the night. If that's all right with you." He realized that the request could be taken in the wrong way, and he gestured down the hall. "In my room. The room that was mine. I'm not trying to impose." If he could just get to the room he would be all right.

"You're not imposing," Angel said, opening the door wider and standing back as if he hoped Wesley might come inside. "I'm... I'm glad you came back." He turned and looked behind him, then back at Wesley again. "What's wrong with your apartment?"

"The looters got to it," Wesley said calmly, trying to sound like it didn't really matter, because if he started to think about how everything he owned was gone as well as his friends and his life and Jasmine and Angel and... He took a deep breath. "It looks like they tore up much of the building."

"Shit," Angel said. As sympathies went, it seemed to fall a bit short of the mark. The vampire ran a hand through his hair and gestured into the room. "You want to come in?"

Wesley couldn't think of much he'd like more, but Angel had been clear that he had wanted him to leave. "I don't want to disturb you," he said with a little shake of his head. "But I needed somewhere to sleep."

"You're not disturbing me," Angel said. "Can I get you something? I don't know... tea?" His eyes were watching Wesley hopefully.

Even if he had wanted to argue, Wesley would have found it nearly impossible to resist Angel when he was looking at him that way. It was probably a mistake to agree, but then he had made so many mistakes that what was one more? "Thank you. Tea would be... nice." Especially if it had a large measure of strong alcohol in it.

He followed Angel inside, watching as Angel closed the door with a brief explanation. "Fred's back, she stopped here long enough to say hi. Said she was exhausted. Seemed kind of wired, too; she was talking a mile a minute." Angel went over to the small kitchen area and began to put water in the kettle. "You look exhausted, too. Sit down."

Wesley picked a chair and sank into it, both perplexed by and grateful for Angel being so pleasant to him. "Thank you," he said again. It was all he could think to say.

With his back still turned to Wesley, Angel said, "I'm sorry about before. If I... misjudged the situation." He set the kettle on the stove.

"No," Wesley said, leaning back as he watched Angel. "As I said, you weren't entirely wrong."

Angel turned to face him, a box of tea bags in his hand. "Tell me again?"

A sinking sureness that it had indeed been a mistake to accept Angel's invitation crept through Wesley, but he steeled himself as best he could and said, "Your well-being was an important factor in my decision, but ultimately I slept with you because I very much wanted to."

A little smile played about the edges of Angel's lips, making him look more relaxed. "Okay." He turned back to the countertop behind him, fiddling with the box of tea bags. "So what are you going to do about your apartment? You want me to come back with you and see what we can salvage?"

A bit at a loss for words with the sudden change of topic, Wesley blinked for a moment before rubbing a hand over his face. "No, I'll sort through the mess tomorrow. I doubt I'll find much worth saving."

"I can help," Angel insisted, turning around and leaning against the counter as he waited for the kettle to come to a boil. "You okay?"

"I'm fine," was Wesley's automatic reply, because he absolutely couldn't think about everything that had gone wrong that day if he wanted to get through the rest of the conversation without disgracing himself further. "Tired."

"C'mere," Angel said, tilting his head to one side a little bit.

"Where?" Wesley asked, pushing himself to his feet and taking a few steps toward him.

"Here," Angel said, gesturing at the floor just in front of him.

Wesley wondered vaguely if his confusion was due to his fatigue or if Angel was just in one of his stranger moods. He walked over to the spot Angel had indicated.

"Closer," Angel said, taking hold of Wesley's arm gently and pulling him against Angel's body for, apparently, a hug.

Closing his eyes as he shuddered with relief, Wesley slid his arm around Angel's waist, not giving into the absurd instincts to cling to him or to beg forgiveness. "Thank you," he said softly.

"Don't thank me," Angel said roughly, one hand on Wesley's back and the other sliding up to his shoulder. "Tell me I'm an asshole, maybe, but don't thank me." He didn't seem at all inclined to release Wesley from the embrace.

"You're not an asshole." Wesley wrapped his other arm around Angel as well and added with a faint grin, "Not today, at least."

Angel leaned in, nuzzling at Wesley's hair and shifting his weight back, letting the countertop support him as he supported Wesley. "Yeah, I am. Don't mean to be."

"We've all had a tough time recently, you most of all," Wesley said. "Of course you're not going to mince words."

"Yeah, well, next time make sure you remind me I'm being an asshole while it's happening, okay?" Angel said. "Because the last thing I want's to drive you away."

"You should know I'll always be here for you, Angel," Wesley said softly, glad that they were having this conversation without eye contact. This way he didn't have to see Angel's reaction.

The kettle began to make the sound that precluded a whistle, and Angel released Wesley with what was obviously some reluctance to deal with it. "I'm here for you, too. Honest. Whatever you need."

Leaning his hip against the counter, Wesley looked down at the mug Angel had set out for him. "The tea will be a good start."

Angel poured the water and returned the kettle to the stovetop, then slipped an arm around Wesley again. "It'll be too hot for a little while. Maybe you should sit back down."

Wesley moved into Angel's embrace without conscious thought, just a small step to bring their bodies flush against each other. If he'd been thinking clearly he wouldn't have presumed, but, god, everything was gone, and he'd failed Lilah, and he'd damaged his relationship with Angel even further, and... He shook his head and restored the distance between them. "Yes. Maybe I should."

"Okay." Angel let him go but didn't look happy about it, crossing his arms over his chest as if trying to protect himself as Wesley went back over to the chair he'd been sitting in earlier and sat again.

"So Fred and Lorne came back?" Wesley asked after casting about for some topic of conversation that wasn't directly related to how lost he felt.

"Yeah. Lorne was going on about how they're going to be able to get their own places now that they'll have a nice big salary coming in." Angel sounded nearly as lost, and Wesley couldn't help but imagine the vampire knocking about alone in the empty hotel with no one to talk to.

"It's hard to believe that they aren't going to work for you anymore," Wesley said. "I can understand why they were tempted, but I can't imagine making the decision they did." He met Angel's eyes again, hoping that he might for once fully understand the loyalty behind the words.

Angel seemed unable to look away. "I just hope they're gonna be okay."

"They're survivors. They'll do their best." Not that one's best was always good enough, as Wesley certainly knew. He couldn't think about that right now.

"Yeah." Angel glanced behind himself at the tea. "What can I do? You want to have this and get some sleep while I go over to your place and see what's worth saving?"

Wesley frowned a bit and studied his face. "Angel, you need sleep, too. Not to say I don't appreciate the offer, but what's left of my flat isn't your concern."

"Is that your way of saying it isn't any of my business?" Angel asked, looking, perhaps, a bit hurt.

"No, that's my way of saying that taking care of yourself is far more important than sorting through the confetti that used to be my library." Wesley got up again, despite his body's protests, and walked toward him. "I'm trying to help you."

"Well, I'm trying to help you, too," Angel said, watching him. "It seems to me like once in a while one of us is going to have to let the other person help or we're never going to get anything done."

Wesley stopped in front of Angel but didn't reach out to touch him, as much as he wanted to. "You're undoubtedly right," he replied. "But maybe tonight we can compromise by both agreeing to get some sleep and worry about less important things like the state of my home in the morning?"

"I'm not sure that what happened to your apartment's 'less important,'" Angel argued. "But... if you wanted to stay here... sleep here, with me... I'd like that."

There was a pause as Wesley tried to figure out whether it really was going to be that easy for them to smooth over what had happened earlier. "Are you sure you want that?" he asked seriously.

"Yes," Angel said without hesitation. "I would have said the same thing before. But only if you really want to. It doesn't count if you're doing it because I want you to. You know?"

Wesley nodded. "It counts," he said, and he had the sudden urge to smile as a heavy weight lifted off of his chest. Maybe it wouldn't last long, but this between them - whatever it was - was apparently real, and he hadn't damaged it beyond repair. He did smile, then, not as widely as he once would have, perhaps, but honestly enough. "I'd like to stay with you," he said, since it never hurt to be clear with Angel.

Angel smiled back at him, and, although they still weren't touching, their exchange somehow seemed as intimate as if they were. "Good. I'd like you to." He turned and looked at the tea, then turned back, frowning. "You should have something to eat. You want me to order something? Pizza?"

Although five minutes earlier Wesley would have been nauseated by the thought of eating, surprisingly enough he found that he was hungry. "There's no need for that. I assume there's still food in the kitchen; I could make a sandwich." He thought for a second and corrected himself, "Possibly two."

"Yeah, actually there's a lot of food still down there," Angel said. "I could come with you?" It was rather endearing how eager Angel seemed to spend time with him, although it was possible he just didn't want to be alone. Wesley could understand that; part of him felt much the same way.

"Please do," Wesley said, smiling again. He reached out to touch Angel's arm, since he couldn't think of a reason he shouldn't, and gave it a gentle squeeze.

"I'm sorry about what happened to your place," Angel said, looking pleased that Wesley had touched him voluntarily. "Try not to worry about it, okay? We'll get it taken care of."

Taking a step backwards toward the door, since Wesley not only wanted dinner but wanted even more to avoid having a serious talk about how little he had left, he said, "Perhaps we can rent a large dump truck and shovel the remains of my life out of the windows directly into it."

"It's just stuff," Angel said, as Wesley turned and they started toward the door together. "I mean, don't get me wrong, it's important stuff, but at least you're okay. That's what really matters."

"It's not so much the possessions - although if I ever find who tore apart my books I'm going to thrash them to within an inch of their lives and then decide on a fitting punishment - as much as the shock of having them ripped away. But in the grand scheme of things..." Wesley shrugged. He'd been in worse positions, like having his friends ripped away.

Angel was quiet as they went out into the hallway and started down the stairs, leaving Wesley to wonder if he was trying not to disturb Fred and Lorne or if he'd begun a fresh session of brooding sparked by something Wesley had said. The hotel seemed very silent and empty in comparison to how it had been when Jasmine and her countless followers were there.

They didn't touch as they walked, although they still stayed fairly close, like they didn't want to let the other get too far. When they reached the kitchen without incident, Wesley let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding at the unappealing thought of having to be sociable with the others. As difficult as parts of his evening with Angel had been, dealing with him was easy compared with people whom you thought were on the side of good going so easily to work for a law firm that was unquestionably evil.

Opening the refrigerator door, Wesley was faced with almost too many choices. There were partially prepared meals, fresh meat and vegetables, packages of leftovers and lunch meats, loaves of all sorts of bread, jars of condiments, containers of pasta sauce, trays of desserts, and then, sitting all on its own on one shelf, Angel's bag of blood. It looked almost lonely, and he shook his head at the fanciful thought.

He shut the door and opened the freezer, hoping to find some boxed dinner with directions on it.

There was some sort of diet meal, one of the low-carbohydrate things that people seemed so interested in at the moment, but at least it contained a fair amount of vegetables and meat. It even had microwave directions printed on the side of the box.

"I could still order pizza," Angel offered.

Wesley gave him a smile but shook his head. "This will be fine." Neatly opening the box, he put the plastic tray inside of the microwave and programmed the timer.

Turning to look at Angel, who was standing a bit uncomfortably across the kitchen, he found himself faced with the very real possibility that he and Angel could spend much of the night doing a dance of getting closer and further apart as they tried to figure out what the other one wanted. So he resolutely walked over to lean against the counter next to Angel, not quite touching him but closer than he would have in recent months. His eye caught on the wall Angel had demolished earlier. "How are your hands?" he asked.

"Fine," Angel said, holding them up so that Wesley could see the fresh pink scar tissue. "I heal fast. This was nothing."

"I thought we agreed we were allowed to be concerned about each other." Wesley reached for one of Angel's hands, inspecting the healing skin as an excuse for a bit of the contact he still craved like a low hum underneath everything else. "It never ceases to amaze me to watch your abilities in action," he commented.

Angel seemed perfectly willing to let Wesley continue to hold his hand. "There are times it's pretty convenient."

Wesley couldn't help but compare their hands as he looked down at them. Angel's were large and strong, making his long fingers look delicate in comparison, his skin riddled with countless little scars, reminders of his fallibility and mortality, next to Angel's smooth perfection. Drawing larger conclusions about their relative merits was only too easy in his current, unpleasantly emotional state of mind.

Apparently reading something in Wesley's silence, Angel turned his hand in Wesley's and tightened his grip, pulling Wesley in closer to him so that their bodies were very nearly touching. "Hey," Angel said. "You okay?"

Meeting Angel's eyes, Wesley tried to sound less bothered than he was when he said, "I suppose it would be futile not to admit that I've been better."

"Probably," Angel said. He put both arms around Wesley and hugged him, murmuring, "It's gonna be okay."

Wesley slid his arms around Angel's waist and leaned into him gratefully. "I'm sure I'll believe it tomorrow, but right now I seem more inclined to mimic you and try brooding instead."

"Nope, no brooding," Angel said. "That's my schtick." His hand slid up and down Wesley's back in a comforting caress.

"Well, you seem to enjoy it so much I thought I'd give it a go." Wesley pressed his cheek against Angel's and took a calming breath. "All right," he said. "No brooding. But I make no promises about what will happen when the next thing goes wrong."

"Maybe nothing else will," Angel said, in such a hopeful tone that Wesley almost laughed.

It would have been so easy for Wesley to believe him, to let the lie sit there and to take comfort from it. It would have been so wonderful. Unfortunately, he knew all too well that life wasn't easy, and the state of things wasn't going to get any better if they ignored it.

"Angel," he said tiredly, finding the energy from somewhere to burst their little bubble of peace, "you know better than that. Even if it all goes our way, there's still a lot ahead of us. Connor, Los Angeles, Wol-"

"I *know*, Wes," Angel cut him off. He pulled back and looked at Wesley gravely, the weight of the world in his eyes again. Wesley wished he hadn't been the one to put it there, but that was his job, wasn't it? Keeping Angel on the right path? "I'm not stupid. I know what's going on, what's out there, what's at stake. I know about Connor and the city and everything. I *know*."

Wesley opened his mouth to speak, but Angel cut him off again.

"Can we not do this? Right now? Just for a little - Can we not do this?"

There were probably hundreds of reasons why it wasn't a good idea for them to set aside all of the things they should be worrying about, but it was becoming clear from the look in Angel's eyes that if he didn't get a break he might not be able to go on at all. Wesley didn't know where Angel's limits were, but they seemed to be close. He didn't know what they could do that night, anyway, and he was so very tired. He could give in. It wouldn't be wrong to give in.

"All right," Wesley said with a nod, and Angel relaxed in his arms.

"So that means no brooding tonight," Angel said, obviously trying to get back to where they'd been before.

"For either of us," Wesley agreed.

Angel glanced away for a second, not doing a very good job of hiding a smile. "Well..."

Much to his own surprise Wesley chuckled, and Angel turned his head, brushing his lips against the corner of Wesley's mouth. It wasn't exactly a kiss, but calling it one wouldn't have been an absurd thing to do.

Wesley considered asking for confirmation that they were all right and that Angel wasn't still angry with him, but ultimately the answer wouldn't have changed the fact that he wanted to kiss Angel and that Angel seemed to want to do the same in return. So Wesley turned his head as well and met Angel's mouth, drawing comfort from the soft, slow kiss.

Angel's hand slid up to the back of Wesley's neck and stayed there, steadying him as the kiss lengthened. The tip of Angel's tongue traced Wesley's upper lip, but at no time did Angel allow the kiss to become any more intense. It stayed slow, gentle, careful, almost as if he were trying to communicate something to Wesley without words.

If he was, though, Wesley was too tired to figure out what it might be, and he didn't want to draw the wrong conclusions. He was just happy that in that moment he had Angel to hold onto and to hold onto him in return. "I didn't think I'd get to do this again," he found himself saying. "For once, I'm glad I was wrong."

"Me, too." Angel brushed his lips against Wesley's temple. "We can do this as often as you want to."

Given that the inner part of him that was still wearing a suit and glasses and falling over a lot wanted to throw himself at Angel's feet and ask to be allowed to stay permanently, he felt fairly good about only replying with a smile, "Then I never will get to drink that cup of tea you made for me."

Angel smiled. "Sure you will. You can do all kinds of things and still do this. Drink tea... eat your dinner. Take a shower."

"I would think you'd prefer I didn't involve you in all of my most mundane tasks," Wesley replied, stroking his hand along Angel's spine. "Although I'm tempted by the shower."

"I take showers, too," Angel said. "I'd like to take one with you." He leaned in and kissed the edge of Wesley's ear, making him shiver. "More than one."

Even exhausted as it was, Wesley's body made its support of that idea known. "Sounds wonderful," he replied, brushing his mouth against the side of Angel's throat.

That made Angel shiver and tighten his hand on the back of Wesley's neck, where it was still resting. "I think first thing on the list's food, then maybe sleep," Angel said. "I'll bet you could use it."

"We both could," Wesley agreed, kissing Angel's throat again and getting another delightful shiver in return. The microwave took that moment to beep that it was done, and he reluctantly lifted his head. "But I did leave without cleaning up..." It was freeing to be able to tease Angel, to let some of his desires out.

"Food first," Angel said. "Then we can talk about the rest of it." He sounded willing to go along with whatever Wesley might want.

Wesley leaned in again, kissing him gently in unspoken thanks for there being a rest of it between them, and then slipped out of his arms to fetch his dinner. The meal didn't look much more appetizing cooked than frozen, but it actually smelled fairly good, and he brought it back with utensils and a bottle of water to the counter Angel was leaning against. Digging in, he was hungry enough that he polished off half of it before pausing to take a sip of his drink. "It's not bad," he said with a slightly sheepish smile.

"Good," Angel said, looking at the food with the same expression of mild revulsion that he often seemed to wear around meals. "Are there even any nutrients left in that stuff after it's been processed and frozen and reheated? We should get you real food."

"We have a refrigerator full it," Wesley said, nodding his head toward the steel-fronted appliance, "but it requires preparation. This is fine; I've lived off of things like it for years, and I'm still standing."

"There's a difference between good and good enough," Angel said, but shrugged as though willing to let the subject go.

That was a distinction Wesley didn't really want to consider too closely in relation to the two of them, so he took another bite of his dinner. "I can have an apple afterwards if that would make you feel better."

Angel's gaze dropped to the floor immediately, then flickered back up to meet Wesley's. "Am I being annoying?"

"No," Wesley was quick to assure him. "I'm not used to having someone care about that sort of thing, but I wouldn't call it annoying. Surprising, maybe."

"I just want to make sure you're being taken care of," Angel said, rather earnestly.

It was Wesley's turn to look down as he poked at the last few bites left of his dinner. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't ask why. He wasn't sure if Angel even understood what he was doing, himself. "Thank you," he said.

Endearingly, Angel looked confused. "For what?"

"For caring." As Wesley chewed another mouthful of food, he reflected upon how odd it was, really, since Angel was rarely particularly interested in the mundane details of his friends' lives. Well, except when he wanted something, and that realization made Wesley swallow quickly to keep from gagging on his dinner. He was all right with being the focus of Angel's attentions simply because there was no one else better around, but if Angel was showering him with physical affection in the same way he had given Cordelia what he knew she wanted when he showered her with new clothes to win back her friendship...

No, Wesley knew that it was more complicated than that, since they both were yearning for contact and a renewal of their broken friendship after the loss of Jasmine. Still, he had to say, "I hope you know that none of this is necessary to keep me here. I would still help you without it."

"None of what?" Angel still seemed puzzled. "Being nice to you? Is there some rule about that?"

"You've never been quite so... attentive to me before," Wesley tried to explain. "I just don't want you to feel that you have to."

Angel seemed to think about that for a while - not long, but long enough that Wesley began to worry that he'd upset him. "I know how I am, Wes," Angel said finally. "Kinda hard to change habits of a couple hundred years, you know? But I'm trying."

It was apparently Wesley's turn to be confused. "Why are you trying to change?" he asked.

"Because I don't want this to be one-sided," Angel said, shifting his weight and crossing his arms over his chest.

"I’m certainly not complaining," Wesley said carefully in an attempt to soothe Angel's defensive posture. "I simply want to be sure that you're doing it because you want to and not because you feel it's somehow necessary."

"I do think it's necessary," Angel said. "But not like that. Because it's the way things should be. I should make an effort." His eyes met Wesley's steadily.

Wesley wasn't sure how to respond to that, since there was no point in repeating that he would happily take what Angel chose to give him, however much or little it might be. "So you're making an effort because you think you ought to." It wasn't much better than the idea of making an effort because he thought it was required.

"Because I want to," Angel said, beginning to sound a bit exasperated.

'Want to' was definitely preferable to 'should', although Angel's tone didn't do much to relieve Wesley's tension. Wesley decided that he wasn't going to eat the last of his dinner and placed his crumpled up his napkin on top of it. "Then may I say that you're doing a very good job so far?" he offered with a hesitant smile.

"You don't have to to make me feel better," Angel said, relaxing a bit nonetheless. "I know I suck at this kind of thing. I don't even know how you take your coffee. But I want to get better at it."

"I'm not saying it to make you feel better; I'm saying it because it's true," Wesley told him. "Angel, that you consider me worth making an effort for at all is - " He searched for a word that didn't make him sound like he was gushing like a teenage girl. " - flattering. Knowing that I generally prefer my coffee black doesn't matter."

Seemingly put at ease, Angel smiled a little bit and gave Wesley an appraising look. "What about knowing how you prefer other things?" he asked.

"Trial and error sometimes has its benefits," Wesley replied, smiling in return.

Angel pushed away from the counter, looking at Wesley's abandoned meal. "You done?"

Wesley nodded.

Still watching him in that thoughtful way, Angel asked, "You want to go upstairs and see about having that shower?"

"I'd like that." Wesley managed not to fidget under Angel's gaze, though it required some concentration on his part. "Would you?"

"Yeah." Angel said.

They made their way back upstairs, where Angel once again closed the door to his suite after they were inside. The hotel still felt oddly quiet, and Wesley wondered if Fred and Lorne were already asleep.

Then Angel's hands were unbuttoning the front of Wesley's shirt and he stopped thinking about what anyone else might be up to. "This okay?" Angel asked, his lips brushing against the side of Wesley's throat.

"Yes," Wesley said, his voice suddenly hoarse at the touch of Angel's mouth. His eyelids drifted shut for a moment, but he quickly pulled himself back together so that he could work on getting Angel's shirt off of him.

It wasn't until they were both bare-chested that the fact that this was all real truly struck Wesley. Angel's lips met his in a tender, careful kiss, and Angel's hands were stroking over Wesley's back, and Wesley decided that he wasn't going to think about anything but how good it felt to be with Angel until some time later.

~ * ~ * ~


Angel pulled Wesley in against him, sliding both hands down to Wesley's ass. They were supposed to be getting undressed so they could take a shower, but he'd kind of lost track of the undressing part halfway through and now he just wanted to kiss Wesley and touch him and feel Wesley's warm skin against his own.

Which, okay, would work better if they went back to the undressing part.

Wesley didn't seem any more anxious for them to let go of each other than he was, though, instead sliding his long fingers into Angel's hair and kissing him repeatedly and thoroughly, like it was the thing he most wanted to be doing in the world. He made a soft sound in his throat, and it sounded to Angel's ears like it was a happy one. He hoped so.

"I want to take off all your clothes," Angel murmured between kisses. "Put you under the hot water. Taste every inch of you."

Wesley shivered under his hands and said, " Yes," before kissing him harder. "I want you to. I want to touch you."

Slowly, Angel got them moving toward the bathroom. He wanted to do this quicker, to just strip Wesley's clothes off and push into him, fuck him hard and fast, and the realization that he could have was enough to give him the control to hold off. He lowered his mouth to Wesley's shoulder and licked the skin there, feeling the ache in his balls as his cock got harder, then kissed Wesley's mouth again.

Pressing close, Wesley opened Angel's fly and slid his hand inside with a satisfied hum.

Angel couldn't hold back his small sound like a growl as Wesley's fingers closed around his erection. "Jesus, Wes," he murmured encouragingly.

"Have I made it clear yet how much I want you?" Wesley asked, stroking him lightly with his wonderfully warm hand. He sounded breathless and eager. "You seemed to miss it the last time, and I'd hate for you to do so again."

Angel groaned and caught Wesley's lips with his again, kissing him with a fierce passion and turning them so that Wesley was pressed against the wall just beside the bathroom door. "Tell me again," he said, pressing a line of kisses along Wesley's jaw. "Tell me you want me."

"Angel, I want you," Wesley said, tilting his head to the side in a gesture that made it apparent how deeply he trusted him. He sucked in a ragged breath as Angel's mouth continued its journey. "I want you. I want you."

"Good boy," Angel murmured, sucking gently on the sensitive skin at Wesley's throat and pressing his thigh up against Wesley's cock.

Wesley's answering moan could possibly have been an attempt at his name, but it was too indistinct to be sure. He tipped his head further, one hand tightening around Angel's cock and the other clutching at his back. His needy sounds were music to Angel's ears, and the way he moved against him like he was trying to get closer still made him mouth Wesley's neck more eagerly.

Angel could feel the hot blood just under the surface of Wesley's skin, and he could remember how it tasted. The memory made him push Wesley up against the wall more firmly, made him push his erection into Wesley's grip and moan.

If anything, that just made Wesley's cock harder against Angel's thigh. "Angel. God, Angel." He was trembling, his pulse pounding beneath Angel's mouth. The position of his hand was awkward trapped between them, but that didn't stop him from stroking Angel's erection with fervent movements as though to encourage him in place of the extensive vocabulary he seemed to have lost.

Little as he wanted to move just then, Angel needed to feel Wesley naked against him. He pulled back far enough so he could fumble the front of Wesley's jeans open, shoving both layers of fabric down over Wesley's hips to the floor and then wrapping both hands around Wesley, feeling the swollen heat of him. "I want you," he said in echo of Wesley's earlier words. "Want you so much."

The sound Wesley made was almost pained, a cry of need and desperation and something else Angel didn't have the time to analyze. He throbbed in Angel's grip, his eyes dark and dilated as they watched him from beneath heavy lids. "You have me," he gasped. "Anything you want."

Lust surged up, overcoming the control that Angel knew didn't matter, not here, not now. In moments they were in the bathroom, one quick twist of Angel's wrist starting the hot water in the shower, another few movements stripping him of his own clothes. He grabbed onto Wesley's upper arms and kissed him, walking him under the spray.

Despite his gasp at the first touch of the water, Wesley didn't seem to have any interest in fighting him, instead returning his kisses so wholeheartedly that Angel was in serious danger of being distracted by his mouth. Wesley's hands came up to grip Angel's biceps, again as though he were desperate to keep him from going too far.

Angel pushed Wesley against the wall and kissed him harder, his cock rubbing against Wesley's hip bone, slick in the heat of the water. "Fuck, you feel good," Angel muttered.

"So do you," Wesley said, his voice a hoarse whimper compared with his usual tones. "Wonderful."

Everything Wesley said just made Angel more eager. "Good. Good." He bit Wesley's lip gently, one hand on Wesley's hip holding him as they moved together, not that Wesley could do all that much moving when he was pressed to the wall. "Wes..."

Wesley shuddered, his mouth meeting Angel's and his hands sliding over Angel's skin with an eagerness in direct contrast with the passivity with which he allowed Angel to keep him pinned to the slick tiles. "I take it back," he said, tipping his head back enough to rest it against the wall, a movement that did not hamper their kisses but that also happened to expose the scarred column of his throat. "Not wonderful. Incredible."

Angel didn't want to mess around with what was probably still a touchy subject between them, but there was no way he could keep his mouth from exploring Wesley's throat, not when it was offered to him like that. The skin there was, to steal the word Wesley had used, incredible in its imperfection, and the noises Wesley made as Angel savored it with lips and tongue were just as incredible. It was hard work to stay in control, to be gentle.

"Angel," Wesley moaned, the harsh gasps of his breath loud in Angel's ears over the rush of water pouring down on them. "God." His hands tightened on Angel's back as he pressed himself forward into him, rubbing his cock against Angel's hip in tiny, insistent, and probably helpless movements.

"That's it," Angel encouraged. "Yeah. Move with me." He pushed forward against Wesley again, smooth slick and glide of wet skin on his cock threatening to drive him crazy as he raised a hand to catch Wesley's chin and tilt his head for another kiss.

The enthusiasm with which Wesley kissed him would have taken Angel's breath away had he needed to breathe. There was no hesitation, no indication of him holding anything back, and it was a bit of a surprise, given how reserved Wesley had grown to be. Still, Angel wasn't complaining, because there was far less room for questioning Wesley's insistence that he wanted him. Every moan muffled by their joined mouths and every pull of Wesley's hands to bring their bodies closer together illustrated his desire.

Wesley slid his hand into Angel's hair as he nibbled at his lower lip, their bodies moving restlessly against each other. "Please tell me," he said huskily, his words coming out in groups of three or four between gasps for air, "that you're going to fuck me soon, because you feel far too good for this to last indefinitely."

Angel groaned, relief and gratitude sweeping through him. He shifted most of his weight to one foot and leaned back, sliding a hand between them to give Wesley's cock a few slow strokes. Still, he couldn't resist teasing. "You sure you want me to fuck you? Because I could just make you come like this..."

"You could," Wesley agreed readily, although a faint, worried furrow appeared between his brows, "but if it were up to me you'd be inside me when I come."

It was, Angel thought, as if someone had given Wesley a book with all the things to say that would drive him nuts. The thought that Wesley was actually that smart, knew him that well, shouldn't have surprised him, but he couldn't have denied that it did. He liked that Wesley could surprise him like that.

He kissed Wesley, hand moving slowly on Wesley's cock as Wesley's hand mirrored the movements on his own. "I'd like that, too," he said. "A lot."

Wesley made a rough noise of need, twisting his hand expertly around the head of Angel's erection. "Then please do," he said. "I want you to."

Angel shuddered, no longer willing to wait, not if he didn't have to. "Turn around," he said, urging Wesley to move with impatient hands as he reached up to grab the bottle of hair conditioner from the shelf. He got some onto his fingers and rubbed it over Wesley and his own cock, then lined himself up and pushed, careful to give Wesley's body a chance to relax and let him in.

"Angel..." Wesley pressed backwards, perhaps faster than he should have, given the pained catch in his breathing, but he didn't stop. "Never thought... I'd be grateful... for your hair products," he said, his head bowing forward as Angel's cock kept sliding deeper into him.

Unable to spare the energy to laugh at that, Angel gritted his teeth and continued forward until he was as deep as he could go, both hands on Wesley's hips to steady both of them. His chest was pressed to Wesley's back, and it was a simple matter of dropping his head to kiss Wesley's neck and shoulder. "Wes." He couldn't say anything else.

Wesley was unbelievably hot around him and against him, his body throbbing with life. "God, Angel," Wesley whispered hoarsely, dropping one of his hands from the smooth tile wall to place it over Angel's hand on his hip. "You feel... Can you just... stay here for a second? I want to enjoy this, before I lose all ability to think."

"Okay," Angel said, even though the desire to move was so strong that controlling it took a lot of effort. He kissed Wesley's ear and cheek, then Wesley's mouth when Wesley turned his head enough to allow it. "You feel so good," he murmured. "So good, Wes."

"You, too," Wesley replied, his eyes closed and his voice cracking. "Perfect." He took a shuddering breath, then squeezed Angel's hand and released it. "Thank you." His body clenched around Angel's cock, and they both groaned with the sensation. "Fuck me. Please."

Closing his eyes, Angel began to move, pulling out almost all the way before pushing forward into Wesley again, feeling Wesley's body yield to him. On the next thrust, Angel used his hands on Wesley's hips to pull Wesley toward him, driving his cock even deeper than he'd managed before.

Wesley cried out, shaking as Angel buried himself deep inside of him. "Angel," he said, the word a choked plea for more.

"Right here, Wes," Angel said, finding a rhythm all on his own, moving his own body and Wesley's in a way that brought them both the most pleasure. "Not going anywhere."

The noise that Wesley made in response sounded to Angel's ears almost like a sob. He could feel the fight in Wesley's body to let Angel be in complete control, but Wesley let Angel move him as he liked, rocking with him but not attempting to change the rhythm. His head hanging between his arms braced on the wall, he gasped Angel's name again as his body relaxed even more around Angel's increasingly hard thrusts.

For his part, Angel was using Wesley's body lovingly, losing himself in Wesley so that he didn't have to think about any of the other things that he probably should have been thinking about. Still, he made sure to listen to each little gasp Wesley gave up, using the quickly learned knowledge of Wesley's body to his advantage, taking Wesley close to the edge and then holding him there for long, quivering moments before easing off again.

Wesley all but whimpered as Angel kissed along his shoulder and slowed the pace of his thrusts. "You're so very good at this." He sounded almost lost, but he turned his head, seeking Angel's mouth with his own.

Angel kissed Wesley's lips, hot and tasting faintly of the chlorine in the shower water, and slid himself home again. Wesley's faint moan into his mouth made Angel want to move faster, but instead he slid a hand up Wesley's chest to toy with one nipple, pinching it into a tighter point and moaning as Wesley's body throbbed around him as it reacted to the touch.

He couldn't keep up the slow, deep thrusts without a hand on Wesley's hip to give him purchase, so Angel moved his hand across Wesley's chest to rub his thumbnail lightly over the other nipple before returning his attention to the first one, catching it between thumb and forefinger and pinching without letting go. He slid his hand down a little bit on Wesley's hip and pulled Wesley back onto his cock, shoving deep again, biting at the nape of Wesley's neck. "God, you're so good," Angel murmured. "Love this."

Wesley gave a hoarse, nearly pained cry, a strong shudder racing through his body. "Angel, please," he begged, writhing in the little freedom of movement Angel's hands allowed.

"Tell me what you want," Angel said, loving Wesley's reactions. "You want me to touch your cock?" He tightened his fingers on Wesley's nipple, knowing that the sensation was intense and that it would be even more so when he finally released it.

To Angel's surprise, Wesley shook his head sharply, rocking back into him so that Angel's erection slid in another fraction of an inch. "I'll come in seconds if you do."

That made Angel smile against Wesley's shoulder. "You want me to make you wait?"

Bowing his head further and making it impossible for Angel to see his expression, Wesley admitted, "I don't want this to be over."

Angel pulled back slowly and looked down as he eased forward again. Seeing his cock sliding into Wesley's body, he had to take a careful breath in through his nose to stay calm. "Yeah," he said, voice soft and low, like a caress. He didn't want it to be over, either - not this, and not whatever it was that was going on between him and Wesley.

"But you feel too good for this to last," Wesley said with a shiver, covering Angel's hand on his hip with one of his own. Tense beneath Angel's touch, he was nearly vibrating with arousal. "God, you're..." He pushed back into Angel's next thrust, however he was going to finish the sentence lost in his groan.

"Good," Angel said, moving more quickly. He couldn't help it; Wesley felt too perfect, hot and slick and alive around him, his hand clutching at Angel's. Fuck it. He wanted to come. And as soon as he thought that it surged through him, and Angel cried out and thrust into Wesley fiercely again and again, riding the wave of his release.

"Angel - Angel - Angel -" Wesley repeated with every gasping breath as Angel thrust into him, like he was trying to start a sentence and couldn't get more than his name out. Releasing his grip on Angel, he slammed his open hand against the wall as if to hold something at bay. It clearly didn't work. Wesley's body was quickly overcome by a series of tremors as he twisted in Angel's grip, his orgasm coming without his cock being touched. The tight clenching of his muscles made Angel push even more deeply into him, pressing him into the wall as Wesley's arms buckled.

Half-crazed with the heat of pleasure, Angel kept moving until there was nothing left in him, until he was trembling nearly as much as Wesley was. "Fuck," he muttered, kissing the back of Wesley's neck. "Jesus. Fuck."

Wesley gave a short, pained laugh, his forehead resting against the tile and his chest still heaving. "I think that covers it."

Angel dropped his head, too, kissing the back of Wesley's neck again where the short, soft hairs were soaked with water. His hand stroked gently over Wesley's hip. "That was... good. Really good. You're amazing."

Wesley's body tensed for a second before he laced his fingers together with Angel's and squeezed them tightly. "Thank you," he said in a hoarse whisper. "So are you, Angel. Amazing."

Carefully, slowly, Angel withdrew and reached for the soap with his free hand. "Here, let's get cleaned up so we can get you into bed." He was feeling pretty worn out himself, but he really wanted - needed - to concentrate on Wesley.

Although he pushed away from the wall, Wesley didn't turn around. Every line of his body screamed his exhaustion, from his slumped shoulders to the vague way he wiped the water out of his eyes. "Just me?" he asked.

"No, not just you." Angel worked up some lather and ran his hands down Wesley's chest gently, half genuinely washing Wesley and half using it as an excuse to touch him more.

"Good." Wesley leaned back into him with a small sigh, skimming his hands over Angel's hips and thighs as Angel washed him. "I'd like to be in bed with you. Sleep with you in the literal sense."

That sounded so good that Angel closed his eyes. "Yeah, me too. That'd be nice."

Wesley turned in his grasp and soaped up his own hands. "Then let me help speed things up," he said, trailing suds down Angel's chest and stomach. Although the water had warmed both of them to a similar temperature, his touch still felt wonderful as he concentrated on spreading the lather over Angel's skin.

He let his head drop forward onto Wesley's shoulder, feeling newly overwhelmed. "Wes..."

"It's all right," Wesley murmured, sliding his hands around to Angel's back and enfolding him in a gentle embrace as he continued his cleaning caresses. "Just a minute or two more and you'll be able to rest."

Angel knew that he was supposed to get it together, but he had no idea how to do that. Connor was lost to him, maybe for good, the tenuous bond created between them under Jasmine's influence destroyed. "I want to hold you," he said to Wesley. "All night."

Wesley rubbed his cheek against Angel's hair. "I can't think of anything I'd like more," he said softly. "Hold onto me as much as you want."

Hoping that applied immediately, Angel put his arms around Wesley and tightened them, pulling him closer, then sighed. "Guess we're gonna run out of hot water eventually."

"We probably would have long ago if we didn't have hotel-sized water heaters," Wesley replied, continuing his soothing stroking of Angel's back, though the soap must have rinsed away. "Besides, it's not the most ideal place for sleeping."

"Yeah." Reluctantly, Angel pulled back, using his own hands on Wesley's skin to brush away any lingering soap residue before reaching to turn off the water.

They stepped out onto the floor on slightly wobbly legs and proceeded to dry off separately, although Angel couldn't help but appreciate the sight of Wesley's long limbs and flushed, damp skin as they were concealed and revealed by the movements of the towel.

Wesley folded his towel neatly and hung it up on the bar when he was finished, but although he glanced down at the discarded clothing on the floor he made no move to pick it up. "Are you going to have to spend an hour fixing your hair before we can sleep, or can you leave it until tomorrow?" he asked, a small smile curving up the corners of his mouth.

With a bit of a return grin, Angel tucked his towel onto the rack next to Wesley's. "I think I can leave it just this once."

"Excellent." Sliding his hand down Angel's arm as he stepped away, Wesley led the way into the bedroom, pausing for a moment beside the bed with a small furrow between his brows before pulling up the covers to straighten them from their tangle.

"I can do that," Angel protested, but Wesley was already basically done. They both got in bed, Angel quickly rearranging himself and the pillows so that they could lie close together, touching. He slid his arm around Wesley's waist.

"Thank you," Wesley said, edging closer and slipping his own arm around Angel. He closed his eyes in an overly long, sleepy blink but opened them again to meet Angel's gaze. He seemed a little hesitant but also looked very relaxed, most of the lines of care usually etched in his face smoothed away. Despite the scruffy whiskers clinging to his jaw and the lack of his every emotion shining in his eyes, in many ways he resembled the younger, rather earnest version of himself Angel had first hired more than he had in some time.

Angel liked looking at him. He slid a hand slowly up Wesley's back, feeling the small indentation between each vertebra. "This is nice."

Wesley shifted his head slightly on the pillow and gave a soft sigh. "Mmm. Very."

"You gonna be able to sleep okay like this?" Angel asked. It was a complicated question with a lot of layers, and he was pretty sure Wesley would understand that.

"To be honest," Wesley replied, smoothing his hand along Angel's ribs, "I think this is about the only way I could get a decent night's sleep. Although we won't know until the morning." It seemed to Angel like that last statement had a lot of layers, too.

Too bad he wasn't sure what they were.

"It's gonna be okay," he said, as much because he needed to believe it as anything else.

"I hope so." His eyes dark and not necessarily happily thoughtful, Wesley pressed in just a bit closer. "Angel, far be it from me to interfere with your long and illustrious history of brooding, but I don't want this to be one of the actions you punish yourself for later on. I'm all right with what's going on between us. I want it."

Angel smiled, and for maybe the first time since Jasmine, it felt natural. He quickly shoved aside the memory of her; he didn't want to start thinking again. "Good; I'm glad. I want it, too."

Wesley's arm tightened around him, but his answering smile was melancholy. "I know, and I'm more grateful than I can tell you. But, later, when things are different, if you don't... I'll understand that, as well." His voice grew softer, and his tone became even more serious, like he was sharing an important confidence with someone he trusted completely. "As long as you want me, however you want me, I'll be here for you. You'll never lose my support. I want you to be absolutely clear about that."

Angel didn't think he liked where this was going, but they were both too exhausted to get into it right then, so he just said, "I know," and continued to run his hand up and down Wesley's back soothingly.

"I hope so." Wesley tilted his head so that their foreheads were touching and smiled more warmly. "This is nice," he repeated Angel's earlier words. "Will you be able to sleep like this?"

"As long as you don't snore," Angel said.

Wesley seemed to give that comment serious consideration. "If I do, wake me up, and I'll go somewhere else."

Angel ran his hand down to Wesley's ass and let it linger there. "I was kidding."

His eyelids drooping as Angel caressed him, Wesley smiled and said, "And I wasn't. Not that I have any desire to leave, but you need your rest, too."

"No, this is good," Angel insisted, inhaling the reassuring scent of Wesley and closing his own eyes. "This is good. I can sleep."

Wesley's arm relaxed a bit but stayed wrapped around Angel's waist. "Mmm, good," he murmured, his breath a soft, warm flutter on Angel's face. He fell silent for a few minutes, long enough for Angel to start drifting into sleep, before he spoke again softly. "Angel?"

"Yeah?" Angel murmured.

"Thank you," Wesley whispered.

Frowning would have taken too much effort, so Angel just smoothed his hand over the small of Wesley's back. "For what?"

Wesley's words were dulled by fatigue but still comprehensible as he said, "For this. For wanting this. With me."

Angel couldn't imagine not wanting it, which was weird, because he wasn't exactly sure when the wanting it part had entered the picture. "I do want this. With you," he said, bending forward to kiss Wesley's shoulder.

"I didn't fully realize how much it would mean to me," Wesley replied thoughtfully. His hand slid in a gentle caress over the base of Angel's spine as he chuckled. "The sentimentality of that statement clearly illustrates that I need to go to sleep."

"Might help if you stopped talking," Angel said quietly.

"Right. Of course. I really should." Wesley's hand stopped moving, and he took a long, slow breath.

"Not," Angel whispered, laying his cheek on Wesley's and speaking almost into his ear, "that I mind the sentimental thing. But get some sleep."

Wesley tilted his head in a gesture Angel could almost classify as nuzzling his cheek. "You, too."

"Mm. I will." Angel could feel sleep hovering around the edges of his brain, just waiting for him to let it take over.

A soft sigh was Wesley's response, and they drifted off holding each other.

Chapter Text

Wesley awoke slowly with a feeling deep inside of him that things were not right but that he couldn't bring himself to care. He was warm, comfortable, and securely wrapped in the strongest pair of arms that had ever held him. Angel's arms, he realized, and the thought made him smile and lean back into him before his waking mind could censor his actions.

Angel stirred in response, his arms tightening. The vampire murmured something unintelligible and pressed his mouth to the back of Wesley's neck in what Wesley assumed was meant to be a kiss.

While he could, Wesley allowed himself the luxury of not thinking, focusing on the rhythm of his breath and how wonderful it felt to be held so close, like Angel didn't want to let him go.

His body, however, had other concerns, and he found himself growing more awake and more in need of a trip to the bathroom. He gently tried to move Angel's arms so that he could slip out of bed.

Angel made a small sound of protest and pulled Wesley closer, and then slowly let go of him and nuzzled Wesley's hair. "Sorry," Angel said, his voice rough with sleep. "You need to get up?"

"Just for a minute," Wesley whispered, patting Angel's arm in apology. "I'll be right back."

"Promise?" Angel said.

"Yes. I won't be long." His body still heavy with sleep, Wesley slid out of bed and padded to the bathroom. Once his most pressing needs were taken care of, he quickly washed his hands and face, not meeting his eyes in the mirror for fear of what he might see in them, and headed back to Angel, whom he hoped had fallen back asleep again. He tried to get under the covers with a minimum of movement and edged closer to him.

Angel made a snuffling sound and draped his arm over Wesley's waist, shifting toward him. The covers - and Angel - had retained the warmth no doubt absorbed from Wesley's own body, and it felt nice. "Mm. You smell good," Angel said.

Wesley couldn't keep back his soft chuckle. "Thank you," he said, settling comfortably into his embrace. He hadn't been sure how well the morning would go between them, but if he was lucky enough that Angel wanted to have him close, at least while he was still mostly asleep, Wesley wasn't going to argue.

Moving closer still, Angel ran a hand down along Wesley's body slowly and appreciatively. His lips brushed against Wesley's shoulder, then his tongue gave a tentative lick. "Taste good, too."

"Thank you again," Wesley replied with a smile, closing his eyes so that he could focus more on Angel's touch.

"This okay?" Angel asked, his hand stroking over Wesley's stomach and then to the side, over his pelvic bone and thigh, illustrating what he was asking without him needing to come right out and say it.

Wesley pressed back against him, his body warming and waking further as Angel caressed him. "Of course it is. Far better than simply okay."

"I like touching you," Angel murmured, his hand moving back up over Wesley's thigh and side. "I want to keep doing it. All day, every day." Another kiss on Wesley's shoulder. Fingers tracing the line of fine soft hair below his navel.

His pulse speeding up and his eyes still firmly shut as he pictured such a wonderful, impossible future, Wesley murmured, "As long as I can touch you in return."

"Sometimes," Angel said. His voice was low, soothing, almost hypnotic. His hand skirted the area Wesley most wanted it to focus on. "But sometimes I just want to touch you. Listen to your heartbeat. How you breathe."

"Angel," Wesley said, a soft sigh. His chest ached, and he slipped one hand back to rest on Angel's thigh.

"I might need you to tell me sometimes," Angel said softly, almost in Wesley's ear. "If there's anything you want me to do. Or want me not to do." His cool fingers teased the line where Wesley's thigh met his torso, the skin there surprisingly sensitive.

Wesley tried not to writhe against him, his grip tightening on Angel's leg, but he knew even his tiny, helpless movements would be detectable. "There's nothing I don't want you to do," he whispered, his breath hitching with his growing need. It was odd to him to feel so passive, not to have to be the one in control, but Angel's attention was too good to push aside.

"Okay." Angel's lips found the back edge of Wesley's ear. "As long as you know this isn't just about me. It's about both of us." His hand slid lower and cupped Wesley's balls.

"You keep saying that." Wesley's voice was hoarse as he shifted to feel Angel's hard cock trapped between them. "As though you think I don't actually want this. I do." He swallowed a gasp as Angel's hand just barely tightened. "I do."

Angel made a small sound of arousal and moved his hand, fingertips tracing the length of Wesley's shaft with the lightest touch possible. "I like hearing that," Angel whispered. "Like everything about you. How you feel. How you smell. The way you move."

Whimpering seemed like a distinct possibility for the near future. Keeping his eyes closed and rubbing his palm along Angel's hip and thigh, Wesley said, "I feel the same way about you. Everything, Angel." It wasn't something he thought was particularly wise to admit, given how it might complicate things between them later on, but Angel's words were impossible to resist.

Angel's hand moved to Wesley's hip as he shifted backward, rolling Wesley toward him so that they were facing each other. "Need you, Wes," Angel said, and kissed him.

Since his mouth was otherwise occupied, Wesley tried to illustrate without words that Angel unquestionably had him. Wrapping his arm around Angel's waist, he pressed close until their chests were touching and their legs were tangled together and gave Angel a series of hard, grateful, needy kisses.

Angel was solid against Wesley, and the vampire's hand traveling up his spine to the back of his neck was strong, firm, sure. Wesley tried to get closer although there wasn't much closer he could get. There was something about the way Angel held him that made him desperate for more. It wasn't just how Angel was touching him; it's that it was Angel who was touching him.

With a soft moan, Angel rolled over on top of Wesley, finding his mouth again in a deep, determined kiss that he didn't seem inclined to stop any time soon.

Angel's weight on him was comforting as well as arousing, and Wesley groaned into the kiss, sliding his hands over the vampire's muscular body and hooking his foot around Angel's calf to keep him there. He rocked his hips upwards, shivering as his erection rubbed against Angel's, and moaned again as Angel's tongue pushed deeper into his mouth.

Angel sucked on Wesley's lower lip, bit at it gently. "God, you're so amazing. Why didn't we do this before?" He didn't give Wesley a chance to reply with any of the answers he might have come up with, though; just dove in for another kiss, tasting what seemed like every inch of the inside of Wesley's mouth.

Wesley didn't let himself fall into the trap of remembering why they hadn't been this close; instead he clung to Angel, touching him everywhere he could reach. Angel's muscles rippled beneath his smooth skin, and the dormant strength in them left Wesley feeling almost entirely at his mercy. At that moment it didn't bother him in the slightest; he was what Angel wanted, and it was a glorious feeling.

When Angel pulled away to let him breathe, Wesley lifted his head to kiss along the vampire's jaw and throat, feeling Angel's soft moan against his lips.

Helpfully, Angel tilted his head to give Wesley better access. "God. Yeah, do that some more."

"You taste good, too," Wesley said, echoing Angel's earlier words, and then sucked more firmly on the side of his throat. Alternating between gentle licks and biting kisses, he held Angel tight and tried to give him what he seemed to like best.

Angel groaned, his hips shifting restlessly at the attention. "Wes..." The way he said Wesley's name like that, softly and full of longing, made Wesley ache.

Not lifting his mouth from Angel's skin, Wesley rolled them so that he was on top. It was a heady feeling not to have to worry about crushing his partner, and he used the better leverage to his advantage as he nibbled Angel's throat more confidently. "Tell me what you like," he murmured, biting softly along the edge of Angel's jaw. "Let me do that for you."

"I like anything if you're doing it," Angel said hoarsely, his hands going to Wesley's waist, steadying him. "Anything you want to do."

"What I want," Wesley said, licking along the contour of Angel's collarbone, "is to make you come very, very, very - " He kissed the hollow of Angel's throat. " - hard."

Angel groaned loudly enough that Wesley could feel the vibration of it and rocked his hips upward, rubbing his erection against Wesley. "You're lucky I've got some will power," Angel said. "Or I might come just from hearing you say that."

Wesley experienced a little surge of pride as well as a far larger surge of arousal, and he scraped his teeth lightly over the skin at the base of Angel's strong throat. "I had expected I would have to put more work into it than that," he commented, sliding a hand down Angel's chest to give his nipple a sharp pinch. "Drawing it out is part of the fun."

"Can be," Angel agreed, shifting beneath Wesley's weight as if it were nothing at all and arching under his touch appreciatively.

Wesley continued to toy with Angel's nipple as he bit up his throat again. Angel's cock was temptingly hard between them, Wesley's own cock rubbing against Angel's leg, and he couldn't help but let out a soft moan. "You feel so wonderful." He propped himself up enough that he could wrap his hand around Angel's erection. "Dare I use the word perfect?" he teased, nipping at Angel's earlobe.

Angel hissed and bucked up against Wesley. "Use any words you want," he said. "I like to hear you talk."

"Do you?" Wesley was surprised by that information, but he concentrated on tracing the curve of Angel's ear with his tongue and using his thumb to manipulate Angel's foreskin. "What would you like me to say? Do you want me to murmur Latin declensions while I touch you? I could probably recite some Nuparian War Poetry if you give me a moment." He gave Angel's cock a gentle stroke, swallowing back a groan of his own at how good it felt to have his hand around him, both for the opportunity and the power to please him and for the simple fact that Angel was so incredibly appealing to him. He sucked with some determination beneath Angel's ear. "Or I could tell you how much I like touching you. Feeling you under me, on me, in me. Is that what you want to hear?"

"Fuck," Angel said thickly, as if he'd nearly forgotten how to speak. "Wes... god, don't stop. Please."

Wesley bit at the spot his mouth had just left, tightening his grip on Angel's cock. "I could tell you how gorgeous you are like this," he said huskily, pressing his own erection against Angel's thigh in a desperate attempt to keep himself under control. "How much more I want to do for you." He dipped his head to give the thin skin covering Angel's collarbone a sharp nip and then leaned up to give Angel's lower lip a far gentler bite. "How I still ache in all the best ways from how hard you fucked me last night."

Angel shuddered and brought a hand up to the back of Wesley's neck, holding him there and kissing him. Angel's hips were rocking, pushing his cock into Wesley's firm grip, and he groaned softly into Wesley's mouth.

Kissing him harder, Wesley moaned in response, aroused by Angel's body and the power he had over it. A mental picture of Angel spread out beneath him like an offering, letting Wesley do whatever he liked, made his head spin. He moved his hand faster on Angel's erection, delighting in the way Angel's body arched with the stimulation. "You could fuck me again," Wesley said, panting, trembling with his own need. "You could fuck my mouth. I'll do whatever you want, Angel. Anything."

That seemed to push Angel past the point of being able to allow Wesley control of the situation; he rolled them over so that he was on top again, his heavy body covering Wesley's, and reached for the bedside table. What he had in his hand when he brought it back seemed to be a tube of some sort of lotion. In moments, slick, cool fingers were teasing back behind Wesley's balls. "You want me to fuck you, Wes?" Angel asked.

There was only one way Wesley could answer the question. "Yes. Yes," he gasped, clutching at Angel's biceps as the tip of one finger just barely pushed into him. The tables were turned again, he was back at Angel's mercy, but he didn't care; all he wanted was Angel.

Apparently, Angel was eager enough that he didn't want to continue to tease. He lined up his cock and kissed Wesley slowly as he began to push inside, impossibly huge and perfect, making Wesley gasp and shiver. "Wes... Wesley. God."

It wasn't quite painful, but Wesley's breath was stolen by more than just pleasure as Angel pressed into him. The wall around the need inside of his heart shattered; he was suddenly lost in it. Angel was overwhelming his every sense, on him, in him, touching him, tasting him, and Wesley arched his back, tilting his hips and trying to take him deeper. It felt beyond wonderful to feel Angel's cock pressing him open, but it wasn't enough. Angel was so close to pushing everything else out of Wesley's mind but him, and Wesley sought that clarity even more than he sought the physical sensation of being pinned to the bed and stretched and filled so fully. No worries, no memories, no loss, no deep void, just this. Just Angel. "Angel, please," he whimpered against his lips, slipping his arms around him and trying to urge him on faster despite the discomfort it might bring.

Angel seemed more than happy to give Wesley what he wanted; he pulled back and then pushed in deep again immediately, trying to find a rhythm, but distracted by the desperate kisses they were sharing. "God, Wes. Never... so good, you're so..."

"More." Wesley wanted more words, more kisses, more thrusting, more everything. "Angel, fuck me. Please." Kissing Angel fiercely, he shook as he strained to get closer, to feel even a centimeter more of Angel's cock deep inside of him. There was a time when they were fucking where things were as good as they had been under Jasmine, where he felt wanted and close and without any doubts or concerns, and he was desperate to get back there, to get lost entirely in Angel.

"I am," Angel said, starting to move more forcefully. "I am." He kissed Wesley harder, no doubt bruising lips against teeth, and slid one hand down to Wesley's ass, using the grip to pull Wesley toward him with each thrust.

"God, Angel," Wesley choked out, his voice sounding like a sob to his ears as the rest of the world finally crumbled and fell away. Clinging to him and kissing him again and again, he let Angel move him however he desired. That feeling of vulnerability, that Angel was so much stronger that Wesley couldn't easily stop him, only added to his arousal, because there was absolutely no doubt Angel wanted him, not with the eagerness of his thrusts and the depth of his kisses. He met that passion with his own, urging him with restless hands closer still. "Angel..."

"Don't want to hurt you," Angel said, his voice strained as he allowed Wesley's hands to encourage him to move with even more abandon. Angel groaned on the next thrust and bit down on Wesley's lip, hard enough to hurt but not to break the skin. "Fuck... Wes..."

"You won't," Wesley lied, though all he was aware of was that he couldn't bear it if Angel stopped. Every part of him was throbbing because of Angel, and it felt wonderful. "Don't stop."

"Don't know if I..." Angel thrust deeper, quick, jabbing motions that made Wesley close his eyes and wish for a few more minutes of control. "Could... god, Wes... want to do this forever."

Wesley cried out, shuddering as his cock twitched in warning. "Yes," he said, gasping for air, although attempting to calm himself when Angel was moving inside of him was very nearly a lost cause. "This... you... yes."

Angel shifted slightly, caught Wesley's mouth with his again, making little sounds that were almost whimpers with each thrust. It was clear from the way he'd utterly lost whatever rhythm had been established that he was very close to coming. His hand gripped Wesley's ass more tightly. "Wes... I'm..."

"I know..." Whatever despair Wesley might have felt that the moment couldn't last was lost as his body tensed, his erection rubbing against Angel's stomach as Angel held him so tightly it hurt. Angel's cock continued to drive into him with relentless determination, opening him up a little more with each movement. The mixture of pleasure and pain, both gifts from Angel to him, drove him over the edge. "God, Angel!" He clung to Angel with all of his strength, his hips bucking again and again as he came in hot, sticky pulses between them.

He was dimly aware that Angel was coming, too, could feel the moment when Angel's ability to support his own weight failed, could feel the shudders going through Angel's body as the vampire moaned and mouthed at Wesley's shoulder, stifling his sounds against Wesley's skin.

As he trembled with the aftershocks of his orgasm, Wesley wondered if he had the opportunity to have sex with Angel over an extended period of time he'd ever stop being so completely overwhelmed by him. He felt like every inch of his skin was hyper-sensitized, burning wherever Angel touched him, and all he could do was hold onto him, panting for breath as he tried to keep the world at bay for a little while longer.

All too soon, however, the aches from where Angel had been less than careful began to creep into his awareness, not unwelcome at all but enough to raise his consciousness back into the verbal. "That was incredible," he whispered, his eyes still closed. "I feel almost human again."

"At least one of us does," Angel said, lifting his head and kissing half of Wesley's mouth crookedly. He hitched his weight up onto his elbows and tried again, with more success this time.

Wesley made a soft sound of satisfaction as they kissed, loosening his hold and stroking his hands gently over Angel's back. He could feel Angel's half-hard cock in him, and that intimate point of connection made him shiver.

Angel nuzzled Wesley's jaw, running one hand over his skin in a way that was more affectionate than anything else, and when their eyes met, Angel's were bright, almost happy. "That was great," he said. "Really, really... great." It sounded as if he wanted to come up with more words to describe what they'd just done, but couldn't.

"I'm glad you thought so, too," Wesley replied, the corners of his mouth lifting as he looked up at him. His heart expanded to have put such a look on Angel's face, and he couldn't help but feel buoyed by the indication that he had truly done the right thing by giving Angel support in this way. His smile widened.

"You look good like this," Angel said. Then, as though concerned that Wesley might misunderstand what he'd meant, he clarified, "Happy. You are, aren't you?"

"I am," Wesley said, but the admission was bittersweet, since he knew the state wouldn't last. He cupped Angel's cheek and traced his lip with his thumb, the tenderness of his own gesture surprising him. "I needed this. I didn't realize how badly." He hoped Angel couldn't read all of the layers in that statement.

Angel's eyes searched his; Wesley couldn't have said what Angel was looking for, but after a moment his expression softened into a smile and he leaned down to kiss Wesley again, very, very gently.

It was hard to accept that softness, since it felt strangely intimate despite all they had done together. It wasn't related to an orgasm, a way to help, or a void to fill; perhaps for the first time, the kiss was entirely about the two of them.

Although he sighed into the kiss and returned it with the same care, Wesley was relieved when Angel pulled away; he wasn't sure he could have borne much more. "It was also a very nice way to wake up," he added with a shaky smile.

"It was," Angel agreed, withdrawing carefully and moving over to lie beside Wesley. "I'm thinking shower. In a little while." He smiled again. "You know, when I can stand up."

Wesley turned his head toward Angel, not trusting his body to move onto his side quite yet. "A shower sounds like an excellent idea," he said, "as does waiting. I'm not sure I could maintain even a sitting position right now."

"No?" Angel's hand caressed Wesley's chest, his expression clouding slightly. "If I'm too rough, you have to tell me. So that next time... um."

"I would tell you if I didn't like what you were doing," Wesley replied, not looking away from Angel's eyes. "But I'm hardly a delicate flower."

"I know," Angel said, looking relieved. "That doesn't mean I couldn't hurt you, though." He ran his hand down to Wesley's thigh, fingertips tracing over the skin there. With apparent difficulty, he added, "And it doesn't mean I'm assuming there'll be a next time. I'd like it if this was... if we could... it's not just the sex. You know that, right? If you wanted to... I'd like for us to have something. Together. I want to try."

The rational part of Wesley knew that Angel was making the offer because he was coming off of a few unspeakably awful months of loss and only had him left, but it still made his heart lodge in his throat to hear that despite everything that had passed between them Angel wanted him. It was suddenly impossible for him to draw in a breath, and he reached down to clasp Angel's hand in his own. "Are you sure?" he found himself asking, trying to find the truth in Angel's eyes. He hated himself for voicing the question, but it was too late to call back the words.

"Yeah. I'm sure." Angel looked worried as he met Wesley's eyes. "But if you don't want to... I'd get that."

There was something about Angel's concern that allowed Wesley to relax just enough. He turned carefully onto his side and said, "Angel, you've been the most important person in my life for years - " He glanced down at their naked, sticky bodies and shot him a wry smile. " - and it ought to be obvious by now that I'm physically attracted to you." He would have liked to have stopped there and left his acceptance as implied, since the more he said the more he would replay with self-loathing later on. Still, Angel had found the courage to ask, in his own vague way, so he had to give him a proper answer. "I can't imagine saying no."

"If you did, I'd understand," Angel said. "I'm not saying I'd be happy about it, but I wouldn't be mad, either. Okay?" He was watching Wesley intently, as if looking for any hints that might reveal Wesley was being less than honest with him.

"I appreciate the thought, but it doesn't change my answer," Wesley replied, not flinching away from Angel's scrutiny. "I would like to have more with you." It was perhaps one of the most difficult sentences he had ever uttered, so bare was years of truth in it, but his voice, though low, did not tremble at all as he said it.

Angel kissed him. It wasn't a grateful kiss, or a passionate kiss, or even an affectionate kiss. At least, it didn't feel like just any one of those things. It was, Wesley thought, a focused kiss, as though he were the one thing in the world that Angel was thinking about as Angel's lips moved on his.

Wesley stayed where he was as he returned the kiss, holding securely but not too firmly onto Angel's hand and just trying to enjoy the moment instead of focusing on the cliff from which he had just leapt. His mind kept threatening to race, but Angel's sure mouth grounded him enough that he could ignore the future for a little while longer.

When the kiss broke, Angel squeezed Wesley's hand. "So we'll try? Together?"

It was obvious looking into Angel's face that the idea was very important to him, and Wesley managed to smile again. "Yes. I'm not sure exactly what trying entails, but we'll do our best."

Angel smiled briefly and laid his head down on his arm. "I really like looking at you," he said softly.

"Perhaps you've been too long without access to a mirror," Wesley replied, although he was secretly delighted by the compliment.

"I saw myself in Pylea," Angel said. He didn't sound upset about it, but instead rather detached, as if it had happened to someone else. "Even if I had a reflection here, I'd rather look at you."

Wesley turned his hand so that he was able to stroke his fingers across Angel's palm, using the movement as an excuse to look down and break the eye contact that was threatening to make him squirm. "Thank you," he said. "It's been a long time since I've given my appearance much thought, I'm afraid, but I'm glad it pleases you."

"It does," Angel said. "It's not just how you look, though." The vampire cleared his throat. "So. What do you want to do today? Should we go back to your place and see what we can salvage?"

Sighing at the reminder, Wesley nodded reluctantly. He considered bringing up Connor, but Angel had made it clear that he didn't want his input, and Connor would probably be all right alone for a little while longer.

"I can go alone," Wesley said.

"I'd like to help."

Wesley couldn't let Angel forget about his son and the rest of the city for long, but perhaps the break would do him good and help him regain his focus. Besides, their work would probably be easier if he could salvage some of his belongings. "All right. Unless they were blessed with remarkable thoroughness, there must be something left."

"I take it you didn't stick around there too long," Angel said.

"I couldn't really say how long I was there," Wesley said after a moment's reflection. "I was... in shock, I suppose."

"I'm sure." Angel's hand tightened on his. "Don't worry. We'll get it straightened out."

While Wesley appreciated the support, he could feel the weight of the world beyond the suite settling on his shoulders once more. "I'm not entirely certain it wouldn't be better to shovel it all into a skip and start over, but the books, at least, will have to be sorted through."

"I'll help. You can just tell me what to look for." Angel drew Wesley in close, holding him.

"Anything that's not torn into shreds the size of postage stamps," Wesley said dryly. He slipped his arm around Angel, grateful for how solid he felt. "Perhaps I should write my own book on how to survive having your life ripped completely apart; I've gone through it enough."

He felt Angel tense up just a bit, but the vampire didn't make any move to pull away. "Yeah, I guess you have," he said, his hand restless on the small of Wesley's back. "We're gonna try to make sure you don't have to go through anything like this again, though. Okay?"

Wesley had meant to bring a bit of humor to the discussion, not to make the future more problematic when Angel decided that he didn't want Wesley anymore but felt guilty about breaking things off because Wesley had lost so much. He raised his head so that he could meet Angel's eyes and said, "Things happen, even with the best of intentions. Apocalypses, poor decisions, paths diverging. You're not responsible for what happens to me."

"Maybe not," Angel said. "But I can be around to try to stop it."

"Angel," Wesley said softly, "the last thing I want is to be another burden on you."

"You're not a burden," Angel said with utter conviction. "I get why you might think that I'd be willing to take on someone because they were, but that's not what this is. It's the opposite, actually."

"Perhaps it is now, but later, when you - " Wesley stopped himself before he could get into even more difficult territory. "If I become one, I want you to walk away and not look back."

The look Angel gave him was one of confusion and concern. "Wes... it's not that simple. I won't agree to that. I wouldn't."

Wesley's chest tightened, a chill creeping through him. "No, of course you can't. You so rarely think of yourself." He would have to be the one paying attention to Angel's well-being. He would have to be the one who watched Angel regain his feet and grow to find his joy in other people - Connor, Cordelia, Buffy - instead of him. He'd have to make sure that Angel was on the right path and had the right people around him, people who weren't a burden to his hypersensitive sense of responsibility, a memory of betrayal, or a hindrance to his sense of right or wrong. And that meant that Wesley would have to be the one to walk away. There'd be no chance of going back. But, then, he'd done it to save Angel before, hadn't he? "I don't know what I was thinking."

"No?" Angel said, watching him. Angel's hand came up, fingertips tracing Wesley's cheekbone intimately. "I think you do. I even think maybe I know what you're thinking now. And this has to be both of us, Wesley."

"What?" Wesley tried to focus, but the weight on his chest made it nearly impossible.

"We have to make decisions together," Angel said. "Be a team. We have to be honest, you know?"

Wesley nodded, although he couldn't quite follow Angel's larger train of thought. "I want you to be honest with me."

"Then believe me when I say that you aren't going to be a burden. Ever," Angel said.

"As much as I would like to, I find it almost impossible to believe that could be true," Wesley replied with a faint, apologetic smile. He took a slightly deeper breath.

"Then promise me you'll stick around long enough for me to prove it to you," Angel countered. "I mean, as long as you're happy, being with me." The vampire looked uncertain again.

"Even without this change in our relationship," Wesley said firmly, determined to banish that expression from Angel's face, "there's never been anyplace I've been happier than with you. I have no desire to leave."

"Good," Angel said, relaxing. "Because I don't want you to." He seemed about to add something else, and then his expression shifted and he suggested, "Shower?"

Wesley nodded. "One thing, first." Cupping Angel's cheek, he leaned in and gave him a gentle but thorough kiss, both to reaffirm his words and to draw some comfort for himself.

Angel seemed reluctant to let Wesley draw away again but let him without protest, although his hand on Wesley's back stroked the skin there gently.

A handful of unforgivably sentimental sentences swam through Wesley's mind, so he kissed Angel again to keep from saying them. It was another long kiss, slightly less hesitant than the previous, filled with as much of his joy at being there as possible. "Don't ever doubt that I'm happy being with you," he murmured after he pulled away just barely an inch from Angel's mouth. "After all this, Angel, don't doubt it."

"I want you to be," Angel said. "I want that for you." And then they were kissing again, with Angel taking control this time, his mouth gentle and coaxing.

"I want you to be happy, too," Wesley said some time later, feeling slightly dizzy from the lack of air and the kisses themselves. "Although, I'm afraid, not perfectly so," he added with a smile and a soft press of his lips to the corner of Angel's mouth. "I much prefer you with your soul."

"Yeah, me, too." Angel sat up, running a hand down over his chest. "I'll settle for mostly happy."

Wesley sat up as well, his body reminding him immediately of its various aches. "We'll see what we can do about that. Getting clean sounds like a good start."

They made their way to the shower, which turned out to be a much more calm affair than the previous evening's. There was some kissing and touching, but it didn't go farther than that, and Wesley's slight discomfort as he moved around made him a bit grateful for the chance to recover.

"I'll have to get some more towels," Angel said, handing Wesley the same one he'd used the night before. It was, admittedly, still a bit damp.

"This is fine," Wesley said, although the unpleasant coolness of the towel made him dry himself as quickly as possible. When he was done, he carefully hung the towel on the rack and enjoyed the view of Angel's unclothed body.

Angel finished scrubbing his hair with his towel and dropped it on the edge of the sink. "We need a list," he said.

Half-distracted by the movements of Angel's chest muscles, Wesley asked, "A list of what?"

"Of stuff to get," Angel said, gesturing. "More towels. Whatever you're gonna need if you start spending the night here. Stuff like that."

"I'm sure there are plenty of towels in the..." Wesley's brain caught up with the rest of what Angel had said, and he left the sentence unfinished as he got a sudden picture of what their future could entail. It was a whole new level of reality; Angel was making plans for them. As much as he didn't want to show his surprise at the suggestion, he couldn't entirely keep from smiling as he said, "Yes. Good idea."

"We'll need to clean out the refrigerators, too," Angel said. "The last thing I want is for you to get food poisoning from eating something that's been sitting around God only knows how long."

Wesley opened his mouth and then shut it when he found he couldn't come up with a response; he was still too stunned to make much sense. He tried again. "I'm sure a good deal of the food is still edible."

Angel nodded. "You'd be a better judge of that than me. Just make sure you err on the side of caution." Moving out of the bathroom, he found a pair of silk boxers in a drawer and pulled them on, then opened another drawer in search of slacks.

"I'm hardly likely to want to make myself sick," Wesley commented, collecting his own discarded clothes from the floor. He had no interest in putting them back on, but his clean clothes were at best in the room he had shared with Gunn, if they were still there, since he hadn't brought in the spare set of clothes from his car the night before. With a resigned sigh, he stepped into his jeans.

Fastening his own trousers and pulling on a shirt, Angel looked at him. "You could keep some clothes here. Here here, I mean. I don't..." The vampire shifted awkwardly. "I don't know how bad your place is, but you can stay here if you want to. I know you probably wouldn't want to permanently, but..."

Wesley refused to allow himself to admit that a part of him would be perfectly happy staying permanently not only in the hotel but in Angel's room. "Thank you," he said instead, focusing on pulling the arms of his shirt the right way out. "It would certainly be one less concern right now, but I know you value your privacy."

Angel shrugged. "Yeah, but it's you. That's different."

"Well." Wesley smiled at Angel as he slipped on his shirt. "Thank you. That's very kind of you."

"Not really," Angel said, with a little smile. He tucked in his shirt. "I want you here."

It was amazing to Wesley how he could be a grown man in a harsh world and still feel almost giddy because of a few simple words. "I'd like to be here," he said, looking down at his buttons as he attempted to fasten them. "So it seems we have an agreement."

"Seems like." Angel came over and brushed Wesley's hands out of the way, starting to do up the rest of Wesley's shirt buttons. "I can do that," he said. "Of course, it also gives me a good excuse to do this." His lips found Wesley's in a light but not entirely casual kiss.

"Mmm," Wesley said, following Angel's mouth when it began to move away. It was all he could do to keep from pouring his heart into the kiss, but he managed to keep it light as he drew it out. He was smiling as he pulled back. "Yet another excellent idea."

~ * ~ * ~

Angel smiled at Wesley, feeling almost disturbingly happy, even in the face of everything else that was going on. He still wasn't sure where all of this had come from - he'd always thought Wesley was attractive, sure; you'd have to be blind not to see that, but he'd never felt such an overwhelming need for him before this - but that didn't mean he was going to refuse it, not when it was being offered. Not when it seemed like Wesley wanted it, too. "So, we should get you some food, maybe?" he suggested.

"After I find some clothes that don't look - and feel - like I've been living in them for days," Wesley said, smoothing his wrinkled, wine-colored shirt. "There should be some in the room Gunn and I stayed in, unless they moved our things after we fled."

"Everything started to fall apart pretty fast after that; they might not have had time," Angel said, remembering. "Or maybe they just didn't bother. Let's go check." He started for the door and opened it to see Fred's surprised face.

"Angel! Hi," Fred said, trying to regain her composure. "I was just coming to see if you were up. Lorne and I are..." Her voice trailed off as she saw Wesley standing behind Angel, her eyes widening.

"Is everything all right?" she asked, taking in Wesley's quite definitely rumpled state. "Don't tell me there's another apocalypse already. I haven't even figured out the phone system yet." Her laugh sounded a bit nervous as she glanced between them.

"No, everything's fine." Wesley's voice was oddly flat. "As fine as it can be," he corrected himself, "given the circumstances."

"We were just..." Angel was suddenly, painfully self-conscious, all the reasons he had not to be happy coming back to him at once. "Where's Cordelia?"

"Oh." Fred nodded, looking serious. "We had her moved to a private wing of the hospital. Charles is taking care of the paperwork; they gave him some kind of brain boost or something. He said he'd take care of everything."

"Good," Angel said, letting that sink in. He didn't know if Cordy was ever going to wake up, but he knew he wanted her to be taken care of. Just in case.

"What are they going to do?" Wesley asked.

"I'm not exactly sure," Fred replied. "Some tests, I think, to see if they can find out what's wrong. Charles said they'd be sure she was comfortable."

"And you'll let us know?" Angel asked.

Fred nodded again. "Of course," she said. "So what's going on?"

"We found Connor," Angel said, because he'd have to say it sooner or later and it was better to get it over with.

"You did?" Fred looked astounded. "But... where?"

Wesley replied before Angel could come up with a response. "Not far from here. He's still very unsettled; I wouldn't suggest looking for him, yourself."

"I wasn't planning on it," Fred said with a shake of her head. "Not after what happened, anyway." She loosely wrapped her arms around herself. "He would have killed us if Jasmine hadn't stopped him."

"I don't think he'd hurt you now," Wesley replied, his voice softening as it so often did with her. "Still, we're going to give him some time to pull himself together." He didn't mention his own earlier protests to that idea, for which Angel was grateful.

Angel didn't want to be talking about this. He couldn't see the point of hashing and rehashing it. "So... you and Lorne are off to work?"

Fred glanced back over her shoulder. "Yeah. He's actually waiting for me, I should probably go."

"Okay." Angel tried not to sound too eager. "Well... have a good day."

"Thanks." Fred flashed him a wide smile, which vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared. "Um, we're looking at apartments today," she said. "It's part of our deal; we get a moving allowance, and I thought, well, it's not really fair for me to live here anymore, so..."

Angel swallowed and for lack of anything better to do put his hands in his pockets. "I wouldn't mind," he said. "If you wanted to stay here. But I get why you'd want to have your own place. It'd probably be good for you."

"Yeah, um... Yeah." She glanced between them again, frowning slightly at Wesley's bare feet. "Are you sure everything's okay? 'Cause you look like you've been here all night."

Wesley cleared his throat, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "The end of Jasmine's reign has had a lot of repercussions," he said.

"Is there something we can help with? Because we've got this state-of-the-art, turn-key, whatever, whatever law firm behind us now." She nearly bounced, her enthusiasm palpable.

"I think we have it under control," Wesley said.

"Are you sure?" Fred asked Angel.

"Yeah, we're fine," Angel said. It seemed clear that Wesley was as uncomfortable with this whole conversation as he was, which was oddly comforting. "You go on. We'll talk later, okay?"

"Okay. Bye!" Fred raised one hand in a little wave and turned, heading down the hallway toward the stairs.

"Well," Wesley said after they both stared after her for a few seconds, "she seems happy."

"Yeah," Angel said.

"Good." There was a sense of finality in the quiet word, like a heavy door closing. Wesley bent to pick up his shoe and turned to survey the room for its mate.

That reminded Angel that he needed his, so he went over to get a pair of socks. "It might be easier, not having them around as much."

Wesley found his other shoe beneath a chair across the room. "It certainly decreases the likelihood that they'll be taking information back to Wolfram & Hart."

Sitting down on the end of the bed with his own socks and shoes, Angel looked at Wesley. "You think they would?"

Wesley glanced thoughtfully at the open door as he straightened up. "I don't know," he admitted. "That's part of the problem; I don't know how much we can trust them."

Angel nodded, glad that Wesley was on this side of the doorway, with him. "You think we should do something else about Cordy?"

"I plan to do some research," Wesley said, turning back to him. "She doesn't deserve to have her fate left to people she hated." He glanced down, his jaw tightening for a moment. "If there's a way to get her back, I'll do my best to find it."

"She didn't hate Gunn and Fred," Angel protested, although he knew what Wesley meant. "Yeah. Count me in, okay? If there's anything I can do." His feelings for Cordelia were complicated, but not that complicated.

"I know," Wesley said quietly. He transferred his shoes from one hand to the other and started toward the door. "I'm going to go change."

"Okay." Angel watched as Wesley left the room. Part of him wanted to follow, but he figured they could both use a few minutes alone. He finished putting on his shoes and went out into the hallway, calling, "I'm going downstairs," in the direction Wesley had gone.

In the kitchen, he heated up some blood and leaned against the counter as he waited for the microwave to stop. He drank the first mugful quickly, then started a second, not having realized until just then how hungry he was.

Angel was part of the way through his second serving of blood by the time Wesley joined him, dressed in fresh clothes and his face set in a far more serious expression than it had been earlier that morning. Angel knew it well; it meant that Wesley had something on his mind.

"Apparently I was due for some luck," Wesley said, opening the refrigerator door and studying its contents. "As you can see, my clothes were still there." He pulled out a carton of orange juice and walked over to one of the cupboards to get a glass. "Perhaps they didn't touch our rooms for fear of being infected."

"I don't think I care why," Angel said. "I was just relieved the place was still standing." He quickly finished his blood and wiped his mouth, going over to the sink to rinse out the mug.

Wesley poured himself a glass of juice without comment and turned to lean against the counter as he took a sip.

Angel cleared his throat. "That was kind of awkward," he said. "With Fred." He was trying to give Wesley an opening, if he wanted one.

"Oh." Wesley glanced down at his juice. "Yes. That wasn't quite how I would have chosen to see her, but it was bound to happen." He paused before looking back up at Angel. "I'm surprised she's moving out so quickly."

"Yeah?" Angel wasn't sure how he felt about it from a personal standpoint. "Maybe she thinks we don't approve. Or we'll give her a hard time."

"I'm sure it would have been uncomfortable for everyone." Wesley set his nearly full glass back on the counter. "At least this way there's no question of their loyalties being divided."

Angel nodded. "Plus she should have her own place if she wants one. She's been here long enough."

Wesley's eyebrow quirked upwards as he watched him. "You seem to be taking the loss of all of your employees rather well."

"I don't know," Angel said. "Maybe... they weren't ever really mine to begin with. I mean, we were walking next to each other, but not really together." He shrugged, wondering if that had made any sense at all. He suspected maybe it hadn't.

"At the beginning we all came here because of you," Wesley replied, holding Angel's gaze for a moment before turning to open the refrigerator. "But I suppose it's only natural for people's priorities to change over time."

"Is it?" Angel didn't think his own had. He wondered if that might mean that Wesley's would, that sooner or later he'd go off on his own, too.

Wesley shrugged as he pulled out a plastic container filled with something Angel couldn't see. "So I've read. I've never really managed it, myself." His tone was mild and unreadable, but Angel was used to having no idea what he was thinking.

"I don't think I like it," Angel admitted. "The changing thing. I'd kind of like it if things would stay the same for a while."

"That sounds almost impossibly luxurious," Wesley said with a faint smile. He plucked some sort of muffin from the container and broke off a piece to eat.

"'Impossible' being the key word," Angel said. He went over to get a better look at what Wesley was eating, and Wesley stepped to the side out of his way as he looked into the refrigerator to check on the state of what was in there. Nothing stood out immediately as being past its prime, though. "Does that count as real food?" he asked, nodding at the muffin.

Wesley chuckled, his smile widening. "It has nuts in it," he replied, holding it out for Angel's inspection. "Possibly bananas."

"Possibly?" Angel repeated. "Shouldn't you be able to say for sure?"

"It wasn't labeled; I can only make an educated guess." Wesley tilted his head slightly, growing a bit more serious as he searched Angel's eyes. "Not that I mind the interest, but have I become the new helpless to help?"

"What? No!" Angel said, a little bit too quickly. He tried again, doing his best to be honest. "No," he said. "You're not helpless. Maybe I'm carrying the caring thing too far, though? If it's annoying, you have to tell me. Chances are pretty good I'm not gonna figure it out on my own." He smiled apologetically.

Wesley reached out and smoothed his hand down Angel's arm. "Angel, you're welcome to be involved in whatever part of my life suits you. I appreciate the concern, even if I have managed not to be hospitalized for malnutrition thus far. I just don't want you to feel that you have to pay me this level of attention."

Angel frowned, confused. "Is that your way of saying that it's annoying without really saying it?"

With a soft huff of a laugh, Wesley said, "No. It's my way of saying you don't have to work this hard if you don't want to."

"This isn't work," Angel said. "It's just... it matters to me. That you're okay. And I know, you're right, you can take care of yourself. You don't need me to do it. But I still want to."

Wesley smiled at him, his eyes softening. "Thank you."

Uncomfortable, Angel stepped back, rubbing a hand against his thigh. "Yeah, well... you don't have to thank me."

"I thought it was the easiest way to express my gratitude," Wesley said as the warmth in his expression faded.

"I don't want you to be grateful," Angel said, trying to explain and knowing that he was failing. "I don't want you to be grateful. I just want you to..." He wasn't sure what he wanted.

Wesley set his muffin down on the counter. "What do you want me to do?" he asked quietly. There was something in the patient way he was waiting for Angel to explain that felt like he was bracing himself.

"Eat that, for one," Angel said, taking the opportunity to change the subject and gesturing at the muffin. But Wesley just kept looking at him, and he had to give an actual answer. "Like me," he said. "That's what I want you to do."

"Angel, I do like you," Wesley replied with a faint furrow between his brows. "Of course I do."

"I mean... I don't want to annoy you. And I especially don't want to annoy you without even knowing that I'm doing it." Angel moved a step closer, watching Wesley to see if reaching out to touch him would be an okay thing.

"You're not annoying me," Wesley said. He didn't look upset, more like he was attempting to put together a particularly difficult puzzle. "I was trying to tell you that I like what you're doing. I appreciate it. I'm grateful for it. Except that you have a problem with that emotion."

"It's not that." Angel gestured helplessly with his hands. It felt like he'd come up against a brick wall and couldn't get past it.

"You just don't want it from me."

"I'd do anything for you," Angel said softly. "But yeah, I don't want you to be grateful for it. I just want you to know it."

His eyes thoughtful, Wesley was quiet for a moment. "Both isn't an option?" he asked with something of a smile but shook his head slightly before Angel could answer the question. "No, I understand. You don't want me to feel beholden to you."

Angel nodded and took another tentative step closer. "I want you here - with me - because you want to be here. Not because you feel like you... owe me. Or something." He wasn't quite sure how to say it, but it felt very important.

"I am with you because I want to be," Wesley said, straightening up from leaning against the counter and reaching out to touch Angel's shoulder. "I'm always going to be grateful for what you've given me over the years - I can't help that - but I'm not here because of what I owe you. You have my word on that."

Angel wanted to ask Wesley to promise that he wouldn't stay if at any point he wanted to go, but that was probably pushing things too far. Instead, he put his hand on Wesley's waist and offered him a smile. "Okay. Thanks."

"You don't have to thank me." Wesley grinned, obviously teasing him with his own words.

Angel felt his lips curve upwards in a more genuine smile. "Okay. I take it back."

"Good." Still smiling, Wesley leaned in and gave Angel a soft kiss, just a brief touch of their mouths before he pulled back again. "I'm here because of you," he said, his eyes intent on Angel's. "I don't want you to doubt that."

"I don't want to, either," Angel said, then he quickly added, "It's not you. I mean, it's not anything you're doing, or not doing, it's just... me."

"What can I do to help?" Wesley asked.

Angel shrugged. "I don't know." But he did. "Keep reminding me that there's something in it for you; you're not just staying because you think I need someone."

"There's a lot in it for me," Wesley told him with a laugh. "Honestly, Angel, I'm hardly selfless."

"Tell me?" Angel asked, finally giving in and pulling Wesley into his arms, feeling the warmth and solidness of him. "Tell me what's in it for you."

Something rather like alarm flashed through Wesley's eyes so quickly that Angel wasn't sure it was real, but he stepped into the embrace like he had been doing it for years. "Besides the mind-blowing sex and reminders to eat properly?" He took a shallow breath, and Angel could feel the tension in his body. "I get to have this, for one. This... connection with you. Knowing that you want me here, knowing that I can help you." His eyes dropped, losing their focus, as he continued more softly, "I get the opportunity to mend some bridges I thought were long since burned. To be friends again, to have a place beside you. I get a reprieve from - " He stopped himself from finishing the sentence. "I get you. That's what's in it for me."

Stroking his hand over the small of Wesley's back, hoping to soothe some of the tension out of him, Angel nodded. "Yeah," he said. "And I get you. That's what I want, Wes."

Wesley's smile was sad, but he met Angel's gaze again. "There's never been a time when you didn't have me."

"You don't sound too happy about that," Angel said, concerned.

Wesley shook his head. "I'm not unhappy about you at all. I want this."

"So what's with the sad look?" Angel asked. "Or was I just imagining that?" It seemed like the right thing to do, to give Wesley an out if it wasn't something he wanted to - or could - talk about. They'd both been through a lot.

"Oh." Wesley smoothed his hand up Angel's spine and then back down to his waist. "I suppose I've become too much of a realist."

Angel didn't like where he thought that was leading. "I thought we agreed that you were going to give me some time to prove to you that this isn't temporary," he said.

"I'll give you all the time you want, but I know what I am and what I'm not." Before Angel could figure out how to reply, Wesley continued, "It's all right. It doesn't mean that I'm any less invested in this. I'm not going anywhere."

Unhappy because Wesley was and there didn't seem to be anything he could do about it, Angel held Wesley closer, sighing. "Let's just concentrate on getting through today, okay?"

"An excellent idea," Wesley said, pressing into him and kissing him gently but with an underlying intensity.

"Don't go away," Angel murmured before he could help himself. "I need you here." He kissed Wesley again to keep his mouth from continuing to speak without his permission. There were more words Angel wanted to say, but he kept them in check. He rubbed his cheek against Wesley's hair, breathed in the scent of him, and then reluctantly stepped back. "I'd stay like that all day if I could, but you need to eat," he said with regret.

After studying him for a moment, Wesley turned to his breakfast with a soft sigh and picked up his glass. He took a sip of his juice. "Will the muffin and orange juice be sufficient?"

Angel grinned uncertainly. "I don't know. What do you think?"

"I would have been content just kissing you and skipping breakfast altogether," Wesley said, but he obediently broke off another piece of his muffin and put it in his mouth.

"Food's important," Angel said, moving away and leaning against the counter, leaving some space between them so he'd be less tempted to touch Wesley again. "Got to keep your strength up." He was, admittedly, having less than pure thoughts as he said it.

Wesley's eyebrow and the corner of his mouth both quirked upwards. "I suppose sorting through the remains of my belongings could be tiring," he agreed mildly. "Unless you had other plans?"

"I was more thinking about what we'd do later tonight," Angel said.

"Rock climbing?" Wesley asked, looking at him over the rim of his glass as he took a sip. Angel realized he could actually be flirting with him.

"Yeah," Angel said, smiling. "And maybe croquet. You ever played croquet?"

Wesley nodded. "Certainly, although it doesn't require all that much exertion unless one hits one's ball into the herbaceous border."

"Depends on if you end up getting... distracted... in the middle of the lawn," Angel said.

"Hmm. Then perhaps I'll need another glass of juice," Wesley replied.

"There's plenty of time," Angel said, even though he wasn't sure there was. Even though a little voice in the back of his head was reminding him that there was never enough. He hated that voice, all the little voices that told him what he should be doing, what his role was, his destiny. He wasn't sure he could deal with them right now without breaking things. Like the hotel. Possibly himself. He ignored them.

"I think I'll risk low blood sugar." Wesley finished off his juice and turned his attention to remaining few bites of his muffin. "We have plenty to do today before we get to the croquet."

Angel nodded and wished not for the first time that he could read Wesley better; it was impossible for him to tell just how upset Wesley was about anything, including his apartment being broken into. The night before he had looked terrible, but this morning he seemed perfectly calm. "It'll be okay," he said. "We'll get it taken care of."

"I'd prefer to start on Cordelia right away," Wesley said, frowning absently down at the morsel in his hand, "but as many of the books I would like to use are - or were - in my flat, we'll have to start there."

"I'm ready to go whenever you are," Angel said. "Um, assuming you don't mind driving." They could take the sewers, obviously, but if Wesley had a lot of stuff to salvage it would be easier to get it back to the hotel with the car. And they'd get back faster, which meant that he could go find Connor again after he'd given him more time, like he'd asked. Not that he was looking forward to it or even that he thought he could do much good, but he knew he'd have to try talking to him again.

Wesley shook his head and pushed away from the counter to deposit his glass in the sink. "Of course not, if you don't mind being stuck under a blanket in the back seat again."

"Well, I wouldn't say I don't mind, but it's one of those things. I'm used to it."

Angel wasn't sure the quick look Wesley shot him was sympathetic or speculative. It didn't last longer than a second, though, before Wesley brushed the crumbs off of his hands and said, "All right. Let's go."

After a brief detour to find the blanket Angel had used the afternoon before, which turned out to be in the lobby, they went out to the car, which momentarily confused Angel by not being in the same place it had been when he'd gotten out of it yesterday. Wesley shut the door for him as he resettled himself on the floor, trying to get as comfortable as possible.

They didn't talk much on the drive over; Wesley seemed distracted, probably about his apartment, and Angel didn't want to push, so they rode most of the way in silence.

The car finally stopped in the shade. Wesley shut off the engine and turned to look at Angel, who was struggling to sit up in the cramped space. "I appreciate your help," he said. "Just don't be surprised if there isn't much to save."

"If there isn't, we'll replace whatever you need," Angel promised, looking to see if there was a clear path between the car and the building. There was, but he decided he'd better take the blanket in with him anyway, just in case.

"I'm not worried about that," Wesley said with a shrug, but he didn't look as unconcerned as his tone suggested.

They started for the building, and Angel kept looking at Wesley, just little sideways glances, studying his profile, wondering what was going on inside his head. He really didn't have a clue, and that worried him more than usual. It would have been nice to have some idea of what he could do to help.

The front door of the building was propped open by a chuck of concrete from the walk, and the hallway, which Angel remembered as being fairly tidy, was littered with bits of broken furniture. The air smelled of spoiled food and dried blood. There was movement behind some of the doors they passed and even the muffled sound of a television, but with the scribbled anti-Jasmine phrases on the walls and the broken light fixtures it was more like walking through one of the abandoned buildings inhabited by squatters and demons than a place someone like Wesley should be living.

The door to Wesley's apartment was closed, the lock broken, and it took Wesley a moment to force it open, the scrape of metal on metal making Angel wince. Inside, the apartment was a mess. It was hard to tell where to even start, what with the books thrown around. There were papers scattered over the floor; Angel wasn't sure if they were all from the books or if some of them had been loose notes and stuff, but he knew that it was the destruction of the books that bothered Wesley most.

He gave a low, sympathetic whistle and reached out to rest his hand on Wesley's back. "Where do you want to start?"

"Let me see what the other rooms look like," Wesley said, his body tense and his voice tight. He stepped away from Angel's hand and headed toward his bedroom.

Angel followed, picking his way carefully through the books and other things strewn about the floor. By the time he caught up, Wesley was standing just inside the doorway to the bedroom, surveying the wreckage with what had to be dismay. The mattress was half off the bed, drawers in the dresser pulled out, clothing scattered. The small table next to the bed had been smashed into pieces. "Shit," Angel said.

"Let's hope I was spared that violation, at least." Wesley sounded almost emotionless, but Angel knew that it had to be a facade. Wesley took another step inside, not flinching as broken glass from a smashed lamp crunched beneath his feet.

Still following, Angel stayed close, more worried about what was going on in Wesley's head than the damage. Broken stuff could be replaced. Broken people, not so much.

Wesley bent to extract a slim leather-bound book from the debris beside his bed. He turned it over, cradling it with care in his hands, and closed his eyes for a moment as he saw that half of its pages had been ripped out. He let it drop to the floor and turned sharply toward the door. "We'll start with the living room," he said, not looking anywhere near Angel.

"Okay," Angel said quietly, going after him. He was at a loss for what the right thing to do or say was, and figured he was better off saying as little as possible and not making things worse.

"The most important things are the books. Any piece of paper that's large enough to read the words on it should probably be set aside so that I can try to fit them back together." Wesley walked into his kitchen, stepping over broken dishes and ruined food, and slammed the refrigerator door shut. It swung open again as he rummaged under the sink and pulled out a box of large plastic garbage bags. "Everything else can be thrown away."

Angel crouched down on the floor where he was and started to make a small pile of the books that were within reach. Most of them were damaged in some way; if the pages weren't torn out, the spines were broken. He treated each one with care, leaving the loose papers for now.

Wesley, meanwhile, had unfurled two trash bags, one of which he was using to collect handfuls of the confetti of paper that was strewn across the living room floor. The other bag received any object he came across mixed in with the paper. He moved quickly but methodically, with an underlying jerkiness to his movements and a grim expression on his face. Books he stacked in fairly neat piles as he came to them, but pieces of broken furniture, cushions, and even the television remote were immediately thrown away. An antique helmet of some sort, its side crumpled, made him pause for a moment as he studied it gravely, and then he deposited it in the trash bag as well.

"You could save that," Angel protested softly, standing up and going over to get another trash bag. The food strewn across the kitchen was starting to rot, and the smell of it was only going to get worse. He might as well spare Wesley having to deal with it.

Throwing away a coaster that didn't seem to be damaged, Wesley didn't look up. "It doesn't matter."

Angel stopped, trash bag in hand. "We don't have to do this today," he said.

"It's not going to get any better on its own, and I need the books to help Cordelia," Wesley said. He swept his hand through a pile of papers, flinching and pulling it back almost immediately. Angel saw a line of blood on his finger before Wesley sucked it into his mouth, fishing out the broken drinking glass with his other hand.

Concerned, Angel set the trash bag down and moved over to where Wesley was, reaching for the cut hand and pulling it gently away from Wesley's mouth to get a better look. The cut wasn't too deep, but the blood flowed freely, and Angel realized suddenly that maybe Wesley wouldn't want him so close. He let go of Wesley's hand and stepped back. "Is there a first aid kit?"

Wesley's eyebrow arched upwards as he glanced around his ruined apartment. "I'm sure it's somewhere." He met Angel's eyes for the first time since they'd entered his home. "I'm fine. It's nothing."

"It's not nothing," Angel said, turning away and going back to the kitchen, where he only had to pull open a couple of drawers before he found a clean, neatly folded dishtowel. He went back to Wesley and offered it to him. "It's not nothing," he repeated.

"It's just a small cut," Wesley protested, but he sat back on his heels and obediently wrapped the towel around his hand and applied pressure to the wound. He looked pale, although he hadn't lost enough blood for it to matter.

Angel crouched down beside him. The smell of the blood was confusing, mixed with the decomposing food smells from the kitchen, but he was worried. "Are you okay? Maybe you should sit down." He blinked. "On the couch."

Wesley shook his head and stared down at his wrapped hand. "I'm fine." He glanced across the room, his eyes vague. "And there are no cushions to put on the couch even if it were upright. Let's just keep going."

"Okay." Angel didn't like it, but Wesley had been right, before, that he could take care of himself. Mostly. He went back into the kitchen and started picking up spoiled food and putting it into his trash bag. The refrigerator door wouldn't stay shut, so he just piled everything that was still left inside into the bag, too. He did save any other items that seemed undamaged, lining them up on the countertop neatly. Just because Wesley didn't want them now didn't mean he wouldn't change his mind later.

He heard Wesley moving around the living room, the rustle of garbage bags and the occasional thwack of book against book the only real indication of what he was doing. He didn't come into the kitchen, though, or call for him, so Angel just kept working.

It took two bags to get rid of what was either rotting or broken. Angel left everything that was still in a cupboard and didn't appear to be harmed where it was, concentrating on getting the floor cleared of debris and saving what seemed to be worth saving.

He went back to the kitchen doorway and leaned against the frame. "You want to take any of the food that's still good back to the hotel?"

Wesley looked up from where he was kneeling in the middle of the floor, piles of books and papers surrounding him. Although he raised his head, his eyes didn't seem to be focusing on Angel. "No. Thank you." He placed the picture frame in his hand into the nearly full bag beside him. "The looters might be hungry the next time they come through."

Angel wasn't sure if that was a joke or not. He looked back at the full trash bags in the kitchen. "Is there a dumpster or something I can get to without bursting into flames?"

"Yes, in the back," Wesley said. He scrubbed his hand over his face, and Angel could see that the cut on his finger was still red and shining with wet blood. "There ought to be enough shade at this time of day."

"Okay." Angel gathered up some of the bags and went to toss them in the dumpster. Other than having to skirt around one patch of sunlight on the grass just outside the back door, the trip was uneventful, and he didn't see anyone else. He hoped that they'd fled during the days of darkness instead of becoming helpless victims to what had happened afterwards.

Inside the apartment again, he walked past Wesley without saying anything and went into the bathroom. The medicine cabinet, with its mirror reflecting Angel's lack of existence, was partially open, things spilled into the sink and onto the floor. Angel wondered if the looters had found anything useful. They'd left a box of band-aids, at least, so he took those, along with a washcloth dampened under the tap, back out into the living room and got down on the floor next to Wesley, gesturing for Wesley's hand. "Let me see that."

Wesley looked startled at the request, but he blinked and held out his hand. It was trembling gently. "Honestly, Angel..."

"Shh," Angel said. Wesley's hand was warm in his. He turned it, getting a better look at the cut. God, there was something about seeing Wesley's blood that made Angel both hungry and hard almost immediately. Very carefully, ignoring his own body's reaction, Angel wiped some of the blood away from the cut with the washcloth, being sure not to rub the cut itself because that would hurt. "It's gonna keep bleeding if you don't stop moving it around and give it a chance to close over."

"It's not like there's anything to ruin." Wesley shifted so that he was sitting down across from him, their legs almost touching. "I think it bothers you more than it does me." He drew in a short, sharp breath, and his voice was gentle with apology when he continued. "I didn't realize it bothered you. I should have thought. I can do that." He tried to pull his hand back.

"No," Angel said, not letting go. "It only bothers me because I don't like you hurting. I'm fine." He used the dry side of the washcloth to dab at the skin around the cut, then unwrapped the biggest band-aid in the box and taped it firmly in place. "There."

Wesley looked down at his hand for a long moment and then up at Angel. His eyes were dark and filled with a bleak emptiness that tore at Angel's heart. "Thank you," he said, reaching out with his hurt hand to touch Angel's thigh.

Angel didn't know what to say. Putting on a band-aid was one thing, but saying something helpful, something that would make Wesley feel better... Not knowing what else to do, he leaned forward and kissed Wesley.

It seemed to be a good choice, because Wesley shifted up onto his knees and kissed him back so hard that Angel wondered how Wesley was managing to breathe.

Angel didn't pull away, trying to give Wesley whatever it was he could through the kiss. His instinct was to drag Wesley closer, but he wasn't sure there wasn't more broken glass on the floor underneath them, so instead he shuffled forward, himself, putting both arms around Wesley and holding him tightly.

Wesley's breath hitched, and he kissed Angel with an almost savage fierceness. The emotion behind the embrace fled almost as quickly as it had appeared, though, too fast for it to be anything but intentional, and Wesley loosened his grip and gentled his kiss, pulling away again.

"Hey," Angel said, sliding his hand down Wesley's arm to his wrist, catching hold on the pretense of checking to see if the band-aid was secure. "Hey. It's okay."

Wesley nodded, swallowing audibly. "Of course it is."

"You want to keep working?" Angel asked, looking around the room. He understood the desire to just get it over with. "Or we could take a break?"

"And do what?" Wesley said with a little shake of his head.

"I don't know. Get an early lunch?" But Angel could see that part of Wesley needed this done, so he turned slightly and picked up a scrap of paper, looking at it. "Where do the good ones go?"

"There," Wesley said, gesturing to the second bag beside him. "It's going to take days - possibly weeks - to sort them out properly and get them all into the right order. If I even can."

"You're not doing this alone," Angel said, in case Wesley needed reminding. He put the piece of paper into the bag.

"I know." Wesley just barely smiled at him, but Angel was relieved to see even that much from him. "I know I'm not supposed to thank you, but I do appreciate you being here."

"Don't worry. We'll get everything straightened out," Angel said awkwardly, patting Wesley's shoulder. Getting up, he went to work again, righting the furniture that was still mostly in one piece and picking up more shards of broken glass that he thought might have come from the front of a bookshelf.

Wesley continued to sort through the scattered papers and books on the floor, swearing more than once under his breath at what he found but not pausing to mourn the losses.

Eventually, Angel moved back to the bathroom with yet another trash bag, putting anything that was still whole back where it seemed to belong and throwing the rest out. When he went into the bedroom, he pushed the mattress into place again, then pushed the dresser drawers in. One of them was too smashed to fit, so he left that one on the floor and started to make a pile of clothes on the bed, checking each item to see that it wasn't torn before adding it to the stack.

After a few moments, his eyes fell on the book Wesley had dropped earlier. He couldn't help but pick it up.

The first half of the book was torn out, but the inside cover had an inscription in a looping cursive Angel knew very well. Merry Christmas, Wes! It's old and in some language we can't read, so we knew you'd like it. Love, Cordelia and Gunn (Gunn says to check out the drawing on page 36.) Since the page was among those missing, Angel couldn't look for himself.

Angel sat down on the bed beside the pile of clothes, still holding the book carefully. Then he set it down at the head of the bed and got down on the floor on his knees, beginning to gather up the loose pages that were scattered about. Underneath a pair of slacks, he found a sizeable chunk of the book, pages still connected to each other along the inside edge. He smoothed everything out, not making an attempt to sort the pages into any kind of order at that point, just collecting them.

Wesley appeared in the doorway. "Would you please help me move the couch? Part of Lacington's Demonology is stuck under it." He looked around the room at what Angel had done, his face softening. "I see I won't be forced to become a nudist after all."

"Not that I'd complain if you decided to make that kind of lifestyle choice," Angel said, standing up and adding the pages in his hand to the pile on the bed. "Sure." As he started toward Wesley, he asked, "How's your hand?"

"Oh." Wesley glanced down at it like he had forgotten all about the wound, which wasn't exactly a surprise since he hadn't seemed to care about it even when he was bleeding freely. "Fine?"

"Good." Not that Angel necessarily believed that.

They went into the living room and Angel gestured at Wesley to stand back. He lifted the couch, waited for Wesley to rescue the book, and then settled the couch back into something like its original place.

"Thank you," Wesley said, setting the volume on a wobbly pile. The majority of the papers on the floor seemed to be picked up, although his desk drawers were still pulled out and spilling over. "I think I have most of the books."

Angel nodded, putting his hands in his pockets and shifting his weight back onto his heels. Wesley didn't say anything else, though, so after a minute Angel tilted his head in the direction of the bedroom and said, "Okay. Well, unless you have something else you want me to be doing, I'm gonna go back and finish up in there."

"Don't worry about salvaging anything but books and some clothes," Wesley said. "The rest isn't important. I can clean it up later."

"Okay." Angel went back to the bedroom, collected the last of the loose papers from the floor, and sat on the bed to try to make some sense of the book Wesley had seemed so upset about. It took a while; he couldn't find page fifty-six for a long time but eventually ended up discovering it underneath the splintered remains of the bedside table. One of the torn out pages was ripped in half, so he just put it in where it belonged like that, both halves carefully tucked in so they wouldn't fall out. Then, hesitantly, Angel went back into the living room, cradling the damaged book in both hands.

It took a moment for Wesley to look up from where he was sorting through the contents of his desk. "You can put that - " He broke off when he recognized what Angel was holding, his shoulders slumping slightly. "It can go on that pile of partial volumes." His eyes dropped back to the file folder in his lap.

"It's all here," Angel said awkwardly, not moving. "I mean, it's pretty torn up, but maybe we can glue it back together?"

Wesley glanced up, startled, and stared at the book. He slowly stood and walked over, holding his hand out to take it. "Can I...?"

"Yeah, of course." Angel put the book into Wesley's hand, not letting go until he was sure Wesley had a good grip on it.

Carefully opening the book, Wesley blinked down at the pages neatly in place. "You did this?" He shook his head and looked up. "I mean, I know you did, but... You could have just brought in the pieces."

"I thought you'd like it if it was back together," Angel said, watching Wesley's face. "I mean, I know it's not actually back together..."

The only way he could describe it was that Wesley's face crumpled. It wasn't a full-on crying sort of crumpled, but some of the unconcerned façade vanished, leaving more of the distress beneath visible. "It's not even an important text - a bad German translation of 1001 Arabian Nights. But I..." Wesley gently flipped to the next loose page. "I'm glad it's all still there."

"It's okay to be upset that your stuff got wrecked," Angel said. "Especially the books." He wanted to put his arms around Wesley, but he wasn't sure that Wesley wanted that.

"For a while it was all I had," Wesley replied quietly, without heat, his attention still on the book. He drew in a breath, seeming to shake himself out of his reverie. "But most of it's replaceable."

"Doesn't make it any less important," Angel said.

"Do you think it makes it easier for you to point that out?" Wesley asked, looking up at him again. "Angel, I know how it feels to lose everything. Dwelling on it doesn't make it easier."

Angel wasn't stupid enough that he didn't know what Wesley was talking about, but he couldn't help but be upset. He looked down, away from Wesley's eyes, and nodded. "Yeah. Right. Sorry." He backed up, telling himself that he should have kept his mouth shut.

"Angel," Wesley said, reaching out his free hand to him as though to stop him. "I can't think about it; I just have to do what has to be done."

Trying to focus on what Wesley needed, Angel said, "Okay. Then... I'm just gonna get back to work." He gestured toward the bedroom.

"Is there much left?" Wesley put the book down carefully on a righted and surprisingly largely undamaged table.

"Not a lot, no." Angel thought. "Actually, maybe just for you to decide which clothes you want to take."

"I can do that now," Wesley said with a weary nod. However, much to Angel's surprise, when Wesley walked past him toward the bedroom he wrapped his hand around the back of Angel's neck and gave him a short, hard kiss. Stepping back, he met Angel's eyes. "It's still easier with you here."

Flustered, Angel didn't say anything at all, but after a second or two he followed Wesley into the bedroom.

~ * ~ * ~

Pausing just inside the door, Wesley was amazed at how much Angel had done in the bedroom. It was still far from tidy, and the broken furniture was still broken, but Angel had set much of the room to rights. If he put some clean sheets on the bed, Wesley could probably have even stayed there.

The thought was enough to turn his stomach, though, and Wesley put it out of his head and strode to the bed to sort through his clothes. Shirts, underwear, jeans, and socks went into one pile, and everything else went into another.

"I don't suppose my suitcase has survived," he said over his shoulder to Angel.

"I don't know," Angel said, still in the doorway. "Where was it?"

"Good question." Wesley thought for a moment and then walked over to his closet. He opened the outer door and then the unlocked cage door, which he had never gotten around to removing after he'd freed Justine, since he rarely used what he kept inside. Suits, dress shirts, and slacks had been pulled from their hangers and lay in heaps on the floor, but the small overnight bag he owned was in its place on the upper shelf. "Here it is." He lifted it down and brought it over to the bed.

Angel didn't comment at first, just watched as Wesley began to pack. Then he offered, "The bathroom's done. And the kitchen... well, you're gonna have to look at that. There's a lot of stuff that I didn't know what to do with."

Wesley nodded. "All right. Thank you. I have to figure out what books I want to take with me and get my files together, but then we can leave the rest here. Cordelia's more important." He knew that he was focusing on her for all of the wrong reasons, but at least having a concrete problem to work on allowed him to keep the intense feeling of loss at bay for a little while longer. He couldn't afford to give into it.

When Wesley looked up again, Angel wasn't in the doorway. After a moment, though, he could hear sounds from what might have been the kitchen.

He didn't know quite how to read Angel; he was being very helpful, but he seemed almost tentative, like he didn't know what to say to him. Given that it was Angel, he probably didn't.

After his bag was packed, Wesley brought it into the living room and deposited it by the front door. Even just looking at the disaster that was the room made his chest tighten, but he forced himself to go over to his desk and gather together his files of contacts and old cases. He wasn't sure what he would need, so he didn't want to leave anything behind.

Angel wandered back into the living room, carrying a full trash bag that was tied shut and taking it over near the door. "Is there a box somewhere for those?" he asked, nodding at the pile Wesley was creating.

"I don't think so." Wesley rolled his neck, trying to relieve some of the tension in it. "There's a hold-all in the coat closet that I use for my..." Struck by what else was in the closet, he jumped to his feet. How he could have forgotten about his weapons, especially his shotgun, he didn't know. It didn't matter that he had been in shock and that he had been focusing on Cordelia and Angel, if someone had taken his gun...

He flung the closet door open, sure that his gun was gone, used to harm some innocent, all because he had learned that locking up his weapons was a sure-fire way for him not to be able to get to them when some demon or other broke down his door.

Instead he found everything in its place, from his shotgun and shells to his medieval sword and rarely used vacuum cleaner. His heart pounding, he allowed himself to lean against the frame of the door, weak with relief.

"Hey," Angel said gently, big hand settling comfortably on the small of Wesley's back as he came up behind him. "Everything okay?" Of course, Wesley thought, his rapidly beating heart must be clearly audible to the vampire.

"Yes, fine." Wesley's voice sounded choked even to his own ears, and he swallowed around the lump in his throat. "I..." He couldn't find the words to admit his stupidity, but Angel was bound to press him. "I thought they might have found my weapons."

"Good thing they didn't," was all Angel said. His other hand settled on Wesley's hip, the solid bulk of him reassuringly against Wesley's side.

Wesley nodded, his responsibility for the situation pressing on his chest and making it difficult to breathe. He had been lucky that the looters hadn't discovered them in their first rampage, but then he had left his apartment open to anyone who wanted to walk in. Anyone could have taken them while he was off at the Hyperion, being comforted by Angel. Instead of being weak he should have stayed and sorted things out the night before. Someone could have been hurt by his carelessness, and he was very lucky that things had turned out as they had.

He closed his eyes for a moment and took a shallow breath before forcibly turning his thoughts to the matter at hand. "We can use that," he said with as little emotion as he could manage, gesturing at the duffle bag on the shelf, "to carry the files and books."

Angel nodded and shifted, reaching up for the bag and bringing it down. His other hand patted Wesley's back in a brief caress before he moved away, taking the bag over to the desk and setting it there, beginning to pack files carefully into the bottom of it.

Wesley quickly took stock of the closet, deciding what he need to take with him, given that the front door still didn't lock, and then went back to the desk, sitting a few feet away from Angel and returning to sorting the files. "I hadn't realized I'd kept so much," he muttered as he came across a folder filled with paid receipts from the time when he had run his own office. He set it on the trash pile and picked up the next folder.

While he continued to sort, Angel began to pack the pile of books into the duffle bag as well. Angel was being surprisingly thoughtful, treating all of Wesley's belongings with great care, doing his best not to damage them more than they'd already been damaged. He kept quiet, though, as if he didn't want to distract Wesley.

When Angel leaned closer to pick up another pile of files, Wesley reached out to put his hand on his arm. "Thank you," he said softly when Angel met his eyes.

Angel nodded, not looking away. "No problem," he said. "If there was anything else I could do... anything you needed... I'd do it."

Angel's statement made Wesley feel off balance; he wasn't used to having such single-minded support. Still, he was very grateful for it. He could have survived losing everything all over again, but he was glad that he didn't have to. He still had Angel, for the moment. "I don't know what more you could do, but knowing you would helps by itself." He turned to lean his back against the side of the desk, leaving enough room so that Angel could sit next to him if he wanted to. He surveyed the wreck of the room. "All this work, and it's still barely inhabitable."

"It's not that bad," Angel said, settling next to Wesley so that their thighs were touching. "I've stayed in worse places." He turned his head and glanced at Wesley. "But I still want you to stay with me."

Something in Wesley's chest loosened, and he managed to smile. "I'd like that, too." He leaned until their shoulders met, reaching over to smooth his hand down Angel's leg, reassured by having him close. "It might make sense to combine these files with those at the hotel," he said slowly after a moment, unsure of just how welcome he was. "If you plan on keeping Angel Investigations going."

"I was figuring we would," Angel said, with the slightest stress on the word 'we.' "But we can talk about it. Depends on what you want to do."

"I want to help you," Wesley said, the cloth of Angel's slacks warming with the heat of his hand. "And I like working with you."

"I like working with you, too," Angel said. "And I think we're good together. Working together." He shrugged a bit. "But there might be some other way to do that."

"Such as?" Wesley asked.

"I don't know," Angel said. "I was figuring if something different is what you wanted, you'd have some ideas." He gave Wesley an apologetic smile.

Wesley shook his head, smiling in return. "I don't want anything different; I like what we have." After he said it, he became aware that the statement could refer to more than just their professional relationship, but he found he didn't mind if Angel happened to pick up on it.

"Okay," Angel said, his eyes warm as he looked at Wesley. "Then we'll keep things the way they are for a while, see how it works."

"All right." Wesley gently squeezed Angel's thigh, letting himself be caught in his eyes. He felt the most at ease he'd been since coming to the flat, and he was loath to break the moment.

Angel didn't say anything; just kept looking at him, a little smile curling up the corners of his lips.

"I take it that's good?" Wesley said when Angel continued to smile at him.

"Yeah," Angel said. "And... it's nice. That there are things that are good. For a while there - " Wesley could hear Angel's thoughts as clearly as if he'd spoken them out loud: For a while there, I didn't think there'd be anything good again.

Wesley leaned a little into him. "I know. You deserve it, you know."

"So do you," said Angel, bringing a hand up around Wesley's shoulders and tangling his fingers in the short hair at the nape of Wesley's neck.

Wesley's gaze dropped from Angel's eyes to somewhere around his chin. He knew in his heart that he deserved no such thing; he didn't even deserve this short reprieve he was getting with Angel. Unable to answer, he shifted closer, twisting so that he could rest his hand on Angel's chest.

"C'mere," Angel said, turning more toward Wesley and gathering him close. Large hands ran comfortingly over Wesley's back. "It's gonna be okay."

With Angel right there, Wesley could almost believe it. He nodded, but he couldn't quite bring himself to pull away.

"We could just sit here for a little while," Angel said, with a bit of hope in his voice, as if he needed the comfort as much as Wesley did.

"I can't say I would mind," Wesley said, silently supporting his words by leaning into the embrace. "But I hate to take up more of your time than I already am."

"Time's pretty much all I've got to give you," Angel said softly.

For all he knew that Angel wasn't going to fall in love with him, to give him his heart or anything else, it still hurt to hear a reminder of it. Angel probably didn't mean it that way, but the truth was there nonetheless. Wesley knew it in his bones. His chest aching, he closed his eyes, pressing his cheek against Angel's and trying not to let his tone be anything but gentle. "You've already given me more than that. I have your friendship and your support."

"You deserve better," Angel said, his hand stroking Wesley's hair. "Someone with a heartbeat, for one. I want..." He sighed, his breath cool against Wesley's skin.

Wesley gave a little shake of his head as Angel spoke, rubbing their cheeks together. "What do you want?" he asked very quietly, feeling like things between them were already coming to an end. Then he wouldn't have anything at all. At least it wasn't the first time.

Angel's arms tightened briefly around Wesley, then released him as Angel stood up and moved away. "Doesn't matter. Let's get back to work."

That rejection hurt, too, another sharp jab directly to his heart, but Wesley knew how not to let it show. "Right." Turning away, he picked up the next file in his pile, then realized that if he just took them all with him he could sort through them somewhere other than the suddenly very claustrophobic apartment. "These can all go," he said, getting to his feet. "I'll start taking things to the car if you want to pack the files and the rest of those books." He indicated the pile he meant.

"Sure," Angel said, not meeting Wesley's eyes.

"Angel, what's wrong?" Wesley asked more gently. Just because he was hurt didn't mean that he wanted Angel to be. "And give me enough credit not to think I'll believe you if you say 'nothing.'"

"Will you believe me if I say that talking about it won't change anything?" Angel asked. He picked up a careful handful of books from the pile and moved to put them into the duffle bag.

The temptation to say 'no' was strong. "All right," Wesley said, walking over to the front door, "but if you change your mind I'd very much like to hear about it." He shouldered his overnight bag and went to pick up one of the bags of loose papers.

Angel didn't respond, although he continued to pack books and files into the duffle bag, working with the same care for Wesley's belongings that he'd used before.

"Right," Wesley muttered, wondering why he had even tried. He hefted the plastic bag and left the apartment without saying another word.

It didn't take long for him to take the bags to the car and fit them inside, and he didn't linger. The sooner they left and got somewhere where they could get some space between them, the better it would be.

When he got back to his apartment he didn't break the silence, just picked up the next bag and turned back toward the door.

"Look..." Angel said awkwardly, and Wesley stopped and turned to look at him. "This is... it's not easy."

"Of course it's not," Wesley said. He was tempted to give Angel an out - to pretend that they were talking about cleaning up the apartment rather than what was happening between them - but decided it would be better for both of them if Angel could just admit whatever it was he was thinking. "It so rarely is. Probably never, actually."

Angel sighed. He was holding a book in his hands, and he looked down at it rather than at Wesley as he said, "Sometimes it is. It's got to be. Otherwise why would anyone bother?" He glanced up then, smiling as if it weren't an easy expression to wear.

The words weren't pleasant to hear, even though Wesley had known they were coming. Things were complicated enough for Angel; obviously the last thing he'd want would be anything more than the most casual of relationships. "Futile hope, I expect," he said stiffly and turned toward the door again.

"I'm in love with you," Angel said, loudly and clearly enough that there couldn't be any question as to what he'd said.

It was absolutely the last thing Wesley expected to come out of his mouth; Angel never talked about his feelings if he could possibly avoid it, and that he could think he was in love... It was impossible to believe. His heart pounding in his ears and his eyes wide, he turned very slowly and took in Angel's hunched shoulders and the miserable tone of his voice. "And that's what's making you unhappy?" he asked, his mouth dry.

Angel put another book into the duffle bag. "Considering? Yeah." He didn't give Wesley much time to think about what that might mean. "You deserve better. More."

Wesley carefully set down his bag and took a few shaky steps toward him. "Angel, there's no one better than you," he said with absolute certainty.

Angel still hadn't turned around or looked at him. "Yeah, there is," Angel said. "Plenty of people. People you could have a life with. Not... this." The vampire's hand gestured at himself dismissively.

"Angel," Wesley said again, reaching him and putting a hand on his shoulder, trying to get him to turn, "I don't want anyone else." He realized that his hand was trembling, but he didn't pull it away.

"You should," Angel insisted, refusing to turn around with a stubbornness that shouldn't have surprised Wesley.

"I don't." Wesley sighed and stepped around Angel to stand in front of him. "Would you please look at me?"

After a moment, Angel lifted his eyes and met Wesley's. Every bit of emotion and conflict was clearly visible on his face. He didn't say anything.

"You might not want me to," Wesley said softly but firmly, his heart in his throat and a sense of dread burning deep in his gut, "but I love you. I don't know if it makes it easier or harder for you, but I do. I'm not going to stop."

Looking both surprised and relieved, Angel said, "But you don't... I mean, you can't..."

"I can. I do." Wesley wasn't sure if he wanted to laugh or be sick, because he kept digging himself in deeper, and when everything fell apart there was going to be no way of salvaging anything at all. He didn't want to say any of it, but Angel clearly needed to hear those words, even if they hadn't been the truth. He needed them to hang onto. "I have for some time," Wesley admitted in a low voice, figuring that he might as well throw it all out there since there was no going back.

"You can't," Angel said again, as if he were repeating it because he didn't know what else to say.

"I do," Wesley repeated as well. "Why do you think I can't?"

"Because..." Angel looked confused. "Because you can't. It doesn't make any sense."

Wesley's shoulders slumped, and he wondered why he'd even confessed his feelings at all if Angel was just going to refuse to believe him. "It makes more sense than you being in love with me," he said, and his nausea increased. He'd obviously made a horrible mistake, but there was no way out but through. "Angel, I've known you for years. I like you. I respect you. You're extremely important to me. What else do you want me to say?"

"I don't know," Angel admitted, looking worried now, reaching out to grab onto Wesley's upper arms, presumably so that he couldn't move away. "No, I do. Say it again?"

"I love you. I'm in love with you." As much as he wanted to, Wesley refused to look away.

The smile that brought to Angel's face couldn't have rightly been called anything but beautiful, but Wesley didn't get to enjoy it for very long, because Angel was pulling him in close and kissing him with eager, desperate kisses.

Wesley still felt mildly sick to his stomach, but he wrapped his arms around him returned the kisses with as much enthusiasm as he could, since if Angel was happy Wesley didn't want to do a thing to stop it.

Apparently, though, Angel could sense that Wesley's heart wasn't in it, because after a few moments he pulled back. "Okay, why am I thinking you're not happy?"

"No, I..." Wesley skimmed his hand along Angel's back. "I didn't expect you not to believe me," he said.

Angel frowned. "It's not that I don't believe you. Didn't believe you."

"It's all right," Wesley said, leaning in for another kiss. There was no point in talking about it, especially not when it made Angel's smile disappear.

"It's not all right," Angel said, having kept the kiss brief. "We have to talk about this."

"I find it hard to believe you just said that."

"We do. It's important. You're important."

There was something about the intensity of how Angel said it that made Wesley's heart flip. "Am I?" He couldn't help but smile, even as he berated himself for being such a fool.

"Yes," Angel said immediately, his lack of hesitation gratifying. "Wes, I'm in love with you. This is... it's big. Not to mention kind of scary. And you're in love with me, which means we're both -- okay, feel free to stop me any time here."

Wesley's smile grew as he finally caught up with the fact that they were okay, at least for the moment. Better than okay, actually, by all accounts. What they had wasn't crumbling. "Why would I want to stop you?"

"Maybe because I sound like an idiot?" Angel suggested, but he didn't look particularly upset. More gently, he said, "I really, really want you to be happy."

"And I want you to be," Wesley replied, caressing his back.

"So what's wrong?" Angel's eyes searched Wesley's.

"Nothing," Wesley said, but he knew Angel wouldn't believe him. "I just... Your reaction surprised me."

"Tell me how I was supposed to react," Angel said, putting both arms around Wesley's waist. "No, I'm serious. Otherwise I'll screw it up next time." An expression of panic appeared on his face. "I mean, not that anyone's ever going to say that to me again. Um, except you. I hope."

Wesley's smile turned bittersweet. "I'm sure I won't be the last," he said. "But I would recommend not greeting that sort of statement with repeated and unequivocal denial."

"I'm sorry," Angel said, seeming genuinely penitent. He did seem to have an easier time with that word than Wesley ever had. "I didn't mean to fuck things up."

"You didn't," Wesley assured him quickly. "I'm still here. I still love you." It got a bit easier to say with practice, and he tightened his arms to reinforce his point.

"Yeah, but I hurt you." Angel nuzzled Wesley's ear. "I'm not supposed to do that. I'm supposed to keep other people from doing that."

"Then it is my job to protect you from being hurt?" In some ways, Wesley realized, he'd been trying to do that for years, though not with any great success. Still, the thought that Angel would let him felt good.

Angel seemed to think about that before answering, something that Wesley appreciated. "I don't know. I wouldn't say it's your job. But if you... I get why you'd want to."

"If you're supposed to protect me, I'm supposed to protect you. It goes both ways." Wesley gently rubbed his cheek against Angel's. "And I do want to. You're important to me."

Angel's arms were strong around him. "So we'll protect each other, huh?" He sounded mildly amused and somewhat pleased by the idea.

The amusement sparked some of Wesley's insecurities about his own inadequacies - his many weaknesses and failures and what Angel truly thought of them, of him - but he tried to push them away. "It seems only fair."

"I like that," Angel murmured, his hands running over Wesley's body in a way that was somewhat more than just comforting. "I want this -- us -- to be equal. Partners."

Wesley trailed his fingers through the hair at the nape of Angel's neck and wondered how he had gotten lucky enough to be having this conversation. He wouldn't worry about how he'd feel about it in the future. "I'm... having a little trouble taking this all in," he said with a self-conscious laugh. "But, yes, I'd like that as well."

"Then that's good, right?" Angel's right hand slid down and cupped Wesley's ass, kneading the muscle lightly. "We both want the same things."

"That's very good." Wesley turned his head so that he could brush his lips across Angel's cheek, his body responding automatically to Angel's touch. "And right now I'd really like to kiss you." He smiled as he asked, "Would you like that, too?"

"Yeah," Angel breathed, tilting his head so that their mouths were almost touching, but not actually initiating the kiss.

Wesley leaned in the fraction of an inch necessary to bring their mouths together. He felt almost giddy as he tenderly kissed him, slipping his hand around to cup Angel's face, needing to show him how important he was so that there wouldn't be any more doubts.

With what might have been a sigh of relief, Angel melted into the kiss, his lips parting beneath Wesley's. His hand moved up to the small of Wesley's back, resting there.

Wesley stroked Angel's skin with his thumb as they shared a series of extended but fairly gentle kisses. It was almost impossible to believe that Angel's declaration of love was true, but his was, and he couldn't help but touch him with the joy of being able to express what Angel meant to him. He wordlessly murmured his pleasure as he slid his other hand up Angel's back to settle between his shoulder blades, keeping him close.

He smiled against Angel's lips, not wanting to move far enough away from them to say anything, and kissed him a bit harder, sliding his tongue along Angel's and shivering with the sensation.

Angel apparently took that as an invitation, deepening the kiss and pulling Wesley closer. "We should finish cleaning up," Angel said, just before kissing Wesley again as if he had no intention of stopping.

Wesley certainly didn't want to stop him, not with how firmly Angel was holding him and how amazingly good his kisses felt. The reality, though, was that they were standing in the midst of his trashed apartment, and after Angel pointed it out Wesley couldn't seem to forget it. "You're right," he said. "We should go." But the second he pulled back he had to lean in and kiss him again.

And as soon as Wesley kissed him again, Angel's arms were tightening around him. "In a minute," Angel said.

"Angel..." It wasn't an admonition, though, but more of a happy sigh. It felt so good to Wesley to be wanted. He wouldn't think about why.

"One more minute," Angel said, the heel of his hand rubbing along Wesley's spine firmly. His mouth tasted like everything Wesley had ever hoped for. "Just... one."

Wesley pressed into him, his hands fisting in his shirt. "As long as you want," he replied before seeking out another kiss.

"We shouldn't," Angel said. His grip didn't falter, though, and his kisses were no less eager. "Not here."

"I know." Wesley forced himself to be sensible and gentled his next kiss, trying to ease off before things got completely out of control. "The hotel's more comfortable," he said. "And smells far nicer."

Angel pulled back, clearly just as reluctant to do so as Wesley felt. "Do you have everything you wanted from here? We could come back later. Or tomorrow."

Right then, Wesley didn't care if they ever came back. "I have enough. I just need to get a few things from the closet and those last few books and files. The rest can stay."

"Are you sure?" Angel looked doubtful, glancing around the flat.

"They're just things; they're not important," Wesley said.

"Okay." Angel seemed willing to go along with whatever Wesley wanted; he turned to get the last of the books from the pile, adding them to the duffle bag.

Wesley just watched him for a moment, smiling to himself, and then went to empty out the important and deadly objects from the closet. It didn't take him long, and Angel seemed to be done by the time he turned around again. "Ready?" he asked.

"Yup. I think that's everything. And if it's not, we can come back later. Although maybe once the sun's gone down?" Angel sounded hopeful as he tried to zip the duffle bag, failed, and picked it up unzipped.

"I think that's preferable for both of us," Wesley agreed. He looked around the room, which was still a disaster but less of one. "Thank you for helping me sort things out. Having you here made it much easier." He met Angel's eyes. "Not just physically."

Angel looked surprised, but far from displeased. "Good," he said. "Sometimes it's hard to tell."

"Is it?" Wesley frowned a bit and wondered where he hadn't made himself clear earlier.

"To tell if I'm helping?" Angel clarified. "Yeah. I mean, picking stuff up is one thing, but knowing that you're okay... that's what I care about the most."

It didn't quite seem fair to answer with an automatic 'I'm fine,' given Angel's concern for him. "I'm getting very tired of losing things," Wesley admitted, "but I'll be all right."

"If you think of anything else I can do, tell me, okay?" Angel said, as they started for the door.

Since there was no way Angel could promise that Wesley wouldn't lose him too quickly, Wesley just nodded and pulled the front door of the apartment shut behind them.

They loaded the rest of his belongings -- or at least all the ones that mattered -- into the car and drove back to the hotel. Wesley couldn't help but grow a bit maudlin again on the drive, thinking of everything he'd lost and wondering if - when - he'd lose what he still had left.

When Wesley stopped the car outside the Hyperion, Angel shifted in the back seat and asked, "How much of this stuff do you want to take in?"

"The weapons," Wesley said immediately, since he wouldn't soon forget his mistake. "The books and files. And the clothes." He gave Angel a faint smile. "So I suppose that's everything."

"Right," Angel said, eyeing the sunlit distance between the car and the hotel with some displeasure.

"I can carry it all," Wesley assured him. "You just get safely inside."

"I can take something," Angel protested, ducking his head under the blanket. "Here; I'll take this." He hoisted a bag over the rear seat and opened the car door, sprinting toward the protection of the hotel.

Wesley shook his head and followed more slowly, carrying as much as he could manage.

When he got inside, Angel had already set the bag on the counter and was looking into it. "This is the loose pages," Angel said, glancing at Wesley. "You want me to try to sort them or something?" Angel blinked and came over to Wesley, taking two of the bags he'd been carrying from him.

Leaning his shotgun next to the weapons cabinet and putting the dagger Angel had once given him down beside it, Wesley said, "I can't imagine you'd enjoy that. I can do it."

Angel set the other bags down on the floor beside the counter and shrugged. "Give me something else to do, then. You gonna try to put all the books back together?"

Since Angel seemed so eager to help, Wesley nodded. "You did a very good job with the other one, so if you were looking for something to do you're more than welcome to try. We can fit the missing pages into them afterward." He gave the idea more thought. "Hmm, I'll need to pick up some book repairing supplies."

"I don't know," Angel said, taking a book out of the unzipped duffle bag and looking at it doubtfully. "It might take a couple of days just to figure out which pages go where."

Wesley tried very hard to ignore the way his stomach twisted with something close to despair at the thought of just how much was ruined. It was larger than just the books, and he ruthlessly shut it all way; there were things that needed to get done. "We don't have days. I have to start researching." He turned back toward the door.

He thought that Angel might have been about to say something, but the vampire must have chosen not to, so Wesley went back out to the car and collected another load of bags. One more trip after this one, he thought.

Angel met him just inside the door and took the bags from him.

"Thank you," Wesley said as Angel slid his overnight bag off of his shoulder.

"No problem," Angel said, hefting the other two bags in his hand. "There can't be much more than this, can there?"

"Only two more bags," Wesley replied. It didn't take him long to fetch them, not accepting Angel's help and carrying them over to the counter himself. He set them down with a sigh. Although the bags were neither light nor small, they didn't seem like much to call his own.

Angel had taken some more books out of the duffle bag and was looking at them with a puzzled expression on his face. He glanced up at Wesley sheepishly. "I'm not sure where to start."

"I think it makes the most sense to lay out each book separately. We can use the floor," Wesley said, gesturing to the wide expanse of the lobby. "Each book gets its own pile, and we can match the loose pieces to the appropriate volume by comparing paper, ink, and typography. If there's something you're unsure of, leave it for me. This part should be the fast part; putting the volumes back together will be much harder."

"Okay." Angel began to set the books on the floor, treating them gently and laying each one so that it lay face open when he could.

Wesley worked with him silently, trying not to be affected when handing tattered remains of volumes that were almost like old friends. He had to approach the problem like a puzzle, removing his emotions from the project and simply focusing on fitting the pieces together. It certainly made him feel much better all around to get lost in the task and not to have to think about anything else.

When perhaps two-thirds of the big pieces of the books were laid out in rows on the floor, he stepped back to survey their work, absently rubbing the back of his neck, which was sore from so much bending and leaning.

Angel looked up at Wesley from where he was sitting on the floor, a pile of loose pages in his lap as he created some kind of sorting system around him. "You okay?"

Surprised by the sound of Angel's voice interrupting this thoughts, Wesley blinked at him for a second before nodding. "Yes. Fine. Are you?"

"Yeah. You just looked..." Angel shook his head. "Sorry. You were thinking, weren't you."

Wesley nodded again. "How did I look?" he asked, oddly curious.

"I don't know," Angel said. He glanced down at the papers in his lap, then said, "Tired. Stressed out."

"I can't argue with that," Wesley replied, but he tried to smile to keep Angel from being concerned.

"I can keep doing this if you want to take a break," Angel said. "You could go get yourself some lunch, for example." He was looking at what he was doing and not at Wesley, which took some of the pressure off, certainly. Wesley wondered if Angel was doing that deliberately.

"It's not your job to sort out this mess," Wesley pointed out gently.

"It's not any less mine than it is yours." Angel sounded calm.

"Actually, it is," Wesley said with an amused shake of his head. "They're my books from my destroyed flat. You hardly can be expected to..." Then Wesley realized that Angel must care about putting them back together, because through them he would, they hoped, be getting Cordelia back. His smile faded as Angel's actions made new sense, and he reminded himself firmly that Angel's focus was larger than himself. "Yes, of course you care. Regardless, I don't want a break." He turned to pick up another stack of books, sorting out those that were crumpled but whole and setting them in a separate pile.

When Wesley glanced at Angel a moment later, the vampire's forehead was creased as he apparently tried to sort out which pile the piece of paper in his hand belonged in. "It's not your fault the books got ruined," Angel pointed out reasonably.

"No, it was just my apparently not very good luck."

"So that doesn't make it more your job than mine to put them back together again. You could even say it makes it less your job." Angel added a page to one of his piles and reached for a nearby book.

"As much as I appreciate the thought, your logic makes absolutely no sense at all," Wesley said. "They're my books, and they're what I need to do my work, so they're my responsibility."

Angel nodded, but didn't say anything to that. He continued to sort pages, the small frown of concentration never leaving his face as he worked.

Wesley wasn't sure what was going through Angel's mind, but continuing on with the job seemed like a good idea. Still, as he walked past to start a new row of piles, he brushed his hand along Angel's shoulders in a gesture of gratitude for him being there.

Angel glanced up at him and smiled briefly but, Wesley thought, genuinely, before going back to work.

It was odd, Wesley reflected as he looked down at Angel's bowed head, how they had experienced what should have been a huge turning point in their relationship and yet were acting as though nothing had really changed. He supposed it hadn't, since his own feelings weren't a surprise to him and Angel was still clinging to him as his only lifeline. Perhaps the expression of their feelings had simply been putting words to something that already existed, solidifying for Angel that Wesley was there for him without reservation and giving Wesley one more memory he'd get to replay later on.

He couldn't afford to give into melancholy, so Wesley quickly drew himself up and went back to work, retreating into the puzzle of the books so deeply that he barely noticed when his stomach began to growl.

Dimly, he heard Angel say, "Wesley."

"Hmm?" He glanced up from the patchwork of fragments in front of him to see Angel looking at him with enough intensity that Wesley wondered if it wasn't the first time Angel had said his name.

"You should stop for a while and have something to eat," Angel said. He still had a pile of pages in his lap, but the books closest to him also had small piles of loose pages on top of them, so he seemed to be making headway.

"I'm not - " Wesley stopped himself when he realized that he actually was hungry. "You're right; I'll get something and bring it back here." He stood up, managing not to groan as his stiff muscles protested. "Would you like something?" he asked. "You should take a break when you want one."

"I'm okay," Angel said. He glanced ruefully down at his lap. "Besides, I think if I get up I'll lose track of where I was."

Wesley nodded. "All right, then." He carefully skirted the piles of papers and made his way to the kitchen. As before, nothing particularly appealed to him, but he found some sort of pre-packaged energy bars that looked vaguely edible. He tucked one in the pocket of his jeans for later and unwrapped the other on his way back to the lobby. It tasted more like chalk than the chocolate-nut combination its name promised, but it wasn't so bad he felt the need to turn around and find something else.

Angel was still working when he returned, so Wesley sat back down in the spot he had vacated and went back to his own task. He put his energy bar down after another bite or so and forgot to pick it back up again.

~ * ~ * ~

Angel had been relieved when Wesley had gone off to the kitchen to get food, but Wesley had come back with nothing but some kind of candy bar type thing or something -- actually, it reminded Angel of the diet things Cordelia had eaten sometimes. And Wesley had only eaten a couple of bites of it before setting it down and ignoring it.

He let them work for almost another hour, glancing at Wesley occasionally to make sure he looked okay, before he finally decided it was time to put a stop to this for a while. "Wesley," Angel said.

Wesley frowned down at the two pieces of paper he was comparing and didn't reply.

Angel tried again, adding a little more emphasis this time. "Wes."

That seemed to work. Wesley looked over at him, his frown clearing a bit as he met Angel's eyes, though he still appeared caught up in his own thoughts. "Yes?"

"We've been at this for hours. Don't you think you should take a break for a while and get something real to eat?" Angel stretched his own legs out as best he could given the piles of books around him. "Maybe you could go get that book glue and whatever else we're gonna need to put these back together?" Not that he really wanted Wesley to go off without him, but if it would get Wesley some fresh air and a chance to stop staring at tiny printing, he figured it would be worth it.

"I can get that when I'm done sorting everything out," Wesley replied, leaning forward to place one of the pages in a pile just barely within his reach. "The information is more important than the actual binding." He settled back down. "But you certainly don't have to stay here with me if you don't want to."

Angel sighed and carefully put the papers in his lap down next to his thigh, standing up and picking his way across the floor to where Wesley was sitting. "What I don't want is to watch you make yourself sick by working too hard and not eating," Angel said, as Wesley looked up at him. "Come on -- take a break from this for an hour. Heck, just put your clothes and things away upstairs; at least that'd keep you from getting eye strain."

Wesley appraised the piles around them and then tipped his face back up toward Angel. "Are you going to keep worrying about me until I do?" he asked, almost gravely.

"Probably," Angel admitted.

"All right." Wesley set down the other piece of paper and slowly pushed himself to his feet. He grimaced. "I suppose I am getting a bit stiff."

Angel resisted the urge to grab onto both the potential that word had and Wesley's ass, which he thought showed a lot of self-restraint. "I still don't think that stuff's real food," he said, gesturing at the abandoned food bar thing. "You should have... I don't know, vegetables. Salad."

"That seemed more convenient," Wesley replied, although he made no move to pick up the bar where it lay. His mouth curved into something of a smile. "Would you like to come oversee my food choices?"

"Not really," Angel said, because he didn't think he was qualified. "But I'll come keep you company."

"Company would certainly be nice." Wesley glanced over at the front doors of the hotel. "Let's hope no one comes in and disturbs anything," he said as he carefully navigated the piles to the clear floor beyond.

As they headed for the kitchen, Angel looked back at the piles of books and paper. "If we hear anyone come in, I'll come right back," he promised. The thought of someone else needing his help made him feel tired down to his bones, but he put it out of his mind. He'd do what he had to do.

"It isn't so much fun that even I want to do the work twice," Wesley said, smiling at him.

"True. But it's not that bad... kind of like a giant jigsaw puzzle." Angel reconsidered. "Like a hundred jigsaw puzzles all dumped into one big pile."

"With only vague pictures to work from," Wesley added. "I'm glad it isn't torture for you; I know it's not the sort of thing you would normally choose to spend your time doing."

"I don't mind," Angel said, as they went into the kitchen. "Plus we never know when some of those books might come in handy, even if we didn't need some of them right away."

Wesley nodded after a very brief pause that Angel wasn't sure was a hesitation or just him being preoccupied. "I've found even the most obscure volumes useful at one time or another." He walked over to the refrigerator and opened the door, looking inside but not taking anything out.

"You don't have to eat the stuff in there just because it's there," Angel said, leaning against the counter. "We could order something. Or go out."

"The sun's still out," Wesley reminded him. He glanced back over his shoulder, searching Angel's face. "Is this your way of asking me to leave you alone for a little while?"

"No," Angel said quickly. "You think there's some kind of spell on this place?" When Wesley offered him a puzzled look, Angel explained, "It seems like every time we're in here I say things like 'I just want to make sure you're taking care of yourself.' But I guess there aren't spells that make you do that, huh."

"Not that I know of," Wesley said, the tension in his body dissipating a bit, although Angel could hardly call his normal demeanor relaxed, and he was definitely more tightly wound than that. He turned back to the refrigerator. "Although there are certainly spells and objects that could influence how much you care for someone."

Oh, no. Quickly, with speed Wesley wouldn't have been able to anticipate, Angel stepped in behind him, grabbing both of Wesley's wrists and pinning them to Wesley's sides, but keeping his grip gentle. The refrigerator door swung shut before them.

"No," Angel murmured in Wesley's ear, feeling him freeze in uncertainty. "We're not even going there. This is about you... and me. Nothing else. You hear me?"

Wesley's indrawn breath was uneven. "I hear you," he said, his voice hushed.

"Good." Angel brought Wesley's right hand back to his own thigh, setting it there and letting go of his wrist. "Don't move," he said, breathing the words against Wesley's jaw, feeling the rasp of stubble against his lips and skin. He ran his free hand along Wesley's stomach over his shirt, enjoying the skittering sound of Wesley's heartbeat as he pulled Wesley more firmly against him.

"Angel..." Wesley swallowed, but he made no move to pull away, instead leaning ever so slightly into him.

"Shh," Angel whispered. "I want you because of you. Not because of some spell." He slid his hand higher and toyed with the top fastened button on Wesley's shirt, thinking about undoing it.

Wesley's hand tightened on Angel's thigh, gripping the fabric of his slacks, his breath coming a bit faster. He seemed to be taking Angel's admonition to be quiet to heart, not saying a word.

Deciding there was no reason not to indulge himself, Angel slowly unbuttoned the two highest buttons on Wesley's shirt and slid his hand inside, caressing Wesley's chest. "I want this," he said softly. "Want you." His fingers found a nipple and pinched it.

A soft but very encouraging gasp was Wesley's response, his nipple hardening immediately beneath Angel's fingers.

Angel moved Wesley's other hand back to mirror the first, let go of his wrist, and undid a few more of Wesley's shirt buttons, baring his chest almost to the waist. He rubbed both of Wesley's nipples with his fingertips with just enough pressure to tease and pressed himself more firmly against Wesley's ass. "God, you feel good."

Wesley's hands gently kneaded Angel's thighs as he leaned back into him, and he didn't make even the slightest move to stop Angel's explorations. "So do you," he murmured hoarsely.

Slowly, hoping Wesley would know that he could stop him with a word, Angel used his chin to tilt Wesley's head to the side, baring his throat. "What if I wanted to do this?" Angel murmured, biting gently at the skin there, licking it, dropping open-mouthed kisses onto it. "This okay?"

"Yes," Wesley replied, the word barely audible, as a shiver passed through him. His breathing was hard, like he had been running, but he stood utterly still.

With a more firm touch now, Angel continued to toy with Wesley's nipples, pinching, rubbing. He glanced down over Wesley's shoulder and saw that they were responding to the attention by flushing a dark pink. "What about this?" he asked, biting down on Wesley's throat again, not anywhere near hard enough to scare Wesley that he might be getting ideas.

Wesley's response was to turn his head further, exposing more of his throat, as he arched backwards into Angel. "Anything you want to do is all right," he whispered.

Angel wasn't going to complain about that. He could have stopped; could have backed off, insisted that Wesley have something to eat and waited until later when they were upstairs. But he didn't want to. Instead, he moved his right hand down to Wesley's belt and started to unfasten it, still mouthing and biting at Wesley's throat.

"God," Wesley said, clutching at Angel's legs. "Angel..."

"Yeah," Angel said. "Right here." He ran his left hand up to Wesley's throat and let it linger there, caressing the skin lightly while he sucked at a spot beside Wesley's ear. He got the belt and the front of Wesley's jeans undone and slid his hand inside, finding Wesley's cock hard and ready for him.

A fierce shudder ran through Wesley, and he groaned, low and with unvarnished need. "Angel...," he said again, soft and eager, and Angel could feel the vibration of his name through his hand at Wesley's throat.

"I like it when you say my name like that," Angel said, licking the pale pink mark he'd left on Wesley's throat. It wouldn't last, but he still liked seeing it there. His hand worked Wesley's cock slowly.

"And I like it when you touch me like this," Wesley replied between gasped breaths. Though he was tense, he held himself steady, pliant under Angel's hands.

Angel concentrated his attention on the tip of Wesley's cock, spreading around the drop of slick fluid that had formed there. "Thinking about making you come like this," he said. "Standing right here."

Wesley's next shudder was powerful enough that Angel could feel it in his own body. "You could," Wesley said, some strong emotion coloring his words.

"Yeah," Angel agreed, moving his hand slowly enough that, if it'd been him, he'd have been half crawling out of his skin with wanting more.

His fingers digging into Angel's thighs, Wesley groaned, a sound of both arousal and desperation. "I was hoping - " He squirmed just a bit, unconsciously rubbing back against Angel's cock, as Angel kept up his tormentingly slow touch. " - to be more of an active participant."

Angel tilted his head and ran his lower lip along the tender curve of Wesley's ear, listening to Wesley's pulse throbbing just under the skin. He held onto the front of Wesley's thigh with his free hand and pushed forward against him, pressing his erection to Wesley's ass. "Oh yeah? What did you have in mind?"

"I don't, just... Something for both of us," Wesley said.

Humming with pleasure, Angel bit down on Wesley's ear lobe lightly and stroked Wesley's cock again. "You think this isn't for me?"

Wesley inhaled raggedly, his hips jerking forward slightly, just once, before he regained control of himself. There was a minute change in his posture, almost a relaxation, a surrender, although he was still vibrating with arousal, and he leaned back even more against Angel's chest. "I think..." He swallowed. "I think I have no idea why I'm arguing."

Angel smiled and ran his hand up over Wesley's stomach and chest to toy with a nipple again. "Don't. Just let me make you feel good." His other hand was moving even more slowly now.

"If that's what you want," Wesley said, gently kneading Angel's thighs. He was burning hot against him, his cock hard and needy in Angel's grip, and he was obviously fighting to keep from moving. "Just don't stop."

"Not gonna stop," Angel murmured. Part of him wanted to shove Wesley's pants down and lean him forward against the counter and fuck him, but he could wait. The way Wesley's cock felt in his hand, the way Wesley was breathing, the way his heart was beating... it was enough.

"But you're more than happy to tease?" Wesley asked with a weak, desperate laugh.

"Teasing's what I'd be doing if I didn't intend to let you come," Angel said, dragging his thumb up over the head of Wesley's cock and feeling him tremble. "And I definitely want you to come."

"You, too," Wesley said, inching his hands upward to rest on the curve where Angel's thighs met his buttocks. He tightened his grip, urging Angel in closer against him.

Angel groaned softly, rubbing himself against Wesley's ass. "No," he said, his hand moving more quickly. "This is about you."

Wesley gave a quick shake of his head. "Angel...," he said, and it sounded like disagreement even as he panted for breath and the head of his cock grew even more slick.

"You want to," Angel said. "I can smell it on you. I can hear it in your heartbeat, Wes. It's all over you." He tightened his grip. "You know how much that turns me on?"

A soft groan and another shake of his head was Wesley's response.

"So much I can hardly stand it," Angel whispered into Wesley's ear.

Wesley's entire body jerked in his grasp, his hips thrusting forward helplessly into Angel's hand. "God, I know," he gasped, his voice thick with desire. "I want to suck you. Fuck you. Anything." Yet he still clung to Angel, making no move to pull away from Angel's touch.

"Plenty of time for that," Angel said. Wesley's heart was thumping in his chest underneath Angel's hand, the blood so close beneath that thin layer of skin, so easy to break through... Angel drew a shuddering breath, his need stronger than he'd realized. He stroked Wesley's cock harder. "Want you to come like this."

"God, Angel." Wesley tipped his head further back, every inch of him tense and trembling, obviously getting close to his climax. His hands clutched Angel's thighs almost painfully, his hips rocking with the rhythm of Angel's movements.

Angel pinched Wesley's nipple and felt a response in Wesley's cock as it twitched in his hand. He closed his eyes, pretending Wesley's cock was his, pretending that he was bringing himself off, using the little twist of his wrist that he always did to push himself over the edge. "Love you, Wes," he said.

Maybe it was his touch that did it or maybe it was the words, but Wesley cried out hoarsely, his fingers digging in even more tightly as he shuddered, his release spilling out of him. He sagged backwards, breathing hard, as the tremors lessened but did not disappear entirely.

With a small sound of satisfaction, Angel slid his other arm around Wesley's waist to support him as he coaxed out another shudder or two. "I've got you," he murmured, kissing Wesley's throat.

Wesley replied with a soft, wordless murmur, unclenching his hands and moving them in a clumsy caress.

"You smell so good," Angel told him, licking at his throat, biting at the skin there very gently. Now that Wesley had come, his own arousal had faded a little bit, become less urgent.

Tipping his head to the side, Wesley gave a little murmur of pleasure. "Do I?"

"Mm," Angel said, licking again, suddenly struck by the urge to have Wesley curl up around him and block out everything else. "I want to take you to bed. Can I take you to bed?"

There was a brief hesitation, almost so small that Angel didn't notice it, and then Wesley said, "Please."

Reluctantly, Angel released Wesley and stepped back. "You sure?"

Wesley's eyes were dark and slightly unfocused as he turned his head to meet Angel's gaze. "Yes," he said, beginning to refasten his jeans. "I can't think of anything I want more."

It didn't take all that long for them to get upstairs, but it felt like a long time to Angel, who wanted nothing more than to strip both of them naked and get into bed. He let Wesley go into the room first, and then followed, kicking the door shut with his heel and grabbing onto Wesley. He kissed him, hard, hands running over Wesley's body.

Wesley made a soft noise of surprise and then kissed him in return, wrapping his arms around him and pressing into him.

"Wes." Angel slid his hand into Wesley's hair and held on, tracing Wesley's lips with his tongue before delving deeper into his mouth, tasting him.

"Mmmm." Sounding happy, Wesley opened his mouth to Angel's exploration, tugging up his shirt to slip his warm hands beneath the fabric and up Angel's back.

Angel groaned and started walking them toward the bed, struggling to do too many things at once: unbutton Wesley's shirt again, undo his own pants, kick off his shoes, all without stopping the desperate kissing that he needed so badly.

Wesley tried to help, slipping out of his own shoes as they stumbled across the room and laughing softly into the kiss as their hands collided not once but twice on the buttons of Angel's shirt.

The mattress hit the backs of Angel's knees and he let himself fall down onto it, pulling Wesley with him, grabbing onto Wesley's ass with both hands and rubbing up against him, not caring that his pants were undone and the zipper was cutting into him.

Propping himself up on one elbow as they continued to kiss, Wesley pushed at Angel's pants, trying with little success to slide them down further. "We need to get rid of these clothes," he murmured, sucking in a sharp breath as Angel thrust up against him again.

"Yeah," Angel agreed, turning, rolling them onto their sides. He fumbled Wesley's jeans open again and slid down, burying his face in Wesley's lap and sucking his half-hard cock into his mouth. There was still come there from before, sweet and musky, and Angel groaned around hardening flesh and sucked with more force.

"God." As Wesley's body responded slowly but surely to Angel's touch he slid his hands into Angel's hair but didn't try to direct him or push him away. "I should be doing that for you," he said between ragged breaths.

"I want to," Angel said, muffled because he was nuzzling the base of Wesley's shaft, licking at his balls. This was what he wanted, to have Wesley curled around him, hot and solid and real.

Wesley groaned softly, combing his fingers through Angel's hair. "But, Angel..." His protest sounded very weak.

Angel continued what he was doing, waiting until he'd drawn several more wordless sounds of pleasure from Wesley before sliding up and kissing him again, unable to resist the slick, wet heat of Wesley's mouth.

"I love how you touch me," Wesley whispered, one arm tight around Angel's back. While he wasn't displaying quite the same hunger that Angel was feeling, a fact that wasn't surprising given his recent orgasm, his mouth was eager and welcoming against Angel's own, meeting every kiss with enthusiasm.

"Want to fuck you," Angel muttered, frustrated by the clothes that were keeping him from doing what he wanted to do.

Wesley's next kiss was almost bruisingly hard. "I want you to," he said, a sudden need flaring in his eyes. His hands dropped to Angel's slacks again, working at pushing them down his hips. "I need you to."

They struggled out of their clothing, probably doing more to slow each other down than anything else, and then finally they were both naked and Angel was running his hands over every part of Wesley he could reach.

Wesley pressed closer, warming Angel with his body heat and his restless touch. He moaned into Angel's mouth as their cocks skidded against each other. "I could never have imagined how good you feel."

"Always knew exactly how good you'd feel," Angel said, bringing his hands up to hold Wesley's head as he kissed him. "Didn't want to think about it, but I knew. Knew you'd be... God. So perfect."

The little choked noise Wesley made sounded like he was in pain, and his eyes were tightly shut, but he kissed Angel with even more force, his mouth and his hands greedy.

Angel was no less greedy, kissing Wesley hard and slapping out a hand to find the lotion they'd left on top of the table next to the bed. He almost knocked it to the floor, but grabbed onto it at the last second, fumbling some onto his fingers, and then sliding one up into Wesley. "Love you," he said, groaning as Wesley's heat clenched around his finger.

"God, Angel. I love you, too," Wesley said hoarsely, kissing him again and moaning as Angel pressed his finger in a bit deeper. "I never..." He writhed, pushing back onto Angel's hand.

Angel groaned and bit down on Wesley's shoulder, too hard. His control was fraying; he knew it, and the only thing he knew to do about it was to let Wesley control the fucking. "Here, get... yeah, like that." Rolling Wesley on top of him, Angel slid both hands along the backs of Wesley's thighs, encouraging him to spread them and straddle him, Wesley's skin hot against Angel's insistent erection.

Wesley's eyes as he looked down at him were almost wild, dark and filled with some strong emotion Angel couldn't name. Sitting up and edging forward, an action that made them both gasp as Angel's cock dragged along Wesley's balls, Wesley reached for the lotion and squirted some onto his palm before reaching behind him and wrapping his hand around Angel's erection. "I don't want to wait anymore," he said, quickly slicking up Angel's cock.

"God. Wes." Angel wanted to close his eyes so he could concentrate on how Wesley's hand felt, but he wanted to keep them open so he could look at Wesley. He didn't know which to do.

Stroking Angel's cock very deliberately from balls to tip and back again, Wesley watched Angel's face with a fierce intensity. Then he steadied himself with one hand on Angel's chest and knelt up to rub the head of Angel's erection over his barely stretched entrance. He teased them both with the slick slide of Angel's cock so close to where they both wanted it to be and then slowly sank downward onto it. Wesley's breath was unsteady as his tight body took Angel in, but his movements were determined and unhesitating, and his groan was of pure pleasure.

It was all Angel could do not to thrust up into Wesley, to hold his waist and fuck him hard and relentlessly without caring about anything but coming. Angel shuddered, forcing his hands to stroke over Wesley's thighs gently.

Wesley exhaled slowly as he slid down bit by bit until Angel was fully sheathed inside of him. "God," he said in a choked whisper.

"You okay?" Angel asked, with incredible effort.

Sliding his palms over Angel's chest, Wesley nodded. "Wonderful. You feel wonderful." His muscles were tense beneath Angel's hands, but his words were fervent.

Angel looked up at Wesley. He was so incredible with his eyes dark, his lips slightly parted. "I don't want to move," Angel said, sliding his hands further along Wesley's thighs until his thumbs were brushing Wesley's balls and he saw Wesley's cock twitch. "God."

"Let me," Wesley replied, lifting himself up barely an inch before sinking back down with a groan. He was still for a moment, clenching around Angel's cock, before pushing up a bit further and repeating the motion.

With a shivering sigh, Angel relaxed, concentrating on the growing ache of his cock and how fucking amazing Wesley looked moving on him. "Yeah," he said hoarsely. "You're incredible like this. You know that?"

As he rose up again, Wesley gave a little shake of his head. "You're the incredible one," he said, drawing in a shuddering breath as he slid down onto Angel's cock. His palms were like hot brands on Angel's chest as he held himself up and pressed Angel into the mattress. His next upward motion was faster, the drop back down harder, his eyelids drooping with his obvious pleasure.

Angel focused on Wesley's pleasure, reaching out and folding a hand around Wesley's cock, working it slowly. It made it easier not to think about how much he was holding back.

Closing his eyes, Wesley tipped his head back, exposing the marks Angel's mouth had left on his throat. "I'm glad I came before," he gasped, moving more forcefully, "because otherwise this would already be over."

"No," Angel said, thrusting up to meet Wesley for the first time and making them both gasp. "It wouldn't be over. I'd just keep fucking you until you came twice."

"God." Wesley's fingers dug into the muscles of Angel's chest, and he groaned loudly when Angel met his next hard descent. His cock throbbed in Angel's grasp as Angel pushed a fraction of an inch deeper into him. "I have no doubt that you could. The way you feel, you could make me do anything you wanted."

"I don't want to do anything but make you feel good," Angel said, moving more quickly and encouraging Wesley to do so, too.

"I do," Wesley said, easily falling into Angel's rhythm, his skin flushed and damp with sweat and his body tight with need. "God, I do." He moaned each time he impaled himself on Angel's cock, his eyes shut and his mouth open as he panted for air. "Angel... Tell me this is good for you, too."

"So good that it's taking everything I've got not to flip you over onto your back and fuck you until you scream," Angel said, emphasizing his point with a quick, jabbing thrust.

Wesley made a sound between a gasp and a grunt, and they met with another few thrusts before he opened his eyes and spoke. "I have no problem with screaming."

"No?" It wasn't really a real question. Angel fucked Wesley harder, careful not to take it too far and hurt him. "You want me to make you scream?"

"I want you," Wesley told him, meeting Angel's thrusts with increasing fervor. The blue of his eyes was almost eclipsed by his wide pupils, his expression intense and filled with raw need. "I don't want you holding anything back." He leaned forward and stiffened as the next motion of their bodies came at a different angle. "God, yes. There. Like that." His eyes gleamed. "Unless you want to make me scream."

Angel groaned and moved both hands to Wesley's ass, fucking him more slowly at just the right angle, grinding their bodies together where Wesley's cock was trapped between them. "I want to make you come," he said intensely.

"There's no question about that," Wesley said, unsuccessfully trying to move faster but firmly held in place by Angel's hands to receive the steady rhythm of his thrusts. Moaning, he threw his head back, his body suddenly clenching like a vise around Angel's cock.

"Yes," Angel said fiercely, rocking into Wesley faster, using Wesley's body to bring his own pleasure higher. "God, yes. Wesley." He was totally in the moment, the world narrowing until there was no one in it but him and Wesley.

"Angel, Angel, Angel, Angel." Angel's name was a litany of pleasure pouring from Wesley's lips as they both soared toward their orgasms. There was nothing but the forceful drive and retreat into that scalding, clutching heat, body moving against body, cock and skin and straining muscle, and the almost pained sounds expressing just how incredibly good they both felt. Then Wesley tightened around him, a tiny ripple Angel could feel first around his cock turning into a full-body shudder. "No, I'm... Oh!" Fighting Angel's grip to try to force himself back onto his cock, Wesley cried out Angel's name one final time as he came, spilling slick heat across Angel's stomach.

Angel shuddered and drove deeper into Wesley, holding them both still as he let the slick muscles inside Wesley pull his own orgasm from him. He didn't try to muffle his sounds as he came, his body arching underneath Wesley's, the rhythmic pulsing of his cock the only thing that mattered.

"God," Wesley whispered reverently as he panted for breath, head lowered between his trembling arms braced on the bed. He sank down abruptly on one elbow, as if his strength had given out, and met Angel's mouth in a long, deep kiss. Angel could feel the aftershocks continuing to sweep through Wesley as shivers both under his hands and around his cock.

Sliding his hand up into Wesley's hair, Angel secured a second kiss, and then a third, murmuring his pleasure wordlessly against Wesley's lips.

"It wasn't quite a scream, but it was close," Wesley said, smiling before kissing him again. There was an edge of need to his kisses beneath the lazy satiation, and he made no move to pull away.

Angel rocked his hips experimentally and listened to Wesley's responding gasp. "It was good," he said, shifting them and rolling to the side so they were next to each other, his half-hard cock still inside Wesley. "I love hearing you like that. Makes me want to do this all day long."

Wesley's expression turned wistful as he slipped his arm around Angel's waist. He shifted slightly on the bed, getting comfortable, but didn't do anything to disrupt their bodies from being joined. "It's too bad that we can't, even if I were physically capable of it."

"But we can stay like this for a little while, right?" Angel asked, running his hand along Wesley's side.

Wesley gave him a small smile. "Yes. I'd like to."

Angel knew that it wouldn't be a good idea to admit how strong the temptation had been to bite Wesley earlier, even though part of him kind of wanted to tell him. "You warm enough?" he asked instead.

"I'm very warm, actually," Wesley replied. Angel could see the sheen of sweat on his skin and feel the heat radiating from him. "I think it might take a while for me to cool down again."

"Not sure we'd want you to do that," Angel said, thrusting into Wesley a tiny bit and feeling his cock get that much harder again. "You could get a chill."

Wesley's eyes darkened as he drew in a deep breath. "Somehow that doesn't seem likely," he murmured.

"No?" Angel pulled back and thrust forward again, slowly and gently.

"Not with you touching me," Wesley said, shivering as Angel moved in him.

Angel did it again, finding a careful rhythm. "Tell me if you want me to stop," he said, watching Wesley's face.

"My flesh is sadly weak, but my mind is willing." Wesley was relaxed in Angel's arms, a fine tremor within him his only obvious reaction to Angel's thrusts. "Very willing."

"I don't want to hurt you," Angel said, even as thrust a bit deeper and then rolled up and over Wesley, supporting his weight on his arms. "So, tell me if you want me to stop." He'd stop if Wesley wanted him to, but he was already hard again, and God it felt good.

Wesley skimmed his hands up Angel's back and slid his feet up the mattress to hook them around Angel's legs. "I don't want you to stop," he said with a soft intensity, looking up into Angel's eyes.

Angel leaned down and kissed him, not stopping the slow, leisurely fucking motion of his hips. "You feel amazing, Wes."

"Yes, I do," Wesley said, his mouth curving up into a mischievous smile. "Thanks to you. But I'd feel even better if you kissed me again."

"I can do that." Angel got down lower, propping himself on his elbows so he could kiss Wesley as much as he wanted to without having to stop thrusting into him.

Wesley sighed with obvious satisfaction into the kiss, encouraging Angel with gentle strokes of his hands from shoulders to hips. His breath hitched with every thrust, but he was pliant and easy beneath him, not showing any sign of discomfort. "Don't stop," he whispered, shifting his hips so that on his next thrust Angel slid in even deeper.

Angel groaned softly at the sensation and stayed deep, changing his thrusts so that he was barely moving in and out. "Not gonna stop," he said, finding Wesley's lips again and biting at the lower one gently.

Wesley moaned softly and held him more tightly, just barely moving his hips with Angel's rhythm. "God, Angel. This is... so good."

"Yeah," Angel said, angling the next shallow thrust differently. "It is. You are."

Gasping, Wesley shook his head. "It's not me," he said before leaning up to kiss Angel again.

"It is you," Angel said as soon as the kiss had ended. "You're exactly what I need. So fucking good..." He was half lost in a haze of pleasure, but he knew what he was saying. Knew that it was true.

Something unhappy lurked in Wesley's eyes, but he didn't say anything, just closed them and kissed Angel harder, deeper, rocking with his every thrust.

Once he set his mind to it, it didn't take long for Angel to get himself close to the edge again; a dozen quick thrusts, his mouth pressed to Wesley's, the willing, determined way that Wesley moved his body, and Angel was coming, groaning into Wesley's mouth as it rushed over him.

"Oh, god, Angel," Wesley said in a hushed voice, pressing kisses to Angel's lips. A shiver ran through him, making him clench around Angel's cock and coaxing another pulse of his climax from him. "Thank you."

Angel kissed Wesley deeply, and then said, with his own voice a little bit shaky, "You're welcome?" He had no idea what Wesley was talking about.

Wesley smiled and apparently took pity on Angel's confusion. He gave Angel another kiss and said, "I wasn't ready for this to be over."

Uncertain, Angel frowned slightly. "Please tell me you're not talking in some bigger sense."

"I'm not ready for that, either," Wesley said, though the smile faded from his eyes somewhat, "but I was referring to this particular physical encounter." His fingers trailed up Angel's spine to rub gently at the base of his neck. "I don't want to have to stop touching you yet." His gaze drifted to somewhere around Angel's hairline. "I don't want you to stop touching me."

"We don't have to," Angel said, unmoving because that would help make his point. "You can touch me as much as you want. Whenever you want, for as long as you want. Okay?"

"That's not really possible," Wesley replied, his long fingers sliding up into Angel's hair. "There's too much else to do. But it's a nice thought."

"We could do other stuff and still be touching," Angel said hopefully. "Like a three legged race."

Wesley blinked up at home for a moment and then started to laugh. It wasn't a chuckle or a snicker but a full-on belly laugh with an edge of something brittle beneath it and going on long enough that Angel wasn't quite sure that Wesley could stop.

Not knowing exactly what to do, Angel ran his hand up and down Wesley's side and watched him, smiling a little bit because he couldn't help it. "Hey," he said, after a minute. "It wasn't that funny."

Shaking his head, Wesley gasped out, "No. No. I just..." He brought up a hand to wipe the tears from his eyes.

"Is this the place where I ask if you're laughing with me or at me?" Angel asked, bemused.

"Not at you. I'm not exactly sure why I'm laughing at all," Wesley admitted. He was smiling, but he didn't precisely look happy.

Angel moved off of Wesley and lay down beside him, pulling him into his arms. "Hey. You okay?"

"I hope so," Wesley said, looking away in what Angel thought was probably embarrassment.

"Close your eyes," Angel said. "And tell me what you were thinking just now."

Wesley obediently shut his eyes and took a deep breath. "I was just struck by the absurdity of the image of us in a three-legged race... and then, I suppose, the absurdity of the whole situation. Everything that's happened and where we are now."

"Absurd? Really?" Angel wasn't sure how he felt about that. He reached out and put his fingers over Wesley's eyes to keep them closed, feeling Wesley's involuntary twitch.

"Not actually in a humorous sense, but in that it's nearly impossible to believe," Wesley replied. "I could never have imagined after all that's passed between us and gone on around us that I would find myself here."

"I think you can believe it. Unless we're sharing some really complicated dream. And for all you know I'm really good in three legged races," Angel said, keeping his hand where it was but hoping for at least a hint of a smile.

He was rewarded by the corners of Wesley's mouth curving upwards; it wasn't much of a smile, but it was something. "I'm sure you are, although somehow it's never come up in our many years of work together."

Angel pulled his hand away and Wesley opened his eyes. "I could demonstrate sometime, if you want."

"I don't think that will be necessary," Wesley assured him, smiling a bit more. "I'm sure you're also quite good at egg and spoon races."

"Just not when they're combined with the three legged thing," Angel said, nodding.

"If you put your mind to it, I have no doubt you could succeed at that, as well." Even though they were talking about something silly, Angel could still feel beneath the words the faith Wesley had in him.

"Nah. I can't even walk and chew gum at the same time." Angel traced Wesley's lower lip with a fingertip.

Wesley shook his head, although not enough to dislodge Angel's finger. "I know you far better than that."

"You've never seen me chew gum," Angel pointed out, his voice soft now as he drank in his fill of looking at Wesley.

"I suppose that's true," Wesley said, looking back at him steadily. "But I still doubt it would cause you any trouble. Blowing a bubble, maybe..."

Angel smiled slowly. "I'm pretty good with my tongue," he said, and leaned in to demonstrate with a long kiss.

"I'd say you're talented with all parts of your mouth."

"C'mere." Angel shifted, pulling Wesley in flush against him and pressing his mouth to Wesley's skin, just holding him.

Wesley seemed content to be held, threading his fingers through Angel's hair and letting out a soft sigh. He didn't feel entirely relaxed, but neither was he tense enough that Angel could be sure he wasn't just imagining things. "How's that?" Wesley murmured.

"Good. Great." Angel sighed and rubbed Wesley's back gently, wishing he could figure out what the heck was going on inside his head. "Wes?"

"Yes, Angel?" Wesley said.

Angel closed his eyes and tried to think if there was a way to ask without making Wesley go all defensive and clam up. In the end, he couldn't come up with anything better than, "What's wrong?"

Wesley did tense up then, not a lot but far more than enough for Angel to notice it. "Besides almost everything in the world?" There was something fragile beneath the veneer of humor in his quiet reply. "But that's nothing new, I suppose," he said with a little shake of his head. "It's fine, Angel. There's nothing for you to worry about."

"It doesn't work like that," Angel said. "If you're upset, I'm gonna worry. I can't not." His own reasons for being upset, complicated as they were, were easier to set aside than Wesley's.

"I'm not upset," Wesley insisted. "I'm just... I suppose I'm just tired."

"That doesn't surprise me," Angel said. Not that he thought that was all it was, not by a long shot, but Wesley being tired would make things seem worse, sure. "Why don't you close your eyes for a while and get some rest? I won't let you sleep too long." Which was a lie -- if Wesley fell asleep, Angel was going to let him sleep as long as he needed to, research and puzzling all those books back together be damned.

"That wasn't the sort of tired I meant," Wesley said. "And there isn't time to nap."

"There is," Angel insisted. "But if you don't want to, that's okay. Is there anything I can do?" He was pretty sure he knew what the answer was going to be.

Wesley tightened his arm around Angel's waist. "As trite as it may sound, you're already doing it."

"I feel like I should be doing it better," Angel said.

Wesley pulled back to look at Angel, a furrow appearing between his brows. "You're doing wonderfully. I'd still be sorting bits of paper, if you hadn't helped," he said. He smiled just a little bit, although it looked more sad than anything. "And I'd be far more in danger of following your example and brooding."

"So instead you're gonna go back to sorting bits of paper while brooding. And that's different how?" Angel smoothed Wesley's forehead relaxed again with two fingertips.

"I'm not brooding," Wesley protested. Angel was unhappy to see that the hazy contentment in Wesley's eyes was slowly seeping away. "I'm focusing on what needs to be done." He paused, looking down at his fingers gliding over Angel's chest and then back up at Angel's face before saying more quietly, "If I had the choice, I'd much rather stay here with you."

As much as Angel didn't want him to be, he knew that Wesley was right. There was stuff that needed to be done, and hiding away from it wasn't doing either of them any favors. "I'd rather stay here with you, too. But there's one thing I'm not going to budge on."

"Which is what?" Wesley asked.

"Eating and sleeping," Angel said, and then frowned. "Okay, I guess technically that's two things. But you need to eat something now, and you've got to get some sleep tonight. Okay?"

A tiny flicker of surprise flashed across Wesley's face, but he nodded. "I'll do my best."

"Good." Angel moved his hand down intending to swat Wesley's ass, but found himself caressing it gently instead. "Let's get back to work, then. You want a quick shower first?"

"I would rather not find myself itching for the rest of the day, so yes," Wesley replied. "Will you join me?"

Angel nodded. "I think I can manage to keep my hands off you that long."

"How disappointing," Wesley said with a grin and a not quite casual slide of his hand down Angel's spine.

"Yeah, but sometimes you've got to make sacrifices," Angel said, getting up with a show of reluctance that wasn't entirely feigned.

His grin quickly fading, Wesley slowly slid out of bed and rose to his feet. He scrubbed one hand over his face as he stood, the slump of his shoulders illustrating his weariness.

"Come on," Angel said, reaching out for Wesley's other hand and leading him toward the bathroom.

"Angel, can I...?" When Angel turned toward him, Wesley slid his free hand around the back of Angel's neck and gave him a hard kiss. When he was done, he stepped back and turned toward the bathroom again, shooting him a faint, grateful smile over his shoulder.

They showered together, but managed to keep their hands -- mostly -- to themselves. Angel could see Wesley sinking back into the same state he'd been in before, and he could feel himself losing whatever optimism he'd had. Tricked himself into having. Whichever.

"I'm growing to hate walking out of that door," Wesley said with a sigh, glancing at the door to the hallway as he shrugged back into his shirt.

"Me, too," Angel said. He tucked his shirt into his slacks and fastened them up. "At least we can come back here tonight and know that we can stay." He was actually thinking about going to check on Connor, although he wasn't sure it would be a good idea to admit that to Wesley.

Something subtle in Wesley's posture eased, like Angel had actually said the right thing. "That's certainly something to look forward to."

"They say you've got to have something." Not that Angel hadn't had plenty of years with nothing, and he was thinking that was probably the way life -- or unlife, as Spike would have said, not that he liked that Spike's phrase came to mind -- was supposed to be for him.

"Even if only a frozen dinner and a bottle of wine," Wesley said under his breath as he bent to retrieve his shoes, but Angel could hear the words perfectly clearly. He looked up at Angel again as he pivoted to sit on the bed, untying his shoes in preparation for putting them on. "Being able to come back here is not a small pleasure, not for me."

As Angel continued to get dressed, he thought about that. "It's not for me, either," he said finally. "With you, I mean."

"It certainly is a change for you, having someone with you," Wesley said, regarding him solemnly as he stood up. "I expect you to tell me when you'd rather I slept in another room."

"You're kidding, right?" Angel said.

Wesley's mouth set into a tighter line. "No, I'm not. If you're not honest with me, I don't know how this can possibly work."

Gently, Angel said, "That's not what I meant." He went over and put his arms around Wesley. "I meant, I can't even imagine not wanting you sleeping with me."

His expression softening somewhat, Wesley said, "If for some reason you do, I want you to tell me."

"I will," Angel promised.

"Good," Wesley said, looking seriously into his eyes for a long moment before seeming to accept his answer. "Not that you've had a problem in the past telling me when you've wanted to be left alone, but things are more complicated between us now. I don't want you to feel obligated."

"If I get really crabby, you might want to get away from me," Angel pointed out as they separated and headed for the door.

"I've found that it's when you're irritable that you frequently need people around you the most," Wesley commented mildly. He opened the door and held it so that Angel could go through, a courtly gesture for all that it was obviously unconscious. "But I have more freedom, since it's not my room."

"If you're staying here, it's your room," Angel said. "Although I guess that's not gonna leave much question about what's going on."

Wesley fell into step beside him. "That's an easy enough problem to solve," he said. "I can take another room as my own and leave my things there. Then you would only have to worry about someone knocking on the door in the middle of the night."

"I'm not worried," Angel said, glancing at Wesley. "I thought you were."

Wesley looked momentarily startled. "No. Why would I be?"

Angel shrugged a little bit, pausing at the top of the stairs. "I don't know. I just thought..."

"You just thought what?" Wesley asked, turning toward him. "That I wouldn't want anyone to know? I hardly think my reputation could be damaged by this."

"It's just, you know, awkward," Angel said. "I don't care, but I can see why people would."

"Yes," Wesley said with almost no inflection in his voice. "If it's easier to keep it quiet, we can." He started down the stairs.

Angel reached out and caught Wesley's arm, stopping him, and then pushed him over against the wall, pinning him there with his body. "I don't care," he repeated slowly, with his lips inches from Wesley's. "I'm just trying to figure out what you want. It'd be easier if you'd tell me."

"I..." Wesley looked at him with wide eyes for a second before his expression softened into something warmer. "I don't want to cause you any trouble."

"It's no trouble," Angel said. "Tell me what you want."

Wesley's gaze wavered as he hesitated, but he met Angel's again when he began to speak. "I would like not to have to conceal anything," he said. "I'm not ashamed of this." His lips curled up into a faint smile. "Besides, it would be nice to have one thing in my life that was only marginally complicated instead of horribly complicated."

"Yeah," Angel said, nodding. "Okay. So we don't worry about it, and if anyone doesn't like it that's their problem."

"We can at least hope they're not overly vocal about it." Wesley slowly relaxed between Angel and the wall.

"If they are, we'll just tell them to shut up." It was simple for Angel. He leaned in the last inch and kissed Wesley carefully.

"I suppose that's as good a plan as any," Wesley replied. He blinked a second, like he was a little dazed from the kiss.

"Good." Angel let go of Wesley, little as he wanted to, and put a hand on Wesley's lower back to guide him to start moving down the stairs again. "So we get back to work."

"Yes," Wesley said, the word nearly a sigh. "Some days I envy the people who can take a holiday, but I suppose in some ways we just had one."

"Something's better than nothing." Angel thought about how many times he'd had nothing and couldn't help but feel reassured.

"Most of the time, at least." Wesley's stomach rumbled, and he chuckled softly. "You were right; I guess I am hungry." He glanced at Angel out of the corner of his eye. "You're apparently very good at helping me work up an appetite."

"Well, you go get yourself something to eat, and I'll get back to work," Angel said.

Wesley looked over at him. "Do you need anything?"

"I'll get something later," Angel said.

Much to Angel's surprise, Wesley smiled at his response. "Am I going to have to watch your eating habits like you're watching mine?"

"No," Angel said, smiling back. "Because I can keep going a hell of a lot longer than you can without food. Well, and also because I really will get something later. Just like you would if I didn't remind you." The last comment was an attempt to show Wesley that he had faith in him, which he did.

"Eventually," Wesley replied, still smiling. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, he took a step in the direction of the kitchen. "All right. I won't be long."

"Okay. You know where I'll be." Angel watched Wesley until he went into the kitchen, and then sighed and went back to work.

~ * ~ * ~

Although Wesley was generally very good at keeping his thoughts on track, it was impossible for him not to think about Angel as he entered the kitchen. Part of his distraction had to be due to his fatigue, part of it sprang from the bubbling hope in his heart that he couldn't help but feel, no matter how much he didn't want to, at having heard Angel say that he had feelings - apparently positive ones - for him, and the rest was caused by the immediate and intense sense memory of Angel jerking him off he had the minute he saw the refrigerator.

The raw power in Angel's body had been unquestionable, the way he had held Wesley tightly against him, sucking on his throat and all but forcing his orgasm from him. Just remembering it made Wesley shiver and his heart speed up. Any way Angel touched him was wonderful, but feeling almost entirely at his mercy had added an extra layer of excitement. Having those same hands that had tried to kill him now working his body for their mutual pleasure...

He quickly pushed the thought away, since the ease with which he gave over control to Angel troubled him greatly. He had told himself the previous spring that he never would allow anyone, especially Angel, to have that sort of power over him again, either physical or emotional; he knew far too well how easily kind words and friendship could turn into something hurtful. Yet he was forced to admit that where Angel was involved most of his resolve went out of the window; he wasn't proud of how much he wanted Angel's affection and attention, but nor could he hide from it. It was an undeniable fact.

If he also knew that he deserved the negative as well as the positive, the physical pain that could come from Angel being too enthusiastic and the heartbreak that he would most certainly experience when this interlude was at an end, he wasn't ready to admit it except in the deepest parts of his mind.

The refrigerator was full of the same food as it had been the other times he had opened its door, and he wondered idly if he would have been more enthusiastic to see it before Jasmine's spell was broken. Hadn't the food tasted better when she was near?

Wesley sighed and pulled out a bag of rolls and a container of chicken salad. Seeing no point in dwelling on the past, he focused instead on the problem of Cordelia as he fixed himself a sandwich and poured a glass of juice to go along with it. He leaned against the counter, eating the food without tasting it, and turned over countless scenarios of what had happened to her when she was infected with Jasmine.

It was possible that Cordelia could never have returned from the higher plane, although it seemed unlikely, given that Skip had said that it was really Cordelia but that she wasn't in control. Was she still trapped in her body, unable to do anything? Or, more likely, had she been cast out when Jasmine had been born? Her essence could have been destroyed when Jasmine came forth, although it would take a great deal of magic to obliterate a person completely. Could he perhaps find a spell that would locate her spirit? Perhaps she was at peace, but if her body wasn't dead, could she even be in some sort of heaven? Was she floating around somewhere?

Wesley felt an almost physical click in his mind, and he stared across the kitchen, his sandwich halfway up to his mouth. He needed his books to focus his thoughts, but...

He rushed back to the lobby, his forgotten sandwich still in hand, and skidded to a halt at the edge of the expanse of dismembered books.

Angel was looking up at him from his seat on the floor. "What? What's wrong?"

"I think..." Wesley looked around, trying to locate the proper books or pieces thereof in the rows of volumes. "I have a theory about Cordelia."

"Well, that's good, right?" Angel glanced down at the pile in his lap. "Can I help?"

"Can you magically set all of these books to rights so that I can read them?" Wesley replied. He shook his head, feeling the tightness of frustration settling into his chest. "We should continue sorting papers; there's no point in trying to research when the most important page might still be loose." He focused on Angel for the first time. "But if I'm right I think I can get her back."

The hope in Angel's eyes made Wesley's gut twist. "Really? That's great. I mean... that's really great. Okay. I'll keep working on this, and if you think of anything else I could be doing, just let me know."

Wesley nodded and tried not to let Angel's enthusiasm lower his spirits. There was no question about helping Cordelia, regardless of the fact that it wouldn't end well for him. He had to help her. She had been his friend, and she was Angel's link to the Powers That Be. They couldn't leave her as she was.

Once she was back, of course, Angel would realize this interlude with Wesley was a crutch to help him recover from the backlash of losing Jasmine and would remember what he truly wanted - her. But that was irrelevant. "Don't worry about putting things in order; we'll collate the important books first after we have them all together." He knelt down and reached for a pile of loose sheets, blinking at his sandwich in his hands. He took another bite before setting it aside and getting back to work.

Sorting through the papers with precision took time, but they worked as quickly as possible. Wesley was surprised by how willing Angel was to tackle such a boring and non-physical task, but he was certainly grateful for the help. Even though Angel didn't know the books like Wesley did, he was good at figuring out which pages went with which volumes. Perhaps his photographic memory had something to do with it.

Finally, he looked up at see Angel setting what appeared to be the final loose page on top of its matching book. "I think that's it," Angel said, twisting and looking behind himself as if to double check. "Yeah, I think that's the last of them. Unless there are more somewhere else, or some back at your apartment that we missed."

"Given the mess we left, I suppose it's possible," Wesley said, sitting back on his heels. "Still, this should be enough to get me started, anyway."

"You want to point me at the ones I should start trying to put back in order first?" Angel asked.

Wesley tried to match up his mental catalogue of his library with the piles on the floor. "Let's see... That one and those two for out-of-body experiences and astral projection," he said, pointing. "This one has something about shamans lost in trances, I think, and the three on the left in the far row deal with hauntings. Any of those."

"Okay." Angel got up and collected a few of the books Wesley had pointed out, then went to a clear space of floor and sat down again. "So tell me what you're thinking."

Picking up two piles for himself, Wesley replied, "I think if old books had numbered pages our job would be much easier." He carefully lowered himself to the floor near Angel and set the books down before giving a proper answer. "I can't be certain, but given what Skip had said, if he wasn't lying, and my own observations it seems that as Jasmine grew inside of her Cordelia's spirit or essence was pushed into the farthest corners of her body. There wasn't room for them both, and Jasmine was most certainly in control. In the cataclysm of Jasmine's birth, Cordelia was likely cast out altogether. What I need to do is to find a way to call her back and reunite her with her body."

Angel nodded, although he didn't look up from the book he was looking at. "That makes sense." He lifted his eyes to Wesley's, confusion written all over his face. "I can't read this book."

Wesley chuckled despite himself. "Few of them are in English or any language you know," he admitted, leaning over to see which volume Angel had in his hands. "If you can't read them, set them aside for me."

"Kind of limits how helpful I can be," Angel said. "At least because the print is so different I could match the pages up." He slid the book he'd been holding open over toward Wesley's thigh and picked up the next one.

"You've already been extremely helpful," Wesley said. "This part is more my specialty, I'm afraid."

Angel already seemed to be concentrating on sorting through the pages that belonged in the book in his lap, a frown on his face. "I'll do what I can."

Nodding, Wesley returned his own attention to the first of his piles. The text was a fourteenth century transcription of Old High German and was in such miniscule writing that he could feel a headache forming even before he began to try to read it. "Thank you. I know this is important to you."

"Yeah," Angel said. There was silence for a minute, and then Angel asked, "To you, too?"

"Of course it is," Wesley said, not looking up. "Whatever animosity there might be on her part, it's still Cordelia. She was a very good friend."

"What do you mean, she..." Angel's voice trailed off as he apparently realized what Wesley had meant.

Wesley made no response. It was important for Angel to come to terms with the fact that even if he could get Cordelia back things still wouldn't be easy.

"I think she was just trying to help me," Angel said slowly after a long silence broken only by the rustle of paper. "I wasn't ready to forgive you, and... she was just being loyal."

"She's never had any problem expressing her disagreement." Wesley placed a quarter-page fragment off to the side and returned to sorting the bigger pieces of the book first. He refused to remember how much it had hurt that Cordelia had never even gone to see him to hear his side of the story. Not that it would have mattered, of course.

"She didn't, though, did she," Angel said. He was sorting through pages, not looking up at Wesley as if that made it somehow easier. "She didn't come and tell you what you did was wrong. She didn't go to see you at all."

"I meant with you," Wesley replied, not looking up, either, though he couldn't make sense of the words on the page in front of him. "If she'd disagreed with you, she would have said so. As for seeing me... I'm sure she didn't see any point."

"Oh." Angel seemed unsure what to say next. "I asked her. If she had."

"Did you." Wesley wondered if he was supposed to be in some way comforted by the fact that Angel had, as he had suspected, kept a close watch on the way the others were treating him.

They both continued to work, and then Angel said, "Yeah. I was kind of surprised when she said she hadn't."

"Like you said, she was loyal to you." The realization that Cordelia had been loyal only to Angel had hurt Wesley in some ways more than Angel trying to kill him had; he had thought there had been a true friendship there, that even though she would have picked Angel's side she would have wanted to hear his, as well. It had been a foolish thought. "And the others had been more than clear, of course," he continued, his voice as mild as he could make it. "There was no need for her to come by, as well."

"It sucked for everyone," Angel said, with more than a hint of an edge to his voice.

Wesley wasn't quite sure what to make of Angel's reaction, but he took it as a firm reminder that Angel was the party most hurt by what had happened, apart from Connor. "I know," he said very softly, his head still bent over his text.

Angel didn't say anything after that; just went back to work, concentrating on piecing the book in his lap back together.

Feeling chastened and not nearly numb enough, Wesley stared down at his book and shuffled through its pages. The urge to explain was strong, to point out what he had been trying to do and how deeply he felt the fact that he had gotten things so very wrong, but he didn't see what it would help. Angel had made it clear that he understood his motivations, but that they hadn't mattered to him in the slightest. Wesley couldn't blame him for it.

He realized that he was waiting for an explosion, his shoulders tensing like they had when he had had to sit in his father's study and watch him read over his latest school essay, hoping against hope that his outburst of disapproval and anger might not come. He knew that Angel was going to snap at some point, too, and remember all of the reasons that Wesley wasn't what he really wanted. It was inevitable, but he didn't have to feel like a child while he waited for it.

Wesley set his book down and pushed himself to his feet. "There's a volume here that might help," he said, which wasn't exactly a lie, even if it wasn't the most useful book he had. He didn't wait for Angel's response before picking his way across the floor toward the office.

The feeling of privacy in the office was an illusion, given the large window and open doorway looking out into the lobby, but the distance gave Wesley some room to breathe. He quickly found the book he was looking for and placed it on the desk, skimming through it there instead of taking it back to his seat on the floor.

The doorway darkened, and he looked up to see Angel standing in it, holding a closed book in his hands. "You okay?" Angel asked.

"Yes. Fine," Wesley replied, since the last thing either of them needed was him to start talking about his feelings. "This book has some information about astral projection, mostly hearsay, but there could be something useful."

"You look tense enough to vibrate onto the astral plane," Angel said, which of course didn't do a thing to relax Wesley if that had been his intention. Angel came into the room and stood beside Wesley, looking down at the book and putting an arm around his waist, hand resting on Wesley's far hip.

"Perhaps that will help me find her, then," Wesley said in a weak attempt at humor. Picking up a piece of scrap paper from the desk, he marked his place in his book. It gave him something to do. He could feel his calm facade beginning to crumble with Angel touching him, but he took a deep breath and tried to look unbothered.

Angel moved behind him, hands coming up to massage Wesley's neck and shoulders with a firm touch. "If you need to take a break for a little while, that's okay."

Closing his eyes, Wesley shook his head. "This is important, and the last thing I need is to rest." He knew himself well enough to know that he didn't want to be alone with his thoughts right then.

"Okay. Just don't forget it's an option." Angel seemed content to let it go at that, wrapping both arms around Wesley and holding him, a position reminiscent of the one they'd been in earlier, in the kitchen, when Angel had undone Wesley's trousers and...

Wesley's eyes flew open. It would have been so easy to lean back into Angel and take the comfort he was offering, but he couldn't allow himself the luxury. Not again. It was too easy. He had to remember what he was doing, both in the office and in the relationship. "I should keep working," he said, shutting his book with a snap.

"Right." Angel let go of him and stepped back, picking up the book that he'd set down on the desk. "I think this one's okay. You want to check it out?"

Wesley took the book and carefully thumbed through it. It was extremely delicate, but it was readable. He didn't have to fake his smile when he looked back up at Angel. "Thank you. This looks perfect."

"Good. I'll go get back to work." Angel patted Wesley's hip before starting to walk toward the door.

"I'd better join you if I want to have any chance of catching up," Wesley said as he followed Angel. He didn't want to think about how easily the intimacy that Angel was showing him smoothed the rough edges of his unhappiness, but the need to be away from him had vanished.

Angel folded himself back down into the spot he'd been sitting in before and picked up another book that appeared at casual glance to be considerably more damaged than the one he'd already put back together. "I'm just the grunt here," Angel said. "Tell me what to do and I'll do it."

"That could suggest all sorts of interesting possibilities," Wesley commented dryly. He placed the book he was holding on the counter so that it was out of the way and went back to join Angel. "But repairing these books is the first priority."

"Would it sound bad if I admitted I'm afraid some of these might not even be the right pages?" Angel asked, and Wesley looked up in mild alarm. "No, no, it's fine," Angel said. waving his hand. "I think they're okay. I just meant... you know. It's one of those things."

"I know this isn't your usual sort of task, but you're doing very well," Wesley assured him.

Angel grimaced and continued to work, frowning as he looked from the page he was holding to the book in his lap.

Focusing back on his own book, Wesley wondered with the small part of his mind not taken up with matching pages what Angel found so difficult about the process of putting the books back together. The work was tedious and at points frustrating, especially when the fragments of sentences he was trying to match were so complicated that even when they were put together properly they didn't make obvious sense, but reassembling the books was the easy part. Figuring out what they meant and how they could use them to help Cordelia would be more difficult. He hoped that Angel's apparent faith in him wasn't misplaced; he would have to be even more careful than he normally would.

Wesley glanced over at Angel and saw him grimacing again - or maybe still - at his work. "It's all right if you'd rather do something else. You only offered to help me carry my things here."

"Do I look that miserable?" Angel asked, glancing up at him and grinning faintly. "I'm not. It's fine."

"If you're certain. I'd hate to cause you any suffering." Wesley realized immediately what a slip of the tongue that was, given the suffering he had caused, and he looked at Angel helplessly for a moment before bending his head back over his book. He cleared his throat. "Anyway. Stop when you've had enough."

"Right," Angel said. Wesley didn't look up, but he assumed by the silence that Angel had gone back to work.

Concentrating on more important matters, Wesley returned to piecing together his book. Some of the pages were in such tatters that they were nearly unreadable, but he'd puzzled through more difficult manuscripts in the past. He set the finished book aside and picked up a new one, catching a glimpse of Angel still at work out of the corner of his eye.

Some time later, Angel stretched, cracking his knuckles as he set another finished book between them. "My eyes are starting to cross," he said ruefully.

Wesley re-read the beginning of the page in his hand to confirm that it didn't seem to belong to the section on wraiths, despite the notation beneath the wood-block picture, and then looked over at Angel. "Take a break," he said. "Or stop altogether." He tried to gauge the fatigue in Angel's face, but it was hard to decide if he was physically tired or just tired of the work.

"I think I'm just going to go get some blood," Angel said, getting up slowly and stretching again. "You want anything from the kitchen?"

"Apart from a proper cup of tea, which I'm sure we don't have the makings for, no," Wesley said, tilting his neck to the side and feeling it crack. "But thank you."

"Okay." Angel went off to the kitchen while Wesley continued to work. He could hear the sound of the refrigerator opening and closing as well as the microwave; he let the sounds wash over him, rather soothing in their familiarity, until he was too busy to notice they'd faded.

He jumped when Angel's leg appeared in his peripheral vision. "Sorry," Angel said, as Wesley looked up and saw that he was holding a bottle of juice. "I thought maybe you could use this."

"Oh." Setting aside the section he was working on, Wesley reached up for the bottle. "That's thoughtful of you."

"It's just juice," Angel said, as if he were in the habit of thinking of other people's needs.

Wesley raised an eyebrow. "And how often do you drink juice?"

"Well, it's not like I'd bring you out a mug full of blood," Angel said reasonably.

Although he managed not to make a face, Wesley couldn't help his shudder. "As much as I'm sure I would have been touched by the thought, I think the juice was a wiser choice."

"I'd hope so," Angel said. He was smiling. "Okay. I was thinking..."

Still looking up at him, Wesley twisted off the cap on the bottle and took a sip of the cranberry-apple juice. "What about?"

Whatever good mood Angel had been toying with, if that had even been genuine, seemed to have disappeared. He was standing, looking down at his hands. "About... going to check on Connor."

Given the strength of Angel's reaction when Wesley had suggested such a thing after seeing Connor the last time, Wesley tried to keep his attitude neutral. "And what were you thinking about it?" he asked.

"That I should do it?" Angel glanced up at him and then shrugged. "I want to see if he's still there. If he's okay."

Wesley nodded. "I think that's a good idea." If anyone had a chance of containing Connor, it was Angel. On the other hand, he mused, if anyone had a chance of setting Connor off, it was also Angel.

"I'm not going to try to talk to him or anything," Angel argued, as if Wesley had protested the idea. Then he stopped and blinked. "Wait. What?"

"I think it's a good idea," Wesley repeated with a faint smile. "An excellent one, really. And if the opportunity presents itself I see no reason why you shouldn't talk to him. He needs you."

"He doesn't need me," Angel said. "But he needs someone to keep an eye on him, and there isn't anyone else right now."

"Angel..." Wesley put his juice down and sat back so that he could see Angel's face better. "He's feeling hurt and lost and alone. You're his father. You love him. Of course he needs you."

"You saw the way he looks at me." Angel's eyes were distant. "He doesn't want anything to do with me, and I can't say I blame him. But that doesn't mean I'm going to just forget about him."

"I do see the way he looks at you," Wesley replied firmly. "He may think he wants to be left alone, but I'm far from certain that's what he actually wants. It certainly isn't what he needs." He paused and said more softly, "And you need him, too."

Angel tucked his hands into his pockets. "Some parent I am."

His own part in Angel's unhappiness pressed on Wesley's heart, but there was nothing he could do about it. "You've done extremely well, given the very difficult circumstances."

"Very well?" Angel echoed, looking at Wesley in disbelief. "Yeah, I guess if 'psychotically homicidal' fits under the definition of 'very well.'"

Wesley stood, hoping that being at eye level would help to get his point across. "Almost all of the horrors he has faced have been entirely beyond your control. You're not responsible for his current state of mind."

"Are you telling me you don't think that if he'd grown up in some normal family somewhere he'd be getting ready to go to college now?" Angel didn't sound convinced.

Wesley pulled himself up straighter, growing grim. Angel might have deserved much of his guilt, but he didn't deserve this part. "If he'd been raised in a normal family, if he'd been raised here - by you - he'd still be in nappies, but ultimately my answer is yes. You didn't make him who he is today. Having seen how easily he accepted Jasmine, I'm convinced he wants the love you're offering him; he just doesn't know how to take it."

"I don't know how to give it to him," Angel said. He looked worried, upset; actually emotional, instead of as if he were pushing the feelings away.

"You've always given it to him," Wesley said, reaching out slowly to touch Angel's arm so that he could indicate if he didn't want the contact. "From the first moment he was born you did. Even before. He just needs to learn to trust it."

Angel was still for a moment. Then, unexpectedly, he moved; pulled Wesley in tight against him, burying his face between Wesley's neck and shoulder and inhaling deeply. "Thanks," Angel said roughly.

Tentatively pleased by the reaction, Wesley put his arms around Angel as well. "I've never known anyone who has loved his child more than you," he said. "Connor will figure that out for himself, if you stick by him."

He didn't have any way of knowing if that got through to Angel. The vampire tightened his arms briefly, then stepped back, grabbing his coat from the sofa. "I'm gonna go. I'll be back in a while."

"All right. Be careful," Wesley said, letting his arms drop. He knew that there was nothing else he could do.

"I will be," Angel said. "Aren't I always?" It wasn't a question he left time to answer.

As Wesley watched him walk toward the basement door, he wondered idly if Angel would have come to his senses about him by the time they saw each other again. Given the time he would have to think and the possibility that he would return with Connor beside him, he could very well realize what he actually did have... and who he didn't need.

It wasn't a happy thought, but there was nothing Wesley could do about it. He wasn't about to start to feel sorry for himself. Instead he took a seat on the floor, his body mildly protesting the position, and went back to work. He would help Angel as much as possible while he was able and face the rest when it came.

Chapter Text

Being underground and alone gave Angel time to think. Not that he hadn't been able to do that before, but piecing those books together had taken up a certain amount of his brain, and now that he didn't have anything else to do but walk, he could return to the endless circles that never actually got him anywhere closer to the solution that he didn't believe existed anyway.

It was nice of Wesley to try to make him feel better about Connor and the mess his life had turned into, but it didn't change anything. Angel hadn't given up on Connor, not yet, but he was so close to giving up on being able to be a part of Connor's life that it wasn't even funny.

Not that it would have been. Some phrases really made you scratch your head and go 'huh?'

He almost missed the turn he needed to take. It was hard to tell, sometimes, from underneath, exactly where he was in the city until he was there. Especially when he wasn't paying all that much attention.

Angel came up in the building next to the one where Connor had been squatting. The sun was low enough that he was able to cross between the buildings without any trouble. As soon as he was inside, he could smell the faint hint of Connor in the air, but it was even fainter now, and it didn't take a genius to figure out that it was because Connor wasn't there.

Still, Angel wasn't able to resist the urge to go into the room Connor had created for himself and check it out. He would have liked to stay longer -- to sit down where Connor had sat, to think a little bit more -- but he knew that he shouldn't. Wesley needed help with the books, and that was important.

It wasn't until he'd gone a few hundred feet in the sewer that he realized he was being followed, and by whom.

Angel slowed down, and the almost silent steps behind him slowed as well.

He stopped, and the world underneath the streets went quiet except for the trickling sounds of water and the faint skitter of animals. "I know you're there," Angel said, without turning.

There was a pause and then a soft exhalation, but Connor didn't speak.

"If you don't want to talk, that's okay," Angel said. He did turn around, then; he couldn't help it. He could see Connor's outline, dark edges that were just slightly blacker than everything around him. "But if you don't, I wonder why you're following me in the first place."

"Maybe I wanted to make sure you weren't following me," Connor replied. His voice was quiet, but he took a step toward Angel into marginally lighter shadows.

"Well, the part where you were behind me could have clued you in," Angel said. He stayed where he was. "Are you okay?" He knew he shouldn't ask it, but he couldn't not.

"I'm not going to kill anyone," Connor said with a sigh. "You don't have to worry about that."

"I wasn't," Angel said. It was only a white lie. "I was worried about you."

Connor looked at him, his expression unreadable in the darkness. "I'm not going to kill me, either. What's the point?"

Angel wished he knew what to say. "Look... I know you're upset right now. I get that. But... I just want you to know... I love you, Connor. I care about what happens to you."

"Yeah," Connor said with a brittle laugh. "As long as what I want doesn't get in your way."

"What do you want?" Angel asked helplessly.

"I already lost it." Connor shook his head, his fine hair drifting into his eyes. "But you'd say I never had it. That it was all a lie."

"It was a lie," Angel said. "But that doesn't mean I didn't like it, too. I did."

Connor crossed his arms over his chest and leaned one shoulder against the damp sewer wall. "Yeah, but you didn't lose anything when you ended it. You're still a champion. You've still got your friends and your mission and your billowing coat."

"You're wrong," Angel said. "I did lose something. I lost a lot, actually. At least, it was something that meant a lot to me. Peace."

"Then how do you think I feel?" Connor asked, dropping his arms to his sides in a movement filled with frustration. "I lost that and everything else."

Angel didn't want to argue with him. "I know. I know you did. But you can get some of it back. It doesn't have to be like this."

Connor's laughter was entirely devoid of humor, and he took a couple of lazy steps forward. "Yeah, because the rest of my life has been so great so far."

"It's not too late to make it better," Angel said determinedly, unable to stop himself from taking a step toward Connor.

Tensing, Connor watched him warily, but he didn't back away. "You're fooling yourself."

"No, I'm not. I'll do whatever you need." Angel stayed still, telling himself firmly not to move any closer.

"There's nothing you can do," Connor told him. "I'm not like them." He swept his hand upward to indicate the people on the streets above. "I can't just go back to my normal life. I don't have one."

"Normal's a lot less common than you might think," Angel said. "But that doesn't mean you couldn't be happy."

Connor rolled his eyes. "What do you know about being happy?"

"I know it's something I want for you," Angel said simply. He thought that there had to be a way to get through to Connor, but damned if he could figure out what the hell it was.

"Yeah, you want it so much you took it away the second I had it." Surprisingly, Connor didn't sound angry or empty anymore. He sounded sad. "I know. It was a lie. Jasmine lied. Holtz lied. You're supposed to be this great champion, but you didn't even protect your own son. You're just a lie, too." But he didn't turn away, instead looking fully into Angel's face like he was daring him to prove that he wasn't.

"I made a mistake," Angel said, trying not to think about how the mistake had been trusting Wesley because that was just too complicated and horrible to wrap his brain around. "I'm not perfect. You're right -- it was my job to protect you, and I failed. But if you give me a second chance, I won't fail again. I promise."

There was naked longing in Connor's eyes for a moment, and Angel dared to hope that he had said the right thing. Then in a flash the longing was gone, and suspicion bloomed in its place. "How do I know you're not just saying all this to get me to come back with you? I'm not stupid; I know you're mad about Cordy and Jasmine and the store."

"I'm not mad!" Angel's protest was a little bit too loud to be convincing. He lowered his voice. "I'm not mad. I'm not saying I'm happy that it happened, but it's done. And I'm not trying to get you to come back with me."

"And then what?" Connor asked. "You make me turn myself in?" He shook his head. "That might've worked for Faith, but I won't do it."

Angel shook his head. "I knew where you were last night," he pointed out. "If I'd wanted to turn you in, I could have. If I thought that was the best thing for you, I wouldn't have just left yesterday."

"What do you think is the best thing for me, then?" Connor asked, narrowing his eyes as he watched Angel.

"I don't know," Angel said. "Just taking some time, maybe. Take it easy, you know? Catch up on your sleep?" They were lame suggestions, and he knew it. "Oh. I guess you mean long term." He grinned a little bit, nervously, and shrugged. "I still don't know. Whatever you want."

Connor stared at him, obviously unimpressed. "Thanks. That's inspirational," he drawled.

"Hey, I'm doing the best I can here," Angel said. "What about you? What do you want?"

"What do I want?" Connor's expression grew distant as he considered the question. "I want to stop feeling this way," he said finally, his eyes sad as they met Angel's again.

"God, Connor... I want you to be happy. I do." Angel took another step toward him.

Connor didn't move. "You're not allowed to be happy," he said. "Maybe I'm not, either. Maybe that's my destiny."

"I'm just not allowed to be too happy," Angel said. "I'll do what I can to help you figure it out -- what you want, and how to get it. If you stick around."

"There's nowhere to go," Connor said. He sounded defeated. "It's not like I'd fit in anywhere. I'm not like other people." His mouth twisted into a bitter smile at the last phrase.

"Yeah. I know what that's like." Angel knew he shouldn't say the next words, but he did anyway. "Come back to the hotel with me. I won't... you can just stay there. I won't try to tell you what to do, or anything."

"What about everyone else?" Connor asked. "They're not going to be happy about me being there."

"Actually... it's pretty much just me and Wesley now. His place got looted, so he's staying at the hotel, but... Lorne and Fred are getting their own places." Angel shrugged. "It's kind of a long story."

Connor frowned slightly. "Because of Jasmine?"

"No?" Angel said, mirroring the frown. "I don't know, sort of. Yeah, I guess." He didn't really know which answer was right.

"This is so fucked up," Connor said, his shoulders slumping. "So they're moving out, and Wes doesn't care?"

"Wes doesn't care that they're moving out? Or if you come to stay?" Angel asked. "He cares about you, too, you know. He'd rather have you at the hotel than be worried about if you're okay or not."

"Yeah, I'm sure." Connor looked down as he pushed at some gravel with the toe of his shoe, then squared his shoulders and met Angel's eyes again. "How's Cordy?" he asked, braced as if he expected an argument.

Angel felt like he'd been kicked. "The same," he said. "Fred and Gunn are making sure she's being, you know... taken care of. And Wesley's trying to figure out a way to help her."

Connor's mouth twisted into a grimace of distaste. "Do you think he will? The Angelus thing went so well."

"It worked out in the end," Angel said. "Wasn't his fault it didn't go as smoothly as it could have."

Connor lifted one shoulder in a faint shrug and said, "And you think he can help Cordy?"

"Yeah," Angel said. "Yeah, I do. If anyone can, it's him."

Focusing back on the ground, Connor didn't reply for a long moment. His voice was flat when he finally said, "I'm sure you'll be happy to get her back."

"Well, yeah," Angel said, confused. "Because having her awake's a lot better than having... oh." He got it. "Look, Connor... I care about Cordelia. A lot. But I don't... I mean, she and I aren't... see, I used to..." He had to stop and get his bearings. "Wesley and I are..."

"All you and Wesley are thinking about right now is getting her back, I know," Connor said. He kicked at a loose bit of brickwork, slowly wiggling it out of its place. "But when she's okay - when it's really her - it'll be how things were before I ever came back." His voice dropped to a mutter, but Angel had no problem understanding him. "She said it was real, but it was all a lie, too."

"We don't even know if that was her," Angel said, cringing as he remembered watching the two of them together. He didn't know if he should try to explain the Wesley thing or not. He decided to go with, "It won't be the way things were before you came back. Things have changed."

"She was in love with you," Connor said, like that meant everything.

"She might not be now," Angel said. That was easier than worrying about whether or not she actually had been. "I still care about her. I care about a lot of people. Well, okay, maybe not a lot."

"And they care about you." It was almost an accusation. "Don't you even see how lucky you are?"

Angel didn't say anything for almost a minute. Not because he couldn't think of anything to say, but because everything he could think of sounded like it would come out different from how he'd meant it. "You're right," he said finally. "I am. You could be, too. I care about you, and so does Wesley. We want to help."

Connor's eyes were piercing as they met Angel's again. "Why would you, after what I've done to both of you?" he demanded.

"Because we understand," Angel said simply, hoping it would be enough.

Connor didn't speak, didn't even move, but the barely contained anger that seemed constantly to be in him slowly drained from his expression. He was left looking unhappy, needy, and as young as he truly was. Finally he drew in a halting breath and said softly, "I don't understand. I don't understand a lot of it, Dad."

Angel's breath would have caught in his throat if he'd had any. He wanted to go to Connor, but he didn't let himself. "I know. But it's gonna be okay. Honest."

"I don't know how," Connor said quietly, but he was looking at Angel like he just might have the answer.

"Come back to the hotel with me," Angel urged. "Are you hungry? There's a ton of food there."

"I guess." Connor shrugged one shoulder. "I haven't really been thinking about eating."

"We could go back and see how Wesley's doing with the research," Angel said. He felt kind of guilty about having left it for Wesley to take care of, even though he knew Wesley was much better at it than he was. "You could have something to eat. We could talk about what to do next."

It took long enough for Connor to answer that Angel was almost certain he was going to refuse, but when Connor spoke he simply said, "Okay."

Angel tried not to get too excited. "Good! I mean... good."

"You're sure it's not going to be too weird for me to be there?" Connor asked.

"I kind of think everything's weird right now," Angel admitted. "But not too weird, no." He smiled a little bit, hoping to coax a similar expression out of Connor.

It seemed to work, since the corner of Connor's mouth turned up and his posture relaxed even further. "Okay," he said again. "I'll go." He smiled a bit more. "At least for dinner."

"Good," Angel waited while Connor walked toward him, and then turned and started walking, too. "And... you know, if you wanted to stay for a while, that would be good, too. You could have as much privacy as you wanted. It's a big place."

"I'll... see how it goes," Connor said. At least it wasn't a definite refusal.

Angel glanced sideways at him. "How are you doing? I mean... are you hurt?"

"I'm okay. I tried to bandage myself, but I didn't really have the supplies," Connor admitted.

"I could look at it for you when we get back," Angel said. Their shoes made splashing sounds as they walked through a puddle of water. "Or I'm sure Wesley would. If you didn't want..."

"I'd rather have you do it," Connor said quickly. He glanced over at Angel and explained, "I nearly killed him."

"So did I," Angel said, remembering. It made him feel a little bit sick to think about it -- the way Wesley's throat had felt in his hands, the surge of vicious revenge that had taken control of him. He shrugged it off, trying to get back to the moment he was actually in. "But he still patches me up when I get hurt."

"Huh. You kind of have to wonder what's wrong with him if he doesn't seem to mind people trying to kill him," Connor said, peering back over his shoulder at the tunnel behind them.

"It's not that he doesn't mind. I think... I don't know, maybe he just doesn't hold a grudge?" That sounded unbelievably stupid out loud.

"Huh," Connor said again. "I guess he's done stuff to both of us, too." He watched Angel out of the corner of his eye. "You don't hold grudges, either?"

Angel choked back a startled laugh. "I wouldn't say that."

"You're letting Wesley stay with you," Connor pointed out. "And me."

"Believe me, that doesn't have anything to do with not holding grudges," Angel said. He shrugged. "Well, okay, maybe a little. But it's mostly that I know what it's like to make a mistake and have to pay for it."

A little furrow appeared between Connor's eyebrows, and he looked troubled, as far as Angel could guess. "So you're being nice, but you're still angry?"

"No, it's not that. It's just... I can only be angry for so long. Then it just starts to hurt."

"Yeah." Connor's shoulders hunched a bit as he nodded.

Angel wondered hopefully if that meant Connor wouldn't be mad at him forever. They continued to walk, and Angel's thoughts turned to what Wesley would think when he turned up at the hotel with Connor in tow. Seemed like he'd have mixed feelings about it, at least.

"Does it ever stop hurting?" Connor asked after a while.

"I don't know," Angel said honestly. "I mean... I've got a lot more to deal with than you ever will, I hope. So I don't think it's crazy to think that it might stop. And I'll do whatever I can to help with that."

Connor shot him a ghost of a grin, and Angel couldn't help but remember the happiness in Connor's eyes that had been directed toward him when they were under Jasmine's spell. "I hear drinking's good."

"Yeah, but then there's that whole hangover thing to deal with," Angel said dryly.

"Only if you stop," Connor replied, but then he sighed. "This is where you tell me that this is great for building character, right?"

"It probably is," Angel said, tilting his head and half watching Connor out of the corner of his eye. "Only I'm not sure anyone needs that much character, you know?"

"Yeah," was Connor's quiet reply. His shoulders hunched a bit more, like he was drawing into himself.

Tentatively, poised to pull back immediately at the first hint of rejection, Angel reached out and touched Connor's shoulder. "It'll be okay," he said.

Connor tensed like he was startled by Angel's touch, but he didn't jerk away. "You keep saying that," he said, not looking over at him. "With everything you've seen, do you really believe it?"

"Yeah," Angel said. "I have to. I have to act like it is. Or else what's the point?" It was maybe more than he should have said, but it was the truth.

"Yeah, I guess you can't really be a Champion if you don't think things can be better," Connor said. He didn't sound any less troubled.

"I can make things better," Angel said, with more confidence that he felt. "We can. It's not always easy, but we'll figure it out."

"I'm beginning to think every time things get better they're just going to get worse again," Connor muttered.

Angel nodded. "Sometimes it seems that way. Maybe we just have to concentrate on enjoying the good times while we can."

"I did," Connor said. "Although maybe not open mic night."

"You didn't like that?" Angel asked, hurt.

Connor looked over at him quickly. "Are you kidding? I liked most of it at the time, but did you hear that folk singer?"

"Oh," Angel said. "I thought you meant -- well, yeah. That was pretty bad." He'd liked it at the time, actually, but now he could see it differently.

"But, you know..." Connor glanced back down at the ground in front of them. "The rest was kind of fun."

"Yeah," Angel said. He smiled a little bit, remembering. "Yeah, it was."

They reached the ladder that led up into the basement of the Hyperion, and Connor paused at its base. "It's only Wesley up there?" he asked Angel.

"Yeah, as far as I know." Angel looked at Connor carefully. "I can go up from the basement first, if you want."

Connor took a step back, uncertainty flashing across his face. "Yeah. That would be good."

"Hey," Angel said, not moving because he wasn't sure how spooked Connor was. "It's gonna be okay. Come on up to the basement and then I'll go up and check."

Taking a deep breath, Connor nodded. "I just... It's going to be hard enough being there as it is, you know? Being where she was, where we were all..." His eyes were focused on the tunnel beyond Angel, like he was contemplating running, though he wasn't tensed to move.

"I know. But it's gonna be okay." Angel kept his voice gentle, soothing. "And... if this is too much for today, that's okay, too." Not that he wanted to let Connor out of his sight now that he had him in it again, but maybe the idea of it would be comforting.

"It's okay. I'll go," Connor said after a brief hesitation.

Angel looked at him for a few more moments, then nodded. "Okay." They went up into the basement, and Connor hung around at the foot of the stairs while Angel went up and opened the door. The hotel was strangely quiet. "Wes?" There was no answer, and no sign of him. Frowning, Angel called back down the stairs to Connor, "Place seems empty."

Connor walked slowly up the stairs and blinked as he took in the remnants of books spread across the lobby floor. "Are you turning this place into a library?"

"No... research. Well, that was part of it, anyway. Wes' place got looted, so we brought what he wanted to salvage back here." Angel listened, but still didn't hear anything. "Wesley?" he called again.

Tipping his head, Connor appeared to be listening for an answer. "It doesn't sound like he's here. Maybe there was a case?"

"Maybe," Angel said. "He could have called me." He patted his pockets for his cell phone until he remembered that it was in pieces. "Or not."

"I'm sure he'll be back," Connor said with a shrug.

"Yeah," Angel said, looking around to see if anything would clue him in on where Wesley had gone.

Everything looked pretty much like it had before; most of the books were still in piles on the floor, Wesley's bags were off to the side where they had left them, and even the half-finished bottle of juice Angel had brought him was beside where Wesley had been sitting. Connor wandered over to the reception counter, idly looking at the books there. He frowned as he picked up a loose piece of paper. "Why would he go to Wolfram & Hart?" he asked.

"What?" Angel asked. "Why do you think he went there?"

"'Angel,'" Connor read from the paper, "'I've gone to Wolfram & Hart. I'd have tried to ring you, but your mobile isn't exactly up to receiving calls at the moment.'" He chuckled. "Like you even remember to turn it on when it is." His grin faded, though, as he looked back at the page. "Oh. 'I may have found something to help Cordelia. I'll ring you here if I do. Wesley.'" His face blank, he held out the note to Angel.

Angel went over and took the paper from him, scanning it quickly before looking at Connor again. "Well, that's good," he said carefully. "Right?"

"I guess," Connor said. "But why would he go to Wolfram & Hart? I mean, the building's pretty much a ruin."

"No, actually, it's been fixed up," Angel said. "And that's where... well, Fred and Gunn and Lorne are working there. Trying to, you know, change things from the inside." Or something like that. "That's where Cordelia is."

Connor gaped at him, eyes wide, and Angel thought he had a pretty good idea of his shock, given that he'd experienced it a couple of days before, himself. "You're kidding. You sent Cordy to Wolfram & Hart?"

Angel shook his head. "Not exactly. More like we sent her to Fred and Gunn. They can do more for her than a regular hospital could."

"It looks like Wesley thinks he can do even more than they can."

"He probably can, knowing Wes," Angel said, too busy thinking to pay much attention. "Come on; let's get you patched up and something to eat, and then I'll head over there and see what he's up to."

"I want to go, too."

"Okay." It was easier to agree than argue, and it wasn't like Angel really wanted to let Connor out of his sight anyway. "Sit down and I'll find the first aid kit."

Connor picked his way through the piles of books toward the couch, moving with the easy grace of his that sometimes reminded Angel so strongly of Darla. The heavy slump onto the cushions, though, was probably all teenager, unless hunger and pain were taking a toll Connor was hiding in his face. "Are there any of those roast beef sandwiches left?" Connor asked, picking at the seam of the cushions.

Grabbing the first aid kit, Angel skirted the border of the area where the books where laid out and went to join Connor. He set the kit down on the couch, but didn't sit. He wasn't sure where Connor was hurt, exactly, and it seemed weird to suggest that he take off his shirt, even though he'd obviously have to. "Do you want to, um..." Angel gestured vaguely.

"Oh." Looking down, Connor slowly unbuttoned his shirt, revealing makeshift cloth bandages crusted with dried blood at his shoulder and upper arm. As the material fell away, a bandage low on his side also came into view.

There was something disturbing about seeing Connor hurt like that, but Angel pushed it aside and sat down, finding some antiseptic wipes and reaching slowly to unwind the bandage on Connor's upper arm. It was less bloodstained than the other one, so it would probably be easier to deal with. "Tell me if I hurt you," he said.

"I don't think you'll have much choice, unless you don't do anything to them," Connor said as Angel bared a long, fairly deep gouge along his bicep where a bullet had grazed him. The wound looked painful, but at least there was no bullet to dig out.

"Okay, yeah. Well, tell me if it's too bad." Angel ripped open one of the wipe packets and unfolded the wipe, then started to dab carefully at the edges of the wound, cleaning off dried blood while trying not to get any of the antiseptic into the wound yet.

"It's funny that cleaning wounds hurts worse than getting them," Connor commented, tensing but not otherwise moving under Angel's touch. He didn't sound at all amused.

"And it takes so much longer, too." Angel finished cleaning around the wound and actually started wiping gently at the ragged edges of the tear itself, concentrating on the places that looked dirtier.

Connor sucked in a sharp breath and held it for a few seconds before slowly exhaling. "Yeah. Something's not right about that." He looked down at his arm, impassively studying the wound. "At least it's stopped bleeding."

Angel nodded. "You heal fast," he said. "Maybe not as fast as you'd like to, but faster than most people." The words hung heavy in the air as he took out a fresh antiseptic wipe and went back to work.

"Because I'm not human." Connor's voice was soft and hollow.

"You're better than human," Angel said, just as softly, but with what he hoped was more warmth. "You're special. You shouldn't forget that."

To Angel's surprise, Connor turned his head away, although the movement wasn't fast enough to hide the pain on his face. "That's what Cordy said."

Angel ached with the need to put his hand on Connor's head, to try to comfort his son. He knew chances were good Connor wouldn't accept it from him. "She was right," he said, his hand gentling on Connor's arm from supportive to what he hoped would be at least a little bit soothing without going overboard. "You are. Nothing's gonna change that."

Still not looking at Angel, Connor gave a little shake of his head. "I'm just different," he said with a distinct edge of bitterness.

"That, too," Angel agreed. "But it doesn't make you any less special. The world needs you, Connor. You can make things better for people."

"I already did that, remember?" Connor asked, the bitterness even stronger.

Angel put a hand on Connor's knee and waited until he looked at him. "I know it's hard," he said. "But you can't give up."

Connor's shoulders slumped. "I'm not like you," he said. "I'm not a champion. It doesn't matter what I do."

"That's not true." Angel raised his voice a little bit, sharpening it to make his point. "It does matter. It's important. You have to believe that."

"Why? Why do I have to believe that?" Connor met Angel's eyes gravely. "I'm not like you. Why don't you see that?"

Angel's heart sank, but he did his best to stay focused. "Even if you aren't like me, it still matters what you do."

"Why?" Connor asked in almost a whisper, searching Angel's face like the answer was his last hope.

"Because that's the only thing that matters," Angel said softly, meeting Connor's gaze and hoping that something in his eyes would convince him. "It's all we can do. It's all important."

Connor was silent for a long moment, just reading Angel's face, and then he subtly relaxed. "I guess... I guess what we do is all there is. If we don't have some great destiny, what we do is who we are." He still looked unhappy, his face drawn, but he seemed calmer somehow.

"It's going to be okay," Angel said. "You'll see." He went back to cleaning the wound on Connor's arm, then found some gauze pads and started to wrap it up again.

"You keep saying that," Connor said mildly. "Did you get it out of some parenting book or something?"

Angel glanced up at him. "I don't remember," he said, sticking on some tape and smoothing it down. "I mean, if it came from a book. But I believe it." He had to.

Connor blinked. "I was joking. You actually read books?"

"Of course I read books." Angel frowned and started working at the blood-stiff bandages on Connor's shoulder. "I had to learn all that stuff. How to give baths, and when to start solid foods..." He trailed off, remembering.

"Huh." Connor sounded surprised, and his expression grew thoughtful, a faint crease appearing between his eyebrows. He barely winced as Angel peeled the bandage away from his wound, though it must have hurt as the scabs pulled away from his skin. A bullet had pierced the flesh of Connor's shoulder, and Angel was relieved to find an exit wound on the other side. Both were red and crusted with dried blood, but at least they looked clean, there was no bullet to be dug out, and Connor was still able to use his arm.

"I don't know how you bandaged this on your own," Angel muttered, getting out some fresh antiseptic wipes and starting to clean the exit side of the wound.

"It wasn't easy," Connor admitted, tensing as the medicine touched him. "But I was bleeding everywhere. I didn't have much choice."

"You could have come to me," Angel said, keeping his voice as light as possible so that it wouldn't sound like an accusation. Working carefully, he added, "You always can. You know that, right?"

Connor winced as Angel cleaned the raw edges of the wound. "We don't really work like that. I know we did with Jasmine, but now..." He shook his head.

Angel held himself together with determination, focusing on Connor's shoulder. "We could, though. If you wanted to."

There was another long silence from Connor before he asked, "You can just forget about everything else?"

He thought about that before answering. "Not forget," he said. "But let it go, maybe. It's not what's important."

"What is?" Connor's words were hesitant, but his eyes were fixed on Angel's face.

"Trying to do the right thing," Angel said. He put a hand on Connor's other shoulder and pulled gently. "Here, turn a little bit, like... yeah." Starting to clean the entry side of the wound, he added, "Helping people."

"Oh." His voice flat, Connor looked across the room. "Right."

Softly, without stopping what he was doing, Angel said, "I love you, Connor. Nothing can change that."

"Nothing's gonna change what's most important to you, either," Connor replied curtly.

"What's that?" Angel asked.

"You just told me," Connor said. He was growing more tense beneath Angel's hands, like he was about to push himself off of the couch. "Helping people. Doing the right thing."

"Helping you," Angel said. "You're the most important thing to me."

Connor gave an impatient little shake of his head. "That's not what you just said. You said it was helping people. Other people." He shook his head again and pulled his shoulder out of Angel's grasp. He flinched like the movement hurt, but he didn't stop. "It doesn't matter. I don't need help." He reached over for the first aid kit.

Quickly, Angel slid it out of his reach and caught his wrist. "You're the most important thing to me. That other stuff -- I was talking about the way things are when the people I care about are okay. And you're more important to me than anyone."

"You say that now," Connor said, "but what happens when Cordy's okay? What happens when you have to save the world again? I know what you'll do." He stayed where he was, not pulling his arm away, but he gave the first aid kit an assessing look. "It's okay; I can patch myself up."

"I want to do it," Angel said. He had a sudden, strong wish, not for the first time, that Connor was a baby again, that he could hold him and make everything okay with nothing more than a bottle and a clean diaper. "Let me?"

Connor's jaw worked for a tense moment, but he nodded.

Gently, Angel finished cleaning the wound, and then he started to wrap it up again with fresh bandages. "I'm always thinking about you," he said. "Even when there are other people who need help, or there's the world to save. I'm sorry that I couldn't let things stay the way they were. I liked them like that, too."

"I know," Connor said quietly, sitting still as Angel worked. "I just want... I don't know."

"Things to be easier?" Angel suggested.

"Yeah." Connor paused and then said, "I mean, the apocalypse stuff doesn't bother me - it's kind of fun - but the other stuff. The personal stuff. I'd like that to be easier."

"Me, too." Angel couldn't resist a small smile as he glanced up at Connor. "Maybe it will get better?"

The corner of Connor's mouth twitched in the barest hint of a grin. "That's what you keep telling me. And you're old, so you should know."

"That's right," Angel said lightly, fastening the bandage and letting his hands drop down into his lap. "Very old. Lots of experience. You should listen to me."

Connor flexed his shoulder experimentally. "Yeah, but you're not really the best example."

"Hey! I resent that," Angel said, making it clear by his tone that he wasn't serious. "Here, stand up for a minute." Connor did, and Angel carefully peeled off the bandage on his side, wincing as it fell away to reveal another deep furrow in the flesh that matched the one on Connor's arm as well as extensive bruising radiating outward. Gently, he pressed on the bruised area with his thumb, gauging Connor's wince. "Probably cracked a rib," Angel said.

Connor looked faintly embarrassed as he glanced up at Angel. "It wasn't one of my best fights."

"You were pretty outnumbered," Angel said mildly, poking around a little bit more until he was pretty sure the rib was cracked and not broken, and then getting out some more wipes and starting to clean off the dried blood.

"And I didn't have a gun," Connor pointed out. His hand clenched into a fist and then relaxed at his side. "Though that's probably good."

"Probably." Although bombs had been bad enough, and Connor was enough of a weapon with nothing but his hands. "You're lucky it wasn't worse."

"How hurt I am or what I did?" Connor asked.

"How hurt you are," Angel said, glancing up at Connor's face. "They could have killed you."

"Yeah." Connor met Angel's eyes and said, "I almost let them." His tone was jarringly calm for such a horrible thought.

Angel did his best not to react too strongly to that, even though he wanted to. "I'm glad you didn't."

"I don't want to die like that," Connor said, not looking away. "I want a fight. Not guns, not magic. Something real."

Angel's chest was tight with the memory of something Buffy had said to him. He tried to put it into other words, words that might mean something to Connor. "If you want something real, then you have to keep living. It's hard, but you have to."

"I'm... trying," Connor said gravely. "I'm here. I'm not running away."

"I know. You're doing great. Really. I'm... maybe it doesn't mean much, coming from me, but I'm proud of you." Angel went back to cleaning the wound on Connor's side, not wanting to see the look on his face.

Connor's voice was low when he replied after a pause long enough to make Angel wish he hadn't spoken at all. "It means a lot."

The flood of relief and joy was so strong that Angel's hands faltered. "Yeah?"

"Yeah, Dad."

Angel didn't look up. In fact, he had to close his eyes for a second to get control of himself. "Thanks," he said, getting some fresh gauze pads and putting them gently over the wound. "That's... thanks."

Out of the corner of his eye, Angel could see Connor studying him, his head tilted. "You care what I think of you?" Connor asked.

"Of course I care," Angel said, holding the gauze where it was and looking up at Connor. "You're my son."

Connor's brow furrowed. "That doesn't mean you care about what I think, my opinions."

"Yeah," Angel said. "It does." It was that simple.

His eyes wide, Connor searched Angel's face. "I thought you just wanted me to do what you said. I didn't think you..."

Angel waited, but Connor didn't finish whatever it was he'd been about to say. "What?" Angel prompted gently. "You didn't think what?"

Connor ducked his head and said, "I didn't think you cared about me. You know, as more than a child who was supposed to be dutiful and honor you." The phrase sounded unnatural on Connor's lips, like he'd heard the words many times from someone else.

He needed to be taping the bandage he was holding onto Connor's wound, but Angel couldn't look away. It seemed too important that Connor know he was serious. "I do care about you. And I care what you think of me. I do."

With wonder and confusion in his voice, Connor looked up and said, "I didn't know."

"How could you not?" Angel asked, just as confused as Connor sounded.

"My fa-" Connor stopped himself and cleared his throat, looking kind of uncomfortable. "I didn't grow up like that. You're... different. I didn't get how much."

"Yeah. Well." Angel forced his attention back to the bandage and taped it onto Connor's side, being careful when he pressed down because those bruises had to hurt. The knowledge that it was still instinct for Connor to refer to Holtz as his father hurt, too, but he couldn't do anything about that except hope that sooner or later it would go away. He was struck, suddenly and strongly, with the need to see Wesley. Being with Wesley made him feel less hurt, more secure. It reminded him that he wasn't alone in this, and right then he found himself needing that reminder.

"Did you want to get something to eat?" he asked, picking up Connor's shirt and handing it to him. He wondered if he was obsessed with food for some reason, but he remembered Connor saying something about sandwiches. "I don't know about roast beef, but there's still plenty of food."

"Yeah, that'd be good," Connor said, quickly buttoning up his shirt. He all but bounced to his feet despite his wounds. "And then we can go see Cordy?"

"Sure," Angel said, following Connor toward the kitchen as he wondered what Wesley had come up with and if he was doing anything yet. He hoped Wesley had enough sense to wait if it was something dangerous.

When Connor opened the refrigerator, he immediately began pulling out food, unlike Wesley who had shown little enthusiasm for what was inside. "Wow. There's a lot of good stuff left," he said. He put a platter of sandwiches and a plastic container full of some sort of pasta dish on the counter, and next to them he placed a tray of pastries and a bottle of juice. He poked through the contents of the refrigerator a bit more, but he apparently didn't find anything else that he wanted to eat. Or maybe this was just his first course.

Angel looked around, spotted some chairs on the other side of the kitchen, and went to get one. The first one he picked up was broken, but the second seemed fine, so he brought it back over to where Connor was already taking a huge bite from a sandwich and set it down. "Here, sit."

"Mmmphs," was Connor's muffled response as he sat. He chewed some more, swallowed, and said, "Thanks." He immediately took another large bite, like he was starving.

Watching, amused, as Connor ate, Angel leaned against the counter and didn't say anything. The boy -- young man, really -- ate two sandwiches, washing them down with the juice, before slowing.

Connor set down the empty bottle and gave Angel a sheepish smile. "Sorry. Guess I was hungry." He pried the lid off of the container of pasta and stabbed a piece of penne with a fork. "Am hungry," he corrected himself. The bite he took of the pasta salad was more leisurely than how he had devoured the sandwiches.

"Looks like you haven't eaten in days," Angel said.

"I wasn't really thinking about food," Connor admitted. "But now that I am..." He took another bite.

"Just don't make yourself sick." Angel shifted positions and watched Connor.

Connor shook his head as though Angel was speaking nonsense and kept eating. He had slowed down enough that he wasn't shoveling the food into his mouth, but when he finished the pasta he immediately reached for the tray of desserts. "It's too bad you don't eat these," Connor said as he selected some sort of sugar-dusted pastry. "They're really good. More for me." He looked over at the refrigerator. "Is there any milk?"

"Probably." Angel straightened up and went over to the refrigerator to check. "Yeah." He took the container out and looked at it, frowning. "I don't know how to tell if it's old. Doesn't milk go bad? Eventually, I mean?"

"How does it smell?" Connor asked around a mouthful of pastry.

Angel stared at Connor blankly for a few long seconds, trying to figure out what the hell the question meant. Then he blinked, took off the cap, and smelled the milk, then shrugged helplessly. "I guess it's okay," he said, taking the container to Connor and offering it to him to double-check.

"You'd know if it wasn't." Connor didn't bother to sniff for himself before taking a long swig. Then he polished off the pastry in two more big bites, grabbed another one, and stood up. "Okay," he said, still chewing. "Let's go."

Angel blinked at the shift in conversation, but straightened and nodded. "Okay, good." They started out of the kitchen.

"And, uh, thanks," Connor said, walking beside him. "For the food and the..." He waved his hand at his torso to indicate the bandages.

"No problem," Angel said. "Um, I mean... you know. Any time."

"I'm kind of hoping not to get shot again," Connor replied. "But I'm pretty fond of eating."

"I can tell," Angel said as they headed for the front doors. "How's the shoulder feel? Okay?"

Connor moved his arm as though testing the joint. "Yeah, it's all right. I can move it better with your bandage."

"I've got a lot of practice," Angel said. "Too much, probably. Plus it's easier to put a bandage on someone else than yourself." They went out through the front doors and headed toward the street.

"Where's your car?" Connor asked.

"Um... yeah," Angel said. "That's kind of a long story that ends with me saying I'm not exactly sure." He'd half forgotten that they'd left it, but now he made a mental note to go back and try to find it once things had settled down again. "How do you feel about walking? Or we could get a cab. That would probably be quicker."

"Whatever," Connor said with a shrug. "Fast is good. Do you think there even are cabs?"

Angel looked around as they reached the edge of the sidewalk. "Oh, right. Good point."

Everything still looked kind of like the aftermath of a horror movie. It was weird how he kept forgetting that. "So. Walking?"

Connor looked dubiously down the nearly deserted street. "Do you know how to hotwire a car?"

"No," Angel said, but it felt wrong. "Well, okay, yeah, but we're not going to."

"It'd be faster than walking," Connor said. "Or running."

"It would also be stealing," Angel pointed out. "Which I wouldn't have any problem with if it was a real emergency, but I don't think this is." He hoped.

His shoulders slumping just a bit, Connor stuffed his hands in the front pockets of his jeans. "Fine."

"Look, if you're too tired, or, you know, sore, you could just stay here at the hotel. I'll go and see what Wes is up to and come back later on." Angel didn't think Connor would agree to that, but it was worth a shot.

"What?" Connor's head snapped around toward him. "No. I'm not going to stay. I want to know what's going on. That's why I want to get there fast."

Angel sighed and looked around until he spotted a car that seemed clearly abandoned over across the street. The door was open on the passenger side, and looked like it had been for some time, but it had four good tires. If it would start, they'd be in business. "Okay, so we'll take that one," he said, gesturing. "But we're not stealing it. We're just borrowing it."

Connor face lit up with an enormous grin. "Whatever you say." He bounded across the street toward it.

Following a bit more slowly, Angel told himself that the car had probably been there at least thirty-six hours and that whoever owned it probably didn't have any idea where it was. By the time he got behind the wheel, Connor was already in the passenger seat.

"Give me a second," Angel muttered, reaching under the dashboard for the wires and hoping the battery wasn't dead.

"Okay," Connor said, bending over to watch what Angel was doing.

It didn't take long to find the right wires and get the car started, but it felt like a long time with Connor watching him. Angel sighed with relief as the engine rumbled to life, straightening up. "Seat belt," he said, putting the car into gear and pulling away from the curb.

Connor was looking speculatively at the wires hanging beneath the steering wheel, and it took him a moment before he said, "Huh? Oh." He reached over his shoulder and fastened the belt into place.

"No," Angel said, "I'm not going to teach you how to hotwire a car."

"But it could be really useful," Connor said, a hint of a pout in his voice. "Like in emergencies."

"No," Angel said. He immediately reconsidered. "Well, maybe."

Connor's smile was large enough to be visible out of the corner of Angel's eye. "It could save lives," Connor said, obviously trying to school his expression into something less eager. "And then I can learn how to drive..."

"Great," Angel muttered, not quietly enough so that Connor wouldn't be able to hear him. He was doing his best to hide his joy over the fact that Connor still had the ability to sound and act like a regular kid and not just one that had been through hell and back.

"Cool." Connor looked over at him and smiled.

Angel didn't point out any of the things that would get in Connor's way, like the fact that he didn't have a birth certificate that proved he was... however old he was. Wesley could probably take care of that, eventually. "But no stealing cars," he reiterated.

Connor gave a dutiful nod. "Only in emergencies."

They'd have to talk about what constituted an emergency. Another thought occurred to Angel. "If we see any cops or anything, you'd better duck down."

If Angel had been looking for a way to wipe the enthusiasm from Connor's face, he would have hit the jackpot. Slumping down some in his seat, Connor said, "They're still looking for me, aren't they."

"Probably," Angel agreed, reaching over and patting Connor's shoulder. "Try not to worry about it. We'll figure something out."

Connor stared out of the front window and didn't reply for a few long moments. "I don't want to make things harder," he finally said quietly. "Maybe I shouldn't stay."

Angel found himself speaking through clenched teeth. "No. I want you to stay. Do you hear me?"

"Yes." The word was barely a whisper, and Connor bowed his head. "I'm sorry, Dad."

"It's okay." Angel put his hand on the back of Connor's neck, cupping the base of his skull reassuringly. "It's okay. I'm going to take care of this. Don't worry about it."

A little tremor went through Connor, so subtle that Angel wouldn't have noticed it if he hadn't been touching him. "Okay."

~ * ~ * ~

One of the benefits of having to cast a spell in an evil, multi-dimensional law firm, Wesley thought, was that he didn't have to worry about bringing the supplies he needed; they already had everything. So when he found a two unrelated spells that he thought might work for Cordelia some time after Angel had gone to look for Connor, he had only had to make a phone call to Fred, relaying the information and asking her to do whatever was needed to get in touch with Angel, before he gathered up the pieces of the books he needed and left.

The first spell was fairly simple. It was originally designed for the caregivers for mystics who were fighting a war on the astral plane to be able to ascertain whether or not the mystic's spirit was still tethered to its body. It was remarkably straightforward. In fact, it took longer for him to convince Fred and Lorne that he didn't have time for another tour and for their employees to gather the appropriate components than it did for him actually to cast the spell.

After he ascertained that the items were indeed what he had asked for, Wesley drew a precise circle in blue sand on the floor at the foot of Cordelia's bed and stepped inside. Fred handed him the three herbs he needed, and he crushed them carefully with a mortar and pestle before adding a pinch of silver powder. He transferred the mixture into a small earthen cup. Ignoring the aches of his body, he lowered himself into a cross-legged sitting position and held up the cup for Fred to pour boiling water into it. Then he raised it to his nose, recited the brief incantation, and inhaled deeply.

The steam burned his nose and throat as he drew it into his lungs, and he immediately began to feel dizzy. Steeling himself, he kept breathing as deeply and slowly as he could. After a minute, he had to close his eyes, since the vapors were making them water, and when he did he found that he could still see the room. More specifically, he could see the outline of the objects and people in the room, like they had been traced by a charcoal pencil. There was Fred, hovering to his left with her hands clasped. Lorne sat in the chair next to Cordelia's hospital bed. He knew without turning that Gunn was leaning beside the door behind him, his arms crossed. All of their lines were dark and complete against the pale grey canvas of the vision.

Cordelia was also there, lying so very still upon the mattress. Her lines were silver, though, almost glowing in the flat light. They were also thin, and some of them were incomplete. She was beautiful to behold compared with the others, but she was obviously also dwindling. Wesley's chest ached with that realization.

He drew in another deep breath and felt the room spin around him. He knew that he wouldn't be able to keep the spell going for much longer. Although the edges of his mind were going fuzzy with the effects of the potion, he managed to recite the second part of the incantation, and he nearly dropped the cup as a bright flash cut through the gloom. Suddenly he could see a tendril of electric blue light reaching upwards from Cordelia's chest. It pulsed as he watched, but it looked precariously thin, like a spider's thread so delicate it would blow away in a strong wind.

The dizziness was almost unbearable, and he was having trouble keeping his balance, even while seated. He took one last breath and then murmured the phrase to break the spell. The room shifted around him, snapping back into focus, and he listed sideways. He got an arm out in time to keep from falling over and carefully set the magically empty cup on the floor.

"Well," he said, and then had to stop for a series of heaving coughs.

When Wesley looked up again, Angel was standing in the doorway with Connor just behind him. Angel's brow was furrowed, but he stayed where he was. As Wesley coughed a few more times he noticed that Gunn had stepped away from the wall and was watching Connor suspiciously.

"Fred called before, so we came to help," Angel said, to everyone. And then, just to Wesley, "You okay?"

Wesley was pleased to see that Connor looked to be in one piece and not obviously homicidal and even more pleased that Angel also seemed to be well, but he couldn't think much more about either of them right then. Time was running short. Instead he climbed to his feet and nodded to Fred as she gestured with a dustpan and brush.

"I'm fine," he said as Fred began to sweep away the remains of the ritual circle. "Cordelia, however, is not. Her link to her spirit is not severed, but it is quite weak. We have to work quickly." He crossed to the little table on which his books were sitting and began to search for the second spell.

"Come in," he heard Angel say, presumably to Connor, in a tone of voice that dared anyone else in the room to comment. Angel moved closer to Wesley. "Okay. Tell me what to do."

His fingers not slowing as he flipped through the loose pages of the book, Wesley said, "Fred will get us the supplies we need, but we'll need something that has been touching Cordelia's skin. Perhaps a piece of jewelry." He kept his eyes on the text so that he didn't have to look over at Angel. "She'd probably be most comfortable with you being the one who removed it from her."

He saw Connor make a little movement out of the corner of his eye, but the boy kept quiet.

"Okay," Angel said. He moved over to where Cordelia was. Wesley concentrated on the book, not wanting to watch Angel touch her, and after half a minute or so, Angel was back, pressing a small silver ring into Wesley's hand. Angel's thumb brushed against the thin skin of Wesley's wrist, lingering there, the vampire's body blocking anyone else's view of the contact. "There," Angel said. "What else?"

"Thank you." Wesley closed his fingers around the ring but couldn't quite bring himself to pull away from Angel's touch. "I can do the rest, myself. I just have to make a list for Fred." He coughed again, trying to get rid of the last low burn deep in his lungs.

"Yeah, well, maybe you should sit down while you're doing it." Angel moved away briefly and came back with a chair. "Here."

"I'm fine," Wesley said, but he gave Angel what he hoped was a grateful smile as he sat.

"How long will this part take?" Gunn asked, glancing at his watch. "'Cause I've got work that needs to be done, and I could come back for the finish if you don't need me for the spell."

"I won't need you," Wesley told him. "It will be at least a half hour, depending on how long gathering the components takes."

"Probably about five minutes," Fred said helpfully.

Wesley blinked; he had no idea Wolfram & Hart was quite so efficient. "Well, perhaps less than a half hour, then."

“Why don't you call for me," Gunn said. He glanced over at Connor. "Unless Junior here's going to get upset again."

"I won't," Connor muttered. He didn't look away from Cordelia's still form.

"He won't," Angel said to Gunn. "And I need to talk to you at some point, too. After this is all over. Okay?"

"Sure," Gunn said. "No problem." He left the room after another glance in Connor's direction, but the boy -- young man, Wesley corrected himself -- was quiet and unobtrusive.

"Is everything all right?" Wesley asked Angel.

"Yeah," Angel said, exchanging a look with Connor and patting Wesley's shoulder. "Yeah, everything's fine."

"Good." Wesley couldn't quite smile. Between the effects of the previous spell, the surprising fact that Angel kept touching him in front of the others, and the knowledge that having Connor - and likely Cordelia - back would change what Angel wanted, Wesley felt rather unsettled

"Let me go get a piece of paper for you," Fred said, leaving the room. "I've only got my new palm thingy, and I haven't figured out the graffiti yet."

Lorne went over to Cordelia and patted her hand. "See, cupcake? We'll have you back in no time."

Wesley smoothed the pages flat and hoped that Lorne was right.

Fred came back with a piece of paper, and Wesley transcribed a careful list of the components he needed for the spell. Once Fred had gone off to find them, Angel touched Wesley's shoulder again, lingeringly, and asked, "What else can I do? Do you need anything? A glass of water?"

There was an empty pitcher on the tiny table next to Cordelia's bed, and Lorne picked it up. "I'll get some," he offered. "Back in two shakes."

Without anything else he could do until Fred returned, Wesley had no reason not to look up at Angel. So he did, meeting Angel's eyes and steeling himself for whatever he might find in them. "I'm afraid there isn't much you can do," he said. "The spell is designed for a single caster."

"Okay." Angel slid his hand up along Wesley's neck and cupped his face gently. "You can do this, you know."

Wesley couldn't help but glance over at Connor, who was watching them with a frown. He looked back at Angel, not quite sure what would be best for him to do. He didn't want to pull away from the reassurance while it was being offered, but he didn't want to make things more difficult, either. In the end, he stood up, letting Angel move his hand as he chose. "If it doesn't work, I'll keep looking," he said. Or he'd be lost on another plane somewhere, but he hoped that his abilities were strong enough that it wasn't a real possibility.

Angel did let his hand drop to his side, but he looked at least slightly regretful about doing so. "We'll keep looking," Angel said. He glanced over at Connor. "Right?"

The young man blinked in surprise, clearly not expecting to be included in the conversation. "Um... right. I mean... can I do anything?"

"Not right now," Wesley said, trying to sound encouraging, "but thank you." He turned his attention back to Angel. "I'm hopeful that this spell will work. It was originally used to call shamans who had gotten lost in the dream world back to their own bodies."

Angel frowned. "What was that other thing you were doing when we got here?"

"It was to see if she was still there at all." Wesley was quick to add, "Which she is, although only just. Jasmine must have expelled her from her body when she was born, if not before, but Cordelia wouldn't let go that easily."

"Yeah... she's pretty stubborn." It was Connor who spoke, although Wesley was certain that Angel was thinking the same thing.

Glancing over at her, Wesley couldn't stop his mouth from turning up into a faint smile. "I've never met anyone more so."

"Here's your water," Lorne said as he came back into the room. "Hey, did you know we've got a juice bar?" He placed the pitcher back on the table beside Cordelia.

"Yeah," Angel said, his voice sounding strangely flat. "All the comforts of home."

"I'm sure they've got blood for those of us not needing a shot of ginko and some extra vitamin C," Lorne added in a way that Wesley assumed was supposed to be helpful. "You wouldn't believe what they can get around here. I could go ask."

Angel shook his head. "No." He didn't say anything else, leaving Wesley to wonder if he felt that they were already taking too much from Wolfram & Hart.

"Are you sure?" Lorne asked. "Because I could -- "

"No," Angel said again, rather sharply. He glanced at Lorne. "Sorry. I'm good."

"Good and grumpy, it looks like," Lorne said. He picked up the pitcher of water again but paused before he could pour some into a glass. "I was going to say you're the boss, but I guess you aren't anymore." He frowned, like the thought had just occurred to him.

Wesley glanced over his shoulder toward the door, hoping that Fred would return quickly with the items on his list so that they could put off that conversation for a little while longer. "We should probably move the chairs, if you want to stay in here while I do the spell," he said. "There can't be anyone around Cordelia, and it will be important that you stay very still. Sitting will make that easier."

"Okay," Angel said. "Where do you want them? Back against the wall over here?" He pointed, and Wesley nodded. Angel slid one chair toward Connor, who placed it against the wall and held his hand out for the other chair as well. "Now tell us what's going to happen when you're doing this... so we know what to expect."

"Well," Wesley said, glancing down at the page, "there are some candles and incense, I drink a potion full of ingredients I really don't want to think about too closely, and then I sit down, probably on the floor again, since the potion will likely make me quite dizzy. Then I go into a sort of semi-trance state." He gave Angel an apologetic smile. "I doubt it will be very interesting to watch, but at the end, if all goes well, Cordelia will wake up."

"What if it doesn't go well?" Angel asked. "What kinds of things might happen?"

Wesley cleared his throat and fought the urge to look away. "Cordelia's state should remain unchanged," he answered honestly.

"And?" Angel said.

"And there is a very slight possibility that I might have a violent seizure and/or have my spirit cast out onto the dream plane," Wesley told him, since he wasn't going to lie. "But it's very slight. I feel it's worth the risk."

Angel looked considerably less than pleased. "If that happens, what do we do? Have someone else cast the same spell to get you back?"

"I'm sure we've got people here who could do that," Lorne said, taking a seat in one of the chairs. "Though they might not be too happy about the seizure part."

"It's not that simple," Wesley said, not looking away from Angel. "I won't be tethered to my body like Cordelia is. The spell I'm using wouldn't work. I'm not sure of one that would."

"So we could be trading you for Cordelia," Angel said. "Or we could lose you both."

"Every spell has consequences," Wesley reminded him. "We're running out of time. This is our best option."

Angel looked at him for what felt like a very long time before giving a quick nod of his head. "Okay. But be careful."

Although he couldn't quite smile, Wesley felt a little rush of happiness that Angel trusted him to make the decision. Not that Angel had much choice. "I will," he said in what he hoped was a reassuring manner.

"Oh, good." Lorne took a sip of his water like he wished it were something stronger. "I thought for a minute there I was going to have to take Junior out for a smoothie so he didn't have to see Mom and Pop argue."

Connor looked annoyed when Wesley glanced in his direction to see his reaction to that comment, but the young man didn't say anything. Wesley wished for some privacy in which to talk to Angel, to ask questions about what had happened with Connor, but there wasn't time, a fact that was emphasized by Fred walking back into the room with a heaping armful of the things he'd needed.

"I'm pretty sure I've got everything," Fred said, as Wesley moved to help her.

They quickly laid out the items - candles, incense, packets of powders, vials of liquids, a little bundle of twigs, a jar of murky green sludge, an earthenware cup, a small knife, and a surprisingly mundane white plastic cutting board.

"Thank you, Fred." Wesley double-checked the spell to make sure he hadn't missed anything. He hadn't. "That was very quick."

"You should see their store rooms," Fred said with a little bounce. "I mean our store rooms. Maybe we can give you a tour afterwards. You know, just in case you need something some other time."

While Wesley could certainly see the appeal of having such resources available to him, it was hardly the time to discuss what sort of working relationship they could all have when half of them had gone to work for an evil organization. "Thank you," he said again instead, and he began to arrange the components into their proper order.

"How do you want the candles arranged?" Lorne asked, coming over. "I know how important mood lighting is when you're working the mojo."

Wesley referred to his text, although he was certain he remembered the spell properly; it didn't hurt to be careful, not when doing something wrong could mean that Cordelia could slip away while they tried to find another way to help her. "One on each side of her head - on the tables beside the bed will do - and one at her feet. Then we'll need a row of three behind me." He pointed to a spot on the floor by the end of Cordelia's bed. "I'll sit there. The chairs should be beyond the candles."

Without being asked, Connor began to move the chairs into the position.

Angel was standing to one side, clearly trying not to be in the way. His arms were crossed over his chest, and he looked rather worried, but he wasn't saying anything, which of course made it difficult to know what he was thinking.

"I don't think the spell itself will take all that long to cast," Wesley told him in the hope that it would allay whatever was bothering him.

"Good," Angel said.

Wesley told himself not to take Angel's curtness personally, and he turned back to the table. He began to open the vials one at a time, breathing through his mouth to avoid the smells rising from some of them. "At least you won't have to wait to know if it works. She ought to open her eyes almost immediately if it does."

"Yeah, well, as far as I'm concerned, I won't know it worked until you're both okay," Angel said. "You're sure there's nothing I can do?" He cleared his throat. "We can do?"

"For the spell? Apart from lighting the candles and incense, all any of you can do is keep still so that I don't lose my concentration." Wesley gave into the urge to touch Angel, laying his hand on his arm for just a second and holding his gaze. "We'll both be fine, but if something happens you can place the blame on my shoulders and nowhere else. I'm willing to take the risk."

Very softly, Angel said, "I'm not happy about risking you, but I don't see any other options. So just be careful." Before Wesley could acknowledge any of that, Angel moved over near the chairs and pointed to one of them. Connor sat down in it without comment.

"I think I'm just going to wait outside," Fred said, with a strained smile. "I wouldn't want to be a distraction, and what if my new phone went off or something?" She started to turn, but immediately turned back again. "But I'll be right out there. So let me know if anything happens, okay?"

"If you'd make sure that we're not interrupted?" Wesley said.

Fred nodded. "Sure thing."

"I think I'll wait out there, too," Lorne said, half-tiptoeing to the door. "This stuff gives me the heebies. And it makes my ears itch."

Apparently deciding that if the others were leaving he might as well use the other chair, Angel sat down. The door closed, leaving Wesley, Angel, and Connor with the silently sleeping Cordelia. "You okay to stay?" Angel asked Connor.

The young man nodded. "Yeah. I'll be quiet, I promise."

Wesley surveyed the room, making sure that everything was where it was supposed to be. "All right," he said, taking a deep breath. "I'm going to light the candles and incense, and then I'll begin the spell. Do you have any other questions, or shall I start?"

Angel and Connor looked at each other. "Yeah, go ahead," Angel said. "I mean, I could ask questions for the next two hours, probably, but... yeah."

"You can always ask them sometime later, if you'd like," Wesley replied, but a smile wouldn't form on his lips no matter how light his tone. He wasn't worried about himself, but he was worried about doing it right... and what would change if he did.

Fighting back the nerves rising with the feeling that he was performing with an audience, he used a long match to light the candles around the room and wondered as he got the earthy incense smoking whether there was a sprinkler system. He hoped it was inactive.

When the candles were lit, he spared one last glance at Angel, who was watching him with an unreadable expression, and then set to preparing the potion. He tried not to think about what he was going to have to drink; while powdered quartz and ancient dried mushrooms weren't high on his list of things to try they sounded positively appetizing next to the blood of a white mouse. So he focused on getting the ingredients prepared in the right order, rather than what they were. In reality, it wasn't important. He would do what he had to do.

It took about ten minutes to prepare the potion, and it smelled even worse than he could have imagined when it was complete, sort of sour and woodsy with a distinct undertone of minerals. He held it carefully as he sat on the floor, Connor and Angel sitting behind him with the preternatural stillness that apparently ran in the family, and faced Cordelia's bed.

Squaring his shoulders, he drank. The potion was vile and threatened to make him gag, but he swallowed it down quickly and set the cup on the floor beside him. He sat and waited, breathing slowly in and out. About two minutes later, he began to wonder how long it would take for it to work when the room tilted about forty-five degrees to the right. Or was that to the left? The world wobbled back the other way, and he decided that it didn't matter.

He felt rather like he was drunk - or high - which he supposed made sense, given that shamans regularly used mushrooms and other ingredients to help them to achieve their dream states. It wasn't unpleasant, just strange. He was floating just off of the floor, though when he looked down his legs were still there. Maybe only his head was floating.

Whatever part of him it was, he drifted toward Cordelia and reached out to touch her. His hands went right through her body, but then he found something solid to hold onto. He pulled on it, but nothing moved, so he just hung onto it. The world was spinning, but Cordelia was his anchor.

It was difficult to focus on what he was supposed to do, but Wesley tried to remember. Something about drawing her back. He couldn't see her back, and he frowned as he wondered how he was supposed to draw it when he didn't have a pen. Oh, right. Now he remembered.

Clinging to the part of Cordelia that was still left in her body, he tried to project his thoughts out to her about things in the world that were worth her returning to enjoy. He tried to picture lots of shoes, handbags, and fancy clothes. Movie stars. Nice restaurants.

The Cordelia he held - a sphere, smooth and cool like marble - pulsed in his hands and grew just a bit. Encouraged, he imagined Brad Pitt in a tuxedo showing up at her doorstep, and the sphere trembled, almost like it was laughing.

Still, he knew that wasn't what Cordelia truly wanted. He imagined the people she could help, the good that she had done before. He pictured her fighting demons with a sword in her hand, like the fierce warrior for good she had become. The spirit sphere grew again, much larger, like a beach ball in his grasp, but it still wasn't big enough.

Wesley took a deep breath, tried to cut off his emotions entirely, and sent her thoughts of Angel. Angel fighting, Angel brooding, Angel with the huge, unguarded, goofy smile he so rarely got. Angel by her side, turning that smile on her when she opened her eyes.

The sphere burst, and Wesley went flying backwards like he had been hit by an explosion. He flew for miles, days, the world going grey enough that he began to despair that he'd failed again. He hadn't saved Cordelia. He hadn't saved Angel. He'd failed. Despair threatened to overwhelm him.

Then suddenly he hit something soft - his body - and something hard - the floor. His ears ringing and his stomach churning, he lay panting for breath on the cold floor of the room and tried to remember how to make his eyelids work.

There was movement and sound, but Wesley was unable to sort any of it into something meaningful until he felt Angel's hand on the side of his head. With great effort, he forced his eyes open and met Angel's worried ones. "Easy," Angel said, his other hand coming to rest lightly on Wesley's chest. "It's okay. Don't try to move yet." Angel glanced over his shoulder toward the bed. "Connor?"

"I think it worked," Connor said.

"I'm all right," Wesley told Angel, although the weak sound of his own voice made his head throb alarmingly. "Go ahead."

"Her eyelids are fluttering," Connor said. "Like she's waking up."

"Good," Angel said. He turned his attention back to Wesley, the hand on the side of Wesley's face gentle. "Can you sit up? We could get you into one of those chairs."

The remnants of whatever he had drunk were still making Wesley queasy, and he wondered if Angel's actions would make more sense if he didn't have it in his system, muddling his thoughts. "As long as I don't move too quickly, I should be fine," he said, not having the strength to argue.

Angel said something to Connor that was lost in a wave of dizziness, and then Angel was helping Wesley up, moving slowly, and somehow he was beside the bed with a chair underneath him, clutching at the cool metal frame. On the bed, Cordelia stirred, her eyes opening for a fraction of a second before closing again.

"Cordy?" Angel said, touching her hand. "Cordelia?"

She made a small sound and moved slightly. "Angel?" she breathed.

Angel grinned. "Yeah. It's okay."

"Oh, good." Her eyes still closed, she smiled faintly. "I was having this really nice dream about Brad Pitt, but he went away. What is it with men?"

Wesley's worry that he might throw up at any second faded as he sagged back against the chair, his relief so sharp it felt like his chest was going to burst. It had worked. She was back. She might never forgive him for the past, but at least he had brought her back.

"Just take it easy." Angel looked from Cordelia to Wesley. "You, too," he said warningly. "Don't even think about getting out of that chair, you hear me?"

"I'm fine, Angel." The concern warmed Wesley in a way that he didn't quite like, but he was grateful for it, nonetheless.

"Wesley?" Cordelia asked, tilting her head toward him. He was pleased to see that a bit more color was coming back into her cheeks.

"Yes, I'm here," Wesley said. "So is Connor, and Fred, Gunn, and Lorne are right outside the door."

"Should I let them in?" Connor asked.

"No," Cordelia said, before either Wesley or Angel could answer. "In a minute, okay?" She brought a hand up and pressed it to her forehead. "God, what happened? It's all... fuzzy."

"That's probably good," Angel said, taking her hand and holding it between both of his. "Let it be fuzzy for a while. We'll fill you in when you're feeling better."

"Why do I get the feeling I don't really want to know?" Cordelia asked as she studied Angel's face.

Connor looked down, and Wesley couldn't help but feel some sympathy for him.

"I'll tell you everything later, okay? I promise." Angel glanced at Wesley. "Should we get someone in here to check her out? A nurse or something?"

"Hey, before people start sticking me with needles," Cordelia interjected, "can I be really clichéd and at least ask where I am?" She sounded so much like her former self that Wesley found himself smiling despite his headache.

"Connor, go out and tell Fred that it worked and that we need a nurse in here, okay?" Angel didn't wait for a response, and as Connor turned toward the door, he told Cordelia. "I'm going to be clichéd, too, and say it's a really long story how you got here, but... you're in the medical wing of Wolfram & Hart." Cordelia drew breath to speak, and Angel quickly hurried on. "Remember, long story. But you're okay now, and you don't have to stay. We'll get you out as soon as someone who knows what they're doing gives you the all clear."

"Yeah, well, I hope that's sooner rather than later," Cordelia grumbled.

"We all do," Wesley assured her. He heard a squeal from Fred outside and then the low murmur of voices.

"Okay." Cordelia's hand tightened on Angel's. "I'm really trusting you guys on this one."

"I know," Angel said. "And it'll be okay. We're not going to leave you here. Right, Wes?"

"Of course not. We'll take you back to the hotel as soon as we can," Wesley said. "How do you feel?"

Cordelia rubbed at her temple with her free hand, frowning at the heart-rate monitor and IV attached to it. "Tired, and my brain's kind of fuzzy. But I'm okay. Better every minute, actually, like I'm waking up from a really bad dream."

Wesley experienced another little rush of relief, this time accompanied by a wave of nausea, turning his smile into a grimace before it was even born.

"Might be better just to think about it that way," Angel was saying, but he must have turned to glance at Wesley, because then he said, "Wes?"

"I'm all right." Wesley breathed in slowly through his nose, closing his eyes against the glare of the room and the concern on Angel's face. "Apparently my choice of beverage doesn't agree with me."

"Okay, does somebody want to tell me what you're talking about?" Cordelia asked.

"He did a spell to get you back," Angel said, looking worried. "Where the hell's that nurse?"

The door opened at precisely that moment and a nurse bustled in, fussing over Cordelia, checking her vitals and then having her sit up and listening to her lungs. It was rather a blur. Wesley was aware that the others had come back into the room and were standing over near the wall, but he kept his eyes closed.

"Everything seems all right," the nurse said finally. "I would recommend keeping you here another day for observation, but then - "

"No," Cordelia said.

"But - " the nurse began.

"Nuh uh. No way. I'm not staying at Wolfram & Hart."

"It's okay, Cordy," Fred said. "We work here now. We're not evil anymore."

"You what?" Cordelia asked, and then there was a cacophony of voices as the others tried to explain. Finally Cordelia snapped, "That's enough!" There was a second of blessed silence, broken only by the throbbing of Wesley's headache. "Angel? Do you work here?"

Angel must have been startled by the question, if his hesitation in answering was any indication. "No," he said finally, and it was only then that Wesley realized Angel had moved over beside him.
"What about Wesley?" she demanded.

A hand settled at the back of Wesley's neck and squeezed reassuringly. "No," Angel said.

"Okay, then we're out of here." Cordelia sounded determined, and all of them but the nurse knew what that meant. "Um, except for the part where I need some clothes. Please tell me I was actually wearing some when I came in here?"

"I'll get them for you," the nurse said, heading for the door.

Wesley carefully opened his eyes and surveyed the room. Fred stood on the other side of Cordelia's bed, looking crushed that she didn't want to stay. Lorne was frowning by the foot of the bed, and Gunn stood by the wall, his arms crossed again. Connor was quiet next to Angel, and Angel still looked worried. The silence was awkward, especially painful after their recent camaraderie both during Jasmine's reign and their flight afterwards.

"I don't work here, either," Connor finally said in a low voice.

Angel looked at Connor and smiled.

"Well, look... no offense, but if you guys aren't going to stick around, I've got work I should be doing," Gunn said, gesturing at the door.

"Hey, I actually wanted to talk to you for a minute," Angel said. "Can I...?"

"Sure," Gunn said. "Come on. Glad you're okay, Cordy."

"I'll be right back," Angel said.

"We'll be here," Fred said, trying to sound cheerful but not making a very good job of it.

Gunn and Angel stepped out into the hallway and the door closed.

"Well, this is awkward," Lorne said, after another brief silence.

"I think it's going to take a whole series of books to catch me up on this one." Cordelia was sitting up with her arms wrapped around her knees. When Wesley looked at her, she smiled tentatively. "A spell, huh?"

"Er, two, actually," Wesley replied.

"It was the second one that was kind of gross," Fred said. "I mean, the funny mushrooms were one thing, but the mouse blood..." Wesley didn't think he'd made a sound of protest, but Fred glanced at him guiltily anyway. "Sorry," she said.

"Mouse blood?" Cordelia wrinkled her nose. "You should've had Angel do the spell; he probably would have liked it."

"Yes," Wesley said faintly as his stomach roiled warningly. He got to his feet. The room spun, but he couldn't care. "If you'll excuse me..." Without waiting for a reply, he fled into the room's private bathroom, quickly shut the door behind him, and proceeded to empty the contents of his stomach into the toilet in a series of violent heaves.

When he was sure there was nothing left to come up, Wesley washed his face and used the little bottle of mouthwash that was sitting on the sink next to a sealed toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste. He ignored his pale reflection in the mirror and went back out into the room.

"You look, um..." Fred trailed off, obviously looking for an inoffensive description. "Sorry."

"You look like you should sit down," Cordelia said.

"Yes." He sat back in the chair beside Cordelia's bed. "But I think I'm done with that, if we could please leave off a further discussion of the contents of what I drank."

Fred twisted her hands together. "Sorry," she said again.

The nurse came back into the room then with an armful of neatly folded clothes. She was followed by Angel, who looked at Wesley and frowned, but didn't say anything, for which Wesley was exceedingly grateful.

"Did Charles go back to work?" Fred asked.

"Yeah," Angel said.

Cordelia was already standing up, a bit carefully as if testing her sea legs. "Give me five minutes to get dressed and we are so out of here," she said, taking the clothes from the nurse and starting for the bathroom.

Wesley respectfully averted his eyes as she passed in her hospital gown. "Well," he said to no one in particular, "I should go pull the car around front."

Angel shook his head. "I'll do it. Give me the keys."

"I'm not an invalid." Wesley carefully stood and was pleased to find that the world remained steady around him. "You should stay with Cordelia."

"It doesn't have anything to do with you being an invalid," Angel said. "You stay with Cordy. Bring her down to the front of the building and I'll meet you there." He glanced at Connor. "You come with me."

Wesley was close enough to arguing that he could nearly feel the words in his mouth, but when Angel asked Connor to go with him he bit back the response. Maybe Angel was trying to find time with his son. "Fine," he said a bit more sharply than he meant to, and went over to his coat to get his keys. "It's in the garage."

"You could ask, you know," Connor said to Angel.

"I could -- oh." When Wesley turned around, Angel was wearing a sheepish expression. He didn't take the keys Wesley was holding out. "I'm sorry," Angel said. "Let me get the car. Please?"

Still offering the keys, Wesley smiled and said, "Thank you, but I have the impression that Connor was speaking about himself." The look Connor shot him - grateful and slightly surly - confirmed that idea.

Angel looked -- if it were possible -- even more chagrined as he reached out and took the keys. "Sorry," he said to Connor.

"It's okay," Connor said, although Wesley rather thought from his tone that it wasn't.

"I guess if y'all are gonna go..." Fred waved a little bit at Connor and Angel. "Well, take care. We should have dinner soon. You know, compare notes, catch up."

Wesley wasn't entirely convinced that that was a good idea, and Angel looked like he felt about the same way.

"And I'll make sure you get VIP tickets to all the best parties," Lorne said. "Or VIV in your case, Mr. I Don't Want to be the CEO." His voice dropped to a conspiratorial stage whisper. "I hear Uma's going to be stopping by tomorrow, in case you want to sneak a peek."

Wesley could see Angel manfully repressing the urge to ask, 'Uma who?' The vampire nodded instead and gave Wesley an apologetic look as he and Connor left to bring the car around.

The bathroom door opened and Cordelia came out, running her hands through her hair to settle it over her collar and frowning. "Okay, I'm not even going to think about how long it's been since I had a shower." She looked around. "Where'd Angel go?"

Wesley tried not to read too much into the simple question. "He and Connor are getting the car," he said. He slid into his coat and picked up his book, grateful that the after-effects of the spell seemed to be wearing off, leaving him tired but only mildly queasy. "Are you ready to go?"

"Do you want a wheelchair or something?" Fred asked.

"Are you crazy?" Cordelia made a face.

Fred gestured to her sides with both hands. "Well, no, not anymore. For a while there, though..."

Cordelia grinned. "Sorry. I didn't mean... you know."

"I know," Fred said. They were looking at one another with little smiles, and after a moment, Fred said, "Come here, you," and went over to Cordelia, hugging her fiercely. "I'm glad you're back."

"Oh, there's nobody gladder than me," Cordelia said, stepping away from her.

"I don't know. You might have some competition of the tall, dark, and brooding variety," Lorne said. He held out his arms. "What? Don't I get one?"

Cordelia stepped into the embrace and hugged Lorne.

"Okay," Lorne said. "Go on, get out of here before I start to get all weepy."

"Yeah, and before I start to get all freaked out when I think too much about where I am," Cordelia said. She looked at Wesley. "Okay?"

Wesley nodded and gestured for her to precede him through the door.

"If there's anything else you need, you know where to find us," Fred said with a smile as they walked out into the hallway.

"Yes, we do," Wesley said. He hated the hurt in Fred's eyes when he didn't smile in return, but as much as he didn't want to upset her he couldn't pretend that things hadn't changed. The innocence and optimism that had once been appealing had now put them on opposite sides of a pivotal choice. Still, he could be polite. "Thank you for your help."

"Yeah, thanks," Cordelia said.

"Any time, kids." A loud electronic melody sounded from the region of Lorne's chest. "Oh, there's my phone." He gave them a little wave as he dug it out of his pocket and answered it as he walked away.

"Okay, then." Fred shifted her weight. "Do you know how to get out of here?"

Wesley nodded and gestured the other way down the hall.

"Good. Ask anybody if you get lost. They're all really nice for being formerly evil." Fred offered them an awkward smile and waited for them to start walking before she went back into Cordelia's room.

"This must be hard for you," Cordelia said to Wesley under her breath.

Amused by how much of an understatement that was, given the complicated circumstances, Wesley smiled grimly and replied, "You have no idea."

Cordelia glanced at him, but she didn't say anything else; Wesley wasn't sure if that was because she was holding her tongue, which seemed unlikely, or if it was simply that she was weary. She appeared quite steady on her feet, which was a relief as Wesley didn't think he could have supported more than his own weight. He took a shaky breath, feeling a little of the weight fall from his shoulders, when they made it outside without any other confrontations... and without seeing Lilah again. He wasn't sure he could face one of his greatest failures just then.

Angel and Connor had managed to find the car and were parked immediately in front of the building waiting for them when they stepped outside. "Wait," Cordelia said, although she didn't stop moving. "We're going back to the hotel?"

Wesley looked over at her. "Yes. Is that a problem?"

"Not exactly. I'm just wondering... did something happen to my apartment? Because I really, really love that apartment..." She trailed off, looking suddenly confused. "Wait... I think..."

"What's the last thing you remember?" Wesley asked gently.

"The last thing for sure? I guess... well, agreeing to do the whole Higher Power gig." Cordelia was walking more slowly now, her brow furrowed with concentration. "But then... there's a lot more after that, only it's kind of... like a dream. Or maybe a nightmare."

Angel opened the driver's side door and got out, moving around to their side of the car. "You guys okay?"

"Yeah," Cordelia said. "I'm just starting to figure out exactly how far from the clue train I ended up."

"It shouldn't surprise you that her last clear memory is of the night she ascended," Wesley told Angel. He tried to be pleased by the news, since at least it hadn't been truly Cordelia who had been the root of so many problems... but on the other hand it meant that she was still the same Cordelia who had cut him out of her life without a word and the same Cordelia who was in love with Angel.

"Yeah, I guess not." Angel did look surprised, however, as he opened the passenger side door and Connor got out of the front seat. "Are you okay to drive?" he asked Wesley. "Because I could. If you wanted me to."

Since the world had stopped spinning, Wesley said, "I'll drive." At least it would give him something to do. "You're in a better position than I am to explain what's happened since that night. I wasn't there for much of it, after all." He held out his hand for the keys.

Angel gave them to him without comment, although the vampire's fingers lingered on Wesley's a bit too long for it to be accidental. As Wesley went around to get behind the wheel, Angel held the passenger door for Cordelia and then got in as well, sitting in back with Connor.

"Just give me a minute here, okay?" Cordelia said. She was silent for perhaps three or four seconds at most before asking, "So my apartment's gone?"

"No," Angel said, and when Wesley glanced back at him, added defensively, "It's still there."

Cordelia rolled her eyes as Wesley started up the car. "Well, yeah, but someone else is living there, right?" She sighed. "I really loved that apartment."

Wesley pulled the car out onto the street. The lights were already giving him a headache behind his eyes, but he didn't care. "You were missing for months, and no one knew where you were," Wesley explained. He remembered those grim, lonely months of searching both for her and for Angel all too well, and he felt that familiar sense of emptiness beginning to creep through him at what lay ahead of him now. It was far better than hope. "All of your belongings are at the hotel, however."

"Well, most of them," Connor said. "Some of them were at..." He stopped abruptly, leaving Wesley to wonder if Angel had glared at him. "Um... anyway, I can get them."

"Would it be uncharacteristically non-materialistic of me to admit that right now I'm not all that worried about it?" Cordelia asked. She stretched and said, "I'm just glad to be back."

"We're glad to have you back," Angel said. "We tried to find you, after. It was a while before we even knew what had happened."

Cordelia turned her head so that she could look at Angel in the back seat. "I'm sorry. It all happened so fast there wasn't any time to tell anyone," she said, serious for a moment before her smile returned. "But, hey, I'm here now. And I bet Wesley had a lot to do with that." She reached out to pat him on the arm, but she stopped, frowning, before she touched him. "Although the way I remember things, you guys weren't exactly..." Silent for a moment, she slumped back in her seat and stared out at the road. "I'm missing a lot of time, aren't I?"

"You are," Wesley replied quietly. "But we can help fill in the gaps."

"It's all fuzzy," Cordelia said, still frowning. "Like I was here, but I wasn't. I remember, but I don't."

"You might remember later," Angel said. "Or not. Either way might be what's best; you might not want to push it."

"Me?" Cordelia said. "If there's anything you should know about me by now, it's that I push things." But Wesley thought that he detected a hint of apprehension in her voice, and it wouldn't have surprised him if she wasn't sure she wanted to remember; not if she already had hints of it.

"It'll be okay," Connor offered. He said it the way Angel would have.

Cordelia turned to give him a small smile. "Thanks, Connor. I'm sure it will."

Wesley knew that things turning out well was rarely as easy as simply saying that they would, but he hoped for Cordelia's sake that it was true in her case. She'd been through so much, and she deserved some happiness.

"I don't think you should rush it," Angel said. "Trying to remember, I mean."

"Yeah, I know. I heard you the first time," Cordelia said. "I do remember stuff, it's just... fuzzy and weird. Some of it's kind of..." She seemed at a loss for words.

"Bad?" Angel suggested finally, tentatively.

"Uh-huh." Cordelia sounded subdued.

"It wasn't you," Wesley said.

Cordelia looked down at her hands. "It feels like it was."

"It wasn't." Angel leaned forward between the seats and looked at Cordelia earnestly. "Don't let yourself think that, okay? It wasn't you."

Cordelia took a shaky breath. "I don't know if I want to remember."

Glancing in the rear view mirror as he changed lanes, Wesley saw Connor sliding down further in his seat, looking miserably at the back of the seat in front of him. Cordelia could have no idea how much her words were negating something that had been the center of everything to him; Wesley made a mental note to remind Angel to keep a close eye on Connor's moods.

"It might never become fully clear." Wesley wasn't sure if that fact was a comfort or not. "It's impossible to say what will come back to you and what won't."

"That's not really helping," Cordelia said lightly enough that most of the sting was taken out of her words.

"I'm afraid I don't have much more to offer," he replied.

"I know." Turning to look out the side window of the car, Cordelia added, "So what do I do? Pretend none of it happened?"

"You give yourself a little time before you decide what to do," Angel said. "There's no hurry. You can stay at the hotel as long as you need to."

"Okay," she said, taking a deep breath. "Thank you. I'm sorry to put you guys through this. If my memories are anything like what happened, you probably don't want to remember it, either."

There was a very brief silence, interrupted by Connor saying quietly, "It wasn't all bad."

"No," Wesley agreed, thinking back to the moment Angel had thrown him the crossbow and invited him back onto the team. "It wasn't."

Cordelia took another breath as if steeling herself. "Okay." She paused. "Wait - was I wearing fringe?"

Wesley almost laughed as he turned the car onto the Hyperion's street.

"There may have been some questionable fashion choices," Angel admitted. "But I think we can all agree to pretend we didn't see them."

Connor was silent as Wesley parked the car and they all got out, with Angel solicitously hovering at Cordelia's elbow as they walked to the hotel. "I'm okay, you know," Cordelia said, glancing at him.

"Yeah, I know," Angel said.

"You're not acting like you know. You're acting like you think I'm going to fall over any second."

"He's kind of overprotective," Connor commented, trailing a few steps behind them.

Cordelia looked over her shoulder at him. "You think?"

Wesley brought up the rear, his footsteps slowing as they entered the hotel before him. He felt like he was an imposter, playing the role of friend when in reality their relationship was so much more tenuous and complicated than they were letting on. Connor and Angel were in love with Cordelia, she was in love with Angel but had had a relationship - and a child - with Connor, and Connor had tried to kill them all, including his father, but was now back in the fold.

And then there was Wesley, whose shattered friendship with Cordelia was not truly mended, since the past months hadn't been real, and who was in love with someone who now had what he had always wanted - the woman and son he loved. It didn't matter that Angel had said that he loved Wesley - as much as he would always treasure those words - because Wesley was the one who didn't fit into the picture. That knowledge throbbed in his chest like a wound.

"Wow, it looks like your library exploded," Cordelia said to him as he walked into the lobby.

"Yes," he said, surveying the books. They seem to have multiplied during their absence, which wasn't entirely impossible, given the magical nature of some of the volumes. "I should find another home for them before a client comes in."

"Or a tornado," she said.

"I can take care of it later tonight," Angel offered. "I'm feeling kind of, you know... wound up." He shrugged his shoulders as if this was somehow demonstrative of his energy level. "Might be good for me to have something to do."

"I'm going to get some food," Connor said, and disappeared toward the kitchen a moment later.

Cordelia turned. "Well, not to be a party pooper, but for someone who spent the last however many months in a waking coma, I'm exhausted. I could really use some sleep. Angel? Could you show me where my stuff is?"

"Sure," Angel said, gesturing up the staircase. "Come on, I'll help you get settled."

Wesley turned away as they started up the stairs. He didn't want to see how Angel shadowed her, one hand halfway reaching toward her, ready to support her if she needed it. He didn't want to see the way she smiled at him or the way Angel smiled back. He didn't want to see them leaving together. He didn't want to see any of it.

None of that mattered, of course. He had work to do, and he wasn't about to dwell on something he couldn't change.

Despite Angel's offer to help and his own lingering headache, he decided to move the books. Since they needed the office to do their work and the basement for Angel to train in, he chose one of the bedrooms upstairs to serve as a temporary storage room. There were a lot of books, and they weren't light, but carrying them kept him from thinking about where Angel and Cordelia were and what they were doing. They had a lot to catch up on. Thinking about exactly how much made him feel cold, and he walked faster. Unfortunately, his thoughts weren't so easily outrun.

When Wesley was a little more than halfway through with his task, Connor appeared in the lobby again. "Want some help?" he asked after watching Wesley carefully pick up a pile of papers.

Wesley was surprised by the offer, but he tried not to show it; he assumed that the best way to keep Connor from getting skittish was to treat him like things were normal. "Thank you," he said instead. "Just please be careful to keep each pile separate and complete."

"I can do that." Connor bent gracefully and scooped up the fragments of a book. "Where to?"

With Connor's help, the task was completed much more quickly, and he provided just enough distraction that Wesley was able not to get completely lost in thinking about exactly how long Angel and Cordelia had been alone together up in her room. It felt like it had been hours.

"My dad seems really happy to have Cordy back," Connor said as they reached the bedroom on their fourth or fifth trip.

Wesley looked over at him. "He's also very happy that you're here. He was worried about you."

"Yeah." Connor shrugged, but there was some small measure of pleasure in his voice. "He seems happy about you, too. And worried, back when you were doing the spells."

"They were important spells." Wesley set the books down more gently than necessary, trying to keep his voice neutral. He could almost believe that he didn't care.

"Yeah," Connor said again, more thoughtfully, and then they went back to their work.

Wesley was stacking the last stack of undamaged books when Angel came down the stairs. He didn't look up, didn't want to see the light in Angel's eyes or, worse, any tell-tale signs of what he and Cordelia had been doing.

"How's Cordy?" Connor asked.

"Okay." Angel didn't seem interested in saying more. "I could have done this, you know."

"We took care of it," Connor said.

"Connor was very helpful," Wesley said, giving Connor as much of a smile as he could muster. It wasn't much, but Connor seemed pleased.

He also seemed tired, if the enormous yawn he gave was any indication. "Long day?" Angel asked.

"Yeah," Connor said. "You were serious when you said I could stay here, right?"

"Of course I was," Angel said. "You want me to help you find a room and get settled?" Most of the rooms were in fair condition at this point, as so many people had been staying at the hotel during Jasmine's reign.

Connor yawned again and shook his head. "No -- I can find one." He started to turn away, then added, "And no, I won't bother Cordy. I promise." It sounded genuine, Wesley thought.

"Good," Angel said.

"Yeah." The quirk of Connor's mouth made it clear that he didn't think it was likely.

"Oh, I have something to tell you that might make that even easier," Angel said.

"What's that?"

"I talked to Gunn, and he said that he'd be able to smooth over some of the legal stuff. You know, so you can go out without the police going after you."

Wesley somehow managed to keep his jaw from dropping; he wasn't used to his friends having that sort of influence, and he was even less comfortable with the thought that Connor could run free without some sort of repercussions from his actions.

"Which doesn't mean what you did is okay," Angel continued. "You know that. Just... we'll deal with it, not the police."

Connor glanced down before meeting Angel's eyes again. He looked even more surprised than Wesley felt, and there was gratitude in his expression as well. "Thanks, Dad."

He and Angel looked at each other for a moment, and then Connor started up the stairs and said over his shoulder, "Okay, good night, Dad. Glad you didn't get sent off into the void and lost forever, Wes."

Wesley chuckled hoarsely. "Thank you. Good night."

"Yeah, about that - "Angel started when Connor turned the corner.

"The spell worked," Wesley said shortly. He did not have the energy to have a drawn-out discussion about it.

"I'm just saying, there might've been another spell where you didn't have to risk your life."

"We didn't have the time. And we both risk our lives, every day, together or apart. It's what we do."

"But - "

Wesley cut him off with a raised hand. "It comes down to you trusting my judgment, Angel," he said. "There is no point to trying to work together, to do anything together, if you don't." He realized after the words were out of his mouth that it was something of an ultimatum, but it was no less true for the terror that their relationship, whatever it was, now hung in the balance of Angel's answer. At the end of the day, if Angel didn't trust him they had nothing.

"I do," Angel said, his brow furrowed. "But it doesn't mean I'm always going to like what you do."

Wesley slowly let out the breath he was holding. "That goes both ways."

Angel nodded. "Okay."

"All right." Unable to find anything to say that would be in any way constructive, Wesley shouldered the bag with his clothing and picked up his remaining books. He wanted to be finished, wanted the other shoe to drop instead of having to wait for it, and yet more than anything wanted that moment - the moment when he'd see in Angel's eyes that disgust or, worse, pity - never to come. There was nothing he could do. "This is the last of it."

"You want to bring it upstairs to my room?" Angel asked, holding out a hand as if offering to carry the books.

"I..." Wesley was surprised by the invitation; he had scoped out the room next to the impromptu library for a bedroom for himself, since it seemed likely that he would need his own now that Cordelia and Connor were back. "I've been putting the books in a room of their own," he said. It was the safest comment he could think of.

"Okay." Angel took the books from Wesley, looking at him uncertainly. "You could show me where?"

Wesley nodded and led the way up the stairs. The room he had chosen was on the floor below Angel's suite; he had told himself that it was because it required less carrying and was more convenient, but he couldn't hide from the fact that part of its appeal was also that he wouldn't accidentally run into Angel in the hallway in the future, when things were even more awkward.

"Connor appears to be much calmer," he said as they climbed.

"Yeah," Angel said. "I think he's gonna be okay. I mean, he has a long way to go, but maybe the stuff with Jasmine... helped? Showed him how things could be, sometimes. When they're good."

"That's excellent." Wesley managed a small smile. "I'm pleased for you both."

Angel didn't say anything else; just let Wesley lead him to the room he'd appropriated and set the books down beside another small stack.

"This should be good," Angel said. "We can get some bookshelves in here, get everything set up." He glanced at Wesley. "I mean... even if it's just temporary." The vampire put his hands into his pockets and looked at Wesley worriedly. "Is it? Just temporary?"

Wesley considered deliberately misunderstanding and giving some glib answer about moving some of his books downstairs when they were repaired, but Angel was too important for him to do that. He couldn't reply at all.

Angel's eyes were so dark that they appeared black. "I want you here," he said. "With me."

"I am here, as you can see. With you." Wesley's bag was becoming heavy, so he set it down on the floor beside him.

"I mean really here," Angel said, stepping closer. "It doesn't feel like you are. It feels like you're already figuring out how to leave."

Angel's flashes of intuition could be frighteningly sharp, Wesley thought with the small part of his brain that wasn't tired. Tired of fighting, tired of crisis after crisis, tired of barely making the right decisions in time if at all, tired of losing everything and everyone again and again. He simply didn't have the energy for prevarication anymore. "I'm trying to arrange things so that when I have to leave it's easiest on everyone," he said with quiet resignation. "But I'm still here, Angel." He stood still where he was to illustrate his point.

"You won't have to leave," Angel said. "I won't let you have to leave, okay?" Slowly, as if to give Wesley time to put a stop to it if that was what he wanted, Angel put his arms around Wesley.

"That’s not - " Wesley closed his eyes as if that way he could shut away the feelings inside of himself, but the last thing he could do was to pull away. "I have been trying to be as brutally honest as I can stand. It's important to me that you not feel obligated," he said. "I don't want this to be hard for you."

Angel leaned back and looked at Wesley, frowning. "Obligated?"

"I don't want you to feel that you have to do something - " Wesley simply couldn't bring himself to say 'keep me around.' " - because you've told me that you would." He skimmed his hands up Angel's back and tried not to wonder how many more times he'd be allowed to touch him with such intimacy.

"Okay, I know we've talked about this before, but I'm not sure what's going on. Can we go back and start at the beginning?" Angel definitely seemed perplexed. "Do you... do you want to leave? Is that it?"

"No," Wesley said firmly. "Of course I don't want to leave. I've never wanted to leave." He took a shallow breath and tried to clamp down on the loss he was feeling at even having the conversation. "But I've known from the beginning, from the first moment you invited me to work with you years ago, from the first time you kissed me only days ago, that I wasn't your first choice." He shook his head to silence any objection Angel might make. "I know we've had a true friendship - I'm not discounting that - but I also know that if Doyle had lived or if Cordelia hadn't ascended and come back infected by Jasmine I wouldn't be the one here now."

"And if you hadn't come to find me I'd still be in the middle of the ocean somewhere," Angel said. "I'm not going to tell you that any of that other stuff isn't true, because it might be... but that doesn't mean this isn't true too." He slid a hand to the back of Wesley's neck and thumbed the line of Wesley's skull gently. "You are my first choice."

"Angel," Wesley said, his voice softening from Angel's touch, "It is not as simple as you make it sound."

"Then tell me what you're thinking," Angel said. "Tell me why it's so complicated. Go on, Wesley. Tell me why I can't have you." He sounded almost angry, although his hand on the back of Wesley's head was still gentle.

"I never said you couldn't have me." Wesley's voice dropped even lower, but he couldn't look away. "I said you wouldn't want me."

"You're wrong," Angel said. "I do want you. I'll always want you. Is this because of Cordelia? Because her being back... it doesn't change anything. Not for me. I still want you."

Wesley's mouth twisted into a pained smile, and he tightened his hold on Angel. "I can see that," he said, squeezing again in illustration. "But having Cordelia and Connor back does change everything. You've gone from having nothing to having your family back."

Angel relaxed, his hand stroking gently over Wesley's hair. "Is that what this is about?" he asked softly. "You think I only wanted you because I didn't have anyone else?"

It wasn't logical, but it hurt to hear the words from Angel's lips, even though they were a question and not a statement. "I'm not blind."

"But just because you see one thing doesn't mean it's all that's there," Angel said. "Sure, I'm grateful that you were there for me when things were tough, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't have wanted you if they hadn't been. And if you keep trying to tell me what I'm feeling, I'm going to get really mad." He didn't sound it, though, and there was a little, encouraging smile on his face.

"I'm certainly not trying to make you angry," Wesley said, unable to look away from that smile. There was something hopeful about it. "But I recognize that our recent circumstances have been... extreme." And beforehand Angel's focus had definitely not been on him. Not in a good way, at least.

"Not gonna argue with you there." Angel didn't stop studying him. "Wes... I've had feelings for you. For a long time. I won't lie and say I knew what they were, because I can be kind of slow that way, but they were there. And they're strong, and real. Okay?"

The words gave Wesley hope. Whether it would be enough, he didn't know, but... it was something. He nodded.

"You know what I think?" Angel asked, and then went on without waiting for an answer. He turned Wesley, reached down and picked up the bag of clothes, and started to guide Wesley back through the doorway. "I think you need to get some sleep."

Wesley didn't put up more than a token resistance to turning off the light in the room, though he wasn't sure how sleeping would be all that helpful. "Do I?"

"That's my theory," Angel agreed. "And the next part of my theory is that once you've had some sleep you'll stop talking crazy and thinking I don't love you."

Wesley opened his mouth and closed it, then opened it again. "As tempting a theory as it is, I'm not sure that it will work." He looked quickly over at Angel. "Not that I'm saying you don't care for me, but I..." He trailed off, at a loss as to what to say. "Maybe you're right."

"Tell you what," Angel said. "We'll try it tonight, and if it doesn't work, we'll try again tomorrow night. If it doesn't work tomorrow night, we'll try the night after that. However long it takes." They started up the stairs side by side. "I told Cordelia."

Stopping dead on the stairs, his heart pounding, Wesley asked, "What did you tell her?"

Angel turned to face him. "That I'm in love with you. That I care about her, but I'm not..." The shock on Wesley's face must have been plain, because Angel continued quickly, "I didn't tell her that we were -- that you and I are -- I didn't know how you'd feel about that."

"Angel, I don't care who knows, as long as it won't cause problems for you," Wesley said firmly. "What did she say?"

"Not much," Angel admitted. "There was a lot of blinking. And staring." He frowned. "She said that there were some places where her memory was as good as ever, and that she... remembered stuff she'd seen. When she was a Higher Being. Stuff that she didn't... well." Angel certainly looked less than happy. "She doesn't feel the same way as before either. If she ever did."

Wesley reached out to touch Angel's arm, rubbing from his shoulder to his elbow. "I'm sorry," he said softly. It didn't matter that her feelings were to his advantage, that they might actually let this impossible relationship between them continue; Angel had to be hurt.

"It's okay. I mean, it's better for her to know." Angel shrugged as if it didn't matter. "And it's easier this way."

"I can't imagine anything about it is easy." Wesley watched Angel's face, trying to read him.

"It's easier if she's not upset about us," Angel said. "She's got enough to be upset about, I think. More than enough."

Wesley let his hand fall back to his side. "Very true. It'll only get harder as she remembers. And things with Connor will be... awkward."

"That's a pretty big understatement." Angel sighed. "We're supposed to be getting you to bed."

"Right. So I'll stop arguing with you." Wesley put his foot up on the next step. "At least that's your theory."

"It's not that I want you to stop arguing with me," Angel said, as they continued up the stairs. The hotel was utterly quiet around them. "Well, I do want you to stop arguing with me, but that's not the main thing. I just... I want you to trust me."

"I trust you more than anyone in the world," Wesley said, looking over at him. With each step he realized how tired he truly was, and he used the railing to help to guide his steps. "That's not a question."

"It's not?" Angel asked.

"No. Angel, you're..." Wesley struggled for words that were meaningful but not dripping with so much emotion he'd never be able to look him in the eyes again. He gave up and said quietly, "You're you. You're the most important person in my life, and I love you. Have you somehow missed all that?"

Angel was silent as they reached the top of the stairs and started toward his room. "No," he said finally, although he didn't sound convinced.

"Your confidence overwhelms me," Wesley said dryly. He felt like he was failing some important test, and he pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to think. "What am I not saying?"

"Nothing," Angel said, pushing the door to his room open and going inside. Wesley followed him, watching as he set the bag of clothes down next to the bed. "Just come here, okay?"

After shutting the door, Wesley walked over to him, frowning faintly. He stopped just in front of him, close enough to touch him but still attempting to puzzle out what Angel needed to hear. He wished he were better at this sort of thing.

Angel put his arms around Wesley and pulled him in closer. "I'm in love with you," he said. "Actually, I'm crazy about you. And I'll keep telling you until you believe it. No matter how long it takes. Okay?" Angel's arms were strong, his tone reassuring.

"I'm not usually such a slow learner," Wesley said with a self-conscious smile from the attention. Still, he was happy to hear the words all the same; he knew they had to be difficult to say. He reached up to ghost the tips of his fingers down Angel's face, which was somehow looking at him like he was important.

"Then come to bed with me," Angel said. "Okay? Just let me hold you. I want to do that."

"That sounds wonderful." Wesley's smile grew warmer. "Why do you look like you think I'm going to argue?"

"Maybe because you usually do when whatever it is involves taking care of yourself?" Angel suggested.

Wesley opened his mouth to argue before he caught himself. "It's not a deliberate choice," he said instead. "There are just usually more important things to do." For all that he was tired and weighed down by concerns about the future, there was a bubble of joy growing in him at just being in Angel's room again, in his arms, soon to be in his bed. It was more than he had expected.

He took a step toward the bed, pulling Angel with him. "I don't want there to be anything more important than being with you right now."

The smile Angel gave him was nearly heart-breakingly sweet. "God, I love you," Angel said, kissing him as they sat down, both hands coming up to cup Wesley's face.

Wesley's chest tightened almost painfully, and he kissed Angel back without hesitation.

Angel's mouth was firm but gentle against his, Angel's hands touching Wesley's face so carefully that it felt like being cherished, and Wesley pressed closer. "Here," Angel said after a minute or so. "Let me help you with these." And the vampire knelt down on the floor and began to undo Wesley's shoes, taking them off.

"You don't have to do that," Wesley said. It felt fundamentally wrong to have Angel taking care of him; that wasn't how things were supposed to work between them.

"I want to," Angel said. He took off Wesley's socks, then stood up and removed his own shoes as well. "Okay, here, get up for a second so I can fix these covers." He pulled a chair over, sat a rather bemused Wesley down in it, and proceeded to strip the bed and put on clean sheets. Angel tucked in the blanket and turned to look at Wesley. "You want to take a shower? Or just go right to bed?"

Wesley thought about the question, weighed the pros and cons, and ended up saying, "I don't care. Which would you prefer?"

"You might sleep better if you're relaxed," Angel said. "Here, come on, I'll get the water started for you."

Wesley followed after him, smoothing his hand up Angel's spine as he fiddled with the faucets. "Will you come in with me?" he asked. "Your day has been less relaxing than mine."

"Okay." Angel got the water temperature to his liking and turned around, flicking the water off his fingers. With his mouth close to Wesley's, he added, "As long as you know that I'm not going to be able to keep my hands off you."

"Have I given you any indication that I want you to keep your hands off me?" Wesley asked. He didn't wait for an answer before kissing him, harder than their kisses in the bedroom. His fingers worked open the top buttons of Angel's shirt and slipped inside to touch his chest, the contact with his skin making even more of Wesley's concerns disappear. "This is what I want," he murmured, flicking open the next button.

"You can have it," Angel said, damp hands beginning to undo the front of Wesley's jeans. "Anything you want. It doesn't matter what it is; I'll figure out a way to give it to you."

"You," Wesley said. He bent to touch his mouth to the flesh he was exposing, kissing just below Angel's collar bone. "Is this all right?"

"Are you not listening to what I'm saying?" Angel was grinning when Wesley glanced up at him. "Yes, it's okay. Yes."

"Good." Angel's shirt fell open as the last button slipped through its hole, and Wesley pushed the sides apart, using hands and mouth to explore Angel's chest. "As long as it's what you want," he breathed against the base of Angel's throat before kissing the skin there.

"You're what I want," Angel said, tilting his head a bit to give Wesley more room and making an encouraging sound when Wesley repeated the kiss. The front of Wesley's jeans was undone now, although Angel seemed to distracted by Wesley's mouth to do anything further just then.

"I can't tell you how much I like hearing that." Wesley ran his palms from Angel's stomach up to his shoulders and back down again, enjoying the planes of his body. He sucked gently at Angel's throat as he lightly pinched his nipple. "Because as much as I would give up anything for you, including this, I'd really rather not have to." He sucked harder, pulling a faint flush to the surface of Angel's skin.

Angel made another soft sound, even more encouraging than the previous one, and slid his hands up beneath the bottom hem of Wesley's shirt. He rested his hands there, cool against Wesley's skin. "I don't want you giving up anything. I don't want you to have to."

"I'm not." Wesley pressed in closer in illustration and coaxed Angel's shirt off of his shoulders and down his arms. "See?" He pressed open-mouthed kisses across Angel's strong shoulder and back up his neck.

"Good," Angel said, his voice rough. The vampire managed to rouse himself out of his daze and stepped back half a step, taking advantage of the space between them to remove Wesley's shirt as well.

As soon as he was free of his shirt, Wesley moved forward so that their bare chests were touching. He couldn't help his satisfied moan. "Much better," he said, skimming his hands up Angel's back and giving him a kiss that went on longer than he had anticipated. It was hard to stop. When he pulled away he was breathing harder, but he tried to be clear as he looked into Angel's eyes and said, "I don't want you to have to give up anything, either."

"Right now, I've got just about everything I could possibly want," Angel said reassuringly. "Well, okay, world peace without having to sacrifice everyone's free will. That'd be good. But this..." He ran his hands up Wesley's arms. "This is good; I have you, and it's not at the expense of anything else. You hear me?"

"I want that to be true," Wesley told him.

"It is true," Angel said, kissing him so softly that their lips barely touched. It made Wesley yearn for more. "Give it some time and I'll prove it to you."

"You don't have to try to prove anything to me," Wesley said. "I know you believe what you're saying; I just see the world differently, I think. My expectations are... lower." The last word was apologetic.

"Well, I hope you don't mind if I try to raise them," Angel said. He looked at Wesley steadily as he spoke the words.

Wesley slid his hand up Angel's chest to rub his thumb along the junction of his neck and shoulder. "You already have," he said and then leaned in for another kiss. Part of him hurt to speak so openly about his feelings, but in many ways it was a relief. He couldn't pretend, couldn't hide things, not with Angel. Not anymore.

"Come on," Angel whispered, stripping them both of the rest of their clothes gently but efficiently and then guiding Wesley into the shower, the warm spray needling Wesley's shoulders and wetting his hair, and Angel's lips were on his and none of the rest of it mattered at all.

There was no reason to hold back, so Wesley didn't. He wrapped his arms around Angel and kissed him long and slowly. He felt almost drunk, warmed from the inside just by being with him.

"What about you?" he asked, kissing Angel's lower lip and then tilting his head slightly and repeating the action. "Are there any fears of your I can help put to rest?"

"I could ask you to tell me that I'm not being selfish by wanting you, but since it would be a lie, I think I'll skip it." Angel didn't sound upset as he reached for the soap and began to run his hands over Wesley's body.

"You think it's selfish?" Wesley frowned as he turned that idea over in his mind.

"When you could have someone else? Someone... you know. Alive?" Angel's lips traced the curve of Wesley's ear distractingly. "Maybe... maybe you and Cordy...?" he suggested hesitantly.

"Angel!" Wesley pulled back so that he could see Angel's face, and he knew that his own face expressed his shock. "You're alive in all the ways that count; a lack of pulse is irrelevant." He paused to emphasize his next words. "You're who I want; there's no one who could possibly compare to you. Out of the two of us, I'm the one who's being selfish."

"No, you're not," Angel said, as if he weren't really thinking about the words as he said them. His eyes were distant, and although his hands continued to stroke Wesley's skin lightly, it was clear that his mind was elsewhere.

"Angel..." Wesley reached up to touch Angel's face, trying to draw his attention back to him. "What is it?"

Angel blinked and looked down at him. "I just... I want you to be happy, okay? That's what I want."

"And you think I'm not?" Wesley shook his head. "You think I don't have my heart's desire right here? Sometimes you really do miss the obvious, don't you."

"Probably," Angel admitted, going back to washing Wesley's chest and stomach, and leaning in to kiss his shoulder.

Wesley pared the situation down to the one basic fact at the center of everything. "I love you."

Angel sighed and relaxed against him, pressing close. "I love you, too."

A warm thrill went through Wesley, and he didn't think he'd ever be able to hear those words enough. He slid his hand into Angel's damp hair and kissed along his cheek toward his mouth, not greedy, not insistent - though he knew that would come soon enough - just enjoying being with him like this. He didn't know what words to say to explain to Angel just how amazingly lucky he felt, so he put his mouth to better use, mapping out his feelings in his kiss and the almost reverent way he touched Angel's body. It was almost impossible to believe that he could have him, but he did. After everything, after loss and anger and the depths of despair, somehow he did.

Angel participated whole-heartedly, touching Wesley with soapy hands and kissing back with a quiet enthusiasm that spoke volumes. His tongue danced along Wesley's lower lip, his mouth opening willingly to Wesley's own tongue, hands coming to rest at Wesley's waist, fingers splayed over Wesley's lower back.

Wesley stepped in closer, not that there was much closer he could get. He wanted to be pressed against every inch of Angel he could, yet he wasn't his orgasm he was hungry for. It was Angel, the very essence of him, the person who had been the center of everything for Wesley for so long. He was there, in his arms, wanting him, kissing him, and it filled Wesley with hope and longing and sharp, painful joy.

"You're what I want," he murmured against Angel's mouth, because that knowledge was so strong in him he couldn't not voice it.

"Well, you've got me," Angel said, shifting slightly and rubbing against Wesley in an excruciatingly slow tease. "For as long as you want me, Wes."

"I can't imagine not wanting you." Sighing with pleasure, Wesley palmed over Angel's hip and down the outside of his thigh.

Angel caught his lips again in another leisurely kiss, although Wesley thought there was more of an edge to it now, and Angel's hands were touching him more firmly. The water raining down on them was the perfect temperature, and Angel's lips tasted of it, warm and a bit hard, as if it contained too many minerals.

Happily meeting every long kiss, Wesley skimmed his hands slowly up Angel's sides and around his back, up to rest his hands on his shoulder blades for a moment before sliding down to his waist. He stepped forward, forcing Angel to take a small step backwards up against the tiled wall. "Mmm." The wall's extra support let him lean into Angel, their erections brushing against each other for a dizzying moment before their bodies moved out of alignment once more. He kissed Angel harder, deeper, cupping the back of his head to keep his mouth right where he wanted it.

Apparently more than happy to let Wesley do as he wished, Angel moaned softly against Wesley's lips and moved his own hands down to Wesley's ass, kneading the muscle there restlessly as Wesley explored Angel's mouth thoroughly.

The water cascading over them made Angel's skin even more sleek and touchable, and Wesley trailed his free hand up Angel's slippery chest to trace his throat with his fingertips. "The shower was an excellent idea," Wesley said huskily, rubbing his entire body against Angel's as they continued to kiss. He was growing restless with the need to experience every part of Angel's body, unable to stop touching and moving against him.

Angel grinned. "Not gonna argue with you on that one." He was shifting between Wesley and the tile wall, moving slightly into each touch. His hands slid up to Wesley's chest and his fingers found Wesley's nipples and pinched them.

Wesley moaned at the sensation, kissing Angel harder and shifting sideways until their erections slid next to each other, teasing them both. "You feel so good," he said, mouthing down Angel throat. There was a part of him that was filled with wonder that he was allowed to touch Angel this way, but to think about it would be to take his attention away from Angel, himself. He rocked their hips together as he sucked on the skin beneath Angel's jaw.

A big hand moved up to the back of Wesley's head, cradling it, while the other continued to sweetly torment his nipple. "God, so do you. You're like..."

Unable to stop himself, Wesley asked, "Like what?" He sucked and licked more fervently at Angel's skin, encouraged by Angel's reactions.

"Like no one else," Angel said. "There's just you, and you're -- " There was a small gasp as Wesley's teeth caught at Angel's skin.

"I'm what?" Nibbling gently - and then less gently - Wesley was more focused on getting another gasp than the answer itself.

"Everything," Angel gasped, hands tightening their grip as his hips shoved forward helplessly. "God, Wes. I need you."

"You have me." Wesley moved back up to Angel's mouth and kissed him hard. His blood was rushing through him, carrying the thrill of Angel's words to every part of his body. Needed, wanted, it was what he'd always ached to be. "Let me show you."

Angel nodded into the kiss by way of agreement but didn't say anything, probably because their mouths were far too busy already. Angel shifted forward against Wesley again, his heavy erection pressed to Wesley's, and they both groaned softly.

Wesley gave him a fierce kiss, thrusting against him once more, and then pulled back far enough to get his hand between them. He nipped at Angel's jaw as he wrapped his hand around Angel's cock. "I'd do anything for you," he said, working slowly down Angel's throat. He lightly stroked Angel's erection, up and down, the movement easy with the water streaming over them. "Anything."

"Anything?" Angel shivered and made a muffled sound of pleasure in the back of his throat when Wesley's hand reached the tip of his cock.

"Anything," Wesley repeated. "Haven't you learned that by now?" He bent further, kissing down Angel's chest, licking and then sucking at his nipple.

"I would, too," Angel said, his voice tight. "For you. Anything."

An entirely unwelcome memory of Angel pressing a pillow over his face, of him screaming promises of never forgiving him, flashed into Wesley's mind. Gratitude that he was where he was, with Angel, nearly overwhelmed him. "You don't have to do anything for me," he said, stroking Angel's cock more firmly.

"Don't have to," Angel agreed. "Want to." Still, the vampire seemed spellbound, barely moving as Wesley touched him.

"Shh. It's my turn to give you something, not take," Wesley said, meaning so much more than a single sexual encounter. He bent further, dragging his mouth over Angel's flat, firm stomach, and then sank to his knees. "Do you like this?" He sucked and nibbled on the thin skin of Angel's hip as he loosened his grip so that only his fingertips were touching Angel's cock, sliding along the shaft and slicking over the sensitive head.

Angel's groan was a satisfactory answer, the vampire's hand resting on Wesley's head for a few seconds before moving to his shoulder. "Yeah. Yeah. I like that."

"Good." Wesley couldn't hold back a smile at the arousal he could hear in Angel's voice. He slid his free hand up Angel's inner thigh, getting a lovely shiver in return, as he slowly kissed along the junction between Angel's torso and leg. His mouth was watering with anticipation of wrapping his lips around Angel's cock, but he wanted to draw things out a little bit longer. He wanted to give Angel some small fraction of the pleasure he deserved.

Rubbing gentle circles just out of reach of Angel's balls, he stilled the movement of his hand on Angel's erection and tilted his head so that the smooth upper part of his cheek rubbed against its tip. He felt Angel's cock twitch at the contact, and his own erection throbbed in response.

Angel's hand on Wesley's shoulder tightened briefly, as much caress as request. He seemed content to let Wesley do whatever he liked, but when Wesley glanced up, Angel's eyes were dark with need.

"You're absolutely stunning like this," Wesley said softly, drinking in the sight of him, his perfect body, his handsome face, his thick, hard cock. He brushed the tips of his fingers against Angel's balls and his closed mouth along Angel's cock from tip to base and back again. When he got to its head, he couldn't help himself; he parted his lips and swirled his tongue around it to get his first taste.

He could feel Angel tense; it was obviously an effort for him to remain still, but he did it, although his thigh muscle trembled slightly. "Don't stop," Angel whispered.

"I won't," Wesley promised before circling the head with his tongue again. For once he was frustrated by the water that poured over them and blocked out the rest of the world so completely; it also washed away the pre-come beading on Angel's cock. Keeping Angel's erection steady with one hand, he took the tip into his mouth, sucking on it gently and lapping at it with his tongue. There was the taste he wanted, and he groaned softly and sucked harder.

Angel squeezed Wesley's shoulder and made a sound that was half groan, half sigh. His skin was smooth and soft against Wesley's tongue, warmed from the water cascading down over it, and Wesley could feel the slight movement as he breathed in and out in what was most likely an attempt to keep himself in control of the situation, or at the very least his reaction to it.

Encouraged, Wesley continued to focus on the head of Angel's cock, sucking, licking, and using his tongue to manipulate Angel's foreskin. He closed his eyes and let himself get consumed by Angel and the sense of rightness that filled him from what he was doing, drawing out those soft noises and catching each little pulse of pre-come on his tongue. Another moan escaped Wesley as his own cock throbbed with arousal. Rising up higher on his knees, he gently stroked the base of Angel's shaft and opened his mouth wider to take more of him in.

He felt Angel's hand slide up into his hair again, urging him on wordlessly, and hummed around the thick cock in his mouth. Angel's hips gave a sudden push forward, sliding his cock just a bit deeper.

Wesley moved one hand to Angel's hip, rubbing his thumb over the hard bone; he wasn't sure whether Angel would think he was being soothed or encouraged, but either interpretation was fine with him. He breathed carefully through his nose and hummed again, relishing how good, how thick and hard for him, Angel felt in his mouth.

Angel's moan was low and startled, as if he hadn't been expecting so much pleasure, his hand in Wesley's hair a bit rougher as he pulled back and rocked forward again experimentally. This was accompanied by another moan and a shudder. "God, you're good at that," Angel said.

The praise rushed through Wesley like a drug, making him almost dizzy. He wasn't about to pull away to speak, so he expressed his thanks by redoubling his efforts, sliding his tongue along the underside of Angel's erection and rubbing his hip but keeping his jaw relaxed so he wouldn't hamper Angel's movements.

"Just... God, Wes..." Angel shuddered again and gasped, suddenly switching to concentrating on working the tip of his cock in and out between Wesley's lips, his hand supporting the base of his shaft as he looked down at Wesley.

Wesley's eyes were fixed on Angel's face, watching the expressions flitting across it. He was mesmerized by the pleasure, need, and something almost like wonder he saw there, and pride swelled in him that he was the one causing it. He could give Angel something he wanted. Right now Angel wanted his mouth, and Wesley gave it to him without reservation. Swirling his tongue around the head of Angel's cock on the next thrust inwards, he softly moaned his encouragement.

Angel tensed, and Wesley tasted another surge of pre-come, the cock between his lips hardening further. He sucked harder, inhaling sharply through his nose, and felt as well as heard Angel's loud groan as he came in rhythmic pulses over Wesley's tongue, hips jerking forward with each wave. There was a strangled word in the groan that Wesley felt certain was his own name.

Swallowing as best he could, Wesley caressed Angel's hips and thighs as he rode out his orgasm. When Angel relaxed back against the wall, panting, Wesley sat back on his heels and watched him regain his senses. Wesley wasn't smiling, but he was filled with a satisfaction that made his own arousal tolerable.

"God," Angel said finally, looking down at Wesley. "That was... You're really, really good at that."

That made Wesley smile, and he carefully rose to his feet, ignoring the ache in his knees. "I'm very glad you think so," he said as he cupped Angel's face with one hand and gave him as tender of a kiss as he was capable.

Angel's arms encircled him, strong and solid, holding on as Angel coaxed another kiss from him, and then another. The kisses somehow managed to be solicitous and rough at the same time, as though Angel knew that this was what Wesley needed, loving but firm hands on his body, the determined thrust of a hip against his swollen erection.

Wesley exhaled unsteadily, determined not to lose control of himself merely at the sensation of Angel's body against his, although there was a large part of him that just wanted to forget everything and let go. He couldn't let himself. "Do you feel what you do to me?" he asked, pressing in closer.

Angel nuzzled Wesley's ear. "Yeah. And I like what I feel." Angel's hand slipped between them and curled around Wesley's cock, squeezing expertly.

"Angel..." Wesley swallowed and tried not to thrust into Angel's hand. "God. You have no idea how much I want you." He clutched at Angel's shoulders, mouthing along his skin toward his mouth. "I want you to take me to bed and fuck me." He should have been ashamed of the need he heard in his voice, but he couldn't help it. All he felt was need.

"Then I will," Angel said, licking at Wesley's mouth and doing such exquisite things with his hand that it was all Wesley could do not to beg. "Come on."

Somehow, the water was shut off, and then they were standing outside the shower and Angel was rubbing Wesley's chest and arms with a towel between kisses.

"Angel," Wesley murmured, kissing him again. Everything around him was vague except how good Angel felt near him.

He didn't mind it being vague. None of it mattered just then, not when Angel was holding him and kissing him and touching him, Angel's mouth clever and shiver-inducing against his skin, Angel's hand commanding when it found Wesley's cock again and stroked it insistently.

"Angel." This time his name was a warning. Wesley gasped and tried to pull away so that he could regain a little bit of control, but his body was sluggish to move away from the pleasure that Angel was giving him.

"You said something about bed, right?" Angel asked, leading Wesley in what he was fairly certain was the proper direction, even if he couldn't be bothered to check.

"Yes." Wesley took the opportunity to slip his arm around Angel's waist. "The bed would be very nice, don't you think?"

"Yeah. Come on." Angel guided Wesley the rest of the way to the bed and pushed him down onto it gently, sitting down and running a hand down along Wesley's body, from shoulder to abdomen to thigh.

Wesley couldn't suppress a shiver. He wanted to be touched so badly he was nearly insensible to everything else; he needed tangible evidence that Angel wasn't out of his life. "You're too far away," he said with a shaky smile, reaching out to touch Angel's shoulder and caressing his unnaturally warm skin.

Angel's hand slid up Wesley's inner thigh teasingly, skirting around his cock and tracing over his hip bone. "I'm right here," Angel said. "Close your eyes."

"I'd much rather be able to see you," Wesley said, but he obeyed. Immediately all of his other senses were heightened, the feel of Angel's hand magnified as it lingered over his skin. His hand tightened on Angel's shoulder, grounding himself.

He could feel Angel shifting, could feel Angel's hands urging him to spread his legs apart so that Angel's weight could settle between them. Fingertips lightly brushed the crease of Wesley's thighs, and then he felt the impossibly soft, tender flicker of Angel's tongue on his shaft.

"Oh." Despite the intensity of his arousal, Wesley's exhalation was so quiet it was barely audible to his own ears. He sucked in a sharp breath, trying desperately not to move in case it made Angel stop.

Angel's tongue slid down to Wesley's balls, leaving a damp trail in its wake that made Wesley's skin tingle. Angel spread Wesley's thighs further apart, licking the sensitive skin around the entrance to Wesley's body.

Wesley rolled his head on the pillow, sliding his legs up to expose himself further to Angel's mouth. Once he might have been mortified by being so blatantly needy, but at the moment shame was the furthest thing from his mind. Angel's tongue was so sure in the way that it teased him, forcing a plaintive little noise from Wesley's throat.

"Good," Angel said, pressing a kiss to Wesley's inner thigh. "Good; just relax and let yourself feel it." His tongue licked a wide, damp spot next to Wesley's balls and then went back to work, pushing just slightly into Wesley's body.

"How could I..." Wesley swallowed, trying not to moan. "How could I do anything else?"

Angel's tongue slid deeper, wet and teasing, and Wesley's body arched involuntarily in a wordless plea for more. Angel must have understood; he spread Wesley even wider with both hands and began to fuck him, slowly and shallowly, with slick thrusts of his tongue.

"Oh, god," Wesley gasped, fisting his hand in the covers to keep from grabbing Angel's head. Angel's tongue was too gentle and not nearly deep enough, but it felt so amazingly good moving inside of him, pushing into him, opening him, again and again. He wanted more, he wanted Angel's cock in him, but the thought of Angel pulling away even for a second was unbearable.

He could feel his legs trembling, and his erection ached to be touched. Angel didn't stop -- just continued to slip his tongue into Wesley, occasionally making a teasing pass with his thumbs that almost brushed against Wesley's balls but never actually did.

Wesley wanted to stay this way for hours, being intimately teased and tormented by Angel in the best possible way, but his arousal was building with each steady thrust of Angel's tongue. He had no doubt that at some point soon his orgasm would overwhelm him whether his cock got any attention or not. A moan escaped from his lips, then another and another, their intensity and wantonness greater each time. "God, Angel." Wesley arched up, unable to think of anything but how Angel was touching him.

Another few thrusts, and then Angel was pulling away. Wesley made a small sound of protest and opened his eyes, but Angel just said, "Shh. Keep them closed." Wesley obeyed, shaky with desperate arousal, his mind a haze. It was only moments before slick fingers were pushing their way inside him, stretching him in a way that Angel's tongue hadn't been able to, making him groan.

As good as Angel's tongue had felt, his fingers were that much better. They were thicker, longer, twisting and scissoring and - "God!" - hitting just the right spot. "Please," he heard himself saying between gasping breaths, bracing himself so that he could push the fingers that much deeper. He hardly recognized his voice, he was so eager to have Angel's weight on him and his cock in him.

Angel's mouth closed around the tip of Wesley's cock briefly, making Wesley gasp again and thrust upward. The combination of fingers pressing deeper and lips and tongue working his erection would surely have made him come in seconds, but Angel seemed to have other plans that included lining up his cock and pushing it into Wesley, slowly, the stretch so delicious and perfect that Wesley almost sobbed.

"Angel..." Wesley groped blindly for him, his hands finding his shoulder and side and encouraging him to thrust deeper and get closer.

"Look at me," Angel said, his voice low and intense, and when Wesley opened his eyes it was to the sight of Angel above him, staring down at his face. "This what you wanted?" Angel pulled back and thrust forward again, going deep.

Wesley cried out at the sensation, arching up and clutching at Angel's back. It took a moment for him to be able to regain the control to speak. "Yes," he said fervently, unable to look away from Angel's eyes. "Yes. This is what I want."

"I'm gonna give you everything," Angel said, not moving for what felt like a very long few moments before drawing back with exquisite slowness. "Everything you need, everything you want."

"You are everything I want," Wesley told him. He knew it sounded melodramatic, but it was entirely true. It had been for so long.

Angel thrust forward again, rubbing against Wesley's prostate and making his cock twitch with arousal. "Don't talk," Angel said. "Just let me..." He thrust and groaned. "Christ, Wesley."

Wesley's cock throbbed every time Angel pushed inside of him, driving him that much closer to his orgasm. He clung to Angel, moving with him, making every motion feel that much more intense. "God," he said, already forgetting Angel's command not to speak. "I'd let you do anything."

"Would you?" Angel's rhythm was speeding up, most of his weight resting on his hands as he fucked Wesley harder. He shifted and got one hand between them, wrapping his grip tightly around Wesley's erection.

"Yes. Anything. Everything." Wesley panted the words out, barely able to think. Angel was overwhelming his senses, and the last remnants of his control were slipping. He couldn't hold back his reactions. "Angel, please."

"You can come any time you want to," Angel murmured, his hand moving on Wesley's cock.

Wesley was trembling from head to toe he was so close to his orgasm. It required all of his fragmenting willpower not to give in at every stroke of his cock or thrust deep inside of him. "I don't want to," he said, but he knew he wasn't going to have a choice for much longer. His body was throbbing in time with Angel's movements, pulsing and clenching around Angel's erection. It was like they were connected, so perfectly were they moving together.

Angel slowed down by half, concentrating the stroking of his hand further down Wesley's shaft. "Not yet?" he asked.

A moan of dismay escaped Wesley before he could stop it; his orgasm was burning just beyond him, and his body wanted to reach it even if he didn't. He opened his eyes again, looking up at Angel. "It's not all about coming." He squeezed his muscles around Angel's cock, enjoying how full he felt. "It's about this, too."

"God." Angel trembled gratifyingly and bent to mouth at Wesley's nipple.

"Is this good?" Wesley asked, sliding his hands down Angel's back. His breath caught with every slow thrust.

Angel nodded, scraping his teeth over Wesley's nipple and sliding his hand over the wet head of Wesley's cock. "It's good. You're good. So fucking good, Wes."

"Oh, god." Wesley arched up into him, seeking more of everything. Angel's words reverberated inside of him and made him feel like every part of him was crumbling, even walls around wounds in his heart that he couldn't possibly let himself feel again. He tried to focus on the pleasure, his thrusts onto Angel's cock growing harder.

"That's it," Angel encouraged, meeting each of Wesley's movements. "Yeah, like that. Come on, Wes. Come on."

"Angel." Wesley didn't want to come. He really didn't want to. He wanted to stay locked together with Angel, moving in tandem, their bodies wrapped together, but he had been too close for too long to hold back. "Oh. Oh. Angel. Please. No. Just..." He pressed upwards into the solid weight of Angel's body, using his hands on Angel's lower back to make the next thrust deep, and cried out something unintelligible as Angel's hand on his cock pushed him over the edge.

His orgasm was like a wildfire, taking over his body in flash of heat and flame. His hips jerked out of his control, shoving his erection into Angel's fist and Angel's cock into him, as his skin and bones sparked and burned, pouring out of him in glorious pulses.

He heard Angel's answering cry, felt Angel's release throb into him, but none of it was more than a dim realization compared to the fierce pleasure searing its way through him.

When it had faded, Wesley found himself cradled on Angel's chest, their positions reversed but Angel's cock still deep inside him, Angel's hand resting on Wesley's head as he fought to catch his breath.

There was no heartbeat for Wesley to hear besides his own, but he found that he didn't miss it in the slightest. He rubbed his cheek against Angel's chest - barely a movement at all, given how lethargic he felt - and sighed with great satisfaction.

A very small part of his brain noted how freeing it was not to have to pull up his defenses immediately, unlike with Lilah, but then the gap between Lilah and Angel, who they were and what they wanted, was so great that there really was no comparison at all.

"I love you," he murmured, the words a bit indistinct but the sentiment absolutely sincere.

"Yeah?" Angel said, his hand sliding down to Wesley's shoulder and rubbing it. "Good. Because I love you, too."

Wesley smiled and lazily caressed Angel's side. "I wonder if I could ever not be surprised to hear you say that."

"I'm pretty sure you'll stop being surprised at some point. You might even get sick of it," Angel said.

"I don't think it's possible to get sick of hearing those words," Wesley said quietly.

"Guess we'll find out." Angel sounded relaxed and possibly even a bit sleepy, his hand moving slowly up and down along Wesley's spine.

Feeling almost fragile with contentment, Wesley shut his eyes and rubbed his cheek against Angel's chest again. He realized, then, that Angel's words could have another meaning. "Will you get tired of me telling you?" he asked. "I can stop."

"You're thinking too much," Angel told him, patting his head. "I don't want you to stop saying it."

"Good." Wesley took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "I'm afraid thinking is what I do," he added apologetically.

"I'm glad thinking is what you do," Angel said. "Comes in handy. Except for when it's driving you crazy -- that's the only time I don't like it." Angel shifted beneath him, their bodies separating before settling against one another again.

"When does it drive me crazy?" Wesley asked, trying to think of a time when it did. The memory of the weeks before he took Connor away slid into his mind like an unwelcome splash of cold water. "Oh. Well," he said more stiffly. "Yes, I can see why you wouldn't like that."

He lifted his head to find Angel frowning. "Whatever it is you're thinking isn't what I meant," Angel said gently. "I just meant now, when you're convincing yourself I'm going to get annoyed if you tell me you love me too much. Which, I repeat, I won't."

"I'm not convincing myself of anything," Wesley protested. "I'm simply trying to make sure of what you want. Asking you seems the most direct way."

"I just want you," Angel said, touching Wesley's cheek. "You don't have to worry so much about the rest of it. Okay? Just be here. That's what I need."

"I always worry about you." Wesley forced out a smile, although he was beginning to feel like he had lost his way again. He doubted that there would be a time when past decisions wouldn't come back to haunt him when he least wanted it, but he deserved to remember. "But I'm here."

"Me, too," Angel said. "I know there's a lot of stuff to work out, but I'm thinking we can do it together." He looked endearingly hopeful with a small smile playing about his lips.

It was hard to think about other things when Angel was right there, looking up at him like that. "Together," Wesley said softly, his smile turning more genuine. "I like that word."

"Yeah. So do I." Angel pulled him down and kissed him, taking it slowly.

Wesley kissed him back with painful tenderness, cupping Angel's face with one hand. He could feel the movements of Angel's jaw beneath his palm, and he stroked Angel's cheek with his thumb as he met his mouth in gentle kisses. The fanciful side of himself, which felt like it had been locked away for ages, thought that he could almost taste the hope on Angel's lips. Hope for them.

Angel slid his fingers into Wesley's hair and held on, tilting Wesley's head slightly to improve the angle so that they could kiss more deeply. Still, within a minute or so, Angel pulled back and smiled at Wesley again. "You ready to get some sleep?"

Taking a deep breath and then releasing it, Wesley nodded. "It's been a very long day," he admitted. "At least it feels like it."

"Yeah." Angel rolled Wesley to one side and grabbed what Wesley hoped was a not-too-dirty t-shirt from the floor, using it to wipe Wesley's chest and belly clean before tossing it over the other side of the bed. He reached down and pulled up the sheet, settling it over them. "There. Warm enough?"

"Mmm," Wesley murmured his agreement and slid back over next to Angel, reluctant to lose his touch. He could feel his body slowly shutting down toward sleep, but he roused himself enough to say, "I'm very happy for you about Connor and Cordelia."

"Thanks," Angel said. He slipped an arm under Wesley and pulled him closer. "It's a relief. Knowing that everyone's okay. Or, you know... mostly okay."

"I can hardly remember the last time that was true." Wesley edged over until he was pressed up as close to Angel as he could get.

"Nice feeling, isn't it?" Angel said. He felt relaxed and solid against Wesley.

"Wonderful." Wesley closed his eyes and sighed. "Thank you."

Angel made a mumbled sound of contentment and stroked his hand along Wesley's side.

Wesley yawned again. It was strange but comforting to feel such deep inner satisfaction, and he found himself smiling as he drifted to sleep.

~ * ~ * ~

Angel woke up with warmth all along his front and his lips pressed to the back of Wesley's shoulder. He could feel Wesley's even breathing and hear the steady thump of his heartbeat.

Both were noises that should have been reassuring -- and were, to some extent -- but as soon as Angel was awake, his mind started going in circles and he knew almost immediately that he wouldn't be falling asleep again any time soon. Rather than stay in bed and chance waking Wesley, he decided to get up.

Carefully, he disentangled himself from Wesley and rolled away from him. Wesley made a small sound that might have been a protest, but resettled into sleep almost immediately.

Angel didn't turn on any lights; he just crept over to the small table in the kitchen area of his suite and sat down in the one of the chairs. Even with things the way they were, he couldn't help but worry about how they'd turn out in the end. Connor was still pretty screwed up, and as much as Angel wanted to be hopeful, he knew that wasn't something that was going to change overnight. And Cordelia... she'd been through a lot. It would be a mistake to think things with her would just go back to normal, not that he was even sure he knew what that was anymore. And the stuff that had had happened between her and Connor... even knowing that it hadn't really been Cordelia calling the shots, the image of seeing the two of them together like he had was seared into Angel's brain, something he'd never be able to forget.

"Angel?" Wesley's voice was soft with more than sleep, like he wasn't sure that Angel was there at all. Angel realized that he probably couldn't see him across the dark room.

"Yeah, I'm here." He didn't move, though, and he didn't know what else to say.

There was a rustling of the covers as Wesley propped himself up on his elbows. "Is everything all right?"

Angel sighed and got up, because he knew if he didn't Wesley would probably get out of bed and come over to see him, and the whole reason he'd got up in the first place was so that Wesley could keep sleeping. "Yeah. I just couldn't sleep." He sat down on the edge of the bed and reached out to touch Wesley's sheet-covered stomach, warm through the thin layer of fabric.

"And here I thought I had worn you out," Wesley said with a flicker of a grin. He turned serious again almost immediately, though, and he covered Angel's hand with his own. "Is there anything I can do? You don't have to stay here on my account."

"I didn't want to wake you up," Angel said. "I was just, you know... thinking."

Wesley squeezed Angel's hand. "Would that be 'brooding' to the rest of us?" he asked.

"Probably." Angel squeezed back. "But it was mostly just thinking."

There was a brief pause, like Wesley was considering his response. "What about?"

"Oh, you know," Angel said, even though Wesley wouldn't have asked if he'd known for sure. "Connor, and what's gonna happen to him. What I can do to make things better for him. How Cordelia's going to deal with being back after everything that happened. Stuff like that."

"Yes," Wesley said. The drowsiness in his voice was gone, but he didn't sound upset, just awake. "There's a lot to be concerned about. Not to sound unforgivably Californian, but would it help to talk about it?"

Angel smiled despite himself. "I don't know. That's kind of something I try to avoid."

"It's your decision, but I thought we were doing this together." Wesley looked up at him calmly, giving Angel no indication of what he was feeling.

That hit Angel right on his guilt button. "We are," he said. "I want to. It's just been a long time since I had anyone to really share this stuff with. I'm not very good at it."

Wesley's thumb gently stroked the back of Angel's hand. "It's all right," he said in a low, steady voice. Angel wasn't sure if he sounded sad, resigned, or something else entirely. "I'll be here when you're ready."

Angel lay down next to Wesley, ignoring the fact that he was on top of the covers and Wesley was underneath them, and put an arm around him. "Do you think it will get easier?" he asked.

"Talking to me?" Wesley asked. "I certainly hope so."

Shaking his head, Angel said, "I didn't mean you. Just talking in general."

"You've made great strides in that area in the years that I've known you." Wesley slowly slid his hand along Angel's forearm, a warm, comforting caress. "You're better at it than you think."

Angel nuzzled in close, his lips pressing against Wesley's throat briefly, allowing himself to take the comfort Wesley was offering. "We'll figure it out, right? All of it?"

"I have faith in our abilities," Wesley replied. "With a few notable exceptions, we've done very well in the past."

"The stuff with Cordy..." Angel sighed. "She went through a lot."

Wesley's hand continued to stroke along Angel's arm. "She's also very strong; she always has been. She's not going to like what she remembers, but she'll make it through. We just have to remember not to treat her as fragile. She hates that." He gave a soft little huff of a laugh. "Or maybe that's the best thing to do. She'd get so angry at us she'd forget the rest."

Angel nodded against Wesley's throat. It was nice, letting the warmth of Wesley's skin soak into him. "For a while, at least."

"I'm fairly certain she'll be angry with me for longer than that," Wesley said quietly. "But Cordelia's always been resilient. There's no reason to think she won't recover her spirits quickly."

"She's not mad at you," Angel said.

"She doesn't remember." Although he tensed just enough that Angel could sense it, Wesley tipped his head so that his cheek was resting against Angel's hair. "It doesn't matter."

"She doesn't remember the stuff since she came back," Angel emphasized. "Or at least not completely. But she remembers before that, and she's not mad at you." He lifted his head and pressed his lips to Wesley's lightly. "It does matter."

Wesley looked very serious, and Angel knew that expression well enough to guess that it meant he was trying to keep from letting his feelings show. "It does," he admitted finally.

"We'll get it sorted out," Angel said. "I promise. Okay?" He wanted to promise Wesley the world.

"I can work with her without being friends, if that's what it comes to. Don't push her."

"I won't." Angel ran his hand down Wesley's side. "But I don't think I'd need to. She feels bad about what happened, you know."

"I find that hard to believe," Wesley said with a brittle smile. "She never feels bad about anything she chose to do."

"There's a difference between not wanting to admit it and not feeling it," Angel said, trying to find the words to be reassuring. "You two will work things out. Don't worry."

"I'd like it if we did, but I'm not going to hold my breath." Wesley slid his hand along Angel's arm, tilting his head to look at him more squarely. "I already have much more than I thought I ever would," he said. He seemed almost peaceful.

"Yeah," Angel said. "I know what you mean." There was something inside him that had... relaxed. Not that he was ever likely to stop worrying about things, but it felt as if he had one less thing to worry about now. He had Wesley.

"I love you," Wesley said simply, looking into his eyes.

And Angel believed it. "I know," he said, with some wonder in his voice. "I love you, too."

Wesley smiled broadly, the expression transforming his face into a ghost of his younger self. "I feel exceptionally fortunate that you do," he said.

"You deserve to be fortunate," Angel said, then frowned. "Actually, I'm not even all that sure that made sense."

Wesley's smile turned more bemused. "Not particularly."

"Well then, I guess how I feel doesn't always make sense," Angel said, smiling back because it was so nice to see Wesley looking happy. "I don't care. I just want you to have everything you need."

"I do." Wesley turned onto his side to face him. "Angel, I'm not sure you've ever realized how important you are to me. It makes things very simple for me."

"So all the times your life was complicated, it was my fault?" Angel figured Wesley would deny it, which was okay. They both knew it was at least partially true.

"No, of course not!" Wesley looked shocked at the suggestion. "None of it was your fault."

Angel put his hand on the side of Wesley's face and traced his cheekbone with one thumb. "Well, yeah, some of it was. There's nothing wrong with admitting that."

"You did what you felt was right," Wesley replied. "I'm not going to fault you for that."

"Seems like you're better at forgiving than I am," Angel said, running his fingers back into Wesley's hair. "It took me a long time. I'm sorry." It was hard to say the words, but it felt right.

"Angel..." Wesley searched Angel's face, his brow furrowed. "Thank you, but you don't have to apologize." Rubbing his hand along Angel's side, he grew even quieter and more serious, like his mind was busy working beyond the conversation. "I never meant for things to happen the way they did, but it was my fault."

"Look... I'm not gonna lie to you and say you didn't make a mistake. You did. But I should have realized sooner that you were trying to do a good thing. I shouldn't have been so stubborn." Angel wasn't sure it had been stubbornness and not simple grief, but it was all kind of a blur now, and he preferred it that way. Connor was sleeping under his roof again, and they'd figure out a way to make things okay. That was what mattered.

Wesley lifted his chin but didn't say anything right away. He continued to look sort of withdrawn, even as he studied Angel's eyes. "I can understand why my motives didn't matter to you at the time," he said finally. His expression grew softer. "I can't apologize for trying to protect you and Connor, but I hope you know that if I could change what happened then I would. Not for me, but for you."

"I do. I know that." Angel leaned closer and brushed his lips over Wesley's.

The kiss was gentle, and Wesley relaxed with a quiet sigh under Angel's touch. "Thank you," he whispered, his eyes closed. "I needed to hear that."

"Come here," Angel said softly, even though there wasn't any closer for Wesley to come. "It's okay. We're okay." He knew that the words didn't mean much, but he wanted to say something reassuring.

Wesley tightened his arm around Angel's waist and nodded. "I think we are," he said. When he opened his eyes again, there was a smile in them and a warmth that was almost palpable.

Angel wanted to bask in that warmth forever -- or, he amended silently, for as long as he could. Being with Wesley was more than he'd ever really let himself hope for, and now...
He pressed his body against Wesley's and kissed him again. "We're okay," he repeated. "And we're going to stay that way."

"I fully support that idea," Wesley said, bringing their mouths together once more. The kisses lasted longer this time, each one firm and intense, and Wesley made soft, satisfied sounds each time their lips met or their tongues touched. He sounded happy.

When they parted, Wesley rested his head on Angel's shoulder and trailed his fingertips over his chest. They left faint ribbons of heat in their wake, quickly disappearing. "Do you think you're ready to get back under the covers and sleep again?" he asked. The corner of his mouth curved upward into a grin. "Or not sleep?"

Angel rolled over on top of Wesley, pinning him to the mattress and licking that quirked corner of his lips. "I'm a big fan of not sleeping," he said.

Wesley grinned more broadly and slid his hands up and down Angel's back. "I'm sure you could convince me of its merits."

Angel smiled. "Then let me," he said and set to work doing his very best to do just that.