by lonely Brit (zcapw87 at ucl.ac.uk / stories hosted at: Dear One.net)
Spoilers: Post Home, Season 4
The first time was an accident. Unintended. A one-off.
Angel can't imagine surviving even a week without those few strange hours. Those liberating hours when he can stop worrying about the bigger picture. When all that matters is how the two of them make it through to the morning.
It all started so quickly.
Angel had thought himself able hold out a little longer than he did, but events took him by surprise. Blows coming in under the radar. Unexpected stabs in the heart.
He knew he would be unable to cope with Connor and had prepared himself accordingly. Even Cordelia's frozen state became almost normal in comparison.
Only then there had been Fred and Gunn. Or rather the lack of them.
Fred buried herself in her work, her reconciliation with Gunn seeming to finally release her from what remained of Angel Investigations. She barely saw them nowadays. A smile in passing, a nod across a room, and that was all.
Gunn himself simply withdrew. Something had changed inside him. Angel knew it at once. The eyes were different, as if some new person was staring out at the world. Watching. Maybe one day it would finally make itself known.
As the days went by, Angel found himself increasingly alone. He did consider turning to Lorne, only to back out. The thought that the demon might fully understand his problems before a single word was uttered scared him. An odd paradox; to desire comfort but be afraid of the world that would come if the comforter succeeded. A world where Connor's loss would be old news, done, accepted.
No. Not yet.
So by default Angel fell in with Wesley. It reminded him a little of the early days. Flashes of deja-vu, maybe seeing the two of them in the church when in fact they were just visiting the library.
To begin with it had been a form of escape.
Angel enjoyed watching Wesley fuss over translations, fret about late meetings. It was like stepping back to when they had been a simple family of three. The Watcher, the Vampire, and the Princess.
But then it became oppressive.
Wesley's bumbling charm stopped being sweet. It was just the tip of the iceberg, underneath seething with hidden ghosts and anger. It felt like watching a bird clip its own wings. Angel wanted to shake Wesley by the shoulders, yell at him to snap out of it, to finally stand on his own two feet.
Soon after, Wesley started asking questions.
"Angel, how did I get this scar?"
"An accident. A fight."
"But I don't remember."
Angel remembers everything. The smell of blood on warm morning air. The sounds in the clean and pristine hospital. The feel of the pillow, soft and deadly under his hands.
"You blacked out. That's why."
Wesley looked at him oddly for a moment, then walked away. Later he asked another question, then another.
"Why are my diaries missing?"
Because he threw them away.
"I don't know."
"Why did I leave AI?"
"For a job."
"What's 'Earthquake, fire and blood?'"
"I don't know."
"What happened to me, Angel?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Why did Fred tell me to never come back?"
Angel could only stare. Eventually he gave all questions the same answer.
"I don't know."
In hindsight he realised he should have remembered the demon's words.
Paranoid. One big mass of nerves, insecurities and paranoia. Of course Wesley was going to become suspicious.
The last straw was when Lilah came back to see how he was doing. She was in his office, talking, when the door crashed open and Wesley stormed in.
"I've had enough!" he snapped, slamming some papers down on Angel's desk. "What's happened to us, Angel? What deal did you strike with Lady Macbeth here?"
And that was when full realisation dawned. Angel saw the hurt flash across Lilah's face. Hurt, but not surprise.
"Of course I knew" she said when he had bundled Wesley out of the room, "I did it to him. He kept ferreting through all our files trying to find a way to dissolve the contract. If he had kept going or worse, succeeded, the Senior Partners would have lost patience and squashed him."
"And that would bother you?"
A momentary pause before she said smoothly: "No. I just thought that maybe you would care."
"You're all heart, Lilah."
"Screw you, Angel."
The next time Wesley turned up it was late, most of the staff gone.
"What happened, Angel?"
So, finally, Angel told him. Told him every detail. Made him listen to their lives falling apart. Relived every wound and betrayal.
Wesley had listened without a word, his face devoid of any emotion. At the end he simply said, "Thank you," and walked away.
The next morning he remembered nothing and Angel let it be. A few nights later he came back.
"I know there's something. Please."
Again, Angel told him, pouring out his heart.
Again Wesley forgot by sunrise.
Sometimes when he was told, Wesley lost his temper.
"How dare you play me like that!" he raged, eyes flashing, fists clenched. "It's my mind, Angel! It's not your to control. I'm entitled to know what I am."
Other nights it was Angel who cracked and raged.
"I lost him, Wesley! My sweet boy, my son. He's gone. I killed him. I failed him. I let you take him!"
On those nights Wesley was quiet, letting Angel talk uninterrupted. One time he even plucked up the courage to pat him comfortingly on the shoulder.
"What's changed?" asked Lilah on another one of her visits. "You look tired."
She paced for a bit and then said coldly: "If you hurt him with this then, damn the prophecy, you're dust. Understand?"
He did. But the nights kept coming.
Finally came the night he had been dreading. He was in the middle of explaining why, two years ago, he tried to kill Wesley, when-
"How many times have you told me this?"
Wesley wasn't looking at him, but at the clock. The hands said they had two hours till sunrise.
"Pretty much every night for the past five months."
It crushed Wesley. He crumpled, sinking into the chair, head in his hands.
"How long do I have?"
The following night he had to relive the same thing. Watching Wesley slip into despair over and over again.
"How many times have you told me?"
"You bastard," Lilah says when they next meet. She's wearing all black today, silk scarf brilliant against her ivory skin. "Would it kill you to lie?"
"I'm already dead."
"You know what I mean."
Angel does feel a little guilty but calmly explains that he's a terrible liar, unless of course he's evil.
She shoots him a poisonous look and takes her leave. On her way out she passes Wesley. The ex-Watcher frowns a little as he steps around her as if she's dirt on the street.
That night it's Angel who falls. He tells the story of Connor, his heart breaking all over again. Then he watches Wesley fall apart. And then, for the first time, he remembers the hurt on Lilah's face when Wesley shunned her.
And finally he cries. Silent tears blur his eyes, his throat tight. The knowledge that all this will be gone come sun-up only twists the knife.
For once, Wesley is completely clueless. No lesson or manual taught him what to do in cases of raw emotion. He knows how to suppress, but not how to deal. Perhaps he realises the same thing as Angel, that tomorrow this moment will never have existed. Maybe it gives him courage. For whatever reason, the Englishman allows instinct alone to dictate his actions.
"I'm so sorry," he murmurs, unflinchingly putting his arms around the fallen vampire. "Oh Angel, I am so, so sorry."
Angel is so lost in grief that he barely notices what is happening. He just reacts to the warmth, the soothing words, letting Wesley comfort him without shame.
"But I'll never see him again," he sobs, "I've lost him. Oh God, I've lost him."
"No. You saved him, Angel. You gave him life."
But Angel won't be consoled. His sorrows continue to stream down his face, pain making him cling to his friend with desperate need as his world shatters.
Wesley helplessly continues to try. He rocks him gently, always talking, reassuring, calming. He sadly wipes tears away even when they just mingle with his own. He tries to make Angel see that for Connor it was a happy ending. That Connor is happy.
Angel nods but still can't stop shaking. He lets the other man hold him, lets his sorrows ebb into the warm hands that cup his face, lets the soft kisses draw out some of the pain.
"It'll be alright, Angel. He'll be alright and so will you. You'll get through this."
Somehow the words and the belief reflected in the blue eyes only make it worse. He knows that he will survive. He knows that every night has made him stronger. But he also knows that he is the only one who will remember them. The other will have to find a different way through this.
His voice long ago went with the tears so he apologises the only other way he can. Trying in turn to soothe away some of the pain he never meant to cause. Hands meeting, lips grazing. Ice seeking fire. Both craving solace.
They only have until sunrise.
Afterwards, neither of them knows what to call what has just happened. Each can say why, they could explain how, but the expression of emotions leaves them dumb. Instead they just watch the clock tick its way into another day.
"What will you tell me?"
Angel looks over the rather rumpled appearance and laughs.
"I'll say you were working late and fell asleep."
They get to their feet, once more distancing themselves.
Wesley pauses and shoots an anxious glance at the clock.
"Were we in love?"
Angel blinks, not sure what to say. Outside he can feel the world begin to stir.
He finally finds his voice.
"What. You mean, you and-"
He's waved silent.
"No. I know I love you."
"Just love, mind, not in love."
Why the surprise? Angel pushes the thought aside for later examination. He senses a new question being born.
Wesley takes a deep breath and takes the plunge.
"I don't know why but...every time we meet it's like getting shot all over again. It won't go away."
"And I know it's madness. It's wrong, it's...never simple. Me and Lilah, Angel, please."
Angel's expression is what Cordelia would have called priceless.
"Please, Angel. Was I in love with Lilah?"