Cascade

~ Co-written with Wolfling [website]

Authors' Notes: This story was originally part of an RPG which - don't ask. You will never see. But this story was a sort of interlude, and I've edited out the RPG plot to make it a stand-alone. Hopefully it works. ;-)

This story diverges from canon after Wesley tried to kidnap Connor. It takes place approximately one year following those events, but without any of that nasty canon stuff getting in the way.

~~~~~

Part One

Wesley had sat in the living room all evening, reading -- a book he'd borrowed from Daffodil's Books as he'd read his own a hundred times over already. It was one of the few benefits to working at a bookshop -- one of the disadvantages was not being able to keep all the books he enjoyed. But it was, at least, a job and one he couldn't complain about having. He was lucky to have employment, given that he had no workvisa and no reason to return to the country where he could legally live and work.

He supposed he might have worked for himself, been the demon hunter he'd once pretended to be. But the thought of fighting evil held less appeal than he'd have expected. Not only was it difficult to think he might make a difference, but there was too much chance of running into Angel and the others.

Until he found a way to get to the Quor-toth dimension and rescue Connor, he wanted to stay as far away from Angel as possible.

For the last few weeks, he'd found himself in a rather unlikely correspondence. Rupert Giles, after returning to England some months before, had contacted him to inquire about a scroll Wesley had once drafted a report on for the Watcher's Council. It had been a minor, mostly uninteresting scroll -- so everyone had thought. Rupert had discovered it might be relevant to some new, upcoming apocalypse, and had sent email to ask Wesley what he remembered.

Somehow, after Wesley had shared what he knew, they'd continued corresponding. They'd...Wesley wouldn't say grown fond, but they'd come to understand one another better. Rupert had even nagged him about staying up all night doing research, and cajoled him into agreeing to eat dinner more regularly. It was fast becoming a standing joke between them, Wesley felt. Signing off email, and ending telephone conversations, with promises to eat, sleep, and look after himself.

Of course, there had been nothing at all for the last three days. Rupert had left his place in Bath to go to London to pick up some journals he'd thought would help Wesley in his search for Connor. While there, he'd been contacted by the daughter of an old friend, asking for help with some unspecified trouble. Wesley suspected it was demonic trouble, but Rupert had made it sound less dangerous than "demonic" might have been. That bit of information had come the first day; Rupert had said he would ring or email again with an update. So far, he hadn't.

Wesley was sitting by the phone, and had left his laptop on so he could check his email periodically. But there was still no word from Rupert. It was probably unnecessary, and no doubt foolish, but Wesley was freely admitting now, that he was worried.

He tried telling himself he need not be -- but he'd tried calling again, sent email, and hadn't heard a thing. He'd even tried calling the Council Headquarters and been told quite succinctly that they didn't know where he was, didn't care if Wesley wanted to leave a message, and good day. He was sitting on the couch, now, wondering who he might contact in England who could...well, do anything. Track Rupert down? Track this Clarissa down? Call the hospitals?

Wesley told himself quite firmly that he was over-reacting. There was nothing *wrong*. If there were.... Would anyone think to tell *him*?

Wesley glanced up at the clock and sighed. It was nearly midnight, and far too late to call simply because he was worrying. Over nothing, he told himself again. It was just... demons, and Rupert not calling three evenings in a row after he'd said-- Wesley chided himself. There was no reason to assume anything simply because Rupert hadn't *called*. Though he'd said he would, that didn't mean he would never become too busy to call at a decent hour. Perhaps he was even home, now, and thinking it was too late for *him* to call Wesley.

His hand crept towards the phone, and he snatched it back. Surely Rupert would answer his email, though, if he thought it too late to ring. Only he hadn't, as of fifteen minutes ago. Wesley set his book aside to go check again, when the phone rang. Wesley jumped, and grabbed the receiver. "Hello?"

"Hello, Wesley."

"Rupert!" Wesley sat up straight, in his relieved surprise. "You sound exhausted -- did you just get back from London?"

"Yes. Just now." He sounded more than exhausted -- he sounded tired down to the bone.

"Are you all right? What happened?"

"The encounter with the Alznoch demons did not go quite as planned." Rupert's voice was a monotone that was beginning to alarm Wesley.

Then he registered what Rupert had said. "*Alznoch* demons? Good lord -- are you all right? Is...is Clarissa all right?" Wesley tried to loosen his grip on the receiver.

There was a long silence that gave away the answer before Rupert spoke. "She's dead."

"Oh my lord. Rupert, I'm sorry." Wesley fell back on the couch. "Is...there anything I can do?"

"I...Thank you, but no. There's nothing anyone can do." He heard Rupert sigh deeply. "She's dead," Rupert repeated in a softer voice.

"I'm sorry," Wesley repeated. He set his book aside, not even bothering with any sort of bookmark. "What happened?" he asked carefully, not sure if Rupert would want to talk about it, or not.

"I...miscalculated. Let my guard down too soon. We managed to take care of the main nest but I missed one."

Wesley didn't know what to say to that -- he knew perfectly well what it was like. A miscall, finding out the other side was simply stronger or faster or had one more body on their side than you'd planned for. "You're all right?" he asked again.

Rupert was slow in answering. "I'll survive," he finally said.

"What happened?" Wesley asked again, stressing the words. If Rupert wasn't going to tell him -- either it was incredibly minor, or...he didn't want Wesley to worry.

"A broken arm, a couple of cracked ribs...and it tagged me with its claws."

"It *what*?" Wesley was on his feet before he realised he was standing up. "Are you all right? Did they have the antidote for the poison? Rupert -- god, are you going to be all right?" He fought to urge to grab his jacket and run for the door -- Rupert was in England, there was nothing Wesley could do for him that a hundred others couldn't do as well, and had probably already done.

"I'm going to be fine," Rupert was quick to reassure him, though the exhaustion in his voice made it less convincing than it might have otherwise been. "I didn't get a lethal dose."

"You keep saying 'going to be'. Where are you?" Perhaps he was calling from hospital, and there was no need to be alarmed. He realised he was gripping the phone tightly, again. He tried to calm down, telling himself if Rupert were talking to him he was, by default, alive. Alive. Oh, god. He could have been -- "Where are you calling from?" he asked again, hoping his voice would hide the tremble within it's scar-induced growl.

"I'm at home. I checked out of the hospital this morning. It's all right, Wesley, really."

"If it's all right, why do you keep saying you're *be* all right?" Wesley had to lower his voice, to avoid shouting over the phone at him.

"Because it is and I will be." Rupert sighed. "The poison does take some time to recover from."

It certainly did. Wesley remembered everything he'd learnt about Alznoch demons, and their poison. The poison was fatal in large doses, and even in the tiniest of doses could knock a person off their feet for days. Rupert *should* have been in hospital for the week, unless -- "Who's there with you?" If someone were caring for him, he'd be more comfortable in his own flat. Wesley thought if he could get that person on the phone, he could find out how Rupert was really doing.

"Here with me?" Rupert echoed. "No one. I'm alone."

"Who's helping you?" Perhaps whomever it was had stepped out for a moment?

"Helping?" It was clear from the guilty surprise in Rupert's voice that the answer was once again 'no one.'

"You were discharged after being poisoned by Alznoch demons and there's no one to take care of you?" Wesley couldn't believe it. "What the fuck did they think, you'd simply lie on the couch and slowly starve to death when you couldn't get up?" He was furious -- how could the doctors have let him leave?

"Wesley, really, it's all right. I'm not that much of an invalid. I was able to make it home from London and everything."

"You're certain?"

"Am I certain I made it home?" There was a hint of amusement in his voice, but only served to underscore how exhausted he sounded. How much he must have been hurting.

"That's you're all *right*," Wesley snapped. At this rate he was going to have to fly over to England just to get a straight answer out of the man.

"Oh. Yes, of course. I said so, didn't I?"

"Then say it so I believe you. Explain to me exactly how all right you are, and how you're not lying on the couch too tired and sick to move should you get hungry or need to go to the bathroom, and tell me who's going to be 'round in the morning to check that you haven't died during the night, then I won't come over there and make you explain it to me in person." Wesley didn't bother trying to hide the fear in his voice -- he didn't know why he was convinced Rupert wasn't telling him the truth -- but if he were truly, honestly all right he would have said so, right off. Not talked around it and insisted he'd *be* all right.

"Wesley, I..." Rupert paused. "What do you mean you'll come over?"

"I'll come over. I'll pick up my passport from the Hyperion, drive out to LAX and get on a plane to England." He hadn't ever been permitted to return to the hotel, not even to get his things from the office. Books, papers, all left there. Who knew what Angel had done with them?

Perhaps he would visit someone he knew who could draw him up a fake passport.

Meanwhile, Rupert was sounding stunned. "You -- you can't be serious."

"Of course I'm serious. If you're not going to tell me how exactly you plan on surviving the next few days without making yourself worse than you already are, then the only thing I can do is come over there and mind you, myself." Wesley paused, and in a much less angry tone, he offered, "Unless you'd rather someone else came. I could call Buffy, or...any of them. If you'd prefer."

"No," Rupert said quickly. "I don't want to make them worry. In fact, please... don't mention this to them."

As though Wesley ever spoke to any of them? Wesley didn't say that out loud. "Then I'm coming over." Carrying the phone with him, Wesley headed towards the bedroom to start packing.

"Wesley, you don't have to--"

"Then tell me who is going to be there. Or explain to me exactly how you're going to manage alone." Wesley was willing to be convinced -- he hoped Rupert could convince him that it wasn't as serious as he was letting Wesley believe. That his health wasn't such that he needed any assistance at all. He continued to search out his suitcase, though, and began to dig out clean clothes to put in it.

Rupert was silent for a long moment, long enough for Wesley to make up his mind. "I can manage on my own, really, Wesley. I've done it before."

"Yes, that was very convincing," Wesley told him. "Next you should tell me I've won a television and all I have to do is attend a lecture on time-shares." He threw a pile of clothes into the suitcase -- four days' worth would be plenty. He could do laundry easily enough while he was there if he had to stay longer.

"I have, you know." Rupert was sounding just a little bit sulky now. "If I didn't think I could, I wouldn't have checked myself out of the hospital."

Wesley sighed. "I'm not talking about every other time. I'm talking about *now*." He paused in his packing, and said quietly, "Tell me, then. Tell me honestly that you don't need assistance, and I won't fly over."

There was another long silence, then Rupert sighed. "You...really are willing to do this?"

Wesley finished putting his clothes in the suitcase and headed to the bathroom for his toiletries. "As I recall, you were willing to fly out here to hold my hand so I could sleep." Just two weeks before, Rupert had made that threat. Wesley hadn't been sleeping again, lost in the grip of research. Obsession, Rupert had called it. Desperation, what he hadn't said. But Wesley had been close -- so he'd thought at the time -- to finding a way to travel among the dimensions.

He'd since discovered that it had been a dead end. But for a few days he'd dared hope -- and Rupert had had to threaten him to stop reading long enough to sleep.

"Well, yes, but that's--"

"What? It's all right if it's me?" Wesley continued towards the bathroom, then stopped. Unless it was just *him* Rupert didn't want flying over. He'd said he didn't want to worry Buffy and the others, but he hadn't precisely said he wanted *Wesley* visiting, either. He realised he might be making things very awkward for Rupert -- forcing him to decline the offer without saying he simply didn't want Wesley there. He froze where he stood, shirt in hand, half-folded for the suitcase. "If...if you would prefer, I could simply call your doctor's surgery and arrange for a District nurse to come by. If--"

"No." Rupert interrupted him firmly. "I don't... not a stranger, please. I...if you really don't mind coming all this way..."

Wesley smiled. "Of course I don't mind. I can be there in the morning. If you'll give me your address, that is?"

Rupert gave it to him. "Wesley? Thank you."

"You're welcome." Wesley sighed, glad to feel a respite from the anger and fear-induced adrenalin rush he'd been trying to ignore. He started to ask a question, decided it was silly -- then asked it anyway. "Will you be all right until I get there?"

"I'll be all right," Rupert assured him again.

"Finally, I believe you," Wesley said, lightly.

"Good."

"I'm almost packed -- I have to pick up my passport, which shouldn't take long." Henry prided himself on a two-hour turnaround, and thank god he owed Wesley a couple of favours. But there was something else that would require purchase. He hated to ask, but it wasn't as though he had the funds to do it, himself. Working at the bookshop paid his rent and utilities, but not much else. Since his father had cut him off the moment he'd been fired from the Council some years back, he had no access to what should have been his inherited money either.

There was no other way, but he suddenly wasn't certain he should. But the alternative was to leave Rupert alone.

Steeling himself to ask, Wesley said, "Could you...that is, my ticket. I can't... I don't have a credit card."

"I'll have a ticket waiting for you at the airport." There was a bit more life finally seeping back into Rupert's voice. "I think I can manage that much."

"Thank you. I hate to impose, after trying so hard to talk you into letting me come," Wesley teased, hoping to disguise the actual chagrin he felt. "I'll pay you back as soon as I'm able. It would have to be in installments; I can pay you a bit when I get to England--"

"It's all right," Rupert interrupted. "I...will be glad of the company."

Wesley smiled. "Then I'd better get going. I'll call you in an hour and you can give me the flight details."

"I'll be waiting."


Giles woke up, clawing his way out of a jumbled nightmare that involved Eyghon, Alznoch demons, torture, and listening to Clarissa scream long after she had been killed. Reality, he found, wasn't much better. His arm and ribs throbbed and his whole body ached with the least little movement. He swore he could feel the poison burning through his veins, making him uncannily aware of every millimeter of his circulatory system. Tiny little demons riding the wave of his blood, biding their time, looking for his weakest spot to attack.

He could be, he reflected, just the tiniest bit delirious. With a groan, he got himself to a sitting position on the couch, but then had to stop and catch his breath. His mouth felt like something had crawled in there to die. He didn't think he could eat anything, but he probably could hold down a cup of tea.

Giles eyed the kitchen which was the impossibly long distance of twelve feet away. Then again, just sitting was an accomplishment he shouldn't underestimate. If he did everything now, what would he have to look forward to tomorrow? Perhaps he'd save the triumph of making tea for the morning.

He sat there for what must have been several hours, before there came a sound at the door and he realised what had woken him. He had a dim memory of a doorbell, and he looked across the room towards the front door. Perhaps it was a salesman, and he could ignore it without feeling guilty. While he sat there, the sound came again and he realised someone was unlocking his front door with something small and metallic and much too scratchy to be a key.

Well. A burglar, then, and he'd have to settle for looking very stern to try and scare him off. As the door swung opn, Giles tensed -- and Wesley stepped inside. He blinked at the younger man, wondering if he was still asleep. Wesley couldn't be here, he was in California. He vaguely recalled a phone conversation and some business with reserving tickets, but that had been part of his dream too, hadn't it?

Perhaps it was a dream, because this wasn't exactly the Wesley he knew. This was an older, more worn version of the impossibly young, well-dressed man he'd met in Sunnydale. There were lines on his face and a scar across his neck -- of course. He wasn't dreaming, this was simply the first time he'd seen Wesley in person since the night after the children had graduated.

Wesley looked at him, a concerned expression on his face, then he stepped further inside the door, set a suitcase on the floor, and closed the door behind him, turning around to lock it securely. "Sorry about breaking in. I rang the bell, but when you didn't answer I thought you might have been asleep." As Giles simply stared at him, Wesley stared back. Then he looked around a bit, frowned slightly, and walked over. "You've slept on the couch all night, haven't you? Have you had supper?"

Supper? Giles frowned. "I was going to make tea," he finally offered. "Eventually."

"Oh, yes, I can quite see how able you are to care for yourself." Wesley frowned harder, and had crossed his arms. He looked rather like Giles' Uncle Stewart, when he'd caught young Rupert tracking mud into the house after he'd sworn he'd keep his nice clothes clean if he could just go out for a moment to play. Wesley came over and glanced at the floor, then picked up a blanket from somewhere, and spread it over Giles. "Lie down. I'll make some breakfast. Then you're going to bed."

"I just sat up," he protested.

"Yes, and you've been sitting for nearly five minutes. I'm sure you're exhausted. Lie down." Wesley pushed very slightly on Giles' shoulder.

"Maybe just a bit tired," he admitted as he let Wesley push him back down. "But I could've continued sitting. I'm quite good at it actually. Sitting and watching. Used to do it for a living."

"Did you, now?" Wesley's voice came to him from a distance, and now he was reminding Giles of his Great-Aunt Margaret, listening to Rupert as a very young boy tell her childish things with the upmost sincerity. She'd always nodded, and said things like 'Did they, now' and 'Really? My word.'

"Yes." He started to nod, but then thought better of the extra movement. "Sitting and watching. And getting hit on the head. Though that wasn't really part of the job, it just seemed to happen quite a bit." He frowned again. "And I think I might be a little bit delirious."

"Really." Wesley didn't sound surprised. In fact, if Giles could trust his slightly muddled thinking, he rather thought the younger man sounded sarcastic. He thought about a good retort, but before anything came to mind, Wesley called out from the tiny kitchen. "Do you want some toast? Or are you actually up for something stronger?"

"Something stronger?" he repeated, visions of toast with slayer strength patrolling his kitchen and keeping it safe from evil foodstuffs appearing in his mind. Yes, he was definitely delirious.

"I'll just make toast, then. Lie down," Wesley repeated.

Giles frowned; hadn't he done that already? Then he realized he'd sat back up again to try and see Wesley when he answered the question about Slayer toast. "Sorry," he muttered as he laid back down. He felt exhausted.

"It's all right. Close your eyes." Wesley sounded very industrious in there. It was an easy command to obey so he did so. Immediately after, Wesley was saying in a very quiet, very nearby voice, "Rupert? Are you awake?"

"Hmmmuh?" Giles managed, opening his eyes. His eyelids felt like they'd gained an extra stone.

Wesley was crouched down, looking at him. Beside him was a tray with tea and toast with jam. "Are you awake?" he asked again, very quietly.

It took him a minute to assess. "I think so," he finally answered.

"Excellent. Do you recall the unterrenecis of the calberflan?"

Giles blinked at him. "What?"

"The caberflan. Did you remember to unterici it?" Wesley was looking at him rather seriously, though the corner of his mouth was flickering.

Giles stared at him for a moment and in a sudden burst of clear thought, realised what he was doing. "Wesley," he said, "it's not nice to mess with the delirious man's mind."

"Ah, but now I'm certain you're awake, and won't choke on your tea when I try to give it to you." Wesley smiled, not sounding very repentant as he held out a cup.

Tea. Giles reached for the cup eagerly. At that moment if someone had given him a choice between a cup of tea and the answers to every mystery in the universe, he would've chosen the tea. Wesley said nothing as he raised the cup to his mouth, watching with a rather sardonic expression that Giles thought he might ask about later. After tea.

It was just this side of too hot and prepared just the way he liked it, which surprised him until he remembered just how closely Wesley had watched him back in Sunnydale. It felt so good going down his throat, each swallow seeming to clear his mind a little bit more. Wesley was still crouching beside the sofa, watching him, holding the plate of toast at the ready as soon as Giles let go of the tea cup long enough to be distracted by food.

Which he was only willing to do when he had drained it. "Thank you," he said, handing the cup back and reaching for the toast which he thought he could handle now.

"You're welcome." Wesley -- still balanced on the balls of his feet -- reached over and poured a second cup of tea, then held it while Giles started on the toast.

Giles looked at it and hesitated for a minute before deciding to finish the toast first, which he did as quickly as he could. Then he reached for the second cup of tea.

"It isn't going anywhere, Rupert. There's no need to choke on the toast," Wesley remarked as he handed over the cup, taking the plate away so Giles wouldn't have to juggle everything with his one good hand. He felt mildly chagrined at that, but not enough to slow down consuming his second cup of tea.

When the cup was empty, he found Wesley taking it from his hand as soon as he lowered it, and setting a piece of toast in its place. He ate this piece more slowly as some of the painful fog was lifting from his mind. "You put something in the tea."

Wesley blinked and looked surprised.

Giles wasn't quite up to sorting through his knowledge of demon poison antidotes to figure out what exactly Wesley had put in, but he was sure he had put something. "It's helping. Thank you."

"Good. I did notice that you didn't have any Msagruin root. Rather a good thing I brought some." Wesley gave Giles a somewhat scolding look.

"Yes. Well. Thank you," he said again. He was starting to feel like that little boy being faced down by his uncle, again.

"You're welcome." Wesley just sat there, distinctly not scolding him. Not unless you considered that look in his eyes which told you he remembered exactly what you'd said that was now so blatantly not true that he doesn't think you would even have the courage to insist it was or ever had been true.

He wasn't quite prepared for that conversation, so instead he asked, "What time is it?"

"It's mid-morning. Ten thirty two, to be precise.'

Giles frowned. "I seemed to have lost a few hours." A thought occurred. "What day is it?"

The quivering in the corner of Wesley's mouth came back. "Wednesday."

"Oh." He tried to think back. "Are you certain?"

"Which of us is delirious?"

"Actually I'm feeling much less...foggy. But point taken." He frowned again. "I seemed to have lost Tuesday altogether." He thought about it for another few seconds. "Or perhaps it was Monday I lost."

"Yes, I can see there really was no need for anyone to come over and assist you during your recovery." Wesley said, very dryly.

Giles sighed, accepting the 'told you so' with as much good grace as he could muster. "I didn't want a stranger. And...there really isn't anyone here I could have asked."

Wesley reached for Giles' hand -- Giles noticed belatedly that Wesley was holding a cup filled with tea. "I understand," Wesley said quietly. For a moment Giles thought he might even be off the hook. Then Wesley said in a hard tone, "Next time, call."

"I did," he pointed out meekly, taking the cup and drinking the tea a bit more slowly than before.

"The moment you realised what had happened, how badly you were hurt, and what your options were?" Wesley pressed.

"The moment I realised how badly I was hurt, I was a bit preoccupied with the girl dying in my arms." His voice was harsher than he had intended, but the memory and the pain accompanying it were still far too fresh.

He saw Wesley flinch, though he blanked out his expression almost immediately. Wesley stood smoothly, picking up the teapot as he did so. "I'll make some more tea," he said quietly, and there was a distance there that hadn't been since the first time they'd spoken.

Damn. Smooth move, Rupert, he thought. Like he hadn't hurt enough people lately. "Wesley, wait. I'm sorry. It's not you."

"It's all right," Wesley replied, and his tone sounded much more informal, as though the comment were already forgotten. But there was still something. "I misspoke; the error was mine."

"No, the error was mine. I..." He trailed off, the weekend replaying in his mind. He looked down at his hands, but all he could see was Clarissa's trusting face. "I promised her that I would protect her."

"I know," Wesley said, simply.

"We were on our way out when it attacked. We thought it was all over and then..." Giles trailed off, the images of those chaotic, terrifying few minutes stealing his power of speech.

There was a soft clink of ceramic from the kitchen, the very normalcy of it drawing him back, a bit, from the memories. "Then what happened?" Wesley asked calmly.

"It went for me first. I was the bigger threat, you see." He closed his eyes, seeing it all play out again. "It had me down on my back and was about to finish me when Clarissa jumped it."

He heard Wesley walking back towards him. "She saved your life."

"Yes. At the cost of hers. I was supposed to protect *her*."

"I'm sorry."

Giles ran his good hand over his face wearily. When he looked, he found Wesley giving him a carefully composed look of sympathy. Genuinely felt, but proper and polite all the same. Giles sighed. "I am so tired of the dying."

"Yes." Wesley poured another cup of tea, and held it out for him.

"Thank you," he said softly, taking it. Wesley set the pot down, and busied himself with tidying up the now empty plate of toast, and taking it back to the kitchen. Giles watched him, realizing how good it felt to not be alone. It had been so long he had gotten used to the emptiness, but now... "I'm glad you're here."

"I'm glad I could come," Wesley answered. "Is there anything else you need?"

"I..." He blanked on anything beyond, "Stay?"

Wesley looked over at him, looking slightly startled. "Of course. I thought that was clear -- oh, but that was last night when we talked. I'm sure you were a bit feverish. I'll be staying to the end of the week, at least." Wesley was moving things about in the kitchen, either tidying up or simply trying to disguise nerves.

Giles watched for a moment, trying to figure out what exactly was bothering him. "Why does it feel like you're trying to leave already then?"

"Already...? I'm not leaving." Wesley put down a rag he'd been using to wipe the counter clean and walked back into the living room. "I'm sorry. I...suppose--" He looked around the room, though what for Giles couldn't fathom. Then Wesley simply sat in one of the chairs and looked at him. "Did you want to talk? You said you found some journals while you were-- in London." He flushed guiltily.

"Yes, I did. I'll show them to you when I'm feeling better." He regarded Wesley with a frown, wondering why it felt like he was further away now, than when they'd been talking on the phone from opposite sides of the world.

There was the barest smile, and Wesley asked, "You don't trust me to look at them while you're sleeping?"

"Of course I do," he protested, leaning forward toward the other man, then grunting a little at the pain of his ribs.

Wesley was out of his chair in an instant, and coming over to the couch. "Let me -- what do you need?"

"A new set of ribs," he gasped out as he gingerly leaned back again.

"I'm afraid I haven't brought any." Wesley remained standing there, hand out. "Would you be more comfortable in bed?"

"Not alone." The words were out before he thought.

There was no reaction, however. Wesley simply stood there, hand out. "I could read over the journals while you get some rest," he offered as though Giles hadn't made any sort of untoward suggestion.

"It that's what you want to do," Giles acquiesced with a sigh. "Though I'm beginning to think you came more to see the journals than me."

"I came here to make sure you didn't lie on that couch unable to make yourself tea," Wesley said in a quiet voice.

Giles sighed again. He couldn't be hurt too badly as he still seemed to be maintaining a talent for putting his foot in his mouth. "I know," he said quietly, holding Wesley's gaze as he spoke. "And I appreciate it, truly."

"Do you need any more?" Wesley incanted his head slightly, towards the cup in Giles' hand.

He looked down at the empty cup. "Not at the moment, thank you."

"Do you want a hand up?"

"So you can put me to bed?"

"I thought after four cups of tea, you might need a trip to the toilet."

"Oh." He blinked and considered. "Couldn't hurt." What he really wanted was a shower but he didn't think, even with the Msagruin root his legs were quite up to that yet and wasn't sure what Wesley's reaction would be if he asked for help. Wesley held out his hand to help him stand up. He clasped the hand and let Wesley pull him up, wincing at the movement to his ribs.

"Which way is it?" Wesley asked.

"Down the hall." He nodded in the proper direction. "Beside the bedroom."

Wesley nodded, and keep his firm grip on Giles' arm. Slowly, they began walking towards the loo, Wesley taking as much of Giles' weight and providing as much balance as Giles allowed. And Giles hated it. Not having Wesley here and certainly not having Wesley help him, but feeling like a bloody invalid.

Feeling helpless. It wasn't something he'd ever taken to well. Every step in which he tried to take back some of that weight and balance, he felt Wesley letting it go -- only to reabsorb it immediately with the next step as Giles began to falter.

It was making him tense and cranky and he had to bite his lip to keep from taking it out on Wesley. Finally they reached the bathroom, and Wesley paused. "Do you need--"

"No," he cut Wesley off. Then took a deep breath and moderated his voice. "Thank you. But there are some things..."

"A man must do for himself?" Wesley completed the thought, in a more friendly and understanding tone than he'd been using before. He let go of Giles, though he made sure Giles had a firm grip on the doorjab, before doing so.

"Indeed. Thank you," he repeated, ignoring the faint dizziness he was feeling as he took a step unassisted.

Wesley remained outside the bathroom, watching for a moment, to make sure Giles didn't fall over onto his face.

"I'm fine," Giles told him pointedly when it seemed like he wasn't going to leave. Wesley nodded, and left, heading back towards the living room.

He managed to use the facilities without doing any more damage to himself, even if the floor seemed to be tilting as he did so. When he was done, he looked at the door and considered calling Wesley to help him back out. But it wasn't that long a walk and he could lean against the wall.

He got halfway to the door before his legs gave out and he fell into a heap on the floor. He couldn't prevent the small, pained cry as he landed. There was nothing for a moment, then the sound of someone walking closer. Wesley stopped in the doorway for only a second, before coming over and crouching down, reaching for Giles' arm. "Come on," was all he said.

Giles let Wesley help him back up, fuming the entire time at his weakness.

"Bed, or back to the couch?" Wesley asked, in an even tone that managed to not sound condescending.

Giving in to the inevitable, he growled, "Bed."

Wesley said nothing, merely took nearly all of Giles' weight as he helped him walk the few feet into the bedroom and to the bed. When they reached it, Wesley had Giles turned around and sitting, before he could argue that he could do for himself. Wesley knelt in front of him and began unlacing Giles' shoes.

It was gradually dawning on Giles that Wesley was not scolding him. He frowned. "Wesley?"

"Yes?" Wesley lifted Giles' foot and slipped off one shoe, then did the same with the other.

"You're not...saying anything."

"There's nothing to say," he said easily. He stood up, and looked down at him. "Do you want your shirt and trousers off?"

"You're not scolding me." He wasn't aware exactly how much that was bothering him until he heard the hurt in his own voice.

Wesley looked surprised. "There's nothing to scold you for. You're injured, and recovering from Alznoch poison. Of course you're going to find it difficult to stand for long."

"You scolded me before," he pointed out.

"You were momentarily feeling better. When you've had some rest, I'll scold again if you want." Wesley stood there, waiting patiently. "Did you want to lie down and rest? Or do you prefer to sit up and read?"

"Neither." He wasn't quite up to reading yet, and resting would only mean more nightmares.

Wesley paused, obviously thinking. "I could turn on the radio? Or...read aloud?"

He hesitated briefly over the offer to read aloud, but shook his head. He wanted to feel more connected than that, wanted to know, soul deep that he wasn't alone. "Just...talk to me?"

Wesley nodded. "Do you mind if I go get myself a cup of tea?"

"No, of course. I'll..." He managed a sardonic smile, "wait here."

Wesley smiled for just a moment, and it lightened his face in a way that made Giles' heart clench. "You do that. Shall I bring you anything?" he asked as he headed for the door.

"If you happen across a new set of ribs or a new, much younger body I wouldn't turn it down. Other than that, I'm fine."

With a faint grin, Wesley nodded again, and left.

Sitting at the end of the bed, Giles realised he couldn't easily scoot himself back towards the headboard. Carefully, he lay back where he was, staring at the ceiling as he waited for Wesley to return. He tried to still his mind, tried to think of nothing, but wasn't particularly successful.

He worried. About Wesley, about Buffy and the others. About Angel, surprisingly enough. Wesley had told him a great deal about the events of a year ago, about the infant, Connor, who was lost. Giles had promised Wesley to do all he could to help find him. Giles worried about failing them, about having more deaths on his conscience. In the back of his mind, the events of the weekend kept playing over and over, his mind unable to stop looking for what he could have done differently to change the outcome. Each loop ended with Clarissa, dead in his arms.

The repeating memory was disturbed when Wesley came back into the bedroom, holding a cup. He stopped just inside the doorway and looked around. There was no place to sit other than the bed.

"I don't bite," Giles assured him.

"Are you going to stay there on the edge of the bed?" Wesley asked, hinting at the fact that it might not be the most comfortable spot to spend the afternoon. Wesley, however, did not move from the doorway, yet.

"I might be persuaded to move," he responded, carefully not saying that he wasn't sure if he would be able to by himself without pain.

He saw Wesley regarding him, considering the way Giles was stretched out on the lower half of the bed, knees bent over the edge of the bed and feet still on the floor. Finally he shook his head. "I'm not certain it can be done without...causing you pain." There was the slightest smile on his face as he spoke.

"I am becoming resigned to the fact that there's very little at the moment that won't cause me pain," he replied, then held out his good hand to Wesley and said two words that were very difficult for him to utter. "Help me?"

Wesley set his cup down on the top of the dresser, and walked over. He took hold of Giles' hand, and slipped his other hand underneath Giles' other shoulder. Then he braced himself and pulled. It hurt, but Giles was able to keep the groan of pain from escaping. He collapsed back against the pillows when Wesley had gotten him straightened around and waited for everything to stop throbbing.

"Do you want any painkillers?" Wesley asked in that same, quiet, conscientious tone.

He shook his head. "Not with the Alznoch poison in my system."

Wesley cleared his throat. "I actually did not *mean* conventional painkillers."

"Oh. I suppose...I should have realised that."

"Mm. Do you want something for the pain?" Wesley asked again in a leading tone.

Looking at Wesley's expression, Giles decided that there was only one correct answer that wouldn't get him scolded. "Yes?"

Wesley nodded, half-smiling -- and walked over to the dresser, picked up the cup of tea sitting there and brought it over.

Giles raised an eyebrow as he took it. "I thought you had gotten that for yourself?"

"I poured myself a cup before I added the hruvia leaf. I left it in the kitchen to cool."

He sipped at the tea, noting that it had been sweetened enough to offset the bitter aftertaste of the leaf. "Thank you."

Wesley gave him a nod, and left the room again. Giles slowly drank his tea and waited for Wesley to return, already feeling the hruvia leaf taking effect. By the time Wesley came back carrying his cup -- and the pot in the other hand -- Giles was beginning to feel noticeably better. "Did you want more?" Wesley asked, indicating the pot of tea.

He held the cup out for Wesley to refill. Wesley came over and poured out, as neatly and precisely as any Englishman of good breeding. Then flipped the teatowel off his arm with two fingers of the hand holding his own cup of tea, dropped it flat onto the nightstand and set the pot there -- all nicely within Giles' reach. He took his own cup of tea to the foot of the bed, where he carefully perched, managing to look comfortable and relaxed as he sat down without jostling the bed any more than humanly possible.

Giles watched him for a moment. "This wasn't how I was hoping to get you to come for a visit."

It had come to a surprise to him, as their correspondence had progressed, that he'd grown to like Wesley. Granted, the younger man had changed until the Watcher who had come to Sunnydale to replace him was almost unrecognisable in the person Wesley was now. Giles had supposed it was shared experience that made it so easy to get along with Wesley -- someone raised to be a Watcher and all that entailed, and who had grown disillusioned with the sanctity of the Council. Wesley was the only other person who truly understood what Giles meant when he called the Council a bunch of prats.

But beyond that, he'd found himself enjoying conversation with Wesley, and looking forward to the times when they'd talk. They were, in fact, the high point of his days which were otherwise filled with the utter inanity of working again for the Council he'd once been fired from.

Giles had only begun toying with the idea of inviting him to visit, when such had been necessitated by his own injuries. He hadn't brought the subject up to Wesley, yet, and had no idea what he would have said if the invitation had been for purely social reasons. Even now he'd given no answer, just sat there smiling again. It was a friendly smile. Pleasant. And as distant and formal as a stone.

It was quickly going to drive Giles out of what was left of his mind. "Would you feel more comfortable if you went in the other room and I called you?" he asked, a touch dryly.

He saw Wesley give a tiny start of surprise. "I'm sorry?"

"Wesley, having -- literally -- picked me up off the floor and put me to bed, I think we can lose the formality, don't you?"

Wesley didn't reply immediately -- opening and closing his mouth twice, attempting to answer, but no sound came forth. Finally he looked down at his hands, and said, "I didn't want to...disturb you. Do anything else improper."

"Well, stop it. Because *that* is disturbing me."

"I--" Wesley gaped for a moment, looking even more surprised. "I wasn't...I'm sorry. I wasn't-- didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

"It's all right." Giles sighed, too tired to deal with this. "Just be yourself, Wesley. I'm rather fond of you, remember?" That he had said aloud, before. More than once, because Wesley had initially responded with disbelief far too strongly for Giles' comfort. It had taken some time before he felt Wesley believed him when he said he enjoyed Wesley's friendship.

Wesley nodded, lowering his head again to stare at his tea. "I'm sorry. I suppose I'm tired. I... Would you rather go through the journals?" He looked up as he asked, and the formal mask had dropped, showing Wesley's emotions clearly. And yet there was so little change in expression that Giles was hard pressed to believe he'd been wearing a mask at all.

"I'd rather leave the journals until we're both a bit more..."

"Cognizant?" Wesley offered with faint amusement.

"Indeed," he replied, managing a tiny smile in response. He shifted slightly, trying to find a more comfortable position. "Just...talk to me?"

"Do you need another pillow...or anything?" Wesley asked, brow furrowing in concern. "I know how difficult it is to be comfortable with broken ribs, but...please don't keep silent if there's anything I can do."

"I'm fine," Giles assured him. "Or as fine as I can be," he quickly amended when he saw Wesley frown.

Wesley nodded. He opened his mouth, paused again, and Giles despaired of ever actually getting an entire sentence out of him without tugging it out with a rope. He watched the other man sigh, and it seemed as though he let go of something. "I'm sorry. About behaving -- like a prat," he said with a self-mocking smile. "All the way over, all I could think of--" He stopped and looked away again.

"What?"

Another sigh. "What I would find. How badly hurt you really were. If...if anything had happened during the night." He looked up, and Giles saw the fear in Wesley's eyes that had barely been echoed underneath the steady voice. "You're not--" He stopped as his voice deepened, roughened by use and emotion. "You're not to do that again, is that understood?"

Giles felt warmed by Wesley's obvious caring and guilty at the worry he'd caused. "I'm sorry," he said softly.

"I don't mean you're not to get yourself injured," Wesley continued, surprising him. "We lead the sort of lives...it's inevitable. But I'll not have you lie to me about what's happened. If you have to tell me you're dying, every limb torn off and bleeding to death on the spot -- or simply broken a single toe and are hoping I'll hop on a plane to come tend you again -- Promise me. You won't lie about it. Or mislead me by refusing to say just exactly what has happened."

Giles studied Wesley's expression for a long moment, seeing clearly how serious he was. "I promise."

Wesley returned the long look, apparently taking note of how sincere *Giles* was in making the promise. Then he nodded, and some of the tension seemed to run out of him.

"And I am sorry," Giles repeated.

Wesley nodded again. He suddenly looked -- old. Worn. He took a drink of his tea, seemingly at a loss for anything to talk about. But that was all right -- what tea was for, after all.

Giles cast about for some topic. "So how was your weekend?"

Wesley laughed once. "Research."

There was a flicker of something in Wesley's eyes, but it was gone to quickly for Giles to make anything of it. "How did it go?" he asked carefully.

"It might be possible to get someone to Quor-toth. But not to get them back."

He blinked in surprise. "Well, that's progress." For months Wesley had struggled to find even this much. Giles didn't understand why he didn't seem more encouraged by the information.

"Yes. Assuming the translations are correct and not the result of drunken ramblings." Wesley's voice grew bitter, as though he believed he knew what the truth would turn out to be. It was, after all, the second time he'd found something which promised to be an answer. The time before he'd found a spell which was impossible to cast anytime after the 14th century. Wesley continued quietly, "But at least even if we don't find a way to bring him back, someone can go...help him." He looked guilty, all of a sudden.

"If there's a way there, there has to be a way back," Giles told him, letting his own determination color his voice.

"I hope so."

"We'll find the answer, Wesley."

There was a pause, before Wesley nodded. He didn't say anything, just sat and stared at his cup of tea. Giles watched him for a moment, then, grimacing against the movement, leaned forward enough to take the cup from Wesley and set it on the nightstand. Then he turned back to Wesley and tugged gently on his hands, urging him forward.

"What--" Then Wesley moved forward; though Giles suspected it was more from a desire to avoid making Giles cause himself pain by resisting.

Ignoring the everpresent aches, Giles gingerly wrapped his arms around Wesley, enfolding him in a careful hug. There was a tremor as Wesley shook, once. His entire body trembling with...something, before he bent his head towards Giles' chest and wrapped his own arms gingerly around Giles to return the embrace. Giles sighed, feeling some emotional ache within him ease at the close contact. "I've been wanting to do this for quite some time."

"I--" Wesley stopped, and turned his head towards Giles, pressing his face closer to Giles' chest.

"Much better than just a phone call." He raised his good hand to stroke Wesley's hair gently.

He felt more than heard Wesley sigh. Then he shifted, and to Giles' dismay he began to carefully extract himself to sit up. He reluctantly let him go, but missed the contact immediately. "Wesley?" he murmured softly, letting the name ask all the questions he had.

But Wesley wasn't moving away. Just sitting there, twisting halfway towards him, a uncertain expression crossing his face for only a moment. Then he said, "If it's needed, I'll apologise now." He sounded as confused and worried -- and almost as distant and polite as he'd been since he arrived.

Before Giles could ask him what the devil he was on about, Wesley leaned forward just enough to place a light kiss on Giles' mouth. For the first few seconds Giles was frozen in surprise, but then he once again raised a hand to Wesley's hair, holding him in place as the kiss deepened and lengthened.

Wesley pressed himself closer, though not quite touching any of Giles' injuries. He placed one hand on Giles' cheek, caressing it gently as he finally broke the kiss. Giles leaned slightly into the touch, meeting Wesley's gaze questioningly.

Very slowly, Wesley smiled. It became a wide smile, happy and unself-conscious. The happiness even crawled up into his eyes, which Giles could see even more clearly when Wesley reached up and removed his glasses before settling back down to his previous position, cuddled at Giles' side. "Would you be offended if I go to sleep?" Wesley asked, his low voice easy, and informal. The same tone he'd finally begun to use on the phone, once he'd accepted that Giles meant what he said about wanting to call him for no other reason than to talk.

Giles laughed, carefully wrapping his good arm around him. "Considering how many times I've badgered you to go to sleep, I could hardly say no now," he teased with a soft smile.

"Do you need me to get you anything?" Wesley asked, sounding wide awake and happy to leap up to do so. It was completely at odds with how he seemed to be sinking into the mattress beside Giles, body growing limp and motionless.

"No, I think I have everything I need right here." He felt his own body relaxing as well, Wesley's presence giving him reassurance against the nightmares he feared.

"Mm. All right. Let me know if you need something." Wesley was rapidly tumbling towards sleep, if his soft, lazy voice was any indication.

"I will," he assured him, while privately determining to let Wesley sleep as long as he would.

"Hmm," Wesley replied. Then there was no sound from him at all, except the soft hush of his breathing.

Giles let it lull him into dreamless sleep.


Wesley woke slowly, a gradual dawning of awareness that spoke of deep, long, contented sleep. It didn't occur to him that was a thing to be marveled at until he woke more fully and realised he was still wrapped in someone's arms. For a moment his tired brain thought it must be Cordelia, taking her self-appointed task of making sure he got some rest a bit too seriously. But memory caught up with him before he opened his eyes. He was in England, Rupert was relatively non-seriously damaged -- he would, as he'd insisted, be all right -- and they'd fallen asleep together after Wesley had kissed him.

He realised he had been much more exhausted than he'd realised, that he had done so without even making an attempt of talking himself out of it. Perhaps that was the key, he thought: not having the energy to second guess himself. Of course that didn't mean he wouldn't do so later when he was more rested -- like now. The one or two hours' sleep he'd had proved just enough for his conscience to start working again, and explore just what on earth he must have been doing. Wesley felt a stab of...something. Guilt, embarrassment, confusion? Rupert hadn't objected to the kiss, but in his condition he might not have even realised he ought.

He could tell by Rupert's slow, even breathing, that the other man was still asleep, so Wesley cautiously moved and opened his eyes to look at him. He looked tired, and in pain. There were lines on his face that Wesley wanted to reach out and soothe; he stayed his hand by telling himself it would wake Rupert and he needed his rest. The fact that he shouldn't want to touch him...even if he already had, already kissed him and held him.

At the moment, he couldn't remember why he wasn't supposed to want this. Wanting didn't mean having, or demanding. If Rupert woke up and told him that it was comforting and wonderful and they were still just good friends -- it wouldn't change anything. Wouldn't change how much Wesley wanted to stay right where he was. Gradually, he realised he didn't even mind wanting it. Even if reality was much more complex, and reminded him that there was simply no way for what he wanted to be more than this fleeting moment. But for now, lying here in bed, it felt nice to want it.

But he really ought to get up. Find the journals and start reading. Stop indulging himself and let Rupert get the sleep he needed.

He withheld a sigh, and carefully began to extract himself to sit up. It proved to be a harder undertaking than he thought. As soon as he tried to pull away, Rupert's arms tightened about him and the lines on his face deepened as he frowned. It became clear to Wesley after a few moments that he was not going to be able to extricate himself without waking Rupert up. He took a deep breath, steeled himself -- and decided what the hell. He could wait.

Wesley laid back down and snuggled closer. If it meant Rupert got the rest he needed, he was willing to sacrifice. As he grinned to himself, he reasoned that it was just bonus, if *he* felt comfortable and fell back asleep.

He lay awake, though, head resting on Rupert's shoulder, arm across his chest, Rupert's arm underneath him. He could feel every rise and fall of Rupert's chest, could smell the hruvia on his breath. If he turned his head just the tiniest bit, he could hear the distant thump of Rupert's heartbeat, through the veins in his arm.

It took a while before Rupert awoke, but when he did it was same slow gradual process that Wesley's had been. Wesley waited until he thought Rupert was more awake than not, and tried to sit up again. Rupert's grip still tightened refelxively around him, but this time it was accompanied by muddy green eyes blinking sleepily at him.

"I just need to get up for a moment," Wesley assured him.

Rupert stared at him for a few seconds, then let him go. "Sorry," he said, the word carrying amusement in his sleep-husky voice.

"That's all right." Wesley smiled briefly and got up, and headed for the bathroom. He caught sight of himself in the mirror and realised he looked completely horrid. Left cheek pressed with lines from having slept without moving an inch, eyes bloodshot, and his entire face thinner than he'd remembered it being. As he washed his hands, he rinsed his face, and thought that what he most wanted a cup of tea and a shower.

When he headed back to the bedroom, he found Rupert standing -- or more accurately, leaning -- and looking pale and a little sheepish.

"Should you be standing?" Wesley asked, though he was fairly certain he knew the answer. He hurried over to be within reach to catch Rupert if he started to fall.

"Probably not," Rupert admitted ruefully. "But I needed to use..." He nodded in the direction of the bathroom.

"Of course." Wesley nodded, and moved quickly to take Rupert's arm, placing it over his shoulders.

"Thank you. I'm sure I didn't show the proper gratitude earlier--"

"There's no need," Wesley interrupted him. "You've been injured and poisoned; you're entitled to not be on your best behavior."

Wesley remembered being shot -- coming home to Cordelia and Gunn and Virginia all hustling about the flat, trying to make sure everything was taken care of, popping in on him every time he'd just got to sleep or got into his book to see if there was anything else he needed. Even at their most intrusive and overbearing, their care had been the best part of the whole sordid affair.

He tried not to think about the months that had gone by after he'd taken Conner, when his friends refused to even speak to him. Cordelia had finally come around -- literally -- a month ago, and they were on their way to patching up their friendship. He'd gathered that Cordelia was also conversing with Rupert occasionally, and he suspected Rupert's hand in Cordelia's attention to his welfare. Gunn was more reluctant, and the fact that Wesley couldn't fault him, made it all the harder. Wesley pushed his thoughts away, and back to Rupert.

"Yes. Well. I apologise for any....crankiness I have or may subject you to, just the same." Rupert was silent for a few seconds and then in a softer voice, admitted, "It does mean a lot to have you here."

"I...I'm glad I could be here. But you're allowed to be cranky. One of the perks of being injured," he teased, then immediately wished he'd bitten his tongue. He counseled himself again to be more considerate. What had happened was no joking matter.

However, Rupert merely smiled and remarked dryly, "Well, there has to be one or two perks, else no one would do it."

Wesley smiled, but said nothing as they reached the bathroom. He stopped outside the door, not letting go until he saw that Rupert could manage on his own. Rupert, bracing himself on the doorframe, leaned over and gave Wesley a quick kiss before moving into the bathroom and closing the door.

Wesley blinked, staring at the door. After realising he was gaping in what must be sheer idiotic stupefication, he managed to close his mouth and step back a bit to wait, without being right on top of Rupert as soon as he stepped out.

He had a sudden image of being on top of him. Back in bed, naked.... He shoved the thought aside roughly and looked down at the floor and prayed whatever embarrassed flush was on his face had gone by the time Rupert emerged.

It took long enough that Wesley was starting to get worried by the time the door did open again. Rupert looked even paler than before and on the verge of collapse. Wesley hurried forward, taking Rupert's arm immediately and practically lifting him up to half-carry him. The couch was the closest, so he headed for that.

Rupert remained silent until they had reached the couch and he was sinking back against the cushions with a pained groan. "I do believe...the hruvia has worn off."

"I've plenty more," Wesley said instantly. "I'll make more tea." He recalled leaving the pot in the bedroom, and went to fetch it. The bedroom was dark; what little light had come in the windows just minutes earlier was already waning. That gave him some impression of the time and let him know they had a few hours yet before he could reasonably attempt to get Rupert back to bed so he could sleep through his pain for the night.

He glanced at Rupert as he went by, heading for the kitchen to make the requested tea. The man was resting his head against the back of the couch, eyes closed, a faint grimace of pained concentration on his face. He hurried as much as he could, preparing the tea as quickly as was possible. He wished faintly for the power of magic to speed the boiling water, dispensing the wish as always with a careless scoff. As soon as it boiled, he snatched it up and poured, adding just a bit more of the hruvia leaf than he had the first time. It was not dangerous except in much larger doses over a much greater period of time than Rupert would need it, now. He paused only to sweeten the tea, then brought it quickly over to Rupert. "Here."

Rupert opened his eyes and looked blankly at him for a few seconds before awareness came back into them and he reached for the cup. "Thank you," he said as raised it to his lips and drank as quickly as he could.

As soon as Wesley saw he had a steady enough grip on the cup, Wesley stepped back to return to the kitchen to get the teapot. Rupert would be ready for his second cup by the time he returned, it looked like. "Do you care for any dinner?" he called out.

"Ask me again when this has taken effect," Rupert replied with a grimace. He paused and added, "Feel free to get something for yourself though."

Welsey didn't answer; he wasn't hungry, worried about Rupert and wondering what else he could be doing to help him. The hruvia would take the edge off the pain well enough, and once it had receded Rupert's appetite would probably return. What would be best? Broth, perhaps? He retrieved the teapot, and took it back into the living room.

Rupert held out his cup for a refill. "Thank you."

Wesley poured a second cup, then set the teapot down on the floor, within reach, directly next to the sofa so Rupert wouldn't accidently kick it over. Then he told himself he was hovering, but he didn't really know what else he should do.

Rupert looked at him over the brim of his cup and smiled when he lowered it. "Wesley, please sit down," he said, indicating the spot beside him.

"Sorry. I just-- I'm hovering," he admitted, letting amusement color his words. He sat down on the couch, not quite the spot Rupert had indicated, but not too far away, either.

"I had noticed," Rupert replied with a smile.

"Another perk of being injured," Wesley said lightly.

"Any others I should know?"

Wesley pretended to think it over. "There's the being able to ask for anything from the kitchen or bookshelves you like, have it brought to you at your very whim," he said in a thoughtful tone. "There's getting someone to go to the shops for you by simply saying how nice it would be if we had something -- actually you could classify all those under 'personal servant'."

"And getting another kiss before the year is up?" Rupert asked, grinning widely but watching him closely.

He had no idea what Rupert meant by the flirtation. Offered as a joke? Laugh away the earlier kiss? He decided to answer in the same vein -- rather than admit he would very definitely like to do so. He said, very primly, "You haven't even offered to carry my books. I realise that, injured as you are you can barely walk." Wesley held his frown easily, giving Rupert a stern look and tried very hard not to think about kissing him again, regardless.

"I'd gladly carry your books," Rupert protested. "Of course I would probably fall down trying, but..."

Glancing at Rupert, Wesley gave him a shy look. "I hardly know you," he said lightly. It was frighteningly easy to fall into this. Teasing, flirting, acting as though either of them were serious. But it was also easy to go too far. But playing was easier than saying 'no, we shouldn't.'

Or saying 'yes.'

"Then we should see if we can remedy that. Is there anything you want to ask me?" Rupert answered casually, just as lightly -- but with a hint of seriousness that said he would probably answer honestly.

Wesley considered him, wondering what sort of thing he could ask -- something that would make Rupert smile, but not laugh. His ribs would hurt tremendously, hruvia leaf or no. He knew he'd waited too long trying to think of something when Rupert's expectant expression grew slightly confused. "Do you want any dinner?" he finally asked, letting the game end. It was safer this way, anyhow.

Rupert sort of half smiled, though there was something like disappointment in his eyes. "If I eat, will you join me?"

"What would you like?" Wesley stood up from the couch.

"Whatever you feel like making is fine." He shrugged.

"Are you hungry for something substantial? Or will soup and toast be sufficient?" He wondered if he ought tease Rupert by saying something about not going to the trouble of cooking if he wasn't going to eat. But he felt uncomfortable, treading on a line of assumed domesticity, so he said nothing.

"Soup and toast would be about as adventurous as I can handle right now," Rupert said with a grimace. "But feel free to make something more substanctial for yourself."

Wesley nodded. "I'll be sure and make some very bland and quite boring soup, for you." He tentatively gave Rupert a smile, before heading back to the kitchen.

"Make enough for two, because I don't want to eat alone," Rupert called after him.

"Yes, mum," Wesley called back. He wasn't hungry, but there was no reason he couldn't sit with Rupert for the meal.

It didn't take long to rummage through the cupboards to find a can of condensed soup and get it to heating. He made toast and prepared more tea for himself, and a few minutes later was carrying it all on a tray back to the living room. He looked around, wondering if he should set it on the table and help Rupert over, or drag a chair over to serve as a table and let Rupert remain on the couch where it might be more comfortable.

Rupert took the decision out of his hands by getting to his feet and starting a painfully slow, careful walk over to the table. Wesley quickly set the tray down and started forward to help. "I'm all right," Rupert declared, not quite waving him away but clearly wanting to do it himself. Wesley was struck by a memory of his two year old cousin Beth, looking equally determined to "do it herself". He hid the smile, certain Rupert wouldn't appreciate the comparison.

"Did you want more of your tea?" Wesley saw the teapot still sitting on the floor, and went to get it without waiting for an answer, keeping a close eye on Rupert. He didn't want to hover, didn't want to move too far away -- actually what he wanted was to curl back up with Rupert in his arms, and rest. Let him sleep until the pain went away forever.

He'd settle for pouring tea.

Rupert made it to the table and with great care lowered himself into a chair, smiling a little in satisfaction at accomplishing the feat. Bringing the teapot over, Wesley sat it on the table, and helped Rupert remove the dishes from the tray. He was careful not to do anything for him that Rupert could do well enough. It was obvious Rupert didn't care to be forced to admit to weakness, no matter how blameless the weakness was. He supposed he couldn't really fault him for that.

Rupert pointedly waited until Wesley was seated as well and had picked his own spoon before he started eating. "So..."

"So. Um." Wesley picked up a piece of his toast, and tore it in half to spread a bit of butter on it. "Lovely weather you're having?"

"Well, weather at any rate," Rupert replied, smiling slightly. "Not like California."

"Mm. Yes, it's amazing how quickly you forget what it's like to never see the sun for months at a time." Wesley set the toast down, and stirred at the broth. He wasn't hungry at all. If anything, he was wishing he had something to drink. He didn't know if Rupert had any alcohol in the flat, or if it would be wrong of him to ask.

Rupert was watching him closely. "You were right, you know."

"About what?"

"I couldn't have managed alone." It was obviously a hard thing for Rupert to admit.

Wesley set his spoon down, and reached over to take Rupert's hand, briefly giving it a squeeze. He'd meant to take it right back, but Rupert held on. "I'm sorry."

Rupert shook his head. "Having you here is the one good thing that's come out of this mess."

The sincerity in the other man's voice made him nervous. To hide it, he said, "Next time you could simply invite me, without the preceding injuries."

"Consider yourself in possession of a standing invitation."

He smiled. "I'll do that." Much, much too easy to go too far. He took care not to hold Rupert's hand too tightly.

Rupert smiled back, briefly squeezing the hand he still held before letting it go and reaching for his spoon again. "Eat your soup before it gets cold," he said, amusement making his eyes twinkle.

Wesley rolled his eyes, and picked up his spoon. He managed one bite, before deciding that he *wasn't* hungry, and the thought of eating was rather turning his stomach. He was, however, thirsty. He set his spoon down and took a sip of his tea, only to reaffirm that that wasn't what he wanted. Surely Rupert had a bottle of whiskey, around. "Do you have anything stronger?" he asked, as he set the cup down.

"Something stronger than soup?" Rupert frowned concernedly at him.

Wesley half-smiled. "Stronger than tea. It's all right, I just-- It's been a long day."

Setting down his spoon, Rupert offered, "I'll make you a deal. Finish the soup and I'll tell you where the whiskey is."

Sighing, Wesley picked his spoon back up. "I'm not very hungry," he said, wincing at the whining in his voice. He scolded himself -- it was rude, and no matter how friendly Rupert was, he was still a guest here. He could hear his mother's words as though she were sitting at the far end of the table. Eat what you're given. Don't slouch. Say thank you. Don't *embarrass* us for god's sake, Wesley.

He took another swallow of the soup to show that he wasn't going to argue.

"Humor me." Rupert smiled slightly at Wesley. "One of the perks of being injured is that you have to humor me."

"Indeed," Wesley replied, giving Rupert a slight smile in return. He continued eating his soup, Rupert watching him for five full spoonfuls before he returned to his own dinner.

"Thank you," Rupert said a few minutes later, when Wesley had finished the entire bowl. It was sitting in his stomach, uncomfortably. But he was beginning to feel slightly less exhausted.

"Do you want any more?" he asked, standing up and gathering the empty dishes onto the tray.

"I'm fine for now," Rupert replied, then nodded toward a cabinet that was covered in piles of books. "Whiskey's on the second shelf."

"I'd offer to pour you a glass, but it would completely counter the effect of the hruvia," Wesley apologised. He carried the tray to the kitchen and set it by the sink. Taking up a small glass from the cupboard, he returned to the indicated cabinet and found the whiskey Rupert had mentioned. It was half empty, and a fairly decent brand.

"Yes, I know." Rupert watched from his seat at the table. "You'll have to have a glass for me."

"Another of your perks," Wesley teased. He poured the glass and took a sip, then another. He could feel it burn his mouth, then his throat, then with a third sip it burned down into his chest and along his collarbone. Much better than soup.

"Just remember that I'm in no condition to carry you to bed."

"One drink isn't going to do that much damage," Wesley replied. "I don't intend on getting drunk." He paused. "Not unless you want me to read Soucians' Masterpiece to you. Then I'm afraid I may insist."

"I'd have to be drunk for that too," Rupert replied wryly. Carefully he got to his feet and began his slow progress back to the couch.

"Do you need--" Wesley halted as he'd started forward reflexively. Rupert would ask. Would probably ask, if he needed assistance.

"You to join me on the couch?" Rupert completed the unspoken question, as he carefully lowered himself onto the couch cushions. "Absolutely."

Wesley swallowed his real question -- knowing he did not *need* to ask if there were anything Rupert needed, or wanted, or faintly desired. He realised he'd drained his glass but for one swallow, and emptied it. He refilled the glass, only two fingers' worth, before recapping the bottle and replacing it. He carried the glass with him to the couch, curious at the expression he thought he could see in Rupert's eyes.

Rupert waited until Wesley had settled back in the same position beside him as before then asked, "Have you thought of anything you wanted to ask me yet?"

"Do you want to look through the journals you found?" was the first thing out of his mouth, before he realised this was part of the conversation from earlier, and he was meant to tease Rupert about the chance of kissing him, again. He couldn't take back the question, though, nor ignore the urgent need to know. Personal issues could wait -- forever if required -- until Connor was found. Or until all avenues of rescue exhausted. Just thinking of it that way made him regret having wasted so much time already. Sleeping, for god's sake. Sitting around chatting as if there were nothing in the world to be concerned with.

Rupert's mouth quirked up into a half smile and the look he shot Wesley was affectionate. "You're not going to be able to relax until we do, are you?"

Wesley felt himself jerk back a bit, and glanced down, guiltily. "I'm sorry. Of course we needn't read through them tonight. You must be tired; research wouldn't be terribly relaxing." He scolded himself -- Rupert had been asking to sit and talk all evening -- casual conversation, no doubt all he felt up for. And Wesley had barely spoken two words to him.

"It's hard to let go of, even for an evening, isn't it?" Rupert asked softly, knowingly.

Wesley shrugged. "It's all right. We can talk about other things." He gave Rupert a smile, to let him know he didn't mind. Once Rupert was asleep for the night, he could easily stay up and begin reading.

Under other circumstances, he would have loved to spend an evening doing nothing but just talking about whatever they wished. He suspected it would eventually be all research and work-related topics, but it had been years since he'd had the luxury of just sitting back and discussing and debating academic issues with no pressure on any of them to come up with the right answer before the monsters attacked.

Rupert nodded, then seemed to search for a topic. "So you and Cordelia -- you've made up? You mentioned she'd apologised, that you were seeing her again."

Wesley felt his cheeks flush, and took a quick swallow of whiskey. "Yes. Well, yes. It turned out...I'd misunderstood something she'd said, right after--" he stopped, and forced himself to say it. "Right after I'd taken Conner. She'd said rather horrible things, but it turned out she was speaking of Holtz. 'Despicable man who steals other people's babies,'" he quoted. He'd been lying in his hospital bed, trying to concentrate on breathing. Angel had been wrestled away only a few hours before, and he'd woken to hear Cordelia spitting fire.

He'd avoided her after that, not willing to give her any reason to repeat the words to his face. Finally, though, she'd been forced to come to his door -- needing his help to fight something they couldn't identify. He'd flung the words back in her face out of viciousness, and instead of arguing back, she'd just looked at him in confusion.

"I'm glad," Rupert said. "You've a dearth of good friends at the moment, it seems."

"Yes." Wesley stared down at his glass. Surely they could think of something less depressing to talk about? He thought about their emails, their telephone conversations. Often they discussed topics which left him feeling light-hearted and looking forward to the next conversation.

But, he was beginning to wonder, if it weren't more the fact he had someone to converse with, than what they were discussing. Because even now, thinking back to the year he'd spent believing all his friends hated him, only to discover that it was his own fault -- he found he didn't mind. Talking with Rupert was still making him feel better.

But a change of topic wouldn't go amiss, regardless. Determinedly, he dredged up a more or less harmless case from years back, before Conner, before even Darla. There was no way to segue smoothly, but it didn't matter.

Rupert took his cue, and for some time they sat there and compared monsters. Taking turns, they soon tried to out do each other with the level of weirdness each had dealt with. When Rupert described being turned into a Fyarl demon, Wesley had to concede.

"I used to think--" He cut himself off quickly with another drink of whiskey. The last, and he set the glass down deliberately, on the cornertable. The reminiscing hadn't quite done the trick -- as he should have know. Reminding himself of what he'd lost.

"You used to think what?" Rupert asked, eyes watching him curiously.

Wesley could still feel the last drink burning in his chest, and he thought of brushing off the question. But there was probably no point in that. "I used to think we had strange cases."

Rupert chuckled. "You probably did. But," he shrugged, "life on a Hellmouth..."

"Yes. Strange indeed. Rich and strange," he added, remembering a line from Shakespeare. Why he was thinking of *Shakespeare*, he didn't know.

"There are more things in heaven and earth," Rupert quoted back at him.

Wesley looked at him, confused for a moment. Then he sniffed, and said primly, "I was quoting Tempest, not Hamlet."

"Yes, I was aware of that." Rupert had stretched out his arm against the back of the couch -- which brought his fingers into brushing contact with the back of Wesley's neck.

"Mm. A rather common quote, at that," Wesley added, hiding his grin. He kept himself from leaning back, toward Rupert's hand. Arguing about Shakespaere was much less fraught with bad memories.

Rupert frowned. "I'm injured, poisoned and drugged. I'm not operating at my best."

Wesley raised an eyebrow, judging from the level of amusement in Rupert's voice that this was not, in fact, a reminder. "You're not *that* injured."

"I'm not?" Rupert was smiling at him now and his fingers moved to caress Wesley's neck.

Wesley leaned into the touch, involuntarily. "Not unless you cheated in school." He felt a warm tingling, on the back of his neck.

Rupert half-smiled and his fingers began toying with Wesley's hair. "If I cheated in school I *am* that injured?"

"No. If you cheated in school and never actually memorised all the plays you were assigned, then you have an excuse for not recalling the Tempest." Wesley felt himself relaxing, and leaned back a bit more.

"And you have all the plays memorised?"

"Mm. No. Only two."

"The Tempest and...?" Rupert's hand was sliding up to cup the back of his head now. Parts of his body were tingling with goosebumps.

"King John. Nicely obscure, no one could ever tell me when I quoted out of context." Wesley turned his head, not moving it away from Rupert's hand, to look at the man sitting next to him. He supposed his next move was to slide closer.

Rupert was watching him, expression welcoming but not pressuring.

Wesley smiled, letting a tiny bit of his enjoyment show in his expression. "You've still not even carried my books. Or invited me to dinner." He was shocked that he said it so easily.

"Didn't I warn you that I have a problem following the rules?" Rupert asked with a smile.

"You did." Wesley gave him a stern look. "I've been warned about men like you. Not to be trusted." He pressed his head back into Rupert's hand, belying his words.

"Oh, I can be trusted on some things."

"I know." Wesley answered him seriously, not knowing if it were necessary or not. He slid over, though, to sit beside Rupert, leaning against him much as he'd done when they'd laid down together. It felt comforting, as though he could close his eyes and feel that hand on his head and listen to Rupert breathe softly, and he'd forget all about journals from London.

He felt as much as heard Rupert's sigh as Rupert moved his hand to caress Wesley's cheek. Sitting there, however, he knew he'd come to a point where he could go no further as they were. Teasing, flirting, half-serious moves were all well and good. Subtler seduction or enjoying the dance around the question was more than just friends, even good friends, should risk.

"You've tensed up," Rupert observed in a soft voice, coloured with concern. "If you don't want to-"

"I do." Wesley looked at him. "That's the trouble."

"It is?"

"I... this is going to sound terribly schoolgirl of me." Wesley grinned briefly, feeling extremely foolish. "But...what exactly do you want?"

Rupert met his gaze seriously. "Whatever you're willing to give. It doesn't have to be anything more than this, if you don't want it to be. But if you do want more..."

Wesley shook his head. "I don't mean...now. Tonight. Even this week. I mean -- why? Because we're friends, we care for each other and we might as well? Because we're both better off with someone, than alone? Because you secretly wish to spirit me away and marry me, forever?" Wesley didn't move away, though he thought it might be easier, if their reasons proved at odds, if he gave them both some distance.

"We *are* friends and we do care for each other." Rupert lowered his voice and the next wouldn't have been audible if Wesley hadn't been so close. "And I confess, I've had thoughts of spiriting you away for however long you would let me."

"Forever?" slipped out, and instead of trying to capture it again, he turned his head. Aghast at his own boldness, he nontheless did not turn his head away again; instead, tilting his face upright just enough that it took the barest motion forward to brush his lips against Rupert's.

Rupert's lips curved up. "Forever might be just long enough."

"I...that was a bit more forward than I'd expected to be. I'm still working my way up to admitting I want this at all." He tried to think of how to apologise. For what, he didn't know. But it felt so much better to be here than to think of leaving, returning to the occasional joke and flirtation -- how had he fallen so quickly and not even noticed?

"Do you hear me complaining?"

Wesley shifted, settling in more comfortably, turning more towards Rupert. Touching him more, facing him more easily where he could look at him, or kiss him again. "I should be--" Shouldn't be doing this. This can't be what you really want. Wesley heard the words in his head, and for once they angered him. "No. I shan't. I'm going to sit here and enjoy this and not ask stupid questions that lead me to doubt all of this," he said, stubbornly.

"Good," Rupert told him, smiling even more. "Is there anything I can do to help you enjoy this?"

But now that everything was decided, and he could have had more just for asking -- guilt reared again and he knew what he had to do. Wesley was unable to meet Rupert's gaze as he asked, "If I said 'tell me where the journals are', would you mind?" He hated to keep mentioning them, hated to keep bringing them up when it was so evident that Rupert did not want to study them tonight. "You needn't read with me, if you'd prefer something lighter."

Rupert chuckled -- the sound soft enough that it wouldn't hurt his ribs -- and closed the small distance between them to kiss Wesley one more time. For a moment, all he thought about was Rupert's mouth on his, warmth and the slightest moisture against his lips. It occurred to him they could sit on the couch and kiss, instead, and leave the research for tomorrow.

The image of the baby he'd stolen flashed behind his eyes -- trapped in in a place worse than Hell, and Wesley wished to leave him there an extra day in order to enjoy himself.

But before his guilt could make him pull back, Rupert did. "The journals are in the satchel by the door."

"I'm not sure if I should apologise again," Welsey said softly. He didn't move to fetch the satchel.

"Don't. You've used up your daily alottment of apologies."

"Ah." Wesley nodded. "I'll apologise tomorrow, then." He gave Rupert a quick smile, then got up to go get the bag.

When he brought the satchel back, Rupert merely held out his hand. Wesley gave him one of the books, took another for himself, and settled back on the couch -- pressed up against Rupert as before -- and began to read.


There was darkness, and shouting, and the smell of enraged demons. Languages he did not know, words he couldn't quite grasp -- and a girl's hand reaching for his own. The face was in shadows, and he knew it. A name kept slipping out of his reach as infuriatingly as did her hand.

He knew he had to grab it, knew it was the only way to save her. The growls all around them came closer, surging forward and he could feel the breath on the back of his neck....

A voice shouted his name, and it broke the darkness. As he latched onto the familiar voice, the demons fading into the shadows of his bedroom, then into his mind from whence they'd come.

"Are you awake? Rupert," the voice said, its tone low and urgent. There was a brush of a hand across his cheek, and again, "It's all right, now. Shh." There was a delicate kiss placed on his forehead.

"I'm awake," he finally managed to say, reaching a shaking hand up to caress Wesley's face.

Wesley leaned down and kissed him again -- a light touch that felt both warmly familiar, and surreal and brand new. He realised Wesley was holding him firmly, arms wrapped around him. The ghosts breathing on the back of his neck faded a little as he relaxed into that embrace. Wesley placed his hand on Giles' cheek, almost mirroring the touch he'd just been given. "Do you want the light on?" he asked softly, as if there were others in the room to be disturbed by the noise.

But then he was sure Wesley knew about living with ghosts. "Please," he said softly.

Wesley eased himself away so slowly that Giles was tempted to remind him that he wouldn't break. But as the movement didn't cause any pain, he elected to not bother. Wesley leaned back, and with a loud click in the darkness, the bedside lamp flared on. Wesley slid back towards him, pulling the sheet out of his way to press himself close against Giles once more.

"I didn't mean to wake you," Giles apologised, even as he wrapped his good arm around Wesley.

"I should hope you had," Wesley scolded, lightly. "Unless you prefer your nightmare?"

He shivered in reaction. "Good lord, no."

He felt a brief hug, and Wesley asked in a cautious tone, "Do you want to tell me about it?"

Images of blood and death and failure came to the fore of his mind and he shuddered. "That wouldn't be my first choice."

"We can talk about something else," Wesley replied with the ease of one who knew nightmares as well as ghosts. "You could explain how you're planning on getting out of carrying my books." The words, and their light tone, surprised him.

It took him a moment to be able to even attempt to answer in kind. "I don't recall admitting that I was trying to get out of carrying your books."

"But you've kissed me. Three times," Wesley protested. "And you've just admitted it by saying you didn't admit trying to get out of it, rather than protesting you weren't trying to get out of it."

"A slip of the tongue," he dismissed with a half shrug. "Besides, I rather think that we're going to end up sharing books, don't you?" There was a voice in the back of his head, asking him what the bloody hell. But it was late, he was tired and hurting, and there was no time to be wasted on logic or reason. It felt good, and that was what he wanted.

The sudden, shy smile he got at that was incredible. He could see Wesley searching for some tease in return, and unable to move past the claim Giles had made. Not that their intentions hadn't been made quite clear the previous evening -- but apparently the reality of it was still a bit of a surprise to the younger man.

It did more to chase the nightmares away than anything else. "Do I still need to ask if I can kiss you?"

"Will there be another slip of the tongue?" Wesley smiled, a mischevious glint in his eyes.

"There may be. Would you mind if there is?"

"You'll have to try it to find out, I think." Then Wesley was leaning over, moving close enough for Giles to kiss him without moving in all the way to initiate the kiss. He took the invitation with a smile, closing the rest of the distance and pressing his lips gently against Wesley's.

As the kiss progressed, Wesley kept his lips closed. He made no hints at moving away, at wanting the kiss to end -- nor did he open his mouth to encourage more. Testing the field, Giles darted his tongue out, brushing over Wesley's lips. He felt Wesley shiver, then his lips parted. With a soft sound he wasn't able to hold back, Giles slipped inside, losing himself in the taste and feel of Wesley's mouth.

He felt Wesley's tongue rub the underside of his, then the side, then the top -- feeling as though inspecting the intruder before allowing it in. It felt like another step further past Wesley's defenses. When Wesley pulled away from the kiss, Giles wasn't sure if it meant he'd been vetted and approved, or not. He searched Wesley's eyes for any hints.

Wesley was looking terribly amused. Trying not to grin, by the set of his mouth, but his eyes were shining with delight.

"I trust that met with your approval?" Giles asked, with a smile.

"Yes, quite. Though the re-application process can be rather vigorous." As soon as he'd spoken, Wesley's eyes widened and Giles watched him blush and look away.

Giles touched Wesley's cheek, turning him back to meet his gaze. "I will of course apply myself as dilligently as I can."

That only made him blush more. Wesley glanced away once, then his gaze flickered back before moving away again. He didn't try to shift out of the embrace, however, he just seemed incredibly embarrassed. But not, Giles suspected, because he hadn't meant what he'd said. He just hadn't meant to say it.

"Too much, too fast?" He wouldn't be able to blame him, if so.

"Oh, no, I just--" If anything, Wesley went even redder. He shut his eyes momentarily, and sighed. "I wasn't trying...I want to, but I wasn't trying to--"

Giles stopped the nervous babble by kissing him again. Wesley took his kiss easily, without hesitation. Once, twice, three times pressing their lips together, nibbling gently, teasing each other with the tips of their tongues.

"Well," Wesley said, sounding as though he'd regained his composure. "There's more where that came from, should you have another nightmare." He spoke quietly, meant to be soothing, no doubt. But his voice had begun to grow slightly rough with use -- and Giles was hard pressed not to react.

He'd started calling more often, lately, because he'd finally got Wesley over the self-consciousness of what happened to his voice when he talked too much. The hint of a growl, left by overuse of damaged vocal cords was, Giles had found, a heretofore unknown kink. He'd confessed as much to Wesley, when he'd been encouraging him not to stop talking just because his voice grew rough.

"That's not exactly encouragement to stop having nightmares," Giles replied, his own voice going huskier with his feelings. He wanted to grab Wesley and hold him down -- but he was sure Wesley wasn't ready for that, even had his own ribs been.

Wesley scowled at him, but the effect was marred slightly by the smile that was breaking through. "You can't fake a nightmare, just for a kiss." He sounded as stern as a headmaster -- except for the growl in his voice.

It was sending shivers down his spine. "What can I fake?"

"I thought you weren't concerned with rules," Wesley remarked. "Here I had my next line all prepared, and you're not following the script." He scowled again, and said sternly, "I can't plan to kiss you if you're going to be unpredictable." His voice had deepened further -- Giles wondered suddenly if he weren't doing it deliberately.

"You know," he said thoughtfully, lightly tracing Wesley's features with a finger, "I'm starting to think your plan is to get *me* to kiss you again."

"Seeing as how the last several have been at your instigation, I can't see how that could possibly be an--" The voice that had been vibrating its way throughout Giles' body was cut off as Giles kissed him.

He had to catch his breath when they parted this time. "Have I mentioned how sexy I find your voice?"

Wesley went red again and he cleared his throat. "Yes." He worked his jaw a few times, a though wanting to speak and not, before he said, "You have." He wasn't looking at Giles anymore, either.

"Does it bother you?"

"I--" Wesley didn't look at him, and Giles could feel the tension that had appeared in Wesley's entire body.

"Wesley?" He let his fingers trail down to Wesley's throat brushing against the scar that marred the skin there. "Is it about this?"

Wesley shivered as Giles' fingers touched the scar -- but he could tell it wasn't a good sort of shiver. Wesley didn't pull away from him, and he didn't answer the question.

"Wesley, luv..."

"I'm sorry," he whispered. There was little inflection in his tone. While he still wouldn't meet Giles' gaze, he did press himself a bit closer.

Giles dropped a kiss on Wesley's temple. "You have nothing to be sorry for."

"Yes. I...had hoped...was afraid to encourage... You hadn't ever said, these past weeks, if your flirting was anything more than friendly."

"It never was just friendly." It had taken him by surprise, how quickly his feelings had gone from simple concern to something a great deal more. But he couldn't deny they felt real.

"Unfriendly, then?" Wesley said, his voice showing only some of the teasing that was clear on his face.

"Never that."

"Not polite flirting?" Wesley teased again.

He smiled slightly. "I never flirt politely."

"I'm sorry," Wesley said again, and it was still unclear to Giles why he was apologising.

So he might as well ask. "Why do you keep saying you're sorry?"

There was a flinch, then Wesley looked at him steadily. "Because every time I let you kiss me, I end up thinking about Angel."

He had to admit he wasn't...completely surprised. Apparently he wasn't keeping his expression as impassive as he'd have liked, though. He and Wesley had talked about Angel before, and in the words and tone Wesley used, had always been a hint. "I...see."

Wesley shook his head. "I'm not in love with him, Rupert. I think about what I did. To Conner. I can't let myself love someone when I have his son to find."

Giles was about to argue with him, that he could very well take time for himself -- then forgot to breathe for a moment as his words sunk in. "Wesley..."

Wesley didn't speak. He just held Rupert's gaze, not looking away, not moving away, not even tensing up the slightest bit.

It was more than he'd expected, more than he'd hoped for -- he'd barely been wanting this for how long? Weeks? "Wesley..." Giles began again, but trailed off. He wanted to give those words back, but couldn't find his voice. So instead, he kissed him again, trying to let the action impart his feelings for him.

Whether it did the trick or not, the kiss definitely was one to remember. It began slowly, almost gently, but as soon as their mouths were fully pressed together it turned into something deep and hungry. There was no telling how far it would've gone if Giles hadn't moved to pull Wesley closer and jarred his healing ribs painfully.

The kiss was broken off immediately, and Wesley had pulled back, holding him like a piece of grandmother's good tea set. "Are you all right?" Wesley seemed torn between checking him over, himself, and not touching him at all to avoid further jarring.

"I'm all right," he reassured, smiling and urging Wesley close again. "Just forgot I'm still banged up."

He responded to the urging, moving back part of the way. He was still frowning, though, and Giles wasn't terribly surprised when he said, "Perhaps you should get back to sleep. Do you need any hruvia tea?"

"No, the three cups before we turned in were sufficient." He slid his good arm around Wesley's form. "Relax."

"I am relaxed," Wesley insisted, though he still maintained a very slight distance between them.

"Of course you are."

Wesley gave him a scowl. "I am *extremely* relaxed," he said, though Giles could tell he wasn't meant to believe it.

"Am I arguing?" But he ran his fingers up and down Wesley's spine in an effort to encourage tense muscles to relax.

The way Wesley shivered told him that 'relaxed' was not the effect he was having. "I...think you...need your sleep," Wesley stammered.

He had to admit that Wesley was probably right about that, but he was loathe to let their conversation end. "Will you be able to sleep?"

"Of course." Wesley gave him a small smile, one that Giles couldn't find any reason to doubt.

"We will be picking this conversation back up tomorrow."

The small smile twitched, a little. "Of course." Wesley leaned over, and placed a kiss on Giles' forehead. "Go to sleep."

Giles finally acquiesced, closing his eyes. He didn't think the dreams would return that night; the conversation with Wesley had driven his ghosts back into the shadows, at least for now. He felt Wesley watching him, still slightly propped up instead of laying his head down to sleep. "Are you planning on watching me instead of sleeping?" he asked without opening his eyes.

"Yes. Go to sleep."

Giles sighed, too tired to argue the point. Besides it felt...good to know that Wesley was watching over him.

It wasn't long, however, before he felt Wesley shift, and lie his head down. That was the last thing Giles remembered, before he drifted off, a smile on his face.


Wesley was pleased. He'd managed to get out of bed this morning without waking Rupert, or being held so tightly he couldn't have got out of bed at all. Not that he terribly minded, but he *had* had to use the loo, and Rupert needed as much rest as he could get. He'd stood a moment at the side of the bed, watching Rupert sleep, before heading to the bathroom. It was shocking, to say the least, to realise he'd slept with him twice, now, exchanged a number of very passionate kisses, and only managed to avoid embarrassing himself with an untimely erection by Rupert's falling asleep again before he noticed.

Again, not that Wesley minded so much the effect Rupert's kiss had had on him, but with injured ribs and all, he was just not certain that he was quite prepared to do anything about it. It still shocked him, terribly, to realise he was thinking about sex with Rupert. His first encounter with this man had been one of humiliation and derision, and he still didn't understand why they'd even become friends.

And here they were, sleeping together, kissing, and making jokes about staying together forever. He sighed, and as he left the bathroom, he headed for the kitchen. Tea, more toast for breakfast, and back to reading the journals. They'd found nothing last night before finally heading for bed, but there were several yet to go.

Wesley passed by the bookcase on the way to the kitchen, and stopped. It was not all that early, though of course his internal clock was eight hours behind. But his brain was feeling its usual stumble-out-of-bed muddiness. He found the glass he'd left by the couch, and poured himself a single finger's worth of whiskey, downing it in one swallow.

The alcohol burned away the cobwebs, and let him feel much more human, as he took the dirty glass to the kitchen. He found the dishes left from last night, and set to cleaning them up.

A few minutes later he caught movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to see Rupert slowly making his way into the kitchen. "Good morning, Wesley."

He found himself surprised, but gave him an easy, "Good morning." His surprise wasn't that he hadn't expected to see Rupert this morning -- but he felt himself smiling, widely, and the pleasure he felt at seeing him was not what he'd expected at all.

Rupert smiled back as he crossed the room to Wesley's side. "Been up long?"

"No. Haven't even started breakfast yet -- do you drink coffee in the morning? Or tea?" He couldn't stop smiling as Rupert walked closer.

"Depends on how much sleep I've gotten the night before." He raised a hand to Wesley cheek and leaned in to kiss him. Wesley met him willingly -- it had been a very long time since he'd felt so good in the morning. Since he'd even wanted to *be* up in the morning. When Rupert pulled back, he was frowning. "I see you didn't have either."

Wesley blinked. "Pardon?"

"You taste like whiskey."

"Oh." Wesley found himself surprised, again. "Just to...wake me up. It's nothing. Did you want breakfast as well?" He poured last night's stale tea out of the kettle, and rinsed it out.

Rupert was still frowning. "Do you do that often?"

Wesley looked at him, confused. He was still holding the kettle, and began filling it, despite having not got an answer. Rupert would probably want more hruvia, soon enough. It tasted better in tea, but could stand up well enough in coffee if one used enough milk. "Do what?"

"Use alcohol to wake up."

"Oh." Wesley shrugged. "Not every morning, if that's what you mean." He frowned, as Rupert's expression didn't change. "Did you want some tea? Or coffee?"

Rupert looked at him for a long moment then sighed and turned away. "Tea, please."

"With hruvia in it?"

"Please." He turned and made his slow way over to the living room sofa and carefully sat down.

"Did you sleep all right?" Wesley asked, then realised he knew exactly how well Rupert had slept, for part of the night. "After, I mean," he added, feeling stupid. He felt nervous, and wondered if it were just because this was practically the 'morning after' and he wanted to know if he'd performed adequately.

"Quite well, actually," Rupert still sounded a bit distant and distracted. "You?"

"What's wrong?" Wesley found himself asking, concerned by the tone -- and wanting to go over and make it all right. It occurred to him too late that it might be none of his business. "I slept fine, thank you," he added hurriedly.

"The whiskey."

It surprised him, but after a moment's thought, it really didn't. "Would this be where you lecture me on the evils of drink?" It made him tired, suddenly, to think of enduring the typical 'you shouldn't do such a thing' lecture.

The corners of Rupert's mouth turned up slightly. "Considering some of my past habits -- and not so past habits -- that would make me a hypocrite."

It was several moments before Wesley could think of anything to say. "It makes it easier," he said quietly. "I don't think quite so much when...."

"I know."

He was reminded of the last time he'd been thinking along these lines, and gave a laugh. It sounded bitter, even to his own ears, and he explained before Rupert could ask. "I was talking to Angel once, a couple of years ago, about ridding himself of his soul. Not long ago, I thought it would be so much easier. No soul, no conscience." He looked up, not really seeing the kitchen around him. Absently, he took two cups from the drying board, for tea. He remembered thinking how easy it would be to stop feeling, all together. Except losing a soul wasn't a guarantee to stop emotions. He'd seen Angel's anger enough to know that.

Rupert was silent for a moment before answering. "It's tempting. Wanting to be numb, to stop caring."

Wesley looked over at him. "I was thinking -- both would occur. No conscience, no feelings. No guilt. Cheap whiskey does do an excellent job of numbing almost everything."

"I can understand that -- having, as I said, been there myself -- but what did you need to numb this morning?"

"I.. nothing, I think." The question -- and the answer -- surprised him. He decided he was apparently going to have a surprising morning. "I just needed to wake up." Needed to clear his head to think properly, he didn't add. He hadn't drunk enough to numb anything. Just...he'd needed it.

"Have you ever considered caffiene?" Rupert deadpanned, though his expression was still concerned.

Wesley gave him a half-smile. "Actually, no." He poured two cups of tea, and carried them in to the living room, walking over to hand one to Rupert.

"You might want to give it a try." Rupert reached for the offered cup, brushing his fingers against Wesley's in the process.

"This would be the mother henning?" Wesley smiled, and moved to sit on the couch near Rupert. He realised he didn't mind. Rupert was welcome to nag at him as much as he liked. It was...wonderful, actually, to realise that someone cared.

"This would be the mother henning," Rupert confirmed, sipping at the tea.

Wesley glanced at his watch, and asked in a plainative tone, "Isn't there some sort of limit? Ten minutes a day? Can't start until noon?"

"Sorry. No limit."

"I believe there's some sort of limit." Wesley frowned. "I'm sure I read that somewhere."

"No limit," Rupert repeated.

"I think it was in the Dallison's Index," Wesley continued. "You have to allow for the vagueness of the translation, of course." He had to work to keep himself frowning, and not grin. Not grin and lean sideways and let Rupert cuddle him.

Rupert's mouth curved up into a smile. "That would be a lot of vagueness."

"But it's a perfectly valid interpretation," Wesley replied, exactly as sincerely as if he'd been saying something that actually made any sense. It was getting harder not to smile, though.

"Perhaps if you squinted."

"Are you implying that my command of the Gorecticlian language is less than adequate to translate the Index?" Wesley raised one eyebrow and gave Rupert as haughty a look as he could dredge up.

"I'm implying that the Gorecticlia were not known for their fasicnation with motherhenning."

"That is a narrow view of the culture," Wesley responded. "It's entirely possible that ceretain cues are misunderstood by ethnocentric human observers."

Rupert gave him a mock insulted look. "Are you calling me ethnocentric?"

"Or possibly deluded by those who are," Wesley allowed. He was finding it more difficult to hide his delight with the debate. It made him look forward to having real discussions about esoteric facts and theories that no one since university had been able or willing to indulge in. He judged that the hruvia was probably working, by now, and leaned over, settling himself easily without intruding upon Rupert's personal space any more than was comfortable for him to take.

"Deluded now, am I?" Rupert asked, eyes glinting with humor as he slid his arm around Wesley's shoulders.

"It happens to the best of us," Wesley said in a sympathetic tone. He wriggled a bit closer, until he was rather close and comfortable. "Seduced by a theory that sounds logical and eloquent. It even happened to me once."

"There are better things to be seduced by."

Wesley looked up at him, pretending confusion. "By the chance to learn a new language? By the glamour of becoming a news reporter?"

Rupert laughed. "News reporter?"

He felt himself start to blush. "A passing fancy, when I was younger."

"I wanted to be a fighter pilot."

"Really?" He tilted his head a bit, taking a better look at Rupert and try to imagine him as a pilot. "I see you in a biplane, rather than a jet," he said after a moment. "Leather helmet, googles, silk scarf...flying off into the unknown parts of the world." He could imagine the jaunty smile as Rupert posed beside his plane before taking off into the bush.

That got him a delighted grin. "Leather and silk, eh?"

Wesley felt himself blush. He hadn't been thinking such things, of course. Protesting such would only make Rupert laugh, he was sure. Still smiling, Rupert kissed him. He didn't mind the kiss at all, but he wished he didn't have to embarrass himself beforehand. Though the image of Rupert in leather and silk was certainly... He realised he was blushing even harder, now. Rupert kissed him again.

"If you keep doing that--"

"Yes?"

There was simply no way he was going to be able to say what he was thinking. The trouble was, he couldn't think of anything safer to say, than 'I'll have to shag you.' Well, there was one thing. "I think I should go make breakfast."

"That wasn't quite the reaction I was hoping for."

"You're injured. The reaction you're hoping for is *not* on the agenda for the day."

"What is on the agenda for today?"

Wesley opened his mouth -- knowing he was about to say 'research' -- then stopped. They'd only got through a third of the journals last night, and found nothing of interest. Well, nothing of *relevance*. It was all incredibly interesting after one form or another, and Wesley had had to constantly remind himself to read faster and skim more. "Is there anything you feel like doing, other than sitting here on the sofa?"

"Yes, but you insist it's not on the agenda for today," Rupert teased.

Wesley scowled at him. "You know perfectly well what I mean," he said severely.

"You keep frowning at me and I'll have to kiss you again."

Wesley held his face perfectly still, not changing expresison an iota. "What an extraordinary kink you have."

Rupert raised an eyebrow. "Kink?"

"Fetish?" Wesley asked.

"Kissing you?"

"My frowning at you."

"Ah. I'm afraid you're operating under a misconception," Rupert told him, seemingly serious. "It's not you frowning. It's just you."

Wesley suddenly lost control of his expression. The scowl faded -- and he leapt from the sofa, taking his half-empty tea cup and heading towards the kitchen.

"Wesley?" He looked back to see Rupert carefully getting to his feet, worried expression on his face.

"Did you want-- shall I make some toast? Or oatmeal?"

"If you'll join me." Rupert followed him, stopping in the doorway. "Did I...Are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm--" Wesley stopped himself from saying what obviously wasn't true. He looked in the fridge to see what there was to make for breakfast. Eggs, perhaps? He thought of Angel -- not eggs.

He wasn't hungry enough to think of what he wanted to make, and Rupert was still watching him with that quiet concern. He knew he couldn't hide from it, and slowly said, "I'm sorry, I just...I'm not used to this."

Rupert seemed to close up. "If I'm making you uncomfortable--"

In the time it took him to take a deep breath, Wesley realised what had frightened him about Rupert's statement. Innocently flirtatous as it had no doubt been intended. He closed the fridge door and tried to meet Rupert's gaze, but it was too difficult, and he glanced away to the floor. "Anyone who has ever...said things like that to me, said them and meant them, has abandoned me. Or tried to kill me, I suppose. I...I've developed some regrettable reflexes to hearing those sort of sweeping declarations, it seems."

Rupert crossed over to stand directly in front of him and touched Wesley's chin gently urging him to look up. "Would a promise help?"

Wesley found himself frowning again -- and tried not to get distracted by why he'd been deliberately frowning, just a few minutes ago. "A promise?" He had no idea what Rupert could be talking about.

"A promise. Not to abandon you or try to kill you."

He laughed, not entirely amused. "Well, I have to admit none of them ever said that before."

Rupert's serious expression didn't change. "Would it help?"

"I've no idea." Wesley shook his head. "Honestly. I don't know." He wanted to move forward -- let Rupert leave those untrustworthy words behind, and just hold him. Instead he glanced over at the pantry. "Did you...want anything in particular? For breakfast?" He felt tired, but perhaps something simple, he could make.

"Why don't you let me make you something?"

"Are you sure you're up to it?" Wesley hadn't actually seen whether Rupert was moving around easily or not, this morning, or whether he was merely disguising the twinges of pain.

"Not for anything complicated, but I should be able to manage toast and bacon." He smiled slightly. "You have my permission to hover if it'll make you feel better."

Wesley raised an eyebrow, and forced a lighter tone. "I didn't realise I needed permission to hover." He did move out of the way, though, as Rupert headed forwards.

"You don't." Rupert began gathering up what he needed, movements a bit awkward because of the cast on one arm. "But you have it anyway."

"Here, let me," Wesley said, sighing softly. He took the items out of Rupert's hands and began setting them on the counter. He'd flown all the way to England to take care of him -- there was no point in making Rupert prepare his own breakfast.

"I can--" Rupert began to protest.

"Yes, and I have two hands neither of which are in casts. You can direct." Wesley dug out the skillet he'd seen yesterday while he'd been looking for the tea kettle.

Rupert sighed and then, with an amused look, he stepped back with a 'be my guest' gesture. Wesley scowled at him good naturedly, and set the skillet on the stove. It didn't take very long to get breakfast prepared, and he allowed Rupert to help carry some of the dishes to the dining table. He scowled again when Rupert gave him a magnanimous gesture of thanks for being able to help.

Every time he scowled, Rupert smiled at him. It was less disconcerting -- and less distracting -- than being kissed.

Before sitting down, Wesley looked the table over to see if he'd forgot anything. Now it was Rupert's turn to frown at him. "Sit," Rupert said, as he did so himself. "Eat."

"Do you need any--"

"The only thing I need right now is to see you eat."

"You sure you don't want--" Wesley stopped as Rupert glared again, and he grinned. "I could go--" The glare intensified. "Or some--"

"Sit."

Wesley sat. He didn't move, otherwise, simply waited and watched Rupert.

Rupert gave him an exasperated smile. "*Eat*."

Wesley picked up his napkin, settling it on his leg, and muttered, "I really don't think you're allowed, before noon. Certainly not before nine am." He took a bite of the bacon before Rupert could say anything more.

"I think you best get used to it. Because I'm going to keep nagging you to take care of yourself."

Wesley scowled again, but down towards his plate, rather than up at Rupert. It wasn't like he could insist he *was* taking care of himself. But...it had hardly seemed to matter, lately. For quite some time, in fact. He toyed with the toast, wondering what he *was* supposed to say, in response.

"You don't have to say anything," Rupert told him softly, seeming to read his thoughts. "Just *eat*."

"Here I thought I'd flown all this way to take care of *you*," he said quietly, as he took another bite.

"You are. Taking care of me, that is."

"By eating?" Wesley asked, feeling vaguely amused.

"Yes. If you don't, I worry, which isn't good for my recovery." Rupert kept both his face and voice deadpan as he spoke.

"Ah." Wesley struggled to keep his own expression serious. "Then I'd better eat, hadn't I."

"And more than what you've got there." Rupert nodded at his plate.

Wesley sighed, trying to put a bit of dramatic effort into it. "Yes, all right."

He managed to avoid any further nagging, throughout the remainder of breakfast. No doubt because he actually ate everything on his plate. When they were both finished, Wesley gathered everything up and carried the lot back to the kitchen to clean up, and refused to allow Rupert to assist. Rupert gave in with mostly good grace and even didn't hover, heading back into the living room.

Wesley watched long enough to make sure Rupert wasn't hiding any overly-stiff movements, or winces of pain that required more hruvia, before concentrating on the clean up. He washed up the morning dishes more slowly; the hot water and soap bubbles were proving to be rather relaxing. A mundane task, perhaps, that served much the same effect as alcohol for allowing him to turn his thoughts off.

It didn't take long to clean everything up. He picked up a towel and dried his hands, walking into the living room where Rupert was reading. "Have you--" But of course Rupert would have said, if he'd found anything.

"If you ever need to get rid of warts, I've at least a dozen spells." Rupert gave him a brief smile.

"I'll keep that in mind." Wesley picked up the journal he'd been reading last night, and found his place. He started to read again, and stopped. Looking up at Rupert, he said, "Thank you. For...helping with this." There was really no need to say it, but he felt as though he ought to say something.

Rupert nodded. "You're quite welcome. It..is important. I share your concern with finding a way to reach Quor-toth. However--" He gave Wesley a frown. "That's no reason to continue ignoring your own needs. We've had this discussion before. At least I know you slept, last night." His look sharpened. "Unless you crawled out of bed much earlier than I think."

"No, I slept," Wesley sighed. "Really, this isn't necessary -- I've heard the lecture before."

"But it apparently hasn't sunk in. Believe me, I understand the urgency. And we've got these to look through, now," he said before Wesley could interrupt. "But it will do no one any good if you run yourself into the ground."

Wesley stared at the book in his hands, not seeing any of the words. "I'm not--"

"Look at me and say that." There was a distinct growl in his tone.

Despite himself, Wesley looked up. Rupert was glaring back at him, worried and angry. Determined. As though he'd be perfectly willing to pick Wesley up and carry him off.

Wesley shivered. "I...." He had no idea what he should say. It was proving very hard to think, in fact. After a moment, Rupert's expression turned confused.

"Are you all right?"

"Yes. I imagine so. I... right. Yes, I will." Agreeing seemed to be a good choice. Rupert nodded, but continued giving him a puzzled look.

That was really too bad. "Could you look at me like that again?" He was rapidly forgetting that Rupert was injured. At least, forgetting that it mattered. Forgetting that he had reasons for not encouraging just the sort of reaction he was having.

For a moment the confused look just grew stronger. Then Rupert's face cleared, and there was a faint grin. "Like this you mean?" He narrowed his eyes, and the look was back.

Wesley felt his stomach muscles contract. Right. Not on today's agenda. He tried repeating the conjugation tables for Latin words for...all he could think was the Latin for fucking.

Rupert was still looking at him.

"Nevermind. Stop that," he said sternly, though it came out sounding much more like pleading. Too far, he reminded himself, and he couldn't exactly remember why he'd decided so.

"Stop what?" Rupert stood up and started crossing the room towards him.

Wesley backed up another step. "This is *not*...I've changed my mind. We shouldn't do this."

Rupert was *injured* for god's sake, including injured ribs, and there was no way...except three or four ways which occured to him as he tried to back up another step. If he'd sounded at all convincing, Wesley thought, he'd be terribly surprised.

No one should *look* like that. Eyes burning, fierce expression that seemed to dive right into Wesley's chest and burrow its way to his groin.

"I'm not doing anything," Rupert denied even as he kept *looking* at him.

"You're doing it quite deliberately," Wesley retorted -- in a much too soft voice.

Rupert moved closer. "Do you want me to stop?"

"I--" He had no idea. Stopping was probably a very good idea. Only he wasn't sure any part of him wanted to stop. Or could say 'stop'. He wanted to kiss Rupert, again.

"I will, you know. Stop." Rupert was right in front of him now, so close that Wesley could feel the heat of his body. "If you want me to."

"I don't want you to," Wesley told him. He glanced down, all he could see was Rupert's shoulder, his neck -- almost close enough to touch. All he had to do was leaned forward one inch. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"I think it's a necessary idea."

"Is it, now?" Wesley asked, but he found himself smiling. Nervous as hell, of course, and he still wished he could make his feet move -- back up another step and perhaps with less proximity he could think more clearly and remember why he was saying no in the first place. There had been very good reasons. Possibly.

"Absolutely." Rupert leaned in until their mouths were almost touching, bare millimeters between them. "Don't you agree?"

"I think...you're going to regret this, later. After your ribs and other injuries remind you that you're not up to such things." Wesley was staring at Rupert's mouth as he spoke. He'd kissed him before -- it wasn't as if he didn't know how it felt. Perhaps that was why.

"Any acrobatics will have to wait, but I think we can manage the basics." Rupert finally kissed him.

Wesley swayed; bumping into Rupert as he did so, discovering that he wasn't the only one who was reacting so strongly -- to the kiss, to the talk, to the whatever it was that made him tilt his head back, now, as Rupert pushed into the kiss. Rupert raised his good hand, cupping the back of Wesley's head, holding him in place as the kiss deepened.

Wesley felt his knees tremble. He'd have sworn it was a fairy-tale myth, along with swooning and being swept off one's feet by a knight on horseback. But his knees were trembling and he wanted very much to be swept away.

Finally Rupert pulled back. "Shall we take this to the bedroom?"

Wesley didn't answer; he stumbled forward, first against Rupert then a step past him, towards the bedroom. He was shaking, now, and breathing hard. He felt Rupert's hand slide along his back as they headed down the hallway. He nearly stumbled, catching himself before he could trip -- all he needed was to make a complete arse of himself and make Rupert wonder what the bloody hell he was doing.

Rupert chuckled, the sound deep and throaty. "Careful. One of us beat up is enough."

Wesley tensed, concentrated on what should have been the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. He was acting like a nervous virgin, for god's sake -- and it had only actually been a matter of days. He walked into the bedroom without humiliating himself, but without turning and looking back at the man who was following.

Rupert's hand stayed resting at the small of his back the entire walk, which seemed far longer than it had been before. When he reached the bed, he stopped, and turned around. Rupert's expression gave him pause -- the arousal there was sharp, and Wesley was surprised that he was still standing there and not throwing himself forward. It, too, went right to his cock and stayed there, making whatever thought had been on his tongue vanish away.

But Rupert didn't move forward, just stood and looked at Wesley. After a moment of nervous waiting, Wesley asked, "Are you...going to *do* anything?" He hated how he sounded -- injured vocal cords wrapped up in something not quite demanding. Certainly not the way he wanted to sound, which would have been confident and certain of what he wanted. What he was doing.

With a smile, Rupert finally reached for him. "Yes. I just needed to make sure that you really want to do 'anything'."

"I...do. I just--" Wesley let himself move back into Rupert's embrace.

"We can go slow," Rupert reassured. wrapping his arms around him. "Actually, there's not much choice in that -- I doubt I could go any way but slow, at the moment."

Wesley half-smiled. "Perhaps I should be asking you what *you* want."

"You." The sound of it hit Wesley, as hard as the first kiss.

"You have me," Welsey replied, softly. "Now what?"

"Now we do...anything." And he kissed Wesley again.

Wesley was beginning to think that Rupert would be perfectly happy to *just* kiss him. As he let his body rest gently against Rupert's, trying not to put any weight on him or nudge any injured area, he realised that *he* did not. He wanted much, much more.

He wasn't entirely convinced he could -- or should, or whichever hesitation was the right one. He'd never felt so uncertain of himself with a lover. Not since he'd been fifteen, at least. But carefully, with plenty of warning and chance for Rupert to stop him, he slid one hand underneath the edge of Rupert's shirt.

A rumble of pleasure vibrated in Rupert's chest at that simple touch, and his own hand mirrored the action, slipping beneath Wesley's shirt to skim lightly over his bare skin. Curious, Wesley slid his hand a bit higher, spreading his fingers a bit, as they continued kissing -- as though all either had ever wanted, was to stand there and kiss, for a hundred years.

Perhaps, Wesley thought, he was getting a bit silly from lack of air. He broke the kiss and realised he was breathing hard. So was Rupert, and Wesley watched as he licked his lips as if searching for any lingering taste. "I...Shall we get rid of the clothes? Normally I would consider undressing as part of the foreplay, but given my ribs..."

"Allow me," Wesley told him, and began unbuttoning Rupert's shirt. "It's why I'm here, after all."

"To undress me?"

"To take care of you. Right now, that means undressing you. In a few moments, it will mean kissing you again." Wesley dropped the shirt after sliding it down Rupert's arms -- taking the chance to run his hands down those arms, touching skin through bunched up fabric.

"Good," Rupert said faintly and Wesley felt a minute shiver go through his body.

Wesley took a moment to look -- he hadn't seen this, last night. Rupert had come out of the bathroom dressed for bed, the same as Wesley had done. Now, though, he looked. he reached up and began touching, lightly, the places he was looking. Chest. Arm. Cheek. Neck. Stomach. One light finger across the top of a nipple, to see if there was any reaction. Rupert gasped softly, but remained still, allowing Wesley to explore.

Wesley smiled, and made note. Then -- purely in the interest of thorough investigation -- he let his hand wander some more, then traced lightly over the other nipple. He got another gasp, accompanied be an involuntary shiver. "Hmm." Wesley rubbed his thumb over the other nipple.

The shiver got more pronounced. He let his hands wander, again, touching Rupert's chest, then down along his stomach, feeling the muscles moving beneath his fingertips. Then he brought both hands up to each nipple, and caressed them. Rupert moaned and finally moved, sliding his hand beneath Wesley's shirt. Wesley shivered, himself, as Rupert's hands touched him, but he kept his attention on his own movements. Touching one nipple, letting the other hand brush against skin to Rupert's back, holding it there while the other hand moved down along his side.

A faint frown appeared on Rupert's face as he began working on undoing the buttons on Wesley's shirt, hampered by having only the one good hand to use. Wesley moved his hands around Rupert's waist, clasping them together and pulling Rupert close. As Rupert gave him an amused smile, he leaned over to kiss him. Briefly, surprising him a little by the look on his face, then Wesley stepped back and removed his shirt.

The look on Rupert's face morphed into one of definite appreciation as he took in the sight of a bare chested Wesley. Struck by another moment of uncertainty, Wesley didn't move forward right away. He tried not to hold his arms in front of himself -- as though that would make any difference. he was glad, though, that he'd halted the impulse to remove his trousers as well, with the shirt, and be standing here now in only his underwear.

Rupert reached out and lightly traced the scar on Wesley's stomach. He felt his muscles flutter at the light touch, then tighten as he tensed. God, if Rupert was going to caress and kiss each and every bloody scar, he wasn't sure he could take it. The force of the thought surprised him, and he managed to keep from giving it voice.

Instead, he reached for Rupert, wanting to touch him back -- regardless of *his* scars. Rupert came willingly, seeking out Wesley's mouth again and gently pushing him down and following him onto the bed. He sat easily enough, still reaching for Rupert, wanting to touch him again. Except he didn't want him too close, because he still wanted to see everything.

Still smiling, Rupert allowed himself to be pushed back prone. Wesley leaned over him, leaning on one hand, and with the other, began to trace another circuitous route across Rupert's chest. He gave each nipple a light flick as he went past, then leaned down and took the nearest one into his mouth. Rupert gasped again, fingers closing around the nape of Wesley's neck, wordlessly encouraging him to continue.

He did so, shifting around to sit more comfortably on the bed and lean over to reach the other nipple. Laving it well, he gave each a kiss before placing his hand on Rupert's stomach, right above his waistband. He felt the muscles there ripple under his touch, Rupert's gaze focused on his face intently He thought about teasing him -- touching him, not divesting him of his trousers, seeing how long before Rupert growled at him again. But 'slow' was not the same thing as 'torture'. He began undoing Rupert's top button, with one hand.

Rupert remained still, remained silent, but the heat in his gaze as he watched Wesley felt like it would incinerate him. Wesley continued with the button, then drew the zipper down -- fighting nervousness, reminding himself how many times he'd actually done this and he didn't have to be worried about things like performance anxiety.

He knew it was just what he hoped was an irrational fear that any moment now Rupert would tell him he'd been joking, that he had no interest in allowing this, and how dare Wesley go this far. But certainly Rupert didn't seem to be gearing up to that as he caught his breath, then let it out in a moan as Wesley's fingers brushed against him.

If anything, the chastisment would seem only to come if he *stopped*. Wesley tried to ignore his nervousness, and open Giles' trousers. Abruptly Rupert reached for him, pulling him down to kiss him again. Wesley found himself half-lying on top of Rupert -- his naked chest pressed against Rupert's, and the heat of his groin burning against his hip. He shivered, returning the kiss as fiercely as he could while fumbling Rupert's trousers open. As soon as his hand touched the naked skin of Rupert's cock, he felt his lover's entire body jump.

"Yes," Rupert murmured against his mouth, hips pushing upwards into his hand. "Touch me."

It was encouraging to hear -- arousing, as well, but mostly encouraging. Wesley wrapped his fingers around the erect cock, pulling it free of Rupert's underwear.

Another moan rumbled through Rupert's chest and he pulled his mouth away, breathing hard. "Tighter..."

Wesley tightened his grip, reflexively. He shivered again, torn between kissing Rupert again, wanting to taste his mouth, or kissing anywhere else, so Rupert could keep talking.

"Yes, just like that," Rupert groaned, bucking into the touch.

He kept moving his hand, though he realised he could almost just hold his hand still and let Rupert do the work. It occured to him that was *not* the point -- he should be lying still, so as not to injure his ribs further. He moved away -- keeping his hand on Rupert's cock, and shifted his position.

Rupert's eyes, which had been drifting shut under Wesley's touch, flew open again when he moved. "Wha--"

"Lie still," Wesley told him, running his free hand along Rupert's chest, teasing his nipples again. Then he leant down and took the head of Rupert's cock into his mouth. That elicited a sound halfway between a strangled shout and a whimper, as Rupert arched up almost violently.

Wesley lifted his head. "I presume that was a good noise?"

Rupert growled at him.

"Was *that* a good sound?" Wesley frowned slightly, even though certain parts of his body were insisting it was a wonderful sound. He wanted to hear it again. And again. And -- perhaps he'd better not push it, right yet, though. He smiled and lowered his head once more.

Rupert groaned again, the sound having a definite encouraging tone. His good hand came down to rest in Wesley's hair, not holding him in place, merely keeping contact. Wesley licked around the tip of the cockhead, focusing his attention on it, and letting the noises Rupert was making fade into the background. Then he opened his mouth and took the head in, all at once.

"Wesley..." Hearing his name moaned like that was a very good thing, he decided, as was the hand tightening in his hair.

He moved his mouth up, and licked again. He took his time on the tip, licking up the precum, holding the cock steady with his hand as Rupert moved around beneath him. His earlier admonition to lie still definitely did not seem to be working, though at least the way Rupert was squirming probably wasn't going to hurt his ribs.

Encouraged further, Wesley continued his ministrations. He licked, alternating between the tip of his tongue and the full flat of it, until Giles was panting hard. Then he opened his mouth again and sucked in the cockhead -- stopping just past the head, pushing the foreskin back with his lips.

Rupert moaned his name again, this time with a new urgency, and Wesley could feel his limbs begin to tremble. He removed his mouth once more, and used his tongue again, this time teasing the tip for just a moment before going down the shaft, digging his tongue underneath the foreskin to reach every inch.

"I-I'm going to..." Rupert warned inbetween gasps for air.

Wesley quickly sucked Rupert's cock into his mouth, as far as he could take it. With a yell that hung in the air like smoke, Rupert bucked up violently and Wesley tasted the bittersweet evidence of his lover's climax. He swallowed everything he could, wanting to keep his mouth on Rupert's cock as long as possible.

Gradually, he could feel Rupert relax, the cock starting to soften under his tongue. He gave it one last suck, one last lick, before letting it slip out of his mouth. Breathing deeply, he let his head rest on Rupert's hip.

Rupert's hand had never lost contact with him the entire time and now began stroking his hair. "Wesley?"

"Yes?" He realised how relaxed he felt -- despite his own aching erection he felt content to lie there. But Rupert's touch was gently but insistently urging him upward. He waited a moment to gather his strength, then pushed himself up, and scooted upwards.

Rupert immediately pulled him close and kissed him, a long lazy sated sort of kiss. "Thank you."

"My pleasure," Wesley replied, smiling happily.

"And I shall return the favour--" He was cut off by a large yawn.

Wesley kissed him, and ran his fingers thorugh Rupert's hair.

"I-I shall--" Another yawn interrupted Rupert again as his eyes began to drift shut.

Wesley noticed just how difficult it seemed to be for Rupert to keep his eyes open. Smiling to himself, he continued to run his fingers through his hair and lay soft kisses along his jaw.

"...shall..." Rupert murmured already more asleep than awake.

"Yes, Rupert," Wesley whispered.

His only response was a soft sigh as Rupert drifted off. Wesley remained where he was, cuddling Rupert and gently massaging his scalp, until Rupert's breathing deepened even further. Wesley watched him sleep, both to make sure he was deeply asleep, and because -- thgough he was somewhat taken aback by it -- he liked lying there, looking at him.

Soon, though, he had to move -- sneak off to the bathroom for either a cold shower, or to deal with the erection he'd been left with. It took several attempts of sliding a few millimetres away from Rupert then stopping, before he was able to move back off the bed with causing Rupert to so much as stir.

He walked out of the room, discarding along the way both of his options, and deciding that he should take advantage of the time to get some work done. That would be distracting enough that the dull ache in his cock would die away. He tugged at his trousers -- at least he had privacy, this time, to hide it. He went into the living room, spied the journals, and picked one up and settled on the sofa.

It didn't take long to lose himself in it. Before long, his erection did fade away and he was left with a faint yearning which was easy to ignore. Easy for awhile, that was. After a few dozen pages with finding nothing, he realised he really didn't want to sit here anymore.

Setting the book down, he returned to the bedroom. Standing in the doorway, he took a moment to simply watch. Rupert, sleeping, looked utterly scrumptious. If he didn't need his rest so badly, Wesley would have woken him. As it was, he contented himself with the sight of him. Even covered in bruises and scratches, scars and bandages, he looked beautiful.

Wesley found himself amazed at the thought. Amazed, stunned, bewildered that Rupert wanted him. As he watched, Rupert stirred, reaching out, looking for something -- for him, Wesley realized suddenly and another surge of warmth went through him at the thought.

When his hand only encountered the bed linens, Rupert's eyes opened and he looked around, only relaxing when his gaze focused on Wesley. "Good morning." Wesley grinned. It was still morning, if barely.

Rupert stared at him for a moment and Wesley could almost see him running over what he remembered. "I fell asleep."

"Yes. I've decided to be flattered," Wesley teased. He remained in the doorway, despite how much he wanted to go over and lie down again. Hopefully, if he stood here long enough, Rupert would scowl sternly at him and growl again.

At the moment though, he was blushing. "Sorry. I hadn't meant--"

"It's all right. Under the circumstances, it might have been more surprising had you stayed awake." Wesley gave in to his initial desire, and returned to the bed. He sat down, and placed his hand on Rupert's chest.

Rupert's hand immediately moved to cover it. "I'll have to make it up to you."

"You could," Wesley allowed. "You could let me borrow the Digliow Manifest you've got on your bookcase."

"I could. Or I could strip you naked and have my wicked way with you."

Wesley barely managed to avoid dropping his jaw, and had to work it a bit before he could say in a even tone, "Or you could do that." It was difficult to remain calm and collected, when his cock was telling him to take his trousers off and lie down.

Rupert smiled and urged Wesley to move closer so he could reach the fasterners on his trousers. Wesley scooted closer as bidden, but made no other move to assist. Once again Rupert slid his hand down Wesley's chest, pausing at the scars there. "How did you get these?" Rupert asked softly, carefully, seeming more concerned than morbidly curious.

Wesley tensed, involuntarily, and glanced down at the scars. Rupert's hand was resting near the round scar left by the bullethole in his gut. "What would you expect?" The tone of his voice startled him, a bit, but he didn't apologise.

"A gunshot wound?" Rupert's voice was still soft, still concerned.

"Why not? I think I've faced just about every sort of demon that would want to kill me. Why not add a zombi policeman to the list?"

Rupert's hand was now making small soothing circles on Wesley's stomach, over scars and unmarred skin alike. "You're one up on me. I've faced zombies and I've had run ins with police, but never both at once." The teasing belied the understanding he could see in Rupert's eyes.

Wesley smirked, though he didn't feel very amused. He moved to lie down, though, sideways on the bed, beside Rupert. He lay down on his side, resting one arm across Rupert's stomach, well away from all *his* new scars.

Rupert continued to run his hand over him soothingly. "Did I ruin the mood?"

"No, I-- I'm all right." He took a deep breath, and realised he actually was. "I just...may I lie here with you? For a while?"

"Of course. For as long as you need."

Wesley closed his eyes. He thought of staying here all week -- just like this. It felt terribly sybaritic. Rupert's hand slid over his bare skin, stroking Wesley like he was a large cat. He relaxed under the touch, found himself teetering dangerously towards relaxing enough to fall asleep. He opened his eyes, to prevent it, but otherwise remained still and silent.

"You don't like me asking questions." It was calmly said, with no censure, but more of a statement than a question.

"I... I'm not used to it," Wesley admitted. Once upon a time, his friends hadn't had to ask questions, because they'd been there for it. Before that, there hadn't been anyone who wanted to ask. Rupert's questions made him feel as though he'd done something wrong, that Rupert should have to resort to asking.

"I'm sorry if I've made you uncomfortable. But...I want to know you better -- how you think, how you react, what you've been through. So I have to ask."

Wesley sighed, and scooted closer, the miniscule amount there was left between them. Rupert reacted by holding him more tightly. He tried to think of a response to that. It warmed him, to know why Rupert was asking, though it also worried him that, somehow, his answers would be found with fault. A rather absurd thought occured to him, and he had to think it over, before he dared voice it. "Would it be all right...if you didn't ask? Just yet?"

Rupert tilted his head to meet his gaze. "It bothers you that much?"

"I'm afraid that if my answers are wrong, it will change how you feel about me," Wesley confessed in a whisper.

"Wesley." Rupert's expression was serious. "This isn't a test. And my feelings for you are not so fickle that they are going to change because of something you say -- or something you did in the past for that matter. I'm hardly in a position to cast stones in that arena even if I wanted to. Which I don't."

"I... know that. Rationally. But -- I can't help..."

"Thinking I'm going to abandon you?"

Wesley closed his eyes. Rupert had promised he wouldn't, hadn't he? Just this morning. "I'm sorry." If nothing, he would certainly wear on Rupert's patience, wouldn't he?

"For being honest?" Rupert shook his head. "Don't apologize for your feelings, or for sharing them. Even if it's something you don't think I'd want to hear."

"I-- thank you," he said simply. He lay there, quiet in Rupert's arms, and tried to think about answering his questions. The ones he'd asked hadn't been more than awkward -- reminding him mostly of the things he'd lost last year, than anything else.

So far, in fact, he hadn't actually asked about anything he didn't want to talk about, per se. At least, nothing he weasn't willing to explain parts of. But -- the thought of saying yes, and opening himself to a barrage of questions... He tensed.

"It's all right," Rupert reassured, stroking the arm that was wrapped around him. "I can wait."

"I'm sorry to be so..." He couldn't think of a proper word to describe it. Hysterical and prone to vapors, perhaps. Nervous, maybe.

Frightened.

"Human?"

"You say that like it's no big deal," Wesley said, with a forced laugh. For all he'd come here to take care of Rupert -- it seemed like the tables were almost competely turned.

"Being human?"

"Being such a high maintenance human," he clarified. "I can't promise I'm worth it," he began.

Rupert stopped him with a finger to Wesley's lips. "Luckily, you're not the one who gets to judge." Then, more seriously, he added, "You are."

Wesley exhaled a breath he'd been holding. It felt reassuring to hear, and he wished he had the balls to ask Rupert to say it again. He kissed the finger resting on his lips, instead.

"I'll make you believe it."

Wesley hugged him, carefully, one armed. "I'll try to... not make it too difficult."

Rupert hugged you back. "Just be yourself. That's all I ask."

"I'll try," Wesley replied, smiling. "I may forget sometimes and act like Wesley Smythe-Rodgers, a lad I knew from school."

"The horror," Rupert teased.

"He was a complete prat. Had absolutely no coordination yet insisted on playing football with the others. He'd cry to the teachers if he wasn't allowed on a team. The only reason anyone put up with him was because his father was rich, and bought things like new uniforms for the sports teams."

"So if you start acting like a prat..."

"Well, if I start demanding to speak to the headmaster if you aren't nice to me. I'm told I'm still somewhat of a prat at times."

"Perhaps. But we're all a bit of a prat at times." Rupert kissed him briefly. "I won't hold it against you, if you don't hold it against me."

"No, I won't," Wesley promised. "I might call you a wanker, if required." He was feeling better -- not as light-hearted as his comments would have indicated, but better, definitely.

Rupert's hand slid down his side to rest on the fastenings of Wesley's trousers. "Perhaps I should take that as a request?"

Wesley gasped, and his hips seemed to move forward on their own. Clever fingers quickly undid his trousers, then slid in to grasp his hardening cock. He gasped again, and his hips thrust forward once more without any conscious direction. He pressed his face against Rupert, and with the hand not draped across Rupert's torso, Wesley dug into the fabric of the coverlet.

Rupert started stroking him, in exactly the way Wesley liked best. Wesley groaned, softly. Gasping for air, he tried thrusting himself harder into Rupert's hand. Just as he was getting into a rhythm, Rupert's hand was removed. "Come here," he said, urging Wesley up.

"Mm?" Wesley raised his head and looked at Rupert. "What...?" His cock was aching -- he wanted to take Rupert's hand and put it back where it had been.

"Come here," Rupert repeated, guiding his movements. "I need to be able to reach you."

"Oh." Wesley grinned. "Yes, just--" He sat up, and slide forward, then stopped and looked at how they were positioned. How they needed to be positioned. "Mm."

Rupert watched him with a half amused, half anticipatory look.

"I'm assuming you'd prefer to remain lying on your back?" He was surprised that he sounded so in control -- given that his cock was sticking out of his pants, and all he really wanted was to push himself up against Rupert's skin, and rub.

"Unfortunately my ribs would protest any other position."

"So, unless I kneel above you..." He frowned. "Perhaps we should just stick with--"

"Wesley." Rupert's voice had taken on an edge of command. "Come *here*."

Wesley shivered, and moved forward. He pulled at the waistband of his trousers, loosening them and pulling them down a bit, out of the way. Rupert guided Wesley's movements with light touches, until he was kneeling over him and Rupert was able to lift his head and lick at the tip of Wesley's cock. A strangled sound was wrenched from Wesley's throat, and he had to catch himself as he thrust his hips to drive his cock deeper into Rupert's mouth.

Both of Rupert's hands came up to hold his hips, the casted one just resting lightly while the other gripped him hard enough to leave a mark. He dropped his head, and moaned at the touch -- the hands on him as much as the mouth.

Rupert gave tiny licks all down the length of his cock, taking his time exploring. Wesley realised that he was going to have to concentrate on holding himself up, so he didn't crash down on Rupert when his arms gave out. It was going to be tricky, especially if Rupert kept doing *that*. Or that, he thought giddily as Rupert moved to nuzzle at his balls.

He wasn't certain if the noises he was making were encouraging or not -- they sounded bizarre, as though he were choking or possibly getting the best massage of his life. Or both. He locked his elbows as he felt a tongue on his cock again and tried desperately to remain still. Then Rupert's mouth closed over him, his tongue fluttering against the tip.

"Uh!" Wesley jutted his hips forward involuntarily, pulling back as soon as he realised what he'd done, and tried to...well, tried to breathe.

The grip on his hips tightened, helping to hold him still as Rupert took him in deeper. Inhaling sharply, Wesley tried to push his hip against Rupert's good hand, pushing into the fingers already digging into him. His hips were still twitching, wanting to drive himself even deeper into Rupert's mouth and he locked his legs, trying to hold himself still.

When Rupert growled around him it became impossible and he thrust forward, going deeper into Rupert's welcoming mouth. He threw his head back, feeling his orgasm beginning, wanting to keep his cock inside that mouth til the very last second.

Rupert growled again, the vibrations surrounding him pushing him over that final edge. He thrust his cock forward one last time, barely remembering he'd meant to pull out. It was too late, he was coming and Rupert was holding him down.

Gradually, as he calmed, Rupert eased up, finally letting Wesley slip from his mouth. Wesley took a deep breath, then another; then he pushed himself sideways and let himself fall to the bed. His elbows didn't unlock right away and he had to shake them, to bend them again.

Rupert's fingers slid over his skin, calming now instead of arousing, and he sought out Wesley's mouth, kissing him deeply. Wesley could taste himself on his lover and it made him shiver. He lay still, for a few moments, simply letting himself recover. Rupert kissed him again as he did so. It was a wonderful sensation; he wasn't sure if it was simply having a lover, being kissed so well and so often, or just Rupert. He suspected that as soon as Rupert stopped kissing him, he was going to see a rather sappy smile on Wesley's face.

But that was okay, because when he did stop kissing him, Rupert merely smiled back.

"You're going to be too good for me, I can see that," Wesley said, lazily.

"Wait until my ribs heal," Rupert teased.

"I'll be sure and rest up." Wesley grinned. That got him kissed again.

When Rupert shifted away -- not far, Wesley noticed -- he didn't move. He looked at Rupert, seeing the lines on his face that seemed to have lightened, seeing the smile on his face, and the look in his eyes. He realised he was tempted to say something utterly soppy.

"What?" Rupert asked, fingers tracing Wesley's features. "You have this look..."

"Yes. That would be my 'let's not say what we're thinking, else our companion think we're competely barmy' look," Wesley explained.

That earned him a small smile. "So what are you thinking?"

"That I know what I want to do today." He didn't feel as self-conscious as he'd thought he would, saying it. Getting ready to say it.

"And what's that?"

"Lie here."

The smile that Rupert gave him then was enough to take his breath away. "We can do that."

Wesley managed to pull his face into a serious, very slight frown. As it was echoed on Rupert's face -- though his was real, with worry, Welsey said, "We can't. We're sideways on the bed and my legs are dangling off the edge."

Rupert raised his head and made a show of looking. "Yes, I believe we are. And they are."

"If we lie like this all day, my feet are going to go to sleep." He didn't actually make any attempts to move, of course. But it was nice to tease Rupert and not feel as though he were over-stepping bounds. He wasn't sure how it had happened, but the sex probably had something to do with it.

Was it possible to go too far, once you'd already gone farther?

"I can see how that might be a problem," Rupert replied, though he too showed no signs of moving.

Wesley nodded. "Just so you know." He scooted forward, resuming his previous position, cuddling close. "I plan on blaming you when I can't walk." There was silence for a moment, and Wesley felt himself turn bright red. When, he asked himself, was he going to stop saying things like that -- and when was he going to stop assuming Rupert would take everything he said, as innuendo?

"All in good time," Rupert murmured in return, with another little smile.

"I normally don't say things like this," he swore. He felt like hiding his face, but the only place to do so was against Rupert's chest. Well, not as though that was a bad thing, he told himself.

"Pity."

"You're corrupting me," Wesley accused. He realised he hadn't even done up his trousers, yet, and reached down to try to do so one-handed and without moving away.

"Am I?" That note of lazy amusement was becoming more and more familiar to Wesley.

"Yes. And later I plan on scolding you over it." Wesley got his clothing back in place as far as he could -- he suspected he still looked like he'd been debauched.

Though, if he did he wasn't the only one, he thought, looking at Rupert. "I will do my best to act contrite when you do."

"Yes," Wesley said dryly. "I can see you'd be good at acting contrite. Since you're fingering my waistband and trying to undo my sad attempt at dressing myself."

"Do you want me to stop? I don't hearing you protesting."

"I'm scolding you. Sternly." He gave Rupert a nicely stern look. It was probably spoiled by the fact he couldn't control his smile.

Rupert kissed him.

"Yes, that was very contrite," Wesley said, afterwards. "Next time, remove your fingers, first else I won't think you really meant it."

"I'll keep that in mind." Rupert made no effort to move his fingers, however.

Wesley sighed, as though very put-upon, and stayed right where he was. He was content to stay there all afternoon, as professed, without or without those fingers dancing lazily across the small of his back. His feet wouldn't actually go to sleep for several hours and it was a fair bet one of them would move by then.

Probably. He closed his eyes, and realised he was hungry. Now he was faced with a new dilemma. Move -- or not.

He must've stirred a little or given away his sudden restlessness somehow because Rupert's fingers stilled and he asked, "Is something wrong?"

"No, not at all," Wesley said quickly. He opened his eyes again, and admitted, "Just a little hungry."

He was totally taken aback by the bright smile Rupert gave him, eyes alight. "You're hungry."

Wesley blinked, twice. "You're glad I'm hungry?"

"Wesley, when was the last time you were hungry?"

"Um--" Wesley stopped, and thought back. Then thought back some more. "I can't actually remember," he finally confessed.

"And you are now."

"You're saying all I needed was a blowjob?"

"I think it's a bit more complicated than that," Rupert said with a straight face.

"Ah. A blow job, and a cuddle," Wesley said, matter-of-factly. He knew, though, that Rupert was right. Rest, and... everything that made him feel like the world wasn't desolate and bleak. "Thank you."

Rupert just nodded and gave him a brief kiss. It didn't change the fact that he felt more comfortable where he was, than he wanted to get up and get any lunch. He knew he ought -- he knew Rupert would insist, sooner or later, that he actually eat. But -- he really didn't want to move away.

Sooner or later came all too soon as Rupert shifted, still holding Wesley close but obviously starting to try and sit up. Wesley moved away, sitting up and holding out a hand to assist him.

"Thank you," Rupert murmured as he allowed himself to be pulled first to a sitting position and then to his feet. He didn't let go of Wesley's hand, using it to pull him into his arms again for another hug.

Wesley let himself lean into the hug. Not as good as lying down all day, but certainly someplace he wouldn't mind being for the next several hours.

His stomach growled. Perhaps with one small break, first.


Wearily, Giles leaned back in his seat and closed the journal he'd finished reading. Full of very interesting things, some which he wished he'd known about some years ago. But nothing useful at the moment.

Pushing the chair back, he turned his head to look at Wesley, questions about his research on his lips... which he let die without speaking when he saw Wesley, stretched out on the couch, book lying open face down on his stomach, fast asleep.

He smiled at the sight; first Wesley not only eating lunch without being prodded, but going back, making and devouring a second sandwich when he had finished the first. And now he had fallen asleep in the midst of research. Little things, but in all the failure he'd been experiencing lately, he would relish whatever victories that came along. Getting up, he crossed over and took Wesley's glasses off, folding them and laying them on the coffee table.

Wesley stirred. "Mm?"

"Shh..." Giles murmured, stroking Wesley's face gently. "It's just me."

Wesley turned his face towards Giles' hand, nuzzling it briefly, before he laid still. Giles let his fingers linger a moment longer. It was a wonder to him, how hard and how fast he had fallen for this man. "Mm." Wesley stirred again, shifting his entire body this time. "Greg?" He turned his head and opened his eyes. "Rupert," he said in a clearer tone.

"Hello." The sleepy contentment Wesley was radiating made him smile. "'Greg'?"

Wesley smiled, and the sight nearly took Giles' breath away. He looked utterly relaxed for the first time since Giles could ever remember. "Greg. He was always waking up before me, and would sneak back to bed and pretend he wasn't trying to wake me up." Wesley blinked, and seemed to wake up more fully. "I hadn't thought about him in years."

"Old lover?"

"Yes. Years and years ago, but extremely cute if you planned on being jealous," Wesley replied easily. He stretched a bit and sat up, catching the journal before it could fall to the floor.

"Do you want me to be?" Giles asked, though jealousy was not his first reaction.

Wesley set the book on the sofa cushion and looked thoughtful. "I'm not sure. What would it entail?"

Giles moved to sit next to him. "I...really don't know. It's been quite some time since I had anyone to be jealous over. And I never expected it to be over you." He could tell by Wesley's grin that he was about to start teasing him -- then his expression changed. He felt his own smile slipping in response, thinking their emotions were in an ever increasingly symbiotic relationship. "Wesley?"

"I... know exactly what you mean," he said, carefully measuring his words.

Giles wasn't surprised. He'd been waiting for some sort of conversation like this one -- why me, why us, why now -- or ever. But he hadn't been able to think of any answers. He had no idea why he felt exactly the opposite, now, about Wesley as he had before.

Emotionally, at least. Since the first time he'd seen Wesley, he'd been willing to take him to bed. Thinking back to that eager young man, Giles decided he really didn't *want* to answer, so instead he leaned over and kissed him.

"What was that for?" He didn't sound offended in the least. Nor even very confused.

Giles kissed him again.

"You're definitely trying to distract me," Wesley said, when he could speak again.

"Is it working?"

"No. Definitely not. You must not be doing it ri--" The rest of his sentence was muffled by Giles' own mouth.

This time he kissed Wesley until they were both breathless.

Wesley's eyes were dancing -- but more dilated -- when he said, "Sorry, not distracted." The deep growl in his voice said otherwise -- since this time Giles *knew* he was doing it deliberately, as a moment before his voice had been fine.

Giles kissed him a third time, slipping his hand beneath Wesley's head and holding it still.

"I'm not sure why you'd rather do this than talk," Wesley teased. "Although I imagine we can't talk all day."

"We can." Giles let his gaze focus on Wesley's mouth. "If we don't get distracted." Giles run his thumb down Wesley's jaw, hoping to further distract him. He found himself wondering which spots were the most sensitive to such distraction.

Wesley glanced up at him. "Er, no. We can't. Well, you can, I suppose. I... my voice will give out eventually." He started to grin. "Though before that occurs, I believe, you'll be distracted?"

"Quite probably. Unless you don't want me to be."

"You can avoid liking the way my voice sounds when I've overused it?" Wesley asked, doubtfully.

"Well, no, I can't. But I can try and pretend I'm not."

Wesley's sudden smile was as adorable as...well, the rest of him. All he said was, "Mm."

"Mm?"

"It's...difficult to keep talking. When...I think about how you react."

"Yes, but if you don't talk, I can't react to it. Unless," he gave Wesley a questioning look, "you don't want me to react?"

"Sometimes...it makes me self-conscious. I wonder if...my voice has already grown too rough for--" He stopped, as though what he were saying just occured to him as being the case *now*.

Giles reached out and stroked the side of Wesley's throat. "For what?"

"For...talking without meaning to...make you like it that way."

It was an improvement, Giles supposed, over being self-conscious over his voice because he thought it sounded bad. "Wesley, all you have to do to make me think of you that way is be breathing."

There was that blush again.

"What about you? What do I do that you find distracting?"

Still blushing, but this time he was smiling, as well. "The way you look at me. The way you...growl. Your smile."

That made him smile. "Growling. I'll have to remember that."

"It works best if you're...actually frustrated. Or angry." Wesley sounded sincere, but there was a mischevious glint in his eyes. No wonder, if he was saying that he would have to deliberately annoy Giles in order to get properly growled at.

"You haven't asked me to growl at you any other time."

"Hmm. I believe you're right."

"I'll have to keep that in mind."

"I'll talk, if you growl," Wesley said, a bit shyly.

Giles gave him his most dangerous smile and let his voice take on a bit of a growl. "I think that can be arranged."

He watched as Wesley's eyes dilated, and his body shivered. Then Wesley was leaning forward and kissing him like it was the only thing left to do.


Wesley woke up in one, immediate swoop. One moment he was utterly unaware of anything, the next he was wide awake, if still eyes closed and motionless, in bed. The next he was wide awake and trying to recall just exactly when he'd finally fallen asleep. He'd managed to bypass the disorientation of discovering exactly *where* he was, and whom he was lying next to, if only, he thought, because he'd spent the entire previous 24 hours in some sort of contact with Rupert.

He'd been lying on the sofa, being growled at and teased with kisses. That had led rather quickly to their returning to the bedroom, and after some more noises of a variety of sorts, they'd fallen asleep once more. From the look of the sun coming through the windows, it was late afternoon, possibly even early evening.

At the moment he was not actively on top of, or being held by, his lover -- and he had to wait for his thought processes to catch up as the word ran through his brain. Lover. His. He opened his eyes and looked at his lover. Lord, he was a sap -- but Rupert *did* look good, even asleep. Wesley grinned, despite himself, and started to push himself backwards, away from Rupert, towards the edge of the bed.

With a sleepy wordless protest, Rupert reached for him. Wesley tried to pull away from the hands reaching for him, without waking Rupert up. Another murmured protest was accompanied by a frown as he slipped away. He almost slipped back into bed, just to console his put out lover. If he did that, though, they'd be here all evening and all night.

So he snuck out of bed, backwards, going slowly until Rupert laid still again, though with a faint frown. Wesley grinned, and shook his head, as he made it out of the bed. He quickly headed to the bathroom, where he discovered the face looking back at him in the mirror looked amazingly like Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, rather than the zombi he'd seen in the mirror this morning.

When he was finished, he thought about going right back to bed anyhow. He knew Rupert was likely to wake up sore, however -- for all they'd been careful, they had done quite a bit of fooling about, including at one point knocking Wesley off the sofa onto the floor. Rupert's ribs and wrist were no doubt going to bother him when he awoke, so Wesley decided to head to the kitchen to make more hruvia tea.

As he headed through the living room, he stopped and grabbed the whiskey. He found an empty tea cup and poured a shot. Downing it in one swallow, he felt infinitely better. Head clear, he put the bottle back on the shelf, and went to make tea.

The kettle was just whistling when Rupert came up behind him, wrapping his arms around him. "Good evening."

"Mm. Hello." Wesley turned his head and collected a kiss.

Rupert kissed him deeply, but then pulled back with a frown. "You've been drinking."

Wesley blinked. "What? Oh... I didn't even..." Wesley shrugged. "I didn't think about it."

"I see."

"It was just one shot," Wesley told him. "Not like--" He sighed. "Do you want some tea?"

Rupert turned him around so they were facing each other. "Not like?"

Wesley wasn't exactly sure what he'd meant. He tried to think, and finally settled on, "Not like I'd got drunk."

The concerned expression on Rupert's face didn't change. "How often do you do that?"

"Didn't we do this earlier?" Wesley frowned, and moved away to pour the tea.

"I suppose I was hoping that...it would be different, now."

"I didn't even think about it," Wesley repeated.

"Maybe...maybe you should."

Scowling harder, and a bit confused, Wesley turned back around. "I thought you weren't going to lecture me, at the risk of being a hypocrite?" He winced as soon as the words were said. He hadn't come here to get into an argument, after all. He wasn't sure why he was feeling so irritated, either. He took his cup of tea, added the hruvia root to the teapot for Rupert, and intended to walk out of the room and avoid the conversation all together.

Rupert didn't move to follow, didn't look at Wesley as he spoke. "I'm not lecturing. I just...I worry."

"About one shot of whiskey?" Wesley shook his head. "I think you're worrying a bit too much, there." He forced a smile that he didn't quite feel.

"Just...give it some thought? Please?"

He wasn't sure exactly what he was supposed to be promising -- if he woke up, had a shot of whiskey without thinking about it... then what good would thinking about it after, do? But -- promising to do so would make Rupert feel better, certainly. Wesley nodded. "All right." He continued into the other room, making sure to stay well away from the bookcase and whiskey, and settled on the sofa where he'd left the journal he'd been reading.

Rupert followed him as far as the doorway. "Would you like some supper?"

"I'm not hungry," Wesley said, before he thought about it. He sighed. He *knew* what was coming. But his stomach wasn't exactly ready for food -- not upset, but certainly not conducive to eating.

Rupert sighed, but all he said was, "Let me know if you change your mind," before disappearing back into the kitchen.

Relieved, Wesley just opened the journal and began reading. So far they'd found nothing even remotely useful to finding a way back from Quor-toth. Wesley knew, in the back of his mind, that the only option might well be going to Quor-toth after Connor -- and staying. On Sunday, that option had been, if not a good one, certainly an acceptable one. Suddenly, however, the thought of leaving this dimension behind to raise Angel's son and protect him from the Hell Wesley had sent him to...

Wesley looked up at the kitchen, watching Rupert moving about the kitchen. He didn't want to leave Rupert behind, but it was absurd to think he could ask him to accompany him. Angel, he had no doubts about. It was doubtful he and Angel be able to get along, though certainly they'd be able to manage something, for Connor's sake.

Of course the other option was to send Angel, alone -- but Wesley could no more think of that option then he disregarded it. It was *his* fault the baby was gone. It was his responsibility to repair things as far as he could. But -- that was before he'd discovered Rupert... cared for him.

Would it be fair to leave him behind? Or was this something Wesley should find himself grateful for, for having what little time he could take, before going...leaving home, forever.

Rupert came in from the kitchen, balancing a tray with two bowls and his cup of tea. "I know you said you weren't hungry," he said as he crossed the room and put the tray on the seat of a chair before Wesley can offer to help, "but I thought you might have changed your mind?"

Wesley didn't take the bowl, nor say thank you. He didn't bother trying to say he wasn't hungry, or offer to try to eat so Rupert wouldn't worry. All he could think was -- what if they didn't find a way to bring Conner back? Alone, for the rest of his life, in Quor-toth -- knowing what he would have left behind.

"Wesley?" A hand touched his cheek and he looked up to see Rupert looking at him worriedly.

"If we don't find a spell back," he whispered, "I'm never going to see you again, am I?"

How long would he search, before using the spell to send himself there? How long could he put it off -- leave Connor there, alone, whie he searched for a way back? Though -- surely Rupert would keep looking, after he was gone? Come after them, if he ever found a way?

"What?" Rupert was frowning now. "Wesley, what are you talking about?"

"If we don't find a way back from Quor-toth." Wesley looked at him, hating that he was saying it. "There won't be a way for me to bring him home."

The frown deepened. "You think I'd let you go alone?"

Startled, it took Wesley a moment to say, "I can't... wouldn't ask you to-- it's *Hell*, Rupert. I'm not asking you to go along. Not... when there might be no way back." But even as he said it, he was looking at Rupert, and feeling something inside him tear in two. He didn't want to leave him, couldn't bear to leave him behind. Even though he knew he'd have to.

Rupert leaned in and kissed him firmly. "You're not asking. I'm telling you -- if it comes down to that, you're not going alone."

"I can't... condemn you to a place like that. Isn't it enough I've sent Connor there, I should send my lover as well?" He felt himself shaking. Consequences of his actions still sending their dark threads into his life, even now.

"If it comes down to that -- and it's far too early to be thinking about this -- I'm not letting you go alone."

"I--" He couldn't. Couldn't accept, but desperately did not want to think about going, alone. Leaving Rupert. Lord, he *was* a sap -- two days and he was mooning about like a love struck boy. He pressed a hand to his eyes, trying to regain some semblance of control, and felt Rupert's hand on his arm.

Rupert caught and held his gaze steadily "If you go without me, I'll follow."

"You sound quite determined," Wesley said, faintly.

"I am."

He looked over, and saw as fierce a determination in Rupert's eyes as was in his voice. He shivered. "Perhaps...we should concentrate on finding a way to return." He'd proven to himself -- rather, Rupert had proven -- that he needn't be truly angry in order to growl properly. But it didn't seem to alter the fact that when he *was*...he still had that look.

Rupert was now giving him a small approving smile. "That would be my suggestion."

Wesley looked down at the book in his hands. Somewhere, someone had to have written down *something* that would help them. If he had to read every book in England to find it, he would.

"*After* we eat," Rupert said, taking the journal out of Wesley's hands.

"Between you and Cordelia, it's a wonder I get *any* work done," Wesley said with a hint of bitterness he didn't actually feel. "Put the book down and eat, put the book down and come to bed. Honestly."

"Because of course, you're much more efficient when you haven't eaten or slept in days."

Wesley rolled his eyes. "You sound like Cordelia. Or does she sound like you?" He looked at Rupert, suspiciously. But he picked up his bowl and spoon, before Rupert could threaten to force feed him.

"You know, there was a time that I would be highly offended by that observation."

"Oh, she's much more...er, less..." Wesley stopped, and tried to think of a way to describe her without letting Rupert completely off the hook. "She's taller than she was in high school. By at least an inch."

"Actually," Rupert mused as he started eating his own breakfast, "I don't consider the comparison an insult anymore. Except perhaps in style."

"Mm. Yes, I'm sorry -- she does have a better sense of fashion." Wesley glanced down at Rupert's robe and slippers. "But I still like you more."

Rupert smiled at him. "Do you?"

"You kiss better, for one thing." Wesley gave him a return smile. "And you speak Drovish."

"Ah. I knew it would be useful some day."

"It's a quality not to be scoffed at. That and opening jars." Wesley paused, and looked at Rupert. "Can you? I mean, I know Cordelia can."

Rupert looked down at his casted wrist. "Not at the moment."

Wesley waved his spoon. "I mean generally. Obviously not at the moment." He was beginning to feel better, he suddenly realised -- and as he glanced down at his bowl, he discovered he'd eaten half of his soup.

"Well, it would depend on the jar."

"Hm." Wesley gave Rupert another thoughtful look. "Cordelia can type without looking at the keyboard. But she puts sugar in tea."

"But I kiss better."

"Yes." Wesley continued looking thoughtful, wondering which of them was going to break, first. As he glanced at the spoon in his hand as it had apparently automatically headed back to the bowl, again, he was surprised to see the bowl nearly empty. And more surprised to realise he was still hungry. He narrowed his eyes at Rupert.

Rupert just smiled at him. "Would you like some more?"

"Yes. You're not to be trusted, are you?"

"I keep telling you that." He took the bowl from Wesley and headed back to the kitchen.

"I keep forgetting, apparently." Wesley got up off the sofa, remembering *again* that the entire point of his being here was to wait on Rupert, not the other way around.

"I'll just have to keep reminding you then." Rupert had left the pot simmering on low on the stove and had put Wesley's bowl down on the counter as he reached for the ladle before Wesley got there to take over.

He seemed to have everything in hand, steady on his feet and he hadn't shown any signs of pain. Though it was more likely due to Rupert's acting ability, than the chance of such a full recovery so soon. Wesley sighed. "I haven't been doing a very good job, have I? Taking care of you, that is."

The look Rupert turned on him was honestly shocked. "Whatever gave you that idea?"

"It seems as though you've done more to take care of me, since I've come here." Wesley walked over and took the bowl from the counter which Rupert had just ladled more porridge into.

"By encouraging you to eat and sleep?"

"Not exactly the best way for *you* to convalesce."

"On the contrary. It gave me something to dwell on other than feeling sorry for myself." Rupert's voice was soft.

"I'm glad for that," Wesley said, leaning over to give Rupert a light kiss. It didn't make it any easier to bring up the next question, but he knew that now was probably the best chance he'd had, since Rupert had begn to show signs of being able to physically stand up to it. He waited until they'd gone back to the dining room table, and Rupert was seated with a cup of tea, and Wesley with his second bowl of soup. "Rupert..."

It still wasn't easy.

"Yes?" He looked up and frowned when he caught sight of Wesley's expression. "What's wrong?"

It wouldn't help to try to soften the question, so Wesley simply asked, "Do you want to attend Clarissa's funeral? It's the day after tomorrow in London."

There was a flash of pain and guilt and then Rupert's expression shut down and he glanced away. "I hadn't...I should have thought to look into..."

"You've been -- taking care of me," Wesley said, lightly. He gave Rupert a smile, and got a brief on in return. "I looked into it yesterday, while you were sleeping. I didn't want to mention it until I knew... if you'd be up to going, at all." He found he couldn't read Rupert's expression.

Rupert got up and moved to stand in front of the window, looking out, but Wesley was pretty sure he wasn't actually seeing anything. "I should go. I owe her that much."

"I didn't...tell anyone we'd be there. In case -- but did you want me to call?"

Rupert didn't answer.

Wesley stood up, and walked over, stopping just behind him. "Rupert?" He laid his hand on his lover's shoulder, carefully so not to startle him in case he wasn't aware Wesley had said anything.

Rupert turned to look at him and it was clear by the look on his face that he hadn't heard anything. He wished he could reach in, and take away the pain he could see in Rupert's eyes. All he could do was lay his hand on his lover's cheek, and hope what little comfort he could offer would make some difference.

It seemed to, because some of the tension seemed to leave Rupert's body at the touch and he closed his eyes and leaned into Wesley's hand. Wesley pulled Rupert into a gentle embrace, keeping his arms clear of his injured ribs, but hiolding him tightly as he could, all the same. Rupert's arms went around him in return, and Wesley heard him sigh softly.

"I'm so sorry," was all he could think to say.

Rupert nodded. "I know."

"Is there anything I can do?" He felt useless, knowing of course there was nothing he *could* do short of bringing the girl back from the dead. But he hated to stand there and do nothing at all.

"Beyond what you're doing now?"

Wesley found himself smiling, a little. "Yes, beyond that."

It took a moment for Rupert to answer. "Come with me?"

The question surprised him. "Of course! I was already planning to."

"It's not likely to be a pleasant experience. The family doesn't exactly hold me in high esteem."

Wesley almost laughed. "I've experience with unpleasant family events. It's not going to be a problem."

"Are you sure?"

Wesley leaned back far enough to look Rupert in the eye. "I'm certain."

Rupert sighed and his eyes closed again. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. I...I arranged for flowers to be sent, as well. So there's nothing we need do except be there." He didn't actually know if Rupert cared about that sort of thing, but it was the proper thing to do, and he didn't think Rupert would actually *mind*.

"Which is the hardest part," Rupert murmured, his gaze going back to look out the window.

"I know." He didn't let go of Rupert, despite his mental retreat.

Rupert didn't respond and Wesley began to wonder if he needed some space. He loosened his embrace, to see if Rupert wanted him to remain where he was. But Rupert pulled away, turning fully back to the window. Wesley watched him for a moment, then returned to the dining table. He wasn't sure exactly how *much* space Rupert wanted, but silence, at least, he could give him.

Rupert stayed where he was, unmoving and Wesley was struck by a sudden resemblance to Angel at his most brooding. Of course, were it Angel, he'd have known -- once upon a time, he'd have known -- what to do or say to bring him out of it. At least, as out of it as Angel could ever be got. With Rupert, however, Wesley felt at a loss. Under the circumstances, it was entirely reasonable that he'd want time alone to contemplate matters.

Without -- it suddenly struck him -- the need to put up a front for someone else. Wesley glanced down and saw his bowl of soup. He hadn't touched it, but it gave him an idea: a not entirely faked errand. He cleared his throat. When Rupert half-glanced back, he said, "I thought I might go to the grocer's this evening and pick up some things." He felt awkward, and it reminded him that for all he and Rupert had gone through these last two days -- they barely knew each other.

Rupert startled, as if he'd forgotten that Wesley was there. "I..." He shook his head as if jumpstarting his thoughts. "I suppose we could use some things. But you don't have to--"

"It's all right." He forced a smile. "It's been a long time since I was able to shop in a proper grocer's. I may stock up on some things to take back to the states with me."

"If you're certain..."

"I'll...take my time," Wesley said. Asked.

Comprehension flooded Rupert's voice. "You don't need to take *too* much time, but thank you." He headed towards his desk. "I'll get you some money--"

"I'm fine. I have sufficient cash for some groceries." Wesley took his bowl to the kitchen and set it on the counter, then returned to the living room find his jacket.

"In pounds sterling?"

With an exagerated sigh, Wesley replied, "Yes, in pounds sterling. I changed some money at the airport." He put on his jacket and gave Rupert a close look to make sure this was what he *really* wanted.

The look Rupert was giving him was affectionate but there was still something distant in his eyes. He went over and gave him a kiss, then simply headed for the front door. He'd give Rupert his time to brood -- and later, he'd try to take his mind off it for awhile.

He didn't hear anything from Rupert as he stepped out. Wesley carefully locked the door behind him with the key Rupert had given him -- with firm, if bemused -- instructions not to pick the lock from now on. He'd seen a grocer's down the street on his way here, the other morning, but he knew the shopping wouldn't keep him busy long enough to give Rupert time alone. He decided to search for a news sellers' stand and buy a paper; reading it over a pint would certainly give him plenty of time.

He walked, as there were no taxis in sight. He doubted he would need one, as it wasn't all that far to the block where the grocer's was. He'd considered, briefly at the airport, renting a car -- but the trains had been easier, under the circumstances. Of course, he could have borrowed Rupert's car, but he hadn't thought to ask for the key until now and he didn't feel like going back up.

He found, as he began walking down the sidewalk, that he felt very much at home. It had been years since he'd last been in England, and longer still since he'd spent much time outside of London in a smaller town such as Bath. For the last few years he'd doubted he would ever get home again -- and now that he was, he wanted to enjoy the morning.

Savor it. The weather was crisp, and showed hints of spring. Normally the sort of evening Wesley missed, shut up inside with his studies in the second half of a semester. But the air smelled clean and reminded him just how smog-filled the air was in Los Angeles. He hated to think that in a few more days he would have to go back.

He managed to put thoughts of California out of his mind, and enjoyed his walk. He found a newspaper, and a pub, and took the one inside the other. He found a table in a corner and placed his order for a pint, and relished being surrounded by a half dozen familiar accents. A family was having supper together across the room, a few scattered working men and women were sitting alone as he was, and the waitress walked among them all asking what could she bring them.

He had a sudden urge to chain himself to the table leg and refuse to go back to California. He chided himself; now, at least, he had a reason to return. The thought warmed him, but at the same time worried him. He didn't look forward to going back to the US, didn't look forward to how long before he *could* return.

Distracting himself with the paper, Wesley took his time reading, and let the waitress bring him a plate of shepherd's pie which he picked at. An hour later he finally set the paper aside, paid his bill, and headed out to the grocer's. He had a list of the basics -- milk, fruit, bread -- and a shorter list of items he'd noticed not in the kitchen. Other things as well, luxury items that he thought Rupert might like. Wesley knew it was simply to spoil and pamper him, but he rather thought he had every reason to.

He was juggling three bags as he walked back up to Rupert's building. He'd grabbed a taxi for the return trip, so he could get the perishables into the fridge as soon as possible. After taking his time until that point, it was now nearly three hours later and he didn't want to be gone long enough for Rupert to grow worried he'd be gone all day. He reached the front door and set two of the bags down, and fished out the key.

He got the door unlocked, picked up the bags, and headed inside, kicking the door closed behind him. Two steps in, he found Rupert sitting at the table, reading one of the journals he'd picked up in London. Illogically, Wesley found himself momentarily irritated. He'd gone to let Rupert have time alone -- to think, or brood, or do whatever to deal with Clarissa's death. Instead he simply returned to research?

As soon as he thought it, he kicked himself, mentally. As though he didn't do the exact same thing when he felt at his most helpless.

Rupert hadn't looked up, seemed so ensorbed with what he was reading that he wasn't noticing his surroundings at all. Wesley smiled, and shook his head. Suddenly he rather understood what Cordelia was always on about. Rupert was rather adorable with his glasses slipping down his nose and his entire focus on the book to the exlcusion of all else. He carried the bags in, heading for the kitchen.

A moment later he heard Rupert make a sound of triumph and Wesley looked out to see him over at his bookshelf going through the volumes there feverishly. He hesitated in his unpacking, then quickly put away anything that went in the freezer, or fridge. As soon as he could leave the groceries safely, he left them and went to Rupert's side.

Rupert by this time was back at the table with a volume, comparing some of the text to what he'd obviously found in the journal. He looked up startled when Wesley appeared beside him. "When did you--"

"Arrive?" Wesley asked, amused. "Wednesday morning."

"Very funny," Rupert said wryly, but it got Wesley kissed anyway.

"I've been back for hours," he tried again. Hell, if it was going to get him kissed, why not?

"No you haven't." But he kissed Wesley again.

"Ten minutes," he finally said. "What did you find?"

Rupert gave him the most wonderful smile and handed him the journal. "See for yourself."

It took him a second to pull his gaze away from the smile -- he was tempted to kiss it, but then he looked down at the journal. He began reading, then skimming as fast as he could to find whatever it was had got Rupert so excited. "If this is about his idea for a uniform for the Slayer..."

He trailed off as the word Quor-toth jumped out at him and he read the paragraph once and then again to make sure he had read it correctly. There, in black and white was confirmation that what they'd been searching for existed: a way back from Quor-toth. The actual spell and its components weren't listed but the name of it and where to find it was. Wesley felt his heart stop. "Do you have--" Rupert had been searching his bookshelves. No doubt for the journal referenced here, the one which actually contained the spell. He frantically thought back over the contents of his bookcases at home, and the inventory at Daffodil's and Angel's own library.

"No," Rupert replied. "But I did recall seeing that name before, so I was looking-"

"Would the Council have a copy? It might be simplest to call the librarian."

"That was just what I was checking." Rupert picked up the other book. "This is a catalogue of what is in the Council library."

Wesley bit his tongue over asking if it were in there. Then he had to bite it over asking how up-to-date it was and whether it included the unfiled collection -- new acquisitions that hadn't been added to the regular inventory yet. Rupert had just discovered the passage moments ago -- he didn't know any more than Wesley did, at this point. But there was nothing for him to do but stand there and watch as Rupert checked the catalogue, and he wasn't certain he could stand *still*.

Rupert flipped through the pages quickly, showing an intimate knowledge of the catalogue's contents. The page turning slowed down and stopped altogether when Rupert murmured a soft "Aha."

Fairly jumping out of his skin, Wesley leaned forward to read over Rupert's arm. The journal was clearly listed as being part of the Council Library. His heart was still not beating. It couldn't be -- he wasn't breathing, either. "It's in London." Rupert looked up at him.

Wesley nearly said they could be in London by dinner -- and stopped. They were going to London the day after tomorrow anyhow -- would stopping by to get the journal suffice to give Rupert something other than Clarissa, to think about? Could he *wait* two days to get the journal?

Well, even if he got it now, he couldn't use it yet. He had to get back to California, and he couldn't leave England until after the funeral.

"We-- you could call, and make sure it's on the shelf. Reserve it so no one borrows it for three months before we can get it."

"It would take them a while to track it down..."

"We should call. You should," Wesley amended, since he knew full well what sort of response he'd get if *he* called.

"They really won't be able to tell us anything before we could go check for ourselves--" Rupert began.

Wesley nodded. "Did you... we could go now," he said, not sure that that was what Rupert *wanted* to do. The trouble was, he couldn't go alone -- in person, Wesley would have even less chance of getting any cooperation than over the phone.

But as anxious as *he* felt, Rupert seemed equally reluctant. It was no wonder -- he wouldn't want to return to London at all, if he could avoid it, Wesley guessed. Perhaps he *should* go alone, and at least *try*.

"I... don't want to raise any flags with the Council."

Wesley looked at him, confused for a moment -- then he said in an utterly shocked tone, "You've lied to the Council!"

"Often and quite convincingly," Rupert replied with no sign of guilt. "Bunch of poncey gits."

"You realise that technically *you* are also a poncey git. What with sleeping with another man, and all." He felt like laughing. There was a way! All that remained was to track it down.

Rupert was shaking his head, returning Wesley's smile. "Not as much of a git as most of the Council are, however."

"True. But I suppose as you are employed by the Council, it's only right that you're a poncey git," Wesley said easily.

"Takes one to know one," Rupert shot back.

"I'm not a git -- I was fired for just that reason," Wesley retorted.

"Wesley, trust me. When you were in Sunnydale, you were definitely a git."

"No, I was a prat and a prissy wanker. I have it on good authority. Besides, even if I *had* been a git, I was still a Watcher so it was required. I'm not, now, and therefore free to not be a git. It's really much better than a retirement plan."

"So you're saying I'm a git and you're not."

Wesley put a hand on Rupert's arm, and said, comfortingly, "I'm sorry. You're still a very nice kisser and you can -- normally -- open jars. That's all I ask."

Rupert mock sighed and turned away. "My lover thinks I'm a git," he mourned.

"But I'm sure you're a very *clever* git," Wesley consoled him.

"Small consolation."

"And you kiss well," Wesley added in the tone of one trying to console. "That's important."

Rupert looked back at him. "So you keep saying."

Wesley frowned, ever so faintly. "Did you want me to demonstrate?" he asked with a doubtful tone.

"A demonstration might prove...enlightening," Rupert responded.

Wesley thought it over for a moment, then nodded. "Very well." Then he didn't move.

Neither did Rupert except to raise an eyebrow.

"I know what sort of kisser *I* am," Wesley said, patiently. "You're supposed to kiss *me* to demonstrate *your* ability." It was really becoming difficult to hold a straight face, but Wesley was determined not to laugh. Yet.

"I...see. So when you asked if I wanted you to demonstrate, you meant--"

"That I would allow you to kiss me."

"Leaving me to do all the work."

"You *could* take me at my word," Wesley said. "Accept that I think you're an OK kisser and come to terms with your gitedness."

Rupert frowned. "Is that even a word?"

"It is now," Wesley said, blithely. "Look, are you going to kiss me, or shall I go see about driving myself down to London? Unless I can steal your car in which case--"

He was cut off by Rupert's lips coming down on his. He didn't try not to grin, as Rupert kissed him -- quite thoroughly, in fact. Almost enough to make him forget what they'd been talking about. When he could speak, again, he said, "All right. I take it back."

"Take what back?"

"About your being a 'fair' kisser."

Rupert gave him a suspicious look.

"It doesn't matter," Wesley said, patting Rupert's arm. "You can still open jars."

Rupert kissed him again, even more thoroughly than last time.

This time, Wesley simply looked thoughtful. Licking his lips, he waited while Rupert just looked at him. "I'm not sure I felt it," he admitted, finally.

Rupert growled, sending shivers down Wesley's spine. "You're asking for it, aren't you?"

"Am I being too subtle?" Wesley asked, somehow unable to speak as firmly as he had moments before.

"Biting off more than you can chew, more like." The growl was still in his voice, under the words.

Wesley shivered, then held himself still. Defiantly, he looked Rupert right in the eye. "You're still a git."

Rupert growled again. "I'm sure you wouldn't want to be kissed by a git then."

Wesley grinned, and ignored the way he was still shivered every time Rupert growled. "Would it be all right if I kissed you?" Normally he tried to avoid sounding like he'd overworked his voice. This time -- he made an exception and put his all in to it.

Rupert cleared his throat, as he tried to hide the obvious effect Wesley's voice had on him. "I believe I can be persuaded..."

In what Wesley would have considered worst voice, he asked, "Do you? You think you could be persuaded to kiss me again?" It was apparent that he was the only one present who thought it 'worst'.

"I thought you were going to kiss me..."

"Was I?" Wesley looked surprised. "Are you sure?" His voice was beginning to deepen naturally, and it took very little effort to push it lower.

Rupert's eyes darkened with arousal, but the smile he gave was like a visual growl. "Positive."

He couldn't help it. Wesley kissed him.

Just as it was getting interesting, they were interrupted by the phone ringing. Wesley pulled away, and let him answer it. He tried not to let the lingering look Rupert gave him, sway him into interupting as Rupert picked up the phone.

"Hello?" Rupert paused and listened to the response. "Buffy, I'm--" he began before stopping, obviously being cut off.

Wesley was startled to hear Buffy's name, but quickly turned his attention to the journal nearest his hand to give Rupert some semblance of privacy for his call.

"Really, Buffy, I'm fi--...Buff--...Yes, I would explain if you would let me get a word in edgewise!"

Wesley glanced over in time to see Rupert sighing, and rubbing his forehead with some exasperation. He tried to ask, with a hand gesture, if he should leave the room -- as though there were any place he could go and not overhear.

"I'm fine, really," Rupert assured his Slayer. "Well, all right, not *fine* fine, but all things considered..."

Obviously it didn't matter. Wesley opened the journal and began skimming, so as not to eavesdrop.

Rupert sighed. "No, I didn't get hit on the head again..."

Wesley smiled and thought about trying not to listen in. Briefly.

"A broken wrist and some cracked ribs. Really it's nothing seri--"

Wesley wondered why Rupert ever bothered trying to tell anyone his injuries weren't 'that serious'.

The look on Rupert's face had become one of world weary patience. "Yes, I know I don't have Slayer healing -- having studied Slayers for most of my adult life, the fact that I am not one has entered my mind on occasion. I just have to make do with what I have now, don't I?" His voice was starting to take on a bitterness that Wesley hadn't heard since the day he'd arrived.

He looked up, worried, then got up and walked over to Rupert.

"No, I don't want to talk about what happened. I..." He trailed off, listening to Buffy speak for a minute, and when he spoke again, his voice was a lot softer. "Yes. Very bad."

Wesley waited for a moment, but Rupert didn't seem to be concerned with his presence whether he was across the room or right beside him. But whatever incipent crises there had been, seemed to be passing, so he turned and went back to the journal, sitting back down to read the section on Quor-toth once more. It was all the privacy he could give him, but soon enough he'd be caught up in his research, no doubt, and hear less than Rupert had when Wesley had got back with the groceries.

Then he heard Rupert say, "I'm not alone."

Wesley smiled, somewhat bitterly, to himself at Buffy's reaction if Rupert told her who -- and what their relationship actually was.

"Wesley... Yes, that Wesley... No, he's still based in L.A. He's just visiting." It sounded as though Rupert were smiling.

Wesley glanced up from the journal and warmly returned the smile he found there. He tried not to imagine any sounds of disbelief Rupert might be hearing just then.

Rupert rolled his eyes and sighed. "If you insist..." He held out the receiver to Wesley. "She wants to talk to you," he said dryly.

"What on earth for?" was his immediate response. Then he realised she must want reassurance that Rupert wasn't lying through his teeth about his health, so he set the journal down and went over to take the phone. "Yes?"

"Wesley? It's really you?"

"Yes, Buffy, it's really me," he replied, patiently. He had to clear his throat and attempt to speak normally -- though his voice was naturally starting to wear. He didn't want to deal with answering when she asked why he sounded odd.

"Is -- is Giles really all right? He said--"

"Yes, Rupert is fine -- well on his way to recovering, that is."

He heard her sigh of relief. "Were you there when... he got hurt?"

"No, of course not." He'd have done something to prevent it, if he had. Or been hurt, himself... "I flew out, as soon as he told me."

Another sigh, this one more wistful. "This is probably going to come out all wrong, but why you? Why didn't he call me?"

As gently as he could, he said, "He didn't want you to worry about him."

She was silent for a minute. "Is this a British thing -- all stiff upper lip and all that?"

"Normally I would say 'yes'. However, knowing Rupert it was simply that he didn't want you to worry." Despite his calm tone, Wesley spared a stern glare for Rupert. He considered for a moment telling Buffy exactly what his condition *had* been -- but he knew that wasn't really his place.

"He is in *so* much trouble."

"Oh, I don't disagree with you there." Wesley smiled blandly at Rupert.

Rupert looked pained.

"Not worry me -- who does he think he is?"

"Did you want to yell at him again?" Wesley asked, solicitiously. "I can give him the phone back."

Rupert looked like he wanted to squirm in discomfort.

"I think I'll wait and email him a long thought out lecture instead. I'm too mad to do much more than growl at him."

"That sounds excellent. Er, was there anything else?"

Buffy's voice softened. "Just take care of him. Make sure he takes care of himself."

"Of course," Wesley assured her, looking once more at Rupert. "I couldn't possibly do otherwise." He didn't know if his tone would carry overseas over a transatlantic call, but Rupert was returning his gaze with a soft smile.

"You'll call if he needs anything -- since it's obvious that he's forgotten how to dial my number..."

"I will," Wesley promised. "You have my word, I'll do whatever I can to look after him."

"Thank you, Wesley. I-- It helps, knowing he's not all alone."

"I understand. It's why I came out here, after all."

He lost whatever goodbyes Buffy made in the smile Rupert gave him. He made some polite noise of his own, repeated his promise to call should anything happen, and said his own goodbyes. When he hung up, he realised he was smiling, back, at Rupert. He composed it quickly into the stern frown he'd had earlier. It only made Rupert's smile widen.

Very severely, Wesley said, "I believe you owe me a forfeit."

"I do?" Rupert was still smiling.

"I believe I was kissing you when I was rather rudely interrupted."

Rupert moved closer. "I do believe you were."

"And you," Wesley added, still frowning, "were growling at me. Rather nicely, as I recall."

"Yes." He sighed. "And then Buffy called."

"Which was your own fault, really."

"It was my fault?"

"For not calling Buffy in the first -- or second -- place. Leaving her to worry -- leaving her to find out long after the fact that you'd been hurt." Wesley wasn't honestly scolding him -- though he did think Rupert ought to have told Buffy what had happened. But... perhaps the reminder that he had several people who worried about him, would help the next time he found himself in need of a minder.

"Yes, well," Rupert grimaced, "I hadn't meant for her to find out at all. But she sent me a few rather strident emails, wondering why I hadn't been answering the phone over the weekend."

Wesley frowned -- this time for real. "Rupert -- there is no reason for her *not* to know. No reason for *any* of us to not know if you're hurt. You *do* remember that?"

But Rupert shook his head. "Buffy has her own problems to deal with. She doesn't need to be worrying about me -- especially when there's nothing she can do."

"Like come over here and make sure you've got tea and toast and assistance in reaching the toilet?" He didn't *think* Rupert was likely to put Wesley back in that category of people who needn't be worried.

"She has responsibilities in Sunnydale -- her slaying, Dawn. She couldn't have come." His tone became quieter, more differential, and he wouldn't meet Wesley's eyes as he continued. "And I did call you."

"Just be sure you remember that -- that I *will* come. And Buffy would have gladly packed Dawn up with her and brought her to England and it isn't as though Sunnydale hadn't survived for centuries without a resident Slayer, as well as the more recent summers when Buffy wasn't around. But even if she *didn't* come to England, it... isn't fair that she not be told."

He suddenly felt awkward, explaining this to a man who by most rights would be considered his elder and superior. But he wasn't -- and Rupert seemed to be more concerned with keeping things to himself. "I would have thought you owed her better trust, than to lie to her." Of course, he realised belatedly, Rupert was not longer Buffy's Watcher -- perhaps their relationship *had* deteriorated to the point that Rupert honestly didn't owe her the truth. It was far too late for him to take back his words, though, so he simply let them stand.

Rupert shook his head, though the gesture was more weary than defiant. "I didn't want her to worry. I..." He smiled without humor. "I didn't want her to think differently of me."

"What, that you're human?"

"That I could be so foolish and short-sighted as to get a young girl who trusted me, killed."

"You didn't intend to get her killed. If it were within your power to have avoided it, you would have."

Rupert moved away, pacing agitatedly. "I should've approached the situation -- called in assistance. I was so bloody sure I could handle it alone -- do you know I was actually looking forward to the confrontation?"

"Because it's better than sitting at home studying dust-covered books?" Wesley asked, understanding perfectly well.

"I should've stuck with the books. There's much less chance that studying will get anyone killed."

Wesley frowned. "You don't honestly believe that?" He wasn't sure that Rupert was exactly open to reason, at the moment. For as calm as he sounded, he hadn't made eye contact since he'd begun talking about what had happened -- and Wesley knew, from experience, that someone in Rupert's situation wasn't *likely* to listen to logic.

But it was all he had.

Rupert didn't answer immediately, drifting back over to stare out the window. "She trusted me to keep her safe -- I promised her I'd protect her."

"And had it been possible, you would have," Wesley repeated. Allowing his tone to grow sharp, he asked, "Or do you pretend you can control everything?"

"I should be able to control myself at least. I let my guard down."

Wesley realised there was nothing more to say -- he hadn't been there. Maybe Rupert had let his guard down, had been directly responsible for Clarissa's death. It was frustrating, though, to watch Rupert stand there and be in so much pain, and be unable to pull him out of it.

He wasn't certain if going over and offering an embrace, or even just a touch and silent support, would be helpful. All he knew to do, when faced with his own similiar failures was to bury himself in work and drink.

Rupert seemed to be sinking into himself, into a brooding worthy of Angel.

Wesley sighed, and walked over, first placing his hand on Rupert's arm, to guage his reaction. His lover didn't say anything, but he did seem to lean ever so slightly into Wesley's touch. Encouraged, Wesley slid his arm around Rupert's shoulders. "I wish I knew how to make the pain go away," he said quietly. Then he laughed, once. "Actually, I do, but it involves alcohol. And that seems to involve frowns of disapproval nowadays."

That earned him a small smile. "Not to mention the hangover."

Wesley had his mouth open, before he realised that what he'd been about to say would probably earn him one of those disapproving frowns. But Rupert caught the gesture and gave him a questioning look. "I suppose," he admitedly reluctantly, "That's why I got into the habit of having a drink in the morning."

Rupert brought a hand up to caress Wesley's cheek. "I had surmised as much."

He wondered what would happen in the morning -- chances were Rupert was going to be keeping an eye on him, and expect him to forego a drink. While he wasn't convinced he would -- nor was he convinced he needed one -- Wesley did suddenly realise that he'd discovered a way to keep Rupert from brooding. He wondered if it would be obvious, if he played up the need for Rupert to worry over him.

"There was a period of a year or so that I indulged in that habit myself. Every morning."

The admission surprised him. Wesley knew, Rupert had admited to it more than once, that he'd found respite in alcohol before. But -- "A year?"

Rupert nodded. "Back in my twenties after... how much do you know about what my past?"

"I know... what the Council told me, before I was sent to Sunnydale." Wesley felt like apologising for what he knew -- whether for the source of the knowledge, or just for the intrusion into Rupert's privacy.

"So you know about Eyghon?"

Wesley nodded, but said, "I know... you were involved. The only real details the Council provided were just enough to let me know... they heartily disapproved, but you'd... redeemed yourself."

"Yes, well, their definition of redeeming myself is my coming back and training to be a Watcher like my father wanted."

"That sounds familiar," Wesley said, dryly.

Rupert shot his a faint smile. "Bane of coming from a Watcher dynasty."

Wesley just rolled his eyes. His opinion of his father's 'dynasty' of Watchers was as irrelevant to him as the temperature and humidty of New Brunswick. His father's dynasty itself was even more irrelevant.

"Yes, that has always been my reaction to the concept," Rupert said, acknowledging the eye roll.

"The Watcher's Council and its dynasties needs..." A swift kick in the arse, was what he wanted to say. But what he meant was -- something that would actually have an effect.

"Oh, undoubtedly."

Wesley raised an eyebrow. "I didn't say aloud that they needed a swift kick in the arse."

"Yes, but you have rather expressive eyes." Rupert rubbed a thumb over his cheekbone just below one of his eyes.

"Or it was an utterly obvious thing to say," Wesley responded, trying not to react to the touch on his face.

"Well, that too, of course." He was still absently caressing Wesley's face with his thumb. Wesley shivered. To hell with it. He kissed Rupert, quick and fierce. When he pulled back he found Rupert smiling at him, eyes warm with affection. "What was that for?"

"Because I enjoy kissing you." As he returned the gaze, though, he found himself thinking something else. Something much more enjoyable, and much more frightening than simply enjoying his kisses.

"Should I kiss you again, then?"

"Wouldn't you rather talk about what a bunch of... gits, the Council is?" Wesley grinned.

"Hm. Let me think. Ranting about the Council, or kissing you. No, I think I'd rather kiss you."

Wesley just smiled. Then he was too busy being kissed to think of anything else. As he felt the kiss all the way down, Wesley even stopped thinking what utter gits the Council really were.

The kissing lasted until Rupert's stomach interrupted with a fierce growl. Wesley laughed, and nudged him away.

"We don't have to stop, you know," Rupert protested.

"After all the nagging you've given me, I should certainly say we do. Otherwise you won't be allowed to tell *me* to eat."

Rupert grumbled at him, but didn't stop him. He did follow Wesley into the kitchen, and began going through the cupboards as Wesley made him dinner. His pleased noises as he found what Wesley had purchased turned quickly into 'you didn't need to's and 'I haven't had this in ages'.

After he'd eaten, the evening was still early, and they'd silently agreed to put off going to bed for a bit. Wesley had picked up a journal, and Rupert had mentioned finishing cleaning out his inbox from the weekend. Wesley fond himself mostly absorbed by his reading, but once or twice he thought to look over.

At the moment, Rupert was frowning lightly at the screen. "Something wrong?" he asked, though he didn't think it were really likely it was any of his business.

"Email from Buffy," Rupert replied, still frowning at the screen.

"Scolding you again?"

"Scolding would be putting it mildly."

Wesley controlled his initial grin, as well as the impulse to say 'I told you so'. He did make a rather non-commital 'Mmm' noise, though.

At least it was supposed to be non-commital. The irritated glance Rupert shot him rather stated otherwise. Wesley just grinned, unrepentantly. The irritaion intensified briefly, then Rupert sighed and turned back to the computer, his expression turning maudlin.

Wesley wrestled with asking for details; he didn't want to be rude, but he knew Rupert would be just as willing to brood silently, than he was to actually tell anyone what was bothering him. On the other hand, all he could think of to say was 'You should have told her, then you wouldn't be getting scolded, now'. He didn't think that would help.

He watched as Rupert reached out but didn't quite touch the screen. "Buffy's never been one to hold back her feelings," he said wryly.

"Yes, I recall. She can be very... direct."

"I made her cry."

That surprised him. Then it surprised him that Rupert would sound surprised. "Haven't you ever--" He bit off the word 'before', and changed his question to, "Didn't you think she'd be that upset?"

"If I had actually..." Rupert trailed off, then tried again. "If the worst had happened, absolutely. But at just the thought that I could've...?"

"You can't be serious." Wesley sat up and set the journal aside. "You honestly don't think she'd be hurt by knowing you might have died?" He walked over, meeting Rupert's gaze -- his slightly bewildered expression made him look kissable, if it weren't for the reason he looked that way. "Didn't you think she'd love you that much?"

"I..." He trailed off again, though his expression was answer enough.

Wesley reached out, and placed his fingers underneath Rupert's chin. "Don't you know how many people would be shattered if you died?"

Rupert shook his head slowly, not seeming aware that he was doing it. "They would grieve for me, but--"

"But I know of half a dozen, at least, who would be devestated," Wesley interrupted. "How can you not know they love you so much?"

"Buffy and the others, they're grown now. They don't need me--"

Wesley pulled Rupert's chin up, just a bit, so he could look Rupert straight in the eye. "They will always love you, Rupert, That doesn't change because they're grown. That doesn't change that they need you, either. It only changes how."

He saw a flash of guilt and -- terror? -- pass over Rupert's feature before he shook his head again. Wesley placed both hands on Rupert's cheeks. He didn't say anything -- not sure what more there was to say except more truth, and Rupert wasn't stupid, just stubborn. But he looked at him, slowly realising that *he* was one of those who would be devestated if Rupert died. How he'd got to this point so fast, when a month ago he'd been alone and convinced there wouldn't be many more months in his furture.

Now he was in England with a man he loved.

"I left Sunnydale -- left them -- because they didn't need me, they needed to stand on their own. And they did -- they have." There was a kind of desperate belief in Rupert's voice.

"Yes. All children grow up, move out. In your case, they stayed home and you moved out. It doesn't mean they don't need you. It just means they don't need you right beside them." Wesley nearly smiled, bitterly, at the irony of his analogy. He'd done well enough, himself, without his parents once he'd left their home. It hadn't stopped him from wishing otherwise, but knowing he'd have got nothing from them, had helped him let go of the need.

"I...They never..." Rupert stopped making a face. "I was about to say they never call or write. Just when did I turn into the cliche annoying parental figure from an American sitcom?"

"I wouldn't know. Your second year there?" Wesley grinned. "Hopefully Buffy has changed your mind how important you are, though."

Rupert glanced back at the computer screen. "Forcefully."

"You're convinced they love you, and don't want you to die?" Wesley repeated.

"I never thought they *wanted* me to die," his lover protested.

"Mm," Wesley said, smiling slightly. "But you're willing to admit -- and believe -- that they love you, need you, and will raise a fuss if you do anything like get yourself hurt and fail to let them know about it right away?"

He got a mock scowl. "You're as bad as she is."

"Yes. So -- are you?" Wesley folded his arms and looked at Rupert, sternly. He could stand here all night if he had to, waiting for Rupert to be convinced. And he *did* have Buffy's phone number if he thought he needed some assistance staring Rupert down.

"I believe they care about me."

It wasn't quite enough, so Wesley just continued looking stern.

Rupert sighed. "They love me. Happy?"

"Delirious. And?" Wesley managed to look stern, though he really wanted to kiss Rupert. As soon as Rupert confessed to believing the rest of it -- even if he were lying -- he would.

"I believe they need me to be here."

Wesley allowed himself the smile he'd been holding back, and sat down -- straddling Rupert's legs. That got him a startled look though Rupert's arms went automatically around his waist, the casted one resting lightly while the fingers of his other hand spread out against the small of Wesley's back. Wesley gave him a slow, lingering kiss.

Rupert kissed him back just as enthusiastically. "What did I do to deserve this?" he asked bemusedly when Wesley released his mouth.

"Positive reinforcement," Wesley explained -- then stood up and walked back to the sofa.

"Ah." Rupert stared after him. "Just the one kiss?" he asked after a minute.

Wesley gave him a surprised look. "I should think one kiss whenever you admit that your friends love you, care for you, and need you, should be sufficient."

He didn't sit down yet, however, assuming that the glint in Rupert's eyes would show itself in another moment.

"Wesley," Rupert give him a very dangerous smile, "One kiss from you is never sufficient."

"Mm," was all he said in reply, and sat on the sofa, picking up the journal again. He was fairly sure Rupert *saw* the way he'd shivered at the smile, but saw no point in making it easy.

He could feel Rupert's gaze on him the entire time as he tried to settle back into reading. He opened the journal to the page he'd left off, and proceeded to stare at the words without comprehending a single one. He heard Rupert turn his chair back towards the computer. A moment later he heard him start to hum under his breath.

Wesley did his best to pretend to ignore him. Rupert continued to hum as he started to type on the keyboard. Wesley tried reading the page; he backed up to where he'd already read, before he'd got up to speak to Rupert. But the humming kept pulling his attention away from the journal -- as it was no doubt meant to. He was determined to see how long he could hold out, though.

He found himself concentrating more on the sound of Rupert's voice than the journal, on the nuances of the sound, deep, smokey, and sexy. He finally flipped a page of the journal merely to do *something*, though he knew he wouldn't read any more of the journal than he had been for the last few minutes. He tried to think of what he might do in return -- but doing *anything* would let Rupert know he was getting to him.

Ignoring him would probably...well, no, that sort of come hither hadn't ever worked for him. Besides, all he could think was kissing Rupert again, and getting them both naked, and he knew he wouldn't be able to keep pretending to ignore Rupert for much longer.

Rupert meanwhile, seemed unconcerned and undistracted, the sounds of his typing underlying his continued humming. It made Wesley think of Rupert's hands -- his fingers touching him, perhaps, or Wesley kissing each of his fingers in turn, sucking on them until Rupert demanded more.

Finally, the sound of typing slowed, then stopped. Wesley determinedly continued to stare at the page of the journal, waiting for Rupert to make the first -- well, next -- move. Rupert sighed deeply. "There," he said softly. "Appropriate groveling sent off."

Wesley was startled by the matter-of-fact statement. It was almost as though Rupert *hadn't* been doing anything of the sort Wesley had been trying to ignore. He glanced over, realising that it didn't matter, since Wesley could still pounce him, regardless.

Or get pounced.

Rupert met his gaze, briefly glanced down at the book in Wesley's hands, then back up. "Find anything interesting?"

"No," Wesley admitted. "Not unless you count a desire to see how sensitive your fingertips are, interesting."

Rupert blinked, then grinned that dangerous smile again. "Would you like to explore that question?"

"Have you anything that requires your attention, this evening? Any more email?" He wasn't about to start removing clothing, only to find out tomorrow that something had gotten neglected. Besides, he rather liked sitting here, seeing Rupert look at him the way he was looking now, and he was in no great rush to end it, even for exploring certain questions. He toyed with the top button of his shirt, as though absently, then brushed an invisible wrinkle from his shirt, right below the collar. "If you've things to do, I'm fine here."

"Yes, you are."

Wesley nodded, as though Rupert had agreed to continue his email. "I'll just read, then," he said, continuing to toy with his shirt with one hand, as he held the journal with the other.

"You're holding it upsidedown."

"I'm reading the footnotes," Wesley responded, blithely.

"Upsidedown," Rupert repeated, with a tiny smile.

"Bugger off." Wesley flipped the book around and resolutely held it with both hands. This was why his clever tableaus never worked. He always did something foolish to ruin them.

Rupert chuckled softly.

Wesley stared at the book, and actually began reading this time. It was suddenly much easier to concentrate on it.

"Wesley?"

"Hm?" He didn't look up from the journal.

"Can I have some more positive reinforcement?"

"I haven't heard you say anything that deserves it," Wesley said, still not looking up. He managed to say it calmly, though it surprised him to realise how irritated he was suddenly feeling. Mortified that he'd actually tried to be a bit seductive, and got laughed at for his efforts.

He heard Rupert's chair creak as he got to his feet. Resolutely, he continued to look at the journal as Rupert crossed the room and sat down beside him. "What do you want me to say?"

He avoided saying any of the things that first leapt to mind; he sighed, and lowered the book. "Nothing. I'm sorry; do you mind if I just read?"

"Of course not," Rupert replied, all the teasing gone from his voice. "I didn't mean to bother you."

Guilt stabbed at him, but Wesley didn't saying anything more. He was possibly being foolish -- but saying so would only make it worse. He wasn't sure how to apologise for something...that wasn't even his fault.

Rupert stayed sitting beside him for a few minutes, then got up with a sigh. "I suppose I'll go to bed, then."

Wesley couldn't tell if he was supposed to offer to follow, or not; he glanced over, but couldn't see anything in Rupert's expression that told him.

"Good night," Rupert said softly, after a pause. Then he headed down the hallway.

"Good night," Wesley replied. He glanced after him again, before returning his attention to the journal. If he could think of how to say it, he'd apologise in the morning. He allowed himself to be pulled into the journal, slowly forgetting about Rupert, or indeed anything, as he read.

It was late before he realised he'd heard no noise coming from Rupert's bedroom, and that he ought do something about going to sleep, himself. He found himself suddenly awkward as he hadn't been since he'd arrived. He didn't know how uncomfortable he'd managed to make Rupert, earlier, and if his presence would be welcome. He sighed, and rested the book on his chest. He'd turned to lay on the couch, and it would be a simple matter of closing his eyes and falling asleep there.

No sooner had he thought it, but his eyes slipped closed.

There was something in the room with him. Something dark, and silent, and creeping closer. Wesley couldn't move, not sure what defense he could muster until he knew the exact nature of the threat. It could be that motion alone would draw the creature's attack, so he held as utterly still as he had ever done, and waited. He imagined he could hear the creature's breath, but it might have been his own heartbeat sounding in his ears. If it had no breath at all...

He wanted to shout out, call for help, frighten the creature back into the shadows. But Wesley was in the shadows, as well, and there was no one to hear him cry out. He thought there might be something within his reach he could use, something smooth and heavy just below the edge of his fingertips. If he dared stretch down and touch it, he might grab it before the creature attacked.

He tried to see where it was, peering through the utter dark, looking for movement, listening for anything at all. If he hadn't felt it in the room, he might have sworn he was alone and it was all imagination. His fingers touched something cool and polished smooth, and as he closed his fingers on it the creature leapt.

It tore at his throat, tearing into the skin even as Wesley screamed and tried to push it away. The pain exploded in his neck as his voice was stolen, and he felt the blood dripping down his neck.

A hand was suddenly gripping his shoulder and he twisted, trying to get away, another scream tumbling from his lips as something called his name.

"Wesley!"

He'd been attacked before by creatures who knew his name. Wesley flailed in the darkness, wondering which of them had come to take him this time. Something grabbed his hand, and he found himself opening his eyes. The room was lit, the lamp above the sofa still on, and Rupert was crouching beside the sofa. Wesley tried to gasp for air, even as he grabbed at his throat with his free hand. There was no blood.

Rupert's grip tightened on the hand he still held. "Awake now?" he asked, eyes bright with concern and worry.

Gulping air now, Wesley couldn't answer. The muscles in his throat contracted, tightening against the remembered attack.

"Wesley?"

He tried to respond, and heard only a strangled noise; it echoed the sound he'd made when she'd slit his throat, letting him freeze in that moment when he'd known he would die, having failed. He tried to breathe, and the noise came again.

He pushed himself off the sofa, fumbling for Rupert. Rupert's arms came around him, warm human contact. Shivering, Wesley tried to hold on; remembering only belatedly about Rupert's ribs, and he loosened his grip with a guilty jerk. He didn't otherwise move away, however, until his heartbeat had slowed and he could breathe without whimpering. Without the ghost of pain with every breath.

"Bad dream," Rupert said, more statement than question.

"Bad memories," Wesley corrected. He was shaking harder now, and tried to stop.

Rupert's arms tightened around, holding him in a grip that *must* be hurting his ribs.

Wesley tried desperately to calm himself down. He was in England, it was over a year since he'd been attacked. There was nothing here, now, that he need be afraid of. He repeated the words over in his head, trying to let them calm him down.

"Shhh..." Rupert murmured, dropping a kiss on Wesley's forehead, then on his lips. He returned the kiss hungrily, trying to lose the fear in something else. Rupert pulled back after a moment and searched his gaze for a long moment. Then he leaned in and dropped a kiss along Wesley's jawline and, when he tilted his head up in response, another directly on the scar on his throat.

Wesley stiffened, and started to pull away from the touch. But Rupert held him tightly, if gently. "Please," Wesley whispered, his voice shaking as much as his body had been.

"Shhh," Rupert repeated, kissing the scar again.

Lips burned on his skin, hot where the memory of steel was cold. He tensed again, and tried to force down the reaction to pull away. Gasping, he fumbled for whatever plea he'd been voicing, but he couldn't figure out what it was he'd been wanting. What he wanted, now, even as Rupert still held him, and kissed the scar.

"Please," was all he could say, and he didn't know if he was begging Rupert to stop -- or continue.

"It's all right." The words were murmured against his throat.

"No," he managed to whisper, though he pressed himself closer to Rupert so he wouldn't misunderstand what he was rejecting. "I just want it to go away."

"I know," Rupert replied. "We can't change what happened, but you survived. You're here."

"I don't--" He knew that, intellectually. But most of the time he was able not to think about it. Shove it back in his mind where he couldn't see it, or hear it, or feel it. But when someone was *kissing* the very scar he hated so much, he couldn't pretend it wasn't there. He wrestled with his words for a moment, then said quietly, "I'm sorry I woke you."

"It's all right." Rupert met his gaze then looked away. "I wasn't actually asleep."

"I'm sorry," he repeated. He found himself half-smiling, and added, "What a pair we make."

He got a half smile in return. "Not exactly what I had hoped for this evening."

Feeling reprimmanded, Wesley ducked his head. "I'm sorry."

Rupert shook his head. "I get the feeling I should be apologising."

"I... that would help," he said, though as quietly as he said it he wasn't sure Rupert would hear.

"Ah." Rupert made an abortive movement as if he was going to move away and changed his mind. "I am sorry. I had assumed..." He shook his head with an ironic half-smile. "You'd think I'd have enough sense not to assume anything. I hadn't meant to... pressure you." He frowned, slightly, as though uncertain of his words.

Wesley returned the frown. "Pressuring me?"

"For making advances when you were trying to read and obviously not in the mood?"

It was difficult not to smile at him -- laughing could wait until after Wesley explained just how things had gone wrong, and had a chance to get embarrassed all over again. "Um. No. You're meant to apologise for..." But of course he was going to have to say it, and he could already feel his cheeks burning. "Laughing. When I-- was trying..."

Rupert shook his head, looking confused.

"When I was trying to tease you," Wesley said, keeping his face turned down, saying 'tease' when he knew the proper word was 'arouse'. "All you said was that I was holding the journal upside-down. And you laughed at me."

"Oh." There was surprised comprehension in that single word. "Wesley, I wasn't laughing *at* you. I was laughing because you were... adorable."

That didn't exactly help with the problem of embarrassment. Wesley was glad his head was down as his entire face and neck burned with the flush of blood. "I wasn't trying to be adorabe," he said, somewhat annoyed. Perhaps the role of seductor wasn't in him, and he should be glad he hadn't tried more than he had.

"Wesley." Rupert's fingers were gently as they touched him under his chin and raised his head to meet his eyes. "You were trying to seduce me."

"And doing a rather poor job of it, since we parted ways right afterwards."

"What was the next thing I asked you?"

He tried to think back. "You wanted me to kiss you." Was it time for him to feel stupid, as well as mortally embarrassed?

Rupert nodded and did so now, just a brief gentle touch of his lips against Wesley's own. It was a lot nicer than talking about the horrible evening they'd ended up having.

"I'm sorry," Rupert murmured. "If I hadn't misunderstood..."

"Yes, well, I think there was plenty of that to go around." Wesley suddenly realised that, nice as it was to be wrapped up in Rupert's arms -- their actual positions weren't all that comfortable. Certainly it couldn't for someone with injured ribs. He shifted, to pull away.

Rupert tightened his hold. "Where are you going?"

"I thought we might be more at ease if we got off the floor." He kept his hands on Rupert, even as he moved to stand up.

"Ah." Rupert moved to join him, a groan escaping him as he got up.

Wesley helped him up, trying to take as much of the other man's weight as he could. "Do you want me to make some tea? Or are you ready for more traditional -- er, more modern, I should say, painkillers?"

"I'm all right," Rupert said determinedly, though he didn't move away from Wesley.

"Let's go to bed," Wesley suggested, not pushing Rupert to admit he might be better off with something to dull the pain.

"An excellent suggestion."

Wesley paused only to turn off the lamp, then wait a moment while his eyes adjusted to the darkness. For the second when the room was totally dark, his dream swept at him again. As he tensed, he felt Rupert squeeze his arm.

"You're here," he said softly. "You survived."

"Not if I trip over something on my way to the bedroom," Wesley remarked. "Tell me why I turned off the lamp?"

"Because we're going to bed?"

"Not having been blessed with night sight, I should think a lamp would be of assistance."

But Rupert merely chuckled. "Would you settle for someone who just knows the way?"

Wesley grinned. "I suppose. Lacks the subtle edge of danger, of course, of having vampiric night sight," he teased.

"Danger can be overrated sometimes."

"Especially when what you want is a good night fu-- kiss." Perhaps darkness was a blessing, Wesley realised, as his Freudian slip proved to make his cheeks burn again. Rupert chuckled, then stopped and sought out Wesley's mouth for a lingering kiss.

Wesley didn't try to say anything else, and just let Rupert lead him to the bedroom.

"Do you want the light on?" Rupert asked as they made their way to the bed.

"No, I don't need a nightlight," he said easily, teasing -- himself, as well as Rupert. It wasn't as though he'd been allowed such things, as a child.

"You sure? You don't want to be able to see who you are... kissing?"

Wesley swallowed, nervously. But he said as flirtatiously as he could, "I'll just go by taste."

"And how do I taste?" Rupert asked, his voice low and seductive.

"Hmm." Wesley moved towards the sound of Rupert's voice, and found his mouth in the darkness. He kissed him, moving his tongue into his lover's mouth. "Like hruvia. And spice."

"I should've guessed. Considering how much I've consumed in the last couple of days..."

Wesley grinned, though Rupert couldn't have seen it. "I don't mind." It was a silly thing to say, he knew, but he didn't care. He could feel a tightening in his groin, a slow burn from the flirting and hints of what might occur. If not tonight, then someday... He thought of Rupert, fucking him, and he had to swallow, hard.

"Good." Rupert's hand came up and cupped the side of Wesley's face. "So it's not a hardship if I kiss you again."

"I wouldn't say it isn't hard," Wesley muttered, wondering if he ought be shocked at his boldness on the heels of facing just how badly he'd tried being bold, earlier. But Rupert was kissing him again, and Wesley let his hips press forward, against Rupert, knowing he could feel just exactly how hard things were.

"Good," Rupert repeated when their mouths finally parted. He hands went to Wesley's waist, holding him in place as he trailed kisses along his jawline.

Wesley shivered, and brought his hand to Rupert's shoulders, hanging on though the grip on his waist seemed quite able to hold him upright.

Rupert's grip tightened as he once again kissed the scar on Wesely's throat.

Wesley whimpered, his own grip tightening. He wished he could convince Rupert that he didn't want to be kissed there. But the simple fact of his lover's mouth on his skin was something else all together, and he didn't want *that* to stop.

This time Rupert didn't linger, moving to give the other side of Wesley's throat the same treatment. He felt himself relax, though he hadn't realised he'd tensed up. It occured to him he was doing nothing but stand there; he ran his hands down Rupert's back.

Rupert's skin was warm under his palms, the muscles bunching and moving as he arched into Wesley's touch like a cat. He was able to avoid touching any of the bandages, easily; his fingers seemed to have the locations of Rupert's injuries memorised, for he was able to carress Rupert's back, and sides, without touching a single one.

Wesley's mouth was once again taken in a kiss as Rupert started undoing the buttons on his shirt one handed, with only a minimal of fumbling. Wesley let himself concentrate on the kiss, making no move to interfere -- or assist -- with Rupert's undressing him. He let his hands move without direction, keeping his touch light in case his strayed too close to an injury.

Even with the slight awkwardness, Rupert managed to get rid of the shirt in short order. Wesley waited, then, to see what Rupert's next move would be -- entertaining himself with touching him, and letting his fingers dip lower. The material of Rupert's sleep pants was thin, and he could feel the heat of Rupert's body easily as he touched the round swell of his buttocks.

He'd been feeling everything *else* quite easily, through the front, since they'd first pressed together. Their kiss seemed to gain in intesity at the touch, as Rupert's fingers skimmed lightly over Wesley's chest, bestowing barely there caresses which nonetheless pulled a needy moan from him.

Wesley pulled him closer, his own light touches growing firmer, pressing his hands flat against the small of Rupert's back before sliding down, again, to grip momentarily. Then he brought his hands up, and hooked his thumbs into the waist of Rupert's pants, and paused.

Rupert pulled back enough to murmur, "Yes," before deepening the kiss again, his own hand moving to work on the fastenings of Wesley's trousers.

He didn't need any more encouragement; Wesley pushed the fabric down, slipping the pants past Rupert's hips. He stopped there, so he could touch the bare skin he'd just uncovered.

He could feel Rupert react to his touch -- trembling when his fingers touched here, muscles contracting when he touched there. It was rather entertaining, and he looked forward to having the chance to explore every reaction to his touching Rupert anywhere.

Rupert pressed his hand against the hardness covered by Wesley's trousers, squeezing lightly, causing Wesley to gasp. "What do you want?" he asked, murmring the words against Wesley's mouth, seemingly reluctant to pull back even to speak.

"World peace." Whatever part of his brain had supplied the answer, wasn't speaking to the rest of him, as all else he could think was how Rupert's hand felt on his cock.

Rupert's throaty chuckle fell on his ears like another caress. "I meant now, luv."

"We can't have that now?" He grinned, still gasping and trying to think clearly. It was difficult, since he wanted to pull himself closer to Rupert's voice and wrap himself in it and not say anything, himself. "I want..." It was easier to show him, so Wesley pulled at the fly of his trousers to open them.

"Want me to touch?" Rupert asked, his hand hovering close enough that Wesley could feel the warmth.

Wesley gasped, answering more incoherently than he'd intended. But as he pulled his trousers down he pushed his hips forward and felt the length of Rupert's erection brush against his own. The action forced a moan out of Rupert, his own hips thrusting forward in response.

Emboldened, Wesley moved again, deliberately rubbing his cock against Rupert's at the same time he let his hands brush the tops of his buttocks. Rupert's hands moved to grip Wesley's hips and pulled him closer, the casted arm resting carefully while his good hand gripped tightly. With a soft 'hmm' of pleasure, Wesley rubbed his cock against Rupert's, again, and began kissing him lightly on the neck, trying to move towards his earlobe.

"I like that sound," Rupert murmured, tilting his head to provide Wesely easier access.

Wesley took advantage of the better access, and kissed a slow trail up Rupert's neck. As Rupert's cock brushed his own once more, he let himself make that soft noise again. This time he got an answering moan from his lover, as well as a stronger thrust against him. Wesley brought his hand around and slipped it inbetween them, managing to get just his fingertips onto Rupert's cock as he repeated everything else -- a kiss, a soft sigh, and a rub of his cock on the other side from where his hand was.

Rupert bucked under the concerted touches, his grip tightening on Wesley's hips, his breath hissing out at the sensation. Wesley moved his hand, getting his fingers fully around Rupert's cock. He pushed his hand down with a somewhat tight grip. That earned him his name uttered as a deep groan as Rupert sought out his mouth again, the kiss deeper and rougher this time.

He began to slowly move his hand up and down, changing the strength of his grip each time. He let Rupert kiss him, concentrating more on what his hands were doing, than his mouth. He had no idea how much time passed as they stood there like that but finally Rupert pulled back, panting harshly, reaching for Wesley's wrist and stilling his hand. "Wait," he gasped.

"What?" But Wesley was loosening his grip as instructed.

"Keep that up and I'll..." Rupert leaned in and kissed him briefly but deeply. "What do you *want*, Wesley?"

"You will? This is a bad thing?" Wesley teased. "I thought that was the point of our being half naked and making insensible noises." He gave Rupert a quick kiss and tried to think of what he wanted.

The trouble was 'anything' was the first and most accurate answer.

"It is a bad thing if you want something more than my hand or mouth."

Wesley felt his eyes lose focus -- which hardly mattered, here in the darkness. Thinking about what he might want Rupert to do with anything else made it very difficult to respond with other than "Yes, please." Perhaps the desperate, begging note that had crept into his voice was enough.

"You sure?" Rupert's voice was soft, as his good hand moved to rest against Wesley's buttocks.

Wesley gasped, moving forward reflexively, then deliberately moving back against Rupert's hand. But-- "Your ribs, you shouldn't--"

"--Indulge in any...gymnastics." He kissed Wesley again, his fingers dancing against his cleft and then away again. "But I believe I can manage this much. If you want me to...?"

"Oh, god yes," Wesley said before he could say it in a slightly more dignified manner. "I mean--" But he was asking to be fucked -- surely dignity wasn't required. "Please." He kissed Rupert again, showing him just how much he wanted it.

Rupert chuckled breathlessly when their mouths parted. "All right." Then he moved away.

"Mm?" Wesley couldn't see where Rupert was going and din't know if he was supposed to try to follow, or try to find the bed, or what.

He heard the sound of a drawer opening and Rupert rumaging. A moment later he was back and putting a small bottle into Wesley's hands. "This part I'm going to need help with," he murmured, kissing Wesley.

"Oh. Yes." Wesley opened the bottle carefully in the dark, feeling around for Rupert as he did so. He placed his free hand on Rupert's erection -- then dropped quickly to his knees and took it into his mouth.

Rupert sucked in his breath and groaned, his hand going to clutch at Wesley's shoulder. Wesley slickened Rupert's cock as best as he could, and give its tip a flick of his tongue as he pulled away. He stood again, and squeezed lubricant onto his fingers. "I find lube works ever so much better if you prep the area," he said in a calm tone he most certainly did not feel.

"Much more of that and we wouldn't have had to worry about the lube," Rupert replied, voice thick with arousal.

"I'll keep that in mind for next time," Wesley told him. Then he very carefully began spreading lubricant over the entire length of Rupert's cock. He could feel Rupert trembling as he fought to hold himself still as Wesley worked. "Shall I pinch you, to help you wait?" Wesley teased.

Rupert growled and pulled Wesley to his feet, and ravaged his mouth.

Wesley took care not to drop the bottle of lubricant -- he didn't want to turn the lights on to find it, nor did he want to crawl around on his hands and knees looking for it. Though the position *did* suggest itself for other, better things.

When he had his mouth free, he asked in a husky voice, "Did you want me to do the rest?"

He couldn't really see Rupert's eyes, merely the shadow of where his face was, but he swore he could feel the sudden heat of his gaze. "Yes." The single word had more in common with a growl than speech.

Wesley leaned forward -- ostensively to give himself room to move, but actually so that Rupert could feel him, and imagine what he was doing. Imagine him squeezing more lube onto his fingers, and reaching back and place them inside his body. Wesley gasped as he first breeched his arse, the cold lube and the touch of his own fingers -- while he was pressed against Rupert's body, their cocks hard agaisnt each other. He trembled, and understood what Rupert had meant by not needing to worry about lubrication.

It didn't help his control that Rupert was nuzzling at his jawline, before sliding down to his throat once again. Wesley whimpered, then gasped; he tried to get his fingers to work properly or at least effectively, even as Rupert kissed the scar on his throat. He pulled his head back, wanting to pull away but only giving his lover more room to get at him.

"Fuck me," he managed to whisper, pulling his fingers free and trying to wipe the lube onto his jeans which were ready to fall towards his knees.

With one last nip to Wesley's throat, Rupert pulled back enough to growl, "Turn around."

Wesley managed to do so without tripping himself up, only by keeping a firm grip on the doorjamb behind him. He positioned himself quickly, braced his hands on the wall and spreading his legs as far as his jeans would allow.

Then Rupert was pressed against his back, his cock brushing against Wesley's entrance, but not entering quite yet. Wesley pushed himself back, towards him. But Rupert moved with him, keeping the same distance.

Wesley bit back a cry, not quite in time, and tried to hold himself still and wait.

"Say it again," Rupert growled right in his ear.

"Fuck me," he gasped, desperately. He heard the rumble in his voice, and deliberately let it grow rough as he repeated it. "Fuck me, Rupert. Fuck me, please, god, fuck me."

With another growl, this one wordless, Rupert slowly pushed into him.

"Oh, god," Wesley repeated, then his voice died and all he could focus on was the feel of the cock sliding into his body. His hands were flat against the wall on either side of teh doorway, and he let his head fall forward onto the doorframe itself. He could hear himself whimpering, and didn't bother trying to stop it.

Rupert growled again as he pulled out and thrust back in, his casted arm wrapping around Wesley's middle, holding him in place. His other hand was busy roaming over as much skin as it could reach.

All Wesley could do was stand there, and let him. Not that he would have protested any of it -- the sensation of being filled was like oddly being engulfed. Filled, and consumed, and all he wanted to do was bend forward and let him.

Then Rupert's hand slid downward and wrapped around Wesley's cock as he began to pound into Wesley hard and fast. Wesley hear himself crying out, louder, voice strangled as he was fucked. His legs trembled as he fought to remain standing still, standing in place so Rupert could fuck him as hard as he liked, as hard as he could.

Behind him, he felt Rupert shift slightly, which changed the angle of his thrusts, so that every one was now hitting his prostate directly. Wesley gasped, and scrambled for a better grip on the wall so he wouldn't collapse against it. Rupert's arm tightened around him, holding him upright as he tightened his grip on Wesley's cock, thumb brushing over the tip.

Hips jerking, Wesley began panting loud, and hard. His body was shaking from the force of Rupert's thrusts and the orgasm building inside him. Wesley tried to breathe, and only gasped, sounding like he was being strangled all over again. He shouted, trying to think of the cock inside him, and as Rupert slammed into him again Wesley jerked. His orgasm burned through his muscles, locking them in place as his head fell back onto rupert's shoulder.

Rupert's thrusts continued for several seconds more before he froze as well, Wesley's name on his lips. Wesley was already collapsing, holding himself up with his hands on the wall and his knees locked in place, but every other part of his body was sinking into decadent pleasure. He wanted to curl up, Rupert still wrapped around -- and in -- him, and stay there. But after a moment, Rupert reluctantly stepped back, slipping free of Wesley's body.

He found himself reaching for Rupert's hand, reflexively, before he caught himself. Rupert's hands were reaching for his shoulders, turning him around and pulling him back in close for a long languid kiss. Wesley opened his mouth to let Rupert in, feeling no urgency to do anything but stand there, and kiss him.

Finally though Rupert pulled back. "I think perhaps we should lie down before we collapse where we are."

"Would that involve moving?"

"It would," Rupert answered him seriously. "But the bed is a lot more comfortable than the floor."

"It's always something," Wesley said, caught by a yawn mid-sentence.

Rupert smiled and kissed him.

"I think it's over this way..."

"You *think*?" Wesley had started to follow Rupert into the darkness, now he stopped. He narrowed his eyes in what he thought was Rupert's direction.

Rupert's air of innocence was palpable even in the dark.

"Git."

"Relax. I won't let you get lost."

"I'm not worried about getting lost. I'm worried about tripping over something." His complaint was marred by another huge yawn, and he thought maybe he would just hush, and let Rupert take him to bed.

"I won't let you fall either."

"All right. Lead on." Wesley pulled his jeans up, and re-fastened them. He wondered briefly where his shirt was, but assumed he'd find it in the morning.

Rupert led him the whole six feet to the bed, then turned and kissed him again.

"Pausing for a respite?" Wesley teased.

"No, for a kiss," Rupert teased, sitting down on the edge of the mattress and pulling Wesley with him.

"You *still* haven't walked me home," Wesley said, his eyes already closing as he tried half-heartedly to move past Rupert to lie on the bed.

"I promise to, the next time I'm in Los Angeles." Somehow Rupert got them both lying down, with their heads on the pillows.

"Oh. Right -- good point." Wesley latched on and pulled himself close, feeling himself drifting quickly towards sleep.

The last thing he was aware of was Rupert's arm wrapping around him, holding him safe and close.

There would be no more nightmares tonight.


They'd woken late the following morning, and got out of bed even later. After a very late breakfast they'd both settled down to read; Wesley finding a variety of books in Giles' personal library that he wanted to borrow, and Giles eagerly losing himself in the journals he'd brought back, so he wouldn't have to think about the next day.

Mid-afternoon brought a break in the form of afternoon tea, which brought fooling around in the kitchen. They somehow managed to eat before needing a change of clothes, and with the short nap which occurred in the middle of changing into clean underwear, it was dinnertime before they saw the world again.

Giles suggested they go out -- not a very fancy place, but good food and excellent company. Afterwards he put on the game and they alternated watching the telly, shouting at the telly and the idiot players, and skimming through books. Giles noticed, but didn't comment on, how Wesley's attention seemed more focused on the research than the game -- until one team began losing rather spectacularly.

Wesley was still critiquing the players' shoddy defense when Giles took them to bed; a few well placed kisses quieted him -- on the topic of the game, at any rate. The remaining noise was the sort Giles rather approved of. They fell asleep in much the same position as they'd woken that morning, wrapped around each other and exhausted by a day in which it seemed very little had actually occurred.

Then Giles woke on the day of Clarissa's funeral.

The realization of what the day held didn't come right away. For the first few minutes all he was aware of was the warm body pressed up against his own, the soft sound of someone else's breathing. He wasn't alone.

He tried to go back to sleep, and had almost managed to doze off when he suddenly remembered what day it was. The warm body took that moment to shift, as though waking. Giles tightened his grip reflexively, trying to hold off the day for a few minutes more.

Wesley made a sound of sleepy protest, though he didn't move any farther away.

With a sigh, Giles forced himself relax his grip. "Sorry," he murmured.

"One day," Wesley muttered, sounding only partially awake, "I'll be able to get out of bed again without you latching onto me. Er. Not because I want to sleep alone, mind you."

"Sleeping alone is overrated."

"I agree completely. But being allowed to ever get *out* of bed does come in handy at times." Wesley didn't seem to be trying to go anywhere at the moment, however.

"I can see your point." He tightened his grip briefly and dropped a kiss on Wesley's bare shoulder. "But not quite yet?"

"I'm not going anywhere," Wesley replied. His eyes were still closed and he looked as though he might drop off to sleep again within a moment, but there was a soft tension in his body which let Giles know that he was wide awake.

"What time is it?"

There was a pause, then, "Eight thirty two."

If they were going to make the funeral they would have to start getting ready now. Giles briefly closed his eyes again, steeling himself, then let go of Wesley and sat up. He felt Wesley's hand on his back, but he didn't say anything. After a moment, Wesley sat up as well.

Giles managed a smile, though he knew it wasn't a convincing one. "We should get moving," he said quietly.

"Yes." There was a sound as though Wesley were going to say something else, then had changed his mind. He swung his legs out of the bed and looked back over his shoulder. "Do you feel up to having breakfast?"

His stomach clenched at the thought of food and he shook his head.

"Tea?" Wesley aked in an understanding tone. "Or shall we just... get ready to go?"

"I... tea would be doable. I think."

Wesley nodded, and got out of bed. Giles sat there and considered doing the same. If he made an effort to focus on the little things, like getting up and getting dressed, maybe he would be able to stop so determinedly not-thinking about the rest of the day.

He saw Wesley stop near the door where his luggage sat, and crouched down beside it, coming up with a pair of underwear, a clean shirt, and trousers. Perhaps watching Wesley dress was a good task to focus on -- at least while he was still naked. He put off his own egress from the bed and just rested back against the pillows and watched.

Wesley either didn't notice his audience, or was doing a very good job of acting like he didn't mind. He slipped on his underwear unself-consciously, followed quickly by the shirt. He half-turned when he was about to put on his trousers, though, and caught Giles watching. He blushed furiously.

Giles had to smile. "You've nothing to be embarrassed over."

"Normally when you're staring at me like that I'm preoccupied staring at you."

Giles managed a half smile. "Does it bother you?"

"I... suppose not," Wesley replied, stepping into and pulling on his trousers, pausing to tuck his shirt in crisply and neatly.

He sighed. "It does. Should I stop?"

"No, I--" Wesley hesitated, then said in a less certain, and somehow more honest tone, "I'd rather... let you. I don't mind being self-conscious about it." He grimaced, whether at hearing what he'd said or seeing the look on Giles' face, Giles couldn't be sure. But in a firmer tone, Wesley continued, "You needn't stop."

"All right," he agreed. Then added, after a moment, "That's good, actually. Because I'm not sure I'd be able to stop."

Wesley gave him a stern look, and though he was trying to hide it, he was smiling. "You'd best be able to stop it, eventually. It will make it very difficult to drive."

Giles just laughed and shook his head as he finally got out of bed. With Wesley there, he thought maybe he would be able to get through this day after all.

He quickly dressed, and joined Wesley in the kitchen. "It's sunny," he murmured, mostly to himself, looking out the window. It seemed wrong somehow for it to be so bright out, considering what lay before them for the day.

"I'm sorry?" Wesley asked as he brought a cup of tea over.

He shook himself and accepted the tea with a nod of thanks. "It was nothing, really. I was just commenting on the weather."

"Oh." Wesley glanced out the window, and his expression turned quiet. "Sunshine does seem wrong, doesn't it?"

"Rather in your face proof that the world is still going on despite what happened."

There was no reply from Wesley, for that. He stood beside Giles for a moment, sipping his own cup of tea, before finally asking, "When did you want to leave for London?"

"Never," Giles answered ruefully, then sighed. "But we should leave soon."

There was a brief touch on his arm. "We don't have to, if you don't want to go."

For a brief moment, he was tempted to give in. "You mean that, don't you?"

"Of course!" Wesley gave him a look that said he thought Giles was being absurd. "You can offer your respects here as well at at her grave -- and wait until you're prepared to do so, rather than expose yourself to the unpleasantness of a funeral. Rupert -- there's no *need* to go, unless you want to."

"Want to?" he echoed. "There's very few things I want less than to go and subject myself to... But--"

"But you feel obligated? Or do you simply think her family deserves a shot at you?" Wesley placed his fingers on Giles' cheek, the tenderness decrying the harsh tone of his words, much less the words themselves.

Giles felt all the emotions had been keeping such a tight rein on, all the pain that he had been doing his best to ignore start bubbling out along the edges at the touch, the words. "I told her I would protect her," he said, a tremor in his voice that he couldn't control.

Setting down his cup of tea on the window sill, Wesley took Giles' out of his hand and set it on the sill as well. Then he put his arms around Giles, and held him close. The tremor seemed to spread from his voice to his body and the more he tried to control it, the worse it got.

Wesley just held him more tightly.

The grief, the guilt, all of it was boiling up inside now, whether he wanted it to or not, until it overflowed as silent tears.

He could hear Wesley saying something, softly, but he couldn't make out the words. Possibly nothing important in themselves; the tone was there and it was soothing, the way Wesley's embrace was. Something to hold him up, hold him and shield him, while he finally let the grief go. After a moment more of fighting it, he did.

He don't know how long they stood there like that, with Wesley holding him as everything poured out of him. Eventually there were words to go with the tears, broken, disjointed admissions of his feelings, of his guilt, of how this was so much worse because Clarissa had reminded him so much of Buffy. Things he'd been trying very hard to not even think about, much less speak of. Wesley didn't try to interupt him, didn't try to counter his words with platitudes of actual consolation. He just stood there and held him.

Finally, though, he ran out of words and tears and fell silent, resting his head on Wesley's shoulder. He felt drained, empty, exhausted, embarrassed; so many things still vying for his emotions, but at least the first, and hopefully deepest wave of grief seemed to be subsidiing.

Wesley's hands were moving up and down his back -- how long they'd been doing so, he had no idea. But the motion soothed him a little more. After they'd stood there silently another moment, Wesley asked, "Did you want to sit down?" It was that same tone he'd used that first day, when he'd been taking care of Giles, broken and injured.

Giles nodded, letting Wesley's voice wash over him, as he let Wesley guide him to the couch. Wesley sat him down, then settled down beside him, one arm over Giles' shoulders, but allowing space between them otherwise in case Giles wanted it. Without thinking about it, Giles found himself leaning to the side, until he was resting against Wesley's side. Wesley accepted him easily, shifting his arm to hold Giles closer, and leaning back against the couch to give them both more room to be comfortable. As though physical comfort were possible, or even mattered.

"So much for not falling to pieces," Giles murmured, trying to regain at least some of his composure, though it was proving difficult.

"I think you've good reason," Wesley said. He placed a kiss on Giles' temple. "I imagine you've been needing to do that for some time."

"Quite probably," he admitted. "But it's not something I like doing in front of... well, anyone."

"I understand." There was no distance or hesitation in Wesley's voice, and Giles could feel that he hadn't tensed, wanting to pull away. Obviously he hadn't elected to take the admission personally and assume Giles had meant he wanted privacy.

He sighed and let himself rest more fully against Wesley, as he started to realise that Wesley wasn't going to buckle. Wesley put his other arm around him, and gave him a squeeze.

"I have to admit, if I had to fall apart, this is a lot nicer way of doing so than the alternative."

"Mm. The alternative being alone, in a dark room, with several bottles of cheap whiskey?" There was gentle humour, as well as a hint of bitterness in Wesley's voice.

"Essentially." He lifted his head enough to meet Wesley's gaze. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Wesley bent his head a bit, and gave Giles a kiss.

Giles drew it out, letting himself get lost in the taste of Wesley and the tea he'd been drinking and...

No whiskey. He pulled back and looked at Wesley. Wesley looked back at him, confused.

"You didn't have a drink this morning."

"I thought I wasn't supposed to," Wesley replied, holding back a grin with only partial success.

It pulled an answering smile from Giles, far sooner than he would have thought possible. "Just making an observation. It wasn't a request for you to rectify the lack."

"Yes. Well, I did say I didn't drink every morning." Wesley's smile died. "I didn't think about it this morning."

"Because you were worrying about me."

"Possibly," Wesley agreed. "You're saying I need to have something to worry over when I wake up?" he teased.

"Possibly," Giles replied, another smile coming easier than he ever would have predicted. "Maybe I should get you a kitten or something."

Wesley's eyebrows climbed up his forehead. "A kitten? What on earth would I do with a kitten?"

"Take care of it?" Giles suggested.

"And this would keep me from drinking?" Wesley asked, dubiously.

"It might help."

He didn't look convinced. "Because it will nag me?"

"Because it will need you."

"I thought cats were supposed to be self-reliant creatures. Independent and all that."

"Would you prefer a dog?"

Wesley blinked. "I don't like dogs. We had dogs when I was a child -- why are you trying to talk me into getting a pet?"

"I..." Giles paused and reviewed the conversation. "Because you need something to take care of?"

"There's you." Wesley grinned.

"Well, yes, but--"

"I could name you George and take you for walks. Have to make sure you've got all your shots, though."

The warm feeling that had begun at hearing Wesley's comment, didn't seem to be fading in the face of his subsequent nonsense. "George?"

Wesley paused, thinking it over, then nodded. "Yes. It's from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. 'I'll name you George and hug you and kiss you and when you are--" He stopped, and turned bright red.

"What?" Giles asked, curious.

But Wesley kept his mouth shut, shaking his head slightly despite the grin that was trying to come back.

"Well, whatever is making you turn that interesting colour, the hugging and kissing part is enticing. Even if you do call me George."

"You don't like 'George'?" Wesley managed a light tone, despite the color of his cheeks.

"It wouldn't be my first choice, no." He was keeping from laughing, only with a great deal of effort.

"I suppose I could call you something else." Wesley looked at him with a thoughtful expression. "Hubert?"

Giles just looked at him.

"What about Bubba? A nice, friendly name."

"What's wrong with 'Rupert'?"

Wesley frowned, as though startled. "Who names their cat 'Rupert'?"

Giles blinked. "Cat?"

"I'm not getting a dog."

Perhaps he wasn't meant to follow the conversation, he thought. "How about a slightly worn watcher?"

With a slight frown, Wesley said carefully, "I thought I had one of those."

"Wholeheartedly and for as long as you want him," Giles replied instantly. He was pretty sure Wesley was still just teasing, but wanted no doubt on that point regardless.

Instead of answering, Wesley kissed him. The first kiss was light, but then Wesley placed aother, longer kiss on Giles' lips. Giles raised his good hand and rested it against the nape of Wesley's neck as the kiss deepened and lengthened.

He felt Wesley shift, sliding down a bit on the sofa. It encouraged Giles to lean forward, as Wesley leaned back more. He did so, until they were lying prone, Wesley stretched out full underneath him.

He felt Wesley moving again, not apparently to change position or get more comfortable -- for if he was, he was changing his mind rather repeatedly. The way he rubbed his body against Giles' made him think there was another reason he was moving slowly, back and forth, beneath him.

He pulled back enough to look at Wesley's face, wanting to see his eyes, his expression. The expression he saw was one of rapid descent towards arousal. There was still concern in his eyes, though, and as Giles looked at him his face showed a question he didn't bother giving voice to.

Giles answered it with another kiss.

For some time, that's all they did. Laying on the sofa, not talking -- just exchanging kisses, slow and liesurely. It was... nice. No hurry, no pressure, just losing himself in the taste and feel of someone who was rapidly becoming an essential part of his life.

But pleasant as it was, he coudn't help but see the time. Of course, Wesley seemed perfectly content to remain there rather than head to London. At least he hadn't mentioned it, hadn't reminded Giles that time was drawing near that they would have to go, if he wanted to make the funeral.

He pulled back finally, reluctantly. He would have greatly preferred to stay here -- for there to be no funeral, at all. But even so, he wished he could stay here, away from it all.

Wesley let him go without protest. Quietly, he said, "We have just enough time..."

"No," Giles heard himself saying.

Surprisingly -- or perhaps not -- Wesley smiled. It made it even more difficult to talk himself out of staying home. But even if he opted not to attend the funeral, there were still reasons to go to London.

"We still need to visit the archives," he said, sitting up.

"Of course." Wesley nodded. "Do you want to... go right away?"

They should, but the exhaustion of his earlier loss of control was still with him. "Would you mind if we waited until this afternoon?"

"No, that's fine. Unless the library has changed the hours in the last four years, we can go as late as this evening."

"The Council change something? That *would* bring about the apolcalypse."

Wesley grinned. "Then we're in no hurry. Ah -- you said you hadn't told them about the journals we're looking for," he added, leadingly.

"No." Which had in fact been the reason they had waited until today to go, to use the funeral as a cover. "I'll come up with some reason..."

"I just... I wondered..." Wesley took a deep breath and asked, "Did you tell them I would be here?"

Giles blinked. "I didn't know you were going to be here."

"You haven't spoken with anyone on the Council since then?" Wesley sounded surprised.

"Not since before you arrived." He had vague recollections of the call he made when he first arrived home, letting them know he would be indisposed for a while.

"Ah." Wesley nodded approvingly.

"Why?"

"I'm not particularly eager to let the Council know I'm around." Wesley picked up the tea cups from the window sill, and carried them towards the kitchen.

Giles stared after him for a moment, then got up and followed. "I know you're not on exactly the best of terms with the Council..."

There was a brief, and not exactly amused, grin. "Yes. As such... would you be terribly put out if I stay *outside* the library when we go to London?"

"Of course not, if that's what you need to do to feel comfortable." He moved closer, reaching out and resting a hand on Wesley's arm. "But you do know I wouldn't let anyone hassle you."

"I'm not worried about being 'hassled'," Wesley replied in a dry tone.

"Then what?"

Wesley's expression changed from one of dry amusement, to startled realisation. "You don't know?"

Giles shook his head.

Wesley looked uncomfortable, and said, "The second time -- when they wanted me to assist them and I refused. I suppose since they'd already fired me, there was only one thing left. They tried to kill me."

Giles could actually feel himself pale. "They what?"

"I wouldn't help them destroy Angel." Wesley shrugged, though he had to know he hadn't responded directly to Giles' remark.

"Of course you wouldn't. That they even expected you to is..." His brain was providing pictures of the possible confrontation and he sighed as he realized, "exactly keeping in with the idiocy that the Council seems to excel at."

"Yes, well, I'm not... if you don't actually need me to accompany you *into* the library..." He shrugged again. "I don't know that they still would try again, but I'd as soon not find out."

"Of course," Giles agreed quickly. "In fact, if you would I go to London by myself--"

"No!" Wesley had his hand up, and had taken a half-step towards him, as though Giles were heading out right then. He stopped and collected himself a bit, and said, "I don't mind going to London -- unless... you'd prefer...?"

"No, I don't prefer," Giles soothed, reaching out to touch Wesley's cheek. "I want your company for as long as possible."

That brought the shy, pleased smile back to his lover's face. The smile that demanded being kissed. A demand that Giles had found it increasingly hard to resist, and didn't even try to this time.

It required walking over to the kitchen doorway, removing the teacup from Wesley's hand that he hadn't set down yet, and leaning forward. It also required nibbling, a bit. None of which Wesley seemed to mind terribly, if the way he was smiling and kissing back was any indication.

"We're going to end up back on the couch if we continue," Giles observed.

"You started this -- George."

"You smiled at me," Giles said, with a smile of his own.

"And therefore I'm the one at fault?"

"You encouraged me."

"By smiling," Wesley repeated, dubiously. He was still smiling, however.

"Yes."

Wesley quickly frowned. "Do you want more tea?" He sounded as though he ought be looking down his nose through granny-glasses.

It was unfortunate that it made him just as adorable as smiling did and Giles said as much.

Wesley just looked more disapproving. "You can get your own tea. Brigand. I'm going to take a shower."

"And of course the thought of you wet and naked is definitely going to make me not want to kiss you..."

"You don't *have* to think about me taking a shower," Wesley said in a helpful tone.

"I don't necessarily have to breathe either," Giles replied, "but it's a hard habit to give up."

"How long have you been thinking about me showering?" Wesley asked. "You haven't liked me long enough for it to have become a habit."

"It doesn't take long. If I said I was going to shower, are you saying you wouldn't be thinking about me?"

"If I were in Los Angeles, yes. I would be thinking about you."

Giles raised an eyebrow. "Only in Los Angeles?"

"Well, if I were *here* I wouldn't just be thinking about it." Then he glanced down and said in an innocent tone, "Oh -- I suppose you can't shower until the cast is off."

"Improvisation can be made," Giles said quickly. "It's amazing what tape and plastic will do."

"And would you want to risk bruising your ribs again? Showers can get very slippery especially when one has assistance with the washcloth."

"P-point," Giles stammered, although the pictures in his mind were extremely distracting.

Wesley shrugged, apologetically. "Sorry," he said in a sincere tone. "I didn't think about that before... I started."

"Keep talking and I'll be willing to risk a lot more than bruising my ribs."

Wesley bit his lower lip, then shook his head. "Perhaps it would be safest if I went and had my shower and you..."

"And I...?"

Wesley's cheeks suddenly burned bright red again.

"Join you?" Giles guessed. "Watched?"

When Wesley's cheeks suddenly went even brighter with the last, Giles knew he'd guessed right.

He moved closer. "You want me to watch?" he asked softly.

Wesley seemed to be having trouble forming words. Or even sounds. His eyes were a bit wide, though, and darker.

Giles smiled. "I can do that. Watch you."

Wesley shivered.

"It is my job after all. Watcher. I could make watching you a lifelong commitment."

Suddenly, Wesley seemed frozen. Slowly, sounding somewhat stunned, Wesley said, "You said that before. You don't--"

"I don't what?"

"You sound like-- you're asking... it's only been a few weeks," he finished lamely. A bit desperately. There was fear in Wesley's eyes, but Giles wasn't sure if it was inspired by the thought that this might not be permanent -- or that it was. He tried to think of words to quell that fear no matter what its cause.

"Wesley, we can take this as slow as you want, but I'm not intending on going anywhere."

That seemed to do the trick. Wesley relaxed, exhaled a breath he'd been holding, and nodded. "I think... I'm not quite ready to hear how permanent this is. It makes me want to look behind me and wonder who you're talking to." His voice dropped. "Or run." One corner of his mouth quirked in what wasn't quite humour.

He smiled back. "Can't have that."

"I don't intend on it," Wesley said, seriously. "But... this is all happening rather fast."

"Yes, it is," Giles agreed. "I confess it's taken me a bit by surprise how fast."

Wesley nodded. "I don't want to stop. By any means. But... slower, would be good." He looked like he wanted to apologise, but he surprised Giles by not.

Giles nodded and took a deep breath. "We'll take it slower then."

"Thank you." He smiled, faintly. "Would you mind terribly if I showered... that is, alone?"

"Terribly," Giles deadpanned. "But I'll survive."

Wesley's face fell, infintesimally. "I'm sorry; I'm not comfortable with all this yet."

Feeling instantly contrite for his teasing, Giles reached out, but didn't actually touch. "I'm the one who should apologise. I was teasing and I should have better timing."

Wesley moved forward, taking his hand and giving it a squeeze. He smiled, then simply walked away, to go take his shower.


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