The first exercise didn't even target the abdomen, but even so, after two of the recommended three sets of ten, Wesley was clammy with sweat and his jaw had begun to ache from clenching his teeth against the pain. He welcomed the ache; it served as a distraction. Should he last so far into dotage that he forgot his own name, Wesley felt certain he would still remember his elementary Sanskrit vocabulary and the fact that everything - everything - in the human body is connected to the abdominal muscles.
He finished the laughably named 'easy' exercise and lay back, panting, for a few moments before reaching for the sheet of instructions. Squinting to keep the stinging sweat from his eyes and to push back the headache that threatened to explode in his temples, he studied the blurry illustration, then assumed the position indicated. He had to shift several times to stay centered on the scrap of carpet that he'd laid out on the office floor to use as an exercise mat.
As he arranged himself, Wesley thought, not for the first time, of the orange bottle in his jacket pocket, and not for the first time pushed the thought away. There was no refill on that prescription; more pills would mean another visit to the clinic, and he could afford neither the visit nor the medication. Besides, the stuff made him so sleepy that if he took a dose now he'd never get home. Better to press on. What doesn't kill one, etc., etc. He drew a deep breath and raised his legs.
Some mystics would have made much of the chakric significance of a gut wound. Wesley's only nod to Eastern medicine was to mutter in Sanskrit rather than count in English as he held the position, fire shooting along his muscles. Aagasa, samudra, parvata, vanam. Sky, ocean, mountain, forest. His first Sanskrit lesson; the first lesson he remembered. He didn't remember his first Latin lesson any more than he remembered learning English, or that he would be a Watcher, or that he was a disappointment to Father. Aagasa, samudra, parvata, vanam.
His legs trembled as he lowered them; all his muscles trembled. His ragged breath echoed in the office and the shadowed lobby. He raised his legs again. Aagasa. Hold on. Samudra.. Steady, boy. Steady, dammit. Parvata. Hold…
Something spasmed in his side, and with a strangled sound he let his legs drop. Air rasped in his throat as heat and nausea rolled through his body in waves. His eyes were wet. He wondered if he'd be able to roll onto his side to keep from choking if he were to be sick. He wondered if it would matter so very much if he stayed here, on the floor of the office, until Cordelia or Gunn arrived in the morning. Or possibly forever.
No, not forever. If he wanted forever, surely he'd have driven home, done his exercises in his own flat, like a sensible man. Of course, a sensible man would be able to lie on his bedroom floor without dissolving into panic at the combination of silence, shadows, pain and the smell of varnished wood, wouldn't be afraid in his own sitting room simply because it was the site of a battle with a Skilosh and the windows were still unrepaired.
The pain receded a little. Wesley moved his glasses down his nose so he could rub his eyes, then pushed them back and cautiously slipped a hand under his shirt to check the wound. The stitches were gone (he had the doctor's bill to prove it), but he still wore a bandage to protect the tender skin. All seemed intact. Keeping his hand in place like a splint, Wesley used his other arm to pull himself onto his good side, then to cautiously lever himself upright. In a few minutes he could try standing. Next time he'd have to remember to put his cane within reach. Next time he'd have to get through the entire physical therapy program. Wesley sighed.
A sound from the lobby made him start and then tense, gritting his teeth when the involuntary movement hurt. Never mind the cane; next time he'd be sure to have his handgun and perhaps an adz. A sensible man... he turned the thought away and gathered himself to rise.
"Cordy?" Angel's voice. "You still here?"
"It's me," Wesley answered. Angel. Of course it had to be Angel. He quickly took his hand from his side. "I'm just going."
"Wes?" Angel materialized in the doorway. From Wesley's position on the floor, he looked enormous, sinister, his shoulders inhumanly broad, his face in shadow. "What're you working... doing on the floor?" He took a step into the room, and the glow of the desk lamp resolved his expression into an uneasy frown and reduced his body to its normal dimensions.
A sensible man wouldn't be working with a vampire. As if Wesley needed more evidence that he wasn't, by anyone's standards, a sensible man. "I'm about to leave." He struggled to his feet, trying not to wince. Once standing, he kept his weight on his good leg. "I thought you'd gone out."
"I did. Just got back. You, uh... you shouldn't be working late. I, I mean... your call. You're the boss." Angel seemed unable to keep his hands still. He gestured towards himself, then Wesley, then the door, then Wesley again. "I, uh, just... if stuff needs doing, I can do it. That's what... that's what I'm here for, right? Help out?"
"Thank you." Wesley kept his voice bland.
"Anything I could do now? Uh, coffee? Notepaper?"
"Thank you, no. I've finished for tonight."
Wesley took a cautious step, then another. Bag, cane, car, and home. How had he ever found the energy to be... like that... to Angel? He thought of himself, calling Angel 'sir' and promising to wash individual coffee beans, and rubbed his forehead as if to erase the image.
"I could drive you home."
How did Angel find the energy? Wesley looked at him, then looked away. When this fierce attention had been directed at Cordelia, he'd been irritated, but now that it was turned on him, he merely felt exhausted. And uneasy. "That's ridiculous. I'm..." His foot came down on the sheet of instructions, which slid across the linoleum as if it had been greased. Utterly fucked, he thought, as he began to fall, flailing like a wounded goose in an attempt to regain his balance and protect his side.
But he didn't fall. Angel caught him. Awkwardly, but firmly, with one hand in Wesley's armpit and the other closed around his elbow. "You're not okay," Angel said.
Firmly, and painfully. "Don't… trouble yourself..." Wesley panted. He got his feet back under him and pushed Angel back to give himself space to turn away. "It's nothing flowers or new clothes would fix."
He managed two steps before the muscle in his side spasmed as before, doubling him over around a pain that turned his knees to jam. Angel caught him again, more smoothly this time, and helped him lean against the desk. "You're not okay," Angel repeated, from what seemed to be a long ways off.
"I may have overdone... slightly..." When had the room gotten so hot? And so dim? Wesley blinked, swallowing hard. And... tilted?
The coarse plush of the lobby settee brushing against his face brought him to full alertness, but if that hadn't been sufficient, the word 'ambulance' would have revived him. "No!" He flung out a hand and gripped Angel's arm to keep him from moving towards the desk and the phone.
"Then I'm taking you to the emergency room. Wes, you…"
"No." Wesley hitched himself up against the armrest, gritting his teeth when the movement hurt and ignoring the way his head swam. "I'm not hemorrhaging." He glanced down to be sure. "I haven't any stitches to burst. And I haven't… I haven't the wherewithal for another hospital visit. Angel, I'll be fine, really."
"You looked..." Angel sat down on the edge of the sofa. He shook his head slightly. "Jesus. You're probably not supposed to be walking yet." He looked at Wesley. "Jesus, Wes."
"I can… don't call me… i-it's just..." Something went dry, though Wesley couldn't have said whether it was his throat or his well of dismissive platitudes. Angel had turned him out, and a bullet had torn through his intestines. That wasn't 'just,' not 'mere,' not 'simply' anything. Not even now, when they were working together again and he was convalescent. Not even when Angel looked at him like that. "It..."
Angel met his eyes for a moment, then looked away. "I'll get you some water. Or... tea?"
"Water..." Wesley cleared his throat. "Water would be fine."
"Do you need any... I could raid Cordy's desk for some... something."
Wesley hesitated. "There's a prescription bottle in my jacket pocket," he said, after a moment."
"Right." A nod. "Be right back."
Wesley let his eyes close and put his head back. Home, he thought, pushing aside the memory of Angel's hands, Angel's face. Probably it would be fine to drive home, though Charles and Cordelia would scold him in the morning. The thought made him smile a little, and relax ever so slightly into the upholstery. They would scold, and he would grumble a little and promise not to do it again.
"It says you should have them with food." Angel frowned at the bottle as he returned.
And Angel would… well, who ever knew what Angel would do? "That's just a suggestion." Wesley put out his hand.
Angel took a step back. "It doesn't look like a suggestion."
"I could make eggs. Or get you something. Take-out. Donuts?"
"Angel." Wesley tipped his head back, then adjusted his glasses to get Angel in focus. The concerned, uncertain expression on Angel's face made his stomach clench in a way that had nothing to do with his wound. "Give me the damn medicine and let me go home."
Angel fidgeted. "Do you… you remember how I told you how Cordy said we're not friends?"
"She seems to have changed her mind on that account." Cordelia again, of course. Of course. Wesley wondered if he'd have to beg for his pills, or if, once distracted, Angel would hand them over calmly.
"What?" Confused, Wesley stared up at Angel.
"Friends. Are we friends."
"You and Cordelia?"
"You and me."
"Oh." Wesley swallowed. A strange tightness settled in his chest. The fanciful image came to his mind of possible answers jostling there behind his ribs: a proud and self-protective 'no,' a forgiving 'yes,' a cold 'perhaps,' an anxious 'I hope so.' He wondered which was true. "I-I…"
"Forget it. Sorry." Angel shook his head. "You should have the medicine and then I'll take you home. Or get you a cab? If you don't want… don't want me. To ride. With me. You can't drive after having these," he added when Wesley tried to protest. "It says so. On the bottle."
"Or, uh. Maybe I should take you to Gunn's. Or Cordy's."
"I'm quite…" Wesley couldn't summon the strength to complete the lie. His throat tightened when he thought of the boarded windows and the close, dusty air of his too-quiet flat. His side throbbed. "Maybe."
"Or you could stay here. If you want."
"All right." He didn't quite look at Angel. "Thank you."
Angel let out a deliberate breath. "Good. That's good."
With that settled, Angel seemed calmer, though Wesley himself felt awkward and uncertain. He held himself stiffly when Angel helped him up from the settee, and tried not to lean on him too heavily as they slowly crossed the lobby towards the elevator, and then just as slowly crept down the hall towards Angel's rooms.
"Is this better?" Angel changed his grip on Wesley's shoulder again, and shifted his other arm to be directly in front of Wesley, where he could grip it with both hands.
"A bit awkward." Wesley paused. "I-I think it might be best if you don't… if you could let me hold you, rather than… I can't move very well with…" He twitched the shoulder under Angel's hand.
"Oh. Okay. Sure." Angel let go. "Just tell me how."
"Right. Uhm. Make a right angle with your arm… yes, like so… and let me lean on, no, keep it rigid… there." Wesley wrapped one hand around Angel's upper arm, gripped Angel's forearm with the other. "This should be better." He swallowed a groan when Angel jostled him. "And stand just a bit further… yes." They took another step. "That's better." Wesley rubbed his damp forehead with the back of one hand. "Really much better."
"Okay." Angel repeated.
By the time they reached Angel's rooms, Wesley wasn't concerned with awkwardness, or even Angel, as much as the opportunity to sit down. He let Angel ease him down to sit on the edge of the bed, and sat, eyes closed, splinting his side and taking steady breaths, until Angel helped him lean back against a pile of pillows and swing his legs up onto the mattress.
"Sorry…" he murmured. "Shoes on your coverlet…"
"It's okay," Angel answered. His hand lingered on Wesley's knee. "I'm gonna make you some eggs. Five minutes. Then medicine, okay?"
"Hm-mm." Wesley nodded. The pillows were soft, much better than the settee. Better than his pillows. He let his eyes stay closed and listened to the small sounds of Angel at the stove, remembering the old basement apartment, and eating eggs around the table with Cordelia and Angel.
He must have dozed a little, despite the pain, for it seemed that almost immediately he felt Angel's cool hand on his shoulder. "Hey," Angel said softly. "You awake?"
"Mm." Wesley took off his glasses to rub his eyes. When he got them back on, Angel had pulled up a chair to the edge of the bed, and was holding out a plate of scrambled eggs with herbs and cheese, and a fork.
"You hungry? Actually, don't answer that. Just eat. I think you need it."
Wesley didn't feel hungry, or at least, he didn't until he tasted the eggs. "Good lord." He quickly took a bigger bite. "I rarely quote Cordelia, but it is… mm… amazing how well you cook for someone who doesn't… er."
"Eat?" Angel grinned and held the plate a little closer to Wesley.
"I was going to say taste. Oh, sorry." Wesley reached for the dish, grimacing a little with the movement.
"I got it." Angel kept smiling. "Eggs are actually about all I can do. Maybe French toast, on a good day."
"Well, what more do you need?" Wesley licked a stray bit of cheese from his lower lip.
"When did you last eat? Wait. Don't answer that either."
Wesley wasn't sure he could have answered, not with any specificity. He must have had breakfast, surely. And a sandwich, with Charles, though perhaps that had been yesterday. He was still puzzling over the question when he cleaned the plate.
"I can make more," Angel offered. "Well, not with cheese. But more eggs?"
"No. Thank you." Wesley carefully set the fork down. "That was… very good," he finished lamely, suddenly aware of how close Angel was, how weak he was.
"Good." Unperturbed, Angel unscrewed the cap of the little orange prescription bottle, and handed Wesley a capsule, then a glass of water. "Here. Drink that all up," he added, when Wesley had tossed the pill down. "It…"
"Says so on the bottle?"
"…yeah." Angel ducked his head. "I'll, uh, let me find you some shorts or something to sleep in." He ducked into the closet, leaving Wesley to finish his water in silence.
When he returned he set about quietly and firmly helping Wesley undress. Wesley was grateful for his silence; it could only have been more awkward to make conversation while Angel stripped off his shoes and socks, and helped him slither out of his trousers, into a pair of sweatpants, and under the bedclothes. Wesley considered that the most troublesome part of the operation was over, but it was when his t-shirt rucked up as his pullover came off that Angel breathed, a sharp breath of surprise.
"God, Wesley." Angel's hand hovered over the spot where the bullet had struck, then came to rest, very lightly, over the thin layer of gauze and medical tape.
The pill was working as it always did, not removing the pain as much as floating Wesley away from it, separating him from his body with a layer of something soft and cloudlike, like candy floss or eiderdown. He considered the distinct but distant sensation of Angel's cold skin against his own. "I was lucky, really," he murmured. The words, like the pain, seemed to float away from him. Light, effortless. "The bullet might have severed my spine. And Charles took excellent care of me."
"Not that this..." Wesley nodded at the room, trying to encompass the egg-stained plate, the pitcher of water on the nightstand, the two pillows under his head. The movement seemed to take a long time. "Isn't lovely. It's simply that early on, I needed rather a lot of help. And you weren't there."
"Yes?" He almost worried about that word, so small, so pitifully eager. Almost, he wished it back, condemned it as soft, weak, needy. But the thoughts fell away, nearly out of reach, like the pain.
"Forget it." Angel stared at his hand where it lay against Wesley's skin. "I was there," he said, after a moment. "At the hospital. Just for a minute. Gunn was in with you, and... well, Cordy said... It seemed like a visit was the last thing you needed."
"Ah," Wesley said. Angel's fingers were warming from the heat of Wesley's body; now he could only feel the slight pressure of the touch. "I shouldn't have minded a call, you know. Or a letter. Cards are made for such occasions."
"Huh." Angel took his hand away. "Didn't know Hallmark branched out into 'I've been partially mind-controlled by my evil sire and have started acting like an extra-special jerk, especially to you, but hey, still sorry you got shot!'" He carefully rolled Wesley's t-shirt down over the bandage.
"Well." Wesley's eyes, he realized, were wet. He shut them. "You might have had to write a few things in."
"Yeah." Angel drew up the sheet, then the blanket, to cover Wesley's chest. "You're probably really tired of hearing this, but I am. Sorry."
Wesley kept his eyes closed. "Being tired of hearing it… would require having heard it before."
"Oh, God." Angel half-laughed. "I'm sorry. Wesley, I am so sorry. So…"
"Shhh…" Wesley finally looked at him, through the faint haze of drugs and his uncorrected vision. When Angel kept mumbling sorry, sorry, Wesley let his hand drift up and come to rest over his lips, stilling them. "Shhh. I hear you now."
"Good. And Wes, I…"
"Shhh." Wesley traced Angel's mouth with his fingers. "Such soft lips." Had he said that? Did it matter? "Going to stay with me?"
"You're the boss," Angel said softly. He turned his face into Wesley's hand. "Yes," he whispered against his palm.
"Good," Wesley murmured, and let his eyes close again.