Wesley made his way home alone. He wasn't sure, later, exactly how he managed -- he did have one vivid memory of a bulky, Hispanic man stepping in front of him and demanding Wesley's wallet. Wesley had merely looked back at him for several silent moments before telling him, in his best Mexico City-ghetto slang, to go away and not be annoying.
The man had left him alone.
No one else had bothered him as he entered his apartment building and headed up the stairs. The single elevator was used only by the utterly stupid and the one old gentleman from the fourth floor who could barely walk but refused all offers for assistance. The stairwells smelled of dirt and urine and smoke, but practically the entire building did as well so it was no reason to avoid the stairs.
Wesley walked slowly up to his floor, trying not to put his hand on the walls for balance for fear of what substances he might touch. He remembered living in better places. Clean luxury of his parents' hated home, the ancient wood and tile of the boarding schools, the simple rooms of his first flat. But all of those places required money which Wesley had been in short supply of for months. At least the winter was over, and he no longer had to wish he could afford to pay for heating. He tried not to think that spring would end all too soon, and he'd be wishing he had aircon instead.
As he fumbled for the keys to his door, he told himself he was grateful for a roof over his head and the occasional meal. Truth was, he was grateful for neither of those things. He'd been utterly grateful for one thing until today. The one bright spot of his world that made everything else worth enduring.
The door swung open to a dark, stale room and Wesley went inside, locking the door and checking the ward he has in place. The flat was dismal and barren, and Wesley sometimes wondered if his surroundings were a reflection of his mood, or his mood reflected by his surroundings. Wesley headed to the tiny kitchen and put on the kettle, ignoring the colour of the water that poured from the tap. Until today, Wesley had been grateful to Angel. He'd had a place to belong, and he'd had someone -- the third person in his entire life --- who had valued him. It mattered so little that Angel was a vampire, that he'd once been the Scourge of Europe. Angel was not that monster, and the man he was, made Wesley feel needed.
This evening had changed all that.
It wasn't even the torture, though the aches he felt would not fade for a long time, Wesley knew. He grabbed a washcloth and dampened it from the bottle of whiskey he kept in the cupboard, dabbing at his various wounds. The pain it caused was easily ignored.
He'd deserved some of what Faith had given him; he knew that. He'd failed her in so many important ways that he could hardly have protested her right to abuse him.
But afterwards, when Angel had come to rescue him...he hadn't been rescuing *him* at all.
Wesley sat down in the spindly chair he kept near the kitchen counter. Seeing Angel, in those first moments, had made his heart stop beating. No one had ever come to save him before. No one had ever cared enough to bother. Wesley had felt himself fall in love with Angel in those moments.
Only to run into the alleyway, ready to assist, and see Angel holding Faith like she'd been the one he'd come to save. Holding her like she'd been the tortured one. As though Wesley were the monster...or were nothing at all.
Wesley bent his head forward, trying hard to get his emotions under control. The stench of whiskey was strong, and he thought about pouring a glass of it, rather than making a cup of civilized tea. He took off his shirt and continued cleaning his wounds, instead, and stood up to rescue the tea kettle when it began to whistle.
He made a cup of tea, still unsure if he wanted to drink it or not. Finally, he simply added whiskey to the tea and went into the living room to sit down.
His wounds hurt. It was far from the first time he'd been injured, but the pains were so varied and so many. Normally he had a single injury, or at most, a single type of injury. Faith had done so much to torture him.... Wesley shivered and took a drink of the tea.
He could see Angel holding her, in the alley. She'd broken down in his arms, and Angel had held her. Perhaps Angel had simply held her because he'd not known what else to do. A crying girl was hard to fight, even when you knew what she had done. Perhaps Angel had wanted to let go of her and come to him--
Wesley laughed. Or perhaps not. He had no idea what Angel's thoughts were. He took another drink of tea, feeling the whiskey burning slowly through him. He told himself to wait until tomorrow. Perhaps then he would see what Angel really meant.
He finished off the tea, and poured another shot of whiskey to chase it down. Then, as carefully as he could manage, he went to bed.
He lay awake for a very long time before he dropped off to sleep. His dreams were filled with blood, and fire, and the shouts of people he could not recognise the next morning.
The following day he had his answer. Wesley sat in the pub, forcing himself to eat a sandwich before ordering the beer he wanted. He'd had to wait three hours before the pub opened; he'd spent the time sitting on a bench staring at traffic. He'd lost count of the number of buses that had pulled up and driven off; no one ever asked him if this were the bus he'd been waiting for.
Angel had taken Faith home. He'd given her a place to stay. Given her pastries.
He'd rescued her, and left Wesley to tend to himself.
When Wesley finally found an open pub, he'd ordered lunch and found a corner he could sit in. He'd gone in to Angel's office that morning, buoyed by the hope that all was under control. Faith would be in custody of the police and Angel would...well, he'd had no idea what Angel might have done. He'd indulged in a few fantasies about Angel showing how worried he'd been -- and what he'd got he hadn't been expecting at all.
Angel had looked blank when Wesley had told him what he'd done. Like he didn't understand that Faith had *hurt* him. That she couldn't be controlled, that the only recourse was to bind her from hurting anyone else.
He'd called her a rabid animal. Tried to tell Angel there was evil in her. But Angel hadn't listened; had still chosen her over him.
As Wesley toyed with his sandwich and waited for the waitress to come take his order for a beer, he thought that it might not have been the wisest thing to say. Slowly, it dawned on him that his reasons for wanting Faith locked away were probably the very reasons Angel wanted to help her.
There is evil in her. An animal.
Everything that could be said about Angel himself.
It was no wonder that Angel wanted to save her. Wesley wondered if Angel simply understood the place where she was, or if he wanted proof that such a rescue could be performed. The more he thought about it, the more he realised that Angel's actions might not have had anything to do with *him* at all.
It had to be difficult, to be in Angel's situation. Surely the trials of being a souled vampire were more difficult than being an under-employed human demon hunter who'd been abandoned by the family and company he'd been raised for.
Wesley sighed, and placed an order for a beer. He mentally counted the money in his wallet, and decided to spend the day right where he was, doing everything he could not to think about it.
When the members of the Council showed up in Wesley's pub, it hadn't been at all difficult to decide what to do. Siding with Faith was easy when it meant siding with Angel -- and anything was easier than siding with the Council. He'd stopped trusting them a year ago, stopped hoping for an apology and his job back shortly after the first time he'd killed a demon on the road in his new role as 'rogue demon hunter'.
He'd played along, allowing them to think he'd rejoined them -- easily done, as what Watcher would think anyone would refuse the chance to return to the fold? He'd demanded the promise that Angel not be harmed because he knew they would expect it.
He hadn't ever thought they'd hold up their end of the bargain. He had, however, expected a bit more time to get Faith out of the way before they'd stormed in.
In the end, everything had turned out as well as could have been expected. Seeing Faith lead away to the holding cells in handcuffs hadn't given him quite the sense of security or satisfaction he'd anticipated. But then his attention was back on Angel, and knowing that Faith had chosen to go to jail made him think that Angel had been right.
Wesley had waited until Buffy left before approaching Angel. Her arrival had complicated things and Wesley thought that her presence had been rather unnecessary.
Wesley heard Angel's words again, heard the censure towards himself though Angel had meant them for Buffy. Angel had been trying to save someone's soul. Wesley should have known, really. That Angel's actions had been noble ones, trying to help someone who needed it.
When he told Angel that he hoped Faith would find peace, he meant it. Seeing the pain in Angel's face, hearing it in his voice as he'd yelled at Buffy to leave, made Wesley want to tell him, as well. It made him want to reach out and....
Wesley knew there was no peace he could offer Angel. There was nothing he could give but his support, and his words, and his hope that Angel would find something worthy in them. That, and --
"We should go," he said quietly. Angel nodded, though his gaze was off in the distance. Wesley knew he was thinking about Buffy. Wanting to go after her and apologise even though Buffy had been the one who'd wronged Angel, here. Wesley had overheard their entire conversation and observed that Buffy was hurting, and angry.
Much like he'd been, that morning. Faith had hurt them both, and they'd reacted the same way. Hit back. Show no mercy.
Wesley felt ashamed that he'd been unable to see what Angel had. He followed silently as they left the precinct building, said nothing as they got into the car and he drove them back to Angel's place.
He parked in the alley, and waited. Angel sat beside him for several moments, before he said, "Wes--"
Wesley looked at him, but Angel was staring out of the window again. He tried to think what Angel could want. Did he need to talk? Did he want to go find something they could beat up, and destroy?
"Yes, Angel?" he said quietly.
Wesley stared at him in surprise. Of all the things he'd expected, he had not anticipated *this*. Angel glanced at him with a confused expression, and Wesley stammered, "For...for what?"
Now Angel looked surprised. "For everything. For what Faith-- just.... I'm sorry."
"You can't claim you had any responsibility for what she did?" Wesley asked, incredulously.
"No." Angel shook his head. "But.. she hurt you. I'm sorry."
"Ah." Wesley had no idea what to say to that. They continued to sit in the car, and the silence began to feel awkward. Wesley realised he had something to say, as well. "I, too, am sorry. For the things I said this morning." He didn't look at Angel as he continued. "You were right about what Faith needed. I should have known that you knew what you were doing."
At that, Angel laughed. It was a harsh, bitter laugh that sounded extremely familiar. "Don't assume I know what I'm doing, Wes. Half the time I feel like I'm fighting underwater. The other half...I think I know what I'm doing, but everyone around me acts like I'm speaking Chinese."
"I speak Chinese," Wesley offered.
Angel gave him a sardonic look. "I don't mean that literally. I mean that I must--"
"I know what you meant," Wesley interrupted him calmly. "That your actions are based on choices you feel no one else understands."
"Er...yeah." Angel nodded slowly. "Which makes me think I'm doing something wrong."
"But I speak Chinese," Wesley said again, finding it suddenly hard not to smile.
Angel frowned, slightly. "Which means...that you understand what I'm doing?"
"I do." Wesley grinned. "At least half the time."
Finally, Angel returned the smile. "Thanks."
"You, uh...wanna come in?"
Wesley followed Angel inside, then watched as Angel wandered around his flat trying to make it appear as though he knew why he'd invited Wesley in. There were still signs of the demon attack, and Wesley felt his hand twitch to go tidy up. An old habit long ingrained by his nanny, he'd tried hard to break himself of cleaning up after other people's messes.
Although when Angel began picking up books that had been scattered on the floor, Wesley bent to assist him. He had three in hand when he saw a title he'd missed in previous forays into Angel's library. He flipped the cover open and looked at the names of the translators. Two he recognised as reputable scholars, the third he didn't know. Wesley set the other books down and turned the page, hoping the editor's introductions would say more about the third translator.
He was halfway through the second page when Angel appeared beside him and asked, "You want to sit down or should I just clean around you?"
Wesley looked at him. "I'm sorry. I should--" He set the book on the bookshelf with the others.
"No, go ahead. Keep it. Or borrow it, or whatever. I know how much you like obscure texts."
"Mornal's KamPrexia isn't exactly obscure," Wesley protested. "This particular translation is one I've not seen before, but the book itself--" He stopped as he realised Angel was smirking at him. "All right, it isn't obscure in certain circles. I'm not saying you would find it at Barnes and Noble."
"I knew what you meant," Angel said -- in Chinese.
Wesley smiled. "If I'm borrowing books, may I take your copy of Virgil's Notes?" He waited, delighted, as Angel obviously tried to find a way to say 'not over my undead body.'
"You can read it here," Angel said, doing a credible job of sounding like he didn't actually mind.
Wesley tucked the copy of Mornal under his arm, and went to the locked bookcase where Angel kept his more rare books. Angel followed him, after Wesley heard him sigh rather distinctly. When Angel stepped up to the bookcase, Wesley told him, "I've been wanting to get in here since the first time I came down."
"I thought it was because you liked my cooking," Angel protested.
"I do," Wesley assured him. "But I also like your taste in books."
"Hmm." Angel left the bookcase unlocked and moved away, presumably to resume cleaning up. Wesley ignored him, browsing through books he'd only glanced at through the glass, before.
It was almost an hour and a half later when Wesley looked up from where he was sitting on the floor. The book he'd had resting on his knee began to slip, and he grabbed it quickly to prevent it from being damaged from falling the few inches to the carpet. Wesley looked around, and saw no sign of Angel.
He realised he couldn't recall how long ago he'd stopped hearing Angel moving around. He set the book down, and stood up. Walking as silently as he could, he moved through the living room, looking for Angel.
Wesley stopped as he saw Angel lying across the bed. He'd undressed, but not got under the bedclothes. Wesley had no idea if he normally slept like that or if he'd been exhausted, and fallen asleep as soon as he'd lain down.
For a very long moment he stared at Angel lying naked on the bed.
He felt the urge to tiptoe in and pull a blanket across him. Did vampires get cold as they slept? Of all the vampire lore he'd read, he'd never come across such information. Watchers were more interested in destroying vampires, not making them more comfortable as they slept.
Wesley knew that he was staring. He should go. He should turn around and sneak out -- put away Angel's books first, of course. Try not to wake him, and leave him to his rest.
He couldn't pull himself away. Everyone said a person looked younger in their sleep. He couldn't tell that Angel did -- he looked younger than his years even awake, until you looked into his eyes. Asleep, he looked just as worried as he did when awake.
Wesley wanted to reach over and rub the base of his skull, to ease the frown on Angel's face. He took a step towards the bed, and Angel didn't stir. He told himself that waking a vampire -- even one with a soul -- was possibly a very stupid thing to do.
But he took another step, and when Angel didn't move, he knelt down beside the bed. Lifting his hand very carefully, Wesley placed his fingers on Angel's skull as lightly as he could, and began to rub.
Slow, gentle circles that he remembered from the times David would put him to sleep when Wesley was wound-up. Calls from home, or visits to his parents would make Wesley so tense that David would have to pour scotch into him and rub his neck just to get him asleep.
Those six months had been the best time of Wesley's life. But they'd been caught out by the Council, and David was sent to India and Wesley given stern warnings about conduct unbecoming. The fact they'd not tried to remain in contact told Wesley all he needed to know about the depth of David's feelings for him and now...as he rubbed Angel's head gently, he felt what he'd never felt for any of the people with whom he'd shared a bed.
He ran his fingers lightly through the hair behind Angel's ears, rubbing his skull. The frown on Angel's face was beginning to ease.
Wesley knew he wanted more, but he was grateful for this. That Angel could sleep, with Wesley so close -- touching him--
Angel opened his eyes, and Wesley saw the sadness there. He pulled his hand back but swallowed the apology.
"I should go," he said, and got to his feet.
"Wes--" Angel shifted only slightly, obviously not intending to follow him. Or stop him.
Wesley waited. Angel didn't move further, just looked up at him.
"Yes, Angel?" he prompted, in a patient voice intended to assure him that nothing be said other than 'see you in the morning.'
In one smooth motion, Angel rolled over and stood up, and Wesley only glanced down once. Very briefly. Then he met Angel's gaze -- just in time for Angel to reach up and touch his cheek.
"I don't get to do this," Angel said, and Wesley knew. He leaned his head ever so slightly against Angel's touch, before moving away just enough to break contact.
"I know," he said. "I'll leave." He turned around and started to walk away.
Wesley stopped, but didn't turn. He waited, and Angel said nothing more. A moment later, he felt Angel behind him. There was the lightest hint of a touch on his shoulder.
Wesley didn't move, and Angel placed his hand on Wesley's arm -- missing any spot that carried an injury. Wesley wondered if that was intentional.
They stood there for a moment, then Wesley walked away. Angel said nothing to stop him.
Outside, the dawn was just breaking. It was warm, unlike the cool spring mornings of England he was used to. It hardly felt like the middle of May, but Wesley found that for now, he didn't mind.