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Sick of Shadows

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Sick of Shadows

Their office was small, but Wesley thought it suited them.

It wasn't as if they needed more square footage. In reality, he knew that part of the reason they'd wanted to rent the office in the first place was just so that their small
but growing business seemed more professional, but in reality they could have run it from anywhere at all. It was nice to have a place to meet clients, but they could have done that at any number of local coffee houses and cafes. The office was the punctuation at the end of a sentence that had taken them more than a year to write, all the while struggling to pay rent and buy food.

Not that that had been something Wesley was unaccustomed to, of course, not after his time in L.A.. But for the most part he tried not to think about that time.

He looked at Giles, who was in the process of winding up a phone call, then he let his gaze wander the room. The desk that they shared -- with two sets of pens because Giles liked fibretips and Wesley refused to use them, preferring the even less expensive Bics that came in packages of a dozen or more and could be lost or broken without the faintest hint of guilt.

There were four chairs -- one behind the desk, a proper desk chair that looked more posh than it actually was, and the other three on the other side of the desk so that clients could explain their needs in relative comfort. A small filing cabinet, which was on the verge of needing to be replaced with a larger one or, at the very least, added to, was beneath the small window.

Wesley turned his attention back to the invoice in front of him, folding it into thirds and sliding it into an envelope that he'd already addressed.

Giles reached out a hand, grabbed one of his pens and began scribbling on a notepad, repeating back an address as he did so, before ending the call with a word of thanks.

“I think we’ve finally got a lead on part of the stolen shipment,” he said, glancing over at Wesley and standing up. “It’s all very, ‘heard it from a mate down the pub’, but there’s a man living about four miles away who’s been flashing a lot of money and talking about statues that glow.” Giles began to thumb through a battered A to Z, perched on the edge of the desk, with his foot brushing Wesley’s leg as he swung it idly back and forth. “Of course, he could be talking about some tatty, luminous knock-offs, but the money involved seems excessive, and he hasn’t been seen for a few days.” Marking the page, with a scrap of paper, Giles frowned. “If those statues aren’t properly stored, they could be dangerous.”

Wesley finished sealing the envelope and stood up. "We'll need to track him down as soon as possible," he agreed, feeling the familiar tension that came with this sort of case. "If he's sold more than a few of them we're going to have a hell of a job tracking them all down. I can't imagine he's kept any sort of records."

“Doubt it,” Giles agreed, taking his coat down from the hook behind the door and putting it on. “Somehow I can’t see it featuring on his tax return, can you? But it’s only been three days, and if he knows enough to be selling them at the high end of the market, let’s hope he’s found few people interested - and that he knows how to set up the shielding spell. Or we might find ourselves asking questions of a corpse, and that never goes well.”
He patted his pockets and pulled out the car keys. “It’s a maze of streets down there by the docks; do you want to drive, and I’ll navigate?”

"All right." Wesley picked the A to Z up off the desk and grabbed his own jacket off the back of a chair, taking the keys from Giles as he followed him out the door, being careful to check that it was locked as he closed it behind him.

They started down the narrow stairs -- the lift was out of order often as not, and after the first month or so they'd given up on attempting to use it almost entirely, saving it for the rare occasions when the stairs weren't an option for reasons of injury or... well, mostly injury, although luckily there hadn't been any instances of that lately.

"That came at just the right time," Wesley observed as they headed for the car. "Would have had to come down and put money in the meter in the next half hour anyway."

“And it was your turn,” Giles said, with a sidelong grin. Feeding the meter every two hours was irritating but necessary, as they couldn’t afford a fine or the inconvenience of finding their car fitted with a ‘boot’ just when they needed it. Taking turns to be the one to root through petty cash for small change and leave the office - usually at an inconvenient moment – had seemed a simple solution, but they’d both swapped turns, on the pretext of being in the middle of vital research, so often that the system had broken down. The bickering, negotiations and bribery that had replaced it provided them both with some amusement but the steady flow of coins into the meter was adding up. Wesley reminded himself to keep looking for garages to rent nearby, without much hope that they’d find one.

"You always think it's my turn," Wesley said. They'd managed to find a spot fairly close to the building for once, and within a minute they were in the car, Wesley adjusting the rearview mirror before shifting into drive and pulling away from the curb.

“Keep on down here for the next mile, and then take a left at the roundabout by the new Sainsburys,” Giles said. “And on the way back we should stop there. A client came in yesterday and all I could offer her in the way of refreshments was tap water and a stale digestive.”

"Mm," Wesley said, by way of agreement. "I was going to say we should go in anyway to look around, but then I realized that I'm sure it's exactly like every other Sainsbury's. I wish they'd put a Tescos in instead." It was yet another long but companionably argued point between them, the fact that Wesley preferred the one so much more strongly over the other.

“Lord, listen to us,” Giles said, gazing out of the window at the crowded streets, stretching out his legs as he tried to get comfortable in a car that wasn’t really big enough for that to be possible. “On our way to ask someone, who’s probably got an inversely accurate nickname like ‘Tiny’, about mystical statues that can melt flesh, and talking about shopping lists as we do it. I can’t decide if our life is incredibly dull, or remarkably bizarre.”

"Probably a combination of the two," Wesley said. "Although we should be -- " He swore suddenly and twisted the wheel as another car attempted to cut in front of them without warning. "Wanker," he muttered under his breath, relaxing his grip on the wheel again once the other car had merged in behind them.

“Very likely,” Giles said, giving him a curious look, “but you should be used to drivers like that after living in cities for so long. Relax.” He stretched out a hand as though he was about to pat Wesley’s arm and then replaced it in his lap and cleared his throat. “What were you saying? We should be grateful for the boring bits?”

Wesley nodded. Anyone, he told himself, would be tense under the circumstances. "Something like that." He tried to bring his attention back to something a bit more concrete and a bit less stressful. "We should look into having one of those water coolers installed. I wonder how expensive it would be."

He glanced over his shoulder before entering the roundabout, speeding up a bit so that he could merge in front of the rather large lorry that technically had the right of way.

“Could do,” Giles said, not sounding as if he was really listening. “Assuming we’re still alive to care.” From the corner of his eye, Wesley saw Giles tug on his seat belt, as though he was checking it was secure.

Another glance, this time at the speedometer, showed that he was speeding a bit more than was probably necessary. He eased his foot on the accelerator pedal as they left the roundabout behind. "Where next?"

Giles flipped open the street map and nodded at an upcoming junction. “Take a right at the lights, and then second on the left. We’re looking for Abercrombie Street. Dave said this man lived in a basement flat at number fifteen but he didn’t have a last name for him. All he could tell me was that he’s called Bill, he’s not someone you want to fuck around with - his words, not mine – and he’s not all that friendly when he’s drunk. As it’s barely four o’clock, let’s hope he’s sober.”

It didn't take long to locate Abercrombie Street. In fact, Wesley thought that they were extremely fortunate to have started out so close to begin with, even if he did recognize that good luck one time just meant that bad was probably lurking just over the horizon.

He parked the car near a likely looking building and they both got out.

"The basement?" he asked, somewhat doubtfully. "If he really does have them and he hasn't had the sense to shield them properly, I'd be surprised if he's still alive, let alone sober."

“He hasn’t been seen for a few days,” Giles reminded him, as they walked towards the house. It was in need of fresh paint, but hadn’t – quite- reached the stage where it could be described as run-down. “But we’d better hope he is alive, or at least has most of the statues with him. If there were six of them, and some are missing, the body count could get higher than we can deal with, and that means we won’t get paid. We’re supposed to get them all back with no fuss.” He frowned. “Did that sound callous and mercenary? I suppose the buyers might be innocent victims, who think the demon queen Azara will look good over the fireplace, but somehow I doubt that...”

"If it did -- sound callous and mercenary -- then you're not alone," Wesley said, gesturing to the right as it became clear that the entrance to the house must be behind some rather bedraggled bushes. In truth, he didn't think wanting to get paid for honest -- and highly specialized -- work was callous, even if it included the deaths of people without enough sense to know better.

Stepping around the bushes and walking down a short flight of steps to a door that looked new, and considerably sturdier than the frame in which it stood, Giles took a moment to consider that before replying, “Yes, but you’re not exactly an impartial observer, are you? Never mind; we’d be doing this even if we weren’t hoping for a cheque. I think.” He rapped at the door and they waited for a moment, until it became clear that if there was someone home, they weren’t feeling sociable.

"Would you do the honours?" Wesley asked, stepping back a bit to give Giles room to work.

Giles reached into the inner pocket of his coat and pulled out a set of picklocks. “I never thought I’d be grateful for my misspent youth once I left it behind me, but I have to say, it’s come in handy now and then.” His movements were deft and assured as he inserted a slender piece of metal into the lock and jiggled it carefully. “Remind me to tell you about the time I escaped a group of zombies by hot-wiring my car. Or did I just – ah, there we go – spoil the punchline?”

"I suppose it will have lost some of its punch," Wesley agreed, watching as Giles slipped the small set of tools back into his pocket and then eased the door open slowly.

“Pity,” Giles said, his attention on the dimly-lit room before them. The stale air surged past them, as though eager to escape, and Giles choked, stifling the sound behind his hand, his nose wrinkling in disgust. It smelled of decay and old blood and that made it all too familiar for both of them. It seemed they’d arrived too late, but even as Giles turned to look for a light switch, they heard a faint scrabbling noise from the far corner of the room, and a whispered, “Please...” in a voice pain had robbed of emotion.

Cautiously, Wesley moved further into the room. He was standing in just the right -- or wrong, depending on how one looked at it -- place when Giles managed to locate the light switch, flooding the room with a dingy yellowish light that, dim as it was, made the man curled up on the chair in the corner wince and attempt to cover his eyes.

"Bill?" Wesley asked, moving another half step closer.

 

“Don’t know you – ” Pale blue eyes, bleary and bloodshot, peered at them as the man lowered his hand slightly. His lips trembled but he made what must have been an effort and tried to scowl at them. “What the fuck are you doing breaking in? Eh?” His voice broke in a whine, pitiful and annoying at the same time. “Not feeling so good. Come down with something. Flu maybe.”

He moved restlessly in the chair and the light shone fully on his face for the first time. It was congested and swollen; the skin taut and shiny, dark, with blood so close to the surface that it seemed as though his face would be wet to the touch. As they watched, he raised a hand and clawed at his cheek, making the noise they’d heard as they came in, as ragged nails scraped over skin.

Giles shuddered and moved to Wesley’s side. “We have to do something,” he said quietly. “Perform the shielding spell; get him to a hospital –”

"It's too late for that," Wesley said, shaking his head. He didn't feel any sympathy for the pitiful creature in front of them, just a vague sense of disgust at the stupidity of people who played with forces they knew nothing about. "What we need to do is find out what he can tell us."

Without waiting for Giles to respond, Wesley moved closer, standing over the man. "Where are they?" he asked. "And don't bother with useless protests of 'I don't know what you're talking about.' We know you have them."

The man blinked, eyes moving to fix on Wesley’s face. “Hurts,” he said. “Get me something – I’ve got money, I can pay you. Get me something.”

“We can help you once we know where the statues are,” Giles said, sounding far too gentle for Wesley’s liking. “They’re doing this to you. You had them, didn’t you? Six of them? Are they here?”

“You can’t have them! Need them to get out of this fucking hole –” His hand came up again, but this time to his chest, tearing at a shirt already half unbuttoned and stiff with patches of dried blood, so that he could scratch skin that was beginning to shred like damp paper. “Can’t have them...”

Frustration welled up in Wesley, hot and powerful, followed immediately by impatience. This man was endangering not just his own life, but others' as well, not to mention preventing Giles and Wesley from doing their jobs. Without another thought he grabbed the man by his shirt front, barely feeling the dampness of blood seeped into the fabric, and lifted him to his feet. "Where are they?" he growled.

Bill struggled weakly against Wesley's hands, but it was clear that he wouldn't have been able to support his own weight. "They're mine," he whimpered.

"Then you're never going to get out of this hole," Wesley said. "You're going to die here unless you tell us where they are." He knew that he was implying that they'd be able to help him, when in reality he didn't think there was any chance. The man had been in proximity to the statues for too long, the magical equivalent of radiation sickness eating away at him.

He felt Giles’ hand on his arm, not pulling at him hard enough to break his hold on the man, but more than a casual touch. “Wesley...the place isn’t that big. Why don’t you have a look around for them, and I’ll see what Bill can tell us.” Giles hesitated and then said quietly, “You’re hurting him.”

"This is the only way we're going to get him to tell us," Wesley shot back, determined that he was going to get the information they needed no matter what it took. He tightened his grip on Bill, causing another whimper. "I'm not going to ask again."

The man didn't even struggle this time, as though he no longer had even that much energy. "One's in the duffle bag over there," he said. "And I sold one. The other four are in storage." He sounded defeated, utterly exhausted.

Giles moved to retrieve the bag, taking a quick look inside it. “It’s here,” he confirmed. “No sign of the packing though.” He came back to Wesley’s side, zipping the bag closed. “The others- they would have been wrapped in cloth, sealed – have you opened them too?” If he had, the protective spells, designed to render them safe as they were transported, would have been broken.

Anxiety roughened his voice and Bill flinched. “I had to look at them,” he said defensively, his hand moving restlessly on his body, nails digging in, seeming almost unaware of what he was doing. He looked at them imploringly, begging for their understanding. “Could’ve been anything. Look, you make me a fair offer and –”

Wesley didn't hesitate -- just turned the man and walked him backward two steps until Bill was pushed up against the wall roughly. "A fair offer would be killing you right now instead of leaving you to suffer," he said, his voice leaving no room for disobedience. "Who did you sell the statue to, and where are the others?"

Bill trembled, closing his eyes and gasping for air. "Guy named Nigel," he managed to get out. "I don't know anything else about him. No -- King's Arms. That's where I met him."

Since violence seemed to be getting them somewhere, Wesley tightened his hands on Bill's shirt front. "And the other statues?"

“Down the docks, in a lock up. End of – God, let me breathe! – end of Satters Road, behind the newsagent’s.” Bill’s eyes rolled up and he turned his head to the side, moaning softly. “God, can’t you do something? Feel like I’m dying here. Told you what you want, didn’t I? You’ve got to help me.”

"There is no help for you," Wesley said coldly, releasing the man without warning and watching as he crumpled slowly to the floor. He stepped back and turned to Giles. "Let's go."

Giles’ gaze travelled slowly to the dying man at his feet and then returned to Wesley. Without bothering to lower his voice, as Bill had retreated into himself, curled up and making sounds that would have been screams if he’d had enough strength left, he said sharply, “If you’re sure you’ve done all you can to make him comfortable, by all means let’s leave him to die in peace.”

"We don't have time for this bleeding heart crap," Wesley said, checking to make sure that Giles was still holding the duffle bag before starting for the door. "He brought this on himself -- it's not our responsibility to do anything for him."

“I doubt he knew what he was doing, though I agree that’s not an excuse.” Giles gave Bill one last look and then shook his head. “Fine. You’re correct that we don’t have much time. I’ve got what we need to make this safe in the boot of the car.” He hesitated. "I don't like leaving him like this though."

"Then we won't." Wesley turned around and walked back over to Bill, intent on knocking him unconscious with a quick blow to the head, but just as he neared him the man gave a little bubbling moan and went still. Wesley paused, but there wasn't another intake of breath. "There," he said. "Happy now?" And started for the door.

***
Giles got out of the car and slammed the door, leaning against it for a moment and feeling a weariness that had very little to do with the fact that he’d been awake for twenty hours. The statues had been returned, a cheque was folded neatly into his wallet, and he should have been looking forward to the chance to relax at home, contemplating a job well done.

The lock up had proved to be as easy to break into as a garden shed, and the protective wrappings were still in the packing box, making it relatively easy to safeguard the statues once more. Giles had felt optimistic, though he knew that was the easy part.

Five down...and information on Nigel, who proved to have made more enemies than friends in his rise from local boy to successful entrepreneur, was sold for less than Giles would have been willing to pay, driven as he was by the nightmarish vision of Bill’s congested face. It seemed Nigel liked to go slumming at his old local now and then, flashing his money, bragging about deals he’d made, and name dropping. His old friends were torn between envy and scorn but though some residual loyalty kept them from giving out much more than an address, they said enough for Giles to wonder if Nigel’s meteoric rise had had less to do with some lucky breaks, and more to do with an exchange of favours with someone less than human.

It would explain why his eyes had bulged at the sight of the statue Bill had been showing around, a reaction that had led Bill, cannier than he looked, to take Nigel off to a quiet corner to negotiate a price that must have been far more than Bill had expected.

Getting into Nigel’s house, brand-new and hideous in its professionally decorated, sterile perfection, had been simple enough. Giles had names he could drop too, names that were more than enough to get him over this threshold. Nigel had beamed, offered them drinks, blinked anxiously at Wesley and then dissolved into messy tears in the space of the five minutes it had taken for Wesley to describe Bill’s death with a clinical relish that left nothing to the imagination.

He’d balked at the demand that he hand the statue over though, teary eyes hardening suspiciously as he glanced at it, displayed behind glass in the corner of the room, and then back at Giles and Wesley. Giles had begun a patient explanation of the risks again, watching resignation gather on Nigel’s face, when Wesley had lost his patience, pulled out a gun Giles hadn’t even known he possessed, and held it an inch away from Nigel’s eye, counting slowly to ten as Nigel scrambled to find the key to the cabinet.

By the time he reached seven, the statue was in Giles’ hands, and Wesley was smiling down at Nigel who had rediscovered the God of his childhood and was praying to him with a remarkable amount of sincerity.

Pushing himself away from the car, Giles walked up the short flight of stairs and followed Wesley into their flat.

Wesley flicked on the light switch and rolled his shoulders in a way that said he was probably just as weary as Giles felt before shrugging off his jacket and draping it over the nearest chair. "You look tired," he observed, his voice softer than Giles had heard it in hours. "Why don't you go get in the shower, and I'll make a couple of sandwiches."

“I’m not hungry,” Giles said, keeping his voice even with an effort. “And I think you need the shower more than I do.” He looked around, seeing the familiar surroundings without registering more than the fact that they really needed to clear some of the books off the table, and added, “There’s still blood on your hands.” The unintended double meaning of his words made them sound harsh, and he glanced back at Wesley, forcing a smile. “And your shirt.”

The return smile that Wesley gave him was as familiar as the rest of the flat, so gentle and warm that it very nearly made Giles question his memories of the past seven hours or so. "Shower with me then," Wesley said, walking through the living room and back into the kitchen as he began to unbutton the stained shirt, disappearing around the corner. Giles could hear the sound of water running in the sink, and by the time he joined Wesley the other man was stripped bare to the waist and was just reaching for a towel with which to dry his freshly washed hands.

Too tired to start a discussion that he was fairly certain would turn into an argument, or worse, bring about a return of the disturbing coldness Wesley had shown, Giles stripped off his clothes in silence, shoving them aside with his foot in an untidy heap. Stepping into the shower beside Wesley, he tilted back his head and let the hot water drive away his concerns. The cubicle was small enough that it was impossible to share it without touching, but that wasn’t usually a problem. Eyes closed, he reached out and pulled Wesley against him, holding him close.

“If I fall asleep, make sure I don’t drown,” he said over the noise of the spray, letting his forehead rest against Wesley’s.

Wesley's head tilted, his next words spoken across Giles' lips. "I won't let you drown," he promised, hands sliding down to Giles' lower back, kneading at the muscles there as they began to kiss slowly.

Giles could feel Wesley's arousal against his thigh, and the touch of fine but deceptively strong hands caused his own body to respond as well, just as it always did.

He'd never forget the night that Wesley had turned up on his doorstep, sick with exhaustion and with still healing scar tissue on his throat. It had taken days to get the story out of him, and even then the description had been sketchy at best. For the first weeks Giles had worried that Wesley might be suicidal, but gradually he'd come around, beginning to act like a more confident and, importantly, more human version of the Wesley that Giles had known in Sunnydale. They'd grown close quickly, and then even closer when, one night about eight weeks after he'd arrived, Wesley had kissed him in the kitchen, in front of the open refrigerator, unexpected but eagerly welcomed.

Wesley's hands always did this -- stirred Giles to passion, made him hard and anxious for more, even when he knew there were things that were being pushed into the background.

Reaching out blindly, eyes half closed as the water streamed over his face, Giles broke the kiss long enough to fill his cupped hand with shower gel, tilting it so that some poured into Wesley’s palm too. He wanted to get out of the shower quickly; get to bed, where he could take what Wesley was offering, and fall asleep with the memory of Wesley’s face, tight with disgusted impatience as he looked down at a dying man, wiped from his mind.

As he smoothed the soap over Wesley’s back, letting his hand travel down to his backside and then slide over his hip, teasing at half a dozen places where a touch would make Wesley voice soft sounds of pleasure, but lingering at none of them, that didn’t seem beyond his reach.

It didn't take long for them to get clean -- fortunately, Wesley seemed to be amenable to a quick shower in favor of bed as well -- and they walked to the bedroom between kisses, still damp with water and shivering a bit in the chill. They slid underneath the duvet, arms wrapped around each other as they returned to the longer kisses that they'd shared in the shower.

Giles felt warmth return to him, body and spirit, bringing with it a relaxation that replaced his sleepiness with arousal. He left Wesley’s warm mouth and kissed his throat, biting gently at the scar that crossed it, something Wesley had refused to allow at first, though he never tried to hide the mark. Breaking down his stubborn belief that the scar was a sign of his failure; ugly because of that, and not to be touched or spoken of, had taken time Giles never regretted spending. The skin beneath his mouth shifted as Wesley moaned deep in his throat, and Giles grinned, reaching down with a directness he didn’t think Wesley would mind, to stroke lightly along Wesley’s erection, hard as his own.

“Is this my reward for staying awake?” he asked, tightening his grip and tilting his hips forward just enough to let his cock rub against Wesley’s thigh in a wordless invitation.

"No," Wesley said, rolling them over unexpectedly, his weight pressing Giles down into the mattress as his erection slid across Giles' own. He kissed Giles fiercely, reaching down to grab the wrist that was still trapped between them, lifting Giles' arm so that his wrist was pinned briefly. "No," he said again. "This is." And he slid down Giles' body to take the head of his cock into a warm and knowing mouth, two spit-slick fingers probing the entrance to Giles' body.

Giles smiled into the darkness, spreading his legs a little wider in encouragement as he brought his hand down to brush against Wesley’s damp hair. Wesley wasn’t in the least shy, in bed or out of it, but he was usually happy to let Giles set the pace of their lovemaking, rarely taking charge like this. The skin on the wrist he’d gripped briefly but firmly tingled slightly and that, coupled with the fact that Wesley was still concentrating his efforts just on the tip of his cock made Giles lift his hips enough to slide inside Wesley’s mouth another inch or two.

He felt as well as heard Wesley make a little noise that sounded like pleasure, felt Wesley's mouth slide all the way down to the base of his shaft until he was completely engulfed, felt Wesley's throat contracting around the head in a way that made Giles shudder. At the same time, Wesley's fingers were slowly working their way into him, the pressure a sweet counterpoint to the avid attention being paid to his cock.

“God, Wesley,” he whispered, before he got to the point where he’d be beyond words, “that’s – Oh God, yes –”

Wesley’s fingers, deeper now and crooked slightly were sending waves of sensation over him with every short thrust, until Giles felt besieged; driven relentlessly towards a climax, with all his attention focused on what Wesley was doing to him. If he had one regret, it was that his hands, clutching desperately now at the sheets as his fingers curled into fists, could reach no lower than Wesley’s shoulders, but that fleeting thought was lost in the overwhelming pleasure as he came, Wesley’s free hand pressing him back against the bed as he jerked upwards in a mindless reflex, feeling Wesley swallow around him and hearing the hoarse, pleading sounds that final caress drew from his lips.

Before Giles could recover enough to do anything more than tremble and gasp, Wesley's mouth was back on his own. He was only dimly aware of Wesley's fumbled movements, of the sound of the bedside drawer being opened, but there was no mistaking the head of Wesley's cock as it pressed into him slowly, slick and hard.

"God," Wesley groaned, the word long and drawn out against Giles' lips as he slid deeper, making Giles gasp again. Hips retreated and then jerked forward sharply, Giles' hands scrabbling for purchase they couldn't find on the smooth skin of Wesley's hips as Wesley began to move steadily.

Even as he moved to meet each thrust, forcing a body, that was not only tired but still shaken from a climax he hadn’t been given time to absorb, to respond with all the ardour Wesley deserved, Giles felt unease stir. Wesley was doing nothing wrong, nothing he hadn’t done from time to time before – but it felt different, and he couldn’t work out why, not when Wesley was driving into him in a relentless, quickening rhythm that left Giles breathless.

Wesley's panted breaths were coming closer together now, sounding harsh and almost pained, the timbre of his voice rising slightly as he neared his own release. He kissed Giles again, perfunctorily -- it was clear that his attention was focused on the increasing tension in his body, his hand sliding down to grip the back of Giles' thigh as his movement lost coordination.

With a hoarse groan, Wesley came deep inside Giles' body.

Giles reached up his hand to squeeze Wesley’s shoulder, as his shudders subsided, pulling him down against him and kissing him gently, drawing out the moment before one of them spoke and they drifted apart, just a little. He felt Wesley’s heartbeat against his chest, slowing to normal, and then Wesley eased out of him and moved away, leaving Giles staring up at a ceiling he couldn’t see in the dark.

 

After a little while, he felt Wesley's arm slip around his waist and warm lips pressed to his upper arm. "Are you all right?" Wesley asked quietly.

“Yes, of course,” Giles said automatically. “Just tired, that’s all. Sorry.” He turned to face Wesley, bringing his hand up to cup his face for a second, before sliding it over Wesley’s shoulders. “What about you?” He bit his lip, hearing the words he wanted to say echo in his head, sounding accusing and suspicious. Discarding them, he said carefully, “You seemed a little – tense today. Anything troubling you?”

Wesley kissed him. "No, I'm fine," he said, but Giles thought that he could hear something in Wesley's voice that was unfamiliar. He rubbed his hand along the back of Wesley's neck, hoping the soothing touch might convince Wesley to say more, but he stayed silent.

The darkness made it impossible to see Wesley’s expression clearly, but Giles found himself grateful that his own face was equally hidden. “Wesley, you didn’t seem fine to me. You seemed – Christ, Wesley, you beat up a dying man and pulled a gun on someone!” The shock of those two moments caught up with Giles and he felt something approaching anger sweep aside his fatigue. His body was rigid with tension, as it had been before the shower and the sex had relaxed him, and his head was aching. He could still hear the sound Bill’s nails had made, scraping against his skin –

Pushing back the covers, he stumbled to the bathroom, leaning over the sink and gagging, spitting out sourness, but managing to avoid throwing up. He waited a moment and then brushed his teeth, swilling the tap-water around his mouth and grimacing at the flat taste. He let the tap run cold and splashed water over his face until the dizziness left him and then turned to go back into the bedroom.

Wesley was standing just on the other side of the doorway, a dim outline. "Can I get you anything? What can I do?"

“Where have you been keeping that gun?” Giles didn’t bother asking where Wesley had got it; he could think of any number of ways. “Here? At the office?” He stepped towards Wesley, feeling frustration build up in him. “Anything else you think I don’t need to know about?”

"I wasn't hiding it from you," Wesley said, in what Giles was certain was a lie. "We're in a dangerous business. It's only sensible to have a gun." He sounded defensive, almost angry. "Is there something I need to know? That you don't trust me, for example?"

“I’ve managed without one for longer than you’ve been alive,” Giles said, “and I seem to have survived.” He rubbed at his forehead, trying to force back the dull ache. “And if I didn’t trust you, I wouldn’t have let you point that gun at someone. I knew you were bluffing –” Wesley turned his face away as the headlights from a passing car shone through the half-open slats of the blind, but not before Giles saw his expression. “Oh God, Wesley! What the hell is wrong with you? Since when did we start killing humans?”

"Don't go all self-righteous on me now," Wesley spat out. "You're not up on some pedestal of impeccable morals. There's nothing 'wrong' with me -- I'm willing to do what needs to be done, just like you are."

Giles nodded slowly. “I’ve done worse when it was needed, yes, but we seem to differ on when that point is reached. Those two pathetic sods didn’t come close to a threat. If you can’t see that what you did was excessive, then I’d say something was wrong.” He paused and then added softly, “Whatever it is, I wish you'd let me help?”

Wesley stood there for a long moment, and Giles felt the beginnings of hope stirring only to have them dashed when Wesley said, "I don't need help. There's nothing wrong, and the last thing I need is you judging me." He turned and headed for the doorway that led to the hall. "I'll sleep on the sofa."

“Don’t do that.” Giles reached out and took Wesley’s arm, stopping him. “I’m not judging you; I’m concerned.” Wesley’s reaction wasn’t doing anything to reassure Giles, but he hated the thought of them sleeping apart. They never had since they’d started to share a bed and he couldn’t see that it would solve anything. “Let’s just get some sleep,” he said, trying to keep his voice level. He rubbed his hand against Wesley’s arm, trying to recapture the closeness they’d lost. “Come back to bed, Wesley.”

After a brief hesitation, Wesley sighed and nodded.

Once they were settled in bed again, covers pulled up and Wesley's arm around him, Giles tried to relax. Whatever it was that was wrong, they weren't going to solve it in one night, and worrying about it wouldn't do any good.

"I'm really fine," Wesley said, breaking the silence.

Unable to lie, or agree, Giles settled for kissing him. “Let’s take it easy tomorrow,” he said drowsily. “Spend some of that cheque...God, I’m so tired. ‘Night, Wes.”

***
When Wesley dreams, he dreams of Angel.

It isn't often -- a handful of times since he returned to England -- but when it happens he always wakes up with the same feeling in the pit of his stomach, a sick sort of dread that leaves him heavy-limbed.

This one is no exception. Angel -- or more rightly, Angelus -- holds the infant Connor in his arms, blood running the length of his face and dripping rapidly onto the pale blue blanket the baby is wrapped in.

Angelus grabbing Connor from Wesley's arms and turning him, quicker than any human would be able to, drawing the sharp blade of a knife across his throat.

Angelus holding him down, a pillow over his face as he gasps for air that isn't available.

And then, of course, the most disturbing -- Angelus fucking him, hard and unrelenting, every thrust threatening to shatter Wesley into little pieces. Wesley is struggling, trying to get away, not that there's any chance that he'll be able to do so. He feels the cold prickle of fangs and the hot gush of his own blood as Angelus begins to feed from him, still thrusting in forcefully.

The worst part is that Wesley loves it.

Slowly, Wesley woke up, the worst of the dream fading into the background as the room became real again. Giles was sleeping peacefully beside him, although they weren't touching, which was probably just as well.

Wesley got up out of bed very quietly, taking his dressing gown from the back of the chair where he generally kept it and creeping from the room without waking Giles, determined to shake loose the power that the dream seemed to have over him by concentrating on the concrete, the solid.

He started a pot of coffee and then, remembering what Giles had said about taking it easy, got out the ingredients for a proper cooked breakfast and began to prepare it. With the smell of bacon frying and coffee brewing heavy in the air, it was almost possible to forget that the dream even existed.

“That’s good to wake up to,” Giles said, startling him. Heavy-eyed but smiling, he stood in the kitchen door, dressed, like Wesley, in a toweling robe. “Though I missed being able to say good morning to you properly. I don’t think a fry up can compare to that. Unless it includes mushrooms, in which case...”

"In which case you forgive me for last night?" Wesley asked, going over and putting his arms around Giles, breathing in the scent of him, warm and familiar. "I'm sorry," he said. "It won't happen again." The morning light was streaming in the through the windows, sunshine pooling on the floor, and it was easy to believe that what he was saying was true.

“I hope that’s not true for all of it,” Giles said, still smiling, though there was a hint of wariness in his eyes as he moved closer, returning the hug. “Some of it I’d like to happen again.” The smile faded and he pulled back enough to meet Wesley’s eyes. “There’s no need to apologise for anything, Wesley. I – possibly I over-reacted. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant day and I should’ve had more sense than to badger you when we were both exhausted. I’m sorry.”

Wesley shook his head a bit, although admittedly it was more because he didn't want to talk about it than anything else. "Sit down and I'll pour you some coffee."

“You’re cooking,” Giles said, nodding at the frying pan, which was starting to smoke. “Rescue the bacon and I’ll get us coffee.”

Quickly pulling the pan to a different burner and removing the bacon to a plate, Wesley poured some of the fat off and then added the eggs. At the same time he turned the broiler on, as the mushrooms and tomatoes were already in the oven waiting to be cooked. "What do you want to do today?" he asked, turning to take out a loaf of bread so that he could make toast.

Giles reached into a cupboard and took down two mugs. “Pay in that cheque,” he said. “If it doesn’t clear in time, we might find ourselves explaining to two different landlords that yes, it’s in the mail, and I’m not sure that excuse works over here.” He poured the coffee and put a mug beside Wesley before going to sit at the small table. “After that – anything that gets us out of the office for the day. And doesn’t get us into musty, dusty second hand book shops. Well, no more than two at the most.”

"Surely we aren't cutting it that close?" Wesley asked, putting the bread into the toaster and glancing over at the eggs before picking up his coffee and sipping it. He knew that he hadn't been paying quite as much attention to their finances lately as he usually did, but wouldn't he have known if things were that tight?

“Possibly I’m exaggerating slightly,” Giles allowed, “but I’d forgotten how bloody expensive London is. Should’ve set up shop somewhere else, but this is where most of my contacts are. We’re still getting most of our business through the Council too, and you know what a tight-fisted bunch they are. Still; we got the job done yesterday, and Rob Sawyer’s a good man to have as a friend. If he puts the word out that we’re reliable, it’ll be worth more than the cheque he gave us in the long-term.”

Flipping the eggs, Wesley nodded. "I think we've been doing a good job building a reputation for ourselves. A few years from now, we could very well have a much bigger office, someone to answer the phones..." He knew he was being a bit fanciful, but it was a pleasant sort of dream, and he'd take all of those that he could get.

“You mean ‘someone to feed the meter’,” Giles said, grinning as he stood up and went to collect cutlery and plates. “That would be nice – though we’d have to be a little more professional once we had staff.” Wesley felt a kiss brushed across the back of his neck as Giles walked past him. “Couldn’t do that during working hours, for instance. And we’d probably end up with some idiot who thought vampires were glamorous, and demons cute, once we’d managed to convince them that they existed.”

"Maybe the Council could recommend someone," Wesley suggested, taking the broiler pan from the oven and setting it on the range top. He took the plates Giles offered him and began to fill them with food. "Or maybe," he said, grinning a bit evilly, "we could lure someone away from the Council. Offer better pay and steal a secretary right out from under their noses."

“God, yes,” Giles said, sounding very much in favour of that little bit of revenge. “When we have more than a fiver in the petty cash, we’ll do just that.” He took the plates from Wesley and put them on the table, taking an appreciative sniff of the aromas floating up. “Or we could just open a cafe and retire, rich, in a few years time. This smells wonderful, Wesley, and I’m not just saying that because I’m hungry and you seem to have given me most of the mushrooms.”

They both sat down and began to eat. "We could stop by the magic shop," Wesley said, taking another sip of his coffee. "Not to suggest that we begin spending money that's barely in our pockets, but we're nearly out of white sage, and we still need to replace that ceramic incense burner that was broken during that case in the West End."

“I wish there was another one within easy reach,” Giles grumbled. “They don’t have the faintest idea what they’ve got on their shelves, and I’ve given up all hope of them getting that Saltrin urn I ordered three months ago.”

"We could mail order it from somewhere else," Wesley said. "Although granted part of the appeal of getting it from this place is that they've no idea how to price things." He chewed on a piece of toast thoughtfully.

Giles snorted derisively. “That’s an understatement, but if they’re too lazy to do their homework, I’m not going to tell them that they could double the price on their newt eyes, or that the reason their candles don’t sell is that Marks and Sparks do them a pound cheaper.” He smiled ruefully, cutting into a slice of bacon. “Listen to me. A year behind the counter and I think I’m a retail expert. Fine; we’ll go there and stock up on whatever you think we need.”

"It's not as though I'm the resident expert," Wesley said, feeling strangely annoyed that this seemed to be Giles' attitude, but trying to hide it. "You know what we need just as well as I do."

“I –” Giles paused, his eyes going to Wesley’s face. “Yes, of course I do.” He took a sip of his coffee. “I’d become a little rusty at the practical side; Willow and Tara tended to take care of anything that needed doing in that line, whereas you – well, it was different for you in L.A., I suppose. Am I asking you to do too much in the way of magic? Not pulling my weight? Because if I am, just say. It can be very draining and you might not realise it’s affecting you.”

That sounded a bit too much like an accusation for Wesley's taste, but again, he tried not to sound as if he were bothered by it. "No, of course not. You don't seriously think you aren't doing half the work, do you?"

“I can’t say that I’ve thought about it all that much,” Giles said, sounding as if he was confessing a fault. “We seem to work so well as a team that I’ve never stopped to analyse it. Just been - grateful. ” He stood up, reaching for his mug. “More coffee?”

"No, I'm fine, thank you." Wesley thought that with the way his stomach felt, more coffee was the last thing he needed. He wondered if what Giles had said might be true -- if perhaps he was over-extending himself, and that was the cause of the tension and his apparently short temper, but he set the concern aside for now and focused on the current topic. "Grateful? Really?"

Giles set his mug down again and leaned against the table with his arms folded. “Yes, of course. Grateful for you, rather than to you, if that makes sense.” He lifted a hand to smooth back his hair, looking a little uncertain. “I don’t know how much detail you want this early in the morning, when we’re both sober, but I have a feeling I could go on at length about it.” He grinned suddenly, picking up his mug and turning away. “The way you look right now, perhaps I won’t though. Don’t you think we’re fortunate to be able to work together as well as we do? And still be, well, close?” He refilled his mug and came back to the table.

"And not drive each other mad, you mean?" Wesley said ruefully. "Last night didn't seem to be a very good example of that." He immediately regretted the words, as he really didn't want to discuss it further.

“We’ve argued before, but last night was more than that.” Giles stared down at his plate, and then pushed it away, propping his elbows in front of him. “Wesley – there are some subjects we don’t discuss, and most of them are to do with Angel, and I’m not going to push you on that, because I’m as reluctant to talk about him as you seem to be.” He took a breath deep enough to be noticeable and then met Wesley’s eyes. “But yesterday I will discuss because it was about us. Wesley, you were – I didn’t recognise you like that. It disturbed me, to be honest.”

"I know," Wesley said, mentally giving up on his own breakfast, then getting up and walking over to the sink to set his plate down. "And I've said that it won't happen again. I don't know what else you want from me."

“A reason why it happened in the first place? We’re not talking about a flash of temper, Wesley. It was far more than that. Why can’t you see that? It’s as if we remember it differently.” Giles sounded frustrated. “Look; think back and tell me what was going through your head when you walked over to Bill just before he died. What were you planning to do to him?”

"Put him out of his misery by knocking him unconscious, which was what I thought you wanted," Wesley said tightly, trying to keep a rein on his emotions. It seemed unwise to admit that he'd have been perfectly happy to walk out there without bothering, leaving the man to suffer, even though he knew in his own mind that Bill had gotten exactly what he deserved.

Giles took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. “Out of his misery. Right. Granted, he was past saving, and in pain, but that’s not exactly making me want to give you any prizes for humanitarian of the year, you know.”

“And you think he would have?" Wesley shook his head. "He not only stole the statues in the first place, but he was endangering the lives of countless people by not knowing how to store them properly. I really don't like the implication that there's something wrong with me because I'm willing to do what needs to be done."

“I think he paid for his misdeeds,” Giles said, looking as if he was about to throw up again, which made no sense at all. He’d seen worse. They both had. “And Nigel? The gun? We could’ve got that statue off him without touching him; he was terrified, for all the bluster. Did you mean it last night when you said you’d have shot him if he’d carried on arguing? When it was right there and there was no way he could have stopped us taking it? What justification was there for that?”

Wesley gripped the countertop behind him with both hands. "Justification? At what point in time did it become necessary for us to justify our actions when doing our job? For that matter, when did it become necessary for me to justify my actions to you?" He was trembling with indignation.

Giles stood up. “That would have been about the time when we agreed to be business partners. I’m not your employer, Wesley, but what you do reflects on me, on what we’ve built up over the last months. I’m sure some of our clients would approve whole heartedly of your...approach, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t.” The kitchen was small enough that he only needed to take two steps to be close enough to touch, but he didn’t move. “When did you forget you’re supposed to be one of the good guys, Wesley? Or is that something else I can thank Angel for?”

Absolutely refusing to acknowledge that last question, Wesley instead concentrated on the previous one. "So because I didn't treat two criminals with kid gloves I'm suddenly no longer on your side?"

“We’re doing it again,” Giles said slowly. “At each other’s throats within minutes. Wesley, this isn’t – it isn’t bloody normal.” He looked at Wesley and frowned. “You’re shaking. Wes –” Giles moved then, coming over to him and covering the clenched, tight fists that were locked onto the countertop with warm hands. “Something’s wrong.”

"No," Wesley said, still wanting to deny it, even though in his gut he knew that Giles was right, that there was something wrong. But as much as he wanted to, he didn't let himself pull away, instead remaining very still, concentrating on the touch of Giles' hands on his own. Hesitantly, he asked, "What... if there were something wrong, what could it be?"

Giles’ hand came up to cup his face. “I don’t know. A spell of some kind? Perhaps we’ve annoyed someone and this is their idea of revenge. I just don’t know. But we’ll find out, and if there’s someone behind this–” The hand slipped behind Wesley’s neck as he leaned forward and kissed him; a swift, hard kiss, protective and reassuring, because the anger that was darkening Giles’ eyes wasn’t directed at Wesley. “We’ll do whatever’s necessary to stop them. And I won’t be holding you back, when we do that. I’ll be helping you.”

Wesley slid his arms around Giles' waist, pulling him close because that was easier than meeting his eyes. He rested his chin on Giles' shoulder, sturdy and comforting. "Maybe it's nothing," he said quietly.

But he knew that wasn't true.

***

Giles returned Wesley’s hug, feeling, and sharing, the tension that prevented it from being as pleasant an experience as it usually was. He’d held Wesley before when his body was rigid with the effort to hold back emotion, but that was a year ago and they hadn’t been lovers then. He’d spoken the truth when he told Wesley he was grateful to whatever chance had brought them to this point, but he’d never fooled himself into thinking that it would last. What did he, or the job, have to offer Wesley that would seem worth having in comparison to what he’d lost? Nothing.

The belief that Wesley, once fully recovered from the events that had brought him to Giles, would leave, had faded as the months went by, but now Giles wondered if that wouldn’t have been preferable to this – Wesley leaving him, not healed, but dangerously unstable, hating him...

He knew what had happened a year ago, but not in any detail. Piecing together what Wesley had told him in fragments, totally unlike his usual precise, accurate summaries, had left him with a depth of anger against Wesley’s former friends that was hard for him to understand, until he realised that he was in love with him.

Not that he’d ever said so, not in words. No need to make Wesley feel guilty when –if- he left.

But there was a huge difference between Wesley deciding to leave because he wanted to, and being driven to it by a malign, malicious influence. If he was - if Giles wasn’t grabbing onto that as a reason for Wesley’s behaviour to avoid admitting that the younger man was bored, restless...

Giles stepped back without letting go of Wesley completely, keeping his arms around him loosely. “I’m thinking too much,” he said, forcing a smile as Wesley looked a little startled at the sudden movement. “That’s never helpful. Wesley, let’s start by assuming this is something that’s being done to you, rather than you being stressed or – or unhappy. It could be the result of something you did in the past – I’m inclined to think that, because I don’t think I’m affected, and if it’s directed at us as a team, it makes no sense to attack one of us. Yet you’ve been here a year now...it’s a long time for someone to wait to take revenge, or for some side effect of a spell to manifest.”

"Maybe someone thinks that I'd be more easily manipulated," Wesley said, looking tense and upset. "Considering my history, that wouldn't necessarily be an inaccurate assumption, after all."

Giles knew that he was thinking about it -- that wasn't a surprise. Given Wesley's temperament, it wouldn't have been a surprise to discover that the other man was always thinking about it. Despite the fact that he seemed to have settled into London and their life together, Giles couldn't deny that there was something haunting Wesley. The look in his eyes at certain times, the way he flinched if someone touched him unexpectedly from behind, the occasional nightmares that ended with shuddering gasps and perspiration-soaked sheets -- they all spoke of the darkness that followed Wesley.

"What if they want me to do something?" Wesley asked, his voice strained. "What if... what if there's someone out there, someone determined to lead me down a path where I betray everyone I care about?"

“I hope they are,” Giles replied. “It would mean they were going to fail.” Deciding that if they were going to talk about this, they might as well get comfortable, he led them into the front room and sat down on the long, wide couch that was still not big enough for them, as it usually ended up cluttered with books. For once, it was empty of anything but cushions, and he sat, pulling Wesley down beside him, not letting go of his hand until they were settled, and then slipping an arm around his shoulders.

“Wesley, you’re the last person that could happen to. I don’t agree it’s what happened before, but I know you do, and it’s made you so cautious – you’re too aware of the possibility for it to work.” Seeing a faint flicker of hope in Wesley’s face, he added, “And you’re about as easy to push around as a supermarket trolley with a broken wheel, in case you hadn’t noticed. Forget it.”

"I wasn't pushed last time," Wesley said bleakly, his fingers plucking at his robe. "A few well-placed illusions, falsified documents... I walked off the edge of that cliff all on my own." He sounded utterly despairing, in a way that Giles hadn't heard in a long time.

“You were trying to save a child – you were trying to save Angel from doing something he’d never have forgiven himself for. Lord knows, he’s got plenty to regret –” try as he might, Giles couldn’t quite keep bitterness from souring his voice when he said that, “- but I doubt he’d have recovered from that. You were...a scapegoat. And yes, you were fooled, tricked, but really, from what you’ve told me, I’d have done the same. The prophecies, your research – and wasn’t there an oracle you consulted, who gave a list of omens that all came true? You came to the only conclusion possible, and you acted on that even though it meant sacrificing the life you’d built, and you couldn’t have done anything else, so stop dwelling on it.” He put his hand over Wesley’s restless fingers, feeling how cold they were. “I trust you, Wesley. Trust you to do what’s right.”

"I'm not sure I know the difference anymore," Wesley said, sitting very still. "What's more... I'm not sure I care. If it doesn't matter what one does -- if one can make the best choices available and still do the wrong thing -- then what's the point?"

To Giles' dismay, Wesley stood up, pulling his robe around himself in what seemed to be a protective gesture and starting toward the bedroom. "I'll get ready," he said flatly. "We should get to the bank before the lunchtime queue forms."

“We don’t need to go anywhere that isn’t directly concerned with sorting this out,” Giles said, following him into the bedroom. He wasn’t leaving Wesley alone in this mood. “We’ve nothing else to do right now, but even if we had, this is more important. You’re more important.”

Wesley turned to him, a shirt in one hand and a hanger in the other, looking so lost in unhappiness that Giles felt his own mood darken in response. Shaking off the momentary flash of depression, he went over to Wesley, taking what he held and tossing them onto a chair. “Come here,” he said quietly, brushing his lips against Wesley’s as he placed his hands on his shoulders. “Doesn’t it make a difference that this time you’re not alone? Because you’re not, you know.”

"But I always seem to end up that way," Wesley said. He didn't pull away, which was something, but he seemed to be having trouble meeting Giles' gaze. "I'm sorry. I'm a bit low, that's all. It's probably a passing thing. Let's try not to get too caught up in it, all right? It was probably..." He trailed off, shaking his head slightly, and Giles tightened his grip of Wesley's shoulders in a quick reassuring squeeze, encouraging him to finish whatever he'd been about to say. "I had a dream," he said finally.

“Really?” Giles felt a mixture of relief that Wesley was contributing something, and disappointment that it wasn’t anything more concrete. Still...dreams, even if they weren’t the prophetic dreams of a Slayer, could be useful, if interpreted properly. “What do you remember of it?” He went to the bedside table, taking out a notepad and pencil and sitting down on the edge of the bed. “You talk, I’ll take notes.” He smiled at Wesley and then assumed a formal voice and said, “Thank you for coming to us with your problem, Mr Wyndam-Pryce. I can promise you a competitive rate, and our best team working on your case.”

The smile that Wesley gave him was strained, the fine lines around his eyes more pronounced than usual despite the obvious attempt to let Giles lighten the situation. "It's always the same," he said, and Giles had to make an effort not to react -- in more than a year's time, during which Wesley woke no fewer than several times a month from the nightmares, he'd never shared what they'd been about. "I... I remember things. In the dream. Things that actual happened, but they're all... twisted. Wrong."

Giles tossed the paper and pencil to one side and leaned forward, resting his folded hands on his knees. “I can see why that would be disturbing,” he said, keeping his voice calm. “What’s getting changed? What is the dream about?”

There was a very long pause, in which it was fairly clear to Giles that Wesley was debating the wisdom of telling him. "Angel," he said eventually. "Well, Angelus, to be completely accurate. He's there, doing things..." He was still standing where Giles had left him.

“Oh, bloody hell.” All calm left Giles. “I can see why that’s upsetting you then. ” He stood up and took a deep breath. “Wesley, I’ve had dreams – nightmares, with that creature in them, and they’re rarely pleasant, even the ones where I end up staking him, but Angel and I were never more than allies. He was your friend. That must be hard to deal with.” He reached out to Wesley, who seemed to be reliving the dream, going by the stricken look on his face, and took advantage of his distraction to get them both lying down on the bed, with Wesley’s head cradled on his shoulder. They hadn’t made the bed, or drawn back the curtains, and the room was lit only by the light that filtered through the thick curtains. “I know it’s difficult, but I need more than that, Wesley. Let’s start with the basics; is the dream always the same? When did you first have it?”

He could feel Wesley's breath moving across his skin, the other man tense in his arms. "Shortly after I got here. That night that I woke up screaming." He shifted his body slightly. "I thought you'd throw me out the next morning for sure, once you'd had time to think about what it was you'd opened your house to." Giles stroked the back of Wesley's hand comfortingly and waited for more. "It's not always the same. It's gotten... well, let's just say that there are more elements to it now."

“Such as?” Giles asked, feeling as cruel as if he was prodding a kitten with a sharp stick. The unwillingness to discuss this, that was making both of them tongue-tied, did more, oddly enough, to make him determined to go on, than anything else would have. He hadn’t forgotten the way Wesley’s anger had flared up when he was questioned; if whatever, or whomever, was doing this didn’t want Wesley talking, then that was enough to make Giles continue to ask questions.

Even if Wesley was shivering now, fine tremors racing over his body as he held onto the sleeve of Giles’ robe with tightly clenched fingers.

"Such as him fucking me," Wesley said roughly, almost angrily, pulling away from Giles and sitting up. "There. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

“Not really,” Giles said, “but if that means you slept with Angel, it’s not exactly a shock, so you can stop looking as if you expect me to stand up, point at the door, and yell, ‘Begone, and never darken my door again,’ or something equally Victorian.” He frowned at Wesley who was about as far away as he could get without leaving the bed, and said irritably, “And come back here, for Christ’s sake.”

But it was as if Wesley was unable to accept the comfort Giles was offering. "No," he said, shaking his head stubbornly. "I'm not... I can't. I can't just sit here and talk about this like it's some problem to be analyzed. If you want to look into it -- if there's a reason for it -- that's one thing, but... I can't talk about him."

“You think I’m prying?” Giles said, wondering if Wesley was right and that was just what he was doing, prompted by a not unnatural curiosity. “Using this chance to get you to tell me what happened between the two of you? Thanks, but I’m not. And it is a problem, and I think if you try and look at it like that, it’ll allow you to discuss it without the emotion getting in the way. Look, Wesley, you’ve had the Watcher training; you know about dreams. Strip them down; analyse them, and tell me what you find, if you’re too squeamish to share the details so I can help you.”

Hurt that Wesley seemed more concerned over protecting Angel, or whatever memories he had of their time together, than trying to solve a problem that was literally forcing them apart, Giles got off the bed and went to look for a clean shirt, keeping his back turned to Wesley, to hide his expression.

He was more surprised by the fact that Wesley got up as well, going to get dressed in silence and making no attempt whatsoever to make Giles feel better. Not that situations like this one often presented themselves to give Giles a background to base his expectations on -- he didn't think he'd required comfort more than a handful of times since they'd been together -- but still, he would have thought Wesley would apologize again, or come over and touch him, turn him around.

The fact that Wesley didn't just made Giles that much more certain that something really was wrong.

"He feeds from me," Wesley said, quietly and so suddenly that Giles was almost startled. "In the dreams." He didn't sound upset now. He did, however, sound a bit detached, as if he'd taken Giles' advice into account and tried to analyse the problem from an outsider's perspective.

Giles shuddered, unable to keep that reaction from showing. Working with Angel, and later Spike, hadn’t lessened the repulsion he felt at that idea. It was ingrained too deeply for him to see it as anything but dangerously close to being turned.

It didn’t mean he wasn’t well aware of the attraction. Riley wasn’t the first person he’d known to voluntarily allow a vampire to feed and the euphoria had been covered, with a dry, clinical cynicism, during his training. Wesley would have had the lecture, too, Giles supposed.

“And what do you do, Wesley? Do you fight him? Stake him? Is he trying to kill you, or trying to turn you?” Giles swallowed. Angelus had threatened him with that, but Spike, with motives Giles only understood afterwards, had dissuaded him. “Did –did you ever let Angel -?”

Wesley was resolutely buttoning the front of his shirt. "No, of course not." But he glanced up at Giles as though there were more to it than that, and Giles couldn't help but notice that Wesley still hadn't answered the question of whether or not Wesley had ever had sex with Angel. "I -- I don't know what he's trying to do, in the dream. Kill me, I suppose."

“For revenge?” Giles asked, pulling on his trousers and trying not to watch Wesley too obviously. “Wesley – do you think it’s Angel doing this to you?”

"He could have done it if he'd wanted to," Wesley said, with a shake of his head. "Killed me, I mean. As to the rest... I can't imagine why he'd bother. Not now." He tucked in his shirt and tightened his belt. "In any case, we don't know with any certainty that there is something being done to me. It could be nothing."

Giles turned to Wesley, feeling incredulity wipe out tact. “’It could be nothing’?” he repeated. “Wesley, I think we’ve established it bloody well is something, and much though I’d love to pretend otherwise, I can’t. And neither should you.” He walked to the door. “I’m going to start looking for something that might give us a clue what’s going on. Going to help? Or would you rather stay here and have some alone time with your fucking dream lover?”

Looking back over his shoulder as he reached the doorway, Giles was struck by how uncomfortable and out of his element Wesley looked, rather as if he'd been picked up and dropped somewhere entirely alien.

That was easier than thinking that it was Wesley who was different, his own lover stolen away and replaced with this changeling that didn't act as expected.

"I'll come with you," Wesley said. "I don't... I don't know what I'd do with myself, if I stayed here."

Giles hesitated and then said, “I’m sorry, Wesley. I had no right to say that. It’s just difficult sometimes, knowing you’re here because you can’t be where you want to be.” With Angel. He made an effort to keep focused. Wesley didn’t need to be burdened with his insecurities now, or any time, for that matter. “There’s a general ‘reveal magical influences’ spell that might help. It’s in one of the books here, so we don’t need to go to the office first. I’ll look it up and get an ingredient list together and we can head over to the magic shop. Unless you can think of anything else we should be considering?”

Wesley shook his head and came toward him. "No. That sounds as good a place to start as any." He sounded flat, weary.

“Then that’s what we’ll do,” said Giles.

Finding the spell was simple enough; the book was one Giles had consulted only a month ago, and he turned to the page without having to hunt for it, which made a change. “Right. This is similar to one I used back in Sunnydale once, a couple of years before you arrived. One of the students was doing witchcraft and the spell reacted to her use of magic. This spell will do the opposite; it’ll show if magic is being done to you. It’s not going to be very specific, but it’s a start.” Giles glanced up, pulling a piece of scrap paper over to begin jotting down a list, and smiled at Wesley. “When it’s applied, it’ll turn your skin an attractive shade of blue, if there’s a positive reaction, so we’d better test it somewhere inconspicuous.”

"It doesn't matter," Wesley said. He was leaning against the edge of the desk, not attempting to read over Giles' shoulder as he usually did, his shoulders slightly slumped. "If there's a positive reaction, we'll have bigger things to worry about than the fact that I have blue skin."

“I’m worrying as much as I’m capable of already,” Giles said, slamming the book closed. He passed the list to Wesley. “Some of that we have at the office, but as the shop’s in the other direction, we might as well get it all from there. I want to do this as soon as possible.” He stood and walked to the hallway cupboard to get his coat. Wesley stayed where he was, lost in thought and Giles felt a flicker of exasperation. He grabbed Wesley’s jacket and went to him, thrusting it into his hands. “Wesley, why is it you feel perfectly capable of getting angry with me for caring about you, but not at the possibility someone’s out there playing with your emotions?”

Wesley actually looked mildly surprised, standing here holding his jacket in both hands and blinking at Giles. "I wasn't... I wasn't angry with you for that. I was..." When he finally spoke again, his voice was soft. "You don't trust me."

He'd said that the night before, Giles remembered now, and thinking about it, it made perfect sense that believing so would push Wesley into a place where he might lash out. For months after he'd arrived in England, Wesley hadn't been able to trust himself -- his own judgment, even on relatively simple matters. But as time had passed, he'd grown slowly more and more confident, gotten to a place where he made decisions easily, almost casually.

Now, Giles could see that what he'd thought had been recovery, even growth, might very well have been this very spell -- or whatever magical influence it was -- simply unrecognized for what it really was.

“How long have you thought that?” he asked. “Did you come here to me a year ago thinking I didn’t trust you?”

"You had plenty of reasons not to," Wesley said, looking at the jacket he was holding rather than at Giles. "I didn't know what I was capable of, myself." Neither of these was a real answer, and he seemed to recognize that. "Until last night, I didn't realize how you felt. That you thought I was behaving... irrationally."

“But that doesn’t mean I don’t trust you,” Giles protested. “It’s not your fault, for one thing.” He bit his lip. “When you first arrived in Sunnydale I didn’t like you all that much. I didn’t help you settle in and I didn’t give you a chance. Buffy’s well-being was my main concern and I didn’t think you were ready to be in charge of her or Faith.” It cost him a little to admit it but he wanted to be honest with Wesley. “I was – jealous. Angry even. My job had been taken from me, and given to someone still wet behind the ears. I saw you as no more than an insult; Quentin’s idea of a punishment for me, as if sacking me wasn’t enough. Sorry.”

Wesley shrugged slightly. "It's not as if you're telling me anything I hadn't already guessed. Part of the reason it was so difficult to come to you, after... I didn't have any idea what you'd do." He didn't need to say that he'd had nowhere else to go -- they both know that -- but still, even this much conversation surprised Giles. So many things that they haven't talked about, when maybe they should have.

“You can’t think I still felt that way by the time you left Sunnydale, though,” Giles said. “I understood why you felt you had to – and I think it was a good idea – but I missed you more than I expected.” He thought back to the summer following the destruction of the school, when the relief at thwarting the Mayor’s plans had faded, and the emptiness of his life had been underscored by the feeling that he’d been left behind. Even Xander had gone off to have adventures, and the anticlimactic end to his journey didn’t take away from the fact that he’d started out.

"No, but thinking that you'd learned to tolerate me wasn't the same as thinking that you'd be glad to see me if I showed up at your doorstep." Wesley rubbed one hand over his face, the other now holding both his jacket and the now-crumpled list of spell ingredients. "Look, this isn't getting us anywhere. We should go."

“Yes, we should,” Giles agreed reluctantly. He should have been glad Wesley had shaken off his lethargy enough to sound impatient to leave, but he had a feeling it was simply that Wesley had picked the lesser of two evils.

Go to buy ingredients for a spell that might prove you’re bewitched or talk about what you mean to someone you don’t love? It didn’t seem to have taken Wesley long to choose.

***

It took considerably less than an hour to get over to the magic shop and make their purchases, even though Wesley was distracted and not as helpful as he normally would have been. He was aware of the fact, but he was detached, distant. For the most part, this seemed like someone else's problem; he knew that it existed and yet couldn't quite bring himself to care, not the way he probably ought to.

As Giles finished paying at the counter, he wandered over and picked up a large quartz crystal. Quartz, while attractive and not terribly expensive as far as focuses went, wasn't really structurally designed to channel any considerable amount of power, and this piece in particular was rather flawed.

Not unlike himself.

“Did you want that, too?” Giles called over to him, turning back to the assistant and taking the two plastic bags she passed him with no more than a nod. She’d been particularly unhelpful today, and Wesley had felt a flicker of amusement as Giles took out his frustrations on the woman, treating her to a terse lecture on the consequences of using freeze-dried rather than fresh herbs in a spell, that had left her stammering out excuses.

Wesley shook his head as Giles came over to join him. He set the crystal back down where it had been. "No. I was just..." He shook his head again. "I don't know what I was doing."

“Waiting for me,” Giles said. “Sorry; idiot woman tried to wrap the herbs in one package. I pointed out that if a few sage leaves got mixed in with the chamomile, someone could be walking around with their ears on backwards if they tried a translocation spell, and she looked at me as if I was mad.” He sighed, giving Wesley a slightly rueful grin. “I’m being unreasonable, aren’t I? Let’s go home, before I get us banned for life or something.”

"You're not being unreasonable," Wesley said, almost automatically, because that was what one was supposed to do, wasn't it? Provide reassurance? He tried to concentrate on the conversation properly. "If we were banned, we'd just have to find somewhere else to shop. I'm not convinced that would be a bad thing. The internet might be an option, although I'd imagine we'd still want somewhere fairly local to get things on the spur of the moment."

They left the shop, the small brass bell over the door jingling as the door open and closed, heading toward where they'd parked the car.

Giles shifted the bags to one hand and began to search through his pockets for the car keys. “Wesley, can you just take these –” He broke off, glancing down the street at a group of three teenagers who were coming towards them, passing a can of beer they were almost certainly too young to be drinking, between them, and looking as if it wasn’t the first they’d had. The one nearest the street took a last drink from it, tipping his head back at an exaggerated angle, and then threw the can into the gutter, narrowly missing the bonnet of a car parked a few yards in front of Giles’. “Idiots,” Giles muttered without heat.

Keeping an eye on the teens as they jostled each other and cursed, Wesley ignored Giles' unfinished request about the bags.

One of the teenagers noticed his gaze and met it challengingly. "What you think you're looking at?" he asked, cocky, sharing a quick sideways grin with his mates as they came closer.

"Nothing," Wesley said, slowly and deliberately. The shorter, brown-haired youth whistled slightly between his teeth, and the ringleader drew himself up taller in response, altering his path so that he was walking directly toward Wesley.

Without a thought, Wesley stepped forward to meet the teen, the startled look on the boy's face revealing that he'd only been bluffing as Wesley grabbed him by the shirt front and spun him around. The young man was solid with muscle, but untrained, not knowing how to use his balance properly. It was a simple matter to get an arm up behind his back, pulling it skyward to the point of pain, the boy struggling uselessly. "I think you need to be taught some manners," Wesley said, jerking the arm a bit higher.

“Fuck off! Let go of me!” The boy’s voice rose high, panicked and shocked, as though the speed of Wesley’s reaction had frightened him. His two friends backed off, exchanging glances.

“We don’t want no trouble, mate,” said the third one, moving slowly to the side. He might have been getting into position to circle around and rush Wesley, but there was a hesitancy to his movements that spoke more of a desire to retreat than attack.

Wesley kept both the youths in sight, feeling time slow, each detail clear and distinct, though he knew from experience that most fights were over quickly, in a confused blur that only made sense afterwards. The boy he held reeked of sweat and beer, was starting to whimper on each breath, was ready to break -

A hand came down on his shoulder, jerking him around slightly. “That’s enough!”

The touch, coming from behind as it did, instantly turned the gleeful dominance running through Wesley's veins to instinctive fear, with a jolt that made him release the boy and spin around. His hands went automatically to the throat of his attacker, the momentum overbalancing them both. They crashed to the sidewalk with a bruising force, the air shoved from his enemy's lungs with a wheeze as Wesley tightened his hands.

Giles' wide eyes, startled and afraid, looked up at him.

Wesley released his grip immediately, unable to believe what he'd just done. Adrenaline was surging through him, his heart beating much too quickly, his mind racing, hands shaking. He couldn't say anything.

“You’re fucking mad! Want locking up, you do.”

Wesley turned his head for a brief moment to see the three boys running off; the one he’d attacked cradling his arm and silent, his friends calling back insults once they were at a safe distance, and then struggled to get to his feet. He couldn’t bear to meet Giles’ eyes, or even reach out to help him up.

Giles sat up, coughing as he tried to catch his breath, one hand rubbing at his throat. He stared up at Wesley in silence, his eyes watchful now, and then stood, moving stiffly. He’d obviously just dropped the shopping bags when he went to Wesley and they’d fallen over, spilling some of the contents onto the pavement. Bending down, Giles picked up the scattered items, shoving them carelessly into the bags, and then straightened.

“It’s getting worse, isn’t it?” he said quietly, showing none of the anger Wesley had expected. “I shouldn’t have – I’m sorry.” He broke off and turned away, fishing the keys from his pocket and dumping the shopping in the boot of the car. “We’d better go.”

But Wesley found himself unable to respond. He felt frozen in place, wanting to apologize, or at the very least knowing that he ought to want to apologize. He was painfully aware of the fact that what had just happened could have been so much worse.

“Wesley?” Giles had opened the passenger door and was standing beside it. When Wesley didn’t move, he came over to him, and reached out his hand, slowly enough that it was clear he didn’t know what to expect in the way of a reaction. Linking his fingers with Wesley’s, he tugged him gently towards the car. “We can’t stay here, Wes.”

"No." Wesley might not have any idea what he was doing or why, but he did know that this was a recipe for disaster. He pulled his hand away from Giles', stepping backward, putting space between them. "No, don't... You were right, before. You shouldn't trust me -- I might do anything."

“You might,” Giles agreed, not closing the gap but looking determined to disagree. “If you go off on your own, I think it’s a given – which is why I’m not letting you out of my sight. Wes, we’ve got what we need to start solving this problem, but we have to go home to do it. I trust you to see that, and I trust you not to hurt me on purpose. I startled you in a tense situation; I blame myself, not you, for what just happened. Now get in the car. Please?”

He stood there for a very long moment, torn between not wanting to leave Giles and not wanting to stay, but eventually he managed to talk himself into the notion that if he couldn't trust himself, he'd have to trust Giles.

"All right," Wesley said, not moving in Giles' direction until he felt it was safe. "But I'm sitting in the back."

The ride home seemed strangely short. It might have been because Wesley was so focused internally that his perception of the passage of time was altered, but he couldn't be sure. He stayed huddled in the back, opposite Giles so that reaching him would be as difficult as possible.

Giles left him in peace, not speaking, although Wesley saw him glance in the driver’s mirror more times than he needed to, if all he was doing was checking the traffic behind him.

The car pulled up close to their building, Giles finding a parking spot easily enough as it was the middle of the day. Wesley stayed in the car until Giles had retrieved the bags from the boot, then made sure he kept well back from him as they walked to the door. It closed behind them, and Giles sighed, some of the tension leaving him.

“Thank God we’re home.” He moved towards the kitchen. “We’ll need some boiling water for the spell so I might as well make us a drink too; tea or coffee?”

Wesley shook his head. "I'd better not." The caffeine might set him more on edge than he already was, for all he knew. Anything might.

“Would you like to rest then? The preparations are fairly simple and I can call you when it’s ready.” Giles was trying to sound matter-of-fact, but not quite achieving it. Wesley knew him too well to be fooled by an assumed calm.

"I don't need to rest," he said sharply, seemingly reacting to Giles' mood instead of his tone. His mind kept traveling back to what could have happened outside the magic shop, if he'd snapped just a little bit harder, reacted just a little bit differently... Deliberately doing what he could to sound more reasonable, he said, "Let me help? I just want to get this over with."

“Of course.” Giles nodded towards the front room. “I left the book in there, if you wouldn’t mind getting it. I’ll make a start on unpacking. Bloody woman used about a yard of tape on each parcel so it might take a while.”

Wesley went to retrieve the book, which was sitting on the desk. Giles didn't seem to have marked the page they needed in any way, so instead of trying to look for the spell in question, he just took the book back to the kitchen where Giles was indeed struggling to open the brown paper wrapped parcels that contained the spell components they'd purchased.

He set the book on the countertop and moved to fill the kettle at the sink, which still held the dishes they'd used at breakfast time. "Do you think this is going to work?" he asked, putting the kettle on the stovetop.

“I think it’s going to show you’re being affected by something – did she forget to put in the holy water? Because if she did, I’ll – oh. Right. Got it.” Wesley hadn’t seen Giles get this fussed for a long time and if it hadn’t been for the circumstances, he might have found it endearing. Giles gave him an apologetic smile and finished his sentence. “Yes, I think the spell will work; it’s a very basic one, after all. And yes, I’ve no doubt the way you’re acting isn’t down to you, but to some magical influence so it’ll show that. Trouble is, that won’t tell us anything we don’t know. On the way back I was thinking about something we could try after this, if you’re willing.”

"Really?" He tried to sound interested. Giles was unwrapping the last of the parcels and setting the packet of resin beside the other ingredients, so Wesley gathered up the paper scraps and discarded tape and took them to the rubbish bin. "Something that would show what the influence was, you mean. Assuming that this spell shows that there is one."

“It will.” There was no doubt in Giles’ voice. “And when it does, we can go to the next stage.” He propped the book in front of him and drew over a copper bowl, emptying the holy water into it and swirling it around. Without looking at Wesley, he said quietly, “I want to try a summoning. Not a demon, but a benign spirit, one who can tap into the ether, so to speak, and tell us what we need to know. There’s one I’ve conjured before, a long time ago. The Council records are a little spotty that far back, but she was a Watcher sometime in the early fifteenth century. After her Slayer died, she became an anchoress, walling herself up in a small room, living off food brought to her by the villagers; similar to Dame Julian of Norwich, but a little less well-known.” Giles pursed his lips. “Her visions tended to be a little too graphic for comfort, given her history, and I think towards the end her grip on reality was tenuous at best, but I suppose that went down quite well in those days.” He had been tearing leaves off various herbs as he spoke, so that the kitchen was filled with aromatic scents, tossing them on top of the pool of holy water.

Wesley was finding himself rather mesmerized by the process. The water -- at least, in the places where bits of herb weren't floating on the surface -- was very clear, the bottom of the copper bowl shiny in some spots and covered with a thin greenish patina in others. It all seemed very clean and sterile, a thought that surprised him.

Realizing that Giles might be waiting for a reply of some sort, he said, "If you think it will help."

“I do.” Giles gave Wesley a quick smile. “The kettle’s boiling; would you mind just pouring some on top of this? And we’ll need a lock of your hair. I think the scissors are in the drawer over there. Want me to do it?”

"That might be a good idea," Wesley agreed, thinking that he'd prefer to be in possession of things like kettles full of boiling water and sharp scissors as little as possible. Still, he made himself go over and get the kettle as instructed, carrying it to the table with exaggerated care and pouring the steaming water into the bowl, then going back for the scissors.

He sat down at the table and slid the scissors across its surface toward Giles.

Picking them up, Giles sat down in front of Wesley, pulling his chair close enough that their knees were touching. He reached up and ruffled Wesley’s hair on one side, running his fingers through it. “I don’t think you’ll miss an inch off here,” he said, with his eyes fixed on Wesley’s. His hand continued to move, rubbing gently across Wesley’s head, his fingers spread wide. “I wish I could – never mind. Are you ready?”

Wesley nodded and closed his eyes. "You wish you could what?" he asked softly.

“Kiss you,” Giles said, “without having to think about it, or watch your face to see if you’re going to flinch away.” He smiled without looking in the least amused. “Selfish of me, isn’t it? Hold still.” He brought the scissors up, taking care not to move too quickly and Wesley heard the snick of the blades as they sheared off a piece of his hair.

"It's not selfish," Wesley said, looking at the bit of hair in Giles' hand and wondering how his own... whatever it was had given Giles such a distorted sense of himself. He reached out and lay his hand on Giles' knee. "You're not selfish."

“When it comes to you? Oh, I am, you’ve no idea.” Giles stood up and went to the copper bowl, sprinkling in the hair and brushing his hands together to make sure none was left. He turned back to pick up the scissors and shrugged. “I can watch you retreat and fall into darkness, and feel a deep, bitter resentment that the little I have with you is being taken from me? I’d call that selfish, wouldn’t you? I’m only saved from hating myself by knowing that if it was what it cost to free you, I’d give you up without complaining.” He put the scissors in the sink and glanced at the mixture. “It’s ready.”

Wesley didn't need to think -- for the moment, at least, instinct seemed to be working in his favor. He stood up and moved to where Giles was standing, sliding one arm around Giles' waist, his other hand cupping the side of Giles' face at the jaw line, feeling the stubble there against his palm as he fitted his body to Giles'. "I didn't know," he said helplessly. "That you felt that way... that I..." Not knowing what else to say, he kissed Giles, his emotions fueling the kiss and turning it into something long and lingering, more gentle than most of the kisses they'd shared.

It ended, as all kisses must, but something had changed. Giles sighed, sounding regretful but not resentful, and tightened his arms around Wesley. “You weren’t supposed to know. I didn’t want to burden you with it.”

"Shh," Wesley said, and kissed him again. He felt like he was dreaming; he wasn't sure if it was because of what was wrong, or because this conversation seemed so unlikely. Maybe there were a lot of conversations they hadn't had. "Nothing about being with you is a burden. I don't..." He'd run out of words again.

“Being with me? No, perhaps not. But when you left, went back to –” Giles swallowed. “You came here carrying so much guilt, Wesley. I didn’t want you to leave with even more, and you would have felt that way, wouldn’t you? If you knew I loved you, you might even have stayed out of pity, and that would have been unendurable.” As he spoke his hand was moving up and down Wesley’s back in short, jerky strokes, mirroring the tension in his voice. “I thought that was what was happening now; you were changing and I thought it was because you wanted to go and couldn’t.”

"I don't want to go," Wesley said honestly, not knowing where all of this had come from. "I thought... I thought what we were building here, together... I thought it was more than a business. I don't understand why you thought I'd go back." It dawned on him that, with other things Giles had said over the past day, Giles might think he wanted to go back to Angel.

Which was the furthest thing from the truth he could imagine.

"The only way I'd leave you would be if you told me you didn't want me. I know I've been... I know I haven't said it in as many words, but I do love you." His hands were clutching onto Giles more tightly now, willing him to see.

“I’m never going to tell you I don’t want you,” Giles said with a surprising vehemence, “but you don’t have to tell me you – you don’t have to say that. Really.” He brought his hand up to touch Wesley’s face lightly and then broke away, changing the subject abruptly, his face expressionless. “Let’s try this out then. It has to be dropped on your skin; perhaps if you roll up your sleeve? It should have cooled down by now.”

Wesley hesitated -- he hated to drop this topic now, when obviously it was an important one -- but then nodded. He moved over next to the table, unbuttoning the cuff of his sleeve and pushing the fabric up over the elbow, baring the inside of his arm and offering it to Giles.

Giles dipped a teaspoon into the liquid and brought it over to Wesley, snatching up a tea towel as he did so, and holding it under Wesley’s arm to catch the drips. Without meeting Wesley’s eyes, he lifted his hand enough to support Wesley’s arm and tilted the spoon so that the clear pale-green fluid ran over it. Wesley winced as Giles’ fingers, trembling slightly, tightened around his arm in a convulsive grip and watched the blue stain spread like a bruise.

“God, Wesley,” Giles said. “I will fucking kill whoever’s behind this, I swear I will.” He rubbed Wesley’s arm dry, scrubbing at it roughly, and crumpled the cloth between his hands, his face flushed with anger.

Feeling a bit numb, Wesley could only stand there for a long moment. "Well, there it is," he said finally. "You were right."

“Of course I was right!” Giles snapped. “It’s not as if you make a habit of throttling me, is it?” He tossed the cloth aside and went to the sink, emptying the copper bowl and running the tap to rinse it clean. “Sorry,” he said, without turning, in a quieter voice. “It’s just occurred to me that if I hadn’t been so focused on being noble, and not standing in your way, I might have realised there was a problem a little sooner than this. My fault.”

If he were going to be perfectly honest, Wesley would have said he agreed -- Giles certainly might have suspected something sooner. At the very least, it was more Giles' fault than his own, as no one could have reasonably expected the person under some sort of magical influence to notice said influence all on his own. But despite these clearly uncharitable thoughts -- none of which he actually felt guilty for -- Wesley knew that the last thing he should do was agree that Giles should have known.

"Don't be sorry," Wesley said. "Just... help me. Tell me how to do this conjuring."

There was a short silence and then Giles dropped his head down, took a long, deep breath, and turned around, his face impassive. “We’ll need a circle. If we move the table in the front room we should have enough room to draw one on the wooden floor. Some candles, an inscription, an invocation...basic stuff.” He rubbed the back of his neck and stared at Wesley, looking as if he was bracing himself for an argument. “And the circle has to be drawn in blood. My blood. Or, to be precise, ‘the blood of a loved one, whose heart is true’. I bleed, you draw, and you get to coax some sense out of old Ellen, for as long as the circle lasts. Each question will drain it, and when the power goes, so will she.” Giles met Wesley’s eyes. “And if she thinks my blood isn’t good enough, there’s every chance she’ll lash out at both of us for disturbing her, though she can’t kill us. Not quite. She’s essentially benign, but...let’s just say there’ve been times when that’s a little hard to credit.” He raised an eyebrow. “So, do you trust me when I say I love you? Or are you willing to risk it, given that we don’t have much choice?”

Wesley looked at him steadily, wondering what on earth he'd done to deserve Giles' loyalty, and knowing at the same time that he most assuredly didn't deserve it. "You're asking the wrong question of the wrong man," he said. "Are you willing to risk it? Because I'm the one who stands to gain something from this." He'd no idea why he was playing devil's advocate here, considering, but for whatever reason he was.

Unexpectedly, Giles smiled, genuine amusement lightening his face. “Of course you’ve got plenty to gain, but given that I love you, I’ve a vested interest in keeping you alive and sane, wouldn’t you agree? And as I’ll most certainly lose you if this situation continues, I rather think I’ve got a good deal at stake myself.” The smile faded. “I’d risk far more than the wrath of a spirit to find out what or who’s hurting you, Wesley, but I don’t deserve any awards for bravery; I know how much I love you, so I know we’re safe.”

With what he knew was a strained smile, Wesley reached out and squeezed Giles' upper arm. "I trust you," he said, deciding to save the reassurance that he also loved Giles until after this had been dealt with. "And if you're sure you're willing to do this... then I say the sooner the better."

***
Giles had forgotten how much blood was required to draw even a small circle. His arm ached where Wesley, apologetic, but with blessedly steady hands, had drawn off his blood, and his head spun slightly. Pushing aside the juice Wesley had insisted he drink, he focused instead on the book he held, and began to read from it, the measured cadences of the ritual flooding him with memories of the other time he’d helped summon Ellen. Then it had been himself in the circle, and his father, face strained with worry, who had painted it with his blood, and asked his questions in a voice that shook with fear. Three answers, vague to the point of being useless, but she’d answered them readily enough, and Giles had met his father’s eyes with a sense of relief. His mother might be dying, with no way to save her, but discovering that your father loved you beyond the bounds of duty was comforting given the fighting that had characterised their relationship.

“’ – in the name of our Lord, I bid thee come, throw light on my darkness, and answer me true.”

With a twist in his stomach that he couldn’t blame on his blood-loss, Giles watched the shimmer form and surround Wesley, sinking into his body and assuming a form he remembered well. If he narrowed his eyes and squinted, it was still Wesley, hands around a candle, eyes fixed on the steady, yellow flame; if he blinked, it was Ellen, short and plump, dressed in blue, with her dark hair curling about her plain face.

“Thank you for answering,” he said politely, recalling his father’s courteous greeting with a pang. Always so mindful of his manners...

The woman met his eyes steadily, the aura of calm that surrounded her seeming to extend into the every corner of the room. It was deceptive, Giles knew -- Ellen's moods were volatile, unpredictable -- but even still, he found himself relaxing a bit. "Your beloved is well served by your heart," she said, her accent familiar despite the fact that it had been so many years since he'd heard it. "What is it that you wish to know?"

Her phrasing sent a flicker of warmth through him. He’d fallen into the habit of seeing his love for Wesley as something that would make Wesley’s life more complicated, not something that could help him. It wasn’t as if Wesley didn’t know Giles liked him, of course, but he’d schooled himself to show affection rather than passion, dreading seeing pity in Wesley’s eyes as he tactfully explained that he wasn’t interested in anything serious.

He wondered dully what his reluctance to risk his feelings getting hurt had cost them both, but pushed that aside to concentrate. He and Wesley had tentatively prepared some questions, hampered by the fact that they didn’t know how long the circle would hold, and he cleared his throat and asked the first.

“He is affected by a spell that changes him, makes him violent and cold. Who is doing this to him?”

The answer was a long time coming, to the point where Giles felt his stomach clench with anxiety. But finally Ellen spoke, her reply as cryptic as he'd expected it to be, but no less surprising for all that. "He is responsible for his own fate," she said.

 

Giles bit back the protest – he’d wanted a name to work with - and thought quickly. Wesley was responsible for himself, yes, of course he was, but he’d asked who was doing the spell...how could Wesley be responsible for that? Unless he’d done something that led to it being cast?

“Is this revenge for some action he took in the past, then?”

Ellen's form wavered in a brief flicker, revealing Wesley still sitting there quietly for an instant before she looked like herself again. "Revenge is something one being takes upon another, is it not?" she asked rhetorically. "Some actions set a journey in motion, and some journeys are not so easily interrupted."

Damn. Two questions, two answers, and nothing particularly enlightening, though Giles felt Ellen was trying to help, in her own way at least. Not revenge; a consequence or a side effect perhaps? His arm throbbed and he rubbed at it absently. Painful, but a small price to pay for - Oh, bloody hell, of course...

“He made a bargain,” Giles said slowly, “and this is the cost.” He looked at Ellen, pleading silently for her to understand how important this was. “What did he receive in return?”

"The intangible can be a worthy answer to a question of great importance," Ellen said, her tone maddeningly straightforward considering the vagueness of her reply. Her image flickered again, her face becoming Wesley's again for a moment longer this time as the power of the spell faded, and it occurred to Giles in a flash that she wasn't talking about herself, but about Wesley. It was an answer, if not as concrete a one as he might have hoped for. "He sought the truth and was given a lie."

Giles tried frantically to think of any case they’d had that might have involved Wesley going after something by himself, and came up dry. Not here in England, not recent...that left him certain that the answer lay in L.A.. It didn’t surprise him, but he cursed the scruples – and yes, the jealousy – that had stopped him getting more details from Wesley about the events that had brought him here. Hoping that this would make sense to Wesley, he risked one last question, skipping over the cause to a possible solution.

“Can this...debt be paid another way?”

"Insolent child!" Ellen's eyes crackled with anger, her hand whipping out and pointing at him as a blue-green lightning shot from her fingers, the last of the circle fading as she drew the remaining power from it. The bolts caught Giles in the chest, knocking him backward onto the floor as his muscles twitched and he gasped for air. Dimly, he thought he heard Ellen's voice say one last thing, although he couldn't quite make it out -- and then Wesley was kneeling above him, anxious hands touching him.

“Well, that went better than I expected,” Giles said weakly. He stared up at Wesley and blinked, trying to clear his vision, as he could see two Wesleys and though that wasn’t exactly unpleasant, it wasn’t a good sign. “For an old lady, she’s remarkably forceful, isn’t she? Are you O.K? Did she hurt you?”

Wesley shook his head. "No -- she knocked me off my chair, but I'm fine. You're the one I'm worried about." He undid the top few buttons on Giles' shirt with what Giles could feel were trembling fingers, warm hands brushing over Giles' chest where the magical lightning had struck him, but there was no pain and, Giles could tell by the expression on Wesley's face, no marks either.

“Give me a moment and I’ll be back to normal,” Giles said, not trying to get up right away as he was sure he’d only fall over. He sighed with satisfaction, folding his hands on his chest and smiling up at Wesley. “We got more than I dared hope for out of the old dear. Could you hear her? And what did she say right at the end? I missed it.”

"I heard her," Wesley said. His hand was rubbing over Giles' arm tenderly. "It was... well, a bit like hearing someone underwater, I suppose. Some parts were easier to make out than others. But at the end, I thought she said something about severing a link. I don't know what that means." He looked troubled, and before Giles could say anything else he stood. "Don't get up," Wesley said, coming back in seconds with the juice Giles had ignored earlier. "When you're feeling like you're ready, you can sit up and drink this."

“I can sit up,” Giles protested. “Good Lord, I was only knocked flying by a mystical bolt of energy, after all.” He struggled up on one elbow, heartened by the reluctant smile on Wesley’s face, and sipped at the juice. “I think I can make it to the couch,” he said after a few careful swallows. Wesley helped him up and Giles settled down on the couch with a relieved sigh. “Would you fetch over some paper and a pen, Wes? We should write down as much as we can remember.” He glanced up at Wesley, mindful of the fact that a word out of place could trigger another outburst, and said hesitantly. “Or do you think you know what she meant?”

But Wesley was already moving across the room again, taking a pen and paper from the desktop and returning to sit beside Giles. "Best to write it down, just in case," he said.

Giles scribbled down a few notes as the two of them together pieced together what Ellen had said, trying to get her words into the proper order as accurately as possible.

"I did it myself?" Wesley asked. "It sounded as if she was talking about something rather similar to this, didn't it?"

“It does,” Giles agreed, “and I’m inclined to think it happened before you arrived here. We’ve had some interesting cases, but nothing that required asking for help from the spirit world.” He tapped the pencil against the paper, not meeting Wesley’s eyes. “From what I gather, it was a little less humdrum when you were working with Angel. Can you recall anything that might fit? Any time when you were deceived? Because look at this bit, ‘He sought the truth, and was given a lie.’ That should narrow it down a bit, I’d think.”

He was babbling, he knew, and he spared a rueful thought for all the times he’d been irritated by Xander’s inability to shut up. If the lad had just wanted to stave off the moment when an awkward silence would fall, perhaps he’d had the right idea.

Wesley was quiet for a long time, sitting very still, his gaze unfocused. Giles waited patiently -- it was clear that Wesley was thinking, and he didn't want to chance interrupting his train of thought. "It wasn't a lie," he said finally, "so much as a deception. It was technically true -- it just wasn't the whole truth." He glanced at Giles apologetically. "I needed clarification that the prophecy was real -- the one that said that Angel would kill his son -- so I found a wizard who knew a spell, and I summoned a Loa."

“You did what?” Giles asked, feeling a surge of energy. He tossed the paper and pencil aside and glared at Wesley. “A Loa makes Ellen seem as dangerous as a – as a cuddly toy for Christ’s sake! You could’ve been killed!”

Too late, he remembered that Wesley didn’t take well to being questioned right now, but even knowing that Wesley had survived the encounter wasn’t enough to calm him down.

Rather unsurprisingly, Wesley got to his feet and glared right back at Giles. "I had no choice," he said intensely. "I needed to know, and there was no other way to find out."

“No other way to help Angel,” Giles said, gritting his teeth against the urge to go into detail about why Angel didn’t bloody well deserve people risking their lives for him. “I understand perfectly. Well, as you’re standing up, perhaps you’d like to start doing the research you obviously skimped on last time. If the Loa took the chance to latch onto you in some way, we need to work out what it’s taking, and how to stop it. That must be what she meant by a link.”

The edgy frustration in Wesley's eyes had slipped sideways into anger as Giles spoke, then it changed again like quicksilver -- confusion, anger again, uncertainty. "You've no right to judge me," he growled. "You have no idea what it was like, trying to find a solution to an impossible situation, with no one to turn to. I hadn't slept for days." He was trembling visibly, his hands balled into fists.

He deserved anything Wesley handed out for this piece of stupidity, Giles reflected. To react like a jealous adolescent with a man on the edge of breaking down –

Hauling himself to his feet and trying not to notice the way the walls were rushing at him and then receding, he stretched out his hand and then let it fall back to his side, remembering the last time he’d touched Wesley when he was angry. “I wish we’d been on good enough terms then that I could have helped you,” he said quietly, “but you’re absolutely correct; I can’t and shouldn’t second-guess decisions you made in what must have been impossibly difficult circumstances and –” His apology was cut short as the room darkened and sweat broke out over his body. “Oh God –”

He sat down abruptly and pushed his head between his knees, trying to breathe slowly. Passing out with Wesley in this state wasn’t a good idea, no matter how tempting it was. Cursing Ellen’s touchiness, he closed his eyes, seeing bright lights bloom and fade against the blackness.

"It's all right," he heard Wesley saying, a cool familiar hand on the back of his neck. "That's it, keep your head down. Deep breaths." Giles did his best to comply, but it was touch and go for a few moments there as his head swam alarmingly, Wesley's hand an anchor to consciousness. "There, just give it a minute. Do you feel as if you might be sick?"

“Yes, but I’m damned if I will.” Giles lay back against the cushions and swallowed carefully. “Shouldn’t have stood up. Thank you.” He looked up at Wesley’s concerned face. “I’ll be fine by tomorrow – but we might not have that much time. If I say ‘go and research’ without the insults this time, does that sound like a good plan? And give me a few minutes and I’ll be able to help, I’m sure. I can read lying down.”

Wesley shook his head resolutely, in that moment seeming more like the Wesley Giles knew than he had been. "No, you just rest here and I'll look." He rubbed the back of his own neck, frowning. "Something to sever whatever link that summoning left me with. Hajimum's Compendium, do you think?"

“Yes, I think that would be a good place to start,” Giles agreed. “Bottom shelf in the pine bookcase. You’ll want to find out exactly what the nature of the link is, as well; there might be some way of temporarily blocking any transference of energies. ” He sat up as a sudden thought occurred to him, winced and sank back. “Good Lord, I wonder – Wesley, Buffy ran into a demon once at university; her roommate actually. The girl was taking Buffy’s soul from her, very gradually, using a rather disgusting ritual...but Buffy exhibited some of the symptoms you do. Might be worth while looking into soul stealers. Father Absolam had quite an extensive list, if I recall correctly. ‘Aspects of Satan’ but don’t let the sensational title put you off.”

Giles lay there quietly, waiting for the worst of the dizziness to pass, as Wesley went off to find the books. When he looked up a short while later, Wesley had the slightly larger volume balanced on his knees where he was sitting cross-legged on the floor, the other book beside him. He was holding his place in the book with one hand while reading from what looked like the footnotes section near the back.

"Anything?" Giles asked.

"Haitian demon possession," Wesley muttered, almost under his breath. "Typical symptoms rather unlike the ones in this case, which isn't surprising I suppose. I'm not possessed." He looked into the book that was on the floor, turning a few pages, then back at the one in his lap. "Alegba."

“Ethiopian animal spirits?” Giles said a little doubtfully. “Or, alternatively, ‘bless you’.” He took a deep breath and cautiously moved to sitting, rather than lying on the couch. To his relief the giddiness had gone. “Sorry; not quite with you.”

"Drink that juice," Wesley said, without looking up from his book. "No, it's -- or he's, if one wants to get technical -- the Loa that I called upon. He stands at the crossroads -- opens the gates to the spirit world so that communication with the other loa can take place. I'm not sure why he'd want anything from me. I performed the spell as instructed, I can't see any reason something would have gone wrong..."

“I did drink it,” Giles said, “and it helped; thank you. If we assume the spell was done correctly, then perhaps nothing did go wrong, precisely.” He frowned. “We need to find out what created this link. If the spell was the trigger perhaps, rather than the actual cause...hmm. What happened immediately after the spell? To you, I mean; anything out of the ordinary?”

Wesley did look up then, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Nothing I can think of. I summoned the Loa, we talked -- or rather, he talked and occasionally let me get a word in edgewise -- and then he told me not to bother him again. I tried to tell Angel, that night, but..."

“He wouldn’t listen?” Giles asked. “I can understand that being hard for him to accept.”

"No... it wasn't that." Wesley's tone was difficult to interpret. "I couldn't do it. I wanted to -- I went up to his room with every intention of telling him what I'd learned. But he was so... happy. He was talking about how much he loved his son, how he'd never realized before that love could be something beautiful, and... I couldn't say the words. I couldn't take that away from him."

But you did, Giles thought. Pity for Wesley wasn’t new, but the twinge of sympathy he felt for Angel was. To be robbed of Connor’s childhood; to assume he had died...not surprising that he’d attacked Wesley with such ferocity.

“Don’t dwell on that,” he said. “It’s done with. Go back to the spell. You said you got it from a wizard; could you have misinterpreted his instructions? Or could he have got it wrong?”

"I did what he told me to do," Wesley said defensively. "You know what these sorts of spells are like -- if I'd performed the summoning incorrectly, chances are it either wouldn't have worked, or the Loa would have killed me."

“That’s true,” Giles agreed. “Not much room for error with them.” He rubbed his chest a little ruefully and then shook his head. “There must be something we’re missing...do you have a copy of the spell you used that I could look at? Just to see for myself what was involved? Did you use the same powder to dissolve the spell as you did to create it? Could they have got mixed up – no, of course not. Damn.”

Wesley's frustration seemed to change to confusion. "I didn't do anything to dissolve the summoning." He was sitting very still, and Giles could see his hands gripping onto the edges of the book in his lap as the information sunk in.

“You must have done,” Giles said, without thinking about it too much. “It varies of course; in the case of summoning Ellen, it was automatic; once the power in the circle was used up, the link was broken. You’d have said something, used more powder perhaps. Which was it?”

"I'm telling you, there was nothing." Wesley's voice was cold, harsh. "I'd remember if I'd done something. I didn't."

It was impossible for Giles to hide his horror. “You left a gateway unsealed that you’d opened, that you’re still linked to? Good Lord, Wesley, you’re lucky you’re still breathing!” He went quickly to Wesley, crouching down beside him. “You –” Speechless, he pulled Wesley to him in an awkward, crushing hug, torn between the need to start research right now and the desire to hold onto Wesley and not let go for a very long time.

But Wesley didn't seem to fancy that idea -- in fact, he pulled away, moving out of Giles' embrace and standing up, beginning to pace. "I've never done a spell of this sort -- summoning, manifestation, what have you -- that required the kind of thing you're talking about. Never. The wizard I got that spell from assured me that he knew what he was doing -- and he ought to have, considering what he charged me. How was I to know that..." He stopped, which was good as Giles had been feeling a bit dizzy again just watching him, and shook his head.

“You’ve been lucky,” Giles said softly, getting to his feet but giving Wesley the space he wanted. “Anything could have come through and latched onto you. Well, something has, but the fact that you’re not dead means they’ve not been able to do it very successfully. Perhaps after so many months, the link is fading by itself; order reasserting itself over chaos. I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter; we end it now, tonight.”

Wesley was pacing again, running a hand through his hair, his other hand clenched into a fist. "God, how could I have been so stupid? I should have known... should have realized..." He was spiraling downward, caught in a loop of self-disgust that wasn't entirely unfamiliar to Giles. He turned and met Giles' eyes, his expression twisted. "The only thing I can say in my defense," he started, as if Giles had already condemned him and it was already too later, "is that I was so exhausted at the time that it never even occurred to me. And then after that everything happened so fast -- "

“Stop it,” Giles interrupted, his voice harsher now as he tried to break through Wesley's self-recriminations. “Wesley, this is upsetting you and it’s wasting time.” He took a deep breath. “It wasn’t your fault, not really, though I can see that’s not something you’re willing to accept right now. It doesn’t matter; drop the inquest, and find me the spell you used. Please.”

Thinking that perhaps the close scrutiny and attention weren't helping matters, Giles didn't wait for Wesley to respond, instead moving to find another book that he thought might be helpful now that they knew what they were dealing with. He paid attention to what Wesley was doing -- the long pause as he appeared to think about the situation, then Wesley went over and sat down, picking up the paper and pen Giles had discarded earlier and beginning to jot down some notes, muttering quietly to himself under his breath as he had a tendency to do when absorbed.

Giles allowed himself a silent sigh of relief. Wesley was always so thorough, so driven, that it must have killed him to realise he’d made a mistake so basic and yet so disastrous, but this really wasn’t the time to dwell on that. Not now. A surging impatience was filling him, and he forced the same calm on himself that Wesley was showing – if not feeling. Taking the book he wanted, he moved to the table and began to work, settling into the familiar routine within minutes. Chasing down references, cross-checking to make sure...it all took time, but there was no room for mistakes.

Not when Wesley’s life and soul were at stake. Giles allowed himself one moment to consider what would happen if Wesley became possessed by a demon and he had to kill him, and discovered his fist was clenching hard enough around the pen he held that it was hurting his hand. Telling himself to stop borrowing trouble, he pulled open yet another book.

He didn't realize that Wesley had stood up and walked over to him until he felt a hand on his shoulder. "Here," Wesley said, setting the piece of paper in front of him on the table. "That's what I remember. I think it's everything, but..."

Reading the words and the list of ingredients was enough to tell Giles what type of spell it was. “It’s a moderately complex variant on a basic summoning, and if he charged you a lot for this, we might want to go and get your change out of his hide,” he said dryly. “I don’t think it’ll be too tricky to finish off the spell, though being this far away from where the door was opened complicates it a little.” He glanced up at Wesley. “I’m not sure how it’ll affect you; I assume the demon has got its claws in you, in a metaphorical way thank God, and it’s not going to be pleased to have you taken away. It’s been feeding off you in some way.”

"And once we've solved the problem, I'll go back to normal?" Wesley didn't sound particularly inclined to believe that this was likely. "I don't... Giles, I don't even know what that is anymore."

“I’m not sure either,” Giles admitted. “And that goes for both of us. I feel as if I’ve been wrong about so much these last few months that I’m not sure I trust myself to recognise normality.” Wesley was still standing close beside him and Giles turned his head to look up at him, seeing the sadness and doubt on his face. “I just want it to include you here with me. I’m certain when I began to love you, it was when you were unaffected by any spell, and even now that you are, it doesn’t change anything. You’re still – you.”

Wesley wrapped his arms around himself. "I'm glad one of us has some idea of who that is."

“Oh, I’ve got a very good idea,” Giles told him. “And it includes a stubbornness that I’ve found both admirable and annoying. The contact with the demon might be affecting some of your better qualities, but I’m willing to bet that’s still intact.” He stood up and hugged Wesley, not giving him chance to unfold his arms or respond, simply gathering him up and holding him close for a moment. “I’ll need you working with me for this, Wesley,” he said, stepping back. “You’re the link to the open doorway; in a sense, it’s wherever you are now. Which is fortunate as I’ve no wish to travel to L.A. So we’re going to mix up the powder you used and I’m going to use the spell you did. The doorway will open, probably with the demon right there waiting, and we’ll slam the door in its face. And then I’m going to have a stiff drink, and an early night, and no, I’m not feeling sleepy.” He raised an eyebrow. “Well?”

"Yes. It's not as if I've any choice in the matter, after all." Wesley didn't seem any less tense -- maybe that wouldn't be possible until they'd closed the doorway properly -- and it was clear to Giles' now more aware eye that it was taking a considerable amount of will power for him to hold himself together. That in itself was impressive, and demonstrated just how accurate Giles' belief in Wesley's stubbornness was.

Still, he couldn't count on the fact that Wesley would be able to control himself. They'd best get this over with as soon as possible.

"Maybe," Wesley said, as they began to gather up the ingredients they needed, "a stiff drink before might not be a bad idea either." Something about his voice made Giles look up from the cupboard he was crouched in front of, and Giles saw that Wesley's hand, holding a small packet of dried wormwood, was shaking.

“If you like,” he said, keeping his voice neutral, “though as I was planning on us having weapons to hand when we do this, just in case, you might want to make it a small one.”

"No, you're probably right." Wesley sounded resigned. He crouched down
beside Giles. "Do we have everything?"

Giles scanned the heap of small packages scattered on the floor and nodded. “Yes, I’d say so.”

He gathered them up and took them to the kitchen, working quickly to create the powder Wesley had used. He couldn’t shake the feeling of urgency that had filled him since he realised what had happened to Wesley. Absurd really; it was possible that Wesley had been affected for days, maybe even weeks, so an extra minute spent hunting down a mortar and pestle was irrelevant, but it still made him want to curse.

When the substance had been prepared he turned to Wesley, who had watched him in the silence he seemed to be using as armour, and said, “Bit cramped in here, but I think I’d still feel happier with a sword at hand. How about you?”

Wordlessly, Wesley nodded and left the kitchen, returning a few moments later with two swords, one of which he offered to Giles.

Giles stepped back far enough to be able to raise the sword and test its balance. “The last time I used this was on a vampire,” he said. “It interrupted when I was fighting a demon and if the demon hadn’t gone for it, rather than me, I wouldn’t be standing here. Odd how much they hate vampires.”

"It depends on the demon," Wesley said, leaving Giles to wonder what he was thinking about, not that he did so for more than a moment or two. Then he read over what Wesley had written down again, just to be sure he knew what he was doing. Convinced that he was as prepared as he could be in a short amount of time, he looked up at Wesley again, only to see the other man running his thumb over the edge of the sword. Wesley caught Giles' eyes on him and glanced up rather sheepishly. "Sorry. I'm ready. What do you want me to do?"

“Just – be there,” Giles said, a little helplessly. “There shouldn’t be anything for you to do, if all goes well.”

He led them into the front room and looked around. “You sprinkled the powder on a statue, right? Of sorts,” he amended, still feeling a little incredulous about the talking hamburger. “I’m going to use this, and if it gets broken, well, I’m sure we’ll survive the blow.”

He placed a statue of a harlequin in the middle of the floor and stepped back. It had been left behind by the previous owners of the flat and he’d kept it because it was so hideous it was amusing. Hoping it didn’t hold any grudges for the times he’d marveled over its many flaws, he scattered it with the powdered herbs and said firmly,

“"Mange sec Loa, alegba, accept this offering - and open the gates of truth."

Hearing those words spoken again -- even though it had been some time, and even though he wasn't the one speaking them -- felt a bit like returning to a childhood haunt only to find that one's memory of it no longer fit the reality. What had been a stubborn sense of desperation in L.A. was a resigned and only vague hope in London.

There was a crackle, a muffled roaring sound, and then the small figurine that Giles had set on the floor began to grow. It happened very quickly -- one moment it was an inanimate object, the next a moving creature standing in front of them.

Angelus. Standing in front of them.

It wasn't possible, Wesley knew that -- he didn't believe Angel was capable of something like this, even if he'd wanted to do it -- and yet he still found himself backing up, two hurried steps away and in Giles' direction, cursing his own cowardice as he did so.

“Wesley?” Giles sounded alarmed, but his hand was dipping back inside the bowl, getting ready to complete the ritual. “What is it?”

"It’'s --" But Wesley's heart was in his throat -- he couldn't speak, couldn't move. It was like being caught in a dream, knowing that he was going to die and yet completely unable to do anything about it. Waiting.

He heard Giles snap out a string of words that failed to register in his mind and saw the greenish dust fly out in a cloud, settling over Angelus’ shoulders. Giles brought his sword around and up, stepping forward to face what he must have realised was a threat, though his lack of reaction to the unexpectedly familiar figure was surprising.

"You can't take what belongs to me," Angelus said to Giles, ignoring Wesley in that moment. His voice sounded different, rough, unlike himself. Still, Wesley couldn't move, couldn't do anything but watch as Angelus cuffed out a casual hand and knocked his own sword from his grip, the weapon skittering to the floor with a dull clatter.

"It's Angelus," Wesley managed to gasp through constricted lungs that struggled to find oxygen, finally breaking free from the inability to move and rolling to pick up the sword again.

“Where?” Giles glanced around as if he was looking for something or someone, and Wesley realised that what he was seeing had to be an illusion – or Giles was being fooled. It didn’t make it any easier for him to know what to do, especially as the incantation didn’t seem to have worked, but the decision was made for him. In the instant that Giles looked away, the creature Wesley couldn’t help thinking of as Angelus sprang forward, avoiding the point of the sword Giles held and locked his hands around Giles’ throat.

Without hesitation, Wesley launched himself at the both of them, intent only on getting the demon -- whatever it was -- to release Giles. The impact as his shoulder slammed into the creature was jarring, but it apparently provided enough of a distraction that the demon with Angelus' face loosened its hold, and Wesley was able to wrench its hands away from Giles' throat.

"You're mine," the demon said, turning its attention toward Wesley now.

The demon was stupid, Wesley decided, the confusion fading a little. Turning his back on Giles certainly qualified as a bad move and though it had been a shock seeing it take the form of the creature who’d been making his dreams into nightmares, it wasn’t enough to make him incapable of defending himself.

He backed away, pretending to be frightened, giving Giles chance to recover and space enough to attack

“Bloody well isn’t yours,” Giles choked out driving his sword deep into the demon’s back.

The creature screamed, the sound terribly loud in their small flat, and in that instant its form changed, revealing a scaled demon with four legs instead of two and a gaping hole where a nose should have been. It whirled around, going after the source of its pain, starting to move toward Giles and awkwardly trying to remove the sword from its own back at the same time.

Wesley moved with it, avoiding a swinging clawed hand and grabbing Giles' sword by the hilt, jerking it free and immediately plunging it back in through the demon's thick hide but at a slightly lower spot. The creature screamed again, staggered, spasming in pain and managing to somehow catch Wesley's arm with two claws, slicing through flesh with a searing cold sensation that made Wesley stumble.

“Wesley!” Giles called out, “The gate’s closed and it’s stranded here. We have to kill it.”

That wasn’t something Wesley had any problem with at all. His arm was numb now, the pain there, waiting to break through and sear the flesh, but mercifully distant for the moment. He cradled it to his body and used his other hand to drive a punch into the demon’s mid-section, where it was wounded and vulnerable. The demon shook its head angrily but didn’t seem to be as bothered by the blow as he had been by the blade.

Giles was scrambling to reach Wesley’s sword, which had slid away when the demon took it from him. His fingers closed around the hilt as the demon lurched forward, kicking him in the ribs and driving him back against the chair.

The space was too small, but Wesley thought there was a way to make that work to their advantage -- they were half the demon's width, which made moving a bit easier. Before it could turn, he moved to the side a step and grabbed up an umbrella that had been leaning against the wall, swinging it and striking the demon in the ribs -- assuming it had ribs -- to get its attention.

With one sword still embedded in the creature's body and the other on the floor beside Giles, there were no other weapons readily available. The umbrella served as a distraction at best, but Wesley swung it again anyway, hitting the demon in the side of the throat this time before he had to duck as it attempted to hit him again.

Its movements were lumbering now, slowed by the wound as well as the cramped surroundings. Blood, so dark a red that it looked black, was dripping from the blade of the sword that skewered it, and its head was moving fitfully from side to side. Wesley saw Giles stir, coughing as he tried to breathe again after being winded. He still held the sword, and seeing Wesley’s predicament he called out his name and slid the sword over to him as he did so, sending it skidding between the demon’s feet to land at Wesley’s.

“Finish this, Wesley,” he said, glaring at the demon that had come so close to disrupting their lives. “Just bloody well kill it.”

Bending quickly to pick up the sword and letting the anger that had been lurking for weeks swell and fill him, Wesley drove the blade into the demon's neck, watching as more blood spurted before the creature gave a bubbling sigh and collapsed slowly to the floor. It landed with a heavy thump then dissipated into an outline of grey dust.

Relieved beyond measure, his injured arm starting a fresh throbbing that matched the rapid beating of his heart, Wesley let himself sink down onto the floor as well. He looked at Giles. "Are you all right?"

Giles reached around to rub at his back and then brought his hand back to prod cautiously at his ribs. “Bruised. I’ll live. How about – God, Wesley, your arm! I didn’t realise it’d wounded you. How bad is it?” He was moving as soon as he saw the blood, covering the few feet between them quickly and peeling back Wesley’s shirt to expose the two shallow furrows left by the claws, bleeding freely. “Not too deep,” he said, “but messy. I should’ve noticed you were fighting with your other hand.” He looked up and met Wesley’s eyes. “Do you – do you feel any different, Wesley?”

His heart was still pounding, and looking into Giles' eyes was more than he could manage at that moment in time. He wrapped his good arm around Giles' waist and leaned in against him, resting his forehead on Giles' collarbone, trying not to hold the other man too tightly as he took stock. "I'm... I think I'm okay." A wash of guilt at everything he'd put Giles through threatened to overwhelm him.

He felt Giles shift position and pull him closer, his hand warm on his back. “That was more excitement than I like to have at home,” he said, in a conversational tone. “I’m surprised we haven’t got Mrs Phillips banging on the door to complain about the noise. No, wait; it’s her day to visit her daughter, isn’t it? And we’re spared the hassle of disposing of a body too. Quick hoover, bit of a tidy and you’d never know we’d had a fight to death in the middle of our front room.”

Wesley felt Giles’ hand against his hair, ruffling it as he had done when he’d been preparing to cut it for the spell. They’d kissed after that, and even with the influence of the demon twisting his emotions, it’d felt good.

It seemed a long time ago somehow.

Listening to Giles talk about the neighbour was soothing, but it didn't make Wesley any less inclined to stay exactly where he was. Refusing to face what he'd done, and the things he might have continued to do if Giles hadn't realized what was going on, was just too difficult. Instead, Wesley burrowed in closer, taking solace where he could.

"I'm sorry," he said finally. It was in no way enough of an apology, he knew that, but it was the best he could do.

He felt Giles’ shoulder tense. “For something you’ve done, or something you’re about to do?” Giles said.

That confused Wesley enough that he looked up. "For... everything. For making the mistake that caused this in the first place." He reached up and touched the side of Giles' face gently. "For hurting you."

Giles’ hand slipped over his own with an equal gentleness and then pulled it away from his face, bringing their linked hands down to rest against his leg. “You said it yourself; it was a mistake. You would never have done it if you’d known what would happen, and it seems to me you’ve suffered more than I have. It must have been dreadful feeling yourself slip away like that.” His thumb moved in slow circles against Wesley’s hand. “It was – not pleasant watching it either, especially when I didn’t know why – God, Wesley, it’s I who should be asking you to forgive me. Stupid of me to think you’d be capable of that cruelty.” He glanced at Wesley’s arm and pulled a face. “Almost as stupid as chatting when you’re still bleeding. Come on; let’s get that seen to.”

Wesley allowed himself to be led into the bathroom and willingly removed his shirt so that Giles could carefully wash and bandage his arm. "Thank you," he said quietly, watching as Giles put away the gauze roll and the medical tape. "For taking me in when I showed up here in London. I don't think I ever said that."

Again, he sensed a curious tension from Giles; nothing obvious, but Wesley had learned to read the signals the other man gave. “It wasn’t necessary to thank me. In any way. It was the least I could do. I wasn’t – kind to you when we met and it was good to have a chance to make that up to you.”

"You didn't owe me anything," Wesley insisted. He felt rather like he imagined someone in a twelve step program must -- apologizing for what he'd done before, expressing gratitude for the kindnesses that had been shown him. He stood up and reached out to touch Giles' hand hesitantly. "And certainly not for tonight, when it was my own stupid carelessness that caused this mess in the first place. Do you think... could we go sit down? Please?"

“Of course. If we can make it to the couch without falling over, that is.” Giles nodded at their reflections in the bathroom mirror. “Look at us. Battered, bruised and bloody. Still here though, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain.” He turned and looked at Wesley. “You go and sit down, Wesley. I’ll get you another shirt – and didn’t you mention a drink an eternity ago?”

Wesley nodded and made his way to the couch, sinking down onto it gratefully and trying not to see the dust on the floor. He leaned back and closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of Giles going into the bedroom for a shirt, then to the drinks cupboard. He was unsure if Giles was deliberately remaining aloof, or if everything that had happened between them in the past few days was something that they weren't going to be able to get past, but either way he felt disconnected, set adrift.

The cool touch of glass against his hand startled him and he blinked up at Giles. “Are you drifting off to sleep?” Giles asked, sitting beside him and handing him a whisky. “Not that I’d blame you.” He gulped down some of his drink and met Wesley’s eyes. “Do you mind if I ask you something, or would you rather not talk about it right now?”

"No, of course not," Wesley said, resting the glass on his knee. "Ask me anything."

“The demon – you saw it as Angel, didn’t you? It confused me for a moment, but I realised what had happened. It had been using your dreams to reach you; when you couldn’t do much to stop it.” Giles turned the glass he held between his fingers, tilting it so that the liquid splashed against the heavy crystal. “I can’t help wondering why it chose that form. I can’t help thinking it knew being attacked by someone you loved would do more to make you vulnerable than anything else.” He finished his drink and put the glass down. “I’m – glad you don’t have memories of me hurting you, Wesley, but I wish –”

Uncertain as to what Giles was thinking, Wesley set his own glass down on the table and rested his hand on Giles' thigh. "What? Tell me."

Giles sighed, glancing down at Wesley’s hand but not returning his touch. “I wish I mattered enough to you that the bloody demon had chosen me,” he said. “Which is so stupid I can’t believe I’m thinking it, let alone telling you. Wesley, I can’t trust that what you said to me before was what you really felt, and I swear I’ll never ask you again, but....are you in love with Angel? Because if you are, I’d rather know about it.”

Wesley was sure he looked utterly dumbstruck. "Am I in love with... Giles. Of course I'm not. I won't deny that I had feelings for him, or that I may have been attracted to him at one time, but... you know what happened between us. There's no possible way I'd ever consider going back to him, if he'd even have me, which I can assure you is extremely unlikely." He realized that this insecurity that Giles was displaying required more specific reassurance than that. "Barring all that, I'm in love with you."

He didn’t think he’d ever seen Giles look so uncertain of himself. “I can’t – Wes, is this all tied up with you feeling guilty, or grateful, or whatever? Because it’s not the best way of saying sorry or thanks, you know. And, yes, I know I told you I loved you, but that was – you don’t have to – oh, dear Lord, why does even saying that little reduce me to incoherence? It’s pitiful.”

"If I'd said it a month ago, would you have believed me then?" Wesley asked quietly, wishing that he had.

“I don’t know,” Giles said. “Did you? Love me then, I mean? We seem to have been either very good at hiding our feelings, or remarkably unobservant.” He quirked up an eyebrow. “I know why I kept quiet; I thought you’d move on, sooner rather than later, and I wanted you to be able to do it without looking back...but what about you? Why didn’t you want to -?”

Wesley watched as his thumb rubbed back and forth over Giles' thigh. "I didn't want to let myself," he said. "Even friendship hasn't worked out very well for me in the past. It didn't seem like a good idea to admit how I felt, even to myself."

“And now it does? Because you feel...safe? Because you know I’m not going to push you away?” Giles had moved closer without Wesley noticing, and his arm was lying across the back of the sofa, brushing against Wesley’s shoulders. “I think that’s the last thing I want –”

Giles didn’t finish his sentence because he stopped talking and kissed Wesley instead, as if he’d been waiting to for so long that he couldn’t wait any longer. The arm around Wesley’s shoulders tightened, and he felt Giles’ other hand trace an upward path from his thigh, a swift, hungry caress that was almost impatient, though his kiss was soft; coaxing, rather than demanding, a response.

Grateful for such concrete proof that Giles still wanted him, Wesley returned the kiss eagerly, feeling his body respond in probably just the way Giles had been hoping. He shivered when Giles' hand slid up his bare side, perfectly happy to let Giles set the pace, to move as instructed and do whatever Giles wanted. "Yes," he whispered, when Giles pulled him closer.

“So you agree,” Giles murmured back, his lips warm against Wesley’s throat, “that we’ve spent long enough confessing how much time we’ve wasted?” His hand was moving over Wesley’s chest now, fingers spread wide, as if he was claiming all he touched, as if this was the first time he’d done this. Wesley felt a sharp jolt of arousal as Giles rubbed his thumb across a nipple, catching it between finger and thumb as it hardened and pinching it with a steady, insistent pressure.

"I don't want to waste any more," Wesley said, kissing Giles again and gasping as Giles' fingers pinched even more firmly, his lower body shifting as he sought more stimulation than the constriction his slacks had to offer. "Please, Giles. God. I'll do anything you want, just..."

“Just what?” Giles said, dipping his head and licking, then biting gently, at the flesh he’d been teasing. “And would ‘anything’ include letting me show you how much I love you, as well as telling you?” He laid his fingers lightly against the bandage on Wesley’s arm, shifting back a little. “Unless this is hurting you?”

Truthfully, Wesley had almost forgotten about it, although being reminded did make the wound throb. "No," he said. "I mean yes, but I'm counting on you to distract me." He slid his hand up the inside of Giles' trouser leg, brushing fingertips lightly over the straining hardness there that matched his own.

The response he got was as reassuring as the kisses. Giles grinned at him, with no trace of the wariness and caution Wesley realised had been there for weeks now, and said, “And that would be you showing me how it’s done? I see...”

His hand moved down between them and Wesley closed his eyes as Giles ran his fingertips over Wesley’s cock, far too gently for his liking, considering it was under two layers of clothing. “You don’t seem distracted,” Giles said in a considering tone of voice. “Sleepy, perhaps. I think you should go to bed.” Wesley’s eyes flew open, but before he could protest, Giles added. “I think we both should, in fact. Unless you’ve got any other distracting ideas I could try?”

"Bed sounds perfect," Wesley said huskily.

They made their way to the bedroom, not pausing to touch as they did so the way they normally might have. Wesley thought it was because they were both too eager. But they did stop when they reached the side of the bed to kiss again, Wesley's fingers fumbling with the buttons on Giles' shirt as he did his best to undo them.

Even though he could have done it faster himself, Giles didn’t try to take over from Wesley, breaking the kiss to watch him, his breathing shallow. He let Wesley push his shirt back off his shoulders and then stepped back when Wesley moved to kiss him again. “I want you – us - naked,” he said sounding determined. “Now. And it’s probably quicker this way –”

His hand went to the button on his trousers as he spoke, and Wesley followed his example. Giles might have been in a hurry to get undressed, but there was nothing rushed about the kiss Wesley got a moment later. Like the kiss they’d shared in the kitchen earlier, there was a depth of feeling to it that was new and entirely welcome.

Not that it was any less passionate though. The fight had left Wesley with more relief than euphoria that they’d both survived, but there was enough of the primal reaction to a fight to the death added to his desire, to make him want Giles with an intensity that was almost frightening after keeping his emotions in check for so long, and, apparently, so successfully.

"Touch me," he said urgently. "Giles, please..." His own hands were moving over Giles' body, then he was pushing him down onto the bed, his mouth pressed to Giles' shoulder, raking across it with careful teeth. Giles' skin tasted faintly of salt, and that was good. It made Wesley think of life.

Giles' hands were running over his own body, but Wesley was too caught up in touching Giles to pay attention to how aroused he was becoming. He felt as if he'd been away for a long time and had finally come home.

There was an edge to what he was feeling, an urgency, and Giles was matching it now, kissing him back hard enough to leave Wesley breathless, his tongue flickering against Wesley’s as his teeth caught at his lower lip, sucking at it, tasting it. Giles lay under him, but he wasn’t lying still; his body arching up to rub against Wesley’s, his hands moving on Wesley’s skin in restless, eager strokes.

“Want you, Wesley,” he said, the words ragged, almost a groan, as his hips tilted and his cock slid against Wesley’s thigh, wet-tipped and hard.

It took Wesley a moment to be able to drag his mouth away from Giles' long enough to respond. "Yes... God yes."

A flash of memory shot through him, and he rolled to the side, pulling Giles with him so that they could keep kissing and touching each other even as he yielded his position in favour of returning them to equal footing. Giles' erection lay against his own, swollen flesh rubbing exquisitely, making him moan and rock his hips forward for more.

"Need you," Wesley said. "In me."

He felt Giles’ hand slip down his back to his arse, cupping it as his leg slid between Wesley’s, pushing them apart, his fingers exploring, stroking at hidden skin, teasing at the entrance to his body. “Here, Wesley? You want me here?”

Before Wesley could reply, though he wasn’t sure he could’ve come up with anything coherent, Giles had pushed him to his back, pinning him to the bed with his hands warm against Wesley’s shoulders and smiling down at him, eyes cat-green and gleaming as his cock continued to nudge against Wesley’s in frustratingly glancing touches. “But I seem to recall you saying I could do anything I want...”

Wesley closed his eyes as Giles’ hands skimmed down his body to his hips and he moved to kneel between Wesley’s legs. If he had to watch what Giles was doing, as well as feel it, he didn’t think he’d last long. Giles’ lips closed around the head of his cock, sucking firmly but only for a moment. “If this is putting you to sleep, I’ll stop,” Giles said, a thread of amusement in his voice as he paused, his mouth an inch away from Wesley.

Slowly, Wesley opened his eyes and stared down at Giles.

He really did look disgustingly pleased with himself, Wesley thought dimly, even though most of his own ability to think had deteriorated. Temporarily unable to speak, he watched as Giles' tongue flicked out, painting a wet stripe along his shaft and causing his hips to rise in response. "God, love..." he managed to say, the words almost a caress.

Proving he was awake got him Giles’ hand on his cock, holding it in place as he bent his head down again, his other hand flat against Wesley’s thigh, fingers spread wide, high enough up on Wesley’s leg that his thumb could flick out to rub against the underside of Wesley’s balls. “Love you, Wes,” Giles murmured between warm, wet kisses on the tip of Wesley’s cock. “Wanted to show you how much for so long...” He moved his hand down and let Wesley’s cock slide deeply into his mouth, sucking at it fiercely as his tongue and teeth worked together to leave Wesley overwhelmed by sensation.

Wesley could feel the muscles in his thighs and calves tighten. He was aware that a series of small sounds was escaping him, and made no effort to hold them back as Giles' mouth continued to do incredible things. His only determination was that he wasn't going to come like this -- not until Giles was inside him -- but it was already becoming unbelievably difficult.

He closed his eyes again.

Giles paused without moving his head away very far, leaning on his elbow as glancing up at Wesley. “You sound as if you’re enjoying this,” he said, circling the head of Wesley’s cock with his finger and drawing a whimper from him, “but you’re holding back. Do you want me to stop?”

"No. I mean, yes," Wesley said raggedly, biting his lower lip as Giles traced a fingertip down the length of his cock. He rocked his hips slightly, trying to urge Giles' touch to move lower. "I want you to fuck me."

Giles moved up beside him and took Wesley’s hand, stroking his thumb over his palm before bringing it to his cock. Wesley’s fingers curled around it automatically, feeling it jerk and quiver as he touched it. It felt so hard that his own throbbed in sympathy. “Do you think I don’t?” Giles said. “I was just –” He shook his head. “If I say, ‘getting to know you’ will that sound ridiculous after all these months?”

Letting his fingers slide down to caress the soft skin of Giles' inner thigh, Wesley said gently, "No. No, it doesn't sound ridiculous." And he leaned in and kissed Giles, taking his time and channeling all of his love and gratitude into it as their tongues met and his hand began to stroke Giles' cock slowly. "I love you, and I'm not going anywhere. I want to be with you."

As if he’d been waiting to hear that just one more time, Wesley felt the last tension leave Giles as he returned Wesley’s kiss with an equal amount of fervour, before rolling away for just long enough to slick fingers and cock. Without speaking, his eyes never leaving Wesley’s, Giles worked his fingers into Wesley’s body, leaning forward to kiss him as he did so, his free hand cupping Wesley’s face.

Wesley let out a long slow breath as his body adjusted to the welcome invasion, shifting his hips automatically to take Giles' fingers deeper and moaning when they brushed over just the right spot. He spread his legs wider, shuddering as Giles thrust his fingers in more roughly. "God, yes. Please..."

“You have no idea how you look, how you sound,” Giles whispered, as he let his fingers slip out of Wesley almost reluctantly after a few more deep strokes. He ghosted a kiss over Wesley’s neck and bit down, not gently, where his lips had been. “Want you, Wesley. Want you now.”

Wesley watched Giles’s face tense up as his cock nudged against Wesley’s body, and he guided it inside him in a series of gradually deepening thrusts.

Still keenly aware of the spot on his throat that Giles had bitten, Wesley cried out as the head of Giles' cock rubbed over his prostate, very nearly coming right then and there. "Yes... yes. More."

And Giles complied, pulling out and thrusting in again, even deeper this time. Wesley curled his spine, raising his head so that he could kiss Giles, reveling in the way Giles' tongue fucked his mouth, his hips never slowing.

There was an intensity to this that had been missing before, Wesley thought hazily. Giles had been passionate, yes, but without understanding why, Wesley had always felt that he was holding back. He’d been a little frustrated sometimes by the way Giles was so, well, polite when they were making love; considerate, careful...not that that was bad, of course, but he’d wanted more than that and had decided, a little sadly, that he just didn’t inspire it.

Now, with bruises forming where Giles’ hands were hard against his body, looking up into eyes filled with need and hunger and love, Wesley changed his mind.

Giles slowed down, keeping each stroke as deep, but easing back a little, keeping them both on the edge of a climax Wesley could feel building within his body. So close...

“I want to see you come, Wes,” he said, his voice husky and commanding, reaching between them and taking Wesley’s cock inside the tight circle of his hand.

He didn't want to, not yet... he wanted to wait... Wesley squirmed beneath Giles, not so much trying to escape his touch as distract himself from the inevitable for a bit longer. Giles' hand worked his cock authoritatively, his thrusts harder and faster as he neared his own release, and then Giles' mouth was on his again, ravishing, and Wesley came.

It forced its way through him, an enormous jolt accompanied by a shout he couldn't have held back if his life had depended upon it. The subsequent ripples of savage pleasure wrung more cries from him, his body jerking with the magnitude of it.

He heard Giles call out his name in a hoarse voice and saw the face above him contort as he sought release, his smooth rhythm broken down into powerful, almost desperate strokes, his hand still relentlessly tight around Wesley’s cock as his come spurted out, slicking Giles’ fingers. Then Giles came too, his back arching, his mouth open on a wordless, primal cry.

Wesley pulled Giles down, cradling the other man's body with his own, one hand rubbing the length of Giles' back and the other tangling in Giles' hair, tilting his head so that they could kiss. They were both breathing heavily, their heartbeats racing in tandem, but they kissed as if nothing else mattered.

"Love you," Wesley murmured against Giles' lips. "God, I love you."

“I love you, too,” said Giles softly.

***

Wesley finished writing down the last of the messages and pushed the button to erase them from their voice mail. One completed case saying that the cheque was in the post, a current case leaving information that they needed, and two new potential clients inquiring about the services they provided. Their little business was growing by leaps and bounds.

He looked up as Giles opened the door, entering with a small waxed paper bag tucked under his arm and both hands holding paper cups of coffee.

"I'm reminded again why I love you," Wesley said, smiling and moving eagerly to rescue his cup of coffee from Giles.

“You love me because I bring you coffee?” Giles said, putting his own cup on the desk. “Either you’re easily pleased, or you’re trying to get me in a good mood so I share the donuts.” He tossed the bag to Wesley. “Fortunately for you, I’m still in love with you for far purer reasons, that have nothing to do with why we were late for work, so I’ll let you have first pick.”

Setting his coffee cup on the edge of the desk, Wesley opened the bag and peered inside hopefully. "Jam filled?" he asked, and then spotted a likely candidate and removed it, offering the bag back to Giles even as he took a bite. "Mm -- good," he said, around a mouthful of sticky jam. "Purer reasons?" He knew what sorts of answers that question would yield, which, selfishly, was why he asked it.

“Many of them,” Giles said, taking the bag and putting it beside his coffee. He studied Wesley and grinned. “You have jam on your chin. Already. You’re one of the neatest people I know, and you still can’t eat one of those without getting sticky.” He leaned back against the desk, arms folded, and looked thoughtful as Wesley scrubbed his chin clean with his handkerchief. “Where was I? Reasons for loving you that have nothing to do with the way you make those little whimpery noises when I –”

The phone rang and Giles rolled his eyes, gave Wesley a swift, hard kiss, and went to answer it, licking powdered sugar off his lips as he reached for a pen.

Wesley studied Giles carefully as he spoke to the caller and jotted down notes, not really paying attention the conversation, more watching the way Giles' mouth formed words.

His feelings of restlessness had vanished when they'd severed his connection to the demon, and his dreams had settled down into what he imagined was a more normal pattern. He was sleeping more soundly, and he felt... content. It was an unusual feeling, something that he was still trying to get accustomed to, but he liked it.

Being loved was something he didn’t want to get used to. He didn’t think he’d ever take that for granted. Giles looked up, met his eyes, and smiled at him and Wesley smiled back.

Then his mind made sense of what Giles was saying and he stood up. A Threknar demon? They were going to need the big axe...