Tough Love by WesLess

Disclaimer: 'Angel' and its associated characters are not mine, and I make no profit from this.

Rating: G (A completely soppy piece of h/c fluff.)

Setting: Late S2, just as Angel rejoins the group.

Author's note: Thanks to all who've sent support and been patient with me, the dissertation is thankfully done at last, but it's thoroughly burnt me out. I think it has also killed off my 'Walking A Knife Edge' muse. I have half a chapter waiting to post, but I want to get more finished first. Sorry to all those who are waiting.

Feedback: All reviews are gleefully received, even though I fully admit that this is pretty much structure-less, pointless and highly self-indulgent. Ah well… Hope you enjoy!

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"God DAMN it!"

The muffled yell stopped Angel dead in his tracks, and he turned on the stairs to look back towards the closed office door. There was a following clatter as though something was being flung at a wall, then silence.

Angel remained in indecision for a few seconds, well aware that his intrusion would likely be met with hostility. His brow creased with a frown, and before he could stop himself, his hand was straying from the banister and he was turning to descend.

He approached the office carefully, extending a hesitant arm to push a small gap in the door through which he could look. Wesley stood, clutching at his side, glaring furiously at a pile of papers spilt across the floor by his desk. The treacherous papers did not seem moved to rectify themselves.

He looked round abruptly as Angel let himself in, all of his tentativeness disguised. Wesley threw his head to the side again once he'd registered the intruder in order to hide his frustration.

"What is it, Angel?" he demanded with some force, and probably more than he'd intended. His expression remained hidden from view.

The blatant heat Wesley's body was throwing off and the sharp tang of pain made it clear to Angel the problem. He didn't need to see the man's face to feel his resentment at his condition. Angel recognised someone's patience snapping when he saw it.

Taking a second to survey the scene, Angel's eyes were drawn to the floor again. Various items of stationary, having been swept from the table-top, lay in alternate states of well-being at the bottom of the bookcase. Wesley's deep and too-fast breaths sounded loud between them as he fought to bring himself under control.

"Is everything okay?" he asked, although they both already knew the answer. Angel would allow them to go through this ritual anyway as was expected, keeping Wesley in his comfort zone.

"I'm fine", Wesley half-snapped, coming down from a peak.

He was aiming for an 'of course he was fine, what a ridiculous question', and must have known that Angel wasn't going to buy it. Angel suspected that this was more an attempt to scare him away, as had worked so successfully over these last few weeks and as Angel had permitted up until now. The message was very clear. Go away.

Angel was not going to tolerate it this time. "Here, let me help you", he said instead, moving around the desk and crouching, shuffling the errant papers back into their folder. He respectfully ignored the other items collected against the wall and stood, depositing the file on the desk.

It had given Wesley the time he'd needed to calm down a bit and he finally turned his head. The contact he made was brief however, and he quickly averted his eyes.

"Just dropped some things", he said, his tone now subdued by slight embarrassment.

"You shouldn't be working so hard", Angel replied, simply as it was required of him, and sure enough Wesley's head whipped round on him again, his eyes narrowed.

Angel had learnt the hard way that his shows of concern were no longer appreciated, mostly with similar looks that say 'you weren't there before so don't try it now'. Wesley in particular seemed to consider such attempts as insincere at best, contemptible efforts to re-enter his good-graces at worst. Angel had been finding it increasingly difficult to express any kind of sentiments at all without appearing melodramatic.

"I'm fine", Wesley insisted for a second time, almost daring Angel to contradict him. The Wesley that Angel used to know would not have been so assertive, and he had to remind himself that he no longer knew them as well as he did, not anymore. But he had started this now and he had to keep the ball rolling, even if he didn't like what he was hearing.

"You're not fine", he countered, gesturing to where Wesley's hand alternated between bracing and pressing at his side, the other clasped around the back of his chair so tightly that his knuckles were whitening. "Look at you, you're barely standing."

Wesley scowled briefly, straightening and removing his hand from his shirt. Angel noticed that that he did not relinquish the support of the chair.

"I just moved too fast, that's all," he said. "You needn't concern yourself."

The tone was back. The one that said 'you've no right to expect me to trust you'. The one that said 'back off before I bite'. The one that said 'we're not friends'. Angel sighed and then realised too late that the long-suffering attitude was not going to improve Wesley's mood.

"It's not a case of being any trouble," Angel tried to explain, but Wesley remained tellingly quiet. The very poorly hid glower made Angel think of a wounded and very angry cat. He reminded himself that Wesley was just being defensive, and that it was normal and to be expected. He would not let himself be intimidated back into submission.

"I just worry, that's all", he continued. It occurred to him that he may need to forestall another argument. "And before you say anything, I know, okay? I'm worrying now. You shouldn't push yourself before you're ready. You can't do everything yet and it's going to take time to heal."

Wesley rolled his eyes to the ceiling in exasperation, letting out an irritable growl. "Yes, thank you Angel for that pearl of wisdom. I'll be sure to keep that in mind." He didn't seem inclined to hold back on the sarcasm.

It was at that point that Angel decided to dispense with the subtlety, for all the good it was doing. He opted for a more direct approach and felt confident in his abilities at last.

"Geez, you sure are pissy when you're hurting, aren't you?" he said with some annoyance of his own, his sudden change of tactic clearly catching Wesley off guard. He had become so used to the apologies and the servile behaviour that a reversion to form was the last thing he'd expected.

He'd barely had time to blink stupidly before Angel had reached him and taken him by the arm. He could offer no resistance as he was then herded carefully from the office.

"Sit", Angel commanded at the sofa, and Wesley sank down readily with a wince. All mutinous tendencies were rapidly disappearing now that the impatience was fading, and he certainly had no thoughts of resisting such a sensible suggestion.

Leaning forward slightly to ease the discomfort, he closed his eyes briefly. He hadn't even realised that Angel had moved off until he returned moments later, and Wesley opened his eyes again to find a glass and some pills outstretched, Angel crouching in front of him.

"Thank you", he murmured as he took them, conceding Angel's point without a struggle, and without him needing to say a word.

Angel raised himself up again and assessed Wesley silently. Either Wesley was unaware of the scrutiny or else he was ignoring it valiantly. Angel suspected the latter. He watched him as he swallowed back the remains of the glass and handed it back empty, his eyes remaining fixed on the floor in front of him. They slipped closed once again as Angel watched, the subsiding adrenaline catching up with him.

"You don't look so great", Angel observed after a moment, attempting to provoke another heated response and concerned by its lack.

"I'll be alright in a minute", Wesley replied eventually, almost as if he'd needed to catch his breath. "I just need to rest for a bit." Angel didn't like the quiet hiss overlying his words.

"That's it", he decided with conviction. "You're not going home like this. You can stay here."

"Angel..."

"No, don't even start. I don't want to hear it. I know you're all like 'the boss' now, and that's fine, but just let me do this, okay? I only want to help."

Wesley looked about ready to protest further and began to turn to do so. Instead he stopped and paled suddenly, moving back and staying silent.

'There, you see?' Angel thought, but he kept it to himself. The flare of pain hit his vampire senses hard, and he relented the hardened insistence. He rested a gentle hand on Wesley's shoulder in sympathy, lowering his voice. Wesley did not react, caught up in riding the waves.

"I'll get you a room set up, okay?"

Wesley simply nodded miserably, all fight from him gone.

By the time Angel had returned to the lobby, it appeared that the medication had kicked in and was doing its job at last, with Wesley slumped back and looking more relaxed. He had a glazed over look about him and a slight sway to his movements that Angel found disturbingly endearing for a grown man. It certainly offset his previous foul mood.

Angel couldn't help but smirk.

"You see," Wesley said rather shortly, the drunken blinking taking all the power from his words. "This is precisely why I don't like taking them."

Hearing himself slur quite impressively, he turned from Angel with a petulant look that only served to amuse Angel further.

"Come on", Angel said, still with a warm smile, moving to help him stand up. "Let's get you upstairs."

END 2006