Sick of Shadows

by Jane Davitt & Wesleysgirl

Many thanks to Flaming Muse for her wonderful job beta reading this fic and Magpie for making it 100% English!


Their office was small, but Wesley thought it suited them.

It wasn't as if they needed more square footage. In reality, he knew that part of the reason they'd wanted to rent the office in the first place was just so that their small but growing business seemed more professional, even though they actually could have run it from anywhere at all, met clients at any number of local coffee houses and cafes. The process of agreeing to the desire for a real office, finding one that they could afford and leasing it had been the work of many nights and weekends. The office was the punctuation at the end of a sentence that had taken them more than six months to write, all the while struggling to pay rent and buy food.

Not that that had been something Wesley was unaccustomed to, of course, not after his time in L.A.. But for the most part he tried not to think about that time.

He looked at Giles, who was in the process of winding up a phone call, then he let his gaze wander the room. The desk that they shared – with two sets of pens because Giles liked fibretips and Wesley refused to use them, preferring the even less expensive Bics that came in packages of a dozen or more and could be lost or broken without the faintest hint of guilt – was the largest piece of furniture in the room.

There were four chairs – one behind the desk, a proper desk chair that looked more posh than it actually was, and the other three on the other side of the desk so that clients could explain their needs in relative comfort. A small filing cabinet, which was on the verge of needing to be replaced with a larger one or, at the very least, added to, was beneath the small window.

Wesley turned his attention back to the invoice in front of him, folding it into thirds and sliding it into an envelope that he'd already addressed.

Giles reached out a hand, grabbed one of his pens and began scribbling on a notepad, repeating back an address as he did so, before ending the call with a word of thanks.

"I think we've finally got a lead on part of the stolen shipment," he said, glancing over at Wesley and standing up. "It's all very 'heard it from a mate down the pub', but there's a man living about four miles away who's been flashing a lot of money and talking about statues that glow." Perched on the edge of the desk, Giles began to thumb through a battered A to Z with his foot brushing Wesley's leg as he swung it idly back and forth. "Of course, he could be talking about some tatty, luminous knock-offs, but the money involved seems excessive, and he hasn't been seen for a few days." Marking the page with a scrap of paper, Giles frowned. "If those statues aren't properly stored, they could be dangerous."

Wesley finished sealing the envelope and stood up. "We'll need to track him down as soon as possible," he agreed, feeling the familiar tension that came with this sort of case. "If he's sold more than a few of them we're going to have a hell of a job tracking them all down. I can't imagine he's kept any sort of records."

"Doubt it," Giles agreed, taking his coat down from the hook behind the door and putting it on. "Somehow I can't see it featuring on his tax return, can you? But it's only been three days, and, if he knows enough to be selling them at the high end of the market, let's hope he's found few people interested – and that he knows how to set up the shielding spell. Or we might find ourselves asking questions of a corpse, and that never goes well."

He patted his pockets and pulled out the car keys. Dockland's is a maze; do you want to drive, and I'll navigate?"

"All right." Wesley picked the A to Z up off the desk and grabbed his own jacket from the back of a chair, taking the keys from Giles as he followed him out the door, being careful to check that it was locked as he closed it behind him.

They started down the narrow stairs – the lift was out of order often as not, and after the first month or so they'd given up on attempting to use it almost entirely, saving it for the rare occasions when the stairs weren't an option for reasons of injury or... well, mostly injury, although luckily there hadn't been any instances of that lately.

"That came at just the right time," Wesley observed as they headed for the car. "Would have had to come down and put money in the meter in the next half hour anyway."

"And it was your turn," Giles said with a sidelong grin. Feeding the meter every two hours was irritating but necessary, as they couldn't afford a fine or the inconvenience of finding their car fitted with a 'boot' just when they needed it. Taking turns to be the one to root through petty cash for small change and leave the office – usually at an inconvenient moment – had seemed a simple solution, but they'd both swapped turns on the pretext of being in the middle of vital research so often that the system had broken down. The bickering, negotiations and bribery that had replaced it provided them both with some amusement, but the steady flow of coins into the meter was adding up. Wesley reminded himself to keep looking for garages to rent nearby, without much hope that they'd find one.

"You always think it's my turn," he said. They'd managed to find a spot fairly close to the building for once, and within a minute they were in the car, Wesley adjusting the rearview mirror before shifting into first gear and pulling away from the curb.

"Keep on down here for the next mile, and then take a left at the roundabout by the new Sainsbury's," Giles said. "And on the way back we should stop there. A client came in yesterday and all I could offer her in the way of refreshments was tap water and a stale digestive."

"Mm," Wesley said by way of agreement. "I was going to say we should go in anyway to look around, but then I realised that I'm sure it's exactly like every other Sainsbury's. I wish they'd put a Tescos in instead." It was yet another long but companionably argued point between them, the fact that Wesley preferred the one so much more strongly over the other.

"Lord, listen to us," Giles said, gazing out of the window at the crowded streets, stretching out his legs as he tried to get comfortable in a car that wasn't really big enough for that to be possible. "On our way to ask someone, who's probably got an inversely accurate nickname like 'Tiny', about mystical statues that can melt flesh and talking about shopping lists as we do it. I can't decide if our life is incredibly dull or remarkably bizarre."

"Probably a combination of the two," Wesley said. "Although we should be – " He broke off suddenly and twisted the wheel as another car attempted to cut in front of them without warning. "That was close."

"It was," Giles said, as Wesley watched the driver manoeuver his vehicle in behind them. "What were you saying? We should be grateful for the boring bits?"

Wesley nodded. "Something like that." He relaxed. "We should look into having one of those water coolers installed. I wonder how expensive it would be."

He glanced over his shoulder before entering the roundabout, merging carefully behind a rather large lorry.

"Could do," Giles said. He had a tendency to agree with most of Wesley's suggestions, a quality that made Wesley feel not only secure but also self-confident. There were moments when he actually thought that perhaps his feelings for Giles were more complicated than he allowed himself to believe, but it was probably because he was so comfortable here that he always steered his thoughts in another direction when that happened.

Wesley glanced at the dashboard to be sure they were travelling within the speed limit and sped up a bit as they left the roundabout behind. "Where next?"

Giles flipped open the street map and nodded at an upcoming junction. "Take a right at the lights, and then it's the second road on the left. We're looking for Abercrombie Street. Dave said this man lived in a basement flat at number fifteen, but he didn't have a last name for him. All he could tell me was that he's called Bill, he's not someone you want to fuck around with – his words, not mine – and he's not all that friendly when he's drunk. As it's barely four o'clock, let's hope he's sober."

It didn't take long to locate Abercrombie Street. In fact, Wesley thought that they were extremely fortunate to have started out so close to begin with, even if he did recognise that good luck one time just meant that bad was probably lurking just over the horizon.

He parked the car near a likely looking building and they both got out.

"The basement?" he asked, somewhat doubtfully. "If he really does have them and he hasn't had the sense to shield them properly, I'd be surprised if he's still alive, let alone sober."

"He hasn't been seen for a few days," Giles reminded him, as they walked towards the house. It was in need of fresh paint, but hadn't – quite – reached the stage where it could be described as run-down. "But we'd better hope he is alive, or at least has most of the statues with him. If there were six of them, and some are missing, the body count could get higher than we can deal with, and that means we won't get paid. We're supposed to get them all back with no fuss." He frowned. "Did that sound callous and mercenary? I suppose the buyers might be innocent victims, who think the demon queen Azara will look good over the fireplace, but somehow I doubt that..."

"If it did – sound callous and mercenary – then you're not alone," Wesley said, gesturing to the right as it became clear that the entrance to the house must be behind some rather bedraggled bushes. In truth, he didn't think wanting to get paid for honest – and highly specialised – work was particularly callous, as long as one got the job done without hurting anyone.

Stepping around the bushes and walking down a short flight of steps to a door that looked new and considerably sturdier than the frame in which it stood, Giles took a moment to consider Wesley's words before replying, "Yes, but you're not exactly an impartial observer, are you? Never mind; we'd be doing this even if we weren't hoping for a cheque. I think." He rapped at the door, and they waited for a moment until it became clear that, if there was someone home, he wasn't feeling sociable.

"Would you do the honours?" Wesley asked, stepping back a bit to give Giles room to work.

Giles reached into the inner pocket of his coat and pulled out a set of picklocks. "I never thought I'd be grateful for my misspent youth once I left it behind me, but I have to say it's come in handy now and then." His movements were deft and assured as he inserted a slender piece of metal into the lock and got it into position, then added a second piece and jiggled carefully. "Remind me to tell you about the time I escaped a group of zombies by hot-wiring my car. Or did I just – ah, there we go – spoil the punchline?"

"I suppose it will have lost some of its punch," Wesley agreed, watching as Giles slipped the small set of tools back into his pocket and then eased the door open slowly.

"Pity," Giles said, his attention on the dimly lit room before them. The stale air surged past them, as though eager to escape, and Giles choked, stifling the sound behind his hand, his nose wrinkling in disgust. It smelled of decay and old blood, and that made it all too familiar for both of them.

The silence was unpleasantly oppressive as well, and it was hard to make out anything more than a few feet away in the low light. Wesley reached out a hand to his left, hoping to be able to walk along the wall until they managed to find a lamp, and his hand encountered something smallish but sturdy, cool like metal. He nearly knocked whatever it was off its shelf, and he felt the sharp prick of his skin being broken by something that felt almost like a needle's point, followed by a rush of heat through his body.

Before he could say anything or process what had happened, they heard a faint scrabbling noise from the far corner of the room and a whispered, "Please..." in a voice pain had robbed of emotion.

Cautiously, Wesley moved further into the room. He was standing in just the right – or wrong, depending on how one looked at it – place when Giles managed to locate the light switch, flooding the room with a dingy yellowish light that, dim as it was, made the man curled up on the chair in the corner wince and attempt to cover his eyes.

"Bill?" Wesley asked, moving another half step closer.

"Don't know you – " Pale blue eyes, bleary and bloodshot, peered at them as the man lowered his hand slightly. His lips trembled, but he made what must have been an effort and tried to scowl at them. "What the fuck are you doing breaking in? Eh?" His voice broke in a whine, pitiful and annoying at the same time. "Not feeling so good. Come down with something. Flu maybe."

He moved restlessly in the chair and the light shone fully on his face for the first time. It was congested and swollen, the skin taut and shiny, dark, with blood so close to the surface that it seemed as though his face would be wet to the touch. As they watched, he raised a hand and clawed at his cheek, making the noise they'd heard as they came in as ragged nails scraped over skin.

Giles shuddered and moved to Wesley's side. "We have to do something," he said quietly. "Perform the shielding spell; get him to a hospital – "

"It's too late for that," Wesley said, shaking his head. He didn't feel any sympathy for the pitiful creature in front of them, just a vague sense of disgust at the stupidity of people who played with forces they knew nothing about. "What we need to do is find out what he can tell us."

Without waiting for Giles to respond, Wesley moved closer, standing over the man. "Where are they?" he asked. "And don't bother with useless protests of 'I don't know what you're talking about.' We know you have them."

The man blinked, eyes moving to fix on Wesley's face. "Hurts," he said. "Get me something – I've got money, I can pay you. Get me something."

"We can help you once we know where the statues are," Giles said, sounding far too gentle for Wesley's liking. "They're doing this to you. You had them, didn't you? Six of them? Are they here?"

"You can't have them! Need them to get out of this fucking hole – " Bill's hand came up again, but this time to his chest, tearing at a shirt already half-unbuttoned and stiff with patches of dried blood so that he could scratch skin that was beginning to shred like damp paper. "Can't have them..."

Frustration welled up in Wesley, hot and powerful, followed immediately by impatience. This man was endangering not just his own life, but others' as well, not to mention preventing Giles and Wesley from doing their jobs. Without another thought he grabbed the man by his shirt front, barely feeling the blood that had seeped into the fabric, and lifted him to his feet. "Where are they?" he growled.

Bill struggled weakly against Wesley's hands, but it was clear that he wouldn't have been able to support his own weight. "They're mine," he whimpered.

"Then you're never going to get out of this hole," Wesley said. "You're going to die here unless you tell us where they are." He knew that he was implying that they'd be able to help him, when in reality he didn't think there was any chance. The man had been in proximity to the statues for too long, the magical equivalent of radiation sickness eating away at him.

He felt Giles' hand on his arm, not pulling at him hard enough to break his hold on the man, but more than a casual touch. "Wesley... the place isn't that big. Why don't you have a look around for them, and I'll see what Bill can tell us." Giles hesitated and then said quietly, "You're hurting him."

"This is the only way we're going to get him to tell us," Wesley shot back, determined that he was going to get the information they needed no matter what it took. He tightened his grip on Bill, causing another whimper. "I'm not going to ask again."

The man didn't even struggle this time, as though he no longer had even that much energy. "One's in the duffle bag over there," he said. "And I sold one. The other four are in storage." He sounded defeated, utterly exhausted.

Giles moved to retrieve the bag, taking a quick look inside it. "It's here," he confirmed. "No sign of the packing though." He came back to Wesley's side, zipping the bag closed. "The others – they would have been wrapped in cloth, sealed – have you opened them, too?" If he had, the protective spells, designed to render them safe as they were transported, would have been broken.

Anxiety had roughened Giles' voice, and Bill flinched. "I had to look at them," he said defensively, his hand moving restlessly on his body, nails digging in, seeming almost unaware of what he was doing. He looked at them imploringly, begging for their understanding. "Could've been anything. Look, you make me a fair offer and – "

Wesley didn't hesitate – just turned the man and walked him backward two steps until Bill was pushed up against the wall roughly. "A fair offer would be killing you right now instead of leaving you to suffer," he said, his voice harsh. "Who did you sell the statue to, and where are the others?"

Bill trembled, closing his eyes and gasping for air. "Guy named Nigel," he managed to get out. "I don't know anything else about him. No – King's Arms. That's where I met him."

Since violence seemed to be getting them somewhere, Wesley tightened his hands on Bill's shirt front. "And the other statues?"

"Down the docks, in a lock-up. End of – God, let me breathe! – end of Satters Road, behind the newsagent's." Bill's eyes rolled up and he turned his head to the side, moaning softly. "God, can't you do something? Feel like I'm dying here. Told you what you want, didn't I? You've got to help me."

"There is no help for you," Wesley said coldly, releasing the man without warning and watching as he crumpled slowly to the floor. He stepped back and turned to Giles. "Let's go."

Giles' gaze travelled slowly to the dying man at his feet and then returned to Wesley. Without bothering to lower his voice, as Bill had retreated into himself, curled up and making sounds that would have been screams if he'd had enough strength left, he said sharply, "If you're sure you've done all you can to make him comfortable, by all means let's leave him to die in peace."

"We don't have time for this bleeding heart crap," Wesley said, checking to make sure that Giles was still holding the duffle bag before starting for the door. "He brought this on himself – it's not our responsibility to do anything for him."

"I doubt he knew what he was doing, although I agree that's not an excuse." Giles gave Bill one last look and then shook his head. "Fine. You're correct that we don't have much time. I've got what we need to make this safe in the boot of the car." He hesitated. "I don't like leaving him like this though."

"Then we won't." Wesley turned around and walked back over to Bill, intent on knocking him unconscious with a quick blow to the head, but just as he neared him the man gave a little bubbling moan and went still. Wesley paused, but there wasn't another intake of breath. "There," he said. "Happy now?"

***

Giles got out of the car and slammed the door, leaning against it for a moment and feeling a weariness that had very little to do with the fact that he'd been awake for twenty hours. The statues had been returned, a cheque was folded neatly into his wallet, and he should have been looking forward to the chance to relax at home, contemplating a job well done.

The lock-up had proved to be as easy to break into as a garden shed, and the protective wrappings were still in the packing box, making it relatively easy to safeguard the statues once more. Giles had felt optimistic, though he knew that was the easy part.

Five down... and information on Nigel, who proved to have made more enemies than friends in his rise from local boy to successful entrepreneur, was sold for less than Giles would have been willing to pay, driven as he was by the nightmarish vision of Bill's congested face. It seemed Nigel liked to go slumming at his old local now and then, flashing his money, bragging about deals he'd made, and dropping names. His old friends were torn between envy and scorn, but, though some residual loyalty kept them from giving out much more than an address, they said enough for Giles to wonder if Nigel's meteoric rise had had less to do with some lucky breaks and more to do with an exchange of favours with someone less than human.

It would explain why his eyes had apparently bulged at the sight of the statue Bill had been showing around, a reaction that had led Bill, cannier than he looked, to take Nigel off to a quiet corner to negotiate a price that must have been far more than Bill had expected, if the satisfied smirk Nigel's mates had reported seeing when he'd returned had been anything to go by.

Getting into Nigel's house, brand-new and hideous in its professionally decorated, sterile perfection, had been simple enough. Giles had names he could drop too, names that were more than enough to get him over this threshold. Nigel had beamed, offered them drinks, blinked anxiously at Wesley and then dissolved into messy tears in the space of the five minutes it had taken for Wesley to describe Bill's death with a clinical relish that left nothing to the imagination.

He'd balked at the demand that he hand the statue over, teary eyes hardening suspiciously as he glanced at it, displayed behind glass in the corner of the room, and then back at Giles and Wesley. Giles had begun a patient explanation of the risks again, watching resignation gather on Nigel's face, when Wesley had lost his patience, pulled out a gun Giles hadn't even known he possessed, and held it an inch away from Nigel's eye, counting slowly to ten as Nigel scrambled to find the key to the cabinet.

By the time he reached seven, the statue was in Giles' hands, and Wesley was smiling down at Nigel who had rediscovered the God of his childhood and was praying to him with a remarkable amount of sincerity.

A job well done – but Wesley had shown a capacity for violence that had left Giles feeling shocked and uneasy. A certain amount of ruthlessness was needed in a Watcher, and Wesley had always possessed that, but since his arrival in England, body scarred, defeated and rejected by Angel and his friends as comprehensively as he had been by the Council and his family a few years earlier, he'd been so diffident that Giles had despaired of him ever regaining his confidence.

He wasn't sure what had prompted him to offer Wesley a job, and, a few months later, a partnership. He had more work than he could handle, but taking on a man whose hands still trembled when he wasn't making an effort to control them, a man who woke night after night in those first weeks, making dreadful, choking sounds that would have been screams if his lacerated throat had allowed them to be... well, not perhaps the ideal partner.

But Giles had been lonely; glad of the company of someone from his own background – and Wesley's always impressive grasp of languages and, as Xander would've phrased it with an airy wave of his hand, 'the book stuff', was now coupled with an ability to fight that made him someone Giles was glad to have at his back.

Wesley's hands didn't shake when they were gripping a sword, or an axe.

And, at some point in the six months they'd been working together, the friendship that had replaced tolerant pity had in turn given way to something Giles refused to name as love.

Refused, because he'd lain awake too many nights listening to Wesley's voice, depressingly distinct through the thin walls of the flat, as he called out Angel's name in his dreams – and too many days listening to Wesley talk about the friends he'd left behind, with what Giles couldn't help feeling was an entirely misplaced hero worship for the vampire who'd tried to kill him shining through every sentence.

So when Wesley's guilty grin as he smuggled still more books into the spare bedroom that was already overflowing with them made Giles want to kiss him, he settled for a mock reproachful glare, and when Wesley and he sat beside the fire for long hours chatting and sipping at a drink, arguing fiercely and without heat on anything from cabbages to kings, or reading in a comfortable silence broken by the rustle of a page, he never did more than wish Wesley good night and smile as they stood and stretched and argued politely about who should get first use of the bathroom. Which was too small to be safe to share.

And he'd watched Wesley heal and tried to be content that he was. Watched Wesley get to the point where he would offer suggestions and disagree with Giles, without giving him an apologetic, almost fearful glance afterwards. All good signs – but this? Giles couldn't reconcile this new, violent Wesley with the one who had spent a good part of the morning dealing patiently with an elderly woman weeping over a grandson who had – revolting brat – killed her cat in order to raise a demon. Not that the boy had succeeded, of course, being entirely too stupid to follow the instructions in the book he'd found, heaven help us, at the local library, but still... to go from that to beating up a dying man was a little... sudden, even extreme, wasn't it?

Wesley flicked on the light switch and rolled his shoulders in a way that said he was probably just as weary as Giles felt before shrugging off his jacket and draping it over the nearest chair. "You look tired," he observed, his voice softer than Giles had heard it in hours. "Why don't you go get in the shower, and I'll make a couple of sandwiches."

"I'm not hungry," Giles said, keeping his voice even with an effort. "And I think you need the shower more than I do." He looked around, seeing the familiar surroundings without registering more than the fact that they really needed to clear some of the books off the table, and added, "There's still blood on your hands." The unintended double meaning of his words made them sound harsh, and he glanced back at Wesley, forcing a smile. "And your shirt."

The return smile that Wesley gave him was as familiar as the rest of the flat, so gentle and warm that it very nearly made Giles question his memories of the past seven hours or so. "Shower with me then," Wesley said, walking through the living room and back into the kitchen as he began to unbutton the stained shirt, disappearing around the corner before Giles could react to what had surely been a joke. Hesitantly following him, trying to control his reaction to four simple words, he heard the sound of water running in the sink, and by the time he joined Wesley the other man was stripped bare to the waist and was just reaching for a towel with which to dry his freshly washed hands.

"Wesley?" he said, forcing himself to meet Wesley's eyes without seeming uncomfortable. "Are you – you seem a little, oh, bloody hell, Wesley, it's not like you to say something like that, even as a joke."

Wesley finished drying his hands and set the wadded-up towel on the edge of the sink. "I wasn't joking," he said with a smile that seemed just the tiniest bit predatory, although not in an unattractive way. He reached for the front of Giles' shirt, tangling his fingers in the fabric and using the grip to pull Giles a step closer. "I want you." Wesley's mouth was inches from Giles', hovering there, and Giles was unable to recall a time when it had looked more kissable. "I've wanted you for a long time."

Slowly, Giles brought up his hand and placed it over Wesley's. It felt warm, but no more than that. Not that he seriously thought Wesley was ill – and they'd spent the day together, so he knew Wesley hadn't been drinking. Drugs seemed unlikely – not like Wesley at all – though Giles wasn't prepared to rule that out either. I'm being offered something I've wanted for months, and my first thought is that Wesley's out of his mind? he thought ruefully. Perhaps he's not the only one who needs a little more self-confidence.

"Wesley, this is flattering, but a little sudden," he said, trying to keep his voice light, still not certain Wesley wasn't playing a joke on him. His hand tightened on Wesley's, and he tried to break the grip Wesley had on his shirt without success. Tired as he was, his body was beginning to wake up, the arousal he'd long held in check making his concerns seem foolish.

Then Wesley's lips were on his, teasing a soft groan of defeat from him even in that brief kiss. "It isn't sudden," Wesley said. "But it's up to you. I'm going to take a shower – I'd love it if you'd join me." He released Giles and stepped back, stripping the rest of his clothes off with no apparent self-consciousness and revealing the slender, toned body that Giles had imagined so many times.

Giles felt clumsy and foolish, standing in front of Wesley and gaping at him as he was, but he was quite literally lost for words. Not happening. Not real. Then the shower hissed and spat out the lukewarm water that was all it would produce for a minute or two, and Wesley turned away, stretching out his hand to test the temperature of the water in an action so normal that it drove away the unreality of the moment.

Wondering why he was hesitating, Giles undressed in silence, shoving his clothes aside with his foot in an untidy heap. Stepping into the shower beside Wesley, he tilted back his head and let the hot water drive away his concerns. The cubicle was small enough that it was impossible to share it without touching, but that wasn't a problem. Eyes closed against the spray, he reached out and pulled Wesley against him, holding him close in an unspoken apology for just standing there when Wesley had kissed him. It must have taken so much courage – though Wesley hadn't seemed in the least bit nervous. If he had, it might not have been such a shock.

Giles could feel Wesley's arousal against his thigh and the touch of Wesley's fine but deceptively strong hands running down along his spine to knead at the muscles of his lower back. "I want to kiss you again," Wesley said in a low voice, brushing his lips over a sensitive spot on Giles' neck just below his ear.

Letting his hands move slowly across Wesley's back and feeling the muscles shift under his fingers, Giles smiled. Tilting his head so that Wesley could repeat a kiss that had left his body tingling, he said, "If you do, I'll try to return it this time, not just stand there."

There was no hesitation from Wesley – with confidence, he leaned in and kissed Giles. What began as a controlled kiss quickly grew heated, Wesley's touch over Giles' slick skin awakening an almost startling passion. "I've wanted to do this for so long," Wesley murmured, moving his mouth to Giles' throat again, licking and biting, his hand sliding lower to encircle Giles' cock with an authoritative grip.

"God, Wesley – " Giles said, unable to help the involuntary, eager jerk of his hips that pushed his erection against Wesley's palm in a wordless plea for him to carry on touching it. "Why now? I don't understand – "

Part of him was cursing his need to ask questions at a time like this, but it seemed important. Nothing Wesley was doing was unwelcome – far from it – but Giles couldn't work out what had prompted it. He'd sometimes wondered if Wesley was beginning to care for him, sometimes caught Wesley staring at him with a look that his own feelings had tempted him to describe as more than friendly – but this was so far off the scale compared to those fleeting thoughts that he was left breathless.

Even as he waited for Wesley to answer him, he couldn't resist letting his hand drift down to rest against Wesley's hip, rubbing his thumb in a circle over the hollow beside it.

"Why not now?" Wesley asked, as his mouth traced a path over Giles' collarbone and his fingers squeezed expertly, almost as if he knew Giles' body better than Giles did himself. The sensation caused Giles to groan and close his eyes, unable to believe that this was happening but unwilling to stop it. "Because I want you. Because you want me."

And Wesley slid down onto his knees, taking Giles into his warm mouth and sucking on just the tip of his cock. There was just enough blood still traveling to his brain to allow Giles the thought that he was grateful for the cool tile wall behind him before Wesley's hand tugged at his balls, and he had to let his head tip back as a wordless cry escaped him.

Wesley's lips parted as he laughed softly, sounding pleased by the reaction he'd got. Giles took advantage of that opportunity to thrust forward quickly, sliding his cock deeper into the mouth that closed around it so eagerly, one hand dropping to rake through Wesley's dark, wet hair. "Don't stop," he whispered over the noise of the water. "Please..."

It seemed that Wesley had no intention of stopping – his head bobbed forward, the increasing suction making Giles' knees weak. He tried to concentrate on the water gathering around his feet, to remind himself to phone the landlord about getting a plumber out to check the pipes because they did drain so slowly, and... oh God, there was no point in attempting to distract himself, not when Wesley was kneeling in front of him sucking his cock.

Blindly reaching out, Giles switched off the water, hearing the sudden sound of his breathing, hoarse and desperate in the small space. Small sounds filled the cubicle: the soft, wet noise of Wesley's mouth around him, echoed in the slap of the water washing against the tiles as Wesley shifted position, the rustle of the shower curtain, hanging drenched and heavy, with water dripping down its folds.

Wesley's hair was clinging to his fingers, thick and soft. Giles let his hand reach down further until his fingertips brushed against Wesley's shoulder, feeling it tense and relax in a steady rhythm as Wesley's hand moved in short, hard strokes, his fingers circling the base of Giles' cock. He was so close to coming that he felt each dip of Wesley's head, each lap of his tongue against flesh that hadn't received this kind of attention since – God, when? – must be the final one, because he couldn't make this last, and Wesley was doing all he could to make sure he didn't.

There was a gentle groan that Giles both heard and felt as Wesley sucked a bit harder, then the hand gripping his cock tightened for an instant before Wesley pulled away, Giles' cock slipping free as he got to his feet again.

"I want to fuck you," Wesley murmured, his lips nearly touching Giles'. "I don't want you to come until I'm inside you."

The simplicity of the words, and their directness, was so unlike Wesley's normal way of speaking that Giles felt a flicker of disquiet until the meaning sank in. Too aroused to pursue the abrupt change in Wesley, he nodded. "Then we'd better get out of here," he said, hearing his voice as though from a distance.

He'd hoped that the interval between drying off and walking to the bedroom would give him time to regain some measure of control, but Wesley didn't even glance at the towels as he took Giles by the hand and led him to the door, pausing to rummage briefly through the small cupboard on the bathroom wall.

"If you're looking for what I think you are, you don't need to," Giles said. "There's some in my room, in the bedside table."

And hadn't that been a purchase he'd made cursing himself for being an overly optimistic fool...

In Giles' bedroom, Wesley paused long enough to retrieve the small bottle of lubricant, then he pushed Giles down onto the bed with a casual sort of authority that, while confusing, was also undeniably arousing. He flipped the cap up and squeezed some of the clear liquid onto his fingers, fondling Giles' balls briefly before moving his touch lower, stroking over Giles' sensitive opening and then pushing one fingertip inside. Setting the bottle down, Wesley used his other hand to stroke Giles' cock, the combination of sensations making Giles begin to breathe heavily again, his hips moving restlessly despite himself.

"Is this where you want me?" Wesley asked, sliding his finger deeper.

It seemed strange to think that in most, though not all, of Giles' fantasies, he'd been the one asking that question. He'd known, without details, that Wesley had been involved with a male student during his training; Quentin had told him that, with a rich, knowing chuckle, when Giles had called him to check that Wesley was, indeed, the official replacement for himself, hinting at possible benefits to cooperating with the new Watcher in a way that had left Giles shaking with an anger he took care to keep from his voice. He'd also spent many hours wondering how far Wesley's attraction to Angel had taken him – but he'd never imagined Wesley being anything but a little shy, a little hesitant at first.

Still, there was only one answer to his question if Giles was going to be honest with Wesley after months of carefully cloaked responses.

"God, yes."

Wesley let go of his cock and leaned in to kiss him, sliding his finger out of Giles' body and pushing two back in, more slowly this time. Their kiss took on a new dimension – more forceful, almost anxious, as if they were both unable to wait any longer.

Giles was so caught up in Wesley's mouth that he was only dimly aware of Wesley's fingers being withdrawn, but there was no way he could have failed to notice the head of Wesley's cock as it pressed into him slowly, slick and hard, stretching him to the point where a pained gasp was forced from his lungs.

Wesley groaned, the sound long and drawn out against Giles' lips as he slid deeper, making Giles gasp again. The hardness of Wesley's erection withdrew and then pushed inward again sharply, Giles' hands scrabbling for purchase they couldn't find on the smooth skin of Wesley's hips as Wesley began to move steadily.

Lifting his hips to meet each thrust, his tiredness receding as Wesley drove into him in a relentless, quickening rhythm that left Giles breathless, he felt a wave of pleasure, intense and raw. Wesley wasn't touching him, but Giles didn't think it mattered; he was going to come soon just from this.

Wesley's panted breaths were coming closer together now, sounding harsh and almost pained, the timbre of his voice rising slightly as he neared his own release. He kissed Giles again, perfunctorily – it was clear that his attention was focused on the increasing tension in his body, his hand sliding down to grip the back of Giles' thigh as his movement lost coordination.

Watching Wesley's face twist and empty of all but his reaction to what his body was feeling was all it took to make Giles reach the limit of his endurance. With a low, guttural moan that tore at his throat, he slipped his hand between their bodies, fingers spread wide, clutching at flesh that needed only that fleeting touch to trigger his release. As sticky warmth shot out over his hand and stomach, he closed his eyes and felt his lips shape Wesley's name.

It was only moments later that Wesley gave a hoarse groan, coming deep inside Giles' body with a series of forceful thrusts.

Giles reached up his hand to squeeze Wesley's shoulder as his shudders subsided, pulling him down against him and kissing him gently, drawing out the moment before they drifted apart and things inevitable became somewhat awkward. He felt Wesley's heartbeat against his chest, slowing gradually, and then Wesley eased out of him and moved away, leaving Giles staring up at a ceiling he couldn't see in the dark.

After a little while, he felt Wesley's arm slip around his waist and warm lips pressed to his upper arm. "Are you all right?" Wesley asked quietly.

"Yes, of course," Giles said automatically. "Just tired, that's all and a little – well, I'm trying to adjust to all of this. Sorry. That makes it sound as if I'm not happy, and I am, of course I am." He turned to face Wesley, bringing his hand up to cup his face for a second, before sliding it over Wesley's shoulders. "What about you?" He bit his lip, not wanting to spoil this new closeness, but still very much aware that Wesley's behaviour had been unusual even before they'd arrived home. Choosing his words carefully, he said, "You seemed a little – tense today. Anything troubling you?"

"No, I'm fine," Wesley said, but Giles thought that he could hear something in Wesley's voice that was unfamiliar. He rubbed his hand along the back of Wesley's neck, hoping the soothing touch might convince Wesley to say more, but the other man remained silent.

The darkness made it impossible to see Wesley's expression clearly, but Giles found himself grateful that his own face was equally hidden. "Wesley, you didn't seem fine to me. You seemed – Christ, Wesley, you beat up a dying man and pulled a gun on someone!" The shock he'd felt during those two moments caught up with Giles, and something approaching anger swept aside the drowsy contentment that had been creeping over him. His body became rigid with tension, as it had been before the shower and the sex had relaxed him, and his head was aching. He could still hear the sound Bill's nails had made, scraping against his skin – "And then you came back here and – "

"I gave you plenty of opportunities to say no if you didn't want this," Wesley said coldly, sitting up and moving away from Giles. "It's certainly not my fault if you're having second thoughts now."

What was starting to be a familiar mixture of remorse and confusion had Giles sitting up and reaching out for him, temporarily abandoning the attempt to discuss Wesley's earlier actions. "No! Wesley, you misunderstand me; I couldn't be happier that we did this. I've been – " Some instinct made him change his impulse to tell Wesley he loved him. Not yet. "I've wanted you – this – for a while now and just never felt it was the right time. You came here so... uncertain of yourself, and I didn't want to add to that until I was sure – well, it doesn't matter now."

He rubbed his hand along Wesley's arm, hoping Wesley's expression would melt into warmth again and still feeling that unsettling feeling that something was wrong. He'd never seen Wesley look at him with such accusing contempt in his eyes.

"No, tell me," Wesley said. "Until you were sure about what?"

Giles gave Wesley a doubtful look. He sounded curious rather than angry now, but his arm was rigid under Giles' hand, his muscles tense. Letting his hand drop away, Giles pushed the pillows up behind him and lay back. Unwilling to give him a direct answer, he settled for saying, "We work together. We're friends. I wasn't sure you wanted any more than that."

"It sounds from the way you're talking that you're regretting all of it," Wesley said. "Suddenly you don't trust me, is that it? Or have you felt that way all along?"

"You're reading more into my words than you should," Giles protested. "Look, Wesley, if I didn't trust you, I'd hardly have asked you to work with me. And I wouldn't have let you point that gun at that man tonight. I knew you were bluffing, of course, but – " Wesley turned his face away but not before Giles saw his expression. "Oh God, Wesley! What the hell is wrong with you? Since when did we start killing humans? And since when did we take guns out with us anyway? This isn't bloody L.A., you know, though I'm sure you wish it were!"

"Don't go all self-righteous on me now," Wesley spat out, standing up and turning to face him. "You're not up on some pedestal of impeccable morals. There's nothing 'wrong' with me – I'm willing to do what needs to be done, just like you are."

Giles nodded slowly. "I've done worse when it was needed, yes, but we seem to differ on when that point is reached. Those two pathetic sods didn't come close to being a genuine threat. If you can't see that what you did was excessive, then I'd say something was wrong." He paused and then added softly, "Whatever it is, I wish you'd let me help?"

Wesley stood there for a long moment, and Giles felt the beginnings of hope stirring only to have them dashed when Wesley said, "I don't need help. There's nothing wrong, and the last thing I need is you judging me." He turned toward the doorway. "I'm going to bed."

It wasn't what he wanted, but Giles could only nod slowly and watch Wesley walk away.

***

When Wesley dreams, he dreams of Angel.

It isn't often – only a handful of times since he returned to England – but when it happens he always wakes up with the same feeling in the pit of his stomach, a sick sort of dread that leaves him heavy-limbed.

Angel holds the infant Connor in his arms, blood running the length of his face and dripping rapidly onto the pale blue blanket the baby is wrapped in.

Angel holding him down, a pillow over his face as he gasps for air that isn't available, and at the same time a twisted acceptance that he's getting what he deserves, that this is fair return for his own actions.



Slowly, Wesley woke up, the worst of the dream fading into the background as the room became real again. The usual feeling he had upon waking was missing – instead, he felt a strange sort of bitterness, as if he'd swallowed a pill intended for someone else and his body was attempting to reject it.

He also felt angry – angry at Angel for what had happened – and rather in the mood to let the emotion stew in its own juices instead of trying to pretend it didn't exist.

Wesley got up out of bed very quietly, taking his dressing gown from the back of the chair where he generally kept it and opening his bedroom door very slowly so as not to chance waking Giles.

In the kitchen, he started a pot of coffee, waited for it to brew, and then took a cup over to the table and sat down, staring at the surface of the beverage and occasionally taking a sip.

"Is that your way of waking me up gently?" Giles said from the doorway, looking heavy-eyed, as if he hadn't slept, but smiling tentatively at Wesley. "By filling the flat with the smell of fresh coffee? If so, it worked like a charm."

It would be rude to say that he'd actually hoped Giles would continue to sleep so that he could try to think, so Wesley shrugged a bit and gestured at the pot with his own cup. "There's plenty," he said. "Did you sleep at all?"

"I've had better nights," Giles said, going over to the coffee pot and returning to sit beside Wesley with a full cup. "How about you?" Without giving Wesley time to answer, he added, "Wesley – I'm sorry the night ended like that. With us arguing, I mean. I'm not sure if you're in a forgiving mood, but if you could just put it down to me being extremely tired I'd appreciate it."

"No, I'm sorry too," Wesley said, trying to sound convincing. It wasn't quite a lie – he was sorry that the evening had ended when it had, as he would have liked a few more rounds in bed before retiring to his own room. The morning light was streaming in through the windows, sunshine pooling on the floor, and he couldn't help but think it was in direct contrast to his mood.

Giles gave him a smile that looked more relaxed and took a gulp of his coffee. "Good Lord, this is strong enough to wake the dead," he said, taking a more cautious second sip. "I thought you liked it on the weak side?"

"Not today." Wesley looked down into his own cup to see, to his surprise, that it was nearly empty. He got up to pour some more, standing against the countertop as he drank it, looking at Giles thoughtfully. The other man looked done in – he didn't think his chances for another fuck were good. Not immediately, at any rate. "Let's play hooky today," he suggested. "Skip the office and do something fun."

"I think we've earned a day off," Giles agreed, looking pleased for some reason. With a smile he took care to keep hidden, Wesley realised Giles probably thought this was a date or something equally maudlin. "But whatever you have in mind, we'd better work in a stop off at the magic shop at some point."

"We're nearly out of white sage, and we still need to replace that ceramic incense burner that was broken during that case in the West End," Wesley agreed, finishing his second cup of coffee. "I'm surprised you want to keep going back there, though, what with all the complaining you do about the employees. We should find a new supplier."

"I would, if there were another one within easy reach," Giles said. "They don't have the faintest idea what they've got on their shelves, and I've given up all hope of them getting that Saltrin urn I ordered three months ago."

"We could mail order it from somewhere else," Wesley said. "Granted, part of the appeal of getting it from this place is that they've no idea how to price things."

Giles snorted derisively. "That's an understatement, but if they're too lazy to do their homework I'm not going to tell them that they could double the price on their newt eyes, or that the reason their candles don't sell is that Marks and Sparks do them a pound cheaper." He smiled ruefully. "Listen to me. A year behind the counter and I think I'm a retail expert. Fine; we'll go there and stock up on whatever you think we need."

"It's not as though I'm the resident expert," Wesley said, feeling annoyed that this seemed to be Giles' attitude and not making more than a token effort to hide it. "You know what we need just as well as I do."

"I – " Giles paused, his eyes going to Wesley's face. It occurred to Wesley that Giles did this all the time; let Wesley make little decisions that didn't matter, so he'd feel important. That little insight did nothing to quell his annoyance. "Yes, of course I do." He took a sip of his coffee. "I'd become a little rusty at the practical side; Willow and Tara tended to take care of anything that needed doing in that line, whereas you – well, it was different for you in L.A., I suppose. Am I asking you to do too much in the way of magic? Not pulling my weight? Because if I am, just say. It can be very draining, and you might not realise it's affecting you."

That sounded a bit too much like an accusation for Wesley's taste. "No, of course not. You don't seriously think you aren't doing half the work, do you?"

"I can't say that I've thought about it all that much," Giles said, sounding as if he was confessing a fault. "We seem to work so well as a team that I've never stopped to analyse it. Just been – grateful." He stood up, reaching for his mug. "More coffee?"

Wesley gave a quick shake of his head and stepped to the side to make room, more curious to know what Giles was talking about than anything else. "What do you mean, grateful?"

Giles set his mug down again and leaned against the table with his arms folded. "Don't you think we're fortunate to be able to work together as well as we do? It's not easy, particularly for men like us; Watchers tend not to be team players, you know. And now – " He refilled his mug and came back to the table, looking at Wesley with a promising glint in his eyes. "I'm looking forward to finding out what else we're good at doing together."

"So am I," Wesley said, meeting the gaze with a boldness that felt strangely natural. "As long as we can manage to avoid another argument like last night's, that is."

He'd forgotten how stubborn Giles could be. Even after he'd made it plain that Giles had to behave if he wanted company in his bed, the man kept on pushing.

"Wesley – there are some subjects we don't discuss, and most of them are to do with Angel, and I'm not going to push you on that, because I'm as reluctant to talk about him as you seem to be." He took a breath deep enough to be noticeable and then met Wesley's eyes. "But yesterday I will discuss because it was about us. Wesley, you were – I didn't recognise you like that. It disturbed me, to be honest. I don't want to argue, but we didn't really resolve that."

"And what, specifically, was the problem?" Wesley asked through gritted teeth. "It's clear that you expect some sort of explanation from me, but to be perfectly honest I can't think why. I made sure that we completed the case to our client's satisfaction. I didn't kill anyone. What else do you want from me?"

"A reason why it happened in the first place? We're not talking about a flash of temper, Wesley. It was far more than that. Why can't you see that? It's as if we remember it differently." Giles sounded frustrated. "Look; think back and tell me what was going through your head when you walked over to Bill just before he died. What were you planning to do to him?"

"Put him out of his misery by knocking him unconscious, which was what I thought you wanted," Wesley said tightly, trying to keep a rein on his emotions. It seemed unwise to admit that he'd have been perfectly happy to walk out there without bothering, leaving the man to suffer, even though he knew in his own mind that Bill had got exactly what he deserved.

Giles took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. "Out of his misery. Right. Granted, he was past saving and in pain, but that's not exactly making me want to give you any prizes for humanitarian of the year, you know."

"And you think he would have won any?" Wesley shook his head. "He not only stole the statues in the first place, but he was endangering the lives of countless people by not knowing how to store them properly. I really don't like the implication that there's something wrong with me because I'm willing to do what needs to be done."

"I think he paid for his misdeeds," Giles said, looking slightly ill, which made little sense to Wesley. Giles had seen worse; they both had. "And Nigel? The gun? We could've got that statue off him without touching him; he was terrified, for all the bluster. Did you mean it last night when you said you'd have shot him if he'd carried on arguing? When it was right there and there was no way he could have stopped us taking it? What justification was there for that?"

Wesley gripped the countertop behind him with both hands. "Justification? At what point in time did it become necessary for us to justify our actions when doing our job? For that matter, when did it become necessary for me to justify my actions to you?" He was trembling with indignation.

Giles stood up. "That would have been about the time when we agreed to be business partners. I'm not your employer, Wesley, but what you do reflects on me, on what we've built up over the last months. I'm sure some of our clients would approve wholeheartedly of your... approach, but you'll forgive me if I don't." The kitchen was small enough that he only needed to take two steps to be close enough for Wesley to touch him – and he was very tempted to drive a fist into that anxious face, but Giles didn't move. "When did you forget you're supposed to be one of the good guys, Wesley? Or is that something else I can thank Angel for?"

Absolutely refusing to acknowledge that last question, Wesley instead concentrated on the previous one. "So because I didn't treat two criminals with kid gloves I'm suddenly no longer on your side?"

"We're doing it again," Giles said slowly. "At each other's throats within minutes. Wesley, this isn't – it isn't bloody normal." He looked at Wesley and frowned. "You're shaking. Wes – " Giles moved then, coming over to him and covering the clenched, tight fists that were locked onto the countertop with warm hands. "Something's wrong."

"No," Wesley said, needing to deny it, even though he had the niggling suspicion that Giles was right, that there was something wrong. He thought about pulling away from Giles' touch, then decided that the better action was to take advantage of it. He slipped one hand free and circled it around Giles' wrist lightly, suggestively. "If there is something wrong with me, it's nothing you couldn't help cure."

He watched Giles' eyes darken with arousal and felt a surge of triumph that the man was so easily manipulated, but it was short-lived. Giles leaned forward, but what he'd expected to be a passionate kiss turned out to be a light brush of Giles' lips against his cheek, and then he was stepping back.

"I'm going to finish getting ready," he said. "If we're going to make the most of our day off, we'd best get going, don't you think?"

Seething with frustration as Giles turned and went down the hallway, Wesley was barely able to keep himself from smashing his empty mug in the porcelain sink. The sound of it splintering into hundreds of bits would have been so very satisfying, but also, he knew, would have brought Giles back to the kitchen, along with another round of recriminations.

Instead, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Whatever was going on, he was hardly likely to complain about his sudden lack of guilt and self-loathing.

Wesley liked himself this way, and, as far as he was concerned, he wasn't going to let anyone change it.

Not even Giles.

***

Walking away from Wesley without moving too quickly and arousing his suspicions took what little of Giles' control was left after the kiss. He closed his bedroom door and leaned back against it, his breathing ragged and his heart pounding in a sickening, irregular beat. If he'd had time, he would've sunk to his bed and tried to calm down, but he didn't.

Something was wrong.

Something was wrong with Wesley.


And he didn't know what it was, and he didn't know what to do, but he'd lived in Sunnydale too long not to have developed what Xander called 'Spider senses' and what he, himself, called an awareness of the mystical at work in the mundane world. Possibly Xander's description was catchier...

A possible solution to a problem he still couldn't define came into his head. His eyes travelled around the room and paused at the bookshelf in the corner. On top of it was a small wooden box, filled with an assortment of objects. He took one step towards it, trying to remember if he'd seen what he was looking for the last time he'd opened it, but something made him turn around.

The door was opening.

"I'm ready, Wesley," he said, stepping back and dragging his eyes away from the box. "Let's go."
* * *


The drive to the magic shop was enough to bring all his doubts back, full force. Wesley sat beside him, chatting in a casual, friendly way, outlining plans for the day that Giles had to admit sounded appealing and doing nothing that was even slightly alarming. Within two miles, Giles was castigating himself for an overly active imagination and had come up with several explanations for Wesley's odd behaviour.

He was stressed; planning to tell me how he felt and worried about it... God, maybe he was showing off, even... I've been urging him to trust himself, to take charge more... he overdid it, that's all... and this morning... when he wanted to... well, so did I, but... and I rejected him again. He's going to be thinking I don't want him...

At the next red light, Giles leaned over and kissed Wesley, grinning at his look of surprise and letting the happiness come back.
* * *


Giles finished paying at the counter, taking the bags the assistant passed him with no more than a terse nod. She'd been particularly unhelpful today, and he was even more determined that this would be his last purchase.

He glanced around, looking for Wesley, and spotted him over by a display of stones, studying a large quartz crystal.

"Did you want that, too?" Giles called over to him.

Wesley shook his head as Giles came over to join him. He set the crystal back down where it had been. "No. I was just..." He shook his head again. "I don't know what I was doing."

"Waiting for me," Giles said. "Sorry; idiot woman tried to wrap the herbs in one package. I pointed out that if a few sage leaves got mixed in with the chamomile, someone could be walking around with their ears on backwards if they tried a translocation spell, and she looked at me as if I was mad." He sighed, giving Wesley a slightly rueful grin. "I'm being unreasonable, aren't I? Let's go, before I get us banned for life or something."

"You're not being unreasonable," Wesley said. "If we were banned, we'd just have to find somewhere else to shop. I'm not convinced that would be a bad thing. The internet might be an option, although I'd imagine we'd still want somewhere fairly local to get things on the spur of the moment."

They left the shop, the small brass bell over the door jingling as the door open and closed, heading toward where they'd parked the car.

Giles shifted the bags to one hand and began to search through his pockets for the car keys. "Wesley, can you just take these – " He broke off, glancing down the street at a group of three teenagers who were coming towards them, passing a can of beer they were almost certainly too young to be drinking between them and looking as if it wasn't the first they'd had. The one nearest the street took a last drink from it, tipping his head back at an exaggerated angle, and then threw the can into the gutter, narrowly missing the bonnet of a car parked a few yards in front of Giles'. "Idiots," Giles muttered without heat.

Keeping an eye on the teens as they jostled each other and cursed, Wesley ignored Giles' unfinished request about the bags.

One of the teenagers noticed his gaze and met it challengingly. "What you think you're looking at?" he asked, cocky, sharing a quick sideways grin with his mates as they came closer.

"Nothing," Wesley said, slowly and deliberately. Giles felt apprehension stir as he saw Wesley's lips curl into a smile that looked almost anticipatory. The shorter, brown-haired youth whistled slightly between his teeth, and the ringleader drew himself up taller in response, altering his path so that he was walking directly toward Wesley.

Immediately, Wesley stepped forward, the startled twitch that the boy gave revealing that he'd only been bluffing as Wesley grabbed him by the shirt front and spun him around. The young man appeared to be well-muscled, but it was clear from the way Wesley moved him that he was untrained, didn't know how to use his balance properly. In a moment Wesley had the boy's arm up behind his back, pulling it skyward until the youth was contorted with pain, struggling uselessly. "I think you need to be taught some manners," Wesley said, jerking the arm a bit higher.

"Fuck off! Let go of me!" The boy's voice rose high, panicked and shocked, as though the speed of Wesley's reaction had frightened him. His two friends backed off, exchanging glances.

"We don't want no trouble, mate," said the third one, moving slowly to the side. He might have been getting into position to circle around and rush Wesley, but there was a hesitancy to his movements that spoke more of a desire to retreat than attack.

Giles summed up the situation quickly and caught the eye of the youth who was moving, freezing him in place with a warning look. "I really wouldn't," he murmured.

It must have sounded convincing because the boy stepped back, and Giles turned his attention on Wesley, who was grinning as the boy he held began to sob out a mixture of threats and pleas in a high, panicked whimper.

Stepping into the road, he came up behind Wesley, who seemed intent on making the boy suffer and oblivious to everything else, and gripped his shoulder, pulling him away from the boy. "Wesley! That's enough!"

What happened next happened very quickly – Giles felt a jolt go through Wesley's body in response to his touch, then Wesley released the boy and spun around. His hands closed around Giles' throat, the momentum overbalancing them both and sending them crashing to the pavement with bruising force, all of the air shoved violently from Giles' lungs upon impact.

He couldn't do anything but stare up at Wesley, whose face was contorted with anger that faded suddenly to something more like confusion as he released his grip on Giles' throat.

"You're fucking mad! Want locking up, you do," Giles heard the boys calling. He could hear the uneven footsteps of their boots on the pavement as they ran off, even as he struggled to get his breath back.

Wesley was crouched beside Giles, not quite looking at him.

Giles sat up, coughing as he tried to catch his breath, one hand rubbing at his throat. He stared up at Wesley in silence, trying to believe that what he'd seen had been down to his imagination, and then stood, moving stiffly, not in the least surprised that Wesley didn't offer to help him up. He'd dropped the shopping bags when he went to Wesley, and they'd fallen over, spilling some of the contents onto the pavement. Bending down, Giles picked up the scattered items, shoving them carelessly into the bags, and then straightened.

"Get in the car, Wesley," he said. "We'll take all this back home and then we'll carry on having... fun, shall we?"

He couldn't help letting his anger show, just a little, but he wasn't too concerned about hurting Wesley's feelings. Wesley's eyes were blue, and they tended to stay that way, no matter what happened. The eyes that had glared down at him from a rage-twisted face had, just for a moment, been a deep brown, and in some ways it was a relief to have certainty replace confusion.

So it hadn't been Wesley who'd threatened to kill people – though Giles still wanted to know where that bloody gun had come from – and it hadn't been Wesley who'd just tried to throttle him. Wesley's body, perhaps, but it was no longer under his control.

It hadn't been Wesley who seduced him either, but Giles shoved that thought aside for later.

Forcing a smile, he reached out and patted Wesley's arm. "Remind me not to surprise you in the middle of a fight again, will you?"

Wesley's eyes were blue again, watching Giles warily. "You shouldn't grab me from behind like that," he said. "You're lucky I didn't kill you." He didn't sound particularly distressed at the idea and seemed to accept that Giles was being sincere, as he turned and got into the car cooperatively enough.

The ride back to the flat seemed long to Giles, who was mulling over what on earth had happened – and when – in his mind while trying to carry on a seemingly normal conversation with a Wesley who was obviously not himself without giving away that he knew things weren't right. He was reassured that he'd been doing a good enough job when, as they pulled into a parking space near the flat, Wesley reached over and slid a hand up Giles' thigh suggestively.

"I can think of something fun we can do today," Wesley said, the tips of his fingers brushing over the front of Giles' trousers.

Repressing the urge to flick Wesley's hand away, in much the same way as he would've done if it'd been a poisonous spider, Giles smiled at him. "Why don't we get inside and you can tell me all about it?"

He opened the car door and glanced back, seeing Wesley's face shift from frustrated anger – Good Lord, did whatever was in there really think they could fuck in a car in broad daylight? – to a smile as false as his own.

"Hurry up, Wesley," he said, hoping the urgency in his voice would sound as if he was as eager to get to bed as the creature was, rather than gripped by an overpowering desire to get Wesley inside before he hurt someone else.

The walk to the flat was rather disturbing, as Giles couldn't allow himself to turn and keep an eye on Wesley if he didn't want to seem worthy of suspicion, and yet he couldn't help but feel that turning his back wasn't a wise move. He didn't sigh with relief until Wesley had closed the door to the flat behind them, and yet, before he could move toward his goal, he found himself being pushed up against the inside of the door, Wesley's body rubbing against his own.

"I had something like this in mind," Wesley said, kissing Giles with startling force.

Thinking about how very different his reaction would have been to a kiss from Wesley the night before, Giles did his best to return it with enthusiasm, closing his eyes and trying to pretend it really was Wesley's mouth on his, Wesley's tongue running teasingly against his lips. His body, with a lack of discrimination he couldn't bring himself to feel grateful for, responded, and he felt his cock harden slightly as a far from gentle hand cupped it, squeezing it roughly.

"Bedroom," he muttered, breaking the kiss. "Want to do this properly..."

Wesley gave him another squeeze and kiss before letting him go free, stepping back and kicking off his shoes. "I'll just grab a bottle of something," he said, as he headed toward the kitchen, where they kept the liquor. "Might as well have a really good time."

Giles took the time to swipe the back of his hand over his lips, swallowing back nausea, and moved quickly to his bedroom, praying to any god that might be listening that the Ithcarian amulet was in the box and not amongst the stuff he'd still got in storage following his return to England after Buffy's death. It was a pretty little thing; he'd almost given it to Dawn for her birthday once, but she'd dropped so many hints about a certain CD that he'd braved the trauma of asking for it in a shamed whisper at the music shop instead. Aside from its decorative qualities, it had the ability to render the wearer immune to possession. Whether or not it would work when someone already was possessed, he didn't know.

Which was why he slipped a dagger under the pillow as well as the necklace.

He'd just straightened up and started to make a show of unbuttoning his shirt when Wesley appeared in the door, bottle of whisky in one hand and the cap in the other, clearly just having taken a large swallow. He sauntered over to Giles and offered the bottle to him, tossing the cap onto the top of the nearest chest of drawers casually. "Here, have some. Loosen up."

His best single malt. Suppressing an irrational flare of irritation, Giles took the bottle and drank from it, wishing he could wipe the bottle clean before his lips touched it. "This should do the job well enough," he said dryly, putting it down on the bedside table. He smiled at Wesley, trying to work out how to get the necklace around his neck. Possibly if Wesley repeated his actions in the shower...

"You're looking very overdressed for someone who wants to have fun," he said, letting his eyes wander over Wesley's body as he continued to unbutton his shirt. The amulet had to be touching bare skin to work but he didn't think that would be a problem.

Fortunately, Wesley seemed to be easy to manipulate in this state – he quickly began to remove his own shirt, just as casually and unselfconsciously as he had the night before even though they hadn't been in the habit of being shirtless in front of each other until then. As soon as he was naked to the waist he stepped closer, pushing Giles' shirt off his shoulders.

Wesley leaned in, his mouth closing on Giles' throat, teeth nipping gently – Giles was grateful for that, at least – as one arm wrapped around Giles' waist. Giles found himself being pushed slowly down onto the bed with Wesley on top of him, straddling his waist as his hot mouth seared a path along Giles' collarbone and then down to lick one nipple.

Hoping that this would end before his body betrayed him with an arousal he knew he'd be deeply ashamed of when this was over, Giles sighed with pretended appreciation and ran his fingers through Wesley's hair, then slid his hand around the back of his neck.

"God, Wesley," he whispered. "We've wasted so much time..."

"We won't waste any more," Wesley said, sucking at Giles' nipple fiercely, clearly intent on what he was doing to Giles' body. He moved down between Giles' legs, tracing his tongue down over Giles' ribs to his stomach while working to undo the front of his trousers.

Perfect. Giles slid his hand under the pillow and withdrew it with the necklace dangling from his fingers. Taking advantage of Wesley's concentration and shifting his hips in a way that he hoped would pass for impatience, but was actually meant to hinder Wesley's attempts to undress him, he took the necklace in both hands, spreading them so it made as wide a circle as possible.

Then he sat up, dropped it neatly over Wesley's head and took advantage of Wesley's momentary bewilderment to push him off him.

The amulet came to rest against Wesley's chest as he rolled onto his back, and he began to convulse, his mouth opening in an anguished scream, his body arching as if he were being electrocuted. His eyes flashed brown again and his hand shot out, clamping around Giles' wrist. "What have you done?" the demon demanded. "No! No!"

Giles slammed his free hand over the amulet, holding it in place. "I cast you out," he said. "Leave this shell and return whence you came, in the name of Ithcar."

The archaic phrasing rose naturally to his lips, and he watched, hardly daring to hope it'd worked, as the anger drained from Wesley's eyes and the crushing grip on his wrist slackened.

***

Wesley had been aware throughout the experience, although of course he'd been entirely unable to stop it happening. It had been rather like the many occasions in the past when he'd said or done something utterly stupid, listening to the words come out of his mouth or watching himself trip and fall with a sort of dim horror, able to hear and see everything but unable to do anything about it. There had been a vaguely drugged feeling, hazy, unfocused.

And then suddenly there was a burning sensation, like a living coal being pressed into the skin of his chest, and everything snapped back into place with a sickening lurch and a startling clarity.

Wesley jerked his hand away from Giles' wrist, aware that he'd been holding it much too tightly, the motion causing him to roll away across the mattress. He hadn't realised how close he was to the edge of the bed – he nearly fell off in his attempt to put as much distance between himself and Giles as possible – and he clung to the edge, closing his eyes and drawing great deep breaths of air into his lungs.

"Wesley? Are you all right?"

He heard the concern in Giles' voice, but it didn't help. Then a warm hand closed around his arm, and he felt himself being turned to face the last person he wanted to see.

"Don't," Wesley said desperately, pulling his arm away and getting up. He only vaguely remember taking his shirt off, but he remembered what Giles' skin tasted like. He remembered the sounds Giles had made the night before when he'd fucked him, quite possibly against his will. Wesley wrapped his arms around himself. "I'm sorry. I'm... I'm sorry." He didn't know what else to say.

"Wesley – " Giles was coming over to him and Wesley was running out of places to retreat to. "There's nothing, absolutely nothing, to apologise for. I don't know what happened, not yet, but you were possessed by something, a demon of some kind. Nothing you've done since that is in any way your fault. Please believe that."

Knowing that was true, but unable to do anything more than react on a visceral level, Wesley took another step backward, his hip bumping into the edge of a bookcase. He grabbed at the piece of furniture to steady... well, to steady something. Whether it or himself, he wasn't sure.

Giles had stopped, hands held out at his sides as if he wanted Wesley to see that he wasn't a threat.

"I'm sorry," Wesley said again, before Giles could tell him that he shouldn't. "I could... I could feel it. I – " He finally realised that the burning sensation on his chest was still present, and looked down to see a pendant of some sort hung round his neck. He reached up to touch it before he could even think.

"Don't take it off!" Giles snapped, his face changing abruptly from one type of concern to another. Wesley flinched, his hand dropping away, and Giles gave what sounded like a relieved sigh. "Sorry. It's keeping the demon at bay; too much to hope for that it's gone for good, although possibly... It has to stay on you until we work out what happened and how to reverse it."

Wesley swallowed and stepped to the side, watching Giles carefully as he moved around him. Giles turned to continue to face him, but didn't come any closer as Wesley went over and picked up his shirt from the floor, beginning to put it on. "I couldn't stop it," he said, ashamed, his fingers fumbling with the buttons. "I wanted to, but I couldn't."

"Of course you couldn't," Giles said, sounding matter of fact about it. "Wesley, you've done enough research into demonic possession to know how rare it is that the host can expel the invader unaided. Demons with the ability to do this are generally very good at it." He looked around and picked up his own shirt, shrugging it on over his shoulders and making a better job of fastening the buttons than Wesley was doing. "Let's go and sit down – and I'm feeling almost compelled to make a cup of tea at this point. Would you like some?"

Wesley shook his head wordlessly. He didn't want tea. He didn't want anything. He felt disturbingly solid in his skin, the thought of which just disturbed him all the more, because things were better now, and he should be feeling relieved about that instead of off balance and twitchy.

He followed Giles to the kitchen, noticing as he did so that he'd mismatched his buttons and not caring about that either. Giles kept looking at him, as if trying to decide what Wesley was thinking.

"It's still here," Wesley said, realising the truth of that statement even as he said it. "I can feel it. It's..." A little pained sound escaped him, and his hands were shaking. "Rupert, it's..."

"Wesley – " Giles was there, in front of him, his hands closing around Wesley's firmly. "It's going to be all right. I promise. I won't let it take you again. I won't."

It took Wesley a moment to realise that the hands that held his were shaking too.

"I'm so sorry," he said, his voice breaking on the last word. "Are – are you all right? Did I hurt you?" He couldn't get rid of the feeling that there were things he'd missed along the way – reactions, maybe – and the thought that he might have hurt Giles made him feel ill.

Giles' grip tightened, and then he seemed to realise what he was doing and let go of Wesley. Pulling back a chair, he sat down and folded his hands in his lap. "No. You didn't hurt me," he said flatly. Glancing up, he said, "How much do you remember, Wesley? I don't like to badger you for details, but I'm not sure how much time we have. We need to pin down what happened."

Suddenly, Wesley needed to sit down very badly. He sank down into the chair next to Giles' and rubbed a trembling hand over his face, taking a few deep breaths. That helped. "I remember all of it. I think." He stared down at the table top in front of him, willing himself into a state where he'd be able to explain properly. "I was there, just... I couldn't control myself. I wanted to do things that normally I wouldn't... I don't... I'm not sure when it started. That's what you're asking?"

Giles nodded. "I've been thinking about it," he said. "The first thing you did that was – " He ran his hand over his hair, looking uncomfortable. " – not like you, was when you were so aggressive with Bill. Up to that point, I can't think of anything out of the ordinary that you did or said. Which makes sense; if Bill was messing around with that kind of merchandise, God knows what else he had in that dump he called home." He pulled a wry face. "If he's been found, I imagine the police will be involved, which makes it awkward – if he hasn't, it's not going to be pleasant, after twenty-four hours – but either way, I think we have to go back. Unless that's jogging your memory at all?"

"I don't... I don't know." Wesley leaned forward and rested his head on his forearm, trying to remember anything out of the ordinary. But all he could remember was going into Bill's flat and the hot rush of anger that had felt so right when he'd grabbed the other man and shoved him against the wall. "I can't remember."

"Don't try and force it," Giles said. He drummed his fingers against the table. "We went in and it was dark... you tried to find the light switch, but it was on my side of the door... then you grabbed him." He sighed. "That's not a lot of time for anything to have happened, is it? I think we have to go and investigate. Once we know what the demon is, we can get rid of it properly." He stood up. "Do you feel up to this, Wesley? I can't help feeling we need to hurry, but if you want a little more time to recover..."

Wesley got to his feet as well. "No, I'm okay. And I think you're right – we need to deal with this as soon as possible Otherwise..." Otherwise, for all he knew, he might hurt Giles, or worse. "Just... tell me what to do."

Giles studied him with an odd look on his face. "You're terrified, aren't you?" he said softly. "Of what's happened, of what might happen – but you're not letting it stop you. I don't think I've ever told you how much I admire that in you."

"I think," Wesley said slowly, "that if I let myself be terrified, I wouldn't even be capable of standing up right now. I think I'm saving terrified for later." He met Giles' eyes for the first time, aware of how quickly his heart was beating. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

"I'm not going to pretend I don't know part of what's bothering you," Giles said, making no attempt to look away. "We don't have time – but, Wesley? Last night I wanted to, and today it was the best way of getting that amulet around your neck. My choice, both times. If I'm wrong, I daresay I've just made us both uncomfortable for no reason, but if even one of the apologies you've been making is to do with what happened between us, then there's no need. Really. In fact, it's I who owe you one."

Wesley's hands were shaking again, and he balled them into fists to stop it before realising that he shouldn't. He couldn't accept the thought that Giles might owe him an apology – that seemed absurd – but he did think Giles was right about one thing he'd said. "We should go. I can still feel it, and I don't know how long this pendant is going to do the job." He could feel the demon pulling at him, a distracting tension centred in his chest. "Maybe... maybe you should restrain me. Tie my hands. Something."

He got a shake of the head in reply. "No. I don't think you should be armed, but that's more because you don't look capable of lifting an axe than because I don't trust you. I'm not doing that to you." Giles turned and walked towards the door without looking back. "Let's go."

Still feeling shaky and as if the decision to argue was more than he could handle, Wesley went.
* * *


He spent most of the journey with his eyes closed, taking deep breaths and trying not to feel the aching pressure that seemed to be straining through his body. He concentrated instead on the rhythm of the car's engine, inhaling and exhaling steadily, hands resting on his knees because he couldn't, would not permit them to be anything but relaxed.

If they were relaxed, they couldn't hurt Giles.

Arriving at the apartment building, they both got out of the car and headed toward Bill's door. Now that they were this close, Wesley knew that he remembered the previous trip as himself. "I remember this," he said, not slowing his pace. "I wasn't... it hadn't happened yet, when we were here before."

"That's what I think," Giles said. He flashed Wesley a quick grin. "I seriously doubt a demon would be quite so passionate about debating the merits of various supermarkets as you were on the way here."

The door looked just as it had done the day before, with a reassuring lack of police tape. Of course, that meant a corpse lay beyond the door, but Wesley tried not to think about that. He reached out and turned the handle slowly, not enormously surprised to find that they hadn't locked it on their way out the day before.

"Let me go first," he said to Giles, thinking that the last thing he wanted was to be in a position where he could attack Giles from behind with no warning.

They'd left the light on as well, although there was also some dull sunshine coming in through the low windows. Wesley imagined that on the sunniest day the flat would still be rather depressing, and then the smell hit him, even worse than it had been yesterday, and he gagged, putting a hand up to cover his mouth and nose.

Trying to breathe shallowly, he realised that his left hand was on the wall, as it had been the first time they'd been here, and his eyes, adjusting to the dim, fell upon a small sculpture balanced somewhat precariously on a shelf.

In a flash, he remembered the sharp prick of pain to his finger, the fumbled attempt to prevent something small from being knocked to the floor. "This," Wesley said, moving over to the metal statue without making any effort to touch it. "I touched this yesterday." He turned his hand over and looked at his fingertip, the one that had been stuck, but he wasn't even sure he could see a mark there, not in the less than adequate lighting.

"What are you looking for?" Giles asked. "Did you feel something when you touched it?" He walked past Wesley and peered at the statue, following Wesley's example and keeping his hands by his side. "It seems to be some sort of warrior – human though – and the sword he's holding looks fairly sharp. Do you think you cut yourself on it? If you bled on it..." He didn't bother to finish his sentence. They both knew how even a drop of blood could activate a spell – or break it.

"I remember that it hurt," Wesley said, stepping to one side a bit, still examining his finger. "I don't know for sure if I bled on it, but I'd certainly think it was within the realm of possibility." He moved back over in front of the sculpture and looked at it carefully, seeing that it was likely that the tip of the sword was what had pricked his fingertip. "I suppose I should be grateful that I didn't fall immediately into a deep sleep," he mused, then he swallowed and glanced at Giles apologetically. "Sorry. That would have been better. Do you think – " The pendant against his chest seared flaring-hot suddenly and he gasped.

To his credit, Giles didn't waste time asking what was wrong, or if Wesley was fine. "It's stronger closer to the statue, isn't it?" he said grimly. "Or more desperate... bloody hell. We need to take it home but if it's having this effect on you, that might be tricky." He glanced around and went over to a table by the wall, picking up a tea towel and a canvas bag full of groceries that the unfortunate Bill had never got around to unpacking, let alone eating. Tipping the food out, he came back to the statue and tossed the towel over it in a rudimentary lasso, using it to knock the statue into the bag.

"If this goes in the boot as we drive, and I drive fast, do you think you can bear it?" Giles asked, his eyes full of sympathy. "I'd suggest a taxi, but I really don't want us to split up."

"I could do anything," Wesley agreed, thinking that at least Giles would be prepared for the possibility. "I'll be fine. Let's just... let's do it quickly."

***

The flat door closed behind them and Giles couldn't help contrasting this return with the one earlier in the day. The same sense of relief that they were away from other people, but now it was Wesley beside him; an ally, not an enemy. It was astonishing how comforting that was, even though this was far from over.

"I had an idea," he said. "I'm going to use that digital camera you insisted we needed – " Wesley gave him a wan smile in place of his usual vigorous defence of his purchase, and Giles bit his lip but continued, " – and I can photograph this thing from various angles, and then we can work on researching it without it needing to be close to you. For the initial stages at least. How does that sound?"

Wesley nodded, staying near the door as Giles moved further into the flat, taking the bag with the sculpture in it along with him to put as much space between it and Wesley as possible. The other man was pale, but composed.

"Stay there," Giles advised him, going to retrieve the camera. He unwrapped the sculpture with great care, not actually touching it with his bare skin, and set it in the middle of his bed while he quickly snapped a dozen or so photos from an assortment of angles. When he'd finished, he wrapped the statue back up in the towel and left it where it was, returning to the front room where Wesley had obviously chosen not to follow his suggestion and was sitting on the sofa with an open book in his lap.

Giles walked over to him and held out the camera. "Want to swap?" he said. "Put them on the computer, or print them out... whatever it does." He could probably have done it himself, but his antipathy for computers had waxed, not waned, over the years, no matter how useful they were. Besides, Wesley was staring blankly at the page rather than reading; giving him something to do would be a good idea.

He glanced down at Wesley's book, and, even with the text upside down, saw enough for him to give Wesley an approving nod. "Yes; my thoughts, too. The statue's a little crudely done, and the markings on it are worn, but it's definitely a Viking warrior. Whether or not that's what is, presumably, trapped inside, remains to be seen, but it's a starting point."

Standing up, Wesley set the book on the table and took the camera from Giles' hand, going over to the desk and booting up the laptop. He went through the necessary connecting processes to attach the camera to it as Giles perched himself on the edge of the sofa and began to page through the same book Wesley had just abandoned. He glanced over at Wesley on a regular basis, but he couldn't see much more than Wesley's back, so he wasn't able to tell how the other man was dealing with the situation until Wesley unplugged the laptop and brought it over to the couch, sitting down beside Giles.

"Here," he said, putting the computer on the table in front of them and gesturing at the screen, where one of the photographs was framed in a window. "You can page through this way," and he demonstrated how to do it. It was clear to Giles from the way Wesley was talking that it was taking a fair amount of concentration for him to get through even rather simple tasks.

"Thank you," he said, retreating into a formality they'd left behind them months before. Wesley's arm brushed against his as he leaned forward and reached out for one of the books Giles had collected and stacked on the table. Giles shifted along the sofa at once, giving Wesley some space, and then wondered if he'd done the right thing. Wesley was clearly distressed about what had happened between them – Giles was, too – but flinching away from a fleeting, accidental contact wasn't going to help to restore the relaxed friendship they'd had or make Wesley feel better.

And if friendship was all they were to have, as now seemed likely, Giles was determined to make the best of it. He eased back to his original position and gave Wesley an uncomfortable, overly bright smile.

Wesley barely seemed to notice. He picked up another book and began to look through it, and, a moment later when Giles looked over at him, he seemed to be holding the book in an unusually tight grip. "I want to take this pendant off," Wesley said, his voice strained, although he kept his eyes on the page. "It's as if it... whatever it is... is trying to influence me."

"You mustn't!" Giles shook his head in disgust as the words slipped out. "And I get the award for most stupidly obvious comment. Sorry." He took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. "Perhaps we could tape it to your chest? Make it harder to get off, so if you try I'll have a chance to stop you?" He hesitated. "Or I could do what you suggested earlier, but, God, I don't want to. For one thing, you won't be able to help me research with your hands tied behind you, and – Wesley, I don't want you to think I don't trust you. Because I do."

"Possibly against all common sense," Wesley pointed out, still without lifting his eyes. He turned another page. "I won't take it off. If I think there's a chance I might, I'll tell you. Try to give you enough warning to stop me." He sounded determined enough that Giles believed his will was strong. "It doesn't seem to be getting worse, if that's any consolation."

"A small one," Giles said. He stared at the screen. "Ugly brute, isn't he? Well, let's see what we can find out..."

The hours went by, and Giles allowed the routine of research to insulate him from the worries nagging at his mind. He felt overloaded by them; concern over Wesley's predicament came first, but under that was a more selfish one as he cursed whatever impulse had led the creature – demon, or human – to seduce him, and ruin any chance – He frowned. Why had it done that, anyway? Setting aside his own thoughts on the matter – which were too tangled to be unravelled right now – what had been the motivation? Sex, violence and the desire to have fun... natural enough reactions if someone had been released from a long imprisonment, but not really apocalyptic in nature. Somehow he didn't think they were dealing with someone who had an agenda that involved anything beyond gratification of the more basic needs. Oddly anticlimactic, but it should make it easier to deal with.

"Wesley," he said. "Can you remember what it wanted to do? Did you sense an aim, or a purpose? Because I'm beginning to think we're dealing with something simple; an imprisoned soul, who took the first chance it got to get a body to play with; and that seems to have been what it did, by its lights. Play. It picked fights, drank, wanted sex in and out of season... Good Lord, I'm inclined to think adolescent human rather than anything demonic."

Wesley seemed to consider the questions for quite a long time before answering. "You might be right. It didn't feel... alien enough to be demon – a hybrid like a vampire, at worst. It seemed hedonistic. As if it wanted good food and sex and..." He trailed off, giving Giles another of those apologetic looks. "As if it was enjoying sudden freedom."

As all his research indicated that the statue was eighth century, that made sense. Giles nodded. "Strictly personal then; no grandiose schemes or revenge plots..." He flipped over a few pages and then sighed. "We're not going to find much here, then. Our books aren't really geared toward that period in history and although magic must have been involved, I'm guessing it was nothing more than a binding spell. Young Thor, or whatever his name was, must have annoyed someone." He grimaced. 'I can't say I'm any too fond of him myself."

Looking as if he agreed wholeheartedly, Wesley reached out and pulled the laptop over in front of himself, opening a new program. "Then we'll look online," he said. "Is there anything concrete at all? A time period?"

Giles told him that it seemed likely the sculpture was from the eighth century, and Wesley nodded and began to search, using a variety of keywords. He didn't work with his usual speed and efficiency, but he still, Giles couldn't help but note, did a far better job of it than Giles would have. Time seemed to pass slowly, Giles reading over Wesley's shoulder where he could, and it wasn't more than an hour later that Wesley suddenly straightened up. "Well, this looks remarkably like our man, doesn't it?"

Giles looked at the computer screen again, Wesley turning it slightly to improve his view. In the window was a good sized photograph of their Viking warrior, complete with sword. The statue seemed in slightly better shape than it was now – not that that should come as a surprise, considering the state of Bill's flat – and was, really, unmistakable.

Peering at the screen with eyes tiredness had made blurry, Giles read out what was written under the picture.

"'Legend has it that Godfred, one of the minor rulers of Denmark in the ninth century – ' Hmm, I was off by a hundred years or so, was I? – 'used this statue, carved from a meteorite that fell on the site where Godfred later built his keep, seeing it as a sign from the Gods, to store the soul of his finest fighting man, granting the honour only to one who had proven himself a hero in battle. The warrior was slain in a ritual sacrifice, his body being cleft from breastbone to – ' I think we'll skip the details; they look quite revolting ' – his intention was that the warrior would be called forth in times of need, a common theme in many mythologies...'"

Giles sat back, imagining the chaos if a Viking warrior were to be unleashed in a modern world and feeling mildly sympathetic towards the Viking. Poor devil wouldn't know what had hit him...

Wesley clicked on the next link, his eyes skimming across the screen. "Here. 'The warrior was released from its prison some time in the late 1500s, and wreaked havoc on five villages before the ritual to return it to the sculpture was unearthed and performed by a small group of wizards..." He trailed off as if he'd read something he didn't like the sound of, and Giles turned the screen toward himself again so that he could see.

'Only two of whom survived.'

"Oh," he said, a little flatly. Seeing Wesley looking even more discouraged than before, he forced himself to mutter something about how at least there were some survivors, and then gave up and went to get a much needed drink. Anything but whisky...

It didn't take too long to unearth details on the ritual, and Giles was obscurely comforted by the fact that they had to turn back to their books to do it. Wesley, too, looked more relaxed with his hands curled around a heavy, leather-bound text than he'd done crouched over the keyboard. Giles stared at Wesley's hands, remembering how they'd felt on him, and took an unwisely large gulp of brandy. Fool, he thought as he choked and wiped at watering eyes. No better than that warrior...

Wesley had refused a drink, and he glanced up as Giles began to splutter and then looked away again.

Giles cleared his throat. "Anything needed that we don't have?" he asked.

"I don't think so." Wesley had a list scribbled on a piece of paper and a steely look in his eyes as he stood up and moved across the room to the cupboard where they kept their magical supplies. He opened the doors and crouched down, rifling through the things on the bottom shelf. "Wormwood," he muttered, setting a small packet on the floor beside him. "I know the copal resin's in here somewhere, I just saw it last week. Oh good, here it is." An even smaller packet, labelled in Wesley's careful handwriting, joined the first on the floor.

He turned, and it struck Giles, suddenly and almost painfully, how Wesley fit in his flat, his work, his life. "I don't know if they would have had copal during the Viking Age – but they would have had some form of resin, if only for varnishes. They used sandarac the previous time, but the copal should do just as well – they both contain terpenes," Wesley said. "It will be a very volatile mix – I wonder if that's where they ran into trouble." He still looked pale, not quite himself, but he sounded very much like Giles remembered him sounding when he'd first shown up in London – tentative, unsure of himself.

"Are you sure..." Wesley had to clear his throat a bit before continuing. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"I don't – we don't – have a choice," Giles said. "If this possession continues, there's every chance the amulet won't be strong enough to hold him back; and, if it were, you can hardly wear it for the rest of your life. There's also the very real possibility that once he's free, he'll be virtually immortal; once your body dies, he'll find another." He took a deep breath and opted for honesty, bracing himself against Wesley's reaction. "And none of that matters as much as the fact that if he did succeed, I'd lose you. I'm not going to let that happen, Wesley. We're doing this, and it's going to work."

"But what if – what if the ritual..."

Giles could tell that Wesley was trying to give him the opportunity to back out gracefully, if the thought of being killed as a result of the ritual was too much.

"I don't want to lose you either," Wesley breathed, and Giles didn't have any trouble hearing him, not with the way they were focused on each other in that moment. It was as if time had stopped, nothing else important for that one fleeting instant. "I couldn't live with myself if..."

"You won't have to," Giles said. He stood up and went over to where Wesley was still crouched beside the cupboard and held out his hand to help him up. "But as there's a remote possibility that I'm wrong, I'll make it quite clear; I want to do this, and, if something goes wrong, it's not going to be your fault."

Wesley's hand slid into his, long fingers cool against his skin. Giles pulled him to his feet and then found himself unable to step back or release the hand he held. There was a questioning, almost hopeful look in Wesley's eyes, and Giles wondered again how he could have been so unforgivably stupid to have not realised sooner that something was wrong. Wesley's eyes the night before had been hard, filled with a cruelty Wesley didn't possess.

Wesley wasn't letting go either, and he took half a step toward Giles. For a fleeting moment Giles thought that maybe, just maybe Wesley was going to kiss him, and the emotions that stirred up must have shown on his face because Wesley blinked and moved back quickly, dropping Giles' hand. "Thank you," he said, his voice rough. "I don't... I don't know what I did to deserve your friendship, but I'm grateful."

Giles bent to retrieve the packages Wesley had selected, glad of the chance to hide his face for the moment it took to compose himself. He straightened up and gave Wesley a small smile. "You didn't do anything other than be who you are, Wesley. You're very easy to like." He grinned. "Especially since we both got fired, and you stopped calling me 'Mr. Giles' in your most disapproving voice."

He could see Wesley make a valiant attempt at a smile, but it fell flat. "What now?" he asked. "I'm not sure I trust myself to be in the same room with the sculpture, unless you restrain me somehow. And then if anything were to go wrong..." He looked up at Giles, worry and some other emotion shining in his eyes.

"I need you able to move for this," Giles said firmly. "There have to be at least two people chanting and walking the circle." He let his hand rest lightly on Wesley's shoulder for a moment, needing that small amount of contact, knowing, despite what he was telling Wesley, that there was a very real chance this wouldn't work and they'd both die, in one way or another. "Please, Wes?" he added softly. "Help me do this and believe we can? Going into a spell doubting yourself really isn't a good idea, you know."

Wesley cleared his throat. "Yes. Yes, you're right. Of course we can do this."

***

They set up the spell as required – charcoal brazier in the centre of the room, with as much of the floor space cleared as possible, candles at the four quarters – before Giles went back to his bedroom to retrieve the statue. Again, he took care not to touch it with bare skin, and when he stepped into the front room Wesley was over against the door as he'd suggested, both palms flat to the wooden surface behind him as if that might somehow prevent him from doing anything he shouldn't.

Not commenting, just giving Wesley a reassuring nod, Giles set the statue in the centre of the space and stepped back.

"Are you ready?" he said.

The spell was simple enough; a short incantation chanted as they walked between the candles in a pattern, each scattering a different ingredient into the brazier at the end of each line. Giles handed Wesley what he needed, met his eyes in one long look, and then they began.

The room seemed to darken as they passed each other, their voices low and steady as they recited the words. Giles tried to watch Wesley as he walked, getting concerned as Wesley's voice and steps began to falter. His face was contorted now; pale and damp with sweat, and he was hunched over, as if the amulet was searing into his flesh.

As the air became thicker, it was harder to breathe, the atmosphere within the circle a dense, swirling eddy that seemed to be sucking the oxygen out of the rest of the room, The slip of paper that had been sitting on the table beside the couch flew into the air, caught in the whirlwind, circling.

Giles shouted the last words of the ritual to be sure that they were heard over the rushing wind, and there was a deafening clap as the power they'd raised charged to the centre of the room, the brazier overheating and simultaneously exploding in a shower of flame and jagged splinters of metal, several of which hit the meteorite sculpture, shattering it into a crumpled pile of dust.

Above the remains, a Viking warrior that looked as if it owed rather a lot to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein solidified, took in his surroundings, and roared with satisfaction.

"You freed me," the warrior said, turning his attention toward Wesley. His voice was guttural and his accent thick but Giles could understand him well enough – and the long sword he carried was doing a good job of conveying his intent, as it was pointed unwaveringly at Wesley.

Giles had fought alongside Wesley often enough that they'd got to the point of anticipating each other's moves. Sparing him a glance, he was relieved to see that Wesley had straightened and was breathing easier, as if the materialisation of the warrior had released him from the compulsion that had been affecting him. It made sense, Giles decided; the warrior had no need of Wesley now he had his own body back. He didn't seem particularly grateful though...

Taking advantage of the fact that the warrior's attention was focused on Wesley, a cruel smile curving his lips, Giles edged to the side of the room. They'd anticipated needing to fight, and an axe and a sword lay waiting for them to use.

Picking up the axe, Giles sent the sword skidding across the floor to Wesley with a shove of his foot and gave him the chance to stoop and pick it up by swinging his axe at the warrior. It was aimed at his back, but reflexes swifter than Giles had expected sent him swinging around, thick eyebrows drawing together with anger, and the axe glanced off the thick leather jerkin he wore, slicing his arm but doing little damage.

With an enraged shout that sounded very loud in the small room, the warrior advanced on Giles.

There was no hesitation on Wesley's part – he snatched up his weapon and launched himself at the warrior's back, driving the sword deep into the behemoth's torso, which caused a gout of blood to spill onto the floor. The Viking made a pained sound that was considerably less than Giles would have hoped for, whirled, and backhanded Wesley. Wesley went down hard, the sword knocked from his hand. It skittered across the floor several feet and fetched up just out of his reach, although Giles could tell that he was probably too disoriented from the blow to manage to retrieve it just then in any case.

Giles was tall, but this man was a head taller and considerably heavier. Strategy seemed to be a better bet than all-out attack, but Giles was finding it difficult to remain calm after seeing the blood on Wesley's face from the blow.

Swinging his axe, not at the man but his weapon, he shattered the blade of the Viking's sword easily, leaving him clutching a hilt with only a few inches of jagged metal protruding from it. "Like a knife through butter," he said, with a ferocious grin at the man who'd done so much to disrupt their lives. "Want me to show you what it does to flesh and bone?"

"You, a warrior?" The Viking laughed, seemingly unconcerned by the blood that was pooling onto the floor behind him. "Little man." Moving more quickly than Giles would have thought possible, the giant dropped his ruined weapon and grabbed onto the front of Giles' shirt, dragging him closer and taking Giles' axe hand in his enormous grip. It was the work of a moment for the Viking to squeeze to the point where Giles had no choice but to drop the weapon as the bones in his hand ground together so painfully that he could barely remain standing.

Then Giles heard Wesley's voice say, "Little men can be great foes," and felt a powerful jolt go through the Viking. His hand was released as abruptly as it had been grabbed, and the warrior staggered back, a look of utter surprise on his face and a sudden stain of dark blood running from his mouth.

The huge body of the Viking crumpled to the floor, Wesley's sword sunk deeply into his back, and Giles cradled his injured wrist to his chest and watched him die with a grim satisfaction.

"Well done, Wesley," he murmured, glad that it had been Wesley, who had suffered the most, who had got to deliver the killing blow.

As they stared down at the figure it began to decay, flesh winnowed from bones, bones crumbling to dust, until all that remained was Wesley's sword, clattering to the floor in the sudden silence.

Giles didn't realise that he'd been wavering on his feet until suddenly Wesley's arm was around his waist, guiding him gently to the sofa and easing him down to sit.

"There," Wesley said, kneeling on the floor in front of Giles and wrapping careful hands around his wrist, moving his own hand away from it so that he could examine it more closely. "Do you think it's broken?" His face, looking up into Giles', was full of concern, which seemed almost comical considering that it was bloodied by what Giles could now see was a shallow abrasion across the cheekbone. The soft tissue just over the orbital bone was already swollen – he'd have a spectacular bruise by morning – but otherwise he seemed uninjured.

"Just bruised, I think," Giles said, moving it experimentally and wincing at the sharp pain that shot through his wrist. "I'll put something cold on it." He reached out and brushed the fingers of his uninjured hand over the cut on Wesley's face. "I think you'll need to do that, too." The stress of the last day caught up with him in a rush and he realised, with an odd detachment, that his hand was shaking slightly. Or possibly that was because Wesley's skin was warm against his hand and he was fighting the urge to cup Wesley's face in his hand and kiss the worry off it. "It's a little inadequate, I know, but thank you. I really wasn't looking forward to having my bones ground to make bread."

Wesley made a little sound that might have been hysterical laughter if it hadn't been so brief, then he did what Giles had just wanted to do – cupped Giles' face in his hand tenderly. "No, thank you. That you'd be able to put aside what happened last night, even long enough to get through this... it's far more than anyone could have expected of you."

Giles frowned, even as his hand came up to rest against Wesley's. "Last night must have been far worse for you, Wesley. To have your body... used... like that, made to do something you'd never have – I can't imagine how you must be feeling." He curled his fingers under Wesley's hand and pulled it down into his lap, not letting go of it, and found that he was having trouble controlling his voice. "I'm so very sorry. I never would have – if I'd known it wasn't you – please believe that. I didn't know, Wesley. I didn't – oh God – " He released Wesley's hand, cursing himself for making everything so much worse, and stood up abruptly. "I'll get that ice. Sorry."

He cursed himself a second time as Wesley stumbled to his feet as well. "But it wasn't – Rupert, please. Wait."

Forcing his body to stop moving and wait was more difficult than Giles would have thought, so strong was his desire to flee from this impossible situation that they'd found themselves in, but he just managed it, pausing, letting Wesley's fumbling hands stop him.

Wesley swallowed. "I don't... please, just let me apologise. Please. I know you'll never be able to look at me the same way again, not when it was me – or him, influencing me, wearing my face – who convinced you to have sex. I know you'd never want me that way. And I'd never have done those things, no matter how much I might have wanted..." He looked down at the floor, keeping his gaze there, and took a deep breath. "I'm very sorry. I promise you it will never happen again, and... I wouldn't blame you if you felt that you couldn't have me stay on. So... just say the word, and I'll go."

It was, Giles thought, like one of those dreams where nothing made sense. He knew he should answer Wesley, who was looking at him now, waiting to be told – what? To go? Giles shook his head in an instinctive reaction to that idea, and found his voice. "I don't think we're communicating here," he said quietly. "Which isn't surprising given what we've just been through. Think about it, Wes; I just told you I slept with you, believing it was you. Not forced, not unwilling – the only problem I had was that you weren't – it wasn't quite as I'd imagined it would be." He bit his lip. "Because it was just your body I had, not you. And the only excuse I can give you for not realising something was wrong was that I was too... eager, to be thinking about anything clearly." He took a deep breath. "I wanted you last night, Wesley, and if I hadn't been convinced that you were still in love with Angel, I'd have told you that weeks ago."

"But..." Wesley was pale again, although not as pale as he'd been earlier, and his hand reached out and clutched at Giles' good one. "You thought I was in love with Angel?" When Giles nodded, he continued, walking them toward the kitchen. "I've had... I've had feelings for you for a while, I think. I didn't want to look at them too closely... things went so badly for me in L.A..."

Giles wondered if he should be holding his breath. This was the most candidly he'd ever heard Wesley speak about what had happened with Connor and Angel – previous conversations had been limited to terse answers in as few words as possible and ended as quickly as Wesley could manage to change the subject. It had taken months for Giles to get enough information out of him to piece together the chain of events that had led Wesley to show up on his doorstep in London.

As Wesley took ice from the freezer, wrapped it in a towel and sat down in the chair next to Giles', gently pressing the cold packet to Giles' wrist, he said, slowly, and with several pauses, "I don't think I wanted to chance it. You're the only friend I had left, I didn't want to... and now... but I didn't let myself think about it. I couldn't." He adjusted the ice pack slightly. "Why... why did you think I was in love with Angel?"

"The way you spoke about him," Giles said bluntly. "Oh, you wouldn't talk about what happened to bring you here, without me prodding you, but all the stories you told me of what you did with him in the early days, how he trained you, the demons you fought – the way you felt when he abandoned you all and left you in charge... You sounded as if you had a bad case of hero worship, to be honest, and your reaction to him trying to kill you – you weren't angry, as you had every right to be, Wes; you were heartbroken. What else was I supposed to think?"

The ice was numbing his wrist and trickles of cold water were dripping onto the table. Giles stood, got another towel from a drawer, and split the ice, making a smaller pack that he held against Wesley's swollen face, hitching his chair closer to Wesley's so he didn't have to stretch.

Wesley closed his eyes, and that simple gesture went straight to Giles' heart, speaking so openly of trust when it came from someone who had every reason to be wary. "I was heartbroken," he agreed quietly. "But not about Angel. Well, not in the way that you mean, but because of Connor. Because my error in judgment resulted in Connor being cheated out of the life he could have had, and Angel being cheated out of sharing that life. But it's... it's guilt. It's not love." He drew a shuddering breath, and Giles wondered if he was keeping his eyes closed now because it was easier that way. "I won't deny that I had feelings for him at one time. But I don't anymore."

It wasn't fair to do this when Wesley couldn't see, but Giles couldn't help it. Dropping the ice to the table, he leaned forward and kissed Wesley, not on his mouth, but on his bruised, cut cheek, feeling the small shock of chilled skin against his lips and bringing his good hand up to Wesley's shoulder to brace himself. Wesley's eyes opened in surprise and Giles pulled back slightly and met his gaze. "Why don't you? Because you don't think you deserve him?"

"Actually, I think the fact that he tried to kill me might have something to do with it," Wesley said with a tremulous smile. "No – I blame myself more than he could possibly blame me, so the fact that he'll never forgive me for what happened... for what I did... that doesn't really come into play." He shrugged a bit, the shoulder under Giles' hand rising and then falling again. "I think there's just too much history there. Too much, if you'll forgive the phrase, bad blood." Their eyes met again and held this time, and when Wesley spoke, it was with the most gentle voice Giles had ever heard him use. "The last thing I want is to lose your friendship, but... if you still think there might be a chance, for you and I to..."

"I just kissed you, Wesley," Giles pointed out. "Do I normally do that, no matter how friendly I'm feeling?"

He couldn't remember ever being this close to Wesley before – and he wasn't counting anything that had happened when Wesley had been possessed; in fact he was trying to forget that entirely – and he was discovering that Wesley's eyes were bluer than he'd thought, and he'd had his left ear pierced at some point, though the hole was almost healed over. He remembered Xander's open mouthed shock at discovering he'd done the same, the night they'd found him singing at the coffee shop, and smiled, both at the memory, and at Wesley.

"It's not so much a chance as a certainty," he said, matching Wesley's gentle tone. "If you want to, that is. I know how I feel about you, and I know it's what I want... but if it's too soon, I can wait, and if you change your mind, I'll understand."

"It's not too soon." Unexpectedly, Wesley leaned forward, slowly enough so that Giles would be able to move away or stop him if he so chose, and then almost chastely pressed his lips to Giles' in a gentle kiss that ended sooner than Giles would have liked. "If you're sure."

"Can we assume we're both absolutely certain, and then I can kiss you properly?" Giles asked, aware that he sounded plaintive, and not caring. That short kiss had made every ache go away – apart from one – and he felt his control slipping. The last thing he wanted to do was rush Wesley, and he knew they were both still far from back to normal after what they'd gone through, but the space between them was starting to seem like yards, not inches. His hand had slipped down to Wesley's arm and he kept it very still as he waited for Wesley's answer.

When it came, he thought it made all the difficulties of the past two days worth it.

"Yes," Wesley said.

***

Knowing that he was trembling and that there were myriad reasons, Wesley was grateful when Giles leaned in to meet him for their first proper kiss. Giles' hand was warm on his arm, and his mouth tasted like a memory of a dream, familiar and yet new at the same time.

The kiss was deeper than the one Wesley had given Giles but still held a hint of reserve as though Giles was – oh God, was he comparing it to – and he must have been, because he broke it and murmured, with his lips close enough that Wesley could feel them move, "It's different, Wesley. It's better; this is better, you're – "

Then Giles' arm slipped around his shoulders and his mouth was demanding a response Wesley was only too glad to give him.

He didn't care that his face ached or that there was a spot on his chest that felt burnt where the pendant had seared him – all that mattered was Giles' lips, Giles' tongue stroking gently against his own. Wesley put his own arm around Giles' waist and held him as they continued to kiss.

When they finally broke apart, they were both breathing more heavily. Wesley brought his hand up to Giles' face, feeling startlingly close to tears. "Can we... do you think we could..." He didn't want to ask in case the answer was no, but he so wanted to go to bed and have Giles hold him, even if that was all they did.

"We can do anything you want to, Wesley," Giles said, turning his head so that his mouth brushed against Wesley's palm in a lingering kiss. "At least, if it involves moving away from this table." He stood up and drew Wesley with him, wrapping one arm around his shoulders, and kissing him again, bringing his injured hand up to stroke Wesley's cheek gently. "Can we carry on doing this, but in comfort? Which is a subtle way of asking if we can go and lie down, because to be honest, you look as if you're about to collapse, and I'm not far off that state myself."

Wesley was more than happy with that idea, and they made their way toward Giles' bedroom. It wasn't until they'd reached the threshold that he stopped short, reminded of what had gone on there by the rumpled bedclothes and disturbing flashes of distorted memory. It was suddenly difficult to breathe, and he raised a hand to the pendant against his chest, pressing it hard to sore skin to reassure himself that the previous situation wouldn't reoccur.

Giles stopped dead too, his eyes on the bed. "Oh, bloody hell. Look, Wes, let's go to your room. This is just too – " His head turned sharply. "Wes? What are you doing?"

Wesley leaned back against the door frame as Giles reached out and unbuttoned his shirt, running his fingers over the reddened, raw skin he found. "God, I didn't realise it had done this! But you don't need it now, Wesley. You can take it off."

"No," Wesley said quickly. "No, I want to keep it on. Just for now." He looked down at Giles' fingers on his chest. "I want the reminder. But yes, let's go to my room. Why don't you... why don't we both change into something more comfortable for sleeping?"

Leaving Giles in his own room to change clothes, Wesley went to his bedroom – it had been months before he'd been able to think of it as something other than 'the room he slept in' – and stripped out of his clothes, pulling on the bushed cotton trousers and one of the worn T-shirts he generally wore for to bed, taking care not the let the pendant leave his skin throughout the process.

Giles came up beside him, dressed in much the same way, though Wesley had a feeling Giles normally wore rather less when he slept alone, and they stood for one long, awkward moment before Giles grinned and sat down on the bed. "Which side?" he asked politely, tugging down the sheets and getting ready to crawl beneath them.

"It doesn't matter," Wesley said. "It's been so long since I slept in the same bed with someone..."

It took them a couple of minutes to get settled, ending with Wesley's back to Giles' chest, a strong arm wrapped around his waist protectively. It felt safe like that, as if Wesley wouldn't be able to do anything that Giles didn't want – this way, Giles was clearly the one with the upper hand, and that was the way Wesley preferred things, really.

"Are you comfortable?" he asked.

Warm breath tickled his neck as Giles answered him. "Too much so... if I drift off to sleep, will you be offended?" He felt a kiss on the back of his neck, and Giles' arm tightened for a moment. "It's been even longer for me, I expect, but I don't think it ever felt this – " He waited, and Giles finished, his voice soft, "It feels as if we've been doing this for months. As if this is where we belong."

Wesley was already too sleepy himself to agree out loud, so he murmured his assent, feeling the world slip away, the only thing anchoring him to it Giles' arm around his waist.
* * * * *


Yawning and stretching, Wesley woke up and rolled over, blinking at the sunlight coming in through the parted curtains on Giles' window. This was the first morning he was waking without the pendant on since they'd vanquished the Viking warrior, and nothing terrible had happened. It truly was over.

With a happy sigh, he closed his eyes again, grateful that it had taken his cut and bruised face only a few days to heal as he snuggled back down into the pillow and doubly grateful that it was Sunday and they could sleep in.

"It's too late," Giles murmured into his ear, sounding wide-awake. "I've been waiting long enough for you to show signs of life; I'm not going to let you drift off again now you have."

A fingertip traced a path down his spine and paused in the small of his back and then the movement was repeated, this time with the palm of Giles' hand against his skin. He might have been able to ignore that – though he certainly didn't want to – but the gentle nip of teeth against his shoulder, followed by a kiss on the same spot, was impossible to sleep through.

"You could have woken me," Wesley pointed out. He turned over so that he could kiss Giles good morning properly, wrapping an arm around the other man and pulling him closer. "We don't have to go to the office today," he said, completely unnecessarily.

"Which is why I didn't wake you," Giles replied. "I didn't want you growling and snapping at me for disturbing you." The sheer ridiculousness of that idea had Wesley grinning. "On the other hand, it seems a pity to waste a day off by sleeping through most of it. Please note that I'm not saying we have to leave the bed... but there are other things we could be doing."

With a small, entirely pleasurable shock, Wesley realised that Giles was naked. They'd spent the last few nights in the same bed, but done no more than kiss, held back, not by a lack of desire, but by a mutual, unspoken recognition that they needed to put some space between them and what they'd gone through.

Wesley ran a hand down along Giles' spine very slowly, enjoying beyond measure the opportunity to touch bare skin and feel Giles curve into his touch. He kissed Giles again, taking his time about that as well, holding his own body still so as not to rub the evidence of his sudden, powerful desire against Giles. "I get the feeling," he murmured, stopping his hand's downward movement just above Giles' arse, "that you're trying to tell me something."

"If you've only got a 'feeling' that I'm 'trying', then I didn't do a very good job of it, it seems." Giles pursed his lips in pretended thought even as his hand wandered from Wesley's hip to ghost across his bare stomach, grazing the tip of Wesley's erection through the soft fabric that covered it. "Perhaps I should stop talking and show you..."

His hand slid lower and then returned to its position on Wesley's hip with a smooth sweep that dragged his palm slowly across Wesley's cock. The thin material of his trousers rubbed against him and added to the sensations he was feeling.

Wesley gasped, then he retaliated by sliding his own hand lower to cup Giles' arse, squeezing it gently as he leaned in for another kiss. "Show me then," he said, licking Giles' lower lip sensuously. Wanting to make sure that Giles understood what he was saying, he added, "You're in charge. I'd love to do anything you have in mind."

"In charge?" Giles frowned. "I don't – Wesley, it doesn't have to be that way... or the reverse." He stared at Wesley as if judging his sincerity, and his green eyes narrowed. "But if I were, I think I'd be asking you to take these off for a start."

The hand that gripped and tugged at the waistband of his trousers made it quite clear what Giles meant and Wesley helped him to ease them down and off, enjoying the brush of Giles' hand and body against his as Giles didn't move back at all as he wriggled out of them.

Both naked, he decided, as Giles rolled him to his back and lay propped on one elbow beside him, his leg between Wesley's and his hand roaming in teasing patterns over Wesley's chest, was definitely an improvement.

"Oh, that's much better," Giles said, as if he'd heard Wesley's thoughts, leaning down and kissing him, his tongue slipping past Wesley's lips in a slow glide. His hip pressed against Wesley's cock as he shifted position and Wesley felt the hard heat of Giles' erection against his thigh. It made it difficult to concentrate, but he did his best to return the kiss, sliding his hand behind Giles' neck to prolong it.

He so badly wanted to hold Giles' cock, to feel it in his hand, heavy and warm, that he reached down and wrapped his fingers around it, smiling against Giles' lips as the other man groaned softly at the touch. Wesley's level of arousal was building slowly – not the sort that came upon him harsh and fast, but the kind that crept up on him with him hardly noticing – and he let his body move, rubbing again Giles and kissing him and not stopping any of it, just letting it happen.

There was something reassuring and at the same time very not about being pinned to the bed as Giles explored his throat with his mouth, making a point of kissing along the jagged curve of his scar until Wesley's head was tilted back and he was digging his fingernails into Giles' shoulders hard enough to leave deep scarlet crescents when he peeled his hands away.

And when Giles moved his attention further down, biting, not really all that gently at all, at Wesley's nipples until they stung and throbbed and he felt the echo of every bite harden his cock until it ached, that wasn't anything but arousing and he didn't want it to be.

Wesley lifted his hips, pushing his erection up against Giles' stomach, the deep yearning to have Giles inside him an almost painful need. "Please," he begged, as Giles bit and licked at his nipple and one hand slid tantalizingly along his thigh. "Rupert..."

"Mmm?"

If he wasn't in the perfect place to know differently, Wesley might have been fooled by that abstracted murmur into thinking that Giles wasn't paying attention to what he was doing, or to him. He said 'please' again and this time Giles lifted his head long enough to say, with a faint smile, "I thought I was allowed to do anything I wanted, Wesley. Doesn't that include getting to know you... slowly?"

As he spoke, his hand moved to Wesley's cock, gripping it hard and sliding up and down on it once, fast enough that the brief caress was over before Wesley had chance to react, and then releasing it. "Or are you in a hurry?"

The shudder that ran through Wesley's body was like an aftershock, entirely expected but no less devastating, and he couldn't hold back the whimper that escaped him. "I should have known you'd be a tease in bed," he said, trying to inject some humour into the words and, he thought, succeeding. "But you're right... I said that you'd be allowed to do whatever you liked."

He did his best to let Giles continue to touch him without asking for more, and while he managed not to actually speak, he couldn't help but moan and shift his body in response. Giles' hand moved another inch higher, just enough so that, when Wesley clenched his thigh muscles, the knuckle of Giles' thumb brushed against his balls fleetingly, and that made him moan as his erection throbbed in response.

"I have to say, you don't make it easy to go slowly, or to tease you," Giles said, his voice sounding slightly strained. "The way you feel... those sounds you're making – God, Wesley, you're making me want to just – and well, I suppose I can, can't I?"

Before Wesley could work out why Giles was smiling by the end of his sentence, Giles had slid down the bed and Giles' lips closed around the head of his cock, sucking firmly but only for a moment. "If this is too fast, I'll stop," Giles said, a thread of amusement in his voice as he paused, his mouth an inch away from Wesley.

Slowly, Wesley opened his eyes and stared down at Giles.

He really did look disgustingly pleased with himself, Wesley thought dimly, even though most of his own ability to think had deteriorated. Temporarily unable to speak, he watched as Giles' tongue flicked out, painting a wet stripe along his shaft and causing his hips to rise in response. "God, love..." he managed to say, the words almost a caress.

That got him Giles' hand on his cock, holding it in place as he bent his head down again, his other hand flat against Wesley's thigh, fingers spread wide, high enough up on Wesley's leg that his thumb could flick out to rub against the underside of Wesley's balls. "Love you, Wes," Giles murmured between warm, wet kisses on the tip of Wesley's cock, the words doing as much to arouse Wesley as Giles' mouth. "Wanted to show you how much for so long..." He moved his hand down and let Wesley's cock slide deeply into his mouth, sucking at it fiercely as his tongue and teeth worked together to leave Wesley overwhelmed by sensation.

Wesley could feel the muscles in his thighs and calves tighten. He was aware that a series of small sounds was escaping him, and made no effort to hold them back as Giles' mouth continued to do incredible things. His only determination was that he wasn't going to come like this – not until Giles was inside him – but it was already becoming unbelievably difficult.

He closed his eyes again.

Giles paused without moving his head away very far away, leaning on his elbow and glancing up at Wesley. "You sound as if you're enjoying this," he said, circling the head of Wesley's cock with his finger and drawing a whimper from him, "but you're holding back. Do you want me to stop?"

"No. I mean, yes," Wesley said raggedly, biting his lower lip as Giles traced a fingertip down the length of his cock. He rocked his hips slightly, trying to urge Giles' touch to move lower. "I want you to fuck me."

Giles moved up beside him and took Wesley's hand, stroking his thumb over his palm before bringing it to his cock. Wesley's fingers curled around it automatically, feeling it jerk and quiver as he touched it. It felt so hard that his own throbbed in sympathy. "Do you think I don't?" Giles said.

Letting his fingers slide down to caress the soft skin of Giles' inner thigh, Wesley said gently, "No. No, I don't." And he leaned in and kissed Giles, taking his time and channelling all of his love and gratitude into it as their tongues met and his hand began to stroke Giles' cock slowly. "I love you, and I'm not going anywhere. I want to be with you."

As if he'd been waiting to hear that, Wesley felt the last tension leave Giles as he returned Wesley's kiss with an equal amount of fervour before rolling away for just long enough to slick fingers and cock. Without speaking, his eyes never leaving Wesley's, Giles worked his fingers into Wesley's body, leaning forward to kiss him as he did so, his free hand cupping Wesley's face.

Wesley let out a long slow breath as his body adjusted to the welcome invasion, shifting his hips automatically to take Giles' fingers deeper and moaning when they brushed over just the right spot. He spread his legs wider, shuddering as Giles thrust his fingers in more roughly. "God, yes. Please..."

"You have no idea how you look," Giles whispered, as he let his fingers slip out of Wesley almost reluctantly after a few more deep strokes. He ghosted a kiss over Wesley's neck and bit down, not gently, where his lips had been. "Want you, Wesley. Want you now."

Wesley watched Giles's face tense up as his cock nudged against Wesley's body, and he guided it inside him in a series of gradually deepening thrusts.

Still keenly aware of the spot on his throat that Giles had bitten, Wesley cried out as the head of Giles' cock rubbed over his prostate, very nearly coming right then and there. "Yes... yes. More."

And Giles complied, pulling out and thrusting in again, even deeper this time. Wesley curled his spine, raising his head so that he could kiss Giles, revelling in the way Giles' tongue fucked his mouth, his hips never slowing.

There was an intensity to this that he hadn't expected, Wesley thought hazily. Giles had always seemed so controlled, so reserved, for all his friendliness and concern, that he'd assumed he'd be like that in bed too.

Now, with bruises forming where Giles' hands were hard against his body, looking up into eyes filled with need and hunger and love, Wesley changed his mind.

Giles slowed down, keeping each stroke as deep, but easing back a little, keeping them both on the edge of a climax Wesley could feel building within his body. So close...

"I want to see you come, Wes," he said, his voice husky and commanding, reaching between them and taking Wesley's cock inside the tight circle of his hand.

He didn't want to, not yet... he wanted to wait... Wesley squirmed beneath Giles, not so much trying to escape his touch as distract himself from the inevitable for a bit longer. Giles' hand worked his cock authoritatively, his thrusts harder and faster as he neared his own release, and then Giles' mouth was on his again, ravishing, and Wesley came.

It forced its way through him, an enormous jolt accompanied by a shout he couldn't have held back if his life had depended upon it. The subsequent ripples of savage pleasure wrung more cries from him, his body jerking with the magnitude of it.

He heard Giles call out his name in a hoarse voice and saw the face above him contort as he sought release, his smooth rhythm broken down into powerful, almost desperate strokes, his hand still relentlessly tight around Wesley's cock as his come spurted out, slicking Giles' fingers. Then Giles came too, his back arching, his mouth open on a wordless, primal cry.

Wesley pulled Giles down, cradling the other man's body with his own, one hand rubbing the length of Giles' back and the other tangling in Giles' hair, tilting his head so that they could kiss. They were both breathing heavily, their heartbeats racing in tandem, but they kissed as if nothing else mattered.

"Love you," Wesley murmured against Giles' lips. "God, I love you."

"I love you, too," said Giles softly.
* * * * *


Wesley finished writing down the last of the messages and pushed the button to erase them from their voice mail. One completed case saying that the cheque was in the post, a current case leaving information that they needed, and two potential clients inquiring about the services they provided. Their little business was growing by leaps and bounds, each month seeing the arrival of new clients, or the return of old ones. He glanced at the desk calendar and realised that he'd been in England for just over a year now, though that date wasn't one he wanted to celebrate. There were happier anniversaries coming up, after all.

He looked up as Giles opened the door, entering with a small waxed paper bag tucked under his arm and both hands holding paper cups of coffee.

"I'm reminded again why I love you," Wesley said, smiling and moving eagerly to rescue his cup of coffee from Giles.

"You love me because I bring you coffee?" Giles said, putting his own cup on the desk. "Either you're easily pleased, or you're trying to get me in a good mood so I share the donuts." He tossed the bag to Wesley. "Fortunately for you, I'm still in love with you for far purer reasons that have nothing to do with why we were late for work, so I'll let you have first pick."

Setting his coffee cup on the edge of the desk, Wesley opened the bag and peered inside hopefully. "Jam-filled?" he asked, and then spotted a likely candidate and removed it, offering the bag back to Giles even as he took a bite. "Mm – good," he said, around a mouthful of sticky jam. "Purer reasons?" He knew what sorts of answers that question would yield, which, selfishly, was why he asked it.

"Many of them," Giles said, taking the bag and putting it beside his coffee. He studied Wesley and grinned. "You have jam on your chin. Already. You're one of the neatest people I know, and you still can't eat one of those without getting sticky." He leaned back against the desk, arms folded, and looked thoughtful as Wesley scrubbed his chin clean with his handkerchief. "Where was I? Reasons for loving you that have nothing to do with the way you make those little whimpery noises when I – "

The phone rang, and Giles rolled his eyes, gave Wesley a swift, hard kiss, and went to answer it, licking powdered sugar off his lips as he reached for a pen.

Wesley studied Giles carefully as he spoke to the caller and jotted down notes, not really paying attention the conversation, more watching the way Giles' mouth formed words.

Since they'd killed the Viking warrior and started to share a bed as well as a life, Wesley had begun to feel for the first time as if he'd really left L.A. behind him, where it belonged. He wouldn't forget, of course, but he was learning to let it go, to focus on the present and future instead of the past. He felt... content. It was an unusual feeling, something that he was still trying to get accustomed to, but he liked it.

Being loved was something he didn't want to get used to. He didn't think he'd ever take that for granted. Giles looked up, met his eyes, and smiled at him, and Wesley smiled back.

Then his mind made sense of what Giles was saying to the person on the other end of the line and he stood up. A Threknar demon? They were going to need the big axe...

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