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Disclaimer: The following is a non-profit, amateur effort not intended to infringe of the rights of Joss Whedon, the WB, Mutant Enemy or any other copyright holders of Angel.

Strategy
by The Brat Queen

Summary: An unbetaed, s4 AU story that was originally written in posts in my LiveJournal. A few people asked for a single location for the entire thing, so here it is.

[Author's Note as of Jan 2004, thanks to Lucifrix for a beta-update on a few spelling and grammar errors!]


Strategy

This is all, all, ALL WesleysGirl's fault for writing her STUPID (read: far too evocative) slashfic which planted these DUMB ideas in my head and wouldn't go away.

Also possibly some sort of blame/shout-out/homage of some kind should be given to Anna S because I'd probably be lying if I said Noir and Subtleties hadn't added a few influences to the format.

But mostly I blame WG.

*Sigh*.

Okay, so Abandon all hope ye who enter here because Here There Be Hyppogryffs. Also stupid, cliché-ridden dribblefic - so called because calling it a drabble is an insult to drabbles everywhere - wherein TBQ wantonly indulges some of her now no longer hidden fic and character kinks while ignoring sensible plot and characterization all in the name of doing angsty Angel/Wes er, angst. Also there's Connor. And this is WG's fault. You can't say you weren't warned. Oh yeah - spoilers including s4, such as they are.

Strategy
by TBQ

Just so we're clear on where the blame lies, it's most especially WG's fault for writing the following lines:

You think I haven't seen the way that you look at him?

And now I'm going to take you, before he ever has the chance.

It's not like being with a woman. The natural... lubricants... aren't there

You're wrong if you think this will hurt him.

And so TBQ begins her insanity...


It's a world with Jasmine still in it. But it's not like any other world where the heroes manage to find the clues and crack the code and save the day in the span of a few days. No, in this world it's much, much harder.

Fred breaks the spell, yes. Then fires the shot through Angel, then the two of them together collect Cordelia's blood and save Wesley, Gunn and Lorne in turn.

They try to save Connor, as other versions of them try to save Connor. They fail, as all versions of them fail.

They escape.

And this is where it gets worse.

They run to the sewers, yes. They find the gang of children, yes. But in this world, as with many dimensions, there's a key difference.

Angel doesn't let Wesley out of his sight.

So Wesley is never snatched away. He isn't found by the oh so inadvertently helpful demon. Instead Angel tracks the demon down before it attacks and, as Angel is often wont to do, he kills first and asks questions later.

This naturally creates something of a problem. Though none of them are aware of it.

Connor brings the National Guard after them. With the kids still undamaged and no clues to guide them, Angel takes charge and leads them deeper into the sewers. Down past any point that any human could know of, and for the first time in a long time both Angel and Lorne are happy that Jasmine had them eradicate most of the demons in the area - there's less competition now for the living space, such as it is.

They form a bunker. They start planning a war.

Almost without thought Angel and Wesley form the command team. They work in unison, issuing orders and formulating plans like a well-rehearsed duet they've been moving towards all their lives. Lorne and the children collect scraps to turn their hovel into a home. Fred and Gunn are the only ones trusted to scout outside for food.

Angel and Wes bear the burden of trying to fix it.

They fight one night, their voices loud enough to echo through the metal that surrounds them, filtering their way into the cramped rooms of the kids - now with one or two new members - like two parents on the brink of divorce, both of them arguing over the most minor of details - map placement, in fact - when in truth it's the screaming they've both longed to do in order to release their frustration at the parts they've played in it all.

The yelling reaches a fever-pitch, stops, and then there's nothing but silence.

None of the kids guess what happens that night. Fred is puzzled by it. Gunn suspects, and Lorne keeps his comments to himself.

Later, much later, when only Angel and their watches can tell that it's morning, he and Wesley look into each other's eyes.

"I'm not sorry," Wesley says, his voice rough as though his throat had only just been slit.

"I'm not either," Angel replies.

They kiss, and this time the fucking is somewhat more tender.

When they dress, knowing that an appearance is needed to keep up the morale of the troops, they again speak in quiet tones.

Angel: "This can't...."

Wes, eyes as stoic as they've been for over a year now: "Be anything more than this. I know."

They both accept this, knowing that even talking about the alternatives brings more pain than it needs to.

They keep going. Wes moves into Angel's room. There is no announcement about it, it just happens. They act no differently in front of the others, yet there is a feeling in the air that even the children can clue in to. Somehow they all know that there's something going on that is best left unmentioned.

Gunn makes the mistake of trying to talk about it once. During a patrol of their turf he forays a casual comment in Wesley's direction. The temperature drop is so sudden Gunn swears to himself he can see his breath in the air. He doesn't make the mistake again. He and Wes exchange no other words for the rest of the night.

New recruits arrive. Not entirely on purpose. Mostly they are found by the others, stumbling their way into Los Angeles somehow unaffected by Jasmine's thrall. They are kidnapped, brought downstairs, and forced into the fold.

Wesley doesn't trust them. Angel doesn't see much alternative. Well, he admits to Wes one night, they could *kill* them, but....

There's a long moment before either man suggests a counter-argument. Wesley is the one who finally offers "It's a waste of possible resources." and they stick with that.

Jasmine's influence spreads. Angel becomes deadly quiet one night - literally - when he discovers that people from Sunnydale are above. He disappears for hours. When he returns he goes directly to his room and speaks to no one.

Wesley is the only one brave - or stupid - enough to go to him. He locks the door, approaches the vampire silently, and forces him down onto the bed. The sex is rough, desperate, and in the end Angel can't maintain an erection long enough to seal the deal, but it's enough to take the edge off.

By this time almost everyone understands what goes on between the two of them. Nobody, not even their three supposedly closest friends, ever dares say what they all think, but they're grateful and ironically prayerful that the diamond-hard insanity that Angel and Wes are both trapped in seems, for now, to be kept somewhat at bay by whatever it is the two of them are calling a relationship. Though none of them are certain which one of the two is the more foolhardy for offering such a thing to the other.

The war continues.

Their tiny ranks swell. They're all of twenty strong now. As a detective agency this would have been something to be proud of. As a general Wesley finds it a bitter pill. He wastes day after night trying to research, pouring over every piece of paper he can get his hands on, convinced, though he does not admit it, that it's his fault for not solving this puzzle.

Angel stops him after a week. This time it's his turn to haul the other man away from his obsession and take him until some of the barriers fall. When they collapse, exhausted and covered in sweat, Angel speaks words more gentle than have ever been shared between them:

"I can't lose you too."

Wesley closes his eyes, accepts this, and it passes for both a promise and an apology.


Things turn after about three months.

Word gets through to them about Jasmine leaving town. They're not sure why, but Fred takes a small measure of credit for hacking as many TV stations, radiowaves and websites as she can get her hands on during the few hours they dare to let her outside each week to see how much havoc she can create with naught but a few guards and a laptop with a wireless connection. The guess is that the would-be goddess must now extend her influence somewhat more personally.

It isn't good news for the world, as such, but it's somewhat hopeful news for Los Angeles. None of them are certain, but it's possible a break or two can be made in the front lines if the enemy doesn't have Jasmine's undivided protection.

Wesley worries the potential of this like a bit between his teeth. Angel says nothing on the subject.

Wesley understands the vampire's silence when the second rumor comes through:

Connor's in charge.

It's no surprise, this. But now the battle changes shape. Jasmine was content to enjoy the patience of millennia. She didn't lack a desire to make examples of them all, but after a while it was fairly obvious that she was content to let time itself do the damage if need be. Their dead bodies - and Angel's lonely unalive one - would be found eventually.

But Connor lacks this patience.

Attacks occur. Licks of pain hit along what passes for their safe zones. Connor, a teenager to the very end, pushes his father's boundaries, trying to force a response.

They lose some members to Jasmine's influence. They retreat to a new location. Connor keeps trying to ferret them out.

It is Wesley's idea to lay their hands upon prisoners. To drag them off into tunnels that matter to no one in particular and to do whatever it is that needs to be done to find out what's going on. Of course only the truly cured members of the team are allowed to make such attempts, and it is in various groupings of the five of them that they stage these assaults.

Fred and Gunn batter and shout information out of people. Lorne naturally gets it with a song (and it is Fred who clues him in to the trick of starting to hum "shave and a haircut" in order to get the two notes back that he needs to find information). Angel and Wesley don't say anything at all about the methods they use and everyone is happier for it, though Fred in particular can't entirely hide the look of disgust on her face when they return with more intelligence than any of them.

Still they go on, trying to find out Connor's weaknesses, because they have no alternative. So far the only cure that they know of is Cordelia's blood and without her they see no chance of winning.

This persists, until Wesley is given a rare opportunity.


He's with Fred and Gunn that day. It's a foray that brings them topside. They're not trying to find information this time. Instead it's merely a trip for supplies. Food. A little medicine. Fresh water that week comes courtesy of a pipe that Angel has tapped into, and it's a luxury they savor because they know at any minute it could be back to rationed sips.

The location - a high school Gunn's second cousin had once gone to - was supposed to be abandoned.

The armed guards prove this otherwise.

They're pushed and shoved into an auditorium, their hands bound behind their backs. In a moment of clearly planned drama Connor steps forth. Wesley tries not to start at the sight of him - darker, leaner, meaner.

The resemblance to his father has never been more uncanny.

Connor postures and makes speeches. He shows off for his men, hitting Gunn and feinting at Fred.

He comes to Wesley and he stops.

Wesley looks back at him unflinchingly. He's been around vampires long enough now. He knows that slight flaring of the nostrils. The one that says they recognize a scent.

The only question is what Connor will do with the information.

The boy's face turns mocking. "You think I didn't know? You think I didn't see the way you looked at him?"

Wesley torments him by not responding.

"He's not going to love you back, you know," Connor tells him. Then he recklessly reveals his entire hand as he continues. "Did you think he'd *try*? He'll never do it. He'll touch you but he'll never fu - "

"Let's continue this conversation in private," Wesley says, meeting the younger man's eyes.

Connor hauls Wesley through some metal doors into what Wesley can only guess is a dressing room area. Wesley keeps his eye on the boy, analyzing every movement, gesture, action, knowing that what he's been presented with is possibly the greatest translation challenge of his life since the *last* one Connor presented him with.

Wesley dares to rest some weight on his assumption that Connor has his father's skills but not experience. He can recognize Angel's scent well enough to know that he and Angel have been close, not well enough to fully guess that the relationship has been consummated.

"Looks like I beat you," Connor says.

"So you have," Wesley agrees, knowing that right now it's best to seem compliant.

"I'll get him too you know."

Wesley can't resist saying: "That's one theory."

Wesley is struck for this insubordination. His ears ring, and he's reminded that the child in front of him is no mere child. It would be far too easy for Connor to kill him without even realizing he'd made the attempt. The man in him chafes at this inequality, but he forces it down.

Connor is back to posturing. "How much do you think he wants you?"

"That question is best asked of him, I'd imagine," Wesley observes mildly.

Connor is in his face. "Enough to hate it if I got you first?"

Wesley is momentarily stunned. Somehow, deep down, he'd always wagered that a father like Holtz would have beaten any such desires out of Connor's body long before this could ever be an issue.

Yet here they were. And if Wesley's quick translations were anything to trust, the question had been wholly genuine.

It takes only a second for Wesley to know what he has to do.

He relaxes his body by a hair - shaping it in only the mere *suggestion* of submission.

"Probably."

Connor grabs him, his fingertips bruising, and claims him with a kiss that's far too clumsy to evoke true terror.

Wesley gives in to it anyway.

The touch keeps going. Far too quickly - and Wesley blames teenage hormones, here - Connor's erection presses against him. Wesley's clothes are fumbled and torn away, his cock more manhandled than molested, and then he's pressed face-first against the wall as Connor begins courting a nasty friction burn between his legs.

"It needs lubrication," Wesley tells him.

"I know that," Connor says, defensively, but the coltish look in his eyes reveals that, in truth, the boy's not entirely certain what the word in this context even *means*.

Wesley shoves his emotions down further. He submits himself not to Connor but to the plan which has formulated in his mind. He turns around, kneels, and takes the boy into his mouth.

It's over far too fast. Come chokes Wesley's throat before he can pull back and let Connor rape him properly. He swallows, though, knowing that this will only improve his chances later. When he looks up he sees emotions flicker through Connor's eyes that once again show his every vulnerability.

Wesley's not unaware that in this moment - and in the ones that he is now creating for himself - he is probably far too much like Cordelia.

Although he dares to suppose, given Connor's shuttered expression, that Cordelia, at least, had not approached Connor from *here*.

A first for them all then.

Connor finds his bluster again, shoving Wesley's shoulders back against the wall. "I could take you, you know!"

"I'm sure you could."

"I could do it right now!"

Teenage hormones, Wesley once again thinks. "I know."

Connor stands back, confused by this deference.

Wesley takes the initiative. "I want a deal."

"I don't - "

"You can have me," Wesley says. He deliberately - though he gives no outward sign of this calculation - touches his tongue to his lips. "Claim me before Angel does."

Connor eyes him suspiciously, but the fact that he listens is all the leeway Wesley needs.

"I could be yours," Wesley tells him. "Yours alone. Even Cordelia couldn't give you that. She was only there for Jasmine. I could be there for you."

Connor raises a hand to strike but then forgets it. "You're lying."

"Do I look as though I am?"

"Why would you do this?"

It's a question Wesley expected. "You have my friends."

Again Connor listens.

"Let them go," Wesley says, "and I will go with you. Willingly."

A young mouth curls in a sneer. "Why should I trust you?"

"Because I keep my promises," Wesley tells him. "Even when they are not to my benefit." And now Wesley takes his greatest chance, plunging the conversation into territory which to him is totally uncharted. "That's why I took you from him in the first place."

The silence is long. Wesley's muscles tense, ready and accepting of the death blow that will come.

None lands, and Connor merely nods. "Fine."

"Untie my hands then."

"Do you think I'm *stupid*?"

"On the contrary," Wesley tells him. "I think you are wise. Which is why you know that if you wish Fred and Gunn to leave here willingly that they will need to see that I am not your captive. Let me stand before them a free man and tell them this is my choice."

"This sounds like a trap."

"If I'm lying you can kill me. Either way Angel will be hurt."

It's the final point that does it. Connor cuts the rope around his wrists. Wesley takes a moment to fix his clothes as best as he's able. When he's done he looks disheveled, but in no way that would suggest anything other than a fight.

They go back out to the others.

"I'm going with him," Wesley tells them. "I'm rejoining their ranks."

Fred jerks in her captivity, shaking her head. "Wesley - "

He ignores her and meets Gunn's eyes. "Tell Angel he is not to look for me. I've made my choice. *I know what I am doing.*"

Gunn shapes his face in contempt, but Wesley knows his true message was heard. "Fuck you then, man. You gonna kill us too?"

"No, we'll let you die like animals," Wesley says, and with that Connor takes him from the room. It's a long walk, but eventually they return to the Hyperion.

Connor puts Wesley into his suite.

It's weeks before he finds out if Connor kept his part of the bargain.


PART TWO

When he arrives at the Hyperion things move too quickly for him to process. Connor marches him past the crowds in the halls and thrusts him into the suite that will become their home so roughly that Wesley reaches out a hand to catch his balance.

He's not allowed this comfort for long.

Connor, in an emotional reflex that reminds Wesley all too well of his public school days, is now biting and cruel. He makes what for him are pointed comments - "Bet *you* liked that. Bet you wished it was him. Bet you wish it was him *right now*." - and, yes, the last two at least are true but it's the first that Wesley knows to focus on.

Boys at this age often hate the questions their bodies ask them.

It isn't the first time Wesley has been the weaker male in this situation, and though it's a humiliation he can't deny at the same time he basks in his experience. He remains silent, letting Connor rant as he needs, then allows himself to be grabbed and shoved into a chair. More rope is found and it is only until Connor is done that Wesley speaks, his voice easygoing and matter of fact. "It's too tight."

"You're a *prisoner*," Connor says, his tone adding a roll of his eyes.

"Yes," Wesley agrees, "but you've tied me up wrong."

"I know how to do knots!"

"I can see that, you're quite skilled," Wesley flatters him - and it is true enough, Connor had apparently earned more than a few merit badges over in Quor-toth. "But is your goal to imprison me or to torture me?"

Connor pauses. It's more thought than he's attempted to give the situation.

"If your intent is to torture me, then well done," Wesley continues, keeping the conversational ball in his corner. "But if your hope is to *imprison* me, well..."

Connor's chin tilts up defiantly. "What?"

"I'd rather like to keep my hands."

There's hesitation, quick suspicion that it's yet another trap. Wesley doesn't look away, however, and his manner is so peaceful that Connor comes forward with the jerky trust of a wild bird being offered a handful of food. The ropes are undone. Wesley doesn't move his hands from the spot they were placed in. Instead he gives a helpful suggestion of how to keep himself bound without restricting necessary bloodflow, Connor complies with it, and Wesley is tied up again once more.

"There we are," Wesley says, trying out a light smile. "Much better."

"Sure," Connor says. Not knowing what else to make of this, he leaves.


It's not the first time Wesley's been forced into solitude, and he's confident it won't be the last. In fact the whole thing settles around him like a familiar blanket and he finds himself thinking *Ah yes, this again.*

His first days pass almost entirely alone. Connor is his only company, and the boy restricts their contact only to the necessities, eye contact not yet something he's capable of handling.

Wesley waits this out. He's been imprisoned by far worse than a vampire's child. He knows how to keep from falling into despair, how to make sure his mind is still active.

He doesn't press things. He allows this strangeness to become commonplace before attempting conversations to bring about changes.

"How shall we handle my hourly walk?" he asks Connor one day, as though this was something Connor himself had been bound to bring up eventually.

"What?" Connor asks.

"My hourly walk," Wesley tells him. "Or, rather, every fifty minutes when I need ten minutes to move my limbs, to keep them from becoming permanently damaged."

Dark brows knit together with a lack of comprehension. "Wha - "

"You know," Wesley says, as though he had every confidence that this is a mere slip of memory brought about by Connor's busy schedule. "As required by the Geneva Convention? It's standard practice for keeping prisoners."

It's bollocks on top of half-truths, but Connor is far too much his father's son to admit he's caught off-guard by it. "Oh yeah," he says. Then, as though remembering, he comes forward to undo Wesley's bonds.

Wesley stands, stretches a bit, then walks a simple and easy pace about the room. He comments with casual positiveness on some of Connor's possessions, then sits back down before he's told.

"There we are then."

"Right," Connor says. He redoes the ropes, and Wesley notes the care the boy takes to make sure they're loose enough for safety's sake. "So... see you in fifty minutes?"

"I'll look forward to it," Wesley tells him.

This then sets the tone. The reality of a prisoner - or pet, Wesley muses, depending upon one's point of view - is more than Connor's black and white world can handle. He knows he wants one, but he has no idea what to do about it. Wesley, then, is more than happy to offer himself as Connor's teacher.

Years ago, when Wesley wasn't much older than Connor's age, he went on an extended holiday that skirted along southern Europe, then dipped down for a few months through some of the more intriguing, but by no means safe, points of interest in Africa.

Before going, Wesley's uncle had pulled him aside and offered one piece of advice:

Be British.

Wesley had protested. He'd studied, he knew the languages, surely if problems arose he could met everyone halfway and show his ability to compromise?

Yes, his uncle had agreed. And thus he'd lose out each and every single time.

You don't want to *compromise* in times of danger, you want to *win*. Speak the language of the natives and you've already admitted that *you* must change to suit *them*. Force them to speak *your* language, on the other hand....

It's arrogance, but it's also true.

Around Connor, Wesley is British.

He becomes proper, formal, rigid in the requirements of what is necessary for their new life. He shapes all of this in deference and gentle reminders, but the end result remains the same - there is a way to do these things, and it is up to Connor to conform to the standards that only Wesley is aware of.

It goes surprisingly well. The bonds aren't removed yet but the hourly exercise becomes commonplace, he no longer has to use mental tricks to stave off the need to use the restroom, and after a week and a half Connor even begins to bring him tea.

It's not *proper* tea, certainly, but still. The boy is trainable.

Wesley allows himself no confidence in this, however. He knows he is merely carving out the tiniest of spots inside of a cage that is all his own. He can encourage, but he's not lord and master here. That role belongs to Connor, and it isn't long before he remembers it.

Homosexual panic gradually fades when Wesley never brings up the incident that started all of this and, Wesley assumes, no one else in the mind controlled world even knows that it happened. The sparks of dangerous fear that crackled off of Connor's body soon fade and it's not long before his hands start to linger long past the moment when the bonds are secure.

Wesley steels himself for the inevitable.

It starts one day while Wesley is still bound. Connor moves to untie him, then looks at him appraisingly. "I could make you do it again, you know."

"Of course," Wesley says. He reminds himself once more that this is all for the greater good of his plan.

It's a comedy of errors before Connor realizes the action is impossible while Wesley is tied as he is - at least, not without a bit of balance and gymnastics on Connor's part. Ropes are undone and Wesley goes to his knees before Connor can ask him.

He's not quite ready to cope with the *request* for this, just yet. He clings to the infinitesimal comfort that, for now, the blow job was his own idea.

Connor lasts longer than the first time, but in this case it means four licks instead of two. Wesley coughs only a little, and uses the remainder of his strength to fight the urge to wipe a stray drop from his cheek.

Connor smiles, satisfied, and Wesley knows they're never going to go back to a time when physical distance was kept between them.


This becomes part of the routine then. One blowjob after dinner becomes two in the afternoon becomes Connor demanding this whenever the evil *brat* damn well pleases, because he's got the power dynamics now, oh yes, and like any male he's thrilled to know he can tell *anyone* to get his rocks off at the snap of his bloody fingers.

Wesley swallows it all, literally, because he knows the longer he can keep the boy interested in fellatio means the longer they have until Connor remembers there are other parts of Wesley he could be fucking.

There are unasked for benefits, however. One day the ropes are undone and when Wesley returns to his chair Connor simply looks at him, then says nothing. The ropes are put away and Wesley finds he can now spend his free time walking about the room, and even reading. The random collection of books suggests that they aren't Connor's favorites so much as a bunch cobbled together because Connor felt that books were somehow necessary. Wesley even tries to discuss some of them with him once and he's met with a blank stare. He doesn't bother trying again.

Another benefit is information, though Wesley cannot tell if it is a purposeful gift or only an error. Either way, one morning Connor makes a snide comment about Fred and Gunn and it's the only way Wesley knows that they are safe - or as safe as they can be - and that Connor did, in fact, let them go.

A half hour later Wesley actually puts a bit of effort into the blowjob, partially out of thanks, partially because he knows you always give a reward when you want to encourage the right sort of behavior.


Wesley makes no attempts at escape beyond testing that, yes, the doors and windows are locked. It's fine by him. As determined as he is to follow through on all of this, he's not certain what the temptation of a way out would to do him. He's happier with his confinement. Content. It removes some of the responsibility.

Connor, for his part, actually grows in the role of caregiver. He brings clothing, and food. There's a certain pride in his voice when he places a new dish in front of Wesley, and it takes Wesley a while to realize it's not the pride of the hunt, such as it is, as it is pride in the *attempt*. Connor's trying to learn, to discover what Wesley likes.

It's a fact Wesley doesn't care to think about too much.

Things become flipped as now Connor is the one who attempts to hand out rewards, though for *what* Wesley doesn't want to become certain. Upon discovering Wesley's favorite tea he manages to produce boxes of it. Wesley's favorite drink results in cases of alcohol that, though he sips politely for show, Wesley silently refuses to ever become drunk on. When all the books have been read through twice new ones appear, their subjects rotating until Connor discovers Wesley's preferences for science fiction and history. Shirts and pants appear in styles not unlike the ones Wesley wore back before all of this started, before....

They don't talk about Jasmine.

Their situation is strange enough that this elephant in the corner is not unusual in and of itself, and it's some time before Wesley even realizes that they've managed to avoid it.

He realizes it the day Connor rewards him by unlocking the door.

It's after breakfast - long enough after that the blowjob is long past and Wesley is curled up on the couch, lost in the writings of Winston Churchill. Connor puts together the dishes as he always does then, with a smile in Wesley's direction, walks out of their suite and leaves the door ajar behind him.

Wesley stares at this, waiting for the trap to snap before he can set his foot in it. When no such thing is forthcoming, he stands.

There are people. Enough that for a moment he even feels agoraphobic, but the moment quickly passes as he is assaulted by new sensations. Sight. Sound. Smell.

*Memory*.

He hadn't thought of it. He hadn't thought of it at *all* for months upon months. But now, surrounded by it, he's unable to escape.

He's unable to forget that before Connor, before this, there was an even greater trauma.

A tight sound passes his lips. He clings to the doorframe. Random people come by, none of whom he recognizes, but all with the same demeanor and expression.

All with the same *love*.

And oh *damned* god he wants it.

His body aches for it and he knows that no drug, no blood lust, no addiction could be so true or so keen. His mind, torn from the spell but not bereft of the memories, floods him. He remembers what it was like. He remembers being out there, with them, filled with such bliss. To be standing *right there* at the podium and leading them all in action and prayer, and then to *lose* it, to have that salvation *torn* from his body like a limb, like his *heart*, to -

"Wesley?" Connor appears, and it's not until then that Wesley realizes that he'd come forward, right up to the railing, and had started leaning out enough that the littlest shift, the tiniest motion would pitch him straight over, towards that podium, towards the hard floor three stories below.

"*Wes*?" Connor says, tugging on his shoulder now.

Wesley turns, races back into the suite, slams open the door to the bathroom and doesn't make it to the toilet before vomiting overtakes him. Bile hits the floor, splashes his shoes, drips from his clothing and he doesn't care. He cracks his knees on the tile and keeps heaving, each gag bringing another level of misery past his lips - Jasmine, loss, Connor, the sex and... yes, quietly, the memory of Angel.

His humanity grips him, and Wesley can't recall ever being so disgusted with himself. He wants it to end. All of it, right then. He wants *peace*.

He gets none, but after a while of nothing but painful hiccups, there is a hand on his back and an offered glass of water.

"Here," Connor tells him. "You probably hurt your throat."

Wesley laughs, or perhaps sobs, and takes the drink.

Horribly gentle fingers touch Wesley's forehead. He's pronounced feverish and Wesley can't even form the strength to deny it.

Connor cleans him up, surprisingly unbothered by the grunt work of dealing with another man's vomit. Wesley allows himself to be stripped, wiped down with a cool washcloth, and then lead back into the bedroom.

For the first time ever, Connor places him in the bed.

"Get some rest," Connor tells him. Wesley is near enough to passing out that he doesn't argue, or linger much over the thought that he's now naked.

"Don't ever go outside without me," Connor adds, and Wesley finds himself in wholehearted agreement with that.


PART THREE

It's however many days later when Wesley wakes up. Connor is there, behind him and the expression that suggests itself is "spooning" but Wesley flat-out refuses to use it.

Upon seeing that Wesley is awake, Connor is all too happy to get up, skitter into the kitchen, return with coffee and toast.

Wesley slaps the dishes onto the floor. They refuse to break, much to his annoyance, but the coffee makes a nice spill.

Connor is taken aback. He assays a suggestion about Wesley not being well enough yet but Wesley nips *that* idea in the bud when he launches himself up, managing to get two good hits in before the demon child grabs him by the wrist and slams him down right next to the puddle on the floor.

Connor's mad. Wesley doesn't care. The plan - the stupid, bloody *plan* - means nothing to him. The whole place is a prison and Wesley's claustrophobia is rearing its ugly head. He wants out, he wants *gone* and since words to express these desires are meaningless he does it instead with actions.

He holds his own in the tussle, but ultimately Connor's not the one left wondering if bones will need to knit.

This is it then. The true test. He got himself *into* this mess, it's his job to get out of it.

He sits still, back against the wall, as Connor rages and breaks things. The temper tantrum is all too familiar, but in their four year history together Angel never ended one of his by forcing himself upon a foolhardy ex-Watcher.

Granted, Angel would have never needed force in that matter.

Connor does, though, and it's a comfort to know that no charade of compliance is needed here since even Angel's son wouldn't be stupid enough to believe it. Wesley instead settles on passivity, tumbling into whatever position Connor puts him into and offering no encouragement, but at the same time no fight.

Wesley is already naked. Connor does the mere courtesy of undoing his pants. Small hands crush themselves on Wesley's shoulders as the far too human sounding child attempts to match his heritage by snarling "You're *mine*. I had you *first*!"

It's all so ludicrous and immature that Wesley almost wants to laugh at it. Only awareness of how quickly those hands could snap his neck keeps him from doing so.

Somewhere between the declarations, the half-remembered need for lube (taken care of by Connor's spit) and the actual penetration Wesley rediscovers his Zen-like peace with it all.

He's been shot, tortured, left for dead. What's *left* really?

He takes it, then. Closing his eyes and thinking only of a vampire - the same vampire that got him through each and every other true crisis of his life, even though Angel's probably unaware of it.

He imagines it's Angel's touch, Angel's hands, Angel's dick.

His imagination isn't that strong, but it's enough to get him through it.

Connor finishes, looks far too self-satisfied, and Wesley knows they've found yet another thing he'll never be able to protect himself from.


The sex doesn't come free, however. Wesley lets Connor have his fun then starts in on him the very next day.

"Where's Jasmine? What is she doing? Where did she take Cordelia?"

They verbally fence with this - much as Connor is able to verbally do anything - but Wesley eventually manages to tease out some of the truth. Jasmine is elsewhere, quite possibly in China. She's extending her influence of mind control. Cordelia, the only subject which manages to get Connor feeling defensive for a change, is in parts unknown.

Wesley doesn't like having to add these facts up to the conclusion that Jasmine probably left not only to gain more followers but to take Cordelia away as well. The smart move would be another continent - for that matter to place her on top of the highest mountain. But Wesley doesn't know how alive Cordelia really is so it's possible she must still be kept somewhere that humans can survive in.

Even so, tracking her has now become more problematic.

Fortunately Jasmine had *two* parents to choose from. With one gone, Wesley focuses all of his attention on the other.

Frog in slowly boiling water that he is, Wesley moves past the violation that Connor's sex life has now become. He puts the reality of it on a shelf in the back of his brain and then leaves it there undusted. He resumes his habit of Being British, and Connor happily resumes *his* habit of treating him in a manner not unlike a pampered pet.

What this says about the boy's desires towards bestiality Wesley doesn't care to think on.

But it's progress, of its own sort, and it's the kind that lends itself towards usefulness. They have conversations over meals now, and Connor stupidly reveals too much about the things that occupy his time outside of their home - how the Hyperion commune works, where all the supplies are located, how the troops train to help deal with "traitors" like Angel and Fred.

In truth it's not *entirely* stupid on Connor's part. Wesley has no communication with the outside - or underground - world. He has the knowledge but can do nothing about it. It's his own personal Hell.

Wesley's own status as a heretic becomes something of a curiosity. Connor never mentions it, and based on the non-reaction of the people in the hall Wesley can only conclude that either they don't know or they don't care. He asks Connor about it and finds out that no, everyone knows his face and his crime, but he's with Connor now and that's all that matters. After all - and here Connor puffs himself up - he *is* Jasmine's father.

Wesley wonders what Jasmine herself thinks about this, but doesn't pursue that avenue of conversation. He doesn't like talking about her much, and can't help but feel that saying her name will invoke her - even if only inside of the mind and body of one of the people in the hotel.


The goddess herself proves to be Wesley's only true weakness. The ache that he feels when he sees the other zealots is far too unbearable. He hides out in their rooms and never once takes advantage of the door that is open to him. He savagely mocks himself for this, but at the same time cannot change the behavior. It's too much. He wants that bliss again as much as it terrifies him.

A crisis over this elicits an unwelcome moment of tenderness from Connor.

In an effort to either spoil Wesley or to show off, Connor gets servants sent in. He doesn't warn Wesley about this. Instead Wesley finds out when a man and two women come in, all of them near floating with identical attitudes of peacefulness. Without a word they move about the room, tidying, cleaning, making themselves useful.

Wesley bellows a command for Connor to get himself up there *right now*.

Connor appears, smiling, starting to ask if Wesley likes the new treat.

Wesley rapidly disabuses him of this notion. His voice is quiet, deadly, the kind which will brook *no* arguments because arguments with Wesley when he is in *this* state of mind end up with little boys being sent directly to *Hell* dimensions, thank you *very* much.

Connor is hurt. A puppy kicked in the chest. "But I thought - "

"I cannot *abide* them, Connor," Wesley says. He stabs his finger towards the door. "I cannot see them, I cannot speak to them and I *will not do this*. Get rid of them."

Confused, Connor shoos them away. He closes the door. Any argument or physical punishment that he might have offered in response to this drains away from his face when he looks back at Wesley.

Wesley, having come far too close to this torment, can no longer stand. He sinks onto the couch. He stares at nothing, his hands tremble.

Connor draws close. His head cocks quizzically. "Is it - is it that bad?"

"You have no idea," Wesley says, incapable of lying about it.

Conner perches himself on the coffee table. "I don't know what it was like," he says, an apology.

"I know."

The silence lingers between them. Connor shifts, clearly feeling that action is warranted. "Do you want it back?"

Wesley winces, then leaves his eyes closed.

"Maybe..." Connor's voice is uncertain, "I could ask? If you.... She's a goddess, there's got to be some way that - "

"*No!*" Wesley's mind recoils from what Connor offers him. The denial is guttural, dragged from the last vestiges of strength his soul has to give him.

"Wesley, if it's what you *want*...."

He forces himself to open his eyes. To sit up. To look at Connor man to man. "Never offer this to me. Never *give* this to me. What you give me is - is slavery. Misery. Hell, only I'll be too stupid to be aware of it."

"But you miss it," Connor says, trying to understand.

"We miss many things in life," Wesley tells him. "That doesn't mean we should have them."

Connor absorbs this. There's vulnerability. Wesley knows that if their situation was what Connor believed it to be, this would be a moment for them to bond, to draw closer together.

He makes that true for Connor, though for his own part it's only another manipulation. Pushing Connor's pawn into the right square, so that later Wesley can take his queen.

"Protect me from this, Connor," he says, pressing his hand to Connor's knee. He makes his voice soft, pleading. "Please. I - I need you to do this for me."

Connor's face lights with a smile. Wesley fakes his way through a kiss.

"I will," Connor promises. "I'll take good care of you."

Wesley allows himself to be fucked once again.


The time comes when Wesley knows he can't act on his own any longer.

"I need help," he tells Connor.

Connor slaps his hands together, nearly bouncing on his feet with extra energy - a natural byproduct, Wesley has found, to the times when the sex has been just rough enough to convince Connor of his true prowess.

Wesley suggested the act himself, and now does what he can to avoid putting weight on the leg that now has a slight limp.

"What can I do?" Connor asks, brimming with helpfulness.

"Not you," Wesley says, then smiles and instantly amends it. "Well, *yes*, you, but not exactly."

Confusion. "What?"

"I need help."

"I - "

"*Someone*," Wesley clarifies. Then, sliding into blatant manipulation, he continues. "You were right. A servant of some sort *is* a good idea."

Connor nods. "I thought so."

"To that end I was wrong," Wesley says. He nudges the conversation along slowly. He hasn't yet discovered how much he can lie to the boy without being discovered. "After all, you *are* terribly busy - "

"I can take care of you!"

"Of course you can," Wesley raises his hands in placating agreement. "I only meant - " and here he hates mixing the truth in amongst all this " - considering how I feel about going outside. About... being with everyone."

Connor regards him with a look that's both territorial and sympathetic. Wesley forces himself to accept it and look grateful.

"When you're here obviously all is well," Wesley says. "But when you're gone - well what if something were to happen? What if I needed you? How could we make contact?"

A vague gesture towards the door. "You could ask - "

"One of *them*," Wesley says, pointedly.

Connor frowns, now aware of the puzzle.

"I need someone I can trust," Wesley says. He now uses his 'I know you would have thought of this first' voice. It's the same one that taught Connor to keep lube in the nightstand. (Wesley thought about pushing his luck for condoms, but dared to trust that a Cordelia who had been infected with Jasmine had been clean of anything else and therefore saved his strength for more pressing arguments, such as the one they were currently having.) "Someone who won't hurt me by being what they are."

"Who?" Connor asks.

Now for the real challenge. Wesley takes a breath. "I need one of my friends."

The request hangs there between them. Their eyes lock.

Wesley tips the scales by shifting his weight, exposing the hand-shaped bruise around his throat.

Connor comes close to giving a nod. "Who?" he asks, and now it's the precursor to their agreement.

Wesley, who spent all of the night before thinking about it in lieu of sleep, gives the name.

Connor accepts.


PART FOUR

It's a bit of chaos in the hallway that alerts Wesley to the arrival of his request. He puts his book away, smoothes his shirt, tries to present a good appearance.

Members of the new world's warrior class - in his mind Wesley calls them goons - stomp in, shove someone forward. Connor's there too, a tinfoil hat general, looking satisfied.

Lorne blinks, utterly confused by this.

"Leave us," Wesley commands, and gets the result he paid for with a skilled tongue and well-placed fingers earlier that day. Connor gestures - causing Wesley to wonder if it's a previously agreed upon signal or one that the boy is trying out to see if he likes it - and the men go.

Connor gives Wesley a possessive look. "I'll be back."

"Naturally," Wesley tells him.

The doors close. Lorne faces him, the very picture of puzzlement. "Okay, I know this is a crazy, mixed-up world we're living in but - "

Wesley shuts him up with a song. It's a few bars of one he's missed hearing on the radio. Lorne stops, stares, reads. His mouth begins to open in a horrified "O"

Wesley advances on him before he can speak. They're nose to nose. Wesley's arms crossed, but his body radiates the strength of his words. "If you say one thing about this to *anyone*, I will destroy your body with my own bare hands. Do I make myself clear?"

Whatever anger or possible accusations of betrayal that Lorne might have given him have vanished. There's understanding, and to Wesley's hatred also a little pity. "Wes..."

"I know what I am doing."

"*Who* you're - "

"Not! One! *Word*!"

It's a stare off. Finally Lorne backs down. There's a moment of awkward shuffling. "So why am I here, if not for my scintillating conversation?"

In his original picture of this, Wesley told him. However in reality deeper needs take control. Softly, quiet enough for only a demon's ears, he asks "Angel...?"

Lorne places a gentle hand on Wesley's arm - sending a wave of bitterness through Wesley as he knows precisely *why* Lorne is being so tender, that Lorne now views him as the very epitome of the term "victim" and is treating him as such - and guides him further back into the room, away from any ears that might be lurking beyond the closed door to the hall.

"Batshit insane," Lorne tells him, his voice low and quiet, but his eyes reflecting still-held worry for their mutual friend. "After you went off with Junior... let's just say we had to move twice and we didn't get back the security deposit."

"Idiot," Wesley mutters, meaning it for the absent vampire. "He can't do that. He's thinking with his *heart*, he - "

"You're not doing the same?"

Wesley looks away. He doesn't like this. He doesn't like Lorne's ability to tear apart the tissue paper of his lies. It was easier when there was only Connor to fool. Belatedly Wesley now understands that this is part and parcel of why the world past those doors terrifies him.

"I have a plan."

"For Angel."

"For *everyone*," Wesley snaps, but they both know that it's ultimately a secondary concern. Wesley closes his eyes, folds his arms tighter around himself. Lorne, understanding the true mercy needed here, lets go and assumes a manner more professional.

"So what's the sitch?"

Wesley manages to shed his emotions in kind. "Thanks to Connor, I have an in. He trusts me. He gives me information. I can use him to give us the upper hand."

"With you so far," Lorne says. "Where do I come in?"

"I need an out."

Wesley lays it out for him. Connor trusts him, so long as he is a prisoner. To be of any use, however, someone needs to make it outside, to find a way to secret their hard-won advantages back to their underground team.

"Me," Lorne says.

"You," Wesley agrees.

"I'm not - "

"I know," Wesley tells him. "That's why I picked you."

"Thanks," the demon says, but the tone is a familiar sardonic, and though he doesn't feel it Wesley still manages a smile.

"You're not a fighter, you're not a mystic," Wesley reminds him. "To them therefore you are a nothing. You can disappear from their radar in ways no one else can."

Lorne shrugs, neither disputing nor believing in this.

Wesley thinks of his own difficulties. "It won't be easy. You'll have to be around them. Talk to them, as I cannot."

Something in Lorne's demeanor tells Wesley this has already proven a challenge. But the demon waves it off, dismissing any problems. "Can't be any worse than trying to talk to my mother during the last family reunion - and at least here the food's better."

Wesley smiles at that. It's small, but more genuine than any he's felt of late.

Another submission that night ensures that Lorne gets a room next door to their suite - and gets it for himself.


Things are uneasy at first. There's no clear definition of Lorne's official job, so he and Wesley take to simply visiting and speaking whenever Connor is away. As the goal was to give Wesley safe companionship during those times, it doesn't occur to either of them the problem that this creates.

It's a week before they realize the error of their ways.

A week is all it takes for Wesley and Lorne to find a familiarity to their speech. To talk of things that only they understand. To take comfort in the completely inane topics that are the only things they dare to speak of, but which to Wesley become the most precious part of his day. He can relax, just a bit. Slip the mask off slightly. Be a tiny bit more like himself.

He selfishly keeps Lorne from going on his true mission - ingratiating himself with the others - in favor of taking his company whenever he can. Lorne, far too understanding of why Wesley might need this, doesn't argue.

Connor comes home each night to see the two of them deep in conversation, both distracted by his interruption, and a slow anger begins to burn.

It is the last night, when Connor comes home to find Wesley not only smiling but *laughing* that things explode.

Lorne is forcibly ejected from the room. Wesley is slammed into the wall. And only then, his eyes going black with pain, does he realize how foolish he was. Connor, not savvy to any of Wesley's manipulations, is demon and beast enough to understand unspoken attractions.

It is not that Wesley and Lorne care for one another - far from it - but it is that they have so much more in *common*. They have gone through hard times together, Jasmine's thrall included, and Connor knows this gives Lorne a connection to Wesley that he could never have.

It's not love, not even lust, but Connor's not sophisticated enough to care. It's not *his* and that's all that matters.

He takes Wesley forcibly, escalating the violence of the action until even Wesley must comply and finally cry out in pain when no other tormentor had managed to pry that out of him. It is harsh and cruel, and when he's done Wesley can only turn to his side on the floor, spit blood, and lie there.

Hours later Connor comes back to take care of him. There's no apologies, merely efficient touch. Wesley is cleaned, bandaged, bundled back into bed.

The next night Wesley recovers enough to speak.

"There's only you."

Connor accepts that.

It's still days, however, before he grudgingly allows permission for Lorne to see him again. It's two weeks before the marks fade enough for Wesley to allow that to happen.


They learn from their mistake. When Lorne reappears, he is the very picture of the host he once was - charming, deferential, never once stepping out of his role of happy servant.

He appoints himself Wesley's valet, and ingratiates himself in Connor's heart by immediately announcing that his first intention is to feed and dress Wesley for the day.

"Gotta get him handsome for you, right big guy?" Lorne asks, and Connor smiles at this.

They're not left alone. They don't earn that right for a while. But Wesley makes sure Connor's needs are not unattended and Lorne makes it clear that he knows who in this game is boss.

One afternoon Connor kisses Wesley in front of Lorne. His touch is crass, the kiss far too intimate for public eyes on the best of occasions, made moreso by Connor's hand palming Wesley's cock until he can get a reaction.

He gets the one he's looking for, then lets go.

"I'll be back in an hour," he tells them.

Lorne stares at the door after it closes.

"I know there's a line," he tells Wes, "but when this is done I get at least a few stabs in, right?"

Wesley doesn't argue.


As Wesley predicted, Lorne proves a master at his job. Though he shares the same ache for the mind control that Wesley did, he manages to hide it better. Connor's good graces give Lorne free passage amongst the blessed/damned and the first task Lorne sets himself is making friends with absolutely everyone in the building. He talks, flirts, compliments, and it's not long before he's called over to a table or greeted with a hearty wave whenever he walks into a room.

In the prison - as he's come to call poor Wes's suite - he plays the role of the humble servant. He maintains an attitude of a constant bow to Connor, even going so far as to occasionally and with all due deference suggest ways the pissant little freak might try to woo his supposed intended. It's not that Lorne wants to inflict the brat on Wes, but the fact of it is the kid's not going anywhere, so he hopes that by encouraging Connor in the *slow* art of seduction that he might be able to provide Wes with something that at least looks like a break.

Based on the bruises that cover Wes's skin when Lorne helps change him in the morning it apparently doesn't work, but even so Lorne has to try.

Getting chummy with the guards is next. Not the ones that hover in the third floor hallway that Lorne suspects Wesley is willfully unaware of, but the *real* guards. The ones that surround the building. The ones that block the way to the sewers.

It takes time but he manages it. They're a manly lot but their blissed-out minds aren't unwelcoming of a new mascot. Lorne chats, plays the buffoon, goes over the top with the fey thing by bringing them coffee and cakes. It gets the job done.

He learns their likes, dislikes.

Their schedules.

Finally he gets their trust. Not the life and death kind. The more important "I don't care" kind. The kind that Lorne tests one day by strolling past them - past the point that anyone is supposed to go - waves and cheerfully tells them he's going off for coffee, do they need anything?

And they let him go.

It takes a month, but he manages it.


Wesley has learned to speak Pylean. Or, rather, he's learned to read it.

Lorne's been giving him lessons, in the form of a Scrabble game that Connor is too bored by to give a second glance to, even when they play it right in front of him.

The games start with Wesley placing down an English word, then Lorne placing down its Pylean equivalent. Lorne is impressed when it only takes two weeks for English to be put aside and Pylean conversations to ensue.

*I got out,* Lorne tells him one day, in tiles.

*Good,* Wesley responds.

*Don't know where anyone is yet, but I'll keep trying.*

*Excellent. Thank you.*

Then, a week later:

*Possible contact. What should I do?*

*Keep going.*

Later still, this time while they're alone:

*I can get a message through.*

Wesley stares at this. It's been so long he's not sure he wants to allow himself to believe the possibility.

More tiles. *What do you want me to say?*

Wesley doesn't respond.

Lorne waits, then gives a significant look in his direction.

Wesley turns away.

There's the sound of tiles slipping across cardboard, then Lorne taps the table to get his attention.

On reflex, Wesley looks.

He manages to see the first five tiles: "T-o-A-n-g - " before he shoves his hand against the board and scatters them.

"No."

Lorne looks at him in exasperation. "You've *got* to be kidding me."

"You know the mission," Wesley hisses, too angry to bother with the safety of spelled out code. "You know what to say."

Lorne stares him down. He gathers the tiles and places them in a pile on Wesley's side.

"Okay, we've done *that*. Now what do you *really* want to say?"

Far too many things suggest themselves. For a moment Wesley allows his hand to linger over tiles that contain an "o" and a "v".

In the end he retreats back into the greater good. Also into what he knows is a Pylean pun.

He collects the necessary tiles and in the other dimension's language he spells out:

*Tell Angel not to think with his ass.*

Lorne smirks, then nods.


Wesley doesn't like to admit it, but the avenue of communication makes him restless. It's a link back to what he once had. He lies awake at night, unable to stop his mind from worrying at the thought. He hasn't asked Lorne for details - plausible deniability in all things, of course - so he has no idea how word is getting back, how long will it take, are they to even expect a reply?

"Isn't this a *great* morning?" Lorne asks one day, walking in with a tray of breakfast dishes.

Connor, content in his usual routine, frowns. "What's so special about it?"

Lorne smiles at Wesley. "No reason."

Wesley smiles in return, but manages to keep the expression to himself.


There's no message back, as such, but over Scrabble Lorne tells him things are going well. They've got their 'out'. Now they need the next step.

*Export.* Wesley tells him. *A way to supply them with Connor's blood.*

Wesley hasn't shared his plans for getting his hands on said item, but Lorne's expression is feral and pleased all the same.

Still more games produce the information that the others are working on it. There's an underground railroad, of sorts, being created and that they *will* find a way.

Things heat up. Positive information flows back faster and faster and one day Lorne produces the best news yet.

*Might have something. Someone who can do the job.*

Wesley is incredulous at this. *Who?*

Lorne shakes his head. It's either something best not mentioned or something he himself is unaware of.

*Needs to see you.*

Wesley frowns. *Why?*

Another shake. Then, after a second's hesitation, *Doesn't trust me, I guess.*

For a moment Wesley isn't certain that *he* does either, but the demon's expression is so unguarded that he allows himself to relax.

*Okay. When?*

*Not sure yet.*

The obstacle, of course, is Connor. After Wesley's fears there's no way for him to go out and about without anyone noticing. Wesley has, unfortunately, made his dislike for the outside world far too evident.

Lorne sets about trying to break this barrier. In full view of Connor the two of them walk out into the hall. Connor immediately gets up, hovers, but all they do is stand by the doorway. Wesley's nerves are too torn for him to even fake conversation. Lorne and Connor both, then, team up to reassure him, talking amongst *themselves* so that Wesley is not called upon to fill the silences.

That night, alone, Connor is oddly encouraging. He wonders if Wesley can go further - into another room, perhaps even downstairs, maybe even more?

Wesley questions this, disliking that he has no key by which to provide a translation for Connor's motivations. He's even more unhappy at this clear weakness in his and Lorne's observations. What's Connor been doing that they have no idea about?

Connor reveals no clue. Instead he runs fingers through Wesley's hair, kisses him, and promises that if Wesley manages this there might be treats - rewards. There's a dramatic pause before Connor adds: "*Books*, maybe."

If anything it makes Wesley more inclined to stay right where he is. This is a noose he's no desire to willingly place his head into.

But beyond it is the promise of an end. Wesley wonders if he could run fast enough to break the rope around his neck. To one day, possibly, be free.

"I'll try," Wesley tells Connor. And the reward that night is sex that Connor probably assumes is romantic and loving.


Wesley manages it. It makes him ill time and again, but with Connor and Lorne's help he eventually makes it downstairs. He sits still for all of a half hour before becoming dizzy and needing to retreat once more, but it's a hard-earned victory after so many weeks.

He tries it again, and again, and soon enough he and Lorne walk about the hotel without comment. Then, eventually, Wesley manages it on his own.

Connor, for his part, couldn't be more pleased. He crows about it, showering Wesley with presents - books, alcohol, jewels, does Wesley want jewels? - and goes about his day looking much too happy for Wesley's comfort.

Lorne works double time on trying to get information - about their newfound contact, about Connor. In the end it is Connor himself who provides the latter, when he returns home one day in an absolute funk.

"Something wrong?" Lorne asks, made inquisitive when Connor sulks his way into the suite, dumping his clothing onto the floor like a boy informed that he's failed another math final.

"You can't *go*," Connor whines, looking at Wes.

"Go?" Wesley asks.

"To Seattle," Connor says. He flops down into a chair, pouty. Lorne makes himself useful by presenting him with a cool drink. It stays untouched on the coaster, but it keeps the demon in the room. "I have to go to Seattle."

Wesley and Lorne manage not to share a look. "Why?"

"There's a *thing*," Connor says, waving a hand to dismiss it. "They need me there in person. To take care of it."

Wesley now has a real concern about this. "Is there any danger? To you?"

Connor mistakes this for devotion. "I can handle it."

Wes's tone is a hair sharper, more authoritative. "Even so, I worry."

Connor smiles. "I'll be back. I just have to do it. You know. As the father."

"Of course," Wesley says.

Lorne lets Wes have a moment to let the cognitive wheels turn. "Need me to pack a bag? How many nights are we planning here?"

"A week," Connor shrugs. "More." He sits up again, making a sort of intimacy with his posture as he looks at Wesley. "I wanted you to come with me."

Wes is far too well-rehearsed with this kind of supplication. Lorne still has to repress a shudder as he watches Wes's hand move over, and skirt along the inside of the brat's thigh. "You mean I'll have to be without you?"

"I wanted you to come *with*," Connor says, pouting again.

"It's completely unfair that I can't."

Connor gears himself up for another whine. "She *said* - "

"Connor," Wesley silences him, dropping down to his knees. "I think if we now lack for time to spend together, that there are other things that you and I could be doing, don't you agree?"

Connor sits back, immediately placated. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Wesley agrees, his hand moving higher. He flashes a commanding look in Lorne's direction. "I'm sure you have better places to be."

Lorne abandons the pretense of drinks-making. Downstairs he knows Jim is on duty, and Jim sure loves it when someone stops by with a sandwich and a pack of cigarettes. "Come to think of it, you're right."


In the time before Connor leaves they don't dare do anything wrong. Lorne completes chores before Connor can ask and Wesley has never been more willing and pliant in bed.

It's enough to make Wesley worry that they might be doing *too* much, but Connor only has eyes for Wesley's actions and he cheerfully mistakes those for signs that Wesley will miss him.

The day draws near. Over Scrabble Lorne tells him that a meeting time has been arranged, but not for two days after Connor has gone. Wesley broods over this, on the one hand hating the wait, on the other he can't disagree with Lorne's theory that it's best to make sure Connor is *truly* gone before taking a chance like this.

Connor leaves, taking some of the troops with him. Wesley sees him off at the hotel's front door. In front of everyone Connor gives him a lingering kiss, his slight hand tangling in the back of Wesley's hair.

"See you soon," the boy promises.

"Not soon enough," Wesley lies.

The two days are unbearable. Wesley would prefer to spend them alone and pacing, but he knows he must keep up the show of wandering around the hotel, lest the guards that Connor has placed outside of his door become suspicious at any change in Wesley's activity.

Lorne remains frustratingly silent with relevant information until the night before the rendezvous.

Bent over their game Lorne spells it out for him. A meeting. Late the next night. Deep in the sewers. There's a secret passage Wesley will use to get past the guards and out of the hotel.

Wesley quirks his eyebrows at this.

Lorne gives a significant glance in the direction of his and Connor's linen closet, then outlines a map with tiles.

Inside the closet. Behind the last shelf. A loose board. Pushed out of the way it reveals a ladder. Down the ladder, through an unused maid's quarters, past a hopefully unlocked sewer entrance and then a series of lefts and rights through tunnels to the meeting place in question.

Wesley memorizes this, knowing it can't be committed to paper.

*What if the guards check on me?*

Lorne shrugs, accepting his own danger in this. *My job to distract them.*

Wesley ponders this. Thinks on how much could be lost if anything goes wrong.

Knows there really isn't much choice.

"All right."


The next day takes far too long to pass. As the sun slowly starts to dip down, Lorne makes his appearance.

"Bathtime!" he announces, for the benefit of the guards. "Got to make sure a certain someone is always at his best. You never know when Jasmine's daddy might be coming home."

These guards aren't as friendly with Lorne as the ones downstairs are, but they've been told to let Wesley have his amusements and his valet.

With the suite door closed, Lorne pushes him into the shower anyway.

"Keep up appearances," the demon tells him. "And make sure to scrub behind your ears. Word on the street is you might have to watch out for some pretty good trackers."

Wesley wonders if this means other demons, or if the problem is as commonplace as dogs. Either way he does as he's told, seeing no reason to ignore the advice and having nothing else to do.

Lorne fusses over him, granting him privacy in the shower, yes, but pouncing as soon as a dry towel is wrapped around Wesley's waist. He produces new clothes, a skintight long sleeved shirt and comfortable jeans, both in midnight black, and insists that Wesley wear them. Showered, shaved and dressed, they still have hours to spare. They finally spend it in an *actual* game of Scrabble, which of course Wesley wins.

With an hour to go they turn music on. Classical, but enough to mask any conversation they might be having.

Finally the time comes. Lorne hovers, picking at lint that only he can see and acting as nervous as if he knew for certain that Connor was on to them, then finally lets him go.

Wesley closes the closet door behind him, opens the secret passage, and, following the map in his head, makes his way to the location. An abandoned office, perhaps once used by the water company or rail system.

Wesley waits there, impatient. His fingertip sketches random patterns in the dust that covers the desk.

He manages to create three circles before he's grabbed by a large pair of hands and shoved against the wall.

"What the *fuck* do you think you're doing?" Angel demands.


PART FIVE

Anger makes him shove the vampire away.

"Me?" Wesley asks. He makes quick, sharp gestures, taking in the whole of the world and their place in it. "What about *you*, you *absolute* ass!"

Angel's demeanor is still. He's at home in these shadows, splashes of white the only indication of the location of his face and hands. "I had to see you."

"You'll be *killed*."

"I had to see you."

"You - "

But then there's no talking, because the vampire is faster than he is and Angel's mouth on his own reminds him that, yes, there actually are things in this life more pleasurable than anything of Jasmine's creation.

"Angel," he whispers, his body melting into the vampire's strong one. Angel's arms are around him and it's more security than Wesley has ever known.

"I lost you." It's basic speech. Angel always hoards his words carefully. Wesley knows to treasure each one that he's given.

"You never could," Wesley promises him. There's another kiss, this one wetter than the first. "Angel - " because it's such a pleasure to say that name, to speak it and see its owner right in front of him " - you didn't. I'm right here."

There's touching then. Exploratory fingers on both sides as mouths continue to connect, linger.

"You're hurt," Wesley says. His thumb traces a dark red line that cuts across the vampire's cheek.

"It's nothing."

Wesley's turn to play the game of echoes. "You're hurt."

A shrug. "Jasmine's boys don't fight with pillows."

Wesley leans in, flicks a tongue across the would-be scar. "Don't let it happen again."

Brown eyes are clinical now, a doctor's gaze in the dim light. "You need to eat more."

"I'll be sure to work on that."

Fingertips move down the lean muscles of Wesley's chest. One hits a bruise, and Wesley hates himself for not being able to hide the flinch.

"What - "

"It's nothing."

The vampire's not buying it. "Wes...."

"No worse than you," Wesley hastily assures him. He touches Angel's cheek again. Wonders if the mark will be permanent. In the back of his mind Wesley thinks, sees his every interaction with Lorne in a whole new light. "I should have known it was you."

"Told Lorne not to say anything."

"You knew I'd talk you out of it."

Hands are resting on Wesley's hips now. "Safer, too."

"But mostly the former."

A perfect mouth curls in a familiar half-smile. "Mostly that."

"Secret passage," Wesley muses, shaking his head. "Who else *but* you?"

"Made it myself."

Wesley's now curious.

The eyes grow darker. "When Connor was born."

Wesley rests a hand against Angel's chest. Presses in with silent comfort.

Angel doesn't want to linger on this part of memory lane. "Figured couldn't hurt to have an extra way out, back then."

"You were right," Wesley tells him. Meets his eyes. Reminds him of how one person, at least, benefited from this.

"Connor's room now, huh?"

"Yes."

"Any problems sneaking in there?"

Wesley's heart skips a beat. He covers it with a cough. Silently whispers a thanks to Lorne. "No. No problems at all."

"Good," cool lips press against Wesley's forehead. A watch is checked. "Okay, time to go."

Wesley's gripped by greed. "You only just got here."

Angel smirks. "You're coming with."

The world freezes. Wesley's certain that in some other dimension he doesn't say this. "No."

"Wes - "

"No."

"I don't recall saying it was up for a vote," Angel tells him. He stands up straighter, reminds Wesley of his height.

"Angel, don't be stupid."

"Wesley, stop stealing my lines."

"To what end?" Wesley demands. "If I go with you - "

"Then you'll be with *me*."

"And I want that more than anything!" Wesley shouts, too angry to bother lowering his volume. "But that doesn't matter now!"

"Wesley - "

"How powerful has she grown? How many has she killed? What method have *you* found to put a stop to this?"

"I'll find one."

"Connor's blood will do it."

"Believe me," Angel's voice is death itself, "I'll get it."

Wesley touches him again, doesn't dispute that. "I can get it first."

For a moment, the vampire listens. "How?"

"He trusts me."

Now there is disbelief. "Why?"

Wesley falters. He never once thought of having to come up with this lie. He grabs on to the first thing instinct gives him. "I told him I hate you."

"He bought that?"

The details click far too easily into place. "Yes. Once I told him about all the times you tried to kill me."

Angel is quiet. Wesley starts to speak again but a jerk of the vampire's head stops him. The moment stretches out between them, each man reflecting on the truth of their relationship - a mutual agreement that neither one of them is sorry for what they've done.

"I love you."

Wesley finds he can't breathe.

Brown eyes meet his. "Just so that's clear."

Wesley rests against him, rendered speechless.

"I'm not agreeing to this."

"But you're going to let me do it anyway."

A pause. "Yeah."

Wesley closes his eyes. In his mind he tells Angel everything, most especially how much he doesn't want to go, and why. But he knows none of these words can ever be spoken. Not out loud. Not if they're to try to save anyone other than themselves.

Wesley indulges in the luxury of hating the world and everyone in it. To be honest it's not the first time.

Angel's demeanor changes. Perhaps he picks up on Wesley's stress. Whatever it is, it makes his hands move. He draws Wes closer. His mouth finds Wesley's jaw. "There's a little time."

Wesley trembles. "How much?"

"Enough."

"Are you - "

No one can ever accuse Angel of lacking his moments of macho posturing. "I'll *make* it be enough."

Their mouths connect with vacuum-like suction. Demonically strong hands caress him, cup his ass, massage him with the unmistakable message of possession.

Wesley's brain starts to melt. "Want you. Angel, please - "

Then there's a hand on his hip, and it's trying to turn him around, and Wesley's stomach drops down to the last level of Hell as he remembers.

Bruises.

The light is faint but to a vampire it's high noon. The marks range from a handful of weeks to two days old now and if there is one creature on all the earth that has the ability to look upon them and know *exactly* how they were created, it is the man Wesley loves with all his soul.

They can't be together. Not like this.

"No," Wesley murmurs, stopping the action before Angel can follow through. Not the touch, though. Not even for his own life could Wesley move away from this touch. Instead he stumbles, stutters, doesn't have to pretend that their situation is making it difficult for him to think.

Angel is patient. As a lover he's never been cruel. He waits, and finally Wesley thinks of a suggestion.

"Fuck my mouth."

The vampire groans. Kisses him in a way that's feral and hungry. Wesley responds, then drops down to his knees. Angel needs no encouragement for his legs to part. His pants are easily undone. His erection is warm and familiar.

Lips wrapped around him, Wesley experiences the sense realization that the father is much *larger* than the son. He's pleased about this, and that's the last he thinks of Connor.

In some other place Wesley would take his time. Here he can't. He bobs his head, works his tongue, sucks at Angel greedily, craving the taste of this, the *right* man, more than anything he can give name to.

Angel perches on the edge of the desk. The smell of dust lingers in the air. There are soft whimpers and groans, not all of which are Wesley's. Hips jerk forward. A voice like buttery leather provides only encouragements. Finally a hand tightens on Wesley's neck, muscles tense, and fluid cascades down his throat.

Wesley stays there a long time. He wants to absorb the taste of this into his very *marrow*.

There's a tug. Angel draws him up. A hand reaches down, cups his dick and Wesley's world flickers white-black-white as he suddenly and ecstatically remembers there can be *pleasure* in this. He's gone. Brainless. By total and sheer luck Angel does not pursue the idea of proper fucking. Instead he continues with just his hand, stroking Wesley first through frustrating denim, then with nothing between aching cock and Angel's strong and callused fingers.

Hitches of breath. Pleading in Angel's name. They lean together, forehead to forehead, Wesley's eyes fluttered closed and the universe reduced - no, far too pleasurable - *expanded* to nothing but the feel of that touch. Back and forth, up and down, a brand of fire on already burning flesh. It's more than he could imagine, it's better than the first time - with Angel, with *anyone* - it doesn't matter. It's God's own touch and if Angel is the Prince of Heaven then so be it. It's life. It's perfection. It's everything.

"Please..."

It goes on longer than it should. After the fact, Wesley is almost certain that it was longer than they were allowed. But at one moment he blinks, catches Angel's eyes, sees a look of reverence and wonderment there that must surely match his own, and he doesn't care.

"I love you."

Now it's Angel who can't speak, though that's hardly unusual.

"Just so we're clear."

Stronger tugs. A wicked thumb across the tip. Heat and friction and - "God!" - orgasm, shuddering, legs turning to jelly and a body only supported by a vampire's strength.

More kissing. "Wes. God, Wes...."

A feeling like being drunk. "I - " a hand touches sticky places on a leather jacket and a dark shirt " - made a mess."

A soft laugh, warm like bathwater. "I don't care. Believe me I don't care."

Another kiss. A thousand. A mortal body made up entirely of sparks.

Time passes. They're beyond the point of pre-planned safety now, but neither one of them cares.

Angel nuzzles him. Offers a suggestion. "After - "

"Hmm?"

"We go away. When it's done. Just you and me."

Wesley's slurring his words. "Sounds lovely."

"Somewhere far."

"All right."

"Like Aruba."

A quizzical eyebrow.

"Never tried that."

"Aruba?"

"Sit on the beach. Have a drink."

"At night."

"Right. Wear a suit."

"Be a bit warm."

"A *bathing* suit."

"You don't have any."

"I'll buy." A pause. "I'd look good in a suit."

Wesley ponders this. Imagines the vampire half-naked and wet. His mind's eye lingers on a hint of dark curls above a low-hanging waistband. "You would."

"And you..."

"Yes?"

"You'd look good out of one."

Wesley laughs. The vampire is proud at his successful attempt at humor. Wesley wonders when this happened. When a relationship started out of madness and desperation became this familiarity and tenderness.

Then he realizes that his relationship with Angel has always been this way. They've simply combined the best elements out of the past four years. Stopped wasting their time with hatred and pretending.

"Do we ever come back?"

Angel's turn to ponder. "Not sure yet."

Wesley slides a hand around a broad chest. "We'll buy a home. Everyone can visit."

Cool lips trace kisses in his hair. "I like that."

"Live together forever."

"I like that too."

Wesley pauses. Sits up. Looks at him. "Consider that my pledge."

Eyebrows twitch. There's a half-second before there's comprehension. When he speaks, the vampire is respectful and serious. "Mine too."

Wesley kisses his cheek, again tonguing that awful damage. "You are my greatest love, Angel. You always have been."

Angel cups his chin. "You're my partner, Wes."

There's a sound. Angel identifies it as a rat. It's still more than either of them want from the world outside.

"We should go."

"I still don't want this."

"I don't either."

They redress. Help one another. Take longer at it than they need to.

"I need your help," Angel says, sequituring over from nothing. "There's translations. The best we have is Fred but..."

Wesley thinks about it. Measures one danger in comparison with another. Decides. "Give them to Lorne. I'll see what I can do."

A curt nod. "I'll go first. Make sure it's clear."

Wesley wants to say something but can't imagine what.

At the door Angel hesitates. "Can we - he's gone for days, we could - "

"It's too dangerous," but even Wesley's voice isn't sure.

"We could try."

"I'll have a hard enough time hiding your scent as it is."

"He would notice?"

Wesley shuts his eyes, remembering all the places that Connor can claim as he damn well pleases. Doesn't exactly lie to the boy's father as he says, "Angel, it's you."

Angel sighs. "I'll think of something."

"Safety first."

"I'll - "

"Don't you *dare* get yourself killed."

Two hands reach out in the gloom. Squeeze together. "We'll figure it out."

"I've every confidence."


One last kiss, then Angel's gone. Wesley waits five minutes then returns on his own path.

When he gets back to the Hyperion, Lorne is there. The demon looks at him expectantly.

Wesley finds he can't give the lecture he had planned. Instead he smiles, doesn't take his clothes off when he slips into bed.

Lorne, camped out in the living room, slides the bedroom doors closed for privacy.

Wesley's skin tingles. When he closes his eyes he can feel the vampire's lips against his own.

For the first time in many months now, his body is awake. Horny.

Wesley slips a hand underneath the sheets and undoes his trousers.

In his mind Angel is beside him. He cups and caresses Wesley's balls as they talk, kiss, laugh.

In his last orgasm before he goes to sleep, he's happily curled against Angel's bare chest, listening to the waves lap at the shore in Aruba.


PART SIX

Wesley sleeps. Better than he has in over half a year - perhaps even longer than that. His dreams are epic, too rich to for him to remember a single detail beyond that of a handsome Irish vampire.

His body thrums. He wants more. Unconsciously rocks his hips into the sheets. There can't be enough. There can't ever be -

"Okay, rise and shine. C'mon, Wes. Pitter patter let's get at 'er."

Wesley groans, burying his face into the pillow. "No, please."

Lorne is persistent. "You've slept late enough as it is."

"I don't want to get up."

"I don't want to die without first being attended to by an entirely nude yet well oiled football team, but we've all got our disappointments."

Wesley turns, regards him with a baleful eye. He's about to protest more when he sees what Lorne is carrying.

The demon holds up a plastic-wrapped pack of sheets. "300 thread count. If the little shit - " Lorne switches to Pylean while using his favorite nickname for Connor, then sticks to that language for privacy. Wesley follows along, having learned the language by sound now, as well as its written word. " - doesn't like them he can kiss my heart."

Knowing what the sheets are for, Wesley shakes his head. "No."

"Yes."

Wesley fists a handful of the cloth underneath the blankets, clinging to the warmth that he knows contains Angel's scent. "He won't be home for days. It can wait a little longer."

Lorne scowls, then solves the problem by flicking the blankets up and off. Wesley has to scramble to cover himself and the stains from last night's masturbation.

"Lorne - "

Back to Pylean. "Wes, *I* can tell you and you-know-who had sex. Imagine what this place reeks of to Connor's nostrils."

Wesley sighs. Hates having to admit it. "Fine."

"Shower too," Lorne orders, pointing the way to the bathroom. "Use the extra fruity stuff. And if you so much as touch those clothes after taking them off, I'm coming in there and scrubbing you down *myself*."

"As you wish," Wesley can't help muttering. He stalks off to the bathroom, resists the urge to slam the door behind him.

He strips down. Leaves the clothes in a pile on the floor. Empties his bladder while the hot water runs.

He gets in. Adjusts the temperature. Lets water sluice down his body.

He closes his eyes, leans in towards the spray.

*Flash*

Sense memory. Angel. Kissing him. Touching him. Running his hand over Wesley's cock.

Wesley groans, turning to rest his back against the slick tiles. Keeps his eyes closed. Runs a hand down his chest. Imagines it's Angel's touch. Drops his hand lower and begins to stroke, replaying the night before in his head like his own private porn.

He fast forwards, rewinds, uses slow-motion on his favorite parts - of which Angel reaching to kiss *him* first and that final touch of Angel's thumb turn out to be the highest of the top ten - licks his lips, savors the faint taste that remains. Reminds himself of the pleasure of sucking Angel's cock and discovers that it only makes him that much harder. Thinks to himself of how much he wants to do it again, of what it will be like when they're finally together, when they're lying side by side on that beach and all he has to do is gently tug on a saltwater wet suit and drag his tongue all the way -

He gasps, his cock jerking stripes of come across the shower curtain. Wesley reels from the endorphins, then smiles, remembering how Angel didn't care in the slightest about such messes. Thinks of Angel going back to his own bed, reeking of Wesley's scent, and finds it actually teases a few more shudders out of himself.

He savors this for a while, then washes himself properly.


"Tell me about what happened," he asks Lorne as he gets dressed. Lorne stuffs sheets and clothes into a bag, declaring them for the incinerator. Windows are open, drenching the room in fresh air. They talk in Pylean because in this world it isn't a certainty that someone *isn't* hovering outside a third floor window for the sole purpose of eavesdropping, though of course as soon as the windows were opened they both checked.

"When?" Lorne asks.

Wesley fixes his jeans, pulls on a T-shirt. Finds that inside of him is a longing for more memories with Angel's name on them. It replaces and even nullifies a previously held pain. The one which kept him from asking what happened - "When Connor took me."

Lorne nods, ties the garbage bag tight then double bags it. "Fred and Gunn didn't get back until late. It was all we could do to make Angel - " and here Lorne uses their agreed-upon Pylean nickname for the vampire, a word which roughly translates to "our favorite idiot" - " sit still and not go after. Find out what was keeping you."

Wesley sits down, sips coffee. "Keeping the three of us."

Lorne winks. "Yeah. He was real concerned about the *three*."

Wesley finds himself blushing. Hides it behind his mug. "Go on."

Lorne sits across from him. Pours a glass of orange juice. "We got the story about what went on at the school - " here Wesley shakes his head, because he doesn't know their version of it " - little shit ambushing you, dragging you off."

"Did they know what happened?"

Lorne, who knows the entirety of Wesley and Connor's sexual history thanks to a single song, shakes his head. "No clue. Fred figured mind control. That Connor had somehow put the born again whammy on you."

Wesley shivers, not caring to linger on this. "Gunn?"

"Said you were trying to bring everything down from the inside."

Wesley nods. "Good. I'd hoped he would understand."

There's a smirk. "Said he *knew*. I never said he *understood*. As I recall the phrase 'jackass' was used more than once."

Wesley shrugs, long past the point of fretting about the dissolution of that particular trust and friendship. "Angel?"

Lorne butters toast. "Like I told you. Batshit insane." "What did he think?"

"Don't think *he* even knew," Lorne says, using a cloth napkin to dab crumbs from his chin. "Went back and forth on being pissed at Connor for taking you and pissed at you for going."

"Did he ever - " Wesley hesitates, isn't sure he wants to provide his own buzzkill by knowing " - think I betrayed him?"

An immediate shake of the head. "No."

"Good."

"That was my job."

Wesley stares.

Lorne looks back at him. Isn't really apologetic. Wesley doesn't expect him to be. There's a silent understanding of this before the momentary coldness is dropped, hasty decisions and physical attacks from years prior dismissed with a *snick* of a knife as it cuts through butter and hits the plastic dish beneath. The conversation resumes as it was. "I'm over it now." Wesley knows Lorne means the doubts. "Thank you."

"Hard to judge from where I'm sitting," Lorne tells him.

Wesley pulls back. This skirts too close to topics that can't be acknowledged, spoken about. Still, he knows he must say: "Thank you. For not telling him."

Lorne pats his hand. Pushes the basket of toast forward, an obvious request for him to eat. Wesley dutifully complies, remembering Angel's comments.

The demon smiles at him, attempts to assume a lighthearted tone. "Hey, just think of me as your friendly neighborhood hairdresser. From your lips to my ears to even Sinatra himself couldn't crawl out of his grave and get me to start blabbing."

Wesley finds he can't quite joke about it. He busies himself with toast-buttering. "Still. Thank you."

"What'd he say?"

"Nothing. He didn't - nothing."

"What did *you* say?"

Wesley knows this is so Lorne can continue the lie. "That Connor trusts me. Because I hate Angel."

Lorne nods, files this away.

A stray thought compels Wesley to ask: "How did you do it? All this time, and he never smelled Angel on you."

"Lots of messengers," Lorne says. "Didn't often speak with the big lug myself." Another attempt at a joking smile. "Plus it's a help when I don't actually have sex with him."

Wesley chuckles. Absentmindedly licks his lips. Remembers the vampire doing that for him.

"Wesley..."

Wesley looks up, wonders why Lorne's tone has become so quiet and serious. Finds he's made uncomfortable by the demon's frank and tender gaze.

"I won't say a word," Lorne promises. "I know it's not my secret to tell. And... not that I blame you for anything. But..."

Wesley draws a protective cage around his heart. "But...?"

"Why not?" Lorne leans forward, his manner earnest. "*Tell* him. One word from you about what's going on here and that little shit's going to wish he never *once* crossed his daddy." "We need Connor's blood."

"Somehow I think Angel would find a way to get it," Lorne shakes his head, incredulous. "Wes, after all Connor's done to you, why are you protecting him?"

Wesley laughs. It's not humorous. It's bitter. He's surprised the anagogic demon doesn't get it. "If Angel were to find out about this, he would kill Connor in an instant."

"Which is pretty much *my* point."

"I can't allow that to happen."

"You don't think Connor *deserves* - "

"What Connor *deserves* is of no concern to me," Wesley says, his voice crisp. "For him I don't care."

"Then...?"

"Connor is Angel's child. His only tangible miracle, however evil the boy's become."

"So?"

"To have to kill him would be too much," Wesley tells him. He puts his toast down, no longer hungry. "Angel would be destroyed by it. I can't allow that to happen. I protect the father, Lorne. Not the son."

Lorne mulls this over. He clearly doesn't agree with the idea, but he drops it and doesn't mention it again.


After breakfast Wesley's good mood is restored. He remembers yet another part of the night before.

"There's translations," Wesley says. "Angel asked me to help with them."

"Need a hand?"

"Yes, I don't have them."

"Want me to get them now?"

Wesley thinks about it. "Is it possible? I don't know how much there is. With Connor gone, it's probably best to get started quickly."

Lorne nods, picks up the bag of dirty evidence. "I'll get right on it."


Xeroxed pages litter the diningroom table later that night. Wesley recognizes Angel's handwriting, and the wisdom of bringing something that will smell more of chemicals than Angel's own scent.

He idly wonders where they found the Xerox machine.

He sets about translating. It doesn't take long for his mind to thrill at it. He's in his element. Some of the symbols are known to him. Others, complete mysteries. He finds himself smiling, even absently humming a cheerful tune as he deciphers, translates, scribbles.

He finally has to cut the humming out when Lorne begs him to have a little mercy. Not that he doesn't *appreciate* the images of Angel naked, of course, but mixed in with all of the prophecies it's starting to give him a strange fetish.

Wesley grins, works silently.

The texts are good choices. Things about the Beast - Wesley recognizes yet another attempt to recreate the lost page from Rhinehart's Companion - things about goddesses, Powers, mind control, mystical births -

A request to see Wesley naked.

Wesley pauses. Blinks. Rereads.

No, there it is. Hidden amongst the text. A tiny snippet, written in Kungai. There's no direct translation for Wesley's name in this demon tongue, but still "Would the handsome former Observer now reading this do the honor of granting this humble worker unclothed touch" is a bit out of the norm, even for Rhinehart.

Wesley smirks. Four years later and Angel's still no better at Kungai. It took Wesley all of a month to become fluent after his arrival in Los Angeles. He wonders if he has the heart to tell Angel that it's actually much easier to write the single character for "beloved servant" than the three required for "humble worker".

He decides he doesn't care.

He gathers the notes he's created so far. Figures out the Kungai translation for "You have no idea how much I'm dying to suck your cock" then *retranslates* it into Kungai that even Angel can understand. Everything else has been translated into Pylean. As of that moment in time there are only three beings on earth who can speak *that* language, and Lorne assures him Fred is still alive and working at Angel's side. Wesley figures she can handle the prophecy translations, and will presumably read the note telling her to hand the smaller piece of paper over to Angel.

Wesley gives this to Lorne. "Can you get this to him tonight?"

Lorne, who knows better than to admit how glad he is to see Wesley happy again, promises to do his best.


More translations. More Kungai notes hidden amongst recreated text:

"Miss you so much it hurts."

"Can't stop thinking of your hand around me."

"Need you by my side." "Want to be with you. Now. Always."

"Love you."

"Desperately love you."

"Want to taste you."

"Wholehearted agreement there. Want to taste you too."

"Can't stand being without you."

"Dream every night of having you beside me."

"Dream night and day of my hands on your flesh."

"Pleasure myself constantly with the thought of you."

"Amusement. Me too."

"Miss you, Angel."

"Need to be *inside* you, Wes."

Wesley stares at the latest communication. Rereads it: "Need to be *inside* you, Wes."

Shifts in his chair. Yet again finds a session of translation ending with his pants feeling too tight.

"I can't stand this," he whispers.

Lorne isn't there. Without the demon to remind him, his willpower cracks:

"Connor's not due home until Saturday. Please, beloved, I *need* to see you."

For the first time ever, Wesley also signs it: "Yours."


Oblivious to the content, Lorne delivers the message. Hours later he returns with a response:

"Tomorrow night. You. Me. Same place. NEED you." And then, slightly shakier in a manner that suggests it was purposefully copied from Wesley's own, "Yours."

Wesley starts to get ready.


PART SEVEN

"Are you out of your *freaking* mind?!"

"Lorne!" Wesley snaps. Reminds him of the guards just outside closed doors.

"Sorry," Lorne says, eyes rolling hard enough to give himself a headache. He switches to a heavily sarcastic Pylean, a tone which sounds more guttural than the norm. "Did you get hit on your *head*?"

"I need to see him," Wesley repeats, using Pylean in kind with a tone that doesn't allow for questions.

"Wesley, you *can't*," Lorne reminds him. He comes forward, lowers his voice even though no one could possibly understand them. "Look, I was all for this illicit Romeo and... Romeo thing you had during the night but that's *it*. No more. Done."

"I have to go."

"Why?"

"I - " Wesley breaks eye contact for a moment. "I have to."

Anger melts. Lorne can't say he doesn't feel sorry for him. "It's not safe."

"It *can* be," Wes insists. "We can do it as we did before - "

"Yeah, three days ago, when we had time to plan."

"*You* had time to plan."

"You're welcome."

There's an actual acknowledgment to that. Wes keeps going, arguing his case. "It's the same plan. I don't need to do anything differently from before. All I have to do is meet him, then come back and - "

"And what? We set the place on fire so we can hide the scent?"

"I don't see why - " "It's been *three days* and I *still* don't think we've used enough Febreeze," Lorne tells him. "He's a vampire's kid. *Your* vampire's kid - "

Colder voice now. "I haven't forgotten."

Lorne winces, keeps going. "He'll know."

"We can cover it up."

"He'll *know*."

"He *can't*!" Wesley says, desperation dropping him back into English again. He catches himself, returns to Pylean. "It - I can have new clothes again. Destroy them before he gets here. I - there's the pool. I could go swimming, surely the chlorine...."

Wes continues. Lorne tunes him out. He knows this can't be done. Days ago, maybe. Not now. Not with so little time. But Wes keeps going, blind to the consequences.

No. Not blind. Just needing something else more than he needs to see them.

Lorne can sympathize with it. Heck, sympathy's an arrogance. But still, it's all he's got. He remembers the Hell Pylea was like. Remembers being so miserable he hopped the first portal he could find because *anything* would be better.

Kind of understands it, then, for Wes.

Wes who's been at it for months now with a slow torture that, past grudges aside, Lorne doesn't think the kid deserves and sure as Hell shouldn't have had to agree to.

Lorne's come to understand now that that's what Wes is. Pays the price - no pun intended - with himself because - well it's not that Wes doesn't think that he's important so much as he thinks a lot of other things are *better*.

Other things. Like the good fight. Like a champion named Angel.

Lorne thinks about this. Thinks about how Wes signed on for this gig. Looked Connor - little shit - straight in the eye and *asked* to be fucked over, nice and literal. Then went off the other day and came *back* so Connor could do it again.

Not because Wes likes it - no, the near-constant shaking of Wes's hands which both he and Lorne have elected to never mention make it clear that happiness for Wes isn't a place which has Connor in it - but because that's what Wes does. He does what he has to. It's his way of being a good guy.

And now all he wants is a break.

Lorne has an epiphany, just then. Wes has paused in his speech-making. Taken a breath. And just as Lorne is thinking of all Wes has given up, Wes shifts his weight a bit and part of his neck gets exposed, showing off a bruise that Connor left there six days ago.

And these two things, together, make Lorne have a realization:

Angel and Wesley didn't really have sex.

In the past, yeah. The walls in their underground forts were never as thick as all *that*. But not the other day. Not three nights ago. Not when he sent Wes out on what he *thought* was going to be a little Com-shuk craziness because there is no freaking way that Angel saw those marks on Wesley's body and sent the boy packing back *here*.

Connor may be a possessive little fuck but Connor's daddy has got him *beat*.

And Lorne realizes: this is it.

Wes can get out.

Because if Wes goes out tomorrow and he and Angel do what Wes's aura is making it pulsatingly clear what Wesley *wants* to do with Angel, Angel's going to see. And Angel's going to get pissed.

And Angel's going to keep Wes with him.

And Lorne will be by himself, which in the back of his head scares him shitless because he's no champion and on the big fighty scale he wouldn't even list himself as being on par with *Fred*, let alone a Wesley, but he decides that doesn't matter.

Because sometimes, maybe, being one of the good guys doesn't mean you fight. It means you shut your mouth, get a little sneaky, and let one of the *important* good guys have a couple of benefits in life.

"Okay," Lorne says, out loud. "You got me."

Wes frowns. Isn't sure of what he's hearing.

"What can I say?" Lorne asks. He puts his hand on his chest as though covering a heart. "I'm a softie. A sucker for true love and all that torch song jazz. I'll get you some clothes. I'll help you out."

Wes smiles. The light that has only been in Wes's eyes for the past three days gets even brighter. "Thank you."

Lorne shrugs, tries not to show how petrified he is. "Don't mention it."


The next day, much like the first time they tried this, passes slowly.

They kill time again. Checkers (even split of two games each), Scrabble (Wesley), Kevin Bacon Game (Lorne - though with a not-bad showing by Wes when it comes to anything British and/or Western), quiet reading.

Wesley paces. Keyed up with nervous energy. Feels butterflies in his stomach and can't even remember the last time he had the sensation. He's grown too used to other kinds of fear - ones for his life, ones for the lives of those he cares for.

He knows he should have that kind of fear now but he can't. Instead his hands sweat because he'll soon see Angel again.

Lorne procures new clothes for him. They have to be new, Wesley understands now, not only to be scentless but because then Connor won't notice them missing once they've been destroyed. It's a good use of planning and Wesley commends Lorne for thinking of it.

Wesley thinks a *lot* about Angel.

There's been no other communication since the note that set up the arrangement. Nothing other than Wesley's response of "Yes." After that they cut everything off to be on the safe side. Even the translations are gone. Sent off with Wesley's best efforts, because he doesn't dare chance Connor finding the pages once he comes home.

Time passes. Eventually Lorne gives a critical look at the clock. "Better get ready."

Wesley nods. Picks up the shopping bag. "Will you - ?"

Lorne smiles reassuringly. "I'll be the one to wake you up, don't worry."

Wesley thanks him. Lorne leaves. He's spent the past couple of nights in his own room. Both he and Wesley fear a repeat of him sleeping on the couch will be more noticeable than not. They decide to stick with the current routine.

Wesley goes into the bathroom. Takes a shower. Leaves his waterproof watch on so he doesn't stay too long. He soaps down, though, not sure if staying in Connor's quarters is scent enough for a vampire to question. He wants to be safe, not sorry.

He wants Angel to only think of him.

He gets out of the shower. Studies himself. Contrary to what Lorne believes, he hasn't forgotten about the marks. But they're older now and Wesley deludes himself into thinking that they're faded. At least faded enough that Angel might not notice them. Or, if he does, to be unable to discern their provenance.

He dries off. Imagines it's Angel's hands on the other side of the towel. Secretly thrills to the thought of Angel possibly leaving marks of his own.

He gets dressed. Lorne blessed him with extraordinary good taste this time around. The pants are black, soft but durable linen. The shirt is a deep maroon. Buttoned. Made of silk.

"Angel's going to plotz," Lorne had promised him, and Wesley hopes that it's true.

He lets the fantasy of Angel linger. It soothes and stimulates his nerves as he shaves, does his hair, puts the final touches on dressing.

It leaves him feeling almost as horny as when he went to bed the other night.

Perhaps more.

He closes his eyes. Smiles to himself. Thinks of the vampire appreciating this.

He opens his eyes again. Checks his watch. Knows he's got just a few minutes more until he can leave.

Turns around.

Tries not to jump when he finds Connor staring at him.


The boy is leaning against the doorframe. Relaxed. Catlike. "Hey."

"Hey," Wesley breathes, mostly parroting. His brain is frozen. He had no plan which anticipated this scenario. He finds himself struggling to process the new influx of information.

"I came home early," Connor smiles. He's proud of himself.

"Yes, I can see."

"Thought I would surprise you."

"You certainly did."

"You looked surprised," Connor agrees. He leans in, notes the steam in the air. "Taking a shower?"

Wesley makes a lame and vague gesture. "Just finished."

Connor gives him a rakish look. "Too bad."

Wesley blinks. This, for Connor, is different.

Connor comes in more. They're a few feet apart now. "I was watching you. Could you tell?"

Wesley curses mortal senses and a fogged bathroom mirror. "No."

Connor's pleased. "Maybe I'll do it again sometime."

Wesley has no response to this.

Blue eyes look up and down Wesley's form. "This is new."

He means the outfit. A single synapse of Wesley's brain fires and thinks: I ever doubted he could be gay? But the rest of his brain is busy with the question those three simple words pose. The ready suspicion behind them. The possible crime that could have been committed by an act Connor's unaware of.

Wesley takes a stab at it. Assumes any problem revolves around him having left the hotel without Connor there with him. "Yes," he says, smiling as though he expected this conversation. "Lorne bought it for me. Er - as a gift. For you. He thought you might like it."

Connor studies the outfit appraisingly now. Moves a hand to feel the shirt. "I do."

Wesley backs away. The outfit was Angel's. He doesn't want Connor touching it. "I don't." "No?"

"Red's not my color."

Connor cocks his head. Thinks. "I disagree."

"Even still. I'm going to throw it away."

Distance is closed between them. There's touching now. Connor's hand runs slowly down Wesley's chest. The catlike look is back. "Then let me rip it off you."

Wesley freezes. Who in *Hell* has been teaching the boy to talk like that?

Connor mistakes the stillness for compliance. He moves his hand lower, cups Wesley's hip. "I missed you."

"I missed you too," Wesley manages, trying hard to think over the urgent screaming in his head which sounds like *AngelAngelAngelAngel*.

Even less distance now. "I got you presents."

"That's very kind."

"Wanna see?"

Wesley's hopes finally recover from the shock. Crash and burn. He abandons the thought of seeing Angel tonight. "Certainly."

Connor leans in for a kiss. Wesley manages to return it and then has a quick inspiration:

"Lorne."

Flash of something on Connor's face. It's not exactly good humor. "No, *Connor*."

"Of course," Wesley says. Caresses the boy's cheek. Pretends the not-joke was funny. "I only meant - we were going to play Scrabble tonight. I should go tell him the game's off." He tries for an intimate look in Connor's direction. "Make sure he doesn't interrupt us at an inopportune time."

Connor looks at him. Weighs this. Leaves the bathroom. Wesley follows and watches impotently as Connor locks and bolts their outer door.

"There," Connor says, and Wesley wonders if the boy is actually daring him to challenge this. "Now he can't come in."

Wesley has to pretend to be glad. Tries to hide his fear of Angel alone in the sewers with no one to warn him. "Oh good. Very clever."

"I can be sometimes," Connor tells him. He comes back. A hand reaches out and touches a pile of boxes and bags on the dining table, but he doesn't linger there. "It's just you and me."

"As it should be," Wesley lies. He turns away. Starts to unbutton the shirt. Tries to get it off before -

Connor's hand, possessed of that unnerving preternatural speed, stops him.

"Said I was going to do that," Connor reminds him.

In his mind Wesley hears cage doors slamming shut. Remembers how ultimately powerless he is to end this. "Of course."

Connor moves his hand up. Undoes buttons slowly. "I took tomorrow off."

"Did you?"

"Day after too."

"Wonderful news."

"We can spend the whole weekend together," Connor says. He's on the last button. His fingertips brush a spot just above Wesley's waist. "I don't have to leave you."

Wesley mimics a smile. "Quite a change from last week."

Connor's hand moves up. He's touching bare skin now. "We can do whatever we want."

"Excellent."

Keen eyes meet his. "What *do* you want, Wes?"

Wesley swallows. Looks away. Refrains from saying "Your father."

"Wes?"

Looks back. Dutifully says what he thinks Connor wants to hear: "Whatever makes you happy."

Connor takes this in. Decides he likes it. "Okay."

There's a kiss. Firm. Not demanding. Two hands are on Wesley's chest now, parting the shirt, moving back, massaging the flesh. There's movement, then a wall behind him. He's trapped between that and Connor's embrace. The kiss deepens. Connor probes his mouth with a velvet-soft tongue. A hip, lean but still supernaturally strong, nudges between his legs. There's a gentle rock. A tiny bit of friction. A cock hardening as -

Wesley gasps, shoves Connor away. Says a word he hasn't said once since all of this began:

"No."

Connor frowns, bewildered. "But you like it."

Wesley backs away. Feels true horror. Feels *sick* as he understands what's happening.

His body, which has been quivering like a live wire since his encounter with Angel, is now whoring itself for any man's touch.

Any man. Even Connor.

"No," he says again. Shakes his head. He can't do this. He won't.

"But you like it," Connor says again. He comes forward, cups that damned erection. "See?"

Wesley takes Connor's wrist, pulls him away. "No."

But Connor's stronger than he is, and the action is meaningless. "I want you."

"Want someone your own age," Wesley snaps, tiring of the ridiculousness of this.

Connor's face pinches together with hurt. "I want *you*!"

The charade's too much to even try to attempt. "You don't even know who I am!"

"I do so!" Connor is loud, petulant. "You're Wes!"

"You know my *bloody* name," Wesley snarls, finally jerking away from him. His voice becomes dry, an exact replica of his own father's tone. "How *proud* you must be."

Connor grabs him. Rams him up against the dresser. "Why are you doing this? Why are you *saying* these things?"

"Because they're true!" Adrenaline pushes him past the point of fear, anger, the knowledge that giving up now has utterly destroyed not only himself but all he's worked for. "You know nothing. You want nothing. You have *no* idea - "

"I have *every* idea!" Connor's keyed up now. He fists his hand, then backs up and hits it into the wall. Wesley flinches, but stands still. "You're mine!"

"I'm no such thing!"

"I *own* you!"

"I'm not your fucking pet! I'm not your toy!"

Connor's mouth opens and closes. For a moment he's speechless. "You - I - " He grabs Wesley by the arms, the very picture of fear and worry. "I - I didn't - "

"Stop it, Connor."

"I never - "

"I said *stop* it, Connor."

"I *love* you!"

Oh God. "No. No you don't."

Connor's mouth curls in derision now. "Why? Because I'm too young?"

Wesley laughs at him. Deliberately makes it sound mocking. Doesn't have to try too hard to succeed. "That and a thousand reasons besides. Now let me go."

"You don't mean this."

"There's few things I mean more."

"You're lying."

"You only just noticed?"

Anger, then a shake of a head. "It's not true."

"*None* of this is true."

"I am," Connor says. Looks at him with all sincerity. "This is."

It's so pathetic Wesley almost feels sorry for him. "No. Connor - "

"You're just scared."

"That's not - "

"It's okay," Connor tells him. Pulls him closer. "I am too."

There's another kiss. Insistent. Warm. Wesley struggles, tries to pull away, cannot *comprehend* how wrong it all is. Connor's stronger, more determined, much more skilled at holding on to his prey. All fights end with them in even more of a tangle.

"No," Wesley says, to Connor, to himself. He clings to the idea of Angel. This was *Angel's* night. *Angel's* arousal to play with.

But Wesley's body is only human and it doesn't give a damn for Wesley's soul.

They're on the bed. Wesley struggles again - this time trying to make it harder, piss Connor off, get him to *hurt* him as he's always done before. Make the sex rough, meaningless, something that Wesley can cope with as he's done for the past few months. It brought about orgasms, yes, but all of them clinical, basic stimulus/response, nothing that -

Connor's undoing Wesley's pants now. Tonguing his ear. Giving his body the thing it's been craving for days.

- he enjoyed.

He's sick. Disgusted. Wants to die even as his hips are moving, seeking out touch out of their own accord. He wants it to end. Tries once more to escape. Is held down by a demon who for some God unknown reason refuses to hurt him. It's a nightmare, straight out of a Watcher diary.

No, worse. A nightmare that's literally of his own creation.

Clothes are gotten rid of. Connor, ever helpful, is dealing with lubrication. Hell gets deeper, hateful, as Wesley feels those fingers inside of him.

It's no different, he tries to insist. It's the same as every time before. He's done this countless times before. It doesn't matter...

But it does. Because Connor can tell that he likes it and, just like the books, just like the tea, just like the food, tries different things again and again until he gets a reaction, finds out what Wesley wants.

Every attempt - every caress that gets him harder - is something stolen from Angel's hands. A thing Wesley dreamt of the vampire doing, now perverted by Connor's touch. Wesley clenches his teeth, squeezes his eyes closed, wants God to strike him *down* because it's not possible to live like this, to live *after* this, to somehow try to forget -

Connor's in him now. Rock hard. Hitting the - Wesley forces himself to use the sexless, medical terms - prostate and - it's no use. All the frustrated hormones are acting against him. It feels *good*, excellent, just what he needed and - God - he can't stop, it's too close now and - perhaps if he could just make it end *faster* but - no, Connor's hand doesn't comply, his hips won't accommodate him. He's learned how to tease somehow and he's doing it now, drawing it out, waiting until -

A word. A much worse one to admit to than the one he gave before. Spoken, unbidden:

"Please."

The orgasm, when it comes, makes Wesley want to vomit.

Sobriety, when it comes, makes him want to die.


PART EIGHT

Lorne's not deaf. He hears noises. Jumps out of bed, throws a robe on, jogs over to his door.

Sees Connor heading into Wesley's room.

Thinks: *Oh shit*.

Panics. Thinks about doing something - dropping a book, hitting a high note, making some *noise*, but then thinks what the Hell is that going to do? There was no signal for this. Wes isn't going to know what it means.

Shit, is Wes even there?

Checks the time. Thinks maybe Wes is. Wes wasn't supposed to leave until twenty after so maybe -

Shit, maybe not.

Pauses. Prays to whatever Powers might still be giving a crap that Wes got impatient, got *out*, left to go see Angel before he was supposed to because then at least there's still a chance and...

And Connor's not yelling. Stomping out of the room. Demanding to know where Wes went off to.

"Damn," Lorne whispers.

Doesn't linger on it. Moves to the next thing. Grabs some clothes. Makes himself presentable. Thinks if he's lucky Danny didn't call in sick tonight and therefore Lorne can nip downstairs, get past Dan, try to figure out how to find the meeting place in the sewers from totally the wrong direction. Maybe go to any one of the checkpoints they've been using to ferry messages back and forth. *Somehow* let Angel know to abort, pull out, the mission is *ovah*.

Stops when he sees a big lug standing outside his door.

"Um, hi," Lorne says. Smiles. Tries to lay the charm on. "Say, would you mind scootching just an eensy bit to the left? I've got a hankering for something sweet and I'm sure there's a couple of guys named Ben and Jerry who are calling my name from down in the kitchen."

Big Lug stands there. Doesn't move.

Lorne tries again. "Just a *little* bit to the left." Motions, tries to be encouraging. "Not much, why it's a half-step if anything. Come on, I bet you can."

"You stay here," Big Lug tells him.

Me, Tarzan, you Jane, Lorne thinks. Out loud he says "Oh, I know. *Definitely* my place is here. Which is why I'm going to come *right back* once I'm done. Won't even miss me, promise."

"Connor said you stay here," Big Lug informs him.

"Yeah, but - "

"*Here*." And then the door closes and Lorne's left standing in the dark.


Angel waits.

He's in the office. His and Wes's office. *Their* place, because now they have a place. From months of nothing to - you wanna meet? Sure. Come to our place.

Thinks to himself: maybe this could be a regular thing.

Thinks: heh, you can still see the marks on the desk from when Wes was sucking me off.

Thinks: wait, did I remember to clean these pants?

Self-consciously checks himself for dust. Wishes that wartime wasn't putting him in a situation where he can't exactly play fashion victim. There's other stuff that needs to be worried about. Piddly things like, in order of importance to Angel, weapons and food. But it's Wes and it's a meeting and Wes was looking *good* the other night (soft voice, waaaaaay in the back of his head, whispers "No, he didn't. He was too thin.") so Angel wants to try. Wants to make an effort.

He's got a blanket. Swiped from his own bed. Debates where he should put it then settles on the floor because there's more room to spread it. Fusses with bumps, wrinkles. Makes it perfect.

Wants Wes to be there. Wants him naked. Wants to fuck him on it. Wants to feel Wes wrapped around him, nice and tight. Hear Wes saying stuff like he did the other night. Stuff about love, and want, and them and *Christ* what was he thinking with that Aruba thing? Hello, my name's Angel and I'm a big, undead *dork*.

That had been *so* not slick. Not sophisticated. Not suave, as Angel liked to think of himself as being. But the cool thing was - it hadn't mattered. Wes hadn't laughed. Didn't make fun of him. Instead said he liked it. Wanted to move there. With Angel, which made it even better.

Angel liked that about Wes.

He knew what the others thought. Didn't give a *shit* about it but he knew. They figured Wes for Angel's stable pony. And maybe that was true. Okay - it was. But there was a reason for it.

Because Wes was Wes. Somebody who *got* him, not-suave and all. Somebody who didn't laugh at him when he noticed and said stupid stuff because, you know, it's not like Angel *was* stupid. You didn't get to be *his* age by being dumb. And yeah, sometimes he didn't get stuff but not *all* the time. Sometimes he just saw things a different way. Didn't mean it was wrong.

Like that time three years ago. When he and Wes had been in a mall and passed by a candy store and Angel had said, really enthused, "Hey cool! They've got the ones that come on paper!" which meant those candy dots that came on a strip and, well, *Angel* thought they were neat because, well, they just *were*. They didn't have stuff like that when *he* was a kid and, you know, it was *useful*. You could fold it up, put it in your pocket, not worry about losing any pieces or melting them.

And Wes had just smiled and said yeah, they were pretty cool. Though he personally had a preference for those wax bottles with the sugar water in them.

And he and Wes had bought some of both, and Wes had eaten all of it because in all actuality candy made Angel's teeth itch but still. It'd been nice. Nice not being laughed at.

Then time had passed and that Wes had gone away.

Not that Angel hated him for that. No, the hate thing had been pretty much wrapped up in the Connor thing and let's just leave *that* where it was. But *after* - man, *after*. *That* had been a killer. That *new* Wes. That scruffy and don't give me shit Wes. The Wes who *wouldn't* talk to him. Who *wouldn't* meet his eyes and smile like the old Wes would. Who wouldn't answer a question like fruit basket because, you know, that shit's not *intuitive*. They'd dealt with demons before, some *like* fruit baskets. Hell, *Angel* wouldn't have said no to a fruit basket. He wouldn't have *eaten* it but he'd have understood and appreciated the *effort*, he would have -

How had he even gotten on this?

Oh yeah, Wes.

Angel sat down on the desk. Looked at the blanket in front of him. Decided to fuck the ups and downs of memory lane and stay focused on the present.

Wes. *His* Wes. Wes who didn't shut him out anymore. Who didn't laugh at him. Who'd *noticed* the little notes he'd written and wrote some back which were, let's face it, fairly dirty and whoo boy had *that* been a happy bonus to discover in the boyfriend department.

And that last one. With the symbol. The one Angel didn't exactly know the translation to but knew it somehow meant possession and maybe that meant Wes belonged to him or that he belonged to Wes and he wasn't sure but neither did he care because both were true and Angel was happy to agree with it.

His Wes. Who'd been there just a few nights ago, clinging to him, warm mouth wrapped around him, whimpering and moaning in such a hot and sexy way. Getting off on Angel's *hand* like it was the best thing on earth. Like anything more would have blown his *mind* with how good it felt and then -

("He flinched, *retard*," the soulless voice in the far back of his head whispers. "He *flinched*. Not just when you touched his chest but when you grabbed his *hip*. You *know* that flinch. You've *made* that flinch. Remember Spike? Remember Dru? Remember that 8 year old outside of Milan? Remember the *hundreds* of people you've made flinch like that? You know what it means. You know *exactly* what it means. You *stupid*, moronic -")

(But Angel's not listening. Because the thousands of layers of protection he's placed between him and this pervert won't even acknowledge the suggestion. *Can't* acknowledge the suggestion. Because the whole thing's unthinkable and therefore he refuses to think it. Not consciously. Not willfully. But quietly. Like an unspoken wish. He won't think it, can't cope with thinking it, because even vaguely thinking it will make it true. And if anyone had asked him, he wouldn't have even known what they were talking about.)

- when Wes had come it had been so perfect, so spectacular that Angel hadn't really gotten a good night's sleep for *days* because the memory of it had lingered with him and made lying down on his stomach a little bit of a challenge.

He wants it again. Wants Wes with him, right now.

Realizes Wes is *supposed* to be with him, right now.

Checks his watch.

Checks it again.

Stares at the second hand to make sure it's working.

Waits.

Keeps waiting.

Waits even more because he's coming any minute now, right?

Maybe the hour was wrong. Did he get the hour wrong? Did he think one and write the other? Did he say the top of the hour when he meant a quarter after? Did he think tonight but write yesterday?

No, it has to be today. The place doesn't smell like Wes had been here yesterday. That had to mean tonight. Wes was coming tonight.

He keeps waiting. Ten minutes becomes twenty, becomes thirty, becomes an hour, becomes a half hour more.

He thinks: Wes is coming any minute now. The longer I stay, the more likely it is he'll show.

Thinks: I have to stay.

Thinks: I should wait.

Thinks: That passage to Connor's room works both ways.

Angel leaves the blanket where it is. Touches all the weapons hidden in his coat like they're familiar friends. Heads into the sewers, the very picture of a predator in motion.

He makes it halfway there before a squad of guards stops him. The fight's a good one. He wounds eight, kills two.

Unfortunately there's a total of, he roughly guesses, twenty.

When he returns back to the fort that night his coat is torn. His hand aches from bones that are knitting.

And, unlike the mark on his cheek which will eventually heal, the deep slash that cuts diagonally across his chest will end up leaving a scar.


The room is quiet.

Connor's asleep. Breathing deeply. He's on his side, one arm flung across Wesley's hip.

Wesley picks it up. Places it on the bed.

Stands.

Realizes a moment later that he's gone into the bathroom. Doesn't remember needing to use it but the door is closed. Here he is. He must have decided to do so.

Oh. The water's running. He's taking a shower then.

The water is - warm? Cold? It feels like both, actually. And - did he take his clothes off? He can't remember - oh, yes. He's nude. He came in here nude.

Did he? That doesn't seem like him. Usually the hotel is so cool...

He wipes water out of his eyes. His vision is blurry. He thinks he shouldn't have left his glasses on the table then remembers he doesn't wear glasses anymore. There was surgery, that problem was fixed.

That's good then, he thinks. One less thing to worry about. Rather a pain, losing one's glasses.

There's a word. It's skirting around the edges of his brain. He knows this word. Sees it in Lorne's eyes whenever they are together. Knows Lorne is thinking it. Feels it hovering between them whenever there's a heavy pause in the conversation, whenever the subject truly needs to be changed, whenever something comes up that makes Lorne regard him quietly, offer him a soothing drink, touch his arm in a pitying way.

Wesley *hates* this word.

He doesn't use it. It's not *meant* to be used. It's not *right* here. It's an abuse of the language to even think it.

Language. Wesley could show Lorne language. Teach him a thing or two about proper vocabulary. Give him a list of synonyms in hundreds of dialects that show how *not* applicable that four letter word of Lorne's happens to be.

Words like: sacrifice. Compromise. Bargaining. Prostitution.

Yes, prostitution. Wesley likes that one. Apt word, that. Nails its situation right on the head. Puts things squarely in the realm of commerce. Business. An exchange of goods or services *for* goods or services. That's all it is. That's all it's ever been. Wesley went into this with his eyes open, *knowing* what he was getting into, *agreeing* to it. *Consenting* to it.

In point of fact it was *his* bloody idea. *His* thought. Nobody else's. His plan to - to do this. To come here. To agree to -

His hands are shaking. Foolish thing, that. He needs to eat more. Clearly his blood sugar is completely out of control. He should be more careful. He's past thirty. A man his age needs to watch out for that sort of thing. Proper diet. Fiber. Plenty of exercise. He can't let himself become too sloppy. Yes. Food. He'll eat something, when he's done. Some... breakfast. Or... dinner. Whatever... he can't remember the time, just now. He - did he have a watch? Was he wearing a watch? Seems to remember being here, with a watch and yet - he's not wearing one right now, is he? He did *check* his wrist, didn't he? A moment ago?

This is business. It's nothing more than business. Like last summer. With Lilah. Which - all right, perhaps a bad example with *him* and Lilah but not with regards to - to Connor. Lilah would have done this. Fucked Connor, if it meant getting her way. Lord knows she'd fucked *him* as an attempt at getting her way, and it wasn't as though any emotions had - had ever made that situation complicated. For her anyway.

It's no different. It was Wesley's idea. Wesley's choice. Nothing that happens here *matters*. Again, like last summer. When he'd spent hours upon hours writhing with Lilah in his bed all the while pretending to be someone he wasn't. Someone who was detached. Uncaring of the world around him. Someone who hadn't, as for example, locked a woman inside of a cage with only a bucket for company and a little gruel to keep starvation at bay.

Someone who *hadn't* given a flying fuck about - about the *situation* of that summer. About - about the ocean. The - the ship. The searching. The -

Wesley distractedly realizes that someone is trembling. Doesn't know who it is. Wonders if anyone's going to do anything about that. Not him, though. He doesn't care. He's professional.

He doesn't care about anything.

"You're awake," it's Connor, brushing the shower curtain aside.

"Yes," Wesley says. Because clearly this is true. He's standing. He's showering. These activities are only done when one is awake. It's an easy hypothesis for him to test and agree to.

Connor's looking at him, taking in the view. "Why didn't you wake me up?"

"Didn't occur to me," Wesley tells him.

Connor shrugs, unbothered by this. "I'm awake now."

"Indeed you are."

The curtain is moved aside even more. Connor steps in, moves behind him. Slides the curtain shut to contain the spray. "Mind if I join you?"

Wesley ponders this. It's a question. What does one do with questions?

"Could wash your back," Connor suggests. Fingertips move up the spine. Dance over to the shoulders. Slide down to the base.

"I - all right," Wesley says. Can't remember if the action's been done yet.

Soap-slick fingers begin to work. "You're quiet."

"Am I?"

"A little." Hands move down to arms. Wesley rests them by his side. Lets Connor reach whatever's needed.

There's an age difference here. Connor, so much younger than him. Half his age, perhaps. That means something.

Flash of memory. A baby. In his arms. A baby belonging to - to -

He was going to...

"Wes?"

There's a hand on his throat. He realizes it's his own. He's touching something. A scar. He fingers it, wondering why it means nothing to him. Had this hurt him once?

Connor's hand covers his. Guides it back to Wesley's side. He kisses Wesley's ear. "Relax," he says.

"I - I can't," Wesley says, bewildered by this.

Connor thinks about it. "Long night?"

"Perhaps," Wesley says. Tries to remember - did he do something that day? Something strenuous?

Connor's frowning now. "Did you try to go out?"

Out? Oh yes. Downstairs. Did he? "I... yes," Wesley says, testing the feel of it. He thinks it's right. It carries a sense of rightness. "I think I did."

Arms wrap around his waist now. Connor kisses his neck. Holds him. "Don't do that," he says, his voice protective and kind. "It's too hard on you. Don't go out without me."

No. It's not right. There's something *wrong* about this. "I..." again tests the words, tries to find true ones. "It's not out. It's...." There. A possibility. "People."

Connor nods. Apparently he's heard this before. "I know. You don't like to see them."

Wesley contemplates it. Tries to imagine being around others. Having them look at him. "Yes. Yes. That's it."

A hand caresses his chest. "Then they'll stay away. I'll *make* them stay away."

A feeling of relief. Gratitude. "Thank you."

Connor shrugs. "I take care of you."

Wesley hesitates. Wants to say it isn't so. But it must be, because there they are. Undisputable fact. Like the shower.

Hands move lower down. The touch familiar.

Someone else, Wesley's not really sure who, responds to it. Moves with Connor's touch. Enjoys it.

Wesley himself goes somewhere else. Somewhere where his mind thinks only of business.


PART NINE

Heaviness. It seeps through his body. Fills every cell. Weighs him down. He's leaden. Doesn't move nor does he think to. He can't even remember how.

He's in a chair. He's staring at nothing. Something flits about him and the library of his mind supplies the information of: Connor. But Wesley has no reaction to this.

When his throat was slit - and he remembers that now, his throat being slit - there was pain. Sharp, thudding. Stickiness all over and a feeling in his heart not unlike betrayal. The beating organ unable to understand how he had allowed all its work to come to nothing, literally spilt onto the ground.

Shock. He knew shock. Knew, even at the time, he was in it.

Failure. Another feeling. The worst feeling in the world, that, knowing that he'd failed. Failed the most important task he'd ever been given, in his opinion.

But, also, hope.

He'd had friends. People who would look for him. People he could talk to, explain things, show them why he'd done what he'd done.

People who would forgive him.

So getting his throat slit, at the time, hadn't been as impossible as all that. Horrible, but nothing he hadn't thought he could recover from.

Wesley thinks about this. It's as far as he can get, right now. The conclusion he's drawing towards isn't ready yet. *He's* not ready for it yet. It waits, just outside of his attention. It's inevitable, like death, so he feels no worry about it leaving.

"Open your presents," Connor is saying. Or, rather, Wesley knows that he is saying this. What he takes in is the sight of soundless, moving lips, and then belatedly the words catch up to him. Everything is slow. An entire world trapped in amber. He's drowning in plain air, and wonders why it's not killing him.

"I don't know where to begin," a voice says. With a measure of comfort Wesley realizes that it's his own. Part of himself moving on, taking care of business, completely unbothered by it all.

Connor is smiling, a picture of happiness. "Wherever you want. I got you lots of stuff. I thought you'd like it."

"That's quite kind," Wesley's voice says.

A lapse of time. Dreamlike, the boxes are stationary, then opened, tissue paper scattered over the table and the floor. A blink of an eye and he's amongst a sea of books, fountain pens, designer clothing, jewelry, watches that can tell ten different kinds of time and even receive phone calls.

"So much money," Wesley says, this being the only fact he can think of as he looks upon it all.

A hand over his. A squeeze. "You're worth it."

I'm no such thing, Wesley thinks, but doesn't speak it.

Connor's still speaking. Talking about the trip. It occurs to Wesley that he should pay attention to this. There's probably important information to be found in the telling. But listening takes such effort and he finds that he's deaf.

More time passes. Connor is now staring at him.

"Maybe you should go back to bed."

The thought of the bed fills Wesley with a nameless horror, but he allows himself to be led there anyway. He lies down. Stares at the wall. Can't remember if he blinks or not.

At some point, like a switch being flicked, he goes unconscious.


He's dreaming, but he doesn't *want* to now. Thoughts of pleasure tease at his senses and Wesley shoves away from them, kicking his legs like a swimmer slicing his way towards the surface. He dislikes the thoughts, the memories. Can't think of a single one that would truly make him happy. There's nothing but pain and he wants to be lost to it. He wants to die. He's not sure why he's not dying.

Thinks to himself perhaps he did die. He died and this is the last circle of Hell.

The conclusion lurks beside him, as patient as it ever was.


Noises. Whispered conversation. Voices tense, angry.

Wesley's awake. Can't remember opening his eyes.

The room is bright. Sunlight streams in through the living room window. It's mid-afternoon.

Wesley stands. There's a robe nearby. He dresses. On automatic pilot he moves into the kitchen, makes tea, savors the boiling hot liquid as it pours down his throat.

"Did you know about this?"

Connor, in the kitchen door. Impatient. Cross.

Wesley finds that talking is easier now. "About what?"

"Last night."

"Your homecoming?"

"Angel."

Ah yes. There it is. Agony so exquisite that it's like embracing a heart attack. Teacup falls from his hand, shatters. Once again Wesley's voice speaks without consulting the rest of him.

"Never say that name to me again!"

"Did you *know*?"

"Never *speak* of him, do you hear me?"

The boy grabs him by the shoulder, jerks him around. In the living room two goons are staring, suspicion in their eyes.

"They found him last night," Connor, monster to the core, is telling him. "In the tunnels. Trying to get in. Did you *know* about it?"

"I never," Wesley says, each word dripping with contempt, "want to hear his name again."

Connor won't back down. "Did you *know*?"

"How would I?" Wesley asks. "I'm trapped in here like a lightening bug in a jar without even a hole to let me *breathe*. And even if I had some secret means of communication, what exactly do you think I would discuss with your father? Our relationship? Your declarations of love for me? Do you think these are the sorts of things I would care to tell him?"

"You love him," Connor accuses.

The truth of those words possesses Wesley. Three words which define his entire being. He snaps. "Which you knew when you claimed me! As I recall that was the entire *point*. Well now you have me, Connor. In every way your father cannot. In every way your father *will* not. I can give you no more. You've taken it all. If you choose to possess me like this and yet still do not trust me then I have nothing left. Kill me, if I'm so meaningless to you."

Trust hovers, but does not yet come to the forefront. "Why was he in the tunnels?"

"Ask *him*. I'm not a mind reader."

"I can't - " and here Wesley's heart seizes again, and he knows in full clarity that the words that come have the power to destroy him " - he ran off."

Relief grips him so hard that he staggers. Can't even hide it.

Connor's shaking his head, disgusted. "Knew that would make you happy."

"Did you let him go for me?" Wesley feels compelled to ask.

"I wasn't there." It isn't an answer, but it's informative nevertheless.

More emotions are coming. A floodgate has been opened on the dam erected last night. He's not ready yet. Can't take the final thought just yet, but others, preliminary ones, are leaping to the forefront.

"Don't ever speak of him to me, Connor," Wesley is saying. Lecturing, as he once did about proper rope tying and the making of tea. "You don't understand. I don't - I want - " so hard, so difficult to say these things, these things which are so deeply untrue on one level and yet mercilessly accurate on another " - look into my heart, Connor. Your father is gone to me. Dead. I never want to speak of him again. I can't even bear to *think* of him."

The boy is unswayed. "Because you miss him."

And here, now, Wesley can meet his gaze without masks. "No. That's not the reason at all."

Blue eyes look back into his own. Read his face like a hunting trail. There is a nod, and Connor is satisfied.


The conclusion is there, now. It sits beside him as he sips water, pushes a sandwich around on a plate.

So many conclusions, really. All coming together to form this single whole. A hive of bees creating a swarm. Tiny stings, each one of them. The whole of them, deadly.

Each injection of venom comes quickly:

Angel, in the tunnels.

The passion between them.

Angel trying to find him.

Connor's affections.

Jasmine's control of the world.

The murder her followers cheerfully commit when tracking down her enemies.

This and more chases around his head. Makes it spin, though he's never felt more stable.

And, on top of it all:

Angel never forgave Cordelia.

It's the final, crushing truth. Angel, though possessed of many fine traits, only has so much forgiveness in his soul to give and Cordy, whore that slept with Angel's son, received none of it. Not even after, when Angel learned that it hadn't been her fault. That'd she'd been possessed. Manipulated. Put into that bed by forces beyond her control.

Wesley knows, now, that he and Cordy are neck and neck. Arguably worse, depending upon how one thinks about it.

Knows, too, though in a way he always did, that he's never going to get Angel back again.

Mourns this, for a moment. Allows himself to feel this loss. Cries out, in his head, for what might have been. For the relationship that can't ever happen, now, thanks to a decision that he himself made.

Then, moment passed, he gets rid of it.

The world is falling. Wesley doesn't know how much, but he has an awareness that now it is most of it. Practically everyone is under Jasmine's thrall.

Wesley had meant to put a stop to this. To help, at least, with the one thing he could do.

He hasn't done it though. Not yet.

As he sits with his swarm and his meal he understands that he was foolish. Arrogant. Stupid, to think that he could come out of this in some way ahead. That he could try to win for good without one crucial thing.

He remembers a word he was comfortable with. Not prostitution, apt though it still is, but sacrifice.

To win, there must be sacrifice.

Angelus had grabbed him by the throat once, put him directly in the line of fire. In that moment Wesley had known without hesitation that his life was over. More, that it was *right*. His life, in exchange for Angel's. Not because of Wesley's love for him, but because Angel was *needed*. The world was dying, and it needed its champion.

Wesley's not responsible to himself. He's responsible to the world.

The swarm settles about him. Covers him like a second skin. The stingers pierce and with that Wesley lets go of everything he's held on to. Lets go of hope, of love, of Angel.

Gives up everything of himself and doesn't even pause to consider regret.

There's more important tasks. Wesley understands, now, that there's only one way to go about them.


Emotion gone, the actions are easy. He stands, pushes his meal aside. Goes into the bedroom. Picks up the red shirt and black pants from off the floor. With a strength surprising for a man of his frame he tears them. Rips them into a pile of pieces. Gathers them and throws them away.

Goes back to the table. Moves aside the tissue.

Takes out a new shirt. New pants. New clothing, from head to toe.

A watch covers his wrist, a ring goes on his finger.

Mere primping then. A fixing of his hair. A checking of the fine line of stubble which he's known for a year now has been an attractive feature.

When he's done he looks beautiful. Handsome. Deadly.

Owned.

Connor's in the living room. Sulking, still. Not fully satisfied from before. Still bearing a grudge with his father's name on it.

Wesley slips into place behind him. Breathes warm air across the tanned neck. Doesn't bother with intelligent discourse. Instead, whisper-growls: "Fuck me."

A jerk of response. A suspicious glance.

Wesley presses in. "Fuck me. And punish me for every wrong thought I've ever had. I'm so sorry, Connor. So long with Angel and it's warped my mind. I keep wanting to do things his way when I know it's not the right one."

Hesitation. But it's Wesley's hand now that moves down and feels a cock waking up beneath his fingers.

"Angel is a monster. Soulless, and cruel. I thought his way was the only way but it isn't. There's you. And I - I'm not good enough to understand it, Connor. What you give me... I don't deserve it. But, please - " closer there, another warm and wet breath " - let me feel it."

Connor's leaning back. Thin hips sway. "I love you."

"*Show* me," Wesley pleads. "Take me. Take me any way you want to. I - I tried not to admit it, Connor. I thought I was betraying them but - " a lick now, right up to the boy's ear, then a whisper "I *want* you."

It's more than any nineteen year old can resist. Strong hands grab him, shove him to the floor. The fucking is hard, ruthless. Wesley encourages it. Asks for more. Begs for Connor to love him, forgive him. Touches him like a proper lover would. Claws the boy's back when the orgasm doesn't come quickly enough. Screams Connor's name when it hits him.

When they're done they lie side by side on the rug. Connor pants, smiles. Wesley looks at him, the very picture of wonderment. "How did I survive without you?"

Connor shrugs. Palms a hand across Wes's stomach. "Now you won't have to."

Wesley leans up. Licks the boy's lips. "Perfect."

They fuck again. Same as before.

Each time after Wesley gears up for another attempt. Watches Connor as he does.

Watches the claw marks on Connor's back. Notes how quickly they heal. Finds out what makes Connor come so hard his eyes close and his body goes slack in the afterglow.

Learns how much he can wound the boy, while he's unconscious, without ever leaving any evidence.


Days later it's a different Wesley that emerges from the suite. Dressed to the nines. A regular fashion plate.

Confidence comes from him. There's no echo of the shadow he was before - the victim who couldn't even make it five seconds in the hallway.

Instead there is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, something of a relative to the man who owned his own slave-girl over a year ago, a man who passes by the guards at his door without even a second glance. Who goes over to Lorne's door, then stands there. Waits, until the guards there look at him. Until they realize something different.

Realize the power dynamics have changed.

Realize that this man is more than a prisoner now. He's the man that Jasmine's father adores.

He's the man who could have them killed in an instant, if it so pleased him, because pleasing him makes Jasmine's father happy.

He's the man who is, now, very aware of this.

The guards jump. Move aside. Belatedly realize that something so utterly mundane as touching a *door* will not be done by him. so they open the door to Lorne's room themselves, nearly bumping together in their eagerness to get out of his way.

Wesley walks into the room. Waits until the guards close the door for him.

"Holy - what *happened*?" Lorne says, coming forward. He's looking Wesley over, trying to find signs of damage from Connor's return.

Wesley doesn't engage the conversation. Instead he takes something out of his pocket, deposits it into Lorne's hands. "I believe you know whom to give that to."

Lorne looks down. Sees a vial of blood and a piece of paper with a demon language message. Is surprised. Pleased. Wants to know how -

"By tonight, would be ideal," Wesley says. He goes out of the room again, saying no other words.

Lorne stares after him. Feels like something's up. Wishes Wes's aura wasn't so shuttered closed that he can't use his powers to discern it.

Tells himself, for now, that it's probably just depression. Wes reacting to missing Angel, and having to be with Connor again.

Can't imagine what else it might be.


That night, in the fort, Angel sits on his bed. He's got the message. The first communication from the hotel since the night of Wes's no-show. Delivered through the chain of hands that make those communications safe. The blood is on his weapons trunk, waiting to be used. Outside Fred and Gunn are prepping people. Making schedules for inoculations. Getting ready for the possible withdrawal pains that might come, even for people who haven't been under Jasmine's thrall yet.

Angel stays in his room, staring at Wes's handwriting.

Not Kungai this time. Callimac. An obscure demon tongue, but one that Angel's more fluent in. One he's got no problems doing the translation of.

The message is short. Nine words. Words which Angel has no idea Wesley spent hours thinking over, just to make sure they were right.

*I'm sorry, Angel. I'm still in love with Lilah.*

As Wesley guessed, it's the one claim the vampire can't refute. Wouldn't even dare to. He loves Wesley too much to try to argue with his heart.

Angel crumples the note. Clutches it in his hand. Wonders why, after so much practice, he can't get used to hurting like this.


PART TEN

Wes is sitting in a windowsill, body perfectly framed by the faint outside light. Connor stands in a doorway. Watches him. Doesn't know it but shares his father's ability to appreciate the view on a purely artistic level.

Consciously, he appreciates it on an emotional level. Emotions like desire, contentment and, as far as he can define it, love.

It's raining. Wes's face is turned, looking out towards the weather. Studying it, like it's going to tell him something. Wes does that about a lot of stuff. He's a thinker. Spends his time with books and ideas. Connor knows, from the time before Jasmine, that Wes knows how to handle weapons but based on Wes's behavior then and now Connor erroneously thinks Wes doesn't prefer to. He thinks Wes likes being safe, and protected.

Wes, for his part, has encouraged this train of thought.

It's been some time since Connor's return from Seattle. For Connor it's been a happy time. Better than the time before.

He doesn't regret the time before. He thinks of it as necessary. A time of learning, on Wes's part. A time of cleansing too. A trial by fire that burned the last of his fath - *Angel's* influence out of Wesley. Made Wes better.

Made Wes his.

Connor comes into the room. Wes turns, notices him. Smiles. Nothing like the Wes from before Seattle. *That* Wes could never hide a look of anger, or a flinch. It made Connor feel like a monster, Wes looking at him like that. He didn't like it. At no time does he understand the responsibility he had in it. He makes no connection between the domination and the violence and Wes's previous hatred of him. He grew up in a Hell dimension. The universe, to him, is always hard and violent. It's the only way it can be. So instead he thinks Wes hated him because of Angel. Wes doesn't do that anymore, so it's all right.

He's by Wes's side now. Wes turns his mouth up for a kiss. Connor likes this. Enjoys kissing Wesley. It's warm and it makes him ache. And Wes does it because he loves him, which is also nice.

"Hey," Connor says to him.

"Hey," Wes replies. "I was just thinking about you."

Connor considers this. "Yeah?"

"Yes," Wesley says. He indicates the view. "Your birth. You were born in the rain."

"Huh," Connor says. He hadn't known that. He thinks about it. "Good memory for you then."

Wes's smile grows wider. He puts an arm around Connor's waist. "Excellent memory for me then."

They stay together like this. Just touching. They do that more now. Wes loves him and likes the touching. Connor moves his hand. Strokes Wes's hair. Wes moves into it, reminding Connor of an animal on Quor-toth that Holtz had called a cat but which, Connor found out once he hopped dimensions, looked nothing like them.

"Are you in for the evening?" Wesley asks.

"Do you want me to be?"

Wes gives him a heated look. "What do you guess?"

Connor bends down. Kisses Wes again. Does the thing with the tongues that makes Wes hold on to his shirt and make little noises. Wants to have sex with Wes but has learned that sometimes you wait. Relationships, as he found out from the wife of one of his soldiers, are more than sex.

Connor likes sex, but he also likes having a relationship.

The kiss ends - Wes making a sound of disappointment - and they settle down to watch the rain together.

Connor thinks to himself that this is perfect. This is a family, which is another thing he likes. Wishes sometimes that it could be a *whole* family, that Wes could cope with seeing Jasmine, but in a way he doesn't mind it. Wes doesn't like Jasmine because he's out of the mind control. Which is hard on Wes, but better for Connor.

The mind control, Connor knows, brings peace but it's not real. It's there not because anybody wanted it but because Jasmine gave it to them. He knows if the world had a choice they would probably get rid of her.

Wes, though, isn't under her control.

Which means Wes does what he wants to do.

Which means Wes is there, with him, because he wants to be.

"Oops," Lorne's voice interrupts them. "Don't mind me, kids. Just wanted to check to see if you needed anything."

Connor glares at him. Hates the demon and hasn't ever been able to get over it. "No."

"Are you sure?" Lorne asks. He tries to act subservient but Connor knows better. He can see the disgust in his eyes when he looks at Connor and Wesley. Knows the demon doesn't approve.

"Yeah. Now go away."

"Connor," Wes says, running a hand up his chest. "Lorne is only trying to help. And in point of fact I do need him."

Lorne looks smug. Connor is only slightly mollified.

"I've laundry over there," Wesley says, pointing towards an overstuffed bag. "Take it for cleaning. Also there's errands to run. I've left a note by the pile with my instructions."

Lorne nods. For a moment he and Wes share eye contact. "You got it. I'll be back before Happy Hour."

"Whatever, just go," Connor says. Doesn't see it when the demon makes a face behind his back. Doesn't see it when Wes makes eye contact again, discreetly gestures to indicate where something is hidden inside of the bag.

Instead what he sees is Wes's other hand, which is now moving down his chest and towards his belt.

"Connor," Wesley is saying, "I don't think I've tasted you yet this afternoon."

Connor grins. "Yeah you did."

Wes grins back, undoes the buckle. "This minute then. I'd like to fix that."

Connor lets him. Hopes Lorne gets a good eyeful of it before he goes. Likes that Wes doesn't care who watches them now. Thinks it's appropriate, for a family.


Wesley has discovered that he makes a fairly excellent prostitute. Thinks frequently that in another life - a less demon-filled life, perhaps - that he might have made a profitable career out of it.

He wonders where he learned the trick - er, so to speak. Sometimes thinks it might be from Lilah, who so easily managed to balance business and emotions and sex as effortlessly as she styled her hair, or seized control of a room. Or, for that matter, sucked him off since she was quite skilled in that department too.

He finds, also, that he's quite good at lying. Connor proves almost disappointingly easy to deceive, the boy so desperate and eager to find the right company. Wesley is not unaware that in yet another life still he might have *been* Connor. Wonders what *he* would have done if someone had come along when he was nineteen and petted and stroked him in precisely the right way. Can't say with certainty that he might not have rolled over and showed his belly to even one like the Beast if the circumstances had led him there.

No, Connor's not much of a challenge.

Lorne, however...

Wesley is never so stupid as to even *think* of a song whenever the demon is near. Beyond that there is only chance - those moments when an emotion could be strong enough for Lorne to read even without the added help. Wesley keeps his emotions shut tight at all times, glad for the British upbringing which has given him thirty three years of practice at making sure his reactions to things are never unseemly.

All that is left, then, is a balancing act. Keeping Lorne close enough to use him to smuggle blood, not so close that Lorne finds out what has happened. Doesn't note the significant changes.

Doesn't take it upon himself to tell Angel about them.

It's been weeks and so far nothing has happened. Wesley has been able to convince Lorne that it's all an act. Wesley playing at supplication and adoration in order to keep Connor's trust.

Lorne buys it, and does not question.

Except for once.


"Hey. *Hey*." Lorne's voice calls out to him. Wesley walks down the hallway, pretends not to hear.

Lorne is persistent. "Hey - I'm talking to *you*, Patty Hearst."

Wesley stops. Knows this is serious. Finds an empty room and goes into it. Switches over to Pylean once Lorne joins him. "Problem?"

"Problem?" Lorne mimics, switching language in kind. "Gee, I dunno. Oh, wait - how's your love life?"

Wesley gives him a flat look. "My time with Connor is excellent, thank you for asking."

"Super," Lorne tells him, his voice venomous with sarcasm. "Except aren't you supposed to be keeping a torch for his *daddy*?"

Wesley refuses to be baited. "I hardly see why."

"The fact that you *love* him sounds like a great reason."

"That's the past."

"Try pulling the other one, it plays 'Rock Around the Clock'."

"Is there a purpose for this conversation?" Wesley asks. "You brought me in here. Obviously you know I've broken up with him."

"Yeah, finally heard about that one through the grapevine," Lorne says. "So we're past *what* and onto *why*?"

"He knows."

"Wanna try humming a few bars of that tune in *my* ear?" Lorne asks. "Better yet, why don't you cut the bull? Feed that to psycho lad, not me."

Wesley moves to leave. "I don't have time for this."

Lorne bars the way. "How's about you *make* time?"

"For what?" Wesley demands. "In case you've forgotten, there's a war on. There are more important things right now than flowers and chocolates."

Lorne's eyes are too keen. "What about sanity?"

Wesley storms past him. His hand reaches the knob. He's stopped, not by violence, but by Lorne's gentle tone.

"You're not as quiet as you think, Wes," the demon says. "You think you've got it all tucked away but even I can hear you screaming. Don't do this. Don't get rid of the one thing that's letting you survive this."

Wesley finds that he's holding the knob tight. His knuckles ache. "I can't."

"He's still in love with you. Fred says he's gone *nuts* since you told him - "

"He'll *die*," Wesley snaps, unable to face his friend. "When I didn't show he tried to find me. Connor's goons nearly had him killed. Angel can't do this. He can't be concerned with me. The world needs him more."

Lorne comes closer. Places a light hand on his arm. "What about what you need?"

Now Wesley looks at him. "Acceptable losses are part of every war."

Lorne shakes his head. "No. I'm out. I'm going to tell him. I didn't sign on for this."

"*If* he loves me," Wesley says, "you know what he'll do. Can you honestly tell me he'll keep his eye on the right goal? Won't obsess and fritter it all away? Won't walk directly into the line of fire and be lost to *all* of us?"

Lorne shifts his weight. Doesn't like having to admit that it's true. "He'll know," Lorne says. "No matter how much you try to hide it. One day he's going to know."

"That's as may be," Wesley says, opening the door at last. "But it won't be because either one of us signed that death warrant."

Lorne sighs. Wishes he had a way of making it all go away. Decides he doesn't like it, but sees his only option now is to make sure Wes comes out this alive. Figures it's the only thing he can do for Wes *and* for Angel.


Connor's in a staff meeting. He's at the diningroom table, talking with his underlings. Wesley is in the livingroom, to all appearances engrossed in a book.

They're talking about the war. The other side - Angel's side - has grown in numbers. They know that now, but don't know why. None of the men can figure out why anyone would turn away from Jasmine. Connor, simple boy that he is, merely suspects magic.

They're trying to plan. Form an attack to forcibly lower the numbers on the enemy's side. Wesley listens to them. Wants them to forget that he is here. Wants to learn their secrets, so that he can include them in coded messages packed along with Connor's blood.

He's having no luck with it. Connor's men don't trust him. They speak only in generalities, every so often throwing glares Wesley's way.

Jasmine's lot have an interesting viewpoint, where peace and love is concerned. They have it in infinite amounts for their fellow zealots, but for those who have fallen out of the light there is a staggering hatred. There isn't a man there who wouldn't happily kill Wesley where he stood. Only Connor's protection keeps him safe.

Wesley decides that the time has come to stop trying to be invisible. Connor *does* adore him. Perhaps this can be used to his advantage.

"It's not going to work," he says, not looking up from his position.

"What?" Connor asks.

"What he's telling you," Wesley says. He doesn't know the plan in enough detail, but knows whatever it is isn't good enough. "It won't work."

The head goon, Johnson, isn't pleased with this. "This doesn't concern you."

Wesley folds his book closed. Regards the man dryly. "Connor's well-being? I'm sorry, I wasn't aware I had a concern in my life which was higher."

Johnson appeals to Connor. "With all due respect, sir - "

Fatal error, that. Connor's territory has now been challenged. The boy doesn't like it. The chin goes up. The eyes stare down. "Wesley is mine. You will *treat* him with all due respect."

Johnson simmers. "Of course. However, this is a matter of war. Perhaps your... companion should not be troubled by such affairs."

"You were a grocer, weren't you?" Wesley questions. "Before Jasmine? Hmm. I hadn't realized that the realm of fresh produce leant itself towards planning winning battles and giving Connor what he needs. Clearly that's my error."

Johnson's glowering now. Doesn't like *his* territory being challenged by the *thing* he views as Connor's fuck toy and little else. "Indeed."

With a flick of Connor's eyes, Johnson is demoted. Connor then turns to Wes. "What do you think?"

Once again, Wesley knows that with war comes sacrifice. This time it's not his own. "They've retreated to the sewers. Rather than trying to ferret out their locations, you should use your resources to make those places inhabitable. I'd start with the warehouse district. It's probably where they're stealing their food."

"Good plan," Connor agrees. Turns to the man on Johnson's right. "Do it."

Wesley smiles to himself. Knows that for the price of a few losses on the other side, he's now won some valuable trust.


Johnson becomes angry. Mutinous. Views Wesley as the cause of his problems.

Revels when he thinks he's found a way to get his revenge.

Lorne's not the only one with friends amongst the hotel guards. Johnson has a few as well, and they tell him things.

Things like what Wesley does, when Connor's not around.

Johnson hears about it. Draws a conclusion. Decides to destroy Wesley with it.

"The *heretic* is having an affair!" Johnson declares one day in the courtyard. The entire population of the hotel is gathered there. It's a holiday. Several barbeque pits are flaming.

Connor's there. His arm around Wesley. They'd been sitting close, kissing soft and slow. Johnson's now interrupting them, and Connor's not amused by it. "Get out of my sight."

"He's betraying you," Johnson says. He's got an audience now. Everyone watches, wondering what will become of this. "He is *betraying* you with another."

Wesley regards this coolly. "Am I?"

"I have the evidence," Johnson says. He appeals to the crowd. "Proof that this fallen one has conspired against the Father." He turns, spots Lorne. Points. "With him."

Lorne tries hard not to show the look of *Oh shit* that's behind his eyes. "What? Why that - that's just the silliest thing I've ever heard. Why on earth would I - "

"They are always alone," Johnson says. "They hide away in rooms. Talk in strange languages. When the Father is away they are *together*. The demon even spends the night."

Johnson's scored a direct hit. There are certain jealousies Connor hasn't gotten rid of. "Is this true?"

"Lorne is my valet," Wesley says. "You *know* he spends time with me. That is his *job*, if you'll recall."

"He spent the night with you?" Connor asks.

Lorne and Wesley both understand their hardship: how to defend against the accusation without giving away the *real* truth.

"Not like *that*," Lorne insists. Tries to get others to join him in a laugh. "I mean me and Wesley like *that*? What a crazy - " "You asked for him to come here," Connor accuses Wesley, the words fueled by months of perceived slights. "You talk to him all the time. You *like* talking with him."

"Which is, again, his *job*," Wesley points out.

"If their conversations are so innocent," Johnson asks, "why do they speak in tongues?"

"It is Lorne's native language," Wesley replies. "I do it as a courtesy. Much as I would attempt to speak simian for *you* if I cared enough to get the dialect right."

Connor's not fully swayed. "I never liked how much time you spent together."

"They've both been betraying you," Johnson says, pressing his advantage. "Most likely in your own *bed*. It makes me *sick* to think of."

"Okay, okay," Lorne says, holding up his hands. Tries to spin a tale. "You got me. I *do* have feelings for Wes, and I've tried to act on them, but ol' Wes there turned me down. Told me he and Connor - "

But he's lost his audience. No one is paying attention. Instead their eyes have been drawn to Wesley, who has stood up and walked over to one of the glowing red pits.

Wesley stands in front of one. Finds a pair of tongs. Presses it against stone until it curves. Places it into the flames.

Rolls up his shirtsleeve. Exposes his arm. Wipes the forearm clean, then takes the tongs with his other hand.

"If anyone doubts my loyalty," Wesley says, his voice as matter of fact as one declaring the weather, "I would like this to make it clear."

He presses white-hot metal against his skin. There's the sound of searing. Wesley's face shows no reaction. The skin around the metal barely gives a twitch.

When he's done the tongs are discarded.

A rough "C" is now branded to his flesh.

Connor stands. Puts a possessive arm around Wesley's waist. Looks at Johnson with contempt. "You're *so* fired now."

Johnson doesn't bother them again.


From then on, Wesley - though never Lorne - is always present at the formation of war plans. Wesley offers a lot of suggestions. Nearly all of his ideas result in the good kind of causalities.

Conversely, no one ever challenges the time that Wesley and Lorne spend together.

With this freedom, Wesley gives Lorne lots of messages to take back. They're encoded. Only Fred can decipher them.

They've got crucial information. The white hats take a lot of hits, but they win some pretty significant battles in return.

Wesley plays double agent so well that neither side - not even Lorne - guesses that the brilliant strategist on both teams is same man.


PART ELEVEN

Silence holds everyone captive. It's like a redux of the Gentlemen except there's no floaty demons and nobody's voice has been stolen so much as everybody in the room has, to a one, decided that the most *fatal* thing any of them could do right now is try to interrupt.

Angel is doing his imitation of a statue. It's a good imitation, if you believed statues might one day jerk out a hand and kill you and hey - stranger things have happened.

The moment drags on. Eyes start to flicker. Gunn to Fred, Fred to Spike, Spike to Xander, Xander to the prisoner and then over to Angel himself.

Xander figures there's history enough between Angel and him for him to try to tug the vampire back from whatever psycho place his brain's just moved into.

"Angel, buddy - "

"Say that name again." Angel says, black-as-my-undead-soul eyes never leaving the face of the poor schmuck currently tied to a chair.

The guy, too Jasmine-blissed out to be aware of the danger, repeats: "Wesley."

Oh, Xander thinks about two seconds later, a vampire *can* crush a man's skull in just using the force of his fist. Good to know.


Pause. Rewind.

The arrival of Connor's blood to the white hat side resulted in new plans for inoculations and recovery. The first to go where the foundlings that had been with them in the sewers from the start. All had never been in Jasmine's thrall in the first place and now they never would be.

Next were people in key places - like warehouse guards and medical folk - who were needed on their side. The withdrawal pains were hell and not all of them agreed to stay on. In the end it was a 60/40 split. 60 percent grudgingly staying, 40 percent finding inventive ways of committing suicide using only their limited resources.

Still - better than nothing.

Once the process was streamlined, it then became a matter of planned strikes. Hitting the right people for the maximum benefit.

This was where the Sunnydale gang came in.

Xander was the first. Grabbed in the night, rough handled, forced into what he later found out was a week of agony that even heroin withdrawal couldn't rival, then made to wake up one day with his one eye blinking up at an Angel who looked about as cheerful as he ever did.

"Jasmine's a lie," Angel told him, flatly. The vampire then deposited a kit containing one vial of blood and a few dozen syringes. "You get to save the others."

Xander did. He got Giles first, then Dawnie. Anya and various Slayers in Training had been the easiest next. Angel appeared once, to help with Buffy (the Slayer herself managed to come out of her thrall with relative ease, simply commenting, flatly, "Déjà vu all over again." and never speaking of it again though never, for that matter, smiling anymore either). After that it was up to Scoobies to save Scoobies. Buffy took care of Spike. Spike and Buffy managed Faith. And then it needed a tag team of Buffy, Spike, Faith, Xander, Kennedy *and* Giles to battle it out the fifteen hours needed to hold Willow still and inject her.

The rest, in comparison, were easy.

Culture shock ruled the day. Meetings were held in Angel's underground bunkers to find out what was true and what was not. Some things were convenient - apparently Power That Was trumped First Evil That Is in the big capture the flag battle of life. Some were funny, like woman hating Caleb turning out to be one of Jasmine's most devout preachers and fund raisers - a task they left him to since *nobody* wanted to deal with him.

Others were weird. Like the Angel's son having sex with Cordy and bringing about the end of the world thing.

There wasn't much time for chewing the fat, however. Enough had been wasted just saving the Scoobs, and Angel made his impatience with that patently clear.

Finally he and Buffy had it out one night. Not fighting. Just doing that cold, emotionless thing they did. Speaking that language that only Slayers and champions were apparently only allowed to speak.

Angel: "I can't have you here. I need you out there. Making my second front."

Buffy: "Fine. Spike stays here. I can't be worrying about him."

Angel: "Fine."

So Team B was assembled. Also Team C. Buffy and Giles headed up one front, grabbing Dawnie and most of the wanna be Slayers. Willow got Team C, which notably had Faith (muscle), Anya and Andrew (demonic knowledge), Kennedy (the faint hope that Willow would not go veiny insane) and a handful of wanna bes as well.

Xander, like Spike, got to stay with Angel. Not because he liked or wanted to, but because ironically he was one of the few people Angel could trust.

Teams B and C went out. Did what they could to get more members, increase the flow of supplies, research what was needed to bring Jasmine down.


Between Willow and Fred, Jasmine's lines of communication didn't stand a chance. Even states apart as they eventually were, they managed to hack in to every transmission that needed hacking without anyone on Jasmine's side even recognizing a glitch.

In the main office, as Angel's bunkers were jokingly called, Fred became VP in charge of all things intelligence. It was up to her and her team to scan every bit of information, determine what was important, present it to Angel so that they could form their battle plans.

Fred was the one who got every communication from Lorne. She also refined the system. Created a series of drop boxes around LA that Lorne could use to slip notes into and therefore not have to negotiate his way past sewer guards anymore. This also proved safer, since it minimized face to face contact with him and anyone Connor's informants might have loved to get a picture of.

Pylean was still used for those notes, but Wesley added encryption on top of it as well. Wesley wasn't the best at it that there ever could be, but he wasn't bad for a dedicated amateur. In the end Fred trusted only herself to stare at the seemingly random combinations of numbers and letters in order to tease out the true meaning inside.

At her daily meetings with Angel, she was also the only one smart enough to never mention which items came courtesy of Wesley's hands. There were some things the vampire couldn't stand knowing about.


Wesley knew about none of this. All he knew was what he could guess, based upon his experience of working with the others before. He continued to act as Connor's right hand man - in all meanings of the phrase - and formulated the best plans of attack that he could. Even when the last of his intelligence from Angel's side dried up, he managed to do surprisingly well.


Nobody on Angel's team knew about this. What they *did* know, though, was Connor had a new helper. Somebody that in communications was referred to as the Lieutenant. Everybody soon learned to *hate* that guy. He managed to turn Connor's violent attacks into surgical strikes. Quicker battles, slightly more fatal.

They couldn't get any information about him. Nothing *real*. Gossip, though, managed to get through. Over dinner (a meal, like the two others, that Angel rarely attended) Fred would share these seemingly trivial findings: Connor's men didn't really like the Lieutenant either. Apparently he had yet another name amongst the troops and it involved words that nobody would've guessed Fred could say without blushing. There was a frequent wish for an accident of some sort to befall him.

Spike was the first to notice something wrong with that. One night, while smoking but not eating, he commented: "Doesn't make sense, does it? Thought Jasmine's lads were all hugging and sharing."

"Sure," Xander said, forking into his rehydrated potatoes, "except when it comes to *us*."

"That's my point," Spike reminded him.

Fred shrugged it off, looking sorry she'd shared. "It's just gossip. It probably doesn't mean anything."

Spike didn't look satisfied. "Maybe."

Fred stopped mentioning it for a while. Mealtime conversation centered around other things.

Sometime later, it was Gunn who brought in the next bit of news.

"Remember that name they gave the Lieutenant?" the man asked, coming back from battle one day, "turns out there's a reason."

Which was how they found out that the Lieutenant was sleeping with Connor. Which naturally led to tons of jokes outside of Angel's earshot about Connor's favorite positions, and the obvious conclusion of how the Lieutenant had gotten his job in the first place. Nobody ever stopped to consider how dangerous this knowledge would eventually be.


Fast forward a little.

It's been over a year since Jasmine took control. Almost exactly a year since Wesley was taken. A quarter of a year, more or less, since the Scoobies joined in.

The good guys are starting to get weary. Connor's blood still comes in, and fortunately there's only a few cells needed to break the thralls, but it's like fighting a hurricane with a tiny cocktail umbrella. The victories they eke out are too small to build morale.

Still, they do win some. Team B and C have now been joined by D through K. They're spread out through America and they do what they can.

The bigger numbers mean harder hits on Connor's side. And Wesley's information is what shapes many of the white hat victories.

Finally the pattern is so evident that even Connor starts to notice it.


"How did they know?" Connor rages one afternoon. He's stomping about the room, slamming things down onto tables. "They were *waiting* for us. It's like they *knew*."

Wesley notes this. Goes to rub Connor's shoulders. "Every side has its dumb luck."

Connor shakes his head. "No. It's too much."

"These things happen," Wesley assures him. Wonders if he can distract the boy with a well placed hand, or even his lips. "Few wars are one-sided."

"This one *should* be," Connor grumps.

To himself, Wesley sighs. He realizes he's going to have to shove a few more acceptable losses into the fire.


Fred gets two pieces of contradictory information.

The first, gleaned through methods Wesley is completely unaware of: the Lieutenant has planned a strike on one of their bunkers on Pico.

The second: Wesley has sent them a note saying to put crucial staff and supplies in the exact same bunker.

Fred stays up all night thinking about this.

She decides in the end that Wes is only doing his best, and must not have known what the Lieutenant was planning.


It goes on like this. Some weeks Wes manages to be more subtle about his double-crosses. He gets the white hats into just the right spot so that they can be hurt and his cover won't be blown.

At the same time he keeps sending the blood. Keeps giving them the intelligence that they need that only someone with Connor's ear could give them.

Nobody guesses or even suspects the overlap until one day, when they're doing old-fashioned reconnaissance via one of the hotel guards, a chair, and some of Angel's best threats.

Which is when the guard, one of the ones who stood outside of Wesley's door himself, lets drop the atom bomb.


Bits of brain are sliding down Angel's fingers, curling around the knuckles.

"That - that *can't* be true," Fred says.

"It's what the man told us," Spike comments.

"Well it's a *lie*," Fred insists. "Wesley wouldn't *do* that."

Xander and Gunn, though never having talked about it, turn out to be of one mind about things that Wesley would do.

"Sounds like him to me," Gunn says.

Fred is appalled. "Charles!"

"Hook up with evil to save his own damn ass?" Gunn replies. "Sounds *exactly* like Wesley to me!"

"He's *helping* us!" Fred reminds him. "*Saving* us! Risking his own life to get Connor's blood and - "

There's a pause in the air. Five people, simultaneously, figure out the answer to the question "How the Hell *does* Wes get his hands on Connor's blood?"

Fred shakes her head. "No. It's not true."

"It was true for Cordy," Xander points out, still not exactly over that.

"She was *possessed*," Fred replies. "By Jasmine." Inspiration strikes. "Maybe - maybe Wesley's possessed too? Maybe they *got* to him and - "

"They'd get to us too, pet," Spike says, his souled self taking no joy in this bubble-bursting. "Wouldn't even be having this conversation, if bitch-goddess could get any one of us back."

"He's not the Lieutenant!" Fred declares, daring any of them to challenge this. "The Lieutenant *hurts* us! He's killed some of us. He even got Matthew killed - Wesley *liked* Matthew."

"Wesley *liked* Lorne at one point too," Gunn says. "Didn't stop him putting a hole in his skull when he took Connor's side the *first* time."

Fred pounces on this. "Lorne's *with* him! He wouldn't go along with any of this. He *has* to know - "

"In which case he could be helping," Spike says, again the one with the pin to Fred's balloon.

"It's not true," Fred repeats.

Xander offers his own assessment: "Wouldn't be the first time Wes has sacrificed a few innocents for something *he* thought was a good idea."

Gunn's nod indicates this isn't a habit Wes has gotten away from since his Sunnydale past. "I'm guessing it's not the last."

Spike, content in his role of devil's advocate, "'course he *is* giving us the blood. Strike against the prodigal's side with that one."

Gunn's not swayed. "So? Not like it's helping *that* much. Plus that way he keeps our trust. Plays us for chumps while he uses our information to plan his little victories."

Even Xander spots the flaw in this one. "But we don't *give* him information, right? I thought we had a strict one way only policy there."

"We do," Spike agrees. "Lorne sends the stuff packing, we don't send anything back. There's no way Watcher boy could take advantage of - "

Now it's Fred who's grown quiet. "He told me to send supplies to Pico."

Everyone in the room remembers the attack in question. It was one of the most vicious, and would've been moreso if they hadn't had the warning to pull people out.

"Before the attack," Fred says, disbelief coloring her face as she admits it. "He sent a message. He said the safest place was the bunker on Pico." She looks over at Angel. "The Lieutenant planned that attack. But - but it *can't* be true. Lorne gave us that information. Why would he do something like that?"

Angel speaks for the first time since he reacted. "Guess I'll go ask him."

It isn't until Angel's gone that they all realize they don't know which "him" Angel meant.


PART TWELVE

Wesley's in his bedroom, alone, when Angel appears.

"You know," the vampire says, in that casual way that says he's maybe half a second, three quarters tops, from peeling off your scalp just to hear it make that interesting squishy noise, "if *I* had a secret passage into my bedroom that *my* greatest enemy knew about I might take a minute. Nail the door shut. Maybe throw down some broken glass for the guy to step on. Booby trap it a bit."

Wesley looks at him. Tries not to panic. Knows that even a quick rapid beating of his heart will end up telling Angel too much and get the vampire killed. "We have different approaches to these things," Wesley says.

"Looks like we do," Angel replies. He walks forward. Surveys the place. Notes the fabric of the drapes. "Damask? Nice. I had drapes like these once. Of course, I had to kill a whole family in order to get the house to put them in." Dark eyes zero in on Wesley, a hawk sighting itself on a mouse. "How many did you kill to get them?"

Wesley's proud that his voice doesn't quaver. "I did what I had to do."

Angel comes closer now. Gets a scent. Says, weightedly. "Did you?"

Wesley draws himself up. Is almost glad that it's going to be this easy to drive the vampire away. "I believe you know I did," Wesley tells him. "But, as I do want to make this clear for you, the answer to your terribly subtle question is yes. I've fucked your son."

"Still doing it, far as I can tell," Angel replies.

"Not at the moment, granted," Wesley agrees. "But yes. The last time was - oh yes, just a few hours ago. By the way," Wesley says, feeling that he needs to at least make a show of this, "you realize I only need to say the word to have a squadron of guards in here ready to turn you to dust?"

"Yeah," Angel says, casual as anything. "Just as you realize I'll break your fucking neck before you get to the 'u'. Cut the shit, Wes. Talk to me."

Wesley turns away from him. "I've nothing to say to you."

The turn's not half done before Angel grabs his wrist, wrenches him around. The action moves Wesley's sleeve, exposes the brand. Angel's retort dies, is replaced by another. "What? They out of fraternity symbols?"

Wesley answers honestly. "I needed to make my loyalties clear."

"You're crystal," Angel tells him. Doesn't let go. The tiniest movement would break Wesley's bones. "How long?"

"Long enough," Wesley tells him.

"Why?"

Wesley has no ready reply for that. The truth is far too tempting.

Angel tightens his grip. Repeats, his voice without inflection. "Why?"

Lacking a story, Wesley aims for Angel's weaknesses. "Do you know," he whispers, as though this conversation were intimate, "the thing I love best of all is sucking Connor's cock. I used to wonder why, but then I realized: It's not attached to a corpse."

Direct hit. The hand tightens again and Wesley can't stifle a sound of pain. "You've got vamp-hating on me now? Is that it?"

"I've done what I've had to do," Wesley says. Doesn't struggle. Wonders if the bones are slowly crushing into powder.

Wesley is slammed back against a wall. Pinned there by the undead shackle around his wrist. "And what is that, Wes? Enlighten me."

Honesty proves the best lie. "What I had to, in order to survive."

"Shack up with Connor?" Angel asks. "Turn on all your friends?" Flicker of emotion in dark eyes. "Turn on me?"

Wesley laughs at him. It's his father's laugh. "I'm glad you at least realize that you and I were never friends."

"I'm getting that now," Angel tells him.

"We might have been, once," Wesley says, wanting to take no chances on Angel holding on to sentiment, in any way losing sight of the real goals. "If you hadn't tried to kill me. On multiple occasions. True friends don't do that."

"True friends don't steal each other's sons."

"Which should've told you right there where my priorities were as far as you were concerned," Wesley replies, smoothly. "Hardly my fault if you're too blind or stupid to notice it."

Too much. Angel's not entirely buying it. "Why do you hate me?"

"It's not about hate," Wesley says. "It's about winning."

"You want to win."

"Something like that." "Fucking my kid? That's winning?"

"Well Jasmine wouldn't let me fuck her personally so I settled for the next best thing."

"This what your note meant? The one about Lilah? Too much in love with saving your own ass to care about anybody else?"

Wesley looks away. Doesn't want Angel to see him remembering their secret notes and the Pylean puns inside. "My priorities are different now."

"No kidding," Angel looks at him with contempt. "Nice clothes. You enjoy wearing those while your friends scrounge for food?"

"The same 'friends' who left me to die in a park once my throat was slit?" Wesley asks. "Then sided with *you* after you tried to kill me? In which case yes, I quite enjoy the contrast."

"Enjoy trying to get them killed too?" Angel asks.

"I've been aiming for you but I can't say the others aren't a side benefit."

"Do you and your boyfriend find it funny?" Angel asks. "Do you two sit here and cook up these little schemes to double cross us?"

"I notice," Wesley says, softly, "you never doubted that I was the one double crossing you."

"Do I have reason to?" Angel asks. "You're here with the nice suite, the good clothes, *reeking* of my son all over you. And, oh yeah, you've got intelligence leaks for *shit*. We know it's you, Wes. I just needed to see the look on your face."

Wesley faces him down. Says, coldly. "Look all you like."

Angel locks gazes with him, then shakes his head. Drops Wesley's wrist. "Hope it was all worth it to you, Wes. Hope you *love* facing that guy you see in the mirror."

"How could I not?" Wesley asks, unable to resist stoking the fire. "I succeeded, didn't I? Wrapped you around my bloody finger. Made you think you could trust me, made you think I *cared*. As though I could. As though I could ever feel emotion for a *monster* like you. As though I could look into your eyes and not see every single person you ever killed, every child you ever tortured. I must tell you, Angel, it was quite a challenge putting up with it but the only thing which got me through that night down in the sewers was thinking about Connor while tuning out every word out of your *stupid* mouth as I - "

Silence. Angel's hand is wrapped around Wesley's throat. Squeezing. Lightbulbs are going off in Wesley's eyes. His lungs jerk with the desperate need for air.

"You're a piece of shit, Wes," Angel says, flatly. "Big bad traitor with all your plans and your double crossing - give me a break. You're nothing but that *shit* little boy who couldn't get his daddy to love him and that's all you're ever going to be. And guess what? Now you're going to be that *shit* little man who can't even hold on to his boyfriend because you're finished. We're not taking anymore from you or Lorne so let's see how long you last when you can't *cheat* your way into pretending you know what the fuck you're talking about."

A blackout is imminent. Angel still keeps going. "Hate to break it to you too, but from what I hear this act of yours? Didn't fool anybody on this side either. Know what your men call you? They call you that cocksucking fag. And that's when you were somewhat *useful*. What do you think they're going to call you now, Wes? Hum?"

Angel drops him. Wesley falls to the floor. Chest heaves. He's far too practiced at having to force his body to relearn how to take in air.

"Go to Hell, Wes." Angel says. He's leaving. Wesley can see his shoes walking towards the closet door.

Wesley closes his eyes. Fights against his first real flashback - a full-on five senses recreation of the times *Connor* has tried a little breath play. Knows he has to say one last thing.

"The night," he gasps, his voice rough and torn, "I didn't meet you.... Connor - Connor gave me the best orgasm of my life."

"If you and Lorne show your faces again," Angel says, quietly, "I'll kill you both myself."

The vampire leaves. Wesley is left alone with the knowledge that after all he's worked for, Angel's continued survival is the only thing he hasn't failed at.

It's not as much comfort as he wants it to be.


Connor comes home. Sees Wes on the floor. Smells his father. Panics. Calls for guards, medical attention, *action*.

Wesley submits to all this. He's stunned. Still coming down off the flashback. Trying desperately to figure out a way out of this. Pick up the pieces. At least make an omelet even if he can't put the egg back into the shell again.

Lorne is there, appearing as if by magic. Sends many questioning glances Wesley's way. Takes a moment to realize the hand-shaped bruise that now collars Wesley's throat is too large to belong to the usual suspect of Connor.

"We in trouble?" Lorne whisper-asks in Pylean, pretending to fuss over ice on Wesley's wrist.

Wes still can't speak in anything over a croak. It lends a heavier British accent to the demon language. "He found out about my relationship with Connor. He thinks we're traitors." Meets Lorne's eyes. Can't help but feel a tiny bit regretful - he never meant to repay the demon's kindness towards him by making *him* an acceptable loss. "We can't go back. If Angel sees us, he'll kill us."

"Oh," Lorne says. Hides his worry over this well. "Well we'll just cross that bridge when we come to it."

Wesley closes his eyes. His body tremors with another flashback. He feels his inner walls start to crumble. He wonders if he should even fight the tide.


Later, when Lorne vanishes and does not return, Wesley finds he cannot blame him. The ship is sinking. It's every man for himself.


Connor, oblivious to these behind the scenes dealings, storms and rages. Breaks things. Curses his father's name. Says words he thinks Wesley will find a comfort.

"I'll kill him," the boy declares. "I'll *kill* him for ever touching you. Just you watch."

Wesley takes this in. Considers the passion behind it. Thinks about his position in the grand scheme of things.

That night, after Connor fucks him, Wesley gets up. Goes into the kitchen. Gets a knife.

With no emotion whatsoever moves to plunge it into Connor's back.

Connor, sadly, has his father's reflexes. The knife is wrenched away. Wesley is beaten. Then - and even Wesley can use no other word for it now - raped. Connor does it with tears in his eyes, wondering why Wesley is trying to hurt him.

Wesley abuses his wounded throat further by laying it all out for him. Explains every single bit of his betrayal, because he knows the look on Connor's face is most likely to be the only revenge he'll ever get.

Connor beats him again. Even harder than he ever has before.

When he's done Wesley is dragged off. Deposited downstairs. In the basement, with the rats. Inside of, appropriately enough, Angelus's old cage, which has been left to go to dust down there.

Wesley's locked in. There's a pipe if he wants water. No one visits him. There is no food. Not even, and Wesley isn't unaware of the karma of this, a bucket.

Wesley lies there, on his side, which is the only position he can somewhat exist in. Knows he's been left here to die.

Doesn't fight this fate in the slightest.


PART THIRTEEN

Somebody Lorne's never met before holds up a crossbow. Does the friend or foe challenge. Lorne holds up his hands, glad Angel's little death warrant hasn't gotten out to the ears of the troops yet.

"I'm here to see Fred," the demon says, having read his own future on this one. At least as best as he's able. He knows Fred'll get him in. Beyond that he has no idea.

There's debate. Lorne's patted down for weapons. He makes the obligatory joke about one of the patters at least buying him dinner.

He's weaponless - which was a stupid chance to take but Angel's not the only one who knows a few secret shortcuts around town. He got there without being seen.

Finally he's brought into a room. He sits in a chair. Waits. An hour or so later there's a burst of Fred into the room.

"Lorne!" she cries. Dives into his arms. Holds him tight, like a little kid seeing her dad come home after work. "God, I thought I - " jumps back, still holds him by the shirtsleeves. Eyes wide, like those freaky paintings of kids you can get at the same places you can buy pictures of clowns crying. "It's not true, right? It *can't* be true. Angel said - "

"Yeah, I'm sure he said a lot of stuff," Lorne tells her. Tries to pat her arms, bring her freak-out down from eleven if he can. "Which is why I need to talk to him."

Fred's mouth twists. "That might not be such a good idea right now. Angel's been a little... well I don't want to exaggerate but the word 'death' was involved and you know how cranky he gets...."

Lorne smiles at her. Tries to show his appreciation for her efforts to gloss over things. "I know, sugarplum. But still. I need to see him."


Later still -

Angel, without any emotion: "I'm having a hard time thinking of anything *stupider* you could ask me for right now."

Lorne, unaffected: "Yeah, yeah. Look, if you don't like what I have to say you can cut my head off, all right?"

Angel: "Fine. For a start."

"Great." Lorne brushes past him, goes into what is obviously Angel's quarters. "Alone."

Angel follows, shuts the door.

Lorne starts talking.


The vampire is quiet. If Lorne had been there at the time, he would recognize Angel's expression as the same one he had after he was ripped out of Jasmine's thrall. Instead all he sees is quiet. Angel's aura is so shuttered it could blend into the wall.

"Keep going," Angel says.

Lorne clears his throat. "Um - I don't know if you really want to hear *all* the details of - "

Dark eyes look at him. Lorne suddenly has no doubt how this creature made an entire continent wet its pants whenever he came to town.

"I don't know," Angel says, the voice of death itself, "why you think you get to make *any* decisions right now. Keep. Talking."

Lorne sighs. Continues.

Angel listens. Interrupts every so often with questions. Usually they're only one word like: "Color?" or "Angle?" and Lorne slowly realizes that Angel's acting as his own forensics team. Figuring out exactly what happened when all Lorne knows about is a bruise or a mark he saw.

Lorne's not a vampire. He doesn't have photo recall. But he does his best.

Finally he winds down. He's told the tale as best he knows it. Shrugs in defeat. "I got nothing else."

Angel's not looking at him. His eyes are focused on something Lorne can't see. Lorne doesn't interrupt.

Finally a question: "When did Connor stop beating him?"

Lorne, unaware of the attack Wes suffered after he left, says "Sometime after the night he was supposed to meet you. Not sure when. They locked me up in my room. I got out when Wes came to get me. It could've been then. I didn't see any damage but - " shrugs " - he got good at hiding it too."

"But you think it was then."

"If you're holding a gun to my head, yes."

Angel takes this in.

"I don't know why," Lorne offers.

Angel, almost too soft to hear, "I do."

Lorne waits, but the vampire doesn't share.

"When did it start?" Angel asks.

Lorne bites his tongue. He's already told this bit. Isn't sure he wants to fan the fire by repeating it. Doesn't think Angel would've forgotten it so soon, but then figures just in case: "At the high school."

"When he took him," Angel says.

"Right."

Another pause, then Angel's in motion. Lorne finds he has to jog to keep up with him as he leaves the room.

Faces appear. Lorne recognizes some of them, wonders why others are looking at him like they know him.

Gunn: "What's up?"

Angel points to him and Fred. "You and you. Get the Hell out of my sight. Now. I don't care where you go but it's not gonna be here."

Fred, shocked, "Angel, what - "

Gunn, pissed, "The Hell - "

Angel, taking absolutely no shit, "Out of my sight *now*."

Someone Lorne doesn't know but he later finds out is Xander says "Angel, you can't just come in here and cop attitude - "

Angel turns on him. "You want attitude? Attitude is I *kill* them now. Me being Mr. Nice Guy is I'm giving advance warning. They do *not* stay here. If they're here when I get back then you get to watch the disemboweling. We clear?"

But then there's no more discussion because Angel's gone. Vanishes too quick for even Spike to follow close on his tracks.

Shock controls the room. Finally all sets of eyes turn back to Lorne.

"The *Hell*?" Gunn repeats.

Lorne makes a sympathetic face. "Sorry, kids. Wish I could tell you."

There's arguments, curses and bickering, but in the end Lorne convinces them to at least stay out of Angel's way.


It's night when Angel pulls himself up topside.

He grabs the first human being he sees and snaps their neck.

This draws a little attention. Which is good. He vamps out, starts fighting.

The term "inhuman strength" has never meant so much. He's in a residential zone. It's ridiculous how little anyone, even in a group, can withstand him. He kills more than he can count before they finally learn to back away from him, evade his grasp, wait for the cops to come.

He thinks about waiting himself, but he's bored with fighting.

Back into the sewers. Back up topside in another area.

He hits a hotel next. No messy invitations necessary. Starts on the top floor and works his way down, revisiting some of his favorite tortures from centuries past. Then, at about the ninth floor, starts inventing new ones.

Again at some point he's let enough of them scream that he's attracted attention. Another fight. Another slipping away into the sewers.

He goes on like this for hours until he eventually ends up by the Hollywood sign. He stands in front of it, looking out over the city. Watches the lights of planes line up in the sky, get ready for landing at LAX. Feels blood and gore get dry and sticky on his skin.

Younger vampire appears. "You done yet?" Spike asks.

Angel checks. Finds that he still doesn't feel any better. "Nope."

Spike wanders over, hands in his coat pockets. "Be daylight soon."

"Yep."

"Planning on continuing the rampage from underground then?" Spike asks. Ponders. "Or maybe under a menacing baby blue blanket?"

Faint growl. Angel's so past the point of finding anything funny he can't even define it.

"Your boy's tearing up the town looking for you," Spike says. "Got the radio all a-buzz. Military and coppers and just about anyone who can man a toothpick and remember what you look like."

Angel doesn't comment.

Spike continues, "If you *wanted* to piss the lad off why didn't you just knock on his front door?"

"Why are you here?"

Spike meets his eyes for a second. "'cause I *like* this sodding planet. The way it *was*. The way it *used* to be. And I've got soul enough to want to help get it *back*."

"Go nuts. What's stopping you?"

"Not my bloody job description, is it?" Spike asks, bitter. "Soul doesn't make you a champion. Just ask Harris."

Angel thinks about that. The thought chases around and around in his head, dancing a pas de deux with the memory of a flinch.

Spike is still talking. "You're gonna bring your boy down on us with *nukes* if you're not more fucking careful. And Jasmine's lot is blissed out enough that they'd probably laugh at the radiation. Say it was a goddess suntan or some rubbish."

"What's your point?"

"Don't make me have to bash your brains in to stop you ending the world as we know it *again*," Spike says. Fishes for a cigarette. "We've done that bit. Time we moved on."

Angel thinks about it some more. "You're right."


Back down to the bunker. A meeting is called. Angel doesn't bring up the fact that Fred and Gunn are still there, they don't bring up the fact that he actually looks like a serial killer.

"Call Willow back," Angel says.

Xander: "What's the plan?"

Angel, not elaborating further: "We're doing a summoning."


Communication plus teleportation takes time. It's a day and a half before Willow shows up. By herself, because anything else would be too dangerous.

Angel takes her into his quarters. Shuts the door. Outlines the plan.

Willow frowns. Shakes her head. Tries to appease. "Angel, this is some pretty dark stuff - "

"I'm a pretty dark guy."

"True, but - "

"Pretty dark situation too."

"I don't *like* dark magic," Willow tells him. "Not anymore. Asking me to do this - it's too dangerous."

"Do it," Angel says, "and the world gets saved and you only have to do it once."

Willow's still not certain. "I don't think Buffy would like this."

"I'm 250 years old," Angel tells her. "I don't have to give a flying shit about what she would like."

"Angel - "

"Do it, or I'm finding another witch who will."

Willow glares at him. Doesn't like being challenged.

On the other hand, doesn't like thinking of this in somebody else's hands either.

She does the spell.


"Not that I'm surprised, because I think we all knew you would come to this point eventually, but I've got to know: what made you so confident that this would *work*?"

Angel's topside again. Looking out onto an empty street. Out onto a world that's about to change.

Replies: "Jasmine's evil in this dimension."

"True."

Angel turns. Looks Lilah in the eye. "You're evil in *every* dimension."

"Flattering of you to say so," Lilah says, "but I think you mean Wolfram & Hart. I checked the books. Apparently in some dimensions I'm actually - " she mock shudders " - good. Happily married, even."

Angel doesn't ask her who the husband is.

"Still, I can't say you're wrong," Lilah admits. "Of course, why it took you so long to - "

"He can free himself, right?"

"And he zeros in on the fine print," Lilah observes.

Angel doesn't put up with her bull. Gives her a look that says he's happy to test out the strength of that scarf that's helping to hold her head up. "He can free himself, *right*?"

Plucked eyebrows quirk upward, the picture of innocence. "You of all people need to ask me this?"

"I of all people *especially* need to ask you this."

Lilah smiles. It's not friendly. "He has as much chance of getting free as anyone else does."

"If he earns it?"

"That's one theory."

Angel sighs. Knows he can't get anything better than this. *No* world works that way.

"Fine. It's a deal."

"I knew you'd come around," Lilah tells him. "Now all we need to do is the traditional seal the deal in blood."

"You'll get it," Angel tells her, "when you give me what I asked for."

Another catlike smile. "Of course. I'd hate for you to think you couldn't take us at our word."


It comes in phases.

Phase one is information. Lilah gives them a dossier on everything Jasmine. She's there for the meetings where they study it, form a plan of action.

She doesn't resist pointing out the part about ending world peace. They all tell her to shut the fuck up.

For reasons known only to herself, however, she never mentions the fact that all of this could have ended months ago, if Angel had both had a better control of his temper, and if he hadn't been secretly crushing on Wesley.

They find out about the other dimension - the one Jasmine left. Willow opens a portal to it. Angel and Spike go through. Together they fight what needs fighting. Come back with the demon's head.

Phase two involves hacking into one of Jasmine's nightly world-wide broadcasts. This proves easy to do with Fred's skills, Willow's magic, and Wolfram & Hart's technology.

Jasmine's real name is broadcast. Pandemonium reigns.

Phase three is sending out the troops - Willow, Spike, a transported in tag team of Faith and Buffy - to take care of the comparatively mundane detail of destroying Jasmine herself. They coat their weapons with the leftovers of Connor's blood. The battle won't prove easy for them, but it's doable.

This leaves Angel free for phase four.


Connor's waiting for him. Expecting him. Without guards now, which means Angel can walk right up to him and hit him across the face.

Connor hits back, and the fight begins in earnest.

He's his father's son. He puts up a good battle. They destroy the hotel as they literally crash through floors. Drop down to the hard marble floor of the lobby. Keep going, keep fighting.

Connor is fueled by fury. He spits at his father. Rages against him for ruining everything. For being such a failure at even trying to be a good dad.

Angel starts out just as angry, then realizes he's gone to a place past it now. One that's even tinged with regret.

Doesn't blame Connor for accusing him. In the end he thinks it's his fault too.

"I'm sorry," he says, at a point when they've broken apart, forced upon each other a second to regroup and, in Connor's case, catch a breath.

Connor wipes blood from his mouth. With abstract pride Angel thinks he almost looks like a vampire. "For what?"

"For everything," Angel says. "For Holtz. For Quor-toth. For not being the human dad you deserved. The Hell of it is - I love you, Connor. Even after all this. You're still my son."

Connor stands up. He wavers between the urge to listen or fight.

Angel stands as well. "I'm also sorry for this."

An instinct a father could be proud of kicks in. Connor moves to run, but Angel's faster.

He holds his son by the throat. Looks into his boy's eyes as he struggles for air.

"To save the world I had to sell a soul," Angel tells him. "The soul of a champion."

The knife comes out. The cut across the throat is clean, painless. It's the kind of cut only an experienced torturer could do.

Angel drops his son, watches the blood pour out which seals the deal.

Says the last words Connor hears before going into Hell: "I picked yours."


From his position downstairs, Wesley hears the chaos.

He's sitting in the back of the cage, looking out upon nothing in particular. He's been left alone for days. Too worthless at first for anyone to even bother coming to taunt him then, at a time perhaps halfway through, too minor on the scale of more important things to worry about.

Wesley thinks to himself that based on the noise, the world must be ending. In a way he's glad. Cuts down on the wait.

"I want to make something clear. For the record."

Wesley looks up. Sees Lilah standing on the other side of the bars. "You're not real."

She taps the metal. It echoes back. "Real enough."

Wesley still doesn't believe her. He's had these conversations before.

"For the record," Lilah repeats, arms folded, "I wouldn't have done it like this. Well - not *all* of it."

Wesley thinks about his current position. Finds it hard to think of Lilah ever being so outmatched that she would fall this far.

"Then again," Lilah says, "I never had anyone who was that important to me."

Wesley considers the words. Isn't aware of time passing, Lilah leaving, or the opening of the cage.

Instead it becomes like a dream world. He blinks, and Angel appears.

"Come on," Angel says, lifting him gently. "Let's get you out of here."


PART FOURTEEN

Wes is taken to the hospital. It's owned by Wolfram & Hart. Actually, as Angel finds out from some secretary-shaped person who natters at his ear until he glares at her and makes her go away, as the head of Wolfram & Hart it's technically *Angel's* hospital, and he happens to own several, and does he want Wes taken to the closest, the most discrete, or the one that's been recently renovated and has a kitchen run by Wolfgang Puck?

Wes gets taken to the best, and that particular discussion ends there.

There's a menu of choices. It starts out with a list of all of Wes's injuries - something Angel reads with a learned eye and concludes that his son was thorough, if not adept at hurting people. There's words like "fractures" "infection" "dehydration" and, always a favorite, "internal bleeding". It's the kind of thing that happens when someone wants to hurt somebody else but doesn't know the best way to do it. Prolong the pain. Take advantage of one injury so you can piggyback it on another and make even more screaming. Or whimpering, if that's your preference.

In practical terms it means Wes is pretty fucked up, physically speaking, but luckily they've got every form of medicine at their command.

"Fix him," Angel tells the doctors, not needing to say out loud that either they succeed at this or Angel will take time out of his day in order to remove their fingers one by one. He hands over the ubiquitous paperwork, his signature in all the right places. "And take that fucking scar off his arm."

A doctor hesitates. "What about - " gestures to his neck.

Angel thinks about the mark Justine left behind. "Leave that to Wes to decide."


Angel moves into the hospital. It's his hospital so he kicks somebody out of their office and makes it his own. Underlings fuss and cry over this, Angel tells them to go fuck themselves, they still object, and Angel makes his new rule clear by snapping a couple of necks.

After that there's little complaining, and he never has to remind anyone how he likes his coffee in the morning.

Outside the world moves on. Another phase of Angel's deal takes effect as reality and memories change. Turn the past year into a vague memory of earthquakes, fire, mass hysteria. Everything shifts just a little bit to the right, history rewriting itself to keep the main events, but remove the pain of Jasmine and her loss.

The only ones who remember the truth are the core groups from LA and Sunnydale.

The former AI gang, now W&H executives, hang around. Fret. Worry. Puzzle over the details of the deal Angel has thoughtfully made on their behalf. Angel doesn't involve himself with it much. He tells them they're free to go and they're free to stay. He's not going to live their lives for him.

There's discussion, and they all decide to stay. Lorne's comfortable with it, Gunn's interested, and Fred sticks around as a kind of wary conscience which would grate on Angel's nerves if not for the fact that he's an expert at tuning out things he doesn't care to listen to.

Well, except for one person.

"This is it? This is what you do?" Buffy's standing in front of his desk, looking thoroughly aware of the fact that the position suggests inequality of some sort. Or distance. Or maybe it's just bringing up annoying memories of having to go to the principal's office.

"It is now," Angel tells her.

"What about the helpless? Saving the world? Protecting *your* city?"

"Still doing it," Angel says. "Though there's less sweating now. Plus my clothes stay cleaner."

Tiny arms fold. Green eyes glare. "You sold your *soul*."

"My soul is my business," Angel tells her. Destined love aside, he feels no need to tell her the truth, to explain whose soul *was* sold to make it all possible. All anyone knows is that Connor is gone, and Angel won't talk about it. It was Fred who suggested maybe Connor got a second chance at a new life, and it's a neat enough ending to the story that people talk themselves into it and Angel sees no need to contradict them.

Quick look of hurt. "Angel, how could you - "

"What would you have done if it was Dawn?"

Buffy's got no argument there.

There's affection enough between them that Angel feels a need to make it easier on her. "I know what I'm doing."

Sardonic smile that few people are allowed to give him. "Yeah, because you are the *master* at making the best decisions."

It's an old joke. "I told you never to call me that."

Hint of a smile.

He keeps going. "I'm better looking than he ever was."

"Not like it's much competition," Buffy points out.

There's quiet.

"I can't stay here," Buffy finally says.

"I know."

"This isn't my life."

"I know."

"I've got...." vague gesture, a sense of displacement now that the Sunnydale Hellmouth is closed. "things."

"I know."

More quiet.

Buffy finally offers: "Spike's coming with me."

Angel takes this information in every way it's intended. Offers his own back in turn: "I'm staying here."

New relationships understood and given wary permission, if not full ringing endorsements, he and Buffy hug, share a kiss that probably goes on too long for people who are supposed to be moving on in life, and then Buffy and Spike head out of town.

The rest of the Sunnydale gang filters out in their own time. Most go back to Sunnydale, wanting to at least see their old home. Some things are different (closed Hellmouth) others the same (demons and vampires). A few stay, put down roots. Others leave, decide to explore other places for themselves.

Surprisingly Giles lingers in LA. Talks with Angel a bit about the law firm, the resources inside. Hints vaguely about possibilities that the future now holds. Notes how much young Slayers in Training could benefit from the kinds of things that a powerful organization could give them.

Angel lets this go on for a bit, knowing that he at least owes Giles that courtesy for a multitude of reasons, then, because he doesn't have to ask to know what *Wes* would think about all this, just as politely and casually tells Giles thanks for visiting, but fuck off.

Angel later hears through the grapevine that Giles moved to New York, and then France. Beyond that he doesn't care.

Faith stays. Shows up at Angel's office one day and tells him: "I'm in."

Angel, taken aback, "But I - "

Faith-like shrug. "Don't care. Know what you're doing here, sounds good to me. I'm in."

Angel studies her. "You know what that means, right? This place is evil. It's going to try to - "

She waves it off. "Been there, killed that. Now when do I get my hot secretary?"

So Faith stays.

All the while Angel keeps busy. Focuses on the new tasks in front of him.

Tries not to obsess too much about the fact that it's been a week now and Wes hasn't even left his room.


When Wesley wakes up there are doctors hovering over him.

He jerks away, ready to fight but sadly not possessing a body which grants him the ability to do so. Still, his displeasure is clear and the doctors step back, try not to push their luck.

From amongst the white-clad group, Lorne appears.

"Why don't you guys give us a moment?" the demon suggests. He makes a shoving motion towards the door. The doctors nod, leave. Wesley is amazed at the deference. Lorne notices it, grins. "Amazing the kind of treatment you can get when you zig past HMO and PPO and go right for the BFBC."

Wesley frowns. "BFBC?"

Lorne sits beside him. "Big Fat Blank Check."

Wesley wants to find this funny, but reality is too tenuous at the moment. "What's going on?"

Lorne pats his arm. "Get comfy, it's a story."

He explains what he knows. Goes in reverse. Starts off with the Wolfram & Hart deal that saved the world but came at a price Angel's not telling anyone about, hits on the part where there's all kinds of big budget side benefits, fills in the details about the rest of the gang and then eventually winds his way towards what started it all.

Lorne pauses, looks apologetic. "I had to tell him."

Wesley, who finds he can't take his eyes away from the gauze which covers his magically healing brand, doesn't need clarification. "Angel knows."

"Yeah."

Glances up at Lorne. "Everything?"

Small nod. "Yeah." Then, quickly, "But *just* him. Everybody else got told to mind their own business. Promise."

Wesley takes this in. Notes that it's only Lorne visiting him at the moment. Ponders it all. "And we… I can dictate whatever course of treatment that I like?"

"Dictate *anything* that you like," Lorne assures him. "If you want nothing but hot fudge sundaes for breakfast you got it."

Wesley accepts that. "Good. Send the doctors in. I'll tell them what to do."

Lorne stands, ready to help. "Anything else?"

"Yes," Wesley says. Meets the demon's eyes. "No visitors."

Lorne's mouth opens to protest.

"No visitors," Wesley repeats. "Only you."

Lorne shuts his mouth again. Decides not to fight this one out just yet.


Wesley, no stranger to supernatural medicine, looks over the course of treatments that he's been prescribed. He vetoes some, suggests others. In the end finds what for him is a comfortable medium between efficient healing and metaphysical safety. It will be a few weeks yet before he can leave, but it's a great improvement over the few months that it might have been. It's good enough.

He stays in his room - a thing so decadent that it's more like a hotel suite. There's a kitchenette, a jacuzzi bath, and a balcony with beautiful view of the sunset.

It's terrifyingly lonely.

The agoraphobia is back, comfortable and familiar. It's joined by nightmares, sleepless nights, phantom fears and the ever present hand trembling. Doctors suggest various treatments, but Wesley rejects all of them. It's psychological. He'll deal with it. Drugs, in his mind, would only prolong the inevitable.

So he loses a great deal of sleep and tries not to think about it.

Lorne keeps him company. He's a new job now, with Wolfram & Hart, and he entertains Wesley with news from it. The time spent is enjoyable, a distraction from it all.

One day a jarring chord is introduced.

"Wonder what your job is going to be?" Lorne asks as they amuse themselves reading about the private supernatural life of one of their favorite movie stars.

Wesley swallows. He reminds himself to be touched that Lorne thinks he would be a part of this. "I'll manage something, I'm sure."

Lorne scowls. "Wes, you're *going* to be a part of - "

"Let's not," Wesley asks him, making it more of a command than a request. He puts a file down, picks up another. "I believe I met this one once. Years ago, at a party."

Lorne notices the subject change, but doesn't press.


"Get in there."

Angel doesn't look up from his desk. "I can't."

Lorne folds his arms, glares down at him. "You're a champion. *Cope*."

Angel looks up. He doesn't have his amused face on. "He said no visitors."

Lorne thinks about arguing, then decides lying is faster. "He changed his mind. He's asking for you."

The look of childlike hope is unmistakable. "Really?"

"Really," Lorne says. Doesn't need a song to know there's a lot of awkward shuffling and not knowing what to do with one's hands coming up, so adds: "And bring him a coffee."

Angel gets up and doesn't even look back.


The door is more intimidating than he thought it would be. Angel stands outside of it for a long moment, then finally pushes it open.

Wes is sitting at a table, a thick book in front of him. He looks up, then blinks in surprise. "Angel?"

Angel realizes he's standing in the doorway as if he hasn't gotten an invitation. As though to perhaps buy himself one he holds up the cardboard cup in his hand. "Lorne said you wanted coffee?"

"I - " hesitation, then Wesley nods, stands. "Er - yes. Please. I just - "

But then coffee's forgotten, because Wes, for whom it's currently a miracle that he can *walk*, isn't supposed to be standing and moving much and he's starting to tip over and Angel *can't* let him fall so the coffee's dropped, spilled all over the floor, and the door's left to swing shut on its own as Angel grabs Wes, catches him, holds him tight.

Then there's a pause. Angel and Wes both realizing at the same moment what's happening. Angel yelling at himself. Chastising himself for moving too fast, not giving Wes what he *needs* not giving him *space* to *heal* because he's been hurt, seriously hurt and you don't *fuck* with healing on things like that.

And then it doesn't matter because he needs to kiss Wesley and not even a goddess could make him stop.

Wesley freezes. Angel can feel the fear licking through him. Then, like an explosion of joy, Wes clings to him and kisses him back.

"I thought I lost you," Wesley whispers, his forehead resting against Angel's own.

"You never could," Angel promises him. He picks Wes up and puts him into bed.


They lie together, side by side, Angel's chest against Wes's back. Hands thread together, tangle, warm against cool. It's hours later, after Wes has actually managed to get something that comes close to peaceful sleep. Wes is still shaking, though, and Angel knows it's going to be a long while before Wes totally resembles a man who is healthy.

Wanting to help that process, Angel offers a piece of information that he thinks will make for a good start.

"I sent him to Hell," Angel whispers. It's the first time he's said it.

Wes is quiet, but quick on the uptake. "That was the price."

Angel nods. Then, because he feels Wes should know this, says "It's okay if that makes you happy."

A look in Wes's eyes suggests this was the right thing to say. Wes has words of his own though: "It's okay if it makes you sad."

Angel hugs Wes tighter to himself. Ironically, Wes is the only person he can think of ever talking about this with. Especially since -

"Cordelia?"

"Couldn't save her," Angel tells him. "Coma. They say they'll keep trying."

Wes nods, accepts it. Then: "I'm sorry."

"Me too."

"I never wanted you to lose your son."

Angel feels the words like a fist in his gut, but it's the right kind of pain. "I don't think I ever had him."

"Even still."

Philosophical shrug. "Some things aren't meant to be."

"I'm afraid I don't know what those things are anymore," Wesley admits. He studies Angel's hand, runs a shaking fingertip over the back of it. "My plans - "

"Are good."

There's a bark of harsh laughter. "Unnecessary, is the word I think you're looking for."

"I know my own words," Angel tells him. "Now if you want me to say I would have ever agreed to this you're wrong. If I'd had *any* idea - " he bites this off, stops himself from yelling, from cursing Wes for the anger he feels at *himself* for that night down in the sewers. Controls himself, then settles on "Never again. You don't do that ever again."

"And when the next Apocalypse comes? Am I to stand on the sidelines? Value myself more than the world?"

"Yes."

"Angel - "

He cups Wes's chin, turns him around to face him. "Screw the world, Wes. Screw everything. You think I would've done all this for just anyone? When I found out what my own *son* was doing - " he stops, aborts the sentence because he knows it will only bring pain to the both of them. "I did it for you, Wes. But the catch is I've got nothing after this. So yeah. I kind of need you to keep yourself safe, 'cause if you won't do it then I'll have to. Even if it means I go down with you."

Wes stiffens. Starts to pull away. "Lorne didn't tell you everything."

Angel won't let him go. "He didn't have to. You did."

"You have no idea - "

"I know after a while you started to like it."

There's a long, tangible silence.

"It happens," Angel tells him. "Believe me, I know. Apple didn't fall far from the tree, Wes. It's nothing for you to be ashamed of."

Wes is sitting up now. Hands propped on either side of him to help him maintain the position. His back is to Angel, but even so Angel can hear him when he finally speaks.

"I wanted it to be you." Wes turns around, meets Angel's eyes, his own dark to the point of near blackness. "I always... I tried, but I couldn't - "

"I know," Angel says. He reaches for Wes, pulls him close again. Wes settles down, puts his head on Angel's chest. Angel thinks back to all the Wesleys *he's* tortured in his life. "It's okay. You got me now. Dead body and all."

"I lied," Wes says, unnecessarily. "I never liked him because he was human. I hated him because he was warm."

Angel, who hates admitting how much he needed to hear that, instead replies with a joke: "Could put my hands in ice if it makes you feel any better."

This coaxes a smile out of Wes. "Not if you ever..." falters, then can't help but be serious "Angel, don't leave? Don't.... It became so hard to remember you. Please, I -"

Angel kisses the top of his head. "I'm not letting you out of my sight."

Wes's shaking gets harder then, but Angel knows it's all right. Sometimes the toxins of the mind just have to work themselves out of the body just like anything else.

He holds Wes close and lets him tremble.


Days pass. Angel hardly ever leaves the room. He has clothes and blood sent in. Only goes outside into the hall to take care of business. Usually leaves Lorne in the room with Wes when he does.

It helps Wes, not being alone. But Angel has to admit the reason is selfish too. *He* feels better, keeping an eye on Wes. It makes him stable. Less cranky.

Doesn't stop him from wanting to work his frustrations out by killing people, but you take those things one day at a time.

Wes deals with the physical things. He starts walking again, though he needs a cane. He can eat foods and keep them down. The other things - the phobias, the sleeping - still bother him, but it's understood that will take some time.

Wes still refuses visitors, though, and one day Angel figures Wes is well enough to address this issue.

"There's other parts to the deal," Angel says.

Wes tries to puzzle this over. "There are?"

"If we want," Angel says, immediately clarifies. "You want."

Eyebrows come together in a frown. "And what do I want?"

"People to forget," Angel tells him. "About you and Connor."

"I thought that they - "

"Not the whole thing," Angel reassures him. "But... Connor's guys talked. Everybody knows you slept with him."

Wesley sits back. One hand curls into a fist. "I see."

"We can erase that."

"We can?"

"Already did it for the world," Angel reminds him. "All that's left is the people you know. We can make it so that it never happened. Make everyone forget. Even you."

Wes stands up. Walks out to the balcony. Angel follows. Stays in the safety of the shadows of the room.

"No more nightmares," Angel points out. "No more shaking, no more flashbacks, no more - "

"No more *me*," Wesley snaps. Looks back at him. "Do you demand this of me? To forget everything that I am? Everything I've *done*? I've *earned* this for God's - "

Angel holds up his hands. "No. Not demanding. Just saying. You can make it be whatever you want."

Wes searches his face, looks for the truth. "Would you forget Hell if someone asked you?"

Angel answers honestly. "I tend not to forget anything if someone asks me."

Wes leans back against the railing. It's tall enough that there's no chance of him tipping over. "All I can imagine is some fool version of myself doing this all over again, simply because he doesn't know better."

"Wouldn't want that to happen."

Wes thinks about it. "But we can make the others forget? About - about Connor and me?"

Angel nods. "Just like the world. No more memories of Connor and anything. All anybody would know is that you got captured, then helped us win."

Wes smiles bitterly at that. "Such a proud victory too."

"Doesn't make it less true," Angel reminds him.

Wesley doesn't respond to that. "Is there another price?"

"No. Connor's soul bought us a *lot* of stuff. You don't even know about half of it yet."

"Fine," Wesley says. He pushes away from the railing. "Do it. I want everyone to forget. Everyone except me."

Angel, assuming he's included in this, accepts this as fair. "Okay. You got it."

Wes reads Angel's mind better than most. He comes closer, touches Angel's cheek. "And you. And... Lorne, I think. He's earned it. Besides, decisions like this always have backlashes. We'll need his skills to navigate them."

Angel frowns. "You sure?"

Now it's Wes's turn to hold him. "I told you, Angel. I would never take away your son."

Angel hugs him and they go back inside.


PART FIFTEEN

Reality gets shifted again. Angel watches it, marveling at how easily the people who are, for all intents and purposes, his friends adapt. He's encountered more alternate dimensions and changed timelines than he can count at this point and it never fails to disorient him, even from the outside.

Wes is wary about the whole thing. He becomes tighter, sharper. Then one day he curtly says he'll take visitors and Angel knows Wes is doing it to get it *over* with, and not because he really wants to.

Gunn and Fred come in. Make with the awkward talk. Gunn does that thing where he's not sure if he's supposed to be on the macho kidding behavior of friends or the aloof coolness of two guys who refuse to deal with their emotions. He wavers back and forth and at no time does Wes help out and give him a clue.

Fred's more vocal. She smiles, plops herself down on the edge of Wes's bed without invitation. Goes on and on about life in general without ever noticing that Wes doesn't say much in return. Then, visiting hours over, she wraps her dancer-thin arms around Wes and hugs him tight. Wes hugs her back. Stiffly, but he does it. For half a second Angel's tempted to ask him something stupid like "Are you still in love with her?" but he cuts the urge off at the pass. A second later and he's musing *You know, there's more shifts in reality that could be done…* and then he abandons that one too. He and Wes have enough to deal with. His petty jealousies can wait.

They don't have to wait long. Once Fred and Gunn are gone Wes's outward bravado fails him, and he drops the masks so quickly it's as though Angel can hear them crash onto floor. Blue eyes look over towards Angel, then, and the vampire knows he's needed. He curls up beside Wes, hugs him in arms much bigger and safer than Fred's could ever be, and lets Wes try to relax.

Faith visits. Which surprises the shit out of Angel but mostly because when he left the room it was Lorne in there and Faith in no way resembles the green demon. But Angel comes back in after a meeting to find the other Slayer sitting sideways on Wes's bed, easy as anything, as she and Wes are in the middle of talking about something that's good enough to make Wes laugh.

Angel's not his son. He smiles. Feels glad Wes has somebody else that makes him feel happy. Decides to take a few extra minutes to leave the two of them to themselves.


The time comes for Wes to leave the hospital.

It's potentially complicated. There's lots of details that could be involved. Angel knows the milestone has been looming over Wes's head like a sword. Wes doesn't like convalescing, but he's not too fond of leaping out into the real world either.

Angel makes it easy on him. He takes care of all the decisions.

"Come on," he tells Wes one night. It doesn't take much to get Wes's bags packed. Wes never really spread himself out into the room much.

Wes blinks. "Come…?"

Angel touches his cheek. "Home."

Which is how Wes finds out that Angel's decided they're moving in together.

Angel takes care of the bags. Wes takes care of himself. The cane is there, still, will be for a month or more at least. If Angel had his way he'd put Wes back in a wheelchair, but he knows Wes has to decide this on his own.

They get down to the hospital garage. Angel clicks the remote for his car. He dumps Wes's bags into it then notices Wes standing there, staring at the vehicle.

"What?"

"This is a Ferrari."

"Um… yeah."

"Specifically, it is a Ferrari 575M Maranello."

Angel sees where this is going. "Company car," he mutters.

Wes actually looks amused. "Oh yes. Very practical."

"Hey - you should see it handle potholes."

"Of course," Wesley says, and the humor in his eyes actually makes him look like a ghost of his old self. "Still, I must ask - "

"What?"

Skeptical look now. "Honestly - in *silver*?"

"Shaddup."


They go back to Angel's new digs. Take the private elevator up. Wes marvels at the glass, reaching out to touch it. Then they hit the suite and Wes has *that* to take in. He tries to explore all of it but finally Angel won't let him. Wes is looking pale, and the shaking has moved up to include his arms. Angel orders food in. Makes Wes curl up with him on the eight foot long couch. Lights a fire in the fireplace and holds him close while he eats. Wes manages a few bites and then has to put it aside. Angel isn't surprised when he ends up throwing it up later.

There's two bedrooms. Angel made sure of it. But when bedtime comes Wes is right there beside him and it's not even a question that they'll be together.

There's pills to help Wes sleep but he refuses them. Takes only the ones that are actually medicinal - like the ones that are finishing up the healing on all those formerly broken bones, for example. Instead they stay up and talk for a while. The topics are nothing in particular. Then, just before sleep comes, Angel reaches out and twitches the curtains open.

"In the morning it'll be some view," Angel explains.

Wes looks uncertain, but goes along.

Come morning the sun filters in. Angel feels it on his skin, nice and warm. He opens his eyes to find Wes staring at him. It actually makes him feel self-conscious.

"I meant - " he gestures to the city spread out before them. "That. It's a nice view."

Wes runs a hand down Angel's sunlit chest, never once looking away. "I'm sure it is."

Angel smiles at that and lets Wes stare.


There's complications.

They were expected, but it doesn't mean Angel likes them.

The first few days are all about adaptation. Wes learning where everything is. For that matter, *Angel* learning it since he's hardly spent any time in the place himself. There's weirdness. Scheduling. Angel figuring out how to do his job without leaving Wes alone. Lorne comes, visits, picks up the slack. A few times Faith joins in.

But then it goes downhill.

Wes becomes restless. Prowls around the apartment. Doesn't sleep. Finally gives up on trying. Goes to bed with Angel each night but then sneaks out sometime after Angel drops off. Angel wakes up to find Wes out in the living room, curled up with a book that he's not reading.

Then Wes gets so tired that he *has* to sleep, and when he does he can't keep still. He jerks. Moans. Wakes himself up with the violence of his own motions. Then he's upset, irritable, has to go off and be alone.

The trembling becomes even worse. Navigating a knife and fork becomes too difficult, so Wes claims to develop a preference for finger foods - muffins, tacos, pizza and the like. Four cups are shattered - three tea, one wine glass - before Wes gets into the habit of lying and saying he's not thirsty. Angel catches him one day trying to steal sips of water from out of the kitchen faucet when he realizes this isn't going to work.

"We need to talk," Angel tells him, sitting across from him at their breakfast table.

Wes looks like he knows what's coming. "Yes?"

"You have a job here. With the firm. It's up to you but I think you should take it."

"What does it entail?" Wesley asks.

"Helping me," Angel says. Clarifies. "Running it, with me."

Wes is taken aback. "I'd assumed - you're talking vice presidential, are you not?"

"I am not," Angel tells him. "I'm talking running it. With me. Co-CEO or whatever you wanna call it. Put it on your business cards and everything."

"The *entire* firm?"

"We've only got the LA branch."

"Even still…"

Angel sweetens the deal. Pushes a piece of paper across the table. There's a number written on it. "That's your annual salary. *After* taxes."

Wesley's lips part in shock. He squints, as though uncertain of his vision. Then a tiny smile appears.

Thinking that he can read Wes's thoughts, Angel says "Bet you could make your old man proud of you for pulling in even *half* that much."

"Are you joking?" Wesley says, picking the paper up with both hands. "For a third of this I could have him *killed*."

"Actually we have a department that takes care of that kind of thing now."

"No, I - " Wes starts, stops, shakes his head. "Remind me around Christmas."

Angel grins.

"You mean this?" Wesley asks. Puts the paper down again.

"I do."

"You *honestly* mean this?" Wesley asks. "Because I'm not going to take a job as your equal only to have you treat me as second fiddle. It was bad enough when you barely accepted me as your leader."

"I know," Angel says. "And I mean it."

"Because if you cannot abide my partnership, say so now," Wes tells him. "I'd rather this be honest. Give me a lesser job if that's the only thing you can handle. Don't *pity* me into - "

"It's not pity," Angel tells him, his voice brooking no argument. "Believe me, I've got pity for a lot of people right now but you're not one of them. I *need* you, Wes. You *get* this. You know this job isn't going to be fun, or fluffy, and it's going to involve a lot of hard decisions that won't make either one of us any new friends. Name me somebody *besides* you who knows how to do that."

Angel knows the words have impact. Proves that he's been paying attention to all that Wes did in the time with Connor.

"If you *mean* this - "

"I do."

"Then yes," Wesley says. "I accept."

"Good," Angel shoves a stack of paperwork across the table. "There's stuff for you to fill out, make it official. Use ink, even if they tell you to use blood. And this is all your benefits. Bonuses, freebies, car allowance… *House* allowance."

Wes stops. Clearly the other shoe has dropped. "House allowance."

"Yeah," Angel says. "Plus moving expenses."

Wes sits up straighter. More formal. "I see."

"You can't live here."

"Fine."

"I want you to go out. Find a place."

"Yes, fine. I'll pack. Do it - "

Angel ignores him. "Someplace for you. That you own. Put your name on it."

"Angel, I've already *agreed*, I don't see the reason why you have to belabor - "

Angel reaches across the table, catches one of Wes's hands. Shuts him up. "I'm an idiot. This is a suite, just like what you had with Connor. May be bigger, fancier, but it's the same thing. No fucking wonder you're miserable here. You need a new place. One that's *yours*. One that's not gonna feel like a cage to you. I'm thinking house, but you'll know what makes you happy. I want you to take that big, fat, evil allowance, go out, and buy a piece of real estate that you feel comfortable with."

Wes shakes his head, tries to pull away. "I told you. I understand. I - "

"For *us*," Angel tells him. Then tries a teasing smile. "Moron."

"Oh," Wes says. He looks down, then actually blushes a bit. "I thought - oh."

"I love you even if you're stupid sometimes."

There's a tiny smile at that. "Lucky me."


The house search gives Wes new purpose. He's British and, well, he's *Wesley* so Angel knows he's happier having something outside of himself to focus on and do. So starting the new job is put on hold while Wes takes care of meeting with real estate agents, going out on appointments, seeing what's on the market.

Wes isn't stable enough to drive yet, so he takes the stretch limo. Sometimes Lorne comes with.

Angel comes home to find Wes poring over brochures and documents. Glossy photos of various places litter the desks and even the floor. Angel tries to pick them up but Wes makes a hissing sound of displeasure.

"I didn't say you could do that," Wes tells him. "Now shoo."

Angel smiles to himself and lets Wes do his thing. They meet regularly during the day for lunch and the like. Angel notes that the trembling is less during those times. Wes even manages silverware again. It wears off by nighttime though. Once they go to bed Wes is shaking so hard that Angel feels like he might as well have put a quarter into a machine right by the bed, but it's part of the process so Angel deals. He also deals with it once Wes apparently finds something and his free hours, including lunch, are taken up with making all of the necessary arrangements.

Finally Angel discovers his secretary has put an appointment down on his calendar for a "Mr. Wyndam-Pryce" and Wes himself shows up to take him out. They use the limo, with its safely tinted windows, and drive for a while. Eventually they reach a spot not far from Malibu. An automatic gate opens for them. A white house gleams in the distance.

"This the place?" Angel asks.

"You'll see," Wes tells him.

Private garage the size of which could hold several *families*, let alone a good chunk of Angel's new cars. It leads directly into the kitchen and from there Wes gives him the tour.

The place is huge. Tall ceilings. Big rooms. Air flows freely about as the walls are designed to encourage this, rather than cut off both the circulation and the view. Hardwood floors. White walls. Multiple bed and bath rooms, the latter of which have their own saunas or jacuzzis. Plenty of rooms leftover for offices, family rooms - Wes even suggests a pool table and a dart board for a room which also has a wet bar. State of the art kitchen. State of the art *everything*.

But it's the *rest* of it which makes it impressive.

There are windows. Floor to ceiling. Various shapes and sizes. And they cover practically every single outside wall. French doors, sliding doors, sliding windows, double-hung, casement, rotating, skylights - if it's made of glass it's there, giving a near-total view of the outside from the indoors.

Not even the offices have this much sunlight.

"It's a private beach," Wes tells him, as Angel stands by one of the doors to the sand and ocean that is their back yard. "And there's a pool - it's outdoors right now but I can have it sealed in if you like. Put it behind - "

"You did this," Angel says. Taps the glass that's protecting him. "Had this put in special?"

"Er - yes," Wes admits. "The home didn't come like that originally."

"Been a while since I've lived on a beach," Angel says. He reaches out, puts an arm around Wes's waist. "I remember I liked it."

Wes relaxes a hair. "You could live here?"

"Could *you*?"

Wes nods. "Very comfortably."

"Then it's my new home," Angel tells him. Pulls him closer still. Takes it all in, and realizes that yeah, this *could* be a home for him. "When can we move?"

"Immediately, if you'd like."

"I'd like," Angel tells him. Mulls over the specs. "Think we could get a helicopter pad put in?"

Small double take. "That wasn't a joke?"

"In the job description?" Angel asks. "No."

"You own a helicopter now."

"No," Angel reminds him, "*we* own a helicopter now." Small smirk. "You'll like it. It's shiny."

"Like your car?"

"Let it go."

Wes moves closer. Settles into his usual spot of his back to Angel's chest. "I might be able to get used to this."

Angel kisses the top of Wes's head. Hopes Wes is speaking about the rest of their lives in general. "Good."


PART SIXTEEN - EPILOGUE

Moving a household, when you haven't blown up the last one, takes time. Effort. Wes manages all the details. All Angel has to do is show up at the right times and give approving looks.

There's things to do. Servants, which Wes takes care of. People who come, clean, stay the hell out of sight. Angel wondered if Wes would be uncomfortable with this lord-of-the-mannering but it turns out that it's water to Wes's duck. They try to come when Wes isn't home, and when he is they know to get out of his way.

There's decorating. Wes bypasses everything Angel would have thought he liked and instead goes Eastern. Zen, including a garden in their side courtyard with volcano rocks, koi ponds and fountains. Very little of the West makes it into the house and for a time Angel wonders if he should store some of his own favorite things, but Wes tells him it's *their* house and Angel can do what he likes. So Angel scatters some of his stuff about, it doesn't freak Wes, and they eventually find a comfortable clash of the cultures to live in.

Sometime during all this Wes goes back to work. Heads into the office wearing Ralph Lauren dressy casuals. Makes himself known, gets into the swing of things.

On the side he's got physical therapy. The office and the house both have gyms. Wes pounds away at the equipment, building up his strength, learning to walk unaided again.

Outwardly, he seems fine.

It's only at home, with Angel, that Wes drops the act. Angel's amazed that Wes even bothers, but then he realizes that Wes doesn't have a choice. It's the only way he *can* keep up appearances out in the real world. Wes turns into his own picture of Dorian Gray - a shadowy version of himself that gets worse the better his outside self appears.

Even still Wes doesn't talk about it. He deals. It's Wes, it's what he does. Angel watches, longs to make it better, knows that he can't until Wes asks him to. In the meanwhile they dance around the issue and they buy a lot of replacement cups and glasses.


It's the shaking that bothers Wesley the most.

Broken bones aren't new. Cuts, scrapes, nightmares - all part of the demon-fighting bargain, really. Spend a childhood jumping like a ninny at the tiniest movement of shadow and you learn to take awareness of what creeps and crawls around in the dark as merely par for the very exotic course.

But the trembling is different.

It comes on him from time to time. No pattern, no schedule - though it's worse at home than it is in the office and for that, at least, Wesley is grateful. It's like an entity of its own, and one time Wesley asks the doctors to check. Scan him. Run some tests. Make sure he isn't *actually* possessed by a demon.

Well - other than Angel, of course.

He gets no such comfort. The displeasure is all his own.

Sometimes its hard. He'll be lying down in bed, Angel's strong chest directly behind him, and then his body jerks. His teeth chatter. His limbs refuse to behave themselves and keep still. It's like being dropped into blizzard-like temperatures without the benefit of a warm jacket and when it comes upon him he can't entirely let go of the fear that it will never *stop*. He imagines himself old, enfeebled, locked in palsy with a mind that's been rattled into insanity decades ago.

Angel is there. Powerful. Blessedly silent. He feels no need to mutter inane, trite phrases. Instead he simply moves closer and holds Wesley tight.

Those moments aren't so bad.

Othertimes are annoyances. Rapid-fire attacks of shivering. Just enough to make him drop things, spill things on himself or other people. It's a terrorist attack of humiliation, and it makes him feel as though he were five years younger again. He bears through it, bitterly, smiling tightly when Fred tries too hard to help by swooping down on the dropped items and assuring him that it will be all right and doesn't realize the last thing he wants is for anyone to notice these things in the first place.

He responds to that by working harder at his physical therapy. Driving himself to near exhaustion in the hopes he will carve down the timeline until he feels normal again.

Which leaves the final kind. The low-down, near constant tremble which centers directly on his hands.

It isn't until he tries to save Faith from being attacked by a demon that he comes to understand the full horror of this.

He tries to fire a shot, one aimed directly at the demon's fifth eye, and misses.

The shock that he feels about that is quickly followed by rage. Angel's there to pick up the slack - deflect the demon's leg so Faith can stab its heart out - which leaves Wesley free to run off and explode in private.


When Angel finds him he's on their beach. It's well past sundown, but the heat of his emotions is still with him.

"Son of a *bitch*," Wesley says, as though Angel had been there for the whole of his now hours-long monologue about his hatred for Connor. "He had no *right*. No *right* to take that from me."

Angel's looking at him, clearly assessing him for damage. "Not that I'm ignoring you, but if you *hurt* yourself today so *help* me I'll - "

"I gave him *everything else*," Wesley keeps going, knowing that it will be obvious to Angel that, physically speaking, he's as all right as he is on any other day. "Everything else that little monster wanted of me. My mind, my body - he had no *right* to this. It was *never* his to take."

"None of it was," Angel tells him.

"This *one thing* - "

"There was *no thing*," Angel, his own anger sketching his face into lines of his former self, tells him. "Wes, you wanna feed yourself a cock and bullshit story about this then fine. I get that. I support it, if it makes you happy. But you're *not* happy and you can't lie and say you are. He fucked you. He violated you. He took *everything* from you. All that and the one thing you think's worthy of bitching about is *marksmanship*?"

"It was mine," Wesley repeats, stamping a fist into the sand. "Mine alone. Everything else didn't matter."

"Yours?" Angel asks, squatting down beside him. "Jesus Christ, Wes, if you don't belong to *yourself* who the Hell *do* you belong to?"

Wesley is distracted enough from his anger to stare him down. "My *God* you are the dumbest creature on this or any other planet."

It still took the vampire a few moments. "Oh."

"The light dawns."

"I don't like making assumptions."

"Then don't *assume*. *Listen* when I tell you this."

"All right, I got it," Angel says. He twists around, sitting beside Wesley. The sand immediately dots his black clothes, as though the white grains had been waiting to pounce. "So why doesn't that make you mad too? On my behalf or something?"

"It did," Wesley tells him. "When I was with him. I hated him for taking what was yours, even though I knew that was the only reason why he wanted me."

"Plenty of reasons for guys to want you, Wes."

"His were rather skewed, I think," Wesley replies. "Regardless - it's different now. I think you bear that anger for the both of us. Rather well, actually."

"How so?"

Wesley looks over at him. "You actually go out and kill people to deal with it. Some nights I envy that."

The vampire's brown eyes become darker, almost shuttered. "Didn't know you knew."

"I know a lot of things about you, Angel," Wesley tells him. "It's a byproduct of being in love with you."

"Do you want me to stop?" Angel asks.

Wesley shakes his head. "I told you. You do it for both of us."

Angel thinks about it. "Could join me. When you're better."

"Ah, there's the rub," Wesley says, leaning against Angel's side. "If I were better, I wouldn't feel that need, would I?"

"Give it time," Angel says, putting an arm around him. "We've got plenty."

Wesley settles against Angel's body, and hates that that's all he feels capable of doing that night.


Sex comes slowly.

Not by Wesley's choice. Not his *active* choice, anyway. Intellectually he wants Angel. Wants to strip him down, writhe against him, and get fucked by him good and proper. Reacquaint himself with muscles and angles and hard pieces that he's been missing for so long.

Physically, though, he's not capable of it.

Wesley tries. Angel patiently endures the kisses, caresses, seductions that start out with great promise but then end, cut off, when something twitches the wrong way or a memory surfaces or the shaking starts *yet again* and forces Wesley to push away, gasping for air, fighting off a panic attack or vomiting or both as his entire body rejects the notion and makes him scramble to find freedom.

And, of course, as soon as he recovers himself the first person he wants to go to is Angel. Sometimes it is only a matter of moments before he's back in the vampire's arms, clinging to him, but this time with a wholly different desperation.

"It's okay," Angel tells him. "It doesn't have to be now."

How Angel deals with the ongoing cock tease Wesley has no idea, though he suspects the nightly excursions to do things they don't tell the others about probably has something to do with it.

Wesley thinks about it a lot. He remembers dreaming about Angel, about how the vampire's naked form is to him the Platonic ideal of everything sexual and desirable. About how it feels to be touched by him, and wanted.

One night it sneaks up on them both. They're outside, lying together in one of the lounge chairs by the pool, watching the waves lap on shore with hypnotic serenity. Angel is behind him, comfortably cool because the evening is cool. Wesley watches the waves and their ongoing motion and feels the rises and planes of the vampire's body and finds himself, randomly, aroused by it.

Angel, perhaps preternaturally sensing the need, moves his hand down, guides Wesley's hand into place. Encourages him to stroke himself, undo his jeans, take his cock out of his pants.

Angel does nothing. Rests his hand on Wesley's leg, rubbing it absently, but otherwise lets Wesley take control. Kisses his shoulder and neck as he warms up to it, tugs and pulls, doesn't bother being graceful or skilled about it. Rather he abandons himself to it, existing purely on the physical, his mind helpfully supplying a flicker of images and sensations designed to get him right to the point - Angel's smile, his thigh, his cock, his hands, his laugh, his strength, his fangs - until with three sharp gasps Wesley comes, almost surprised, then collapses back against Angel's chest.

"You had to do it first," Angel says, as though he'd known this all along. They're kissing lazily, Angel's hand now tracing small, sticky circles against Wesley's skin. "Make it yours again. It'll be easier, from now on."

And easier it is. Not perfect. There are still nightmares to chase. But it's better. Angel finally begins a slow seduction of *him*, reacquainting Wesley with the understanding that in spite of Connor's best efforts, there were some things he *couldn't* do in his father's place. Nights are spent with little else done but hours spent with Angel's mouth wrapped around his cock, or his tongue teasing Wesley's ass while Wesley fists the sheets, squeezes his eyes shut, and knows without doubt he would happily die for this man without a single question.

"I love you," Wesley says one morning, when he's gotten little sleep but doesn't mind because he can still feel the sensation of Angel's dick inside of him and will for hours.

Angel grins, tries to be macho. "I've guessed."


Wesley runs away.

He can't help it. There are moments when it's all *too* perfect. Too safe, battles with ever-present demons and Big Bads aside. Too pleasurable. He can't stand the panic that hovers over him, convincing him that it will all blow up and destroy itself right in front of him. He gets into his car - one of the hulking SUVs that keep Angel's zippy sports cars masculine company - and drives, aiming himself no where in particular save *not here*.

Angel tracks him down each and every time.

It's in Africa, when the vampire appears in the middle of a bar, grabs the man Wesley is currently making out with, snaps his neck and observes "Did you know we have a private plane, too?" that Wesley realizes he *wants* Angel to find him. To destroy whatever is between them both and haul Wesley home. He needs it, as much as he's needed anything else in all this.

He needs to know he'll never be taken away again.

He doesn't run away as much, after that.


Years pass.

The nightmares eventually settle. The tremors go away. Scars fade, but not all vanish. Wesley gets his perfect marksmanship back, complete with a long list of demon kills to prove it.

The life of Wolfram & Hart ebbs and flows. The lineup of employees keeps changing - some leave, some arrive. A few members from Sunnydale join the ranks, others never even bother to call.

Angel goes through his difficulties. The Powers that Be continue to test him the hardest. Some days, in his own eyes, he fails. Others he succeeds. He goes back and forth along the scale from good to evil to good again, never really finding a single place that he feels comfortable with but, Wesley realizes, it's the ability to change that *makes* Angel comfortable. The vampire prefers his options.

They buy more things. Houses, expensive electronic equipment. Take elaborate vacations around the world and to different dimensions that most could never dream of.

They have sex, never quite getting over the honeymoon stage of constant desire to touch and be touched. The memory of years when such a thing was impossible keeps the fire from ever dying.

Angel's favorite, when all is said and done, is making love to Wesley in their bedroom, Wes underneath him, his entire body relaxed and feeling nothing but pleasure, soft gasps escaping his mouth as he clings to Angel's arms as though he doesn't ever want to let go.

Wesley's favorite is in their living room, on the white fur rug, during the afternoon when Angel's body is awash in sunlight, glowing golden, and a living miracle of love and desire.

Fred gets married. Her heart picks a demon in Accounting, a nebbishy Grakluk who polishes his glasses a lot but shows a surprising bravery the day the LA Office is attacked by Holwer demons. Wesley and Gunn both share a look over this, and find it saves a lot of arguments to realize that they now know the end of the story. When Gunn forays the suggestion of a beer and pizza night, Wesley, for the first time, does not turn him down.

After Fred's wedding, Wesley finds Angel standing on their beach. He's barefoot, still wearing his tuxedo, and his bow tie is undone and hanging about his neck. With his broad shoulders and dark hair he could easily look like a Mafioso, but somehow the vampire manages to make the whole thing seem elegant, refined.

"Quite an event," Wesley says, standing beside him with his hands in his pockets. He thinks about undoing his own tie, but can't be bothered to make the attempt.

"I am never," Angel tells him, "*ever* going to do the chicken dance. You know, *again*."

"I thought your YMCA was spot-on," Wesley replies.

"I've had practice."

They watch the waves for a while. Wesley thinks of all the years they've been together. All the years that, in his heart, he knows they'll *be* together. Of how only his death will prevent him from leaving Angel's side, and how his name is now on a lovely little contract which makes even *that* a non-issue.

"I'll never make you do that, you know," Wesley says, feeling coy about it.

"Practice?"

"Dance," Wesley says, looking at him. "In order to get the benefits that come from it."

Angel ponders it. Half-quirks an eyebrow. "Was that a proposal?"

"It's an acknowledgement that one would be redundant," Wesley tells him.

"You have *got* to stop spending so much time talking to the legal department," Angel says, but the look in his eyes shows that he's pleased.

"After everything we've been through - " Wesley starts.

Angel cuts him off, slipping a hand into his. "No shit, Wes. But it's nice to hear."

Wesley squeezes his hand, offers an apology. "I am sorry, though."

Angel gives him a curious look. "Sorry?"

"That it's not the ultimate for you," Wesley says. "Not that I'd care to go another round with Angelus but - I desire happiness for you. It makes me sad to know that you can't feel it."

Angel looks at him. "I *am* happy, Wes."

"Not perfectly so," Wesley points out.

"Says who?"

"You," Wesley replies, "by a strict definition."

Angel chuckles. Shakes his head. "Just when I think that *I'm* not the brightest around here."

"Pardon?" Wesley asks.

Angel tugs on his hand, pulls him closer. The kiss is long and lingering.

"Everything I bought," Angel whispers, his lips brushing against Wesley's own. "Everything I did to bring you back, you think I would leave that out of the bargain?"

"Oh," Wesley says, looking at Angel in a new light. "You mean that - "

"*Nothing* takes you from me," Angel tells him. He kisses Wes again, a press of lips to his mouth, forehead and cheek. "Not even how much I love you. How stupid would I be to not ask for *that*?"

"Smarter than I," Wesley admits.

"Maybe," Angel acknowledges. He pulls back, drawing Wesley up to their home. "Personally, I'm bigger on partnership. We can be smart together."

"We can be *everything* together," Wesley muses.

Angel smiles. It remains one of Wesley's favorite views. "That too."

They go inside, and fuck happily on the thick white fur rug.

FIN.

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