Sub Rosa III : Reconnectingby Wolfling
Wesley awoke with a start, unsure at first what it was that had caused him to do so.
He glanced around his darkened room; there was nothing out of pl-
Nothing out of place except the silent figure standing in the shadows by the window. And by silent, he meant utterly silent; no movement, no noise, no breath.
Wesley watched the shadow warily, slowly sat up, one hand grasping the knife he'd taken to sleeping with under his pillow. "Hello Angel," he said, pleased that his still rough voice remained steady.
"Who's back?" Wesley asked, frowning.
It was like being shot in the gut all over again. It took Wesley a moment to find his voice and even when he did, he wasn't sure what to ask. "Is- is he..." Alive? All right? Sane? He trailed off, unable to choose an ending to his question.
"He's grown, or nearly so," Angel replied, or just continued talking, Wesley wasn't sure. "He's a teenager. Hell of a fighter, too." Though he couldn't see it in the dimness, Wesley could hear the smile of fatherly pride, a smile which faded with Angel's next words.
"He hates me. Holtz raised him -- he calls Holtz father, calls himself Stephen...he came back to kill me."
Of course. That had, of course, been Holtz's plan all along, Wesley knew. To take Connor, and turn him against his father, to make of him Angel's destruction, one way or another.
The words "I'm sorry," were on Wesley's lips, so strong that he could taste their echo in the silence, but he didn't let them out.
This was beyond something he could apologise for. Some things, some acts, some outcomes were just too big; there was no way to take them back or atone.
"What happened?" Wesley finally asked, when the silence grew too smothering. Even to his own ears, the words sounded strangled, his reluctance to hear any more tragedy dulling their edge.
"I let him go. There was -- a fight. Drug dealers and cops, guns...it's not important. Except it is. He could've been shot. I took....
"Afterward, he looked at me. It was different. Not so much hate as...confusion. Bewilderment. Like he couldn't understand... I wasn't what Holtz told him I was. Not entirely. He saw that and...I let him go. I could've...
"He was there in front of me, alive, and I could have reached out and touched him, held him, made him..." Angel bit off the rest of the sentence and even in the dark Wesley could see he had his fists clenched. "I let him go. If I had kept him, I would have lost him. If you love something, set it free. Right? To keep him, I had to let him go. I had... I *had* to..."
It gradually dawned on Wesley that Angel wanted...what? His approval? Reassurance?
Whatever it was, Wesley was determined to do his best to provide. There was very little that Angel could ask of him that he wouldn't do; as Angel had reminded him the last time he'd been here, he owed the vampire a debt that could never be repaid.
Setting the knife on the bedside table, Wesley slowly got up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and standing. Keeping his eyes on the vampire, feeling Angel's gaze on him in return, Wesley crossed the room just as slowly.
When he got close enough that he could see, even in the dimness, the painful uncertainty on Angel's face, he stopped, unable to quite bring himself to reach out and touch.
Instead he tried to catch Angel's gaze with his own. "You did the right thing," he said, trying to impart as much belief into his voice as he could. "If you had tried to hold him, he would have only fought you. He wouldn't have had to look beyond that. By letting him go, there's a chance he might actually think about it. Start questioning what he's been taught to believe."
He paused for a second or two, willing Angel to believe him. "You did the right thing," he repeated.
Some of the tension seemed to ease from Angel's form. Not much, but some. "I know," Angel finally admitted on a weary sigh. "But Connor... He didn't grow up here. He doesn't know how it works here -- how to get around, the local customs, who not to kill... I worry. He's already cut off one guy's ear."
Wesley blinked. "I suppose when you're raised in a hell dimension," he murmured. Aloud he asked, "Did the guy deserve it?"
It was Angel's turn to pause and blink. "From what I could see, yeah."
"Then I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. You did the right thing, Angel. He'll come back."
"Just have faith, huh?" Angel laughed, the bitter sound loud and unexpected, making Wesley jump and shiver and back up a step or two before he could stop himself.
His sudden startlement didn't go unnoticed. "Wes?" Angel asked with a frown, reaching a hand out to him.
Wesley stuttered back another step or two without thinking. "I'm fine. I just..."
He needed space, needed a moment to get his equilibrium back. "I'm going to make some tea," he said, and fled the bedroom.
Once in the brightly lit kitchen, going through the familiar motions of taking care of the kettle, Wesley was able to calm his nerves and slow his heart.
He hated that he had reacted like that, that he had let his control slip. He couldn't afford to let his guard down. He couldn't afford to react from fear. Not with the task Angel had set him.
Wolfram and Hart would seek out any chink in his armor, any weakness they could exploit, and if he couldn't keep a hold on his emotions...
He heard a soft sound behind him, knew Angel had deliberately made noise so not to startle him again.
"Sorry," Angel said awkwardly. "I didn't mean- I should've knocked."
The kettle whistled and Wesley removed it from the grateful for the excuse not to look up. "I shouldn't be so jumpy," he replied in a quiet voice.
"Hey, give yourself a break. I can be a pretty scary guy."
Wesley did look up at that, to see Angel leaning against the door jamb casually, expression pleasantly bland. "Yes, I'm aware of that."
Angel just continued looking at him, like he was expecting more of a reply.
Wesley turned back to his tea preparations, pouring the water into a cup and adding the tea bag. Then he stood and watched it steep, wondering how long Angel was going to wait for him to say something.
"I...can't apologise," Angel suddenly said, breaking the silence finally. "For the... At the hospital. Maybe I should, but I can't. What you did, I understand why, but I lost Connor. I thought I'd never see him again. Because of you. So I can't apologise."
Still staring at the slowly darkening liquid, Wesley told himself it didn't matter. He hadn't expected an apology; it shouldn't hurt when he didn't get one. He *didn't* feel hurt, he told himself.
"I understand," he said, low voiced.
Angel ignored his words, continuing as if he hadn't spoken. "I can't apologise," he repeated, "but I'm glad I didn't succeed. I'm glad...it's good that you're alive, Wes."
Wesley looked up, studying Angel's expression closely. He looked sincere, but he had looked sincere at the hospital, right before he'd pressed the pillow over Wesley's face.
This was, for Wesley, probably the worst legacy of all that had happened. He used to trust his instincts where Angel was concerned. Now...now he was constantly doubting, constantly second guessing himself.
He'd lost faith in his own instincts.
"Of course you are," he replied, voice full of the same bitterness that had come out when he'd talked to Gunn. "You still have a use for me."
"*No*," Angel denied, shaking his head firmly. "Yeah, I have a use for you, but that's not why... not only why. I'm glad you're here."
When Angel didn't continue, Wesley asked, "Why then?"
"Because you -- usually -- see things more clearly than the others. You don't let sentiment stop you from saying or doing what you have to. And despite all that, you still manage to care, to reach out and not shut down your emotions." Angel paused; when he continued his voice was quieter, more intimate.
"I came here tonight because I needed to tell someone about Connor. I knew you'd tell me if I was right or not, and I'd be able to...trust what you'd said. You'd tell me the truth, not what you thought I'd want to hear.
"And if you thought I'd made a mistake, you'd be putting that big brain of yours to work trying to fix it. Without me asking. Despite everything that's happened."
"Considering everything that's happened, I could hardly do anything but," Wesley replied gruffly. Inside however Angel's words had eased part of the ache that he'd been living with since this whole mess began.
Angel trusted him. Not just as a tool, not just as a pawn to be used against Wolfram and Hart, but *him*. His word, his opinion, on something that was more important to Angel than his life: Connor. And after everything that had happened, there was no greater show of trust that Angel could have made.
Angel trusted him as a friend, even after everything. Wesley hadn't known how much he had needed that back until it was given to him.
It didn't fix things, not by a long shot. The past was still there, they still each had done what they had done and the fallout was still there for them to deal with.
But it was a glimmer of hope that somehow they could salvage their friendship -- that Angel might want to.
And Wesley was finding he could survive quite well on bare glimmers.
Looking up at Angel, he asked in a perfectly calm voice, "Would you like some tea?"
Angel blinked at the question, then the corner of his mouth turned up, hinting at a sardonic smile. "You got anything stronger?"
"No blood, but whiskey?" When Angel nodded, Wesley walked over and pulled out the bottle he'd just bought that day to replace the one he'd given Gunn. Picking up a glass, he handed both to Angel. Then he went back to retrieve his cup of tea.
They ended up in the living room, Angel sitting on one end of the sofa, Wesley on the other. Neither of them spoke as they each sipped their drinks, but the silence wasn't uncomfortable.
It wasn't exactly *comfortable* either; there was too much tension still in the air for that, too much free floating anxiety for both of them.
But the silence wasn't strained or menacing or any of the other things Wesley would've predicted it would be.
Angel was idlely glancing through the small stack of books that Wesley had left on the coffee table. He had been recataloguing his collections -- not like he'd had anything better to do -- and had planned on going through these particular books in the morning.
The vampire picked up the copy of Dante's Inferno that Wesley had also left on the table, tossed there after he had received it. "Doing a little light reading?"
"It was a gift," Wesley replied, keeping his tone casual. "From Lilah."
The startled look Angel sent him lasted only a second or two, but it was enough to make Wesley smile faintly.
"They've contacted you." It wasn't a question.
Wesley nodded and sipped his tea. "Just today." He paused and then added thoughtfully, "Though I don't know if it was official, or if Lilah now considers me one of her pet projects. Possibly it's both. But it makes no difference, I suppose, if the end result is the same."
"What happened?" Angel was still staring at the book like he expected it to suddenly morph into a demon and attack.
"About what you expect," Wesley replied with a shrug. "She made me an offer she knew I would refuse, we traded insults dressed up in false pleasantries, she gave me that book in order to make what she thought was a very cutting point, then she left. Typical first volley."
Angel frowned. "What was the cutting point?"
"That the worst punishments are reserved for traitors." He paused to take another sip of tea, doing his best to maintain the calm, vaguely interested composure. "It wasn't particularly subtle." It had, however, struck deeper than Wesley wanted to admit.
Some of his feelings must have shown through despite his best efforts because Angel's frown deepened as he looked at him. "You're not, you know."
Wesley shook his head, denying the offered absolution. "I had what seemed like extremely compelling reasons at the time, but it was still a betrayal. I've known that all along."
"Yeah, it was," Angel agreed readily. "Pretty big one, too. But that's not what I said. I never said you didn't betray me; I said you're not a traitor."
Wesley frowned in confusion. "It's generally accepted that if you do the act, you're entitled to the epithet."
"Usually that's the case, but not all the time." He met Wesley's gaze steadily. "Not this time."
Wesley shook his head. "I don't-"
"You can't trust a traitor. I trust you. Therefore..." Angel shrugged.
'I trust you.' Wesley knew the power of words, but even so, he never would have predicted that he would be so affected by three little words.
But when those words represented so much...
Needing to hear it again, Wesley asked, "Do you?" his still healing voice sounding rougher than it has all night.
"Trust you?" Angel waited until he nodded confirmation. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't."
Wesley closed his eyes letting that sink in; he'd known it already, had come to that conclusion while they talked in the kitchen, but still. Hearing Angel say it meant something.
He opened his eyes again to find Angel watching him with a strange look on his face.
When he saw Wesley looking back, Angel's expression smoothed out and he asked, "How are you doing? Really?"
"I-" Wesley began, startled by the question that hadn't been asked before. "As well as can be expected. Throat's healing, pain's almost gone except when I talk too much, which really, hasn't been a problem. I was lucky' there's been no infection and my voice should eventually return mostly to normal." He didn't mention the doctor's prognosis that he was always going to be prone to hoarseness and bouts of laryngitis if he overused it; given how much worse it could've been, that was little more than a chronic annoyance.
Angel shook his head. "No. I mean it's good you're healing and all -- that's...good. But I mean how are you doing, y'know, emotionally."
"Oh." This question was even more unexpected and one he wasn't sure how to respond to; he'd been avoiding looking too hard for the answer himself. "I'm-" Fine, he was going to say but the word wouldn't come.
"I don't know," he finally admitted, adding in a burst of honesty, "I'm not sure I want to know."
Angel nodded as if he'd been expecting that answer. "I get that. God knows there's been enough times I haven't wanted to look too closely at how I was feeling. Hitting stuff was always a read good distraction."
Wesley felt the corners of his mouth draw up into a smile at that last, the expression unfamiliar from lack of use. "I'll keep that in mind."
"But not knowing what you're feeling can be dangerous. You can give something away without even noticing. Once you do that, someone can play you and you'll find yourself going along without even knowing why."
Wesley let out a breath as he settled further into the cushions of the sofa. "This is about Wolfram and Hart." A vague sort of disappointment went through him, but he ignored it.
Angel hesitated. "Partly. It's a dangerous game. You give away too much and you'll find yourself owned by them." Another beat of hesitation. "But I wasn't just talking about *them*."
"Then who...?" Wesley's voice trailed off as he realised the answer.
"I know how you think, Wesley. And I know how you feel. Things you've given away that you haven't even admitted to yourself. That's why I knew I could get you to infiltrate Wolfram and Hart for me." A long pause while Angel looked away, then back, catching and holding Wesley's gaze. "That's how I knew what to say to hurt you the most at the hospital."
An involuntary shudder went through Wesley at Angel's words, Angel's declaration. He didn't want to ask, didn't want to have to face emotions that he hadn't admitted to, even in his own thoughts. Didn't want to hear them put into words, making them real so he would have to deal with them.
But Angel was still holding his gaze, dark eyes boring into Wesley's own, waiting, compelling.
He heard the question come from his mouth as if it had been spoken by someone else. "What do you know about how I feel?"
Still maintaining eye contact, the brief flicker of approval the only change in his expression, Angel answered the question. "I know that you're in love with me."
Another shudder went through Wesley at that and he jerked back, breaking the strange hold Angel had on his gaze. He shook his head, and opened his mouth to deny it...
But the words wouldn't come.
"It's all right," Angel continued, while Wesley was still reeling by the realisation that Angel was *right*. "You just needed to know. Nothing's going to change between us."
'But it will,' Wesley's mind insisted. 'It always does. It always has.' Which left Wesley dazed and blinking, as with that one thought, all the other things he'd been hiding from himself came into the light.
Jonathon, back in public school, Edward at college, dear lord, even Gunn...all close friendships that he had treasured, that had seemed to fall apart overnight. Had he been broadcasting feelings he wasn't even aware of that had driven them away?
A cool touch on his arm startled him into looking up. Angel was watching him worriedly. "Wesley? You still with me?"
Correction -- had driven them all away except Angel. Despite everything, despite his *knowing*, Angel was still here.
And watching Wesley like he was afraid that Wesley's brain had short-circuited.
"Yes," Wesley said, answering Angel's question. "Still here. Just experiencing a...significant shift in my perceptions."
"Oh. Good. For a second there I was afraid I might have broke you."
"No," Wesley assured him. "Not broken. Bent perhaps..." He trailed off, rather hysterical laughter welling up inside when he realised what he had just said. "Though I suppose I was already bent and just hadn't noticed."
Angel was still looking at him worriedly. "You needed to know. Wolfram and Hart, they'll try to use it against you."
Wesley nodded, still working on getting the laughter under control. "I appreciate it. Much better the revelation come from you than Lilah or one of her ilk. I think...I may have taken that...badly."
"So this is you taking it well?" Angel sounded dubious.
"All things being considered, yes. After all, there's been no blood or catatonia involved. And I think I can hold the breakdown off until you leave." He tried to make it sound like a joke, but it came out far more serious than he had meant it to.
"Wesley..." Angel still sounded worried and his hand was back on Wesley's arm.
"I'm fine!" And *that* came out a lot sharper than he had meant it to.
Suddenly he just wanted Angel to leave so he could have the time and space he so desperately needed to get his equilibrium back. "I'm fine," he repeated more quietly, "but Angel, please go. I'd like to have my breakdown in peace."
Angel appeared like he wanted to protest, but after one long look into Wesley's face he just nodded and stood.
He opened the door, but hesitated before leaving. "We're still okay, Wes. This doesn't have to change anything between us."
Then he was gone.
Wesley listened to the words lingering in the silence. "What if I want it to?" he murmured to the empty room.