Doyle and Wesley

Skelping

A Ghost Story
by the Mad Poetess (rated NC-17)

The first thing Doyle did when he realized he was dead was shout out a great and resounding "Feck all!" Which, on reflection, probably didn't endear him to the Powers That Be, but he figured they owed him a little slack for the number of bloody splitting headaches they'd thrown at him. There was nobody about but him and maybe the invisible Powers themselves, to object to his cry of confused delight, but at least he was there to hear it. It sounded like his own voice, low and still carrying the accent of home, though he didn't really feel the rasping in his throat that he would've if he'd shouted something vaguely obscene into the still night air while he was alive. Not important. It confirmed for Doyle that, lack of white light at the end of a long tunnel and other new-age bollocks notwithstanding, he was really still around. He'd actually managed to make it through the burning and the explosion and the feeling that his body was being eaten away, molecule by molecule, and there was something on the other side of all that.

Not exactly the green, green grass or ever-flowing beer-keg of any Heaven he'd ever been lectured about by Father Carmody or Terry, the bartender at the pub down the end of McCloskey Street, though. Not unless Heaven looked like a run-down shipping dock in the middle of the night, smelled like diesel oil and dead fish, and sounded like waves lapping against half-rotted wooden planking. Not all that heavenly, but at least it was familiar. It was the last place Doyle had seen outside of the claustrophobic cargo hold where he'd died.

Died. He remembered that. Not just the pain, which he'd somehow come through, but before that. Dying, for Cordy, for Angel, for a handful of Lister demons he didn't know, and all the people he'd never even meet, that Angel would live to help. Well, not live to help. Hell, he'd died. And here he was.

The second thing he did, of course, after a little introspection and the realization that he could really use a stiff drink right about now, was to check the package. Well, you did, right? Hurrah, you're still somewhere doing something, existential shite aside, the next logical step is to make sure all the important bits are hanging about where they belong. Mind, such as it was, still functioning, so next down the list... Okay, maybe you didn't, but Alan Francis Doyle did. For the record, all equipment present and accounted for, and still felt vaguely human to his surreptitious fingers. Alone on a dock in the middle of the night, and he's still looking both ways to make sure nobody sees him touching himself, if anybody could see him at all.

Well, fine. At least it was all there, in case he wanted to have a ghostly wank, assuming there weren't any spirited girlies about. Or otherwise. He was perfectly willing to admit (To whom, though? Phantom Dennis?) that a little otherwise wasn't that bad of a thing either. Hell, he was dead. Who was gonna tell him he wasn't manly enough because he admired the sight of black coat-tails flapping behind a tall, dark dead guy, as much as he appreciated those long, tan legs of Cordelia's? Maybe the same invisible folks that weren't watching him make sure the parts were all still in place, but it was about that time Doyle decided he didn't really care. What was the good of being a ghost if you had to worry about haunting a closet?

He set off for...somewhere. Anywhere but dockside, hoping this wasn't somebody's funny idea of Hell, and there really was an L.A. off the edge of this stinking little pisshole. As he walked, or glided, really, toward the lights of the city, Doyle figured out something else: he couldn't touch anything. Nothing besides himself, that is. Waterlogged wooden deck? Sank right through it when he consciously tried to make contact, leaving his feet dangling in the water, which, of course, he couldn't touch either. A bit of concentration, and he could rise above it all, so to speak, and sort of float along on top of the planking, as if he were really walking, but it wasn't the same. He grabbed at the first light pole he could find, and his hands sank into and through it, out the other side. Funny to see these pink fingers sticking out of the wooden pole, wriggling at the world as if Mister Pole had suddenly grown hands and wanted to make friends with all the passers-by, not that there were any.

He couldn't decide if he was depressed by the lack of contact, impressed by the novelty, or still riding the sincerely grateful high of finding out he was around to be here for the choice. He voted tentatively for the last one, and started off in the direction of Angel's place. Just the nearest familiar place, familiar face, and he wanted to see familiar faces, suddenly. An ache, as if he'd lost them, when it had been they who had lost him, hadn't it?

You'd think, if you didn't get the luxury of coming into contact with the pavement, that you wouldn't have to follow it to get from one place in the world to another, he grumbled to himself. After a bit of experimentation, he realized that he didn't. He could float higher than just above the deck, or the asphalt in the carpark. He rose over the dockyard, over the tops of the streetlamps, and just... moved. Faster than he could've run, back when he'd had feet that could slap against the street. The lights were streaking below him, the red and green traffic signals like strands of Christmas decorations, and it might've been Christmas for all he knew. Who knew how long he'd been gone? Who the hell could tell what season it was in Los Angeles, anyway? He could tell what direction the office lay in, though. Just a familiarity that guided him like an onboard tracking system. Huh. Couldn't have afforded one when he was alive, but apparently you got all kinds of options in the new lease agreement...

When he got there, however, there wasn't any there there, as somebody once said about L.A., or maybe it was Detroit? Anyway, no office there, no building to speak of. Just a still-smoldering pile of rubble. Doyle was suddenly seized by the fear that Cordy and Angel were somewhere within that deathtrap, and he was here to guide them home-- the final Home. It would be just like the snotty Oracles to bring him back for something ironic like that, after all. What a bloody waste of a good heroic effort and a damn fine screen kiss, he thought to himself as he dived into the mess.

Empty. Things, yeah, but no people. The office itself was tumbling through a hole in the floor into Angel's flat. Doyle kept trying to touch things--force of habit. Look, there's Cordy's computer. She'll want the files off the hard drive. Look, there's that Degas print that Angel fussed so much about hanging straight. The corner's singed, but he'd like it for his new place, for sure... But there was nothing to touch, and he didn't even know if Angel had a new place. Where they were. What was going on.

To Cordelia's flat, then. If they were alive, and not on the run, surely they would've holed up in her little rent-controlled haven. On the pavement outside the ruin, which was surrounded with yellow police tape, the midnight residents of the neighborhood shuffled past, seeming unsurprised by the destruction. Just another night in L.A., and not one of them appeared to see Doyle as he stood there trying to figure out how to get to Cordy's as the crow, or ghost, flew. With a shrug and a prayer that his built-in guidance system would hold up, he set off.

Once he reached Cordelia's door, he paused, about to knock, then smacked himself in the forehead before pushing through the wood and into the flat itself. He'd found this place for her, he thought and, luck of the bloody Irish, it already had squatters. One of whom was still around the last time Doyle was here, so... He cleared his throat, realized how stupid that was, and did it again in annoyance with himself.

"Dennis?"

A young guy with a bit of a pasty smile on his face made his way out of the kitchen, and from the doorway, Doyle could see that Dennis was moving the same way he did. A little glide, a little dip like he was still trying to walk, even after all the years the kid had been a ghost. Beyond him, a figure lay silently on the couch, and another was propped up in a chair. Neither stirred at the sound of his voice, but they might have been sleeping too deeply to hear. He could hope.

"Doyle?" said the other ghost in surprise, and it was the first time Doyle had heard the voice of Cordelia's benevolent housemate, the first time he had seen the guy's face. Just one more piece of bizarreness to add to an ever-growing list. Well, here's somebody who can see me, at least, he thought with a surprising amount of relief.

"Hey, Dennis. Bet you'll never guess what happened to me..."

 

*****

On the couch, Wesley buried his face deeper into the upholstery, and pretended to sleep. He ached. Oh, dear God, did he hurt. Painkillers were fine, enough to take the edge off, but he felt as if every cut and bruise on his skin were pressed through his entire body. They'd retired from hospital to Cordelia's flat, where the three of them could just be together, somewhere that felt safe. To celebrate, as much as they had the strength for. They'd pulled it off again, or rather, Angel had pulled them out of the fire again, Wesley literally. The celebration, such as it was, had lasted at least a good five minutes, before they'd all looked at each other and mumbled variations on, "Good night, see you when I'm feeling remotely human again." Or as human as some of them ever got.

Wesley knew Angel was awake, staring out the window, and that Cordelia alone slept the exhausted sleep of the too-knowing-to-be-innocent. But would he speak to the dark presence sitting in the chair, acknowledge the fact that he'd been saved from certain death by a true friend? Acknowledge as well the fact that the vampire would never be anything more than that?

He didn't need to. He'd thanked Angel the first moment they were alone together, and he'd looked hopefully for one final time into golden-brown eyes, and met his answer. There needn't be anything said aloud. They were something more than just friends, but would never be lovers, for all of Angel's hundreds of thousands of good, bad, and plainly idiotic reasons, and that was... fine.

Lonely, but fine. He wasn't in love. If he'd been in love, it would've been easier; he could pine. He was good at pining. He'd done it for years in school, after Jeremy Warburton, after Tony Dickens, after Silas, the bloody groundskeeper's son. He was a veritable E.M. Forster on the subject of pining, and he could pull it off very prettily. Not that he'd really been in love with any of them, either, he supposed, from his vast wisdom at this advanced age, but he'd thought he was at the time, and that had been good enough to set off a really excellent pining session. Mooney eyes and steamed-up glasses and blushes whenever they came into the room, and hours alone with "No, I'm a man, I don't want that, can't have that, what would Father think" playing in an endless cycle as the undertone to whatever maudlin eighties band he'd thrown on the stereo.

Wesley knew how to pine, knew how to be a weak, silly idiot and cover it up with harrumphs and macho posturing that didn't fool a living soul. What he didn't have a clue how to do was go out there and find a real relationship, and he'd been hoping that Angel would... What, fall under his spell? Here was somebody he liked, respected, who actually seemed to like and respect him in return, which was more than he could say for any of his previous objects of whatever, male or female. Cordelia liked him now, of course, but he was long past any idea of ever being her lover, and vice versa. The thought actually made him want to giggle, and the desire was hard to stifle. Which meant there would be no pining over Angel, not if he was having trouble controlling hysterical laughter. His ribs ached.

"Wes?" from the corner.

"Go to sleep, Angel. I'm fine." He was, really. Fine. He just needed a beer, and a man. Possibly a man with a beer. That would be nice. Not good with the painkillers, though. He finally managed to drift back to sleep himself, and he had the strangest feeling he was being watched. It wasn't an unpleasant sensation at all, to be studied, and at the same time watched over... Not by Angel, though. Dennis? No, someone else. Maybe the guy with the beer, he thought sleepily.

*****

As it turned out, Dennis knew exactly what had happened to Doyle. Cordy had tossed and turned and cried in her sleep for months, and finally she'd talked to her invisible housemate. Told him everything there'd been to know about Alan Francis Doyle, from the perspective of one Miss Cordelia Chase.

"And what's that, exactly?" Doyle asked, with undisguised curiosity.

It was almost more precious than being able to touch the pavement, is what it was: he'd been missed. Cordy had missed him. Angel had even missed him, and though Cordelia's lips on his were the last physical memory he carried with him before the pain that had changed it all, it was Angel's emotion that touched him the most. The story of the stoic vampire's accidental use of Doyle's name in the office, when referring to this English loaf lying on the couch, cut Doyle to the quick. It brought home the fact that he didn't have a heartbeat, because it wasn't skipping faster.

Angel missed him, had wanted somebody else to be Doyle, if just for a second, just when he was down and distracted. Down, for Angel, that is, which was the kind of mood that would have anybody else looking to be in the depths of Bottle Number Three, with a Darvoset chaser. Angel managed to be depressed so... gracefully. Here he was sitting up in a chair, staring out the window, and he was as far from Doyle as if the younger but just as dead Irishman were in Father Carmody's Heaven, instead of Cordelia's pretty little flat, just a few feet away.

"Angel?" Doyle said, hoping against previous evidence that his voice could touch the real world, if his fingers couldn't. There was no movement from the vampire, no turning of the dark eyes towards the kitchen. Eventually Angel did look up, but it was only to glance at the human who lay near him, as if checking to see that he was still there and whole, before returning his gaze to whatever lay outside the window.

Doyle looked at the sleeping figure on the couch. Angel had called out to the man once, a few moments ago, and he'd answered in a plummy public school accent, tired beyond all imagining, from the weariness and almost slap-happy laughter in his voice. Go to sleep, Angel. I'm fine. He was, too, thought Doyle distractedly, with a little private smile.

"Wes?" he tried, repeating Angel's address to the stranger, thinking half-madly that someone who didn't know him just might be able to hear his voice. Anything was worth a try, but the Englishman just twitched a bit and snuggled into the couch, falling asleep as Doyle watched.

Dennis shrugged sympathetically. "They can't hear me either," he commiserated, and Doyle gave him a half-smile.

"No, but you can pull out chairs and grab a beer can for 'em. Any clue why I can't?" They sat at the kitchen table, in chairs they didn't need, each pretending that he was giving in to his former humanity for the sake of the other, instead of to stifle his own loneliness. Another shrug from Dennis the Oh-So-Helpful.

"No idea. 'Cause I'm older than you? 'Cause this is my place? Not that you're not welcome. Everybody and his snooty English brother gets invited in, and I can't get out, so I sure as heck don't mind if you hang around."

"God, I want a beer," Doyle half-answered. It was an answer, really. It was two guys sitting around talking about how confusing life is, or even afterlife. Pretty comfortable, but not about to acknowledge the sort of desperate thanks that Doyle felt at the earnest welcome. Not about to let out the hunger Dennis must have felt, after so many years, to have somebody who could talk back to him, besides his thankfully exorcised mother.

"I can do all kinds of things now that Mom...went on," Dennis said, "and none of it makes much sense, really. Why can I touch things, but nobody can see me? People could see Mom, if she wanted them to."

Though Doyle was trying hard to pay attention, since he really wanted to try to wrap his mind around the physical rules of this gig, his eyes kept slipping back to the living room. Wasn't testosterone supposed to be a thing of the past? You'd think so, but the sight of the stranger on the couch, not-bad-looking backside encased in cream linen trousers, easy to focus on since he'd kicked the covers to the floor, was doing things for the bits that Doyle was happy were still there, if only in spirit.

"You get lonely?" he interrupted Dennis suddenly.

"For my Mom?" Dennis replied incredulously. "Hell, no! Heck no, I mean. No, Hell. Hell's a good word, and God knows she wouldn't approve of it."

Doyle laughed. "No, man. For company. People to talk to. Or... for a girl. Y'know. "

The guy's face lit up like a hundred Christmas lights, for all it was only May. "Oh...yeah. A girl... I watch her when she sleeps, sometimes. Cordelia. I'm not a pervert or anything, you know. I just like to see her when she doesn't think she has to be anything for anybody. She looks like somebody you could take care of, then. Her face gets all... I dunno. Soft. She's beautiful, not that she isn't all the time, I mean, but..."

The Irishman shook his head with a knowing grin. "You're gone, boyo. Over the edge and past it. I bet there's a thousand ghosts in L.A., knowin' the way folks like to kill each other in this city. Hell, there's probably a dating service, and you have to fall head over it for a human you never even knew when you were alive."

There was pain, then, a darkness behind Dennis' eyes, but a sort of sad acceptance, too, as he nodded. "Come see her, Doyle. "

The other ghost led the way to Cordy's bedroom, and they looked in on her through the door. Long brown hair fanned out across the pillows. Hazel eyes closed, dark lashes on tanned skin. In sleep, her face lost the hardness that a life of trying to be Daddy's socially correct princess, and a year of learning how the other half lived, had put there. In sleep, she was an innocent, and Doyle saw again what he'd seen in her when he kissed her goodbye: a good woman, in the old Irish sense of the phrase.

On Dennis' face, he saw more. The need to protect Cordelia, come what may. The hopeless hope that Doyle once thought he himself had for her. This was different, though, in ways he might not have been able to see if he were still alive and worrying about whether she could ever learn to love a face like his, human or demon. Doyle had only ever hoped for the possibility of something with Cordelia; Dennis had it, whether he liked it or not, whether there was anything on her part or not.

"What was it like to kiss her?" Dennis asked in a small voice.

Twit. He could turn on the TV, vacuum the floors, pop a can of beer that, dammit, Doyle still wanted, and he hadn't tried...

"Why don't you find out?" he replied, nodding his head toward the sleeping girl.

Dennis was shocked. "I couldn't! She wouldn't want me to! That is... she's got personal space issues!"

Ahh. In other words, he was too shy, and Cordy awake was too imposing, and Cordy asleep was too helpless, and Doyle guessed it took being about to die to summon up the goolies to kiss Cordelia Chase. That, or a flashy limo and a trust fund, neither of which Dennis possessed. And... 'personal space issues' ? That was so Cordy that he half suspected that either Dennis had made really shy overtures, or, more likely, Cordy had bitched to him about some idiot she been on a date with, and the ghost just kept sinking lower into the pit of Cordelia-wouldn't-want-me. Been there, done that.

"What you need, my friend, is a girl. A beer, a girl, and the place alone to yourself." He put his arm round the other man's shoulder (He could touch another ghost, then. Heartening to know that, at least.) and led him back out into the living room, where Angel had at last fallen asleep. Dennis closed the blinds, so the morning sun wouldn't creep in on him and ruin all of Doyle's good works.

"A girl?" Dennis asked. "You know what happened to the last nice girl I brought back here?"

Good point, but the boy's mum was gone now, and not likely to arrange anybody's death or drive her to suicide, or even carp at her about what a horrible daughter-in-law she'd make.

"Who says it has to be a nice girl," Doyle answered with a leer, which had Dennis half grinning, half... well, apparently ghosts couldn't blush, but he was doing a damn good job of trying.

"Can't leave the place..." was all he said, but what he mostly meant was 'Don't really want anybody but Cordy.' Anybody with eyes could read those lips.

They sat in the kitchen, watched the human and the not-quite-human sleep, and Dennis told him everything he'd missed, at least as much as the flat-bound ghost knew from the evening news and listening to Cordy's sharp-tongued comments on the fighting-evil business. In the morning... In the morning there was Wesley translating a scroll, and the five of them gathered around the table as Angel learned that he might, someday, be human again. All in all, it wasn't a bad homecoming.

So Doyle set out to learn what he could about his new state of being. Such as: he had no reflection. He could look down and study his hands, his jeans, the clothes he'd been wearing when he died, but he couldn't see them in Cordelia's well-lit bathroom mirror. Now he knew how Angel felt, at least to some extent. Pissed him off, too. At least he didn't have to shave, but it would've been nice to be reminded what he looked like every so often. He wasn't a bad lookin' sort, by human standards, he remembered. Not movie poster material, but not bad. He'd never really been sure if he was the Matt Damon of Bracken Demons or not; the only ones he'd ever come in contact with hadn't exactly lived to give him a full report.

The guilt over not having saved them when he could was gone; he'd made up for it, on whatever cosmic tab the PTB's were using to score the game of Doyle's life and unlife. He was grateful for that, but it was still odd and a little sad to find that there seemed to be nothing left of the Bracken in him. He'd thought to try out his prickle-face on Dennis, putting himself through that little shiver that had always heralded the change, but the other ghost just shook his head and said he couldn't see anything different. Either a Bracken soul looked just like a human one, or he'd lost whatever made him half-demon when he died. Or Dennis was telling him subtly that he always looked like a walking cactus, but he assumed that wasn't the case, since Dennis still got freaked out by scary movie monsters on late-night TV.

On the little-ghost-in-the-big-city front: there wasn't exactly a dating service, but there sure as hell were a thousand ghosts in L.A., and then some. Good ones, bad ones, lost and confused ones, and a few Doyle didn't want to ever meet up with if the description did them any justice at all. Big, hungry ones that ate other spirits for breakfast. Nasty, creepy, skittery ghosts that whispered in your ears and were rumored to work for other, older things that went boo in the night. No thanks.

He found himself a bar with a ghostly clientele almost as thick as its human one, and listened in. Made a few acquaintances, maybe friends, in that loose 'mates at a pub' sense. Tried to pin down some of the rules to this game, and felt them slipping from his grasp every time he thought he had something figured out.

It certainly wasn't the same kind of society he'd run in before he died. No money, no betting, no loan-sharks or turf accountants. If you owed somebody a favor, it was usually more like telling them a story, introducing them to somebody you knew, describing your last beer to them with such worshipful detail that they could practically feel it sliding down their throats.

Some ghosts could touch things, others couldn't. Some could be heard, if they shouted loud enough, or were angry enough, or talked to the right people. Some could (lucky bastards) make themselves solid for long enough to down a pint, before fading into intangibility again. None of the rules, if there were any, seemed to make any sense. Like living people, each ghost he met was different, with different physical attributes and limits.

Poddy had O.D.'d on freon, of all things, in the early nineties, and was forever a high school senior, hanging around the Red Key Tavern trying to pick up dead girls who wouldn't give him the time of day. Like Doyle, he couldn't touch anything, but he could be heard -- only when he sang. Crappy Seattle grunge stuff that had the human patrons edging away from the empty seat at the bar, and the psychic bartender always this close to chucking Poddy out whenever he pulled that shit. Sure, he was a kid, but you had to grow up sometime, right?

Caroline... Oh, she was a little hottie, long red hair down to her arse, blue eyes, five foot nothing and well-packed with it into black leather and white lace peeking out the top. She, of course, as Doyle's hard-luck unlife would have it, couldn't even touch other ghosts, but she had a throaty whiskey laugh and could twist a man or a woman around her little finger without ever once making metaphysical contact. He'd heard of women, and the occasional man, who could literally fuck you with their voices, with their eyes, and if that was possible, Doyle had been happily taken by Caroline Davis at least ten times at last count.

It wasn't... It wasn't that, though. What he'd never quite found in life, even with his wife. That had been love, with Harry, and he'd sloshed it down the drain with his own fear, until there was nothing left but a sweet wee sadness that might have bloomed into friendship again, if he'd lived. Now... the only thing Doyle was really afraid of was that he'd never find anybody. He wanted that now, and he wanted to touch, and that was all that was really bothering him.

Odd. He wasn't sad, or really frightened, or depressed, or Angel-angsty. He was hanging about, getting to know another sort of crowd, and waiting, waiting for whatever he was here for to reveal itself to him. There was a happy little ache, like this new existence had something good for him waiting just around the corner. It wasn't a bad sort of life, or afterlife, or whatever you might call it.

He stayed at Cordy's, watching Angel move out to find his own place, some kind of temporary rental, until they located more office space with living quarters attached. Had to be living where he was working, as if all God's creation and his feckless brother didn't know that Angel only lived because of the work he was doing. The Englishman, on the other hand, went home to his own flat after that first night, after the five of them had shared one midnight and one morning in unspoken connection.

It was just Doyle and Dennis and Cordy in the flat at night now, and they'd watch movies late at night. The three of them just lounged around -- sometimes in companionable quiet, but more often it was the two men listening to Cordelia rip apart decades-old fashion statements with an expert's eye and the devil's own tongue, the ghosts laughing uproariously though Cordelia never heard a sound, and didn't even know Doyle was there. He hadn't let Dennis reveal his presence to the two humans and the vampire. He didn't quite know why, just that Angel and Cordelia seemed to be getting on without him; why open old wounds if he couldn't even speak to them, couldn't touch them, couldn't communicate without an interpreter?

And Wesley? Wesley had never known him in the first place, just the empty space he'd left, the vacancy to be filled.

Doyle knew it wasn't replacement, really. He could see it on Dennis' face when he talked about what had happened after Doyle was gone. He could see it on Angel's face, when he thought no one was looking.

He could see it on Cordelia's even if someone was. She'd grown up. He watched them all as they used her flat for a headquarters, and Cordelia had honestly changed. She took charge, she did research, she complained when it was needed and to buck up their spirits even when it wasn't. She made coffee that Wesley swore to Angel was actually drinkable, and every so often, she said Doyle's name. Not by mistake, not as an accusation, just an easy remembrance of a friend.

Angel's eyes would spark at the word, and Wesley's would turn dark. (In jealousy? Insecurity? Doyle wasn't sure, but it disturbed him. He'd never wanted to be any kind of hero, and he didn't like the idea that he was being...lived up to, somehow.) Cordy just let it go by. Even there, she was needling them, just a little, for their own good. No one had taken Doyle's place, no one would.

Wesley had taken over Doyle's...niche, though, in the work, in what passed for play, even. Sidekick, legman, comic relief. Cordy had inherited the visions and the headaches, but Wesley had gotten the dubious position of Angel's assistant. This dark-haired, skinny English guy, with the blue eyes and the glasses that made him look just a little like Father Carmody. (And that was one Doyle would've never thought he'd be admitting, that a thirty-five year old priest had set his teenage heart a-flutter all those years ago, but when you're dead... what's the point of plausible deniability?) He was a stranger to Doyle, but one whom the ghost somehow had to know more about. To know what he was, who he was, whether he was capable filling that position, and keeping Doyle's friends safe.

And yeah, the little stirring in the ghostly trousers when he looked at the other man hadn't gone away, either. So sue me if I get to enjoy the view, Doyle thought as he watched the ex-Watcher closely, as Wesley went about Angel's business. Doyle quizzed Dennis on what he knew of the man, as well. He listened to Cordelia's late-night complaints, which seemed to be more fond than catty, and more than once had him laughing out loud. Finally, one evening in late June, unable to control his own curiosity, he followed Wesley home.

*****

Wesley shrugged out of his jacket and tie, tossing them on a chair in deliberate denial of his instinct to hang them neatly in the closet. He was about sick of the bloody closet and all the limping little puns that it implied -- nor was he all that happy with himself at the moment, either.

He'd planned to go to a bar tonight. One of those bars. Really planned to go. Stepped out of Cordelia's flat, gotten on his motorcycle, driven past the bar in question and... spun around, kicking up gravel and taking off in the direction of home. Not because he was afraid to go in. Hell, Angel and Cordy thought he was gay anyway, and he'd been using his silence to neither confirm nor deny it for what reason? His two best friends didn't care about who he wanted to sleep with; who else's opinion should matter? His father's? Sod that.

No, he hadn't gone in because...he'd had a moment of clarity, he supposed. Where was he going to find somebody who understood what he did, what all three of them did? Who could deal with the fact that any tomorrow might be Wesley's last day on Earth because somebody had to fight the good fight. Who could put up with the posturing and the stupidity and the scone-worshipping he knew he indulged in, and who wouldn't leave until the last light went out in his eyes. Somebody to love. In a pick-up joint? He shook his head.

Twitch... twitch... that odd feeling, that someone was watching him. The same one he was having constantly now in Cordelia's flat. Maybe he was losing it; he'd heard blue balls could do that to you, but he'd always figured it was a myth.

Then again, maybe it was something else. He was a Watcher. An ex-Watcher. A rogue demon hunter... and he really had to snicker at himself there. "Rogue demon hunter..." he chuckled aloud. It had sounded so bloody impressive when he read it off the cards he'd had printed. Anyway, he'd seen his share of otherworldly things in his time. Cordelia had a ghost, why couldn't he?

"Hello, whoever you are," he said, with a cocky grin he hadn't realized he possessed. Twitch. There was something.

*****

Wesley knew he was there? How or why were questions somewhere at the back of his mind, but all Doyle could do now was smile, like an idiot. Somebody alive, who he sort of knew, knew he was there. Somebody who was... taking off his clothes, while he continued to talk vaguely in Doyle's direction.

"I don't know who you are, obviously, and you weren't invited in..." said the slim Englishman as he unbuttoned his shirt in an impossibly seductive manner, or had Doyle just been that long without it? "But then, you're not a vampire. You obviously don't need an invitation. That's fine with me. You want to watch, I'm here for the watching. I used to be a Watcher, you know..."

Pulling off the white t-shirt beneath, to reveal a pale chest, not overly muscled, but not at all bad. Not bad at all, and small nipples that Doyle suddenly wanted to feel under his hands, tweaking them to stiffness.

Bloody hell. Yeah, he'd been that long without it, except for the old ghostly wank or five. There just hadn't been anybody-- at the bar, on the street... anywhere. Anybody. It wasn't like being alive, and you sometimes felt you'd die if you didn't just touch somebody. He craved touch, now more than ever, but in its higher form. He needed somebody who wanted him, who he wanted. A friend, hopefully.

And Dennis didn't swing that way, not that Doyle was at all attracted to his housemate anyway. If Dennis swung any further the other direction, he'd be in Cordy's bed right now, which Doyle was beginning to devoutly wish for, so that he could avoid the deep meaningful sighs over midnight movies. Just go for it, man. The worst she can do is say no, and what'll that do-- kill ya?

This one, though... he might not swing that way either, come to it. He was undressing for a man, yeah, but he didn't know that. All he knew was that there was something there, and he'd decided to play with it. Tease whatever was spying on him, and wasn't he doing a good job of that.

"So I know what it's like to watch. To look, day after day..." Wesley continued, lifting up the red braces that hung from his trousers now, studying them as if they held some kind of mystical significance besides keeping his slacks from falling down, then letting them drop back to his sides. Unbuttoning the dark slacks and letting them drop, as well, slowly down the slim hips. Ha. Y-fronts. He was wearing y-fronts. How terribly, terribly British, and how... full they were. Doyle gulped, and felt his adam's apple hard in his throat, though he shouldn't have. The body he didn't really have kept reminding him at the most inopportune times how real it was, if only for him.

"To look, and not be able to touch." And the other man snagged a finger in the waistband of his underwear. He slid them down and off, in one fluid motion, revealing a very nice set of the parts that Doyle was suddenly not so sure he was still happy to have. They were letting him know in no uncertain terms that he did indeed possess them, with an ache in his balls and a growing hardness to his own shaft that matched the half-hard member he saw on the living man. It made no sense. He could walk through walls, yet he was as helpless against the demands of his tackle as any horny seventeen year old.

"Did you want to? Touch, that is?" Wesley said with what seemed to be some interest. Hell, yes, he wanted to touch. But he couldn't, dammit! Jesus, Mary and Joseph (sorry Father Carmody) did he want to touch! He growled at himself. You're playing along with this guy, Francis, and you can't do a damn thing about it. Get the hell out of there! But he didn't. He watched.

Wesley shrugged. "I suppose I'll just have to do it myself, then." He lay back on the bed, arranging his legs so that Doyle had a perfect (perfectly agonizing) view of exactly what he was doing with his hands. As Doyle watched in somewhat horrified fascination, the Englishman stroked his cock to full hardness. Caressed it as if those were Doyle's fingers on the pale member, and Doyle felt his fingers unconsciously match the actions of Wesley's, stroking the air as if he were touching the other man. The blue eyes, slightly magnified by the small rectangular lenses of the glasses that he hadn't taken off, were looking directly at Doyle, though Doyle was sure Wesley couldn't see him, couldn't hear the strangled sounds he was making as his own body began to match Wesley's in its arousal.

As the strokes became firmer, as Wesley's breathing became shallower, Doyle was hard-put not to unzip his own fly, put his hands on the only thing in the room he could touch. Only the sheer inertia, being frozen in place in the middle of the room as he watched a flush steal over the other man's face, across the pale chest, kept him from doing it. When at last Wesley came, spurting over his own hand, his eyes narrowing suddenly in concentration, it was all Doyle could do not to...

But there wasn't anything he could do, and in frustration, he turned and walked through the wall. Found himself a nice quiet alleyway with no roaming spirits about, and relieved his own tension, pretending the hands on his body belonged to the blue-eyed man in the second-floor flat, who had somehow known he was there.

Christ, he wanted a beer. You'd think whiskey, but no, not anymore. Just the cool sensation of a Guinness on his tongue, in his throat. Last night's midnight show was an animated musical flick from the eighties, where, among other fairytale shite, a skeleton got drunk off the ghost of a bottle of wine. He wondered as he floated his way to the Red Key if anybody made a decent ghost brew in this town. Or should he be checking the empties, to see if they were really full of undead amber joy?

*****

For three nights, he didn't come back to the flat. Wesley was sure it was a he, though he couldn't tell how. Maybe it was just his own wishful thinking. The spirit had disappeared from his flat that night as he climaxed, and he'd half thought it was all in his head, until the next morning at Cordelia's, when he felt the now-familiar twitch across his shoulder blades, down his spine. It was watching him. He could tell that, just as he could distinguish it from Dennis now, with ease. The familiar ghost would float him the newspaper, be standing right beside him, and Wesley would still feel eyes on him from across the room, as if whoever it was didn't dare come any closer. Twitch.

He could even sort of sense where in the room it was, and every so often he would throw a glance in that direction. Or a puzzled stare, which had Cordy asking him just what exactly was so fascinating about the stack of Cosmopolitans fanned out on the coffee table across the room, and offering to buy him a subscription if he was really interested. What was that about being in some sort of closet? He'd blustered his way out of that one with a sincere snort of disgust at the woman's magazine. Just because Wesley had come to the conclusion in his own mind that he really did want a man, it didn't mean he was about to take the advice of the harpy on the front of that magazine on how best not to dress if you wanted to snag and keep one. He could do without the make-up tips, as well.

On the fourth evening, he felt it leave with him. Out the door went Wesley, ready to return to his little abode of silence, and there was a twitch in the hallway. Wesley didn't know whether to laugh or cry, because he realized he'd been missing it. That he wanted whoever it was to come home to his flat and be his ghost. Or whatever. He'd gone so far as to tap the back of his motorcycle seat, as if to say... hop aboard, if you're coming, and damn if he didn't feel something close behind him as he roared down the streets toward his own flat. Never quite touching, but it was there.

When he threw his jacket on the chair this time, he sank down on top of it, not really caring that it would be an even worse mass of wrinkles in the morning. It had been a long day, really. Deep into the middle of the summer, and it was hot and sticky on the streets. It had been hotter and stickier in the back of the little pawnshop where a Grotzit demon had been hiding out, sucking energy from the items brought in to be pawned. Which wouldn't have been all that terrible, except it left a vacuum in those items, so the next poor soul who wandered in to buy a used camera or VCR suddenly found himself drained and depressed, as his own lifeforce was engulfed by the raging emptiness in whatever he'd bought.

It wasn't life-threatening, unless you were Danny Lomax, on the edge of suicide to begin with, just having made that life-saving call to a hotline, and then... falling down into a whirlpool of gray solitude, just when you thought you were safe. Luckily for Danny, he'd picked up one of Angel's cards somewhere, and brought his strange, depressing toaster with him to Cordy's flat. Luckily for the Grotzit, she hadn't known what she was doing, and a redirection to the nearest garbage dump left her with an endless stream of inanimate objects to drain the energy from, and nobody on the receiving end of the resulting depression but a few rats and seagulls. Unluckily for Wesley, it had meant a long day of tracking down exactly which pawn shop on 59th Danny had bought his bloody toaster in, seeing as there were about seventeen, and the confused boy really didn't remember.

Long day, and no AC on the bike, and even the return of his oddly welcome invisible guest couldn't quite lift the exhaustion from him. He looked to where he was pretty sure the ghost was standing, or sitting, really, on the bed.

"Sorry... not really in the mood to put on a show tonight. Ever had one of those days?"

*****

"Yeah," replied Doyle, knowing Wes couldn't hear him. It was a strange sort of one-sided conversation, but it passed for companionship. "Had a few too many, if you ask me."

"Yes, I imagine you have," said Wesley, almost as if he'd heard. "Everyone has, really. Too long, too hot, you just want to lie down in the bath with a cold beer and a decent novel."

Well, Doyle would've said the racing form, but everything else was right on the money. He knew just how long and hot the day had been, because he'd followed Wes around, at a distance he assumed was out of range of the man's ability to pick up his presence, since there were no glances in his direction. Wesley had ridden that motorcycle to every pawn shop on 59th Street. Doyle seen the sweat dripping off his dark hair as it plastered itself to his forehead, seen the light jacket get dirtier and more crumpled as the day went on. So bloody English, that he wouldn't just take it off and walk about in his shirtsleeves.

Doyle had noted the disappointment on Wesley's face each time he was turned away, his mission unfulfilled, and the triumph when he walked out of the Pawn-4-Cash leading a bewildered purple Grotzit by the arm. Wes worked as hard as Angel did, Doyle realized, and for no other reason than that somebody needed to. Oh, the ex-Watcher had his guilts, his failures, like the Slayer he couldn't control, and the mistakes he'd made that just might've turned her loose on a helpless world, but... He'd got past that, as Doyle had got past his own mistakes.

Now he was doing what was right because it was right. He was doing it with Cordy and Angel because they were his friends, family even. He'd reached that point that Doyle had almost hit before he'd decided that saving a few very important lives and a lot of potential ones was worth letting go of his own. He had a place, and Doyle was getting the itch to share it with him, even if just as an unseen watcher in the man's flat. If that was all he could get, he would take it, though by now it was hardly all he wanted.

"Wouldn't say no to the beer, mate," he answered aloud, wishing for an insane moment that he was that annoying little twit Poddy, so he could at least be heard, even if he had to murder a chorus of 'Whiskey, You're The Devil' to get his point across. "But I've got this little drinkin' problem. In that I can't drink, more's the pity."

Wesley rose from the chair, finally, and shuffled over to his little refrigerator, pulling out a bottle of... was it? Yeah, Guinness. The flat was air conditioned, but the heat wave outside still seeped in through the windows, and that sweet dew built up on the outside of the bottle, one little drop of it rolling down the glass. Wesley held it to his own sweat-drenched forehead, and Doyle wasn't sure if he wanted to be Wes touching that cool bottle, or the bottle touching Wesley. He'd settle for himself, pulling another from the fridge, but that wasn't an option either.

"Some days, I don't know if it's worth it," Wesley said in his direction. "Some days, I know damn well it is. Some days I just want to crawl into the bath and drown myself. Figuratively speaking. I'd say this is one of those days."

Doyle chuckled. "Don't dive too deep, friend. Wouldn't want to miss the view."

*****

Wesley took his clothes off with far less ceremony this time. He really was exhausted, and the fact that his newfound...guest... was watching him was flattering, but not as arousing as it had been the first time. He grabbed a book from the shelf by his bed, and padded naked into the bathroom to start the bath.

Cool water, filling the white clawfoot tub that somebody with delusions of grandeur had installed in this place in the early thirties. He'd never complained. The exorbitant rent and cramped living conditions were nothing when weighed against the deep porcelain that you could sink into, covered in hot water, soaking into tired muscles, or cold water, cooling away the heat of the day. Bubbles, even, in secret, when you could be alone and sink up to your chin in white foam that smelled of an English garden in May.

He left the door open. It wasn't necessary, when his guest could obviously step through solid objects if need be, but it was by way of an invitation. Come here, if you want, and let me talk to you. Talk back, if you can, and I'll pretend I can hear you. Twitch... and as he sank into the water, the coolness washing over him, he could feel that his visitor had indeed followed him in.

"I'd offer you a beer," Wesley said conversationally, "but I'm guessing you couldn't get much enjoyment out of it." He gestured toward his own bottle, sitting on the little plastic table next to the bath, and almost knocked his novel into the tub. As he scrambled to save the book from a watery grave, he caught the beer bottle with his elbow, knocking it onto its side. Amber liquid flowed across the table and... disappeared.

*****

Still reeling slightly from the sight of a completely naked Wesley stepping into the bath, slim backside flexing as he raised one long leg to step over the high wall of the tub, it took Doyle...oh, a millisecond to realize that there was good beer going to waste. Doyle was faster than light, though, or almost, when he needed to be, and he was kneeling down next to that little table, letting the cool liquid drip into his mouth, before he even knew it.

Beer! I can touch beer! He crowed ecstatically, almost psychotically, in his own mind, as the Guinness continued to pour down his throat, and Wesley gazed at the disappearing liquid in shock, then amusement. When it was finally gone, the grinning Englishman regarded the space where Doyle was kneeling.

"Or perhaps you can enjoy it, at that. Would you like another?"

What, would he like to watch Wes step out of the bath, naked and dripping, walk across the room, bend down to open the refrigerator door, pull out another beer...

"Hell yeah, and why am I answering, 'cos you can't hear me?"

Wesley had the same idea, apparently, because he shrugged, and did just what Doyle had hoped he'd do, coming back with two cold bottles, and the view of him returning was just slightly better than the one of him going away.

It was weird, awkward, and fun as hell, to be standing there not two inches away from a naked man whom Doyle really wanted to be touching, and have his mouth open, waiting for Wes to pour beer into it. Even if beer was actually second on the list of things he wanted in his mouth at the moment.

Wesley began to tease him, just a little. Poured a drop or two, then waited. Just long enough for Doyle to groan, open his mouth wider, about to say "Come on, man..." -- then there'd be a rush of malty goodness that would've choked Doyle if he were still breathing. By the time the second bottle was gone, Doyle was beginning to have serious doubts about just how much of a good guy Wesley was supposed to be. He was the Marquis de bloody Sade, he was. Showing off all that white skin, dark hair, knowing Doyle couldn't touch it, and withholding the one thing he could wrap his lips around... It was a good sort of sadism, though, and Doyle felt half-flushed with ghostly arousal by the time Wesley sank back into the tub.

It became a ritual, of sorts. Doyle would follow Wesley home. Wes would pour him a beer or two, and they'd talk, in their strange fashion. That is, Wesley would talk, about his day, about his doubts, about what made him happy or sad, and Doyle would listen. Doyle would talk, about what Wes had said, about his own life and how it had been both less and more than he expected. Wesley didn't exactly react, but he never talked over Doyle, either. It was as if he knew his visitor was trying to tell him something, even though he couldn't quite pick it up, and he listened carefully, his eyes always cast in Doyle's direction, wherever the ghost ended up floating.

Doyle would tell Wes in delicious detail what he'd like to do to him, too. Why not, since he couldn't be heard -- and frankly, as the days passed, he wished more and more that he could be. This was an attractive man, yes. The first time he'd seen Wesley lying on the couch in Cordy's flat, he'd admitted that to himself. More now, though. This was a man he liked. Admired. This was a man who made him laugh with his dead-on parodies of Cordelia, behind closed-doors. With his moments of bravery that he didn't show in front of Angel or Cordy. With his silly Englishisms. By midsummer, Doyle realized he considered Wesley a friend, though they'd never fully exchanged a word or a glance.

*****

He wasn't alone. When Wesley went home alone, he wasn't alone. It was the strangest feeling, and he wondered idly if it was this way for Cordelia, with Phantom Dennis inhabiting her flat. Company, a warm surge of friendship that he couldn't really define, or explain, it was just there. He'd seen Dennis move things for Cordelia, be there even before she asked for something, and the smile she gave to the empty air echoed the ones that Wesley found himself aiming in the direction of his own ghostly watcher.

Probably not quite this way for Cordelia, though, not with the heated attraction Wesley felt towards the unseen being. Man. It was a man, it had to be. Would a woman want Guinness badly enough to drink it from somebody's hand? None of the ones he'd known would, anyway. He'd taken to playing little games with the beer, the only sort of touch he had on the spirit. He'd flick a drop or two off his fingers towards where he guessed the man's head was, and watch in amusement as the beer was shaken off into the air like a wet terrier would shake off rain-soaked fur. He thought he sensed the same amusement, and a bit of irritation, wafting back at him.

Wesley was beginning to imagine that he could feel more than just where the spirit was standing, or floating, or whatever it was he did. He was almost sure he sensed interest when he talked aloud about the demon-of-the-day. Silent laughter, when he repeated one of Cordelia's more acute observations on the subject of clients who conveniently went bankrupt when the invoice came due. When he undressed, there was no question that he was imagining things. He felt the arousal, not just in his own body, but in the air around him.

It built in him like a tingling itch, and he should have played it off, but he kept dancing on the edge, just like that first night. Letting the ache build up, then touching himself, sometimes as a teasing dare, sometimes, when the night was too hot and he felt those eyes too close upon him, as a desperate plea. Every so often, when things had been quiet and comfortable and he wanted no more than to give something back, it was more than either of those. It was sharing himself utterly with the invisible, intangible person who had made his empty flat into a home, somehow.

*****

It was getting better, and harder, to be there at night.

Better, because they were closer, because Wesley had begun to talk to Doyle about things so personal, there was nothing they could be but friends, even if they were the oddest pair in the history of friendship. Things... like Wesley's father, and what had driven him into the Watcher's Council in the first place. His fears of not being good enough, even now, though now it was about being good enough for himself. For Angel. For Cordy. Doyle felt a strange sort of pride that Wesley had chosen to share this with him.

Once... there was something other than pride. There was an unbelievable ache, both sweet and painful, the night Doyle heard his own name on Wesley's lips. He was spoken of as a stranger -- someone Wesley had never thought he could live up to, a hole he could never fill in Angel and Cordy's lives. To hear about himself, like that, to know that Wes had found out almost as much about Doyle as Doyle had about him... it was almost too much. Doyle sent, or tried to, a bit of his own admiration back at the man, to let Wesley know he was just as good as the fiction of Doyle that he'd built up in his mind -- better, even. Doyle said the words, though they couldn't be heard, and hoped something made it through.

Harder? Harder to be there because the more Doyle knew about the man, the more he wanted Wesley. And Wes didn't make it any easier-- not that, at this point, anything would've.

Wes would tease the ghost by tossing off in front of him. That was hard to watch, but fun, too. Two guys in a room, half-admitting, half not, and Wesley was good at making Doyle's eyes pop with his sudden grins, as if he realized just how silly it was. He was good at making other parts of Doyle take notice, as well, and finally one night Doyle gave up the ghost, as it were, and began to echo Wesley's movements on his own body. Two guys in a room, wanking away because they couldn't touch each other. It was worth a laugh, really.

More difficult, almost impossible to bear, were those nights when Wesley wasn't teasing. He would talk, undress slowly, and touch himself, exactly the way Doyle wanted to be touching him, and he knew it. It wasn't torture, it was a gift, and Doyle never left as he had that first night, no matter how bad and good it made him feel at the same time. He couldn't not accept it. He couldn't put his fingers on his own body, not those nights. All he could do was watch.

"Like this? Would that be it, if you could touch me?" Wesley would say gently, and stroke his hand across his own chest, watching the nipples rise and tighten as Doyle had expected they would. "Or this?" with his fingers lightly cupping his penis, or swirling in the dark hair between his thighs, or... once, on his side, lifting his leg to his chest, reaching back and putting his fingers against his barely visible opening.

"Is this where you want to be, then?" Wesley had asked in a small voice, and he knew Doyle was a man. He had to.

Yes, that was where Doyle wanted to be, making love to this man. Where else in all the world? He'd been about to slip away, unable to watch any more, when Wes had whispered. To him.

"It's where I want you, too. You don't think I want you to touch me?" The earnestness in those eyes, the simple statement. It made him freeze where he stood, for a moment, and then move to Wesley's side, just about ready to cry, if he could summon up tears from whatever made his ghostly body work.

He thought Dennis was over the edge? He could feel it in Wesley's voice, slicing through him like a hot knife. He could feel it in his own aching chest, that shouldn't be aching at all. It did ache, though, like it used to when he was alive and drunk off his arse in an L.A. pseudo-pub and somebody started playing 'I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,' or some other silly hungry-for-Ireland twaddle. It ached like that, but he wasn't drunk, and he was pretty sure he wasn't away from home any longer. He could hear the answering ache in Wes, see it on that face, feel it sucking at him, and there was nothing he could do. Nothing at all.

Doyle spent the night, that night. Usually he went back to Cordy's flat when Wesley fell asleep, getting home just in time for the midnight movie and another round of Dennis mooning over Cordy. That night, though, as Wesley, spent from making love to himself as he wished he could make love to Doyle, as Doyle wished... As Wesley slept, Doyle lay on the bed next to him, not touching, never touching. Floated, really, listening to the breathing of the man he loved.

*****

Angel found them an office. Which is to say, he found them a bloody great hotel with a million rooms that Cordelia swore up and down she would not clean.

"Honestly, Angel, this place is worth a fortune. If we sold some of the fixtures off, we could afford a decent cleaning staff."

"Then what would you have to complain about?" was Angel's reply, accompanied by a disarming smile, before he pointed out in a more practical tone that the place was leased, and they didn't own the fixtures.

Angel had found them a new ally, as well. Young, black, smart -- a chip on his shoulder half the size of Angel, when it came to fighting vampires. Wesley thought he liked him, or might grow to, once they'd stopped being unsure of their relative places in Angel's world. He began to wonder, though, how much his own laughable physical skills might be needed, now that Gunn was at the ready with his trusty hubcap-axe.

There were no more meetings in Cordelia's flat, but Wesley's unseen almost-lover followed them to the hotel. These days, Wesley was hyper-aware of exactly where the spirit was. What he was looking at. Wesley would shoot a smile at him sometimes, when he thought no one else was watching.

The ghost didn't always watch Wesley-- there were moments when his attention was distracted by something else, like Cordelia screaming at the nest of spiders she'd found in the old cash register. Or the delighted cries that came ten minutes later when, after Wesley had chased out the arachnids, Cordelia had lifted the cash drawer to find a pile of twenty dollar bills beneath it. It made Wesley feel better, somehow, that his invisible friend was as easily distracted as a living human. Made him feel a little less foolish for being ever more sure that he was falling in love. Just a little, mind you.

Sometimes the ghost was gone. It was fair. Even the dead had to have a life, right? Every so often, he wouldn't even show up to follow Wesley home. It wouldn't have been too bad, except these days, in this new place, new arrangement, Wesley wanted to talk more than ever. About where he fit in. About Angel's strange behavior recently. The vampire had been sleeping round the clock, and wasn't himself, or the self that Wesley thought he knew, even when he was awake.

Wesley would sit up late, hoping to feel the sudden twitch that let him know that he was there... and it didn't come. He could talk to himself, or he could go to sleep. He always chose sleep, since his sanity was theoretically in question to begin with, and he didn't think late-night conversations when he knew he was alone would count in his favour. He couldn't begrudge the spirit its time apart, though. The next time he was followed home again, Wesley would say nothing about the previous night's absence, only tell his ghost about his worries for Angel, for all of them, and try not to sound too glad to have him back.

*****

Doyle had been spending so much time either alone with Wes or with Angel's gang as a group, he realized with a start one day, that he hadn't checked in at the Red Key in weeks. He started taking a few nights away from Wesley then, every so often, to head down the pub, though this Yank version was hardly Terry Meany's little pub in McCloskey Street. He thought it might just take his mind off what he couldn't have, though, for a few hours at least.

It didn't quite work out as planned. Every night Doyle was away just reminded him how much he'd love to drag Wes in here, set him down on a stool, and show him off to Caroline. Smack Poddy silly for scaring him; point out the creepy dead twins who only ever ordered Killian's and never drank it, and the college girl in the corner who could see all of them and thought she was going nuts, even though she'd been assured and reassured otherwise. By people other than Doyle, since she couldn't hear him speak.

When he returned to Wesley's flat after a night away, it made him ache all the more to see how happy the man was to know he was there. Odd how that could mix with the joy of knowing he was wanted, like sweet and bitter, like chocolate cake and a good dark ale.

Dennis was driving him nuts as well. Midnight movie time had become stare at Cordy and look pathetic time. Doyle had tried bringing a few girls home from the Red Key, and though Dennis was unfailingly polite to them while glaring at Doyle behind their backs, there wasn't a spark of interest. The boy had it bad, but he wouldn't do anything about it. Even Caroline, brought home more as a test subject than anything else, got a shy smile, a gulp when she started to talk, and a slow retreat to Cordy's bedroom to watch the human girl sleep, leaving Doyle and Caroline exchanging knowing glances in the kitchen.

It all came together one night over "High Spirits." Dennis had tuned the TV in to the pseudo-Irish comedy as a gesture to Doyle, knowing his glum little sighs over Cordelia were getting on the Irish ghost's nerves. The three of them had settled in to watch Steve Gutenberg fall in love with a backlot Irish countryside and a ghostly Darryl Hannah-- who looked a right tasty piece in period gowns, but ruined it all with her learned-it-from-singing-Danny-Boy accent. Maybe it was just Doyle feeling contrariwise, but even Liam Neeson's brogue seemed fake, and as for Peter O' Toole... The only people in the flick who even sounded remotely like they were from the auld sod were the villagers, who were a bit more country than Doyle had grown up with, but still brought a bit of a tear to the eye. Or would've, if Wes had been there to pour a beer or ten down his throat.

Then they hit the love scenes.

Dennis was sympathizing right and left with dead Liam Neeson and his somewhat requited lust for Gutenberg's living wife. Cordy was licking her lips when she thought Dennis wasn't looking, at Neeson in a red wig holding up the blanket and telling Beverly D'Angelo, who didn't even look Irish, that he had "the best bahogies from here to Ballanderry," which was, in Doyle's considered opinion, not the case. If he had to pick the sexiest man in the film, he'd have to go with old Pete, gentrified, Anglicized accent aside.

But it wasn't the men who had Doyle staring at the television, open-mouthed, nor really the women, but something that happened between one of the pairs. On Halloween eve, the blonde ghost, horrible approximation of a long-dead Irishwoman or not, was touching the dark-haired human she was in love with. Only she wasn't really touching. Her fingers were going through him, to the accompaniment of tinkly sound effects, and then she herself fell forward, their entire bodies passing through each other. "What was that..." he asked, or something equally as stupid, while Doyle asked the same bloody thing out loud, and Dennis turned to stare at him.

"Skelping..." she said in that awful accent, and they did it again.

Doyle tried to watch the rest of the movie, but the image of that ghostly touch replayed itself over and over in front of his eyes, no matter what was really on teh screen. A million thoughts were tugging at his attention, the foremost among them being... You never even tried to touch him, you feckin' eedgit! Too many moments of passing through walls, doors, floors, and he'd taken it for granted that he couldn't touch a human. And later...he hadn't dared come close enough to touch Wesley. It would've hurt too much, he'd believed, to confirm that he was nothing more than air and desire when it came to the man he'd come to love over these last months.

But what if that wasn't true? What if...

Doyle stood, not giving a toss that on the television, the ghosts and the humans were trading places, and Darryl Hannah looked really awful in corpse make-up. He walked over to Cordelia, the nearest human he could find, and softly brushed her forehead with his hand. Dennis watched him, a misplaced jealousy stealing over his face when he realized what was happening. Cordelia looked up.

"Dennis? Hello, personal space issues? What are you doing?" She was more confused than angry, though.

"Yeah, Dennis, what are you doing?" the American ghost asked, crossing the room to Doyle in an instant, and shoving him aside. "You missing it that much, that you have to go after my Cordy?'

"No, Den..." he tried to get out, but Dennis had him up against the wall, and while the smaller ghost's attention was mostly divided between 'Gotta get to Wes' and 'Don't wanna get my backside kicked,' he had time to spare a grin for Dennis and his personal space issues. 'My Cordy.' Well, tell her, man!

"What the hell, then?" Dennis asked, backing off a bit.

"Sorry, mate, I just wanted to see if I could... touch somebody. Like that. Like they did in the movie. And I can!" He couldn't keep the exhilaration out of his voice.

"And you needed to touch my girl?" Dennis clarified, still threatening.

"No, man, she's yours, if you'd bloody go get her! You can pick up a pen, write her a note. Talk to her, just let me go! I need to go touch my guy!"

And he'd sunk through the wall and away from Dennis' grip in an instant, just having time to hear Dennis mutter, "Guy?" before he was zooming over the rooftops towards Wesley's flat.

*****

Wesley woke with a twitch. He was back? A few times, the best times, the ghost had stayed until morning, but he'd never gone, then come back the same night. Wesley wondered if something was wrong, if he should be leaping out of bed and dressing for battle stations. Wondered, until he felt a tingle along his jawline, as if a phantom finger was tracing the shape of his face.

Touching. He was being touched. The strange electric feeling followed a path down his chin, to his throat, his naked chest. At the same time, his face felt like it was on fire, as little--kisses---they were kisses--were seared into his skin. Then his lips... He could feel. Feel, for a moment, as his lips touched invisible others, his lover solid in his arms. Unseen, but solid. Warm.

That sensation faded in and out, accompanied by touches, sometimes solid, sometimes electric, everywhere. Simply everywhere.

"You're here!" he shouted, feeling utterly silly as he did so -- but an answering touch softly ruffled his hair, sending static sparks through it. The touches continued. Sometimes it felt as if the invisible fingers, legs, arms, were reaching inside him, touching places he didn't know could be touched. Sometimes there was just sensation on his skin, tickling, tingling, solid for a moment, then not.

He reached out, trying to touch as well, and found his arms full of nothing. Nothing...nothing... and then... a man. Smaller than him, not heavy at all. Soft hair, well-built back. Wearing a cotton shirt, what felt like jeans-- and what a firm behind beneath that denim. Short legs, but strong, as they twisted around Wesley's own.

"Oh, thank God..." he breathed quietly, ridiculously, not wanting to know why his lover had waited so long, only caring that he was here now.

*****

Wesley warm beneath him, and Doyle was touching him. Slipping in and out of tangibility, he knew, but each feeling had something in it to be ecstatic over. The tingling magic of what he guessed was that bloody skelping the girlie had gone on about. The solid touch that, if he concentrated hard, he could hold onto. Drinking in the feeling of Wesley against him, kissing the lips he'd only ever watched speak before. It was like he'd been waiting a hundred years, two hundred, like he'd spent as long in Hell as Angel had, only to finally find this.

He breathed Wesley's name into the other man's mouth, and though Wes couldn't have heard it, his lover nonetheless widened those clear blue eyes. He had felt it, the breath of a ghost in his own mouth, and he wasn't frightened. He just smiled, the most welcoming smile Doyle had ever seen, better than his neighbor's mum with a warm apple pie in the kitchen, better than Caroline Davis laughing low in the pub, better than anything.

"Can you... er...can we?" Wesley asked, looking into green eyes that Doyle knew he couldn't see, eyes that could see him plain as day in the darkness of the early, early morning.

"Well, I certainly intend to find out." Doyle laughed at him, and moved away for a second to take off his clothes, before discovering that he didn't really need to. Just imagining them gone was enough. He was back on top of Wesley in a second, naked body to naked body, chest to chest, heart to heart. A little concentration, and he could feel that skin beneath him, the warmth, the stiffening rod below, as well. He sat up, running his hand down Wesley's chest, making swirling motions, going in and out of solidity, until he reached the firm stomach, which twitched at his touch. Further, to the shaft that rose up at him, slim, like everything else about Wes, but surprisingly long, and as hard as Doyle was feeling-- maybe harder. Wesley groaned, and Doyle grinned, lowering his mouth.

*****

Wet, warm, around the head of his cock, lips that sucked at him, forcing him to grab the sheets lest he howl out things that a gentleman would never say... Was Wesley Windham-Pryce a gentleman, though?

"Oh, god, yes... Please. Just like that. There. How long... why..." He couldn't really control what came out of his mouth at this point. Why had he waited so long, the other one? The other one. He wanted a name, to call out, to moan, to brand into the skin that he could feel burning against his.

"I don't know your name..." he whispered, as he lost control and let loose into the mouth that he had only ever poured beer into before, and strong hands gripped his legs, stroked his skin, telling him silently, I know. I'd tell you if I could.

*****

"I don't know your name..." and Wesley knew nothing about Doyle, except that he liked beer and he was there to comfort the Englishman at night, with just his presence. Actually, he knew quite a bit about the living Alan Francis Doyle, but not the simple fact that the deceased version was the man who was holding him now. That took Doyle's breath away, not because it seemed suddenly too much, to be doing this to a man who didn't even recognize him, but because Wes... knew everything important to know. He loved, and was loved.

"In me, now. Will you... please?" came the whispered plea, and he was only too happy to oblige. Well, to try, anyway. It wasn't that he'd never done this before, but never as a ghost, that was for sure. Doyle gently guided Wesley into turning over. There was nothing for Wes to see, anyway, and if he happened to catch a glimpse in the mirror opposite the bed... that might be a little off-putting even at the best of times, to see yourself being made love to by empty air. Plus... he wanted to make this good. Sure of what he wanted Wesley might be, but he'd certainly never had it before, not with the sixteen year old shyness in the adult voice, not with the pretty, embarrassed words.

Doyle rubbed at Wesley's back, pulling out kinks of tension, touching each muscle solidly in turn, then slipping his fingers beneath the skin, to work a little of that tingly magic, as Wesley groaned appreciatively. Finally he put his hands on the long legs, spreading them, and Wes helped out, sensing what was coming, moving to his knees, white backside thrusting forward. Wanting. Hell, what was Doyle going to use for lube? The sudden practicality of the question struck him as ludicrous, and he laughed aloud.

He didn't need it, he realized just as suddenly. He had his own intangibility going for him. Slipping a solid hand between the pale cheeks, as Wes shuddered in desire, Doyle gently stroked across the puckered ring, and watched it open and close for him. A bit of Wesley's own juices, wiped from Doyle's appreciative lips, and his finger was inside, as Wes drew in a sharp breath, and let it out slowly. Doyle could control how solid he was when it came to Wesley's body-- that was what had dawned on him moments ago-- and now he gauged that solidity by the sounds his lover was making.

Thrusting slightly, he knew at once when he hit that little place that made a bit of "otherwise" not such a bad thing at all, because Wes cried out, not in pain, but in undiscovered pleasure. Ignoring his own flaring need, Doyle slowly prepared the grasping body, using his ghostliness, his fingers, and at one point his tongue, while Wes wriggled and moaned and said, more than once, "I just wish I knew your name." Among other, less coherent things.

*****

He honestly hadn't known. That it could be like this. He knew the mechanics, of course. Wesley was a well-educated man, and he wasn't an idiot in the practical sense, either. He'd touched himself, shamefully in his younger days, curiously in his more adult years. Unsatisfied in recent years, as he realized that it was someone else he wanted touching him there. Desperate, these last few months, when he finally discovered exactly who it was that he wanted. This presence who had come into his life and made him feel welcome and whole, without ever speaking a word that he could hear.

He hadn't known it could be this good. There's nothing like actual experience to beat everything you've ever read, he thought, and sent a laugh skyward to his late mentor at the Council of Watchers, who had told him as much on numerous occasions, though he certainly hadn't had this in mind. Finally, he was entered by a hot, hard presence that felt like it was filling him up completely, and...there, just a little pain, and when he twitched, it was gone, and it was all pleasure. His lover was reacting to him, turning more and then less solid as he pushed back against that heat, letting him feel no pain at all, just the joyful ache of that most intimate of touches.

Then there was movement, and warm arms around his waist, hands on his chest, and the length pulled almost out, and slammed back into him. If fingers touching that place inside him had made him squirm, this made his head explode. Over and over, until he wasn't sure a human could take that much excitement and live to tell about it. Would he wake up a ghost too? Could he see his lover if he did? It was lost in the rush, when he finally came, again, and as his muscles spasmed around the hardness inside him, he was filled with that electric tingle of touch, shooting inside him, through him, everywhere, like coming twice, once from himself, and once from his lover's pleasure.

 

*****

When they fell onto the bed, rolling apart only to curl together again, Doyle thought he would fall happily asleep in Wesley's arms. Maybe wake up in Father Carmody's Heaven, although he was pretty sure he was already there. Instead, as he stroked his fingers through Wesley's mussed-up hair, he was startled by a cry from his lover, who was pointing into the mirror.

"You're here!" Which was what he'd said in the first place, but as Doyle looked, he could see what Wes was talking about. He could see... himself. Just a faint glimmer in the mirror, and when he pulled his hand from Wesley's head, it was gone, though Wes was still staring into the mirror as if he could see it.

"You're here! I can see you. You're..." Wes curled close to him again and whispered. "You're beautiful. Dear God, you're beautiful."

Him? Doyle? He'd never thought he was God's Gift or anything... beautiful? Really? Fuck, what was he thinking? Who cared about Wesley's cracked-up definition of beauty-- Wesley could see him! And didn't recognize him, Doyle realized. He tried to think back, to remember if there had been a picture of him anywhere in the office, but his mind was doing a thousand things at once. If Wesley could see him now, maybe he could also...

"Can you hear me?" he asked, and Wes frowned, like he might hear something, but not anything like speech.

"I still don't know your name," Wesley laughed suddenly.

No, but Doyle could do something about that. He dragged Wesley out of bed, excited beyond all reason. Dressed the poor confused gorgeous eedgit, and did he mean himself or Wesley, and dragged him out the door. Down to the motorcycle on the street, and after a brief, silly pantomime about why he didn't exactly need to wear the pink crash helmet, Doyle was pressed against Wesley's back and guiding him down the road and across town to Cordelia's.

*****

"Here?" Wesley asked in confusion, pulling off his helmet. "Cordelia's? What could you want to show me here?"

The man he could now see, dark hair, green eyes, broad smile, tugged him off the bike and up the stairs. He tried to drag Wesley through the door before he gave a sheepish grin, and indicated that Wesley should knock. At three in the morning? It was a bit rude, all told, but...

After a few moments of waiting, staring at his lover, who simply grinned all the wider, Wesley was greeted at the door by a sheet-clad Cordelia, hair mussed from... Well, no, it didn't really look sleep-mussed at all, and Wesley bit his lip. What exactly was he supposed to say? Sorry I interrupted your whatever-it-was, but my ghostly lover here wanted to stop over for some reason?

"Wes? What the hell?"

Before he could even begin to formulate an answer, he was pulled through the door and past a bewildered Cordelia, by his lover, who was shouting silently into the depths of the flat. Wesley shrugged apologetically at its owner, who was getting that Cordelia Chase 'I'm going to kick your backside in five, four, three, two, one...' look on her face.

*****

"Dennis! Dennis, I don't care if you've been moping or reading or watching Cordy snore and tryin' not to drool on her, get out here! I need you, man!" Doyle called from the living room, and Wesley stared at him, probably sure he'd lost his effin' mind.

"Not the time, Doyle!" came an answering shout from Cordy's bedroom. An exhausted, cranky shout, as if... A slow smile spread across Doyle's face. Really? Oho... Oh yeah! Well, good for Dennis. But it was the time, dammit. Had to be.

"Dennis, get your arse out here now!" He put everything he had into the exuberant command, and Dennis shot out of the bedroom, a sheet wrapped around his waist.

"Way to be subtle, Phantom D." Cordelia pointed out snarkily, stalking over to Dennis' side. If Doyle didn't mistake the smile that sneaked its way onto her sleepy face, though, she was still under the spell of Just-Had-The-Best-Sex-Ever. He was reasonably familiar with that smile, since it was plastered across his own gob at the moment.

Wesley, of course, was staring at the couple in the bedroom doorway with his jaw dropped to the ground. Doyle thought it must've just been the concept of Cordy and Dennis, til hit sunk into his brain that while he could see his fellow ghost, Wes couldn't. Wesley saw Cordy having a half-grumpy conversation with a floating sheet. Doyle giggled a bit himself, and Dennis looked down, and let out a smile-- before it sunk into his brain that he was supposed to be pissed at Doyle for interrupting.

"Force of habit," he sighed, and materialized his usual clothes around himself, letting the sheet drop to the floor.

"Wes? What's wrong? What're you doing here?" Cordelia asked, more than a little flustered. Then she started to scan his face. Her own disarray forgotten, she pounced on the truth as only Cordy could do, with no tact whatsoever, but a big happy grin. "Wesley, you got laid!"

*****

Well... yes, but... Blush rising from his cheeks and seeping up to his hairline, undoubtedly, Wesley stared at his friend, who had obviously just been doing that very thing herself, and... with Phantom Dennis? And yet she was more concerned with his love life?

"Don't make it sound like such a surprise..." he managed to choke out.

"Well, dish! Who is he? It's gotta be somebody good if you woke me up at three in the morning to run over and tell me about it."

Now honestly!

"What makes you think it's a he, and I didn't run over to tell you about it, he bloody dragged me here, as you can see for yourself!" Which sort of negated the need for an answer to his question, he realized.

Cordelia frowned at him. "Wes, you're sounding a little more insane than usual, here. What is it that I'm supposed to be able to see for myself?"

Wesley indicated his lover, standing not two feet away, and Cordelia's eyes widened as she caught on. He thought. Then he caught on himself. She couldn't see the man. The ghost.

"You've got a ghost too? Oh, I'm sorry, but this is too funny. Dennis? Dennis, where are you?" she called through her laughter.

*****

Dennis was standing in between the three other people in the room, grinning like a loon, if Doyle was any judge of grins. "This is your guy? Wesley ?" he asked, jerking his thumb at the red-faced ex-Watcher.

"You got a problem with that?" Doyle responded, getting just a little possessive, or defensive, or something manly that ended in 'ive'.

"No, no problem. Just... Wesley?"

Doyle grimaced at him. "You've gotta tell him my name, Den. He doesn't know who I am!" Which wasn't entirely true -- Wesley knew enough about him that nothing else should matter, really. But Doyle wanted to hear his own name in that light tenor voice. Wanted to hear it spoken by his lover, with the knowledge in Wesley's eyes of who he was talking to. And yes, wanted to hear it screamed out so loudly that the folks down the hall came over and banged grumpily on Wesley's door, but there was time for all that later.

Dennis shrugged. As the other ghost floated a pen and legal pad over to where they stood, Doyle took a moment to study Cordelia again. She looked good that way. Happy, satisfied...He approved.

"Personal space issues, huh?"

Dennis smiled, then. A little kid's smile, filled with the sort of joy Doyle had about given up hope of seeing on that sappy American face. "She's willing to work out a deal, where we sorta share the personal space. Which is none of your business."

"Right, right. Sure. Just tell him my name!"

Doyle's gaze was bouncing back and forth between Wes and Dennis, with an occasional pause to watch Cordy grinning at the empty space where the legal pad was floating. Dennis was scribbling, and Wesley was watching Doyle argue with thin air and probably thinking the place had turned into an utter looney bin. Finally Dennis finished writing, and Doyle stepped up to Wesley, while Dennis held up the legal pad.

"Doyle?" Wesley read, putting a hand on Doyle's arm.

"Doyle?!!!" Cordy shouted, stomping up to him, looking right into his face, or trying, because Doyle's gaze was fixed on Wesley's, as understanding dawned behind the lenses of the wire-frame glasses, and a smile played about the thin lips.

"Doyle," he agreed, saying his own name aloud, and those blue eyes widened.

"Doyle?" Wesley said again, and Doyle rolled his own eyes, backing off so he could look right up into that face and let Wesley read his lips, which he should've bloody done in the first place.

"Yes, Doyle, Alan Francis Doyle the first, last and only, and you're Wesley Wyndham-Pryce and I love you, and can we please go back to your place so these two can shag in peace?"

"You don't have to shout," Wesley said with a surprised smile. "I can hear you perfectly well, Doyle."

*****

Cordelia was trying to stand exactly where Doyle was, which was a bit of a violation of his personal space, if you were to ask Wesley. He wasn't really all that concerned with her confusion at the moment, wrapped up as he was in his own, but she did deserve some sort of explanation. It was her flat, after all, and it was her sex, with her ghost, that he and his ghost had interrupted.

Doyle? All this time it had been the man whose (rather small) shoes Wesley had been mistakenly trying to fill? He didn't know whether to laugh or cry, and settled for being highly confused, topped off with deliriously happy. It was a rather neat emotional cocktail, quite a bit like being completely shitfaced.

"Wesley, what is going on ? Doyle was just here. Right here!" Cordelia pointed to the spot where Doyle was still standing, his hands spread in apparent confusion, as if to say, 'Hell if I know what's happening.'

"He is here. Right where you're pointing," Wesley answered, reaching across to touch Doyle on the arm again.

Cordelia stared at the space that he was touching, as if... as if she could see the ghost, now that Wesley was touching him.

"Doyle?" she asked in amazement, and the little Irishman nodded, grinning at her as she threw her arms around him, almost knocking Wesley's hand away. Doyle grinned a bit wider as the sheet that she had wrapped around her got loosened in the process-- which earned him a glare from Wesley, and, based on his helpless shrug towards the floating legal pad, probably Dennis too. Quite right-- you're my ghost, Wesley thought loopily at him.

After a moment, Cordelia backed out of Doyle's embrace. "How long have you been here?" she asked.

"Er... May?" Doyle answered, and her eyes narrowed.

"Alan Francis Doyle, you've been here since May and you didn't let me know you were alive? Well, here? Around? Whatever?" She grabbed hold of a handful of his shirt, and with a nervous grin, Doyle turned fully intangible, so that her hand passed right through him. Wesley couldn't help but laugh.

"Easy, Princess," said Doyle. "I just now figured out you could see me. What was the point, before that?"

*****

Dennis was snickering at him, and Doyle decided to divert some of the blame.

"Dennis knew!" As Cordy whirled to face her lover, who had backed into a corner, legal pad in front of his face, and was shouting really nasty things at Doyle, the Irish ghost ducked behind his own lover with a laugh.

"You knew, and you didn't tell me? You are so in trouble, buster!"

Doyle looked at Wesley, who was visibly torn between enjoying the Cordy's-fists-versus-the-Legal-Pad-of-Doom fight, and staring back at Doyle.

"C'mon, let's get out of here and let them work up to some really good make-up sex," Doyle whispered, and Cordelia turned back to him.

"I heard that, buddy. I'm not through with you yet!" She dived for the space where he stood, and Wesley pulled his arm back, leaving Cordy blinking. "Where is he?"

Doyle laughed, careful not to touch his lover, lest Cordy see him again. He was getting the hang of this. Nobody but other ghosts could see Dennis, but Dennis could touch everything. Nobody alive and not psychic and not Wes could see or hear Doyle, except when Wesley was touching him. Doyle couldn't touch anything but people and other ghosts... oh, and beer, lovely, glorious beer. Caroline couldn't bloody touch anything and she still managed to be about the happiest person he'd ever met. The rules were... there were no rules.

So with this crazy circle around Doyle, Angel walking the perimeter unless they drew him in, and damn it to hell, they would, somehow... How could he not be sure he'd hit Heaven after all?

"Wes, c'mon. We'll sort it all out in the morning." He beckoned his lover out the door, leaving Cordelia to snipe at her own for a while, Dennis scratching frantically at the legal pad, trying to explain himself.

On the street below, Wesley slouched against his motorcycle. "This really is insane, you know." Doyle leaned on him, reaching up to touch the early morning stubble growing on his jaw. Insane, yeah. Maybe. Heaven on Earth, for sure, thanks Father C. "You love me? Really?" Wes asked, leaning his head down to kiss Doyle's hair.

"Yeah. Guess I do. You got a problem with that, English?"

"No," answered Wesley, pulling him close, drawing Doyle's hand to his chest. Tapping it against the bone until Doyle got the message, and ghosted his fingers, slipping them inside, filling them both with that strange unearthly tingle. "You're in my heart, you see."

 

Finis


The wine-drinking skeleton belongs to Peter S. Beagle and The Last Unicorn. The concept of skelping as shown here belongs to the writers of High Spirits -- though the word itself is simply an antiquated Irish word for 'touching.'


Story Index
Main Index
E-Mail Mad Poetess