Guess Who's Coming To Manchester
by Katta

He was absolutely covered in pink slime. There was a right place to stand when you killed a Vitter demon, and there was a wrong place. In retrospect, under its belly had definitely been the wrong place. Wesley walked up the stairs to his apartment and was happy that he didn't live among humans anymore. Their landlord wouldn't ask any questions when he saw the slimy puddles on the staircase the next morning, just have them wiped up and maybe comment a bit on the risks of fighting the good fight.

He took off his clothes and threw them directly in the trash, knowing that he'd never be able to get the stains out completely and lacking the energy to even think about trying. Then he hurried into the bathroom and turned on the shower. The water for once warmed up quickly, and he delighted in the hot streams as he tried to rinse the slime out of his hair and skin.

The shower curtains moved. Wesley had his eyes closed to keep shampoo from getting into them, but he knew those soft steps as well as the laughter in the Irish voice that told him, "Wesley, you stink."

"Thank you, I'm aware of that," Wesley replied, trying to remain dignified in spite of the situation. He rubbed the shampoo away from his face and opened his eyes to see Doyle put away the soap and run his hands over his lover's chest, without even bothering to take off his boxers.

Wesley rested his hands on Doyle's naked shoulders, watching in stillness as his chest was rubbed with soap. "I do know how to wash myself, you know," he pointed out.

"This is a job for two men," Doyle replied, rubbing harder. The slime was beginning to harden, now having about the same texture and appearance as bubble gum. And just like bubble gum, it stuck to every string of hair it could find. "Maybe three."

"Then perhaps I should call Gunn?" Wesley suggested.

"Then perhaps I should call in a divorce," Doyle replied in light heart. These days he got along well with the A.I. workers, but the slight jealousy between the lover and the best friend was enough to provide Wesley with a moment's amusement now and then. He wouldn't admit it, but he liked being an object of dispute.

There were finally enough clean patches on his face for Doyle to lean over and kiss him. Doyle's taste had change since his original return, when it had almost always had a touch of alcohol. Wesley didn't mind the change. It just enhanced all the other nuances, particularly that little sour tinge that meant demon. On those occasions when Doyle turned, it became so strong Wesley could spend an eternity just tasting it. Finally Doyle had suggested that maybe Wesley needed a bit of detox as well, and he had all but stopped. Too much and too little spoiled everything.

"Are you alive at all?" Doyle suddenly asked, letting go of Wesley's mouth.

"Well, I'm falling asleep, but apart from that... why?"

Doyle's eyes sparkled with humour, also holding a touch of admiration. "I've been ripping out your chest hair with the roots, and you haven't even seemed to notice."

"Oh." Wesley looked down. His chest was a lot worse for wear, with irritated red patches spread over it, but the slime was gone. "I guess your kissing works as anaesthesia as well."

"Or maybe you're just really really tired," Doyle suggested, turning off the shower. "For a beauty treatment it was remarkably inexpensive, but I suggest that when you go to sleep tonight, you thank all higher powers available that the demon didn't aim a little lower."

He leaned over to get a towel, but didn't have time to use it before Wesley pinned him to the wall.

"I'm going to thank the powers?"

A grin spread over his lover's face. "Tell you what, we both should."

 

The phone rang while Doyle was still eating breakfast. Normally, he considered breakfast a holy ritual that nothing should interrupt, least of all the phone, but since Wesley was still asleep he picked it up anyway. He assumed it was one of the A.I. guys and prepared a few reasons why he would not under any circumstances wake up someone who had only come home at five o'clock in the morning. "Yeah, hello?"

"Who is this?"

Okay, that definitely wasn't one of his acquaintances. People who called at breakfast time should apologise, not sound as if you were the one committing the crime. "Allen Francis Doyle speaking, who is this?"

"Edward Wyndham-Pryce. May I speak to my son?"

Doyle mouthed a dirty word. As far as Wesley's family knew, Doyle didn't even exist, and judging by old Ed's tone, it wouldn't be easy explaining away his presence. There was no way in hell he would wake up Wesley to face that.

"I'm sorry, he can't come to the phone right now," Doyle replied, having enough sense not to include the word "bed" in the sentence. "Can I leave a message?"

"Why can't I talk to him?" The voice was full of suspicion, but the commanding tone didn't work with Doyle, who was at a safe distance and used to bullies of a demonic nature.

"Because your son has been working all night and does need more than two and a half hours of sleep. I suggest you either leave a message or call back at a reasonable time."

There was a pause, and Doyle wondered if the man would completely explode now.

"His sister's wedding is in three weeks. Tell him to be there."

That was it. No good-byes, just the order, and then the click that informed him the conversation was over. Well, not much point in getting upset. Doyle put down the phone and returned to his meal. He was still only halfway through his last piece of toast when the phone rang again. Christ, already, was it too much to ask to eat in peace?

"Yeah?"

Maybe it sounded a bit too hostile, because there was a pause on the other end of the line before Cordelia asked, a little too softly for her, "Doyle? Are you okay?"

He sighed, relieved that it wasn't Wesley's father again. "Hello, princess. I'm fine. You're just the second person calling in fifteen minutes, that's all."

"Oh. Well, it's kind of urgent. See, Angel found this dead woman with symbols painted all over her, and..."

"I'm not waking up Wesley," he said immediately, knowing that if he did, the guy might very well crawl out of bed and get back to work, regardless of how tired he was. "You sent him home looking like bubble gum, and he needs his sleep. Not to mention the fact that he's supposed to have Saturdays off, and has somehow still ended up working ten of the past twelve."

"There's no need to get snarky. This is serious."

"I bet it is. I'm still not going to let him wear himself out because you people don't know how to take a break."

Cordelia was silent, and he could practically feel her annoyance. Then she giggled. "You're even worse with him than he is with you, do you know that?"

He smiled into the receiver. "Maybe so. Why don't you ask the new girl? She's some universal genius, isn't she?"

"New girl is hiding in her room and not talking to anyone."

"Ah. It's great to have someone around who's crazier than me, isn't it?"

Silence. Obviously not a good joke, then. But he'd always had an easier time with pain if he could joke about it. Cordelia was the same way with the visions sometimes. And okay, he didn't like that, but that was because he still felt a bit guilty about those, while she had no reason to feel guilty about his mental problems. That had been due to bad choices and bad people, and only related to his time with Angel Investigations in the most distant of ways.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to make you squirm."

"It takes a lot more than you to disturb my calm, I'll have you know."

"I'm sure it does."

"So, who was the other one?"

"What?"

"The other one who called, who was it?"

He wasn't sure if he should tell her. It hadn't exactly been a civilised conversation. Then again, refusing or lying would only make the situation weirder. "Wesley's father."

"Oh." From the sound of it, Cordelia knew this wasn't a joyful occasion just like he did. He wondered how much Wesley had told her. "So, what did he want?"

"His sister is getting married. Wesley's, I mean."

"That's nice." She sounded relieved, and he couldn't blame her. Although Wesley was taciturn at best when it came to his family, enough had been said to make it clear a wedding was a lot better than most news you could expect coming from them.

"So, are you coming in today?"

"I don't work there," he pointed out. Was it his fault that it came out sharper than he had intended? Apart from his time at Caritas, most of his jobs had been on a day-to-day basis, but he made enough money to live on, and half of the time more than Wesley. So he didn't spend his time saving the world. That didn't make him a parasite.

"I was speaking in plural, but whatever. We need people here."

"You have people. Four of them. Be satisfied. Now, I'm finishing my breakfast, if you don't mind."

He could practically hear her stick out her tongue on the other end of the line, and he smiled. No matter how serious she had said it was, the world was definitely not coming to an end, or he wouldn't have had a chance to talk himself out of it. "Goodbye."

"Bye."

He hung up and turned his attention back to the toast. Cold and stale, obviously.

 

It was well into the afternoon before Wesley woke up. At first, he was too groggy to notice the hour, just that his bed was half empty and that the apartment was strangely quiet. Rolling onto his side, he saw the time and wondered what had happened to the day. Surely he couldn't have slept for... and then he realised at what time he had come home last night and it didn't seem so strange after all. Ten hours was more than his average, yes, but it was well within normal boundaries. And Doyle, obviously, would be off at the demonic tailor's -- which just proved how much Wesley still had to learn about the demon world. He hadn't even known there was a demonic tailor until Doyle started working there, though he had seen enough demons to know that even those that were inclined to wear clothes didn't always fit into the human four-extremities variety.

He slowly made his way out of bed, still a bit stiff after last night's fighting. Getting old already? he chided himself, and chuckled. Until he saw the note and all thoughts of laughter disappeared. The mere word "father" could do that sometimes.

The content of this note was momentarily confusing. Bess married? But Bess was a little... and then he remembered that Bess was not a little girl, just like he wasn't a university student anymore. He had just been away from home for too long.

He made himself a cup of coffee and turned to the bookshelves. Reading made it easy for him to think and avoid thinking at the same time. This required something more than a best-seller, but he didn't feel like working, so he picked out "Foucault's Pendulum". Not that great a story, but confusing enough to keep him occupied while he sorted out his emotions.

When he heard the key in the door he was long since done with the coffee and about a hundred pages into his book. He let it slip down into his lap and then simply waited, motionless.

"Ah, there you are," Doyle said, entering the kitchen. He threw his jacket on a chair and himself on top of it, never for a second taking his eyes off Wesley. They held a worried expression that didn't exactly make Wesley feel more comfortable. "I wasn't sure you were home at all."

"Why wouldn't I be?" Wesley asked, and then suddenly realised what Doyle meant. "My father wasn't the only person calling, was he?"

"So, are you going to the wedding?" Doyle asked, not so subtly changing the subject.

Wesley wasn't willing to let it go so easily. "Do you realise that people's lives depend on whether or not I show up at work?"

"Yes. Do you realise that if you keep working 24/7 it will probably be yours? Don't get me wrong, some of those cases might be worth dying for. But not as many as you seem to think."

Wesley took a deep breath, and then let it out again without the lecture he had planned. It wasn't worth it, he thought, and then it struck him that if it wasn't even worth a fight, Doyle was most likely right and it wasn't worth dying for either. That put the smallest of smiles on his lips.

"I saw that," Doyle said, "So, are you going?"

The smile died instantly. "I guess."

Doyle immediately leaned in closer, resting his hand on Wesley's thigh. That was their solution to everything, it seemed. Got hurt fighting a demon? Touch. Mind going to pieces? Touch. Unexpected call from father? Touch. It could be anything from casual touches like this to full sex, but they needed to touch to know what was going on. Neither was very good at talking about their feelings.

"I haven't met Bess in three years." He hadn't been asked for an explanation, but Wesley couldn't stand the silence. "Even then it was just for Christmas. Phone calls aren't the same. I should come." Considering that Christmas, he shouldn't feel guilty for staying away. But he loved Bess. He really did, and there were no excuses for missing her wedding.

"Your family live in the northwest of England, don't they?"

"Manchester."

"You know what's west of Manchester?"

"Lots of things. Liverpool's not so far away."

"I was thinking more of Dublin."

This got Wesley out of his contemplative mood, and he looked up to make sure Doyle hadn't said what he'd thought he'd heard. He found one of those infectious grins that were completely intended for manipulation.

"My mum's been nagging at me again to let her meet you. Now we have an opportunity. You can drop me off in Dublin, say your hellos, and then move on to the wedding."

"You've really thought about this, haven't you?" Wesley asked, not sure what he was supposed to feel. The hand squeezed his thigh tighter.

"All the time since this morning. I don't like the idea of you going alone, and I obviously can't come with you, so this seems like the best option. Blame it on business or something. Your family never need to know."

When he said the last part, he averted his eyes. Wesley cursed inside. As if he didn't feel guilty enough about Bess, now Doyle dumped the entire closet in his lap. Not intentionally, of course. After all, Doyle wasn't foreign to keeping secrets. That didn't take the problem away. And sometimes Wesley resented that, no matter how many times he told himself he was a lucky man in many respects. When the phone bills came with a long distance number all over it, his envy made him want to rip them apart or cross out the numbers with black ink, anything, no matter how childish. It didn't help one bit to tell himself that he wasn't the one who had died and been ripped back to life, he wasn't the one who had to worry about sneezing in public, he wasn't the one who got frightening hallucinations out of nowhere, he wasn't the one... Because he was the one who was afraid to call home.

"Well, it's a thought," he said, wanting to keep his options as open as possible. Going home was a bad thing and staying with Doyle was good, so he could understand his lover's reasoning, but Dublin was another matter entirely. "But I don't know..."

"You don't have to make up your mind now," Doyle said with a shrug. "But think about it. I'll be close enough to come if you need me, and still far enough away to let you do what you need to do on your own."

Wesley didn't say anything, but he knew what Doyle meant. Just like I've always tried to be for him.

 

The issue was still unresolved when Doyle walked into the Hyperion a few days later. He found the lobby empty and rang the bell, bringing Gunn from the inner office.

"Oh, it's you," Gunn said. Nothing in his tone revealed if he found this pleasant news or the opposite. "I thought it might be a client."

"You're having those again?" Doyle asked, "Is Wesley in?"

"Nope, he's talking to some warlocks about runes. He told me the specifics, but it was all in Wesleyspeak."

"I know the problem," Doyle said, sitting down. He didn't quite know why he stayed even though Wesley wasn't there, but it wasn't as if he had anything else to do - and of the entire A.I. crew, Gunn was the least likely to give him a hard time for not working there.

There was a short silence, then Gunn asked, "What's up with you and English, anyway?"

Doyle's eyebrows flew up. "We're lovers. Meaning we share a home and a bed. I'm quite certain... yeah, we definitely explained that months ago."

"And I worked months to get those images out of my head, so thank you very much for reinstating them," Gunn said with a grimace. "You know what I'm talking about. You're going with him to England?"

"No, that wouldn't do. I offered to go as far as Dublin."

"Well, yeah, same thing."

Doyle swallowed his response to that. "'Sides, he's not even answering yet."

"I think you should go with him," Gunn said with a shrug. "Actually, I think you should go with him all the way."

"Yeah," Doyle said, scratching the back of his head. "That's not going to happen for a variety of reasons. But I want to be around."

"I want you to be around, too," Gunn said reluctantly. "Him, I mean. And that's saying a lot, particularly since if anything happens, you might not even be able to..." He silenced, and made an apologetic grimace.

"Stay focused on reality long enough to help," Doyle filled in. It had taken him a long time to admit that he sometimes needed help. Strangely enough, once he had faced his own dependency on others, he had also started to feel more independent. "Yeah, that's bothering me, too, but there's not much I can do about it. And I doubt it's what Wesley's worried about. He'd hardly prefer it if I was alone in the apartment while he was away, and he knows I'm not liking it much over here. No offence."

"None taken. So if you spent some time with your family, he would feel that he was protecting you and you would feel that you were protecting him. Then what's the problem?"

"I don't know. Makes it two families he has to deal with, I guess. But I've told him mum won't give him any trouble."

"Yeah, well..." Gunn made a noncommittal gesture, unable to give any answers.

It struck Doyle at that very moment what he hadn't done to get Wesley to talk, but he knew better than to tell Gunn about the revealing conversations they sometimes had after sex. Theoretically, Gunn was fine with the two of them, fine enough to make jokes about his own discomfort, but he had made it clear that he didn't want any details about their love life. It was a reasonable request, and Doyle followed it - when he remembered.

"Don't worry," he said, smacking Gunn's shoulder. "I'm going to win this one, and once it's all over, he will thank me for it."

 

Doyle leaned down to bite Wesley's nipple, very gently. He loved using his teeth on his lover, and he had to do it right away or not at all, since the tension was already building up to insufferable. Any moment now, he would turn, and having his face on Wesley's skin when that happened was a decidedly bad idea. And regardless of what Wesley said, he didn't even like doing it from the front. Okay, nipple-biting was a good bonus, but he was still awkward about turning. It didn't matter how many times Wesley investigated his demon physiology with those Watcher hands and curious Watcher mouth. But this time he relaxed and forgot about it, put it in the far back of his head where it didn't matter, because this was about making Wesley comfortable enough to talk later. Maybe that was manipulation, but for crying out loud, it was a game they had both played plenty of times before.

And then even the guilt concerning his motives disappeared, because it felt too good to care. In the moment of release, he felt the control of his face slip away, and then there was nothing in the world except the two of them, and moaning Wesley's name was all he could do.

He felt a little irritated when the feeling subsided. "Damn it," he muttered, kissing Wesley's neck as he slipped out. He was still in demon face and had to be cautious, but he didn't want to wait. "This was supposed to be for you."

"I certainly enjoyed it," Wesley said with a grin, and then there was a short pause before, evidently, the coin dropped. "Why? I thought it was for both of us."

"Well, yeah, obviously," Doyle said, slipping out of his demon features to hide his face in Wesley's collarbone. "I just wanted it to be special for you..."

A chuckle tickled his lips. "All right, Doyle, what is it you want?"

Doyle sat up, running his fingers through his hair. "You're much better at this than I am."

Wesley sat up as well. "Better at what?" At least he wasn't angry, only confused.

"I wanted us to talk about the trip. And you've been so distant lately..."

Wesley gave an amused sound and reached out a hand for his lover. Things would turn out well if that was his reaction, Doyle thought, taking the hand in his and leaning against the bedhead.

"I've been working. At least when you don't do your best to stop me."

"I'm just trying to make sure you have regular hours."

"In my line of work? Really, Doyle..."

Wesley seemed about to leave the topic, so Doyle squeezed his shoulder. Not very hard, just enough to remind him what this was all about. The Englishman stilled, turning his eyes to Doyle.

"I want you to come with me."

Okay, so now he was grinning like an idiot. Big deal. "Are you sure?"

"If I weren't sure, I wouldn't say it. I want you to come with me, and I only wish it could be all the way."

"Never mind that. It'll make your plane trip more fun, at least," Doyle said, kissing Wesley's earlobe to hide his excitement. Things had turned out just as he wanted it, and the grandeur of it all was that it hadn't been due to manipulation. Wesley had simply wanted it too.

There was a short silence, after his last comment, then Wesley asked, "Doyle? You do know you can't have sex on a public aeroplane, don't you?"

Doyle exploded into laughter.

 

"Nervous?" Doyle asked, filling out the forms, his new passport in front of him. Wesley hadn't asked where the passport came from, but it looked genuine - which it simply could not be, since all Doyle's possessions had been sold or thrown away after his death.

"Why would I be nervous?" Wesley countered. He still hadn't managed to open that damned bag of peanuts. He hated peanuts, thought them uneatable, but he hadn't had lunch yet and had to eat something or start biting his nails.

Doyle's shrugged. "I'm nervous."

"Well, all right then, so am I." Wesley pulled the little bag harder, and peanuts spilled out all over their seats. He did not appreciate the little grin Doyle gave him.

"Try thinking about something else."

"Like what?"

Doyle looked up and seemed to search for something. Finally, he pointed down the aisle. A stewardess was filling up the carts, preparing for the next meal. She must be almost six feet tall, and most of it was legs. Quite fine looking legs. Wesley found himself scowling.

"Really, Doyle, that's vulgar."

"You don't like her?"

"She's beautiful." The stewardess finished with the cart and started walking, and Wesley quickly concentrated on picking up the peanuts. "But I'm not in the habit of eyeing up strange women."

"I am," Doyle replied, quite shamelessly keeping up the staring. Wesley gave him a mortifying look.

"Are you trying to make me jealous?"

"No, I'm trying to make you more comfortable."

"By showing me beautiful women? Didn't I remind you of the sort of things you can't do in a public aeroplane?"

Doyle smacked him with the passport. "Are you trying to make me jealous?"

"Yes."

Doyle smacked him again, then gave a beautiful smile as the stewardess came up to their row. "Ah, here's lunch."

Lunch was a rather tasteless piece of pie, but Wesley was too hungry to care. He ate it all without even stopping to speak, while Doyle took it easy, laughing and joking with the children on the row in front of them. Unlike Wesley, Doyle was never shy with children, if anything he was more at ease with them than with adults. Occasionally, he gave a comment to the mother, who seemed to genuinely like him, but whose eyes kept walking from Wesley to Doyle, probably trying to make sense of their relationship. Other people on the plane had already figured it out, or so it seemed to Wesley, who wasn't sure if people were actually staring at him or if he was just being paranoid. Probably both. He tried telling himself that these were complete strangers, no different than the people of L.A. who could see him and Doyle together all the time, and that it didn't matter what they thought. There wasn't anyone he knew on the plane after all, so it wasn't as if his family would ever find out. Unless they had placed a spy on the plane, which wouldn't be below his father, he was sure. Goodness, he really was getting paranoid.

"Do you live in Dublin?" the woman asked, and Doyle shook his head. The little girl had demanded that he braid her hair, and he was giving it a fair try.

"My family lives there," he explained, "but Wes and I live in Los Angeles. Okay, love, I'm done now."

The last was said to the little girl, who touched the crooked little braid and wrinkled her nose. "That's not good."

"Well, thank you so much," he replied, yanking it. "I'll have you know I did my best."

"I always thought Ireland seemed like such a wonderful country," the woman said, rocking the youngest child to make it sleep. "But this is the first time I've ever been there. Sally, don't put your shoes on the seat, they're dirty."

Sally obediently took off her shoes and then tossed them away. One of them fell in the aisle. Doyle watched her with a smile, and then the smile disappeared and he stared at the shoe for a moment before closing his eyes.

"Oh my God..."

"Doyle?" Wesley was immediately alerted at the change of behaviour and grabbed Doyle's shoulders. "What's wrong? Can you hear me?"

"Why didn't I help them?" Doyle asked, his face horrified. "It's all my fault..."

Wesley held him closer and thought with wry humour that by now he could have made a full list of Doyle's worst memories, because they all returned regularly. Now, if only the people around would find something more interesting to stare at.

"Is he okay?" the children's mother asked and stopped rocking her youngest. She seemed ready to drag her children out of reach if necessary.

"He..." What? He died too often for comfort. He's been stuffed with experimental drugs until even his demon physiognomy couldn't take it anymore. He's been royally screwed over by the Powers that Be even after they promised him atonement. Obviously Wesley couldn't say any of those things. "He has bad memories, they return sometimes." Well, it wasn't a lie.

"Oh." The woman relaxed again, and hushed her baby, that had started to cry. "That's an awful pity."

She gave Wesley an awkward smile and turned away in obvious discomfort. The children kept watching, young enough to pick curiosity over politeness. Wesley promptly ignored them, as well as the rest of the passengers, and gave Doyle a soft kiss on the forehead.

Something brushed against his arm, and he looked down to find Sally's hand clasping Doyle's. Judging from her expression she was ready to be reproached for it and simply considered it important enough to take the chance. He smiled at her, relieved she hadn't chosen the peeking, giggling approach of her brother and half the plane.

Doyle's eyes wandered down to the little hand, clearly with some sign of recognition. It seemed the terror was over for this time. And so was any doubt there could have been among the passengers about the nature of their relationship.

"Name, rank, destination?" Wesley asked, and Doyle gave him a weak smile.

"Allen Francis Doyle, yours, Dublin."

"Glad to have you back."

Wesley knew better than to fuss over Doyle once an attack was over. He merely gave his lover a squeeze and then went to search his bag for something to read. Most of the books he liked were too heavy to pack, and the books for work even more so. Three of them had been squeezed down into the suitcase anyway, but the bag had only a few idiotic magazines he'd already read and a couple of books picked up at the airport. He had never read anything by either writer, but had a vague memory of Jose Saramago being a Nobel Prize winner, so he took that one.

"Do you want anything?" he asked Doyle, who was just letting go of Sally's hand.

The corners of Doyle's lips tilted upwards, just a little. "Give me Seventeen."

"I don't know why you wanted to buy that," Wesley sighed, handing it over.

"You're the one with a little sister and you've never discovered the fun that is teen magazines?" Doyle asked. "No childhood should be deprived of teen magazines. Grab one now and make up for it."

"No, thank you," Wesley said, starting on Saramago. The book was written with a bizarre punctuation, he found to his dismay. He was no stranger to complicated novels full of scientific or philosophical problems. On the contrary, he liked those, even when he didn't understand them. But when it came to language, he was simply very conservative. A sentence should end with a full stop, not a bloody comma. Still, he would hate to admit that he couldn't understand a novelist. It was a short story, he could read it through before the plane was down, no matter what sort of grammatical insanities they threw at him.

Doyle glanced at him. The tears were definitely gone from those brilliant eyes now. "You don't like your book, do you?"

"It's not quite my style, no."

"So, let's trade. I get the book, and you get Seventeen Magazine."

"Don't be ridiculous."

"Come on, you know you want to read it. Here's your chance."

"No."

Doyle leaned closer. "Or I could just whisper into your ear exactly what I would do to you if this wasn't a public aeroplane."

Wesley could feel himself getting hard just from Doyle's voice in his ear. "Oh, give it to me," he said with a scowl, snatching the magazine from Doyle's fingers.

He wasn't nervous at all anymore, he discovered. Oh, no doubt he would be again, but right now nothing fate could throw at him seemed very threatening. They'd been through worse, apart and together.

 

Right after they entered the airport, Doyle shouted, "Mum! Aunt Judy! Here we are!"

Wesley followed Doyle's gaze to the two women he was waving at. It was quite obvious that they were Doyle's relatives, with their dark hair and porcelain skin. He couldn't see their eyes from this distance, but he was willing to bet they were mainly green and changing colour depending on the light.

The thinner one had to be Maureen, Wesley determined as the women came closer. Physically, she looked so much like Doyle it was almost scary, and yet there was a vague difference in the way they moved, and the smile that lit up her serious little face wasn't anything like Doyle's. The fat one, obviously, was Judith. Doyle had told Wesley how fat his aunt was, but Wesley had assumed he was exaggerating. Now it was evident he hadn't been. The woman was rounder than a Russian babushka doll, but there was nothing clumsy or ungraceful about her. Before her sister had even come halfway, she was already hugging Doyle, lifting him into the air in the process. She repeated the procedure with Wesley, in spite of him being head and shoulders taller than her.

"You're Frankie's young man!" she told him as if he had shown any doubt in the matter. "I'm so happy to meet you. Both of you. It's wonderful to have you here."

Wesley smiled, wondering if he was supposed to answer that, and if he was allowed to wait until he had his breath back. Doyle just gave her a broad grin and turned his attention to his mother. She had finally come up to them, and now stood absolutely still, just watching her son. Her eyes were brilliant with tears, but she didn't seem about to shed them.

"Welcome," she said in a low voice, giving Doyle a peck on his cheek, lighter than a butterfly. After that, they just stood there again, until Doyle remembered Wesley and took his arm.

"Mum, this is Wesley."

"I know." She gave Wesley a shy smile and hugged him. Her grip was somewhat easier on him than that of Judith's bearlike arms. "You're very welcome here."

"I'm just welcome, but he's very welcome?" Doyle teased his mother. "That's not very fair."

"He's a guest," Maureen snapped. "Now, let's go get your luggage."

Wesley was jarred by this unsentimental comment at a resurrected son, but Doyle didn't seem to mind, simply following his mother to the baggage claim.

"So, Wesley," Judith said while they were waiting for the bags to appear, "I heard your sister was getting married?"

"That's right." Wesley didn't quite know what to say about that, but it was clear that more was expected of him than just the simple affirmative. "She, uh... next week. With Stephen Healey. He's an old friend of the family."

"Oh, so they're childhood sweethearts, then?"

"Not really." He didn't even know when they had fallen in love. Stephen was a good enough man, it wasn't that, but Bess had never shown any interest in him. At least she never had three years ago, but then again, a lot could happen in three years. If someone had told him three years ago that he'd end up with someone like Doyle, he would most likely have attempted to punch them. Probably failed, too.

"But you are staying for a few days, aren't you?" Maureen asked.

"I planned to stay for three days."

Maureen nodded. "Enough time for Kilkenny, then."

"Mom, no!" Doyle's eyes widened in mock terror. "He didn't come here to get dragged through all our relatives."

"Well, I'm really not seeing why we shouldn't isn't that your suitcase?"

Doyle hurried to get his suitcase off the reel, and Wesley found his own further down. Doyle turned back to Wesley and explained with a grin, "My uncle Sean lives in Kilkenny. They have eight children, and most of them have children of their own. I could also mention that nearly all take after aunt Bridget and won't stop talking." He noticed Wesley's worried glance and asked his mother, "How much have you been telling aunt Bridget, anyway?"

"Just that you brought a friend," Maureen said, and with her eyes set on Wesley, she continued, "I didn't know how much you wanted people to know."

Wesley wondered how much she knew about his reasons to remain closeted, and his eyes drifted towards Doyle, who gave a lopsided smile.

"You're being lovely, mum," Doyle said, taking the pack of cigarette from his pocket. This immediately caused Judith to perk up and ask for one, and that was the last thing she said until they entered the parking lot.

Wesley had the disadvantage of not knowing which car he was looking for, and so he drifted behind a bit, looking at his surroundings. When he saw Doyle and Maureen head up to a old beige Volvo, he moved to join them, but was stopped by Judith's hand on his arm.

"Give them this moment," she said, drawing in smoke from her cigarette. "They're not likely to get another one."

Mother and son were standing together by the passenger door, heads close, and Judith was right, it was only a moment before Maureen moved over to the other side, but it was an important one.

"Nice and easy now," Judith said as if she had been talking to a growling dog instead of a nervous, uptight Englishman. "He's yours fifty weeks of a year. You have time to spend a few minutes of quality time with me while he's talking to his mother."

Wesley smiled. He was beginning to like Judith, she actually reminded him more of Doyle than Maureen did. "Quality time it is, then."

"Your sister," Judith said, apparently set on including conversation in this quality time of hers. "What's her name?"

"Elizabeth. Bess."

"Bess? Bess and Wes? Whose brilliant idea was that?"

"Don't you start now," Wesley warned her, already more comfortable with the situation. "Doyle has mocked me quite enough."

Judith grinned and dropped the cigarette, stepping on it with a foot remarkably small for such a large body. "Is she as lucky in love as the two of you?"

It took a while for Wesley to realise that this was at least half a compliment. Actually answering the question took even longer. "Stephen is very nice..." He was also one of the few acquaintances of the Wyndham-Pryce family who wasn't in any way associated with the Council of Watchers. If Bess was to marry an old friend, it made sense that it would be him, but Bess had always been of a contrary mind and he'd have been less surprised if she had run off with some punk. He suddenly realised it bothered him that Bess had made what would be seen as a good match, when he had been the one who had tried to live up to the family's expectations.

"But he's not the man for romantic dreams?" she suggested. "If that was necessary for marriage, I probably wouldn't have three children to my name."

Wesley didn't know what to answer to that. Anything he could think of sounded extremely rude or false, or both. Judith noticed his predicament and laughed, hugging him again. She was fond of doing that, and somehow it put him at ease. He even hugged her back.

"All right!" she said after letting him go. "Now we've had our bonding and they have had theirs. Let's go home."

 

Wesley put the phone in his lap, staring at it. It was the only phone in the house, and he had it in his bedroom. Maureen's bedroom. At first all he'd noticed was the fact that he and Doyle had been put in separate bedrooms, which was what he had expected anyway. It wasn't until the swarm of relatives had cleared that he realised that there were only two bedrooms in the house at all. One for Maureen, and one for her father-in-law. Now Doyle shared a room with his granddad, Maureen slept in the living room, and Wesley had a Queen size bed all to himself. Of course, Maureen could have arranged it all to keep him as far away from Doyle as possible, but he didn't think so. It seemed too benign for that, too thoughtful. She wasn't a sentimental woman, and her signs of affection could be hard to read, but he was rather certain this was a compliment.

As for the phone, he was very grateful for it. He could have used the cell phone, but somehow this call needed more than that. They obviously hadn't moved phone and phone lines just for his sake, but somehow it still felt that way.

His hand wasn't as steady as he could have wished for, but he managed to dial the familiar number. One ring, two, three, and then a click that made his heart skip a beat.

"Hello?"

Bess. Thank God. "Hello, Bess, it's Wesley." What were you supposed to say to a bride to be? "Congratulations."

"I'm not married yet. But thanks anyway. So, is your business done yet?"

She sounded just as condescending as she usually did when she talked about Watcher things, and Wesley wondered what she would say if she knew his "business" consisted of meeting his male lover's family. Maybe it wouldn't even bug her. He tried to remember how she had reacted last time he had been sleeping with a boy, but couldn't quite grasp it. It wasn't something he liked to think of, anyway.

"Not quite yet. I'll be coming tomorrow afternoon. Didn't mum tell you that?"

"She did. I was just hoping you might want to come earlier."

There was a brief pause, and Wesley heard the door opening downstairs. Eager paws were running up the stairs, followed by the slow steps of an old man. Soon Bono the dog stumbled into the bedroom, putting his golden head in Wesley's lap.

"I could use your support," Bess finally admitted.

That was only what could be expected, really. Doyle's granddad was entering the room to see what the dog was doing, but Wesley barely acknowledged his presence, too caught up in the conversation. "Can't Stephen hold your hand?"

"You know him, not much use in a thunderstorm," Bess said, a certain cynicism noticeable in her voice. "And to top it all, father demanded that I had a Watcher bridesmaid, so now I have Lydia Wilcox looking over my shoulder all the time. Not that she's all that bad. I got to pick which Watcher, at least."

That sounded like a somewhat odd request. Then again, who had ever expected sensible actions from the Wyndham-Pryce family? "Is she nice then, this Lydia girl?"

"Oh yes, very," Bess said, although she couldn't be accused of any enthusiasm. "Mousy sort of girl, glasses, did her thesis on William the Bloody - typical Watcher of the benign sort. She looks a bit like a 'before' picture for a makeup company," she giggled, "but then again, so do you."

"I most certainly do not!" Wesley said, uncertain whether his indignation was really all fake.

Bess giggled again. "Have you changed a lot then?"

"I do have a motorcycle," he said in the pompous tone he had learned from his boarding school teachers, that invariably made his sister laugh.

"I can just imagine. Do you have a girl on it, too?"

"Not... really. No." This certainly wasn't a wanted turn in the conversation. He was glad she couldn't see his uncomfortable expression.

"No girl?" she asked, curiosity evident in her voice.

"No."

"Because 'not really' isn't usually what people say when they mean 'no'. It's more of a 'yes, but I'm going to lie to you about it' kind of response."

She was really too damn attentive. "There is no girl. At all."

At this point, Wesley became suddenly aware that Doyle's granddad was still in the room, reading a magazine. Wesley felt his face get hot as the old man gave him an odd look.

"You really are a terrible liar. I almost can't believe we're related. But that's all right. I like you anyway."

"Why thank you so much for that professional judgment," he said, although her words warmed him. "I suppose I'll be seeing you tomorrow, then?"

"Most certainly."

Wesley had barely had time to say goodbye and hang up the phone before old Mr. Doyle asked him, "You're sleeping with my grandson, aren't you?"

What a perfectly lovely way to start a conversation. For a moment, Wesley sat there with an open mouth, happy at least that he hadn't asked Mr. Doyle what he wanted while still on the phone. It could have been rather awkward. Well, even more awkward. Wesley got himself together and pondered saying something in the way of it being none of the man's business, but that would have been rather pointless, wouldn't it?

"Yes. Yes, I am."

"That's what I thought." His face showed a strange mix of revulsion and satisfaction at being right. "I'm not some stupid old man. There were queers in my time as well."

He gave Wesley a sharp look. Wesley, not knowing what to say, simply looked back.

"He has bad blood. What's your excuse?"

"He does not have bad blood!" Never mind awkward moments, that was one thing that couldn't go unanswered.

"Oh, I wasn't meaning Maureen," Mr. Doyle said, most definitely looking pleased now. "She's a nice girl, and I shouldn't have doubted her in the first place. But I knew from the start that things weren't right, and Frank admitted to it as well - eventually. It was the naming that did it for sure. No one in our family has ever named his child after himself, so why would he, all of a sudden?"

Wesley fumed, but this was a part of Doyle's family history that he hadn't had a chance to hear before, and so he didn't say anything.

"Frankie isn't a bad sort," Mr. Doyle said slowly, in a tone of voice that meant so much more. "But his father was a rapist and..." He hesitated for a split second. "...worse, and of course it would have to show at some point."

"I beg your pardon!?"

This obviously just made Wesley sound like the snob he was, but at this point he didn't care. What an absolutely horrible thing to say. The dog raised its head and whined a little at Wesley's tone of voice, but he ignored it, brushing it aside and standing up.

"How dare you speak of him like that? As if he were some lustful demon who... I have met humans with not half the soul or conscience Doyle has, so don't you dare... Don't you dare compare him to his father. He's nothing like that. If you think he is, that just proves you don't know him at all!"

Not waiting for an answer, he stalked out of the room and down the stairs, only to run into Doyle halfway down. The look on his lover's face clearly told him he had heard it all. But he was much too agitated to stay in the house a minute longer, and so in order to be able to apologise, he took Doyle's arm and dragged him out on the street. They walked silently for about ten minutes until Wesley had calmed down enough to speak normally.

"I'm sorry you heard that."

"Heard what? You defending me?" Doyle asked with a pained grimace. "Or granddad knowing the truth?"

"It wasn't the truth," Wesley said. "Not the whole truth."

"The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." Doyle laughed quietly, watching the windows of the stores they passed by to avoid meeting Wesley's gaze. "Most of the time I'm trying not to think about it. Like my demon side is just some freak anomaly that happens to some people... one in every ten thousand or something. But it isn't, is it?"

"Doyle..." Wesley felt helpless in the face of this revelation, but still made an attempt at comfort, putting his arm around Doyle's shoulders. "None of that affects what you are."

"It doesn't? Sometimes when I'm turning I just want to throw up. If it had been a good person, someone like Lorne, then it would have been different. But those ugly-looking spikes are a lot worse to take when you know they can be used to intoxicate someone into having sex with you."

"But you wouldn't." Wesley forced Doyle to look at him. "Tell me, honestly, if you can see yourself doing what your father did."

"Yeah, sure, once I catch up with my shape shifting," Doyle said sarcastically. Then he sighed. "Of course not. But I'm physically able to."

"And I'm physically able to go out and play Jack the Ripper all over town if I wanted to, but I don't."

There was an unexpected mirth in Doyle's eyes, and within seconds he was laughing uncontrollably.

"Why is the thought that I might be capable of bad things so hilarious to everyone?" Wesley asked. He would have been a lot more upset about it if he hadn't been so relieved.

"Because you're Wesley," Doyle said, as if that explained everything.

"And you're Doyle. And you're a very good man - half man - and those ugly spikes of yours are really sexy."

"I know you think so," Doyle said, smirking a little. "Quite the little addict. And that's worrying me, too."

Wesley shrugged, because he knew Doyle wasn't more than half serious, and the main subject was still unresolved. Which was, he realised, the way it would stay. You didn't solve nearly thirty years of trouble with a nice afternoon chat.

"If it's any consolation, I believe in nurture over nature. And that seems to have worked out for you."

"Well, yeah." Doyle flashed a sudden smile. "I'll give you that. No money, of course, particularly after da died, but there's no denying I've had good nurture."

Wesley smiled, giving Doyle a light peck on the temple. "Do you know who you are most like, though?" he asked.

"Mum", Doyle said without hesitation.

Wesley shook his head. "Judith."

Doyle stopped short. "That's not true."

"It is. I mean, you don't hug people as much as she does..."

"Actually, I do, just not when you're around. Thought you preferred it that way."

Wesley stared at Doyle for a split second, and then smacked him in the back of his head. He got a mischievous grin as reward.

"Did you talk to your sister?" Doyle asked.

After everything that had been said since, it felt like a lifetime ago, but Wesley nodded. "I did. She seemed..." He sought a good word. "Actually, I'm not quite sure what she seemed. But I'll be seeing her tomorrow, I suppose I'll find out then."

He held Doyle's shoulders, without caring who might see. This was his last opportunity not to care, tomorrow he'd be in Manchester and back to the lying and pretending from his younger days.

"I wish you could come with me."

Doyle kissed him, very softly.

"Who doesn't?"

 

There was no one waiting for him in Manchester, and he wasn't sure if that made him sad or relieved. He hailed a taxi and took it to the Wyndham-Pryce house. For a few minutes, he just stood outside, looking. His parent had moved here after he left home, and so it wasn't connected with any childhood memories. Just some holiday celebrations from Hell and those times in university when he had nowhere else to go. That time when he had been found in the library shagging the Dean's son...

The door opened, and he jumped. His mother was standing inside, watching him rather coldly.

"Are you going to stand there all day or come on in?"

Wesley picked up his suitcase and took a few hesitant steps towards the house. He stopped at the foot of the stairs, recognising a strange smell in the air. "Sulphur?"

"Your father has been doing magic again," Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce said, dismissing her husband with a gesture of her hand. "Do come in, it's getting cold in here."

He took the last steps and closed the door behind him. His mother turned her cheek up, expecting him to kiss it, and he obliged, then asked the compulsory question, "I hope you are well, mother?"

"Yes I am, thank you. Did you have a nice trip?"

"I did."

It was all as false as snow in June, but Wesley participated in the act with something resembling nostalgia. Other children had favourite fairy tales told over and over again. This had been his. So very "same procedure as last year", he knew it all by heart.

"So, where is Bess?" he asked.

"Upstairs. Apparently, she isn't feeling well." Her voice was sour. Small talk was over. "Of course, she never is when there's work to be done."

"Then I suppose I should go up there. To congratulate her." He waited for his mother to say something. When she didn't, he put his suitcase down. Catching her scowl, he picked it up again. "Just show me where I can put my luggage."

"Your old room is made up," she replied, walking ahead of him up the stairs. He followed her, a barely audible sigh escaping his lips. His "old room" was actually more of a guest room since he had never slept there more than necessary, and if there were any changes he didn't register them, only dropped his luggage and headed over the hall to Bess. His mother trailed his steps, and he had to restrain himself not to turn around and tell her to get lost.

He stopped in front of Bess's door, knocking on it, but before he got an answer, his mother walked right by him, opened the door and stepped inside.

"Bess, get up. Wesley has arrived."

A tousled, dark head rose from the pillows. "Thank you, mother."

The older woman remained in the doorway, and Bess repeated, with somewhat more force, "Thank you, mother."

"There's no need to get rude," Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce snapped. "Dinner is in two hours, I expect you to show up."

With this, she shut the door behind her, and Bess and Wesley both sighed in relief. Wesley finally had the opportunity to take a good look at his sister, and he was startled to find she didn't look well at all. He hadn't doubted his mother's claim that Bess was faking an illness to get out of her duties. It was something she had been known to do before, and he didn't blame her. But as she moved her face into the light, he could see that it was sweaty and pallid, and her dark hair was dull, falling from her messy pony tail to her shoulders in a way she would never allow on a good day.

"Bess?" He walked up to her, frowning in concern. "Are you all right?"

"I am now that you're here," she said with a smile. The moment after, she bent over, a grimace of pain on her face. "Okay, so that was a lie. Force of habit."

He put his arms around her, noticing how cold she felt. "What's wrong with you?"

She shrugged, and then, seeing his expression, she giggled. "Oh, Wesley, you should see yourself! It's nothing, really. I'm just coming down with something. And before you ask, I've been feeling sick for five days, it has not gotten any worse, I have not developed a fever, and I highly doubt there's any foul play involved. It's probably some sort of virus." She thought about that for a moment, wrinkled her nose and added, "Or something psychosomatic."

"Why, don't you want to get married?"

She looked at him with an odd expression, and then turned her attention to the walls. "I think there are spells on this room."

So she didn't think she could talk openly. That was practically a confirmation he had been right, and it confused him. Of all people he knew, Bess was the one least likely to do anything against her wishes.

She noticed his confusion and smiled at him, her face getting an unmistakable mischievous expression. "Will you be a good big brother and help me get dressed?"

At first he thought she was joking, but as she stepped out of bed he realised how wobbly she was. If this was psychosomatic, she must have some pretty strong stress building up. He held her while she took off her nightgown and then led her into her bathroom. When they with joined efforts got her clothes on, she started to laugh.

"What's funny?"

"You haven't fumbled or stuttered once. Which makes me wonder how often you've been doing this lately."

"Bess, you're my sister!"

"Even assuming that you are past the phase when my naked body was an unbearable sight to you," she said, squinting up at him, "which I'm willing to believe, that still doesn't explain the professional touch."

"Don't you ever breathe between words?" he asked, pulling the dress over her head.

"Brother darling, don't lie to me," she reproached him once her face was visible again. "Who is the girl?"

"There is no girl," he said firmly. It was, after all, the truth. "Not to say there hasn't been before. I told you about Virginia."

"Can I take this opportunity to tell you that I am very glad you didn't decide to marry her? I mean, honestly, Bryce-Wyndham-Pryce?" Bess tilted her head and looked at him intently. "All right. I believe you. But I know you're hiding something from me, and if it's not a girl, I can only conclude..."

"Did you say there were spells on this room?" he interrupted, warning her not to take it any further.

She gave him an odd look and then grinned. So now her suspicions had been confirmed. Bully for her. Wesley had no intention of letting it spread beyond her.

"Are you ready to come out?"

"No," she said, sitting down on top of the toilet. "I still have the face and hair to take care of. But that I can manage on my own. Something tells me you're not quite as familiar with mascara - " her smile was truly radiant now " - although I could be mistaken."

Wesley groaned. He suddenly remembered why he had thought Bess and insufferable brat when they were younger.

"Do shut up."

 

Dinner was very Wyndham-Pryce traditional, which meant it mostly consisted of awkward silences interrupted by short arguments. Fortunately they had guests, which prevented the arguments from going too far. Wesley paid little attention to the three members of the Council, simply noticing that the girl who looked like a librarian in a farce must be Lydia. Stephen was the one who really held his attention. They had played together as children but never been close; now he watched his old friend, trying to find what made Bess love him. It pained him that he hadn't seen this coming, when Bess had found out about Virginia and, as it seemed, partly about Doyle as well. He didn't know her anymore, he wasn't the one she turned to as he had been when she was growing up. And why did she love that man?

He was rather cute, that could be said. Although he had a tendency to talk too much and his foot was positioned in his mouth more often than not, there was no doubt that his boyish face was attractive. If you cared for that sort of thing. He was like a big puppy. Not stupid, not by a long shot, but overenthusiastic and rather annoying in the long run. It wasn't hard to understand why Bess cared for him, but marrying him? He had nice eyes, that much was granted. The hair wasn't much to cheer for, but the arse was quite lovely.

This was when Wesley realised that he was actually checking out his baby sister's fiance. He immediately redirected his gaze to his dinner plate, wondering what Doyle would do if he knew about this. Probably nothing. Possibly even check him out himself and then compare notes. It wasn't that jealousy was beyond him; he just wouldn't waste it on subjects of no importance. Sometimes Wesley wished that he would. Using Gunn to make Doyle jealous wasn't quite fair to either of them - but nothing else worked.

He shook away those thoughts and noticed a bit late that Lydia had asked him a question. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"

"We were discussing the Slayer," she said. "You worked with her once, didn't you?"

Out of all the things to bring up, it had to be this. "Which one are you referring to?"

Silence fell over the table, but Lydia seemed oblivious. "Buffy Summers."

He let his gaze wander over the people around the table. Bess, disinterested but sympathetic, his mother nervous that this might start another scene, his father smirking in contempt, and the male Watchers trying to pretend this wasn't an embarrassing question. Only Stephen seemed oblivious, more puzzled than anything else. Apparently nobody had told him of Wesley's failure in the Slayer department.

"I did, for a very short period of time. She wouldn't listen to anything I said, and in retrospect I must say she was quite right in that decision."

"Of course, my son is now associating with demons," Edward said, his face crimson but his voice calm. "That's how I raised my children, is it?"

Lydia looked like she regretted ever saying anything. "I understand that this vampire Angel is somewhat..."

"You're a silly girl," he snapped. "He is a demon like any other."

"A demon with a soul," Bess said, entering the discussion. She still looked as if she might throw up any minute, but her voice held a dangerous mildness that belonged less to the girl she had once been than to the man she was facing. "Not such a strange thing, is it? Certainly no stranger than a human without one."

His outburst clearly made his colleagues uncomfortable, and Lydia attempted to return to topic. "So then you agree with her methods? Bringing in civilians?"

Wesley smiled a little, wondering what she would consider Cordelia and Gunn. "It seems to have had a favourable result on her survival rate."

"Well, not technically," one of the male Watchers pointed out. "She is after all the reason we have two Slayers for the time being."

"I thought that problem had been taken care of," Wesley's mother said sharply. She wasn't normally interested in Watcher business, and Wesley suspected her comment had more to do with him than with concern over the Slayer status.

"Faith is in an American prison," the younger Watcher explained. His gaze touched Wesley's for the briefest of moments before he averted it politely. "We consider this a satisfactory solution for the time being."

"Quite a track record for you there," Edward said, raising his glass to Wesley. "One a traitor, one an anarchist."

It finally hit Wesley that his father was deliberately poking around in open wounds, his own as much as Wesley's. The mess he'd gotten into with Buffy no longer troubled him, because when the going got tough, he had found his loyalties. Granted, he hadn't done much good, but there was no shame in how it had ended up. Not for him. There was plenty for his father. And he'd be happy to let Edward nag about that all day long if it hadn't been for the parts about Faith. Because that did bother him, and knowing Edward he'd notice that and continue his comments where they hurt the most. He feared that moment with an intensity he rarely knew these days, feared to be humiliated like that in front of so many people. And because he wanted to keep his dignity, he took the plunge himself.

"Well, the best I could do back then was scream like a woman. Dismissed, fired, thrown in the gutter - and coming out on the other side." He didn't say it had made him a better man and a better fighter. Any praising of himself would be nipped in the bud, he was certain.

"Taking orders from a vampire."

He wasn't going to let that get to him. He wasn't. This was a good life, and he gave orders to Angel as much as the other way around. His heart pounded much too fast and his eyes burned, but he refused to give in to it. In this house, appearance was everything.

"Don't try to tell me you're not still a snivelling little fairy-boy, who..."

"So, do you think United will beat Leicester?" Stephen interrupted, speaking to no one in particular.

"Oh, without a doubt," the youngest Watcher agreed, relieved by the change of subject. "They have to! I have twenty pounds set on it."

"That's quite enough, Roberts," Edward said. He held no authority with the other Watcher, yet the young man silenced. "Let us finish our meal."

Wesley found he nearly envied Angel for those five hundred years in Hell.

 

"So, where will the wedding take place?" asked the oldest of the Watchers, whose name Wesley could not remember, when the dinner was over and they were getting ready to go.

"Oh, in the south parlour," Wesley's mother said. "We hardly ever use it, so Edward thought this would be a nice occasion for it."

"Helen has some wonderful ideas for decoration, though," Stephen added. "Would you like to see?"

His enthusiasm was contagious, and so the party proceeded to the south parlour, where he ran from place to place, pointing out what would be where and how it would look. "And then we'll kneel here," he said, pointing to a pair of low footstools. "Come on Bessie, show them!"

Bess had remained outside the room, with half a smile on her face that revealed something bitter underneath. Now she grinned and shook her head, but only at her fiance's childish behaviour, not at the suggestion. She stepped over the threshold to the parlour.

Immediately, she was thrown back several feet. The air before her shifted and hummed, as if charged with electricity.

For a brief moment, all were silent. Then Edward raised his voice, shivering in anger:

"You whore! You utter, despicable, demon whore!"

He charged towards his daughter, but his colleagues quickly grasped one of his arms each to hold him back.

"Easy now, Edward," said the older man, obviously still confused as to what was going on, but not about to let the man attack a woman in pain.

Because Bess was still curled up on the floor in the hall, hugging herself and rocking back and forth. Wesley tried to comprehend the situation, but everything was too chaotic. The only coherent thought he could grasp was that he had to get her out of there.

"Lydia? Do you have a car I can borrow?"

Lydia at first looked as if she wasn't sure what he had asked and why, but then hauled up a keyring and removed the one that belonged to the car, handing it to him. "The blue Ford by the chestnut tree."

"Thanks."

Making Bess stand was easier said than done, but she was almost as tall as he was and he wasn't going to carry her. Fortunately she seemed as eager to get out as he was. The French doors inside the parlour were not an option, and the kitchen door would lead the to the wrong side of the house, so he dragged her with him to the front. She sank down on the steps, and he lifted her up again. "No, no, no, just try to walk as far as the car."

"I'm feeling better now," she said with a new determination in her voice, trying to make her feet steady. She managed almost instantly, and the rest of the way to the car Wesley's arm around her shoulder was more to steady him mentally than her physically.

"What just happened in there?" he asked as they got in and sat down in the car. A force field of some sort, that he was sure of. And the smell of magic suggested there was something like that around the house as well. The questions that still needed to be answered were why it had been done, and why his father had reacted like that.

"I have no idea," Bess said, leaning back with a deep sigh. The moment after she looked up again. "Where are we going?"

"I don't know. Anywhere. I was mostly concerned with getting you out of there."

"How about a coffee shop?" she suggested. "I'm dying for something sweet."

He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, still trying to watch the road. Her face had a much healthier hue than before, and she showed no signs of pain. "You really are feeling better, aren't you?"

She gave him a wide grin. "Absolutely."

 

It wasn't until she had started her second cinnamon bun that she was ready to talk at all. She swallowed the bite, took a sip of coffee, and said with a shrug, "I guess things turned out a bit stranger than you expected."

"You don't say." He watched her for a moment without saying anything, and then asked, "And you really don't know what happened, or why father reacted like that?"

"Yes and no." She tore her napkins slowly into shreds as she spoke. "I don't know what happened - but I do know why father reacted like that. You see, I haven't been entirely truthful with you. Or anyone, really."

Interruption seemed like a bad idea at this point, and so he waited.

"A few months ago, I met this guy... this demon guy. And we fell in love."

"What!?"

She gave him a reproaching look, and it struck him that considering his own personal life lately, maybe this was a bit hypocritical. Then again, as far as she knew he had no reason to give her anything else than the traditional Watcher response of "demon bad, human good". The problem was that even if that was an oversimplification, there was more truth in it than she seemed to think. Wesley felt the overprotective brother part of him show its head and growl.

"Well, father found out. Needless to say, he took it very poorly, just like you. I hoped that if I married Stephen, father would give up his suspicions long enough for me to run off to India. I'd either take a plane or go with Raja through magic."

"India?"

"He's from India."

The worst part about all this was that it actually made a whole lot more sense than the thought that she would get married to a nice young man she had known since childhood. "And Stephen knew about this?"

She suddenly too a large interest in her coffee cup. "Not really. He obviously knows I'm not in love with him, but I think he thought I just wanted to get away from my family. Which I certainly do." Defending herself from his gaze, she went on, "You know he can't keep a secret. I couldn't tell him about Raja."

"Raja?"

"That's his name."

"I figured that much." He shook his head, still dazed by all this. "So you're dating a demon, and father knows, and put some sort of spells on the house. But why did the spells react on you? Have you met Raja lately, so it could sense him on you somehow?" But that wasn't logical, because Wesley had been able to walk in without a problem, and there was definitely enough demon lover on him to cause a reaction if that was the aim.

"Not for a month." Her hands went to her waist. "But there's something else you don't know."

Wesley stared at her. Although he didn't have Angel's experience of demonology practice, he wasn't completely naive. Thoughts of Cordelia's worst aftermath to a date crossed his mind.

"Oh my goodness."

"I'm pregnant," she said, although it was rather obvious that he had already figured it out.

"I see. And what do you plan to do about that?"

She stood up and put her mangled napkin back by the coffee cup. "I plan to get fat, Wesley, as is traditional in these circumstances. I plan to move to India, which isn't much further away than England from where you are living, not that you bother with a phone call all that often anyway. And I plan to make you stop sounding like mum, if I have to smack your head to do it. Now, if you excuse me, it's late, I'm tired, and I don't feel like talking."

She turned to leave, and he hurried to leave a few notes on the table, grab his coat and follow. "Bess, please. I'm on your side, really I am." And that was the truth. He wasn't certain he was on the side of her demon boyfriend, but he hoped for her sake she was right about him. "Listen, you can't go home."

"Wasn't going to."

"I believe you. Hear me out." He stood in front of her, blocking her way. "We'll go to a hotel. Let me call a friend, and then we'll all try to sort this out."

For a moment her eyes narrowed, but then she smiled. "All right."

 

At first Doyle didn't pay much attention to the phone ringing in his mother's bedroom, but when she made no move to go pick it up he rose from his seat, and she gave him a grateful glance. Her feet were propped up on the sofa, swollen after the day's work.

"Doyle."

"Is that you?"

The sound of Wesley's voice immediately made Doyle pay more attention. "Speaking. What's going on?"

"I need you to come over here."

Doyle leaned back, relaxing. "I'm thinking what with your family and this big closet of yours, that's not such a good idea."

"I don't think any of that matters right now." Wesley took a deep breath. "My sister is pregnant with a demon."

No longer relaxed, Doyle asked, "Come again?"

"She's pregnant with a demon."

"What kind of demon?" The most important question to be asked, after all.

"I don't know. She doesn't know. That's what I'm trying to find out, but it's really chaotic around here. I need you."

"You're better with that sort of thing than I am, but if you need a hand to hold..."

"Yes, please."

In spite of it all, Doyle grinned. He knew Wesley could handle a dozen demon pregnancies if need be, but family was never that simple. He noted down he hotel address Wesley gave him and promised, "I'll be coming as soon as possible."

After hanging up, he went back into the living room, where Maureen was still resting her feet. She watched him enter, and it was clear she had heard his part of the conversation.

"I hate abandoning you, mum," he said, giving her a quick peck, "but I'm needed in England, now."

"Demon problems?"

He grimaced. "Demon pregnancy."

Her eyes widened, and she took her feet off the sofa and stood up. "I'm coming with you."

"I'm not so sure..."

"You'll be needing someone who knows about these things. I'm sure Wesley knows his job, but I doubt he's been pregnant."

"Well..." Doyle tried to come with more arguments, but the thought of a pregnant Wesley was just too much for him. His lips began to curl. Besides, she was right. Having given birth to a part-demon child doubtlessly was a great merit in this case. "Fine, then."

She nodded and went to the stairs, hauling out her suitcase from the space below. It pleased Doyle that she was so casual about it. He didn't know Wesley's sister or if it was likely that she had gotten herself in serious trouble, but it was good to know that even if she had, things could work out okay.

 

The hotel was top brass, and Doyle felt uneasy going inside. He was used to Wesley picking places that fitted his wallet rather than his class, and for once the jokes about their different backgrounds became more than that. Fortunately Maureen was a lot less sensitive to those sorts of things.

"Can I help you?" the receptionist asked, looking as if she'd like to add a "find the door" to that sentence. Maureen straightened up to her full height, and even let her heels lift a little from the floor.

"We're here to see Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, please."

Her accent caused the receptionist's frown to deepen, and by the look she gave Doyle he could have sworn she was expecting bombs. With a surly twist of her mouth, she turned to check the room number, and then picked up the phone.

"He isn't in," she said after a minute or two, hanging up.

"Well, can you try Elizabeth Wyndham-Pryce?"

The receptionist picked up the phone again. "I meant to ask you if I should."

That was an obvious lie, but Doyle didn't care. This time she apparently got an answer.

"Miss Wyndham-Pryce, this is the reception desk, there are some... people... here to see you. Should I send them up?"

She turned back to the two of them and asked, "Names?"

"Doyle. Maureen and Francis Doyle."

"Maureen and Francis Doyle," she repeated into the phone, not too thrilled at the sound of their names. "Are you sure? Well, thank you then, miss." She hung up. "You can go up. It's 527."

"Thank you," Doyle said, and only to tick her off he gave her a radiant smile before heading for the lifts. Once there, he leaned against the wall and shook his head. "What a hag!"

"Mind your language."

"It's this whole place, really. I never thought about Wes as being..."

"Frankie." She gave him a very stern look. "This isn't about you."

That was true of course, but he still wished he could have had a drink before heading there. Jesus, it had been months since he so much as poured himself a scotch, and yet he kept longing for one, knowing exactly what it would taste like. If he'd had a chance to go to a bar before coming here... He shook those thoughts away. It was too late now, anyway.

His mum knocked on the door, and he wondered while he waited what this Bess would be like. Like the receptionist downstairs? But Wes had claimed to love her, so she was probably sweet and awkward like him. Probably devastated now, the poor girl. Then Wesley opened the door, stared at Maureen for a second and then let them both in. His hair was messy and his glasses had slid down, but he seemed more frustrated than worried.

A young girl rose from an armchair behind him, and Doyle gave her a quick assessment. Tall, dark-haired girl with Frida Kahlo eyebrows. Her body was better looking than her face - a bit plump perhaps, but with curves to make up for it. There was nothing about her that screamed "Wesley's sister"; only the expression on her face matched his.

"Hello," she said, giving a smile that tried to be friendly. "I'm Bess. I take it you're Wesley's friends?"

"That's right. I'm Doyle, and this is Maureen, my mum."

She shook their hands and then turned back to her brother, asking with an exasperated sigh, "Well, now they're here. Can we talk about this like adults now?"

Wes sat down on the bed, gesturing for the others to do the same. "I thought we were talking like adults."

She rolled her eyes. "Not arguing isn't the same as talking like adults. That would have to include you actually admitting the fact that I am an adult and capable of making my own decisions without your books and calculations. I don't need them to know I want to stay with Raja. But if you're actually willing to listen to me, then sure, I'm willing to talk."

Doyle's eyebrows flew up, and he gave Wesley a startled glance that passed unnoticed.

"Bess, all I'm saying is that if we knew his species, we would be more likely to..."

"Time out!" Maureen had suddenly raised her voice, held a hand up against Wesley and turned to Bess. "Is this a wanted pregnancy?"

The question apparently took Bess by surprise, and it took a moment before her mouth curved into a smile that made her features more like Wesley's. "Well, I didn't exactly plan it this way, but yes. It most certainly is."

"You didn't say anything about that," Maureen told Doyle.

"He didn't say anything about that!"

Wesley frowned. "I didn't?"

"No, you didn't. So all this is about your sister having a demon boyfriend? Not that I don't understand your concern, but did that whole proverb about the pot and the kettle never strike you?"

"What?" Bess said, puzzled, but she had no chance to enter the conversation.

"It's not that I don't trust her judgment," Wesley explained in a patient tone that suggested he had said the same thing to Bess before, "but I'd feel a lot better knowing whether or not this was a benign species."

"I'm thinking the main question is if the bloke himself is benign," Doyle said. A demon of a benign species had once threatened to eat his brain after all, and on the other end of the scale there was Angel, a vampire but himself annoying at worst. "Have you met him?"

"Well, he hasn't showed up for a family dinner quite yet, but I'm sure it'll be a thrill when that happens."

Bess actually started to snicker at this, although Doyle wasn't sure why. He was grateful when his mother interrupted the potential chaos by turning to Bess and asking, "Does he have any body parts other than the usual?"

This sobered up Bess, who looked very surprised but answered right away, "Wings. He has big black wings."

This caught Doyle's attention, and he could see Wesley reacted the same way. Wings were unusual in demons and indicated great power - but whether it was power for good or for evil was impossible to tell. Maureen, however, had no experience in demonology and chose the practical aspect.

"That could cause some trouble if the baby gets them too. You might need a Caesarean, although I don't know who I'd trust to perform it."

There was a short moment of shock, as everyone contemplated this rather unpleasant thought. After a while a grin spread over Bess's face, and Doyle wholeheartedly agreed with her. Who would have thought his mum would be so perceptive? Then he realised why she knew so much about demon labour and grimaced. Good thing those spikes had shown up so late.

"He has promised to sing the baby into existence," said Bess with a surprisingly sweet smile. Maureen's comment seemed to have broken the ice. "That's the way it's done among his kind. He's been married five times, and he says it works like a charm." She knitted those thick eyebrows together. "Actually, I suppose it is a charm."

"He's been married five times and that doesn't tell you something?" Wesley said.

"It tells me he's an incredibly faithful creature," she said, "considering that he's eight hundred years old. I'd be more worried if he had never been married."

Talk about older men, Doyle thought, but another concern was more pressing, "He hasn't asked you to eat their brains, has he?" At everyone's peculiar glances he added, "See, my ex-wife was going to marry this demon, and part of the ritual was that he should eat my brains, so..."

Bess started laughing hysterically. She sank down into the chair with her hand in front of her mouth and shook her head. "I'm sorry. It's just...." New spasms of laughter shook her body. "And you obviously survived it."

"Actually, he did eat them," Doyle deadpanned. "I'm going on autopilot these days."

Bess laughed even harder, and Wesley stared incredulously at his lover.

"And I thought I knew everything about you."

"Oh, I keep my secrets. Are you okay over there?"

Tears were now coming from Bess's eyes. She wiped them away and nodded, still laughing. "Yes. And nobody will be eating anybody's brains. Raja is a vegetarian and a firm believer in ahimsa."

That slowed Wesley down for the first time, and even though Doyle couldn't remember whether ahimsa was rebirth or non-violence, he was comforted by the "vegetarian" part.

"Are you sure?" Wesley asked in a low voice. Apparently he had heard none of this before.

"Quite sure. And since you're finally showing some interest for my version of all this, I can inform you that he's basically just a strange-looking guy with a saxophone and a love for popcorn. And I'm not the only one saying that. So did the bartender at The Blood Red Note, and my friend Sheila, and practically everyone who was there that first night I heard him playing 'Do Right Woman, Do Right Man'. Sheila even called him soft. Granted, that's coming from a Freyan Cat, but still."

"Freyan Cat?" Doyle asked, recalling an occurrence during his wilder years. "Not one of those golden feline-looking demons who make Michelle Pfeiffer look like a hag?"

"The same," Bess said, but she was looking at Wesley, who was looking back with quite a calmer expression than before.

"You checked him up."

"Of course I did." She sounded vaguely amused, but her eyes were serious. "I may not be a Watcher, but I'm not an idiot. Do you really think I'd run headfirst into something like this? Not to mention now?" Her hand moved automatically to her belly. "Do you think I'd take that sort of risk with a child? Find out too late that 'golly, your father is a royal bastard, let's live with him anyway'? I'd rather have Raja sacrificing me to Kali."

"Oh, Bess." Wesley rose from the bed and took the few steps to her chair, uncertainly taking her in his arms. "I'm sorry. I was trying to... I don't know what I was trying to do."

"You were trying to control this," she said into his shoulder. "You bastard." But it was said as a term of endearment.

By now, Doyle and Maureen were both quietly listening to the exchange, and Doyle smiled a little at the last comment. He'd never had to experience Wesley in Watcher mood, since he'd made it clear from the start that he could run his own life, but it wasn't as if he hadn't witnessed that obsessive need to be in charge of the situation. He wondered if Wesley recalled that they had stood on the other side of this kind of discussion - and still could, as far as Wesley's family was concerned.

"All right," Wesley said, letting go of his sister. "I trust you. But just out of curiosity, what species is he?"

"I told you I don't know." At his disbelieving look she added, smiling, "Indian demons don't organise in species, just in..."

"...Castes," he filled in with her. "Of course. So, what caste is he?"

"Gandharva."

This didn't tell Doyle anything, but Wesley looked stunned. "But they're some sort of minor deities, aren't they?"

"Celestial musicians," she corrected. "In other words, he's a saxophone player."

Wesley sat down, shaking his head with an amused look on his face. Doyle nudged him in the side and grimaced for him to explain the situation.

"Think of it this way: her boyfriend is from a caste full of people like Lorne."

Doyle narrowed his eyes and pondered that. "Somehow I fail to find this scary."

 

It took a while before Bess had told enough facts to temporarily satisfy her brother, and when that was done, no one seemed to know what to do. Everything had happened so suddenly the night before, and they hadn't even been able to get a change of clothes. Wesley was used to being too caught up in work to have time to change, but Bess hated it, and walked around the room whining about it until Wesley could stand it no longer.

"Can't you think of something more constructive than complaining to do?"

She stopped in her tracks, looking very thoughtful. "Do you think there's any chance we could sneak into the house and collect a few things?"

"Depends. Would father have gotten rid of the spells by now?"

They shared knowing looks, and Bess shrugged. "I really need some decent clothes, Wes, I'm not joking."

"What you're wearing isn't decent?"

"All right, then I need some indecent clothes. Don't you?"

Wesley grimaced, thinking of the suitcase he had left in his parents' home. And just as things had begun to go back to normal somewhat. It seemed that instead of solving this marital mess, finding clothes for the next day had suddenly moved up to priority number one. "I suppose."

"How about you and I go shopping?" Maureen asked Bess. "The boys can... have a chat while we're out. Save the world and all that."

"Shouldn't I go with you, since I need clothes too?" Wesley asked.

Doyle kicked him hard in the shin. "I'm sure Bess can pick out just as awful clothes as you can."

"Coming from you, that's truly rich."

Doyle only smirked at this insult, and Wesley lost himself in those sparkling eyes, barely even noticing the women leave. When the door slammed, he looked up, confused.

Doyle was still smirking, and went up to the door, opening it again to put the "Do not disturb" sign on the handle.

"What..."

Wesley found himself being shoved down on the bed.

"Slow reactions," Doyle chided, unbuttoning Wesley's shirt.

"Doyle!" Wesley protested. "Your mother left just a minute ago!"

"And why do you think she did that?"

His eyes widened. "She didn't. She wouldn't."

Teeth brushed his skin. Doyle mumbled something that sounded like, "Even good Catholic women have a naughty streak."

Wesley had a very hard time imagining that. "What about Bess?" Not that Bess didn't have a naughty streak. It just didn't involve even considering the thought of two men in bed. Then again, she had changed a lot since she was little. She could look him in the eye, for one thing.

"I'm sure mum will fill her in on the situation."

Wesley groaned, but it was too late to do anything about that now, and he really wanted this as much as Doyle did. He gave up and made to help with the mutual undressing.

"I do believe I have hand lotion in the pocket of my jacket," he said.

"What a total ponce you are," Doyle said, and somehow it was all right when he was the one saying it. "Hand it over."

"Oh no, I'm not giving it to you."

Doyle rolled his eyes and threw himself down on the narrow bed so violently it almost made Wesley fall off. "Take me now," he pleaded melodramatically.

"Try to be serious for one minute."

"How about being not-serious for a minute? How much chance for that are we gonna get in the middle of this mess?"

And of course he had a point. Wesley bent down, letting his mouth run over Doyle's stomach while he took off his trousers. The stomach jumped under his touch.

"Stop laughing."

"Can't."

Wesley shook his head. He continued with the trousers and then moved down to the shoes. Meanwhile, Doyle waited, running his hands over Wesley's body until he could bring them back to the clothes. The undressing was slow, yet the playful mood remained.

Wesley didn't want to leave, even for a second, but his jacket hung on a hook by the door, and so he slowly untangled himself from Doyle to get the lotion. When he returned, he was met by a wide grin, and he punched Doyle lightly in the stomach.

"Shut up."

"I didn't say anything."

"No, but you were thinking."

"You want me to shut up my thinking?"

Wesley laughed, kissing those pale shoulders. "Yes. I want you to shut up your thinking."

Doyle accepted this with a light shrug, and then relaxed completely as Wesley turned him on his stomach. It made him awfully heavy for someone so slender. Wesley accepted it as a sign of trust, running his hands over the resting body. He still caressed Doyle's back by the time he started pushing in, and he kept his hands there slightly longer than was really safe.

"Wesley..." Doyle was breathing harder now, but the warning in his voice was unmistakable, and Wesley obediently moved his hands to the mattress.

The next moment spines broke through the green skin of Doyle's shoulder blades. The thrill of this as always increased Wesley's own pleasure, and his climax followed shortly after.

As soon as it was safe again, he lay down, covering Doyle's body with his own. He sighed deeply. "I'm glad we did this."

 

They were discussing ways to get Bess out of the country when someone knocked on the door. Doyle went to open it and Wesley's frown made him hesitate a moment too late. Whoever was on the other side was forcing the door open the instant it was unlocked. He realised then that Bess had a key, and the maid would keep out as long as the sign stayed on the door. He found himself looking into the face of a very angry man.

"Who the hell are you?"

Something in the rude arrogance of that voice rang a bell, and Doyle glanced quickly back at Wesley. Judging from his frozen expression, this man was exactly who Doyle thought it was.

"My name's Doyle." He tried to sound casual. "I believe we've spoken on the phone."

Edward stared at him in contempt, but only for a split second before brushing him aside and entering the room.

"Where is she?"

"She's not here." Wesley's voice was low but steady. For a moment Doyle noticed that his hands were shaking, but then he crossed his arms over his chest and you couldn't see it anymore.

"This is her room isn't it?"

"It is. But she's currently out."

Edward huffed at him and opened the door to the bathroom, pushing the shower curtain aside. Even though he knew no one was in there, Doyle gave Wesley a startled look. He half expected Edward to start chanting "Fee fi fo fum". Across the hallway he could see some other people lifting off the door that led to Wesley's room. He decided not to alert Wesley to their presence. Things were strange enough as it was.

"She's not here," Edward accused Wesley once he had checked the wardrobe as well. No girl of Bess's size could hide in there with any success, but apparently logic wasn't his best friend.

"That's what I said." By now, even the crossed arms didn't stop Wesley from shaking, and Doyle wondered if he was quite aware that Edward wasn't actually a giant.

"Where is she, then? Out with that demon while you bring some Irish tramp to... what!?"

The last was directed at the people currently entering from the corridor. There were three of them, all looking like they came straight out of an Oxford library, and the last was a woman carrying Wesley's suitcase. Or at least it looked like Wesley's suitcase. Doyle frowned.

"She's not in the other room," one of the men said. "We set up the spell in case she brings him here."

Edward sighed. "Set it up here too."

"Hang on!" Wesley protested, but the woman had already taken a small bag from her pocket and started shaking out something on the floor.

Doyle got a smell of sulphur, but then it faded out along with everything else as a shock sent him flying backwards. He hit his head on something - the coat hooks? - and fought the urge to throw up. Colours swirled around his eyes. Through them he saw Edward punch Wesley, and tried to stand up to do something about it. His ears hummed, and he could hear very little of the yelling going on, but the repetitive "demon" was clear enough. Again, Edward raised his hand, but this time Wesley caught his father's arm and twisted, locking it behind his back. He pushed his father to the door and the other men in front of him, and on the way said something to the woman. Doyle tried to listen past the humming and nausea. "...friend... reverse..." She bent down, hurriedly collecting the smelly dust. The electricity went away so quickly Doyle's headache increased with double force and made him throw up, right as Wesley returned inside.

"Feeling better?" Wesley asked, resting his hand on the back of Doyle's head. A minute ago he had kicked three men out of the room, but now he sounded sweeter than a summer day. His cheek was already changing colour, and by tomorrow he'd have quite a shiner.

"Yeah," Doyle replied, not daring to nod. He blinked. "What the hell happened?"

"It was an anti-demonic spell, but we reversed it."

"I'm so sorry," the young woman said. "It wasn't directed at you. Wesley explained how you're an old friend and not involved in any of this."

He smiled at her, although the vomit stains took away some of the charm. "It's okay. That part I had figured out." He turned back to Wesley. "Your da. Is he always that intense?"

The pain in Wesley's eyes spoke plenty, but he only said, "Yes."

Doyle wanted to hold him tight and safe from harm, but cleaning up first might be a good idea. The woman probably sensed that she was superfluous, because she stood up and moved for the door. "My car keys?"

Wesley dug in his pocket and handed them to her. "Thanks for bringing me my things."

"No problem."

Then she was gone, and Doyle managed to stand up straight.

"I'm sorry I messed up your trousers." He didn't say and that your father is such an arse, but that was what he meant, and why his fingers moved to Wesley's cheekbone right away.

"Worse things happen."

"Is he coming back?"

Wesley suddenly became very interested in the ceiling. "Do you remember when you first moved in with me?"

"No, actually, that slipped my mind," Doyle replied sarcastically, but the next moment he realised what Wesley was trying to say and all attempts at humour disappeared. Wesley had warned him very clearly back then. "Tell me he didn't."

"He won't be back. Not for me anyway. And I do suspect Bess can find herself crossed off the family tree as well."

"But he can't prove we're sleeping together!"

The low laughter was almost unbearable. "I'm consorting with demons, whether you take it in the literal or social sense, and members of the council saw it. What he can prove or not is irrelevant."

"But that's not fair."

"Life's not fair. Anyone who says differently..." Wesley silenced and finally took his eyes off the ceiling. They were surprisingly dry. He sighed and pressed his fingertips together. "You have to know that by now."

Doyle stared at him helplessly, unable to even argue. Obviously, this was true, but it was a bit easier to take when it came from greedy strangers and anonymous higher powers. It shouldn't come from your family. The worst part was that Wesley couldn't even get angry about it. He didn't know what to do about it, and Doyle could hardly tell Wesley to be angry with his father, even if it would do any good.

"We should get out of these clothes," he said, focusing on a problem he could do something about. He didn't actually mean it as a sexual suggestion.

"May I remind you that this is my sister's room and that she might return at any time?"

"He did an anti-demon spell on her, right? So she'll understand."

"Oh, she'll understand all right," Wesley muttered.

 

Doyle managed to insult every piece of Wesley's clothing before he finally agreed to wear a sweatshirt and a pair of black jeans while his own clothes were soaked in the bathtub.

"This looks ridiculous," he said, indicating the somewhat too long pants.

"At least I don't buy clothes with moth holes," Wesley pointed out.

"No moth with any self respect would touch your clothes with a twenty foot pole."

Wesley was about to answer when someone knocked lightly on the door, so he settled for gesturing to Doyle whathe thought of his comment. Before either of them had time to go to the door, Bess opened it from outside and came in. Instead of her cotton dress she now wore jeans and a tight V-neck top under the classy coat. She also carried two plastic bags, and Maureen, following her, had one.

"Here we are!" Bess said, looking a lot happier in this outfit. "We've bought plenty of clothes..." She stopped when she got a good look at them. "Although it seems we didn't have to." She frowned at Doyle. "Why on earth are you wearing that?"

"I puked on my own clothes."

"Father was here," Wesley explained. "Along with some watchers. They set up a... spell."

"Anti-demonic?" Bess said with a sympathetic grimace, and Maureen cried out in surprise.

"Frankie! Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, mum. She reversed it."

"She who?"

"Lydia," Wesley filled in. "She was the one who brought the clothes as well."

"Well, good for her," Bess said. "Oh, and by the way, I am going to kill you for chiding me like that when you're seeing a demon same as I am."

Wesley stared at her. Whatever reaction he had expected, this wasn't it.

"You're okay with it?" he asked cautiously.

"Does 'I am going to kill you' strike you as synonymous to 'I am okay with it'?"

"Yes, actually."

She grinned at him. "Well, you're the linguistic expert. Oh, for goodness sake, close your mouth. I'm not a little girl anymore. There are some really freaked out pervs in the clubs I go to, so a little gay demon-loving isn't going to get my prude side up."

"What are you doing at clubs like that?"

She crossed her arms and scowled at him. He scowled back.

"Is that where you met Raja? I might have to reevaluate my opinion on him."

"You don't have an opinion on him. You haven't even met him. All you have is prejudice. It just happens to be positive prejudice. And as for the club, it's not like demons have church socials."

"No, but humans do, and quite frankly, human girls attending demon clubs are usually groupies who... oh my goodness." That was one mental image he could definitely do without.

She seemed very amused at his grimace.

"I didn't go to pick up demons. It was interesting... exciting. Usually I'd leave with whatever human girl in high heels I could find. The clubs are violence free - well, unless you like violence - but outside isn't. I always wore trainers, so I'd be the one running faster."

Wesley groaned and covered his eyes. "I'm not sure I want to hear this." Looking up again, he added. "But you obviously survived."

This took the smile off her face. "I was in serious trouble once, but Sheila broke his neck. After she had sex with him."

"Do they all do that?" Doyle muttered.

Wesley happened to know that they did. Freyan Cats were dangerous creatures, but he couldn't deny that a woman would be quite safe in their company.

"And these days I'm protected." Bess held up her hand. There was a dull metal bracelet around her waist. "Property of a demon. And these spells don't lie. So I'm not worried anymore."

"I am," Wesley said frankly. The more he heard about all this, the less he wanted to. Bess certainly wasn't some silly wannabe who attended demon clubs to get in touch with some ridiculously romanticised dark powers. She was too well-educated in demonology not to know that her pastimes were insanely dangerous, and so she was quite like a person putting her head in a crocodile's mouth just because someone had told her not to.

"I have a thought," Doyle said. "Why don't we go to the place, check out your boyfriend, and make sure everything is all right?"

"You can't do that. Make someone mad in there and once you get out they'll kill you." It was Wesley she was looking at when she said this, not Doyle. "You may not be their primary target, but it's still not safe without demon protection."

"Well, I happen to be one - half one, anyway." Doyle blinked towards Wesley. "Maybe we could get you one of those bracelets."

"We'll need two," Maureen pointed out.

Wesley stared at her, having half forgotten that she was in the room. Judging by the others' expressions, he wasn't the only one. Bess's eyebrows flew up, and Doyle looked absolutely horrified.

"Mum, that's such a bad idea I can't even tell you how bad it is."

"I don't see why. You could use someone there with a bit of judgment. And I could be protected by those bracelets as well as Wesley."

"That was a joke. Nobody's scared of a half-breed. Wesley can hold his own, but you've never fought a demon in your life." He suddenly paled considerably. "I mean, except..."

"That hardly qualifies as fighting." Maureen sighed. "I suppose you're right. I would have preferred going with you."

"You couldn't have gone with them, because they're not going!" Bess protested. "This is ridiculous. Raja isn't even playing tonight."

"So, when is he playing?" Wesley asked, knowing that she was ready to fold. If the demon club was safe enough for her, it was certainly safe enough for an ex-Watcher and a demon halfbreed. She was simply stalling, and now she gave up even that.

"Tomorrow night."

"Excellent. That should give us some time for preparations."

"Don't worry," Doyle added. "We'll be wearing trainers."

 

Doyle was woken up by an elbow in his side, followed by the sound of the window opening. He opened his eyes and had to blink in the lamplight. For a moment he was disoriented, then he remembered that he was sleeping in Wesley's hotel room. He had actually been more freaked out about that than Wesley. He'd been told that if a hotel was fancy enough, all you needed was enough to pay the bills and a posh name and you could do pretty much whatever you pleased. But since he had neither, that didn't comfort him much.

These thoughts passed through his head for the merest of moments before he registered what was going on around him. Wesley had rushed up from the bed, lit the lamp and was now standing in front of the open window. That couldn't be good. Doyle swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stumbled up to his partner.

Wesley was hyperventilating, leaning on the window sill in an attempt to get more air. He was shaking badly and his fingers were white from trying to hold onto the sill. Seeing this immediately made Doyle more alert, and he lay one hand on Wesley's back and the other on his arm.

"Breathe in - go on in - now out - and out. In - in..."

He continued coaxing until Wesley's breathing was back to normal. It was odd having the tables turned like this, but at least it meant that Doyle knew more or less what Wesley was feeling, and that it would pass soon enough. The reasons behind it were another thing altogether.

"Sit down," he advised. When Wesley let go of the window sill he looked as if he was going to hit the floor any second. "So, what was that all about?"

"Just a bad dream," Wesley said, sitting down.

"Yeah, and a panic attack. I've had enough of those to know one, and I think you'll understand if I say they're damn scary to watch. Particularly not knowing what's causing it."

Wesley nodded slowly, but didn't speak. Doyle waited for a moment, understanding the pain and awkwardness of being questioned but unable to stop himself wanting to know more.

"What did you dream of?"

"I was locked up." His voice was flat and he was staring at his still shaking hands, beads of sweat glistening on his arms.

"Okay. Any idea why?"

"I'd been bad."

Doyle closed his eyes for a second, wishing he had never asked. "I meant why you had the dream - but I'm thinking that just got answered as well."

Wesley gave a laugh that sounded like it could've come from his last breath in life.

"Who did it? Your father?"

He nodded. "Sometimes mother, if she was afraid he'd..."

"What? Hit you? Did he usually?"

"I don't know. I don't think so." Wesley stood up, walking up to the bed and getting back into it. "I'd like to go back to sleep now."

"Yeah, sure, I'll keep the light on, shall I?" Doyle heard the sarcasm in his voice, but he didn't know what to do about it. He was used to feeling helpless about himself, and he hated it, but it was worse when it was about Wesley. He sat down on the edge of the bed. "What do you mean, you don't know if he hit you?"

"You asked 'usually'. Most of the time I got to choose, and I... I really hated getting hurt back then. Sometimes he was just too angry. But not often. No."

By now his voice was down to a whisper, and he seemed much calmer - almost too much. Doyle pushed the blankets aside and lay down beside him, resting his head on Wesley's back, trying to get their heartbeats in sync. The room was getting cold, but he wasn't about to shut the window, any more than he was turning off the light. He wanted Wesley to talk about this, but he was no good at making Wesley talk. It was always the other way around. All Wesley would do was shut down and lower his voice, claiming allergies if there were tears in his eyes. Maybe because there had never been a reason to think anyone would listen. Doyle hated old Ed for doing that, but at the same time he knew that the Wesley he loved was a result of those times as much as anything else. That a happy, comfortable Wesley wouldn't be Wesley, just like he, if he no longer lived with the knowledge of spikes ready to emerge from his body, would no longer be Doyle.

"Talk to me," he mumbled to those tense shoulders.

"I can't. I don't know what to say."

"I think you do. And you need to say it, Wes. Maybe not to me, but definitely to someone, and I happen to be here. Plus, I love you."

Wesley let out a shaky breath, and Doyle wondered if they had ever said that before, or if it had just been a silent agreement between them. We both know that we love each other, no need to say it. Except maybe there was a need.

"I love you so much, Wesley," he repeated, trailing his fingers down Wesley's back to add touch to the message.

"I always had to second-guess him. I couldn't learn the rules. Maybe there weren't any rules. Half of the time I didn't know what I had done wrong until he told me... and I could never remember it all. He'd stop talking to me for days if I looked at him the wrong way. Bess never cared about that. She didn't care if he locked her up either. But she didn't want to be humiliated... she didn't want to apologise. So he made her, every time. I apologised right away, before I knew what I had done, just so he would like me again. But he never did. I think he hated us all."

Doyle held Wesley closer, listening to years of silent suffering. He didn't know what to say or do, but he felt that both their lives could depend on him holding onto Wesley right now.

"And I can't hate him back. I just can't. I want to love him. I want him to be proud of me... it's never going to happen. I fail everything, and the harder I try the more I fail."

"You don't fail everything." Doyle was crying now, crying for Wesley when he wouldn't cry himself. "You never failed me."

"I wanted him to love me." So helpless a confession.

"What about your mother?"

"She left the room. We weren't her concern. We belonged to him, and she couldn't stand him. They could never stand each other."

He turned over on his back, meeting Doyle's eyes. "Why couldn't they love me?"

"I don't know. I can't understand it. Loving you is the most natural thing I've done in my life. Anyone who can meet you and know you, and not love you, must be very poor at heart. That's all I know."

He bent down and kissed Wesley's face, his lips and tongue moving over the swelling eye and tasting salt. He licked it away and continued to the other eye, caressing it with his tongue like a mother cat. They were good at speaking this way.

 

"This person is my person. His life is my life. Facing him is facing me." Doyle grinned at Wesley as he kept his hand on the dull-metal bracelet and continued the chant. "He counts no longer as human but as blood of my blood."

He finally let his hands drop. They looked at each other, and Wesley allowed the silence to stretch, wanting to make the ceremony last longer. It was only a spell to protect humans associated with demons, but it said he belonged with someone. After the nightmare, he needed that - not that he was going to think about the nightmare.

There was a moment's silence that was almost reverent, until Bess interrupted it with a deep sigh.

"Are you ready now? Can we go?"

"Sure," Wesley said, grabbing his crossbow from under the bed. His annoyance at her interruption matched hers at his move.

"You can't bring weapons! They don't allow it!"

"Then we'll leave it by the door," Wesley said with all the patience he could muster. "As in churches."

She leaned back against the door, her arms crossed. "You bring weapons to church, do you?"

"No, but historically..."

"Oh, historically!" she teased him, and Doyle joined in with glee.

"See, I've heard about that!"

"Keeping weapons in the church porch?"

"No, history. It happened a long time ago, didn't it?"

Bess giggled, and then had to move from the door she was leaning on to answer the knock from the other side. It was Maureen, meeting their laughter with a questioning glance.

"Are you leaving now?"

"Yeah," Doyle said, stepping up to his mother. "There's some food lying around, mostly in the mini bar, and if you need more, there's always..."

"Room service. I do have some concept of hotels, Frankie."

"Yeah. And there are weapons under the bed, should you need them."

Wesley looked from Doyle to Maureen, and he slowly realised that she was to stay in Bess's hotel room for another reason than that it had more TV channels than the one she was staying in.

"Why is she staying here, exactly?" he asked, then realised what that had sounded like and added, "Not that I don't want you here."

"To keep people out," Bess said, putting on her jacket. "You must admit there's a definite risk of someone showing up while we're away, and I'd prefer it if they weren't there when we come back."

Wesley looked at Maureen with sympathy. He quite liked her. He was even under the impression that she quite liked him. And now she was to wait here in case his father came back.

"Are you sure you wouldn't prefer the demons?"

She laughed at that, but he wasn't sure he had been joking. Unlike Bess, he was a lot more comfortable with the thought of this tiny but tough Irish woman cruising demon bars than of her meeting anyone his father could send out. The demon world she was a part of by association, whether she wanted to be or not. But she'd never be anything but alien to Edward's sort of people. And thank God for that.

He turned to Doyle to see what he'd say about all this, but Doyle shook his head slightly and headed for the door. Wesley reluctantly followed. "Good luck then," he told Maureen.

"Likewise."

Wesley's doubts must have been very evident on his face, because on the way down in the elevator Doyle gave a grin so wide its edges almost met in the back of his head. "Calm down, will you?"

"These are Watchers. You've seen them. Do you really want your mother to meet them?"

"Uhm..." Doyle narrowed his eyes, looking at Bess. "Don't know much about the club we're going to, but if it's attended by people like Freyan Cats, I'm thinking yeah, mum should definitely stay here."

Bess giggled at this, and even Wesley had to admit that it made sense. He hadn't counted embarrassment into the equation.

The club wasn't very far away, and so they walked down the streets, now and then meeting ordinary people getting ready for a night out, including a gang of young boys so rude Wesley started to wonder if demons weren't preferable. But it was only fifteen minutes later that Bess casually led them down some cellar steps at the back of a night club. She gave Doyle a quick nod, and he went demon. There was something vaguely odd about the way he looked, and it took a while for Wesley to realise that he was used to the demon form being naked - although he had certainly seen Doyle change under every kind of circumstances, he connected it in his mind to sex.

As they walked down the stairs and into the cellar, the music from the nightclub became stronger, and by the time it faded again another tune had started further away. Wesley recognised it vaguely but couldn't recall what it was. He was certain, however, that he had never heard it played like this before. He recognised most of the individual sounds as simple human instruments, and yet the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, almost like when he was ten and had been forced to see Swan Lake only to fall in love with the music the instant it started. That time he'd been smacked for blubbering, and he feared he might react the same way now.

"Oh you'll never see my shade," Doyle hummed beside him, "or hear the sound of my feet, while there's a moon over Bourbon Street."

Of course. Wesley remembered the song now, as well as what it was about. "Interesting choice for a demon club."

They reached another door and Bess gave it a series of knocks until a short, rotund, blue-faced demon opened it.

"Table for three," she told him. "How long is Raja playing?"

"He has a break in twenty minutes," the doorman grunted. "Leave your weapons here. I'll take you to your table."

Judging from the look on his face he didn't consider this an honour, and there were derogatory murmurs of "human" as they proceeded into the room. Wesley was the last to step in, and so when Doyle suddenly stopped short they almost bumped into each other.

"Holy mother of Christ!"

"What?" Wesley asked. The second after he saw what Doyle had seen and agreed wholeheartedly, although he fortunately kept his mouth shut - the demons were already looking a bit cross.

There was a demon band on the stage, piano and bass and what not, but that only registered in his mind for a split second, immediately overshadowed in both physical and metaphorical sense by a ten-foot spread of black wings. They belonged, as he knew the moment he saw them, to the saxophone player too caught up in his music to notice how the feathers trembled in rhythm. Wesley tore his gaze away from the wings and let it roam over the tall musician - probably six foot and a half, if not more. He was completely hairless, which drew attention to the fact that he also had no outer ears. Apart from that, his features were human, although the skin was so dark it was hard to see any details of his face. The nose was hard to miss, sharp and curved as it was. And then the song ended, and while Wesley was still wishing it hadn't, Raja looked up, showing a laughing pair of yellow eyes.

"Don't drool over my boyfriend," Bess whispered in Wesley's ear.

"I wasn't," Wesley protested, and he honestly meant it. This wasn't a creature he'd actually think of in a sexual way. "He's just so... stunning."

"Don't you just get the feeling he should have stars around his face and flames under his feet?" Doyle asked, his voice sounding as if he'd only recently remembered to catch his breath.

"He's not really..." Bess started, but the demon doorman interrupted her, waving them over to the middle of the room.

"Here's your table," he said, and turned his back on them as fast as possible.

"Thank you, Ede." She pulled out a chair and motioned for the others to do the same. "As I was saying, he's not really all that awe-inspiring. Not off stage."

Wesley found that hard to believe, and Doyle shook his head as well.

"I don't understand how you could ever dare taking him to bed."

She laughed. "Fine, don't believe me. You'll see. Out of his element he's like any other guy. Shall we order something?"

Wesley's eyes caught Doyle's, and it occurred to him that this wasn't the best place to be for a recovering alcoholic. Then his lover gave him a lopsided smile and leaned over towards Bess.

"Do you know if they have Midnight Chocolate here?"

"Whipped cream and all," she replied.

Wesley smiled. Midnight Chocolate was hot chocolate so dark it was practically undrinkable for a human. For demons such as Doyle, with a combination of highly attuned senses and good regenerative ability, it was supposedly a sensation of taste, one Doyle had gone to great lengths trying to explain to him. Suffice to say, many demon bars had it, and it was definitely non-alcoholic.

"I think I'll have one of those, too," he said.

Bess wrinkled her nose at him. "They taste like cleanser."

Doyle looked amused, even though there was also appreciation in his eyes. "Do you really think you're up to it?"

"Of course I am. How bad can it be?"

 

Ten minutes later, as he tried to get the bitterness out of his scrunched-up mouth, he knew the answer. He didn't think it really tasted like cleanser, but since he had never actually put cleanser in his mouth, he couldn't be sure. Why hadn't he just ordered nectar like Bess?

"Here you go," Doyle said, returning with a glass of water. He sounded very sympathetic, but there was no mistaking the amusement in those eyes, even when they were red and glowy.

Wesley hurriedly swallowed the water. He tried to ignore the laughter coming from the tables around him. "That was positively disgusting."

"You don't have the taste buds for it," Doyle said, taking another sip from his own cup. He definitely seemed to enjoy it.

"Humans rarely do," said another voice, and a furry beauty sat down at their table, taking a chair from one nearby. From the flattened nose to the four fur-lined breasts she was a textbook example of a Freyan Cat. Of course, the books hadn't commented on the fact that Freyan Cats apparently enjoyed walking around naked.

"Boys, this is Sheila."

"Got that part," Doyle said, placing his gaze where Wesley would have preferred he didn't.

"And Sheila, this is my brother Wesley, and his boyfriend Doyle. They're both off limits."

"Of course," Sheila said gracefully. "I would never dream of assaulting a friend."

"That's very fortunate, since we're taken already." Doyle smiled at her. "You know, I had an... experience with a Freyan Cat once. It made quite an impression." He gestured vaguely, and caused Bess to frown rather deeply. Wesley noticed with interest that it was actually quite possible for green people to blush. He felt like blushing himself, and he wasn't the one who used to have one night stands with every species that would have him.

This puzzled her. "You slept with a Freyan Cat, and yet you're alive."

"I heal well."

"You heal from a broken neck?"

"In demon form, yeah."

"How very convenient." The interest she showed at this lasted for about ten seconds, then her eyes drifted. "I do believe that young demon is a virgin. Excuse me."

She left the chair and headed for a corner. Wesley was startled by this, and not sure what to do about it. He was quite aware that any man who slept with a Freyan Cat was likely to end up as a slave or a corpse. Now, this was a demon she was after, and there could be no violence inside the club, but he still felt it was his duty to do something. He rose from his chair.

"Sit down, Wesley, I won't let you embarrass me."

"Embarrass you?" Of all the possible reasons to back off, this wasn't one. "She's about to kill someone."

"Of course she is. That's what they do. I wouldn't last long around here if I got narrow-minded about that sort of thing."

"Well, I don't plan to stay long, so I'll be as narrow-minded as I like."

He left his irate sister behind and headed for the table where Sheila was chatting up a chaos demon who didn't seem quite dry behind his ears - not that chaos demons ever were.

"Hello," Wesley said with an ease he didn't feel. "This may be none of my business, but I think you should find a better companion."

"Piss off, groupie," the demon said, not taking his eyes off Sheila. Her tail was halfway up his leg.

It bothered Wesley to be dismissed with the same word he had used to accuse Bess, particularly since he only now understood that his comment could be considered an attempt at flirting. He chose to persist nevertheless. "I just thought it might interest you to know that this woman likes to break the necks of her mates once she is finished with them."

Both the demons looked up at this. Wesley ignored Sheila's irritation and focused on the chaos demon, who apparently hadn't been aware of the danger before.

"Demon mates too?"

"All mates. Then again, maybe you survive that sort of thing."

The demon stood up quickly. "I think I'm getting another drink."

Sheila remained seated, but her pupils had narrowed to mere slits and her tail was whipping the floor. "When did you say you were leaving England?"

"I didn't. Probably within the next few days."

"Good."

With this, she returned to her drink and Wesley to his table, not sure if he had done a good thing or not. The deep red hue of embarrassment on Bess's face told him she had her opinion ready.

"I can't believe you did that. I really can't."

Doyle spoke up in his defence. "He had to do it, Bess. I've slept with a Freyan Cat, it's some pretty amazing sex, but it's not worth dying for."

Although his face was quite serious, his eyes smiled, and Wesley found he could think of certain types of sex that would be worth dying for.

"You know, that reminds me. What's a gay man doing with a Freyan Cat?"

Doyle lifted an eyebrow. "Who said I was gay?"

She seemed utterly puzzled at this, and Doyle watched her patiently for a few seconds. Wesley tried hard not to smile, knowing enough of Doyle's past to see where this was heading.

"I don't have a preference," Doyle finally explained, taking mercy on Bess. "Actually, I do, it's brunettes who are taller than me, but I'm not picky."

"So you're bi."

Doyle grimaced at Wesley, who now couldn't hold back the smile. They'd been joking about the fact that although Wesley liked men more than Doyle did, he had far less experience with them, thus apparently making him the straighter one.

"Well, that's a category as useful as 'blunt object', but, yeah. Think about yourself. If I were to call you a demon groupie..."

"I'd smack you," Bess said sweetly. "Shut up."

Doyle obliged, taking a deep sip from his chocolate, and Wesley stared down at his own. He wasn't sure what to do with it. A hand reached past him, grabbed and retreated, and he turned around to see a very inebriated demon licking his spoon.

"You don't mind, do you?" it asked happily. "Hey, Spiny, can I have yours too?"

Doyle took the glass from his lips and handed over the spoon. The demon licked it, and then put both the spoons on the pair of horns protruding from its face.

"Wait until you see what I can do with this!" he declared, taking a condom from his pocket.

Bess knocked on his shoulder, and when he faced her, she smiled widely. "Hello. Go away."

"Huh?" It didn't seem completely familiar with the concept.

"See that table? They would love to hear what you can do with a condom."

"Oh, okay." The demon lulled away to the suggested table. "Look at this! I take the human-protecting device and put it in my snout..."

Wesley looked up at the ceiling, trying to avoid meeting the others' eyes. Refraining from laughter wasn't easy, particularly not when Bess quipped,

"This club is just heaven for finding potential dates."

 

When Raja reached his break and put the saxophone down to go speak to his girlfriend, Wesley found that Bess was only partly right. Even off stage, his wings were astounding. They moved with a grace that clearly showed they were integral body parts, not outer decoration. But if you had enough imagination to picture him without them, he was indeed a rather plain man, with a huge nose and a baldness that didn't become him.

"Hello, darling," he said, kissing Bess's forehead. His voice was pleasant with a vague accent. He gave the rest of them a slightly baffled smile. "Hello."

"Brother, brother's boyfriend," Bess introduced with a vague gesture, more interested in wrapping her arms around Raja's neck.

"I take it your brother is the human one," Raja said, reaching out a hand. "Nice to meet you both. Elizabeth, I thought you were keeping a low profile with your family."

"I was. It didn't work out. They're here to see if you're good enough for me."

"Ah, okay." This didn't seem to help any, and Wesley almost felt sorry for the poor fellow, who had been even less prepared for this bizarre first encounter than they. "So, does this mean we will not elope?"

"Of course we'll elope," she said impatiently. "Father will still hunt you down and kill you if he gets the chance. This is just Wesley. He's as much the black sheep as I am - reference Exhibit A."

Wesley grimaced. There were times when Bess's provocative bluntness was amusing - mostly when it was directed at others. The break with his parents had been easier than he had feared and expected, primarily because he wasn't their main concern for the time being. And yes, he could understand Bess's relief at not being the only pariah, but damn it, did she have to be so smug about it?

"I see. I think." Raja nudged Bess away from her chair so he could sit down with her in his lap, wings folded behind him. He absentmindedly took a sip from Bess's glass of nectar, all the while watching Wesley and Doyle with those yellow eyes. "So, what is it you want to know?"

"We could start with police records. Murder, arson, attempts at destroying the world - done any of that?" Doyle asked, making lightweight of the interrogation.

If Raja had possessed eyebrows they would have flown up, but he smiled all the same. "I have some speeding tickets - a lot of them, actually. Then there's the soma I used to eat as a kid. Of course, that's a long time ago, and everyone did it back then. It's certainly not a habit I've kept. I think that's all. Oh, and back in the seventeenth century there was a suggestion I should be burned as a warlock, but I left that town rather quickly."

Wesley paid immediate attention to the part about speeding tickets. "You pass?"

"Sometimes, yes." His wings shook slightly as he shrugged, and when he continued the explanation he occasionally gestured with them as if they had been arms. "I fold the wings up on my back and into a backpack sewn to my coat. Most people see nothing out of the ordinary. Everything else - well. It's easier for people to think I'm a freak than a demon."

"Amazing."

"Not really. People don't see what they don't expect to see."

Of course, he was remarkably human-looking for a demon, and yet Wesley couldn't seem to place him among the species the Council had marked as hard to detect. There were too many things that didn't add up.

"If you don't mind me asking - what species are you, exactly?"

"Exactly?" Raja frowned. "I'm not sure I could say. I've got Gayatri blood, that's where the wings come from. And my mother was a pure-bred Muse. Then there's Aeno and Yama... I don't think that's all of it, but it's all I can remember. Why? Is it important?"

"They're trying to figure out if you're evil," Bess said.

"By asking about my heritage? How interesting."

"Most demon species have very set tradition," Wesley said to excuse himself. The more he fought, the more he saw evidence that this wasn't entirely true, but it was a guide better than most.

"Yes... it's a pity, really. My love is for music, and so I am Gandharva. If I were obliged to do everything my ancestors did in each species, I'd be torn apart." He grinned. "I've been told that the reason the sanskrit word Asura can mean both god and demon is because we were all one to begin with. Who says we can't be one again?"

"I could think of a few people right in this room," Doyle commented wryly, echoing Wesley's thoughts.

"Long before I was born there were three demons who created a caste with every evil they could find," Raja said, stroking his chin in deep thoughts. "All sorts of rabble, in this dimension and others. But I'm willing to bet that even among them there are people ready for redemption. Maybe I'm just an optimist."

"I'd go for naive," Doyle went. "But not evil. Or what do you say?"

"No," Wesley said. What Raja was saying might be considered trite and unrealistic by more cynical people, but there was no mistaking his honesty. That took a load off his heart, but whatever Bess may think it wasn't the end of his objections. "You seem nice enough."

"Thank you."

Eyes the colour of whiskey held his, and he knew that he wasn't tricking the demon.

"Do you have any specific plans for the future?"

"I told you," Bess said impatiently. "India."

"It's easier to disappear in India. We could have a house and live almost like humans. I don't want this to be harder on Elizabeth than it has to be."

"What about the child?" Doyle asked. "What do you have in mind for him?"

Wesley had been meaning to ask something similar, but was relieved he didn't have to play Devil's advocate all the time.

"He would have to live like a demon, at least when he's young. When he is old enough to be cautious, he can make his choice, like my other children have."

"You have other children?" Wesley should have expected that. The man was 800 years old and had been married five times, it would have been stranger if he hadn't been a father already.

"Nine living, four dead. Most can pass if they choose, although only two do it habitually." Raja smiled a little. "A cross-breed marriage is tricky, but it isn't a catastrophe."

"Of course it isn't!" Bess stood up, irritated. "What's wrong with everybody? It never occurred to me that I could fall in love with a demon, but I have, and nothing's going to change that. Why do you have to keep focusing on the bad things?"

"Because you refuse to!" Wesley couldn't hide his irritation. "You're giving up life as you know it to live with this man, and that's your right. But what do you say in five years when your child wants to know why he can't fly outside? What if he wants to go swimming - or go to school? What do you do when he wants to know why the demon fullbreeds are calling him names? What happens if he can't pass and you can never tell a human you have him - or if he passes too well and can't afford to be seen with his father? This is a serious question, Bess, it won't go away because you love each other, and I want to know what you would do!"

"I don't know!" she yelled, making everyone around stare at her. "How am I supposed to know, this has never happened to me before!? But this is a real baby, Wesley. It's going to be born no matter what, and I want to have it and love it and be with it for as long as I possibly can. It's a miracle. Why can't people see it's a miracle?"

"It is a miracle," Raja soothed her, making her sit down again. He looked straight at Wesley. "You're right, there will be problems. But I'm prepared to face them. And even if Elizabeth isn't, at the very least she's willing to face them."

Wesley wanted to protest at that, explain every detail of what was wrong with this pretty picture they were painting, but he had no right to do that. If he wanted to remain a part of Bess's life he'd have to back away. And although his pessimistic self told him to doubt it, they could actually be happy. Their starting point was bad, but it wasn't the worst imaginable.

"Fine," he said slowly. "I don't like this, and I won't pretend I do. But I honestly wish you all happiness."

"Thank you." The smile Bess gave him showed no trace of her previous anger. "That's all I want. The weight of the world we can try on without you."

"There are of course some practical questions," Raja said, leaning forward over the table. "Since I can't go with Elizabeth to India the regular way... oh, blast."

He was looking across Wesley's shoulder at the bar, and Wesley turned around, seeing the bartender point at his watch with a very grim look on his face.

"I'm so sorry." Raja nudged Bess off his lap and stood up. "My break is over. Maybe some other time. Come on up on stage, darling."

"Do you play something?" Doyle asked.

"Good heavens, no!" Bess replied with a laugh. "I don't know a straight tune from an eggplant. I blow soap bubbles."

"But she's an expert on that," Raja said, grinning widely, which had a peculiar effect in his dark face. "Try to avoid the far left tonight, will you? There are Voltar witches at two of the tables."

"No melting the witches."

"Right."

"Hang on," Wesley said as the couple headed for the stage. "Those three demons - what were they called?"

Raja stopped for a second, thinking. "Fenris, Mendes and... ah yes, Actaeon. Why?"

"No reason," Wesley said, knowing he'd look them all up the minute he got back to his book collection.

"Please stop thinking about work," Doyle mumbled to him after the others had left. "It'll give you a headache. I know I have one."

"I'm sorry." Wesley felt a pang of guilt. That speech directed at Bess couldn't have been pleasant for Doyle to hear. "I shouldn't have said all those things. Or taken you here."

"What are you talking about?" Doyle asked, looking at him as if he was expressing himself in some obscure demon dialect rather than English.

"This... nightclub. Drinking. I'm sorry, it never occurred to me..."

The corners of Doyle's mouth tilted up. "Wes. Are you aware of what people here have in their drinks? Blood, squashed animal parts, spells... I bet their martinis come with eyeballs on a stick. I'd rather drink disinfectant."

"I know." Wesley gave the Midnight Chocolate a pointed glance.

"Shut up. Anyway, it's not the drinks. It's not even all this crossbreeding talk. I've just had seven hours of sleep over the past two nights, and I'm tired as hell."

"Oh. Should we go back to the hotel?"

"We can't leave until she does. Besides, I want to listen."

He looked so cute at that moment, even in demon form - no, particularly in demon form - that Wesley had to kiss him.

"Kiss and make it better?" Doyle asked with a wink.

"Yes."

"Okay." There was a moment's pause, and then Doyle said, "I can't help feeling for the poor fellow your sister was supposed to marry. I mean, I've been jilted after the altar and all, but never before."

Wesley groaned. He felt a bit guilty over Stephen, and he wasn't even the one who had deserted him. "I know. It was really disgraceful of her to lie to him so she could elope."

"Yeah... no offence, but she's quite the brat, isn't she?"

"You think? I mean, all she has done is lie to her boyfriend, cheat on him with a demon - or cheat on the demon, depending how you look at it - hang out in demon bars with murderers, run away from people in need, be rude to everyone around her, all in all basically acting like the world revolves around her... and that's just her record for these past few days. Yes. She is a brat. But she's the only member of my family I can actually stand."

"She's got her charms," Doyle admitted. "And I think she really loves you, in spite of what she may say."

Wesley's throat suddenly felt thick, and he hurried to take a sip of the nectar Bess had left behind. "Yes. And that... changes things."

"Love covers a multitude of sins," Doyle quoted.

"It really does." There was no need to specify. Every relationship had its share of problems, and Wesley was sure Doyle remembered their own just as vividly as he did. Their eyes met, and Doyle bit his lip.

"God help us otherwise, right?"

 

"Flush," Wesley said, putting the cards down on the bedspread. "For crying out loud, Bess, stop singing or choose a recognisable tune!"

Doyle had just been thinking the same thing but refrained from saying it. But Bess was really a bit annoying today, and awfully alert for someone who had come home at one thirty and fallen asleep on the couch because there was a middle-aged woman in her bed. The guys were more tired, but had agreed to a card game because there was no getting back to bed as long as she sat by their feet with a perky look on her face. She had all the consideration of a five-year-old.

"It is recognisable. 'Everybody tells me I don't smile enough'," she hummed.

Wesley looked up. "Is that the song? Goodness, it sounded so much better last night when sung by a Siren who could actually carry a tune."

"Oh, shut up. You can't sing either."

"I don't attempt to."

Of course, this wasn't entirely true, as Doyle could remember a few horrible shower attempts and a time at Caritas. Before he could decide whether or not it would be unsportsmanlike to mention it, there was a knock on the door. He saw Wesley stiffen considerably and wondered again if they should have left for another hotel after the Watchers found them. Wesley had spoken in favour of it, but Bess had called him paranoid.

"Can I come in?"

Even Doyle was relieved to find it was just Maureen, and he could see the line of Wesley's shoulders relax as well.

"Sure," he said, while the others chimed in with their own variations.

Her cautious look when she opened the door didn't pass unnoticed, and he wondered if old Ed had decided to show up again.

"There's a woman here to see you. She says she's your mother. Helen Wyndham-Pryce."

Now that was unexpected. Wesley had hardly said two words about his mother, and Doyle wasn't sure what to make of that. Judging from Bess's resigned grimace, it was better than the alternative.

"You were right, we should have left yesterday."

"I know." Wesley's voice was tense, and Doyle glanced at his hands. Perfectly steady.

"Stop being such a smug bastard. Okay, you can let her in."

"Why, thank you so much for that permission," Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce said from the corridor. Her voice was dry, not angry like her husband's, but Doyle didn't dare think that was a good sign. Stepping into the room, she added, "There's nothing as charming as your own daughter letting you wait at the door."

She was a tall and rather good-looking woman of about sixty, with more immediate resemblance to her daughter than to her son. This was even more obvious when Bess crossed her arms and glared back at her.

"What do you want?"

"What do you think I want? You've been making a perfect fool of yourself. Not to mention how horribly you've been treating poor Stephen. And now you're sitting there all high and mighty while this woman gets to decide if I'm to be let in or not."

"That woman is called Maureen, and the only reason she's a little bit wary is because father came here the other day with a bunch of Watchers half tearing up the house, making Doyle throw up and punching Wesley in the face."

Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce snorted, briefly letting her eyes wander over Wesley's black eye. "Well, isn't that just like him."

"I'm surprised you'd even know. You always left when the trouble started."

This was getting deeply personal, and Doyle wasn't sure if he should be polite and leave or stay to be with Wesley. He decided on the latter and glanced at Maureen to see what she would do. She didn't move a muscle. From his mother he moved his gaze to Wesley's, whose face had whitened.

"I'd prefer it if you didn't add childish tantrums to your bad behaviour."

"What bad behaviour, exactly? Falling in love with a man who doesn't fit your idiotic standards?"

"How about making poor Stephen miserable?"

"I did not."

"How you treated him was downright appalling. Not to mention the fact that you then proceeded to run off with a demon." She turned to Wesley for a moment. "And you helping her!"

"What would you have me do?" Wesley asked in a low voice. "It was chaotic in there, with Father's spells flying around."

"Yes, mother, what would you have him do? Or better yet, what would you have me do? You wouldn't let me marry the person I loved, and I couldn't love the one I was supposed to marry. But perhaps I should just have gone along with it, taken it like a lady and spent thirty years in miserable company like you did!"

She screamed the last part, and her mother took a step backwards, but soon came back with full force.

"I never told you to marry Stephen, and I would very much appreciate if you kept my marriage out of this."

"Why should I? Because you're the only one allowed to make a mess of things? Don't you think it affects anyone else when you smile at the world and harp at your family? Why the hell didn't you get a divorce?"

"I won't have you talk like that! It's all water under the bridge anyway, and you're only trying to..."

"The hell it is!"

There was a pause in the shouting when the two women stared at each other. Wesley looked absolutely shell-shocked, and Doyle chose this moment to slip a hand in his.

"It's not water under the bridge. It could bloody well be the reason it took me twenty-four years to find someone I could trust and had to hide it when I did. And from what I can tell, it's the same for Wesley."

Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce turned her head to look at Wesley, and Doyle contemplated taking his hand away, but it was too late for that. And in any case, her husband was bound to have told her.

"Well, what do you want me to do about it?" she asked. Her voice was still cool and dry, but she sounded very tired. "I don't think my mistakes excuse yours, and I really don't see how anything I could do would make a difference."

"Divorce him."

"Don't be silly."

"I'm not being silly. Divorce him. You hate him, why shouldn't you?"

"I will not make a spectacle of myself."

Doyle noticed that she didn't object to the idea that she hated her husband, and it seemed Wesley was ready to take the statement at face value as well. So, new piece for the puzzle that was the Wyndham-Pryce family. If he had known about this when he'd been to college, he probably wouldn't have claimed that Ingmar Bergman had to be lying in his autobiography, nobody's parents were that weird. He desperately didn't want to be there listening to this. Didn't want it to happen at all, with Wesley in the middle of things.

Bess laughed quietly. There were tears in her eyes. "That's always the point for you, isn't it? It has to be perfect, and maybe if we all pretend it is, it'll come true! If we just say we're above all other families, we don't have to notice the fact that they like each other, and if we say the children are doing their homework..." She started sobbing, and Wesley's fingernails dug deeply into Doyle's hand. "Then they won't be locked into some cupboard. You know what the worst part was? Thanking him. Every time, I had to thank him for punishing me. Did you know that? You were never around for that part."

Her mother closed her eyes for half a second before replying, "He was the head of the family."

"Says who!?" Bess had been keeping her voice low for the latest parts of the argument, but now she shrieked her question. "Your friends? Tradition? Some prenuptial? I don't care! I want to know why you never did anything. You saw what he did to us! God, mother, did you ever even love us?"

The question hung in the air until Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce raised her head, her eyes meeting her daughter's. "I tried very hard not to."

"God, mum." The term of endearment struck harder because Bess's voice was now down to a heartbroken whisper. "Just.. leave. Please."

Without another word, the older woman opened the door and disappeared down the corridor, shoulders slumping. Bess remained in the middle of the room with her hands closed into fists, but Doyle quickly stopped paying any attention to her as Wesley sank down on the bed. Sitting down as well, Doyle wrapped his arms around him, trying to counter what just happened. In the corner of his eye he could see Maureen patting the back of Bess's head, and he was grateful for that. Someone should be there for the girl, and he had other priorities.

"Poor woman," Maureen said with an absent-minded sigh.

Doyle assumed that she was speaking of Bess and didn't react until Wesley lifted his gaze from his lap and stared with hurt surprise at Maureen. So she'd meant their mother.

"Say what?"

"Well, I'm certainly not taking her side... but she seems awfully lonely."

That was a peculiar thing to say at a time like this, and Doyle watched his mother carefully, trying to understand. He was well aware that this was the family reunion from Hell, but he couldn't see where that made Wesley's mother a victim. She'd been the one to desert her kids when they needed her, not the other way around.

And then it struck him just why Maureen sympathised so much with the other woman's situation, and it was loyalty to her, more than sympathy for some rich bitch he'd never met before in his life, that made him place a quick kiss on Wesley's lips and stand up.

"Got to go," he said, hoping he was doing the right thing.

He grabbed his jacket and stuck his feet in his shoes. Waiting for the elevator he put them on properly, and on the way down stood drumming his fingers on the wall. His three fellow passengers looked at him strangely, but he didn't care. When he reached the ground floor he had half decided this was a bad idea, but he still ran through the lobby and out into the street. Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce had only reached the next block. Thank God she was walking.

"Hey," he said when he came up to her, and she looked at him with irritation before recognition crossed her face.. Then it changed to caution and something resembling disdain. She shook her head and returned her gaze to the street, still walking.

"What do you want?"

"I was thinking we should talk. We're practically in-laws anyway."

He wouldn't have expected a lady like that to be able to stumble over her own feet, and it was strangely reassuring to see it.

"Was a joke? Because it makes a remarkably tasteless one."

"Not a joke." She was really a freakishly tall woman, and walking so quick he had to take double steps to keep up with her. Served him right for saying he liked tall brunettes. But it didn't matter if he liked her or not. With Wesley in his life he couldn't pretend like she didn't exist.

"Do you honestly believe," she said, hurrying her steps even more, "that just because you and my son have some... affair, this has anything to do with you?"

"Yeah, I do. See, I love Wesley, and from what you said about trying very hard not to, I'd say you love him too."

Although she didn't slow her steps, she finally looked at him. "Is there a point to this?"

"Yeah." Doyle licked his dry lips, trying to remember exactly what the point was. "You're going to end up alone. And I wouldn't care - except I know that Wesley would. See, it's like this. If you can't forgive people you care about you're going to feel like shit if bad things happen to them."

He stopped to think about that, stunned that something so like a philosophic statement had come from his mouth. It seemed to have surprised Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce as well. For a moment her face seemed almost pitiful.

"So you think I should go back and apologise to make Wesley feel less guilty?"

"You could do it for yourself too," he suggested. "Listen, I'm partly selfish here. I live with this guy. Helping him with his problems makes my life better, too."

She stopped and turned, staring into his eyes. Right then, she looked like Wesley in some undefinable way. "What do you do for a living?"

That was just so completely out of the blue that he stood there open-mouthed trying to recall if this was some absurdist play and he'd forgotten his script.

"What?"

"Do you have a job at all?"

"Sure I do. Uh... at the moment I work for a tailor. Doing his finances, mostly."

"You're an accountant?" The shock in her voice would have been more amusing if he hadn't partly recognised himself in the picture she seemed to have made of him.

"No, not really. The guy needed someone for the job and I stepped in." Because it was as hard to find an accountant willing to work for a demon as it was for a half-demon bum with an unreliable mind to find places to work. "I used to be a teacher. Third grade."

The shock disappeared, but the way she looked at him had still changed slightly. "Why did you stop?"

Damn. He hadn't realised she wasn't aware of what he was. Lying wasn't really an option, but telling the truth could only get him and Wesley both in trouble. He hoped she didn't carry spells around like her husband did. "My demon side manifested."

He had to hand it to her, she had the ladylike style in complete control. The steel rod didn't for a minute leave her spine although her eyes filled with loathing and fear.

"Demon? You're a demon?"

"Part demon. Once I found out about that, being around kids wasn't a top priority."

"I see. So, both of them, then. All that rubbish Edward filled them with, and this is how it ended up."

At that moment, he could see what his mother had seen, and he felt sorry for her. "Could have been worse," he pointed out gently. "What with the habits Bess had... I've met the bloke. He's nice enough."

She didn't reply, and he slowly started to walk back to the hotel. He'd said what he'd come to say. Anything now was up to her.

"Wait."

She didn't take a single step towards him, trusting that her voice would be enough. And of course it was, not because she knew how to command people but because he needed to make this work, for Wesley. He turned around.

"What's your name?"

"Doyle."

"Doyle... I'm Helen."

There was a shadow of a smile on her face for a split second that almost made her seem shy. Then she hurried off.

 

Wesley looked at Doyle, who was lying on the bed with his shoes on, reading "The Tale of the Unknown Island", clearly aware that he was being watched, but making no sign to admit it. He had flipped down the moment he came back from wherever he had gone, and had lain there staring at the ceiling for so long Wesley had begun to fear another hallucination was coming on. Eventually he'd picked up the slim volume, and now he was more than halfway through it.

Wesley sat down and stroked Doyle's hair, and was rewarded by a little smile that nevertheless was a bit too dismissive for his liking.

"I don't understand why you don't like this book. It's really nice."

"Doyle, please." It wasn't like him to be this teasing. "What did you say? What did she say?"

Doyle sighed and rolled over to face him. "I don't know. It was a weird conversation. I told her to make up with you two, but I don't know if she'll do it."

The thought of Doyle pleading with Wesley's mother to go back was heartwarming in a way, but it was also deeply humiliating. Particularly if it didn't work. Wesley frowned. "You didn't have to do that."

"Yes I did. You get hurt, I want to fix it. That's the way it works. You can't tell me you don't feel the same."

Wesley thought back of the many books he'd gone through looking for mind-healing spells and didn't argue.

"Then what?"

"I told her of my demon side."

That was bad on so many levels. Wesley felt his hands go clammy. "What did she say?"

There was a short pause, and then Doyle said, with an odd expression on his face, "I think she blamed your father."

That was so ludicrous Wesley almost burst into laughter. Of course he should have expected it. His mother never missed an opportunity to blame every flaw in the world on his father, and quite often she had a point. In this case, though... well, she could have taken it a lot worse, he supposed. But then, it would have been utterly unlike his mother to start screaming or have any of the expected reactions to such a discovery.

"And then what?" he asked, now more curious than anything else.

"She asked what my name was. I said Doyle, she said Helen, then she left." Doyle smiled at him. "I told you it was weird."

Entertainment value was suddenly gone. "She told you to use her first name?"

"Well, I already knew her last one." Sensing Wesley's discomfort, Doyle continued, "What's wrong with that? You're on a first-name basis with my mother."

"It's not the same." And it really wasn't. Apart from family members, hardly anyone used his mother's first name. Even her friends called her by her surname. And now she'd offered it to a man she'd only met for ten minutes - and a half-demon man on top of it all. She must really have liked him. Wesley felt ashamed of himself for being so jealous.

Maybe Doyle understood some of this, because he reached out a hand and pulled Wesley down next to himself, his mouth seeking out his lover's collarbones. Wesley closed his eyes, trying to enjoy the situation and forget everything else.

"Hey, you," Doyle said with great enthusiasm.

"Hey." The day was beginning to brighten up.

Then the phone rang.

Both men sat up abruptly, sharing a disappointed sigh. It obviously had to happen right now. Wesley untangled himself from Doyle and walked up to the phone, hoping it would spontaneously combust before he reached it.

"Hello?"

"You have a phone call from a miss Cordelia Chase, do you want to take it?"

No, he most certainly did not. "Yes, please."

"Wesley?" Cordelia's voice was exasperated. "I had a vision that looks English, I thought maybe it concerned you."

How on earth could a vision look English? Probably better not to ask. Wesley picked up the hotel pen and note pad. "Okay, shoot."

"There's this demon in danger. Big, black guy with wings..."

"That'd be Raja." In danger? Well, that was hardly unexpected with the Watchers on the trail. The sooner the loving couple was out of the country, the better.

"Raja?"

"He's... a friend. What kind of danger is he in?"

"Hang on, Lorne is babbling something."

He heard talking in the background, and then Lorne's silken voice was in his ear.

"Did I hear right, pumpkin? We're actually talking about the Raja?"

"I don't know about 'the' anything. His name is Raja, he plays the saxophone in a nearby club..."

"Oh my goodness! I knew that description sounded familiar. You've gone and made friends with the Raja? With the world's leading demon musician?"

"Well, he's certainly good," Wesley said.

"Not just good. He's the leader of us all. Music is what we worship, but we answer to him. They say he's better even than Rani Bubu who reigned before him, but that was five hundred years ago, so I couldn't say."

"Reigned?" But of course, that was what Raja meant. He should have thought of it earlier. The wings, the Muse mother - of course this wasn't just any musician. "Lorne, are you a Gandharva?"

"Well, not technically. I applied for membership, but I'm still in training. These things takes years, you know."

"Do you know how many others there are? Gandharva, I mean?"

"Oh, there must be millions of them. But the Raja only reigns over this dimension, and I think we're about fifty thousand. But that's still fifty thousand depending on you to save him, now!"

"Save him from what, exactly?"

"Didn't Cordelia tell you? There's some guy out there who's going to shoot him."

 

"What guy?" Doyle asked for the umpteenth time as he gathered the few belongings he had brought to the hotel room.

"I don't know." Wesley didn't mind the tedious conversation, because he could understand the sentiment. Things just never worked out easy. At least now they were finally leaving the hotel. Bess hadn't taken the threats to herself seriously, but she'd obliged right away when it was about her boyfriend. Maybe this really was true love.

"But it wasn't your father?"

"According to Cordy's vision it was a young man. Would you call my father young?"

"I wouldn't call your father at all."

This actually made him laugh. His shoulders were tense, and he was building up a headache, and the laughter made him feel better. And that was why Doyle had done it, of course. They'd both been badly affected by the situation - hell, Doyle had been hallucinating three times in the past forty-eight hours, and short as they had been, it was high enough above his average to be scary.

"God, no, me neither."

Someone knocked on the door. They looked at each other.

"Your fault for bringing him up," Wesley said. But he knew it wasn't his father. The knock was too hesitant, too weak, and his stomach tied up in something that could have been anticipation. And he didn't know if he was happy or sad, frightened or reassured to open the door and see his mother there.

"Hello," he said. Stupid, brainless, but safe.

"I just wanted you to know..." She halted for a moment, eyes drifting behind him - to Doyle, he knew - and then back. "I apologise. I'm very sorry for all that has happened."

How very formal she sounded, as if declining a dinner invitation. It was endearing, in a way, but he noticed this almost distantly. He should be feeling something. He was feeling something, but what on earth was it?

"Apology accepted," he replied, because it was clear she meant it, and who was he to make her unhappy?

"And I do love you."

That should have made him happy. He knew it should have made him happy, he'd been hoping for it ever since Doyle came back with laboured breath and a puzzled expression. But all he could feel was "oh no". Not now, not here, he couldn't take all this. What he wanted was to get his baby sister out of the country with her otherworldly lover, preferably without anybody getting shot, and then get the hell out of there himself, with his otherworldly lover.

"Mother, please, we have things to do."

"I see. Yes. You would have. Um..."

Had she just ummed? His mother didn't um. She loathed people who did, found it sloppy.

"About this demon business... I can't say I'm happy with your life choices. But they're yours to make, and... It's not as if I'm going to have any sons in law that aren't demons. Or aren't sons, for that matter. So I suppose I have to accept what is."

"But I'm not sure I do." And now he knew what it was he felt, and that red pit in his stomach wasn't dangerous, it didn't have to be subdued. He could let it free, and that knowledge made him feel so damned good that he didn't have to lash out, he could stay calm and even friendly as he told her, "I'm not even sure I want to forgive you right now. And I certainly can't. Not just like that."

He stopped for a moment, staring at the wallpaper as if it could provide him with some answers.

"Bess is right, isn't she? You do believe that if you say everything is all right, it will be. Well, that's not the way it is. Coming in here today doesn't make up for the past thirty years. No matter what comes in the future, those years still happened."

She had the oddest look on her face. It was half-hidden between the stiff surface, like her emotions always were, but that wasn't what made it hard to read. After all this time, he'd learned how to make out her moods from her face. No, there was something else. He didn't recognise the expression, or was misreading it somehow...

"You won't forgive me?"

"Not for the time being, no."

"Thank God for that." Her wrinkled hand touched his cheek for a split second. "I'll call you."

The door closed, and only then did he understand. It was pride. He'd been seeing pride in his mother's face, the first time he'd met her without trying to please her. Seeking an explanation, he turned to Doyle, who looked like a child in a Christmas film.

"I don't understand."

Doyle came up to him, hugging him tightly and leaning his head on Wesley's shoulder. "You finally snapped, Wesley. Sure, you did it as a gentleman, but you did it. Christ, I've been waiting for this for months."

 

"And you know what to do?" Doyle asked Maureen.

She looked at him very patiently. Wesley had asked the same thing less than a minute ago.

"I'll be waiting by his parents' house to make sure no one is leaving, or following you, and if 'anything anything anything' happens, I'll call you up. These aren't complicated instructions, Frankie."

"I know they're not. Just follow them. And I'm sorry it had to be you, but..."

"They know what you two look like."

"We wouldn't let you stand there alone, but..."

"There's no one to spare."

He finally shut up and nodded. What really worried him was that Wesley had let slip that there was some sort of Special Operation part of the Council, people more comfortable with an Uzi than with a bag of books. Having his mother as the only thing between those guys and their wanted demon couldn't possibly be a good thing.

"Take care, though?"

He half expected her to roll her eyes, but she didn't. Of course not. She knew as well as he did why he fussed so much.

"Goodbye," she said, hugging him lightly. "Call me when she's out of the country."

"We will."

Once she was gone he sat there biting his nails, waiting for the ten minutes to pass so they could get the hell out of there as planned. Bess gave him a smile that was probably supposed to be reassuring. It would have worked a lot better if she hadn't been pale as a ghost and twirling her fingers.

"I think I love your mother."

Figured she'd say it to him, rather than to her. In some ways, she and Wesley were so similar.

"Yeah, she's fairly amazing." He tried to smile, but found himself glancing at his watch for the twentieth time. Ten minutes finally up. "Can we go now?"

They grabbed their luggage and headed out on the street, and Doyle was eternally grateful never to have to see the inside of that hotel again. Sure, he'd been to places a thousand times worse, but at least nobody had asked him to be polite about them. He could feel Wesley's worried glance on the back of his head, but didn't say anything. They were all stressed, damn it, not just him.

Just in case someone slipped past Maureen they weren't meeting Raja at the club, but at a cafe a few blocks down from it. There were still enough shady alleys and dead ends around to work the whole disappearing-into-another-dimension mojo, however that was supposed to be done.

The bags were heavy to carry, but not unmanageable if you shifted the weight from time to time. The streets in this part of town weren't exactly crowded, but there were more than enough people around to stop them from going three in a row on the pavement. There were pretty people all around, well worth a look, and on the other side of the road Harry came in that pretty blue dress of hers, swaying a little, probably humming a tune like she did when she was happy. She was standing in a corner of their bedroom screaming her lungs out, and he wanted to comfort her, tried so hard, but he didn't know what the hell was going on anymore, and it scared the hell out of him. He pleaded, cried, but she just kept on screaming, and he wanted to scream himself.

"Doyle."

Harry was still screaming, but Harry was also walking down the road, and there was someone holding on to him, shaking him gently.

"Doyle, listen to me. Listen."

And it was just a woman in a blue dress, rounding a corner as he watched. He looked up at Wesley and shook his head slightly at the scowl he saw there. Bad timing. But what was he to do about it?

"Four in two days," Wesley muttered, as if he needed to be reminded. He knew it was only worry, but mother of God, it was irritating.

"I know."

"Fine. The cafe's over there. Think you can make it that far?"

Teasing was a lot better, and Doyle gave him a playful shove. He could see Raja now, sitting outside the cafe across the road on one of those cracked plastic chairs that were essential to every half-decent eating place on the planet. He was wearing a worn backpack over his coat, and if Doyle could see the outlines of a pair of wings under it, it was only because he knew they were there.

Bess stepped past Doyle and out into the street, where she stopped at the refuge. She didn't say anything, but apparently Raja had seen her anyway, because he turned his head and flashed a white smile at her. As soon as the nearby cars had passed she hurried by, smiling with all her face. Doyle and Wesley followed close behind, but they didn't exist in the larger scheme of things.

"I knew you'd be here," she told her lover, and he, hiding his face in her hair, replied,

"I said so, didn't I?"

 

"Mummy, why doesn't that man have any ears?"

"Shh!"

"But why doesn't he..."

The mother pulled her little boy away with force, and Raja grinned.

"See what I mean?" he said, and then continued without waiting for an answer, "Anyway, I've called upon a pair of friends. They'll be by soon, and then Elizabeth and I will have a little journey." He lowered his voice. "An interdimensional one."

"So you'll take her to the ethereal dimension?" Wesley asked, not sure if this was an immense honour for his sister or only terrifying. There would be no reaching her by phone, that was for sure.

"Only for the trip, we'll go down in India as soon as possible. I can pass in many places, but the airport X-rays..."

Wesley stocked that information in the back of his head for future reference, along with the odd looks that Raja got but that never seemed to lead to anything . He was aware that his expression was so transparent he might as well have been taking notes, but he ignored both Doyle's apparent amusement and Bess's annoyance.

"So you'll be out of here within an hour?" he asked.

"Or less. That should be enough, shouldn't it?"

Wesley and Doyle looked at each other.

"It's just the thing with these visions," Doyle explained, "that they tend to come true."

"So if she saw a guy shoot me," Raja spread his arms, "I'm shot?"

"Not necessarily," Wesley hurried to say. "But it's definitely a risk we'll have to take into consideration."

It was only then he realised that Bess had fallen very quiet, which was unlike her. Her eyes were fixed upon something across the road.

"Bess?"

"Look!" she hissed, and he followed her gaze, in time to see the young man cross the road and draw something from his khaki jacket.

"Oh, dear God, Stephen!"

Wesley froze, trying to calculate the threat. It was almost impossible to think Stephen could ever shoot anyone, even a demon. He'd been expecting a trained Watcher, not a scorned boy next door. But Cordelia had gotten a vision, and that meant the threat was real. All in all, the best thing to do was to step in front of the others. He knew Stephen would stop to think before attempting to shoot him.

"Okay, uhm..." Why couldn't he come up with something snappy to say? Or at the very least something coherent would be nice. But this was Stephen the human puppy dog, not any of the innumerable demons he had gotten used to. People around had stopped to stare, but didn't start crying for the police as you might expect, probably not sure if this was reality or some sort of performance art.

"Step away," Stephen said, probably trying to sound warning. What a mess.

"No, I won't. This is ridiculous. Stephen, he's not what you think..."

"Oh really?" He raised the gun. "I'm not so sure."

"What about me?" Bess had stepped up next to Wesley and held her shaking arms out like a human crucifix. "I'm the one who lied to you, and cheated on you, and got you involved in all this mess. Aren't you mad at me?"

"Yes." But he didn't for one second take his eyes off the tall demon that his gun was pointing at. "You're a damned fool, Bess, you always were. Always had to do things that were bad for you and hope for someone to come and save you."

That wasn't entirely untrue, Wesley had to admit, but it certainly wasn't something to punish an innocent person for, either. And Stephen hadn't been indoctrinated by the Council to quite the same degree as everyone else in his insane home, he should be able to take reason. Except, of course, that among the things he would have picked up was "demons bad" and a gun that could very well be enchanted, and why wouldn't people around do something? This was a gun, not a vampire, no reason to treat it like it couldn't be real.

"He's part Muse," Wesley said in the desperate hope that this might make a difference, but Stephen had steadied his hand in a way that indicated he was about to pull the trigger.

Taking hold of Stephen's arms he heard the gunshot, vaguely aware of the fact that he was right in front of the muzzle, and then he felt a familiar pain in the stomach. Oh hell, not again. He heard Stephen say "holy shit" in a very small voice, but was too preoccupied with sinking to the ground to pay much attention. Something smelled funny, but he couldn't figure out what. Doyle was holding his hand and Raja examining his wound, while Bess was standing out of sight hollering off the top of her lungs:

"Now you shot my brother! Happy, you bastard? Why isn't anyone calling the police?"

Doyle's hand was still caressing his, but he made a sudden grimace that was half-humorous.

"I could think of a reason."

And that's when Wesley saw that Raja had ripped his wings right through the backpack so that they now formed a feathery ceiling over the three of them.

"Sorry about that," Raja said sheepishly. "I got a bit upset."

He finally stopped poking around the wound. "You're lucky. It only hit a rib." Looking up, he asked, "Do you have anything to apply to it?"

"Yeah, sure." Doyle hurried to take off his jacket - his good jacket, the one that didn't even look second-hand - and rolled it into a ball with the lining on the outside. He pressed it down to the wound. It hurt. And apparently it hurt Doyle as well, because he snatched his hand aside and stared at the stains of Wesley's blood as if they had been acid.

"What the hell was that?"

Things finally clicked in Wesley's head. That smell. "The old sulphur spell again, I'm afraid."

"God, I should have known." Doyle breathed out between his teeth, and then looked up at Raja. "But then why weren't you affected?"

Raja seemed confused. "Why would I be?"

And suddenly Wesley realised which spell his father had been using. It had troubled him before, because an anti-demonic spell is most definitely useful, and someone should have told him about it. And they had, a long time ago. It was one of innumerable spells that would keep low level demons away while doing nothing about the really dangerous ones. Straining flies and swallowing camels.

"He must have thought you were a partbreed. Which you're most definitely not. It's the Muse side, it looks human. I think father assumed you were a lot less powerful than you really are."

"So you think your father is behind this?"

"I don't think 'The Beige Avenger' is something that sprung from Stephen's brain, that's for sure," Bess said, sitting down under the wings. "He ran away, the poor wuss. Was it enchanted?"

"Quite a bit," Wesley said wryly. He was beginning to feel a bit lightheaded. "But it doesn't affect humans or fullbloods, so as long as I don't bleed all over Doyle - can you help me up, please?"

Raja pulled him to standing position and attempted to keep him steady. He looked around, seeing the wide circle around them where nobody dared to step, and at some distant horrified, fascinated people.

"Do you think there's any chance we could still pretend this is performance art?"

A loud "whoosh" made him look to the left and see a large green demon. Before he could make out its exact features, a similar sound came from the right. This demon was deep purple.

Bess smirked. "Somehow I doubt it."

"Raja," the demons said, bowing down on the ground. "Rani. We are ready to take you away."

"Well, we're not!" Raja looked helplessly at his bride-to-be, and then at Wesley, who shook his head impatiently.

"Unless I'm mistaken, you're not a doctor. And I've certainly been hurt worse than this. You get going, and I'll find a hospital."

"Are you sure?"

"Well, it would certainly be easier for me to get sewn up if I weren't in the company of three demons."

"Four with Doyle," Bess pointed out.

"Five with your baby, but that's less than apparent, isn't it?" His head was now so light he would have laughed if it hadn't hurt too much. "Now, get going!"

Raja sought Bess's approval, and she nodded slightly. "All right. I'll call you when we get there."

"Do that."

She put her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. "Don't bleed out on me now."

"Are you ready, Rani?" the purple demon asked.

She took a step back. "Yes, thank you, Bansi."

"Hold on to the Raja."

Four whooshes later, Doyle and Wesley were alone.

"Well, that was interesting," Wesley muttered, trying not to panic at the thought of his sister going across the world in the ethereal dimension. Doyle held on to his shoulders, careful not to touch the wound, but didn't answer. He was too busy looking around, a dazed expression on his face.

"I don't believe this."

"What?" And then he saw what Doyle was referring to. People were just walking along, minding their own business, as if nothing had happened at all. A few seemed somewhat exited, but no more than they would have been if it had really all been an act. He smiled, knowing that Raja had been right in his assessment of what humans would notice. "Doyle, before you found out about your demon side, would you have thought it possible that three demons could come from nowhere and snatch away a young girl?"

"Hardly."

"Well then. If it isn't possible, it can't have happened."

Doyle shook his head. "People are idiots."

"Some people are idiots. Other people are doctors. Do you mind taking me to one of the latter kind?"

A slender arm slipped in behind his back to hold him steady. "Not at all."

 

"So she's all right, then?" Maureen asked in a low voice on the bus to Liverpool.

Five minutes after Doyle picked up a phone she had arrived in the emergency room, ready to take on any doctor who gave Wesley less than exemplary care. It had taken half an hour before she accepted that the wound wasn't very serious, and much longer before they had managed to convince her that he didn't need to stay the night. Not until now had she asked about Bess.

Somehow this warmed Wesley. Obviously, his thoughts were a jumble of facts, with Bess somewhere on top and "ouch" interfering at regular intervals, but it felt good that Maureen cared enough to put everything else on hold. Even Doyle had been concerned with other things, such as whether or not they had to cancel their tickets home. Regular brushes with danger had made them both awfully pragmatic.

"She is," Doyle said. "Some friends of Raja's picked her up. Intimidating looking fellows, but they seemed nice enough."

"That's good." She sat silent for a while, and then admitted in a by-the-way manner, "I'm going to miss her."

Wesley smiled. It was always like that. Bess could drive anyone crazy, but she tended to leave an impression. Finding yourself without her was like getting rid of your alarm clock, you kept waking up at six thirty expecting it to ring.

"I know. Me too."

"I always wanted a daughter."

Doyle's head jerked up, and if it had been possible, his eyes would have popped out like a cartoon character's. "Wow. Nice to know that."

Since it was quite clear that Maureen wasn't having a moment of regret, Wesley rolled his eyes. Whatever issues Maureen could have had, her child's gender was probably not one of them. Obviously, that could be the reason Doyle chose to react on it.

"Well, I did. Nothing wrong with sons, but it would have been nice with a girl."

"Oh, I get it. That's why you were always so keen on Harry."

Suddenly the banter wasn't all that amusing anymore. Wesley didn't normally mind the Harry thing. So Doyle had been married. He wasn't married now. It had been practically a non-issue between them, and he hadn't stopped to think that maybe it wasn't for Maureen. Even if she was okay with him being a man, she might not be okay with him not being Harry.

And then she looked straight at him, with a quirk of her eyebrow that was familiar by association. She diverted her gaze almost immediately, instead smiling sweetly at her son.

"Harry is a very nice girl. She always calls me on my birthday, for one thing. But you know what?"

She leaned in, and Doyle did, too.

"What?"

"I think Wesley is better for you."

Two white smiles headed in his direction, and he looked down. The burning in his chest wasn't only due to the wound. He appreciated what they were trying to do, but he didn't intend to get sappy about it.

"Hey," Doyle whispered in his ear, making it uncomfortably hot, but that was okay. "I think my mum likes you."

He smiled. Maybe he was a sap. "My mum likes you too."

"And you really hate that, don't you?"

His ear tickled at Doyle's laughter, and he put up a hand in defence against more hot breath. "Yes. I do."

And it was true, in part, but he also felt oddly comforted about it. In a very messed up way, it resembled actual family relations.

 

EPILOGUE

Quit playing Hamlet, my son. Your kind stepfather isn't the King of Denmark, I'm not Queen Gertrude, and this isn't Elsinor Castle, no matter how dreary it looks.

Doyle had been the one to switch on the TV, but right after an unbelievably charming display of a Christmas celebration Maureen had called, and now Wesley sat alone watching an increasingly troubling film that according to the TV guide wasn't about to end any time soon.

"Yeah, you too. Uh-huh. I'll tell him that. Give my best to everyone. Bye."

Doyle finally hung up and came back to the living room, sitting down on the sofa, legs kicked up in Wesley's lap.

"You're paying that phone bill," Wesley said, not taking his eyes off the set.

"Of course. Do you know what mum's saying?"

"What?" Usually, Doyle's conversations with his mother could be very interesting, but he wanted to see this film.

"That you should get the weight of the world off your shoulders." Taking his feet down, Doyle moved closer and put his hand in a strategic place. "But I think you just need someone to turn you into stone."

Someone had been reading up on his mythology. The timing was less than arousing, though, and Wesley just brushed the hand away. "Doyle, please. Need I remind you that you were the one who turned on this film?"

"Yeah, but..." Doyle sat back, leaning on his heels. "Do you really like it that much?"

"I hate it. But I want to see it."

He half expected Doyle to take this as an oxymoron, but he got no argument, only an exasperated sigh and a head in his lap. Doyle's dark hair was perfect to rest your hand in when your mind was occupied elsewhere.

The phone rang, which made the hair leave his lap and head into the kitchen with the rest of Doyle. Wesley sighed, but if he was disappointed, he was also a bit relieved that he wasn't the one supposed to answer the damned thing.

"Hang on... Wes? For you."

Apparently he'd been counting his blessings too soon. "Can't you take a message?"

"I have a feeling you want to hear this."

There was something about Doyle's face that made him rise, with one last glimpse at the set, and head out without hesitation or desire to stay. "Watch it for me."

"Okay."

He picked up the phone. "Hello?"

"Hi there."

The moment he heard the voice he knew why Doyle had wanted him to take this personally, even though Doyle could hardly have known it himself. Not for sure, at least, but it had been more than eight months. "Bess. How are you?"

"Fine, thank you. And so is Arati. You're an uncle, Wes."

He wasn't going to cry. He was not. "I am?"

"She's the most beautiful thing in the world. She's got little wings that are all ruffled, and eyes as blue as a kitten's, although Raja says that'll change. She's got my nose, though. And ears, she has those."

"That's nice. Congratulations." He couldn't think of any good things to say. "And her name is Arati?"

"Rani Arati. Rani in case she's the next Gandharva Queen, although knowing my lack of musical ear I doubt it. And Arati means 'hymns sung in praise of God'. I picked it from a list."

"It's a lovely name."

"I thought so." Her voice was getting muffled. "Goodness, I'm all weepy here, you wouldn't believe it."

"Oh yes, I would." He paused for a moment, and then asked, "Bess, are you sure you're all right? India isn't exactly a safe place."

"I'm not actually in India. Well, I am right now, but only to make the call. We moved to the ethereal plane when the troubles started. Thinking about getting a flat somewhere more down to earth though."

"I can recommend Los Angeles."

"For spiritual music? I'm not so sure. Listen, I have to hang up soon... how are you and Doyle?"

"We're fine. You're not about to become an aunt."

"Your humour only gets worse with age. Seriously, are you okay?"

Wesley watched his lover, who half-reclined on the sofa watching the film with reluctant interest. That charming sprite of a man, with more quirks and corners to his two sides than Wesley could ever hope to explore. A pain to be with at times, but worth it, every second of the day.

"I'll get back to you on that one."

 

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