He lay there panting. There wasn't much more he could do. The first few moments after hitting the ground were spent mastering the hunger brought on by the injury, the next few with remembering how to breathe.
Kate was sitting a few feet away, her knees drawn up to her chest, rocking slightly in an attitude of shock, her head in her hands. Indistinct voices crackled in the static from her radio, but she ignored the instrument. He must have involuntarily shifted or groaned in pain, for she startled badly, jumping to her feet, and quickly put some distance between them.
The voices grew sharper, heard in stereo as the static cleared and the sound echoed from both the radio and the surrounding tunnels.
Survival instincts kicked in; he had to get away. Painfully, he dragged himself to a sitting position, then slowly to his feet, using the wall as a support. His hand gripped his stomach, the wound unnaturally bloodless, yet agonizing as hell. Kate watched him warily from the corner of her eye, keeping him in sight the entire time, the way a bird watched a snake. She edged well away from him and his exit path.
"Kate," he rasped out, "I--"
Angel faltered, cowed by the glare of mistrust and anger radiating from her expression. A sadness rivalling the pain in his stomach clenched his heart. He had lost her friendship but had saved her life -- ultimately a fair trade.
Shadows darkened the mouth of the tunnel, cut by flashlight beams. The silence was broken by calls of Kate's name and communication among the other officers. Angel realized he was on borrowed time. Kate would be hard-pressed to explain his presence, and he didn't want her backed into a corner.
Retreating a few steps, he merged into the gloom, then turned and stumbled back the way he'd come. Wesley would be waiting with the car, but Angel was damned if he knew whether climbing the ladder to the parking garage was a possibility. The wound burned and pulsed, and nausea rose in waves to choke him. He rode it out, doubled over, clutching at the hole in his stomach until some small measure of the pain abated. The hole wouldn't close up for some time -- being made with wood -- but he couldn't wait; he had to leave the tunnels. He had no doubts the police would search this way eventually. Gathering his remaining strength, every step a new agony, he finally reached the ladder. Weak light spilled through the open manhole, suddenly blocked by a worried face.
"Oh, thank God," Wesley exclaimed. "I'd begun to fear for your life."
The ex-Watcher backed away from the manhole, giving Angel room to manuever out of the small space. The car blocked the sight of his emergence from the sewer from prying eyes, but he climbed out as quickly as he was able. Wesley reached a hand out to assist Angel, but the vampire shied away and waved Wesley off.
Wesley remained a few feet away, though a perplexed expression pinched his features behind the small glasses. "Penn?"
"And Kate, is she--"
"She's fine," Angel cut him off.
Angel lifted the edges of his shirt away in response, revealing the raw hole in his abdomen. Unable to hold the demon at bay any longer, Angel let his face morph into its fright mask.
"Dear Lord!" Wesley exclaimed in alarm.
He made an aborted attempt to reach out, but one look at Angel's demon face kept Wesley at minimum safe distance. Though minimum safe distance from a wounded vampire -- even Angel -- was somewhere in the next county to his way of thinking. Still, he had to help, and being in the same car was the only way he could get Angel home. With an abstract prayer to the Powers That Be, Wesley resigned himself to the ride home.
Wesley opened the passenger side door and stepped to the side. Angel managed to fold his tall frame onto the seat, though a groan of anguish, eerily mixed with a growl, escaped his throat. Closing the door and walking around to the driver's side gave Wesley a chance to compose himself, but the time was too short. He slid behind the wheel and got the car pointed in the right direction before taking a surreptitious glance at his passenger.
"Dare I enquire as to what happened?"
"Just drive," Angel ground out irritably.
Wesley remained wisely silent, another quick glance showing him Angel's profile as he leaned back. His eyes fluttered closed and his face morphed back to human as he succumbed to sleep. Wesley breathed a sigh of relief. Traffic was light in the downtown area, a small miracle, and Wesley pulled into the garage beneath the offices a short time later. Angel stirred restlessly and opened his eyes.
"We're home," Wesley informed him quietly.
Angel's movements were listless, stiff-jointed, his face molded into a mask of discomfort, but still human.
"You're obviously in pain. Let me help you, Angel," Wesley offered solicitously.
"No," Angel rasped out. "I'm not -- it's not safe."
He opened the car door and pulled himself out. The door to the garage slid aside and Cordelia rushed out, her concern evident. She threw her arms around Angel's neck, forcing a grunt from him. Wesley met his eyes over Cordelia's head and the message was plain: Cordelia would never be in danger from him, but better safe than sorry.
Wesley gave a tight nod and took Cordelia's arms down from Angel's neck. "He's hurt," Wesley remonstrated.
"Oh! All right." She let out a theatrical sigh. "Florence Nightingvamp, nurse to the undead. That's me. Just add that to my list of duties." She led the way into the apartment, turning on lamps until the space was bright and cheery -- or as much as Angel's space could get. "Let's see," she demanded.
Angel shook his head tiredly. "Just go. I'm fine."
"But Wesley said--"
The tone of his voice was warning enough, and she knew when she was pushing beyond his limits of patience. "Fine. Whatever. See you later." Without another word of argument, Cordelia climbed the stairs and was soon gone.
Wesley watched in awe, thinking how handy a skill that warning glower would be to possess when dealing with Cordelia, or any woman, for that matter.
"You, too, Wesley," Angel ordered, breaking the train of Wesley's thoughts.
"Are you sure you're all right? That wound is quite--"
"I know. I..." Angel never finished, for his knees buckled and he would surely have hit the floor hard had Wesley not caught him.
"Well, this is the very appearance of good health," he observed critically. He helped Angel to the bed, then went about cleansing and bandaging the wound, turning a deaf ear to Angel's protests. He even brought the vampire a meal, a mug brimming with a supply of the blood on hand. As Angel lifted the mug to his lips, Wesley turned politely away and slipped into his discarded jacket. "I'll leave you to your sleep. You certainly deserve it." Thoughtfully flipping the main switch, Wesley left Angel in darkness, alone with his thoughts.
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