Disclaimer: I don’t own any of them. It’s just for fun.

Theme: Angst

Spoilers: Ats Season 3 Carpe Noctum. Very general BtVS season 6

Rating: NC17 Bloodplay

Scenario: Wesley gets to understand the consequences of obsession

Feedback: Yes please to lpritchard2020@btinternet.com

 

Thanks to Arrie, ever patient and thorough beta reader. Also to Fran, who although insisting that she’s a lurker, not a writer, gave me both the ideas and the push to help me get this piece finished.

 

 

The Body Switch

By Lisa P

 

 

 

The Algerian Conjuring Orb nestled comfortably in Wesley’s hand.

 

He stared at it, his brow furrowed with the conflicting emotions that had overtaken him since the orb had come into his possession.

 

Wesley had been on one of his periodic forays into the subterranean world of a magic artefact auction, when his attention had been caught by a box containing various jars of magical base materials and ingredients. He had only had time to rifle through some of the contents, bile, henbane, belladonna, to name but three, before the box was announced as the next lot to be sold.  Wesley had done a quick mental inventory of what he was short of in his own stock cupboard, and thought that as long as the box didn’t get expensive, it would be a useful purchase.  Fortunately for him, nobody else at the auction seemed in the remotest bit interested in this particular item, and he was the only bidder, getting the whole box of jars for five dollars.

 

It was only when he had arrived home and unpacked the box, that he realised that in addition to the various jars of ingredients, a small orb had also been tucked away underneath everything else. Wesley fished it out, eyeing it curiously, before giving a little gasp of surprise as he recognised it for what it was.

 

That had been a week ago, and every day since he had acquired it, Wesley had been drawn to the orb, like a moth to a candle.

 

The last time he had seen an Algerian conjuring orb had been when Angel had angrily crushed one into tiny fragments in his fist. That orb had been the mechanism whereby Marcus Roscoe, a frail, but evil old man, had managed to switch bodies with the vampire. It had only been because Marcus had had to read up on vampires, and had carelessly left the books open in Wesley’s office, that the Angel Investigations team had been able to guess what had happened. They had only been just in time to prevent the old man from killing his own body, with Angel trapped inside it. Wesley had helped Angel to make the switch back into his own body, and the vampire had destroyed the orb immediately afterwards.

 

Angel had never spoken about the body switching experience, but he had been even more silent and withdrawn than was usual for him for many weeks after the incident. Cordelia had tried to get him to talk about it on one occasion, but Angel had just shaken his head and refused to say anything, his shuttered expression making it clear to his seer that this conversation was going to go nowhere.

 

Events had moved on at Angel Investigations, and the body switching episode had become just another of the arcane occurrences that littered its files, at least to the human members of the team.

 

Now, with the Algerian orb in his hand, Wesley was reminded forcefully of the event, and Marcus’s words, overheard by the team as they rushed to rescue Angel, kept running around the ex-watcher’s head.

 

“You – you don’t know what you had…you don’t deserve that body.”

 

Despite himself, Wesley couldn’t stop himself feeling almost envious of the old man. What an amazing experience. To view the world through the eyes of a creature as mythic as the vampire. What an opportunity to have had. It was a shame that Marcus had been so unworthy of the privilege that he had so unwittingly won.

 

Now, by complete accident, Wesley was in possession of a second conjuring orb.

 

But even Wesley’s agile brain could not come up with an argument that would have begun to persuade Angel that it would serve a useful purpose to allow another body switch to take place. Indeed, Wesley recognised that there was no valid argument, only his own increasing burning desire to know what it felt like to live, even just for a very short time, in the body of a demon.

 

Weeks passed.

 

Wesley found himself watching Angel more and more as the vampire went about his business with Angel Investigations. Of course, Wes had always been fascinated with vampires, how could he have trained as a Watcher otherwise? But he had got used to Angel being around as part of their team. Sometimes it was almost easy to forget that Angel wasn’t human, he tried so hard to behave in a mortal way. Even when Angel changed, his handsome human features transforming into the feral ones of the vampire, it was always in the heat of a fight, when all of them were relieved to have him on their side.

 

Now Wesley noticed anew how Angel always moved completely silently, every one of his movements infused with a feline grace and subtlety. How he always knew when anyone was approaching the doors of the Hyperion, long before they entered. He noticed Angel’s ability to be completely still, and to sink into the shadows as if he was almost dematerialising. Tiny little things, previously unobserved, now caught Wesley’s attention. The slight flaring of Angel’s nostrils, quickly suppressed, if one of his colleagues had, for whatever reason, been bleeding. The small flinch whenever one of them sneezed suddenly, or dropped something that landed with a clatter. How Angel would pause momentarily, blinking, as he came into a brightly lit room.

 

Occasionally Angel would catch Wesley observing him, and would either shift uncomfortably out of the ex-watcher’s line of sight, or would capture and hold Wesley’s gaze with his deep, dark eyes, making Wes fumble with his spectacles in an attempt to seem nonchalant about being caught staring.

 

Wesley found himself re-reading some of the texts about vampires, reminding himself of their physiology and their social structures, and applying this refreshed knowledge to Angel. Nowhere in the texts, though, were there references to vampires who chose to live among humans without preying on them. There was nothing about vampires who wanted human friendship – needed it. Nothing about vampires cursed with a soul.

 

The Algerian Conjuring Orb lay in Wesley’s apartment, a small dull stone that radiated temptation every time the ex-watcher looked at it.

 

It is a curious facet of the human psyche, that given long enough, and with enough inducement, most people - even the most honourable ones - can persuade themselves that a desired course of action is also the proper course to take.

 

Wesley started to convince himself that it was in the team’s best interests that he should effect a body switching spell with Angel. Indeed, he had persuaded himself that Angel would also benefit if Wesley switched with him. His greater understanding of how Angel perceived the world around him could only help Wesley to provide the vampire with support and advice. He could help Cordelia, Gunn and Fred to better understand Angel, by providing them with objective rationales as to why the vampire sometimes behaved the way he did. Wesley had a responsibility, as leader of the team, to understand his colleagues as well as possible, wouldn’t a body switch enable him to do that so much better?

 

Given that Wesley knew that Angel would never agree to go along with the idea, Wesley started to formulate a plan.

 

-0-

 

Cordelia, Gunn and Fred had left the office, moaning and griping about having to make a bread and butter appearance at David Nabbit’s house. Given that Nabbit had been invaluable in helping them secure the lease on the Hyperion, and had made available the services of his extremely high powered finance director, Wesley had had no hesitation in accepting Nabbit’s invitation for some of the demon hunters to meet his gaming friends.

 

“Great, just what a girl dreams of, an evening surrounded by sad nerds” Cordelia said huffily.

 

“Uh Huh. What I want to know is, will their nerdiness rub off? My cool – meter is already dangerously in the red, it don’t need any more help”. Gunn’s horizons had broadened and widened since he had joined the team, not always to the benefit of his street cred. Fred had just smiled nervously, still anxious about any kind of socialising.

 

Wesley had waved them off, reminding them that this was what being in business was all about, and after all clients as rich and as grateful as David Nabbit, were too rare a commodity to treat in any way other than with the greatest appreciation.

Cordelia’s parting shot drifted back to Wesley as the girls and the huge black man exited.

 

“Only terminally lame people would think it a good idea to have a soiree that starts at six in the evening, so that they can get in extra hours of dungeons and dragons.”

 

Now the Englishman was checking his watch. Half an hour before sunset. Wesley quickly collected the orb, an ancient spell book, and some herbs that he had secreted in his office earlier. He made his way up the hotel staircase, and along the corridor to Angel’s suite of rooms. Pausing outside Angel’s door, he listened intently for any sound that would indicate that the vampire had already risen. Hearing nothing, Wesley carefully unlocked the door, using the spare key that was kept downstairs for emergency use. He cautiously poked his head inside the room, hardly daring to breathe. Using every Watcher technique at his disposal, Wesley crept towards Angel’s bedroom, thankful that the vampire had left his door open. Wesley could see Angel, still asleep, sprawled face down on his bed. Wesley stepped back. The body switching spell only required the spell caster to see the object of the switch, it was not necessary for them to be in the same room. Retreating to the far end of the living room, but still keeping the sleeping vampire in his sight, Wesley set up his spell.

 

In addition to the orb, herbs and book, the ex-watcher had made up a powerful sleeping draught, guaranteed to put the drinker of the draught into a deep, dreamless slumber for at least two or three hours. Wesley had drunk this sleeping draught twenty minutes earlier. Now he could feel it beginning to take effect. His eyelids felt heavy, his limbs leaden. He began to whisper the secret words of the body-switching spell. As he intoned the magic phrases, the conjuring orb began to pulse and glow.

 

Wesley began to experience a strange tightening in his chest and throat, almost as if something was trying to force itself upwards and outwards. He began to choke as his airway constricted. Then…nothing. Wesley felt himself spreading…scattering, no flesh to contain his disembodied spirit. For a panicked moment, the ex-watcher wondered if the spell had gone wrong, and he was condemned to float in the ether, an incorporeal spirit. Then with a rush he was slammed back into flesh. The shock of his entry made his eyes fly open, and he found himself staring into the pillows of Angel’s bed.

 

-0-

 

For long moments Wesley didn’t move, trying to come to terms with the shock of the transfer. Then he realised something was missing. If he had been in his own body, or that of another human, his heart would have been racing now, blood pounding in his ears, breath coming in gasps as the adrenaline flooded his system. Angel’s body was completely silent and still. No heartbeat, no circulation, no digestion, no breath.

Slowly, Wesley sat up, conscious, even with this small movement, of the strength and suppleness of the vampire’s body. For an instant he thought that someone had turned on the lights in the bedroom, and then realised with the first of many tiny jolts he was to experience, that Angel’s night vision was so superb that it was as if it was full daylight. Then, the sound of a heartbeat, slow and regular. Wesley was confused, he pressed his hand against Angel’s still chest before realising that the heartbeat he heard was coming from his own body, slumped against the wall in the next room. It was so loud he thought, wonderingly.

 

Another sensation began to overtake him. Hunger. But this was not hunger as Wesley recognised after waking from a night’s rest. This was a clawing, demanding need, propelling him from the bed with its urgency.  Before he had even realised it, Wesley found himself standing over his own, drugged body, being assailed by the most tantalising scent he could have ever imagined. Oh God, it was his own blood he could smell! He threw himself backwards, away from the slumbering body, clapping a big, square hand over his nose and mouth to try to block out the delicious aroma. Mind spinning, Wesley remembered the stocks of pig’s blood that Angel kept in his kitchen refrigerator. Quickly, he pulled open the fridge door and took out one of the containers of blood that was stacked neatly inside. Although Angel preferred to feed in private, Wesley had seen the vampire heat up the blood in the microwave on several occasions in the past, and this is what he did now. He put the container of warmed blood to his lips, expecting to feel revulsion, but although the pig’s blood was sour and unappetising, he was surprised at how much he needed to drink it down. Finishing off the first container, Wesley opened a second, and drank that almost as fast. The hunger was still there, but lessened to the extent that he now felt safe to go back over to his own body, and check that it was alright.

 

Wesley knew it would be unnerving to see his own body using another’s eyes, but looking at himself from a vampire’s perspective was even more startling. For the first time Wesley began to realise how Angel’s other senses were as important to him as his sight. Now that the vampire’s body was not craving blood, he was able to pick up a whole raft of information using his nose alone. He could smell the soap and shampoo that he regularly used, overlaying a muskier, but enticing scent – this is what his own body really smelled like. God, he could even smell the scent of the dry cleaning fluid that lingered on his trousers – that had been over a month ago since they had last been cleaned.

 

Wesley stared in fascination at his own, sleeping face. He was sure he could actually see the blood moving under the skin, notice tiny twitches of facial muscles that would be invisible to the human eye. His dark hair, normally unremarkable, almost shimmered as the low lights of the living room caught and reflected off the individual strands. The thin, angular face that looked back at him every time he passed a mirror, that should have been so familiar, now looked completely different…and beautiful.

He hunkered back on his heels, forcing himself to think of practicalities. The body switch seemed to have worked perfectly, with Angel, still asleep when the switch had happened, now inhabiting Wesley’s own unconscious body. The ex-watcher knew he had at least two hours to further explore the mysteries of being a vampire before he had to reverse the spell. If all went to plan, Angel would never know that anything untoward had happened at all.

 

He stood up and returned to the bedroom to get dressed.

 

Even the simple act of pulling on black sweats and a dark, v-necked cotton jumper felt alien. The feel of the fabric against the cool flesh, was sensuous, luxurious. Once again, Wesley was conscious of the powerful muscles that rippled under the skin, and began to enjoy the instinctive economy and grace of every movement, so different from his own, often stiff awkwardness.

 

With one last check on his own body, Wesley left the suite and made his way down the stairs towards the lobby.

 

-0-

 

The spacious lobby of the old hotel was just as Wesley had left it, half an hour earlier, but now it seemed transformed. He found himself blinking and shading his eyes from the brighter lighting as he reached the bottom of the staircase. Then he stopped, amazed. It was as if someone had been in during his absence, and had painted every surface in bright, primary colours. Everything was just so…vivid. 

 

A whole range of scents floated in the air. Dust, coffee, Pledge, people. For a brief moment Wesley tried to imagine what it would be like when the offices were busy. Cordelia laughing or shouting, Gunn teasing and throwing screwed up paper at various targets, Fred crunching tacos, the phones ringing. He winced at the thought. God, no wonder Angel sometimes seemed to shrink away from it all, the impact on these senses must be nearly overwhelming. He made a mental note to try to encourage his colleagues to be less loud when Angel was around.

 

Collecting Angel’s long, black duster on the way, Wesley left the hotel. He stood outside, at the top of the steps, inhaling the scents of the night air around him. A persistent, annoying squeaking caught his attention now he was outside. What was it? Another jolt as he realised he was hearing the bats as they flew around the trees near the hotel. He listened. Not only could he hear the bats, but the rumble of traffic seemed multi-layered, not just the usual distant roar. Wesley swore he could pick out individual engine noises. Shaking his head in wonder, Wesley began to walk.

 

This was all so astonishing. Wesley noticed how Angel’s body instinctively kept to the shadows, slipping from one to the next in complete silence. Wesley was surprised. He had assumed that when he switched bodies, that he would bring his own way of moving, and his own habits with him. Now he was beginning to realise how many of Angel’s physical responses and attributes were entirely instinctive, like reflex actions, not requiring any conscious thought at all. In some ways the thought was quite scary, almost as if the body controlled itself, without any need for intelligent awareness. Wesley supposed the fact that a vampire’s body was animated through dark forces, and not by the usual mechanisms of life, was largely responsible for this strange dichotomy between mind and body.

 

Lost in his internal musings, Wesley had wandered into one of the less salubrious areas of the city. Under normal circumstances, he would have made a quick U-turn and returned to the safer areas of the main boulevards, but now he kept walking.

The unlit streets were dank, littered with the detritus of life on the streets. Plastic bags, empty bottles, discarded syringes.

 

Then, a scream. Wesley halted, listening, locating, sensing. He began to run, vaguely incredulous at the sheer speed with which he was able to travel. He stormed around the corner, taking in the scene that met him with a glance.

 

A girl, cheap looking, and wearing the unmistakeable street walker’s uniform of short skirt, crop top, bare legs and spiked heels, was being roughly shoved against the side of a car. A young, heavily tattooed white man was ripping at her clothes, while fumbling at the front of his own trousers. Two of his friends stood by, yelling and catcalling, egging him on.

 

“Leave her alone”. Angel’s deceptively soft voice spoke Wesley’s words.

 

“Fuck off and die”. Tattoo man spat in his direction. His two cronies started towards the tall, dark haired man, unveiling knives as they did so.

 

It was over before it had really begun. Wesley picked up the first of his attackers, and without any effort, hurled him clear across the street. The man smashed into the side of a dumpster with such force that the two ton container shifted several feet with the impact. The second attacker had suddenly found his wrist trapped in an inhumanly powerful grip. With a swift jerk, and an awful crackling, snapping sound his arm was ripped clean out of his shoulder. He collapsed onto the ground, shrieking.

 

Tattoo man had barely had time to push the girl away from him, before he too found himself spun around, the whole of his lower face shattering with the force of the punch that had been aimed at him. He lay on the dirty street, groaning.

 

Wesley stared at the three beaten, broken men in dismay. God, he thought he had known how strong Angel was … With sudden apprehension, Wesley now knew that Angel concealed his true strength from his colleagues. He thought back to their training sessions in the Hyperion’s basement, how they had sometimes been able to throw Angel down, or get him backed up in a sword fight. Now he knew it was a lie. There was no way on this earth that the three of them, even fully armed, could possibly match the vampire in strength or speed. Angel could, as Wesley had just found out, maim and kill them all in a heartbeat.

 

Dragging his eyes away from the carnage he had so easily wreaked, Wesley remembered the girl he had protected from being raped. She was still slumped by the side of the car where she had fallen, weeping, her hand pressed against a cut on her forehead. Wesley went to help her up. But as he reached down for her, he smelt the intoxicating tang of her blood as it oozed from the small wound.

 

Suddenly his senses exploded in a haze of red. It was as if the world had gone into overdrive. Wesley felt something inside of him tense, and then, just as quickly, release. With that release came an overpowering surge of emotion. Lust, hunger, need. All conscious thought was extinguished in that moment. Wesley was caught up in a maelstrom of sensation, soft skin, silky hair, pliant body. And then…and then.

 

He wanted to howl with pleasure as the blood hit his tongue. Hot, delicious, the sweetest thing he had ever tasted. The girl struggled, writhing in his grip, making the whole experience even more exciting. The blood blazed a fiery trail inside him, making him bite down even harder into her pulsing throat, increasing the delectable flow into his hungry, sucking mouth.

 

The girl’s struggles and moans were weakening now as her body was emptied of its life-giving essence. Her heart pounded desperately in its efforts to replenish its ever diminishing stocks. Finally, it gave up the unequal struggle. As his victim’s life force left her body, Wesley felt it enter his, with the power and force of a thousand orgasms. He shuddered and jerked in ecstasy.

 

And then it was done.

 

Dropping the bloodless corpse at his feet, Wesley stood, dazed and disorientated, feeling his whole body vibrating with the swell and zest of the blood that was roaring inside him. Slowly putting his hands to his face, Wesley discovered ridges, and, oh sweet Jesus, fangs.

 

The shock of the discovery was enough to jolt Wesley back into consciousness, and with it, he felt himself change once more back to Angel’s human appearance. He looked around in bewilderment. What had just happened? Then, he glanced down, and saw the dead girl lying at his feet, the unmistakeable sight of a vampire’s bite scored into her bloodless throat.

Wesley screamed, and reeled backwards in shock as he realised what he must have done.

 

“Oh Jesus, oh no, please, no, oh…oh…” he gabbled, incoherent with fear.

 

Without reason or plan, Wesley ran from the scene, his only thoughts being “I must get back, must switch back. Oh God, oh God, what have I done?”

 

-0-

 

Wesley ran at full tilt back to the hotel, careless of the amazed looks of several passers-by who never seen anything move that fast before. Without pausing, he leapt up the steps leading into the Hyperion, flung himself through the entrance doors, and raced straight up the staircase back to Angel’s suite.

 

Fumbling, he pulled the key to the suite out of his pocket, and unlocked the door, hurling himself inside the room and slamming the door shut behind him. Only then did he stop and try to gather his panicked thoughts.

 

The first thing Wesley noticed, with a flood of relief, was that his own body was still peacefully slumbering. He glanced at the clock, and was astonished to discover that only an hour and a half had passed since the body switch had taken place. It had seemed like so much longer.

 

He grabbed the Algerian conjuring orb, and the spell book, and went into Angel’s bedroom, sitting down on the side of the bed before starting the spell. He had memorised the text beforehand, and placed the magical artefacts under the bed, safely out of the way. In a shaking voice he intoned the words of the body-switching spell. Once again he felt the curious constriction in his chest and throat, before his essence fled the vampire’s body and went momentarily into the ether. This time, the slamming back into another body was accompanied by a moment of pure relief. However, Wesley had not anticipated returning to his own body so soon, and although he had been wide awake, his body was still full of the sleeping draught. Wesley slipped into blissful unconsciousness.

 

-0-

 

Angel woke with a start, knowing immediately that something was very, very wrong.

He found himself sitting on the side of his bed, fully dressed and wearing his black duster. That in itself  was inexplicable, but something even more unfathomable had happened. He wasn’t hungry.

 

Worse, not only wasn’t he hungry, he was satisfied…satiated. Angel leapt to his feet, suddenly conscious of the rush of life racing around his body, the blissful feeling of being full of human blood. Oh God, he could taste it…hot, fresh, living human blood.

“W-what’s happened? Oh God, what have I done?”

 

Trembling in disbelief, Angel ran into his living quarters, and skidded to a halt, seeing Wesley’s prone body slumped against the wall. For one awful moment Angel thought that it was Wesley’s blood surging around his body. Then, thankfully, he heard the steady beating of Wesley’s heart. Not dead then, but why was he here? And why was he unconscious?

 

He crouched in front of Wesley.

 

“Wes..Wes, wake up. Please, Wes, you have to wake up”.

 

Angel shook the Englishman, but although Wesley groaned, and his eyelids flickered, it was clear that he was completely out of it.

 

Angel’s mind skittered through the possibilities of what may have happened. Had he been sleep walking? Perhaps Wesley had tried to stop him, and Angel had hit him…Oh God…the blood – was it any of the others?

 

Leaving Wesley lying on the floor, Angel bolted out of his suite and down the stairs.

 

-0-

 

Wesley slowly swam back into consciousness. That draught must have been stronger than I realised he thought muzzily. He eased himself up into a sitting position, rubbing his eyes and yawning. Then he remembered.

 

Hauling himself to his feet, Wesley groggily made his way over to Angel’s bedroom, hoping against hope that the vampire would somehow have transferred back into his body, and gone back to sleep. That unlikely possibility was quenched as soon as Wesley stepped into the room. There was no sign of Angel.

 

“Angel?”

 

Wesley tried to collect his thoughts. Assuming that Angel had been unaware that he had been the subject of a body switch, he would have woken as normal. He had probably gone to find the others to ask why Wesley was in his living room, fast asleep.  But as his brain cleared, Wesley recalled that Angel would have woken to find himself fully dressed, and with no idea of how he had got that way.

 

Then Wesley’s heart lurched as though it had been hurled down an elevator shaft. Would Angel know he had fed? The ex-watcher’s already drawn face paled even further. Oh God, could this get any worse?

 

I need to talk to the others – now.

 

On shaking legs, the ex-watcher wobbled into the lobby, and half-collapsed onto the chair in his office. With trembling fingers he dialled Gunn’s mobile.

 

“Yo, man. Whassup?”

 

Wesley had never been so relieved to hear the big black man’s confident voice.

 

“Gunn. You’ve got to get back to the hotel, now. All of you. Something’s happened.”

Wesley know he sounded shaky, even to himself.

 

“OK, Wes. What’s happened?”

 

“Just get back here, please. I’ll explain everything then.” Wesley cut the connection, needing time to gather himself. The sick feeling of dread churned around his stomach. How could everything have gone so very wrong?

 

-0-

 

“Hey Wes, we’re back” Cordelia shouted.

 

Gunn, Cordelia and Fred had made their excuses and left David Nabbit’s palatial apartment as soon as Wesley had called. They had got back to the Hyperion in record time, Gunn not being afraid to break every rule in the Highway Code in his urgency to help his friend and colleague. Now the three of them spilled into the lobby, breathless and anxious.

 

Wesley stepped out of his office, white-faced and looking more frightened than anyone had ever seen him. Gunn snapped his head around.

 

“Where’s Angel?”

 

Wesley groaned and put his hands over his face. “He’s not here. This is about Angel”.

 

Cordelia stepped forward and grabbed Wesley’s arm. “He’s not hurt, is he? Wes, is he OK?” the girl’s voice was shrill with anxiety.

 

“No…yes…I don’t know” Wesley said.

 

Seeing Fred’s eyes filling with tears, and Cordelia’s panicked expression, Gunn took charge.

 

“C’mon English. Sit down and start from the beginning. If we’re gonna do anything to help, we’ve gotta know what’s goin’ on.”

 

With shame flooding every part of him, Wesley began to explain about the Algerian Conjuring orb, and the events of the past couple of hours. Although he kept his head down, and his eyes fixed on the floor, he could feel the waves of astonishment, disbelief, horror, and anger rolling over him from his three colleagues as they listened in mounting shock to his story. Finally, he was finished, and a long drawn out silence filled the room, broken only by Fred’s quiet sobbing. Cordelia spoke first.

 

“You Bastard. I just can’t believe you would do that to him. Angel’s your friend!”

 

Wesley sunk even further down into his chair. “I know” he whispered miserably. “I’d give anything for this not to have happened”.

 

“Cordelia’s right, you are a complete bastard, and a stupid one too. But right now, we’ve gotta find Angel. If he does think he’s drained someone, he’s gonna be outta his mind with guilt right about now. We’ve gotta help him.” Gunn stood up, his huge frame filling the room.

Fred’s tiny voice cut in. “But where would we start looking? And…Charles, if Angel does think he’s drained someone…well, he’ll be right, won’t he?”

 

They looked at each other, bleakly.

 

-0-

 

Angel’s panic had been slightly lessened as he realised that none of his colleagues were in the hotel. The office diary was open on the desk, and with a stab of relief, Angel remembered Cordelia moaning about having to spend time with Nabbit’s gaming friends. Thank God, it hadn’t been any one of them.

 

He stood in the centre of the lobby, not knowing what to do, or where to go, but he knew he had to do something. Somebody’s blood was heating his body – a person – and the way he felt, that person must now be dead, drained dry. He had to find out who his victim had been. But how?

 

Calming slightly, Angel began to pick up a scent that was unfamiliar. He sniffed, wondering where it was coming from, before realising that there was blood on his coat. He shrugged off the duster and held it to his nose, questing. One thing was certain, the blood was not his, or from any of his colleagues, and it was still fresh, less than a few hours old. Could he track it? It was a long shot, but Angel felt he had no choice but to at least try.

 

Standing outside the Hyperion’s front entrance, Angel closed his eyes and concentrated. Fainter than the faintest whisper, the vampire caught the tiniest remnant of the scent of blood still floating in the still night air. He turned and followed it.

 

-0-

 

Angel heard the far off sounds of police radios at the same time as the scent of blood grew unmistakeably stronger. He quickened his pace. Turning the corner, he slid instinctively deeper into the shadows, careful to avoid the splashes of orange and blue lights that were bouncing off the walls of the alley. There were police vehicles and  ambulances cluttering the street, with several police officers already cordoning off the crime scene. Angel’s vampire hearing let him easily pick up the threads of several conversations, even though he was still over a hundred yards away.

 

“Two dead’uns, and the other two pretty beaten up – but no knives or gunshot wounds. Doesn’t look like a gang attack to me”.

 

“Weird too, the guy with the tattoos, he’s sayin’ that it was just one guy, at least we think that’s what he’s sayin’. Hard to tell, his face is smashed up so bad.”

 

“That other guy, the paramedics are sayin’ he bled to death, looked like his arm was like, ripped off. What the hell coulda’ done that?”

 

“Yeah. And have you seen the imprint of the other one’s body on the dumpster? How that guy’s still breathin’ is a miracle. Just how hard do you have to hit one of those things to leave an imprint, for Christ’s sake?”

 

“Somethin’s not right here. The girl. She’s had her throat half-ripped out. Some kind of bite, looks like. But there’s no blood. She should be lying in a lake of it.”

 

Angel stood, frozen, as the snatches of conversation told him what had happened. How could he have done this – killed two people, seriously injured two others, and have absolutely no recollection of having done so? He came out of his trance, and as if drawn by a magnet, crept closer to the cordoned off area. Perhaps if he saw his victims…might that stir his memory? Angel slipped under the crime scene cordon tape, unnoticed by the officers who were still marking out the area. He saw the paramedics tending to two injured men. The two corpses were lying on gurneys, waiting to be loaded into one of the waiting ambulances, Angel realised that the blood that had stained his coat came from the larger of the two bodies. He stifled a low moan as the fading scent of the smaller corpse drifted over to him. It was her blood that surged and leapt within him, stolen from that poor dead, drained girl.

 

Angel was overcome with grief. Heedless of his surroundings, he stood trembling, his gaze fixed on the small, still body.

 

A white, harsh light flashed into his eyes, blinding the vampire momentarily. One of the police officers, checking the perimeters of the street for any clues or evidence, had trained his flashlight into the dark shadows of the alley, and caught Angel in its powerful beam.

 

“Hey! You’re not supposed to be here. Come out with your hands above your head!”

The officer’s shout caused everyone’s head to turn.

 

Tattoo man, still lying on the ground, with two paramedics attending to him saw the tall figure illuminated in the bright light, and gasped. He grabbed the sleeve of one of the paramedics, pointing a shaking finger at Angel.

 

“It’f him! That’f v baftard that did thif to me. That’f the baftard that killed them!”

 

“Arrest him! This guy recognises him – says he’s the one who did all this!” The paramedic yelled across to the officer with the flashlight.

 

Angel tensed and glanced around him, hearing the sound of running feet and weapons being drawn from holsters.

 

“Get down on the ground with your arms out at the side of you. NOW!”

 

Angel was trapped, as a semi-circle of police officers, all brandishing guns, began to close in on him. Behind him was the wall of a building. For about two seconds, Angel hesitated, torn between the desire to give himself up for the crime he knew he must have committed, and the fear that the next time he slept that he would kill again. He couldn’t afford to risk more peoples’ lives.

 

He crouched and then went straight up. With one inhuman leap Angel soared fifteen feet, and caught hold of the ledge of the first floor window of the building that had been behind him. Yells and shouts of dismay followed him, as he began to climb. Flashlights picked out the vampire as he scaled the deserted office block, and bullets whistled around him as he disappeared ever upwards. He grunted with pain as a bullet thunked into his leg, and another embedded itself in his back. Then the vampire was gone from sight, running across the roof of the buildings, leaping from one block to the next, leaving behind him a band of bewildered police officers.

 

“What was that?” said a young blond-haired officer, his eyes wide and scared.

 

“I have no clue.” his colleague answered, a seasoned, tough policeman of many years service. “But for sure, it wasn’t human. Nobody could have done what we’ve just seen, and I know I hit it. Nope. Not a human being.”

 

-0-

 

The stolen police scanner was sitting in the centre of Wesley’s desk, crackling and hissing as Gunn tried to pick up information on murders committed earlier in the evening.

 

“Jeez, I knew we lived in a violent town, but man, it’s just not safe out there” he muttered almost to himself.

 

“Ssshhh” Wesley put his hand up to silence his colleague, “What’s this coming through?”

 

They listened as the tinny voice told them of two people murdered, one white male, one white female, and two other men seriously injured in the neighbourhood of 45th street.

 

“That’s it” Wesley said miserably. “Oh God, two dead….”

 

A suspect was arrested at the scene, but escaped. Description, white male, about six foot, dark hair, dark eyes, late twenties –early thirties, may have been shot. Treat as very dangerous.’

 

Gunn and Wesley stared at each other.

 

“Angel” they said simultaneously.

 

“But what was he doing there? How would he have known where to go, what to look for?” Gunn was mystified.

 

Wesley frowned, remembering Angel’s preternatural senses. “He may have been able to track the scent…it would have been on his clothes…”

 

Gunn raised his eyebrows. “He could do that?” he saw Wesley shift uncomfortably. “Yeah. Well, I guess you’d know”.

 

“Angel!” Cordelia’s shout made the two men lock eyes.

 

“He’s back”. Gunn got to his feet. “Wes. You’d better stay here, man. Just for the time being”. Wesley nodded, something close to terror flitting across his drawn features. The big street fighter left the office, closing the door behind him.

 

“Cordelia…stay away from me, please….keep away” Angel was standing just inside the entrance to the Hyperion, and had his hands out in front of him as if to ward off the girl who was running towards him, concern etched on her face.

 

“But Angel, you’re hurt” Cordelia said anxiously. “Jeez, you’ve been shot, you’ve got to let me help you”. She took another step towards him.

 

“No! Don’t come near me. You don’t know what I’ve done.  I – I’m not safe.”

 

She stopped, hearing the desperation and near panic in the vampire’s hoarse voice. Cordelia gave Gunn a grateful glance as he came up to stand alongside her.

 

“Angel…we know what’s happened. In fact, we know more about it than you do. Please, you’ve got to calm down and let us explain things”. The girl said pleadingly.

 

“She’s right Bro.” Gunn sounded reassuring. “I know things look real bad…an’ they are, but you gotta know one thing. None of this is your fault.”

 

Angel stared at them, uncomprehendingly. “What are you talking about? Of course it’s my fault…two people are dead tonight. I killed them.”

 

“Your body killed them Angel. You weren’t in it at the time. You were unconscious in Wesley’s body. There was a body switch, Angel.” Fred, normally so garbled and long-winded in her explanations gave all the salient information in four short sentences. Cordelia looked at the young Texan scientist with new respect.

 

Struggling to understand what he had just been told, Angel knitted his brows together, shaking his head. “A body switch…but who…uh, I don’t get it…why was I in Wesley’s body?”

 

“Angel. You gotta be calm. There’s bad stuff happened tonight, the last thing we need now is for you to go all psycho vamp on us. You gotta get control of yourself.” Gunn could see realisation dawning in the vampire’s dark eyes, and shivered in spite of himself as those dark eyes began to fleck with gold. A low, rumbling growl erupting from deep within the vampire made the three humans take a step backwards.

 

“Wesley…where is Wesley?” Angel’s nostrils flared as he scented. Then he was past them and bounding towards the office.

 

“Wesleee!” Cordelia’s warning shriek was already too late as Angel kicked the door off its hinges and hurled himself into the office. None of them had taken more than a step before Angel had picked up the ex-watcher, and thrown him half way across the lobby, pouncing on him before Wesley had time to even open his mouth to scream.

 

Gunn sprinted across the lobby grabbing Angel by both shoulders in an attempt to pull him off Wesley. Angel swatted the huge black man as if he were a fly, sending Gunn rolling across the floor.

 

Pinned beneath the snarling vampire, Wesley was sure he was going to die. Then Angel let him go.

 

He stood up, leaving Wesley sprawled on his back, and turned away, his whole body shaking as he desperately struggled to regain control. The others stayed motionless, Wesley in the centre of the lobby, Gunn half-crouching at the foot of the stairs at Cordelia and Fred’s feet. All their attention was fixed on Angel as he waged his own private war inside himself.

 

Finally, slowly, Angel’s features returned to their handsome, human form. It was obvious to all though, that the vampire was still extremely angry. Fred took a tentative step forward.

 

“Angel? I’m going to help Wesley now…is that OK?”

 

Angel gave a long, shuddering sigh, and nodded, not looking at the girl. Fred moved quickly over to where Wesley was still lying, and gently helped him first to a sitting position. Then, supporting him with her slim frame, Fred encouraged the Englishman to stagger to his feet. All the while, their eyes never left the brooding, hunched frame of the vampire.

 

Cordelia came over to stand in front of Angel. She was worried, but determined.

 

“Come and sit down. Before we do anything else, I’ve got to dig out those bullets before you heal up around them. Can’t have you setting off security systems all over the place now, can we?” Cordelia’s flippant words - so normal - so Cordelia – seemed to anchor the vampire. He looked down at the girl with the ghost of a smile. She grinned back, her thousand megawatt smile lighting up her face. Seeing Cordelia leading Angel across to the banquette, the big vampire following obediently, Gunn heaved a sigh of relief.

 

“Well, I suppose I’d better do the macho thing around here, and make us all a cup of tea”.

 

-0-

 

Gunn waited until Cordelia had retrieved the two police bullets from Angel’s back and thigh, and was bandaging the already healing wounds, before broaching the subject of the body switch. Fred had taken Wesley to her room, so that the ex-watcher could lie down. She had also felt it would be better for everyone if Wesley was out of Angel’s sight for a while.

 

“Look man, I know this is hard for you. But we gotta move forward here, come to some sort of resolution. Jeez. I know that if someone had taken my body without my say so, I’d want to beat the holy shit outta them, but face it, that’s not a luxury you got, Angel. You got too much power, Bro, an’ tonight’s shown what can happen when it’s not under control.”  Angel looked at Gunn sharply, but didn’t say anything.

 

Cordelia had no such compunction. “Hey, that’s not fair. Those people…Angel had nothing to do with it – he was asleep upstairs – you can’t blame him for Wesley’s stupidity.”

 

Gunn raised his hands placatingly. “Cordy, Angel knows that’s not what I mean, dontcha man?” Angel remained silent.

 

“All I’m sayin’ is, beatin’ on Wesley ain’t gonna achieve anything, an’ if you lose it, like you nearly did tonight, then it’s only gonna make matters worse. Wesley’s been the biggest fool in creation, but killin’ him won’t solve nothin’”.

 

“I know.”

 

Angel’s voice was low, strained. He gazed at his two colleagues, battling to contain the hurricane of emotion he was experiencing. Cordelia gently took one of his big hands in both of her small ones.

 

“He can’t talk about this at the moment. There’s just too much for him to take in…come to terms with. He needs more time, don’t you, Angel. He’ll talk when he can.”

 

Gunn saw the look of complete understanding that passed between Cordelia and Angel, and realised that, as usual, Cordy knew what the vampire needed more than anyone.

 

“I want to listen to what Wesley has to say”. Angel said softly. Gunn made as if to disagree, but Cordelia was already on her feet, and pulling the vampire to his.

 

“No time like the present. C’mon Angel, we’ll go up now – together – he owes you an explanation.”

 

“Is this such a great idea? What if you lose it again?” Gunn’s brow was creased with worry.

 

Cordelia squeezed Angel’s hand. “He won’t, will you Angel?”

 

The vampire shook his head, taking comfort from his seer’s complete confidence in him, a confidence he didn’t altogether share.

 

-0-

 

Wesley shrank back on the bed as Fred came back to him, followed by Cordelia and Angel.

 

“It’s OK, Wes. Angel just wants to understand why you did…y’know, what you did”. Fred had in fact, tried to bar the way to Wesley when she had opened the door to Angel’s knock, but quickly realised it was hopeless.

 

Wesley struggled to sit up, nursing one side as he did so. It felt like he had several cracked ribs. He stared at the vampire fearfully, Angel’s grim expression giving him no reason to feel any less frightened.

 

Angel could smell Wesley’s fear. It came off him in waves. He glanced at Cordelia and Fred. “I’d like to talk to Wesley alone.” His voice was quiet, but full of authority. Cordelia just nodded, and led Fred away. He could hear Fred protesting as the door closed on them.

 

“Angel….please, I’m so sorry….you’ve got to believe me”. Wesley had pressed himself against the headboard in a vain attempt to get more distance between him and the big vampire.

 

“Shut up. I don’t want to hear how sorry you are. I’m not interested. What I want to know – need to know – is why.” Angel sat down on the chair by the side of the bed, and leant forward, fixing Wesley with a cold, dark stare.

 

The ex-watcher quailed. No matter how he looked at it, he knew now that there was no valid explanation as to why he had borrowed the vampire’s body. All his reasons and arguments that had sounded so convincing before the switch, were now exposed for what they were, self-deluding excuses. Wesley owed Angel nothing less than the truth.

 

“I came across an Algerian conjuring orb. Quite by accident. Once it was in my possession, it…it started to obsess me. It got so I couldn’t think of anything else. Angel, the opportunity for me – an ex-watcher - to experience at first hand, a species as mythic as the vampire, it overwhelmed me. Marcus Roscoe – what he said to you – about how you didn’t know what you had….it ate away at me. I knew you’d never agree to undergo another switch…I lost perspective. I know you don’t want to hear it, but I would do anything to not have used the orb.”

 

Angel was implacable. “Would you still feel the same if you had made the switch, and there had been no disasters? If you had switched back, and I’d never known anything had happened?”

 

Wesley flinched. “No” he whispered, ashamed. “I probably wouldn’t”. He looked up at the vampire. Angel had at last allowed his veneer of control to slip, and Wesley was confounded by the grief and pain that flowed over the vampire’s countenance.

 

“Is that all I am to you, a species? Something to be studied – an experience to be had? Something that doesn’t need – deserve – to be asked permission for its body to be used? I thought you were my friend, Wes. Someone I could trust completely. Someone who…actually liked me.”

 

Even though he would have thought it impossible, Wesley’s heart sank even lower. Oh God, how could he have been so selfish, so blind? For the first time, he started to get an inkling of how Angel must feel about what Wesley had done. Betrayed. Used. Violated.

 

Angel had retreated back into a brooding silence, his face an impenetrable mask. Only his eyes revealed the grievousness of the wound that Wesley had so carelessly inflicted. Wesley sat very still, unable to speak, his throat closed with emotion.

 

Finally, keeping his eyes downcast, Angel spoke again.

 

“Did you learn anything?”

 

“Yes.” The Englishman furiously swiped at the tear that ran down his cheek. “I learned that you deserve a better friend than me, Angel.”

 

-0-

 

“Tell me what happened with those men, and the girl” Angel’s voice was surprisingly gentle.

 

Wesley gulped, wiping his eyes, and began to explain how he had heard the girl scream and had gone to help.

 

“I told them to leave her alone, but two of them came at me with knives. Angel, I didn’t mean to hurt them so badly…I-I just never realised how much strength you really have…The girl…I went to help her. She was bleeding….” Wesley paused. “I don’t know what happened…it was as if everything went supernova. I just remember the sensation…Angel, I never thought anything could feel that…incredible. Then, when I came round from it…she was dead.” Wesley couldn’t help himself, he had to know. “Angel? Does it always feel like that?”

 

The vampire nodded slowly, not meeting Wesley’s gaze.

 

“Yes. Always.”

 

Wesley stared at Angel, only now starting to understand how much Herculean self-control the vampire exercised each and every day of his long life.

 

“How can you stop yourself? I mean, the sensation…the whole experience…it’s indescribable…” Wesley stopped, embarrassed at his own vehemence.

 

“How can I not?” Angel’s voice was quiet. “There’s a young woman who died tonight because I wasn’t in control”.

 

Wesley hung his head. “No” he muttered “You weren’t. You were unconscious in your own bedroom, while I was joyriding in your body.” The ex-watcher realised how apt his analogy had been. In comparison with his own human frame, the vampire’s body was like a Formula One racing car, lethal in the hands of anyone except an expert.

 

“That poor girl…that man…what am I going to do? I killed them, probably maimed the others for life…” Wesley tried to think more clearly. “I should give myself up to the police.”

 

Angel shook his head, glumly. “Not an option. They’re already looking for someone who fits my description, and I hardly think telling them that it was really you in a borrowed body, is going to go down too well. You’d probably get sent to where all the screwballs end up, back on the streets.”

 

“You can’t be thinking of giving yourself up? Angel, I won’t let you, none of this was your fault.” Wesley couldn’t countenance the thought that, in addition to the injustices already perpetrated on the vampire tonight, he would be considering taking punishment that rightly belonged elsewhere.

 

“Also not an option”. Angel sighed. “Let’s face it, police cells are not designed to hold vampires…when the sun comes up, well…self-control only stretches so far. I don’t want more blood on my hands.”

 

Wesley understood. Angel’s instinctive reaction to the threat of exposure to direct sunlight would be to fight for his life, and Wesley shuddered at the consequences of such a thing happening in a crowded police station.

 

Wesley sank back into a gloomy silence, faced with the dilemma of knowing he was responsible for two deaths, but having no way of accepting that responsibility through conventional channels. When he next looked up, Angel had gone.

 

-0-

 

There was an audible sigh of relief from Angel’s three colleagues when they saw the vampire coming back down into the hotel lobby looking calmer than when they had last seen him.

 

Fred gave a nervous cough. “Is everything, y’know, OK?”

 

“No, everything is not OK.” Angel saw the girl’s thin face blanch. “Oh, Wesley’s still alive, unlike that guy and that poor, sad girl. And we’ve got to somehow come to terms with the fact that between Wesley and myself, we killed those people, and you three know all about it, and there’s not a damn thing any of us can do. We can’t even give ourselves up to the law. So Fred, you see, nothing’s OK at all, is it?”

 

Fred flushed, discomfited at her clumsiness.

 

“Sorry, Fred” Angel apologised, seeing the girl’s distress. “It’s not your fault, and I know you’re worried too. I just can’t see how to fix this.”

 

Gunn shrugged his broad shoulders. “Reckon it’s not fixable, man. We’ve bin turning this whole thing over as well, while you’ve been with Wesley. Don’t wanna sound like I don’t care about what happened to those people, ‘cos I do, but it looks to me like it’s gonna have t’be another ‘case unsolved’ for the LAPD.”

 

Unwillingly, unhappily, Gunn’s three colleagues had no choice but to agree.

 

 

 

-0-

 

“This can’t go on indefinitely, can it?” Fred, like the other members of the team, was weighed down from the tension in the atmosphere at Angel Investigations. Three days had passed since Wesley’s ill-fated body switch, and the events that followed it, and there had been no further contact between the vampire and the ex-watcher. Angel had withdrawn deep into himself, only responding to cases that urgently needed his attention. He barely spoke to his colleagues, and avoided Wesley completely.

 

Wesley too, was silent and depressed, burying himself in research. The few times their paths had crossed, Angel had studiously ignored the Englishman, leaving him standing awkwardly until either he or the vampire had left the room.

 

“No” Cordelia said. “It can’t. I think Wesley’s thinking of leaving. He’s not said anything, but I can see it in his face. Perhaps it’s for the best.”

 

Fred didn’t say anything. She knew that as far as Cordelia was concerned, Angel was the only important one. But even though Wesley’s stupidity had caused this situation, Fred felt only sympathy for him.

 

“Perhaps you should speak to Angel, Cordy. Find out how he feels about Wesley staying or going.”

 

Cordelia saw the sense in this. “You’re right. I think he’s in the basement at the moment.” She went over to the door leading to the hotel basement, and paused. “Fred, if he wants Wesley to go…he will have to leave, you know.”

 

Fred nodded. “I know that.” The two girls understood each other.

 

As Cordy made her way down the stairs she could hear voices. She hadn’t realised that Gunn was with Angel. She was just about to let them know she was there, when she caught a snatch of the conversation. Gunn sounded angry.

 

“I’m just sayin’, it’s not right, you pretendin’ to be less strong than you really are. You let us think we would have a chance of matchin’ you in a fight. Wes said there was no way that could happen if it came to it.”

 

“It wasn’t like that…” Angel was defensive. “I only wanted to help you all train…to be as good as you could be in a fight…”

 

“So why’dya let us throw you down, man? Back you up sometimes?” Gunn said.  “Face it Angel, you deceived us, none of us have any idea of just how powerful you really are…and that could cost us, one day…you know what I’m talkin’ about…if somethin’ happened and you went evil. Wesley says you could kill us faster than that.” He snapped his fingers.

 

Cordy stayed still, knowing that Angel would know she was there, and that Gunn would not.

 

“I’m sorry.” Cordelia could hear the wretchedness in Angel’s voice, and her heart went out to him. “I – I didn’t realise you all thought…that you were training to fight against me.”

 

Cordelia turned around and crept back up the stairs. Her talk with Angel would have to wait.

 

Gunn came back from the basement, feeling bad, and not really knowing why. He therefore wasn’t prepared for Cordelia, eyes snapping, to grab him by the sleeve and drag him into Wesley’s empty office.

 

“What do ya think you’re doin’ Barbie?” His use of the derogatory nickname further inflamed Cordelia’s temper.

 

“Just you sit down there, shut up and listen to what I have to say.” She hissed. The venom in her tone made Gunn realise that it would probably be better to weather this particular Chase storm rather than try to oppose it.

 

“I heard what you were saying to Angel downstairs.  Jeez Gunn, I know that you are Mr. Insensitive, but you truly outdid yourself down there. A+ for callousness, or what?”

 

“Hey. Slow down. I wuz only speaking true. Angel had no business lying to us all like that.”

 

“He wasn’t lying!” Cordelia actually stamped her foot in frustration. “God, you are so dense sometimes. OK, he made a mistake, not letting you know that he was about a zillion times more powerful than those LA fledgling vamps you’re so proud about dusting. But that’s not why he lets us fight him on what looks like even – ish terms.”

 

Gunn looked bemused. “Why then? I mean, not wantin’ to sound all tough guy about this, but I already know how to fight ordinary vamps.”

 

Cordelia rolled her eyes heavenwards. “You really don’t get it, do you? He can’t eat with us; he can’t go down to the beach with us; he can’t even really go out clubbing, cos it’s all too much for him, and duh – 250 years old – bit past the bopping stage. Even when we’re working, we’re usually here during the day, not exactly his best time. So unless we’re out on a case together, when does Angel actually get a chance to hang out with us, mess around, have some fun?”

 

The penny dropped. “When we’re all together in the basement…training. Jeez, Cordy, it just never occurred to me…” Gunn was mortified.

 

Now he gets it. Of course, you’ve just told Angel that we think the training sessions are to prepare us for the day he needs staking to death. I mean, he really needs to hear that, especially after what’s happened in the last few days. Way to go, Gunn.”

 

Cordelia slammed out of the office, leaving Gunn cursing his own stupidity.

 

Cordelia went back down the stairs to the basement, but Angel wasn’t there. Not wanting to leave the vampire alone to brood, she ran back up, and then headed towards his suite of rooms.

 

She was expecting to have to insist that Angel let her in, but the door to his suite was open. She went in, her heart beating uncomfortably fast.

 

Angel was sitting on the side of his bed with his back to her. Cordelia knew the vampire was aware of her presence, but he didn’t move to acknowledge her in any way.

 

“Angel? Are you OK?”

 

Cordelia came and sat down next to him. He didn’t reply to her question, just kept staring down at his hands, held loosely in his lap.

 

“I heard what Gunn said. He was wrong, we don’t think we’re training to fight you. I know you want to help us be as good as we can….” She went to put her arm around his shoulder. The vampire moved away so quickly Cordelia didn’t even see him stir, and her arm fell back to her side. She started as she saw Angel, his back once again turned on her, now standing by the window.

 

“Jeez. I wish you wouldn’t do that, it scares the shit out of me” she said, trying to sound more casual than she felt.

 

“What, move like a vampire?” Angel’s voice was low, but Cordelia heard the bitterness leaking through.

 

She made as if to go to him once more, but Angel spun round to face her.

 

“Stay away. I don’t want any more explanations, apologies, excuses, whatever. I just want to be left alone. You can let me know if you have a vision. I’ll work on those cases. But that’s it from now on.”

 

Cordelia opened her mouth to argue.

 

Angel hissed at her.

 

The girl ran out of the suite, her heart racing. That inhuman, feral hiss – so unlike him – so…vampiric.

 

Fred and Gunn were waiting for her, as she pounded down the stairs.

 

“Cordy, what’s happened…What’s Angel said to you?” Gunn had seen Cordelia’s panicked expression.

 

“Nothing..he’s upset. He wants us to leave him alone…he hissed at me, Gunn, it scared me senseless”.

 

 

-0-

 

Over the next days and weeks, it became all too obvious to the human members of the team how hard Angel had tried previously to behave in a mortal way. Now he made no attempt at all to seem human with them, and they found it a deeply disturbing experience.

 

The vampire had cut them off completely. He made it abundantly clear that none of them were welcome anywhere near his suite – it had been shocking to hear him refer to his rooms as a lair. He no longer sat with them while they ate, and his hours reverted to those between sunset and sunrise. There were no more training sessions. What the team found most unnerving however, was his presence.

 

In the past, Angel, always an imposing being, had tried to be as human as he could. He habitually breathed, sighed, even coughed occasionally. Although naturally graceful and quiet, unless he was hunting, he moved at human speed, and at least tried to make some sound. He occasionally laughed with them, allowed them to tease and joke with him.  Now he did none of those things. When Cordelia had had a vision, and Angel had been informed of the fact,  he would lurk in the shadows, utterly motionless, not blinking, breathing or shifting one iota, while the team decided on the best course of action. Once the decision had been made, he would vanish, moving quicker than the human eye could see, not making a sound, returning just as suddenly once the case had been solved. He would inform them of the outcome, in a voice completely without inflection, and then disappear – wraith-like – back up to his lair.

 

Wesley had realised it first. The ex-watcher had thought about leaving Angel Investigations and returning to England. The profound change in Angel, and his colleagues’ anxiety over the situation had persuaded him that he was required here, in LA. The others had been grateful, Wesley’s knowledge of vampires, and particularly Angel, was needed now, more than ever. Gradually he had been accepted back into the team, although he was still painfully aware that his own actions had largely been responsible for the transformation that they were now seeing in the big vampire.

 

Quite simply, Angel had stopped trying.

 

-0-

 

“I don’t think I can take much more of this.” Cordelia muttered, as once again, Angel disappeared from view. With eyes as flat and expressionless as a shark’s, he had informed the team of the successful conclusion of their latest case. As soon as he had finished and without waiting for any response, the vampire had vanished back up to his lair.

 

“I know what you mean.” Gunn agreed. The handsome young street fighter had tried to apologise to Angel after his accusations of how the vampire had deceived them during training sessions. Those apologies had fallen on stony ground, and when he had tried to press his case, Angel had growled warningly, a deep, ominous sound. Gunn had backed off, and hadn’t attempted to engage Angel in conversation since.

 

“Angel once told me that he really only had two modes with people, bite, and avoid. I thought he was kidding.” Cordelia remembered sadly how she used to be able to bully Angel into doing things like attending her apartment-warming party. The last thing she felt like doing to the creature that now lurked in the Hyperion, was trying to bully it. She now freely admitted that Angel scared her. Not in the Evil Angelus, going to get eaten type of scariness, but a more nameless dread that filled her each time he was present. Angel was just so…not human.

 

Wesley had overheard his colleagues. “I wish I thought he was making a point.” He said. “But it’s as though he’s given up any desire to live among us. I really think  that if it were not for the visions, and the mission that the Powers that Be have given to him, that he would have abandoned us completely.”

 

“I almost wish that he would, to tell true, he gives me the heeby jeebies” Gunn shivered as he unwittingly echoed the words of another man, in this very hotel, over fifty years before. “Sometimes, the way he looks at you…well I’m starting to feel like I’m food”.

 

Wesley reached for the phone, and started to dial.

 

“Who’re you calling?” Cordelia asked.

 

“Desperate times call for desperate measures” Wesley replied. “Ah, Hello. It’s Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. May I speak to Buffy Summers, please?”

 

-0-

 

As was now usual for him, Angel was alone in his suite. He had been surprised at how easy it had been for him to withdraw from his human companions, to slip back into his own, isolated world. This isolation had a feeling of familiarity about it. After all, he had spent nearly a hundred years mostly alone, sometimes with no human contact for years at a stretch. In some ways it was a relief not to have to make the effort to connect any longer. He remembered telling Doyle that he was not good with people, when he and the demon halfling had first met. He didn’t want to remember how Doyle had told him then that part of his mission involved reaching out to people, connecting with them…letting them in.

 

Yeah. He thought bitterly. And look where that got me. Used by one of my so-called best friends as ‘a unique experience’, and the others all training themselves up to kill me one day.  Angel’s mind flitted back over other human relationships he had attempted to make. It made a dismal collection, full of failure and betrayal, usually perpetrated by the humans onto the hapless ensouled vampire. All except one.

 

“Angel”.

 

Buffy stood in the open doorway, not having bothered to knock before coming in. Angel was so stunned by her sudden appearance that for a few seconds he could only stare at her. How could he have not known she was there? Then he picked up her scent, remembering, with a shock, that she smelled different now.

 

Buffy slowly walked towards the vampire, her expression closed and weary-looking. Angel recalled that expression from when he had met with her, after Willow had performed the spell that had torn her from her peaceful death, and thrown her miserably back into her messy life.

 

“Buffy…why are you here?” Angel hadn’t meant to sound unwelcoming, but had got out of the habit of normal conversation.

 

“Wesley called me. He told me what had happened, and that they wanted to try to put things right. They thought I’d be able to help.” Buffy didn’t sound convinced, she didn’t even sound as though she cared that much. Angel gazed at the Slayer, the love of his life, and pain tore at his dead heart. This girl – no – this woman, was not the person he carried in his mind’s eye and in his dreams. This resurrected Buffy had none of the spark, the vigour and the hopefulness of the girl he had loved more than life itself. She looked…so lost.

 

Her friends had done this to her. Willow, who Buffy had loved and trusted with her life, had brought her back from death against her will. Giles had left, unable to cope any more. The others had a picture of Buffy in their heads that didn’t leave them room to see how she was falling apart in front of their very eyes. And now she was here. Sent for by his friends, who had let him down so very badly, to try to put things back to the way things had been before. Angel couldn’t help it, the anger forced a growl to rumble from deep within him.

 

“Don’t” Buffy’s opaque eyes flicked up to his face, and then away again. “They didn’t think it through…any of them. And they couldn’t be more sorry, even if they can’t fix things. They need us to forgive them”.

 

“I – I can’t.” Angel realised he was talking about Buffy’s friends, not his own.

 

For the first time Buffy gave a small smile. “And it’s hard to forgive yours for doing this to you, Angel. But I can forgive Willow, and the others. After all, I need them, and over the years they’ve proved again and again that they only want the best for me. Wes and Cordy…they’re your family, you need them too.”

 

No, Angel wanted to say, I only need you, but even as he thought it, he recognized it was no longer true. Since coming to LA, his life had opened out, included others into it. Wesley and Cordelia, Fred, and perhaps even Gunn, they occupied parts of his heart that had previously only been open to Buffy.

 

“They don’t need me though.” Angel muttered. “That’s what I found out…they don’t care about me, like I….” He tailed off, unwilling to articulate his feelings.

 

“Yeah. That’s why Cordelia burst into tears and hugged me when I arrived, and Wesley Windy Watcher all but got down on his knees and thanked me for coming.” Buffy’s acerbic tone startled Angel out of his brooding. “And that weird Texan girl – Fred, is it? – just kept babbling on and on about how they were all worried sick about you, and how they couldn’t keep going much longer. And that macho vampire fighter, slinking around like a – a – slinking thing, saying how he had been so stupid, and felt so bad, and if there was anything I could do or say that would help, then he’d owe me, big style.” Buffy shook her head. “Uh huh. You’re right. They don’t care a bit.”

 

Angel hung his head against the tiny Slayer’s tirade, feeling the tiniest bit ashamed of himself. Buffy, as so often happened, had forced him to see things from another perspective – a human perspective – and for the first time, the vampire was able to understand a little of the pain his friends were going through on his behalf. He felt a small hand cup one side of his face.

 

“Angel, you’ve got to stop running away. We both have.”

 

And then she was in his arms. For long moments they clung to each other, desperately, and then Buffy slowly disentangled herself from his embrace. “I’ve got to go…Willow’s waiting for me, she drove me over here as soon as we got Wesley’s call, we need to get back…” Angel just nodded, not trusting himself to speak, trying to hide the way he was still trembling from her touch. He watched Buffy leave, her blonde hair still beautiful to him, although, like the rest of her, it was dulled and flattened. He stood staring into the space where she had been standing, for what seemed like an eternity.

 

Then he decided to breathe.

 



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