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Holding Back

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As he pulled in front of the store, Angel caught Wesley’s frown the split second before the man smoothed over his features.

“Are you certain your information is correct?”

It was Angel’s turn to frown. “I got it straight from Anne. The kid’s mom does the books here. It’s a legitimate lead, Wes.”

“But bookkeepers keep more…traditional hours.” He looked pointedly at the night sky. “Perhaps I should come back by myself in the morning.”

“One, this place doesn’t open until noon—”

“Then I’ll come after lunch.”

“Two…” Angel got out of the car, giving the keys an extra jingle before pocketing them. Wesley’s gaze followed their path, the line between his brows growing deeper as they disappeared. “…she lives over the store. If she’s not in the office, she’ll be upstairs. Either way, we’ll get to talk to her. She was the last one to see him before he changed into the Lhurgos demon, remember.”

He was already around the car and on the sidewalk before Wes even opened his door. Angel’s mouth twitched in amusement at the obvious reluctance in his every muscle, though the fact that the Watcher planted his feet and didn’t move any closer to the storefront was quickly eroding his good humor about the situation.

“Perhaps I should stay out here and watch the car,” Wes suggested. “After all, with this sort of establishment—”

“You can say the words. It’s a porn shop.”

Wes suddenly coughed as if he’d choked on something. “Right. Well. Regardless, this isn’t the best of neighborhoods to leave your car unattended. I’ll simply keep an eye on it, while you go and talk to Ms. Shannan. Best to be careful, you know.”

Angel’s eyes narrowed as he took a step closer to Wes. “I didn’t bring you along to babysit my car. You’re the only one who can recognize the initial signs of the change. If Ms. Shannan got infected before her son took off, I need you to tell me so that we can get her out of here and somewhere she’s not going to hurt anybody.”

“Of course.” Wesley’s shoulders visibly sagged, but he finally started moving, trailing a half-step behind Angel as they headed for the entrance. “We shouldn’t linger if she is infected, however. The change can happen quite swiftly.”

With his good mood restored, Angel pushed open the door. “You can relax, Wes. They’re just sex toys. Unless you’ve been attacked by a blow-up doll before, there’s nothing here that’s any worse than stuff we deal with every day.”

He thought he heard Wesley gulp, but then they were inside, and all the candied neon was making his eyes hurt. Angel navigated quickly to the counter and the pock-faced young man perched behind it.

“I’m looking for—”

“Hey! Double-o seven!”

The clerk’s enthusiastic greeting wasn’t directed at Angel. His smiling eyes were fixed behind him, prompting a glance back to see Wes flushed a bright pink.

“Hello,” Wes said, his voice faint.

“So how’d those cuffs do you? Did they last any longer this time?” He met Angel’s eyes with a mischievous grin and leaned across the counter conspiratorially. “My man Bond here goes through restraints like they’re going out of style. Maybe you can talk him into the straight leather. Those fur-lined jobs won’t cut it for what he likes to do.”

Angel had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. “I’ll see what I can do. But actually, we’re here looking for Ms. Shannan…”

* * *

The meeting was brief and fruitless, as the boy’s mother repeated everything they already knew about his disappearance. The only good thing to come out of it was confirming that she wasn’t infected with the same spawn that had changed her son. As soon as their questioning was over, Wes rushed to get back out to the car, leaving Angel to follow with a wry smile and a shared knowing glance with the young clerk.

He didn’t speak to Wesley until he’d pulled away from the curb.

“So, cuffs, huh?”

Wes cleared his throat and turned his head away, gazing out at the passing night. “Virginia…likes to experiment.”

“With fur.”

“We’re consenting adults, Angel.”

“I know, I know.” They turned a corner. “I would’ve been happy to let you borrow mine if you’d asked.”

This time, Wes shifted to look at him with both brows raised. “I don’t remember ever seeing fur-lined manacles at the hotel.”

“That’s because they’re all leather. Or iron. But the guy back there was right. If you’re breaking the others, I can guarantee mine will last you. They’re made for vampires, you know.”

“Oh. Well, thank you for the offer, but I’ll have to pass.”

“If you’re worried what Virginia will think, just don’t tell her where you got them.”

“No, it’s not that.” Wesley became fascinated by the scenery again, though his thundering heart betrayed his feeling about the subject at hand. “It’s the leather. It…chafes.”

For the entire ride back to the Hyperion, Angel was consumed by his curiosity. He didn’t know which idea he liked more – that Wes worried enough about his girlfriend’s comfort to refrain from purchasing stronger cuffs.

Or that he worried about his own.