Disclaimer: the author does not claim ownership to the characters or plot development mentioned from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel". These properties expressly belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Greenwolf Corporation, 20th Century Fox Television, WB Network, etc. Any other characters contained in the original story are the author's.

Historical Note: The action in this story takes place after "Prodigal".

Author's Note: This story takes place after "Closure" (in 2 parts) and has bits and pieces of my other stories all woven in, as well. I wanted to give Wesley his own story. Wow, though, I didn't want it to be this long. It took all kinds of incarnations until it became what you're about to read. The outtakes may eventually become mini stories like "Encounter".

I'm guessing a lot of stuff about Alexis, who plays Wesley, because there is virtually zero personal information about the guy on the WWW. I also have to point out how much I HATED Wesley from BtVS, but he's grown on me since his reappearance on ANGEL. I absolutely adore him, now. That must say a great deal about the actor. Alexis and David have a wonderful chemistry together and I hope I captured that. Hopefully I didn't go overboard with the emotional edge they both give their characters.

Wesley can have a song: "State of Grace" by Seal. Anyway, the disclaimer from 'Starlet' is a given. e.c. 21 Apr 00

++++++++++

Prologue

1:17AM

"Hello?... I'm on my way home right now, Cordelia. Is there anything wrong?... No. Just going home from Marie's... The bike is in for a tune-up and the Flores Brothers were kind enough to lend me a car... LEND, Cordelia, not rent and NO, they won't be expecting a discount on their job... I don't know. Just a generic something or other subcompact.................."

1:22AM

"Well, now that you're a car show hostess you've just become the little salesperson, haven't you?... I'm glad to hear you're having a good time. You've spoken to Angel?... Perhaps the Temp finally had a Vision and he went on the call... 'Not fond of her' is an understatement... 'Mutual dislike' is also too mild... An Instigating Demon... I guess he's susceptible to her brand of trouble... No. I get along fine with her. At least she doesn't tell me to 'talk to the hand'... You do, too... 'Pffffffff!' yourself!............."

1:30AM

"Alright. You get your beauty sleep and I'll get those in UPS for you today... YES, Cordelia. I'll do my best, but you know how uncooperative he can be whenever he thinks somebody is trying to do something nice for him... Alright, already. I won't take his 'no' for an answer and, seriously, my battery is running dreadfully low, so goodnight.................."

1:34AM

"If you don't hang up I'll be seeing you soon... No, I'm not being facetious. By the way, when did you learn the word 'facetious'? I still think something happened to you in San Diego and when I get to the bottom of it... Look, I'm already here... Talk to you later."

++++++++++++

DISRUPTOR by Evan Como

Experienced from annual summer holidays spent tooling around the Côte d'Azur in the family Fiat, Wesley flipped his borrowed compact into the narrow parking space directly in front of Cordelia's apartment building with one fluid motion. The calm neighborhood seemed almost uninhabited except for the odd window radiating bluish light--wavering images of late night talk hosts or infotainment for the sleepless few.

The soles of his lace-ups scuffed along the inlaid tile walkway. By warm ambient glow, Spanish-styled wrought-iron banisters cast graceful shadows across his path. Wesley never refused an opportunity to visit the building, loving its pseudo-Mediterranean décor complete with potted Birds of Paradise and Sago palms. Southern California architecture never failed to amuse with its bastardized attempts to use classical elements, making it difficult to shake the feeling everything in Los Angeles was designed for use as a prop.

Even so, Cordelia's building was quite splendid.

As promised, Phantom Dennis allowed access to the apartment after a gentle rap on the door and Wesley waited patiently in the eerily quiet darkened living room for the shoes Cordelia had asked for. While facing the view of the city's lights, it amazed him how different Los Angeles could look depending upon the vantage. He possessed his own scenic view; yet, somehow, the city seemed much more beautiful from Cordelia's window. Wesley imagined the frame of the building and its more affluent neighborhood had a great deal to do with the illusion; or maybe, if it was possible, Cordelia's opinion made it so much more attractive.

No matter how often Wesley studied L.A., it was still difficult to appreciate it as his new home--being such a foreign place, a weather-less conglomeration of outlying areas all laced together by concrete ribbons. He had walked about in almost every major European city but still couldn't establish how to tour Los Angeles or understand the contradiction of having to drive some place to do it on foot. It seemed like a never-ending jumble of everything and nothing without beginning or end and, despite its modern age, all of it in some state of disrepair, dilapidated without reason.

Perhaps, just making the place a more interesting backdrop for an urban crime-based drama.

Sighing as he rolled his head around his shoulders, Wesley attempted to ease his fatigue. Cordelia had been gone exactly 8 days, the same amount of time he'd been without a fitful night's sleep. Trying not to assign any meaning to the their coincidence, he hoped it was just a phase he was going through and wouldn't last the entire 5 more weeks she was scheduled to be away.

When he detected a slight rustle, he assumed Dennis had not only found Cordy's requested footwear, but had them wrapped ready for shipping, also. He laughed at the thought Cordelia had trained her friendly poltergeist into becoming the perfect 'man'. Then, Wesley wondered if it was possible for Dennis to miss her as much as he did.

Still laughing, he turned. "I hope you got the right ones, because you know she'll--"

Wesley gasped at the figure standing in the room's arch. He anxiously peered into the darkness, more than a little fearful the disembodied spirit, Dennis, had suddenly become corporeal.

"Angel!" Wesley stated, relieved. "If I had known Cordelia sent you for the shoes, I wouldn't have bothered... Angel?" Barely able to make out his friend's face, Wesley stepped towards the tall black-clad vampire.

But he recessed into the apartment's shadows with Wesley following. "What's wrong? Angel?" Wesley asked, unable to manage much above a whisper. But Angel continued to back away, his face unreadable, with only the tense movements of his upper body to indicate he was about to attack.

Something Wesley didn't actually expect him to do.

It was an odd sensation to soar through Cordelia's living room and it took a moment after landing to realize what had happened. As he composed his thoughts, Wesley witnessed the tail of Angel's long black coat slither through the gap in the door; and, after it shut with a thud, the resulting echo became the only proof Angel's presence had been less of an apparition, itself.

If he had remained there until dawn, it wouldn't have seemed any longer than the fifteen minutes Wesley was unable to move, shocked into sitting stock still after finding his head just centimeters away from the corner of an end table. Fatigue, anxiety, and the brutal reality Angel had deliberately attacked him finally sank in.

"Dennis?" Wesley's British accent wavered with uncertainty. As he waited, half-hoping for a reply, Dennis hovered a pillow and blanket from the other room to prepare the sofa, permitting Wesley to take that as his prompt.

"I'm at a loss, you know? I'm sure Cordelia's spoken about Angel to you. She must. At least she has you to talk to."

Dennis, ever the host, placed a set of towels on the coffee table along with Cordelia's requested shoes, as expected, neatly wrapped for shipping.

"He shuns me. All day. Since Cordelia left. Barely a word. Other than work, and even then, not much. I won't lie. I've been hoping they would separate. It just feels like they've gotten too dangerously close. But, mostly for my own selfish reasons. I used to enjoy running around with Angel on his missions and such, but he doesn't go off as much as he used to. Even with the Temporary Messenger there to take her place-- Granted, she's only been with us a couple days, but even before she left... The Powers That Be just don't seem to call anymore. Angel's dreadfully ill. Did Cordelia mention? And he won't let me take care of him like she wanted me to."

Drawing his legs into his chest, Wesley rested his head against his knees and closed his eyes, imagining how good it would feel to just sleep through the night. In an odd way, he found Dennis' company pleasant. Like being alone without BEING alone and he made a mental note to let Cordelia know he'd be glad to take the phantom in if she ever tired of his presence.

"I know I'm a poor replacement for her company. And the Temp isn't making it any easier. The two of them HATE each other. He's spoiled by the way Cordelia instinctively knows EXACTLY how he's feeling and, without her, he struggles. I can tell. He'll click through his repertoire to find someone he can be during an uncomfortable moment. And, I'll want to say something-- Maybe to make him feel better, or make ME feel better. But sometimes I connect on some other level that scares the hell out of me. Maybe it is just best we avoid each other.

"I wonder if Angel knows I wanted Cordelia to go away--mind you, just for a little while--and he despises me for it. I don't think I ever said it aloud, but everything is beginning to seem as though it's already occurred. Perhaps it's due to the insomnia or-- I listen to myself having conversations I could swear I've already had. Like I'm losing my mind. And now, this. My own stupidity, of course. I know the signs of a vampire attack. And I know his fighting style...

"What Angel is becoming is changing him in subtle ways. He is dying, Dennis--too quickly--and I don't want him to. You know, he's supposed to be immortal, dammit. But that isn't to be the case because of my stupid error and the little time we have left has become so dreadfully awful-"

Giving into a long, exhausted yawn, Wesley rose from his reverie and up, towards the sofa to take one last long look at Cordelia's cityscape before removing his glasses. Nestling in between the prepared linens, he pulled the blanket under his chin and as he closed his evening devotion, Dennis rearranged the pillow behind his head. The return to his interrupted night's sleep was still difficult despite being reassuringly accompanied by the sounds of the turning deadbolt and latching door chain.

-0-

"Coffee?"

Ignoring the question partly because he was in a foul mood, but mostly because the project he was involved in was rather complicated, Wesley finally gave up and turned his chair around to face his employer. "No thanks. Dennis made me some this morning." He glared at Angel unmercifully.

"Cordelia says he makes a damn fine cup of coffee. You'd think he could teach her, wouldn't you?" Angel's discomfort was apparent as his face contorted into any number of expressions until he turned away, finally unable to take the severe scrutiny any longer.

"That's it? You're just going to make a joke and walk away as if nothing at all happened?"

"You got it!" His expression hopeful, Angel returned his attention to Wesley. "Let Cordelia know I CAN be funny, will you?" But Wesley wasn't buying the light-hearted jest so, solemnly, he explained, "you caught me by surprise."

"By surprise?" Wesley asked, his tone incredulous. "Why should I have even caught you at all? And, by the way, if that's an apology for nearly cracking my skull open, it sucked. Big time."

That he could have seriously injured Wesley took Angel by full impact and he reeled slightly, his face marked with guilt. "Are you alright?"

"I survived, obviously." Unwilling to accept Angel's apologetic face, Wesley turned his back on the vampire, waving his hand. "Just go, Angel. Go back in your office and go zone out or whatever it is you do these days and let me get back to work."

"I'm REALLY sorry, Wes."

Trying to maintain his resolve, Wesley sat for a moment before wheeling back around. "Are you really? May I ask, 'for what'? Or was that just a blanket apology to cover everything you've been doing for the past week to make my life miserable? And, while I'm venting, may I just add it was unfair to place me in the position of trying to take care of you while you won't hold up your end of the promise we struck with Cordelia."

"I didn't promise."

Wesley rose from his chair and approached Angel, leaning down--just a little--to make direct eye contact. "You didn't promise? Are you going to lie now to me?"

"I'm not lying. I said 'I'd try'. I didn't promise."

"You are frustrating the hell out of me, Angel! Semantics. You and your damn semantics. I haven't had enough sleep to get into a debate with you and, frankly, I don't want to. You realize, of course, if we continue much more of this conversation, one of us is either going to end up dead or in tears."

"Lover's tiff?" The Temporary Messenger sauntered through the doorway into the front office, her youthful face adorned with a wry smile as she examined the two men before her. "You know, I could leave and come back later."

"Would it hurt you to get here, at least, closer to 'on time', Gale?" Angel asked bluntly.

"Wow, it just amazes me how easily you transition from wuss to bad-ass," Gale replied smugly. "Look, Dental Demon, I'm not your employee. I'll get here when I get here. Hey, Wesley, how ya doing?"

"Very well, thank you, Gale." Wesley responded politely. After glancing at Angel, he chided the female conspiratorially, "even though you're not officially an employee, it would really help out if you could get here earlier."

"Well, if it would help YOU, Wes, I'll try. Although, your boss here looks like he didn't stroll in too much earlier than me. How am I gonna learn, Angel, if you're setting such a poor example?"

Angel's anger piqued and he started at the female.

Gale watched the human step discreetly in front of the vampire, unsure of what to make of the maneuver--the movement so slight it was almost undetectable; the movement so perfectly calculated it defeated Angel's advance.

"Get out, Gale."

"No, no, no, no, no." She wagged her finger at Angel condescendingly. "I told you the other day when I got here: 'you don't make the rules', PaleBait. You've got fealty and you've got me. Whether you like it or not. Get used to it and get over it."

"Here, Angel," Wesley picked up a folder to hand to his growling boss. "The Chapman case could use your attention, if you can?" After Angel snatched it and retired to his office, Wesley regarded the new demon with some dismay. "You could TRY to get along with him. It might make your stay less unappealing, you know."

"He's a vampire."

Wesley sighed. "So you've reminded me no less than a dozen times since you've arrived."

"He doesn't respect you or your opinion. You realize you're enabling him, don't you?"

Shaking his head, Wesley reclaimed his chair. "How am I enabling him if I know he's a vampire and he knows he's a vampire, Gale?"

Sweeping past, Gale bent over and whispered against his cheek, "because you two keep trying to pretend you're friends and THAT'S obviously not the case."

-0-

Pleased with how smoothly the early afternoon surveillance went and the quality of his photographs, Wesley returned to the office in a great mood. His, however, was the only high-spirited one as he entered to find Gale with her forehead resting on the edge of Cordelia's desk and Angel preparing to leave.

"Vision, obviously. You need help?"

Angel shook his head negatively. "No. It's an easy one--and I can take the tunnels faster than you can drive during rush hour." In the corner of his eye, however, he detected Wesley's disappointment. "You know, what, though? I got a lead on the Chapman case and you can help me do stake-out tonight." After taking a good look at his associate, he frowned. "Although, you really look like you could use a good night's sleep instead. Are you sure I didn't hurt you?"

"Angel, I'm fine. Just a bout of insomnia is all. I'd be happy to help out tonight. If you really need me," Wesley responded, mentally crossing his fingers.

Glancing at the Messenger, Angel tossed his head her way. "I don't know what Gift they put inside her head, but it must be the heavy duty one. Tell you what, put the machine on and close up. Take her downstairs and you get in a nap." His stern face cut Wesley's protest. "Seriously, Wesley. Please. I'll wake you up the second I get back and we'll go. Damn. It's Wednesday..."

"It's OK. Gale doesn't look like she'll be in the mood to eat and we can just drive through someplace for me. That is, if you don't mind me eating in your car?"

Wesley didn't expect Gale to feel so, well, human as he half-carried her to the elevator. Her athletic frame was slightly taller than Cordelia's, but she smelled just as nice. As they rode the one story down, Wesley studied her visible skin for abnormal signs to indicate if she was anything other than, what he presumed, to be a former human.

"All here. Can I get you something to drink, Gale? If you do drink. Do you drink?"

Groggy, Gale blinked her eyes and focused on the attentive human, slightly taken aback by his studious gaze. "Yeah, I drink. But, I'm OK."

Leading her to the sofa, Wesley helped her sit while continuing his study. Her light brown eyes seemed normal enough as did her perfectly matched two ears and nostrils.

"What are you searching for?"

"I'm sorry. I was being rude, wasn't I? It's just that I was trying to determine what species of being you are. But, you seem to be human. Or you were human. Or something." He picked up her wrist to check for a pulse. "Are you alive?"

"Uh, yeah. I'm alive in my own way. Notice, breathing." She snorted, amused with his fascination. "The Powers That Be like their Messengers solid. Just kinda sorta, stopped being human-human about half a millennium ago when I enlisted into the demonhood."

"Really?"

His gaze was uncomfortable, too friendly for someone she didn't know. "You're creeping me out, Wesley."

"Sorry."

"You're still staring."

"Oh. Sorry, again. Yes, I'll let you get some rest."

"So, Wesley," she began, after realizing his attention was making her throbbing frontal lobe quiet down, "you seem like a perfectly normal human being... How come you're working for a vampire?"

Wesley returned from the refrigerator with a beverage and twisted off its top, silently congratulating himself for not spilling any. "He used to be my Slayer's boyfriend." Noticing the strange look on the demon's face, he continued after taking a sip, "you don't know what The Slayer is?"

"Yeah. Sure. I know what The Slayer is. I also know if she was yours, that makes you a Watcher. What's a Watcher doing working with a vampire? And, obviously he knows you're a Watcher." She paused, her eyes growing bright with recognition. "Oh, wow. He's THAT vampire. Real bright, Gale. All aboard the late freight!"

"Yes, Angel is THAT vampire and I WAS. I WAS a Watcher. And, now I work for Angel helping him with evil-fighting and private investigating. There, short story, very much shortened. Anyway, if you'll excuse me, I've got a nap to take."

"But you're a Watcher. He's no-life vampire scum. Sorry, but there's no logic in that equation."

Wesley considered replying, to argue for Angel's good name and his own not-so-great one, but decided against it. No doubt, he realized, Gale was just being who she was--a Demon of Discord--and he was far too sleepy and way too inexperienced to get into an argument he doubted he could win.

-0-

Filthy, ragged, and reeking of sewer, Angel waded through the brackish liquids impeding his course, spurred forward by instinct. His hunger was insatiable--it had become all-consuming and the urgency to feed was more than overpowering. He tried to clear his mind, to think of anything else; but the bloodlust was too strong.

Stronger than he could ever remember.

Scent. The quarry's distinctly called, permeating the surrounding putrescence, demanding attention and taking all of his. The pursuit was single-minded--there would be no rest without the feed.

It had to be taken. He had waited so long.

Angel lurched free of the tunnels and onto the gently sloping hillside where nightfall had broken hours prior, the almost-moonless sky providing little light for direction. But he was an experienced hunter, able to search solely by following the potent aroma. His bearing true, he slashed at the humidity, navigating through the scrub and foliage as the pain of his hunger subdued that of his acquired injuries.

Closer. He could almost taste its presence. Faster. Enticed by anticipation.

Finding the camouflaged site, Angel savagely clawed at the gravel without heed to his hands, his fingers raw, his nails torn. He was a feral beast as he shoveled, his vocalizations more pronounced as he neared his objective. Huge sprays of earth erupted outward as he searched, his reward beckoning by odor.

The transformation was blissful and his body reveled in the change. Prepared for his gorging, his appetite grew more acute as Angel uncovered flesh already in the early stages of decomposition; the malodorous tissues easily ravaged as the cadaver was exhumed from its plot.

Tenderly unwrapping the body, Angel smoothed away soil to reveal the perfect place to lay his bite. Salivating, he encompassed the body with his own as he overtook it, inhaling. The stench was fetid but tantalizing and Angel let it corrupt him, to eradicate his last thoughts of how depraved he had become by finally succumbing to the inevitable. Surrendering under the strain to find relief for his incurable thirst Angel lowered his mouth, astonished by how easily the flesh yielded to puncture as his three fangs sank in to take the first prolonged, abysmal drag...

"You know, Angel, I'm not sure that staring at the antenna ball constitutes billable hours." Wesley chuckled softly as he lowered the night-vision binoculars and jotted down another license plate number. "Although I'm sure Cordelia will find some way to include them."

"Excuse me?" Perplexed, Angel swallowed hard, disgusted by the amount of fluid in his mouth as he fought his stomach's queasiness.

"The clown," Wesley replied. "You've been staring at it for quite a while now. You know, I can just take it off if it bothers you that much."

"The clown." Angel stated. He was ravenous and swooned as an intense wave of hunger swelled, then passed. "I'm sorry, Wes. What were we talking about?"

"The antenna ball?" Wesley paused his activity to consider Angel who was staring vacantly into the distance, evidently distressed. Attempting to be considerate, Wesley turned away. "I'm sorry, Angel. I didn't realize you were distracted and here I was, just yammering away. Pretend I wasn't."

They sat in silence as Angel tried to recompose his thoughts and Wesley resumed his watch. After jotting down another number, Wesley tapped Angel on the arm with the binoculars. Angel turned for an explanation.

"You seem to be a little out of it and I wouldn't ask, but you're the expert with names and faces here and I'd like your I.D. on who just arrived." Wesley's smile was hesitant but sincere as he attempted to disregard Angel's discomfort and its accompanying silence.

Angel nodded imperceptibly and took the binoculars to look at the crowd in front of the industrial building under surveillance. After a moment, he lowered them and turned to Wesley with his face, no doubt, mirroring Wesley's confusion. "Ambrosio and Mauricio Flores. How long-"

"They JUST arrived." Wesley twisted the miniature Mag-Lite to peruse his notes, shaking his head with great concern. "You know, all night, I've just been getting the strangest sense of déjà vu. These cars--their makes and models. Too coincidental for my subconscious. I think we were duped, Angel, on the Flores case. We followed all the leads, did all our homework. But now I've got the sneaking suspicion everything we found was exactly what we were led to."

"We fell for the stereotype. Right?"

"That's what I'm thinking. Sure, we were willing to allow a family-run auto lot on the east side of the river to sell luxury vehicles; we just assumed they wouldn't be brand new. So when we 'found' the stolen autos we just naturally accepted they would be, give or take, a decade old. All of them probably salvaged, tidied up with a nice coating of lacquer and the brand new VIN's."

"We got played, Wes. Let me guess, lots of Lexus, Mercedes, a couple of BMW's-"

"Not to mention your obligatory Range Rover and a Land Cruiser. All recent models." Wesley sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose under his glasses. "I wonder what Placido Flores will be driving up in."

Angel paused before reaching for his cellular phone. "I need you to start driving towards Elysian Park while I call Kate," he said as he opened the car door.

Wesley tucked his paperwork under the passenger seat and eased over as Angel got back in. After buckling his seat belt, he turned over the engine. "You obviously have some idea where we can find the other brother?"

Angel finished his call and stowed the phone in the glove compartment as Wesley made an awkward U-turn in the deserted street. "I've been having my own sense of déjà vu, too," Angel finally replied as he watched the circus mascot topple into the street and bounce away into the night.

-0-

Racket produced by the LAPD's excavation equipment was muffled slightly as the early morning fog continued to drift inland. Bright, generator-powered halogen location lights focused on the hillside, illuminating another unauthorized gravesite. The attending forensic workers bagged each found body, taking the utmost care with their duties.

And Angel observed the activity from an uncomfortable distance, feeling just as exposed.

"You know, Bodyguard, you both looked like death warmed-over. In Angel's case, that's understandable but maybe you should think about a change of careers."

Wesley, studying Angel from where he and Detective Kate Lockley stood, nodded his head in understanding before shoving his hands in his pockets. "You know, we've never been formerly introduced and you keep calling me 'Bodyguard'. I'm Wesley." It didn't seem the occasion to offer his hand or last name and he hoped she wouldn't feel slighted, feeling relief when she didn't offer to uncross her arms. "Thanks for your concern, but it's just been a long night. That's all."

Kate, distracted, turned outwards and surveyed the scene as the lights were moved to yet another unmarked plot. As Angel approached, she frowned. "There must be seven or eight bodies out here, at the minimum--some of them, for months. So, Angel, how did you know?"

"Instincts," Angel replied flatly.

"Good ol' evil instincts," Kate echoed heartlessly. When she noticed the pained expression veil his already saddened brown eyes, her contempt eased a little but she held her sympathy in check. He didn't deserve sympathy, she reminded herself. "I still don't understand why you called ME, Angel. You know, we're not on the best of terms and probably won't ever be again."

Angel turned his face, but avoided making eye contact. "I know that even though you're not cool with me, Kate, you would believe I didn't commit these murders despite the fact I identified all the dig sites. And, you'd find some way to protect me as your source of information?" He held an imaginary breath, hoping she would still be a professional, if far from a friend.

"Yeah, well, you're assuming a lot, Angel. But, the last thing I want to do is try to explain how some P.I. just happened to call out of the bright starry with body locations and an important puzzle piece for about three open Grand Theft cases that have been driving Burglary batty."

"So then, the Flores case is actually a lead for you?" Wesley interjected, trying to steer the conversation away from an uncomfortable direction.

Kate, acknowledging the tactic, eyed the tall man coolly. "Yep. Ain't that a kick? I get all these wonderful murders. By the way, speaking of the Flores case, you know I'm going to need all your files. Can you get them ready for me for later this morning?" She looked at her watch: 5:45AM, but it seemed so much earlier. "You know, since you have to be going soon anyway?"

When she turned for confirmation, Angel had already disappeared.

"Of course, Detective. As soon as we get back to the office." Wesley bobbed his head politely, his brow furrowing as the pretty blonde reached out to delay his leave.

"I've got instincts, too, you know. And my instincts are telling me that maybe YOU'RE suffering from too long a night, but your buddy there has got some other issues going on."

"I don't know-"

"I doubt you don't know SOMETHING. But, hey, in L.A. we're all allowed our dream states. I'm just suggesting you get him home and fed right now because it's going to be real difficult to explain how a 'psychic' turned us onto this scene if some of the bodies wind up with bite marks, Wesley."

-0-

The sunrise seemed to provide some relief for Angel. That, and tending to breakfast as Wesley showered. He fed quickly without taking the time to prepare one of Cordelia's cocktail recipes since they didn't make much of a difference anymore, anyway.

"That shirt fits you better than me," Angel complimented as he placed Wesley's plate on the table. "You know, why don't you keep it and if there's any other-"

Wesley cut Angel off. "I cannot get into THAT discussion with you right now. Please." Wesley continued sifting through the Flores file after taking a forkful from the plate. "Delicious as usual. You spoil me, Angel. You really do," he repeated, engrossed in his project.

Angel sighed heavily as he poured coffee for them both. Wanting to broach THAT discussion, he opened his mouth but held his words. Cursing his cowardice, he took down another plate in expectation as Gale descended the staircase. "I don't exactly know YOUR kind, but you're welcome to eat if you do."

Gale approached the table, stretching her arms gracefully around her torso in slow balletic movements. Her brows knit as she studied the ex-Watcher, dismayed after touching his hair and finding it damp. "You guys been back long?" she asked as she claimed a seat at the kitchen table.

Wesley looked up and met her face with a broad smile. "Good morning, Gale. A couple of hours, maybe. Angel?"

"About an hour and a half. Coffee?"

"Sure. Nice shirt, Wesley. You look good in black. It brings out the color in your eyes."

"Hmmmmmm?" Taking another forkful and washing it down with a gulp of juice, Wesley, with his mouth half-full, offered its origin.

Gale studied the two haggard-looking men carefully. "Hard night?"

Angel swirled his cup absently, his head propped on his knuckles as he rested his eyes. "A supposedly solved case went wrong and we spent the early morning locating bodies." When Wesley pushed his empty plate away, Angel took it immediately to the sink.

"So, now I'm making sure the case file is all together so the LAPD can take over from here. Now you know about our big night. What did you end up doing?"

Gale flicked a few pieces of egg across the plate and took a bite of sausage. It was probably the best meal she'd tasted in years, but she wasn't going to waste a compliment on the vampire. When he returned to his chair, his interest in her response seemed genuine but made her uncomfortable.

"Just stuff. You know. I did 'chat' most of the night. Found out what's going on around the globe with the other Messengers. We mostly dish; flame one another; flame our Warriors. Read a couple chapters of a book. Spent the rest of the night recovering from a Vision. Oh, made a couple local calls if that's alright."

"A Vision? You had a Vision?" Angel's attention rallied and he leaned towards Gale anxiously. "Why didn't you call?"

"Oh, yeah, right. I Vision and then I'm supposed to pull your number out of my butt. Du-hude! When I have a Vision, you're supposed to be here. But, you know, you didn't want to take me along last night so you missed out."

"No. I'm not going to sit here and let you tell me you're computer literate but you couldn't use the phone. I don't buy it. Wesley gave you our numbers for a reason. If you couldn't dial mine, you knew he was with me. You should have paged him, at the very least." Angel tried to control his rapidly rising temper, finding the attempt close to impossible.

"Yeah. And I didn't HAVE your numbers. Nobody's numbers."

"Oh, God," Wesley replied, weakly. "In our hurry to leave last night, I completely forgot--"

Angel slid his chair from the table and loomed over Wesley, imposing his stature upon the human who seemed to buckle. "How irresponsible, Wesley! How hard was it to give her three simple phone numbers on a Post-It? Or you could have even written them on her arm so then she wouldn't have had any excuses, knowing her. You need to get your head out of the heavens. On earth, here, its LIFE or death if I don't answer those calls." Stepping back, Angel mumbled, "it's my own fault. I should have double-checked."

"Hey, you can't talk to him like that, FivePint. You need to tone it down a notch or two-"

"What happens now? Did another Warrior get the call?"

Gale's attention went back to her plate. "How the hell should I know?" she answered indignantly.

"Surely there's a precedent," Wesley prompted, humbled by Angel's severe reprimand.

"A precedent?" Gale laughed heartily, her features bright with humor. "There is no precedent for missing a Vision, guys, because none of the other Warriors have ever moonlighted as human beings."

She had rarely witnessed movement so rapid in her entire long existence as the vampire rushed her. Gale gasped as Angel effortlessly extracted her from the seat by her arm, using his supernatural strength to hold her above the floor. Wesley, distraught, tried to calm Angel while maintaining enough of a distance to not be seriously injured in case Angel lashed out.

Their brown eyes met antagonistically. "I'm going to the Oracle," Angel seethed to the female in his grasp. A thought to break her in half nagged his subconscious, but Wesley's voice interceded. Turning to Wesley, he added, "do you think you can handle cleaning up the kitchen while I'm gone? Or do I need to do that, too?"

After being released, Gale rubbed her arm as she listened to Angel descend into the sewer entrance. "He had NO right to speak to you like that. He's a VAMPIRE, Wesley. Filthy, sucking... You're better than him."

Wesley was offended by her slur. "Angel was right, though. I am irresponsible and my mistake was unforgivable. I'd pray no one got killed or seriously injured, but it would probably be a waste. The Messages are usually dire."

His ego wounded, Wesley wandered into the kitchen and attempted to concentrate, instead, on the mindless task at hand. Angel had already cleaned most of it and there was actually little to do. When he pulled the plates off the shelf to rewash them an unopened bag of Angel's feed dropped to the counter. Lifting it, Wesley could tell by its gelatinous texture the container had been there for quite some time and his stomach lurched.

Gale couldn't see the human's expression, but his body language made his distress more than apparent. With his head leaning against the shelf in front of him and his arms wrapped tightly around his torso, Wesley trembled with sorrow. Fascinated, she listened to his hushed sobs while wiping an empathic tear from her cheek. And, it struck her as odd she couldn't remember the last time she had shed a tear or wanted to give someone a hug.

-0-

The Oracle Chamber was stuffier than usual, although Angel wondered why that should matter to him since he didn't breathe anyway. Still, there was a staleness in the air as if the space had been unoccupied for some time.

"Warrior Angel, you come to visit or do you come for another pointless request?" the female Oracle asked as she and the male approached.

Angel studied the pair closely. The male, usually the more somber of the two, was more so and the female's countenance was nearly identical. Her brow was creased as if she was experiencing the Superior-Being version of a migraine, her forced smile coming off as more annoyed than pleasant.

"You've given me a Messenger--" Angel trailed off, ready to swear the male's hostile expression meant 'duh'.

"You come only to tell us that which is known. From experience with your visits, we can assume the Messenger does not please you."

"No, it's not that. She had a Vision."

"And that is what they do," the male heaved. "Either come to your point or be gone. You try our patience."

Angel held his tongue until they finished listening to the silence, their expressions weighed by greater consternation than when he first arrived. "Is there something wrong?" he asked, concerned.

"Did we not pose that query to you?" the female replied, more than impatient. Her look exuded the intention she was ready to fling Angel through the portal.

"The Messenger Visioned and I wasn't there for it. I need to know if another Warrior got the call when I didn't show up."

Angry, the male's cerulean markings seemed to flare cobalt with his body language arrogant as he distastefully ogled the vampire's frame. "You REFUSED a call? How DARE you! You have NO right to deny your service to The Powers That Be. You have obligations and you WILL respond when summoned."

"I would have," Angel protested, "if I had been there to receive it. There was a mix-up and she couldn't get in touch with me--"

The female cut him off, her posture and coloring matching the male's as she stood mere inches away from Angel, her attitude more condescending. "What manner of excuse if this? Your Messenger is tied to you and you alone. It is not her responsibility to 'get in touch with' you, but yours to be available to her."

It was the unspoken disapproval in their reprimand that made Angel wince more than their words; he had already suspected their reaction before entering the Chamber. Taking a moment to concentrate, he attempted to keep his tone reverent, yet adamant. "I get that. Now I need to know what to do next."

The male leered at Angel before stepping away to listen to the silence, drawing the female's attention as he did so. "There was no call," he finally answered.

"Go," she commanded.

"No call?" Angel was baffled. "How could there be 'no call'? She said--"

"She lied," the male replied curtly.

"But, why would she do that?" Angel asked under his breath, trying to determine a reason while stowing his rising temper.

"She is a Demon of Discord, Warrior Angel. Perhaps you gave her a reason to ply her trade." The female waved her hand in mock dismissal, obviously bored. "It is of no concern to us. Go. And understand your duty."

"Wait. I can't have her if she's going to lie. What if she lies about something important? What if lives are in danger? I can't trust her!" Angel shook his head vehemently while pushing his hands apart, his frustration finally unleashed. "And if I can't trust her, I don't want her."

The male glowered at Angel in disbelief. "You DARE to approach us in this manner about what you WILL or will NOT have. YOU do not determine your destiny, you are under Command."

"And by that Command," the female continued, "you will cease to make decisions based on your own poor judgement. How dare you dismiss your own Messenger in order to renege on your responsibilities. Each under Command has fealty due and it is not up to the individual to determine what debt is to be paid or the restitution."

"I didn't dismiss--"

"You stand there and lie to us, VAMPIRE?" It was the way he said 'vampire', the immense amount of loathing in his tone only slightly less condemning than how Angel felt about himself most of the time.

"She is not dismissed," Angel responded softly, dispirited. "Only away for a little while. For her safety."

The pair contemplated Angel's words as they met eyes. "You had NO right to send her away on your own. Her Gift is your connection to The Powers That Be and, as such, she must remain near you," they spoke.

The female returned to Angel and studied him carefully while listening to the silence. She spoke compassionately, "your condition is worsening. The Auguries know this and you have been called less often than before. Perhaps they have misjudged the severity?"

In an attempt to conceal his grief, Angel spoke into his chest. "I don't need to be destroyed. Yet."

The male joined the female. "Then understand your time is under title. While you are still available, will you attend to assigned mandates?"

"All I can do is try," Angel answered honestly.

-0-

He could feel her presence before he exited the tunnels into his apartment. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, it was nice to hear that dusky voice again. Drawn to it, Angel smoothed his clothes and discreetly checked for any lingering odor as he entered the living room area.

Any emotion Kate harbored was concealed as her almond-shaped eyes followed his approach. Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said for the tone of voice she used. Her words came out harshly as she greeted Angel.

"My other job. I had business to attend to."

"Was the problem solved by someone else?" Wesley vaguely inquired, attempting to be discreet.

He worriedly studied Wesley. "There wasn't a problem in the first place," Angel explained, his attention returning to Kate as the slender man shied away.

Kate shuffled through the heavy file, examining its contents. "Like I told Wesley, it's all official. He has the Search Warrant so that should let you off the hook for breach of contract. You might want to speak to a lawyer just in case--" She paused, shaking her head in disbelief. "I'd forgotten how good you are at this. We've gotten files from other P.I.'s but nothing like this, Angel. It's so thorough. Meticulous."

The compliment felt nice, especially coming from her and Angel bit his lip to avoid beaming. "Wesley. He's great. And he did the majority of the legwork, you know. Daylight stuff and all."

Kate nodded. "At any rate, Angel. Thanks." She lowered her eyes to avoid being nicer, accepting his reminder for what it was and they stood there, shrouded by an uneasy silence.

"That his new girlfriend?" Gale asked Wesley as he returned from answering the phone. "She's pretty enough. He likes 'em human, I guess. You know what they say--"

Distracted, Wesley called across the room. "Vern Sproul, Angel. Can you speak with him?" Before going upstairs to retrieve the requested file from Angel's desktop, he explained to the demon, "not his girlfriend. I don't believe their relationship ever went that far. He never speaks about it, but I get the feeling he cares about her. Unfortunately, his state of existence mucked up whatever there could have been, culminating with the death of Kate's father."

"Wait. Angel killed her father?" The feel of Wesley's forearm impressed Gale as she tugged at him. He was far from as frail as he seemed and she begrudgingly ended the contact as he hurried off after quickly explaining the circumstances.

"Kate? Hi! I'm Gale."

Kate nodded and accepted the woman's offered hand, matching the grip. "Gale. You're new. What happened to Cordelia?"

"Off on a job. I guess she's an actress."

"OH!" Kate laughed cynically. "All this time she really WAS trying to be an actress? I thought she was using that as an excuse just like everyone else in this stupid city with a dead-end job primarily since hers is, literally, with the dead."

"That makes you uncomfortable."

"Look, I can't tell what you guys are just by looking. You're a vampire, too?"

"Uh, no. Just because we used to be human doesn't mean we're all vampires." Gale set aside her indignant tone. "But, anyway-- I just wanted to say it's great you're making the first move towards reconciliation. Angel just seems so, I don't know. Unsure? Maybe he just needed you to be the stronger one, to show him what it's like to be gutsy."

Kate flinched. "I beg your pardon?"

Ignoring the human's reaction, Gale continued, "although, I gotta admit you humans are way bigger freaks than you used to be. No matter how gorgeous he is, I don't think I could ever get past being with someone whose cuddle reminds me of the last time I held my Dad." She paused, tapping her lips with an index finger. "Maybe THAT'S why they call it sexual healing."

The response was instantaneous as Kate's face was drained of all color and her clear blue eyes tearfully flooded. But, the one thing Gale enjoyed most of all was the mournful gasp as Kate's body jerked in an attempt to dispel both the memories of her father's corpse and transparent mixed feeling towards Angel.

Her blonde ponytail bounced as she fled up the stairs.

Angel witnessed the sudden flight, sensing Kate's despair as he approached the Temp. "What happened?" he accused. "What did you do to her?"

Gale dismissed Angel's concern with a flick of her wrist. "I didn't DO anything to her. Maybe your arousing her in the early morning hours made her cranky and she misunderstood my small talk."

The encounter was blinding as Angel lunged at the female. Her offensive maneuver was well-timed, however, and she caught Angel's advance, careening him expertly without taking a breath or blink. They stared at one another contemptuously, Angel on his back looking up and Gale, with her shoe on his neck peering down at him over the top of her nose. As she heard Wesley return from Angel's room, she bore down before kneeling at his side.

"Fools rush in, Angelus," she whispered while absently wiping his throat. Kowtowing, she planted a sloppy kiss between his eyes. "Just remember I'm willing to take my time with you."

Wesley, hurrying to Angel's side as Gale took to the stairs, skidded against the area rug when Angel deflected him. His hurt was matched only by his shock with Angel's hostility increasing his emotional instability.

"Stop sniveling, Wesley. You really need to get a grip on yourself!"

"I'm sorry," he breathed, trying to hold onto his outburst.

Angel impatiently held out his hand and yanked Wesley to his feet. "Take her and get her out of my sight before she provokes me into doing something I can't afford to do. I can't have her here, but I can't have her out of contact. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave me with a whole lot of options."

"You want her to stay with me?"

"Well, that didn't take you forever to figure out," Angel spat out sarcastically. "She's a manipulator, Wesley, and you know how easily manipulated you are. You think you can handle this or you want out? I need you to actually handle the responsibility this time around."

Angel had turned his back and retired to his room before Wesley finished nodding his acceptance. 'Manipulated' being the best part of how he was feeling.

-0-

Rocking in place with his head against the front blinds, Wesley watched one black SUV replace another. Their timing was impeccable and he refrained from looking at his watch, knowing it was exactly 1:30AM. The Observers weren't the only ones running like clockwork these days, he mused as he gave into a yawn. He would wait another half-hour before retiring to spend the rest of the morning staring out his bedroom window.

"You're alright?" his guest asked as she padded across the room.

"Did I disturb you?" Wesley asked. He glanced at Gale, making a mental note to add 'fuzzy Piglet slippers' to his research. The chiffon scarf tied in her chin-length light brown hair complimented the bedtime ensemble. Although he rather fancied it, he imagined Cordelia would hardly grant a fashion stamp of approval. Although, maybe without the character slippers...

Gale shrugged. "It's not like I actually sleep, you know. The whole demonic existence thing?"

"Right. Well can I get you something? Some cocoa?"

His offer tickled her. "Cocoa?"

"Or something else? Ummmmm." Insomnia-laden, his thoughts were muddled and his voice lethargic. "I have wine and... Oh, hell. I think there's a bottle of cognac if you'd like that instead."

Reaching up, Gale brushed the hair from his forehead and smiled. Even in the darkened room she could tell he had blushed. It was an endearing response that made her return her hand quickly to the robe's pocket. "I'm cool, Wes. How about you? I heard you... Like... I think you screamed. Or something. Nightmare?"

Returning his attention outside, Wesley sighed heavily as he bounced his head gently against the window. "I don't know. I don't know what I'm doing. A nightmare makes sense, though except I can't remember anything. Just that I can't sleep through the night or get back to it." His breath was ragged. "Do you want to play a video game? Or I've got a few movies on DVD. You must be bored out of your mind."

"Trust me, after 500 years you learn boredom management. So, who are they?"

Lowering a horizontal slat for dramatic effect he explained, "they are Observers in action. The Council of Watchers has me officially under patrol. Imagine all the evil in this city and they're concerned about me." He snorted bitterly before sighing again.

"Because of Angel? They're going to make a move on him?" She tried to conceal the joy in her voice.

"Well, partly because of Angel. I thought I was being discreet when I broke into the Watcher's archives. Seems they were waiting for me, though. These guys showed up the next day and they've been here ever since."

"So, that must have freaked Angel out the first time he saw them. I mean, these guys hold a stake in their hands before their first bottle. Oh, sorry. No offense." Gale leaned around to look up into his face, confused by his reaction to her improper joke. "Angel doesn't come by?"

As Wesley shook his head, the blinds shimmied against the glass. He could see a flame flicker when someone lit a cigarette, its pouf of smoke easing through a crack in the passenger window before dissipating into the still night air. "He has no reason to," Wesley stated matter-of-factly, wondering if smoking would relax him and, if by asking for one, what message that would send.

"You've never invited him," she whispered in recognition of Wesley's comment, flabbergasted. "Wow. That's a trip."

"I guess old habits die hard." He turned towards her, his arms folded and his head bowed against the quandary. "One of my last stands of righteousness. Although, I don't know why I bother. I've already--"

"Hey! You know, Wesley, a game might not be so bad. I don't do video, but if you have a chess board?" Gale reached up and tousled his hair again, neutralizing the potential confession. When the corners of Wesley's mouth turned up and his mood brightened a little, she withdrew her hand. Twisting around, she grinned up into his face. "And, you know, cocoa sounds pretty darn good, too."

-0-

8:39PM

"Hello... Cordelia! Good to hear from you! Are you off so early?... Yes, we just finished dinner a little while ago. Missing you terribly!... Of course. There was no one to put her own unique spin on the world's problems... You do, too!... Of course Angel always agrees with you, he usually isn't paying attention to what you're saying half of the time............"

"Wesley, don't fight with her, give me the phone!"

"Yes, well, here's Angel..."

"Cordelia. Hi... You're calling early, did you work today?... I know. Albuquerque probably isn't your idea of a happening town, but it's beautiful there this time of the year... Well, don't just stay in the hotel room and read magazines. Go on an excursion or something. If you need money or anything........."

8:47PM

"Yeah, Wesley's been taking good care of me..."

"HE'S LYING, CORDELIA!" Wesley shouted before twisting the phone out of Angel's hand. "He's been positively awful! He won't let me do anything for him... I know, I promised... You ALWAYS take his side! It's not fair... Wait, Angel--"

"Don't listen to him... But... But... OK... OK... OK... Alright, already! So, you didn't call just for that... Chicken... The one you like with orange juice and cumin... Rice and green beans... Yeah, with bacon and everything... Have you been eating OK?... Well, you're on my back about my meals!... Yeah, she ate, too. No, I don't think she HAS to, but she hasn't refused a meal yet........"

Gale watched the two men fight over the phone, finding herself more jealous than amused. The vampire was smiling and laughing, a completely different being than the one she had been working with during the past two weeks. And Wesley was standing far too close, trying to be a part of a conversation he was obviously excluded from...

"Really? That's GREAT!..."

"What's great, Angel?"

"Hold on... Cordelia says she might have a shot at the national ad-- STOP TAKING THE PHONE FROM ME!"

"The national commercial? When will you know?... She said she'll have to audition for it, probably in New York if she gets that far--"

"Find out who the casting director is, the ad agency. Oh, yeah, the creative director. Ask her, Wesley!"

"Did you hear?... Hmmmmm... Angel, she said you've already done enough and she wants you to keep your fangs to yourself so she can see if she can get this on her own. That's a very odd thing to say, Cordelia. What makes you think... Really?............."

Wesley studied Angel carefully as he half-listened to Cordelia drone, feeling as if she had hit him in the head with a book again. "Hold on, Cordelia..."

"Here, lemme have it," Angel reached for the phone, but Wesley merely stared. Sheepishly, Angel lowered his eyes to the examination. "What?"

"You know 'what'. YOU sent her away, didn't you? And she knows it, Angel. Why?" Massaging his forehead, Wesley let the phone drop onto the counter.

"Cordelia, I'll call you back, OK?... No, I promise. What time is good?... OK. Bye." Angel reached for Wesley's shoulder. "I..."

"Stop! You're going to lie, I can see the way you're trying to figure out how to do it without actually lying. Did I tell you to do it? Is that it?"

"C'mon, Wesley. You don't look good. Let's go home." Gale pushed Angel's hand away and wrapped her arm around Wesley's waist to support him. "He's always lying to you."

"Stay out of this, Gale! Wesley. It's complicated, but--"

A stake would have been less painful as Angel watched the pair depart. It hurt. Deeply. To be incapable of explaining the reasons behind a decision he felt impelled to make. Just another unspoken conversation between him and Wesley, Angel lamented. They were beginning to stack like skeletons, creating an impersonal wall.

With Gale more than happy to supply an extra bone.

-0-

Disregarding the sleeping-disordered euphoria, Wesley couldn't remember when life had been so agreeable. Gale's company was more enjoyable than he could have imagined. She was smart, attentive, amusing and, after Wesley owned up to his study of her (purely for scientific reasons, of course), she was a willing and gracious subject. He even looked forward to waking each night so he and Gale could play chess until dawn.

The weather in the city, unseasonably warm for Spring, coupled with the longer days fueled Wesley's contentment. When not required to work late, he and Gale hurried back to the cottage to spend the early evenings in his tiny bougainvillea-laden patch of yard, viewing the sunset (even Cordelia didn't have a view of the setting sun), while eating simple meals prepared together. As the evening shadows lengthened into dusk, Wesley lit the Tiki lamps Gale presented to him after her first paycheck while she began reciting spectacular tales of demonic legends and lore.

And Wesley, huddled under a blanket, would make notes and listen, enthralled by it all--her stories, the tone of her pleasant voice, and the golden light dancing across her captivating features.

Work life was not so carefree, however, but increasingly awkward as Gale flirted and Wesley shamelessly reciprocated as he tried to hide the flourishing relationship not only from Angel but from himself, as well. It was impossible to ignore Gale's worsening contempt for the vampire, but nice to have a champion--someone to be as close to as Angel was with Cordelia.

Wesley was extremely quiet Gale realized shortly after beginning to live with him. She studied him as much as he studied her but still couldn't ascertain how anyone could do half of the many activities he did so silently. By sound, it was as if she stayed by herself until, late at night, she heard Wesley stir.

As much as she wanted to, Gale couldn't bring herself to watch him sleep--an activity she caught Angel doing the night they spent in his lair. The one night she tried to ignore, since living with Wesley the ex-Watcher had slept without waking; another aspect of the human/vampire relationship that unnerved her.

It appeared to Gale as though, by being quiet and courteous, the world would allow Wesley to pass without notice. (She had never heard 'please' and 'thank you' so much in her existence.) Accommodating to a fault, no matter what she said or how often she pestered him, Wesley was reluctant to participate in needless conflict. It was a challenge to provoke him, with more than half of her enjoyment derived from listening to his gentle scolding regarding her misbehavior and encouragement to put aside her wicked inciting ways.

And he was handsome. She liked his coloring, his perceptive light eyes and the wavy dark hair and his height and his build and the odd way everything he wore was so wrinkled--his impersonation of a discarded wad of paper someone tried to smooth out. His shy, retiring manner was adorable and there was always big fun in finding some new way to embarrass him, especially at the office, so he would blush. She imagined if he spent more time in the sun, a tan would only complement his attractiveness...

"Gale?"

She sat up, shaking away her daydream, Wesley expectantly facing her. "I'm sorry, Wes. What?"

"When the phone rings, you really should answer it. You know. Sometimes I'm on another line and if Angel's not here..."

"Sorry. Speak of the devil..." Gale stood up and walked to the door sill of Angel's office as the vampire exited his elevator. "How'd it go? You get 'em?"

"Angel, it's great you're back. Vern Sproul just called and-"

Angel raised his palm to pause Wesley, still feeling a little disoriented as he tried to recover from his fight. "Ummmmm. What did you tell him?"

"That you might be out the rest of the afternoon?" Wesley stepped closer and laid the folder on Angel's desk along with a very detailed message.

Meticulous. Angel smiled. "Anything else?" Wesley shook his head 'no', but before Angel had a chance to say another word, his employee turned to answer another call. "You know, I am paying you, Gale. The LEAST you could do is answer the phones."

She strolled into his office and, resisting the urge to flip the blinds open to the late afternoon sun, she plopped into a chair in front of Angel's desk. "It's no fun killing your own kind. Is it, Angel? First off, vampires don't really like to rumble--something about spilling your own blood that gets you fiends all wiggy. Then, for you, that cloud of dust for the grand finale just probably isn't cutting it."

"Gale. You don't want to go here with me..."

"Why, Angel? Big, bad vampire gonna take me down?" She looked over her shoulder before biting her finger. "Look, Angel. I bleed. That's what you want, isn't it? To kill something that's gonna bleed?"

"Get out..."

Keeping her voice hushed, Gale continued her taunt, "you just want to hurt something REALLY bad, don't you, Angel? How's about a REAL fight?" She rose from the chair. Walking around to his side, she cozied up to the desktop and wagged her bloody digit in front of him. "You... want... blaaaaahd..."

Angel slapped her hand away. "Get away from me or-"

"Or what, Angelus? You'll really make me bleed?" She stepped into him and smeared her finger across his lips. "Or since, technically, I'm not humanly alive, you thinking you can use me as filler? That new appetite of yours must have you ready to take those fangs out for a night in a tomb."

Wesley's sudden entrance barely kept Angel from backhanding the young-looking woman, something he desperately wanted to do. That, and to make her bleed. "What, Wesley?" he barked, unintentionally.

"Don't speak to him like that, you asshole!"

"Get out of my way, Gale. Wes--"

As Angel reached out--too suddenly--to stop Wesley from shrinking out of the office, Gale grabbed his arm. She rapidly pulled it behind him and up, slamming the taller being onto his knees with his cheek smashed against the wall. "Don't touch him!" she screamed.

Conflicted, Wesley lowered his eyes. "I think you should release him, Gale."

After Wesley left the room, she let go but not before she kneed Angel in the back. "I don't know who decided you could have humans, vampire," she hissed in his ear, "but someone seriously needs to have a Vision on YOUR ass. And, I'm hoping I get the Message so I can take you out myself."

Angel watched through his louvre office windows as Wesley and Gale left. After locking the front door, he turned off the lights and returned to his office. His life was miserable, made more so by the demon's constant derision which was too often, too true.

His assignments for The Powers That Be weren't exciting. Even though he had become a more experienced fighter over the months, he had always been a killer with the occasional insignificant assignment providing precious little rehearsal for either talent. Fighting vampires WAS boring work and he barely got a fight started before it was over.

Exactly in a burst of dust. No blood.

His mind wandered as he carried out his obligations, obscene thoughts of whether something not humanly alive would be able to provide relief for his nagging hunger. He had assumed the worst part of dying was thinking about dying; but, now the worst part was waiting. His survival instincts were still too strong and, for the time being, his meal ethics were, too; although, he was still torn, after discovering Wesley had discarded his experimental feed, whether to chew him out or thank him.

Angel shuddered before placing his cheek against the cool polished surface of his desk. Existence had become very difficult to manage alone. His daily thoughts often focused on how naive he had been to even think he would be able to lead a solitary life after leaving Sunnydale, how dreary those first few months had been on his own.

How much he wished it were possible for Doyle to walk through the door and save him again.

-0-

1:33AM

"Hi. Is Cordelia around?... Angel............"

1:35AM

"Hey, SleepyHead... No... Seriously, NOTHING'S wrong... Yeah, Wesley's fine. How are you?... I'm sorry. Look, just go back to sleep and when ever you can, call............"

1:42AM

"(Laughing) And they haven't sent you packing yet? Must be that Cordelia Chase charm... Well, I actually figure you must have dirt on someone, but I was trying to be nice... Business is good. We're busy... Yeah, the Flores case just won't go away... I spoke to the lawyer and he said Wesley should just drive the car until the LAPD comes around to impound it... No. It actually doesn't sound 'fine'. Are you sure this guy's not affiliated with your Dad's lawyer because we could always call Wolfram & Hart... I AM just kidding......."

1:49AM

"Just a little bummed... I dunno... I feel OK, but I usually won't start feeling bad for another couple of hours... Just not sleepy. My mind is too active and then the déjà vu weirds me out... Feeding... Yeah, people. Mostly, dead ones... Scary... Icky... Hungry. Really hungry all the time like all of my nerves are on fire... I can't... 'Cause. I can't... I don't know. I guess I'm just used to having a little conversation before appetizers... I don't think it's a 'snack condition', Cordelia. If I start... It started growing in last week... I'm just not-- Don't make me talk about it anymore. OK?........."

1:56AM

"He goes home early with Gale... She's working out OK. As long as she doesn't lie... They get along great... No, it's wild. She gets all Mama Bear around him... Hey, if it's working for him... Maybe every other day... Lightweight stuff. Mostly vamps............"

2:04AM

"Talking to Dennis isn't the same... Not yet... No. I SWEAR I'll talk to him before you get back. He just hasn't been around that much. I almost talked to him, but he cut me off... You know me, if I can avoid, I'll avoid... Yeah, well I can't deny him the company. At least they can go out to lunch together. Besides, I think he's a better influence on her... I don't know. Her Visions don't wreck her as much as they did when she first got here... Believe me, they're still way worse than yours. When was the last time you had a nose bleed?... (Laughing) He does not get off on nasal secretions, Cordelia! That's gross!... No, they're not doing it. I don't think. Well. Maybe. But I'm pretty sure they're not... He does?... But, that's not a girlfriend-girlfriend... Even though he tries to pretend he's Average Joe, he's still a Council Member in his heart............"

2:10AM

"I said some really nasty things and kinda smacked him... What can I say? It would be much easier for me to kick his ass... I know. But it's pretty near impossible to apologize to someone when they're avoiding you... Yeah, well I get allergies, too... No. I figure if she hasn't returned the call after three weeks, she's not probably not gonna............"

2:18AM

"OK... Two more weeks, right?... Go hang out at the monument... I know, but it's usually not so crowded this time of the early morning... Actually the embalming methods act as an appetite suppressant... It doesn't look like he's been sleeping either. Maybe we both just miss being exhausted by you... (Laughing) Yes, I am being facetious... You know, if you'd just start showing him how smart you really are, he'd stop picking on you............"

2:27AM

"I know, and I didn't use the discount long distance service... Because if I did you wouldn't have a reason to hurry back... I SWORE, Cordelia. I'll do it... Alright... Pleasant dreams."

-0-

Walking from the kitchen after setting the kettle on, Angel was surprised to see Wesley sitting in the library alcove, his face buried in one of a stack of books. It pleased him immensely to see Wesley, even more so to see Wesley alone.

"Hey."

Wesley glanced over the top of his glasses at Angel and flashed a dimple before returning to his research.

"What're you looking for? I thought we didn't have any evil on the case load right now."

"Just researching a tattoo I saw on Gale's hip last night."

Angel blinked a couple times, shocked into silence.

"Not what you're thinking, Angel. Anyway, I've looked through everything you've got and come up with nothing." Wesley clapped the book shut and took it and the others into the library for filing. "I don't know why I'm even interested," he called out as he finished, "it's not like she's going to be around too much longer."

Returning, Wesley faced the vampire with his arms folded. "She's NOT going to be around too much longer? Right?"

Angel smiled and shook his head. "As soon as Cordelia gets back." Moving to a shelf, he retrieved a hidden volume and handed it to Wesley. "I know you're fond of Gale, but I never thought I'd meet the person who would make Cordelia look like the world's best office worker. Tea?"

"Sure." Following Angel towards the kitchen, Wesley sat at the table with the book. He smoothed the cover before opening it, admiring the texture of its fine linen binding and its familiar coral coloring. "If I didn't know any better, I would swear Cordelia hand-picked Gale just to insure her job security."

Angel laughed heartily at the remark until he self-consciously stopped; afraid he'd already ruined one of the few pleasant moments they'd had in almost a month. "What's wrong, Wes?"

"This is going to sound very strange. I've never told you this before, Angel, and I've been meaning to. You have the most beautiful smile I've ever seen. It's so-- I don't know how to describe it. Your entire being seems to radiate cheer. Of course, you aren't close to turning--"

A little bewildered, but more relieved, Angel replied, "evil? No. Picture me as an antenna ball." Wesley's confusion caused him to prompt, "you know, smiley face on a stick?"

"OH." Wesley chuckled at the analogy. "That's a relief." He began leafing through the book, carefully lifting each page by its outer edge, smoothing them over gently with both hands.

"Actually, you're the one with a great smile. Really enthusiastic. Like a little kid's. Spontaneous. You don't smile enough, though. You should. You should be happier."

Wesley winced. "This is a very strange conversation, Angel."

"Yeah. We should stop complimenting each other or else we'll have to go out whoring together." Angel smiled to himself as he poured their tea, wishing he could take back the past weeks and start over again with Wesley. He briefly considered looking up an incantation to do just that when it hit him how much he had missed cordial conversations with the man. They wouldn't do any work, just sit around the table and talk until Cordelia returned...

Upon returning with their tea, however, Wesley's blank stare confused him and Angel let his good humor fade. "I'm sorry, Wes. That was kinda crude. Forget I said it."

"I'm not offended, Angel. Really. Actually, I enjoy 'guy talk'. It's just that I've never been one of 'the guys'. I suppose you used to have scintillatingly ribald conversations with Doyle all the time." Wesley shrugged, sensing Angel's sudden discomfort. "Now I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring him up. It's just seems I'm always in the shadow of this 'great guy' I get the feeling I'm unworthy to replace. However, if you ever wanted to talk about him--"

"I'm sorry I make you feel that way." Wanting to try not to, Angel concentrated for a moment then finally shook his head. "It's still too hard to talk about him, Wesley. I just--"

"No problem, Angel. Don't feel you have to describe him to me or go over anything in particular. Just, you know. If something ever strikes you as 'that sound's like something Doyle would say or do', then feel free. I won't be hurt." He yawned during Angel's apprehensive nod of agreement. As he delicately eased another page over, Wesley noted, "you realize if The Council ever knew you had this book... Anyway, why'd you think of it?"

Angel admired the symbols from upside down. "Let's say I flipped for your girlfriend. Besides, if you've already tried demon and human, why not supernatural?" Wesley's rendering of the ornate design made Angel curious about how, exactly, the female's hip got inspected.

"She's not my girlfriend, Angel."

"I'm just funnin' ya, Wes. Besides, Cordelia told me you already have a girlfriend. I hope having Gale at your place isn't messing you up."

"HAD. And she wasn't really a girlfriend. I'm sure Cordelia told you that, as well. Remember when I found you at Cordelia's apartment? All in all, for that night, being thrown across the living room was probably the best part of the evening. My booty call had just 'kicked me to the curb'. She told me it was better in the dreams I was keeping her from."

"I am so sorry."

"Please. Don't make it worse by hosting a pity party for me, Angel. I already know I'm awful enough at it. I truly don't understand the whole 'art' at all. In fact, if it is an art, I'm probably not even at stick figures."

"You're being too hard on yourself, Wesley, and you're probably not as bad as you think you are. Unless you're not enjoying it. In which case you might be-"

"No. I'm not gay. Growing up in a male-dominated society, orientation gets sorted out rather quickly. I'm just not good. I enjoy it well enough; it's just they don't. And they usually tell me they don't which makes it exceptionally bad. Aren't women supposed to lie? Fake it or something to spare a man's feelings and then let him figure it out by not returning his calls?"

"Brutal."

"I'll say. They don't go into specifics, of course. At least maybe if I had specifics, I could attempt to improve my technique or whatever. Noooooo. They just say, 'that was a disappointment'." He sighed and sipped from his cup. "Who knows what they want? Maybe they don't know themselves and I can't believe I'm baring my inadequacies to you. Very sad state of affairs, indeed."

"It's a mind thing."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Women. It's not just physical for them. Like maybe this woman you were seeing fell for your accent or the fact you wear glasses. Some meandering detail like that. And then, she went a little further and decided she liked the way you held the phone or your fork."

"This makes absolutely LESS sense, Angel."

"Guys see a woman and they go, 'ooooooh, woman'. And that's good enough. But, women don't see 'man'. They see what makes a man the man he is. They go for the details."

"You've obviously been spending too much time listening to Cordelia."

"Not Cordelia, although, her take on the subject is fascinating if you have the attention span for it. Modern women actually remove some of the difficulty because they aren't afraid to own up to what they do or don't want. Did she ever tell you what she wanted?"

"Cordelia?"

"No. Not Cordelia. Your lady friend."

"Marie. She said, 'I want sex.' Can't read too much more into THAT, Angel."

Angel, rubbing his chin, paused to consider Wesley's predicament. "And you didn't want 'sex'. Maybe you didn't want a relationship, but you wanted to connect. To be WITH her."

"Frankly, you should be doing radio talk instead of private investigating." Wesley sighed heavily before turning another page. "I don't know what I wanted from it either. I guess I really didn't want to be in the affair at all. She was a lovely person and all, but-- I don't know."

"You want to be in love?"

"I'll leave that frightening concept to you. I don't think I could handle being in love. I just felt used. Marie made me feel less like a person and more like a thing."

"Been THERE, myself." Wanting to ease Wesley's dilemma, Angel suggested, "next time, just try abandoning yourself."

Wesley nearly toppled his cup. "Have you noticed the women of this city, Angel, if you can locate an actual woman? The last thing I'd want to do is leave myself at one's mercy."

Angel corrected his friend warmly, "not SURRENDER, Wesley. Abandon."

Wesley compared his drawing to a page before turning to another while shaking his head. "You and your semantics again. Perhaps you should spend less time writing-- No offense."

"None taken. It's alright. It took me almost 2 1/2 centuries to understand it myself and then, officially, it only happened once. Considering how much it screwed up everyone's lives, maybe I should be the last one to give advice."

Wesley stopped leafing and deliberately looked into Angel's eyes.

"I've never apologized for ruining your life."

"You didn't ruin my life, Angel. My life was ruined long before I ever met you. It just caught up to me in Sunnydale. And I know by that look on your face you're trying to figure out some way to make me think otherwise, but you need to stop placating me. If there's ONE thing I have mastered, it is failure. I excel at the unaccomplished. At least let me have that. Perhaps its just as well I'm so bad in bed. Abandon. Surrender. They both mean 'give up'."

"What would make you say something like that, Wesley? That's not what you honestly believe?" After the apathetic man shrugged again, Angel added, "I'd personally love to find some way to torture whoever damaged you bad enough to make you feel that way."

"What does it really matter?" Wesley replied, wistfully, keeping his eyes on a page. "Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if I didn't do it all to myself."

Angel felt helpless to ease Wesley's self-recrimination. "I don't want you to 'give up', Wesley. I'll leave you the definition in my will," he offered as consolation.

"Don't start speaking about your imminent demise. I just-- God, I'm going to miss you so much when you're gone. And when I found that rancid bag of blood behind the plates the other week... Why didn't you mention you're in stage three?" Wesley stopped paging and looked into Angel's face.

"C'mon, don't get all sentimental on me. It's not like I'm not going through this on schedule. Maybe if we can start finding the humor--"

"Angel, please. We're not THAT good at investigating." Placing his elbow on the table, Wesley lowered his forehead into his palm. "Or maybe we are..."

"You found something about Gale? Wes?" When his associate continued to ignore him, Angel complained, "you've really got me worried, Wesley. I'm supposed to be the pale one here, not you."

-0-

As Gale returned from outside, Wesley took the time during her brief exit to consider how much he was going to miss her company when Cordelia returned. "Who were you waving at?" He glanced through the front blinds and saw the black SUV in front, as expected.

"The guys. Doug and Myron."

"THOSE guys? You know their names?"

Gale smacked Wesley across the arm playfully as she walked to the kitchen. "Sure. I brought them a couple of Cokes if that was OK. If you stole information the least you can do is share your soda."

Flustered, Wesley stared at his temporary roommate with his mouth open. "I can't believe you're out there making friends with the Observers. Do they know what you are?"

"First off, Sweetums, I'm not making friends with them. We exchanged a few pleasantries and I gave them drinks. And then I sowed a few seeds. So, in a couple of days, they should be at each other's throats. If I did my job right they might even have to be replaced, never again to re-teamed." She mockingly wiped air tears from her cheeks. "And they were SUCH good mates..."

"You are incorrigible!" Wesley tried to swallow his laughter, but it was useless once he imagined the two men brawling in the street, hoping it wouldn't happen untill he was at home to watch.

"That's what they get, Wesley, for spying on you. They're jealous, you know."

"Jealous? Why would they be jealous?"

"They see you living in this cute little cottage--OK, it's in a piece of crap neighborhood, but it's still a really cool place--in fabulous Los Angeles, California. On top of that, you're shacking up with a beautiful young woman and every night they hear you screaming at the top of your lungs as they wonder what the hell we're doing in here. I bet they sneak up and try to peek in. It's a good thing that picture window is propped up on stilts. They're so curious, Wesley, their imaginations have gone wild."

"You make this arrangement sound rather sordid, Gale. They would know I'm not like that."

"NO. That's the beauty part, Wes. You hang with the infamous vampire Angelus, you own a Harley, and you live with a woman who happens to be gorgeous, although you're not giving me validation on just how attractive I'm reminding you I am. Or, hey. Maybe I'm not as hot as I thought I was. You know. You could change your research into 'Plastic Surgery's Effects on The Demon Physique'. I can start out with my lips and work my way into implants and suction. Or suction and implants. I can't remember which order you're supposed to do them in."

"Why would you do them at all? You're perfect."

Gale looked skeptically into Wesley's face, the conviction of his statement clearly written there, and she was stunned into silence. Almost. "That was, wow. The nicest thing anyone's ever said to me, Wesley. And you really believe it. Thanks."

"I'm just stating the obvious, Gale."

She felt her cheeks, suddenly unable to remember if blushing was a contagion for demons. "Tell you what, let's go out there right now and let Doug and Myron know what we are to one another." She caught Wesley's arm to drag him towards the door. "I'll be demure and you can brag how you've been with me every night since I moved in and the deviant things we do."

Wesley, pulled away. "No. That's lying, Gale."

"Oh, Wesley. C'mon," she pleaded. "Just one little, tiny fib. They already think it." She reached for him again. Surprised when he jerked his arm away, she pouted, "go on. It doesn't have to be filthy then. Why can't you just say, 'she sleeps in my bed!'?"

"Because why would you want to?"

Gale, stunned, followed Wesley outside. She studied him as he leaned against the back of the cottage, his arms crossed and his eyes following the movement of his foot as he absently kicked the crabgrass growing through a crack in the patio concrete. When she touched his shoulder, she sensed his impulse to pull away, even though he didn't.

"Wesley? If I hurt your feelings, I'm sorry. I was just trying to have fun. You know. Like we always have. Wesley?" His silence was unbearable and she struggled with her emotions as she watched the man she had grown to adore seem to crumble beneath her touch. Lifting her hand to his cheek only seemed to intensify his anguish. Inexperienced to help, she rested her forehead against his arm in defeat.

Involuntarily Wesley wrapped his arms around her, startled by how natural it felt to hold her, how comforting the simple gesture became when she returned it. Leaning his head against hers, he closed his eyes to the world around him willing to accept, at least for a short spell, there was no harm in holding her, or to visualize holding onto her forever.

-0-

"I don't see why they just couldn't give me a regular Message and then Wesley and I would be home watching videos and you could handle this on your own."

Angel, bored with Gale's repetitive complaining, tried to concentrate on something else. Anything else. But, her whining kept cutting through his reserve. "Look, Gale. Even Cordelia did a homing signal once. Maybe there's a reason you're supposed to come along. Just pay attention to what's going on in your head and shut up. Will you?"

Wesley, driving, yawned loudly. "Your bickering is bothering me, you two. Please, cut it out. I'm not familiar with this area." Checking Gale in the rear view mirror, he asked, "anything yet?"

She concentrated, then began to point. "Over there. One of those warehouses. THAT ONE!"

Angel returned from his outside tour of the building and lifted the bag of weapons from the trunk. "I'm sensing a lot of what ever they are. Did you get any I.D. in your Vision, Gale?"

She shook her head warily. "They aren't vamps, I'll tell you that." The situation confused her. Going to her Warrior's fight had always been an option, never the rule. And, she never had to worry about risking a human being's life, not one that she had cared about, anyway. "'A lot' is a poor guess, Angel. There must be over a couple dozen. But, I can't tell what they are, not by sense."

"Well, then. I guess we need to go in for a closer look." When Angel and Gale stared blankly at Wesley, he objected, "don't tell me I can't come along. Angel! Please? I haven't been to one of your assignments in, like, forever!" he whined.

"Do what I say, Wesley, and if I tell you to scram, I want you to scram."

"No way! He's not coming, Angel. In fact, I'M not coming. You're the Warrior. Go do your thing and if you survive, we'll be waiting here for you," Gale responded contentiously. "You. Go." She waved her fingertips at the vampire and leaned against the car.

Angel regarded her briefly before looking at Wesley. "You know the rules. Stay or come."

"I'll follow the rules, if you don't mind."

The three figures stealthily eased into the building, keeping a watchful eye for anything. Wesley, in between the two demons, held his crossbow at the ready. Although his vision wasn't as good as Angel's in the dim light, the full moon pouring through the skylight in the center made seeing less difficult.

Angel, slowing, placed the weapons down and listened. He motioned for his companions to remain in place as he grabbed onto the metal flooring over their heads and piked himself up to the next level. Just as silently as he left, he returned. "I can't tell what they are. They look familiar, but I'm no demonologist," he whispered.

Wesley nodded, ignoring Gale's vehement objection. "Where?"

"Eldath, I believe." Wesley peered into the shadow at the sleeping creature, shaking his head. "But I can't be sure. It's too dark. But it looks Eldath."

"Scythe. It's a Scythe Demon, Wesley," Gale corrected. "Like Lusus, Angel. That's why it looks so familiar to you."

"But it can't be Scythe, Gale." Wesley began to crawl in for a closer inspection, but both demons grabbed onto his clothing and yanked him back into place. "It's man-size. A Scythe is easily 9, almost 10 feet tall."

"Lusus was that tall. Maybe these are teens?" Angel suggested.

"These are the North American versions, Wesley. The giant you fought, Angel, was strictly Olde Worlde. An import. Although these guys were supposed to be extinct before the turn of last century. I don't understand it."

"A lot of things were supposed to be extinct by the turn of last century, Gale," Angel responded sardonically.

"I disected an Olde Worlde years ago, Angel. Really fascinating physiology for any species. It seems as though they're unkillable..."

"Thanks for refreshing my memory, Wes, but a simple beheading will do just fine. At least I can meet these guys eye to eye."

"You're not beheading anything, Angel," Gale replied. "You were a much purer demon when you fought Lusus, and much stronger. They're the same amount of tough in econo-sizing."

"You guys aren't giving me the love I need." Angel glanced around, looking for others, detecting a few on the walkway across. He tapped Wesley and motioned in their direction with his head. "Any slicing and dicing recommendations on our test subject here?"

"If you would have let me finish before interrupting, Angel, I would have explained how." Laying his crossbow at his knee, Wesley snatched a dagger from one of Gale's hands and scrambled to the sleeping being, too quickly out of the reaching grip of his two companions.

After successfully taking the life without waking it, Wesley returned, immensely satisfied as he wiped his hand across his pant leg. "However," he began, "obviously this is going to be a very messy..."

"Angel, he broke the rules!" Gale objected, grabbing the bloody knife away. "Send him to the car!"

"Wesley?"

"Yes, Angel."

"Great demonstration, but how many times do I have to keep reminding you not to do dangerous things on the spur of the moment?"

"Sorry. By the way, there are about eight beyond him, also asleep. So, why don't you two get going while I pick off those six off to the side?"

Angel tugged at Gale and they sidestepped Wesley as he took aim. Taking site of their own prey, Angel directed the female to wait until the six arrows made their pin-point hits. "Wow, he really does need sleep," Angel commented as he took out the first two creatures to his right.

Gale, kicking a Scythe in the face as it woke up, slashed it and another in rapid succession. "How can you tell? I've never seen anyone shoot with such accuracy. Almost in the dark!" The other four demons, divided between them, went down just as easily.

"The targets? He could hit those blindfolded," Angel proudly remarked as the onslaught began. "I'm talking about his trigger lag."

-0-

"I would have never been able to do this without you, Wesley. Actually, without either of you," Angel expressed at the door to his apartment.

Wesley, despising the feel of the caking demon bodily fluids on his clothing, clapped his friend on his shoulder. "Our pleasure, Angel. Especially Gale's. I actually think she had fun."

Angel knowingly smiled at his companion. "Oh, like she's the only one. You know how pissed off I am at you for engaging in hand to hand. It's not your forté."

"Reprimand fully accepted." Wesley placed the weapons just inside Angel's doorway, dismayed with the vampire's obvious fatigue. His voice subdued, he commented, "I don't know why the PTB sent you this fight. You don't have the stamina for these types of encounters any more. I thought they knew that."

With a far away look in his eye, Angel sighed as he motioned towards Gale who was standing impatiently in the hallway. "For every door that closes..."

"One of the first idioms I learned at Academy, Angel. But what would that have to do with Gale? Unless you're suggesting she's the opening door?"

"It's a mystery to me, Wes." Angel stretched his back, weary beyond belief. "All I know is I'm just grateful you had the key." He glanced at Gale again before lowering his voice. "You, know it's late-- You can spend the rest of the night here?"

Wesley, doting, reached to touch Angel's forehead, alarmed by the request and Angel's evasive move. "Are you in misery?" he whispered. "You know if there's anything I can do for you..."

Distracted by the strangest farewell he had ever experienced with Angel, Wesley felt conflicted as he walked behind Gale. A part of him wanted to remain with Angel--just in case, but a larger part of him wanted to return to his own domain, his shower and bed. He replayed Angel's request in his mind, trying to fathom the invitation's meaning, wondering whether Angel knew how much he didn't want to crawl into his own bed alone.

-0-

Wired, yet weeks ago depleted of adrenaline, Wesley stood at the window and looked out without seeing. He had hoped bathing would have made him sleepy but his mind was racing a million kilometers a minute as he reflected on the night's events.

He had been there. In the thick of the fray. An integral part of Angel's team. And he had helped. Immensely.

Closing his eyes, he could almost relive the sights and sounds. And the feelings. The feelings were the most wonderful part of it all. No thought required, just pure basal instinct--survival of the fittest and kill or be killed.

Oh, how he had killed! And survived. But, more than anything, there was the momentous feeling of returning to Angel's side.

He had almost forgotten the thrill of combat beside Angel. Anticipating the vampire's movements and following in harmony, they worked almost as a singular unit. There was that unspoken sense of direction between them, wordlessly taking down their prey with an economy of motion. Their silent congratulatory glances as each took out a particularly difficult kill.

Angel's sincere respect as Wesley held his own.

As Angel thrust in advance, Wesley edged towards Gale in order to correct her proficiency. She was a skilled fighter but her technique was flawed, effective but inefficient. It seemed a natural thing to do, to slide his arms along hers, to meld with her, to instruct her. She accepted his guidance without hesitation, her sinuous limbs malleable. Her form balanced against his as they worked in unison, their concentration identical, their steps defined as they dispatched her opponents together.

The same body. The same mind. Working in unison as they punctured in upward swipes to penetrate the Scythe's protecting exoskeleton.

Finally releasing Gale to fight on her own, Wesley returned to the conflict as Angel began to fade, his disease-ravaged body his own defeat. Despite the logic of knowing Angel would have never been able to handle the fight alone, Wesley couldn't help but carry the burden of understanding, without either of them, Angel wouldn't have stood a chance at all and why that was.

Gale took the finale alone. She was magnificent, a skilled combatant, capable of the strong, rapid kill. Each death brought her renewed strength to take out the next fiend until, finally, the last one lay lifeless at her feet.

There was that look of fright, just beneath her demeanor, as she searched in the dimly lit battleground that caught Wesley's breath. In that instant she became more than just the being he had shared his life with for the past almost-month as she explored the darkness. When he stepped from the shadows to applaud her for the job well done...

It was the relief--that HE had survived. Without hesitation Wesley opened his arms for her and she ran into them, grabbing hold as if he had been gone forever and just returned, sobbing into his chest to relax. And, after wiping the tears from her filthy face, he embraced her in the exact, same way. The feel of her perfect body, perfectly matching his own...

His perfect body, matching her own...

The wait in the hall had been excruciating for Gale. Standing, watching Wesley cater to the weakened Warrior Angel; knowing in her heart Wesley had taken more casualties, been braver, been stronger. And then realizing, for the first time in her demonic existence, she felt something in her heart.

Their walk to the car had been tense. Not a word between them as Gale let her mind race. The fight. His instruction. Killing. Soaking with blood, the sensuality of his arms entwined with hers. Lost in her thoughts, she didn't notice they had reached their destination or how long Wesley had held the door for her. When his hand caressed the small of her back, she turned into him, urgently finding his mouth with hers.

He had pinned her against the metal box fervently, returning her kiss deeply, ardently. Something within him ignited as she met his rise and pulled him more closely, his rapid breath warm against her face as he drew back from something she knew he did not want to suspend.

They had taken the drive in silence, Wesley's eyes on the road--and only the road--as Gale sat next to him in disbelief. This form she used--the body The Powers That Be bestowed upon her with The Gift--was nearly the same body she had relinquished with her humanity all those centuries ago. The recognized use of her muscles, the power behind her movements, and the awful memories of desiring something she would never be granted. They entered the cottage without speaking. With joint understanding, Wesley shook his head in regret and Gale, brushing his cheek with her palm, ruefully nodded her agreement.

Rubbing the moisture from her hair with a towel, Gale strode the kitchen, surprised to see Wesley standing in the center of the picture window. She ventured near him, but not too close, otherwise she would have closed her arms about him. "Hey."

Turning his head to profile, Wesley smiled. "I couldn't begin to sleep right now even if I took a tranquilizer."

"You did great tonight! Angel and I couldn't have done it without you. Maybe we would have finally gotten one apiece, and then probably only by accident. Why are you laughing?"

"Oh, nothing. The way you said, 'Angel and I'." He glanced back at her proudly. "You rarely refer to him as 'Angel', you realize that."

She scrunched her nose in distaste. "Let's not talk about Angel, OK?"

"Agreed," he yawned.

"You spend a lot of time looking out that window," she said as she took another step closer. "Sometimes I watch you."

"I know. It doesn't make sense, of course. I don't understand why you would waste your time. I'm not particularly interesting to begin with. Unless it's part of your boredom management," he chortled, "to find THE most boring thing in the world to do so that you'll be hard pressed to find something worse."

"I don't think you're boring, Wesley." She inched another step. "Neither should you."

"Oh. Now you're applying your metier to me. Maybe you should go work your magic on the guys outside in the truck."

"I'd rather work my magic on you."

He imagined her magic was making everything seem so surreal, making him want to be magically worked upon. Trying to force the thought from his mind only made it more intense and he held his breath before slowing releasing it by mouth.

"Wesley?" she whispered as she took another step, then another.

"Where I was raised, you had to look UP to see the stars," Wesley spoke as he watched Gale's approach reflected in the cottage's window. "It almost seems an aberration of nature to look down upon them."

Gale studied the view from his perspective. "...we have proclaimed ourselves gods to gaze through the heavens..."

Wesley considered her words and they disturbed him. Greatly. But, he pushed them aside. "I stand here every night and look out at this city trying to decide if it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen or the most atrocious. Well, almost every night. And each time, my opinion changes."

Her own opinion of Los Angeles had been forged years ago and never wavered. Still... "And, tonight, Wesley? How does Los Angeles seem to you tonight?"

The lights in the basin began to pulse, matching the rhythm of his beating heart as it neared when he took the step that obliterated the distance between them. She closed her eyes as he arranged a stray hair behind her ear before resting his chin on the top of her head. When he finally answered, "mysterious, Galina," she gasped, filled with emotions she had long ago discarded as unnecessary.

"You know my name," she spoke as he nuzzled her scalp, dissolving as the back of his fingertips traced her cheek.

Lost in her fragrance, as if each strand of Gale's hair held a scent all its own, Wesley marveled over the sensation of his hand on her face, the curves perfectly matched as if she had been sculpted for his touch alone. When he whispered her name again, she lifted her chin, his wrist against her throat; then, his lips there instead, sparkage created by their moist contact on her bare skin.

Gale, his name carried on her murmurs, submitted to his touch and he turned her around to face him, to kiss her forehead, the bridge of her nose, her fluttering eyelashes. She leaned into to his body with her hands on his waist.

Inviting him. Encouraging him. Luring him towards her.

And, finally, their mouths merged as Wesley inhaled, taking in her essence--the flavor of her as if he had never known another's lips before, perhaps never again. Light-headed, the urgency of this intimate encounter possessed him and he pressed forward, their bodies grinding against the plate glass, arms extended, hands clasped as he bore harder into her. She continued to speak his name as he ravaged her shoulders, answering her call with his, given names lost between excited breaths, uttered inside erupting passion.

Then, abruptly breaking contact, Wesley stepped away from the beautiful creature before him, her perfection silhouetted against the lights of the city beyond. "I... I... I can't. I can't do this," he spoke, only half-comprehending what he was saying or why he was saying it at all.

But, her figure called to him, the firm rise of her aureola under the transparency of her blouse, the rolling motion of her hips. He had done this to her and needed to complete what had been initiated.

Her unwavering arms, spread, summoned his return.

Imagining her flesh against his. Imagining...

"Wesley, please," she pleaded. "Don't leave me like this," she wet her lips. Smoothing her hands up her torso to clench them above her head, her back arched against the tremoring window. "Take. Me..."

Tossing his reservations aside with his glasses, he strode to her, reaching. She seized Wesley's hands, devouring his palms before forcing them to cup the growing swell of her breasts, erect and enticing. Studying her response as his hands explored, he dared not remove his gaze until, at last, she tore open his shirt and buried her face in his chest. He grasped her skull as her mouth voraciously suckled him.

Causing him to cry out ecstatically.

They disrobed one another there, in front of the city, their fingers entangled and their bodies in motion, never-ceasing motion. The glittering lights haloed his dark-haired nobility, his arousing stature, and Gale struggled to stay aware--to enjoy who he was; who she had no right to receive. No matter what he thought of himself, she already knew him differently. His heritage vibrated within her embrace and she yearned to be surrounded by his ancestral arms, to succumb to his legacy.

"Wesley," she petitioned, his willing servant, as he led her to his bed.

"Galina," he breathed before abandoning himself to all desire.

-0-

Wanting to remain for an eternity within his embrace, Gale lay in Wesley's bed with his body spooned behind hers as he slept. She was exhausted, truly exhausted for the first time in hundreds of years and it felt amazingly good. His breathing shallow against her neck, she snuggled back against him. Pulling his arm around her more tightly, she sighed contentedly as his body responded unintentionally to hers.

And then, as if to destroy the splendor of the moment, he moaned. Gale froze, recognizing the first sound of his oncoming nightmare and she abruptly turned to watch him. As Wesley's breathing became more ragged, his implored 'no' to his tormenter caused her heart to ache. Kicking and slashing at the sheets, he attempted to escape whatever was causing him such distress, his body wracked by deep mournful sobs until he finally opened his vacant eyes.

Clutching his heart and calling for Angel.

-0-

After examining him by Tiki flame, her first thought was she had never seen an undead being look so unhealthy. His pale skin was sallow, and the perspiration dotting his forehead belied the condition ravaging him even as they spoke. His concentration waned as he reeled from an attack of some sort before he blinked to focus his weary eyes on her, demanding to know where Wesley was.

"You have some hold over him," she replied caustically.

"Look, I didn't come here to kick your ass, Gale. Back off and let me through."

She laughed cruelly. "You haven't been able to take me down yet, Angel, what makes you think you could do it now?" Prodding his abdomen, Gale felt strangely uncomfortable as she detected something move beneath her test. "You look like crap," she muttered, trying to avoid feeling at all sensitive towards his obvious misery.

"Hey, Wes," Angel began as he approached his friend. "I think Gale Visioned the BoogeyMan and I've come to get him. Except I forgot just how it is you're supposed to dispose of one..."

Wesley lifted his empty gaze from the vista to peer up into Angel's face, shaking his head before looking afar again. Without his glasses, the lights were one great blob of illuminous glow. "I shouldn't have had Gale call you, Angel. It's too dangerous."

Sighing, Angel sat on the edge of Wesley's chaise and sleepily regarded the man. There was a haunted look in his features Angel wanted to sweep away with a brush of his hand, a caring gesture that somehow seemed too personal once he remembered how personally uninvested he had become in Wesley's well-being during Cordelia's absence.

"Why didn't you tell me you were being Observed, Wes? Maybe there was something I--"

"--Could have done?" Shaking his head again, Wesley unevenly inhaled, "if I told you about them..." He looked deeply into Angel's eyes as he rubbed his cheek against his knees, drawing his legs more closely into his chest. "I'm going to hell, Angel," he confessed, all life drained from his voice.

He fought back tears as earnestly as the spasm he was experiencing. "No. You're going to England," Angel spoke calmly as his heart ripped, already remorseful for having uttered the words. The truth was, he wanted to personally put Wesley into the SUV as much as he wanted to take him home and take care of him. "I want you to get a bag together..."

"No, Angel..."

"...and when Cordelia gets back, I'll have her pack your things..."

"...don't. PLEASE, Angel..."

"...and when you're settled, I'll make sure they're sent to you."

An allergy Wesley thought he had disposed of an hour earlier attacked. "PLEASE, Angel," he implored, his voice barely above a whisper, "Do NOT dismiss me. Please. Please. Don't send me away," he sobbed. "I cannot bear to have you dismiss me. I'm so sorry. SO sorry."

"Wesley." Angel swallowed once for resolve, then scooted close enough to place his arms around the younger male. "Wesley, you don't have ANY thing to be sorry about. You tried. And you've been doing great. I'm SO proud of what you've accomplished and everything you've helped me with, but playtime is over. You have to go back. You're not a civilian and you know you never will be."

It was the sudden movement and the sentiment involved as Wesley wrapped his arms around Angel's torso that caused the vampire to become overwhelmed by the affection. "Wesley, back off. Please. Just back off, OK?"

But Wesley held fast. "Angel, please!" he pleaded before noticing how Angel's body was writhing under his clinch. When Angel broke forward, moaning, Wesley held his hand over his mouth as if to stop his horror from revealing itself. "Oh, God, Angel. What did I do to you?"

Weak, but coherent, Angel shook his head vehemently in protest to Wesley's contrite apology. "You didn't do this to me, Wesley. I keep telling you that. If anything, I did it to myself centuries and decades before you were born. And even this is too benevolent for the crimes I've committed. MY crimes, Wesley. MY penitence."

"MY failure... MY incompetence... MY deficiency..." Wesley repeated as he brushed the sweat from Angel's cheek, detecting a slight elevation of temperature before it returned to a more neutral warm--still much warmer than the surrounding night air.

"He's a VAMPIRE, Wesley!" Gale admonished as she tore his hand from Angel's face. "Whatever you did, he DESERVES it. HIS despicable nature. HIS deceptions."

The look on Gale's face was one of complete shock as Wesley rose and turned on her. "The AUDACITY! No one deserves this! Especially not Angel."

"ESPECIALLY Angel! After what he's been doing to you. I've been trying to rescue you from his dominion, Wesley, but obviously you wanna be his whore. What happened? Did you fall prey to the pretty packaging? Is that how he seduced you?"

"Wh... what are you talking about?"

"You were a WATCHER, Wesley. Noble. And pure. Honourable. Above both ordinary man AND any demon. But, you have slept in his lair, allowed him to put a roof over your head, clothes on your back and, literally, the food on your plate. Couldn't you see how he was luring you in? So that one day you'll freely offer your life to him. He's been KILLING you, Wesley! It's the loophole to his curse. If you invite him, he won't lose his soul. I thought you were smarter than that."

"If Angel is 'killing' me, Gale, then he does so with kindness and I stand before him with my eyes open and my throat exposed," Wesley replied viciously, the force of his words causing her to take a step back as he advanced. "If I won't invite him in my home, what makes you think I've invited him in any way to my body? Because I gave it to you?"

"Oh, man." Very confused and rubbing his forehead, Angel weakly petitioned, "Wesley. Please. Tell me you didn't."

But Wesley continued spewing to the female, "I should actually thank you for exposing your scheme before I spent the rest of my life regretting what I did. And to think I was willing to throw away my afterlife! All this time, all you've been doing is attempting to wrest me from Angel? Well, you've been wasting your time." He laughed coldly, as he stood right up on her, pompously sneering into her face. "If ANYONE has mastered deception, it is you. And your failed attempt to rescue me from a depraved liaison should have begun before you first touched my face. Angel is my FRIEND, Gale. YOU are the only DEMON I've ever let defile my existence!"

"I seriously thought, you know, once we went through this with Cordelia, Wes... Remember? Demon sex: BAD."

"I guess I'm still a bit bullheaded, Angel. It has been my character to engage in the foolhardy before enlightenment. But, now I know."

Gale felt disoriented. "I'll admit I thought you and Angel... That's what vampires DO, Wesley, and I was just trying to look out for you. To protect you." Near tears, she was loathe to bear his unforgiving scrutiny any longer, but she could not move nor remove her eyes from his.

"I wasn't running some scheme. I wanted to be with you. With YOU. FOR you. I'm sorry. The things I said... I just thought--" Confused, she left the thought unfinished. Placing her palms on his chest, she looked into his face for understanding. "Why would you risk anything to be with me?"

Angel stepped forward and gently pried her back, wedging a place between the two. "You don't get it do you? Even after all these weeks. The two of you, the relationship you fell into naturally. Generations separating you and despite the loss of YOUR humanity, the rites of your births drew you together. When you showed him your designation of family, Gale, that only sealed what he already knew in his heart. Who was the last PERSON who saw that? Because the second you became a demon it should have been seared off your body."

"You know, too? He t... t... told you?"

"No," Angel rubbed the back of his neck, grateful for the light breeze wafting through the yard. "Despite the fact you know I love a Slayer, you couldn't resist taking me down. The second you threw me, I knew. And then I stood on the sidelines and watched the two of you. The back and forth. Him becoming a Watcher again because you wanted him to be yours. You, wanting to feel like a Slayer again; him, wanting to make you feel like one. The problem is you both made each other feel a little too much more and THAT's the line he thought he crossed. A Watcher does not bed his charge."

"But, Wesley," she began, trying to maneuver around Angel's stature. "I was never The Slayer. The Council never recognized me."

Wesley approached, venturing no farther than Angel's side as his features softened. "It didn't matter to me The Council never chose you. I did, Galina. You became MY Chosen One." Returning to the yard chair, he leaned forward to place his forehead against his clasped hands.

Gale looked at Angel for permission and when the vampire stepped aside, she kneeled at Wesley's side. "I'm unworthy, Wesley..."

Ignoring Gale, Wesley began, "I know this must come as a great disappointment to you, Angel. I didn't know I was so transparent. Or that you were even paying attention all this time. I thought--"

"...your humble servant in his hour of need..."

"I was ignoring you? I wasn't taking an active part in your life, Wesley, but that didn't mean I wasn't looking. I just figured it's what you are, deep inside. It's what you'll always be and I thought if you could feel it again, it would make your decision to return easier to make."

"...in thought, word and deed, look down upon his wounded heart..."

Wesley snorted, then yawned. A really huge yawn that seemed to last forever until he heard Gale say, "forgive him and be merciful." Benevolently, he lifted her bowed head with his finger and looked deeply into her tear-stained face. "You're praying?"

"Yes," Gale sniffled, sitting back on her heels. "For you."

Wesley smiled, extremely touched and mildly charmed. "Thank you, Gale. But, may I ask, to Whom are you praying?" The night's events had been extreme, to say the least, but even they paled in comparison as Gale rose and looked into his and Angel's inquisitive faces before replying "the God of Our Faith, Wesley," before walking out of the yard.

"Did she just say what I think she said?" Angel asked as he rejoined Wesley on the chaise. There, on his friend's face, was the same look Gale had worn.

"Her epiphany, Angel. It has taken her all these years to finally understand that merely ordinary men forsook her." Glancing out of the corner of his eye, even without his glasses, Wesley could tell it was far too late to attempt to explain the inexplicable. He sighed heavily, patting Angel's knee before he rose, "I doubt I'll be in much before the late afternoon, and if you don't leave now, you'll be toast before you get home. Do let the Observers know I got the Council's message if you're on your way out to the front?"

"Their message?"

"Later, Angel. I'll explain it all later on. After I FINALLY get a full eight."

Angel smiled broadly at the jittery young man who lowered the SUV passenger-side window. "Wesley wanted me to let you know he got the message. You can send that along to whoever needs to know?"

The young man gulped. "N... n... n... no p... p... problem." With his eyes open so wide, he found it difficult to blink. "Anything else?"

Angel leaned forward to take a long look at the driver, then reached in and straightened the collar of the man he was addressing. He could smell the boy's fear and it amused him to no end. What was more amusing was how much more scared the driver was. "Yeah. I think you guys don't need to Observe him anymore. And when he's got an answer, he'll be in touch."

The driver watched the vampire walk to his car, his arrogant bearing regal. "Wow, Albie. That was close. It's just not fair you can't see 'em until they're right up on you. Places us at a disadvantage, wouldn't you say?"

The passenger watched the lights of the black convertible flick on before Angel drove away. "Yeah, Pat," Albie replied in his matching prep-schooled British accent as he tried to determine where the person he noticed in his passenger-side mirror had gone to.

-0-

The early morning rush was just getting started as Gale entered the precinct. She suspiciously eyed the suspects being brought in for arrest, taking a mental count on how many weren't human--at least, not anymore, the detainees keeping their chins burrowed into their chests to avoid exposure.

It never failed to surprise her how Los Angeles truly was a city of immigrants--literally, all kinds.

"Look, Demon Girl, I've still got a report to finish writing, so we have to make this brief," Kate explained as she led her visitor to an interview room. She stifled a yawn as she waved for Gale to enter. "You want a soda or coffee or anything?"

"Thank you, no." Gale, confused, examined the young woman as she took an opposite seat. "How is it you can be so polite to me?"

Kate comfortably leaned back in her chair, folding her arms across her chest. "Ummmm. I guess I decided a long time ago I could either become one of the pond-sucking scum I investigate or I could be above them. Anyway, Gale--right?--you didn't come to Emily Posterize me. What's on your mind?"

"Two things. And, bear with me 'cause I'm a little out of my league here..."

"Look, like I said, I haven't got all day. I've already been up all night."

"I know. I wanted to apologize for what I said to you some weeks back. It was uncalled for, way out of line, and pretty damn nasty."

Nodding, Kate assumed the confused position. "You know, if Angel sent you here to make nice-"

"He didn't. He doesn't know I'm here." Gale was sure Kate seemed disappointed with the revelation. That helped. "I never fully introduced myself. I'm a Demon of Discord. That's my official rank."

"Discord? You mean like you start fights? Stir up trouble? There are demons for that?" Kate snickered under her breath, sitting forward with her forearms against the table. "Maybe if I tried putting YOU out of business, it would make my work life a whole lot easier."

"Actually, it would probably make your personal life a whole lot easier."

The remark flared Kate's temper and she motioned to rise until Gale reached across and tapped her hand. "I'm not trying to get in your business. I'm not here on assignment. Just hear me out. OK?"

After cutting her eyes at Gale, Kate gave a brisk nod of approval, just long enough to let her impatience be known. She was exhausted by Evil--in all its forms, tired of having to second-guess her previously flawless instincts while the cases around her seemed to become more and more otherworldly.

Kate sighed. Loudly. She longed for the old days of just Bad-Bad Guys, not Evil-Bad Guys. Or, in Gale's case, Evil-Bad Gals.

"The reason my job is so easy," Gale began, "is because it really doesn't take too much to push a relationship over the edge. People, as a general rule, just don't talk about what's really on their minds and a simple misunderstanding can be misconstrued, tweaked into something much worse until all contact is lost. Usually forever."

"Your point being?"

"I don't know what truly happened between you and Angel. Frankly, I don't care about the specifics. It's not the specifics that destroy relationships anyway."

"We didn't have a relationship," Kate replied impersonally. "So, I think whatever you're trying to say here is unwarranted."

Eyeing her hostess cautiously, Gale guessed, "you two had a friendship of some sort. Maybe you wanted more. Maybe he wanted more. Maybe neither one of you actually wanted anything. But, you probably never discussed it in any way, shape, or form so you're both on this brink of mutual detonation and-- It's just sad. Especially sad because you're persecuting him for the one thing he actually had zero control over."

Kate, fuming, rose from the table. "You're right. You don't know what happened. In a nutshell, I found out he's Evil. And ever since, my life has been in a supernatural tailspin. I almost died. My Father IS dead, as you so eloquently reminded me when I first met you. I think you need to leave. NOW."

Gale nodded and rose to meet the policewoman face to face, brown eyes to blue. "There are laws of Physics and of Human Nature. There are also laws in the Demon Realm and one of the most supreme rules is 'a vampire cannot enter a home where he is not invited'. It's absolute, as far as I know and as far as Angel knows. If he could have prevented your father's death, I believe he would have. But 'THE LAW' left his hands tied. So, Detective Kate Lockley, why didn't your Dad invite Angel in?"

Her brows crossed in irritation, Kate replied, "he didn't know what Angel was. About Evil."

"So you didn't tell him? What? You were trying to protect him?"

"Yeah. I wanted to protect my Dad. Is that such a crime?" Kate's features softened a little as repressed sorrow began to replace animosity.

"Well, Kate. You didn't do such a good job of protecting him, did you? And you can blame Angel for the rest of your life, but I think deep inside you know who's really at fault."

Immobile despite wanting to physically toss her unexpected visitor out the door, all Kate could do is stare and blink away tears.

"Look," Gale said, pleasantly overwhelmed by her rediscovered feelings, "I'm not saying you have to love the guy. You don't even have to befriend him. But, if you're going to be angry, make sure it's for the right reasons. Otherwise, you're never going to find a way to recover from any of this."

All out of words, the women stood in silence. With her hand on the doorknob, Gale waited for Kate's acceptance which was finally granted with the slightest nod of her head. After the two women exited, Gale paused for a moment to watch the Detective walk away before searching for whoever had knocked on the door only seconds before.

-0-

"I didn't actually expect to ever see you again." Angel placed a file into the cabinet and shut the drawer before turning around to face the Temporary Messenger placing her accumulated belongings into a bag. "I don't mind so much, but Cordelia will have a conniption if you take any supplies. Not that I'm accusing you or anything..."

"You know, Angel, he's an orphan. Maybe that's why we connected. It's tough, you know. Just to be cast off like you NEVER belonged." Finished with packing, Gale sat on the edge of Cordelia's desk and squinted through a break in the blinds before twisting around to face him.

Intrigued, Angel stepped a little closer to listen.

"I'm just saying because you were so willing to send him back. Like he doesn't belong here, either."

"I won't be able to protect him too much longer. He wants to have this grand adventure and I want him to have it, but he doesn't belong out here in the real world. Good example--what just happened."

Gale twisted her mouth in doubt. "But in the end, Angel, that's for HIM to decide, not you. He doesn't need you to be a father for him, deciding what's best, not allowing him to make his own choices. He grew up like that--in a society of fathers. He considers you his friend, just be that. What's so amusing?"

"Yesterday, about this time, you probably would have had me pinned on the floor with a stake pointed at my chest, doing anything to keep me away from Wesley. And now... I don't know. It's the whole born-again thing, I guess. 24 hours later and suddenly you're not evil anymore?"

"Oh, I'm still evil. Maybe wiser? Who knows? Maybe the whole human mojo experience you guys have going on here finally kicked in. 24 hours later, all I'm not is a Messenger anymore." His face showed more than confusion, there was absolute terror there. "What's wrong with that, Angel? They bumped me up. I'm a Warrior now. I got the promotion right before I got here."

"Please. Please tell me you didn't kiss Wesley goodbye." As she shook her head 'no' he relaxed, overly-relieved.

"I haven't seen Wesley at all, actually. I was just going to come here, get my stuff and then head on out of town. I guess it's pretty safe to assume after the fight yesterday, you won't be needing a Messenger anymore." She winced. "I'm sorry. That came out really wrong-"

"No it didn't. Congratulations. Five centuries late but you finally got what you've been waiting for. You'll be great at it. But you really should say goodbye to Wes."

"Goodbye?" With uncanny timing, Wesley entered the office. After placing his satchel on top of his desk, he approached his fellow office mates apprehensively. "You're leaving?" he asked Gale.

It touched her, the way Angel silently, elegantly, left the office to the two of them, going downstairs. It touched her more, the way Wesley took her hands and held them within his own, unspoken absolution written across his guileless face as he waited for her explanation.

And she explained it all to him. Everything. Every bit of information she could recall from her human life so that he would understand and know who she once was and who she hoped to be again. She wanted him to know the person he had returned to her.

"My goodness. That explains a lot," was all he could reply after she had finished. He shook out his fatigued writing hand. "There is just one more piece, though, I'd like to add to my research if you don't mind?"

She tousled his hair in approval and he pulled her across his lap, leaning his face towards hers to place the gentlest of kisses upon her lips. It was so natural to fall into him, as if he was a dream she never wanted to wake from. "What did that prove?" she asked after he concluded his study.

Hugging her tightly, the perfect feel of her perfect body perfectly curled against his own, he replied, "that what occurred between us was neither caused by sleep deprivation nor night terrors and I will cherish the memory of you forever."

"She's gone?" Angel closed his journal to hug it flat against his chest as Wesley stepped down into the library alcove from the staircase. "You'll be OK?"

"Hmmmmmm." Wesley took a sweeping look around the 'room', admiring the warm lighting, treasuring how much he always enjoyed being there. "Can you talk?"

Angel motioned for Wesley to take the other tapestry-upholstered chair, surprised when Wesley, instead, kneeled at his side.

"The reason you were so close to Doyle? Was it because of what you told me in San Diego? About a demon never being a meal substitution for you?"

Angel recoiled. "Where did THAT come from?"

Wesley, trying to execute his line of thought, ignored Angel's question and pressed on. "Under normal circumstances, there would be NO way in the world Cordelia or I would offer ourselves to you. But, unlike with Cordelia and I, you never had to worry about crossing that line where Doyle was concerned with him being half-demon. That must have made his company very comforting."

"Is this about what Gale said? I'm not trying to lure you into letting me bite you, Wesley. Cordelia either." Angel's mind began to whirl. "Doyle rescued me. There was nothing more to it than that."

"It was so odd Galina brought up the clause to your curse. I'm sure long before you met Buffy, you must have found out about it. And, it never really made sense to me why it would be built into the curse at all. Until I finally understood what's been disturbing my sleep."

Wesley examined Angel who looked as if he was holding his breath. "I presumed, after realizing what has held my dreams hostage all these weeks, Gale had been right in alluding to your being inside my head. Cordelia had mentioned what you're going through is making you dream with her and I thought-- If I was willing to be receptive, you would dream with me, as well."

"Cordelia knows?" His equilibrium seemed to fail and Angel pressed hard against the back of the chair back in an attempt to make the room around him stop spinning.

"Angel, Cordelia knows EVERYTHING. Nothing bothers her after she experiences it once. Unlike me. Maybe it's all the training I've been through. The dream you gave me was very long, quite detailed, and more than a little intense Angel. And when it went someplace else?" Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, then started, "I had offered myself to you..."

"I'm so sorry, Wesley. I never--"

"You kissed me and my mind exploded, Angel. I felt your thoughts as if they were my own, your body as if it was mine and when you drew your face from my neck, it was your demonic one smeared with my blood. I could feel my life oozing away."

Angel tentatively reached out and brushed Wesley's exposed throat with his fingertips. "I would never, Wesley."

Sighing, Wesley found the contact strangely reassuring. There was something very tender about the manner Angel used and he reached up to take Angel's hand within his. "I was joined with you at that moment as your vampire self. Of your soul on edge, understanding your desire to quench a hunger that could not be satisfied. Watching my hand reach up, my heart beat wildly without enough fluid to sustain its operation. I did not want you to leave me on the precipice of eternal death, but to pull me into your immortality.

"I wanted, Angel. WANTED. And, my senses were attuned to everything around me. OUR senses, Angel. This home. Where Cordelia and I had been. Something, somewhere-- Doyle? Something of Buffy lingering. Of Kate. Of these people who matter to your life. I was caught in-between breaths, drowning despite an overabundance of atmosphere and all I could do was focus on you."

Reaching to hold Angel's face within his palms, Wesley took the vampire's terrified eyes captive. "If I could describe your beauty, I would be a poet. I did not see the demon at all, but you. As I see you now before me. I saw through IT and into you. And I felt YOU. What even this touch must mean."

The touch meant too much, but Angel could not bear to be released. "Wesley," he whispered, unable to find the words to express how much he wanted the description to end. How much he wanted the description to be more than just words.

"How you can bear NOT to feed amazes me, Angel. What a poor substitute your diet must be and how it would only accentuate your isolation. And, THAT is the cruelty in your curse. The paradox of knowing you can partake from humanity if it is freely offered without coercion but the horrid torment of carrying the memory of consuming someone who would be so kind. The perfection, the bliss of being united with a life so intensely yet being unable to respond in like. You wouldn't allow ME to touch you. Couldn't. Not in the way I wanted to. For that would have ended life for me, made me as deceased as yourself and robbed you of the one thing that even allows you to feign humanity."

Lost to the intensity of the remembrance, Wesley paused for a moment, rubbing his eyes as he continued, "I blacked out and when I regained awareness, I saw Council Elder Augustine step from behind you with a stake in his hand and I cried out for your life. But the stake was not for his application. He placed it into MY weakened palm. 'Your kill, Wyndham-Price,' he told me. 'Do what must be done.'"

"But I don't know any Council members other than you and Giles," Angel professed. "I barely bit you. I didn't leave you near death."

"The Council, Angel. They were testing me. Somewhere between your dream state and mine they got in and made me choose."

"And you chose. Fine. If the time comes, you'll do what needs to be done. If anything, this entire experience has proven how strong you're becoming." Angel patted the man's shoulder and smiled weakly until he really looked at Wesley's reaction. "You did choose the right thing, didn't you?"

"How could I bear to kill you again?" Wesley sighed heavily before moving Angel's hand to his chest. "I plunged the stake into my own heart, Angel."

Aghast, Angel looked at Wesley in absolute horror. "Wesley, what would possess you to forfeit your life for a demon's? Cordelia understands what I am, why can't you? C'mon. Damn the 'no invite/no entry' rule. I'm finding some way to help you pack." He rose and attempted to pull Wesley up. After realizing, however, he didn't have the strength to do anything so physical, Angel collapsed to his knees. "Why?"

"At that point, Angel, I saved both of our souls. You would have never been able to make me immortal--the very nature of my injury would have never allowed it. And, I resisted the temptation to fall prey to something so ungodly--the ultimate fall from Grace. It may have been the worst possible solution, but it was MY solution, Angel. Every night. The same decision. Nothing the Council tried ever swayed my resolve."

"But, I'm not worth saving, Wesley. I lost my soul long before I Became and it's a horrible condition. NOTHING is worth risking it." By the shoulders, he turned Wesley to face him. "PROMISE me you'll never ever do anything again to risk your soul."

Wesley blinked as he considered the request. "Angel. All I can do is try."

-0-

Looking out at the panorama, Wesley was impressed with the vision of the city's lights--honestly, the best view so far. They seemed alive as they flickered, the string of automotive lights slithering snake-like in the distance. The early morning fog, rolling in from the Pacific, began to extinguish them all.

"I can't believe you brought me here, Angel. It's beautiful!"

Angel guided Wesley, nudging him into place on the pathway, veering him away from a crowd of oncoming mourners as the excited man gawked at everything and everyone one in the memorial park. Wesley's enthusiasm for any new experience was always a pleasure to watch and helped to, somewhat, ease Angel's anxiety. That, plus he was genuinely happy to have Wesley's company all to himself.

"Here we are."

Wesley studied the sculpture as if he was an historian--admiring the artistry, the medium used, the execution of design. Then, he studied it as a gift--a beautiful symbol of one friend's undying affection for another. "My allergies," he apologized as he placed a bouquet on top of the marble column before joining Angel on the grassy lawn at its base.

"We all get allergies, Wesley." Placing his arm around Wesley's shoulder, Angel half-hugged him warmly. "I guess it wouldn't hurt to suffer together every once in a while, huh?"

Without looking up, Wesley nodded his head affirmatively, trying to swallow his grin. "Thank you for bringing me here, Angel. I appreciate it, I really do and I'll try not to-"

"Wesley?"

"Yes, Angel?"

Retrieving his arm, Angel wrapped it around his knees as he sat cross-legged. The light mist rising from the vegetative carpet reminded him to call about installing a bench. "Hey. Kate called. She said Mauricio Flores rolled over and there are indictments aplenty for everyone!"

Mirroring Angel's posture, Wesley replied, "that's wonderful! And, perhaps one day soon, based on your mutual professional respect, you and Kate may be able to salvage your friendship."

"Ya think?"

The two men blinked at each other. "Honestly? No. This is probably the one instance it's a good thing you have no breath to hold."

Angel scrunched his face as Wesley continued to regard him expectantly. "I was going to tell you something about Doyle, but now that we're here... I still can't. I'm sorry. I just can't."

"It's alright Angel. I think after the recent events, we might do well to be allowed our secrets. You know?" Angel's confusion caused him to add, "what we both are. Under the surface. You never know. I could go Watcher all of a sudden and betray you or something."

Angel began to laugh, stopping when he realized the comment wasn't really all that humorous. "You're joking?"

"Not really. You surprised me by showing your hand, Angel. I had no idea you've been wanting to return me to Council. That really hurt. Very much so. And, I've been trying to figure out what, exactly, I've been for you these past couple months. Your employee? Confidant? Brother-in-arms? Court jester? I, frankly, can't figure it out."

"My friend, Wesley. You've been my friend." Angel leaned forward to look back into the other man's face. "What did you want to be?"

Wesley allowed a melancholy smile to grace his lips. "That's all, Angel. I've only ever wanted to be your friend."

"You know, Wesley, we don't talk about my dying. And we need to, and stop shaking your head 'no'. Before the Council showed up, I wanted you to go back. You have to make peace with them before you can move forward--with or without them."

"Spoken from experience?"

"Unfortunately, no. Anyway... I need you more right now but, when I'm gone, I want you to consider returning. Please."

"I figured I'd just stay on, you know, and help Cordelia out with the business until she can find someone to take your place?"

"The business dies when I die, Wes. You already know that. And you already know the second I'm gone, Cordelia will move on to something else. I'll leave her comfortable enough where she can go to college or take acting lessons or whatever. She won't ever belong with you without me. And, you-- All I've ever had to give you was my loyalty. Unfortunately when I go, it's coming with."

Wesley looked away to acknowledge a demon couple admiring Doyle's monument. The male motioned at the rays of lights emanating from the closed fist, explaining the legend to his mate. Pausing to listen for a moment, Wesley tried to define their dialect before returning to the conversation with Angel.

"If I go back, Angel, I would hope the reason will be that I have become too old for any more adventures. Although, I have to admit, there have been many days over the past year where I would have been inclined to set aside that aspiration."

"You've been lonely?"

"Oh, Angel. Loneliness is something that rarely phases me. I've already spent so much of my life in some type of solitary confinement... No. A year ago, I was a much different man. Wouldn't you say?"

"The thought had crossed my mind once or twice."

"When I came to Sunnydale, I was egotistical, obstinate, obnoxious, obsequious. Oh, hell, every 'ob' in the book. The Council told me I was ready to be a Watcher; I'd been reared to be one. I knew everything there was to know about the job. Except what the job actually entailed. It's all fine in print on paper, but the practical experience... And I was too ignorant to even realize I was in over my head."

"I'd tell you you're being a bit harsh on yourself, Wes, but that pretty much nails the target. No offense."

"None taken, Angel. When everything fell apart, I was angry. INCREDIBLY angry, ready to return to England to stomp my feet in protest over how a bunch of 18 year-olds and an ex-Watcher did everything in their powers to prevent me from performing my duties. And then, in a singular moment of clarity--like a bolt out of the clear blue, I realized I had defeated myself. I am horrible at competition, yet I was attempting to compete without knowing the rules. Nor was I willing to learn them. How could I hope to be a good Watcher if I, myself, could not withstand scrutiny? Or to work as part of a team if I was only willing to be the dictator?"

"Rhetorical questioning, much?"

Wesley took a few breaths to release his pent-up frustration. "Galina told me her entire story. After five hundred years, there have been a great many Slayers. They have always been considered a commodity and their lives are not so important in the grand historical aspect. She was a twin. Her sister Leora was the true Chosen One, but Leora had NEVER wanted to train. Their Watcher, Hedricks, was more than willing to allow Galina to fight as her sister. Quite an ordinary tale if you follow folklore."

"But my book had both of their tattoos. So, that was how you knew."

"Exactly. In my history books, 'Leora' was an amazing Slayer. Gifted, prolific. She slew until the age of 26, Angel. That is so incredibly rare, especially in those days. As fate would have it, though, neither the girls nor Hedricks seemed to consider what would happen if Galina as Leora would die or vice versa. The real Leora was happily wed until an accident took her life. Galina continued to fight until the True Slayer was discovered in Spain. The Council disintegrated into factions: those who believed Galina had every right to continue until the Spaniard could be trained, those who believed Galina and Hedricks should be renounced."

"Politics, intrigue. Fascinating stuff, Wesley. I'm guessing she was renounced?"

"Yes. As were half of the Chamber families. Like Galina, I was willing to accept that the Council's dismissal meant they had the right to shred everything from me--my home, my self-esteem, my faith. But I know now those are MY personal belongings and cannot be taken from me unless I willingly relinquish them."

"Don't forget your soul."

"Yes, Angel. Including my soul."

"And to conclude your summary?"

"Of course. In the end as far as history is concerned, only Leora is mentioned briefly with all of her fighting talents and abilities attributed to Hedricks. The Council is so wrong, Angel. It is not the Watcher who patterns the Slayer, but the other way around. I was too blind to notice it in Giles. Too blind to see it in myself until it hit me that Buffy didn't quit the Council to slap ME in the face, but to be true to herself. An 18 year-old, Angel, taught me it's more heinous to blindly follow what you do not believe than to venture ahead with your heart in the lead."

Angel swiped the moisture from his eye with the back of a hand. "Buffy's heart," he echoed softly, suddenly overcome by too many memories.

Wesley bowed his head against his friend's sorrow. "And now, MY heart, Angel. I struggle. Daily. This sometimes is more difficult than I think I can bear, but I'm doing it. And not just surviving. Some days it's almost an actual life. I don't have the answers I was told I had. I've got tools and I'm blundering around, trying to use them. I'm TRYING. And, as long as I'm willing to try I might be able to make it. Isn't the best part of an adventure overcoming the adversity?"

"You make it sound so romantic, Wes." Angel sniffled. "Yeah, the best part is beating the odds," he wanted to believe.

Reassured, Wesley continued, "The Council may have severed the weakest link in their chain when they sacked me, but I honestly believe I can give this a go. Imagine my surprise to find I might not always have to go it alone? Perhaps we were meant to meet again at this point in our existences, Angel. Bonded forever by the brave decision of one very headstrong young lady."

"That's Fate, Wesley," Angel rejected. "I don't get how you can profess faith in a Higher Being and still believe in Fate..."

"Not fate, Angel. Purpose. We are all here for some reason, I believe that. We might not know what THAT is and maybe we'll never know." He craned his neck and stared up to Doyle's monument before returning to Angel. "Purpose."

"Now who's talking semantics, Wesley?"

"Not semantics, Angel. Nuances of meaning."

"OK. What if The Council didn't cut out the weakest link forever, but just sent it out for reinforcement?"

"Good one. Perspective."

"You could do this all night, couldn't you? Hold on-- Hey!... Yeah, I brought Wesley here... He thinks it's great," Angel replied, looking at his companion for confirmation. "Yeah, he brought a bouquet of flowers... Freesia? Yeah, Freesia... He's NOT gay, Cordelia... No. She left yesterday... I don't know if he did it with the Temp... Yeah, she was pretty, I guess... Brown hair, brown eyes, athletic build... He's NOT gay, Cordelia! How come we always have these types of conversations around Doyle's memorial?..........."

Wesley smiled as Angel continued the call without him, staring out over the almost-blanketed city. He briefly considered what another year in his life would bring, the upcoming experiences and where he would be. But, he willingly let the thoughts fade. For the time being, he decided, he would enjoy his adopted family and home and, while waiting for his purpose, be content with the pleasant dreams they would provide.

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