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Title: Change of Heart (Part 1)
Author: WesleysGirl
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Angel/Wesley
Summary: An AU version of the Wishverse, set primarily in London.
Written in hyppogryff-solidarity with The Brat Queen and Wolfling.


The vampire is trembling in a cell when Wesley finds it.

It's been nearly four years since the careful balance between the human world and the world of the vampires tipped in the vampires' favor, and two since his Slayer was killed. The Council's review had found him negligent -- not of the fact that she died, no, as that's expected, but because of the relationship he'd had with her -- and he'd been reassigned not to the new Slayer, but to the research division.

Not that he'd stood a chance against her of course. Buffy had been remarkably strong of will, even for a Slayer. And her desires had been many. To deny her something she'd wanted had been impossible.

In fact, refusing her something she wanted is the last thing Wesley can recall being unable to do.

A strong will runs in his blood as well.

The small town of Sunnydale, California is overrun with vampires, and there's no one to stop them until the Council steps in with a team -- trained vampire hunters, well armed with crossbows, guns, and a selection of other weapons, at least three of which have been modified or designed by Wesley.

He doesn't go in until things have been dealt with, of course, because the actual killing isn't his job.

There are traumatized humans to deal with -- therapists for them to talk to, relocation to organize -- but that isn't his job either. Wesley goes in because he needs to see the aftermath for himself, needs to know what worked and what failed.

One of the team members comes forward to report in. "Mr Pryce -- the new bullets worked just as expected, sir."

Wesley looks around, adjusting the front of his suit jacket unconsciously as he does so. "And what's the current count?"

"I won't have an accurate count until after the debriefing, sir, but at the moment I believe it's forty seven. Which doesn't include the captures, of course."

"And how many of those?" There's something about the layout of the building that has caught Wesley's attention, and he's sure he sounds distracted, but he needs the numbers even if his brain doesn't care to deal with them at this moment in time.

"Twelve captures, sir. How many do you want to retain for study?"

"I think five should do it," Wesley says, turning and heading for a doorway at the other end of the large room. "No, four. Four. You can dispose of the rest."

The hallway is dim -- a back entrance, or what would just as easily serve as one, although it doesn't seem to Wesley that anyone has gotten this far yet. He stops, listening in the quiet here that is barely disturbed by the sounds of the team in the larger room, and hears nothing.

That's of no consequence. He knows something's there, whether he can hear it or not.

He goes half a dozen paces further, then feels his heart start to beat impossibly quickly as a vampire -- having escaped unnoticed until that moment -- bursts from the shadows, nearly knocking him to the ground as it pushes past him and runs to the end of the hall and out through a doorway he hadn't realized was there until that moment.

There isn't time to call anyone -- if Wesley doesn't follow, this vampire will get away. And if the vampire saw what had happened in the factory, if it knew that there was an organized movement against the vampires and not just random uprisings... all their work to remain unknown until now will have been for naught.

Wesley follows.

The vampire doesn't go far -- the equivalent of three city blocks, perhaps even less --- before it disappears inside another building, this one looking something like an abandoned club.

Slipping inside quietly, Wesley stops and listens. He may not be a soldier, not any longer, but that fact that he's out of practice doesn't mean that he's forgotten what to expect from your typical vampire in the field. As far as he can tell this one doesn't know it's been followed, and his suspicion is confirmed when he finds it standing in the centre of a lush drawing room of some sort.

It takes only one carefully designed wooden bullet through the heart to dispose of the creature. Wesley is, amongst other things, an excellent shot.

This club, seemingly completely empty, appears to have been a home to numerous vampires. There are dead humans here and there, piled up in corners as if the vampires were university students too lazy to take out the trash, and the windows are carefully covered over with thick velvet shades.

Just as he turns to leave, to return to the relative safety of the team, Wesley hears the soft chink of metal on metal.

Cautious again, he parts a curtain, walks a bit further and discovers a staircase leading downward. Descends with pistol in hand.

At the bottom of the staircase, just to the right, is a large cage rather like a prison cell, and inside it is a man who quivers and cringes against the cement wall. There are chains attached to the wall by a metal plate, and to handcuffs around the man's wrists. His shirt is half unbuttoned, and it's clear to Wesley even from where he's standing that this man has been here for some time.

"It's all right," he says, lowering his gun and glancing around for keys. Is this man being held hostage because he knows something that the vampires need, some sort of information?

"Y-you're human," the man says, his dark eyes looking up into Wesley's.

That gives Wesley pause, as the tone implied something he hadn't expected to hear. But before he can answer, he hears his name being called upstairs, recognizes the voice of one of the more experienced team members and realizes he's been followed.

"Down here!" he calls.

The man in the cell cowers further against the wall as two men descend the stairs, the reaction seeming as natural to him as breathing.

Or, Wesley realizes, perhaps not.

"You're a vampire," he says, and knows from the way the creature looks down that he's correct.

But why would other vampires keep one of their own chained in captivity?

The question is one Wesley is curious to find an answer to.

"I want this one for study," he says to the two team members who no doubt thought they'd been coming to his rescue. "Get it out of there and bring it along with the others."

Without another glance at the vampire, Wesley goes back up the stairs as the men begin to follow his orders.

* * * * *

Wesley is grateful that he doesn't often have to leave Council headquarters -- he could do without the flight and the resulting jet lag. Still, when he returns to London he spends only three hours sleeping before returning to the lab, because he knows the new vampires are awaiting study.

They rarely keep the creatures long -- it isn't practical -- and therefore he likes to have as much time with them as he can before they're disposed of. Testing weapons, experimenting with various spells, attempting to understand what completely unrelated vampires have in common with each other -- all of these are of interest to him.

Wesley takes his job very seriously.

One cage exchanged for another, he notes as he enters the lab and sees the more unusual subject in the last cell on the right. The cells here don't include bars -- none of the archaic for the modern Council, thank you very much. Instead the front walls are made of an organic polymer -- many times stronger than glass. They also keep the vampires mildly drugged most of the time, as it's rare that the research team needs them at full capacity.

It's an hour before the end of the second shift when he arrives. Wesley is generally in the lab for all of the first and most if not all of the second, and during all three shifts there are guards at the security doors on the other side of the short hallway. They take no chances -- no subject has ever escaped the lab, and as far as Wesley is concerned, none ever will. In fact, almost one hundred percent of them are eventually dusted within the walls of the lab, and on the rare occasions a vampire is transferred to another location it has always been disposed of within eight hours or so of leaving the lab.

He busies himself with paperwork -- there's always paperwork, often far more than seems reasonable, and he prefers to get it done at once rather than put it off until later, in much the same way he always ate his vegetables first as a child.

Waiting is second nature.

Wesley is quite lost in the details when the last of the lab technicians leaves for the night, barely nodding in response to their polite goodbyes.

Finally getting up to walk the length of the cells, he notes with satisfaction that all of vampires are sprawled in various stages of sleep thanks to the drugged blood they've been fed. It's not until he reaches the last cell that he encounters the subject he's most interested in. The packet of blood is still intact, lying beside the wall farthest from the vampire as if it doesn't care to tempt itself.

"You're not hungry?" Wesley asks, his voice cool and clinical.

"I'm not stupid. I know it's drugged." The vampire is sitting against the right hand wall, knees pulled up to its chest and arms wrapped around its knees. Its voice is rough as though it's been screaming.

"Why do you think that?"

The vampire glances up at him, then back down to the floor again. "I can smell it," it says.

Interesting, Wesley thinks. He's never seen a subject refuse to feed before. They've always been eager, thanks to the fact that they're carefully kept hungry while in captivity.

"If you're going to kill me, just do it and get it over with," the vampire says, sounding as if it would welcome death.

"You're already dead," Wesley points out, starting to turn away.

"I don't want to be kept in a cage anymore," the vampire says. "The Master... he kept me locked up, let the others play with me... and Buffy never came."

Wesley stops and turns back around. "What did you just say?"

"I was supposed to help her," the vampire continues, more as if it's talking to itself than in answer to his question. "Supposed to be... destiny. But she never came."

Going closer, Wesley crouches down so that he can see the vampire's face, convinced that he couldn't possibly have heard what he thinks he heard. "Who? Who were you meant to help?"

"Buffy," it says again, and this time Wesley can't quite keep himself from flinching at the way this creature says the name of his Slayer. "Buffy Summers."

He stands up abruptly, and this time when he turns away he keeps going. "Buffy Summers is dead," he tells the vampire.

Wesley's hand trembles as he leaves the lab.

* * * * *

He's back less than four hours later, keying his way into the lab and exchanging as few words as possible with the security guards, who seem puzzled at his appearance. It's not as if he doesn't keep odd hours at times, but he suspects he may be a bit more wild-eyed than is usual under any circumstances. He hasn't been able to sleep for thinking about what the vampire had said, his mind circling the possibility that it might be true -- that the creature genuinely thinks it was meant to help Buffy in some way -- until he had no option but to come back and learn the details.

The vampire is asleep, still in essentially the same position Wesley left it in, sitting against the wall, but it wakes almost immediately. The initial instinct, to cower and protect itself, is still there as well, clearly ingrained after its indeterminate amount of time kept chained, and it curls itself into as small a space as possible.

"Tell me," Wesley says, when he knows it's cognizant. "Who are you? And how did you know about the Slayer?"

The vampire shrugs with only one shoulder, then coughs, its expression pained. "I was supposed to help her," it says. "Redeem myself."

That surprises Wesley. "Why would you want redemption?"

The vampire coughs again into a closed fist, then wipes its hand on its dark trousers. "To make up for all the stuff I did before."

Wesley hates to be obvious, but the obvious question is the one he wants the answer to. "Before what?"

The vampire leans its head back against the wall, eyes closed.

"I'm not done talking with you," Wesley says sharply. "Before what?"

One eye opens, looking at Wesley in what might be sheer exhaustion. "Before I was cursed with a soul."

Beginning to pace back and forth in front of the cell, Wesley rubs his hand over his mouth and chin, feeling the stubble that's grown in since the last time he shaved.

He knows this. There's something here that he's seen before, even if it's been a very long time.

"Who are you?" he asks again, taking the easy way out.

"What? Can't you tell?" The vampire turns and gets to its feet, slowly and painfully. Awkward fingers unbutton the front of its shirt and pull it open, revealing a chest and abdomen literally covered with vicious looking scars in various states of healing. Some of them appear to be new, and one looks suspiciously as if it might go right through the vampire's torso. It coughs into its fist again, and this time Wesley can see fresh dark blood on its palm when it takes its hand away.

"I'm the Scourge of Europe," the vampire says.

* * * * *

That's enough for Wesley, who, back in the days when the Watchers' Council was more about watching and less about attempting to fight back the tide of vampires with its own hands, studied his history carefully.

He knows all about Angelus, and the things the vampire did.

"You certainly look it," Wesley says, a bit dazed. "Tell me about Buffy."

"I don't know anything about her," Angelus says. "I saw her once. She was supposed to come to Sunnydale and she never did."

Thinking about it, Wesley can almost see what might have been. "Yes, well, perhaps she might have done if she hadn't been killed." He attempts to keep his expression impassive.

But Angelus, even slumped against the wall as he is now, watches him carefully. "You knew her."

And for some reason Wesley admits it. He's not sure why. "Yes."

"What happened?"

Wesley feels like crawling into the bottom of a bottle when he thinks about it, which is why he tries not to. "She was killed by vampires," he says flatly. "By creatures just like you."

Angelus shakes his head. "Not like me. Not anymore."

"Because you say that you have a soul? You actually expect me to believe that?" Wesley spits the words out.

Sliding back down the wall, as if he hasn't the strength to continue standing, Angelus closes his eyes again. "You're telling me with all this fancy equipment," he gestures blindly at the lab, "you can't do some kind of test?"

"Believe it or not, I haven't found a great need for a machine that proves the existence -- or lack -- of a soul," Wesley says, suddenly feeling as weary as Angelus looks.

The vampire opens his eyes, seeming to see meaning there that Wesley wouldn't have expected. "You designed these?" He points toward the room full of machines again.

"Some of them," Wesley says.

Angelus is looking at him with what might be an impressed expression. "You must be smart."

"One doesn't get to be head of research without some degree of intelligence," Wesley says, trying not to feel flattered. But he doesn't receive compliments very often; hearing one, even coming from a killer, makes him feel warm. He remembers that it's late, and that he should go back to his tiny flat and get some sleep if he wants to be back in time for the first shift in a few hours.

Wesley turns and heads for the door of the lab.

"I don't know your name," Angelus calls. Some of the other vampires stir at his raised voice, but that's of no consequence.

He stops. In all his years with the Watcher's Council, he's never had occasion to tell a vampire his name, much less had one request it. "Pryce," he says after a moment. "Wyndam-Pryce."

"Is that what I'm supposed to call you?"

Wesley straightens his spine. "You won't need to call me anything," he says, believing that he's telling the truth. "You won't be here long enough."

Let the vampire make of that what he will.

* * * * *

Wesley carefully avoids Angelus' cage the next day, focusing on the vampires in the cells on the left hand side of the room and being sure not to look in Angelus' direction so that he won't have to make eye contact. He directs his underlings to experiment on the vampires numbers 154 and 155, and it's common enough for him to have them focus on specific subjects that none of them would ever even think about why.

They perform some experiments. There's a fair amount of screaming involved, and the one time Wesley makes the mistake of glancing at Angelus the vampire is curled up into himself in the same spot he'd been the night before.

If nothing else, he can honestly say that he feels no pity for these creatures. The simple fact that they've continued to survive means that they've fed from possibly countless humans. They're no better than animals -- no, they're worse than animals, because in addition to killing for survival they actually enjoy it.

First shift turns into second, which eventually turns into third. Again, it's not until everyone else has left for the night that Wesley goes over to the last cell on the right and looks at Angelus.

After a moment, the vampire raises his head and looks back.

"You haven't fed," Wesley observes. It would be obvious by the fact that Angelus is awake while the other four subjects are asleep, even if a second bag of drugged blood wasn't resting just on top of the first on the other side of the small, enclosed space.

"I'm not hungry," Angelus says, and Wesley thinks that might actually be the first lie the vampire has told him.

"You may not starve to death, but given enough time you'll become very hungry indeed," Wesley tells him. "An extended period of time without blood may result in hallucinations, violent outbursts..." He knows because he's seen it, caused it, here in the lab. There are pages of reports.

"You said I wasn't going to be here long enough to need to know your name," the vampire points out. "So I figure you're going to kill me before I can get that hungry. Anyway... it doesn't matter. I'm ready."

"Ready?"

"To die." Angelus waves his hand slightly. "You know, again. And I've had enough torture to last me as many lifetimes as I've had, so... better sooner than later."

Wesley just looks at him, and to his surprise, the vampire curls up tighter, making himself smaller, less of a target.

"Please," Angelus says, in a soft voice, his eyes unfocused, far away. "It's enough. At some point it has to be enough."

He's so unused to feeling sympathy -- for anyone but himself actually, but most specifically for vampires -- that Wesley doesn't recognize it at first. "You'd be better off feeding," he says. "You'd... there'd be less pain."

Angelus wraps an arm up over his head as if he's protecting himself, and doesn't answer.

* * * * *

It's a bribe, Wesley assures himself the next night once everyone's gone home. He wants information, and he's willing to pay -- in blood -- to get it.

The vampire starts away from him, cringing, when Wesley walks over, and he can't help but marvel that even an incredibly practiced killer like Angelus can be conditioned to behave in such a manner.

"I'd like to talk with you some more," he says. "Ask some questions."

Angelus wraps his arms around his legs and curls up smaller. "Is that what you were doing to them?" he asks, his voice strained. "Asking questions?"

Wesley assumes he's talking about the other vampires, and when he thinks about it realizes that Angelus can't see what happens in the other cells. In fact, none of the experiments they've done over the past few days have been in the lab proper -- they've all taken place in the cells, and therefore the only thing the vampire has to go by is what he hears.

He steps closer -- there's a cutaway window in the polymer wall, large enough so that one can pass small items through, and Wesley takes his offering and slips it through the window.

Angelus looks at it, then at the other bags of blood over against the far wall. "What makes you think I want that?"

"The fact that it's not drugged?" Wesley suggests.

"Why would you do that?" Angelus sounds more curious than disbelieving, although perhaps that's just because he doesn't intend to feed regardless.

Wesley sighs and steps back a bit, thinking that he might seem less threatening that way. "Because I'd like to talk with you and I thought you might be able to concentrate better if you weren't hungry."

There's a very long pause, and then Angelus gets up carefully and comes to get the blood. He goes back to his spot before feeding from the bag, one arm used to shield his face from Wesley's view as if he doesn't want Wesley to see. The vampire wipes his mouth carefully afterward before setting the bag on the other side of his body. "Thank you," he says roughly.

It's the only courtesy Wesley has ever received from a vampire, and that's one more than he ever expected to. "You're welcome," he says, and extends the polite behavior into the next part of their conversation. "Can I... can I ask you some questions?"

"That was the deal, right?" Angelus asks, but he nods.

"Do you really have a soul?" Under other circumstances Wesley would have a clipboard, or a small tape recorder, with which to make record of their conversation, but this seems different somehow. And in any case, some research the night before with rare template books the Council managed to come in possession of last year has already answered this question. Wesley knows there's a vampire with a soul, and there's no reason not to believe that it's the one in front of him now.

The vampire sighs and nods again, then lets his head drop back against the wall. "I made the mistake of killing a gypsy, and her family cursed me. They gave me the soul so that I'd... I don't know, feel guilty, I guess. Well, and probably so that I'd stop killing."

"And did you?"

"What, stop killing? Or feel guilty?" Angelus smiles a little bit, strained and possibly sad. "Yes. Both."

Wesley thinks about this for a moment. "Is that why the other vampires had you chained when I found you?"

Angelus shakes his head a bit. "Not so much that. The Master -- somehow he found out that I was planning to help the Slayer. He locked me up, let the others..." The vampire swallows heavily, "Play with me. It was my punishment."

There are more questions that Wesley wants to ask, but the vampire isn't looking well, and he thinks it might be better to save them for another time. When he looks up again, Angelus is watching him.

"I still don't know your name," Angelus says quietly.

He isn't certain there's a reason not to give it. "Wesley," he says after a moment. "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. I can get you more blood tomorrow."

Angelus seems to consider that. "It really wasn't drugged," the vampire says thoughtfully, and Wesley frowns.

"I thought you could tell by the smell," he says.

A little smile, possibly genuine, pulls at the corners of the vampire's mouth. "Yeah, I was bluffing."

Wesley looks at him in stunned admiration, unable to help himself. "You were bluffing."

"Well what were the chances it wasn't gonna be drugged?" Angelus asks. "I just..." He sighs. "Like I said, I'd rather it be quick."

It will have to be, Wesley thinks. The lab technicians are starting to question why they aren't experimenting on Angelus -- not that they're aware of who he is -- and chances are they'll begin to get suspicious soon if he continues to put them off. They respect him, but people talk, information spreads.

He's more disturbed than he'd like to be at the thought of letting Angelus be experimented on.

"I have to go," Wesley says quietly, and then adds more words he wouldn't have anticipated. "Good night, Angelus."

The vampire slouches down further against the wall. "It's Angel," he says. "Angelus was... before. Now it's just Angel." He grins then, a terrible sort of sorrowed expression. "Unless you want to call me Puppy."

Wesley nods even though he doesn't quite understand. "Good night then. Angel."

And Angel says, "Good night, Wesley."

* * * * *

The next day Philip, one of the lab technicians on first shift, asks why they haven't started on vampire number 158 yet. Wesley is prepared for the question and gives a rather vague explanation about an experiment he has planned for later than evening when the second shift people are on duty.

When Susan on second shift asks just before dinner break, Wesley tells her that the same imaginary experiment is scheduled for the next morning.

He allows both shifts to believe that the experiment in question will end in the vampire's permanent removal from the system.

All day he thinks, considering his options, worrying at the situation the way a young child worries at a loose tooth. In the few moments he has alone in the lab during the dinner break, Wesley goes quickly to Angel's cell, trying not to feel frustrated when the vampire recoils automatically at his approach.

"If I don't get you out of here, there are going to be more questions," he explains, as Angel looks at him steadily. "Sooner or later -- most likely sooner -- I'll be called to task, and chances are good I'll either be ordered to do my duty or someone else will be put in charge of dealing with you."

Angel swallows. "They don't know."

There's nothing to do but agree with him, since it's the truth. "No. I suspect that telling them would make things worse for you rather than better."

The vampire is doing that thing again, the one where he curls in on himself, attempting to look smaller. "I don't... what do you want to do?"

"I want to take you out of here," Wesley says. The plan is loosely formulated in his head, and he's relatively confident that it will work. If nothing goes wrong. "Tonight, when the building is as empty as possible."

He can see Angel shiver. "Okay."

"You'll have to do exactly as I say," Wesley tells him. "No hesitating. You'll have to trust me."

Angel does hesitate now, for a rather long moment. Then he says, "Okay. I -- I can do that. I can trust you."

Wesley feels absurdly pleased at the idea, and that feeling helps to cover up the concern that he might not be doing the right thing. Risking his career to smuggle out a vampire, soul or no, when his job for the past two years has been to pull them into little pieces to see what makes them tick -- to see what makes them cease ticking -- seems ill advised.

But there's something about Angel that he trusts as well, and the potential value the vampire holds is unquestionable. Just because others might not understand, might not be willing to believe -- that's unimportant.

Wesley has to think of the greater good.

"All right," he says to Angel, his mind racing as he begins to go over the plan yet again. "Tonight."

* * * * *

Wesley tries to explain the plan to him, a couple of times, while frowning, but Angel doesn't get it. He's been tired and hungry and confused and hurt for too long -- his brain doesn't seem to work the way it used to, and he's not sure if it ever will again. So he just nods and does his best to pay attention to the parts that actually require something from him, like standing up and keeping quiet.

He's pretty sure he can do the second part, but he has to admit he's got his doubts about the first.

The plan has something to do with the piece of equipment Wesley brings into the lab right after the rest of the people come back from wherever they go. Probably dinner, judging by the fact that they're a little bit warmer and not quite as awake when they get back. Angel doesn't know if Wesley planned that part of it, but he thinks the other people are less likely to notice stuff, to question, at this time of day than any other.

But right after that, two of the people move to the cell next to his and start up on the vampire in there, and there's a lot of screaming and Angel can't help but close in on himself. He pushes himself into the back corner of his little room -- the screaming is so loud, louder because it's closer this time, and he can't do anything except curl up into the tightest ball possible and shiver for a long, long time.

"Angel," a voice is saying. "Angel."

He blinks, unfolds himself slowly. Everything hurts. Someone was calling him...

"Angel," Wesley says. "It's time."

Blinking again, Angel realizes that the lights in the lab are low, that it's quiet. He struggles to his feet, leaning against the wall, as Wesley slides something and pushes some buttons, and then the front of his cell opens up.

"Here," Wesley says, gesturing at the piece of electrical equipment, like a big empty box now, that he has sitting on a wheeled cart. "Get in."

Angel hesitates, but then he remembers that when he agreed to this -- not like he had any choice -- he'd also agreed not to hesitate. Timing is critical.

Angel stumbles as he crosses from the cell into the actual lab, catches himself, and manages to get into the small metallic... well okay, trading one cage for another much smaller one isn't his idea of a good time, but he doesn't see how he has any choice. If this is a trick -- and he doesn't think it is, because Wesley could kill him just as easily here in the lab, and he knows that's what they do to all the vampires eventually -- Angel's walking into it willingly.

Or at least stumbling resignedly.

Once he's in there, with Wesley closing up the machine, it's not as hard as he thought it would be. It's a small space, sure, but it's kind of comforting. He can pretend he's safe.

"Can you hear me?" Wesley asks quietly.

"Yeah," he says.

"Good. Now remember, don't make any noise -- just sit tight until I say otherwise. This shouldn't take long."

Wesley seems to take his silence as agreement, and the cart begins to roll across the floor. A pause -- a beep and a click, then a muffled whoosh as the door opens. More rolling, another briefer pause. Wesley is talking to someone -- two someones, by the voices, and Angel doesn't listen to the words so much as the tone, waiting for the inflections to change and signify that it's all gone wrong and he's going to be killed.

He hopes they don't kill Wesley too, but it's not like he actually thinks they won't.

Besides, he's ready. He's going along with this because Wesley seems to want it, and because, when it comes right down to it, he's a coward. He doesn't want to hurt anymore, and the thought of being somewhere -- free -- where that doesn't happen is like a beautiful dream. But he knows he doesn't deserve it. He was supposed to help Buffy Summers, and she's dead.

Angel can't imagine there's anything left for him after this.

Then the cart starts rolling again, Wesley saying a polite goodnight to the other people, and Angel lets himself drift. It's quiet now -- the whole building is quiet, and he can hear the faint hum of the lighting but not much else.

A bump as Wesley pulls the cart over something, and then the sensation of the floor dropping out from under him, but slowly. An elevator, he thinks. It stops, and there's another bump and another pause at another door.

Angel can tell they're outside almost immediately, even sealed inside the machine. The smell of the air is so different.

A clicking sound of metal. "We're just behind my car," Wesley says very quietly as he begins opening up the side of the machine so that Angel can get out. "Get in through the rear door and cover yourself with the blanket that's there. I'll shut the door and we'll go. All right?"

He's shaking as he gets up and does as Wesley said, trembling uncontrollably. The car is parked next to some kind of trash dumpster, the dismantled machine right next to it too like it's being thrown away. Looks innocent.

Almost free.

Angel pulls the blanket over himself, and Wesley shuts the door. A moment later, there's the low rumble of the car's engine starting up, and he feels the car start to move.

He closes his eyes and waits.

* * * * *

Wesley's flat, small though it is, is located at just the right distance from Council headquarters. Close enough to be safe from vampires -- although the vampire community seems unaware of the Council as an opposing force, it's more than aware of the fact that this part of London is rumored to be one of the worst places in which to be a vampire. And it's far enough away that he's not likely to see anyone who knows him, and therefore, hopefully, safe for Angel.

It's lucky that the hour is late, because he imagines they'd otherwise be making rather a spectacle of themselves. Angel can barely remain on his feet, but it's clear from the way he flinches back each time Wesley comes nearer that he doesn't want to be touched, and the combination of the two factors means that it takes them nearly ten minutes to travel the short distance to his front door.

Angel leans against the wall as Wesley unlocks the door, and Wesley says, very clearly, "Come in," before gesturing to indicate that Angel should go first. It's less because he's loathe to turn his back on the vampire -- who seems too weak to manage an effective attack in any case -- and more because he's concerned that Angel might fall down in the hallway and he won't be able to drag the vampire inside before someone notices.

With one hand on the wall for support, Angel enters the flat and stands swaying a few feet from the door. "Go and sit down," Wesley says, his own voice surprising in its gentleness.

Angel manages to make it to the near corner of the sofa, where he collapses with a small sound of pain.

"Try to get comfortable," Wesley says, moving toward the kitchen where he has some blood packets in the refrigerator. As he takes them out, it strikes him how out of place they look beside his milk and butter.

When he returns to the sitting room, Angel is hunched over and gasping, attempting to take off his shoes.

"Stop that," Wesley admonishes, then frowns at the way Angel's immediate response is to flinch back and obey. "No," he says, lowering his voice and setting the blood packets on the table. "I meant, let me."

He kneels on the floor in front of the vampire and begins to untangle shoelaces that look as though they haven't been untied in months. It takes nearly a minute to undo the first one, during which time Wesley can't help but notice how tense Angel is, as though the vampire can't bear for him to be that close even though they aren't technically even touching.

"It's all right," Wesley says, still gently. "I'm not going to hurt you."

Angel clears his throat. "Yeah, I know."

It truly is just instinct then, something the vampire has learned and something it will no doubt take time to unlearn.

"Would you..." Angel stops.

Wesley looks up at him as he finishes untying the second shoelace. "Would I what?"

Angel shakes his head, and Wesley can see that his hands, clenched into fists, are trembling.

"Whatever it is, you can ask me." Wesley wants to ease off Angel's shoes for him, but suspects that the gesture would be too intimate for the vampire to handle.

"Tell me? Why you're doing this." Angel's voice is barely above a whisper.

Wesley backs up slightly before standing, trying to be mindful of their close proximity. "You said it yourself -- you're different." It's not anywhere near the whole truth, but he hopes it will suffice for the time being. He picks up the two blood packets on the table and offers them to Angel. "Here. You must be hungry."

Now that Wesley isn't right in front of him, Angel pries his shoes off with the opposite feet, then reaches out tentatively. Wesley sets the packets into them without actually touching the vampire. "Thanks," Angel says.

"You're welcome." Remembering when Angel had tried to create an illusion of privacy for himself the night before, Wesley turns away, taking off his own shoes so that he's not watching Angel while he feeds.

He still can't prevent himself from turning around when the vampire makes a choked noise.

"This is human blood," Angel says, rubbing his mouth with the back of one hand and looking at the packet in the other.

"Yes. It's the same as what you had last night." Wesley is confused. "It isn't drugged."

"But it's human." Angel seems disturbed, and his hands are trembling again, enough so that he seems to feel the need to set both packets down on the table. "I mean, I know last night's was too, but I didn't -- for all I knew that was some kind of last supper before the execution."

"You have to feed," Wesley tells him.

"Not on human blood." Angel says it stubbornly, with more determination than Wesley would have given him credit for.

"Then what? Animal?" Wesley is frustrated -- he has easy access to a supply of human blood at the lab, and finding animal blood is going to be difficult at best. Most humans have converted to a sort of semi-vegetarianism at this point, what with the animals being easy targets for the growing number of vampires as the human population dwindles. The Watcher's Council is willing to pay good money for blood donations, cash that people need and are happy to trade regular pints for.

"Yeah," Angel agrees. "Cow, pig..."

It's only then that Wesley begins to realize that the vampire doesn't know what's been happening. "Human blood is easier for me to acquire," he says, unsure that this is the right time to tell Angel everything. "It's from volunteers, if that makes any difference to you. I've no reason to believe that whoever this blood came from isn't walking around perfectly healthy at this very moment."

Angel's hands are still shaking. "You're sure?"

As sure as he can be. "Yes -- and even if it weren't true, you need it, and it's already here. Even if it had come from someone who'd been killed for the purpose of feeding you -- which I can assure you I wouldn't allow -- your failing to drink it now wouldn't save them."

There are times, Wesley thinks, when the ability to keep his mouth shut would be a distinct benefit. Rather than seeming reassured by what Wesley feels was a perfectly reasonable argument, Angel seems, if anything, more upset.

"It's all right," Wesley says, losing his gentle tone of voice along with his patience. "Just drink it and stop being so absurd."

Predictably, Angel flinches and draws back on himself, and Wesley tells himself very firmly that it's not his problem. He has a use for the vampire, so he appropriated him. That's all this is. The creature owes it to him to keep itself fed.

"I'll expect you to have fed by the time I come back," he says, turning away and heading for the bathroom.

When he returns to the sitting room, the blood packets are empty on the table and the vampire is curled in on himself, arms wrapped around his knees with his face hidden, shaking.

"Thank you," Wesley says, aware that his tone makes it sound more like a pat on the head than actual gratitude. He disposes of the packets and makes himself a quick sandwich, eating it standing beside the sink because he can't be bothered to wash dishes if he doesn't absolutely have to, and goes back into the sitting room to discover that the vampire -- that Angel hasn't moved.

It's late, and Wesley should get a few hours' sleep before returning to the lab in the morning. He has no reason to think anyone will guess that something's amiss, but if he were late, the situation might be different.

"I'm going to bed," he announces, and again Angel doesn't move. Going closer, Wesley looks at him more carefully. "Angel?" he asks, his voice unconsciously lowering. There's no response. He creeps closer still before he realizes that Angel has fallen asleep sitting up, occupying the smallest amount of space possible.

He leaves the lights on in case Angel wakes during the night, and goes to bed.

* * * * *

The next day at work is difficult, even though none of the people Wesley supervises seems interested in his explanation of what happened to #158. They ask more as part of the routine than because they're particularly curious, and nod and move on with their work.

He feels an inexplicable desire to phone his own flat to see if Angel will answer, but he suspects that the ringing will only frighten the vampire, so he resists the urge and focuses very intently on his work instead. By the time he leaves the lab at the end of the second shift, Wesley is anxious to get home.

Unlocking his door, he stifles the impulse to call out Angel's name and shuts the door quietly, re-locking it behind him. He sets the bag of blood packets down on the nearest chair, making a mental note to put them in the refrigerator, and says cautiously, "Angel?"

There's no reply, only silence.

"Angel? It's Wesley." Which is an absurd thing to say -- who on earth else would it be?

Angel appears at the edge of the hallway to his left, startling him by moving out of the darkness so suddenly. "Sorry," Angel says, leaning against the wall with one shoulder as if he's still not feeling very strong. "Didn't mean to surprise you."

"No, it's fine," Wesley says, although his heart is beating a bit too quickly and he's quite sure the vampire can hear it. "How are you?"

"Okay," Angel says. He stays where he is, but his eyes dart past Wesley toward the sitting room. "Stopped coughing up blood. Figure that's got to be a good thing."

"Yes." Speaking of which... Wesley takes that opportunity to go back and retrieve the bag he brought home with him, his movement serving a dual purpose as it allows Angel to come into the room while still maintaining what the vampire must feel is a safe distance between them.

Angel eases himself down onto the sofa with a wince.

"I brought more blood," Wesley says, gesturing with the bag. "Would you like some now?"

The vampire shifts uncomfortably, then nods. "Yeah, that'd be good. Thanks."

Trying to keep things simple, Wesley sets two packets on the table in front of Angel and takes the rest to the kitchen. By the time he comes back the packets are already empty, Angel's face smooth and human again.

"You don't like people to see," Wesley observes.

Angel shakes his head slightly, eyes downcast.

He moves over to pick up the empty packets and Angel flinches away, then immediately apologizes.

"Sorry," the vampire says. "I don't -- I'm sorry."

"It's all right. It's perfectly natural, given what you've been through." Wesley slows down his movements, keeps his voice low and soothing. Neither of these is something that comes naturally to him, but he's hopeful that if he can remain as non-threatening as possible Angel will start to relax around him. "If -- if you'd like to talk about it..."

Angel snorts, then winces and holds a hand to his side. "Believe me, you don't want to hear it."

Wesley's unsure why Angel would think that anything vampires might do -- to humans or each other -- would surprise or shock him, but he nods. "All right. Whatever you prefer." He looks at Angel thoughtfully. "I'd like to look at your injuries," he says.

Startled brown eyes meet his.

"I just want to look," Wesley says, going around the table on the far side to give Angel more time to get used to the idea. He sits down on the table itself, at least a foot of space between his knee and Angel's. "Let me see." His voice is calm, persuasive.

Angel's hands are trembling again as he unbuttons his shirt, but he manages to do it on his own. He slides the fabric apart, revealing a pale chest and skin that would be silken smooth were it not for all the scarring.

Wesley's gaze is drawn to the one wound that still seems to be bothering Angel, the one that looks more shallow now than it did the day before. He knows all about how wounds like this are inflicted -- knows how long they take to heal, assuming one cares to let them. Deliberately, curious to see Angel's reaction, he reaches a hand very slowly toward the vampire's exposed side. "I'm not going to hurt you," he says soothingly, but the reassurance doesn't stop Angel from flinching. "There, it's all right. That's right, I won't hurt you... I want to help..."

His fingertips brush against cool skin and Angel twitches away with a little cry, but Wesley is satisfied for now and pulls his hand back again.

"There. That's all. You did very well." The words don't seem to have much meaning really, but Wesley says them anyway. He tries to say something more practical. "You're healing, but it will happen more quickly if you feed more. You'll feel better."

Angel nods and pulls his shirt closed again, one arm encircling his waist as he shakes.

Wesley slides back away from him before standing up, then moves over to sit on a chair. "Did you get any sleep today?"

The vampire swallows before answering. "Um... some. I think."

"With any luck you'll be able to get more tonight." Wesley watches him, the way he tries to force himself to sit up straighter, to uncurl from the position he retreats to. "What did you do today? Other than sleep."

Angel begins, very slowly, to rebutton his shirt. "Looked around." He glances up at Wesley. "Looked at some books." Hesitates. "Read the paper."

Wesley had left it on the desk in an obvious spot that morning, wondering if Angel would be curious enough to pick it up. "Things have changed," he says.

"Yeah, I kind of got that impression." Angel gives up after the third button, leaving the rest undone so that he can slump against the back of the sofa again. "I was there a long time, I think."

"In the basement of that club? How long?" It's clear that the answer will be a vague estimate at best -- those kept in captivity without a means of telling time generally lose all sense of it, but Wesley still wants to know what the vampire will say.

Angel brings his foot up onto the edge of the sofa, once again moving into the position that will make him smaller, less vulnerable. "Three years?" he says finally. "At least. Maybe more."

Wesley considers this. Three years or more in a cage, chained to a wall. "What did they do to you?" He uses his most clinical tones, attempting to keep emotion from entering the discussion.

Eyes going unfocused and distant, Angel says, "Cut me, stabbed me, burned me. Willow liked matches."

"Starved you?" Wesley asks.

Angel laughs, the sound bitter and dark. "That wouldn't be the most effective torture, would it? Not for me."

It doesn't take more than a few seconds for Wesley to figure out what he means. "They brought you humans and made you feed from them against your will."

Second foot joining the first on the edge of the couch, Angel wraps his arms around his knees. "I tried to... I tried to make it quick. That was all I could do." He glances up at Wesley. "If I didn't do it, the others would have, and they... they would have... it would have been worse. After the first time..."

The room is quiet for a few moments, and then Wesley prompts, "The first time?"

"First time I refused," Angel says, closing his eyes. "They... they pulled her apart in front of me. And she was screaming, and she wanted me to help her, and... there was nothing I could do. I couldn't save her."

The vampire is shaking again, but Wesley is more interested in hearing the end of the story. "And so the next time, you..."

Angel whimpers. "It was just a little kid, almost a baby. She was so small she didn't even know to be afraid until I started begging them not to. No. No, I won't." He sounds as if he's reliving the scene, talking to his tormenters instead of to Wesley. "Please. I'll do anything else, but I can't..." He hides his face in his arms.

"What happened?" Wesley asks quietly, but when there's no response, he raises his voice. "Angel. What happened?"

Lifting his head from the protective circle of his arms, Angel looks just to Wesley's right, not directly at him. "They said if I didn't, then one of them would... hurt her. You know, r-- " He doesn't seem able to form the word. "You know," Angel says.

Wesley remains perfectly still, waiting.

"And I knew if I didn't do it, they'd hurt her until she was dead. She might still be breathing, but inside she'd be dead."

Utter silence in the room.

"So I killed her," Angel whispers, as a tear tracks its way down his cheek. "I had to kill her to save her." He sobs, just once, but when he speaks again he sounds utterly broken. "That," he says, "is what they did to me."

* * * * *

Angel won't say anything afterwards, so Wesley stops trying to persuade him and goes to take a shower. He feels worn out, in need of a holiday that he knows is impossible. He'll settle for a solid four hours of sleep.

He sets a clean towel on the edge of the bathroom sink and goes back to the sitting room, where Angel is curled up in the same spot in which he left him. "There's a towel for you in the bathroom if you'd like to take a shower," Wesley says.

Angel doesn't respond.

"I'm going to sleep," Wesley says, feeling awkward speaking to someone who's essentially ignoring him. "Feel free to wake me if you need anything." Still nothing. "There's more blood in the refrigerator." Not even a twitch. "Good night."

He goes to bed and lies there in the darkness, awake and staring at the ceiling, for a surprisingly long time before falling asleep.

When he wakes, it's to sounds that are unfamiliar in his small flat, and he's slow to recognize where they're coming from and what they mean.

Once he does, however, he goes downstairs to the sitting room -- where the lights are still on -- and where Angel is thrashing in his sleep, crying out and whimpering and attempting to protect himself from phantom torturers.

"Angel, wake up," Wesley says firmly, but the vampire continues to dream. He tries again, louder. "Angel." And he moves to the vampire's side to shake him awake without thinking of the likely consequences of his action.

There's a split second in which he thinks everything's going to be fine, and then he's grabbed by the throat and thrown backward, slammed to the floor with a force that drives all the air from his lungs.

* * * * *

...gonna kill the next vampire...

...Angel is arching his back and screaming, lifting Willow, who's sitting astride him, up off the floor as she lights match after match and drops them onto his chest in tiny flares of searing white-hot pain. The cuffs dig into his wrists as he struggles, and he can feel the skin split and the blood making his arms slick and sticky, but that part's nothing compared to the flames...

...pain, pain...

...he doesn't even know what it is -- some kind of tool, not that it matters since all it's doing it shredding his guts to little pieces, or at least that's what it feels like. A thoughtful look as the sharp pointed tip is pressed against his skin, a popping sensation as the flesh finally gives way to allow entrance to his body, and then the incredible agony of his insides being pierced and torn, the sickening wash of blood in his gut...

...screaming...

...listening while the girl on the stairs shrieks in pain and terror as she's drained, closing his eyes so he doesn't have to watch...

...next vampire that touches him...

...he's turned around against the wall, the cuffs and chains caught between his body and the cool cement, and it's uncomfortable, and that's what he's focusing on instead of the vampire behind him. Because it's easier to think about the way a loop of the chain is caught over his knuckles, rubbing them raw, and how one rough edge of a cuff a slowing working its way through his wrist -- not deep enough to cut off his hand, he wouldn't let it go that far -- he doesn't *think* he'd let it go that far -- but more than enough to hold his concentration. That way he doesn't feel the other stuff. Doesn't hear the sounds...

...and someone's hand shakes his shoulder...

...and it's gone beyond enough into too much...

...and Angel...

snaps, flinging himself upright, heedless of the chains and cuffs. Grabs the vampire and uses their combined momentum to drive him to the floor with a force that impresses and surprises him.

It's the soft exhale of warm breath driven from actual breathing lungs upon impact that shoves Angel back to his senses just in time. He immediately realizes his mistake -- dreaming, not real -- and releases the human's throat, throwing himself backwards and off of the living body he's just tried to crush.

Wesley lies there on the floor, gasping painfully like a fish out of water, but Angel's already across the room, curled up against the wall. He didn't mean to do it, but he doesn't think that will matter.

He can't trust other people not to hurt him, and he can't trust himself not to hurt other people. Can't. He can hear himself whimpering, and he'd run and hide except there's never anywhere to go.

Freedom's just an illusion. It's not real.

After a minute or two, he hears Wesley get up slowly, then sit down on the table not too far away. "Angel?"

He can't do anything but whimper.

"Angel, it's all right. It was my own fault -- I shouldn't have touched you like that. I should have known that your reaction was likely to be something of that sort, especially since you were sleeping."

Pressed against the wall, getting some kind of comfort from the contact, Angel risks a glance in Wesley's direction. "I'm sorry," he says.

"No. It's not your fault." Wesley's sitting there on the table, and he looks okay -- a little bit rumpled, but not hurt. Not angry.

"I'm sorry," Angel says again. "I didn't mean to -- I shouldn't have -- " The grip of the nightmare slowly begins to loosen, and it feels like sanity -- and that's a laugh, and Angel knows it -- is creeping back in. "I didn't know it was you," he says, and then, not knowing if that's enough of an apology on its own, he adds again, "I'm sorry."

"It's all right." Wesley looks like he means it. "I understand."

The thought that it's even possible that that might be true is pretty scary. "Do you think... I mean, maybe it would be a good idea if, you know..."

Wesley waits, then makes a little sound of frustration when Angel doesn't finish. "Contrary to what you might believe, I can't read minds, Angel. What?"

He unfolds himself slightly and extends one wrist, only getting distracted by the scarring on it for a second or two before he remembers what he was supposed to say. "Maybe you should chain me up," he offers.

"Or perhaps I shouldn't touch you unexpectedly when it's something you're sensitive to," Wesley says, standing up and dismissing the idea so casually that Angel gives an actual sigh of relief. "I won't make the same mistake again."

Not knowing why he's arguing for something he doesn't want, Angel says, "You shouldn't trust me."

"Yes, well... you probably shouldn't trust me either." Wesley rubs the back of his neck and smiles a little bit. It makes his face look young.

Realizing he's still holding out his wrist, Angel pulls his arm back in and gets slowly up, using the wall behind him to help keep him upright. "You told me to," he says.

Wesley looks confused. "What?"

"Trust you." Angel can't make himself move closer, so he just stays where he is. The wall is good. "You told me to trust you."

"Oh." Wesley nods. "Yes, I suppose I did."

"But if you want me to stop..." Angel's not serious, but there's something about this gentle kind of teasing that relaxes him. Makes him feel better, more normal.

The way Wesley watches him makes him want to squirm, or something. "No," Wesley finally says. "No. I don't want you to stop."

It's hard, but Angel forces himself to stand up without the support of the wall and go back over to the couch. "You should go to bed," he says, sitting down and pulling his legs up.

He's not stupid. Okay, he can be dense as all hell sometimes, but he's not stupid -- he knows that this, how he's acting, is a reaction to having been chained up and tortured all that time. He can see how he tries to make himself smaller, less of a target. How his body responds with fear instinctively every time Wesley makes an unexpected movement.

It doesn't occur to him to wonder if this stuff is going to go away. It just... is.

Wesley is looking at him again. "Tell me what you dreamed?" It's in the form of a question, but it sounds more like an order.

Angel hesitates. "Just about... you know. Stuff that happened."

"Do you dream about it often?"

He's not sure he likes the way Wesley is talking to him -- it kind of makes him feel like he's still in a cage, not to mention the whole feeling like the subject of an experiment. But he answers anyway. "Pretty often, yeah."

"But normally there'd be no one to wake you." Wesley sounds a little bit more thoughtful now -- that makes it better.

"Normally there'd be someone to wake me up so that they could do something just as bad as what I was dreaming about. Or, you know, something worse." Angel swallows and wraps an arm around his knees.

"And this reaction of yours," Wesley says, gesturing at the way he's sitting. "It's become instinctual, hasn't it." It's like Wesley already knows the answers, which makes Angel wonder why he's asking the questions.

"If by instinctual you mean I can't help it, then yeah." Well, that's not totally true, because he can fight it if he cares enough. To prove it, not just to himself but also to Wesley, Angel lets go of his knees and puts his feet back down on the floor. "I figure it'll fade in time. Once I get used to be out again."

Wesley makes a small noise. "I'm not sure this qualifies as being 'out,'" he says. "It's just a bigger cage." Then he looks... something. Ashamed, maybe. "Not that you can't go out, of course. I just meant that you'd be safer here, at least until you've healed."

Angel nods -- it's not like he's anxious to go out into the city anyway. "No, it's okay. I know what you meant." He remembers, suddenly and without reason, what it felt like to drive Wesley's body to the floor beneath him, hands around his throat, and has to fight the urge to fold in on himself again. "Are you okay? I mean... I didn't hurt you?"

"No, I'm fine." Wesley runs his fingertips down across his throat. "I doubt I'll even bruise."

Strangely, there's a small part of Angel that wants to go over there and check for himself, but it's not a big enough part to make him do it. For one thing, Wesley probably wouldn't want Angel that close to his throat, and for another, Angel suspects he might get close and then suddenly need to move far, far away again.

So he stays where he is.

"Since you're up, why don't you have some more blood?" Wesley suggests.

Angel thinks about it, even though the cold blood is far from appetizing and he's not hungry, because Wesley's right that he'll probably feel better once he heals, and that's not going to happen unless he feeds regularly. "Yeah. Maybe I will."

"Good." Wesley runs a hand through his hair, which messes it up instead of making it neater, unless just-woke-up head is the look he's going for. "On that note, I think I will go back to bed."

He waits until Wesley's gone before wrapping himself into a little ball again.

Angel hates himself for countless reasons -- he doesn't see any particular point in trying to remove this one from the list.

* * * * *

Wesley comes home just after sunset the next night, surprising Angel so badly that he almost falls off the couch when the door lock clicks.

But he forgets to worry about his own reaction when the door opens and he sees the lines of pain on Wesley's face and the way his shoulders are slumped with fatigue. Wesley comes in, closing and locking the door behind him and dropping his jacket onto a chair.

He smiles a little bit, but Angel can tell it's forced. "How are you?"

"Fine. Shouldn't I be asking you that?" Angel gets up, setting the book he's been reading down on the table. He can smell the faint tang of dried blood on Wesley, and he thinks it's Wesley's own. "What happened?"

Wesley moves toward the kitchen. "Nothing happened. I'm fine." The way he's walking, his shoulder held in position so as not to jostle his upper body, tells Angel that he's lying.

Angel follows him and stands in the doorway, watching as Wesley gets out some bottled water and drinks it. "You're hurt," he says.

"It's nothing."

"'Nothing' doesn't break the skin," Angel says, hoping that will be enough to convince Wesley he knows what's wrong without getting Wesley fixated on the fact that there's blood involved.

Wesley sighs wearily. "There was a slight altercation. I'm fine."

Now Angel knows he's pushing it. Knows that he should keep his mouth shut and leave it. But he doesn't. "You aren't fine."

A long pause, then Wesley turns a little bit. "You're very stubborn," he says. "I suppose that's how you survived so long, isn't it."

"Stubborn, stupid," Angel says, shrugging. "Let me see."

"It's not necessary," Wesley says.

"Aw, come on. I showed you mine." It's surprising to him that he can joke like this, but somehow it feels okay. Still, Angel knows he'll back down now if Wesley continues to refuse.

But Wesley looks at him and nods. "All right."

Angel's grateful that Wesley is such a smart guy -- going over away from him and sitting down on a chair instead of walking toward him. There's something comforting in knowing that Wesley has figured out how to save Angel from himself. He starts to unbutton his shirt, and Angel steps closer, tentative.

"We were a bit too sparing with the sedative and one of y-- one of the vampires threw me across the lab." Wesley finishes with the buttons and pulls back his shirt. He's wearing a thin t-shirt underneath it, stained with a tiny amount of dark, dried blood.

With a hand that barely shakes at all, Angel reaches out and touches the fabric with his fingertips. "That's dried on," he says. "You'll have to loosen it with some water before it'll come off." He has a lot more intimate knowledge about stuff like that than he'd like.

Wesley turns slightly in the chair to look up at him, and that's when Angel realizes that he's been standing behind Wesley. Right behind him.

"Do you..." He tries again. "I could get some water? Try to soak it off."

Angel hasn't noticed until just this moment how blue Wesley's eyes are.

"No, it's fine. I can do it," Wesley says, still looking at him.

"I'm sure you can," Angel says. "But that wasn't my question."

Wesley blinks, and Angel can smell the fear on him -- would know that Wesley was nervous even if he hadn't been able to smell it, just by the way the man tenses. "I don't wish to seem ungrateful for the offer," Wesley says slowly. "But..."

"But you don't trust me that much," Angel finishes for him, taking a step back and holding up his hands. "No, it's okay. I get that."

He can see from the expression on Wesley's face that he's thinking, trying to work it all out in his own head. "You trusted me enough to come with me willingly."

"If I'd stayed chances were I was going to be cut into little pieces," Angel points out. "I'm not thinking I had much of a choice." He frowns. "Which isn't to say I don't. Trust you."

"Last night you said that I shouldn't trust you, and now you seem to be saying that I can." Wesley eases his dress shirt the rest of the way off and sets it on the table, then turns to face Angel directly. "I want to ask you something."

That kind of scrutiny is a little bit too much for Angel, who takes a step back to put more distance between them. "Okay."

"What are you most afraid of?"

Angel rubs a hand over his face. He figures Wesley's seen him at pretty much his worst by now, so it's not like there's any point in trying to pretend he's not upset when he is. "I don't know."

Wesley just looks at him patiently. "I think you do."

"I don't know," Angel repeats, then he tries again because he probably owes Wesley that much. He thinks about the instinctive reaction. "Being hurt?"

Shaking his head, Wesley says, "I don't think it's that simple."

"Um... being hurt by other people?"

Him saying that, even though Wesley obviously doesn't think it's the right answer, seems to decide something for Wesley, who turns around again, his back to Angel. "If you wouldn't mind..." he says, gesturing at the place on his back where he's hurt.

Angel goes over and puts some tap water into a cup, then he brings it to the table and sets it down there. Dips his fingers into the water, then pats them very, very gently over the spot of dried blood, letting the fabric soak up the water.

"Do you really think I could hurt you?" Wesley asks, tensing at Angel's touch, which of course makes Angel whip his hand away and step back in reaction. But Wesley just stays there, very still, and after a few seconds Angel is able to make himself move closer again.

"Depends on where I was at the time," Angel says.

"Here. In this flat."

"Well... you could sneak up on me while I was asleep."

"Yes, because that worked so well last night," Wesley says, with the tiniest edge of frustration in his voice, like he thinks Angel is smarter than that.

Which, Angel thinks, just goes to prove how little Wesley actually knows him.

"You're considerably stronger I am, even currently," Wesley continues. "You're faster, you've had more years in which to learn how to fight properly, and I'd daresay you know more about how the human body works than I know about how a vampire's does."

"I don't know," Angel mutters, half under his breath, as he tries to ease the thin cotton fabric away from the injured skin of Wesley's upper back, "Sounded to me like you knew what you were doing." He freezes as he realizes what he's said.

Wesley's voice is matter of fact. "I don't do it specifically to cause pain," he says. "I do it to study the reaction. They're rather different approaches."

Carefully, Angel goes back to his work, finally managing to separate t-shirt from skin. "Okay, so then why do you think I freaked out last night when you woke me up?" He suspects that at least part of it was the dream he'd been having, but he can tell that Wesley's got his sights set on something here, and now he's kind of curious to know what it is.

"I think," Wesley says, moving cooperatively as Angel starts to help him take off the t-shirt, "that you're afraid of losing control. Of being pushed too far."

Standing there with the wadded up and still warm shirt in his hands, Angel looks at Wesley's bare back, smooth skin marred by a deep bruise with a lot of swelling and a small cut that had caused the bleeding. It looks painful but not serious. "What happened?"

"Well, I'd imagine you suppressed -- "

"To your back," Angel says.

"Oh." Wesley pauses like he doesn't want to go into detail. "It's not important, Angel."

There's something about the way Wesley says his name, softly, that makes Angel smile. He touches the edge of the bruise with one fingertip, trying to picture what might have caused it. "Corner of a table?" he asks after a minute.

Wesley turns his head to glance back. The suddenness of the movement makes Angel twitch, even if he does manage to hold his ground. "Yes. How could you tell?"

"Shape of the bruise... where the skin broke..." Angel shrugs, more than a little bit embarrassed. "Lucky guess."

"More than that," Wesley says, turning around slowly and standing up. Angel's not sure if Wesley is moving so slowly so as not to startle him, or if he's really that sore. "I think I'll take a hot shower, see if I can't get the muscles to relax a bit."

"Good idea."

Wesley reaches out to take the shirt from Angel, and after a second or two Angel gives it to him. "Don't worry," Wesley says, and Angel understands that he's not talking him being hurt.

"If that happened... I mean, if I lost control..." Angel hesitates to say it, but he has to. "I could kill you."

Wesley nods. "But you won't. You didn't."

"But I could have."

"But you didn't," Wesley says. "Are we going to stand here arguing about it, or can I go and take a shower now?"

Angel finds himself almost needing to hide a smile, and steps to one side, leaving plenty of room for Wesley to pass by without getting too close.

* * * * *

At one in the morning, Wesley wakes up and can't fall back asleep. It's partially because he has a lot on his mind, but mostly because his back and shoulder are aching and he can't seem to find a comfortable position in which to lie.

He tries for half an hour or so, then he gets up and goes into the small bathroom for some painkillers -- perhaps even slight relief will be enough to let him slide back over the edge into sleep.

Poised in the bathroom doorway as his hand blindly gropes to shut off the light switch after having taken his pills, Wesley glances to see Angel standing in the hall, silent and unmoving. He barely chokes back his surprise. "You really have to stop doing that," he says, a little bit more sharply than he'd intended.

"Sorry," Angel says. "Heard you moving around up here. I wanted to make sure you were okay."

Wesley nods as he feels his heartbeat slow down a bit toward something more natural. "Sore," he says ruefully. "It's a bit difficult to get comfortable. But I'm okay." He's also very aware of the fact that he's standing there in nothing but a pair of shorts, not that Angel seems to notice.

"I could..." Angel hesitates. "I could get you something. Do you need anything?"

"No -- I've just taken some paracetamol. Hopefully that will be enough to let me get some more sleep." He shifts his weight and rubs at his neck a bit, trying to ease the tightness of the muscles there. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you."

Angel shakes his head. "Don't be. I mean... I was already awake."

"You couldn't sleep either?" Wesley thinks about leaning against the door frame if they're going to be there for more than another minute or so, but decides that won't make him any more comfortable.

"No."

They both stand there in silence.

"So... I'll just go back to bed then," Wesley says, pausing long enough so that Angel can stop him if he'd like to, but Angel doesn't say anything, so after a moment Wesley goes back across the hall and into his room, leaving the door opened.

He thinks he hears Angel go back down the staircase, although admittedly it's difficult to know for sure, since the vampire is capable of moving so quietly. It isn't until he begins to roll over and a soft groan escapes him as his shoulder protests that he realizes that Angel is still standing in the darkened hallway.

"Wesley?" The voice is so gentle. So hesitant.

Hitching himself up onto one elbow and stifling the groan this time, Wesley is barely able to make out the dim shape of Angel, framed in the doorway. "Yes, Angel?"

"Sorry. I mean... I was waiting until you went back to sleep. I wanted to... I needed to know you were okay."

"Come in," Wesley tells him, half curious to see if Angel will obey.

Angel does, walking almost silently into the room until he's standing at the foot of the bed.

"Come over here." Wesley gestures to the side of the bed, where there's a chair, and moves a bit so that he's facing that direction.

Again, Angel does as he's told, coming to stand next to the bed. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Wesley says. Then, "Sit down."

Angel's hesitation is so brief that it almost doesn't exist, but Wesley makes note of it because that's the sort of thing he does. When Angel does sit, to Wesley's surprise, it's on the edge of the bed instead of the chair.

Interesting.

"Tell me why you were standing outside in the hall." It's not a request, it's a command, and Wesley expects an answer.

Even with the dim light in the room he can see Angel look down at his hands. "Because I wanted to make sure you were okay."

"Angel, you saw my injury yourself -- you know it's not serious. I may be uncomfortable, but I'm hardly in any sort of danger." He knows there's so much more beneath Angel's surface that he's yet to see, and it fascinates him.

Angel is sitting utterly still. "There are other ways not to be okay," he says finally.

That simple statement is nearly enough to take Wesley's breath away. The thought that Angel could be concerned with his emotional well-being is more than surprising, it's immensely flattering. "Oh," Wesley says, a bit weakly.

"Are you?" Angel asks. "Okay?"

"Yes," Wesley says, because it's true, although God knows having met this particular vampire has thrown his life in a direction he'd never anticipated. "Yes. I'm okay." The room is very quiet for about three heartbeats, then Wesley asks, "Are you?"

He can feel Angel start to tremble almost before he finishes asking the question, but the vampire doesn't respond.

"Angel?" Remaining still himself, as he's not entirely certain what's happening and he doesn't want to frighten Angel, Wesley uses his voice the way he'd use an instrument -- pitching it low but forceful. "Angel. What are you thinking?"

And Angel answers him, although it sounds rather as if he isn't aware that he's actually speaking. "About being chained up," he says. "About... about what they can do to you."

For just a moment, Wesley is concerned that Angel is putting him in that role. "I didn't do anything to you," he says.

Angel doesn't move. "I know."

Wesley tries to think what might help. "Terrible things were done to you," he says slowly, gently. "But they're over now. The vampires that knew you -- that knew what you were -- are gone. No one else knows. You're safe here."

He can still feel Angel's trembling. "Yes," Angel says, although it sounds doubtful, as though he doesn't quite believe it.

"You're safe. No one will hurt you again."

Angel nods.

Wesley realizes that the reassurance needs to go deeper than that. "I won't let anyone hurt you."

"What -- what about you?" Angel asks, even his voice shaking.

"What about me?"

"You won't... you won't let me hurt you?"

Wesley finally understands. "I know you want me to say that I won't let you hurt anyone, but I won't do that. I won't let you hide from reality that way."

Angel gets up, pacing with his arms wrapped around himself. Wesley would like to turn on a light so as to better read Angel's expression, but he knows that this won't be taken well. "I can't do this, Wesley. Not if I think I might hurt someone else -- I can't."

"I didn't say you were going to hurt someone else," Wesley says. "I said that I wouldn't be the one to stop you."

The pacing stops, and Angel glances up at him. "You think someone else can?"

"Yes." Ideally, Wesley would like it if Angel worked this out for himself.

Apparently Angel is too tied up in knots to be able to. "Who?"

He sounds so bewildered that Wesley smiles and reaches out a hand to him. "You," Wesley says.

For a very, very long moment, Angel stands there looking at him. Then the vampire steps forward and touches Wesley's hand, fingertips to fingertips, with an accompanying tremor that seems to run the length of his body.

"I trust you," Wesley says.

Angel sits back down on the edge of the bed, leans forward so that his forehead is touching the mattress beside Wesley's ribcage, and begins to shake so violently that the bed trembles with him.

It isn't until nearly a minute has passed that Wesley realizes Angel is crying.

"There," Wesley says, sitting up a bit and sliding back so that he can lean against the headboard. "There. It's all right."

Angel's crying is totally silent -- it can be, Wesley thinks, if one doesn't have to breathe -- but for some reason that seems to make it all the more painful. His hand is clenched in the blanket, twisting a fold of it in his fist as if some of the grief and sorrow and anger might leave his body through his grip in addition to his tears.

Cautiously, Wesley reaches out, his own hand hovering over Angel's. "It's all right," he says again, confused by the emotions that are stirred in him as he watches this vampire -- this man -- spill his anguish.

Wesley lowers his hand, so slowly that he thinks he can feel Angel's before they're even actually touching.

And after a moment, Angel's hand turns beneath his and holds on.

* * * * *

Angel wakes up quickly -- something he learned to do over some period of time, he figures, and he suspects it will take just as long for the habit to fade, if it ever does. But this time as his surroundings sharpen and focus, he finds himself somewhere unexpected, and it takes him a few what-would-have-been-heartpounding-if-his-heart-still-beat seconds to figure out where that is.

To remember the night before.

He's curled up on top of the blankets on Wesley's bed, with his head resting on some part of Wesley that's warm, and moves almost with Wesley's even, gentle breathing.

Angel stays still, tries to relax a little bit, because Wesley seems to be sleeping peacefully and he doesn't want to wake him up. He's painfully touched by the fact that Wesley was able to fall asleep with him right there. That's proof, if he needed it, that Wesley had been telling the truth when he said he trusted him.

It's Wesley's thigh his head is resting on. Without even thinking about it, Angel rubs his cheek against it slightly, taking comfort from the contact in a way that he'd thought might never be possible again, not with the way he flinches whenever he thinks -- his body thinks -- someone might touch him.

But this is different -- it feels safe. Of course that might just be because Wesley is asleep, and Angel knows he's asleep and that he'll also know as soon as Wesley wakes up. He does it again, listening to the sound of Wesley's breathing and the faint rhythmic pulse of his heartbeat, and almost instantly there's a tiny but perceptible -- to Angel, at least -- reaction.

Even in sleep, Wesley's body responds, blood flowing purposefully to a part that, in Angel's experience, often seems to have a mind of its own.

Again, strangely, he's not bothered.

Angel hasn't gotten off on anything but pain in years -- not because he preferred it like that, but because there weren't any other options and he wasn't offered any choice. At least once a week, Xander would come in and force him, sometimes up against the wall -- better, because Angel could use the cuffs on his wrists to create a different kind of pain to focus on even as he was scraped raw against the rough cool cement. Sometimes on his hands and knees -- worse, more humiliating, Xander using the position to hurt him, a fist clenched around Angel's balls, crushing them even as he slammed inside again and again.

Willow was worse. She liked to fuck him with whatever was handy, usually something too big and ideally with sharp edges -- she was always happier if the blood was flowing. Reminded him of Dru that way. She liked to play with holy water too -- either pouring it over his cock while she jammed something up inside him, or sometimes just dousing the object with it before she slid it home.

Sick as it is, thinking about it makes Angel hard. But Willow and Xander and the Master are gone, he reminds himself, and this is Wesley, who won't hurt him. Wesley might be a little detached -- and Angel figures that's a part of the whole being a scientist thing -- but he won't do anything to hurt Angel, not on purpose anyway.

Without him even thinking about it, Angel's hand has crept up in front of his face, fingers barely ghosting over the blanket that covers Wesley's erection. Touching it, even so lightly, causes an answering ache in his own groin, but otherwise he stays totally still.

He closes his eyes because he wants to think about it without any distractions. What it would be like to touch Wesley, gently and slowly, with no intention of causing pain. What it would feel like to have Wesley arch under his hands appreciatively. To hear Wesley make small sounds of pleasure. To taste his warm mouth, to feel Wesley moving underneath him...

Angel whimpers and shifts his position so that his head is resting on the mattress instead of Wesley's thigh, his face pressed into Wesley's side like he's hiding. He feels Wesley stir and keeps his eyes closed, not knowing if Wesley will believe that he's asleep.

After a minute he feels Wesley's hand on his hair, stroking over it gently. "Shh," Wesley says, his voice low and soothing. "Shh, it's all right."

He can't bear to open his eyes or move -- he wants to stay right here and let Wesley touch him like this.

"It's all right," Wesley murmurs again. "You're safe."

Angel's chest feels hollow, empty, but at the same time it hurts. It shouldn't hurt, should it? The hole in his gut is all healed up for the most part, and anyway that's not where the pain is. "Wesley," he says, just to hear it out loud.

"Yes," Wesley confirms. "I'm right here."

He makes himself push up onto one elbow so that he can see. Without his glasses on, Wesley looks different. Softer. He'd forgotten that, even though it hasn't been more than a few hours since last night. "Sorry," Angel says, because he is, if any of this makes Wesley uncomfortable, even though he's not really embarrassed himself. "This wasn't... I didn't know that was going to happen."

"It's fine," Wesley says, rubbing his shoulder.

Angel realizes that Wesley's hardly wearing anything at all -- not something that he'd noted the night before, but now it's suddenly something he can't look away from. The smooth skin of Wesley's chest, the paler scar tissue on his abdomen from a wound that looks several years old at least. He reaches out to touch it and Wesley shivers.

"Sorry," Angel says. "I just... what happened? Bullet?"

"Yes," Wesley says, staying still. "It's all right -- it doesn't hurt."

There are memories of putting marks on people, marks much worse than this one, although maybe that doesn't matter since they usually didn't live very long after he did it, back before he got the soul. And yet that seems really far away, like something that someone else did.

Angel touches the faded scar gently, letting his fingers trace over the slight ridges. "How?"

"It's not important," Wesley says.

Gazing into those blue eyes steadily, Angel says, "It is to me."

Wesley looks flustered, but Angel notes that he's watching where Angel's fingers are touching him. "I didn't get out of the way of a bullet quickly enough. It's... a long story."

If there's anything Angel gets, it's not always wanting to go over the painful details, so he lets it go. He's distracted anyway, distracted by how warm Wesley is, and how Wesley's skin quivers with his heartbeat and breathing, and by the smell of Wesley's arousal, hidden underneath the covers and the thin cotton shorts he's wearing.

"Angel?" Wesley says.

"Yeah?" He's too distracted by the fluttering pulse to look up at Wesley's face.

"Would you like to touch me?"

* * * * *

The question does what Wesley had hoped it would -- startles Angel into looking up at him. "I thought I was?" Angel says, sounding confused.

"Well, yes, but that's not what I meant." Wesley shifts his leg slightly, his thigh pushing against the erection Angel has seemed oblivious to despite the fact that it's been there since he woke up.

A soft groan escapes Angel, his hand coming to rest on Wesley's stomach. "You mean... touch you."

"Yes. If you'd like to." Wesley knows he sounds rather clinical about it -- in truth, he is interested to see Angel's reaction to the suggestion. "Or not. It's entirely up to you."

He can feel Angel start to tremble, which doesn't come as a surprise but certainly isn't the outcome he prefers. "It's not that I don't want to," Angel says after a few moments. "I just..."

"There's no hurry," Wesley soothes. "If you'd like to, then take all the time you need. Or tell me that you're not ready, or that it's not your personal preference." He feels relatively confident that this last isn't the case, but one never knows.

"I want to," Angel says, swallowing heavily. His hand moves, but instead of heading down along Wesley's body it skirts upward, over the scar on his abdomen and his chest, touching him with hesitant, careful fingers. One fingertip circles Wesley's left nipple almost teasingly, then pulls back. Angel looks up at Wesley's face again anxiously.

"That's good," Wesley tells him. "You're doing fine."

"Don't want to hurt you," Angel mutters, glancing down at Wesley's chest again and rubbing the pad of his finger over Wesley's nipple, which makes Wesley's heart start beating just a bit faster.

"I don't think that's an issue," Wesley says, "but if it will make you feel better, I promise to stop you if you're too rough." He can't imagine it being a problem -- he doesn't mind rough, not after nearly two years in Buffy's bed and all that a Slayer's strength included, and it's clear that Angel is going to be strict with his self-control.

Angel rubs over his nipple again and Wesley feels a tiny thrum of pleasure. The vampire's hands are cool against his own skin, of course, and what Wesley suspects is a touch Angel considers gentle feels just right to him. "Yeah," Angel says. "I mean... tell me. If I do anything you don't want."

He pinches Wesley's nipple lightly and Wesley feels his cock, already half-hard, respond by twitching. "I will," he says, a bit faintly.

"Tell me," Angel says again. Then he leans in and licks Wesley's nipple, wetting it and blowing cool air over it, making it tighten.

The vampire touches Wesley with something like reverence -- a deep appreciation for the way the human body responds to physical stimulation, and a man's understanding of the way another man's body works. Long slow brushes of fingertips down across his chest and then lower, making Wesley ache, although he tries to remain as detached from it as possible, wanting to see how Angel reacts without the distraction of his own feelings.

As the minutes pass, he notes that Angel's hands tremble less. The vampire does glance up at Wesley's face frequently as if checking to make sure that he's doing the right thing, but he seems to relax a bit.

Angel's hand slides down inside Wesley's shorts, touching his erection very gently, and Wesley barely manages not to gasp.

Still, Angel freezes. Looks up at him. "Is... is this okay?"

"Yes, of course," Wesley says, regaining some of his control. "Go ahead -- touch me."

Again, Angel surprises him, leaning in and mouthing at his cock through the thin cotton shorts, even as one finger inside traces around the tip. "You're warm," Angel says.

Wesley feels his eyelids flutter briefly as Angel grips his erection in a carefully loose fist, stroking up and down. He's meant to be... he forgets what he's meant to be doing. Oh. "No, wait." He makes sure to say it very gently, as the goal here isn't to upset Angel with words.

Angel stops and pulls his hand back. He doesn't seem to be trembling, just waiting as requested.

"I'd like to touch you now," Wesley says, and right on cue Angel twitches.

Angel's expression is uncertain, possibly fearful.

"I touched you just a few minutes ago, as well as the other night," Wesley points out. "And I didn't hurt you."

"Yeah. I know."

"I won't force you to do anything you don't want to do. That's not what this is about." Wesley watches him, notes the now shaking hands.

"Then what is it about?" Angel asks. It doesn't sound as if he actually thinks Wesley's trying to make him do something against his will -- more that he genuinely wants to know why.

It takes a moment for Wesley to put it into words that don't sound as though he views Angel as a test subject. "It's about breaking down what you've been taught," Wesley says. "Showing you that other people can touch you without there being pain involved."

"I already know that," Angel says ruefully, holding up one hand so that they can both see its tremor. "Now if we could just convince the rest of me..."

"We will," Wesley says. "Would you take off your shirt?"

"Yeah." Angel fumbles with the buttons of the pale blue shirt which is one of several Wesley has found for him.

Wesley thinks, although he hasn't realized it until now, that Angel looks very attractive in it. He watches as Angel struggles to undo the buttons without tearing them off, then reaches out a hand, stopping before he actually touches Angel. "Let me do it?"

Angel draws a shuddering and entirely unnecessary breath -- Wesley adds that his mental list -- and nods, letting his hands drop to his sides.

Wesley moves slowly, starting at the bottom of the shirt because that strangely seems less intimate than having his hands near Angel's face. One button slips free easily, then another. "It's all right," Wesley says softly.

When the shirt is hanging open, Wesley leaves it where it is.

"Shh," he says, seeing Angel's trembling along the vampire's pale chest. "There." And he slides his palm over the fine skin, cool and smooth, trying to note Angel's flinch dispassionately instead of allowing himself to feel anything. "Talk to me."

"What -- what do you want me to say?" Angel's voice is shaky as well.

"Anything. What you're thinking... how this feels..." What Wesley is looking for is reassurance that Angel is still here, still with him emotionally and not getting lost in some past haze of memory.

Angel is shivering, but he sounds sane enough when he speaks despite the fact that Wesley is touching his chest more firmly now. "It's okay. I'm okay." He might be trying to convince himself as much as Wesley.

Wesley runs both hands up to Angel's shoulders and then back down along the same path they've just traveled, pausing to rub his thumbs over Angel's nipples, which makes the vampire whimper just slightly, which in turn makes Wesley smile. "Good. Just try to relax."

There's another whimper when he does it again, the sound causing a reaction in Wesley's own body that he tries to ignore.

"Wesley..." Angel says, closing his eyes for the briefest instant.

"Would you like me to stop?" Wesley asks.

The response is swift and definite. "No." More gently, "No. Don't stop."

He'd like to ask Angel to lie down, but Wesley thinks that would be too much. Instead he rubs over the nipples more firmly, then pinches them, seeing them tighten and flush a pale shade of pink.

Angel shudders and gasps, chokes out his name again. "Wesley."

"Yes, Angel," Wesley says, mostly to keep them both talking. "I'm right here." He drops one hand down into Angel's lap, resting it on the tented front of Angel's cotton trousers, and Angel moans in response.

Shifting restlessly, Angel lets his head tilt back a bit. Wesley can feel the cool damp of the vampire's arousal soaking through the fabric, can feel the aching hardness that mirrors his own as he works to undo the front of Angel's slacks with only one hand.

"Please," Angel whispers, as Wesley manages to get the zipper down and slide his hand inside to grip his straining cock. "God, Wesley..."

Angel is shaking, moaning softly, small sounds that might be pleasure and fear combined while Wesley strokes him.

"It's all right," Wesley says again. "Just let it come."

A whimper. Angel's eyes are shut so tightly that it looks nearly painful, his body tense and trembling, both hands clenched into fists. "Wes--"

Wesley feels it at the base of his thumb first, the warning throb of impending orgasm, but nothing else about the rest of Angel's body changes at all as he comes. There's only a low groan of relief.

When the sticky fluid pulses out over Wesley's hand, it smells faintly of tears.

* * * * *

For a long couple of minutes Angel and Wesley just sit there, Angel shivering as the last of his orgasm rolls through him, Wesley's hand still wrapped around his cock, holding it gently.

It feels... nice. Maybe a little weird, but nice.

After another minute, Wesley carefully opens up his hand and pulls back, resting his forearm on his thigh so that his hand isn't touching anything. "Are you all right?" he asks, in that way he has, his voice so soft and textured.

Angel has to clear his throat before he can answer. "Yeah. That was... good. I mean... thanks." He glances from the covers in front of him up to Wesley's face, quick. "Thanks."

Wesley's smile transforms his face -- his eyes crinkle up, and the little lines around his mouth curl like that's the way they're supposed to be. He opens his mouth to say something, and the phone near the bed rings, making Angel twitch toward the foot of it. He doesn't think he's heard the phone ring once in the time he's been here.

With an apologetic look, Wesley gets up, putting on his glasses as he reaches for the phone. "Hello?"

He isn't facing Angel, but he doesn't need to be for Angel to tell that something's wrong. "What! When?" Wesley's shoulders are tense now, and he wipes his hand on his shorts like he doesn't even realize he's doing it. "All right. I'll be there in fifteen minutes. No! Don't go without me."

Wesley hangs up the phone and moves across the room to pull on some clothes.

"There's a bit of an emergency," he says.

Angel can tell he's trying to say he's sorry for having to leave so abruptly while at the same time he doesn't really care, like in Wesley's head he's already back at that building. "Okay. Is there... well, no, I guess there's nothing I can do." He looks down, refastens the front of his pants and starts to button up his shirt.

Wesley is already dressed and leaving the bedroom, so Angel trails along after him, down the stairs and into the front room. "I'm not quite sure what's happening, but if for some reason I'm not able to get home tonight I'll try to let you know. If you don't want to answer the phone, the machine will pick it up. You'll be able to hear the message."

Finishing tying his boots -- not his regular work shoes, Angel notes -- Wesley straightens up and reaches for the large duffle bag that's behind the chair. Angel already knows what's in it because he looked the second day he was here -- weapons, including stakes, a crossbow, and some throwing knives that he might not mind messing around with himself.

Wesley glances at him, and their eyes meet. "Will you be all right?"

Angel feels his lips twitch. "Yeah." He sticks his hands into his pockets, hunching his shoulders and remembering that a few minutes ago Wesley's hand was inside his pants.

Weird how stuff like that works out.

For a second Wesley opens his mouth like he's going to say something, then he shuts it and shakes his head. "Take care," he says finally, then he turns and leaves, closing the door behind him.

Angel doesn't see him again for almost three days.


Continued in Part 2