Disclaimer [Site Disclaimer]: The stories archived for this contest are fanfiction, and the authors do not claim any copyright over the characters and settings of Angel or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

A Series of Small Walls
by dodyskin (dodyskin at gmail.com)

Pairing: Wes/Angel

Other Characters: Cordy, Spike, Fred, books

Rated: up to R

Spoilers/Time Setting:From Lineage to Not Fade Away.

Notes: Betas: romanyg and freydis (I love them dearly)

Summary: Wes and Angel talk, lots more than is feasible, then they ignore Spike, then they ignore each other, then they talk again. There are a lot of long silences, which is weird, because they do talk a lot. They have Daddy Issues but then, who doesn't?


It's dark and they are both very tired. Backs curve into the shape of the couch and set up cricks for the morning. The hum of the building is muted but the pulsing lights from the city make bright chatter on the walls.

Angel continues with his pep talk. "Well, like I said... don't beat yourself up. Oh... you know... I killed my actual dad. It was one of the first things I did when I became a vampire."

Wesley stares at him with consternation, "I hardly see how that's the same situation."

"Yeah." Angel says, understanding chasing puzzlement across his face. "I didn't really think that one through. You should get some rest."

"So should you." Wesley hauls himself upright, and turns back to look at Angel curiously. "Angel? When you were a boy, what were you going to be?"

Angel closes his eyes. "It was so long ago, I don't think I even remember. It wasn't like now you know. We didn't exactly have firemen or astronauts."

"I know, but you must have wanted to do something."

"I guess, I guess when I was small I wanted to be like my father." Angel snorts and tries not to smile, because that would be, bad. "Grew out of it though."

Wesley begins to walk away but then pauses, saying half to himself, "I wanted to be good, I think. I never quite seemed to manage it though."

He slides back down onto the sofa and lets out a deflated wheeze.

They sit for a while and contemplate pointy things. It's almost like old times and they both feel it, sinking into easy familiarity that cradles them like the sofa. A soft step of unease shuffles in the background.

"You know, I think I *would* have been a cloth merchant."

That's unexpected and Wesley splutters out giggles before he can stop.

"Don't laugh at me." Angel says, grinning. "That was a respectable trade. I have an eye for fabric." Proudly, he recites, "I have a gay man's taste."

"You're never going to give up on that one are you?"

He nods, pleased as a cow in clover. "It's a keeper."

Wesley tries to move on but his mind clings stubbornly. "A draper? Really?"

"Yeah, or maybe just a drunkard in nice clothes."

"At school we had exams on you. I would have got a distinction if I'd known that. Possibly even a prize. Now all I get is a disturbing image of you in breeches."

"Huh. Okay."

They ponder that for a while, mirroring unconsciously and staring forward.

"Did you go to school?"

Angel murmurs, not moving, not turning, just staring ahead. "You tell me. Didn't you do a paper on me? Several?"

With surprise Wesley answers, "Yes, I did as a matter of fact. How did you...?"

"Good guess." Angel shifts and blurts out. "It's weird, you probably know more about vampires than I do."

"Hmm? Well, the emphasis was always more on methodology than content."

"I'm sorry?"

"You know, how to research, training routines, strategy." Considering this for a minute, Wesley screws up his face and rubs his forehead, smiling. "It was sort of like a very long, very complicated, game of Diplomacy with cold showers and flogging."

"Sounds great," Angel says uncertainly. "What's Diplomacy?"

"It's a board game."

"Bet you're good at it."

"I prefer Scrabble."

"That's the one with the little letters, isn't it?"

Wesley smiles bright and teasy-light. "What exactly did you do before you met us?"

"I did things! Well, there was the whole evil thing. That took up a lot of my time. Then hell was pretty demanding. Then there's battling evil, also time-consuming. I don't know --travelled, wore hats, read a lot. Stuff."

"But no Scrabble."

"Never came up."

"Well, you have these tiles that all have values. You put them together to make a word and fit it onto the board."

"Wes,"

"You score extra points when your word runs over these special squares"

"Wes!" Angel says louder. "Stop. What's going on?"

Wesley looks at him blankly. "Well, the idea is to score the most points by..."

"Not with the Scrabble, with you." Angel makes a move as if to touch the other man and then thinks better of it. Brown eyes fill with pleading. "Help me out here. I'm not good at this touchy-feely stuff."

Eyes avoid each other, and Wesley contemplates the ceiling, rather giving the impression he is being lifted by a string attached to his chin. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean."

"It's late Wes. It's really late. It's the end of a really long day in which a cyborg pretending to be your father tried to kill Fred and steal my free will. Why are we talking about playing Scrabble?"

"Angel. If you are not interested in Scrabble." Wesley smiles thinly. "That's fine."

"Is Scrabble like code or something? Is it like some code I don't get because... Have you talked to Fred?"

"Pardon?"

"Since the thing on the roof. Have you seen her?"

"No. I'm sorry, I fail to see the connection."

"You should go talk with her. She's probably looking for you."

"I don't, I'm not, I," Wesley's voice levels and he says carefully, "Yes, of course you're right. I'll go directly."

As it disappears Angel suddenly recognises the soft, hopeful openness on Wesley's face. It has been gone so long he's forgotten what it looks like and he grimaces as it is zipped up into a suit of reserve.

"Dammit Wesley." He catches up with him at the door and shoots out a restraining arm. An invitation to stay becomes muddled into a demand. And then suddenly they're both shouting and growling with something so near to hate it's scary. And Wesley is somehow underneath an arm pressed to his neck and a foot grinding and he is screaming.

"So tell me about vampires, you bastard, you shit. Actually, that's a good one; do you shit? I've seen you eat. I've never seen you shit though. That's the problem with you, isn't it? So good, so bloody noble, too good for shitting and puking and bleeding."

Getting to his feet and pulling the other man with him Angel responds grimly. "I bleed."

"You leak." Wesley says and throws Angel's arms off with a gesture that would be petulant if he'd let it. "It's not the same."

"What do you want me to tell you Wes?"

"I want, I want to know."

"Know what?"

"I don't know! Everything, why are we here? Why am I here?"

Angel stands stunned, and just manages to stutter out. "I just don't think I can help you with that. I think it's like a manifestation of the eternal battle between two sides of the same coin, but..."

"No, you idiot. Here at WRH. What the fuck are we doing? Every time I try and think about why we came I...I...I..."

"Alright."

Cut off mid-flow, his mouth still hanging open, Wesley stares at Spike, who is sauntering through the furniture with his hands in his pockets.

"Oh sorry, am I interrupting?" Spike asks absently.

"No." Angel replies.

Spike cocks his head in an impression of disappointment. "Shame. "

Small, wiry, and incorporeal, Spike still manages to fill the office with his presence. It is a skill, though not, admittedly, a useful one for a hunter. The space bulges out Spike-shaped, as he pushes his hand through the desk and mouths a song to himself.

Wesley can stand it no more. "Is there something particular you wanted Spike?"

"Well, it's stupid o'clock in the morning. Usually I'm haunting Angel's bedroom but I went up and he wasn't there," Spike replies. He looks at Angel with mock dismay. "You breaking up with me?"

Angel squeezes his fists tight.

"We were just wrapping up a fun time with Wesley's neuroses."

With a teasing smile tugging at his mouth, Spike says. "Good to know I'm helping out around here. Like to be useful."

"Yes, you're quite the team player," Wesley replies. He glances at Angel. "I'm going."

"Wes."

"We'll discuss it in the morning. Goodnight."

Spike and Angel stand there in the office and watch him walk away.

"You give him a lot of rope." Spike nods towards Wesley's back as it disappears down the hall.

"Who, Wes?"

"Never let me get away with that kind of bollocks."

"Well, apart from the fact I like and respect Wesley, he does it once a year instead of once a minute. He's had a tough day."

"You're soft on him you are."

"Am not. Oh, shut up you...just be quiet for once. I'm not in the mood."

"Fine, we off?"

"What?"

"To bed, to the batcave, to the penthouse of pain."

"Do I really have a choice?"

"Only if you have a necro-tempered bell, book and candle handy."

"I really hate you." Angel says automatically, then he sighs, "Go on up, I'll be there in a minute."

Spike considers this. He dips his head in acquiescence and turns away to the elevator.

"Oh, don't make me ask" Spike mutters under his breath. He hops from one foot to the other with badly concealed frustration. "Angel, come on now, be a gentleman for once in your unlife."

Angel shakes alert from his reverie. "What's that you're saying?"

"Elevator. Button. Press." And with a painful grimace, Spike forces out, "please."

"But, how did you...? Oh, right," Angel reached over to the button. "Sure," he replies, still staring down the hall, "no touching."

Later, or earlier by now, the elevator doors reopen and Angel steps back into his office. He paces around his desk, marking a square. For angst, please form an orderly line. He picks up the phone and dials.

A very tired voice says, "Mr Wyndham Pryce's office."

"Yeah, this is Angel, I need to speak with Mr, um Wesley, put Wesley on."

"I'm sorry sir, Mr Wyndham Pryce has gone home for the day. Can I help you with anything?"

Angel replaces the phone without responding, and strides out...

ticktock

"Angel? What are you doing here?"

"Did I wake you?"

His clothes are rumpled and he looks sunk at the bottom of a glass full of sleep but Wesley shakes his head. "No, no, just um, I was thinking, I didn't hear the door. What are you doing here? Is there something happening? What do you need?"

"I think I need an apology Wes. You just blew up at me. You called me a shit. You've never done that before, wanker, occasionally, fool, idiot, yeah, but shit?"

Wesley shambles over to his sofa and lets out an enormously pained sigh. Angel tries to follow but bangs up hard against a solid wall.

"Wes? Are you going to invite me in? I haven't been here before."

"I know," he says, calm sea of acid. "I wasn't certain that you did. Come in."

Time. Passes.

"So, here we are then."

"Indeed."

Angel casts around desperately, becoming more unsure of the situation by the minute. "Place is nice, bigger than the last one. I um, really like what you've done with it."

"It came fully furnished."

"Oh-kay then. That's good."

"Spike not with you?" Wesley says, listlessly.

Head sunk into hands and Angel almost begins to rock. "I think we may have to get Willow on standby for when he does leave. It's a serious danger."

"Still, I'm sure you must have lots in common. That must be a nice change."

And so quickly Angel jerks up "What? Spike and I have nothing in common."

"Except the hero thing, and the vampire thing, and the vampire with a soul thing. And the history. And the love interest. And..."

Angel stiffens, anger snapping, and growls out a warning. "I think you need to stop there."

"Yes, it would probably be wise wouldn't it? Let's not say things we might regret. "

With placid composure and no discussion Wesley gets up and puts the kettle on. He takes tins and china from a cupboard and remarks, over his shoulder, "Did you know tea has almost no taste? It's all the smell. It must taste better when you're undead. Isn't that a curious thing?"

Relief settles Angel into slouchy disorder. He lays his arms out slack against his seat and waits for Wesley to bring the tea. Wesley returns with a single cup and sits down, cradling it like something precious, which of course it is.

This is too much; this may be the final straw and Angel erupts. "You're not much for sharing. I get that, I pretty much invented that, but you can't just have some sort of British explosion of angst-through-boardgames and then sit here making snide remarks like it's my fault. It's," and his voice turns hurt, "it's kinda mean."

"We are talkative today, aren't we? Anything else? How about you tell me again how unprofessional I am, or what about another rendition of My First Patricide?"

Wesley is quiet and uses a sour tone of recitation and it seems like he is reading someone else's diary.

"I just can't bear it today Angel. I don't know...I don't know what I'm doing generally. I'm in love with someone who treats me like I'm their best friend and today I shot my father. Could it possibly be that I just would like to wallow for a while? Wallow at the end of this extraordinarily long and, quite frankly, horrid day."

"Fine." Angel says, his body emphatically contradicting his words.

"Good." Wesley says, his face agreeing with the other.

But Angel just can't help but worry at that scab and he says tentatively. "You're in love with..."

"You cannot possibly be so dim as to not know this Angel."

"...Fred?"

"In a manner of speaking."

Angel takes a harsh breath; grabs in air and shoots it out like a weapon. "I haven't got time for this. I just haven't got time to sit here and decrypt you Wesley. Am I gonna have to, what, beat this out of you?"

He laughs, like that half-bored titter when repeating an old joke that everyone knows. "How about you lock me under the stairs?"

"Oh, fuck, Wes, I didn't mean it." Backing off, backing down, so unfamiliar his voice stumbles over the words. "Look, I'm an idiot. I suck at this stuff. I just, you're my friend and you seem unhappy, and that's bad and I wanted to, I don't know, make you feel better but I'm just making..." Angel cuts off and looks at Wes with desperation.

But Wesley isn't listening. He is mumbling to himself and almost cry-laughing. "I can't have a weakness. I can't afford to. We can't afford to. It would be nice, but it is impossible and here I am, rather finding I have two."

"More riddles." He gets to his feet and throws his hands out with disgust. "I'm done with this. Take a leave of absence. "

"Don't let the door hit you on the way out."

"Fine, whatever." Angel shouts over his shoulder.

ticktock

It's a pub built by someone with fond memories but no idea. It's a parody of a pub. It's a pubstiche. The walls are painted red and green and there is a saloon and a lounge. In the saloon there are booths made out of old church pews, rich silky mahogany, maroon seat cushions with brassy upholstery tacks. None of them are missing and there are no pockmarks in the furniture. The horse brasses gleam with busy polishing and the toby jugs are strictly PG. The beer is strong and they have bitter and mild on draught. No waitresses and no tab.

"This is a bit of a revelation." Spike sweeps into the booth. The effect is only slightly spoiled by him bashing into the edge of the table.

"Yes, it is good, isn't it. Well, it was anyway."

"Keep your knickers on, I'm not stopping. Come to tell you to get your arse back to work."

Wesley indicates the phone lying beside his pint. "I do have a mobile you know."

"Oh, yeah?" Spike says smirking, picking up the phone and tapping his head with it. "Turned on, is it?"

"Ah."

"Anyway, our fearless leader, or, your fearless leader, needs you."

A Kitchener point waggling in his face is difficult to ignore but Wesley does extremely well, asking, "What's the trouble?"

"No trouble, he's just fretting. Missing his Percykins."

Wesley is still not rising to it and he says calmly, "Whatever can you mean?"

"Well, come on, it's a bit suss isn't it. You and him, blazing rows in the middle of the night. Meaningful looks. One night he even said your name in his sleep."

"Oh Spike, just, just go away. Or shut up, or do something... that isn't what you are doing right now."

The Kitchener point is smoothly translated into the Agincourt salute. A history lesson in offensive gestures. "These yours?"

And Wesley flicks two fingers back. "No, I do believe they're yours."

A moment, just a moment, of kinship and laughter.

"Come on, let's have a pint before we trudge."

"Oh, go on then, twist my arm. But no more innuendo, I'm not in the mood." Wesley says, hauling himself up to the bar to buy the round.

"Funny, Angel said the same thing the other night." Spike mutters under his breath

Over his shoulder, shouting but not angry, Wesley calls, "What did I just say?"

ticktock

She looks too bright, like she's pasted on from another picture. Stare hard enough and one could almost see the blue background flickering around her.

Curls and curves and smiles bouncing, and she shoots new vigour through them. They take her shopping and it is a pure delight. They grin at each other over racks of dresses, helplessly charmed, and relieved. Dying to take her home and dreading it equally. She squeals, in between her pitiless mocking, as she gathers up her clothes, and kisses them both and says thank you.

And they both blink and beam and say, you're welcome.

ticktock

There are still some good days. Days that have no shouting and the only silences are the comfortable kind. It's not like it was, of course, but it's not bad. There are lots of reasons why these two are friends and they are not all about prophecies. Wesley likes sitting and Angel likes drawing, which is a good combination. They both watch sport on the television, different sports but the same channel. They both read a lot, and again the books are different but the love of it is the same. Wesley likes tea with milk and Angel does not understand this. Angel likes French poetry and Wesley thinks he is pretending.

They are both alone and to be together would be to let go of that and neither of them is willing. They can be alone together though. They have plenty of practice.

"Cricket's on." Angel sticks his head round the office door.

Wesley looks up in surprise. "Do you follow cricket?"

"No, but you do don't you?"

"What, just because I'm English I automatically like cricket?" Wesley says, returning his attention to his papers and framing his words with mock-hurt.

"No, just because you have a picture of Nasser Hussain on your mantlepiece you automatically like cricket." As Wesley scrunches up his forehead and begins to ask the inevitable, Angel admits, "I had to look him up."

Deliberately non-committal, Wesley states, "He's a fine sportsman. "

"Oh yeah. Whatever, come on, I've got high-def."

And the sudden interest in cricket is explained and Wesley can't help teasing. "You know that's just the same as what the rest of the world has had since forever."

"Yeah, but it's got a cool name."

"I'm convinced," Wesley says, getting up from his seat and pointing to the corridor, "lead the way."

Bottles of beer in the middle of the day and they'd be in trouble if they weren't, like, the uber bosses. They pretend they aren't. More fun.

"So, explain this to me again."

"You never watched cricket?"

"Well, they stop playing whenever the sun goes in so, not so much, no."

"Well, when you're in, you're out, and when you're out, you're in."

"Okay, now I know you're messing with me."

"Not completely. Those two there, England, they're in, so they're batting. The other lot are New Zealand and they're fielding, that's fairly self-explanatory, isn't it?"

Angel gestures towards the figure the camera is zooming in on. "Who's that guy?"

"That's the silly-mid-off."

Angel peers at the screen, looking mystified. "And this goes on for five days?"

"Yes, but they break for lunch, and tea, it's terribly civilised."

On the huge screen, a lifesize cricket ball slams into the silly mid off, bending him double and making both men cringe in sympathy, crossing their legs. Angel winces, and remarks, "So I see."

They drink some more and sit sprawling in front of the TV Half on, half-off the sofa; half drunk, half sober; enough to go either way in the morning. The cricket is monumentally dull and they sink into a kind of trance. The kind with beer.

A bottle slips from Wesley's hand and spills into Angel's lap. Wesley jumps up with blurted apologies and dabs at the mess frantically until reason prevails, or charges in stamping over his actions with an obvious twitch. Leaping back, stammering, both of them instantly reduced to ten years old and it's funny, you know, except neither of them can quite raise a smile for some reason.

Angel turns away muttering, "I'm just gonna... go get cleaned up."

When he returns, Wesley has let himself out.

ticktock

Angel stands by the door with Spike making his reflection in front of the glass.

"Wes and Fred?"

Spike nods. "You didn't know?

"I didn't know."

ticktock

So small, this girl-not-girl, weak-not-weak, stupidly clever and fading away. Fragile like glass, like a Prince Rupert drop, and she catches the light, focuses it for one burning moment and shatters, explodes.

And leaves a hole in the world.

ticktock

Piled up in stacks, a fort made of paper. Fine bindings and paperbacks brush up against one another without ceremony. The blinds are down and yellow light from low lamps sepia-tint the air. It's a cave, hung with empire finery.

"Christ, this place takes me back."

"Hmmm? Did you want something?"

A long line runs from a thrown back head to black booted feet. Following it, Wesley's eyes come to rest at his desk.

"Oh right, yeah." Spike whips his feet up and spins round in his chair. ""Pologies. Not wanting, just asking what you're up to. Thought I could um, relate or something."

"I'm crazed with grief," Wesley says shortly. "It's plain to you all."

"Right, right, can't argue there. Want to talk about it?"

"You're English," as if that explained everything.

"Okay," says Spike, carefully. Moving cautiously, he steals to the window and twitches the cord, bringing horizontal daylight slicing.

Instantly, Wesley is beside him, taking his hand away and replacing the dark. "Habit I suppose," he shrugs. "Can't seem to, concentrate in the sunlight."

"Oh, whatever you want mate. What are you doing anyway?"

At this Wesley becomes animated for the first time--fairly dancing to his fort as the shutters slam down over his face. Quivering fingers stab at this book and that book. Flicking through pages, playing them. Fingers flying, turning pages, a classical guitarist: composition in mania.

"Books are good things. Books are necessary to life. They contain all the answers. I'm sure of it. I just need to keep looking."

Shutting one book after another and jabbing at the titles he continues, "Here, here, here. If you can't see it, it doesn't mean it's not there. It just means you're not looking hard enough. Follow the meanings through languages and time and one thing can end up meaning anything. Chinese whispers."

Wesley passes an invisible ball from one hand to another. "Languages: one passes onto another and things get twisted. Live die exist bear born borne bearne. To slay means to kill, so why have the two words? Slay is High German slayeac/slahan and Old Irish slachta--strike. Kill from a longer line: killen from cyllan from cwellan from quellan--to torture, quala--torment, follow it round and one gets quell. Overwhelming."

Wesley stares at Spike with blank eyes. Something creeps past, tells him Spike is not overwhelmed. He pushes it. "Think about the meanings and you'll see there is a difference. One implies responsibility, action, motion, intent. One feels passive, in the past, stricken, he has been slain. Books are good things you know. Have I said that? It's important to know that. Words stay the same once you've written them down but the people change so the meaning does. It all looks different with hindsight. Hindsight, insight, a series of small walls. In archaeology wherever they go they find a series of small walls. And from this? Feasting Halls, villas, cemeteries, barrows, forums, cafes schools, gymnasiums, huts and castles. How can they know? Because people don't change, just the descriptions do. Have I contradicted myself?"

This did not seem to be a question but Spike opens his mouth to reply. "..."

Wesley rushes on. "I do that, a lot, often, these days. Ritual sacrifice, holy days holidays. Feasting hall, dining room, restaurant, canteen. Is it me or does everything feel smaller these days, fractured by plenty? Everyone has a feasting hall and everybody's on a diet. Six billion people and no one to eat with. No one I want to eat with. I want, I want, I want doesn't get. Whining never got anyone anywhere. Head down. Work hard. Read. The answer is in here somewhere. I just need to keep looking..."

Spike's brow knits in consternation. Taken aback by this outburst, he seems to take pause for a moment and then switch into automatic. "Hey, hey, little one. Shh now."

"I seem to have lost even a passing resemblance to sanity. It's unsettling. You're disturbed by it. I am aware of this, you know."

"Just not much for caring at the minute?"

"Oh no! You misunderstand me. I do care... I suppose, I just don't care enough. Is that hard to hear? I think you might understand, of all people."

"Run the gamut in my time. Crazy, obsessed, fired up, run down, stark staring mad. Not fond of it though. All or nothing type of man really. Couldn't get anything done and be bonkers."

Spike throws himself into a chair and waves one arm regally. "I like to leave it to the professionals; Dru, she was in a league of her own, or Angel, now there's one crazy fuck. Think you're conflicted? He could teach us both a thing or two about singing the Looney tune. You seem to have worked it out though. What is this? Your loony bin? Jittery bat shit in here and hammered steel mad out there? Can't last you know. Start seeping into each other. Always does."

"Yes, time will tell. Tell the time, which is it? I forget somehow."

"Look it up."

ticktock

Wesley does just that. He researches constantly, he dives into his books deeper and deeper, treasure hunting. When two worried small-town folk come into his office with a problem, he almost misses the importance until Angel practically throws them out of the building. It takes some time, time spent sifting manuscripts, bills, receipts, files and records, but he finds it, or he thinks he does.

"Everything that's happened since we took over Wolfram & Hart, everything that's happened to--" Wesley looks at Illyria and swallows. "--Her... Did you know? Was Fred the price? "

"No. Wes... I can explain. Just put that down."

"Why are you so afraid of this? He said it would bring back the past. Will it undo what you've done? "

"No. It won't bring her back. "

"Let's find out."

"No! Please. You have to trust me. "

"I can't. Not anymore."

ticktock

Wesley fades in and out of the background: beige and corporate scenery. Low lights send shadows halving his face. He sits so still, but his eyes flicker, watching some secret scene that loops in the space between him and outside.

His eyes jolt to a stop as the stillness around him alters slightly. "Memories, seem to be a theme with us don't they?"

Angel closes the door behind him, stroking it down into its housing. Over his shoulder he murmurs, "Huh?"

"All those years as Angelus, you remember every victim? I can barely remember what I had for breakfast."

"I think it's partly to do with being a vampire, maybe."

Wesley cocks his head and swivels, a smooth movement that leaves him facing Angel, but his head stays down as he makes small, useless, organisations of his papers. "That seems unlikely, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to cite Spike here..."

He holds up a file as if to use it as evidence but Angel rolls his eyes and interrupts. "Please don't."

That gets a smile, more of a smirk really. "Now now, point being, he forgets."

"Does he?" Angel throws it out with no interest.

"You learn to endure, the pain dulls--that's a kind of forgetting isn't it?"

The space between the interview chair and the desk is just that little too far and as Angel leans forward he overbalances slightly. "Wes, look, Wes, about Illyria..."

Making a determined effort to stack all his books at right angles, Wesley says casually, "I don't see the problem. Vampires are dead things--demons walking around wearing the corpses of lost souls."

"'Cept me!"

"And Spike, don't forget Spike."

A rueful grin tips Angel's head sideways, "How can I?"

Silence descends as Wesley pours his attention solidly at the wall. Angel waits, and waits, and then gives it up for lost. He sighs, wearied and soft. He leaves and Wesley droops; a puppet with cut strings.

ticktock

A vast collection of equipment looms over the two men as they busy about examining paperwork and picking their way through assorted machinery. Clocks tick significantly in the background.

"Loved her, friend-like love but love all the same. Wish she could've known it; thought I was playing her, she did."

"And you weren't?"

Spike lifts his shoulders and lets them drop. "It's a waste and that's all there is to it."

"Wasted time. Is that what we are doing, do you think?"

"Well, dunno about that that. If we can get this thing working, maybe we can, what is it? Suck Illyria out. Time goes back to normal and everything's peachy." Spike shakes his head with befuddlement and asks, "What's happening again?"

"She's... well," Wesley looks at the whirling charts with strings of numbers and symbols scrolling across his laptop screen. He looks at Spike and his jaw works soundlessly for a minute as he considers how to phrase his explanation. "She's overheating, if she continues to operate at this temperature she'll probably blow up, or out."

"And there'll be no more time shifting, and no more Angel popping in to tell us the same thing again and again?"

"I certainly hope so, but." Wesley shrugs.

"Still, it's a shame."

"I'm sorry?"

"Time travelling demon who loves you like a... My Little Pony. Can think of a few things to do with that."

"I have considered it."

"Might even get her to take you with her."

"I'm staying put. I..." Wesley sets his chin so stiff it trembles and he sucks in his lips, presses them together harshly for a second. "I've made my choice."

"Oh yeah? When did that happen Mr Conflicted?"

"Just now actually."

Angel bursts through the double doors of the lab. "Illyria's blown all of her gaskets, man. She's outta her mind!"

Spike and Wesley exchange a Look, Spike rolls his eyes and says, "How can you tell? Yesterday she spent two hours mind melding with a potted fern."

ticktock

They pass each other in the halls occasionally. They blink hello and nod goodbye. They never say anything. It is uncomfortable, or, more uncomfortable. There are too many words and the words make a wall between them. Sometimes Wesley can almost see it. He imagines it built with ancient calligraphy with pictures scrawled on it: a baby, an old man, a knife slitting, a pillow. It makes him feel tired, so he looks away.

It nags at them. The silences sting and creep into everything else.

ticktock

Wesley shifts on his feet outside Angel's office. He has not been here for a while without business. He takes a breath and opens the door.

"Angel? Last year, last year "A' anyway, when you, when Angelus was..."

Angel looks up from his dossier, laid on the couch beside him, and his eyes brighten. "Yeah?"

"Fred and I." He swallows and begins again. "I kissed Fred, when she was with Gunn. I kissed her and she kissed me back."

"I know."

"But after the deal..."

"Wes..."

Wesley rushes headlong into the sentence. "After the deal that...it was like it had never happened. I didn't remember it--we never--she knew how I felt about her but we'd never...I just want to know..."

"Why?"

"Yes, precisely that. Why did you take that, particularly, from me?"

"Look, Wes, I didn't, it's not like I sat down and planned every detail." Sinking his head into his hands, Angel shakes it slowly.

"Didn't you?"

"No!" Angel swallows down outrage and continues, "how can you ask me that?"

Something changes and Wesley focuses on Angel properly for the first time in days? Weeks? Time has swelled and distended. Days scurry across in flashes and nights traipse, slowed, weighted with doubled dreams. It has been hard to focus for some time now but urgency snaps him into sharp relief.

He talks with a hard, brittle edge of teeth-gritting politeness, building a barricade of quiet words to protect him as he moves towards Angel. "I think, considering the fact that you signed a deal with the devil to rewrite two years of my life, subtly altering my personality and, in my case anyway, giving me an interesting collection of sweaters, then yes. I think it's exactly the question I should be asking."

"He's my son. Don't tell me you don't get that--after all that's--after everything we've... Don't tell me you don't get that."

Another step closer, and Wes pushes away Angel's answer. "Oh, I understand the why. What I'm asking is, how?"

"I don't know exactly. I just--I just signed a piece of paper. There wasn't a lot of time. Connor was crazy--had a whole bunch of people locked up in this sports store. He had some crazy bomb strapped to him."

Wesley stops still, and asks with disbelief. "Bomb?"

"Yeah," Angel says.

"How did he...where did he get a...?"

"I don't know! He was there and Cordy..." Angel trails off for a moment and then continues. "So, I signed a piece of paper and went to go get him. When I got back it was done."

"And you don't know how they did it?" Wesley says, shaking his head.

Angel looks upwards in thought and offers, "Well, I'm pretty sure magic was involved."

"Ah yes, Vail." Wesley supplies, edging backwards, retreating, his face saying, this is fact without information. "And a fair few others, I believe."

"Yeah, they didn't give me the details."

"Surely you must have had some idea? You managed to carry on for months: seeing us all every day, talking to us, remembering with us."

"They gave me a memo."

Halfway between disbelief and the certainty that it was true, Wesley grinds out, "A memo."

"Yeah, with bullet points." Angel leans forward, rocking with indecision, like a stuck record, *nearly get up, sit down, nearly get up, sit down, nearly get up*.

It looks like they are slow-dancing, back and forth, the way their bodies pull and tug; but they are too far apart and the space between them only widens.

And Wesley says, with casual, friendly, sarcasm. "Must have been a long memo."

"Yeah. It was actually."

"Can I see it?"

"What, the memo?"

"Yes."

"Um, I kind of ate it." Angel's mouth contorts apologetically as he watches Wesley's reaction. "I didn't really want it lying around."

He chuckles, somewhere between hilarity and mania. "Oh that's perfect, so very perfect." His back is hard up against the office doors and he slides down to the floor. "You ate my life."

There is almost nothing one can say to that. So they sit. Brooding: The Test Match.

Angel breaks first and gets to his feet, striding over to the doors, speaking too loudly and doing his damnedest to smash through the tension. "Look, Wes--I'm sorry. I don't know why they took that memory from you. For what it's worth, I'm sorry that happened, but I'd do it again in an instant for my boy.

"I know," Wesley says, and rises to face him.

"Are we done talking about this?" Angel breathes, for emphasis. "It's late and you don't look like you've slept in... ever."

"Fine, we're done. Goodnight, Angel."

"Goodnight, Wes."

They are so not done it's not even funny, but they both roll their eyes and twitch smiles of self-mocking. The two men stand there and look anywhere but at each other. Wesley investigates the doorhandle whilst Angel pays close attention to his left shoe. It's a nice shoe, Italian leather.

Wesley starts to turn and Angel whips his head up and his hand out. He catches Wesley's jacket and his hands tremble as his fingers recognize the feel of it. Wesley tenses and looks sidelong at his shoulder and they stand there frozen for a minute or more.

It is strange how loudly a single motion can shout. It drowns out all uncertainty.

They do not touch again until they step through Angel's front door.

ticktock

They both have more than one true love in their lives, and another would be too much to bear so they promise each other that this is not love but comfort. A natural thing, like soldiers do in wartime. It is wartime and the rules are different they say. Although it has always been wartime and they have never needed comfort before.

At first they are both silent, grave, this is serious after all. Angel bites back a moan and Wesley notices and it becomes a kind of competition. Wesley carves a line through the stacked muscles on Angel's back, and his fingers turn to scoring under the shoulder blades. He let his cock linger and laze over Angel's ass until Angel flips him over and covers Wesley's body with his own. The weight is surprisingly exciting and Wesley takes shallow breaths as his lungs begin to crush but he still does not cry out. Wesley's hands are being held over his head but he can't see what by, just feels the thickness of the binding. As it tightens, and jerks his shoulders nearly from their sockets, he loses, and yelps turn to moans and Angel only grins and presses an open mouth hard against Wesley's neck. Blunted, human teeth gnaw and worry and nip at the rough-tender raised line there. A very serious game.

Hard, soft, urgent, throbbing, no teasing, this is all for real. Stroking rhythms that build to bursting; thirsting sated, a meal of flesh slamming tearing blood and pain and sweat and tears and oh fuck oh god oh chemical chance my sweet lord it hurts and not enough and more.

Dripping drinking swallowing sinking, No thinking, just blank. Slump with shame and horror and dirty joy. Ghosts chatter and the only way to shut them up is to fill the air with fuck and Christ and again and again. Don't stop now don't stop ever don't let them get me.

It is not enough though. Never enough and Wesley begins to babble questions that have no answers, and as he speaks the shadows under his eyes fall heavier, darker.

Angel tries to help and fails miserably. He can only offer his opinion but Wesley laughs and tells him straight, "Yes, but Angel, you have the emotional maturity of a nine year old and I'm stuck on chapter one of the bumper book of repression."

"What's chapter one?"

"Having an emotion." He looks up smiling, but it is not a nice smile, or an honest one. "I'm having an emotion but I've no idea what it is."

ticktock

The morning is easier, almost lazy. Suspended in a bubble, except, you know, without the surface tension. They are hiding, so a fort built from pillows and clothes strewn about seems appropriate.

Angel runs his fingers down a pale chest. "Wesley Wyndham Pryce." They play out the syllables, one two three four five, as he says absently, "such an English name."

"It's not actually, it's Welsh, and German, and, okay, yes, English--on my father's side."

"Really? Huh, sounds English."

"You've been away from home too long."

"Yeah, well, we're all Americans now," Angel says and shifts to allow Wesley to dip under the covers.

"Some more than others I suspect." His voice clambers out from somewhere, somewhere lower than halfway down.

Angel reaches down and drags the other man out. "Hey, that some kind of insult?"

"I was going for thinly-veiled innuendo."

Angel puts on his special, thoughtful, blank stare. "Came out kind of shrouded."

"Yes," says Wesley seriously, and he fiddles with the bedspread. "I've never been much good at subtext--more of a quiet truths man myself."

"How's that working for you?"

"I love you."

Silence. Shock. A slow wave of pleasure and a real smile speak for Angel.

Wesley grins, smug and shaky at the same time. "It's met with some success."

ticktock

Flash white and stretching up into eternity, a thousand almost identical faces look down disapproving. They speak, not as one, but with every voice overlaid and each slightly out of synch with the other. "This is not the truth."

The small hunched figure curls up tighter and blood leaks a bright vivid stain against the white of the floor. "It could have been. It's the best I can do."

"These choices were no wiser, no nobler. You have learnt nothing."

"I can't do it again," Wesley whispers, as he gets up and takes his place amongst the others. The blood pooling on the floor melts away into nothingness and he adds his voice to the chorus that answers his next self.

"You must."

It's dark, and they are both very tired.


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